Recent Statuses

2 days ago
Current Instead of asking how others can fail to understand, I will ask how I have failed to explain.
5 days ago
Editing is complete. Time to work on some replies!
1 like
6 days ago
177 out of 188 pages of editing done despite having to work two extra day. My poor eyes!
9 days ago
I should never have agreed to edit this manuscript...
10 days ago
The obvious answer is to perform some great feat so that your home state will be known for being your home state.


Early 30's. I know just enough about everything to be dangerous.

Most Recent Posts

I usually play a face sometimes combined with another skill.
“I missed you too,” Camilla breathed as Cydric held her close. Her body trembled slightly, remembering the hardships and horrors of the past few weeks. The nightmare voyage, the trek across the ice and the battle before the strange temple. She had tried to make herself numb, unable to feel but it was a losing game.

“I didn’t think I would ever see you again,” she whispered. Cydric patted her back consolingly.

“We never gave up on you, we marched straight from the battlefield at Krondstat, soon as we heard,” Cydric told her as she snuggled close to his chest. Camilla hadn’t thought of the battle or the Count and his forces since she had been taken by the Norscans.

“Was the battle…” she began in a worried tone.

“Up in the air when we left,” Cydric told her, “But I think we might have pulled it off.” Camilla nodded her head, hoping that she hadn’t become the woman who came up with a plan that got an Elector Count killed. It all seemed so far away, whereas Gorn and his talk of altars and valleys seemed so close.

“They were going to take me to a shrine to one of the Chaos God’s,” she whispered in a barely audible voice.

“I think they wanted me to become… like them.”

“We would never let that happen,” Cydric assured her, “Besides black really isn’t your color.” Camilla made a gasping sound halfway between a laugh and a sob at the joke. Her chest heaving to contain both tears and laughter. The had said it was her destiny, that it would happen. Camilla didn’t know if she believed in destiny, she wanted to believe she had a choice and that she would choose what was right. Her hand spasmed as if eager for her sword but she balled the hand into a fist instead. She didn’t want to think about fate right now.

She told Cydric everything that had occured from the moment they had parted at the counts war camp. Some of it she was pleased with, especially with how she had burned the Northlanders ships but most of it was grey and fearful, almost like a nightmare. Cydric filled her in as well, though his explanation as to exactly who Dietricha and Yantz were, and what they were doing with the small company was vague and unsatisfying.

The others, seeing that Camilla and Cydric were awake, fell into exhausted sleep, giving the the first watch by default. It was hard to stay awake with the warm glow of the fire still smouldering warm. She didn’t like caves, the pair of them didn’t have a stellar reputation with trips beneath the earth, but she supposed it was at least better than freezing half to death on the icy mountainside.

“We...uhh... thank you for your generosity,” Rene managed, eyes a little wide and cheeks flushing in spite of his best efforts. Members of the aristocracy virtually never conceived children naturally. THe preference for genetic tailoring meant that men usually underwent a retroviral sterilization when the reached puberty. THe process was theoretically reversible but the normal procedure was to extract genetic material and tailor the embryo in vitro. The practice wasn’t secret exactly, but it wasn’t widely publicised either. The Nobility had a stake in making sure that the common people didn’t view them as too alien and genetic manipulation was always a topic which raised pulses. “So High and Mighty the don’t even fuck,” was a common enough epithet that struck close to the mark without being technically true.

The Syshin made that odd bobbing curtsey they had seen before, the unnatural bend from the extra joint making Rene’s leg throb in misattributed sympathy. The aliens moved around them forming an honor guard of sorts and escorting them through the now familiar corridors to the main hold. Syshin working in the orchards paused in their labor as they passed, bowing heads and speaking a single melodic word in Syshi.

“What are they saying?” Rene whispered as he leaned in close to Solae. SHe frowned as if puzzled and made an equivocating gesture with her right hand.

