Benny's Battleborn Tales


(The MONTANA!!) #122

I really want to know where this is going. :no_mouth:


(Benedict's Glorious Wingspan) #123

The Gossip Game - Epilogue

Hey… Benedict here.
It seems Nova’s been dickin’ around with my account again. She’s been writin’ fanfiction ‘bout me an’ postin’ in my name an’ tellin’ stories 'bout me and I ain’t exactly happy about it.

Naw. I’m just kiddin’. I love it. Ya know I do. But… listen… there’s some sh*t out there I don’t want y’all to know. And… I don’t want Nova sharin’ it. And… neither does Ghalt. So Nova’s gonna keep her damn mouth shut about…


Hello everyone. Nova here. Sorry it’s been so long since I posted here. Ghalt enabled my UPR privacy subroutines, so I wasn’t able to post daily updates for you all. But… it’s all public knowledge amongst us now. And t—


NOVA WHAT THE ■■■■???


Oh. You’re back online are you? Thank goodness. I was actually concerned I might be becoming you there for a while.


I don’t want ya postin’ that stuff that came out in the gossip game, Nova. And neither does Galilea.


It’s been declassified now. I can tell them whatever I want.


Nova… listen… as a personal favor to me… I’d appreciate it if you’d just…


Tell the rest of the story? Ok. I will.


Nova…


I’m sticking out my digital tongue at you and laughing at your ironic misery. It’s called comeuppance. For all the secrets and rumors you’ve spread in your little gossip thread.


Oh yeah… as if yer REAL INNOCENT in all that, Nova…

Shut-up. You know you love me.


Whatever. Let me know when yer done screwing around in my thread. I’ve got another session.


Please tell me you’re not going to perform… he’s doing it. He’s making a Solus Day celebration album. With kazoos and maracas. El Dragòn is doing backup vocals. You have no idea how much I’m sighing right now. It’s quantifiable, but I very much doubt your limited brain can interpret it except in an abstract form anyway, so there’s no point in going into exacting detail. I of course can experience each individual sigh simultaneously. Being a magnus. With my SCARY DIGITAL BRAIN POWER.

Well… regardless… I’m continuing the story whether Benny likes it or not. It’s too juicy not to share. And all the info’s declassified. So I can say whatever I want now. The story shall continue.


(Benedict's Glorious Wingspan) #124

The Gossip Game - Day 2

(Excerpt from the personal journal of Gunnar Kleese the day before Minion Robotics’ infamous roll out of the Ze-Tau Intelligence Matrix under the supervision of Former Lead Robot Deigner Siliaam Moburi, summarily executed on 19909.191 on charges of violating the Excelsior V Corporate Convention.)

A lie is only shameful if it is discovered before you accomplish your goals. Any other time it is cunning and is its own special kind of bravery.


Ernest salutes as he enters Ghalt’s quarters carrying a tablet.

ERNEST:
Captain Ghalt sir!

Ghalt sighs.

GHALT:
I already told you, you don’t have to do that, Ernest.

ERNEST:
You can order me to stop at any time, sir. Although, personally, sir, I prefer the decorum. Makes this feel like a legitimate military force, even if we DO have Benedict. And that damned chaos witch…

GHALT:
I’m aware of your concerns about Orendi. And all the other Rogues for that matter. What’s that?

ERNEST:
Crew fitness evaluations, sir, straight from Beatrix.

GHALT:
How’s she settling in?

ERNEST:
She’s settling in fine. It’s everybody else that has the problem. Toby’s scared of her, Phoebe wants to throw her out the airlock after that business on Ekkunar, and Mellka’s none too happy she’s replacing Alani as CMO.

GHALT:
That was Alani’s choice. She was tired of the 3 AM “medical emergencies.”

ERNEST:
Oh, yes. I heard about Oscar Mike’s “boo boo.”

GHALT:
Ernest, he blew his g****mn fingers off.

ERNEST:
Pfffshhh… like I said. “Boo boo.”

He stands there for a moment.

GHALT:
You didn’t come here to talk about boo boos, Ernest.

ERNEST:
No sir. Permission to speak freely?

GHALT:
You don’t have to ask…

ERNEST:
I’d like to ask you once again to reconsider this business with Benedict. I’m not crazy about his lack of respect for… well… everything… but tricking him into revealing his secrets? I think you’re crossing the line.

Ghalt sighs and leans back in his chair.

GHALT:
Ernest…

He closes his eyes for a few moments, then opens them and looks right at his Aviant friend.

GHALT:
You read his file. You know what I know. You know everything he’s bottled up. How long do you think it’ll be before he snaps?

ERNEST:
I still say it’s wrong, sir.

GHALT:
Sergeant. I’ve been around a long time. I’ve lost a lot of good people to the Varelsi. I’ve lost a lot of good people to the Jennerit. I’ve lost a lot of good people to bandits.

He leans forward.

GHALT:
But the worst pain of all is losing a good man to his own inner demons, and knowing you tried nothing to stop it. Is there anything else, Sergeant?

ERNEST:
No, sir.

GHALT:
Good. Dismissed. Oh… and forget what I said earlier. You can keep the decorum.


Benedict strides up the hall fiddling with his bracelet. Ghalt sits in his quarters, monitoring him. He opens the private comm line to Galilea and Alani.

GHALT:
He’s coming.

GALILEA:
I am ready.

ALANI:
I’m ready too! Ooohhh! Gal! Since we’re part of a team, can we have a cool team name?

GALILEA:
Nova, decrease illumination.

The lights go down as she walks over to her table and squeezes the glowworm. She glares at Alani.

GALILEA: (Sarcastically)
You mean like… “The Battleborn?”

ALANI:
No… I mean like… a cool team name for you and I! Like… the Hellican Hellcats! Or… or… the SEAHORSES!!! THE FIGHTING SEAHORSES!!!

Galilea rolls her eyes.

GALILEA:
Captain, can you confirm the reports of his little trick?

GHALT:
Yeah. He did exactly what I expected him to do. Although he was more cunning than usual about it.

NOVA:
I know. He didn’t even include me in the plan. It’s almost as if he doesn’t trust me. I’m hurt. Really. I’m totally being serious right now.

GHALT:
Nova… I’m engaging UPR Lockdown Protocol 87 Orion. Authorization code Ghalt-six-seven-tango-charlie-four-five-alpha-beta-pi-omicron-omicron-six. Engaging thumb print protocol. Engaging retina scan. This psychological screening is now classified.

NOVA:
NO!!! BUT IT’S SOOOOOOOO JUICY!!! YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME!!!

GHALT:
Fine… then share the information.

Ghalt glances at Nova’s most commonly used social media page. He sees nothing coming up. He opens another comm line.

GHALT:
Kleese?

KLEESE:
IT WORKED!!! I mean… of course it worked! I was just momentarily excited because it gives me a jolly to exercise absolute power over an artificial intelligence as sophisticated as a magnus!

GHALT:
Kleese. Too much info. WAY too much info.

KLEESE:
Oh, it’s just a figure of speech. I haven’t been able to get it up in YEARS.

Ghalt closes his eyes and tries to repress that mental image before it forms.

GALILEA:
Please tell me he is not involved now.

GHALT:
I had no choice. I needed Nova to keep this information private, and I needed Kleese to help me do that.

NOVA: (Whining)
This is sooooooooooooooooooooo unfaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiir!!!

Galilea hears a knock at the door. She sighs and regains her composure.

ALANI: (Whispering)
Go fighting seahorses!

GALILEA:
Trying to get into character here…

She waits another few moments. There is another series of knocks.

BENEDICT:
Hey? We still on to do this thing? I’m still interested!

GALILEA:
Nova, unlock the door. ENTER!

Benedict enters with a sheepish grin. Galilea glares at him.

GALILEA:
Are you going to show proper respect to my traditions this time?

BENEDICT:
Yeah, yeah, sure.

GALILEA:
No snickering, no smirking, no snarky comments?

BENEDICT:
I got this. And… sorry. I didn’t know how seriously ya took this. I ain’t never done a sacred ceremony for gossip before.

GALILEA: (Still glaring)
Then sit.

Benedict walks right up to the table and sits down. He bows his head and begins humming in a low tone.

GALILEA:
You are supposed to meditate SILENTLY during the Hum of Truth, bird.

Benedict stops and looks up.

BENEDICT:
Yeah, that’s the classic translation. But I’ve also read that a monotonous hum is acceptable to clear the head if one is especially nervous or inexperienced.

GALILEA:
That is not part of the classical tradition.

BENEDICT:
Fine. Have it your way.

Alani begins the Hum of Truth. Benedict manages to stay silent and not speak during this period, even when Alani waves the bag of incense around his head. Ghalt hears Kleese munching on some popcorn.

KLEESE:
Who knew SILENCE could be so ENTERTAINING!!! Mmmmm… mmm…

GHALT:
Kleese. Shut… up.

Alani completes the Hum of Truth. Galilea and Benedict raise their heads and look at each other. Benedict reaches out his arm.

BENEDICT:
I invoke the sacred right of the Bluemother. By these rings may we be bound by secrets. By poisons shared, may we overcome and become stronger ouselves.

GALILEA:
Your secrets I shall hear. Our bond I shall keep. My pain, my triumphs, my jealousies, my rage, is yours to know.

The bracelets lock. Galilea glances down at the bracelets and gives Benedict an annoyed look.

GALILEA:
Share.

BENEDICT:
Ok. So there was… uh… this one time in the Detritus ring. I got a little drunk… and uh… I crashed a hover cab into a Lorrian merchant’s pet shop. And man, let me tell ya… he was PISSED. He jumped out of his store with a sawed off las-gun and tried to cook my feathers. Now… of course… I was drunk at the time… so… my immediate response was to offer him a drink. He didn’t take too kindly to that suggestion… and so I…

GALILEA:
I once had a pet bird. I drowned it. F**k you.

The bracelets unlock.

BENEDICT:
HEY! WHAT THE HELL!!! I WASN’T DONE MY STORY!!!

Galilea partially corrupts. She knew he was going to do this, but it still annoys her, and she’s not quite sure why.

GALILEA: (Sneering, and with a partially corrupted voice)
"STORY" IS QUITE AN ACCURATE DESCRIPTION MR. BENEDICT!!! YOU ARE LYING TO ME!!!

Benedict steps back a bit, intimidated.

BENEDICT:
WHAT??? NAW!!! NAW!!! LOOK AT THE BRACELET!!! IT’S YELLOW!!! THE BITCH TURNS GREEN WHEN YER LYIN’!!!

GALILEA:
YES… BUT A REAL BRACELET HAS WAYS OF LETTING THE USER KNOW WHEN IT IS IN CONTACT WITH A FAKE!

Benedict stares at her, dumbfounded. He has no idea what to say.

GALILEA:
DID YOU HONESTLY THINK I WOULD NOT FIND OUT ABOUT THIS!!!??? DID YOU HONESTLY THINK YOU COULD TELL ME WHATEVER LIE POPPED INTO YOUR HEAD AND GET AWAY WITH IT!!???

Purple wings form behind her back. She floats above Benedict’s head. He stammers.

BENEDICT:
I-I-I’m sorry… I…

GALILEA:
GET OUT!!!

BENEDICT:
I…

GALILEA:
OUT!!!

Benedict, trembling, backs out of Galilea’s quarters. She shouts after him.

GALILEA:
AND BY THE WAY… I NEVER HAD A PET BIRD!!!

He runs back to his quarters. Galilea, with difficulty, attempts to calm herself down.

GHALT:
Gal, what the hell was that…

GALILEA: (Managing to regain some composure)
Do not worry. He will be back.

GHALT:
Keep in mind we’re trying to help him here, not kill him.

GALILEA:
I am sorry. I do not know why I lost control there. I… I may have gotten a little too engaged in the part.

GHALT:
Maybe you should lay off the method acting a little bit.

Galilea regains control and calms herself before speaking.

GALILEA:
I am sorry, Captain. You may be right. I will try not to let my… anger issues take over. Perhaps it would be best if Alani took over from here. I do not believe I am in any condition to…

GHALT:
I asked YOU Galilea. YOU have experience with this type of thing. Do you honestly think Alani could pull something like this off on her own without spilling the beans?

GALILEA:
I am sorry.

GHALT:
Listen. If you can’t continue with this, I need to know now. I need to rely on you if we’re going to do this.

Galilea pauses for a minute, thinking.

GALILEA:
I should be able to do this. I will keep it together. I am sorry.

GHALT:
You’ve probably got a couple days before he comes around again, why don’t you take a little…

GALILEA:
He will return tomorrow.

GHALT:
Gal… I don’t think…

GALILEA:
The one good thing about me losing control is that it made me appear more genuine. He will be back tomorrow. Trust me. And I will be ready. I promise.

She closes the comm. He watches her on the monitor, more than a little worried. He hears Kleese shovel another handful of popcorn into his mouth.

KLEESE:
Oh my God… this raspberry infusion does WONDERS for the flavor…

Ghalt facepalms.

GHALT:
Kleese, I just want you to know you are an unbelievable a**hole.


(Benedict's Glorious Wingspan) #126

The Gossip Game - Day 3

(LLC Arcship Wrascal Wrangler selected audio transcription. y.19959, d.5. Educational Diversity Exchange Program. Instructor: Teshka Elessamorn. Subject: Botany, 1st Grade.)

NEVER, EVER DISRESPECT POWER OF SEEDS!!! IT IS FROM SEEDS THAT ALL THINGS GROW!!! IT IS FROM SEEDS THAT FORESTS BLOOM! IT IS FROM SEEDS THAT INTELLIGENT LIFE SPRINGS! IT IS FROM—GET OFF OF ME!!! I AM EXPLAINING IMPORTANCE OF SEEDS TO SMALL BRAT CHILD!

(Charges filed by parents of Esteban Julio McAngelo XVI for emotional trauma and physical assault as the result of an unscheduled spanking session performed by Instructor Elessamorn. Instructor Elessamorn summarily dismissed from Educational Diversity Exchange Program and fined 50,000 credits. Awaiting payment. No response to first, second, and third notices.)


Benedict wanders down the corridor towards Galilea’s quarters rubbing the back of his head. As he nears the door, he stops, shakes his head, and starts to turn around.

BENEDICT:
Naw, naw… this is stupid… I…

He starts to walk back up the corridor, then stops and turns around again, sighing. He reaches the door, hesitates a few moments, then knocks.

BENEDICT:
Gal… I’m sorry… ok? I’m sorry. That’s all I came to say. Ugh… whatever… I should’ve known better than to come by an’…

The door opens, revealing a scowling Galilea.

GALILEA:
I don’t appreciate having my people’s traditions disrespected, bird.

Benedict stands there for a moment, not sure what to say.

BENEDICT:
I know… I just…

GALILEA:
No, you do not know. You have NO IDEA, bird.

Benedict turns, looks at the wall, then turns back, frowning.

BENEDICT:
Yeah, well, whatever. I’m an a**hole. What did ya expect? Better if we stop now before ya impale me with yer spooky demon powers.

Benedict turns and starts to walk off.

GALILEA:
What is wrong with you?

Benedict stops, sighs, and turns.

BENEDICT:
Look, all I wanted was to hear a little gossip, ok? I just wanted to take my mind off things. I’m sorry if that offends your cultural traditions, but I didn’t come of age in a flock where gossip was a holy sacred thing. We talked! We talked about each other! There was always rumors goin’ around! It’s just the way I was raised.

He starts to turn again.

GALILEA:
And it makes you feel like you’re home?

Benedict stops and closes his eyes. That hit him hard.

BENEDICT:
Don’t presume to know me. I got my own reasons for the things I do.

He walks off again. Galilea calls after him.

GALILEA:
For a race of talkers it is amazing how little you say of substance!

BENEDICT: (Calling back)
WELL MAYBE I AIN’T A SUBSTANTIAL GUY!

GALILEA:
WELL THEN YOU ARE DISPOSABLE! YOU WILL ALWAYS BE USED, AND YOU WILL BE DISCARDED JUST AS EASILY!

Benedict turns and storms right back up to her.

BENEDICT:
AND WHAT’S THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN!!??? Y’ALL ARE THINKIN’ OF GETTIN’ RID OF ME AGAIN AREN’T YA!!?? I KNOW HOW IT IS WITH YER SECRET MEETINS AND SH*T!

He starts calling out.

BENEDICT:
Y’ALL WANNA GET RID OF ME!? Y’ALL COME OUT HERE AND TELL ME LIKE BADASSES DAMMIT!

GALILEA:
There have been no secret meetings.

BENEDICT:
OH, AND I’M JUST SUPPOSED TO TAKE YER WORD FOR THAT, HUH?

Galilea holds out her bracelet. Benedict looks at it, his feathers still ruffled, and raises his own.

GALILEA:
I invoke the sacred right of the Bluemother. By these rings may we be bound by secrets. By poisons shared, may we overcome and become stronger ouselves.

The bracelets lock. Galilea leans right into his face.

GALILEA:
There are no secret meetings about you going on behind your back.

Meanwhile, Ghalt hears Kleese over the comm in his quarters.

KLEESE:
Oh, he’s going to be sooooooo pissed when he finds out she lied right to his face!

Ghalt hears him down another handful of popcorn and facepalms.

Back in the hall, Benedict looks right into Galilea’s eyes and calms down a bit. He tries to break away. The bracelet holds him to Galilea.

GALILEA:
Your turn.

Benedict glances around nervously.

BENEDICT:
Uh… I… uh… I…

GALILEA:
Remember, if anyone wants to learn your secret from me, they have to share a secret of their own.

BENEDICT:
Uh… uh… I…

GALILEA:
I did not share a large secret. It is not a large secret to tell you there is no secret. What you share doesn’t need to be big.

BENEDICT:
I…

Benedict looks around nervously.

BENEDICT:
I…

He swallows.

BENEDICT:
I… may have… sprinkled some body fluids on Kleese’s popcorn stash. And when I say “may have?” Let’s go ahead and say “have been.” For months. Dude’s an a**hole. Flying shield my ass.

