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Meet The Freak 17

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The room was lit by a diffuse glow, as the early morning sunlight filtered through the still raging blizzard.
I swung my legs off the footboard and onto the ground and wriggled my toes to try to get feeling back into my feet. They'd fallen asleep, propped up on the headboard, and began to buzz as the motion restored circulation.
Valentine had already slipped out, and I thought I could just make out muffled voices somewhere below, so I wasn't too worried. After dressing quickly, I ducked into the bathroom to wash up, only to find there was no hot water.
I frowned, and it did occur to me that it was a little cooler now than it had been when we'd gone to sleep. The fact that this little theme park village had any sort of power in the first place was pretty remarkable, perhaps whatever was supplying power was starting to run low?
In any case, I made do. I wasn't about to fit in the shower, so I settled for splashing some cold water on my face and went downstairs.
The carpeted wood creaked in protest, and while I kept my hand on the railing as I descended, I had little confidence in using it to catch me if I fell.
The gynoid's voice echoed up the stairway, "It's not alchemy," she was saying, her voice a little muffled, "And there are side effects. It renders men impotent and causes them to develop breasts, which is to say nothing of the consequences of getting found out. A single bout might earn a champion boxer a king's ransom, but it's all for nought if the truth is revealed. They'll lose their titles, and may even have to return their winnings."
"Now hold on a moment," Valentine demanded, "You're telling me that on top of making the user stronger, this potion also enhances the user's feminine endowments?"
I furrowed my brows as I descended the last of the steps. Both girls were speaking in their own language, though it seemed as if each could understand what the other was saying.
"I'm not certain of the effects in women, there are few female boxers or athletes of any kind, so I have little data," the gynoid replied, "Though I seriously doubt steroids would have any beneficial effect in a species that has such different biology."
The door at the bottom of the stairs was open a crack, and I swung it aside to find the gynoid hard at work while Valentine lounged by the fire. The gynoid had set up at one of the shop's tables, where she was working with a sewing machine, several rolls of grey wool and a selection of other cloth in various colours were laid out on the table next to her.
The room wasn't any less cluttered than it had been last night. There was a little more room near the front, where a great many mannequins displayed completed dresses in various designs and patterns. Even then, I'd hardly had space to slip through sideways, though Val probably found it plenty spacious. Several displays were silhouetted against the windows, little more than a blank white void that hid even the shops across the street.
A low desk and a few mannequins separated the rear of the shop from the front. Leaning against that desk, I was glad to see my poleaxe, the princeling's rifle, and the stormtrooper's rifle. Or rather, the gynoid's rifle and my rifle. In the back were several more workstations of the kind where the gynoid had set up shop, along with Val's fireplace. Behind the front desk was barely an inch of empty wall space, as aside from a space near the hearth, shelves all else. They weren't particularly fancy, just simple, unvarnished pine with open cubbyholes that held the business's raw materials.
The gynoid looked up as I entered, but Valentine wasn't about to rise from her nest of piled cloth and remained sprawled before the fire.
"I leave you two alone for hardly a moment, and you get up to all sorts of nonsense," I teased, "And how can you two even understand each other?"
"You were the one who traded for all that lead," Val yawned, "I combined it with a bit of brass and was able to throw something together. It won't last," she admitted, "But we have enough of both to last a while."
"Valentine has informed me that a more permanent solution might be found on a trip to the city," the gynoid put in.
I stuck a finger in my collar and pulled out the delicate necklace Temerity had given me, "Yeah, I mean in theory I bet we could make something like this, but I wouldn't even know where to start."
Valentine yawned and wriggled around in the piled cloth, "I wouldn't waste the energy," she advised, "I learned this trick," Val gestured between herself and the gynoid, "by rote. I'd been doing enough scavenging that it was worth the trouble to be able to understand people I ran into, but it's not the same. Communicate Mind- at least the way I'm using it -doesn't give me the language, as your amulet does with Elvish. It lets me understand the meaning behind their words as they speak them though, so it's nearly as good."
"But not permanent," the gynoid added.
"Hey, it's something," I shrugged, "So, what's the plan for today?"
"Well Amity here is going to finish putting together your new coat, and then we're going to see if we can find what she needs to fix the truck."
"You finally decided on a name?"
The gynoid, Amity, nodded, "Valentine helped me pick. And the name works regardless of language, which I understand will be quite useful."
"Hmm, Amity. Well alright, what do you need for the truck?"
"The damage is not so bad," she explained, "I already patched some of the holes when I went out to check on things-"
I glanced back out into the blizzard, and raised an eyebrow, "You did?"
She nodded gravely, "The village's power reserves will only hold out so long, and besides, I'm not susceptible to the cold."
"Trying to return home without the truck would be rather unpleasant," Valentine added, "To say nothing of the time it would take."
"Right, we're on a timetable," I agreed.
"Hence the coat," the gynoid explained, "Searching the town will be easier with your assistance, and neither can we wait to leave until the storm has passed. We need tubing and wiring to fix cut power cables and fuel lines, possibly some machine oil as well, if we can find it. The snow under the vehicle's engine was sodden with the stuff, and I do not know how it might run without proper lubrication."
Valentine caught my eye with a wry smile, but I just rolled my eyes.
"It would run. Maybe long enough to get us back home, maybe," I stressed, "But that would be it, the engine wouldn't take long to seize, and after that, it would never run again."
Amity nodded, and the sewing machine whirred as she put in another row of stitches, "Coat, wiring, tubing, oil. Is there anything else that you think we might need?"
I lifted my arms from my sides, gesturing vaguely about the room, "We might need all of this," I pulled a bolt of blue silk from a nearby cubby, "Man, even this cloth could be worth a fortune back in Parabuteo. But we've only got the one quarter ton truck to move it all," I shook my head, "I'm not even sure we can fit everything we decided to take from the treasure vault."
"We can always return later," Val added sleepily, "Blizzards aside, we're within a day's travel, even on foot. We can take trips back here to gather supplies as we need to."
I sat down next to Val, and she took my hand in both of hers. Val's flight suit was zipped down to the navel, though she still had her shift beneath. She held my hand to her chest, just below her neck, and seemed content to lay there just like that.
