The Charnel Child
  • JackGoose

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    Oct 29, 2011
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    I haven't posted something here before. But I like scifi and I like to write a lot, and draw a lot, and when I was playing Stellaris I had a rare bit of really powerful inspiration and I just rolled with it. What I ended up with ended up significantly darker than anything I had written before, and it features some very heavy and intense themes of war and a lot of graphic content that ranges from gore to genocide. But I mean, this is Stellaris. Purges exist, slavery exists, and it is easy to check some boxes and watch your economy improve.

    But what about the people on the ground?

    The Lumirians were a peaceful race of aquatic mammalians, living simple lives and just starting to reach for the stars, when the Rothaki showed up and changed everything.

    AT2gQM5.png


    You will be the last I care for.


    Those were among the final words my father ever said. It was in the Season of Storms, back when I was a mere fourteen, towards the end of the Rothaki Occupation. I had never seen a Mekon free, but the memory of a time where the sky didn’t burn and when the holt village gathered in the monastery grounds for Harvest Festival without fear haunted my father and grandfather like the spectre of a lost lover. I had only heard stories; tales of a time where there were weekly fishing reports, not weekly lists of those who had gone missing. A simpler time, so sweet sounding it may as well have just been a story. It was something my grandfather dwelled on and squaked on about for hours on end. Honestly there were times where I wish he would have just stopped.


    It made me mad.


    Sometimes I could feel my blood boil as he told our holt village about the time he had gone out to fish just before this grand typhoon; he had gone out with his friend, Sula, for one last spearfishing sail before the Season of Storms. I could see the glimmer in his eyes when he spoke of the tale. Tears he held back with the experience of age. He recounted the cold air and the gently rolling waves, how Sula and he would fight the wind and the rigging as they made their way towards the safe shallows some two leagues out into the shoals. White sand and breaking waves marked dangerous waters, and he had said that what he lacked in sailing skill he made up for with his aim. He admitted that Sula did all the skilled work on the boat, and at times he was perhaps more of a hassle than a help. He’d tell us about how the sky was as clear and as deep a sapphire, and how you could see the ghostly shadow and glaring crescent of Mekon-Sul as our little watery world orbited around her. I dreamed of those skies with longing when I was younger. At this point, it saddened me to know that they were taken away from me before I had ever seen them.


    My grandfather would tell us about how the cold ocean water sprayed up on his face as they crested waves, how he could not get the smell of the Tulan-ik he used for bait out of his paws, and how he fished with a bone spear made by his own father rather than using one of the carbon composite shafts you could buy in the city center. He’d tell us about the time where he spent a full ten minutes under water, searching through the clear depths and lurking between outcroppings of red coral and how he’d have to avoid the anemones that blended their poisoning stingers into the wafting seaweed near the bottom of the cove. He’d say how he hunted his famed sand-shark, a creature of legend to the children of our holt village, for it was some twelve tails in length with teeth the size of his paw. He’d tell us about how he fought with the beast and how it nearly took his leg, and how it grew more ferocious as it came to realize it smelled the inky blood of a Lumirian. It was an exciting tale that went on longer than it should have and overstayed its welcome like bad neighbour. It was a riveting tale, it always got the youngest to use their imaginations to their fullest… just like my grandfather.


    Even now when I think about it, my mouth grows sour and my nerves grow tense. It makes me mad, as I would never have that. I feel greedy.


    My father was young when the Rothaki of the Fell Throne made planetfall for the first time. Despite what it may have sounded like, the Lumirians are by no means a primitive species. The old nation states of Mekon had made it into space by the time of my grandfather. I can’t speak much of what happened at first contact. Likely what you’d expect. The Fell Throne had made a declaration to the nations of Mekon and her outlying colonies that effective immediately they were to be annexed and fell under the direct jurisdiction of the Fell Throne. This all happened very quickly from what I was told by my father. The Rothaki ships had only been spotted in the system a week or so prior to their official communication, and their sighting sparked a new wave of scientific and militaristic frenzy as first contact with an alien race loomed on the horizon. But it was not a peaceful meeting, as you are already aware.


    Panic was the first thing, everyone was confused and frightened by this announcement. Some called it out as a hoax of some kind, our Monastery Keepers frantically sought out prophecies to explain and calm the populace, while others immediately broadcast messages that they have surrendered. When it became obvious that there wouldn’t be any negotiations prior to our subjugation, the fleeting nation states elected to resist the Rothaki. I was told that there was some hope for a time.


