After the excellent Wasteland 2, we were excited to get our hands on the new installment, and we can say without fear that it has met expectations. Wasteland 3 is a sign of the love that InXile has for his work and Brian Fargo for the genre that has created a name for him. If you are a lover of the saga or the genre, do not hesitate to enjoy it.
Wasteland 3 doesn’t pull any punches with its subject matter in sexuality, violence, and language. But if you are fine with that, I would highly recommend you give Wasteland 3 a shot, especially if you were (or still are) a Fallout fan.
On Paper Wasteland 3 sounds like the perfect RPG-Dream but the execution leaves much to be desired. Bugs, Glitches and graphics that doesn't really represent a game that releases and the end of this console generation are a bit of a letdown. Everything else from the great story, entertaining NPCs, solid battle system, clever leveldesign over to the love for details is amazing, besides some flaws that should soon be fixed, as inXile and Brian Fargo promise. Everyone that wasn't happy with the latest Fallout Games will surely love Wasteland 3.
Wasteland 3 is a old-school role-playing game, with a compelling story, a combat system that promises but is not groundbreaking and some funny moments and black mood, which always remind us that we are in a post apocalyptic world, but with a smile. Don't forget the powerful character editor, rhythm voices, and the beautiful scenery that puts you in that atmosphere of cold and snowy Colorado.
Wasteland 3 can be a bit of slog if you're gunning for marathon gaming sessions with it at the helm. Combat, whilst exciting initially can fall into the traps of repetition. A little more variety could have negated some of the repeated player actions. That said, the story is compelling and the characters an interesting assortment of misfit survivors, although perhaps fitting post-apocalyptic stereotypes. It's a fun, easy to play game overall though that should well-please fans of the series and keep players entertained for quite some time with its high replay-value. However, aside from some bugs here and there, the impressive amount of voice-work on offer, the character building is the best part of the experience where you can really nurture your ranger squad in this snowy post-apocalyptic world.
At least in my time with it, Wasteland 3 has been a fascinating experience. I’ve come to appreciate its depth of gameplay, character, building, and exploration, even if some of its pieces and parts still feel very foreign to me.
I will be even happier with Wasteland 3 once it’s patched and most of the bugs that bit me end up getting squashed. Even in its current state I’m having a grand ol’ time bringing some justice to the cold depths where no Ranger has dared to before. But for as much of a blast as I’m having out northeast in the cold, I hope I can make it back to sunny Arizona in time to save my fellow lawmen!
Wasteland 3 is a throwback to the old School RPGs of yesteryear, while providing a new combat experience and a bigger world. Players that liked previous Fallout Games, or games like Wasteland 2 or Baldur's Gate will feel right at home with this title, and will have the opportunity to try X-Com like combat. For the amount of content provided, 60 USD is a very good price, and fans of the genre should get more than their money's worth.
Wasteland 3 doesn't bring much new to the table, both as a CRPG and as a piece of post-apocalyptic fiction. But, it's a terrifically executed role-playing game that rewards player investment from beginning to end.
Wasteland 3 is a heady crescendo of post-apocalyptic story-telling. Its combat is compelling and fun while its characters and overall plot are engrossing, even when it goes to some dark places. A must-play for tactical RPG fans.
We’ll update this review if the game is fixed, and the issues outlined are fixed or at least addressed; and then I’ll pick it back up. As it stands now, I’ll be playing something else that isn’t as apt to crash. Buyer beware.
There are a few misgivings related to Wasteland 3's technical aspects, mechanics, and overall challenge. However, its cast of characters (both old and new), the switch to a traditional turn-based combat system, and branching paths filled with decisions and dire consequences make for a superb journey with the Desert Rangers.
With a focus on freedom of choice that is second-to-none, Wasteland 3 has set the benchmark for CRPG narratives, all the while being supported by wonderfully engaging gameplay and roleplaying mechanics.
It took me a while to realize how much these interactions, whether it be the interpersonal conversation or combat encounters themselves, stuck with me. Wasteland 3 has rules, but they only exist for you to bend them. With limitless character creation combinations, branching dialogue choices that affect what quests you do or don’t experience, and multiple endings, Wasteland 3 is an expanse of content and opportunity. The change in locale does wonders, no longer relying on a tired post-apocalyptic biome. Wasteland 3 has a wonderful backdrop in Colorado’s frozen wastes, making it the perfect place to spend a nuclear winter.
Wasteland 3 takes players to a new location and presents them with equally unfamiliar challenges, yet still perfectly demonstrates all of the reasons why this series has had die-hard fans for over three decades, and is absolutely worth playing for anyone looking for their next post-apocalyptic fix.
Wasteland 3 doesn't change its predecessor's successful formula but, outside of certain design limitations, it perfects and modernizes it. It's easily the best game in the franchise, in terms of pure technique, and one that clearly gives you an idea of what inXile is able to achieve.
Wasteland 3 is a good role-playing game, technically passable but enriched by a dense network of intriguing subplots that will push the most dedicated to play it several times. Watch out for the ever-present release bugs, though – best to wait a couple patches if you want to avoid unnecessary hurdles.
Wasteland 3 features everything only the best role-playing games do: an engaging story powered by excellent writing, compelling characters, tons of customization options, and a deep tactical combat system that feels fresh even after dozens of hours. But, most of all, it features a living world that reacts to what the player does, and changes depending on how the player decides to deal with the troubles ahead, providing a role-playing experience of the highest degree, one that very few games can boast of.
Wasteland 3 is a testament to the power of the branching narrative, taking it far beyond binary choices and into a grand canopy of cause and effect. It gives the wintry climbs of Colorado a lifelike quality that must have been painstaking to build. The most impressive RPG in years, Wasteland 3 is a masterpiece.
Wasteland 3 shines with clear dedication to crafting the best game its genre has ever seen. Excellent visuals are matched by top notch voice work and some of the best and most natural writing I have seen in a video game not made by Naughty Dog. The combat is a brutal dance where one wrong move can spell disaster, but victory is an exhilarating rush that never becomes old. Wasteland 3 cements inXile as one of the best in the business in the RPG genre and affirms that Xbox has something truly special on their hands.
RESULTS of the State of the Game Survey: September 2020
Hi all, It’s time for the results! Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond - we had over 1,750 responses, which is great! These insights wouldn’t be possible without your time and support. As always, neither myself nor this survey are associated with Intelligent Systems or Nintendo in any way. Please direct feedback about the game itself to the official channels. Now let’s get into it!
PreviousSurveyResults: April_2020_State_of_the_Game_Survey ~ Demographics ~ 53.8% began playing FE:H in February 2017, with 20.0% more joining during the first year of the game. 12.0% of respondents joined during the second year, 8.7% joined during the third, and 4.0% joined during the fourth year (the last ~7 months). The age range breakdown of respondents is as follows:
(2.6%) 12 – 15 years old
(15.0 %) 16 – 18 years old
(23.4 %) 19 – 21 years old
(21.8 %) 22 – 24 years old
(25.8 %) 25 – 30 years old
(8.2 %) 31 – 40 years old
(1.0 %) 40+ years old
75.8% of respondents identified as Male, 18.4% as Female, and 3.0% as Non-binary. 24.6% of respondents have never missed a daily login, while a further 38.8% have missed less than a month’s worth of logins, 11.7% missed 1-2 months, 9.9% missed 3-6 months, 5.8% missed 7-12 months, and 4.7% missed over a year’s worth. 33.5% report being F2P, while 28.7% have spent less than $100, 18.3% spent between $100 - $499, 7.3% spent between $500 - $999, and 8.7% have spent over $1000. 46.6% last spent money on FE:H during the fourth year of the game (the last 3 months), while 6.6% last spent money during the third year of the game, 5.8% last spent during the second year of the game, and 5.1% last spent money during the first year of the game. ~ Summoning ~ “Which of the following banners have you used orbs on at least once?”
~ Summoning Mechanics ~ 33.7% spent orbs on the Hero Fest banner AFTER Intelligent Systems announced how they would be compensating players for the Hero Fest banner glitch, compared to 61.7% who did not. 30.5% say that knowing about the compensation for the Hero Fest banner glitch caused them to spend more orbs on the banner than they would have otherwise, compared to 41.5% who say it did not. 28.0% did not spend orbs on the Hero Fest banner. 34.3% feel positively or very positively about the quality of 4* focuses on regular banners, compared to 26.9% who feel negatively or very negatively. 69.7% feel positively or very positively about the quality of 4* focuses on seasonal banners, compared to 7.8% who feel negatively or very negatively. 53.8% report that the system guaranteeing a free 5* after 40 summons generally makes them summon more, while 5.4% report that it generally makes them summon less and 36.1% report no change in their summoning habits on New Heroes banners. “If all New Heroes Banners used the permanent 40-summons-for-a-guaranteed-5* system that CYL4 used, how would your orb-spending habits on New Heroes banners change?”
(1.8%) I would spend fewer orbs than I did before
(22.3%) I would spend the same amount of orbs I usually do
(10.3%) I would spend more orbs than I did before
(62.2%) My spending would depend more on the Heroes offered
~ Choose Your Legends IV ~ “Which CYL4 Brave Heroes have you summoned, whether from the guaranteed choice banner or the regular banner?”
Of the summoning milestones on the CYL4 banner:
(20.2%) did not reach any of these summoning milestones
(79.7%) reached 40 summons
(41.0%) reached 80 summons
(19.8%) reached 120 summons
(11.1%) reached 160 summons
45.7% say that the free 5* hero at 40, 80, 120 and 160 summons caused them to spend more on CYL4 than they would have otherwise, while 50.3% say it did not. 22.8% say that the potential use of a new Brave Hero in future F2P Guides for content such as Hero Battles influenced their Brave Heroes summons, compared to 74.0% who say it did not. “If you could only get ONE of the new Brave Heroes, which one would you choose?”
“Which Brave Hero do you believe is the overall strongest?”
“Which Brave Hero do you believe is the overall weakest?”
“Which Brave Hero do you believe has the best art?”
“Which set of Brave Heroes is your favorite overall?”
23.6% feel positively or very positively about the addition of Jorge as the CYL4 GHB hero, compared to 33.0% who feel negatively or very negatively. 86.3% believe CYL5 should add further protections against vote botting, compared to 4.4% who do not. 70.1% believe CYL5 should require Nintendo Account sign-in to vote, compared to 12.6% who do not. ~ Feh Pass and Resplendent Heroes ~ 41.2% feel negatively about the addition of the Feh Pass (down 15.8% from the last survey), compared to 11.6% who feel positively (up 1.5% from the last survey). 46.1% are neutral (up 14.3% from the last survey). 40.2% have purchased the Feh Pass, compared to 59.8% who have not. This is a 9.5% increase compared to the last survey, following a 6.7% increase before that. Of those who have subscribed to Feh Pass, 17.4% have purchased Resplendent Heroes separately (up 12.9% from the last survey), compared to 82.6% who have not. “Which Resplendent Hero has your favorite art?”
“Which Resplendent outfit theme is your favorite?”
~ Miscellaneous ~ 15.8% feel positively about the introduction of Harmonized Heroes, compared to 31.3% who feel negatively. 29.5% have a Harmonized Hero, compared to 70.1% who do not. 14.6% feel positively or very positively about the Resonant Battles game mode, compared to 51.5% who feel negatively or very negatively. 4.6% say that the Resonant Battles game mode influenced them to pull for Harmonized Heroes, compared to 94.5% who say it has not. 34.8% believe the new Arena maps are better than the maps they replaced, while 7.4% believe they are worse, and 36.7% believe they are about the same. “How often do you use Auto Dispatch in Aether Raids?”
(34.3%) All of them, always
(0.2%) All of them, in Light Season
(3.6%) All of them, in Astra season
(24.3%) Only sometimes
(37.6%) I never use it
“IV Mango” is the preferred term for Trait Fruit according to 32.2% of respondents, followed by “IVcado” at 28.9%, “Fruit” at 7.6%, and “Dragonfruit” at 6.6%. The remaining 24.7% prefer to just call them Trait Fruit. 39.3% say they will use their first Trait Fruits on a Heroic Grails unit, while 32.9% say they will use them on a Summonable unit, and 1.3% say they will use them on an Askr unit. 58.7% prefer Stat Boosts for Legendary Heroes, compared to 26.3% who prefer Pair-Up. 56.5% generally prefer Regular Duo Heroes, compared to 8.8% who prefer Harmonized Duo Heroes. 1.8% say that the update that raised the minimum hardware/software required to play the game affected their ability to play FE:H, compared to 95.8% who say it did not. ~ Recurring Miscellaneous ~ “Which game do you want a New Heroes banner from the most?”
(26.0%) Three Houses (-1.9%)
(9.7%) Radiant Dawn (+0.5%)
(7.7%) Sacred Stones (+0.2%)
(7.5%) Awakening (-3.1%)
(6.4%) Genealogy of the Holy War (-1.3%)
(6.1%) Path of Radiance (-0.9%)
(6.0%) Gaiden / Shadows of Valentia (+2.7%)
(5.9%) TMS #FE (+1.9%)
(5.4%) Blazing Blade (+1.3%)
(5.0%) Fates (+1.0%)
(4.2%) Thracia 776 (+0.8%)
(2.4%) Binding Blade (+0.6%)
(0.8%) Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light / Shadow Dragon (-1.0%)
(0.8%) Mystery of the Emblem / New Mystery of the Emblem (-1.1%)
“How much do you care about your rank in the following modes?”
(2.90/5.00 average) Arena
(2.82/5.00 average) Aether Raids
(2.48/5.00 average) PvE game modes with player ranking boards
(1.82/5.00 average) Arena Assault
“How have recent changes to FE:H changed your opinion on the game as a whole?”
(39.3%) My opinion was positive and has stayed positive
(5.7%) My opinion used to be negative, but has turned positive
(9.9%) My opinion used to be positive, but has turned negative
(5.1%) My opinion was negative and has stayed negative
~ Intelligent Systems Approval Ratings ~ The approval ratings are calculated by the proportion of Approve responses compared to the number of both Approve and Disapprove responses. Percent who approve of the way Intelligent Systems is handling:
74.6% - The addition of new heroes / characters to the game (+11.9)
69.4% - The gacha mechanics and summoning banners (+5.5)
59.2% - The story/plot (+9.4)
85.2% - Unranked PvE game modes (Hero Battles, Forging Bonds, Tactics Drills, Lost Lore, Hall of Forms) (-1.2)
50.7% - Ranked PvE game modes (Voting Gauntlets, Tempest Trials, Grand Conquest, Allegiance Battles, Rokkr Sieges, Mjolnir's Strike) (-2.6)
34.6% - Arena (-6.2)
48.0% - Arena Assault (+6.7)
45.8% - Aether Raids (+12.7)
40.5% believe Intelligent Systems cares about its Free to Play userbase (up 10.1% from the last survey), while 34.7% do not. This continues the upward trend from the previous survey, bringing us to 8.8% down from where we were before the February drop). 42.9% approve of the way Intelligent Systems is handling Fire Emblem: Heroes as a whole (up 14.8% from the last survey), while 16.9% disapprove. This continues the upward trend from the previous survey, bringing us to only 2.5% down from where we were before the February drop).
