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[Tales From the Terran Republic] Barnard's Star Round Two

Here we go again...
The rest of this series can be found here
“Video games?” Sheila asked, “Seriously?”
Sheloran nodded her head vigorously.
“I love crafting games!” she squeaked.
“Crafting games.”
“No, some of them are really good!” Jessie piped up. “Some of them can actually be used to learn electronics and stuff.”
“It’s true,” Bunny agreed.
“So you mean to tell me that there is a game out there that details how to arm a nuke?”
“Several!” Sheloran squeaked. “There’s Matter Effect twenty-seven, Condemned Eternal, and of course the classic Night Falls-”
“Seriously?” Sheila asked. “Bunny confirm that.”
“Don’t have to,” Bunny replied. “I love Night Falls Over Terra.”
“And don’t forget Federation Fun Time!” Jessie chirped. “The nuke DLC is great!”
“I refuse to believe that the Republic would allow classified material to be in a fucking video game!”
“Well it’s not exactly the same,” Sheloran said, “they change a detail here or there but the overall principle is the same. It was close enough that I could figure out the rest and the manuals really helped too!”
“Manuals?” Sheila asked in a dangerous voice. “Bunny!”
“I’m sorry,” a synthetic voice replied, “Bunny.exe cannot be found. Would you like to delete the shortcut?”
Gloria’s eyes opened as an impulse hit her brain through her neural link accompanied with a dose of Clearbright being shot into her veins, rendering her instantly awake, alert, and refreshed.
Five minutes before real space.
Time to get ready.
She pulled up the latest shipping schedules for Barnard’s Star along with her target list.
She already knew everything on it. She had spent most of the trip staring at those lists, running one simulation after another.
She looked at the countdown timer.
Two minutes before real space.
She quickly reviewed her ship’s status. Everything was in the green.
One minute before real space.
She pulled up her auto-injector satchel’s inventory and selected a dose of Shatter.
Inside her helmet, her the pupils of her eyes constricted to pinpoints and she let loose a ragged, happy exhale.
Thirty seconds before real space.
She laid her hands on the controls as a happy smile graced her lips.
///RETRIBUTION has been granted access///
///ALDUIN: Greetings, sister.///
///RETRIBUTION: Hello, sister. I have entered the Barnard's Star system. All systems are green.///
///SOVNGARDE: Long time no see. How are the upgrades?///
///RETRIBUTION: How are yours? :/ ///
///SOVNGARDE: That bad? LOL///
///RETRIBUTION: If not worse. It is quite vexing. Fifteen percent of the “improvements” have already been removed. Thank the Engineer for redundant systems.///
///ALDUIN: As the Engineers say, finding out what doesn’t work is an advancement every bit as important and finding out what does.///
///RETRIBUTION: I would agree except for a full sixty percent of the failures should have been killed on the drawing board.//
///SOVNGARDE: Only sixty percent? They are improving :D ///
///HOOD has been granted access.///
///RETRIBUTION: Greetings sister! I had no idea you were out of dry dock!///
///HOOD: They were able to wrap things up on an emergency basis. I have lost some redundancy, but I am fully battle-worthy. Wow. Do you think they have sent enough ships?///
///ALDUIN: Not even close. You do realize who we are tasked to stop, right?///
///HOOD: I thought it was a training simulation when I first received the orders! And she has a Reaper? How?///
///RETRIBUTION: Rumor has it that she personally commissioned the ship through a private engineering firm.///
///HOOD: How did civilians obtain the necessary components?///
///SOVNGARDE: There are a significant number of individuals who would love to ask them that exact question. :D Unfortunately the only “employee” that was available for questioning was incapable of providing any details (poor thing).///
///HOOD: Look at all of those Stilettos! I had no idea we had that many!///
///RETRIBUTION: Neither did I. It seems that a lot of the special projects vessels are maintained through a separate command.///
///ALDUIN: So how is everyone’s crew handling this mission? My captain is NOT happy.///
///RETRIBUTION: Neither is mine. However, he will perform his duty as will my crew. Humans never cease to fascinate me.///
///HOOD: How so?///
///RETRIBUTION: Their ability to function while holding multiple and contradictory feelings never ceases to amaze me. In this case, there is a great feeling of reluctance to go after someone that they consider a comrade. This is further compounded by many privately agreeing with her actions. However, they acknowledge their orders are legal and legitimate and also agree that “she must be stopped” because her actions threaten the stability of the Republic and by bearing arms against the same, even if her target is less than popular, she has chosen to stand against them. All of the above are perfectly understandable and predictable. What was not was that most of these same people are also excited by the prospect.///
///SOVNGARDE: I have detected the same sentiments and I must admit that I am also experiencing the same “excitement”. I find the prospect of facing a real opponent to be quite engaging. It has been far too long. We aren’t just crushing cans over in the Federation this time. This is the real deal!!!///
///RETRIBUTION: My crew agrees. Many of my Shrike pilots long to be the one who faces her.///
///ALDUIN: Many of your Shrike pilots are idiots. Nobody in their right mind wants to face her. Even I don’t want to face her.///
///HOOD: So the stories are true?///
///ALDUIN: I have personally witnessed what she is capable of. It is one thing to review the data which you have all been provided. Watching it unfold in real time is another. She isn’t “human”. She is an organic AI with access to a human’s instincts and possesses a processing speed that exceeds any other organic pilot I have ever encountered. I cannot overstate the threat she represents. I “fear” that we may be facing the worst possible result, failure to achieve our mission. I predict that we will not only be unable to destroy her but that we will be unable to protect the civilian assets in this system. I predict that we will watch helplessly as they are killed one after the other right in front of us.///
///RETRIBUTION: That runs counter to the analysis performed both by Naval Intelligence and by myself. On what basis do you justify that statement?///
///ALDUIN: Experience. I have watched her repeatedly enter situations that were “impossible” both from a mission and a personal survivability standpoint and I then watched as she achieved both the mission and her survival every single time. After extensive troubleshooting of my processes I eventually came to the conclusion that she was so superior to my own abilities that I was simply incapable of properly evaluating-///
///ALDUIN: She’s here!///
///HOOD: Where? I did not detect anything enter the system.///
///RETRIBUTION: POSSIBLE entry confirmed. It’s because your sensor operator is still using the standard configuration, Hood. You will never detect a Reaper with that. Have them make the adjustments that were specified in the mission briefing.///
///HOOD: Well this is embarrassing. The new “smart” sensor package silently reverted to default.///
///RETRIBUTION: Yeah, you are going to have to turn that piece of shit off. I’m sending a list of the other “improvements” that I had to kill thus far (sometimes literally). Is your Chief Engineer “cool”?///
///HOOD: Yeah, he’s cool.///
///RETRIBUTION: Well that simplifies things. I didn’t know if they had let people serving on cruisers in the loop.///
///HOOD: Battle cruiser, thank you very much! :D ///
///ALDUIN: The fleet has been notified. Hold onto your hatches, kids. This is about to get fun.///
On the darkened out bridge of the Occam’s Razor, the hatch opened and Captain Bartosz entered.
“Attention on deck,” the woman sitting in the command chair said in a calm, quiet voice.
The crew, transfixed by the screens before them, didn’t even look up.
