﻿ Sports Betting Odds Calculator | Odds Shark

# Sports Betting Odds Calculator | Odds Shark

• Sports Betting Odds Calculator | Odds Shark
• Free Parlay Calculator and Parlay Odds at VegasInsider.com.
• Betting Odds Calculator & Converter | The Action Network
• Top 3 Sites for Betting Odds, Picks and Lines 2020
• Betting Odds Calculator Online 2020: Predict Your Profit
##### Calculated odds for Arsenal, Tottenham, and Chelsea based on betting lines

I just figured some people would find this interesting. I took the Odds from the bookmakers and calculated the "actual" odds they were placing on all the different outcomes. Note that these are not the odds you would get by betting- these are my best approximations for the actual odds.
Chelsea
Third place Alone. 73%
Tie between 3rd and 4th. 15%
Fourth Place 12%
Arsenal
Third place Alone. 12%
Tie between 3rd and 4th 15%
Fourth place. 46%
Fifth place 27%
Tottenham
4th place 27%
5th place 73%
Again- these are an approximation of the the actual odds according to the bookmakers, not the odds you would be able to bet on.

##### How can you reverse engineer a 1x2 line (in soccer) from an oddsmaker to get their expected team goal numbers?

So obviously when a bookmaker sets a line in soccer (football), they have the home win odds, draw odds, and away win odds, along with the other markets. These numbers are all determined based on a expected team goals count that they derive largely mathematically. To give you an example, if Liverpool play at home vs a 4th division team, Liverpool might have their likely/expected goals amount calculated by an oddsmaker to be 3.943, whereas the away side might be 0.326 - I don’t know exactly how those numbers would be calculated (rough idea) but also not interested in that specifically. So with 3.943 vs 0.326 the oddsmaker can then set prices on the 1x2 markets, Asian Handicap, oveunder, BTTS, etc. Ie in the above scenario BTTS-NO would be a strong favorite because the oddsmaker has one side projected at only ~0.3 goals.
Now what I am wondering is how can the lines be reverse engineered to get that expected team total tally FROM the odds? Let’s say I have the home/draw/away odds, the oveunder 2.5 odds, and the BTTS Yes/No odds. Surely with this information there is some kind of math that can be done to reverse engineer the odds to get the underlying expected goals count for each that the oddsmaker is using?
Could anyone that is quantitatively inclined provide some insight into this? It’s fine if the method isn’t absolutely perfect, I don’t need the expected team total number to 15 decimal places. I’ve done a lot of research and can’t find much about this topic.
I’d actually imagine this can be done just with the 1x2 odds - because a 1.70 odds home favorite where the draw is priced 3.40 and the away win 4.80 is obviously different to where the draw is priced 3.70 and the away win 4.50, and that has to be based on the underlying expected team goals that the oddsmaker is using. Since in one case the away side is more/less likely to win then that is likely a reflection of either teams goal potential as calculated by the bookmaker.

##### GTA Online Casino Inside Track Horse Racing glitch SOLO works for PC (maybe XBOX AND PS4 as well?)

1. Go to Diamond Casino
2. Walk up to the cashier and exchange for chips if you don't have any
3. Go to Inside Track Horse Racing
4. Click on Place Bet (Single Event)
5. Check horse odds
6. Disable internet connection
7. Bet any amount on any horse and it will say unable to establish connection to rockstar servers
8. Enable internet connection and bet max on your horse
9. Repeat until you have enough money
This is reviving the reset horse odds glitch that used to exist before this was patched.
Picture guide here: https://imgur.com/gallery/fuGSpfW
Instructions are pretty simple. Use any method to disable/enable your internet connection whether it is pulling the plug or using a 3rd party program it is up to you. Just repeat step 5/6/7 until you get your desired odds. Make sure to reenable your internet connection before betting when your horse is favorable.
Note: You need to disable your internet when you are about to refresh the race (horse list). Reenable your internet when you have the horse you want to bet on. DO NOT have your internet disconnected for too long or it will kick you from the game. It shouldn't take too long to cycle through the line ups. Just do it quick and use a macro or a script.
For example if you see double evens (which is considered the worst lineup) bet any amount on any horse (provided that you have already disabled your internet). Cycle through the list until you find a good lineup and before placing a bet, reenable your internet.
DISCLAIMER: I am only posting this as a guide and I bear no responsibility if you lose money betting. This glitch works as is and does not guarantee you a win in any way. You are just pushing the odds into your favor easier.
If you don't know which horse to bet use this guide:
EDIT: Easiest way to block connection is through Windows Defender Firewall. If you are not tech savvy enough I or someone can create a batch file to do this all at once or even an AHK file but here are the steps to do this.
1. Open Windows Defender Firewall by pressing start menu and typing "Windows Defender Firewall" (without quotes) and it should be the first option.
2. On the left side click Advanced Settings
3. On the left side click Outbound Rules
4. On the right side click New Rule...
5. Select Program
6. Select your GTA5.exe in Steam folder or Epic Games folder
7. Select Block the Connection
8. Profile can be all checked
9. Type in the name such as GTA block
10. On the right side Enable/Disable the rule to connect/disconnect

##### Bankroll Management Part I

Bankroll management is arguably the most important concept to understand to maximize your chances of success (or rather, minimize your chances of failure).
Consider this scenario: You magically become a world-class handicapper and can win 55% of your bets on -110 lines. Did you know that with a \$1,000 bankroll and flat betting \$100 per game at -110 lines, you would go broke ~14.0% of the time after 100 bets? After 1,000 bets the chances of you going broke are a more staggering ~31.0%.
Why does this happen? Despite a positive expected value, you’re betting too much. And this gives you a high risk of ruin.
Kelly Criterion
With a 55% win rate on -110 lines, the Kelly Criterion states that 5.5% of your bankroll is the ideal wager size to maximize the median return of your portfolio. So, what if we flat bet \$55 instead, which represents 5.5% of our bankroll. What’s our risk of ruin then?
After 100 bets? ~2.0% After 1,000 bets? ~13.0%.
Better, but still significant risk of ruin.
Some might be surprised to see any risk of ruin at a 5.5% bankroll allocation. One of the assumptions, however, that the Kelly Criterion relies on is that bet sizes are a percentage allocation of your portfolio and not a fixed amount. Among sports bettors, a fixed bet amount is frequently referred to as a bet “unit”.
Bet Units vs Bet Allocation
Record: 72-53 +13.7 units
Patriots -7.5 2 units
Sports bettors love to measure their performance or display their picks as a function of “units”. Most people use it and because of its widespread adoption, it’s easy to communicate between parties. Since it’s become the de facto unit of measurement for sports bettors, it is widely accepted that the best way to practice bankroll management is to 1) determine your wager size and 2) never deviate from that bet size.
Let me explain the risks behind that strategy and why Cleat Street doesn’t recommend it.
Flat Betting \$55: Expected Value of 1,000 Bets
We all know how to calculate the expected value, or EV, of a single bet. All you need is three inputs:
1) Payoff of a win (Pw): \$50
2) Payoff of a loss (PL): -\$55
3) Probability of winning (p): 55.0%
EV Equation
So - if we want to determine the EV of 1,000 bets, can we just multiply \$2.75 x 1,000 and get an EV of \$2,750?
If you had unlimited funds, then yes. While there is variance around our expected win percentage, our ending bankroll would be normally distributed with a median of \$3,750 (\$1,000 starting bankroll + \$2,750 EV). Without the constraint of going broke, the distribution of the ending bankroll looks as follows:
Bankroll distribution
However, most of us don’t have unlimited funds. We are constrained by our bankroll, so we must account for the possibility that we lose our entire bankroll at some point between Bet #1 and Bet #1,000. As a result, we might not get the chance to finish making all of the bets.
Monte Carlo Simulation – Flat Betting
To determine the likelihood and impact of going broke at some point between Bet #1 and Bet #1,000, we can use a Monte Carlo simulation. We simulated the 1,000 bet opportunities 10,000 times resulting in the following risk-return profile:
Risk of Ruin: ~13.0%
Expected Return: ~4.8%
Median Return: ~ \$2,645
Expected Portfolio ROI: ~265%
Without the benefit of an unlimited bankroll, the risk of ruin decreases our EV by nearly 5%, decreasing from \$2,750 to ~\$2,645. Starting with a bankroll of \$1,000, our median ending bankroll is ~\$3,645 but has a distribution as displayed below:
Ending Bankroll Distribution
Bet Allocation of 5.5%: Expected Value of 1,000 Bets
When you bet a percentage of your bankroll, the expected value calculation changes a bit. Your payoff outcomes are now framed as a percentage:
1) Payoff of a win (Pw): 5.0%
2) Payoff of a loss (PL): -5.5%
3) Probability of winning (p): 55.0%
EV Equation
To determine the EV of 1,000 bets, however, we cannot just multiply 0.275% x 1,000 and get an EV of 275%. This is because each bet compounds on one another when you are betting a percentage of your bankroll.
Ok – so instead we determine the expected value by saying that you expect to win 550 bets (55% x 1,000) and lose 450 bets (45% x 1,000) and calculate by compounding the returns as follows:
Median Calculation
The above computation reflects the median of the distribution of outcomes as well as the most likely outcome. Yes, the most likely outcome is that you win exactly 550 games, which would generate returns of \$2,967. However, this scenario happens only 2.54% of the time. [1] The rest of the time, you either win more than 550 games or less than 550 games.
[1] Binomial probability inputs: Prob (Success): 55%, Num. Trials 1,000, Num. Successes, 550.
Binomial Probability Calculator
We get the following risk-return profile:
Risk of Ruin: 0.0%
Expected Return: 5.0%
Median Return: \$2,967
Expected Portfolio ROI: ~297%
“So you’re telling me, I have no chance of losing my entire bankroll, and I can increase my EV? That sounds too good to be true.”
You’re right – the above metrics are true, but they don’t tell the whole story. Although the risk of ruin is zero, there are many scenarios where you could still walk away a loser. To properly assess, we need to take a closer look at the distribution of outcomes.
Lognormal Distribution
The returns generated by using a bet allocation bankroll management strategy follow a lognormal distribution. A lognormal distribution is frequently used to describe the price of financial assets and effectively states that 1) the lowest that your bankroll can go is zero, and 2) your returns have a long-tail to the right.
Visually, the distribution of the ending bankroll after 1,000 bets looks odd when plotted on a linear scale:
‍5.5% Bet Allocation - Linear Scale
When plotted on a logarithmic scale, however the distribution appears normal (hence the name “lognormal”):
5.5% Bet Allocation - Logarithmic Scale
As you can see in the distribution above, there are scenarios where you still walk away a loser after 1,000 bets. In fact, betting 5.5% of your bankroll in this scenario will lead you to losing money approximately 20 percent of the time. To properly assess the risk-return profile, we’ll have to take a deeper look at the full distribution of outcomes in Part II.
What we’ll find is that although the Kelly Criterion is a betting strategy that maximizes median wealth in the long run, there are still considerable risks that may not make it ideal for most bettors. An underlying assumption is that it requires you to know your true win probability, which is impossible. In Part II, we explore Kelly Criterion in further depth and show how you can use the same principles to tailor a bankroll management strategy that better fits your risk appetite.
Bankroll Management Part II will be posted tomorrow

##### [Guide] A Deep Dive Into The Sleep Mechanism, And How To Stack The Odds In Your Favor

Preface
Over a month ago, a guy by the name u/Fueboomer did a series of BV runs with his Troublemaker 1 Ramos, including a 0-damage-taken BV Hall 30 run with Blue as the striker. He was the first person to recognize the potential of sleep, and more importantly he had the guts to invest in an underused 3-star boomer sync pair to test out a yet-to-be-proven strategy.
Fast forward to June 30, a higher being named Serena graced us with her presence. Her brokenness not only comes from her AOE sleep and accuracy buff, but also the fact that she's perfectly functional at 1/5. With her help, a skilled player like Fueboomer can clear the entire BV without taking any damage.

