Peeru Fanfic

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Death 999
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Re: Peeru Fanfic

Post by Death 999 » Thu Apr 01, 2010 6:42 pm

Chapter 11: Probe

It was Muugko's watch a two days later when the yellow alert siren went off.

The alert blared, "Sensor contact, likely probe."

Peeru dropped the simulation she was running in her resting cube. She was almost onto the control chamber when Zelnick called her, in a hurry. "We have three hours to contact. Review how these battles have gone for a few minutes, then we're going to have a full fleet review exercise, then we'll rest, and return to alert. We have these things down pretty well, don't worry. When it priority overrides, just stay close but out of our way, don't try to hit it. We don't need your help to win, and we don't want you to break formation and lose you. Get your people ready."

By the time the message was done, the rest of the bridge crew were all present and ready. Peeru called down to Kaandor as she reviewed a digest summary of the previous encounters. "Are you ready down there?"

"The kids are nervous. Who is it?"

"Looks like a robot, extremely fast, and a pathological liar. Looking at the last few times... twice it fell to concentrated fire without doing damage; once it managed to do light damage to one of the Spathi."

"So, not too dangerous?"

"Looking further back... they were, but not now."

"Good. You hear that, girls?"

Momentarily, the exercises began. The first went straightforwardly - the probe was trapped by nukes at range, limped towards them, and was finished off by a spray of blaster fire.

The second time, the probe managed to dodge the nukes several times on the way in, dashed all the way around the Eluders' torpedo screen, loop-de-looped through a gap in the Vindicator's blaster stream, and... pause.

While everyone was still adapting to the eerily frozen fire, Zelnick said, "1038, my orders to hold fire did not apply to this simulation."

Peeru acknowledged.

"We'll back up five seconds and resume with history locked in place, for context. Ready... go."

The previous five seconds replayed.

Genlo, the gunner, tracked, and as soon as they were live, he fired twice - misses.

Peeru opened the thrust all the way to get them back in place. "What are you doing? Hold fire!"

He turned around and up to her. "But he said..." And now we do have an opportunity...

"Fire!" Peeru jammed the control herself, seeing he wasn't ready anymore; but it was too late, the probe was no longer headed straight down their barrel, and they missed.

To Muugko, she said, "Get us back in position."

She monitored the progress of the battle and checked whether they were dangerously exposed.

They would have been, but the battle was over in a moment - light damage to the stinger was the only loss.

All that and we didn't even lose anything of consequence? It seemed like such a catastrophe while it was happening!

"Genlo, he only gave us permission to fire when appropriate. I decide that."

He acknowledged, and the third round was upon them.

The probe led the tracking nukes on a merry chase, but then it got overly focused on avoiding the torpedo screen. It left itself wide open for several seconds, as it wove back and forth without really getting anywhere. Even in the middle of that, it managed to dodge one of two nukes.

"Fire! Repeat!"

Genlo shot twice, and hit once.

"Re-form!"

Muugko scrambled to get them back in place, but again, the battle was over before he could. "What was it doing?" he wondered out loud.

"Really. It just sat there." Genlo added.

Zelnick addressed the fleet. "Nice shooting, 1038! We've all - except our new additions - seen them do that. We don't know why. But now when they do it, we know it's all over, they won't have time to break out again. I think we've got this about wrapped up. Take a nap if you can, stay sharp."

~~~~

Ten minutes before contact, they went to red alert. Nervousness was palpable in everyone in the control center.

Five minutes before contact, Zelnick addressed the fleet. "Folks, we have two probes in this group. I'll try to arrange so we face them one at a time, but it might not work. Skiffs and Fury, try to draw the second one aside. Like the old days, right, Jay?"

Jay replied, "Like Gamma Centauri." That was the first one they did with no casualties? Right.

Zelnick contacted the rear probe, staying on the line with the fleet.

"THIS IS PROBE 2418-B, ON A PEACEFUL MISSION"

Zelnick shouted out, "Prepare to be annihilated!"

That probe, and only that probe, abruptly reversed course and responded, "DEFENSE SYSTEM HAS BEEN ENGAGED. HOSTILITIES COMMENCE."

Then after a moment it reversed itself again. "PRIORITY OVER-RIDE. NEW BEHAVIOR DICTATED. MUST BREAK TARGET INTO COMPONENT MATERIALS."

"Well, that put an extra four or five seconds between them. Ready, everyone?"

Jay floated a ways below the Vindicator, ready to swoop up and distract; the Spathi spread out in an array found most likely to cause those moments of confusion; and the rest huddled close.

And it began. The opening nuke volley had the unfortunate effect of chasing it away for a moment, and then both of them were coming at once.

Jay charged in and got both probes on his tail.

"Fire! Re-form!"

The aim was true, but the probe dodged. That put it enough behind Jay that it changed focus back to the main group, and charged.

The torpedo screen made it retreat, but didn't confuse it.

How's Jay doing out there? Looks like that remaining probe is gradually catching up as they circle us. No one is aimed back there.

Peeru swung the 1038 to the side to face the Golden Teachings of Inner Peace - Jay's ship, and 'Gold' for short - just as it tried to strike the probe with a whirl of fire.

She got on the line with him.

"Idiotic vermin! One-track unbalanced yang worshipper!" Jay hissed and hooted.

"Jay! Fly straight!" Then the probe will fly straight and we can hit it.

"Coming!" the Gold swung straight at the 1038; the abrupt turn let the probe catch up.

An arc of the probe's lightning caught it and latched on.

The two hurtled closer and closer, but no clear shot presented itself - the Gold was still bobbing and weaving. Can it stop doing that? Maybe not!

The arc intensified, and the comm line went black.

"Fire! Repeat! Repeat! Repeat!"

Where the two ships had been was an incandescent globe of plasma.

The 1038 shot backwards out the side of the formation.

They passed the debris cloud that had been the other probe.

The Gold hadn't been destroyed until I fired. I just... Peeru numbly issued the order, "Re-form."

After a moment, Muugko opened the throttle, and they slowed.

Zelnick shouted, "New contact, close at 9+4!" Vindicator's left, and sharply up.

Peeru looked along that line, and gasped. A fury had arrived and was charging.

A spathi cried out, "Ghost ship!", and the Eluders broke formation.

Her hearts raced as the Fury turned its charge directly at her. Vengeance?

The fleet channel was filled with a long trill. "Haaawleluyah!"

The Fury rammed the 1038 right on the center axis. The ships bounced apart, but the low-level force fields and inertia alignment fields attenuated a catastrophe into a jolt and rocking of the chains. Over the ship-to-ship line came, "Kisses! Whee! Papa Ganjak says he's proud!" But by the time Peeru had brought that video stream to front, it was black again.

What?

The Fury went around the fleet bumping into the Stinger, then one of the Cruisers, then wedging itself in the Vindicator's struts for a moment before backing off and calming down. The fleet channel was cacophonous.

Zelnick finally silenced the chatter and announced, "Okay, folks, this is Jay! Looks like they had some kind of quick emergency warp or something."

Or something. This fury isn't damaged anywhere, and the Gold was nearly torn apart.

He went on, "No rush, we're still gathering the debris, but let's get back on the road. Fwiffo, that means turn around and get back over here. Good. Jay, why don't you tell us what happened?"

"We're not done here, so the great worm Azikarahanumanalanu got indigestion and burped us back up, and here we are!"

"Umm. And it burped up the Gold, too?"

"Nope! Fresh plucked from celestial armory by the jade reed-bird Vireek, this is the Harmonious Bearer of Fortune."

"Huh. Well, looks like we're all together again. Stand down from all alerts."

The ship felt quiet, though the engines continued their throb.

They are there, against all reason, no thanks to me. I distracted Jay, then shot the Gold. Genlo knows it too, and I think Muugko does. I doubt the others do. And I disobeyed orders.

A private call came in from Zelnick. With dread, Peeru opened it up.

Zelnick was biting his lip. What does that mean?

"So, how do you feel after your first fight?"

Peeru wasn't expecting that. She couldn't think of anything to say. I know how I feel about what I did - bad - but now I don't think he's mad, so I can stop being scared. And I'm in awe of what just happened to Jay and Tippy.

"Confused."

"So's everyone else."

"I apologize for not holding fire as you ordered."

He waved that aside dismissively. "When two came... I'd rather you take the initiative than stand by as the Gold got chewed up. That first shot really helped. The others... be very thankful to the worm of the dead."

"I will avoid shooting through allied ships in the future."

"You do that."

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Re: Peeru Fanfic

Post by Death 999 » Thu Apr 01, 2010 7:11 pm

Chapter 12: Mining

After closing the connection to Zelnick, Peeru tried and failed to call Jay. Of course he was a little busy, and she could not connect. Then she called Tippy.

Being on duty and on alert, he was unable to answer, but this time she let herself get herded into leaving a message. She couldn't think of what to say, so she just left it blank. The protocol for such a message is not something I was ever taught, nor could it. Congratulations on not being dead anymore, I hope you didn't mind my shooting you, and I would like to know what being dead was like?

Muugko signaled for her attention. She acknowledged.

"Do you recall the message we received as we collided?"

"Roughly. So-and-so was proud?"

"Papa Ganjak. Down in engineering, Heeran has a father whose name is Ganjak. At least, according to Trifop. It comes up as Goonac in the personnel files. Nickname?"

"More like changed their name."

"Why, captain?"

"Back during the eastern revolt, one of the union leaders was named Ganjak. Getting off that association would be worth it, and it would be a good opportunity to westernize their name as well. Hence Goonac. You're probably too young to remember that. Fersu, Lumne, Ganjak, and Plors."

Muugko was looking about in alarm, and Peeru paused the history lesson. He messaged her, "All the other bridge officers are eastern, remember?"

Peeru looked around and saw only people hard at work. Doing what, precisely? Listening in and getting offended? No need to stir that up. But yes, perhaps those are somewhat strained faces.

Peeru continued, "Well, I don't really know what happened back then. So, is Heeran's father deceased?"

"Not as far as we know."

"Ah. Confirmation bias at work after all?"

Muugko didn't seem to know what she was referring to, so she dropped it.

"Muugko, I am going to be taking on some administrative duties in the fleet. Are you prepared to run the ship on a temporary basis while I devote myself to these projects?"

"Am I prepared to be captain?" He was way too excited.

"Are you prepared to be commander?"

"Yes. You are the first captain I've served who has assumed any duties other than loose oversight and a watch, anyways."

Is that so? We'll see whether things change around here.

