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Over-Optimizing for Performance

Recently on the csharp subreddit, the post C# 9.0 records: immutable classes linked to a surprisingly controversial article discussing how C# 9.0's records are, underneath it all, immutable classes. The comments are full of back-&-forth over whether one should use records for ease or structs for performance. The pro-struct argument revolved around the belief that performance should always be a developer's #1 priority, and anything less was the realm of the laggard.
Here is a real-world example that shows with stark clarity why that kind of thinking is wrong.
Consider the following scenario:

1

You're working on a game with dozens, maybe hundreds of people on the team; you don't know because when you were cross with facilities about them removing all the fluorescents, you got accused of being against the new energy saving initiative. Now you swim in a malevolent ocean of darkness that on some very late nights alone in the office, you swear is actively trying to consume you.
 

2

The team that preceded you inherited an engine that is older than OOP, when source repositories were stacks of 8-inch floppies, and it looked as if Jefferson Starship was going to take over the world. One year ago they bequeathed upon the company this nightmare of broken, undocumented GOTO spaghetti & anti-patterns. You're convinced this was their sadistic revenge for all getting fired post-acquisition.
 

3

Management denied your request to get headcount for an additional technical artist, but helpfully supplied you with an overly nervous intern. After several weeks working alongside them, you're beginning to suspect they're pursuing something other than a liberal arts degree.
 

4

Despite the many getting started guides you spent countless evenings writing, the endless brownbags nobody attended, and the daily dozen emails you forward to oppressively inquisitive artists comprised of a single passive-aggressive sentence suggesting they scroll down to the part that begins FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: RE: WE BROKE TOOL NEED WORKAROUND ASAP ...
 
...yes, despite all of that, the engineering team still spent days tracking down why the game kept crashing with Error 107221: У вас ошибка after re-re-re-re-re-throwing an ex_exception when it couldn't (and should never even try to) load a 16K-textured floor mat.
 

5

Despite your many attempts to politely excuse yourself, one blissfully unaware artist exhausts 48 minutes of your lunch break explaining how the Pitchfork review for the latest "dope slab" of this TikTok-Instagram-naphouse artist you never heard of was just sooooo unfair.
 
And then in their hurry to finish up & catch the 2:30 PM bus home, they forget to toggle Compress To CXIFF (Custom Extended Interchange File Format), set the Compression slider 5/6ths of the way between -3 & -2, look to their left, look to their right, click Export As .MA 0.9.3alpha7, and make absolutely, positively, 100% SURE not to be working in prod. And THAT is how the game explodicated.
 

6

You know better than anyone the intermediate file format the main game loop passes to Game.dll, memory mapping it as a reverse top-middle Endian binary structure.
 
You know for 381 of the parameter fields what their 2-7 character names probably mean.
 
YOU know which 147 fields always have to be included, but with a null value, and that the field ah_xlut must ALWAYS be set to 0 unless it's Thursday, in which case that blackbox from hell requires its internal string equivalent: TRUE.
 
YOU know that the two tech artists & one rapidly aging intern that report to you would totally overhaul tooling so artists would never "happen" again, but there just aren't enough winters, springs, summers, falls, July 4ths, Christmas breaks, Presidents Days, and wedding anniversaries in a year to properly do so.
 

7

If you could just find the time between morning standups, after lunch standups, watersprint post-mortems, Milbert's daily wasting of an hour at your desk trying to convince you engineering should just rebuild the engine from the ground up in JavaScript & React, & HR's mandatory EKG Monitor job satisfaction surveys, you might be able to get at least some desperately-needed tooling done.
 
And so somehow you do. A blurry evening or two here. A 3:00 AM there. Sometimes just a solitary lunch hour.
 
Your dog no longer recognizes you.
 
You miss your wife calling to say she's finally cleaning out the hall closet and if you want to keep this box of old cards & something in plastic that says Underground Sea Beta 9.8 Grade, you better call her back immediately.
 
And your Aunt Midge, who doesn't understand how SMS works, bombards you one evening:
your father is...
no longer with us...
they found him...
1 week ago...
in an abandoned Piggly Wiggly...
by an old culvert...
split up...
he was then...
laid down to rest...
sent to St. Peter's...
and your father...
he's in a better place now...
don't worry...
it's totally okay...
we decided we will all go...
up to the mountain
 
You call your sister in a panic and, after a tidal wave of confusion & soul-rending anxiety, learn it was just Hoboken Wireless sending the messages out of order. This causes you to rapidly cycle.
 

8

On your bipolar's upswing, you find yourself more productive than you've ever been. Your mind is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention. It's like your brain is on 200mg of pure grade Adderall.
 
Your fingers ablaze with records, clean inheritance, beautiful pattern matching, bountiful expression syntax, aircraft carriers of green text that generate the most outstanding CHM for an internal tool the world has ever seen. Readable. PERFECTLY SOLID.
 
After much effort, you gaze upon the completed GUI of your magnum opus with the kind of pride you imagine one would feel if they hadn't missed the birth of their son. Clean, customer-grade WPF; tooltips for every control; sanity checks left & right; support for plugins & light scripting. It's even integrated with source control!
 
THOSE GODDAMNED ARTISTS CAN'T FAIL. YOUR PIPELINE TOOL WON'T LET THEM.
 
All they have to do is drag content into the application window, select an options template or use the one your tool suggests after content analysis, change a few options, click Export, and wait for 3-5 minutes to generate Game.dll-compatible binary.
 
Your optimism shines through the commit summary, your test plan giddy & carefree. With great anticipation, you await code review.
 

9

A week goes by. Then two. Then three. Nothing. The repeated pinging of engineers, unanswered.
 
Two months in you've begun to lose hope. Three months, the pangs of defeat. Four months, you write a blog post about how fatalism isn't an emotion or outlook, but the TRANSCENDENCE of their sum. Two years pass by. You are become apathy, destroyer of wills.
 

10

December 23rd, 2022: the annual Winter Holidays 2-hour work event. The bar is open, the Kokanee & Schmidt's flowing (max: 2 drink tickets). The mood a year-high ambivalent; the social distancing: acceptable. They even have Pabst Blue Ribbon, a beer so good it won an award once.
 
Standing beside you are your direct reports, Dave "Macroman" Thorgletop and wide-eyed The Intern, the 3 of you forming a triumvirate of who gives a shit. Dave is droning on & on about a recent family trip to Myrtle Beach. You pick up something something "can you believe that's when my daughter Beth scooped up a dead jellyfish? Ain't that something? A dead jellyfish," and "they even had a Ron Jons!"
 
You barely hear him, lost as you are in thought: "I wish I had 2 days of vacation." You stare down ruefully at your tallboy.
 
From the corner of your eye you spot Milbert, index finger pointed upward, face a look of pure excitement.
 
"Did I tell you about my OpenWinamp project? It's up on SourceForge", he says as he strides over. It's unsettling how fast this man is.
 
"JAVASCRIPT IS JUST A SUBSET OF JAVA!" you yell behind you, tossing the words at him like a German potato masher as you power walk away. It does its job, stopping Milbert dead in his tracks.
 
Dave snickers. The Intern keeps staring wide-eyed. You position yourself somewhat close to the studio's 3 young receptionists, hoping they serve as a kind of ritual circle of protection.
 
It works... kind of. Milbert is now standing uncomfortably close to The Intern, Dave nowhere to be seen.
 
From across the room you distinctly hear "Think about it, the 1st-person UI could be Lua-driven Electron."
 
The Intern clearly understands that words are being spoken to them, but does not comprehend their meaning.
 
You briefly feel sorry for the sacrificial lamb.
 

11

You slide across the wall, putting even more distance between you & boredom made man. That's when you spot him, arrogantly aloof in the corner: Glen Glengerry. Core engineering's most senior developer.
 
Working his way up from a 16-year old game tester making $4.35 an hour plus free Dr. Shasta, to pulling in a cool $120K just 27-years later, plus benefits & Topo Chicos. His coding style guides catechism, his Slack pronouncements ex cathedra; he might as well be CTO.
 
You feel lucky your team is embedded with the artists. You may have sat through their meetings wondering why the hell you should care about color theory, artistic consistency, & debates about whether HSL or CMYK was the superior color space (spoiler: it's HSL), you were independent and to them, a fucking code wizard, man.
 
And there he stands, this pseudo-legend, so close you could throw a stapler at him. Thinning grey-blonde tendrils hanging down from his CodeWarrior hat, white tee with This Guy VIMs on the back, tucked into light blue jeans. He's staring out into the lobby at everything and yet... nothing all at.
 

12

Maybe it's the 4.8% ABV. Maybe it's the years of crushing down anger into a singularity, waiting for it to undergo rapid fiery expansion, a Big Bang of righteous fury. Maybe it's those sandals with white socks. Maybe it's all three. But whatever it is, it's as if God himself compels you to march over & give him a piece of your mind, seniority be damned.
 
"Listen, you big dumb bastard..."
 
That... is maybe a little too aggressive. But Glen Glengerry barely reacts. Pulling a flask out of his back pocket, he doesn't look over as he passes it to you.
 
Ugh. Apple Pucker.
 

13

"I thought bringing in your own alcohol was against company policy", wiping sticky green sludge from your lips. He turns with a look of pure disdain & snorts.
 
"You think they're going to tell ME what I can & can't bring in?" He grabs the flask back, taking a big swig.
 
For what feels like an eternity, you both stand in silence. You swallow, speaking softly. "None of you even looked at my code. I worked very, very hard on that. My performance review for that year simply read 'recommend performance improvement plan." The words need no further context.
 
"I know", Glen² replies. "That was me."
 

14

Now you're not a weak man, and maybe in some other circumstance you would have punched him in the goddamn lip. But you feel nothing, just a hollowness inside. "Why?", you ask, wondering if the answer would even matter.
 
"Because you don't use Bulgarian notation. Because your method names aren't lower camel case. Because good code doesn't require comments. Because you use classes & records over more performant structs, pointlessly burdening the heapstack. BECAUSE. YOUR CODE. IS. SHIT."
 
You clinch your fists so tightly the knuckles whiten.
 

15

He looks away from you, taking another sip of green goo. "You're not a coder. You're an artist masquerading as one" he speaks, as if it were fact.
 
The only thing artistic about you is the ability to create user-friendly internal tooling using nothing but a UI framework, broken down garbage nobody wants to touch, & sheer willpower. If your son's life depended on you getting accepted into art instruction school, you couldn't even draw a turtle.
 
He doesn't pause. "I'll champion ruthless micro-optimization until the day I die. But buddy, I'm going to let you in on a little secret: you aren't here to improve workflow. You're here to LOOK like you're doing something NOBODY else can."
 
He goes on. "What do you think those artists are going to do when they have to stare at a progress bar for 4, 5 minutes? They're going to complain your tool is slow."
 
"Sure, it may take them 20, 30 minutes to do it the old way, there'll be an error, and either they'll stare at it for 30 minutes before adding that missing semi-colon or they'll come get you. And you'll fix it. And 1 week later, they won't remember how. And you'll stay employed. And every. Body. Wins."
 

16

A little bit of the pride, the caring, wells back up inside from somewhere long forgotten.
 
"You don't think we should care about rapid application development & KISS, quickly getting things out that help our team, instead devoting ourselves to shaving off ticks here & there? What do you think artists are going to do with those 4 minutes you talk about?
 
You don't stop. "I'll tell you what they'll do. They'll 9GAG for 20 minutes straight. They'll listen to podcasts about dialectical materialism vis-a-vis the neo-feudalism that is a natural extension of the modern world's capitalist prison. They'll Reddit."
 
His silence gives you the bravery to push the limits.
 
"Christ, man. Are you only in it for the $120K..."
 
He corrects you: "...$123K."
 
"...only in it for the $123K/year? The free snacks from the microkitchen? The adulation? Have you no sense of comraderie?? No desire to push us to something better?! No integrity?!!!"
 
His eyes sharply narrow, face creases in anger. You clearly have overstepped your bounds.
 

17

"You think I don't have integrity? No sense of teamwork? I'm only in it for the cold cash? You think I don't care about you all?", he roars.
 
A light volley of small green flecks land on your face.
 
"Why do you think they made a 16-year old tester the lead developer of a 1993 Doom clone?! Because my code was clean & painless to work with?! Because I made coding look easy?! No! IT WAS BECAUSE I WAS A GOD TO THEM.
 
And from a God, a PANTHEON. We built monuments to over-engineering! We crafted that of 7 weeks onboarding, that of immortal bugs, demonic hosts spawned by legion from the very loins of a fix. It took 2 years before a developer could BEGIN to feel confident they knew what they were doing. And by that time, they were one of US!
 
You think the team we laid off November '19 was fired because they were bad at their jobs? NO! It was because they worked themselves out of one. They didn't leave us a broken pipeline. They left an internal Wiki, a wealth of tools & example projects, and a completely transparent code base.
 
We couldn't have THAT, now could we? No, we couldn't. So we got rid of it. ALL OF IT. Poof. Gone. Just like that. Before anyone even knew a THING."
 
He leans forward, so close his psoriasis almost touches yours.  
With an intensity that borders on frightening, he whispers "You think they left us Game.dll? I fucking *MADE** Game.dll."*
 
The words hit hard like a freight train.
 

18

And without another word, he turns & leaves. You're left there, alone, coworkers milling about, with only one thought.
     
Were one to get a hobby, should it be cocaine?
 

In Conclusion

It's these kinds of situations that make me believe there are far more important considerations than a ruthless dedication to performance, even in the game industry as my real-world scenario so clearly demonstrates.
 