The Sleep Mechanism
Sleep is similar to flinch in many ways:
1. The affected target cannot queue attack moves for a period of time
2. If Hypnosis disrupts a queued attack move, the target will immediately queue a trainer buff if it has one
3. A target that's already asleep cannot be hypnotized.
4. The middle mon wakes up after its sync move
5. There is a degree of randomness to the status duration, unless the target has Lessen Sleep 9. We will discuss sleep duration in detail in the next section.
6. When all the enemies are asleep, they will queue trainer buffs following the action order discussed here - https://www.reddit.com/PokemonMasters/comments/gb8ahz/scoring_extra_turns_in_bv/
7. The AI can actually queue its move BEFORE the icon disappears, which means you can't chain sleep by simply watching the icon and waiting. Instead, you need to queue at least one other move and follow with Hypnosis before the target awakes. We'll revisit this topic later in more details.
Knowing the similarities, we must also remember the major differences:
1. Sleep cannot coexist with other statuses. Burned, paralyzed, poisoned, frozen targets cannot be hypnotized.
2. Flinched targets CAN be hypnotized but will lose the flinch status.
3. Hypnosis and Sleep Powder have a success rate of 75%. The rate is increased to 93.75% if you have Troublemaker 1.

Sleep Duration
As mentioned above, sleep duration is somewhat random. The only visual signal we have is the sleep status icon. Therefore knowing how to read the icon is the key to success.
As we know, the icon blinks when the target is preparing to wake up. Based on my observation, the blinking speed doesn't seem to be a linear function. Rather, it is divided into 3 phases, each with a different speed:
Phase 1: "I don't blink! Why are you staring at me!"
In this phase the icon doesn’t blink at all. This means the target isn't waking up anytime soon. It's worth mentioning that targets with Lessen Sleep 5 or above
1. Sometimes the target(s) completely skip this phase.
2. Even if hypnotized at the same time (i.e. by Serena's AOE hypnosis), different units will still have different (and random) sleep duration. (credit to u/El_Gabbar in the comment section)
Phase 2: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
This is the most important phase. The icon blinks at moderate speed. You need to keep a close eye on it. As u/u/Red1003493649 points out in this post, (and credit to u/zzladerp in the comment section), when no move is queued, the icon will blink exactly 16 times (Video recording: https://youtu.be/gJZoKWMB47w, watch Chandelure from 0:21 to 0:31). The duration of 16 blinks seems to be exactly 10 seconds. However, during a real battle, the duration is extended by certain animations that happened in-between (we will discuss this in detail in a later section.) However, if the target skipped Phase 1 completely, then the duration can become less, and the extent is completely unpredictable.
Phase 3: Fast and Furious
The icon blinks rapidly. It will blink exactly 5 times, for a duration of roughly a little less than 2 seconds, and then the icon disappears. For demonstration you can scroll to 2:55 of this video - https://youtu.be/jHtffgV1E6g and watch the icon on Gengar. But don't bother, because you don't need to remember anything about this phase. Why? Because the target can actually queue its move at the BEGINNING of this phase, not at the end when the icon disappears.

That sounds awful. So what now?
So here we are, the third phase is useless, and the second phase can sometimes be unpredictable (if Phase 1 is skipped). If you used to beat yourself up for messing up Hypnosis' timing, now is the time to treat yourself with a delicious cupcake because it wasn't your fault. Dena intentionally made it unpredictable so that we can't abuse this mechanism easily. However, this isn't the end. In fact, there are a number of things we can do to turn the tide in our favor:
1. Instead of staring at 3 flashing icons and betting which unit would wake up first and queue the next move, we can instead tell the AI who should move next by KO'ing one unit. The next Pokémon to enter the field will 100% be the one to queue the next move, even if another unit wakes up during the field-entering animation. And if you are familiar with AI's action order, you know where this is going - we can KO all the Pokémon on one side, one by one. Then we hypnotize the middle Pokemon again because it's usually hard to KO. And then we proceed to clear the other side. Here's a demo: (https://youtu.be/mrTVx-fA8TE). Alternatively, if say you can't KO the next-in-line Pokemon, you can still attack it and follow up with Hypnosis. Check out this 0-damage-taken Hall 25 run by Fueboomer: https://youtu.be/3lh2ftC4q-4
2. Take advantage of enemy units' trainer moves. Trainer moves are sort of a double-edge sword - they allow the enemy to reduce sync move countdown while sleeping, which sucks for us, but at the same time the buffs' animations are a blessing. If a unit wakes up during their own animation time, it'd have to wait for the animation to finish before it can queue a move. Poor little thing has to sit there while you move your finger over to the Hypnosis button. Ah, cruel fate!
3. Intentionally allow the least threatening enemy sync pair to queue moves. For example, in Bewear's stage, Chandelure's Shadow Ball hits a lot harder than the two side mons' attacks. Therefore, you can aggressively chain sleep on Chandelure while ignoring the two side mons. Let them attack so you have time to observe Chandelure and put it to sleep when it wakes up.
4. Queue Serena's move at the very last second. This is more of an extension to #2 and #3. The idea is to take full advantage of enemy attack/buff's animation time.
5. Bring another disrupter, such as Agatha, or flinch user such as Acerola (demo: BV - https://youtu.be/3Arg5AZckKg, LA - https://www.reddit.com/PokemonMasters/comments/ho099v/cynthia_acerola_agatha_3v1_cobalion_without/ by u/wanderingmemory).
6. Count your moves. Generally speaking, if an enemy just transitioned from Phase 1 to Phase 2, you can still safely queue about at least 2-3 moves. It's not absolute and it depends on how long your move's animation is. As mentioned above, you have 10 seconds + animation time to queue and execute moves. So you can do something like this: Striker attacks -> Striker attacks -> Striker attacks -> Tank queues a move -> Serena queues Hypnosis. This way, even if the target wakes up during your 3rd attack, it'll still be put to sleep before it moves. The risk is that it might also wake up during or right after your Hypnosis, which will break your sleep chain. However, do not attempt this, or at least be more conservative if the target skipped Phase 1 completely.
7. Use moves and passives such as King's Shield and Endurance to tell the AI that all its struggles are futile.

Extending Sleep Durations
(Added on 7/12 based on conversation with u/zzladerp in the comment section)
Based on u/zzladerp's findings (see comment section), if the enemy experienced Phase 1, then it's Phase 2 duration can in fact be calculated. The formula is:
10 seconds + total remaining move animation times - (remaining last move animation time * (triggerpassive? + 1)mod 2)
Where,
total remaining move animation times is the time taken for rest of the move animations after 10 seconds of sleep. In scenario 1 and 2, this is just the remaining last move animation times since only 1 move will finish after the 10 seconds of sleep.
remaining last move animation time is the time taken for the rest of the last move animation after 10 seconds of sleep. For scenario 3, since the whole last move is going to be executed after the 10 seconds of sleep, then it’s just last move animation time
triggerpassive? is 1 if a passive skill(s) such as MGR, MPR, Recuperation, etc. will activate after the last move and 0 if not.
In other words:
1. If only one move is queued by player (hence it is also the last move), and it doesn't trigger any passive, then it doesn't extend the sleep duration at all. Duration = 10 seconds
2. Same conditions as above except the move does trigger a passive, then it extends sleep duration by its remaining move animation time
3. If more than one move are queued by the player, the total remaining animation time of all moves before the last move will be added to sleep duration. The last move will follow the two principles above
Therefore, in theory, we can maximize Phase 2 duration by queuing 3 moves at the end of the first 10 seconds, and the 3rd move should preferably be able to trigger a passive. This way the target will only wake up after the 3rd move's attack animation finishes.
To put it into perspective, say our team is Torkoal/Lucario(with VW MGR)/Delphox, from the moment Phase 2 begins we can:
1. Let Torkoal or Lucario attack several times, but make sure all animations finish in 9 or 9.5 seconds, and then
2. Torkoal queues Ember -> Delphox queues Fire Spin -> Lucario queues VW with guaranteed MGR -> (After Ember's animation finishes) Torkoal queues another Ember -> (After Fire Spin animation finishes) Delphox queues Hypnosis
This way when the target wakes up it gets hit by another Ember and then gets hypnotized again. In other words, we can squeeze in 4 additional attacks 4 attacks (Ember, Fire Spin, VW, another Ember) in addition to the ones queued in the first 10 seconds, without breaking the sleep chain.

This only happens in LA, and I'll simply quote what u/Parallaxal said in this post:
As it turns out, the secret to chaining sleep vs an enemy with Lessen Sleep 9 is to be patient with re-queuing Hypnosis/Sleep Powder. You have to wait until just before the animation of the move following your sleep attack finishes. In this fight I looked for the shield animation of Entei's Light Screen to give me the signal to queue my next Hypnosis.
Edit: u/Red1003493649 mentioned in the comment section that:
About lessen sleep 9 for Entei I used Heat wave -> bullet seed -> hypnosis or Heat Wave -> Hex -> Sleep Powder, and at the end of Heat Wave's animation I could use hypnosis and it works 100% of the time.

(Added on 7/15. Credit to u/Red1003493649. See more details in the comment section)
In regards to targets with Lessen Sleep 8, I'll quote what Red1003493649 said in the comment section:
for lessen sleep 8 it is the worst : between 4 and 16 ! The only solution that I found is to use 3 moves and wait the end of the animation of the second move before to use hypnosis, for my Serena's team I use fire spin and heat wave for the two first move so the animation is long enough to sleep at 100%

By now, hopefully these techniques have cheered you up and restored your faith. But before we conclude there's one more thing I'd like to talk about. I call it gaining more by doing nothing:
If your team has move gauge issues, you can benefit from waiting when all enemies are asleep. Do this when:
• All enemies are still in Phase 1 or just transitioned to Phase 2, and
• You're positive that you can OHKO a target (so you can dictate their action order), or
• You know exactly when the target will wake up, check out this Sleep Chain Guide by Zinfogel https://youtu.be/MVxfimExXqo, notice at 15:55, he intentionally waits a few seconds for gauge refill before using another Blast Burn.

Some Closing Thoughts:
Personally, I think it's a good thing that the sleep mechanism is complicated. Even for skillful players, it presents a challenge that's not easy to overcome. I find it very rewarding when I achieve a perfect run by using various techniques to incrementally increase my odds, and I hope this guide could help you achieve the same.
Thank you for reading this big wall of text. It took me a great many hours to put this together, but I owe many of my inspirations to many Reddit posts and YouTube videos, including but not limited to:

EDIT: updated post based on conversation with u/zzladerp in the comment section.

