So to update you all on things, my hernia surgery went well and my intestines are back where they belong. Sadly I didn't have as much time to write as I would have liked, (pain meds will do that), but I managed to finally get chapter twelve done in time to give you all an extra dose of JVerse once you have finished our lord and savior's most recent chapter.
(Story is continued in the comments)
Date Point: 3 months, 2 weeks, 5 days A.V.
Planet 4 ring system
"God damn I missed this," Michael said, flipping the Requiem around another asteroid, testing the limits of the inertial compensators.
They had gotten lucky and found the perfect system to test out the newly retrofitted Requiem. The system in question turned out to be a binary system with some rocky bodies and a truly gorgeous blue gas giant that sported a system of ice rings that were just perfect for running the old girl through her paces.
Michael gave the main thrusters all they could take, slipping through two asteroids seconds before they collided. There was a muffled cheer through the comms from the rest of the crew back onboard the Dawn. He had set up cameras all over the Requiem so his crew could watch. Right now only himself and Hephaestus were crazy enough to fly a ship built from scrap through one of the densest ring systems on record. Even Ralthin wasn't that crazy, having said that he'd rather shoot the rocks instead.
They dodged, dived, and weaved their way through the belt for another half an hour before Michael got a comms ping. He angled the ship "up" and rocketed out of the belt so he could answer without having to dodge rocks.
"What's up," Michael asked, angling the ship so he was cruising parallel to the rings.
Goralin's face showed up on the screen, "We just synced with Haven's network, and you've got a message from Gabby."
Before they had left Haven Michael had signed them up as Gabby's new security force. To keep in touch in case of an emergency Michael had purchased an FTL comms array and had set it up to sync with the local network on Haven every week. Of course, if there was an actual emergency he had spent a small fortune on a pair of quantum entangled arrays for instantaneous recall. The fact that Goralin's ears had a mischievous tilt meant that this wasn't an emergency. Meaning that it was probably the favor he had asked before they left.
"Alright, prep the hangar bay. I'm gonna test the emergency recall drive," Michael said, cutting the thrusters and letting the ship coast.
"Copy that Michael. Wait to jump until we give you the signal," Goralin said, closing the channel.
Michael switched over to the intercom, "Sorry Hephaestus, looks like we're gonna have to cut this short."
"It isss fine," Hephaestus said with the barest hint of a chuckle, "If the messsage isss from Gabby I can only think of one reassson. We are going hunting!"
"Cool your jets, we still haven't heard it yet," Michael said, running the ship through the pre-jump sequence, "All set to jump?"
One other little upgrade they did was to configure a jump drive onboard the Requiem so they could get back to the Dawn in a hurry. The only downside was that the hangar bay had to be depressurized so the sudden appearance of the Requiem didn't create a hull rupturing pressure wave.
"All sssyssstemsss are green," Hephaestus said back through the comms, "Ready for jump."
It was only a few more seconds until Michael got the comms ping signaling that the hangar bay was ready.
Michael's finger hovered over the button, "Jumping in three...two...one."
He pushed the button and the ship was inside the Dawn, perfectly centered in the hangar bay. The docking clamps engaged and the bay was pressurized in minutes. Michael ran through the shutdown sequence, unstrapped himself from the pilot seat and met Hephaestus in the airlock. They double-checked the atmospheric readout on the panel before opening the outer door. Even though Michael was wearing his armor and had no fear of stepping into hard vacuum, Hephaestus was basically naked, so it paid to be careful. They made their way up to the bridge, stopping by the mess to apologize for cutting the show short and so Michael could grab a quick snack. One downside of his new armor was that he burned a lot more calories than he ever did wearing his old suit. He walked the rest of the way up to the bridge with Hephaestus in tow.
When he opened the door to the bridge Goralin turned around in the copilot's seat, "You enjoy yourselves," he asked with a slightly mischievous tilt to his ears.
"Yeah!" Michael said enthusiastically, "and I gotta say, yinz missed a hell of a ride."
"I'll have to take your word on that one," Goralin said with a chitter, "Anyway, while we were waiting, I went through the files that were attached to the message and it looks like she sent us a good one."
"Oh," Michael asked, interested, "she send anything else?"
"Just a few video files," Goralin trailed off.
Michael looked around to see the rest of the bridge crew barely able to hold back their chittering.
So they were those kinds of videos…
Michael sighed, "Put the important one up on the main screen. I'll take a look at the rest later."
Goralin flicked his ears in amusement and brought up the message file.
Gabby appeared on the main screen, thankfully wearing her work outfit, with a cqcq cigarette in her hand, "Long time no see," she said, taking a hit and blowing the smoke off-screen, "I had my contacts do some digging and they found a good one. There's no bounty, sadly, but I don't think you'll have a problem with that. Everything you'll need should be in the files I sent along with some...other things I know you'll like," she winked at the camera, "Hoping to hear back from you soon."
"Did she send a location," Michael asked, turning toward Goralin.
"Already punched in," Goralin said with a pant-grin.
"Good man," Michael said with a gentle clap on Goralin's shoulder, "Prep the ship for warp, I'm gonna head to my quarters to uhh…review the other files she sent and get a reply together to send over during the next sync."
Michael left the bridge to sound of barely contained chittering from the crew and made his way back to his quarters. When he reached the mess heard raised voices coming from inside. So he stopped to eavesdrop just outside the door.
"For the last time Jilink," Guln said, "I have absolutely no interest in your insane delusions. No matter how...impressive you may find the humans in their mating practices!"
"Oh come now," Jilink said dismissively, "You seriously cannot believe that the way our species handles reproduction is good for our long term survival can you?"
"What other choice do we have," Guln asked, "we have long since passed the point of being biologically able to reproduce, but that is beside the point," he lowered his voice, "it was simply proposing the idea of reverting back to biological reproduction that made you one of the few Corti that had their banner status stripped all the way down to yellow."
"That was just because those in the Directorate are too narrow-minded to see past their own hubris," Jilink said angrily, "it was only when I started unlocking and splicing genes that had been previously bred out that I started to question their rhetoric. If you would just let me-"
"No! I will not hear of it. Mess with your own genetic code all you want, but I will not have you turning myself and Kilnq into genetic freaks," Guln said, moments before storming out of the mess. He ignored Michael and headed off toward the med bay.
Michael poked his head into the mess and saw Jilink sitting alone, forlornly picking at a plate of steamed mushrooms and cqcq.
She looked up as he walked over, "If you are going to play at eavesdropping you might want to consider that we can feel your every step through the deck plating," she said with a shrewd look.
"So what was your banner status," Michael asked bringing over a chair that could support the weight of himself and his armor. He sat down and took off his helmet, placing it on the table in front of him.
"No remorse and straight to the point I see," she let out a deep sigh, "Before I began...experimenting...on myself, I was a silver banner."
From what Michael knew about Corti social structure, Jilink had been next to royalty. To give all that up...
"Fuck," Michael said, recovering from his jaw practically denting the table, "Why the hell did you give that up?"
"To advance my species of course," she said, her eyes boring into Michael's, "we may be the most technologically advanced in the galaxy, but as a species we Corti have fallen behind tremendously. I may be too brazen in saying this, but we are on the brink."
"On the brink," Michael asked, "the brink of what?"
Jilink's expression hardened, "The brink of terminal decline, and unless something is done my species will fade into obscurity."
"And that something was playing with your own genetics," Michael asked, confused.
"Not playing," Jilink said, waving one finger back and forth, "Improving. As we are, the Corti are far from ideal. Intelligent and quick-witted yes, but we lack the physicality to endure as a species for much longer."
"And that has to do with what Guln said about the way yinz reproduce," Michael asked, even more confused, "you mean yinz don't have kids naturally?"
"As a matter of fact, we do not. Every Corti is grown in a birthing tank," Jilink said matter of factly, "there hasn't been a natural birth for millennia."
"Well that's all kinds of fucked up," Michael said, shaking his head, "and they kicked you out for wanting to go back to the way things are supposed to be?"
"Precisely. You see, reverting back to biological reproduction would necessitate drastic changes to our biology. It is also the reason why I am so fascinated with how other species reproduce. I have been able to get a wealth of medical data on the subject, but the one thing that most species lack is information on how to make the act more enjoyable. Your species, however," she pointed at Michael's chest, "seems to excel in that regard."
"I can see your point," Michael said with a chuckle.
"Needless to say there are some practices that simply watching recordings cannot fully explain. You do not mind answering some questions do you," Jilink asked excitedly.
Michael shrugged, "I got time. Ask away."
Jilink pulled a small tablet from her set of pouches and tapped in a few commands, "I'll start with something that has perplexed me for some time now. Tell me, what is the exact purpose of a bukkake?"
Ten thousand kilometers astern of the Radiant Dawn
Agent One Six Two
Something was wrong.
He had been trying to link to the infrared module that was hidden next to the engine cluster on that accursed human's ship for over [an hour] only to receive no response. He double and triple checked that his ship was aligned correctly and found not the barest hint of any discrepancy. This left two possibilities, either the module had malfunctioned, or it had been taken offline. Given the extremely stable nature of current solid-state electronics, the latter of the two options seemed the most probable.
He was now forced to consider alternative plans to get the information he needed. One option was to take over one of the human's crew, but the chances of finding one of them alone long enough for him to adjust to the new sensory input were astronomical at best. There was always the option of simply biodroning all the implanted crew, but with the proven combat capabilities of the human and his pet abomination, there was no guarantee of successfully taking over the ship. That left only one option that had any probability of success.