    My father said that there was a war, though it was brief. Before they were defeated and dismantled, the old nation states launched a coordinated attack on the Rothaki, but not before each capital city had been obliterated by orbital weapons. It was a fast war. The militaries did manage to damage the invasion ships and destroy some with the asteroid defense system, apparently the Rothaki had underestimated our resolve at the time. LD bombs were detonated at their primary beachheads, incinerating their occupation troops within their landing craft in brilliant thermonuclear blasts. This trick only worked once, it was one coordinated attack. The last one.


    The war lasted five days.


    My father told me that our people had been broken by then. He didn’t understand what was going on at the time, he was so young. I can’t imagine him like that, a child, crying, tugging at his father’s coat as news came in over the radio with stories about how the towns his friends lived in vanished off the map never to be seen again. I can’t picture it now, not as I remember him. Not that man, he was so strong.


    I don’t know if I can even say I had a childhood. Everything felt so wrong. I could count the number of times where people were genuinely happy on one paw. I heard stories about how our parents and grandparents fished and played out in the caves. We couldn’t. My parents said the water wasn’t always such a dull gray color, that it didn’t always feel slippery near the surface, they said it wasn’t safe in certain places. It was from the strip mining, they said. And the unsafe places, well, kids never listen. I went there, to the shallow beaches out on the westside of the archipelago. It was where the current carried the bodies. That is why my mother and father said not to go there. Maybe I should have listened.


    Then again there shouldn’t have been bodies there.


    My father became some kind of clerk in the city. My grandfather was a fisherman, but he couldn’t do that anymore as he had grown old and his good friend Sula had been killed. Worse yet, the fish had gone from the shallows and the water soured like bad ale. He moved on to farming. My grandfather made the paddies where he planted and grew his crops his life’s work. The other fishers from the holt village soon worked for him, and the farms gave the people something to focus on. I had so much more respect for my grandfather than for my father at that time. I remember how frustrated I was with him. I had grown up so bitter and hollow feeling, I remember thinking about what my father did and wondering how he could just go about his life like this, he was practically working for the Rothaki with how he had rolled over. He was even called a collaborator, everyone in the government was at some point.


    Our world changed with the puppet government the Rothaki had installed. Some Lumirians were given power, just enough power to try to appease the public as the Rothaki looked over their shoulders and their troops patrolled the streets of our villages. Labor camps were established along the inner coastlines. People would frequently vanish, like my older brother and my uncle, and there were weekly raids as the Rothaki troops and Lumirian collaborators broke into homes and searched for signs of anything relating to the resistance, often executing those who made a stand or talked back to them. People frequently vanished at night. I remember how our neighbours often came home injured and bloody with marks that they dared not speak of. The Rothaki haunted our villages and our fields. I remember my father looked so tired all the time. He was always watching them with fear in his eyes. I called him a coward, right to his face, in front of my mother. They ended up taking her away from us a month later, a collaborator said that she was to be taken to the Rothaki to “comfort” them. I didn’t understand what he meant at the time. I never saw her again.


    There was a resistance. I only heard whispers of them, sometimes the Rothaki guards could be overheard talking about how a cargo ship was damaged, or how a labor camp had their mining drills sabotaged. How a Rothaki landing pad had exploded or how a general had been poisoned. Bits and pieces, but it was enough to know that there was some hope out there. It was a growing hope for me. Despite what our overlords put up for a face we all knew that they were failable and mortal.


    I remember when I asked my father about the resistance. I remember his eyes, he was so scared. He was always scared. The thought of losing one of his daughters must have terrified him beyond anything I could have imagined. But at the same time I could tell he was expecting me to ask about them. I was the oldest of his children, the most bitter, the quickest to anger, the one that had the most righteous inclinations. Stories of how beautiful and peaceful our world had been soured me to the core. It was like a dream that my grandfather had given me, the idea of a world where there were clear skies and oceans that were full of life, a world with happy families and villages that didn’t have a looming ghost lingering over them that would cart away their mothers and fathers in the dead of night. A time where the sky didn’t turn gray with smoke and when the land lacked scars, when the ocean was a brilliant lifegiving blue and didn’t wash the corpses of our neighbours up onto the beach.


    I was afraid of so much and I wanted so many things to change. I wanted to claw and rip these changes out of the corpse of a Rothaki. But sometimes I think I just wanted to hurt them. I didn’t think that was so bad. And I am still not sure that is a bad thing to want.


    When I was fourteen, during the Season of Storms, there was a night that would take great effort to forget. I was rebellious in my youth, and I would often slink away at night with some of my friends and cousins. I had known some people who would have been called thieves and vandals, and we would frequently sneak away from the town at night to the ocean caves to eat our stolen food and gawk at alien trinkets we acquired.


