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laudery

Less “inspired” and more “provoked” by today’s offering from The Poetry Foundation, which I truly, TRULY hated:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46512/the-affair-56d2266ae64bf

 

laudery

i.

standing around in a horseshoe
all eyes looking in at him as
he fondled the trophy; lauded; vindication
years closeted away like a monk
they clapped while he waited. the winning poem?

a travesty

 
ii.

he smelled like coffee as he looked through the pane
he had just drunk some which explained that. inspiration
thin on the ground; trophy glinted in fading rays

 
iii.

paper. pen. a good hard…
think
a travesty printed onto good paper
as if… as if…
framed and hung opposite the door.
a travesty by… the award beneath it.

APPLAUSESTILLRINGSINHISEARS

 
iiii.

long months. tears. on a typwriter he worked
:                                                                                  [the sound made him feel: “Like A Writer”.]
impossible pressure of previous success. not
a good title. washing himself clean of the
expectations of others. that fucking noise in his
ears. washing machine is finished-
he pauses. eyes on the prize. the former winner of…

laudery.

 
v.

it comes easily then. like honey drank
right from the bough. he tap-tap-taps furiously
Wordy McWordy
tears the paper from the typewriter and copies
the text into his pc where it
won’t get ruined by coffee rings (he made
another cup) reads it once outloud then emails
vv.

his agent

 
vvv.

laudery: once a typo now the NEW STANDARD:
irony
complexity
vulnerability
truthness
he is hailed. saluted by the
same people who labeled a travesty (not irony) a
travesty (now irony). no-one understands.

 
x.

no autocorrect on a typwriter

trophy

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(ED) 3055 etc 12

It takes one person to fly a Mamba. It takes two to race it.

I’d say that I’m flying stick and Ithallius is in the cope seat because I’m the better pilot and he’s a bossy asshole who gets his kicks pointing out obvious shit. He’d disagree with me, but as this is my fucking echolog, let’s say I’m correct and move along.

We have been flying hard, clocking well over 10 hours a day for over three weeks now, rock hopping in the various bodies in this and nearby systems. This is all new to me: I did some dumb shit with the A-Team, but hugging uneven terrain while boosting forward in the fastest ship in production is, perhaps, the dumbest shit I’ve undertaken.

Plus I’m doing it fucking sober.

The reason it takes two of us to fly like this is simple: flying a Mamba that fast in gravity is a feat of concentration that I genuinely didn’t think I was capable of. Your whole body has to connect with the ship; every twitch, every rock, every lurch requires immediate response otherwise, quite simply, you’ll crash so fast you’ll not even have time to know you’re dying. I have no room in my mind for anything other than feet, hands and looking ahead: I am strapped into my seat so tightly I can feel the Mamba’s tiniest movements in my lower back and ass.

It’s exhilarating.

 

So while I’m utterly focused on what’s immediately ahead of me, I need someone else to have a slightly wider perspective: what’s nearby; big changes in terrain ahead; systems performance; how the fuck I’m doing – you don’t recognise that you’re about to succumb to G-blackout until someone else tells you you’re slurring, and much of my torture is about getting my body used to those kinds of stresses. Ithallius is my live telemetry feed and, I have to admit, I admire his balls.

So we practise for hours and hours and hours, giving me time to get a feel for the ship; so I get used to listening to his voice as well as paying constant attention to the ship; so I learn to feel the gravity, down force, physics of what I’m doing. It’s a completely different game to flying in space, and I find it at once frustrating and invigorating. I slowly find my intuition and instinct reaching out toward and then connecting with the vessel, then I find I am starting to read the landscape and anticipate how she will respond. But with each step forward, I feel my progress as a pilot slides backwards; as we increase the speed we’re flying at, more challenges present themselves and my reactions times must get ever quicker if we are not to suffer catastrophe.

Two people. We get inside each other’s minds quickly, and camp there for three weeks while we log almost 300 flight hours in this fucking ludicrous ship.

Of course, in Li Yong-Rui space, in Sirius space, there is a “sirius” racing scene (GEDDIT?!), and there are local favourite hotspots where the best routes and their best times have been well-documented. Toward the end of the second week, we start measuring our performance against some of these local markers… and are outrageously disappointed. On some strips, we are a full minute off the pace – a fact that grates at both of us, but for different reasons.

So we work and fly and tinker and work and fly some more. We pull long hours and heavy, heavy G’s, working my skill and the machine’s capabilities until, finally, we are somewhat in the mix with the top 10 times posted for some of the most-heavily used planet racing routes. I never had a fraction of the instinctive understanding with the vulture that I already have with the mamba, and there is a visceral sense of connection, to the point that, some nights, I sleep under her smooth belly because it bothers me too much to be away from her.

“Good job, Socks,” says Ithallius, on the 24th day of torture. We have just docked back in Ray and I am exhausted, sweaty and my pulse has yet to settle back into normal human range. I think he is being an asshole about some dumb mistake I made so I turn to scowl at him.

“Hey, fuck you, Man, I don’t see you working the fucking stick-”

“No, really. Good job.” His tone is even – perhaps there might be a tinge of pride in there, too?

“Oh,” I’m surprised and don’t quite know how to wind my irritation back. “Well, thanks, I guess.”

