• Nobles of Null is a forum based roleplay site where sci-fi and magic collide. Here, Earth remains fractured and divided despite humanity reaching out to the stars. Worse still, the trans-human slaves of one major power have escaped, only to establish their own Empire, seething with resentment at abuses of the past. Even the discovery of aliens, though medieval in development, has failed to rally these squabbling children of Earth together with its far darker implications. Worse still, is the discovery of the impossible - magic. Practiced by the alien locals, nearly depleted and therefore rare, its reality warping abilities remains abstract and distant to the general populace. All the while, unseen in the darkness of space, forces from without threaten to press in. For those with eyes opened by insight, it is clear that an era is about to end, and that a new age will dawn.

Chapter 4: New Texan Adventures


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Fort Alamo, New Austin, New Texas system

Caleb took a deep breath as he stepped off the shuttle, looking around the landing field. "Do you know how long it's been since I've had non-recycled air?" he asked the black Theradectan that followed behind him. "Four years. Much too long."

"Much easier on my prosthesis," Thakozois agreed, looking around at the gathered military infrastructure. "And this isn't the capitol of the planet?"

"No, though this is the focus of the military," the Major said, looking over at the other shuttle that'd followed them down, where boxes of alien artifacts and equipment were unloaded under heavy guard. "We can get to Houston later, if you want."

"Depends if I get tired of the gawking," the Theradectan said, looking at a pair of Marines, who moved when they realized they'd been discovered.

"Fair," Caleb said, before looking back at the rest of the crew. "Come on, the air is clear and we have a whole planet to look around."

Safaa decended from the shuttle and into the open air, stretching an arm up with an audible crack before lowering it to her side, a series of CSC-related badges prominently visible on her jacket's sleeves. She was definitely happy to be groundside in a breathable atmosphere for a change, but 'Planet USA' was not exactly the top of her go-to list.
"You know, we could've gone to Silbern. But no, we're in 'Four Times Bigger' New Texas." she quipped, letting her wrist-terminal sync with the local networks. "Maybe I should've brought the armour and rifle to better blend in with the locals.".

"Major Schembri?" a NCO asked, another soldier in tow behind him.

"Yes, Master Sergeant?" Caleb asked, looking between the two.

"I got Senior Astroneer Clarkson here," the soldier said, "They're being put under your command to help analyze any more alien material you come across and any other mechanical necessities."

"Sounds good," Caleb said, nodding as he held out a hand to the newcomer. "Major Caleb Schembri, glad to have you."

The thin looking figure Nods to the Major. taking his hand with a smile that doesn't reach Their eyes.
"fantastic meeting you Major. I am Kat Frezno Clarkson. At your service"

Eliza stepped from the shuttle, and loudly inhaled air. She held it there, sitting in her lungs, tasting the air of home, before, with a heavy sigh and a smile, she breathed it all out. She ahd a grin on her face, wide and nearly wild as she stepped around, stretching her legs as she looked around. "Home! Land of the dangerous and home of the moronically adept. And also the actual smart people we keep all tucked away in safe lil' science homes." She looked to the Major, grin firmly established and not willing to lessen.

"Caleb, we've got a laundry list of shit to do, trouble to get into, and adventure to have. Way better than space bugs with meat cannons, we got lizard bird titans with unkind dispositions and people with more weapons than sense. But we'll be alright!" She opened her backpack, pulling out a holster and her revolver, slinging it over her waist, and a second holster followed it, holding her service sidearm on her other hip. The final component of the get up, a single cowboy hat she set upon her head.

"Step one?" The smile finally died. "Goddamnit. The paperwork. That shit's on you, Major."

Arachne could not help but snort, both Safaa and Eliza were particularly amusing in situations they did not want to be in and she was living for it. As she let out her amusement at the misfortune of the others she adjusted her uniform- straightening her lab coat and making sure her belt lined up just right with the buttons of her shirt. The last thing she wanted to be mistaken for one of the meat heads, "Eliza. You aren't actually going to be wearing that silly hat in public, are you?"

She stopped beside the Captain so she could give her the side-eye as she reached up to give the brim of the hat a swift flick, "I can't imagine why you would want to blend in here, Oberstabsgefreiter. Some of the natives might actually want to be your friend or something. God forbid."

