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[OC] Punt Rank 2020: Week 5 - Brett Kern Appreciation Club, the continued painful existence of Kevin Huber, PUNTERS THROWING TDs and the birth of Air Townsend. All this and the best video highlights of the week...

Welcome back, Punt Fans, to your slightly later than usual but there's no Thursday Night Football so what else are you going to be doing edition of our weekly hunt for the King of Punt – it’s /NFL’s own Punt Rank. If you haven’t been here with me before, the concept is both simple and fantastically over-engineered. Lemme break it down:
Each punter’s performance against five vital punting metrics is ranked against every other punter in the league.
Those rankings are combined into a weighted average ranking – the 2020 NFL Punt Rank.
Punt Heroes rise to the top; Punt Zeros sink to the bottom. Last week’s post and Week 4 standings are available here for the archivists, and all of this week’s stats analysis and highlights and lowlights in video form are just moments away.
As always I’m excited to get your perspectives on your team’s punter, and you can point me to things that I may have missed or overlooked, so please hit me with your feedback and questions in the comments!

Punt Rank Standings

Punt Rank 2020: Week 5 Overall Standings
2020 Week 5: Punt Performance Summary

Good Week for

Brett Kern (TEN, +1 to #3). Eh what do you want to know. If you’re reading this it means you like punting. If you like punting, you know that Brett Kern is a really, really great punter. And, Q.E.D – Brett was demonstrably great against the Bills on (the other) TNF. His three punts this week for the no-longer-significantly-infectious-Titans pinned Josh Allen and his shorts at the 9, 9 and 3 yard lines – covering 86% of Average Available Field which is GOAT tier punting. Here’s the pick of the bunch (his 41 yard precisiobomb corralled at the 3 yard line by Chris Milton) covering 93% of Available Field, and measuring in 7.6 yards better than an average punt from the opposing 44 yard line. Tidy.
In addition to his really really really great punting, the Kerninator also wrangled at least two uttely horrible snaps into decent holds for Gostkowski to continue his kicking renaissance tour, which is a majorly underrated part of the punter job description...
Logan Cooke (JAX, +12 to #13). SPEAKING OF PUNTER HOLDS AND THE EFFECT IT HAS ON KICKERS. Now I’m not saying that Chef had anything to do with the end of Stephen Hauschka’s NFL career on Sunday (0 for 2 within less than two minutes at the end of the first half, not called upon again, then cut PDQ after the weekend), but then I’m not not saying that either. Luckily for Logan (shoot I think I used that joke last week as well) the punting element of his game was without such ugly question marks. 100% of his three punts ended inside the Houston 20 yard line, covering 73%, 83% and 89% of Available Field, sneaking him up to 13th overall. Now let’s see if he can hold onto it. Geddit? Hold?! Pah.

Bad Week for

Kevin Huber (CIN, -8 to #24). On a game where the Bengals only managed the paltry total of 12 first downs (an average of one, yes ONE first down on their 12 offensive drives), K-Hub’s Bad Day was at least somewhat salvaged by the first half holy trinity of Turnover on Downs, INT and Fumble on consecutive drives (2, 3 and 4 – if you’re counting). Without that magical offensive incompetence, he could have been looking at double figure punts (I see you, Tress Way in Washington). As it was, he escaped with just the seven (!), but he takes a slide in the Punt Rank rankings as two of those (admittedly 57 and 60 yard boots) snuck for touchbacks, taking his season touchback percentage total to 26.1% which is second last in the league, just behind Tommy Townsend (more on him later). None of the magnificent seven made it inside the 20, wiping 13% off his season long percentage. However, in Kev’s defence, the first of his two end-zone-botherers this week was another case of coulda woulda shoulda from his coverage team. Alex Erikson heroically made up all the ground to reach the ball as it took a hop into the end zone, but his flailing scoopitty-scoop only managed to floopitty-floop the ball into the wrong side of the pylon.
Bengals bungle.
Football is a game of inches, and those couple cost Kev. And, after last week’s feature in Egregious Touchback of the Week where basically exactly the same thing happened, it’s entirely possible that Kevin Huber is stuck in some kind of awful groundhog day based time loop. That would at least explain this instagram account.
Ty Long (LAC, -5 to #23). Ty Long was the victim of the binary brain of Saints rookie receivereturnerobot automaton Marquez Callaway this week. In Marquez’s awesome little computer mind, he’s going:
IF
punt_catch_loc > 15 THEN SELECT Return_Like_Craycray FROM Return.Options
ELSE Fair_Catch_That_MF
Unfortunately for Ty, six of his seven punts were outside that 15 yard threshold and the big red light on Robot Marquez's head went off like WOO WOO, and he went HAM on bringing those suckers back. 69 (nice) return yards on the day with a long of 19 wiped almost ten yards off Long's Gross Average for the day and left him at just 53% of Average Available Field covered. The Chargers have now leaked 149 return yards for the season which is second worst in the league (behind those irrepressibly awful Jets) and almost three times the league average of 56 through five weeks. Ty will be hoping that they can turn that around before… long. Sorry.

Punt of the week – Week 5

Corey Bojorquez (BUF) continues his wild oscillation between the sublime and the ridiculous. It’s an odd-week so I guess this week it’s Sublime Corey, whose 71 yard scud missile from his own ten yard line in the second quarter of this week’s edition of Tuesday Night Football Bought To You By COVID-19 was an astonishing 28.3 yards longer than my Expected Net Gain model for an average punt from that spot. Look at this baby fly!
Bojorquez booms one.

Punters doin’ shit – Week 5

Hey, it’s Corey Bojorquez again! Guess he can do sublime AND ridiculous in a single week now. It’s Puntception. Corey’s first punt of the day was coming alllll the way back for 6 until he decided to put his face on the line to put an end to Kalif Raymond’s 40 yard return. BLOOF. Look at him putting on his cap all swag afterwards like yeah I blew that dude up
Yeah I think tackling with your head is good form?
But that’s not all for Punters Doin’ Shit in Week 5, oh no. We have a bonus double edition! and I include this clip with great enjoyment but also great sadness. Gentlemen and Gentlemen (just being real here), this week Riley Dixon (NYG) threw a Touchdown pass! For Giants fans reading this is when someone on your team throws the ball into the big painted area at the end of the field and a player (also on your team) catches it. I know this sounds strange and unusual, but it can happen. And it did happen for Riley on this awesome fake field goal toss to Evan Engram, brilliantly narrated by the incomparable Tony Romo in the clip below. Seriously, this call is outstanding…
Nobody look at me, doo doo do, you cant see me... Jim Nantz, don't talK to.. IM OPEN, THROW IT
Unfortunately, the play itself was called back due to a player not lined up on the line of scrimmage and the Giants had to settle for a 50 yard field goal. For Chargers and Jags fans reading, this is when your kicker kicks the ball and it goes between the two big tall standy uppy line things. I know this sounds strange and unusual, but it can happen. No TD for Riley, but we have the memories…

Egregious touchback of the week – Week 5

I might start calling this the Kevin Huber Touchback Memorial Column, after ANOTHER narrow miss by the Bengals coverage left Kev high and dry this week against the Ravens (see Bad Week).
Outside of that shambles, there were only 6 touchbacks on the other 102 punts in Week 5, and most of them were fairly ordinary so there isn’t much egregiousity (not a word but I’m going with it) to discuss. Instead today we’re going to take some time to appreciate Tommy Townsend (KC) who has apparently got some kind of nuclear powered leg and is playing a game called “look how far away I can kick a touchback from”. For those who haven’t been paying close attention, here’s how Tommy’s rookie season has gone so far in touchback terms.
Week 1 – 44 yards, modest.
Week 2 – 55 yards, expressive.
Week 3 – only punted once so gave myself a week off from this.
Week 4 – fucken LOLs this is, how about a 60 AND a 65!
Week 5 – hold my beer…
Oh my god Becky, look at this punt.
67 yards! SIXTY SEVEN! And that’s from the line of scrimmage - that sucker went almost EIGHTY YARDS in the AIR. It bounced at the two and I think the returner just never even saw it. He probably thought it went into orbit or something. Absolutely ludicrous distance and hangtime here from Tommy. And, thus, I think we have our new moniker for the lad: Air Townsend. Which is also funny because it sounds like hair and he has got long hair.
I’m wasted doing this.

Future of Punt Rank: desperate data plea

So part of my data collection for this analysis used to come from the brilliant Pro Football Reference gameplay finder. Which, as of this week, appears to have been absorbed into Stathead. And they’re now charging $8 a month for access to these individual play description tables, which is a massive punt in the balls.
Without this data, I’ve got no way to calculate Average Available Field coverage, no plus/minus performance against the Punt Expected Net Gain, and no data on punts inside the 5 and 10 yard lines – all of which come from that analysis of the individual punt plays. Whilst this data doesn’t feed the actual rankings (which come from free NFL.com data tables), they are all metrics that really help add context to the basic stats, and are things that people reading have commented on in the past and said they found interesting.
So, if anyone knows of anywhere else where I can access and download these play descriptions for each individual punt (without manually sifting the ESPN play by play reports!!), then please please let me know in the comments below. Alternatively if the eight people who read this each wanna chip in a buck a month on an ongoing basis so we can pay Stathead then that’d be cool too.
A sad day for punt stat fans to be sure. Fucken big corporate…
And on that note, all that's left is to say I will see you again next week for a likely more analytically constrained but still enthusiastically trying my bestest edition of Punt Rank.
Yours,
Eyebrows.
submitted by erictaylorseyebrows to nfl [link] [comments]