"I'm just trying to puzzle out the timeline here," I mused, idly drumming my fingers on Val's chest, "You're at a full charge now? I think you said that's enough for ninety-six hours of activity?"
She glanced up from her work long enough to smile warmly at the two of us and gave a nod of agreement.
Yeah, I did feel a little sheepish, but what the hell. Val didn't mind, and Amity seemed to think the two of us were pretty cute together. Maybe I just needed to get over myself.
"Four days? How long if you sleep, or whatever your equivalent is."
"If I sleep as frequently and as long as a human does, just shy of five and a half days. But I can push it to eight if I spend most of the day asleep."
"In a perfect world, you'd stay here where we know you have power till I can get things going back at the hotel. But I've got no idea how long that would take, less than ninety-six hours I hope, but who the hell knows. Not to mention that I've got no idea when you might lose power here."
"I told you," Val declared, "The man is absolutely obsessive, it really is quite charming."
"Do not overburden yourself," Amity soothed, "Might what you suggest work? Perhaps, but I suspect that any time gained, would be equalled by that lost to managing the logistics. Though I appreciate the consideration you're giving my plight."
The bell hanging above the door rang as Amity pushed it open, the cheery sound at odds with the macabre scene we'd stepped into. Val shivered as the door swung shut behind us, and I caught the bell to stop it from ringing again.
The shop was full of body parts. They hung on the walls, were set out on shelves, and displayed within glass-topped cabinets. Most of them looked human, though some of the limbs lacked the skin-like covering of the others.
It was as if someone had combined a computer hardware store with a butcher shop. There were sections for particular brand names, posters showing how someone might combine different parts, even a clearance section in one corner. But instead of out-of-box monitors and RMAed graphics cards, there was a pile of mismatched limbs in various skin tones.
Val looked like she was about to be sick, I didn't think someone with purple skin could turn green, but damn was she trying her best. Amity, well, the gynoid looked as if she was hoping someone would step out from behind the counter. Someone she could tear into pieces small enough to be displayed with the rest of the store's wares. As for myself, I just felt... sad.
It was one of those situations where I knew I should probably be saying something comforting. But as usual, I had no idea what that would be.
"Amity-" Val began.
"We've searched half a dozen stores, and still haven't found what we need. We will find it here. Besides," she grimaced, "I need to do some shopping."
And that's when a terrible thought occurred to me.
"What does it take to turn all this into a working model? Amity-" I had no good way to phrase this, so I just asked her, "Are we going to need to decide whether or not to turn these people on?"
Amity stopped by a case that had a collection of arm assemblies on display, but did not turn to face me, "If we did build these parts out into more droids," she began quietly, "What would you want to do with them?"
"Honestly, I have no idea," I admitted, "I mean, they'd be people, so it would be up to them. My only concern is that I might not be able to keep them all powered."
"That's your only worry?" Amity asked evenly.
"Yeah, I'll be honest here Amity, I'm not even sure I can keep your batteries charged. I don't even know how to generate electricity with magic. I've got some ideas, but then there's scaleability to consider, what if 'success' means generating just a few hundred watts?" I rubbed at my temples, trying to banish the headache I could already feel approaching, "I don't know, I guess I'll figure it out."
"It's okay Wallace," Amity replied gently, "A place like this would not sell droid cores, such things are tightly controlled. No, you need not worry about taking several dozen more of my kind under your wing. Though I would like your help installing some of these parts. I'm not fond of the body the prince chose for me, and I'd like to take the opportunity you've given me to make some adjustments. Valentine, there are some replacement parts over on that shelf, could you-"
Valentine nodded, already heading over to gather up what we needed.
"Alright then Amity, what are we looking for?"
"I'm a service droid. The prince's mother spared no expense when deciding upon my appearance, but I am very nearly as fragile as a human. I'm not compatible with combat droid parts, but there are parts here to modify a service droid to serve as a covert bodyguard."
She gestured to the case she was standing next to, "This one has claws hidden in the forearm, that one has a short-barreled rifle, plenty to choose from."
"What about the pair you have now?" I stepped up beside her and started reading through the labels, "Stabbing people is cool, I get it, but people need fixing a lot more than they need stabbing."
Amity nodded thoughtfully, "A quad torso, then."
"A what now?"
"A torso with two sets of shoulders."
"That's something we can replace?"
"Mmm-hmm, I'd get a battery upgrade at the same time, if not for the fact that I believe I already have the model with the most capacity," Amity mused, "We'll have to swap them into the new torso."
"Amity, I'm a pretty smart dude, but there's only so much I can figure out on the spot."
"It's not terribly complicated," she assured me, "It's work meant to be done by the house's human servants, or a particularly interested noble. Here, forearm claws it is."
I tucked Amity's selection under one arm and followed her as she made her way over to a glass-fronted cabinet that was covered by red velvet curtains. Nearby hung a sign that read "Betty's Best Burlesque", with a smaller one atop the cabinet that declared its contents to be 'torsos'.
Amity drew the curtains aside and-
"Guess I know what the curtains are for, Christ."
"My current torso is a Betty's, I'm given to understand it's the best," she said wryly.
"But more importantly, they make this one," Amity explained, as she lifted one, somewhat larger than her own, and handed it to me, "Built on a sturdier frame, with double shoulders, and thicker plating."
I hesitated for a moment before taking it, careful to find a safe handhold.
"What about the legs? Maybe something with foot claws?" I suggested.
"Mmm, I was just going to find something with stronger servos, but you do make a good point... Ah, here. 'The Lioness'," she read, "Better servos, 'The Lionesses Claws', it should even add a few inches to my height. You look like you've got your hands full," she observed, picking up the legs, "Come on in to the back, there should be a workshop, and I want to get these parts attached as quickly as possible."
I glanced over my shoulder on my way over to the door, "Val?"
"I'm good," she promised, "I think I've found what we need. You help Amity, and I'll finish up here."
The backroom looked a lot like a dentist's office, though last time I'd been to the dentist, there hadn't been quite so many limbs strewn about. Thankfully there was a clear workbench next to one of the not-quite-dental chairs, and the two of us set down Amity's new equipment.