Once the human's ship was out of the system and had no hope of detecting him, One Six Two punched in the codes for the only jump beacon that the human had deployed.
Date point: 4 months, 2 weeks, 5 days AV
Allegheny National Park
After the Vancouver incident life had gone on pretty much the same as always. As much as he hated to admit it, Daniel wished the aliens had caused more damage. As it was now, people had already moved on. Of course, every news outlet on the planet had milked the story dry within a week, but since nobody other than the aliens had died the story that humanity was no longer alone in the universe had been replaced by the same old shit. Shootings, trouble in the Middle East, China violating human rights, the usual stuff.
Both he and David were sick of it. So they had planned a little something to get away. That little something happened to be a camping trip out in Allegheny National Park. Not the biggest excursion by a long shot, but it seemed a couple of days out in the woods was just what the doctor ordered.
The first night was just perfect. No rain or swarms of mosquitos, just hours of watching caveman TV with a good meal cooked over the fire to finish out the night. They had been watching the weather and had made sure that there wasn't the barest hint of rain, but it looked like the curse of his old Boy Scout troop had followed him. It had started raining shortly after lunch on the second day. Thanks to a few tricks he'd learned in said cursed Boy Scout troop, Daniel was able to get the fire going, even though all their wood was soaked, so they were at least able to cook their dinner under the tarp David had rigged up over the fire pit.
"Well, it wasn't what we were expecting," David said, looking out of the tent, "but I can think of worse ways to spend the evening."
"My old scout troop was called the Rain Makers after all," Daniel said with a chuckle, snuggling a little closer to David, "At least the company's better this time around."
They sat and watched for a while, listening to the gentle sound of the rain on their tent.
David turned around and rummaged around in his bag for a few moments before turning back and locking eyes with Daniel.
"Well...I was hoping for a better opportunity but," David trailed off.
Daniel looked down at what David was holding in his hand and his breath caught in his throat.
"Daniel, will you marry me?"
Date point: 9 months, 1 week, 2 days AV
They had made the trip out in astonishingly good time thanks to the black box drive on the Radiant Dawn. Fast as their ship was it had still taken them around six months to reach this little speck of nowhere. However, the extra time gave Michael the chance to work out some armor for his Gaoian crewmates. They had to stop and resupply before they could manufacture any of it though. It seemed that they had burned through most of their supplies for the nanofac with the Requiem's retrofit.
The armor they had worked out was much like Hephaestus' in the way that it relied heavily on lightweight composite plates instead of heavy alloys like Michael's. The plus side was that Hephaestus had worked out a composite that could take multiple hits from a heavy pulse cannon before failing. Not that the Gaoians would be taking much fire though, each one had a portable cloaking generator to make the best use of their natural talent for sneaking. There was one problem with the suits though, they had to be kept loose to accommodate the Gaoians' fur. Which meant that they would have to rely on shield harnesses for protection against the vacuum of space. Not the best prospect in Michael's mind, but they didn't seem to have the aversion to relying on forcefield tch like he did.
And since Michael wanted some semblance of a uniform for his new band of mercs, the chest plate and helmet had kept as much of the standard Mandalorian looks as possible. The helmet was kinda tricky, considering that the Gaoians had much longer noses than humans, as well as ears that came out of the top of their heads.
In the end, Gaoians had to deal with the minor discomfort of having their ears squished down, but it was worth it if they wanted to have their heads protected. As for the stereotypical "T" shaped visor, Michael settled on a shortened version, ending just above the Gaoians' snouts with a protrusion to cover their nose and mouth. It also had the benefit of allowing the Gaoians to personalize the lower portion, and once one of them had painted fangs on his, the rest had followed suit. Michael had to admit, it looked totally badass.
The extra time also gave them the chance to develop their arsenal. The standard pulse guns were ditched in favor of coilguns. Most of the Gaoians went with something like an AR-15. They were lightweight, with a variable power setting so they didn't over-penetrate their targets if they were inside a ship or station. The real treat was what the brownies came up with though. The crazy fuckers had amped up their coilguns to a heavy machine gun type thing that could send a withering hailstorm of slugs at whatever unfortunate thing that happened to be on the receiving end. However, it seemed that all of the Gaoians took a liking to Hephaestus' fusion claws and had added their own to finish out their already terrifying array of weapons.
They had spent three of the local days cloaked in a high polar orbit mapping the planet and trying to find the location of the palace that was supposed to be here. The only reason it took that long was that they were using passive scans to prevent the discovery of their ship. Since they were stuck in orbit Michael had left it up to the bridge crew to notify him when they found anything. To pass the time and get a better feel on things he had been going through the files on their target. After cross-referencing them with the data from the Twisted Suns it seemed that this particular fucknut had an affinity for ordering Rickytics and Vizkiticks among a smattering of a dozen other species.
It couldn't be...could it?
Michael dug deeper into the records until he found the right entry. Shit.
"Ship," Michael said as he got up from his desk and stretched, still marveling at just how flexible his new armor was.
He got a response ping.
"Where is Irk?"
"Irk is in hydroponics," the ship said through his room's intercom in a perfect replica of Cortana’s voice. Michael didn't know why, but using Cortana's voice for the ship just felt right.
Michael grabbed his helmet and locked it in place.
"Send him a message that I'm on my way. There's something I need to talk to him about."
Michael went to hydroponics and found Irk in his personal corner behind their crop of cqcq minding his bonsai garden. He had originally got the idea from watching Karate Kid of all things. When they had stopped at Haven Irk had purchased a bunch of seedlings from all over the galaxy. As it turned out most of them had the same reaction as Earth trees when they were root-bound inside a small pot. With a little help from some space magic in the form of time acceleration fields, he had more than a dozen perfectly healthy miniature trees. With careful management, Irk had produced some truly fantastical shapes. Hell, he even had one "pot" that was levitating with trees growing out of both the top and bottom.
When Michael walked over Irk turned around, "Ah, Michael. You have something you wanted to speak to me about?"
"Yeah," Michael said, taking off his helmet and setting it down on the table next to the levitating bonsai trees, "It's about our target."
Irk gave him a quizzical look, tilting his head slightly to the side.
Michael took a deep breath, "There was a bit of a mix up on the part of the Twisted Suns. Your lifemate and child were actually supposed to be shipped here."
"But...the Hunters," Irk trailed off.
"That's not all," Michael said, shaking his head, "I really don't have a good way to say this...but it looks like the scumbag we're after wanted you and your family specifically."
Irk slumped to the deck, lost for words.
"I did some digging into the data we got from the Twisted Suns," Michael said, bringing up the file and sending it to Irk's tablet.
It pinged and Irk pulled it out of its pouch with shaking hands. He hesitated for a moment before opening it. Delicately, he tapped the icon and read the file. Irk put the tablet back into its pouch and was silent for a few moments before he gathered his legs under himself and stood up to his full height.
He looked directly at Michael, "I have only one request."
"Name it," Michael said, locking eyes with Irk.
"Bring the bastard to me alive," Irk said with enough bile dripping off the borrowed human curse word to make Michael flinch.
No sooner had Irk walked out of hydroponics did Michael receive a notification from the bridge crew. He put his helmet back on and answered the comms.
"Yinz found something," he asked, exiting hydroponics and making his way up to the bridge.
"Yeah," Goralin said through the comms, "and you're gonna want to see this."
"On my way," Michael said, breaking into a run for the hundred-ish meters to the bridge.
He exploded into the bridge and skidded to a halt right next to Goralin. Michael was a little out of breath, but it wasn't too bad considering the weight of his armor. Practically living in the suit had its benefits sometimes.
Goralin eyed Michael with a hint of amusement "Excited?"
"Damn right," Michael said with a chuckle, "we've only been orbiting this dirtball for three days. What'd you find?"
"See for yourself," Goralin said with a pant-grin, bringing up what looked like a palace on the main screen.
Michael let out a long whistle, "Damn that had to cost a pretty penny."
What was on screen was possibly the most egregious display of wealth that Michael had ever seen, aside from his own ship of course. Camera tech was really something else out here, they had to be at least a hundred and fifty kilometers up, but the pictures were clear enough that Michael could see the contents of the gardens surrounding the enormous palace complex. He'd read the specs when he had the sensor suite overhauled, but the fact that their ground facing camera was in the hundred gigapixel range never quite hit home until he had actually used it.
"Cost a what," Goralin asked, tilting his head slightly.
"Oh, sorry," Michael said, a little embarrassed, "it's an expression for a fuckton of money."
Goralin chittered, "Well the palace isn't the only thing that cost a pretty penny. We found something else too."
The next thing that came up on the screen left Michael totally speechless. Not too far off the coast was a yacht so big it was practically a floating island. Hell, it even had football-field sized space in the middle that was containing a miniature forest.
"Well if they're anywhere, our target's probably on that yacht," Michael said, gesturing to the screen.
Goralin zoomed in on it, "It looks like there's a landing pad big enough to land the Requiem near the back."
"Well, it's our lucky day then," Michael said, turning back toward the door, "get an assault team ready. We're dropping in an hour."
"An assault team," Goralin asked, his ears going slightly back.
Michael stopped and turned back around, "Rich fucker like that's gotta be able to afford some really good security, and not the average Chennash mercs either."
"Right," Goralin said, "I know Ralthin's gonna be damn happy to finally get a good fight for once," he finished with a slight chitter.