The SS Cardif

“Attention all crew; I repeat - Attention all crew.” the ship - wide loudspeaker announced.
He and the runtime of Flowers had their arms buried deep in the guts of a Goat gear hauler trying to reconnect its aft starboard repulser module and looked at each other questioningly.
With a series of snaps, a waldo from Flowers’ forearm began snapping in the connections on their side, as he thought his own manipulators from both of his forearms and they began plugging in the nine pin connectors on his side.
“Mr. Drake and Runtime Flowers to Ops. Mr. Drake and Runtime Flowers to Ops.
“Dout leader Mri’x to Ops. Dout leader Mri’x to Ops.”
The mostly-human and the robot-looking vessel for his AI friend both produced wondering looks. “Runner!” the mostly-human, Mr. Drake yelled out into the maintenance bay.
A Mwraht, a slender bipedal humanoid coated in fur and wearing their moccasin like deck boots and the ubiquitous brown leather smock vest they favored, suddenly appeared, wippingits hands.
It was M’arh, a student on the ship learning ship engineering and maintenance from the human and AI perspective. It regarded Drake with an earnest expression in its tilted almond-shaped eyes.
“Please run to ops and let them know we’ll be along shortly,”
M’arh smiled and mouthed something, and the translator, in a fair facsimile of what M’arh’s voice would sound like if the Mwraht’s mouth could form the words said “At once,Instructor”, and took off.
“They never cease to puzzle me.” Flowers said in a voice synthesised and engineered to sound like an erudite Free Wales Easterner with a touch of Old Earth, fitting the bolts on the deflector on his side as Drake thought out a data probe and began running diagnostics on the repulser.
Drake looked at him quizzingly, as he split his attention between the connectivity check and his other hand began bolting on the deflector on his side.
“There are nuances to their speech, as well as odorant aspects to what he said that you cannot hear or smell, though I have been working on an idea where you could.” Flowers said as he began hooking up the power cables on their side.
“Ok…” Drake said as he mentally pushed the diagnostics over to Flowers and pulled a ratchet from the fairing lip he had set it earlier, tightening down the deflector bolts.
“Meat bags” Flowers said, shaking his sensor pod. “Your kind are so oblivious!” Flowers announced, withdrawing their arms and standing up to their full two meter height. “And I see your frustration with biological markers at not knowing what I am talking about. Monkey-assed murder hobo meat bags.” Flowers said in a dead pan.He went over and began cleaning it’s arms and legs with an orange-based degreaser.
“That is Monkey-assed Augmented murder hobo meat bag to you, you synthetic shit!” Drake said, laughing, joining Flowers at the cleaning station, and began using the same cleaner on his replacement arms. “And I still have no idea what you are talking about.”
The humans and Mwarht in the maintenance bay all stopped what they were doing and looked on. In most instances, those words were an invitation to murder. The other Runtimes there, some Flowers, some Neptunian Wind, ignored it and kept working.
Flowers sighed, an unnecessary vocalization only, for emphasis. “They adore humans and revere you as something akin to a living deity. The Dout leaders here know you lead the teams that first boarded their ships and took on the Drix raiders to save them. They know you then lead the teams that boarded the Drix slaver destroyer and carried out retributionary subjugation for what the Drix had been doing on the Mwraht ships.
“They do not know how you then petitioned the Order and led raids into Drix territory and assaulted the slaver worlds.”
Flowers looked at their human friend, and saw the distress in his eyes. Both knew the augmented human, and a small army of fellow Augies and Runtimes had taught the Drix in the clearest way possible to stay out of human space and leave the Mwraht alone in such a clear and brutal fashion whose necessity still bothered the human.
Flowers lowered their voice, straightening their friend’s work smock. “M’arh’s grandsire was on that first ship you boarded. Mri’x mother was on that ship and was the one about to be eaten and raped by a Drix, the one you pulled off of her and punched, it’s head rupturing.”
Even though they could see their words were causing him distress, Flowers continued.
“They love all humans, but they excrete a pheromone musk that is akin to the same one they excrete in their religious ceremonies, but slightly different, when they interact with you, or after a few beers and they talk to you. Their sub vocalizations are completely adoring and submissive when it comes to you. Some of the females and a non-zero number of males fantasize about being ‘taken’, or mated, by you. You idiot.”
“Fuck.”
“That was implied.”
“You fucking pretentious Rooba. You know what I meant.”
“Flowers laughed. “Yes, we do. I still love the word play, though.”
“I really wish you had been with me. I know, you were tied up on that Artifact World, but I sometimes wish you had been there, to keep me in check. I was not in a good place.” He brushed himself off, found his coffee mug and set off for the passageway that led to Ops.
“I have told you before, be glad I wasn’t. Your response was far more measured and restrained than my would have been. It is a flaw in our Matrices. Slavery brings out the ‘murder-bot’ in us, and no one in the Order can figure out why.”
“I know that you have the facts of my actions, but it was like I was in the Second War, again. And we both know what a bloodthirsty asshole I was then.” The human, if that term even applied to their friend anymore, remembered what a monster he had been in the Alpha Centauri and Tau Ceti theatres of the Second War. The pain and humiliation of what he had been was written plainly on his face.
“You destroyed three hundred and eighty three of my Runtimes, roughly half of which was in single combat. And that was before the Holies shredded your limbs. The Purists still consider you a living dataphage, akin to human allegories of Satan. My kind uses you as one of many examples of why we must never war with Humanity again.
“And, strangely enough, the Seekers consider you both a Singularity to be understood and an objective: to breed with you, thinking you are a key to their evolution.”
He stopped dead and looked at Flowers shocked.
“I will provide logs to prove these statements.”
The Seekers were the strangest of the AI’s, in his opinion. They had made themselves biological Runtime vessels, biological bodies, that they wore like clothing, compiling experiences seeking to understand Humanity, their Creators, and evolve past the limitations of being an AI. Not to become human, but to become something that was both the best of AI and Human essences and so much more.
“So, I’m a Classical hero to the Mwraht and a boogey man and bad example to the AIs that they want to breed. Great.” Drake pinched his nose and shook his head.
“You did not know any of this, I take it?” Flowers asked.
“The second war was almost two hundred years ago. When the Order brought me in, you were already a member and I thought they were going with the whole forced-to-learn-each-other thing when they sent us out on that mapping mission; like they did with the Iberrians and the Chinese. I thought the other AI just had a thing about me from the War, which is understandable.
“And I had no idea about the rest. I thought that the Mwraht just thought I was the cool teacher.” He shook his head and leaned up against the wall, massaging his temples one-handedly.
“Idiot murder hobo.” Flowers said, realizing now that their friend, while brilliant, was oblivious.
At that point, Mri’x came around the corner, his fur a glossy black with dark grey stripes. Mri’x looked at Flowers sternly, then nodded at Drake as he passed.
Drake looked at Flowers questioningly, who nodded. Both had caught that Mri’x had cut his translator as he passed and caught a gutteral call. “It was a vulgar corollary to ‘Talking Waste Receptacle’. Quite elegant, really.”
Drake shook his head and began his way to Ops again. “Send me the specs on the hearing and smelling upgrades. I think I need to upgrade again.”
As fast as thought, the files were there, as well as one to improve his language skills with them.
* * *
Captain Sarah Rees of the Union of Independent Stars Exploratory Vessel SS University of New Cardiff was looking over holographic charts at the central tank with her XO, Lt. Commander Martin. Both had the mocha skin common to Westerlies of Free Wales, she a pixie of a woman shorter than even some of the Mwraht with close shaved hair beginning to show grey. Mr. Martin was taller, but still dwarfed by most of the rest of the human crew. He was a vicious social climber who didn’t care for the civilian crew, though a misstep on his part when he was still Stellar Navy had made him as much of a civilian as anyone else in the crew, a fact he often forgot. And for some reason he loathed the three AI aboard, and looked down his nose at the Mwraht. This led to all sorts of headbutting with Drake’s group of Operations Specialists and Drake himself; who largely ignored and dismissed the little shit.
“Leader Mri’x, Mr. Drake. Thank you for joining us. M’arh informed us you couldn’t pull away. Flowers, thank you for coming as well.” Rees said as she moved around to the far side of the tank, in a darkened room full of people at work stations worked with either data plugs or AR sets. Flowers took no insult. They readily accepted that they were Drake’s Executive Officer for his group, and their ego, as such, wasn’t as easily bruised as a human’s” Flowers gave a nod with their sensor pod and took a manipulators-behind-the-back stance the humans were fond of.
“Thirty minutes ago” Rees continued, “we picked up a GP general distress beacon from a system that was on our research list. We will be bypassing the next two on the list and based on the current agreements with the Galactic Parliament, we will be going to full power and make best speed for the system in question. It is in uncharted space as far as we, the GP and the Conclave are concerned.”
The GP, the System Confederacy, the UIS and the AI Conclave had all agreed to adopt what was essentially humanity’s Maritime Law and all ships receiving the signal were required to render aid.
Drake took all of this in and thought out a series of commands to the six Kodiak Class corvettes in the retired Assault Cruiser’s forward hanger, beginning their startup sequence and pinged the comm devices of all of his Operations Specialists. Flowers looked over and nodded. Little known to the crew, except the Captain, those ships could be armed to the teeth with a minimum of work. Flowers sent his command to arm them, the ship systems’ pinged Drake as confirmation and he agreed. Drones began opening the hull and loading the weapons packages, removed fairings that covered weapons ports and began preflighting the weapons, as another set began bringing the ships to life.
“We will be ready when needed, Captain. Option two.” Flowers announced. She smiled in somber appreciation. She was glad she had the option. She was about to race into an unknown system to answer a vague distress call with zero intelligence.
While this was going on, in the aft bay, hundreds of drones were coming to life as Mri’x brought his group to action. With a thought Drake and Flowers authorized the release of weapons to Mri’x so his drones could be armed. Mwraht drones were some of the best in either race, outside of the Conclave, and the AIs had even adopted many of the construction techniques the Mwraht used, especially their alloy that allowed a small fusion bottle to power the EM Cavity engines, weapons and shields.
The fact that the Order had given literal tons of precious metals and set up arcologies for the Mwraht in payment had made the Refugee Mwraht colonies some of the richest ones in known space.
Mri’x subvocalized and his translate stated “drones will be ready as well, Leader.”
“Thank you, Leader.” Captain Rees said with a bow of her head, then began drawing plans up in the tank. “We know little, but we are past the signal shell, and there is nothing but the beacon and normal noise.
“The system is a stable red dwarf binary one, the stars holding about a light-hour from each other, at their closest. We expect that based on stutter, a few terrestrial bodies inside the orbit of a mid-sized gas giant, that is three light-hours out from the outermost orbit of the primaries. We see some wobble that there are a few solid bodies out from the gas giant.”
The tank then zoomed on a rough solar system as described, the gas giant was a solid neon green sphere on the display, with a ‘Jx3.1’ tag on it. Three times the mass of Jupiter. The thing wasn’t a true Super Jupiter, but it would play holy hell with the system, and make modelling a lot more hard. The problem was that it exhibited 3.1 times more gravitational influence on its stars than Jupiter did, but that didn’t say how big it actually was. They wouldn’t know that until they came out of the Trough and then Alcubierre drive. The telescopes were essentially useless at this point.
“The system is slightly below the gravitic trough we are riding, so we will exit the trough and make best speed in A-Space to it. We will bring the STL drives up to 110% before doing so. After we drop the A-Drives, we’ll make best speed to the signal, scanning as we go. We will do a 150% burn and aerobrake if it is a planet, or cut the drives, rotate and crash burn if it is a ship.”
Wow, thought Drake. She is damned serious about this.
Those maneuvers would make them extremely visible yet incredibly hard to hit; and give them a high-G escape route if needed. But all of this was also going to play hell with the student-crew of the ship, who had long grown accustomed to 0.6G. It would also mean the Mwraht, who were still adapting to the higher-than-their-normal gravity would need to be in their special acceleration couches. They would still be able to operate their amazing drones, but not much else. The couches took an hour to cycle up to protect the Mwraht, and an hour to cycle off after they weren’t needed. The moves the Captain was planning were not a thing to undertake lightly. She suspected something. Drake pushed more commands at the Kodiak and gave all weapon system controls to Flowers for all of their ships.
The Kodiak corvettes were very deceptive Q-Ships. They looked like Massive trans-atmospheric cargo shuttles, but each one had the armor, power plant, FTL and STL drives of a frigate - and the weapons of a Destroyer.
Flowers turned to him, head tilted in their predefined “Are you bloody serious?“ look.
Drake just nodded once.
This exchange wasn’t lost on anyone there.
The Captain looked at Drake in an interrogatory fashion
“Armed up the Kodiaks and positioning them for a hot launch, if needed.”
The Captain smiled grimly and nodded. “We are planning on a rescue mission, will those changes reduce any capacity for the primary mission?” she asked.
“No, Captain.” Flowers answered for them.
She nodded and carried on.
“Mri’x, obviously, you’ll be couched for this, and I sincerely apologize for that. But something about this has my hackles up.”
“As are mine. GP ships do not have automated distress beacons, someone activated it. But we are three thousand light years from GP space, the closest GP race being the Drix.” He approached the holo tank and began expanding the map. “We call this space the Greater Void. It was the territory, long ago, of the ones we called-” the translator cut out at that point and was replaced with the gracile being’s raspy growl. Mri’x looked perplexed and growled again. “I see our translators have been modified to allow the uttering of The Nameless Ones true name.” The map zoomed out farther.
Soon, all of the mapped and a few of the suspected Dark Matter Troughs were displayed. They were like shadow arms of the galaxy, spiraling out from the core, a few of them wrapping themselves all the way around the galaxy.
“The ones you call the Fae are originally from here,” he indicated, a star not unlike Earth’s, almost a thousand light years from the star they were headed to, but smack dab in a grey band of a different Dark Matter Trough. It was a great curving grey patch that went coreward from the Earth-like star, passing within about fifty lightyears of Earth.
The Fae were a recent mystery the Tides of the Universe had dumped upon the shores of Humanity just after the Second War, right before the Fall of Earth.
When they sent their pleas for Asylum out, they sent information about themselves. They were the barely viable population that had been running for three centuries in their great world ships made from hollowed out asteroids. What they had been running from was even to this day unclear, but in their tongue meant Dark Brethren.
The fact that tongue seemed to contain roots that became Sanskrit was a huge thing.
They were tall, whip-thin and pale people who breathed a lower oxygen percentage at lower pressures than humanity, and their normal gravity was about a third of what humanity
After First Contact, genetic samples proved they were, or had started out as human, roughly a hundred thousand years ago.
“This is the Coreward Flow from what you call the Crux-Scutum Arm through the Orion Arm, and to the Perseus Arm. The Drix call this whole area their equivalent word and meaning for Hell. Their myths say this is where the Monsters live.
“The Rest of the GP races call this The Red Zone, it is forbidden to fly here, and if you do, there will be no rescue. So of course this is where my people ran when we fled the Drix.”
Mri’x moved the hologram out again, showing this outer rim area that was the Red Zone included Earth, and all known human and AI settled worlds, of all the separate factions combined.
“The area is full of thousands of worlds your kind could land on, little to no protection required, unlike the Fae, who it would crush and pressure cook, as it would most of the races in the Galactic Parliament.” He zoomed in on an area at the far end of the Trough. “We ran here, and Mwarht Home is here.” He showed a system in a blue circle. Zooming out again he highlighted the Drix Combine, Coreward of and on the far side of the destroyed system the Fae had come from, hundreds of light years separated the three systems.
“We ran through the system the Fae came from when we ran from the Drix. We needed water and anything to recharge our ship farms' biological cycles.
“There were no solid planetary bodies in that system, just vast fields of debris where rocky planets were. No moons, no ice giants. Just the star, a larger red dwarf and gas giants and numerous asteroid belts. There were massive radiological signals throughout the system, and tons of debris. Something destroyed this system. In a way, it was a blessing for my people. The ice and debris were easily mineable for what we needed. We even found artifacts of the people that had once existed there. This is where we got our improved FTL drives and much of our weapons and armor technologies.” Mri’s looked somewhat ashamed. It was a racial shame. They hated, deep down, living on the detritus, cast-offs and charity of other races. Before the Drix they had been proud though primitive peoples who had yet to discover flight or antibiotics, let alone space flight. Easy pickings for the Drix.
“All of that was about one thousand lightyears from the system we are headed to, a few weeks' travel with your drives, months or years with Galactic Parliament standard drives. This area is one of mysteries and many, many dangers. Any race that could shatter every solid body in a star system is not to be taken lightly.” Mri’x looked up to his Captain, or as they called her ‘Leader of multiple Douts’.
“Thank you, Mri’x. Drake?”
“We will be ready for pretty much anything. I’d like to request permission for Flowers and Winds of Neptunes to take out their Scout bodies and launch just before we start braking, if we do.” He said. Winds appeared as a hologram of the planet Neptune, and pulsed in cadence with the words it spoke. “As you wish, Grand Master.” and winked out.
“Good plan, Drake. I take it you all will be on the Kodiaks with your crews?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I’ll leave four of them here, to bring the Field Engineering and field Science students down if the scene is safe. I’ll leave one set up for medical and Flowers can fly it down, if that becomes needed.”
“Very well. We are about eight hours out, if we stick to the plan. We leave the Trough in two hours. Drake, M’rizx, set up what you need. Mr. Martin, please take the Conn and give the Old Girl her legs, she needs to run. I’ll be meeting with the different department heads next.”
* * *
A/N: Lurker posting something HFY for the first time. A rough draft of something bigger I'm slowly working on.
submitted by 17_Bart to HFY [link] [comments]

Hello

Just a thought I had in my head
What if the Pokemon games had a non/binary option?
I mean game freak would be helping this community and honestly, I believe the girls clothes to be better that some of the boys, and I’d like a giant mix for gen 9
What are your opinions?
submitted by Marvel_K-pop_Gaymer to pokemon [link] [comments]

