Gesshru (Arbon's attempt at Flash fiction)

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Re: Gesshru (Arbon's attempt at Flash fiction)

Postby arbon » Sun May 14, 2017 4:36 pm

Not only did I miss an update, apparently I didn't even copy and paste the full story of chapter 11 correctly x.x; was missing half the chapter. Updated now, so it should make a bit more sense to re-read.

squeaak, I have been out of it this past week. Guess I'll have to double-update this time.
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arbon
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Re: Gesshru (Arbon's attempt at Flash fiction)

Postby arbon » Sun May 14, 2017 4:38 pm

Gesshru

__________
Chapter 12

My name is Freya Savitri, and right now there’s only one way to describe my surroundings.

Stepping on an ant hill.

Kaos in Albanian. Pwnu in Armenian. Xaos in Azerbaijani. Xaoc in Basque. Haos in Bosnian. Kagubot in Cebuano. Idarudapo in Yoruba. Tartibsizlik in Uzbek. Anhrefn in Welsh. Hepohepo in Maori. Mhirizhonga in Shona. Complete and total chaos.

That’s what it was like, okay? No matter what language one uses, the word chaos fully and completely described their deranged mania. Already the large bay doors were closing tight, having no need to open higher than a few inches during normal use with only the rodents scampering around. There were no guards or combat units stationed on the inside of the building for reasons that largely have to do with delegation of resources. Enemy assault was deemed more likely than human escape.

And yet time and time again here we are, back in the familiar screams with a newfound purpose. Better still, an entirely new strategy.

I moved my legs. Do you hear that? Me. I moved them, entirely on my own, and no one was prompting me or controlling me or forcing me to aim at anyone in particular. Okay maybe there was a quick and disappointed scan for Tasgal, but no one else caught my immediate ire. That was the key difference here. That is what made these panicky rodents so different to the ones in Scando, as far as my emotional stability was concerned.

I stepped down the halls, quickly asserting myself into the wider room opening up some forty or fifty yard with this hallway intersecting them. Twin rows of human cells behind me, there wasn’t any way I could smash them out of the doors before someone with a remote control came in to recapture me, and even with my most convincing stare I wasn’t quite adorable enough to seduce the Gesshru assistants into opening all the doors for me.

No, I didn’t try that in a previous attempt …

Shut up.

There were sections of the walls reserved for research, access panels leading into the network of maintenance tunnels and what could reasonably house secret rooms. Much of it went into the hidden machinery of those claws and towers designed for outfitting a human in armor, as well as producing and storing the bits of equipment between assembly.

What interested me was the control tower though. Built directly into the wall like some boxy cabinet shelf, designed to look down on everything else from eye level to a human. Inside were the intricate computers and wires and a stuffy little office for the guys in charge, all set to a pretty glass window. Not polished quartz like most of the Gesshru buildings elsewhere, but real panes of glass that could only have been constructed via mimicking our technology.

It was on the other side the room, but the short walk didn’t take long, and I wasn’t in the mood to take this leisurely.

Chaos reigned supreme, rodents diving out of the way of my feet, soldiers collecting tiny weapons from wherever they could, assistants darting into thin little passages or hiding behind electronic equipment. All of their cutting edge toys and brand new developments were handled right on this floor.

“Whoops.” I wasn’t especially sorry when I kicked aside what looked like half a radio with the wires missing and smoothed river stones tied up in duct tape. None of the Gashn specimens were crushed underfoot, largely through a mix of neither of us wanting that to happen, and within moments I was face to face with two dainty looking operators.

Male and female if I had to judge based on the swiveling horns, the female fell out of her seat while the male was scrambling to level a needle thrower at my snarling visage. Sure those things could hurt, but it’s not like they could break through real glass to shoot me through it.

My fist on the other hand, suffered no such deficiencies.

Shards went splaying wildly, my fist bleeds to match my legs, the stink and sweat and rage of it all adds to the aura of terror. The sound of folding aluminum and crushed plastics mixing strangely with the chittery screams.

It was so hard to continue thinking of them as people at that point, because none of the sounds they produced resembled human terror in the slightest. It was all squeaks and clicks, sometimes loud chirps. The glass wasn’t completely removed so I bashed at it again with a balled up hammerfist, plucking at the sides and pulling until I had room. My fingers reaching inside for one of the two.

The male apparently didn’t expect me to crunch through his defense so easily and was a tad out of his depth when it came to defense. He fires off the release on his needle thrower, but just ends up embedding a thin strip of plastic into a display screen behind my fingers. I grip onto his legs and pull, dragging him gently but forcefully away from the tower, and … felt a prick.

Ah, the woman. She had a proper spear beneath the tables of her workstation and now took this opportunity to poke at me. It was like having a child jab you with a pencil, annoying certainly but nothing serious.

Her screams intensified when I ignored her, the male partner at work releasing a panicked yowling noise and reaching his arms back as if to grab onto something. The woman lunges forward faster than I can safely pull my arms out, stabs her spear in a wild eyed jab, and … to my annoyance it wasn’t aimed at hitting me. It was just putting the plastic stick in reach of the male for him to grip.

She pulled, he pulled, the girl bracing herself against the torn bunker and the male scrambling to keep a tight hug around what had just become his lifeline. They were putting so much determination into saving each other it actually annoyed me.

So then I pulled, and neither of them had a solid ground to fight from. The woman dangling from one end of her spear and the man now holding on to keep his friend from falling. I roll my eyes at the display, it became a struggle to do my best to ignore what each of them assuredly believed were their last words to each other. Did one of them just spout ‘I love you’ while stammering through tears?

Gah! Spare me. Both were quietly deposited onto the floor without much ceremony, and I returned to the opening with my other occupant.

It was so hard to keep thinking of these things as people when they screamed. In the city, built for them, designed with their tech, clearly alien and so decidedly lived in one could scarcely imagine them being anything but sentient. When screaming and chirping and all hopping about while inside a building sized for humans? That was a tiny bit harder at this point.

I had a very forceful reminder of the aggressive personhood these Gesshru displayed upon lifting Soto up to the control station. His own squeaks taking a moment for me to register, his face finally clear of nutriment paste and his naked body still warm in my grip.

“I t-think I’m going to be sick …” he muttered, and to be honest I wouldn’t have cared much if he did make a mess of things. It really was not like any part of me was near clean at the moment, and so long as he could get us out of here it wasn’t anything to hold against him. Heh, if he could get us out. You see, my entire plan now revolved around him.

“Make it quick alright, I’m going to need you to find the right button.” My voice wasn’t as gentle as it could have been, but I made sure not to hurt him while maneuvering the guy through glass and into the half wrecked room. There was a slight tickle at my feet as things tried to stab me, but that was irrelevant. Soto was in the control tower, he had senses that could read all of the colors and buttons, and what’s more he was actually small enough to press them.

If he could manage this quickly? All the better.

My hand pulls back and he’s now crawling through the half ruins, stepping on broken glass and eagerly rushing forward to the console.

“What do I do?” He asks as if I had any answer he could gleam.

I looked at all of the consoles, but still had no idea myself. Not as if I made it here often and they occasionally upgraded or changed equipment. But here’s where they handled the door controls, I knew that much.

“Figure it out, I’m going to brute force it.”

A quick glance down to see a swarm of five Gesshru were jabbing at my ankles with plastic spears, while another two were dragging an exceptionally thin string in a circle around me. One couldn’t help but roll their eyes at such childish tactics as tying rope across my ankle and hoping that I trip when stepping forward.

I bend over to pluck at the string and lift up, in which the Gesshru decide that my face being so much lower meant now was the time to throw their spears. These were not aerodynamic spears, nor were they all that sharp. At most the awkward stings of getting pencils thrown at you, the disorientation of having to close your eyes while things pent against your nose. An exasperated sigh, all I had to worry about was someone with a controller.

A quick scan for danger, a pull on the string to climb myself out of the loop. Hey? Why was the string trailing back to those machinery lines. And why was there a terrified Gashn soldier holding the other end of the string towa- …

Zszzssaaapp!

SPARKS! PAIN! BURNING! I dropped the now electrified string and jerked away, my shoulders slamming into the wall and a thin red line of pure agony embedded into my palms like I’d been marked by a cattle prod. Those thin ropes were conductive? That bastard … plugged it into the assembly line power source?

The entire room was abuzz with frantic energy, those at my feet either collecting their weapons or running away and still others either trying to watch safely or trying to hide. Little miss ‘happy couple’ decided now was their time to slip away into a quiet little corner, I guess their final goodbyes before doom weren’t living up to expectations. Meanwhile I was contemplating if I should just stomp on everyone until they leave me alone.

A growl. Took me far too long to realize the animal grunting came from me. Soto was still working on the doorway and all but pissed himself upon seeing the pain and anger in my eyes, but I couldn’t focus on him.

I didn’t have time to go on a murder spree, my job was getting OUT. So I took that rage and slammed it into the reinforced metal with as much power as I could muster. A reverberating clang. If the entire fort didn’t already know that ‘Maneater’ had escaped, they certainly knew it now. Knuckles bleeding, my palm stinging from the burns, exhaustion and pain and sniveling dampness that ran down my nose, I slammed into the door again.

“Open.” I pleaded to it, throwing my shoulder against the middle section.

“Open, please!” How far does one have to go until it counts as begging? I chose another side of the hangar door and unleashed a desperate flurry of strikes. My elbow hurt, my face hurt, all of my fingers were hurting. And now my shoulders hurt on top of that.

“Ggn aaahhh!” I shouted in desperation, throwing myself at the walls again and again. It didn’t matter if I was strategic and went for the sides, looking for joints was useless when it folds up into the roof, and the walls weren’t any less durable than the door itself. I’ve done this before and it never worked, but maybe if I could delude myself for a bit and draw attention to me, it would give Soto the time he needs.

My eyes were damp, but I had to ignore that. Out of this hellhole, out. Away from death, away from all the horror, just get away and don’t look back and stop crying until you’re back home in space. Skull hurt, kneecaps hurt, every single finger was this stinging pang of recent impact which all just seemed to blend in with burns and cuts and the stink of my own sewage.

There wasn’t anyone behind me, or near me. I sank to my knees in despair, glancing up to see Soto just as panicked and just as frantic. But also just as studious, apparently having had difficulty finding the actual open mechanism and now taking to just press all the buttons and find out what happens. One of them has to be the doorway, certainly?

But the ladder leading up, protected and housing smaller box sections, now sported a small team of armed Gesshru making their way into the control room. They weren’t attacking me because they were chasing down Soto.

A whining growl, staggering up to my feet and lazily walking over to pick them off, this wasn’t much of a struggle. A pluck, a toss, another pluck. They weren’t taking this without a fight and spears into open burn wounds weren’t all that pleasent, so rather than engage them I just twisted off their ladder and pulled down the supports. No way up for them anymore. I stuck my tongue out in this minor victory and turned around to focus back on th- …

Controller!

There was one with a lab coat. No time. Disable!

I leapt like my life depended on it, chest slamming into the floor and fingers wrapping under this little guys arms. It was a full fifteen feet so he’d probably assumed it was a safe enough distance, but keeping my mobility was worth far much more than the price of scraping flesh against cold tile. The abrasions would heal in time, as would everything else.

Pain was irrelevant in the face of this tiny little plastic horror.

Without prompt or ceremony I tore it from his hands, placed it into my lips, and then bit down on the length of it. Making sure to crush plastic casing before the risk of any buttons pressing down. The fact I used my mouth for this means I still have some part of my body able to move and press the button again if I did accidentally turn myself off.

But then there was another one.

No time! Too far! SPIT!

Shards of plastic and a trail of spittle came bursting past my lips. Hurling at a distant Gesshru like a hail of shrapnel and sticky girl slobber, the poor thing was bowled over and scrambling for cover. I was already crawling forward, my outstretched hand slapping down on his controller and crushing it to tiny fragments. The smell of smoke was palpable, the aura of fear in each of these creatures was distinct and noticeable.

And then apparently contagious, as I discovered upon looking past that frail little rodent in a lab coat and toward …

Doors were open. No, not the outer door, cage doors!

Multiple doors, light pouring out of the quaint little human enclosures and into a murky stained hallway. One, no that was four different openings. Two at the far back, one at the front, another directly across from mine. Details I didn’t need to care about just yet, and probably shouldn’t be trying to memorize so much as get back on my feet and plan.

We needed out of here, now! The bastards knew they couldn’t take me so their getting Max pilots to pin me down!

Looking over at Soto and how that nude ball of stress and food stains was doing didn’t encourage me, nor did the soldiers newfound angle of attack. The ladder was torn and useless, and I rather doubted even a Gesshru could jump and climb the distance while armed, but someone apparently managed to get that string up by tying one end to a spear and throwing it to cross that vertical gap. But no one was climbing it …

Different rodent from before now held the other end of the- ooh come on! It was the same string! One end on the metal ladder of a metal structure and the other end neatly trying to plug into the wires of their robotic systems. With an almost feral growl I stomped back over in their direction, latched onto the string, and tore at the end hoping to snap it free.

In retrospect I shouldn’t have been taken off-gaurd this unusual durability from a string thinner than my hair, but it just pulled taut without any noticeable harm. My foot tips over the first Gesshru at the opposite end, and then any others who come near, making sure to physically block anyone trying to send another electrical charge through this. A hard pull, then a harder one, but this just wasn’t working.

A spear into my heel, jabbing right at the bottom of my ankle and sliding up. My knees buckle, my eyes shut tight in a seething hiss. It was becoming very, very difficult to not just stomp everyone and trade away the annoyances for bloodshed, that would have solved so many problems in the short run.

In the long run it would make them more desperate and elicit harsher confinement on the rest of my crew, but if I only need to escape once …

I snatched up the other end of this silly little string and then tried to lift it out of their reach. On top of the control tower, parts of it dangling down and the opposite end still latched into a wall mounted ladder.

“Can you get the door open yet, or not?” I squeaked in a hushed whisper, running out of time. So very quickly running out of time.

“I’m working on it! Shut up, go cause a distraction or something!” Soto responded. If he weren’t shooing me away like a lovestruck puppy I would have almost assumed he’d caught my context. At the very least he understood impatience and didn’t want me breathing down his neck.

The wet slap of bare feet onto polished tiles alerted everyone that the cavalry was here. Not again, this was not fun no matter how many times I have to go through it. Striding boldly from the hallways was another human. Another Max, her helmet obscuring every aspect of the face and hair, but her body was unmistakable. Muscle and lean, thin and strong.

“Hey Freya!” came the human’s words, a twinge of excitement buried beneath a broken sense of resolve. “Hope you have a better plan than last time. My pilot’s not that bad at this.”

Kell. I got to see her again. Not her face, that was so rare to see, but here she was …

“No real plan, but I’m listening if you have a way to get this door open.” Came my response. Immediately I was circling toward the center of the room, further away from Soto but also away from the corners that Gesshru liked to hide in.

“It’s fine. Make sure to watch for Chea, Toris, and Rodan so we don’t all swarm you, other pilots are suiting u- Ooomph!” she lurches forward. One foot jabbing out as if trying to kick the air, and then the rest of her body sliding in after each step. If it weren’t for the obviously skilled way in which she held up her hands for defense it would have looked comically stupid. “Incoming attack, please don’t be dumb enough to let this hit you.”

I barely had to try to manage safe avoidance, her awkwardly forced grab lashing into the space inches in front of me while I needed only to swipe to the left. If one didn’t know the full context you could easily be forgiven in failing to recognize that this specimen was the best military combatant in our team. Designated defense specialist and usually very good at her job. Ironically it was failure to prioritize her warnings that lead to the complete enslavement we now faced …

Who could have suspected such adorably primitive little rats would have such a bite to them?

