Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
Ninety-eight gazillion miles from anywhere I want to be and some teenage alley-captain and his squad manages to get the drop on me. That’ll teach me for daydreaming about places I’d rather be.
“Well, now, what do we have here?”
Oh, great. He’s examining the rod. If he’s as smart as I think he is, he’ll figure it out quickly and things will get interesting.
“Targalla! This is an Aiming Wand!”
Correct. And you’re a devotee of the local war god.
“Well, now, why shouldn’t I bring the thunder down on you?”
One of his squad looks about nervously: “Climel, we’re too close.”
Alley Captain Climel looks back, his tone witheringly contemptuous: “You scared to face Targalla, Rufutz? To take a spotter down, you’d hesitate to go in glory?”
I’m a bit more than a spotter, numbnuts. But, as long as you think that, I might survive this.
Climel waves his squad back. Looks like he’s not prepared to try and enforce his authority over suicidal moves. The verbal lashing is sufficient to keep up appearances.
From the end of the alley, he points the wand at me. I suffer a moment’s glare blindness, then he’s centred the dot on my forehead.
“Time to go, spotter. How does it feel?”
“I feel Targalla is about to bestow his blessings.”
That doesn’t go down well. Climel looks uncomfortable. The squad mutters. Invaders like me aren’t meant to speak like devoted. Climel utters a dismissive bark of laughter and squeezes the wand’s initiator.
Far above, something detaches itself from my nearest companion drone. It’s not what Climel expects it to be. He’s expecting something to mangle and burn me.
With a ‘crack’ of ignited air and a flash that turns my view monochrome for a while, a stroke of artificial lightning leaves nothing of Climel but his arms and charred pieces. As the bits fall, Rufutz doesn’t even move – he just turns to one side and pukes hard. He’s not alone.
I roll to my feet and steel myself to show nothing but nonchalance. Strolling out to the remains of the squad, I bend down and pick up my Aiming Wand. I feel the tingle as it recognises the tags embedded in my sternum and pelvis. Anyone who tries to use it without those tags automatically becomes the target, regardless of anything marked by the wand’s beam.
The squad is badly shaken and hurting. The looks in their eyes are those of frightened kids rather than fledgling resistance members.
“So, who will take Targalla’s revelation over the squealing of their elders?”
They swap stares, the hidden meanings within lost as their team cohesion collapses.
“I will.” Rufutz remains outspoken, at least.
“Alley Captain Rufutz, I am Deldrac. I was born farther from this ground than you would believe, but will you believe I know Targalla’s favour?”
He’s still coping with me promoting him. This is the acid test. An alley crew on our side will be an asset, but he has to roll with my cues – and the squad has to accept it.
“Can you fetch aid for my people without bringing down enforcers?”
Got him! I see nods exchanged. Rufutz just became their boss.
“I can. Whilst they are attended, let’s discuss bringing Targalla’s peace to this neighbourhood.”
We like their war god, he comes with straightforward values: honesty, fealty, duty, family, society. Things we can work with to make this planet peaceful for those who remain now their warlords are dead.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
The bridge is quiet. That special kind of quiet when everyone is busily engaged in not paying attention to something. In this case, it’s the trio who stand in a tight group to the left of the command chair.
“I didn’t mean it like that!” Ensign Kurth Reynolds is standing on tip-toe. Which places Her Highness’ horn in line with his right eye. But he’s in too much pain to worry about being blinded.
“My Cahn, really, he didn’t. There’s a confusing multiplicity of meanings between colloquial and formal Humanish.” Captain Elonna Blaze rubs her muzzle slowly, her ears back. Both are a sign that this Wolfyn is reaching the limits of her patience – a place she visits frequently when her highness is interacting with humans.
“He insulted my butt. Which is why I’m crush testing his undercarriage.” Gemra Cahn, heiress to a title so long they just use her family name instead, is not in the mood for diplomacy. Braided queues of ruby-red hair flex of their own accord, scratching lightly at her demi-cloak and leggings. Eyes the colour of snow clouds glare from a freckled, high-cheekboned face. She even has freckles on the horn protruding from her forehead, a mark of exceptional beauty amongst the Tarraphym.
Elonna yips quietly before replying: “Gemra. He actually complimented your butt. If you translate what he said, he was highly complimentary of your – um – flanks. Let me run his exact words through the core translator so you can appreciate the real meaning.”
Reynolds pales. There is a moment’s silence on the bridge. Nothing and no-one dares move.
“Oh.” Elonna’s ears flick, then stand upright. She looks from the screen to Reynolds. Her eyebrows meet in the middle as her muzzle wrinkles. She growls.