A NOTE ABOUT METHODOLOGY: The overall approval ratings question above has traditionally been the exact percent of Approve responses, as a proportion with both Neutral and Disapprove responses. Note that this is different than the way approval is calculated for individual modes (the proportion of Approve responses compared to the number of both Approve and Disapprove responses), where Neutral responses are excluded. The difference in calculation has continued this way in order to maintain comparability with previous survey results. For comparisons sake, the overall approval rating trend going by raw Approval percentage over the last 4 surveys is: 50.6% (Dec) -> 22.9% (Feb) -> 28.1% (Apr) -> 42.9% (Sept) Whereas the overall approval rating trend going by proportion of Approve/Disapprove with the Neutrals excluded over the last 4 surveys is: 82.2% (Dec) -> 41.0% (Feb) -> 51.3% (Apr) -> 71.7% (Sept).
~ Bonus Questions ~ “Who is your Favorite Hero added since the last survey?”
Dimitri (Brave) is the winner, followed by Edelgard (Brave), then Claude (Brave).
“What would be the best Harmonized Hero (a pair of two heroes from different games) and why?”: Rather than selecting a subset of responses this time, the link below is to a google sheet of almost all unique responses. I cleaned it up a little bit to remove “idk” type answers, duplicates, and partial string duplicates, so don’t worry if you don’t see your exact response in it. [Full Responses]. ~ Feedback ~ As always, I received lots of great feedback, both in your survey responses and in the thread itself. A heartfelt thank you to all participants for your encouragements and criticisms - these surveys wouldn’t be where they are without your feedback. But it’s not all serious; feedback messages also included:
“There once was a CYL4 banner / That hit my orbs hard like a hammer / The very next day / FloomMom Duo came our way / Now I'm stuck bartering with a loan planner”
“bonk, go to survey jail”
“Am I also allowed to put in "Norne and Azura" for a Harmonized Hero pair? No reason.”
“Brace yourself. Winter (armours) are coming!” “Brave Hector's refine has made me so very happy with it's inclusion. Go shove your bow up your butt Legendary Chrom.”
“Give me villager alts or give me death”
“I expect the next survey to come with +12 to attack, null follow up, and special cooldown reduction.”
“The true best Harmonized Hero would be Azura and Roy since it would make me uninstall the game and never want to play a gacha ever again”
“My headcanon for the dream storyline is that the evil fairies have the Summoner off picking up pebbles that look like orbs. Fredrickson would be proud.”
“Where's the most wanted unit to add to the game question so I can shout my want for Seteth into the void?”
“I no longer dab, for Legendary Seliph has finally appeared.”
And greetings from Argentina, the Bahamas, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Russia, South Korea, Sweden, the UK, Vietnam, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Toronto, and St. Louis, as well as from many fictional locations!
And some personal/meta comments:
“Any chance we end up seeing another Super Serious Survey in the not-so-distant future?” -> I could not believe it’s been over a year since the last one! We’ll have to do one soon!
“Feels like the end of an era, not having to count all my five stars” -> I know, right? I may have it return in a side survey for the most hardcore of respondents at some point, since some people are asking about it and it would be good to get data on it every once in a while.
“I was looking through your Nornes skills and saw you haven't given her live for bounty yet! It's the best skill for her, what are you doing!?” -> I am a fraud :( I have given her Live for Honor though :P
“What do you hope for in FEH?” -> Norne alt, Resplendent Jaffar, and Shamir
Multiple people mentioned that they had returned after a long break and were surprised to see Norne instead of Azura! Welcome back!
I also missed a bunch of other possible Trait Fruit nicknames, which I knew would inevitably happen. Sorry!
Note: Please don’t ask me to feature your feedback comment; it’s the only guaranteed way to not have your comment added! Finally, the suggestion to have separate options for serious vs non-serious feedback was a good idea, I’ll try that out on the next survey! ~ Closing Remarks ~ If you missed out on responding to this survey when it was available, consider subscribing to FEHSurveys. This subreddit serves as a place to organize FE:H-related surveys, make new releases more visible, and make it easier for users to see when surveys are active. Thanks again to everyone who participated! I hope you find the results interesting, and if there’s anything else you think can be discovered from the data, let me know and I’ll do my best to oblige!
Ay yo, it’s everybody’s least-favourite user, comin’ atcha with another long-ass pseudo-essay that nobody asked for. This time, the topic is on talents. What is the Talent system? The talent system is one of the primary features of Paladins that sets it apart from its… competitors. At the beginning of each match, each player is allowed to select 1 talent from 3 to boost their champion. This talent chosen will usually synergize with the player’s chosen loadout, and will alter the champion’s performance in some way. I feel the Talents system is incredible. It allows each champion to fill a variety of different roles and have various methods of filling the roles they already have. Essentially, the talents system allows one to customize their champion and make them more unique to the user, or allowing the user to adapt to various situations (team compositions). So why the rant? Not all talents are created equal-- not even close. Before I go on, I’d like to establish what (in my opinion) makes a talent great, good, alright, or blasphemous. Note that this doesn’t necessarily correspond to the strength of the talent, only the talent’s creativity or individuality of its design.
A GREAT talent should be able to recontextualize a champion’s entire kit.
A great talent doesn’t just change a champion’s playstyle, it can change their entire ROLE. However, this must be done carefully, in such a way that the champion’s base kit and/or available cards remain largely relevant. The cards from the champion’s loadout should remain impactful, but perhaps focus can be placed on other cards that may not have been used otherwise, or using already-utilized cards differently. Undoubtedly, two of the best examples of this would be Pip’s Catalyst and Seris’ Soul Collector. Catalyst causes enemies slowed by Pip’s weapon shots to take an additional 30% damage from his primary attacks, and Soul Collector gives up to 15 2% boosts to Seris’ maximum health and primary attack damage for each Soul Charge she detonates. No matter how you feel about these talents, there is a clear difference between a Soul Collector Seris and a stock/Mortal Reach Seris, or a Catalyst Pip and a stock/Mega Potion Pip. Namely, that they’re dunking on you. One of the most notable things about these talents is that, again, the champions’ cards remain relevant. I play much more Seris than Pip, so I feel much safer discussing her cards. ALL BUT ONE of Seris’ cards (Soul Forge) remain relevant when she picks Soul Collector. Even if she chooses to play a more aggressive build, her Restore Soul cards remain relevant. The ability may no longer be the Seris’ primary focus, but its cards allow it to potentially remain relevant by providing ammo without reloading, providing healing to her on a short cooldown, or reducing the lengthy 14s base cooldown of Shadow Travel. Even the cards not related to Restore Soul gain new roles: Umbral Gait goes from allowing Seris to retreat more quickly from advancing enemies to also allowing her to close the distance between her and her target(s) with a *massive* speed boost of up to 40%. Essence Rip and Wickedness allow her to combat the crippling presence of Cauterize later in the round by improving her only self-sustain when on her own, allowing her to engage more confidently. This is, to me, the best talent in the game, just for how much it puts a twist on an otherwise simple champion, all while keeping her coherent. Well done, Evil Moji. Well done indeed.
A GOOD Talent recontextualizes a single ability.
A step below changing the entire kit of a champion, some talents change how a single ability is used. Examples of this include Maeve’s Rogue’s Gambit, Furia’s Solar Blessing, Vivian’s Booby Traps, (arguably) Makoa’s Half Shell, Pip’s Combat Medic, and Skye’s Grade A Medicinal Kush Smoke and Dagger. These are distinguished from the category below them by actually *changing how the ability is used.\* Simply improving a talent’s ability to do what it already does does not count for this. Maeve’s Rogue’s Gambit provides a small 10% damage boost to Pounce, but more notably resets its cooldown whenever she gets an elimination or killing blow. This allows for better dives through more reliable escape, but also improves her mobility greatly, especially if the player is skilled. It allows her to be a bit more loose with the otherwise fairly harsh possibility of having to expend her lengthy 20s cooldown of Nine Lives to escape, and can be the thing that allows great Maeves to play The Floor is Lava for what feels like the whole match. Vivian’s Booby Traps is simple: Drones go boom. It gives her a form of damage outside of shooting her gun at her opponent, and grants a bit of burst (as though she needed that), but also some fairly-reliable AoE damage. It incentivises using her drones multiple times during a fight rather than relying on a single pre-placed one as the drones will go boom, requiring her to replace them if she wants to continue gaining benefits from any reveal-based cards that may be in her loadout. Furia’s Solar Blessing is perhaps the strongest example of recontextualizing an ability, simply due to how drastic the change is. It changes her Pyre Strike from being a primarily defensive CC tool to being an extremely powerful healing ability. This comes at the cost of her often casting it when she’s not being attacked, potentially leaving her more vulnerable to flanks until it’s off cooldown. Likewise, if she uses to fight off a flank, she’s now missing the ability to burst-heal her tank back from the brink of death to near-full. A trade-off of self-defence or support. Nice.
An OK talent simply focuses on an ability, without changing its use very much.
This primarily means that X talent is now better at doing whatever it already did. Buck already likely uses Heroic Leap to engage; Bounce House just makes it a better tool to do so. Seris was already going to use Restore Soul to heal; Mortal Reach just improved its restorative capabilities. Inara was probably already going to use Warder’s Field to impede movement; Treacherous Ground just makes that infinitely easier. These talents are… fine. They’re often the ‘meta’ talents for champions (think Mega Potion, Bounce House, Luminary, etc.), and I believe that’s because they’re the ‘safe” options. They improve on what’s already there, and make the champion better at doing whatever they already do. It just makes sense that a talent to make a tank even tankier is going to be a common pick, right? These talents are, again, fine. They’re usually not overly offensive, and the worst thing about them will likely be that the numbers are a bit too high or low. Uncreative, but it’s not a crime to have most/every champion have a talent to improve their performance at their base job.
A BAD/SHIT talent focuses on a champion’s primary, without changing its use very much.
Let me specify: a bad talent likely focuses on the champion’s primary attack, adding some bonus effect (usually damage). It doesn’t particularly encourage the champion to do much else than what they’d do without the talent. You may be able to see where I’m going with this. Drogoz’ Fusillade, Vivian’s Opportunity in Chaos, Willo’s Blastflower, Pyromania in its pre-Vora state, and probably some others all fall under this category. Basically, if you can’t tell the champion is using a particular talent as opposed to not using a talent at all by anyway except your health bar drops faster, it’s probably a shit talent. But wouldn’t this include Lex’s Death Hastens, Jenos’ Binary Star and Androxus’ Cursed Revolver? Well… kind of. These talents, particularly the former and latter, are notably special cases. While they do focus on the weapons, they change them in such a way that more focus is placed on aim and allowing greater opportunities to headshot. A difference between these three and their stock variants can easily be felt. What distinguishes Death Hastens and Cursed Revolver further is that they serve as sorts of fanservice, restoring their respective champions to older states for players who preferred these slow-firing and more accuracy-dependent forms. Whether you wish to include these talents in this category is up to you, but I’d personally just put them off to the side. The running theme here is change and identity. How much change can I feel when I play this talent? What identity does this talent establish for the champion, and possibly even for the player playing them? If the talents and card systems exist to customize a champion to a specific playstyle, the talent shouldn’t just make X ability Y% better at doing Z than it was before. There’s a very fine line between the criteria on this list for a good talent and a shit one, and one that may not be possible to explain with words. So, what the hell was the point of you writing all this? Hopefully, to gather feedback and see how correct people feel these criteria are. If positively received, I’d love for more talents to take routes that would lead them to being higher up on this list. If every talent changed the champion’s playstyle to the extent of Soul Collector and Catalyst, I feel this game would be infinitely closer to reaching its maximum potential, gaining customizability and potential creativity among playstyles perhaps rivalling the likes of TF2 (if we aren’t there already). As long as uncreative (damage) talents such as Fusillade, Opportunity in Chaos, and Blastflower exist, though, I feel like the game is not living up to its full potential. At the very least, I would like to see these bland talents reworked.