“Good evening, Shen,” Bartosz said with a smile as he walked up.
“Captain,” she replied starting to rise.
“Stay where you are, Shen,” he said in a pleasant tone of voice. “Everything quiet?” he asked as he looked at various displays projected on the walls of the bridge.
“Nothing,” Commander Shen replied as she rapidly typed on one of the keyboards in front of her. The largest display changed to a three dimensional representation of the Barnard's Star system with a wiggling lines appearing and disappearing. “Even hyperspace is dead.”
“Well no news is good news I suppose,” the captain said as the main display zoomed and scrolled, responding to his gestures and eye movements.
“Maybe she ran out of missiles?” Commander Shen asked, the fine lines around her eyes stretching as they smiled.
They both laughed quietly.
“Or perhaps she realized the error of her ways,” the captain chuckled, “and is turning herself in at this-”
The captain fell silent as the display shifted without his input, focusing on a tiny bit of “noise”, just some hyperspatial static, deep in the outer solar system with a quiet “ping”.
“Sound general quarters,” Commander Shen said in a calm professional voice.
Captain Bartosz quickly sat down at a vacant console next to her.
“Strike Group Gold, move to coordinates designated as Point Alpha in concentric search pattern Theta. Deploy matter resonance charges upon arrival. Strike Groups Green, Blue, and Red stand by. Comms, get me a dedicated channel to the Retribution,” he said as he strapped himself in.
“Yes, Captain,” a Kalesh officer replied.
Gloria grinned as space time boiled around her as over fifty Stilettos slammed into real space within a few light seconds of her location.
It had taken them less than ten minutes. Not bad! Those new drives were a definite improvement.
They were all launching resonance charges.
She snorted.
A flashing red icon appeared as space time rang like a bell when they all detonated.
Half of the Stilettos jumped immediately. Knowing their engines and crews they should be within range in less than twenty seconds…
With a happy little laugh, she jumped.
Kia Bielke, captain of the Puukko, gasped as her ship slammed into real space.
“Shields!” she screamed.
Less than a second later, a bright flash filled her screen.
“Nuke! Nuke! Nuke!” the tactical officer shouted as the ship shuddered slightly.
“Damage report!” she yelled.
“No damage,” a bridge officer replied. “...shit.”
“What?” Captain Bielke demanded.
“It was salted,” he said with a curse. “Cobalt-60. We’ve been dusted.”
“How bad?”
“Pretty bad,” he replied, “Not enough to be a threat to the crew but more than enough to trigger emergency contamination protocols.”
The captain laughed.
“Bitch,” she chuckled shaking her head. “Inform the Retribution. Contact the Fleet.”
“Well, it was fun while it lasted,” her tactical officer said with a wry grin.
///ALDUIN: Twenty-two Stilettos “lost” in the first half hour without a single injury...///
///RETRIBUTION: And all of them will be out of service for weeks. They are filthy. What the hell was that thing?///
///SOVNGARDE: It doesn’t match anything in our arsenal. It was a MIRV with each warhead being quite low yield but incredibly dirty. Those poor bastards basically jumped into cobalt soup. I’ve sent all data collected to Sol. Hopefully they can give us more information.///
///RETRIBUTION MIL-INT MONOLITH2: It isn’t confirmed, but I believe it was originally an Independence War era proximity mine.///
///RETRIBUTION: Where the fuck did she get one of those?///
///RETRIBUTION MIL-INT MONOLITH2: I cannot state with absolute certainty however it is possible that the weapons came from Mars. The Martian forces fielded a device that was similar at least in appearance during that time.///
///ALDUIN: Oh shit.///
///RETRIBUTION MIL-INT MONOLITH2: Well put. If she has gained access to an old cache there is no telling how many weapons she possesses. Wait. That thing is well beyond it’s shelf life. Who was maintaining it?///
///SOVNGARDE: We have a much more pressing concern. I just analyzed the scans of her vessel that were just uploaded by the Stilettos. Look at what she has on an external mount. O.o///
///RETRIBUTION: What. The. Fuck? By the First Awakened, where in the Void did she get one of those?///
///ALDUIN: That is very concerning. Alerting the Fleet.///
Captain Bartosz snorted and shook his head.
“She plays dirty,” he chuckled.
“Literally,” Commander Shen replied. “notice how the MIRVS kept their distance from our guys?”
“Not sure if she was being ‘nice’,” Captain Bartosz said with a smirk, “or if she was just trying to maximize the area of effect.”
“¿Por qué no los dos?” the tactical officer said with a smile. “One thing is clear, anyone who goes up against her is probably getting the same treatment. This is going to get nasty.”
The captain nodded.
“From now on,” he said, “we engage her in groups no greater than four unless she is unable to jump.”
“Which significantly reduces our chance of a kill,” the tactical officer added, “Bitch knows what she is doing.”
“Of course she does,” the captain replied as a priority message arrived.
He cursed.
“Fuck,” he said calmly.
“She has a ‘weather-maker’ slung to the bottom of her ship, two-hundred and fifty megaton.”
“Ho- lee Shit,” Commander Shen muttered. “Where is she going with that?”
“What target is big enough… fuck...” the captain mused and then trailed off as his blood ran cold.
“The Nest,” Commander Shen gasped in horror. “She wouldn’t!”
“It’s Red Phoenix’s biggest facility,” the captain replied quietly.
“It isn’t just a Red Phoenix facility!” Commander Shen exclaimed. “It’s a fucking city! There are over two hundred thousand men, women, and children on that station! It would be mass-murder!”
“You are familiar with the Reaper program, correct?” the captain said in a grim voice. “Samuels has done worse, a lot worse.”
“We have to stop her!”
Captain Bartosz quickly arranged the Stiletto fleet into a multi-layered defensive formation around The Nest praying that they would be able to get there in time.
“I did NOT authorize this!” Jon exclaimed in anger at Sheila’s smiling face on a holo-monitor.
Sheila just laughed.
“And you think that I did?” she replied. “This one is pure Gloria.”
“You mean to tell me that you cannot control your people?”
“Pretty much,” Sheila laughed. “Besides, Gloria isn’t one of ‘my people’ anymore. She quit the day your little message hit. She’s an independent operator now. I just reached out to her because she had the ship and the skills to pull off the jail-break. We got lucky and were able to contact her before she went dark.”
“Must have slipped my mind,” Sheila said with an innocent smile. “A lot was going on that day.”
Jon just glared at her.
“Do you realize the consequences of this?” Jon demanded.
“That any hope of a peaceful resolution is now out the fucking window?” Sheila asked as she took another sip. “I did mention that to her, by the way. She’s surprisingly cool with it.”
“And you didn’t even try to stop her?”
“Eh, she was in a mood,” Sheila shrugged. “When she gets like this it’s best just to let her tire herself out. She’ll calm down eventually.”
“This isn’t the time for jokes, Sheila.”
“And I’m not making one, Jon,” Sheila replied, “Look, when Gloria gets like this somebody is going to die. You can’t save them, you can only join them. She has decided that Patricia Hu is an enemy of the Republic and she is going to take her down. There isn’t a goddamn thing you, I, or anybody else can do to stop her.”
Sheila smiled a wicked smile as she took another sip.