“Is your pilot a good one or a bad one, I can try to smash that cockpit for you.” I responded by sweeping in and delivering a short kick to the side of her legs. My front leaned back and making sure to expose as little as possible in this defensive posture, arms up to defend myself. Kell was barred from utilizing any of her own skill so long as that parasite was in control, but she was still the strongest person on this planet and possessed an iron grip I’d never be able to break.

Letting her grab me was not an option, and it’s a lot easier to keep her from chasing me across the room if she’s flat on her face.

“Mixed, I don’t care either way.” Hard smack as my shin impact hers, to the effect of her staggering but not really stumbling. That looked like it hurt more than it shoved her aside. “Just neutralize me and keep making a mess until they bring more controllers in. Don’t get swarmed, alright?”

“Not planning on it.”

Another ambling swing that misses by a wide margin, my retreat taking me across the room and over a field of expensive looking Gashn toys. Shiny and sparkling, some showing a close resemblance to circuit boards while others were hobbled together bits and pieces of my shuttle craft, complete with NASA logo.

Then came that horrendous wet slapping sound of bare feet stomping on tile, and I turned to see not one, but two figures barreling toward me at this close approximation of a dead run. At best it manages a steady march, fast enough to be intimidating and only just barely in the realm of what might sting if you crash into a wall.

Knowing what my own injuries felt like, sidestepping their assault and watching them both smack headlong into the same doorway I’d been pounding against, they were hurting about as much as it looked like. Made all the more comical at Kell’s grab at me only latching her arms around one of her allies.

“Sorry about that Chea, but your face will be okay.” words. Excitement. I had far too much time to think, and as usual the outright hilarious clumsiness of my opponents just didn’t help at all with keeping focused. I step in close while the other one was trying to reorient and then deliver a soft strike to the side of his head. Couldn’t reach the back.

I think it tapped gently against the hard plastic armor, more knocking him about than genuine injury.

“AAwww, you don’t care about my face?” Rodan whined. “That’s almo -ooop, watch it, my pilots trying to kick you- almost enough to hurt a guy’s pride, you know.”

When he said kick, what he meant was a limp flail in my general direction that I didn’t even have to dodge. I extend my arms and grab at the knee, hold close and slide forward while lifting up and u-AArrgghg! Harsh touch of his skin against burnt flesh, my blood scraping off and dripping to the floor, my already injured hands struggling to keep hold.

I didn’t throw him to the floor like I’d planned, even awkwardly he still had just enough balance. A step away while Kell drops her previous hold and then flails her arms at me. Driving me back, taking up room, once more I almost trip over the pile of useless clutter.

“Can’t actually see your face Rodan, hah! Take the helmet off and I’m sure all the Gesshru will scream even- ggnnrrr. Okay, running out of room here guys.” They were backing me into a corner. It’s like fighting zombies, no skill and no grace but if they can just overwhelm you the sheer numbers advantage will drag you down.

Plinkplinkjabjabplink.

Two more needles from a nearby team of Gesshru stab into my already bleeding wound and a number miss entirely to bounce off the far walls. Hitting right where it hurts, making my eyes water and my muscles lock. Acupuncture onto electrified skin, when I spend my time reaching a thumb down and pulling one needle out it comes back slick with my own blood. Breathing was difficult. Had to keep backing up, keep dodging, make sure I don’t stumble on the piles of old electronics and scattered plastics of numerous projects.

Crunch sounded off from some of them, my heel jabbing through in a careless stomp. All too aware at least some rodents used this as a hiding spot. But the other needle still hurt so badly I just couldn’t think, just couldn’t fight back.

“FREYA! Controller! On the left!” A new voice shouted from the hallway to my right. Ah, that’s where Toris went. Awkward hands grab at the air next to my head as I’m scanning the floors, only just spotting a thin little Gesshru woman with …

Oh come on! A makeshift controller? It didn’t even have the casing, and the button was still coated in spit!

What, did she pick up scraps off the floor and start repairing the thing in less than a minute? NO! Fuck you lady, knock it off already!

Ignore the pain. Elbow Kell’s arms aside as best I can and then duck underneath Chea’s grab. My feet pounding into the floor with my best attempt at not limping. That Gesshru noticed my attention alarmingly fast and took off at a halting run, focus still primarily on putting bits and pieces of the remote together. Looping wires around a small battery and connecting that this half eaten computer chip. I dove forward …

I missed?

Too far to the left, she saw me coming and bolted just out of the way. Oh god my leg hurt, my hands hurt, my chest hurts. Even my breathing hurts. Another volley of little needles plink away from the opposite side, jabbing into my ribs and shoulder. Those hurt less and I could still ignore the piercing stabs enough to move.

My hand swipes, misses again, fingers brushing against her tail while the frantic little rodent works as if her life depends on it.

“Dodge! Move!” I heard shouting to my left from Chea, the woman’s faceless body ambling toward me at a step at a time, but then I felt strong arms wrap around my shoulder. Wrap around my neck.

Toris came up, too slowly for me to be alarmed and too quickly for me to ignore, and now he’s grabbed hold. He couldn’t stop me from standing up, but that woman on the floor with her controller. Come on, just … one more … step …

I couldn’t walk, couldn’t break free of Toris’s grip.

“Sorry Freya, I am so sorry.” He breathes through the plastic visor while his bare arms loop beneath my shoulder and wrap behind my head. No time, no struggle, the Gesshru was too far!

I spit.

Okay, again, having a ranged weapon that at the very least works was this immense blessing I will never forget, and within the moment I’d thought about doing it the girl was smacked to the floor and her arms limp. There was a harsh thump as her skull bashes the tile, and she wasn’t moving, but all I cared about was keeping her from completing the button.

Another arm grabs around my waist. Rodan holding one side, Toris holding the other. While Rodan was moving and pressing forward, his movement fluid and sweaty and utterly ignoring the fact his bulk shoved fresh needles into my skin, Toris was stiff and unyielding. My arms reach behind my head, my hips shove backward into his, and I could hear his now frantic shouting.

“W-waitwaitWAIT!” but I’d already tossed him forward over my shoulders in a hip toss. Slamming Toris to the ground, his belly up and his feet impacting the nearby outfitting stations. A glimpse through his helmet and I could just barely spot the fear in his eyes through an orange tint. “On your neck!”

His body wasn’t moving …

There was a click sound behind my back. My own collar begins to unfold. No. NOOOooooo!

Too fast for me to even think my arms slide up and feel behind the back of my head, moving as if on their own. Pure adrenaline, panic fighting through the gut wrenching pain on every part of me at once. Rodan’s host saw this opportunity and took it, hugging tighter and attempting to swing me to the floor with his own toss, but he was so inept I barely had to care. It was the Gesshru climbing around my hair like a jungle gym that was the real problem.

Clicks and sliding, the collar unfolds and snaps out into a half dome. Swinging up over my ears, soft padding expands out to rest comfortably and firmly. In moments half my vision was replaced with that orange tint, and the claustrophobic confinement surrounds my entire skull.

Fingers close around something soft. He’d tried to dodge, and was presumably waiting for the cockpit to unfold so he could assume manual control, but there weren’t too many hiding places behind my ears.

“S-squeak!” I hear the thing shout. Tight grey uniform, twin horns pointed directly at me, his tail between his legs and ears folded to the back of his head. I thought about crushing him, but instead decided I could use the ammunition. My face was now covered you see, I wasn’t going to be able to spit. If this guy is in hand then at least I have something to throw, and can be sure he won’t just climb back into Toris.

Suddenly my legs are out from under me. No!

Rodan’s persistence paid off, and I’m thrown into a crouch. Chea came up from behind and grabbed onto my helmet, one arm latching into the jagged hole. Kell walked up to the front and grabbed at my arm, having to bend down and press her leg against my knee. Ohgodno, not like this.

I roll into the movement, leaning forward to throw Chea off-balance and place all of my weight on my left knee, then my right knee juts out. Slamming hard into her thighs and kicking away all of her support. Rodan ducks down low to get under my arms and pin me in place while Kell is busy trying to solidify her old on my right arm.

My left hand, balled into a fist, crushes down into the back of rodan’s skull. He staggers, the body slowing, but he doesn’t stop.

“Guy’s still alive there Freya, another hit please.” Rodan mutters, of course the plastic and padding wasn’t quite as fragile as paper despite my wishing it were so.

Kell latches her grip on my other arm and now it becomes a childish dance of flailing at each other. Chea back on her feet and trying to choke me, Rodan bracing his knees into my hips. Everything hurt, all at once, from very point on my skin in this screaming agony. I tried to throw Kell off, to swing her on top of Rodan, but with her strength and while smothered in barely clothed humans I just wasn’t getting anything out of this. She swings my arms together like she’s preparing me for handcuffs.

That’s when I hear it …

That blessed, amazing sound of metal sliding into metal, the mechanical grind of gears turning in the roof and a rope pulling up the flexible panes of a hanger doorway. The entire door was opening to the outside, rising a foot high, and then higher still. Soto did it! Ahaha, you did it Soto-hmmgph …

No one was distracted by this, at least not more than I was, and in the time it took me to cheer I’d been shoved facefirst into the floor. Toris was still immobile, that one Gesshru pilot was forcibly pulled from my grip, and Kell was now maneuvering herself into a seat atop my back while sliding my arms behind my waist so I’d have even less leverage.

“You were close there, Freya. Make sure you get this hand looked at when you can, alright?” Chea utters sympathetically.

From Kell I simply heard grunts, and I suspect she was trying her hardest to fight against the commands. But it honestly wasn’t useful …

Soto was shouting something, but I had no idea what. Rodan was standing up now. And walking over to the control tower … walking over to Soto …

“N-no …”

Why did I think of his name. Why didn’t I properly detatch myself from him? The specimen would have worked just fine. The Cavni prisoner perhaps. Anything but a name, anything to make sure I wouldn’t have to remember who he was.

As if fate just wanted to spit in my eye, the first thing to walk through the hanger doorway was a line of 50 strong, fully armed Gashn guardsmen each with a remote control in their hands. They unleash a squeak I didn’t bother to translate, and with just the press of a button nothing about my movements were in my control. My eyes couldn’t blink, my head couldn’t turn.

“No …”

To my complete and utter horror, I am forced to watch. As through the corner my eye I can see Rodan dangling my food coated prisoner in arms in one hand. Grab his legs in the other. Then start to pinch until the limbs snap. He squeaks. Such a very different sound from a squeak, and my cynical mind could only identify it as alarm signals responding to stressful stimulai. Not … not people … not screaming. It was all just squeaks.

Failure.

Recapture.

And no matter how many times I tell myself they aren’t people for my sake of sanity, I never can genuinely believe it.
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Re: Gesshru (Arbon's attempt at Flash fiction)

Postby Mdcrmn » Mon May 15, 2017 5:01 am

the first thing to walk through the hanger doorway was a line of 50 strong, fully armed Gashn guardsmen each with a remote control in their hands.

Yeah, the doors keep her in but also keep reenforcements out!
Only real escape option would be to have someway to quickly destroy the collars, or for earth to finally wonder what happened to their science vessel.
I'll bet that there isn't any FTL drives developed yet so that's probably why the team hasn't gotten rescued
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Re: Gesshru (Arbon's attempt at Flash fiction)

Postby arbon » Tue May 16, 2017 8:53 am

I'm glad it's easy to see the reason it's taken Freya over three years to only get this far. And every time she makes a little bit of progress, they change things around to make sure her old tricks won't work. The gaurds didn't all used to have controllers, but mass producing them makes it a lot harder to take out all of them at once.

Hrmm, I'm not entirely sure on how I'll detail FTL drives as I'd like to introduce the greater universe this takes place in with a separate series all it's own, and then apply a crossover. At present the balance I was imagining is that the older, more civilized races have cheap and reliable FTL that basically makes moving through space the equivalent of driving a car. But humans don't have this, and the alien civilization wants to make sure it stays that way. Humans are a dinosaur sized monster of endurance with violent tendencies after all. But, they do have makeshift FTL methods. Cheats. Strange workarounds with various drawbacks that achieve a similar effect, but for a lot of cost and effort with a high chance of failure.
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arbon
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Location: Despite what the green paws might claim, not a giant monster. Look down. See that little mouse?

Re: Gesshru (Arbon's attempt at Flash fiction)

Postby arbon » Tue May 16, 2017 9:07 am

My question for this chapter: "Would any of your original characters be capable of withstanding three years of ... this story, without snapping? Tell me about them."

---------------

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Chapter 13

My name is Freya Savitri, and I was wrong. Pain is not something you can just ignore.

Doctor. There were many of them in the next month of dull madness. Mjek in Albanian, hekim in Azerbaijani, nekap in Balarusia, metge in Catalan, dokotala in Chichewa, medico in Corsican, lijecnik in Croatian, laege in Danish, kuracisto in Esperanto, arst in Estonian. The word these Gashn soldiers used was a mix between a mouselike chip and the sound of licking your lips. Some clear association between using saliva to dress a wound and the skilled art of nursing something back to health. It left me at least grateful that none of the doctors who came to see me tried licking my thighs, instead strongly favoring herbs and concentrated powders, or the rare supplies of nanite laced burn cream still rationed from aboard our ship.

Manggagamot inFilipino, laakari in Finnish, arzt in German, dokte in Hiatian, likita in Hausa, kauka in Hawaiian, orvos in Hungarian, laeknir in Icelandic, dokita in Igno, dochtuir in Irish, medico in Italian, pizisk in Kurdish, medicus in Latin, arsts in Latvian. No matter what they were called they all had the same job, and all held a similar reverence. These docters perhaps more than most.

Field medics is what most of them were, as a full team of twenty different aliens each set about working with me on a daily basis. Always at random my muscles would lock up and I’d be forced into that prostrate pose for easy handling. Their confusion over what to do vanishing in the face of the actual job, quickly setting about scrubbers to clear infection and inspection teams to handle observing the recovery. Tiny stitching were applied over the tiniest cracks to heal the scar better, and their thin little hands removed the stitches within the few days I needed to heal. Better than human surgeons at least.

Those who weren’t combat medics were usually elder gentlemen or enthusiastic scholars more concerned with the bioengineering knowledge they assumed they could gleam from this. The oldest among them was maybe two years old, and I was forced to listen as they prattle with all the studious observational skills of a veteran professor. Scientists in their field doing as much experimentation on how to treat a human’s injuries as they were historians combing through ancient documents written before their time.

I was given that bath I wanted. A tiny scrub at a time by little mouse things keeping me held in lockdown and then riding my body with sponges like I was some amusement ride. Occasionally they’d drag in a hose and start to sprinkle water at me, lukewarm rather than cold as these Gesshru didn’t appreciate a wide variance in temperatures.

My clothes were cleaned, my chamberpot was emptied regularly, and I overheard many amusing discussions about the abysmal conditions of my cage. Numerous medical personal all made the recommendation that I be given a full pond with heated water to relax in, and that my physiology would be best suited to steaming waters of a temperature most find at thermal vents.

Spa. They recommended that this base manager install a spa into my room.

I heard mention of needing exercise, I heard numerous concerns about my mental health and what being force-fed Cavni prisoners would do to my psyche. They wanted a fake tree brought in. Baring that, install metal pipes as a jungle jym, or simply large rocks to climb about on.

Pamit denied most of these requests in an offhanded and casual way of course. The climbing equipment with concerns that I’d be off-balance when placed into lockdown, and might fall and injure myself if their remote forces awkward movement and positions when I am off the floor. Waters of a high enough temperature for a human to call a comfortable bath, these Gesshru would consider lethal ranges. The equivalent of swimming in burning oil, because at their size water was actually quite sticky.