~~~~

A few hours later, Peeru was up to the neck in planning their mining. To better oversee operations, she transferred to the Vindicator. A close inspection of the two landers and discussion with their three chiefs helped her revise her overall strategy; and then they were in orbit.

The next week was a blur as Peeru let conceptual tunnel-vision take hold. She was aware that she had received a response from Tippy, and that Muugko had notified her of some discipline problem, and that contact had been made with the Utwig, but she merely noted them and moved on without thinking of them further. She was fully aware that a fourth lander crew was being formed so the workers could physically keep pace with her, and she was careful to give them the easier assignments. She was a machine for figuring out what the right questions were to ask the computer - how to minimize risk this time, how to fill the storage compartments just right this time, and so forth.

Between systems, she pored over the logs, modelling the ways the crew failed to meet her expectations, and adjusted their plans to allow for these failures. One incident in particular in which the lander had come down two hundred miles off course was of concern. She had ordered it to take off immediately to avoid destruction in that weather. That had been almost enough to shake her out of her focus; but Zelnick said he agreed with her decision to retreat. But still, she focused on avoiding events like that, and handling them better.

And then the main cargo bays were full. She took a nap.

~~~~

Peeru woke in an unfamiliar room. The light was dim, but she could make out the soft pallet she lay on, and the other three in the room; one was above her. The gravity was low enough that she could walk. The air was comfortable, if stained with unfamiliar odors, and a bit damp.

She got up, and the lights came on. She was still wearing her uniform, wrinkled and dirty.

She identified the door and stepped out. A young crewmember was sitting against the wall just outside the door; she (Peeru correctly suspected it was female) leapt to her feet and held her hand to her head. "Captain!"

Peeru looked at where she was pointing, but there was nothing there. The crewmember snapped her arm down.

"Who are you and where am I?" I am not at my best. With a resting cube, one always wakes to familiar environs.

"Spacer Bihouta. This is forward crew compartment, section 1f. We moved you to these quarters from where you fell asleep."

"Ah, where did I fall asleep?"

"The captain's bed."

Oops.

"If you would like to wash up, I can guide you through the facilities, or you can return to your ship. Before you do, you should be aware of certain developments."

"We met the Utwig."

"And the Supox, but not that. Ten of your crew quit."

"What?" Wugyup's poisonous behavior was not punished enough. How could I have failed so? How could I trust Muugko with this? "Well, who's left?"

"Lieuteant Muugko, chief Heeran, and specialist Ndeki."

"Where are the others?"

"Assigned, for the moment, to the Vindicator. Several have asked to speak with you."

"Really? I... guess I'll hear them, then."

Bihouta led Peeru to her chain system. "We will need to pass through high gravity areas."

Peeru placed her arms in, and they accepted her. She set the device to follow her guide, and she checked her messages in greater detail. Tippy's message was still first, and she ignored it. Bulletins of practices... discipline issues.

Hmm. Trifop and Kaandor spreading subversion. Feres playing on watch. Genlo disobeying orders in combat, insolence? There hasn't been combat. Vaando, sabotage? Nabek, communicating socially with a known union agitator? What happened here?

Peeru became aware that they had stopped in a small room with a... table. As she was situating herself, Bihouta stepped back outside, and Wugyup walked in. He pulled out a chair and plopped himself down in it. He said, in English, "I heard you did a bang-up job on that mining, administrative assistant Peeru." She took a moment to translate the title. "Oh, did I let that slip? It's our secret." How did he find that out?

Back in the trade language, "What did you do to my crew, Wugyup?"

He gestured 'nothing'. Kaandor glided in. "Wugyup, get out of here. You didn't have anything to do with this, and I don't want to see your filthy face if I can avoid it."

Genlo rolled in right behind her. "Oh, no. He stays."

The room filled up with the chain frameworks it was not intended to accommodate, as the rest of the bridge crew filed in.

Trifop took the lead. "Captain, Lieutenant Muugko is crazy and stupid. He's been imagining charges to level against us because he doesn't like the... laxity in this fleet, or the permanence of our reassignment, or something."

Wugyup put in, "He did that before, too, when he could get away with it. Nothing new."

Genlo added, "More to the point, he's dangerously ignorant of tactics, and his ego gets in the way of fixing that. I devised a way to actually hit those stealthy buggers, and he punished me for giving it a try."

Kaandor said, "And then he blamed me for our not doing maintenance that he had personally removed from our routine because he hated doing it himself. He's always been a petty spiteful lowlife."

Peeru cut them off with a gesture. "Going down the list. Trifop, it says you and Kaandor conspired subversively. Do you release me to show the attached log file, so I can figure out what's going on here and now?"

Trifop nodded. "Nothing would please me more." Kaandor also assented, though less eagerly.

Peeru forwarded a view of the recording around, drew it back half a minute from the infraction to establish context, and started.

~~~~

Trifop and Kaandor were in the nose of the ship, staring out at the orbited planet.

Trifop was speaking "... been at it for a long time. How many civilizations have they wiped out? It's chilling."

Kaandor agreed.

Trifop went on, "How much resistance have they overrun? How many fleets such as ours?"

"This one or the home fleet?"

"Either one. They're both bugs before this massive machine."

"Especially home fleet. Their idea of defense is going to be to shoot the chief shareholders out of the cannon, straight away. You just see."

"Yeah, probably."

~~~~

Wugyup was the first to speak. "Wow, guys. There's a bit of good news for you. Their massive machine just hit another equally massive machine, and they're grinding each other down for us. It's not the same as the Burvix or the Gg. Not that you're wrong about the shareholders, of course."

Kaandor pulled herself up. "Who promoted you to spokesman here?"

Peeru motioned her into abeyance. "He did say, much more clearly, what I was going to. But the main point is, this isn't really subversive. No one ever asked you to work so as to increase shareholder value, only your own. Next? Ah. Feres..."

"Sorry, captain. My explanation is no excuse: there's simply nothing to do on watch. Normally, we'd at least have to monitor the sensors and the engines, and listen for orders, but in this group... the Vindicator's sensors are so much more powerful than our own, if we went active, all we'd do is provide spurious echoes."

"I'd recommend doing something more constructive, but it's your value you're not improving. Next... Genlo. Disobeying orders in combat. Has there even been combat?"

"No, captain. He's referring to when we trained against Ilwrath."

"Go ahead..." Ah, I see that combat training counts as combat for disciplinary purposes.

"We'd tried it his way three times, and we died every time. He didn't want to even let us try my way."

"And insolence?"

"I muttered the saying about buying a hundred cases of nails." That fits the description here.

"I'll have a word with him about listening to people, but in the future do try to hold your tongue. Let's see. Vaando's up for sabotage. He's not here. What's this?"

Kaandor took that. "During our first try at that suddenly resumed routine maintenance, he broke something. In frustration, he broke something else. He definitely deserves punishment, but only on the scale of docked pay."

"Nabek, communicating socially with a union agitator?" Peeru looked to Wugyup.

Wugyup laughed, leaning back in the chair. "I'm a union agitator, am I? She came and talked with uncle Wugyup about guys and girls and 'the birds and the bees' as they say it here."

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Do you need me to spell it out? She is a very young woman. I talked her through it."

"Why you, not, oh, a woman?"

"Because I'm her peer. I had her rank when I left, I have the equivalent rank now. And yet, I know all this stuff because I'm twice her age; and I like explaining what I can. Can you see her asking Kaandor? Heeran? You?"

"Why not Nuun? She's even medical, nominally the best qualified."

"I could guess, but... I don't think you really want me to."

To the table as a whole, "All right. So, what's the deal? Will you return if he's restored to Lieutenant? I guess that's a no. If he's removed from duty?"

Genlo shared a glance with some of the others, then said, "Actually, captain... we'd rather not fly with someone as inexperienced as you are either. We almost died, not in sim, but the real thing. The Mauler is a finesse and detail ship, and you haven't got it. The captain is ready to convert this to scrap anyway."

"Is he, now?" Peeru flared up with possessiveness toward her ship. "It'd be one thread in the home I just handed him. And yes, I have little experience; but I'm a quick study, and we need everyone we can get. The Kohr-Ah aren't going to wipe themselves out."

Feres said, "Oh, we definitely agree; but we'd rather work elsewhere. We have found positions, mostly. I'm swapping with someone on the StarRunner next time they dock, and so on."

Peeru hung, stunned. "None of you want to stay? Kaandor. This is your ship."

"Yes, it is, captain. But, well... dying seems a lot less appealing when it seems likely. In these exercises, we generally die."

Trifop coughed. "Captain, I have to get on duty in around two minutes. Permission to leave?"

"Go. Everyone can go."

As they left, Peeru stared into the wall. Failure crushed her.

"Hey, don't take it personally." Wugyup. Peeru looked up. He was leaning back in his chair. "You're not a bad person, for a shareholder."

"Get out of here."

On his way out, he said, "Try the hot tub some time. It's divine."

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Death 999
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Re: Peeru Fanfic

Post by Death 999 » Thu Apr 01, 2010 7:16 pm

Chapter 13: Starbase

Peeru headed straight back, on the way reviewing Genlo's alleged insolence incident, then as she waited, Muugko's file. The 1038 took a long time to complete its docking maneuver. She rejoined the chain system and rushed to the command center.

No one was there. "Where are the crew of this ship?"

"Commander Muugko, resting. Acting chief engineer Heeran, engine control. Specialist Ndeki, furnace."

Peeru, conscious of wasting time, was about to take the controls and undock, but found the ship already had returned to its tow mooring. They must have rigged it to run from engineering. Good idea, with a crew this small.

She considered heading to the engine room, but figured they could wait. Resting or not, she needed to talk to Muugko.

She came up on his cube quickly -- it was kept near the command station, far from hers in the belly of the ship -- and overrode the lock. He was not asleep, but sitting with closed eyes.

"Lieutenant."

He looked up. "I figure if they can get away with this, I can at least speak my mind. Damn the straps! It's just not fair! I've prepared for so long, and you come in and make it look so easy you could do it without any preparation at all."

"I have led before, just not in the military. Have you taken leadership classes?"

"I've been a leader for years."

"The first lesson is that giving orders is not leadership. It's the hardest one, that's why they put it first. Tell me about Genlo."

"What about him?"

"You heard from him that he had some idea. What did you do?"

"You aren't going to hit anyone by aiming away from them."

"What did you do?"

"It's crazy. I understand centroids, and that's where you aim."

"Muugko. I am not asking about his idea's lack of merit. What did you do?"

"We were in the middle of the battle, so I just said no."

"And after the training simulation ended?"

"I explained to him why it wouldn't work. I was very nice about it."

"Did you try it?"

"I ran some sims myself, after. His way was worse."

"Did you show these to him?"

"I told him the result."

"Show me."

The 'sim' was a piece of hacked together question-begging that essentially devolved to a single integral. Peeru started afresh, explaining the principles as she went. In particular, she pointed out the difference in information access between the simulation and the simulated aimer, and the concept of posterior probability.

Then she lifted out Genlo's algorithm -- it was easy to find, as it used a distinct code style -- and ran them side by side, rapidly, for a few hundred short trials.

As they watched, Muugko grew more and more nervous.

In the end, Genlo's method hit slightly more often, and used much less ammunition.

"He was still insolent."

"Insolence is a relatively serious charge. Just ordering him to speak clearly would put him in his place without doubling your investment."

"Captain, I asked for your input. You didn't get back to me."

"By the time I received the message that actually asked for help, it was already rather late, wasn't it? You'd already formalized charges. Anyway, I was deeply focused."

He's hurt. What can I say, though, without admitting culpability? "Now what do we do?"

Just then, a call came in from Zelnick. Is he going to scrap us? I guess I could just be a mining advisor. This is just another hunk of metal. Peeru activated the call.

"Let's start with the good news. You were very good on the mining. You stripped two loaded moons I wouldn't have dared to, without losing anyone or even taking significant damage."

"Thank you."

"The bad news is, you're out a crew. We're going home, and we might get jumped by Ilwrath when we do. We probably won't need you to beat them, but you will need to stay out of the way. Can you handle that? Seriously, this time."

"Yes. What happens when we get 'home'?"

"If we can't recruit and train up a new crew for your ship in time, it stays home. I'm not sure it'd be worth your staying behind with your ship, rather than sticking with us to oversee mining."

"If I can help on the mining, that would be good..."

"Yes, but if your ship is ever going to see action of any sort, you'll need to take charge. You'll need to get to the point where the crew can't bring a convincing petition to me to transfer them out wholesale."

"Oh, they did that with your permission?"

"You don't think I just let people work where they want, do you? They said your ship is crippled by the change I made to it. It'd be okay if you were all elite. Instead... competent. If you're willing to devote yourself 100% to being the best there can be, and making a crew that is as well, you can stay and work on that."

"I think we're better of with me running the mining."

"All right. We'll mothball the ship, you come with us here. You will participate in our battles whenever we're between systems, on the supposition that the... 1038 will eventually be back in the group. Sound good?"

"I guess so."

"One other thing. Did you get my message about the Ultron?"

"I was just about to catch up on my messages. It wasn't labelled priority."

"Right. No rush. Can you fix it?"

"Probably not. But I can take a look at it anyway."

"Good. Zelnick out."