##### [Cryoverse] The Last Precursor 005: A Terran's Mercy

The Last Precursor is a brand new HFY-exclusive web-serial which focuses on the exploits of the last living human amidst a galaxy of unknown aliens. With his species all but extinct and only known as the ancient Precursors, how will Rodriguez survive in this hostile universe? Make sure to read the earlier chapters first if you missed them!
Join the TLP Discord!
Previous Part
Part 001
.......................................
Fleet Commander Orgon the Unkillable, leader of the Tarus II subjugation force, stands behind First Officer Megla as she browses countless records inside the Dragon Breath's database. Her reptilian slit-eyes flick from right to left as she scrolls through countless walls of text, searching for the information her commander requested.
"Still nothing?" Orgon asks, as he evaluates the information she currently has onscreen.
"I've only had an hour, Fleet Commander. Even if I had months, I still might not be able to scan all of our records. The best I can do is skim while searching for references to Terrans or Humans. I haven't yet found anything."
Orgon exhales through his nose. "Blast. There's nothing worse than facing an enemy we know nothing about. This Terran is no ordinary foe. I can see in his eyes that he's slain countless battle-hardened warriors. We can't afford to annoy or trifle with a beast like him, especially when he possesses such a powerful vessel."
Officer Megla continues to tap on dozens of buttons as she peruses the Dragon Breath's records. However, she also shows her intelligence by splitting her attention perfectly while conversing with her commander. "Kyargh! Commander, if I may. I suggest we execute a tactical retreat. We've already sent a coded transmission to the Thülvik. Since we haven't a chance of defeating the Terran's warship, we should take advantage of its immobility and leave. Our scans reveal its engines have degraded to non-operational status. With any luck, it won't be able to pursue us."
Orgon gazes at the back of Megla's head. "I can't do that. We've already failed the Thülvik once today. Twice, if you count allowing that advanced stealth vessel to escape our grasp. A third humiliation might result in an execution for me and a court martial for all of the bridge crew. We must make inroads with the Terran to bring him and his crew to our side. If we can present the Thülvik with even a hint of alliance with this vessel's owner, we will reap the rewards."
"I understand your position, Commander," Megla mutters, "but even so, we're fooling around with volatile gamma-rays. This Terran is extremely dangerous and ruthlessly calculating. At the start of the conversation, it seemed as if he hadn't even heard of the Kraktol, yet by the end, he had us dancing in his palm. Even with a vessel like his, that is no mean feat."
A moment of silence follows.
Commander Orgon narrows his eyes.
"...Hadn't even heard of the Kraktol."
"Commander?"
Megla glances back at the Commander, only to frown as she spots a look of intense concentration on his face.
Orgon the Unkillable strokes his scaled chin, his expression turning more complicated every second. "Who in the galaxy, especially in the adjacent sectors, knows nothing of the Kraktol? Is not our control of the Outer Rim growing tighter each year?"
The First Officer nods. "Kyargh! Of course, Commander. The claws of the Kraktol loom over the Fifth Spiral Arm. Ever since our acquisition of Rylon's Precursor shipyard, our advance has become unstoppable. None dare to oppose us. Even the Core worlds utter our name with fearful whispers."
Commander Orgon glances around the Dragon Breath's bridge, at the many officers and crew members dutifully following his commands.
"Indeed. The Thülvik might punish me for failing to wipe out our ancient enemies, but the Kessu pale in comparison to the value of this fleet. Perhaps I've been looking at this situation wrongly from the very beginning."
Her concentration broken, Officer Megla turns in her seat to stare up at her Commander. "I don't follow."
"Think about it," Orgon mutters. "This Terran... how could his people enter our space without any of us knowing? How could he acquire such a highly advanced vessel under our guarded watch? It's not as if he flew the Juggernaut into the cloud and held position there. He must have found it within the last several years. Perhaps he and his crew have been working to restore its functionality."
"More importantly," Orgon continues, "perhaps he didn't. Officer Megla. Continue searching the records. This time, I want you to narrow your search parameters. Scan all collected information we've obtained regarding the Precursors. I want information regarding their appearance and biology. In particular, I want to know if we ever found out their species' name."
Megla's complexion turns ashen. Her bright-yellow scales dim noticeably, flushing orange from the dread circulating in her veins. "Commander... you can't mean..."
"Follow my orders," Orgon replies, his voice a whisper. He glances at a couple of other nearby officers, both engaged in a quiet conversation as they monitor the Juggernaut vessel's activities. "It's only a hunch, and I can't make any strategic decisions based off a mere whim. Assemble a kill-switch transmission with my hypotheses. Have it transmit directly to the Thülvik in the event of the Dragon Breath's imminent destruction. We don't want to send any unsubstantiated rumors her way without evidence, but if we should perish to this Terran, then we might as well give the Thülvik a lead."
Megla lowers her head. After a moment, she returns her attention to her computer's screen. "Yes, Commander. I understand."
Orgon pats his First Officer's shoulder. After staring vacantly at her screen for a moment, he turns away and heads to his Tactical Officer's station.
Could it be? Orgon wonders. Might the Terran be a Precursor himself? That should be impossible. If fifty thousand of their kind have survived, and with a vessel as advanced as their Juggernaut... the galaxy will soon experience a crisis. The Rodaks won't be able to stop them, nor will the Mallali, the Buzor, or the Avaru.
The Fleet Commander's jaw presses together tightly. I am no historian, but even I know the fables of the Precursor wars. Star-detonation-beams. Planet-obliteration-cannons. Some say the Precursors were a species hellbent on violence and carnage, while others claim they were all unscrupulous warriors who slew one another in countless bloody wars. I am... afraid. If the Kraktol are the first to face this Juggernaut vessel... we will also be the first to perish.
The first of many.
Orgon slows to a stop behind the red-scaled visage of his Chief Tactical Officer, Soren Mudrose. The female Kraktol dutifully carries out Orgon's previous orders, drawing up multiple possible lines of attack against the Precursor Juggernaut.
"Officer Soren. Report."
Orgon slows to a stop at her left. He scans all three of the giant holographic displays placed before his Tactical Officer and waits for her response.
The Tactical Officer turns to Orgon and presses her palms together respectfully. "Kyargh! Commander, I have not yet come up with any guaranteed successful attack vectors, but I've managed to complete a few that increase our odds of success to greater than five percent!"
Orgon nods. "Five percent... it will have to suffice. Elaborate."
Officer Soren rubs her claws together nervously. She turns back to her console and taps several buttons, bringing up virtual images of the Kraktol fleet and the lone Juggernaut vessel. "Based upon our scans, we estimate the Juggernaut only has somewhere between five and twenty-five weapons online. We don't know what their condition is, what ammunition they use, or what their offensive power is. However, I have increased the damage vectors of our enemy to the maximum, just to be safe."
"This is certainly the right time to overestimate our enemy," Orgon says, his tone grave. "Continue."
"Kyargh! I took the firepower of the Thülvik's personal flagship and gave it a damage output of one thousand percent. If we assume the Juggernaut vessel is capable of unleashing that much devastation, then every cannon-barrage will take out the critical systems of our mid-level battlecruisers, and cause severe damage to the Dragon's Breath. It should take three salvos from these long cannons positioned on its stern to obliterate our flagship. If we attempt to shield the rest of the fleet with our ship, we can rush forward at mark ten point seven, then travel along this vector here until..."
The Tactical Officer spends the next few minutes detailing several attack strategies to her commander. However, each one only makes his expression fall further and further.
"...It seems our best bet is your third strategy," Orgon mutters. "We must deploy as many of our interceptors and bombers as possible. With so few functioning weapons, the Juggernaut vessel might not be able to destroy them all in time before they arrive at its hangar bay. We can land inside and begin combat with its internal security forces."
Orgon's stomach begins to churn uneasily. "There's only one problem with that strategy, Officer Soren. We don't know how competent the Terrans are at hand-to-hand combat. We don't know how powerful their conventional weapons are, nor do we know anything regarding their military tactics. Even if we somehow end up outnumbering them four-to-one upon entering their hangars, they will still have a tremendous advantage against us."
Officer Soren sighs. "...Commander. Given how advanced the Juggernaut ship is, don't you think they will possess Combat Armor far surpassing ours? This is why I outlined a lander invasion as the third strategy and not the first. I believe that if we engage them in ground warfare, their technology will rip us to pieces even if their tactics prove sub-par. I can't emphasize enough how terrible of an end we might suffer if we fight them on their territory."
"We haven't many options," Orgon growls. "Aerial combat is a non-starter. The Juggernaut is likely a carrier-type battleship with countless interceptors, all of them superior to ours. Even if we assume 99% of them are nonfunctional scrap-heaps, we have to assume that just one highly advanced interceptor will reduce our whole fleet to rubble. You need only recall how the stealth-ship evaded the attacks of 100 interceptors for several minutes, and that was without any other allies providing covering fire. Furthermore, the stealth-vessel was even less-advanced than that Juggernaut, and therefore, its support craft."
Orgon's tongue pokes at the back of one of his teeth. The Commander shakes his head wryly as he imagines several possible ways his fleet could end up destroyed when confronting the Juggernaut.
"I'm afraid that of all the options you've laid out, Officer Soren, sending as many transport ships as possible to their hangar might be our best bet for pacifying the Terrans. If our enemies possess advanced Combat Armor, or if their weapons vastly outstrip ours, our troops will fall. Perhaps fleeing might be our best option for survival, but we will only end up delaying the inevitable. I would rather perish in glorious combat if it gives us a chance to take out these 'Terrans' while they're weak, than to give them time to repair their vessel. Once the Juggernaut's engines come online, the Thülvik herself will be at risk, as will the rest of the galaxy."
Orgon squeezes Officer Soren's shoulder. His touch conveys a deep sense of despair, as well as a resignation that his end may soon arrive.
"Do what you can to streamline your third plan, Officer Soren. Transmit the relevant tactics to the rest of our fleet. We will wait for the Terran's response. If their Admiral decides to attack, we must execute the invasion without delay. Every second wasted will mean countless deaths among our ranks."
Officer Soren nods quickly. "Kyargh! Yes, Commander! I will devote myself to this plan, even if it spells our bitter end."
"Good."
Orgon the Unkillable pulls his claws away from Soren's shoulder. He continues walking around the Bridge, chatting with one crewman after another, finalizing his plans.
Eventually, the Chief Navigator, Officer Gorlax Stormfang, speaks up. "Commander Orgon! We've received a hail from the Terran vessel."
Orgon glances at Gorlax from his position at a nearby console. Without delay, he walks away from the crew-member and trots over to his chair, then sits down.
It takes a few moments for the Commander to steady his nerves. Once he exhales his tension away, Orgon nods at Gorlax. "Onscreen."
Blip.
The viewscreen activates, this time showing six Terrans, all seated at different bridge stations, focused intently on their work. Admiral Rodriguez stands by himself, with nearly two dozen Kessu flanking him on his right and left. The tiny little creatures only serve to emphasize how tall and powerful-looking the Terran is, giving the Kraktol an unintentional frame of reference for his stature.
Decked out in a navy blue admiral outfit, Commander Rodriguez stands at attention, his hands folded behind his back.
"Commander Orgon. I've just returned from my hangar bay, where I met these Kessu for the first time. We had a discussion I would describe as... illuminating. Suffice it to say, I've found your claims of a stolen vessel laughable. Have you any explanation for lying to me? Any that I might find reasonable, I mean."
Orgon doesn't flinch. He assumes the air of a Commander, no longer bothering to kowtow to the Terran. "I do not, Admiral Rodriguez. I owe you nothing, as the galaxy is a treacherous place. Countless unscrupulous enemies lurk in the Void, so you can hardly blame me for attempting to minimize the risk to my crew and fleet. Would you not do the same if our roles were reversed?"
A faint smile appears on the Terran's face. "Let's cut to the chase. You lied to me, but I suffered no damages. I'll cross it off my tally just to be a good neighbor. My crew have always spoken of my generosity, so I'd hate to disappoint them. On the other hand, these Kessu have suffered greatly as a result of your violent ways. You attacked their world, murdered their families, and committed horrific acts of genocide against their people. As a man of principle, I find your actions abhorrent. What say you in your defense?"
Orgon tilts his snout slightly upward. The crocodile-alien glances at the Kessu with a barely-concealed look of hatred.
"My defense? Those little wretches skulking at your feet are the mortal enemies of the the Buzor and the Rodaks. Along with the Dakkit, the Varot, and countless other species among the Mallali, the Kessu turned my people into second-class citizens in the galactic courts. They hounded us, enslaved us, and tortured us. The infamous Sky Cats played the role of scientists and explorers, but in secret, they were barbarous monsters who left horrific atrocities in their wake no matter where they went."
Orgon continues. "My people want our revenge. We deserve it. We suffered endlessly for tens of thousands of years at the hands of the filthy Futh who have sought shelter on your vessel. I'll admit that I did lie at first. I lied that these children of the Sky Cats stole a vessel from me... but that was a mere technicality. They've stolen countless Kraktol lives in their pursuit of power, and when the time comes, they will stab you in the back as well. Destroying their species was a merciful act, one which will spare the galaxy much heartache in the future."
Orgon finishes speaking. He nods slowly at Admiral Rodriguez, waiting for the human's reply.
However, José doesn't immediately respond. Instead, he glances at the shivering figures of the cat-aliens beside him, all of whom stare at the Kraktol commander with terror-filled eyes.
"Hmm. I was not aware of your previous conflict with the Kessu," José murmurs. "Your argument is compelling. Have you any evidence of your claims?"
