Blocked

YC122-11-29-23:59
Wastelands, Grid Ref ██.█████, ██.█████

A camera drone activates, and a familiar visage is seen sitting in a command chair. Unlike the previous settings Mahazkei is not wearing his mask on his face, or the gloves on his hands, the left being flesh and the right being an augment. Beneath is just a human, and a rare face uncommonly seen, discounting the modifications beneath the suit’s cowl to which the mask attaches. Two things stand out from the norm, however. The first is Mahazkei’s skin, alight like a warm flame shining through the tissues just skin deep. It does not appear to be biological in origin resulting from mutadaptation, and is instead reminiscent of a capsuleer’s active connection to any given vessel from cybernetics and is sustained with little fluctuation.

The second difference is his eyes. While his eyes might seem normal — if a bit bright — in stock lighting, the darker environment, red lighting and closer look through the camera’s lens highlights their anomalous nature. His pupils are the eye of the storm with the irises spinning steadily around them, rotating towards his nose in a maddening green spiral. The exact nature of this aberration is not immediately clear, as they rarely change rotational velocity save when his eyes narrow, picking up speed before settling when his focus relaxes. Were he twitching and jerking he would be considered estranged, instead he remained still as his eyes moved carefully between invisible inputs. His hands remained at their rests, buttons and sticks being shifted with practice and almost unreal speed.

Suddenly the silence is broken. He doesn’t look at the camera while he speaks, but his tone does change as if he were holding the conversation normally. “Morning, Summit. I realise that I’ve been out of contact for a bit, that it’s early at the time this is going out, and that this isn’t the most optimal setting for me to be recording.” He waves off with a look of disdain, an almost unparalleled scowl. “■■■■ it. This was always supposed to be about the people. You know, we’re human. We’re not faceless or unfeeling. We gotta eat and rest when the outside gets nasty.”

A beeping rings out in the darkened interior, not harsh enough to be a klaxon. His eyes and skin lose their unearthly glow and he almost seems to relax. His face is riddled with lines, and he almost seems pale.

“And speaking of which.” He sits up from the crash couch and moves, the camera shaking slightly before rising to follow, keeping his back centered the whole time. “Sorry I can’t show you anything substantial today, still going over security protocol, but I think the mess hall should be fine. I shouldn’t need to explain what a mess hall is. As for why I need one I’m not the only person on board.” There is a little light over one of his shoulders, the edge of a holo screen. It isn’t visible, but a similar feed appears in the corner of the camera’s lens, showing a number of warclones or similar elements embarking into a larger bay. They’re all dark colored, but they bear some similar livery to Mahazkei himself, notably the arm band, some orange highlights, and a bright orange handprint cradling the cheek of the helmet. There are minor differences between each of them, with some bearing other markings too small to make out. One helmet sticks itself in the view of the bay camera, sandblasted and worn so its original colors are faded.

“It’s hairy out there, boss. Visibility is shot and if you weren’t darker than the rest of the sky we wouldn’t know where you were.” The voice is filtered through the helmet, obscured, but there is some interference making the words a little more difficult to parse, possibly damage from the rapidly deteriorating environment.

“Are the tethers still connected to the convoy?” His voice is drenched with concern, and by the sounds of it he would be leaping outside were he not exhausted.

“Yes sir. I asked a few volunteers to stay behind for another hour into the next cycle just to do a recount. We’ve not lost anyone yet, sir.” The reply is subdued by the end, as if to be reassuring. And it seems the intent worked. Some of the lines across his face fade.

“Thanks. Tell the volunteers out there that when they trade off I’m going to crack out the beef curry. I’m cooking.”

The helmet cants and moves back a bit, the bay door behind them closing and the room being bathed in a red light. “I’ll be sure to let them know.”

Mahazkei rounds a corner, and raises a hand. “And I’m not about to leave you out for the time. You’re going to get something else for your trouble, and I’m not taking no for an answer.”

“I know that, sir.” They step back more, a little easier to see now. “I know better than to turn down a meal as opposed to those processed bricks you had stacked.”

“Not my idea, may I remind you.” Mahazkei tisked. “Block’s. You can take it up with her.”

“I might just. See you in a minute.”

The camera drone moves from behind him and Mahazkei is now in a mess hall, far more than would be needed for himself alone. “This is the mess hall! The safest thing I can show off to the Summit right now.” He moves behind a counter and into a kitchen, and begins to work. The feed is intermittently cut between bursts of movement, primarily capturing his bare hands being scrubbed and his sleeves rolled, revealing on the left arm a marking similar to his sleeve, the preparation of several pans, and eggs being cracked and scrambled. By the time he seems to be done and plating several large and garnished omelettes with sides of rice there are two dozen people in battle dress patterned in metamateria, sans the gold. Their faces are not obscured, and many of them seem young, or exceptionally experienced in their age. As they stand at attention he waves them off and gestures to the plates he’s set out. “Have at them, people.”

Their expressions break and they relax, looking thankful to the cook and sitting at tables. Mahazkei prepares his own plate, and sits down with the others. The camera stays nestled between two shoulders and captures Mahazkei, the two next to him, and the table behind him. He makes a small wave to the camera before cutting off a piece of his omelette and some rice and eating it. He finishes the bite and speaks. “I forgot, we’re doing a bit today. Today’s stars are the members of Block 1, the boots of this outfit, and my first contact crew for when we roll in. With me is Major Devanti Agamond,” a brunette with almond eyes, “and Staff Sergeant Ruraneh Nauriava.” The second is a bald woman with steely eyes, but both women are in light spirits. They wave to the drone while some around his table and the one behind him start jeering playfully. Mahazkei turns around and projects, “I’ll get around to the rest of you, don’t worry.”

The din settles and returns to light conversation with the clicking of cutlery on plates. Mahazkei turns back around and takes a few more bites before looking back up. “Oh, right. So I want to recap the last few days, with a few perspective notes from my officers here. We start off with an overview of what Mahonisgard is like. So. Mahonisgard is a port city with close to a dozen naval facilities, and at least one of them was a major base. Since it is surrounded by water with a land bridge going south, it made for a favorable fish farm and trade hub between the southern sea and the northern sea. As a coastal city almost entirely surrounded by water every part of the city’s infrastructure in the early days after 'forming was geared towards ports and trade, but when the crisis hit warehouses staged for the shipping of goods were retooled into fisheries, and the remaining ports shipped only fish across the continent, since there wasn’t anything else worth shipping for some time after. So on the north western, south, and south eastern sides the city had ports and more than a few were military, almost a hundred years old, and some of them had been converted to Angel ports after the worst of the skyhook disaster. We roll across the land bridge with room to spare and we’re hit by the eastern winds. Since the sea is flat and one of the few heat sinks in the region with as little heat as we get these days the winds here were particularly severe.”

He takes a moment to take a bite, and gather himself to continue jabbering. “Glaciers have started growing off of the coast breaking up some of the gales, but until you hit the city proper where the ‘scrapers start doing the work it’s really too gusty for infantry work. So anyone who would be outside the limits had to be attached to a vehicle crew, and physically tethered to each other and a few redundancies to keep moving forward. When we passed the ports and yards we didn’t find anything, at all. And I mean in any of them. Clean, parts even too big for standard transport were well and gone, and I doubt the nomads made off with them. Shame since we could have used some of that for fabbing the sleds. Especially Angel gear.” He shakes his head ruefully.

“When Blocks 1 and 2 made the path clear I rolled through into the proper, and by now we had made our presence known. Major Agamond then led Block 1 into the city to establish contact with the inhabitants, and here I pass the mic to her.”

The camera turns to center the Major in frame with Mahazkei’s gesture, and she straightens somewhat as she makes direct contact with the lens. “The inhabitants of the Mahonisgard ruins were not the native inhabitants, but were instead various nomadic factions of mixed Thukker and Sebeistor heritage, almost all of whom had only recently taken residence in the city since the original inhabitants were said to have left some time ago aboard a craft that was docked in the largest of the city’s dockyard. What kind of craft we weren’t told, but it’s safe to assume that if the original peoples of Mahonisgard are still alive that they are well beyond our reach, as the drones Block can deploy cannot survive the debris gales of the southern sea.”