    I could remember it like it was days ago.


    I was sitting out on some wet stones, throwing rocks into the ocean as my friends joked around and yelled at each other as they ate stolen rations. I remember the cold breeze steadily growing warm. Something struck me as dreadfully wrong as the silver shimmers on the water slowly turned orange. There was smoke in the air.


    Suddenly my heart was racing, and I was compelled to climb up over the sea stones and look behind us where our holt village was. Scorching swafts of fire blanketed the hills as I saw our farm fields and homes vanish in a blaze. I could see shadows backed by the fire, huge Rothaki clad in armor were moving from building to building as scampering Lumirians either fled or pleaded with them. I saw in the distance a Rothaki soldier kill a man with his disruptor, the hollow electric pop of it with its little green flash, blowing chunks of his body out as he collapsed into an unmoving heap. I saw him move over to one of his comrades, who pointed at the next building and leveled his flamethrower on it.


    And I hid in the cave and I cried.


    I heard more gunshots not long after but I dare not look. Seeing the orange reflecting off the waves was dreadful enough. I didn’t look. I let myself imagine it, imagine it like when I was a kid and I dreamed of clear blue skies and a cold sea breeze with boundless fish down below. I had a good imagination.


    Not long after I was surprised by the sound of voices up above, my friends had already gone and run, but I did recognize them as Lumirian voices. I remember hiding in the wet sand, unsure if they were collaborators working with the Rothaki up there, looking for survivors. I had a particularly hefty stone in hand, fearing that this was the case I was ready to kill, kill anyone, it didn’t matter if I died.


    And that was when two disheveled looking women came in, mag rifles slung across their backs as they awkwardly carried an improvised stretcher with a wounded man on it. My father. They saw me the instant I dropped my stone, it hit the mud with a smack which made them wheel around and train their guns on this unarmed crying teenager. Neither of them shot, and I remember pushing my way past them to see my broken father on that stretcher. I remember another man who I later learned was named Moss entered from outside but I barely noticed him. My father was here. His stomach was sopping wet and drenched with blood that had stained through all his clothes. I could feel a hole in his side big enough to put my paw in. There was a look of terror in his eyes when he saw me, he knew that I was going to see him die there.


    He told me that he tried, he tried to stop them. The Rothaki had come looking to kill and had begun burning the town. My father said he begged, he pleaded, but they kept going, and they shot him. Through the sobbing I could hear him say how they burnt down our farm, his grandmother’s garden, our home with my brothers and sisters inside. My poor old grandfather too... It was all gone. Everything he worked for all his life, except for me. I was all he had left.


    I couldn’t remember the face he was making through the tears I had in my eyes.


    He told me that I was the last he would care for.


    I found out later that my father had been in the resistance. For most of my youth, I hated him, I won’t lie, it was a quiet hate that kind of festered. I saw him as a man who was complacent with the world, who wouldn’t do anything about the evil in it. And I was wrong. He was stronger than anyone I have ever met. The resistance fighters who were with my father that night told me that the Rothaki had come looking for revenge, as someone had been funneling information to the resistance.


    My father?


    It was him. The clerk. The quiet sad man who had been forced to give up fishing with his own father. He wasn’t a fighter or anything nearly as glorious. Just a man who tried to keep his head down, a man who got sick of it and tried to help. I don’t know what he did in the town. Logistic work I think, he was deep enough in the government to see the ledgers and manifests for the labor camps and he smuggled out what little information he could. That is how the resistance knew which camps were doing what, and where organized mass murder was about to take place, what towns were in their sights, sometimes even when a high value prisoner was being moved. I don’t know how many people my father saved with his work. Some of the people who I met later called him the bravest man they knew, because he stayed so close to the Rothaki, he stayed close and stole every bit of information he could when he could have been found out any day and killed right there. He was as sick of what had become of Mekon as I was.


    I held his hand through the night, even after he died.


    I joined the resistance that night.
     
    CC: Interregnum
  • JackGoose

    Corporal
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    Oct 29, 2011
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    Chapter 2 is still a ways off from being in a state to post it, but in the meantime...
    Let's take a look at another part of the galaxy, not too far from Mekon.


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    Koter III, a quiet backwater world that had seen it’s glory days have come and gone. Its name changed as the world changed hands time and again, the ages wearing down the memory of this place. The old desert world had once been a much cooler world several thousand years ago. A time long past when it played host to a massive sprawling city, a metropolis which was unrivaled in this part of the galaxy. But those who lived there died long ago, and slowly the system followed. The star of Koter exhausted her hydrogen and she began to die. Growing into a red giant, Koter destroyed most of its planetary system, and what little was left was barely habitable and of little value. Strategically or economically.