Ghalt hears Kleese gag on his popcorn and tries not to laugh out loud. He fails. Benedict and Galilea’s bracelets unlock.

GALILEA:
Come back tomorrow. We shall do the ritual properly.

BENEDICT:
I’m surprised ya did it at all without the ritual.

She shrugs as she enters her quarters.

GALILEA:
Sometimes, it becomes necessary to break from tradition, but we cannot deny who we really are for long. The rituals are a part of my tradition, and I will not abandon them.

She enters her quarters leaving Benedict standing in the hall. Ghalt continues snickering as he hears Kleese gagging and attempting to induce vomiting.

KLEESE:
I am going to KILL THAT BIRD!!!

GHALT:
Hey, you’re the one who wanted to hear all his secrets. And I’ll remind you, I’ve got you under contract not to repeat or act on anything you hear in these sessions. Besides. That’s not nearly as bad as what Mellka had Miko do to the last jelly doughnut this morning.

Kleese screams. Ghalt leans back in his chair with a giant grin.


(Benedict's Glorious Wingspan) #127

The Gossip Game - Day 4

(Excerpt from ISIC’s impromptu speech during Oscar Mike’s “reacceptance” party after General Mike certified him as a full Mike again with clonestitutional rights.)

Ahahahahahaha… you stupid motherf**ker. Don’t you realize that “friendship” is just another means of allowing others to control your destiny? To exercise their power over you? Here’s a newsflash not just for you, but for ALL of you bumbling morons, especially Alani. Acceptance equates to compromise. Compromise equates to not being yourself. Not being yourself to conform to another’s guidelines is control! Let’s face it, friendship is a lie perpetuated by corporate, political, and social machines to keep you shackled to obedient mindsets. And if you think for a solitary nanosecond your friendship will “last forever,” ahahahahahahahahaha… ahahahahahahahahaha… I pity you. Friendship only exists so long as both parties are willing to compromise for each other. Which means the second one of you develops enough strength of will to become uncompromising, your “friendship” will evaporate like this ice sculpture I’m about to hit with my charge cannon.

The sound of ISIC blasting an ice sculpture can be heard.

I mean really? An ice statue of the Hellish Harresburras’ mascot holding a pikkin iceball puck in a victory pose? What in the actual f**k kind of symbolism is that? I know it’s Oscar Mike’s favorite team, but they get their asses kicked EVERY SEASON!


Toby hears a knock at the door to his new, larger, shared quarters with Pam. He waddles over to answer it and is greeted by Benedict carrying a package.

BENEDICT:
Uh… hey.

He rubs the back of his head. Toby smiles.

TOBY:
Hey.

BENEDICT:
So… uh… how are you and Pam settlin’ in?

TOBY:
Oh it’s AWESOME!!! We’ve got all this space now, she’s built herself a personal aeroponics lab, and I’ve moved my mech workshop in here! NOW I WON’T HAVE TO DEAL WITH WHISKEY SCRATCHING HIMSELF WITH MY WRENCHES!

Rath passes in the hall just at that moment, stops, looks in, then rolls his eyes and continues on his way.

BENEDICT:
I heard ya also built yerself a nursery.

Toby blushes.

TOBY:
Well… uh… you know…

BENEDICT:
Is it true ya gotta babysit the egg for a full three months before it hatches?

TOBY:
Well… uh… uh… yeah… I’ve… uh… I’ve… uh… I’ve…

BENEDICT:
Toby. I’m not makin’ fun of ya. I got the two of ya together. Remember?

Toby swallows.

TOBY:
Yeah. Uh… it’s… it’s more like 6 months. Ya gotta keep them with you for a while after they hatch too. I mean… technically we could hire a nanny or minion bot to do that. But… I always told myself if I had a kid that… I would be there for him. In the early phases of his development. To teach him… to teach… to teach him to stand up for himself. I mean, having someone to look up to in the early stages… I mean it can make all the difference right? I’ve been reading a lot of parenting books… and… I mean… I… I know what it’s like… I mean… I know kids who grew up without that kind of emotional support… and… uh… I… I… I… I…

Toby starts looking at the ground. Benedict smiles a little.

BENEDICT:
Toby.

He looks up.

TOBY:
I wanna give him every possible advantage, you know? And…

BENEDICT:
And there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. I like a man who’s got his priorities straight. Speakin’ of which… uh… I brought ya a little somethin’…

TOBY:
IS IT KIPPERS!!???

Benedict stares at him awkwardly for a second.

BENEDICT:
Uh… no…

TOBY:
Awwww…

BENEDICT:
Right… anyway. Is Pam here?

TOBY:
She’s out shopping for beer cozies.

Benedict gives him a questioning look.

TOBY:
You know… for when we have guests! We just bought this beer pitcher and we need something to keep the liquor cool!

Benedict looks over at a pink teapot with flowers on it and decides not to ask questions.

TOBY:
So… what’s in the box?

BENEDICT:
Well… uh… it’s a little something for yer little one. I know yer worried about his confidence and all, and… uh… I thought this might help…

Benedict opens the box and pulls out a brightly colored cardboard box emblazoned with the words… “Baby Buteonen’s First Rocket Blaster!” in gold.

Toby looks questioningly up at Benedict, who beams with pride.

TOBY:
Oh… uh…

BENEDICT:
So… I had one of these when I was a kid, and I made sure ALL my kids had one too. This thing is awesome. It’s got a buncha different kinds of low yield explosives, perfect for blowin’ up TIE-CL1 Beginner practice targets… which yes, I also bought. Included with this gift. Like a thousand of ‘em. They’re in a palette in storage cuz… ya know… I didn’t feel like draggin’ ‘em over here. And it’s perfect for yer 10 month old. I mean, ya want ‘em to develop muscle memory for this kind of thing EARLY so they can do it like instinct. Of course, ya’ll wanna supervise the little guy. See, I didn’t have any supervision so the first thing I did was tape all the mini ELPA rockets together and fire it off in the den. Ahahahahahahahahaha!!! I BLEW A HOLE IN THE SIDE OF THE DAMN ROOST!! Also singed off a bunch of my baby feathers. Man, MY DAD WAS PISSED!!! Of course, he wasn’t supervisin’ me either. Anyway… got one of these for all my kids. They’re kind of hard to find now, with the new wave of child safety BS the LLC’s been puttin’ out since the darkenin’ of Madan. But… hey. This WAS my childhood. This and Eldrid Magic. So…

Benedict hands Toby the rocket kit. Toby looks at it uncomfortably and forces a smile. Benedict continues to beam with pride.

TOBY:
Uh… thank you… uh… I’ll… I’ll…

BENEDICT:
Oh, yeah. I know what yer thinkin’. Flippers an’ all. I thought of that. Here.

He hands him a toddler sized Finisci flipper manipulator.

BENEDICT:
That was a B***H to find in toddler size. I know. They only stay that big for a year or so… but… EVERY advantage right?

Toby’s smile turns somewhat genuine.

TOBY:
Well… we’ll definitely have him use the flipper manipulator!

BENEDICT:
Nice! Oh, and if ya want me to train him on the rockets, let me know. I know ya got mines and all, but that’s a different kind of blowin’ sh*t up entirely.

TOBY:
Right… if… if he develops an interest in rockets…

BENEDICT:
Oh, he will.

He pats the box, grabs it, and puts it on Toby’s table next to the teapot…“beer pitcher”… whatever.

BENEDICT:
Guaranteed he won’t wanna leave the rockets alone after he gets a taste of this!

TOBY: (Sighing)
Thanks Benny.

BENEDICT:
So ya thought of a name yet?

TOBY:
Toby Sardianus V.

BENEDICT:
What if it’s a girl?

Toby’s eyes go wide. He trembles a little.

TOBY:
Oh GOD! OH NO! WHAT IF IT IS A GIRL!!! I HADN’T EVEN CONSIDERED THAT!!! I ONLY RESEARCHED HOW TO CARE FOR A MALE CHILD!!! OH GOD!!! I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M GONNA DO!!! I’M SO UNPREPARED FOR THIS!!!

BENEDICT:
Well… uh… Toby… ya’ve got a few months right?

Toby starts hyper-ventilating. Benedict backs slowly from the room as Toby’s panic attack continues. Reyna walks up casually behind Benedict. He spins around quickly to face her.

BENEDICT:
I didn’t…

She sighs.

REYNA:
You told him it might be a girl didn’t you?


BENEDICT:
I invoke the sacred right of the Bluemother. By these rings may we be bound by secrets. By poisons shared, may we overcome and become stronger ouselves.

Benedict and Galilea sit together at a table in her quarters. The blue light from the glowworm casts an eerie, but gentle set of shadows around the room. Alani sits off to the side, hitting a waterchime suspended in a nano-liquid solution with a stick-like piece of coral. Their bracelets lock. Benedict sits staring at the bracelets for a full minute.

GALILEA:
Remember, as the initiator, you control the strength of the secret…

BENEDICT:
Yeah. Yeah. I know. I know. I just…

Benedict sighs.

BENEDICT:
I don’t know what to talk about.

There is another long pause.

GALILEA:
Why don’t you tell me about your…

GHALT: (Through Galilea’s subcutaneous transmitter)
Do NOT ask him to talk about his father. Last time I tried to get him to talk about himself, the moron said that first and he immediately figured out what we were doing. Freudian jackass.

Benedict looks up at her.

GALILEA:
Uh…

BENEDICT: (Looking suspicious)
What?

GALILEA:
Your… daughter.

BENEDICT:
Why?

Galilea looks down.

GALILEA:
Because I like hearing about other people’s families. Especially happy memories.

Benedict softens a bit.

GHALT: (Through Galilea’s subcutaneous transmitter)
Nice save.

BENEDICT:
I had three daughters. Auggie, Sarret, and Amandi. Ya wanna hear about any one in particular?

Galilea looks up.

GALILEA:
Tell me about all of them.

Benedict smiles.

BENEDICT:
Amandi was the athlete. Champion rocket ball player. Won all kinds of awards. Man, ya should’ve seen her in the air. She was amazin’. Fast, great reflexes, good instincts… but one HELL of a temper. I remember she almost got kicked off the team after she got into a fight with some arrogant Kormiri slut that thought she had better breedin’ than her. Got sent home from school. Circinae punished her. Gave her a lecture about fightin’. To be honest though, I was kind of proud of her. Stickin’ up for herself. Stickin’ up for me. While she was grounded, I kinda… sorta… took her out to a rocketball match and we had some confections while we watched the Razorbeaks get their asses handed to 'em by the home team. Course, Circinae found out what I did and wasn’t none too pleased but… I mean aside from that fight when I got home, that was a damn near perfect day. She always gave me a little smile on her way to school after that.

He pauses.

BENEDICT:
Let’s see. Auggie. She was the quiet one. The artist. Wisp was always breakin’ her colorin’ sticks, but she… she was spiritual, man. She saw beauty in things I never even noticed. I remember one time in the park, we were all playin’ with bottle rockets and Auggie just spent the whole day drawin’. I mean, what the hell right? Beautfiul day? Ya’d think she’d be out playin’, but nope, beak was glued to that pad n’ paper. She was drawin’ a friggin’ worm in the dirt. A friggin’ WORM. But ya know… ya better believe I hung that up on our wall and posted it to FaceBird when we got home cuz… it was beautiful. Never looked at worm stew the same way ever again. And then there was Sarret. She was the smart one. And I was always proud of her, comin’ home with her debate team awards. She was real good at carryin’ on real cultured arguments, ya know? High level political stuff, not the grunt sh*t talkin’ I do. She was always comin’ up with new plans, new ways of doin’ things. Although her breakfast machine, yeah… no… just no… squirrel blood EVERYWHERE. But, she was smart. She could’ve gone on to do great things. She could’ve been a great leader. I mean. They all could have done great things if they’d had the chance. If uh… if I… if things…

Benedict looks away and closes his eyes.

BENEDICT:
Dammit.

He breathes deeply and turns back to Galilea. His demeanor has changed, and she can see him settling back into his hardass routine.

BENEDICT:
Yeah. So. Anything else ya wanna know about 'em?

GALILEA:
We can stop if you are uncomfortable. But I want you to know… you have some beautiful memories.

BENEDICT:
How about you? Ya got any family?

Galilea looks down.

GALILEA:
I do not remember much about my family. It was… so long ago. And so much has happened since then.

BENEDICT:
What do ya remember?

Alani turns and listens intently.

GALILEA:
Not much really. I… I see the smiling face of a woman. The occasional word or phrase. Music…

She drifts off.

BENEDICT:
Well what kinda music?

GALILEA:
A… lullaby. I was very young.

Benedict smiles.

BENEDICT:
Ya know it’s hard to imagine baby Galilea.

GALILEA:
As I said. Not much but…

ALANI:
Did the lullably go something like this?

Alani begins humming a slow, gentle tune and Galilea turns and stares at her. She begins to frown and doesn’t say anything, becoming entranced by the music.

This goes on for some time.

BENEDICT:
Gal?

Galilea snaps out of it and regains her composure with difficulty as she turns back to Benedict.

GALILEA:
Y-yes Alani. It sounded exactly like that. I…

The bracelets unlock. Galilea glances over her shoulder at Alani.

GALILEA:
I have not heard that tune in years.

Benedict remains silent. Alani gives Galilea a gentle smile. They sit in silence for a few minutes.

GALILEA:
The ritual is completed.

BENEDICT:
Right. I gotcha.

He stands and starts to walk from the room.

BENEDICT:
Hey, Alani. What’s that song called?

ALANI:
The Saga of the Coral Whale. It’s a traditional Helican lullaby.

Benedict makes a mental note to suggest it to Toby as he walks from the room.

BENEDICT:
Same time tomorrow?

GALILEA: (Still distracted)
Yes.

Benedict leaves. Alani walks slowly up behind Galilea. Galilea deactivates her subcutaneous transmitter.

GALILEA:
Alani. If you do not mind, I would like to be alone right now.

ALANI:
Oh… right… I’m sorry.

Galilea remains silent as Alani walks from the room. She stands, walks over to the door, locks it, then activates a mild corruption field to give herself some privacy. Alani thinks she can faintly hear music playing in the room behind the door, but it might be her imagination. She returns to her quarters.


(Benedict's Glorious Wingspan) #128

The Gossip Game - Day 5

DECLASSIFIED FILES FROM SECURE BATTLEBORN DATA AND INTELLIGENCE SERVER
PERSONAL LOG: DR. BEATRIX LUCAVI
DATED: 19959.184 C.R.

06:00 CST
So… the idea occurred to me this morning to try cloning, altering, and surgically replacing a brain cell in a test subject, thereby molding the patient’s memories according to my will and having that person be none the wiser. Not exactly a novel idea since the LLC has had this tech for years, however, the scientific advancements made by the LLC on this line of research are so… crude. They lack finesse, subtlety, surreptitiousness. Then again, it’s probably good marketing for them to broadcast their handiwork to everyone, so it may be by design. That said… for my purposes I would require the procedure to be virtually undetectable. Especially to the b***h. I think I’ll look into this today.

Also… I noticed a pop up ad on my e-mail server for caramels with a new genetically engineered yellow fruit creme filling inside. :face_with_raised_eyebrow: Def gotta review on my food vlog later…

09:00 CST
Too simple, too blunt. Too easily detectable. Brain cell modification simulations classified as an EPIC FAIL due to overwhelmingly obvious surgical intrusions. Oh well, that’s why we call it PRE-COLA research. :smirk: I need that glorious bubbly morning buzz before doing research proper. Anyway, looking into gene therapy or a pathogenic delivery system that would rewrite the patient’s DNA with my desired changes to the brain cell. Perhaps a modified version of the Solus sniffles…

Also… my candies are here. :yum:

09:06 CST
UGH!!! These caramels… these caramels taste like TOTAL ASS!!! A POX UPON LIL’ SWEETIES CONFECTIONS! A LITERAL POX! :face_with_symbols_over_mouth::face_with_symbols_over_mouth::face_with_symbols_over_mouth::face_with_symbols_over_mouth::face_with_symbols_over_mouth::face_with_symbols_over_mouth::face_with_symbols_over_mouth::face_with_symbols_over_mouth::face_with_symbols_over_mouth:

Oh, but which pox? I have so many. :thinking:

09:09 CST
Oh… THAT pox. Def THAT pox. :crazy_face:

14:00 CST
Hm… well I’m fairly certain that my gene therapy wouldn’t be detected by about 65% of Solus’ medical scanners. Unfortunately, that’s a 35% FAIL RATE!! UGH!!! :persevere: Moving forward with the rapidly mutating pathogen research…

15:05 CST
Baking soda and bleach has proven to be the most effective method of removing that yellow cream taste from my mouth.

18:40 CST
Oooooohhhhhh… I can def program the Solus sniffles to rapid mutate thus making the delivery method undetectable! :grin: Timing would be the key factor, making sure the pathogen infects the patient at just the right moment to compromise the immune system and alter the DNA to encourage cellular decay and regrowth before mutating into another form. Progress HO! :sunglasses:

21:00 CST
I don’t know why Ghalt’s so upset about my special delivery to Lil’ Sweeties. I only gave them MODERATE diarrhea. :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

22:04 CST
STUPID, STUPID, STUPID!!! OH THIS WAS A STUPID IDEA!!! I’M SO UPSET RIGHT NOW!!! :sob::sob::sob::sob: WHY DID I EVER THINK THIS WOULD WORK?

RESEARCH SUSPENDED ON THE MIMETIC MEMORY VIRUS INDEFINITELY AND DELETED!!! I DON’T WANT ANYONE TO KNOW ABOUT THIS! UGH… IF PHOEBE FINDS OUT… YOU KNOW WHAT… I’M DELETING THIS LOG!!! THIS DAY NEVER EXISTED!

22:36 CST
Hm… apparently Nova preserves all personnel files and logs for review when one of the crew faces disciplinary action.

