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First Contact - Third Wave - Chapter 355

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General No'Drak looked down at the holotanks below him. He was standing up at the observers area, in front of the seats, leaning against the railing and smoking a cigarette. He could see all of the holotanks from up here, watch the ebb and flows of the battle. Next to him stood his aide, Colonel BuChampe, and one of the Great Grand Most Highs of the system, formerly in charge of the infantry now in charge of precisely jack and shit but wounded troops that had barely survived. On No'Drak's other side was Most High Ge'ermo'o, aide to Great Most High A'armo'o, who still commanded nearly ten thousand tanks, and General Moffeta, who was in charge of Terran close air support assets.
Most High A'armo'o's men were pushing deeper into the three cities, paving the way for 3rd Armor to engage the Precursor forces inside the city that were surrounding the massive ships that had landed or crashed in the city centers. 18th Armor Division was currently sweeping The Graveyard, where dozens of Precursor machines had crashed. It was a radioactive hellscape full of twisted metal, destroyed or heavily damage Precursor combat vehicles, and shattered landscape. All twelve infantry divisions (unpowered) were sweeping the cities, fighting next to the armored vehicles. The power armor troops were mixed in with the cities as well as working with the Air Cav units to sweep the countryside, looking for any Precursor that might have avoided the net so far.
That wasn't to say combat was over. Space Force had only recently finished off the last of the Harvester Class Precursors and most of the lesser machines, but some were still out there playing hide and seek with Space Force.
It was odd, No'Drak thought to himself, these ones didn't Helljump out. They kept fighting, as if they could pull victory from defeat from an enemy that outgunned them, outranged them, and that they could barely effect even with massed fire.
Space Force was holding roughly a third of their ships in reserve, suspecting another wave to come in.
It was all down to the ground forces now.
"Trucker's engaging," Ge'ermo'o stated. The fact that humans often dispensed with titles when talking about one another seemed odd.
"Of course he is," No'Drak said, tapping his ashes into the ashtray. He brought up a virtual keyboard with a command to his implant and tapped a few keys with one bladearm, taking a long drag off of his Terran import smoke.
"Sir?" the summoned image was of a Saurian Compact Kobold with red scales and the flash of a staff sergeant on his collar.
"What's the bandwidth looking like for Trucker's battle tactical network updates?" No'Drak asked.
The tech looked down, then back up. "Minor updates to the battleplan, fairly low so far," he said.
"Let me know once it crossed into BOLO bandwidth territory," No'Drak said and closed the channel.
"So, he doesn't give orders verbally?" Ge'ermo'o asked.
No'Drak shook his head. "No. He uses his implant to make warplan addendum and adjustments. He reserves voice commands for urgent things."
"And he has never lost a battle?" Ge'ermo'o watched as the lead ranks and the forward section of the western flank of 3rd Armor started flashing yellow to signify they were engaged in combat.
"He's lost a few," Moffeta said, folding her arms and leaning on the railing. "Most expensive victories the enemy ever bought though," she shook her head. "One war, the enemy threw so much metal at Trucker that when they finally forced Trucker's one regiment to retreat they realized they'd lost nearly sixty percent of their military forces and Trucker's unit was already reloading and getting ready for a counter-thrust."
"That war was over, right there," No'Drak said.
Ge'ermo'o watched as 3rd Armor seemed to move like a well oiled machine. He had to admit, with two hundred years experience as a tank commander, he understood the holotanks and what was going on.
It just frightened him.
"First Telkan is falling back with Great Herd Armor," one of the techs reported from the ground.
Ol' Smokey 'No opened up a window in mid-air in front of him, looking over the numbers.
"Looks like the most that First Telkan took was some moderate armor damage," General No'Drak mused. He opened a few other windows. "A'armo'o's tanks are a little beat up, but nothing that can't be handled in the field."
He checked another window. "Looks like Fifteen Combat Sustainment is meeting them," he leaned forward. "Hmm, interesting, their Battalion Commander requested it directly after making sure that the CO for First Telkan is going to be there."
"Problems?" BuChampe asked.
"Not sure. Have someone keep an eye on the memetic traffic, that's usually a good indicator of shit going sideways on a person to person level," No'Drak said.
Great Grand Most High of Great Herd Infantry Ga'alawpi'in had been largely silent, listening to the others.
"Why, General No'Drak, do you give such autonomy to your commanders?" he asked, frowning.
"They are on the battlefield, I am here. My data is seconds behind actual events. Not as bad as it was in eras long past, but still, as little as a half second can make the difference between defeat and victory, between living and dead," No'Drak said.
"But yet you allow General Trucker command units he cannot even see," Ga'alawpi'in said. "See, right there, he ordered BOLO Vegitales to go to rapid fire on their infinite repeaters nine through seventeen at a specific aiming points in eight seconds," the Lanaktallan said.
"Let's take a look," No'Drak said. He activated the railing holosystem and brought up BOLO Vegitales' optical sensors.
