IX. Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum.

Author: Radetch
Published: 2020-01-09, edited: 2020-01-11
In which the ships hit the fan.

Part of the campaign:

Unfinished Starbound AAR

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Game: Other games

VIII. The Glitch occupation was... Strange.

Images: 14, author: Radetch, published: 2020-01-09, edited: 2020-01-11

To describe it, the fleet of Houses aligned to the Voived was magnificent.

Great cathedral-ships glistening with wealth and layers of armour that had been pressed into place over periods of months by the hand-labour of the serfdom. Each plating had felt the touch of the Glitch peasantry, and in return each ship carried their hopes and dedication with them.

Amongst the Glitch ships, the steady sound of organ music could be heard. It was played live, of course - the most artisan of mercantile Glitch swapping in and out of playing in perfect tempo whenever their peers grew tired.

https://youtu.be/xOXb8o6zWlE

But the Glitch were not alone, for other ships flew alongside them as well. The peculiar, bird-shaped ships of the Avian people; built to echo the same brick used in their tombs and settlements. Where usually there would be disharmony between believers of Kluex, and those who had fled the auspices of that somber god -

Here, unity of perhaps meant that both had found secular liege under the Voived Tinselkampf.

Many other ships of other races, lesser known or simply lesser in number, brought up the rear or provided support of their own, whatever form that support could take.

Sarah voya Burwell watched from the window of the «Roland» as they waited for the pronouncement from the Voived. Whatever news would come - she and her soldiers were patient as any knight could hope to be.
Chivalrous: I seek to end this meaningless conflict before any more lives are shed!

The Voived, dressed in full regalia, spoke quietly and yet with great force. It seemed he had no heart for long speeches today, or perhaps he simply had no desire to tell them what was to be located on their destination. And yet...

"Firm: We go to Upsilon Beta V. I fear there may be enemies in our path - I would not ask you to go if I believed there were any alternatives. Due to... Strangenesses in the planet's character, teleportation is impossible. I shall go to the surface via drop-pod."

Silence fell before the Voived spoke again.

"Should I not return, I shall pass regency of House voi Tinselkampf to my mistress, Eudokiatrice. A new head of House may then be elected from amongst all Houses under my auspice. I leave no issue."

For a minute, sorrow was visibly noticeable in the normally optimistic voice of the Voived. But it was brief, and the light of his blue leds stood out against the screen.

"To all who go with me, glory to you! To all who stay behind, glory to you! It has been, and will always be my honour to have been your lord!"

The assembled crew roared with applause and cheers, especially the Glitch. Sarah, however, lips pursed, was already thinking of the future -

And trying to draw conclusions where they did not seem to be pleasant.
The internal memo was directed at the three humans amongst her crew.

Former USMC, all of them, and loyal personally to her. Sarah trusted her Glitch crew with her life - and beyond.

But the Glitch didn't think quite the same way, and although that wasn't a bad thing - it was something to address all the same.

"Nervous: Voya Burwell."

She raised her visor as the Glitch approached. He was young, perhaps too young to be on this ship. Like most Glitch soldiers, he was clearly a noble - whether he'd been raised to nobility by the recent decree, or born into it.

But his chassis was untested, his optics flashed wildly, and she could tell from his expression what he was about to say.

"Shoot, pal. Don't worry - I hear the craziest stuff out here in space. Nothing you can say'll bug me."

It took awhile for the Glitch to understand what she meant, but he slowly - visibly - relaxed.

"Regretful: It is merely that, my love and I - he had planned to create a child, and I do not wish to die, now. Without that. I - I am so sorry..."

Sarah chuckled, placed her hand on his, and gave the soldier a toothy grin.

"There's no dishonour in fearing death. Besides - if I'd stopped someone from living a life without love..."

Her eyes closed, perhaps for too long. She cursed herself for the show of weakness, even if he didn't see it.

"I wouldn't forgive myself. That's not how we ride here. Hey!"

Switching comms on, Sarah spoke brusquely.