She clears her throat and covers her mouth with a fist before continuing. “When we made contact it was clear that there wasn’t any centralised power between the factions, and the majority of which were nuclear families or larger all with different goals or intentions that mutually agreed to respect claimed territory, since there was plenty to go around. Most of them were mutadapted, and at least half of the total population decided they were going to ride out the storm and stay, try and survive under Svarog rule. Of the other half, it was a roughly even split of people wanting to resist in some fashion, like the Tribal Resistance to the north of the Proving Grounds, and people who simply wanted an out. Most of them had found ways to revitalise the utilities in the city borders, since there was never an invasion force present and most of the original population up and left without taking everything outside of the ports, so the people who wanted to stay could for a while. We chose to make our intentions known to all the factions, anyone who wanted to leave could come with us, and we would leave it to their discretion of whether or not they would come with us. Anyone who didn’t want to go got their utilities touched up to last a little while longer with what we could find on site, so as not to leave the impression that we were going to take their manpower and go without offering work hours in exchange.”

She breathes a small sigh. “Thankfully there was little internal dispute between families about individuals that wanted to stay or go, so getting head counts for the sled fabrication wasn’t too difficult. With the Commander’s direction we asked the people to assist us in breaking down local infrastructure that didn’t see any use or of any metals we could get our hands on within reason. We threw it all into our forge so we wouldn’t so heavily deplete our material stocks, and spent the next week getting everything ready.”

“Can I just interject here?” Mahazkei pipes up, and the camera turns to look at him for a moment. “I got a few pictures of what the city looks like here, on one of the less windy days, so you have some idea of what we were dealing with.” He flicks a finger and the camera feed is replaced with a series of still images of a city consumed by mutadaptive glaciers. The ports are anchors for the base of glaciers that stretch at a 45 degree angle away from the wind and into many buildings. Some of the tallest are fallen over onto each other, only to sprout more crystals as opposed to falling over, creating a criss-crossing lattice of crystal overhangs that connect nearly every building in the city together. Some appear to be horizontal from building to building, and thick enough to walk across, while others stretch from the sea at an angle and skewer building upon building in a slow but gradual growth curve.

“Try imagining finding any serious metal deposits or such salvage without causing entire blocks to collapse because the only metal we can find are part of the supports. We ended up unearthing nearly a hundred buried ground cars, siphoning the fuel, and then scrapping them because using them as part of the exodus would have been more trouble than it’s worth. None of the vehicles we found are capable of traversing the terrain that stretches between Mahonisgard and the Ternate Mountains since the last time I was in town.” The stills fade out back to the standard feed once Mahazkei is done talking. He looks over to the Major and gives an apologetic look before the feed returns back to her, as she begins anew.

“The final products are designed to follow in the wake of Block’s movement, which does limit movement options, but frankly anything else out here would have to be crazier than we are to brave these conditions. Still, the vehicles are tethered to Block as to maintain a powered connection, and allows us to maintain watch over the various sled cars, and also provides a solid communications network, since radio frequencies are harder to upkeep in the storms. If there’s anything someone needs, Block controls an APC with the requested supplies to the car and performs a transfer with limited ability utility drones, they look like spiders, that will offload the supplies onto the car and remove any waste products onboard before returning to Block for decontamination and waste disposal. Gross as it is, any waste produced can be thrown into the reactor for a little reaction mass. Isn’t much, sure as hell isn’t your standard fissionable material, and we have to scrub it sometimes with nanites, but we’re not sure throwing that stuff we find outside into the cores would be safe so we’ll take what we can get.”

“Thank you, Major.” The Major nods, and the lens zooms back out and centers back on Mahazkei. “Discussing the logistics of our journey across the wastelands is Staff Sergeant Nauriava, also our quartermaster for the trip, collaborating with Block on the total count of available supplies, and how we’re making them last.”

The camera turns to face the bald-headed woman, who despite seeming intense before seems much more upbeat, and it’s almost uncharacteristic of her appearance. She seems less formal than her superior, but she straightens all the same with a smile. “Thank you, sir. The trip was planned far in advance of our arrival here, so we have ample stored supplies taking up most of the hold space onboard Block, supplemented with what the Huomaeli Belt could supply us with before we left. We accounted for a much higher population density than we’ve encountered so far, but despite our overestimations we have more than enough to last us the four-thousand-four-hundred-and-fifty-plus klick journey. This includes food and water, clothing, repairs, and any medical concerns we were expected to encounter. While I can’t be any more specific than that, I am able to say we could last a month out here before we needed to worry.”

She’s almost done with her plate, and finishes it rather quickly between her first extended explanation and the next. As she starts again, however, she develops the hiccups.

Hic! Damn. Anyway. Since our intended target wasn’t available and had been such for months, we found that the people who were here were actually around our lower estimates of survivors, and thus we were comfortably prepared to bring them with us over the longest journey so far. Since we had some surplus, and I thought that a little goodwill would go a long way, hic!, I had a request put in to the Commander to use some of it to improve the condition of the lives of the stubborn. He approved, and we fixed any trouble spots and offered tools and a few pointers on how to use them, so while we wouldn’t be in further touch they’d have an easier time keeping themselves in good shape. “Teach a man to fish,” I said. Hic!

She takes a drink of water before putting it down and waiting. With no hiccup forthcoming, she continues. “I then had to figure the best size and necessary accommodations for the sled cars for the number of people we were bringing back. The trouble was we’ve got enough supplies, but the groups are tightly knit, and we have a lot of them. Sure we could ask some of them to stick together, and I know a few of the family units were probably already familiar and wouldn’t mind bunking for a time, but we planned for the worst case scenario where people would be stuck together for extended periods without being able to move much because the exo conditions are in the extreme, and would cause injury before long. So I pulled some heads together and we came up with this!”

She flicks her finger much like Mahazkei did, and the feed is replaced with a schematic of a kind of train car, but at the front and back of each section is a kind of screw ring that goes around the car, and if rotated in a specific direction would pull the car forward. At the bottom is a sled that goes around between the two screw rings, with a gyroscopic cabin in the center. Each car would be tethered to Block or have a flexible connector that allows the cars to make relatively tight turns. They are fairly complex, and beyond simple sleds or anything that could have been cobbled together with standard tools.

“Bear in mind that we had this design finished months ago before we hit the ground, but we only had a few already fabricated and stored, and in pieces at that. The rest came from materials we packed with us or whatever we could scrounge up. We’re expecting problems, but so far nothing we haven’t been able to patch and have last to the end of the trip. We have many challenges before us, but our big Block-y style cannot be defeated!”

There are some cries of agreement and chants shared for a moment before things settle again, and as the camera turns back to Mahazkei he is seen glowing once again, fading slowly. His plate is clear of food, and he is dabbing at his lips with a napkin. “Thank you, Staff Sergeant. These are the people who make the impossible happen. It’s not just me, oh no. It’s them and everyone back at the mountain range. It’s them and the people in orbit of Skarkon II. It’s them and Laura, and my corpmates who escorted us out here and saw me off. They’re all the real heroes.” He gestures to them all as he leans back to get his arm out to gesture to the table behind him. He stands up, and starts collecting empty or completed plates. “But I know our job is far from done. Miles to go, people.”

And those around him repeat the last words, quietly. “Miles to go.” They begin cleaning up, and at least one other member of staff joins him back in the kitchen to help with dishes while the others walk off down a hall marked “Quarters”. The camera stays in the mess, looking at the kitchen from a distance.

The camera’s feed ends abruptly, and the recorded stream comes to an end.

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YC122-12-27-7:35
Sahendaruman Fortress, Huomaeli Belt, Ternate Mountains, Skarkon II

A camera drone activates, though this one is outside. It is dark, the sun rising over the horizon and peaks of the range, but the sun doesn’t light up the sky or ground by much. Most of the light is cast by the fortress range itself, stretching far and away, and from a large construct shadowed in the darkness and light dust clouds crawling across the ground or walls of various surfaces.

Figures move in the darkness with illuminated heads, and the shuffling heard over the winds is ripe with the sound of hollow clacking and clattering, like charcoal being kicked or stepped on. From behind the camera steps Mahazkei, fully dressed as he was during his first appearance, and not a hint of skin visible, with the fleshed hand gloved. The mask is illuminated by lights at the corners around the seal, acting as a light to the ground and a means by which to see any equivalent face. His back is turned to the camera for a short time, before he twists his torso and neck to look at it, roughly at shoulder level, gesturing to the surrounding darkness.

“Still two weeks and some odd days that the place got nuked, and we don’t have full casualties. Or, they won’t tell me, worried that I’ll go rogue and execute frontier justice on whomever I find.” He’s quiet for a moment as he turns back to the front. “They’re right to be worried, but since it’s been that long and nobody who could have done it has owned up to it, I don’t have anyone to direct my fury to. Too many unknowns and worries that despite the good I might do, I’d be doing more harm than would offset the immediate reward. With this I agree, but I’ve made it clear I’m not to be idle during this investigation.”