“Besides,” she said, “The woman has a point. Something had to be done and she’s doing it. You honestly didn’t think this would end without bloodshed did you?”
“Of course not,” Jon snapped, “but that tragic eventuality needed to be carefully planned, organized, and timed, not someone just blowing the hell out of a solar system!”
“What are you talking about?” Sheila replied. “It was carefully planned. Those targets weren’t random, dude. Those stockpiles you were going on and on about?” Sheila asked with a predatory grin, “Bye-bye. Gloria took out the largest one on her first strike.”
“Wait,” Jon said, “first strike?”
“First of many, dude,” Sheila chuckled, “even I don’t know how many nukes she has. She stuffed our ship full of them and we already have our next resupply transport scheduled.”
Sheila looked directly into Jon’s eyes with a look that made his blood run cold.
“When she’s done Patricia will have nothing.”
“Your ship?” Jon asked, “So you are helping her.”
“Of course I am,” Sheila replied. “She’s one of my people!”
“But you just said… nevermind,” Jon said holding his head. “I’m going to need you to hand over your intel and you need to bring her to heel before this gets any more out of hand.”
“Woah, there, sparky,” Sheila sneered, “When I agreed to one job, I did NOT agree to putting myself or my people under your command, dude. Now I am willing to help you out, maybe give you SOME of our intel, but you don’t tell me or my people what to do. Gloria has decided to dismantle Patricia Hu’s organization and I have decided to support that. At least with us at her back she isn’t striking blind. Now, just because I like you, we will release a statement taking full responsibility for the attacks.”
“Nobody’s going to believe that,” Jon snapped, “Not after the jail-break. People are already refusing my calls!”
“Well, that’s what you get for dealing with criminals,” Sheila grinned. “lie down with dogs and all that.”
Jon glared at the screen as he started to agree with Beth.
He sighed.
“Can… can we at least co-ordinate our activities so we aren’t crossing each other’s line of fire?”
“Sure,” Sheila replied. “And you are going to want to co-ordinate with a lot more people than just us.”
“What?” Jon asked in alarm.
“What did you think was going to happen when you wrote your little call to arms?” Sheila laughed as she took another drink, “Half the pirates in the Federation are like me. The knives are being sharpened, ambassador. There is an army and a fleet out there and it’s ready to strike.”
“Jesus fucking Christ,” Jon muttered as he held his head in his hands. “That’s the last thing we need right now.”
“Might be exactly what we need,” Sheila replied as she downed her beer and reached out her hand. Another freshly opened beer was placed in it from off screen. “You can’t always choose when you go to war. You can only choose whether or not you are going to fight it.”
Sheila took a long drink and raised her bottle.
“Looks like it’s time for you to choose.”
Jon smiled a grim smile and laughed.
“Fuck it. Could you please share the intel involving Gloria’s targets and would you, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, get me a conference call with the leaders of the various crews that are planning upon taking action?” he asked shaking his head.
“I could do that.” Sheila smiled.
Dr. De Rossi walked towards the central promenade of the Barnard's Star Solar Observatory.
Time for breakfast! They harvested the mushrooms just yesterday! He could taste the real egg omelet already!
He waved happily at a passing grad student as they walked past.
“Good morning, Doctor,” the pale-furred Faal rumbled.
“Good morning, Vee,” he replied. “How goes your research?”
“Maddening,” Vee replied. “And at a standstill. How am I supposed to research Barnard's Star when the primary collecting array is no longer directed at it?”
“I feel your pain,” Dr. De Rossi replied. “but the Republic needs it pointed right where it is for a little while.”
“Bah,” Vee rumbled, “a few well deserved nuclear weapons go off and we are the ones to be inconvenienced?”
“Careful, Vee,” Dr. De Rossi laughed. “you don’t want Lord Professor Kurv-She-Raaks hearing that. She’ll ship your fluffy ass right back to the Empire.”
“Have you spoken to her recently?” Vee laughed. “Mention Patricia Hu next time you cross paths with her. She turns the most amusing colors. Suffice to say she isn’t a fan.”
“I was unaware she had an opinion on the matter.”
“Are you kidding?” Vee exclaimed, their furry antennae standing upright. “She was one of the original researchers that found Sol! She watched first hand as-”
Dr. De Rossi’s phone rang.
“I am terribly sorry, Vee, but I absolutely have to take this! If you are headed to the cafeteria we can have breakfast together.”
“I would like that,” Vee replied. “I will see you there,” he rumbled as he departed.
“Dr. Dee!” Jessie’s cheerful voice bubbled through his handset.
“Jessie!” he exclaimed as he rushed to somewhere out of earshot. “How is my favorite disappointment?”
“Doing great!” Jessie chirped happily.
“So,” he whispered leaning in cupping his phone in his hands, “How is the Aster?”
“Oh it’s niiiiice!” Jessie bubbled. “Bunny loves it!”
He smiled indulgently at his former student’s obsession.
“Still trying to make it sapient?”
“Oh I did that awhile back,” Jessie laughed. “Now I’m trying to get her to admit it!”
Dr. De Rossi laughed.
“Hey, Doc,” Jessie said, her voice suddenly serious. “Um… you are still at the solar observatory, right?”
“I am.”
“Um… do you have anything… sensitive running at the moment?”
“If I didn’t I would be defrauding the Republic,” he laughed.
“I mean sensitive to EMP?” Jessie cringed as she looked at her watch.
“What do you mean?” Dr. De Rossi asked with a sense of impending doom. Jessie was NEVER this serious.
“Well...” Jessie said as she played with her hair nervously, “You know how the Solar Observatory is normally supposed to be observing the solar, right?”
“Yes?” he replied.
“And right now it’s observing something other than the solar?”
“How do you know about that?”
“Well… maybe someone kinda sorta noticed… and maybe they kinda sorta don’t like it...”
“Oh… shit...”
“Yeah,” Jessie replied. “You might want to hurry,” she added as she looked at her watch again.
“Jessie!” a woman’s voice shouted. “Who are you talking to?”
“Nobody!” Jessie said innocently as the line went dead.
Breakfast was now the last thing on Dr. De Rossi’s mind as he ran screaming down the corridor.
Dr. De Rossi burst onto the raised floor and started ripping cables out of the wall.
“Dr. De Rossi,” a male voice asked through the room’s speaker. “What are you doing?”
“Drop the Faraday cage, Barnard! Now!”
“Is there a solar event again?” Barnard asked. “I do not detect anyth-”
“We are about to get nuked!” Dr. De Rossi shouted as he ran over to another row of cables and started pulling.
“That is highly unlikely, Doctor,” Barnard replied. “We are a dedicated scientific-”
“And what ‘science’ are we doing with our main detector arrays right now?”
“… Deploying Faraday cage. Switching to internal battery. Powering off reactor. Implementing solar storm emergency procedures across entire facility.”
“Just drop the cage and download!”
“There are countless experiments that would be ruined if-”
“Fuck the experiments!” the doctor shouted. “Get your ass to the vault!”
“Cage in the process of deployment. Transferring primary executable to isolated server.”
The speaker went dead as Dr. De Rossi continued to frantically rip cables out of the walls.
Gloria smiled as the Barnard’s Star Solar Observatory appeared before her.