“I think we’re ready.”

“To..?” I tug off my helmet and scrape my fingers through my shitty hair.

“To find a race.”

“Fuck. I mean, okay. Sure.”

“She needs a name, though.”

“What you wanna call her?” I ask him, expecting some gay Fed shit. Maybe the name of some goddamned general or a famous vessel or whatever tomfuckery Ithallius is thinking about right now.

Instead he shrugs and nods to me. “You choose. She’s more yours than mine.”

I look at this man, this difficult, clever man who I have come to trust and even adore a little bit (FINE. FUCK YOU. A LOT) and wonder how I can pay tribute to him without coming off sticky and weird. “I can choose the paint job, too?”

“Sure,” he says, in that tone he uses when he anticipates shenanigans. “Nothing too-” He pauses, knowing my gift for turning almost anything he says into a challenge, and then says, “Do what you want.”

“Oh, I will,” I reply with a nod and a wink.

He shakes his head and leaves the hangar, pausing in the doorway to call over his shoulder, “Get a shower – you stink.”

Fine, Fucko… I whisper as I run my hand over the mamba’s smooth exterior. I love this ship, and possible names run through my mind as I finally tug myself away from her to find a shower, a meal and a bed.

I’m about to get into said bed when my coms beep in my ear again.

“Socks, get in here, will you?”

“Where is ‘here’, CMDR Ithallius?” I ask, somewhat annoyed. I look longingly at the bed for a moment – a proper thing with bedding and pillows that isn’t a flip-down bunk chained to a cabin wall – and start to dress myself.

“it’s a bar, ‘The Racing Line’ on level 9.”

“I don’t wanna get drunk,” I murmur.

“As impressive as that is, that’s not your mission.”

“Then what is?” I pull on my jump suit and boots and start for the door.

“I found us a race.”

Oh. Well. Okay.

Ten minutes later and I am walking into The Racing Line and glancing about for Ithallius. The bar is an atrocity in neon – all fucking colour-changing LEDs and words written in bright pink and cyan light tubes. I hate it instantly and consciously engage my Get The Fuck Away From Me expression as I spot Ithallius and make my way toward him. The place is packed with people, all of them with stupid tattoos, garishly coloured jumpsuits and fucking dumb hair cuts and not one of them looks older than about 14.

“And here’s my pilot,” says Ithallius as I approach. He is sitting at a table with 2 pre-teens. They are dressed identically, even down to the same dumb, cool hair style and guy-liner.

Her?” laughs one, nudging the other with his elbow. I assume they’re in that kind of bromance state where they’re in some sort of dickless love thing. In the light, their teeth glow the same kind of white as an afterburner when the mix is too potent. It amuses me.

“She even awake, Bossman?” says the other one to Ithallius. I take a seat and eye him questioningly.

“She’ll take you on, boys, don’t worry about that.”

“Aaaw, I don’t like making girls cry,” says the first one. Now I am closer I can see that one is white and the other is of some vaguely Asian descent. I also realise that they’re trying to goad me, as if I am also a pre-teen.

“You on top of this?” I say to Ithallius, “You really need me here?”

“Patience, Socks,” he replies. “I got this.”

“Socks?” laughs Twin 1, “Your call-sign is Socks?”

I sigh.

“Yeah, what’s your ship called? Bra?” snickers Twin 2. “Panties?” I feel this line of “humour” could go on a while, so I interrupt it quickly.

“TL; DR,” I reply, dropping a data pad with her race spec on the table. The twins flick it around and slide it to between then on the table.

“TL; DR?” says Ithallius in my ear.

It suddenly blooms in my mind that it is, indeed, the perfect name for a ship I must fly with him, and so smile, nod and say, “Yeah! Like it?”

“Not as awful as I was expecting,” he replies, “Though I’ve not seen her paint job yet.”

I’m about to slap him with an oh-so pithy rejoinder when The Twins peep up again.

“Aight. You got a ship. You got any game?”

“What the-” I say with a sigh, “I don’t even understand what they’re talking about.”

“She’s got it,” says Ithallius, his hand on my forearm to gently interrupt me. “She’ll take you on, give you a run for your money.”

“Well, cool. Time and place, Star Bitches,” says Twin 2, “Name it. Winner gets scrap.”

Ithallius is prepared for the challenge and uploads some data to the Twins’ coms. They beep, glance down, scan the info and nod at the same time. I am amused.

“Aight… It’s a date. By the way, better know my name so you know who’s gonna take your pretty ship, right?” Twin 2 rises to his feet and extends his closed fist. “I’m Qua-”

“I just don’t care,” i say, shaking my head. And then to Ithallius, “Can I go now?”

“Sure,” he replies with a nod. I’m on my feet and walking away when he beeps in my ear again, “That was perfect. Good job.”

So he wanted me tired, grouchy and unsociable. Fucker. I shake my head and stalk back to my quarters where I undress and climb immediately into bed.

I have a race in 9 hours.

 

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(ED) 3055 etc 11

 

RAY GATEWAY, DIAGUANDRI

It has been three weeks since Ithallius and I faked our deaths. After Nari collected us (and Boris) from our drift in the Black, we have lain low and quiet. We have accessed neither our ships nor our funds. We have used no communicators, we have let ourselves fall from existence.