Were I to lie to myself I’d have said I could remember their names. If I were to blatantly delude myself I’d have somehow worked up some narrative in which I spoke to each of the people working on me. Patching up wounds and carefully monitoring my health, taking blood samples and cross referencing public knowledge of Max units with their first hand observations.

But I didn’t.

What was the point? They were all going to die anyway. Short lived things that wither into old age by the time it takes a human to potty train. Tiny baby mouse things in the middle of a war for dominance of the continent. There was nothing to be gained from caring about them, and no manner of knowledge they offered or awareness I could grant them would make escape easier.

Maybe if their plans for improving the cage actually fell through I’d have more tools to work with, but Pamit knew the truth. And he knew that if these medical researchers were given long enough to examine me they’d conclude I’m not some Gashn created bioweapon. And then they’d all be killed. And nothing would change.

They were moved away from my treatment early.

Pain had all but stopped, their carefully applied painkillers dabbed strait onto the wound wasn’t needed at this stage of my recovery. Sometimes it hurt if I moved the wrong way, but I could walk just fine. They never told me if my armor was repaired or not, but honestly I’d have preferred if that took a bit longer. That was a job for engineers.

My helmet was given minor repairs, as best they could manage without damaging the folding mechanism. Apply crazy glue to the plastic shards to put the visor back in place, then polish off the edges so it folds back up. Cracks were still very much visible but the plastic looked sturdy enough and the whole thing was clear enough to see through. A shame they didn’t just remove the helmet entirely, without it folding back out or somehow stuck in the shape of a collar there is no control panel to access.

Jam that inner working somehow and quite suddenly they can’t pilot me, but it doesn’t actually help me escape. The collar is still hooked in after all. So they just use a remote to set me in lockdown and then come repair the helmet.

From what I could gleam through scattered conversation the best scientists and medics assigned to me had been ordered to focus all studies on the new captive Souleater, with special emphasis on how to tame one. I never saw where it went or how the trapped little fluttercat was being treated, but these people still thought of them as animals above all else. Presumably it was trapped in similar conditions to me, albeit with less opportunity for mind control.

If one hooks a collar into the Souleater and controls it remotely, people are going to wonder why that tech looks so similar to what goes into a Max unit. And the medics working on me were already smart enough to be suspicious, if not quite smart enough to play dumb.

Tasgal I didn’t see much of during my recovery, though I knew he was arguing with the medics rather often. Pushing for that lobotomy whether it be partial or full, demanding that all Max units be given the same procedure before disaster strikes. One could only hope he wasn’t making much headway.

And so fully healed, miserable and lonely, leaned against the back of the pristine white walls and waiting for the next mundane hell to assert itself, I suffered. This was a quiet suffering in a state of perpetual unease, but it was hell nonetheless. My room unchanged in this entire time, my bowl still filled with nutriment paste. That slimy gray muck that for better or worse didn’t have corpses in it.

When all one has is the minutes to count, you know exactly how long it is before the next interesting thing happens. And in this case it was just heatbreaking.

That feeding tube in the wall activates again, a squelch and a plop. Tiny black rubber falls to the bowl and sinks inside the wet marsh, a thin form wriggling beneath the vacuum sealed sheets. With a heavy sigh I stomped back over to the bowl, every beat of my steps sending ripples through the paste and making it’s form sink deeper inside. A low crouch, quietly examining.

It was a child.

Female, though it was too small in the chest to have the telltale fluff a human would search for, it’s head was smooth and the hips were compact. Only one set of ears rather than the distinctly sharp, swiveling horns a male would possess. Being only half the size of an adult this thing must have been less than a month old. Born either just as my recovery started, or very soon afterward. The poor thing was terrified and struggling, unable to even scream against its bindings.

At any other moment I would have been horrified by the fact they’ve given me a child to devour, that these Gashn soldiers care so little for their enemy they would torture one so young. But honestly I was simply numb to it all.

With a heavy sigh I tore away the wrappings. Head first so the little thing could breathe, and simply offered a sorrowful look when she manages a scream.

High pitched wailing. Choking sobs. It sounded like the shrill cry of a groundhog more than anything else, but I knew what the cries meant. Her tiny paws waggled at my fingers as if to push me away. She scooped up some of the nutriment paste and lobbed it at me, her strength not enough to reach beyond the rim of my food bowl. As I reached to pluck her out, she tugged at the now unsealed wrappings and tried to burry herself deeper within the rubbery tomb. As if hiding her head inside that makeshift blanket would get me to go away.

I said nothing.

One set of fingers pinches down on the top half, my other fingers grab the bottom section, and as delicately as possible I lift the entire snack pack free to set down atop my blanket. There was a bit of food staining the cloth but tiny specks weren’t worth caring about. There wasn’t anything in this world that would make me feel comfortable licking the mush off of her wrapping.

She remained hidden away for all the world like I was the monster under her bed. But I continued my meal.

Scooping up globs and handfuls, licking the mess off my fingers, occasionally looking back to see the tiny little bundle shivering in fear. The same routine as last time of course. I had my fill for today of the freshest food, then made sure to ration a fair bit left for the rest of the week. I could make it. I’m a human, I can hold out on minimal food for that long. She’ll need as much as she can get if we want her to …

Want her to …

To die of something other than starvation, honestly. I didn’t dare consider that killing it myself would have been kinder to the alien rodent, even if true I couldn’t bring myself to it.

A heavy sigh, standing back to me feet, and then wondering over to one corner so this child could have the entire rest of the room. She got the blanket, I sat with my knees against my chest and my arms wrapped around myself in the closest semblance of a hug I’ve gotten in the last three years. Just as last time there was nothing for it but to wait.

How much longer could I hold out? Not the food, that was pure medical knowledge, but my mind. At what point does a human break? When does the will snap, and how long do I have until insanity is impossible to avoid? Back when we could still talk our assigned therapist might have said something about gradients and types of insanity, that it’s all just what we use to cope and what perspective mindset we end up on.

What do I use to cope?

It all seems hopeless now, I’ve cracked the code and I’ve managed to learn completely fluent Gesshru. I know the variants, I know the words, I know the gestures, I’m the best damn linguist from earth. I am the single best linguist alive on this planet to date. And yet no matter what system I use or how I manage to make the words, I’m just too large and too deep, and their tiny little ears can’t pick up what’s being said through the distortion. Those pilots who do manage to gleam at the hint of a language behind my roars vanish under obvious circumstances, and anyone not a pilot has only as long as their lifespan to make use of it.

There are no friends here. Not in these conditions, not with these short lived little things. That child in the room will be an adult in less than a year. Even if I somehow manage to rescue it above all odds, she’s going to live out her entire life \span in less than the length of time I’ve had a pet cat.

Cope …

I cope with words, I cope with the knowledge this can’t last forever. I quietly hope the Cavni Federation wins this silly war, but they’ve been on the retreat since before Earth forces went into orbit around this planet. Be patient perhaps. All of the rodents work so fast and adapt so quickly, living their tiny little lives in the blink of an eye. They will adapt again before my own death, and very likely will adapt several times over.

Complete upheaval of their entire society takes only a single generation, what happens when the old coots who maintain this Max situation die off and the young, impressionable pilots come into this with sincerity and eagerness? Well, at present a lot of the old farts already did rust away or get flung to the stars or whatever curse is applicable for their silly afterlife ideas. The ones currently in charge are the next generation past that, carrying down the legacy of their ancestors.

So if I know I’m going to outlive them, I’m going to outlive their memory, I know for a fact us humans will outlive the entire concept of their nation. Why can’t I just be patient?

What is it I need, what do I use to cope?

How long can my mind hold out?

There was a tug at my foot. Something warm and tiny, a tickle. If this were anywhere else I would have assumed spider without thinking and then kicked it away, but stilled myself. Deliberately calm, muscles locked, don’t move an inch.

I turn my head down and spot the tiny little thing. Half the size of a typical Gashn soldier, standing barely upright and using one sleeve of the plastic wrapping as a makeshift dress. She leaned forward as if her body expected quadruped movement and seemed to rely on my toe for balance. She staggers back, looking at the foot with some trepidation and then glancing around to see if I’d moved.

Evidentially she had concluded I was safe and padded over to the opposite toe.

A poke. She was pawing at me. I moved my foot away from her with just the slightest nudge, and she flinched at the enormous grind of flesh against polished tile. An obnoxiously loud sound to that child’s ears.

She walks in place, two hands holding up the wrapping to keep her clothed and looking around with all the nervous air of a five year old trying to sneak into the cookie jar. She steps forward. One hand slowly extends out, all too smoothly, and taps against my toenail.

I say nothing, and do nothing. Simply allowing this.

“Hey!” I hear her chirp. Head leaned up to look directly at me.

“Yes?” My answer sent her to her knees, hands up by her ears and the tail drooping down. It was a small whisper, it was as quiet as I could manage while still making sound, and yet a little on the high end of for these tiny things to handle.

“Heeeyy! Can you help me up!” She chirps again. Teeth clacking noisily, her ears perking up as if to focus better and then folding back the moment she see’s my mouth open. The girl was catching on.

My hand moves. NO! I move my hand. A distinction that made this so very different from the last moment I handled a child. There was a squeal when my hands cup around her waist and gingerly lift her a scant few inches off the floor, only to place her atop my foot.

When I draw my arms away she’s looking up at me with a pout, seemingly more concerned with her attempt at a dress than the fact she was alone with a human.

“No you silly, the bowl! Can you help me get a food please?” she all but begs.

Fearless?

No, she’s simply gotten bored of waiting around while I sulked in the corner. Fast little things in thought and in adaptation, she’s probably been inside her wrapping for at least a day now. How long without food when the closest Federation settlement was Scando, and that place was razed to the ground?

I place my right hand next to her and hold the fingers outstretched. She stares at it blankly as if I were an idiot, then unleashes yet another alarmed chirp when I use the left hand to shove her into my palm. A lift, a simple walk across the room, all while she wailed in tiny mouse noises that I couldn’t translate for the life of me. Pure alarm, unfiltered excitement, the primal scream of a person expecting death at any moment.

“WHEeeeee!”

Okay, maybe she considered this a roller coaster ride. Stop judging me, we all have our off days.

As gently as one might take care of their rebreather equipment I place her back down on my blanker and begin trying to scoop up a fingerfull at a time. She was already rolling and bouncing down the blanket before I’d even pulled my hand away, but once she got to the edge of my food bowl her hilariously small size became all too apparent. She couldn’t leap over the edge, and even when attempting to grab at the inward curved bowl of metal she just slides down the polished surface. One hand desperately clinging to keep her fur covered up even as she slides down and fails to grip anything.

I place my hand and that food on my fingertip right next to her.

She blinks at me.

“No fork or plate?” the tiny thing was so hopeful, flopping to a seat right where she was. This was the point that defeats her. This was where she gets disappointed. Of course it does …

“No fork or plate. The ones I have are too big.” I whisper with a smirk and keep my hand steady.

She flinches and allows her ears to fold back the moment I speak, but instantly perks back up .

“Okay fine, but only just this once. Daddy doesn’t want me eating like a tribal.” She scoots forward to pluck at the nutriment paste and lap up what clung to her fingers. Seated uncomfortably but smoothly.

“Oh does he now?” I chirp back as quiet as a mouse. Or at least my best impersonation of a mouse.

“Yeah! And you’d like daddy, he’s big like you. And strong. And brave. And he gets into fights.” More nibbling, watching her eat was like listening to a wild rodent as it gnaws on sunflower seeds.

“I avoid fights if I can help it.” Came my reply.

“Well he fought against one of you, but I think he had to run away.” She nibbles and nibbles, wet smacking sounds as the last of that food drop I offered her disappears.

“Sensible if you have a place to hide, though humans can walk faster than a Gesshru can run. So just trying to make distance won’t really help you.” Without hesitation I dipped my finger back in to scoop up another dollop of paste. She watches with that enthralled gaze of a child on Christmas waiting to see what new gift you had on offer.

And heartbreakingly this tiny bit of food was enough to brighten her features with their equivalent of a smile.

“Thankyouthankyou! I was supposed to run away from you, daddy said. But then I got caught and everything went black and I couldn’t move. Now I’m here.” She explains as if I couldn’t have figured that out on my own.

“You seem very stationary and talkative for someone who’s supposed to be running.”

“Can you help me find the exit please? I want to run away but I don’t know where to run to. There are no doors or anything.” I bite my lip in response, but to her patient eyes my silence says it all. A quick shake of the head and she mutters back. “Oh. Sorry for asking, I guess you’d have left too if you could figure it out.”

I nod my head.

“All of us would have left a long time ago if we could.” At my voice her ears fold back instantly, and then perk forward the moment my lips are still. Her nose wrinkles in thought, and her eating slows. She didn’t even finish the second dollop before evidentially her hunger was sated. I lick off the rest of the food stains on my finger.

“Don’t feel bad though! My name is Orchi, and I’m really smart. I’ll figure something out for the both of us, okay?” her voice brimming with optimism, her eyes directly on mine. It was strange to see a Gesshru that wasn’t immediately fearful of me, but then she’d had time to get over her fears.

“If you have any ideas I’ve got all the time in the world to hear them.” My enunciation was perfect, my accent was impeccable, there was just that ever glaring problem that her ears were too small to hear me.

“Hehehe, you keep making funny sounds. Just talk normally, like this. See!” she opens her mouth wide and points, as if showing me her teeth might offer some insight.

“Sure.” With a roll of my eyes I open my mouth as well, using one finger to point inside as well.

“There you go. Now just make one chomp for yes.” She bites her own teeth, that chittery teeth clacking one expects of a mouse. “And two chomps for no.” she opens and bites twice in rapid succession, fast enough that to most humans it would sound like a single motion.

I open my mouth wide with deliberate and almost mechanical movements, then clack my teeth together twice.

“Like this you mean?” I chatter in Gesshru while she was sent into a gigglefit at the way my face looked. “Now where did you learn a little thing like that? Most adults don’t even get that far.”

“Perfect! Now listen. This is very important.” She forces her gaze to be this stern disapproval, standing back up onto two legs. Her dress almost falls and she’s left scrambling to catch it again and fit the plastic wrap into place. “Do other people ever come into this room?”

Lips curling up into a smile, I click my teeth once for yes.

She starts to make a giddy squeak noise and then forces herself into this façade of composure.

“Actual people, tiny ones like me. Not big animals, but real people.” She clarifies as if that might have been unclear.

Rolling my eyes I give her the most flippant tooth clack I can manage.

“Hrmph. You gotta be mistaken, there aren’t any doors here. If people come into the room how do they get in?”

Wordlessly, I stand up. The sudden motion casts her instantly into shadow, the young Orchi falls back onto her tail in a frightened flailing and several undignified noises. Barefoot and on polished tiles my footfalls weren’t exactly noisy, but to the Gesshru race there was always that vibration shuddering the ground with every step. I took measures to minimize this and never could tell how well I managed. But it was a short walk, end of the room, I rap my knuckles against the doorway.

“Th- … people come out of that? It’s a wall.”

I tap on the edge and trace my fingers along one seam, then across the other. Finally I point down toward where the control panel is and rap my knuckles again.

“O-oh … that’s. It isn’t a wall at all! It’s a door! A really big superhuge door of awesomeness.”

I click my teeth once, padding back closer to her and flopping onto my blanket. Her ears fold back at my approach, her fur ruffles in the wind that follows every wake of my movement.

“Duh, I shoulda thought of that. The people have to get you in somehow.” She muses, standing back up and leaning against my food bowl.

“And they have to get me out, for missions.” I nod to her, before making a single pronounced tooth clack just to make it clear. Lips pulling back to show the flat teeth.