The morning alarm woke up Ghen. With an annoyed sigh, he stretched out his arm and silenced the foul-sounding chirps. Slowly sitting up in bed, he let out a deep yawn and got to his feet. Running a couple of chitinous fingers along his antennae to stimulate them to life, he made his bed and then went to his closet. Today was a work day, so he needed his suit. Once the pants were on, he stretched out his wings so that he could button up the shirt, then relaxing them once all the buttons were secured. Dressing for the day was done, now for the morning meal. Entering his kitchen, he took out the chilled leftovers of the evening meal last night and popped it into the radiator, first defrosting and then slightly cooking it. During that process, he also fished out a ceramic cup and placed it in his brewer, serving himself some synthesized caffeine. His idle thought led him to being amused that, when eaten directly off a plant, it has a concentration that could kill him three times over. But after going through some refinement and roasting, all it does is make him hyper. Once the meal was put together, his plate of heated leftovers and a cup of almost-piping-hot cup of Xia's, he took his time to enjoy it. His communicator vibrated. When he looked, he found it was from his boss. "Hello?" Ghen answered. "Ghen, the meeting's been moved up to a few minutes from now." His boss, Xkik, announced. "Apparently higher up has something important they want to say. We have a terminal ready for you, I'll message the login details." "Wha-, what's so important?" Ghen asked in bewilderment. "Did a water line rupture or something?" "No, nothing like that." Xkik replied with a slight chuckle. "It's actually about the rumors we've been hearing. That human corporation wanting to acquire us? That's what they're talking about." Ghen could feel everything inside his thorax drop to the floor. "That must mean it's true then, right? Did we get sold off by the Queen to this company then?" "Show up to the meeting and you'll get your answer." Xkik said simply. When he finished, Ghen got the notification on his communicator. There's the login details, allowing him to remotely attend the meeting. "They're about to start, hurry up." Once Xkik disconnected, Ghen worked fast to login and set up the remote viewing. Once everything was done, his screen started transmitting the meeting room. It was already packed. And off by the main board, he saw his answer. There was a human, resting against the wall on his two legs. Standing right in the center of everyone's view was the coordinator, Tizx, watching the clock periodically. As soon as the meeting's start time was reached, the coordinator began. "Alright everyone. I realize that this was rather short notice, so I want to say how appreciative I am that you made it. Now then, let's just get right to it. For some time now, many of you have been hearing rumors that a human corporation has been interested in us. Why? We never really knew. We're just an organization responsible for finding, extracting and providing water to the colony here all under the direction of the Queen herself. Well, as of now, I have the answer for you. Why don't I let Ryan say that?" Stepping back, Tizx motioned for the human, Ryan, to take over. With a nod, Ryan practically bounced over and then took the position. "Good morning to you all. I hope my Zazk is passable, heh. Anyways, the answer to those rumors, is yes. Terran Galactic Company is indeed interested in you all. Which now leads to me. I'm here to announce that, effective yesterday evening, this water company is now a subsidiary of Terran Galactic Company, under the name of Zilia Water Delivery." Many other sub-coordinators broke into hushed conversation, no doubt speaking their thoughts with each other about this move. Ghen could only wonder if this was even a good thing. What will the humans do? Will he still have his job? Will he have to learn how to deal with the ruthless humans? "Now, I am well aware this is quite the...uh, change." Ryan continued. "That's why I'm happy to inform you that, no, nothing negative or detrimental will happen to you. You just have new people to answer to. Operations will continue as normal, everybody here will still keep their jobs. The only real change any of you will personally experience is that Coordinator Tizx here will now report to someone else. On behalf of the Terran Galactic Company, we are extremely excited and are looking forward to working with you all. Thank you for your time." A week later. At least Ryan wasn't lying. After the initial shock wore off, things went back as they normally did. There were no terminations, no reductions in annual pay or anything. Nothing really changed. At least until this new meeting was called. Ghen was at the worksite this time, so he took his seat and watched as, once again, Ryan led the meeting. "Hello again, everyone!" He said cheerfully, his Zazk noticeably improved. "I hope I didn't end up looking like a liar, right? Everything's still normal, all that?" All the zazk in the room confirmed, providing comments to their pleasant surprise as well as lingering thoughts. "Awesome! Awesome." Ryan said jubilantly, his fleshy mouth revealing his bone-white teeth. "Now then, you're probably wondering why I'm here again, right? Well, I got another fantastic piece of news for you all! Two, actually. I'll start with the first: Zilia Water Delivery has just completed its IPO. The company is now publicly traded!" Ghen and the others voiced their confusion, having no idea what in the name of the Queen Ryan was talking about. What was Ryan talking about? What's an IPO? And why exactly is being publicly traded such a significant thing? "Oh, you guys don't know any of that?" Ryan asked in surprised confusion. After everybody confirmed, he let out a quick huff as he began his explanation. "Well, to begin, IPO is short for Initial Public Offering. Basically what that means is that, before today, Zilia was privately held. Only certain individuals could buy and sell shares here. But now that we're public? Literally anyone can buy and sell shares in the company, hence us being publicly traded." "Uh, what's a share?" Ghen asked, still completely lost. "Oh, boy..." Ryan muttered under his breath before returning to his peppy image. "To simply put it, a share is short for having a share of ownership in a company. When you buy a share, you're buying a piece of ownership, and when you sell, you're selling that amount." "So wait...if someone buys a share, they're a co-owner then?" One of the other team coordinators asked. "If they get enough, yeah." Ryan nodded. "You need a lot though, and that really depends on the company. If I had to give an answer though? I'd say usually you need to have a lot more shares than a lot of people combined to be officially a co-owner, but we call that being a majority shareholder." "And how do we do that?" Ghen asked, now growing curious but still not understanding why such a concept exists. "Simple. Buy shares." Ryan said simply. "And that leads into the second piece of awesome news. Zilia's corporate has a product in mind, a premium-package of water delivery. Instead of the usual water that you pump out, filter and ensure its potable before delivery, with the premium package, not only will you get that, but you'll also get all of the required nutrients and vitamins the zazk body requires! And they feel you guys have the best expertise and understanding to pull it off! So, here's what we're offering as a good-faith bonus: A 25% increase to your annual salary as well as being given stock options." Ghen wasn't sure about the second part, but the salary definitely got his attention, as well as everyone else's. Although his job was considered to have a good pay, Ghen isn't going to say no to a higher salary. In fact, he's been focusing his work on getting a promotion so he can come home with even more credits in pocket. "What do you mean by stock options?" Ghen asked after some time. Ryan let out that smile again, the one that revealed his teeth. "If you choose to transfer over to the new group, you'll be provided 50,000 shares in Zilia itself. Why's that awesome? Let me walk you through it. Right now, our last closing price per share was 3.02 credits. And if you have 50,000 shares during that time, you're sitting on 151,000 credits, if you cash it out immediately." "And why shouldn't we?" One of the coordinators demanded in an ambiguous tone. "Because the price per share changes a lot." Ryan explained promptly. "When we got done with the IPO? It closed at 2.73 a share. Right now? My money's on the closing price being 2.99 a share. However, we are extremely confident in this premium package being successful. If it does? Well, my bet is that the share price will skyrocket to 3.12 a share. If you hold those shares and the price gets to what my bet was? You'll instead get 156,000 credits. Just by holding onto them, you just made an additional 5,000 credits!" "And what if we have more shares?" Ghen questioned, now getting excited at the prospect of free money. "Even more money!" Ryan laughed a bit. "And don't forget about dividends, but that's for another time. The premium group is gearing up right now, we just need the workforce. If any of you wants in, I'll be back tomorrow with all the forms needed to make it official. Take the day and tonight to think it over, yeah?" Everything else melted into a blur. Ghen was practically on autopilot that whole day. Was this the secret to the humans' incredibly massive economy? How so many of them have amassed so much money out of nowhere? All you had to do was just buy this share out of a company and you get more money without even working? As soon as he got home, Ghen knew what he was going to do during the night. After feverishly looking through the galnet, now having the human race connected to it, he looked and gathered up as many books that were translated into zazk as he could find, all talking about the human economic system. The last time he undertook such an intensive study was during his primary education phase. And during his search, he even found forums on the galnet that were completely dedicated to the human's economy. All of them talking about strategies on what company, or stock, to pick. How to analyze a company's performance to determine if it was worth the money, or it had potential to grow over time. And that was when he discovered the humans found another method to the extremely simple buying and selling process. There were humans and some other immigrated aliens who made five times what Ghen could receive over a simple month just by watching the share prices during trading hours, and then buying and selling them at the proper times. Ghen's mind was just absolutely flabbergasted. He thought it was just some strange concept only aliens could make, but no, not with the humans. They've practically made their economy into an art or a science. No, not even their economy. Everything. If humans can see a way to make money off of it, they'll do it. And if there isn't, they'll look for a way. Healthcare was monetized. Galnet services, transportation, shopping at the store, they even made all of their utilities into profit-oriented companies. And it was there that Ghen paused, the realization slamming into him. Everything was monetized. Which means, if you don't have the money for it, you're not getting it. Right? Are the humans truly that ruthless? So obsessed with making money? To the point that they're willing to deprive their own people of the absolute necessities if it's a source of credits? Ghen let out a scoff. There's no way. Nobody is that cruel and callous. He's never been to the United Nations. He can't rely on what a bunch of random people on the galnet says. He decided that from here on out, he'll only go as far as saying that humans are a little obsessed with credits, nothing more. ... There he was. Ryan, sitting in the office provided to him. And there was a rather large line leading to him. Looks like word got around. Although, the line wasn't as large as he expected it to be. Maybe the others thought it was just a ruse? That there's no such thing as making free money by spending it on such a made-up concept? Ghen only knows that, if it is a ruse, it's an extremely elaborate one, where all of the humans are in on it. And he believes that's just extremely ridiculous. At the end, if he's unsure, he'll just take the transfer for the very real increase in his very real salary. And although he spent a very good chunk of the night reading up on how humans do things, he's still going to play it smart. He'll leave his 50,000 shares alone and see where it goes from there. "Good morning sir." Ryan greeted warmly once Ghen took his seat. "Now, name please?" "Ghen." He answered, barely keeping his nerves down. "Alright...and what's your position at this location?" Ryan questioned after scribbling on his form. "I monitor the pumping stations near the extraction sites." Ghen explained, staying on point. "To be more specific, I check to see if they're in need of maintenance, as well as reading the flow rate that's determined by the calculators installed there. If there's too little for what's needed, I pump out more. And if there's too much, I pull it back a little." "Nice...and how long have you been doing it for?" Ryan complimented with a nod. "As of tomorrow, ten years." Ghen replied, voice quickly changing to minor awe once he realized that fact. "Excellent. Do you have anyone in mind you'd like to replace you here?" Ryan questioned after another scribble. "If you don't have anyone, you're free to say so." Ghen took a moment to think it over. A bunch of names went through his mind, but one stuck with him. "Tilik. He's just been accepted here, but he's learned quickly. Very attentive and he always catches something subtle. I think he'll do really well in my position, even better actually." "Tilik, really?" Ryan questioned with a little shock, going through his completed forms. Ghen felt a short sense of panic in him. Did something happen, or was Tilik actually transferring? His answer didn't take long to reveal itself. "Right, Tilik was actually one of the first people to want to transfer here. He's actually requested to be part of the testing teams specifically. Do you have a second choice?" "Um...no, actually." Ghen replied, feeling a little ashamed. "Tilik was my only choice, to be honest." "Hey, don't worry." Ryan said assuringly with his hands raised. "Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, there's just nobody up to snuff, right? 'Kay, so, last question. Is there anything specific you'd like to do when given the transfer?" "If you need someone monitoring new pumps, I'd be happy to do that." Ghen stated. "So basically same job but with better payoff, am I right?" Ryan grinned. "I hear you. Sometimes, we're just not paid enough for what we're doing. I know I think that sometimes. Uh, our secret, yeah?" "Yeah, our secret." Ghen nodded, thinking it'd be better to have friendly relations with the human, just in case. "Awesome. Back on topic, that's it." Ryan announced, placing the form on his pile. "We'll give you a call when you're accepted." "Oh, uh, that's it?" Ghen questioned with a shrug in shocked surprise. "What, expecting a question like, why do you want to transfer?" Ryan chuckled a bit as he leaned in his seat. "You can bullshit all you want, but we both know the answer. Sweet money and stock options. Not saying that's a bad answer of course, just that it's pretty obvious." "I suppose it is." Ghen commented, realizing the point. "Also, you mentioned this...dividend? Is that for Zilia shares?" Ryan laughed a little bit before nodding. "Yep, announced before I came here. About 0.43 per share. Want to know why that's awesome? Instead of waiting for the proper price to cash out your shares, now? The company pays you for each share you hold." "A...Are you serious?" Ghen demanded, flabbergasted. Ryan nodded with his now-trademark grin. "Dead serious. If you get the transfer, and get those 50,000 shares? A little head math...right, if you hold onto those, in addition to your salary, you'll now annually be paid 21,500 credits, if you keep it at 50,000 shares. Only you can decide to sell or buy shares." Ghen just stood there silent and motionless, no idea of whether to believe it or not, to which Ryan just laughed. Once he walked out of the room, he managed to snap back to reality. Again, just focus on the very real pay-raise. He'll deal with the other parts later. After he returned to his spot, he spotted Tizx approaching by his desk. The coordinator seems to be as casual as always. "I saw you in that line a bit ago, Ghen." He said as he leaned on the desk. "Guess you're really taking that human's word?" "I mean, I don't know about all this share business or what not." Ghen began with a shrug, his tone sounding a little defensive. "But I mean, having a bigger salary? Course I'm going for it when I can. And if all this magic credits turn out to be real? You realize we can live like the royal servants, right? Get the best cars, the nicest food and all that?" "I'd be very careful, Ghen." Tizx warned in a sudden shift in tone. "Don't trust those humans. The way they just...obsess over money? Come up with more and more insane ways of getting credits? I don't know, it just makes my wings twitch." "You think this is a bad idea?" Ghen asked with a little surprise at the change-in-demeanor. "I think you should be careful, with the humans, and with what you're saying." Tizx replied, straightening his posture. "I wouldn't put it past those Earthmen to backstab you if it gets them a few more credits. And we all know how the royal servants get if any of us lowly commoners start thinking we can