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First Contact - TOTAL WAR - 217 (Foxtrot-Nine-Two)

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The multi-role strike hovercraft slipped through the air, dropping altitude quickly. The intact ships of the squadron were smoking, over half of them the battle-screens were down and the particle screens were so overloaded they were flickering and snarling.
Mukstet, pilot of Foxtrot-Niner-Two, lead striker of the squadron due to their unorthodox launch, looked around, the window shields covering the smart-armaglass retracted. The trees were whipping by and so far there hadn't been any Precursors popping up on the sensors.
That could be because our sensors are hashed, he thought to himself. He saw a faint glimmer of sparkling blue and did a slow bank toward it.
The controls were mushy, slow to respond. The two fifty-gallon reactor mass tanks were empty, used to power the afterburners, which meant his fusion reactor was offline. He was running on the auxilary zero-point reactors now and they barely had the power to keep the ship in the air. They were at over 80% heat, which left the alarms pinging in his ear. The hotter they got the higher the impedance and the less power the reactors produced due to the power being converted to heat.
It was a vicious self-sustaining cycle.
Terrans have been able to beat everything but heat, Mukstet thought, dropping his altitude even further. He was barely skimming above the tree-tops now. He glanced around him, doing a visual on the other striker craft. Four of them were streaming smoke, one white, one bluish, the other two black smoke pouring from where the weapon covers had torn free. A glance at the squadron icons showed him that of the twenty strikers besides his all of them were yellow or amber.
"973, can you do field repairs?" he asked over the link.
--need time and mass nano-forges too hot too slushy slushy-- the green mantid sent back along with a picture of a half-dozen green mantids standing on the lid of a top loading clothes washing machine with bubbles pouring out from the edges of the lid. The caption read "C17H35COONa/H2O!!!!!" Mukstet didn't get it completely but he got the gist.
The blue glimmer came out to be a large lake surrounded by manicured lawns, decorative tree groves, shrubs, and estates for Lanaktallan. There were wrecking equipment near the manors and over half of them were in the middle of being demolished.
"All Foxtrot-Niner elements, all strikers on me, we're going land near the lake and do field repairs," Mukstet said. "All dismount strike team leaderss give me a status report on your dismount teams once we're on the ground. Have your green buddies reconfigure your suits for intra-atmospheric combat. My appreciation to your green buddies for keeping everyone alive during our insertion."
Blinks came back from the squad leaders.
"Foxtrot-Niner-Two, this is Foxtrot-Niner-Twelve, my center-line gravitons are out and my zero-point heat is at 92% and rising. Tell me we're setting down soon," came Dulketit's voice.
"Five mikes, that's it, just five mikes, Foxtrot-Niner-Twelve," Mukstet said. "All squadron strikers, drop speed to two-hundred kay."
The icons blinked and Mukstet went back to keeping his battered striker in the air.
He managed to get his landing gear deployed and set down on what was obviously a manor's ornate back lawn. The striker hovercraft settled down slowly, bumping, and Mukstet killed the power. The vehicle made a whining sound that slowly went silent. The other twenty striker craft settled down on the lawn, not quite dress right dress but close enough.
Foxtrot-Nine-Seven and Foxtrot-Nine-Eighteen both had fires erupt. Black armored troops jumped out with fire extinquishers, hosing down the fires with white powder.
"How's she look?" Mukstet asked his mantids.
--couple hours need mass good to stop at water you run hoses-- 973 sent back with an image of armored Telkan wrestling umbilicals from the lake to the strikers.
"All right. How's the engineers? You all make it?" Mukstet asked.
--some injured two lost legs three lost bladearms be okie okie-- 973 transmitted back with a sweating smiley face.
"All right. Make sure they get first aid," Mukstet said. He reached down and popped the umbilical connecting him to Jekib. He turned on the system, feeling cool air flood in. He hadn't realized how overheated he'd gotten during the insertion. He undid his five-point harness and hit the release stud for his neural jack connector.
It felt weird being disconnected from the striker. Light he was lighter somehow. Aches and pains vanished for a second to be replaced by other aches and pains. His shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers hurt from the vibration through the stick and how tightly he'd gripped everything.
He closed his eyes, just like he'd been trained to, and took several deep breaths, giving his brain time to synch back up to his body. A count of five, opening and closing his hands each count, and then he opened his eyes again. He reached out and hit the stud on the side to open up the cock-pit side door.
Air rolled over him, smelling of water and alien green things. He could see the dismount strikers spreading out at the pointed directions of Sergeant Kuplo. Some of the scouts were running for the construction equipment, others were opening up panels on the striker craft and pulling out hoses, still others were kneeling down while a handful of troops with the red cross, red crescent, and red square of medical personnel were checking their armor's statistics.
The next two hours passed with a blur. Pulling the hoses out to refill the reactor mass with filtered water, the debris caught by the filters passed to the nano-forges, the greenies making repairs as rapidly as possible. Telkan Marines helped put mass into the hoppers for the nano-forges to tear apart once the creation engines had cooled down and deslushed.
"You get anyone yet?" Mukstet asked Kanpuk, his Technical Specialist operating the com-system.
"No. Tegket's working with the other EW guys to try to cut through the interference, but these Precusors are a lot better at jamming than the other ones," Kanpuk said. "So far we've heard some chatter, including a Telkan Marine Heavy Assault Battalion that got dropped into the wrong zone and are protecting a refugee center or ammo dump or something, as well as a couple of Terran Pacific Rim Class warmechs just jumping from the Boop and making landfall via impact."
Mukstet shook his head. They'd barely made it, he couldn't imagine dropping free fall to planet-side in a three hundred foot tall ten thousand ton mech. But then, those mech guys were a whole different breed of crazy. Mukstet's brother had tried out for the war-mech program and now was the pilot of a heavy assault class mech.
But then, he'd always been a little weird, even before the Terrans came.
"Keep me posted. Let me know if we find anyone that needs close air support once we get the strikers reconfigured for intra-atmosphere work and as much of the field repairs as we can do are done," Mukstet said. He'd opened the faceplate on his armored vac-rated flight suit and was enjoying the cool fresh air after all the hours sharing Jekib's air.
The Marine Scout armor used a laser to stimulate a small fungus to produce oxygen from CO2 and CO with enough efficency they could operate in total vacuum for months.
That was something that Mukstet had noticed. During comparisons to Lanaktallan equipment, he'd noticed that the Overseers had created all of their equipment under the assumption that everything would run perfectly. Terrans on the other hand, designed all their equipment as if the world was coming to end and whoever was using the equipment was in the worst possible conditions in the worst possible situation.
Which Mukstet was glad for now.
--refabbing ordnance-- 973 reported. --airframe repairs during wing repairs done--
Mukstet looked over and could see the green mantid engineers, in their hard-shell extreme environment armor moving off the wings of the strikers. They'd been forced to weld the wings in the open position to prevent an actuator failure from allowing the wings to slide into the retracted position. Now that they were ground-side the mantids had to cut the welds and smooth the armor again to allow the wings to deploy and shift properly.
"Everyone get something to eat. Sergeant Kuplo, make sure your men take shifts, eat, and get some water into them, that was a rough landing," Mukstet ordered.
"Yes, sir," the Scout Sergeant said. "You heard him, men. Squad leaders, take charge of your squads. Get with me in half an hour and I'll have guard rotations."
There was a click as Sergeant Kuplo switched to the leadership channel. "What's the ETA on the strikers being ready?"
Mukstet checked the chron display on his retinal link. "Eight hours for full repairs, two more to combat capable. We had to strip the ordnance to run the afterburners in vacuum."
"I'll assign shifts as if its eight hours then, sir," Sergeant Kuplo said.
"You know I'm just a Private First Class, right?" Mukstet said.
"You're striker a pilot and you're in charge of the squadron, that makes you 'sir', sir," Sergeant Kuplo said and then shut off the link to stop any more discussion.
Mukstet sighed and went back to overseeing the striker hovercraft being worked on. The weapons were all deployable, able to be rotated back up into the airframe to increase stealth then deployed when live fire time came.
One thing that Mukstet had noticed is that Terrans really liked kinetic weaponry. His striker had two six barrel rotating autocannons, two door guns, and an underbelly deployable cannon. Missile pods, sure, but he noted there wasn't any laser, plasma, or maser systems. All kinetic.
He wondered why that was as he moved around Striker Foxtrot-Niner-Fifteen, noting that the mantids were repairing the pilot side smartglass and had the armor off the nose to expose where they were working on the airframe.
He took a moment to admit to himself that he really really really wished the Terran pilots and dismount leaders had made it off the Boop. He didn't have any orders loaded up, the only scans of the planet were the ones he'd managed to get from orbit and on the way down, and he had no idea of who had even made it groundside and who hadn't.
He was glad to hear at least some of his fellow Telkans had made it groundside. Second Telkan was largely unblooded with the exception of the power armor guys and most of those were in the infantry units.
Mukstet had joined the Marines after fighting on the wall of Log Base Gamma on Telkan-2 for nearly a month, dressed in an armored vac-suit and running a massive rotary laser cannon. He'd never felt so helpless in his life as when he'd been on that wall. He'd swore he'd never feel that way again and signed up when the Telkan Marine recruiter had come through.
It was slowly getting dark, the pale sparks of the mantid engineers becoming brighter and brighter as time went on and the night got darker. He could see holograms springing up where the mantids clustered together and went to work.
--airframe repaired armor repaired ordnance almost done-- 973 reported. --software checks done combat capable but fragile fragile need two more hours--
"You've got it," Mukstet sighed. My first combat command and the entire squadron is grounded. At least I got them onto the ground.
Mukstet kept walking back and forth on the grass, his palm turned up so he could look at what little ground-side data they had. A BOLO almost four hundred miles out but Mukstet's trainers had all stressed that unless it was coming to your rescue or had requested you a trooper never had a reason to go into the hellfire of a BOLO's combat zone. Off to the east, roughly a hundred and fifty miles, the sensors had picked up heavy Precursor movement almost three hours ago but Mukstet had no idea where they were now. To the west there was heavy groundfire that they'd managed to avoid during their orbits.
The nearest population center was over a hundred miles away to the south, what had looked like a refining facility next to a lake with close packed barracks. Next closest one was two hundred miles to the north, a city from the looks of it.
Mukstet looked at the scans he'd managed to pull of the Precursor vehicles, comparing them to the ones loaded in his striker's IFF. After a little bit he walked over to where Sergeant Kuplo was standing, watching his men who were dug into the ruins of the half-demolished manors.
"Sir?" Sergeant Kuplo asked.
"Do you have your Precursor profiles loaded?" Mukstet asked.
"Yes, sir," the Sergeant said. "Same with the men."
Mukstet held his hand out, palm up, and showed the most common type of Precursor machine that was estimated to be over 5,000 tons. "You have this in your database?"
The Telkan NCO leaned forward, examining it. It had what looked like three snail shells side by side with massive tracks on either side, crawler legs on the side and in front and what looked like a set of jaws up front.
"No, sir. It doesn't match any of my profiles," Kuplo answered. "Where was this taken?"
"Over a thousand of them, from orbit. It's about two hundred meters long and twenty meters wide," Mukstet said. "I've seen something like it before, though."
"Where?" the NCO asked.
"Log Base Gamma, Second Telkan War," Mukstet said. "One large shell at the rear, and made of meat and chitin, but it definitely fits the look."
"You sure, sir?" Kuplo asked. "I was on Telisminia, we mostly had the big layered plate ones."
"I'm sure," Mukstet said. "Which means, these aren't the Precursors from the First Telkan War."
"All right, sir," Kuplo said, nodding slowly. "What's the plan?"
"Give me a few minutes, Sergeant," Mukstet said.
"I'll be over here, sir," the NCO said.
Mukstet walked away, looking at the different types of Precursor machines they'd spotted on the way in, as well as the vessels that they'd passed that had been fighting the Boop and other ships.
More flowing, more like they were patterned off of something living. Lots of mechanical tentacles and pinchers and crab/insect legs. They moved in groups, smaller ones around the big ones, the smallest ones riding on the bigger ones.
These aren't related to the ones from the first war, these are related to those things that came from outer space. Maybe the things made them somehow? Mukstet wondered. A terrible thought bubbled up.
Maybe something else made both?
He looked around. The field was good sized, large enough that all the strikers could be landed on it and then some room. The lake was important, if there was one thing the strikers were it was thirsty. There was plenty of debris to salvage to stuff in the hoppers, the trees on three sides would provide warning of anything large coming in.
I need to think of more than just now. I need to consider that we might not be able to regroup for several days. The strikers will need repair, reloading, remassed. Flight crews will need sleep and food, Musktet thought to himself, looking around.
He checked his armor's database and ran a search string for the terms he needed.
There were six field manuals detailing creation of an operations base. He stood by the lake, looking at the 3D wire-frames, reading the manuals quickly. There were some conflicting thoughts, some stuff that he didn't quite understand.
"Sergeant Kuplo, join me if you would," he sent over the comlink.
"On my way, sir," the NCO said.
It took a few moments for the NCO to join him and he kept scanning the field manuals the whole time.
"You needed me, sir?" Kuplo asked.
"Our current situation is one we've only lightly trained for. I don't doubt we would have trained for it when we arrived here but right now we've got some problems," Mukstet said.
"Aye, sir," Kuplo answered.
"Right now we have no support base. The squadron is based off the Boop, and the Boop is gone. That means right now, all we'd be doing is flying in circles squawking 'DOES ANYONE NEED HELP?' like jumping lizards with their heads cut off," Mukstet said.
"True, sir," Kuplo said, nodding.
"Everyone landed under fire. We passed heavy ground fire repeatedly, which means III Corps and Second Telkan landed into the teeth of heavy fire. Right now, we have a secure area," Mukstet turned and motioned at the field. "We don't know how far we are from any front, but even if this isn't a strategic area for a strike base we can still start a logistics base right here."
"How so, sir?" Kuplo asked.
"Foxtrot-Two-Twenty-Two has bad airframe damage. It's combat capable under the current conditions but to be honest I wouldn't want to have the crew risk it," Mukstet said. "I'm saying we have one active wing at all times, doing recon patrols. Two wings on standby, one on repairs. We pull the nano-forges from Twenty-two, Seventeen, and Eight, and start fabricating the things we need to fabricate a strike base."
Mukstet turned and waved at the area. "We already have construction equipment. You told me that there was construction supplies, that it was obvious something was going to be built out here on top of the Lanaktallan estates that are being torn down. We construct an airfield, rearming point, remassing point. Establish an urgent care clinic, mess hall, and at least get some tents up for sleeping so you don't have to sleep in holes."
Kuplo nodded slowly.
"The Corpsmen on standby will run the urgent care clinic. We've already got wounded little brothers, so we pull the worst wounded to work on building the camp, take the strikers in with the teams we can put together," Mukstet said. He pinged the hasty file he'd put together over to the NCO.
Kuplo turned his hand up, looking at the proposed idea.
"Wish we had something bigger as far as nano-forges go, but the little brothers care capable of damn near miracles with the stuff we've got," Mukstet said. "Right now, we'll break into wing shifts, the ones on standby work on the striker base, one in the air, one grounded. Four wings of four strikers each."
Kuplo nodded. "It could work. Even if we have to abandon the base due to the front shifting or being reassigned another place, digging in is our best bet, at least till the commo channels clear up or we can get something on the command net."
"Let's get it done, Sergeant," Mukstet said.
"Ayut," the NCO said. He put his hand to his helmet to signal he was speaking to the dismount crews.
Mukstet stared at the night around him, made bright as day by the electronics in his suit.
-----------
"Foxtrot-Niner-Two, taking command of Foxtrot Wing One," Mukstet said, checking over his instruments. He knew he'd need to be careful of the port-side graviton generators, but it beat not having the striker up and running.
"Roger, Foxtrot-Niner-Two. You are green to begin mission," Pv2 Dektol, communications technician for the grounded Striker-Twenty-Two said over the headset.
"Establish link with us when you get that commo-antenna up," Mukstet said.
"Roger that, sir," the Pv2, only one rank below Mukstet, said into the mic. "Good luck."