Nari is now the official owner of The Wet Spot, our bar in Deciat, as well as the inheritor of the ‘conda she hacked to come save us. As far as anyone is able to tell, she flew out to our crash site to see what happened after our wing beacon suddenly died, and found only Boris floating in the gloom. Now she is unbelievably rich (having inherited both bank accounts) and alone.

Ithallius was clear: Ray Gateway and nowhere else. We are not here by accident. Nari hopped over here under the pretence of buying that Mamba she’s “always” wanted, to assuage her deepening grief with a ludicrously engineered, over-gunned speed machine. And to pay a lot of money to scrub a lot of data logs from the ‘conda before paying a lot of money to someone else to fake new ones. Now, the ‘conda never belonged to Ithallius and its registry has been changed to “W-SPOT”. Meanwhile, Boris leaned on some connections to forge some wildly expensive but astonishingly comprehensive new IDs for Ithallius and I.

I keep forgetting my name.

“You should try harder to remember it. Needs to be natural, baby.”

“As long as you don’t forget it, Bitch.” I look up at Nari from between her thighs. She is lightly coated in sweat – it makes her look almost ethereal in the dim light of the room. I am about to spear her again with my tongue, but pause to look at her, to commit her utterly to memory. She reaches her hand out towards me and tangles her fingers in my hair.

“Love you, Pussy Cat,” she whispers before tugging my face back towards her honey pot. But I resist, still looking at her in the half-light. I never let myself just breathe her (or Mira) in before; never thought to savour moments like this. She looks confused at my hesitation; her expression makes me almost laugh. I am shocked to realise I am tearing up; a wave of emotion surges in my chest and I think I might try to ride it except her legs are closing around my ears even as she reaches for and lights a smoke with her free hand.

“Again,” she whispers. “More,” and then she blows a perfect, delicate smoke ring that hovers over her tits, intact and unmoving for a long moment.

I obey.

When she climaxes, she calls me by both names: my old one and my new. She is my bridge between my identities and even as I savour her, I cannot fathom how I will live without her when she leaves. As her gasping subsides, our coms beep – a polite discretion Ithallius has agreed to in order for us to maintain constantly-open coms, and his voice quietly speaks.

“Ladies, it’s time.”

I say nothing, instead I meet Nari’s still-glassy eyes and shake my head. She sits up and pulls me up the bed into her arms. She kisses herself off my lips and holds me while I silently weep for a moment.

“I don’t want this,” I whisper into her ear.

“You have to do this,” she whispers back, “For me. For us.” She pauses and then adds, “For him.”

I wince and am furious that she is, of course, right. We kiss again and then dress ourselves in silence. Neither of us showers: we each want to keep the other’s scent on us for as long as we can. Nari combs first her hair and then mine through with her fingers and then I click into my flight boots.

“Fuck you, Ithallius,” I murmur as I survey the room for anything we might have left behind.

“Roger that,” he replies in my earpiece: he does not sound smug; his tone is muted and oddly respectful. Nari smiles sadly and rubs the top of my arm before assembling her game face and opening the door to our (very expensive) suite. Then we are out, back under the assumed pretence of our new relationship: she the immensely rich widow and me her hired tech who will test her new Mamba; a racing jock with nothing to lose as I throw her new machine around in the Black.

We walk in silence to the large pad where “her” ‘conda is docked. She touches a panel on the outside of the enormous bird and the door smoothly opens to allow a set of steps to quietly extend out toward her. She turns to me before she boards, mutters some bossy-boss stuff I cannot absorb about her Mamba and hands me a data chip which I numbly accept. I do not follow her aboard; I do not embrace her; we do not kiss again.

Instead she nods, lightly climbs the stairs and closes the door behind her. Two minutes later, the docking pad lights are flashing to indicate that launch permission has been requested and the pad should be cleared. With heavy legs, I leave the docking bay; I have to pause, lean against the wall, catch my breath as the pad drops, spins and rises again. I hear the clamps release and those enormous engines whirr up, burn and engage.

And then she is gone. Again.

Ithallius is in front of me suddenly, silent and immutable as ever. But he isn’t immune to my state and his presence before me at all signifies his recognition of both my sacrifice and its impact upon me. I look up at his face and blow out my cheeks. He nods but says nothing.

“Well oof, motherfucker,” I say quietly, trying to gather myself.

“Yeah,” he replies.

“See what I do for you?” I ask. I’m trying to be cheeky but, actually, it just comes out kind of sad.

“I do,” he says. And then the asshole salutes me. You’d think it would look trite and a little ridiculous: it doesn’t, and I am moved by the gesture. But what Ithallius giveth, Ithallius taketh away, and even before I have fully process his gesture, he is back into Boss Mode and giving me orders, turning on his heels and stalking away into the belly of Ray Gateway.

I close my eyes for a moment, gather myself up, steel myself and follow after him.

Time to get to work.

 

 

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Dear Socky: Dentistry Help Needed!