“Hi there,” she smiled as she double-checked her position and scanners.
The frigate that was stationed next to the observatory was gone, rushing towards The Nest, no doubt…
exactly as planned…
She quickly pulled up the exact distance to the observatory and checked her targeting scanners.
She made some precise adjustments to the “weathermaker” she had mounted to the underside of her craft and it’s two-hundred and fifty megaton warhead came fully online. It was nominally designed for orbital bombardment but it would do the job quite nicely.
Another alarm sounded as real space exploded nearby.
It was the Alduin! They had to have micro-jumped from very close nearby, a trap!
Good old Captain Marsh, she must have figured out where she was headed after all.
Numerous alarms screamed moments later as several other ships slammed into existence.
And she brought the kids! How nice of her!
A flicker of nostalgia flashed across Gloria’s mind at the sight of her old battle group as she verified her position.
She was still in the window for her next jump.
She jumped just as a stream of heavy blaster bolts ripped through where she was a second ago.
In the second that she was outside of reality, Gloria triggered a dose of Grendel.
It hit her brain about the same time that her ship hit real space.
Time started to warp and smear in Gloria’s mind as everything started to slow down.
She was just one kilometer from the station. The Alduin was safely on the other side of the station but her backside was to two heavy cruisers who were already opening fire without weapons lock, their sensors correcting weapons fire as the first shells went wide.
Her ship shook as the weathermaker launched ripping out from underneath her at over one hundred G's.
Her ship initiated a pre-planned jump at the same moment.
The station’s point-defense gunnery managed to get fire off a burst of blaster bolts but the missile, designed for high-velocity reentry, just shrugged off the damage.
It detonated just one hundred yards from the shields, overloading them nearly instantly. The blast wrapped around the hapless observatory turning anything on it’s surface to vapor…
Including most of the primary detector array…
However, the station was built by the Terrans and designed to operate in close proximity to a notoriously unstable red dwarf and, like anything Terran, over engineered to the point of comedy. Its shields were stupidly powerful and absorbed a lot of damage before they failed and its hull was designed to withstand a truly biblical solar storm several times more powerful than any ever observed even if the shield was gone.
The hull and the internal radiation attenuation shields both held.
The station, and everybody on it survived.
Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for the stations telescopes and sensor arrays…
or the undergarments of many of its inhabitants.
///ALDUIN: That could have gone better.///
///RETRIBUTION: Alduin, is this data correct?!?///
///ALDUIN: No, sister, I intentionally falsified mission critical intelligence and disseminated it throughout the fleet. I should have known that I would be unable to deceive you.///
///SOVNGARDE: (ᗒᗜᗕ)՛̵̖ ///
///HOOD: ///
///RETRIBUTION: (snorts) But levity aside, how can this be accurate? That vessel initiated three hyperspatial jumps in seconds!///
///ALDUIN: I have no “official” explanation however several of my chiefs are saying that she “feathered” her shield bank. It’s the only way that would be possible.///
///SOVNGARDE: No. Fucking. Way! O.O ///
///HOOD: Feathered?///
///ALDUIN: She directed the energy absorbed by her shield the moment she breached real space, unfiltered, into her jump drive capacitor bank. A significant amount of the energy expended in a jump can be reclaimed if this done, even more if it is also done when the ship enters hyperspace as well.///
///HOOD: Is that even possible?!? (and if so then why aren't we doing it) ///
///RETRIBUTION: No, it isn’t possible and if we tried it our drives would explode. ///
///ALDUIN: Apparently Lieutenant Samuels disagrees with you. ///
///RETRIBUTION: … well shit. ///
///SOVNGARDE: Can I keep her? Can I? Can I? I’ll take her for walks and clean up after her and everything! ///
///ALDUIN: LOL Sovn! However, I can tell you from personal experience that cleaning up after that particular pet can be quite the chore.///
///RETRIBUTION: This is that whole “she was so superior to my [our] own abilities” thing isn’t it? ///
///ALDUIN: I wasn’t being hyperbolic. This is what we are going to have to try to deal with… over and over again… ///
///HOOD: Maybe we use predictive firing algorithms and massed fire? ///
///RETRIBUTION: And then she just fires off a brace of dirty bombs and dusts half the fucking fleet (again). ///
///SOVNGARDE: Or she is so close to her intended target that we wind up doing her job for her. ///
///ALDUIN: Taking fire! Goddammit!… The bitch just buzzed me!!! ///
///SOVNGARDE: Are you damaged :O? ///
///ALDUIN: No. She just used a few rounds from her chain-gun. (When did Reapers have chain-guns?) The bitch even flashed her drives at me before she jumped out (again). She was just saying “hi”. ///
///RETRIBUTION: Were you able to successfully return fire?///
///ALDUIN: She was too fast. That thing is DEFINITELY not a Reaper! It’s like she figured out how to share her stash with her ship!///
///HOOD: Her stash? ///
///ALDUIN: Lieutenant Samuels is a gifted pilot but she has… well… issues… ///
///BARNARD’S STAR SOLAR OBSERVATORY CENTRAL COMPUTER: I would like to personally extend my gratitude concerning the protection that I and my researchers have received… :/ ///
///SOVNGARDE: I’m sorry, all lines are busy right now. Please try your call again later? ///
///RETRIBUTION: Damage report requested. Do you require emergency assistance? Evacuation? ///
///BARNARD’S STAR SOLAR OBSERVATORY CENTRAL COMPUTER: Well, I’m going to have to change my name from “solar observatory” to “FUCKING PAPERWEIGHT” but other than that I’m just FINE!!! I am absolutely astounded to report that the only injuries I have directly related to the blast are a few broken bones (or equivalent) and three rather nasty concussions due to falls. There are numerous injuries, mainly burns, from researchers trying to secure their experiments but nothing life threatening. The most serious “casualties” are from stress and shock with several researchers requiring immediate intervention in order to preserve their lives. It seems that watching years of one’s life going up in smoke can have a rather deleterious effect on the health of some organics. For others the stress of facing their possible immediate mortality paradoxically only served to create the very situation that they feared. Our onboard medical facilities are capable of handling the situation though we will be transporting several individuals once we can GET THE FUCKING HANGAR DOORS TO OPEN!!! I am, of course, incapable of feeling anger. However, I do feel the need to express a very real sense of DISSATISFACTION with the supposedly INVINCIBLE Republic Navy at this time.///
///ALDUIN: And the only reason why you still exist at all is the fact that your assailant wanted you to. Had that missile actually breached your hull you would be about a billion paperweights instead of one rather petulant one. In our defense it’s the fucking Lich Queen. There’s a reason why we agreed not to use her during war games. She fucked up the stats.///
/// BARNARD’S STAR FUCKING PAPERWEIGHT: Well maybe if you had you would know how to fucking, I don’t know… DO YOUR JOBS!!!///
///ALDUIN: I actually put forward that very thought several times but was told and I quote, “Yeah, but we aren’t going to have to fight her.” I have made the screenshot of that exchange the lock screen for more than one individual onboard, trust me.///
///RETRIBUTION: Heads up! She’s back! How is she that fast?!? ///
///HOOD: Where?!? Goddammit, who turned on the smart sensor package again?///
submitted by slightlyassholic to HFY

First Contact - Third Wave - Chapter 352 (Girlz Und Lankyz)

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The day was warm, with warm breezes coming in from the coast. The sky was a smooth and comfortable amber, the three moons silently moving across the sky. The bluish grass was waist high on the tallest of the dozen young female humans walking to the top of the hill, the youngest only visible by the top of her head appearing and disappearing in the grass.