“It doesn't translate very well,” she told him, “its an honorific, maybe sacrificer or they who have sacrificed.” Syshin culture abhorred violence and death, the taking of life was far more taboo than humans, inculcated with violence in media, entertainment, history and lore could readily appreciate. To Rene it seemed like it was the Syshin were taking a huge risk by letting Krol go free, even as a ruse, if something were to go wrong and the renegade escaped it could mean the destruction of their community.

Enro and Nari stood before the large central building along with a knot of older Syshin in a rough semicircle. The pair seemed to be wrapped in loosely draped ribbon of green and metallic gold. As the approached Rene realised it must have been copper, probably braided wire hammered flat and polished clean of verdigris.

“You are certain it does not mean human sacrifice right?” Rene muttered in High Imperial, syntax slightly stilting the joke but not enough to kill it completely. Solae elbowed him gently in the ribs by way or reply. The Syshin escorting them peeled off to take their places at the end of the extended line. Naril began speaking in Syshi, her voice clear and ringing with the fluidity of an orator even if one could not understand the words.

“We are recognising you as true friends of the community,” Enro said in a quiet but audible tone, presumably for Rene’s benefit.

“And we are asking the Twin’s to watch over you in your coming trials, and grant you safe passage to your homes,” he explained. Rene assumed that the Twin’s were some sort of Syshin spiritual entity. He wasn’t a religious man, few of the aristocracy were, but he was willing to take any help he could get. Besides it was the sentiment of Amber Horizion that really mattered, not how they chose to convey it. Naril’s oration came to its conclusion and she and Enro stepped forward as one, each holding an earthenware bowl filled with the now familiar clean water extended.

“Dip your fingers in the bowl,” Enro instructed and Rene and Solae tentatively complied. The two Syshin lifted the bowls to their lips and drank deeply. Having witnessed how fastidious they were about the purity of their water, Rene couldn’t help but feel he was watching something that would have been deeply transgressive if it weren’t embedded in a ritual. As they drank the other Syshin spoke the word that Solae had translated as sacrificers as one. The Syshin upended the bowls and let the remaining contents trickle to the earth and then stepped back.

“We wish you luck in your quest Solae of the Empire, and know that no matter how many hunt you, there are those who wish for your success.”

Rene and Solae waited nervously amidst the rocks above the exit they had chosen. Both of them were dressed in travelling clothes and carrying all that they possessed. Even with what they had been given by the Syshin it amounted to precious little, far less than Rene would have been expected to take into the field with him as an active duty marine. Rene had recovered the pistol that Solae had dropped the previous evening and returned it to her, while he himself carried the pistol Min Ho had given him, along with the least dilapidated of the several rifles they had recovered from the raiders. The rest of the weapons were stacked in one of the cells in Amber Horizion’s, a last ditch defence if the Syshin should need them.

“Any minute now,” Rene said, checking his chronometer, completely unnecessarily. He was nervous, not for himself, but he was starting to question his earlier certainty that Krol wouldn’t try to harm Lasha as she ‘freed’ him from his cell. Another torturous minute dragged by before the hatch squealed open. Krol, looking sickly, stumbled from the hatch onto his hands and knees. The slaver glanced around trying to get his bearings before standing and staggering off towards the east. Rene waited till he was at the edge of their sight line and then rose with Solae, following Krol from a safe distance. The drugs in the man's system, as well as his very real but suppressed infection had him on the edge of delirium, he probably wouldn’t notice the tail, but it was best not to take chances you could avoid.

The air was hot with the latent heat of noon as Krol lead them down the slope. The jungle was thinner here on the rocky fringe of the hills. Twisted trees, draped with moss like vines scrabbled for light, with only a few of the most optimistic ferns to provide ground cover. Krol staggered and fell repeatedly, his crashing approach starting birds and small forest creatures from their hides before he reached them. Rene was beginning to worry that the man was lost, to sick to find his way back, when the hit another old railway track. It cut through the jungle like a scar, raised slightly on a bed of crushed gravel barely identifiable now. The track was heavily overgrown, branches covering it at a height that would have preculuded any engine from running on it, but the lack of growth covering it suggested that it might still have been used for foot traffic. That or the gravel substrate was so unappealing that even entrepreneurial jungle flora couldn’t make a home of it. Krol paused, looked up and down the track, and then staggered off southward.