    Several civilizations had come and gone from Koter III, and none of them were native to the little world. The current ruling occupants were technically the Orassian Syndicate, a small offshoot of the opulent Orassian Kingdom. They were much less refined and far more willing to take certain risks which gave rise to numerous opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to those concerned with things like ethics.


    Hrask squinted out through his tinted goggles, studying the horizon as the ground shot past underneath his aerotruck. The doctor, disgraced and largely forgotten, had grown bloated and fat living off of the generous amount of credits he had been able to squirrel away before he fled the Fell Throne and their bounty hunters. It was a very un-Rothaki thing of him to do, and let himself become. But he was no warrior, he had no honor and no prestige left in his bones. He filled the gaps inside by gorging himself on what meat and delicacies he could conjure up, and filling what was left with drink.


    Koter III has been feeling smaller in the last few months. Smaller than Mekon felt. He heard whispers from the Orassians he could trust, word that there had been offworlders looking for a Rothaki doctor. Orassians were infamous for their big ears and nose for gossip. If this was indeed true, his past was catching up to him, and no amount of credits he could muster would be able to bribe the Fell Throne to let him leave in one piece after what he did.


    On the edge of the Glarcian Badlands lay remains of Generator District 06; a massive set of solar farms and wind turbines that had been left to rot in the desert long ago. Pirates and scavengers had taken to the ruins, looting valuable materials and facilitating the growth of several shanty towns that stretched across the region like creeping scar tissue. The junkers were able to trade valuable scrap for food and water, and the lucky ones got passage off world. The Kingdom of Orassia did watch the world with passive interest, and the Syndicates had their fingers in all the serious salvage yards. Most of this world was junk however. The right price kept Hrask hidden with the rest of the trash. The hulks sped by him with the sand, glittering and groaning in their dusty abandoned tombs. No better than the rest of the world.


    Hrask flew his truck over the fields of half buried solar panels until he came to a lone mesa, an obelisk of a landmark and the only apparently natural formation on the entire horizon. Yet despite that, it still framed in wreckage and garbage. Several dozen improvised buildings lay about the base of the rock, shelters and homes built out of old rusted storage tanks and welded together hull panels. Tattered awnings flapped in the wind around the entryways and windows, poor attempts to keep the sun and dunes at bay. Fluttering cloth and chimes echoed out over the wind and met his ears the moment he cut the screaming aerodyne engines. Otherwise silence hung in the dusty air under the orange sky.


    It took him some effort to heft himself from the truck. If the roar of the engines didn’t attract attention, Hrask’s form would. A Rothaki was a rare and frightening sight this far from the Fell Throne’s core worlds. Hrask made for a poor soldier, even in his youth, he lacked the stomach for it. One reason he went into doctoring. But still, the locals didn’t know that. He could smell their fear on the air. Prying eyes glistened in the shadows, watching his movements, his fluttering desert gear, his rifle at his side, his hands, for any sign of threat to them.


    The largest of the structures was a nameless inn and bar, a lonely place where liquor and worldly pleasures were peddled and rest was offered. A pair of rusty aerotrucks were parked out front, likely belonging to scavengers or merchants. But there was something else, Hrask could smell it on the air.


    There was a bigger threat here than a Rothaki.


    The cleaner, more sophisticated looking zip shuttle stood out amongst the trash. The distinct black and white curved paneling along its hull said Orassian in their engineering and elegant shapes. Six Orassian men stood equidistant from one another around the building; all dressed in black-lined white duster coats that fluttered in the wind. And armed with state of the art needle rifles. It screamed Syndicate. They seemed to cautiously scan the area, remaining still and quiet as if life had left their bodies long ago. The locals were giving the craft and the men a wide berth, despite their inclinations to loot. They knew the punishment for offending the Syndicate would be delivered indiscriminately and swiftly, and they valued their lives more than their wallets. Save for one Kettling rat, bleeding to death in the sand.


    They let the Rothaki pass by.


    2us6HlY.png



    Hrask slide his solar goggles off his face as he lumbered inside, smoke from exotic herbs and the smell of drink meeting his nose in the dark room. He loomed in the doorway for a moment, the harsh light from the outside leaking in around him as his eyes adjusted. A sad tavern greeted him, dusty travelers clad in rags and survival suits were littered around the red and orange room, distracting themselves with murky drinks, grilled gutter rat meat, and long drags on makeshift cigarettes as static laced offworld music floated on by.


