Monthly Archives: January 2013

Memories: Hunting Trip

You awake to the diffused red light of Valkyr 43’s cargo hold. Your mind races as you realize your eyes will not open. You also notice a severe tinnitus resonating in your ear. You realize with a sharp and failed attempt to gasp that your body is still in stasis. But, then, why are you–? You reach into the ship with your mind, searching for any life signs beside your own. There are none. You expand the reach of your search, and find that you are in the depth of space, the interplanetary void. You’re also completely alone. ‘Shilo?’ Your internal voice almost seems to echo inside your head. Shilo does not reply. If your heart were beating, it would do so more rapidly at this point. Unfortunately, it isn’t doing anything right now.

You search Shilo’s memories, which are still accessible, for an idea toward what may be happening right now. You find yourself unable to make sense of the material through sheer access without Shilo’s assistance. This leaves you with only one choice: You have to sort through each memory in chronological order and learn what you need to know for yourself. Shilo’s consciousness is still in stasis with the rest of you, and it’s of the utmost importance that you understand what this is so that you can solve your current predicament. If you continue like this for the entire journey to Thor, your mind won’t survive. You start with the earliest memory you can find: the hunting trip.

Zhilo’di Khuda’Cronell, Age 5, Skogr Forest

“Can you see it, Shilo?” A woman speaks to a young girl, Shilo, while dropping to her perch on the branch, her motion almost birdlike in its gracefulness. There isn’t a sound as the woman moves onto the branch, which moves no more than it would have had there been a mild breeze. Her long, almost purely blue hair falls into perfect, wavy locks as it settles against her back. She points in a direction slightly right of forward, her eyes trained on Shilo.

Shilo looks in the same direction as the woman, her eyes training on a small Lake Wyrm, its ulfr-like snout sniffing at the air as it climbs up the side of a distant tree. Its forward paws clench at the bark of the tree with razor-sharp claws while its rear flippers bat at the tree in a typical hunting pattern. A nearby bird hears the wet beating and responds with a low-swooping scan of the water, looking for the creature that so clearly just slapped the water with its fins. As it passes the wyrm’s position, however, the bird sees the predator turn its head toward him. The bird manages a few rapid beats with his wings before the wyrm lands on him, enveloping his wings with its flippers and digging its claws into his neck, already biting into the bird as it passes into the water.

“Yes,” Shilo replies, her eyes fixed on the point in the water where the wyrm just plummeted. Her mouth is still slightly open as the ripples fade.

The woman ties her hair up into a recursive bun and pulls two small knives from the leather pouch tied to the side of her leg. The first knife, she places into her hair, securing the bun. The second, she hands to Shilo, smiling gently. “They all do that. I’m not sure why the birds haven’t caught on yet, but it works, so that’s how they hunt. You’re going to counter it with this knife.”

Shilo gives her a quizzical look. She’s clearly not sure how the knife is going to counter the wyrm’s hunting method. “How?” The question is simple and childish, as innocent as if she were asking how to tie a bow rather than how to kill an apex predator with a single throwing knife.

The woman smiles patiently as she explains, “When the bird is passing, the wyrm will jump from the tree to the bird. Any other time, and she’ll hear this knife long enough before it reaches her, giving her plenty of time to move out of the way. At that exact moment, though,” the woman grinned, “the wyrm can’t change direction. She can’t dodge. In fact, if you throw the knife right through the bird’s neck, you’ll get her clean in the head every time.”

Shilo grimaces at the thought of a knife passing through both a bird’s neck and a wyrm’s head at the same time. Nevertheless, when the woman asks, “Ready?” Shilo nods.

The woman points again, designating Shilo’s target. A wyrm only a few trees away has just started batting her tree. Dead silence runs through the two as they watch the wyrm’s prey approach. The bird flies around the edge of the tree, expecting to find a fish or small water mammal. Instead, he only finds smooth water. The bird caws lightly at the sight in surprise, but continues his glide around the tree. As he passes beneath the wyrm, the predator’s head turns toward him, her front legs kicking out from the tree and turning it about.

At that exact moment, the woman glances slightly to her side toward Shilo, whispering directly into the girl’s mind, ‘Now!’ Shilo, however, grimaces and hesitates for a single moment, long enough for the wyrm to drop with h
er prey into the water before the knife passes through the point the wyrm had just been, planting itself into the bark of the tree.