The camera follows to one side as he shuffles along, and a wheeled vehicle, tall and only lit at the corners and front, rumbles past with the ground making a series of crumbling crunches like being driven on gravel. Hanging on the side are a few large individuals, lit enough to see an orange handprint on their left cheek. One hops off their foothold and loosens their grip on a handlebar near the roof, dropping next to him. They are taller than him by half a head, and broader, but they carry no immediate weapon besides a holstered sidearm, being imposing, but not threatening.

“We’ve assessed the damage they can’t repair with spares, and it’s not pretty. Would be superficial, but the nuke ■■■■■■ up the AA and anti-munitions systems, and they don’t have enough parts to get back to full strength, though if there’s another risk of a nuke I don’t know what good it would do them anyway.” The voice is distorted, through the filters and speakers around the helmet and collarbone, identical to the sound from the log on the twenty-ninth of the last month.

“Noted. Do we have enough to account for that?”

“Yes sir.” They begin walking towards the large shadow that looms ahead and overhead of them, with some spots illuminated, and one large rectangular space being revealed as a loading bay door. “We’re still within the green on resources, but this one is the biggest expenditure so far. And like I said, we won’t be doing much by restoring systems that didn’t intercept the missiles fast enough the first time.”

“I know, but I’ve asked some of the command staff on the Bosena side if I could be granted authorisation to link with the systems and provide fire support if and when they launch the nukes again. Their own warclones should be sufficient in infomorph state, but I’ve got just a few kicks above what they have. It’s not as much as having more of them, and I can’t issue you to stay here and stand 24/7 conscious watch for the next month or more. But they’ve agreed Block has enough range and between two points of fire we should have a higher rate of success. So we don’t need to stay here to keep them from taking another hit like that.”

“I’ll get to work on shoring up the last of the armaments.”

“Do it. Miles to go.”

“Miles to go.”

By now the warclone peeled off and away from the entrance, and Mahazkei was left to enter by himself. The door behind him closed and was sealed, by the sounds coming from behind the feed source, and he undergoes a scrubbing and decontamination procedure that lasts a few minutes.

When done, he takes off the mask and clips it to the rear of his hip, and lowers the hood and cowl, inhaling the sterile air. The doors before him open and he strides through and into familiar hallways.

“There are some concerns that what happened was blue-on-blue, and that whoever did that simply hasn’t seen a warclone until recently, and thought they were a Trig. I know that infantry can be given man-portable nuclear armaments, but I still think that’s a ■■■■■■■■ excuse. Would have had to have been a company of people no more than a few miles out to do the damage out there, and since nobody’s seen hide nor hair of them, I’m just thinking that if they did exist they’ve either killed themselves in a panic to eliminate a non-existent threat by firing that close, what with the difference in elevation and requirements to shorten their distance to get a better shot, or they never existed to begin with, and Bosena’s command is just trying to slow me down from going after the only real threat I see that could have been responsible.”

He pauses a moment before raising his voice, turning corners and picking up speed. “And before someone says the Trigs did it, I highly doubt it. They’ve got gravity weapons and crap that I don’t even want to think about, and they’re nothing like nuclear devices. Svarog’s got a twisted sense of honorable combat and rules of engagement, but they didn’t shoot at command.”

He enters his command room after a time and sits down as he has been seen time and time again. “I don’t like being kept in the dark, but I’ve been promised if it happens again I won’t have permissions revoked in the command structure, and I’ll be free to go after the sub as I see fit, with the support of the entire fortress at my back. I think some word got out about what I intend to do with the sub, but this would be my first official word on the matter. I’m tired, so I’ll make this brief.” A beat. “Briefer than you all know me for.”

He locks his fingers together as holo feeds, harder to see at this angle as the camera sits in its normal perch in front of him, appear and disappear, and his eyes look around them for some information unseen. “I want to pull the legs off the spider. Not to turn them all to ash, there’s people who don’t know better or don’t deserve that fury. No, I’ve got enough fine control between myself, my people, and my Block, to show the enemy that their wanton destruction and lust for death will give them little edge in the face of determined resolution.”

He unlocked his hands, and rested a fist on the armrest, and the other hand in his lap. “Won’t be easy, and I expect losses to mount, but they won’t be irreplaceable. The ones who are irreplaceable, especially for the enemy, they are people I intend to save. I expect most of them won’t know I don’t intend them any harm, but I hope to make that clear with action. That the enemy uses conscripts who would die final deaths makes them barbaric, and I don’t care what anyone thinks or says about their legality or their employment, I won’t tolerate what they’ve done.”

There is another, longer pause. “I don’t care what people think about my thoughts on the subject, I’ve come this far and I’m not about to take ■■■■ from a bunch of augmented bullies and murderers.”

A shorter pause. “I’ve got work to do, and if I go on any longer I’m going to accomplish nothing but piss myself off. Mahazkei out.”

The camera’s feed ends abruptly, and the recorded stream comes to an end.

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YC123-1-19-7:11
███████, Skarkon II

A camera drone activates. Leaning over it is a dressed-down Mahazkei, having just turned it on. He’s garbed in a “Hephaestus” set of grey and orange, but the right sleeve is cut out at the shoulder, leaving the cybernetic on full display. It’s a “Crusher” in green camouflage, with another pattern superimposed on top of the existing one.

He’s standing in the middle of an active machine shop, and from the increasing distance as he backs away the second pattern over the arm is impossible to see. Gone is the Triglavian jacket and suit, though his chest seems oddly built under the shirt. He walks to and from various machines, each producing one part or another before spitting it out and letting another machine take it to use it in their own production. No two machines are alike beyond taking up much of the wall space, and being built into it, and though they seem to be automated there are signs that suggest they can be operated manually. Mahazkei examines every other part that passes through the cycle before passing it back and moving up and down the line. He speaks, and any noise from the machine shop is dampened by an on-person microphone, and some post-recording edits, as noted by the date.

“Good morning, Summit! Or whenever this gets to you. Having to space recordings again, gaps getting bigger all the time. Figured I’d do something a little less sensitive than wander around outside- no, not that one, clock it back a bit, it’s too fast.” He interrupts himself pointing at a machine and the sensors posted on the wall above it. The machine in the line responds to the command, and he moves on once he sees the results he requested.

"So here we are in the small line. Basic stuff, plates, screws, pipes, the works. Room before this one, other side of the far wall, that’s the salvage and refinement room. It’s pretty boring there, we just pick up stuff and chuck it in the mouth and the line picks it apart and sorts out all the materials.

“If it’s already good and meets universal then it gets sorted to mass storage. If not, or it’s too damaged to be of use then it gets reprocessed and sent down one of a few lines, depending on the composition. Then it goes here, where all the fun begins!” He seems enthused about the process, almost prideful, though it would be no surprise with the supervision and micromanagement of the line being his present task.

“Sure, some people don’t think milling and machining a bunch of metal rods into screws and pipes is interesting, and there’s only so much you can do with such parts, but we must never forget that some of the most advanced machines in this grand cluster of ours start out with such simple pieces. All grades of tech have to start somewhere, and this is it.”

He stops and almost turns back on the drone following him. “Oversimplification or not. Don’t always look at the problem on the whole. Gives you a headache and causes existentialism. Or migraines, whichever comes first. You ask me, I want none of the above. Start with one part. Figure out where it goes with another. Math it out, bits at a time. And so on. Sooner rather than later you’ll realise you can do much bigger math than you thought, and you’re halfway to building a thirty-two metric tonne fortress on tracks and contra-gravs.”

A dismissive wave of his right hand. “Or a big art sculpture, if that’s what you were thinking about when you were doing the math. Done that a few times, believe me. Alright, looks good, keep this rate for another hour, then shut it down and run diag with the lathes.”

With the room examined, he exits into the hallways, no different in structure than before. “Got some news from outside the Dark. Family’s been fine. Babies are still little gremlins on their feeding timers. Glad that’s not my job, for now. Going to want that turn, even if it costs me some sleep down the line.” He stops in the middle of the hallway, reflecting. “Still amazes me that after all of this,” gesturing to the hallways and beyond, “the best creation I ever shared a part in is only a few jumps past the Trigs, and a few bounds through low and high.”

He shakes his head and the footage fades out and back to a different, but almost identical hallway, opening up back to the command chair. There’s no active feed on, and sitting down doesn’t trigger anything to pop up. He props up his chin with one hand, elbow on the armrest, and then gets restless and sits back up, looking into the lens of the drone. “I mean, it’s not that crazy, right? It’s just, somewhere out there I and someone else made tiny little humans. And they’re all so stinkin’- bah, nobody cares.”