The battle was roaring. Hordes of Precursor light infantry and light armored vehicles were charging the massive super-tank. The huge super-tank wasn't even using its main gun, just using infinite repeaters, mortars, point defense, and anti-personnel charges to destroy the mechanical attackers.
"There is nothing the..." Ga'alawpi'in started to say.
A horde of fast attack hover-pods lunged up from behind a pile of ferrocrete rubble, their launchers deployed, obviously getting ready to launch multiple armor defeating missiles at the massive tank.
The infinite repeaters shredded them before they could get much more than a meter over the rubble.
"That is preposterous!" Ga'alawpi'in said, curling his tendrils and shaking his jowls in outrage. "How could you possibly expect me to believe that a sole tank commander nearly a hundred miles away would know what was going to happen."
General No'Drak gave the Treana'ad equivalent of a smile and made a motion, wiping the display and bringing up the map. "Let's look it," he made another motion.
"108th Military Intelligence, Tech Specialist Hannah, how can I help you, sir, ma'am, both or neither?" The Terran female that appeared asked.
"This is General No'Drak, Theater, Commanding, put me through to Combat Analysis Division, Trucker Sequencing Section," No'Drak said.
"Right away, sir," the Terran said. There was silence on the line for a moment. "Hold for Sergeant K'Krik."
Ge'ermo'o restrained a smile. He knew that his rival was about to get completely embarrassed.
"108th Combat Analysis Division, Real Time Operational Analysis, Trucker Section," a furry looking Terran said.
"General No'Drak here," the big Treana'ad said.
"General. How can I help you? Keep in mind we're extremely busy," the Terran said.
Ga'alawpi'in felt a little offended that the Terran seemed to be implying he had better things to do than talk to someone who outranked him by such a factor.
"Have you determined how Trucker knew the anti-armor pods were going to engage BOLO Vegitales?" No'Drak asked.
"One second, sir," the Terran said. He muted it, turning away. After a minute he looked back, then down, obviously doing something on a screen they couldn't see. "All right, sir. Four hours ago a Djinn class Precursor vessel was shot down by a combination of orbital strikes and BOLO Vegitales' main gun fire. It deployed its full compliment while under orbital fire that disabled it. Third Regiment, Second Telkan Marine Division encountered pod-drones and two dozen heavy pod-layers three miles from where Vegitales was operating."
He took another look. "The Telkan Marines disabled the Precursor combat robots that didn't withdraw but could not follow up their assault. They reported and moved on, catching up to Great Most High A'armo'o's armored units. Two hours ago 22nd Infantry Division elements encountered a heavy pod-layer mech company and destroyed it, although it appears they only discovered half of the pod-layers that the Telkan Marines reported as escaped. The known speed of those drones for cruising speed under stealth is only two miles and hour. As you can see, the ferrocrete used in the ground-car elevated highways system there is the same sensor signature as the drones and prevents a direct line of sight."
The Terran male shrugged. "Once you look at the data, it's fairly obvious that the anti-tank drones sent by the Djinn before its destruction via orbital fire would be heading toward BOLO Vegitales. It was just putting the evidence together."
"Thank you, Sergeant," No'Drak said and closed the window. He looked at Ga'alawpi'in and put out his cigarette. "Does that satisfy you?"
Ge'ermo'o knew that the other Lanaktallan couldn't see it, but Ge'ermo'o could. Some subconscious part of the Terran General's brain had put all the data together, analyzed the pattern, and come to a logical and straightforward conclusion.
Ge'ermo'o was impressed that the Terran military had dedicated an entire section to analyze one man's battlefield impressions. It made sense to Ge'ermo'o, as it would allow them to refine combat predictive algorithms as well as train other leaders in how to put together circumstantial evidence into a coherent whole.
"But, if he is making these deductions, surely it effects his ability to lead as well as to take part in combat," Ga'alawpi'in harumphed. "How can he be an effective leader or combat soldier if he spends all his time analyzing data?"
No'Drak slowly pulled out his half-empty pack of cigarettes, tapping the top end against one bladearm. "Wanna see?"
Ga'alawpi'in frowned. "See what?"
"See Trucker in action then decide if you want to revise that statement?" Moffat asked.
"I'd like to see," Ge'ermo'o said.
No'Drak made a few poking motions with one bladearm. "Behold, the magic of cybernetics, tank sensors, and software."
The window opened up then expanded around everyone, visible only to those who stood on the balcony.
Trucker was half out of his tank, his helmet on his head, both hands wrapped around the firing handles of the quad-barrel TC's gun. He was raking the fire across the side of a Precursor that was trying to pull itself out of the rubble of a collapsed building.
"Black Betty, rotate up new port battlescreen projectors, you're about to take a hit," he yelled out.
A datascreen popped up that he had already ordered it via implant nearly thirty seconds prior. Ten seconds before even that he had warned the Defensive Crewman of the tank that they were going to take a 15 kiloton hit to the port battlescreens.
There was a flare of white light behind Trucker as he let off the trigger, whipped the gun up and to the left, and spit tobacco juice off to the side. He started raking the upper floors of a building and the bright purple flash of Precursor battlescreens taking hits started erupting from out of the shot out windows.
