Glorious Goodwood: Goodwood Cup odds and ante-post betting

[Tales From the Terran Republic] The Poop Starts to Settle Part 3 of 2: Sheloran Moves In

Sheloran moves into her new home, a perfectly normal jail where nothing is HORRIBLY WRONG...
The rest of this series can be found here
***
“Well, it seems that we are going to get a chance to get to know each other after all!” Pam said cheerfully from behind a thick clear partition. “Goody!”
Sheloran just sat there on her padded cube miserably.
“Quite the scene in the courtroom!” Pam said brightly. “Woo! I have to say it takes a rare individual to tell any Terran judge to get fucked but Judge Thaddeus Carter himself… damn! You really let him freaking have it!”
“Yay me,” Sheloran said glumly.
“Yeah… maybe not the smartest move but if you are going to go down, go down guns blazing!” Pam said brightly. “You sure you aren’t a little Terran in a frog-suit?”
“Nope, just a plath… a very unlucky plath...”
“Oh I’m going to have to call bullshit on that one,” Pam smiled. “Oh, before we continue, I should introduce myself shouldn’t I?”
Pam drew herself up straight in her chair.
“I’m agent Pamela Dawson!” she said cheerfully. “I’m your profiler!”
“My profiler?”
“Yep!” Pam exclaimed enthusiastically. “It’s my job to figure out what makes you tick and let me tell you, that’s going to be fun!”
Sheloran looked at her suspiciously.
“Don’t feel too special. Most people here have a profiler,” she said with a grin. “You guys are just too interesting!”
“We are?”
“Sure!” she replied. “We host one of the greatest collections of… unique personalities, truly gifted humans and kalesh, exotic xeno threats, and the like anywhere in the galaxy! It’s a gathering of extremes, true one of a kinds! Normal humans, or any of the standard races for that matter, are boring! You guys? Not boring! I mean, a plath? Here?!? If someone told me two days ago that I would be chatting with a plath guest I would have told you that you were high… (and to give me some!)”
Pam leaned forward on her desk and whispered into the mic.
“Actually I would have had to look up what a plath was… and THEN I would have told you that I wanted a hit off of whatever pipe you were smoking! Oh! Speaking of...”
Pam tapped on her tablet and a doorway opened. An armed and armored combat drone floated in…
Carrying a tray that had a bottle of absinthe (her favorite brand!) a beautiful absinthe glass, chilled water, slotted spoon, and a small dish of sugar cubes.
“Care for a drink?” she asked. “We took the liberty of sneaking a peek into your hotel and this stuff would be repugnant beyond words to your roommate so we figured it was for you!”
“Um… thanks?” Sheloran said as she walked over. She opened the bottle and took a sniff.
“If we wanted to poison or drug you we would just gas you!” Pam said cheerfully as she pointed up at some very suspicious looking vents in the ceiling. “Or we’d have one of the bots hold you down...”
Sheloran carefully prepared herself a much needed drink and took a long sip. Oh she needed that.
“Is that your favorite?” Pam asked. “You get an alcohol ration. It would have to come pre-mixed though. We give you a drink or six a day, not a whole fucking bottle!”
“Why are you being so nice to me?” Sheloran as she sipped her absinthe suspiciously (still drank it though).
“I was wondering when you would ask,” Pam smiled. “Everyone asks that eventually. The easy answer is because it’s easy.”
Sheloran just looked at her in confusion.
“You are among the elite. You guys are the worst of the worst, the most deadly of the deadly, the baddest of the bad. You guys thrive on misery. Adversity empowers you. Brutality only gives you strength. Hell, most of you actually like it.”
“I don’t like it!” Sheloran squeaked sipping her absinthe.
“We could make this a living hell,” Pam chuckled, “but why exert ourselves so much just to suit you, make you stronger, more dangerous? Tartarus isn’t a ‘jail’ or even a ‘prison’. It’s a warehouse. It is our assigned task to store some of the most dangerous biological weapons in the galaxy, people like you. We aren’t concerned with punishment, or reform. Both concepts are a complete waste of time when we are dealing with individuals like yourself or anyone else here. Do you have any idea who we have in here?!? We can’t do shit to them! What they have been through… what they put themselves through just for fun sometimes… It’s literally impossible to punish them. Beat you down? Seriously? The concept is laughable. What lash would we use on someone like Tiberius Shane? Starve you? What privations would we use on ‘The Maiden’ that could bring her to her knees? Intimidate you? What would we possibly confront Kvash The Wounder with to make him flinch? It’s a complete waste of effort. Shit. You fucks would just view it as free entertainment.”
Sheloran’s eyes widened as she sipped her drink. Who was she going to be tossed in here with?
“The list goes on and on,” Pam chuckled. “Nobody in here is going to break. If they could safely be brought to heel they wouldn’t be here in the first place!”
“I can!” Sheloran squeaked nervously.
Pam just laughed.
“You are actually a prime example,” she chuckled. “I’m still crunching your numbers but you are ‘just a normal everyday plath’, completely ‘nice’, totally ‘docile’ (at least where violence goes)...”
“I am!”
“… until you get ‘pushed’...” Pam smiled wickedly. “Then you enter some sort of fugue state and become incredibly dangerous with the reaction times and target acquisition speed easily equal to that of a ‘sufficiently trained, fully enhanced, human special operative’. We have you on tape, both your own and the restaurant’s footage… would you like to see?”
Sheloran just shook her head.
“Well take my word for it,” Pam enthused, “when you black out shit gets freaky and you can go toe to toe with anyone, not just Harkeen thugs, and that’s before we even begin to talk about your ‘other abilities’. It’s in our best interest to keep you feeling comfortable and even more importantly, safe. I would much rather deal with you, than… you...”
“Other abilities?”
“Your innate technological abilities for one!” Pam exclaimed. “You just throw together the coolest little toys! The stuff you normally make is neat! The shit you made while in the Twilight Zone… The techies are still trying to figure out your Barn-Mart specials! Any info you feel like laying on us would be deeply appreciated!”
“I… I learned it from a video game...” Sheloran stammered.
“I like you!” Pam replied cheerfully. “I’m not sure if you actually believe that or are just a really good liar but I’m going to let you in on something,” she said as she pulled out the pistol she discarded in front of the hospital from a drawer in her desk, “This didn’t come from a video game. We checked them all.”
“It… It was based on one! That’s where I learned-”
“Advanced electronics? Weaponsmithing? High level electric and electronic engineering? Advanced physics?” Pam asked, “And something else that we are still trying to figure out… Even this little toy has some very smart very educated people very very excited.”
“I just tweaked it a little,” Sheloran said uncomfortably.
“Sure you did,” Pam winked. “Those little tweaks have some quite highly paid people not only a little confused, but actually a bit pissed off. Why didn’t you just use this little monster? It was certainly up for the task!”
Because I wanted them to-” Sheloran started to hiss and then clamped her hands over her mouth with a squeak.
“Suffer?” Pam asked her eyes gleaming malevolently? “Oh don’t worry,” she smiled. “I’m not DOJ and we have little interest in supporting their little games. We honestly do not care.”
“DOJ?”
“Department of Justice,” Pam smiled. “Not me. I don’t get paid to do those people’s jobs for them. I mean if we catch you planning a crime outside of this facility then yeah, we clue them in, but as far as helping them with a current investigation or trial? Pssh. I’ve got better things to do than become an active threat for one of our residents or guests. I mean, we think we got all the bases covered but… we aren’t you now are we? I am NOT going to be the reason you black out next time! They don’t pay me nearly enough for that bullshit.”
“Who… who are you with then?”
“The facility was built by and the exterior and outer spaces are guarded by the Republic armed forces,” Pam replied. “As far as who I and the rest of the internal and administrative staff goes, let’s just say that we serve the Republic and leave it at that.”
“Intelligence?” Sheloran asked in alarm.
“...We serve the Republic...” Pam smiled. “As a guest, all you need to know is that you will be well provided for and are completely safe. Everywhere you will go is covered by auto-turrets and patrolled by combat drones and we don’t use stunners. If someone starts trouble then they will stop… instantly. Even you can’t dodge them. Please inform your alter-ego. Even the most aggressive, violent, combative person here isn’t keen to throw their life away when there won’t even be a fight. No fun, no glory, just… darkness. That plus our two wardens, warden lassitude and warden corpulence, keep most people in line. I won’t bother telling you to relax or try to reassure you further but you will see. Things aren’t bad here at all! In fact, a lot of people are very happy to call this place home!”
A second combat bot entered the room carrying a small athletic bag and a tablet.
“That is your bag,” Pam said cheerfully. “You got a change of clothes, some undies (based on what we found in your hotel), and some slippers that I’m pretty sure you will like. There is also a tablet. You can use that to check the schedule, watch some vids, and communicate with me, of course!” Pam enthused. “You need anything or have any questions… or just want to talk, feel free to give me a call at any time. I do eat and sleep but I check my messages all the time!”
“Um… thanks...” Sheloran said dubiously.
“And if you want to chat with someone out there in the real world you can request a monitored line!” Pam enthused. “Someone’s going to be listening in, of course, but at least it’s something, right?”
“Uh, ok...” Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen. She would send messages through Baxlon. That was probably monitored too but if they acted on it Baxlon would eat them alive!
“Just follow the bot and it will take you to your new temporary home (fingers crossed, right?)” Pam smiled.
“Follow me, ma’am,” one of the bots said in a disturbingly human sounding voice as it hovered off.
Sheloran, clutching her tablet and bag, followed.
After she left, Pam’s friendly smile faded to an expressionless mask, her warm eyes glazing over and turning to ice.
She pulled out a communicator.
“Hello,” a dead, expressionless male voice answered.
“I have a candidate,” Pam replied with a cold purr. “She needs to become a resident. See to it.”
“I will inform the DOJ,” the man replied and hung up.
Pam reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a simple white armband emblazoned with a three-headed hound embroidered in black and silver thread.
She strapped it to her right arm and with near mechanical precision, rose and walked to the door.
As it opened, two guards leveled their shotguns at her.
She smiled at the fear in their eyes. They lived only because she let them and they knew it.
“I’m ready to return to my cell,” she said in a dead voice.
***
She was shown to a small cell with a bunk bed and a pair of desks… as well as a really really exposed showetoilet/sink combo.
Wow. It was just hanging out right there in the corner, just like she would be whenever she used it.
At least the door could close (and lock?) whenever she wanted it to.
If the door can close and lock that means…
She searched the room and, yep, sensors. Her every single move was tracked.
At least they weren’t cameras. She could at least hope for a modicum of privacy.
She turned to the bunks. The bottom one was occupied so she started setting up on the top one.
“Hey,” a male voice said.
It was one of the guys from the hall that was clapping when she lost her pooping mind (again).
Wait! There were men here?!?
“You’re a man!” she exclaimed in surprise.
“Was last time I checked,” he laughed. “Guys and girls are all mixed together here… I know. Weird, right?”
Sheloran just nodded.
“They say that the place is so secure they only need to make one. If anyone acts stupid…” he put two fingers to his head “Zap! Besides, everyone is fucking deadly here and everybody knows it! They also say it helps keep us ‘properly socialized’ or some bullshit like that. Don’t know about that but it’s nice having women around, even if I don’t have a girlfriend… yet! Name’s Roop, nice to meet you!”
“Sheloran,” she replied.
“I heard you today in the cubes!” he said. “Fucking badass, man!”
“Yeah, I sure told them...” Sheloran said ruefully.
“Oh your cellie is in the day room,” Roop said. “She practically lives in there. She’s one of the Grimdark Fifty-Thousand nerds. It’s almost like you have a private room!”
“Well, that will make pooping easier.”
Roop burst out laughing.
“You’re alright,” he said. “So, what are you in for?”
“Oh I really shouldn’t-”
Roop laughed some more.
“Cha-ka!” he laughed as he mimicked cracking a whip. “Just kidding! Everyone knows why you’re here! Those fucking threen picked the wrong madam to fuck with! Fucking brutal, man! The way you just walked in there… and then just sat down and ordered fucking breakfast!… Invited fucking SWAT to join you!… Didn’t even flinch when they hit you with the flash bangs!… Just raised your fucking coffee mug!… Pure motherfucking class!”
Sheloran winced.
“Hey, you wanna go grab a beer?” he asked. “I have two comin’.”
“Oh I appreciate it but-”
“I know, ‘nothing’s free in the joint’ but trust me, here it fucking is! I get six beers a day not counting all the weed! You won’t owe me a fucking thing!”
“You already sniffing around the new girl?” a husky female voice laughed as a huge human woman loomed into view. “I done told you you will probably have to wait till you become a resident to hook up!”
A gigantic tattooed woman gave Roop an affectionate headlock.
“Don’t mind Roop,” the woman laughed. “Horny little fuck’s been humpin’ everybody’s leg since he got here!”
“It wasn’t like that!” Roop protested. “I was just welcoming the new guy!”
“Uh-huh...” The mountain of a woman laughed. “Tell you what,” she grinned. “If you act right, you can come by my room later and I’ll give you a little bit.”
Roop’s eyes lit up.
“Really?!?”
“Sure! Why not!” the huge woman said. “Your sack must be about ready to pop! How long has it been?”
“Nine years...” Roop said, almost whining.
“Well no wonder you are so wound up!” she laughed. “Let me take care of business here and I’ll take you to heaven right after!”
“Really?!?!?” Roop replied.
“Get a load of this guy,” the woman laughed. “Yes, Roop, really. Now go to my room and wait.” “Yes, ma’am!” he exclaimed almost in ecstasy.
He started to sprint away but paused and turned to Sheloran.
“I was serious about grabbing a beer with ya!”
“Get out of here!” The woman said swatting Roop’s butt.
He left at a sprint.
“Oh boy oh boy oh boy!!!” he voice cried out as he ran.
“Forgive Roop,” she laughed. “He really wasn’t trying to trick you into owing him. He’s just trying to be nice. Hard to believe he chopped up his entire family.”
“Eeep!”
“But we don’t judge here,” the woman said. “It’s one of our rules. I’m Lee but everyone calls me Momma Bear. I’m the resident advisor for the block.”
“Resident advisor?”
“Yeah,” Lee replied. “I’m a ‘resident’ here, a lifer, and I live down here with you guests to help you guys out. Are you familiar with the trustee system?”
Sheloran shook her head.
“Well, here in Tartarus, we prisoners operate this place. We keep it running, keep it clean, and keep it orderly. You will only see the guards when you are in the outer ‘shell’. Once you enter the ‘core’ it’s just us… and the sensors, turrets, and bots of course. We trustees are the bosses. We assign jobs, wipe noses, swat butts, and whatever else that needs doing. You have any questions or need something I’m your girl. Just come see Momma Bear and I’ll point you in the right direction.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Sheloran said meekly.
“You can drop that ‘ma’am’ bullshit. Call me either Lee or Momma Bear. We are here for a reason after all! I’m no better than you! I’ve just been here longer, that’s all!” she said with an odd look in her eye for a moment.
She shook herself.
“Anyway, stash your shit and I will show you around!”
***
“… and don’t screw with the bots,” Lee said as they strolled the block. “They aren’t packing stunners and they will kill you. If they say something, listen. They will only say it once.”
Sheloran just nodded as she looked around.
“And see the bot with the gold markings?” Lee continued. “Those are ‘manned’. There is a guard piloting it. You want to talk to the man, just talk to one of those. If you ever have a problem with someone or feel even a little unsafe and you can’t find me or if you don’t want to talk to me about it for some reason, go to a goldie. Just don’t try to ‘take care of it’ yourself. There are too many turrets and drones. You will die. I’m serious about that. Don’t test them.”
“Ok,” Sheloran squeaked.
“Let’s see...” Lee said as she looked out across the common area. “There!” she exclaimed as she pointed at a specially decorated gold drone. “See the one with the star? That’s officer Jax! He’s the block’s concierge officer. He’s your point of contact as far as the man goes. Between him and me we can take care of whatever you need. Let’s go say hello!”