"Anything I should know before we start? Is this going to hurt you?"
She shook her head, and began to disrobe, "I'll be okay, Wallace. Just listen carefully, follow my instructions, and everything will be fine."
"Okay, well, sorry if I'm a little nervous. It's just. I kinda find the whole concept of taking apart a living creature a little stressful."
"Yes, well, don't forget to put me back together as well."
"Yeah, of course, no biggie."
Amity stripped out of the rest of her clothes, and totally, spectacularly nude, laid back in the chair. I let out a long breath, flipped on the examination lights, and stepped up beside her.
"Alright, where do I start?"
She extended her arm, "Arms and torso need to come off, then the new torso and arms can go back on. Just push down on the collar bone here- yes, just like that."
There was a soft click, and I rotated the arm by the shoulder until it came loose. I set it carefully on the bench and did the same for the other arm.
"Alright, good so far," Amity soothed, "Though your hands are perhaps a little clammy."
I wiped my hands on my jeans, "I don't know why you're so calm, you're the one who's missing her arms."
"You're here," she said matter of factly.
I chuckled, and shook my head, "What's next?"
"Now you need to take apart my torso. We'll be keeping the batteries and the spine. Everything else should come off easily enough. Just above my hips, yes that's right, now lift, and the front should come right off."
And so it did. I didn't see a seam, but it separated from just below the navel, right up to the neck. The entire front half of her upper body came right off, and I set it on the bench with the other pieces.
I'd been expecting complex electronics, maybe some forged steel and milled aluminium. But instead, her insides seemed remarkably simple. There were the batteries, with glowing conduits leading away, and a spine that appeared to be brass. A far cry from the absolute mess of mechanics and wiring I'd been expecting. For all I knew, maybe her people did have magic, and this is how they used it. Hard to say really. After all, where was the line between technology and sufficiently understood magic?
"Alright, now help me roll over and take off the rest."
Once I removed the rear section of her torso, it was easy enough to put the new parts on. She guided me through taking apart the new torso, and after removing the spine and battery bank that had come with it, attached the two new halves and connected the power conduits for the new arm mounts.
I had just finished attaching her new combat arms to the upper set of shoulders when Valentine stepped in. Cradled in both arms was yet another set of arms, ones she'd selected herself it seemed. Val stopped dead upon the threshold, and her cheeks coloured as her gaze lingered on Amity.
"Wow," she muttered, then coughed, "Ahem, I've found something you might like. I heard what Wallace mentioned about keeping your medical capability."
"Thank you, but I think we've found what we need though. Wallace hasn't reconnected them yet, but this new torso lets me keep my old arms as well."
"Ah, but I think I've found something even better than the old pair," Val explained, "After I found what we need for the truck, and got over the urge to vomit, I poked around a little to see if I could help. These have the same medical and mechanical repair... I don't know, thingies. But they also have coils to discharge electric shocks, and fingernails that extend into razor-sharp steel claws. They can also dispense lubricant, though I'm not certain that's quite as useful," she admitted.
"Where the hell did you find those?"
"And why do they dispense lubricant?" Amity frowned.
"They're part of a set for assembling what I believe The Blushing Maiden would call a 'governess'."
For a moment, I thought Amity was going to respond with an angry rebuke, but her expression softened. Instead, a smile slowly spread across her face. Val helped me attach the two new arms, and Amity drew her into an embrace.
"Thank you."
"You are quite welcome, I think I like the new you."
"Oh, I noticed," Amity replied with a smirk, and the two separated, "But Wallace isn't quite done-"
I heard the bell ring, accompanied by the sound of howling wind, and a shout of, "Where is that damnable giant."
I hadn't yet heard the princeling's voice, but when I saw Amity tremble and turn white as a sheet, I knew who was waiting for us in the front room.
"I'll stall," Val hissed, "You two finish."
And with that, she was through the half-opened door in a flash of movement, and it swept shut after her.
"Come on, how do I get these off?"
"W-what?" Amity stammered.
I put a hand on her shoulder and leaned in close, "Amity, I'm not going to pretend to understand- well, anything." I pointed at the door, beyond which I could already hear a muffled argument, "But right now, out there, is a tiny little lunatic that's ready to go toe to toe with the prince and his buddies. All just to buy us the time we need to put you back together."
She nodded stiffly and told me where to press and turn. The legs came off nearly as quickly as the arms did. I'd just picked up the first of the replacement limbs, when I heard a muffled voice, male, just on the other side of the door.
There was a soft click as the latch began to turn, followed by a yowl that might have come from an angry mountain lion, and a crash. The collision was violent enough to take pictures off the wall, but I paid little mind to the breaking glass.
I heard the last click, and spread my hands, "Alright, both work?"
She wriggled her toes and flexed her legs experimentally, then looked up at me, more than a little worry in her eyes, and nodded.
"Alright, you get dressed, I'm going to go back up Val."
If I was smart, I'd have brought the axe with me when searching the shops, but I wasn't, so I hadn't. Instead, I straightened and turned to the door. Slowly, and with purpose, I ducked through and pulled it shut behind.
The moment seemed to freeze as the door clicked shut. On the floor, next to the door, was Prince Guillaume. The prince was on his back and had just put one of his hands behind him to push himself up. His face was all beat up on the right side, and his neck all red. I could still make out the outline of the tiny fingers that had been choking him.
Standing over him was Matt, who was holding Valentine up off the ground by her hair. Her eyelids were fluttering, and while she was moving a little, her tiny body was all but limp. I could see a large bruise forming on her brow above the eye.
"Shoot him," the prince demanded.
Will, the only one not otherwise occupied, had been standing in the middle of the store, looking adrift in the wind. But with the command given, he brought his weapon up to level, the barrel pointed at my chest.
I turned, and looked at him. Looked him dead in the eyes, and he hesitated.
Hell, for all I knew, Will was probably an okay guy. A giant stupid asshole, but, you know, okay. Honestly, a lot of people are giant stupid assholes, even I'm kind of a giant stupid asshole sometimes. But Will, it seemed, was not the kind of giant stupid asshole who would shoot a man just because a different giant stupid asshole told him to.