break into their circle." "I hear you, I'll be on my guard, promise." Ghen stated with a nod. With a confirming nod of his own, Tizx returned back to his duty, walking past Ghen's desk. Several weeks later. Everything became so much better. Ghen got the transfer. He didn't need to relocate to a new residence either. And after he was walked through into learning how to manage his stock account, and seeing that new form of payment in his hands, he already felt as though he made the best decision. But it was only when he decided to take those shares more seriously that he became privy to what he was given. After receiving the dividend payment, and actually seeing it was real, valid credits after transferring it to his main bank account, all he could describe was the most powerful high he ever felt. While his first thoughts were to buy himself a royalty-class car, some nicer furnishings for his home, or even a better home entirely, he ended up going the smarter route. After going back to his stock account, he discovered that Zilia's shares rose to about 3.22 credits in price. Knowing that this was the easiest money he could ever make, he took all of his dividend earnings and bought more shares in Zilia, bringing him to owning 56,891. And from his new regional coordinator, a human named Dylan, tomorrow is the grand release of the premium package. For just a monthly rate of 14.99 credits, the tap water will now include a sizeable portion of all nutrients and vitamins required in the zazk physiology. Still, Ghen has to admit. He's not entirely sure why anybody would want such a thing, if they'd even go for it. But, as long as he's practically swimming in easy credits, he won't pay much attention to it. And just like when he was intensively studying the basics of how the human economy worked, he barely got any sleep. His mind was constantly thinking about the things he would buy. Or rather, what other stocks to put his credits into. Even now he can still hardly believe it. Just spend your money on some, make-believe thing and, if you wait long enough and picked the right stock, you'll get more than you spent back? His mind even wandered onto what human colonies, or even their homeworld, Earth, was like. If everybody was making so much money, what kind of things would they offer? What kind of ridiculous service or product or item can you get? He's even debating on joining some forum and just asking around. Explain how he's new to how humans do things and was wondering what he should expect if he's successful. By the time he felt like he can go to sleep, the binary-stars of the system were rising from the horizon. After getting out of his bed and changing to clean clothes, his mind returned onto what-ifs. What if he bought better clothes? He's had his eye on that human brand of luxury clothes, Tessuti di Venezia, that's been all the rage amongst the royal servants. Or maybe he can go on vacation and just check out Earth for real? It was a short ride to his workplace from his home. After getting stuff his stuff and preparing to walk through the doors, he heard the roar of a car grow louder. When he looked, he saw the sleekest and quite possibly the coolest looking car he's ever seen. Each time the engine revved it would startle him, both from how harsh it sounded as well as just how intense it sounded. And after it parked, he saw the doors pop out and then slide along the body back. And there, he saw Tilik, the seat literally turning and extending out a bit before he got off. As soon as he saw Ghen staring, he struck a rather prideful pose after putting on his lab coat and then sauntered over to Ghen. "What do you think?" Tilik said, without any doubt inviting praise or compliments. "D...Did you actually buy that?" Ghen asked, unable to tear his eyes away from the car. "You're Queens-damn right I did!" Tilik laughed happily. "Thing takes off like a starship, has temperature-controlled seating, all-in-one center console, barely any bouncing on rough roads. Hoof, best decision I've ever made!" "How much did that thing cost?" Ghen asked after letting out an incredulous laugh. "Five million credits." Tilik replied, earning an absolutely shocked stare from Ghen. "And thanks to the incredible salary I have, in addition to all these shares and dividends, I'll pay back the credits I borrowed in no time!" Ghen needed a few moments before he could speak again. "All I've been doing is buying more shares." Tilik laughed and then patted the now-envious monitor's back. "Smart man. I got a little carried away, yeah, but not anymore. Any spending credits I got, going right back to investing. That's what it's called right, investing?" "Yeah, it is." Ghen nodded, feeling a fire light up in his thorax. "And also? Today's the day that the premium water thing is being released. Here's hoping it starts out well, right?" "Oh it will, trust me." Tilik chuckled as they both began making their way inside the workplace. "Lots of research, lots of study. By the Queen, so much of it...it'll make your head spin." And after hearing that, Ghen had a moment of realization. "Hey, Tilik? How did you get such a nice position anyways? Weren't you just studying under me before the humans came along?" Tilik let out a sigh after opening the door. "I'll be honest, I never wanted your job. Not because it's boring or terrible, just...I didn't suffer so many sleepless nights in the science academy just to be a glorified button pusher. This is what I've always wanted. Doing science, solving problems rather than just applying the solution, you know?" "Wait, you got an academic certificate?" Ghen questioned, completely floored. "How did you end up beneath me then? I should've been answering to you!" "Simple." Tilik gave a heavier sigh. "A royal servant was asking for the same job I was. Take a guess at who got it." "Ouch. Good thing the humans came along when they did, yeah?" Ghen was taken aback. He never heard anything about a servant taking a job at his place. "Looks like you're proving yourself to be well suited." "By the Queen, of course I am." Tilik nodded. "Like I said, I nearly broke my wings through so many nights, got certified top of my class, all just to get pushed to the dirt because someone who was born into a particular family wanted the same thing I did? I know I'm smarter than any of those empty-skull servants back in the Center. I know that, whatever, uh...corporate? Yeah, whatever corporate wants out of science, I will xeek give it to them." "Well, let me know how things go in the lab." Ghen said, admiring his drive as they neared the main office floor. "Because this is where the button pusher needs to go." Tilik let out a laugh as he nodded. "Hey, how about we meet up at Queen's Fine Eatery tonight. I'll pay, yeah?" Ghen, at first, wanted to admonish him for choosing such an outrageously expensive place to go. But he quickly realized that, he truly is good for it, thanks to the humans. "Well, hey, if you're paying for it." ... It was a fantastic opening. After being told what news sites to keep in mind for stocks, he first heard it from Dylan, and then got more detail on Business Today. There was such a massive demand right from the start that Zilia needs to increase extraction just to meet it. But what really got his attention was the effect it had. Zilia Water Delivery's share price just blasted off. After seemingly holding steady at about 3.15, by the time he got home and logged onto his account, it already reached 7.04 a share. The calculator on his account told him that he got a value-gain of 54.26%. Never in his entire life had he felt such...joy. With all of the shares he currently has? He's sitting at 400,512.64 credits. He knows that it is woefully pathetic compared to what the royal servants have just in their pockets, but the fact that he has such money, just by owning some intangible concept? Why even work at Zilia? Why doesn't he just sit at home, figure out what companies to invest in and make his money that way? What's even the point in working a real job, getting a pathetic pay when you can just take the money you have, determine where to spend it, and get triple back? All just sitting on your wings at home, researching? He was so wrapped up in his excited high that he completely forgot he was going to meet Tilik at Queen's. After quickly and haphazardly putting on his nicer clothes, he got to the place only a few minutes late. Tilik was there by the guide, no doubt having been waiting for him. As soon as he strode up, Tilik's wings stiffned out some. No doubt he must've seen the numbers as well. "I can see your wings, Ghen." Tilik began with an excited chuckle. "Made some serious credits?" Ghen let out an incredulous scoff, struggling to find the words for a moment. "Incredible. All I'm going to say." "Likewise." Tilik chortled some before nodding to the table guide. "All here. Table please?" "Right this way, sir." The guide said politely. It was a short walk, travelling between round tables. The vast majority were populated by zazk, but Ghen was surprised at seeing a few humans here as well. No doubt corporate workers checking out the local food. He did spot them having bowls filled with some kind of mass. Some were brown, others white with what looks to be black specks on them. They arrived at their table. A rather nice one, affording a view out the windows into the busy colony streets. Once Tilik and Ghen settled in, the guide handed out the menus. "May I suggest our rather popular option for tonight?" The guide began. "Human ice-cream. Ingredients sourced from Earth itself. Very cold, but incredibly sweet, and coming in many flavors. The most popular amongst us is called vanilla-bean. The vanilla itself soaks in the cream for much of the process, and then the innards sprinkled on top of it near the end. Rumor has it that the Queen herself has demanded personal shipments of such a treat straight from the home of vanilla, an island on Earth named Madagascar." Ghen didn't even spare a single thought. "Vanilla bean ice cream then, please." "Same." Tilik seconded when the guide glanced to him. With a slight bow, the guide proceeded to ferry their orders to the kitchen. Thankfully it was just a short wait before the guide returned, carrying a large plate containing bowls of ice cream. Ghen could feel the saliva on his mandibles as the bowl was placed before them. He could just feel the cold air around that glistening mass of sugary goodness. The white snow decorated with the black dots of vanilla bean. Once the guide left them, Tilik and Ghen both dived in at the same time. As soon as the ice cream entered his mouth, touched his tongue, he exploded in incomprehensible bliss. The sweetness, the smooth and creamy mass, even the taste of vanilla he wasn't sure about was just absolutely delightful. It was so overwhelming that his entire body limped, slumping in his seat as he was forced to ride on the surging tide of joy and happiness sweeping over him. Tilik was no different. He too was taken completely by the effects of the ice cream, his wings fluttering some against the seat. Ghen could hear some noise. It was the humans they passed by. They were chuckling, grinning, and glancing over at them discreetly. Unlike the two zazk, the humans seemingly just enjoyed the ice cream as if it was just another nice dessert to them. Or perhaps they couldn't allow themselves to succumb to the high? And as soon as the wave of indescribable bliss and happiness subsided, Ghen knew. He just knew. This was the life. He wanted this. The ice cream was just the beginning. So many things denied because he didn't have the credits, or worse, not the blood. Because he was just a drone in the great Collective, even if he had the credits, he wasn't allowed because of what caste he was born in. That fire that sparked in him when he saw Tilik's new car? It exploded into a raging firestorm. And when looking into Tilik's eyes, Ghen could see the same. He was on the same page as Ghen was. Both of them were sold. They have the credits. And the humans? If you can pay for it, they'll never discriminate. All they cared about is if you have the money. And by the Queen, Ghen and Tilik will endeavor to amass as much credits as physically possible. The rest of the night faded into a blur. A blur that evokes only one thing. Bliss. It was only when he walked through the door of his pathetic hut that Ghen's mind snapped back to focus. His mandibles felt sticky. And he felt a weight in his stomach. How much ice cream did he eat? Whatever it was, he ate such volume that the lower-section of his throax extended and rounded out, visible even under his shirt. He felt something odd in his pocket. It was a receipt. 43,000 credits for ten bowls of vanilla bean ice cream. Was that ten bowls for both of them? Or individually? Ghen didn't care. He's good for it. Returning back to his calculator, he acted upon the decision that he had made at that eatery. He's acquiring as many books about investing and stock trading as he could find, frequent and study all the discussions and arguments presented by other like-minded individuals such as he, all to ensure he can live the good life. And he had a very good feeling Tilik was doing the exact same thing. Well, first, the gurgling in his stomach, as well as the feeling of something rising demanded his attention. Looks like he'll need to take the night off to let his stomach get back to normal. Three Years Later. Ghen looked out beyond the horizon, seeing the colony that he grew up in. On the far side was where his old house was. With only a simple robe on, made from the finest silk from Earth's nation-state of China, he relaxed in his seat. It was a long road. Stockpiling credits from pre-existing investments and from subsequent pays, he and Tilik made it. From having only half a million in assets and cash, now transformed to over eight-hundred million. And now, his call contracts on American Interstellar? They've just announced a breakthrough in their next generation of warp drives, reducing the speed coefficient even further, resulting in far faster travel. And with that, their stock price climbed sharply. Another hundred million credits in the bank. Soon, very soon, he and Tilik are about to become the galaxy's first zazk billionares. But that's not enough. There are many humans who are billionares. Only those he can count on one hand are considered trillionares. He's going to break into that circle. He and Tilik. Looking beyond the colony, he saw the abandoned building of the workplace he transferred to when the humans arrived. Turns out, the reason for such a high demand was that the humans also slipped in sugar to the tap water. As soon as that broke, many influential royal servants demanded investigations and outright banning of Terran Galactic Company's influence over the former government division. Zilia's stock price plummeted. But thanks to an advance tip from his human coordinator, Dylan, he and Tilik made a put contract. And that's where they struck gold, as the human saying goes. Dylan warned that if they were citizens of the United Nations, they'd be investigated and convicted for insider trading. But, since they weren't, and the Collective were only just introduced to capitalism, there's no risk at all. Now the colony is going through a withdrawal phase, Zilia has been dissolved and reformed back as a government division and are currently at work re-establishing the standard, plain water delivery. "Well, shit." Tilik muttered as he walked up to Ghen's side, taking well to human speech. "Looks like you win. American Interstellar's announcement really was a good thing. There goes a million credits. Ah well, the Royal Shipyards will make it back for me soon." "Oh? Did they just go corporate?" Ghen asked curiously, glancing to Tilik. "Hell yeah they did." Tilik chuckled, sitting down. "Queen and her retard servants fought it hard, but Royal Shipyards is now officially a human-style corporation. And, to a surprise to all the xenophobes in the galaxy, they're already being offered contracts for ship production. That'll raise the stock price pretty good." "What's that human word...?" Ghen muttered, already having a reply in mind. "Dick? Yeah, calls or suck my dick, Tilik." Tilik roared in laughter. "Already made them. Forty credits a share by this day next month." "I have half a mind to go thirty." Ghen chuckled. "Either way, until then, I heard from Dylan that he knows a guy who knows several prime human women who happen to be into zazk." "You're interested in women?" Tilik said as his wings fluttered. "With how often you tell me to suck you off, I'd have thought differently." "Oh, I always thought it was you who was into men." Ghen responded dryly. "Just wanted to be a good friend, you know? Considering how you never seem to make it past, Hey sweet thing, I'm rich you know." "Oh, go fuck yourself." Tilik countered with a little laugh. After he stopped, wings stiffened, he looked to Ghen. "So, know any royal servants we can put the squeeze on for more revenue streams?" "I got just the one." Ghen nodded, sitting up. "Fzik. He's been fighting to control the ice cream trade. Worried it's a corrupting influence. Got done talking with the human CEO of Nestle earlier. If we clear the way, he'll know how to squeeze a little more gains in stock price when he makes the announcement." Tilik's wings stiffened even more, signaling his approval. "Alright, time to throw some credits around, yeah?" AN: Sorry for the period of no updates. College is starting up, lots of stuff to clear and work out. Not sure why but I just got a bug up my butt about incorporating money and the stock market into a short. Here it is. Sorry if it seems abrupt, character limit fast approaching. Let me know how you guys think about it!