"For anyone with family, or doubts, or any other reason - I know the Roland inside and out. I could run herself myself, if I had to. If you need to leave - leave. You heard what the Voived said."

The crew shrunk, perhaps by a third.

But Sarah felt neither fear nor remorse - instead, the same wiry determination that she'd felt in countless battles before welling up inside of her.

It was time.

"We're going in first, people. Everyone on guard - the Roland's a big girl, and if someone comes out swinging, we're going to make their knuckles bleed. Ura!"

The crew responded, even if some of the Glitch still hadn't mastered the Terran cheer - and the Roland leapt through space, leaving the rest of the fleet behind.

At first, only one Floran craft was visible - but it was there, all the same.

Her trigger-finger itching, Sarah was tempted to give the order to fire - but something, some fragment of strange hesitation ached inside her like a quiet voice.

https://gelsol.bandcamp.com/track/as-far-as-eye-can-see

It whispered for her not to be so serious - that she might miss something important if she acted as rashly as she always did.

"Lord Burwell! Your orders?"

Holding back memories, Sarah shook her head.

"They're not engaging us at all. Let's just give them some time and - "
"Issss commsss on? Floran is ssspeaking!"

"Great. Looks like I gave the salad too much credit."

A few nervous laughs went up throughout the crew as the Floran craft - and others like it, appearing lazily throughout the skyline - fired warning shots past the Roland. They went purposely wide, however, and Sarah recognized a feint when she saw one.

"Hey, Floran."

She said, giving the command to open the Roland's gunnery ports as easily as she flipped the comms back on.

"Happen to have a name? You're talking to Sarah voya Burwell, Knight of the House voi Tinselkampf. What are you doing in our space?"

"Sssoilchoke and friendssss are hunting! Big prey causssed big problemsss, many Floran dead, many prey will be dead, too."

The black abyss of the Floran's eyes suggested that they were looking forward to just how dead the prey would be - and how it would be a long, drawn-out process.

"You wouldn't be Floran-killersss, would you?"

"I've ripped a few petals in my time, but not today. A lot of ships are coming through here - yours too, looks like. Wanna avoid a punchout for now?"

Soilchoke darkened comms as the forces of voi Topaztalon appeared behind the Roland.

"Topaztalon here. Voya Burwell, all good? The «Skyfury» has your back."

"Good, actually. Give us a few..."

The comms popped on. Soilchoke's teeth looked like they might pop off the comms unit and devour the unwary.

"Floransss like friendly offer! Okay! We're going to follow you!"

Lips pursed in a half-smile, Sarah shook her head, switching to a private channel.

"We've got a convoy of Floran. Don't pick them off just yet."
As the greater fleet arrived, the Floran ships continued to lazily drift alongside it.

Though the voi Tinselkampf fleet dwarfed the Floran hunters by comparison, the Floran seemed entirely content to watch them go by, occasionally doing aeronautic maneuvers or burning off excess power.

The flashy, pollutant-belching ships they'd salvaged were amusing to watch, at least, and did a little to set the crew at peace, Sarah felt. She had no particular sympathy for the plant people - besides their inherent violence, it was hard to hear what they said through all those teeth.

But - getting halfway to Upsilon Beta V without incident was worth dealing with their strange ways. All the more so if it turned out whatever the Voived feared and the Floran were hunting were one and the same...

Then, the sky ahead of them roared and twisted.

"Uncertain: Trouble?"

Her XO asked, bracing to alert the crew.

But Sarah's stern face had melted into a large smile the like of which caught the crew of the Roland entirely off guard - for she'd only shown it a few times before, and only to one.

"I can't fucking believe it... Put me on comms, right now!"
"Holy shit - Burwell, that you? Why are you dressed up like a tin can?"

"It's Halloween at Theta Legionis, and we all decided to go as lumpy pumpkins. Who the fuck am I speaking to?"

"This is Shen Jing, USMC 'Easy Rider', you asshole. Glad to know that life in toaster-land hasn't made you any less salty."

Jing gave a half-smile, and Sarah could see how exhausted the man was. Behind him stood not only USMC soldiers, but...