“So then that’s how we get out. It’s the front door, no one will be expecting it!” she waves her arms around excitedly, but then her plastic wrap falls down. Of course there was nothing to show and nothing for me to see, she was a rodent and tiny, and a child, and an alien, and I’ve already seen plenty of outright healthy specimens in far better condition than this half starved and scrawny little thing before me. But she put as much effort into covering up with that plastic as she had in hiding from me.

This was as much for her benefit as it was mine, so I saw no reason to stop her.

“One of us needs to get a keycode in order to open it I’m afraid.” There was plenty of teeth clacking as part of a serial, sounds blending into other sounds for the sake of forming a word, but she didn’t seem to comprehend.

“Now here’s the plan. When people come inside, you … uh throw your blankie at them! And then while everyone is all smothered up and lost in the dark we walk right out.” She seemed all too proud of this little plan.

I clack my teeth twice for no, poor little Orchi didn’t quite grasp that I’ll be paralyzed long before anyone with access moves to open those doorways.

“Hrmph. Well if you’re going to be a spoilsport. How about you put down lots of this sticky mush food and then when people walk inside, you just leave through the open door while they’re all stuck? Make sure to take me with you of course.”

I clack my teeth twice once more, and she looks indignant.

“W-wha! You’d just leave me behind?”

A double clack, shaking my head at her.

“Okay good. When we escape take me with you, otherwise you’d just be rude and no one would like you.”

I couldn’t help but smile, offering a single tooth clack in response.

“So if doing stuff to the door doesn’t work, how about we hide somewhere? You hide under your blankie and I’ll hide under your bowl. When people come to look for us, we spring on them!”

Another double click, rolling my eyes and offering a theatrical wave of my hand to that empty room. My other arm lifts up the corner of my thin blanket as if to emphasize how unsuitable a hiding place it would be.

“Just a suggestion. Rusted core, you don’t gotta be snippy with me.” She sticks her tongue out in this most adorable little pout.

Okay, that got me to snicker. I nodded my head and clacked once, a bit amused by the fact I was having this useless distraction of a conversation at all while simultaneously wondering who got her to swear like a soldier.

“How about this. I hide in your hair, and then when people come in and do things, I spring out and uh … scare them away!”

My eyes roll back more in thought than exasperation. But it didn’t take long to realize she’d just be pinned down as easily as anything else and then shot in the back of the head. Worse still I’m probably the one who they’d feed her corpse to. I click twice and hope she took a hint as to my reasoning.

“There hasta be some way. Come oooonnn. Do you have a toilet you can flush me down?” she pleads without much anticipation of my answer.

A shake of my head, I clack my teeth twice for no, and then point over to that chamber pot in the corner. The fact it still had a lid always brought a tiny bit of joy to my heart, this prison would be so much worse if we added horrible smell to this mix of body horror and torture and all around unpleasantness.

“Eeewwww. We gotta get you potty trained when I get back home, alright?” she huffs, waggling a finger at me like this was somehow my fault.

Another roll of my eyes at the sillyness of it all, but I clack my teeth once in response.

“Super amazing ultimate plan. I wrap myself up in plastic and … and disguise myself as garbage.” She chips happily.

That one I had to think about for a minute, realizing she likely had the materials to do it and was small enough it’s possible for her to go unnoticed if someone were exceptionally dim witted. But then there were cameras watching this whole thing, if not constantly then at least sporadic enough that we couldn’t plan major things in advance without expecting retaliation. I click at her twice and try to look sad about it.

“Aaawww, why not? This place is spotless so they have to be cleaning it lots. If they weren’t pulling garbage out you’d still have tons of wrappers from your last meals!” she huffs and acted as if I should offer some full explanation.

I just click my teeth twice once more and hold a palm out to pet at her. The shoulder mostly.

“Hrmph, dumb Gashn starflung bleeeh. There has to be some way out of this. And I’m not going to rest until I figure it out, okay? You aren’t gonna be stuck here because I can do the thinking now. And I’m a lot smarter because I’m a person.” She chirps reassuringly.

I roll my eyes and nod along, just glad to be part of a real conversation for once.

“How about …”

And on,

And on.

And on …

Not one of her plans would offer a viable means of escape. But the conversation was nice. I guess I’ll just have to take these little victories as they come.
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arbon
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Location: Despite what the green paws might claim, not a giant monster. Look down. See that little mouse?

Re: Gesshru (Arbon's attempt at Flash fiction)

Postby Mdcrmn » Wed May 17, 2017 7:11 pm

I don't have any original characters, and the one I am working on developing is in the very early stages. I don't even have a name chosen yet!

I will say you would have to be very strong willed to stay sane without​ contact with other people for three years. Additionally the other crew members must have a really tough time because they don't have the language skills that Freya has.
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Re: Gesshru (Arbon's attempt at Flash fiction)

Postby arbon » Tue May 23, 2017 8:15 am

My question for today: "Do you think Orchi is going to live to see the second novel? Place your bets here."

And if you'd like the answer immediately, check out chapter 15 on patreon. It's available for free, and will be out on here next week if you don't mind waiting.

______

Patreon: --- http://www.patreon.com/arbon
For as low as $1 USD per month you can see not only the entire novel, but also everything else I’ve been too cowardly to show the world at large. I can’t promise everything will be to your liking, or even similar to Gesshru I’m afraid.

Amazon: --- https://www.amazon.com/Gesshru-Esca...../dp/154327255X
CreateSpace: --- http://www.createspace.com/6954737
For the physical copy, and owning something you can hold in your hands is the only reason to purchase from these outlets. Priced at $15 USD it turns out making a large novel costs a fair bit just to print.
________


Gesshru
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Chapter 14

My name is Freya Savitri, and I guess I’m a parent now?

“Maybe we …” Orchi started muttering something, but her voice ends in a snore.

Plans.

Chikonzero in Chichewa, pianu in Corscan, kava in Estonian, suunitelma in Finnish, planen in German, shirin in Hausa, kuka in Hawaiian, txoj kev npaj in Hmong, tev in Hungarian, aaetlun in Icelandic, rencana in Indonesian, plean in Irish, piano in Italian, keykaku in Japanese, rencana in Javanese, kery in Korean, consilium in Latin, drafitra in Malagasy, pelan in Malay, pjan in Maltese, mahere in Maori, fuafuaga in Samoan.

For most languages the word plan was just plan, the sound and meaning shared across a wide spectrum even if synonyms were completely different. And despite several hours of boring nothing, neither of us could think of some grand escape.

She went from frustrated at not understanding why I’d told her no over and over, to accepting and thoughtful as she went to more elaborate extremes. This child started sleeping less than an hour ago, and even in her dreams hasn’t given up hope.

Should I copy her optimism?

She’s going to die. Nothing I do can save her. No matter how hard I might try there was no way I had the power to save Doth, and attempting to keep her alive for just a tiny bit longer threw away my one decent chance of escape in months. It’s not like I haven’t tried before, it’s not like I’ve never made it out of the door and toward the outer walls. But when all it takes is a single press of a button to shut me down entirely what I am supposed to do?

This child is going to die, and I’m going to be forced to eat her corpse.

Deep breaths Freya. Remember your name. Think back on who you are and where you came from, you are collected and you are rational. Think and adapt, do not give up. No one else on your team has quit yet, and all of them are right down the halls in the exact same condition you are. Break free. Save them.

“Throw rocks at door …” Orchi squeaked out all too cutely.

A heavy sigh from me at the fact Doth didn’t even let me keep the rock I’d tried to smuggle in, another tool or another toy to distract from this unrelenting boredom. My mouth and my internal organs are the few parts of my body that Gashn neurotech doesn’t control, they see through my eyes and can turn my head, but the breath and speech was all on me. Of course no one is dumb enough to get right next to my mouth when aware of this fact, and if I scream at the right moment I can temporarily stun some of the Gesshru. But that doesn’t stop them in a fight, and even if I scream constantly it’d just be an annoyance.

There we lay, myself sprawled on my side and draped over the soft cloth. My legs out on the cold tile with not much I could do to improve things.

The young Gesshru lay curled up in a ball right next to me. When she first lay down and informed me all too politely that she was just resting her eyes to think better, she was off at the far corner. But she rolled in her sleep. And every turn took her closer to me, and closer still, until within ten minutes of closing her eyes she was propped against my the forearm I laid my head against.

My free arm would occasionally extend up and cup over the tiny little speck of fluff. Fingers keeping her warm as a makeshift blanket on my own terms, the feel of her soft fur was far more comfortable than the tattered cloth of my blanket itself. She’d done well in making sure her clothes stayed with her, even if drooling and flopped out like this didn’t offer the most dignified pose.

I made sure not to breathe directly on top of her, but it was even more of a struggle to stay quiet.

She wasn’t going to sleep for very long, and then after she awakens she wasn’t going to stay up for very long, the poor little things. This made me wish I could just go to sleep and then stay asleep and never wake back up into this nightmare again. The promise of death. The release of an extended rest. That would have meant hope was gone, but it also means the pain would stop. I wouldn’t have to kill anymore, there wouldn’t be any names to remember, the Gashn would have to fight their own wars without using us to stomp the competition.

I closed my eyes and breathed. Just breathed, even as my arms went stiff and my head refused to turn.

Wait …

I tried to move. Tried to pull my hand away from Orchi, but nothing budged at all.

My eyes bolted open, but I wasn’t the one who opened them. No ..

NO!

Not now dammit, not now! Wake up Orchi!

My body leaned over on its own accord. With rising panic I could feel my palm shoving down to brace, lifting my weight and rolling onto my feet. That palm with Orchi right in the center was applying pressure, building and building. No! I felt her flatten beneath my hand and wriggle, no, twitching desperately. She was waking up and trying to scream. My hand was crushing her.

NO!

“w-wh …” she tried to speak, tried to stand up. Mercilessly she was shoved into the blanket, pressed against the floor. Not like this, she’s going to die yes, I know that, but don’t let it be like this. Her tail tickled the back of my wrist. I tried to move, my elbow twitched at the effort. There wasn’t anything I could do, there just wasn’t …

She squeezed free.

Her wrapping dress stayed behind, offering just enough of a separation between my hand and the little rodent’s fur that she could slide past. My knees were pulling back into that crouched position, one of my arms was extending off to the side so that whatever pilot could have a ramp up to the back of my skull. And here Orchi was tugging at her tail, all but falling over backwards and pulling with all her might.

“Wwhhyyy, bad Max! That was a bad, you shouldn’t wake me like that.” She chastises. But then I heard the door opening, just as my waist bends and my face comes rushing down. Held only inches off the floor.

The Gashn neural control links either couldn’t, or simply didn’t, manage full operation control through the remote. They could only stop movement altogether, allow movement if it was stopped, or force preset movement in a specific and sequential pattern. Such as bend over, head down, one arm out. And of course as a security measure the remote would fail if there was a pilot in the cockpit. That meant this movement was even more mechanical than usual, and no one was even watching to see the Cavni child was here.

A swish of air. Voices? Tasgal Flits was walking back into the room with his assistant.

“So she’s finally healed up enough to get back in the field?” that cocksure voice swaggers with indignation.

“Y-yes sir, and as mentioned earlier we wou- …” seedy, nervous, the voice of an enlisted assistant rather than a highborn soldier. It didn’t take long to recognize this as Sqaopi.

“If you’ve already mentioned it then I don’t need to repeat it.” My pilot snapped. This is my pilot everyone.

“But you weren’t even present during the mission briefing, y-you stepped out to g-get a drink.” In the Gashn army to be an enlisted assistant was essentially the same thing as being a slave, these were the step up from Cavni prisoners and a step bellow actual citizens. But then it was not as if citizens had things that much better in the long run.

“I told you, my throat was dry.” Tasgal Huffs. I could hear him getting closer, but I couldn’t turn to look.

“Yes, as it always mysteriously does whenever Pamit steps into the room.” was that sarcasm? “But this Man-eater has proven to be far too unruly and thus we’ve scheduled to have her lobotomized by the end of the month.”

“Wait, really? They … you mean people actually took my suggestion?” Tasgal has been suggesting that for almost a third of his entire lifespan, over half of the time he’s walked this planet he’s been demanding that people rip apart my brain. Despite the welling fear of what might come of this, even knowing my existence as a thinking creature was just about to get far more hopeless, the fact he sounded surprised brought a bit of light in my eyes.

“N-nnuuuu- …” Orchi was listening. She looked up at me and touched a paw to my cheek, hidden between my breasts and by armpit while tucked just under the chin. She could step in front of my eyes, but I couldn’t turn them to follow her.

“HIDE. Get away. Don’t let them see you!” I grumbled out in english, the thunderous yet still whispered voice catching both soldiers off guard while Orchi just folds her ears back. Two clicks. That’s what I had to do, two clicks of my teeth. First when she was peaking out to look at them, and then again when she taps against my arm.

“c-can you move? Whats wrong? Hrmm …”

Another two clicks. She had to understand, and more than anything else she had to hide.

“Given the inherent risks with such a procedure …” the assistant continued in that weaselish squeak. “All missions that either require or seriously benefit from the deployment of a Max unit have become top priority, now that she is well enough to be engaged without serious health issues you are expected to work her like a slave, performing every mission we can fit until the date of the procedure.”

“Yes, got it.” I could almost hear Tasgal rolling his eyes. “First clean up the rebellion over at Scando, then prisoner transport from Galm. Start building a wall and sky battlements against the northern borders so we can push into those forest territories, then smash and grab over at the beach where those Cavni keep blocking our access to the waterfront.”

“I am glad those did not require repeating, sir.” The assistant muttered. “The door will be handled on your way out.”

“If it isn’t I’m stepping on you.” That pilot snaps back. And I could feel him, at my hand, starting to climb up.

Orchi seemed to hide well enough. If I didn’t have this chest, moderate as it was, then she could easily have been spotted from between my armpit. If she wasn’t quiet then she might be heard, as I know the Gashn pilot was much too close now. The child’s words, high pitched little squeaks of a mewling rodent. She pleads with me. Whispers by a Gesshru standard that were so high pitched and so silent even I struggled to hear them.

“T-this is why all of our plans won’t work, they make you stop moving when the door opens.” She was catching on. What could we do now? But at least she figured it out.

I clicked once, at least letting her know that I still understood the system. What were we going to do? Those feet, shoes and claws slapping confidently against bare skin. Coming up over my shoulders, easily across the back. I could hear the hiss and click as he pressed something on … huh, my helmet wasn’t up yet.

“You forgot to press the button!” Tasgal shouts back. “What are you lazy or something? Making me go all the way up here and press a button.”

Orchi’s ears fold back, but she gets right in front of my nose. Her two hands reach up and grab at my upper lip, looking me directly in the eye even if she had to look up in order to do so. Tasgal would see this, once he’s jacked in he’ll see through my eyes. He was going to see her if she didn’t move, didn’t hide, and yet. What she did instead was lean closer, standing up onto her tippy toes and speaking to me as if I were a beloved pet.

“The mean people are going to lobotize you or something, and that sounds bad. But we’ll get out, okay? I have a plan. You just keep still and I’ll steal the guard’s remote. Get you able to move again.” She whispers. A tap on my nose. I could feel the tiny contours of her little pink hand.

Ohgodno, Tasgal was going to see her, and then if the assistant doesn’t beat her up my pilot is going to step on her. Once again I’m going to have to eat her corpse. No, all too soon I’m going to relive every other war, every other city, all of the lives every pilot has forced me to snuff out in the past three years. I had to do something, I couldn’t let this happen. I couldn’t move! My arms, my head, I couldn’t turn my eyes to …

I clicked.

I clicked my teeth, and Orchi was right there in front of my mouth with a determined optimism. She was set out to go mission impossible and rescue everyone.