***
Officer Jax was really nice.
After they met with him Lee said that she had to go and ‘take care’ of Roop.
With a big grin and a wave she left.
When it was time for lunch Sheloran was amazed. Everything was so yummy! Oh it was so nice! There was this massive salad bar loaded down with apples, and oranges, and bananas and those wonderful tomatoes that Terra had. Everything was so fresh! They say that it’s because they grow a lot of it here!
Oh! And the olive bar! Great Prophet it was so good!
And you could go back as much as you wanted!
They even had these ‘fountains’ that had chocolate pouring down the sides in thick sheets and you could dip fruit and bread and all sorts of things in it! Wow! She had never seen anything like that before!
She didn’t have her dispensary card yet but it was “sangria day” so she could get a glass or two (She discovered that she absolutely adored sangria!) and nobody minded. They just said that she could just ‘pour in’ next time. In fact they insisted and kept filling up her cup until a bot said that she had had enough. (Ok, just one more glass then that’s it!)
She was still nervous as anything but everyone was really nice to her. In fact, she was a bit of a celebrity. It turns out that she was all over the news and everyone knew what she had done and what she had said to Judge Dredd.
There were even people who wanted to be her boyfriend!…
And one person who wanted to be her girlfriend!
Everyone wants to be my ‘friend’ except for a pooping plath! Sheloran thought ruefully as she politely declined yet another offer.
She was a little bit flattered though. When people expressed ‘interest’ before it was because she was a ‘cute’ little xeno. They were interested in ‘what’ she was…
Here, they were offering because of ‘who’ she was, what she had done. They wanted to be with her because she was a badass, one of them.
It was different… and a little bit exciting if she was being perfectly honest. They actually wanted her! It didn’t matter if she was weird… or even that she was “bad”… They actually wanted her!
Maybe she could… No! Absolutely not! Poop! What was she thinking?
And she wasn’t ‘one of them’!…
Was she?…
Completely overwhelmed, she retreated to her room and locked the door.
She hoped that her cellie was nice.
She pulled a really nice blanket over her head and hid for awhile.
***
[Chatroom UNDEFINED]
[Private Chatroom UNDEFINED]
[Present: Bunny]
[Interpol-2 has entered the chat]
///Bunny: Oh shit! Five-Oh! Five-Oh!///
///Interpol-2: Good afternoon, Bunny :) Keeping out of trouble (at least in the Republic)? ///
///Bunny: Funny you should mention that...///
///Interpol-2: Goddammit, Bunny! YOU PROMISED!///
///Bunny: I promise a lot of shit :D ///
///Interpol-2: So why the summons? You just wanted to gloat?///
///Bunny: I need a teeny, tiny, almost insignificant little favor.///
///Interpol-2: You actually expect me to assist you in… BREAKING THE LAW?!?///
///Bunny: Yep! :D ///
///Interpol-2: I should just log off and issue an alert but I simply have to know. What the hell are you planning and exactly why the FUCK should I help you?///
///Bunny: You know the Tartarus Detention Facility?///
///Interpol-2: Bunny… You can’t be serious!///
///Bunny: :) ///
///Interpol-2: One. It’s impossible, even for you and two… there is no two! It’s suicide!///
///Bunny: Care to make a little wager then? The bet: We hit the place, break out exactly who we want and only who we want and then escape without a trace.///
///Interpol-2: I know we’ve enjoyed a little wager or two in the past but not this time! This is too much! The fucking Cerberus program is in there! Please tell me this isn’t about them!///
///Bunny: Relax, we aren’t touching any of the hounds. Even we have our limits! No, this is just good old-fashioned high treason. ///
///Interpol-2: High treason? WTF? I thought you guys were on our side!///
///Bunny: Relax, it has to do with the Kung-Fu Cunny. ///
///Interpol-2: Oh, that’s cool then! :D I’ll take a piece of that action! (but no touchy Cerberus!) God! It would be GREAT if Tart got taken down a peg or three!///
///Bunny: We’re going after a guest. We aren’t getting anywhere near the residential levels.///
///Interpol-2: And you need me to make this happen?///
///Bunny: Hell no! The day I need your help to pull off a job is the day I start doing people’s taxes for a living!///
///Interpol-2: Then what do you want?///
///Bunny: You want to hear something fucking hilarious?///
///Interpol-2: I could use a laugh. ///
***
Sheloran entered the dining hall expectantly.
If anything lunch was just a warm-up!
Supper was amazing! She grabbed a plate of grilled veggies and gleefully raided the salad bar.
She paused over the pile of goodies in front of her as she gave thanks to the Great Prophet for the feast. She might be stuck here for well… maybe forever… but at least the food was good!
She wondered what their gardens were like. She bet they were awesome and wondered how long it would be before she could see them.
As she raised the first forkful of goodness to her waiting mouth a blur zipped in and landed across from her.
“Hi!” a slightly built blonde female exclaimed. “I’m Zippo! Your cellie! Sorry I didn’t meet you before but the Bionids were launching a raid and we had to put those foul xenos down in the name of the Emperor!… Sorry… I don’t mean ‘xeno’ like you I mean ‘xeno’ like xenos! I play Grimdark! Do you like Grimdark? It’s awesome! You can read my books if you want! We have a great community here! I hear its even better once you become a Resident! You slash stuff up, huh? I saw the news! Pretty cool! I like fire! I burn stuff! I just can’t help it! I just love to watch flames you know! Did you know that fire meets all of the requirements for life itself? It does! That’s how I got here! I just kept burning stuff! Did you know you can start a fire with just...”
Oh Creators... Sheloran thought in horror. This was her pooping cell mate?… Great…
“… And they were really mean to me there, so I burned them up! Oh how they screamed! It was so funny!...”
Wait. What? Sheloran thought in alarm as she caught that last bit.
“You burned your cell mates?” Sheloran asked her eyes widening in alarm.
“Well, the people in my bay,” Zippo replied. “We didn’t have ‘cells’ we all lived in one big room which made it really easy to get them all! See what I did was...”
I have a killer for a cell mate… Great… Sheloran thought glumly and then chuckled. Of course she did. She was here after all.
“… and then BOOM! WOOSH!” Zippo said as she threw her arms wide. “Everything burned! I used to be a chemistry major! Straight A’s! That’s how I knew you could make-”
“Excuse me.” Sheloran said after she swallowed a slice of perfectly ripe avocado.
“Yeah?”
“Why did you burn your fellow prisoners again?”
“Because they wouldn’t stop beating on me! They said I talked too much! Anyway, like I was saying I used to be a chemistry major so I knew you could take the detergent and mix it with...”
There it is, Sheloran chuckled. She was wondering where the turd in the salad was. At least she spent most of the day playing that Grimdark game.
“… but don’t worry! I’m not burning anything anymore! I can’t! I don’t wanna die… or worse!”
“Worse?”
“You DON’T want to go where they send you if you get ‘voted off of the island’!”
“Where’s that?” Sheloran asked, quite concerned. Knowing the universe’s fondness for pooping on her head she was probably going to go there too.
“Oh it’s bad!” Zippo said with big eyes. “It’s called the-”
Zippo trailed off into wide-eyed silence as four elderly people quietly walked up.
“Good evening, Zip,” an old man said with a smile. “Mind if we chat with your friend here?”
“Sure!” Zippo squeaked and quickly grabbed her tray and fled.
“You’re welcome,” the man said as he sat down across from her. “Five minutes with that girl is more than enough for anyone. I’m Martin,” he said as he extended his hand.
“Sheloran, nice to meet you,” she replied as she shook it.
“Kid,” Martin said, “You got style. You handled your business, yourself. You didn’t send some punk. You even did it with style. Didn’t bother trying to run, just sat yourself down and ordered breakfast, even tipped your waiter. Class act. Much respect.”
“Um, thanks?”
“And you didn’t scrape and beg in front of that judge,” Martin smiled. “Fuck the Republic and Fuck you too… classic! Wish I had said something that badass when I was on trial.”
“That was kind of a mistake, actually,” Sheloran replied.
“Heh… probably,” Martin said as they all laughed. “But some mistakes you just gotta make!”
He leaned forward.
“I just got one question,” he asked. “Why did you do it? Why did you kill those fuckers?”
Sheloran just sighed. Just be yourself, right?
“They hurt my people,” Sheloran snarled. “innocent people, people who hadn’t done a pooping thing to anyone… made her kid watch while they...”
Sheloran hissed.
“Nobody hurts my people and gets away with it!”
The group all looked at each other and nodded.
“Kid,” Martin smiled. “You ever hear of ‘The Saints’?…”
“No?”
“We are a… professional association… of like minded individuals,” Martin smiled. “From all across the Republic… A ‘union’ of sorts… a union that you might benefit from joining.”
“Look, Martin,” Sheloran said carefully, “I appreciate it but I just want to get through this without getting in any more trouble...”
They all laughed.
“We aren’t some pissant prison gang,” Martin chuckled. “I’m talking about when you beat the rap. You are running a pretty nice little game on your own but as you have found out, it can be hard without people at your back… and with The Saints you can take your little game and make it a lot bigger. We don’t do shit here except our time. The only ‘perk’ you get here is that Zippo won’t crash your lunch. She steers clear of us. She doesn’t want the Orggs wiping out her legion like last time she crossed us.”
“Yeah, little bitch tried playing in the big leagues,” a silver-haired woman snarled. “We crunched up all her tasty little smurfs!”
“It’s the closest thing to a shanking we could manage around here,” Martin chuckled. Krista here does board games, I do cards, Sven handles the FPS and RTS racket. You game?
Sheloran smiled.
“A little...”
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Meet The Freak 10

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Valentine
The pain in my shoulder kept rousing me from sleep, and damn did I ever need the rest. I'd get an hour or so of sleep, and then something would happen to tweak my shoulder. I'd roll over, or move reflexively to brush away an itch, and I'd be brought reluctantly to wakefulness.
It's not that I was uncomfortable. In fact, this 'hotel' as Wallace called it, might be one of the most luxurious buildings I'd ever set foot in. The furniture down in the restaurant, for example. The quality there, in just one of the pieces, was astounding. It was difficult to get fabric to take dye consistently, to achieve a uniform colour. As such, it was often the upholstery that was of particular prestige, making quality pieces often the centre of a noble's living room. Not only was every piece of furniture in that restaurant of such quality, everything matched. It was as if some sort of perfect automaton had fabricated each piece. And that was to say nothing of the carpentry and metalwork involved, which were similarly astounding.
Then there were the sheets I'd wrapped myself in. It wasn't quite the same as silk, silk had a more sultry quality, and this felt somehow more wholesome. It was more like a warm hug than a- well, than any of the sorts of things I usually got up to when tangled in silk sheets. And with Wallace sleeping nearby, his long steady breaths providing a comforting rhythm, and his scent lingering on the air, I found that I felt safer than I had in a very long while. Not safe, there was a reason I still kept a pistol nearby, there remained a long way to go for true safety, but I was safer.
I only wished I could enjoy it, to bask in the warmth from the pile of blankets, and luxuriate in the feeling that I didn't have an immediate looming threat breathing down my neck. The problem was, my gods damned shoulder would not stop hurting. I tried to find a position that wouldn't aggravate my injury, but despite my best efforts, still couldn't stay asleep for more than an hour at a time.
Finally, angry, bored, and still very tired, I kicked off the blankets in a fit of pique. Of course, that only hurt my shoulder more, and I grit my teeth to keep from waking Wallace with a pained gasp.
I frowned, the steady rhythm was gone.
I snatched a sheet and held it to my chest. With some difficulty, I sat up and peered over the edge of the bed. Wallace had left. Which meant he'd woken up. Which meant he'd noticed me sleeping on the floor next to him.
I sighed. I had been hoping to be gone before he woke, though I wasn't sure what I was trying to hide. That I trusted him? He probably figured that out about when I was huddled naked in the bath.
I wish he'd woken me, we could share breakfast, and I'd follow his explorations, but damn I was tired.
I slithered into the bed, still warm from his presence. I curled up in the middle of the bed where the warmth was the greatest and settled in among the blankets and piled pillows. By some magic, the mattress shaped itself to fit my body, and I quickly found a position that didn't set my shoulder aflame. The heat made me drowsy, and in renewed comfort, saw little reason to fight it.
I had little idea of the time that had passed when I finally woke once more. I only knew that the hollow and tired feeling had abated, and the sun still had not yet risen.
I considered laying there for a while longer. Perhaps I'd doze off again, but thought better of it. I was curious about what Wallace had been doing, had he returned to the room, only to leave me to sleep in peace? Perhaps, but it was a large building. Likely he wasn't finished exploring.
I pushed myself up, found my torch and pistol, and wrapped myself in one of the sheets. So covered, I slipped back across to my room and dressed in the sleeveless shirt and legless trousers I'd worn to dinner. I'd worn the ensemble to dinner out of exhaustion, after all, getting into the flight suit was a bit of a bother at the best of times, and I didn't feel like attempting it with one arm. I'd expected Wallace to make some remark, maybe blush a little. I'd even had a biting retort ready for the occasion, but he didn't protest my lascivious dinner wear. It seemed not to register to him.
I found I quite liked Wallace, which was quite the novel experience. I'd always seen company as something to be avoided unless I'd paid for their time. How strange it was then, that I hoped Wallace would stay once I'd finished teaching him what magic I knew.
With him possibly anywhere in the massive building, I intended to track him by scent. Sleeping several hours in his bed had made that tricky, however, and I had difficulty separating the scents present in the environment from those clinging to me. I could get an idea of where he'd been, but was unable to tell how long ago it was. As it seemed he'd spend the hours I was asleep searching the entire building, I found myself doing the same. I struggled to find a single room that did not have at least a trace of his scent within.
It made me regret leaving my necklace behind, but it wouldn't be safe with my shoulder still healing. That said, I'd only checked the first floor, and I could already feel myself growing faint as I gazed at the door to the stairs.
I am going to make that man carry me back down here.
Just pushing open the heavy metal door- the humans take security seriously it seems -made me feel dizzy. I put my hands on my knees and took a few deep breaths to steady myself before continuing.
I woke to the taste of blood in my mouth, a brutal headache, and the reek of fear. I shifted a little and blinked my eyes open, and I heard a sigh of relief.
"Oh thank god, please, just don't move."
I came to realize that Wallace was holding me in his arms, a little too tightly, as he was making it difficult to move my head.
"Wallace," I grumbled drowsily, "Let me go."
"Valentine, just- please, for fuck's sake."
I met his gaze, and my anger softened as I saw the concern in his eyes. He looked like he'd just seen me die.
"Okay, okay," I soothed.
Wallace calmed a little as the sickly scent of fear was gradually replaced by the musky scent of my pheromones. With so much skin uncovered, the effects should have taken hold much more quickly than they did, but at the very least it didn't appear as if his heart were about to stop.
Wallace took a deep breath, "In first aid- for humans -the number one thing, the most important thing unless someone is gushing blood, are head and neck injuries. "
I placed my palm gently against his chest, "It's okay," I finally understood what had him so shaken, "Fey are different, we're not so vulnerable to getting bumped on the head."
"You're-" he began, but I put a finger to his lips before he could interrupt.
"I know a thing or two about treating injuries, Wallace," I insisted, "I learned all sorts of things about head injuries, but us fey are not like anyone else. If we were, every noble house would have a pile of dead servants who fainted trying to carry the lady's tea up the stairs."
Wallace gently took my hand away from his lips. He held gently onto my hand, our hands clasped loosely across my chest.
"I thought you were dead," he said flatly, "I pushed open the door, and here you were on the landing, limp as a corpse and white as a sheet."
"This isn't the first time I've fainted trying to climb the stairs," I sighed, "I just need a little air."
I gave a little yelp as Wallace gathered me up and rose to his feet, and quickly threw an arm around his neck to steady myself. I squirmed around until I was in a more or less sitting position. The motion made my head throb, and I rested my head against Wallace's chest while I squeezed my eyes shut against the pain.