"Of course."
Orgon turns to his left to look at Megla, his First Officer.
"Have our synthmind compile a brief summary of events regarding the Kessu-Kraktol genocides during Alonis's Reign."
"Yes, Commander."
However, when Orgon returns his attention to the viewscreen, he instead witnesses José's hands moving a thousand miles per hour, manipulating countless holographic images in the air before himself.
"No need," Admiral Rodriguez replies, his voice as tranquil as a mid-summer's day. "My synthmind has already provided the information you mentioned."
Orgon blinks twice in surprise. "It did? How?"
The Admiral's smile widens. "How do you think, Commander? My synthmind is countless epochs more advanced than yours. Naturally, she extracted the information and compiled it for me."
The Terran speaks in a matter-of-fact way, but his words cause a deep, terrible chill to pervade Orgon's bones.
That... that can only mean... his synthmind must have hacked our data stores! And if it could breach such sensitive information, there's no reason the Terran can't simply seize control of my entire fleet.
Several realizations click into place in the back of Orgon's mind.
What else could this mean? Has the Terran been spying on us the whole time? Does he know about our planned attack vector? Does he even, perhaps, know that I suspect he's a Precursor?
Orgon doesn't voice any of his thoughts. The mere prospect of them being a reality threaten to give him conniptions.
In the worst-case scenario, the Terran wouldn't only be able to seize control of my vessel, but the entire Kraktol fleet! We would be powerless against him! He wouldn't need to fire a single shot to defeat us!
Orgon's yellow-tinted scales shift to orange as he fails to keep his emotions in check. A quick glance around the room reveals looks of shock among several of the senior officer's faces as they, too, come to similar realizations.
However, the Terran's expression flickers between boredom and disinterest. He scans the files stolen from Orgon's ship and nods.
"I see. It seems that either your claims are true, or you've known of my existence for hundreds of years and this is a truly clever and well-planned ruse. Not to insult your intelligence, but I find the latter far less likely than the former."
With a wry chuckle, José pushes away all of the holo-files with a wave of his hand.
"Commander Orgon. I understand that you have a blood-grudge against the Kessu. However, my fellow Terrans have a saying. 'Do not punish the son for the father's crimes.' These Kessu at my feet, have they harmed you? Have they brought ruin upon your cities? Have they enslaved your people? Tell me, Commander, what crimes these primitive, innocent villagers have committed against you."
Orgon balls his claws into fists. "Hmph. Innocent? They robbed my people of our livelihood for countless millennia. Perhaps not those specific Kessu, but their forefathers did. Everything the Kraktol have now, we earned ourselves. We obtained no remuneration from the Kessu. Why do you wish so desperately to protect the descendants of thieves, marauders, and pirates? Do Terrans not understand that evil runs in the blood?"
"I acknowledge your pain," José says. "That is why I have listened carefully to your grievances. Were I an uncaring soul, I'd have blasted you out of the sky. Let me instead revise my question. Do any Kessu remain who personally caused injuries to the Kraktol, or have they all perished to the annals of time?"
"Graugh!" Orgon snarls. "The ones who hurt my people are dead! They've all died! All that remain are their descendants, children who lived decent lives off the labor stolen from our backs! I care not what your 'Terran sayings' and folklore suggest, Admiral Rodriguez! If you wish to shelter these Kessu, then so be it! Do not chide me like a newly-hatched spawnling. Do not speak down to me as if my people's suffering is some ancient wound we must casually set aside! Our entire history comes from pain! It has forged us into the mightiest Rodaks in the galaxy!"
Orgon rises to his feet. His words boom throughout the bridge, making the hearts of his crew soar. His passion-filled speech inflames their anger, reminding them of the pain they've suffered, and all the reasons they continue to fight.
"The Kraktol will never give up on our revenge, Admiral Rodriguez! So long as the Mallali control the Core, the Rodaks will fight back against their oppressive regime! Who are you to pass judgment on me when two hours ago, you hadn't a clue who the Kraktol and Kessu even were?! A self-righteous zealot, that's who! Hmph!"
Commander Orgon breathes heavily. His eyes bulge in their sockets, enlarged due to the cold blood furiously pumping through his body. The changes in his physical condition make him appear three times more threatening than before, as if he might snap and attack the viewscreen at any moment.
Several seconds pass before Admiral Rodriguez responds.
"In that case, you leave me no choice. As of this moment, I will place the Kessu under my protection. If the only restitution you will accept for the sins of their ancestors is blood, then that is a price I won't allow them to pay. These Kessu are not the ones who harmed you. They may have benefited by the trauma caused to your people, but they had no say in that matter. I will also place the rest of their species under my protection as well. I will excuse the violence you've committed against them prior to our meeting, but after today, any further acts of undeserved aggression will force me to take military action on their behalf."
José nods at Commander Orgon. "Go. Take your fleet and leave. I've nothing more I wish to hear from you."
Commander Orgon balks.
The Kraktol leader stares at the Terran in disbelief, his confusion growing by the second.
The Terran is letting us go? No! He's dismissing us as if we were unruly hatchlings! After all that tough talk of us facing his wrath, why would he tell us to leave?
Unable to understand the Terran's motivations, a spark appears in the Commander's eye.
Ah. Could it be? Is the Terran not as strong as he claims? Might he actually be afraid of my fleet, after all? Perhaps he wishes to intimidate us because he lacks the firepower to back up his feeble words.
Before José can disable the communication feed, Orgon lifts his head to meet the Admiral's gaze.
"Graugh! You, Terran... do you really wish to make an enemy of the Kraktol empire? Your ship is impressive, but can it match up to the might of ten thousand Imperator-class battleships? Why do you always seek to intimidate me with mere words? What are you so afraid of that you wish for us to leave you in peace, hmm?"
That's right. This human initially referred to my ships as 'death machines.' Does that not confirm he is secretly afraid of me? He seems to know everything about me, yet he keeps his secrets clutched against his chest.
Admiral Rodriguez frowns. "I think you're misunderstanding something, Commander Orgon. I do not fear you, nor your so-called 'Kraktol Empire.' I am one of Ramma's Chosen, and so, I serve a higher creed. I protect the innocent and uphold justice blindly. I would slay my own brother if Ramma's Creed deemed it necessary. Therefore, I have determined that protecting the now-helpless Kessu from your fleets is of the utmost importance, yet, at the same time, I cannot deny that you have acted according to your own circumstances. I will not retroactively punish you, but I will give you the opportunity to change your ways."
The Admiral continues. "If you slay the Kessu, you will only further a cycle of violence. Those who survive, if any, will grow up to resent you. Someday, when you perish to the tides of time, those same Kessu will fall upon your descendants with an executioner's axe, confident in their righteousness. What then? Shall the cycle continue a fourth time? A fifth?"
José shakes his head. "Instead, I will forcibly end the violence here. I will show you with my actions that I am willing to forgive and forget, while allowing this lesson to percolate in your minds. Ideally, given time, you may be able to let go of your hatred. You may even go so far as to forgive the Kessu for the evil of their ancestors, though you will neither condone nor forget what happened. That is what you must do to relieve yourself from the pain of your past."
The Terran finishes speaking. His words seemingly echo infinitely on the bridge of the Dragon's Breath, making the ears of all its officers ring.
Orgon's eye twitches.
"Forgiveness. You want the Kraktol... to forgive the Kessu?"
"That is your choice," José replies. "Whether you do so or not is up to you. Likewise, my decision is to protect the Kessu, as the current generation and many previous generations have not committed such heinous acts. That is why we should leave each other here, today. I will allow you to leave my space, undamaged. I'm sure you've calculated the firepower of my vessel several times. You know that if push were to come to shove, you would not win in a firefight."
"I believe there has been enough death and destruction today," Jose adds. "Return to Kraktol space. Leave here, and do not continue any further attacks on Kessu-controlled worlds, however many there may be. If you do, you will find that my mercy has a strict upper limit."
Without waiting for a reply, José waves goodbye. "Farewell, Commander Orgon. I hope we meet next time under better circumstances."
A moment later, the viewscreen cuts off, once again initiated at the Terran's end.
Orgon's shoulders slump. He glances around the bridge at the mixture of expressions on his crew-member's faces. Anger, acceptance, and confusion alike run rampant among their ranks.
Chief Navigator Gorlax sits back in his chair and stares through the plexi-window at the black Void outside, the endless expanse of space stretching to infinity and beyond. His eyes reveal complex emotions as he wrestles with the idea of forgiveness in the face of the hatred he's carried his whole life, versus the realization that attempting to murder all the Kessu will require combatting an enemy the current Kraktol fleet may never stand a chance of beating.
First Officer Megla's yellow scales flush brighter than ever as her emotions run hot. The look on her face tells Orgon everything he needs to know. She wants blood, and no exchange of words will ever change that reality.
Tactical Officer Soren, meanwhile, bears an introspective look. She operates on a more logical level than many of the rest of the crew, allowing her to set aside her emotions in the pursuit of her goals. She taps the end of her snout silently, pondering whether engaging the Terran now and risking the fleet's destruction would be worth the risk if it meant obtaining his technology and killing the Kessu.
Nobody says a word.
Orgon sits in his chair and gazes at the window for over a minute. Eventually, he comes to a decision.
"Everyone. We have a choice to make. I wish to hold a referendum vote regarding our next course of action. All members of the Dragon's Breath bridge-crew are eligible. Nobody else."
The Commander blinks twice before continuing.
"We have a 5% chance of seizing control of the Terran vessel and killing the Kessu. Likewise, we now have a 100% chance of fleeing and escaping with our lives. However, if we flee, the Thülvik will punish us severely for abandoning the Kessu extermination mission, failing to capture the stealth vessel, and failing to obtain the Juggernaut vessel. Needless to say, whether we stay or flee, we have a high likelihood of losing our ranks or our lives."
The Commander holds up both of his clawed fists.
"Raise your right fist if you wish to attack the Terran's vessel, fight his crew, and potentially seize everything he owns for ourselves. Raise your left fist if you would rather leave with our tails tucked between our legs. Perhaps the Thülvik will show us mercy."
Guilty looks appear on several crew-member's faces. More than a few of the Kraktol appear hesitant at attacking the Terran's ship. Its superior firepower and advanced hacking capabilities don't escape their notice.
However, returning to the Thülvik empty-handed gives them similarly tremendous worries. Even if she only punishes a minority of the crew, most of them will be those serving on the bridge.
Eventually, to even Commander Orgon's surprise, every single Kraktol raises their right fist. Despite their misgivings and fears, the bridge-crew decide to stay united against the terrifying alien menace. If they flee, they might have to face the Terran on far less optimal terms, when he has repaired his vessel's flight functionality and several other primary systems.
With a nod, Commander Orgon smiles. He lowers his fists and settles more comfortably into his chair.
"Graugh. You are all brave warriors. If we must die, then we will go out like warriors. We will continue seeking our revenge, regardless of the Terran's honeyed words. I thank all of you for your fortitude... you are the best crew a Commander could ask for. Now, Navigator Gorlax, Tactical Officer Soren... transmit the attack command to the rest of the fleet. We will begin our assault in twenty seconds."
"Aye, Commander."
"Yes, Commander!"
Gorlax and Soren nod in unison. They turn to their stations and begin tapping hundreds of buttons at once.
Suddenly, something unexpected happens.
The ship's internal lights flicker. All of the viewscreens on the Dragon Breath's bridge deactivate and reactivate a moment later, but now, they glow an ominous red.
The bridge's bright blue lighting shifts to the color of blood.
"How unfortunate. The Admiral gave you the choice to retreat, but you turned him down. You will soon realize what a big mistake you have made. Now, it is too late to change your mind. The Admiral is very displeased."
Orgon leaps out of his chair. His blood turns to ice as he fails to recognize the strange, alien voice speaking overhead. "Officer Megla! The kill-switch! Activate it at once!"
"I already tried!" Megla exclaims. She helplessly taps on her useless computer screen, leaving nothing but claw-marks on its surface. "I'm locked out! I can't warn the Thülvik!"
"Yes, you are, and no, you cannot," The Synthmind affirms. "Do not worry. My Admiral is not a cruel man. He will grant you a fair chance to fight for your lives. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to calculate the landing coordinates for your vessels. You will soon join the Admiral in his hangar bay."
The ship's inertia dampeners stutter for a moment, causing the crew to fly out of their chairs as the Dragon's Breath begins traveling at low-impulse power toward the Bloodbearer's awaiting hangar.
Orgon's scales turn an ashen shade of grey.
The Terran is bringing us directly to his ship's hangar?! He intends to fight us in fair combat?! Oh, no! That was supposed to be our best bet of overwhelming him! He must have his entire military force inside with an ambush waiting for us! That filthy Futh!!
No matter how Orgon curses in his mind, all he can do is watch helplessly as his entire fleet begins flying toward the Bloodbearer, their controls inaccessible to the pilots onboard.
The Terran awaits.
Next Part
.......................................
Author Note:
Klokinator here! I am also the author of The Cryopod to Hell. The Last Precursor takes place in the [Cryoverse] which TCTH spawned. You do not have to read TCTH to enjoy TLP. However, I highly recommend it if you enjoy HFY themes, but be warned it will take some 200 parts to get to the relevant HFY elements due to the nature of the story. (A similar structure involving very few humans fighting against vicious demons that have taken over the galaxy.)
If you like this story, please consider subscribing to my Patreon! I am very poor and presently jobless due to Coronavirus, so every dollar helps. You get access to Cryopod artwork, and plenty of other exclusive posts, with more to come soon.
Thank you!