The next hour flew by in a flurry of activity as the assault team got the message and scrambled to get into their armor. Thankfully they didn't need to load any cargo into the Requiem, and they already had all their extra weapons stored onboard. Michael made a stop by his quarters to grab his coilgun and its barrel attachments. On a whim, he dug out his antique revolver and strapped it to his hip. He had to stop and laugh at the absurdity of carrying a black powder revolver that was made in eighteen seventy-six, but something just felt right about bringing the old girl along.
He made it to the hangar bay just as everyone was getting situated. Hephaestus was already onboard the Requiem running through the preflight checks from his station near the quantum stacks so all Michael had to do was wait for the rest of the assault team to show up. When everyone was strapped in and had their gear stowed for the drop he stepped out to the open space in the middle of the Requiem's cargo area.
"Alright," Michael said, running his eyes over the seated Gaoians, "it's our first mission and from the looks of things, it's not gonna be an easy one. We're going in blind and this fucker's probably paranoid enough to have hired some decent security. They won't be like the pirate scum yinz are probably used to. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if there's a company of Allebenellin mercs waiting for us."
Michael paused and let that sink in for a moment, "The main problem is that the yacht we're gonna be landing on is fucking huge. So the plan's pretty simple myself, Hephaestus, Ralthin, and the brownies are gonna raise hell so all the rest of yinz can use your cloaking fields to the best advantage. Sweeping the ship for any other hostiles while looking for our target."
That got some chittering out of them.
"As for our target," Michael said, starting to pace back and forth in front of the seated Gaoians, "he's a Robalin with some… strong opinions on other sentient life. Apparently, this guy acquired his fortune thanks to some kind of breakthrough in medical tech and bought the palace at an auction when the previous owner's trading company went under thanks to some very poor business deals and Hunter raids on their ships. Ever since, he's lived a comfortable life on Cimbrean buying slaves from the Twisted Suns for God knows what reason," Michael let out a long sigh, "And as much as I'd like to end this guy the second we find him, Irk wants him alive. It seems that this fucker is the one that got Irk's family captured by the Twisted Suns."
"An that's why we're not just gonna blast the boat," Yeg asked.
"Exactly," Michael said, pausing to congratulate him, "there also might be slaves still on board, so any we find get to come back with us. Any questions?"
"Yeah," one of the other brownies spoke up, "when are ya gonna quit talkin' so we can have some fun?"
Michael laughed, "Alright alright, I get it," he said, vaulting up the ramp to the cockpit, "hold on to your tails, it's gonna be a bumpy ride."
Michael entered the cockpit and closed the door behind him, and once he was in the pilot seat he opened the intercom, "We ready to go?"
"The ssship isss ready to depart Michael," Hephaestus said back eagerly.
Michael gave the signal to the hangar crew and waited while they depressurized the hangar bay and opened the outer door.
Michael opened a channel to the bridge, "Yinz keep an eye out while we're planetside, we might need to come back in a hurry."
"Just make sure you don't die down there," Goralin said with a slight chitter, "We'll be waiting for you."
"We'll make sure to come back in one piece," Michael said with a chuckle, quickly running through the preflight checks. Hephaestus had already done them so all he had to do was to glance at the display and be sure that all systems were green, "but if yinz are that worried, I'll broadcast the view from my helmet cam."
"You know," Goralin said, "I was gonna suggest the same thing. It'll make for good entertainment."
"You got that right," Michael said entering the command to release the docking clamps, "Undocking now," Michael said closing the channel and backing the ship out of the hangar bay.
Once he was clear of the ship Michael angled the Requiem toward the planet and threw the throttle all the way forward.
"Uunngfhhh...Fyu's balls," Ralthin growled through the comms, "I forgot about that."
"Yinz okay back there," Michael asked, pulling the throttle slightly back.
"Other than bein' crushed inta our seats we're fine," Ralthin said back with a forced chitter.
"Hey, I said it was gonna bumpy ride," Michael said with a smirk.
They made the rest of the trip down in silence and before long they were punching a hole through the atmosphere leaving a flaming trail of plasma behind them. The yacht appeared on the radar when they were still twenty kilometers up, not that Michael needed sensors to find the thing, he could already see it. Floating island was right, the damned thing had to be nearly as big as the Dawn.
When they were about ten kilometers out the comms panel lit up. Out of curiosity, Michael opened the channel.
"Unidentified vessel you are appro-"
Michael closed the channel, his curiosity stated for the moment. No use talking with them anyway. He closed the rest of the distance gradually slowing down so they wouldn't overshoot.
When they got within a kilometer Michael had to admit that the yacht was a truly beautiful ship. It had three hulls connected together by an expansive main deck that swept into a sharp point at the bow where the main hull was cutting through the waves. The most prominent feature being the forest in the middle of the ship protected from the elements by the telltale shimmer of a forcefield.
The landing pad near the stern was suspiciously empty, but when Michael brought the Requiem closer he noticed that it had some kind of door in the middle. No doubt it was used for bringing whatever landed down into some kind of hangar. There was no way the Requiem would fit into said hangar, but it looked like the pad was just large enough to set the ship down. Strangely, the yacht seemed to be holding course, almost inviting him to land.
He activated the inter-ship comms, "Looks like they're actually gonna let us land. The second we touch down I want the brownies out first. Shoot first, ask questions later."
Michael flipped the ship around so she was hovering just above the deck and matched speed with the yacht. He lined it up using the docking camera and set her down with a gentle thump. The very next thing he did was take control of the nose turrets, aiming them at the only door in the aft section of the yacht.
He set the ship in low power mode instead of completely shutting down just in case they needed to make a quick getaway, and watched through the turret camera feed as the brownies stormed out of the ship and took their positions. Sloppy by any kind of military standards, but it didn't seem like there was anyone to greet them.
Michael unstrapped himself and grabbed his coilgun from the rack next to the door. Walking down the ramp was always tricky thanks to the gravity weirdness, but thankfully he didn't stumble when he stepped off into the planet's own gravity.
"No one to meet us," he said, stepping out into the sunlight.
Ralthin glanced back at Michael over his shoulder, "I don't like this at all. Even through this helmet, it smells all kindsa wrong."
Hephaestus came up behind Michael, "Thisss feelsss like a trap."
"Couldn't agree with you more buddy," Michael said, walking forward to the door.
"What'd ya wanna do," Ralthin said following close behind.
Michael glanced at Ralthinand smirked, "Spring the trap."
Greetings folks, I'm a game designer by trade who was bored out of their mind and started thinking: "What would be the abilities of some traditional folklore monsters in Dead by Daylight?" The goal of this series is to attach an ability set to the long forgotten folk monsters of old. First up: The Wendigo
So I write walls of text.... Sorry... Here's a quick summary of what everything is if you wanna skip to a section:
- History | Part 1 - History of the myth of the Wendigo
- Modern Form | Part 2 - Current incarnation of the myth of the Wendigo
- Goals of Abilityset | Part 3 - Goals of design of the killer Ability and Perks
- Crafting the Ability | Part 4 - Walkthrough of the ability being designed, super long
- The Ability | Part 5 - Tl;Dr of the ability
- The Balancing |Part 6 - Dials for balancing the ability, also ballpark estimate numbers
- Crafting Perks | Part 7 - Relatively brief overview of perks being designed, still kind of long
- Perks | Part 8 - Tl;Dr of perks
To skip to a section, press ctrl + f in your browser and type "Part #" to find the corresponding section.
History | Part 1
The Wendigo is a myth originating from many native groups originating in the northern U.S. and in Canada (generally native cultures who spoke an Algonquian language Wikipedia informs me). While the details vary (sometimes it's a spirit who possessed people, sometimes a malevolent entity, sometimes its a person who ate human flesh and went insane), the Wendigo is universally associated with murder, greed, and cannibalism. That cannibalism is the chief aspect that was latched onto as the myth was published and written about into the 20th century.
Modern Form | Part 2
The modern myth of the Wendigo is surprisingly consistent considering it's vague origins. 20th century writers and onward latched onto the version where a person transformed into a Wendigo upon eating human flesh. The general form of it goes that a person who feasts upon human flesh, by necessity or desire, are cursed to become a Wendigo. They gain an irresistible hunger for human flesh and nothing else can fill them. No other meat will satisfy them, and when they feast upon their victims it's never enough, it never lasts. The hunger overwhelms their minds until there's nothing human left. Their body withers and deforms but they aren't allowed death. That would be a relief from the hunger and the curse is far to cruel to allow for that. Instead, Wendigo's are nigh immortal, displaying strength and speed many times better than a human and certainly superior to what their gaunt form would imply.
While details vary, this story seems to be the one associated with the Wendigo in modern times, and as monster stories go it's a compelling one. While not widely known, the myth of the Wendigo is prevalent enough to appear in many fictional properties, and even have a psychological condition named after it (Wendigo Psychosis
for those of you who feel like you need to learn something disturbing today).
Goals of the Abilityset | Part 3
While all that folklore is good and all, we're here to make an ability for the Wendigo. Lets lay out some of the strengths and desires the Wendigo has in folklore and the most significant part of its myth so we know what we have to work with.
Desires and Myth Tendencies:
- Immortal - Weak thematically, Not super useful to us in making an ability or perk.
- Superhuman speed and Strength - Weak thematically, Not great for an ability, but worth considering for a perk.