    A couple patrons looked shocked as the Rothaki stepped through and blocked the door. But for them, there was no gunfire, no yelling, no knives, and no death. So no problem. They retreated back into their drinks with some anxiety as Hrask’s gaze settled on a particular traveler and made his way towards him with distinct intent. The Orassian Syndicate man. Hrask approached him with no fear, despite the five Orassians that stood around the edges of room like unmoving pillars. They watched him through their tinted visors, fingers near the triggers of their needle guns.


    An Orassian man by the name of Kenshar sat in the corner, his looks betraying his wealth. The tall mammalian was slight of build and moved in a very deliberate and elegant manner, his golden jeweled rings adorning his dark mechanical arms caught the light in a way that his expensive white and black clothes did not. Kenshar of course greeted Hrask with a grin and a beckoning handwave. Money to be made, he knew that look in Kenshar’s eyes. Kenshar was in control.


    Hrask had met Kenshar once before and he knew to be careful. Even so... The rail-like Orassian was not what he seemed. Most Orassians were not what they appeared. It was the nature of the technologically obsessed people. But now, in this dusty orange light, Hrask could see the mammalian’s true synthetic nature.


    The skin on his face, despite the high quality of its production, had apparently been removed from around his muzzle since their last meeting. Black composite plating and sensors lay exposed to the air along his mouth, it would be a gruesome look if not for his affluent attitude and dress. Hrask did find himself staring, despite his discipline. Soon his eyes met Kenshar’s black sockets and their little glowing orange irises. His time on Koter III had been harsh and relentless on his body, Hrask could see that. It was uncanny.


    “Your time here has been unkind to you, Kenshar.”


    “Your needless squandering of credits on glutting yourself has been unkind to you, Hrask.” The angular creature gestured towards Hrask’s survival suit, tight around his midsection.


    A smile crept across Hrask’s face for a mere moment at the audacity of Kenshar’s remarks.


    “Have a seat, my dear hydrocarbon burdened friend.”


    The bartender approached with a bottle the moment Hrask settled into the creaking chair. Something top shelf and ice in a pair of glasses, one for each of the men.


    “You drink?” Hrask’s deep and gravelly voice was the polar opposite of Kenshar’s light and airy speech.


    “My dear Hrask... I do have a fully functional digestive system that I can elect to use at my own discretion, and my sense of taste and smell is vastly superior to your own. I need to be able to partake in these worldly things, and I have the most expensive components to allow me to do just that. What would be the point of purchasing such a sophisticated body if I couldn’t enjoy myself?”


    “I see.”


    Hrask watched the gangly tall creature pour some amber colored liquid into a pair of crystal glasses from up beyond the curve of his gut. Kenshar, despite his expensive body, was a frail looking individual who's torso was thinner than Hrask’s arm. Even with Hrask’s fat and out of shape body, he was sure he could crush the synth or cyborg or whatever he was without effort. But that would get him nothing. He had to humor this Orassian until he had what he needed. Plus, Kenshar had previously bragged about how he had his neural patterns backed up on a nightly basis. Killing him would be tricky if it ever came down to it. The more money someone has in this world, the more difficult they were to kill after all. And the Syndicate has money to spare.


    “Tell me what it is you seek, my good doctor.” A glass of the drink was slid across the table to him. It smelled floral and earthy. Not a drink for him.


    “I require a subspace transmission antenna. Something that will not require me to use the global communications network.”


    “Mmm, and why come to me?” The synth’s fingers clicked together with some type of amusement.


    “Because you understand subtlety.” Hrask’s drink was gone in one gulp, the delicate glass, miniscule in his hands, was placed back upon the table carefully. “You are subtle in ways that I cannot be.”


    Kenshar’s smile grew, and Hrask simply leaned back and folded his hands over his stomach.


    “Subtlety costs extra.”


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    CC: Home
  • JackGoose

    Corporal
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    Oct 29, 2011
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    Ooof well this took a good deal longer than I would have liked, and it didn't even get as far into the story as I wanted. At this rate I will likely need another 3 or 4 installments to get this where I want it and call it done. My job was a mess lately, but I feel like I have enough here to post part 2.

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    New Year’s Dawn was celebrated only a few months after Abolition Day, making the end of the calendar year on Mekon a very busy time. Trabb had been stuck under a mound of bureaucratic work since Abolition Day and the big Federation visit. Dozens of forms and files and dossiers covering every subject one could imagine in interstellar politics passed through her office every day, regardless of whether or not she was meeting with foreign officials. Not only was she stuck playing host half the time, but it was her duty to edit, correlate, file, and submit every single one of the Federation reports. Those and of course the reports of each member of Parliament in regards to the Federation. That and attend constant xeno-sociological forums, review star charts, and effectively drown herself in hundreds of pages of intergalactic law and regulations of not only the Federation but each of her neighbour states. There were many nights where she was sure the janitorial staff heard her cussing and frantic pacing as she tried her best to remain “diplomatic” on her inter system communications before diving head first into her black rum. Trabb could say that she was easily the most miserable foreign affairs officer on Mekon. And probably the best. And her office was closed for the holiday, amazingly, and it offered her a minor respite.