Clearly disappointed in herself, Shilo looks to the woman, expecting a similar expression from her but instead finding a kind smile. “Sorry, Mommy.”

The expression on Shilo’s mother’s face grows even softer as she ruffles her daughter’s hair. “It’s no problem, Shilo. We’ll just get a different one…”

The memory fades, and you find yourself once again alone with your thoughts. Were it not for the stasis, you’d certainly have produced tears at the memory of your mother and Shilo’s so young. As is, however, you simply focus your resolve and move onto the next memory. This is going to take a while…


‘This is insane!’ You almost yelp at the blast that just narrowly missed your ship as you maneuver it through the icy labyrinth of tunnels beneath Nivlahim’s surface. The automated defenses for the tunnels have not been deactivated by the flight control station and are now vehemently firing at you, an assumed enemy. When another blast sends a shock wave through the ship after missing by only a hair’s breadth, you shout pointless at the turrets, “I live here!” Needless to say, they ignore your exclamation.
‘Just focus on not getting hit, Keri,’ Shilo’s calm voice resonates through your mind. In response, your face contorts further into frustration. You bite your tongue on the response you could so easily release on her. ‘We don’t want to blow up before we get off this giant ice cube.’
That was it. You can’t take it anymore. ‘Oh, this from the woman who actually got hit and crashed!’ You tear at the controls once more, pulling the Valkyr into a 28-by-15-point turn, spinning round a bend in the tunnel with a heaving groan as the monstrous drives roar to maintain speed. You know that comment isn’t fair. Shilo had been facing not only the automatic but the manned batteries as well, which nearly tripled the defenses and would have made passage through these tunnels all but impossible. Still, you feel better now that you’ve released some of that frustration. You’re almost there, anyway.
‘Overhead,’ Shilo’s voice calls out, and your vision is directed to a small opening that you would have missed otherwise. You press into the controls and send the Valkyr into a forward flip, shooting the ship straight up the small opening in the ceiling of ice before the flip is finished. You’re glad you didn’t miss it, as a shot can be seen passing straight through the point through which you were about to fly before your ship disappears into the tiny tunnel.
At this point, your main goal is to keep the ship from colliding with the sides of the tunnel, which, if anything, seems to be getting narrower. The edges also appear to be increasingly jagged as you pass up through what you realize may simply be a ventilation tunnel ending in rather solid grating. ‘Oh, don’t be ridiculous,’ Shilo says. ‘Only an idiot would design something like that the size of a ship. Plus, need I remind you, the atmosphere is toxic on Nivlahim. No one wants to ventilate anything to the atmosphere.’
You can’t help wondering, then, exactly what this overly convenient tunnel is doing here until Shilo interjects again. ‘Look at the walls.’ You do so, and Shilo’s observance once again seems to focus your eyes on what she intends  for you to see. There are claw marks all across the tunnel. Ice wyrms definitely explain the size of the tunnel. While the females are the hunters and fighters, male ice wyrms are the builders and considerably larger than their female counterparts. Some male wyrms can grow to sizes two to three times as big as a Valkyr. That also explains the changing size of the tunnel. As the wyrm dug upward, it lost weight, wanting to finish its tunnel to the snow before breeding season.
You find the ice wyrm’s breeding habits quite extraordinary. Ice wyrms have the unique ability to extract their oxygen from the snow and ice they eat, though in small enough quantities that when on the surface of Nivlahim, they can hardly maintain their hunting habits. Only breeding and hibernation occur on the surface. After ice wyrms breed, they hibernate for almost an entire cycle before the female awakes her mate, and both return to the sea below the ice together before the female gives birth in the water, leaving the male to feed it while she goes to hunt. Both genders of the ice wyrms produce milk for feeding, and while the female is off hunting, the male takes the child to the wyrm caverns, where all ice wyrm children and females live out most of their time while the male adults return to digging after having replenished their strength. It seems strange to you, but nature is a very odd thing.
