VIII. The Glitch occupation was... Strange.

Author: Radetch
Published: 2020-01-09, edited: 2020-01-11
But what of Theta Legionis, and the people who called it home?
We continue our story, already in progrss.

Part of the campaign:

Unfinished Starbound AAR

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Game: Other games

Interlude: Collection from the Russet Book of Fables & Fairy Tales

Images: 13, author: Radetch, published: 2020-01-09, edited: 2020-01-11

The moment the armistice had been signed, the 'conscript' Glitch left as one.

/ "... If you want to understand the life of the Glitch, you must understand belief. Close your eyes and believe."

"Believe you are awake. Be aware of your breathing, the sounds around you, the feel of your pulse."

"Believe that the sun will rise - not because it will, but because you believe it to do so."

"Believe that at any point, the sky may open and unleash angry, devouring angels..." - Bon-Hwa Reedwind, Archivist. /

The only remaining forces - those who certainly had better equipment and training - were apparently of some kind of higher social strata.

Sarah Burwell could just make out a few Avian faces in the crowd, though peculiarly their traditional gear was downplayed and integrated into Glitch-style 'feudalistic' equipment.

It was bullshit, wasn't it?

She'd always thought the idea of wearing clunky medieval gear in the post-fusion age was bullshit.

But then again, the Glitch didn't fight like a conventional army, or at least a conventional army in the manner as the Apex or the USMC or any halfway civilized people.

But the toasters had won the day, and no amount of glaring was going to change that.
UAC had promised some wonderweapon when the Apex started picking off rimworlds.

Then Mars had went silent, and they'd had to make do with gear supplied by TriOP, which had worked about as well as anyone expected. No one had expected the Glitch to join in the party, although as far as she understood it, Theta Legionis was an 'isolated' incident.


Glitch nobility loitered around, glancing at base structures as if they were some kind of rare and exotic fish. A nobleman with a shiny, polished faceplate kept poking the power generator as if he was trying to read it in braille; maybe he was, maybe every object here was a toaster-fucking traitor.

Scary thought, Sarah admitted to herself.

"Strict: All prisoners-militant are to split into the second line. Those wishing transfer to other Terran worlds, please see the Magister Astral."

Sarah and a few of her fellow jarheads split off, only for their escorts to close rank and lock them back in.

"Chiding: Prisoners-militant are not allowed to opt into re-transfer programs."

"Yeah, well, where the hell are we going, then?"

Yakub yelled defiantly - and Sarah waited for what she felt was an inevitable strike from the metal man he was yelling at.

But in the increasingly surreal lighting at the base was powered down, everything seemed to be going against her expectations. The Glitch seemed confused - not angry. As if it was having trouble understanding them.

Maybe it was.

"Reprimanding: As prisoners-militant, you have been vassalized and will be redistributed to worlds that have need of your services. Once you have been properly rehabilitated, you may seek transfer to other House worlds."

Sarah waved her finger in the Glitch's face - watching as its green LED eyes stared at it in further uncertainty. Suddenly, the anger drained from her like it had never been there before, and she just felt exhausted.

"Yeah, sure. Whatever."

Farewells were brief, snipped, and awkward. She was glad she hadn't had any relationships on base - seeing some of the splits the Glitch made was painful enough.

But they were divided, and further divided, and then divided again.

Finally, Sarah found herself on a long march towards one of the base shuttles now commandeered by an array of Glitch settlers and soldiers.

The familiar motion of the craft soon had her helmet in her hands - and then sleep took over, and the rest of the long journey was a blur of half-remembered images and sounds.
Hecate was an agriworld - pristine and entirely the opposite of what she had expected.
When the teleport bay finished offloading transports and cargo, Sarah found her escort downsized to two Glitch soldiers.

At first, she'd planned to try overpowering them and making a run for it - but perhaps in part of their plan, she found the desire ebbing as they were approached by a machine-horse drawn cart.

Their ride continued in silence for some time, and then one of the guards began whistling. It felt strange to think of a machine as whistling, but - so he was.

His companion joined in after a time, and after awhile, with nothing better to do - Sarah did, as well.