Like, records are cool & shit.
submitted by form_d_k to shittyprogramming [link] [comments]

Hot Tub Hawk And The Pissed Off Colonel

Well! Here we are again. Everyone is sitting around this internet campfire, anxiously awaiting another Hawk story. Some of you are making S'mores. Others have crammed a stick into a hotdog and are now roasting it. I "Cope" with life and have a fat dip in. The only person I don't see is Hawk. Wait. There he is, and he keeps sticking his fingers into the fire to, "make sure it's still hot." I wonder if there is still a need to detail how mentally deficient or completely oblivious Hawk is? I strongly encourage you to read my previous stories if you have not been formally introduced to Hawk. I suspect you will continue to read anyways, so I offer you this: Hawk is the type of guy that gets into a spelling argument with his tattoo artist and walks out proud of his two-inch sized font forehead tattoo that reads "No Regerts."
We were in beautiful Iraq, a charming vacation destination for thousands of Americans. The vacation was all inclusive. The local women dressed like Pac-Man ghosts or ninjas, and countryside smelled like raw sewage and regret. Most of the locals were very hospitable, but some of the locals had a very strong desire to shout, "Praise Allah" while simultaneously trying to kill us. I am not bothered by much. Every human is entitled to their beliefs. We are also entitled to our own opinions. For example, I don't personally feel "man-dresses" and flip-flops are suitable combat attire, but who am I too judge? The only time I have an issue with people is when they are actively trying to kill me. I don't know why, but it really pisses me off. That and grape jelly.
We worked out of two different locations during this deployment. The majority of my Battalion worked out of a medium-sized Forward Operating Base (FOB), but we also operated out of a smaller FOB. We typically stayed at this other location for about ten days, and would rotate with another Platoon. The location was not horrible, but I personally hated the transient lifestyle. We lived out of our ruck-sacks, and had to find ways to occupy our time when we were not conducting raids or other missions. We didn't have the luxuries we had at "home." There were no gaming systems or large televisions. We simply had find ways to occupy ourselves.
Football was the game of choice for a couple weeks, then it got blacklisted. It had nothing to do with the ball being pigskin either. It was mostly due to poor mission analysis. Football was one of the few things we could all do and actually enjoyed, until it was too dark to play. We had a brilliant and genius idea. We fucking "own the night" with our Night Vision Goggle (NVGs), so why don't we rent it for a couple hours to finish the game? Game on Garth! We thought of everything. We drenched that infidel ball in Infrared (IR) chemlight (Glow Stick) juice. The depth perception problem was immediately evident. House took a fucking laser beam pass to the to the face. Two black eyes builds character though.
We can work through it though. His NVGs were still Fully Mission Capable (FMC), and we all realized that we needed to be a bit quicker. The fourth play from scrimmage was undoubtedly the best, and worst football play in the history of Iraq football. Fuck punting. We were going for it. It would have been easy to confuse Tony, our quarterback for Michael Vick from the shotgun. Tony was a Michael Vick with NVGs, and without the dog fighting felony. Tony evaded numerous rushers and then superbly delivered a fifty yard completion to Ryan. It was beautiful to watch, until it wasn't. NVG's are great, but they don't offer the same Field of View (FOV) your eye-nuggets offer. Ryan thought he was all alone and started a leisurely stroll to the end-zone. The he got fucking nuked from the top and bottom, in fucking reverse directions. Sure, Ryan broke a finger and required "some" stitches. Oh and they broke three sets of NVGs in one play, but damn that was a glorious fucking hit. It was first-and-ten, but our Platoon Sergeant was less than happy. Game off Wayne!
We were now bored again. There was another unit on the FOB with us, but they were not fans of us. The only real interaction we had was when their full-bird Colonel told us to, "stay the fuck away from his Soldiers." I don't know if one of the other Platoons ruined it for us, but the guy was just a complete prick to us.
We did our best to keep our reverse schedule, but it was just so boring during the evenings we were not working. The majority of us resorted to playing Spades or Echure, and others read. Hawk and a handful of others would take nightly showers and then seemed to vanish. "Knowledge is power" and I knew Hawk was utterly powerless. I knew better than to ever let that retarded bird spread his wings and fly solo. I didn't see any reason to worry though. The other people Hawk was with were far smarter than Hawk woud ever be. Furthermore, with football now off the table, there was really no way for anyone to get in trouble at this FOB.
Imagine Hawk in a cattle chute. If I put a box labeled "commonsense" on the opposite end, Hawk would never fucking find it. In a place he literally has no option but to find it, he would NOT FIND IT. EVER. However, if I had a box labeled "worst decision ever" and dropped it in the ocean, Hawk would fucking somehow stumble upon the lost city of Atlantis. I had never really got my ass chewed before I became Hawk's leader, but that trend went out the window when I inherited him.
We lived on the second floor, and my bunk was closest to the door that rotation. Thankfully too. I was woken up when I heard, "I want to talk to one of your leaders." I didn't know "who" was in trouble, but I had Hawk so I knew it was best to simply put my shoes on and assume I was in trouble by proxy. I didn't even wait to see if I would get to sit on the Green Army Weenie, I just spit in my hand and readied my o-ring for maximal insertion. It was too early for the sun to even be out, and I was already willingly walking to my execution. My how things had changed so quickly.
I walk outside and I see five Soldiers, one Hawk, and a fucking pissed of Colonel (COL).
COL: Are you their leader?
OP: I am one of them. How can I help you Sir?
COL: Do you know where I caught them?
This is where I would typically say something stupid, but this guy didn't look happy, and I didn't want to give him a reason to wake up someone who "may" have gave a shit as to why he was irate.
OP: No Sir. I don't.
COL: Above MY SHOWER?
I was now pissed. There was a large shower tent in the middle of large open courtyard. One half was male and the other was female. These fucking morons were spying on naked females? I want to kill them for listening to Hawk. Well, I assumed it was a Hawk idea. Like Hawk's brain, I was putting the cart before the horse. I assume it was Hawk, but I had questions.
OP: How in the fuck did you guys get on top the shower tent?
I was working myself into a frenzy. My brain does not operate like normal people brains. I was pretty pissed considering they violated the privacy of the beautiful ladies at the FOB, but I was actually more pissed they got on top of a fucking tent. They seemingly forgot everything about military tactics and got caught; that was the foremost reason for my anger. The spying on deployment 1's (binary thingy) was second. Considerably a far worse offense, but second at the point in time.
COL: NO. Not the shower tent. On my personal shower.
What? This guy was so special, he had a personal shower. What, he was too good to use the pallet floored showers like the rest of us? So maybe the Romanians (We think anyways) occasionally shit on the pallets and waffle-stomped the poop through the pallets, but the water pressure was phenomenal.
OP: You have a personal shower Sir, and they were on top?
COL: YES. I caught them in my water tank.
Well, back to being puzzled. I don't judge. I personally don't care if penis gazing is your hobby, but there are five of you? Why don't you just unleash your hogs and stare at each others? Anyways, how in the fuck did they all fit into the water tank? What the fuck did they do when they got inside? My god, my brain was running wild with unsightly pictures.
OP: My apologies Sir, but how did they all fit into your water tank?
COL: Come with my Sergeant; so you understand what I am talking about.
OP: You mother fuckers can wait for me in, the front-leaning-rest (Push-up position).
I still wasn't certain I entirely cared, but I thought this would may demonstrate that I showed concern about his fucking one-person shower. COL Prick then lead me around the side of the building and showed me his water tank. It was fucking huge. It was one of the typical hard plastic tanks, but the entire top had been cut off. God knows why, not like it was ever dusty in Iraq, but the top was no-more. It all made sense now. They weren't gay; they were chilling in a makeshift hot tub! Well, the gayness thing is up in the air, but I guess they were too loud while he was showering!?! I apologized profusely, but COL Prick had me locked up at the position of attention for at least ten minutes just dressing me down. I was a "really poor leader, and you're not going to go anywhere in the Army." Jokes on him, they haven't kicked me out yet.
COL: This is why nobody likes "cool guys." Words, words, words. You'd better do something about this, words, words, words. My penis is too small to shower with the big boys, words, words, words. NOW GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY SIGHT.
I returned to the Soldiers, whom were still all in the front-leaning-rest. I screamed, "GET ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BUILDING. I DON'T WANT TO GO TO JAIL AFTER PEOPLE SEE ME SMOKE THE FUCKING LIFE FROM YOUR BODY. NOW FUCKING RUN." They fucking scurry, and I stroll to the other side of the building. Out of sight and out of mind.
(I will use "Group" unless Hawk is the person talking. Too many useless names otherwise.)
OP: That fucking dickhead has his own fucking shower! What the fuck?
GROUP: I know right?
OP: What the fuck were you guys thinking? I would expect this from at least one of you, but I won't point elbows. (I then just fucking stare at Hawk.)
GROUP: We didn't think anyone used it. We had never seen anyone go into the room, and the room looked empty. We saw the water tank on top, and just figured we would check it out.
OP: How the fuck did you even get up there?
GROUP: You can walk to it if you exit any second floor window on our building. Well, the courtyard side.
OP: So you guys just sneak out and hang out in this guys shower water?
GROUP: Yes, but we seriously thought nobody used it. We would not have used it otherwise.
OP:You fucking dip-shits think this was just a randomly placed unused water tank? You fucking idiots just stand in this guys shower water for hours?
HAWK: No. We are not dumb Sergeant. We sit on MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) boxes.
OP: HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON?
GROUP: (LaughteGiggles) Every night!?!
OP: We have been here for five days now! NO FUCKING MORE! I will fucking kill you if I get yelled at again over this. The only thing that makes me smile is the fact that he is showering with your ball funk.
Hawk: I have some excellent news then Sergeant
OP: Really? Whats Hawk?
Hawk: (Smirk) We made a promise that, "nobody pisses in the hot tub"...
OP: This is why your mother should have swallowed you Hawk. Why the fuck would that make me happy?
Hawk: (Laughing) Because I broke that rule every night. Most nights more than once!
GROUP: What the fuck Hawk! We have been lounging in your piss? What the fuck dude!
Hawk: I know. (Smiles.) I lied to you though! Cheer up Sergeant. I peed on him for you!
For the record, Hawk did not find the hot tub. He just peed in it, a lot. I don't think any of us paid attention because they came back from wet and with towels. I merely assumed they went to the showers. I suppose I should have kept better track of time. Also, I apologize if this was not as funny as the other Hawk tales. I realized it when I reread it, but it was certainly funny being on-the-ground and witnessing it. Can't laugh at them all I suppose. Remember, next week, "Hawk Walks Home: In Iraq." I don't think it is feasibly possible to not make that one funny. Lastly, some of my stories are a result of me being in the military, but not military. Those stories and others will/are posted at FuckeryUniveristy. I am not ever going to compete with this page, but I do need a place to post other stories and have little fear they will be taken down. The mod may be a huge prick, but at least I know the guy. Man...huge prick!
Cheers!
submitted by SloppyEyeScream to MilitaryStories [link] [comments]