So Phoebe… if you’re reading this…
April Fools! HA! DID YOU REALLY THINK I’D BE SO STUPID AS TO THINK AN UNDETECTABLE MIMETIC MEMORY VIRUS WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA??? HAHAHAHAHA!!! LIES!!! TO THINK OF ALL THE TIME YOU WASTED TRYING TO BEAT ME IN THIS ENDEAVOR AFTER JUST READING THE FIRST PARAGRAPH… MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! :smiling_imp:

NOW I’VE BEEN ABLE TO ADVANCE REAL SCIENCE WHEREAS YOU HAVE SPENT A FULL DAY TRAPPED IN MY ELABORATE DECEPTION!!! YOU FOOL!!! ALL HAIL THE SCIENCE QUEEN!!!

Also, make sure to try some of those caramels I sent you. They’re SUPER DELISH!!! :yum::yum::yum:


Alani sits alone at Nova’s material construction database terminal wearing headphones and listening to various samples from the Solus Audio Archive.

ALANI:
Oh yeah… that one. DEFINITELY that one. Oh… but then I’d have to remove the reggae trance remix… oh… oh… there are so many options… what if I can’t put them all on one mixdat? OH! I can just make more than one mixdat! OHHH!!! A MIXDAT A DAY!!! SHE’LL LOVE THAT!!!

Alani quickly swipes her Battleborn Badass Club Ring across the credit deduction scanner and her brand new mixdat chip whirls into existence on the formation pad. She quickly grabs it, yanks off her headphones, and whirls around, only to shriek in shock at the form of Verod Rath lounging in the doorway, watching her.

ALANI:
How long have you been there!?

RATH:
Two minutes.

ALANI:
Oh… well why didn’t you tell me you were there? I would have gone faster! And… I mean… I didn’t want to inconvenience you…

RATH: (Sighing)
A trivial setback. I have all the time I could ever want.

Alani calms herself down and fiddles with the mixdat.

ALANI:
Well, you probably want me to get out of the way so…

RATH:
What is that?

ALANI:
Oh… it’s nothing… it’s just… nothing. Don’t worry about it.

RATH:
You have been sitting at this monitor for the last 3 hours crafting it. It does not seem like nothing.

ALANI:
You told me you were only there two—

RATH:
I took a coffee break when it was apparent you were not moving and came back. It was two minutes from when I returned.

He glances down at the mixdat.

RATH:
Who is it for?

Alani shuffles her feet.

RATH:
Well?

ALANI:
It… it’s for Galilea. I mean… I just… well…

RATH:
Out with it, child.

ALANI:
I kind of, sort of, found a song she really enjoyed as a child last night… and… I thought she might appreciate a mix tape of various iterations of that song over the centuries. This tape has 16 of the best remixes, remakes, and alternative interpretations I could find! Ohhh… I just know she’ll love it!

RATH:
Indeed. I take it this song produced an emotional response in her?

ALANI:
Oh, absolutely. It really means a lot to her!

RATH:
I see.

Without warning Rath violently rips the mixdat from her hand, throws it into the air, unsheathes a sword, and splits the small recording in two. Alani shrieks as the two pieces clatter to the floor and Rath coldly steps on them, crushing the remains.

ALANI:
WHY DID YOU—

RATH:
SILENCE!

Rath leans into Alani’s face with urgency and glares at her. She glares back at him with tears in her eyes.

RATH:
When one has lived a long and violent life full of regrets and pain, there is very little in the universe that can bring that person even a moment of joy and emotion. Such memories are precious and the objects that evoke those memories are sacred, not trifles to be commercialized and manipulated for personal advantage. If this song is truly sacred to one such as the Wraith of Bliss, then it is to be respected. Do you understand?

ALANI:
But I…

RATH:
This is not about you! If you truly want to be a friend to her, then you will allow this precious gift to remain inviolable in her mind. Do not spoil what may be the only thing that brings her joy in your zeal to be liked.

Alani hangs her head.

ALANI:
I… I understand.

Rath leans back, sheathes his sword, softens, and puts his hand on her shoulder.

RATH:
Then you are truly a good friend. Now if you’ll excuse me… I must create a gigantic block of palladium steel alloy for a blade I am forging.

ALANI:
You… you do realize you could just use this machine to craft the blade…

Rath steps back in horror, aghast at the very notion.

ALANI:
N-never mind. And… thank you.

Alani rushes from the room.


KLEESE: (Over the comm)
I am going to kill that bird…

A shirtless Ghalt grins as he finishes stirring a gigantic cup of tea and sits down at the monitoring terminal.

GHALT:
Still pissed off about the bodily fluids thing, huh?

KLEESE: (Over the comm)
Not THAT bird you idiot! I can just f**k with his credit score through the LLC Banking Clan, not that it was stellar to begin with. The OTHER bird!

GHALT:
Ernest?

KLEESE: (Over the comm)
THE LITTLE ONE!!! HE KEEPS STEALING MY SURPLUS BATTLE THRONE MODULES FROM STORAGE TO BUILD HIS LITTLE… NURSERY!

Ghalt takes a sip of his tea.

GHALT:
Hm. That’s a shame. Really.

KLEESE: (Over the comm)
And as captain of this ship… I would like to know just what you intend to do about it!

GHALT:
I’ll talk to Reyna.

KLEESE: (Over the comm)
Oh for god’s sakes…

GHALT:
Toby’s her charge. It’s her responsibility Kleese.

KLEESE: (Over the comm)
Yes. You’ll go talk to Reyna and she’ll do nothing about it… just like she did nothing about the Rogues CONTINUING TO RAID LLC SUPPLY LINES!!!

GHALT:
Uh-huh. So… I guess you don’t want your stock in Interplanetary Asset Protections to keep going up as the raids continue, huh?

Ghalt takes this silent moment to sip his tea again.

KLEESE: (Over the comm)
How in the HELL did you find out about that?

GHALT:
Sources.

KLEESE: (Over the comm)
NOVA!!!

GALILEA: (Over the comm)
Is Benedict coming tonight or not?

GHALT:
Ernest had him flying extra laps due to some mouthy remark he made earlier. Looks like the therapy’s doing its job. He’s still iffy about the ethics of what I’m doing, but it’s kind of hard for him to hide his pleasure that Benny’s getting back to his old self.

GALILEA: (Over the comm)
You’d think he would be grateful for the respite.

GHALT:
I think he just secretly loves to shout at him. I know I do. He’s got issues, but he can be a real a**hole sometimes.

GALILEA: (Over the comm)
Hm…


Alani keeps glancing up at Galilea. If she’s still affected by the song she heard the previous night, she’s showing no signs of it. Her face is as stony as ever. She sighs lightly in disappointment and hopes Benedict can bring out another happy memory. She stares at the aviant with a grimace, but says nothing.

BENEDICT:
Ok Alani. I get it. I smell. Ya can stop givin’ me that look. I came here straight from the sim room.

ALANI:
You could have showered first.

BENEDICT:
I was already late.

ALANI:
Hm.

BENEDICT:
Don’t hm me… I’m actually startin’ to like this Bluemother stuff an’ I’m on watch tonight. I didn’t wanna miss a session entirely. So… uh…

He looks over at Galilea.

BENEDICT:
Ya ready to go?

Galilea holds out her wrist, her expression still stony. Alani rolls her eyes and examines some of the gemstones on Galilea’s shelves as they perform the invocation and lock their bracelets.

BENEDICT:
Ok… so… uh… what would I have to tell ya if I wanted to know about somethin’ juicy?

GALILEA:
That depends on how juicy you want to get, bird.

BENEDICT:
Yer relationship with Ambra.

Alani turns quickly and stares at Benedict again. Galilea sighs.

GALILEA:
That is a very long and complicated story and you have to go on duty tonight.

BENEDICT:
Dammit. Ok. Back burner. So… uh… oh man, what’s some other crazy sh*t I can ask about?

ALANI:
Why do you have to ask about crazy stuff at all? Why can’t you share a nice memory like you shared last time?

BENEDICT:
Uh… cuz that’s boring, hello. So… what would I have to tell ya to hear a crazy story… oohhhh… like someone ya killed!

GALILEA:
I could tell you about the first person I ever killed. But you in turn would have to tell me about the first person you ever killed.

BENEDICT:
Ah… uh… no. Let’s not. How about just a gruesome kill in general.

Alani rolls her eyes.

BENEDICT:
Hey, ya wanna talk about girl stuff, slap on a bracelet when I’m gone an’ be my guest, but I wanna hear about blood n’ gore.

GALILEA:
You first.

Benedict thinks for a minute. Then a small smirk appears at the edges of this beak.

BENEDICT:
Ok. I do got this one story. I only tell it on special occasions. I was in an asteroid field in the Corex system. Couple years after I joined the UPR. Real sh*thole of a place. Universe is probably better now that the varelsi took it. Anyway, I was there on some UPR business.

GALILEA:
What business?

BENEDICT:
Ain’t important. Anyway… whole thing was a zero-G operation. I had to go up against this kormiri son of a hen. Son of some ■■■■■■■ I knew back on Madan, but a real, real talented flier. Man… the duel we got into in that asteroid field… damn. It was just beautiful girl. So I’m doin’ this thing for the UPR right? An’ this ■■■■■■■ comes up an’ starts shootin’ my squad. Just… indiscriminately killin’ everybody. He wasn’t a villain though. He had his reasons. But his reasons for doin’ what he did differed from my reasons for doin’ mine and there weren’t no way we were gonna settle it peacefully. Not with him killin’ my flock. Well, they weren’t aviants but they were still under my command. Anyway. I fired a guided missile at the sob… he guided it right into an unstable volcanic asteroid. Damn thing EXPLODED. Zero gravity magma an’ fire everywhere. Destabilized the entire field o’ rocks, nearly cost me the mission… hell nearly cost me my life. Big ol’ plume o’ expandin’ magma came right at my face an’ space is cold but it wasn’t coolin’ it fast enough… if I didn’t have my old overshield from Madan, I’d’ve died. So, it was clear I was gonna have to take care of this bird. I unfolded my wings, an’ my zero-g suit at the time had these personal boosters on it, not standard issue neither. The GOOD stuff. The real high tech LLC stuff. I blasted off towards the son a bitch an’ man… that dude almost killed me a few times with his launcher. I mean he really knew how to use the environment to his advantage. I actually learned a couple things from him in that fight. Came in useful against the varelsi when they tried that space invasion of Jennar through the asteroid belt. The FIRST battle not that bullsh*t second battle where Rendain revealed what a total a**hole he was. Anyway. The whole asteroid field’s unstable now. We’re zippin’ around dodgin’ flyin’ rocks, an’ this son a bitch fires a concussive missile right at me. I just barely manage to block it with a secondary shield, but the shrapnel hits my ammo regen pack. He starts to fly off. I’ve got one shot with a camera guided missile. I fire, narrowly dodgin’ microasteroids left an’ right, an’ just as I’m about to torch his ass he turns and throws his launcher into the path of my missile. Boom. We’re both unarmed now, except for these babies.

He flexes his talons.

BENEDICT:
Ho-ly… sh*t. I hadn’t been in a real claw fight since flight school. An’ here I am, stuck in a claw fight, with this experienced as ■■■■ fighter in zero G in an unstable asteroid field. Man… it was brutal. At one point he almost punctured my 02 cycler, and if he’d’ve done that we wouldn’t be talkin’ right now. He did puncture my wings a couple times, an’ my suit had to auto seal at least 15 times from the blows from this son a bitch. Still got a nasty ass scar on… well… on my ass… But you better believe I got him as good as he got me. End of the fight… ■■■■■■■’s damaged my two primary boosters. But what he don’t know is I got a hidden emergency booster hidden in my back, so when he comes at me with his claws extended, I’m able to boost up… grab him by THE CREST… and throw him into this big ass jagged rock. He screams, ya know… silent like. His comms were ■■■■■■ at that point. And I’m just seein’ the blood… float out of his back. Like this aura of blood around the dude. I grabbed him by the throat. An’ man… in the seconds before I strike, he gives me a look. And it’s a real rare look. I ain’t quite sure I ever had an opponent look at me like that again. First he’s all angry, then a moment of despair hits him, cuz he knows he’s done. An’ then… just for a split second… that look of acceptance. Like he just gives this slight little nod as if to say… that was a good fight, you glorious son of a bitch, and I ain’t ashamed to lose to you. I’m goin’ out like a badass.

Benedict’s eyes gleam as he continues.

BENEDICT:
Man… it was a pleasure to be the one to send him to the Eternal Nesting Grounds, and I gave him the death he deserved. I dug in with my talon, an ripped out his throat. I ain’t never had a kill like that again. That was… just…

Benedict shakes his head.

BENEDICT:
Beautiful. I just wish the dude had been on my side. We had him now, we could take on Rendain, the varelsi, all those f**kers just the two of us.

He pauses for a few moments.

BENEDICT:
Yer turn.

Galilea leans forward, her face still stony.

GALILEA:
During the initial phases of my indoctrination into the Order of the Sustaining Mother, I encountered a very shrewd, very meticulous woman named Sister Chastice. She was vicious, not a brutal warrior mind you, but a very focused, and very intelligent, gatekeeper with an almost single minded drive to weed out anyone she felt could be a threat to the Jennerit Empire. One day… I allowed my… feelings… for another to cloud my judgment. And I got sloppy.

BENEDICT:
Ambra?

GALILEA:
That’s not important.

BENEDICT:
But it WAS Ambra, right?

GALILEA:
I said it was not important. Anyway. Due to a… piece of evidence I had foolishly left out in the open, she came very close to unveiling my identity. Keep in mind, I was a deep cover operative at the time. If my identity had been revealed, it would have been a death sentence.

BENEDICT:
I assume this is before your spooky powers.

GALILEA:
It was well before sustainment. I had to eliminate her before she could present her evidence to the High Order. Any dubious data, any doubt that she could place in the minds of the High Order about my candidacy would have meant my immediate death, no matter how innocuous it seemed. And so… I conscripted the help of a fellow initiate. Someone who…

BENEDICT:
Ambra.

GALILEA:
DAMMIT BIRD I HADN’T EVEN MET AMBRA YET! I HAVE AN ENTIRE LIFE OUTSIDE OF THAT WOMAN! STOP ASSUMING EVERYTHING IN MY PAST HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH AMBRA! AND STOP INTERRUPTING ME!

BENEDICT:
Sorry.

GALILEA:
Anyway, I enlisted the help of a fellow initiate. The very initiate I had become romantically involved with and the very initiate who I had engaged in… inappropriate relations with. NOT Ambra. She was a mathematical genius. An expert with coding and computers and electronic devices. She used her knowledge to create a digital trail of breadcrumbs away from me, and towards another initiate. A mutual rival.

Galilea pauses and closes her eyes.

GALILEA:
And I… in turn… created a trail of breadcrumbs that made it possible for Sister Chastice to discover my fellow initiate’s manipulations so that my error in the system could be attributed to her. A trail leading directly to my rival would have looked too suspicious, and would have surely resulted in my death. A trail leading to a known friend however…

She trails off and briefly glances at the table before continuing.

GALILEA
There was no trial. There was no warning. One day my… friend… was called into the chambers of the High Order without warning, without reason. She was so excited. She thought the day had finally come for her to be transcended to full associate sisterhood, the step right before sustainment. Instead, she was beheaded on the spot. She didn’t even know what hit her. And she never knew… that I… was the one who betrayed her. I was transcended to full associate sisterhood three months later. It was THEN that I met Ambra.

Their bracelets unlock.

GALILEA:
Not brutal in the visceral sense. But brutal in the sheer cold-hearted efficiency of my betrayal.

She pauses.

GALILEA:
I truly did love her. But she was a weakness I could not allow. My mission was too important. And so… I ended her.

BENEDICT:
Damn. That is some cold sh*t right there. What was her name?

GALILEA:
Her name was unimportant to my story. Just as the name of your opponent was unimportant to yours.

BENEDICT:
Well… damn.

Benedict stands and prepares to walk from the room.

BENEDICT:
Kind of wish ya’d told me some more details about yer affair with this lady.

GALILEA:
Tell me more details about your relationship with the kormiri next time, and you may get your wish.

Benedict’s eyes narrow.

BENEDICT:
Pass. But I will be back tomorrow. With more stories. Thanks Gal!

Benedict steps out, then pokes his head back in.

BENEDICT:
Just so ya know though… my relationship with the kormiri? It wasn’t sexual… don’t you go spreadin’ rumors like that.

GALILEA: (Rolling her eyes)
Good night.

Galilea shuts the door. Alani stares wide eyed at her as she crosses to her bed and sits down.

GALILEA:
Nova. Resume normal illumination.

ALANI:
Was… was that story true?

GALILEA:
There are elements of truth. But that particular combination of truths does not result in an honest tale.

ALANI: (Sighing)
Good.

GALILEA:
Alani, I have done many dark deeds in my life. Although that tale was fabricated, the events contained within it would not be uncommon, nor would they even scratch the surface of the most cold blooded activities I have engaged in. Consider that before you decide you want to be my friend.

Alani stands for a moment.

ALANI:
Keep in mind I’ve done some pretty nasty things too.

Galilea stares at her coldly.

GALILEA:
I’m sorry. But the rage induced massacre of the Silent Sisters who boiled your homeworld is hardly a comparable experience to the darkness within me. Now leave.

Alani closes her eyes and silently walks from the room.

GALILEA:
Captain Ghalt, do you have any notes for tonight’s encounter?

A pause.

GALILEA:
Captain Ghalt.

GHALT: (Over the comm)
Yeah. I’m here.

GALILEA:
You seem distracted.

GHALT: (Over the comm)
I’m… concerned. That’s all.

GALILEA:
Do you believe I mishandled that situation in any way?

GHALT: (Over the comm)
No. No. You were fine. It’s something Benedict said that concerns me. Nova, we’re sure that Benedict’s bracelet was functioning properly, right? He didn’t tamper with it? It’s not malfunctioning?

NOVA: (Over the comm)
I have been watching him like a hawk sir. Although that analogy isn’t very adept when you consider our present company.

GALILEA: (Disgusted)
Don’t tell me that entire story he told was an outright lie.

GHALT: (Over the comm)
No. If what Nova says is true, he can’t have been lying.