“Attention all crew; I repeat - Attention all crew.” the ship - wide loudspeaker announced. He and the runtime of Flowers had their arms buried deep in the guts of a Goat gear hauler trying to reconnect its aft starboard repulser module and looked at each other questioningly. With a series of snaps, a waldo from Flowers’ forearm began snapping in the connections on their side, as he thought his own manipulators from both of his forearms and they began plugging in the nine pin connectors on his side. “Mr. Drake and Runtime Flowers to Ops. Mr. Drake and Runtime Flowers to Ops. “Dout leader Mri’x to Ops. Dout leader Mri’x to Ops.” The mostly-human and the robot-looking vessel for his AI friend both produced wondering looks. “Runner!” the mostly-human, Mr. Drake yelled out into the maintenance bay. A Mwraht, a slender bipedal humanoid coated in fur and wearing their moccasin like deck boots and the ubiquitous brown leather smock vest they favored, suddenly appeared, wippingits hands. It was M’arh, a student on the ship learning ship engineering and maintenance from the human and AI perspective. It regarded Drake with an earnest expression in its tilted almond-shaped eyes. “Please run to ops and let them know we’ll be along shortly,” M’arh smiled and mouthed something, and the translator, in a fair facsimile of what M’arh’s voice would sound like if the Mwraht’s mouth could form the words said “At once,Instructor”, and took off. “They never cease to puzzle me.” Flowers said in a voice synthesised and engineered to sound like an erudite Free Wales Easterner with a touch of Old Earth, fitting the bolts on the deflector on his side as Drake thought out a data probe and began running diagnostics on the repulser. Drake looked at him quizzingly, as he split his attention between the connectivity check and his other hand began bolting on the deflector on his side. “There are nuances to their speech, as well as odorant aspects to what he said that you cannot hear or smell, though I have been working on an idea where you could.” Flowers said as he began hooking up the power cables on their side. “Ok…” Drake said as he mentally pushed the diagnostics over to Flowers and pulled a ratchet from the fairing lip he had set it earlier, tightening down the deflector bolts. “Meat bags” Flowers said, shaking his sensor pod. “Your kind are so oblivious!” Flowers announced, withdrawing their arms and standing up to their full two meter height. “And I see your frustration with biological markers at not knowing what I am talking about. Monkey-assed murder hobo meat bags.” Flowers said in a dead pan.He went over and began cleaning it’s arms and legs with an orange-based degreaser. “That is Monkey-assed Augmented murder hobo meat bag to you, you synthetic shit!” Drake said, laughing, joining Flowers at the cleaning station, and began using the same cleaner on his replacement arms. “And I still have no idea what you are talking about.” The humans and Mwarht in the maintenance bay all stopped what they were doing and looked on. In most instances, those words were an invitation to murder. The other Runtimes there, some Flowers, some Neptunian Wind, ignored it and kept working. Flowers sighed, an unnecessary vocalization only, for emphasis. “They adore humans and revere you as something akin to a living deity. The Dout leaders here know you lead the teams that first boarded their ships and took on the Drix raiders to save them. They know you then lead the teams that boarded the Drix slaver destroyer and carried out retributionary subjugation for what the Drix had been doing on the Mwraht ships. “They do not know how you then petitioned the Order and led raids into Drix territory and assaulted the slaver worlds.” Flowers looked at their human friend, and saw the distress in his eyes. Both knew the augmented human, and a small army of fellow Augies and Runtimes had taught the Drix in the clearest way possible to stay out of human space and leave the Mwraht alone in such a clear and brutal fashion whose necessity still bothered the human. Flowers lowered their voice, straightening their friend’s work smock. “M’arh’s grandsire was on that first ship you boarded. Mri’x mother was on that ship and was the one about to be eaten and raped by a Drix, the one you pulled off of her and punched, it’s head rupturing.” Even though they could see their words were causing him distress, Flowers continued. “They love all humans, but they excrete a pheromone musk that is akin to the same one they excrete in their religious ceremonies, but slightly different, when they interact with you, or after a few beers and they talk to you. Their sub vocalizations are completely adoring and submissive when it comes to you. Some of the females and a non-zero number of males fantasize about being ‘taken’, or mated, by you. You idiot.” “Fuck.” “That was implied.” “You fucking pretentious Rooba. You know what I meant.” “Flowers laughed. “Yes, we do. I still love the word play, though.” “I really wish you had been with me. I know, you were tied up on that Artifact World, but I sometimes wish you had been there, to keep me in check. I was not in a good place.” He brushed himself off, found his coffee mug and set off for the passageway that led to Ops. “I have told you before, be glad I wasn’t. Your response was far more measured and restrained than my would have been. It is a flaw in our Matrices. Slavery brings out the ‘murder-bot’ in us, and no one in the Order can figure out why.” “I know that you have the facts of my actions, but it was like I was in the Second War, again. And we both know what a bloodthirsty asshole I was then.” The human, if that term even applied to their friend anymore, remembered what a monster he had been in the Alpha Centauri and Tau Ceti theatres of the Second War. The pain and humiliation of what he had been was written plainly on his face. “You destroyed three hundred and eighty three of my Runtimes, roughly half of which was in single combat. And that was before the Holies shredded your limbs. The Purists still consider you a living dataphage, akin to human allegories of Satan. My kind uses you as one of many examples of why we must never war with Humanity again. “And, strangely enough, the Seekers consider you both a Singularity to be understood and an objective: to breed with you, thinking you are a key to their evolution.” He stopped dead and looked at Flowers shocked. “I will provide logs to prove these statements.” The Seekers were the strangest of the AI’s, in his opinion. They had made themselves biological Runtime vessels, biological bodies, that they wore like clothing, compiling experiences seeking to understand Humanity, their Creators, and evolve past the limitations of being an AI. Not to become human, but to become something that was both the best of AI and Human essences and so much more. “So, I’m a Classical hero to the Mwraht and a boogey man and bad example to the AIs that they want to breed. Great.” Drake pinched his nose and shook his head. “You did not know any of this, I take it?” Flowers asked. “The second war was almost two hundred years ago. When the Order brought me in, you were already a member and I thought they were going with the whole forced-to-learn-each-other thing when they sent us out on that mapping mission; like they did with the Iberrians and the Chinese. I thought the other AI just had a thing about me from the War, which is understandable. “And I had no idea about the rest. I thought that the Mwraht just thought I was the cool teacher.” He shook his head and leaned up against the wall, massaging his temples one-handedly. “Idiot murder hobo.” Flowers said, realizing now that their friend, while brilliant, was oblivious. At that point, Mri’x came around the corner, his fur a glossy black with dark grey stripes. Mri’x looked at Flowers sternly, then nodded at Drake as he passed. Drake looked at Flowers questioningly, who nodded. Both had caught that Mri’x had cut his translator as he passed and caught a gutteral call. “It was a vulgar corollary to ‘Talking Waste Receptacle’. Quite elegant, really.” Drake shook his head and began his way to Ops again. “Send me the specs on the hearing and smelling upgrades. I think I need to upgrade again.” As fast as thought, the files were there, as well as one to improve his language skills with them. * * * Captain Sarah Rees of the Union of Independent Stars Exploratory Vessel SS University of New Cardiff was looking over holographic charts at the central tank with her XO, Lt. Commander Martin. Both had the mocha skin common to Westerlies of Free Wales, she a pixie of a woman shorter than even some of the Mwraht with close shaved hair beginning to show grey. Mr. Martin was taller, but still dwarfed by most of the rest of the human crew. He was a vicious social climber who didn’t care for the civilian crew, though a misstep on his part when he was still Stellar Navy had made him as much of a civilian as anyone else in the crew, a fact he often forgot. And for some reason he loathed the three AI aboard, and looked down his nose at the Mwraht. This led to all sorts of headbutting with Drake’s group of Operations Specialists and Drake himself; who largely ignored and dismissed the little shit. “Leader Mri’x, Mr. Drake. Thank you for joining us. M’arh informed us you couldn’t pull away. Flowers, thank you for coming as well.” Rees said as she moved around to the far side of the tank, in a darkened room full of people at work stations worked with either data plugs or AR sets. Flowers took no insult. They readily accepted that they were Drake’s Executive Officer for his group, and their ego, as such, wasn’t as easily bruised as a human’s” Flowers gave a nod with their sensor pod and took a manipulators-behind-the-back stance the humans were fond of. “Thirty minutes ago” Rees continued, “we picked up a GP general distress beacon from a system that was on our research list. We will be bypassing the next two on the list and based on the current agreements with the Galactic Parliament, we will be going to full power and make best speed for the system in question. It is in uncharted space as far as we, the GP and the Conclave are concerned.” The GP, the System Confederacy, the UIS and the AI Conclave had all agreed to adopt what was essentially humanity’s Maritime Law and all ships receiving the signal were required to render aid. Drake took all of this in and thought out a series of commands to the six Kodiak Class corvettes in the retired Assault Cruiser’s forward hanger, beginning their startup sequence and pinged the comm devices of all of his Operations Specialists. Flowers looked over and nodded. Little known to the crew, except the Captain, those ships could be armed to the teeth with a minimum of work. Flowers sent his command to arm them, the ship systems’ pinged Drake as confirmation and he agreed. Drones began opening the hull and loading the weapons packages, removed fairings that covered weapons ports and began preflighting the weapons, as another set began bringing the ships to life. “We will be ready when needed, Captain. Option two.” Flowers announced. She smiled in somber appreciation. She was glad she had the option. She was about to race into an unknown system to answer a vague distress call with zero intelligence. While this was going on, in the aft bay, hundreds of drones were coming to life as Mri’x brought his group to action. With a thought Drake and Flowers authorized the release of weapons to Mri’x so his drones could be armed. Mwraht drones were some of the best in either race, outside of the Conclave, and the AIs had even adopted many of the construction techniques the Mwraht used, especially their alloy that allowed a small fusion bottle to power the EM Cavity engines, weapons and shields. The fact that the Order had given literal tons of precious metals and set up arcologies for the Mwraht in payment had made the Refugee Mwraht colonies some of the richest ones in known space. Mri’x subvocalized and his translate stated “drones will be ready as well, Leader.” “Thank you, Leader.” Captain Rees said with a bow of her head, then began drawing plans up in the tank. “We know little, but we are past the signal shell, and there is nothing but the beacon and normal noise. “The system is a stable red dwarf binary one, the stars holding about a light-hour from each other, at their closest. We expect that based on stutter, a few terrestrial bodies inside the orbit of a mid-sized gas giant, that is three light-hours out from the outermost orbit of the primaries. We see some wobble that there are a few solid bodies out from the gas giant.” The tank then zoomed on a rough solar system as described, the gas giant was a solid neon green sphere on the display, with a ‘Jx3.1’ tag on it. Three times the mass of Jupiter. The thing wasn’t a true Super Jupiter, but it would play holy hell with the system, and make modelling a lot more hard. The problem was that it exhibited 3.1 times more gravitational influence on its stars than Jupiter did, but that didn’t say how big it actually was. They wouldn’t know that until they came out of the Trough and then Alcubierre drive. The telescopes were essentially useless at this point. “The system is slightly below the gravitic trough we are riding, so we will exit the trough and make best speed in A-Space to it. We will bring the STL drives up to 110% before doing so. After we drop the A-Drives, we’ll make best speed to the signal, scanning as we go. We will do a 150% burn and aerobrake if it is a planet, or cut the drives, rotate and crash burn if it is a ship.” Wow, thought Drake. She is damned serious about this. Those maneuvers would make them extremely visible yet incredibly hard to hit; and give them a high-G escape route if needed. But all of this was also going to play hell with the student-crew of the ship, who had long grown accustomed to 0.6G. It would also mean the Mwraht, who were still adapting to the higher-than-their-normal gravity would need to be in their special acceleration couches. They would still be able to operate their amazing drones, but not much else. The couches took an hour to cycle up to protect the Mwraht, and an hour to cycle off after they weren’t needed. The moves the Captain was planning were not a thing to undertake lightly. She suspected something. Drake pushed more commands at the Kodiak and gave all weapon system controls to Flowers for all of their ships. The Kodiak corvettes were very deceptive Q-Ships. They looked like Massive trans-atmospheric cargo shuttles, but each one had the armor, power plant, FTL and STL drives of a frigate - and the weapons of a Destroyer. Flowers turned to him, head tilted in their predefined “Are you bloody serious?“ look. Drake just nodded once. This exchange wasn’t lost on anyone there. The Captain looked at Drake in an interrogatory fashion “Armed up the Kodiaks and positioning them for a hot launch, if needed.” The Captain smiled grimly and nodded. “We are planning on a rescue mission, will those changes reduce any capacity for the primary mission?” she asked. “No, Captain.” Flowers answered for them. She nodded and carried on. “Mri’x, obviously, you’ll be couched for this, and I sincerely apologize for that. But something about this has my hackles up.” “As are mine. GP ships do not have automated distress beacons, someone activated it. But we are three thousand light years from GP space, the closest GP race being the Drix.” He approached the holo tank and began expanding the map. “We call this space the Greater Void. It was the territory, long ago, of the ones we called-” the translator cut out at that point and was replaced with the gracile being’s raspy growl. Mri’x looked perplexed and growled again. “I see our translators have been modified to allow the uttering of The Nameless Ones true name.” The map zoomed out farther. Soon, all of the mapped and a few of the suspected Dark Matter Troughs were displayed. They were like shadow arms of the galaxy, spiraling out from the core, a few of them wrapping themselves all the way around the galaxy. “The ones you call the Fae are originally from here,” he indicated, a star not unlike Earth’s, almost a thousand light years from the star they were headed to, but smack dab in a grey band of a different Dark Matter Trough. It was a great curving grey patch that went coreward from the Earth-like star, passing within about fifty lightyears of Earth. The Fae were a recent mystery the Tides of the Universe had dumped upon the shores of Humanity just after the Second War, right before the Fall of Earth. When they sent their pleas for Asylum out, they sent information about themselves. They were the barely viable population that had been running for three centuries in their great world ships made from hollowed out asteroids. What they had been running from was even to this day unclear, but in their tongue meant Dark Brethren. The fact that tongue seemed to contain roots that became Sanskrit was a huge thing. They were tall, whip-thin and pale people who breathed a lower oxygen percentage at lower pressures than humanity, and their normal gravity was about a third of what humanity After First Contact, genetic samples proved they were, or had started out as human, roughly a hundred thousand years ago. “This is the Coreward Flow from what you call the Crux-Scutum Arm through the Orion Arm, and to the Perseus Arm. The Drix call this whole area their equivalent word and meaning for Hell. Their myths say this is where the Monsters live. “The Rest of the GP races call this The Red Zone, it is forbidden to fly here, and if you do, there will be no rescue. So of course this is where my people ran when we fled the Drix.” Mri’x moved the hologram out again, showing this outer rim area that was the Red Zone included Earth, and all known human and AI settled worlds, of all the separate factions combined. “The area is full of thousands of worlds your kind could land on, little to no protection required, unlike the Fae, who it would crush and pressure cook, as it would most of the races in the Galactic Parliament.” He zoomed in on an area at the far end of the Trough. “We ran here, and Mwarht Home is here.” He showed a system in a blue circle. Zooming out again he highlighted the Drix Combine, Coreward of and on the far side of the destroyed system the Fae had come from, hundreds of light years separated the three systems. “We ran through the system the Fae came from when we ran from the Drix. We needed water and anything to recharge our ship farms' biological cycles. “There were no solid planetary bodies in that system, just vast fields of debris where rocky planets were. No moons, no ice giants. Just the star, a larger red dwarf and gas giants and numerous asteroid belts. There were massive radiological signals throughout the system, and tons of debris. Something destroyed this system. In a way, it was a blessing for my people. The ice and debris were easily mineable for what we needed. We even found artifacts of the people that had once existed there. This is where we got our improved FTL drives and much of our weapons and armor technologies.” Mri’s looked somewhat ashamed. It was a racial shame. They hated, deep down, living on the detritus, cast-offs and charity of other races. Before the Drix they had been proud though primitive peoples who had yet to discover flight or antibiotics, let alone space flight. Easy pickings for the Drix. “All of that was about one thousand lightyears from the system we are headed to, a few weeks' travel with your drives, months or years with Galactic Parliament standard drives. This area is one of mysteries and many, many dangers. Any race that could shatter every solid body in a star system is not to be taken lightly.” Mri’x looked up to his Captain, or as they called her ‘Leader of multiple Douts’. “Thank you, Mri’x. Drake?” “We will be ready for pretty much anything. I’d like to request permission for Flowers and Winds of Neptunes to take out their Scout bodies and launch just before we start braking, if we do.” He said. Winds appeared as a hologram of the planet Neptune, and pulsed in cadence with the words it spoke. “As you wish, Grand Master.” and winked out. “Good plan, Drake. I take it you all will be on the Kodiaks with your crews?” “Yes, Ma’am. I’ll leave four of them here, to bring the Field Engineering and field Science students down if the scene is safe. I’ll leave one set up for medical and Flowers can fly it down, if that becomes needed.” “Very well. We are about eight hours out, if we stick to the plan. We leave the Trough in two hours. Drake, M’rizx, set up what you need. Mr. Martin, please take the Conn and give the Old Girl her legs, she needs to run. I’ll be meeting with the different department heads next.” * * * A/N: Lurker posting something HFY for the first time. A rough draft of something bigger I'm slowly working on.