They followed the track for well over an hour. Krol was clearly deteriorating as the meds began to where off. His falls became more frequent and at times he crawled on hands and knees. The rails began to rise slightly, the embankment growing higher as they reached lower ground, more susceptible to sudden monsoonal floods. The Jungle to either side was much thicker now, not quite the towering giants of the deep bush, but trees large enough to black the sky almost completely save for the odd dapples of light brought on by the errant winds. Krol rounded a bend and let out a weak but strangled cry. Ahead Rene could see the wild jungle trees give way to regular rubber trees, easily distinguishable by their dark green, almost black leaves. Splotches of paint in various colors marred their smooth trunks, probably something to do with orders of tapping.

“This must be it,” Rene said, uttering his first words since the pursuit had began. He was whispering but after the protracted silence it sounded like a shout. Without a pause he climed to the rails and dashed along them to seize Krol. The man’s flesh was hot to the touch and he was soaked in sweat. The smell indicated he had lost control of his bladder at some point too, which made the task no more pleasant.

“Who… who… are you,” Krol croaked through lips parched till they had split. Rene realised that the slaver was too far gone in his own delirum to recognise him.

“What should we do with the prisoners boss?” Rene asked, doing his best to conceal his upper class Capellan accent. It would never have worked if the man wasn’t half out of his mind with fever, but it was worth a try.

“Prisoners…” Krol moaned as though not quite certain what Rene meant.

“The...chooks, the ones were are going to send off world,” Rene expanded, wincing inwardly to use the borrowed slur, even in a good cause.

“Right… chooks… we need to… south side of the plantation… need to load them before the woman and her…” Krol paused and squinted up at Rene, he licked his cracked lips blinking to clear the fever haze from his eyes.

“I know you…” Krol began. Rene straightened and unclipped the sword he had taken from Lord Armon’s estate. They were too close to other humans to risk a shot and Rene didn’t want to do something as brutish as cut the mans throat, or wring his neck, although he supposed neither would have been too difficult.

“You are that golden haired bitches lap dog!” Krol managed, his voice rising but still weak that it wouldn’t carry very far. Rene thumbed the powered blade to life, it hummed gently as the segments began to oscillate, to finely for the human eye to measure more than a shimmer.

“It is still an hour till sundown,” Rene said quietly, “you have my apologies for that.” Then, without further hesitation, he thrust the blade into Krol’s chest, the tip sinking into his heart like a knife sliding into softened butter. Krol stiffened and coughed once, a trickle of blood appearing at the corner of his mouth. Then he sagged back, the light fading from his eyes in the space of a few heart beats. Rene withdrew the point of the blade a fine mist of blood, scattered by the oscillators spattered the front of the dead man’s shirt, rapidly obscured by the spreading crimson stain. Rene thumbed the blade off and the slight whine died away. The sound of insects and bird calls filled the quiet of the forest. He felt sick, killing a man in a firefight was one thing, but this was something else again. Rene had no doubt that Krol had received justice for crimes he openly admmited to, but slaughtering a sick half delirious man curdled his stomach. Glancing back he saw Solae approaching along the train line. This was no time to be weak. Clipping the sword back to his belt, he seized Krol’s body by both arms and dragged it off the track and into the concealment of a nearby knot of thorny bushes, covering the corpse with a layer of leaf litter hastily scrapped from a nearby bank. In a few days the smell would make they body easy to find, but by that point they would either be dead or off New Concordia.