"Bag of Bolts, recycle your APERS strip, I can see the crack in it from here. You know not to wet-print the new APERS strips," he shouted, raking the building again.
A tank fired, hitting where Trucker was lashing the building, the heavy main gun of the tank blowing the roof off the building in a shower of debris and a clawing rising cloud of fire and smoke. A Precursor shot out of the building, lighting its grav drive, but a main gun shot from another direction blew it into confetti before it could get further than a hundred meters from the building and twenty meters of altitude.
Letting off the triggers, Trucker spit tobacco and looked around, stomping the foot pedal to rotate his command platform in a quick three-sixty, checking the data on his implant against where he could feel the battle was going.
Something's off, he thought to himself, keeping his thumb on the switch to keep the barrels rotating so they'd cool faster. He did a quick check of HHC, did a quick check on Cry Little Sister, then ran another fast status on the Division.
He out two fingers against his datalink, checked the updates to the Battlefield Tactical Network system, then frowned.
Something still felt out of whack.
A Precursor machine lunged out of a half collapsed store, scattering Tri-Vids and chairs everywhere and ran straight into the main gun shot of Raspberry Pi. The Precursor slid to the side, the entire side caved in and fire licking at the internals.
"All Regimental commanders, status reports," Trucker snapped, sending a datalink ping to go with it.
The reports came in rapidly.
Eight tanks disabled due to blown tracks, one tank had taken an engine hit, and another one was currently working its way out of a rubble after an underground parking garage had collapsed and dumped it into a...
He held onto that for a moment as the tank rocked slightly as it crushed several twisted and burnt ground cars under its bulk.
For a split second he could see an iridescent insect, floating on the breeze, just outside the battlescreens, his cyberoptics focusing on it for a second before returning his field of view to the horizon.
It suddenly gelled and he double-checked the deployment map.
Nice try, he thought.
"Karmine, get me Colonel Dremsal, right now!" he yelled out loud, looking around again.
It took a couple tries, but PFC Karmine managed to get through the Colonel Dremsal, 14th Regiment, 3rd Brigade, and pass the link to Trucker.
"Dremsal here, sir," Trucker heard.
"Move your unit to the attached location, ping me when you get there," Trucker snapped, adding his gun's fire to another two quad-barrels that were ripping apart the armor on the side of a medium Precursor vehicle.
"Roger that, sir," Demsal answered.
"What do you think he sees? There's nothing there?" Ge'ermo'o asked, watching the holotank.
"Not sure. Check with Planetary Defense and Civil Defense," No'Drak said.
Dremsal checked the orders again. He'd served in Third Armor for over a hundred and fifty years and was well used to strange orders coming in that made sense after the fact.
"Get the tanks in closer! Shut down your screens except your starboard, overhead, and undercarriage!" he shouted over the comlink. "Nose to tail! Nose to tail and main guns to starboard, Thunderpunch!"
His tank moved forward slightly, bumping into the one ahead with a barely felt thump. His XO flashed him an angry icon as the paint cracked and chipped. The CO for 2nd Battalion bumped his tank up and the starboard battlescreens clashed for a moment before they got on the same harmonic.
Dremsal looked to port where there was nothing but the rubble of a parking garage that had collapsed sometime earlier, then back to starboard, where there was nothing but wreckage from multiple skyrakers that had collapsed and destroyed Precursor heavy vehicles.
"Get ready, Thunderpunch!" Trucker yelled over the comlink to Dremsal. Colonel Dremsal could hear that HHC 3rd Armor's main guns were firing.
To be honest, Dremsal didn't like making his tanks a fixed fighting position. It gave away speed and battlefield manueverability, but he trusted his CO. He checked his quad-barrel and swung it around, lining it up on the top of the rubble of a collapsed skyraker.
Any minute now, he thought.
Old Iron Feathers led his men on a close in pass, checking the battlefield again. Great Herd Armor and First Telkan had gotten involved in heavy fighting, and while there were no MIA from the battle it never hurt to do one more sweep just in case.
"Iron, you read me?" Trucker's voice popped up in his suit.
"Iron Feathers here, Trucker," the neo-sapient replied.
"Got three heavy dropships coming down from The Blessing, but I'm not sure if they're going to get there in time. I need your men at these coordinates as fast as possible," Trucker said. Old Iron Feathers could hear the sounds of combat and knew that the big tanker was engaged. The coordinates pinged in, only four miles off, but the arc that Trucker wanted him to take increased it to six.
"Enroute. 13th Evac, out," Iron Feathers said. He opened a channel to his men at the same time as he crossloaded the flight plan. "Drop Nap of Earth and go full afterburners. Trucker's got something."
All nine of his men flashed green icons as he led them on a spiral down to just above the ground, lower than twenty meters, and leveled out. Once his men were in a wedge he kicked off the afterburners and the SAR armor boosted to over two hundred miles an hour.
"Look at that. He's calling in medevac and medical dropships now," BuChampe mused. "What is going on?"
"I'm not sure," No'Drak said. He frowned.