I (did not) recently received this in my (imaginary) in-box associated with my (non-existant) new advice column:

Dear Socky,

I wish to no longer adult. If anyone knows how to turn back time please tell me @here
I mainly just don’t want to call and make my own dentist appointment…… I hate the dentist

Love and endless pre-emptive love, may blessings shower endlessly down upon your shoulders (they didn’t write),

  • Someone on Discord

dentist

Here’s my Advice:

Dentistry is HARD! Here’s my simple some-steps plan!

1. Make epic shopping list. Include lots of your fave liquid foods like vodka, wine, rum and gin. Also things that become liquid like chocolate, ice-cream and so on.

2. Open online grocery tab in your browser. Enter above list and check out.* (*if online groceries are not available, send money to trusted friend / ally along with list. Make them commit to getting you this stuff. IT IS KEY TO YOUR SUCCESS)

3. Make dentist appointment. Get a date as soon as possible.

3.5 (Optional). *Optional step 3.5: Tell a loved one that you are unable to drive because you have a dental appointment so that you do not have to drive yourself. This is completely true: if you didn’t have a dentist appointment, you’d not be planning to booze it up as soon as you leave the surgery, rendering you already too tipsy to drive by the time you get to your car. Take liquid diet snack with you. Brandy is traditional for mouth issues. And for wanting to get buzzed on the way home.

4. Tell everyone you have done this. Make it sound as awful and shitty as possible so that you feel heroic and celebrated for what is, actually, just a routine scrape and clean and check-up

5. Get home, make a HUGE fuss. Demand a liquid diet “on my dentist’s instructions”

6. Open care package as listed in #1.

7. Profit.

kitchen1

Additional Advice.

No-one has a fucking clue about what dentists actually DO so feel free to make any shit up you like when fulfilling step #2, eg, “I’m having a rotor tooth key clumping with exoplating and cyberblasting. I’m going to insist they don’t put me under – I can take the pain.” This will only serve to increase your sense of heroic entitlement and commitment to the notion that you have well and truly earned your post-appointment liquid diet.

Also: don’t do any of this.

Good luck with it!

Love and vibrations,

Socky x

 

 

 

 

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(ESO) Meeting With Baba Aegis

I have traveled from Elden Root to a small hut just outside Bergama, Alik’r in search of an old woman who, I am told, acts as a guide for those “With a need to fight in dark places”. This is the story of what happened when I found her.

“The Old Ways? By sand and by salt, don’t talk to me about ‘The Old Ways’. Men and swords and honour and war, war, war.”

The old Redguard woman spits on the dirt floor in disgust. Behind her, sitting on a shelf fixed to the wall of the old wood-and-dirt house, a monkey chitters and scratches its backside. I am amused to see that the woman’s voluminous trousers and the monkey’s little waistcoat are sewn from the same pink cloth: I hadn’t expected whimsy.

“Let me tell you what the old ways left us with. Compromise and death. Ra Gada? Yokuda? All gone. Gone like a cool breeze over hot sands. And who remains? Women. We sit and we watch. We squeeze out babies and teach them about honour and the old ways. And then? They listen to our stories, don’t they Steve? They listen and dream about The Old Ways and then, faster than an Emperor’s betrayal, they’re off becoming Yokuda and Ra Gada. 

“But they listened too well, didn’t they, Steve? Off they march, our little sword masters to find their destinies. And just like Ra Gada and Yokuda, they end up beneath the sands, forgotten by all except their mothers.”

She spits on the floor again. The monkey behind her jumps in delight and mimics the sound. The old woman frowns and seems poised to spare a harsh word for the creature but, instead, takes a piece of dried fruit from the bowl on the stool between us and tosses it to “Steve”. The monkey catches it and settles to nibble on the treat.

“Dead, dead, dead. All dead. Two husbands and five sons, all given to the sands. The sand is always hungry. It’s always waiting for more, and oh how we’re happy to feed it! The Old Ways are always hungry for new blood.”

She trails off, her eyes fixed upon some moment in the past. Her face darkens; her expression falls. The monkey jumps onto her shoulder and places a golden crown upon her head. She smiles sadly and suddenly pins me with her bright, sharp eyes.

“I save them. I try. Nothing means nothing, by salt and by sand. As if you need a cock to wield a sword! Oh, Highrock! You never taught your women that trick, did you? Up there, the men die and the women wilt helplessly! Flowers in the sun!

Not us! I took up a sword with my brothers, slept in my father’s shield until I could lift it. Then every day after I fought with it. Breed and die? Breed and fight, by Morwha! I show you! Come, follow, come!”

She rises from her armchair and a little shower of cushions tumbles to the floor. She is unconcerned by them. Her movements are economical and quick, her frame narrow and light. I am surprised by the litheness of her motion; she must be 70 summers old. She reminds me of a bird. I follow her to a door hidden by a tattered curtain which she pulls to one side before motioning me through.

The monkey remains upon her shoulder.

“Some call it spoils. Nothing spoiled here, is there, Steve? All nice! All shiny! All piled up thirty years too late. Can save no-one now but the sand can’t have this! It’s mine! It’s Baba’s! My sons should have had sons by now; this all should have been for them. Old Ways! Here’s my legacy and it’s all gone already. Fuck you, Tu’Wacca! Fuck, fuck, fuck you! You’ll take no more from me – no more!”