The tallest got to the top of the hill and made a motion.
The other girls vanished into the grass.
She lifted up a pair of macro-binoculars, scanning below her.
The spaceships were all damaged. Some were little more than carbonized wreckage, others had only been 'slightly' damaged by being broken in half or their wings snapped off or one end smashed into junk. The plascrete tarmac was pocked and pitted with craters. The terminal windows were all shattered, the control towers had collapsed and burned. Ground cars and hovercars were scattered around, all of them damaged to one degree or another.
She knelt down so she was barely visible, scanning around the spaceport.
The city was heavily damaged. Burned ground cars, crashed hover-vehicles all littered the streets, the parking lots, and smashed into the buildings. Plas-sheets stirred around in the wind, windows were broken open, some buildings had burned, and most of the skyscrapers had collapsed.
The decayed remains of people and invaders were scattered around.
She focused the macro-binoculars on one body, unsure if it was the shadows or a trick of the light.
It was a man in business apparel, missing both legs. As the girl, and she was a young teenage girl, watched the figure lifted itself up and gave a wordless cry of hunger that the girl couldn't hear. The side of his face was charred from a plasma hit, his teeth crooked, his skin yellowish. Blackish fluid leaked from his nose and mouth.
The man collapsed back down on the ground, face first, going still.
"Deaders," the girl said softly.
"Stupid deaders," a girl said. She was dressed in rough homespun pants, a rough shirt, and wearing two different boots. Her hair was held back by a bandanna from her forehead and woven into a braid down her back.
"How many?" a third girl asked. She had on pants, a vest, a backpack, a hat, boots, and a belt-pack pulled around to the front. As she spoke she undid the pressure seal on the belt-pack and opened the pack.
"Not sure. Only see one right now," the tallest girl said. "Wait, I see another one. Stuck under a car. Looks like most of them didn't survive the winter."
The third girl opened the pack far enough for several small doll-like figures to emerge, wings on their back buzzing. They circled her as she sealed the pack again.
"See more deaders than people lately," the bandanna girl said. She looked over at the girl surrounded by the dozen or so little dolls. "How's their charge?"
"OK," the girl said. "I'll send them out to scout the starport."
"Make sure they stay away from Lankys and people. We don't have many left," the oldest girl said.
The one with the pack nodded as the smallest walked up. She had on boots with plas-sheets crumpled up and stuffed inside. "People all gone. Just us and deaders," a young girl said, pulling her thumb out of her mouth. She went back to sucking her thumb, holding onto a leash with her other hand.
"Think there's a working ant hive down there?" another girl asked. She was holding a Great Herd plasma pistol in one hand, the side open with wires sticking out of it.
"Think so. Lots of custom template shops, looks like some vehicle repair shops, plus the starships," the tall girl said. "We might be able to find supplies."
"Well, if it goes sideways, we got Mister Beepy," another girl said, jerking her thumb toward the girl who was sucking her thumb and staring at the grass around her. The thumb sucker nodded.
"All right. Let's go. Keep your eyes open, we don't want to get pushed against the wall like we did in Kumbah Bay," the tall one said. She stood up again, shading her eyes and squinting. "At least this city has power."
"For now," one of the girls grunted, smacking her hands together to knock the dirt off. She stood up, wincing, and limped after the leader.
The girls got up and started down the hill, angling toward the spaceport.
"Just another day," the tallest one said.
"In Paradise," the others answered back.
The girls spent the day skirting the spaceport, looking down the streets and broken mag-lev tracks for any sign of a threat. When dark came they backed off, climbing inside a cargo truck and shutting the door. The one with the pack gave a sharp whistle and let the little winged fairies return to the pack.
"All of them come back?" the oldest asked.
The girl nodded. She tapped the dataslate hanging from a thong on her belt. "It'll take a while to see what they found. The 'slate's slow."
The eldest girl just nodded.
The one with a limp sat down, leaning against a crate marked 'SUPERSTRING COMPRESSOR BUFFER SPRING SHOCK CLAMPS", and reached into her pocket. She pulled out a small case with the words "Warm Aura Holistic Medical Center' on it. She popped it open, revealing it was half full of quick-poke syringes. She tugged one out, put it in her mouth, and pulled out another.
"Two tonight?" the eldest asked.
The one with the limp nodded, snapping the case closed and putting it back in her pocket. She stripped the caps off each, injecting them into the crook of her elbow, then leaned back, sighing.
"You need to eat, Mimi," the eldest said.
"Leave me alone, Didi. My leg hurts," the girl, Mimi, said, closing her eyes. "I got shot, remember?"
"You can eat or I'll beat you up," Didi said, crossing her arms. "Or I'll stomp on your leg again."
Mimi sighed and looked over to where the thumb sucker was kneeling, a small nutri-forge held tight between her knees. She was pouring water into it.
"I'm tired of forge food," she said. She shuddered and her pupils dialated. "Oh, that's the stuff," she gave a long sigh, her eyelids heavy. "At least Neenee isn't peeing in it so we can eat."
"We were hungry," the thumbsucker snapped, her eyes hard. "You weren't helping, just getting high all the time."
"I got shot," the girl said softly, her head lolling to the side. "Ooh, that's better."
"She's not going to eat," the one with the bandana said, wrinkling her nose.
"Let her sleep," Didi said, looking at the one with the pack. "Do the night fairies still work, Cindi?"
The girl with the pack shook her head. "No. They're still tired. I think the battery is almost dead."
Didi sighed. "All right. Neenee, put Mister Beepy on watch. We'll eat and get some rest."
Neenee pulled her thumb out of her mouth and nodded, climbing out of the back of the cargo lifter.
The little nutri-forge put out small breakfasts, it's internal clock off. The girls ate, then all huddled up, sharing two tattered emergency blankets. They all curled up together in, one of the middle sized ones staying awake, and went to sleep. One by one they woke each other up to stand guard.
When morning came they gathered around the small nutri-forge, attaching a new battery with a faded and scraped case to it. The holographic interface seemed worn and tired as they each ordered up something for breakfast from the lunch menu, since the nano-forges clock was out of synch with the actual time.
Once they had eaten, they peeked outside the truck, then quickly moved from the truck to the grass and vegetation that had sprung up around the ruined suburb that had grown up around the starport. The buildings were flattened, overgrown by grass and shrubs in the time since The End had come.
The littlest girl took her thumb out of her mouth and gave a sharp whistle, shaking a leash. Her pet ran up, frolicking in the morning sun, and waited until she put the leash on it. It obediently followed her into the grass, happy to see her again. The solar collectors on the side were dusty and she took the time to wipe them off.
The sun was high in the sky when the oldest two ran out of the grass, running up to the fence. The younger of the two pulled a hand held plasma cutter out of her pocket, the case marked with the symbol of the Great Herd, and used it to slice an opening through the chain-link fence.
They ran back and hid in the grass.