"Sir, Diasy Sue is confirming an orbital strike request!" one of the techs said, her head and shoulders suddenly appearing from a holoprojector.
"Who's request?" No'Drak asked.
Ge'ermo'o knew.
"General Trucker. He wants a four-fifty kinetic shot from near orbit less than a mile from 14th Armor Regiment," the female Terran said. Ge'ermo'o could see that her heavy duty datalink implant had all nine LED's red.
His had three LED's.
"Authorize it," No"drak said. "Get me a satellite overview of what's going on with 14th Regiment."
"Yes, sir," the Terran said and vanished.
Dremsal saw the nine members of 13th Evac touch down right before the countdown to the orbital strike reached zero. He had his hands wrapped around the handles of the quad-barrel so tight his knuckles and fingers were starting to hurt.
The lance came down and struck ground with a blinding white light. The ground heaved and surged, the tanks clanking and rubbing against one another, the battlescreens losing attunement for a moment and snarling where they joined. The blast wave carried dust, dirt, and debris in a solid wave out to smash against the battlescreens, to flow over the tanks, and barely miss the SAR armor crouched down in the rubble, before hitting the ground and rushing out nearly two miles more.
"OPEN FIRE!" Dremsal yelled, even though he could barely hear and couldn't see.
Right before the first tank fired there was another roaring as a dozen Precursor machines, massing several thousand tons each, breached the surface, the laser drills on the front still flashing and burning with red light. Underground several exploded, damaged too much to continue by the orbital shot.
The heavy tank rounds started slamming into the heavy duty Precursor vehicles, blowing huge craters in the armor that normally served to protect the robotic harvester deep in the crust. Smaller machines started deploying from the massive drill and extraction robots, jumping to the ground and charging toward 14th Armor.
Behind the tanks the ground shuddered as heavy hydraulics began lifting massive slabs of endosteel up in the air.
Iron Feathers looked into the gap and saw hundreds of civilians, their faces gray with dust, looking up. He looked up with them, pinging his datalink.
ETA: 215 seconds
Crap, Iron Feathers thought.
Vuxten jumped off the back of the Lanaktallan hovertank, trying not to think of how not too long ago beings just like the crew had mocked and belittled him as he worked menial labor. The tank commander waved to him and he waved back as he hustled over to where his datalink told him that Sergeant Casey was waiting.
The one eyed human was standing in his loading frame, looking at where two sets of 40mm grenades were coming out of two different nano-forges.
"There you are, Lieutenant," Casey said.
"You said you wanted to see me when we got here?" Vuxten said, moving up. He looked at the grenades on the conveyor belt and frowned. They were standard 40mm high explosive dual purpose armor defeating.
"Yup. Solved your problem," the human said.
"Which problem?" Vuxten asked.
The human pointed at Vuxten's left shoulder. "Your grenade launcher."
Vuxten turned and looked at him. "Space Force and Armor Engineering say the launcher's fine even though it keeps jamming up."
"It is fine. Your problem isn't the launcher," the big human said. He pointed at the grenades. "These are," he pointed at the second one, which Vuxten could tell by the slight glossy sheen to the casing had been wet-printed by a hot nano-forge. "Well, those are to be exact."
"How?" Vuxten asked. He couldn't see any difference.
The big human picked up one from each conveyor. "Superficially, they look the same. Unfortunately, they aren't. I checked the armor logs, you guys wet-print once you get into combat. By the fifth or sixth wet-printed shell you get jammed up."
Vuxten nodded.
"It's because when wet-printed the booster charge that launches it from the launcher is more granular, sticky so to speak. You end up with what looks like carbon, but is carbon and unexploded Composition Delta-Seven, a low explosive," the human said. "It's not much, but enough to jam the weapon as it loads. When you get it clear, it's good for five or six launches then it jams again."
Vuxten nodded slowly. "All right. What do I do about it?"
"I talked to Ordnance Command in the fleet, they gave me permission to run a reorder on your ammo. Instead of caseless using Comp Dee-Seven, we'll use Comp Bee-Ex-Four. That burns cleaner even when wet-printed. That should solve your jamming pro..." Casey's eyes opened wide and he grabbed Vuxten yanking him down onto the ground as the big human went one knee down, fist into the ground, covering his face with the other arm.
The dust blew by, the wind knocking the grenades off the conveyors. The shockwave shook the ground and the rumble went on for a long second.
"You OK, Lieutenant?" Case asked, looking at Vuxten.
"Yeah. What was that?" Vuxten asked, getting up.
"Orbital strike. Someone just got pancaked," the human said.
Vuxten turned and stared. The mushroom cloud, and any sufficently powerful explosion creates a mushroom cloud, was reaching up for the sky.
Casey stood up slowly, straightening up. "You better have your men load those templates, sir," he said.
He pointed at the cloud. "Got a feeling you're gonna be back in it real soon."
Vuxten nodded.
"Status report!" A'armo'o snapped, standing up in the tank, his upper body outside the cupola. He could see the Telkan officer, Vuxten, running back over to the tanks, waving his arm to encourage his men to follow.