    The fact that Trabb got any time away from her office was a Shroud-sent blessing.


    The middle aged Lumirian didn’t bother changing out of her CCA Military uniform for her trip on the lightly packed puddlejumper. She was disheveled, unkempt, and exhausted looking, and had no energy left to bother. She gave the automatic greetings and superficial nods to the flight crew and people who greeted her, the same ones that she had grown used to giving automatically in the embassy. They seemed to float on by in her mind as she decompressed and disassociated. Half the time it was like people didn’t exist if she didn’t think about them. She heard the other passengers and the flight attendants, but it was like a dream. Maybe she was tired. No, Trabb was always tired. The crew had a lot to say about not smoking on the flight. Trabb left the extinguished cigarette hanging out of her mouth and slid her hat over her face, letting the world fade away save for the hum of the engines, the warm dark of her hat, and the wet cigarette filter lazily sitting between her lips.


    No dreams came to her as she drifted off to sleep. Something she was thankful for. Sometimes, when the stress of her work got to her, the idea of sleeping began to scare her. Work became another drug for her to abuse, it kept her mind focused and it stopped the wandering ghosts of the past from getting in. When it tried she would smack it away with nicotine and caffeine and alcohol. There were times where she closed her eyes and nodded off, against her will, only to see the dark alley from her recurring nightmares. The same one with the din of the rain and the feeling of her rifle in her paws, where she squeezed the trigger impulsively… where his kid was-


    She would often snap awake in a shivering cold sweat, feeling like someone punched her in the gut.


    But that day on the puddlejumper she just faded into dreamless oblivion.


    A foreign feeling of relief washed over Trabb as she stepped off the puddlejumper gangway ramp and was met with the full smell of the ocean breeze. Shallow waves rocked the dock and threw foam up onto the beach as little seabirds squaked up above her. Tufel-Met was a fishing holt village, one that was somewhat of a satellite of the Capitol that was never burdened with extensive urbanization. Small fishing boats lined the floating docks nearby. Lumirian fishers were out and about, scattered around the bay in boats or inland getting their catches onto ice or just butchering them on the spot for the bustling nearby market.


    Trabb felt better here, almost good and confident, or at the very least she was not miserable. She told herself that this is what she had fought for. This is why she did all those things. She had tried to be a good person in a bad time, but the past hung on her spirit like soggy clothes. Cold and heavy feeling. A burden she felt obligated to bear for her people. For her people to just live their lives and have their homes. For them to be fishers and scholars and poets, for them to have children, to have clean air and water and not have to ration their food or live in fear. Tufel-Met was all of that. She couldn’t help but distractedly saunter through the docks and market district, her mind wandering in a happy way for a change, giving happy nods to her neighbours and countrymen as they greeted her. She forced that, but it was just a little thing she could do for them. To look happy for them. It still all felt dreamlike to her though, like she was just floating through. Just floating through and putting a mask on. This place almost felt fake to her. Like a dream.


    Deep in the market district, past all the stalls selling fish and fruit and clothes and tools, she found herself in front of a bakery with distinctly delicious smells floating on out. Fresh breads and pies and little buns full of sweet jelly or cream. They made her stomach grumble from the smells alone, imagining their taste, knowing their taste. Peeking inside through the little rust colored curtain she could see even more bread and sweet rolls, some more decadent desserts hid behind glass cases framed in blonde beachwood. A shorter Lumirian worked behind the counter, distracting himself with a rack of dough he was pulling from a proofer. A grin crossed Trabb’s face as she quietly stepped on through, folding her arms behind her head.


    “Sorry to say citizen, I need to requisition this roll, state business.”


    The short baker turned around, rack in hand and half smiling. His soft features were brushed with flour along with his clothes; errant handprints were smeared across his apron. He was the spitting image of Lusan when he was younger, just a bit thinner, more wiry, and a bit cleaner than how she remembered Lusan when he was his age. Kald, son of Lusan.


    “Mom, you can’t just take my stuff without paying.” He half laughed, trying to sound serious in the face of a half dressed military officer as she deftly snatched a roll from the table, tossed it from one paw to the other, and then stuffed her face with the lump of bread.