Gemra looks down at the infobracer on her forearm, which mirrors what Elonna has just received. Her eyes widen. Her lower hand clenches into a fist. Reynolds emits a high-pitched squeal, his eyes rolling back to show only whites. Then he collapses – as far as her unrelenting grip allows.
Gemra looks at Elonna and nods toward the display: “I didn’t know they could do that.”
Elonna shrugs: “Every race has its quirks.” She looks down: “My Cahn, he will suffer permanent impairment if you don’t let go.”
“That could be a favour for females in his proximity.”
“Possibly. But it would cause a diplomatic incident. Which means reams of affidavits and interviews with functionaries from the consulate.”
“Bureaucracy would be a small price to pay.”
Ensign Karen Warratah waves her hand: “Your highness?”
“We’ve got the measure of Reynolds, ma’am. You’re not the first lady to crush test his undercarriage and you won’t be the last. But we thank you for the furlough this particularly rigorous test will give us.”
Gemra singlehandedly straight-arms Reynolds and gives him a shake – he moans, even though unconscious, and Ensign Charles Wirth faints.
She chuckles, then drops him.
“I bow to your experience of dealing with the local pests, Ensign Warratah.”
Elonna relaxes her snarl and glances sideways at Gemra: “Your altitudeness is enjoying this a little too much.”
Gemra grins: “I enjoy harassing harassers. Set the bureaucrats on me if you dare.”
Elonna sighs and rubs her muzzle. It’s going to be a very long day with Gemra in such high spirits. She’d better warn the rest of the Honour Guard that their Cahn is in the mood for mayhem.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
“I can see it from here, Duke, and it’s quite something, I can tell you. Let me give you and our other listeners what I see.
I’m on Parliament mound, facing south. The river Thames is a shallow umber trail flowing sluggishly from west to east, obscured by smoke and ruins before reaching either horizon. Below and to my right is the glassy common that comprises what used to be Kensington, Chelsea, Hammersmith, and Fulham. I still see the occasional bird falling from the sky, emanation-struck as it carelessly flies too low, too far across an edge. Beyond that scar, Ealing, Hounslow, and Richmond are landscapes of blackened ruins and twisted metal. But, at least there is scavenger activity over there, unlike across the river to my left: the wasteland that is Lambeth and Southwark. The hellstorm didn’t leave much, and what moves there is death to anything that ventures in.
Central in my view is the broad corridor comprising Wandsworth, Merton and Sutton. I can see the attackers coming towards me, armour at the front, levitroopers above, a few choppers above them. Behind the armour I see personnel carriers, stormtroopers hitching a lift on the exteriors, drone trailers behind. From that point, back to beyond the outskirts of Croydon, the dust-shrouded ground is covered in combat teams loping along in exos, weapons ready. They’re making good time, given the terrain. Their strategic bombardment over the last few weeks levelled the ground well.
These brave folk are risking their all, attacking the Quintessian burrow that gutted Camden and Islington; a living habitat that is now spreading inexorably into Hackney and Haringey. Their targets are the three great entrance portals that open south of the Thames, two in Wandsworth, one in the uppermost reaches of Richmond. They’ve chosen their time well: Quintessia are largely dormant in temperatures above twenty degrees and it’s a scorching summer afternoon at the moment, with the temperature approaching thirty. The location has also been carefully selected: London is on a large island. Quintessian reinforcements would have to be shuttled in.
They’re crossing Wandsworth! I can see the massed force trifurcate, spreading apart to attack the portals. Within minutes, we’ll see if humanity’s last offensive can turn the tide. The noise, even at this distance, is incredible.
What’s this? There’s a commotion within the dust-cloud concealing the far flank of the easternmost strike force. I can hear firing. Small arms and heavy weapons. There is definitely something – oh, good fates! I can see. Oh, no. This could be disastrous.
It looks like the deadly inhabitants of Lambeth and Southwark are attacking! Huge centipede-like creatures, moving with incredible speed and unerring accuracy. Where impact damage doesn’t down their opponents, powerful jaws or corrosive, flammable venom does. Their night-black hides seem to repulse all but the heaviest weapons, which cannot be used because of the friendly casualties they would cause.
And now, more of these many-legged aggressors are boiling forth from all three portal entrances, where they’ve obviously lain in wait. Is there a chance? Can the attack win out? We’ll have to see.
It’s a massacre. These combatants are too much for human forces. Their every riposte is ignored by these creatures – it’s as if they had been designed to be the nemesis for anything humanity could bring to bear. This is the end of it. Demoralised and decimated, the half-life of a futile resistance movement is the best that remains for the survivors.