"Orbital strike from the Daisy Sue, sir," his commo tech yelled. "We've got multiple heavy Precursors coming straight at 14th Armor Regiment. Looks like subterrainian extraction and refinery systems that got forced to the surface by the orbital strike!"
"Who's close enough to provide support?" A'armo'o asked, staring in awe at the mushroom cloud taht was still red and orange.
There was silence for a moment. "Nobody, Most High."
A'armo'o looked around. His tanks were being reloaded, some of them were damaged badly enough that they were smoking.
Rolling coal, went through his mind.
He tapped his datalink, bringing up a map. He was six miles away, a river in between. The Terran tanks were all tracked vehicles, they couldn't cross the quarter mile river.
But his hover-tanks could.
He opened the channel. "All units, all units. Two minutes then we roll out! We lock and load, rack and stack on the way!"
"Most High, my main gun's out!" one of his subordinates protested.
"THEN RUN THEM OVER!" A'armo'o yelled. "This is not optional. I will shoot anyone who disobeys."
"Fifteenth, grab the forges, mount the tanks. We'll dismount at the river!" Captain Starpunt yelled out.
"First Telkan, mount your tanks!" the human commander of the Telkan Marines yelled.
"Plot us a course," A'armo'o ordered.
"But, sir, the Terrans should be able to handle it," His Third Most High protested.
"Not by the time we get there," A'armo'o said.
He didn't know how he knew.
But he knew.
No'Drak watched the screen update and turned to look at BuChampe. He reached out and poked at General Trucker's image with one bladearm even as he exhaled smoke from his legs.
"Not a psyker, my great big bug ass," No'Drak said.
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submitted by Ralts_Bloodthorne to HFY


First Contact - Chapter 325

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Herod opened his eyes, groaned, and rolled onto his side. He got his faceplate open fast enough to avoid spraying it with vomit when his internals suddenly convulsed.
Clear fluid mixed with digital code that was suspended in the thick viscous fluid.
He hacked and choked a minute more, than slowly pushed himself into a sitting position.
"Took you long enough," a woman's voice said.
Herod nearly screamed. He'd forgotten about the human woman. He slapped his faceplate closed and looked over to where she'd sat down on the floor, her back against the wall.
She was staring at him, her head cocked to the right slightly, one eyebrow raised, looking concerned but slightly amused. Herod noticed that the way she sat, with her legs open, seemed almost deliberately and lewdly provocative.
"So what did you eat that left behind garbled computer code?" she asked.
"Don't know. Things are a little confused," Herod said. He took a pull off of his water, ignoring the taste of lilacs, swished his mouth out and swallowed.
"You aren't human, are you?" she asked. She closed her legs, pulled her knees up to her chest, laced her fingers over her knees, and put her chin on her knees.
Herod shook his head. "No. I'm a digital sentience."
"So, a robot?" she asked.
Herod frowned. "No."
"Like... an android?"
"God, no. Those guys are complete assholes and kill anyone they come across. Be glad I'm not an android," Herod said.
"Wait, like a Terminator? Only instead of hunting Sarah Connor you're a maintenance man?" she asked, smiling slowly. "Or are you just some kind of jumped up disc defragger walking around in an Erector set?"
Herod understood exactly zero of the references except the defrag part.
"So, an artificial intelligence in a heavy repair body," she guessed.
"That's insulting," he snapped. "I don't call you a meat bag or a fleshy."
She shrugged. "It has no cultural connotations to me, feel free. Words only have the meaning society proscribes to them and only as much power over an individual as that individual gives them."
"I'm a digital sentience," Herod said. He stood up and looked down at Wally, who blinked at him. "We have work to do."
The human woman stood up smoothly, shrugging as she did so. "If you say so."
"We need to get you a hazardous environment suit. It's dangerous out there," Herod said. He moved up to the door and turned the handle, feeling the complex latch system inside the door move as smooth as butter.
"Sure," the human said.
Herod moved out to the control room, looking it over, committing it to memory.
"Are we it? Are we the entire repair team?" the human asked.
"Yes," Herod said. He moved over to the emergency supply room, opening the door and looking in inside.
He jerked back with a scream as a pair of dessicated bodies fell out, still holding onto each other. Their faces and necks were ragged and torn, their mouths still open in silent screams. Two flickering transparent version of the two combatants surged out of the room, through Herod, leaving him shuddering and shivering, down on his knees with Wally patting him on the back.
The human woman moved over and knelt down, staring at the two.
"Evidence of cerebral trauma, dentation matches wounds on opposite, dried blood around fingers and on hands," she said, kneeling down. She put her hands between the two bodies and pulled them away from each other.
"Phasic Energy Section," she read off the nametags. "Red stripes on one's legs, black on the other," she turned over their hands. "No calluses common to martial artists or those who have lived a martial life, no tool calluses. Computer workers or secretarial pool," she stood up, slapping her hands together. "An event caused a mass psychosis due to neural trauma and cognitive disruption. They each victimized the other even as they were victimized by some outside force. Doubtful it was a bioweapon or even a chemical weapon, as I didn't see any sores around the mouth or nose or eyes, no discoloration of the skin, and no smells that match known chemical weapons."