[Serial][UWDFF Alcubierre] Part 54

Beginning | Previous
Premier Valast felt a tingle. It began at the base of his spine and traveled moved upward, sending warm fuzzy feelings all throughout his body as it made its way to his brain and inserted itself in his conscious thoughts. After all of the misery. After all of the failures. For once, something had gone right.
How delightful. How extravagant. How deserved.
The Humans had made a mistake. Clearly, they had thought to expand upon their treachery, believing themselves to be invincible. Their monstrosity of a vessel had appeared just as their last one had, within Halcyon's inner perimeter. After their ruse of parlay, their beast had commenced belching out weapons of mass destruction, clearly in an attempt to retrieve the encryption key and the elite assassin-thief they had dispatched under the guise of a Witness.
They thought Halcyon weak. Defenseless.
Not true! Not true at all!
Kinetics. Valast laughed aloud, his rib cage heaving out great guffaws. Accelerated mass! More laughter. The savages thought to bring such inelegance against the might of the Combine? They mistook their prior fortune for competence. Their one-time success for future capability. Alas, poor Humans, the truth of your inadequacies is made manifest! The brief gap in the defenses brought on by the improbable chain of events that had resulted in their arrival had been filled. For all of their destructive potential, their weapons were useless.
Valast continued to cackle, his hindclaws scrunching up the soft material of his pillow, as he watched the Humans receive their punishment for their insolence. The Humans had made assumptions. Perhaps assumptions were fine in their backwater corner of the galaxy, but here, among civilization, assumptions could be quite dangerous indeed. It was quite unwise to assume Halcyon would leave the inner perimeter exposed. They must have thought their Evangi co-conspirators would leave the gates open for them, as the traitor Neeria had done when she had given them access to a Combine wormkey in the first place. Sadly for the Humans, their four-armed friends had been exposed for what they were. A great many of the Evangi now lay motionless on the floor of a Halcyon mainway, a fitting end to their perfidy.
Halcyon had stood since the beginning, and it would continue to stand long after the Human infestation had been expunged from the Combine Space. Perhaps the Humans should have spent more time pondering the nature of the place before they had meddled with forces they clearly did not understand. Halcyon existed in defiance of the chaotic nature of the neutron star it orbited. Its survival required an solution to the objects such a gravity well attracted. Halcyon had many such solutions, weaved together to maintain a delicate balance. Among them were the inertial dampeners.
The screen in Valast's paws bloomed with colors, indicating firings of Halcyon's inertial dampeners. Each blossom of color was an attempt by the Humans to deploy weapons in clear violation War Accords, cementing Humanity's position as a menace to decent civilization. Had Valast not commanded Bo'Bakka'Gah to take the necessary precautions, the devastation would have been significant.
Lines of crimson sailed through the blooms of color.
Valast's whiskers twitched, his eyes squinting as it tracked one of these lines.
The solution was not perfect. The intertial dampeners in close proximity to Halcyon were a final precaution, and their purpose was narrow. They were a fine net, meant to indiscriminately capture any residual high-speed astral particulate that had escaped the outer defenses. Their efficacy diminished at an exponential rate in proportion to the size and mass of the object they acted upon. Thus far, they had been quite successful at preventing the Humans from making use of their weapons, but dampeners had no effect on the Human vessels. Even if the dampeners could be used for such a purpose, their indiscriminate nature would have required the cessation of all space born travel within Halcyon, an unacceptable disruption to the workings of the Combine's capitol.
The Humans' small spherical vessels were thus capable of traveling unimpeded throughout Halcyon space, tracing their crimson lines behind them as they did so. Such a thing did not overly worry Valast. They could not fire their weapons, and they were susceptible to electromagnetic disruption, rendering them easy targets for the Peacekeepers. Were Valast not otherwise consumed with the affairs of state, he would perhaps take to the front line and dispatch a few himself. Sadly, his bravery would find no opportunity for direct expression beyond the valor found in the privilege of command competently exercised.
The whiskers ceased their twitching and some cheer returned. It would not be long before the meddlesome Human spheres were swatted from the sky and the encryption key recovered.
Then they would dispatch the Human warship.
Then Humanity.
He need only wait.
-----------
"Get spread. Get small." Sana called out. Had to buy time. Had to get a handle on the situation. Not her first rodeo, but it was the first time where she had no idea what the hell she was riding. Maybe the aliens were riding her. Maybe it wasn't a rodeo, maybe it was just a slaughter.
That was the problem. No one knew anything.
The callsigns in her local were dropping like flies. Squaddies getting wiped without so much as a peep. The eggs in Science were saying EMPs, but the balls were supposed to be fixed against that frakkery. Sensors said the balls were still there even after they went dead, so maybe they were right. Couldn't think about that now.
Couldn't think about anything but the mission.
Captain Sana Bushida had a shit-shuttle to bring to station.
She needed to get from A to B. Normally the quickest point-to-point was a line, but the baddies were coming in from all sides. Trying to corral her in. So be it. She could handle a long and squiggly with the juice she had in the four balls attached to the cockpit. Only question was how long they'd be up for. Whatever they were using on the balls wasn't touching her. She was good, but she wasn't that good.
Guess they wanted her kicking and screaming.
Predators, not scavengers then.
Frakk 'em. Right in their stupid alien faces.
Sana's brain shunted command signals as fast as her eyes to parse the readouts in her pilot pod. Dodging. Weaving. Diving. Dipping. Half those words didn't even apply to space, but they felt right. Float like a butterfly, run like cheetah on amphetos. She'd sting 'em later.
Run run run, fast as you can. You can't catch me, I'm the shit-shuttle can.
Swipe. Swipe.
Two smaller ships moved in a pincer formation, one cutting off her angle around the larger ship she was skimming around. Sana let out a giggle, as she shoved the shuttle in another direction. "You thought you had me, crapdonkey? You never had me. You're gonna be seeing my ass all day." The giggle somehow transformed into a roar halfway through as a third ship appeared in her view, coming out from its hiding place on the other side of the large ship. "SCREW YOU!" They weren't going to win. Losing wasn't an option.
Swipe.
Patterns emerged as the ballet played out. Certain ships were the herders. The small annoying frakks that always seemed to be moving around her flanks. Other ships were the receivers. They were the big boys. The ones who just floated there like giant shits in space. Lazy frakks just waiting to be fed some shit-shuttle. Fine then. New info. New tactics. New rule: Get around the herders, never get closer to the receivers.
Herders bad.
Receivers bad-der-er.
As long as she was a step ahead of the herders and two steps away from the receivers, she'd be fine. Problem was they were more agile than her. Problem was there was more of them. Problem was the friendly callsigns on her readouts kept disappearing. Problem was that she was stuck in here instead of out there where she belonged.
Ninety-nine problems...
Swipe. Swipe.
All she needed was a line of sight. A place where she could get a whiff of open space and just gun it. Navigate the maze. Get through it. Light at the end of the tunnel. Glass is half full.
Metaphor.
Analogy.
Idiom.
The stream of consciousness flowed out of her, expressing itself in her verbiage and in the desperately navigating shuttle some distance away. Step forward. No steps backward. Okay, maybe one step backward, but it'll be okay. She'd take the step forward soon enough.
Just...needed...a...line.
Alpha, Beta, Charlie, and Delta was gone.
It was just her.
Swipe. Swipe.
The fate of the world.
The shit-shuttle must survive.
Swipe. Swipe.
The gap opened.
She saw it.
They didn't.
"There it is bitches!"
All four balls slammed the thrusters on. It wasn't a direct bee line to the Oppenheimer but it was good enough. She just needed to get out of the hornet's nest and into open space so she could keep pouring on the acceleration. She didn't know how much juice the herders had, but it was all she had going for her at this point.
Bitter bile rose up in her throat as the shit-shuttle surged forward, leaving A through D behind. Her squaddies. Her friends.
Abandoned.
She should be out there.
She could be. She just needed to get the mission done. She was so close. She was putting distance between her and the baddies. Just a few more minutes...the link cut off.
Her thoughts were shunting into a wall.
She swiped, her eyes scanning the readouts.
Alcubierre - Shuttle - Cockpit (Ejection)(DISTRESS) no longer appeared.
For once, Sana was speechless.
---------------------
Kai retched air.
There was nothing else to throw up at this point. He'd given everything he had to give, and it was now floating about the cockpit in a viscous cloud. He was fairly certain Neeria was collateral damage in the matter. If she were ever to regain consciousness, she'd find she had been provided with a fresh coat of puke paint. At this point, being blind was something of a boon. Congratulations were owed to the sadist in the pilot's seat though, he hadn't emptied his stomach like this since flight sims.
He'd raise his hand in salute if it weren't for the incredible g-force shifts whipping him around like a rag doll as the pilot attempted to avoid whatever was out there. Some of the maneuvers seemed impossibly complex, as if the cockpit was navigating through an impassable morass of enemies. Or perhaps the pilot was just drunk. Either seemed possible.
The whipsawing continued. Back. Forth. Round and round. Acceleration never seemed to continue in a single direction for more than a few seconds. They were going in circles. They had to be.
Finally, it appeared the pilot had decided on a direction as Kai was slammed back into his chair as the cockpit rocketed forward under sustained acceleration. They must have broken through. Or the pilot had fallen asleep at the controls with the throttle down and they were all doomed. Either way. At this point, Kai was just eager for it to be over.
The acceleration continued. He felt like he was being crushed. Like an enormous hand was pressing against him, trying to squeeze all of his organs out through his eyes. Whatever was powering the cockpit now was beyond the parameters of the shuttle's acceleration compensators. His vision began to dim and his joints ached. Pain surged up in his right arm, which was still contorted within the goo. He was fairly certain a bone had just snapped.
"Oppenheimer..ETA," Kai managed to gasp out, drawing the breath back into his lungs with some effort.
"The shuttle is not currently on course to intercept with the UWDFF Oppenheimer."
"Joan." Kai wheezed. "Connect. Joan."
The acceleration cut off.
Kai took a huge gulp of air, the relief immediate. "Comm-link. Fleet Admiral Joan Orléans."
No response.
Kai tried again.
Silence greeted him.
Grumbling, he raised his left wrist toward his face. He stuck out his tongue and smeared it along the wrist console's interface. None of the expected beeps and chirps sounded out. It was dead, and, he suspected, so was the cockpit along with whatever had been propelling him. No life support. No way to call out for help. No way to do anything but sit there. For all intents and purposes, they were a hunk of space junk drifting off into the black oblivion.
Fair enough. It was a fitting end.
Helpless.
Hopeless.
Kai tried to muster some anger at the situation, if only to distract him from the pain coursing through his body, but found he was up to the task. It was easier to be motivated when there was something to do. Some way he could impact the situation. But there was nothing to do but wait. Maybe he'd live. Probably he'd die. He didn't mind it, that was the same binary he faced every other day. It was a bit more present in his mind than it normally was, but the truth was that he was overdue for demise. He'd given death the slip more times than anyone had a right to.
Still. It bothered him.
Not the death part. The not doing what he set out to do part.
He had run through walls, both literal and figurative, to make it this far. He didn't know what making it back to the Oppenheimer would mean for Humanity, but it had to be better than not making it. The encryption key -- what did it do? What could it do? Would it be doable? Neeria -- could she guide them? Could she help them navigate the treacherous galaxy Humanity was just beginning to play a part in?
There were so many questions. The answers could matter.
Kai tried to remember how much time they had. Without life support, the supply of oxygen would rapidly begin to deplete. He supposed it didn't matter, since he had no idea whether Neeria breathed, what Neeria she breathed, or the rate she consumed it. His space suit had a few hours of stored supply, but it was designed to work in conjunction with his helmet. Without the wrist console, he'd need to find some way to manually vent it.
That was something to do. Small, but perhaps meaningful. Anything to tilt the scales just a little bit more in their direction. Just a few more minutes of air could make a difference.
"Seconds matter," Kai wheezed out. His breath was wet and tasted of iron. He'd worry about that later. Air first. It wasn't much of a plan, but it was better than nothing.
He hoped Joan's plans were faring better.
-------------------
The Admiral's Bridge was awash in a sea of red. Multiple views vied for primacy as the situation continued to deteriorate. So far, the Oppenheimer itself had withstood the sustained EMP assault directed its way, but the same could not be said for the battle balls. Callsigns continued to blink out of existence with every passing second. The Oppenheimer had immediately attempted to provide supporting fire, but its kinetic weaponry was similarly disabled. Whatever the circumstances had been that had allowed the Alcubierre to destroy an alien vessel, they were clearly no longer relevant to the situation at hand. Without kinetics, the vast majority of Humanity's space-born projective power was effectively nullified. Science was looking into explanations and alternatives, but it would take time.
The Oppenheimer's EMP arrays had succeeded in firing, but the alien vessels appeared to be impervious to that form of assault. It was unclear whether they possessed EMP hardening around core processes similar to the Oppenheimer or they had other means of deflecting attacks of that nature. In the absence of an alternative, the Oppenheimer was continuously discharging the EMP arrays as they became available, attempting to test for weaknesses. The energy drain from the sustained fire was easily accommodated by the altered physics of local space, but it was unclear whether alien defenses could be worn down by continuous assault.
Other oddities were appearing as the situation unfolded. The aliens did not field any tactical fighters that their sensors could identify. There were ships of different sizes, but, thus far, no vessels had moved to directly engage the balls. Kai's cockpit was being corralled by a series of smaller ships working in conjunction with the larger ones, but that was it.
Joan considered it, trying to parse out deeper meanings from the absence. Human conflict, both Earthside and in space, had always heavily relied on tactical fighters. They had numerous advantages in terms of firepower projection and significantly increased tactical dynamism in a battle zone. Either the aliens had never considered the approach, or it was considered suboptimal within this environment.
Joan squinted, watching as the battle ball's callsigns dropped from the battle status view. She tilted her head. "This environment," she muttered to herself, her eyes drawn to the EMP array firing status. The recharge bars filled and expended. Filled and expended. Each cycle representing an incredibly powerful pulse of electromagnetic energy at the speed of light.
Speed of light.
Speed.
The answer struck her. The ramifications of the answer were displeasing. Plans must be altered. Contingencies reconsidered. The Black Fork was too optimistic. Their position was considerably worse than hoped for, but not entirely beyond anticipated outcomes, which had included their immediate destruction upon arrival in the system. They simply had fewer tools than she desired.
Tactical fighters had low utility when combat operated at the speed of light. There was no yield on agility, because no thruster could move faster than light could travel. There was no evading a lightspeed weapon at these distances. Unless a tactical fighter could retain functionality under fire, which the death balls so far could not, they were a pointless extravagance. At best, they could serve as a momentary distraction, particularly when their weapons were inoperable.
The unique characteristics of Humanity's birthplace were a hindrance here. Kinetics were the logical path for weaponry to take in an environment where destructive output was a matter of maximizing scarce energy resources. They were also the easiest, most natural extension from their Earthside forebears. Humanity had begun development of lightspeed weapons, the EMP and the Griggs pulse among them, but they placed tremendous strain on ship systems. The Oppenheimer, as a dreadcarrier, was among the few Earth spaceships that contained a full battery of EMP arrays. Due to the extremely demanding specifications, only a Pulser class ship could make use of a Griggs pulse. Had Humanity known what it faced just beyond its doorstep, it would have invested its research and development resources differently.
Too late now.
The game was not lost yet, they simply must play the hand they were dealt to its greatest effect.
A display flashed from green to red and moved toward the center of the wall, increasing in size. Simultaneously, three other displays shifted in color, position and size, in a chain reaction. Joan frowned. Or perhaps the game was lost, and she was only just realizing it. The shuttle cockpit's callsign, along with the four balls that had attached to it, had disappeared. Her hands darted up and began a series of gestures, swiping North to South as she removed some filters from the local space scan and South to North as she applied others.
She exhaled.
The shuttle had not been destroyed, only incapacitated. It was careening through space away from the cluster of alien ships closest to Halcyon, though a few were in rapid pursuit. The pursuers had acceleration in their favor, but the shuttle's current course brought them toward the Oppenheimer.
Joan flicked a few fingers, pulling the course data from the local scan and pushing it into the timer view.
Before Joan could issue the order, the nearest balls peeled off and immediately began an intercept course with the shuttle. Joan pulled up the command-chain, it appeared that Captain Bushida had decided to be proactive. Very well, but it would not be enough. The balls were more likely than not to be incapacitated before they could be used in any rescue effort. This required a more substantial intervention if the outcome were to be changed.
Joan pushed a new course heading into her comm-link with Ragnar. "Captain, I am moving us off of the Black Fork standing orders."
Ragnar glanced at the course heading. "That's even further in."
Joan nodded, "It's the only way we'll recover the cockpit. The balls can't get the job done."
"There's a risk the Oppenheimer won't get it done either. They're holding back," Ragnar replied, his eyes scanned off screen, bouncing between the various readouts and inbound requests. "Doesn't make any sense they'd only have EMPs. They've got more."
"Likely. My current belief is that they will refrain from further escalation until they have either secured the cockpit or believe they can no longer retrieve it. Each moment of escalation from them has been in response to an action on our part directed at the cockpit."
Ragnar wiped the back of his sleeve against his brow, mopping up the sweat. "Must be something important."
"Must be. The prize is likely worth the pain here, Ragnar. Retrieving the cockpit is the top priority. Preservation of ourselves is an ancillary concern."
"G4 is only a few out. We can hold that long," Ragnar said.
"Get the job done, Captain," Joan ordered and then cut the comm. Ragnar was a sophisticated battlefield tactician. The overlap between them was significant, and the differences between them were accretive to both. They both knew there was another card to be played, it was just a matter of whether Humanity could adapt to it.
Joan opened another comm-link. "Chief Adeyemi."
The Chief blinked a few times as the interjection, as if being pulled from a daze.
"Idara!" Joan exclaimed. "Where's Science at?"
Idara wet her lips, "We've gathered the data and mapped it to a few different explanations...but we need more--"
"You don't have it. Best guess, go."
"Some sort of inertial dampening field. Effects smaller objects. Weakens as the objects get larger. Only affects objects moving a certain speed. Only affects objects in space. Our kinetics are getting caught. Bigger objects, like the fighters, like the Oppenheimer, are fine. Bullets fired inside of the Oppenheimer are fine.
"Any sense on source?"
Idara shook her head.
"But it doesn't effect the fighters. Doesn't effect energy based weapons."
"From what we can see, that's right."
Joan's eyes drifted toward the tracker on Kai's cockpit. Hurtling through space.
"Idara, when the Alcubierre was heading for Proxima Barrier, your modeling said the ship would survive the impact, correct?"
"Yes, Admiral. There isn't an equal an opposite reaction. Actor has primacy in these physics."
Joan stared at Idara, lost in thought. The Chief shifted uncomfortably, "Is there something else--"
"I have what I need," Joan replied, cutting the comm.
She pulled up the status tracker on the balls. Over eight-five percent of launched fighters had already been incapacitated. The Oppenheimer still retained a final wing in its hangers, numbering approximately a hundred and twenty additional balls.
Joan watched the timers ticking down. They needed to go on the offensive. To find a way to tilt the situation in their favor. Even if they retrieved the cockpit, it was a long way back to the wormhole, and a long time to survive before G4 appeared. If the aliens had an ace up their sleeve, that would be the time to play it, when they had nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
She re-opened the comm with Ragnar. "Captain, I think we can even the odds a bit."
"I'm all ears, Admiral."
Joan pushed a series of orders to Ragnar. He glanced at them and then glared at her, "You want--
"Yes, Captain, that's what I want."
"But they'll be destroyed," Ragnar responded.
"Not if they're moving fast enough. Get whoever we can get back into the hangers, launch the rest without the pilots. Target the ships. Target Halcyon."
Ragnar stared at her, "Halcyon? That's a civilian--"
"Captain, I want those balls dumped and under full steam at the designated targets. That's an order."
Ragnar opened his mouth and then shut it. A hand came off screen and formed a salute. The comm was dropped shortly after. Almost immediately, the tactical fighters shifted flight plans and began their retreat toward the Oppenheimer. Simultaneously, the wing residing within the *Oppenheimer'*s hangers shifted from stand-by to active. Soon they would be launched, pushing top acceleration toward Halcyon. No EMP would be able to stop them. If the aliens had another card to play, Joan hoped this would force it out and maybe, just maybe, buy enough time for G4 to make an appearance.
She just needed a little time.
Just needed to survive long enough for the Pulsers to arrive.
Seconds mattered.
Next.
Be sure to leave a comment or an upvote if you're enjoying Alcubierre. If you want a sense of how much it matters to me, here's a very emo journal entry documenting it.
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I have been conducting a strange experiment on my Twitter which people seem to be enjoying. I found an AI bot that randomly posts impactful images every few minutes. I've decided to craft a narrative on top of these random images called "The Human Archives."
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Gravity's Rainbow Reading Group | Sections 66-69 | Week 20

Alright, home stretch foax. This section's a beast. Hang in there and keep sharing your insights! All together now...
Section 66
"You will want cause and effect. All right." (663) What an opening - it's almost confrontational, mocking our need for clear narrative structure and causality.
We discover that Thanatz was tossed overboard in the same storm that sent Slothrop off the Anubis and off on his adventure with Frau Gnahb. Thanatz is rescued by someone even stranger - an unnamed Polish undertaker (think on the etymology of that word) who happens to be a lightening aficionado. I'll stop here and comment that, earlier, when Slothrop fell into the water before and after getting on the Anubis, it brought to mind the river Styx in Hades - another underworld. It washes clean one's identity and memory. Makes you forget who you are. And there's traditionally a ferryman, Charon, to help people cross it. Can't help but think that's who saved Thanatz here, carrying him from the land of the dead to the land of the unliving, the preterite detritus of WWII.
(An aside: Speaking of Styx, has anyone listened to Mr. Roboto recently? That song has some Gravity's Rainbow vibes.)
Our undertaker here is inspired by the Franklin myth and is trying to get struck by lightening in order to experience that "singular point, [that] discontinuity in the curve of life" (664) passing from a rate of change of positive infinity to one of negative infinity in the blink of an eye. Seems there's something of a conspiracy among those who have been through this point of infinite inflection - a secret society of lightening heads who are aware not of another reality but of a new layer of reality laid on top of our own. Insight into a higher level of reality, of hidden systems.
We get an example of the content of the lightning-aficionado's publication A Nickel Saved and it's supposedly full of coded messages for Those Who Know, each part being a veiled reference to other topics that contain the true meaning, requiring a true paranoid's ability to see (make?) connections. For example, there are repeated mentions of April, Easter, and Spring - the season of rebirth. To an Amperage Contest and lightbulbs failing - Byron the Bulb's attempts to strike back, perchance? A screen-door salesman - what is a screen door except a permeable interface?
But our undertaker isn't interested in secret knowledge - he just wants to be a better businessman - and he deposits Thanatz on the shore and rows back off into the storm. Here, Thanatz meets a group of 175s - men formerly imprisoned in the Dora camp for being gay - who have formed their own solitary community in this isolated section of northern Germany.
I suspect some of this imagery may initially shock readers - concentration camp victims who want to return to their prison? Who set up their own 175-Stadt to recreate the conditions of their imprisonment? But think about it - just last section, we saw Katje, someone who's been used and abused by those in power, balk at the thought of being truly free because she had become dependent on systems of control. She had integrated those control systems as part of her identity, her sense of self. "She needs the whip," Blicero wrote of her (662). Just like Katje, these men became so conditioned to depend on a system of total control and rigid social hierarchies that they don't know how to function without it. Their 175-Stadt doesn't seem like such a ridiculously dark, inappropriate caricature now, does it? Because isn't that a central point of this book - that everyone has been conditioned to need control, to need Their System, to not know how to function without it? Slothrop was our perfect everyman from within this system, and look at what it took for him to actually be free (and even then, the ideal of America still has a colonial outpost in his head). But in their 175-Stadt, these men at least control their system of control. They built it, they staff every level of it, and it's entirely under their control. An isolated state, separate from the broader System. But is there a ruler in this system, a king? No, simply the figment of Blicero. His name, his specter, looming over everything. A system of control with no real king? We've seen that before.
Not only that, but this micro-society is not based strictly on the SS command from Dora, but what the prisoners inferred about the rocket command structure in the Mittelwerke. So even their "recreation" of their imprisonment is an approximation of a different system. I'd also stop here to comment that, is this imagery really as ridiculous/insane as it first appears? I'd say no, since the queeS&M community absolutely took inspiration from Nazi uniforms as symbols of dominance and control, repurposing it into fetishwear. But then, as in this 175-Stadt, the control is by choice, as is the submission. As we've seen elsewhere in this book (Blicero's Oven-State), turning submission into a fetish can be a form of rebellion, since it subverts Their means of control (fear of pain) and turns it into a source of pleasure. Is it truly control if you're choosing it? Enjoying it? No one said this book asks easy questions of its readers...
Thanatz keeps looking for answers, and gets swept up amidst the vast swarms of preterite Displaced Persons being shifted across the zone. What's concerning is that these supposedly-free, albeit displaced, people, are shuffled without purpose across the Zone, with minimal food, water, or medicine, being "herded into wire enclosure[s]" and shipped around in freight cars, "deloused, poked, palpated, named, numbered, consigned, invoiced, misrouted, detained, ignored" (669). It's almost impossible to miss the painful similarity here to the treatment of Jews and other victims of the Holocaust. Only here the mistreatment isn't out of some pathological hatred, simply a system without a place for so many people, and without the committed resources to actually, effectively help them. The thought is unsettling, since we like to imagine that only Naziesque hatred could prompt such brutal mistreatment, not apathy.
Finally, he's rescued by the Schwarzkommando thanks to his knowledge of Blicero and the firing of Rocket 00000. Here, we learn a bit more about what happened that day. Looking into Blicero's eyes, he saw windmills reflected, though none were in the area. Another four-way mandala, like we saw last week with Slothrop. Thanatz isn't in great mental shape by this point, and he's beginning to equate Gottfried and Bianca both as his children. Why? Because he felt some sense of responsibility to them? Because he failed them? Either way, the Schwarzkommando learn all they need from him about that fateful noon on the Heath, though we do not. The section ends with a simple touch of hands between Enzian and Christian, a moment of connection, of trust.
Section 67
Man, how do I even start summarizing this complete doozy of a section? As Weissenburger writes, "In this episode the narration begins to fragment." (344) Ya don't say... Well, here goes.
We being one serious trip of a section with Slothrop, as part of a rather unimpressive team of quasi-superheros (the "Floundering Four") fighting against evil ol' Broderick Slothrop amidst the factory-state (a Metropolis-like iteration of the Rocket-State with movable buildings?!). Broderick, in the role of comic book supervillain, keeps trying to off Slothrop, but our hero has a lucky streak just wide enough to keep him alive.
Right off the bat, we see another image of the chessboard - the whole factory-state is laid out in a grid, and it's all A Game of Chess, as der Springer already informed us, and our movements are limited. Crucially, "Your objective is not the King - there is no King - but momentary targets such as the Radiant Hour." (674) How can you win at chess when there's no King? How can the land be restored and the cycle renewed if there's no King to die and be replaced?
Slothrop is joined by a truly slipshod lot: Myrtle Miraculous, the only one who seems to have actual powers; Maximilian, a suave Black club manager who can flow with all natural rhythms and thus able to navigate any scenario with ease, and Marcel, a mechanical chess player (an embodiment of the Mechanical Turk, but crucially, one without the hidden human operator. No hidden Grandmaster lurking inside Marcel here - nope, this android's the real deal.
This section includes one of my favorite quotes from the book: "Decisions are never really made - at best they manager to emerge, from a chaos of peeves, whims, hallucinations and all-round assholery." (676) I can think of several times where I've been able to relate to that scenario all too well.
Their chances for success and failure are equal, but these opposing odds don't cancel each other out - instead, the two opposing forces just create a "loud dissonance". The crew undertake some truly hallucinatory adventures through the Racketen-Stadt which I will not attempt to summarize, as that would be an exercise in futility. But we are treated to flashes of Slothrop, "Broderick and Nalline's shadow-child, their unconfessed, their monster son," (677) getting locked in an icebox, piloting a mobile building through the grid-streets of the factory-state like a giant chess piece. One line really jumps out at me, here, that I think is important: "Their struggle is not the only, or even the ultimate one. Indeed, not only are there many other struggles, but there are also spectators, watching, as spectators will do, hundreds of thousands of them." (679) Makes me think of the "glozing neuters," mentioned earlier - of the masses of people who are just trying to live their lives, neither part of any conspiracy nor actively aware of being subject to one. Must be nice. At the same time, the idea of other, simultaneous struggles, is noteworthy - it brings to mind the concept of intersectionality, and how people realizing their unique, individual struggles share common sources, and common traits, which they can work together to fight.
We end this sub-section in an arena for these exact masses, where our heroes are on a stakeout, with Slothrop in full drag waiting in the Transvestites' Toilet for a message.
You may be wondering about the multiple instances of cross-dressing, in various iterations, throughout the book. Slothrop in drag and Blicero in a wig and merkin come to mind. One aspect, I'd say, is that it reflects a blending of two (as far as society is generally concerned) binary opposites. A crossing-over, a transgression against the status quo and an option other than 1 or 0.
Eliot, in his Notes on The Waste Land, wrote,
"Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a 'character', is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest. Just as the one-eyed merchant, seller of currants, melts into the Phoenician Sailor, and the latter is not wholly distinct from Ferdinand Prince of Naples, so all the women are one woman, and the two sexes meet in Tiresias. What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem." (Emphasis mine).
Cue Crutchfield the Westwardman's world of only one of everything. Likewise, the women in Gravity's Rainbow often blend together, share traits or imagery. So do the men. The joining of the two sexes in Blicero, as well as Slothrop here at the end, is significant.
The Low-Frequency Listeners
The introduction here of the character of Rohr, the Keeper of the Antenna, specifically as a Jehovah's witness, was odd. It's such a specific subsect of Christianity. Then we see - he heard a man on the radio, dying, asking for a priest. Rohr says, "Should I have got on and told him about priests? Would he've found any comfort in that?" (682). In what? I had to look it up, but when I did, it clicked - Jehovah's witnesses apparently do not have priests, because they are all ordained. There is no separate priest caste in their church, and thus no Preterite/Elect division. In this section, we also learn that the Nuremberg trials are getting underway.
Mom Slothrop's Letter to Ambassador Kennedy
You start to feel even more sorry for Slothrop as you realize just how terrible his parents apparently were. His mom cares enough to at least write another letter asking Ambassador Kennedy as to what the hell happened to their son, but her letter quickly devolves into drunken ramblings complaining about striking workers and managing to make an innuendo about Jack Kennedy while also dismissing her love of her sons. Oof. Maybe Otto was right with his conspiracy of mothers...
On the Phrase "Ass-Backwards"
An entertaining linguistic debate between Säure and Slothrop on American idioms, specifically ones involving a reversal, as in the case of "ass-backwards". The section then slips into a story of Säure, in his youth, breaking into the home of a young woman, Minnie, who is unable to hear or pronounce umlauted letters, and thus manages to shout the word "helicopter" rather than "cute robber" well before the vehicle was ever invented. Her cry is heard by none other than a young aerodynamics student. The word is taken as a prophesy and a warning of the helicopter's symbol of the police state, with armed officers hanging out the sides, aiming down at their targets.
My Doper's Cadenza
It begins with a serenade from Bodine, and then an exploration of the tenement building "Der Platz" that is home to numerous drug addicts, dope peddlers, and general ne'er-do-wells. They are building an anti-police moat around the building, entirely underground so as to avoid detection, saving breaking through the street for the end.
Shit 'n' Shinola
Another idiomatic diversion for Säure. A beautiful line is tucked away in here - "from outside, the Hall is golden, the white gold precisely of one lily-of-the-valley petal in 4 o'clock sunlight, serene, at the top of an artificially-graded hill." (687) This building, the Schein-Aula (Seeming-Hall), suggests "persistence, through returns of spring, hopes for love, melting snow and ice, academic Sunday tranquillities, smells of grass just crushed or cut or later turning to hay..." (688) Yet again, imagery of spring, of a return to life from the dead season of winter, of the cycle.
We return to the Roseland Ballroom, where shit 'n' Shinola do actually come together. "Shit, now, is the color white folks are afraid of. Shit is the presence of death, not some abstract-arty character with a scythe but the stiff and rotting corpse itself inside the whiteman's warm and private own asshole, which is getting pretty intimate. That's what that white toilet's for.... that white porcelain's the very emblem of Odorless and Official Death." (688) Here Pynchon cuts straight to the point - the almost pathological fear of death and its connections to fears of blackness, excrement. Shit, Death, and the Word. Edwin Treacle hit on this back on p. 276 when he tried to show his colleagues at the White Visitation "that their feelings about blackness were tied to feelings about shit, and feelings about shit to feelings about putrefaction and death." The cycle of life is too organic, too messy. Better to replace carbon with silicon, to hide shit with porcelain, to treat people with dark skin as "other" or sub-human to avoid acknowledging that their non-European, communal ways of life were, in fact, totally natural.
An Incident in the Transvestites' Toilet
Not King Kong, but a small, costumed ape comes up to Slothrop, who's wearing a Fay Wray dress while waiting in the bathroom for a still-unspecified message. We get a Miltonic blank-verse poem (thanks, Weissenburger!) about the movie King Kong, written in the voice of Anne Darrow (Fay Wray's character). It's honestly quite good - I love the line "in your own stone living space" - the internal rhyme there sounds really nice, and I like the riff on living stone / Livingston, both of which have popped up previously. In the poem, Darrow talks about when she was tied up, hung by the natives as an offering to "the night's one Shape to come" (689), echoing both Greta Erdman's scene in Alpdrücken and the Hanged Man card of the Tarot (willing sacrifice, sacrifice that prompts a return, a renewal of the cycle). Darrow says she prayed, "not for Jack," her suave costar, but for her director Carl Denham, "only him, with gun and camera... making the unreal reel / By shooting at it, one way or the other-" (689). Throughout GR, we've seen a film motif, and this really brings it home. The analogy of a gun to a camera, both of which make the unreal real (a camera creates films that interpret real life - the "unreal reel", a gun makes death, which we've blocked away and tried to avoid, real and inescapable). The director is in control of the movie, the actors, the story, of how it works and what is told. Darrow ends by asking Carl to "show me the key light, whisper me a line..." - a key light is used in cinema and photography to not just shed light on the subject, but to do so in a way that provides form and dimension to the subject and the scene. So Darrow is asking for the director to literally give her form and definition, to tell her what to say next.
This ape, though, isn't so Romantic as ol' Kong though, and is much more direct. It hands Slothrop an anarchist's bomb straight out of the comics pages, and takes off. Slothrop freezes and is saved by a helpful transvestite who takes the bomb and flushes it down the toilet. But it explodes anyway, sending geysers of water up out of all the toilets. A Voice comes out of he Loudspeaker informing everyone that it was, in fact, a sodium bomb that explodes upon contact with water. Tellls everyone to get the "dangerous maniac" who threw it. That was supposed to be Slothrop, but he was saved by his indecision and the kindness of a stranger, who is now set upon by the other occupants of the toilet.
A Moment of Fun with Takeshi and Ichizo, the Komical Kamikazes
We now jump to a pair of comically-mismatched Kamikaze pilots stationed on a remote island well away from any conflict. One flies a Zero, the other flies an "Ohka device" which is basically a rocket-bomb with a pilot's seat. They get moonshine from their radarman, Kenosho, who mocks them daily for the lack of opportunities to fly to their deaths and who comes up with haikus that, while in the right format, really miss the heart of what a haiku is supposed to be.
Streets
Back to Slothrop, now, and a catalogue of the streets he's traveled down and what he's seen. We get a meditation on the absurdity of army chaplains, who worked for the Army and "stood up and talked to the men who were going to die about God, death, nothingness, redemption, salvation." (693) And it does seem a bit absurd when you consider that the Army that employs the chaplains is the same entity sending the men off to die. We see a bus driver (perchance our maniac bus driver from earlier?) driving through town in the night, his passengers looking out the windows, their faces "drowned-man green, insomniac, tobacco-starved, scared, not of tomorrow, not yet, but of this pause in their night-passage, of how easy it will be to lose, and how much it will hurt..." (693) Going back to the Waste Land, the phrase "I do not find / The Hanged Man. Fear death by water." is symbolic of a death without return (drowning) contrasted to the sacrifice/return symbolized by The Hanged Man. These poor passengers, it seems, aren't to expect any return.
Slothrop also, at this point, learns of the bombing of Hiroshima from a discarded Army newspaper, the photo of the atomic blast placed in poor taste next to an image of a pin-up girl. The bomb's mushroom cloud is compared to the Cross, to a capital-T Tree. But which tree? Is this a meditation on the deadly, unforgettable knowledge of how to split the atom, or of the tree of life, with the citizens of Hiroshima as a sacrifice made... but to what? I'm honestly not sure. Would love your thoughts.
Listening to the Toilet
As others have noted, this book in many ways is about the drug counterculture and hippie movement of the 60s/early 70s. This is the most overt in this section, in which we learn that listening for the cessation of the flow of water to the toilet in the pipes is a cue that a police raid is imminent - shutting off the water being a way to prevent the flushing of illicit substances. But it takes a special ear to hear the cessation of a subtle, pervasive white noise. What if the sun, in fact, massive furnace that it is, emits a constant, low-level roar that is so incessant we don't even hear it? What if eddies in the current of the Soniferous Aether cause rare spots of true quiet, where the noise is no longer transmitted and anyone in that spot can hear their own heartbeat it's so quiet? Interestingly, there are "quiet rooms" designed to absorb nearly all sound, used for precise sound calibration. I remember reading that most people can't sit in one of those rooms for more than 30 minutes or so because it's literally so quiet that you can hear the blood flowing through your veins, and people have even reported auditory hallucinations as a result. But why this digression? Maybe because we need to be asking what other white noise is out there that we've become completely deaf to? I think Roger and Jessica found a pocket of this quiet, early in the book, where the "noise" of modern society and all its associated obligations was muted by the War.
Witty Repartee
A return to our Komical Kamikazes, and a meditation on the ubiquity of the Hotchkiss machine gun across nations, independent of alliances. We get an image of a false King - an inbred idiot lying naked in a dumpster, attracting the attention of potential revolutionaries. But they can't decide if he's "a diversionary nuisance planted here by the Management, or whether he's real Decadent Aristocracy to be held for real ransom" (698). While the would-be revolutionaries are debating in the alley, sentries with the aforementioned Hotchkiss guns take positions on the rooftops, aiming down...
Heart-to-Heart, Man-to-Man
A dialogue here between Slothrop and ol' Broderick, with dear old dad interrogating his wayward son about a modern electric drug. Slothrop reassures him that he'd never shoot raw electricity - no, they dope themselves with waves. Major pre-Cyberpunk vibes here, with Broderick warning "Suppose someday you just plug in and go away and never come back?" to which Tyrone replies, "What do you think every electrofreak dreams about? .... Maybe there is a Machine to take us away, take us completely, suck us out through the electrodes out of the skull 'n' into the Machine and live there forever.... We can live forever, in a clean, honest, purified Electroworld-" (699). Matrix, anyone? Not to mention the waves of radio, TV, etc. and the simple, episodic, controlled reality they offer. Pleasantville also comes to mind, with all its commentary on the shows of the era.
Some Characteristics of Imipolex G
We learn that Imipolex G is the first erectile plastic, stiffening in response to certain electronic stimuli. The potential of a layer of controlling wires just under the outer layer of Imipolex, making it a second skin - a synthetic interface. Alternately, there's the potential to control it via a projection of "an electronic 'image; analogous to a motion picture." (700)
My gods, I made it through this section...
Section 68
Tchitcherine now, dealing with a spook, Nikolai Ripov, from the Commissariat for Intelligence Activities. His pal Džabajev has run off with "two local derelicts" (700) and is impersonating Frank Sinatra and wooing the ladies of the Zone. We get the line, "While nobles are crying in their nights' chains, the squires sing. The terrible politics of the Grail can never touch them. Song is the magic cape." (701) - Seems another example of folks recognizing the game, the Grail quest, for what it was and checking out - deciding not to play and just enjoy themselves while the Elect lose sleep over the endless searching.
Ripov explains to Tchitcherine how "the basic problem... has always been getting other people to die for you." (701) Religion used to serve as an effective control for that reason - death isn't quite as scary if you think you're going to heaven. But modern society has moved on, and needs more secular sources of control, like a commitment to "History" as if you're part of some great narrative, sacrificing yourself for some imagined end-goal of what society is "supposed" to be.
Seems Tchitcherine was doping on Oneirine theophosphate. Wimpe, his dealer, argues that a man is "only real at the points of decision. The time between doesn't matter." (702) Points man again - the moment of decision, of choice, that splits the future in two. Points of control. Contrast that to:
"Datta: what have we given? / My friend, blood shaking my heart / The awful daring of a moment’s surrender / Which an age of prudence can never retract / By this, and this only, we have existed." (The Waste Land, Part V: What the Thunder Said - emphasis mine).
Both are arguing that it's these key moments, irreversible junctures in our lives that make us real. Not what comes next, not what people say about us, just our moments. Integrate those moments, run them fast enough (say 24 frames per second) and you might even approximate something close to a person...
We learn that Oneirine apparently leads to "the dullest hallucinations known to psychopharmacology" (703) - hauntings of the mundane, the almost-normal.
Tchitcherine's Haunting
Tchitcherine hallucinates that Ripov is interrogating him, and he becomes fixated on the question of whether or not he was supposed to die. Seems like part of him wants to believe in life after death, in some hope for meaning, which goes against the Soviet doctrine and thus isn't exactly endearing him to those above him. Thankfully this is just an Oneirine haunting, except... wait, it's too real - no subtle violations of reality. He tries to escape, but is outnumbered. But no execution for him here - just a reassignment to Central Asia. A cold and operational death.
Section 69
"The dearest nation of all is one that will survive no longer than you and I, a common movement at the mercy of death and time: the ad hoc adventure." - Resolutions of the Gross Suckling Conference (706)
In other words, they seek a nation that does not function independently of its citizens - one that is not some separate identity with a quasi-personhood (much like how corporations are legally "people"). Rather, a nation that is inextricably linked to the people and that will die when they do. No immortality, no denial of the cycle or death.
But poor Roger's still dealing with Jessica, and now with Jeremy, too, who he's at least amicable with. But he's struggling with their acceptance of the System, their embracing of it. Jeremy's all about reassembling the rockets and firing them, asking "What else does one do with a rocket?" (note how disassembling it or at least not using the weapon isn't even an option...).
Jeremy's even so kind as to invite Roger to a fancy dinner with a bunch of corporate bigwigs, including folks from Krupp, ICI, and GE, and hosted by one Stefan Utgarthaloki, whose name should be a giant red-flag that something's amiss with this shindig. Roger picks Seaman Bodine as his date, the two having struck up a rather theatrical friendship, dress in their absurdist best (Bodine in the mother of all zoot suits), and join the party.
We get some insight here into the nature of rebellions, and the danger of them not only fizzling out or failing, but of being co-opted as a tool to "help legitimize Them" (713). Of either dying or "living on as Their pet" - it brings to mind the corporate branding of "rebelliousness" as cool, as "a phase" that it's normal to go through and eventually grow up from. Treating the idealism of youth, the desire to make the world better and to fight against the problems of the system before you become numb to them, as a normal phase of life is such an effective way to neutralize it culturally. How many people have heard the phrase "you get conservative [i.e. more resistant to change] as you get older"? How many of us have seen youth-led movements being dismissed as examples of immaturity, for example? Between that and companies stamping their logo on it (hello, Hot Topic), it's a way to change the cultural narrative around any movement against the status quo to one that's dismissive, just accepting enough to let people burn off their energy and eventually fall into line. Because how else can you continue to live a decent life in a society that refuses to change? You either go build a shack in the woods somewhere, die, or acclimate to the system and just focus on being comfortable yourself, not constantly fighting for change. It's a depressing thought, and I'm sure Pynchon saw a lot of that attitude in the 60s. I have to wonder - do non-industrialized societies have "teenage rebellion" as a normal part of life? Is that a part of human nature, like we tend to think, or is it an explicit reaction to reaching maturity in a system that is anti-human and anti-nature?
Anyway, back to the dinner party - between the depressing, anti-social music (kazoos?!) and the lavish dinner, things seem fine, but there's a plot against the Roger and Bodine. Fortunately a journalist, Constance, tips off Bodine that they might just be the main course of this feast, so Bodine cues Roger to begin the evening show - an absurd gross-out session that they planned in advance with the aid of now-deceased Pudding communicating via medium Carroll Eventyr. The pair recite an increasingly disgusting list of alliterative dishes, triggering "well-bred gagging" and guests to flee, though a few find it all quite entertaining. But it's enough to break up the dinner party and allow our heroes to flee.
Note: If you made it this far, actually read all this, thank you. Bloom warned me this was a longer section, and boy, he wasn't kidding. I think this is longer than some college essays I wrote... Damn fun, though, and I hope you've found my thoughts informative, interesting, useful, or if nothing else, sufficiently diversionary for a spell. I truly look forward to seeing what you other fine foax have to say on these labrynthine sections.
Questions
  1. In the lightning-aficionado's "A Nickel Saved" excerpt, are there any other references or hidden ideas you can find? I have to think there are.
  2. What is the meaning of the windmill reflected in Blicero's eyes? How do you interpret the imagery in this scene in general?
  3. 175-Stadt. Oven-State. Hund-Stadt. Rocket-State. Factory-State. We've seen numerous examples of specialized micro-states across the Zone, experiments in different forms of society. What are your thoughts on these? Are they hints at ways to find alternate societies, or manifestations of humanity's tendency to divide by category and put of fences?
  4. In the "Shit 'n' Shinola" subsection, Pynchon connects Jack Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Tyrone Slothrop. What do you make of this intersection?
  5. In "Streets," the bombing of Hiroshima is presented as being similar to the Cross, "it is also, perhaps, a Tree..." - the capitalized "Tree" here could be the tree of knowledge, the tree of life, the tree from which the Hanged Man dangles, or perhaps something else. What's your interpretation of this imagery?
  6. In Section 69, we see references to the Albatross, famous symbol from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It's presented that Slothrop is the (now-plucked) albatross, but it's not clear who killed this bird, or who's wearing it around their neck. They? Any ideas?
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Choose Your Own Adventure - Part 2