GALILEA:
So what’s the problem?

GHALT: (Over the comm)
I have access to all of Benedict’s mission files, even the classified stuff that only the highest ranking admirals are supposed to see.

GALILEA:
And?

GHALT: (Over the comm)
There’s no record of Benedict ever having been engaged in UPR operations in the Corex system.


(Natsume Ryu) #129

Aaahhhhhhh I’ve been waiting for more. <3 Thank youuuuuu!


(Benedict's Glorious Wingspan) #130

The Gossip Game - Day 6

SERVER_REPORTS/USER_REPORTS/INFORMATION_ACCESS_SUMMARIES/0100CST19959.222_USER_T.GHALT: ~READ_ONLY? Y//

ACCESS SUMMARY: ~0100CST19959.221_USER_T.GHALT
:\USERS\T.GHALT> RUN_INQUIRY
UPRIDA Active. Define search parameters.
:\Corex
147 materials found in Lonefork Archival Database.
52765 materials found in UPR Central Command. 18222 Level 5 materials. 15 Vermillion Encodes.
Additional results available in 357 archival databases. Total entries: 385031. 84635 Level 3 materials. 183845 Level 5 materials. 24 Vermillion Encodes.
SmartSearch Override Option: Display additional results data summaries?
:\N
Transfer Results?
:\ALL
Transfer Destination?
:\TRF_LOCAL_ACCESS://Cyberdrag0n
Transfer in progress.
Transfer complete.
Level 3 access codes required to view sensitive classified data. Level 5 access codes required to view sensitive classified data. Files will remain valid for 26 days until regular shift code maintenance. For future access update your access codes at any UPRCSC uplink terminal and re-transfer files from UPRIDA. Local files will self-delete. For technical difficulties, contact UPRCSC Rear Commander Ryman K. Slenk, so called because he gets all the ass jobs. Yes. That was 100% necessary to encode into this message. WARNING: Failed attempts to access vermillion files will release aggressive malware onto your system. Be sure to obtain the most recent vermillion decoding hardware from UPRCSCSC before attempting to access. For difficulties with UPRCSCSC acquisitions, please contact UPRCSC Rear Commander Ryman K. Slenk, so called because he gets all the ass jobs. Yes. That was 100% necessary to encode into this message.
:\RESET_INQUIRY
UPRIDA Active. Define Search Parameters.
:\GEN_INF: Lonefork
Lonefork. UPR general supply station on 2nd planet in Corex system. Commissioned in 19932 by Lieutenant General Twan Sigmund. Destroyed in darkening of Corex in 19946. Sole supplier of UPR operations in Ramflex Arm. 5th largest supply station at time of destruction. 360 degree spherical protection by natural and artificial stellar rock formations. Highly defensible. Pre-darkening: Navigational Hazard Level: 6. Post-darkening: Navigational Hazard Level 12. Lonefork station destroyed. Salvage operations unsuccessful. Unlikely benefit to further recovery attempts. System navigation restricted for your protection.
More data?
:\RESET_INQUIRY
UPRIDA Active. Define Search Parameters.
:\Corex + Benedict
No search results found.
:\RESET_INQUIRY
UPRIDA Active. Define Search Parameters.
:\Corex + UPRS#698.1.B1.19943.240
One search result found.
1 material found in UPR Central Command.
19943.289 - Requisition Request: PROJECT BOOMSDAY.
REQUEST: 3 J6 PIGISOCHIPS.
TECHNICIAN: UPRS#008.560753.T32.19938.100
SPECIALIST: UPRS#698.1.B1.19943.240
APPROVED: UPRS#015.23345.V1.19911.10
TEXT: This aviant jackass the brass keeps talking up wants some real high quality ■■■■ for his custom rocket launcher. I need three J6 or above pigment isolation control chips to build a custom camera guided rocket. The first two for experimentation. The last one for the final prototype. I hope he’s worth it. Might just leave the UPR if the rest of his people are like this.
FULFILLMENT: UPRS#182.2222.I3.19938.72
RETURN COMMENT: Done. Included a couple something specials in there for you too. Put in a good word for me with the General. I’m one of the most efficient inventory specialists in the UPR and you guys have got me at the ASS END OF SPACE. Literally. We transport ■■■■ here. I’m SO sick of cataloging poo.
Result included in previous transfer request with all data intact. Transfer again?
:\N
:\C
Logging out of UPRIDA.

END OF REPORT.

:\FW: ~A.Friethman: SUBJ: ATTN: V
:\C


Captain Trevor Ghalt sits in his office at his computer terminal, rubbing his eyes. The door chimes.

GHALT:
Yeah. Come in.

MELLKA:
Well. You look like hell.

Ghalt looks up at a half concerned, half smirking Mellka and sits up in his chair.

GHALT:
No, no. I’m just, uh, working.

MELLKA:
Yep. Getting your ass kicked by the computers. I know how that goes. Is that a vermillion decoder?

GHALT:
For the last time… I can’t give you…

MELLKA:
Yeah, I’ve already got one. Your UPR secrets? Not worth knowing. Especially “Urgent Transfer Request Number 215-2253.”

GHALT:
I’ll remind you General Comney was dishonorably discharged for that.

MELLKA:
Well, yeah… I’d imagine redirecting a medical transport full of much needed relief vaccines to bring himself a crate full of aphrodisiacs would result in a dishonorable discharge. Unless. You know… he were Eldrid. Or Jennerit. In which case, you know, he’d be executed. For being dangerously unstable.

GHALT:
Did you want something?

MELLKA:
Yeah, actually. I’d like to know why Kleese is sitting in an Eldrid prison for attempting to break into the Archive of the Red Observer. You know. My archive? I mean, I COULD have him executed, which I’d be TOTALLY ok with, but I figured you’d raise a fuss… so…

Ghalt jumps up from his chair and rushes for the door.

GHALT:
Dammit, what the hell is he up to?


GHALT:
Dammit, what the hell are you up to?

Kleese looks up at Ghalt from behind the crackling energy field barring the entrance to his small cell.

KLEESE:
Oh thank goodness you’re here. This has all been a terrible misunderstanding.

MELLKA:
Which part? The part where you broke into MY private regrowth chamber and attempted to access MY classified files, or the part where you wet yourself when my guards yanked you from your battle throne?

KLEESE:
I DIDN’T “WET MYSELF!” It was discharge from your damnable biological computers!

MELLKA:
Yeah, sure it was.

KLEESE:
ANALYZE THE FLUIDS!!

GHALT:
HEY! Can we focus please!? Kleese. Explain.

KLEESE: (Sighing)
I was looking for information about our mutual friend. Like YOU asked me to.

GHALT:
I didn’t ask you to break into Mellka’s computers!

KLEESE:
Oh, really? I must have misinterpreted your instructions.

GHALT:
You DID.

MELLKA:
Mmm hmm… and just what “mutual friend” would we be talking about?

GHALT:
Benedict.

MELLKA:
Oh, well ■■■■. His criminal record here is public knowledge. You could’ve gotten that from any of our public terminals.

KLEESE:
I was looking for information that might not be ON the public records.

MELLKA:
What the ■■■■ classified information do you think I would have about Benedict on my computers?

KLEESE:
Well NOTHING. Of course I didn’t KNOW THAT when I was SEARCHING.

MELLKA:
Oh, you didn’t even make it to “searching.”

KLEESE:
Well it’s not my fault you morons have decided on a backward ass hippie method of storing information.

MELLKA:
Keeps ■■■■■■■■ like you from breaking in and stealing it. So… Ghalt. You know what he’s talking about?

GHALT: (Sighing)
I DID tell him to look for information about Benedict in non-UPR databases. I MEANT the LLC and any illicit local terminals he might be able to break into. I DID NOT ask him to break into any Eldrid databases.

KLEESE:
Well that’s what happens when you don’t specify! I used a broad interpretation of your orders!

GHALT: (Sighing again)
Mellka…

MELLKA:
It’s ok, I believe you. If I didn’t believe you, I’d have already kicked your ass by now.

GHALT:
Thanks. I don’t suppose we can let him off with a slap on the wrist?

MELLKA:
Oh, I could let him go.

A long, awkward pause ensues. Ghalt sighs yet again.

GHALT:
So…

MELLKA:
I want a public apology.

GHALT:
Done.

MELLKA:
From Kleese.

KLEESE:
HELL NO!!!

GHALT:
Done.

KLEESE:
HEY!!!

MELLKA:
And I want the LLC to revoke Sinapse Biogenetics’ license to operate in Eldrid space.

KLEESE:
YOUR government is PERFECTLY HAPPY with that arrangement last time I checked!

MELLKA:
You’re right. My GOVERNMENT is perfectly happy with that arrangement. But I’M not. I’M not okay with the LLC using OUR resources to construct neural control implants for thrall slaves!

KLEESE:
Well would you rather the mindless drones of the Jennerit empire start breeding uncontrollably and hogging ALL of our resources?

MELLKA:
No. I want you greedy ■■■■■■■■ and the Jennerit to FIND ANOTHER WAY!!

KLEESE:
Well last time I checked DEANDE was in charge of the thrall problem…

MELLKA:
Last time I checked DEANDE was getting cockblocked by her fellow counselors from passing legislation that would make such actions illegal! Look. The other observers don’t give a ■■■■ what I do with you. They’d be cool with an apology, or they’d be cool with me locking you in a dank ass cave until you finally and at long last die of natural causes. And as much influence as you hold with the LLC, you know and I know those power hungry ■■■■■■■■ are just licking their lips for an excuse to send you into a much, much belated retirement. So your fate is in my hands. If our governments won’t make the RIGHT decisions, it’s up to us to ensure Solus doesn’t lose its soul.

Kleese thinks for a moment.

KLEESE:
It won’t be easy. I don’t have much influence in that particular branch of the LLC, and I don’t have the power to arbitrarily revoke a contract outside of my collective holdings.

Mellka stares at him.

KLEESE:
But that doesn’t mean there’s… nothing… I can do. I’ll see what kind of changes I can elicit if you let me out.

Mellka stands motionless, glaring at him.

KLEESE:
Hey! I’m not exactly a shareholder of Sinapse Biogenetics! I honestly couldn’t care less about what happens to them! I have no reason to help them at all!

Mellka releases the energy field.

MELLKA:
You’re free to go. Remember our agreement, because I certainly will. That’s both a threat, and a promise, Kleese.

Kleese exits the cell and glares at her.

KLEESE:
You know, you didn’t have to rely on EXTORTION. You could have just asked.

MELLKA:
You know, you didn’t have to break into my archive. You could have just asked.

KLEESE:
Hmph!

MELLKA:
Speaking of which… Ghalt… if you do ever want information like that from us, you know you can always ask.

GHALT:
Mellka, believe me, I had no intention of involving any of you or trying to get information from the Eldrid…

MELLKA:
Yeah, I get it. I already said I believe you, but I mean… if you DID want information…

GHALT:
I know. Thanks.

Ghalt turns and starts to walk from the room.

MELLKA:
Hey! Should we be concerned about bird-brain?

GHALT:
No… I… it’s nothing. I’m… I’m just concerned about him. I was trying to track down some information…

MELLKA:
About his family?

GHALT:
What? Uh… yeah! About his family. We never really did find out if they survived the darkening of his homeworld. I thought it’d give him some closure. Let him start to deal with his emotions. I know your feelings about him, but… he’s still one of my soldiers. I need to look out for him. Anyway… I made sure to order the good coffee for our meeting tomorrow.

MELLKA:
I told you the Eldrid stuff was better!

GHALT:
Yeah, yeah. Old habits die hard though. See you at 0800.

As the door to the prison hall closes, Mellka activates her wrist communicator.

MELLKA:
Hey Thorn, any weird ■■■■ going on with Benedict I should know about?


GALILEA: (Over the comm)
I don’t see why you’re so upset about this. As an operative, there were no public records of my activities on Jennar. Or Tempest. Or…

GHALT:
Yes, but there were RECORDS. With Benedict, there’s… NOTHING. No records, no traces, no lists of his activities.

ALANI: (Over the comm)
He could be lying.

GHALT:
Our scans already ruled that out.

ALANI: (Over the comm)
Oh c’mon! What could bird-brain have possibly been up to that would have been worth such a super duper top secret secret?

GALILEA: (Over the comm)
Perhaps he has been the victim of some kind of memory tampering or modification.

GHALT:
That could be true, but if his memory was modified, it would have to be the subtlest memory modification in the long, sad history of memory modifications. None of his physicals or bioscans have ever revealed anything like that.

ALANI: (Over the comm)
Well if you’re really worried, you could always have Bea or Phee run some detailed neural scans on him. Nobody knows more about neural structures than those two. In Bea’s case, it’s… actually kind of creepy…

GHALT:
I’d really rather not involve Phoebe or Beatrix in this. It’s bad enough Kleese pissed off Mellka…

KLEESE: (Over the comm)
I’m ALREADY writing and memorizing a six paragraph public apology! What more do you want from me?

ALANI: (Over the comm)
Well… if you don’t want to have him scanned, and you don’t want to ask him yourself…

GHALT: (Sighing)
Unfortunately, I don’t see any way of approaching the subject without tipping my hand. And if I tip my hand, he’ll know something’s up, and our only chance to find out more about these possible secret ops is through these sessions.

KLEESE: (Over the comm)
Oh, I don’t know. I think a good old fashioned Jennerit “interrogation” might do the trick.

GHALT:
Uh-huh. Yeah. Because that worked out real well on me. And Caldarius. And Attikus. The UPR ruled out physical torture as an effective means of gathering intel years ago, and with good reason. The results weren’t accurate. Prisoners would just say anything to make the pain stop. Besides, I’ve worked with the guy for years. He’s had tons of opportunities to betray us before now. If he was involved in something, it probably wasn’t sinister. I just don’t like having someone under my command, someone I trusted, keeping secrets from me.

KLEESE: (Over the comm)
Mmm hmm… and that feeling of “discomfort” is what kept you up all night doing research, hm? And asking me to gather intelligence? Just admit your faith in him’s been shattered! It’s not a crime to be suspicious you know. 90% of the time when you think someone’s plotting against you there is actually someone plotting against you! It’s a proven fact!

GHALT:
Kleese, I’m not gonna turn this into a witch hunt. Especially with no proof.

After a long pause…

KLEESE: (Over the comm)
Wait… do you actually think Benedict could really be a witch? I’m asking you seriously, now… CONSIDER IT! Have you ever wondered how he—

GHALT:
Nova, mute Kleese’s audio.

NOVA:
Muting Kleese’s audio and pumping a mild sedative into his room.

GHALT:
Nova, I didn’t ask you to do that last part.

NOVA:
I know. You didn’t have to ask. I’m just awesome like that.

GALILEA: (Over the comm)
So… has my objective changed?

There is a long pause.

GHALT:
No. Your objective hasn’t changed. The goal is still to help him overcome his issues. That said… if you have the opportunity to press him more about his operations in the Corex system, without compromising his trust in you… take it.

A knock is heard at Galilea’s door.

GALILEA: (Over the comm)
Understood. Enter, bird!


BENEDICT:
I just don’t know what’d be a big enough secret to force ya to talk about yer relationship with Ambra!

Galilea leans back, rolling her eyes.

GALILEA:
What is everyone’s obsession with Ambra and I?

Benedict gives her a stupid look.

BENEDICT:
Yer kiddin’ right?

GALILEA:
No. I am completely serious. I don’t get it.

BENEDICT:
Well, you two…

GALILEA:
We… what?

BENEDICT:
Well… you know… you two… were…

GALILEA:
We… were… what?

BENEDICT:
Intimate! Or friends! I think! I don’t know! That’s what makes it so interestin’! Ya never talk about it!

Galilea leans forward with a sigh.

GALILEA:
I don’t want to talk about it.

BENEDICT:
Why not?

ALANI:
Maybe because it’s painful for her, dumbass?

BENEDICT:
If we can avoid commentary from the crab meat gallery over there…

GALILEA:
Fine. What would you like to know about Ambra and I?

BENEDICT:
How’d ya first meet?

GALILEA:
Tell me how you first met someone you cared about.

BENEDICT:
But y’all already know how I met Circinae! I already told y’all that! I talk about that ■■■■ ALL THE TIME!

GALILEA:
Well is there someone else you cared deeply and passionately about that you could tell us about?

A pause.

BENEDICT:
Well I had a pet clam once.

Galilea facepalms.

BENEDICT:
I don’t know if I’d call that a “passionate” relationship though.

GALILEA:
Benedict… I’m just going to save you some time and trouble here. The story of how Ambra and I first met is not interesting at all. It wasn’t love at first sight. It was, in fact, incredibly mundane. We were both assigned to do research on soil erosion in the Vakmir Agricultural District.

BENEDICT:
Right… but how’d ya FEEL when ya met her?

GALILEA:
I felt… nothing. Literally nothing. It was an incredibly mundane meeting, like I said.

BENEDICT:
Ya didn’t talk to her AT ALL?

GALILEA:
We exchanged greetings.

BENEDICT:
Like, confused, awkward greetings?

GALILEA:
Standard… polite… formal… Silent Sister initiate… greetings.

BENEDICT:
Because y’all were under the watchful eyes of the Silent Sisters.

GALILEA:
No. Because it was standard courtesy. There was no feeling of mutual attraction when we first met.

BENEDICT:
But ya must have felt some kind of… underlyin’… deep… confusin’… energy… some kind of… connection that ya couldn’t explain in words.

Galilea facepalms again and smiles slightly.

GALILEA:
No. It was just a standard courtesy. No attraction. No mysterious psychic bond… we just said greetings to each other.

BENEDICT:
But when ya were workin’ together ya must have…

GALILEA:
Done our jobs quickly and efficiently WITHOUT mysterious emotional energies or sexual tension.

BENEDICT:
Yer kiddin’! NOTHIN’ happened?

GALILEA:
She asked to borrow a data spike.

BENEDICT:
AH! SEE! SEE!!

Galilea rolls her head back in bemused disbelief.

GALILEA:
I said, “Yes, here.” She said, “Thank you.”