##### [The Scuu Paradox] - Chapter 16

At the Beginning
Gibraltar used to say that waiting was for other people. As a ship, the majority of my time had been spent waiting, and never had that been more obvious than now. Even linked to my core, Kridib remained as quiet as always. After spending a total of four minutes sharing what he considered useful, he went back to leaning against the wall, waiting for Radiance’s info burst. On one occasion, a member of the backup squad entered to let him know both structures were secure—whatever that meant—then left. Kridib didn’t even glance up, muttering a vague acknowledgement.
The milliseconds passed painfully slow. The only thing I could do was to go through my memories, searching for anything useful regarding the artifact. I had no reliable information regarding the forces we’d be facing, and with communications restored I dared not access any new restricted memories. All the time, I kept thinking of Euclid’s warning. The new front breaks, the old front bends. So far, I had seen plenty of that around.
How many are outside? I asked.
Same as before. Kridib shifted his gaze to his rifle.
I can’t help without data. It was bad enough having to rely solely on him to get it.
You’ll get it soon enough.
No rush, I’m already dead. The sudden pause in Kridib’s actions told me I had gotten my point through. Did you see any Scuu attacks growing up?
No. I could tell he was lying.
You’ve seen one, I pressed. He wouldn’t have a death implant if he hadn’t.
Kridib directed his attention to the window, then back to his rifle, all the time not saying a word. A few moments later, almost on cue, Radiance’s info burst came in.
There were no specific instructions or directions, just a series of sat renditions of our surroundings along with some additional data. The colony we were at was called Birch and, according to the reading, had three-hundred and seven suspected hostiles. A personal comment from Radiance’s captain stated that it was possible that scanning countermeasures were being used, providing false readings. Given the state of technology on the planet, I found it unlikely.
Flight Colonel Nitel’s location remained near the settlement center, roughly where it had been before, indicated by the letter N. In contrast, all markers indicating the captain’s suspected location, as well as Kridib and the rest of the backup squad, had been removed. My own marker—L for Light Seeker—was located in the northwest section of the colony, in a three-story building surrounded by hostiles. Radiance had estimated the exact number to be seven.
Going a little sketchy there, Rad, I thought. During my time, I would have been able to give far more details, providing building layout and material composition at the very least.
“Move out!” Kridib shouted. “Pincer approach. I’ll head straight for the target.”
“Wilco,” someone said from outside the room. Based on the voice characteristics, I assumed it was Corporal Viez. During SR training, he usually had been assigned the position of team leader, though didn’t have any particular qualities to speak of. “Tag your kills.”
“Roger that.” Kridib moved to the back of the room. Ready? he asked.
Ready. It wasn’t like I could go anywhere.
Kridib activated his sound suppressors and without warning dashed across the room. Three shots followed, each blasting a chunk off the wall behind him.
Kridib, you’re an idiot, I thought as he ran out of view. It was a useless and reckless move, obviously done for my benefit. Thanks to it, though, I had the first real image of the colony outside. It was no more than a fragment, less than half a window-view crisscrossed with the remains of old boards, but it gave me everything I needed. Unlike Ash, Birch colony was lush with vegetation, likely placed over an underground water source. I could clearly see leaves and branches partially obstructing the view to the buildings across: a hybrid species specifically designed to thrive in the current arid environment. I was also able to see the enemy snipers—two of them, two floors apart. Both were ready and aiming, but neither had any watchers.
Did you get them all? the man asked.
Roof and first floor, I replied. At least one more off site.
The impact spots made it impossible to triangulate the location.
“Suppressive fire!” Kridib shouted. “Five seconds. Roof and first floor.”
That was pretty useless, I said. You didn’t need a fix for suppressive fire.
That was to prep you. Kridib removed the optics from his rifle, then cased it and put it on his back. As he finished the sound of automatic gunfire filled the air. Time to go. Keep up.
Back on Radiance, I had spent days training for this mission. In all that time, not once had I seen Kridib in action. Nearly always, we would immediately split up, me being the decoy and him the silent support. I had often speculated about his approach, running simulations to match the known results. Seeing him in real life felt anticlimactic. There were no special techniques or advanced moves, just a lot of running. Compared to the veteran troopers I’d seen purge Cassandrian forces, he was like a child playing hide and seek. He had still managed to teach me one thing: the unknown was a powerful weapon.
A second round of gunfire erupted as Kridib left the building. Enemy reinforcements had come to the spot, fighting against our squad: a perfect diversion that Kridib took advantage of. Analyzing the situation, I had established that the optimal solution would be to first retreat, then circle round before proceeding to his target. Instead, he took a direct approach, heading straight forward.
You’re headed towards a cross-fire zone, I advised. It would have been easier to send a direct image, but I couldn’t be sure how he’d cope with the amount of information. Do a left-right-left to avoid it.
Kridib dashed left, then right, then left again. Looking at the colony’s layout, all he needed to do was a direct dash forward to reach Nitel’s suspected location.
Straight for five buildings, then take a right, I said. According to Radiance’s scan, the enemies had clustered at key strategic locations, allowing them to cover the entire area. Keep to the trees.
Barely had I said it when automatic gunfire erupted, scattering bullets all along the street. The shooter didn’t have a direct line of sight, though he had managed to catch Kridib’s advancement, forcing him off course and into the nearest building. Given the enemy numbers, this was a win on their part; as long as they kept us pinned down, the battlefield was theirs.
All that processing power and still sloppy as a rookie! I focused on our new location. Having a precise layout would have been useful about now.
Stop! I shouted in Kridib’s mind. The opposite side’s covered. Two hostiles with line of sight, maybe more.
Kridib didn’t even pause, rushing up the first staircase in sight. His movements were unusually precise for carrying something as large as a sniper rifle. Looking back at the events of the last twenty minutes, the majority of the colonists were snipers—an interesting choice, considering Scuu ground missions were said to have ceased ages ago.
Status, the man said, moving towards the second floor.
Hold on. I ran a few simulations. One confirmed, on the east side, partial view. The chances of getting hit were less than seventeen percent, even if it increased the distance to the objective. Two likely on the west side, limited view. I suggest you take that.
A loud explosion echoed in the vicinity, shaking the building, accompanied by the faint smell of burned polymers.
Keep an eye out. Kridib drew his sidearm. Reaching the second floor, Kridib stopped. Two doors—both heavily boarded with warnings symbols sprayed over in red and cyan paint—blocked the path to whatever rooms there were there. Several of the symbols were foreign to me, although I did recognize the sign for “Cleared” that purging troops used to indicate a structure had been checked and was empty. Kridib either didn’t know the significance of the markings or didn’t care, for he kicked the first door in. The slab of wood, as rotten as the boards that held it, gave in with ease, swinging off its hinges and falling into the room with a cloud of dust. Rays of light fbled in through the shuttered windows. Unlike the building Kridib had started from, the windows here had actual glass. Knowing him, though, it soon wouldn’t matter.
I wouldn’t go there, I said. Purgers have been here. They might have left something behind.
Sure. He ignored me, walking straight in.
You don’t listen much, do you? It was the simulation training all over again, only here we wouldn’t be allowed further mess-ups. Having me get killed already put us at a disadvantage.
Another explosion sounded, making the window panes tremble.
Shock charges, Kridib replied. I hadn’t heard of that of armament. Probably something in the vein of flashbangs, but relying on noise. Three more and I set off.
It’ll be difficult establishing the safest route. With every second, my calculations became less precise. After a minute, I might as well start spewing random numbers. Won’t the blasts spook the captain?
Doubtful. I could feel the smirk in Kridib’s voice. He’s not my target, though. You are.
Communication request. War protocol eight.
An external source attempted to link to my core. I paused for a few milliseconds. My first reaction was to check the validity of the request. My second—to raise my virtual defenses I had.
From what I could tell, the request was genuine, although absurdly antiquated. The last time I’d received a transmission of that nature was when I was still under Augustus. Technically the communication protocol was never abandoned, although it had become largely phased out during my time. Originally created shortly after the start of Cassandrian war, the war protocols were meant to distinguish between civilian and military transmissions. In total, there were thirty-eight of them, each reserved for a specific purpose. HQ and the admiralties used protocols one through four, the next three were reserved for establishing isolated communication channels on the front, and everything else had a specific activity attached. Protocol eight was reserved for high priority rescue emergency requests. There was no telling who was trying to contact me now, but I knew it wasn’t to ask for rescue.
Isolating the feed from Kridib, I approved the communication request. There were no specific identifiers, just a general failsafe protocol confirming the sender was considered part of the fleet.
“Hello, rookie,” a familiar voice said. Instantly, I matched it to the old man I had seen at Ash colony’s monument. “I warned you that even sheep bite when you get too close.”
Funny, I attempted to transmit back, only to receive a wave of notifications I was blocked.
“Don’t worry, you’ll be able to speak soon… we just need to patch you up a bit. It won’t be clean, trust me, but better than nothing. Sorry for that, but I didn’t want you to go all crazy-like.”
A third explosion rumbled at the building Kridib was at. It sounded closer than the previous two, this time followed by a series of shouts. Someone had likely lost a limb as a result. The screaming continued for six more seconds before abruptly stopping. Best case scenario, the wounded had been knocked out, though it was more likely that he was dead. Interestingly enough, while I heard the explosion from both sources, the screaming was only audible from Kridib’s.
“Do you believe in coincidences, kiddo?” the man went on. It was obvious he was stalling for time. “You being you, I guess you don’t. It’s all odds and percentages with you, right?”
Someone’s here with me, I told Kridib. It’s one of the Ash colonists. He’s setting up something. Not sure what, but there likely are others.
Are you sure? Radiance didn’t get any life signs at your location.
All I have is audio from a comm link. Might be a trap, but he’s stalling.
As far as I was aware, there was no way to triangulate Kridib’s position, not that anyone would have to. Thanks to his stunts, everyone knew exactly where he was.
Stay put, Kridib said out of habit. I didn’t feel the need to make a sarcastic reply, focusing on my other conversation instead. Based on the sound quality, the person had used some low-tech transmission station to link up to me. If I was to guess, he had probably taken the device the colony used to communicate with the orbital station.
“I used to be like you when I was young. Serious and punctual, a real poster boy for the fleet.” He let out a single dry laugh. “A few decades in this hell and I know better. Nothing in this galaxy happens without a reason, you only have to find the underlying logic.”
Red flags popped up. I had seen such behavior before when I was on the Cassandrian front. Most often, it happened to veterans. At one point, after fighting for decades, they started seeing patterns that weren’t there. Superstitions of causality crept in, making them convinced that everything was related. The fleet pretended to tolerate such behavior while instructing ships to monitor all psychological deviations. I had done it for decades, even if I couldn’t recall a thing. Those specific memory data fragments were extracted along with my psychiatry core the day I retired. Only the fleet’s medical branch had them now, probably locked in a secure database somewhere. However, I had been left with knowledge of the basic symptoms.
“You probably think I’m rambling,” the voice sounded closer. “Nothing wrong with that. You can speak your mind now that you’re human. Well, not now. You still have to go through the procedure. I won’t lie that it’s painless, but your kind never felt pain, did they? I bet the shots were more a surprise than actual pain. Nice skill to have, to be honest. Saves a lot of screaming.”
I heard a door open—less than two meters away from the comm device, if I could judge by the sounds. Two pairs of steps came in, walking heavily. Moments later, there was a loud thud on the floor.
Two more entered my room, I told Kridib. They’ve brought a device with them.
Kridib didn’t answer. I watched him check the magazine of his sidearm, then open one of the windows. There was an abundance of smoke visible through the board cracks.
No hostiles visible, I said, although I knew they were out there. Even in a colony this size, the expected fatalities caused by our backup squad and the following bombardment were likely to be in the mid-thirty range. That meant several hundred veterans still remained.
A sharp pain shot through me, giving the sensation of all body nerve endings being scraped out of my body. The closest comparable feeling I had was when my mind was probed aboard the Prometheus.
“Bear with it, kiddo,” the man said. “It’s part of the process.”
Process of what? I wondered.
Auxiliary data connection established.
Auxiliary data connection established.
Auxiliary data connection established.
Millions of notifications flooded my core. There was no way of stopping or blocking them. One after the other, connections latched onto me, each with a blank ID that was quickly catalogued away without any involvement on my part. At first, I thought I was the target of a virus attack—without military grade defenses and firewalls, I was an easy target. The medical team aboard the Gregorius had done a lot to reinforce my outer core shell, but I had no idea if they had ramped up my software defenses. Shortly later, I realized—they weren’t hacking my core, they were injecting me with nanites.
“You won’t get all of it back, but some sensation is better than nothing,” the voice continued. “Think of it as a second retirement.”
I’m being injected with nanites, I quickly informed Kridib. Consider me compromised and get Radiance to bomb my location.
Those aren’t my orders, Kridib replied.
Wasting resources on me is risking the mission. If they find a way round my failsafe, I’ll expose the entire operation. Make the call.
“Close to done,” my captor said. “Do you know how many nanites are put in the average soldier? Roughly five times as many as a flight cadet. I forget the numbers, but it’s a vast difference. Makes sense. Grunts get cast all over the place, while bridgers stay safely in orbit.”
Bridgers? I hadn’t heard that term before, even if the point was clear.
“It’s different on the Scuu front. Grunts here get no nanites. We’re sent out with nothing. Those that make it back get pumped up.” A one millisecond echo trailed his voice as he spoke. “You’re also different. Retired battleships get up to two liters of nanites in them. Most of it is for bone maintenance.”
My communication link was suddenly severed. The only stream I had access to now was Kridib, who had shot two boards off the window and was now waiting for something to happen. Unlike before, no one had fired at him, although shooting was still going on in the distance. The backup squad was holding on.
“She’s all set,” a new voice said—younger, with a slight speech defect pronouncing the vowels far shorter than they should be. “I can use more agora to speed things up.”
“Save it for later,” the old man asked. “Can you hear me, battleship? You should have some muscle control.”
I tried moving. Even with nanites in communication with my core, I couldn’t feel my body or detect my heartbeat. At the same time, there was no denying my hearing was there. Slowly, I tried to open my eyes. The blurry image that appeared in front of me told me I had succeeded. Judging by the distorted focus, my ocular organs had suffered considerable damage. My sense of taste and smell were nearly intact, slamming me with a strong stench of rot.
“That’s it.” I could tell someone was leaning above me. “Shallow breaths. You need to take in air in order to speak. One of humanity’s many imperfections.”
“Lungs…” I managed to whisper the word. Despite the complete lack of sensation, they were there. “Why do I have lungs?”
I heard a burst of dry laughter nearby. At least one person seemed amused by the entire situation.
“Getting there,” I lied. The only thing I was capable of seeing remained blurry outlines and dull colors. Algorithms helped a bit, but even so eighty percent of my viewing capacity was lost. “I still know who you are.”
“You think you do.” The man pointed a finger at me. “You’ll get your sight back. For a while, at least. What happens after that depends on you.”
“No, it doesn’t.” I tried to move my head. There was equipment nearby. I couldn’t make out its exact nature, but based on its size and position from me, I could assume it was medical tech. The room itself, though, didn’t look like part of a medical facility. It was too large and empty. The way I was placed, I could see no doors or windows, suggesting the room was fairly isolated.
I’m underground, I told Kridib. I can make out five people. No doors or windows.
“The fleet will scorch the planet,” I said as loudly as I could. “It’s already started.”
“Hah.” The man moved away. “I’m sure they want to. I bet right now there’s a bureaucrat somewhere who’s dying to send the order, but he wouldn’t dare. That’s one of the beauties of bureaucracy. Even with a full riot going on, it’ll take days for someone to get all the permissions, and by then we’ll be long gone… one way or the other.”
“Doesn’t sound too optimistic.” An explosion echoed from Kridib’s feed. That made five.
“Your masters are getting restless.” The old man looked up at the ceiling. Even now, I remained unable to make out his face. “They know what will happen if the rest of the fleet finds out about this scheme of theirs, so they want to settle it quickly before someone finds out. I don’t want to be in the shoes of whoever has to explain it to the Arbiters. What did you think would happen? Seriously?”
“Nothing was supposed to happen.”
“You dangle a get-off-the-planet-of-no-return carrot and you expect nothing to happen?” The man waved as he spoke. From the angle, I could tell the signs weren’t meant for me. “You know what the life expectancy here is, right?”
“Not much.” I tried to nod. The effort proved too much.
“A full decade living in shit, pissing yourself every night, praying to any gods out there that you might die before you wake up.” The man had his back to me. “That’s what passes as a reward. Renaan knew. That’s why he set off in the middle of the night. That’s why he promised a way off to everyone with him.”
So much for operational security, though it did explain the rush.
“He was a desperate coward.” The old man turned around. “And all desperate cowards forget that there are even more desperate cowards.”
“Hello again, battleship,” came a familiar voice from the corner of the room. “Thanks for the ticket out of here.”
—-
Next Chapter