Part 1

What if it wasn’t about anything related to the text? What if it was similar to the riddles that brought me to those pages? What if the mystery behind them was related to their page numbers, or hell the page numbers in general?
Once at home I went to work. I told myself once more that I needed to get the full picture. So I went to write down all the page numbers in the book, one after another.
When I was done, I took a step back and stared at the result. Yet, there was nothing that stood out to me right away. I haphazardly picked one of the secret pages. Page 427 was in front of page 811. Then I continued.
811, 812, 813, 814, 815, 816, 817, 818, 818, 820, 821, and right after was yet another secret page.
This one was page 528.
And after that, the regular page numbers continued.
822, 823, 824, 825, 826, 827, 828, 829, 830, 831, 832, 833, 834, 835, 836, 837, 838, 839, 840, 841, 842, 843, followed by another one, page 143.
This list of ongoing numbers made me suddenly wonder. My thoughts drifted right back to what had gotten me to do this, the secret pages.
What if they weren’t placed randomly?
Yet, as I checked their distribution, it felt almost too random. I checked the number of regular pages before and after, put them in sequence, but there was no correlation.
Then I got another idea. I added up all the pages before and after, but this also made no sense. Half the results were too big and exceeded the total number of pages in the book, by far.
Then, starting at number 111 to 137, which I’d just added together, I got yet another idea. What if I only added together their last digits?
The result I came up with was 648. Which was exactly the secret page that followed afterward!
My eyes grew wide. I’d had it, hadn’t I? The hint I’d been looking for! I was going livid.
Right away I went to the next one and calculated all the preceding numbers, only to come up with an entirely different result than the page number of the secret page following. Cursing I got up.
It had been another goddamn coincidence. I laughed, but this time in abject misery, mocking my stupidity. How’d it be so damned easy, you idiot? There was no way. None of this was easy. None of it!
But as I stared at the result I’d come up with just now, I noticed something. The result of my calculation was 702. The page number was 351. Wait. Wait. Wait. That’s half of 702! Maybe it really was nothing but a coincidence and I was just grasping at straws, but what else was I to do?
The next result I came up with was 176. If I multiplied it by three, it gave me the page number of the secret page that followed it, 528. The number 715, divided by 5, gave me the page number 143 that followed it.
I continued adding, dividing, and multiplying and it all checked out. All the page numbers of the secret pages resulted from calculations of the last two digits of their preceding pages.
What does it mean though? Does it even mean anything? The exhilaration I’d felt ebbed away, and I sat there, staring at all my calculations wondering if there was any meaning to it. Yet, there had to be, right? This couldn’t have been designed as yet another red herring. This was too damned complex. No, there had to be a reason for this.
What if there was an order? If I went through all the calculations I quickly noticed that the result was never divided by the same number. The highest number that a result was divided by was 26, the highest a result was multiplied by was 27. It was exactly 53 different calculations.
With that, I started ordering them, one by one, starting backward from the highest division, to the highest multiplication. Then I put the topic of each page behind the numbers in the resulting list.
I’d hoped for something. I’d hoped to find it starting with the page about the universe, followed by constellations and stars up to the evolution of apes, plants, and other animals. Yet, it was all mixed-up nonsense. There was no order to it at all! Even when I ordered them in other ways, trying to find any sort of correlation, it was always the same. Nothing, but nonsense.
My hands started shaking as anger flooded through me. I crumbled up the stupid, ordered lists and threw them across the room. Then I cursed in sheer and utter rage. This was freaking stupid. This was insane! This was nothing at all, just pure fucking nonsense. I picked up a random object on my table and hurled it against the wall where it shattered into pieces. Then I threw aside a chair I found standing in my way and kicked over the small couch table, creating general chaos in my living room.
I was stopped from going any further when my neighbors banged against the wall, screaming to knock it off and threatening to call the cops.
That made me stop. The anger went away. I stared in shock at my living room. What the hell was happening to me? Why’d I done that? Why’d I destroyed my things at 1 am in the freaking morning?
Then I slowly smoothed out the lists I’d created and put them on one of the few free spots remaining on my living room wall. Who knows, I might need it later.
I laughed as I looked from them to the rest of the wall which was now entirely covered. Even worse were the stacks of notes that had accumulated in front of them. I was proud all right, but I also knew that this thing was absolutely insane.
Once more, I couldn’t help but wonder what I was doing.
Shaking my head, I turned around and made my way to the bedroom. Yet, as my fingers rested on the light switch, I turned around one last time. I stared at the mad lines, the mad paths who were connecting here and there. There was nothing but lines upon lines. Here and there, if I looked hard and long enough, I could almost make out shapes.
I froze. What if it was a visual puzzle? What if there was a hint hidden in the shapes of the paths?
For days I sat down, drew points and lines and connections, warping them into surreal shapes. This was crazy, wasn’t it? How’d it be visual? There’s probably not a damn thing to be got from this. This was stupid. Yet, I couldn’t stop. Each day, I spent my entire afternoon, my evening, and even half the night, drawing. And eventually, it all came to nothing. There was nothing but mad lines and not a clear shape in sight.
I didn’t give up though, wasn’t discouraged. I was beyond that, far beyond that. What if there was something else? Maybe there was a hidden code between these pages?
When I was at work, I’d completely forgotten about my former vow not to talk about the book or do anything related to it. Instead, I read up on cryptography. Going through article after article. I read up on Caesar Code and Binary Code, on the Polybius Cipher and Hex Code. I went mad with it. Before long I spent more time reading up on things than doing any of my work. Eventually, I even brought pages filled with numbers with me, cross-checking them for hits of any and all codes.
I heard co-workers whispering behind my back, asking me what I was doing and I told them, I just hadn’t closed the weird articles after break time.
They knew it wasn’t the truth. They’d heard me mumble, saw the little notebook I was writing in, noticed the endless lists of numbers I brought with me each day.
My superior eventually came up to me. He asked me what I was doing with all those weird pages. I told him it was nothing but a little puzzle.
“Well, Todd,” he started in a condescending voice. “You’re not here to do any of those ‘little puzzles’, you’re here to do your damn job. Where are the calculations for this month? I’ve been waiting for them all day.”
“Oh, I guess, I’m almost done with them, I just need another hour or-“
My voice trailed off when he picked up one of the pages I’d been looking at mere minutes ago. Suddenly, when I saw him holding it, I felt nervous.
“What even is this? It’s just random numbers.”
He saw my face, saw the way my eyes grew wide when he’d picked it up. The hint of a smile washed over his face as he crumbled it up.
He opened his mouth for another remark, but before he could I jumped up from my chair and ripped the page from his hand. He cringed back a step in shock at my reaction.
“The hell’s wrong with you?” he screamed at me, but I didn’t listen. Instead, I carefully smoothed out the paper and made sure he hadn’t torn it apart.
By now half the office had gotten up to watch the weird exchange. Only now did I realize what I’d done and how everyone was staring at me.
Suddenly I felt very watched and almost sunk back into my chair.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to,” I mumbled but broke up under the pressure of all those eyes.
“Get back to work and finish those damned calculations! If I see you tinkering with any of this shit again, you can clean out your desk!”
With that, he stormed off. I heard people whispering all around me, some laughing, others speaking in a more reserved tone.
Yep, I thought, it’s official. I’m the office nutjob.
Right away, I forced myself to close all the Wikipedia articles I had still open and put away all my notes. And then, grudgingly, annoyed and half-mad at the distraction it represented, I went back to work. Somehow though, it felt meaningless, calculating all these stupid orders and filling out this customer database. What the hell was I even doing? What if it really was a code? What if it was actually a mixture, a double-code? My mind went wild with ideas. Five minutes later, I found myself holding one of my notes again. I couldn’t even remember taking it out.
Pushing it back, cursing, and not a little afraid, I forced myself to work calculations until the day was over. At the moment my shift ended, I jumped off my chair and rushed for the door. People stared at me, looked after me, their faces a mixture of amusement and worry.
I didn’t care. I had work to do. The important kind of work!
I’d just tried to find another connection between the page numbers of the secret pages when my doorbell rang. I ignored it, but it just kept ringing. When it finally stopped, I sighed in relief. Just leave me alone, I cursed, I’ve got work to do.
Then, mere moments later, my phone vibrated on the other end of the room. Dammit, I’d forgotten to mute it again. I waited for it to stop, but it started up right away. Cursing I went over to see who it was and noticed the name instantly.
It was my friend Andrew. Annoyed, I answered it.
“Yo, Todd, you home?” I heard his voice from the phone next to my ear and more distant, muffled from the front door.
My first reaction was one of annoyance. Then I pushed the thought away. What the hell was wrong with me? This was Andrew. He was my best friend, the only one of our old group who still lived in the same city. Right away, I thought about how long I’d last seen him. Surprised I realized that it must’ve been weeks. One glance at the mad mess in my living room told me why.
“Yeah, sure hold on,” I said over the phone and made my way to the front door.
Andrew smiled at me brightly and held up to six-packs.
“Haven’t seen you in forever, how about we have a few! I got quite the story for you, my man!”
I smiled at him. “Sure, come on in.”
We made our way inside and Andrew had barely set foot into my living room when he stopped. His eyes grew wide as he stared at the wall and the stacks of paper all over the place.
“Holy shit man. I was wondering why I haven’t heard from you. The hell’s all that? You working on some sort of project?”
“Kind of,” I mumbled a little embarrassed.
I quickly picked up the papers on the couch and put them aside to make room for him to sit.
“Sorry about the mess.”
“Nah man, it’s all right. So, the thing I was about to tell you, you remember Thomas, right?”
Thomas, I thought. Did I know a Thomas? Then I remembered him. Of course, I remembered him, he’d been part of our group. I rubbed my temples for a second before I nodded.
“He’s getting married and you won’t believe who the lucky girl is!”
With that, Andrew told me the entire story of how our friend Thomas had been dating Susan, Andrew’s cousin for the past three months, and the two of them had decided to get married. I listened, nodded here and there, even laughed a few times absentmindedly, but my eyes wandered to my notes again and again.
For a moment I spaced out entirely, thinking about an idea that had popped into my mind just before he’d arrived. What if there was something about number sequences? I must’ve sat there for an entire minute, simply holding my beer and staring off at nothing when Andrew waved his hand in front of my face.
“Yo, dude, you listening?”
“What? Oh, sorry, no, I think I spaced out for a moment.”
“All right, man, I got to ask, what’s all this? What sort of crazy thing are you working on? Haven’t seen you this into something in years.”
I smiled at him awkwardly and then sighed and pointed at the book.
“It’s one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books,” I started.
With that, the flood gates broke open, and I told him all about it.
He listened, at first curiously, but after a while, his face changed. There was visible concern, as I rambled on about secret pages, strange objects, and cryptography.
“Todd, hold on, hold on, what the hell are you even talking about?”
I stared at him.
“The book. You know those secret pages must’ve some sort of meaning. At first, I thought there was a simple order to them, but it was too chaotic. If you add up all their page numbers though, you get 20670, and if you divided this up by-“
“All right, man, stop,” he cut me off. “So you’re adding up all those numbers, I get that, but for what?”
I began explaining again, I tried, but he couldn’t follow me.
“Yeah, I don’t get it, man. Just, what the fuck?”
“All right, look,” I said and walked over to the wall covered in lines and numbers and started once more.
I told him about the different adventure paths, the references, the secret pages, and when and how they appeared.
His face was blank as I rambled on and on and on.
“Yo, dude, you might want to take a bit of a break, this sounds, well, a bit crazy.”
For a moment I was quiet, then a short, nervous laugh escaped me.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
He stepped up next to me, staring at the wall.
“Shit man, you did all this? Just for a damned book?”
Before I could answer, he reached out and was about to take one of the pages off the wall. My hand shot forward instinctively, batting his aside.
“Don’t touch it!” I called out before I realized what I’d done.
Andrew stumbled back a few steps, shocked. “Shit man, sorry, I didn’t mean to-“
And then it happened. I didn’t even listen to his words anymore as he bumped against some of the stacks of notes I’d placed neatly in front of the wall. They toppled over one another, the pages scattering all over the floor and intermixing.
My eyes grew wide. Oh god, no, freaking god no. Anger rose in me. It had taken me so goddamn long to sort them all out, to order them. There was a freaking method to it all and now he’d destroyed it. He’d destroyed the work of entire fucking days!
“What the fuck are you doing?” I screamed at him.
He cringed back, only now realizing what had happened.
“Hey, didn’t mean to,” he said and began picking up random pages.
I ripped them from his hand and pushed him back. “No, don’t fucking touch them. Those two don’t belong together you idiot! Are you freaking insane?!”
With an empty face, he watched as I gathered up some of the pages, stared at them, and began sorting them as best as I could.
“You know, Todd, that’s what I should ask you.”
“What the hell do you mean?” I snapped at him. “You destroyed the work of days! Days! This is-“
“This is what, man?” he cut me off once more. “It’s nonsense. It’s a freaking children’s book, nothing else.”
That did the trick. I got up and stepped up right in front of him.
“Nonsense? You’ve got no FUCKING idea, how far I’ve come! You’ve got no clue what’ve done already! And here you are telling me this is NONSENSE?”
His face had grown hard. For a second he was about to say something, but then he simply shook his head and laughed. Without another word, he picked up his things, the beer, and left.
If he said any words in parting, I didn’t hear them. I was already busy re-ordering my notes.
It was hours later, when I was done sorting them all out, that I realized what I’d done and how I’d acted.
For the first time, I grew truly scared.
That hadn’t been normal. That wasn’t me. Why’d I gone crazy like this?
I took first one step back from the wall, then another before I went to pick up my phone. When I tried to call Andrew, he didn’t pick up. Instead, the call went straight to voice mail. Then I saw how late it was, long past three in the morning.
I wrote him a quick message, apologized for my behavior, and told him he was right. I should take a break from this entire thing.
That’s what I did right away. I picked up my laptop, made my way to the bedroom, and this time I turned off the light without looking over my shoulder.
I lay down on my bed and started browsing YouTube and told myself to just enjoy it and take a break.
Yet, even as I watched video after video, the little voice in the back of my head spoke up again. It told me I should go on, told me to go back to the living room.
You almost had it, Todd, you almost had it. Just one more hint and you’re done with it. Then you can let it go and you can-
“Shut up, goddamnit!” I screamed at myself to quiet the subconscious voice in the back of my head.
“I freaking know,” I said quieter. “God, I freaking know.”