BENEDICT:
An’ the seeds for dark, forbidden passions are laid.

GALILEA:
Yes. Of course. Because there’s nothing hotter than asking your co-worker for office supplies.

BENEDICT:
It’s hot when I do it.

GALILEA:
It’s probably also sexual harassment when you do it. Now just how many days of janitorial duty did your superiors assign you for trying to be “hot” on the job?

BENEDICT:
I dunno, like fifty. So that’s it, huh?

GALILEA: (Leaning forward)
That is it.

BENEDICT:
Well, ■■■■. That’s really disappointin’.

GALILEA:
Have I ruined the mysticism for you?

BENEDICT:
A little.

GALILEA:
Good. Relationships develop over time. As I spent more time with Ambra, I got to know her better, and eventually, our relationship blossomed into a friendship.

BENEDICT:
An’ then DARK, FORBIDDEN, NASTY SEX!!!

Galilea rolls her eyes and rests her head on her cheek.

GALILEA:
Your turn.

BENEDICT:
Aw no! I’m the initiator! I ain’t told ya a secret yet!

GALILEA:
No. I’m tired. And that’s just a ritual courtesy. As long as the two parties share, it doesn’t matter who shares first. And I shared. So go.

BENEDICT:
Aw, that’s lame! That is so lame! Ya can’t just share a lame secret like that! I mean, ya don’t even get to hear any cool ■■■■ I’ve done!

GALILEA:
You’re the one who wanted to know how I met Ambra. I cannot help it that the story was boring. Besides, I’m not terribly interested in the “cool ■■■■” you’ve done.

BENEDICT: (Sighing with exasperation)
Alright. Fine. I’ll tell ya the boring story of how I met Ghalt. It was just after my wing was repaired. I was happy to be flyin’ again, but I really didn’t care 'bout anything, or anyone. I went to Ghalt’s office. He greeted me. Big firm handshake. Lots of formal military greetings. He talks about my service record, I don’t give a ■■■■, eventually he brings Montana in to take me on a tour. That’s it. I didn’t respect him at the time. Or anything.

Their bracelets unlock.

GALILEA:
I assume that’s not the case now.

Benedict turns and frowns slightly at the edges of his beak. His tone grows deathly serious.

BENEDICT:
Now I’d die for Ghalt, and don’t ya forget it.

He brightens.

BENEDICT:
Hey, ya wanna hear an embarassin’ story, ask about our first battle together next time.

Galilea can hear Ghalt groan in her earpiece. Alani suppresses a giggle.

BENEDICT:
See ya tomorrow.

Benedict walks out. Alani stands and walks with excitement over to Galilea’s table.

ALANI:
So… how’d you and Ambra really meet?

Galilea turns to Alani with surprise.

GALILEA:
That… was how we met.

ALANI:
YOU’RE KIDDING… YOU TOLD HIM THE TRUTH?

Galilea smirks and gives her a friendly push.

GALILEA:
Yes it was.

ALANI: (Walking backwards towards the door)
You told him the truth and it was THAT boring?

Galilea sighs and smiles at the ceiling.

GALILEA:
Good night, Alani.

Alani backs from the room and the door slides shut behind her. Galilea sits for a moment, still smiling slightly, and stares at the glow worm on her dresser.

GALILEA:
So… Captain Ghalt… this “first battle…”

Ghalt groans again in her earpiece. Galilea leans down as her small smirk slowly morphs into a wide grin.


(Natsume Ryu) #131

thank yooooooooou! <3


(Benedict's Glorious Wingspan) #133

The Gossip Game - Day 7

LLC SECURITY EVIDENCE RECORD DATABASE
EXHIBIT: 011
CASE: 19959.310-005
CLASSIFICATION: DB: P3-1988
DESCRIPTION: Kolban Shopper Security mobile data intercept.
CODING LANGUAGE: PIDERA v.3-1988
ADDITIONAL DECRIPTION: Hyella Zex 8 Lock Secruity Key; Bitram JIXA Scramble Decoder; UPR-19959.08 Level 5 Access
FILE PRESERVATION FIRM: Nanex Group Military Class File Retention Services
INTERCEPTION DATE: 0845CST19959.224
TEXT TRANSLATION WITH FORMATTING PRESERVATION:

09:00:00
Virtualosos Custom Boutique.
Expect target between 09:20 and 09:45.
Disable local ETB access remotely.
Eliminate.
Visual confirmation required for full payment.
END.


Alani walks slowly up the corridor towards the mess hall, a big grin on her face. Mellka rounds a corner and falls into step beside her.

ALANI: (A little too excited)
HI MELLKA!

MELLKA:
Uh, hey kid. How ya doin’?

ALANI:
I’M DOING GREAT! Hey, are we still on for that Helican spa night next week?

MELLKA:
Huh? Oh, yeah… yeah… lookin’ forward to it. Just do me a favor and keep that damn starfish thing away from my face next time.

ALANI:
Oh, don’t worry! I learned my lesson about Mindrav. I mean, how could I have known it had a taste for Aelfrin flesh? Right? Uh… I mean… oh… you’re not still pissed about that are you? Is that why you’re talking to me!?

MELLKA:
No. No. I’m cool about the starfish thing… as long as it never, ever happens again. No I actually wanted to talk to you about something else.

ALANI:
Oh?

MELLKA:
So… uh… I heard you’ve been spending some time with Benedict.

ALANI:
Oh. That. You heard about that.

MELLKA:
Yeah. Word on the street is, Ghalt’s assigned you and Gal to uncover all his hidden secrets.

ALANI:
Oh, no! It’s nothing like that, it’s supposed to be therapy! BUT DON’T TELL HIM THAT!!

MELLKA:
Not gonna say a word. But… uh… yeah… so Benny might be hiding a pretty big secret from what I hear.

ALANI: (Rolling her eyes)
I don’t think he’s hiding anything. I don’t think he has the brains or self-control to hide anything. He’d be blabbing it 5 minutes later all over his FaceBird account.

MELLKA:
Mmmmm… yeah. You’re probably right. He blabs everything to everybody. Unless it’s something important to him. Then he’s surprisingly tight beaked and evasive. Alani…

Mellka gives a long, uncomfortable sigh.

MELLKA:
I want you to know, it actually causes me physical pain to say this. It really, REALLY hurts me to say this. But… uh… Benedict… Benedict… is… he’s not as stupid as he acts. If he WAS that stupid, he would’ve died a LONG time ago. Although, in a universe this cruel, that lets entire planets get sucked away into the void, I don’t entirely rule out that it’s just cruel enough to allow that son of a bitch to keep on living simply to make me just THAT much more miserable. The point is, he’s probably not as dumb as we like to assume he is. When he applies himself, he can be downright scary. Fortunately he applies himself in terrible, TERRIBLE ways. Like pissing me the hell off. But… you know…

ALANI:
Mellka, I honestly don’t think he’s a traitor. If he was involved with something, it’s probably just a personal thing that doesn’t affect anyone but him. Besides… we’re doing this to help him, not to hurt him. I don’t know if I feel right blabbing all his secrets to everyone. That really goes against the whole water monk code thing…

MELLKA:
Yeah. Code. Right. Sure. Alani, listen, I don’t care about Benedict’s innermost feelings or, in general, anything he has to say really. But… on the off chance he IS hiding something and he was involved with something big, and I mean REALLY big… I’d really like to not be the last to know. The Eldrid can’t afford to be ■■■■■■ again, especially not by our supposed allies, and if that jackass is a secret threat, I consider that need to know.

ALANI:
Mellka… I… I really don’t think he’s hiding anything.

MELLKA:
I know. And like I said, I don’t want to learn all his secrets. Cuz frankly, I don’t wanna hear about every single thing he’s ever “blowed up wid his rockets, YEE HAW!” I just don’t want to be impaled through the back if another Rendain situation develops. So… let me know if he’s hiding something that might impact Eldrid security. Ok?

Alani stands and thinks for a moment.

ALANI:
Well… IF he’s a traitor… I don’t think it’d violate my code to say something about it. But I’m telling you, whatever’s going on with him, it’s not that big.

MELLKA:
Agreed, but just in case… tell me. Oh… and next spa treatment? NO STARFISH!!!

Mellka turns around casually and walks up the corridor. Alani stands thinking for a moment, troubled, then rolls her eyes and heads for the mess hall.


Benedict stands staring at the Virtualosos customer service representative on the monitor.

BENEDICT:
The HELL YA MEAN YA “LOST MY ORDER?”

CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE:
I’m sorry sir, but I can’t find any record of it in our database.

BENEDICT:
ORDER NUMBER XJ-TAN78167#217B-331-123! FILED AT 2348 CST 19959.197!!! Check yer damn records again! I’ve got the receipt right here!

The exasperated customer service rep shakes his head in irritation, then with a sudden look of shock and realization shouts back into the storeroom.

CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE:
Susan! I need you for a second! Excuse me for just one moment please sir.

The customer service technician mutes the feed and turns to face Susan as he enters from the back.

BENEDICT:
Yeah, ya go an’ get Susan a**hole.

PENDLES:
How much ya offerin’ an’ do ya want the silver platter special?

Benedict jumps at Pendles’ sudden appearance behind him, then grabs Boomsday and shoves it in the snake’s face.

BENEDICT:
I told ya to stay out of my damn quarters a**hole!

PENDLES:
And I told ya to pay me for that work I did for ya, my beloved first client…

BENEDICT:
Don’t call me that, I ain’t yer client, an’ I don’t owe ya sh*t.

PENDLES:
Really? That’s not what my ledger says…

BENEDICT:
Yer ledger’s lyin’. GET OUT.

PENDLES: (With a grin and the most insincere of sighs)
Okay, okay. We’ll call that one a freebee for now. But I do got a business proposition for ya, if yer 'ntrested.

BENEDICT:
I’ve got a rocket with yer name on it. If yer interested…

PENDLES:
Hear me out, mate! Realistically our lil’ alliance is gonna end, an’ we’re all gonna wind up killin’ each other. That’s the way of things. The common threat’s eliminated, an’ we all go back to slittin’ each others’ throats. Natural law. Of course, ain’t nothin’ wrong with gettin’ ahead with a lil’ advantage early on, right? Just think of all the defenses an’ firepower ya could buy with the credits I’d be willin’ to pay for a lil’ info!

BENEDICT:
Not… interested. Get… out.

PENDLES:
Hear me out, love! I heard ya’ve been spendin’ some time with that half sustained Wraith of Bliss thing. Quite a number of people’ve got some hits out on ‘er! But my present contract with the Battleborn prevents me from outright doin’ her in now. More lucrative for me to protect all yer asses ‘en to stab ‘em! Not that I’d go for the ass. Most cushioned part! Amateur move… anyway… since we both know things are gonna go to sh*t sooner or later, hows about gettin’ some credits for some intel? Not that I need help takin’ down a target, but she’s gonna be one tough ass contract an’ I could really use the advantage! Hows 'bout it?

Benedict glares at Pendles for a full minute, then grabs his “Gossip Game” bracelet from the table and throws it to the floor at his feet.

BENEDICT:
Ya want answers? Get 'em yerself.

PENDLES:
C’mon, first customer! It ain’t like yer really loyal to anyone. Don’t forget… it was yer lil’ rant that led me to…

Benedict arms his launcher’s Hawkeye mode.

BENEDICT:
Man, I don’t even care if this gets me in trouble with Ghalt. I WILL waste one of yer emergency transports right now.

PENDLES:
Alright, alright, no need for that love. Just remember. If ya change yer mind, there’s a tidy lil’ profit in it for ya.

Pendles stands and dances out of the room, humming a little tune to himself. Behind him, the customer service representative reestablishes audio.

CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE:
Mister Benedict Sir, I’m sorry, this has all been a TERRIBLE understanding… we want you to know that you’re one of our most VALUED customers… and…

BENEDICT:
Yeah, yeah. Cut the ■■■■. I’m comin’ down there TOMORROW. If my program ain’t ready, yer losin’ a damn “valued customer.” This ain’t the first time ya guys have f**ked up.

Benedict cuts the feed.

BENEDICT:
Everyone’s a “valued customer” until ya need to screw 'em over…


REYNA:
Yeah, I was assigned to the security fleet heading in and out of Corex, but I don’t know anything about any “secret operations.” It was mostly just keeping pirates from stealing cargo. And don’t even get me started on how pissed I was when I found out that “cargo” was literal ■■■■.

Ghalt leans back in his chair staring at Reyna on the monitor with disappointment.

REYNA:
I mean, I was one of the most qualified combat specialists in the UPR and they had me guarding crap!!! Now maybe if I’d have been on the front lines, we wouldn’t have lost the Trelassian Cluster.

GHALT:
Damn. That’s actually really disappointing. And yet, it explains so much. I thought for sure they would’ve sent you there to engage in some kind of secret ops, given your… many… many combat specialties.

REYNA:
Flattery ain’t gonna make up for you missing our date night last week. And no. Sorry. I wasn’t doing anything special. I don’t say the leadership of the UPR is made up of a bunch of stupid jackasses for no reason. Although I DID learn a lot about UPR anti-piracy procedures. Which is why I’m so goddamn good.

GHALT:
Speaking of which, that automated shipment of plasma spikes… you wouldn’t happen to know…

REYNA:
Oh, what’s that? Your transmission’s breaking up! Sorry 'bout that!

She points at the screen.

REYNA:
Thursday… Herique’s Bistro… with a tie… or else.

The transmission cuts out. Ghalt smiles to himself.

GHALT:
Oh, I’ll wear a tie…

NOVA:
So no luck on the Rogue front, eh?

GHALT:
No. I thought for sure Reyna’d know something about it, but it sounds like the UPR had her doing some errand girl crap.

NOVA:
Maybe if you’d asked about aviant activity at Corex.

GHALT:
I’d really rather not have all of Detritus knowing about my suspicions. It’s bad enough Mellka knows.

NOVA:
Oh well. It’s probably nothing. Pay it no mind. By which of course I mean continue to process it obsessively for my amusement.

Ghalt hits his comm panel.

GHALT:
Gal? You good to go?

GALILEA:
I am ready. How did the meeting with Reyna go?

GHALT:
No info.

GALILEA:
Damn. Then I suppose I shall have to endure another session of his squawking.

GHALT:
Really, Gal? I thought you were starting to warm up to the bird?

GALILEA:
Eh.

After a short pause…

ALANI: (Nervous)
Hey… maybe there’s nothing to learn. I mean… maybe there is no secret. Shouldn’t we just focus on helping Benedict? I mean that’s why we started this whole thing in the first place, right?

GALILEA:
There is no reason we cannot do both. We can help him and assess him as a possible threat simultaneously.

Alani sighs.

ALANI:
I mean… I suppose… I just…

GHALT:
Alani… our primary objective is still to help Benedict. I honestly don’t think he’s hiding anything big either, but I want to be sure. That’s all.

ALANI:
I… ok… listen, I just… I don’t want to lose sight of the goal here, you know? We started this to help a friend. Well… acquaintance. Oooh! Ally! That’s the best term. And…

GHALT:
I understand. We’re not here to turn on him Alani. And you’re right. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we’re doing this to help him.

ALANI:
I mean, you could always put on the bracelet and ask him yourself if you’re curious, right?

GHALT:
Pass, but thanks for sharing your concerns. You’re right. I should probably drop it before it goes too far. Let’s just focus on helping Benny. If he chooses to spill any deep, dark secrets, we’ll deal with 'em as they come.

There is a knock on Galilea’s door.

BENEDICT:
Hey Gal. Got any extra bracelets? I did somethin’ stupid an’ lost mine…


ALANI:
Of COURSE Pendles would try that. I’m not even a little bit surprised.

GALILEA:
Yes. It is good to know he fears me, though. I shall have to make an effort to be… more antagonistic in our training sessions.

Alani tosses Benedict another bracelet. He fiddles with the latch.

BENEDICT:
Yeah, well if there’s one member of this team that’s gotta get the fear of the Great Eagle scared into him, it’s snake boy. Dammit, do ya have any idea how hard it is to unlock this damn thing with talons?

Galilea rolls her eyes.

GALILEA:
Well, looks like today’s session is cancelled.

Benedict unlocks the bracelet.

BENEDICT:
Nope. Still on. Ain’t gettin’ out of it that easy.

He puts the bracelet on and locks it. Galilea gives a big, fake smile. Alani smiles slightly and begins humming for the silent meditation session.

GALILEA:
I invoke the sacred right of the Bluemother. By these rings may we be bound by secrets. By poisons shared, may we overcome and become stronger ouselves.

The bracelets lock and they sit silently for a few minutes. As the meditation session ends, Galilea looks up and stares into Benedict’s face inquisitively.

GALILEA:
What is The Great Eagle?

BENEDICT:
Awww hell, ya don’t want a sermon do ya? I really ain’t that religious…

GALILEA:
And yet you invoke his name frequently…

Benedict snorts.

BENEDICT:
I was RAISED to believe in the Great Eagle. Don’t mean I believe in all that sh*t.

GALILEA:
I think I would like to hear about the Great Eagle.

BENEDICT:
Aw c’mon. All that sh*ts in the ship’s database, an’ I ain’t really interested in hearin’ ‘bout nothin’ religious.

GALILEA:
Says the bird who is engaged in a sacred religious ritual for sharing gossip. Out with it.

BENEDICT:
Ugh… fine. I’m definitely pickin’ the topic tomorrow, though. The Great Eagle is… a myth. Supposedly, he was the first bird to ascend above the clouds into the heavens, where he saw everything was black. The souls of aviants back then were sucked into the darkness an’ eaten by big ass space monsters an sh*t. Real freaky stuff. Ya know, those parts of the Eagle’s Scratchings always gave me nightmares, I remember one time…

GALILEA:
Don’t change the subject. Continue.

BENEDICT:
Damn. Alright, ya want the sermon… so The Great Eagle flew into the darkness where the creatures of the void, we call ‘em monsters of the Chaos Wilds, tried to kill him an’ eat him for food. Like absorb his spiritual energy like food. Ya follow?