But he doesn’t go a full minute into checking feeds before they shut off and he continues. “Babies! I’m a dad! Extraordinary! Hah!”

He continues like this, ecstatic, for another minute, his eyes illuminating an emerald green, his skin a dim red, and the strange pattern over his right arm a kind of magenta. “Old news to most of you, maybe. And I was there the day they were born, I wasn’t split that early, but it just stops me in my tracks every time I see evidence that I’m not a complete loon, and that all those little faces in my head are real. I know that. Everybody on board knows that, they all got to see them since I, we, made a fuss over it. But it’s…”

He slows down, and the glows in his eyes, skin and arm fade. “It’s the little things. I don’t remember who said that, but someone did. Took it to heart with everything here. Done me some good out of all of this.” He is quiet for the longest time to date on a recording or stream. His eyes do not move, he does not shift, and his chest heaves only slightly, giving the unobservant user the impression of the feed having frozen or been paused. Then he breathes deep and keeps going.

“I don’t know what this one’s going to be about. Doesn’t matter, I know some people like knowing I’m not just sitting in the Dark doing nothing on the off-time. Like some kind of… I dunno. I don’t know. These last few months, hell, the last year sum total was pretty bad. Little things made it better, sure, but that’s a net loss. I’m going to fix that. We’re going to fix that. Not the whole thing, but a little. That’s where it all starts.”

The camera’s feed ends abruptly, and the recorded stream comes to an end.

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███████, Skarkon II

A camera drone activates. It’s in the mess hall, and Mahazkei is sitting by himself with only a glass filled with a translucent cherry-colored liquid. He’s dressed down as he was in the last message, with the brighter ambient lighting better illuminating the second pattern over his “Crusher” arm. It looks like a leopard print mottle, but the prints are not parallel, being rotated and placed at random all over the arm. He sets it down, having looked at it for under a minute, and then picks up the glass with the liquid, and makes it circle in the glass.

“Just had a few thoughts, symptoms of a larger problem from being stuck out here. Just felt like jawing a while about stuff. Better for me, that way. Also keeps the post from sinking because I got busy contemplating infinity and death in ways I didn’t when I was a kid.”

He swirls the glass a little more before holding it up to the light. “Cherry-flavored electrolite supplement. Used to- no, still is one of my favorite drinks. Couldn’t get enough as a kid. Literally.” He sets it down. “Few months after I was born, not much older than a year, I had a seizure.”

He sits still, oddly subdued. “No spasms, thrashes, nothing like that. Just stopped breathing. Like I died on the spot.” He brightens, a little. “Then I woke up. Scared the hell out of my parents. Took me to see a neurologist, told them the news. Perscribed this really horrible medicine that I rarely took unless they made me. Didn’t know how bad it was until I was old enough to speak. I was eight when the next one hit. I was standing up, reciting something when I fell unconcious and hit my head on the back of a shelf on the way down.”

He chuckles, remembering something. “Woke up with a headache and a bunch of suction cups wired across my newly shaved head and my chest. I was recessitated on the spot, and unconcious all the way to the emergency room. They monitored me for a week, with nothing to do but sit quietly in a dark room and obey directions from the doctors who were monitoring me. Answer questions about what I was thinking. They learned I had epilepsy brought on by a sodium deficiency, so their solution was to give me stuff with salt. Anything. This drink, pretzels, you name it. I even learned my grandfather lightly salted fruit slices before eating them, so I adopted the behavior.”

He shakes his head with a fond smile. “Got a craving for the stuff to this day. Limited the attacks to once a year or every two years. Last one I remember was when my mother was trying to give me a haircut and… ah, nah.”

His expression quiets again. “But all those times I could remember. The ones I probably could, anyway. Each time, it started like a numbness. Started at the fingertips, my toes. Crawled up, under my skin. Made me feel weak. My vision clouded like I was being gassed, rolled over everything I could see but the only one it took out was me. Then. Nothing. By this time my brain had lost connection, any kind of sensory input or feedback, and I was entirely senseless and rendered unconcious, my autonomic functions having temporarily shut off entirely without any passive feedback from the CNS. But I wasn’t asleep. Felt like it, when you wake from a deep sleep, and you don’t want to move because you can’t much anyway. I was awake. I could see. Feel phantom sensations of my eyes moving in their sockets, looking upon an endless shroud of… nothing, really. I can’t sense anything. But it “looked” like a cloud of smoke, churning and roiling with stuff I couldn’t sense.”

His eyes stare out, without focus. “When I was ten they told me that when it happens it stops my heart. Stopped. A few years on and I concluded that every time that happens- happened, I died. And saw what comes after.”

He snaps out of his dour mood, and waves his hands. “Now you can argue that maybe since I hadn’t completely died, kicked the bucket, that it’s more of a “waiting room”, or that you need to be dead for a day or something, longer than I was out, or that because I don’t believe in one faith or another, or I believe in something or nothing that that’s all I see, or that because I don’t have an active imagination that I saw ■■■■ all when my time would have come but ultimately didn’t- nah.” He is gesticulating the whole time, dismissing the thoughts as he names them. “To that last one, I have to say you’d be wrong since here I am in the belly of a vehicle the size of a firebase. It takes imagination to conceive of it, and more to make it work. And as to the others, I’m not going to argue what you should or shouldn’t believe based on the oxygen deprivated halucinations of a thirty-something year old capsuleer from when he was a child. That, that’s stupid.”

He lifts the glass and drinks from it, setting it down with a solid thunk. “But what isn’t, least not to me, I don’t care how crap the crew calls this drink. I think it’s wonderful.”

He finishes the drink, and then reaches over to turn the camera off.

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Thread reopened due to polite request by thread originator.

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A camera drone activates. Mahazkei is sitting at his chair, without any active input in.

“Hello Summit. It’s been a minute. Things heated up a while back and we had to quiet down.”

He wrings his hands and rests them back at the chair’s rest. "Still stuck here. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m continually surprised by the people here. The men and women who go out there every day to hold the line. The people we came here for. Sure we’re all stressing, and we’d love to be anywhere else. But the longer we stay, the more it seems like we’re digging in to stay. And oddly fine with that.

“I’m still going to get them out when and where I can, the ones that haven’t changed their minds. Took the time while we’re still down here to explain in detail what may or may not happen should they come with us. Lots of worries that they’re contagious or something, when we’re pretty certain it isn’t. Some worries that they’ll be considered exiles, the ones that want to go back to the Republic. More that as soon as we get out of this sunken hole, that CONCORD or someone else’s going to pull something and try to take them off our hands, and take them away to who knows where.”

He takes a pause. "I told them I honestly don’t know. We’re putting a lot of resources into determining just how many mutadaptive strains there are now, what they do, how long it takes for them to do it, are they contagious, is it hazardous… it’s not easy. And we want to get as many heads in on this as we think will give us as comprehensive a case as we can make, without having it be completely one-sided in development, but it’s hard to find others to get involved.

"But I have not and will not lie to a single one of them. I keep them all informed to the hour when I’ve got something new. It’s not easy for them all to sit in one place, but I’m thankful for our logistics above that keep us supplied.

"I can’t speak for every last one of them, but they’re putting up with my nonsense. Even gave me an idea that I ran around the bunks until it became something new.

“I keep looking at the sky, it’s so dark. Like a vast cavern with a roof covered in glowing fog and bioluminescent bugs. Makes me itch to see the true sky again, show them all that sky for the first time all over again. So when I asked around, an idea bounced around, punching through that ceiling to the sky, until something came of it…”

He fiddles with his console until his feed shows a picture of a stylised coyote with a conical drill bit in its mouth. “A symbol to give to Block as the Steel Coyote. We got lots of things ahead. Can’t talk on them, but know that no matter how quiet we seem, we’re not silent down here. Mahazkei out.”

The camera drone turns off.

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A camera drone activates. He’s sitting outside, the wind gusting and light particulate blasting him and the structure he’s sitting on. He’s fully kitted, and his suit, while still Triglavian base technology, looks deviant from the original design. He has his hood up, mask on, but the ear structures in the hood, and the relatively new orange right hand-print across the side made him distinct enough from Svarog. Blue and orange made a helixical band around his upper left arm, and despite the gales whipping his hood and coat about in the scarlet dark he seems content.