~~~~

The transit was made without incident. As they rushed behind the Ilwrath lines, Peeru finally read Tippy's message.

"Did you ask me because I, like you, am not a seeker of celestial mysteries?
Do not think that I did not believe them real; I had merely not sought them. I knew they would come in their time, like just now. There were things that are not quite sights, not sounds. They aren't really visions, either, since they were not images, but it had the feeling that I think those who have visions get. I just clung to the idea that we were not finished, and found that we weren't.
It was like being thrown through a long blurry tunnel at high speed, no wind in my feathers, no protective tears in my eyes, only the thickness of the air, like jelly, pulling away my body as I went onwards.
But it held on, didn't it?
I can remember hints of the things that Jay saw, and recall more details as he explains them. I definitely felt a bump when he said the new ship was provided. The most striking part were the little specks, which Jay says are the spirits of those dying, all across the universe. He was able to talk with some."

Peeru wasn't quite sure what to make of that, so she saved it for later. She had a lot of work to do, to prepare the ship for long-term storage.

Heeran was cheerful at her de facto promotion to chief engineer. Peeru did not need to draw her into demonstrating the scope of her capabilities - each part they touched, she explained more than they really needed to know.

Partway through painting a sealant layer onto the terminal guidance coils, Peeru asked Ndeki, "So, what did Vaando break, anyway?"

"A transformer. One of the best-designed transformers I've ever seen, actually. He cut one of the wires with a... one of these screwdrivery things."

"That's a bolt binder. What was the second thing he broke?"

"The bolt binder."

Such a little thing to lose someone over. What was Muugko thinking? Is he mentally stable? And the others. We didn't go down in any of the sessions I commanded. Maybe their lesson should just have been that Muugko isn't very good?

As she pondered that, Muugko swung up. "All done with the inner side. What's next?"

"Ask Heeran."

He moved off. Looks like he's trying to make up for his massive foulup by working constantly. It'd take an unnaturally long life for him to do it at this rate, though.

"Captain, who's on watch?"

"I am, nominally. If anything happens, a chime goes off and I can take care of it."

"I haven't heard anything."

"Nothing's happened."

That evening, Muugko joined her in practice, and applied Genlo's technique effectively. He's beating himself up over these things. As well he should!

The next morning, Peeru woke to a message from Heeran, asking her to order Muugko to go to sleep.

She got him on the line. "Muugko. Have you been awake for three days? Go to sleep before you go into a work fugue." He might crash after we reach the starbase, which would be fine, but no need to risk his crashing before and leaving just the three of us to take care of everything.

"I'm partway through washing the spare coolant lines."

She toyed with the idea of telling him to just take watch, which would probably put him to sleep, but she didn't feel like taking the effort of dissembling. "Muugko, stop. I'm not going to think higher of you: your problem is not that you aren't hard-working."

He glared at her, but went.

The rest of the trip was a sullen standoff, with Heeran's cheer only serving to offset the two officers' discomfort.

She hardly noticed their dropping by Alpha Centauri, only noting when Muugko put a derisive note in the logs about trading with the Melnorme. And then they came to the starbase. It was huge, larger than the trade-world station she had lived in for the bulk of her life.

And it was in a panic - the Spathi had abandoned the starbase just a few weeks after the start of the previous sortie. Peeru took the news without comment, and kept at the work, which intensified -- there was now no real possibility of having to maneuver.

Kaandor was assigned to help them finish up the cold shutdown. Peeru could see that leaving the ship was hard on her, too, but Peeru couldn't quite bring herself to be sympathetic to the woman whom she imagined had led most of the crew away. At the end of the week, their cubes were removed, a seal went on the hatch, and she was on even more unfamiliar lines. Profoundly more so, since without the 1038 active, she had to use an unfamiliar computer system.

The first message she managed to open was from Trifop, suggesting a suite of tools that he and Feres had put together to ease the transition. At the end of the message was a starbase room number. Looking into it, Peeru found that it was a sauna, with a very comfortable peak temperature.

They don't hate me. It really is just not wanting to die. I guess that does override, well, almost anything else.

The second message was her berth assignment - an officer's cabin in the Vindicator, with title 'mining director'; it gave her rank as commander. I like the sound of that. The rest of the message informed her of the assignments of the other Druuge. At the top were the lowest ranked, the menials: Vaando, Meeki, Yaarit and Ipped. They had been entered into basic evaluation and training on the starbase. Good luck with them. The others who had left kept their positions - most on the Vindicator, and Feres on the StarRunner. Heeran would work in the starbase shipyard. Muugko was enrolled in an officer's training program. That might do him some real good. I wish I could join. Ah, and it looks like Wu is teaching it. I wonder who's in charge of the cruisers now? Whoa.

The roster showed a serious change to the fleet. Three each of eluders and skiffs, the fury... and five cruisers. PorKoo got cut too, and they were a team captain!

With that revelation, the bright side of her situation became apparent: at least the 1038 hadn't been scrapped, and she was still assigned to the fleet. Things were looking up.

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Re: Peeru Fanfic

Post by Death 999 » Thu Apr 01, 2010 7:22 pm

Chapter 14: Spathi

When the fleet set out again, their course proceeded through mostly empty hyperspace on a beeline to the Spathi homeworld. Peeru didn't have any mining duties aside from ensuring that the landers were maintained properly, and the Ultron was hopeless, so she focused on the fleet drills. With the improvements to her outlook, she felt comfortable calling out to her old bridge crew to back her up. Fwiffo demanded that Feres help him, but Zelnick was easier with letting her use Genlo and Trifop. She was glad to keep the connection to the crew that would likely be reassigned to her if the 1038 ever came out of storage.

In the new team setup, she was attached permanently to the adversarial group, whatever it happened to be. Though this didn't help her get any better with the Mauler specifically, she gathered a greater grasp of general tactics.

In particular, these sessions involved dancing around in an Eluder, which was a profoundly different experience than piloting a Mauler.

The new cruiser additions put enough missiles in motion that evading them all was a significant challenge, even for the more experienced captains. The allied fleet could afford to concentrate fire while soaking up or intercepting the weaker Eluder weaponry. They only became a threat in overwhelming numbers.

Other exercises were against the Kohr-Ah, and the Ur-Quan.

The trip to Spathiwa seemed to take forever - people joked it would be faster to just try every single other quasispace portal, one had to be closer - even though it was insignificantly longer than their trip home had been.

When they finally arrived, the fleet warily advanced at high alert. After some time, Zelnick made a fleet-wide announcement: "It looks like Spathiwa is slave-shielded. Just in case, everyone prepare for an Ur-Quan adversary."

But there were no Ur-Quan, and no Spathi. Unable to reach Spathiwa, they turned to its moon. Peeru was not consulted as Zelnick sent the fourth lander team down to investigate the few remains of the Spathi temporary civilization.

A few minutes later, as the landers returned, Zelnick again addressed the fleet. "All right, everyone. Before I get started, I'd like to point out that it's fairly clear that our Spathi captains weren't in on this. I'm not sure why they didn't do this when they were supposed to be guarding us, maybe they were afraid of our unarmed starbase, but some of them were observing the slave shield on Earth. When they figured out how to make one of their own, they came home and did it to themselves. Now they're in a shell strong enough to keep out anything whatsoever.

"Except the Ur-Quan, and probably Kohr-Ah, and to some extent the Chenjesu or Mrnmhrm. Yeah, their plan has problems.

"But for the time being, it's strong enough to keep us out. They did give us what they claim to be a very powerful hyperwave caster. We're going to drop by Spathiwa and try out this caster they left to ask them if these problems occurred to them. If so, we might have them back, at least until they improve it to their satisfaction.

