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Posted: Wed, 11. Apr 18, 04:31
Its been quiet in here for some time now, I hope everything is allright.
Posted: Thu, 17. May 18, 19:02
*whips out the old pool noodle and noodles Scion again*
Posted: Sat, 19. May 18, 18:34
Think we might want to start using new pool noodles at this point, the old ones might be a bit ... moldy ...
On that note ...
*whips out freshly unpacked pool noodle and prods Scion*
Posted: Thu, 14. Jun 18, 05:27
I was going to say that I take very good care of my noodle, but that might sound a bit wrong ...
*unpacks a fresh pool noodle as well and noodles Scion*
Posted: Sat, 16. Jun 18, 13:43
Withdrawal effects are starting to get serious. I hope Scion is doing alright.
Posted: Sun, 22. Jul 18, 01:20
This has been my fav story of all time. NS and Helge have all written great stories but this became something else entirely.
Started as a DiD but has become an iconic here due to the creativity of the master story teller and the many excellent additions from all the team.
Having the main story PLUS the anecdotes, and character stories is a great way to develop characters and plots alongside the main yarn.
Bloody Fantastic !!
Please, dont let it end with a whimper .. its too good a journey to just let die.. someone check if scion is ok and i will be happy yo send oxygen and duck tape from aussie to help it get finished.
Seriously tho .. hope scion is ok.
Posted: Mon, 30. Jul 18, 03:14
Shot Scion an email a bit ago to check on him, and just got a reply.
Greetings my friend.
I am still alive and still writing. I actually have a small update planned but cannot seem to log in to the forum. I've emailed Xenon_Slayer but am still waiting for a reply.
Would you kindly inform everyone that I am well?
Posted: Tue, 31. Jul 18, 11:16
I love you guys.
Chapter 88 is in the works. I won't bother giving you a timeline cos... well, cos I'm terrible at sticking to them. It shouldn't be too long, however, as I've been having quite a bit of fun writing it.
In any case there shall be NO whimpering... lest it be committed by our enemies at the sight of us.
Posted: Tue, 31. Jul 18, 13:15
Awesome. Also love the Avatar.
Posted: Sat, 4. Aug 18, 03:01
88. The King is Dead...
Eri palmed the hatch open and stepped into her cramped little office. The lights powered on and the coffee maker promptly began gurgling steam through a filter containing her best approximation of the black gang coffee that crotchety old Chief Davis taught her nearly a decade earlier when she'd been stationed on the USCSS Buzzsaw, a fighter bus where the pilots doubled as mechanics and learned quite a bit about improvosational repairs. She took a slow, cautious breath as the ventilation system kicked in. The room always smelled like a combination of grease, engine cleaner, ozone, rubber, old farts and, of course, coffee, and tended to be stale first thing in the morning. Yet today...
Eri's nostrils flared.
...there was another smell in the air. It was an odor she knew instantly. It was also an odor that should not have been there; an odor that simply could not be here, in this place, on this ship, a hundred and twenty five thousand light years from where it belonged.
Emotion swelled up to give her goosebumps and her breath exited her lungs as a ragged sigh. "Shit," she shook her head and stepped into the compartment. "Now I'm imagining things."
As usual she left the hatch open behind her to clear the staleness from the air. When the space was unoccupied the ship re-routed ventilation to avoid wasting O2. As a consequence the office always smelled stuffy in the morning. She hung her coat on the hook to her right, crossed the room to her coffee and stole the strongest part of the brew to help jumpstart her day. For a moment she just stood in front of the pot, sipping at her cup and scowling into the silence. It was 0520, the end of the graveyard shift, and the ship was in a mostly friendly sector. The CAP wasn't due to land for another forty five minutes and the day wouldn't really begin until 0600. So the hangar deck was quiet except for a pair of crewmen shouting at each other while they coordinated one of the thousands of routine tasks that went into keeping the hangar deck running. She drained her cup, wincing at the sting of the scalding liquid on the roof of her mouth, and then refilled it.
When she turned around she saw the bottle Seldon had left sitting on the edge of a narrow table behind her desk. She stared at it for a moment and flexed her jaw. The marine's words seemed to hang in the air, scornful and condemning. It had been roughly thirty two hours since they'd been spoken. Since then Eri found herself amazed at just how badly those words had cut her. She took a slow breath, silently cursed her life for bringing her to this lonely, bitter place, took another sip of coffee and then decided to just get to work. So she took a step toward her desk and the chair behind it... and froze.
There was something out of place on her desk. It was right in front of her chair where she couldn't fail to see it. Eri scowled. Her jaw flexed. Her mind identified the shape while simultaneously rejecting it the same way she'd rejected the scent in the air. It was impossible. What she was seeing could not, simply could NOT be here.
She set her coffee down and collected the impossible thing from her desk. It rested in her hand like a lie made solid. Eri lifted the thing to the light and turned it, hoping... indeed, needing the thing to be something else. Anything else. Yet the impossible thing remained. It was a hard purple candy with a wax-coated paper stick, all wrapped up in clear plastic cellophane printed with smiling rainbow stars and tiny lettering spelling out words in American English. In other words it was a lollipop.
It was a grape lollipop.
It was a grape lollipop from Detroit, Michigan, made by a company called ACG Candy.
Eri stared at the thing and suddenly realized that she was shivering. A slick, freezing sweat coated the back of her neck. Her breath was ragged and the hand which held the lollipop, a hand that had been steady even when she turned the Warlock's nose toward Gil Jerigan's shrike, was now shaking.
S'jar t'Chk knew the trouble he was in. He was, in fact, intimately familiar with the trouble he was in... albeit from the other side of the experience. What was to come would smell of his own cooking flesh seasoned with ozone and the sour stench of his own excretions. In previous safari, in which he'd had the lead, the experience started with razor blades and needles. The razors were for the victim's eyelids, of course. While the needles ensured his guest was properly hydrated and topped off with all the important electrolytes, hormones, coagulants, stimulants and, of course, his secret ingredient: a nice healthy dose of terror inducing hallucinogenics. All this was to make sure that the guest of honor didn't miss a single moment of the experience planned for him by doing something as rude or uncouth as falling unconscious or, even worse, dying.
S'jar t'Chk grinned in anticipation. Thane would surely have an entire funhouse full of red delights planned for him. T'Chk wondered if alligator clips would be involved; alligator clips attached to the most tender and delicate of his places while electrical currents cooked him from the inside out.
S'jar t'Chk groaned with frustration. He was securely bound, currently possessed a throbbing erection, and his restraints were preventing him from touching himself.
Of course the pain ahead was just a gateway, wasn't it? It was a path; a journey that would lead him through the red lands of pain beneath the black sky of despair unto his final destination.
"In other words it's really fracking BAAAD! Do you understand me?! You little SHIT?! It's BAAAAD! This is end-of-days bad, Artie! THIS?! This is the fracking APOCALYPSE! This is the kind of bad where an army of walking corpses would actually be a STEP UP!"
For a moment S'jar t'Chk glared into the brilliant white glare of his prison cell, felt the snug and inescapable hug of his restraints and knew that he was, once more, captivating an audience. He couldn't see the camera but he could feel the attention upon him. Behind him, in the darkness way back behind his ears, he heard a whimper. He bared his teeth until he could feel the air upon them and stared into the source of the attention he was getting... and began to giggle.
"By heaven's grace and my mama's garter," Corporal Derrick Cohen whispered to himself and shivered. "You," he said to the man staring at him through the camera in cell A-4, "are, without a doubt, the creepiest motherfrakker I have ever seen in my entire life."
The man in the camera suddenly smiled, as if he'd heard the thought in Derrick's head... and wanted to eat it.
Artie, meanwhile, didn't move. S'jar t'Chk couldn't see him, for Artie had always been good at hiding, but he could feel the other. He could feel the hateful little shit watching him. He could feel the shock and horror oozing out of the darkness his other had found to hide within. He could feel how he had the other one's complete and undivided attention. S'jar t'Chk whirled away and roared.