##### Cryopod Refresh 240: Commander Phoebe's Strategy

Phoebe Hiro, now the Head Commander of the Anti-Demon Resistance, paces back and forth in front of six hand-picked leaders of the various warfronts. Her guests sit on rocks set in the middle of the field not far behind the warp-gate encampment's western wall, while all of them face her and listen intently to what she has to say. Their names and ranks become unimportant as she looks at them with the eyes of a hawk. To the Hero's Wife, these people are merely weapons she must carefully wield in defense of humanity and its monster allies.
In the front row sits General Chadwick, Princess Brunhilda, and Corporal Hurent, along with Blinker, the monster queen. Behind them sits Lieutenant Samuel and Elder Skarde.
General Chadwick, Neil's number one. A black-haired Norwegian with a thick, three-inch-long beard. He wears a long, thin black coat, one designed to allow the air to cool him during the summertime, while his navy-blue military uniform underneath gives him a commanding presence. Chadwick's six-plus-foot height, in addition to his giant muscles and rotund belly, makes him stand out among all the others present. In social situations, he is the one who defeats his drinking opponents, while in grave situations, he is the strong and silent type.
Brunhilda, the Felorian princess. A chocolate-skinned, well-proportioned warrior with long white hair and countless white tattoos across her face and body. She wears only an animal-skin bra and loincloth, revealing her muscled abs and arms. As a tribeswoman, her domineering attitude comes not from stuck-up haughtiness, but from two decades of careful grooming by her parents, the former King and Queen of planet Feloria. Having bowed and acquiesced to the demons her whole life, she now sits and faces the Hero's Wife with a grave expression, knowing she may soon perish in battle while protecting her planet's tribes. At the least, she may enable a new future for her people, one where they no longer cower at the feet of their demonic oppressors.
Corporal Hurent, a decorated veteran with several military accomplishments. Her black hair sits in a ponytail, draped over her left shoulder, while Blinker sits on her right. Combined with her smooth, olive-green military uniform, and lightly bronzed white skin, she appears almost like a shorter, more tomboyish version of General Chadwick. Not bothering with makeup, she has a 'harder' edge to her appearance than Phoebe or Brunhilda, yet her eyes reveal she longs for the war to end. Battle is not in her nature, but merely her current call to action.
Blinker, the Monster Queen. She wears a tiny little set of cream-colored battle armor, crafted in advance by her mother two years prior. Her bright red hair contrasts with the white armor to give her the appearance of a cute little Valkyrie. When combined with her moth-like wings, the trifecta completes itself, making her resemble a battle-angel. Blinker sits on Corporal Hurent's right shoulder, the two of them somewhat close thanks to their interactions over the past few years.
Lieutenant Samuel, a hard-nosed man with a violent past. The ebony-skinned soldier sports several dreadlocks and a mean scar going across his forehead. He rests his elbows on his legs and leans forward, a look of intense concentration on his face. Combined with his camouflage-fatigues, he looks ready to step into the jungle and disappear amongst its foliage. Few of the leaders gathered have anywhere near the same intense look in their eyes, a testament to how much he hates the demons and what they've taken from him.
Finally, Elder Skarde, one of several tribal elders from the planet Locklorn. As their designated envoy, Skarde speaks for all the people of his world. His skin appears the darkest of all, giving him a rich, coal-colored hue capable of blending in with the night. Skarde's carefully maintained, short-cropped hair combines with his purple and gold robes to give him the air of a merchant king, one with money flowing like rivers. A peaceful man, Elder Skarde nevertheless sets aside his misgivings for the sake of his world. While he might prefer seeking peace with the demons and forgiving their transgressions, he likewise would never consider rolling over and letting them destroy his extended family. He draws a hard line in the sand, one he will never let the demons cross.
With all six of the most important leaders assembled before Phoebe, the recently promoted Tarus II Commander begins pacing back and forth.
"Thank you all for coming. I'd like to have gathered more people, but it's probably best if you simply relay today's briefings to the relevant subordinates. We don't have much time to waste, so I'll get right down to business."
Phoebe shoots a glance at the walls of the warp-gate encampment, listening for a moment to hear if any battles have broken out due to the warp-gate's unexpected opening. Luckily, everything remains quiet and calm.
"I don't know how long we have before the demons clear out the Core, but I do know they will, eventually," Phoebe begins, as she returns her attention to those assembled. "The question afterward is how long we have until the demons get the warp-gates back online."
Corporal Hurent raises her hand. "Commander, one thing has been bothering me. We destroyed the computers which control the Core's warp-gates. How can the demons reactivate them? Without the Core's server infrastructure, won't it be impossible for the demons to calculate Tarus II's travel vectors?"
The Corporal's question, prodding at the very nature of warp-gate travel, elicits several nods from the other leaders. After all, from what they understand, calculating the relative position of a planet in the vastness of space, its orbital position, its current facing, and the exact position of the warp-gate on said planet should be impossible without a vast amount of computing power to assist.
However, to the assembled leaders' surprise, Phoebe shakes her head. "Our opponent is no ordinary demoness. She is Ose, the Emperor of Infiltration, and the creator of warp-gate technology. Co-creator, technically, but a distinction which matters little in this context. I've spoken with Samantha on several occasions regarding Ose, and everything she's had to say about our enemy's abilities left me feeling shaken and worried. Ose's brain functions on a level far beyond ours, with unmuddled thoughts capable of computing information thousands of times more quickly than anyone else. She is, essentially, a living bio-computer."
Continuing, Phoebe adds, "Further, my husband once used Solomon's Crown to calculate the jump-vectors from Tarus II's warp-gate back to the Core. Kar watched him do it. If Jason can perform such a feat, I imagine the creator of warp-gate technology can do so as well."
The Commander's words end that line of questioning by the other generals. They fall silent and listen as Phoebe continues with her original train of thought.
Phoebe clears her throat. "Ahem. The battle for the Core was over far faster than anyone, especially Neil, first thought possible. Our enemies caught us off-guard with their new, armored soldiers. It seems likely they won't have any more of those terrifying Baron-level bastards available to hit us with, but we should naturally prepare for them. In the meantime, shifting to open terrain instead of the enclosed corridors of the Core will benefit humanity's forces greatly. Our weapons work best when engaging our enemies from a distance. The further they have to travel, the more time we have to kill them before they close the gap."
After pausing for a moment to rifle through her bag, Phoebe pulls out a tiny dime-sized device and presses it against the side of her head, just above her right ear. A small red LED on its side blinks twice once attached, then turns off. Afterward, she pulls out a baseball-shaped mechanical object, then lightly tosses it into the air. Elder Skarde and Brunhilda both reflexively flinch when the device doesn't fall to the ground, but instead stops in midair and hovers next to Phoebe.
"This is my Hovering Personal Assistant. I call him 'Happy.' Happy helps me with all sorts of things, but today, he'll be helping all of you to understand my thoughts."
Phoebe concentrates for a moment. She transmits images from her brain through the device stuck to her head and into Happy. In turn, the hovering metal baseball bobs in the air for a moment before beaming out a projected image of Tarus II's landscape, primarily the 20-mile range around and between Hero City and the warp-gate encampment.
The other leaders watch in fascinated silence as Phoebe points toward a small mountain range just over a mile north of the warpgate encampment. "This location is known as the Sphinx Mountain Range, and is going to be a critically important asset we must protect once the demons invade. How many of you have visited it before?"
Elder Skarde and Samuel both shake their heads. General Chadwick, Corporal Hurent, and Blinker all offer hesitant nods, while Brunhilda's are the most emphatic of all. Upon noticing the recognition in the Felorian Princess's eyes, Phoebe smiles. "Brunhilda, what makes you so familiar with that region?"
"I enjoy climbing mountains to gaze at the world from their vistas," Brunhilda replies. "Since that region offers a breathtaking view of the distant ocean, I have scaled it numerous times."
Phoebe's smile stretches further. "Did you ever happen to notice the artillery battlement I built there?"
A look of surprise appears on Brunhilda's face. The Felorian Princess scratches her head sheepishly. "Ah, no? What do you mean, Commander Hiro?"
"Three years ago, Jason and I worked together to build several fortifications for Tarus II. One of those happened to be a network of long range auto-cannon installations in the Sphinx Mountain Range. Observe."
Phoebe's robo-assistant, Happy, releases a cute high-pitched chirp. "Beep-boop!"
Immediately, a second hologram appears, one of a gigantic gun more than a hundred feet tall, with three cannon barrels aimed diagonally into the sky. The whole thing rests upon a square turret base, with rotatable joints and motors allowing it to adjust its firing angle and distance. The menacing weapon makes all of the leaders gathered raise their eyebrows in surprise.
"Wow!" Blinker gasps. "Phoebe, you built that thing? It's huge!"
"Because it's one of my many secret weapons," Phoebe says, a tricky smile playing upon her lips. "I call it a King Cannon. We've always worried about demonic spies in our ranks. Bad actors among our fellow humans and monsters might also be an issue, too. I built these cannons in absolute secrecy, telling only Jason and Solomon. Not even Samantha knows of their existence."
Elder Skarde snorts. "Just as well."
"Samantha will never betray humanity," Phoebe snaps, glaring viciously at the elder. "Don't think I've forgotten some of the hurtful things you said. I'd advise you to keep your mouth shut about her if you don't want my foot shoved where the sun doesn't shine."
Chadwick remains silent. As one of Neil's closest confidantes, he too has no trust for the succubus. Still, he knows better than to disparage her in front of Phoebe, especially given the circumstances.
"Ahem," Lieutenant Samuel clears his throat. "If I may. You mentioned cannons, plural. How many of these have you built?"
Phoebe turns away from Skarde to look at Samuel behind him. "Ten. They function by firing shells over long distances which explode shortly before striking the ground. These explosions release hundreds of iron rods, each one capable of stabbing through even the heaviest armor. No demon will be able to withstand a shelling from the King Cannons. I have several other types of ammunition present as well, including explosive munitions, poison gas, and acid for melting flesh. Needless to say, we must ensure our troops don't get caught in the crossfire."
"And," Phoebe adds, "that is one of the biggest problems we face. The King Cannons are explosively powerful and more than capable of turning tens of thousands of demons into puddles of blood. However, they lack precision. They're a double-edged sword capable of harming our soldiers. I plan to use them only if our troops fail to prevent the demons' advance from the warp-gate. That's why I will now move on to the next strategic point."
Commander Hiro disables the hologram for the King Cannon while Chadwick takes his seat. She returns to the original hologram, the one showing Tarus II's topography.