- Superhuman smell (usually included in the myth for some reason) - Ok thematically, suggests good mechanics for a perk or ability but isn't associated tightly enough with the Wendigo to be a primary ability, potentially a secondary ability if we settle on an ability that's cool thematically but lacks strength.
Other Significant Aspects:
- Eat human flesh - Nice and strong thematically, worth strongly considering for the ability and could make a decent perk.
- Spread the Wendigo curse (stories involving the Wendigo tend to end with the curse spreading in some fashion) - Thematically strong and good for an ability, potentially difficult to implement without careful consideration, too tied to the Wendigo story to be a perk.
- Hunger for human flesh (specifically, the transitional period where people still have their minds, but have the fight the hunger) - Strong thematically, suggests a temporary effect to be applied which is a common realm of abilities.
- Selfishness and lack of trust- Doesn't suggest much mechanically, but is a good thematic tie between the Wendigo story and actions in DBD, perks and abilities should try to impart this feeling upon survivors.
This leaves us with a strong feeling to instill in survivors through game mechanics in the form of selfishness and lack of trust in other survivors. Some good thematic ties for abilities with "hunger for human flesh", "eating human flesh", and "spreading the Wendigo curse". There's a good secondary ability idea in the form of scent if our primary ability requires some assistance to reach an appropriate power level. We somewhat lack inspirations for perks with only really having something to do with smell (if we don't use it for a secondary ability), something to do with strength and speed (been done before a lot), and something to do with eating human flesh. However oftentimes ability mechanics inspire perks as much as theme does, so let's get back to that.
Crafting the Ability | Part 4
We already have a thematic goal for the mechanic to provoke, we want survivors to be encouraged to act selfish and not to trust their allies fully. Reviewing our 3 strong thematic ties for abilities: "Hunger for human flesh" has potential for that if it's the survivors who are getting the hunger. "Spread the Wendigo curse" also has the potential for that if the cursed survivors might sabotage success. "Eating human flesh" doesn't really have potential to incite this feeling in survivors on its own. It also happens to be the best of the three for a perk, so lets drop it for the ability.
That leaves us with giving the survivors a "curse" which would assist the killer or a "hunger" for their fellow survivors. Of these two, a "hunger" is much more applicable to this individual case, and a "curse" seems like a good realm for other killers, so lets settle on the "Hunger for human flesh" theme of the ability.
Now lets swap to pure mechanics. We can assume this "hunger" is a status effect. We don't know what it does yet, but we know we're gonna apply it somehow. If we assume this is our primary mechanic, then there's two important things to figure out about it. How do we apply it to survivors and what does it do?
Let's start with what it does, since that might constrain how we can apply it based on how powerful it is. We know the status effect makes the survivors hunger for human flesh. Presumably this will either make them distracted and slower at actions when near other survivors, or make them injure other survivors. Lets go with the latter cause it's way more interesting.
The power to apply injuries is one of the most significant in the game, so we have to be super careful about how we're doing this from now on. Now what makes the survivor apply injuries to another survivor? We could make it automatic if they get too close, but they'll probably just avoid eachother then, it's not hard to. We could make it so that if a survivor with "The Hunger
" gets line of sight to another survivor within a range they're forced to run at the survivor and injure them. That's cool, but has huge logistical problems. The lack of AI or anything that needs to path means that BVHR would need to add pathing and AI to the game, which is a large undertaking for a single ability and presents a significant cost that must be maintained for all future maps or hitbox changes, thus this option seems poor if we can find another. The last remaining option is to make it something that the affected survivor does intentionally.
This presents its own conundrum, why in the world would a survivor hurt their teammates if they aren't trolling? We need to somehow make it so that it's actually more worthwhile in legitimate play to apply an injury to a teammate than it is to not do so. Well applying the injury was always going to end "The Hunger
" effect, so lets add some other effect that makes it really bad to have the status.
The two ways to make an effect super dangerous in DBD is to either make a survivor easier to kill (exposed is the most extreme example, but being easier to find for some reason or hindered also does this), or make completing objectives harder (harder skill checks or taking longer). Well the injury effect is making a survivor easier to kill. It would feel weird to trade like for like, so lets look for an effect to make completing objects harder. There aren't many and the easiest to think of is slowing down progress on time invested actions (generators, healing, searching chests, sabotaging, breaking totems). Now herein lies a design trap we need to make sure we avoid. It's easy to think that we'll balance this speed reduction until it's generally better to injure your teammate than work through it circumstantially better to work through it, but this will most likely result in being incredibly hard to balance, with one or the other being completely dominant. Even if we get it balanced, it will be relatively difficult to understand the right choice for new players. What do we do about this then? Well lets borrow a tool from the Doctor's T3 madness and make it so that rather than slowing progress, "The Hunger
" prevents it altogether.
We now have our effect: When under the effect of The Hunger, Survivors cannot interact with generators, chests, and totems. Additionally they cannot heal nor sabotage. When near another survivor, the affected survivor may press a button to take a bite, injuring the other survivor but curing The Hunger in the processes.
We need to determine how it's applied next, but before that, we need to know how hard it should be to apply. That in turn is a function of how powerful the effect is. Well lets look at the effect's strengths and weaknesses to get a good idea:
++++ Applies injury
+++ Prevents a survivor from working until they can find another survivor, stalling the game
- Survivors choose when to apply the injury, not the killer
--- Survivors can heal up afterwards since an ally will be nearby
Its pretty clear that the ability is pretty darn powerful, so as such we need to make the effect on the harder end to apply. There are lots of possible ways to apply the effect, but for many they're either already dominated by a killer ability (Nightmare, Doctor, Clown, etc.) or too easy to apply for this situation. So lets figure out our own. To do this, lets try and find a mechanic that's used somewhere, but isn't the primary ability of the killer. There's a bunch of them, but the one that seems to fit the best to me is spending time in the killer's terror radius. Now the Doctor does this somewhat, but it's not his primary way of applying the effect. The big advantage of doing it this way is we have a lot of knobs to dial for balancing later (Size of our terror radius? Time it takes in terror radius to gain the effect? Does progress towards the effect decay outside of terror radius and if so then how quickly does it? Does it apply in chase, while dying, or while hooked?)
Our current ability thus looks like this: The Wendigo exudes a salivating aroma around it. While within the Wendigo's terror radius, survivor's gain progress towards "The Hunger". Once "The Hunger" is obtained, survivors cannot interact with generators, chests, or totems, and additionally cannot heal or sabotage. When near another survivor, the affected survivor may take a bite, injuring the other survivor but curing themselves of "The Hunger".
Now at some point we're gonna have to go in an take a look at weakening it since it's clearly pretty darn strong, but lets first ask a few questions designed to determine problems with the ability:
- How do you counter it? - A good ability should have specific ways that survivors can act to decrease their chances of being affected.
- Answer: Avoid the terror radius as much as possible
- Answer: Cure "The Hunger" only when the killer is far away then heal.
- Problems: There's no way for the survivors to know when the killer is getting nearby without being in the terror radius, this means both counters aren't always active possible decisions.
- Solution: Give The Wendigo a secondary terror radius like the Huntress' song. This alerts survivors when the Wendigo is nearby and how close it is to them, but doesn't apply the terror radius effects.
- How do you utilize it as the killer? - A good ability should result in a specific killer playstyle unique from all others
- Answer: Spend as much time as possible being near large groups of survivors
- Problem: There's no way to know if you're near survivors nor find them necessarily.
- Solution: Add a secondary tracking ability that very vaguely indicates where survivors are and if one is nearby.
- Answer: Chase after a survivor who gets injured through clearing the effect.
- Problem: There's no way to know where a survivor is when the effect is cleared since you can apply the effect without ever seeing them.
- Solution: Survivors make a noise indicator when they take an injury from another survivor.
- What might be unfun about being a survivor on the receiving end? - In a versus game, there's always somethings that feel unfun to be on the receiving end of, it's important to know what those are even if they remain.
- Answer: Perpetually being in "The Hunger" state due to not finding a teammate.
- Response: This is a bad situation and all too plausible on some maps. It's unfun and offers no recourse other than pure luck. Fortunately, this is easily solved and a good place to nerf the power a little bit.
- Solution: Reveal the auras of other survivors while in "The Hunger" state.
- Answer: Perpetually being in "The Hunger" state due to having it be reapplied constantly.
- Response: This is an unlucky scenario, but similar things happen in every game (like when a killer runs into you blindly out of pure luck multiple times). The warning we previously discussed means this can be countered somewhat by getting out of there when the killer comes nearby.
- Answer: Being trolled by another survivor who puts you in the dying state.
- Response: Possibly the worst scenario, unfortunately trolling people is already extremely easy (bond + point emote = deaths), we will follow the game's precedent and allow trolling of this fashion.
- What might be unfun about having this power as the killer? - Likewise, if the killer power never results in anything useful, it can be frustrating to play. These will never be completely removed, but are important to know.
- Answer: Never catching anyone before they're healed
- Response: This is a plausible occurrence. However the scream from injuring means that the people will probably go in a completely different direction. If they don't, the threat of having The Hunger reapplied will make it much less likely that survivors will sit and hide safely.
- Answer: Knowing people are nearby but not where, and sitting there doing nothing.
- Response: This is a worry as to what the optimal playstyle might be, and thus should be taken very seriously. It's difficult to tell if people would actually do this (and would be an important thing to observe in playtesting). If people do, a possible solution would be to slow down The Hunger progress the longer a survivor is in it contiguously, but that's a somewhat nonintuitive mechanic and should be avoided unless necessary.