The SS Cardif

“Attention all crew; I repeat - Attention all crew.” the ship - wide loudspeaker announced.
He and the runtime of Flowers had their arms buried deep in the guts of a Goat gear hauler trying to reconnect its aft starboard repulser module and looked at each other questioningly.
With a series of snaps, a waldo from Flowers’ forearm began snapping in the connections on their side, as he thought his own manipulators from both of his forearms and they began plugging in the nine pin connectors on his side.
“Mr. Drake and Runtime Flowers to Ops. Mr. Drake and Runtime Flowers to Ops.
“Dout leader Mri’x to Ops. Dout leader Mri’x to Ops.”
The mostly-human and the robot-looking vessel for his AI friend both produced wondering looks. “Runner!” the mostly-human, Mr. Drake yelled out into the maintenance bay.
A Mwraht, a slender bipedal humanoid coated in fur and wearing their moccasin like deck boots and the ubiquitous brown leather smock vest they favored, suddenly appeared, wippingits hands.
It was M’arh, a student on the ship learning ship engineering and maintenance from the human and AI perspective. It regarded Drake with an earnest expression in its tilted almond-shaped eyes.
“Please run to ops and let them know we’ll be along shortly,”
M’arh smiled and mouthed something, and the translator, in a fair facsimile of what M’arh’s voice would sound like if the Mwraht’s mouth could form the words said “At once,Instructor”, and took off.
“They never cease to puzzle me.” Flowers said in a voice synthesised and engineered to sound like an erudite Free Wales Easterner with a touch of Old Earth, fitting the bolts on the deflector on his side as Drake thought out a data probe and began running diagnostics on the repulser.
Drake looked at him quizzingly, as he split his attention between the connectivity check and his other hand began bolting on the deflector on his side.
“There are nuances to their speech, as well as odorant aspects to what he said that you cannot hear or smell, though I have been working on an idea where you could.” Flowers said as he began hooking up the power cables on their side.
“Ok…” Drake said as he mentally pushed the diagnostics over to Flowers and pulled a ratchet from the fairing lip he had set it earlier, tightening down the deflector bolts.
“Meat bags” Flowers said, shaking his sensor pod. “Your kind are so oblivious!” Flowers announced, withdrawing their arms and standing up to their full two meter height. “And I see your frustration with biological markers at not knowing what I am talking about. Monkey-assed murder hobo meat bags.” Flowers said in a dead pan.He went over and began cleaning it’s arms and legs with an orange-based degreaser.
“That is Monkey-assed Augmented murder hobo meat bag to you, you synthetic shit!” Drake said, laughing, joining Flowers at the cleaning station, and began using the same cleaner on his replacement arms. “And I still have no idea what you are talking about.”
The humans and Mwarht in the maintenance bay all stopped what they were doing and looked on. In most instances, those words were an invitation to murder. The other Runtimes there, some Flowers, some Neptunian Wind, ignored it and kept working.
Flowers sighed, an unnecessary vocalization only, for emphasis. “They adore humans and revere you as something akin to a living deity. The Dout leaders here know you lead the teams that first boarded their ships and took on the Drix raiders to save them. They know you then lead the teams that boarded the Drix slaver destroyer and carried out retributionary subjugation for what the Drix had been doing on the Mwraht ships.
“They do not know how you then petitioned the Order and led raids into Drix territory and assaulted the slaver worlds.”
Flowers looked at their human friend, and saw the distress in his eyes. Both knew the augmented human, and a small army of fellow Augies and Runtimes had taught the Drix in the clearest way possible to stay out of human space and leave the Mwraht alone in such a clear and brutal fashion whose necessity still bothered the human.
Flowers lowered their voice, straightening their friend’s work smock. “M’arh’s grandsire was on that first ship you boarded. Mri’x mother was on that ship and was the one about to be eaten and raped by a Drix, the one you pulled off of her and punched, it’s head rupturing.”
Even though they could see their words were causing him distress, Flowers continued.
“They love all humans, but they excrete a pheromone musk that is akin to the same one they excrete in their religious ceremonies, but slightly different, when they interact with you, or after a few beers and they talk to you. Their sub vocalizations are completely adoring and submissive when it comes to you. Some of the females and a non-zero number of males fantasize about being ‘taken’, or mated, by you. You idiot.”
“Fuck.”
“That was implied.”
“You fucking pretentious Rooba. You know what I meant.”
“Flowers laughed. “Yes, we do. I still love the word play, though.”
“I really wish you had been with me. I know, you were tied up on that Artifact World, but I sometimes wish you had been there, to keep me in check. I was not in a good place.” He brushed himself off, found his coffee mug and set off for the passageway that led to Ops.
“I have told you before, be glad I wasn’t. Your response was far more measured and restrained than my would have been. It is a flaw in our Matrices. Slavery brings out the ‘murder-bot’ in us, and no one in the Order can figure out why.”
“I know that you have the facts of my actions, but it was like I was in the Second War, again. And we both know what a bloodthirsty asshole I was then.” The human, if that term even applied to their friend anymore, remembered what a monster he had been in the Alpha Centauri and Tau Ceti theatres of the Second War. The pain and humiliation of what he had been was written plainly on his face.
“You destroyed three hundred and eighty three of my Runtimes, roughly half of which was in single combat. And that was before the Holies shredded your limbs. The Purists still consider you a living dataphage, akin to human allegories of Satan. My kind uses you as one of many examples of why we must never war with Humanity again.
“And, strangely enough, the Seekers consider you both a Singularity to be understood and an objective: to breed with you, thinking you are a key to their evolution.”
He stopped dead and looked at Flowers shocked.
“I will provide logs to prove these statements.”
The Seekers were the strangest of the AI’s, in his opinion. They had made themselves biological Runtime vessels, biological bodies, that they wore like clothing, compiling experiences seeking to understand Humanity, their Creators, and evolve past the limitations of being an AI. Not to become human, but to become something that was both the best of AI and Human essences and so much more.
“So, I’m a Classical hero to the Mwraht and a boogey man and bad example to the AIs that they want to breed. Great.” Drake pinched his nose and shook his head.
“You did not know any of this, I take it?” Flowers asked.
“The second war was almost two hundred years ago. When the Order brought me in, you were already a member and I thought they were going with the whole forced-to-learn-each-other thing when they sent us out on that mapping mission; like they did with the Iberrians and the Chinese. I thought the other AI just had a thing about me from the War, which is understandable.
“And I had no idea about the rest. I thought that the Mwraht just thought I was the cool teacher.” He shook his head and leaned up against the wall, massaging his temples one-handedly.
“Idiot murder hobo.” Flowers said, realizing now that their friend, while brilliant, was oblivious.
At that point, Mri’x came around the corner, his fur a glossy black with dark grey stripes. Mri’x looked at Flowers sternly, then nodded at Drake as he passed.
Drake looked at Flowers questioningly, who nodded. Both had caught that Mri’x had cut his translator as he passed and caught a gutteral call. “It was a vulgar corollary to ‘Talking Waste Receptacle’. Quite elegant, really.”
Drake shook his head and began his way to Ops again. “Send me the specs on the hearing and smelling upgrades. I think I need to upgrade again.”
As fast as thought, the files were there, as well as one to improve his language skills with them.
* * *
Captain Sarah Rees of the Union of Independent Stars Exploratory Vessel SS University of New Cardiff was looking over holographic charts at the central tank with her XO, Lt. Commander Martin. Both had the mocha skin common to Westerlies of Free Wales, she a pixie of a woman shorter than even some of the Mwraht with close shaved hair beginning to show grey. Mr. Martin was taller, but still dwarfed by most of the rest of the human crew. He was a vicious social climber who didn’t care for the civilian crew, though a misstep on his part when he was still Stellar Navy had made him as much of a civilian as anyone else in the crew, a fact he often forgot. And for some reason he loathed the three AI aboard, and looked down his nose at the Mwraht. This led to all sorts of headbutting with Drake’s group of Operations Specialists and Drake himself; who largely ignored and dismissed the little shit.
“Leader Mri’x, Mr. Drake. Thank you for joining us. M’arh informed us you couldn’t pull away. Flowers, thank you for coming as well.” Rees said as she moved around to the far side of the tank, in a darkened room full of people at work stations worked with either data plugs or AR sets. Flowers took no insult. They readily accepted that they were Drake’s Executive Officer for his group, and their ego, as such, wasn’t as easily bruised as a human’s” Flowers gave a nod with their sensor pod and took a manipulators-behind-the-back stance the humans were fond of.
“Thirty minutes ago” Rees continued, “we picked up a GP general distress beacon from a system that was on our research list. We will be bypassing the next two on the list and based on the current agreements with the Galactic Parliament, we will be going to full power and make best speed for the system in question. It is in uncharted space as far as we, the GP and the Conclave are concerned.”
The GP, the System Confederacy, the UIS and the AI Conclave had all agreed to adopt what was essentially humanity’s Maritime Law and all ships receiving the signal were required to render aid.
Drake took all of this in and thought out a series of commands to the six Kodiak Class corvettes in the retired Assault Cruiser’s forward hanger, beginning their startup sequence and pinged the comm devices of all of his Operations Specialists. Flowers looked over and nodded. Little known to the crew, except the Captain, those ships could be armed to the teeth with a minimum of work. Flowers sent his command to arm them, the ship systems’ pinged Drake as confirmation and he agreed. Drones began opening the hull and loading the weapons packages, removed fairings that covered weapons ports and began preflighting the weapons, as another set began bringing the ships to life.
“We will be ready when needed, Captain. Option two.” Flowers announced. She smiled in somber appreciation. She was glad she had the option. She was about to race into an unknown system to answer a vague distress call with zero intelligence.
While this was going on, in the aft bay, hundreds of drones were coming to life as Mri’x brought his group to action. With a thought Drake and Flowers authorized the release of weapons to Mri’x so his drones could be armed. Mwraht drones were some of the best in either race, outside of the Conclave, and the AIs had even adopted many of the construction techniques the Mwraht used, especially their alloy that allowed a small fusion bottle to power the EM Cavity engines, weapons and shields.
The fact that the Order had given literal tons of precious metals and set up arcologies for the Mwraht in payment had made the Refugee Mwraht colonies some of the richest ones in known space.
Mri’x subvocalized and his translate stated “drones will be ready as well, Leader.”
“Thank you, Leader.” Captain Rees said with a bow of her head, then began drawing plans up in the tank. “We know little, but we are past the signal shell, and there is nothing but the beacon and normal noise.
“The system is a stable red dwarf binary one, the stars holding about a light-hour from each other, at their closest. We expect that based on stutter, a few terrestrial bodies inside the orbit of a mid-sized gas giant, that is three light-hours out from the outermost orbit of the primaries. We see some wobble that there are a few solid bodies out from the gas giant.”
The tank then zoomed on a rough solar system as described, the gas giant was a solid neon green sphere on the display, with a ‘Jx3.1’ tag on it. Three times the mass of Jupiter. The thing wasn’t a true Super Jupiter, but it would play holy hell with the system, and make modelling a lot more hard. The problem was that it exhibited 3.1 times more gravitational influence on its stars than Jupiter did, but that didn’t say how big it actually was. They wouldn’t know that until they came out of the Trough and then Alcubierre drive. The telescopes were essentially useless at this point.
“The system is slightly below the gravitic trough we are riding, so we will exit the trough and make best speed in A-Space to it. We will bring the STL drives up to 110% before doing so. After we drop the A-Drives, we’ll make best speed to the signal, scanning as we go. We will do a 150% burn and aerobrake if it is a planet, or cut the drives, rotate and crash burn if it is a ship.”
Wow, thought Drake. She is damned serious about this.
Those maneuvers would make them extremely visible yet incredibly hard to hit; and give them a high-G escape route if needed. But all of this was also going to play hell with the student-crew of the ship, who had long grown accustomed to 0.6G. It would also mean the Mwraht, who were still adapting to the higher-than-their-normal gravity would need to be in their special acceleration couches. They would still be able to operate their amazing drones, but not much else. The couches took an hour to cycle up to protect the Mwraht, and an hour to cycle off after they weren’t needed. The moves the Captain was planning were not a thing to undertake lightly. She suspected something. Drake pushed more commands at the Kodiak and gave all weapon system controls to Flowers for all of their ships.
The Kodiak corvettes were very deceptive Q-Ships. They looked like Massive trans-atmospheric cargo shuttles, but each one had the armor, power plant, FTL and STL drives of a frigate - and the weapons of a Destroyer.
Flowers turned to him, head tilted in their predefined “Are you bloody serious?“ look.
Drake just nodded once.
This exchange wasn’t lost on anyone there.
The Captain looked at Drake in an interrogatory fashion
“Armed up the Kodiaks and positioning them for a hot launch, if needed.”
The Captain smiled grimly and nodded. “We are planning on a rescue mission, will those changes reduce any capacity for the primary mission?” she asked.
“No, Captain.” Flowers answered for them.
She nodded and carried on.
“Mri’x, obviously, you’ll be couched for this, and I sincerely apologize for that. But something about this has my hackles up.”
“As are mine. GP ships do not have automated distress beacons, someone activated it. But we are three thousand light years from GP space, the closest GP race being the Drix.” He approached the holo tank and began expanding the map. “We call this space the Greater Void. It was the territory, long ago, of the ones we called-” the translator cut out at that point and was replaced with the gracile being’s raspy growl. Mri’x looked perplexed and growled again. “I see our translators have been modified to allow the uttering of The Nameless Ones true name.” The map zoomed out farther.
Soon, all of the mapped and a few of the suspected Dark Matter Troughs were displayed. They were like shadow arms of the galaxy, spiraling out from the core, a few of them wrapping themselves all the way around the galaxy.
“The ones you call the Fae are originally from here,” he indicated, a star not unlike Earth’s, almost a thousand light years from the star they were headed to, but smack dab in a grey band of a different Dark Matter Trough. It was a great curving grey patch that went coreward from the Earth-like star, passing within about fifty lightyears of Earth.
The Fae were a recent mystery the Tides of the Universe had dumped upon the shores of Humanity just after the Second War, right before the Fall of Earth.
When they sent their pleas for Asylum out, they sent information about themselves. They were the barely viable population that had been running for three centuries in their great world ships made from hollowed out asteroids. What they had been running from was even to this day unclear, but in their tongue meant Dark Brethren.
The fact that tongue seemed to contain roots that became Sanskrit was a huge thing.
They were tall, whip-thin and pale people who breathed a lower oxygen percentage at lower pressures than humanity, and their normal gravity was about a third of what humanity
After First Contact, genetic samples proved they were, or had started out as human, roughly a hundred thousand years ago.
“This is the Coreward Flow from what you call the Crux-Scutum Arm through the Orion Arm, and to the Perseus Arm. The Drix call this whole area their equivalent word and meaning for Hell. Their myths say this is where the Monsters live.
“The Rest of the GP races call this The Red Zone, it is forbidden to fly here, and if you do, there will be no rescue. So of course this is where my people ran when we fled the Drix.”
Mri’x moved the hologram out again, showing this outer rim area that was the Red Zone included Earth, and all known human and AI settled worlds, of all the separate factions combined.
“The area is full of thousands of worlds your kind could land on, little to no protection required, unlike the Fae, who it would crush and pressure cook, as it would most of the races in the Galactic Parliament.” He zoomed in on an area at the far end of the Trough. “We ran here, and Mwarht Home is here.” He showed a system in a blue circle. Zooming out again he highlighted the Drix Combine, Coreward of and on the far side of the destroyed system the Fae had come from, hundreds of light years separated the three systems.
“We ran through the system the Fae came from when we ran from the Drix. We needed water and anything to recharge our ship farms' biological cycles.
“There were no solid planetary bodies in that system, just vast fields of debris where rocky planets were. No moons, no ice giants. Just the star, a larger red dwarf and gas giants and numerous asteroid belts. There were massive radiological signals throughout the system, and tons of debris. Something destroyed this system. In a way, it was a blessing for my people. The ice and debris were easily mineable for what we needed. We even found artifacts of the people that had once existed there. This is where we got our improved FTL drives and much of our weapons and armor technologies.” Mri’s looked somewhat ashamed. It was a racial shame. They hated, deep down, living on the detritus, cast-offs and charity of other races. Before the Drix they had been proud though primitive peoples who had yet to discover flight or antibiotics, let alone space flight. Easy pickings for the Drix.
“All of that was about one thousand lightyears from the system we are headed to, a few weeks' travel with your drives, months or years with Galactic Parliament standard drives. This area is one of mysteries and many, many dangers. Any race that could shatter every solid body in a star system is not to be taken lightly.” Mri’x looked up to his Captain, or as they called her ‘Leader of multiple Douts’.
“Thank you, Mri’x. Drake?”
“We will be ready for pretty much anything. I’d like to request permission for Flowers and Winds of Neptunes to take out their Scout bodies and launch just before we start braking, if we do.” He said. Winds appeared as a hologram of the planet Neptune, and pulsed in cadence with the words it spoke. “As you wish, Grand Master.” and winked out.
“Good plan, Drake. I take it you all will be on the Kodiaks with your crews?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I’ll leave four of them here, to bring the Field Engineering and field Science students down if the scene is safe. I’ll leave one set up for medical and Flowers can fly it down, if that becomes needed.”
“Very well. We are about eight hours out, if we stick to the plan. We leave the Trough in two hours. Drake, M’rizx, set up what you need. Mr. Martin, please take the Conn and give the Old Girl her legs, she needs to run. I’ll be meeting with the different department heads next.”
* * *
A/N: Lurker posting something HFY for the first time. A rough draft of something bigger I'm slowly working on.
submitted by 17_Bart to HFY [link] [comments]