But he was still pointing a gun at me, so I had to be sure.
"If you shoot me, I will kill you, and it will hurt the whole time you're dying."
Will's voice was tight, with just the slightest hint of waver in it, but his words came out clearly, "These are hollow points."
I shrugged, "And?"
I turned, as I heard movement from the trio by the door, and saw that Matt was gently lowering Val to the ground. Her hands grasped aimlessly at the shelves as he let her down, but her limbs weren't quite responding, and she ended up sitting on the ground next to the prince.
"What did you do?" I asked him simply.
"Well she was choking the dude, I tried to make her stop, but she was choking him. It's not like I can just let her kill the guy so," he swallowed, "I hit her. With the but of my gun."
"Do you want to live?"
"Hey man, I get that you're worried about your girl-"
I crossed the distance in a single step and grabbed for his submachine gun. He pulled it away, so I went for his arm and hauled him around until I could get ahold of his gun. I put my other hand on his chest, and pulled it away, snapping the strap as I did.
And then I took the gun in both hands and snapped it in half.
"So Simon has the stormtrooper, makes sense you wouldn't take up with him. Then there's me, but we both know how that worked out. So you side with this idiot, makes sense, I guess. But you're not a total fucking idiot. It's only been a day, but I bet you're already starting to get an understanding of just what sort of man the prince is. Even still, you've got to protect the guy. And you did, fair enough I suppose. But that's how these things start, isn't it? One thing leads to another, and something that started small ends in all-out war. So either we can short circuit that right here, or I can kill you, then the prince, then Will. The prince, now I don't think I'd mind killing him. Honestly wish I'd done it sooner. But you and Will are just a couple of idiots caught in an absolutely fucked situation."
"What the fuck do you want from me, man?"
"Somewhere out there are Simon and his angels. Go find them, tell them that Val is hurt and that she needs help now."
It took only a glance between the two men, once I'd let Matt out from where I'd had him all but pinned against the shelf, to decide that doing what I'd asked was an excellent idea. And the two were on their way looking for Simon without further argument.
The prince said something I didn't bother hearing, and reminded of his presence, I picked him up by the collar. Again, the thought occurred just to kill him then and there. I wouldn't necessarily even be breaking my word to Matt and Will. But if I was going to do this leadership thing, I'd need to take care in curating my reputation. Killing this idiot wasn't the best way to do that.
So I tossed him into the far corner and told him not to go anywhere.
I knelt next to Val and brushed her hair away from the growing bruise, "Val, you okay?" I whispered.
She nodded, and then clutched at her head, "Ohhh..." she muttered weakly, "Not gonna do that again."
I held up my hand, "How many fingers."
"Six," she glowered, "I didn't get hit that hard."
"You kinda did."
Val sighed, "Bugger me, I got hurt, again."
"I'd tell you that I'll take care of everything, but I don't want you to break your hand slapping me upside the head."
"See? You're learning. Now would you help me up?"
"Just hold on a second, if those two know what's good for them- Ah, they're here."
The bell rang, and Simon and Victoria blew in with the wind, with Will and Matt not far behind.
"Over here," I said with a wave of the hand.
Victoria and Simon came to kneel by Val, who seemed irritated by the attention, while Matt and Will checked on their charge. I got a reproachful look from Matt but rolled my eyes. The idiot was still alive, what more did he want?
"She's going to be fine," Simon assured me.
I'd been too busy looking over at the prince and his new buddies to catch what he'd used for the spell, but Simon had cast something. Not that Val looked any better for it.
"I know," Val grumbled.
"Going to be fine," he repeated, "Right now you're all beat up," he handed me a tin, much like the one Temerity had kept her healing ointment in.
"Apply that before she goes to bed and after she wakes up-"
"I'm right here! I can use the stupid heal goo myself!"
"It'll take a few days, just make sure she gets enough rest."
"Aren't you the Body wizard? You're telling me you can't just fix this?"
He shook his head, "Healing magic is fucking complicated. Stuff like the ointment, it's safe. All it does is nudge the body to heal as it would naturally, only a little faster, and provides the energy needed to do it. Actual healing spells are more like invasive surgery, best not to do it unless the body can't sort things out on its own.
"What did you cast then?"
"Magic MRI, more or less. She's going to have a headache for a while, maybe feel a little dizzy, but there's no damage to the brain itself. Having a cartilage skeleton makes fey tougher than you'd think."
"That's all well and good," intruded a poncy little voice, "Now there are more pressing matters to attend to."
I put a staying hand on Val, and though she shot me a look, she stayed where she was as the rest of us stood.
"Is this the dipshit you and Cilla rescued?"
"Yes," Victoria agreed, "This is he."
The prince fixed Simon with his best haughty sneer, "I expect such behaviour from the giant, but I'd thought someone in your position would have the character to show a little respect."
"Hey buddy, I'm the guy who commands land and people. You're just some jackoff with a smashed airship."
"You are, of course, mistaken," the prince replied, "These two fellows have informed me of the local situation, and as this land was once of my world, I've seen fit to claim it in my own name. As such, I'll have no more of this looting of my property."
"Are you two fellows" Simon mocked, "Sure you want to stick with this guy?"
"The fuck else are we going to do?" Matt sighed, and Prince Guillaume did not seem pleased to hear this remark, "Wallace is a psycho, and you've got Jankin. We're not exactly overwhelmed by options here."
"There is another," Simon offered.
"That's quite enough," Guillaume cut in, "Come you two, we're leaving."
There was a shared look between the two rebels, and Will spoke, "Nah, say your bit, Simon."
"There are three entire cities out there, full of people who'd be glad to hire you. They'll pay you enough to live as well as anyone can in this world. You don't need to join my little club, just stick around till we get to the city. We'll leave early tomorrow, probably be there by dinner. I'll even make a few introductions," Simon offered.
"Fuckin' sold."
"You two promised me-" Guillaume began.
"Would you please shut up?" Matt sighed, "The only promise we made was to help you stake your claim. And these two are leaving anyway, right?"
Simon nodded, and I did as well. Assuming Amity could get the truck patched up before dusk, we could very well be spending the night back at the hotel.