“Got some good news. We’ve- no, they’ve made breakthroughs in identifying and categorising the mutadaptations into something publishable. So far the identified strains are mostly benign or beneficial, but the dangerous ones aren’t nearly as dangerous on a larger scale than we thought.”

He picks up quickly. "Still dangerous, they’re dangerous on an individual level and demand immediate care on a level above most affordable medical packages, but the fact remains they’re treatable. Mostly. I’m still expecting to find one or two strains out there that do more than that, but we’re lucky so far that this world of ours has not yet graced us with the horrors of the deep and dark.

“Which means that if we can get others to discuss, confirm, dispute, and correct our findings to the satisfaction of an international board, we can easily get these people off of Skarkon in their lifetimes, and see them home, as if it never happened.”

The structure beneath him shakes, Mahazkei lurching as if stopped in momentum. He peers over the side, looking at something the drone cannot view from this angle. He sits back and goes back to staring over the camera. “I’ve offered to foot the bill for most of the care that needs to be done for the extreme cases, as I’m not sure the benign and beneficial cases need any more work than observation to go back to living as they did before.”

He shrugs visibly. “As for what I get out of it, the data. It’s no secret the reason that Trigs scare so many is the fact they pushed into tech and biotech domains that the four and others didn’t consider as seriously when their progenitors were first under study. The Collective has a head start on tech that no one else comes close to, like the meeting of the empires for the first time, but on a far larger scale and impact. Like the expeditions of the desert, we’re rewriting the books as discoveries are made, and are already seeing the benefits.”

He uncrosses one leg and rests an arm on the knee. "I can see why the Collective values its metaphorical sword to push improvement. War has always been some of the best motivators of progress in our time, and with everyone having a common enemy we’re pushing existing tech to new heights, and combining strengths to cover weaknesses that only Capsuleers and the like discovered when making mixed composition fleets in the early days and out in Null.

“Not saying I approve of the execution, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about the fruits of our labors.”

There’s a long pause. “I won’t be making larger recordings like before, too much going on. But I got to keep up with records.”

There’s a longer pause before he motions for the drone to come over to be shut off. As it does so, it pans to face away, showing a large operation in the dark, with many vehicles lit moving about. It’s not possible to see what they are doing. The camera’s feed ends abruptly, and the recorded stream comes to an end.

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A camera drone activates. He’s outside watching a custom Amarr dropship descend amidst the dust and particulate sandblasting his jacket. The colors are starting to fade on the old Perun coat, but they look to be oddly reflective as if sealed, and the sandblasting isn’t affecting it. The dropship on the other hand looked harried and nearly has lost its shine, barely recognisable as a Khanid variant with Thaddeus Reynolds’s sigil, and one other, a roundel that looks something like Amarr Templar heraldry, but it’s inverted, and upside down.

When it opens, only two in dropsuits exit and a pallet of supplies. A light MTAC steps past Mahazkei and leans over to grab the pallet and remove it from the dropship, and doesn’t so much as collide with the hull as it takes the container past him to Block. The sole occupants step off and the dropship lifts away into the atmosphere.

"We’re still receiving small numbers of refugees; however, the major population centers and the majority of known settlements in the AO have been evacuated already, populace safe in the fortress cities or on their way out-system.

"The problem is there’s a number of scattered settlements and temporary encampments that are still under threat, and more importantly are not aware of the nature of the threats they face:

"Svarog strip mining is the big one; however, I’ve received word that some individual warclones or clans may be attempting to carve themselves up some holdings in the rural areas that are difficult to monitor effectively given the current state of the world.

“As such, the mission I wish to request of you is threefold: find whatever populations are at risk, provide what aid and support you can to ensure their security, and monitor the region, providing…discouragement to anyone thinking of reenacting the Uprising here, where they think there aren’t eyes or accountability.” This was a conversation fed into the camera, and it played out while the MTAC removed the supplies, and ended by the time they were standing in front of Mahazkei.

Mahazkei gripped one of the men by the arm below the elbow as they did the same in turn, sharing a look before they both released their hold and shake, and Mahazkei gave the other a nod, and motioned for them both to follow.

“Thaddeus has already provided us in addition to what you brought from outside, so we are set to leave effective immediately.” Mahazkei briefs. “Would have left without you, and let you catch up, but we’ll be on the fringes, and leaving without that cargo would have made this trip less bearable.”

“I wasn’t aware that my arrival would make this situation that much better.” The suited warclone who speaks has an ugly eel mug with pale, blind eyes painted on the front of the helmet, with a rough-toothed grin and some of the same colours as Mahazkei’s staff, with the metamateria style of livery. He sounds a little older than he likely is, given the way he carries himself.

“Trust me, deliveries from 4-4 are on the low end of priorities around here. You’re going to make the day of everyone inside. Warden? Will you be joining us?”

“Well, it would make me a poor guest to refuse an implied invitation…” He trails off before beginning again, “And I’m in no particular hurry to get back to what’s likely to be another few hours of petty complaints from a conflict between two warclone clans in particular.”

“Noted. Perhaps I’ll send the BE to go mediate on matters, on your behalf if you would permit it.” Mahazkei mused. “She’s got more patience than the three of us combined, though I have no clue where she gets it from.”

“She didn’t get it from you, Mahz, that’s a certainty.” The third man piped up.

The loading ramp drops and the MTAC lowers the container past the edge and slides it in across rollers, before walking away into the dark. All three step up to board. The ramp shuts behind them and a decontamination process cycles. When it’s done they remove their helms and masks and the third man goes to open the pallet’s contents. They’re greeted by the other staff who gather to welcome them, when it gets quiet. The third man is holding a flat box.

“PIZZA!”

Then cheering breaks out as more is pulled from the pallet, and the third man is given strong shakes and some familiar hugs while the boxes are opened and slices of hot pizza are divided amongst everyone there. The camera’s feed ends abruptly, and the recorded stream comes to an end.

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This recording does not have any visual footage attached. Mahazkei is the sole speaker, and all other sounds are inaudible or muted.

"Short little update. Not seen too many unsavories out here, there are questions of whether that’s to do with our presence here, or the conditions worsening and the lack of any resources worth retaining for the effort it takes to obtain them.

"But there’s still people here. Lot of them know to walk, some of them didn’t get the memo but made for the nearest safe like you’re supposed to in the volcanic ash evacuation directive. Most don’t want any attention from us, and we’re happy to oblige, while still watching at a distance to make sure nobody attacks them in our absence, and setting up sensor posts.

"With the soil-sand composition you’d think we wouldn’t be able to get anything from buried seismometers, but you’d be wrong. After filtering that shifting grumble we get pretty good range, and there’s a comprehensive net now. No chance that we’re recovering those anytime soon, but that works for us. Yeah, try digging up our posts in the ever-shifting sands, jackasses.

"Beyond that there’s some talk about a changing of our livery. Finally “metamateria” is starting to become tacky, so we’re going back to blue-gold. Still get to keep the marks, and I’m adding a new band around the right arm. Let them figure the significance later.

"Not much else to say. BE wanted to chime in today, but she’s busy sifting through sensor data and our old wolf eel has made things better with his presence. Would have brough him on, but he’s not comfortable with the attention.

“That’s all for now. Signing off.”

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This recording does not have any visual footage attached. Several speakers appear to be present, and are named when possible with known public names, and with monikers when not. Not all sections of this recording appear to be in chronological order. Not all non-speech based noises have been muted, and appear to be contextual to actions by speakers, or contextual to a conversation.

(//-_-//)

“You know I finally figured out what his deal is.”

“What?”"

“He’s a crooner.”

“Oh. Oh. That. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.”

“…”

“…”

“…he’s not bad at it.”

“Oh no. I’m certainly not going to tell him to stop.”

“Especially not after the-”

MV’H: “Incident?”

Two voices. “Sir.”

“She meant your singing, sir.”

MV’H: “And that included during the incident period?”

“Er, yes, sir.”

MV’H: “Well, I’m glad it’s appreciated. Although, don’t expect a repeat performance regarding the… alternative variation.”

“Do you at least have it all recorded, sir?”

MV’H: “Tell anyone and I’ll shoot you. Yes I do. If you hold yourselves accountable for the security and destruction of your own personal copies, I can provide you with them… and you want them, why?”

“You were really good, sir.”

MV’H: “Flattery will get you nowhere. I’ll have them ready by next briefing. Stay after when I call. If they are discovered, I expect you to destroy them. You won’t get a replacement copy.”

Two voices. “Yes, sir.”

MV’H: “Good. Dismissed.”

Silence.