Gravity's Rainbow Reading Group | Sections 66-69 | Week 20

Alright, home stretch foax. This section's a beast. Hang in there and keep sharing your insights! All together now...
Section 66
"You will want cause and effect. All right." (663) What an opening - it's almost confrontational, mocking our need for clear narrative structure and causality.
We discover that Thanatz was tossed overboard in the same storm that sent Slothrop off the Anubis and off on his adventure with Frau Gnahb. Thanatz is rescued by someone even stranger - an unnamed Polish undertaker (think on the etymology of that word) who happens to be a lightening aficionado. I'll stop here and comment that, earlier, when Slothrop fell into the water before and after getting on the Anubis, it brought to mind the river Styx in Hades - another underworld. It washes clean one's identity and memory. Makes you forget who you are. And there's traditionally a ferryman, Charon, to help people cross it. Can't help but think that's who saved Thanatz here, carrying him from the land of the dead to the land of the unliving, the preterite detritus of WWII.
(An aside: Speaking of Styx, has anyone listened to Mr. Roboto recently? That song has some Gravity's Rainbow vibes.)
Our undertaker here is inspired by the Franklin myth and is trying to get struck by lightening in order to experience that "singular point, [that] discontinuity in the curve of life" (664) passing from a rate of change of positive infinity to one of negative infinity in the blink of an eye. Seems there's something of a conspiracy among those who have been through this point of infinite inflection - a secret society of lightening heads who are aware not of another reality but of a new layer of reality laid on top of our own. Insight into a higher level of reality, of hidden systems.
We get an example of the content of the lightning-aficionado's publication A Nickel Saved and it's supposedly full of coded messages for Those Who Know, each part being a veiled reference to other topics that contain the true meaning, requiring a true paranoid's ability to see (make?) connections. For example, there are repeated mentions of April, Easter, and Spring - the season of rebirth. To an Amperage Contest and lightbulbs failing - Byron the Bulb's attempts to strike back, perchance? A screen-door salesman - what is a screen door except a permeable interface?
But our undertaker isn't interested in secret knowledge - he just wants to be a better businessman - and he deposits Thanatz on the shore and rows back off into the storm. Here, Thanatz meets a group of 175s - men formerly imprisoned in the Dora camp for being gay - who have formed their own solitary community in this isolated section of northern Germany.
I suspect some of this imagery may initially shock readers - concentration camp victims who want to return to their prison? Who set up their own 175-Stadt to recreate the conditions of their imprisonment? But think about it - just last section, we saw Katje, someone who's been used and abused by those in power, balk at the thought of being truly free because she had become dependent on systems of control. She had integrated those control systems as part of her identity, her sense of self. "She needs the whip," Blicero wrote of her (662). Just like Katje, these men became so conditioned to depend on a system of total control and rigid social hierarchies that they don't know how to function without it. Their 175-Stadt doesn't seem like such a ridiculously dark, inappropriate caricature now, does it? Because isn't that a central point of this book - that everyone has been conditioned to need control, to need Their System, to not know how to function without it? Slothrop was our perfect everyman from within this system, and look at what it took for him to actually be free (and even then, the ideal of America still has a colonial outpost in his head). But in their 175-Stadt, these men at least control their system of control. They built it, they staff every level of it, and it's entirely under their control. An isolated state, separate from the broader System. But is there a ruler in this system, a king? No, simply the figment of Blicero. His name, his specter, looming over everything. A system of control with no real king? We've seen that before.
Not only that, but this micro-society is not based strictly on the SS command from Dora, but what the prisoners inferred about the rocket command structure in the Mittelwerke. So even their "recreation" of their imprisonment is an approximation of a different system. I'd also stop here to comment that, is this imagery really as ridiculous/insane as it first appears? I'd say no, since the queeS&M community absolutely took inspiration from Nazi uniforms as symbols of dominance and control, repurposing it into fetishwear. But then, as in this 175-Stadt, the control is by choice, as is the submission. As we've seen elsewhere in this book (Blicero's Oven-State), turning submission into a fetish can be a form of rebellion, since it subverts Their means of control (fear of pain) and turns it into a source of pleasure. Is it truly control if you're choosing it? Enjoying it? No one said this book asks easy questions of its readers...
Thanatz keeps looking for answers, and gets swept up amidst the vast swarms of preterite Displaced Persons being shifted across the zone. What's concerning is that these supposedly-free, albeit displaced, people, are shuffled without purpose across the Zone, with minimal food, water, or medicine, being "herded into wire enclosure[s]" and shipped around in freight cars, "deloused, poked, palpated, named, numbered, consigned, invoiced, misrouted, detained, ignored" (669). It's almost impossible to miss the painful similarity here to the treatment of Jews and other victims of the Holocaust. Only here the mistreatment isn't out of some pathological hatred, simply a system without a place for so many people, and without the committed resources to actually, effectively help them. The thought is unsettling, since we like to imagine that only Naziesque hatred could prompt such brutal mistreatment, not apathy.
Finally, he's rescued by the Schwarzkommando thanks to his knowledge of Blicero and the firing of Rocket 00000. Here, we learn a bit more about what happened that day. Looking into Blicero's eyes, he saw windmills reflected, though none were in the area. Another four-way mandala, like we saw last week with Slothrop. Thanatz isn't in great mental shape by this point, and he's beginning to equate Gottfried and Bianca both as his children. Why? Because he felt some sense of responsibility to them? Because he failed them? Either way, the Schwarzkommando learn all they need from him about that fateful noon on the Heath, though we do not. The section ends with a simple touch of hands between Enzian and Christian, a moment of connection, of trust.
Section 67
Man, how do I even start summarizing this complete doozy of a section? As Weissenburger writes, "In this episode the narration begins to fragment." (344) Ya don't say... Well, here goes.
We being one serious trip of a section with Slothrop, as part of a rather unimpressive team of quasi-superheros (the "Floundering Four") fighting against evil ol' Broderick Slothrop amidst the factory-state (a Metropolis-like iteration of the Rocket-State with movable buildings?!). Broderick, in the role of comic book supervillain, keeps trying to off Slothrop, but our hero has a lucky streak just wide enough to keep him alive.
Right off the bat, we see another image of the chessboard - the whole factory-state is laid out in a grid, and it's all A Game of Chess, as der Springer already informed us, and our movements are limited. Crucially, "Your objective is not the King - there is no King - but momentary targets such as the Radiant Hour." (674) How can you win at chess when there's no King? How can the land be restored and the cycle renewed if there's no King to die and be replaced?
Slothrop is joined by a truly slipshod lot: Myrtle Miraculous, the only one who seems to have actual powers; Maximilian, a suave Black club manager who can flow with all natural rhythms and thus able to navigate any scenario with ease, and Marcel, a mechanical chess player (an embodiment of the Mechanical Turk, but crucially, one without the hidden human operator. No hidden Grandmaster lurking inside Marcel here - nope, this android's the real deal.
This section includes one of my favorite quotes from the book: "Decisions are never really made - at best they manager to emerge, from a chaos of peeves, whims, hallucinations and all-round assholery." (676) I can think of several times where I've been able to relate to that scenario all too well.
Their chances for success and failure are equal, but these opposing odds don't cancel each other out - instead, the two opposing forces just create a "loud dissonance". The crew undertake some truly hallucinatory adventures through the Racketen-Stadt which I will not attempt to summarize, as that would be an exercise in futility. But we are treated to flashes of Slothrop, "Broderick and Nalline's shadow-child, their unconfessed, their monster son," (677) getting locked in an icebox, piloting a mobile building through the grid-streets of the factory-state like a giant chess piece. One line really jumps out at me, here, that I think is important: "Their struggle is not the only, or even the ultimate one. Indeed, not only are there many other struggles, but there are also spectators, watching, as spectators will do, hundreds of thousands of them." (679) Makes me think of the "glozing neuters," mentioned earlier - of the masses of people who are just trying to live their lives, neither part of any conspiracy nor actively aware of being subject to one. Must be nice. At the same time, the idea of other, simultaneous struggles, is noteworthy - it brings to mind the concept of intersectionality, and how people realizing their unique, individual struggles share common sources, and common traits, which they can work together to fight.
We end this sub-section in an arena for these exact masses, where our heroes are on a stakeout, with Slothrop in full drag waiting in the Transvestites' Toilet for a message.
You may be wondering about the multiple instances of cross-dressing, in various iterations, throughout the book. Slothrop in drag and Blicero in a wig and merkin come to mind. One aspect, I'd say, is that it reflects a blending of two (as far as society is generally concerned) binary opposites. A crossing-over, a transgression against the status quo and an option other than 1 or 0.
Eliot, in his Notes on The Waste Land, wrote,
"Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a 'character', is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest. Just as the one-eyed merchant, seller of currants, melts into the Phoenician Sailor, and the latter is not wholly distinct from Ferdinand Prince of Naples, so all the women are one woman, and the two sexes meet in Tiresias. What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem." (Emphasis mine).
Cue Crutchfield the Westwardman's world of only one of everything. Likewise, the women in Gravity's Rainbow often blend together, share traits or imagery. So do the men. The joining of the two sexes in Blicero, as well as Slothrop here at the end, is significant.
The Low-Frequency Listeners
The introduction here of the character of Rohr, the Keeper of the Antenna, specifically as a Jehovah's witness, was odd. It's such a specific subsect of Christianity. Then we see - he heard a man on the radio, dying, asking for a priest. Rohr says, "Should I have got on and told him about priests? Would he've found any comfort in that?" (682). In what? I had to look it up, but when I did, it clicked - Jehovah's witnesses apparently do not have priests, because they are all ordained. There is no separate priest caste in their church, and thus no Preterite/Elect division. In this section, we also learn that the Nuremberg trials are getting underway.
Mom Slothrop's Letter to Ambassador Kennedy
You start to feel even more sorry for Slothrop as you realize just how terrible his parents apparently were. His mom cares enough to at least write another letter asking Ambassador Kennedy as to what the hell happened to their son, but her letter quickly devolves into drunken ramblings complaining about striking workers and managing to make an innuendo about Jack Kennedy while also dismissing her love of her sons. Oof. Maybe Otto was right with his conspiracy of mothers...
On the Phrase "Ass-Backwards"
An entertaining linguistic debate between Säure and Slothrop on American idioms, specifically ones involving a reversal, as in the case of "ass-backwards". The section then slips into a story of Säure, in his youth, breaking into the home of a young woman, Minnie, who is unable to hear or pronounce umlauted letters, and thus manages to shout the word "helicopter" rather than "cute robber" well before the vehicle was ever invented. Her cry is heard by none other than a young aerodynamics student. The word is taken as a prophesy and a warning of the helicopter's symbol of the police state, with armed officers hanging out the sides, aiming down at their targets.
My Doper's Cadenza
It begins with a serenade from Bodine, and then an exploration of the tenement building "Der Platz" that is home to numerous drug addicts, dope peddlers, and general ne'er-do-wells. They are building an anti-police moat around the building, entirely underground so as to avoid detection, saving breaking through the street for the end.
Shit 'n' Shinola
Another idiomatic diversion for Säure. A beautiful line is tucked away in here - "from outside, the Hall is golden, the white gold precisely of one lily-of-the-valley petal in 4 o'clock sunlight, serene, at the top of an artificially-graded hill." (687) This building, the Schein-Aula (Seeming-Hall), suggests "persistence, through returns of spring, hopes for love, melting snow and ice, academic Sunday tranquillities, smells of grass just crushed or cut or later turning to hay..." (688) Yet again, imagery of spring, of a return to life from the dead season of winter, of the cycle.
We return to the Roseland Ballroom, where shit 'n' Shinola do actually come together. "Shit, now, is the color white folks are afraid of. Shit is the presence of death, not some abstract-arty character with a scythe but the stiff and rotting corpse itself inside the whiteman's warm and private own asshole, which is getting pretty intimate. That's what that white toilet's for.... that white porcelain's the very emblem of Odorless and Official Death." (688) Here Pynchon cuts straight to the point - the almost pathological fear of death and its connections to fears of blackness, excrement. Shit, Death, and the Word. Edwin Treacle hit on this back on p. 276 when he tried to show his colleagues at the White Visitation "that their feelings about blackness were tied to feelings about shit, and feelings about shit to feelings about putrefaction and death." The cycle of life is too organic, too messy. Better to replace carbon with silicon, to hide shit with porcelain, to treat people with dark skin as "other" or sub-human to avoid acknowledging that their non-European, communal ways of life were, in fact, totally natural.
An Incident in the Transvestites' Toilet
Not King Kong, but a small, costumed ape comes up to Slothrop, who's wearing a Fay Wray dress while waiting in the bathroom for a still-unspecified message. We get a Miltonic blank-verse poem (thanks, Weissenburger!) about the movie King Kong, written in the voice of Anne Darrow (Fay Wray's character). It's honestly quite good - I love the line "in your own stone living space" - the internal rhyme there sounds really nice, and I like the riff on living stone / Livingston, both of which have popped up previously. In the poem, Darrow talks about when she was tied up, hung by the natives as an offering to "the night's one Shape to come" (689), echoing both Greta Erdman's scene in Alpdrücken and the Hanged Man card of the Tarot (willing sacrifice, sacrifice that prompts a return, a renewal of the cycle). Darrow says she prayed, "not for Jack," her suave costar, but for her director Carl Denham, "only him, with gun and camera... making the unreal reel / By shooting at it, one way or the other-" (689). Throughout GR, we've seen a film motif, and this really brings it home. The analogy of a gun to a camera, both of which make the unreal real (a camera creates films that interpret real life - the "unreal reel", a gun makes death, which we've blocked away and tried to avoid, real and inescapable). The director is in control of the movie, the actors, the story, of how it works and what is told. Darrow ends by asking Carl to "show me the key light, whisper me a line..." - a key light is used in cinema and photography to not just shed light on the subject, but to do so in a way that provides form and dimension to the subject and the scene. So Darrow is asking for the director to literally give her form and definition, to tell her what to say next.
This ape, though, isn't so Romantic as ol' Kong though, and is much more direct. It hands Slothrop an anarchist's bomb straight out of the comics pages, and takes off. Slothrop freezes and is saved by a helpful transvestite who takes the bomb and flushes it down the toilet. But it explodes anyway, sending geysers of water up out of all the toilets. A Voice comes out of he Loudspeaker informing everyone that it was, in fact, a sodium bomb that explodes upon contact with water. Tellls everyone to get the "dangerous maniac" who threw it. That was supposed to be Slothrop, but he was saved by his indecision and the kindness of a stranger, who is now set upon by the other occupants of the toilet.
A Moment of Fun with Takeshi and Ichizo, the Komical Kamikazes
We now jump to a pair of comically-mismatched Kamikaze pilots stationed on a remote island well away from any conflict. One flies a Zero, the other flies an "Ohka device" which is basically a rocket-bomb with a pilot's seat. They get moonshine from their radarman, Kenosho, who mocks them daily for the lack of opportunities to fly to their deaths and who comes up with haikus that, while in the right format, really miss the heart of what a haiku is supposed to be.
Streets
Back to Slothrop, now, and a catalogue of the streets he's traveled down and what he's seen. We get a meditation on the absurdity of army chaplains, who worked for the Army and "stood up and talked to the men who were going to die about God, death, nothingness, redemption, salvation." (693) And it does seem a bit absurd when you consider that the Army that employs the chaplains is the same entity sending the men off to die. We see a bus driver (perchance our maniac bus driver from earlier?) driving through town in the night, his passengers looking out the windows, their faces "drowned-man green, insomniac, tobacco-starved, scared, not of tomorrow, not yet, but of this pause in their night-passage, of how easy it will be to lose, and how much it will hurt..." (693) Going back to the Waste Land, the phrase "I do not find / The Hanged Man. Fear death by water." is symbolic of a death without return (drowning) contrasted to the sacrifice/return symbolized by The Hanged Man. These poor passengers, it seems, aren't to expect any return.
Slothrop also, at this point, learns of the bombing of Hiroshima from a discarded Army newspaper, the photo of the atomic blast placed in poor taste next to an image of a pin-up girl. The bomb's mushroom cloud is compared to the Cross, to a capital-T Tree. But which tree? Is this a meditation on the deadly, unforgettable knowledge of how to split the atom, or of the tree of life, with the citizens of Hiroshima as a sacrifice made... but to what? I'm honestly not sure. Would love your thoughts.
Listening to the Toilet
As others have noted, this book in many ways is about the drug counterculture and hippie movement of the 60s/early 70s. This is the most overt in this section, in which we learn that listening for the cessation of the flow of water to the toilet in the pipes is a cue that a police raid is imminent - shutting off the water being a way to prevent the flushing of illicit substances. But it takes a special ear to hear the cessation of a subtle, pervasive white noise. What if the sun, in fact, massive furnace that it is, emits a constant, low-level roar that is so incessant we don't even hear it? What if eddies in the current of the Soniferous Aether cause rare spots of true quiet, where the noise is no longer transmitted and anyone in that spot can hear their own heartbeat it's so quiet? Interestingly, there are "quiet rooms" designed to absorb nearly all sound, used for precise sound calibration. I remember reading that most people can't sit in one of those rooms for more than 30 minutes or so because it's literally so quiet that you can hear the blood flowing through your veins, and people have even reported auditory hallucinations as a result. But why this digression? Maybe because we need to be asking what other white noise is out there that we've become completely deaf to? I think Roger and Jessica found a pocket of this quiet, early in the book, where the "noise" of modern society and all its associated obligations was muted by the War.
Witty Repartee
A return to our Komical Kamikazes, and a meditation on the ubiquity of the Hotchkiss machine gun across nations, independent of alliances. We get an image of a false King - an inbred idiot lying naked in a dumpster, attracting the attention of potential revolutionaries. But they can't decide if he's "a diversionary nuisance planted here by the Management, or whether he's real Decadent Aristocracy to be held for real ransom" (698). While the would-be revolutionaries are debating in the alley, sentries with the aforementioned Hotchkiss guns take positions on the rooftops, aiming down...
Heart-to-Heart, Man-to-Man
A dialogue here between Slothrop and ol' Broderick, with dear old dad interrogating his wayward son about a modern electric drug. Slothrop reassures him that he'd never shoot raw electricity - no, they dope themselves with waves. Major pre-Cyberpunk vibes here, with Broderick warning "Suppose someday you just plug in and go away and never come back?" to which Tyrone replies, "What do you think every electrofreak dreams about? .... Maybe there is a Machine to take us away, take us completely, suck us out through the electrodes out of the skull 'n' into the Machine and live there forever.... We can live forever, in a clean, honest, purified Electroworld-" (699). Matrix, anyone? Not to mention the waves of radio, TV, etc. and the simple, episodic, controlled reality they offer. Pleasantville also comes to mind, with all its commentary on the shows of the era.
Some Characteristics of Imipolex G
We learn that Imipolex G is the first erectile plastic, stiffening in response to certain electronic stimuli. The potential of a layer of controlling wires just under the outer layer of Imipolex, making it a second skin - a synthetic interface. Alternately, there's the potential to control it via a projection of "an electronic 'image; analogous to a motion picture." (700)
My gods, I made it through this section...
Section 68
Tchitcherine now, dealing with a spook, Nikolai Ripov, from the Commissariat for Intelligence Activities. His pal Džabajev has run off with "two local derelicts" (700) and is impersonating Frank Sinatra and wooing the ladies of the Zone. We get the line, "While nobles are crying in their nights' chains, the squires sing. The terrible politics of the Grail can never touch them. Song is the magic cape." (701) - Seems another example of folks recognizing the game, the Grail quest, for what it was and checking out - deciding not to play and just enjoy themselves while the Elect lose sleep over the endless searching.
Ripov explains to Tchitcherine how "the basic problem... has always been getting other people to die for you." (701) Religion used to serve as an effective control for that reason - death isn't quite as scary if you think you're going to heaven. But modern society has moved on, and needs more secular sources of control, like a commitment to "History" as if you're part of some great narrative, sacrificing yourself for some imagined end-goal of what society is "supposed" to be.
Seems Tchitcherine was doping on Oneirine theophosphate. Wimpe, his dealer, argues that a man is "only real at the points of decision. The time between doesn't matter." (702) Points man again - the moment of decision, of choice, that splits the future in two. Points of control. Contrast that to:
"Datta: what have we given? / My friend, blood shaking my heart / The awful daring of a moment’s surrender / Which an age of prudence can never retract / By this, and this only, we have existed." (The Waste Land, Part V: What the Thunder Said - emphasis mine).
Both are arguing that it's these key moments, irreversible junctures in our lives that make us real. Not what comes next, not what people say about us, just our moments. Integrate those moments, run them fast enough (say 24 frames per second) and you might even approximate something close to a person...
We learn that Oneirine apparently leads to "the dullest hallucinations known to psychopharmacology" (703) - hauntings of the mundane, the almost-normal.
Tchitcherine's Haunting
Tchitcherine hallucinates that Ripov is interrogating him, and he becomes fixated on the question of whether or not he was supposed to die. Seems like part of him wants to believe in life after death, in some hope for meaning, which goes against the Soviet doctrine and thus isn't exactly endearing him to those above him. Thankfully this is just an Oneirine haunting, except... wait, it's too real - no subtle violations of reality. He tries to escape, but is outnumbered. But no execution for him here - just a reassignment to Central Asia. A cold and operational death.
Section 69
"The dearest nation of all is one that will survive no longer than you and I, a common movement at the mercy of death and time: the ad hoc adventure." - Resolutions of the Gross Suckling Conference (706)
In other words, they seek a nation that does not function independently of its citizens - one that is not some separate identity with a quasi-personhood (much like how corporations are legally "people"). Rather, a nation that is inextricably linked to the people and that will die when they do. No immortality, no denial of the cycle or death.
But poor Roger's still dealing with Jessica, and now with Jeremy, too, who he's at least amicable with. But he's struggling with their acceptance of the System, their embracing of it. Jeremy's all about reassembling the rockets and firing them, asking "What else does one do with a rocket?" (note how disassembling it or at least not using the weapon isn't even an option...).
Jeremy's even so kind as to invite Roger to a fancy dinner with a bunch of corporate bigwigs, including folks from Krupp, ICI, and GE, and hosted by one Stefan Utgarthaloki, whose name should be a giant red-flag that something's amiss with this shindig. Roger picks Seaman Bodine as his date, the two having struck up a rather theatrical friendship, dress in their absurdist best (Bodine in the mother of all zoot suits), and join the party.
We get some insight here into the nature of rebellions, and the danger of them not only fizzling out or failing, but of being co-opted as a tool to "help legitimize Them" (713). Of either dying or "living on as Their pet" - it brings to mind the corporate branding of "rebelliousness" as cool, as "a phase" that it's normal to go through and eventually grow up from. Treating the idealism of youth, the desire to make the world better and to fight against the problems of the system before you become numb to them, as a normal phase of life is such an effective way to neutralize it culturally. How many people have heard the phrase "you get conservative [i.e. more resistant to change] as you get older"? How many of us have seen youth-led movements being dismissed as examples of immaturity, for example? Between that and companies stamping their logo on it (hello, Hot Topic), it's a way to change the cultural narrative around any movement against the status quo to one that's dismissive, just accepting enough to let people burn off their energy and eventually fall into line. Because how else can you continue to live a decent life in a society that refuses to change? You either go build a shack in the woods somewhere, die, or acclimate to the system and just focus on being comfortable yourself, not constantly fighting for change. It's a depressing thought, and I'm sure Pynchon saw a lot of that attitude in the 60s. I have to wonder - do non-industrialized societies have "teenage rebellion" as a normal part of life? Is that a part of human nature, like we tend to think, or is it an explicit reaction to reaching maturity in a system that is anti-human and anti-nature?
Anyway, back to the dinner party - between the depressing, anti-social music (kazoos?!) and the lavish dinner, things seem fine, but there's a plot against the Roger and Bodine. Fortunately a journalist, Constance, tips off Bodine that they might just be the main course of this feast, so Bodine cues Roger to begin the evening show - an absurd gross-out session that they planned in advance with the aid of now-deceased Pudding communicating via medium Carroll Eventyr. The pair recite an increasingly disgusting list of alliterative dishes, triggering "well-bred gagging" and guests to flee, though a few find it all quite entertaining. But it's enough to break up the dinner party and allow our heroes to flee.
Note: If you made it this far, actually read all this, thank you. Bloom warned me this was a longer section, and boy, he wasn't kidding. I think this is longer than some college essays I wrote... Damn fun, though, and I hope you've found my thoughts informative, interesting, useful, or if nothing else, sufficiently diversionary for a spell. I truly look forward to seeing what you other fine foax have to say on these labrynthine sections.
Questions
  1. In the lightning-aficionado's "A Nickel Saved" excerpt, are there any other references or hidden ideas you can find? I have to think there are.
  2. What is the meaning of the windmill reflected in Blicero's eyes? How do you interpret the imagery in this scene in general?
  3. 175-Stadt. Oven-State. Hund-Stadt. Rocket-State. Factory-State. We've seen numerous examples of specialized micro-states across the Zone, experiments in different forms of society. What are your thoughts on these? Are they hints at ways to find alternate societies, or manifestations of humanity's tendency to divide by category and put of fences?
  4. In the "Shit 'n' Shinola" subsection, Pynchon connects Jack Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Tyrone Slothrop. What do you make of this intersection?
  5. In "Streets," the bombing of Hiroshima is presented as being similar to the Cross, "it is also, perhaps, a Tree..." - the capitalized "Tree" here could be the tree of knowledge, the tree of life, the tree from which the Hanged Man dangles, or perhaps something else. What's your interpretation of this imagery?
  6. In Section 69, we see references to the Albatross, famous symbol from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It's presented that Slothrop is the (now-plucked) albatross, but it's not clear who killed this bird, or who's wearing it around their neck. They? Any ideas?
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The Shoulders of Orion- Ch. 1: First Contact