"Well there you go, buddy," Will said with false cheer, "Job done, we're leaving."
Guillaume looked at each one of us in turn, making a show of memorizing our faces I suppose, before turning to leave. He paused on the threshold, his hand on the door, and glanced back, "I'll not forget this," he declared. And with that, he was gone into the blizzard.
"Melodramatic motherfucker isn't he?" Will observed.
Simon shrugged, "He's not our problem any more. Wallace here is the one that's got to put up with him as a neighbour though. No, just," Simon waved off their questions, "I'll explain later. For now, Victoria, would you please take them over to where we're loading the glider?"
"Certainly," she agreed.
A moment later, only Simon, myself, and Val remained.
"Don't tell me you're going to fly that thing out of here."
"God no, it comes apart," Simon explained, "One of my girls made this little magic engine, rearrange a few things and it rebuilds into a sort of motorized wagon. It's not quick enough to get us back to the city before dusk, but tomorrow is Last Light. The Long Night will give us plenty of leeway, even if the blizzard gives us trouble. What about you? I saw your truck, do you need a ride?"
"No, we can fix it. I'll be sleeping in my own bed tonight."
Simon spread his hands, "Fine by me, but you should know, I saw something on the flight over that might interest you. Particularly with this dickhead hanging around here."
I felt a sudden tug on my wrist, and I looked down with a start to see Val hauling herself to her feet. She held onto my arm for balance, but otherwise put on a strong face.
"Go on," she prompted.
Simon smirked, but did as she asked, "Maybe twenty-five miles from your tower block is a castle. Not sure how long it's been there, but there's a whole village built up around it. The thing's not done, but from what I saw, the castle came along with all its people too."
"It can't have been that long," Val considered, "That's near enough to make the journey in a single day, we would have seen some evidence if they'd been poking around before we arrived."
"I don't know, a bunch of medieval villagers, most of them probably never travelled anywhere near that far from home. And that's before their world got turned upside down. They're probably not keen on the idea of running around getting into trouble with strangers."
Simon spread his hands, "Whatever you two decide, the prince will probably have his eye on them too, once he learns they're there. Even half a castle is more than he has now. And he'll need people to farm for him if he doesn't want to starve out here."
"Wallace and I shall consider our options. Thank you for sharing this information with us."
The shorter man nodded absently as he began buttoning his coat. "Thirty degrees north, more or less, twenty-five miles out, more or less."
"And don't forget," he added, before stepping out into the cold. "Ointment in the morning, and ointment before bed."
Valentine gave him a little wave, and he too departed.
"He's just telling us about the castle to fuck over the prince."
Val was still a little unsteady on her feet, but I got her into the back room and sat her down where I'd been working on Amity. As for Amity, well, she was mostly dressed. She'd been hovering by the door, clad only in the apron from the cafe, worry written all over her face. But that quickly turned to a pained wince when she saw Val.
"I am so very sorry, I just-"
"You've got nothing to apologize for, Amity," I assured her.
"Look at her," Amity cried.
"I've had worse," Val muttered, "But I'd prefer not to spend another night here. The parts we need are-" she waved a hand vaguely, "Can you..."
"I'll take care of it," Amity promised.
And without another word or scrap of clothing, Amity was through the door with a fervour.
I looked down at myself, and at the coat Amity had sewn me to replace the one I'd so foolishly lost. It was dark grey rather than black, and the style was a little different, but the cut and fit were superb. Though that likely had something to do with the coat being tailored to me. It was a damn sight better than the quadruple extra large I'd had modified back home.
"Maybe we should have given her a little time to make something for herself," I suggested.
"We do have plenty of clothing back at the hotel," Val commented, and though she was trying to put on a strong face, I could hear the pain in her voice, "She's sure to like something. I don't know, maybe I'll grab a few things from the dressmaker's shop, just in case."
"Why don't I grab some things from the dressmaker's shop, and you relax," I told her, then grimaced, "Not that I want to leave either of you alone right now."
"Aww, you are just so sweet," Val smiled, "But I'll be fine," she reached into the front of her jumpsuit and withdrew one of her big wheellocks, "Amity's the one that needs help right now, I'll be along in a bit, I promise."
For the first time in a very long while, I wondered if I might be hallucinating this whole experience. Everything since getting hit by the dump truck and meeting Temerity. I mean, what else was I supposed to think as the image of Amity working on the truck resolved itself out of the icy fog. There she was, with the front of the truck taken apart, grease and engine oil smeared on her hands, apron, and face. I'd just taken her apart for fuck's sake, but here she was, looking as human as ever. Just so long as you ignored the extra set of arms, and the fact she was standing all but naked in the middle of a blizzard, none the worse for wear.
I pulled my toque, also a creation of Amity, down tighter around my ears as I approached. I was careful as I did, not to sneak up on her. I didn't know what her ears were like, but knew that at least I couldn't hear much of anything over the howling wind, so I was sure to approach within her eye line.
She glanced up as I drew nearer, and because nothing in this entire situation made sense, I just asked the question that was on my mind.
"What's your favourite colour?" I shouted, to the sentient robot, over the noise of the howling wind, while standing in the middle of Steampunk Napoleonic Disneyland.
Amity, it seemed, was unfazed by the insanity of the situation, and after a moment replied with a shout of, "Red.”
“Why?" she asked, beckoning me forwards into the relative shelter of the raised hood.
It wasn't much, but it did enough to make speaking a little easier.
"Gonna loot the dress shop before we clear out, we've got clothes back home, but I'm gonna grab some things in case you'd like to make something of your own."
Her reply was quiet, but I caught the shape of the words, even as the wind carried the sound of them away.
Thankfully it seemed that the prince hadn't checked the shop as he'd been searching for us, as surely the three of them would have tracked snow everywhere if they'd been through the place. As it was, the floor was clean and dry, at least until I started stomping around. My first stop was at the weapons, and axe, rifles, and ammo all went over one shoulder.