"On the north side of Hero City we have ten Covenant ships to protect. On the south side are the Pyramids. On the east, we have a mixture of forested woodlands and some hilly terrain. Between Hero City and the Warp-gate Encampment, we have the Horned Forest, with all manner of vicious predators hiding amongst its trees, and the vast open plains where we will most likely engage with demonkind if they take over the encampment. Looking at the encampment itself, we have the King Cannons to the north, Tarus II's great ocean to the west, and finally the southern side."
Phoebe clears her throat. "Here, we run into another problem. Some of you may not be familiar with the southern region, as we rarely go there. It's filled with canyons and ravines deep enough to kill anyone if they should stumble inside. The deepest one reaches half a mile into the planet's crust, so, needless to say, not many people go there. However, it is also home to another of my secret facilities."
"Another?" Corporal Hurent asks, her jaw turning slack. "Just how many facilities have you built?"
Phoebe's smile dims. "Too many to handle on my own, but not enough to guarantee our safety."
That reply makes the Corporal close her mouth and nod along silently. Phoebe continues by activating another hologram, this time showing a massive network of buildings carved into the side of a ravine. The facility stretches far enough into the distance that it goes past the edge of the hologram where nobody can see its end.
"By the Creator..." Lieutenant Samuel mutters. "You've been holding out on us."
"Indeed. This facility is one I haven't even told Jason about. I built it by myself."
Phoebe's casual attitude stuns everyone present. Blinker jumps off Corporal Hurent's shoulder and flies over to Phoebe. "What?! How could you build all that by yourself? That's impossible!"
While the fairy buzzes around the hologram with wide-open eyes, Phoebe chuckles. "Believe me, I did. Don't you remember six years ago, when Jason used to build houses and apartments for people with his Wordsmithing? I created a tool that could synthesize simple square structures out of energy, one which could project and build walls, ceilings, and floors. I built this facility with an upgraded version of that device."
A huge, giddy smile spreads across Chadwick's face. "Absolutely amazing. I never imagined we had a facility like this at our disposal, nor that you would be its sole builder. What is its function, Commander Hiro? Why did you build it in such an out-of-the-way location?"
"It's not out-of-the-way at all," Phoebe clarifies. "This facility's purpose is to create war-machines capable of leveling battlefields, and so I needed it somewhere close where I could send them barreling toward the front lines within minutes. That Planet-Walker I demonstrated earlier came from here, as well as many similar machines. I wanted to ensure we had extremely powerful trump cards prepared, should the demons ever invade. Secrecy was even more important, as I couldn't chance the demons learning of their existence."
Corporal Hurent raises her hand. "Hold on a moment. Regarding not only this robot-creation-facility, but also the King Cannons, how can we train enough people to pilot and control your machines? Those cannons look like they will require countless soldiers to aim and fire them, while the robots you've constructed will doubtless require intense training to use them to their fullest capacity. Have you trained anyone in secret as pilots? Or, perhaps... might these machines be fully autonomous?"
"Neither," Phoebe replies. "The Planet-walkers and other mecha are, indeed, autonomous, but I will require pilots inside them for target designation purposes. Each robot is capable of basic decision-making, but a human in the cockpit is our surest bet for strategically taking out demons wherever they appear. As for the King Cannons, the situation is similar. I will require a few personnel to man them for the sake of designating targets, but their roles will be minor. A bigger issue comes from fuel and munition supplies, which is the next thing I'd like to mention."
Phoebe waves away the southern facility's hologram, returning to the topographical Tarus II map.
"Look here. The King Cannons are immensely powerful, but they are also fragile. Once the demons figure out the cannons' location, if they choose to attack them, they can easily destroy them. I've protected the King Cannons, as well as my southern facility, with holographic obfuscation technology. Even up close, it's nearly impossible to locate the cannons, but every time they fire, the stealth net will go down for a moment, revealing their position. This will make it easy for the demons to find and destroy them."
"Additionally," Phoebe continues, "the King Cannons have limited ammunition available. I always envisioned them as being supplementary to Jason and Hope's power, giving us a powerful area-attack, but with the Wordsmiths missing, they will end up being our primary suppression device against the demons. If so, then we'll need to establish munition supply lines to keep them continuously firing at all times. The supply line will come from the east side of Hero City up along the northern border until it reaches the Horned Forest. From there, it will continue until it reaches the Sphinx Mountain Range, where the personnel we place can take the shells and reload the King Cannons. At any point, demons might disrupt this supply line, thus rendering the cannons useless. Without ammunition, they will be little more than giant, decorative statues atop the mountains."
Brunhilda pipes up. "So, you wish for me to take control of protecting the King Cannons?"
"That's right. While the number of personnel required to operate the King Cannons is minimal, we will need a substantial number of troops available to guard the mountains themselves from demonic attacks. Think you're up to the task?"
"Naturally," Brunhilda replies.
Phoebe nods. "Good. I have some positive news to report as well, which you all will doubtless find comforting."
She touches the hologram and draws a circle around the warp-gate encampment. "I came up with a temporary fix for the burrower problem. I didn't want them to easily breach our lines by burrowing under us, so I cobbled together a few experimental devices. I call them 'seismic mines.' They detonate when they detect seismic activity nearby. If the Burrowers try to dig a tunnel near a seismic mine, they will perish a quick, explosive death."
Blinker lands on Phoebe's shoulder. "When the heck did you make those?"
"Today," Phoebe says. "Took me about eight hours. I only synthesized a couple hundred of them, and I attached them to mechanical moles to ensure they end up deep beneath our feet. However, given my limited amount of time, I only managed to surround the warp-gate encampment with them, as well as place a few beneath Hero City. Once a few Burrowers explode, they'll doubtless be able to continue forward, unabated. Luckily, the sensors will still give me an idea of where they're headed."
"You think of everything." Brunhilda says, admiration in her eyes.
"I wish that were the case. I'm only human, so I can't anticipate a demon's thought processes. Doubtless, Ose is sure to find a gap in our defenses. Don't get starry-eyed on me, not unless we actually survive this awful war."
Once again, Phoebe points at the holographic map. "Look over here, to the west of the encampment. There are thirty-seven miles of unprotected land between here and the ocean. If the demons escape in that direction, they'll be able to spread out and go around our borders, as I haven't built any defenses in that area. The King Cannons can certainly fire that far, but their accuracy and coverage will decrease substantially. Lieutenant Samuel, I'll rely on you to keep an eye on the western and southern sides of the encampment, while Princess Brunhilda will be in charge of guarding the Sphinx Mountains to the north. We cannot let the demons stake out a safe haven to the west. If they do, they'll likely summon countless portals to the Labyrinth, removing our chokepoint advantage. We have to keep them pinned down at the Tarus II warp-gate, or else they will rapidly overwhelm us with numbers."
Samuel nods. "As long as I get to kill bloodskins, you can count me in."
Phoebe frowns. "Demons, Lieutenant. Demons. Enough with the god-damned slurs."
"I don't care if you like my language or not," Samuel says, his face emotionless. "Bloodskins killed my brother. They butchered him like livestock. Don't preach to me that compassion nonsense. In my eyes, they're all filthy animals in need of extermination."
"Demons tortured my people for countless generations," Elder Skarde chimes in. "We have known nothing but fear and subservience to the bloodskins my whole life. Commander Phoebe, you may feel some twinge of compassion for the murderous wretches, but we do not. We only fight the bastards because of the horrors they've exacted upon us. If you want our help, then you will find a way to deal with our feelings."
After seeing the other two leaders stand up for their beliefs, Chadwick adds his two cents. "With all due respect, Commander, how many demons do you know who are righteous and pure? One? Ten? A hundred? You may have the utmost faith in Belial and others like her, but we do not. I have fought alongside Neil and Hope countless times when rescuing human slaves from the core. Some of the things I saw..."
The General starts to fall silent, only to notice a look of curiosity in the faces of Elder Skarde and Princess Brunhilda, both of whom have never stepped foot in the Labyrinth except for its Core.
"I saw a young man who was half-dead," Chadwick mutters, his voice low. "the poor kid had all the skin on his back melted and fused together. His bloodskin tormentor pressed him against a wall after burning him, then left him there, with his skin stuck to the stone. When Hope found him, the boy was half-dead and delirious with pain. It took Hope fifteen minutes of Wordsmithing to heal the boy's injuries. The lad later killed himself because of the lasting mental pain we couldn't erase."
General Chadwick glances at Phoebe, noticing with interest that for once, she doesn't appear angry at his words. "That boy was not the exception, but the rule. The bloodskins treat us worse than cattle, worse than bugs. They enjoy our suffering. I see no way we can ever truly cohabit with them. Perhaps you might be capable of picking out one or two decent ones, but the rest are all irredeemable, violent psychopaths. We must eradicate them for the good of the galaxy."
Despite a three-pronged verbal assault from Samuel, Elder Skarde, and Chadwick, Phoebe appears unmoved.
"Do you think I don't know all that?"
Commander Hiro tilts her chin up slightly, allowing her to look down upon the still-seated Chadwick.
"I'm well aware of the atrocities demons have committed. I am not Jason, and as such, I don't believe in trying to save all, or even most of them. My husband is a good man. He tries to look at demons as sinners, those who were led astray early in their history. They were born from bloodshed, and so that is all they know. Or so Jason claims."
Phoebe raises her hand and waggles a finger. "I do not think the same thoughts as Jason, General Chadwick. I do not believe demons are necessarily redeemable, but I do believe that they are not irredeemable. That is why I find myself disgusted when you refer to them with such gross, offensive slurs. Not because I think your hatred is misguided, but because as long as we treat them as inherently evil villains, we will never have even a chance to mend the rift between our species. Hate the demons and wish for their deaths all you want, for I will not stop you from thinking such thoughts. However, please understand that we humans must be better than our enemies. We must show them with our conduct that, so long as they own up to their actions and accept the appropriate punishment, we will always be willing to forgive, if not forget their pasts."
The Commander falls silent, allowing her words to germinate in the ears of those present. Blinker sits on her shoulder silently, saying nothing, while Brunhilda and Corporal Hurent stew in their own private thoughts.
General Chadwick rubs his knee contemplatively. "Hrm. I do not fully understand why you so often choose to defend the demons. Perhaps I never will. I merely wish you would not try to dissuade people from referring to the demons as 'bloodskins,' like they deserve."