“He said something about the south side of the plantation,” he told Solae as he returned to the train tracks, trying to ignore the blood staining the gravel. He nodded his head to the long lines of dark rubber trees. They were closely packed, and marched off until the gloom beneath them became impenetrable. No workers were yet in sight, perhaps this section wasn’t due to be harvested any time soon, he didn’t know enough about rubber production to even hazard a guess.
Junebug didn’t lower the semi-surreptitiously aimed weapon until the conversation ended. Her face blank and unmoving as an insect. She didn’t judge Sven likely to shoot them in the back, but then there was no point in making more risky assumptions than you had to. Her life had enough chances in it already.

They found the Red Dwarf only after asking a few of the itinerant spacers for directions. Even then the directions were cursory and filled with nervous glances and quick departures. The bar was located in a slightly more upscale area. A vast holoprojection of a Red Dwarf star, ten meters across blazed in the entryway. Every thirty seconds the holo star went nova, scattering coherent light which congealed into the name Red Dwarf and then collapsed back into its burning protoplasmic namesake. It was a neat effect. Patrons lounged at outdoor tables in front of the place, almost all of them were armed and many bearing crimson start mark, either in tatoo or painted onto armor.

“Nice place,” Sayeeda said in a deliberately neutral tone, noting the bullet holes that picked the facade of black marble. The impacts were heavy calibre, vehicle mounted almost certainly. Neil glanced back over his shoulder at her with a slightly guilty expression on his face.

“Yeah well, nice people aren’t buying what we are selling,” he said with a weak smile.

The bouncers, both human and covered from head to toe with gang tattoos, didn’t give them any more trouble than an unfriendly grunt. They were carrying short shot guns and riot batons, both of which would end a fight very, very quickly. They did spare a look for Junebug’s weapons and armor but it was more skeptical than afraid.

The interior of the place thumped with synthesized music, it was almost loud enough to be painful. The bar was being operated by a trio of completely naked human women and one alien, also naked, that might have been either male, female or a combination of the two. Large clear tanks sectioned off areas of the place. They were filled with a shimmering slightly bluish liquid in which swam strange creatures, somewhere between birds and fish, they seemed to be almost gem like in their sparkling magnificence.

Men and women gyrated together on a central dancefloor enfolded by table that rose by gentle increments to allow every present to see the action, the fluid in the tanks ran down the incline in slow cataracts, more like petroleum than water. Sayeeda decided it might be liquid helium, though she had never heard of anything living in the stuff as these fish creatures clearly did. There was a large fenced off area to the rear where a knot of muscle, more heavily armed than the rest, controlled a broad ramp which lead up to private viewing boxes with black one way glass.

Junebug slid her helmet down over her head, the built in noise cancellation gear immediately muting the tumult to a dull roar. She flipped the faceshield up, knowing from experience that people found the dull reflective surface to be far more intimidating than a bare face.

“Alright,” she said, “lets find ourselves a Formian.”
@ihinka Id prefer we not learn of it as a group now as I would like people to have a chance to do a little preparation montage. If you want to spot your tail on the way home that would be fine.
Skaldi led them along the mountainside without hesitation. Every now and then the dwarf would and wrap a knuckle against a stone, or sniff at a crack in the rock, or some other arcane action which seemed to have meaning only to himself. The descended slowly down the cragy slope until they came to an overhang that Skaldi had apparently been expecting. At the back of the rocky ledge was a narrow fissure, perhaps three feet wide.

“Aye that’ll be it,” the dwarf remarked with evident satisfaction. Camilla peered at the crack dubiously, it was going to be a very tight fit for Ivan and even Cydric would struggle. She cast a look back at Dietricha who seemed to be picking mountain flowers and threading them through her unkempt hair. Yantz, still pale from the encounter with the Dragon Ogre, caught her glance and shrugged apologetically. Wind whipped up the mountain side like a knife making Camilla shiver and hug her cloak tighter around her.