He was furious. He was furious that he was in this brig. He was furious that he wasn't, just then, counting the number of nukes at his disposal. He was furious that he couldn't reach any of the sources of his frustration and squeeze the life out of them with his fingers. He was furious that he hadn't seen it coming and both disturbed... and a little relieved... to discover that he was, in fact, certifiably insane. It just explained so much. Oh sure, it was inconvenient. That whole 'losing touch with reality thing...' On the other hand, amongst the Yaki it might actually be a plus; 'The Mad Captain. The Mad Clan Leader. S'jar t'Chk! The MAD GOD!!!'
Corporal Cohen winced as he stared at the vid screen. Six weeks earlier he'd been hired as security personnel for the Necromancer; a guy with a gun, armor and the training to use them in order to maintain the security of the ship. Due to his earlier experience as military police in the Argon navy he'd been assigned to brig watch almost since the day he'd come on board. Normally guard duty aboard a deployed ship involved little more than supervising the ship's drunk tank. More serious offenses usually involved taking a swing at a superior officer or failing to show up for muster. It was rare for dangerous prisoners to be stored aboard an active warship. In fact it was rumored that Drakhar had a prison ship tucked away somewhere where he kept all of the people he really didn't like. Several marines even assured him that the man employed a mad scientist who provided him with fresh marines created from captured enemies who'd been slave-chipped. Derrick didn't know if any of that was true. What he was completely sure of, however, was that S'jar t'Chk wasn't like any guest who had enjoyed Corporal Cohen's hospitality thus far.
There was just something insidious about the man.
Derrick had only signed on to his watch five mizura earlier. He'd filled his coffee cup and managed to get all the way through his pre-watch checklist before glancing at the cameras to see the prisoner in A-4 staring back at him.
Through the camera.
Reacting to his thoughts as if Derrick had not only spoken them aloud but through the PA into the man's cell. He'd had to shake himself in order to look away. Cohen turned and reached for the hand sanitizer on his desk. He actually felt soiled. His uniform and under garments were all freshly laundered. He himself still smelled of soap and aftershave. Yet the expression on the other man's face made him feel as if he'd just gone swimming in a sewer.
He scrubbed his hands with the sanitizer and then, as if he couldn't quite help himself, looked back at the camera-feed from A4. When he was first informed who he was going to be guarding Derrick had been curious: a Yaki Clan Leader; a man infamous for countless crimes against the rest of the commonwealth. What was he like? Derrick had heard all sorts of stories out in the fleet but he'd always thought of himself as a rational man. He tried to be the kind of person that looked at all available information while doing his best to discern fact from fiction in order to arrive at working theories which could then be tested and verified instead of simply leaping directly to claiming certainty. In other words he tried to keep his head and not jump to any conclusions.
On screen S'jar t'Chk was staring at the camera...
'The hidden camera,' Cohen corrected himself.
...the way Narcissus must have stared at his reflection in the pool. That fact alone made it very hard to look away and Derrick briefly wondered if he was experiencing the same kind of hypnosis a field mouse felt staring into the eyes of a hungry snake.
On screen S'jar t'Chk suddenly grinned from ear to ear.
"Frak me," Derrick whispered, "but you are one creepy son of a bitch."
S'jar t'Chk threw his head back and started laughing. The man was in a straightjacket and chained to a gurney inside of a locked cell with the repulsor field up... and Derrick still found himself torn between staring back into that madman's stare and immediately cutting the feed so that the son of a bitch couldn't see him.
Still... the most infuriating thing of all was that he actually understood what Artie was feeling. S'jar t'Chk despised the little bitch. He hated Artie's frailty, held the fool's cowardice in utter contempt, loathed his indecisiveness, and was completely disgusted by the self pity which, as far as S'jar t'Chk could tell, was the very substance of which the 'other man's' psyche seemed to be made. Artie was weak. He was prey. He was too stupid to run and, well, when it came to fighting... Artie had stabbed a friend in the back once. Or, to be precise, Artie had shot a friend in the back once.
S'jar t'Chk grinned.
That had been the very moment S'jar t'Chk had come into existence, wasn't it? The moment he'd burst through the web of fears and insecurities that defined the other and finally erupted into existence to the sound and smells of a gunshot.
You murdered me. It was a shameful whisper from the back of his mind.
'What?!' S'jar t'Chk barked, instantly furious at the accusation. 'What did you say, you little shit?!'
Silence from the darkness at the back of his head.
'MURDERED YOU!?' He scoffed. 'I just did what you couldn't!'
'You killed him!'
'No sweetie,' S'jar t'Chk crooned. 'All I did was give that trigger one last. Little. Squeeeze. It was you what did the aiming.'
'I hate you...'
'HAAAAAAAAAA HA HA HAAA! AAAAAAAAAH!'
The darkness went silent and, after a moment, S'jar t'Chk's laughter petered out.
'Well so what?!' S'jar t'Chk demanded. 'Who cares about your hate, Artie?! Your hate is like the taste of naked skin! I love you're hate! You little SHIT!' S'jar t'Chk sneered.
In the grand scheme of things Artie was little more than a feeder fish and S'jar t'Chk despised him for it. At the same time he could feel the other's torment and despair and what suddenly disturbed him was that he could suddenly understand it. He snarled at the realization and hated himself for the understanding but it was there nonetheless. It was in the fleeting shadow at the edge of his vision. It was in the finality of every breath. It was in the space between his heartbeats. There was a shadow on the future now... and it was getting rapidly darker.
'... I hate you...' Artie whimpered from the darkness in his mind.
S'jar t'Chk closed his eyes and opened his mouth. "FRAK YOUUUUUUU!" he screamed, both into the darkness behind his eyes as well as the glaring white overheads in his brig cell.
'You're not real,' the other whispered. No. WAS whispering. It was like mice skittering across a hard floor, like branches scraping against the outer wall of the house, like some nagging thought that something important was left undone. 'You're not real. You're not real. You're not real.' Over and over and over and over and over again, whispers like the touch of tiny things that landed on the back of his neck and skittered across his skin, things that crawled and crept sideways through the shadows of his mind.
'I thought you HATED me!' He taunted the other. 'Now I'm not REAL?! I think you need to make up your mind, Artie.' He blinked at the unexpected pun. Then he started to laugh. 'Ha ha ha!' Oh that was funny! "Make up your MIIIIND!" He howled. "HA HA HAAA!"
'You'renotreal! You'renotreal! You'renotreal! You'renotreal! You'renotREAL!'
S'jar t'Chk groaned. It was too much. He could take it no longer. "Shut up!" he barked. "Just shut the hell UUUUUUUP!!!"
"SHUT UUUP! JUST SHUT UUUP! You WEAK, SNIVELLING, SNOT-NOSED, COW-EYED, STUPID! LITTLE! SHIIIIIIIIIIIT! SHUT UP! Before I come in there and SHOW you who's not real!"
"Goddamn, son," Derrick shook his head. "You are seriously bat-shit crazy." In the scene the camera showed him, S'jar t'Chk was screaming at himself in two completely different voices and, somehow, managing to do it at the same time.
S'jar t'Chk took a breath and waited. His eyes darted left, right, up, and down. He even looked behind him. He saw the pristine white surfaces of the brig. He heard the soft, hissing sigh of air moving through the vents and the warbling electrical hum of the repulsor field. Behind it all he heard the ever present deep rumble and hum of the ship itself. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, listening for the slightest hint of a whimper from the shadows. When his breath was gone he even let it stay out of his lungs for a long moment in order to listen from the silence. He listened and listened and listened into the dark.
Finally he snorted, satisfied. It was bad enough that he was about to be tortured to death by a giant, hairy man-bear, but on top of that he was condemned to share his last moments with the most contemptible little kicked-cur of a human being he'd ever had the misfortune of knowing. He rolled his eyes.
God! How it gutted him to learn the truth. All these jazuras t'Chk remembered, actually remembered depositing Arthur Ramsey, the patron S'jar t'Chk had so cleverly scammed, upon a long-lost pirate base in Aquisition Repository. If he closed his eyes he could actually see Ramsey standing on the pier and shaking his fist at S'jar t'Chk. All these jazuras he'd remembered bilking the man out of everything he owned; all of his assets, all of his resources, all of those accounts that could be emptied to finance S'jar t'Chk's ascension through the Yaki.