Herod looked up at her.
"Stand up, Pinocchio," she laughed. "I get that it was scary."
Herod got up, putting one hand against the wall, staring at her. "Didn't you see them?"
The human woman looked down at the bodies. "Yes. I just analyzed for them. Pay attention, Speedy, I don't want you to get Prime Law conflicts here."
"No, the temporal shades," Herod said. He coughed for a minute, trying to ease the ache in his chest.
"Didn't see anything," she mused. "Maybe I didn't observe in the right time?"
"Huh," Herod grunted. He stood up. *Sam*
No answer.
Luckily, Sam had given him the route and map to the mag-lev that would take them to the damaged section.
The human woman was already looking at the hazardous environment armor and Herod moved into the room.
"Try this one," he said, taking one down that was still in the packaging. He opened the package, handing it to her. "It's unisex, but has waste disposal systems, you should be able to wear it."
She nodded, taking the hazard suit and looking at it closely.
She only paused a second before putting it on.
"All right, do a quick self-test, sometimes these things fry out if they've been sitting too long," Herod said.
"How long has it been sitting here?" the human asked. "How long have I been gone?"
"We're not sure. There's temporal stability issues in this place," Herod said. He looked down at Wally. "If I had to estimate, it's about eight thousand years old."
"Humans look much different? Seems like every day there was a new news article about how fucked up humans would look in a hundred years, much less almost ten thousand," the human woman said, her hands moving. She grimaced. "I would have figured someone would have invented better plumbing attachments."
"Do a test," he said, tapping his own wrist.
Something about her bothered him.
She flipped up the wrist and followed Herod's directions. He corrected her twice and then did it himself, making sure he quickly connected to the suit's network and frying some firmware.
"Two red lights. Bad suit?" She asked, smiling at him.
"Bad suit," Herod said. "It happens. The power from the first test shorts something out after it registers as green," he turned and got a suit.
He missed the calculating look in her eyes as she narrowed them slightly. By the time he was turned around with another suit she was smiling again.
She dressed quickly. Herod looked then shrugged. "Have you ever trained in extreme hazardous environment armor?"
The human shook her head. "No."
"We don't have time to teach you. There's a lot of work to be done. There's a lot of damage control repair autonomous systems that need brought back online to fix a lot of systems," Herod told her.
She stretched, then bent down and touched her toes, then twisted at the waist first one way then the other.
"There, fitted," she said. She looked at him. "So what do I call you, instead of HAL or Speedy?"
"Herod," the DS said.
"Roman King of Judea, circa First Century B.C.," the Terran said. "Interesting name. Did you choose it yourself or was it chosen for you?"
"I chose it when I left the digital creche I grew up in," Herod said. He motioned. "We've got to take a mag-lev train. It's about a three hour ride."
"You grew up, weren't programmed fully formed?" she asked.
"I told you, I'm a digital sentience, not an AI," he snapped.
"Core life coding, then exposed to digital experiences and stimulus to form a unique being. Less artificial intelligence or digital intelligence and more pure energy being that can only exist in a dedicated electronic ecosystem," she mused.
"Pure energy beings are different," Herod said, frowning slightly as they wound their way out of the mat-trans facility.
"Like those Temporal Shades you mentioned. Those are pure energy beings. What kind of energy?" she asked.
"Phasic energy residue," Herod said.
"Caused by massive psychological trauma," she said. She was quiet for a second. "Phasic... phasic energy is psychic energy, isn't it?"
Herod nodded. "Yes."
"Psychic powers are an illusion. The amount of energy it would take to simply move a matchstick across a table with mental powers would require more bio-electric energy than the human body could store or handle, much less the human brain," the woman said. "Phasic energy is what psychic powers use?"
Herod sighed. "Yes," he stood there, waiting for the door to rise. "Phasic energy exists between two sub-quantum particle layers. Humans have a part in their brains that allows them to direct the energy."
"Sounds like bullshit to me," the woman said. "You'd find phasic channeling fibers in the brain and body of anyone able to use it."
"Like in Mantid bladearms and upper caste Mantid neural tissue," Herod said, dredging up a memory from school.
"So why didn't humans run around blasting each other with psychic powers for all of history?" the woman asked. "Seems like being able to melt each other's brains with psychic powers would have slowed down technological progression. No need to make a bow or a gun if you can just mind blast the other guy, Herod."
"Humans suppress and disrupt psychic powers in others around them. We found that out during the Terra/Mantid War," Herod said. He paused. "Did you work here?"
She shook her head. "No. I worked in a high security facility. My work is classified."
"We're inside a Dyson sphere, that's inside another Dyson sphere, that's wrapped around another Dyson sphere," he said. "It's called a Matrioshka brain and used for systems where sheer computing power is preferable to signal propagation."
"How big?" She asked. Herod noticed her eyes were particularly intent.
"The one we're on is roughly five hundred sixty two million mile radius," Herod said.