“Well I suppose it is better than freezing to death out here, better get your armor off gentlemen,” Camilla pointed out. Grumbling but obeying the men began to strip out of there armor. Camilla began gathering the fallen branches of some of the scrubby stunted trees that clawed their way into the rock. Skaldi took it a step further and simply uprooted a half dozen with jerks of his powerfully muscled arms.

“I’ll go first,” Skaldi declared and turned sideways to squeeze through the narrow opening, his heavy set body scraping against the stone before he disappeared from view. Camilla, eager to get out of the cold, went next, slipping easily between the rock faces. The narrow point lasted perhaps ten feet before the cavern opened out to something that a wagon might fit through if its driver were very careful, it stretched away, curving out of sight about twenty feet on, the way was rough, much rougher than she had expected.

“It opens out,” she called back, “come on in.”

“Its always the way last, harder stone close to the surface, otherwise it would ave worn away and collapsed,” the dwarf noted with professional pride. Yantz, looking thin without his armor but still wrapped in powerful cords of muscle squirmed through next, the firewood they had gathered was wrapped in his cloak that he dragged behind him like a body. Dietricha joined them next looking satisfied if a little ridiculous with all the flowers in her hair. Heavy cursing in Kislivite followed her and for a moment she feared Ivan had gotten stuck in the narrow entrance but there was a sudden unpleasant scraping sound and the big man stumbled into view. A scraped bloody area was visible at his shoulder and hip.

“Lady de.. Whatever,” Konrad whispered and Camilla moved back along the passageway and began to pass weapons and armor back to the remainder of the group. Konrad came through next. Camilla had a sudden terror that some unseen enemy would strike while Cydric was alone on the mountain side. The fear choked her for a long moment before Cydric squeezed through, grunting with effort and holding his sword out to the side. She clasped his hand and pulled him through, feeling only the slightest scrape on the rock.

They climbed down the descending chambers for another ten minutes before Skaldi discovered a pool of water fed by a slow trickle from the rock and declared it was safe to stop. They built a small fire from the timber they had scavenged and clustered around it for warmth, trying to shed the enervating cold of the mountains. There wasn’t much food, only a little hard tack and ancient cheese that left them all hungry.

“There will be cave mushrooms as we get deeper,” Skaldi assured them with something like relish, a feeling which Camilla couldn’t share but her empty belly approved of.

“Always is where there is water,” he explained, sniffing at the pool before dipping his leather water skin in to fill it up.
Rene mostly followed the High Imperial. Trust a linquist to keep fluent in a dead language. As a child he had learned the language from his tutor but mostly for the purposes of reading the various historical and philosophical tracts which formed the core of an aristocratic education. Classics were usually taught immediately after children mastered the basics of grammar and arithmetic with specialty education in the science occuring later. Young Rene had been a keen reader of history, his family had been proud of a number of pre-collapse manuscripts that it owned in true to the stars physical print. They had always seemed like wonderful things to him, conjuring up an archaic past where Earth had ruled the galaxy with vast fleets and armies unknown in the current age.

“Let us give him his freedom, better not to promise clemency we have no intention of honoring,” Rene replied. The formal structure of the grammar made his words sound more pompous than he would have liked but his command of the language wasn’t such that he was an easy conversationalist. Solae nodded her head clearly taking his drift even if his words were imprecise.

“We will make a gentleman out of you yet,” she said, smiling slightly. Rene unsuccessfully tried to fight off a smile and was immediately glad the prisoner was in no state to register the crack in his carefully stern impression. The stepped back out into the hallway where Enro waited. Solae briefly explained the plan to him in a liquid stream of Syshi. Enro’s body language betrayed, even to Rene’s untrained eye, that he was uncomfortable with the plan. It was a reasonable concern, if the prisoner somehow evaded his pursuers Amber Horizon’s might well face an attack which they couldn’t possibly repel, but Solae and her bonded had proved themselves friends, heros even, and he couldn’t deny them the right to try it.