Mukstet got the striker, fully loaded and with a compliment of dismount light scout Marines aboard, into the air. He started moving forward, the rest of the Wing-One following him, then banked to fly low over the lake.
Let's go see if we have any neighbors, Mukstet thought, tabbing up a piece of stimgum.
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submitted by Ralts_Bloodthorne to HFY [link] [comments]

Just finished the Tour du Mont Blanc

So I agreed to go and do the TMB with a couple non-UL friends of mine who had never camped before. One had completed a few long Euro hikes, but had always stayed in refuges. The other had only gone on day hikes. I had sat them down and showed them my alpine kit (9lbs) and discussed with them what was needed and what was not, but ultimately let them find their way. I reminded myself that their enjoyment of the trail will not be lessened if they carried extra weight. They actually did pretty well.
We set out on the 19th June to Chamonix (bear in mind we live an hour away so lockdown does not apply to us, we were fine for this trip). The weather reports were for storms and rain. This so did not happen as we had glorious sunshine every single day bar the first one.
Due to international (ie not EU) border closures, there would be no busloads of tourists lining the trail as usual (this has kept me away from this trail in the past). Because it was early in the season with snow still on the passes, there would be less EU hikers on trail. Because we were going clockwise as opposed to the usual anticlockwise, we would be seeing even less.
We started just above Argentiere at around 9am and started climbing up into Switzerland. Wild camping is strictly illegal in Switzerland. If I am by myself (95% of the time I go prefer to go solo), I am ok with wild camping knowing that I set camp up in the dark and pack up by dawn leaving zero trace. However, as I had company we would be finding this more difficult. The first evening we were offered a spot beside an alpine 'Alpage' - mountain restaurant. The second evening we stopped at an alpine dairy farm and were offered a 'Yurt' to sleep in.
From there, we entered into Italy and easily the most stunning scenery to be found on the TMB. Wild camping was easier and we found incredibly beautiful spots to sleep, much to the excitement of my friends. We had a lot of snow exposure, crossing many mountain passes. We bought microspikes and were happy to have them for a few of them. However, I would have been ok without them too.
I took my typical 3 season kit with me in my Atom 35 and it all worked perfectly. Here's a few observations:
Loved:
Montbell Sun Hoodie - this thing was perfect. It felt cool just wearing it. I only needed sun cream on my nose and lips. It didn't stink as much as I feared it would.
Atom Packs Joey - this belt bag fit quite a few day-to-day things (wallet, sun cream, monocular, toothbrush etc) as well as the stretchy pocket took my map (on which I made notes on possible camp spot for a future solo hike) and my iPhone. I was also able to thread it though two attachments on my Atom 35 when I had a heavier resupply load-out as a hip belt. This worked well, but after a couple meals I ditched the idea again so the bag could be free once more. Good to know it's there though.
Cork massage ball & foam pipe insulation - The cork ball was amazing on my feet and shoulders at the end of the day. The foam pipe insulation was slipped over a lower section of my trekking pole and used to roll out legs. Awesome.
My new shoulder pocket water bottle - I took my 500ml HDPE Nalgene bottle and drilled a hole in the top to insert a short section of tubing with bite valve. The rigidness of the bottle allowed for water to be filtered straight into it without removal. I usually added half a tab of electrolyte pastile to each fill. I could drink without removing the bottle. I also carried in my ditty bag a spare lid for it in case I needed to use it for a hot water bottle or cold soaking (neither which I did on this trip, but would still use this system again).
Solar panel - This was a test for how this would work. I have a 67g solar panel from Aliexpress that I wanted to give a try. I clipped it to the top of my bag each day with my Charmast 10400mAh battery pack attached. The Charmast has 2x USB ports, one USB-C port and a micro for charging It also allows for pass-through charging. Every day was glorious sunshine and the battery was topped off easily by lunch. I even was able to charge 2x GoPro batteries in an afternoon. I think it would very easily be possible to use a smaller 3500mAh battery, but not sure how well it would be if we didn't get the sun we did. Either way it was perfect. We didn't need to find a power point anywhere on trail as I was able to keep all three of us with power the whole week.
Buff - My merino buff was super loved when I could pull it over my eyes when the sun came up at 5:30am. It wasn't used for anything else.
Knee braces - If you have dodgy knees like me (I used to race MTB professionally and have had surgery on both knees), I highly recommend knee braces like these for the descents. The alps are steep up and down. I'm fine on the climbs, but extended steep descents can wreck my knees. These worked amazingly and I never got any knee pain. easy to put on and take off while moving. I stored them in my bottom stretchy pocket.
The OK:
My Plexamid - I love this shelter, I really do. However, the replacement Ti struts for the top panel are pretty strong and one actually pushed through the webbing holding it in. I sorted it out easily, but was pretty thankful it didn't tear a hole in the DCF. However, it worked perfectly for the trail and it fits everything comfortably inside with me.
Atom 35 - This bag is ace. It's a well made bag with all the right features and nothing I don't need. However, the shoulder straps dig in a little on my shoulders, maybe an 'S' shaped curve may be better for me. I love it though and will continue to use it. I had to carry some extra gear (microspikes etc), so I was also pushing the weight limits. Still highly recommend to anyone with a sub 10lb BW.
My Cumulus Primelite Pullover - This puffy was their earlier version with a way way better weight to warmth ratio. It is amazing. So warm and yet still lighter than my Ghost Whisperer. However, it doesn't have hand pockets! I was always trying to put my hands into pockets that weren't there. I think I'll take a sewing machine to it and cut and seal two slits so I can at least have somewhere to put my hands.
Altra Timp 2.0 - I have used and loved the original Timps, so bought the newer versions to try. They are a tad narrower and for some reason rub me wrong. I got a tiny blister between my big toe and second toe and a weird heel blister. Neither affected my trip, but its the first time I've had a blister since shifting to Altras... Plus, after 200km, they are already looking worn on the soles.
The bad:
Thermarest NeoAir XLite - I hate this thing. It is too narrow, too bouncy and too slippery. I have bought a Thermarest Prolite which I was going to take, but swapped it out at the last minute as I couldn't swallow the extra 150g. I made do, but damn that thing is shit.
Contamine down to Les Houches - This section sucks. It's mostly road walking and we had it in 40°C heat.
The not-needed-but-taken:
2l Hydrapak Seeker - I bought this in case we had some dry camps at altitude. Also the BeFree filter fits on it. I never used it. There is water everywhere.
Montbell wind pants - We crossed some freezing and super windy saddles and I never thought to use them. I'll probably leave them out next time, but they do only weigh 80g, so who knows...

Some final thoughts:


Fuck thats a lot of writing.
Let me know if you have any questions.
submitted by Alpinekiwi to Ultralight [link] [comments]

OBLIGATORY FILLER MATERIAL– Just a quickie…

That reminds me of a story.
Yeah, Es and I are still in Dubai. We’re still going slowly out of our minds.
It’s gotten so bad that I actually leave our suite now and again to wander the hotel (too bloody hot to go outside) actually looking around to see if there’s anything to alleviate this tedium.
Maybe, even find someone to talk with…
Yes. Gad. I’m that bored.
Sure, I’m writing about 10-15 very technical pages a day, rounding up my references, bashing out bibliographies and other such scholarly shenanigans for the articles I’ve been asked to publish on my way to my next degree.
But, c’mon, man. I need a fucking break now and again.
And to focus on something greater than 20” away from the tip of my nose.
And there’s nothing here that immediately looks like it needs demolition. Not a blasting cap super-booster or keg of dynamite in sight. I’d wager you couldn’t rustle up a single kilo of C-4 if your life depended upon it.
“Klytus. I’m bored.” And “Forward: Drink!” sort of go together.
So, once again I’m sitting in the Seeker’s Lounge in the Gold Market Bar of the JW Marriott Hotel, in the air-conditioned patio section of course, drinking cold potato juice and citrus cocktails, with lime wheels, of course. Wild Turkey 101 Rye on the side, and full-pint Little Kings Cream Ale beer chasers, hiding from the brutish realities of this increasingly intensely foul year, two thousand and twenty, CE.
The bar is almost empty, save for the bartender and one or two unidentifiable expats growling about the lack of flights, and the ridiculous stringency the airport has saddled travelers with in this age of Pandemic Phobia and COVID Craziness.
I’m smoking my usual double Churchill cigar, having a sip or eleven, lazily looking around the drinking establishment and out over the next-door hotel pool.
The pool is fucking huge.
It extends from the inside, under a half-wall, to the outside of the 29th floor. I’ve been in it on occasion, but venturing outside, nearly 300 feet in the air in a glass-bottomed puddle, sort of overwhelms my inner ear. And my desire to continue metabolizing.
It really does get me all vexed and vertiginous.
So, I reserve my laps for the Jacuzzi in our suite.
That’s a joke, by the way. It’s not that large.
Close. But not quite.
Anyways.
There’s a family outside on the pool veranda. A very handsome African family with the obligatory couple of kids running around, screaming and generally confirming my desire to stay inside where it’s air-conditioned and the drinks are cold and close.
Well, kids will be kids. One is approximately 15 or 16 and the other is 8 or 9. I spoke briefly with Workneh Chernebereck, the patriarch of the family. He was looking rather lost after he wandered into the bar in his flip-flops, bathing attire, and robe.
Pool service here is abysmal with the lockdown and overall 15% hotel occupancy in Dubai right now.
He slowly shuffled in. Since I was the first one he saw, he came over and asked if I thought he could get a couple of cold drinks for him and his family.
“I guarantee it”, I said and gave Shabdiz, the redoubtable Pakistani bartender, the high sign.
Shabdiz came over and with a thumb over the shoulder, I said to give this guy what he wants and put it on my tab.
I’m very gregarious when someone else is paying the bills.
He orders a selection of soft drinks for his family and I tell him that it’s OK here if you want a beer or something stronger by the pool.
“Yeah, it’s a Muslim country, but when there are dollars involved, they tend to look the other way.” I smiled. “You have any proscriptions against drinking alcohol?”
“No, sir. None. ”, he replied.
“Good. Well first, cut out that “sir” shit. Call me Rock.” I smiled and extended my non-cybertronic hand.
‘Work’, as he liked to be called, beamed a dazzlingly-white smile as we shook hands and I offered him a cigar. Work was amazing. Very, very dark; and muscled like a pile of boulders stacked one atop the other. But soft-spoken and evidently educated.
He smiled and accepted my hand. He also grinned canyon-widely when I ordered him a quick beer.
“The wife will never know”, I said in an otiose conspiratorial manner.
Work was from Ethiopia originally but was now in Dubai with his family as he was just hired to be a department manager or something like that for some global telecommunications concern.
“First time an ex-pat?” I asked.
“Oh, yes, sir...umm…Rock”, He said, “I have to admit, it is somewhat disorientating.”
“Schooled in the UK, were we?” I grinned.
“Yes. How did you know?” he asked and sipped his beer while Shab went to get the soft drinks.
“Most normal people would say ‘disoriented’. Brits always add a few extra syllables when words aren’t long enough, evidently.” I say.
“You are correct. Manchester.” Work replies.
“I won’t hold that against you”, I chuckled and wondered where the hell Shab got off to. My glass was all dry and empty.
We laughed and chatted while Shabdiz scouted up some plastic tumblers with lids for the kids out by the pool. Work was a very interesting sort of character. Evidently, Ethiopia has much more in its history than just producing exquisite coffee.
I ask him how long they’ll be at the hotel and explain a bit of what Esme and I are up to. I’m sure Es would be interested in talking with Work and his wife, Moneereh and their two children, Yekameh and Zarrineh, in order of eldest to youngest.
Esme’s like that. She likes to meet new people, chat with them, and find out their story. Besides, she and Tash were in Ethiopia some years back for some American School All Invitational Track and Field thingy.
I scribble my room phone number on my business card.
“If you and Moneereh would like to have some dinner, my treat, just give us a call. My wife and I would enjoy the chance to talk with some new folks.” I said, handing Work my business card.
Work took my card, the drinks, which had now arrived, and replied:
“I will do so. Please to expect a call in the soon time.” He smiled as he headed for the door.
I didn’t know or care if he would. It was a pleasant little diversion for a few minutes. I wouldn’t mind Es and me having dinner with them if the ‘soon time’ came soon enough.
I looked out to the veranda, and Work was pointing my direction as his kids grabbed the drinks and demolished the bowl of bar nibbly bits I sent out with him.
He waved to me. Moneereh waved to me. I waved back.
It was a nice little diversion in a series of long, uneventful diversionless days.
I sat at the bar, drank my drink, smoked my smoke, and futzed with this new Dell Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme computer I got in Dubai Duty-Free.
Esme said it matched our luggage. I was looking for a new portable and well, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquis of Salisbury is your mother’s sister’s husband.

So, I sat at the bar, enjoying another cold libation, a new cigar from the hotel’s walk-in humidor, and playing around with my new toy. I had already transferred the few hundred gigs of dissertation data over and was spending some time fucking around with Zotero and Mendeley. I looked up every now and again to see what Work and his brood were doing.
They were out enjoying the Dubai sun and heat, as they found the hotel, kept at a brisk 26C ‘a bit too chilly for them’.
Gads. They must have lived on the sun if they find this hotel anything but uncomfortably warm.
I note that the lifeguard chair out by the pool is empty. Shabdiz brings me another tot and I ask him about that.
“Shab, last time I went for a swim, there was this asswipe of a lifeguard. Said I couldn’t smoke around the pool. He shut up and left me alone when I pointed out the ashtrays strewn about the deck.” I remarked.
“Yay. Todd. He’s a gomer, that soulless fucker. Never there. Always out getting baked. You know, the ganja man? He’s a pothead. Hotel don’t care because it’s so empty. Most bosses out anyway vacationy.” He relates to me.
“That’s seriously fucked,” I replied and tipped my glass his direction.
“Thanks, boss” Shabdiz says, “It is, how you say, very dusty here today.”
He helps himself to a top-shelf tot on my tab.
I’ve either trained the hotel staff well or I’m a real bad influence on them.
Either way, it keeps my drinks full and iced and my ashtrays empty.
I return to my translations. Damn, my Russian’s gone all to hell and back. Still, it’s keeping me occupied and I have to read these bloody .ПДФ files anyways…
A couple of hours later, I glance over at the pool and see Work and company have departed. I suddenly realize I haven’t visited the euphemism for a couple of hours and my bladder’s sending out an urgent SOS.
I call over to Shabdiz, “Gotta go make a fatter bladder flatter, Shab. Watch my shit for me while I’m gone?”
“Sure, Doc”, San smiles, “Awfally thirsty work watching your shit…”
“Go ahead, you pirate.” I laugh and head off to the head. He taps another tot off the top-shelf for himself.
I’m gone a few minutes. No hurry, quick comb through the locks, a quick comb-comb-comb of the beard and I’m looking my Grizzly Adams best.
Which isn’t all that good. But I care not, he says.
I wander back to the bar and the two ex-pats and Shabdiz are staring out the bar window toward the pool.
“What’s up? I ask. “Another clandestine nude photoshoot?”
“Naw, man”, Shabdiz says, “Looks like a kid’s over in the deep end of the pool. Maybe being in trouble all lonesome there by herself.”
I look out and see a small African child thrashing in the deep end of the pool, obviously in way over her head.
“Holy shit! It’s Zarrineh!”, I say. I tear off the Stetson and toss it on the bar. I rip off my watch and hand Shabdiz that and my wallet.
“Hold these!”
I didn’t wait for an answer.
I was gone as fast as my scarred and battle-worn carriage would allow.
I hit the pool doors, flung them open, and did a pretty creditable aging Johnnie Weissmuller maneuver into the pool.
One thing about being from Baja Canada and growing up cheek-by-jowl with the greatest of the Great Lakes. Everyone there knows how to swim like the state fish, the mighty muskellunge, by the time they can walk.
I am no exception.
I may be old, beat-up, MS-addled, scarred, keloided, and road-weary, but I can swim like a goddamned narwhal.
Take that, Johnny Tremain.
I was under the divider and suddenly outside, some 300’ directly above the distant pavement in a motherfucking glass-bottomed pool.