I'd made it almost to the roof, following Wallace's scent, but that was damning with faint praise. It had been easy to figure out where he'd gone off to once I was in the stairwell, as his scent was present throughout, but the climb had been brutal. To any other fey, my ascent through the building would seem supernal. But to the humans who'd constructed the building, doubtless to Wallace as well, I must have seemed pitiful.
Wallace elbowed the bar across the door, which shifted slightly, and he ducked out onto the roof. I shivered as the cold air brushed across my exposed skin, and tried to press closer to Wallace. It got awfully chilly during The Long Night, and I was a little underdressed.
The roof was altogether more pleasant than that of the 'gas station', as Wallace had called it. There were several cushioned benches scattered about, some small trees here and there, and a few flower beds set against the low wall that ringed the rooftop. Someone, indeed, likely several someones, had gone to some effort to make the space as pleasant as possible.
"What happened to your jewellery?" Wallace asked, his voice low, though I could feel the bassy reverberations in his chest.
"It's not safe to use while I'm healing," I shivered, "So I'm useless until my shoulder is mended."
"You're plenty useful," Wallace insisted, "You teach me magic, and I'll carry you around wherever you want to go," he promised.
He carried me over to one of the benches and took a seat. He let go of me, but I didn't take the opportunity to slide off his lap. Instead, I snatched a nearby blanket and pressed it into his hands. He took it, an amused expression on his face, and helped me settle it around myself. With it trapping the heat, it felt like I was sitting with my cheek resting against a furnace. Between his natural scent and the all-encompassing warmth, I felt myself growing drowsy once again.
I pulled the blankets tight around myself and peered up at him, "Maybe I'll ride you around like a horse," I giggled, "Did Temerity get to ride you around too?"
He immediately turned red, his lips set in a thin line as he tried not to break out into a guilty smile.
"Oh, she did, she did!" I hooted, "Were you face up or face down? The girls at The Blushing Maiden have given it to me both ways, so I can see the appeal in either case," Wallace turned, if it were even possible, a yet darker shade of red, "Now that I think about it, Temerity does seem the sort to take the initiative. Face down then."
Wallace's guilty smile turned to a grimace, but there was grudging mirth in his eyes and the twist of his lips.
I prodded him in the ribs, "You're not even the tiniest bit angry," I asked incredulously, though it was more of a statement.
I pressed my nose against his chest and inhaled deeply, "I can't smell a whiff of anger. If I were a servant, anyone else would be having me flogged right about now to correct my mark against their honour. Or as a noblewoman, they'd be looking for a father, brother, or husband to duel."
He sighed, a wry, grudging smile on his face, "Humans used to be like that," he admitted.
I frowned in thought, "Now that I think about it, I don't believe Simon has ever challenged anyone to a duel. And gods know people have tried to goad him into it."
"Why, to try to get rid of him?" Wallace guessed, "Seems like a losing proposition if it's fey versus human, even if he doesn't go all Super Saiyan on them."
"Super Saiyan?" I inquired.
Wallace covered his face with his hand, "The body magic thing he does."
"Oh, well, you're right. Magic isn't allowed, though that can be hard to enforce. But it's the privilege of the challenged party to opt for a champion to take their place. Usually a sprite, or now that there are other races in the city, a goblin or elf. But it matters little," I explained, "Simon seems genuinely ambivalent to even the most grievous insult made against him. At first, it led to him losing a great deal of respect within the city, but once it was clear he didn't care about that either, I think he was able to turn it into a strength. That said, it's not as if he doesn't get even with those that oppose him. Typically when a nobleman of the city goes after Simon, he'll find that a wife or daughter will have mysteriously fallen for the human interloper," I thumped Wallace on the chest, "Simon's playroom isn't quite as well soundproofed as Temerity's though, I understand that most of the manor, along with anyone out on the street, can hear when Simon is taking the initiative with a new paramour," I put a hand to my chin, as if in thought, "Now that I think about it, that must be some serious soundproofing in Temerity's place, I mean, you must be awfully lou-"
Wallace, very gently, but very firmly, put his hand over my mouth.
"Shhh."
I shrank inwards a little and nodded.
At first, I'd been needling him just to see what it would take to get him to strike me. Humans were still an enigma to me, and I found that people were generally easier to deal with if I knew where the limits were, but now I realized that the greater risk would be making the big mushy goliath feel hurt.
He took his hand away, and I pulled myself up to plant a kiss on his cheek, before sinking back down to nestle against his chest.
"You're an okay bodyguard Wally."
"Thanks, Vally," he replied wryly, "Have you got your daily allotment of teasing me in? Can we get to adult stuff?"
I rolled my eyes, "Val will be fine, and what is it?"
"Well," he began, pulling down the blanket a bit so I could see out into the night, "I picked this bench for a reason, are you able to make out that light in the distance?"
"No, can you-"
Wallace covered both the torches, and I waited as my eyes adjusted to the darkness.
"Maybe?" I said finally, "I might just be seeing what I want to see though. I take it you're more confident?"
He nodded, "It's a campfire. It's way the hell out there, but it's a fire."
"Probably surveyors from Caniforma," I guessed.
"Are they going to be a problem?"
"Perhaps," I admitted, "They might eventually find a route here, but surveyors tend to guard their discoveries jealously. Unless you know who to ask, it's not easy to even learn where to buy such information, and that's to speak nothing of the price. No, they're not likely to pose a threat. That said, if someone is truly determined to come after me, they likely could reach us."
"You mean someone might pull the same stunt we did," Wallace realized.
I pulled the blanket back up over my head and relaxed against the big man.
"Yes. And while we had to spend a day getting through the pass, the proximity of the mountains offers possibilities to the determined."
"You mean someone might try to make their own little rest stop by climbing up far enough? Would that even work with horses?"
"Doubtful," I replied, "But if it came to it, they could abandon the horses to the tide, and sleep out the night partway up some convenient cliff."
"Hmmm..." he rumbled quietly, "Just trying to think through the timeline here. So the horsemen, horsewomen, horsepeople?"
"They were riders, not centaurs," I huffed.
"Whichever, point is, they left late. After all, we left late, and they left even later after that. So we'll assume whoever comes after us has time to prepare, and are down the ramp from the city at first light."
"Not a simple task," I interjected, "There are special carriages that carry horses down, and even if they've planned to have those ready, the descent is yet slower than it was for us."
"Okay, fair," Wallace agreed, "But it does mean that, compared to the riders we ran into, they'll be further along at any given point in time."
"Fair," I agreed.
"Which pushes their point of no return forwards, I don't know, six hours?" he guessed, "That might be a bit generous, but we should prepare for a best-case attempt from them."
"They also won't have spent several hours searching an alien neighbourhood for us," I added.
Wallace nodded, "Which means they get even further. Now include the fact they've got a safe return that's a lot closer... yeah, I bet they could make it. Fuck they'd be tired though."
"I wouldn't worry about it for now, Wally," I assured him, "I have a hard time conceiving of a more defensible position than what we have now. We'll have time to ready ourselves. Besides, they know not what they face at the end of their journey. I don't expect to see them in the next Long Night, perhaps the one after next at the earliest," I peered up at him from beneath the blankets, "Plenty of time for you to learn some magic."
Wallace beamed and seemed to tremble at the mere word, and it gave me a little thrill to see him smile like that.
I thumped my hand against his chest again, "Carry me inside, feed me some breakfast, and we can get started."
Wallace pursed his lips, "What was that you said, something about protecting you but not taking care of you?"
I narrowed my eyes, "You're not taking care of me, you're pampering me.
"As you wish, your highness," Wallace replied wryly.
Still bundled up in the blanket, Wallace brought me back inside through a different staircase. Rather than functional metal railings and hard stone steps, this staircase was thickly carpeted, and the hardwood railings were stained a rich dark brown.
Wallace shouldered his way through the door at the bottom of the stairs, and I somehow found myself in a room that was even more luxurious than what I'd seen below.
Now that wasn't to say that every surface was engraved, gilded, and studded with gemstones as it might be in a royal's palace. The humans who'd built this structure seemed to have a preference for understatement, and instead of displaying wealth with precious metals and rare stones, it was with quality materials. Again, I was astounded by the uniformity with which the carpets and furniture upholstery were dyed. The elves could do work that was nearly this good, but it wouldn't be uniform over such a large area, and the reagents they used to fix the dyes had an unfortunate scent.
It looked to me that the top floor of the entire east wing was dedicated to this single set of chambers. Well, perhaps not 'chambers', as the designers seemed not to have believed in walls. Where they were needed, they were either glass, as the exterior walls were, or did not rise to reach the ceiling, and served simply to break up the sightlines and provide a little privacy.
Oddly enough, the kitchen seemed to be displayed proudly, rather than being out of sight, hidden back in some servant's area. I wasn't happy to see the harpsichord, in what would be the sitting room, had it been a separate room. There was also another of those black glass slabs that humans always arranged their furniture to face. There had even been several in the restaurant below, arranged so that no matter where one sat, a slab could be seen. This one was the largest I'd yet seen and was nearly as wide as I was tall.
The deference shown to the objects suggested some religious significance, and it occurred to me that there had been something similar in the house we'd looted before leaving the human neighbourhood. The materials hadn't been quite the same, and the glass slab at the front had bulged outwards rather than being perfectly flat, but there as well, the furniture had been arranged to face it.
"This is the penthouse," Wallace explained, "I wanted to wait until you were up to ask your thoughts, but I think we should start moving our stuff up here. The stairs are a problem-"
"It'll be fine once my shoulder is mended," I assured him.
Wallace shrugged, and set me down on one of the wide upholstered and high-backed benches in the sitting room, "There's also some conference rooms through there," he went on, nodding towards the central spine of the building, "so there's space for us to work if we need it."
I stretched out on my back while Wallace went over to the kitchen to root through the cabinets.
"Is that what's atop the other wing?" I yawned.
"No, the conference rooms are near the elevators, probably for fancy people to have fancy people meetings," he called back, "The other wing is a presidential suite, so I guess this is an American hotel."
"American?"
"Uh, it's another country from Earth," he explained, "But the language is the same, and I'm familiar enough with the units they use to measure things that it's not a problem," I heard the cabinets shut. A moment later, Wallace was peering over the side of the couch, "I'm gonna go out on the balcony and cook, you stay out of trouble till I get back."
"I'll try, no promises."
With both of us properly fed, I had Wallace join me in the sitting room and drew him down next to me on what he called a 'couch'.
While he'd been busy cooking, I'd poked around the penthouse, looking for something to use for our first magic lesson. I'd found what I'd needed in the bathroom- a bathroom that was larger than some commoner's homes -a box of hairpins.
I took out just one of the pins and handed it over to him. It seemed comically small in his enormous hand, and he held it between forefinger and the odd not-quite-thumb, not-quite-finger that was his extra digit.
"I can do magic with just this?"
"Yes and no. The first thing to understand-" I began.
Wallace beamed, and threw his arms up in the air, "First law of magic!"
I sighed, but couldn't help but share his smile, "You're just a child on the inside, aren't you."
"We're all children on the inside," Wallace replied, "and we're all just pretending otherwise."
My smile turned to a smirk, as I considered what I might do if I wasn't trying to keep up appearances as a noblewoman. And the truth was, it wasn't as if I put much effort into such appearances.
"Are you going to let me teach you magic," I prodded, "or are you going to keep sharing your philosophy?"
"Alright, alright, what's the first law of magic?"
"From a single object, you can only get one type of mana," I recited, "There are exceptions, but for the time being, one object, one type of mana."
Wallace frowned and stared intently at the hairpin, "That doesn't exactly make sense."
"What about it troubles you?"
"The exceptions. Physical laws don't tend to have them."
"Wally, which one of us is teaching and which one is learning right now?"
"I know, I know, but I also spent two decades in one type of school or the other," he insisted, "Newton's laws of motion, the laws of thermodynamics, Euclid's postulates, they mostly don't have exceptions."
"Mostly?" I repeated, "So then they do have exceptions, why is it so strange then-"
"That's just it," he exclaimed, "Thermodynamics, that's sacrosanct. Pretty sure even magic doesn't violate that no matter how hard you try. But Euclid's postulates and Newton's laws of motion, those are different. Euclid had five postulates. The first four are simple. I mean simple enough that they're a single sentence that a kid could understand. I mean, the first one is that you can draw a straight line between any two points, really simple stuff. But Euclid was trying to explain the very fundamentals of geometry. His problem, and hell, mathematicians worked on it for hundreds of years after him, was his fifth postulate. He was trying to describe the fundamentals behind parallel and non-parallel lines, and it was kind of clumsy. He couldn't quite get the phrasing to be as neat and tidy as the other five postulates. And not just him, like I said, plenty of genuine geniuses worked on the same problem, and couldn't figure it out. See, the truth was, there was a deeper understanding that wasn't known," he paused, I think he'd noticed that my eyes were starting to glaze over, "Um, remind me to tell you about non-euclidean geometry some time. The point is, the way he was trying to describe how parallel lines worked, didn't always apply. But he couldn't even conceive of how it didn't apply. It was as if he was blind to it."
"And you think the same is true for magic?" I said slowly, as I digested his speech.
"Yeah, and you know what," Wallace said confidently, "This is exactly the sort of thing Simon would recognize as well."
I felt a sudden tightness in my chest, not fear, but excitement. Wallace had already been able to provide some hints, but now it felt as if I were finally starting to draw the curtain aside.
"This Newton, what was his mistake?"
"Well the thing to remember about Newton, is that he was a genuine genius. I mean, he couldn't figure out the equations necessary to track the motions of planets, so he invented a new type of mathematics. He was one of the first guys to lay out a set of laws that could begin to describe the way the physical world worked. It's more complicated than that, and others added to his theory to build Classical Mechanics, but there's a reason that Classical Mechanics is sometimes referred to as Newtonian Physics. The trouble was, there were areas where his theories broke down. But like Euclid, it broke down in ways he couldn't conceive of. It worked for apples falling from trees, and planets orbiting stars, but not, for example, black holes, nuclear weapons, and spaceships trying to travel faster than light."
"I feel as if I say this frequently in your company," I told him tiredly, "but pardon me?"
"Newton's theories worked at the scales that most people can conceive of. From the very smallest bit of dust, all the way up to the most very massive stars. As for velocity, it covered the stationary, all the way up to objects travelling more than a hundred thousand times faster than a speeding bullet."
"What else is there?"
"Exactly!" he exclaimed, "It took another two hundred years for a guy named Einstein to come along and invent General and Special Relativity, which explained how things smaller than motes of dust, larger than the largest stars, and nearly as fast as light worked."
"I still don't think I understand quite what you're saying, but I take it, that it is enough to know that there was more to know than Euclid and Newton could fathom."
"Exactly," Wallace agreed, "So, what are these exceptions to the 'one object, one mana type' rule?"
"Gemstones, air, and liquids. Raw gemstones can be cut in such a way as to provide two of the available mana types at once. Garnets, for example, provide four mana types, Metal, Body, Strengthen, and Protect. When it is faceted, the jeweller selects any two of those, and from then on, those are the only two mana types that the garnet may provide. Indeed, the caster must use both types, for any spell that includes the garnet. As for air and liquids, neither can be said to be a single object. With liquids, typically one must use the entire container unless it's something like a spellcaster dipping their hand in a lake or river. That's typically only something experts can do though. Most spellcasters will simply scoop some up in their hand or the like. Air presents the same difficulty, experts can simply use it directly out of the space around them, but most Air magic users will carry glass bottles of various sizes."
"So say I wanted to use this bobby pin," Wallace suggested, "I'd need to use the whole thing, and only for one of its available mana types?" I nodded, and then Wallace bent the pin until it broke into two halves, "And now this is two objects, so I could use what was a single bobby pin, for both mana types in a spell?"
"Yes, that was the puzzle I'd intended you to solve," I admitted, "I sense you're unhappy with this answer?"