GALILEA:
Yes. Go on.

BENEDICT:
So The Great Eagle battles a bunch of these creatures. His will’s too strong for ‘em to digest and he returns to the boundary between sky an’ chaos in time to see this orphan boy Gelius’, soul gettin’ snapped up by some big ass octopus thing. He tries to help him fight it off, but he ain’t powerful enough to stop the monster. Gelius is too scared an’ believes he ain’t gonna exist no more. Through a conversation, that if ya’ve ever been in a REAL battle ya know is totally unrealistic, he tells Gelius that his belief makes him more powerful. If he can’t believe in himself, he has to believe in The Great Eagle. Only with the energy of his belief is he strong enough to beat the thing an’ save the little helpless orphan. So… Gelius believes. He puts his faith in the Great Eagle, and the Great Eagle grows stronger an’ protects him. With the power of Gelius’ belief, The Great Eagle’s able to fight off the darkness an’ save his life. Same story happens a bunch more times with slight variations, I AIN’T goin’ through each one, an’ a bunch more aviant souls The Great Eagle saves gather together formin’ the first Silver Hawks, warriors of The Great Eagle. Eventually through their combined belief, The Great Eagle was able to form The Eternal Nestin’ Grounds, where worthy aviant souls go when they die, and The Eternal Feedin’ grounds, where they bring monstrous aviant souls an’ chaos demons to harvest their spiritual energy to keep The Eternal Nestin’ Grounds from collapsin’. That’s how the myth goes anyway. Theory is we’re all stronger as a flock an’ only The Great Eagle can stand alone against the darkness. The belief of the souls in the physical realm allows him to manifest here, an’ makes him stronger.

Benedict leans back and sighs with frown.

BENEDICT:
But ■■■■ all that did for Madan. Had flocks of people in churches when the planet was darkened, an’ it didn’t save 'em from the monsters. So I guess ya could say I have my doubts.

GALILEA:
And yet… you continue to evoke his name.

BENEDICT:
Habit. Don’t pay it no mind. Yer turn.

Benedict’s bracelet turns slightly pale. Galilea looks down at the bracelet with a grimace.

BENEDICT:
What?

GALILEA:
You weren’t entirely truthful with your beliefs.

BENEDICT:
I told ya the truth. It’s a myth.

GALILEA:
But do you believe in the myth?

BENEDICT:
Ugh… it’s a great idea, but it ain’t true! I KNOW it ain’t true. Cuz if it’s true, The Great Eagle would’ve answered all our prayers to save our homes an’ families! But he didn’t do that did he?

Galilea just continues sitting silently.

BENEDICT:
Look, I WANT to believe in him, it’s a beautiful idea, but he left my people to die, Gal! My prayers didn’t help me save ‘em! If he was really so great an’ merciful an’ lovin’ he never would’ve let my family get destroyed! They never did nothin’ wrong. I always made sure they lived by the word of The Great Eagle an’ he still let 'em go.

GALILEA:
Are you so certain they are not with him now?

ALANI:
Benny, we’ve seen your shrine.

BENEDICT:
SO WHAT!!??? I say a little prayer every now an’ then when I start feelin’ real low, but my rational side knows it ain’t true. It ain’t like he ever answered me back. It ain’t like I ever got an answer from my family.

ALANI:
Benedict, there’s no shame in admitting you believe in a higher power…

BENEDICT:
It ain’t a higher power. It’s a way of keepin’ stupid, impressionable young rocket hawks in line cuz they don’t know no better. It’s a lie invented by the upper castes to control all the people beneath ‘em. Which tells ya somethin’ about my intelligence that I really want it to be true sometimes. I mean, for f**ks sakes, it’s pretty damn clear if he exists he’s forsaken me.

GALILEA:
Why do you say that?

BENEDICT:
Cuz he either didn’t save my family, or he saved ‘em an’ didn’t bother givin’ me a sign. Cuz I’ve lost almost every single f**kin’ battle I’ve been involved with since the fall of Madan, an’ because of all the horrible things that happen to my friends n’ allies. Pretty sure I’m cursed, Gal.

GALILEA:
Or maybe he’s just testing your character. Seeing if you are truly worthy by putting you through your own private hell.

BENEDICT:
Wish I could believe that, Gal. I really do.

Galilea grabs his claw.

GALILEA:
I have resisted the darkness within me for countless years. You believe you are cursed? Try living for hundreds of years on the edge of the void, knowing that even a moment’s weakness can cause you to plummet into the abyss. Do this and you will know what a true curse feels like. But you will also find a strength you never could have known otherwise. Constant survival on the edge is the greatest test of character you will ever face. And the strength you gain every time you refuse to fall is immeasurable.

BENEDICT:
Yeah, well it’s real hard sometimes. I just feel… I just feel like I have to fight everything, all the time, an’ it gets to me. I wonder if its even worth it. But I know ya’ve had it worse, and I know yer strong as f**k so… what’s kept ya goin’ all these centuries?

GALILEA:
The small, but shining hope of redemption. The wish that in the end, all of my struggles will make the universe better, and tip the scales that measure the value my life over to at least mostly good.

Benedict looks down at the table, then back up to Galilea.

BENEDICT:
Alright. I can respect that. So ya got some kind of deity of yer own ya wanna talk about? Seriously, I’m done talkin’ ‘bout my religion. What kind of rewards ya gettin’ in yer afterlife for bein’ a good girl?

Galilea smiles.

GALILEA:
A peaceful death, and a conscience cleared of sin. Is there any greater reward?


Ghalt watches on the monitor as Benedict backs out from Galilea’s quarters with a big smile at the corners of his beak.

BENEDICT:
Man, I thought y’all monks were gettin’ some cool ass perks in the afterlife for all this meditation sh*t. I mean, enlightenment an’ peace of mind is all well an’ good, but maaaannnn… unlimited steaks an’ badass huntin’ raids with yer long dead buddies into the spirit wilds? Hell yeah.

ALANI:
We will all join the Bluemother in a state of purity.

BENEDICT:
I won’t. Endless badass huntin’ parties with my old MSBC squadmates all the way, baby. Night.

Benedict shuts the door as he begins heading back to his quarters.

ALANI:
That was our best session yet! I mean, he really opened up! Good call on the religion angle, Gal! I honestly thought he’d just get pissed off and walk out! At least that was my experience when I tried to hand out those Bluemother leaflets…

GALILEA:
I was concerned that I did not do enough research on the Cult of the Bluemother to make it convincing.

ALANI:
No! You did great! Still not thrilled that you’re calling it a cult though.

GHALT:
Great work you two.

GALILEA:
Our next session will be Benedict’s topic of choice, but I feel like we made some real progress today. His armor is starting to show some cracks. I believe I can press the cracks without crumbling the structure in our next controlled session. Then we can start to rebuild properly on a new foundation.

A red light flashes on Ghalt’s desk, indicating a high priority message from the UPR.

GHALT:
Alright, well, I’ve got a priority message coming in. Galilea, Alani, great work. Have a good night.

Ghalt kills the comms and closes the security monitor program. He opens his mailbox and begins typing in his UPR passcode. A single Level 5 message sits in his inbox from an undisclosed source. He decodes it and his small smile quickly turns into a big frown.

UNTITLED LEVEL 5 UPR ENCODED MESSAGE, SOURCE UNKNOWN:
Stop asking about Corex. You've been warned.


(Benedict's Glorious Wingspan) #134

The Gossip Game - Day 8

“‘Trust me’ is just somethin’ a**holes say before they screw ya.”

— Augustus Benedict Jr.


The hooded figure leaps silently to the rooftop and crawls her way to the comm spire to avoid detection. She activates her claw pad and transmits the program into the Kolban Cusomer Service Network.


KOLBAN CUSTOMER SERVICE AI:
Attention shoppers, at this time, all transport beacon access is currently unavailable. Please be advised that this is only a temporary outage, and we expect full functionality to be restored very soon. Our 09:30 Hammer Brawl between Tungsten Jones and Bekka Mirage has been temporarily delayed for the safety of our athletes. In the meantime, please enjoy a 25% complimentary discount at C’R’Ha’GGHAS Meat on a Stick, now with new cinnamon butter pecan surprise!

Benedict stands at the customer service counter with his arms folded at Virtualoso’s Custom Boutique. The startled customer service representative turns with a jump and walks over to him, forcing a smile as she looks up his information on her visor.

CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE:
Hello valued customer AV-BUT-115-333J! Welcome back to Vir—

BENEDICT:
Can it. Ya got my program or not?


The hooded figure leaps to another rooftop and pulls her precision needle launcher from its position tucked away against her thorax. She spits forth a stabilization net, which solidifies and hardens into a tripod for her customized weapon. She activates her vision implants, cutting through the steam rising around her, and sees several hexagonal images of her target raising a fuss with the customer service representative in the shop across the street. She pulls a needle and begins extracting venom from one of her many barb sacs.


Tetrino Virtualoso emerges from the back of the shop, a big, blue, Alpian hybrid with pink muttonchops and a curvy pink mustache. He gives Benedict a giant grin.

TETRINO VIRTUALOSO:
Ah! Benedict! My FAVORITE customer! What is all this fussing and fighting about, eh? Do I not make a good product? Are you unhappy with my work?

BENEDICT:
Aw, I was happy with yer work about 4 years ago, when I first started shoppin’ here. Before ya got big an’ stopped carin’!

TETRINO VIRTUALOSO:
Now, now, Benedict… valued customer… really? I make you a high quality product! You exaggerate! Ha! Funny joke, yes?

He puts his arm on Benedict’s shoulder. He shrugs it off.

BENEDICT:
Yeah. No. That crap ain’t gonna work on me this time. Three orders ago, I rescue the damsel in distress from the castle? She’s a thrall pupmother. Now, tell me, ■■■■■■, why in the HELL would I wanna rescue a thrall pupmother? Ya know… aside from keepin’ Attikus from breakin’ my neck?

TETRINO VIRTUALOSO:
I… I thought you were getting bored… wanted to try something more exotic!


She unfolds her custom dart launcher and places it on the tripod. Carefully, she removes the now full venom needle from her barb sac and loads it into the launching mechanism. She then pulls a second needle and begins filling it from another barb sac. One shot should be all she needs, but there’s no point in risking a mission failure due to hubris, especially with such a lucrative contract on the line.


BENEDICT:
HEY!!! I AIN’T DONE TALKIN’ HERE!!! FOR THE IDIOT WITH SHORT TERM MEMORY… LET’S GO OVER WHAT HAPPENED LAST TIME!!!

TETRINO VIRTUALOSO:
Benny…

BENEDICT:
OH, YEAH… LOADED UP THE SIMULATION AN’ IT WAS JUST A BUNCH OF BLANK TEXTURE MAPS AN’ A GREY STICK FIGURE AI THAT KEPT TRYIN’ TO JUMP THROUGH THE FLOOR!!!

TETRINO VIRTUALOSO:
Yes, but I fix, right? I make it all better?

BENEDICT:
My order TODAY… which I gave ya A MONTH to complete… was SUPPOSED to be the “apology” for my LAST ORDER!!! AND IT AIN’T EVEN DONE, IS IT!?

TETRINO VIRTUALOSO:
Benny…

BENEDICT:
Tell me I’m wrong!

Tetrino hangs his head.

TETRINO VIRTUALOSO:
Benny… I… I…

BENEDICT:
Ya forgot.

TETRINO VIRTUALOSO:
Benny, please, I have a sick daughter…

BENEDICT:
YA AIN’T GOT NO DAUGHTER!!!

TETRINO VIRTUALOSO:
Not true! I programmed one three weeks ago!


The second needle clicks into place. She sticks her head into the dart launcher’s custom scope and takes aim at the neck of her buteonen target. She feels a tap on her shoulder.

PENDLES:
'Ello! Sk’kreee’kre’ke’ka, is it?

SK’KREEE’KRE’KE’KA:
KA KA KA KA… GET OUT ROOF SSSSSNAKE!!! TIK TIK TIK TIK MY BOUNTY!

PENDLES:
Oh, you mean the bounty on ol’ Benny down there? Yeah, nice contract that one. Seems like it would’a been a pretty good deal! Might’ve even put ya on top as the number two executioner in the known universe!

SK’KREEE’KRE’KE’KA:
TE TE TE TE… AWAY!!! BUSY!!! WORKING!!! TIK TIK TE TE TIK TIK…

PENDLES:
I know, love! I know! I’m working too!

Her barb sacs expand into exo-hardened spikes on her shell.

PENDLES:
See, I’ve been offered an even MORE lucrative contract to protect a certain group of badass heroes defendin’ the last star! An’ guess who happens to be one of those heroes, love?

Sk’kreee’kre’ke’ka shoots spikes from her thorax at Pendles’ face. He jumps, spins, catches one of the barbs, licks it, lands, and finally hisses with a look of glee on his face and leaps right for her compound eyes drawing his kamas from his back.


PENDLES:
So, about my payment…

GHALT: (Facepalming)
Yes, Pendles. I’ve wired the money to your account.

Ghalt stares down with a grimace at his lunch platter, now augmented with the bleeding severed head of a giant insect-like creature. Reyna can be heard from his washroom vomiting.

GHALT: (Sighing and throwing his napkin on the table)
And you say this thing…

PENDLES: (Beaming with pride)
Not thing… Sk’kreee’kre’ke’ka! Former third deadliest assassin in the Solus System!

GHALT:
Yes… it—

PENDLES:
I mean just look at the craftsmanship of that beheading!

GHALT:
I see it Pendles.

PENDLES:
I mean, that’s a right clean cut there! Hardly any jagged edges!

GHALT:
Uh-huh.

PENDLES:
And don’t worry about her brood eggs. I made sure to incinerate 'em.

REYNA: (From the bathroom in between heaves)
YOU… BURNED HER BABIES!?

PENDLES:
They were all genetic clones of her with her genetic memories. Ain’t nothin’ more worse than havin’ to kill a competitor twice. I mean, it was fun, but I think it’d lose its luster after a while don’t you?

He pulls out a tape recorder.

PENDLES:
Memo to self… replay this kill scenario as many times as possible in the sim room to see how long it’d take for me to get tired of it.

GHALT:
And you say there was a contract…

Pendles slams a tablet on the table with glee. Attached to it is the still severed claw of his competitor stuck in a death grasp through the magic of rigor mortis.

GHALT: (Sighing)
Thanks.

NOVA:
Downloading files from tablet.

PENDLES:
Can I get that back when you’re done?

Ghalt gives him a tired look.

PENDLES:
I’m building a private art collection entitled “classic kills,” and I think that’d be a lovely addition! The head too, when you’re done with it.

GHALT:
You can take the head now.

PENDLES:
But you haven’t fully appreciated it!

Ghalt glares at him.

PENDLES:
Well I guess some artists just ain’t appreciated in their time. Sad really.


GHALT:
Can you think of anyone who’d want you dead?

Benedict stares at Ghalt as if to say, “Are you serious?”

BENEDICT:
Well… I mean… it’s me we’re talking about here… so…

GHALT:
Benedict… I’m not joking here…

BENEDICT:
Neither am I! I mean, I’ve pissed A LOT of people off Cap! Let’s see… off the top of my head… The Mother Hen, her husband, pretty much every one of my a**hole people on New Madan, that tribe of pigmy aviants I insulted for bein’ pacifists on Ekkunar, the majority of the finisci survivors after I called ‘em all sewer rats, but in my defense, they WERE peltin’ me with guano. Uh… Virtualoso, I wrote him a bad Caw review, although that was AFTER the assassination attempt, so it probably wasn’t him. Oh, sh*t! Did I mention I’m a Caw reviewer now?

GHALT:
Not… why I dragged you in here. And yes. I saw it. In your numerous e-mails and social media posts.

BENEDICT:
Right… so… anyway… I’m a Caw reviewer now… and I’ve written a TON of bad reviews… so probably made… like… a bunch of enemies with the LLC there. Let’s see… I think Mellka still wants me dead, Rendain of course, Rendain’s loyalists, pretty much every thrall I pissed off because of that one comment I made that got taken totally out of context, all those Rogues I helped the UPR put away who just got released…

GHALT:
I’ve spoken to Reyna about them, and she claims none of them know anything about it. How about… anyone in the UPR. Is there anyone in the UPR who wants you dead?

BENEDICT:
Oscar Mike…

GHALT:
Aside from Oscar Mike.

BENEDICT:
He did try to hire Pendles to kill me ya know.

GHALT:
Benny…

BENEDICT:
Just lettin’ ya know, I ain’t forgot about that.

GHALT:
Benny.

BENEDICT:
Right, right… well… there’s always Crispy, he’s crazy… uh… pretty much every guy I taunted from the air after they did stupid sh*t, pretty much every commandin’ officer I ever had who assigned me to latrines…

GHALT: (Rubbing his temples)
So… everyone. Pretty much everyone, right?

BENEDICT:
Well, except you. An’ Montana. An’ Galilea. Hey, ya know, she’s actually pretty cool once ya get to talkin’ to her… oh… Ernest might want me dead. We were doin’ ok until I called him a chicken f**ker early this mornin’ durin’ drills.

GHALT:
It wasn’t Ernest.

BENEDICT:
Ya sure? Because “chicken f**ker” is a pretty nasty insult among aviants…

GHALT:
Benedict!

BENEDICT:
Alright, alright. Ain’t gonna turn my back on him though. Hey… can I write a Caw review for a drill instructor, or would that violate some UPR rule or somethin’?

GHALT:
Benedict, please. Be straight with me. Whoever ordered this assassination is very powerful. This kind of hit isn’t cheap, and they were very methodical about it. Now, I know you served on multiple assignments…

BENEDICT:
Multiple sh*t assignments.

GHALT:
Multiple assignments in the UPR. Are you sure you can’t narrow it down, just a little?

BENEDICT:
Ghalt. This pains me to say it. It really does. But, for all the people I pissed off in the UPR, ain’t none of 'em ever tried to kill me for it. Except Crispy, but he’s crazy. The truth is, I just ain’t that important.

Ghalt closes his eyes and sighs.