Fuck that. There’s a kid in danger. That’s my first priority.
Two strokes later, I’ve got her around the waist, facing away from me. I’ve enough natural buoyancy to keep both of us out of the danger zone; even though she’s thrashing around and clearly panicked.
All those years of API RP T-7 offshore survival training and HUET drills come flooding back like a tsunami.
“Zarrineh! I know your father! Calm down. I’m a trained rescuer, not some dingbat off the boardwalk. Settle down, I’ll get us out of here. But you’ve got to help me. Now, Zarrineh, chill out or whatever you kids say these days. I got you. Let me do my thing” I said, in calm, clear, reassuring registered tones.
She turns to look at me.
I’m surprised she didn’t faint or go completely bananas.
I must have been a sight. A sodden, soaking, gray 1/3rd of ZZ Top.
“I’m a very young Ethiopian child and this old, very large, very white behemoth has me around the waist.” She must have been thinking.
“But he talks nice. I guess I’ll listen to him. Not much else I can do.” I would suppose her inner dialogue was going.
She calmed down, and we just bobbed there for what seemed like a few minutes. It was actually probably all of 60 seconds, but I was doing a quick assessment to see if she swallowed any water and was going to dry-drown on me once I got her to the side.
“OK. That’s much better. Zarrineh. Are you OK? Swallow any water? Can you breathe OK?” I asked.
“Yes. Sir. I’m OK. No water. Just got too deep so fast. Floor is slippery. Now I’m OK sir”, she said, much calmer.
“Call me Rock”, I said. “Let’s get out of here. I’ll swim backward and hold you, you just go along with the flow. OK?” I asked.
“OK, Rock. We go.”, she said, absolutely calm.
I slowly paddled over to the divider, and we slipped silently under. The water’s much shallower here and I just kind of instinctively sort of aim for the side when my feet hit bottom. A few more feet and I can stand up.
I gently undo my death-grip on her and stand up. I pick her up bodily and set her, feet-first, on the side of the pool.
“Give me a minute”, I say, “I’m an old cigar smoker. It takes me a minute to work up a head of steam to get out.”
I get out and take her over to a poolside lounge chair.
I have her sit and I go over her vitals, as best as observation and inquiry allow. She hadn’t aspirated any water nor had any in her lungs, that much was clear. She looked scared but OK.
“Looks like I got there just in time”, I said.
“It got so deep so fast”, she said. “I’m a good swimmer and told daddy I’d stay on this side of the pool. There was even a lifeguard here. He left, and I didn’t think it was so slippery and deep.” She said, somewhat shakily.
“See?”, I said, “Your parents set rules for reasons. But, you’re OK and I’ll bet you won’t do that again.”
I give the high sign to Shabdiz for him to call hotel security.
There’s supposed to be a lifeguard here.
Someone’s just catapulted himself onto my shit list.
“So, you’re OK. That’s the main thing. Bet I scared you when you were thrashing around out there. The look on your face when I grabbed you was priceless”, I chuckled.
“I was scared. Ascared of drowning and scared of you. You’re so big and old and…hairy. And white. Then you grabbed me…” she said, stiffening a bit.
“Yeah, hey. I’m all that”, I chuckled.
“But you knew my name. You said you knew my daddy. Then I didn’t have ascared anymore. I knew I was OK.” She smiled at me.
Fuck if something tough inside didn’t melt a little at that declaration.
“That’s what’s important.” I said, “Ah, blast. Could you hand me that towel?”
She did and I ripped off my left-hand glove.
My new techno-digits are supposed to be waterproof, but that’s yet to be seen. Shower? OK. Jacuzzi? No worries. Full-on laps in the pool? Ummm…
I removed the sodden leather glove and dried off my Kevlar-ed faux-fingers…

“Nope”, I exhale heavily, “Everything’s OK.”
Zarrineh stares mouth-agape at my left hand. She sees all the keloids, the scarring, the mangled paw, and those outrageous black fingers in that ever so white hand.
“Oh, sorry. Industrial accident. Years ago. These are new, just got them. Still trying to figure them out.” I say.
She stands and stares.
“Don’t be scared. They’re just replacements for the ones I lost in Russia years ago.” I said.
“What do they do?” She asks.
“Same things yours do, just a bit faster and more strongly”, I said, flexing them so she could see how they work.
“That is so cool! Wait until I tell Yekameh!” she squealed, “I got rescued by a robot man.”
“Cyborg-American, if you please.” I chuckled.
Right at that moment, a certain Todd showed up.
He walks right past us and heads towards his chair.
“Hey, Chuckles. You work here?” I asked.
“Well, duh!”, he scoffs.
“Were you supposed to be on duty over the last hour?” I asked.
“Yeah. There wasn’t hardly no one here. I left for a bit.” He slurred.
“Oh, really. You always leave when there are young kids alone in the pool?” I quizzed him.
“There weren’t no one here”, he said with bacon-shot eyeballs.
“You were out getting high, weren’t you?” I asked.
“Yeah. So the fuck what?” he scoffed.
“The fuck about doing your job, asshole. I usually don’t swim in a Hawaiian shirt and Chinos, you prolapsed fuckhole. I was in the bar and saw Zarrineh here drowning in the deep end. I had to jump in to get her before she died. That’s what the fuck about, you shithead sumbitch!” I growled.
“Ah, yeah? One less pickaninny, more or less. Big deal.” He scoffed and tried to turn to leave.
“YOU SORRY COCKSUCKER!” I roared, reached out and grabbed him by the neck.
He was such a fucking pipe stem, I swear my new fingers could have wrapped twice around his scrawny collar.
I lifted this asshole bodily off the ground, by the throat.
I dragged him to within 10 centimeters of my face and snarled:
“You want to ever take another goddamned breath, you apologize to this young lady like your life depends on it. Because it fucking damn well does!” I snarled.
I hadn’t been this seeing-red angry for many, many years.
It was most refreshing.
“I’m so..sorr…sorry…” he croaked.
“Um, Rock, I think you’re crushing his little neck bones there”, a voice from behind me says.
I turn to look and it’s Work.
“This cocksucker…out getting high…Zarrineh was in trouble…he…made me angry. Very angry indeed.” I said.
‘That we can see”, Work says, “Zarrineh’s OK, Rock. Let it go.”
“’ Let it go?’ What a great idea.” I said, walked over to the pool and threw the miscreant as hard as I could at the wall divider.
Fucking gravity got the better of the situation. Either that or I’m losing my arm. Whatever the case, he made a sufficiently satisfactory splash upon re-entry.
“Asshole!”, I spat in his general direction.
He was already crawling out of the pool, on the opposite side, and slinking away like the soggy ferret he was, towards his perch.
“Yeah, you fucking Jobbernowl! Like now is a good time to watch an empty pool. You clodpate!” I go all archaic when I’m really spitting angry.
Work and Zarrineh are talking. I wander over, splotching over in my soaked shirt and sodden shorts.
“Rock, Zarrineh just told me. Thanks. Thanks so much, we owe you the world.” He said.
‘Well, probably wasn’t the brightest idea to leave her here alone.” I mentioned, cautiously. No need to add insult to near-miss injury.
“There was supposed to be a lifeguard here.” He said, “But You’re right. We’re all a bit muddle-pated with all the flying.”
“That’s a good word.” I chuckled, “However, all’s well that ends well. Let me go terrorize Todd a little more. That was fun. I haven’t had that much fun in a while.”
Work talks me out of having a spot more fun just as hotel security, a day late and a dollar short, shows up and asks “Right. What’s all this then?”
I tell the tale of how Todd was AWOL and Zarrineh, as any inquisitive 8 year-old would be, was checking things out. She got into a spot of bother, how I jumped in, and rendered aid.
“That’s all”, I said, “Except for that Todd motherfucker cowering over there!”
“Sir!”, the hotel security guard exclaimed."Language!"
“That’s right. I tossed that ignoramus knucklehead in the pool, only because I didn’t think to toss him off the fucking ledge first. After he was derelict of duty and very nasty and bigoted to this young lady.” I said.
“Is that so? And you are?” he asked.
“I’m the Motherfucking Pro from Dover, Scooter. I’m DOCTOR Rocknocker, a native of these here parts. And I don’t like skinny, little douchebag job-toking retards. Especially when they’re out fucking off, and leaving a child alone in a huge, dangerous pool.” I replied.
“Ah, yes. Doctor. Sorry, sir. Didn’t recognize you sopping. We’ll look into this. Thank you. “ he said and shuffled off Todd-ward.
Work and Zarrineh were sitting on a chaise lounge, and she was telling her daddy of the big, crazy-haired white guy that hit the water like an angry erne, grabbed her in the deep end, calmed her down and got her back to safety and out of the pool.
“All while Todd, the sorry…scumbucket, was out toking up.” I snarled Toddward.
He leaped back seeing me giving him the stick-eye.
“Rock”, Work, says, “What can I say? But I thank you. I owe you a huge debt. We owe you a debt that cannot be repaid.”
“Look, let’s your family and mine do dinner.” I say, “That way, we can call it even.”
“How is that even?” He asked.
“It’s even in my book”, I said, “Since I’m currently writing a book, that’s the way it is.”
Work looks at me puzzling. Zarrineh breaks the tension by mentioning to her dad that she was rescued by a robot-man.
I hold up my left hand and waggle my fingers.
“Industrial accident. Years ago. New techno-fingers. All your base are belong to us.” I chuckled.
Now Work thought I was really off the deep end.
We shook hands and I slogged back to the bar.
Shabdiz was there with the bar manager.
“We saw what you did.” The Arab manager, one Mohammad, said.
“Don’t worry. I don’t charge extra for the show.” I lamely replied.
“Shabdiz here watched your gear. Your bar bill is paid. We thank you.” he said.
“That’s mighty nice of you. Thanks. Twernt nothin’. I’d do the same for either of you.” I laughed. “Just make sure that Todd asshole finds employment elsewhere, like Afghanistan.”
I gathered up my gear and splooped off to the elevator.
“Ding dong”, dinged the doorbell.
My hands were full, I didn’t want to bother searching for the key.
“Yes? Rock, what the hell?” Es says as she opens the door.
“I was bored. I went swimming.” I replied.
“Get in here. You’re making a mess.” Esme commanded.
After changing into some dry duds, Es had a very tall, very cold libation waiting for me.
“OK, give”, she commanded.
So, I told her the story, in full three-part harmony.
“Whatta bastard.” She exclaimed, referring to Todd. “I’m surprised he’s still breathing.,”
“Yeah. Pity stayed my hand. It’s a pity I didn’t want to talk to the local constabulary if I killed him. At least, he’ll be off breathing somewhere’s else. He’s lost his job for certain. At most, he’s breathing on a jet plane, taking him back to Schmoeland or from wherever the fuck he originated”
“Good. Dubai’s got enough assholes as it is without importing more.” Es smiles.
Esme Rocknocker knows the score.
I go back to work on my dissertation/paper for ‘Precambrian Research’ magazine.
Esme is busying herself doing jigsaw puzzles.
I loathe and despise jigsaw puzzles. Long story. Remind me not to tell you about it some time.
The phone rings. It’s for me.
“Work! How are you and yours?” I ask.
“I am calling to see if you and your wife would like to meet me and my family in the Al Cadence restaurant around 1900 hours tonight. Our treat.” He asks.
“No. Sorry. Can’t make it tonight.” I reply.
“Tish tosh. Tomorrow?” He asks.
“Nope. Can’t do it.” I reply.
“OK, you tell me the time.” He says.
“Time’s got nothing to do with the situation. We’re not going if I’m not paying.” I said.
“Rock. You can’t. We owe you so much….we can’t let you pay” Work protests.
“I’m on retainer with a generous expense account and per diem,” I say.
Silence for two ticks.
“So, tonight at 1900 hours then. We’ll all be there.” He laughs.
“See you then.” I chuckle back.
“Esme! Break out your good Sunday-go-to-dinner duds. We’re going out and hit the town. Or a restaurant, actually.” I say loudly.
“With Work and Moneereh?” she asks.
“Yep. Should be interesting., They’re from Ethiopia. You and Tash were there, right?” I said.
“Oh, yes”, Es whooshes, “I remember their food. Holy wow! Was that hot!”
“Esme, my darling. You think ketchup is hot.” I replied.
“I remember you tearing up over that bottle of hot yellow-pepper sauce I brought back from Addis Ababa, so don’t go here.” She scolded.
She was right. That stuff was thermonuclear. Nice, fruity, and 6.023x106 Scovilles. It hurt so good.
“Hmmm…better check the restaurant. See the cuisine de jure." I said. “Hope it’s not TexMex.”
“Remember, they might not drink. If they don’t, you can’t either. Wouldn’t be right.” Es admonishes.
“No worries, my dear. I’ve already done my homework. No such problems here.” I said, having already vetted the situation in the bar with Work.
“Good.” She replies, “But remember now, if they order a well-done steak, it’s not polite to toss them out of a high window.”
“Of course, of course. “ I replied, “I’ll just dangle them for a brief time.”
They ordered lamb and chicken that evening. Es had her a nice filet mignon.
They ruined all my fun. Although it was a splendid evening.
Zarrineh insisted I show her sister my electro-digits. “They’re so cool.”
Yekameh was less than impressed. “Nice.”
Teenagers. Am I right?
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JoJo's Bizarre Adventure OC Tournament #5: Round 1 Match 20: Casey Williams and Manta Malaise?

The results are in for Match 18.
The game was lasting quite a long time, with Red Carpet Renaissance’s more aggressive playstyle hardly giving the room to breathe to the carefully-crafted tactics of the Sharp Lookers, but those very same plans at once keeping them from finding themselves getting clicked.
Violet Lange was watching, still, invested in how the hell this could keep on going, what might finally turn the tides, only for her cell phone to vibrate, a text message appearing on it from a contact registered under: “C. Williams”
waiting at docks
we still on?
“Oh, shit, what time is it?” Violet glanced upwards slightly, and cursed again as she realized what hour and minute read. “Yeah, I gotta go. Uh…” She waved at the ongoing game. “See ya ‘round, guys, you’ve been totally great!”
Nobody noticed her walk away.
Nobody wins! For an equal score of 66, everyone’s time was wasted!
Category Winner Point Totals Comments
Popularity Sharp Lookers 19-10 Things seemed even for most of the voting period, with many of the votes being split, but late into it, a modest number of Sharp Lookers votes translated into a massive lead. For the first time, this resulted in votes splitting perfectly by .5s when the division was done, and since it would mean taking a point away from one side to give it to the other, that thirtieth pop point simply vanishes into the aether…
Quality Red Carpet Renaissance 20-22 Reasoning
JoJolity Red Carpet Renaissance 17-24 Reasoning
Conduct TEAM 10-10
Half an hour later…
“Uh… Kisa?” Masa asked, earning his partner’s attention. “You know how I said I’d watch the girl to make sure she didn’t pull somethin’ weird?”
“Hm?” Kitose Saiko turned to face his friend, and noticed the lack of anybody he was standing beside. “Oh my god. How… How, Masa?”
“I dunno!” He answered, sounding similarly bewildered, waving his hands as Kisa, in his frustration, lit up the entire remaining pack of his cigarettes and took a drag from each of them at once. “She just sorta… Was gone when I stopped paying attention.”
“The woman is… Gone.” Dimitri was incredulous as well. “And there goes our hints on this Black Angel! The library is surely closed by now, so we’ve wasted a day and this town knows we’re looking.”
pranked again… violet lange, u r officially… epic
As Nebula’s synthetic voice remarked that and moved to silence, Ace couldn’t help but laugh. “Vitus is gonna be pissed too, that we were dragged off to play some game instead of tailing Peres… Haahhh, man, what were we thinking? This was her job, I bet. She just needed to waste our time awhile, get us heated and fighting each other, throwing piss around and playing dirty… Gave us the slip soon as our attentions were off her. Well played, I must admit… Well played…”
“Distracting us from the Black Angel…” Dimitri stroked his chin. “And also from Peres? But I remember Laverne saying the Black Angel vigilante was banned from the Devil Blue, the hotel she works at. What could the common thread between them be..?”