MV’H: “Nahlven, I’m not that good…”

(//-_-//)

BE: “Aright, where is it?”

MV’H: “What?”

BE: “The cake. You don’t go anywhere with out it. And these last few days have been worthy of a “celebration”.”

MV’H: “I make it when I need to. No sooner, no later. Fresh cake is best.”

BE: “Well next time share with me, would you?”

MV’H: “I tried! Last time I did, you called it “frivolous”, and that was before you went home for the weekend.”

BE: “I learned my lesson!”

MV’H: Scoff. “You’re a child.”

BE: “My sister is a child.”

MV’H: “It doesn’t matter your mental age with dialation. Talk to me when you’ve had a few years under your belt.”

A raspberry is blown.

(//-_-//)

MV’H: “If you do that again, I am going to ban you from any communication with your friends, cut off your access to sweets, and put you on sensor duty for three months.”

BE: “Oh come on, it wasn’t permenant. And you’re okay. And the guys-”

MV’H: “Irrelevant. I’ve got enough dysmorphia with this arm that I don’t need… that on top of it all.”

BE: “But you were cute!”

MV’H: “I don’t do cute. Four months. And if you send anything regarding that concoction you cooked up to Laura, I am going to throttle you within a nanometer of your life. Do not test me. I will know if you try.”

BE: “But-”

MV’H: “Am I hearing five months?”

BE: “No, sir.”

MV’H: “Good. Change course midway to home. We could do with a resupply after this mess.”

*A period of silence."

MV’H: “████?”

BE: “Yes, sir?”

MV’H: “Compile all visual and auditory files regarding the events over the last 240 hours. Flag all instances of myself, see if you can assemble a facimile.”

BE: “Sir?”

MV’H: “It occurs to me that during all that time I did not look in the mirror to examine your handiwork.”

BE: “Uh…”

MV’H: “If you’re thinking I’m thinking like my dearest, you’re mistaken. But I do want to see what you came up with.”

BE: “I didn’t do it, sir. The ███ did all the work.”

Silence.

MV’H: “Wow. That was me?”

BE: “Yes, sir.”

MV’H: “Damn. Do you have any audio files?”

BE: “You mean-”

MV’H: “Yes, that. I want to hear it now that it’s not from between my own ears.”

This audio appears to be unavailable.

MV’H: “Wow.

BE: Lowered voice. “I told you~.”

MV’H: “Five months. Archive, lock.”

BE: “Yes, sir.”

(//-_-//)

“No.”

“You’re shitting me.”

MV’H: “I’m serious.”

YY: “No you aren’t.”

MV’H: “You know what I look like when I’m shitting you. I’m not shitting you.”

“And it really does all that?”

MV’H: “I said it was a home myth, not a fact. And in some places the winds are crazy enough to get four convergent funnels, so I can see how someone might think it was real.”

“Liar.”

MV’H: “Look, after we go home, I’ll take you all on vacation. I mean it. I’ll phone ahead and my family will host for a week. We can do that. You’ll get some shore leave.”

“I still think you’re full of it with that “living wind” crap.”

(//-_-//)

MV’H: “Send this home.”

BE: “Ready.”

MV’H: "You often asked me in the days leading up to this if I was sure. You knew as well as I that I wouldn’t have changed my mind, just as you didn’t change yours. I might have had some regrets not being the one to stay, but in the end it didn’t make a difference which one stayed, beyond the name. And mine fit the bill better than yours for this mess.

MV’H: "You also asked me what I’m going to do once all this is over. I’m still not 100% on that, but after an… interesting diversion, I have some ideas.

MV’H: "Before you see the attachment and question whether this place and my two pairings have finally gotten to me, the answer is no. But the diversion did give me perspective. One I can now hopefully use to teach you about how our dear sees things. Not entirely as she does, but somewhat.

MV’H: "Biggest thing I think I learned from this is power through grace, and composure. Let’s be honest, you never figured out how to stay composured even a little bit, unless you had them as putty in your hands. And even then you always broke it just to be sure you didn’t hurt anyone.

MV’H: "Don’t be apologetic, it’s your best feature. Not so much mine, now. I’ve gotten the hours you lacked after… ███████████████████. But though they haven’t been as bloody as that accursed time, they haven’t lacked in activity. The gals and guys and [YY] told me a lot about what we should expect. I think this was the first time we really talked. Any of them. Even [YY]. We never asked, we never told.

MV’H: "But it’s not… we had it bad. Okay? They know that. That time was ■■■■■■ up. None of them argue with that. But it pales in comparison to some of what they saw. [YY]'s girl? She…

MV’H: "It’s not my story to tell. He’ll tell you, or have told you when I get home. But trust us, it’s bad.

MV’H: "But I think those talks were good. All of them walk with as much pep as a freshly stung. They are getting a little antsy sometimes, but I’ve got some ideas to keep them occupied.

MV’H: "You can look at the attachment now. Yeah. That’s me. Or was. Oddly enough I think [BE] did something when all that went down, I can’t quite see the difference anymore. I mean I can see it. But it’s like when you get traslucent sight, you can see your closed pod walls, and what’s outside of them, and outside of that, yeah? A little trippy. Not dissonant, either. I have a better understanding of what it’s like to have a clone body be more like a change of clothes than… well, you. But you haven’t forgotten that, have you?

MV’H: "Anyway, you know what to do. Don’t need this getting to dear. She’d… I don’t want to think of what she’d do with this crap. Luckily the half-life on the samples are so short, and Block’s erased any record of that crap from the log. Only I have the formula, and I’m sealing it with a few additional tricks that I learned from my time out here. You’ll get it, but you won’t open it until I’m back, and especially not before, make a mess of things.

MV’H: "There’s one other thing I want to leave you with. I am going back. I’m going home to our kids. But I don’t want to just be a memory when I get back, hm? I’m going back. But I want you to make something for them when we return to parity. Something for the kids.

MV’H: "I’d do it, but that’s too easy. When I’m home, I want a mask in the den. Add a holoplaque. Just like for gramps. I would give you the suit mask, but I think I want you to make a new one. Maybe one to mesh with the system if, and when, you need to wake me up again.

MV’H: "I dunno. But I do know I’m going to scoop up the kids when it’s done. You know it too.

MV’H: "What? Oh. Alright I’ll wrap it up.

MV’H: “I’m coming home. And you’re going to get some sleep. And maybe we’ll have a talk then.”

BE: “That was a lot.”

MV’H: “Always is.” Exhale. “Attach the doc. Send.”

BE: “It’s out.”

(//-_-//)

MV’H: “The hell’s that?”

BE: “Contaminant in the ventilation system, sourcing now.”

MV’H: “Sonofa- mask!”

The majority of this audio file appears to be missing, however there are several inquiries, cries, and multiple snapping noises all overlayed on top of the segment before it clears. It is disturbing, to say the least, as most of the snaps appear to have been from bones.

MV’H: Coughing. “I’m up! Wha- my oxygen’s compromised, my pitch is off. Is that helium?”

BE: “Negative… who?”

MV’H: “What are you talking about?” This section has been muted. “Verify.”

BE: “Oh my god.

MV’H: “Alright now I know you did this. What did you do?”

BE: “Uh…”

MV’H: "What did you do?"

BE: “Don’t look down.”

MV’H: “Do- what kind of-”

BE: “And you looked down.”

This section has been muted.

3 Likes

This recording does not have any visual footage attached. Mahazkei is the sole speaker, and all other sounds are inaudible or muted.

"Won’t be attaching a date to this one since I’m not entirely sure it will be relevant. But I thought it was interesting, so.

"Saka’s been busy back home. Besides the Ten going utterly crazy in our absence, that is. He’s still innovating with surprise sequence troops, and I have to admit this one got me.

"The Milky Way’s getting a new division, which means they won’t just be internal security anymore. Not like that was their only function, anyway. But we’re getting a QRF/para division, and he hasn’t given me a final product yet, but he did send prototypical materials. Odd thing is I haven’t been able to put them together to make sense of them.

"I mean, I can see what they’re for. But where they go, how they’re placed, none of that makes any sense. All I can see in my head is a very messy prototype that is so bulky that you might as well go with a light MTAC if you’re gonna try and build it that way.

"The one thing I did get an answer for is a name. He says that it came to him by accident, and that he can’t, or won’t, claim credit for the idea at all.

"He’s calling them the Baker’s Dozen. With a name like that, I must just be dense, because I still can’t figure out exactly what he…

"What? Why are you laughing?

"What? ‘Cake?’ No, I don’t have any! And I’m not making any for you. Why are you laughing? Get out of here if you’re not going to answer.