“What do you need from us, Solae of the Empire,” he asked at last, speaking common for Rene’s benefit.

“Can you send someone for my backpack, I need the medical kit,” Rene explained.

The prisoner bucked as the the injector hissed against his neck, delivering the carefully mixed cocktail of drugs into his carotid artery. Rene wasn’t a medic, but he had taken the corps extensive field first aid course and was familiar enough with the application of stimulants. The mix contained an anti-pyrogenic, to break the fever, as well as a dose of adrenaline and preepinephrine. It would suppress the effects of the infection as well as give the man the energy to move. Rene had decided against analgesic, he didn’t want the man to be able to move too fast and besides, they might need it themselves.

The slavers eyes cleared almost immediately though sweat still beaded on his face. Rene stepped back and drew himself up to his full height. He was wearing his side arm and dressed in the most formal of the clothing Min Ho had given him. The dark grey tunic, sealed on the left side and the black pants gave him a semi official appearance without being anything like a uniform.

“What is your name,” he demanded. The prisoner squirmed, hate filling his eyes. He glanced back and forth, perhaps looking for Solae. They had decided that it would be better if she were not visible for this part of the plan and so she had waited out side, though the door was open and she could hear everything that transpired. Enro and one of his companions waited there as well, crude spears clutched in their hands in case something went badly wrong. Rene had made certain his pistol was unloaded, just in case the fellow managed to jump him.

“Fuck you..” the slavers jaw snapped back as Rene delivered a full armed slap to the mans face, the contact echoing in the improvised prison cell like a gun shot.

“What is your name,” Rene repeated in an identical tone. The prisoner did not answer. Rene drew his hand back for another blow.

“Krol Tamworth,” the man grunted, glaring hatefully at the marine. Rene nodded and was silent for a moment.

“Krol Tamworth,” Rene began formally, his posture stiffening into something like a formal parade rest, eyes gray an pitiless as he watched the shivering form before him.

“For the crimes of sentient trafficking, attempted murder, kidnapping and assault upon the person of an Imperial official..”

“Wait a minute,” Krol interjectected, eyes wide, but Rene didn’t pause in his recitation.

“I Renard Lucius Du Quentain, Commander of Her Imperial Highnesses’ Forces on New Concordia, That Territory being in a state of Martial Law and in accordance with the emergency powers so granted me , do sentence you to death.” Rene repressed a shiver at the use of his full formal name, something he hadn’t uttered since he took his oath to join the Marines. It felt like peeling back the protective layer on a block of sodium, a soft sizzle that started the chain reaction to an eventual and inevitable detonation. Solae had pointed out that as the only surviving member of the the Imperial Military command technically fell to him, even if that was command of exactly one soldier. He supposed that the Marines would have approved of the chain of command surviving.

“What you can’t!” Krol began struggling to get to his feet. Rene slapped him hard again sending hm sprawling to the floor in a heap.

“You will be executed at local nightfall, 19:30 hours, I suggest you use that time to make whatever peace you can,” the words were filled with icy contempt that he didn’t have to dredge very deep to find. Turning on his heel, he strode from cell. One of the Syshin guards closing the bamboo door behind him.

In the hallway Solae and Lasha waited. Solae had a strange look on her face. Stars what did he look like, he tried to force his face out of the bleak expression he had been wearing for the interview.

“How long?” Lasha asked eagerly.

“Two hours,” Rene said as they moved down the corridor.

“Let him get good and scared so he doesn't try anything.” The plan was for Lasha to turn Krol loose, explaining that her people couldn’t be party to an execution regardless of what the Empire said. She could lead the slaver to the exit hatch where Rene and Solae would be concealed, waiting and ready to follow. Enro hadn’t approved of that part of the plan either, but Lasha herself had been compelling in explaining why it should be her. The Syshin nodded and headed off to make her own preparations, leaving Rene and Solae alone.