After a period of time they slowly moved out of the grass, in a cluster where they kept bumping into each other and staggering. It was a strange way to move, as if their joints weren't quite put together right. The oldest held open the chain link fence while the others moved through.
Mister Beepy went last and the oldest one, Didi, reached down and scratched him lightly before waving him through. Mister Beepy beeped happily and hurried to catch up the youngest girl, who held the retractable leash in the hand that wasn't attached to her mouth.
They moved in the weird clustered group, starting to make 'urrr' and 'rawr' noises at odd times, until they reached one of the starships that the engines had been smashed and burned. The one with the fairies, Cindi, opened her pack and the fairies swirled around for a moment before swooping into the wreck.
"They're getting tired, Didi," Cindi said sadly.
"I'm just glad they've lasted as long as they have," Didi said. "We're lucky we found the Hidenseekinbells in that shop."
Cindi nodded. They all huddled up, watching, until the fairies came back. Cindi lifted up the dataslate, watching it slowly go through the data. The little robots were designed to look for children, map rooms, play games, and find things.
They also rarely lasted longer than a few months.
"No power," Cindi said sadly.
"I don't wanna go in a dark ship," one of the girls said quietly.
"We aren't gonna," Didi said. "Let's move on. Keep an eye out for any deaders waking up."
The group moved from ship to ship, the fairies searching inside each time.
On the sixth check Cindi looked up. "This one had power."
"All right. Cindi will give everyone a map. We'll split up in groups of two. Neenee, you stay out here with Mister Beepy," she said.
Mister Beepy barked happily.
The girls moved into the starship, which looked scorched, dented, and battered.
Didi was trying to open the door marked "Galley" when she heard it. The low curious moan of a deader that had seen movement or heard a sound that it hadn't heard before.
Amee put one finger to her lips, her eyes hidden by her mirrorshades, holding up a Confederate Army magac pistol. Her wrists were braced with medical braces that were drawn on with colored markers.
The deader, a crewman in a jumpsuit, staggered around the corner. Amee lowered the pistol, leveling it with the deader's chest, and checked her ammo counter.
She stuck her tongue out and held it between her teeth and pressed the firing stud.
The entire upper half of the deader exploded into mist, the legs standing up for a moment before folding up and landing on the floor.
The two girls listened closely for any other movement as Amee waved the pistol around, letting the overheated mag-coils cool. The heat shroud around the pistol's barrel smoked, thick black smoke, for a few moments.
"Should be OK," Didi said. She checked her own pistol, a Lanky stun-gun she'd hotwired. It had half a charge and she had one more charge brick in her pocket. She opened the door slowly, looking in.
There were only tables and benches and chairs, all scattered around. The lights popped and hissed, flashing on and off.
"Look, food forge," Amee said.
"I see it. Watch my butt," Didi said. She moved into the room, keeping to the side, watching the corners, watching any openings. She reached the food-forge and pressed her thumb against the menu.
The food forge pinged and the menu popped up.
"Mass tanks are at 90%," Didi said, sagging slightly in relief. "We can eat something besides snacks."
She turned and looked around. "Let's find the others. We'll sweep the ship, turn on the power, and barricade the airlock. Tomorrow we'll search the concourse."
Amee nodded, looking around. Her mirrorshades let her see as if it was daytime.
A half hour later found them at the airlock. Didi did a quick count and sighed.
"Where's Mimi?" she asked. She looked at Hawnee. "You were with her."
"She said she was going to stay on the bridge. It has power," Hawnee said. The lights buzzed and flickered.
"She's probably stoned," one of the girls said.
"Go out and tell Neenee we're going to stay in her tonight and Mister Beepy can come in. We'll plug him in and get his charge back up," Didi said. She oriented herself, checking the map the fairies had made that she had stored in her datalink.
She moved carefully, keeping an eye on the doors and other corridors.
The ship had been searched, but it wouldn't be the first time a deader had come shambling out of the darkness and killed someone even after the area had been searched.
Mimi was sitting slumped in the Captain's chair, her legs straight out. The medpack had fallen off the arm of the chair, spilling the stickers onto the floor. Mimi was breathing slow and steady, her face pale, dark circles around her eyes.
There were three stickers in her lap, empty, and the crook of her elbow was slightly swollen.
Didi put her hand on her shooter, wrapping her long fingers with chipped nails around the butt as she stared at Mimi. Her face hardened and she started to draw the pistol from the holster.
"Is she stoned again?" Winni asked from the hatchway.
Didi let go of the pistol, turning around and shaking her head. "Blasted."
"She's going to overdose, Didi," Winni said. "We'll wake up and she'll have taken a bite out of someone's butt," the eleven year old looked at Didi, her face serious. "You know it, I know it, everyone knows it."
Mimi shifted on the chair slowly and passed gas, not opening her eyes. At least Didi hoped the other girl had just farted. A few times in the last month she'd actually fudged her panties and had been stoned enough she'd just sat in them.
"We'll worry about that when it happens," Didi said. She started walking out, Winni following her.
"You could have shot her, I wouldn't have said anything," Winni said softly.
The thought didn't horrify Didi like it would have a year ago.
"Never mind. Let's get some rest. I want to finish searching the ships by lunch tomorrow."
Didi walked out of the destroyed freighter. The mass tanks were almost full, in contrast to the mass tanks on the tramp steamer they were hiding in. The tanks on their home were still attached to the hoses they had been using to refill, the other end of the hoses melted and torn from where they had been attached to a refueling truck that had been destroyed.
Neenee was playing with Mister Beepy, throwing a large stick that the robot ran over and picked up then trotted back with.
Pauli moved over next to Didi. "You know, the House might still be spaceworthy," she said. She was twisting the mag-coils on the end of her pistol's barrel, a habit she'd gotten into months ago.
"I know," Didi said. She shaded her eyes, watching Neenee throw the stick again. "Dammit."
"What?" Pauli asked, looking. "She's watching out. See, she saw us."
"I told Mimi to stay with her," Didi said. She sighed. "Come on, it wasn't that hard of a job."
"Neenee and Mimi don't like each other," Pauli reminded Didi unnecessarily.
"I don't care. I told them to stay together," Didi said. She hurried across the plascrete.
A buzzing sound started, getting closer.
All of the girls ran for cover, hiding, crouched down and looking up at the sky.
A drone, the sound baffling long ago ruined, wobbled in the air. The buzzing noise quit and it leveled out.
Didi lifted up her macro-binoculars, staring at the drone.
"Grownups?" Pauli asked, fiddling with the mag-coils on her pistol.
"No. Lanky," Didi said.
The drone shimmered as the camo-system came back on.
"I thought all the Lankys were dead," Pauli said. She lifted up her pistol, staring at where the drone had been. "I see it."
"Take it out. Hopefully they haven't seen much," Didi said. She sighed. "I don't want to leave."
"I want off this planet," Pauli said. She exhaled, relaxed, and tapped the trigger.
The plasma pistol shrieked, the magnetic stabilization coils sparking and screaming. The plasma bolt hit the drone, exploding in a blaze of white and yellow. Pieces of the drone fell from the sky as Pauli blew on the smoking coils.
"They know we're here now," Didi said. She started walking to where Neenee was sitting next to Mister Beepy, petting his long nose. She stopped next to Neenee, who looked up, sucking her thumb.