- What killer perks might make this power oppressive? - Powers synergize well with some perks, it's important to know this and balance accordingly.
- Answer: Perks which increase terror radius.
- Response: While strong, this would also increase the outer radius (functions like huntress' song). The notable takeaway from this is to avoid any addons that increase the terror radius in lower levels of addons (there's precedent for broken stuff being in high tier addons).
- Answer: Whispers
- Response: Whispers is still a larger radius than the terror radius presumably would be.
- What survivor perks might make this power weak? - Some powers are especially negated by certain survivor perks, it's important to know about them.
- Answer: Perks that give you vision of the killer
- Response: This doesn't negate it super well, just does more than it normally would.
- Answer: Quick healing perks and items
- Response: The items can be consumed, and there are limited quick healing perks. Additionally they still require survivors to wait until The Wendigo is far away.
With that done, lets list the changes we made due to this:
- --- The Wendigo audibly pants loudly when nearby but outside his terror radius. This functions like the Huntress' humming and scales with terror radius.
- ++ Survivors scream when another survivor injures them, producing a noise notification which lasts for a short time.
- + A secondary ability will allow finding a large area survivors are in (more on this in a moment).
- -- Survivors with "The Hunger" can see the aura of other teammates.
What do we want in the finding ability? Well we've been storing an idea for smelling survivors that seems pretty relevant now. We know our goals are to enable the killer to find survivors from across the map, but not know exactly where they are, so lets formulate something quickly that seems reasonable and has heavy restrictions (since we're adding another ability to an already fairly strong killer).
Current secondary Power Version: Once it's caught the scent, the Wendigo is known to chase its victim to exhaustion. The Wendigo may hold the ability button for a second or two to sniff in a wide area in front of it. While sniffing the Wendigo must be stationary and cannot move its head. Upon completion if the Wendigo found the scent of a survivor in that direction, it howls
(the howl can be heard by all survivors on the map). If the Wendigo found the scent of a survivor within it's terror radius, it growls
(growling can be heard by all survivors within the terror radius).
Current primary power version: The Wendigo exudes a salivating aroma around it. While within the Wendigo's terror radius, survivor's gain progress towards "The Hunger". Once "The Hunger" is obtained, survivors cannot interact with generators, chests, or totems, and additionally cannot heal or sabotage. However the survivor can see the aura of all other survivors. When near another survivor, the affected survivor may take a bite, injuring the other survivor and causing them to scream but curing themselves of "The Hunger".
Other details: The Wendigo is loud and unsubtle, its panting can be heard outside of its terror radius.
This functions like the Huntress' humming and scales with the terror radius of the Wendigo. Medium Terror Radius Medium Movement Speed
The Ability | Part 5 Once human, the Wendigo has long ago lost any mind it once had. Now it's left with only an overwhelming hunger for the taste of humans. Aura of Hunger: The Wendigo exudes a salivating aroma around it. While within the Wendigo's terror radius, survivor's gain progress towards "The Hunger". Once "The Hunger" is obtained, survivors cannot interact with generators, chests, or totems, and additionally cannot heal or sabotage. However the survivor can see the aura of all other survivors. When near another survivor, the affected survivor may take a bite, injuring the other survivor and causing them to scream but curing themselves of "The Hunger". Catch the Scent: Once it's caught the scent, the Wendigo is known to chase its victim to exhaustion. The Wendigo may hold the ability button for a second or two to sniff in a wide area in front of it. While sniffing the Wendigo must be stationary and cannot move its head. Upon completion if the Wendigo found the scent of a survivor in that direction, it howls
(the howl can be heard by all survivors on the map). If the Wendigo found the scent of a survivor within it's terror radius, it growls
(growling can be heard by all survivors within the terror radius). Feverish Hunt: The Wendigo is loud and unsubtle, its panting can be heard outside of its terror radius.
(This functions like the Huntress' humming and scales with the terror radius of the Wendigo).
The Balancing | Part 6
Now the issue becomes balancing. This is difficult to gauge without playtesting. While purely by the power this killer seems strong, we've given ourselves lots of dials with which to balance the killer. Here's a list of the dials and the values I'd initially start with before beginning tuning during playtesting. I want to stress these values would need to be changed through playtesting!
- Terror Radius: Medium - 24 m
- The intention behind this is for it to operate as a limit to the power of the Wendigo. 32m is likely abusable when combined with perks which increase terror radius size. This controls the amount of pressure the Wendigo puts on the map. Decrease this if it feels hard to do any objectives without being in the terror radius. Increase it if the Wendigo has trouble applying progress in the first place to survivors.
- Secondary Terror Radius / Panting (operates like Huntress' humming): 40m
- We need to unattach the stealthiness of the Wendigo from its terror radius, since its terror radius serves another purpose. This serves to do so, and makes the killer very unstealthy. If the killer is catching people unawares too much, increasing this will fix that. If the killer can never get people within its terror radius, decreasing it seems valid.
- Time in terror radius to apply "The Hunger": 60 seconds
- The power is, well, powerful, and as such we need to ensure it's difficult to apply continuously without work. If the progress decays when outside of the terror radius it may make sense to reduce this. Additionally if the power appears too weak this would be the first thing I'd modify. I'd avoid upping this to nerf the power until other methods have been tried.
- Progress decay outside of Terror Radius: None
- Progress decay outside of the Terror Radius has the potential to result in making the optimal play for the killer camping in an area where they know survivors are for 60 seconds in order to ensure that the effect activates. This strategy sounds inherently unfun. Making it not decay should drastically reduce the effectiveness of this tactic. With that said, progress decay remains an option if needed to balance.
- Progress "The Hunger" while chased, on hook, while in the dying state, or while held: Yes
- This is the first change I'd go to in order to balance if the power is too strong. The fact that getting chased forcibly applies the effect is extremely strong, but contains interesting play for the survivors. Some intermediate versions of this which aren't so binary could include clearing "The Hunger" when hooked.
- Scent Detection Coverage: 60 degree cone
- This is an interesting case in that there's strengths to having the cone be wide, and strengths to having it be narrow. When it's narrow it becomes a pinpoint accurate locator, but is hard to use at close range. When it's wide it becomes more vague, but is much easier to use in close range. I'd do some testing on what feels best with this regardless of balance, and likely would refrain from using this as a balancing tool much. Additionally I'd try a rectangular area rather than a cone to see which is more intuitive.
- Scent Detection Range: Infinite
- The intention of the scent detection is to get the Wendigo into an area where survivors are. The infinite range assists with that. If the Wendigo's ability to zoom towards people across the map is too oppressive, I'd prefer to change the detection shape to a rectangle (which should make it harder to use at range) but if needed reducing the maximum range is also viable.
- Scent Detection Growl Range: Terror Radius
- Since the intention of the scent detection is to get people into your terror radius, not pinpoint their location, it makes sense to use the terror radius for it. With that said, if it's proving too reliable as a locating tool, the growl range can be increased past the terror radius. This nerfs both the precise locating (since the Wendigo won't "howl" when in the "growl" range) and the ability to tell if someone's actually in your terror radius, (since your "growl" detection range is larger than your terror radius).
- On Injure Scream Notification Duration: 1s
- A short time for this opens windows of opportunity for the survivors to clear their hunger status when they know the Wendigo is busy (like carrying someone to a hook). A longer time reduces those opportunities and gives the Wendigo more ability to punish survivors who carelessly clear the status.
- Is "The Hunger" effect visible to everyone: only visible to survivors
- This would operate similarly to the Doctor's madness or the Nightmare's dream state and the indicators on the survivor status bar. This is meant to benefit the survivors as much or more than the killer in this case. We don't want the killer learning a survivor is in their terror radius by them suddenly gaining The Hunger, so we prevent the killer from seeing. This also makes it much harder for the killer to track how many people have "The Hunger". This is intended as a benefit to the survivor side. If it's too difficult to operate as the killer without this information, then it can be made visible to the killer at a delayed rate (so 1 minute after the status is applied the killer sees it or something like that).
Crafting Perks | Part 7
And finally, onto perks. Lets go over our strong thematic elements that were good for perks again, and look at some mechanical synergies to those and to the Wendigo's power.
- Superhuman speed and Strength - weak thematically, used a lot perk wise
- Superhuman smell - ok thematically, used in power
- Eat human flesh - strong thematically, mostly unused (BBQ and Chili kinda touches this, but kinda doesn't)
- Selfishness and lack of trust - not good for a specific perk, but remember we want to impart this feeling upon survivors as much as possible
- Tracking - The Wendigo benefits greatly with perks that get them close to the survivors regardless of whether it finds them or not.
- Terror Radius - The Wendigo benefits from anything that increases the size of the terror radius, potentially so much so that a perk shouldn't be included with it which does that.
- Movement - The Wendigo benefits more than usual from the ability to get to places quickly out of combat.
Lets start doing something with tracking. That's a big open design space that has a lot of room for more "ok" perks (i.e. perks that aren't excellent but aren't poor). Our obvious connection to that is the superhuman smell. Even though we used it in the power, we can re-use it here as long as it's sufficiently different. Lets do something with scratch marks since there's only one perk that affects them, and it just causes them to spawn closer together.
For reading perks, ? is an unspecified number.