“Well, I’m annoyed too… Don’t just bail on an agreement you make…” Masa answered, before adding with a slight smile. “But hey, in some good news…” He held up a gift card, waving it between his fingers. “She left the CaraMel’s gift card, 200 USD just like she said, and that place? Not just to die for, from when Ray came back with stuff from there the other day, but I hear the ‘goss’ is ‘hot’ there too, as she said in that super-exaggerated little Valley Girl voice. What say I claim this card and treat you all? Call it a, uh… Ceasefire, for now.”
gonna be annoyed if its stale by the time i can actually eat it
but ok sounds good
The game of assassin was fruitless, but the fruits of an assassination are still born, and two pairs of Stand Users fight to protect their local leaders from them. There’s still about a day to vote in that when this goes up.
Scenario:
South Aurelio - East of the Wormwood
“I am so sorry, I just lost track of time… I got these four roped into this big assassin game, and I didn’t wanna bail, but…”
Not long after Violet Lange officiated that little college game and the evening began to roll in that, again she found a Stand User’s company. Casey Williams, MFA member, sat in the passenger seat of a vibrant purple convertible, occasionally staring either at passing suburban scenery in the transition between the college town and suburban hellscape, or the way her companion’s lavender scarf billowed in the wind.
“Look, I get it, I get it, shit happens, especially ‘round Midnight Sun. You don’t need to explain.” After a few moments of silence, tapping her hands against the outer door of the car as her arm hung over the window, Casey spoke up. “I, uh… Didn’t expect you to call me, but Kirk vouched for you. Why me, for… Whatever this is?”
Violet had, that morning, asked Casey to aid her in an investigation after she finished up with some shit she had to do on campus, and still now, had said very little about what was going on sans its importance. “I trust you… For the same reason I took over the bifrost server, and the same reason I revealed myself to your team. André had faith in you all to do what was best, and, well, I have no idea what to do but follow his lead and use what power I have to do it. As for you in particular… I want to work with somebody my age, basically. No more than that.”
“If you trust me so much,” Casey said, looking to the river to her left as the pair drove along a road opposite it, admiring how the setting sun reflected upon its rippling waves, “why haven’t you told me what we’re doing, then? You sounded like it was important, so I agreed to hear you out, but you’ve still been cagey.”
“I wanted it to be in person, while we were speeding along,” Violet explained, looking out upon the road still, briefly glancing off in the distance and seeing a manor across the water, braking for a moment and pointing towards it. “See that house by the riverbank there?”
She handed Casey a pair of binoculars, and the latter surmised, “looks like a dump.”
“From the outside, and nobody has owned it for thirty years, yet…” She paused, as if she was about to say a name and reconsidered. “My contact - a high-schooler who comes and goes late at night, you wouldn’t know them, and I’m purposefully leaving them out of this, but I can vouch for their reliability - says that sometimes, late at night, delivery trucks bring perfectly good furniture to the bridge just North of here, and by morning, they seem to have just disappeared into the ground. I dunno if you pay attention to the news, but there’s a ‘Serial Killer’ who operates in this town, and besides that… Sixteen people who disappeared in this area are still missing, and haven’t had their bodies identified. The more research I’ve done lately, I’m completely certain of it. That ‘abandoned residence’ must be the ‘lair’ of this killer! It’s certainly big enough to hold that many people and then some… So I plan to break in.”
“Serial killer..?” Casey’s head tilted slightly, then, suddenly, the words hit her as Violet resumed her drive. “Wait, what? So even if you’re right, you’re just gonna bust down this guy’s door without knowing what he’s capable of? Why this? Why you, and so covert?”
“Because I’ve spent my life sneaking and slipping by to survive, clinging to stronger people. Because I used to roll with the kind of scum who would use Stands to do whatever the hell they wanted like we were better than everyone else. Because the last time I tried to get someone to take care of this killer, all she did was kill an innocent man in front of me! I’m tired of just being an ‘extra,’ moving pieces around and waiting in place, Casey. I’ve said that I just want to survive, but a friend of mine, every day, fights tooth and nail to make this place better. I’m going to be an adult and try, goddammit, and if you don’t want to do the same, I can just drop you off, and-”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Casey continued, raising her hand up, and then offering Violet a confident little smile. “When did I say I was going to refuse? Hell, lives are on the line, pedal to the metal! I hear this town has like two cops, and I sure don’t see either of them around!”
“That’s what I like to hear…” Violet’s own lips curled upwards slightly, and she stepped on the gas. “We’re gonna totally tear shit up today.”
They drove along the bridge in silence from there, Casey contemplating things as they sped along, occasionally stealing glances towards the house just what was now South of them. Not long after, though, she began to grow uncomfortable, pulling her shirt’s collar over her nose. “Eugh… What’s that smell now? We pass a dead skunk or something?”
“That’s… I know this smell. That isn’t a skunk.” Violet gave a glance to her rear-view mirror, and her face stiffened. “Casey… Get out of the car, now! Ditch it!”
“What? What is-” Casey stammered, surprised and trying to hurriedly work her seatbelt off as Violet began to jerk the vehicle around, as if intended on steering the thing straight into the river. As she did so, she glanced behind her, and though the rising shape of a figure on the back of the car was hard to make out in the twilit evening, there was certainly a massive, and vaguely humanoid, and there were eyes on her.
There were so many eyes.
Slightly down the Wormwood River…
Ah, the Wormwood River. This massive landmark is a symbol of Los Fortuna in many ways. It came to exist during the city’s foundational years, it runs from the Northernmost mountains into the city itself, and quite symbolically, it splits the affluent Eastern portions of the city, highly regarded centers of culture and quality of life, with the Western, the environmentally unclean, the poorer, the portions of the city in which the greatest safety and stability comes from being within the care of a territorial gang which has earned the ire of countless other districts.
This divide was sharp and clear in the way it split the affluently beloved outer suburbs of the Woods of Aurelio, whose schools, fine homes, esteemed country club, golf course, town hall, and most of the town’s voting centers all sat in the East.
Manta Malaise thought this symbol of all which they sought to destroy a poetic place to take their pollution this evening.
“This Metropolis which is so very very burdensome to me, and this humble hamlet so tantalizingly close to it nearby,” they began aloud, just in the off chance somebody was around to hear it (and if not, rehearsal was always useful), while the diesel-burning gas-guzzling pickup truck they purchased on the resort’s tab began dumping a container’s worth of sand and grit, “I have heard it said that this location in which we are entrapped it on the decline… Yet nay, I say. At least, nary the full picture… This place is but a microcosm of all that surrounds it, a more blatant case of all that is true elsewhere, as well… A fine example for the world, it will make.”
As they spoke, a ripped-away purple car door floated by on the river, distracting them from speaking about how, if they repeat this process for a few weeks (maybe buy a new car every time), they would be able to kill the fish eggs and microorganisms that make up the key bottom of the river life’s food chain, eventually add nitrogen to the mix to toxically increase ugly and deadly algal growth, and aloud, they spoke “curious… That is a recognizable door of a quality automobile… To whom might it belong? Ah, no matter!”
Seconds later, a bloodied figure with several open wounds along its back burst from the water, clinging to dear life to the floating door and beginning to kick in Manta’s direction with surprising strength. He seemed to have tall blond hair, green pants, and a sleeveless shirt, though those all were obviously soaked and stained both with water and blood. As he reached the shore nearby them, within the range of ‘Morgana Courts Danger’, he gasped and turned onto his wounded back.
The young man who floated towards Manta Malaise said nothing, and did not even seem to notice the effects of their proximity as they approached and turned him around to get a look at the other side of the sleeveless shirt-clad figure. The life was fading from the blond man’s eyes, and his lips trembled, a faint grin on them. He did not say a word, but as Manta looked down, they realized that the phrase on the outfit he wore said more about his final feelings, the state of his body, than his voice ever could.
Ouch!
“What… What on this fetid dying earth is going on here?” They weren’t concerned, per se, but curious about the sudden arrival of this man.
He continued not speaking, bringing a trembling hand up and away, pointing softly with a single finger Southwards, slightly - towards a shabby-looking abode.
“Do you… Mean to send me there?”
His strong lips curled into a serene smile, his hand dropped, and his eyes closed.
“Nghh… I had not the time to have his final sounds heard in life a rejection of this quest, perished for naught…” Manta remarked aloud, gritting their teeth. “As if I would simply traipse towards what is not my business… Though, how did he get here through the water? He seemed to appear so suddenly…”
They looked towards their truck. The motor was still running, but it had emptied its load fine. “I am curious,” they remarked, and so, after cranking the heat and AC of the vehicle as high as it could go, they abandoned it, diving into the water to see where this dead lad may have come from.
???
Casey awoke to that same odor again, but less severely so, in an uncomfortable, unsheeted mattress in what appeared to be a bunk room of sorts. As she rose, she had to avoid scraping her arm on a rusty spring, rubbing her eyes all the while.
“Nngh, what’s..?” She looked around, and after glancing past her a few times, saw Violet laying in a similar situation, a bizarre metal collar around her neck poking out behind the scarf, but otherwise looking unharmed. “Violet..! Wake up, Violet!”
“Nnghh… What’s..?” She sat up, feeling around for her beret and putting it on, glancing at Casey. “You’ve got a weird collar on you, Casey…” She felt at her own neck, then. “Oh.”
“Look out for those things,” a casual-sounding, low voice uttered, earning the attention of the pair; a woman with dark, wavy hair and a velvet dress was filing her nails on one of the springs. Nearby her sat a cone-haired, dirty-blond high schooler, built like a football player and a varsity away from dressing like it. “When ‘that person’ brings in a ‘Stand User,’ they get a collar like that… Likes to make up little game rules, and if they break ‘em or leave, uh…” She jerked her thumb towards a far-off wall of the room filled with a few dozen bunks, in which a bloody, smoky outline shaped like a person outstretched was dried against the wall. “Poor bastard didn’t listen because the floor wasn’t literally lava… Hey, don’t jump now, yeah? That’s not the game being played right now.”
“Palmer, you’re scaring the hell out of them, and that really isn’t useful right now… We’re going to get out soon, I’m sure of it,” another young woman’s voice called out, and as the voice seemed familiar, the face confirmed it. Though her long neat hair was short in an uneven cut, the blue blazer’s sleeves were destroyed, and the bowtie was loose, it was absolutely TV personality Jillian Heart.
“Jill..?” Violet asked, tone lightening up immensely.
She took a moment to process that, but then nodded. “Hey, Lange. You and Reed doing alright? And, uh, this a friend of yours?”
“Yeah, hi,” Casey answered, “Casey Williams… College student.”
“She’s cool, yeah,” Violet promised, looking around, “where’s Chad? Not like him to run off…”
“That’s why we’re getting out soon,” Jill answered, happily, “we noticed it when you two were brought in! Broke open this statue in the courtyard and found a waterway that ‘Worm’ - that’s what the killer goes by here - has to have been using to get in and out. They have one of those ‘Stands,’ but we all can see it, so they wear it like a costume and it guards them… But Chad’s the strongest person here, and he’s been our rock through all of this! After Worm left again, he volunteered to go through it and find help, and with him, that means it’s as good as done!”
“I see… So that makes how many people left here, then?” Casey started counting on her fingers.
“Sixteen, minus you two,” Miss Palmer answered, “I’m, uh… Palmer, by the way. Drama teacher at the high school out here. Same story as everyone else here, more or less… Bet the Superintendent’d be happy to hear Elton here and Swift Taylor are still alive, though.”
‘Elton’ said nothing, still, simply sitting there, while Jill took over a bit to talk about the place.
“I think I’m gonna start getting the lay of the land, then…” Casey said, feeling the need to take the initiative. “I’ve still got my Stand with me, thankfully, and if we can’t leave just because help shows up, that means we’re gonna have to fight to get out when this killer shows.”
“Careful,” Jill warned, “there’s traps all over the damn place here… And ‘Worm’ changes them when we’re not looking, just like they change the furniture, or what doors lock how. Makes everyday in this big house hell, and it’s worst of all around the edges. Makes up most of how people die here…”
“I’ll be careful,” Casey said with a nod, stepping out into the halls of the bizarre home.
The underwater corridor Chad had needed to swim through to get out was brutal, and even Manta Malaise had felt tense handling it. Over four meters underwater, less than two meters wide, and the top of the dark, dirty, dank area was lined with rusty nails, blades, and the blood of the man who had attempted it, across a forty-meter stretch of water - slightly shorter than an Olympic swimming pool, but so much more claustrophobic, and with pressure much higher.
They managed it, however, and were they able to speak now, would have commended the amateur cameraman who only swam as a summertime hobby for managing fatally what they were able to get through unscathed carefully. At the end of this gauntlet was a straight shot up, illuminated by moonlight, and so, Manta hurried upwards, taking a breath as they surveyed the area they had come out in.
It was a large fountain on the Eastern end of a long, statue-decorated courtyard full of thorny ground. The crumbled, destroyed remains of such a statue, presumably having once sat atop this passage, was now in pieces, only a pair of outstretched arms on either side of them.
“Look out, you damnable fool! The arms, the arms!!” A theatrical voice called out, and Manta looked its way to see a figure in a top hat, three-piece suit, and black cape with a handlebar moustache and unibrow, and before they could process it, an automated voice emerged from the crumbled head at the fountainside.
Flow 24 Detected
The stone arms seized their neck firmly, and so soon after they had breathed, they could not again. It was no matter for their strong arms to easily smash these damaged ones of stone, however, and soon, they crumbled and descended into the deep. However, Manta felt a new weight around their neck nonetheless; a metal collar.
“So… You are the ‘help’ that damned Kroeger sought? Imposing and impressive-looking for sure, but entrapped like the rest of us now.” The dapper fellow complained.
“Who are you to criticise me, when you yourself are enraptured in this place as well?” Manta asked, spying the man twirling his moustache and moving to do the same with their own facial hairs as if in challenge.
“You dare insult Los Fortuna Parking Lot Magnate Born Bad? I was celebrating turning a GarfieldEATS into one, when I thought I might make my next grand step the transformation of the entire Wormwood River into the world’s largest parking lot as well!” Bad was twirling his moustache hard enough one might have thought it would catch alike. “It would have been a fortune for me, and a record for parking lot-kind!”
“That would destroy the ecosystem of all of Los Fortuna, you know… Ingenious, if more brazen and avant-garde than I might have done,” Manta answered, “tell me now. What have I been caught in?”
Through much villainous posturing, Born Bad explained similar basics of the situation to Manta that Jill had for Casey.
“So my own curiosity has laid me in this ‘Worm’s’ tunnels… Yet, at once, I think it will do to undo this as well. Entrapment here stands in my mission’s way.”
That conversation was cut short by the sound of the Westernmost balcony opening its doors, several meters above them, and a young woman with brown hair, eyes, and skin was looking down at them. She appeared, at once, confused and intimidated by their presence, which was the response Manta generally wanted to evoke.
“Hey, you! Are… Did Chad send you?” Casey asked, clearing her throat. “How is he? Is he alright?”
“If you mean the youth who died luring me here without a word, he is certainly deceased… And has caused for me a definite predicament of a pickle.”
“Wh…” She sounded taken aback. “He’s dead? H-how can you sound so indifferent? That guy risked his life to get help for us, and-”
“And I knew him not, and he got me trapped here. Why should I shed tears for his passing?”
Before this argument could escalate further, a large, pristine-quality monitor which framed the upper Northern wall of the courtyard turned on on its own, and in it, was an image of the entrance foyer of the manor. Slowly, from its floor, that that thing Casey saw before emerged, idly twirling a saber in its hand and lifting it over its head as it leaped several meters into the air.
(Shout-outs to Skelly-tan for this art!)
A voice, both distorted and gargling yet perfectly coherent spoke from its wide maw. “Good evening, everybody, thanks for tuning in! It’s me, you all know me, your hero, the Conqueror Worm! Let’s give it up for our guests tonight… We’ve got a lot going on for our last big ‘game night!’ That’s right, you heard me, last one! Much as doin’ what I have here has been fun, after this, I mean to move onto bigger and better things… But I’ll never forget this place, pinky-promise!”