"Whatever the result, we know now that slave shields are not totally beyond younger races such as our own. We may yet free Earth! And all the slaved worlds, including our own Vela!"

"Either way, there is another slave-shielded world we know of. One the Spathi would have been assigned to guard. Betelgeuse."

Peeru didn't get that at first, but Zelnick clarified, "With the Spathi gone, and the Arilou saying the Androsynth don't exist anymore, it's unguarded. Unless the VUX were assigned to them as well; but we won't have any trouble outrunning them if it comes to it. So that's where we're headed after this."

~~~~

The efforts to reach the Spathi fell on deaf ears.

So they set out for Betelgeuse

At the next stop, a short diversion for mining, as they completed their initial scans, Zelnick turned Peeru's words back on her: "When was the last time we found something really worthwhile around a white dwarf?"

"You know why I really said that. Now let me get to work."

~~~~

Peeru woke up and checked the time - one hour to tonight's practice, which would be against VUX. She hated the intruder, the opposite of the mauler. She considered practicing a little before the main practice, but decided to hit the hot bath on the deck below.

Then the question became, use the chains, or walk? The chain system was restrictive in where one could go with it, and this wasn't far, and her leg exercises suggested she'd be ready, so she decided to try. And if Wugyup can do it, I can do it.

One step, and another -- hand on the wall. Even as she approached the lift, her leg strength was holding nicely. When the lift opened, it held two ratings with large gas cylinders. She tried to rush, to not waste their time; and barely avoided losing control of her ankle. Neither seemed to notice the extra care with which she gripped one of the handlebars. At the next deck, she hobbled out.

Her legs were complaining by the time she made it to the door. The partition had a good handle, but sitting down on the side of the small pool was an intense relief. She shucked off her uniform-parka, leaving what would have been her normal clothing in a Druuge-friendly environment.

She took some deep breaths after the exertion, which had to be extra-deep to compensate for the water in the air.

Only then did she look around. Three male humans were already in the tub, in very minimal clothing.

"Is it... all right for me to be here?"

"Aliens are exempt. Different bits."

"Except Syreen, I've heard.", another said.

The third added, "We can let them be exempt anyway, right? Anyway, is this really specifically mens' hour at all, or open time?"

The second lay back and closed his eyes. "Mens'. The girls get it first hour after shift change."

Just then, Peeru recognized the first one. "Say, what's your name again? I remember you being in lander crew two."

He looked at her again, more carefully, and quickly saluted. "Ian Fesch, petty officer second grade, drill gaffer and dorsal checker, ma'am. I'm sorry for not recognizing you earlier, ma'am! I thought you were... someone else."

Can we look that much the same to them? None of the others look like me. Well, Nuun, but still.

"Mr. Fesch, I'm curious what the lander crews think of the way I've handled them."

His face contorted. "Can I plead the fifth?"

"What?"

The second one said, "He'd rather not answer. It's not that bad. Some folks, not him, thought you'd, uh..."

She didn't prompt him, and no one else said anything. Eventually, he had to continue. "... get them all killed. But you didn't, which they're very happy about."

"All right. What about reality rather than your preconceptions?"

Fesch shrugged. "It's not so nice to be a giant yo-yo dipped into boiling acid. But I guess the constant up and down beats having to go through all that mess at ground level, or not getting the goods."

"Anything you'd do differently?"

"Yeah. I actually would get us all killed. I suck at that sort of stuff. There was one time on the starbase... never mind."

The door opened.

"Commander?" echoed from behind the partition, in the trade language, untranslated.

"Who is it?"

"Wugyup. Are you all right? I heard you were <walking>."

"Yes, I'm fine."

"Good. It's hard."

"I've done much harder things than this." I'd like to ask him some serious questions, but this isn't the place.

"Don't hurt yourself." His tone indicated it was the end of the conversation, which suited her just fine. I really need to figure out who he is.

After a minute, she excused herself and, with great difficulty, stood.

The two steps across to the partition nearly buckled her knees, unaccustomed to pushing in that direction. What use is having these nice well-developed leg muscles, if they're all set to pull the wrong direction? As she began to open the door, she realized then that there was no way she was walking back to her room unaided. She was about to ask for help when she saw her chains out in the hall.

Wugyup, presumably. And... I'm freezing.

Fortunately, the second of the men came out with her coat. "You left this, ma'am."

"Thank you. Would you help up me into this?" She got her arms in, and pulled up easily -- these were muscles she used on a regular basis. He slipped the shackle over her leg.

"Is that how it goes, commander?"

"Close enough." She grabbed it and set it straight. "And drape the coat over me? Thanks, that's good enough." She set off down the hall for a moment, then had to stop so she wouldn't lose the coat after all.

Behind her, she heard dimly: "See the galaxy, meet strange alien women, help chain them up and put on their parkas."
Last edited by Death 999 on Tue Sep 29, 2015 3:31 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: Peeru Fanfic

Post by Death 999 » Thu Apr 01, 2010 7:31 pm

Chapter 15: Syreen

Peeru was not tightly bound to most shipboard routines, and as social observation was no longer one of her job responsibilities she was not particularly focused on it; but out of habit her opportunity senses picked up on the rising tension as they approached the Syreen world.

The first thing she noted was a general cheer among most men and a general dread among most women. At first she didn't know what to make of it.

The day before arrival, while she was eating and looking out the dome at the swirls of hyperspace, she overheard an increasingly agitated conversation:

"No, seriously, Bridget. I'm just looking forward to us having another ally."

"You weren't so sanguine about the Yehat!"

"The Yehat could very well blow us up in a few seconds, and they would! Unlike the Spathi, I get the impression they take their orders pretty seriously! Remember what I thought about the Utwig, and then the Supox?"

"I'm just saying, when we get there, you aren't going there."

"Of course not!"

"And I don't want to have to hear how you're deprived, either! It gets old real fast."

"I am not your ex-boyfriend, all right?"

"You will be, if you..."

"I get the idea!" He looked around. "Sorry, everyone!"

"Sheesh, Danny, way to make a scene."

A moment later, she was pelted by food fragments from three different directions.

Quiet enough that Peeru only heard because she was listening in, he said, "If I did, I wouldn't blame you. But if I did, it'd be because they did something to me up here, all right?"

"But, Danny, they do do things to people up there. That's the whole point. It's not that I don't trust you; it's just... I'm worried what they might do. I'd like you to still be someone I can go out with in two days."

"Ah. Well, so would I."

She calmed down.

Then he added, "And I'd like you to be someone I can go out with, right now."

After a moment of looking him in the face, she cracked up laughing.

That exchange prompted Peeru to look up more information about these Syreen. It was disturbing. Mind control... in the stories, it always ends badly. At least their amplifiers were confiscated or destroyed at the end of the war. But these are our friends? I suppose they aren't out to wipe out or enslave all alien life. But if they had the power, would they want us all as their slaves? Once they got close to that point, we wouldn't know, would we? Maybe they aren't so bad, but it's still scary.

There was little information to be had on the Syreen history, culture, or anything that would help Peeru understand the degree of threat.

So it was with some concern that she watched as they approached the station. As Zelnick had predicted, there were no guarding fleets.

Once they were within an eighth of a light second, Zelnick opened a channel and distributed it across the fleet.

Peeru ignored the Syreen commander's little speech, distracted by Zelnick's unusual behavior. He became very tense, and assumed quite a series of facial expressions.

Then he tried to speak. "I'm... we're... " He tapped something on his chair and the fleet-wide relay went dead.

Is she taking him over? I can't let that happen!

Peeru set her chains for the bridge. It took an agonizingly long time to get there, during which she wondered whether she, too, would be enthralled.

I should have been up front in the cargo area anyway, to ready the landers... then I would have been there right away.

She rolled in the back of the bridge; Zelnick didn't seem to notice her, as he sat in his chair. "Shall I send it over? I thought so. We're lucky I didn't sell both of them. We didn't know at the time! I just worked it out now. Well, we'll see. Ah."

Peeru overheard a screech of the word 'identical'. At that, Zelnick made a tiny triumphant gesture, then listened and watched at length.

Fenson came up behind Peeru. "Excuse me, commander. Would you step outside?"

She followed him back out.

Fenson continued, "I know it didn't look like there was a very solid reason for this communication to be private, but it really is."

"I was just checking to see if he was under mind control."

"Is he himself?"

"Seems so."

"Good." His tone remained stern.

Eager to deflect attention, she moved on. "Now, I guess I'll go get us ready for mining. Some of those planets looked promising."

She called up the crews and began checking over the equipment herself.

Just as the first lander crewmembers began to trickle in, Zelnick issued a call for all captains to confer.

Peeru told the lander crews to stand by, and went back to the bridge.

Zelnick stood and stared at the huge map. The trace of the Vindicator's path to this point was outlined on it, and a wide circle was centered on Betelgeuse.

Various of the fleet's captains -- all but the Arilou -- popped up in viewscreen segments around the map.

Without noticing her, he went on. "All right everyone. The Syreen want to join us, and they know their ships were stored on a body in orbit of a red or orange star around this range of Betelgeuse. As you can see, there are a fair number of options. Ideas on how to proceed?"

Abrams said, "Can you release the recording of that conversation to us? This is a little sudden."

Zelnick blushed a little. "Uh. Yeah. Here you go. Just got a little nervous with everyone watching, this time. So... I doubt they'd trust some of their thralls with something like this. Not the Spathi, not the Umgah, and not the Yehat."

Jay broke in. "I see it... the planet is a bowl of grubs - cold, wiggly, and green."

Zelnick squinted. "Are you saying the Ur-quan built a vault on a planet that's seriously tectonically active? Anyway, do you have anything that would actually help us find it?"

"Let me look at it cosmically... astral spirits... guide me, how should we go there? Up... above? and... off to the left... and down the drain. Spirits, maybe it has been a while since you have been in this world, but there aren't any cosmic drains here. No, there aren't.

"I'm sorry, captain. From time to time, the spirits enjoy little jokes at our expense."

Zelnick shrugged. "Those Syreen officers will be aboard any minute now. We'll need a liaison. What officers have some room in their work schedules, and aren't human males? Talana specifically said we should avoid that mix. Abrams, is Chen free?"

"I suggest you look behind you."

Zelnick turned, and saw Peeru. "Uh, right. Want the job?"

More connections could be useful; though I've never been all that good at exploiting them, they were better than not having them. "Sure. About the vault planet, I'd open a position on it being in their territory. If so, and discounting where you've visited, there are only four candidate stars."