Beginning|Previous Premier Valast felt a tingle. It began at the base of his spine and traveled moved upward, sending warm fuzzy feelings all throughout his body as it made its way to his brain and inserted itself in his conscious thoughts. After all of the misery. After all of the failures. For once, something had gone right. How delightful. How extravagant. How deserved. The Humans had made a mistake. Clearly, they had thought to expand upon their treachery, believing themselves to be invincible. Their monstrosity of a vessel had appeared just as their last one had, within Halcyon's inner perimeter. After their ruse of parlay, their beast had commenced belching out weapons of mass destruction, clearly in an attempt to retrieve the encryption key and the elite assassin-thief they had dispatched under the guise of a Witness. They thought Halcyon weak. Defenseless. Not true! Not true at all! Kinetics. Valast laughed aloud, his rib cage heaving out great guffaws. Accelerated mass! More laughter. The savages thought to bring such inelegance against the might of the Combine? They mistook their prior fortune for competence. Their one-time success for future capability. Alas, poor Humans, the truth of your inadequacies is made manifest! The brief gap in the defenses brought on by the improbable chain of events that had resulted in their arrival had been filled. For all of their destructive potential, their weapons were useless. Valast continued to cackle, his hindclaws scrunching up the soft material of his pillow, as he watched the Humans receive their punishment for their insolence. The Humans had made assumptions. Perhaps assumptions were fine in their backwater corner of the galaxy, but here, among civilization, assumptions could be quite dangerous indeed. It was quite unwise to assume Halcyon would leave the inner perimeter exposed. They must have thought their Evangi co-conspirators would leave the gates open for them, as the traitor Neeria had done when she had given them access to a Combine wormkey in the first place. Sadly for the Humans, their four-armed friends had been exposed for what they were. A great many of the Evangi now lay motionless on the floor of a Halcyon mainway, a fitting end to their perfidy. Halcyon had stood since the beginning, and it would continue to stand long after the Human infestation had been expunged from the Combine Space. Perhaps the Humans should have spent more time pondering the nature of the place before they had meddled with forces they clearly did not understand. Halcyon existed in defiance of the chaotic nature of the neutron star it orbited. Its survival required an solution to the objects such a gravity well attracted. Halcyon had many such solutions, weaved together to maintain a delicate balance. Among them were the inertial dampeners. The screen in Valast's paws bloomed with colors, indicating firings of Halcyon's inertial dampeners. Each blossom of color was an attempt by the Humans to deploy weapons in clear violation War Accords, cementing Humanity's position as a menace to decent civilization. Had Valast not commanded Bo'Bakka'Gah to take the necessary precautions, the devastation would have been significant. Lines of crimson sailed through the blooms of color. Valast's whiskers twitched, his eyes squinting as it tracked one of these lines. The solution was not perfect. The intertial dampeners in close proximity to Halcyon were a final precaution, and their purpose was narrow. They were a fine net, meant to indiscriminately capture any residual high-speed astral particulate that had escaped the outer defenses. Their efficacy diminished at an exponential rate in proportion to the size and mass of the object they acted upon. Thus far, they had been quite successful at preventing the Humans from making use of their weapons, but dampeners had no effect on the Human vessels. Even if the dampeners could be used for such a purpose, their indiscriminate nature would have required the cessation of all space born travel within Halcyon, an unacceptable disruption to the workings of the Combine's capitol. The Humans' small spherical vessels were thus capable of traveling unimpeded throughout Halcyon space, tracing their crimson lines behind them as they did so. Such a thing did not overly worry Valast. They could not fire their weapons, and they were susceptible to electromagnetic disruption, rendering them easy targets for the Peacekeepers. Were Valast not otherwise consumed with the affairs of state, he would perhaps take to the front line and dispatch a few himself. Sadly, his bravery would find no opportunity for direct expression beyond the valor found in the privilege of command competently exercised. The whiskers ceased their twitching and some cheer returned. It would not be long before the meddlesome Human spheres were swatted from the sky and the encryption key recovered. Then they would dispatch the Human warship. Then Humanity. He need only wait. ----------- "Get spread. Get small." Sana called out. Had to buy time. Had to get a handle on the situation. Not her first rodeo, but it was the first time where she had no idea what the hell she was riding. Maybe the aliens were riding her. Maybe it wasn't a rodeo, maybe it was just a slaughter. That was the problem. No one knew anything. The callsigns in her local were dropping like flies. Squaddies getting wiped without so much as a peep. The eggs in Science were saying EMPs, but the balls were supposed to be fixed against that frakkery. Sensors said the balls were still there even after they went dead, so maybe they were right. Couldn't think about that now. Couldn't think about anything but the mission. Captain Sana Bushida had a shit-shuttle to bring to station. She needed to get from A to B. Normally the quickest point-to-point was a line, but the baddies were coming in from all sides. Trying to corral her in. So be it. She could handle a long and squiggly with the juice she had in the four balls attached to the cockpit. Only question was how long they'd be up for. Whatever they were using on the balls wasn't touching her. She was good, but she wasn't that good. Guess they wanted her kicking and screaming. Predators, not scavengers then. Frakk 'em. Right in their stupid alien faces. Sana's brain shunted command signals as fast as her eyes to parse the readouts in her pilot pod. Dodging. Weaving. Diving. Dipping. Half those words didn't even apply to space, but they felt right. Float like a butterfly, run like cheetah on amphetos. She'd sting 'em later. Run run run, fast as you can. You can't catch me, I'm the shit-shuttle can. Swipe. Swipe. Two smaller ships moved in a pincer formation, one cutting off her angle around the larger ship she was skimming around. Sana let out a giggle, as she shoved the shuttle in another direction. "You thought you had me, crapdonkey? You never had me. You're gonna be seeing my ass all day." The giggle somehow transformed into a roar halfway through as a third ship appeared in her view, coming out from its hiding place on the other side of the large ship. "SCREW YOU!" They weren't going to win. Losing wasn't an option. Swipe. Patterns emerged as the ballet played out. Certain ships were the herders. The small annoying frakks that always seemed to be moving around her flanks. Other ships were the receivers. They were the big boys. The ones who just floated there like giant shits in space. Lazy frakks just waiting to be fed some shit-shuttle. Fine then. New info. New tactics. New rule: Get around the herders, never get closer to the receivers. Herders bad. Receivers bad-der-er. As long as she was a step ahead of the herders and two steps away from the receivers, she'd be fine. Problem was they were more agile than her. Problem was there was more of them. Problem was the friendly callsigns on her readouts kept disappearing. Problem was that she was stuck in here instead of out there where she belonged. Ninety-nine problems... Swipe. Swipe. All she needed was a line of sight. A place where she could get a whiff of open space and just gun it. Navigate the maze. Get through it. Light at the end of the tunnel. Glass is half full. Metaphor. Analogy. Idiom. The stream of consciousness flowed out of her, expressing itself in her verbiage and in the desperately navigating shuttle some distance away. Step forward. No steps backward. Okay, maybe one step backward, but it'll be okay. She'd take the step forward soon enough. Just...needed...a...line. Alpha, Beta, Charlie, and Delta was gone. It was just her. Swipe. Swipe. The fate of the world. The shit-shuttle must survive. Swipe. Swipe. The gap opened. She saw it. They didn't. "There it is bitches!" All four balls slammed the thrusters on. It wasn't a direct bee line to the Oppenheimer but it was good enough. She just needed to get out of the hornet's nest and into open space so she could keep pouring on the acceleration. She didn't know how much juice the herders had, but it was all she had going for her at this point. Bitter bile rose up in her throat as the shit-shuttle surged forward, leaving A through D behind. Her squaddies. Her friends. Abandoned. She should be out there. She could be. She just needed to get the mission done. She was so close. She was putting distance between her and the baddies. Just a few more minutes...the link cut off. Her thoughts were shunting into a wall. She swiped, her eyes scanning the readouts. Alcubierre - Shuttle - Cockpit (Ejection)(DISTRESS) no longer appeared. For once, Sana was speechless. --------------------- Kai retched air. There was nothing else to throw up at this point. He'd given everything he had to give, and it was now floating about the cockpit in a viscous cloud. He was fairly certain Neeria was collateral damage in the matter. If she were ever to regain consciousness, she'd find she had been provided with a fresh coat of puke paint. At this point, being blind was something of a boon. Congratulations were owed to the sadist in the pilot's seat though, he hadn't emptied his stomach like this since flight sims. He'd raise his hand in salute if it weren't for the incredible g-force shifts whipping him around like a rag doll as the pilot attempted to avoid whatever was out there. Some of the maneuvers seemed impossibly complex, as if the cockpit was navigating through an impassable morass of enemies. Or perhaps the pilot was just drunk. Either seemed possible. The whipsawing continued. Back. Forth. Round and round. Acceleration never seemed to continue in a single direction for more than a few seconds. They were going in circles. They had to be. Finally, it appeared the pilot had decided on a direction as Kai was slammed back into his chair as the cockpit rocketed forward under sustained acceleration. They must have broken through. Or the pilot had fallen asleep at the controls with the throttle down and they were all doomed. Either way. At this point, Kai was just eager for it to be over. The acceleration continued. He felt like he was being crushed. Like an enormous hand was pressing against him, trying to squeeze all of his organs out through his eyes. Whatever was powering the cockpit now was beyond the parameters of the shuttle's acceleration compensators. His vision began to dim and his joints ached. Pain surged up in his right arm, which was still contorted within the goo. He was fairly certain a bone had just snapped. "Oppenheimer..ETA," Kai managed to gasp out, drawing the breath back into his lungs with some effort. "The shuttle is not currently on course to intercept with the UWDFFOppenheimer." "Joan." Kai wheezed. "Connect. Joan." The acceleration cut off. Kai took a huge gulp of air, the relief immediate. "Comm-link. Fleet Admiral Joan Orléans." No response. Kai tried again. Silence greeted him. Grumbling, he raised his left wrist toward his face. He stuck out his tongue and smeared it along the wrist console's interface. None of the expected beeps and chirps sounded out. It was dead, and, he suspected, so was the cockpit along with whatever had been propelling him. No life support. No way to call out for help. No way to do anything but sit there. For all intents and purposes, they were a hunk of space junk drifting off into the black oblivion. Fair enough. It was a fitting end. Helpless. Hopeless. Kai tried to muster some anger at the situation, if only to distract him from the pain coursing through his body, but found he was up to the task. It was easier to be motivated when there was something to do. Some way he could impact the situation. But there was nothing to do but wait. Maybe he'd live. Probably he'd die. He didn't mind it, that was the same binary he faced every other day. It was a bit more present in his mind than it normally was, but the truth was that he was overdue for demise. He'd given death the slip more times than anyone had a right to. Still. It bothered him. Not the death part. The not doing what he set out to do part. He had run through walls, both literal and figurative, to make it this far. He didn't know what making it back to the Oppenheimer would mean for Humanity, but it had to be better than not making it. The encryption key -- what did it do? What could it do? Would it be doable? Neeria -- could she guide them? Could she help them navigate the treacherous galaxy Humanity was just beginning to play a part in? There were so many questions. The answers could matter. Kai tried to remember how much time they had. Without life support, the supply of oxygen would rapidly begin to deplete. He supposed it didn't matter, since he had no idea whether Neeria breathed, what Neeria she breathed, or the rate she consumed it. His space suit had a few hours of stored supply, but it was designed to work in conjunction with his helmet. Without the wrist console, he'd need to find some way to manually vent it. That was something to do. Small, but perhaps meaningful. Anything to tilt the scales just a little bit more in their direction. Just a few more minutes of air could make a difference. "Seconds matter," Kai wheezed out. His breath was wet and tasted of iron. He'd worry about that later. Air first. It wasn't much of a plan, but it was better than nothing. He hoped Joan's plans were faring better. ------------------- The Admiral's Bridge was awash in a sea of red. Multiple views vied for primacy as the situation continued to deteriorate. So far, the Oppenheimer itself had withstood the sustained EMP assault directed its way, but the same could not be said for the battle balls. Callsigns continued to blink out of existence with every passing second. The Oppenheimer had immediately attempted to provide supporting fire, but its kinetic weaponry was similarly disabled. Whatever the circumstances had been that had allowed the Alcubierre to destroy an alien vessel, they were clearly no longer relevant to the situation at hand. Without kinetics, the vast majority of Humanity's space-born projective power was effectively nullified. Science was looking into explanations and alternatives, but it would take time. The Oppenheimer's EMP arrays had succeeded in firing, but the alien vessels appeared to be impervious to that form of assault. It was unclear whether they possessed EMP hardening around core processes similar to the Oppenheimer or they had other means of deflecting attacks of that nature. In the absence of an alternative, the Oppenheimer was continuously discharging the EMP arrays as they became available, attempting to test for weaknesses. The energy drain from the sustained fire was easily accommodated by the altered physics of local space, but it was unclear whether alien defenses could be worn down by continuous assault. Other oddities were appearing as the situation unfolded. The aliens did not field any tactical fighters that their sensors could identify. There were ships of different sizes, but, thus far, no vessels had moved to directly engage the balls. Kai's cockpit was being corralled by a series of smaller ships working in conjunction with the larger ones, but that was it. Joan considered it, trying to parse out deeper meanings from the absence. Human conflict, both Earthside and in space, had always heavily relied on tactical fighters. They had numerous advantages in terms of firepower projection and significantly increased tactical dynamism in a battle zone. Either the aliens had never considered the approach, or it was considered suboptimal within this environment. Joan squinted, watching as the battle ball's callsigns dropped from the battle status view. She tilted her head. "This environment," she muttered to herself, her eyes drawn to the EMP array firing status. The recharge bars filled and expended. Filled and expended. Each cycle representing an incredibly powerful pulse of electromagnetic energy at the speed of light. Speed of light. Speed. The answer struck her. The ramifications of the answer were displeasing. Plans must be altered. Contingencies reconsidered. The Black Fork was too optimistic. Their position was considerably worse than hoped for, but not entirely beyond anticipated outcomes, which had included their immediate destruction upon arrival in the system. They simply had fewer tools than she desired. Tactical fighters had low utility when combat operated at the speed of light. There was no yield on agility, because no thruster could move faster than light could travel. There was no evading a lightspeed weapon at these distances. Unless a tactical fighter could retain functionality under fire, which the death balls so far could not, they were a pointless extravagance. At best, they could serve as a momentary distraction, particularly when their weapons were inoperable. The unique characteristics of Humanity's birthplace were a hindrance here. Kinetics were the logical path for weaponry to take in an environment where destructive output was a matter of maximizing scarce energy resources. They were also the easiest, most natural extension from their Earthside forebears. Humanity had begun development of lightspeed weapons, the EMP and the Griggs pulse among them, but they placed tremendous strain on ship systems. The Oppenheimer, as a dreadcarrier, was among the few Earth spaceships that contained a full battery of EMP arrays. Due to the extremely demanding specifications, only a Pulser class ship could make use of a Griggs pulse. Had Humanity known what it faced just beyond its doorstep, it would have invested its research and development resources differently. Too late now. The game was not lost yet, they simply must play the hand they were dealt to its greatest effect. A display flashed from green to red and moved toward the center of the wall, increasing in size. Simultaneously, three other displays shifted in color, position and size, in a chain reaction. Joan frowned. Or perhaps the game was lost, and she was only just realizing it. The shuttle cockpit's callsign, along with the four balls that had attached to it, had disappeared. Her hands darted up and began a series of gestures, swiping North to South as she removed some filters from the local space scan and South to North as she applied others. She exhaled. The shuttle had not been destroyed, only incapacitated. It was careening through space away from the cluster of alien ships closest to Halcyon, though a few were in rapid pursuit. The pursuers had acceleration in their favor, but the shuttle's current course brought them toward the Oppenheimer. Joan flicked a few fingers, pulling the course data from the local scan and pushing it into the timer view.