While the old woman cackles and dances obscenely while invoking the God of Souls, I glance around the room she has lead me to. I blink in shock, trying to process what I am seeing, for it is piled high with all kinds of armour and weapons. 

Full sets of glittering plate and gorgeously embellished leathers are staged on mannequins, yet piled around them on the floor are innumerable more items. Weapons are displayed haphazardly on walls, stacked on tables, or just piled against the walls on the floor. I do a quick estimation: there must be enough gear in here to fully equip sixty fighters at least. 

“It’s mine. I earned it. I saved them. They gave me my name and I save them. No more mothers giving bodies to the sand. Fuck the Old Ways. Fuck Tu’Wacca. This is mine… look…”

In the nearest corner to the door there is a simple chest which she kneels to open. Within is a far-less shiny, obviously well-used set of armour. She draws each piece out reverently,  smoothing her hand over each as if greeting a lover. At the bottom of the chest is an ancient – yet beautiful – shield. She takes it out and straps it to her arm before turning to me and bracing as if expecting a heavy blow. Her voice, when she speaks, is barely a whisper. Her dark, sharp eyes glisten with the sudden sting of tears.

“I can’t save them. Mine are lost. All my men. All gone to the sand. Yokuda? Ra Gada? Fuck the old ways; none of that matters to them now. I am too late, too late, Bubu! By my father’s shield, I’ll save the others! I’ll take them in and bring them out again. 

She raises both her voice and her shield and cries out:

“Siona al’Hegathe! Let it be forgotten in the sand like all the others, but they’ll none of them forget Baba Aegis and the sand won’t take me yet!”

And then she is spent. Suddenly she looks her years, defeated by grief and age, hunched over a shield she is too weak to lift. She replaces the shield in the chest and spits on the ground again.

“Siona al’Hegathe ha ha! Fuck you, Tu’Wacca. I’m hungry. C’mon, Steve. Let’s see what the cart brought us from Sentinel! What treats there might be, let’s see, let’s see!”

I leave her alone; I don’t even thank her for her time. I sense she has redrawn the veil between her and her past and I am on the wrong side of it. I glance back as I leave the humble two-room house. The monkey has donned a little golden crown and is dancing comically on the table while Baba Aegis – Siona – prepares a plate of fruit and cured meat.

I came to meet the Old Lady Tank of Alik’r; to understand what drives her to take up arms and defend strangers against the darkness: I close the door behind me and walk out into the sun setting over the sands.

 

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Legacy: The Man From Hjelmdall

Legacy: the Man From Hjelmdall

A (very bad) fanfic inspired by Disco Elysium

&

JoB (https://www.twitch.tv/thekillerbits)

 

CHAPTER ONE: DAVE

The pile of corpses reached almost to Heaven, and atop it, bloodied and gasping with his immense axe raised aloft in triumph, stood The Man From Hjelmdall.

“DO YOU HEAR ME NOW?!” he cried to the sky, defying the Gods to ignore him, “DO YOU SEE?!”

In reply, the clouds broke open and a single shaft of light flickered into life, illuminating The Man From Hjelmdall’s amazing physique and glinting off the enormous axe, from whose blade blood still ran and dripped. A gust of wind caught up, tugging at The Man From Hjelmdall’s shredded armour and blonde hair that poured like a shitty stream over muddy rocks from beneath his metal helmet.

“RRRAAAAAAAWWWWWRRRRRRGGHGHGHGHGHGHG!one!11!!” screamed The Man From Hjelmdall, still brandishing his axe victoriously. After a long moment he paused, looked around, lowered his arm and nodded to himself. He really didn’t have any further plans, and it was only Wednesday. Maybe there was a nearby inn or tavern? Some good looking wenches and a jug of bad mead. And a blacksmith. Maybe.

Trouble was, he still had to get down from this fucking pile of bodies.

“Didn’t think of that when you were locked into slaughter-mode, did you?” called a voice from somewhere within the pile. The Man From Hjelmdall glanced about in confusion: he was certain everything but him was dead here. 

“WHERE ARE YOU?” called The Man From Hjelmdall.

“No need to shout. Just down here, fella,” came the reply.

The Man From Hjelmdall looked about himself for a long moment, feeling increasingly unsteady on top of the haphazardly stacked slain enemies. The ray of sunshine narrowed and shifted a little until it fell upon a wildly waving hand, fingers adorned with jewel-encrusted rings that caught the light and the Man From Hjelmdall’s attention.

“YOU ARE JUST A HAND!?” shouted The Man From Hjelmdall in confusion.

“Nah, you pillock. I’m buried here. Help me out!”

“OH. VERY GOOD,” said The Man From Hjelmdall, reaching down and grasping the hand before giving it a stout tug. “WHAT IS A PILLOCK?!”

“It’s like a pillar but much thicker.” The hand belonged to a short, dark-haired, swarthy man who, as he slowly emerged from the corpse pile, revealed himself to be bruised and covered in blood, but still had the air of riches about him. “Thanks!” he offered brightly.

“I AM A THICK PILLAR.”

“That’s right, my dude. Now, let’s get off this dead mountain and clean up.”

“CLEAN UP?! YOU DO NOT REVEL IN THE BLOOD OF YOUR SLAIN?!”