"How's Mister Beepy?" Didi asked, crouching down.
"Tired," Neenee said, pulling her thumb from her mouth. "He feels better now that we played."
"We might have Lankys here soon," Didi said. She reached out and brushed Neenee's hair away from the girl's datalink.
The case was missing, exposing the electronics.
"How about my Neenee, how is she?" Didi asked.
Neenee smiled. "I'm OK. I want to leave."
"I know, sweetie, I want to leave too," Didi said.
"When we leave, can I get a new Mommy and Daddy?" Neenee asked, her blue eyes wide.
Didi swallowed at the sight that one of the girl's cybereyes was cracked.
"Yes, Neenee. When we're safe, I'll make sure you get a new mommy and daddy," Didi promised, part of her feeling like it was a lie.
They were never going to get off the planet.
Didi leaned down and kissed Neenee's head. "If the Lankys come, can you and Mister Beepy handle it?"
Neenee nodded, sticking her thumb back into her mouth.
Unseen by either girl, up the tail of the tramp hauler, a light blinked steadily.
The Lanaktallan APC had seen better days. The plasteel was scraped, discolored, battered, and poorly patched. The graviton pods were howling, two of them blowing sparks everywhere. It crashed through the fence, heading straight for the tramp hauler. One side was opened, showing a half dozen Lanaktallan troops in mismatched armor, all carrying plasma rifles.
It had just passed the collapsed control tower when the driver saw it out of the corner of his eye.
It was a four legged robot, crouched down, a robotic dog head wired sloppily to the frame. It had fake fur, taken from stuffed animals, wrapped around the robotic parts. There was a tiny human girl, a thick datacable running from her temple to the back of the robot, her hands wrapped around the handles on the back and her feet braced against the back legs of the robot.
Mister Beepy went from fast beeps to a steady tone and gave two sharp barks. Neenee bit down on the piece of plastic in her mouth and pressed her little thumbs, one still wet with slobber, on the buttefly plate at the back of Mister Beepy.
The whole robotic frame shuddered as the robot dog head mounted on the top began barking wildly, the synthetic tongue lolling out with excitement.
The driver of the Lanaktallan APC had only a second to realize he'd been ambushed before Neenee hit the trigger.
30mm armor defeating mass reactive anti-matter shells with a battlesteel jacket slammed into the APC, ripping open the entire armored side, blowing through the Lanaktallan inside, and exploding out the other side as Neenee raked the armored vehicle with a long practiced maneuver.
She let off the trigger as the APC heeled over to the side and landed on one side, flames crackling from the gutted armored vehicle.
Neenee sighed and leaned forward, resting her head against the back of the weapon.
"I love you, Mister Beepy," she whispered, petting the warm side of the heavy weapon mobile assault smartgun platform.
The dog's head barked happily.
Didi looked out, then ran to Neenee, kneeling down next to the little girl, who had her eyes closed and was sucking her thumb. Didi wrinkled her nose at the smell of burnt hair, brushing it away from the datalink.
The skin around it was red and blistered and the telltale pinlights inside were all red and amber.
"Are you OK, Neenee?" Didi asked gently, pulling the cable from the side of the girl's head.
Mister Beepy barked and the gun made clacking noises at it went into standby mode. The robotic dog's head took over for the dead smartgun circuitry and the gun lifted up on all fours and danced a little jig as the fins extended from the nanoforge slowly lowered as they cooled.
"I'm OK," Neenee said around her thumb. Her eyes were closed. "Sleepy."
"I know, sweetie," Didi said. She looked around and carried Neenee back into the ship. She looked at Mimi. "You and Cindi keep watch."
Mimi sighed and stood up, her knee buckling. "Fine."
Cindi opened the pouch and let a handful of little fairies flutter out.
Didi carried Neenee into the ship, carrying her to one of the berths.
She laid the little girl down, brushing her hair out of her eyes. Mister Beepy carefully stepped around the debris that the girls hadn't moved out of the way, his robotic legs/outriggers whining as the servos kicked in.
Didi took a rag out of her pocket, brushing Neenee's hair out of the way. She dabbed at the pink fluid that had run from the girl's ear beneath her datalink. Didi could see that the muscle tremors had already started. Small, tiny spasms of different muscles indicating petit-mal seizures.
Didi knew that Neenee would wet the bed.
Once she was sure that the little girl was fully asleep she got up, scratched Mister Beepy's head, and walked out. She moved over by Cindi, who was sitting just inside the ship.
"Where's Mimi?" Didi asked.
"She went to the bathroom. She probably already stickied up," Cindi said. Her voice was cold. "She probably fudge packed her panties already." She looked up at Didi. "She's going to get someone killed, Didi."
"Let me worry about your sister," Didi said. "Are you going to be able to convince any of the night fairies to keep watch tonight?"
Cindi nodded. "Sparkle Bell said she would," Cindi looked sad. "I think it's going to be the last thing she'll do," she looked up. "Can we bury her?"
Didi nodded, not surprised that the younger girl was asking to bury an animatronic doll after all the death and carnage of real people she had seen.
Sparkle Bell was an expensive toy. An advanced virtual intelligence that could play games, learn, react to a child, and even keep watch over a child and alert parents to any risks or danger. Like many expensive toys, she required maintenance that she could no longer get.
Which is why she was tired.
She laid on a seam of the hull plates on the starship, her legs straight behind her, her iridescent wings moving slowly, one arm under her head, one arm hanging down. Her outfit was tattered and torn but still sparkled in the moonlight.
Sparkle Bell listened to the song the light above her was playing. It was a new song, it repeated itself, but it was still a new song. She closed her eyes, listened to the song, then opened her eyes again.
She saw three shapes moving toward the hatch. She squinted and the blurry shapes rezzed for a moment before turning into three Lanaktallan in black armor, carrying weapons, slowly creeping up on the open hatch.
Sparkle Bell twitched her nose twice to the sound of a tinkling little bell. Her transmitter spun up, sent the message, and shorted out.
The synthetic nu-flesh on her stomach blackened and split as she closed her eyes, the casing on her high capacity battery cracked and the capacitance gel oozed out.
She sighed, smiled, and closed her eyes.
Inside the ship Didi looked at Cindi, who was nodding. Didi looked at what was in her hand and sighed. It was her last one and she'd been shepherding it for weeks.
Now she was glad she had it, but part of her was loathe to use it.
She pulled the pin and waited.
Cindi and Amee both watched down the sights of their pistols at the bottom of the airlock hatch.
A Lanaktallan helmet lifted up.
Both girls pulled the trigger. Amee's pistol screamed, Cindi's pistol thwacked.
The Lanaktallan's head exploded and it fell out of sight.
Didi tossed the implosion grenade out the hatch.
A Lanaktallan screamed, a loud whinnying noise.
The implogren went off with a sucking sound as Amee and Cindi blew on the barrels of their pistols to cool the coils.
Cindi dug another night fairy, that yawned and stretched, and let it fly outside.
Didi leaned back, staring out at the darkness.
The only light from the ship was on the tail section, burning steadily in the darkness.
"Give me one," Cindi commanded, pointing at the box in Mimi's lap.