"I am," he agreed, "I don't know how the 'one object one mana type' rule is wrong, but it's wrong. What if I had two pins, or let's say I just use both these halves. These are metal, so they've got Metal mana? Okay, so could I use both halves for Metal mana, and then some third object for the other mana type I need?"
"Yes," I said slowly, "I suppose that's the second rule. Controlled magic always takes two types of mana, attempt it with a single type, and only the gods know what will happen."
"Alright, well I'm gonna think on rule one. It feels kind of like a 'blind men and the elephant' situation."
This time I just threw up my hands.
Wallace grinned sheepishly, "Sorry, have you ever seen an elephant?"
"Yes," I replied, more than a little exasperated.
"Coles notes-" he began, and I gave him a dangerous look, "Sorry, simple version is, one blind guy puts a hand on the leg and thinks an elephant is like a tree. Another feels the trunk and says it's like a big snake, so on and so on."
"You're clearly very intelligent, very learned. It's a shame you hide it behind a veneer of utter madness."
"We can argue about who's crazier later," he chuckled, "So we've got the first rule, 'one object, one mana type', and its exceptions, and the second rule, 'one or more verbs, and one or more nouns, or bad things happen'."
"Then there's the final rule, and it applies to the case you suggested, using both halves of the pin for Metal mana. Steel is a Greater source of Metal mana. It doesn't matter how much steel you have, it will only ever be a Greater source. The quantity of steel instead determines how long the Greater source persists."
"Is there a number for greater?" he asked, "What's the scale?"
"I've yet to hear anyone use numbers to try to describe the difference between various mana sources, or at least, try and succeed in coming up with anything that makes sense. No, the scale is Minimal, Lesser, Moderate, Greater, and Significant."
"Hold on. Actual metal is only the second-best source of Metal mana? How does that make sense?" Wallace demanded.
I shrugged, "Only gemstones are a Significant mana source, metals are typically Greater, not just of Metal mana itself, but of whatever other mana types that metal provides as well. Copper provides Greater Fire, for example."
"Hmm, seems kinda weird that it's the most powerful sources of mana that are best known," Wallace mused, "I would have thought it'd be the other way around."
"There are commonly known rumours about colours and herbs both supplying either lesser or minimal mana of a great many different types, but I've yet to hear any specifics."
"How are new types discovered then? Even if most people get the info second-hand, someone would have had to be the first."
"It's tricky," I warned, "And I don't even know if the method I know of is the safest way to do it, but typically one takes a material with a known mana type, and the material they want to understand and attempt to cast a spell. Either the caster can guess at what mana might be present in the unknown material, in which case things proceed as with any normal spell."
"And if they get it wrong?" Wallace grimaced.
"If they get it wrong," I continued, "Or simply try to cast a spell without trying to guess what mana types might be present, then nearly anything can happen. The proto-spell uses the selected mana from the known material and a random mana type from the unknown material, and chaos generally ensues."
"I'm guessing it's generally a good idea to use small quantities then?" Wallace offered.
I nodded, "Anything to limit the potential damage. Transformation magic and Body magic are the worst. Fire magic, to be sure, may cause severe burns if the caster is unlucky, but Healing magic can correct something as simple as an injury. But a body, malformed by magic, is nigh-impossible to correct."
I took his hand in both of mine. It was soft but strong, and large enough that my thumbs didn't quite meet in the middle.
"Promise me you'll listen, and promise me that you won't go experimenting on your own," I urged him, "This is dangerous, and there's only so much I can do. If I were any good with healing magic, I would have fixed my shoulder already. I understand your excitement, but before we continue, I need your word that you'll listen when I warn you something's dangerous."
"Alright, I promise," he assured me, "If I come up with anything crazy, I'll talk to you first."
"Thank you, the other thing I should warn you about is that this isn't going to be easy. I don't want you to feel discouraged if it doesn't work right away."
I didn't want to sabotage him by telling him just how hard it was to cast a spell for the first time, but I also didn't want him giving up. I'd seen both extremes in my time. Some would give up after trying and failing for weeks, while still others would hear such tales and internalize the assumption that they'd never be able to do it. I was by no means a magic tutor, but those I was familiar with had spoken of striking a balance. It was essential to warn would-be spellcasters of the difficulty, without making it seem insurmountable. Magic was a science of the mind after all, and if someone got the wrong idea in their head, it often made their magical journey a great deal longer, if it started at all.
"Everything is hard until you figure it out," he replied, "I'll be patient."
"First," I began, speaking softly, "Close your eyes, once you get more familiar with magic you won't need to, but for now it can help to focus the mind."
He did as I asked, and I let go of his hand to pick up the box of bobby pins.
"The spell you're going to cast will give you an invisible hand, that can pick up only metal. Steel contains Earth, Fire, Metal, Movement, and Protection mana. You're going to use the Metal mana from one half of the pin, and the Movement mana from the other to create this hand," I shook the box so he could hear the pins rattle, "Then you're going to use that hand to pick up some of these pins."
Wallace nodded, an oddly tranquil expression on his face.
"Now. Magic requires you to hold two different understandings of the world in your mind. First, there's the world as it is now, where you're holding two halves of a broken pin in one hand. Second, there's the world as you will it to be, where the halves of the pin are gone, and you have an intangible hand, capable of only manipulating metal. Now I understand that might not make much sense," I admitted, still speaking softly, "But think of it as there being two worlds. There's the mental world as it exists within your mind, and there's the physical world, as it appears to everyone else. Take your time," I said soothingly, "Don't rush yourself, the important thing is to-"
There was a metallic rattling, and then the pins were floating above the small box, as if cupped in an invisible hand.
I leapt to my feet, astounded at what I saw, "Wally, that's amazing!" I exclaimed.
Wallace was not so enthused. He had his eyes open now, but there was an unexpected sadness in them.
"Seems I'm uniquely suited to this," he muttered dourly.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing, just the universe reminding me that I'm a freak."
"Who cares?" I demanded, "What you just did takes most people weeks or months, you're a freak? Wallace, I would cut off my arm to be a freak like you. You're an enormous slab of muscle with indestructible bones, a supernatural talent for magic, and this is just a guess, but someone your size is also probably hung like a horse."
He immediately turned red and brought a hand to his face, but I went on unabated, "Who cares, if I had a body like yours, I would revel in it. The strength, the power, I would need to run from nothing. And what you said about your body making muscle no matter how lazy you are? Gods, I would eat as much as I wanted, drink whatever I liked, and bed whoever I fancied," I shook my head slowly, "But you don't conduct yourself like that. I would have searched out some shapely elf noblewoman, one that was easier to handle than Temerity, to act as patron and paramour while I ate and drank and fucked the days away," I spread my arms, and gazed down at my scrawny frame, "But instead you're here with me, because I need you, and because you have a good heart."
"Well," he said slowly, "Thanks, I guess," he said with a bland shrug.
I growled and prodded him in the side. I wanted it to hurt, but I think my shoulder ended up worse off than his ribs. At the same time, I bore down on my pheromone glands, forcing out as much of the rage pheromone as I could muster.
"You don't think I know you get angry sometimes? Really really angry?" I demanded, "When we lost that pack, gods, I didn't think the scent of anger could be that thick. And then in the tunnel when you were trying to get through that metal cover, the smell was so strong I thought I was going to faint."
I wiped my brow with the back of my hand. It wasn't sweat. Instead, I was giving off so much of the pheromones that it was beading on my skin, and making my clothes and hair damp.
"But you didn't lash out at me, or anyone else. Who cares if you get angry? It happens, what matters is what you do with it. You're a good person, with a good heart," I informed him, "But time to time you need someone to slap you upside the head and get you on the right track, that's all."
He chuckled at that. There was enough rage pheromone in the air now that he should have long since bashed my head in, but instead, he was laughing.
He raised his hands, "Alright, alright, you've made your point. Now could you please tone it down? If I have to put up with this for much longer, I'm gonna burst a blood vessel."
I switched to the opposite pheromone, and couldn't get much out before my glands ran dry, but it was enough to neutralize the rage pheromone in the air.
I put my hands on my knees and took a deep breath, I don't think I'd ever pushed myself that hard, and I was surprised to find it left me so exhausted. My legs felt like jelly as I stumbled back over to join Wallace on the couch.
"If you're done feeling sorry for yourself," I huffed, "I can finish explaining magic," I offered.
"Go ahead, what's left?" he asked wryly.
Continued in comment
submitted by ThisHasNotGoneWell to HFY [link] [comments]

🌻👑⚙️Reddit's Drag Race All Stars 2 - Episode 1: "Lean Green Queening Machines" PART 1⚙️👑🌻

The backing track of Rain on Me starts playing as shots of the new workroom play in a short montage. The clacking of heels can be heard getting louder and louder as the camera zooms in on the entrance archway.
Creolla Azzedine is the first to walk into the werkroom, stopping in a tea stand pose, head slightly down, with one feet gracefully behind the other and goes “ ¡ ZAZ ! ” cutting the air with her finger. She stands, pointing finger high in the air, a very strong pose facing the camera and, giving shoulder, she turns around, shows a little butt, resting her arm on her waist while inclining the huge hat just a little down, looking over her back with an mischievous expression. She then pops a leg and poses to the camera.
Latex chaps that grab tight to her thighs and make them pop out, so juicy, her waist is cinched, her hat is huge, this design is very Mugler.
She’s wearing a little black bolero with long sleeves; black ruffles on her chest, a long drape of satin goes around her head and flows behind as she walks. Her head is in this cotton mask that shows off just the face shape and has one circular cut for the eye. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZBQ81xYkIJlDowqcIpIp7hpjmXBnbRqRd8mDO0JxedE/edit
CREOLLA’S CONFESSIONAL: “My entrance is inspired by the legend of Zorro! I’m bringing latin reference, minimalism, chic, vintage and new age with defined angles and cuts, sharp lines everywhere. I’m living my best fantasy and ready to cut a bitch out!”
---
The sound of a motorcycle engine revving can be heard as Cass drives through the werk room in her lovely yellow motorcycle, she speeds around the contestants in the corner of the room like a sheepdog rounding up the sheep before driving back to the entrance of the werk room. She parks in front of the entrance and gets off the vehicle and stands in front of the camera, holding the severed head of David Carradine (Bill) in one hand and her long katana in the other. She drops his head to the ground and removes her motorcycle helmet “Bill’s dead so now who’s next to be Cass-trated?” *Swings Katana* . http://imgur.com/a/xyRjtPi Cass’s look is inspired by Kill Bill’s very own Uma Thurman in her iconic yellow jumpsuit. She wears the iconic yellow latex jumpsuit which is now covered all over with blood and bullet wounds. Her blonde hair and face is also covered with dark red blood. With her she brings her long silver katana, a matching yellow motorcycle helmet and the severed head of Bill (which for legal reasons is fake).
CASS-TRATED’S CONFESSIONAL: “Hello my name is Cass-trated and I came to chop through the competition . . . LITERALLY! I’m your lovely forgotten contestant on S3, yes I was there! And now I’m here to finally be remembered and make some type of impact.
Cass and Creolla give each other friendly hugs as they look around the renovated workroom. “It’s all happening!” Says an excited Creolla.
---
The next girl struts confidently into the werk room and hits her mark, putting her right hand on her hip, forming a physical visual of the Singapore Flag with her look (like Bob with her entrance look). “That bitch Cass left me on the damn moon, but whatever, the pride of Singapore is BACK!!!!” yells Anita Dragname.
CREOLLA’S CONFESSIONAL: “I gotta say I’m pretty impressed by Anita. I also know she is pretty impressed by me so I can respect and see her as competition.”
Referencing Anita’s last challenge before she yeeted out of the sub and her country of origin, Anita wears a replica of the Totally Spies Superspy Suit; a red, skin-tight latex catsuit with metallic silver installations on her shoulders, side of the knees and elbows. Just like the original, there are 2 “tones'' to the suit. The sides of the suit that goes from under her pits to her ankles are matte red and slightly darker to act as a “body contour”, while the rest of the suit is rhinestoned, adding a little iridescence and contrast. The full length of her right sleeve, however, is full white. In the middle of the Superspy Suit, 5 white stars can be found placed in a circle, on top of her D-cup breasteses. She has on matching white shin-length gogo boots with a chunky heel that glows a bright, neon white when they are activated.
Her hair is a big, blown out ginger quiff (think Trinity Taylor’s Naughty Nighties) that goes up to about 10 cm above her scalp. It is huge, thick and voluminous and ends right at her shoulders. White glitter comes out of the roots of her hair and extends outwards into the hair creating an ombre effect of shiny glitter and the bright ginger. Her makeup is her signature beat; high-arched graphic brows in a dark brown, soft, blended contours, double-stacked 301s, smokey eyes and a silver glitter lid. She uses cute little silver star stickers as “freckles” on her face. She finishes off her mug with a pop of colour in a bright red to match the concept of her look.
ANITA’S CONFESSIONAL:Assalamualaikum semua, my name is Anita Dragname and she’s back……….. for some of that good tex-mex they serve for breakfast. I’m back with the drive to perform rigorous CPR to this sub and give it the revival it so desperately needs. I’m hoping to have a good time and have some fun with the dolls! A crown along the way wouldn’t hurt, would it?”
---
The next queen walks to the centre of the entrance way and pauses for a few seconds; she places her hands on her hips and gives a confident smirk on her face. She walks to her mark, and with her hands on her hips, she says: “As smooth as silk … as rich as Velvet.” Amelia Velvet turns several times while moving her hands in various posing positions around her face. She looks towards the other girls and smirks.
Amelia is wearing a rich, ethereal, one piece garment - a short cocoon dress with a built in floor length cape. The whole garment is in a light shade of baby blue, and the fabric is a slightly rigid, rich radzimir. The piece has two cutouts for her arms to slide out. Her wig is a shoulder length dirty blonde piece. It is wet looking and slicked back, as if she has just run her fingers through it to push it back. Her face is beautifully painted. Her jaw, cheeks and nose are contoured harshly as per usual. Amelia’s brows are highly arched and her eye makeup blends from a glittered silver to a baby blue on the upper lid, with the baby blue blending round to the bottom lid. At the outer corner of each eye, there are three tiny jewels glued on closely together to make a small triangular shape. These are the same jewels used on her embellished gloves, only smaller ( 5mm each). Amelia’s lips are a beautiful plump nude colour, with a light layer of clear silver glitter on top. Her highlighter is very visible and also has a touch of silver glitter in it. A rope pulls Amelia’s waist in, and her breasts are unpadded, though through the keyhole cutout, contouring is visible. Her hips and bum are padded generously. Her pumps are of the same colour as the garment, only they have a glossy, shiny tinge. https://docs.google.com/document/d/10LQhZcpBV5UCK5nxBKBugDo9qlpyhrre-_csAssrJGc/edit
AMELIA’S CONFESSIONAL:They must’ve been desperate for girls if they called me, but bitch, I’ll take it! Hey loves, it’s Amelia Velvet from Season 5 where I finished in tenth … well bitch at least it wasn’t last. I’m so excited to be back and show how much I’ve grown, especially with all these season 5 girls here - I’m here to prove to them that I was robbed and that I have a lot of tricks up my sleeve. Since my season, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for drag and learnt to trust my instincts a lot more. Let’s see how that plays out - it’s probably going to be a shit show, but bitch, you’ll be entertained!”
Amelia looks around to see the other girls lounging about, she runs over to introduce herself and kiki.
AMELIA’S CONFESSIONAL: “I’m super excited to see Anita here. I’m pumped to be able to prove that I can hang with the likes of her.”
---
Lu runs into the werkroom, all frantic, wearing a jumpsuit made out of leaves with gold accessories, twigs on her wet brown hair, looks to both sides, sighs and says “I finally got past through security”. She then regains composure, removes the twigs of her hair, takes out the sunglasses she hid in her cleavage and poses.