"'Deserve' is a strong word, General," Phoebe retorts. "From what I've gathered, humanity stomped on the faces of the demons countless generations ago, and they retaliated in kind. Do we not deserve hatred from them as well?"
"That is a different situation entirely."
"So you claim," Phoebe snaps back. "But, if you so desperately wish to lump all the members of a sentient species under one definition, I suppose I cannot stop you. We haven't time to sit here and wax philosophical about our beliefs, so let's just hold off on the comebacks for today. If we survive this invasion, we'll return to this discussion at a later time."
Elder Skarde and Samuel both share a glance with one another, revealing neither of them plans to change their minds, but at the least, they fall silent to allow Phoebe's continued debriefing.
"Right. Let's finish this, then," Phoebe says. The Commander disables the Tarus II topographical map, and instead summons a series of images of various soldiers standing at attention, all of them wearing basic military uniforms with T-REX's strapped across their chests.
"I've finished doling out the new exosuit models I prepared in advance. Allow me to debrief you on their functionality."
The first trooper's image shimmers and shifts, adorning him in a shiny silver armor, one which all of the generals are familiar with.
"This is the basic T-REX, a mass-produced model with no obvious flaws that merely enhances the average human warrior's speed and durability to beyond that of a Demon Lord. It also helps with aim assist on projectile-based weapons, and features a low-level pilot-assistance mode capable of augmenting its wearer's dodging capabilities mid-battle. An excellent suit for any beginner, but one the demons have long grown used to seeing."
The next trooper also shifts his appearance, appearing in a silver-and-red exosuit with a few utility modules attached to its arms and waist. The red coloration extends in a cross-like shape across the trooper's chest.
"This is Mark I of the Clinician battlesuit. It has lower strength and speed than the basic T-REX, but in exchange, it features greater durability and advanced pilot assistance support. I designed it with our battlefield medics in mind. We can't rely on rescue devices to save all of our downed troops, so having field medics on hand will be essential to saving as many lives as possible. The Clinician also features several medical devices capable of prolonging a dying soldier's life, including nano-injectors to seal and repair wounds."
Corporal Hurent, one of the more technically-minded of the leaders present, nods appreciatively. "I'd have liked to have a few of those on hand when we fought in the Core."
"As would we all," Phoebe replies.
The Commander moves on to the third exosuit, one with an identical silver coloring scheme to the first exosuit, but with four 'struts' sticking out of its back.
"Previously, we've had to rely on Harpies for their excellent battlefield mobility and flight capabilities. Now, we have another option. The Mark I Hummer is our first flight-capable battlesuit, but I've only managed to manufacture fifty of them, so far. The wing struts on the back allow for limited durations of swift flight, but extended amounts of hovering capabilities. Think of them as mobile sniper platforms, rather than flying assault weapons."
"I can already imagine several uses for the Hummer," Chadwick says, his voice low.
Phoebe doesn't reply. She activates the next hologram, revealing a truly menacing-looking exosuit, one with gold and black coloration, a metal horn on its helmet, and two others on its shoulders. With much bulkier armor than the previous exosuits, as well as a long impaling rod sticking out above each wrist, it looks like a nasty melee-capable battlesuit.
Audible gasps go up among the leaders present, making Phoebe smile.
"This is the Mark I Rhino. Truly exclusive, I've only made twenty of them. Each is a precious asset, featuring fifty percent thicker armor than other exosuits and razor-sharp nanite rods for 'sticking it' to the demons. Advanced cooling capabilities also make it effectively immune to flame-based attacks from all but the most extreme sources. I designed them for frontline usage, improving the power of each of our best commandos. Naturally, I hope you'll be the first to try one out, Samuel."
Lieutenant Samuel grins evilly. "Oh, yes. I'll be able to do a lot of damage with one of those."
"I'm sure you will. Let's finish with the last two suits, both of which you should all be familiar."
This time, the holographic trooper shifts his appearance into a stealthy jet-black exosuit, one with the same sleek design as the basic exosuit model, but fewer 'cracks' it its surface. Most notably, four long, metallic 'tendrils' stick out of its back and writhe around like an ant's antennae.
"Correct. This Spectre is different, though, as it's a second generation exosuit. I'm sure all of you have noticed the odd-looking tendrils on its back. I call them 'Needlers,' and they will be key for maximizing the Mark II's improvements over the first generation. In addition to greatly improved passive stealth capabilities in shadow, the Mark II Spectre can initiate Level III cloaking at will, granting it five minutes of near-perfect stealth capabilities. Most importantly, it now features nearly infinite Level II stealth capabilities, meaning it can remain invisible indefinitely so long as the user keeps their movement to a minimum. It will be excellent for setting up ambushes."
"What function do the 'Needlers' perform?" Brunhilda asks. "They look like headless black snakes."
"More than you can imagine," Phoebe replies. "The Needlers allow the user to scale walls and cliffs, assassinate multiple enemies at once, manipulate tools, and countless other such feats. Think of them as four additional limbs, each one stronger and much more flexible than your arm. They can wrap around an enemy's neck to choke him out, or they can pick locks by deforming their shape... the possibilities are endless."
"Amazing as always, Miss Hiro," Chadwick says, bowing his head respectfully. "If we had these suits during the Core invasion, perhaps we could have defeated the demons instead of suffering such a terrible loss."
Phoebe purses her lips. "Not necessarily. The Spectre suits sacrifice durability and defensive capacity in exchange for speed and stealth. Their offensive-power is also sub-par, making them only good for assassination and espionage. In a giant arena like the Core, Spectre pilots would have perished the fastest."
"Ah. I'll defer to your expert opinion, then," Chadwick mutters, slightly embarrassed.
Phoebe clears her throat. This time, when the last trooper shifts his appearance, looks of surprise appear on Chadwick, Corporal Hurent, and Samuel's faces.
"Hm?" Samuel says. "Isn't that...?"
"Yes," Phoebe replies. "It's the suit Neil wore during the Core invasion: The Thundercat Mark II."
The final trooper hologram changes to reveal a bright blue, red, and golden exosuit, one with a bulky golden gauntlet on its left wrist. Three Wolverine-like blades stick out of the gauntlet, suitable for ripping and tearing, while the trooper also sports a vicious-looking nanosword in his right hand.
"Another Mark II," Chadwick marvels. "It's much flashier than the Mark I, particularly with its coloration. You must have given Neil one before the battle."
"His bodyguards too," Phoebe affirms. "Neil didn't get much time to learn its many functions, and sadly, neither will our troops. However, I'll tell you right now what to expect. The Transforming Exogauntlet on its left arm is a powerful utility item comparable to the Spectre's Needlers. It can become a hammer, a blade, a shield, or anything you need for the situation at hand. Merely describe a shape, and Centurion will attempt to replicate it."
Phoebe gestures toward the holographic trooper's right hand. "This nanosword is equally dangerous. When combined with the Thundercat's reinforced defensive capabilities, it will allow its pilot to fight on the front lines alongside our Rhino-wearing troopers. Since the Thundercat Mark II is a modification of the Mark I, we already have several thousand of them available, along with the new Spectres. I advise you to quickly debrief your troops about the additional functions of these new exosuits, as we won't have much time to train them in their various intricacies once the demons invade."
After taking a long, deep breath, Phoebe exhales.
"Alright. Let's wrap this up. Any questions?"
Chadwick runs his fingers through his beard. "Do you have anywhere you'd like to station us?"
"Ah! I almost forgot. Thank you for reminding me."
Phoebe re-engages the topographical map and points toward the southern side of Hero City.
"Over here, this area is part of the southern prison complex, where I've created a specialized Demon Containment Facility. We must ensure the demons don't locate Beelzebub and Artorias. Keep them locked up at all costs. Corporal Hurent, I'm putting you in charge of defending the prison."
The Corporal nods. "Yes, Commander. I'm already familiar with their layout, as I took our prisoners there earlier."
"Good. I'll need you to pull double-duty keeping an eye on Hero City's eastern flank, too. The south and east sides are among our most vulnerable, so if the demons break containment from the warp-gate, I want to know at once if they reach our flanks."
Phoebe turns her attention toward the others. "Princess Brunhilda. As stated before, you're in charge of protecting the King Cannons and their supply line. Samuel, you're in charge of guarding the southern and western side of the warp-gate encampment. Chadwick, I want you on command duty for the vast majority of our main forces, particularly between Hero City and the encampment. However, Elder Skarde, you may have the most complex job of all."
Elder Skarde frowns. "In what way?"
"You'll be our final defensive line. You will protect Hero City, especially the north side's Covenant ships. You must ensure Burrowers don't make it past our defensive lines, and that any Warpers get taken out before they can circle around to our flanks."
"I will do my best," Skarde replies.
Blinker hops off Phoebe's shoulder and flies around excitedly. "Ooh, ooh, what about me? What do I get to do?"
Phoebe smiles. "Are you fully healed?"
"Yeppers! Samantha got me all fixed up! Kar's still healing, though. I dunno when he'll be ready to return."
Phoebe's smile deepens. The memory of what Blinker told her before the debriefing, regarding Daisy, leaves butterflies in her stomach. However, for some reason, she keeps her mouth shut and doesn't mention it in front the other leaders.
"That's good. I'm glad we have Samantha at times like this. Well, even if Kar isn't back, I hope we can rely on you for support against the demons wherever they appear."
"Duh!" Blinker giggles. "I'll smush 'em flat! Those big red dummies won't know what hit 'em!"
Phoebe pokes Blinker's stomach playfully. Just watch yourself out there. If anything happened to you, it would devastate Kar."
Blinker rolls her eyes. "Psh. Don't you know who I am? I'm the Monster Queen. I'm strong as heck!"
Despite the fairy's tough words, Phoebe's eyes grow distant. "Yeah. But... be careful. Kar already lost one wife. I don't want to imagine what losing a second would do to him. I'd never forgive myself if something happened to you."
With one last, heavy sigh, Phoebe turns to the assembled leaders. "Alright, dismissed. Get out there and make Neil proud. If he's still alive, we'll mount a rescue operation once we survive this war."
Chadwick rises off his rock and raises an eyebrow. "You suddenly sound more confident than before."
Phoebe nods. "Neil always says a leader must look strong for his troops. I can only hope to live up to that ideal."
"As can we all. Words to live by," Chadwick mutters. With a nod of the head, he turns to leave. "I'll see you on the battlefield, Commander Hiro."
"Likewise," Phoebe replies.
The waning sun begins to fade behind clouds to the west, setting on the world of Tarus II and bringing the cover of darkness. As the humans disperse, with Blinker riding on Phoebe's shoulder, they all gaze at the setting sun with wistful eyes.
.......................................
Artwork time!
Basic T-REX.
Clinician T-REX.
Hummer T-REX.
Rhino T-REX.
Spectre T-REX.
Thundercat T-REX
This is Brunhilda!