“Are you ok?” he asked her quietly.
Sayeeda kept her eyes open as they moved through the city. The place was filthy beyond easy description. Trash of all description littered the street. Bars and other establishments kept the front of their premises clear, if not clean, by paying the homeless to remove the trash. Where it went from there was a mystery, but Sayeeda was willing to bet that at even more dilapidated levels of the city, rats, or whatever the local pests were, roasted above fires of burning trash.

Grafitti was almost as omnipresent as trash. Sayeeda counted half a dozen gang signs which she saw mirrored in more precise renditions on the flesh of the numerous toughs and thugs which lurked in front of the seedier bars and eateries. She wished that they had left Taya with the ship, not just because the girl was clearly overwhelmed but because she attracted attention with her neat features and stylish blonde hair. Attention that fell on Junebug quickly slid aside as they took in the pistol and the submachine gun. Part of her wished she had bought a rifle also, but there was no percentage in carrying a heavy weapon where sight lines were likely to be so short. Even if it all dropped in the pot, shots of over fifty meters would be exceedingly rare in this warren.

Sayeeda didn’t like cities. She had grown up in a city on clean well administered *BLANK* but her childhood fondness had been quickly replaced after she went off to war. Andor had only taken contracts that required city fighting with extreme reluctance. The strength of armored regiments lay in mobillity, moving quickly to surprise the enemy and disrupt his operations. In a city every apartment block was a potential ambush site and every street funneled men and vehicles into predictable firing lanes. Even leveling a city with artillery or direct fire didn’t help, as the rubble remaining was even better for snipers and irregulars than buildings were. They had occasionally had to do it, but it had been mainly close action work for infantry and losses had been exorbitantly high.

The air was a faintly acrid fug. Ejecta of various sorts rained down from above, although it was aresolized by the time it reached this level. The smell mixed with stale beer, decaying trash and the unpleasantly oily smell of cooking meat. It wasn’t a pretty place. Still by the look of some of the denizens, hard men in cheap suits they imagined were fashionable and carrying large obvious side arms, there was money to be made here. It would be the ideal place for a criminal to hide out, strangers were obvious avoiding them was as simple as moving to a different level.

The arrival of Sven took her by surprise. It seemed unlikely that anyone who knew Neil would be here, but then again they were looking for one of Neils contacts and webs of association worked both ways. The fellow’s beard and bearing were certainly impressive, used to violence certainly but probably not a military background Junebug decided. SHe glanced around, noting a few of the armed locals watching with some interest as the fellow approached Neil, exchanged a few words and then suddenly grabbed Neil and lifted him into the air.

“Whoa, easy boys,” she said in a flat tone. Sven glanced at her with a look of anger and flinched slightly. The submachine gun was still hanging from the attachment point on her chest armor, but the pressure of two fingers on the butt lifted the barrel so that, quite by apparent accident, it pointed at Sven’s knee cap. Her fingers weren’t in the trigger guard, but they drummed a slow beat against the ceramic chest armor beside it, in subtle warning.

“I won’t claim I don't understand the impulse, but I don’t want to walk out of here right?”
Rene flopped bonelessly onto the mattress, only to grunt in surprise as it nearly swallowed him. The mattress was a large bag of cotton fabric, judging from the unexpected give it was packed with some sort of loose cushioning, perhaps leaves or wool. He blinked for a moment in stunned surprise, it reminded him of an underfilled waterbed he had once played on as a child.

“Well,” he said in an ironically voice, “I suppose it has less in the way of interesting pharmaceuticals.” It wasn’t much of a joke but they both laughed relieved to be alone and alive. Rene struggled to the edge of the bed with some difficulty and stripped off his boot. Lasha had bathed Solae while she had been unconscious and Rene, waiting anxiously without other options, had sponged the worst of the dirt off himself. His hands were pitted with small red dots where he had scoured away the metal that muzzle blasts had redeposited on his skin.