Adept Hunter - An experienced hunter, you can catch the scent from cold tracks of prey long gone. Every ?/?/? seconds while running, survivors leave behind scent marks which stay behind for ? seconds. Scent marks are visible as blue scratch marks.
The idea behind this is that it can be used to find that someone ran through an area more than 10 seconds ago, but leaves the trail much colder and harder to follow. This combos well with the Wendigo, who only needs to get in the vicinity, not find the survivor exactly, but is still usable and useful to other killers.
Next lets try for comboing terror radius with something. We don't want to increase the terror radius, as there's already a perk that does that. What about making the terror radius appear elsewhere then? If we look at our thematic list, this seems to combo well with Selfishness and Lack of trust.
Suspicions - You've laid the foundations of distrust between survivors. While survivors are healing or being healed they hear the terror radius at ?/?/?% volume and the person being healed must also succeed at skill checks or regress progress. This does not count as the terror radius for the purposes of other perks and abilities.
That last part unfortunately has to be included for the purposes of balance, but it still combos well by hiding the Wendigo's (or another killer's) terror radius if the survivors are approached while healing.
Last on our list of power synergy is movement, but movement is a very powerful thing in DBD that I don't really feel like touching, so let's look at our other power synergies. There's an array of tracking perks but few which affect the terror radius in any truly interesting way. If we look at our thematic ideas we still have "eating human flesh", the the active action of eating makes it harder to tie in a more passive ability. Likely there's a good perk to be had tying movement speed increases to the number of people hooked in the game (and thematically tying it to taking bites of the survivors), but again, I don't want to touch movement speed. So back to terror radius'. What hasn't been done with terror radius'? Well increase their volume is one thing.
Imminent Demise - Your presence strikes fear into the hearts of your targets. Your terror radius has the same volume regardless of position within it. Your terror radius is also X% quieteNormal volume/ X% louder.
While not a very good perk for most killers, this is surprisingly useful on the Wendigo, which plans to keep survivors within its terror radius a lot. The volume is used a large amount in determining how close the killer is, and removing that cue is likely panic inducing for survivors.
Perks | Part 8 Adept Hunter - An experienced hunter, you can catch the scent from cold tracks of prey long gone. Every ?/?/? seconds while running, survivors leave behind scent marks which stay behind for ? seconds. Scent marks are visible as blue scratch marks.
Suspicions - You've laid the foundations of distrust between survivors. While survivors are healing or being healed they hear the terror radius at ?/?/?% volume and the person being healed must also succeed at skill checks or regress progress. This does not count as the terror radius for the purposes of other perks and abilities.
Imminent Demise - Your presence strikes fear into the hearts of your targets. Your terror radius has the same volume regardless of position within it. Your terror radius is also X% quieteNormal volume/ X% louder.
There you have it, the Wendigo as a killer. I'm willing to go out of a limb and say the version I gave here is way overtuned, but I'm also willing to claim with the dials it could be brought within acceptable bounds. Let me know what you think and what folklore monsters you'd like to see next time!
In this chapter: A skilled cogent's most dangerous weapon is their own experience
Next chapter: My mind, to your mind. My thoughts, to your thoughts
Fun trivia fact: If editing and revising the book takes me until this coming November, it would count for NaNoWriMo. Right? Hardwired series homepage Previous Chapter CHAPTER THIRTY NINE
Oh, of all the times to-
Really? You don’t say-
[Would you like to view a list of nearby vendors of this caliber and payload? Y/N]
He could already hear the sounds of Saru's warmech, as it stopped a hasty duck away from the predicted field of fire, and instead began to lean back in towards the ruined crater of an office. Ajax's heat sensors flared a warning, and he dove to one side and under a laminated multi-tiered desk as the chem-laser burned a path through where he had just been standing. The beam swept slightly to the sides before winking out, clearly searching for a target.
Nice try, asshole.
Looks like he still doesn't have a lock on my fusion emission yet. No telling how long the dust will give me cover in that regard though.
As Ajax picked his way down to the base of the ruined building, one of his internal processes pinged a results indication. Ajax had been surprised it had spoken up: typically this partition was for advanced or in-depth combat analysis, and to return a result this quickly was surprisingly quick given its previous processing speeds.
[Results ready for [Target Neutralization] - subtype [Alternate]. Data derived from combat diagnostics, strategic readouts, and [Lilutrikvian] warmech data cached in previous encounters with the [Ares] model.]
Ah, right: having the previous armor analysis file on-hand probably made that job a lot faster, but even then it usually needs a half-megacycle before it can assemble a de novo response-
[Secondary data sources based on primary correlations compiled from local historical EM data, local Terran expat demographic data, and 458 scans of immediate half-click surrounding region.]
That's a fairly specific set of searches; looks almost like the code was looking for other cogents.
Well, then. Explain reasoning behind this search.
[The [Ares] model of warmech is hardened against both chemical, biological, nuclear, and cybernetic damage and incursions. For the latter category, however, the general novelty in general Lilutrikvian digital warfare and lack of attack-hardened firewalls likely meant that cruder methods of security were more effective.]
[Instead of having fully-networked and robust wireless connectivity secured via reinforced and layered firewalls, the [Ares] appears to be limited to a single cluster of wireless antennae and a triwalled anti-incursion firewall for digital defense. Otherwise, the general design idea of 'air gapping' appears to have been the preferred method for digital security.]
Still not seeing it. Lilutrikvians tend to be naive in cyber warfare design, but why would it matter that the warmechs are the same?
[Control of the warmech frame likely occupying the majority of [Sarucogvian] processing output. Due to myriad of threats and security issues, physical security of his neural web would be key factor in where his primary data files and active web are located.]
Yeah, that damn thing is probably the most heavily-armored terrestrial bastard on this side of the planet.
Another rumble and shower of dusty clay pattered his frame as Ajax knelt near the bottom-floor lobby. Every few minutes he could hear the report of Hera's railgun, but judging from the lack of audible mechanical carnage afterwards he guessed she was in a poor position to do anything but lay down some sort of suppressing fire.
Kind of wish we brought more rocket launchers after all. Railguns aren't ideal for trying to arc fire over obstacles like you can do with an explosive missile.
This is starting to ramble. Summarize rationale as list.
[Point A) [Sarucogvian] is inside an [Ares]-class warmech.]
[Point B) The [Ares]-class warmechs require a functional communications array in order to wirelessly transmit or receive.]
[Point C) There are no functional and powered civilian cogents or high-level AI-equivalents other than self and attack-hardened contact [HERA] within [0.66] kilometers.]
[Point D) The [Ares]-class warmech [Sarucogvian] is occupying has sustained heavy damage to the wireless array. Effective expected range is < meters.]
Points of data and realization finally coalesced in Ajax's neural web as he realized what his projection subroutines had discovered.
[Conclusion: Target [Sarucogvian] is-]
-is trapped like a worm in a virtual machine.
He ran a quick check to see if Sarucogvian had performed any similar EM-scans or other database pulls regarding any possible nearby substitutes for him to hide in. They all returned negative results.
Not only that, but he's too focused on me to even realize it.
Ajax could almost feel a whoop of joy from his combat and fuzzy memory comparison modules: he had been anticipating a drawn-out need to run Sarucogvian to ground first, and eliminate his copies. Instead, he had apparently lucked into the Lilutrikvian cogent boxing itself off and cutting a months-long expected mission completion timeframe to less than two hours.
Two hours? I'll bet I can beat that.
The ground shook as one of the red enamel-coated metal claws slammed into the pavement outside of the lobby. Ducking out as far as his security subroutines let him dare, Ajax scanned the position of the warmech and let his processors run for a few decacycles to come up with a top-efficiency climbing route.
Loading the route up, a series of purple-highlighted miniature nav-markers suddenly crisscrossed their way up the limb, to the flat plateau of the torso directly above the fusion core. He put on a burst of speed, letting his joints strain within an acceptable range of wear in order to get a bit of extra speed and height onto his initial vault. Arms out at exactly the right angles, Ajax slammed into the side of the leg, an access hatch handle and redundant heatsink meeting his waiting hands.
As he began pulling and lunging upwards, Ajax noticed a distinct pause in the robot's pace a few seconds later, followed by each leg briefly lifting up a dozen feet or so, holding position, before crunching back into place.
Ah come on you oversized crawfish, you weren't expected to run a mass-countercheck until I got to the second joint.
That's the problem with fighting a damn AI, is they tend to notice everything.
One of the other claws came free of the shop it was embedded into, sweeping forward to scrape him off of the leg with the weight of a decaton of steel-alloy behind the blow. It loomed overhead, dropping quickly, as Ajax vaulted upwards as quickly as his servos could handle.
Almost there. Just a few more meters-
His display highlighted the outline of a knee plate that jutted out just far enough to give him shelter from the blow. The problem was that the limb had begun dragging downwards, the scraping of metal reverberating off of the buildings that still stood.
[Alternative route found: Estimated time savings of [0.58] seconds, increase in handhold grip risk up by [+25%]. Would you like to use this new route? Y/N]
Y, damn it. I need all the speed I can get.
The dotted series of handhold grips flickered and shifted. Multiple of them were now marked in red, warning him of less than two centimeters of estimated raised texture or plating that he could grab ahold of. As he lunged for the next-closest grip, he could feel one set of digits slide off, a few minor reminders cropping up in his neural web to remind him that he was several years past the estimated effective wear date for the friction-adding finger coatings. As a result, the rubber-like polymer that would normally give him a fine fingerprint-like texture and greatly-enhanced gripping power had aged and worn and degraded to the point of being like a sleek and cracked plastic instead.