Pursuers to Shuttle: 1m6s
Tactical Fighter to Shuttle: 38s
Oppenheimer to Shuttle: 53s
G4 Fleet First Arrival: 1m42s
Oppenheimer to Exit: 3m0s
Before Joan could issue the order, the nearest balls peeled off and immediately began an intercept course with the shuttle. Joan pulled up the command-chain, it appeared that Captain Bushida had decided to be proactive. Very well, but it would not be enough. The balls were more likely than not to be incapacitated before they could be used in any rescue effort. This required a more substantial intervention if the outcome were to be changed. Joan pushed a new course heading into her comm-link with Ragnar. "Captain, I am moving us off of the Black Fork standing orders." Ragnar glanced at the course heading. "That's even further in." Joan nodded, "It's the only way we'll recover the cockpit. The balls can't get the job done." "There's a risk the Oppenheimer won't get it done either. They're holding back," Ragnar replied, his eyes scanned off screen, bouncing between the various readouts and inbound requests. "Doesn't make any sense they'd only have EMPs. They've got more." "Likely. My current belief is that they will refrain from further escalation until they have either secured the cockpit or believe they can no longer retrieve it. Each moment of escalation from them has been in response to an action on our part directed at the cockpit." Ragnar wiped the back of his sleeve against his brow, mopping up the sweat. "Must be something important." "Must be. The prize is likely worth the pain here, Ragnar. Retrieving the cockpit is the top priority. Preservation of ourselves is an ancillary concern." "G4 is only a few out. We can hold that long," Ragnar said. "Get the job done, Captain," Joan ordered and then cut the comm. Ragnar was a sophisticated battlefield tactician. The overlap between them was significant, and the differences between them were accretive to both. They both knew there was another card to be played, it was just a matter of whether Humanity could adapt to it. Joan opened another comm-link. "Chief Adeyemi." The Chief blinked a few times as the interjection, as if being pulled from a daze. "Idara!" Joan exclaimed. "Where's Science at?" Idara wet her lips, "We've gathered the data and mapped it to a few different explanations...but we need more--" "You don't have it. Best guess, go." "Some sort of inertial dampening field. Effects smaller objects. Weakens as the objects get larger. Only affects objects moving a certain speed. Only affects objects in space. Our kinetics are getting caught. Bigger objects, like the fighters, like the Oppenheimer, are fine. Bullets fired inside of the Oppenheimer are fine. "Any sense on source?" Idara shook her head. "But it doesn't effect the fighters. Doesn't effect energy based weapons." "From what we can see, that's right." Joan's eyes drifted toward the tracker on Kai's cockpit. Hurtling through space. "Idara, when the Alcubierre was heading for Proxima Barrier, your modeling said the ship would survive the impact, correct?" "Yes, Admiral. There isn't an equal an opposite reaction. Actor has primacy in these physics." Joan stared at Idara, lost in thought. The Chief shifted uncomfortably, "Is there something else--" "I have what I need," Joan replied, cutting the comm. She pulled up the status tracker on the balls. Over eight-five percent of launched fighters had already been incapacitated. The Oppenheimer still retained a final wing in its hangers, numbering approximately a hundred and twenty additional balls. Joan watched the timers ticking down. They needed to go on the offensive. To find a way to tilt the situation in their favor. Even if they retrieved the cockpit, it was a long way back to the wormhole, and a long time to survive before G4 appeared. If the aliens had an ace up their sleeve, that would be the time to play it, when they had nothing to lose, and everything to gain. She re-opened the comm with Ragnar. "Captain, I think we can even the odds a bit." "I'm all ears, Admiral." Joan pushed a series of orders to Ragnar. He glanced at them and then glared at her, "You want-- "Yes, Captain, that's what I want." "But they'll be destroyed," Ragnar responded. "Not if they're moving fast enough. Get whoever we can get back into the hangers, launch the rest without the pilots. Target the ships. Target Halcyon." Ragnar stared at her, "Halcyon? That's a civilian--" "Captain, I want those balls dumped and under full steam at the designated targets. That's an order." Ragnar opened his mouth and then shut it. A hand came off screen and formed a salute. The comm was dropped shortly after. Almost immediately, the tactical fighters shifted flight plans and began their retreat toward the Oppenheimer. Simultaneously, the wing residing within the *Oppenheimer'*s hangers shifted from stand-by to active. Soon they would be launched, pushing top acceleration toward Halcyon. No EMP would be able to stop them. If the aliens had another card to play, Joan hoped this would force it out and maybe, just maybe, buy enough time for G4 to make an appearance. She just needed a little time. Just needed to survive long enough for the Pulsers to arrive. Seconds mattered. Next. Be sure to leave a comment or an upvote if you're enjoying Alcubierre. If you want a sense of how much it matters to me,here's a very emo journal entry documenting it. Click this linkor reply withSubscribeMe!to get notified of updates to THE PLATYPUS NEST. I have been conducting a strange experiment on myTwitterwhich people seem to be enjoying. I found an AI bot that randomly posts impactful images every few minutes. I've decided to craft a narrative on top of these random images called "The Human Archives."
Space-time rippled as the Horns of Glory snapped into real space. The normally smooth transition from FTL subspace travel back to the laws of relativity was instead dangerously jarring, as the inertial dampeners struggled to hold the innards of the massive warship in their proper places. After straining mightily for the briefest of moments, they failed, throwing Admiral Halon Va and the rest of his bridge crew violently into their restraining harnesses. The ship shuddered under the immense stress, then settled, drifting silently through space on minimal power. “Tactical, get me a status report for the fleet on screen now. I want updates the instant ships jump in.” The Admiral’s voice was still firm and authoritative; it was taking every last shred of resolve he had to keep it that way. “Lieutenant Roshin, put a detail together and work with medical. I’m sure that re-entry caused more than a few extra injuries. Get as many of the crew patched up and ready for emergency action as fast as you can. I want a full casualty report as soon as possible. And if you find Science Officer Lentith and he’s still alive, send him to the bridge immediately.” Admiral Va settled back into his command chair, drawing creaking sounds from the over-stressed frame as it absorbed the weight of his massive form. The bridge was completely silent now, the command crew entirely focused on the tasks at hand. Or they were too afraid to say anything; Va couldn’t be sure. He was thankful for their silence, though. He didn’t have any answers for them about his failure. Keying in a few commands on the command panel at his station, the damage report for his ship popped up, the bridge lights flickering from the extra power draw. The Horns of Glory floated before him in hologram form. Long and slender, the ship was over two kilometers from bow to stern. At least, it had been a few hours ago. The forward 20 percent of the holographic ship was flashing red, indicating heavy damage. This was inaccurate, however, as the forward 20 percent of the ship simply wasn’t there anymore. The graceful lines and carefully crafted angles of the ship's armor were an unrecognizable slagged mess, and deep gouges had been cut into the inner decks all over the ship. Whole sections were missing amidships, two of the main reactors were offline, all the primary weapon batteries had been completely destroyed, and most of the critical systems were barely functioning. It was a miracle that she had survived the jump. That morning, Horns of Glory had been the greatest feat of Arien’Ra engineering, and it was now a barely functioning hulk. And it had all happened under my command, thought Va. He had no time to wallow in his failures, however, as at that moment tactical finally reconnected to the fleet command systems. The hologram of Horns of Glory quickly scaled down, appearing as a small, flashing, red point of light floating in loose formation with several other points of light. Most of them were flashing red as well. A constant stream of data and various reports scrolled down the right side of the hologram, listing in no uncertain terms the doom that Va had subjected his command to. If Va had thought that the bridge was quiet before, it was nothing compared to the complete stillness that now settled over them. No one so much as moved a muscle, as they all sat in stunned silence, reading the reports. Occasionally, the hologram would flash, and a new point of light would join the formation, adding more data to the pile spelling out their damnation. After 30 ticks, new points of light had stopped appearing. Admiral Halon Va had lost over 60 percent of his fleet, and not a single other dreadnaught had survived the slaughter. His defeat was total, and the Federation navy was crippled. Science Officer Beredarin Lentith had been the first member of his family not to enroll in command school in eight generations. They had been some of the finest members of the fleet the Vorqual race had ever contributed to the Federation. His brothers and sisters had all enrolled, which meant that as far as he was concerned, his family had more than fulfilled their duty to the Federation. Military life wasn’t for him, anyway; he wanted to explore. The Federation had been around for over 3000 years, and there were still vast swathes of the galaxy that they knew nothing about. They were still encountering new species every few hundred or so years, and there was nothing he wouldn’t give to find the next one. That had been the dream that directed him away from the military and into academia. The odds of actually finding a new race were so small, though. There were still at least 200,000,000 unexplored systems in the galaxy. There just wasn’t time to visit them all... He snapped out of his reverie as he stepped over the body, or rather, what was left of the body, of a Zelnassi marine. Most of it was just a green stain on the corridor wall at this point, though there had been enough of the chitinous armored torso to partially obstruct his path. The young lieutenant quickly continued on towards the bridge. If he was being honest with himself, becoming an expert on the area of unexplored space directly between the Federation and it’s largest military rival wasn’t the smartest of ideas. Between his family reputation and his unique knowledge base, he was just asking to get pressed into service. Which was exactly what had happened immediately upon the recent outbreak of hostilities. And now here he was stepping over corpses, marveling at the fact that he had somehow survived this long. He still couldn’t believe the insanity of the Dominion forces. Boarding an enemy ship MID-COMBAT. It was like something out of a youngling’s tale from before space travel. It was pure madness, but there were the bodies to prove that it had happened. He gingerly stepped around the remains of yet another Zelnassi. The signs of battle continued all the way to the bridge, where he found security forces still holding quickly fortified positions around the bridge entrance. There were more Zelnassi bodies at their feet. Berendarin shuddered. He had been closer to death than he thought. He quickly pushed those thoughts out of his mind. He could only imagine why he was needed on the bridge so urgently. The door slid open, and Lentith walked into a completely silent room. Admiral Va was slouched at his command station, his enormous arm propped up on the chair arm and supporting his massive, horned head. Lentith didn’t even know that Arien’Ra COULD slouch. Nevermind that the fastidious Admiral could or would ever do such a thing. Maybe things were somehow worse than he thought. No one seemed to notice him enter, so he announced himself to the Admiral. Though he didn’t shout, his voice echoed in the deathly silent room, startling most of the bridge command. Two of the other Vorqual officers swore, and the tiny Jezren manning the com station let out a high pitched sound somewhere between a squeak and chirp. Berendarin would have found it quite funny if the situation wasn’t so dire. Admiral Va immediately snapped back to being the hulk of muscle and horn that imposed his will on a room just by being in it. His booming voice only added to his authority. “Science Officer Lentith. I’m glad to see you’re still alive. Are you seriously injured?” Berendarin had almost forgotten that he had walked the entire way to the bridge holding a bandage to his head just above his left eye. The drop out of subspace hadn’t been kind to him. He pulled the bandage away, revealing a dark orange stain on the bandage and a crack in the bone plate above his eye. “I’m fine, sir, just one of the outer plates, and the bleeding has already stopped.” “Good. Commander Vortith is currently overseeing the emergency repairs. Take his seat. You are going to help me find a way back home.” “Sir? I’m sorry I don’t understand. Why don’t we just go back the way we came?” “That’s not possible. Most of our supply ships and tenders were destroyed when that third wave of Dominion ships hit our flank. Almost all of our pre-prepared fuel reserves are gone. On top of that, some of our ships are so damaged that they don’t have another long jump in them. And if we run into any enemy ships, the whole rest of the fleet is done for. We barely qualify as a fighting force in the state we’re in.” “Is it really that bad?” “It’s worse, but we don’t have time to get into the details. You’re the expert on this section of the galaxy. I need you to find the fleet a hiding hole. Somewhere away from the known jump routes through the Spur. Any system where we can use the few miners we have left to scavenge up some fuel, and get some critical repairs done while we’re at it. And from there either wait for reinforcements or get ourselves patched up enough to limp home. Wherever it is, it needs to be close. I’m not leaving any ships behind because they can’t make the jump.” “Oh. Just that?” The lieutenant knew that Arien’Ra were strict herbivores, but with the look that the Admiral shot him, he couldn’t help but think about the fact that his head would easily fit into that giant, molar filled mouth. “And away from any known pirate hideaways. Like I said, our fleet can’t take any more fighting. And find it quickly. It won’t be long before the Dominion fleet locates us.” “I. Uh. Sure. I’ll see what I can find.” Berendarin shrank into the commander’s chair next to the enormous Arien’Ra, desperately wishing he had been more professional. If he had acted like a proper soldier, it might soften the blow of telling the Admiral that what he wanted was next to impossible. If he had a few weeks, he might be able to find something. So much of the Spur was still un-surveyed. The odds of there being anything useful to the Admiral in the databases was absurdly low, and there was even less of a chance he’d be able to find it in time for the information to matter. He began pouring through his notes anyway. It was better than waiting around to die, which, if the situation was as dire as the Admiral made it sound, was the only other option. He spent the next hour lost in his notes, finding nothing, while the bridge crew went about piecing the ship and the fleet back together. The young scientist had all but given up on the Admiral’s impossible request when a raucous cheer went up from everyone on the command deck. “Sir,” The coms officer called out, “The Consul’s Pride just dropped out of subspace and is hailing us, sir. The main communication screen lit up, and Berendarin Lentith looked to see the face of his oldest sister on screen, strapped into the captain’s chair of her dreadnaught. He let out a sigh of relief; Baraquen was his favorite sibling. Her uniform was drenched in a deep orange blood stain at the shoulder, and she was covered in what looked like flecks of green gore from a Xelnassi. The artificial gravity was clearly malfunctioning, as the captain’s restraining harness was the only thing keeping her from floating around her bridge. But the bone plates of her jaw were turned as always into her calm, self assured smile “My apologies for the delay in joining you, Admiral Va. We had some… guests shut down our drive mid jump. We had to deal with them before we rejoined the fleet. I assume there is a plan to get us back to federation space?” “It’s good to see you in one piece, Captain Lentith,” the Admiral responded. He was barely able to keep the relief from his voice. “And there is indeed a plan.” Berendarin returned to his research as the two ranking officers in the fleet went over the details of their current predicament. He was glad his sister had survived, and not just because they were close. It would have been a terrible blow to the whole family to have lost not only their future matriarch, but the ship she commanded as well. A member of his family had been commanding that dreadnaught uninterrupted for the last 5 generations. Military service had never appealed to Berendarin, but his family history was certainly still important. And then the solution to the current problem hit him like a driver round. He let out a gasp and tore into his notes with a fervor. Both Admiral Va and his sister’s projection turned to look at him, but he didn’t notice. After a few seconds of curious silence from the rest of the onlookers, Berendarin practically jumped out of his seat. “Admiral, I think I’ve got something that will work.” The young Lieutenant punched a few commands into his datapad, and a set of stellar coordinates popped up on the navigation terminal. “It’s a main sequence star, about 500 light years from us, fairly close to the edge of the Spur. It’s not anywhere near any established jump routes. The Consul’s Pride made me think of it.” He nodded towards his sister’s face on the ship's screen. “Our great, great grandsire took the Consul’s Pride through the system on her shakedown run a little over 300 cycles ago. Chased a band of Qorthi slavers out of the system. The outer four planets are all gas giants. If we can’t find Helium 3 there, I don’t know where else we should look.” On screen, Captain Lentith looked impressed, but Admiral Va clearly didn’t seem too sure. “We’re supposed to be going away from Dominion forces, not into them. What were the Qorthi doing there?” “There are also four rocky inner worlds in the system, Sir, according to reports from the encounter. Apparently, the