S'jar t'Chk began to chuckle.
They were his all along! His assets! His resources! His accounts! And the patron who had inadvertantly financed S'jar t'Chk's stellar rise? Artie wasn't merely some mark, a victim and loser who'd fallen for t'Chk's every argument and every soft suggestion. No. Artie, who had been led like a lamb to the slaughter, hadn't been fleeced, bilked and then left to die on some irrelevant no-named station in the middle of nowhere. No.
S'jar t'Chk stopped laughing.
Artie was not merely the rich banker that he'd scammed, the rich banker on the run after losing his shit and...
S'jar t'Chk grinned. He could almost smell the ozone wafting off the Redding EM37 pulse pistol in his hand, and the sickly-sweet smell of Willis Stern's back cooking like a ham left on a barbecue just a little too long as the man lay twitching on the carpet near the door to Arthur Ramsey's office.
S'jar t'Chk took a slow, steadying breath and glared at the ceiling of his cell.
Artie was all of those things, of course, but he was something else as well and t'Chk kept looking at the truth with stunned fascination.
'Well,' he snarled through a vicious sneer, 'at least we'll be dead soon and I shall finally be rid of you.'
'You're not real,' the other informed him. 'You're not real. I made you up! So you can't be real...'
'OHHHH! Can you PUH-LEEEEEASE just..! Do me a favor and just...! Just let me forget that you EXIST! Okay?! That's not too much to ask! Is it?! Just... ! Just let me keep pretending that you're dead in a cube of compacted trash floating through the dark far far away from me! Will you? That would be great! Thanks.'
The air sighed in the vents. The hum of the repulsion field warped and threatened the air. He heard the low rush of water moving through a pipe. And from the darkness within his mind? The loathsome, snivelling sounds of Arthur Ramsey trying to cry himself to sleep. "Uuuugh!" t'Chk groaned dramatically. Really! The things he had to put up with!
"I should be counting my nukes," he pouted.
He knew where he'd gone wrong, of course. He supposed he'd known it the instant Drake met his eye in The Pitt. He'd underestimated the man. "You know, honestly?" he said to himself. "When he agreed to come aboard the Brimstone? That really should have tipped me off."
"Yeah," he agreed with a rueful shake of his head. Then he grinned, thinking of the look in the man's eye again. In his mind's eye t'Chk could see Drake staring at him from inside that golden bubble while hundreds, perhaps thousands of hyper-velocity impacts rippled across the shield's surface. The man's marines were shooting into the crowd and E'AT... that bloody Split... had been setting his crew on fire! Yet t'Chk only had eyes for Drake. Even with the violence, the explosions, the energy discharges that incinerated armor and atomized flesh, and the screaming of countless warriors all around him... Drake's eye was completely steady and this small, victorious smile had formed on the man's lips.
"Oh Drake!" S'jar t'Chk sighed, again wishing he could touch himself, "I hope you live to be a thousand jazuras old! Don't ever change."
"You're not REEAL!" The voice tore through the nice peaceful quiet in his mind and clawed at his brain like talons.
"Uuugh!" S'jar t'Chk groaned and rolled his eyes. "I was having a moment, you shit!"
"You're not REAL!"
"Will you PLEASE just fracking DIIIIE!"
"You're not REEEE-ALL!"
"You'renotREAL! You'renotREAL! You'renotREEEEEEAL!"
"HO-lee shit, Day-ik!"
Jackson was standing behind Corporal Derrick Cohen's chair. The other man's eyes were riveted on the monitor currently showing S'jar t'Chk. His mouth was open wide enough to catch flies. On screen t'Chk was writhing and screaming as if there were two people inside the one body... and they were trying to KILL each other.
"You know this has gotta leak, man..."
"Brother we part of a fleet! A fleet is lots of brothers and sisters who would just love that shit, Yo! We got a duty to spread as much wonder and good cheer as possible and THAT motherfrakker is a frakkin' RI-OT! I mean look at that shit!"
"Jackson," Cohen looked at other man sideways, "where the hell did you learn how to talk, son?"
Jackson turned and met Cohen's eyes. All trace of humor had fallen off the other man's face. In that instant the other man looked as chilly and dangerous as a weapon that had just been un-safed.
"HAAA!" Jackson nearly doubled over as he pointed at him. "Ha-ha-ha HAAA! Hey!" Jackson gave Cohen a heavy clap on the shoulder while blinding him with a broad, brilliant, and impossibly friendly smile. "I HAAAD you! I so had you!"
Cohen shoved the other man away and turned back to the screen. He never noticed the wireless shunt the marine had activated through his armor. In just three sezuras Jackson had the feed from S'jar t'Chk's cell up on a small window inside his currently open-faced and clear-visored helmet. He only let it play for a fraction of a sezura, just long enough to confirm it was working. Then he minimized it and continued to give his friend a hard time.
"You're not REEEEEAL! You're not REEEEEAL! You're not REEEEEAL!"
S'jart t'Chk smiled viciously.
"I just..! I just made you up!"
T'Chk arched an eyebrow and regarded the pathetic thing in the back of his mind viciously. "Oh yeah, Artie?"
"YOU'RE NOT REEEEAAAL!"
"Well," he purred and Artie stopped screaming. "I suppose we'll see. We'll see very soon, my love. Oh yes we will."
Artie wrapped his arms around himself and began rocking and moaning as he pressed his palms to his ears... as if that would help.
"You know," S'jar t'Chk said idly, "you'd better hope you're wrong, precious." S'jar t'Chk purred into the darkness where Artie hid. "When Thane gets his giant, hairy-knuckled mitts on us, my sweet, we shall find out precisely which of the two of us is real and which of us is not." T'Chk sneered viciously. "And, considering what lies before us, my love, you had better hope and pray with all your might... that it is not you."
Seldon climbed the stairs from the servants' quarters, stepped through the elaborately decorated hatch into the gilded marble antechamber outside Drake's apartment... and stopped. She stood before the left-hand hatch leading within and took a breath. For the last thirty six hours Drake had been living on the shipyard. He'd been playing politician by courting, bribing and, to some small extent, threatening the other Yaki warlords in order to secure the votes he'd need to be named Leader of his own clan. Considering who he was and what he'd already done Seldon was of the opinion that it should have been a foregone conclusion. As usual, however, her opinion didn't amount to much more than a fart in a strong wind.
Drake said that, according to Thane, the other clans were afraid of him and needed to be appeased. So Drake was playing peacemaker, mostly in the form of granting concessions and offering bribes. It was apparently tedious work, especially for Drake as it required him to set aside how much he wanted to murder the lot of them and assuage their fears and tend to their needs instead. Lu called it diplomacy and statesmanship, and insisted that Drake was stepping up to 'be the leader his people needed'. Drake responded to this by rolling his eyes and looking sour.
"It's always the same frakkin' thing," he snarled. "Some asshole tries to take what you have and then, after you break his nose for him, the motherfrakker starts whinin' like a little bitch, complainin' that he's the one bein' treated unfairly!"
Seldon had listened and said nothing but secretly thought the entire process was good for him, even if the little prick had been as sour and catty as a ninety year old virgin. She stared at the hatch and took one more breath, then reached out and palmed the control panel. The door hissed open and she winced. She'd been staying one floor down along with the rest of Drake's security, support, and service staff, many of whom had recently become very skittish when it came to entering their employer's private quarters.
"Can't imagine why," she whispered sarcastically.
An instant later she heard the scrabble of clawed and padded paws grasping for purchase on glassy marble tiles. A moment later Drake's new best friend stampeded into the corridor about thirty meters ahead of her, tried to make a turn that the laws of physics refused to support and promptly slid into the marble bulkhead opposite the hatch to the garden courtyard where the Lord and Master of the universe had been spending most of his time. Seldon winced despite herself. The big dog hit hard enough for her to feel the impact through her boots. The dog, apparently oblivious to the bone-crushing blow, was, an instant later, cheerfully barrelling down the hallway toward her with his fur rippling in the wind and his tongue flapping from one side of his mouth.