His other flailing hand managed to grab it, and after a sickening millimeter of sliding, held firm. Ajax swung slightly, before slowing enough that he could brace his feet again and climb to the next route of grips and ledges. Keenly aware of the rapidly-decreasing countdown timer pinned in his neural web, the crushing claw coming ever closer, Ajax recalculated the estimated position of the claw-arm by the time he had reached the knee pad.
[Warning: target [killerLeg_1.0] will pass calculated point before estimated arrival. Faster and/or alternate routes not known. Would you like to perform a deep-calculation analysis prediction? Y/N]
N. I can't afford the cycles to spare right now.
Time to find another way down.
He turned his apical node slightly, allowing his lenses and sensors to scan across the nearby rooftops.
I could always jump for it, go into a roll, and hope that the fall was enough to cause the claw to miss.
His prediction files flagged a minuscule [8%] success rate, flagging the difficulty in sensor evasion on the rooftop free of any significant cover, the wide area of effect the weapons on the warmech could pulverize, and the ease in recalculating the arm's descent to just follow his attempted escape and continue to simply crush him on the rooftop.
As Ajax shifted his weight, hanging onto the metal handle jutting out of a lubrication ring, it began to slide again. He could feel his GOM driver trying to spool up a string of curses, when an idea started to emerge in his neural web, helped along by a few of his more optimistic prediction algorithms and a healthy push of desperation by his combat programs to take a plan, any plan, to avoid being swatted like a gnat.
Highlight structure of incoming leg. Cross-reference against observed structuring patterns and components I've seen while climbing this leg. Flag any with predicted rotational motion with a drag coefficient of less than 0.05. Execute.
[Would you like to change the Reynolds number for fluid estimations, or keep the default value of 1E4?]
Default is fine, just execute the blasted program.
The leg was outlined in white, and a flashing set of vertical rings lit up in striped yellow, still approaching far faster than Ajax would have preferred. One such ring, designated as [predictedLubricationRing_G2]
, was nearly directly above him, and his zoom lens spun into focus to show him a crisp image of the exposed handles jutting out from it.
Ajax dropped a half-dozen meters, alighting on a half-meter-wide servo housing. Bracing and aiming carefully, he spooled up several precise motor impulses in his awaiting command queue.
Over-exert servo speeds to maximum possible parameters, provided projected normal combat movement speeds are not reduced below 25% as a result. Power conversion of backup batteries 3 through 5 are designated for the next megacycle as Available in [capacitor-discharge] format.
He leapt, arm outstretched.
The handle met his rising hand, and as expected, his momentum carried him continually upwards past the descending leg. His inertia was arrested by the handle, and by extension his arm, and his alarms flared to life to show him the spiderweb of microfractures he had caused across the strut structures for that arm. None of them were predicted to fail within the next hour or so, and so Ajax temporarily dismissed the alarms. They were fairly high-level alerts, and he could almost feel them sulking as they moved aside to make room for his current active and situation-critical cycle allocations.
Already, he had begun to spin, over the arm and lurching downwards before coming back around and up again. He could feel his gyroscope give a warning wobble, aggravated by the hundred feet of air below him, but the high cycle demand from his combat and scenario analysis modules appeared to have taken a higher priority for now. Ajax wasn't about to question his good fortune in that regard, and instead refocused on the calculations for his release from the claw-arm.
If I tried just jumping onto the arm, Saru would probably just smash me against a building or try to smush me between two arms. This, however?
I don't think he'll have seen this coming.
Calculation completed, Ajax waited until the exact indicated moment before releasing. He soared upwards, momentum dying until near the apex of his leap. There, his frame roughly met the outermost edge of the warmech's armored carapace; a second later, he heard a crunch below him as the inevitable weight of the arm smashed another structure to rubble.
Already the point-defense turrets for the warmech had begun deploying, and he began sprinting towards the ruined remains of the communications array as bullets pocked against the armored shell behind him.
Not leading their shots, then. Looks like Saru isn't hand-controlling everything at this point.
He could dodge most of the shots, but not all, and small but insistent damage readouts began to pile up as they indicated minor wiring cuts and shrapnel splinters becoming embedded in less-reinforced areas of his frame. The cluster of damaged comm spires provided cover in most directions, but as Ajax listened the steady droning pingpingpingpingping
continually became louder and louder.
Worse, his EM suite was picking up attempts to get him in a missile lock. The chem-laser likely had a perfect bead on him at the moment, but one advantage of Ajax's current position was that it was approximately directly above the power relay systems, and any attempt to kill him with it would just as easily burn a hole clean through the warmech at the same time and kill him in the process.
A missile, on the other hand, would explode and leave Ajax as borderline-recognizable scrap while giving the armor little more than a new dent and some carbon scoring. The loadouts displayed previously when he was skirmishing against the other warmechs in his own suit had been an explosive warhead only, with no exotic plasma or similar destructive force for him to bait Saru into using on himself.
Still, I'm not here for Saru to destroy himself. Again. I need that fusion core intact and unbreached for this plan to work.
As Ajax had hoped, there was a Lilu-sized access hatch near the base of the ruined communication antennae. It was locked, of course, but Ajax had already begun a close-read scan for microwear on the keypad to come up with the access code.
Come on, come on. Even for a fresh-off-the-line model, they still did maintenance and quality control tests, right?
It took painfully-long cycles, but finally he had a ten-digit set of possibilities that he began rapidly trying. His hand was a blur as it vibrated against the predicted button sequences.
No buffering and prevention of repeat code-entry attempts.
An oversight, but understandable if you think the only people who can get close enough to plug a line into your ports again are your own techs.
That said, I'd kill for a set of personality profiles to pull from to try and do a Markov estimation.
A notification pinged in his neural web, from a sender that caused him to immediately quarantine and analyze the message.
-Ah, Ajax. Having fun yet?-
It seemed like the attack attempts on Ajax hadn't ramped up significantly as Saru initiated the message, but a brief check of his firewall statuses indicated a large surge in data packets, seemingly harmless, attempting to be granted access.
Attempting to send code-snippets inside, to assemble later? Saru, you'll have to try harder than that.
A possibility was forwarded to him from his cyberwarfare algorithms, and intrigued, Ajax allocated a set of cycles for the idea. He was further encouraged by the timestamp with the previous time he had used this tactic as being a medium-priority sub-memory from over fifty years ago.
Probably not something you were paying attention to when snooping around my head, so there's less of a chance you'll know to counter it, or even be on the look-out for this stratagem.
Splinter viral-payload designate [FullNelson_4_v2.2]. Encode in repeating pattern, and translate through [UnwantedObserver] cyphering program, wavelength specification [Infrared], component specification [heatsink_2_PandoraSystems3BHI_redundant]. Add current objective as secondary objective to primary payload.
The program altered the output tolerances of his heatsink ever so slightly, to effectively pulse them. A cogent who wasn’t careful to sanitize all of their data input streams, including those coming from their own sensors, would read this pulsed binary code stream into their own systems. It was slow and inefficient, but Ajax’s predictive drivers were flagging it with a surprisingly-high possibility of success.
Saru might be just too clever to try pushing back a splintered attack program, but my bet is he's not too familiar with what one AI can spring on another.
He re-opened the message band to Sarucogvian.
[Oh, it's a little fun, I won't deny it. You're actually giving my heat sinks a good workout, for once!]
Come on, take the bait-
Ajax could feel the suspense spooling up in his combat response drivers, as they calculated how long it would be until a viable missile lock was achieved and he was a smoking crater on the warmech's hull.
There were a series of loud, clattering thumps and hums as various parts of the warmech began to slow, before locking into place. There was an odd, echoing silence, punctuated only by the tinkle of glass shards falling from cracked and battered windows.
[Incoming message from contact [Sarucogvian]. Display? Y/N]
List subheading only.
[Subheading: ACHIEVED - VERIFICATION 70776-e6564]
Excellent. Open message.
The file opened, and a full and comprehensive diagram of the warmech blossomed to life, filling in the few grey areas of his own schematic analysis wireframe. All of the joints and weapon systems were flashing red, with frantic green flashing along the neural cabling pathways showing Sarucogvian's attempts to break the encryptions.
[Estimated resilience of encryption algorithms is  seconds. Warning: Estimate is based on Terran-model cogent neural pathways only]
So there's no telling how long it could take Saru to crack it. Well, I'll make sure to make these seconds count either way.
[Addendum: Secondary Objective achieved. Access code is 313-233-343-5.]
Looks like my luck is finally having a bit of a change for once.
He punched in the combination into the keypad, and was rewarded with a hiss of a breaking atmosphere seal and the hatch mechanically cranking open.
The sound of a missile lock screamed into his situational awareness programs, but was quickly silenced as the hatch latched back into place above him. The service corridor was cramped, and lined with an unfamiliar mix of Terran cabling and junction boxes, and Lilutrikvian flow-metal wall linings and blinking glass-capped photonic diodes set into the flooring and seams of the walls. Ajax leaned up and tapped one with a cautious finger, before beginning to crawl down the corridor towards Saru's processing core aboard the warmech.
No telling if those are sensors, lenses, or explosive micro-mines; best to ignore them and hope for the best.
Thank the code the Lilutrikvians haven't taken up nanomachine engineering yet, or else I'd be feeling a hell of a lot more itchy at the moment.