There was a sort of twisted, uncanny elegance to the way ‘Worm’ paced around, both as if it were limping in agony and gliding effortlessly, the camera focused on it at all times.
“Yep, Aurelio, you heard me right… Conqueror Worm is done bein’ your killer! The lot of you left in here are the end of a generation, and y’all are absolute treats to work with! So, with three Stand Users here, good an’ collared and here to have a time and a half, let’s make this a grand finale for the BOOKS! Stand Users,” it pointed its blade towards a small entranceway behind it, “that door there is locked, but also, in the right circumstance, the one way you’re gettin’ off my property without explodin’ into funny lil’ chunks! See!”
The screen, then, turned into a showing of two maps of the building, with several spaces highlighted. “I just got finished slitherin’ around droppin’ off three ‘chips’ which ya scan against your own specific collars, and then, if you’ve unlocked that mini-foyer behind me, boom! They’re off, and you’re free! I just gotta make sure you die before then, and I can do it with ease! With this body of mine, I can grab anything, put it in there, and pass through any surface I can fit on, see! And to the first person t’get out of it alive? A SPECIAL gift’ll come!”
“Didn’t mention the master key?” Another voice asked.
“Well no I didn’t, but no way they can get that offa-” The camera returned to its view of Worm, though Violet was standing directly behind it, directly waggling a keycard in between her fingers. Not much further back, Jill was covering her mouth with clear amusement. “Wh- Why you!” He swung at her with her blade, and she dodged back, and Worm threw his head back and laughed. “Well, I’ll be… How’d you manage t’pull that off? That’s on MY person, INSIDE here!”
“I started to steal things just for the rush and attention of it when I was seven years old,” Violet said something then, which the audio blurted out and her mouth was off-camera for, but the sound of which shook Worm to his core, his laughing growing slightly incredulous. As she did, she swiped the card over her collar, and it clanked to the ground in pieces. “Yeah, that’s right, I figured out exactly who you are… and now your whole audience knows.”
“I mean sure, think that if y’want!”
“Right… You probably censored it then.” She pouted, then struck a cool and casual pose. “No matter… I’ll just show them your corpse.” A big bushy white hound emerged from Violet’s person, then, ethereal and snarling and beautiful, and she called out, “This is the start of a new me! ‘Forgive and Forget’ is putting you down, Worm!”
As the Stand-dog rushed forward, he chuckled. “Keep runnin’ into white Stand-dogs lately, huh… It’s gonna end for you like it did the last one, too! You shoulda just run!”
F&F leapt into the air, taking aim for the throat underneath Worm’s pungent armor, but he lifted one arm, and as fangs sunk into that, his other swung its blade.
Violet’s face went wide-eyed and pale, and she looked down at herself, clutching her stomach and noticing how red poured out.
“Ooh, did I reach bone there? Tough break…” Worm pulled back the blade, removing it from Forgive and Forget’s midsection as the white dog dropped to the ground before its user, fading away as she fell to her knees. “Aw, y’didn’t realize? This ‘Saber of the Gold Knight’ I perma-borrowed from our local museum ain’t just a conversation-starter… I wouldn’t take it for no good reason at all!”
“Violet..?” Jill asked, stepping back towards another room, too afraid of Worm to rush to her friend’s aid. “What… What even happened? Worm swung at the air, and… And…” Panicking, despite her resolve, Jill ran into the other room, a look of clear terror and guilt on her face.
“…I dunno, blanked out there!” Worm chuckled a bit, shaking off its bitten, uninjured-looking arm and retracting the sword inside its own fetid rolls of rotten off-white flesh. “But whatever happened, that’s ONE down!” He kicked Violet into a corner to the sound of her whimpering and sighed, pacing around a bit as he held up his master keycard and sucked that, too, up in his person. “Won’t cause me much trouble like that, but I know the other two of ya are in my courtyard… Funny startin’ place, since I like to use that place for when a guest wants to just say ‘I give up! End it here!’ Real useful tool for that bit of mercy, y’know? But anyway, the show goes on, and one-on-one is more interesting anyway! First one t’get to the end, I’ll even throw in an EXCLUSIVE interview to make it worth your while! But I’m not gonna keep the viewers at home waitin’ anymore saying more, since this is already goin’ on a little while, and you’re our stars still! So, without further ado…”
“OPEN THE GAME!!! Man is that SATISFYING t’say!”
Location: The estate of the Conqueror Worm, a two-floor building straight out of a Survival Horror. The whole place is hanging with an odd smell, and walls of most of the rooms are dotted with realistic murals of bones and various body parts - given Conqueror Worm’s ability, one must wonder how they were made.
1F MAP, 2F MAP. Due to interests of character limit, the details of each room in the estate can be found here. Most of the rooms are pretty simple, though, so don’t be intimidated by that.
The players are denoted by the circles marked with their character’s initials, with Manta standing in the fountain on the far-East end of the Courtyard of Despair, and Casey standing on the Western second-floor balcony overlooking it. Worm, meanwhile, starts in the first floor’s entrance hall, marked with a question mark. The C marked squares and the M marked squares are the chips that Casey and Manta need respectively, scanning which against their collars will ‘count’ them as read. For what it’s worth, the Violet chips were in the hot tub, freezer, and conservatory, but that is completely irrelevant now.
The circles with numbers in them represent the nonstand-using Survivors present in the area. Exact details on each of them aren’t particularly important, but a list of their names can be found here. The personality blurbs and occupations listed aren’t really relevant for the match’s sake; even the sports stars have been brought to a point where they have the same stats as everyone else.
The X and Y marked rectangles are locked doors and their respective keys are somewhere on the map denoted by the X and Y marked diamonds; these function not unlike car keys; though they can be used to physically lock and unlock the door in person with a turn, it’s much more convenient that one press of the buttons on them can instantly lock and unlock every door on the map marked with the correct letter.
The “F” marked square is the keycard that unlocks the finish line room.
Several of these rooms have traps which Worm knows about, but the players will not be given foreknowledge of all of them. These are already set in stone, however, and it will be up to the attentiveness of the players in following the location descriptions not to fall victim to these; hints are provided, basically, and they’re designed not to be too hard to respond to if you see them coming.
The rooms’ ceilings are generally quite high, three and a half meters above the ground, with about half a meter of space between the ceiling of one and floor above - basically, being a story directly above or below Manta is NOT enough to be within the range of Morgana Courts Danger.
Goal: Casey and Manta, your own survival is priority number one here. Try to get yourself out of this situation alive! In order to do so, you must deactivate your own collar through the insertion of three chips placed around the facility, where labeled on the map. Free yourself and escape alive. That is your priority, and you are under no obligation to help anybody else if you have no desire to. Leaving the map for longer than five seconds without outright moving through the finish space marked on the map will result in the collars detonating, even if all three chips are inserted.
Conqueror Worm, kill Casey and Manta by any means necessary.
A player character will win if their score surpasses that of the Conqueror Worm’s, while receiving less will result in elimination. A tie will be regarded as normal.
This match, thus, has special voting rules. Basically, there are four valid voting options in this: ‘Casey and Manta,’ ‘Manta and Worm,’ ‘Casey and Worm,’ and ‘Conqueror Worm,’ depending on if a voter believes that both players manage to escape, one of them is stopped by the killer, or both of them are.
NPC Information:
‘Conqueror Worm’ Sheet
(Plain Text Version)
Additional Information:
Unless noted otherwise, all doors are wooden.
While there are several unique NPCs throughout the estate, functionally, all of them can generally be expected to act in the same way: they have 222 stats with irrelevant special skills, and generally speaking, do not want to die, and will act in accordance with things they believe to follow that end, though they are not particularly skilled in identifying traps on their own. Manta Malaise frightens them, however, so they may find they require a little more effort to convince people to follow them around than Casey would be able to. Born Bad (“1” on the map), a fellow Dastardly-looking villainous caricature and thus kindred spirit of theirs, is the sole initial exception.
Violet Lange is bleeding and unconscious, and will in no capacity be able to assist, but still alive and should remain so as long as her particular injuries are not aggravated and the game does not take too agonizingly long. The killer has already forgotten about her.
Through review of previous materials, the players do have sufficient information to correctly identify the user of Conqueror Worm, who is, in fact, a character who appeared in the previous Suburb match. They will be allotted one guess, accusation bolded, in the text of the strategy, to name the person. There is no penalty for an incorrect guess, but a correct guess will see ten bonus points awarded; to one side if only they guess it, while both receive five if both do. One hint: they were present at Match 8’s baseball game.
The chips are extremely durable, but if they are rendered inaccessible or removed from the premises, a safety switch will force them to be treated as if they were simply activated and used; Worm isn’t interested in a game where victory or loss is impossible.
The traps themselves will be revealed throughout the first segment of the killer’s strategy, and take up characters in as much, but the existence of these are an indisputable fact which the players must be wise to either avoid or work around.
Though his durability and endurance are exceptional to the point where a fight would be immensely difficult, the killer also possesses a ‘master key’ which, if utilized, can be scanned against the collars to unlock them, unlock the front gate, and unlock any of the electronically-locked doors in the facility.
Team Combatant JoJolity
Masters of Funky Action Casey Williams “No escape, huh? I didn’t want one anyway. That was never part of the plan.” You came here for a reason, even if you’re still trying to define what, exactly, that reason is to you. Whatever you think being a hero might mean in this situation, live up to the standard you define for yourself!
Judecca Highrollers Manta Malaise “The greatest threat to the peace of my heart isn’t Jotaro! It’s him! Josuke Higashikata!” This is an indubitably vexing situation into which you have been brought. While you abscond from this, make certain that you find clever ways to get back at that bastard who has entrapped you here!
???? “Worm” “‘Misconceptions’ are the most terrifying things in the world… And the consequences are even worse if you’re overly confident that your abilities and talents are superior.” You’ve made an absolute deathtrap of your estate here, and it would be a damn shame for any of that to go to waste. The more of your traps successfully go off and seriously hurt someone, the higher your JoJolity rating will go!
Link to the Official Player Spreadsheet
Link to Match Schedule
As always, if you would like to interact with the tournament community and be among the first to get updates for the tournament, please feel free to PM a member of our Judge staff for an invite to our Official Discord Server!
submitted by Dungeon_Dice to StardustCrusaders [link] [comments]

(Spoiler) Ana Bray and the gang go on an adventure for answers, and all they find is terrible things! Sometimes it's better for things to be forgotten, or to never know the truth.

This post contains information regarding lore from Bungie.net. At the VERY END of this post there will be MAJOR SPOILERS. They will be marked when it starts, so you are safe to read the vast majority
There is no TL;DR, this is really, really, really long and I even cut out huge chunks of the lore tabs. Yes, really. I highly encourage you read it, not because I wrote it, but because this opens your eyes to Ana Bray and Clovis Bray.
Decided to post this one early since I have the free time.
Our favorite former Clovis Bray Scientist and her gang decide to go on an adventure, this time looking for the famed Atlas. Atlas was the "journal" of Clovis Bray himself, and is assumed to have every little secret the organization ever had.
With the help of Jinju (her Ghost) and Big Red (Rasputin) they decide to check out a new signal coming out of Mars.
It probably wasn't a good idea.
Legacy Pt.1
This whole thing starts off with Ana walking through a sandstorm (or some kind of storm) following the trace of an energy signature, a significant one.
Upon arrival of the location, they realize there is no one around, no biometric activity. Completely abandoned, and they are surprised by this (and delighted).
They assume the power is being generated through Geothermal means, because of how much it is, and because there is an active Volcano near by.
They get inside, and immediately realize they are at a Clovis Bray site. Clovis-9. Ana is perplexed because she thought she had seen all of the Clovis Bray sites.
They enter a room and notice a vault like door had been blown open. Upon further analysis they realize it had to have happened during the Golden Age, long time ago. The mechanism used had to be very sophisticated to break through the door in the manner that it did. They do another scan, and make the conclusion that whatever did this isn't around anymore.
Their goal at this point is to try and find an access point in which Rasputin can gain access to the facility and the info stored inside, but they can't find one. Eventually Jinju goes and restores power to the building, they enter an elevator and descend deeper into the complex.
When they get down they are greeted with the sight of servers, a lot of them. Ana gets excited because she thinks they actually stumbled upon Atlas. However, the servers were shielded and being powered externally. Jinju makes the remark that it is weird that essential servers would be on auxiliary power.
They enter the "Pillory Mainframe: Paragon", and notice that there had been a gun fight here. But the bullets all went in one direction.
Power is restored, and the door in front of them scans Ana, identifies her based off her Clovis ID, and opens.
Sometimes it's better for things to be forgotten
There's three bodies on the floor. Three exo's. In the middle of the bodies was the Golden Age device used to break into the vault door earlier in the facility. The Exo's were wearing Braytech uniforms, and Ana notices an ID on one of their belts.
"0220-17, ECHO PROJECT, PARAGON CLEARANCE"
They used this ID to enter the elevator and get down here. But Echo Project is not something Ana is familiar with, in fact she had never seen it mentioned in any other Clovis site or Database she had encountered. Now off the bat this whole situation is odd, Exo's in Clovis Uniforms broke into this place during the Golden Age, had a shoot out and died, but their bodies were left here and they had special clearance for this shadow project.
Now at this point this is weird, but then the awful series of events and revelations starts here.
Power turns back on. Instantly a robotic voice asks for their ID. Ana. having no idea what's going on panics and uses the very convincing response of "I don't know!"
Then she says her name "Bray, Anastasia"
They get scanned.
"Anomalous Entity Detected. Rogue Mind Detected"
Now let's freeze frame right here, so we understand why this is weird. There's only one person in the room (Ana), then her Ghost (Jinju), and Rasputin is in her helmet. There's only one "Mind" here, and apparently it's a Rogue one. Hey Ana, some advice, maybe let's not walk blindly into sketchy places. She doesn't take that advice.
Immediately after Robot Voice says it's detected a Rogue Mind, two turrets drop out of the sealing and open fire on Ana.
Ana being a Guardian and very skilled, shits on the turrets with little to no problem.
But the fact she tripped a security alarm is weird. Why? Because she is/was Ana Bray. One of the main figures of the entire organization. It couldn't be her, right? Like I said, there's only one Mind in the room.
Naturally, she decides they need to look for answers. They use the Echo ID to get into the main room and access a console.
Revelation #1: Echo Project has 12 sites, Clovis 1-12, they are currently on 9.
Revelation #2: Echo Project sites are completely removed from Warmind network. They are independent from Rasputin. This is strange because Rasputin is Clovis made, and the best defense AI Humanity has ever seen. Why not integrate?
Revelation #3: The sites are all over the place. Earth, the Moon, Europa, Asteroids in the Tangled Shore, Mars and as far out as Uranus.
One of said stations, an orbital station, has a pending Echo request. There is also indication of a "Redline Protocol" which Ana has also never heard of.
Redline Protocol
In the event of a catastrophic failure, neural degeneration, or loss of containment, herein collectively referred to as a [ROGUE MIND] incident, initiates [WARMIND CEREBRAL PARTITIONING] and [QUARANTINE INTEGRATION] into twelve CLOVIS station(s) within [NEURAL WEB-WAY].
Now in the event of a "Rogue Mind incident", there is the Echo Contingency. The gist is that if they detect a Rogue Mind, Echo severs all connections to not be compromised. Now at this point we don't know what the Echo Project is, but we know that the Redline Protocol happens in the same case. Redline protocol is designed to partition a Warmind's...mind and quarantine it at 12 different locations.
In other words, our friend Big Red is considered a Rogue Mind, and this Redline Protocol was activated, causing his mind to be scattered in 12 different places. We know this because we actually reversed this (unknowingly) when we re-established Rasputin with all (or most) of his fragments. (People consider this a retcon because Charlemagne ended up being just a piece of Rasputin, instead of a separate Warmind. Also they all had individual names, anyway doesn't matter now because they are all Rasputin).
They figure out a way to get Rasputin into the facilities database, so he can look through his own brain, or whatever part of his brain was at the facility. Ana notices all of the connections are one way, and all of them are closed systems. Meaning she would manually have to go to all 12 sites to connect them all.