That helmet started sliding up over my chin and neck, unfolding and curling into an angular yet vaguely round shape. Expanding from storage in the shape of a collar to the full protection of a foam and plastic helmet. Orchi just gave me a smile and started to slip away.

I didn’t let her.

The taste of a Gesshru was neither pleasant nor terrible, it was a bit like a flavorless and heated marshmallow that happened to have the texture of fur. The feeling of her hair on my tongue and tickling my lips was the most interesting aspect, or the way she was most decidedly moving about in ways that food should never do. Being tiny and a mammal, very active and even more dependent on that stable core body temperature, she was delightfully warm to the touch. Sleepy from her recent nap, having basked in the heat of my palm for too long.

Oh, Orchi tried to fight back and pull away when my tongue wrapped around her shoulders. A quick slurp and a forceful suck, inhaling air to drag her closer. For a single second her feet and tail were jabbing out, kicking the air wildly or curling up to bask against my nose in the most delicate little bop. But then another lick, that tongue pulling her back and my lips sealed around her tail. I could hear the screams, her desperate voice seeming more annoyed than terrified in the first bout, then entirely laced with horror when she was dragged all the way in.

“Let me out, no! Bad Max, this is bad, you don’t eat people!” but of course I didn’t let her out. Not yet. “S-stop, Stalph! This is bad, I’m not a food! NO! you have to let me save you, I’m not a food!”

Like slurping up a string of spaghetti I simply pulled in the rest of her fuzzy little tail, my lips tickled and mouth watering at the sensation of something to salivate over. There was nothing I could do to keep the spit from building after all.

“What’s going on down there Maneater, trying to trick me into kissing you?” Tasgal groans. “I’m not an idiot you know, nothing in this world is going to make me slide down your throat.”

He didn’t see her.

That helmet visor slipped up and over my face, a crack still present from where they’d glued the broken shards back into place. Foam lining on the inside against my head and neck, the short trimmed hair, I could hear the clicks as bolts snapped together and formed a rigid seal. In the original design it would have been airtight of course, but the Gashn didn’t want to carry oxygen tanks and maintenance is a lot easier if the armor is loose and flexible.

Less functional armor and more cosplay outfit. But even with this flimsy material that protects more against a pilot’s incompetence than enemy fire, Orchi was sealed inside. She was on the inside of my helmet now. Tasgal couldn’t control my mouth or my lungs, none of the pilots could. He couldn’t make me swallow, he couldn’t force me to spit her out, if he wants to shove my hands into my mouth and drag the girl free there’s nothing he can do to make me unclench my teeth.

She was safe?

I felt her pawing at my cheeks, kicking the teeth with all the force of a butterfly. The tiny vibration of her screaming was more felt than heard, as the layers of skin and dripping spittle muffled her voice completely. Tasgal brought me from a crouch to a stand.

Once my head was level instead of pointing downward, I slipped my jaws open just enough to let air in, breathing forcefully. I felt her moving, slipping around and peaking her head out in that crack of my lips.

“Wh- …” the moment she said something I sealed my lips shut and clicked my teeth two times.

“Rusted core, what do you want now?” Tasgal snaps, turning my body sharply so that my gaze falls down onto the small assistant.

“I s-said nothing, sir.” He calls back at first. Tasgal doesn’t respond, so he shouts it a second time and cups his paws to his muzzle for emphasis.

“Then keep it that way!” an electronic voice booms from beneath my chin, that section of my collar amplifying his voice to almost a human level tone. Not near as deep in pitch of course.

A stomp. A twist, Tasgal had me walking forward before he caught on that he needed to turn the rest of the body and orient toward the door. But like an old AI program dealing with a wide turning radius on tank treads he managed eventually. That stop as we get to the corner and turn down the hallways, to the right was simply rows of more locked doors sealing off the rest of my crew, while to the left opened up past the armored holding cells and toward the outfitting areas.

Control towers built high into the walls, the long spires of mechanized arms set to grab and attack all of my armor pieces with precision. I opened my mouth wide and could feel Orchi gasping for breath, obviously warm and wet and all too miserable, but she wasn’t screaming. Instead she gazed, leaning forward and poking her head past my teeth to watch everything. Soak it all in.

A strait line to the hangar doors, tall and armored, sized for a human and designed to hold a human inside. Even if we can punch through the metal or tear a wall down it would take us far longer to rush through it than it does for a Gesshru to find the remote and press a button at us. I know, I’ve tried, even after I make it past the hangar bay there’s still an outer gate with barbed wire at the top I have to jump over. And all of the guys on the walls have remotes on hand, just waiting for that day they have to use them …

“So that’s what it looks like.” Orchi whispers to herself.

I kept my lips open and snapped my teeth down, careful not to bite her, careful not to crush anything, and then opened back wide so she could see everything in comfort. By human standards the base wasn’t big at all, and Tasgal was in no rush to walk us over toward the fitting stations. Stock still, my arms at my side, simply unable to move while the gloves and chestpiece all fitted together. Two halves on each side slotted in place by an arm each, while a third mechanical hand that has some screwdriver attached slides in and secures every joint.

The child in my mouth pokes out far enough to touch that glass of my visor, leaning down to gaze at the scene before us. I couldn’t see, but there were at least a few people who caught on. Spotting the little girl and decided it must simply be another meal for the ‘maneater’ as was my reputation.

Loud grinds, electronic whirring. I felt Orchi’s wonder as she experienced this base through new eyes, and was more than willing to be quiet and analytical. But the outfitting finished, I was lurched forward and toward the exit, left only to wait as some assistant opens the door for us.

The open sun was blazing, but this visor blocked much of the glare. That compound seemed uneventful, everyone stepping out of the central walkway to avoid being underfoot and most people not having much more than busywork to do. The towering, two or perhaps three meter walls just barely tall enough that I’d have to struggle to climb over blocked view of the outside desert, but just as last time …

“Pilot Tasgal Flits, reporting. You are to open the gates immediately soldier.” And at my pilots assertive shout the final barrier was pulled away. Sunlight and desert.

Rocks and sunlight, desert in all directions, if I looked far enough to the northeast I could barely spot a patch of green, and then I knew there were distant mountains to the far south and to the far west. Directly north was just an expanse of plains that Gesshru liked to build their cities on, especially areas near groundwater or with fertile crop harvests, while directly east was the ocean and frontline Cavni forces that kept halting Gashn’s progress.

And no, before anyone tries to suggest maybe the Max unit can swim, just no. A human can swim just fine, all of us know how to swim, but a dumb pilot working with electronic controls in a porous suit making do with slow mechanical awkwardness? It’s not going to happen without a drowned human.

“We’ve escaped! Okay, we’ve made it out of the compound at least. Now I just need to figure out how to free you.” Orchi mutters to herself, and I close my lips before I started to get tired. Keeping my mouth open only wide enough for her to breathe was easier than wide enough for her to lounge about.

It struck me, in that moment as we started a long treck, just how big a difference there was between a pilot who talks constantly and a pilot who never talks at all. Tasgal would get offended at the idea of talking to me like a pet, if he says anything at all it’s either taunting or complaining about me.

The man wants my body to be an extension of his will and nothing more, he craves feeling that power and dominance of being a giant among a city of mice. Stark contrast from the more pleasant pilots of course. In a several hour long walks such as this, no idea how far I’ll be going or when I’ll get there. I wasn’t exactly present for a mission briefing, and this left me bored. As in, more bored than usual.

Stop, nothing, more walking, then lots more walking. Slow and awkward gait that left me constantly teetering at the edge of unbalanced. But no, the worst part about this, the absolute worst part, was that I was bored and had a thing in my mouth to play with.

“Stop! Bad.” Orchi slaps at my tongue. “You cannot swallow me, stop it.”

It was the one part of my body I could move freely, making new lip shapes and licking over things. Periodically I’d squash Orchi to the roof of my mouth and swallow down spittle as it built up in pools. Dripping from her fur, soaking her completely through as if this were some sticky swimming pool. She felt warm and smooth, the fur decidedly less able to tickle me once it was matted down and sloppy wet. Her tail occasionally dipped down the back of my throat, and in an effort to prevent very serious problems of barfing into a space helmet we kept getting into wrestling matches in which I’d slam her into my cheek and try to use my tongue to pull her tail away. Or fold her up so she didn’t sprawl out as much.

By the first twenty or so minutes she caught on, even if she wasn’t entirely happy about it.

For her part, the poor girl. Naked and warm and smelling my breath all the time, fully aware that I ate Gesshru meat even if not recently. Yet she was holding out better than Doth ever did. She was panicking less than any soldier I’ve ever seen, far more brave than the adults. It left me curious.

How was I going to get her out of this? Wait until a fight starts and then spit her out, hope she can make it down the helmet? Hah! More amusing would be if she could overpower Tasgal somehow. She’s inside the helmet, and I found out a month ago that a Gesshru inside the helm can access the cockpit from a new angle. Maybe if Tasgal was busy looking into my eyes he wouldn’t expect an attack from the cockpit itself? Foolish and dangerous though, she’s better off simply finding a direction to run and a place to hide.

She wasn’t going to leave unless something forced her to, or she figured out how to rescue me …

Is …

I licked her over again, just playing with the flavor. Teasing her motions and prompting an on the spot wrestling match, the tiny rodent’s body bulging my cheeks whenever she squeezes between them. Always shoving to make sure her face pokes between my lips to catch a breath of fresh air.

Is it right to use her?

To make sure of that, make sure she doesn’t escape until I see freedom as well?

She’s going to die, there’s nothing we can do about that. Can I put her to use as a tool or a pawn? If she’s willing to rescue me and give me that chance I need to free everyone else, do I have the right to trade away her life and happiness for the betterment earth’s interests on this planet? Of ending my own personal hell?

I thought briefly of what it would simply mean to bite her, or swallow, and end any suffering here and now. But that was cruel. That was wasteful. And even if it were merciful, she didn’t seem ready to give up yet.

What …

What rights do I have, and what was the right thing to do?

Questions I asked while having absolutely no control. And thus a moot point as we march toward Scando. The ruined coral city who failed to make payments on time, and suffered the consequences. Let’s see if Tasgal goes in to kick them while they’re down …
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arbon
Extinction Level Event
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Location: Despite what the green paws might claim, not a giant monster. Look down. See that little mouse?

Re: Gesshru (Arbon's attempt at Flash fiction)

Postby Mdcrmn » Sun May 28, 2017 4:37 am

I want Orchi to survive, but I know it isn't too likely. Especially with tasgal around
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Re: Gesshru (Arbon's attempt at Flash fiction)

Postby arbon » Mon May 29, 2017 3:49 pm

My question for this chapter: "Are you ready to rumble?"


______

My name is Freya Savitri, and I am apparently a boss fight.

The walk toward Scando wasn’t as arduous as Galm, mostly by way of dull monotony as Tasgal did his best to stay quiet and I wasn’t dealing with too much heat. The sun bore down, but only one of them. It would be dark in a few hours, and then the Gesshru would all be setting up to sleep. A race who’s night vision was even worse than that of a human’s, far too well adapted to their binary star system. All I had with me were my words, and the small child pretending to be a candy.

Was it bad to say that Orchi had long ago lost her flavor? Now so slick with drool she didn’t even taste like rodent.

Taua, in Samoan. Cogadh in Scots Gaelic. Pat in Serbian. Ntoa in Sesotho. Hondo in Shona. Vojna in Slovak. Dagaal in Somali. Guerra in Spanish. Perang in Sundanese. Vita in Swahili. Krig in Swedish. Savas in Turkish. Binha in Ukrainian. Urush in Uzbek. Chien Tranh in Vietnamese. Rhyfel in Welsh. Imfazwe in Xhosa. Orgun in Yoruba. Impi in Zulu. Oorlog in Afrikaans. Lufte in Albanian. Myharibe in Azerbaijani. Gerra in Basque. Banha in Belarusian. Rat in Bosnian. Guerra in Catalan. Gubat in Cebuano. Nkhondo in Chichewa. Valka in Czech. Krig in Danish. Oorlog in Dutch. Milito in Esperanto. Soda in Estonian. Digmaan in Filipino. Sota in Finnish. Guerre in French. Oarloch in Frisian. Kreig in German.

In the Gesshru common tongue it was a type of squeak followed by rapid tooth gnashing while breathing through the nose for a huffing noise.

For those speaking english, it was War.

We three people, the soldier and the weapon with a tiny stowaway, rounded a tall hill of packed sand and dusty red rocks to spot the ruined city of Scando. The tall spires of their coral towers, the equivalent of skyscrapers for these small creatures. It must have taken years, perhaps as much as a decade, for teams upon teams of Gesshru builders to carve and place these buildings. At some point before the war it was a heavily populated and bustling trade city close to the far ports of Cavni lands. I wasn’t around when Scando was overtaken of course, but the fact it was once a prosperous city was obvious to any who glanced upon its buildings.

Yet now it was in ruins.

Houses crushed under my feet, the imprint of my armored boots still present in far too many places. The looping towers were snapped in half, most toppled over to block the streets or crumbled to multi-faceted chunks. There were a few that still stood tall. Mostly ones around the southern and eastern edge where survivors weren’t running toward, after all escaping the Gashn forces by trying to reach their front lines wasn’t the most sensible idea. While a number of the smaller buildings remained.

The city looked lifeless and dead. The streets were silent, the lights were gone, the roads cluttered with trash and dust from windswept sands. Even in this state someone was still trying to claim the city though.

Forces from Ontal remained stationed in a crude, makeshift camp just outside the walls. No … a gaze ahead, it was some ten or fifteen yards away, just distant enough to avoid the range of their spear throwers. Seems they did manage to move toward Scando’s ruins while I was trapped in recovery, yet their new base was …

Pathetic was the only word I could describe it with.

Instead of the mud foundations and wooden buildings, cheap and fragile as those might have been by my own standards, now they were using simple tents and storage crates as buildings to rest in and parts of the wall. Their fortifications were makeshift, boulders dragged from around the nearby desert, bits of coral carried over and placed into a pile that lined the perimeter. This new base was roughly half the size of the old one and it’s survivors looked beaten, worn and hot and miserable. I could see what weapons they had stacked along the border, pebbles strung together to form uneven lines or mounds from which to duck behind or stand atop.

The place was better than nothing against ground forces and, for a time at least, might fend off an assault from raiders or maybe a scout group. But they weren’t going to hold out forever. It left me wondering what I was called out here for, perhaps to rebuild the walls? Build up a better fort than what these soldiers could manage?

But then why didn’t they just use the city itself like they’d planned on all those week ago …

“Home!” Orchi squeaks.

I could feel her in my jaws, crawling forward through slick spittle and across a rough tongue. Her still damp head squeezing between my lips. A tiny little paw extends out to tap against my visor just near a still visible crack. She was pointing at the coral. Pointing at the lifeless remains of a city that my body destroyed.

“You took us home! I knew you could do it maxy, you got us all the way home! I’ll have to show my dad, ohcore he must be so worried about me. HOME!” the child’s happiness was infectious.

But she was less than a month old. If this was her home …

There wasn’t much time to ponder the implications when we maneuvered in to get a direct answer. Tasgal positioned me in front of the sun, deliberately making sure that my bulk and armor cast a long shadow over the entire meager compound. Frightened soldiers stopped in their tracks, a few stood up and stared. At least one man, my eyes involuntarily darted toward, picked up his spear thrower and took a defensive position behind a supply crate.

None of these people could see my face through the helm, and everyone could see where my armor was worn, where damage had scraped away green paint to reveal that shiny silver beneath. But that probably just added to the intimidation factor, leaving them all to wonder just what weapon could crack a Max’s helmet, and how tough must one be to survive such a blow regardless.