"Hey buddy," she said, just a little nervously.
In addition to being enormous Max was frighteningly intelligent... and very mischievous. He stole towels, nipped heels, snuck up behind people and used his nose to goose crotches and generally seemed to enjoy making people uncomfortable. But, worst of all, the son of a bitch liked to push. Max had roughly the same mass as a heavily muscled human male and, on his hind feet, stood well over two meters high. With his mass and proportions the dog found it very easy to shove people... often clean off their feet. He simply bounced up, placed his paws on someone's chest or shoulders... and shoved. It was an act that he obviously found highly entertaining. In just a single morning he'd shoved one of her marines into the pool, another into a thick, flowering bush (that Drake would have to pay for) and he'd upset one of the stewards so badly that Drake had to promise the terrorized woman a raise, the pick of her next assignment, and a vacation before she'd calm down again. And every time the dog saw Seldon she saw a glint in his eye that told her he was just waiting for the chance to mess with her.
So she watched the big bastard gallop towards her. His forward paws reached out while his back legs tucked up under him to grab as much ground as possible. At full speed she was pretty sure the dog could manage roughly twenty meters per second, which meant he might even be able to keep up with Gin Ookami. Seldon stepped through the hatch and waited for him. Just as Max bounced up to place his forepaws on her shoulders she stepped smoothly to the side and threw herself against the wall to her right. Max flew through the air just in front of her with a confused expression on his face. He dropped back onto all fours but, with his momentum and the smooth surface of the floor, was unable to stop his slide. By the time he was able to get a grip on the floor again the dog had slid over three meters into the antechamber. Just as he scrabbled around to look at her Seldon winked at him and palmed the door controls again. The hatch hissed closed and Seldon grinned triumphantly at the expression on the dog's face. It was equal parts shock and confusion.
"Sucker," she chuckled and started to walk away.
Which is when the hatch opened behind her.
She turned and saw the dog trotting back through the hatch with his tongue hanging from the side of his mouth. He was holding her eye and looked decidedly smug.
"Oh you have got to me kidding me!"
Max barked once, loud enough to rupture eardrums. To Seldon it sounded like, 'You're gonna have to do better than that, bitch.' A moment later he gave her a look of what she thought was amused respect before scrabbling back into a run. He headed back the way he'd come, barking to inform his family of her arrival. She scoffed, shook her head, and then followed the dog down the corridor, shaking her head and listening as her footsteps echoed off the marble.
A few moments later she stepped into the garden that Drake was obviously enjoying. Once again she was amazed by how convincing the illusion was. It really did feel like she was stepping out of some country villa into a lush, sub-tropical garden. Late morning sunlight fell through the tree tops, casting dappled shadows on the lawn and glittering off the surface of the pool. Colorful birds and insects darted this way and that, filling the warm, humid air with their songs. Overhead she heard the sound of gulls and, in the distance, the boom and wash of ocean meeting shore. Through the trees she heard the sound of running water and the muted sounds of men talking.
She followed the path out of the 'jungle', around the pool to her right, and onto the lawn. On the veranda she saw Drake sitting at one of the tables with Lu and Ea't. As she watched, Max bounded up to his master and promptly tried to climb into Drake's lap. As Seldon crossed the lawn the dog twisted so that his chest and forepaws were pointed roughly upward while he used his back legs to push himself against his master. The dog was so big that Drake had to hook the table base with one foot to prevent himself, the dog, and the chair they were both occupying from all tumbling over in a heap.
Meanwhile Ea't was thundering away while making grand, sweeping gestures with his hands. He was facing away from her so it was hard to make out what he was saying but Seldon had no doubt the words 'great battle' were a part of whatever it was. Lu was reading the datapad in his hands, or trying to anyway. He was laughing so hard that he had to stop and wipe the tears from his cheeks.
"Oof!" Drake grunted as he wrestled with the dog.
"It will be a GREAT BATTLE, Lord Drake!" Ea't bellowed. "We will teach ALL Yaki to fear and respect you!"
"Didn't we just do that?" Seldon asked as she stepped onto the patio. Lu immediately turned her way and smiled. She returned it more enthusiastically than she expected to. It was good to have Lu back. He felt like sanity.
Drake shoved the dog out of his lap and shook his head. "Tell ya what, Ea't," he said, "why don't we wait and see what Wen Digo does before... you know... murderin' him?"
Ea't gave Drake a sour look and hoisted what looked like an already half-empty bottle of whiskey into the air. "Already SAW, Lord Drake!" he thundered. "Wen Digo ATTACKED you! Attacked US! Must ensure he never does so AGAIN!"
Drake squinted his eyes at Ea't. "Right now I'm tryin' to play nice, Ea't..."
"Why?!" Ea't demanded. "You should RULE, Lord Drake! Not," he waved the bottle of whiskey at him, "coddle and cuddle, sit on babies and hold hands with snivelling worms too WEAK to enforce their will!"
"Sure," Drake replied sarcastically, "and if the rest of the council learns that I baited and destroyed another clan I think my hopes of..."
Ea't interrupted him with an utterance of profound disgust.
Drake shook his head and then looked up at Seldon. "How's Schroeder?" he asked while ignoring his friend and continued to fend off his dog.
"Traumatized," she told him, "shaken," she shrugged, "but appeased. I think the paid vacation helped a lot."
"What happened?" Lu asked.
Drake took hold of one of the dog's cheeks and gave him a shake. "This giant asshole of a dog gave one of my stewards a scare," he growled affectionately.
Max snarled at this and snapped his teeth at Drake's hand.
Lu blinked, obviously amused. "A scare?"
"The shit-head cornered her while she was making beds," Seldon explained.
Lu frowned. "Was she hurt?"
"No," Drake told him. "Not hurt, but..."
"Son of a bitch snuck up behind her and, after shoving his nose up her ass, decided to stop her from screaming by shoving her clear across the room."
"Shoved her?" Lu blinked.
"Yeah," Drake met his friend's eye. "He's figured out that he's bigger than everyone and now he thinks it's fun to jump up and push."
"I see," Lu said and glanced sideways at the dog.
"Watch yourself around the pool," Seldon suggested.
Lu turned and arched a severe eyebrow at the happily panting dog. The scolding expression was spoiled, however, by the smile he couldn't quite suppress. "Well," he said, "it's good to see the circus is as lively as ever."
Seldon turned back to Drake. "You know you're gonna have to break him of that, right?"
"Why?!" Ea't asked her.
"Cos he plays really goddamn rough!" She snapped. "Half my guys are scared to get anywhere near him! And that doesn't say anything about the stewards..."
Ea't cut her off with a look of withering contempt.
"Riiight," Seldon replied sarcastically, "they're just supposed to risk their lives and their jobs by defending themselves from the boss's new pet?"
Max barked at her. Seldon blinked, pretty sure she'd just been told off for calling the monster a 'pet'.
"How smart is that dog?" Lu asked. Max promptly met the man's eyes with very happy doggy-grin.
"Too damn smart," Seldon replied while Drake grunted, "smart enough."
Lu pursed his lips and nodded. "I see," he said again.
Max barked at him. It was so loud that all three humans winced.
"Hey," Drake gave the dog a shove with the ball of a bare foot. The dog looked at him and he pointed at the floor. "Lie down, will ya? Let the grown ups talk a while."
Max tilted his head and produced a whistling whine through his nose.
"I don't care," Drake replied. "You're drivin' me nuts!" He pointed at the deck again. "Now park it."
Max actually seemed to roll his eyes. Then he flumped down onto the terracotta tiles with a very dramatic groan of protest. Drake sighed. Lu chuckled with a shake of his head. Ea't lifted the whiskey bottle to his lips.
Seldon turned to Drake and nodded at Max. "Did you know that he can open doors now?" She didn't mean for it to sound like an accusation. But it did.