Zelnick looked at the map, entered another constraint, and nodded. "That's fairly deep into Ur-Quan territory. Thoughts?"

One of the other human captains, Kim, said, "Some are, some aren't."

Another, Reynolts said, "I wouldn't totally rule out those to the south. The Androsynth and VUX were very reliable."

Snelopy said, "They wouldn't trust anyone with that."

A chime interrupted them; Zelnick turned to Peeru. "Our guests have just landed. Why don't you go down there and say hello?"

She set her destination and searched around the unfamiliar computer system for the means to contact the vessel, until Zelnick forwarded to her the message he had received. It read, simply, "Shuttle secure."

She looked up through the giant transparent inner door of the lander airlock, and set eyes on the golden shuttle. Its main feature was a large window, partially silvered-over. The venting complete, the inner door slid open, and the floor conveyors brought it next to the landers.

Peeru began to write a welcome, offering power, air, and water, and the opportunity to stretch their legs and look at the sky. Halfway through this, the hatch opened on the side of the vessel.

She set the message aside and went to the base of the ramp extending from the hatch. At the head of the ramp stood a trio of what appeared to be light blue humans, each heavily draped in indigo cloth and wearing a winged gold crown. There was something about them -- powerful, mysterious.

Peeru's hearts raced as they sauntered down the ramp, side by side. They stopped in unison. The precision of their action stood in contrast to the seemingly totally casual way each stood. At first, Peeru thought she had found another difference between them and the humans: saggier skin and gray hair; but then she remembered a few humans she had seen with those features. A different ethnicity? Odd that that too would be paralleled across species.

They looked each other over for a few seconds. Peeru got the distinct impression that as long as no one was talking, they were getting more out of the exchange than she was.

"Welcome to the new Alliance of Free Stars."

The center Syreen stated, "I saw Spathi and Arilou among the fleet, and something else; what is that?"

How stereotypically female. Almost a farce. We can say hello, you know. "Aside from the Humans, that would be the Pkunk. We are also allied with the Zoq, Fot, and Pik; and there are a very few of us Druuge; and now, you." I feel like there's something I'm forgetting here.

"It is strange to see the Spathi allied."

"Well, about that... they backed out and slave-shielded themselves. It was, apparently, what they always wanted. So what we have is all there is of them."

The three looked to each other, and Peeru's head cleared. "I'm Peeru, by the way; and you?"

The leader said, "Rydra." The others supplied, "Trixia." and "Kay."

Rydra continued, "There is a strategy conference under way. We will attend."

"That would be this way." As Peeru led back up toward the bridge, Rydra rushed ahead.

Once she was safely ahead, Kay told Peeru, "Excuse her lack of diplomacy. But she is the best."

Trixia added, "Why do you keep it so cold in here?"

"Most of the ship is warmer; but it seems comfortable enough for humans in full uniform."

"But not you."

"In this coat, I'm all right." Except in my horns.

"Even up here?" she pinched Peeru's left horn near the base, just above her eye. The unexpected contact sent a shiver through her entire body. She halted just outside the bridge.

"Please don't do that."

"It's freezing! You must be..."

"I'm fine. Yes, it's cold. I deal with it." Kahso used to hold them whenever I got cold. It was... inappropriate thoughts for this situation!

Peeru pushed forward onto the bridge.

Zelnick was telling Rydra, "One of the most powerful aspects of this is our Arilou-provided portal spawner. We can get away if we're in hyperspace. That won't do you any good, though. But it would let us explore before retrieving anything."

Rydra hissed, "And let them know we're coming? No. We must hit hard and fast, and broadly so they do not know our target. Preferably rain enough fire down on the planets that the demolition charges we leave will look like collateral damage. Are you ready for ten dreadnoughts? Twenty?"

After a moment, Abrams said, "If we come from Mycon space, they could think we're Mycon. If we avoid them, they might never figure it out. Do those first, and run away normally to avoid if they find us. Don't stand out by using the spawner. Then they won't know at all."

Fwiffo: "We're a lot faster than Mycon."

Zelnick: "I like that idea, even so. We don't want to draw attention to the Zoq-Fot-Pik by coming from that way, nor the Syreen by coming from this way. So we can come from the Mycon. And that leaves just one possible order. If we find them deep... this will be tough. Rydra is right: we can't just portal out."

He looked to Rydra for her reaction. She nodded. "And if it's in the Cancris cluster, or at Metis?"

"You'll get your ships."

"And what if..."

"Just a moment, let's get under way." A few taps on the console. "All right. What if what?"

Planning began in earnest.
Last edited by Death 999 on Thu Jul 01, 2010 5:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Peeru Fanfic

Post by Death 999 » Thu Apr 01, 2010 7:40 pm

Chapter 16: Landing

Two days before arrival at Epsilon Camelopardalis, there was a sensor contact moving their way. It was too slow to achieve an intercept course, but it was clearly heading to cut them off on their return. By one day out, the sensors blossomed with four more contacts, none of which would get to the system in time. The Vindicator had simply breezed right by the outer Ur-Quan perimeter.

Upon their arrival in-system, Zelnick zeroed in on the outer of the two planets and swept in at 60% throttle. As they came further into the system, they found a dozen Kohr-Ah marauders, not poised to intercept. And so the Vindicator got them to their first destination with no difficulty.

Peeru stood by, strapped in to the now-familiar lander with crews that were no longer names on a list. As Zelnick guided the ship through power orbits, scanning the planet's surface much faster than its gravity, even amplified by their cruising drives, could ever cause. She monitored the scans with him. There's nothing down there, just some metal.. Minute after minute passed, and still there was no word on whether to launch.

Peeru set up a side window to monitor the progress of the Kohr-Ah in their pursuit. Already they were spreading out to prevent escape. When it seemed like it was already too late, the Vindicator broke away and shot out through the widest remaining gap of the cordon at full throttle.

Within an hour they were in place around the inner planet, and had at least an hour and a half of breathing room before they would be interrupted. This time, Zelnick satisfied himself with a quick scan on the main planet before moving on to the moon.

A moment after that scan began, a loud 'ping' rang out. The lander crew cheered. First system? This was about as easy as this could possibly be!

"Chief, don't hold back this time." I may still be poor at walking, but this suit helps, and even more now that it's been modified for me... oof!

The Vindicator was a dot in the distance in just a moment. Focusing her attention ahead, she fought terror: the ground was approaching much more quickly than it had in their practice runs in Alpha Kepler. And it was green, and cloud-covered, with electrical arcs flying incessantly. And I had been hoping for a nice tectonically dead airless moon, like we practiced on.

The lander entered the clouds and immediately swung to horizontal hard enough to strain their artificial gravity system's ability to compensate. The fog they flew through totally blocked the visible spectrum, so Peeru switched to infrared, then deep infrared. The ship around her blazed, but outside she could see the terrain, and the enormous vault looming before them. The pilot swung them around and retrothrusted just enough that they settled on the lower rim of the vault, below the top edge.

A moment later, a tremendous volley of lightning struck. Not the lander, but the vault's top edge, where a spike emerged from the edge and drew away the shock. If that had hit us, that would have been the end of it. Yikes.

The resulting thunder was deafening, but Peeru figured that chief Hourin was telling everyone to get to their positions. Where are the Syreen? They are my position. What if they're out... there?

She followed the crews out through the billowing vapors, produced as the warmth of their suits evaporated the dry ice on the ground, and refroze in mid-air. Where are they? Can't get a signal through this interference in just my suit... A gust of wind nearly knocked her over. She compared what she could see of the structure to the hastily compiled composite photo and diagram that had been loaded just before launch.

Hourin reported, "Commander?"

"Hop around the rim, that way. Thirty degrees."

She crawled against a vicious cross-wind back into the lander. Without even fully sealing the lander's hatch, they glide-scraped around the perimeter.

The lander settled down early. Peeru was about to ask why when a rumble of enormous proportions, swept over the ground like a deep ocean wave. This image did not occur to Peeru at the time, as she had never seen an ocean, and she hadn't seen much of stable ground either, but she knew it meant trouble. The vault's suspension system mitigated the bump, and the lander held on firm so it would be shaken with the structure rather than being smacked by it. That didn't help with the flying rocks. One the size of her head smashed into the lander's windshield, leaving a mark; and a blast of gravel flew up in through the bouncing hatch.

They did not waste any further time getting going. The rest of the hop took them to the vault's entrance, which was getting crowded: the shuttle was in one corner, and the other lander splayed across the middle. The pilot nudged it out of the way, and all three were in.

The outer door closed, and the outside's tempest was cut off like a light. Once the heat from the ships' propulsion systems had boiled the fog to transparency, Peeru saw the handful of Syreen at the control panel in the corner.

A few moments later, the descent began. Let's hope their memories of this taking only ten minutes were around right...

Though two of the lander crew were jubilant about their getting this far, the sense that there were still so many things that could go wrong pervaded the team.

She stepped out. Over the radio, she called out, "Peeru here. Our fuel stocks are secure. Do lander 2 and shuttle also report okay?"

Trixia was on the other end of the voice connection. "Yes, we're all set. Let your feeder lines loose and get ready to pump us up."

Peeru glanced over her shoulder to the chief, and gestured down.

Hourin hit a switch, and with a muffled clatter, a pair of enormous hoses uncoiled from where the cargo bays usually were. "All right, let's give those girls some hot lovin'!" The rest of the crew headed down the hatch.

Peeru continued towards the Syreen who were out already, but before she could make it, they headed back into the shuttle. One was limping, and Peeru recognized a massive electrical burn mark across her left leg. They must have had to open this from outside. Yikes!

So she watched the two lander crews get the fuelling lines ready. After a minute of that, the Syreen captains filed out of the shuttle, all in jetpack suits.

Without warning, the elevator ceased to have walls on the sides. Kay offered her viewpoint camera stream up; Peeru hooked into its view of the densely packed penetrators, This is going to be a traffic control nightmare. As Kay leapt off towards her assigned ship, Peeru dropped the viewpoint, set up a model of the vault layout, and began to devise a takeoff pattern.

This plan ended up worthless, as some Syreen captains had much easier times than others readying their ships. This made the process lengthier, but far easier for Peeru: only a few ships at a time needed to fill up. Still, Peeru was kept busy juggling ships until all sixty seven were ready.

Their part of the job done, Peeru checked the time. Launch was eighty four minutes ago. The Vindicator should be back in orbit now from its time decoying around the planet. "Drop the lines and let's go!"