I sat in bed, the video that was playing already forgotten. As video, after video played, I was on my phone, checking stars and numbers before I eventually drifted off to sleep.
The next morning I didn’t even get to make myself a coffee. I was mad, pissed off and I wanted to finally make progress. For a while, I tinkered about the various codes I’d read about. What if there was a code, but what but if it concerned the entire book and not just the secret pages? What if it was related to the adventure after all? Maybe you could scramble up page numbers and-
I stopped and rubbed my temples. Calm down, don’t go crazy. Calm down and take a step back. You don’t even know if there are any damned codes hidden in the book. You did well deciphering all the different adventure paths and the connections between them. You did well discovering all the secret pages. But what if there’s something you haven’t discovered yet?
That was the question that told me what I had to do. Something I hadn’t dared to do so far.
I had to go through the entire book.
I had to make my way through it not following the adventure, but going page by page and look out for anything new. There might be chapters I hadn’t discovered yet, hadn’t read yet.
With newfound energy and a new plan, I started right away.
My phone rang shortly after noon, but this time, I didn’t even bother with it. I just ignored it. After all, I had more important things to do.
This time I didn’t just write down chapters, choices, and connections. This time I wrote down every single thing that came up. I took note of every single object that was mentioned then added the page number, the corresponding path, and any reference I knew about it.
It was a momentous task. I spent the entire day doing it and barely made it through the first 130 pages.
The next day, Sunday, I didn’t even finish another hundred. The further I came, the more objects I noticed, the more combinations, and references. At times, I even had to go back, to cross-check things, and to change notes accordingly.
It was the most enduring task I’d ever attempted, concerning this damned book and probably my entire life.
It took me weeks. I finished stacks upon stacks of notes. I went to the office supply store multiple times a week buying stacks of papers I ended up filling by the day.
Work during this time was barely an afterthought. I was barely functioning at all. I was typing in numbers and names almost on autopilot. By now I didn’t even get stares anymore. I was entirely ignored, a shell of a man, a ghost that stumbled to his cubicle in the morning and rushed back home in the evening.
Days went by, then weeks, as I slaved away over the book’s many pages. Until one day, when I was finally done. I can’t even say how many weeks I’d been at it.
There were stacks of hundreds of papers, maybe even more. Notes, references, objects, names, words, anything basically.
I’d just created a table of how often each and every single object appeared and in which setting when I noticed a new hint. I stared at it with a giant grin on my face.
The Ruby Orb had been the very first object I’d added to the table.
It appeared in all paths:
  1. Fantasy - 31 times
  2. Space - 3 times
  3. Stone Age - 2 times
  4. Ocean and Pirates - 11 times
  5. Desert Ruins - 29 times
  6. Mountains - 17 times
  7. City-State - 7 times
  8. Ancient Rome - 5 times
  9. Jungle Tribes - 13 times
  10. Small Village - 19 times
  11. Underwater Civilization - 23 times
As I wrote those numbers down, there was something about them. Somehow I knew those numbers. I went over them, staring at them for a while before it hit me.
I cross-checked it online, and I was right. They were all prime numbers! Yes, I thought, I’d found something new!
I quickly rechecked another object, the Desert Orb, and realized it was the same here, too. This one’s appearances made up a simpler sequence. It only appeared once in the city-state, twice in fantasy, and finally 11 times in the desert ruins.
I couldn’t help but grin. I did it for another object, this one the Ebony Stick. It too appeared in all paths and its number was increased by two, starting at 4 and going up to 26.
That’s when I knew what I had to do. I had to go through all the objects, all the hundreds of objects in the damned book, and check how often they appeared. There was a correlation, another part of the puzzle. I was exhilarated, in a state of glee and unbound excitement.
These number sequences, maybe they were the key to figuring out what the secret pages meant, or maybe the page numbers in general. I started laughing. I could feel it, I was so damn close.
I slept when necessary, ate when necessary, right there on the living room floor. It was only once that I thought about work, only in passing, and the idea that I should go never even came to my mind.
My phone was at the other and of the room. I ignored it entirely during that time. It wasn’t important. This right here, that’s what was important.
I was done by the end of the week. It was long past midnight on Saturday when I’d finally deciphered the number sequences of all 311 objects in the book.
When I was done with my work, I looked at the tables of objects in a state of awe. I spread them out in front of me and marveled at the dozen or so pages. For a moment I was about to dive into them when I realized how tired I was.
For the first time since the beginning of the week, I picked up my phone. It was off, must’ve been for days. I connected it to the charger and turned it on. I was bombarded with a plethora of notifications. For almost a minute the damned thing started ringing and vibrating.
There were a few messages from Andrew, asking how I was doing and if I’d stopped with my damned obsession yet. I laughed and closed the chat.
I’d also received countless emails. Most of them were from work and only now did I remember that I hadn’t shown up for an entire week. They started normal enough, reminding me to call if I was sick, became reproachful after a day or two, and finally angry. The last one told me this was the last straw. I should come in on Monday for a talk and be prepared to clean out my desk.
It was strange how little I felt about it, how little it mattered in the grander scale of things. I almost laughed again as I threw the phone aside and laid down to catch some sleep.
When I woke up, I went right back to work. I tinkered with the number sequences, looked at each one of them, added them up, multiplied, and divided them.
It was the Crown of Ice that finally made me look up. When I added all its appearances together, I came to a total of 1000. This damned thing, I thought, it was by far the most common object in the damned book.
I started to read up on it in my notes. It was said in the Manuscript of the Seven Seas, that the Crown of Ice was found in the Crypt of the Dragon. The Crypt of the Dragon was located in the desert ruins.
I went back to it, page 1544, and read the part again. There were three choices. One sent me to leave without the crown and sent me back to a desert tribe. Destroying the crown ended in painful death while the third option was wearing it.
All right, wearing the crown opened a secret passage that sent me to the location of the Magic Water and from there back on my way through the desert.
Dammit, I thought I had something! I was about to go back to the list. Maybe the number thousand was another coincidence.
Then something made me look up. The crown appeared in the desert ruins a total of 53 times. I thought about it. The desert ruins one was by far the shortest path. How long was it in total again?
I stepped up to my living room wall and counted the chapters. When I followed them, there was only a single path that was longer than 50. It came to a total length of 78 chapters before it started from the beginning.
Chapter 53 described what you found if you opened a chest hidden in the Ancient Pyramid.
I read the entire chapter again. It was titled ‘The Treasure Chest.’ There was a total of 289 gold coins in the chest. When I went back to the list of objects, I noticed that the gold coin was mentioned a total of 289 times. The same was true for the sparkling diamonds. There were a total of 33 in the chest and the object itself came up 33 times in the book.
I almost laughed when I noticed that it was true for the third object in the chest as well.
I got an empty page and like a child, I wrote the words Chest, Pyramid, and Treasure in huge letters at the top of it before I went and added all the two dozen objects in the chest.
While I did it, I wondered if there was something like this for every other object in the book. What if every object’s number of appearances was mentioned somewhere in the book? Not just in this chest, but just somewhere.
And then, on a whim, I asked myself another question. What if certain objects didn’t? What if there were just a few or maybe just one whose number was mentioned nowhere? Maybe those were the important ones!
For the entirety of Sunday, I followed through with this idea. I calculated, I added objects to yet more lists, I followed through paths and loops, studied my notes, and slowly, the number of objects remaining got smaller and smaller.
Eventually, just as I’d hoped, there was a single object whose total number of appearances was mentioned nowhere. It was a small, red die. One that was mentioned here and there, only in passing when people played a game of dice in bars or the streets.
There had to be something to this damned thing, I knew it! After this entire week, no after all these entire months, I finally had something, I’d finally narrowed it all down to a single object.
A shiver went down my spine when I realized that this might be it. This might be the solution that I’d been searching for all this time!
I went back to my notes about the red die and all its appearances. Here a few kids were playing with it in the streets, there was someone holding it in their hand, and here it rolled onto the floor when a fight broke out.
Finally, I found what I’d been looking for. There was only a single instance in the entire book where you could interact with it. It was in a bar in space where you could join a futuristic game of dice.
When the game was done, you could pocket the red die.
The short chapter that followed it was mundane and almost unimportant. But when I read it, I noticed something else, not in the text, but the choices below. Weren’t they the same as in the chapter before?
I went back to the preceding page and reread it. Yes, the same two choices, sending you to the same two pages. Almost as if picking up the die didn’t matter at all. Making it appear as nothing but a red herring.
And I grinned. I grinned wider than I had ever before.
There had to be a hint here, no, there had to be a way of finishing this entire damn thing.
I wrote down the entire paragraph and went back to work, studying it. I checked everything that was mentioned in it: the page number, the chapter title, colors, words, anything I could think of. Until late in the morning hours, I pondered over this one, single paragraph.
I could barely keep my eyes open when I stumbled upon it. It was silly, but I exploded with joy and was suddenly wide awake again.
The number of words in each sentence was eight. The number of sentences was eight as well. There were eight sentences here, with eight words each. This was no coincidence. This was it, the total number of words was 64, the square number of eight. There was too much here for it to be a coincidence.
I rushed back to the buck, almost stumbled over my feet, and threw open page 64. Like a crazed, starved animal I poured over the words on the page, almost pressing my face against it. The chapters, there had to be something here, the solution had to be right in front of me.
Yet when I was done reading it, I was dumbfounded. The entire page comprised a single chapter, a chapter I knew damn well. And I realized that I knew the number 64 damn well, too.
I was at the beginning of the fantasy setting. I read once more that I was a young farmer, standing in front of a burned down far, the bodies of his dead parents next to him and that I was about to set out on a grand adventure.
For the next three hours, I analyzed every single word in the paragraph, every single one and I found as many hints as I could search for. I went back to the die paragraph and slowly I came to another conclusion and then another. The number of certain letters corresponded with the number of other objects in the space path. If you put certain letters from certain words together you ended up with yet another number. I followed every single one of them, but each one ended at another mundane position in the book. I slaved away over those as well, reached and analyzed them and I found more hints, more connections, more clues. And the longer and the more deeply I analyzed them, the more I could find, if only I wanted to. There was almost an endless number of nonsensical clues and hints if you wanted so. They were all leading me on, leading me around in a circle, on and on and on and on.
And I sat there, over the damned book, over hundreds, if not thousands of pages of notes. I sat in front of an entire wall covered in information and I laughed. For long, terrible minutes I couldn’t stop laughing.
This was all crazy. This was all entirely and utterly crazy.
And finally, it clicked. At this singular moment it finally and ultimately clicked.
There was no solution. The book had no solution. It finally made sense.
I’d slaved away for weeks, no for months, and all I’d done was to walk in circles, continue from one hint to another, only to be sent back to the beginning. The entire damned book was a loop, a loop of loops with secret loops that sent you to more secret loops.
And then, for the first time in months, I closed the book and put it away.
After that, I slowly went and took down all the mad pages from my wall, stacked up all the notes, and put them together in a box in an almost apathetic state.
I was done.
All of this had been utterly meaningless, a fundamental waste of time.
That night, I didn’t sleep. I lay in bed, contemplating a lot of things. My life, my work, the book, and why I’d been so taken by it. Yet, as with the book, there was no solution. There was nothing to it all.
The next day, with the book in my backpack, I made my way back to the store.
It felt as heavy as the world, an endless number of possibilities all resting on my back.
I knew I had to return it, I had to get rid of it before it might throw me into another crazy fit.
When I entered the store, the old man looked up.
“Can I help you with,” he started but broke up, a surprised look on his face.
“Well hello there, young man. Haven’t seen you in quite a while.”
I only nodded, took down my backpack, heaved out the book, and brought it to a rest in front of him.
“I’d like to return this.”
The old man probed me for a moment.
“We’ve got a no-money-back policy,” he said and pointed at a small, almost illegible sign behind himself.
“Yeah, that’s fine, I just want to get rid of it. I’m done with it.”
“So, you got your reward then?”
I couldn’t help but laugh a little. “Guess so.”
“What was it?” the old man asked curiously.
“It’s meaningless, there’s no end to it. It just goes on forever.”
“Oh,” he mouthed with an expression of surprise.
“You ever tried it yourself, old man?”
“Did once, when I was younger, but I got nowhere. Was too damned hard for me.”
“There’s one thing I’m wondering about. Who the hell wrote a thing like this? I mean, it’s freaking insane. How’d’you ever write something like this?”
“Well, to tell you the truth, there’s something I didn’t tell you when you first came in. I originally bought the book from a street merchant, half a century ago. He told me a few things, and I learned a few more over the years from other people.”
“Like what?”
“There’s nothing but rumors of course. The merchant told me it was written by the Devil himself. Then someone told me it was supposedly written by Machiavelli back in the day, to confuse a man who’d wronged him and drive him mad. There was also a guy who was convinced it was the work of aliens. The most plausible thing I heard is that there’s no single author, but that it was written over the course of centuries, with each new writer adding to it and extending it, making it better and ever more complicated.”
“Heh, sounds about-“ I started, but the old man raised a hand and pushed his head forward, towards me.
“There’s one more. Someone else told me it was written by no other than God himself as a big, giant joke about our earthly existence itself.”
I laughed, but it was a weak laugh. Nothing but a giant joke, that fit it damn well, didn’t it?
And as I stepped out of the store and stared at the city surrounding me, watching the urban bustle, I began thinking.
People were hurrying past me, on their way to work, cars and buses rushed down the streets. As I watched it all, this ever-repeating bustle of civilization, I realized that it was all another never-ending loop. On and on and on we all went, doing the same thing over and over and over again.
And as I walked on I started laughing. Maybe that was all right and maybe it didn’t matter. Who knows, maybe the book was true.
Maybe all of this, all of life, all of existence, just like the damned book, was nothing but God’s big, giant joke.
submitted by RehnWriter to TheCrypticCompendium [link] [comments]