    “Send an invoice to Commissar Rikkan and the CCA.” Somehow the rest of the roll got into her mouth as Kald gawked at the embarrassing display. “Mfs, ish ghodf. Mmmmph.”


    “Mom, mom stop.” He grabbed Trabb’s hand as she reached for another roll. “What are you even doing here?”


    “Well I was going to help you in exchange for some bogberry muffins but it seems you’re not too interested in that, are you? To think I took time out of my busy yet heroic schedule of nothing but paperwork to come and help you. Pah!” Trabb’s scruffy face went from feigned seriousness to a crooked grin as her facade broke down upon making eye contact with her son.


    The look on his face changed from flustered annoyance to relief. Trabb had heard through the vine that her son’s assistant had been sick for the last two days, leaving Kald floundering the evening before New Year’s Dawn. Trabb was by no means an expert baker, and Kald had to guide her through most of the menial tasks he gave her as he focused on the more labor intensive and skillful aspects of making sweet rolls and spiced buns. Trabb was entirely out of her element, but that didn’t stop her from tossing her coat aside, rolling her sleeves up, and making a massive fool of herself with her cooking ineptitude. A few hours in and the two of them were wiping flour off their paws, having scooped the last batch out of the oven long after sunset.


    “You know, as bad as you are at this, without your help I am not sure I would have been ready for tonight.”


    “Would you rather have had your father help you?”


    “Yes. He is much better at this than you.” He pointed at a tray of desserts, some of them were poorly shaped and of varying sizes while most of them were uniform and neat. “Look, you’ll ruin my reputation with your work.”


    “Pfft, you just said you were grateful.” A flour covered hand clapped him on his scalp and ruffled his hair.


    “Stop stop… how has dad been anyways? I haven’t seen him in three weeks.”


    “Lusan’s doing fine. Unfortunately he’s also the only idiot who knows how to fix the water purification system it seems, otherwise he would have been down here with us for the holiday.”


    “Yeah, sounds right. You’d think they’d give him a few days to himself.”


    “You’d think they’d give him a water purification barge that worked.”


    The light that filtered in from the misty horizon had since turned orange with the sinking sun, and before they had noticed, had gone completely. Trabb and Kald wrapped up all the bread in parchment and loaded them up onto a little grav resist cart to ferry them out to the fairgrounds. Most of the little holt village had gathered out on the sandy dunes to await the first dawn of the new year. There were children running and playing in the sand and mud, vendors selling food and drink, a huge fish fry, and a few people up on the hill getting fireworks ready. Dozens of torches were scattered around the beach like burning trees, and a particularly large ring of them surrounded a band who were having at a set of traditional and metal drums. The sound of gentle waves, music, partying, all mixed together in the air that smelled of salt, fish, and fair food. All of it next to the gentle ocean that glistened with their fire light and the silver light shining down from the crescent of Mekon-Sul that hung in the sky.


    Kald’s cart of bakery goods drew a crowd and Trabb did her best to help him sell them. Now that she could manage better than actually making the things. It was hard for her to swallow her antisocial side, but she did her best to force a smile and be amicable. She did not always handle crowds well, even here she felt surrounded in a way. Her mindset left her in a near constant hyper observant and defensive posture, even at this innocent place. She couldn’t help but scan faces for their dispositions, her eyes quickly going to their hands, belts, and ankles in brief searches for weapons even though she knew she wouldn’t find any. An instinct she carried with her over the years. Always looking for trouble, always looking for an escape route. The one thing Trabb couldn’t brute force was trying to relax. When she was having doubts, she just tried to rub her son the wrong way.


    “This is wonderful, Kald I am so glad you managed to get out here tonight!”


    “I am just glad I got some help.”


    “Oh yeah, he really needed it too.” Trabb would butt in, smiling. “I taught him how to bake you know.”


    “You don’t even know the difference between salt and sugar, mom.”


    “I know. It’s a miracle he got this far honestly.”


    Or


    “He looks so much like you and your husband, Major!”


    “Honestly that’s a miracle, considering how many handsome men I met.”


    “Mom...”


    “And women.” She would lean in and whisper.


    “Mom, shut up!” Kald helplessly changed hues at this kind of thing.


    And the night was going wonderfully. For a brief few hours Trabb was careless.


    She was at one of the fish fries, grabbing a late dinner for her and Kald. Some salted and beer-battered Lesk-fin flank, the smell of it made her mouth water and she had been eager to bring it back to where Kald was peddling off the last few bogberry muffins. There was a sparse crowd at this point, and she had to sidestep a few families on the way back before she nearly lost balance as a pair of kids ran into her. One spun on his heel and crashed into the mud, sending a cold splattering of it across Trabb’s coat and face.