Solae stripped down to her under clothes, an act which commanded Rene’s full and immediate attention. She let them fall to the ground, the faint hint of a wicked grin on her full beautiful lips. Without warning she leaped onto the bed, landing on it with her full weight. The counterforce flipped Rene out of the bed with a whoosh of escaping air, depositing him on his back on the floor with a crunch. He groaned in surprise and was rewarded with her silvery laughter.

“Is that anyway for a lady to behave?” he asked and dived (more carefully) back into the bed.

They found each other in the night, the natural impulse of the bed drawing them together as both of their bodies sought the lowest point. It was less frantic than it had been in the Park’s spare bedroom, enthusiasm trumped by the pain and fatigue of wounds and the exhaustion of battle. Still hunger for each other overcame natural caution and more than once the ecstasy of togetherness mingled with the pain of an awkwardly place leg or hand. Rene didn’t care for his own pain eager to feel Solae against him even if it came at a price. He wanted to explore every inch of her, eager to prove she was still alive after the scare her capture had given him. Sleep found him with an arm around her and her golden hair spilling over his torso, her head resting on his chest.

The Syshin had different biological rhythms than humans. Triurnal by nature, they tended to view the day as split into three segments. An early morning, a full sun period, and an evening night. The arrangement suited their social structure allowing both bonded pairs and twins a period of communion without depriving them of rest. There was no day and night in Amber Horizons in any case, the hull of the ship effectively cutting off all natural light. Inspite of that Rene was already beginning to stir when a polite but insistant knock sounded at the door. Groaning he slid out of bed, careful but unable to avoid Solae who was also rousing to the noise. He picked up his trousers and awkwardly tugged them on before opening the door a crack. Enro stood in the hallway beyond his face unreadable to Rene.

“We need to speak of the prisoner,” he said, with more urgency than the statement should have required. Rene’s lips compressed into a frown. Solae was moving behind him, he could hear her pulling on her own clothing, gifts from Oanh he supposed. Briefly he regretted not finding spare gear at the Rat Trap, but the only real choice would have been to strip the dead.

“Now?” Rene ask musily trying to kick his brain into action. The effects of his wounds and his exertions were clearly catching up to him. The backs of his hands burned and it was painful, and he was stiff besides, muscles protesting the abuse he was putting them through. Enro nodded in an exaggerated manner that Rene was coming to associate with the Syshin. Florid gestures seemed to be the norm among the creatures, he wondered if they found humans boring and restrained in their speech.

“Yeah… yeah ok give us a minute will you?” he asked, closing the door before the alien could reply. Solae was already dressed so Rene quickly pulled on a fresh shirt and a socks before snapping the battered plastic closures of his combat boots. He took Solae’s hand and squeezed it.

“Lets find out what this is about,” she said with a smile that held a slight unreadable quality to it.

When they arrived at the cell, it was immediately obvious that the prisoner was much worse off than he had been the night before. A sheen of sweat coated the man's cruely pinched face and he appeared to be shaking despite being wrapped in a warm cloth blanket, much like the one Rene and Solae had used last night. Rene reflected that it had been a mistake for the Shyshin to give him that. A dedicated man might have used it to fashion a noose.

“What is wrong with him?” Enro asked. Rene thought about the bridge, the plasma bolt, fragment bursting up from the bridge and spattering the fellow legs before pitching him back into the creek.

“He is septic,” Rene said in a voice too low to carry to the miserable prisoner.

“The wounds in his legs, Lasha treated them, but either she missed something or you don’t have antibiotics appropriate for humans,” he concluded. Even a skilled surgeon was likely to miss something and this wretch wasn’t even the same species as the healer. Rene couldn’t find any mercy in his heart for someone who was willing to buy and sell sentient beings so that they could be raped and tortured, but without antibiotics, the man was going to die a slow and agonized death.

Start as far forward in a story as you can. There are no gates if you start your story surrounded by orcs and about to die.
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