The sun had began to wane as they finished.

"... Wistful: I do not wish to leave this place again."

"Your home?"

Sarah asked, cautiously.

"Natural: No. Simply a beautiful place. Our liege demands our presence elsewhere, after this campaign is done - but such is the burden of knighthood."

Pride entered into the soldier's voice as he finished speaking - and the ride returned to silence once more.

Sarah watched as waves of wheat - not machine wheat, but actual wheat - passed by.

Finally they arrived at a small outpost - with actual coffee, not the fake stuff they had at the bunkers. She didn't care how ridiculous it looked - Sarah drank several cups as her papers were processed, waiting anxiously for whatever it was that was going to happen.

She was less surprised then she thought she would be when they returned her sidearm to her, gave her a small amount of food, and sent her on her way with instructions to a nearby plot of land.
When she arrived, she found several Glitch peasants, tilling under the dying light.
They looked up curiously as she walked by, some staring for moments at at time - but most returning to their work wordlessly.

It was easy enough to find her plot of land - it was entirely unseeded, fallow and unworked. Rolling up her sleeves, Sarah took the hoe from the bindle at her back -

And realized she didn't know the first thing about farming.

Quiet laughter from her side caught her attention - at first, it seemed to be coming from a large, rather ugly creature that Sarah decided was probably either a pack animal, food, or a xeno-parrot of extremely overgrown proportions.

She was halfway to lining it in her sights when she caught the source of the laughter - a glitch woman, hands covered in dirt, head covered by a brown kerchief.

"Apologies: You looked absolutely helpless. Please don't shoot the crested cardinal. It's harmless."

"So that's what it's called."

Sarah murmured in reply, holstering her pistol and trying to return to staring at the iron tool in front of her, as if that might make it jump to the ground and start doing work via psychic force.

But her eyes kept returning to the Glitch peasant, who had gone back to placing seeds at uneven intervals. If they were machines, why were they so imprecise? Were they so intent on mimicking organic life..?

Hefting the till above her head, Sarah brought it down - splitting the earth in an uneven furrow. It felt surprisingly good, but after only a few swings she had a lot more respect for casual gardeners - let alone farmers.

Quiet laughter returned, and she shot her fellow labourer a dirty glance. The Glitch blinked rapidly in amber-lit embarrassment.

"Apologies: Would you... Like some help?"

Leaning against the hoe, Sarah blew a strand of hair out of her face, hoping it made her look more rustic.

"Well, I'm pretty skilled at most things, but I suppose if you wanted to help me - yeah, I'd be grateful. Sarah Burwell."

She held out her hand, and the Glitch woman took it - her 'fingers' cold and imprecise as they traced Sarah's skin excitely.

"Excited: I am Cerium. I have never seen a Terran before. You are very pretty."

Snickering, but not unhappy, Sarah shook the robot's hand, then rubbed the dirt on her trousers.

"Nice to meet you, Cerium. Can't say I had the best trip here but - wait. Why do you have only one name?"

It wasn't uncommon amongst spacers of certain backgrounds, but all the Glitch she'd heard yelled at in the heat of battle had names like Ironwit veg Shitstain, but then again, Sarah hadn't exactly had the time to know them personally.

"Flustered: Ah, well, surely m'lady Burwell must not think I am of noble descent..!"

Sarah had never known that it was possible for Glitch to blush.

Cerium fiddled with her hands nervously, looking right and left as if scared some monster might jump out at them. Despite her nervousness, she seemed absolutely thrilled.

"Expository: It is the lot of peasants to have a single name. I do not know how long you plan to stay here, but... Perhaps we could talk about it..?"

Sarah set back to work, feeling the soil shift under foot. The sweat was welcoming after the aches of spaceflight, even if it was also an entirely different kind of pain then physical training or combat.

"Tell you what, if you help me figure out which end of this thing keeps going in front of my face, I'll trade you all the stories you could possibly want and then some."

In a whirlwind of rustic skirts, Cerium was skipping around her, talking a mile a minute - and before long, the day had drawn to an end.
Despite her exhaustion, the fields were barely tilled -
And Sarah had the sneaking suspicion that the 'crested cardinal' was mocking her.