Hey, wasn't there a site that had an Echo request pending? Well, it just so happens to be falling out of orbit and crashing into Uranus. They've got 42 days to get there and get whatever info they can. The distress signal coming from it was not automated however, it was manual.
Alright, that wasn't the most interesting thing in the world
I know, but it had critical information about the situation at hand. Rasputin was deemed to be Rogue and not functioning properly during the Golden Age (probably during the Collapse). He's still flagged as such.
I get it, but where are all these terrible things you mentioned in the title
Oh boy, buckle down cause shit goes downhill right off the bat on this next part.
Legacy Pt. 2
(The longest lore post in Destiny history as far as I am concerned)
They are on their way to Uranus and talking on Ana's ship. Jinju confirms the Exo's are in fact Golden Age, circa The Collapse.
She also confirms that "Pillory" (has to do with Redline) was made to separate Rasputin in the case he became "insubordinate". Ana says it's "disgusting", but she's also biased.
Probably should have waited for the full explanation before saying that.
“ECHO appears to have been a contingency program that activates afterward. They also had a cornerstone schematic of his brain.”
Ana chews on the information for a moment. “A foundational brain model would help with containment stability after the partitioning process. It’s like a front porch for your brain.”
“It… goes on.” Jinju continues, “Your name is cross-referenced all over this, Ana. Neural Web-way. Psycholinguistics. Exo brain maps with candidate profiles. It looks like Clovis Bray was syncing Rasputin’s basic core with viable hosts.”
Hey remember that "disgusting" thing you just talked about. You were one of the main people who made it.
“Oh.” Ana’s mind races. “For what though? Drop him into containment and clone him? Pretty elaborate restart button. I guess with an Exo you could also make some pretty potent AI with more limiters than a Warmind.”
Then they talk about her friend(?) Camrin, who works in Owl Sector
WHY DOES THAT MATTER
Ana calling something disgusting and then being involved in it is foreshadowing the fact they are currently talking about someone who is actively investigating the Lunar Pyramid. You don't say? Pyramid?
You wanna guess what happens next?
Jinju perks up, internal sensors suddenly askew. “Something nabbed us right out of our jump. We’re off course by…” Jinju calculates, “…three AU?”
“What!?” Ana manually scans the trajectory equations in the nav-computer. “There’s nothing wrong with the math.”
||JUMP-DRIVE ERROR: MISALIGNMENT|| squawks on bubble speakers.
“Little late.”
Tart synesthetic tickle creeps red and patient. Low and pressing, as not to be heard by those that might be listening.
“Relax. I know we’re off course, but it’s not that far… relatively speaking.” Ana scrunches her face at a nav-screen as it’s overtaken by interference. “Okay, I can’t see where we are. Hang on.”
A slow wrinkle skulks across space. It presses up the fabric. Insignificant points between stars warp and spur small disturbances in the constellational congruence of the galaxy. From afar it is nothing. A flutter of wings in wind.
“It’s dark out here.” Jinju’s voice is distant as she peers outside. Beyond the canopy an expanse without horizon.
“That’s when the stars shine brightest, Jinju. Find a constellation for me so we can get our bearings.” ||GRAVITATIONAL WAVE ANOMALY DETECTED: JUMP-REALIGNMENT REQUIRED||
Knock knock, guess who's here!
“Feel’s strange.” Jinju is distant. “We should go.”
Ana initiates recalibrations on the jump-drive’s positioning solution. “There’s definitely some weird space out there.”
||GRAVITATIONAL WAVE ANOMALY DETECTED||
The ship lurches. Ana’s stomach churns. Jinju vibrates violently in place, an outer shell of Light absorbing some form of force.
Red iron needles whistle tea-kettle pressure in white anxiety from Ana’s helmet.
Cloaked Shadows shift through the vacuum an eternity away and all too close; shown only when they wish to, to only whom they want.
Ana swallows to settle her stomach. “What even was that? Did we move?”
“Leave. Now please. Ana.” Jinju presses against the glass of the canopy, peering outward.
||SYSTEM REALIGNMENT: SOLUTION SECURED||
“There it is. I’ve got a jump-lock.”
||GRAVITATIONAL WAVE ANOMALY DETECTED||
Translation: Bitch RUN
“Again? Then we’re riding this one out of here.” Ana eye-balls adjustments for the gravitational wave into the nav-computer. “Punching jump in 3… 2… 1…”
They slip between folds in space. Formless wake propels them. The ship rides through sub-space at speeds far exceeding her jump-drive's capability. Color dulls in the slipstream. Frisson electrifies Ana's senses into timeless euphoria. The nose of the cockpit stretches ahead, drawn toward some distant vanishing point. She struggles to keep the flight stick straight. Her motions seem small, inconsequential and all too slow within the wave. Fluctuant pockets of drag flex and buck, threatening to throw them off into the unknown. The cockpit twists around her, indicator lights blink in metronomic sequence—purpose and pigment slowly materializing in her mind.
Hull integrity failing. "Not yet."
||COLLISION: BOW, CELESTIAL BODY DETECTED, AUTO-DROP FAILED||
They make it out of the jump and are in the orbit of Uranus.
Not out of the woods yet
“Those are Warsats.” Jinju breaks the silence, eager to shift her mode of thought far from weird space and gravity waves.
“Finally, some luck," Ana says with relief. "I bet we can daisy-chain Rasputin into the station’s network through the defense system.”
“Oh, they’re powering up. Maybe we—”
Horns of responsive distortion roll across the cabin like a stress wave. Rasputin’s alert pings litter the canopy HUD.
“Brace!”
They have to deal with a bunch of Warsats shooting them on site. They shoot "Spikes" at them to allow Rasputin to hack them and use them to help defend. They are successful and are now near Caelus Station, their destination.
Jinju emerges from the gunnery apparatus and floats back to the dashboard. Pho and Deim appear from under her shell. “What was that, Ana? Back there.”
“The Warsats or the freaky gravity?”
“Either… both.”
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
“My guess worries me.”
“Let’s just pull this data and get home.”
“Agreed.”
Ana hangs her head in her hands and muffles a sardonic, “Nailed it.”
Hey man, I don't know about you, but judging by the way things are going off the bat, maaaaybeee this isn't a great idea to be both this far out and be at this station.
Just a thought.
They got on the station, and it's strange. There are 3 biomes, there are greenhouses. Everything is locked under a file named "Contingency". It seems this place was never inhabited. It exists as a back up. Guess no one made it, right?
Now let's get creepy
The bay is still: a snapshot of countless possible failures in the face of challenge. It holds only one ship. The bulbous craft lay broken, dropped from its support brackets in denial of an attempted launch. Reflective hexagonal plates sparkle like space dust as the station faces Uranus' light. Scorch stains blacken the far wall behind the craft's ruined ion thruster.
"The propulsion system is missing its ion cell. It doesn't look like damage, but obviously a lot went wrong here."
Jinju beams light over the fuselage as they float through the ruptured bay in weightlessness. The reflective hull is filled with Exos. Mannequin cadavers hang frozen on silk threads, surrounded by globular blobs of various fluids. Loose-wire tangle sags around the lifeless many. One or two glides freely within the cabin. Their chest plates share a pristine logo. "Echo-1".
Mannequin Cadavers. Human bodies? Are they referring to the Exo's as Mannequin Cadavers? If one of you can tell me I'd appreciate it.
They find a Frame (think Redjacks, Sweeperbot, etc. Those are Frames), crumpled over, dead. Jinju looks into it and finds out this isn't just some Frame, it's the station manager. So Jinju decides to try and get power to the Frame and reactivate it. Maybe they can get some information.
The Frame sparks to life, looks directly at Ana, and speaks with grating age to its voice.
“Welcome, Ana Bray! Very excited to see a Bray walk this hall again. It has been a long time.”
Ana grasps at words. Jinju shrugs, plugs of Light toss in zero-G.
The Frame stands on magnetized foot cups and dusts itself off, nearly bumping into Jinju. “Excuse me, small servo bot."
“Servo b?"
The Frame turns to Ana. “How may I be of assistance?"
“I’ll unplug you.”
The Frame ignores her.
Ana smirks at Jinju, then looks at the Frame.
"Walk with me," she says, briskly moving deeper into the station.
The two converse with Jinju in tow.
They get to the main section of the station and are greeted by a sign in large red letters
Echo Project: Our Legacy Builds The Horizon
So what's the station for?
Ana stares out the translucent ceiling, wistful as the Frame waits for another question.
“So those crops in the rings are food supplies for a colony mission."
"Yes. Thank you for asking that, Ana Bray."
"Yeah. And the colony ships are full of Exos?"
"Partially. ECHO-1 and ECHO-2 were stocked with Exo unit crews. As you know, their task was to establish and oversee embryonic development at Colony M31, Site-A and Site-B."
"If Rasputin got out of hand, they weren't planning on resetting him.”
"I don’t have access to Clovis 1-12 directories."
“They just assumed he would win. The Pillory is a last-ditch panic room.”
"I don’t have access to Clovis 1-12 directories."
Jinju’s iris flicks back and forth between the two. Her tiny Light-leash hums.
Ana massages her palm. “What was my role in all this?”
“As you know, your work on the Warmind made you a prime asset to oversee applicant selection.”
“I chose the people in there?”
Ana watches the ringlet spin, her mind repeating the statement back to her. Artificial night slips back to artificial day as the station's rotation continues.
“As you know, yes. Additionally, your work on the Warmind, as you know, was vital to the establishment of Clovis 1-12.”
“Do I know where the candidates came from? Did they volunteer?”
“I do not have access to candidate profiles.”
Ana shuts her eyes and takes a steady breath.
Ana is really regretting this decision to come here, and that "disgusting" comment is REALLY coming back to slap her in the face.
“You said I helped with the Pillory stations?”
“Yes.”
“How so?”
"I don’t have access to Clovis 1-12 directories."
She nods and lets her helmet slink back to rest on her shoulders. “I think I can piece it together on my own. Is this station linked to any other sites?”
Her gaze returns to the distant ringlet, lit by the recurring planet-rise. Her augmented eyes pick at details.
“As you know, Miss Bray, there are thirteen CLOVIS sites that this station is linked to.”
“Thirteen? What’s the thirteenth?”
Every where it says 12, this Frame said 12, but now there is 13? Well, let's do simple math. 1-12 were satellite sites that were separated from each other so each part of Rasputin was quarantined and cut off from the others. So if 12 of them were parts, there had to be a center for all of it. Cue #13.
The plant life is still vibrant. Regimented
“Paragon access does not permit that information.”
“You hear that, Jinju? We’re all just slaves to circumstance.”
I wonder if that statement will also come back to be a slap to the face? Hmmm.
Jinju chirps. “I’d like to think our choices matter a little. I’d like to think mine did.”
Ana smiles at her. “Yeah.”
“You are a Bray.” The frame pauses.
They lack signs of overgrowth.
Well kept.
“So?” Ana turns to the Frame.
“ECHO project requires a station link with DEAD-ROCK resources.”
Ana eyes go wide. “Jinju disengage that cipher thing.” Over her shoulder, a glint shines from the far central ringlet. Biome 2.
You ever played Battlefield? If you have, you know what a glint in the distance means.
Jinju glides forward. “What is that?”
Ana looks at Jinju. “The verbal cipher.” She pauses and traces Jinju’s eyeline to face Uranus. Ana’s eyes adjust to sieve out the glaring brightness. “What’s what?” She puts a hand to her visor and squints.
An ion lance threads the station from the distant ringlet.
It pierces Ana’s chest clean through.
Oh Ana, let's plan things better in the future. This had bad news written all over it from the moment they walked through the vault door on Clovis-9 back on Mars. This has been an awful experience. And now you just got sniped in the chest.
Surely it can't get any worse...right?
Now, stick with me here, because details matter here.
Echo-1 was on the chest of those dead Exo's on that ship. Pay attention to the headers of the segments. Also pay attention to what I put in bold.
Echo-0
He awakens alone. A fluke. Others hang around Him, but they remain in the dream. Electrical surge prickles through his entire body. A screen in front of his face begins playing a recording complete with visual aid:
"Welcome to ECHO-1. Before your departure, you should have been briefed by a Station Warden If you don't recall your Station Warden, please alert your Crew Captain. Now then, my name is Ana Bray, and you're one of the lucky few who has been selected for the ECHO Project. The future of Humanity rests on your sho—"
The recording is interrupted as emergency sirens blare through the station.
"STATION HAZARDS: GRAVITATIONAL ANOMALY | STERILE NEUTRINO BURSTS | Please remain calm."
"OVERRIDE BROADCAST: via ECHO-LINK//:PILLORY-SUBLOCK.R./:SKYSHOCK ALERT: TRANSIENT NEAR EXTRASOLAR EVENT:—
Power failures wrack the station in rolling thunder. The Exo slumps, lifeless until its next reset.
Echo-7
Alone.
The recording. He finds familiarity in the newness. The face on the screen seems kind
"STATION HAZARDS: ROLLING SURGES IN WARDS 1, 2, 3. Please remain calm."
Thunder. Pain to death. Electro-static purge, triggering a reset.
Echo-22
He awakens to rolling, thunderous darkness and pain. The screen does not illuminate.
Barely audible words form from the air:
"Primary propulsion systems failing. Auxiliary systems near depletion. Planetary impact unavoidable. Distress triggered."
Meaningless. He struggles against chains.
Eons pass. His bonds will not break. His mind fragments and corrupts.
He wishes he could bleed. He wishes he could die. He wonders where the Wardens are.
Echo-41
Short lives of confusion and pain. He grasps at falling in every direction. There is nothing to grip,
Echo-89
Thunder, again.
Echo-173
and again.
Echo-390
Until one day:
He hangs in the futile passage of time.
A creeping madness weaves its way in solitude.
Echo-877
Thunder. Thunder. Thunder.
The Warden speaks for the first time in many storms. Her twisted promises are fresh to His ear.
"When we return." Etched in mind.
Wake and sleep. Struggle. Dream and wake. Struggle. Endless. Innumerable. Stillbirths. Tomb spasms. Thunderous pain. Sweet death.
Echo-2625
Thunder, one final time. The storm gives life, but never came to take.
He slips from rot shackles. Worn with age. Weary, they snap at slightest motion. Untold rotations pass without movement. Freedom?
He matures questions. A hunger wells up within him.
He travels the station. From Tomb Bay, to the Mind Shell, to the Sealed Space. In dark, and in light.
The Mind Shell teaches Him the new roads. Teaches Him the majesty of the Rings. Teaches him the key.
He walks the Rings.
He tends to His little freedoms. He cultivates. He grows. He does, unknowingly, as He was meant to do.
The Mind Shell tells Him of the Bridge. Tells him of His ancestors. Speaks of the "ECHO LINK".
The knowledge does not leave His thoughts.
He seeks a meaning beyond routine.
The Tomb Bay kept secrets. He had not returned since He walked the Rings. It is a shallow sepulcher.
Brothers and Sisters dreaming. Never to wake as He had.
He digs treasures from their graves. Digs knowledge from the Prison's many minds.
Picks lies from the bones of truth.
He drinks the memories of Echoes passed.
He finds the Prison's purpose. A Bridge's end. If He holds this end, perhaps the Wardens hold the other.
The many minds. The liar's words. Takers. They would know of his escape.
The Wardens would come to take with fresh shackles.
He prepares. He learns from the Warden's alchemy.
He digs through the carcass of his once-mighty Tomb.
From hollow basin, He seizes Starlight power to wield from afar. From its flesh: adorns Himself with a cloak of lies to fool. He armors his soul against the Thunder that kills.
He opens the Bridge at his end and waits.
Echo-2625 (Present Day)
He walks the ring when She arrives.
The Warden rides in with finality and judgement.
A red-light storm at Her back.
She had followed the Bridge, as He had hoped. She leads many shells, but only One descends with Her.
She brings with Her the Thunder, and He fears its wicked spark. He places trust to his plated frame.
He watches Her trespass in the Tomb Bay. Sees Her defile the Mind Shell's grand hall.
The Wardens reap what had been sown.
As Wardens always do. She comes to collect him.
He raises his Starlight.
But a Warden is not so easily slain, and She has many allies.