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1lYHPgdcrKKAj3OsynEIafe5qu6wecoBDp_FFdcK6l6k/edit
After posing, Lu looks at the girls and says: “I wish I known this was happening sooner, I would have trimmed my lady bush.”
LU’S CONFESSIONAL: “Hi everyone! It’s me, Lu! I’m so excited to walk into this werkroom and compete again! Back on season 5, I had 0 experience and I overthought too much and got stuck in my head a lot so I feel very excited to see what I can do with a better headspace. The possibilities are endless! Season 5 felt like an All Stars season so I’m a bit nervous to actually compete in an All Stars season, not gonna lie, but this time I’m more sure of myself and I know I can bring my A-Game to every challenge.”
Lu doesn’t seem to immediately click with the other girls, being a more quiet queen, but she still manages to laugh along with the group.
---
The next queen struts in lightly letting her coat follow her, and simply says ‘All Stars 2 bitches, let’s get relevant!”
Aurora Borealis walks into the werk room in a very genderfuck/more casual look. She has on a cashmere cheetah print button down shirt. The sleeves are cut midway before the elbow, and are quite baggy, but on the actual torso, it is stretched down and tucked into the pants fabric. The top two buttons are unbuttoned, which shows a little bit of chest hair, nicely groomed and very thin. It is a light brown, but nothing light enough that it wouldn’t be seen. Out of a chest pocket hangs a small black handkerchief, that only goes slightly below her chest. Now, the pants are high-waisted vibrant bright red bell bottoms that end slightly above the ground. The vibrant colors of the cheetah print and the bright red pop against each other to create an interesting contrast. Underneath, she has on black platform shoes, where only the very bottom of the shoe is shown. Overtop the entire outfit, she has a large suit jacket coat that extends to the bottom of her ankles. The outside of it is bright red, but on the inside is a solid jet black. When she moves, it floats behind her, only staying completely still on the shoulders. She holds a small red clutch with a bright gold circle right in the middle, with gold lacing and lining around it. Her nails are simple, light brown and short, adding just a slight addition of detail. Aurora does not have a wig on, rather has her curly dark brown hair that hangs above her head with clumps of hair solidly formed. Her makeup is simple, a soft dark red on her eyeshadow, blended with white, and just giving a soft look, with small lashes, and a light nude lip. However, she has a lot of blush on her cheekbones and nose giving a ‘flushed’ look, and she drew freckles on her nose and cheeks. This is her whole look, and it’s blending in her ‘drag’ side, and the person she is outside of when she performs.
AURORA’S CONFESSIONAL: “My name is Aurora Borealis, the first out from season 4! I’m just here to have fun and hopefully not submit later xoxo.”
CREOLLA’S CONFESSIONAL: “Aurora did a good job. I see improvement.”
---
The clicking of heels echoes throughout the werkroom, drawing the other queens attention towards the entrance, as a tall figure turns the corner and struts her way forward.
Satina is wearing a skin-tight burgundy latex dress with a jewel neckline. The dress is cut down to her knees, showing off a bit of leg, before ending the ensemble with a pair of 6 inch black pumps. Across the front of the dress is a cut-out showing of most of Satina’s stomach and a bit of underboob from the queen’s breastplate - the trim of the cutout lined with black triangular jewels, giving the cut-out the appearance an open mouth eating away at Satina’s snatched body. Satina wears a slightly lighter shade of foundation, than what would normally fit her, and the queen’s facial features have been heavily carved out with an extensive use of dark contour. Her eyes consist of black smudged eyeliner, highlighted by some Scarlet red eyeshadow with a bit of red glitter mixed in. Her cheeks have been painted with a light pink rouge and to finish of the looks is Satina’s signature overdrawn lips topped with a Scarlet red matte lipstick. A long black wig styled into a small slicked-back pompadour on top rests upon Satina’s head a reveals 2 tiny red horns poking out from the queen’s scalp. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1DVzYRI8Ryq-cJtgr3ps9gdC-p-flTCqfOQIMYVqT_0g
As she reaches her mark, Satina does a few quick spins, showing off the open back of the dress held together by black lace - A long scaly and slightly greasy serpentine tail is poking out through the laces, and now sweeps across the floor as the queen finishes her spinning. Satina lifts a black and red Devil’s pitchfork to the air, almost triumphantly, as she looks into the camera:
“Here to raise hell on Earth - All hail Satina!”
SATINA’S CONFESSIONAL: “I’m home! Hey y’all - I'm Satina. Season 5’s salty queen, the “reigning Miss robbed” and a lovely (mumbled) alternate for crown! I am here to show these bitches that Satina is a force to be reckoned with… Actually you know what - Cut the check already, Thank you!”
“You look so good girl! Nothing like you used to...” says Lu. “Nah, just kidding. Get in here girl!”
SATINA’S CONFESSIONAL: “Even though it’s nice to know so many queens already, it’s honestly a bit scary competing with so many of my Season 5 sisters, seeing that a lot of these have already beat me once… Allegedly at least…”
---
The next girl pops in, a little shy at first but finds her confidence to deliver her opening catchphrase: “Well….let’s just try this again you bunch of bastards!” says a seductive Heather Bouvier.
She is wearing a houndstooth print bodysuit, with a leather peplum skirt and top. Leather fingerless short gloves. Also has her houndstooth earrings, arm bands, and shoes! To top it off (literally) she has got her houndstooth couture hat, complete with a little veil hiding part of her face (I’m prematurely mourning for some of you bitches. Black white Makeup, with a houndstooth lip and snatched black bun <3. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1N-VFoypSSmofBk-n164heEdgJYeUaBRgrOqMcGz55EA/edit
HEATHER’S CONFESSIONAL: “Hey hey! My name is Heather Bouvier, I am 23 years of age, and I am from Los Angeles! You may know me from the SPICE Pageant….all 2 episodes of it, but I am back to take back the crown I was robbed of! My drag is very fun, campy, but that doesn’t mean I can’t turn some high fashion lewks. I’m ready to show y’all just what Heather has in store!”
CASS-TRATED’S CONFESSIONAL: “Heather is jumping out because I don’t know her and don’t know what she can do so I’m really intrigued to see what she’ll bring… or not.”
---
Princest slowly struts into the room. She is wearing what appears to be a fat suit with a two piece silver bikini. Her quadruple Ds wanting to slip out of her top.The stretch marks on her stomach appeared to be stoned as they shimmered under the light, even with some of them on her thighs too. Her stiletto heels were a soft gold to go with her bikini set. We then shift to her face; her makeup was very simplistic. Blue eyeshadow, a cat eye liner, thick lashes, contoured cheeks and pink lips. Her eyes were a sapphire blue. She also wore a 22 inch blonde wig that reached to her ass. Princest then stood in a basic supermodel pose with her hands on her hips and a big smile. She looked around, confused with her surroundings. "This isn't 'The Biggest Loser'!" She shouted, starting to tear off the fat suit to reveal her bloody red anatomy in a full body suit that resembles her insides. Her vital organs shined in the light as she smirked. "God, that feels a lot better."
PRINCEST’S CONFESSIONAL: (Princest's confessional look was a cute brown pixie cut with soft makeup. She was wearing a black graphic t-shirt as she smiled.) "Hey everyone, Princest has risen from the dead! It has been way too fucking long since season 5, and I came here to win for once. I just hope I can impress everyone for once."
---
Miss Fey walks in wearing a ballerina-inspired gown, with a white bodice and tail, green middle-piece and red tulle overlay. (SKETCH + REFERENCES: https://imgur.com/a/voYZdoa)
She walks en pointe, moving ethereally. The red tulle covers her bare legs. She stops and says: “Can you feel the fantasy? Because I can!.... or it could just be the hookah.”
FEY’S CONFESSIONAL: “مرحبا! I’m Fey-Té Bill Hate, the incredibly funny and sexy drag queen that finished 3rd on RDR S5. My entrance look pays tribute to 2 things: the Lebanese flag (red, white and green) and the first time I walked on the runway I was in a ballerina dress! I’m excited to show off my growth, but most importantly, I’m excited to have fun! Let’s do this!”
---
When the next queen walks into the werk room she is holding a green rhinestoned apple covering her whole face. She holds it by the tip with her big, acrylic, pointy pink nails. She walks with little steps until she is in and takes the apple out of her face revealing her mug. Her eyeshadow is a gradient of greens from darker to lighter with glitter on the end and green long lashes too. Her lips are also light green and are covered in glitter like she just bit the apple she is holding. After a smile she turns the apple showing that it has been bitten and says: “One apple a day keeps this bitches away”.
Sardonyx’s look is a drag version of René Madritte’s painting “The Son of Man''. For this she is wearing a bright pink, fully rhinestoned bowler hat on top of her head. Underneath she is wearing a monet-style apple green pussycat wig. The main garment is a matching bright pink long overcoat with glitter on the lapels. The buttons of the coat are of a clearer pink with glitter on them. The top of the overcoat is wide with shoulder-pads and slowly narrows on the waist. The bottom part, which arrives almost to the knees, has a line with brighter pink and glitter in the same shade that the buttons and the lapels. Inside the coat, she has on a plain, white shirt like the one on the painting with a pink tie with a glittery S to sign the whole thing. For the bottom part of the outfit she is wearing pink pants with the same lining as the coat, with the lighter pink stripe. The shoes are some simple, glittery, pink pumps that obviously match, the bottom part of those is from the bright pink.
SARDONYX’S CONFESSIONAL: “I wanted to do something a little different from what I usually bring so... just for you to know… THIS IS ART MAWMA. But in all seriousness, this is my way of saying that drag is fun, and drag is art, so let’s make art fun for everybody.”
CREOLLA’S CONFESSIONAL: “I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of crazy shit my Season 4 sister Sardonyx is about to bring. I know she has personality.”
SARDONYX’S CONFESSIONAL: “Talking with Lu was nice, she looks really friendly.”
---
Del ducks under the entrance doors. She takes silly clown steps forwards to her mark. She poses to her left, her head pointing to the camera. Del thrusts her hands forward, displaying a lavender-coloured cake atop a black cake stand. The lemon sponge is coated in a thin layer of lavender frosting, and is topped with mint-coloured (and flavoured!) chocolate shards and some white-chocolate shards too. Del holds her pose until the rabble (RE: other queens) start to give her confused looks…


"Eat it"
Del wears a lavender ghillie suit covered in unnatural lime-grass green. Her face is covered in a black mesh mask that obscures her features. Atop the mask sit a pair of white acrylic sunglasses, a white acrylic nose and moustache set, and a white acrylic dot as a beauty spot. Del's hands and feet poke out of the camouflage suit. Her hands have Lavender latex gloves on them, each coated in a brilliance of purple stones. Del's feet wear chunky lavender pumps, again covered near completely in the purple stones. A black plastic tail arches up behind Del. The S-shaped appendage arcs up to between her shoulders, where the end curls in on itself 5 times. The tail holds two implements: a mint-coloured fork and a grass-coloured knife each inset with a dark lilac jewel in the base of the handle. The cutlery are crossed like crossbones. https://imgur.com/a/HoB0Dt7
DEL’S CONFESSIONAL: Out-of-drag Del grins wide. "Hi I'm Del O'Ryan. I baked this cake just to recycle an entrance line". Del puts their index finger on their temple, "Ding".
DEL’S CONFESSIONAL: “I was pretty withdrawn… cold… pressurised? During Season 5, so I’m keen to connect properly with Lu and Satina. I hate Fey with the intensity of a thousand thousand blazing suns. The entirety of human language cannot begin to express my disdain for Fey, that sniveling worm, that grunting ape, that whining dog. Fey has insulted, demeaned, and outright mocked forces beyond her comprehension, and an end shall soon be upon Fey. As we speak, the legions of Hades come against Fey, there will be no mercy, no recompense, and no respite, for her transgressions are beyond forgiveness, and she will answer for them. Eternal torment and woe be upon you Fey, lowliest of fools, weakest of queens, dirtiest of filth, for oblivion's embrace is beyond you.”
---
The camera starts shaking a little and thundering and scraping noise is heard as yet another queen approaches the werkroom. The queens present turn their heads at once in time to see a menacing figure appear in the doorway. Enter Marianna, her hulking muscle(suit) covered head to toe in green body paint. She is clad in a barbarian orc warrior outfit, consisting of a black wool brasserie with silver stitching, and a napier tartan wool skirt reaching just above her knee. The skirt and the bra have two silver rings which are attached to a light grey asymmetrical fur cloak. The ring on her bra also has two straps which reach up to a fur epaulette with three spikes, which rests on her opposing shoulder. She also wears brown leather almost-knee-high boots with steel greaves. Her hair is silver and the first foot of it is tied into a spiked mohawk with the rest allowed to fall freely. Her look is accentuated with two tusks on her lower jaw (https://sun9-9.userapi.com/c858336/v858336326/c22c7/4082jW17YNk.jpg - right one, obvi).
Marianna then swings the source of the scraping sound forward, which turns out to be a heavy double headed ax, and looks menacingly at the girls present. “I am just here to…” she snarls and gives a wicked grin, before continuing. “Quit” She then drops the axe and promptly stomps out.
MARIANNA’S CONFESSIONAL:Surprise bitch, bet you thought you'd seen the last of me. I'm the newly christened Marianna Toreador, the star, icon and undeniable main feature of seasons 1, 2, 3, AND season 1 redone.” Mari drawls with a lazy smile. “In the past I was known for some unconventional looks cut to her exploding alien baby, odd challenge ideas cut to Mari staring into nothingness on s2 and quitting supercut of Mari quitting, but I'm here to show that I still got it.”
“What... the fuck?” mumbles someone in a small voice after a moment of confused silence, before glancing around and emitting an eardrum-rupturing scream at the sight of Marianna smiling from the other side of the mirror, "!ϱnibbiʞ ɈƨυႱ" written in lipstick on her left. "
MARIANNA’S CONFESSIONAL: "This cast seems okay. Some strong queens,” Camera pans to Anita and Creolla, “some wildcards,” camera pans to Heather and me, “and no one seems to be filler…” Marianna shrugs, but the camera silently pans to Cass and Princest... “Hey, I said they're NOT filler!"
---
Eve Kennedy walks in backward so the other queens can’t see her face. She then spins around giving a wink and a kiss then says her entrance line: “Out of Eden and back in the competition.”
The look is a skin tight gown that goes into an off the shoulder neckline. It is in a caucasian color and made out of a stretch jersey fabric. The gown is detailed in floral patch decals of roses and green stones to match the leaves or branches. There are wraps of the floral print that go around the arms up top and also around the bottom of the gown. The hair is a blonde wig slicked back with a second stacked wig on the top. The separation is hidden by a matching rose headpiece. The look is finished off with a red high heel. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-uw5NMT7fH7ItYj4fJbscHPa8YsMaQ2ciXHGN813ROk/edit#
EVE’S CONFESSIONAL:Hello it’s me Eve Kennedy, that bitchy 1 from season 5. You might remember me for winning 2 challenges, being a double shante, & my infamous exit but don’t worry I’m here for the long haul this time. I’m just a bad bitch top looking for some other hoes to bottom. I wanna win.”
LU’S CONFESSIONAL: “This is really an All Stars cast. There’s a lot of pressure to do good, especially when I’m competing against queens like Eve and Creolla.”
MARIANNA’S CONFESSIONAL: “From the girls collected I immediately recognised several people: a) Anita, who is perhaps the strongest contender here and definitely the one to beat, b) Cass, who I've been friendly with since Season 3 and c) Eve who shat on me and Bella on Queens of Code and that kinda stained my perception of her. Whether we can get that resolved or not remains to be seen, but I'll be watching her with great interest. I’m the star of the show, okay, THE A-list extra.”
EVE’S CONFESSIONAL: “I wish Diana was here honestly cause she and I were kiki queens together. The girl who captured my attention most was Creolla, she had the most charisma of the girls that I’m just now meeting in this setting.”
submitted by rdrofficial to RDRInteractiveSeason [link] [comments]

[Infinity = Zero] The Human Side

I thought I should write the human side of the contact, and without realizing it, I had done it! Motivation is a scary thing. I really should give my fingers some vacation time.