She narrowed her eyes again, then smiled. "That's big. How long did it take to make?"
"That doesn't really have a meaning here," Herod said. "It used self-replicating robotic systems to build each shell."
"What happened to the robots when the shell was completed? An orgy of destruction with the last one shoving the rest into a trash compactor and jumping in?" the human woman asked.
"We don't know," Herod admitted.
"Might want to find out," she smiled. "So, I'm warned, I'll be looking at something outside of my experience, and there will be a roof over my head. How far from me?"
"There will be one or more suns, moving through magnetic fields that will polarize to simulate night time. Those will be exactly ninety-five million miles from both this inside layer and the outside layer of the sphere inward from us," he warned.
"So, alien landscape. Got it," she smiled. She held up her hands. "I guess we better get going. Maybe I can help you repair things."
"Doubt it," Herod said, stepping outside. "This is pretty high tech stuff."
He missed the flicker of pure rage on the human woman's face.
When he turned around, she was looking up into the sky, her eyes narrowed. He watched her eyes moving rapidly, scanning the whole sky. She then slowly moved in circles, looking around her, and he frowned behind his polarized visor as he noticed she was only looking down a minute amount each time.
"How did you beat the magnetic issues for a mag-lev?" she asked at one point, mid-turn, pointing at a far off train that was slowly (to his perception) moving by.
"Monopole magnets and superconductors," Herod said.
"Hm," she said.
Herod sighed, waiting until she was done. That was one thing he hated about working with fleshys, they took forever to do anything that required mental exercise.
"The mag-lev is only a mile away. We'll take the travolator," Herod said, walking toward the entry station for the moving sidewalk.
"Be faster to walk," she said, looking around her as they moved toward the entry area. "Lots of dead bodies."
Herod stepped carefully around a trio of corpses, watching closely for any of the translucent apparitions. "The Glassing drove them mad."
The woman kicked a pair of desiccated corpses out of the way as she just moved forward, making Herod frown. She didn't seem to care about the dead.
"Don't do that," he said.
"What, they're dead," she smiled.
"Yes. Don't do that. Don't disturb them," he said.
"Fine," she said, walking around a corpse. "Better?"
"Thank you," the DS said.
"Funny that you'd say that, Herod, seeing as you're not human and you probably don't usually have a body. Is mortality a thing for you?" she asked.
"Yes. Eventually my core life strings will be too fragmented and I'll suffer core software failure," he said. "And no, I can't just be restored from an earlier backup, that's not how we work."
"Sloppy engineering," she muttered. She skirted around the weaving queue area while Herod walked back and forth along the line. "So what made them all go batshit insane?"
"The Great Glassing," Herod repeated.
"You said that, Herod. Why would aliens attacking Earth make everyone go crazy?" she asked.
Herod stepped onto the moving sidewalk, wishing she would be quiet. "The Mantid pushed the death experiences of everyone through SolNet and the SoulNet, every survivor had to withstand the death of billions," he told her as she stepped onto the moving sidewalk and then walked up to stand next to him. "Roughly half of the survivors went catatonic and never woke up. Two thirds of the remaining half became the Screaming Ones, attacking everyone around them in their agony."
He ended up explaining SoulNet, SolNet, and the SUDS system to her, staring off into the distance at the strange buildings and structures they passed. Once they got away from the Mat-Trans area the system smoothly put them on a high speed walk, moving them at close to a hundred miles an hour.
The whole time she listened, asking pertinent questions.
She seemed really interested in the SUDS system.
Together they got on the mag-lev train, sitting down after Herod punched in the transit code number. He looked at the ETA and looked at the human woman.
"It's going to take nine hours to get there. Sleep if you can," he said.
"I'm starting to get hungry," she smiled. She opened her faceplate and lit a cigarette. "These help, but I'm going to need food soon."
"I'll find some when I wake up," he said. He checked the mag-seal on his toolkit then looked at Wally. "I'm going to defrag. Wake me if anything bad happens."
Wally made a beeping tune and nodded, blinking his eye shields.
Herod closed his eyes.
"Herod, don't move, just move your awareness up," Sam's voice said.
Herod just brought his awareness almost fully up, leaving himself disconnected from his body. "What's going on, Sam?"
"What did you learn about our newest member?" Sam asked.
Herod thought, then quickly ran through his memories. He was surprised. He knew almost nothing ab out her.
"She said she worked in a secure location, on classified work. She got in the mat-trans, there was a stuttering, and she arrived here. She didn't know about the Great Glassing, I don't think anyway, but she knows Confederate Standard. She seems really interested in the mat-trans and SUDS systems," Herod said.
"So, we don't know anything," Sam sighed. "I checked her visual appearance against what little records are left. She didn't come up as a match."
Herod avoided smiling. "I've got good news for you. I left you a DNA sample in the mat-trans facility."
"Really? How?" Sam asked.
"I had her put in the catheter in one of the suits, shorted out the suits radio and beacon, and had her change suits," Herod said. "That'll give you DNA."
There was silence for a minute. "That was a good idea. Give me a few to check on it. I'll have to send in a bot."