A lot to digest here. I know it's a lot, but it is important not to leave anything out. Let's take it from the top. Echo-1 and Echo-2, their task was to establish and oversee embryonic development at Colony M31, Site-A and Site-B. The sites don't mean anything at this moment, their task is important. They were going to rebuild human life, because they expected Rasputin to destroy it all, or let it all be destroyed. That's why the Echo Project was completely independent. That's why it was the Echo Contingency. What to do when we lost, not if.
Ana was one of the main people in charge of the whole thing, and she chose the people here. Now, if they were volunteers the Frame would have probably said. It didn't, and I am pretty sure Ana knew the answer to that before she said it. Sometimes it's better for things to be forgotten.
That being said, she didn't have full access to everything about the project. She had "Paragon" level access, she knew who to choose, where the sites were, but not everything about the project. Basing it off that these people weren't here voluntarily, I'd hazard to say they didn't voluntarily choose to be Exo's. This is Clovis Bray after all.
The Frame can't tell her something and requires Ana to have a verbal cipher to unlock it. Obviously, not being the Ana Bray of the Golden Age, she doesn't know it. But we know that the Echo station requires a link to something classified. Frame could talk about sites 1-12. but not 13. Seems classified to me.
Back in the action Ana comes too, but is losing a lot of blood, and oxygen, and realizes she's been shot.
Rasputin is pissed off at this point and literally deletes everything within ten meters of where the shot came from.
While Ana is receiving aid, she is working with Rasputin to figure out where the shooter is. Rasputin realizes the person has Active Camo.
Echo-2625 (that's a lot of resets), decides he needs to make sure the Warden is dead, and moves for the kill.
A ceiling panel twenty meters from Ana erupts in brittle plastic shards that glisten and spin like tiny neutron stars, catching the last of Uranus' light as the station beings to turn dark. Amorphous form thuds into the floor, shattering tiles in a plume of dust that stretches up into a spire before slowly holding in place. The form tumbles to a stop. It stands between her and the open launch bay and slings a kit-bashed Ion caster aside, depleted. Hexagonal patterns stutter to blend with the station interior as the room rolls into tenebrous obscurity. For an instant, an Exo takes form, and then nothing as its cloaking shroud flashes and re-engages in the dark.
Behind.
She spins as the Exo crashes through the secondary entrance at her back. The door snaps from its hinges in a torrent of dust and rackets Jinju into glass.
"Jinju!"
Ana loses track of her attacker momentarily in the darkness before it pushes off from a hard surface, triggering her visor. She spits off rounds from 18 Kelvins. Some find their mark, puncturing the camouflage shroud and revealing her adversary before impotently fizzling on the Exo's outer shell. It covers the gap with surprising speed and catches her gun hand; Ana discharges an arc round; tiny bolts reach across to the Exo’s metal skull in vain as it scorches ceiling.
Bones pop in her fingers and wrist.
The Exo flattens its other hand and stabs toward her stomach.
"Die. Warden."
Adrenal instinct floods Ana's body. She stops it. They lock. Ana’s vision blurs. She gasps for breath. Muscles quiver in her arms, desperate for oxygen. A spark cinders in her.
"Get off her!"
Jinju zips toward the Exo and paddles Pho and Deim onto it with a flick of her shell. The mites crawl under the Exo's exterior plating and send shock-sting bites through its systems, seizing its joints for a few precious seconds.
Jinju rushes to Ana's side. The Ghost deconstructs itself, orbital shell bits swirl around a core of coalescing Light. She fills the room like a brilliant star, overcharging her wayward Guardian.
Ana's crushed bones reforge. Light fills her eyes. Her grip, still holding against the seizing Exo's bladed thrust, liquefies its plated hand to scrap. A glorious crown of Solar flame erupts from her visor and she cracks her forehead into the Exo’s face. It reels, tufts of flame extinguish in the vacuum. Ana kicks away.
Solar might engulfs 18 Kelvins. Ana hammers off two rounds of celestial annihilation. They melt straight through the Exo, puncture the station plating, and scream through space for light years.
The Exo slumps, a molten heap.
It draws breath.
“Resilient.” Ana drops to a knee. Barrel trained on the Exo's head.
She takes a full breath. The Exo’s eyes are unflinchingly locked to her. It refuses to die.
It points to Ana’s badge with its still-blistering hand.
“Bray. Warden.”
She says the only thing the can think to say: “Who were you?”
It hesitates. “Echoes.”
Her head droops. “How many did you live?” She looks to find his number designation, but it is missing.
It looks passed her as Uranus' light once again trickles through the station.** “Echoes… grow… Wardens… keep…”**
“What did I do to them?”
Ana realizes whatever the hell she did was probably so terrible and inhumane that she probably doesn't even want to know. This guy, who lived for eons being tortured, dying over and over again. He hates Rasputin, her Thunder. The Thunder that gives life but does not take. He was a prisoner, and Ana his Warden. He wanted revenge for what she had done, he wanted revenge for his brothers and sisters. Revenge for all the lies.
Ana is absolutely having an awful day. Now it's decision time. What now?
Ana stares at Echo’s husk. The faint glow of the desk's lit console screen grays out her face behind her visor.
She sits dead-still in rotation. She could stare forever, if she only had enough time.
Jinju nudges her shoulder. “I've got the mainframe data.”
Ana is devoid of thought at the mainframe access console. She watches as Uranus comes back into view over and over again. It dominates the station’s viewing port. She maps the movement of the clouds along the surface, but only ever on the surface, and sees how they differ from the previous iteration on their last spin. She wonders if they are different underneath.
Stable major chords strum in Ana’s helmet, getting caught in the cracked visor glass.
She finally speaks, decisive. “Dislodge the other ringlet paddocks. Warsats can tow them back to the Tower. Skim the shadow-networks for anything else they can use. Get some good from this…”
“Ana, the Warsats could haul this whole station as long as we do it soon.”
Caelus rotates away into shadow once again, and the planet’s sheen fades from sight. Ana clicks a spring-loaded slot on the desk. It snaps to, bearing a placard of ownership.
"Clovis Bray"
Ana stands. Steady.
“It’s okay to let some things be forgotten.”
She doesn't want anyone to know who she was, and now she probably doesn't either. She has been trying to find out who she was since she was revived with her ID on her. She thought she had left a positive legacy, played a major part in helping create the single greatest human creation, Rasputin.
Instead, she found out she was no better then anyone else at Clovis Bray. She was no hero. Maybe Rasputin isn't one either, if she was a part of a program made to escape him. Maybe this was all a mistake.
END
THIS IS NOW THE PORTION THAT CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS, feel free to avoid it if you don't want to be spoiled. This pertains to my post yesterday regarding Rise of Iron and Felwinter's Lie
I just wanted to put this in at the end (of a ridiculously long post) because it was something I noticed last night that blew my mind.
Read this: https://www.ishtar-collective.net/cards/lord-timur?highlight=lord+timur
If you read my post yesterday, that should sound suspiciously familiar.
Now go and read this (only the bottom section, with the Dark Age header): https://www.bungie.net/en/News/Article/48809
There were comments about how Felwinter's story was a retcon on his character. The first lore tab is from Rise of Iron's release. This story has literally been there since the start. And now that you know everything about who Felwinter really is, it becomes so obvious. I found it incredible that they actually picked up the exact same moment, and added all the depth. The first one is what Timur saw, the second is what Felwinter saw. Two different perspectives on the same story. Timur didn't know he almost died, that's why it's not mentioned in his lore piece. But they line up perfectly.
I don't know about you, but that blew my mind. Really solid work from Bungie.
submitted by BC1096 to DestinyTheGame [link] [comments]

My name is OP and I have a remarkable pair of testicles.

I once held in my hands an object discovered in Kosovo that, by all appearances, was an ancient ocarina carved from some sort of bone. However, when you blew into it, you were not met with musical notes. Rather, the instrument produced streams of color, pouring out of the finger holes and rising briefly into the air, entwining with each other in all sorts of complex patterns and combining to make new, stunningly vivid colors, which finally vanished back into the ether.
All manner of things have happened – are happening now -- on this planet that we do not understand, or are even vaguely aware of. Occasionally, an artifact hinting at such untold and mysterious forces or events is uncovered, mostly by sheer happenstance.
My name is Oliver Percy (OP for short), and I hold commerce in such rare items.
My latest acquisitions are the most incredible I've come across yet, as well as the most dangerous. Who holds them holds unfathomable power, and even as I type this, nefarious forces creep in the night, seeking to steal them away. Should those forces ever succeed, I fear that our world will become yet another forgotten relic.
*
The testicles fell into my lap, so to speak.
I have code running at all hours, crawling the internet in search of certain phrases -- contained in news articles, blogs, forum posts, and so forth -- that might indicate the existence of an uncanny item. Any hits trigger a logistic regression which helps determine the likelihood that the source in question is in fact discussing an object of rare properties. If the log odds are high enough, and statistically significant, I receive an alert prompting me to look at the source with my own eyes.
Most of the time, such a method of discovery turns up nothing interesting. There are exceptions, though, and one day around three months ago, I came across the following post in the "off topic" channel of a small forum centered around adhering to the so-called "Paleo diet":
“So I finally got the estate sorted after like a year of dealing with red tape bullshit and racking up ridiculous lawyer bills. As it turns out, my father wasn't as rich as he let on… which is, fine, whatever. But he did leave me something… weird… which I’m hoping somebody here knows what the fuck it is. I mean, what \they* are. There are two of them.*
Picture it: there I am, standing in the bank vault, ready to finally pop open the deposit box, expecting a big wad of cash or something like that… and all I get are these two things?"
Here inserted into the text was a photograph of the two severed testes (which I did not initially recognize as such), shorn of the scrotum, looking like misshapen, fleshy eggs.
“What are they? Does anybody know? I took them to a jeweler, thinking they were some kind of precious stones, even though they feel a little, I don’t know… rubbery. The jeweler said he’d never seen anything like it before and doubted they were worth anything.
But if they aren’t worth anything, why did my old man have them in a safe deposit box?
Can anybody help me out here?! Thanks guys!”
Somebody a few comments into the reply thread had an answer:
“Dude, those are balls. Like balls balls. The things below your dick.”
Upon reading that remark, and acknowledging it instantly as the truth, I was prepared to close out the browser and go about other business. However, a lingering sense of curiosity kept me reading on. After all: why indeed would this person’s father bequeath him two testicles, held secure in a bank vault no less?
Other commenters wondered the same thing. One suggested that the poster’s father was “trolling” him in death, sending him a message to “man up and figure out shit on [his] own”; another proposed the theory that the father had murdered someone, and the testicles served as a posthumous confession; a third: “Your dad loved balls. It’s as simple as that.”
Just as I was again losing interest, I saw that the owner of the testicles himself made another post:
This is nuts. So I got sick of looking at these fucking balls (it really was like my father was mocking me) and decided to just toss them in the trash. The thing is, I… couldn’t. I just stood there like an idiot, holding those ridiculous balls, one in each hand, and I physically could not throw them away. I wanted to. Like, my mind was screaming at me: Get rid of them! And then, I swear to God: they started getting warm in my hands, and I felt weird all up my arms… tingly… and then I felt really strong, like I could deadlift a cow or some crazy shit. Look. I know it sounds insane, but I think there’s something going on with these balls. That’s why my dad had them locked away. Beyond that, I don’t know. What do you guys think?
The responses to this were split between people who thought that he was joking, and those wondering if he weren’t taking some sort of drug to cope with the loss of his father. But I had a different perspective, and there was enough in the story to convince me that those testicles likely had special properties.
I created an account on the forum, and sent the owner of the items a private message, briefly explaining what I did for a living, and how I was interested in inspecting the testicles for myself. If they appeared authentic, I assured him, I was prepared to make an offer to purchase them that I was certain would find him amenable.
He responded almost immediately: “Please come get these things, if you’re not yanking my chain. I hate them and want them out of my life.”
And so arrangements were made.
*
The young man’s name was Flint, and when I arrived at his apartment, he did not look well.
He greeted me in the open doorway, dressed in a white t-shirt with stains down the front and a pair of athletic shorts. His hair was a tangled mess, and his sunken eyes looked as though they hadn’t known rest in several days. “Hey man… OP, right?”
“That’s me. May I come on?”
“Yeah, yeah. Come in. Come in. I didn’t think you’d actually show. But these balls… they’re the real deal. You know that somehow.”
“It’s possible,” I said, stepping around a litter of disposable dishes and empty beer bottles. “I’ve certainly seen stranger things.”
“Yeah, me too. Great show. What, are these things from the Upside Down or something?” Flint lit a cigarette and started pacing around in a circle. “I thought that was all fake though.” He waved a hand in the air, leaving an arc of smoke in its trail. “What, you work for the government or something, man?”
I gave a good natured laugh, trying to put the troubled young man at ease. “Private sector. As I say, I deal in rare artifacts – buying, selling, studying. Shall we take a look at the items in question?”
Flint squinted and scrutinized me for a painfully long time, until something seemed to click in his head and he appeared to relax somewhat. “Sure thing, man. Sure. Have a look.” He pointed into the kitchen. “In there. Cabinet above the stove, wrapped up in tinfoil. Have a look. I’m not getting near them again, I’ll tell you that as a fact, dude.”
I nodded and made my way into the kitchen, quite on edge myself. I was either dealing with a potential lunatic, or the testicles had the ability to turn you into a lunatic. I had to be very careful. My pocket knife might offer me some protection against the former possibility, if for some reason Flint attempted to attack me; but against the possibility of madness, I had no defense.
Is it worth it? I wondered, as I reached up to the cabinet. Should I just turn around and go back home? My hand rested on the knob a moment as I considered. And in the end, the same compulsion that got me into my profession in the first place won out: a thirst to discover the unknown.
I swung the cabinet door open and spotted the packet of aluminum foil inside. When I touched it, I felt a slight charge of electricity, and knew at once that I was dealing with something remarkable.
“Careful with that shit,” cautioned Flint, as I set the packet down on the Formica countertop.
“Mmm, of course,” I said, distracted with the excitement of peeling back the thin metal wrapping. Then they were there before me: two severed testicles, looking like nothing more nor less than that. I picked them up and held one in each of my palms. A rush of warmth ran up my arms.
“You feel that,” said Flint, “right?”
He’s weak, I thought. Lives alone, obviously. I could slit his throat and walk away free and clear.
I fought against the sudden urge to murder, set the testicles back on the foil, and took a deep breath.
“Did you feel it?” Flint asked again.
I looked down warily at the objects. “I did.” It had been a surge of power… a terrible surge of power.
“And?”
“Can you tell me a little more? You inherited them from your father. Do you have any idea where he might have acquired them from?”
Flint lit another cigarette from the end of the one he was still smoking. “Nope. My father was a corporate lawyer…a lobbyist over in DC. Making sure oil companies can do whatever they want, and that the fat cats don’t have to pay too much in taxes. I have no fucking clue how he ended up with these… magical nuts, or whatever the hell they are.”
I hadn’t expected a straightforward answer as to the origins of the testicles, and I hadn’t received one. “No matter. I would like to offer you one hundred thousand dollars cash in exchange for these two items.”
My offer had an obvious effect on the young man, and a measure of focus and vitality appeared to come over him for the first time since I’d been there. This was clouded over quickly with a look of suspicion. “A hundred k? For these balls? What the fuck are they, OP?”
I told him the truth. “I don’t know. They clearly possess a power of sorts, unlike anything I have ever experienced. That power makes them valuable. Frankly, they are worth considerably more on the market than what I’m offering. But in order to collect on their true value, you need to know where to find that market, and I suspect that you don’t.”
Flint considered briefly, before coming back with his own truth. “I just want them out of my life. They’re awful. Yes. I accept your offer.”
“Wonderful! I’ll just need to run down to my car. I’ll come straight back with a contract, and your money.”
“No problem,” said Flint. He looked genuinely relieved now, as though his nerves had unwound several degrees; even his hair seemed to settle down a touch.
I exited the apartment, walked down the stairs, and pushed open the door to the apartment complex, stepping into the cool Vermont spring. As I made for my car, I wondered again if I was being prudent. It’s not too late to hop in and drive back across state lines, I reminded myself, shuddering at the recollection of the terrible power I had experienced. But while I was frightened of that mysterious force, I was equally driven by a desire to know it, and so I opened my trunk and retrieved the contract and the satchel of money.