Even before the last lander crew were back in place, the vault doors were open. The other lander exited first, but Peeru had a job to do. Their lander crawled up the side of the entryway as the Penetrators squeaked by, fitting it between their fins.

They reached the top and settled on the rim, nestled up close to the control panel. ... Sixty six, sixty seven.

The hatch opened, and the wind nearly sucked her team out. She managed to get a leg under herself, and gripped the control panel.

The lander thrusted a bit and cut off the bulk of the wind.

The others began removing the back panel. Okay. Close inner doors. Done. She gestured to the others that they could go ahead. They did their best impression of a dramatically failed attempt to hotwire the doors, making sure to render the controls totally inoperable along the way.

Peeru looked it over. "Good enough. Let's get out of here."

The wind practically hurled them back into the lander. The atmosphere rushed past and they were into black sky so fast that Peeru didn't even have a chance to worry what would happen to them once they were away from the vault's protective towers.

The chief frowned. "No sign of the Vindicator... Ah, here it is, coming round. Boosting..."

Zelnick got her on the line even as Hourin was slipping into the tractor funnel. "Everything all right down there?"

"Yes, sir!"
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Re: Peeru Fanfic

Post by Death 999 » Thu Apr 01, 2010 7:47 pm

Chapter 17: Egress

The announcement went fleetwide, "Hold onto your seats, we're going to have to do some serious distracting."

The moment the second lander was aboard, even before the outer airlock door closed, the Vindicator straightened out its burn and left orbit, aiming for the flank of the Kohr-Ah.

The lander teams stuck with their craft, securing everything for varying maneuvering, and returning unspent fuel to the ship's main tanks.

Peeru oversaw without having anything to really contribute, so she kept her silence.

This took a few minutes, and as they were wrapping it up, the fleetwide announcement came, "One minute to contact. Two marauders in this group. We have two minutes to wrap this engagement up before we'd get locked in with three more. Remember to stagger fire."

The lander crews rushed aftward. My fate and all our fates, out of my hands. I don't even have a combat station here. She found herself moving to the bridge, and got in just before the room sealed off. She almost didn't recognize Zelnick in his vacuum suit. She put her helmet back on.

And then the fleets' cruising fields were entangled. The allies launched a missile bombardment optimized to draw out defensive plasma rings. It was a partial success, in that the Kohr-Ah were unable to respond on the offense immediately. They're putting up blade defenses instead of going on the offense. They know we're in a rush. We should have my mauler here, to knock them out of that defensive screen. How could I let this happen? Why couldn't I have argued we were vital? Why couldn't I have not shot up the Gold?

Well before the two minute mark, Zelnick called out, "All ships, back to tractor berths immediately! We have twenty seconds. Ten. Good...!"

The marauders, seeing the retreat, went onto the offense. Blades flashed out, and hit. And again, blades were launched.

The Vindicator wrested free of the entanglement with the Marauders and snapped back into high-speed cruise. To further distract, they dashed towards the second planet again.

At first, they were pursued. After half a minute, several of the of the marauders broke off and headed back towards the moon with the penetrators.

Zelnick muttered under his breath, then slammed the panic button. The Syreen ships stopped hovering just above the cloud layer on the far side of the planet and appeared as a fuzzy mass on the sensors. All of the Kohr-Ah turned to pursue.

"They'll make it outside all right. Let's clear the way for them, then..." The Vindicator accelerated hard towards the edge of the system.

Zelnick brought up the captains. "Casualties and damage? Abrams."

"One of our thrust pods is down, and we lost a few people."

"Reynolts?"

"Three critically injured and one dead. Hit us right on the backbone. Structurally weakened, but we can still move and shoot." She looked away from the camera for a moment. "Make that two dead. We got the other two into cryopods."

"Do you need replacements right now, or... all right. Now, to improve the chances of the Syreen, we're going to have to head out-system and destroy the nearest battle group. We don't know how many of them there are, or what kind they are, but if we can do that, then the rest will be much easier. If we can do it in ten minutes, that'd be ideal. If we can do it in half an hour, that'll be adequate. Any questions? All right, get rest as you can. I estimate... two hours to contact."

The connection closed, Zelnick reclined his chair. "Good job down there on the surface."

"Thank you. Is there anything else I can do?"

"Yeah. If you'd run home to Sol and grab that ship of yours, I'd be much obliged."

"I was thinking the same thing."

"More seriously, though. You keep an eye on what's going on out in hyperspace. If this drags on, we may need to retreat. I won't have the time to focus on that. Remember the plan? You were there."

"I was running the other side in our sims, but I remember." Peeru sent him the consensus-confirmed decision tree, to demonstrate.

"Good. Now, would you leave until we hit hyperspace? I need to have some chats."

Peeru obliged. The stress finally ebbed a bit, and she finally let the claustrophobia of her suit affect her. She ripped off the helmet and gloves. That was better. The arms were a bit like big chains, in a way. And she was still wearing her knee chains as input devices, inside the suit.

After a minute, she was recovered. She plopped the helmet back on and got back onto the computer to review that decision tree. It wasn't long before she had it burned into her brain. As the fleet exited the system, she familiarized herself with the hyperspace sensors and the team operating them.

They could handle this job. Wasn't Trifop on sensors? Ah, not hyperspace sensors. Well, thinking on it, this is a real job - they get the information, and I call the retreat as necessary.

She glided down the ladder to the next deck, and into the sensor control room. One tech was idle, as the sensors were unusable this far from the heliopause crossover; one was trying to guide a robot through a repair on the outside.

"What's up?" asked the idle tech, transferring his raised boots from the spare seat to a table.

"I'm here to digest your results and pass them on to the captain."

"Wow, picked out for that?"

"Excuse me?"

The other tech got to her feet hastily. "Excuse us, commander. Your suit is mismarked."

The first panicked and fell to the ground before getting up. "Oh shoot! Ma'am!"

"As you were - I see that's sensitive, no worry - I borrowed this one from one of the lander crew. Help me get oriented with understanding these instruments, so I can make the call I'm here for."

The first looked to the one guiding the repairs. "Bridget?"

"You do it, Andy. This is still shorting somewhere."

Andy guided Peeru through interpreting the scans, their limitations, the patterns of errors. From time to time, Bridget would cut in and correct or clarify something he said. Peeru asked for a few explanations of some principles, and ended up receiving amply - Andy happened to be the son of two scientists, who had grown up with a house decorated by three dimensional projections of high-dimensional manifolds such as the Calabi-Yau and SzztZak sequence (not that either of those meant anything to her). Once she had grasped what she needed to know in the short term, she inquired as to the origin of various phenomena such as size-dependence in rescaling, and formation and shapes of hyperspace bubbles; he answered with glee, and was about to start in on their relation to the spherical harmonics, when they left the system and he had to get to work.

Bridget had not finished repairing the sensor when they left the system; but it was just one in the array. Zelnick brought up Peeru on voice as soon as they were out.

"This isn't exactly what I expected. See there in the southeast quadrant?"

"Yes. That cluster is moving north, not northwest."

"I'll be busy getting us ready. You figure out what's going on there."

In mere minutes, they were close enough to resolve the group they were aiming at.

"Holy..." was all Andy could say.

"That's eight ships, right?" asked Peeru.

"Yeah. Marauders. And we thought this was greenie space. Just crawling with 'em."

Suddenly, the straying ships clicked into place. We're in the middle of a Kohr-Ah flanking maneuver. Those ships to the southeast are retreating. That opens up a new hole for us! She put tentative colorings on the groups. What a time to show up. The Kohr-Ah are retreating here, which means we'll have to pass through both lines. On the up side, these might be damaged, too.

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Re: Peeru Fanfic

Post by Death 999 » Thu Apr 01, 2010 8:06 pm

Chapter 18: Battle

The fleetwide announcement came in, "We have more time to work with, here. We're not here to distract and run, we're here to crush them."

Bridget moaned. "Ugh. The bravado, it kills me. Please don't say we'll kick their asses. Whoa, slow down, Cap. Don't want to shred."

"Shred?" Peeru asked.

Andy supplied, "If you come in too close and fast, both groups end up spread over maybe a light-month of space, locked in pairs. We don't want to have to face the Kohr-Ah one on one, I think."

"But being close would be good to prevent the Kohr-Ah from having time to build up blade defenses."

"Yes."

Peeru focused on the fleet arrangement as they approached. The skiffs, the fury, and two of the eluders were shuffled to the right; the cruisers hung were placed at the left with one of the eluders.

On the Kohr-Ah side, they employed a circle, with the Vindicator on its axis. That would make dodging tricky, if they focus fire, and the Vindicator were slow. But... this is interesting. They're mostly already damaged.

As they rushed in, she saw the hypertorus's mass attractor, a dwarf planet from the nearby system; it was off to the 'above' in the axes Zelnick had selected.

And then the hyperspace fields collapsed without shredding, and they were locked in battle. The cruisers scattered, slinging nukes along a variety of curved trajectories converging on one particular marauder. The Kohr-Ah opened fire on the Vindicator. The Vindicator sluggishly turned down to evade.

The targeted marauder caught several of the nukes in a flame ring, but they were spaced so that it had to repeat to catch the rest.

At the last moment it could before being sliced to shreds, the Vindicator burst forth with full speed. The blades, on no useful course, were dropped; a ring of blades flashed out, targeting cruisers this time. That's massive overkill, and there's no way they can dodge all of them.

The Vindicator swung around and faced the cruisers. What are we doing? Where... "Hold on!" The Vindicator slammed into the cruiser at the focus of the incoming fire, bouncing it out of the way, and retaining enough momentum to clear the shots itself.

In the mean time, a second wave of nukes all landed. There ceased to be a ship at that location. That'll teach them to go on the offense.

Bridget said, "I'm all for percussive maintenance, but 0.2 c is a little much. We lost R2. Send another up, Andy?"

"We lost the secondary restriction coil?"

"A robot. Send up a repair robot, you uncultured colonist."

"Done. By the way, with us dancing around like this, don't waste your time on the GRD. Just get the squids up, ok?"

"Got it."

Peeru split her attention between the scans she was to monitor, and the progress of the battle. Having seen what their fleet could do, the Kohr-Ah had reprioritized defense, putting up a thick shielding minefield up... on the side facing the cruisers. The Arilou were cautiously inching in towards being a threat, more intent on being a distraction than actually doing damage; the Spathi were on the flank, sending out bursts of torpedoes to demand attention, which for the most part they did not receive.