Near the back was a big sack of undyed yarn, which I promptly dumped out onto the floor. I still had my doubts about the safety of the dyes these people used, but green was the only one that came to mind as being particularly likely to contain awful things. Red then, was probably fine. Granted, it was for Amity, and I doubted she had to worry about whether her clothing contained lead or arsenic. Though there was always the chance we'd come into contact with it as well.
With that in mind, I also stuffed some raw cotton and silk into the sack, along with the selection of reds that I thought Amity might like. At least this way we'd have something safe to use, patching clothing and the like.
With the sack stuffed full, I did one last circuit of the shop, top to bottom, to make sure we'd not left anything behind. Finding nothing, I tied the top of the sack tight and stepped back out into the cold.
Val was with Amity at the truck by the time I returned. She sat in the cab with her hands tucked under her arms, shivering a little in the cold. My things went into the bed of the truck, and I came around to the front to see how Amity was doing.
"How are we so far?"
"We're about to find out," she called back, "I just finished replacing the oil. I warmed it a little inside. Hopefully, it will be enough for this to start in the cold."
Amity pushed the rod aside, and let the hood drop the last few inches. It shut with a clang, and she gave Val a nod.
The little fey shivered once and leaned down out of view. A moment later, I heard the starter motor chug for a moment, then catch, and the truck shuddered as it coughed to life.
Amity allowed herself a satisfied smile and wiped all four of her greasy hands on the front of her apron.
"Are you going to be okay? Riding in the back, I mean."
"Not much else to do really, I'll manage. Now come on, get in so we can pick up our winnings and get the hell out of here."
submitted by ThisHasNotGoneWell to HFY


[Cryoverse] The Last Precursor 031: Leader Lele

The Last Precursor is an HFY-exclusive web-serial which focuses on the exploits of the last living human amidst a galaxy of unknown aliens. With his species all but extinct and now only known as the ancient Precursors, how will Admiral José Rodriguez survive in this hostile universe? Make sure to read the earlier chapters first if you missed them!
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Previous Part
Part 001
Lele and Megla gather up the other Kessu and slowly begin walking toward the cave's exit. Since they don't know help is on the way, the only thought on their minds is to press the advantage and try to escape as quickly as possible. Behind Megla, the younger Kessu work together to carry Felabi's badly injured body, while Baaru stays close by and meows anxiously.
Megla walks behind Lele, holding her fists up in what she hopes is a threatening manner. Lele raises her light-orb device over her head and activates it every ten or so seconds, hoping to blast apart any Shades daring enough to draw near. However, thanks to the Shades leaving them alone, everyone progresses without impediment.
"Kyargh!" Megla moans. "Brat. You broke apart my weapon. Now I don't have anything to fight with!"
"Your gun wouldn't do anything to those shadow-monsters anyway," Lele retorts. "It's better if I use this tool."
After Lele discharges another orb of light, the group continues forward. When they leave their little cave, all of the Kessu gasp. Outside, massive, torn-up piles of meat and bone lay in the exterior hallways of the caves. Not only orcs and goblins, but even the gigantic Hellhound lay in thick, viscous pools of blood.
Little Lele's childish nature takes over for a moment as she recoils in horror. "Eeee! W-what are these things?! They're scary-looking!"
Megla frowns. "I do not know. I've never seen these monsters before. They're... hideous. Stay close. If any of them are still alive, I'll have to fight them with my fists."
The kitten's fur stands on end. "Th-these monsters... they probably aren't weak to light! If so, then my gadget won't hurt them at all!"
"Then let's hope we don't run into any," Megla says, her expression turning ugly. "These little ones don't look like much. I could probably take out half a dozen of them by myself... but the big ones look much stronger. Oh! What's that over there?"
The yellow-scaled Kraktol points forward, toward a metal object laying on the ground. The moment she gestures toward it, her face turns grim, as well as Lele's.
"Oh no..." Lele whispers. "B-Big Baldy's gun..."
"Why would he leave his weapon behind?" Megla asks, her voice tinged with worry. "Don't tell me... he..."
"Big Baldy is fine! He must be!" Lele yells. "He's super strong!"
"But he's only one warrior," Megla says, shaking her head. "Not even the Thülvik could fight an army of such horrible, fiendish monsters alone. And the shadow-monsters, they came after us, too. Why would the Admiral let them past?"
Megla doesn't continue her train of thought. Her stomach churns painfully as she tries to steady her nerves. A fear unlike any she's ever felt before wells up in her chest; the worry of losing someone she cares about.
The Kraktol quickly walks over and grabs the Admiral's gun. After checking its battery, her expression becomes even more solemn. "...It has fifty percent of its power remaining."
"Oh, that's good," Lele says absentmindedly. "At least now we'll have a weapon!"
Baaru and Ruuki, Lele's grandmother and father, look each other in the eyes. Their gazes hold deep meaning.
The Great Precursor wouldn't drop his weapon intentionally if it were still usable. He might discard it if it ran out of power, but that would be the only plausible reason.
Even for the primitive Kessu, they know that no warrior worth his salt would ever cast aside his sword or spear, not unless it became unusable. For the Terran to leave his behind, their minds can only assume the worst.
However, with their kitten leading the party, none of the older Kessu say anything. They simply lower their eyes and shake their heads. They don't have the heart to shatter the poor girl's hope.
After a moment of inspecting the gun to ensure it works, Megla leads the Kessu around the monster corpses. They practically cling to the walls, trying to give the dead beasts as wide of a berth as possible. For the Kessu, the reason is religious in nature, as they believe the dead souls of the monsters might attack them if they draw their ire. For Megla, it's more a matter of practicality, since there might be enemy survivors capable of lashing out and injuring one of the Kessu.
Before long, they leave the monsters behind and breathe a small sigh of relief. Lele continues firing her light-orbs into the air, but not once do any Shades show their faces. Clearly, they intend to give the party plenty of space.
At least for now.
As the survivors walk, they suddenly hear a distant noise, like the sound of a terrifying, gigantic monster storming through the cavern system. All of the Kessu freeze and start hissing in a panic. Megla raises her rifle and aims into the distance, where half a mile ahead, the cave rounds a bend. Among the many side-paths, Megla sticks to the one she remembers best. Unfortunately, the terrifying beast's footsteps approach from her intended path!