"What's she doing now?" Herod asked.
Sam paused. "According to the cameras, she explored the train, busted open a vending machine, and gorged on the food inside. She's currently sitting across and down from you, looking out the window and smoking a cigarette."
"Oh, she said she was hungry."
"That's... weird..." Sam said.
"What's weird?" Herod asked.
"Her cigarette brand. I've got the inventory of the types and brands of cigarettes available here for the Treana'ad workers and some humans. Hell, apparently adult Pubvians viewed cigarettes as.. ahem... martial aid stimulants due to the cardio-vascular effects," Sam said. He giggled, and Herod began talking to him, just talking about their work together in the Black Box under Legion, trying to ground the younger DS as he screamed and raved.
"Sorry. It's getting easier, but I feel like I'm bleeding inside somehow," Sam said. He sobbed, but managed to control himself. "Where was I?"
"Her cigarettes," Herod said.
"Yeah. I can't find the brand. You know Treana'ad, they absolutely love Terran cigarettes, they're a luxury item. 'Terran Grown and Sown!' you know?" Sam said. "And her lighter."
"What about it? I've seen a few Treana'ad with that kind of lighter," Herod said.
"It's stamped on the bottom, look," Sam said, giving Herod the image.
"Is that..." Herod asked, feeling a chill at the three letter abbreviation.
"Yeah. The acronym for the Hamburger Kingdom. PA is the two letter code for the state region," Sam said softly.
"That would make that thing like eight or nine thousand years old," Herod said. "Except, I've seen her use it. It works."
"It's not a modern one, watch," Sam said. He passed the image to Herod.
She flicked open the top, put her thumb on the ridged wheel, and spun it by applying pressure. Sparks flew out, the ones hitting the twisted fiber wick bringing up a blue and yellow flame.
"That's flint and steel. That fiber, that's cotton according to the sensor systems. Not synth-cotton, real cotton. That's a steel casing, I can see the imperfections in it from here," Sam said.
"Give me a spectrograph of it if you can," Herod said. "I know enough about materials to get information."
It took a minute, then a little longer while Herod waited for Sam to deal with some lost children. Sam tossed him the spectrographic image of the lighter along with other scans.
Herod was not only able to identify the metal as 'stainless steel', but that it had enough impurities to prove it was mined metals.
When Sam came back he sighed. "I got the robot to the suit. You were right, there's DNA. Looks like she nicked herself a little with the catheter tube, there was a tiny smear of blood as well as fleshy fluids. Ew," Sam said.
Herod chuckled.
"Running a DNA comparison against everyone who worked here, who had authorization to work here. It's millions of records, so it'll take a few minutes," Sam said.
"That lighter? It wasn't made with a creation engine," Herod said.
"They were in their infancy back during The Glassing," Sam said.
"It was hard manufacturing, inside a gravity well and a magnetic field. If I had to guess, I'd say it was actually manufactured on Earth," Herod said.
"Look at the cigarette pack," Herod said. "American Favorite. By the Digital Omnimessiah, those are actual relics, not forgeries."
"You need to be careful, Herod," Sam said, somewhat unnecessarily to Herod's thoughts on the matter. He paused. "Um. Oh, wow."
"What?" Herod asked.
"Her DNA. Holy shit. Um, look," he said, and tossed Herod the image.
Herod took one look at it and did the digital sentience equivalent of shake his head. "I'm not Legion, this is meaningless to me."
"Here it is compared to modern human DNA," Sam offered.
"Sam, I'm in a hazardous environment frame, I'm not using the network, just tell me. All you did was throw two plates of pasta at my brain."
"OK, they're wildly different," Sam said. "Even compared to Glassing human DNA, like the people around here, hers is really really different."
"Define... different," Herod said.
"No genetic prothesis or overlays, I can see where the Glassing DNA and the modern DNA have been modified through time, genetic drift, evolution, or genetic manipulation, but wow, her DNA is damn near off the charts. Lots of bad DNA in it, it's... it's really weird."
Herod felt a kick against his foot and heard from far away. "Hey, we're here. You said this stuff needs repaired, Speedy. First Law and all that."
"What is she referring to?" Sam asked.
"I have no idea. Maybe the Four Laws of Robotics?" Herod suggested, opening his eyes. He switched from talking on the digital frequency to his vocal cords. He looked around, the mag-lev train sitting in the station.
"Hang on, let me talk to the facility VI," Herod said, standing up.
The human woman nodded, folding her arms, exhaling smoke out of her nose.
"How bad is the damage to the phasic array automatic repair system?" he asked.
"Bad," Sam answered, obviously (to Herod) running his voice through a synthesizer.
"It isn't going to get fixed if we just stand here. Besides, I'm eager to see technology used in application of something that I was informed was make belief, confirmation bias, and attention seeking," the woman said.
"Ask her her name," Sam said.
"What am I supposed to call you? I keep forgetting to ask," Herod said.
"Miss Nee, my middle name is Tay," the human woman said, her smile getting wider. "But you can call me Dee."
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submitted by Ralts_Bloodthorne to HFY