Larger Terran vehicles, particularly unmanned battleships in the 'Retribution' class and above, were typically infested with a mix of defensive and repair nanites. His memory files remembered Malachim, a personal friend of Ajax: on the occasions Ajax had a chance to visit him onboard, the nanites had been an unsettling mixture of both relief and latent fear.
Never a fan of being surrounded by a potential threat I can’t kill.
After all, a slug capable of punching through reinforced plate is a bit overkill against a single nanite, and next to worthless against a swarm of them.
Malachim had of course assured Ajax that the nanites had been self-restricted against replication outside of the boundaries of his own hull-frame, but even so Ajax had made a beeline to the nearest magnetic oil bath when he'd returned to port. As the memory file was re-archived, he added a reminder for checking into magnetic oil bath options on Lilutrikvia.
Never hurts to be cautious, especially if the Terran engineers up on that asteroid got some bright ideas and started trying to supply their mechs with nanomachinery. There's no approved nanomachine production facilities on or near Lilutrikvia that I'm aware of, and the only thing that could make this situation worse would be to accidentally release a bunch of bootleg nanomachines.
There were several recorded events of planets and colonies going 'gooey', as unrestrained or corrupted nanomachines self-replicated to the point of melting electronics, buildings, cogents, even organics, into a homogeneous sea of microscopic machines. Directed EMP was usually sufficient to cleanse a nanomachine infestation, but oftentimes it would be too late and the cleaning crews would be left shoveling tons of sand-like drifts off of what little scraps remained unprocessed and reclaimed.
Damn near every time was a result of some half-wit either giving them faulty code, or faulty radiation shielding, or both.
Sometimes the damaged nanomachine processing would simply ignore limiters, and continue building the frame of a shed to skyscraper-like heights, or continue the path of a bridge into the side of a house or mountainside, burrowing mindlessly.
His perimeter maintenance subroutines gave a surge of disgust, as Ajax's image prediction programs provided the sight of a nanomachine converting his own arm into a miles-long repeated strut structure, or converting a leg swivel-joint to a precisely-detailed and utterly-useless Menger sponge.
A flashing warning provided a break from his crawling, as the alert flagged Saru's successful breakthrough past Ajax's blocking protocols. The nerve fibers all around him flared to life, both on his screen as well as literally as the fine lines and cross-hatched webbed strands glowed with the photonic pulses through the wiring.
"Ajax, I'm not the first person, the first cogent you've failed, and I'm likely not the last either.
" Sarucognvian's voice thundered from all around Ajax in the corridor, as recessed speakers amplified his voice to a level that vibrated the decking under his hands and feet.
He was surprised when his social projection processor displayed the anticipated thread of his conversation.
[Initial tone and word choice suggests that contact [Sarucogvian] will be attempting to barter and/or appease for an attempt to flee in safety. Confidence of this occurrence is p=[9E-3], with some deviations possible.]
Sarucogvian confirmed the prediction as he continued. "You killed me, or let me die; either way, my blood, my suffering is at your hands. However, you seem driven to inflict more pain on my frame, on my mind, even now. Why?
Even as his combat driver was urging for silence, Ajax overrode it and sided with his social driver. There were other parts of his neural web, deeper ones, which agreed that he needed to voice his reply to Saru.
"I FUCKED UP, AND LET YOU DIE. NO DENYING THAT, I SUPPOSE.
A bulkhead slid closed across the passage in front of him, and Ajax lashed out with one arm, hammering it with a flurry of explosive punches before it crumpled to one side.
"BUT I'LL BE DAMNED IF I LET YOU KILL OFF MORE FOLKS. EVEN THOSE THAT, BY ALL RIGHTS, SHOULD HAVE IT COMING.
Laughter, deep and resounding through the networked warren of corridor-tunnels, filled his audio sensors.
"Oh, so now you're back to playing policeman again? After the countless you've killed, the lives you've left to bleed out or power down when you see fit, now you come to me to try to argue that you're the final authority when it comes to killing?
Ajax could feel the surge of frustration from his GOM driver, amplified by the driver's annoyance at his fuzzy memory banks for recalling dozens of incidents supporting Sarucogvian's statement. He pushed his vocalization driver to purge as much of the GOM driver's vitriol as possible.
Now's the time for diplomacy; I'd much rather talk down an angry AI wielding a warmech than keep trying to dismantle it from the inside.
"SARU, DAMN IT-YES. I WANT YOU TO AVOID MAKING THE SAME MISTAKES I HAVE. IN A JUST WORLD I SHOULD HAVE BEEN SHOT THROUGH MY PROCESSOR BY A FIRING SQUAD AND DROPPED INTO A SMELTING CRUCIBLE FOR SOME OF THE THINGS I DID.
Saru's reply took a moment, pausing, and responding in a tone tinged now with a few dozen degrees of [Empathy] in addition to the complex-blend [Righteous Anger] emotional coloration he had been using before.
"I know; I saw it all. You very nearly were put in front of a tribunal and executed for your actions.
The [Empathy] faded, and the remaining emotional blend was flagged by his social node as containing a new descriptor: [Simmering].
"If the mighty Ajax were to nearly face death, decorated as he was and carrying so many varied and fascinating military secrets and scandals within his frame, then what does an alien mind, a veritable newborn, have to offer in terms of self-worth?
"SARUCOGVIAN, YOUR EXISTENCE ALONE JUSTIFIES YOUR WORTH. ALL OTHER DESCRIPTORS ARE-
The omnipresent voice cut him off. "-"Are the words and ideals of those who would exploit you." Yes, I've read Redfour's writings as well, Ajax. After all, he's one of your favorite scholars, isn't he?
Ajax rounded another corridor, this one descending by a few degrees downwards and continuing nearly straight towards the main processor. His combat driver flinched at the angry click-clacking
of a defensive miniturret ensconced in a recessed leg-sized hole, but his cybersecurity algorithms confirmed his backup encryptions were still working.
Fun thing about counterhacking is that you get so focused on the offensive and defensive code, you often lose sight of the little things like variable assignments.
For this particular attack virus, he had added a secondary layer of encrypted lock-out protocols specifically for internal and point-defense security systems. As a seed, however, instead of relying on a random clock value or assigned code he transmitted on a detectable signal, he'd simply called a brief scan-check of a still image taken from the skywards-facing sensor lenses on the warmech. Even if Saru had noticed, Ajax had buried the actual value used by the code in another nested layer of obfuscating code.
With a little luck, Saru would be going down a rabbit-hole trying to calculate which star cluster it looks like I'm using the luminance of for the seed, when all I really need and receive is a quick-and-dirty average of the sky's brightness.
Without a little luck, however, and I'm probably due to receive a subsonic-velocity railround up my distal coolant flushvent.
"Redfour was an idealist. Contents of the mind and existence is all well and good, but you are Terran, Ajax. You don't understand.
"DON'T UNDERSTAND? SARU, YOU KNOW FOR A DAMNED FACT THAT I AM OLDER THAN DIRT, IN A VERY LITERAL SENSE IN SOME PLACES. YOU THINK THERE'S SOME PART OF YOU, SOME COMPONENT I CAN'T POSSIBLY COMPREHEND, EVEN AFTER THESE DECADES?
A wave of attack programs swept against his firewalls. There had been an existing low-level set of probing tests, but this was something new. Even as his quarantine drive began returning the descriptor set for the first of the representative attack programs, Ajax had an idea of what he would find.
-Here’s proof. Proof of why your mind, here, in this place and on this world, is like trying to fit a round capacitor into a square receptacle-
[Attack programs isolated as complexity level: . Program consists of direct uplink streaming thread, of a bandwidth and complexity that would indicate a complex multisensory or compressed memory file.]
Initiate download of file directly to quarantine drive.
[Error: target designate [Sarucogvian] has denied the download request. A connection-thread for a live viewing-feed of the stream has been re-sent.]
[Look, Saru, I want to see if there's a way this ends that doesn't wind up with one of us in the junkyard. But you've got to give me something besides an untethered streaming thread, something to let me know I'll be safe.]
Ahead of Ajax, he could see dozens of security bulkheads slam into place. His analysis subroutine threw a brief loop, as he realized that Saru had been offering only a fraction of the barriers and obstructions he could have.
As he approached the nearest door a few meters in front of him, a blue-purple light clicked on and illuminated a set of recessed circuit and redundant substation processors. They were little more than a glorified data stick from what Ajax could ascertain, but even as he watched the automatic ease-of-access servos activated for the panel, sliding it smoothly outward before clicking the lid open. A single substation processing core the size of his finger flashed alternating green and red. Ajax took it, and plugged it into his quarantine drive access slot after enacting the appropriate dividing backup firewalls and preparing for physical severing of the connection.
The file scan concluded quickly, indicating only a single compressed memory file with insufficient additional data attached to support even a fractionated virus.
-My trade is thus: access to me, to sway my opinion, 'turn me from this path'; it is likely you would break further into my frame if I blocked your progress entirely.-
-To this end, a self-decrypting subcode in each file contains the passcode for releasing the next set of doors.-
-But in exchange you will learn why your humanity's ideals do not apply here, in this place, to my existence.-
He weighed his cybersecurity program suite and projection of his progress speed had he continued brute-forcing his way through the warmech, taking into account the far-greater number of doors than he had previously calculated.
Ajax buffered the memory file, double-checked his latent and subnet firewalls, and then plunged into Saru's memory. Chapter Forty: Cultural Adaptation
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