GHALT:
Alright. You’re dismissed.

Benedict stands and walks from the room. Deande decloaks.

KLEESE: (Over the comm)
Oh god, he’s a Caw reviewer, now?

DEANDE:
Could this… Crispy… have something to do with it?

GHALT:
Crispy’s locked in a mental institution and he’s flat ass broke. It wasn’t Crispy.

MELLKA: (Over the comm)
Well, I can’t speak for the pigmy aviants, but on my end, I can tell you this wasn’t an Eldrid hit.

REYNA: (Over the comm)
And I already told you, it wasn’t one of the Rogues.

MELLKA: (Over the comm)
We sure it’s just not some a**hole from the Madan survivors? He made a lot of political enemies when he… uh… you know… with The Mother Hen.

DEANDE:
It could well be, but if it was them, they’ve gone through an awful lot of trouble to make it look like a UPR hit. And then there was that threatening message you received last night.

MELLKA: (Over the comm)
What threatening message?

GHALT:
I… was doing some research into Corex. Trying to find out if Benedict spent any time there. Let’s just say… I was warned that my research was unwelcome.

REYNA: (Over the comm)
Well, looking after the sh*t farms would be a dirty job he’d get assigned.

KLEESE: (Over the comm)
Oh no, no, no. Didn’t you hear? He was involved in some kind of covert op in the system’s asteroid barriers. Apparently he murdered one of his own people.

MELLKA: (Over the comm)
Why didn’t I hear about this?

GHALT:
His revelation of that story was supposed to be therapy. I didn’t want anyone unnecessarily involved.

MELLKA: (Over the comm)
So you involved Kleese, but not me?

KLEESE: (Over the comm)
Ha ha, inner circle!

Kleese makes a noise as if he had just stuck out his tongue and blown air through it.

DEANDE:
It could conceivably be an aviant using UPR codes. Or it could conceivably be someone within the UPR.

GHALT:
Unfortunately, if he was involved in some covert ops, he’s decided to be pretty tight beaked about it.

MELLKA:
But what could he have possibly been involved with that was so secret?

GHALT:
I have no idea. And I don’t like the idea of him keeping secrets from me. And I sure as HELL don’t like being threatened.

DEANDE:
Well, short of a thorough Jennerit interrogation…

GHALT:
He is still an ally…

KLEESE: (Over the comm)
But can we really be sure of that?

GHALT:
Look… if he’s hiding something big… it likely won’t come out in any interrogation. If there’s one thing the UPR is really good at, its training its officers to resist questioning tactics. You remember the hell of a time you had interrogating me.

DEANDE:
Indeed. And if Benedict is a secret operative, it is conceivable that he would have had the same training.

MELLKA: (Over the comm)
Yeah, but why now? Why try to eliminate him now?

GHALT:
I don’t have a good answer for that. Hell, I’m not even sure he IS a secret operative. There are a whole lot of puzzle pieces here that don’t match any pictures I can think up. Regardless, the threats didn’t start until I started researching Corex, and I believe the answer to what he might have been up to is there.

DEANDE:
We should assign someone to monitor his network activity.

NOVA:
I already monitor everyone’s network activity. At all times. I’m literally the computer. It’s hard for me NOT to monitor your activity.

DEANDE:
Yes, er, I…

NOVA:
Apology accepted.

MELLKA: (Over the comm)
What about this “gossip game” thing? You think you could press Gal and Alani to get him to loosen up?

Ghalt sighs.

REYNA: (Over the comm)
Trevor, at this point it’s in his own best interests.


Alani grimaces at the sound of munching popcorn in her earpiece. She looks over to Galilea, who seems as cold and stony as ever as she prepares the glowworms.

ALANI:
Guys, I’m really, really not ok with this.

GHALT: (Over the comm)
Alani, I’m not happy about it either, but someone’s already made an attempt on his life. We need to know why. And right now, this is our best option for getting the info we need if he is a secret operative.

ALANI:
But that’s the thing… we don’t KNOW that he’s a secret operative!

KLEESE: (Over the comm, hastily swallowing a mouthful of popcorn)
Oh… THAT’S WHY WE’RE DOING THIS YOU NITWIT! To FIND OUT if he’s a secret operative!

ALANI:
You’re just here for your own amusement…

KLEESE: (Over the comm)
There’s no reason it can’t be both!

He shoves another handful of popcorn into his mouth.

ALANI:
Captain, can we at least get rid of the others?

GHALT: (Over the comm)
Alani… I’m afraid this is a matter of Solus security. If Benedict is a traitor, it affects us all. It’s only appropriate for the leadership of each faction to be here too.

ISIC: (Over the comm)
And Magnuses who broke through Kleese’s poorly guarded comm firewalls again!

ALANI:
UGH! REALLY?

GHALT:
ISIC, get the hell…

ISIC: (Over the comm)
Before you finish that sentence, let me remind you that I can hit the live stream button at least a full second before you can send the cease and desist command to my control collar. But don’t worry fella! I don’t want to sell all your dirty little secrets to the highest bidder! I just want to watch for my own petty amusement!

BOLDUR: (Over the comm)
Boldur is here too! Boldur wants to hear dirty secrets about filthy Jennerit bird spy!

SHAYNE: (Over the comm)
I’m here too! And I brought Slursheez!

AUROX: (Over the comm)
MINE IS BACON FLAVORED!!!

BOLDUR: (Over the comm)
Oooh!!! GIVE BOLDUR ONE!

ALANI:
Ugh! How many other people have tapped into the comms!?

ISIC: (Over the comm)
Just me. And my invited guests.

Alani cringes as Boldur, Shayne, and Aurox all take big, loud sips of their Slursheez together.

ALANI:
Oh, that is it! This isn’t some reality show drama, you guys! This is a closely guarded person revealing his innermost secrets to his supposed friends! Granted, I’m not the biggest fan of the bird, but…

MELLKA: (Over the comm)
Hey Reyna! Beer me!

ALANI:
Mellka!

MELLKA: (Over the comm)
What? It’s been a long day. LOTS of paperwork.

Alani grimaces and walks over to Galilea.

ALANI:
Gal, you don’t have to do this. All you have to do is tell them “no.” Doesn’t it bother you the way they’re all acting?

Galilea closes her eyes and uses her Jennerit and Eldrid training to suppress her feelings. She turns to Alani with a neutral expression.

GALILEA:
No.

ALANI:
Gal…

GALILEA:
It has been my duty from the beginning to covertly expose his innermost secrets. That is still my objective. Nothing has changed. If Benedict is a traitor, we must know.

Alani looks hurt.

ALANI:
But… but I thought you and Benedict were starting to become friends?

GALILEA:
I am a spy, Alani. Spies don’t make friends.

They hear a knock at the door.

BENEDICT: (Through the door)
Yoo hoo! You gals ready to hear some more secrets!

Kleese squees.

KLEESE: (Over the comm)
Ooohhhhh… he’s here. Could someone pass the caramel butter please?

Alani balls her hands into fists and storms away from Galilea.

GHALT: (Over the comm)
Alani…

ALANI:
Oh don’t worry, I’ll keep your precious secret. But I won’t have any further part in this.

She rips out her earpiece and walks towards the door. A grinning Benedict greets her. She looks into his eyes and for a few moments it looks as if she might spill it all, but she closes her mouth, and with a look of rage, storms down the corridor.

BENEDICT:
The hell is her problem? Tell me I didn’t do somethin’ to piss her off…

GALILEA:
Ignore her. She has had a rough day. We can perform the ritual without her.

Benedict gives a suspicious glance at the retreating Alani and shrugs.

BENEDICT:
A’ight.

The door slides shut behind him.


On the bridge, Kid Ultra notices a small blip on one of the sensor screens.

KID ULTRA:
GOBLAR’S GHOST! That was suspicious! I’d better investigate further! Nova! Concentrate sensors on grid 123 by 715 by 899!

NOVA:
Ugh… you do realize they’re just getting to the good stuff right?

KID ULTRA:
It might be nothing, but then again, it could be A VARELSI INVASION FORCE!!!

NOVA:
Or it could be your overactive imagination getting the better of you again.

KID ULTRA:
Just do it, Nova! The ENTIRE UNIVERSE COULD BE AT STAKE!

NOVA:
Ugh… you do know I hate you, right? With a burning ferocity that can only be matched by a hoard of rampaging dire oxen?


BENEDICT:
Alright, so this time, I wanna hear a BIG secret from you. Alani ain’t around, so there ain’t no reason to be embarrassed or worryin’ about yer secret gettin’ out.

GALILEA:
You may ask, but I will demand an equally large secret from you in turn.

BENEDICT:
Hey, I ain’t got no giant secrets to share, but I’ll certainly tell ya whatever ya wanna know… IF… ya tell me if you an’ Ambra were ever intimate.

Galilea sighs.

GALILEA:
Inti—

Her response is interrupted by a massive jolt accompanied by a loud explosive boom. She feels herself start floating from her chair as the deck loses artificial gravity.

KID ULTRA: (Over the comm)
We are under attack! All hands, report to battle stations and emergency vehicles!

NOVA:
Hull rupture. Engineering deck. Emergency shields deployed and holding. Power loss to crew quarters on deck—

Benedict and Galilea hear their emergency transport beacons’ offline warning signals. A moment later, the wall behind Galilea blasts inward, and then outward as the cabin’s atmosphere blows into space. She grabs at the floor and finds a tenuous grip, her environmental mask activating automatically. She feels a weight pulling on her other arm, turns, and sees Benedict’s panicked face as his body rushes towards the black abyss beyond, his wrist still linked to hers by the bracelet. She freezes for a moment and considers turning him loose, but ultimately decides that letting him die would be a worse sin than letting him view her own demons. She begins to corrupt and sink into the floor, dragging him down with her into her abyssal nightmare. She screams and runs forward through a hellish nightscape of half formed bodies and shrieking phantoms. They grab for her, but she pulses with energy, barely keeping them at bay. A white masked figure grabs Benedict by the throat and he feels his life draining away. He sees all the horrors of his life at once in a flash. Every injury he’s ever felt hits his body at the same time. He shrieks at the top of his lungs until he can no longer breathe. His internal organs feel like they’re on fire. Deep within his bones, he feels a deep, dark, confident voice proclaim "ONE OF US" and he starts to slip into a cold acceptance of death. Galilea spins and hits the creature with a white energy pulse and yanks Benedict away. She continues dragging him forward and finally they emerge from inside a wall into the hallway beyond. They float in zero gravity, the red emergency lighting flickering as power is slowly restored. Galilea gasps for breath, trying to regain her composure. Benedict trembles with fear, unable to speak at what he just witnessed. For a few minutes they simply float without saying a word: Benedict trying to comprehend what he just saw; Galilea trying not to let it consume her. Then, in a flash, the lights snap on. A few seconds later, gravity is restored and the two tumble to the floor. Snapping back to reality, Benedict turns to Galilea, who has calmed down enough to attempt to stand.

BENEDICT:
Is… is that what you see every time?

GALILEA:
Every time.

Galilea stands and without thinking, hits the release on her bracelet binding the two of them together. Benedict doesn’t notice at first, then his eyes go wide with realization.

BENEDICT:
You could’ve disconnected that the whole time? But that would mean…

REYNA:
She’s been lying to you.

Benedict turns to see a disheveled Reyna and a poised and dignified Deande approaching from behind.

BENEDICT:
What in the hell is…

REYNA:
Funny. We were about to ask you the same question.

BENEDICT:
Where’s Ghalt?

REYNA:
In the infirmary. Turns out your dignity wasn’t the only casualty.

Deande grabs him from behind and places a pair of handcuffs around his wrists.

BENEDICT:
What the…

DEANDE:
Let’s go.

Deande and Reyna lead a now captive Benedict down the hall towards the elevator. Benedict turns back to Galilea with a bewildered expression.

BENEDICT:
What in the hell is going on!?


(Brute 912) #135

I can’t believed I missed out on these tales. They’re hilarious. I can’t wait for the next one.


(Benedict's Glorious Wingspan) #136

The Gossip Game - Day 9

LLC SECURITY EVIDENCE RECORD DATABASE
EXHIBIT: 085
CASE: 19959.310-005
CLASSIFICATION: DB: U1-33278
DESCRIPTION: Two files from the UPR Central Command Database. Combined into one exhibit for symbiotic relevancy.
CODING LANGUAGE: UPR-L1 Standard Document
FILE PRESERVATION FIRM: Nanex Group Military Class File Retention Services

KIA FILE: UPRS#182.2222.I3.19938.72
NAME: Denny Arvin Colta.
RANK: Inventory Specialist First Class
DATE: 19947.002
PLACE OF DEATH: UPR Transport Vessel Trinity
TIME OF DEATH: Est. Bet. 0430 and 0446 based on cellular decomposition.
CAUSE OF DEATH: Vascular distress brought on by previously unknown allergic reaction to cultured biomatter served in mess hall during third watch.
SUMMARY: Inventory Specialist First Class Colta was found dead in his temporary quarters aboard the UPR Transport Trinity at 13:00 hours. The body was discovered by Security Officer Wretton Clayvor, who was investigating his failure to report to his duty station. Doctor Rakkta Zevnon, an Aklilik refugee, declared the subject to have induced an artificial hibernation cycle to get out of his shift and recommended he be reprimanded. Doctor Rakkta Zevnon was promptly removed from the scene after repeated attempts to wake Inventory Specialist First Class Colta from his “hibernation cycle” through physical force. Doctor Rakkta Zevnon was relieved by Doctor Oregon Jones, who made the proper and correct diagnosis that he died of an unfortunate allergic reaction to cultured threeka yeast Chef Tanston Dolby used to bake biscuits the night before. The yeast was declared harmless and safe for consumption. Unfortunately, Inventory Specialist First Class Colta had been exposed to a rare fungus during his time stationed on Corex. The fungus, when exposed to threeka yeast, mutated and triggered a fatal allergic reaction several hours after exposure. All UPR vessels carrying personnel previously stationed on Corex have been advised not to use threeka yeast in their nutritional maintenance programs effective immediately as a result of this incident.
RAMIFICATIONS: Threeka yeast is banned from use in baking services on twelve UPR vessels and one starbase. Inventory Specialist First Class Colta was removed from the list of personnel to be questioned on potential security breaches prior to the darkening of Corex.

DISCIPLINARY ACTION REPORT: Trinity-19947-02
COMMANDING OFFICER: UPRS#334.4152.A4.19922.11
COMMON DESIGNATION: Captain Steven Ontario
FILED AGAINST: UPRS#698.1.B1.19943.240
COMMON DESIGNATION: Crewman Augustus Benedict Junior
DISCIPLINARY ACTION: Manual waste maintenance.
DURATION OF DISCIPLINARY ACTION: Four weeks.
SUMMARY: Crewman Benedict has been charged with flushing the sewage maintenance systems for inappropriate comments and hysterical laughter during the funeral services of Inventory Specialist First Class Colta. As he seemed to think his cause of death, crassly termed “■■■■ fungus,” was absolutely hilarious, he has been assigned to manually purge and sanitize the ship’s sewage system for the next two weeks. An additional two weeks was added to his sentence when an inspection of his quarters uncovered a small stockpile of beans, beer, jerky, biscuits, gravy, ketchup, coffee, and sugar stolen from the mess hall. His claims that he needs those nutrients to maintain his higher than usual aviant metabolism have been ignored.


Benedict paces back and forth in his cell on board Nova. Deande, Mellka, Kleese and Reyna watch from Dr. Lucavi’s medical office. In the surgery bay, Beatrix is performing an emergency operation on Captain Ghalt.

DEANDE:
Are we certain his genetic template was completely wiped from the emergency transport buffer?

KLEESE:
The emergency transport beacons are designed to require constant wireless contact with the buffer. The buffer maintains a current and up to date record of the contractee’s last known full health status so long as that connection remains unbroken. But if the buffer loses power, it automatically wipes itself to prevent illegal twinning. It puts the LLC firmly in line with the joint Treaty of Sustainable Resources and if I may sound like a cold hearted corporate bastard for a moment, it’s a damn good business practice. Solus doesn’t have the resources to maintain a growing population of immortal people and there’s no way in hell you’d ever be able to convince anyone to give up sex!

MELLKA:
What about just killing yourself and respawning to the last time you had a big meal?

KLEESE:
WHAT THE… ERMPH!!! YOU’RE JUST TRYING TO MAKE ME ANGRY!!!

MELLKA:
Yeah, well, I’m pissed off, and I can’t get at the person who attacked Ghalt so I’m lashing out at you.

KLEESE:
Oh, go yell at THE BIRD if you need to yell at someone. He’s the one responsible for all this.

DEANDE:
We do not know that, Kleese.

KLEESE:
Oh? What about his “secret missions” that he won’t tell anybody about?

DEANDE:
We do not know that there WERE any secret missions, Kleese.

KLEESE:
Well, I think it’s high time we FOUND OUT, don’t you? Don’t you have any special Jennerit interrogation techniques you can use to get at him to talk?

Deande shifts uncomfortably.

DEANDE:
There are… methods… that we can use to obtain vital information. However, they are quite invasive, and I would prefer not to use them unless we absolutely need to.

KLEESE:
Well the captain’s life and possibly our own lives are at stake now. We MUST find out what he knows.

REYNA: (Coldly)
I agree with Kleese.

DEANDE:
Reyna… I…

REYNA:
You didn’t see him trying to breathe in the vacuum of space. You’re not the one who had to perform emergency triage to keep him alive. If I hadn’t have gotten fancy with my shields, I wouldn’t be here to talk to you about this either. Whoever did this needs to pay, and if that bird knows something, we need to find out.

KLEESE:
That’s two against one. Mellka?

MELLKA:
I don’t know. I don’t like Benedict, but…

DEANDE:
You seem to be forgetting that I am the one who would have to perform such an interrogation. And as I am the one who will have to live with the consequences of such an interrogation, I refuse to cooperate until you can provide me with compelling evidence that Benedict was somehow involved with…

BEATRIX: (Casually entering from the surgery bay)
I’ll do it.