Dead silence.

Until one man, different from the last, clambers up onto a bit of coral and speaks through a tiny megaphone.

“This is Kepa Elot, squad commander of the Scando military outpost. With honors, state your name and business.”

That was Kepa?

… but Tasgal didn’t respond.

“S-sir, um. This is Kepa Elot, squa- …”

“Why is a mere squad commander talking to me.” Tasgal’s voice thunders through my neck, the microphone relaying his every word in an electronic monotone. Not a requirement or a technical deficiency, but a deliberate choice on his part to make the sound more menacing.

“There has been a- …”

“Answer.” Tasgal interrupted. A single word, a simple motion, my foot had already nudged forward and kicked at one of the boulders they had serving as a defense. With the smallest tap it rolls forward easily, feeling remarkably light to my touch. That was the thing though, most of the rocks here were coral after all.

“Commander Galit pwant has died in combat, max unit. As the next highest rank I am to carry out his duties until such a time as proper replacements can be marched over. Sir.” The rodent’s voice was dripping with terror, and yet he carried himself well. His voice wasn’t anything like I remembered it, and disappointingly that left me wondering whether it was a different Kepa than the one I rescued.

I never did catch his last name after all. One more name onto a piled list of many.

“A pity” was all Tasgal said in response. The sheer tension in this air as I stood down a rodent’s playset, piles of tiny pebbles not even as heavy as proper rocks arrayed in this pathetic assembly of a fortress.

Silence fell over every group as Tasgal waited for them to speak, simply allowed the forces ostensibly on his side to bask in their own fear. No one moved. I was almost certain no one breathed. I could hear the faint giggling of Orchi as she found all the distant and terrified faces so very amusing. I closed my lips and sealed her off from the world. Much to the child’s vocal alarm of course, but she was harder to hear when I kept my mouth shut.

“The mission …” evidentially Kepa settled on accepting this lack of an answer, this refusal to even give a name. The commander technically held rank, but everyone in this sand box knew who held true power in this moment. “Is to retake Scando from the surviving easterners. Our previous raids didn’t deter them away from the city as planned, and those who fled our initial Max onslaught simply fortified their position. We were unprepared for an all out war against an entrenched force, and so we require you to spearhead our assault to clean up these natives while you draw the bulk of their fire.”

Though the man explained it calmly, Tasgal curled my hands into a fist. This must be why he didn’t give a name, it was so this commander couldn’t connect the failings of their previous invasion with the Max pilot who performed the attack. After all it’s embarrassing enough to have to clean up your own mess, quite a different thing when people in lower stations are calling you out on it.

“Will that be all.” The electronic voice thundered. This wasn’t a question but a statement, almost daring Kepa to say something more. I could feel my legs tighten and relax as if preparing for a step, and it was hard to tell if this was anger or simple incompetence.

I opened my lips so that Orchi could breathe.

“Y-yes sir, we hope to wait until nightfall when their forces are least effective while the Max unit itself will be perfectly functional. We’ve prepared a number of lightsticks for the event, but we are so low on reserve the makeshift lighting will have to be shared among four squads. Given the number of traps we know the- h-heeeeshaay!?”

Kepa’s voice devolved into incoherent babbling squeaks. I only just saw the man try to dive to one side as Tasgal forced my foot forward and down onto his position. Something crunched under my boot, and for the second time I was amazed by how this one poor man has been in danger from my feet for twice in his life now. I honestly couldn’t tell if what cracked was the commander himself or a bit of coral, or even the weapon that man carried.

My feet ground into the dirt, twisting without much care, and then simply stepped forward. Directly through the compound while tapping aside boulders with my toes, rending apart their little cloth tents and upturned sticks. I heard screaming, I saw many abandon the walls and turn away in terror. And then just like that my body was on the other side of this little forward and continuing toward Scando itself.

He didn’t look back.

It was obvious Tasgal didn’t care, and in the glaring sunlight he strode confidently toward a once proud and glistening city. The remains of what used to be a thick and bustling trade rout were wide enough even for my stride, and open roads meant for four lanes of wheeled carts easily accommodated me.

My movement was stuttered and awkward, but it never slowed. An intimidating, relentless march through ruins and crumbled coral. To those of age who survived, some might might be watching this was the return of a monster. Their boogieman coming from the ancient past to once more enforce Gashn rule. To those of a younger age, Orchi counted among them, this was the realization that those horrors of myth and lore were as real as the light of day.

A crunch as my boots tear into a fallen spire, the hollowed structure snapping beneath my weight.

Tasgal pulls my fist back like a cocked hammer, then slams plastic knuckles of my gauntlet into the side of a building. There were now even fewer great monuments of life to match my own height. But no survivors.

Tasgal forced us forward, and I could all but hear the child tucked behind my lips whimpering at what was happening. Should I close them now? Is it better if she sees what I’m doing, or if she’s cut off from reality? She’s smart. She knows what’s happening even if she hasn’t articulated it.

My body bends at the waist, reaching down to scoop up what probably once passed for living accommodations. My arms raise it high over my head and lob none too gently in the general direction of half destroyed rubble. Some of it cracks, other parts crumble away, while still more of the light yet durable material holds together so as to simply bounce aside.

There was shouting behind me.

Maybe the Galm forces upset at the thought of losing the ground they hoped to take, after all the spires weren’t much use as souleater protection if they were all destroyed. And this was on top of any damage or loss of life that occurred on the way through. But Tasgal either couldn’t hear them or didn’t care, he was set to finish this job.

My body bends at the waist, reaching down to collect yet another building in this robotic monotony. Presented with the chance to look I double checked my foot for any sign of blood or fur, even just patches of wet dust where pooled blood might have been buried over in this violent excavation. Nothing thankfully, but that didn’t mean much. It wasn’t hard for a Gesshru corpse to only be visible on the underside of my boot, and there’s no way Tasgal would bother checking.

My arms raise up again as I come to a stand. Stuttered turning as Tasgal decides which way to toss, what building to tear apart.

Thunk.

Thunkthunkthunkthunkthunkthunk

CRASH!

It all happened in the span of a second, from everywhere and nowhere a barrage of spears flew out from behind cover. I saw the faint snatches of Gesshru firing a rubber band crossbow in the direction of my arm before falling back into the ruins. Every single one aimed at my left hand. One struck and bounced away, another struck and fell dead flat. Then another, and another, and another. Most deflecting off to one side, even the blows that land true being stopped outright by my armor’s outer shell, and two miss entirely to bounce off my faceplate.

Only one plastic spear dug deep enough to leave a hole in the plastic, but it was stopped by the foam padding before ever getting far enough that my arm could feel the pain. A max unit was simply immune to the conventional weapons of a Gesshru fighting force. If I were in the hands of a real fighter I’d have been carefully marking where each target ran off to.

Instead I was nursing a head wound, specifically near the top back of my skull, and trying not to grit my teeth through the cloud of dust kicked up. Tasgal was not a competent pilot.

You see, my pilot had dropped that building in panic the moment shots were fired, and of course that building had to fall right on top of my head.

“BLASTED CORE WHAT WAST THAT?” An electronic bass echoed across an urban battlefield. He was fighting Gesshru of course, and these were a people who changed and adapted quickly. Much faster than humans ever could.

Tasgal wasted time wiping away dust from the helmet and nursing that as if terrified something had damaged the latch to his cockpit. That’s where his body was after all, attack the back of the head and you can potentially kill or disrupt the pilot inside. But his delay meant all of these soldiers had enough time to reposition, and more time to reload their weapons.

A single spear still jabbed into my arm Tasgal charged through the fray, wantonly stomping down the streets in a monsterous display of power. Boom. Crunch. Boom. ….

Flop?

With each footstep that rattled the city proper and sent dust bouncing into the air, the buildings swayed and my foot started to sting. Then came the vertigo, the jarring crash as my face hits the floor and everything becomes a dull pain. My teeth rattle and I taste iron, my vision is clouded with choking dust even if the mostly sealed helmet kept my lungs clear. Lips closed I did my best to keep this safe for Orchi, but she was getting tossed about every bit as much as I was.

Only after the fact, when Tasgal jabbed my shoulder into the ground and twisted aside to look at my legs, did I catch on that he’d just stomped directly on top of a sinkhole. Wait no, it was a sewer system? Underground tunnels with tiny digging tools, a wide cavern more than big enough for my foot and about six inches deep even though the connecting tunnels on either side were only a fourth as wide.

I had no reason to stay invested, and so it was with a detached awareness I realized what was happening. Even as my head jerks up at the sound of a warcry, a male Gesshru in civilian clothing brandishing an abnormally thick spear was already airborn. Already flying directly into my faceplate.

They had dug out the tunnels beneath their city.

These people set up an ambush, they were prepared specifically to fight a max unit. It was obvious that an actual human wouldn’t have been this clumsy or tripped so casually, but Tasgal was a pathetic pilot even by Gashn standards.

A thrust, a jab …

The poor fighter just missed, not even tapping against my visor. Having apparently mistimed his jump, or not accounted for the range and weight of his unusual weapon. I saw the man up close, his frame lithe and muscular with brown markings down the outer sides of his thighs. He looked lightweight yet far too defined beneath the fur to be a weakling by Gesshru standards.

“You’ll have to try better than that.” I breathed, gritting my teeth to keep Orchi from falling out and pulling my lips back so she could see. My body began to stand up, from a sprawl to a crouch, while this Gesshru fighter leapt up onto a bit of rubble and dived again. One hand gripping the spear and extending his shoulder fully for another thrust. I could see his determination, the mark of a valiant hero.

I could feel the useless thunk as he taps against my helmet. The emotionless visor staring back, noise and bluster was all his efforts amounted to against plastic armor.

He wasn’t using plastic though. And this spear was a different color, a different thickness. It actually looked a bit like polished rock, but sounded too light to be granite.

Was he fighting with sharpened coral?

Tasgal ignores the man, standing up to my full and dominating height. Eyes glancing about the horizon to try and spot where the spear throwers were, and with casual ease my foot steps forward. I didn’t get to watch as he tries to stomp on that brave soldier, nor was I afforded the luxury of knowing whether or not the man dodged.

“Da … dad!” Orchi squeals, a breathless whisper that caught me off-guard.

Tasgal was silent and intimidating, he says nothing and acts as if he had no reason to care about the world. Presented and exposed, waiting. A glance back at the Ontal forces, that entire army was now in the process of surging forward. It wasn’t darkness of course, but Tasgal was grabbing attention and they knew that they had to do. This was their chance, this was their battle.

Thunkthunkthunk.

Three shots fired out from a small group further into the city, away from the oncoming Gashn reinforcements. Distraction. A lure. There had to be more traps here. But Tasgal was heedless in simply stomping after them. Not even at a run.

One spear bounced aside upon impact with my chestpiece, the second one jabs into my thigh and breaks just enough plastic to penetrate, only to be stopped by the foam padding. A third one smacks into my shoulder and simply deflects. Two spears making tiny holes in this useless armor. And the rubber band spear throwers were the only handheld weapons they had which could even manage that.

“Please. Come on people, you can do better than that. Surprise me, figure out a way to kill me will you?” I begged them in a gritted whisper. A tad thankful the child couldn’t understand what I said, but I honestly didn’t care if I died while she lived. That would put an end to my part in all of this, and I was looking forward to a proper ending.

The three Gesshru scattered, one trying to reload his weapon while the other two bolted for a different building each. Stomp, walk, crunch, even at a slow walk I could easily keep pace with their mad scramble. In moments my body was over at least one of them, just trying to make it to a doorway.

Stomp.

The doorway no longer existed.

Crimson smeared into the dust and rubble, a man too slow to make it through and now smothered in the dusty cracked rubble of a ruined building. When my foot pulled away I could see the red stained tail drooping and still, I could see mangled limbs in twisted distortions of their intended shape. Even if he was alive, it’d take a while for the tiny rodents to pull the rocks and dirt off of his corpse.

Tasgal considered that a job well done and moved to the next. Didn’t bother checking for Gesshru to fight, he just kicked the building itself and sent slabs of coral spraying over the city like shrapnel.

Swooshswoosh.

Two more shots, to the back of the head each. Both missing wide and flying past my face, almost as if they were firing to grab Tasgal’s attention rather than to inflict injury. Predictably Tasgal turned around to face them. Seeing two men on the ground with spent crossbows pointed up. They were all going to run out of ammunition soon, a single soldier could only carry three or four spears without being weighed down.

Thunkthunk.

But then came two perfect shots from about waist height. One deflects away from my right shoulder, the other jabs into my gut just between the plates. It’s stopped completely before touching skin, but goes in just deep enough that it couldn’t be plucked free with any ease. Cutting right through plastic to the point that foam alone was what saved me from a jabbing cut.

These two were on the spire. Hanging off the side of a window and firing down for a better angle. When Tasgal looked up at them in surprise I could hear the pitter-patter of those on the ground running away, making full use of this distraction obviously. But the ones in the spire had nowhere to go. One retreats into the building itself, the other drops his spear thrower and clambers up to the pointed tip of the building.

He was a distraction, trying to call attention to himself so that his allies could get away. Trying to keep my pilot from simply tearing the whole building down.

Tasgal just saw a target.

My arm swipes out toward him, feeling more like plucking at an apple rather than some attempt at combat. This combat civilian, not even in any formal uniform or body armor, attempts to swivel away from my grip. My fingers snag his left leg. I can feel him pitting his strength against mine in some vain attempt to hold onto that rough coral. My arm simply lifts up and the man comes with, there was no question about the victor.

I close my lips so that Orchi wouldn’t see it.

It left me wishing I could close my eyes, but of course Tasgal took far too much joy in seeing the pain he inflicted. One hand on the man’s left leg, one on his right, and already he was starting to pull. To pull. The defiant squeaks turned into panicked ones, and we both knew he’d snap before this was don- …

CRACK!

That wasn’t a spear, that was an outright rock. Thrown hard and blindsiding me with it’s impact. My head rocks to one side, part of my grip looses so that this soldier is just dangling in one hand. I reel backwards from the sheer force of the blow and I’m left genuinely surprised that Tasgal didn’t tip me over. Teetering like a toddler and yet not actually falling down. My head turns.

There in the distance, down a long open corridor and flanked on either side by tall buildings, was a siege engine.

Well, by Gesshru standards it was a powerful, deadly instrument built in makeshift from scavenged parts, something that could destroy ships or break through walls. Enough damage even to crack a Max’s armor, even if this shot didn’t quite injure me.

To me it was a slingshot.

Not even a good one. Two long poles made of coral jammed into the ground and bolted in place with what looked like more plastic, four soldiers in total were holding the poles steady to keep the entire thing from falling apart. Duct tape could have made it more durable. Instead of a single long band like the professional Gashn or Cavni army might use, this was several strips of rubber all looped around each other stretched wide so that the bands could cover the ammunition and support. Down at the ground level was a ramp, set to help aim the shot higher.

There were two more good sized rocks that might be easy to throw set up at the back of this hastily built weapon, two more soldiers set about dragging them into place. Rolling them about, while a third and fourth are holding onto the rubber and stretching it back.

It took six people to load, aim, and fire this thing. This wasn’t a speedy endeavor, but they had a clear shot and plenty of motivation. This was the one isle, far away from ground forces who might back Tasgal up or tear apart the weapon, in which this slingshot could actually fire down. My body was walked directly into an obvious trap.

Well …

It wasn’t going to kill me quickly, but maybe if they hit me hard enough it could knock me out of the fight?

Tasgal wasn’t going to let them. With a soft hunk of victim already in hand, he curls my arm back, walks forward into the line with that usual robotic monotony, and then throws. I could hear the high pitched screams, it was far too easy to feel Orchi tucking in against my cheek and pulling her arms over her eyes. I could feel the child shaking.