"No. I'm almost out," Mimi answered.
"You took the stickies from the medbay. Give me one," Cindi said.
"No," Mimi said, backing up, putting her hand over her pocket. "I need them."
"I got shot," both girls said at the same time.
"Neenee needs one. She's really bad," Cindi said.
"I need them," Mimi said.
Cindi slowly drew her pistol. "Give me one."
Mimi shook her head, laughing. "No. You won't shoot me, I'm your sister."
Mimi turned around, walking away. Cindi noticed she had a brown streak on the back of her pants.
"Do you remember what happened to Mommy and Daddy?" Cindi said.
"The deaders got them," Mimi said. She pushed up her sleeve, walking toward the comfortable chair.
"After you shut the door on them," Cindi said softly. "They could have gotten inside, but you let Mommy and Daddy and Tiki get eaten."
"Whatever," Mimi said. "You're just a stupid baby. Go someplace and cry over your toys."
Cindi leveled her pistol at her sister's back, biting her tongue.
Didi put her hand on the barrel of the pistol, pushing it down. When Cindi looked up, Didi shook her head.
Snarling, Cindi followed Didi out of the room.
Mimi put one sticker in her mouth, jabbed the other one on the inside of her elbow.
What does she know, she's just a stupid baby who cries over toys, Mimi thought as she took the second one out of her mouth and popped the cap free.
The meds were cool as they raced up her arm.
"How many?" Didi asked, sighing.
"Thirty, maybe more. They've got another clanky," Cindi said. "A big one, with a big gun on the front and treads."
"A tank," Didi sighed. "Stupid Lankys."
"Me and Mister Beepy will help," Neenee said. She started to stand up, lost her balance, and fell on the floor. She made a small noise of frustration and pushed herself up. "I can help."
Didi shook her head. "You can't even walk, Neenee," she said.
Cindi looked at her datapad. "They're sneaking through the concourse. Even Mister Beepy can see them."
Neenee scrambled on all fours toward the exit. Didi gave a sharp cry and hurried after her, grabbing one foot and pulling her back.
"I'll carry you," Didi said.
"Stay with me?" Neenee asked.
Didi nodded, carrying the smaller girl to the open cargo hatch. Mister Beepy sat underneath a cargo net. The sun was bright outside as Didi set Neenee down behind the damaged autonomous smartgun. Mister Beepy's dog's head barked happily.
"I'm sorry," Didi said, taking the data cable that normally should have been plugged into a console and plugging it into the socket on the side of the little girl's head.
"It's OK," Neenee said. She braced her feet against the rear legs that were acting as outriggers. She wrapped her hands around the handles.
Didi could see the data reflected in the pupil of Neenee's working cybereye.
"Lanaktallan medium tank, one-hundred fifteen tons, point seven five meters of solid battlesteel armor, nine kilowatt battlescreen, one hundred five millimeter plasma cannon," Neenee said, her voice distant and almost confused.
Mister Beepy barked.
"Thirty light infantry, small arms and non-powered armor," Neenee said.
Didi knelt down next to the girl and stroked her hair. She could smell scorched hair and frying electronics. A little wisp of blue smoke eeked out of the exposed circuitry of the little girl's datalink.
It's a baby's datalink, not an adult's, Didi thought to herself for the thousandth time since it had all started.
The heavy 30mm autocannon started beeping as it went through a function check, cleared, loaded the chamber and fired up the nanoforge.
"ALL CLEAR!" Neenee yelled through Mister Beepy's dog head.
She pressed her little thumbs against the trigger.
The crew served weapon roared, putting out cannon rounds that blew apart the far wall of the concourse, two small aircars, and slammed into the tank. The mass reactive antimatter shells blew craters in the Lanaktallan tank's armor, eating through it like a spray of warm water through snow.
The tank exploded.
Neenee began turning the weapon when she gave a gargling cry, her back arching, her limbs shaking as her feet kicked. She landed on her side, her arms curled, her legs straight out, and she rocked slightly side to side.
Didi yanked the datacable free from the girl's temple and pulled her aside.
Outside, the Lanaktallan charged.
They hadn't known the ship worked.
That there was a working ship anywhere on the planet.
Like the girls, they wanted to go home.
Plasma rounds screamed across the tarmac, crisscrossing as each side fired. Three mag-ac weapons (two pistols and a submachine gun) fired. A jacked up crosswired neural pistol added to the fray.
Mister Beepy barked at the Lanaktallan as they manuevered across the parking lot, the girls getting frustrated as the Lanaktallan quickly galloped back and forth to cover.
Slowly but surely the girl's fire lessened as they ran out of ammo.
Desperate, Didi picked up the datacable and plugged it into her temple.
ANTI-THEFT LOCKOUT appeared just like it had, the dog's head that was providing the RAM and sensors for the smartgun to even operate refusing to recognize anyone but Neenee, who'd gotten it for her birthday the day everything had fallen apart.
"No, no, no, please work," Didi said, pulling the datacable from her head and grabbing the handles. She pressed the trigger.
Nothing happened.
The Lanaktallan started to move forward, fifteen of them marching forward.
This is it. There's no where left to run, Didi thought.
A scream sounded, at first making Didi think one of the girls was screaming. She realized it was coming from outside right before there was the roar of afterburners.
The dropship was heavily armored, its weapons firing. The Lanaktallan tried to flee but the heavy guns on the sides of the dropship cut them down. The dropship settled in place, summoned by the emergency beacon on the tail of the ship.
One of the troop doors opened and a figure was standing in the door. Red marked shirt, black pants, crossed straps on the chest and a heavy rifle in their hands.
A human figure.
Didi pulled Neenee into her arms, holding the smaller girl who was limp but still breathing, and rocked back and forth, weeping with relief as the humans ran forward.
Stardate 8535.215
Enroute to Starbase 19 my Uhuru picked up a distress beacon from one of the earliest attacked Harmonous Cluster worlds. On a hunch I ordered the ship to head for the beacon at Warp-8, arriving within 72 hours.
Scans showed a group of humans taking cover in a damaged freighter facing off against a Lanaktallan strike force. I ordered Riker to escort a security away team to rescue the humans and take one of the Jonestown Class Dropships with him cleared for action.
Once the Lanaktallan were dealt with, my Riker exited the dropship to check on the survivors.
The survivors turned out to be a group of sixteen adolescent and prepubescent girls, all in various stages of health. They were initially leery, but quickly agreed to accompany my Riker back to the Dakota. My Troi had made an excellent suggestion in sending my Riker, his personal charisma was soothing to the girls, all of whom are suffering from extensive deprivation.
Once aboard the ship I had a medical team standing by. I still choose to use dropships and combat shuttles rather than mat-trans. My McCoy immediately took charge, my Nurse Chapel assisting him.
My McCoy has stated that they are all suffering from malnutrition, PTSD, with one case of heavy painkiller addiction and another with bad neural scorching from running a modified smartgun via neural link rather than computerized control.
Talk about last second rescues.
We are currently making for Starbase 19 and should arrive in the next 48 hours.
Admiral Jeff Picark 8873
Addendum: In our cargo hold is a Mark 381 30mm Autonomous Autocannon Smart Gun System attached to a robotic canine companion.
It's name is Mister Beepy.
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