Drake sighed and nodded wearily. "Aye," he groaned.
"How the hell can he open doors, Drake?!" she demanded.
Max barked at her happily, looking very pleased with himself.
"Same as you or me," Drake told her. "He just waves a paw in front of the control panel."
"But how does he have the clearance?!" she demanded.
Drake looked up at her. "Legion gave it to him," he said. Then he shrugged, "makes it easier for him to come out here and," he shrugged, "you know. Do his business?"
At that Max leapt back to his feet and promptly tried to climb into Drake's lap again.
"Wha-at?!" Drake whined while trying to keep the dog from knocking them both over. "What do you want? What's the matter?!"
The dog produced that nasal whine again.
"Well, why don't you go for a swim?" Drake asked him.
Max pawed at Drake's knee.
"Ow! Quit it."
Ea't stood up across the table and collected the cattle hoof that Max had been working on. The instant he touched it Max stopped paying attention to Drake and focused on the thing in the Split's hand. Ea't looked at the dog. The dog looked at Ea't. Every hair on Max's body suddenly seemed a little bit more erect and his already thick coat seemed to bristle. Ea't sniffed the hoof and then gave the dog an appraising look. "Come!" Ea't said to Max, "let the true warriors share a DRINK together!"
"Don't you dare get him drunk, Ea't!" Drake barked, sounding as if he already knew it was hopeless. "I mean it! He's a big enough pain in the ass as it is without you throwin' spacefuel on the fire! You know what I mean?"
Ea't met Drake's eyes. "No." He replied with the typical high Split monotone.
Max barked. Seldon winced at the volume. Ea't turned and threw the hoof out onto the lawn. Max was instantly after it. In one bound the dog jumped clear over the wrought iron rail and the flowering plants that bordered the lawn. He landed on the lawn and tore off after the still bouncing hoof, running so hard that his paws dug clods of turf out of the lawn. Seldon heard him snarling as he ran the thing down and clamped his jaws upon it. Ea't strode calmly passed her, tilting the bottle to his lips along the way.
"I mean it, Ea't!" Drake yelled after him. "Don't you make him sick!"
Ea't ignored him.
"I swear," Drake said, wide-eyed and sounding small as he collapsed back into his chair. He looked at Lu. "It really is like herdin' cats!"
"So what does the vote look like right now?" Lu asked him.
Drake shook his head as if trying to clear it. "What?!" he barked, obviously distracted by the dog and not quite following the train of Lu's thinking.
"What does it look like?" Lu asked again. "How many votes do you have? How many against? That kind of thing."
"Oh! Ahh..." Drake blinked as he tried to mull it over. His eyes kept returning to Ea't and the dog. "We've got the Split and the Boron, as strange as that combo is. We've got all the Argon votes except for Wen Digo..."
"I heard some scuttlebutt," Lu interjected, "that Wen Digo left some kind of virus on the weapons complex. Is that true?"
Drake inhaled through his nose and lifted a glass of something red to his lips. After a healthy swallow he met his friend's eye and nodded. "It was a computer virus, a kill switch," he said.
"Literally," Seldon muttered.
"What do you mean?" Lu asked.
"The son of a bitch had it rigged," Drake told him, "so that he could kill just about everyone on that complex with a single command. It was all set up and ready to go. One button-press would have vented all the people spaces on that complex."
"That's a LOT of people," Lu pointed out.
"Yeah it is," Drake nodded. "I think the idea was to use them as hostages," Drake explained. "That way, if he'd been able to actually take the HUB, Wen Digo could have threatened to murder thirty thousand of my people if I didn't back off and let him keep it."
Lu raised an eyebrow. "Cute," he said.
"Aye," Drake growled through a twisted sneer.
"As for that other thing?" Seldon smoothly changed the subject. Both men looked at her and she met Drake's eye. "Everything is in place," she told him. "They're having us use his private dock. With the exception of Thane's security nobody will even know we were there."
He nodded. "Good," he said. "What about tomorrow?"
Seldon took a breath and smiled at him before answering. Drake arched an eyebrow, suddenly on guard and ready to lean away from an incoming punch. "No change," she said, deliberately breathing into her belly through her nose. "They'll summon us when they're ready and we'll escort you to the chamber." 'Where you will be alone and unguarded in a room where twenty two bloodthirsty snakes will be watching your every move, where we will be trusting Thane with your safety. Where...'
"Tasha?" Drake was staring at her. "Breathe."
"I don't like you walking in there alone..."
"Yes," he nodded. "You have made that very clear."
She opened her mouth and watched him try not to smirk. She felt the urge to punch him and watched him lean away from her.
"I'll be fine, Seldon," he told her.
"Uh-huh," she grunted noncomittally and put her hands on her hips. She stared at him until she realized Lu was also hiding his mirth. "What?! You got something to say now too?"
"Only that I've really missed you," Lu replied. He looked from her to Drake and then at the Split and dog on the lawn. "All of you."
She grinned at Lu. Then she turned her grin back to Drake. "Nine clans just tried to kill you, Drake," she informed him. "Now you're just gonna walk into a room where they all know," she held up a thumb, "where," she extended a forefinger, "and when you're going to be there," she leaned forward, "in the flesh," her grin stretched toward her ears, "because you can't let them see that you're afraid of them."
"You know," Lu said, sounding contemplative, "I never realized before just how intimidating you can be, Tasha."
She blinked and turned her grin on him. "That's cos when you were around I was usually standing behind Rana."
"Aah!" Lu nodded. "That must be it."
"THAT woman was scary, now," she told him.
He chuckled and continued nodding. "That" he said, "I do remember."
"I'm not afraid of them," Drake interjected.
For a moment both Lu and Seldon stared at him in silence. Drake met her eye and smiled.
"Well maybe you should be, Drake!" she barked at him. "Do you honestly think any of them is above poisoning you or..."
"Seldon is there anything else that can be done to keep me safe?"
"You can use that holographic projector..." she waved her hand toward the apartment, "thingy! That happens to be right down the hall! In a nice secure apartment where I can put a platoon of armed guards between you and anyone who might want you dead!" She saw the look on his face and roared. "Like THEY do!"
He shook his head. Just like she knew he would. "Not gonna happen," he told her. Just like she knew he would.
"All right!" She threw up her hands without bothering to keep the frustration out of her voice. "Fine! Then I guess I'll just have to go do my level best to make sure nobody murders you at your own coronation!"
"It's not a coronation," Drake corrected her but she was already stomping away. As she trotted down the stairs she saw Ea't and Max out on the lawn and promptly missed a step. The Split and dog were playing tug of war with a rolled up beach towel between them. It was a ferocious battle complete with snarls and growls from both contestants; a battle that was not only destroying what she knew to be an absurdly expensive towel but also tearing furrows in the absurdly expensive lawn. But what threw her off her step and dropped her mouth open into a gaping 'O' was that both dog and Split were down on all fours holding their respective end of the towel with their teeth... and neither side was giving ground.
Posted: Sat, 4. Aug 18, 03:01
Eri realized she was pacing.
She forced herself to stop and, after a moment, realized that she was just staring out into space.
She growled and bared her teeth. Her mind was racing. The morning had come and gone and she could barely remember any of it. Her staff meetings were little more than a blur of faces and disconnected questions that she couldn't remember answering. She was stunned, alternating between a shocked numbness and a dizzying flight through an endless array of horrified questions that she simply had no answers for. Her mind kept returning to the piece of candy that simply could not be here and the lingering scent that that was even more impossible than the candy. It just could not be. She had to be mistaken. There had to be another explanation. Because the explanation her mind kept coming to was impossible.
It HAD to be impossible.
Because if it wasn't...
...that meant that...
Eri shuddered, recoiling as if she'd just been slapped. She stood in the center of her office feeling cold and quiet, feeling her head ring as if her mind was a chime that had just been struck and was now ringing and ringing as she slowly faded out of existence. She shook herself and tried to push herself out of the shock. It wasn't the first time it had happened that morning. It wasn't even the tenth or twentieth. There was a conclusion that her mind kept trying to arrive at, a summation of all the facts available to her, but that conclusion was wrong.