Space-time rippled as the Horns of Glory snapped into real space. The normally smooth transition from FTL subspace travel back to the laws of relativity was instead dangerously jarring, as the inertial dampeners struggled to hold the innards of the massive warship in their proper places. After straining mightily for the briefest of moments, they failed, throwing Admiral Halon Va and the rest of his bridge crew violently into their restraining harnesses. The ship shuddered under the immense stress, then settled, drifting silently through space on minimal power.
“Tactical, get me a status report for the fleet on screen now. I want updates the instant ships jump in.” The Admiral’s voice was still firm and authoritative; it was taking every last shred of resolve he had to keep it that way. “Lieutenant Roshin, put a detail together and work with medical. I’m sure that re-entry caused more than a few extra injuries. Get as many of the crew patched up and ready for emergency action as fast as you can. I want a full casualty report as soon as possible. And if you find Science Officer Lentith and he’s still alive, send him to the bridge immediately.”
Admiral Va settled back into his command chair, drawing creaking sounds from the over-stressed frame as it absorbed the weight of his massive form. The bridge was completely silent now, the command crew entirely focused on the tasks at hand. Or they were too afraid to say anything; Va couldn’t be sure. He was thankful for their silence, though. He didn’t have any answers for them about his failure.
Keying in a few commands on the command panel at his station, the damage report for his ship popped up, the bridge lights flickering from the extra power draw. The Horns of Glory floated before him in hologram form. Long and slender, the ship was over two kilometers from bow to stern. At least, it had been a few hours ago. The forward 20 percent of the holographic ship was flashing red, indicating heavy damage. This was inaccurate, however, as the forward 20 percent of the ship simply wasn’t there anymore. The graceful lines and carefully crafted angles of the ship's armor were an unrecognizable slagged mess, and deep gouges had been cut into the inner decks all over the ship. Whole sections were missing amidships, two of the main reactors were offline, all the primary weapon batteries had been completely destroyed, and most of the critical systems were barely functioning. It was a miracle that she had survived the jump. That morning, Horns of Glory had been the greatest feat of Arien’Ra engineering, and it was now a barely functioning hulk.
And it had all happened under my command, thought Va.
He had no time to wallow in his failures, however, as at that moment tactical finally reconnected to the fleet command systems. The hologram of Horns of Glory quickly scaled down, appearing as a small, flashing, red point of light floating in loose formation with several other points of light. Most of them were flashing red as well. A constant stream of data and various reports scrolled down the right side of the hologram, listing in no uncertain terms the doom that Va had subjected his command to.
If Va had thought that the bridge was quiet before, it was nothing compared to the complete stillness that now settled over them. No one so much as moved a muscle, as they all sat in stunned silence, reading the reports. Occasionally, the hologram would flash, and a new point of light would join the formation, adding more data to the pile spelling out their damnation. After 30 ticks, new points of light had stopped appearing. Admiral Halon Va had lost over 60 percent of his fleet, and not a single other dreadnaught had survived the slaughter. His defeat was total, and the Federation navy was crippled.




Science Officer Beredarin Lentith had been the first member of his family not to enroll in command school in eight generations. They had been some of the finest members of the fleet the Vorqual race had ever contributed to the Federation. His brothers and sisters had all enrolled, which meant that as far as he was concerned, his family had more than fulfilled their duty to the Federation. Military life wasn’t for him, anyway; he wanted to explore. The Federation had been around for over 3000 years, and there were still vast swathes of the galaxy that they knew nothing about. They were still encountering new species every few hundred or so years, and there was nothing he wouldn’t give to find the next one. That had been the dream that directed him away from the military and into academia. The odds of actually finding a new race were so small, though. There were still at least 200,000,000 unexplored systems in the galaxy. There just wasn’t time to visit them all...
He snapped out of his reverie as he stepped over the body, or rather, what was left of the body, of a Zelnassi marine. Most of it was just a green stain on the corridor wall at this point, though there had been enough of the chitinous armored torso to partially obstruct his path. The young lieutenant quickly continued on towards the bridge.
If he was being honest with himself, becoming an expert on the area of unexplored space directly between the Federation and it’s largest military rival wasn’t the smartest of ideas. Between his family reputation and his unique knowledge base, he was just asking to get pressed into service.
Which was exactly what had happened immediately upon the recent outbreak of hostilities.
And now here he was stepping over corpses, marveling at the fact that he had somehow survived this long. He still couldn’t believe the insanity of the Dominion forces. Boarding an enemy ship MID-COMBAT. It was like something out of a youngling’s tale from before space travel. It was pure madness, but there were the bodies to prove that it had happened. He gingerly stepped around the remains of yet another Zelnassi.
The signs of battle continued all the way to the bridge, where he found security forces still holding quickly fortified positions around the bridge entrance. There were more Zelnassi bodies at their feet. Berendarin shuddered. He had been closer to death than he thought.
He quickly pushed those thoughts out of his mind. He could only imagine why he was needed on the bridge so urgently.
The door slid open, and Lentith walked into a completely silent room. Admiral Va was slouched at his command station, his enormous arm propped up on the chair arm and supporting his massive, horned head. Lentith didn’t even know that Arien’Ra COULD slouch. Nevermind that the fastidious Admiral could or would ever do such a thing. Maybe things were somehow worse than he thought. No one seemed to notice him enter, so he announced himself to the Admiral.
Though he didn’t shout, his voice echoed in the deathly silent room, startling most of the bridge command. Two of the other Vorqual officers swore, and the tiny Jezren manning the com station let out a high pitched sound somewhere between a squeak and chirp. Berendarin would have found it quite funny if the situation wasn’t so dire.
Admiral Va immediately snapped back to being the hulk of muscle and horn that imposed his will on a room just by being in it. His booming voice only added to his authority.
“Science Officer Lentith. I’m glad to see you’re still alive. Are you seriously injured?”
Berendarin had almost forgotten that he had walked the entire way to the bridge holding a bandage to his head just above his left eye. The drop out of subspace hadn’t been kind to him. He pulled the bandage away, revealing a dark orange stain on the bandage and a crack in the bone plate above his eye.
“I’m fine, sir, just one of the outer plates, and the bleeding has already stopped.”
“Good. Commander Vortith is currently overseeing the emergency repairs. Take his seat. You are going to help me find a way back home.”
“Sir? I’m sorry I don’t understand. Why don’t we just go back the way we came?”
“That’s not possible. Most of our supply ships and tenders were destroyed when that third wave of Dominion ships hit our flank. Almost all of our pre-prepared fuel reserves are gone. On top of that, some of our ships are so damaged that they don’t have another long jump in them. And if we run into any enemy ships, the whole rest of the fleet is done for. We barely qualify as a fighting force in the state we’re in.”
“Is it really that bad?”
“It’s worse, but we don’t have time to get into the details. You’re the expert on this section of the galaxy. I need you to find the fleet a hiding hole. Somewhere away from the known jump routes through the Spur. Any system where we can use the few miners we have left to scavenge up some fuel, and get some critical repairs done while we’re at it. And from there either wait for reinforcements or get ourselves patched up enough to limp home. Wherever it is, it needs to be close. I’m not leaving any ships behind because they can’t make the jump.”
“Oh. Just that?” The lieutenant knew that Arien’Ra were strict herbivores, but with the look that the Admiral shot him, he couldn’t help but think about the fact that his head would easily fit into that giant, molar filled mouth.
“And away from any known pirate hideaways. Like I said, our fleet can’t take any more fighting. And find it quickly. It won’t be long before the Dominion fleet locates us.”
“I. Uh. Sure. I’ll see what I can find.”
Berendarin shrank into the commander’s chair next to the enormous Arien’Ra, desperately wishing he had been more professional. If he had acted like a proper soldier, it might soften the blow of telling the Admiral that what he wanted was next to impossible. If he had a few weeks, he might be able to find something. So much of the Spur was still un-surveyed. The odds of there being anything useful to the Admiral in the databases was absurdly low, and there was even less of a chance he’d be able to find it in time for the information to matter. He began pouring through his notes anyway. It was better than waiting around to die, which, if the situation was as dire as the Admiral made it sound, was the only other option.
He spent the next hour lost in his notes, finding nothing, while the bridge crew went about piecing the ship and the fleet back together. The young scientist had all but given up on the Admiral’s impossible request when a raucous cheer went up from everyone on the command deck.
“Sir,” The coms officer called out, “The Consul’s Pride just dropped out of subspace and is hailing us, sir.
The main communication screen lit up, and Berendarin Lentith looked to see the face of his oldest sister on screen, strapped into the captain’s chair of her dreadnaught. He let out a sigh of relief; Baraquen was his favorite sibling. Her uniform was drenched in a deep orange blood stain at the shoulder, and she was covered in what looked like flecks of green gore from a Xelnassi. The artificial gravity was clearly malfunctioning, as the captain’s restraining harness was the only thing keeping her from floating around her bridge. But the bone plates of her jaw were turned as always into her calm, self assured smile
“My apologies for the delay in joining you, Admiral Va. We had some… guests shut down our drive mid jump. We had to deal with them before we rejoined the fleet. I assume there is a plan to get us back to federation space?”
“It’s good to see you in one piece, Captain Lentith,” the Admiral responded. He was barely able to keep the relief from his voice. “And there is indeed a plan.”
Berendarin returned to his research as the two ranking officers in the fleet went over the details of their current predicament. He was glad his sister had survived, and not just because they were close. It would have been a terrible blow to the whole family to have lost not only their future matriarch, but the ship she commanded as well. A member of his family had been commanding that dreadnaught uninterrupted for the last 5 generations. Military service had never appealed to Berendarin, but his family history was certainly still important.
And then the solution to the current problem hit him like a driver round. He let out a gasp and tore into his notes with a fervor. Both Admiral Va and his sister’s projection turned to look at him, but he didn’t notice. After a few seconds of curious silence from the rest of the onlookers, Berendarin practically jumped out of his seat.
“Admiral, I think I’ve got something that will work.” The young Lieutenant punched a few commands into his datapad, and a set of stellar coordinates popped up on the navigation terminal. “It’s a main sequence star, about 500 light years from us, fairly close to the edge of the Spur. It’s not anywhere near any established jump routes. The Consul’s Pride made me think of it.” He nodded towards his sister’s face on the ship's screen. “Our great, great grandsire took the Consul’s Pride through the system on her shakedown run a little over 300 cycles ago. Chased a band of Qorthi slavers out of the system. The outer four planets are all gas giants. If we can’t find Helium 3 there, I don’t know where else we should look.”
On screen, Captain Lentith looked impressed, but Admiral Va clearly didn’t seem too sure. “We’re supposed to be going away from Dominion forces, not into them. What were the Qorthi doing there?”
“There are also four rocky inner worlds in the system, Sir, according to reports from the encounter. Apparently, the third planet is a Class 7 Deathworld, and the Qorthi were running some experiments on the primitive lifeforms there. They were caught completely by surprise by the Consul’s Pride, and it was the first time that she fired her weapons in anger. I can’t find any reports of Dominion ships in that section of the Spur since.” There was a long pause before Va responded.
“Good work, Lieutenant. I knew my trust in you wasn’t misplaced.” Admiral Va replied, before turning to the rest of the bridge and booming “Coms! Tactical! Get those coordinates to every ship in the fleet. I want every ship we have left formed up and ready to jump as soon as possible. Any captain who feels that his drives can’t make the jump is to focus all repair efforts on getting their drives functioning immediately. I will transfer repair crews from less damaged ships to more damaged ships if that means we jump even a tick earlier. Get to it everyone. I’m not losing any more of my fleet today.”