"I’ll have to scrub that from the recording. Anyway, I’m a little more comfortable that home’s seeing more development defensively. I know he doesn’t want to tell me, but I know he’s hiding something. If I was a betting man, and I am considering the state I’m in, I would put money on CONCORD, one or more of their divisions putting pressure on him and dearest.

"As for why, I could posit here, but I don’t need to give those jackasses any more ammo. They have more stored aboard a single ship than I or Saka have stored at home. The whole thing makes my skin itch like back when “I” was still a single man. Huh. In both respects, now that I think about it. If I han’t known better that I was needed here, I’d go home.

"Regardless of what could, or would happen.

A pause.

"If my time alive, and on this planet has taught me anything, it’s that my grandmother was right, wrong, and a coward. Even if it can’t be done, do it anyway. 'Cause who the hell-

"What? Are you serious?

“■■■■. I got to take this. Targets up. Signing off.”

2 Likes

"Took too long to get around this. So I’m hosting a Q&A sometime in the next few days. Anyone’s welcome to ask, but I will decline answering any questions pertaining to operational security, such as “where are you”, “what’s your field strength”, etc.

"You’ve got two options for asking questions. One is via a private channel or mail to Sakabkei Kiijata back in High Sec, whenever he’s active, if he’s active, or not, but it will be under my name, Mahazkei Vas’Hiigara, since that’s the name he registered with, and can’t change because… I don’t know why, really. Have to figure that out when I get home so we can settle that. But the above option is for more anonymous or private sorts, someone who wants the question answered, but doesn’t want their name attached to it for whatever reason.

"Option two is to post your question directly on this forum. If you choose to do that, your identity won’t be kept secret, and I won’t immediately respond to it as I’ll wait a few days and let the questions become hopefully numerous enough to compile into a list. Any repeat questions will be answered, and the askers will be named together if they wish to be made known.

"Things asre still busy around here now since last post, but I can find some free time to ask a question or two at a time when the list is ready, and answer whenever time’s available, ans splice the parts together so I don’t have to make a dedicated response each time a new or repeat question is asked.

“Have to go now. Better think about what you’d ask carefully, I won’t be doing this for a long while after.”

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  1. Who are you, and why are there two of you?

  2. Why do you have two different names?

  3. What is Block?

  4. Why do you wear a modified Triglavian suit?

  5. What do you mean when you say you are “technically Triglavian” and were “bonded to one”?

  6. How successful have your evacuation efforts been? Are the denizens of Skarkon welcoming or hostile to your efforts?

  7. What will you do after this operation has concluded?

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Well, could think of a few questions, but for now I’ll field some basic ones from myself and my Sisters.

  1. Have you been eating properly?

  2. When’s the last time you took to relax beyond a basic nap or drink?

  3. When are you coming back for a visit?

  4. Not a question but more a statement, you need a hug, or several, and are getting them next time you visit.

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This recording does not have any visual footage attached.

"No flourishes today, I’m afraid. Just inquiry and answer.

“First questions from one “Duke Shasta”, who as I’ve been told has taken an interest in my activities. Not sure why, but everything I’ve heard in my channels suggests he’s above board. In any case, my answers won’t be anything that I haven’t already said, or can’t say at present. Anyway, first up:”

"I am Mahazkei Kiijata, born Sakabkei Kiijata. I was raised on a habitable moon by both parents, and I have two siblings, a sister and an adopted brother. Basic stuff. Once I was old enough, I sought service like my dad, and quickly got into engineering.

"A few designs later, and I made what could be considered today as a prototype Block. That went well until it blew up fighting Nation invaders. I lost an arm, and didn’t see any frontline service for a few years, instead going to the logisitcal chain, mining belts and breaking down salvage.

"After the prototype things weren’t great, and then the Drifters came along. I signed onto the early Alpha clone program, fully expecting to make a bigger impact. Like many in those early days, I was among the few to survive an encounter, and live to tell about it. After participating in a smash op, I was released to go independent. Met some guys shortly after who showed me the ropes, and I settled into belt and contract ratting.

"Things were slow until the Trigs came along. Not wanting to be left behind and be more useless than a corvette in a capital fight, I did some dangerous experiments with a Perun Trig suit to try and offset my… instability in abyssal deadspace, and ended up having it be all but grafted to my biology. Most people know that story by now. Couldn’t take it off or transfer clones without serious drawbacks that would have in all likelihood have lead to my final death, or would have set back any infomorphic backups by a few years. So I was grounded, or limited to low risk abyssal runs, and then…

"I met Lauralite Brezia. And the rest is history.

"As for why there’s two of me, there are and are not.

"Myself, sitting here, conversing with you, am a warclone model with a different first name, the origins of which are another story. The other, Sakabkei Kiijata, is for all intents and purposes, the original man with the plan, and he spends his time at home, raising the kids.

"Why are we two people? When the situation at Skarkon was brought to my attention - speaking for both of us - I had just witnessed the birth of my kids. I knew that I should stay home and raise them, but I had been working on a pet project for years that I thought would help save a lot of lives. So my mind was split on the issue.

"Literally, to save us the trouble of doubt and uncertainty in our choices.

"Suffice it to say making duplicates of yourself, and being a capsuleer is illegal, there are several loopholes that allow similar, and divergent infomorphic copies under different liscences.

“So while he’s mostly retired, Saka is a capsuleer, and I am not.”

"See the above. But to expand on that, it was also a part of the paperwork, since we can’t both have the same name on file. For all intents and purposes, we’re effectively genetic twins with a few tweaks. The story of my name, however, is one I won’t be covering anytime soon in detail, but to give you something, here’s this:

“It mean to change its meaning from what it was to something better, through deed, being here. It’s less of a first name, as it is a title of sorts, a designation as one might shout a rank.”

"Ah, the meat and potatoes of my whole IGS presence.

"Block is a lot of things. If I were to say that Block is a tank, that would not be a lie, but in saying so it would be an underestimation, like saying that a carrier is a ship.

"Block is an up-armored MCC, that’s Mobile Command Center for those not in the know, and her usage is not unlike a standard MCC.

"Except she doesn’t fly. Not unless we push her to. She can, but when she does she looks like a floating brick the size of a firebase.

"Her functions are many, and most I would not say for opsec’s sake if nothing else, but she is mostly self-sufficient for an operation duration of a few years. After that I’d recommend she goes home with me to get all the dust blown out and get a new coat, and do some tests to see how well she did.

"She’s AI mounted, nothing above Aura level, for frame of reference, and that eases a lot of the automation processes ongoing at any one moment in time. That cuts down on minimal crew requirements substantially, and it’s meant we can stay out here almost indenfinitely.

“Wouldn’t know where we’d be without her.”

"See above. When the Trigs first revealed themselves, I wanted in on the action as quick as I could manage it, and I didn’t want a repeat of the Drifters and my first encounter with them.

"So I dove. Unfortunately, for reasons we still don’t understand, myself and abyssal deadspace do not get along. I got horrible shakes and panic attacks and ran on instinct just trying to get through single encounters, let alone the whole thing.

"We’re still not sure if it’s the result of overstimulisaton or specific stimuli, but it was bad. We didn’t get many artifacts of note or much in the way of concrete data because of those problems.

"So I get this idea. The Trigs have likely spent much of their existence in abyssal deadspace, and have adapted to survive its… unique environmental conditions. I figured that’s what parts of the suit were for.

"So after a few dives, and pulling some strings, I got a suit, and put it on.

"It’s pretty well adapted for capsuleer physiology, and it did definitely reduce the negative responses I had before, but it wasn’t all there.

"A few tests in, we get some results, and I call it a day.

"The real trouble was trying to take it off.

"I get it off, and go to take a shave and shower. Few minutes in, and the tremors are back. Except I’m in highsec. And it’s not stopping. And it was escalating.

"I ended up nearly aspyxiating myself and causing heart failure due to my uninhibited screaming, of which I had no control over. Sedation did little to change that, so they hauled my body over and put me back in.

"Turns out the suits are made to alter brain and biochemistry to better deal with abyssal conditions, and a few other things I won’t bring up now. What happened to me was a malfunction of sorts, caused by my misuse of the suit, and failure to read the user manual.

"Of which none exist.

“So that was a thing for a while. Couldn’t clone jump either since it did something to my infomorph that’s still being studied today. But that leads to the next question.”

"Here’s where things get tricky. See, There were no other cases like mine, since everybody else did the smart thing and gutted the suits to a basic plate, hood, mask, and jacket before puting the damn things on, so to my knowledge before the advent of Kybernauts there wasn’t anything else like me.