As for things in the broader universe, Peeru watched a screen full of noise.

Andy pointed. "That group has turned about minus pi over six."

"What group?"

"If you squint, you can see the streaks. That isn't astigmatism, it's their drive vector."

"If you have to squint, you haven't done enough image processing."

"Image processing done in the eye is still image processing. I can switch it off faster, too. See that?"

"What?"

"That whorl. Two groups just engaged each other there. I think."

Peeru watched him analyze the event, trying to make sense of the weak results.

The room roared and rattled for a second.

"What was that?"

"Blasters fired. We're right in front of them."

And then a repeating stream of fire made all action impossible. As it proceeded, the room lights dimmed; and after, gradually recovered. Peeru looked at the battle: five damaged marauders remained; as for the allied fleet, one skiff had been damaged, and two cruisers were hit hard enough that Zelnick had relieved them of offensive duties for the time being. The Vindicator had just drilled a hole in the group's blade defenses. A flight of nukes followed, drawing out flame rings from two of the marauders; and a second flight focused on one of them, destroying it.

Along the other flank, eluders dumped spaced arrays of torpedoes to test the blade defenses, slipping a few through, wearing the marauders down further. In one case, the ship released a flame ring to catch two torpedoes. That's not sustainable.

Bridget cackled with glee, and Peeru attended to the newly comprehensible view of hyperspace. That battle opened up a big hole in the line. Can the Syreen slip through that? Looks like no, not as things are. Too bad. But if we go on to punch through that group there, they'll be wide open.

"How big is that group?"

Andy whistled. "You want me to tell you from here? At least two for sure. I would not expect more than six. There are not twenty. Dreadnoughts, 70% chance." And from their role in the maneuvers, they're definitely dreadnoughts.

"That's a long-tailed distribution."

"From here, that's a lot of information to have."

The blasters opened fire again; Peeru closed her eyes as lights flashed.

An alarm sounded, and they braced. Bridget quickly pulled her helmet on. The deck jumped a tiny bit.

We got hit, right engine bank. Looks okay for the most part. Phew.

Zelnick called her up. "Update?"

"If we go West-southwest and take on that dreadnought group at the end of the line, the Syreen will be free and clear."

A pause. The blasters fired a few shots again.

"When would that be?"

"Intercept in... forty five minutes."

"Other options?"

"They follow us South-southeast, and curve home. There's another group we'd have to face, here. This one won't be damaged, though."

"Okay... If that's heading... Okay!"

The fleetwide announcement came, "Great work, everyone! We kicked their asses!"

"Dammit." said Bridget.

Zelnick continued, "We bought the space the Syreen need. We'll have to do a little dance to get a Kohr-Ah group off their tail, but we shouldn't need to fight to do it. Standing down to yellow alert."

How? Ah. I see. And that's why he's in charge.
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Re: Peeru Fanfic

Post by Death 999 » Thu Apr 01, 2010 8:06 pm

Chapter 19: Operation

The intercom flashed and an unfamiliar voice announced flatly as if reading off of a list, "Commander Peeru, report to medical 1 immediately for a paragraph 9."

Paragraph 9? I have no idea what that is. Must be something to do with paperwork authorizing treatment. But I'm not their commander anymore. And why the intercom rather than my monitor? Well, I had better go. She stood, shakily, and made her way up the way she had come, then back down to the lander bay That can't have been the most direct route, but there's no sense in getting lost. She was halfway across the lander deck when a crewmember leading an unfamiliar design of robot raced to her.

The human took her hand and gestured to the robot. "Commander! Would you get into this?"

"I'm not injured."

The crewmember said, "Very good.", and thrust her in; the robot engulfed her. Momentarily she was firmly flattened out, lying on her back. In her panic, she lapsed into the trade language. "What's going on here?".

The robot spat out her space suit and uniform, and washed her intensely with cool water, furthering her confusion.

By the time she was oriented well enough to translate again, they were gliding rapidly along the spine of the Vindicator, and her words were lost to the wind. Clearly I am a patient now, whether I want or not. A mistake?

The robotic gurney slipped through a special passage from the spine into medical bay 1.

Nuun was busy at work with another robotic cocoon, that one containing even the head. She's our medic, but isn't this a little beyond medic training?

"What's going on? What's a paragraph 9?" I'm not sure she can hear me with that headset on. Looks like she's in an immersive interface.

"Paragraph 9: requisition of body parts for transplantation." Peeru strained to face the voice, and found Genlo, also in a robotic cocoon. "I'm giving a heart."

"Requisition of body parts? I don't remember that detail."

"You did read your naval contract, right?"

"I, uh, never got a naval contract." Plus, I was fired, so it, at least this part, would presumably be void. But that's a secret.

"Figures. Well, then, I guess you're not legally obliged to save Feres' life."

Feres. Not some random person. "I guess they won't take anything I really need. So, what do we do?"

"Beats me. Hey, Wugyup," Wugyup? "When do you take our parts?"

Wugyup came into view. "I've already applied the matrix so you can regrow."

"What?", Peeru exclaimed.

Genlo agreed, "You mean I didn't even notice a heart extraction?"

Peeru amended, "You're a doctor?"

"Sports medicine, not surgery, but Nuun drafted me to help out."

"I didn't see any of this on your qualifications doc." And I thought him simple-minded? I already knew he was devious, but a doctor?

Wugyup looked down to Peeru's robot and began entering commands. "You wouldn't. I didn't put it on."

"Why?"

He remained focused on the robot. "Just a moment..."

Peeru felt a cold sensation over her right side, and some tension. "What's that?"

"Just borrowing some skin. All right... and slather on some matrix..."

Warmth over the same area, and only then some slight pain, an itching sensation. "I don't have any skin?"

He looked up to her. "Plenty, though you'll want to stay on pain meds for a few days. Also, now would be a good time to let me know if you want any body modifications. I rather enjoyed having a tail."

"Tail? Like one of those fake Burvixese martial arts freaks?"

"Not for you? The usual candidates for enhancement seem in order, so perhaps you'd like a storage pouch? Or a sex change?"

"Now you're just playing with me."

"If you ever return home, think of the prestige elective surgery has. It doesn't so much matter what, as the mere fact that you did it."

Peeru lay in stunned silence, reexamining hundreds of reactions she had seen, but she set the line of thought aside for later. "Why did you understate your qualifications? How did you do it?"

He answered as he seemingly returned focus to the robot. "I knew some people in personnell who could get those things tossed out of my record on invented technicalities that would last as long as I didn't challenge them. That lowered my qualifications to the point that they could transfer me to a trainee positon on the 1038, the first ship in line to be sold."

"Because you hated working for the Crimson Corporation that much?"

"Because I figured whoever bought it would fight the Kohr-Ah." He stopped. Is that... I wish I could read him.

Unable to resolve Wugyup's state of mind, she asked Genlo, "Did you know all that?"

Genlo was asleep.

"Did he know all that?"