And I could see the wet splat when one Gesshru collides into the strings of rubber and men, red smearing into the ground and two falling in a tangled heap. They landed hard and took out two members on support duty, but they simply carried on. Kept aiming. Kept staring down the face of death as I casually walked in their general direction.

Heedless of their kill zone, confident that my body would crush every last one of them, and making a grand show of walking strait through their greatest weapon.

Tasgal was a fool.

And when stepping between buildings left me with the faint sensation of suckers glued onto my plastic, I curled my lips up into a smile.

“AIM FOR THE HEAD!” I heard a shout, a powerful yet effeminate voice by the rodent’s terms. Screamed not in victory, but in frightened desperation.

I could smell ozone for a moment, the sound of gears whirring and electrical sparks filled the air on either side of me. Tasgal had just enough time to glance at a soldier, that same lithe frame wielding a coral spear shouting at the top of his lungs as he directed his forces, before suddenly my body decided now was the best time to breakdance.

Oh, there was pain too. Glorious and horrendous pain. A gripping scream at the bottom of my foot that welled into every fiber of my existence. My eyes burned from the inside, every hair across my skin jutted out and clung to the foam, it was hard to keep my eyes open and all I could do to grit my teeth and hope Orchi wasn’t bitten in half by the end of this.

But my limbs being outside of my control was something I was used to, and the electricity coursing through my veins and eliciting pained shouts from the pilot behind my skull was more fascinating than gripping. My arms flailed wildly, my legs stumbled forward, dropping to one knee, a single arm crashes into the side of a building but doesn’t break the coral foundation. Two Gesshru on top scrambling to hold onto their weapons.

Wires snapped. My body staggers up onto its feet at Tasgal’s behest. Gesshru didn’t even have electricity, at least not here and not at present, the art of such was lost when people decided it wasn’t profitable. But the knowledge was still there. And these people, these defenders, have just shot me with two makeshift tasers.

The rubber bands fire, a heavy CRACK as it smacks into my chest and deflects away into the street bellow. I was on my knees but trying to rise. Tiny pap noises, four Gesshru had just leapt off the spire and onto my shoulders. No, one was on top of my head. Another two down at my back.

I rose and they tried to stay attached, one falling down to my waist as another clings to some bolt in the small of my back. Ontal forces were closing, I could see them, and I could hear them, coming up from behind, but the siege unit in front of me was loading up its last shot. My skin burned. Tasgal takes another step.

Thunk, thunk, scrape …

That fighter on my head bashed down once, twice, three times with the desperate flurry of a man trying to save his home. The first bounces off plastic and I can tell it’s the spear of coral, the second one sends cracks fracturing out from the impact but doesn’t penetrate deep, while the third contacts and scrapes to one side. He was tearing into the joints. He was trying to get at Tasgal himself.

The one on my shoulder does similarly, leaping up and jabbing into the side panels, but with his thin plastic spear I hear a wondrous rending sound, the frantic squeal of Tasgal inside as a spear jabs into his flesh. Making it past the plastic outer layer. But at that section for the control panel there was no cushioning padding as a secondary layer.

I heard his scream. I could feel Tasgal’s blood leaking into my hair, coating over the buttons and knobs he used to control me.

My legs take another step, trouncing closer to their siege engine.

Crumble. Crack, and another flop. Just as before their traps were perfect, the ground crumbles away into a six inch deep hole, my legs fail to correct for this new balance, and like a monster slipping on a banana peel I fly downward. The ground meets me with a generous enthusiasm and once more I’m left with the familiar sensation of stars before my eyes.

When my vision clears and my head lifts up, jaw agape at the scene before me, it turns out the man on my head was flung forward. The ones on my back were crawling up toward my skull, and the sling shot was almost loaded. Aiming.

“uhgm.” The lithe man stumbles up to his feet, still clenching a coral spear. “A-aim … AIM for the HEAD! Fire!”

He shouts like he means it. The man looks exhausted. And with a viscous jab comes up to slam the point of his weapon directly in front of my nose. I could see every bit of him while my face was hidden behind the orange screen.

Crack. CRASH! An explosion of glistening shards, the painful jab of a pencil stabbing into my cheek, the taste of blood as it pools down my face and past my lips. I couldn’t move and I couldn’t shiver, forced to simply accept the pain. Tasgal was screaming, he was fumbling with bloodsoaked controls, putting all of his effort into just staying awake, and still I could hear it. Hear the tink and the tear as tiny plastic spears are tearing away his protection, pulling him from my skull.

By god they were winning.

“Die monster.” The lithe Gesshru said as he pulled his spear from my face and started to aim again. Clambering through the shattered opening, looking me in the eye for the first time. I had no problem with this. The worst that could happen is he stabs me and I live through it, but something through the head or the neck would be nice …

“Wait.” I thunder out calmly in their squeaky chirps, opening my jaws wide and shoving my tongue forward. Another stab, but I didn’t care about the bleeding. And as soon as he saw Orchi he didn’t care either.

“Dad?” the child pipes up, crawling between my teeth. Blood drips down. My blood drips down to splatter her bare shoulders and she’s left looking up with a gasp.

For a moment the two of them stare at each other, close enough to touch, close enough to hug, and then without hesitation he drops his spear and scoops the child into his arms. Blood and spit didn’t matter to him, the warzone all around him, the screams of mice in rage and mice dying, the pounding footsteps of an army surging up through the city streets. The two embraced as if this was a miracle, and perhaps it was.

My head shifts to one side and the two rodents are tossed into the edge of my vision.

The lithe soldier slings his daughter over his shoulder, the child mumbling something and holding him close. Tucking her head beneath his chin and clinging to be sure they never part again.

My arm slams into the dirt palm first, lifting steadily, dragging me out of the ground. Even through the blood and the pain, the burning agony that goes along with electrocution, my body was still lethal to them.

Tasgal was panicking, I could feel it. No, I could hear his desperate mumbling as he slaps buttons randomly, some of them slicked over and useless as the design was never built to be waterproofed. Three Gesshru spearmen were all stabbing into the panel and jabbing into the cracks, trying to apply enough leverage to force the thing open.

My pilot’s only real hope was to knock them aside and then run, if he could even manage that. But already the next rock was aimed at my face and the armored visor protecting me was torn asunder.

Orchi and her father leapt to freedom before my head was too high up, landing hard and walking forward. His spear abandoned completely to rest within my helmet, his voice cracking up in their equivalent of emotional tears.

“F-fire. Take him down. Take t-the bastard down!” he shouts toward his men while running away behind friendly lines.

My arm reaches out to stop him, but I fight back.

No. I couldn’t close my eyes, but this is the moment where I choose to take a stand. Where I resist every command Tasgal gives with everything I had left. Stuttered shaking. Wild twitches. My arms start to move, but then pull away, then start to move again.

Stab, stab, tear, they were making headway at the back of my skull. If I could just keep this up until they make it to Tasgal they will shred him limb from limb. Keep him still, keep him useless, and he’s going to die here and now.

“N-nnoo! NO! Defend me, save me! Kepa you useless starflung rust splotch, I need help!” that electronic voice boomed out from beneath my neck. They were already coming, but a Gesshru just isn’t as fast as a human, and these soldiers were no doubt bogged down by the ruins blocking their way, or the way this battle moved.

More tearing. I could hear the snap as parts of my control panel fly away, jagged bits of plastic revealing a small area from which to stab through.

“REINFORCEMENTS! Get here now!” he desperately screamed, but nothing changed. This battle was lost for him, and if I had my way he was going to die here.

He was going to die screaming.

I could see a sunset in the distance. I could see Orchi, in the hands of her father, tucked behind their slingshot of a siege engine. I was left wishing there was some way to force my eyes shut and simply let it be, let death take me as it inevitably will. But Tasgal was in control of my eyes and not really coherent at the moment.

The slingshot fires.

A rock hurtles toward my face.

Pain, the taste of iron, stars swirling around my eyes, and then blackness.

As I passed into blissful unconsciousness, the lips I still held sway over were curled into a smile.
User avatar
arbon
Extinction Level Event
Extinction Level Event
 
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Joined: Sun Jul 01, 2012 11:42 pm
Location: Despite what the green paws might claim, not a giant monster. Look down. See that little mouse?

Re: Gesshru (Arbon's attempt at Flash fiction)

Postby arbon » Mon Jun 05, 2017 7:53 pm

My question for this chapter: "Imagine this has been the norm for years. Not just days, months, but multiple years. So many close calls, more almost victories than you can count, an endless stream of names and friends and nice people and cruel villains who all just fade away into history while your miserable existence continues on. Is there any point in which you'd give up? And what do you think of Freya's ability to hold on?"

__________
Chapter 16


My name is Freya Savitri, and I am a damsel in distress.

How long was I dreaming?

I wasn’t dead. My first thought upon that realization was how annoying it would be to survive this. You won, didn’t you? Just let them kill me Orchi.

Please.

My dreams were filled with high pitched mouse noises, being trapped in a sand castle along a ruined child’s playset while shrieking vermin crawl over my skin. The twang and thunk of spear throwers firing, the silly little mouse noises as they stabbed and bit and tore and clawed. I just wanted to sleep through it all. To sleep a dream in an endless rest, my final reward for holding out so long as the sun sets and darkness consumes all.

Enderr in Albanian. Yuxu in Azerbaijani. Mapa in Belarusian. Sanjati in Bosnian. Meyta in Bulgarian. Somiar in Catalan. Damgo in Cebuano. Ndimalota in Chichewa. Sognu in Corsican. San in Croatian. Sen in Czech. Drom in Danish. Droom in Dutch. Sonji in Esperanto. Unistus in Estonian. Managinip in Filipino. Unelma in Finnish. Rever in French. Sonar in Galician. Traum in German. Oveipo in Greek. Rev in Haitian Creole. Moe in Hawaiian. Npau sauv in Hmong.

I enjoyed the silence when it took me, a dream in any language was still a dream. Flickers of awareness, tiny little mouse things scampering about my arms and my face. Poking and prodding. Through groggy eyes I woke to see a little gerbil in military dress jabbing a paw between my eyes. So cute, and oh so adorably tiny. It chattered and make clicky noises, leaving me aware of the dried blood matting down my cheeks or the way every hair on my skin hurt.

My response was ever polite, drifting back into darkness.

Alom in Hungarian. Nro in Igbo. Mimpi in Indonesian. Aisling in Irish. Sognare in Italian. Apmah in Kazakh. Xewn in Kurdish. Tyw in Kyrgyz. Somnium in Latin. Sapnot in Latvian. Svajoti in Lithuanian. Coh in Macedonian. Moemoe in Maori. Snic in Polish. Sonho in Portuguese. Vis in Romanian. Meyta in Russian. Miti in Samoan. Cah in Serbian. Rota in Shona. Snivat in Slovak. Sueno in Spanish. Ngimpi in Sundanese. Ndoto in Swahili. Drom in Swedish. Opey in Tajik. Ruya in Turkish. Tush in Uzbek. Iphupha in Xhosa. Ala in Yoruba.

This was how you could tell a dream is a universal constant, even animals dream when given the chance. So many of those words were entirely different. Most developed independently, each language deciding on its own sound for the concept of a dream without needing another culture to introduce them to it. Everyone dreams, just as everyone sleeps.

And in my dreams the pain was gone. The weight of everything vanished so that I could slip away into the clouds, drifting high toward starlight.

Strong arms wrapped around my waist. I felt myself lifted, plastic against plastic as I’m taken into the arms of a man. My eyes flutter open and I can see his face. A friend and collogue. Was he dead too? No, I saw his face behind a visor. Through a helmet. But it was him. Holding me close in a neat little hug, sweeping me off my feet.

“Loren …” I breathed through the cracked plate of my helmet, jagged edges of shattered plastic framing the scene of my reunion.

“Just breathe, okay? You’ve earned a long rest.” His voice isn’t tiny and whispered like I’m so used to hearing. Deep and powerful, the comfort of his presence washed over my mind the way a blanket is tucked over a child. I didn’t know if he was dead, but then my mind didn’t really focus on reality.

In my dreams I could tell I was being supported in two arms. One supporting my back and head, the other looping beneath the joint in my feet. Holding me like a lover and walking off into the desert night. The way his feet pound into the dirt offered a rhythmic sway that lulled me into rest. The very fact someone else was plucking me off the ground made me feel small. So very small indeed.

There was no telling how long I was out, drifting in and out of sleep.

Eyes flutter open to see the bottom of Loren’s chin and the stars twinkling behind him. The man’s head strait and forward in a serious focus. Step, shudder, move. Step, shudder, move. Again and again he walked, supporting me as easily as anything else.

Was this the reaper taking me home?

Is this whom the spirits of the dead sent to collect me?

I close my eyes again and feel as if I’m opening them only moments later. A blink in time, and the night stars have changed position, the moon is now much higher than before, and everything feels colder.

With a hoarse breath I whispered out …

“So this is how you treat a lady.” My throat felt dry, and the taste of blood sickened me. “I didn’t know you were the type.”

“Always a pleasure to see you Freya. How are you holding up?” Oh god his voice. I could hear the man’s voice and he was talking to me. This hasn’t happened in so long, someone actually understanding and responding. I closed my eyes. They were mine and I closed them. Basking in this feeling of happiness only marred by one minor problem.

“Am I dead?” the answer one rarely got a chance to ask.

“No, you simply took a heavy blow to the face.” He answered gently. The man wasn’t looking at me, but I was starting to catch on that he couldn’t. His pilot wasn’t giving him control of the face. “Might be a minor concussion and possibly skull fracture, but you aren’t going to die yet.”

“Disappointing.” I breathed, as pleasant dreams fade away and this horrible reality crashes back down. A weight on my chest, constricting my heart with every gasp.

“Is this something you wish to talk about?” why did Loren’s voice have to be so inviting.

“This isn’t the proper setting for a therapy session, we need to get the fancy chair and flat bed remember.”

“Then let me ask as your friend rather than your doctor. None of us want you to die, Freya.” Smooth and confident.

“A weapon, Loren. That’s all I am. Death and fear and ruined monuments, I came here to study these people. And every day I come out of that cage I’m just destroying more of their society. I want it to end, okay? I don’t care about life, I don’t care about death, I just want it to end.”

Loren pauses to think. I can feel his footsteps are robotic and monotonous, one after the other in a steady and relentless beat. He speaks softly.

“How close have you gotten?”

“Uggh, I had a chance. There was one chance, I was free up at Ontal and close to the forest. But I went back to save my pilot.”

“That Tasgal guy?” the human sounded surprised. “Really?”

“No, someone else. A woman named Doth, we were attacked by some second intelligent species called Soul Eaters. They can fly, they shoot lightning out of their paws, they are about the size of a housecat, and they have some level of sophistication to their language. I didn’t get much time to study them as apparently they think Gesshru are tasty.”

“Flying cat … is it furry and has bright colors? I saw one in a dugout cage to the left of the bay doors. But I thought they were calling it, um, rock danger seed noms or something. It was a weird word.”

I didn’t apologize for laughing at that one.

“The translation to English is Soul Eater based on context. A two-click before the long chur designates religious context to let people know they’re referring to the planet’s core rather than the planet’s surface.”

“Right, yeah. I remember that.” He totally didn’t. But then that wasn’t his job. “Tasgal was the one in your helmet, what happened to Doth?”

“The same as usual.” I groaned. The desire to lean my head back was strong, but I couldn’t move my neck. It didn’t take long to realize my arms weren’t moving either.

“Always hard, I know Freya. That’s always hard.” Loren spoke with a soft reverence. “I almost made it out two months ago.”