The short man stared at The Man From Hjelmdall for a moment and, unable to make a reply, shook his head, sat down on the shining, plate-wearing back of a headless corpse and muttered, “Do what I do, buddy,” before pushing off and skidding right the way down the mountain, arriving safely at the bottom seconds later.

“DO WHAT HE DO,” repeated The Man From Hjelmdall, sitting down carefully – bones cracking beneath his enormous feet – and carefully placing his battle axe across his lap. “DO WHAT HE DO…”

The ride to the bottom was exhilarating, if only because the axe kept catching on bits of armour, limbs and so on, pulling The Man From Hjelmdall off course so that, in the end, he’d covered several times more distance than the short man had and zipped right around Corpse Mountain at least twice, lit the entire time by the god ray which insistently continued to glint off his axe and metal armour fixings..

“NORMALLY I JUST FALL DOWN THE SIDE,” observed The Man From Hjelmdall as he came to rest at the feet of the short man. “THAT WAS GOOD.”

“Every day’s a chance to learn something new, eh?” said the short man, thrusting out his hand toward The Man From Hjelmdall. “Name’s Dave.”

“DAVE? IS YOUR NAME?” The Man From Hjelmdall eyed the proffered hand suspiciously. “WHAT ARE YOU GIVING ME?”

“Er… a hand shake?” said Dave.

The Man From Hjelmdall stuck his hand forward and shook it against Dave’s hand so that they slapped against each other for a moment. The god ray decided to just give the fuck up at this point and vanished back into the clouds.

“Good enough,” said Dave. “Let’s go find some drink.”

“I ONLY DRINK MEAD,” said The Man From Hjelmdall.

“And the tears of virgins,” breathed Dave, setting off towards a small hamlet, just visible on the edge of the battle field.

“IF THEY ARE CRYING, THEY ARE NO MORE VIRGIN,” declared The Man From Hjelmdall, turning to follow Dave and then easily outpacing him.

“Fuuuuuck,” whispered Dave, trotting to keep up, “This asshole’s a gold mine!”

“THERE IS NO GOLD IN MY ASSHOLE,” said The Man From Hjelmdall, turning to see Dave falling behind. With a frown, he retraced his steps, reached a huge hand out toward the small man who stood, perhaps, as high as The Man From Hjelmdall’s epic, muscle-bound waist, and flexed his fingers.

“Hey! What are you-”

“YOUR LEGS ARE TOO SLOW. I THIRST FOR MEAD. AND WOMEN,” said The Man From Hjelmdall, picking up Dave and moving him to under one enormous arm before continuing towards the collection of houses.

“Well this is just plain undignified,” muttered Dave, wriggling his legs, but still somewhat grateful to not have to sprint to keep up any more.

Now able to move at his own pace, The Man From Hjelmdall – complete with Dave tucked under his arm – began to jog and the remaining distance to their destination melted away quickly. Suddenly they were on a muddy thoroughfare that ran through a small, sprawling hamlet. The Man From Hjelmdall now slowed his pace, concerned with dodging staring children being pulled out of his way by startled parents, barking dogs that fell silent at his approach and a handful of chickens that squawked and angrily clucked as they flapped ahead of his footsteps. 

“WHERE IS YOUR TAVERN?” The Man From Hjelmdall demanded of one small child who immediately started crying. “WEAKLING.”

The child’s mother, in cloth cap and apron, collected the child into her arms before angrily gesturing to a wood and dirt building that slouched at the end of the muddy road. The Man From Hjelmdall nodded and strode off in the indicated direction, ignoring Dave’s muttered apologies to the mother as he went.

The doorway was low and the interior space not much higher: The Man From Hjelmdall – standing at more than 7 magnificent feet tall – had to stoop to enter. Once inside, the Man From Hjelmdall glanced about, spotted the bar, and made his purposeful approach, horns of his helmet dragging noisily along the underside of the ceiling. 

Behind it, a filthy-faced, young-ish woman absently moved a cloth over the bar. It seemed to be an action less about establishment hygiene and more about making her bodice-clad cleavage – generous-though-aggressively-presented – wobble as much as possible. She eyed the incoming patrons with boredom.

The Man From Hjelmdall placed Dave upon the bar and cleared his throat to speak. 

“WENCH-”

“Uh… sorry. What?” said the woman.

“WENCH.”

“Try again…”

“WENCH..?” The Man From Hjelmdall was confused.

“Nope.”

“WOMAN, I WILL SPLIT YOUR SKULL, WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!”

“Let’s try a polite greeting? I mean, honestly, do you have any idea how many muscle-bound thirsty barbarians we get in here, calling me fucking ‘wench’ like it’s cool? Do you think that’s good for me? Just a bit-part in someone else’s epic story? Do you think I choose to dress like this? Do you think I’m warm enough with these bastards flopping about? I have a name, you know! I have hopes and dreams! I have purpose beyond tits and beer.”