"Looks like you're carrying a lot of human cargo, Easy Rider. Where's your point of departure?"

There was a long, pregnant pause. Sarah felt the shiver before Jing spoke, and signed to comms to start transcribing fleet-wide.

"This is earth, Burwell. This is all we've got left. And we're being tailed by some pretty bad shit. You - aren't going to block our path..?"

"... Relatives of deep eight?"

Jing gave a half nod at her masked question, and Sarah bit her lip.

"Can't say. Let me put my boss on the line."

The Roland drifted aside, as did the entire Glitch fleet - and with it, Jing found himself speaking directly to their leader.

"Courteous: I have little understanding of what has transpired, but as I hope you can see, all are welcome in the demesne voi Tinselkampf. You can go with our blessing."

Jing's smile was brief, and quickly turned into a grim, battle-born frown.

"No, you don't understand - they're right on our tails. We're running wounded and ragged here - "

The Voived held up his hand.

"Forceful: No - you may proceed. I believe... I know what follows you."

His optics turned off for a moment, and then the Voived addressed the entirety of the assembled crafts.

"Inspiring: We meet our enemy here - and there is no better place to make a stand. Form a wall, and let none pass until they know the taste of our steel!

Let none chase the weak until you have shown them strength! These Terrans have lost their realm; let us grant them the time to find one anew!"

As the wounded Terran fleet limped past, the Glitch armada began to form up cautiously.

It did not have a chance to form a proper wall.
They spilled from the space between stars.

"Terrified: Tho... Those are asteroids, right Lord Burwell?"

Sarah allowed herself a moment's fear as the tiny, twisting things flooded from craft to craft. They burrowed through durasteel alloy like termites through wood, and the fleet-wide comms went silent as the sound of screams escalated into a riotous cacophony.

"They are the enemy, Executive Officer - and it is our glory to defeat them."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTgYbT2cGm4

"Fear not death nor dishonour - protect the peasantry... Death need not be the end of hope..!"

Sarah whispered as the engines roared, and the Roland charged forward, scattering hundreds of thousands of the swarming, oceanic lifeforms through the blades at her side.
Upsilon Beta IV shone a rosy red from the heat of fire and explosions around her.

The Roland's gunnery bays roaring into action as it cut bloodless swathes through the violet monstrosities around them. As several of the Terran ships made the jump to distant stars -

Others, slowly, turned around.

"Looks like you're in it pretty bad, Burwell. There's nowhere left to run. Mind if we die with you?"

Sarah closed her eyes, feeling the Roland hold where other ships had faltered under the massing bodies of the alien host.

Far adrift, an Avian craft split down the middle as a large creature the size and shape of a giant tentacle cut through it and pulled the vacuum-choking humanoids through space - and then through a rip in the stars themselves.

Above the Roland, Sarah could just hear the same droning noise.

"Evasive, go wide, go wide!" She hollered, but already the tentacle was slamming down upon the hull of her craft. Glitch and human alike slid around as the ship shook, but somehow Sarah managed to stand her ground.

Then, as suddenly as it started, the shaking stopped.

"Good hunt! Much to kill, much fun! Can cook sssquid, maybe?"

Floran craft had began to swarm around the tentacle, which looked as surprise as disembodied tentacle could - as it was cut and hacked into by mounted razors and wheeling saws, harpoons and durasteel prongs.

Several Floran let out a warcry, as they followed the retreating tentacle into wherever it had come from - before their comms went utterly silent.
Not so far away, an unmarked sterile-white vessel lay under heavy cover, heat signatures quiet.

The alien lifeforms streamed by it, clearly detecting it - but ignoring it utterly.

Within, two high-ranking Apex watched as the stellar combat continued around them. One adjusted her glasses with dispassion, the other was pacing around the room as if the floor were on fire - his displeasure easily visible in the sour look he wore.

Around them, Apex crewmen worked silently, heads down in the presence of high-ranking representatives of Big Ape; all save Verker, the malformed chimp-like wretch the crew had been forced to take on by the arbitrary selection process that placed Apex in their ordained roles.