    Something shattered.


    It was cold. Something inside her grew tight and she slowed to a freeze where she stood. Instinctively something clicked in her head. A switch had been thrown in her mind and she couldn’t grasp what it was. Suddenly her core flooded with fear and ice as an overwhelming sense of danger clouded her mind as the world shrunk away. Something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong. She felt herself reaching up and touching the mud on her face, but didn’t remember moving her arms, it was like she wasn’t even there, like suddenly she was just watching herself. Why was, why was she tense? Her heart pounded in her ears, and there wasn’t any other sound. The mud on her face… cold. Wet. Slippery. People around her were talking. It just sounded like the color gray. The world felt like the color gray. Someone yelled.


    “No, you idiot it’s going-”


    There was a puff of smoke from up on the hill as one of the men at the fireworks jumped back, a green rocket shooting out sideways and bouncing off the ocean water. Trabb ducked and there was a loud bang nearby as something exploded. She lost her footing, sometime during the fighting her visor had been knocked off some fifty meters back. Her chest hurt, she hadn’t run this far in so long, she was out of breath and the Rothaki were still coming. Her boots slipped off the mud and sand and she stumbled to her feet, racing to the small pile of rocks as another green bolt flashed nearby. Smoke filled the air. She- shit, Nelks… where was Nelks? Trabb spun on her heels and saw him a ways back behind her for a mere instant before a green screaming buzz hit him in the back and a horrid popping sound came from him with a matching puff of fleshy gore. Panic took her, she wasn’t looking, and she tripped over the rocks and the wind was knocked out of her chest as she fumbled and fell over to the other side, dragging globs of mud with her.


    Where, where was her rifle? Did she drop it? There was another screaming green flash, one that was close enough that she could feel the air burn and smell the ozone. Frantic yelping gasps fell from her mouth as her shaking hands searched her body for a hole or missing part. Footsteps, someone was coming. Too small for a Rothaki.


    Lusan stumbled over the stone, rushing to her side. His mouth opened and closed as if he were struggling with words. Without a word he knelt down next to Trabb, worrying concern filling his eyes as if Trabb had been shot. But she didn’t, she wasn’t, right? Unless she was in shock. She heard about that, she saw it, people who were dying without realizing it. Her eyes went from his face, down his gear, to his sidearm.


    “Lusan?” She gasped. “Lusan, where- give, give me your gun.”


    “Mom, what are you talking about, what’s wrong?” Lusan grabbed her by the shoulders and held her tight.


    “Lusan-...I...”


    “Mom!”


    cofyTcW.png



    Trabb blinked hard, breathing hard, feeling hard. This wasn’t Lusan… it was Kald. It was Kald. It took her a second as she sat there in the cold mud in quiet as the world filtered back in around her. There were bystanders from the beach party she couldn’t bare to look at as their murmurs reached her burning ears. With her unsteady breathing and the way she was shaking they may have assumed she was dying if they had missed the episode that sent her into that delusional state.


    “Mom.” Her eyes snapped back to focus on Kald. “Are you okay?”


    “I...” Her voice was shaking like her hands. “I’m, I’m fine.”


    Her mind wasn’t working right, her thoughts were coming in impulsive and nonsensical waves. She tried to force it all down and back, to stay here, in the present. It had never been this bad before, everytime it got worse, and she was afraid because she knew that it was getting worse. With knees buckling, Trabb dragged herself to her feet with a lot of help from Kald. None of the faces in the crowd registered for Trabb, she made a point to just not look at anyone, not even Kald. Uneven sand and stone left her struggling to walk in a straight line as Kald tried to stay with her, his plees falling on deaf ears.


    “I said I’M FINE!” A brief twist ripped her shoulder out from under Kald’s paw. Quietly, he stepped back. Trabb knew, in hindsight, that he was hurting, confused, and worried. She should have stayed with him.


    Instead she wandered into the dark away from the party and headfirst into a quiet bar not far from the fishing docks. With a mouth and throat that felt like she had nothing but sawdust to eat, Trabb desperately took a seat and ordered something, anything would do. Disgusting, she thought, as she saw her hands were still shaking. There were many nights where a stiff drink would be the only thing that would calm her nerves and give her peace. It dulled the anxiety and sickly feelings.


    Soon she was eight shots in and nursing a third cigarette and finally, finally she was feeling better. It was enough for her to forget how pathetic she was, for her to let go of those memories and let them fall from her mind and clatter off her bones as they fell into the bottomless pit of her cold soul. And she kept drinking and kept staring into that amber filled glass.