“Give me details.” It was almost a demand, but we both knew the importance of sharing Intel when we could.

“If they aren’t paying attention and don’t think they need to worry about you, most pilots start to mess up. Its, well. You know how you’ve had minor success in resisting the commands? Turns out you can do the opposite as well.”

“You mean helping them?”

“Minor assistance. Give a bit of extra direction moving boxes, a bit of extra speed, some extra flexibility. Figure out what your pilot is trying to do and then do it for them, or start doing it before they’ve even pressed a button.”

“I’ll have to admit, that didn’t occur to me. How does this help you escape?”

“For the moment it hasn’t yet, but most Gesshru who get in your cockpit start to catch on. And when you can appeal to their lazy side, they start to delegate more and more control over to you so that they don’t have to work. Or so they can get praised for how fluid and dexterous their piloting is.”

“Heh, I saw a bit of that with Doth I guess.”

“So I started figuring out when they’d put me in lockdown for a pilot to approach. Keep track of when they have missions, what the next one will be, how soon I’ll be out. Standard procedure is to make sure I’m locked down before they open the doors, but you know what I said about laziness. I make sure I get in position and hold myself still before they initiate lockdown.”

“Trick them.” My eyes were going blurry, but I was starting to catch on.

“Exactly. It confuses them when they press the button but I’m not moving. Of course it still puts me in lockdown, but sometimes they turn it off and on again to make sure it works. Sometimes they think they’ve turned it on when really they haven’t yet. Sometimes they forget to turn it on entirely. Or … as with last month, they decide they didn’t need to. I was docile after all, cooperative and helpful.”

“So that’s when you escaped. Still didn’t crush any of them I’ll bet?” my grin couldn’t be helped. Even knowing how his great escape ends I’m still enthralled by what an expert therapist would come up with.

“I’m not going to break my vow, not intentionally.” He responds in that sullen voice.

“And I would never ask you to.” Was the simplest response I could offer back.

“So, I lay down and wait for the doors to open. My pilot comes along just far enough to reach my head and open the control panel before I stand up. Gently place him to the ground. And walk out of the main door.”

“Hah! They didn’t close it on you?”

“Well they tried, but it closes slowly you know. Had to tuck and roll by the time I got there but it wasn’t a close call.”

“Just like in the movies according to my imagination. Then they got you on the way out?”

“Yeah. Made it all the way to the main door before realizing I couldn’t get it open. Want to know something interesting? For whatever reason the remote didn’t work on me.”

“Wait, what?”

“The remotes. Lockdown. It doesn’t work if there’s a pilot in the cockpit, they don’t want an enemy soldier to just grab the remote and shut you down in combat. Way too big of a weakness for the Cavni to exploit. So the collar around your neck checks to see if your being piloted before actually entering into lockdown.”

“I know this, but you didn’t have a pilot in you.”

“The collar didn’t know that.” He says with a gleeful twinkle in his tone. “I might have just been lucky with the timing, but there’s a button on the inside you can press to declare this max is being piloted. I’m guessing my guy managed to tap it or something bumped it as I was tearing him out.”

“You wouldn’t happen to know where the button is, do you?”

“No.” he responds. “Don’t have eyes on the back of my head.”

“A shame. If the remote didn’t work how did they manage to catch you?”

“I was still trapped inside the main compound until they opened the front door, couldn’t quite get through it. But then I remembered the back wall. Check this, there’s construction going on out back. The walls of the compound and the outer perimeter are being refitted to allot for a new holding pen.”

“They want to catch more Soul eaters.”

“I think the translation Rock Danger Seed Nom is more fitting. Those things are adorable.”

“They shoot lighting out of their hands.”

“So they’re adorable and useful, the perfect pet to hand to an engineer, so now we know what to give Rodan for Christmas.” His grin was infectious, even when hidden behind that helmet.

“I’m pretty sure these things have a culture of their own. Try that and it might end up as a girlfriend instead.”

Loren laughed. He didn’t laugh hard, but this brightened his day almost as much as getting to talk with him brightened mine.

“ In all seriousness these guys want to set up a whole new program and are building new cages to do it with. For the time being that means everything about that dead end to the far west is filled with recent construction and unfinished scaffolding, they’ve already started taking part of the wall down.”

“I think I get it.” Attack the weak point. “If I manage to escape myself, go to the dead end and start bashing my way through.”

“Just like Kell always says, if you hit a wall then hit it hard.” Though Loren’s head was steady and level, I could tell he wanted to nod. In truth so did I, being reminded of that stoic head of security and her brutal combat edge just made me think of today’s fight.

I didn’t want to think of today’s fight.

“All of the pilots I become close with die.” I brought up with a whispered breath. “If even yours catch on, how do you do it?”

“How do I cope?”

“I wish I could protect them. There just has to be something …”

“Ignorance. That’s how you keep them safe. Here’s my trick, see I’ll be all super helpful and friendly and docile whenever it’s just one person or one pilot. Working solo? Do everything you can to help your pilot out, actively anticipate his or her desires and start working without needing to be controlled. They catch on, they start to learn I’m doing it, they look deeper.”

“And then they tell others and the higher ups catch wind, and your pilot mysteriously disappears only to be replaced by someone who doesn’t ask as many questions.”

“Play dumb.”He says quickly. “If the pilot trying to expose your intelligence just comes across as insane or an idiot, then the higher ups want to keep them around. To prove their point, make it sound like some nutball conspiracy theory.”

“Now you have me interested, so I … what. Be the exact opposite of helpful, pretend I can’t figure things out as soon as someone other than my pilot is watching?”

“Bingo babycakes.”

“…”

“What?”

“Don’t ever do that again.”

“And here I thought we were having a romantic evening. You wound me.”

“I still don’t have dinner, my lips taste like rat, and I’m not in the mood. But thanks. I’ll have to keep this in mind for the next name on my list of corpses to remember. Your current pilot isn’t distracted by this is he?”

“Nah, at least not as far as I can tell. This one’s suspicious and frustrated, he knows I’m so much smarter than anyone is telling him but I’m like that old cartoon about a singing frog. The moment he tries to show anyone I play up my stupidity and he starts looking insane. After a few tries he stopped trying to tell others and just grilled me directly.”

“Sounds amusing to watch so long as you can keep a grin off your face.”

“A stupid grin fits the act though, and I think he’s just trying to decipher the code or something. He’s convinced we have secret telepathic mind powers and that somehow we use thunder voices to blast thoughts at each other.”

“You’re still having trouble with the translations aren’t you.”

“Fucking god yes, I don’t know how you do it so easily. Can barely hear the little thing, let alone try and make out actual words. Even harder because all their words sound the same.”

“Think of it like Morse code but with squeaks instead of dots.” I was being deliberately unhelpful.

“We’ll have to wait before I see if that helps, most I can manage is a grasp of their emotion and what these people are thinking. The words they say are always a bit harder to parse.”

“No one is blaming you.”

“And at the same time no one is blaming you, Freya. But I think Tasgal might.”

“The bastard’s still alive, isn’t he.” It wasn’t a question. Him being dead would be pleasant for me, so of course he wasn’t dead.

“Injured, but still alive. I was there as he was dragged out of your cockpit, screamed something to the doctors about how it wasn’t his fault. You were fighting him and hard to control the whole battle and you slowed everything down far enough that ten or so Cavni could bring you to the ground. He’s demanding they push up some lobotomy on you, want full neural dampeners and complete control plugged into your brainstem.”

“Of course he is, I heard the procedure was coming up next month.”

“With any luck your blow to the face will make them hesitant about trying anything, they don’t want to risk losing a max. It would be a huge blow to everyone’s Moral, and give the Cavni an example of how Max units can be defeated if they try hard enough.”

“If this is the last time I get to say anything to you Loren, I … well, we all love you, sir.” There wasn’t much choking to my voice, and while entirely platonic it was still love. Just seems like the proper thing to say if I know I might not be conscious when we next meet. If we next meet.

Loran said nothing.

The swing in his step and the loud crunch of his boots. Everything was darkness on a moonlit night, the stars of earth a distant memory, the promise of space turned drab prison infested with rodents. I could hear Loran starting to say something but then stop. Working himself up, summoning the courage he required.

“Oh come on, don’t stop now!” the squeaks of an enraged gesshru blasted out. “I still have a bit of hearing left why don’t you.”

My snickering probably wasn’t the response he was looking for.

“I don’t think I’m quite ready to say goodbye yet Freya, so how about a hello instead. This is Prot Elot. My pilot if you hadn’t guessed! He came to respond when you didn’t return at the expected time and thus had to clean up whatever was causing a delay. It was so cute watching him panic at the thought of some enemy weapon that can take down a human.”

I squeaked back. Clicking my teeth and making perfect, unaccented Gesshru chirps at only just loud enough that he could hear it without pain. Of course he still wouldn’t understand it, but the reaction was priceless.

“Do you think my using this time to mess with him would be productive? It sounds like a sarcastic Gesshru.”

“Ohjeeze I couldn’t keep up with that.” Loran balks, speaking in English even as I swap fluidly to the native tongue. “If you said what I think you said, yeah Prot is harmless.

“One day fleshmonster.” The rodent’s voice blared out from Loren’s throat. It sounded far too much like a drive through menu item attempting to threaten me. “I will know your secrets.”

For the first time in a long time it became the option of two humans to ignore the words of a Gesshru. Poetic justice or pure karma, I didn’t care which because I was taking it.

“Last I was awake, the citizens were winning.”

“Citizens? I thought a whole cavni scout group had managed to slip past the front lines and set up in this abandoned city.”

“Really wish I could shake my head now.” I mused, staring up at his chin. “But no it was just citizens with either stolen or makeshift weapons. At least one guy had a coral spear because they couldn’t give him a plastic one. And I think their needle throwers were just taken from Galm supplies in various raids.”

“Survivors I take it?”

“Of the first attack, yes. Some of the fighters remembered me personally as that thing that killed everyone. And there was a child who’s grown up her entire life inside this broken city. These people set traps, adapted, they came out with some new taser weapon that actually hurts through the armor. They were prepared.”

“Not what Tasgal is saying.”

“That man is an idiot who walked right into every trap and somehow lined up my face with one of their siege cannons.”

“Heh. Cannon …” Loren muttered with amusement.

“Hah-hah, yeah their weapons may be a joke but it still hurts alright. I could count at least twelve defenders against the thirty or so remaining Galm forces. Was really hoping the defenders would win this one, probably just by falling back through the city and laying traps as they went.”

“They did win the city.” Galm says sadly.

“Oh, so how did you manage to pick me up?”

“Because I was sent in to re-take the city.”

That simple answer was all he needed to say so very much. I close my eyes and breathe. Just breathe and try to forget, trapped in this hell just like any other. The pacifist Loren would never willingly take a life, even if it meant dying himself. But he didn’t have to be willing to play the part of a weapon in this blighted war.

“I’m sorry.” I whispered, but then had to ask. “What happened?”

“Came up to see Galm on the outskirts of Scando, a big gaping line right through the center and about half of their people in the infirmary. You were on the ground and for some reason all of our own forces were afraid of me more than the enemy.”

“Heh, blame Tasgal for all of it.”

“The rat is busy placing blame on everyone else right now, but at least he’s in the infirmary for his troubles. My pilot got the vital tactical information and started to move in, only to feel parts of the road giving way beneath my feet. Traps and needle throwers, they tried to lead me toward some wire between two buildings. Prot is actually pretty good at listening to when I resist and what I’m trying to do, but after dodging three different ambushes he decided to fall back.”

“And re-take the city later with a larger force.” With a heavy sigh I shuddered in this man’s arms.

“Another walk all the way back to Ontal, gathered up as many troops as I could carry in this equivalent of a duffel bag, then walk them all back here in the dead of night. Scando was still up and they had a few tiny glowstick things. But then me moving through as support and siege while the army proper cleared the place out room by room? Defenders didn’t stand a chance. I kept hearing we slaughtered them to the last man and came out with about ten corpses.”

“And of course those are going to be in our dinner for the next few days, aren’t they.”

“I know, right? Why do Gesshru have to be so stringy. Give me a steak any time over these little things.”

“Hahaha, I spent over two hours with a Gesshru in my mouth. Tell me about it. By which mean tell me about the battle, how did Tasgal live?”

A yawn coming on. Welling up from behind, my chest expanding into the foam padding with this long and shuddered breath. My eyes were getting heavy and I couldn’t tell if this was from the weight of it all or actually being tired.

“The Galm forces moved in and managed to push away city defenders long enough to pull him out of the cockpit. Apparently they lost a few men in the attempt, but a trained pilot is always worth more than a soldier.”

“Of course it is.” I stifled back another yawn. And before I knew it I was asleep again.

Moments passed.

Minutes slipping by as an exaggerated blink.

When I opened up to look again the stars had changed position and Loren was breathing heavily.

“I t-think … must have slept. Sorry.”

“Oh? Not your fault Freya, you were out for maybe ten minutes.” Loren answered gently. I could tell even his strong arms were starting to wane, probably harder to suffer through when bored and without distraction.

“How have you been holding up?”

“Out here, I’m getting more of a workout than I norma- …”

“No.” My interruption surprised him. “I mean in general. I’m at the point I don’t care if I die, I just want all of this end. I want to stop being a weapon, I want to call this an abject failure and go home. Let some other team rocket themselves into space and play with the tiny rodent people. But I’m hanging on if just barely. How close are you to the breaking point?”

“About halfway.” He answers this automatically. At first it seemed as if he’d given the question no thought, until I realized he’s been thinking about that very question for much longer than I have. “What really helps is what I can predict in the coming year.”

“Oh? Good news please, let it be good news.”

“Gesshru culture changes rapidly. Every generation it’s something new rising up, be it intentional or embraced or feared or suppressed. The old people who originally dealt with humans can’t stay alive forever, nor can they hold onto to the last dregs of their power. They won’t ever get to see that Naval invasion they were planning. But the Cavni? At the same time old power is close to falling apart the federation becomes more desperate and more united. They’ve been trying to recreate Max units from what they saw in propaganda, to absolutely zero success because we weren’t made in a lab like everyone thinks.”

“The moment people stop believing that is when things get more interesting for us. But they have to have some plans for carrying on into the future if Soul Eater cages are in the works.”

“I’ve got an idea for that too. The Cavni will abandon genetic construction projects and just focus on ways to take down a Max, non-lethally if they can manage. They will pump whatever they can into catching one of us alive while the Gashn fight just as hard to keep us hidden away. Less open combat work and more construction, transport, manufacturing. Which ironically will just leave us more vulnerable as now any Cavni getting through the front lines will do get a chance at us without an army backing our pilots up.”

My eyes closed and they didn’t open, but I kept talking. Just wanted to keep listening to the man, keep hearing his deep and open voice.

“That sounds pleasant.”

“The next part might not be, but bare with me. Capture these Rock-Danger-Food things and start applying old tech, old neural control tech like they had upon our first arrival, and get themselves a new army of adorable cat dragons. Secret gets out, they tell everyone that Max Units are just more creatures that they implanted and control. But then tell everyone that we eat souls too, and if controlling a soul eater is acceptable and good then controlling a human must be too.”

“That doesn’t sound like it will benefit us.”

“In the immediate term it won’t, but it will be a change. And in that change will open more opportunities. Just have to keep an eye out for them and keep our allies alive, what little we can find.”

I tried to open my mouth.

Silence.

“Freya?” he asked after too long with no words.

I tried to open my mouth, but it wouldn’t move. My lips quivered and my breathing slowed. I could feel his warmth in the chilled air, the way his touch graced my armor. Slipping away into nothing, I felt darkness take me.

“Goodnight Freya. Sleep well.”
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