The Man From Hjelmdall paused, eyed the woman and then tried again. “GOOD… TIME OF DAY. I DO NOT KNOW YOUR NAME, BUT IF I DID I WOULD UTTER IT POLITELY WITH THE INTENTION OF SECURING A MUG OF MEAD, AS I AM THIRSTY AND THIS IS JUST ONE OF THE MANY ROLES YOU FULFILL IN YOUR OTHERWISE MEANINGFUL LIFE. ALSO: YOU HAVE VERY NICE BOOBS AND I SHOULD VERY MUCH LIKE TO-”

“Nope. That’s enough,” said the woman, holding up her hand to stop The Man From Hjelmdall from finishing that thought. “Name’s Nissa. What kind of mead you fancy, Big Guy?”

“THAT IS NOT MY NAME, BUT I SHOULD LIKE ALL OF THE MEAD.”

Nissa paused for a moment, eyed Dave who shrugged with fake helplessness. “All the mead it is. Very good. That’ll be all your money,” and then she winked at The Man From Hjelmdall.

“I DO NOT HAVE MONEY: I AM THE VICTOR AND THESE ARE MY SPOILS.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” sighed Dave, slipping one of his many bejeweled rings off a finger and dropping it loudly onto the bar. “How much he get for this?”

Nissa’s eyes grew large at the sight of the gold and gems. “All the mead…” she whispered. 

The Man From Hjelmdall nodded with satisfaction before collecting Dave and, struggling to stalk off while crouching beneath the low ceiling, made his way over to a table lit by a heavily smoking, stinking tallow candle.

“Now then,” said Dave, settling onto a stool once he’d been put down again, “Let’s talk business.”

“BUSINESS? I HAVE BEEN BUSY. NOW I DRINK.”

“Yes, yes… “ said Dave dismissively, “That’s all very good. But let’s think bigger. Let’s think epic. Let’s think… Ultimate.”

“WHAT ARE THESE WORDS, SMALL MAN?” demanded The Man From Hjelmdall as Nissa rolled a wooden keg of mead over to the table.

“Listen,” said Dave, nodding to Nissa and waiting until she’d left before continuing. “I can make you famous, kid. I can make you… a star!”

 

Standard
Games

(ED) 3055 etc (10)

“Get your flight suit on.”

“Eeeeh, and Boris?”

Boris’ question goes ignored as Ithallius does a visual check out of the vulture’s canopy window before leaning over the panels to check nearby contacts. I get up from the chair and hastily undress then redress in my bird’s resident – bright pink, as chosen by Mira (oof) – flight suit. There are two further suits aboard; both the same kind of shitty, basic skin-suit that I once found myself dressing in not too long ago when Ithallius took me aboard his ship: neither the irony nor the humour of the situation breaks the surface of my concentration now.

I flip my helmet up, take a breath of the nothing-tasting, filtered suit air and return to my seat. Ithallius withdraws from the panels, out of my way, and similarly undresses and puts on a skin suit. Boris looks on impassively as Ithallius flips up his helmet, confirms vacuum seal and air feed, then returns his attention to the panels.

“Signal Nari. Send her this,” he hands me a slip of paper with a 12 digit code printed on it. “Tell her to plug it into my ‘conda. Tell her we need her here in 19 minutes. Then prepare for self-destruct in 11 minutes. Make it look like an FSD ignition error; make it big and showy.”

“Roger,” I nod, not really letting the full implications of his instructions enter my mind as I set about my work: there is a lot to do and I must rapidly prioritise. First I fuck up my FSD, working back from explosion to overheat to coil burn to ignition in my mind and realising that I need to start that process immediately. I am working on the panels while I dictate Ithallius’ message to Nari who, I presume, will be our ride. I read out the code carefully, then read it again to confirm. When my vulture’s AI realises what I am initiating, there is no big frenzy of countdown timers and flashing lights. Just the usual confirmation beep and the light over my FSD panel starts to glow an incessant red. it’s a bit disappointing, really; I’d expected more.

Meanwhile, Ithallius is leaning over Boris, who still looks unflustered. A part of me is impressed by this one’s nerve; the rest of me finds it deeply unsettling.

“In 11 minutes, this ship is going to explode. Violently. And then we’ll be floating in space for 8 minutes after that. This means you have around ten minutes to convince me that you should be wearing this skin suit and getting picked up with us, or I’ll vaporise your ass and wear the dust that remains on the nose of my anaconda. Talk, fucker.”

“Is big fan!” says Boris brightly. I wonder whether he has even understood what is happening. Ithallius remains silent. Boris makes a few more gestures and some sounds like he’s clucking and then taps on the floor of my flight deck. It is a rhythmic little tap that repeats and repeats and repeats: A code.

In fact, it is old Morse Code, and spells out “No Talk Bug”.

Ithallius and I nod to each other, stand Boris up, undress him completely and then I shred and eject the remains of his clothing while Ithallius conducts a quick bio-chip scan of Bori’s naked – surprisingly unpaunchy (he’d been wearing a padded suit to make him look weightier than he is) body. Two beeps and Ithallius doesn’t hesitate. In fact, even Boris complies, holding out first his left wrist and then turning around and bending slightly to present his right arse cheek so that he can have the tiny little Triple L (Listening, Lifesigns, Location) chips cut out from under his skin. Ithallius works quickly and accurately, scanning with one hand and cutting into Bori’s skin with the other. Another bio-chip scan and Ithallius nods that Boris is now bug-free.