The Shoulders of Orion- Ch. 1: First Contact

Space-time rippled as the Horns of Glory snapped into real space. The normally smooth transition from FTL subspace travel back to the laws of relativity was instead dangerously jarring, as the inertial dampeners struggled to hold the innards of the massive warship in their proper places. After straining mightily for the briefest of moments, they failed, throwing Admiral Halon Va and the rest of his bridge crew violently into their restraining harnesses. The ship shuddered under the immense stress, then settled, drifting silently through space on minimal power.
“Tactical, get me a status report for the fleet on screen now. I want updates the instant ships jump in.” The Admiral’s voice was still firm and authoritative; it was taking every last shred of resolve he had to keep it that way. “Lieutenant Roshin, put a detail together and work with medical. I’m sure that re-entry caused more than a few extra injuries. Get as many of the crew patched up and ready for emergency action as fast as you can. I want a full casualty report as soon as possible. And if you find Science Officer Lentith and he’s still alive, send him to the bridge immediately.”
Admiral Va settled back into his command chair, drawing creaking sounds from the over-stressed frame as it absorbed the weight of his massive form. The bridge was completely silent now, the command crew entirely focused on the tasks at hand. Or they were too afraid to say anything; Va couldn’t be sure. He was thankful for their silence, though. He didn’t have any answers for them about his failure.
Keying in a few commands on the command panel at his station, the damage report for his ship popped up, the bridge lights flickering from the extra power draw. The Horns of Glory floated before him in hologram form. Long and slender, the ship was over two kilometers from bow to stern. At least, it had been a few hours ago. The forward 20 percent of the holographic ship was flashing red, indicating heavy damage. This was inaccurate, however, as the forward 20 percent of the ship simply wasn’t there anymore. The graceful lines and carefully crafted angles of the ship's armor were an unrecognizable slagged mess, and deep gouges had been cut into the inner decks all over the ship. Whole sections were missing amidships, two of the main reactors were offline, all the primary weapon batteries had been completely destroyed, and most of the critical systems were barely functioning. It was a miracle that she had survived the jump. That morning, Horns of Glory had been the greatest feat of Arien’Ra engineering, and it was now a barely functioning hulk.
And it had all happened under my command, thought Va.
He had no time to wallow in his failures, however, as at that moment tactical finally reconnected to the fleet command systems. The hologram of Horns of Glory quickly scaled down, appearing as a small, flashing, red point of light floating in loose formation with several other points of light. Most of them were flashing red as well. A constant stream of data and various reports scrolled down the right side of the hologram, listing in no uncertain terms the doom that Va had subjected his command to.
If Va had thought that the bridge was quiet before, it was nothing compared to the complete stillness that now settled over them. No one so much as moved a muscle, as they all sat in stunned silence, reading the reports. Occasionally, the hologram would flash, and a new point of light would join the formation, adding more data to the pile spelling out their damnation. After 30 ticks, new points of light had stopped appearing. Admiral Halon Va had lost over 60 percent of his fleet, and not a single other dreadnaught had survived the slaughter. His defeat was total, and the Federation navy was crippled.




Science Officer Beredarin Lentith had been the first member of his family not to enroll in command school in eight generations. They had been some of the finest members of the fleet the Vorqual race had ever contributed to the Federation. His brothers and sisters had all enrolled, which meant that as far as he was concerned, his family had more than fulfilled their duty to the Federation. Military life wasn’t for him, anyway; he wanted to explore. The Federation had been around for over 3000 years, and there were still vast swathes of the galaxy that they knew nothing about. They were still encountering new species every few hundred or so years, and there was nothing he wouldn’t give to find the next one. That had been the dream that directed him away from the military and into academia. The odds of actually finding a new race were so small, though. There were still at least 200,000,000 unexplored systems in the galaxy. There just wasn’t time to visit them all...
He snapped out of his reverie as he stepped over the body, or rather, what was left of the body, of a Zelnassi marine. Most of it was just a green stain on the corridor wall at this point, though there had been enough of the chitinous armored torso to partially obstruct his path. The young lieutenant quickly continued on towards the bridge.
If he was being honest with himself, becoming an expert on the area of unexplored space directly between the Federation and it’s largest military rival wasn’t the smartest of ideas. Between his family reputation and his unique knowledge base, he was just asking to get pressed into service.
Which was exactly what had happened immediately upon the recent outbreak of hostilities.
And now here he was stepping over corpses, marveling at the fact that he had somehow survived this long. He still couldn’t believe the insanity of the Dominion forces. Boarding an enemy ship MID-COMBAT. It was like something out of a youngling’s tale from before space travel. It was pure madness, but there were the bodies to prove that it had happened. He gingerly stepped around the remains of yet another Zelnassi.
The signs of battle continued all the way to the bridge, where he found security forces still holding quickly fortified positions around the bridge entrance. There were more Zelnassi bodies at their feet. Berendarin shuddered. He had been closer to death than he thought.
He quickly pushed those thoughts out of his mind. He could only imagine why he was needed on the bridge so urgently.
The door slid open, and Lentith walked into a completely silent room. Admiral Va was slouched at his command station, his enormous arm propped up on the chair arm and supporting his massive, horned head. Lentith didn’t even know that Arien’Ra COULD slouch. Nevermind that the fastidious Admiral could or would ever do such a thing. Maybe things were somehow worse than he thought. No one seemed to notice him enter, so he announced himself to the Admiral.
Though he didn’t shout, his voice echoed in the deathly silent room, startling most of the bridge command. Two of the other Vorqual officers swore, and the tiny Jezren manning the com station let out a high pitched sound somewhere between a squeak and chirp. Berendarin would have found it quite funny if the situation wasn’t so dire.
Admiral Va immediately snapped back to being the hulk of muscle and horn that imposed his will on a room just by being in it. His booming voice only added to his authority.
“Science Officer Lentith. I’m glad to see you’re still alive. Are you seriously injured?”
Berendarin had almost forgotten that he had walked the entire way to the bridge holding a bandage to his head just above his left eye. The drop out of subspace hadn’t been kind to him. He pulled the bandage away, revealing a dark orange stain on the bandage and a crack in the bone plate above his eye.
“I’m fine, sir, just one of the outer plates, and the bleeding has already stopped.”
“Good. Commander Vortith is currently overseeing the emergency repairs. Take his seat. You are going to help me find a way back home.”
“Sir? I’m sorry I don’t understand. Why don’t we just go back the way we came?”
“That’s not possible. Most of our supply ships and tenders were destroyed when that third wave of Dominion ships hit our flank. Almost all of our pre-prepared fuel reserves are gone. On top of that, some of our ships are so damaged that they don’t have another long jump in them. And if we run into any enemy ships, the whole rest of the fleet is done for. We barely qualify as a fighting force in the state we’re in.”
“Is it really that bad?”
“It’s worse, but we don’t have time to get into the details. You’re the expert on this section of the galaxy. I need you to find the fleet a hiding hole. Somewhere away from the known jump routes through the Spur. Any system where we can use the few miners we have left to scavenge up some fuel, and get some critical repairs done while we’re at it. And from there either wait for reinforcements or get ourselves patched up enough to limp home. Wherever it is, it needs to be close. I’m not leaving any ships behind because they can’t make the jump.”
“Oh. Just that?” The lieutenant knew that Arien’Ra were strict herbivores, but with the look that the Admiral shot him, he couldn’t help but think about the fact that his head would easily fit into that giant, molar filled mouth.
“And away from any known pirate hideaways. Like I said, our fleet can’t take any more fighting. And find it quickly. It won’t be long before the Dominion fleet locates us.”
“I. Uh. Sure. I’ll see what I can find.”
Berendarin shrank into the commander’s chair next to the enormous Arien’Ra, desperately wishing he had been more professional. If he had acted like a proper soldier, it might soften the blow of telling the Admiral that what he wanted was next to impossible. If he had a few weeks, he might be able to find something. So much of the Spur was still un-surveyed. The odds of there being anything useful to the Admiral in the databases was absurdly low, and there was even less of a chance he’d be able to find it in time for the information to matter. He began pouring through his notes anyway. It was better than waiting around to die, which, if the situation was as dire as the Admiral made it sound, was the only other option.
He spent the next hour lost in his notes, finding nothing, while the bridge crew went about piecing the ship and the fleet back together. The young scientist had all but given up on the Admiral’s impossible request when a raucous cheer went up from everyone on the command deck.
“Sir,” The coms officer called out, “The Consul’s Pride just dropped out of subspace and is hailing us, sir.
The main communication screen lit up, and Berendarin Lentith looked to see the face of his oldest sister on screen, strapped into the captain’s chair of her dreadnaught. He let out a sigh of relief; Baraquen was his favorite sibling. Her uniform was drenched in a deep orange blood stain at the shoulder, and she was covered in what looked like flecks of green gore from a Xelnassi. The artificial gravity was clearly malfunctioning, as the captain’s restraining harness was the only thing keeping her from floating around her bridge. But the bone plates of her jaw were turned as always into her calm, self assured smile
“My apologies for the delay in joining you, Admiral Va. We had some… guests shut down our drive mid jump. We had to deal with them before we rejoined the fleet. I assume there is a plan to get us back to federation space?”
“It’s good to see you in one piece, Captain Lentith,” the Admiral responded. He was barely able to keep the relief from his voice. “And there is indeed a plan.”
Berendarin returned to his research as the two ranking officers in the fleet went over the details of their current predicament. He was glad his sister had survived, and not just because they were close. It would have been a terrible blow to the whole family to have lost not only their future matriarch, but the ship she commanded as well. A member of his family had been commanding that dreadnaught uninterrupted for the last 5 generations. Military service had never appealed to Berendarin, but his family history was certainly still important.
And then the solution to the current problem hit him like a driver round. He let out a gasp and tore into his notes with a fervor. Both Admiral Va and his sister’s projection turned to look at him, but he didn’t notice. After a few seconds of curious silence from the rest of the onlookers, Berendarin practically jumped out of his seat.
“Admiral, I think I’ve got something that will work.” The young Lieutenant punched a few commands into his datapad, and a set of stellar coordinates popped up on the navigation terminal. “It’s a main sequence star, about 500 light years from us, fairly close to the edge of the Spur. It’s not anywhere near any established jump routes. The Consul’s Pride made me think of it.” He nodded towards his sister’s face on the ship's screen. “Our great, great grandsire took the Consul’s Pride through the system on her shakedown run a little over 300 cycles ago. Chased a band of Qorthi slavers out of the system. The outer four planets are all gas giants. If we can’t find Helium 3 there, I don’t know where else we should look.”
On screen, Captain Lentith looked impressed, but Admiral Va clearly didn’t seem too sure. “We’re supposed to be going away from Dominion forces, not into them. What were the Qorthi doing there?”
“There are also four rocky inner worlds in the system, Sir, according to reports from the encounter. Apparently, the third planet is a Class 7 Deathworld, and the Qorthi were running some experiments on the primitive lifeforms there. They were caught completely by surprise by the Consul’s Pride, and it was the first time that she fired her weapons in anger. I can’t find any reports of Dominion ships in that section of the Spur since.” There was a long pause before Va responded.
“Good work, Lieutenant. I knew my trust in you wasn’t misplaced.” Admiral Va replied, before turning to the rest of the bridge and booming “Coms! Tactical! Get those coordinates to every ship in the fleet. I want every ship we have left formed up and ready to jump as soon as possible. Any captain who feels that his drives can’t make the jump is to focus all repair efforts on getting their drives functioning immediately. I will transfer repair crews from less damaged ships to more damaged ships if that means we jump even a tick earlier. Get to it everyone. I’m not losing any more of my fleet today.”