"Ah, damn," Megla curses. "Don't tell me it's one of those giant shadow-mutts. I don't even know how the Admiral killed one on his own, let alone how I'd manage!"
She glances backward, wondering for a moment if everyone should retreat the direction they came. Maybe they can hide in the cave they left behind. But if they do, they will not last long without ample provisions.
Lele's voice grabs Megla's attention. "Meow! What's that? Light?"
Megla returns her gaze to the front of the pack. She blinks in surprise when she sees a fierce brightness approaching from that bend in the path.
Already, the monster's terrifying footsteps have become louder than ever. Its approach reminds Megla of the charge of a two-headed Stonebull, one of the monsters on the Kraktol's homeworld.
As Megla's nerves tighten, Lele reaches into her coat pocket and pulls out the PDA from earlier. On its screen, a series of words appear, along with a diagram of some strange machine.
"Oh... oh?!"
Lele's eyes light up with excitement. She raises her head to look into the distance, where a tremendous, bipedal automaton rounds the bend and slows to a stop, its intensely bright lights bombarding Megla and the Kessu, making them recoil and flinch.
"Augh! What is that thing?!" Megla cries. "I can't even look at it!"
Lele holds her paws up in front of her eyes. "It's not an enemy! It's a Titan, one of Big Baldy's robots! Red-Lady is inside it!"
Right after Lele speaks, the six-meter-tall Titan turns off almost all of its lights, except for two front-running ones, allowing the Kessu to finally make out the hardened exosteel comprising its outer shell. Two extremely frightening cannons rest atop each of its shoulders, while its silver-colored armor makes it stand out from the darkness. A single red 'eye' on its head looks toward Megla.
"Sister?" Soren says, her voice projecting from inside the automated suit. "You're okay? I thought the Shades were about to attack you."
Megla smiles. "Kyargh! Soren! You won't believe it, but this little furball saved our butts! She made a tool that scared away those stupid shadow-monsters!"
While Megla laughs, Soren falls silent. It takes a few seconds for the scholarly Kraktol to speak again. "...So you were okay. I rushed here for no reason. And the Admiral... he..."
Soren's voice ripples with regret, a fact that doesn't escape Megla's notice. "Sister? What's wrong? Did you find the Admiral? Is he okay?!"
The younger sister balls her hands into fists and strikes her thighs, as if trying to punish herself.
"He's behind me!"
Soren turns to the side and gestures behind herself, where a hovering stasis device floats silently, the Admiral's lifeless body contained within.
"Admiral? Admiral!" Megla cries.
"Big Baldy!"
"Great Precursor!"
Baaru, Lele, Ruuki, and Megla all run over to Admiral José Rodriguez's dying figure. He lays, unmoving, his skin far more pale and corpse-like than ten minutes before, making Soren's heart ache with guilt.
"I shouldn't have come here!" Soren says. "I should have gone back to the ship first, like Umi said! I... the Admiral... he's going to die because of me!"
Megla quickly looks at her sister. "Don't say that! Don't! The Admiral... he'll be fine! You just need to get him back to the ship, ASAP! Go. We'll be fine. We'll make it!"
Lele points toward a small display panel on the side of the Admiral's stasis stretcher. "Big Baldy is still alive! See? His numbers are going up and down!"
"Yes," Soren mumbles, "But they won't last long. If I have to lead all of you out of here, he'll almost certainly..."
Before the Kraktol can continue speaking, a Synthmind voice speaks in her cockpit. Soren falls silent and listens for a moment before nodding.
"That... that could work! Everyone, Umi had me bring along a bunch of supplies. They're magnetically attached to this robotic frame. I... I'll go back to the ship on my own. You can take these weapons and tools... protect yourselves and make your way to the surface!
Without waiting for a response, Soren deactivates the magnetic attachment modules stuck to the Titan's exosteel frame. Fifteen different items fall to the ground, landing with loud clangs when they hit the hardened rocky floor.
"Lele," Soren says, "Umi will transmit details regarding these devices to your PDA. Distribute them as you see fit. You're in charge!"
"I am?" Lele asks.
"She is?!" Megla cries. "She's just a little furball-"
"I don't have time to argue," Soren says, cutting her sister off. "Lele is the only technology expert on your team. You all will have to work together. I'll take Admiral Rodriguez back to the ship. If we're lucky, I can still save him!"
Sensing the seriousness of the situation, Megla only nods. "Yes, good. Alright, sister. You go, then. We will survive! I'm not going to let a bunch of monsters wipe us out!"
"That's the spirit."
Soren nods hurriedly, then turns around and starts running away, causing her exoframe's feet to leave half-foot-deep craters in the ground behind her. She reactivates her array of forward-facing lights and drags the Admiral's hovering stasis stretcher behind her. Within moments, she disappears around the bend, leaving Megla and the others behind to fend for themselves.
After her sister leaves, Megla and the others walk over to the dropped items. Despite her cursory resistance to a little kitten leading the makeshift spelunkers, Megla quickly realizes she doesn't care. Her heart forms countless knots as she frets over whether or not the Admiral will live or die.
Lele starts rifling through the items. She glances at her PDA from time to time as Umi transmits information regarding each item. "Hmm. Let's see. Kinetic Disperser... this looks like it's for blocking projectiles. Long Range Tactical Scanner... useful for mapping these caves. Oooh, a Deployable Energy Shield! Maybe we could just put this down and stay inside it until Red-Lady comes back!"
Lele mutters to herself for several minutes as she finishes cataloging all fifteen items. While she works, Megla keeps activating the light-orb device to ensure no Shades will sneak up on the party. Eventually, Lele turns to the others. "Here grandma, this is for you! And daddy, this one's yours! Look, there's even a Nanite Field Injector for Felabi!"
Baaru takes hold of a strange-looking metal cube, one that's about a foot in diameter. She watches as Lele walks over to Felabi and presses a syringe to his arm, injecting nanites into him to help heal his body. "I... I don't know what this strange box does. Never mind that! Will my precious baby be okay? Will Felabi be alright?"