"So in order to get some straight answers, we went and found some Triglavians who were willing to help me out.

"Actually, that’s a lie, we snared their ship, and interned their crew.

"Bear in mind this was when Trigs were starting to show up in K-space, but before the motherships started getting built and deployed, so there wasn’t much to worry about in terms of scale of difficulty. By that time I had been with the UNF for a year or more, and when I told them my plan they agreed to help execute it.

"We cleared the field of everything save for one one Vedmak which we isolated, webbed, scrammed, nos’ed, and hit with every neut and ewar package we could fit, until we could board it.

"When we did, the crew didn’t resist, and seemed more curious than anything. So we took them, and the ship, and had them contained for a few months while we looked for a specialist to try and communicate with them.

"That specialist turned out to be Thuri Actusmargo, and one of my closest friends to date.

"She got a few of them to talk for a bit, and then…

"Well she went away for a while. When she came back she had their ear, and with the rest of the crew assembled, they had this to say to me.

"Turns out what I had one was start a process of conversion, of sorts, but I had not willingly done so to fully become a member of the Collective. So they gave me a choice.

"Revert, and don’t ever wear the tech again without the desire to join.

"Stay as I was, and suffer the consequences of my misuse for as long as I would live.

"Or consign myself to them to fully integrate.

"Academically speaking, I was excited b the prospect of learning more by joining, but they informed me I wouldn’t b able to relay my discoveries. And that I would have to give up most of my life to them in order to learn anything further.

"Before the UNF, I’d have taken that offer in a heartbeat. Things weren’t looking good then, and my mental state was tenuous at best, so their offer held more stability for me than the empires could at the time.

"But after the UNF? I couldn’t. I had made a family with them, even before the children.

"I made my choice, but not before I got some insight from them which has informed me to this day on how to conduct myself around them when trying to get things done.

"I, Mahazkei, put on the suit again and went back to being an “in between half-Trig” in order to deal with the environments on Skarkon, and so far it’s worked. But per the agreement and understanding, the Collective does not recognise me as Triglavian, or Kybernaut, so they still shoot at me if I get too close.

"Information being what it is today, some things are still less clear than before, but for the most part if I have to put myself between someone and a Trig, I know how to do so without drawing all of their attention and firepower down on my head.

“I think I’m something of a curiosity to them now, and it hasn’t backfired yet, so my condition has been beneficial to our operations to date.”

"Pretty successful. A lot of people are still stuck, and that’s mostly due to quarantine and trying to limit how many leave at the same time to reduce potential losses, and try not to draw too much attention from folks who would do them harm.

"That does mean that we’re stuck in limbo, sort of, trying to study the condition of the mutadapted, but most of the family groups are still in one piece, and being treated well while we sort them out. Since they’re not in immediate danger anymore, most of them are willing to understand and play nice until we can ship them out to wherever they want to go from here.

"As for the second part, I discussed a case of how our efforts are met, but for the most part all of our meetings have been like that. Some want to leave, some don’t. Those that don’t, we try to help them along as best we can to assist in their life style. If they really don’t want our help - and there haven’t been many cases like that, but they do happen - we keep a wide berth, and leave them alone.

“And we’re not going to force them. If that’s how they want to live, let them. Trying to fight that brings nothing but trouble, and doesn’t reflect well on us and our efforts to be an enabler for getting off-world, or improving a situation.”

"Go home. Take Block with me, go home, merge my infomorph with Saka’s, and live out the rest of my “existence” as memories from a distant world while Saka has a normal life.

"Before a follow up or something comes around, we’ve both agreed that we’re the same person, and two of us when there doesn’t need to be is conterproductive, and brings more scrutiny to our lives than we need, trying to raise children.

“So that’s that. When my time is up, I get to reunite with my family.”

He clears his throat, and sounds significantly different. This is a different section of the recording, and may have been recorded on a different date.

“The next questions are from one of my family members back home, Gies, and some repeat questions from her sisters. It’s been a long time since I saw her last, and I’m eager to hear from her again.”

“As well as one can, on rations and the occasional home cooking. Not much to say there. I don’t want to put my fist through the nearest wall, like I’ve been eating the same food for a year or more, if that’s what you’re asking. There’s enough variety to keep myself and everyone else sane around here. And definitely a balance to keep us fit.”

" A while, but not as long as you would think. Sometimes there are long stretches of nothing as far as outside activity goes, so we have a lot of spare time to go around for a while.

"Sometimes we don’t get that luxury, so we can’t do much.

“But I assure you I’m making time when I can to lay down and talk to your sister over here. She helps me out a lot.”

“Dear, if I come back, no, when, it’ll be to stay.”

"When I’m back and merged, give them all to Saka. He will need it. I hope you’ve been helping him take care of the kids. He’s hellbent on trying to do it himself, and he needs support. My time here taught me that.

"I think I’ll end the questions here. Anything else comes up, I’ll write back when I make time, but these questions have taken a lot out of me. I gotta get back to focusing on work. But this was good. Reminds me of why I’m here. Mahazkei out.

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This recording does not have any visual footage attached. Like most recordings, it appears to have been released on a delayed timer.

“Hey idiots! Stop screwing around with the stars! Take it from someone who meddled in Trig tech and got burned by it! If that star goes up and you knuckle-dragging [untranslated] think you can use that to solve your triangle problem, I am personally going to put my boot up your-”

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This recording does not have any visual footage attached.

"Minor update. Baker’s Dozen leadership just arrived, and it’s Rana.

"I’ve not mentioned her by name, but she’s one of three primary secretaries back in high. She helps care for the ten when Saka’s less than awake, and when Laura’s not around. That she’s decided to make the trip after getting training is… well it’s a lot.

"Command has also seen fit to give her a callsign before I even got to brief her on the situation, and the name they came up with is… unfortunate, and hilarious.

"Baker’s Dozen is lead by callsign “Cakeboss”. I… I’m speechless.

"I don’t think she even knows yet. And given her disposition she’s going to kick my ass for being the messenger.

"In more relevant news, we’re watching the local star for any activity. I don’t think Pochven will become an empire warzone, but if the reports of CONCORD conducting quiet evacuations on other worlds is true, all it will take is one whiff of a strategic resourse of some kind, and the four are going to descend on this region like a swarm of insects. And who knows what the hell will happen then?

"I’m going to refrain from making terrible jokes at the expense of the people here, as it’s still bad, even two years on and then some. We’ve got a lot of the most sensitive cases stabilised and scattered to the winds, but there’s still a colossal population to take care of.

"It’s a ■■■■■■■■■■■, there’s no better way to put it. But most of the people are alive, and that’s better than having forsaken them altogether. Thankfully it still seems like we have time, unlike Turnur, to get the rest out before it’s down to blockade runners and stealth landers.

"I’m still not leaving until this is done, and I’m not going to rush it, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t want to go home right now.

“I’ll be opening another questionaire in a month or something to round out the year, same rules as last. But this cold is sapping me worse than any nos.”

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A camera drone activates. He’s sitting outside, and it is extremely dark. Loose particulate flies past him and the camera at high speed, though it doesn’t seem the wind is bothering him much. Red lightning, and the occasional explosive flash illuminate the distance, if barely, making far-off skyscrapers and the crystaline glaciers visible. It’s a hellish scene, a maze of canyon walls as the buildings become buried, collapse, and form walls of debris, and accumulated glaciers pushing over more buildings.

“It’s still a sight, being out here. Every day I have to wonder what else is out there, just out of sight. It’s like thalassophobia, but open air, and windy, and you can’t see ■■■■.”

He stamps on the deck. “Reminds me of my seizures. One time I got told about the idea that your id made things. Monsters, usually. Reactive to your impulses, the sort of things you might think about but never do. Someone showed me something like that. Out here. I still don’t know that I believe it, but look at where we are.”

He turns around, lit by the drone’s light, a cone of illuminated flying debris and a pseudo-Triglavian man. "And while there’s no place I’d rather be than home, with all you little ones, my place, for now, is here.

“But I am coming home to you all. And when I do, you can give the old man all the hugs and kisses you want, as I’ll be kicking his butt off that chair in the nursery. He’s still got too much time left to be sitting there like that.”

There’s a slight shudder in the feed, and he slightly moves. He looks off of the lens. “What was that?” He wasn’t answered, that the feed hears, but he responds. “Got it. I’m coming back in.”

The camera’s feed ends abruptly, and the recorded stream comes to an end.

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