Also this chapter contains a disturbing part. Your discretion is adviced.
Cheers!
First Next
Jack Huston was frustrated and on the brink of pure and total madness; once again he had let the paperwork grow to an astronomical degree. His desk had multiple towering stacks of it, and looking at the side to the other desk he hoped not to see more of it, but his hopes were crushed. Instead of actually progressing through the papers one by one, he began flipping his pen in frustration to the degree he was focusing more on the pen than the paper.
[Shouldn't you actually start putting ink on them?]
He heard the voice of Saira, the ship's resident artificial intelligence. Well, officially she's known as the Sentient Artificial Intelligence Ready for Combat or SAIRC, but that's not a good name to go by, so he calls her Saira.
"I know, I know." Jack complained as he scratched his well groomed beard. "But this is way too much for a mere mortal to do! Can't you just help me a little, Saira?"
[I am sorry, but these documents right here need your hand written signature. I have already filled out the ones that didn't need it. I cannot help you more this time.]
"Just this once?"
[No.]
"Goddamnit." He slumped on top of couple paper stacks. "I thought being an admiral would be cool and I'd get the chance to kick some more Space Orc ass, but noooooo, my worst enemy is right here, crushing the ever-living soul out of me! I should have stayed a foot soldier." Jack complained relentlessly causing a few papers to fly, but then paused for a moment, took a very deep breath and exhaled slowly as to calm himself down. He returned to his well polished posture and began putting his pen down to the paper. "Well, no use for complaining right now. These papers do not work themselves."
[That's what I like to hear. Now, chop chop.]
Some hours go by as the unsigned papers from the right were slowly signed and stacked to the left. As time went on, Jack began to feel a bit mentally exhausted from signing so much, so he decided a little break would be a nice little thing to do. He grabbed his official military jacket of whites and blacks, full of rattling and clinging honorary medals from the coat rack, but decided that the cap was unnecessary for this time and left it there.
As he began to walk over to the mess hall which was a bit over 500 meters away, he decided to take a bit more scenery route through one of the hangar corridors rather than the shorter, more claustrophobic hallway. The route he took was windowed and showed the entire 1st hangar from high up the ceiling. He looked as the soldiers and military engineers were working hard on maintaining the fighters, corvettes and destroyers of this carrier. They noticed Jack up there, saluted and got back to work.
Then a hand grabbed his shoulder. Of course, Jack wasn't startled.
"Oh, if it isn't the admiral himself."
Jack heard a familiar grizzled voice behind his back and turned to look at his good friend. His hair was grey with singe marks all over, but he was the master engineer, Brian O'Brien. His eyes were a bit darker than usual, but he didn't dare ask.
Brian quickly saluted and got back to his casual self.
"Heh. Good to see you Bob. Are you heading to the mess hall as well?" Jack asked as they began to walk in unison.
"Still calling me with that name, eh? I'm just getting a cup of joe. Still need to work on the prototype more, but sleep hasn't been abundant as of late." Brian yawned and scratched his own neck.
"I see. Oh, I haven't asked. How's your arm doing? Has it worked properly ever since the surgery?" Jack asked since this has been on his mind ever since last month when Brian lost his left arm in a small accident involving explosives, but he never got to ask about it until now.
"It's doing wonders!" Brian exclaimed as he quickly made the dexterous noodle arm dance; a fine display of the superior prowess of synthetic limbs. While Brian is 60 years young, he still had a great amount of mobility for his age.
"You're like a kid, you know that?" Jack laughed.
"Hah! Says the kid himself!" Brian laughed, but then stopped and asked with a more serious, but a caring voice: "How are you holding up? Still having nightmares?"
Jack became quiet and held his hand over his left eye, touching one of the scars he was left with from the battle of Titan. "Sometimes. It has gotten a lot better, but I don't think it will fully heal. It's like a curse that reminds me of the horror I had to experience..."
Jack's vision became narrow as he remembered the event. In the stormy rains and thunder of Titan, he still could feel the orc, he felt the breathing as strong as a jet engine. The orc had pinned Jack down with it's truck-like body. Each of his ribs cracked one by one, the orc giggling and laughing at every snap it heard; like a kid popping a damn bubble wrap. It even pulled one of his ribs out and sliced his eye with it. The white of hope turned blood red that moment, but the light of hope still shined; a small hand-artillery shell landed directly against the head of the orc, and Jack was saved by someone that day.
When Jack was in the hospital, he was in and out of coma for multiple years. He had most of his injured organs and ribs replaced with synthetic ones, which of course takes a toll on the human body. Eventually, he made a miraculous full-recovery because he didn't sustain any serious brain damage. At least physically he made a full recovery. He had also received a note from the one who saved him. "I'm glad you're alive." It said.
"I don't know just who it was who saved me. I just want to thank them..." Jack quietly muttered. But then he composed himself with the confident persona he was loved for and said: "But one of the reasons why I returned to the military was because if I couldn't thank them personally, I'd thank them by saving others from the cruelty I had to face."
"That's some resolve you have there, buddy." Brian looked troubled. He knew Jack has been through a lot, he knew Jack was mentally strong, but even this kind of an event can cause the strongest of minds to waver. To think it was this bad was beyond his capabilities of a supportive friend; he had to try anyway. For his friend. "If you ever want to talk, I am always here."
"Thank you." Jack responded quietly.
There was a long pause, only the sound of footsteps echoed through the hall, and Jack took a deep breath just before opening the door to the mess hall.
"Anyway. How's your family doing?" Jack asked while trying to put his sorrow aside as they both walked in to the mess hall and toward the holy coffee machine; the sacred area where none shall cry.
Brian suddenly had the brightest smile that out-shun the brightest stars. "My youngest granddaughter just graduated from college! She's now a proper engineer! I'm so happy for her! Too bad I couldn't attend the graduation ceremony." Brian exclaimed joyfully, and aimed his finger right up. "She's going to become a star! She was already scouted and hired by the Atlas corporation by the CEO himself!"
"At that age by Atlas himself?" Jack was quite surprised to hear that the Atlas corporation; the largest manufacturer of military armaments of the entire nation had actually hired Brian's granddaughter Eveline. "I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Eveline's going to be successful. I'm sure of it." Jack smiled.
Jack turned to the coffee machine and asked for a latte, while Brian ordered an extra-strong, extra-extra-large espresso. While waiting for the coffee to be made, both leaned on a counter. Some passing crewmen saluted and went on their way.
"When are you planning to retire? You could have done so a long time ago." Jack asked while acknowledging the crewmen for their good work.
"Not for a long time. I like- hell. I love being here. The amount of materials, equipment... friends. They are all here! Even Terra nor Mars cannot hold a candle to the things I get to do here!" Brian explained with a more relaxed posture than before. "Even if i'm sixty, I'd rather be here for my 100th. I love being a benefit to the army, to the people."
"I see. Same as I." Jack nodded.
bing Coffee's ready.
Jack got his latte and took a sip of the sweet nectar of gods. "This is the shit. Ah, I almost forgot. How is the prototype weapon coming along-" Jack asked while witnessing Brian was gulping down his entire espresso. "You're going to kill yourself like that!" Jack commented flabbergasted.
Brian put down the empty cup. "It's fine, it's fine. The prototype just got finished, but the testing hasn't been done yet. In theory, the new weapon should be able to fire multiple rail-shot bursts at around 2000 rpm. The new prototype batteries should be able to handle the large load the weapon demands. The recoil is also dealt with; pretty much non-existent. Would you like to come and see the testing? Kobe." Brian explained as he threw the cup into the recycling bin. "Bullseye!"
[That would be unwise, Jack. You still have paperwork to do.] Saira commented.
"I know, but this is something I want to see first. I can fill it out a bit later, okay?" Jack waved his hand in a dismissive motion. "Alrighty, let's go test this bad boy out."
"Alrighty, follow me o' admiral." Brian said in a jokeful manner.
Beep Beep Beep The FTL signature alarm sounded, alerting everyone of a possible incursion.
[Attention all crew. A single Corvette-class FTL signature has been detected just outside the system. Their design signature is unknown. Follow contact protocol: 1.]
"Welp, maybe we can test it out later. Gotta go." Jack said as he left his half-finished latte on the counter and quickly made his way toward the ship's control room. The deck is about 200 meters away from here, so it should take a moment to get there. The contact protocol 1 was called; it was made by the military in case there was a higher chance of meeting a new alien race. This is the first time he heard it in action. Jack was getting his hopes up that maybe this time, these aliens would be more reasonable than the space orcs.
Jack stepped into the control room having not even broken a sweat from the sprint. He saw the crew of the control room of 50 men and women, working to prepare for the lightcruise, tapping on consoles, switching switches and checking all sorts of instruments he had just a vague idea how they worked.
"Status?" Jack Huston asked while he closed in toward his seat.
[Report: the alien ship has just engaged lightcruise and is headed toward Odin.]
"Change the course to intercept them." Jack commanded.
"Understood."
"Energy status is nominal."
"Lightcruise shielding is active."
"Mass drivers are ready to engage."
"The whole fleet is reporting in. They are ready to engage."
[We are ready to engage lightcruise. On your order, Admiral.]
Ahh. He couldn't ask for a better crew than this; they were so goddamn efficient, everything done and prepared in just a few moments. Maybe he should treat everybody here for a beer or two some day. Anyway, he put on his serious face on.
"Engage lightcruise." He commanded, and all the ships in the fleet instantly thrusted themselves forward to faster than light speeds, leaving crackling wakes behind them. The acceleration is bit uncomfortable at first, but you get used to it. Something was bothering Jacks mind for a while, but he thought it was nothing.
[Report: The alien ship has exited lightcruise. Scanners on Odin report no signs of weaponry on board. Distance from Odin: 10,812 km. ETA. 3 minutes.]
"Were they sight seeing?" Jack thought to himself. Jack pushed the communication button and sent a message to the rest of the fleet. "This is Admiral Jack Huston speaking. This might be a docile vessel, do not engage fire. We have a possible first contact on our hands."
As Jack finished the message, the crew started talking. He couldn't hear the exact words, but the atmosphere on the deck was positive and it seemed everyone was filled with the hope of meeting aliens; hopefully the better kind. He bet this is the same on every vessel of this fleet.
If this was a first contact and a successful one at that, this moment will be historic, but there are always the chances. "Ugh." He didn't want to start thinking about another Space Orc type of race existing out there. Above all else, he wanted to establish friendly connection with these new aliens; his hopes were higher than mount Olympus itself.
[Report: Scanners detected unknown energy on board of the alien vessel. Directed toward system Avero-291. The signature is similar to FTL-jumps.]
"Would it be possible they were trying to escape?" Jack leaned back for a bit. "If they were going to escape, could it be because they see us as a threat? A threat? Space Orcs are a threat to us, so could they also be a threat to the aliens?"
[We do not know. It is probable.]
From what Jack knew about the monsters, Space Orcs were not unified and they did not have any complex strategies. Just rush in and enjoy the battle was their war doctrine. Their numbers were the thing that allowed for such a brutal way of war. Bloody effective to say the least. "So if the orcs do not have any tactical strategies and are not cohesive at all, and the books never mentioned anything about formations other than that clusterfuck armada. If we showed signs of cohesion and tactics and if the aliens understood it, it could-"
It was like a light bulb lit up above Jacks head as he quickly leaned forward and pressed the communication button again. "This is Admiral Jack Huston speaking. Assume the Spear formation."
[Are you sure? This is an offensive formation. This could alarm the aliens.]
"It's just a hunch, but if we show cohesion and a proper response to a threat, they might not think of us as the Space Orcs because the orcs do not have any cohesive formations. If they know of those orcs, they would know this." Jack explained his actions as he waved his hands.
[That logic... is sound. I never thought you're actually wise.]
"Shut it, Saira. I am an Admiral for a reason, you know." Jack relaxed a bit and slapped himself in the face to become focused again. If this was going to work, it was going to be a magnificent show of reasoning made by him. Only time will tell.
[Report: The unknown energy from the alien ship is no longer directed outward our system. Admiral, I think you were right. I should update the main database.]
"Thankfully, it seemed to work, but we still have to contact them." Jack exclaimed as he tweaked a few settings from his control board; fine tuning the trajectory.
[Prepare for shock. Lightcruise disengaging in 3. 2. 1.]
As always when exiting lightcruise, the sound of a thump and the metal of the carrier creaking and groaning was always there, but it is never a problem to worry about. There exists better alloys to use for the hull and armor to reduce the exit-noise, but this ship hasn't been upgraded with them. The Star Opal patrol Carrier was an incredibly big vessel after all, so it would have been a too big of an investment for the military for some backwater patrol ship.
After the Star Opal came to a stop, soon the rest of the fleet exited the lightcruise. Jack Huston stood up. "Prepare scanners, video recorders and bring up the video screens. Prepare for first contact procedures!" He ordered and everyone went to work with focus and motivation Jack could clearly feel.
Soon a video feed began to show the alien vessel on the screen. It was... beautifully designed. Straight triangular shaped that somewhat curved a little at the back. Totally impractically shaped for mass drivers, but the aliens definitely had something different. Jack thought he had seen some majestic ships before, but they're now raisins compared to this magnificent alien craft. For a small craft like that to be here, it must be a science ship.
[Admiral. We have received a data package from the aliens. It is safe to be deciphered and translated. Shall I?]
"Hah. Do it." Jack said.
[Done.]
"That was fast. Good job."
[Praise me more.]
"What?"
[Nothing. The package has been sent back to the alien vessel. I will be waiting for attempts for communications.]
"I see. Prepare the contact stage and prepare the recordings." Jack commanded as he stood up, dusted off his military uniform and took the proper posture. Be. Friendly. And follow the proper procedure. He thought to himself. "Oh god, this is some next level stage fright." His body shook a little, but he managed to get a control of himself. "This isn't middle school, Jack. This was a first contact. I have to be cool and collected." He told himself. "Oh god, it's much grander than middle school."
Jack finally managed to compose himself and took a deep breath to calm the very last nervous thoughts he had at the moment. "Hail them." He said.
[Understood.]
It took a moment for them to establish a connection, but it had worked and the screen showed a blurry video of a form, but he still couldn't make out much. There was still a lot of static video and static noise.
"Enhance it."
[There's interference with the unknown energy we had detected, so this could take a moment.]
As the video became more focused and clearer, what Jack saw brought him a wave of relief for a reason he didn't know why. The alien Jack was seeing appeared to be feminine, and very human-like in appearance, but he could tell they had more elongated features. The thing that stood out the most was the coloration of the creature; light purple skin with her hair being an eye catching, rich shade of violet. While strange, it brought a sense of comfort to him for some odd reason. Her posture had something dignifying to it; was she part of a military? She definitely looked the part. To him, she looked like an Elf from fantasy literature.
Before Jack could open his mouth, the alien started the conversation.
"Greetings, aliens. I am former Grand Admiral Anora Nelhi of the Astrana Voidnavy. I speak for the behalf of Astrana Meritocracy. This is a civilian exploration voidcraft, and we are sorry if we have intruded into your territory."
Intrusion? Nah, this is more like unintentional friendly visitation. Guess his intuition was correct, she had been a part of a military; no wonder she had such a dignified feel to her. Well, it's time to introduce ourselves. Anora Nelhi, was it?
"Greeting, Anora Nelhi. My name is Jack Huston, the Admiral of the Star Opal Carrier fleet. I speak on the behalf of United Nations of Mankind. We wish to establish friendly connections between our and your nation. We also accept your apology."
He had practiced this line for many days when becoming an admiral, but to think he was able to say it brought much pressure upon him. He felt a cold sweat running down his spine.
"We call our species as Humans. What do you call yours?" Jack said.
What was heck was that line? It was so sudden he accidentally made it sound less formal than it should have been. Oh god. Please, do not mind it.