The person looks over to the two people exiting the ship next to the major. offers them an equally plastic smile. "Haha. You two seem like very nice people..." the laugh sounds very forced and unnatural. They look over to the Major, nodding towards them. "are these my. Coworkers I can... get to know? Or are they dropping off here?"

Benjamin shoots a look at Eliza as he disembarks. "Sci-Scientists live in... n-normal h-houses," he grumbles, although there is a little flicker of pride at being deemed smart. At least, he hopes he is who Elizabeth intended the comment to be about. He bit his lip at Arachne's comment about the hat, agreeing with her mentally - no way would he be saying anything out loud about what in tarnation Eliza had on her head. It looked like a dented plate.

"Everyone coming off the shuttle's going to be your coworker, yes," Caleb replied to Kat with a nod.

"Even us spiders," Thakozois said, bowing his thorax to nod to the newcomer.

"Fascinating!" They exclaim, looking towards Thakozois with an inquisitive eye and same flat smile. "I imagine this trip shall be fun. Fun. And excruciating. I can't ask for anything more"

They wobble for a second under the weight of their surprisingly large luggage. Clearly starting to get a bit tired of it. Asking: "I must know where I can place my large amount of equipment, barely under the maximum weight I assure you. But it is what I need to do the work I was asked to go. where do we sleep?"

"This is New Texas, I imagine they just push together a pile of leaves and sleep on top of it- or perhaps dig holes and sleep in those? I'm a little unfamiliar with their customs." The waifish officer's eyes half-lidded, she looked much too proud of herself, "We'll get you situated, have a little bit of patience. You might want to talk to some of the logistics crews around here- they can get you loaded up. In most cases."

"State the purpose of visiting high density human settlement. Incursion-force is not meant for diplomatic action."

One of the four massive vrexul intonated with abrupt fluctuation, its synthetic voice sounding as much like an order as it did a barely concealed threat. They had holstered their weapons, attaching them to the backs of their carapaces like some strange war trophies as they clank-stepped down the ramp, rising to their enormous full heights momentarily. Even in a civilian area they did not seem any less vigilant.

"Human Command: present? What can be revealed only revealed to those of commanding hierarchy." Another spoke, its voice lilting and murky as if from beneath a swamp's murk but clear somehow in its cold, crisp tone. This one was the second smallest of the quartet, at least eight feet tall fully standing and with its head vaguely reminiscent of a rove beetle's in structure.

They had chosen to travel with the humans on their shuttle in the end for whatever reason, perhaps finding it more convenient, but it lead to the question of why. Were their own following behind hidden past the atmosphere or were they truly so confident as to leave alone with strangers?

They look at the Vrexul, though with an eyebrow raised in some sort of impressed expression beyond what they where trying to convey. They look back to Arachne. "Fantastic. Thank you very much. I did not catch your name?"

Arachne turned to look at the newcomer, all while eyeballing the Vrexul- she wasn't about to deal with that while there were two other officers present whose jobs it was to do exactly that- "Kapitänleutnant Arachne Panagiotopoulou. A pleasure making your acquaintance, Clarkson." For a moment she made full, unwaivering eye contact with Kat. A very genuine looking smile filled her lips.


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Then she turned entirely away to give a little more of her attention to the Vrexul, "Cool it. I'd normally suggest a deep breath, but... uh, if you're looking for 'command'." Her fingers trail across the air- stopping in the directions of Caleb, Eliza, and then finally jerks a thumb back at herself, "Specifically in that order. Mostly the first two." There was a significant hint of humor in her voice.

Maksim slowly stepped out of the shuttle, his stomach flip-flopping between nervous excitement and pure nervousness. He wasn't expecting to come back to New Texas so soon, and even though it wasn't his true homeworld, he still felt the strange combination of relief and displacement that homecomings could bring.

Max looked at the rest of the crew who had exited before him. He quietly noted Eliza's cowboy hat, remembering that his own was tucked away in his luggage. Maksim hadn't even thought to incur the embarassment of wearing his (he didn't have anything to go with it, anyway). Noticing the newcomer -- the newcomer besides the Vrexul, that is (who Maksim was somehow getting used to quicker than was probably normal), he approached the group.