"That actually feels pretty good. So how long do we have to wait before we can turn pasta and cakes?"

"Chiding: Do they not have serfs on your world?"

Sarah managed to limit her response to a snicker. Cerium was sitting on the ground, staring into the sky. Occasionally, workers from other plots of land would pass by, waving or nodding their heads.

After awhile, Sarah sat down next to her. The violet tinge never left the atmosphere - it was incredibly attractive, if not alien.

Sarah risked a glance at her companion, whose optics were glistening intently. The robot caught her eyes, and generated the Glitch equivalent of a smile.

"Curious: Do you hate it, here?"

Feigning pain, Sarah clutched her heart. The gesture seemed only to further intrigue the Glitch, who watched her avidly. The desire to fool around left her, and Sarah split a blade of grass, chewing on it and wishing it were a cigarette.

"Real straight shooter, aren't you... It's not terrible. A lot to take in. I can't get used to the idea of serfdom. Of being like you."

Perhaps it had come off as more rude then she'd intended, but Cerium took no issue with it. Her cold metal hand patted Sarah's gently, and out of instinct Sarah pulled hers away.

"Spirited: If this life doesn't suit you, you aren't bound to it. You have two names, after all! 'Tis almost as good as being of a noble house!"

"That simple, huh. Well - something to consider. What about you - going to run off to become a tyrant or something? Invade some Terran space?"

Once again, her words carried emotion she didn't truly feel, anymore. And once again, Cerium didn't seem to care - about that, at least.

Waving her hands in the air so hastily that Sarah felt a (cool and refreshing) breeze, the robot stammered:

"Adamant: N-no, that's absolutely impossible! I could not - It would be unimaginable for one such as I to become a lord, to... Ah, have a pleasant palace full of servants lavishing attention on me..."

Folding her hands under her faceplate, the robot sighed contentedly.

"Coy: Do you have anyone who... Lavishes attention on you? A strong-armed prince, perhaps, who gave you his favour?"

Sarah's face went red - she turned away from Cerium, and looked very intently at the crested cardinal.

Damn thing never blinked.

"... Well, there's someone - kind of. Not recently, I mean. I met someone kind of interesting, but... Uh, so do we just sit out here, or?"

"Mortified: Eek!"

Rising to her feet and brushing her skirts off, Cerium pointed into the distance - quite a walk away was a large, farmhouse-style building. It didn't look entirely communal; there were clearly smaller subdivisions for residences.

But Sarah figured that an apartment was still an apartment, regardless of the appearance.

"Nervous: I have no idea if you're tired, but perhaps we could talk some more..?"

"Go on ahead - I'll catch up with you. Just want to show this beast who's boss."

"Admonishing: Don't be a bully!"

Cerium stopped to wave every few steps, turning and glancing as if hoping Sarah might follow her. Sarah waited until the Glitch was gone and the distant sound of alien birds was all she could here.

Field-cleaning her sidearm was exactly as she remembered. There were no guards, and she knew enough to glean, even if she wasn't good at farming.

Yet, a voice inside her suggested.

The durasteel of the pistol felt strangely alien - more so then the heavy sky above.

It was now or never. She knew that if she didn't run now...

Closing her eyes, Sarah was silent for minutes, listening to the wind as it rustled her hair.

Holstering her gun, she strode towards the farmhouse.
Days became weeks.
Weeks became months.

Though she hadn't mastered the art of farming just yet, the locked seasons on Hecate meant she would never be short of practice. And Cerium and the rest of the Glitch were constantly kindly and helpful -

It was if they had never known of the conflict, or simply did not care.

Occasionally, convoys of troops would pass by, bringing food, supplies, and news. To her surprise they talked as freely to her as they did the rest of the peasants - no, perhaps more so.

The Glitch serfs would ask three things - about weather, about their lords, and about their family on other worlds; occasionally about marriage matches to be made. That was enough for them.

Sarah took freely of their idle talk - asking constantly of Theta Legionis, at first hoping that she might rile the peasantry up - though they listened politely, however, they clearly did not feel strongly about anything discussed.

On the other hand - Sarah began to feel a camaraderie with the same soldiers that her unit had mowed down by the score weeks - perhaps months - before. A familiar itch stirred within her, but she tamped it down.

As compelling as it was...

She risked a glance at Cerium, paring the apples that had fallen from one of the orchards, and smiled to herself.
The attack came suddenly.

It was a pleasant day on Hecate, as it most always was - she'd smelled smoke, and thought perhaps one of the other peasants had decided to roast something that the soldiers had brought; diodia, perhaps.

Then she smelled the horrible, distinctive smell of burning plastic and metal.

Dropping the basket she'd been hauling, Sarah ran as fast she could, trying to avoid the flashbacks to canyon battles that began to resound throughout her head.

The raiders were Glitch as well - uniformly Glitch, as opposed to the House voi Tinselkampf. She didn't recognize them, nor the banner their shields bore - that of a large boar, cast of copper.

She did however, recognize the prone forms of people she'd known. Their faces melted into indistinguishable lumps of metal but plasma fire, cloths charred and stuck to metal not designed for combat - not designed ever to see it.

She recognized a hand, outcast and outstretched around pooling coolant, and Sarah's vision went white.

Her fingers found the sidearm, and it returned readily to her grip. The marauders were adjusting their armour and not expecting anyone else, let alone a human.

The first one fell to the ground in a controlled burst, the first shot hitting his leg, his back, his neck. Pockmarks of synthetic metal exploded from heat as his synthesized scream filled the air.

His companions turned towards her in surprise and anger - but Sarah kept firing.

When her vision cleared, only the dead remained around her.
Glitch outposts were small compared to their castles - designed to quarter troops for information, not protection.

"Fix them."

"Apologetic: You cannot restore the dead."

"Damnit! You're machines! Not people! Can't you just, I don't know -"

But she didn't know, and even as the tears flowed down her face, Sarah saw the look of incomprehension on the Glitch soldier's face turn to sorrowful understanding.

The soldier waited for her tears to dry, which didn't take long. Sarah reached for the kerchief she'd brought with her, and gave it a small squeeze. It had been burnt - but it still felt the same.

"... I understand. So it goes. Never the people that should die, huh..."

Rubbing at the circles under her eyes, Sarah stared at the soldier - and then at the banner on the wall.

"... How do I get a ship of my own?"

"Gently: You must specify what you mean, Terran."

"... How do I become a knight?"
It was the second long march she'd endured in recent memory.

Her kit felt ridiculous as she passed Glitch village after Glitch village. But the USMC gear still fit just as well, even with the labeling removed.

It felt like she was tracing steps backwards in time - the one spaceport operating on Hecate being where she'd been offloaded in the first place. She even recognized one of the Glitch manning the shipbound teleporters -

His arm was missing, now. She could imagine a few reasons why.

Tilting his head at her, he whistled a few, quiet notes.

"Curious: Did you decide to leave, Terran?"

"No. I'm sticking around, for now. Leaving for Deneb. It sounds a bit populous for my tastes - but such is the burden of knighthood."

The two shared a conversation without words as several containers beamed down - unloading far, far more troops then had escorted her from Theta Legionis.

"Resolved: May your trip be safe, then. If we should meet again, we shall trade tales of valour."

With a short salute from his good arm, she and the Glitch - and the planet of Hecate - bid each other a final farewell.

Sarah voya Burwell had become a knight.
His dreams were unlike the stuttering dreams that he normally had.

Frightening, and terrible.

Yet he craved them - even now, more then anything else he had. And of course he could only have them here.

Rising slowly from the vast sludge that he had ordered dumped inside one of many such hidden rooms on Zenobia, Radetch stood unclothed and let the slime fall from his chassis.

"Courteous: Hello - it seems we meet again. And yet, what unfortunate time to meet when enemies lurk beyond every corner..."

One of the slimes within the gelatinous ooze curiously lifted her head above the tide and staring at the lord of this place where reason went to die - but he was not talking to them.

He was not talking to anyone, it seemed.