It had to be wrong.
T'Chk grunted and it was the sound of his own voice that woke him. He blinked, struggling to remember where he was and why he felt as if he'd been robbed of something suddenly precious. He tried to look around but found that he could not. His breath was loud and close in his ears, although strangely muffled, and there was something on his face, like a hand pressing a cloth over his mouth and nose.
'They drugged me,' t'Chk snarled within his own mind. He couldn't move his real tongue. It was pinned beneath what t'Chk was sure was a rubber ball gag that kept his teeth apart and forced his breath through his nose.
'Of course they did,' Artie explained. 'You bite.'
S'jar t'Chk smiled at the words. It was true. He did. He realized then that the air in his nose was cold, smelled of rubber, silicone, antiseptic and something brighter and cleaner than ozone. It was waking him quickly. 'Even so,' he snarled at the hated other, 'it was an unforgivable theft.'
'For you,' the hated other told him and the contemptuous fool even had the audacity to NOT sound smug.
'You were awake?!' he roared, now feeling even more cheated.
'Of course I was,' the other moaned pitifully.
S'jar t'Chk snarled. He wanted to rage but knew it would only drive the other away and, suddenly, the idea of being alone terrified him. That shadow on the future had grown closer, like storm clouds that had drifted from the horizon to loom almost directly overhead. So S'jar t'Chk did something that astounded him: he exercised restraint. 'Well, if you were awake then you must know where we are."
'Of course,' the other whispered.
After a moment S'jar t'Chk lost his patience. 'Well?!' he barked. 'Where the hell ARE we?!'
'Don't you know?' the other whispered from the blackness behind his eyes.
T'Chk felt a shiver crawl over his skin and looked around again. There was a breather mask pressed against his face. Beyond that was a cage that reminded t'Chk of the muzzles some of his father's dogs wore. There was a confined darkness around him and a single square of light positioned just above his face. He blinked and tried to will his body to wake up faster. Slowly his vision began to pick out details. The square was perhaps half a meter above his face. It was composed of several layers of impact resistant plastic. The outermost of which was scarred by repeated blows from something hard enough to leave scars...
T'chk sighed. 'Of course,' he thought. 'I'm inside a life support coffin to protect me from the crew...'
He arched an eyebrow at the number and apparent ferocity of the scars on the plastic.
'...or was it crews?' He wondered.
To protect him, in any case, from whatever attention he might have otherwise been made to endure on his journey from the cell aboard Drake's Necromancer to... he blinked, trying to make out anything informative through the lingering drugs in his system and the damaged plastic... this intriguing locale.
The coffin slid along so smoothly that it was almost dream-like. He imagined that he was on some kind of hover-lift, leviatating the coffin along above the floor by repelling the gravity plating. So he had no idea what kind of surface was below him. Through the tiny window over his face, however, he saw expensive ceiling tiles and soft, indirect lighting. A moment later he saw the graceful shadow of a potted plant and the imposing edifice of a first class portal. S'jar t'Chk scoffed. He knew where he was. Even from within this awful little box, with his senses clouded and his mind dulled by drugs, Thane's insufferable tastefulness was apparent in every well placed light, indirect shadow, and subtle change of lighting.
'Aaahgh!' He shivered into the darkness behind his eyes and growled deep into his chest. He heard Artie whimper and snarled. 'So here we are, my love! You hateful little shit! Here we are, all trussed up and delivered like a feastday lamb! A gift we are, my love, a gift to solidify the alliance between the two men we hate most in this...'
Artie cut him off. 'You shouldn't have attacked Thane.'
'Oh! PISS OFF! You... DARE?! You insufferable little shit! Where the hell was your sage advice' when it would have made a bloody difference?!'
'You stopped listening to me a long time...'
'Really, though!' S'jar t'Chk snarled. 'What's the big deal? A wife? A child? It's not like he doesn't have others!'
S'jar t'Chk bared his teeth. He felt the darkness in his mind where Artie hid. It moved. It was always moving and yet always in the same place. It was impenetrable to him and he hated it just as he hated the one it concealed.
'Then say something interesting now and again, why don't you?! Ohh... I know. Because you're dull. You're dull and afraid and you've wanted to die all your life.'
Artie began to weep in the dark.
'What?!' S'jar t'Chk barked. 'You're life?! You're LIFE?! You weren't USING your life! YOU WEREN'T USING IT! So yes! YES! I took it! I took it and lived a life of...'
'No' regrets?' the other interjected.
S'jar t'Chk grinned. 'Not many, my love,' he crooned, 'not many t'all. Ha ha ha ha!'
Just then they passed through another doorway and t'Chk knew they'd arrived. It was the goddamn tree. He'd secretly hated Thane for jazuras; hated everything about him; his size, his volume, his accent, even his smell. The man's body odor was incredible. Even freshly bathed the man's pure, animal stench surrounded him like a cloud. But that tree...
'Well,' S'jar t'Chk asked his mind, 'at least I don't have to pretend to like him anymore.' He giggled. 'Or anyone else for that matter, eh?'
The other was silent and that silence was cold.
'Well frak you, then!'
Firelight swayed beneath the boughs of Thane's tree. It was soft and thin but warm; a candle or lantern flame. In the blue shadows of the tree's crimson crown that light picked out golden veins in the five-pointed, blood-red leaves and silver ridges of the bark. S'jar t'Chk huffed angrily and bared his teeth. He'd always envied that tree. He'd even learned it's name. It was acer palmatum or, in one search result, a 'Japanese Maple'. Once, in a fit of pique, he'd even decided that if he couldn't have the tree then he'd make sure to set it on fire so that Thane couldn't have it either. He sighed at the memory. It was unlikely that either goal would ever be realized now.
Suddenly there was a familiar booming outside the coffin. A shadow fell over his window from above and behind him, moving toward his feet. A moment later the coffin elevated and changed pitch. The tree fell away behind him as t'Chk's head rose above his heels. He saw the wrought iron railing of Thane's loft leap up into view, followed by the stairs leading up. Then the tops of Thane's bookshelves rose on either side of him. Then, suddenly, he saw the great hairy, hoary visage of his enemy rise up before him: Thane, the dockmaster, the greatest of the Yaki warlords, he with fleets of warships, he with a finger in every pie, he... the great hairy git. Thane. He was the one man no one dared to cross; the man who's name alone could and did silence disagreements on dozens of ships and stations each and every day. The man's great maned and bearded countenance swung up into view before S'jar t'Chk and S'jar t'Chk snarled behind his mask. Thane didn't so much as glance in his direction.
In that instant the first and arguably greatest of the indignities S'jar t'Chk would suffer leapt up and kicked him in the crotch. He was outraged. He was deeply, mortally offended.
He was horrified.
Thane was walking in t'Chk's general direction with his arms held high and wide, as if he was embracing the whole world before him. He clapped with wide swings and thunderous claps as he approached. S'jar t'Chk could feel the boom and wash of the man's voice upon the outside of the coffin. The man's deep bass transformed the steel shell of the coffin into the skin of a drum. No syllable was distinct enough to be clear but each hit the outside of his prison like a mallet. S'jar t'Chk screamed against the back of the rubber ball in his mouth. It was then that the next of the great indignities he would suffer on his way to a rapidly approaching end roared at him with his own voice.
He was utterly impotent.
The shadow's owner appeared in the window before him. S'jar t'Chk could only see the man's back but he knew instantly who he was looking at. He'd known this man's shape, coloring and lithe, athletic grace in his sleep, in his dreams. Watching him S'jar t'Chk sighed. The man was magnificent. S'jar t'Chk had loved showing him off to the other warlords.
'He's mine,' he'd thought at the time. The greatest treasure in my collection.
Before him Thane was laughing over the great spill of his beard. His chest was bare between velvet lapels pulled wide as he stepped toward to embrace the young man. In the great thicket of Thane's beard S'jar t'Chk saw the delicate glitter of precious gems and metals. Between the sight of the man's lips and the distorted boom of his voice against the coffin and S'jar t'Chk was able to make out most of what Thane said.