My decision had been made, and as I tread back up the stairs of the apartment complex, I kept at bay the awful premonition of doom that was tickling at the back of my skull. You’re a professional, I reminded myself, wiping my brow with the back of my hand – it was wet with sweat despite the chill in the air. Before I was quite aware of it, I found myself again knocking on the door to Flint’s apartment.
“OP?” came his voice, from the other side. “Wasn’t sure you’d be back. Come on in buddy. It’s open.”
I shifted the documents to the hand carrying the satchel, turned the knob, and swung the door open. I couldn’t see Flint anywhere, so I took a step in and called his name. I heard the door creak closed and turned just in time to see that Flint had been standing behind it, and was now swinging a fist at me.
I heard a crack a split second before the nerves in my face delivered the pain-message to my brain, and then my head snapped back from the impact. I didn’t have a chance to recover my footing, as Flint threw another punch into my nose. I toppled over backwards, the satchel flying out of my hand on the way down.
I began to scream out for help, but my opponent cut my screams short by landing a blow direct to my windpipe. Then I was on the ground and he was on top of me, pummeling me with both fists. I saw mostly shocks of color, blotting out reality, but at some point I noticed that he was clenching a testicle in each hand.
“They’re MINE!” he screeched, as he smashed against the side of my head. My ears began to ring but I could hear him still, yelling with maniacal fervor. “MINE!!!”
I was thrown into a chaotic death-panic, as a flood of various painful sensations assaulted me. Through some kind of instinct, I reached into my pocket and found the knife there. As I felt life slipping away from me, I pulled the knife out, flipped the blade open, and plunged it into Flint’s side. I saw him grimace, but he kept beating me with full vigor. I stabbed him again, and again, and then one more time. Then I was out.
*
When I opened my eyes, it was with the utmost pain, and I was gazing blurrily up at a ceiling. My mind was blank for a moment, but for the acknowledgement that I was in agony all over. Next came the memory of Flint assaulting me, in a terrifying flash. He didn’t kill me… but did I kill him?
I noticed that I was lying on a bed. I propped myself up on an elbow, groaning at the effort. I was in a bedroom, strewn with dirty laundry and half-empty dishes. Then I heard approaching footsteps, and hurridely reached in my pocket… but my knife wasn’t there.
“You’re up,” said Flint, stepping into the doorframe, holding my blade in one hand. He had apparently taken off his shirt, cut it into strips, and wrapped it around his wounds. A red blotch in the fabric indicated the general area in which I had stabbed him. “Listen, man. This is a fucked up situation we’re in here. You have to know that wasn’t me that flipped out on you, right? It was the balls. I wanted one more look at them before I sold them, you know? So I went over and picked them up, and then…. That’s why I did it. You know that, right?”
My brain wasn’t at full (or even quarter) capacity, but I believed him. If he’d meant to kill me, he could have killed me, instead of bringing me to his bed. My throat indicated that it was still too sore to produce words, so I simply nodded.
“Good,” said Flint. “Good. You stabbed me, I don’t know how many times, but man, I didn’t even really feel it at first. I just went right on beating your ass. But it got to me eventually, and so I dropped the goddamn balls and grabbed my side, and as soon as I did, I was back to normal. Do you see?”
I nodded.
“It was the balls.”
I nodded again.
“So… what do we do now? I mean, I don’t blame you for stabbing me. I was straight beating your ass to death. I don’t blame you for that at all. And you can’t blame me for beating your ass, because it was the balls. And you know, there’s all that money there in the living room… I could have taken that and run, but I didn’t. Do you see?”
I nodded.
“So best thing to do, I figure, is you take your money and go home, and I keep these goddamn fucking balls from Hell and we pretend this never happened. Right? Unless… unless you want to help me destroy these things.”
I shook my head.
“Fine, fine, fair enough dude. Fair enough. Just take your money and go then.”
I shook my head again.
“What? What then?”
I pointed to myself, reached into my pocket, and pretended to bring something out. I opened an invisible wallet and pulled out an invisible stack of money. I waved the pretend money in Flint’s direction. Then I pointed at him, then at his groin. Finally, I pointed at myself again.
“You… wait. You… you still want to buy these things?”
I nodded.
Two hours later, after a shower, a pot of coffee, a few painkillers, and an exchange of goods sanctified by the signing of a contract, I was driving back home – a bit unsteadily, to be sure – with a jelly jar containing two severed and mysterious testicles in the passenger’s seat beside me.
*
I suppose that, without further explanation, few will understand why I purchased the testicles, despite knowing the danger lurking within them. Some will think that the testicles compelled me; but this wasn’t so. I made my ultimate decision without their influence. Others will think that I was insane, or perhaps simply foolish. That may well be the case, but I did have my reasons. Or, if not reasons exactly, then let’s call it intuition.
While it was always possible that the power of the testicles was merely to make their possessors extremely aggressive in a bid for self-preservation, in my experience, objects of unknown qualities always contained depths beyond what was apparent at first glance. I therefore placed a bet on the possibility that the testicles contained untold powers that had not yet been seen. Admittedly, I was indifferent at the time as to whether these powers would be destructive or not.
To learn more about my purchase, I began research on two fronts. First, I dredged up everything that I could find about Flint’s father, hoping to discover the origins of the mysterious artifacts. This path led to little new information. It was just as Flint had described: his father had been a lobbyist for major oil firms. I was able to extract a few names – major players in the Saudi Arabian government, as it turned out – to look at more in depth, but inevitably ran into impenetrable firewalls that left me dead-ended. Still, I kept those lines of research open, including keeping tabs on Flint, in case there was anything to be gleaned there.
The other avenue that I took was first-hand experimentation. This was more fruitful than I could have hoped for, and allowed me a glimpse of the incredible potential contained within the testicles.
*
In my study, there is a bookcase that, with the proper movement of mechanisms, swings open to reveal a hidden room. This is my meditation room. There is no real need for it to be hidden, other than some esoteric feeling that it grants me of being beyond the mundane world.
It was here that I began my exploration of the testicles in earnest. I took them, still in the jelly jar, into my meditation room, and sealed the door behind me. There I sat cross-legged on my rug in the darkness, and unscrewed the lid of the jar. I plucked out the mysterious items, held one in each hand, and closed my eyes.
At once, I felt a surge of power run through my limbs, as though I were preparing for a fight. My eyes were shut, but my other senses were suddenly at extra-human attention. I could hear the hum of my kitchen refrigerator, which was downstairs, all the way in the opposite corner of my house. I could smell what was inside it, as well, so long as I focused for a moment to separate out the odors. My flesh detected every draft in the house, and I could picture their origins clearly in my mind, as though looking at a map.
It took all of my will to stay seated. My body was urging me to stand up and move around; perhaps to search for some hidden intruder that my heightened senses had overlooked. In fact, I did stand up, many times, and it took several sessions before I was able to remain still.
For a long time, nothing else happened. I repeated the ritual each evening, after my other work was completed, determined that there was more to the testicles than my mundane senses could detect. I sat for hours on end, growing stiff and sore, battling as best I could against the agitation urging me to mobilize bodily against some imaginary threat that might be lurking out there.
One night, I was rewarded for my efforts. I began to see an image in my mind. It was of a yellow flickering light, and as the image focused, it appeared to be the mouth of a cave, viewed at an angle, with a blazing fire inside. All around the entrance to this cave was a vast, endless darkness. I felt myself to be there, in body, and took a step closer, eager and apprehensive in equal measure to see what, if anything, was lurking within. As soon as I did so, the image was gone completely and I was left with nothing but the inside of my eyelids and the humming of the refrigerator somewhere below me.
I was able to get a little closer to the cave the next evening, and a little closer the evening after that. With each step, my sense of wonder increased, but so too did my sense of dread. There was something unimaginably powerful inside of that cave. I understood that in my cells, perhaps somewhere deeper than that. And it both thrilled me and terrified me.
The further I got in my meditations, the more my body paid the price. What seemed like a few minutes in my trance state was hours in the physical world. I would often find myself -- in the morning, at first, and in the afternoon as I progressed -- still sitting there in my secret room, now soiled and weak with hunger. It got to the point where I was neglecting too many of my other responsibilities, and so I was forced to take a couple of days off from my routine.
Those days were painful, as if withdrawing from a drug. I was, indeed, shaking uncontrollably on the first day absent the testicles, and running a high fever; by afternoon, I was vomiting blood. I hoped that I wouldn’t lose my progress and need to start all over again, but also felt that I couldn’t keep going without refreshing my body and my connection to the mundane world.
On the third day without meditation, I decided to check up on Flint, something that I hadn’t done for a week. If I couldn’t pursue knowledge of the testicles directly, I supposed that I could still make progress on other fronts.
Flint, I quickly discovered through a cursory search, had been brutally murdered in his apartment on the previous day, by an unknown assailant, or possibly multiple assailants. After following up with some contacts, I was able to learn the details of his demise. He had been found dead, tied to a chair in his living room. His face had been brutally beaten. All ten of his fingers had been cut off, and were left in a puddle of various bodily fluids that had gathered at his feet. Perhaps worst of all, his disembodied testicles had found their way to rest in the graveyard of his digits.
This discovery led me to a renewed volley of vomit, without ceremony. After my stomach had settled a spell, the implications hit me more fully. Somebody was after the testicles, the sale of which Flint had documentation of, with my name on it. This meant that it would not be long before they would be coming after me.
*
I deal in artifacts that are often beyond the measure of money, and so have invested a great deal in a top-of-the-line security system. I spent the rest of that day in contact with the company that serviced the system, ordering an inspection, to ensure that everything was working properly, as well as a detail of workers to watch my house for a few days with their own eyes.
Still, I did not feel safe. After analyzing it a thousand ways, the inescapable conclusion was that whoever had tortured and slaughtered Flint had known not only about the existence of the testicles, but had very likely known much more about the properties and origins of them than I did. Why else take such extreme measures to acquire them?
I was at a distinct disadvantage, despite my elaborate security measures. In my experience, knowledge truly was a weapon, and I had nearly none of it while my opponent apparently had it in spades.
There was, however, one circumstance that I supposed might level the playing field a bit. Namely, that I had possession of the testicles, and might be able to employ them in my defense. If only I knew their secrets a little more!
Thus I found myself returning to my meditation chamber that evening, despite the knowledge that my body was not yet adequate for the mission of delving deeper into the testicles. I needed several more days of rest, I knew; and I knew that my opponent would not afford me those days. I had to act posthaste, and place all of my bodily resources on the hope that I would be able to accomplish in one evening what I had not been able to achieve in the previous weeks leading up to the crisis.
Liquor blunts focus, but lends courage, and of the two qualities, both of which were requisite to the task in front of me, I was far more deficient in the latter. And so before unlocking my secret room, I fortified myself with a tumbler full of a very fine, unique liquor -- distilled with water from polar ice -- that an appreciative client had once gifted me. So emboldened, I entered my room and withdrew the testicles from their jar.
Far from leaving me out of practice, as I had feared, my respite had made me much more receptive to the power of the testicles. Nearly as soon as I closed my eyes, I found myself a few short steps from the entrance to the cave. I could feel the heat from the fire within, though I still couldn’t see what was inside.
A voice issued from the cave, and resounded without recognizable timbre in the center of my mind: Come. It is time.
I felt, at last, prepared to meet the mystery, as terrible as it might be, head on. But as I took a step forward in this other-worldly place, my senses detected something alarming happening in the ordinary world. There were intruders on my property. I heard them creep upon the parked cars of the security detail, lure the guards out, and slit their throats in the night. There were four of them, I discerned, and they were nearly silent, but not silent enough to evade my senses.
Focus, commanded the entity inside the cave. Come.
My body tensed as the intruders began picking the lock of my front door. After a moment, I heard the click of the lock coming undone, and the beep of the control panel, indicating that the intruders had forty-five seconds to enter the security code.
Focus. Come.
I took another step towards the cave. I was now technically inside of it, with the entity lurking just around a slight bend.
The intruders below me didn’t bother with the control panel. They were apparently unconcerned with the police, likely figuring that they would be in and out before anybody arrived; or worse, that they could dispatch any officers in the same way that they had eliminated the private security guards.
Focus. Come.
It was no easy matter. Every fiber of my body was screaming to mobilize against the real-world threat that was now creeping through my living room, towards my staircase. Soon enough, I realized with terror, the thudding of my pulse would grow so thunderous as to drown out even my supernatural sense of hearing, and I would lose track of my opponents, and be at an even greater disadvantage. But this proved to be a foolish worry as the house alarm began to blare, drowning out all other sounds.
Focus. Come.
In the cave, the force of gravity, it seemed, had grown a hundredfold, and it felt like moving through something solid, but I forced myself onward, around the bend, until I saw the mysterious entity, standing as tall as me.
It was a quivering, flaming, erect penis.
“Wh… what are you?”
There is God and there is the God that made Him. Then there is me, who made the first God. What you see is not my true form, which would melt your brain into a puddle.
I fell to my knees, weeping. I did not doubt that the entity’s true form was beyond my ability to comprehend; the form that was before me stretched my mind to its limit, assaulting it with both a beauty and an ugliness that I hadn’t thought possible, nor can I adequately describe.
“Are these yours?” I asked, holding the testicles up.
Everything is mine. In particular, those balls are the only remaining relics from the Fourth Era on the Third Earth, and were once hung between the legs of the leader of the Second Humanity.
Ah, what a violent disaster that experiment was. It was wonderful. You lot are awful, but nowhere near as delightfully terrible as Second Humanity. Just one of them could have, and would have gladly, wiped out your entire species if you looked at him funny. I gave them the Sacred Flame and, predictably, they eventually used it to destroy Third Earth completely.
Back in the physical world, above the ringing alarm, I could hear the clatter of books falling from my bookshelf. Somehow, the intruders knew exactly where I was.
If you don’t wield the Sacred Flame yourself, quickly now, I am afraid that it will fall into the hands of your house guests, who are very educated – and very evil – men.
“Who are they?”
They’re the ones who are going to kill you in about 30 seconds unless you act now.
“What do I do?”
Summon the Flame.
“How?”
You know how. Just picture it in your mind.
With that, the divine entity in the guise of an enormous penis vanished, leaving me alone in the darkness.
No, not alone. A sliver of light crept into my chamber, as the intruders began to open my secret door.
My body was too weak and exhausted to move. I watched helplessly as they entered, one by one, dressed in black robes, wearing ancient-style grotesque masks. One of them leveled a crossbow at the center of my forehead and released an arrow.
I clenched down on the testicles and prepared to die.
The arrow, I thought, is right now being burned out of existence by the Sacred Flame. It doesn’t exist, and it never existed. It has been reduced to less than ash.
Then it happened. The arrow burst into flame when its tip was an inch from my skull and disappeared into nothingness.
Three of my assailants turned to run out of the room, while the fourth aimed a gun at my head. I lit them all on fire at the same time, and then they were gone. With them went the sound of the blaring alarm, because they never existed and so never set it off.
My strength drained entirely, I crumpled to the floor in a catatonic state, not quite asleep but certainly not awake.
*
It has been a week since I discovered the true power of the testicles, and I have not touched them since. They sit in a jar on a table next to the bed where I have been recovering ever since.
The young man, Flint, who sold the artifacts to me, is alive, if not well. His killers never existed, and so quite simply never killed him. I phoned him yesterday, and he sounded deep in his cups, and not in a good place mentally. But he is alive, and I intend to provide him whatever help I can, seeing as we share a bond over the testicles. I have, in fact, offered him a position as my assistant. He is considering my offer.
Meanwhile, I have decided not to put the testicles up for sale. They are too powerful. I am deeply uncomfortable having them around, but it seems as though the role of their guardian has fallen squarely on my shoulders. I have no doubt that others will come for them; I will not hesitate to erase these would be thieves with the Sacred Flame.
Other than that, I am attempting to move on with my life. My algorithm has just alerted me of something potentially interesting. There is no rest for the curious, and that's how it ought be.
Yours,
OP
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