Submerging herself beneath the goo, she shrugged gelatinous shoulders against the resistance of slurry around her. He'd be back to being amusing after a few hours awake, probably - until then, it was probably best to leave him alone.

... Even if he was weeping.
Tired: They did not tell me the crown would weigh like this. I did not know..!

Apologetic. I have been lax in my communications with friends and allies for some time. It has not been due to matters of marriage; I am still woefully unaligned in that regards.

It appears that challenging the old order has done much to sever useful marital options, all the more so when matters of state are involved. I have thought about marrying low, but the legitimacy of House and demesne already falters - I do not wish to cause the peasantry any more grief.

... Have you heard, perhaps?

Attacks, cruel and vicious attacks, on many of my planets. I cannot repulse them all. There are not enough in the nobility - not enough at all.

Fortunately, we are mustering - everything, really. We are mustering everything within our power. But it is still not enough. There must be more to be done, and I will find it - at whatever the cost.
Cautious: It is dangerous to be too optimistic too early, but...

There is some good news, of course. New companies of knights have been raised from former Avian and Terran auxillaries. I have good hope that we may yet convince others to enjoin the banner of Tinselkampf, but I am cautious all the same.

This brothers' war was not what I had planned. I see now how obvious it must have been - but, I simply thought - perhaps, it would be enough to let there be two councils, and two orders.

... It begins to seem that there must be some measure of reform or adaptation if we are to survive. I do not wish that. What else is there to be done, however..? How else may I trust?

I have adopted a squire, of course. A boy of exceptional skill and no small beauty. He is not fit for true combat, however - too wide-eyed and hopeful. It is enough for him to care for my armour and arms, and whisper words of encouragement when I grow tired.

... It is often that I grow tired, these days.

So I must entreat you - and I am a proud man, but I beg.

If there is yet room for it in your lives, I ask that you give what aid you can. Food and supply are unnecessary; the system of state produces enough to meet most all needs domestically. We are not so far battered yet as to return to scarcity.

But if you would swear fealty, or lend your crest to the cause - even temporarily - it would mean the world. For the entirety of my sentience I have striven to prove myself a character of honour - I will pay you back for this deed.

Whatever you may do - building devices, rallying people, or perhaps lending your craft to the cause - would be of great service. Should you do so - I thank you, not as lord but as friend. And should that be incapable - I also thank you, for staying with me this long.

No matter the grimness of it all, we shall not run nor give quarter.

A noble does not surrender.
Shocked: What?

Unknowing: Please, repeat that. My auditory sensors are not damaged, but I am afraid I do not understand...

You say the Outpost in Theta Legionis is completely empty?

But - how - I... Nevermind. It is of no import.

Outposts are fickle things; perhaps with the conflict over the system, those manning the place decided to flee.

Bitter: After all, I could not protect my new vassals.

Quiet: One must hope, though... Perhaps this shall be the last of it. If things remain as they are - I think, yes... We shall recover, in time.

Thankful: I wish you well, and truly. When we meet again, I fear it may be against the backdrop of conflict - but I hope that we shall stand together there, as allies.

Once this war against the estate is fully prosecuted, peace will reign again - and let none stand against that hope.

For who would bring war against a united people, divided by cruel fate and my own foolish gestures..?
Smog flowed from the reactors around them.
Any sane pilot would be terrified -

Though the pilots in question were viscerally sane, they were not terrified.

Comms between craft broadcast a steady frequency of drums and the whispering of plants, at once calming and driving the pilots and crew to frenzy.

Brackenvine turned to the window and smiled at the planets below. Trophies from previous expeditions lay strewn against the floor, and would've presented a hazard to the unwary if the Floran did not drink nutrients from the blood of the former Terran crew -

Strewn, like trophies, and splattered across the ground.

Brackenvine drunk deeply, and felt cheered.

"Sssssoon, huntsss..!"

One by one, captured Floran craft burst forth from the sky - nestling around the alien sun of Theta Legionis and drinking deeply, and feeling cheered.

For new prey had been found.

Next chapter:

Game: Other games

IX. Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum.

Images: 25, author: Radetch, published: 2020-01-09, edited: 2020-01-11

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