"AYE, LADDIE! YOU DID IT! COME HERE AND GIVE ME A HUG, YOU RASCAL!"
For an instant Drake's posture became rigid. A moment later, however, T'Chk watched as Drake vanished into an avalanche of meat, hair, velvet and silk. For the briefest of instants S'jar t'Chk actually took pleasure in not being in Drake's shoes. He even wondered if his nemesis was gagging on the stench of the Thane's armpits.
A moment later Thane released the boy and instead siezed him by the shoulders. At which point the big man shook the smaller one cheerfully. It was then that S'jar t'Chk heard another sound. It wasn't as deep or thunderous as the sound of Thane's voice but it was louder and far more enthusiastic; a cacophy of yips and barks.
'Dogs!' He sneered. 'Thane's bloody dogs!' He sighed. 'Well, at least I don't have to smell them.'
Drake had managed to extricate himself from the giant's embrace and quickly stepped back out of Thane's reach. From the expression on Thane's face t'Chk was sure that Drake was speaking but t'Chk couldn't hear it. A moment later, however, Drake turned and gestured to the coffin. For one instant the man met S'jar t'Chk's eye. In that instant there was a sudden rush of vicious mirth into the other man's face and, for the briefest of moments, Drake showed him an almost boyish sneer.
Then the life support coffin hissed.
'Shit,' S'jar t'Chk cursed.
There was an onslaught of sensation. The first was light. As the lid of the coffin separated and fell away to either side of him the sudden rush of light was blinding. The next was noise. The dogs were barking and whining in that whistling way they had. He could hear their nails on Thane's floor. They were all barking and yipping, wiggling and circling 'round the two men. A moment later he was hit by the sudden rush of smells... and nearly gagged: dogs, books, candles, dogs, incense, food, spices, dogs, the water feature around Thane's crimson and silver tree, dogs, Thane's massive and overwhelming odor, dogs...
He was screaming behind his mask when he heard Thane laugh again. He tried to skewer the man with his gaze but Thane didn't meet his eye. He was just looking the coffin and its occupant up and down while nodding his massive head.
"Aye, there he is," Thane was saying and t'Chk heard the man's lip curl around a sneer.
S'jar t'Chk screamed into the ball gag and focused all of his hate into his eyes. Thane lifted his head and, for a brief but timeless moment, glared grim and black contempt back at him. Suddenly the big man blinked in surprise and looked away. S'jar t'Chk followed his gaze just as a black and tan blur filled his vision. He caught a glimpse of teeth and an instant later something crashed into him hard enough to knock the breath out of him.
The entire coffin tottered backward as hot, moist breath washed over his face. Drops of warm saliva spattered his cheeks and forehead. Just in front of his eyes was a ridged maw with brilliant white teeth. A flat tongue and two pairs of massive canines gripped the black metal wire of the cage that was, just then, preserving his life. Beyond it a monster snarled, twisting a massive, fur-coated head as it bit and yanked at the cage. To the left and right of t'Chk's vision, bare centimeters from his eyes, teeth the length of his little fingers clutched and tore at it. The beast's jaws were so strong that the metal of the cage bent and twisted with every tug. He was distanly aware of a sudden warmth spreading out and downward from his crotch. It was precisely then that he heard and recognized the pitiful swell of his own voice screaming around the ball-gag in his mouth.
The beast pressed its paws against him and gave the cage a massive tug. It was standing on the sensor array that still covered S'jar t'Chk's torso. The array was made of a clear composite supported by a thin metal frame. As the monster tugged and yanked on the cage it crushed the array into S'jar t'Chk's chest. There was a flare of deep, thick pain across his sternum and S'jar t'Chk suddenly found it impossible to breathe. It only took the beast five good tugs to rip the cage clean off of the table but, by then, t'Chk was subjected to several explosions of deep red pain as at least two of his ribs broke.
The cage came free with the squeal of protesting sheet metal and the ripping clatter of screws being torn from their seats. The monster turned its head to the side and tossed the cage away. Then it turned and looked at him. S'jar t'Chk watched subtle membranes move within the thing's eyes as its pupils hardened into deadly little points. From the depths of the monster's massive chest came a sound that was simply the most genuine threat S'jar t'Chk had ever heard. The beast bared its teeth again and S'jar t'Chk knew he was about to die.
"MAX!" Drake's voice. Short and thunderous as a gunshot. T'Chk blinked. He was still staring at the teeth and trembling flews before him... but those teeth were not yet buried in the tender flesh of his face. "Eeeasy, boy," Drake crooned, gentle and calming. From the corner of his eye S'jar t'Chk saw the man's hand bury itself in the fur of the monster's hackles. "Easy. I don't like him any more'n you do, but he's not ours to kill."
The dog shuddered and snapped its teeth at S'jar t'Chk's face.
Drake laughed. "Yeah," he said and from the corner of his eye t'Chk saw the young man's gaze find his face. Those eyes were so bright and so clear. "I know," Drake said to the beast. "Trust me. I know exactly how you feel."
Drake took hold of the monster's scruff then and gave the beast an affectionate shake. The dog turned to look at the boy. As it did its entire demeanor changed. Teeth and terrible growl vanished as it whined a question through its nose. Drake gave the thing a smile and another affectionate shake. The dog turned back to t'Chk. It seemed sullen, like a child accepting an unwelcome verdict from a parent.
Then it saw t'Chk looking, bared its teeth again and barked. Once. Directly into S'jar t'Chk's face. The sound was so loud that it felt to t'Chk as if he'd just taken a blow to the head from someone strong and what was left in his bladder emptied onto his leg. The monster lifted its head and gave t'Chk one last terrible look, then turned and dropped away.
The instant it did S'jar t'Chk gasped for air. Without the thing's weight upon it the machinery no longer pressed against his chest. For a moment the only thing he was truly aware of was the air he was able to gasp into his lungs and his own heart beat pounding inside his skull. Then he heard the horrible booming of Thane's laughter. When he raised his eyes he saw both of his enemies gazing back at him. Thane was wearing a broad grin that radiated both amusement and smug satisfaction. Drake's expression was more subtle. There was amusement in it but also curiosity.
"Well, boy," Thane announced and clapped Drake on the shoulder. "If I'd had any doubts remaining ye just laid them to rest."
T'Chk was still gasping for breath then while he looked from one face to the other. His higher brain functions had simply shut down while he faced the rage and teeth of the monstrous dog that still, rather obviously, wanted to kill him but were slowly returning. His eyes darted and twitched between the faces of the two men who now owned his life. They were both looking down at the monster that had just ripped the cage off S'jar t'Chk's face. T'Chk glanced down and saw that there was a whole wriggling mass of the horrid creatures surrounding the two men's legs but it was the largest that had their attention. The dog was slowly wagging his tail and bouncing on his forepaws while he looked back and forth between Thane and Drake. Finally Thane looked up and met the boy's eye again. He pursed his lips and nodded. Drake clapped the big man on the shoulder in an expression that was almost conciliatory. The massive dog produced another thunderous bark. This one sounded approving somehow.
S'jar t'Chk's eyes suddenly grew wide and his eyebrows shot toward his hairline. He suddenly understood what had happened. 'YOU!' he thought at Thane like a dagger thrust at the enormous man's heart. 'GAVE! One of your DOGS! To .... HIM?!!"
At precisely that moment the massive dog looked at him again. In an instant all of the puppyish happiness vanished from it's demeanor. It's blue eyes hardened into deadly little points and it bared it's teeth again and growled, low and deadly from it's massive chest. An instant later the rest of the dogs turned their eyes toward him; blue and yellow and dark reddish-brown. An instant later all of them bared their teeth filled the air with more of the most genuine threats S'jar t'Chk had ever heard.
"Wow," Drake remarked to Thane, "they do NOT frakkin' like him."
"He has that affect on people," Thane declared. Along with the dogs both men were now staring at him and S'jar t'Chk saw his death in every eye.
"So what are you gonna do with him?" Drake asked.