Let me be the first to say it clearly, Duke. We’ve won.”
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
The rolling glens of Morglanwe sweep gracefully down, their bases hidden by the long grasses that gird them. From this side of the gently waving grass sweeps a scattering of low dunes that back the beach on which we stand. In the sunset, I can see the piled bodies that deface a scene so glorious in natural splendour it would otherwise be worthy of a classic painting.
My guide, Glimhre, is unmoved by my mutterings of offence.
“Wait, Envoy. Wait.”
Is all he says. It is his answer to my every question. Where are the burial details, the mourners, the funerary rites?
The only reply?
High above, the clouds turn metallic purple in the last rays of the sun. I have never seen a shade so rich. The deep blue of the local equivalent of gulls perfectly complements the colour their wheeling flight sets them against. How can such beauty be allowed with the aftermath of bloody conflict strewn about below? It’s an offense to everything proper. Such ugliness should, if not erased, at least be solemnly removed piecemeal by grieving relatives and furtive scavengers. For it to lie ignored is a terrible thing to me.
A mist rises, mercifully shrouding the dead. I look about to see what beauty is brought by the ephemeral, faintly luminescent roils. There is no mist behind us. There is no mist amidst the dunes or in the vales of the glens. I look back. The mist is moving against the breeze. Moving. Like an animal!
I turn to Glimhre.
“What is that?”
He smiles a little smile: “That which was awaited.”
“I don’t understand.”
Glimhre rests a scaled hand on my shoulder: “You were insulted by our barbarous lack of care for our fallen. You were offended by our lack of funereal ritual. What you see is all of that. Look to the dunes.”
There are lights on the dunes. Each held by one or more beings gathered there. I hadn’t seen their arrival, so taken was I with the more-than-mist. The little groups – families? – stand together in silence. Everything about us has fallen quiet.
Answers. I must have answers. I point at the luminescent impossibility: “What is that?”
“It is a Sha’haan.”
“I repeat. What it that?”
“It is a hunger.”
“Again. What is that?”
“It is that which cleans the land of death. Where it touches, all organic death is lifted from the ground. Every iota is taken into its insatiable hunger.”
With incredulous eyes, I watch as the piles on the shore get smaller.
“Isn’t it dangerous?”
The inexorable diminishing process is hypnotic.
It is a while before Glimhre replies: “We could walk through it unharmed, except that our skin would be utterly cleansed and our clothes in tatters as every bit of deceased matter was consumed.”
A thought breaks my reverent watching.
“What if it started killing?”
“Thankfully, it has not learned that. I do not know if it could. But, thank you for a thought that will keep me awake at nights for a while to come.”
I turn my eyes down in shame.
As the Sha’haan finishes its grisly task and fades away, Glimhre slaps my back.
“You are imaginative and honest, Envoy. Never lose those traits, even when you become our Ambassador.”
Many serrated teeth flash in the dim light as he grins: “No, I have no idea where Sha’haan go when they disappear, and – based on recent example – I will be grateful if you do not share your thoughts on that topic.”
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
(We hope you’ve linked after following our Intergalactic Most Requested: Should I Be Keeping a Human? infoburst. If not, link it before continuing.)
IMPORTANT: if you bought your human for a sub-adult of your race, please void the transaction and return the container immediately. Giving humans regular interaction with sentients they can influence is forbidden. The ban is there, with good and (sadly) repeatedly proven reasons, to protect YOU.
So, you have a human. Maybe you have more than one. (If so, IMMEDIATELY link the infoburst ‘Humans: Pack Behaviour to Watch For’ before continuing.)
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Press the yellow panel. Does your human move quickly, uttering discrete word forms?
(Don’t worry about any aggressive displays or behaviour; this is why humans cannot be recognised as fully sentient. All truly intelligent species have evolved past their instincts of violence.)
If it has, you have a fine specimen. Link the infoburst ‘Taming Wild Caught Humans’. We wish you many happy seasons together.
Is your human babbling or uttering rhythmic but nonsensical sounds (it may also be waving some or all of its limbs about)? Link the infoburst ‘Humans: Directing Epiphanic or Religious Fervour’. Proceed carefully, but the devotion you can obtain from a human with this is without compare. Good luck. We wish you many happy seasons together.
You seem to have an unresponsive, wild-caught human that is currently unconscious. Link Time Conversion: Human Standard Diurnal. Wait one primary subdivision of that, then press the yellow panel. If the human remains unresponsive, wait a further two primary subdivisions, then press the yellow panel twice. If the human remains unresponsive, we regret that there is no recourse but to press the red panel. You should be able to secure recompense from the outlet for your broken human. Let them know you followed this infoburst.
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