Peeru didn't hear the answer, as a postoperative coma took hold.

~~~~

Peeru half-woke, and her thoughts settled on body modification. It was undeniable that there was a tendency for the well-off to do it, though mainly those who had outward-facing positions, like Foomp - if only his rejuvenated horns and drawn-up nose. On the other hand, those who became really well-off all ended up with some exterior exposure - connections.

And moreover, the tail was always seen as an aggressive modification, which suited her new role. She imagined various scenarious of her return, muddled, implausible. She abandoned them and just considered tails. As a child, when she had learned about their evolutionary forebears, vine-dwellers light enough that the square-cube law didn't prohibit leaping about wildly, she had envied them.

She allowed herself some fantasies of swinging through the vines and spires, partially due to her repression centers being not up to full strength yet, and partially for the practical effect that doing so would hasten her return to mobility.

And it wasn't long before she felt movement, as proprioception leaked back in. Her brain having a connection to the outside sped the reconnection of the other senses. Touch followed shortly - some itching; then temperature - cool, but not uncomfortable; then wetness - dry; then with a big breath she could smell the metallic air, and all at once she could see and hear. She was in a medical bay, lying on her left side, in dim light.

The bed in front of her held someone in a cocoon - from there she could not tell if it was Feres or someone else. She herself was out of the robot, in a tight-fitting mesh coverall. Who dressed me? Perhaps the robot did? I hope so.

She began to sit up, pushing up with her right hand. Through the painkillers, she could tell that her hand was not happy with that use, so she worked her way up without it. With her left hand, she probed the tender spots. In reaction, parts of her body convulsed.

Sensing an unfamiliar tension in her rear, she felt back. There was a bump there, and a growing feeling. She probed with her hand, and found the beginnings of a tail. "Hey! What is this?", she slurred out in the trade language with a half-responsive vocal system. She repeated, louder, dismayed by her inability to speak coherently.

A few words flashed on a monitor, and she stared at them, unable to translate. Momentarily a human entered and whispered something to her briefly.

Yeah, yeah, be quiet or something. I have a tail I didn't order! I'm going to sue! If they have that around here.

The human gestured to the door. Peeru turned to it, felt dizzy, and lay down. Oh no, don't you leave. I'm lodging a complaint immediately! She raised her good arm and pointed distinctly to her tail.

The human took a look at it and said something. Peeru forced herself to focus and interpret what had been said. The human left before she finished, but she eventually did understand: "I'll get your doctor."

Peeru focused on recovering her hard-won language skills. To do that, she would have to recover the rest of her various abstraction facilities which she was no longer using automatically without specific attention. First, she focused on the constructive learning facility, recalling the exercises as a violinist might warm up with a scale. She had not done this in many years. Incidents from when she had learned how to learn flooded back in. Long before she finished even a lesser restatement, the facility was readily within her grasp again. But she continued, thinking more on the events of the time as she did.

Repeating the greater restatement with Kahso, as he struggled to formalize his intuitions. Then turning around and him training me on speech, driving me to drill its abstraction center to be so fast it could rival the intuitive. And then turning around and speaking backwards, or fluidly mixing in ancient local languages, and then also Burvixese and Utwig. It was so hard, he never let me take a break. He wanted to get me back for confusing him incessantly with the derivative identities and changes of variables, and oh, did it work. And he never did let up, even when the crash hit.

She started in on the linguistic abstraction center. Oh, no, he pushed me harder then, didn't he? He knew just how bad it'd be. And I argued against, citing numbers. All of them undermined by gradual redefinitions of the metrics, or leaving the domain of applicability of the underlying theory. He relied on the body language of the executives and analysts. Those weren't bases for being so harsh, I argued. He wasn't my manager.

I really downsized myself with that move, didn't I?

It was fortunate that she had already restored a full grasp of her abstract linguistic abilities, because the distraction from that realization brought an abrupt end to the exercise.

Sure, the proximate causes of us separating were intense arguments over other things, but that was the irritant that got the whole mess started. He positioned me perfectly to thrive, and I... I need to repay him, but how? The astronomical distance is nothing compared to his being in a PIRR with... whats-her-name, the VP of Development. And now that I think on it, his commenting that he prefers his women feminine -- that stung! -- is sort of nonsensical considering how hard he was drilling languages into me. Did that have some hidden meaning? Or was it just smokescreen so she wouldn't go after me? Yes, on second thought, I think it must have been. So I'm still in debt to him. That's better than it was, actually.

"So, looks like you're done. Back with us?" Wugyup. He was leaning against the wall. It was a different room, lighter. "The night nurse said you were awake and aware, if incoherent." He had been speaking in English, and she had immediately understood.

Peeru's tongue was still sluggish due to the medications, but she was able to compensate trivially. "'My tail'. This ought to be a noun phrase with no referent."

In the southern dialect, he replied, "Just finished the major language chord?"

In the trade language, "Not the Genmol system, the Wuuzi system. And changing the subject is not a good sign. Why do I have a tail?"

He shrugged. "Nuun needed to get replacement matrix somewhere, so she set up an extrusion center on your back. It's not your tissue, you're just feeding it. We'll take it off in a few weeks, no scars."

Oh. I guess that's a bit different. Sounds like it'd be included in the naval contract, too.

He went on, "Unless you want it for longer. We could definitely use a larger stock of matrix."

"Why not grow it yourselves?"

"You're the only one it wouldn't interfere with work. Speaking of which, you have messages."

"About what?"

"I'm a doctor, not a secretary. Just noticed your monitor trying to get your attention." He handed it to her. "Want some privacy?"

"Yes. Wait. Speaking of privacy, who dressed me?"

He shrugged and left. A shrug? I wonder if he even knows how much he's absorbing their manners of communication. Probably.

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Re: Peeru Fanfic

Post by Death 999 » Thu Apr 01, 2010 8:09 pm

Chapter 20: Memorial

Peeru did not know what to expect from a memorial service, but found waiting for it to start to be terribly boring and uncomfortable. Not so much physically uncomfortable, though she could definitely have used some pain suppressant; but she was seated among those nominally her peers, the captains of the fleet, in a dress uniform, silently waiting while as much of the fleet's crew as possible filled into the forward crew compartment's dome. She didn't feel like she was in the right place, even if she knew them from the fleet simulations, and retained a rank closer to theirs than anything else. Further, four people were making something of a series of irritating sounds with various tools.

The mood was severe, of course - one time that Peeru was glad that her receiving these mood signals was on a mere intellectual level, so that she was able to avoid any positive feedback in that regard.

Zelnick stood and came spoke.

"We find ourselves here again. It's been some time, and for that we can all be thankful. Today, we have faced the Kohr-Ah, not a lone ship violating orders in lingering to cleanse, but a full squadron. As successful as we were, there is still the price. Twenty of us who will not see the galaxy freed of slavery and the specter of death. For each, we'll have a few words from those who knew them best." He stopped, stepped back, and sat down.

A crewman Peeru did not recognize stood next. He stepped up to the podium, and faced everyone.

"Ryan Cuercas. We grew up together on Vela. He came a long way, longer than most. You see, when we were fourteen, he was cruel, shortsighted, and self-interested - we both were. No appreciation for, well, anything. It was all too little. And then, this." He gestured around himself. "The very minute construction started, he was already looking forward. Absolute and immediate change. I never heard another taunt from him, at anyone. And he dragged me, kicking and screaming, out of my own childishness as well. So, thank you, Ryan."

He returned to the mass of people, and others replaced him. Peeru lost count of the speakers - many more than the dead. Some spoke more than the first.
She thought back to when her mother had died. She had been notified by... what organization was it, again? The Elder Sustenance Foundation? Anyway, she had declined their offer, as good a deal as it was, to arrange the closing of the accounts for her, and she had done it herself. Gone over, line by line, her mother's life. This was far sparser. So much was being missed. Everything here was about how the dead had affected the living, not about the dead themselves.

The last was Tifiwilo the Arilou captain.

He stood in front of the podium and spoke quietly. The words were completely distinct, as soft as they were. "Our children... we do not frequently speak with you. I can even here sense that some degree of loathing. But you know why I am here. Eighteen of us came to aid you. We were not sent; we came. We knew what we would face. I will not pretend that ours was the ultimate sacrifice - there is far worse - but it is a very serious one, and one we make willingly, for you. Of all things, you should know this."

Tifiwilo stepped aside, and there was silence for a few moments. Then the irritating sounds from before the service resumed. This time, among them was added a voice. Peeru could not make out the words, but she focused on it, as it was at least soothing instead of awful.

Then they finished, and another sound emerged from behind her quite unexpectedly. She glanced at its source, this tme a set of flat fuzzy plates. The sounds were hollow, resonant, familiar. Peeru actually liked it a little, though it kept changing, which cut into the effect.

At last they held steady, and she was able to sink into it. She stayed with it for some time after it ended, vaguely aware that Zelnick was talking again.

People began to stand and move about, and she left the sound. Jay came over to her; at first, she did not recognize him in his furry high-gravity collar.

Peeru stood creakily and greeted him.

He returned a short soliloquoy about the transmigration of souls, during which Peeru put to use her best skills at pretending to pay attention; but the end of what he said grabbed it for real: "It's a pity their music is so plain."

"Plain isn't what I was thinking, but grating. The voice was all nice, and that last thing."

"The organ? Synth, of course. Not that that makes a difference, if it's good enough. Certainly we wouldn't want to have to bring a full-sized sesquiharp on board just to pluck out the salutes. But really, I'm surprised that you didn't like the Telemann. It has all the proper symmetries."

"The what?"

"What they played at the beginning. They play that every time... we... my, it has been a while, hasn't it?"

"Why do you think I'd like it? It's piercing, like whistling, or a failing lamp, but much louder."

"Oh. Maybe you should talk to the organist, he may be able to adjust the sound for your ears so it can come through as it was meant to. The writing is really quite wonderful, it's a shame that the tone would get in the way. And it's so exotic, different from what we listen to."

"And what do you listen to?"

"The harmonies of the heavens. It would take too long to explain properly." If he admits it would take too long to explain properly, it must be extremely long! "To put it briefly, it is the eternal music that all other music taps into."

"Then, why would you appreciate this?"

"Because this... it's not trying to be perfectly eternal. If the heavenly harmony is water, then that is an elaborate, painted, dressed up ice sculpture."

Ice... sculpture? But doesn't ice only form in a vacuum? Wouldn't that make it really awkward to work in the material? I guess if one were to lower the temperature enough, it would solidify. But that'd be really cold, and it wouldn't be able to stay solid.

Jay went on, "I'll ask him to look at the question."

~~~~

Scheduling the service at that time had been a bit of a cheeky maneuver, as they were still in Ur-Quan space. It did not cause any trouble, as the pursuit -- their wiping out the one Kohr-Ah group and tricking the other had apparently resulted in a temporary local truce between the factions -- was all behind them. The Syreen were flying in a formation designed to minimize echoes along the straight line to the pursuers (sacrificing any semblance of stealth in the perpendicular directions) while the Vindicator was flying in a different direction altogether, sending out a bit of extra engine noise on the high-powered hyperwave radio -- engine noise with loud pops that could drive a maximum gain hyperwave sensor into saturation, even off-axis. The Ur-Quan were, it seemed, jammed out of seeing the Syreen.

Two days out of Ur-Quan space, and well after the last Ur-Quan had gone off their sensors, the Vindicator swung towards Betelgeuse.

~~~~

Peeru lay, eyes closed, in the sauna, listening to digitally filtered Telemann trio sonatas.

It wasn't exactly hypnotic like the organ was, but she did doze off far enough that she was startled to wakefulness by a call. She slowly reached over and switched from music to call.

"Peeru here."

Zelnick. "We've just rendezvoused with the Syreen fleet. Time to switch from lazing to liaising."

"Captain?"

"Never mind, just get up here."

Peeru dashed out as she threw on her coat. Her physical therapy had already made her steadier on her feet than she had ever been, but her 'dashing' was still just a stiff walk.

Lazing? Lazy? Have I been slacking? Am I performing under expectations? She was tormented as the lift carried her up the spine. I haven't had many duties, certainly during my recovery. Is that itself the problem?
She resolved to show no fear, and went to the bridge.

Zelnick was sitting so low in the main control seat that it was essentially lying. His feet were propped up on a non-inputting part of the panel in front of him. Music -- Peeru now recognized human music as distinct from computer effects -- filled the room, and he moved his fingers in time, eyes closed. Lazing, indeed.

The door shut. He opened his eyes and sat up. "Hey, you've gotten faster, I wasn't expecting you so soon. Come, have a seat. We need to talk. Sheesh, calm down. It's about the Syreen."

"So your statement about my being lazy was..."

"Lazy? Oh, right. A stupid pun, pay it no mind."

"For future reference, such jokes are extremely poor taste to Druuge."

"Got it. So, we have four penetrators that are basically failing. We've halted to swap them into the fleet so we can tow them and repair. Your job is to keep that running smoothly."

"Avoid sending human males?"

He didn't answer for ten long seconds. "I don't think that's possible. But the work does need to get done."

"How urgent is it? As I see it, we could simply tow them the rest of the way, if we can't scrounge up enough qualified crew without resorting to human males."

"What if four more fail? Our convoy speed drops to that of a cruiser. It could happen."

"All right. What about also lending crew out into their fleet..."

A call notification came in. Zelnick took it - a Syreen. "Dello. I mean, hello, Deana."

She smirked. "We are are in receptive position... André."

"Sending umbilical." He tapped the offer close connection button. She just smirked some more. He finally just slammed the close connection button.

He looked to Peeru. "See what I have to deal with? You take her."

"I will, but I have no idea what just happened, captain."

"Not important -- it won't apply to you, I hope. Just don't ever call me André. Anyway, for the moment, you go help these Syreen get the crew they need. I've assembled a bunch of likely candidates in the docking deck. Anyone else they need... well, the Vindicator is functioning, they're not. You can take anyone but me, but use your discretion."

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