Sure enough, as the tunnel approaches its narrowest point, a mass of snow can be seen covering the hole at the end of the tunnel. Shilo reminds you quickly to activate the plasma shielding to melt the snow before traveling through it, and you do so just in time. A small patch of snow makes it past the plasma field’s range before it’s raised, causing it to thud softly on the hull of the ship before being melted away. The rest of the snow is turned to steam before it reaches the field and is pushed gently out of the way. Then, for the first time in over four cycles, for the first time since you moved here, and for the first time since your mommy died, you see it. There is a single, solitary source of light in the sky, yet it fills the sky’s vastness with its bright luminance as if there is a hole gently poked in the darkness. Of course, the Bifrost is on the other side of the planet and currently unseen, but you remember it looking more like a tissue that had a rainbow sneezed onto it, simultaneously beautiful and yet somehow disgusting and disturbing. Linthia, however, is like perfection in your eyes, its gentle pinprick of light passing through millions of rosts of void just to reach your eyes. At this distance, it isn’t even harmful to stare at it, and you feel as though you could do just that for days, but you have other business to tend to, and the green star which can look so much like a Valkyrie’s eye during an eclipse isn’t going anywhere.
You press into the controls once more, pulling the Valkyr into a fully vertical ascent and increasing the throttle to full atmo. It is, of course, possible for the ship to fly much faster than this, but the forces would cause undue strain on the air around the ship and cause such events as compression-induced flames and heat lightning, which would not only play hell with the sensors but also draw unnecessary attention to your ship. Full atmo permits speeds well above the necessary for exiting the planetary gravitational field while avoiding such atmospheric anomalies as these. Even at what the ship considers very low speeds, however, you certainly feel the movement of the ship. Your eyes are pressing into the backs of their sockets, leaving your vision extremely narrow as you accelerate to exit velocity. As you pass through the first sets of clouds, even through the dark edges of your vision, you see them.
Large, crudely shaped behemoths barely fit for flying plow through the air like falling boulders. As the compression heat reduces, the ships open their hangar doors, which begin to spew forth small landing shuttles full of Armadian troops. A planet like Nivlahim is, of course, too dangerous to trust with Peacekeeper forces. This is full martial law going into effect, and it’s only after a full surrender will have been issued by the Nivlahimi government. ‘Of course,’ you think to Shilo, ‘the government here is only a shadow government already. Daddy said on the wireless a few weeks ago that the Ginnung Headquarters had been successfully transferred to its new home off of Nivlahim.’
‘What?!’ Shilo’s surprise makes it clear that she didn’t know anything about that before now. ‘Then where are the Ginnung headquartered? We’ve occupied every Ginnung-controlled planet!’ There are a few millidays of mental silence as you rise up through the last of the clouds, the pervading dark of space truly visible now, Linthia a solitary light in the black of the void. You can see the rest of the invading fleet now, its ships issuing forth from heavy carriers and forward operation mobility docks. ‘Then this entire operation was meaningless.’ Shilo’s voice seems distant, sorrowful. So many lives had been lost for no reason, as she saw it.
You can’t respond to her like this. You set the necessary course into the navigation interface and move back down into the cargo hold, where you enter a stasis po
d before your bones start to deteriorate. You haven’t received the proper treatment for extended space travel, and the distance from Nivlahim to Thor isn’t short. Zero gravity for so much time can take a serious toll on an untreated body. As you activate the pod, you utter an audible, “Goodnight, Shilo,” to the hold full of dead bodies and broken parts, your eyes resting on your dipulse as you enter full stasis.