The four revolution long jump to Science Officer Lentith’s newfound sanctuary had done wonders for Halon Va’s mental state. The initial shock of his fleet's terrible defeat had worn off, and he had been able to focus on what came next. Repair crews were able to stabilize most of his ship's core systems, and he was no longer worried about the life support systems cutting out and killing the rest of his crew. There had also been time for him to visit with the wounded. To thank them for their sacrifices. He had expected it to be an act of contrition, maybe even a chance to start begging for forgiveness. But there had been no anger in his crew, and no blame hung on his horns. Most had just been relieved that he had survived, and had expressed as much. He would be forever grateful to them for that.
Most importantly, the four revolutions in hyperspace had given the admiral time to really think about what had gone wrong in the nebula. He had barely rested in the preceding four revolutions, spending every scrap of spare time in his office, pouring over records from the battle. That’s where he found himself now, tucked behind his massive ceramic and titanium alloy desk of Tellarim design. It had been custom made for him upon his promotion to this command, a gift from the high admirals and the council. It was the only luxury that Va allowed in his office. The rest of Va’s space he kept strictly utilitarian. There were no trophies adorning his walls, as was customary for other members of his species. The plain bulkheads of his office were instead lined entirely with screens, and each of them were now filled with footage and reports from the battle, running on loop.
Va soaked it all in. The more he watched, the more a singular conclusion crystallized in his mind. He had done everything right; he was sure of that now. 1000 years of doctrine and theory for fighting the Dominion had gone into his preparation for that battle, and he had followed it to the letter. And he had been winning. Then that attack on his flank by the Zelnassi had blown all of that out of the airlock. Something significant had changed in the way the Dominion fought...
Commander Vortith’s voice rang out over the com system. ”Admiral Va, we’ll be transitioning back to real space in moments.”
“Thank you. I’ll be there shortly. And get Science Officer Lentith to the bridge. I want him nearby just in case. He’s the only one who has any idea of where we are.” The Admiral pulled himself from his desk. He would have to leave the rest of his analysis for later. There was just enough time for him to reach the bridge and settle into his command chair before the Horns of Glory snapped back to real space. This time, the inertial dampeners held.
“Tactical, status report.”
“All ships accounted for, Admiral. Though the Consul’s Pride, several cruisers, and three of our escorts are all reporting massive failures in their Drive Cores. They won’t be jumping anywhere anytime soon.”
“Wonderful.” Va wasn’t sure if he meant that sarcastically or not. “Get scans up and running and deploy the pickets that aren’t crippled in a standard scouting formation. How close are we to the nearest gas giant?”
“We’re approximately half a light tick from the system’s innermost gas giant, sir.”
“Excellent. Deploy the rest of the fleet. Put us in a high orbit around the planet in a defensive formation, and get our miners working immediately. Once our orbit is stable, I want every hand, paw and hoof in the fleet working on repairs.”
“Yes sir.”
Admiral Va settled into his command chair for a long shift.
It would be a drawn out, boring process to refuel the ships. With his fleet limping along, and only two functioning miners, it would take far longer than it should. After all the chaos of the last few revolutions, boring would be a welcome change of pace. Va started to relax, sinking into his chair’s acceleration padding. His fleet and his crews were finally safe. The first priority would be to get one of the subspace beacons repaired and to get word back to the Federation that the fleet still existed. And hopefully call for aid. He was sure to be stripped of his rank as soon as contact was made, but hopefully he would avoid a Tribunal. That was an unpleasant prospect…
“Sir, we have unidentified ship signatures appearing from around the planet we’re approaching.”
Va had never heard panic in the voice of his young sensors officer before, but it was certainly there now. Va understood the sentiment, though. He found it difficult to keep the panic from his own voice as he started issuing orders
“Bring the fleet up to combat status immediately. How many ships are there?”
“I’m showing 35 individual signatures. All approaching us at combat speed and still accelerating. At current speeds, they will intercept us in just over 30 ticks, sir.”
“I want details as soon as you have them, Lieutenant. Size, make, estimated firepower. Who they are. And keep scanning the system. Find out where they came from.” The panic had partially subsided for Va. 35 unknowns was not too terrible a threat. He still had almost 240 warships under his command. Still, if there was a way to avoid combat, he had to try. His fleet couldn’t suffer any more losses. “Coms, any attempt by these unknown ships to contact us?”
“I”m not sure, sir,” the diminutive Jezren at the coms replied. “There’s nothing on standard communications channels. The ships are transmitting something, but I can’t figure out what it is.”
“Admiral,” the Lieutenant at the sensors station called out. “I think I might have an idea of where these ships came from. Preliminary scans show there is extensive urbanization on the third and fourth planets, as well as what appear to be habitation sized artificial satellites around the second and sixth planets. One of the moons of the gas giant we’re approaching shows signs of habitation as well. All of them are emitting significant signal pollution. This system clearly already belongs to someone, and they’re broadcasting everywhere.”
Halon Va, High Admiral of the Combined Federation Fleets, turned, slowly and with as much composure as he could muster, to face the young science officer seated to his left. Berendarin sat, mouth agape, staring transfixed at the sensor readouts in front of him. Va had never seen a Vorqual more confused in his life. “I want answers, Officer Lentith.”
“I… I don’t.. This doesn’t make any sense,” the young science officer stammered. “There shouldn’t be anything here.”
“Admiral,” The comms officer cut in, “The signal that we’re picking up from the unknown ships is definitely some kind of communication. I managed to put together audio from it.”
“Play it,” commanded Va. A series of short, guttural, and completely unintelligible sounds came over the speakers in reply. There was a short pause before the sounds repeated themselves again. “Coms, what was that?”
“No idea, sir, but it’s being transmitted on loop. If it is intended as a communication, our translators have no idea what to do with it.”
“Admiral.” The voice came from Va’s left, and was barely audible. Va turned yet again to look at the young science officer. His gaze was locked on the tactical readout, and there something in his eyes that Va couldn’t recognize. A mixture of pure terror and something else. Was it wonder? The young Vorqual’s voice was still barely above a whisper when he continued to address the admiral: “I think we should run the transmission through First Contact Protocols.”




Captain Benjamin Alvarez-León slammed against his restraining harness as the USCS Aurora started it’s decel burn. He had pushed the engines on the outdated cruiser to their limits, and the ship groaned in protest as it started counteracting his rather zealous acceleration orders. He hoped that his mad scramble with his small squadron of outdated ships had been an overreaction. The alternative was something he’d rather not think about.
All Ben had was the reserves; the rest of the fleet was on maneuvers at Sirius. The Admiralty had wanted to test the new, fully modernized fleet’s maneuvering abilities in the gravwell of a binary system. And, in their infinite wisdom, they decided they needed ALL of the new fleet assets, leaving nothing in Sol except for the handful of cruisers and escorts that couldn’t match the capabilities of the modern ships.
A handful of cruisers and escorts that were now hurtling towards more than 200 unknown contacts.
It was the unknown part of all of this that was unnerving Ben. There were no familiar energy signatures. No familiar scan data. No IFF. No signals coming off the contacts of any kind for that matter. Two of the contacts were too big to even be ships. If it wasn’t for the fact that they were moving towards Jupiter in formation, Ben wouldn’t even think they WERE ships.
“So what do you think, Alexi?” Ben asked, turning towards his second in command. “You and the rest of the bridge crew are always making inane bets. Have you whipped up an over-under for what we’re throwing ourselves at yet?”
“Haven’t had time,” came the quick reply from Ben’s right. The short, stocky man from Vladivostok was missing his trademark joviality. “Though, my money is on them being Ithacan, sir.”
Ben bristled at Alexi calling him sir. They’d been friends for twenty years, damnit, and had been practically joined at the hip since going through the Academy together. Outranking him still felt a little off. Now was hardly the time to worry about formalities, though.
“What makes you think they're from Ithaca?”
“It’s the only thing that makes sense. The locals have been getting increasingly radical, and Ithaca is the only sector where reports of piracy have been increasing.”
“Yeah, I could see a rebellion coming from Ithaca,” Ben added slowly, turning over that scenario in his head. “But there’s no way they could swing something of this magnitude. There aren’t even any shipyards in the sector. And even if there were, there’s no way they could keep the construction of over two hundred ships a secret.”
Alexi could only offer him a shrug in response.
It was at that moment that the coms station informed him there was a transmission incoming from the unidentified ships. Ben instructed the ensign to play it, and the bridge was suddenly filled with a stream of grotesque bleating noises and strange grunts, with the occasional recognizable syllable interspersed throughout the transmission. Ben thought he picked out ‘dentify’ from the mess, but he wasn’t sure. There was a long moment of silence on the bridge.
“What the hell was that?”
When no one had any answers for him, Ben tapped his command console and recorded a new message to broadcast.
“This is Captain Alvarez of the USCS Aurora. Unidentified ships, please clarify. Your transmission is badly garbled. We did not receive your identification. You are still trespassing in Commonwealth space and are on an unauthorized course towards Jupiter. Begin decelerating immediately and re-identify yourselves.”
He wouldn’t admit it to the crew, but Ben was profoundly unsettled. Something was deeply, deeply wrong about this whole situation. Not only was he vastly outnumbered by these things, but they were unwilling to communicate properly. He was almost believing this whole thing was some kind of bizarre prank.
“How much longer before we can get a decent visual on these things?
“Any moment now, sir.”
A new transmission arrived just then, and Ben had it played back immediately. This time, instead of almost bovine bleats and grunts, the sounds coming over the speakers were mostly intelligible. Or, they would have been, if any of the syllables were in the right order. It was almost like a toddler was rattling off all of his new favorite sounds, spitting them out in a random order and not knowing how they went together. There were still a few heavy grunts sprinkled in, just for good measure.
Before Ben could process this new joke of a transmission, the contacts finally started slowing. In a matter of moments, the strange wall of contacts was hanging lazily in Jupiter’s orbit, barely moving fast enough to keep their orbit from decaying. They were still in perfect formation.
“Huh. Well, I guess that’s something.”
With nothing to do but sit back and wait as his ship closed the distance, Ben tried to relax and began running over all of the possibilities in his mind of what the new contacts could be. He came up with nothing. Well, nothing feasible, anyway. He took a series of long, calming breaths, trying to clear his mind and focus. This was no time for his imagination to be running wild. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that logic was failing him. Something was off. Something…
“Captain, bringing visual of the unknown contacts up on screen now.”
Ben actually felt his jaw drop. Every contact on his display was clearly a ship. Most were long and spindly, wrapped in layers of some kind of highly reflective armor; a fleet of crystalline arrows hanging in the darkness. The two largest contacts, which Ben had just moments ago thought were too big to be ships, were large enough on the screen for him to clearly see details. In addition to their immense size and strange armor, both ships were dotted with what were clearly weapons platforms, though what kind, Ben couldn’t tell.
Noticeably, almost all of the ships on his screen were heavily damaged. Chunks were missing from some ships, and most had deep lines gouged into their hulls. Any form of decorative paint or markings had been burned away. Something had put these ships through absolute hell. But still, the damage could not take away entirely from the elegance of the ship’s designs. They were graceful and sleek, completely different from anything Ben had ever seen before.
It was all so different. So strange. So very, very… Alien.
Despite every effort he had made to avoid the word, it finally forced itself to form inside Ben’s mind, and forced him to acknowledge the reality that legitimate, extra-Solar life was hanging in the darkness in front of him. It forced him to acknowledge the screams he had been suppressing in the back of his mind. The screams of his imagination crying out in glorious triumph over reality. And with those screams came a deluge of accompanying thoughts and emotions.
He was a child again, staring up at the stars above Armstrong and wondering what else, and who else, was out there. He was a teen again, signing his name to the Academy enrollment paperwork, determined to get out there between the stars and see the galaxy himself. He was a young officer again, screaming and pleading with the Admiralty to at least consider a modern First Contact scenario. He was sitting in his command chair now, hurtling towards honest-to-god aliens, all of his dreams made manifest in an instant. He was overwhelmed. He was terrified.
And he had never imagined that he could feel such elation.
It was the young warrant officer at the coms that snapped Ben out of his reverie. “Sir, the contacts are hailing us on all standard channels, requesting a video feed.” She sounded very, very nervous.
Ben immediately stood up, straightening his uniform as best he could. “If they’re anything less than genocidal monsters, I’m going to offer them aid and repairs. As long as they’re peaceful, there’s no reason not to extend them the full hospitality of humanity.”
“Ben,” Alexi asked, clearly choosing his words carefully, “Are you sure that’s the… Wisest course of action? How will the Admiralty respond to Goddamned alien ships docking at Hephaestus?”
“Alexi, in the 250 years the Commonwealth has existed, the First Contact protocols haven’t been updated since the charter was signed. No one has cared. This has been nothing but a fantasy for most people. I am NOT letting this opportunity get away. Every child that has ever looked up at the stars and wondered finally got an answer, and I will not waste this moment. We’re making friends, the Admiralty and the government be damned.”
“You do realize you’re potentially deciding the fate of our entire species on a whim, right?”
“Is there someone else you’d prefer to have making this call?”
Alexi, apparently deciding that there was not, stood up and straightened his uniform, standing next to his friend as he ordered the connection of the video feed. The channel connected, and the human bridge crew found themselves looking at the bridge of a ship crewed by not one, but three alien races.
The largest alien in the center of the screen opened its mouth to speak. This time, instead of bleats and grunts, a choppy, mechanical voice that didn’t sync up to the alien at all proclaimed from the bridge speakers in broken, stuttering English: “I. Am Admiral. Halon. Va. Of the Federation of. Sentient Races. Greetings and. Welcome. To the. Galaxy.”
Ben couldn’t suppress his smile.
“On behalf of the United Solar Commonwealth, and all of Humanity, greetings, and welcome to Sol. Your ships look like they’ve had a bad time on your way here. If there’s any way we could aid with your repairs, we’d be happy to help.”