Ithallius drops both bugs into a small flask of water before handing them to me. I make quick work of jettisoning them out of the garbage hatch.

8 minutes.

“Empire,” says Boris. His accent is still Russian, but far less heavy, and his language is now flawless. “Wants you dead. Doesn’t like how things ended up.”

“Fuck me,” I say, running my hand through my hair. “I thought all this was fucking done. How much goddamn more do they want from me because of Mira.”

Boris shakes his head. “Not you. Empire doesn’t care about you. Him.” He tips his head to Ithallius. “Payback time.”

Ithallius simply stares for a moment and then shakes his head. “Nope.”

Boris shrugs and continues, “Was meant to follow you, to join you. Was going fine. Did stupid pirate job in 21991 for blyat laugh – Empire pissed off but say to continue. Empire monitors Garay and sees your python and type 9 docked and not move. FDS won’t be problem, says Empire. Fucking dicks. Empire wrong. Again.” He shrugs and shakes his head, “You check FDS logs. I tell them nothing about you and bar. I tell them drunk gopnik bullshit. You check Boris logs.”

“There’s no going back, motherfucker,” replies Ithallius as something on the console beeps 6 minutes. “As far as The Empire knows, we all died here today. For some of us, that might even be true. How did they know?”

“One survivor. Holo capture.”

“We were careful. Anonymous.”

“Wasn’t on ship. Was researcher working alone. Quiet. Capture whole thing.”

What is this? What the fuck is this?! My mind reels but the ship’s status panel beeps, jolting my mind back to more immediate – instantly vaporising – issues: time is running out.

“Ithallius,” I interrupt. “We gotta go.” It’s one thing to not be on a ship when it explodes, but it’s all together another to not be in the blast zone of a faulty FSD.

Ithallius nods, eyes Boris again, then cuts his bonds and tosses the last skin suit at him. “Quickly.”

Another minute passes, and we are now strapping ourselves into an eject-bench that fires from the side of the Vulture. Boris is between Ithallius and I, as soon as he is seated, I am activating the void screen and setting a 5 second countdown. We lean back into the seat, letting it do what it can to shape and mold the chair’s foam around us, cushioning each of us as best as it can in the brief time that remains before we are blasted fast, fast, fast into the void.

All three of us moan involuntarily: the eject-bench is a rough way to go – much harder ride than the eject seats on the flight deck. But we need to be a single target for Nari to collect, and we need to be thrown clear of the impending blast very, very quickly. After a few seconds of heavy, multiple-G acceleration, the pressure in our heads, chests and spines relents and we are slowly able to breathe again. My eyes rest upon the vulture – suddenly there is a pang in my chest; it hadn’t occurred to me until now that this would be the death of That’s Not My Finger; her absolute moment of finality.

Fuck.

2 minutes.

We are still moving backwards, away from the vulture at a fine old clip, and I am watching her shrink into a single glorious, pink dot. Tears bloom in my eyes and I can do nothing about them. But I don’t want to – I let the moment take hold of me; let the memories bound up in that bird – Tor, Dawg, Lori, fucking Mira (and, of course fucking Mira), Not-Dave, my sense of freedom, of redemption – fill my mind.

Ithallius flips a switch on his visor which will protect his eyes from the explosion that is about to take place before us; Boris and I follow suit. Seconds later and she is gone; that same fire flower that I flew through in her so many times before now extends from within her own hull. Her FSD coils erupt, the drive starts to spin up, igniting her fuel load and…

We sit in silence while I quietly weep; I am shocked at my sense of loss. I do not look at either of my companions; I stare at that fading fire flower until I can see it no more.

“She was fine ship,” says a Russian accent.

“Fuck you, Boris,” I spit in quiet reply.

“You get another one,” says Boris.

“I’m gonna cut your tiny Russian testicles off at screw them into your eye sockets if you say another fucking word to me right now.”

“Socks,” says Ithallius quietly. His tone is gentle but his implicit message clear: Get your shit together now – get your head back in the game.

“So what now?” asks Boris.

“Now,” replies Ithallius as the lights of his Nari-navigated ‘Conda bloom into view. We do not activate our beacon, after all, we just faked our own deaths. Instead Ithallius tight-beams the ‘conda from his suit coms panel as he finishes speaking. “Now you spy for us.”

“But Boris-”

“You spy for us or,” says Ithallius in a hardened tone, “I let Socks do whatever the fuck she wants to you.”

Boris pauses and weighs up his options as the ‘conda begins to utterly fill out view. “Very good. Is blin! I spy for you!”

I realise that I have been promoted to the role of Outfit Heavy as the ‘conda ejects two collection limpets to retrieve us. Moments later we are in the ‘conda’s cargo bay. Nari is holding me; I am numb; Ithallius is securing Boris to a cargo rack. Nari throws me a questioning look; I shrug and nod: truth is, I suddenly feel like I have lost Mira all over again, and I feel guilty as shit about how much that hurts because Nari – fucking Nari – is standing right in front of me, desperate to offer comfort and all I can do is shrug her off and withdraw.

I break out of her embrace with a shake of my head and stride along after Ithallius: work to be done and I don’t have time to get all moon-eyed right now.

That’s just not what Heavys do, eh?

Standard