The four revolution long jump to Science Officer Lentith’s newfound sanctuary had done wonders for Halon Va’s mental state. The initial shock of his fleet's terrible defeat had worn off, and he had been able to focus on what came next. Repair crews were able to stabilize most of his ship's core systems, and he was no longer worried about the life support systems cutting out and killing the rest of his crew. There had also been time for him to visit with the wounded. To thank them for their sacrifices. He had expected it to be an act of contrition, maybe even a chance to start begging for forgiveness. But there had been no anger in his crew, and no blame hung on his horns. Most had just been relieved that he had survived, and had expressed as much. He would be forever grateful to them for that.
Most importantly, the four revolutions in hyperspace had given the admiral time to really think about what had gone wrong in the nebula. He had barely rested in the preceding four revolutions, spending every scrap of spare time in his office, pouring over records from the battle. That’s where he found himself now, tucked behind his massive ceramic and titanium alloy desk of Tellarim design. It had been custom made for him upon his promotion to this command, a gift from the high admirals and the council. It was the only luxury that Va allowed in his office. The rest of Va’s space he kept strictly utilitarian. There were no trophies adorning his walls, as was customary for other members of his species. The plain bulkheads of his office were instead lined entirely with screens, and each of them were now filled with footage and reports from the battle, running on loop.
Va soaked it all in. The more he watched, the more a singular conclusion crystallized in his mind. He had done everything right; he was sure of that now. 1000 years of doctrine and theory for fighting the Dominion had gone into his preparation for that battle, and he had followed it to the letter. And he had been winning. Then that attack on his flank by the Zelnassi had blown all of that out of the airlock. Something significant had changed in the way the Dominion fought...
Commander Vortith’s voice rang out over the com system. ”Admiral Va, we’ll be transitioning back to real space in moments.”
“Thank you. I’ll be there shortly. And get Science Officer Lentith to the bridge. I want him nearby just in case. He’s the only one who has any idea of where we are.” The Admiral pulled himself from his desk. He would have to leave the rest of his analysis for later. There was just enough time for him to reach the bridge and settle into his command chair before the Horns of Glory snapped back to real space. This time, the inertial dampeners held.
“Tactical, status report.”
“All ships accounted for, Admiral. Though the Consul’s Pride, several cruisers, and three of our escorts are all reporting massive failures in their Drive Cores. They won’t be jumping anywhere anytime soon.”
“Wonderful.” Va wasn’t sure if he meant that sarcastically or not. “Get scans up and running and deploy the pickets that aren’t crippled in a standard scouting formation. How close are we to the nearest gas giant?”
“We’re approximately half a light tick from the system’s innermost gas giant, sir.”
“Excellent. Deploy the rest of the fleet. Put us in a high orbit around the planet in a defensive formation, and get our miners working immediately. Once our orbit is stable, I want every hand, paw and hoof in the fleet working on repairs.”
“Yes sir.”
Admiral Va settled into his command chair for a long shift.
It would be a drawn out, boring process to refuel the ships. With his fleet limping along, and only two functioning miners, it would take far longer than it should. After all the chaos of the last few revolutions, boring would be a welcome change of pace. Va started to relax, sinking into his chair’s acceleration padding. His fleet and his crews were finally safe. The first priority would be to get one of the subspace beacons repaired and to get word back to the Federation that the fleet still existed. And hopefully call for aid. He was sure to be stripped of his rank as soon as contact was made, but hopefully he would avoid a Tribunal. That was an unpleasant prospect…
“Sir, we have unidentified ship signatures appearing from around the planet we’re approaching.”
Va had never heard panic in the voice of his young sensors officer before, but it was certainly there now. Va understood the sentiment, though. He found it difficult to keep the panic from his own voice as he started issuing orders
“Bring the fleet up to combat status immediately. How many ships are there?”
“I’m showing 35 individual signatures. All approaching us at combat speed and still accelerating. At current speeds, they will intercept us in just over 30 ticks, sir.”
“I want details as soon as you have them, Lieutenant. Size, make, estimated firepower. Who they are. And keep scanning the system. Find out where they came from.” The panic had partially subsided for Va. 35 unknowns was not too terrible a threat. He still had almost 240 warships under his command. Still, if there was a way to avoid combat, he had to try. His fleet couldn’t suffer any more losses. “Coms, any attempt by these unknown ships to contact us?”
“I”m not sure, sir,” the diminutive Jezren at the coms replied. “There’s nothing on standard communications channels. The ships are transmitting something, but I can’t figure out what it is.”
“Admiral,” the Lieutenant at the sensors station called out. “I think I might have an idea of where these ships came from. Preliminary scans show there is extensive urbanization on the third and fourth planets, as well as what appear to be habitation sized artificial satellites around the second and sixth planets. One of the moons of the gas giant we’re approaching shows signs of habitation as well. All of them are emitting significant signal pollution. This system clearly already belongs to someone, and they’re broadcasting everywhere.”
Halon Va, High Admiral of the Combined Federation Fleets, turned, slowly and with as much composure as he could muster, to face the young science officer seated to his left. Berendarin sat, mouth agape, staring transfixed at the sensor readouts in front of him. Va had never seen a Vorqual more confused in his life. “I want answers, Officer Lentith.”
“I… I don’t.. This doesn’t make any sense,” the young science officer stammered. “There shouldn’t be anything here.”
“Admiral,” The comms officer cut in, “The signal that we’re picking up from the unknown ships is definitely some kind of communication. I managed to put together audio from it.”
“Play it,” commanded Va. A series of short, guttural, and completely unintelligible sounds came over the speakers in reply. There was a short pause before the sounds repeated themselves again. “Coms, what was that?”
“No idea, sir, but it’s being transmitted on loop. If it is intended as a communication, our translators have no idea what to do with it.”
“Admiral.” The voice came from Va’s left, and was barely audible. Va turned yet again to look at the young science officer. His gaze was locked on the tactical readout, and there something in his eyes that Va couldn’t recognize. A mixture of pure terror and something else. Was it wonder? The young Vorqual’s voice was still barely above a whisper when he continued to address the admiral: “I think we should run the transmission through First Contact Protocols.”




Captain Benjamin Alvarez-León slammed against his restraining harness as the USCS Aurora started it’s decel burn. He had pushed the engines on the outdated cruiser to their limits, and the ship groaned in protest as it started counteracting his rather zealous acceleration orders. He hoped that his mad scramble with his small squadron of outdated ships had been an overreaction. The alternative was something he’d rather not think about.
All Ben had was the reserves; the rest of the fleet was on maneuvers at Sirius. The Admiralty had wanted to test the new, fully modernized fleet’s maneuvering abilities in the gravwell of a binary system. And, in their infinite wisdom, they decided they needed ALL of the new fleet assets, leaving nothing in Sol except for the handful of cruisers and escorts that couldn’t match the capabilities of the modern ships.
A handful of cruisers and escorts that were now hurtling towards more than 200 unknown contacts.
It was the unknown part of all of this that was unnerving Ben. There were no familiar energy signatures. No familiar scan data. No IFF. No signals coming off the contacts of any kind for that matter. Two of the contacts were too big to even be ships. If it wasn’t for the fact that they were moving towards Jupiter in formation, Ben wouldn’t even think they WERE ships.
“So what do you think, Alexi?” Ben asked, turning towards his second in command. “You and the rest of the bridge crew are always making inane bets. Have you whipped up an over-under for what we’re throwing ourselves at yet?”
“Haven’t had time,” came the quick reply from Ben’s right. The short, stocky man from Vladivostok was missing his trademark joviality. “Though, my money is on them being Ithacan, sir.”
Ben bristled at Alexi calling him sir. They’d been friends for twenty years, damnit, and had been practically joined at the hip since going through the Academy together. Outranking him still felt a little off. Now was hardly the time to worry about formalities, though.
“What makes you think they're from Ithaca?”
“It’s the only thing that makes sense. The locals have been getting increasingly radical, and Ithaca is the only sector where reports of piracy have been increasing.”
“Yeah, I could see a rebellion coming from Ithaca,” Ben added slowly, turning over that scenario in his head. “But there’s no way they could swing something of this magnitude. There aren’t even any shipyards in the sector. And even if there were, there’s no way they could keep the construction of over two hundred ships a secret.”
Alexi could only offer him a shrug in response.
It was at that moment that the coms station informed him there was a transmission incoming from the unidentified ships. Ben instructed the ensign to play it, and the bridge was suddenly filled with a stream of grotesque bleating noises and strange grunts, with the occasional recognizable syllable interspersed throughout the transmission. Ben thought he picked out ‘dentify’ from the mess, but he wasn’t sure. There was a long moment of silence on the bridge.
“What the hell was that?”
When no one had any answers for him, Ben tapped his command console and recorded a new message to broadcast.
“This is Captain Alvarez of the USCS Aurora. Unidentified ships, please clarify. Your transmission is badly garbled. We did not receive your identification. You are still trespassing in Commonwealth space and are on an unauthorized course towards Jupiter. Begin decelerating immediately and re-identify yourselves.”
He wouldn’t admit it to the crew, but Ben was profoundly unsettled. Something was deeply, deeply wrong about this whole situation. Not only was he vastly outnumbered by these things, but they were unwilling to communicate properly. He was almost believing this whole thing was some kind of bizarre prank.
“How much longer before we can get a decent visual on these things?
“Any moment now, sir.”
A new transmission arrived just then, and Ben had it played back immediately. This time, instead of almost bovine bleats and grunts, the sounds coming over the speakers were mostly intelligible. Or, they would have been, if any of the syllables were in the right order. It was almost like a toddler was rattling off all of his new favorite sounds, spitting them out in a random order and not knowing how they went together. There were still a few heavy grunts sprinkled in, just for good measure.
Before Ben could process this new joke of a transmission, the contacts finally started slowing. In a matter of moments, the strange wall of contacts was hanging lazily in Jupiter’s orbit, barely moving fast enough to keep their orbit from decaying. They were still in perfect formation.
“Huh. Well, I guess that’s something.”
With nothing to do but sit back and wait as his ship closed the distance, Ben tried to relax and began running over all of the possibilities in his mind of what the new contacts could be. He came up with nothing. Well, nothing feasible, anyway. He took a series of long, calming breaths, trying to clear his mind and focus. This was no time for his imagination to be running wild. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that logic was failing him. Something was off. Something…
“Captain, bringing visual of the unknown contacts up on screen now.”
Ben actually felt his jaw drop. Every contact on his display was clearly a ship. Most were long and spindly, wrapped in layers of some kind of highly reflective armor; a fleet of crystalline arrows hanging in the darkness. The two largest contacts, which Ben had just moments ago thought were too big to be ships, were large enough on the screen for him to clearly see details. In addition to their immense size and strange armor, both ships were dotted with what were clearly weapons platforms, though what kind, Ben couldn’t tell.
Noticeably, almost all of the ships on his screen were heavily damaged. Chunks were missing from some ships, and most had deep lines gouged into their hulls. Any form of decorative paint or markings had been burned away. Something had put these ships through absolute hell. But still, the damage could not take away entirely from the elegance of the ship’s designs. They were graceful and sleek, completely different from anything Ben had ever seen before.
It was all so different. So strange. So very, very… Alien.
Despite every effort he had made to avoid the word, it finally forced itself to form inside Ben’s mind, and forced him to acknowledge the reality that legitimate, extra-Solar life was hanging in the darkness in front of him. It forced him to acknowledge the screams he had been suppressing in the back of his mind. The screams of his imagination crying out in glorious triumph over reality. And with those screams came a deluge of accompanying thoughts and emotions.
He was a child again, staring up at the stars above Armstrong and wondering what else, and who else, was out there. He was a teen again, signing his name to the Academy enrollment paperwork, determined to get out there between the stars and see the galaxy himself. He was a young officer again, screaming and pleading with the Admiralty to at least consider a modern First Contact scenario. He was sitting in his command chair now, hurtling towards honest-to-god aliens, all of his dreams made manifest in an instant. He was overwhelmed. He was terrified.
And he had never imagined that he could feel such elation.
It was the young warrant officer at the coms that snapped Ben out of his reverie. “Sir, the contacts are hailing us on all standard channels, requesting a video feed.” She sounded very, very nervous.
Ben immediately stood up, straightening his uniform as best he could. “If they’re anything less than genocidal monsters, I’m going to offer them aid and repairs. As long as they’re peaceful, there’s no reason not to extend them the full hospitality of humanity.”
“Ben,” Alexi asked, clearly choosing his words carefully, “Are you sure that’s the… Wisest course of action? How will the Admiralty respond to Goddamned alien ships docking at Hephaestus?”
“Alexi, in the 250 years the Commonwealth has existed, the First Contact protocols haven’t been updated since the charter was signed. No one has cared. This has been nothing but a fantasy for most people. I am NOT letting this opportunity get away. Every child that has ever looked up at the stars and wondered finally got an answer, and I will not waste this moment. We’re making friends, the Admiralty and the government be damned.”
“You do realize you’re potentially deciding the fate of our entire species on a whim, right?”
“Is there someone else you’d prefer to have making this call?”
Alexi, apparently deciding that there was not, stood up and straightened his uniform, standing next to his friend as he ordered the connection of the video feed. The channel connected, and the human bridge crew found themselves looking at the bridge of a ship crewed by not one, but three alien races.
The largest alien in the center of the screen opened its mouth to speak. This time, instead of bleats and grunts, a choppy, mechanical voice that didn’t sync up to the alien at all proclaimed from the bridge speakers in broken, stuttering English: “I. Am Admiral. Halon. Va. Of the Federation of. Sentient Races. Greetings and. Welcome. To the. Galaxy.”
Ben couldn’t suppress his smile.
“On behalf of the United Solar Commonwealth, and all of Humanity, greetings, and welcome to Sol. Your ships look like they’ve had a bad time on your way here. If there’s any way we could aid with your repairs, we’d be happy to help.”




Slave 782 slammed his right appendage onto the control console hard enough to rupture his outer membrane and smear ichor over the panel. It had been four days since the battle in the nebula, and with the latest round of reports, he finally had to admit that the rest of the Federation fleet had escaped him.
It was a minor frustration, all things considered, but the escape prevented this from being a total victory. Still, he had proven his worth to his owners in this battle, and his experiments with the Zelnassi had paid dividends beyond his wildest imagination. He had earned a command today, and with every success in that command, his ability to bargain for his people's freedom only increased. For what he would be asking, it might take the total defeat of the Federation to earn that kind of leverage. Also frustrating, but not a task that he couldn’t handle. It would be a long war, he was sure, but like his owners, he was patient.
He would earn his freedom, even if it meant reducing the entire Federation to glass.


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