"This is madness, Koomes - we have a peace treaty with the voi Tinselkampf AND a non-aggression pact with the Floran! I don't care what Big Ape might think! We both know he doesn't even exist!"

It was illegal talk - but in space, no-one cared. Koomes shook her head, frowning.

"But the purpose of our mission is to see what effect these entities have on machine-men; and to prevent the arrival of that Glitch lord to Upsilon Beta V. I'm not sure why - but that's our mission."

She gave a half-shrug.

"I don't care for it either, but what are we to do, Harde?"

Verker drooled on the floor, and Harde idly stooped down to wipe it up. Cleanliness was vital, after all.

"I - "
As the battle raged on, the alien swarm showed no signs of thinning.

Scars and strange, corroded dots pockmarked the Roland's once proud sheen. Several sections of the ship had been discarded into space, the crew now uncomfortably huddled in the reserve bulkhead.

"Fire isss hot." Soilchoke whispered as the horrific pop of burning vegetation came in through comms. Sarah could just make out the glass of glazing eyes as the Floran wheezed.

"You finisssh hunting? Floran cannot keep hunting, any longer..."

Sarah bit her lip so hard she drew blood.

"Damn straight."

"All righ - "

But whatever the Floran was going to say was cut off as the final Floran craft exploded in a shower of green and red.

All around her, the darkness seemed to be closing in; the Voived and his escort were closing in on Upsilon Beta V, whatever the purpose of that was - and whatever Terran vessels had planned to flee, they had fled.

Sarah felt under her armour, around her neck. It was still as simple as cloth as she remembered it - slightly burnt itself.

"There is no dishonour in death. Protect the peasantry... Death need not be the end of hope..."

Her body trembled.

"Looks like we're going to be fighting these bastards in hell, next. I hope you don't mind if we give them a proper fireworks show on the way out?"

Her executive officer, his wounded chassis propped up against rubble to the side, gave a Glitch half-smile, optics shorting out as he did. The rest of her crew slowly nodded their assent, one by one.

"Cerium... Looks like I'll be seeing you soon."

Sarah whispered, and began the destruct sequence.

Of course - it was only natural at that point that the reactor went dead.

"DAMNIT! DAMNIT DAMNIT DAMNIT!"

Sarah swore vehemently, only to stop as the swarms of xenolife ignored the ravaged Roland and her crew - their attention drawn to an ordinary, unassuming white vessel - unlabeled and without callsign.
Where the entities had seemed invincible before, the Apex craft cut them down with precise beams of painful green light.

"Protect the wounded vessels. Let them retreat. This freakshow has gone on long enough."

Koomes murmured, hands in her coat.

"Finally." Harde sighed in relief, smiling with wide, white teeth. "You're doing the right thing, Koomes. I promise - if there is any fallback, I'll take the blow. I - "

But he didn't have a chance to speak as his head exploded in a shower of gore. Koomes opened her mouth, then fell to the ground as three wounds materialized - in her chest, her shoulder, her neck.

Rising in perfect posture, Verker brushed imaginary dust from his shoulder. The minor Apex around him trembled, knowing a representative of the Big Ape when they saw one.

"Belie that order, crewmen. It was spoken by traitorous tongues. Open fire on the surviving craft - and do not let that deluded machine reach Upsilon Beta V!"

"B-b-but Political Officer! He isn't teleporting in - they're using drop-pods! He already touched surface!"

Verker's eyes bugged out against his face, and he held a wrinkled hand to his forehead.

"... Fine. I shall go commune with Big Ape. Leave no survivors."
Moments before arrival, Radetch had knelt down amongst his empty ship.

"Regretful: You know, I rarely noticed you before. I imagine in the past, at some point - I must have bought or won you at some place.Yet you've always been here, haven't you?"

The mechanical pig stared back, disinterestedly. The Voived sighed and ran his hand against it's back.