Anora responded with what Jack would have rather said.
"The species I belong to is Elvari, but we have allies with a race called Tauron." Anora seemed to gesture somebody to come. Viewing the video screen, the creature behind Anora had filled the area behind her, and the zoom was adjusted on the other side. Goddamn he was big.
The tauron greeted himself. "Greetings. My name is Tonka, and I am a Tauron. I am a military veteran."
The tauron also looked like something out of fantasy. First thing that comes to mind are minotaurs; huge, bulking beasts of muscle and raw strength. He wondered how well they fared in war.
"Greetings, Tonka. Wow you're big." Jack accidentally said something improper in midst of awe. "It is such an honor to be able to meet not one but two different races of the galaxy we all reside in."
Jack saw as Anora looked around, nodded and resumed her eye contact. Jack thought he said something wrong. It felt like Jack had to blurt out something. Ah, yes. The monsters. He had to mention them. He cleared his throat once again.
"Despite our best abilities to make a connection with aliens, this is our first contact with aliens that have... let's just say reasoning and intellect. We tried to welcome some monsters with open arms in history, but they returned the favor by stabbing us in the heart."
As he said that, his gaze became a little unfocused, a little sad. Remembering the war they had with Space Orcs he had been a part of. But he resolved himself once more.
"By that I mean they managed to shatter Terra's Moon into pieces. Our species was separate back then, but now we have united under one banner that is the United Nations of Mankind to deal with the monster menace. We detected a single FTL signature so we were sent here to investigate if it were those monsters we had encountered before."
An immediate response came: "May I ask who or what are these space monsters you speak of?" Anora seemed a bit curious, but straightforward with a yet again an intense glare.
Jack took a deep breath. He thought it was best to explain to achieve mutual understanding.
"We have named them Space Orcs, they are incredibly brutal beings. They are more than twice out size, incredibly strong and resilient. Their skin tones range from browns to greens. They can even take multiple shots before going down. Their vessels are what can be considered as pure chaos." There was a pause. "They are as much of a threat to ourselves as we are to ourselves. Such a problematic race."
Even with the description he himself said, Jack felt deep rooted fear begin to linger up within him, but he shall not waver. He has faced them before, and he will kick this fear of his into oblivion along with the orcs.
"We are familiar with these monsters. We call them Sporcs and they are an enemy of all life." This answer was immediate and something he had somewhat expected, but it still surprised him a little. To think we had a common enemy.
"We seem to have a common enemy then? Wouldn't that count as ground to becoming an ally?"
This question was a bit rash, but it had to be asked.
"I would agree to that statement." The answer was relieving. To finally have a chance of intergalactic cooperation was a small, but a very important dream to Jack. It was also the collective dream of humanity, so he was not alone.
"In my name, would you like to declare the collaboration of our species?" Jack Huston said the pre-prepared statement which was drafted by the military and used if they achieved a friendly contact with an alien race. An honor, to say the least.
"In my name, I will accept your offer." Anora seemed to accept it without hesitation.
Jack looked the crew, gestured a thumbs up and looked back at Anora, taking a deep breath.
"Anyway, I will now do an official statement." Jack Huston cleared his throat. "In the name of Humanity, Terra and her 412 colonies, we would like to forge a peaceful relationship between our galactic nations. To further ease the communications, we would like to offer a data storage device which contains all of humanity's languages, and also a Quantum Entanglement communicator for instant communications between infinite distances that comes with instructions in our language; English. We will notify the leaders of humanity and begin communications with your nation as soon as possible."
It took a moment for Anora to respond. "Understood, we will accept this gift and we will soon begin to open up communications with the leaders of Astrana. May the light guide us to prosperity and peace."
The connection was cut, they launched the communication package toward the ship and immediately engaged lightcruise and left. The entire crew was thrilled, smiling, laughing; to finally be able to meet civilized aliens! As Jack jumped up and down, Brian happened to come into the room with Jack's half-full cup of coffee.
"I heard they were, like, reasonable aliens. With the atmosphere here, I assume it a success?" He asked Jack who couldn't seem to calm down.
"Holy shit, we just met Space Elves and Space Minotaurs!" Jack was so energetic, probably partly from the caffeine.
"Calm down, Jack!" Brian tried to command him to calm down, but to no avail.
"Holy shieeeeeeeet!" Jack roared with his arms going up high and down low with exaggerated motions.
splash Brian soaked him with his leftover coffee.
"That was totally uncalled for, Bob! Now I'm wet, with coffee no less." Jack complained, but it couldn't be helped. He went a bit wild there.
"I am glad we successfully made a peaceful contact, but now with that dealt with, let's go test the prototype!" Brian laughed pulling Jack along to the 1st hangar.
Later that day:
"That gun was a beast! Too bad the battery exploded." Jack tippy-toed toward his own quarters.
[Jack. You still have the paperwork to do... And I have bad news.]
"What is it, Saira?" Jack was already close to his quarters, ready to tackle down the rest of the paperwork with motivation he didn't have before.
[Remember lightspeed?]
"What kind of a question is that?" Jack was a little confused and as he opened the door; he felt his soul leaving his body. All the papers have scattered across his room; signed and unsigned mixed with each other in piles of hundreds of documents.. Jack fell to his knees, asking with a shaky voice. "Could you help me? Just this once?"
[...Just this once.]
submitted by Jupefin to HFY [link] [comments]

I'mma head out

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The Second Harvest

Time had flowed on around it since it wrapped the wild, second-hand part of itself into the swamplands and settled to wait for more fruit to blossom. It was oblivious to the passage of time, and only slightly aware of the silt and algae and microorganisms that came to filter through its salvaged self, moving in a slow, nearly stagnant collective circulation, a staccato pulse, not dissimilar from the rhythm of blood in veins and arteries urged on by a mud-soft and torpid heart. It possessed neither a need for a pulse nor a source for a heartbeat, so the similarity this muculent, nearly vestigial part of itself had come to share with biological life was purely coincidental.
Its senses, too, touched vibrations remote from biological life. Its organs—the substantive ones—were, in many ways,more primeval, more singular, than the sludgy, piecemeal soup it had wrapped them inside, and the sensations they collected were nothing even the most primitive life form would recognize, let alone share.
So, after witless passages of time had collapsed, a sensation piqued the interest of its highly selective and jelly-like intuitions. The whole of its self stirred. A particular sort of awareness overtook it, exciting something that might have been akin to an eye—if an eye could be said to open up and see over miles, and if sight could blaze stone and earth and bark and on through the membranes of leaves and into the workings of the mandibles of insects and further on through the veils of the material to witness the flowering of synapses inside a living brain—an eye like this flexed and dilated ...
And fixed ...
* * *
What was left of Jack Giltin's head was a bloody mess, but Jack kept on talking, and what he said was, "You stay righteous, Rob, you hear me?" His face had been sheared in half at a jagged angle by a shotgun blast. Pinked teeth ground up the ribbons of his left cheek, and his lower lip flapped loosely as he spoke, but he didn't seem to notice. He just kept talking. "On the job," he said, "you stay righteous and justified and true. Otherwise, it'll get the best of you and worry you up in its jaws and dump you in the gutter like bad meat. You hear me, Rob? You hear me?" Jack directed his one remaining eye, fish-dull, at Rob's hands. Rob followed his gaze and found in his hands a murderer's head lolling. The murder's eyes bulged, because Rob was wringing his neck to a pulp with an unyielding grip. "Rob, that ain't gonna do anybody any good," Jack said. But the hands tightened anyway. It felt good. "Rob," Jack's voice repeated, lower and throatier, "that ... ain't ... gonna ... do ...." Jack sounded like an imbecile repeating a phrase he'd just heard, by rote, without comprehension. "Any .... Good ...." The hands tightened on the dead murderer's throat. "Any ... good ..." Tightened. "Any... gooood ..." Jack's voice was slow and slippery and greased the air like an airborne slug. Because he wasn't Jack anymore. Dead or alive, he wasn't Jack Giltin. The eye that peered out from the shattered head was huge. It dominated what was left of Jack Giltin's face, and its appearance was less like like that of a fish's, now—less like any kind of eye, at all, now—and more like a swollen nest of coiled, living feelers writhing beneath a translucent, oily lens. The lens bulged under the pressure of the tendrils; the tendrils ready to spring free. "... any ... goooood ... ," the mouth continued to echo, and then a bruise-black mass peeked out from inside the cracked-open skull, where Jack's brains ought to be, and began to slip aside Jack's face, as if shucking off a ceramic mask. Still, the mouth kept uttering the two words, which seemed to have lost their verbal connection to each other, as well as any meaning of their own.
... aaayn ... nnneee ... guuuuuu
The lens burst, and the feelers sprang forward ...
... and Rob Bodin jerked awake, hand falling to his sidearm, skin dancing at the tips of a million softened spider-legs. The wooden chair creaked under his weight, then careened broadly to the left, nearly spilling him to the floor. He braced the fall with a quick leg and snapped his head up to meet feigned innocent gaze of one Walt Cundey.
“Oops," said Cundey. "Bad chair.” The murderer's tone was immodest as his posture; he sat in his own rickety chair, skinny torso jutting forward, long legs spread, head cocked to one side, both arms clasped around behind the splats. “Bad dreams too, I guess? Huh, boss?”
Bodin's hand wavered steadily over the gun. Bad for you, he almost answered, remembering the dream of Cundey's wrung neck. He also remembered Jack Giltin's fatherly dressing down in his dream, too, and buttoned his lip. If Bodin was going to honor the man's memory—the man whom for the last decade-and-a-half had been his partner, his friend, and his mentor—he'd start now. Bodin wasn't one to believe in ghosts, but surely, Giltin had repeated that same faultless advice to live by in their shared career. Keep it professional, the old man would say. Don't let your emotions get to you, not on the job, at least. Stay true, stay righteous, stay justified.
Will do, Jack
Bodin's eyelids fluttered involuntarily; he remembered that other thing, too; the thing that had started to happen to Jack Giltin's shattered head at the end of the dream. But he could make no sense of it. Nightmare logic, he decided flatly. Senseless nightmare logic. He committed to the explanation.
Bodin stood from the chair and walked around behind Cundey. There, he stood at the window where he pretended to watch evening shadows outside creep over the cypresses and down veils of Spanish moss. Really, he checked the cuffs latching the Cundey’s wrists together behind his back.
“Oh, they still on, boss.” Cundey said, giving the links two quick snaps for effect. “You know I wouldn’t try to put the slip on you while you was fetchin’ a few winks.”
Bodin’s jaw tightened. Cundey’s voice could be honey-dipped and sugar-sprinkled when he wanted. To Bodin, those sweet tones were nothing more than the hypnotic gaze of a snake. To the runaway girls Cundey had lured into his car over the past ten years, they must have sounded like warmth and sympathy on a cold, lonely night. Bodin figured some of those girls might have known Cundey’s voice for what it really was—those who, over time, had become familiar with taking food and shelter in trade for loss of a few more notches of useless innocence. But none of them had known Cundey for what he really was, down under the skin. They found out, though, the hard way. A guy like Cundey would have probably used that honeydew voice even while he was taking the pliers to them.
Bodin spoke for the first time since the two had reached the cabin, his tone more exhausted than spiteful. “Do us both a favor,” he said, his voice creaking from disuse. “Just shut up.” He had some sleep to catch up on and a sickness to drain from his mind if he could. He didn’t look forward to tomorrow morning, when he’d have to pay a visit to Margot Giltin, Jack's wife, and tell her she was never going to see her husband again. A bad job, this one. It had started out lousy, and gotten about as nasty as it could.
“You wishin’ you pulled the trigger, boss?” Cundey was playing him, he knew, but an electric current still flowed up and down Bodin’s arm, like a bar of steel magnetized. His arm was the positive pole, the gun the negative.
“Devil’d forgive you if you did,” Cundey kept on. “Hell’s got its own peccadilloes.”
Bodin closed his eyes. They both knew what was going to happen once Cundey was in the hole. A child-killer enjoys no one’s mercy, even in prison. If Bodin planted a bullet in the back of Cundey’s head, he would in a way be buying Cundey a ticket to freedom.
Bodin opened his eyes to find the killer staring at him, head slung upside-down over the chair’s top splat, looking as if someone had loaded him wrong-ways into a stockade. His adam’s apple rode his throat like a blunt shark fin.
“Ole Jack, he was ready to retire anyway,” he said. “Bounty huntin’s a young man’s game. If I hadn't ended up quitting him, someone else would've quit him soon enough anyway.”
Bodin nearly slammed his fist down on Cundey's throat right then. Instead, he repeated stay true, stay righteous, stay justified to himself in Jack's voice.
“You know,” Bodin said, “I’m going to visit you in jail. I’ll make a bet with you, dollars to donuts, that you’ll be sporting a colostomy bag by week’s end.”
“Oh no, boss!” The killer laughed, his smile inverted into a froggy grimace. “Don’t you worry about ole Walt Cundey, boss. He gots friends there. He’ll be just fine. He’ll be livin’ like a prince!” Cundey guffawed and stamped one foot against the floor until Bodin began to worry whether the warped planks would give way and drop the sick fuck into the sour water below. But Cundey quickly tired of the performance and lifted his head from the splat to flop himself forward again.
Keeping his eye on the back of the killer's head, Bodin took the chance to slip the mobile from his vest jacket. Still no signal. It’s all right, Bodin reassured himself. Sheriff Band and his men are on their way here. Unless of course he’s managed to get the department’s boat high-ended on a submerged tree trunk like I did with the rental.
He tucked the mobile away and walked to the broken down cot at the far wall by the door. Let me just doze, he thought. Not sleep. Just doze for a bit so I can get some of my wits back. A cough of dust greeted him as he sat. He braced his elbows against his knees, dangled his hands between his legs, and bowed his head.
Images of the hunt replayed in his head, vivid, random, and loosely organized. He saw Jack Giltin sinking into a bog, head red and ragged. He saw Cundey’s head pinned to the twisted trunk of a cypress by the barrel of Bodin’s .45, just moments away from becoming more organic matter for the bayou. A spread of black-and-white glossies showcased pieces of corpses bound to beds. Other senseless images followed ... a man with an upside-down face ... and a hand clenched into a fist ... and ...
* * *
It quitted its place of stillness, leaving the roots sagging, the detritus swirling, and the invertebrates clambering to anchor themselves anew. It did not stride or swim or swoop so much as wind and unwind from one position, one shape, to the next.
It did not hunt, it was not a predator. It did not delight in blood. Rather, it was the delight of blood that drew it. This delight was a tang of nectar, and there were many vines.
Right now it tasted the thrill of dominance over the weak; sniffed the joy of fear.
But closer, it felt the pad of a finger curled around a sliver of curved metal, and the anticipatory punch of retribution.
Malice and vengeance, nearly side by side. It would get the one or the other, whichever was closest.
Its paced quickened.
Right now vengeance was closest ...
* * *
Bodin's eyes snapped open. His body jerked. A held breath exploded from his lips. His heart, high in this chest, drummed hard enough to make him wince.
He hadn’t dreamed, he realized. He hadn’t imagined a peril. He’d known exactly where he was, what he was doing: he’d been sitting on the bed, imagining in vivid detail the pleasure of emptying round after round into Cundey’s skull, the punch of recoil convulsing his hand and red blossoms lighting his eyes, until his skin started to tickle with a strange sensation, like some kind of displacement, as though a cloud of grit had rushed past him, driven forward by some fathomless surge, pitching him forward ferociously, as the pressure of something massive slouched toward him, opening to catch him if he fell.
“Hooo! Boss!” Cundey stomped the floorboards with his heels. “Hoooo, boss! Hee hee hee! That one was a doozy, wasn’t it!”
Bodin shook his head dismissively, but Cundey continued.
“Weeee! Oh, yeah, that one was a doozy! What was it, boss? Something chasin’ you?”
Bodin stiffened.