You check the harnesses again. Even with the utmost confidence in the expertise Shilo’s merge of consciousness with you has provided, you can never be too careful. Even Shilo never actually piloted a dipulse before her… Well, she never piloted a dipulse. You push aside some of your negative feelings and unchain the dipulse. You wish Shilo had noticed the same glisten you had seen through the webbed grating at the bottom of the dividing partition, but she had been too tall. As it is, you still have to make it to the docks and find a ship. Hopefully, there will be one in adequate condition.
You sit yourself atop the massive machine, its primary reactor square between your legs. Reaching down, you pull the securing pin, licking your other hand’s thumb and placing it on the activator switch. At first, there isn’t a sound. Then, in a slow crescendo, you begin to hear the pulses of the engines grow louder as the coldstone reactor feeds them with unfathomable power, the low tone growing into a roar you’ve never heard from a pulse car. It’s almost… animalistic. You grin, a bit of Shilo’s darker burn showing in your eyes for a few moments. Then, you activate the throttles.
There’s nothing in your or Shilo’s memories to which you can compare the sensation you experience as the dipulse rises from the floor like a yawning drig. Your grip tightens and your legs clench against the dipulse harder as you begin to understand just how difficult this beast will be to control. At the same time, Shilo’s experience as a pilot keeps your hands steady and your eyes forward even as some very distracting sounds begin to emanate from the rear engine. You pull the throttles apart and lean forward into the proper position and very carefully manipulate your feet over the engines’ positioning controls. The dipulse’s engines begin to tilt, and the machine begins to move forward.
You squint a bit as the dipulse pulls out of the side of the building that can no longer be your home, regret toward that fact absent from your focused mind. You turn your toes outward from each other, turning the vehicle left with a true zero turn radius, hard to obtain in even the most advanced pulse cars today. You return your feet into line and bring the throttles up. The sound of the dipulse’s ridiculous engines grows even louder as the beast rises higher and begins moving forward with unparalleled power. Before you know it, you’re turning again toward the docks along the main lowway, your feet adjusting deftly to any fluctuations in the dipulse’s movement against your intentions. For fun, you roll the machine full circle, almost losing contact with the positioning controls. When you get back into an upright position, you decide you won’t be doing that again.
You crank up the throttles even more along the lowway, tilting the engines back toward horizontal more, bringing the dipulse into a lower but much faster position. Wind rushes past you at obscene speeds as you approach over 50 rosts per centiday, and you can almost feel the air cutting at you with a chill factor that would be completely unbearable were it not for your armor. You see the docks ahead and factor down the throttles. When you reach the turn for the docks, you turn your toes toward one another, turning the dipulse to the right.  Quickly, you rotate your right foot to face the same direction as your left, changing the dipulse’s momentum away from its previous direction and redirecting it forward. You gradually bring your feet back in line as you begin to travel along the correct road, reducing the throttle as you approach the docks.
As you reach the ships locked into place, you start looking for one in flying condition. Most of them have been destroyed or severely damaged, likely as a part of the initial incursion. Then, you see a ship that is both foreign and familiar in appearance. Though you have never seen a ship anything like this before, Shilo’s memories tell you that this is a Valkyr, its viewport cracked and covered in old blood from the inside. Your initial suspicion is that there was electrical damage to a vital component for the main drives, and that led to an explosion inside the ship before they were able to finish suiting up. You park the dipulse alongside the cargo bay door in the aft section of the ship and get off, your legs a bit shaky for a choice few moments.
You walk over to the bioswitch on the cargo door and press yourself against the hull of the ship as the door opens. Just as you suspected, air comes rushing out as soon as the seal inside the ship is broken. The smell of death is borne freshly into the surrounding air, and you close the fresh air intake on your breather, switching into recirc. The smell of rancid flesh is quickly replaced by the scent of sterilized air, and you gulp in the clean air like it’s water. Your eyes begin to water, and you feel unease in your belly as the mere memory of such a strong odor almost sends you to your knees.
‘It isn’t the worst smell in the worlds,’ Shilo comments in your mind. At this, you thin your gaze and harden yourself, shaking off the sensation that the smell had sent coursing down your spine. You then step out and turn toward the door, your eyes narrow behind your visor as you analyze the cargo hold. Once you’re satisfied there’s nothing alive in there, you take your first step onto a real warship.
The cargo hold is fairly utilitarian, intentionally built to be as versatile as possible. There are indented portions of the bulkhead which look as though they’re designed to fit stasis pods. A quick check of Shilo’s memories lets you know for sure. The deck has many ports and interfaces in it, as do the struts in the bulk- and overhead. A ship like this could be purposed to serve as anything from a prisoner transport to a concealed command center, as long as the appropriate equipment were brought aboard. A rush of images of items you loaded onto the dipulse without even realizing it make their way into your thoughts as Shilo says, ‘We need to keep focused on the task at hand until we’re off this planet.’