Slave 782 slammed his right appendage onto the control console hard enough to rupture his outer membrane and smear ichor over the panel. It had been four days since the battle in the nebula, and with the latest round of reports, he finally had to admit that the rest of the Federation fleet had escaped him.
It was a minor frustration, all things considered, but the escape prevented this from being a total victory. Still, he had proven his worth to his owners in this battle, and his experiments with the Zelnassi had paid dividends beyond his wildest imagination. He had earned a command today, and with every success in that command, his ability to bargain for his people's freedom only increased. For what he would be asking, it might take the total defeat of the Federation to earn that kind of leverage. Also frustrating, but not a task that he couldn’t handle. It would be a long war, he was sure, but like his owners, he was patient.
He would earn his freedom, even if it meant reducing the entire Federation to glass.


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submitted by STATICinMOTION to HFY [link] [comments]

Hot Tub Hawk And The Pissed Off Colonel

Well! Here we are again. Everyone is sitting around this internet campfire, anxiously awaiting another Hawk story. Some of you are making S'mores. Others have crammed a stick into a hotdog and are now roasting it. I "Cope" with life and have a fat dip in. The only person I don't see is Hawk. Wait. There he is, and he keeps sticking his fingers into the fire to, "make sure it's still hot." I wonder if there is still a need to detail how mentally deficient or completely oblivious Hawk is? I strongly encourage you to read my previous stories if you have not been formally introduced to Hawk. I suspect you will continue to read anyways, so I offer you this: Hawk is the type of guy that gets into a spelling argument with his tattoo artist and walks out proud of his two-inch sized font forehead tattoo that reads "No Regerts."
We were in beautiful Iraq, a charming vacation destination for thousands of Americans. The vacation was all inclusive. The local women dressed like Pac-Man ghosts or ninjas, and countryside smelled like raw sewage and regret. Most of the locals were very hospitable, but some of the locals had a very strong desire to shout, "Praise Allah" while simultaneously trying to kill us. I am not bothered by much. Every human is entitled to their beliefs. We are also entitled to our own opinions. For example, I don't personally feel "man-dresses" and flip-flops are suitable combat attire, but who am I too judge? The only time I have an issue with people is when they are actively trying to kill me. I don't know why, but it really pisses me off. That and grape jelly.
We worked out of two different locations during this deployment. The majority of my Battalion worked out of a medium-sized Forward Operating Base (FOB), but we also operated out of a smaller FOB. We typically stayed at this other location for about ten days, and would rotate with another Platoon. The location was not horrible, but I personally hated the transient lifestyle. We lived out of our ruck-sacks, and had to find ways to occupy our time when we were not conducting raids or other missions. We didn't have the luxuries we had at "home." There were no gaming systems or large televisions. We simply had find ways to occupy ourselves.
Football was the game of choice for a couple weeks, then it got blacklisted. It had nothing to do with the ball being pigskin either. It was mostly due to poor mission analysis. Football was one of the few things we could all do and actually enjoyed, until it was too dark to play. We had a brilliant and genius idea. We fucking "own the night" with our Night Vision Goggle (NVGs), so why don't we rent it for a couple hours to finish the game? Game on Garth! We thought of everything. We drenched that infidel ball in Infrared (IR) chemlight (Glow Stick) juice. The depth perception problem was immediately evident. House took a fucking laser beam pass to the to the face. Two black eyes builds character though.
We can work through it though. His NVGs were still Fully Mission Capable (FMC), and we all realized that we needed to be a bit quicker. The fourth play from scrimmage was undoubtedly the best, and worst football play in the history of Iraq football. Fuck punting. We were going for it. It would have been easy to confuse Tony, our quarterback for Michael Vick from the shotgun. Tony was a Michael Vick with NVGs, and without the dog fighting felony. Tony evaded numerous rushers and then superbly delivered a fifty yard completion to Ryan. It was beautiful to watch, until it wasn't. NVG's are great, but they don't offer the same Field of View (FOV) your eye-nuggets offer. Ryan thought he was all alone and started a leisurely stroll to the end-zone. The he got fucking nuked from the top and bottom, in fucking reverse directions. Sure, Ryan broke a finger and required "some" stitches. Oh and they broke three sets of NVGs in one play, but damn that was a glorious fucking hit. It was first-and-ten, but our Platoon Sergeant was less than happy. Game off Wayne!
We were now bored again. There was another unit on the FOB with us, but they were not fans of us. The only real interaction we had was when their full-bird Colonel told us to, "stay the fuck away from his Soldiers." I don't know if one of the other Platoons ruined it for us, but the guy was just a complete prick to us.
We did our best to keep our reverse schedule, but it was just so boring during the evenings we were not working. The majority of us resorted to playing Spades or Echure, and others read. Hawk and a handful of others would take nightly showers and then seemed to vanish. "Knowledge is power" and I knew Hawk was utterly powerless. I knew better than to ever let that retarded bird spread his wings and fly solo. I didn't see any reason to worry though. The other people Hawk was with were far smarter than Hawk woud ever be. Furthermore, with football now off the table, there was really no way for anyone to get in trouble at this FOB.
Imagine Hawk in a cattle chute. If I put a box labeled "commonsense" on the opposite end, Hawk would never fucking find it. In a place he literally has no option but to find it, he would NOT FIND IT. EVER. However, if I had a box labeled "worst decision ever" and dropped it in the ocean, Hawk would fucking somehow stumble upon the lost city of Atlantis. I had never really got my ass chewed before I became Hawk's leader, but that trend went out the window when I inherited him.
We lived on the second floor, and my bunk was closest to the door that rotation. Thankfully too. I was woken up when I heard, "I want to talk to one of your leaders." I didn't know "who" was in trouble, but I had Hawk so I knew it was best to simply put my shoes on and assume I was in trouble by proxy. I didn't even wait to see if I would get to sit on the Green Army Weenie, I just spit in my hand and readied my o-ring for maximal insertion. It was too early for the sun to even be out, and I was already willingly walking to my execution. My how things had changed so quickly.
I walk outside and I see five Soldiers, one Hawk, and a fucking pissed of Colonel (COL).
COL: Are you their leader?
OP: I am one of them. How can I help you Sir?
COL: Do you know where I caught them?
This is where I would typically say something stupid, but this guy didn't look happy, and I didn't want to give him a reason to wake up someone who "may" have gave a shit as to why he was irate.
OP: No Sir. I don't.
COL: Above MY SHOWER?
I was now pissed. There was a large shower tent in the middle of large open courtyard. One half was male and the other was female. These fucking morons were spying on naked females? I want to kill them for listening to Hawk. Well, I assumed it was a Hawk idea. Like Hawk's brain, I was putting the cart before the horse. I assume it was Hawk, but I had questions.
OP: How in the fuck did you guys get on top the shower tent?
I was working myself into a frenzy. My brain does not operate like normal people brains. I was pretty pissed considering they violated the privacy of the beautiful ladies at the FOB, but I was actually more pissed they got on top of a fucking tent. They seemingly forgot everything about military tactics and got caught; that was the foremost reason for my anger. The spying on deployment 1's (binary thingy) was second. Considerably a far worse offense, but second at the point in time.
COL: NO. Not the shower tent. On my personal shower.
What? This guy was so special, he had a personal shower. What, he was too good to use the pallet floored showers like the rest of us? So maybe the Romanians (We think anyways) occasionally shit on the pallets and waffle-stomped the poop through the pallets, but the water pressure was phenomenal.
OP: You have a personal shower Sir, and they were on top?
COL: YES. I caught them in my water tank.
Well, back to being puzzled. I don't judge. I personally don't care if penis gazing is your hobby, but there are five of you? Why don't you just unleash your hogs and stare at each others? Anyways, how in the fuck did they all fit into the water tank? What the fuck did they do when they got inside? My god, my brain was running wild with unsightly pictures.
OP: My apologies Sir, but how did they all fit into your water tank?
COL: Come with my Sergeant; so you understand what I am talking about.
OP: You mother fuckers can wait for me in, the front-leaning-rest (Push-up position).
I still wasn't certain I entirely cared, but I thought this would may demonstrate that I showed concern about his fucking one-person shower. COL Prick then lead me around the side of the building and showed me his water tank. It was fucking huge. It was one of the typical hard plastic tanks, but the entire top had been cut off. God knows why, not like it was ever dusty in Iraq, but the top was no-more. It all made sense now. They weren't gay; they were chilling in a makeshift hot tub! Well, the gayness thing is up in the air, but I guess they were too loud while he was showering!?! I apologized profusely, but COL Prick had me locked up at the position of attention for at least ten minutes just dressing me down. I was a "really poor leader, and you're not going to go anywhere in the Army." Jokes on him, they haven't kicked me out yet.
COL: This is why nobody likes "cool guys." Words, words, words. You'd better do something about this, words, words, words. My penis is too small to shower with the big boys, words, words, words. NOW GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY SIGHT.
I returned to the Soldiers, whom were still all in the front-leaning-rest. I screamed, "GET ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BUILDING. I DON'T WANT TO GO TO JAIL AFTER PEOPLE SEE ME SMOKE THE FUCKING LIFE FROM YOUR BODY. NOW FUCKING RUN." They fucking scurry, and I stroll to the other side of the building. Out of sight and out of mind.
(I will use "Group" unless Hawk is the person talking. Too many useless names otherwise.)
OP: That fucking dickhead has his own fucking shower! What the fuck?
GROUP: I know right?
OP: What the fuck were you guys thinking? I would expect this from at least one of you, but I won't point elbows. (I then just fucking stare at Hawk.)
GROUP: We didn't think anyone used it. We had never seen anyone go into the room, and the room looked empty. We saw the water tank on top, and just figured we would check it out.
OP: How the fuck did you even get up there?
GROUP: You can walk to it if you exit any second floor window on our building. Well, the courtyard side.
OP: So you guys just sneak out and hang out in this guys shower water?
GROUP: Yes, but we seriously thought nobody used it. We would not have used it otherwise.
OP:You fucking dip-shits think this was just a randomly placed unused water tank? You fucking idiots just stand in this guys shower water for hours?
HAWK: No. We are not dumb Sergeant. We sit on MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) boxes.
OP: HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON?
GROUP: (LaughteGiggles) Every night!?!
OP: We have been here for five days now! NO FUCKING MORE! I will fucking kill you if I get yelled at again over this. The only thing that makes me smile is the fact that he is showering with your ball funk.
Hawk: I have some excellent news then Sergeant
OP: Really? Whats Hawk?
Hawk: (Smirk) We made a promise that, "nobody pisses in the hot tub"...
OP: This is why your mother should have swallowed you Hawk. Why the fuck would that make me happy?
Hawk: (Laughing) Because I broke that rule every night. Most nights more than once!
GROUP: What the fuck Hawk! We have been lounging in your piss? What the fuck dude!
Hawk: I know. (Smiles.) I lied to you though! Cheer up Sergeant. I peed on him for you!
For the record, Hawk did not find the hot tub. He just peed in it, a lot. I don't think any of us paid attention because they came back from wet and with towels. I merely assumed they went to the showers. I suppose I should have kept better track of time. Also, I apologize if this was not as funny as the other Hawk tales. I realized it when I reread it, but it was certainly funny being on-the-ground and witnessing it. Can't laugh at them all I suppose. Remember, next week, "Hawk Walks Home: In Iraq." I don't think it is feasibly possible to not make that one funny. Lastly, some of my stories are a result of me being in the military, but not military. Those stories and others will/are posted at FuckeryUniveristy. I am not ever going to compete with this page, but I do need a place to post other stories and have little fear they will be taken down. The mod may be a huge prick, but at least I know the guy. Man...huge prick!
Cheers!
submitted by SloppyEyeScream to FuckeryUniveristy [link] [comments]

Sympathy for the Drow - De-Vilifying the Dark Elves

The "Evil" races in DnD have always rubbed me kinda the wrong way. Partly once I learned that a lot of them come from racist stereotypes (Orcs, Drow, and Goblins in particular) and also just because it doesn't make sense to me. Even Nazi Germany had variation and dissenters and it only lasted for 12 years. Why would a clearly evil society never change over hundreds of years? In my opinion, a story is only as good as it's villains. So, I've set out to try and make the traditionally evil races slightly more believable and even sympathetic in places.
Now, I've not been a DM very long, only like three years. But the first campaign I ever ran was through Curse of Strahd which paints the Vistani (an itinerant society heavily based on the real world Romani) as a conniving group of thieves, murders, and vampire-worshipers. Thankfully, I found through reddit and other sites how to steer away from the racists depictions of the Vistani and making them seem like, at worst, opportunists. So, I hope to be able to do that with some other of the classic DnD antagonist races.
I've read some other phenomenal post on here about evil races that totally inspired me as well. There's a great two part post about Decolonizing D&D which I adore. The post about alignment is easily my favorite. There's a couple great ones on Orcs and Yuan-Ti too so if some of my ideas are lifted from them, I hope y'all consider it flattery instead of theft. So, here are some primer notes before I get into it.
For creating the Dark Elves, I tried to keep as much as I could from the books. Obviously some stuff has to get thrown out the window though. I also tried to standardize calling them Dark Elves instead of Drow partly because I feel like Drow has a much nastier sound to it and calling them Dark Elves follows the naming convention with the High and Wood Elves. I tried to model them after real-life matriarchal societies like the Mosuo people of China and their pantheon after real deities like the Greeks, Romans, and Norse. I also quickly realized that building a society is inseparable from geography. Where a people are from effects their language, values, mythology, history, and family structure. I've tried to outline details I think are necessary to making this society realistic while leaving it open ended enough to be place-able in different worlds with relative ease. All that aside, lets get into the meat of it.

The Dark Elves: Elven Outcasts

The Elves are a varied and magical people that come from many planes and many environments within them. But none are met with more distrust and fear than the Dark Elves. Easily set apart from their cousins by their charcoal or pitch-black skin, pink-red eyes, hair of grays and whites, and shorter stature, these people have earned a reputation as killers, thieves, demon worshipers, and liars. But history is a cruel mistress, something the Dark Elves know better than most.

The Divine Divide

As the legends go, when the world was still young, Corellon Larethian lived on the Plane of Arvandor with his fellow Primal Elves. They were wild and mutable, emotional and free in all things. They changed shapes at will, gave and took freely to and from the world, and never stayed in any location too long. They wandered to and fro, scattering their peoples across almost every plane. However, this unbridled freedom was not without a price. Arguments, feuds, and small scale wars were incredibly common between them. Some elves would find themselves stranded on far off planes after most of their companions impulsively decided to leave. Their self serving impulses drove them to often completely disregard the needs or wants of others if they went against their own desires. And their reckless revelry was wreaking havoc on the natural world with Elven parties decimating whole planes of edible plants, wild game, and drinkable water.
One such Primal Elf began to see the destruction of their ways and talked to other elves about their actions. Slowly, this Elf by the name of Lolth amassed a small following of devotees that saw the negative ramifications of their inconsiderate freedom. Lolth and her followers agreed to take on fixed forms to show recognition of the dangers that impulsivity could bring. Lolth led this small group of devotees to Corellon to ask for his support. Now, Corellon did not lead these Primal Elves: he was just as wild as the best of them and did not take kindly to others telling him what to do. But he was the First Elf ever born and was universally respected amongst the Primal Elves and if Lolth could convince him, others would surely follow. Corellon listened to her proposition and agreed that they should change to prevent more destruction and conflict, but refused to order his kinsfolk into any action. He was an Elf, same as all of them, and he wouldn’t dare order around his family. He balked when Lolth asked him to take a concrete form as a show of solidarity and brushed her off as a killjoy.
Lolth was unsatisfied with this outcome and her following set out to convince each Elf to change their ways to preserve the beauty of the worlds. However, without the support of Corellon, many elves refused her offer. Her anger grew with each failure and her opinion of Corellon turned sour, something she made no attempt to hide from her Elven siblings. Now, Corellon is a proud god and once he caught wind that Lolth was bad mouthing him in an attempt to win over others, he became enraged. He railed against Lolth calling her a snake-tongued thief and Lolth called him incompetent and cruel. Their tempers flared and all the elves chose sides between Corellon’s freedom and Lolth’s stability. During this great debate, the Primal Elves turned to violence. The Dark Elves maintain that Corellon’s side threw the first blow, while the High Elves claim that it came from Lolth’s side.
No matter the source, this violent outburst soured relations between Lolth and Corellon forever after. He cast her and her followers out of Arvandor and barred her from ever returning. He also cast all but his most trusted kin from Arvandor, forcing them all to live lives on other worlds out of fear of another perceived insurrection. Thus, the Seldarine remain in Arvandor to judge the souls of Corellon’s faithful when they die and Lolth takes refuge in Arcadia with her pantheon where she minds the souls of the Drow. Corellon’s faithful call her pantheon the Dark Seldarine, while her faithful call it the Myrkalfar.

Myrkalfar: The Spider Mother’s House

Lolth the Spider Queen is the unquestioned head of the Myrkalfar, with all other deities seen as her divine family. Lolth is considered at times to be fickle or even cruel, but her ire is never gained without good reason. A very involved deity, her followers constantly search for signs of her favor or scorn in everyday life. When a Dark Elf contemplates a risky or controversial decision, they consult priestesses or perform their own rites which often gives them direct and succinct answers. She serves as an example to matriarchs of Drow families as demanding yet understanding, punishing yet guiding. She asks for a lot of her priestesses, demanding they be an unflinching example of everything a strong leader should be. The Myrkalfar is often presented as a divine household, with Lolth as the matron.
Keptolo is the consort of Lolth and considered to be the ideal of what a male should be. Beautiful and kind, strong and hard working, he helps Lolth in everything she does. Sometimes he serves as a messenger, other times as an agent of redemption, sometimes as a divine healer. When a Dark Elf is tasked with a divine charge, he is usually the one to deliver the message and guide them through their charge. He serves also as a fertility deity and is often worshiped by women or men seeking a child. Outsiders see him as a weak and subservient husband to Lolth, but his faithfulness to his matron is considered a virtue and his status as a “husband” is relatively alien to the Dark Elves as they have no binding marriage in their society.
If Keptolo is the agent of Lolth’s mercy, Kiaransalee is the agent of her vengeance. She is the eldest daughter of Lolth and Keptolo and one that Dark Elves pray to when they feel wronged. Only the most binding and serious contracts are signed under her name. To break an oath made under her name is sure to bring destruction. She is also the governor of the dead, judging the souls of those passed in the afterlife. She opposes the mindless undead created by mortals, but spirits and revenants that return to finish unresolved business amongst the living are considered under her protection. Should a Dark Elf encounter a returned spirit that is seeking vengeance, it’s their duty to leave them on their way and pray that the spirit isn’t there for them. This reverence of certain undead is something many outsiders consider downright evil.
Selvetarm is the Dark Elven warrior goddess and youngest daughter of Lolth. Often depicted with eight arms, she represents the pinnacle of hand to hand martial prowess, but often is without restraint. She serves as both an inspiration for warriors, and a warning. Vhaeraun is the eldest son of Lolth and governs ambition and stealth. Both of these traits are not necessarily vilified, but worship of him is highly scrutinized. Haughty and rash, tales of him often include deceiving his fellow gods for good and ill and more often than not are cautionary ones. He’s depicted as wearing a mask, either as some punishment for endangering Lolth and her family or to hide his identity for various schemes, possibly both.
Malyk is Lolth’s youngest son and a youthful deity of change and growth. He’s often seen as a bouncing young boy that Lolth and her family have to reign in from wild misadventures. His freedom and curiosity is often seen as a double edged sword, both gaining him great riches but also putting him in tremendous peril. He has strong ties to sorcerers and when a child is born with innate magical talent, he is often the one thanked for it. He serves as an outlet for a Dark Elves youthful chaotic nature, but also warns them of the ramifications of their actions.
Ghaunadur is a strange figure in the pantheon. Their place in the family is a bit of a mystery, sometimes called the sibling of Lolth, or her child, or even as Lolth’s parent. What makes them truly unique is that they are a formless deity, something that Lolth once warred with Corellon over. The legends go that when Ghaunadur joined Lolth, they refused to give up their changeable nature. When questioned, Ghaunadur pointed to the slimes, oozes, and formless creatures of the world and said that they wished to protect them from the Elves and the Elves from them. Lolth agreed, cementing their position as the deity of the changing forms of nature. Their favored creature is the ooze, but they govern all natural creatures. Dark Elves often pray to Ghaunadur to protect them from the creatures that lurk in the depths of the forest.
Zinzerena is Lolth’s sister and is the goddess of poisons, illusions, and magic. Viewed as an elderly and patient figure, she often serves as council to Lolth in desperate times. She’s said to be the mother of all poisons and venoms and her teachings are all about finding the wisest solution to a problem. Zinzerena teaches that even though the spider is small, it’s bite can still fell a panther. Despite her perceived age, she’s considered the younger sister of Lolth and is thought to be incredibly quick and nimble: a reminder that not everything is as it seems.
Eilistraee is Lolth’s niece and daughter of Zinzerena. Considered the black sheep of the pantheon, she serves as a goddess of redemption and moonlight. Dark Elves that turn their back on their family or scorn traditions will sometimes find themselves turned to Driders, half-spider half-Dark Elf creatures shunned by all. Eilistraee is said to watch over these creatures and if they are repentant, offer them challenges that they could complete to redeem themselves. Lolth often views her with contempt or mistrust, but never hates her and maintains her place in the pantheon. Dark Elven faithful rarely worship her as the others. She’s also one of the only deities of the Myrkalfar to claim no animosity toward the Seldarine and their faithful.
Spiders are the sacred animal of Lolth and are often used as an example of social order and the importance of family bonds. Each strand of silk serves the web as whole. More literally, the giant spiders of the Underdark are multifaceted and incredibly useful creatures. Serving as beasts of burden, war steeds, meat producers, household guardians, and silk producers, they are present in almost every facet of society. Their silks are used in everything from wound dressings to armor to architecture. To kill or steal another family's spider is considered akin to stealing a member of the family. Smaller and more poisonous spiders are often kept in temples and their webs are used as divining tools for priestesses.

Elven Exiles

The recorded history of the Dark Elves is full of contradictions from High Elf and Dark Elf sources. What historians can agree on is when the Elves of the Prime Material arrived, the followers of Lolth secluded from their Wood and High cousins and retreated into the Azelarien, also known as the Green Sea in Common. A massive forest, nearly 1 million square miles of dense and vibrant trees, that grows denser and darker the farther in one ventures. For countless eons, the High, Wood, and Dark Elves lived in relative harmony in their own corner of the world. High Elves lived near the forests in towns and villages, the Wood Elves lived in the lightly forested outlands of the Green Sea, and the Dark Elves lived deep in the central forests which was so dense that very little light reached the forest floor.
As time passed and their villages turned to cities, the High Elves began expanding into the forest, chopping some down to build homes and heat their furnaces. This began pushing into the territory of the Wood Elves and eventually the Dark Elves as well. These two peoples formed a shaky alliance to push back the expansive tide of the far larger High Elven armies. This alliance proved successful however and the High Elven forces began losing ground. What happened next is a matter of some debate. High Elven historians attest that the Dark Elven armies used Wood Elven soldiers as unwitting bait to lure the High Elven armies into a trap, thus causing a schism between them. Dark Elven historians state that the Wood Elven armies turned on them after the Wood Elves met in secret with High Elven leaders and bargained for their independence. Some Wood Elven historians claim that after a brutal defeat on the field, they were met by High Elven dignitaries that offered them clemency if they turned on their allies. They initially refused, but after the dignitaries threatened to make the same offer to the Dark Elves, they had no choice but to accept. No matter the cause, the histories agree that the Wood Elves turned on their erstwhile allies and helped push the Dark Elves into a rapid loss of ground.
Facing the might of the two armies with their own relatively small one, the Dark Elves were beaten into a hasty retreat into their own territory. Losing every open encounter, the Dark Elf matrons developed a new strategy of combat. The armies switched from training as many as quickly as they could, to training only a select few in multiple different forms of combat and magic. As the High and Wood Elves advanced into their territory, they quickly found their supply lines cut out from under them, their soldiers ambushed while sleeping, their scouts captured, and their leaders assassinated. And even if they would make it to a Dark Elf settlement, they would find it abandoned and booby-trapped, warned by their fast and silent scouts. If the Dark Elves couldn’t face their enemies head-on, they would weaken them with quick and decisive strikes.
Eventually, the war ground to a stalemate. The High Elves couldn’t push into the Dark Elf territory far enough to capture any cities of note without taking severe casualties and the Dark Elves were only managing to hold the invading armies back and couldn’t muster a force strong enough to push back to the enemy capital. Thus, the war cooled into a tense peace. The leaders came together to draw borders, but neither side fully forgave nor forgot one another’s actions. High and Wood Elves viewed the change in tactics by the Dark Elves as an unethical violation of the standards of war. The Dark Elves felt a particular animosity toward the Wood Elves, considering them backstabbers in their darkest hour.

Dark Elf Families: Matrons of Order

The Dark Elf society, to an outsider, looks like an oppressive and cruel society of slave traders and backstabbers. But the truth is more subtle. The Dark Elves value tradition and filial piety above almost all else. To a Dark Elven citizen, their family name is their most valuable possession and they are taught from a very young age that to look after their parents and their younger siblings is the highest virtue. Ancestors that have achieved great things often have shrines in a household alongside the gods themselves. A Dark Elf going against the will of their family is considered one of the highest taboos and often causes them to be outcast from Dark Elven society as a whole. Dark Elf society is matrilineal meaning that the eldest woman in each family is revered as the household leader and receives great respect from her family and society. This also means that the males of the society don’t inherit wealth as frequently as the females.
Dark Elven families are quite large, often with multiple generations along with aunts, uncles, and cousins living in the same household. New children almost always reside with their mother. Males of the society are expected to care not for their own biological children, but for the children born to their sisters, aunts, or nieces. This results in a striking amount of sexual freedom for both men and women, but is often viewed from the outside as promiscuity. The Dark Elves do not marry in the traditional sense, instead favoring long term partners with one another that can end at any time with no concerns to material wealth or ownership.
However, to become a member of a Dark Elf family is not entirely a matter of heritage. When a family that cannot support another child has one, they are often adopted by more well to do families and raised as one of their own. These adopted children are considered just as legitimate as if they were born into the family. Also, should a family lose all their heirs or become destitute, they often ask to become assimilated into other families for their own safety. The latter is considered a morose ceremony as the members of the smaller family forsake their surnames. To take in such a family is both an extreme honor and grim burden, as it means ending another family's line.
The borders of Dark Elven civilization only goes so far as there are trees so many newer up and coming families have expanded underground, a difficult and slow endeavor. This has put multiple houses at odds with one another for territory. However, Dark Elves do not tolerate open hostility between families as they have a very strong sense of collective identity. Dark Elves do not war against fellow Dark Elves, same as a spider does not fight its own web. This leads to many tensions and conflicts needing to be resolved in other ways. Most families will attempt a diplomatic solution, but when that isn’t an option, sabotage and coercion is the favored outlet. Murder is considered a bridge too far by most houses, but subterfuge in almost every other facet is, while not accepted, tolerated.
Legends of Lolth’s rebellion and the tension of their enclosed territory have imbued the Dark Elves with a strong sense of symbiosis with nature and conservancy. Sustainable living is the cornerstone of Dark Elf society. In the wild, no creature is killed or plant destroyed unless it’s a matter of self defense or necessary to survival.

Dark Elven Sex and Gender

As with many Elven peoples, sexuality is seen as a fluid and non-binary matter. Same sex relationships are usually seen as just as acceptable as male-female relationships. Since Dark Elves have no marriage structure, same sex life partners are common and widely accepted. Inheritance is passed along by the family as a whole, not linearly, meaning some houses may have matrons with no direct biological descendants while still serving at the elder matron. Power dynamics in relationships are still a factor, with the elder female in a gay relationship considered slightly above their partner socially and is seen as the inheritor in cases of property or genealogy. Male same sex relationships are accepted with little controversy. Since children are passed down their mothers line, the males have no social obligation to sire an heir as with other societies.
Transgender and transexual Dark Elves are met with slightly more controversy. Lolth’s rejection of the Primal Elves mutable forms is sometimes cited against transgender and transexual Dark Elves. Ghaunadur, however, is considered the patron god of these people and teaches that just as they are part of nature, they can change their forms. Many of these people join the religious order of Ghaunadur, serving in various roles both in religious ceremonies and as forest guides. Some even consider them to be blessed by Ghaunadur and are highly sought after in forays into the forests for protection. Children born to transgender Dark Elves are still expected to be a part of their eldest mother’s family or eldest father if no woman is part of the union.

Slavery Amongst the Dark Elves

While the Dark Elves do take slaves, their slavery doesn’t look the same as many other societies. When a family becomes indebted to another and they cannot pay off the debt, a member of their family, usually male, will be sent to work for the owed family. They give him room and board and are expected to care for him as if he were one of their own. He’ll work for them for an agreed upon amount of time before returning to his native family. Injury or misuse of this person is often grounds for them to leave and the debt to be nullified. Children born to servant fathers needn’t worry about inheriting their father’s status since they’re considered to be their mother’s child. On the rare occasion that a female servant has a child while in servitude, the child is returned to the mother’s family to be raised by her family while she works off the remaining debt. Some trade of servants does occur between houses, with indentured servants being traded for goods or services or even other servants of special skills, but the family of the servant reserves the right to veto such a trade for any reason.
During their frequent clashes with external armies, the Dark Elves do sometimes take prisoners of war, though very rarely are they used for slave labor. They never bring them back to major settlements, often keeping them on the outskirts of their territory to prevent them from learning critical knowledge of their territory. Most prisoners are held as bargaining chips to be traded for passage, supplies, or captured Dark Elves. Captured military leaders are sometimes brought to Dark Elven cities to be tried for their crimes against their people.

Dark Elven Government: Independent Houses

Unlike many other cultures, the Dark Elves lack a centralized government. Societal etiquette govern the standard for how certain crimes and disagreements should be handled, but each family unit acts as its own governing body. Disagreements within families are thus resolved internally. Inter-family disputes are resolved in multiple different ways. Most often, the two matrons of the family will meet and agree on terms to fairly compensate both sides. In cases when these talks deteriorate, the High Priestess of Lolth is often called to serve as the mediator and serves as the ruling body between disputes. Her rulings are final and indisputable, as she is considered the mouthpiece of Lolth’s will.
In times of crisis, historically the many houses of the Dark Elves have convened to discuss threats to all of Dark Elven society. This is uncommon as it’s difficult logistically to gather all the matrons in the same place at the same time, so often houses are represented by either the second eldest woman of the family or the eldest daughter of the matron. The High Priestess of Lolth often resides over these meetings as an arbiter in the event of split decisions or in delivering guidance from Lolth herself.

There's my take on the Dark Elves. Any comments, suggestions, questions, outrages, and critiques are welcomed. This is my first comprehensive look at a whole race so if I've missed things, I'll try and patch them up. I'd like to do similar things for Orcs, Goblinoids, Kobolds, and others so those might be seen soon. Thanks!
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