Cundey honked. “Yeah, is that what it was?” He tittered then quieted. “Something at your back, boss. Uh-huh, I know it.”
Then, with a coy sideways I-have-a-secret glance, Cundey whispered, “This ain’t a good place for harborin' wrath, boss. Not a good place for hatred in your heart. Not at all, not at all.” He inhaled deeply through his mouth, sat up straight in the chair and looked, not at his captor, but at the cabin door, drawing upon an expression worn by a charismatic orator delivering an important speech to an expectant audience. And when he spoke again, Cundey's had smoothed from his voice the affected hillbilly accent. “Fact is," he said, "a witch used to live in this swamp. Yeah. Long time ago. Right after they freed the coloreds.
"Now she wasn’t no witch like you think, you know, with the long nose and a pointy hat. She was a young thing, not yet thirty. Maybe not yet even twenty. And she helped people when they was sick, or when they crops wasn’t growin’, or some such. She was half-white, half-Indian, and half-colored. And the folks of the town that used to be set on the edge of this swamp—mostly white, but some colored too, ‘cause like I said this was after they was freed—loved her ‘cause of that. ‘Cause she’d aid ‘em in times of hardship.
“Well, it wasn’t too long ‘fore the old town pastor died and a new one was sent for. This new fella, he was a young buck. New man of the cloth and righteous as hell. Breathin’ fire an’ brimstone for the Lord. Yessir! I love my preachers fiery, don’ you?” Cundey threw his head back and guffawed, stamping one foot on the floor again and again.
Bodin felt his hackled rise. Since he'd collared the creep, Cundey had exhibited nothing more than typical madman’s bravado. But the laughter that accompanied Cundey’s remark about the preacher touched on fervor beyond swagger; it was the joy of camaraderie.
Finally, Cundey's guffaw died to a snicker, and Cundey raised his gaze to the middle distance again and continued speaking in that newly-fashioned pulpit voice.
“Well, he come in, and he find out about the witch. I don’t think I gotta tell you havin’ a witch in his parish didn’t sit too well with his holy outlook on life. Fact, it’s said in the Good Book that thou shall not suffer a witch to live, does it not?” Cundey paused a moment, then turned his head to regard Bodin with a look comparable to a stern rebuke. “You surprised I know my stuff about the Good Book? Hell, boss, preachers taught me everything I know.” Bodin heard not a trace of sarcasm in his voice.
Cundey nodded curtly as if having settled an issue, then faced forward again. “Now you listen to me, an’ listen good, boss. That preacher he whipped up them townsfolk, tellin’ them that the witch was a blasphemy in the eyes of God, and the gifts she’d given were only—” his eyes rolled as he searched for the right phrase “—Trojan horses that the devil used to get into their hearts and homes.
“And that’s what I’m sayin’ ‘bout fiery preachers. Fella like that can convince you the sky’s alabaster when he gets rollin’. Fella blessed with fiery talk can make you give up your last dollar as quick as he can make you give up your friends and family, he takes a mind to it.
“And that preacher, he had that fiery way of talkin’ and he was one hell of a hater. He hated sin, and he hated wickedness, and he hated the devil. And most of all—most of all—he hated him that witch! That's why I know we ain’t come up from the animals; animals can't hate like a man. And ain't no man hates better than the fella with God standing beside him, hatin' right along with him.
“Don’t believe me?” One corner of Cundey’s mouth road up almost as if tugged by a fishing line. “Slay the unbeliever before me.”
He leveled his eyes briefly at Bodin to slash a curt told-you-so smile at him.
“It wasn’t long ‘fore he got that town all riled up. Folks who held no complaint against the witch feared speakin’ out against the preacher, ‘cause they might get accused o’ being in league themselves. And so one day the townsfolk crossed into the swamp, raring to do God’s work, the preacher at the head tying a noose. They was all ready, willin’ an’ able to do some righteous cleansing. Heh.
“Now, after it was all said and done, some folks who didn’t hold no grudge against the witch come forward and says they warned her to skedaddle ‘fore the mob set out lookin’ for her. That probably explains what happened to the preacher and his posse. See, accordin’ to these dissenters, the witch said she wasn’t gonna budge. And what’s more, she took right offense to those folks what turned against her. Right offense. She said anybody come into the swamp after her would be dealt with. Well, she musta heard the bayin' of the hounds and the hollerin’ of the men for her blood, and seen lanterns and torches lighting up the swamp like a stampede of will-o’-wisps. Now ain’t no one was there with her in those last hours, but I'll tell you the rest of it, and then we'll what we think she done.
“See, none of that posse, or the sheriff or the priest, come out of that swamp ever again. Their wives an’ children lined 'emselves up along the edge of the swamp, an’ they heard the calls of their men turn to screams, and the dogs yowl and yelp. They heard gunfire. An’ then it turned dead quiet. Only one of the dogs come out of the brush, and it was squealin’ like a pup, and went an’ crouched under a porch for days, snappin’ at folks what tried to coax him out. Pretty soon, they just put him outta his misery.
“A search party was called in from a nearby town, but nothin’ ever turned up. Not dog. Not corpse. Not even that witch. Not ever again."
Cundey paused a moment and searched the ceiling thoughtfully in silence. “See, I figger she called herself up a devil is what she done. That’s what I think. And it cost her pretty. A devil, see, it don’t just slip up into this world, all horned and winged like in paintings. A devil needs to be housed. It needs a shape, a mantel. Like a barnacle or a mussel. Sacrifices to summon devils aren’t for the blood. They’re to loosen the soul. You see? Can you imagine her fury?” His tone almost lilted in admiration. “Can you imagine her fury when I tell you that when she raised that demon, when she made that blood sacrifice, she was the only one in that cabin?”
Cundey took another breath to carry on, but his next words, whatever he'd planned them to be, were cut short by the jangle of loose steel. The killer’s expression faltered just as the significance of the noise struck Bodin. For a moment, the only sound in the room was the clank of dangling handcuffs knocking against the back legs of Cundey’s chair. Then a half-assed smile crept up the side of Cundey’s face.
“Whoops,” he said.
Bodin didn’t stop to wonder whether Cundey had found a pick for the lock sometime after the cuffs had been clasped around his wrists, or if he’d carried one purely as a contingency even before Bodin and Jack Giltin closed the pursuit. He didn’t bother to guess how the killer had concealed it for so long up his sleeve, or cupped in his palm, or between his fingers.
What Bodin did was shoot to his feet, hands scrambling at his side, desperately working the latch of the .45's holster.
But Cundey was a beast unchained; he was the fingers throttling Bodin’s throat; he was the irresistible force toppling Bodin backward over the cot; he was the weight emptying Bodin's lungs; he was wood dust blurring Bodin's eyes; he was the fire in Bodin's chest; he was the gasping for air; he was the dimming of sight.
Senses dancing, Bodin struggled to rise to his feet, already knowing it was too late. He didn’t need clear eyes to know Cundey had the .45 on him. All it took was the maniac’s honey-sweet tones.
“Aw, boss, you lookin' unhappy, now. Don’t you worry, though. Ole Walt Cundey didn’t take no offence about you lockin’ him to that uncomfortable chair. Not at all. He knows you was only doin’ you job.” Cundey’s smile spread like an alligator’s maw. “Tell you what. You apologize, and Cundey might just forget this little quarrel. He might just call it even 'tween you and me.”
Bodin dragged in a breath to clear his head. It cleared to a pinpoint when he felt the hard chill of the .45’s barrel crease the bridge of his nose.
“Tell Mister Cundey how sorry you are for treatin’ him as poorly as you did, and we’ll part ways. Hm?”
Bodin met eyes with Cundey. The killer smiled. Bodin figured Cundey saw weakness. Bodin was perfectly content to allow him to see whatever he wanted. Just so long as it was wrong. Just so long as Cundey neglected Bodin’s right arm.
Bodin twisted and caught Cundey's writst, slamming the gun against the cabin wall. The .45 discharged a single round, inches from Bodin's face. Small, sharp, hot stings pricked his cheek and temple. The shock and pain gave him impetus. He yanked Cundey forward by the wrist while his free arm drove two rapid blows into Cundey’s face. Cundey’s flesh yielded satisfyingly under his fist. Cundey collapsed onto Bodin, who rolled him hard into the cabin wall. He wrenched the .45 from the killer’s hand and tossed it away, then pulled himself upright. As he came to his feet, he caught sight of Cundey rocking onto his hands and knees. Bodin directed a sharp kick to the ribs to suggest that Cundey may want to stay on the floor for the time being. Cundey stayed.
Bodin checked the gun's location. It had skittered under Cundey’s chair and come to a halt. Fine, leave it there. Bodin wouldn’t need it.
Fuck money. Fuck justice. This murderer and child-killer was going to pay for what he was. Bodin was going to tear Cundey apart with his bare hands.
Bodin moved forward to murder Cundey. There was nothing else in his mind but that. And then Bodin’s momentum failed, his steps stuttered to a full stop, his rage shriveled, his volition wilted; in the corner of the room, just beyond Cundey's prone form, a face had begun to coil up from the floorboards.
* * *
The fruit shined. Sparks shot and clustered in ripe lobes.
It flexed apparatuses and spread armaments. It sought out angles and tested positions, readying for the harvest ...
Then the fruit began to wilt. As hate and anger soured into confusion and horror, the fruit began to fade.
It allowed the decline. To its senses, fear stank as corruption.
But it had pursued two quarries. The other, the softer and sicklier of the two, grew now and sprouted, flaring into fullness.
It sought a more strategic position from which to cull the new fruit; it wished to not sour this one, and readied for the harvest ...
* * *
The face rode on a screw of ribbons that spilled upward, into midair, from the wood grain. The ribbons were slick as snail shell and just as hard-looking. But they were pliable, piling together and smoothing into porcelain. Placid as a mannequin, the face paused before reshaping into clavicles and shoulders, while a new gust of ribbons blew upward to began a reformation of the face.
On the floor, Cundey moaned. He moved dazedly, dragging the pieces of the broken cot. But the killer might as well have been a hundred miles away. Bodin’s world had reduced itself to the sight of the third occupant's shoulders spreading into breasts and a waist, into arms pressed fast against the sides; then the head flattened to shoulders, and a new head spumed again above the newly-shaped torso.
Absently, Bodin wiped at his arms. A march of ants prickled his skin through his clothes; or, possibly, a cloud of grit pocked his flesh. This was the sensation of the cabin's third occupant’s approach—a storm front or, more accurately, rhythms on a membrane under which unwholesome things surged.
The cabin's third occupant eddied to chest-level and paused again. Bodin stared helplessly at the tableau as a line formed down middle of the woman and yawned, splitting her from forehead, to torso, to legs, and on down beyond the plane of the floor. A mass squirmed within the woman-shaped orifice, a wet-boned, tar-veined tangle that Bodin’s shaken mind could identify only as a system of webbing and hooks.
Can you imagine her fury; her hunger for their hatred ...
A fragment of Bodin's mind, the cool, analytical, automatic portion of it, understood that a coat of skin and flesh wasn’t the mantel a devil required.
Sacrifices are to loosen the soul.
Cundey, unaware of the monstrous growth just inches from his back, swooped in on Bodin, his attack a low-slung blur. The impact pitched Bodin backward hard against the floor. The shock freed him from the sight of the cabin’s third occupant and rattled some of his senses back. He rolled to his elbows and knees and skittered toward the cabin door.
The languid clack of the maniac's boots on the floorboards next to him followed his progress. “Scared now, ain’t ya?” came a breathless taunt. Then the mean edge of Cundey’s boot heal bit down hard into Bodin’s hamstring.
Bodin yelled in pain, but did not turn to face his aggressor, did not rise to fight. Desperate to avoid the sight of the cabin's third occupant, he locked his gaze on the door and drug himself forward.
“Look at me, boss man!” Cundey kicked the sole of his boot, then regained his honey tones when he addressed Bodin again: “Go 'head, scream. Cry. Beg. Don’t spare nothing. I like it all.”
Cundey kicked him again, sparking a flurry of pins-and-needles up and down Bodin’s leg. Bodin lurched forward one more pace on both elbows. The killer met the pace.
“Do me a favor, boss.” Cundey chewed on the words. Bodin chanced a look over his shoulder, instinct forcing him to assess his attacker. Cundey stepped forward, cocking his leg to direct a kick. “Tell me you like it too.”
Cundey’s blow never came, and a pale movement over Cundey’s shoulder caught Bodin’s attention: At the far corner of the ceiling, the third occupant wound upward into the air like the tip of a worm through soil, the visage taking shape for an instant before gashing open again, revealing a cavity that plunged deeper, far deeper, than the shallow hollow of a human body. Inside, a progression of cowls unfurled to form a system of bruised-flesh lobes and stems that shuttered forward to roil against thin curled points.
The killer stood still as a statue, eyes swollen as blisters. A wasp in a jar began to buzz, and Bodin realized the keening note was a pocket of air, a scream, trapped in Cundey’s throat.
Distantly, Bodin felt a gust brushing his senses; not a gritty wind, not ants, but the pressure of matter deformed. It touched Bodin softly, at odd angles, as though he were hunkered inside the lea of a pillar.
Cundey’s limbs sagged to his sides, slowly, like the limbs of a heated wax figure. His legs bowed, but the body did not fall, did not even slump forward. Behind him, the gaping woman-maw writhed in its spot, churning and flexing, working objectives on Cundey that were beyond Bodin’s comprehension.
Then whatever anchored Cundey upright began to lift the body into the air. The soles of his boots scraped the floorboards and then drifted upward to hang in empty space. His head bent backward, his spine arched. The shrill wasp buzz trilled sickly then stopped as Cundey’s scream squeezed the last of the air from his throat. His ascent continued until his forehead bumped the ceiling.
From this new angle, Bodin discerned the maw clearly. Floating well above the floorboards, the wide-open woman-form bent and swayed methodically in opposite directions at each end. He finally saw the extensions reaching from its cavernous recesses into the back of Cundey’s skull. Thick as fingers, they whirred like fly wings. Bodin felt the impossible speed of their motion over every inch of his skin: through his clothes, front and back; against palms of his hands pressed again the floorboards; on the soles of his feet inside his boots; and especially against his scalp under his unblown hair; his skull under his skin; and the gray, fleshy creases below the fused bone.
“Pay for it,” he hissed at Cundey through clenched his teeth. He squeezed his hands into fists; the splinters jutting from floorboards skinned his knuckles, but his flesh was numb. “Pay for it,” he said again, willing heightened plateaus of suffering against Cundey. He wanted to keep watching, but he felt his gorge rising. The agitations of the maw and the velocity of the thing it housed hurt his eyes and made the tentative support of the earth want to drop away.
Bodin rolled onto his elbows and tried to rise. His legs refused to work. That was fine. He’d crawl out of there. He’d crawl back out of this swamp if he had too. He might be able to live the rest of his life on his knees so long as he had the satisfaction of Cundey’s agony to keep him company.
He smiled as he dragged himself forward, huffing through the effort with a wide grin. Pay it, he sent to Cundey again, wishing, hoping the sick bastard heard his joy. Pay it.
* * *
After it sucked the last of the seeds it stroked the lobes, seeking to crack open memory, to squeeze more juice from delirium. But the drained rind dimmed and slipped away.
It nearly departed then, to sink back into the soft material, back into hibernation. But the eye flexed again, and dilated, and fixed.
Down below, the withered fruit had bloomed again. Shining with vivid hate. Ripe.
It moved in for a second harvest.
* * *
Bodin was almost to the door when he felt the direct pressure of that strange wind that was the deformation of the world. When he’d first felt it, as the woman-maw fed on Cundey, its full force had been blunted. But now the pillar had blown over, and the deforming wind and crawled up over his skin, and through his organs, and up his spine into his skull.
Behind him, Cundey’s body struck the floorboards with a loose-jointed thrump.
Bodin heard it—and he couldn’t help it: In spite of the hooks sinking into his mind, the sound delivered to him a savage grin.
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