third planet is a Class 7 Deathworld, and the Qorthi were running some experiments on the primitive lifeforms there. They were caught completely by surprise by the Consul’s Pride, and it was the first time that she fired her weapons in anger. I can’t find any reports of Dominion ships in that section of the Spur since.” There was a long pause before Va responded. “Good work, Lieutenant. I knew my trust in you wasn’t misplaced.” Admiral Va replied, before turning to the rest of the bridge and booming “Coms! Tactical! Get those coordinates to every ship in the fleet. I want every ship we have left formed up and ready to jump as soon as possible. Any captain who feels that his drives can’t make the jump is to focus all repair efforts on getting their drives functioning immediately. I will transfer repair crews from less damaged ships to more damaged ships if that means we jump even a tick earlier. Get to it everyone. I’m not losing any more of my fleet today.” The four revolution long jump to Science Officer Lentith’s newfound sanctuary had done wonders for Halon Va’s mental state. The initial shock of his fleet's terrible defeat had worn off, and he had been able to focus on what came next. Repair crews were able to stabilize most of his ship's core systems, and he was no longer worried about the life support systems cutting out and killing the rest of his crew. There had also been time for him to visit with the wounded. To thank them for their sacrifices. He had expected it to be an act of contrition, maybe even a chance to start begging for forgiveness. But there had been no anger in his crew, and no blame hung on his horns. Most had just been relieved that he had survived, and had expressed as much. He would be forever grateful to them for that. Most importantly, the four revolutions in hyperspace had given the admiral time to really think about what had gone wrong in the nebula. He had barely rested in the preceding four revolutions, spending every scrap of spare time in his office, pouring over records from the battle. That’s where he found himself now, tucked behind his massive ceramic and titanium alloy desk of Tellarim design. It had been custom made for him upon his promotion to this command, a gift from the high admirals and the council. It was the only luxury that Va allowed in his office. The rest of Va’s space he kept strictly utilitarian. There were no trophies adorning his walls, as was customary for other members of his species. The plain bulkheads of his office were instead lined entirely with screens, and each of them were now filled with footage and reports from the battle, running on loop. Va soaked it all in. The more he watched, the more a singular conclusion crystallized in his mind. He had done everything right; he was sure of that now. 1000 years of doctrine and theory for fighting the Dominion had gone into his preparation for that battle, and he had followed it to the letter. And he had been winning. Then that attack on his flank by the Zelnassi had blown all of that out of the airlock. Something significant had changed in the way the Dominion fought... Commander Vortith’s voice rang out over the com system. ”Admiral Va, we’ll be transitioning back to real space in moments.” “Thank you. I’ll be there shortly. And get Science Officer Lentith to the bridge. I want him nearby just in case. He’s the only one who has any idea of where we are.” The Admiral pulled himself from his desk. He would have to leave the rest of his analysis for later. There was just enough time for him to reach the bridge and settle into his command chair before the Horns of Glory snapped back to real space. This time, the inertial dampeners held. “Tactical, status report.” “All ships accounted for, Admiral. Though the Consul’s Pride, several cruisers, and three of our escorts are all reporting massive failures in their Drive Cores. They won’t be jumping anywhere anytime soon.” “Wonderful.” Va wasn’t sure if he meant that sarcastically or not. “Get scans up and running and deploy the pickets that aren’t crippled in a standard scouting formation. How close are we to the nearest gas giant?” “We’re approximately half a light tick from the system’s innermost gas giant, sir.” “Excellent. Deploy the rest of the fleet. Put us in a high orbit around the planet in a defensive formation, and get our miners working immediately. Once our orbit is stable, I want every hand, paw and hoof in the fleet working on repairs.” “Yes sir.” Admiral Va settled into his command chair for a long shift. It would be a drawn out, boring process to refuel the ships. With his fleet limping along, and only two functioning miners, it would take far longer than it should. After all the chaos of the last few revolutions, boring would be a welcome change of pace. Va started to relax, sinking into his chair’s acceleration padding. His fleet and his crews were finally safe. The first priority would be to get one of the subspace beacons repaired and to get word back to the Federation that the fleet still existed. And hopefully call for aid. He was sure to be stripped of his rank as soon as contact was made, but hopefully he would avoid a Tribunal. That was an unpleasant prospect… “Sir, we have unidentified ship signatures appearing from around the planet we’re approaching.” Va had never heard panic in the voice of his young sensors officer before, but it was certainly there now. Va understood the sentiment, though. He found it difficult to keep the panic from his own voice as he started issuing orders “Bring the fleet up to combat status immediately. How many ships are there?” “I’m showing 35 individual signatures. All approaching us at combat speed and still accelerating. At current speeds, they will intercept us in just over 30 ticks, sir.” “I want details as soon as you have them, Lieutenant. Size, make, estimated firepower. Who they are. And keep scanning the system. Find out where they came from.” The panic had partially subsided for Va. 35 unknowns was not too terrible a threat. He still had almost 240 warships under his command. Still, if there was a way to avoid combat, he had to try. His fleet couldn’t suffer any more losses. “Coms, any attempt by these unknown ships to contact us?” “I”m not sure, sir,” the diminutive Jezren at the coms replied. “There’s nothing on standard communications channels. The ships are transmitting something, but I can’t figure out what it is.” “Admiral,” the Lieutenant at the sensors station called out. “I think I might have an idea of where these ships came from. Preliminary scans show there is extensive urbanization on the third and fourth planets, as well as what appear to be habitation sized artificial satellites around the second and sixth planets. One of the moons of the gas giant we’re approaching shows signs of habitation as well. All of them are emitting significant signal pollution. This system clearly already belongs to someone, and they’re broadcasting everywhere.” Halon Va, High Admiral of the Combined Federation Fleets, turned, slowly and with as much composure as he could muster, to face the young science officer seated to his left. Berendarin sat, mouth agape, staring transfixed at the sensor readouts in front of him. Va had never seen a Vorqual more confused in his life. “I want answers, Officer Lentith.” “I… I don’t.. This doesn’t make any sense,” the young science officer stammered. “There shouldn’t be anything here.” “Admiral,” The comms officer cut in, “The signal that we’re picking up from the unknown ships is definitely some kind of communication. I managed to put together audio from it.” “Play it,” commanded Va. A series of short, guttural, and completely unintelligible sounds came over the speakers in reply. There was a short pause before the sounds repeated themselves again. “Coms, what was that?” “No idea, sir, but it’s being transmitted on loop. If it is intended as a communication, our translators have no idea what to do with it.” “Admiral.” The voice came from Va’s left, and was barely audible. Va turned yet again to look at the young science officer. His gaze was locked on the tactical readout, and there something in his eyes that Va couldn’t recognize. A mixture of pure terror and something else. Was it wonder? The young Vorqual’s voice was still barely above a whisper when he continued to address the admiral: “I think we should run the transmission through First Contact Protocols.” Captain Benjamin Alvarez-León slammed against his restraining harness as the USCS Aurora started it’s decel burn. He had pushed the engines on the outdated cruiser to their limits, and the ship groaned in protest as it started counteracting his rather zealous acceleration orders. He hoped that his mad scramble with his small squadron of outdated ships had been an overreaction. The alternative was something he’d rather not think about. All Ben had was the reserves; the rest of the fleet was on maneuvers at Sirius. The Admiralty had wanted to test the new, fully modernized fleet’s maneuvering abilities in the gravwell of a binary system. And, in their infinite wisdom, they decided they needed ALL of the new fleet assets, leaving nothing in Sol except for the handful of cruisers and escorts that couldn’t match the capabilities of the modern ships. A handful of cruisers and escorts that were now hurtling towards more than 200 unknown contacts. It was the unknown part of all of this that was unnerving Ben. There were no familiar energy signatures. No familiar scan data. No IFF. No signals coming off the contacts of any kind for that matter. Two of the contacts were too big to even be ships. If it wasn’t for the fact that they were moving towards Jupiter in formation, Ben wouldn’t even think they WERE ships. “So what do you think, Alexi?” Ben asked, turning towards his second in command. “You and the rest of the bridge crew are always making inane bets. Have you whipped up an over-under for what we’re throwing ourselves at yet?” “Haven’t had time,” came the quick reply from Ben’s right. The short, stocky man from Vladivostok was missing his trademark joviality. “Though, my money is on them being Ithacan, sir.” Ben bristled at Alexi calling him sir. They’d been friends for twenty years, damnit, and had been practically joined at the hip since going through the Academy together. Outranking him still felt a little off. Now was hardly the time to worry about formalities, though. “What makes you think they're from Ithaca?” “It’s the only thing that makes sense. The locals have been getting increasingly radical, and Ithaca is the only sector where reports of piracy have been increasing.” “Yeah, I could see a rebellion coming from Ithaca,” Ben added slowly, turning over that scenario in his head. “But there’s no way they could swing something of this magnitude. There aren’t even any shipyards in the sector. And even if there were, there’s no way they could keep the construction of over two hundred ships a secret.” Alexi could only offer him a shrug in response. It was at that moment that the coms station informed him there was a transmission incoming from the unidentified ships. Ben instructed the ensign to play it, and the bridge was suddenly filled with a stream of grotesque bleating noises and strange grunts, with the occasional recognizable syllable interspersed throughout the transmission. Ben thought he picked out ‘dentify’ from the mess, but he wasn’t sure. There was a long moment of silence on the bridge. “What the hell was that?” When no one had any answers for him, Ben tapped his command console and recorded a new message to broadcast. “This is Captain Alvarez of the USCS Aurora. Unidentified ships, please clarify. Your transmission is badly garbled. We did not receive your identification. You are still trespassing in Commonwealth space and are on an unauthorized course towards Jupiter. Begin decelerating immediately and re-identify yourselves.” He wouldn’t admit it to the crew, but Ben was profoundly unsettled. Something was deeply, deeply wrong about this whole situation. Not only was he vastly outnumbered by these things, but they were unwilling to communicate properly. He was almost believing this whole thing was some kind of bizarre prank. “How much longer before we can get a decent visual on these things? “Any moment now, sir.” A new transmission arrived just then, and Ben had it played back immediately. This time, instead of almost bovine bleats and grunts, the sounds coming over the speakers were mostly intelligible. Or, they would have been, if any of the syllables were in the right order. It was almost like a toddler was rattling off all of his new favorite sounds, spitting them out in a random order and not knowing how they went together. There were still a few heavy grunts sprinkled in, just for good measure. Before Ben could process this new joke of a transmission, the contacts finally started slowing. In a matter of moments, the strange wall of contacts was hanging lazily in Jupiter’s orbit, barely moving fast enough to keep their orbit from decaying. They were still in perfect formation. “Huh. Well, I guess that’s something.” With nothing to do but sit back and wait as his ship closed the distance, Ben tried to relax and began running over all of the possibilities in his mind of what the new contacts could be. He came up with nothing. Well, nothing feasible, anyway. He took a series of long, calming breaths, trying to clear his mind and focus. This was no time for his imagination to be running wild. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that logic was failing him. Something was off. Something… “Captain, bringing visual of the unknown contacts up on screen now.” Ben actually felt his jaw drop. Every contact on his display was clearly a ship. Most were long and spindly, wrapped in layers of some kind of highly reflective armor; a fleet of crystalline arrows hanging in the darkness. The two largest contacts, which Ben had just moments ago thought were too big to be ships, were large enough on the screen for him to clearly see details. In addition to their immense size and strange armor, both ships were dotted with what were clearly weapons platforms, though what kind, Ben couldn’t tell. Noticeably, almost all of the ships on his screen were heavily damaged. Chunks were missing from some ships, and most had deep lines gouged into their hulls. Any form of decorative paint or markings had been burned away. Something had put these ships through absolute hell. But still, the damage could not take away entirely from the elegance of the ship’s designs. They were graceful and sleek, completely different from anything Ben had ever seen before. It was all so different. So strange. So very, very… Alien. Despite every effort he had made to avoid the word, it finally forced itself to form inside Ben’s mind, and forced him to acknowledge the reality that legitimate, extra-Solar life was hanging in the darkness in front of him. It forced him to acknowledge the screams he had been suppressing in the back of his mind. The screams of his imagination crying out in glorious triumph over reality. And with those screams came a deluge of accompanying thoughts and emotions. He was a child again, staring up at the stars above Armstrong and wondering what else, and who else, was out there. He was a teen again, signing his name to the Academy enrollment paperwork, determined to get out there between the stars and see the galaxy himself. He was a young officer again, screaming and pleading with the Admiralty to at least consider a modern First Contact scenario. He was sitting in his command chair now, hurtling towards honest-to-god aliens, all of his dreams made manifest in an instant. He was overwhelmed. He was terrified. And he had never imagined that he could feel such elation. It was the young warrant officer at the coms that snapped Ben out of his reverie. “Sir, the contacts are hailing us on all standard channels, requesting a video feed.” She sounded very, very nervous. Ben immediately stood up, straightening his uniform as best he could. “If they’re anything less than genocidal monsters, I’m going to offer them aid and repairs. As long as they’re peaceful, there’s no reason not to extend them the full hospitality of humanity.” “Ben,” Alexi asked, clearly choosing his words carefully, “Are you sure that’s the… Wisest course of action? How will the Admiralty respond to Goddamned alien ships docking at Hephaestus?” “Alexi, in the 250 years the Commonwealth has existed, the First Contact protocols haven’t been updated since the charter was signed. No one has cared. This has been nothing but a fantasy for most people. I am NOT letting this opportunity get away. Every child that has ever looked up at the stars and wondered finally got an answer, and I will not waste this moment. We’re making friends, the Admiralty and the government be damned.” “You do realize you’re potentially deciding the fate of our entire species on a whim, right?” “Is there someone else you’d prefer to have making this call?” Alexi, apparently deciding that there was not, stood up and straightened his uniform, standing next to his friend as he ordered the connection of the video feed. The channel connected, and the human bridge crew found themselves looking at the bridge of a ship crewed by not one, but three alien races. The largest alien in the center of the screen opened its mouth to speak. This time, instead of bleats and grunts, a choppy, mechanical voice that didn’t sync up to the alien at all proclaimed from the bridge speakers in broken, stuttering English: “I. Am Admiral. Halon. Va. Of the Federation of. Sentient Races. Greetings and. Welcome. To the. Galaxy.” Ben couldn’t suppress his smile. “On behalf of the United Solar Commonwealth, and all of Humanity, greetings, and welcome to Sol. Your ships look like they’ve had a bad time on your way here. If there’s any way we could aid with your repairs, we’d be happy to help.” Slave 782 slammed his right appendage onto the control console hard enough to rupture his outer membrane and smear ichor over the panel. It had been four days since the battle in the nebula, and with the latest round of reports, he finally had to admit that the rest of the Federation fleet had escaped him. It was a minor frustration, all things considered, but the escape prevented this from being a total victory. Still, he had proven his worth to his owners in this battle, and his experiments with the Zelnassi had paid dividends beyond his wildest imagination. He had earned a command today, and with every success in that command, his ability to bargain for his people's freedom only increased. For what he would be asking, it might take the total defeat of the Federation to earn that kind of leverage. Also frustrating, but not a task that he couldn’t handle. It would be a long war, he was sure, but like his owners, he was patient. He would earn his freedom, even if it meant reducing the entire Federation to glass. Author Wiki Series Wiki NEXT
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