"Gentle: I can only hope there is more to welcome you on this place then I. We go."

https://youtu.be/v1LB5kEBNDQ
When the first pod landed, it was greeted with emptiness -
Not dark nor black, but a reflection of all light entirely.
Then, another pod landed - just in time to see the planet surface lit up...
By a kaleidoscope of natural lights, flickering on and off as freely as the neurons in an organic brain.
So many appeared that - for a moment, it almost seemed as day.

The few surviving soldiers of the voi Tinselkampf followed Radetch at a distance, cautious and exhausted from the ordeals above. Dark, strange creatures followed at a distance - not hostile, but curious.

Compound eyes, green and probing like fiery emeralds, watched as the troop approached a crumbling and desiccated castle - one that appeared to have been lost in time.

Indeed - though the emblem had changed much throughout the years, it was not hard to see how the heraldry of the voi Tinselkampf had been, not so long ago.
Aging knights, joints rust-covered and almost locked in place, ran at the Voived and his company.

"Furious: Squire! Sword!" Radetch felt himself yell, as if outside of his chassis.

But no reply came, and Radetch turned to find the body of his loyal servant slumped, burdened from fire and finished by the quarrels of an enemy knight.

The Voived's optics went dark, and the rest of the battle was akin to a dream.
Steel and steel clashed in a terrible din, leaving none alive.

The residents of the place seemed desperate to prevent anyone going further inside - but they were no match for the new-type model soldiers Radetch had, even as the Voived's company dwindled by the minute.
And here it was that those surviving began to notice something ominous -
Not all Glitch spoke as those they knew upon the surface -

And though it was not uncommon for Glitch to do so to other Glitch whom they knew well, the surreality of one of the citadel's residents simply addressing the coolant-strewn Voived as he passed instilled a growing fear in them.
But it did not have long to incubate - for soon their were none left.

Radetch made his way to a basement, limestone covered with odd mildew - and the doors opening into a natural cavern system. Waiting for him was a knight in full regalia - the kind not seen in modern Glitch tournies.

The lord and the knight stared at each other for some time, and the knight gave a bow of his head.

"Regretful: You cannot pass."

Combat once again roared in laughter - and when it finished, the Voived threw his sword against the ground.
Far beneath the earth, strange things grew - pulsating and changing and beating like living organs.

"Mournful: Even this..."

Radetch felt the black slime drip from his fingers, stinging with a corrosive hiss. It took some effort to remove, and the Voived tried his best to avoid it, even as he made his way further downwards.
If it were truly downwards he was heading - for he seemed to be moving back, towards the surface.
And all at once, the 'ground' beneath him shook, disgorging primeval liquid that might have given birth to a new species - in millenia past millenia. The 'soup' faded into a strange, flesh-like growth on the wall... And then all was still.

Casting his hands about in the gloaming dark, Radetch found what he was looking for - something long, and stringy and clearly alive.

With a pull of his hands, the organ writhed and died, and the Voived was hurtled through the planet at unbearable speeds -

Speeds which should have torn him asunder, but nevertheless left him alive and well.
Staring upwards, the Voived watched as the lost few ships vanished into the horizon -
And the clouds of alien life seemed to vanish as well. But the sky remained stained by fire and death, even on this light-eating world... And Radetch knew, somehow, that they would be here soon.

There was only one thing left to do.

Sitting himself amongst the dirt, he took something he had found very early on from his possessions.
"Hear me now, thou bleak and unbearable world..."
"Thou art base and debauched as can be - "

Around him, the wind began to howl with a quiet laughter.

"And a knight with his banners all bravely unfurled - "

He could still hear the dying sounds of battle, now past - and imagine the ruins of Glitch metal, all torn metal and burnt plastic.

"Now hurls down his gauntlet to thee!"
The angry roaring wind became a howling, hooting susurration.
Above the lone Voived, now merely a man of metal, alone and adrift -

The darkness opened up, and swallowed him whole.

Next chapter:

Game: Other games

X. Exhausted: Is it over..? Is the battle yet won?

Images: 12, author: Radetch, published: 2020-01-09, edited: 2020-01-11

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