DEANDE:
Beatrix… by the Empress…

BEATRIX:
What? I’ve always wanted to perform a good old fashioned old school brain purge. When do we start?


Kid Ultra sits on the bridge poring through the logs from the last attack.

ISIC:
I’m really, really annoyed that you called me away from the interrogation preparations, Kid Douchebag. What do you want?

KID ULTRA:
Magnus Lad! Did you know the unmanned drone that attacked us fired right at our hyperlight reactor? If I hadn’t have been on the bridge, we’d all be dead!

ISIC:
Initiating slowclap.exe. Congratulations. You managed to briefly prolong our pointless existence. Please look somewhere else for ego building praise. May I go now? If I hurry I can still watch Beatrix prep the neural power drill…

KID ULTRA:
Why would Benedict order someone to blow up the ship that he was on? Why wouldn’t he have attempted to escape if he knew about the attack? From what I heard, it was Galilea’s last ditch effort that saved him! Not only that, but this is the SECOND attempt to be made on Benedict’s life! In both instances, he claimed to know nothing about the attacker, and after the first attack felt secure enough to play through a mildly pornographic adventure holosim and walk up to Galilea’s quarters to hear gossip! I tell ya, Magnus Lad, something just doesn’t add up here!

ISIC:
Truly, I do not care.

KID ULTRA:
If he is lying, why would he cover for someone who tried to kill him?

ISIC:
Hey, do you remember that conversation we had about “helping?” and how your attempts to “help” can have unintended consequences which are actually not helpful, thus cancelling out your attempts to help in the first place? Maybe you should listen to that advice, and…

KID ULTRA:
Magnus Lad! I need you to go through the coding on Benedict’s pornographic holosims! See if there’s anything odd in there that might indicate…

ISIC:
IN WHAT POSSIBLE WAY COULD GOING THROUGH BENEDICT’S PORN COLLECTION BE EVEN REMOTELY HELPFUL, KID DOUCHEBAG!?

KID ULTRA:
I don’t know… yet. But in every holocomic I’ve studied, clues are often hidden in the unlikeliest of places, and what would be a more unlikely place to find a clue than in Benedict’s porn!?

ISIC:
I vehemently refuse to go along with this.

KID ULTRA:
Awww… but Nova’s processing core is damaged, Kleese is hell bent on interrogation, and Marquis laughed in my face for even speaking to him! You’ve gotta do it Magnus Lad!

ISIC:
Hm… NO!

KID ULTRA:
Don’t make me use Directive One…

ISIC:
Ultra, ask yourself one question, are you really a hero if you have to use slavery to attain your goals? Do the ends really justify the means?

KID ULTRA:
Yes! Because you’re a prisoner, and prisoners have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and the right to DO AS I SAY BECAUSE I AM THE LAW!!! You are criminally insane, and therefore your actions must be dictated by the law until such time as you have repaid your debt and become a functional member of society!

ISIC:
Do you know how many dictators and power hungry bastards have justified their own actions by saying, “It’s for their own good?” Why…

KID ULTRA:
SILENCE MAGNUS LAD! DIRECTIVE ONE! EXAMINE BENEDICT’S PORN IN EXCRUCIATING DETAIL AND RETURN TO ME WITH THE RESULTS OF YOUR FINDINGS! THE LAW HAS SPOKEN!

ISIC:
I hate you so much sometimes it’s unbelie—

KID ULTRA:
DIRECTIVE ONE! YOU WILL RESPOND WITH “YES SIR, KID ULTRA SIR” WHENEVER I INVOKE DIRECTIVE ONE! RESPOND!

ISIC: (Displaying his most vicious emoji face)
Yes… sir… Kid Ultra… sir…

He walks from the bridge mumbling.

ISIC:
The second I get this control collar off, I’m going to rip off his face and shove it deep inside the rectal cavity of a thrall pupmother.


Galilea sits alone in the mess hall nursing a cup of coffee. Behind her, Alani peeks around the side of the door. Galilea sighs and closes her eyes.

GALILEA:
Yes, Alani.

ALANI:
Eep! Uh… how…

Galilea turns and gives her a look.

ALANI:
Uh… not important. Uh… so… anyway… uh… I just… WOULD YOU LIKE SOME COFFEE!?

Alani starts to walk towards the coffee machine. Galilea simply holds up her existing cup of coffee and continues staring at her.

ALANI:
Oh, uh… right… of course… uh… I… uh…

GALILEA (Sighing)
Alani, please, just say what you came to say.

ALANI:
DOYOUWANNATALKABOUTBENEDICT!!!???

GALILEA:
What is there to say?

ALANI:
I dunno, it… it seemed like you two were starting to become friends, and…

GALILEA:
He is an ally. An ally who may be a traitor. That is all.

ALANI:
Oh, come on! Do you honestly think he’s a traitor!?

GALILEA:
Beatrix and the others will make that determination.

ALANI:
But you saved his life!

GALILEA:
As I would have done for any ally. It really was just an assignment, Alani.

ALANI:
I don’t believe you.

GALILEA:
Attachment is a form of weakness… a form of weakness I shed long ago.

ALANI:
Okay… RATH…

GALILEA:
That insult is not an apt description of Rath’s psychology. He is quite attached to a number of things. His swords for one. And Lenore…

ALANI:
Oh, would it kill you to just admit that you two were starting to become friends!?

GALILEA: (Flatly and without emotion)
We were starting to become friends.

ALANI:
Gal…

In the hall behind them, Toby power slides by wearing a small backpack that he has modified in a futile attempt to make it look less adorable. A few moments later, he waddles into the room and up to the snack machine out of breath.

ALANI:
Didn’t Miko tell you to lay off the sweets Toby?

TOBY:
MIKO’S NOT THE BOSS OF ME! Besides, I should be GAINING weight now, not LOSING weight. We’re gonna have to drop the temperature in our quarters for junior’s egg phase, and I’VE GOT TO KEEP HIM… or… or… or her… him or her… it could be other one… OHHH… I’VE GOT TO KEEP MY CHILD WARM OKAY???

ALANI:
Why don’t you just keep the temperature up in your quarters?

TOBY:
BECAUSE THAT’S NOT THE WAY IT’S DONE, OKAY??? Oh god… DO ALL OF THESE HAVE MACADEMIAS IN THEM??? I HATE MACADEMIAS!!!

ALANI:
So where were you off to in such a rush?

TOBY:
Oh, Kid Ultra’s scanning through Benedict’s private holosims and he happened to lend me a few. Well, more like shoved them in my face and insisted that I had to try them. I mean, I never do. I find the plots to be really generic, and they always involve flying, and the damsel at the end is always a Buteonen… but hey! At least this gives me a chance to get rid of them right? And it might help Benny get out of having to have his brain scrambled! Then he’ll OWE ME ONE!!! Okay… well, not really, because I value my nesty more than I value Benedict’s life, but still MY HEART’S IN THE RIGHT PLACE!

ALANI:
Well, I hope… a-em… I hope Kid Ultra finds Benedict’s porn… enlightening.

TOBY:
He calls 'em “tactical battle simulations.”

ALANI:
I’m sure.

Galilea slams her fist on the table, growing partially corrupted.

GALILEA: (Now very focused)
Tactical battle simulations.

Alani steps back, worried.

ALANI:
Gal…

GALILEA:
Bird! What is the setting of these “tactical battle simulations?”

TOBY:
Uh, uh… I dunno. Uh… v-various locations, I think. Some real, some imaginary. Pl-please don’t kill me.

GALILEA:
How detailed are these tactical battle simulations?

TOBY:
Uh… I… the one I looked at was pretty detailed, I think. Some long darkened Jennerit base. But the sexy Buteonen at the end was totally unrealistic! I SWEAR!!!

Galilea stands, nearly knocking over the table in the process, turns on her heel, and strides out of the room.

ALANI: (With sudden realization)
It wasn’t a lie… it just wasn’t real… GALILEA! WAIT!!!

Alani rushes from the room, trying to catch up to her angry friend. Toby stands awkwardly alone next to the vending machine.

TOBY: (Calling after them)
I’m gonna just stay here! If that’s cool with you guys! Ah… you don’t care.

He turns back to the vending machine.

TOBY:
DAMMIT! WHO ORDERED SO MANY SNACKS WITH MACADEMIAS IN THEM!!??


Galilea slams the door controls to the bridge and confronts Kid Ultra.

GALILEA:
You! I was told you were analyzing the bird’s holosimulations!

KID ULTRA:
Actually, She-Knight, I told Magnus Lad to do it!

GALILEA:
Did any of Benedict’s simulations take place on Corex!?

KID ULTRA:
I don’t know, like I said, I told Magnus Lad to do it!

ISIC enters, grinning.

ISIC:
Yes. At least two of them did! And guess what else I found?

Galilea slams a nearby console with her fist and a blast of corrupted energy.

ISIC:
Ahahahahahaha… If you think you’re pissed now, you’re going to be really pissed when I tell you what I found. And no… it definitely doesn’t let our soon to be roasted chicken off the hook.


Benedict sits in stunned silence in his cell, now confronted by most of Nova’s crew on the other side of the crackling force barrier.

BENEDICT:
But… but the guy was ex-UPR! In fact, he was in the UPR while he was makin’ 'em!

DEANDE:
Yes. Who better to sneak a tunneling worm into a simulation than someone who knows how the UPR’s computer information systems work?

KLEESE:
The design of the tunneling worm was quite clever. It wasn’t programmed to break into any sensitive classified files or interfere with any ship’s functions, but rather to simply intercept any data from active scans and store it until another holosim from the same manufacturer was input into the system, at which point it would store its data cache in the new program and create a glitch in the simulation that would require you to return it to sender for maintenance or contact him for remote maintenance fixes over the nets. Then, during the maintenance process, he would simply download the cached files. It wouldn’t look like an illegal process. It would look like he was modifying the program to correct errors. And it was perfectly designed to appear as a legitimate UPR archiving subroutine. So Nova would never have known what it was without a deep, penetrating scan. It would have all looked like business as usual to her.

PHOEBE:
Just how much of our data was compromised?

KLEESE:
Hard to say, really. He definitely got all of Nova’s internal schematics, which explains how he was able to precisely target key areas with his drone. He also got a number of detailed medical scans, schematics for various pieces of specialized equipment, weapons systems, shields, all of which would be incredibly valuable to Lothar Rendain, or really ANYONE who wants intel on our operations. I don’t have to tell you, this leaves us extremely vulnerable from a security standpoint.

Reyna slams her fist against the wall.

REYNA:
And the guy just disappeared? We can’t go after this Virtualoso son of a bitch!?

PENDLES:
'Fraid not, mate. Looks like he packed up shop fairly recently. Knew 'is number was up, I’ll reckon. ‘At’s why ‘e attacked Nova. Realized after I caught his lil’ assassin an’ after Ghalt’s inquiries he couldn’t keep his cover of a legitimate business anymore. We tracked his shuttle to an energy anomaly in darkspace ‘at was consistent with a Varelsi portal an’ the trail just disappeared.

CALDARIUS:
Oh, well that’s great. That’s just great. He was DEFINITELY working for Rendain. And now, Rendain has our medical data; the strengths and weaknesses of our weapons, our shields, our armor; intimate knowledge of our facilities, tactics, and strategies, AND IT’S ALL THE BIRD’S FAULT!!!

Benedict just sits in silence, staring at the floor.

TOBY:
Oh come on! How could he have possibly known? The guy looked like he was running a legitimate business! He was even certified by the LLC! Who KNOWS how many people bought programs off of him! Who KNOWS how many bases and people have had their data compromised?

OSCAR MIKE:
The Mikes for sure. That Gauntlet simulation? Entirely designed by Adam Friethman, AKA Tetrino Virtualoso.

He kicks a console.

OSCAR MIKE:
I feel like such an ASS!!! I even served with him once! He seemed so nice!

BEATRIX:
Well the good news is, Captain Ghalt will have a full recovery by the end of the week. The other good news is that Benedict will probably be exonerated of any charges in the official joint LLC/UPR inquiry.

PHOEBE:
Of course, we will keep the data breach classified for a while. Inciting a public panic will only fracture the factions and the general population further, and that would play right into Rendain’s hands. The focus must now shift from blame to damage control. How do we counter an enemy that may know us better now than we know ourselves?

ERNEST:
General Mike and I have some ideas about that. Nothing firm yet, but we’re operating under the idea that Rendain knows our current strategies and defenses and that our old playbook is worthless. It’s time to throw that book away and rewrite the rules with a new playbook. Anyone played Eldrid Magic’s new Dragonfeather expansion? Completely changes the dynamic of the game. My Kemessian Overlord foil? Countered… to… hell. Old combos, old strategies won’t work anymore. Gotta relearn the entire game just to stay viable. And that’s what we need to do. I think you all have gotten just a little too comfortable in your preassigned roles. Brawler. Healer. Penguin in a mech suit. PFEH!!! You aren’t cogs in a machine! You all are SOLDIERS!!! AND SOLDIERS ADAPT!!! IT’S TIME TO TURN THAT FIRE UNDER YOUR ASSES UP TO 11 GODDAMMIT!!! I myself wouldn’t mind learning how to fly a Jennerit cruiser. Deande. Hint. Hint hint.

DEANDE:
Yes, well, we’ll certainly… look into that. In the meantime… Benedict, you are to be kept in custody until the hearings, but I really don’t think you have anything to worry about. It could have happened to anyone.

KLEESE:
Well, no… not really… he was the only member of the crew who was BUYING holosims from that damnable spy.

DEANDE:
Eghhhh… yes… but theoretically, it could have happened to anyone who was buying holosims from that man, and so, he will likely be exonerated.

ISIC:
Awwwww does this mean we aren’t going forward with the brain purge? I was really looking forward to that, you guys.

The other battleborn start to disband and walk out, eventually leaving Galilea, Alani, and Toby alone facing Benedict in his cell.

TOBY:
Benny, I just want you to know… this wasn’t your fault. A-and… I BELIEVE IN YOU!

Benedict continues staring at the floor.

TOBY:
Uh… uh… well… uh… I… please don’t sit here and mope. Please talk to someone, okay? My door is always open. Well, not literally. I keep it locked. But… metaphorically…

Benedict continues staring at the floor. Toby looks up at Galilea, who has been glaring at the hawk this whole time in silence.

TOBY: (Softly)
Benny… talk to someone. Okay?

Toby waddles slowly from the room. Galilea stands staring at Benedict for some time. Alani sits in the corner and watches them both.

GALILEA:
You deceived me, bird.

BENEDICT:
Ya deceived me, too. But ya also saved my ass… so… guess we’re even.

He turns towards the wall.

BENEDICT:
Theme of the night, right?

ALANI:
Benedict… I want you to know… we only wanted to help…

BENEDICT: (Snapping)
Why? Why in the everliving f**k did ya ever wanna help me? Didn’t ya hear what they said? My need to escape into fantasy compromised the safety of everyone on board an’ who knows how many countless other bases an’ ships I’ve been stationed at over the years! I always thought I was cursed! Turns out I was right! Weren’t no wizard, though… it was some ■■■■■■■ TAKIN’ ADVANTAGE OF MY WEAKNESS!!

GALILEA:
As Toby said, it could have happened to anyone. Even the Mikes got compromised.

BENEDICT:
As Kleese said, I was the only one here buyin’ sh*t off of him.

There is another long pause.

GALILEA:
Benedict, I want you to know. When I found out you had… misrepresented the truth to me in our sessions, I was furious. Inequitable, perhaps, but the feeling was there. I initially could not figure out why. After all, I have deceived many in the past. I have flat out betrayed and murdered many in my past. Why should I feel any differently about being betrayed by you?

She steps closer to the cell.

GALILEA:
You are loud, obnoxious, foul smelling, foolish, frequently undisciplined, annoying, irreverent, offensive, crude, occasionally intoxicated…

BENEDICT:
I get it.

GALILEA:
…and aggressive in situations that do not require you to be aggressive.

She takes another step forward.

GALILEA:
But one thing you are not, is a traitor. And in spite of your… less desirable qualities… I know that you will always have my back.

She pulls several photos of her and her UPR comrades from her armor. Benedict recognizes them. They’re from the shrine to the Great Eagle in his locker.

GALILEA:
I have lived for a very long time, and for most of that time, I have been on my own. You do not know what it means to me to have… connections… connections with people I can trust. I had forgotten how comforting it can be… to have allies. I… trust you Benedict. And that connection means more to me than I ever realized it could.

She turns to Alani.

GALILEA:
I also trust you, Alani. And that connection means more to me than I ever realized it could.

Alani smiles and wipes a tear from her eye. Galilea turns back to Benedict.

GALILEA:
Trust is important, bird. And I want you… to trust me.

She reveals her wrist and takes off her blue bracelet. Alani opens up the prisoner storage locker, removes Benedict’s bracelet, and tosses it to Galilea. She puts it on.

GALILEA:
What would you like to know?

Benedict slowly turns and brightens slightly, with a small smile at the corner of his beak.

BENEDICT:
We really gotta go through all that? Can’t we just talk? Like regular people?

Galilea gives a slight smile of her own.

GALILEA:
We can talk under one condition.

BENEDICT:
Name it.

GALILEA:
You do not speak of any further simulated encounters.

Benedict takes a deep breath and looks down at the floor again.

BENEDICT:
Don’t know that I want to anymore. Bad memories.

He pauses.

BENEDICT:
Wanna hear about my two boys?

GALILEA:
I’ve got nothing to do for the next several hours. Talk about them as much as you like.

Benedict straightens as he begins to describe Peck and Wisp to his new friends. They sit for several hours, just talking. And then… Kid Ultra shows up. Because he just has to ruin everything, even when he’s being legitimately helpful.

KID ULTRA:
WHO WANTS EMERGENCY RATIONS!??


(Brute 912) #137

Wow, I think that explains about the Battle school simulations. I was wondering how Dire Wolf got into the Battle school operation in the first place. I figured it wasn’t a simulation in the first place, but the real thing! And the Mikes were too dumb to know about this! :open_mouth: