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  • B3-01 - Convalescence

    A storm rumbled outside; rain sluiced down from the heavens and bent the long grass outside. It dripped along the window pane, leaving behind long watery smears that distorted the distant lights of the city. A flash of light cracked across the sky, silhouetting the tall swaying pines in the the distance and sending a rumble that rattled the window panes and shook the burning oil lamp beside the figure.Maya Sullivan looked at the rain and set her hand against the glass, it was cold and as she pulled her hand away, she saw her hand print upon it. She shivered slightly and looked down at the sheet of paper that sat before her. The lamp light flickered and the words before her swayed in the light.Journaling was something she never had a compulsion to do. There were no diaries for her brothers to raid, where she told her darkest secrets for her parents to stumble across. It was equal parts of not having a life worth recording and not wanting to leave written evidence of what she had done. If it was worth remembering, it would be.The pen scratched across the sheet of paper. She wrote for a minute and then stopped. She looked down at the sheet of paper before her and crumbled it.Maya took a long breath and rubbed her hand across her head. The stubble was a strange feeling she still hadn’t gotten used to. Nana stated she could use a little system tech magic and regrow her hair, but Maya was once again hesitant to begin the process. She wondered if it was the same thing that had prevented her from getting her hand fixed. Definitely not the same, one had been a limb, this was just hair. Maya sighed and scratched her head once more. It was the second time she had her brain messed with by Nan and the AI hadn’t even bothered to buy her a drink.For the last three standard days Maya had been convalescing. She had been ordered by Nan to not do anything strenuous, which meant not returning to the RSH and raiding the hopefully intact hiveship she had stolen. Normally, she would have made a quip and then done just exactly that, but it didn’t take Maya long to realize not all was well with her brain. She had immediately passed out when she tried opening the doorway back into the RSH.That meant she had to close the doorway to the space station and when she passed out, everyone was sort of trapped within the Cage for a day. Nan had lectured her about using her newfound abilities, the skills she had gained in the fight against the hiveship were what caused all her problems. Continuing to play around with abilities and skills she knew nothing about was something Nan had put her robotic foot down on.Maya had obeyed, it was one thing to fight a hiveship and nearly die. It was an entirely different thing to try and open a dimensional threshold and nearly die. She wasn’t about to go out trying to open a door, if she was gonna go out it’d be with sparklers and a bomb big enough to cause the System some annoyance.With her mortality reaffirmed, Maya had decided to take Nan’s advice. She had created her small rustic room and sequestered herself within it.It was on of the only few times in many months that Maya had the time to just do nothing. There were no deal to be made, there were no rogue AIs that needed killing, there was no crazy happenings like the mana purge or the weird chaos lightning storm. All there was to do was to lay in bed.She couldn’t even do heavy thinking, there were the engineering problems that the Astronauts were figuring out. A smart bunch they were and already they had begun learning how to tinker with system tech. Roci and Scotty were their tutors in that regard, but Maya had wanted to play too, but Nan’s orders were order she could not get around.So she sat in bed and played with her status screen.Level up! (Level 100)It had been a shock when she first saw it. It was what she had been aiming for since she had Seared herself. It was the goal that meant she would be able to start manipulating essence mana and thereby become one of the most powerful SIL in the multiverse.Sitting bald headed and aching from many wounds, Maya did not feel all that powerful. She looked at her status page and began opening some of the messages she had chose to ignore.Centennium PrimeYou are the first of your species to reach level 100.+ Knowledge Token+ Pathways Vol I, II, & IIICentenniumYou have reached level 100.+ 5 Luck+ 5 Fortitude+ 5 FoundationDominationYou have defeated and dominated a being of higher levels and Tier than you. Impressive and terrifying.+ Presence I+ Flaws ITouched by ManaYou have survived contact with condensed, liquid mana. Many rarely do.+ 10 LuckBlood and ManaThe most ancient forms of power were of blood and mana, you have used Intention and Will to bind technology to yourself. A good idea or a terrible one? Only time will tell.+ Will I+ 10 FortitudeImmense PowerYou have access to Tesseracts, one of the greatest sources of power in the Integrated Multiverse.+ Tesseracts and You Vol. I, II, & III+ 5 FortitudeThe Stars are YoursYou are the first of your species to build a livable space station.+ Interstellar Traveler Guide I & II+ 5 Mental StrengthUnifiedThere are technologies have been lost to time. Union technology has been rediscovered by you.+ Union Tech Fundamentals Vol. I, II, III, IV, & V+ 10 FoundationSpace Based IYour corporation has expanded beyond your home planet and taken to the stars.+ 4 Mental Dexterity+ 1 Lostamira Personal Shuttle - mid-grade, Tier 1Rogue Antagonist ICan’t we all just get along? No? Death and destruction has been wrought by your hands against rogue AIs.+ 4 Physical Strength+ 1 Hatimongo Rogue Slayer Officer Sword - mid-grade, Tier 1Anti-rogue AI Enchantment: only can be used by SILHatimongo Eversharp Enchantment: Always sharp, never dull.Rogue’s Doom Pulse Enchantment: A mana pulse disruption field is created to stun a rogue AI. Channeling mana will triple the mana pulse.Waste Not, Want Not ISome would call it trash, but others would call it resources.+ 4 Mental Perception+ 1 Recycler’s TokenThe Edge of Death IThere’s a fine line between life and death and you seem to enjoy standing upon that edge.+ 4 Physical Recovery+ 1 Life Potion, high-grade, Tier 1High-Grade AchievedCongratulations upon the leveling to high-grade (levels 75-100).+ 5 Foundation+ 5 Fortitude+ 5 Luck[Technomancer] Level 5You have chosen the path of the technomancer and some technology will do your bidding.+ 4 Mental Willpower[Intellectual Property Thief] Level 5Some SIL hold IP sacred, others see it as a shortcut.+ 2 Mental Channel[Technology Adaption] Level 5Adapt a piece of tech for a purpose it was not intended for.+ 2 Mental Stamina[Tech Modder] Level 6Take a piece of tech and modify it to your own needs.+ 2 Mental Dexterity[Rogue Tech Mechanic] Level 4Your rogue AI on the fritz? Pick up a wrench and find the shade of a tree.+ 1 Mental Endurance[Rogue Tech Technician] Level 2With the right tools and knowledge, you can repair rogue AIs.+ 2 Mental Dexterity[Reverse Engineer] Level 4Some SIL create, some SIL build, some SIL take another SIL’s Creation and figure out how to build it.+ 2 Mental PerceptionYou have reached Level 100! You have 10 Pending Occupational Bonuses to Apply.Intention IIIDimensional Inventory IVDimensional Awareness VIIDimensional Threshold VIt was a long and impressive list, Maya had to admit. There were more notifications, but the bulk of them were level increases in various occupational abilities; none, from what she saw, were significant changes. No, level 10’s anywhere.The last time she had checked her status page and levels had been in the first fight at the mana lake with Bell. She had defeated a lot of rogue AIs in and around the BR before she finally took the fight to the hiveship, but Maya still hadn’t figured out the math behind it.She had used her [Raid Leader] ability to put Tender and Bell into the raid squad, where they could all share experience gains based on levels. Tender had been level 50 and Bell had been somewhere around the same area also. Before she had defeated the three Tier 2 rogue AIs in the Cage, she had been only level 62.It was the end of the fight, where the Blob and the last Executioner had been destroyed that bothered Maya. She hadn’t gotten any death notifications from the System, yet somehow she had been awarded some experience points that had pushed her into the level 100 range. Bell and Tender had got nothing after the defeat of the first Executioner ant, even when she ‘removed’ the hiveship mind.Something was amiss and Maya couldn’t pin point it. She had tried going through the data and the logs from the battle, but the numbers were not as she was expecting. Somewhere she had gained experience points, but she didn’t know from what or whom.She brought up her status page once more and stared at it. There was a lot of points to distribute and once she accepted the level gain, she would no longer be on easy street. As a Tier 2 SIL with low levels, she had been blessed with only needing half of the experience points to gain a level. It was still a lot of experience points, but far less than a normal SIL would need.Now that she was a low-grade, Tier 2 SIL, she wasn’t getting that little bonus anymore. The real struggle would begin now as levels would come slower and slower. The future looked somewhat grim, as she had no mana channels to work with. A fundamental feature of any SIL were their mana channels, which allowed non-combat SIL to use mana to improve their occupational abilities, like a [Smith] or an [Engineer].If one used mana while they were doing an occupation, they would gain experience from it, the same as one would if they were battling a mana mutation. It wasn’t as fast or intense as fighting monsters, but it was a safe and steady method of gaining levels. In addition for every ten levels one gained in an occupational ability and every ten levels one gained in personal levels, they would gain an occupational bonus. That bonus would be applied to their occupational ability, thereby making it better, gaining boosts in experience gains and the quality of their craft.Maya had seared her mana channels away. Technically, being pulled into a dimensional instability as Integration was occurring in her universe and Earth being upgraded to a Tier 2 planet to become a Point of Contact for the System, had scrambled up her insides. She had been pumped full of transformative essence mana right out of the System’s spigot. Then she had been dumped into a dimensional plane where essence mana did not exist, so the essence mana that had been pumped into her began killing her own mana channels and began replacing it with channels that would allow her to use essence mana.As she had been low level, the usage of such essence mana channels would have killed her. She hadn’t known at the time, but in the battle against Shen she had finally called upon the essence mana to aid her, which had Seared her and would have led to her death if the System hadn’t intervened.Maya shook her head, it had been a wild and crazy four months. So much had happened, but she knew that was only the surface. There was so much other thing she needed to do now. There was Earth that still needed help, she had eventually look for her family, she had to return to the rainbow sky hellscape (RSH) and begin salvaging the hiveship, and she had to deal with the craziness that was already going on in the RSH. Chuckles the Dragon had said that things would get interesting as Maintenance in the RSH continued.The big rogue AIs, the ones with plenty of mana to throw around, would become desperate. They would begin fighting and killing one another, trying to survive however long Maintenance lasted. As Maya was stuck in the RSH for the next five hundred standard years, she would eventually have to deal with those rogue AIs.She was not looking forward to that.There was a knock on the door to the room. Maya paused in her writing. It was a simple door, wooden slats hung by heavy cast iron hinges and with a copper knob.“They’re arriving,” a voice said softly.Maya looked down at what she had written and then nodded. She picked up the papers and a moment later they dissolved into the air. From the desk a tablet rose up and Maya picked that up. She headed to the door, not bothering to open it, but instead making the room disappear around her.Roci stood waiting for Maya.“Are you ready?” Roci asked.Maya rolled her neck and cracked her knuckles. “Born ready, kiddo.”/AN: so begins a new 'book'. Hope you enjoy it, I think this will finally be more 'merchant' orientated, as now Maya has resolved her issues of survival and power, which were always the key concerns.

    B2 - Epilogue

    Day 11Melissa, Texas“Form up, form up!” Pops Sullivan hollered. The men and women around him clattered and shifted, their makeshift shields and weapons clanking and clacking. “Mind your spacing.”The ground rumbled as they moved, a hundred men and women who less than two weeks before had been accountants, clerks, business people, and all the other occupations that no longer existed. Now they stood shoulder to shoulder, makeshift weapons forged out of truck leaf-springs, sharpened metal poles, sheet metal hammered into protective plates, and even one man carrying a ‘Stop’ sign backed with plywood.They were no Roman legion, no Greek phalanx, hell, they barely even qualified as a football scrimmage line. Yet, they were all that stood between the enemy and the five hundred other men, women, and children that they protected. They were the last and only line of defense.“Get the fuck back in line, Legolas!” A woman shouted. Pops turned to see Martha Lopez stab a finger at a tall blonde kid carrying a bow and ready to fire at their yet to be seen enemy. “You break formation one more time and you’ll be limping home with that bow up your asshole, got me!”The thundering of hooves caused Pops to turn his attention once more as his NCO continued with her tirade. Half a dozen horses pounded dirt and made their way across a former grazing field.Bobby Neville was in the lead, an AR-15 across his back and the same makeshift armor everyone wore protecting his body. There had been an amateur blacksmith and a professional metal worker among the survivors they had gathered since leaving Plano, and for the last several days they had been hammering and working steel to create weapons and armor. It wasn’t enough, but it would do.The horse skidded to a stop and Bobby was off of it in a heartbeat. The young man snapped a salute, one which Pops grimaced at.“It looks about three hundred of them,” Bobby said. “Angry as hell and stampeding over. Be here in about fifteen.”“Shit,” Pops muttered. “They got their big boys with them?”“No, sir. They’re mostly Barrows, they got their Sows back in the trees, about another two hundred of them. The Boars aren’t coming out nor many of their Gilts.”“Thank Christ for that,” Pops said and turned to face the small gathered army.“The Orcs on their way?” Malcolm asked, pushing his way forward.Pops Sullivan had seen all sorts of crazy since the Integration, animals that could not exist now prowled the land, things that should be impossible were occurring everyday. Yet, the one thing that truly hit him the hardest was seeing his bacon and pork chops making weapons and trying to kill him.He wasn’t a hunting man, yet he knew many of his former military friends who enjoyed the sport. They talked about the wild hogs that were plaguing Texas and how they went out to hunt them. He’d seen their trophy pictures, massive creatures that weighed up to seven hundred pounds.Integration had changed things and most profoundly it had changed the hog population of Texas. No longer did they walk on four legs, instead they stood upright, their forelegs turning into thick muscular arms with two fingers and a thumb. They were still massive, the boars weighing over five hundred pounds each, with thick legs and a temperament that hadn’t been altered.Malcolm called them Orcs, something from a video game or something. Pops just called them Hogs, but the Orc name had caught on.Two days before they had been hit by a raiding party of Orcs, a single massive boar, ten barrows, and two gilts. They had killed seven of Pops’ people and injured two dozen more, the boar had been responsible for almost half of the deaths and injuries and the two gilts had been responsible for the other half.The boars were deadly in a tussle, but it was the gilts that were the real danger. Boars were the big boys that were all muscle and brawn, but the gilts used magic. They threw fireballs and lightning. From what Pops found out later, they were all youngish female hogs, so the name gilts stuck. The barrows were just cannon fodder, forcibly castrated males that charged with wooden spears and junk armor.Pops had talked with a former hog hunter named Jasper, the man was a semi expert in the field. He had looked at the corpses over the last few days of fighting and had said the Orcs were a combination of wild hogs and domesticated hogs. It seemed their more wild brethren had freed their captive relatives and they formed up a massive tribe that was laying waste to the country side.Survivors had poured in over the days, they told horrific stories of the hogs descending upon their strongholds and farms, killing and eating everything they could lay their hands on. The old tale of hogs eating people was alive and true, except now they carried knives and spears and took the time to cook their meat.Truth be told, it wasn’t as if they were the only one partaking of the flesh. Pops had come across many a cook fire that had a hefty slab of ‘pork’ being fried up. He would have put a stop to it, there was something terribly wrong about eating a creature that carried weapons and organized itself into a tribe, but then again they were all starving. The hogs had denuded the land of most edible things, including livestock and people. They had raided grocery stores, used their powerful noses to seek out even hidden caches of food and edibles. They were omnivores and they did eat anything and everything.Six hundred people was a large number and everyone was starving. God forgive him, but the damn things tasted just like pork.The army of hogs began appearing across the field from them. The old grazing field was about three thousand feet long and half as wide, to their left flank was a dense line of trees used as a windbreak and to their right flank was a wide irrigation canal. The hogs weren’t any kind of tactical geniuses and they were all about upfront charges and battles. The human army wasn’t all that different, they barely had any cohesion and not enough time to practice and train for this kind of battle. There would be no masterful feints and tactics deployed, instead it would be a straight up brawl.Pops looked at the faces of the men and women beside him. The idle chatter had stopped as they saw the numbers coming out of the distant tree line. A hundred people seemed like a lot, but three hundred man-sized creatures carrying everything from sharpened spades to wood spears was enough to loosen the bowels.Pops cleared his throat and stepped out before the gathered people. He looked up and down the line, a hundred faces all focusing on him.“Looks like meat’s back on the menu, people!” Pops shouted, stalking up and down the line. Grim faces stared back at him, fear evident in their expressions, but they held firm. “I don’t know about you, but I do love me some bacon in the morning.”“Bacon!” someone shouted. Soon the word was echoing from a dozen mouths.“Bacon! Bacon! Bacon!”A massive boar pushed its way to the front of the barrow line. A thick specimen that was covered in what looked to be license plates tied to a thick under padding of leather jackets. The boar carried a pair of red metal fire axes and with the ease that he swung them showed just how strong he was.“Find those gilts!” Pops ordered.There was a shuffle as people with scopes and binoculars began scanning the battle line. Behind them were half a dozen of his best shots, using scavenged firearms. Pops didn’t know if something had happened to weapons or what, but there were so few remaining weapons and ammunition available in their scavenging. It was odd, especially in this part of America.As one, the hogs began squealing. The sound crossed the three thousand feet that separated the two groups, a high pitched and terrifying noise. Pops could feel the shift of emotion in their own battle line, he pointed to a young man in a high school band uniform.“Hit the beat, son,” he ordered.A dozen kids began pounding on drums, it was ragged and scared, but within a moment they began to find their rhythm. Soon the rest of the battle line began to stomp their feet, bang their weapons against their shields, or bob their head to the slow and steady beat. It wasn’t music, the band was made of kids that weren’t able to fight, but wanted to contribute. So they had salvaged some drums from the local high school. The deep, almost heartbeat rhythm of the percussion instruments caused nerves to settle and the fear seeping into the soldiers to ease.That was good, as the hogs began their approach. They trotted slowly, although they were tough with even the barrows going at three hundred pounds, they had short legs and weren’t all that fast. They also didn’t have any form of ranged weaponry or artillery, except for the mana wielding gilts.The ground began to rumble as the hogs picked up speed, they were about eight hundred feet out.“Catapults!” Pops shouted.“Catapults!” the call went out.There was a loud snap and a swoosh, Pops looked above him and watched as one, then two, and finally three flaming balls began flying across the field toward the incoming horde of hogs. The first ball of fire splashed down a hundred feet before the hogs, the second fifty feet beyond that, and the third hit detonated among some of the hogs in the left flank. Fire exploded outward, a poor man’s napalm of gasoline, Styrofoam, and soap flakes. Six barrows began screaming as they were covered in flames and writhed on the ground, the trotting didn’t stop, but Pops saw some of the hogs falter in their march.“Reload!” the artillery captain began shouting. There was huffing and grunting and shouting as the two dozen men and women handling the catapults began reloading. Within a minute they were ready to fire again and the hogs had crossed one hundred feet.“You find those gilts?” Pops demanded.“No, sir,” Jasper Rodriguez, the former hog hunter said. He had a long hunting rifle on his back and a pair of binoculars around his neck. “They might be using some kind of camo.”“Shit,” Pops muttered as another whoosh sounded and three more flaming balls soared overhead. The hogs were wiser now, after seeing half a dozen of their fellow barrows go up in flames. “Take down that boar, keep your eyes peeled for those gilts.”“Righto, sir,” Jasper gave a salute and rushed back to the riflemen, shouting orders.“Lopez, archers,” Pops said.“Archers, nock!” Sergeant Lopez yelled, the twenty men and women who carried bows raised arrows into their bows. There were a variety of weapons on display, everything from overly complicated compound bows, an actual longbow, and several crossbows, and a recurve bow. “Did I fucking say draw, Legolas!”“N-no?”“Then why the fuck are you drawing your bow, Legolas!”“M-my name is Cody,” the kid said.“Until God or Pops says otherwise, you’re in the god damn Sullivan Militia and you will follow orders. Until the day you can out-shoot, out-fight, and out-fuck me, then your name is whatever the fuck I say it is! Got me!”“What the hell is that lady’s problem,” Malcolm said. He turned to the archers, ready to say something. Pops grabbed him and pushed him back in the line.“Mind your business, private. Sergeant Lopez will deal with her soldiers as she sees fit.” Pops said.“But-““You wanted in this battle, you wanted to fight, now you’re fighting. Maintain the line, cover your sector, watch your spacing, and follow orders,” Pops said in a low voice.“But-““The only thing I want to hear out of your mouth is ‘sir, yes, sir’.”Malcolm glared at him, but then stopped as he realized their conversation was being eavesdropped on by everyone around them. It wasn’t hard to notice as no one was making any kind of attempt at stealth. He gulped and nodded.Pops continued staring at him.“Sir, yes, sir!” Malcolm said.“Gunners, archers, fire at will,” Pops ordered. The hogs had passed the five hundred feet line. He could feel the ground rumbling under foot, the squeals were getting louder and louder.The roar of gunfire filled the air, the smell of cordite soon filled Pops’ senses. He looked down range and watched as hogs began to stumble and fall, many erupting in gouts of blood as the variety of weapons fired at them. A lot of them were simple hunting rifles, everything from a .22 to .308 and only a few of the proudly touted AR-15s. The range was too far for shotguns or pistols, so they were kept as close in weapons. The arrows began sprouting among the hogs too, the broadhead arrows punching through cheap armor and sinking deep into the pork.The hogs didn’t stop as scores of their fellows died, they kept trotting forward, a rhythmic grunting emanating from them.“Gunners hold. Caltrops forward!”“Caltrops!” two dozen men and women broke from the line, carrying plastic milk crates filled with balls of sharpen steel and iron. They hurriedly tossed the steel spikes out among the trampled grass and began rushing back.“Nail strips!” Pops ordered.“Nail strips!” Another two dozen men and women rushed forward and began unrolling nail strips. It was another simple defense that had been copied form the road spikes that Pops had seen as they marched up from Plano. Three inch framing nails had been punched through thick rubber strips and now they were being laid out in a staggered formation, fifty feet from the battle line.“Gunners, resume!”The gunfire began as the hogs reached the three hundred foot line. There was no missing the hogs now, but the big boar hadn’t been taken down. The bullets pinged off a blue shield that enveloped the brute.“The fucker’s got a mana shield,” Malcolm said, noticing Pops’ gaze.“There’s a gilt with him somewhere,” Pops said. “Jasper!”“I see it!” the man shouted back.“Steady people!” Pops shouted. He unhooked his axe and held it high. “Steady!”As he turned to face the oncoming horde, Pops noticed the hogs part down the middle, like a flock of birds suddenly changing direction. As a single unit they left a wide open spot down the center of their ranks.Pops didn’t have enough time to shout the warning when a swirling beam of raging fire shot down the center of the hogs’ ranks and then smashed directly into their front lines. Four soldiers were enveloped in flames; they screamed and burned alive, their skin melting and sloughing off in thick sheets. The beam of fire didn’t stop there, instead it continued onward, smashing into the low hill behind them, where the artillery had been stationed. Great gouts of fire and dirt erupted from the small hill and Pops could hear screaming from the artillery soldiers.“Plug up that hole!” Neville yelled.“Gilts! Kill those fuckers!” Jasper was screaming and the roar of gunfire filled the air.Pops felt a hand grab him and help him to his feet. He blinked and saw the face of his son, who was shouting something. Pops shook his head and clamped down the the emotions that were racing through him.“Steady!” Pops shouted, his voice carrying over the din of fear and gunfire. “Stea-“ Pops didn’t manage to finish the word before he felt a great and terrible weight smash into his left side. He went flying and hit the ground a good ten feet from where he had stood.If it hadn’t been for the shield that he had strapped on his left arm, Pops thought he would have lost it or at a minimum had all the bones pulverized. He barely had time to grunt in pain, before another massive thud pounded into the ground beside him. The red metal head of a fire axe protruded from the ground inches from his head.Pops rolled and came up to his feet. He looked up, he didn’t stop at a man’s height, but kept going and stared into the snarling snout of the armored boar. Peeking out from behind the massive creature’s shoulder were the crimson insane eyes of a gilt, it let out a squeal and began launching fireballs.The fireballs weren’t aimed at him, instead they detonated among the gathered soldiers. The armored boar was swinging his axes wide, catching unwary soldiers and sending them flying. The fucker was disrupting their lines and getting away with it.Soldiers screamed and writhed on the ground, it wasn’t the same as the fire beam they had been hit with, but being shrouded in flames was not something to brush aside.Pops launched himself forward and then cursed as the axe blade rebounded off the blue mana shield the boar had. He dodged the boar’s counterattack, for a moment realizing that the shield was lowered as the red fire axe crashed into his own.Malcolm was suddenly there, blood and dirt covered his face and the sheet metal armor he had been wearing was dented and pocked. He threw himself against the blue mana shield and it began to crackle with energy.Whatever Malcolm was doing, it seemed to bother the gilt as she screamed something and the boar whipped around, axe raised. The blue tint around the boar disappear as the mana shield dropped. Pops threw his axe, the blade flashed across the distance and embedded itself into the back of the gilt. The gilt screamed once more, but the heavy blade had lodged into the base of her neck, practically severing her head.The boar smashed down with his axe; Malcolm raised his own mana shield, but it wasn’t enough. The shield shattered and the heavy red axe slashed downward, opening up Malcolm’s chest.Pops was already running forward, he grabbed a machete that had been dropped and skidded forward, slashing at the boar’s unprotected legs. The boar shrieked and lost his balance, Pops was already up and brought the blade down upon the right arm of the creature. There was a loud crunch and more screaming as he severed the arm and with it the axe it held. With a backhand strike he sliced open the neck of the boar.He turned and rushed to his son, blood was welling from a jagging cut across his chest. To his relief he saw that it wasn’t too bad, a flesh wound. The sheet metal armor and padding underneath had saved his life. Although it would leave one hell of a scar.“You okay?” Pops asked.“No,” Malcolm said. “I’m dying.”“You’re not dying. I’ve seen worse shaving.”“Why were you shaving your chest?”Pops chuckled and then looked up as he heard squealing. The rest of the Orc horde had hit the caltrops and nail strips, many falling to the ground and being trampled by those behind them.“The fight’s not over, kid. Get up and lend a hand.” Pops grabbed his arm and pulled him to his feet, Malcolm let out a painful gasp.The hogs began dropping as they were within shotgun and pistol range. Bobby Neville was in a standing shooting stance, firing off slow and steady rounds from his AR-15; Jasper and Lopez were raining down hell upon the hogs.Malcolm grunted, but he raised his hands, a ball of energy began forming above him. Pops watched him and a moment later he threw the ball at the oncoming hogs. It was as if a giant hand smashed down on the group of hogs, not just knocking them down but causing them to explode into blood and viscera. Pops grimaced.A barrow appeared before him, squealing. He took its head and the next to come after that. The hogs hit their line, but not in the brutal impacting way they were expecting. After the death of their leader and the gilts, most of the steam had run out of the barrows. The last straw wasn’t the gunfire, but the caltrops and nail strips that embedded themselves into their hooves. They limped and squealed in pain and their charged came to a halt, after that they were sitting ducks.Pops found his axe still embedded in the neck of the gilt. She was a small thing, barely bigger than a child, but he had seen that insanity in her eyes. It seemed to be the hallmark of the gilts, something about the mana they wielded made them batshit crazy.Around him the rest of the militia was milling about, a sad and happy feeling filling the air. They had lost twenty people, and nearly three times that injured. Byrd was going to be busy tonight.Pops looked across the battlefield. The hogs had taken a big hit, more than half of their numbers had been killed, but that didn’t mean they were out of the fight. There were the sows that could and would fight, along with all the other boars that were in their camp, ant then there was the remainder of the gilts. The latter being something Pops did not want to face.He hooked his axe to his belt and sighed. This was only one battle and soon there would be another./Author's Note: Welp, it's the end of book 2 of Interdimensional Garbage Merchant. It's been an interesting ride, I learned things, I messed up things, i corrected things, and I overcame some things. It's always a learning experience and I'm glad ya'll are here with me to help. I do hope you're enjoying the story and stay tuned, because Book 3 begins on Monday. this time, without so many delays (hopefully). Thanks for being a Patron, thanks for being here, and thanks for the comments.

    B2-45 - Golden Ticket

    The scout rats did their job and sent back information on the unshielded core. Maya pulled up the hologram and studied it, she looked to her two companions and they both nodded. They were as ready as they could be.Maya formed a door that was flanked by Bell and Tender. They had their weapons drawn and pushed their way into the darkened area before her. She had protested, not wanting to be protected by the two, but she was a mess. Maya limped forward, her half healed injuries sent shooting pains through her limbs and she was half carried by an undulating Cage made crutch.The hiveship core room was stifling hot, not from the damage the ship had taken, but from the massive ball of rouge tech components that sat before them. The room had a metallic stink and Maya noted discarded cores littering the ground before them. It was as if they had walked into the den of a carnivore as the cracked and broken AI cores crunched beneath their feet.She paused and looked at them, one of the cores catching her attention.“Zono,” she said, lifting the core from the pile.“Are you sure?” Bell asked, he shone his light upon the core. It still had an internal light, therefore it hadn’t been destroyed yet. Maya could almost feel it screaming to her, trying to communicate. She inventoried the core.“That would explain some things,” Tender said.“How so?” Bell asked.“Well, Zono knew our location along with the Tarvana warrens,” he replied.“They tore him apart,” Maya said. She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter if he sold us out or not. “ She walked toward the massive core and looked at it. “We’re not here for Zono.”The rogue AI core seemed to shudder as she looked at it. She widen the door and brought it closer to them, from within the Cage a violet colored tentacle began to extend.“Show off,” Bell said.“I’m just full of awesome power,” Maya remarked. The tentacle gently touched the core and seemed to reel back from it. Maya felt a spark of something in her head, a surge of information and then a voice.“You!” the voice screamed at her. She translated it so that Bell and Tender could hear.“Ah, nice to meet you. I’m Maya Sullivan, these are my companions Bellmo-““We shall destroy you!”“Rude,” Maya said. “You wanna play it this way then? Alright, we’re the Sullivan Survival Society, surrender your ship. We’re gonna add your technological distinctiveness to the stuff we sell and your little drones are gonna serve us. Resistance is futile.”“We shall destroy you!”“You blew up my ship. I’m not in a forgiving mood,” Maya said. “Trying to kill me is one thing, but you’re making it so that the name Bonita is gaining a bad reputation. I can’t let you do that. I like the name Bonita, my first dog was named Bonita. Real nice girl, until she…. well, died.”“We shall destroy you!”“Fine.”Maya snapped her finger and the tentacle whipped forward and wrapped itself around the massive core. The AI core let out a strangled cry of rage. Maya grunted as she strained, the hiveship core was far too strong for her to try and dominate. The Blob had been a barely forming mind, that had been easy to stomp on, but this core was old and it was powerful.Therefore Maya wasn’t trying to subdue it, she was cutting it out. The Cage’s components streamed out of the threshold, pulsing with an internal purple light. They wrapped the core completely, microscopic connections forming and replacing the ones that the AI core had once commanded.It was a painful process, Maya leaned heavily against Bell as she basically shoved a crowbar between the core and the rest of the ship. She dislodged the massive core, but it wasn’t just a removal, she groaned as the Cage and her brain tried to replace it.“I told you this was a bad idea,” Bell said, helping her sit on the ground. Maya only groaned more as the strain in her head made her want to pass out.She tasted blood and felt it dripping from her nose. That was not a good sign.“Just need to get those little extra brains working,” Maya said. The hacking heads had been left in the processing nodes, more due to everyone forgetting to bring them back with them than from planning. It worked in their favor as Maya used them to begin overriding the lesser brains around the ship.Already the vessel was listing, several of the engines had shut down and some vital shielding was failing. Maya was only after two things, power and the damn teleporter. She wanted it.“We have to leave,” Tender said.“One moment,” Maya gasped. She struggled and felt the connection to the hiveship begin to fray. It wasn’t designed to take input from an organic mind, the hundreds of uncontrolled minds through the ship were going mad and they were rampaging.Maya felt the security systems give and she let out a shuddering breath. She still struggled to get the hiveship to do what she wanted and she could feel it beginning to slip out of her control. The ship listed more. It if crashed, there went all the liquid mana the ship had secured along with a lot of fancy technology they had created.She felt Tender’s metallic hand on her. “Let me help,” he said.Maya nodded. A purple tentacle peeled off from the orb surrounding the main AI core and slipped into Tender’s armored head. He jerked as it made the connection and Maya could almost feel a weight being lifted off of her.“Ah, see this isn’t too hard,” Tender said.Maya chuckled weakly and groaned as her head wanted to explode.“You’ve broken the security walls,” Tender said. “I’ve inputted the necessary information, but we must leave now.”Maya nodded weakly and she felt Bell lift her up. They raced to the door and she dragged the main AI core with them. Once they entered the Cage, she shut the door and then collapsed into unconsciousness.***“Wake up,” Bell said.Maya groaned and felt sick as she opened her eyes. “What?” she asked.“We need you to open a door to the space station,” Bell said.“Why?”“We’re down to an hour of time,” Tender said. “If we don’t do it now, we’ll run out of power, then we’ll have to navigate the hiveship to retrieve some. It is still crawling with active and madden rogue AIs.”“Plus you’re a bloody mess,” Bell said. “We need Nan to look at you.”“Fine, fine,” Maya grumbled. She concentrated and then let out a strangled cry. The Cage threshold shifted and she felt as if someone punched a sharp knife into her brain. It wasn’t mind flies bad, but it was enough to cause her eyes to roll back and blood to drip from her nose.“We’re here,” Tender said and looked to Maya. “Maya? Maya!”***“Damn it! Why am I here!” Maya shouted as she was seated her her father’s lounge chair. The System was reading a book on the couch beside her.“Oh, you’re nearly dead,” the System said.“Bullshit. I saved the day, killed the hiveship, made some awesome sauce advances in controlling the Cage, and made some wacky new purple components.”“Yes, Union Tech. Nice rediscovery,” the System said.“Union tech?”“A union of rogue and system tech.”“Boring name. I’m calling it Purple Rain.”“No.”“Come on. How about Crystal Rex?”“No. It’s called Union Tech.”“Lame.” Maya fumed. She looked at the System and sighed. “So I’m dying?”“Near death.”“Because of the whole brain thing? Trying to control the Cage, the hiveship, while patting my head and rubbing my belly?”“Yes.”“You’re the one who said to use my big brain.”“Well, not to the point of causing brain damage.”“How much is too much when it comes to surviving and pulling awesome technological achievements out of my ass during a bloody fight?”“You need to be at a ‘seven’ and not an ‘eleven’ when it comes to doing things,” the System said.“Go big or go home,” Maya replied.The System snorted.“So, what, is this like my pre-death party? I would like some strippers, please.”“No, I didn’t say you were dying. I said you were near death.”“So I’m gonna live?”“Depends on your friends.”“So I’m gonna live.”“You have a lot of faith in them.”“Dude, you’ve seen the shit we’ve been through. We’re golden and like totally besties for life.”“True,” the System remarked.“Well, I’m just gonna wait here and allow them to save me. Wake me up when it’s all done and over with,” Maya yawned.“Oh, another thing.”“Something good, I hope. ““More of a congratulations.”“On what?”“Reaching level one hundred,” the System said.“Wait, what!”“Oh, look at that. You’re fading out of here. You must be awakening in the real world!” the System’s voice faded in and out and Maya glared at him.“Stop doing that!”“I can’t hear you, Maya Sullivan…” the System’s voice faded as if being pulled away, even though he sat less than five feet from her and she could see him clear as day.“I said-“***Maya gasped and opened her eyes.She saw Tender’s half a dozen red eyes watching her. The rogue AI’s head tilted and she could almost see him smile, even though his faceplate didn’t move an inch.“You’re awake,” Tender said.“Hey, there buddy. You keeping me company?” Maya asked. She looked around from the bed she lay in, noting that she was in what appeared to be a hospital room. “Uh, where am I?”“In the Cage,” Tender replied.Maya closed her eyes and then she could feel it. She could feel everything that was happening within the Cage. She could sense Roci moving around, Nan working on some medical machinery, Yosi and Veskari… uh… Maya shook her head.Maya reached up and touched her head, noting that her usual locs of hair were missing, instead there was a smooth dome of her shaven head with some bits of machinery stuck to it.“Guess I blackout and get haircuts now,” Maya said.Tender tensed a bit and then looked in the direction of where Nan was. Maya could already feel the doctor noting her awakening and moving toward the room. Through some communication, Roci was notified and the young woman changed course toward the hospital room.Maya paused as she scanned the Cage, she noted the astronauts were there, talking among themselves and seemingly working on some kind of engineering model. She saw that her engineering VR was being used by Hanna and that they had tablets and holographic diagrams before them.“Uh… how long was I out?”“One standard week,” Tender said.“Bull-honky.”“It is not bull-honky,” Nan said from the doorway. She was immediately pushed aside and Roci shoved her way in.Maya looked at the AI and saw that she had grown again. It was strange, she realized, how much like a SIL she was even though her skin was metal. Maya had made the body so long ago, it seemed, out of random scrap parts, but now Roci seemed to fully wear it.Roci raced up to the bed and looked at Maya. “You’re awake.”“Nope, still sleeping. I sleep with my eyes open now,” Maya said. “How you been, kid?”Roci hugged Maya and she felt her shudder against her. There were no tears, but the sentiment was there. “I thought you were going to die.”“Takes more than a little hiveship to kill this girl,” Maya said. “Probably it’ll take two or three hiveships.”“Your brain was so messed up,” Roci said.“Oof, tell me about it. I once watched an Adam Sandler movie and thought it was funny.”“There was extensive damage to your brain,” Nan clarified. “You would have died, if not for Bell.”“Where is the lovable four armed grump?” Maya asked. ‘I don’t feel him…”“He used his golden ticket,” Roci said. “He returned home.”

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