You start unloading the items and hooking them up in the cargo hold, one by one. Once you finish putting together the spare components you might need for repair, you load up the food and medical supplies for your journey and anchor the dipulse inside the cargo hold. Before opening the main hold’s hatch, you activate the dipulse’s engines, and air whooshes through the hold. With any luck, that will keep any foul smell from staying in the ship much longer. Then, you activate the bioswitch with the built-in interface in your armor, preventing you from having to remove your breather to lick your thumb again. In your mouth, a small suction tube extends under your tongue, removes some saliva, and retracts once more, pumping the saliva brought a series of valves and to a small divot in your armor’s lightly padded thumb. You place it against the switch, and the responding light indicates that the process was successful.
The main hold hatch dilates open, and you pull yourself up. Looking about, you find the drive maintenance panel to the aft of your present position and move toward it, carefully treading over the paste-like spread that was once a Valkyrie’s head, walking around the body as best you can. Shilo’s memory of protocols tells you that their present state should be preserved for future investigation and memorial services. Before you open the panel, you receive a memory nudge, and you activate the main drive holographic sensors and your armor’s radiation shielding, which protects you from the high energy radiation of the sensors, which isn’t enough to irradiate any of the materials in the drive compartment in the long term but could make living tissue in the compartment a bit uncomfortable for the next several hours. The high energy sensors, however, could detect even the most microscopic defects i
n the drive system, and that point is illustrated when the sensors deactivate, and the ship’s systems send the results to the nearest handheld interface, which is conveniently built right into the wrist of your armor.
As you make your way through the diagnostics, you notice Shilo’s voice making note of each parameter that is outside of the range she desires, even if the ship doesn’t seem to think it’s a problem. Finally, you get to the list of defective parts and find it to be very similar to the list of parts you assembled in the cargo hold, minus a few smaller parts here and there that didn’t seem to make the ship’s list. ‘How’d you know what was wrong with the ship, Shilo?’
A moment of clearheaded silence follows before Shilo replies, ‘This is what’s wrong with all of the Valkyrs. These are the parts that the ship isn’t actually supposed to use. They just happen to be the best parts we can put on the ships right now. This one,’ an image of a particularly large part that had been very annoying to put together, ‘is what seems to have caused the malfunction this time, which is why we needed so many of the replacement parts. Officially, this may only be Valkyr 2, but that’s just because it’s being used in conjunction with an Armadian operation, and as an official strength of its own, the Valkyrie has only existed for a few cycles now. Truth be told, though, this is Valkyr 43. I was piloting Valkyr 45. We actually have a different drive system that these ships are designed to use, but it hasn’t been reinvented yet, so we can’t use it publicly. Not that that drive system was really used a lot beforehand, anyway…’
Shilo trails off, but the point has been made. Shilo had put together a list of parts that might be needed to repair any expected malfunction, and because of the particular malfunction at hand, you happen to need most of them. You get to work bringing the replacement parts up and installing them as you bring the replaced parts down to the cargo hold and secure them for evidence.
A few centidays later, you seal up the drive compartment and perform another scan. After the diagnostic reports seem to satisfy Shilo, you walk forward toward the main hatch. Again, you step around the remains so thoroughly grafted to the deck of the main hold and now covered with a sealing agent that has been placed over both itself and the other corpse slightly forward of the hatch. This time, however, when you head down into the cargo hold, it is to deactivate the dipulse and seal the ship once more. Once the door has closed, you begin to remove your helmet before thinking of the two bodies upstairs, along with the body of Shilo’s copilot, which had been so horribly decapitated when it found its way flying through the ship’s main viewport. You leave the helmet fastened as you head up and into the cockpit.
You look about at the various displays and interfaces and notice that some things appear to have been intentionally withheld from the design, as if to make it easier to put something in later. Thinking back to Shilo’s monologue only a few centidays ago, you realize why. It hasn’t been invented yet, but the Valkyr was somehow still designed to use it. You shrug it off for now, determined to ask every question you have the moment you get somewhere safe. You begin activating switches and interfaces, and the cockpit comes alight. The displays come to life around you, and you find the seat securing your armor to itself with thick bolts that screw into the joints of your armor.
Without bothering to clear your takeoff with the now-desolate control station, you start up the main drives, a monstrous sound that Shilo insists is normal emanating through the compartment aft of you. With one last check that all parameters are to Shilo’s liking, you press into the controls and start flying a ship toward space for the first time in your life, despite the fact that your feet can barely reach the deck. Keria’Ledrii Khuda’Cronell is not a name the future will soon forget.