Thane gave the boy a complicated look involving secrets, hesitation, and the warm condescension of an older man for a younger one. Then he chuckled. "What do you think I'm going to do with him, lad?" Thane turned and met S'jar t'Chk's eye again. "I'm going to give him to my wife."
"Oh good," Drake said and his tone earned him both Thane's and S'jar t'Chk's attention. The lad met Thane's eye and showed him a boyish grin. "She wasn't too happy," he explained with a shrug, "when we made her stop hitting that coffin on the landing platform aaaand I'd rather not have that particular woman angry at me."
Thane chuckled and met t'Chk's gaze again. "That's wise, lad," he said to Drake. "Very wise."
I watched S'jar t'Chk die tonight.
I honestly don't know what to make of it.
Thane gave the son of a bitch to his wife and... hell! I gotta tell yah, I think that woman scares me more than he does. She took one look at that son of a bitch and, I swear, t'Chk paled so much that he looked like a drowned corpse. I mean even his eyes were sweatin'. And just as he started tryin' to scream around that rubber ball in his mouth she turned away and told Thane to 'feed him to the dogs'.
I tell yah. It was perfect. I got to watch that piece of shit's ego deflate right before my very eyes. Of course... hoo-wee! Man! I can think of some bad ways to go but... bein' ripped apart by dogs? Let's just say that on my list of 'ways not to die' it's pretty close to the top.
I mean, don't get me wrong, if anybody had it comin' to 'em it was that sleazy little shitbag but...
Okay, I'll just say it. S'jar t'Chk talked a lot. He talked to anyone that would listen as long as he was the center of attention, right? Well, while we were watchin' him... uh... get... hunted? Yeah. That's about right. Hunted. We were in Thane's apartment and he had the whole thing up on five meter screens so that you could see every drop of sweat on the man's face from just about anywhere in Thane's apartment. Yeah! It was better'n box seats at a stadium. Close ups, replays, the whole bit. So, needless to say, the audio sensors were perfect. I mean if I wanted I could isolate the sound his eyelids made when he blinked. So I could hear him talkin', right? I could hear him talkin' to himself.
I could hear him... taunting himself.
I mean that's weird, right?
Yeah-well, it got weirder. The longer it went on, and Thane took his time. I mean his wife was watchin' and he was takin' his cues from her. So he let S'jar t'Chk climb butt-naked out of that coffin. He let him figure out where he was. He watched and waited and we all savored every moment.
I mean S'jar t'Chk had it comin'. He used me. He planned to betray me from before I ever met him. If he'd had his way... well, I suppose even if he'd managed to kill me he'd still have Ea't and Lu and H'nt and everybody else to deal with. So we'd be at war with Yaki now. But, I mean, if he actually GOT what he wanted and captured my ships and stations? My mind starts to answer those questions and I just won't even let it. I'm pretty sure none of my people would have fared well under his "rule". Point is I have every right to hate him. Same with Thane and his wife and... I got to admit I don't know what to make of them lettin' the kid watch but, I'm thinkin' he had a right too. I mean the asshole tried to kill his mom, right? So we all wanted him to suffer and enjoyed it as he did. I enjoyed watchin' him drag himself out of that tube and tumble into the dirt. Thane released him at the bottom of the garden, near the pool where I finally choked Ricky out. It was sandy and dirty and he was naked as the day he was born. He knew what was comin'. We all knew what was comin'. And I enjoyed watchin' him know it and try to survive even though he had to know it was hopeless. Hell! I even enjoyed listenin' to him. I mean that son of a bitch was crazy!
Hell, I can't believe I'm sayin' this. Did I once actually claim to not have a conscience? Bloody hell! If only.
See, I'm pretty sure there was two people inside S'jar t'Chk's head. I had the same feelin' when I was starin' down my sword at him when we took the Brimstone but, well, with t'Chk I always figured at least half of what he did was for dramatic effect and the rest was just him frakkin' with people. In that garden, though. Listenin' to the things he said to himself! I mean he taunted and teased and pled with himself. And, after a while, it was really obvious that we were listenin' to two distinct people. One of them was the psychopathic shitbag I know and hate but the other was... not. Where t'Chk was manic and hateful the other one was, I don't know... shy? Sensitive?
And depressed! Talk about fatalistic!
Of course, now that I think about it, given the circumstances...
Ha! Shit! I'd be depressed too!
Thing is, at the end?
At the very end.
When S'jar t'Chk was watchin' those dogs charge at him from the rocks and the bushes, flankin' him from three directions at once, all of 'em bigger'n he was and so fast you could barely see 'em... I was watchin' his face.
Shit, I don't know how else to say it. I think, at the end, S'jar t'Chk managed to...
I don't think it was him.
I mean, it was. It's not like I expect the guy to restring his intestines and sew his throat shut and his arms and legs back on. I mean he's dead. He's VERY dead. They're gonna be pickin' pieces of him out of Thane's water filter for weeks.
I just can't help but feelin' that, somehow, he managed to escape the fate we had planned for him. That, in those last instants, we killed the wrong man.
Oh well. The dogs didn't seem to care. Heh! I tell yah! That is not how I want to go. Hoo! Naked and facin' off against five killer dogs? NO thank you! Bein' ripped apart by those dogs? Mmm-mm-mm! No sir. Not for me. Naked and in bed with a beautiful woman at Sal's age? Dyin' durin' orgasm as my heart gives out? Yeah. Yeah that sounds about right. Lemme go with a smile on my face.
Damn. Now I'm lonely. Seldon has been trackin' her. Gin, I mean. We're pretty sure she's in Argon City. Or was, at least. It looks like she just committed some political sabotage by choppin' one guy's head off and puttin' it in this other douchebag's err... bag, puttin' the spotlight on both men AND the shady-ass shit they've been up to. Turns out betrayin' your own people can be-ah lucrative, and these two were paddin' their pockets with a LOT of Terran credits.
So she's on a mission. She's doin' what she has to do.
I just don't know why she felt like she had to do it alone.
Eri didn't know how many times she'd circled her own mind. She didn't know how many times she'd tallied up the facts and arrived at the same conclusion. She didn't know how many times she'd rejected that conclusion to begin the dance again. She did know that she'd been at it all day. It was nearly sixteen hundred and she was tired. So when her mind arrived once again at the same "impossible" conclusion she sighed, feeling heavy with exhaustion. When she filled her lungs again, though, she stood and swiped the candy from the surface of her desk. Then she strode from her office. A few seconds later she was at the bottom of the ladder where she turned and began striding toward the very center of the hangar deck.
Even though the hangar never really slept it was a relatively quiet moment in the day. There were still crewmen servicing the planes of the last CAP, and others running diagnostics on a sensor array, but the last several days had been quiet and the deck crew was enjoying the light load by being elsewhere. She tapped her leg with the lollipop as she walked. It was quiet enough for her to be able to hear the wrapper crinkle and snap as she did. She imagined that she could feel watchful eyes upon her. All of a sudden every crewman and darkened corner seemed ominous and threatening.
Halfway down the center of the central lane Eri stopped walking. She slowly turned in a circle, allowing her eyes to scan in a three hundred and sixty degree circle. Then she lifted the lollipop, tore the wrapper from the candy... and stuck it in her mouth.
'Okay, little bird,' she thought. 'Your move.'
Posted: Sat, 4. Aug 18, 04:38
What a pleasant surprise to find after waking up!
So today we see the fate of the mad clan leader and have some fun with dogs. Also, Eri finds a mysterious lollipop! I wonder just where that's going to lead.
Posted: Sat, 4. Aug 18, 09:51
Glad I could brighten your day.
Posted: Sat, 4. Aug 18, 13:23
Does anyone have a link to the previous chapter?
Also request for Scion, can you add a link to the previous chapter in your new chapters?
Makes it much easier to remember where we were.
Posted: Sat, 4. Aug 18, 13:36
It's on page 90 Sirrobert.
Personally I think Eri's an idiot and I hope it's a slow acting poison, so Legion can cure her and she can spend a long time being berated for shoving impossible food into her mouth.