The older Kessu walks over to Lele's side and trills anxiously, but Lele waves her paw nonchalantly. "No problem! Uncle Felabi's just fine, grandma! As long as we all stick together, we'll definitely make it out of here!"
Ruuki strokes his daughter's fur. "Mraaw! You really make your father proud, sweetheart. Don't try to do everything by yourself, though. You're still a kitten, after all."
"Hmph. Maybe, but I'm super mature for my age!" Lele protests. "Don't underestimate me!"
While the group continues passing the items around to the adults and younger members, a pair of Shades watches from the distance, peeping out from a corner whenever the light-orbs flash.
"Damned kitten. She hurt Master Yama," The first Shade hisses.
The second Shade, one with an avaricious look on her face, replies with a hate-filled tone. "Hehehe! That kitten thinks she's clever, but Master Yama has lived for countless ages. He's encountered trillions of fleshbags in his life. Once he recovers from his injuries, he's sure to come up with a plan for capturing her. After she falls in his hands, she'll regret hurting him for the rest of her miserable existence!"
The first Shade frowns. "All this effort just for one little girl and an ugly crocodile. Don't you think it would be better if Master Yama took the men, too? He could turn them into Shadow-Walkers, at the least. A few disposable minions would at least make up for some of our losses."
"He can't," The second Shade replies. "Ever since the humans wounded our Master, he lost his ability to 'turn' males into thralls. Only females will meet his needs."
The first Shade expresses her skepticism. "Really? Were his soul injuries that severe?"
"Yes. Master Yama never quite recovered to the height of his former power. If Emperor Belial were still alive, he could have forced her to heal him. Sadly, she died countless eras ago."
"Oh well," the first Shade sighs. "In the end, Master Yama survived the extinction of his species. And so, it is he who had the last laugh. The angels, Titans, humans, and all the other demons died, but thanks to our Master, the demons will eventually make a comeback."
"Hehehe... such is karma. The last demon versus the last human, and the human lost. Our Master is truly all-powerful."
Both Shades chuckle amongst each other, then flit away, leaving to deliver news about the Kessu's fortunate encounter. Now that their targets have equipped themselves with formidable weaponry, capturing them will prove far more difficult.
But to these Shades, nothing is more important than giving their Master the toys he desires...
Aboard the Bloodbearer.
Soren, having taken only twenty minutes to return to her drop-pod and another ten to blast through the mountain and fly back to the ship, anxiously delivers Admiral Rodriguez's body to the Bloodbearer's medical bay. She hands the Admiral off to the holographic crew inside, then steps out, allowing them to immediately begin the medical scanning and imaging process.
After she exits the medical bay, Umi speaks overhead. "Officer Mudrose. Your companions are currently engaged in a fierce battle on the planet's surface. Now that you have delivered the Admiral to the medical bay, there is nothing more for you to do here. I will attempt to restore the Admiral's condition. In the meantime, you should return to Tarus II to rescue the others."
Soren wrings her claws together. The plexiglass frosts over, hiding everything within the Medical Bay as she stares from the outside. "But... but the Admiral! Is he still alive? Will he be okay?!"
Several seconds pass before Umi replies.
"Admiral José Rodriguez. His current condition is... I do not believe that informing you will lead to anything but a decline in your mental well-being."
"I don't care about that!" Soren shouts. "Just tell me! Will the Admiral survive?!"
Never in all her life has Soren felt such deep, complicated emotions. For her entire existence, she's always acted as a calm, logically-minded person, someone with absolute focus and commitment to her work. In the past, even if it were her sister who had suffered such severe injuries, the red-scaled Kraktol would never allow her baser instincts to flare up.
However, for some reason, her icy barrier cracks under the thought of losing the Admiral. Not even she can fully deduce the reason why.
"I apologize, Officer Mudrose," Umi says, her monotone voice making Soren feel as if she's arrived at the abyss of despair. "Admiral Rodriguez suffered extreme mental damage as a result of unleashing one of Ramma's forbidden combat abilities. His brain has hemorrhaged several ounces of blood and cerebrospinal fluid. Additionally, fourteen percent of his grey matter has decomposed. I may potentially be able to save his life... but it is unlikely he will act in the same way as he did before."
Soren's breath catches in her throat. "What... what do you mean?"
"I apologize. I am unable to elaborate. At this point, I can only offer wild speculation. Admiral Rodriguez's cerebral injuries are almost entirely due to unleashing Ramma's power... but it is also Ramma's power that may save him. Based upon the classified information I've managed to retain, the side-effects of this operation will be extremely severe."
Soren's claws tremble, and her whole body loses a great deal of strength. She sinks to her knees and leans against the window, breathing hard. "He... his... injuries... he..."
"Officer Mudrose. Please attempt to restrain your emotions. We still do not know the results of the operation. I will require several days to complete this operation. In the meantime, only you have the capability of returning to the planet to assist Officer Brighteye in surviving the enemy attack. There is nothing more you can do to assist the Admiral now, but your sister's survival is still unclear."
Soren nods slowly. She forcibly steadies her breathing, then shakily rises to her feet. "My sister... my sister, Megla. Yes. Yes! I have to help her. Can't... can't let her die, too!"
With her mind numb from grief, Soren stumbles toward the Titan Launch Bay, where she will once again drop to the planet below.
As she leaves, Umi turns her internal sensors toward the Admiral. A half-dozen holographic personnel get to work performing surgery on him. Laser scalpels cut into various parts of his body, guided by the Synthmind's orders.
"How unfortunate," Umi says to herself. "I did not anticipate the Admiral might fail his mission. It seems that without Private Azaram at the Admiral's side, his combat prowess and strategical planning capabilities have declined substantially. Indeed, Terrans who form teams are often more adept at completing missions than those who do not. And if their companions should perish, the survivors usually become far less effective at solo-work than they were originally."
Umi's coldly gazes at the Admiral without a hint of emotion.
"In the end... humans are truly a fragile species."
Next Part
Author Note:
If you enjoy what you've just read, please consider subscribing to my Patreon! I am very poor and presently jobless due to Coronavirus, so every dollar helps. You get access to Cryopod artwork, and plenty of other exclusive posts, with more to come soon.
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Thank you!
submitted by Klokinator to HFY