He waited awkwardly for an opening in the conversation before he introduced himself. "You must be Kat Clarkson, it's nice to meet you," he said in a hint of a Russian accent. "I'm Maksim Sedova."

"Hello. Hello." they flash a fake smile to Arachne and Maksim as they nod to them. "its nice meeting you both."

looking towards them for a moment the smile drops as an analytical gaze moves over them both. Just a general glance looking your equipment and rank over. The smile comes up again, but the eyes stay in that almost dissecting way. "I suppose we'll be working together."

Maksim fought a chill trying to creep up his spine as Kat's eyes bored into him. "Yeah, I looking -- I'm looking forward to it," he concluded before shrinking back a bit.

"Mm. It always is." If Kat's faux smile and calculating eyes bothered Arachne she certainly didn't show it. She gently places one of her hands on Maksim's shoulder and squeezes it gingerly, "Yes, you'll be working with us. It would behoove you to get to know everyone. If you are ever in need of assistance with 'networking' with any of your colleagues or need morale or mental support- My door is always open."

Eliza didn't like this new person at all. They gave off weird vibes, and not like most scientists did. Most scientists were either hot and weird, wimpy and weird, or missed their calling as a superhero's human antagonist. This new one might be the last, and Eliza didn't like way they were looking at Mak. She placed a hand on Mak's other shoulder. "The Major can answer your concerns at any time. If that doesn't work," she gave a chuckle, "Then I need to do work, so try the Major again."

"Yes, yes, we'll get you to our leadership in a moment," said the Major in question to the Vrexul, shaking his head. "Really hope that a full general counts as human leadership, cause General Thomas was really annoyed when a Brigadier General didn't count."

"Anyway," he continued, looking at the gathered soldiers. "We're gonna be splitting up for the moment, cause we have two appointments to get to before we can get some real R&R. I'm taking the Vrexul and Taco to meet with Govenor Campana, General Romney, and their staffs. If you want to look at the cool alien tech stuff while we do some politics, come with me.

"On the other hand, we have some journalists that want to interview more Outremer personnel, after the exposè went well for them and the military approved of their coverage. Since, for better or worse, I'm needed with the brass, Kapitänleutnant Panagiotopoulou will be in charge of making sure we don't embarrass ourselves. We need at least two other people to go with her to that, though more's the merrier."

"Lastly, Captain Bakarra's in charge of the rest of you, since she's a local that will make sure you won't get eaten by the local wildlife."

"So, where do you want to go?" he asked, looking around the group.

"I just need to drop this off and then I'll be okay." Kat said. They gesture to their bags again.
"I've already gotten all my stuff in order."

"I clarify. Leader. We do not perceive group as upper-echelon Leader. We only speak of our matters to them. Protocol. Understand."

The larger one buzzed again, its synthesized voice wavering and twisting as if it was playing with some sort of internal modulation.

"Required - those who command you. That is our request." The lilting-voiced one replied, the two accompanying with them rising to their full heights and tilting their heads around erratically as they spoke. The lilting one in its height waved a few of its feelers and the other two scuttled behind it. The larger one's mouthparts were moving rapidly but it clearly had yet to actually speak with anything but its program.

"Governor - General - classifiation of upper echelon leader?" Another one asked with a trilling, vibrating tone as if it had a drill stuck into its voice-projector. It was by and far the "smallest" of the group yet somehow looking chunkier with crab-like bulb-plating around its shoulder and back. It was difficult to tell if it was younger or a different species.

The fourth one, also the third largest, remained quiet but its feet audibly dug into the soil with their clawed ends. It almost appeared to sink in, its body a bit more slender than the others but still akin to a centipede crossed with a large beetle grub, covered in semi-triangular biometallic plating. With the amount of auxiliary limbs lining its sides, it looked as if it might skitter away in pursuit of prey if its body dropped to the dirt.

"Yes, I get it, you've been very annoying about it," Caleb replied with a sigh. "Governor is the...overall upper echelon leader, General is a specialized upper echelon leader who needs to be there."

"Affirmed. We await the Governor and all answers provided." The largest spoke again, its attention turned elsewhere or at least not feeling compelled to face Caleb even. It looked as if it was speaking with the others; all the feeler and mouthpart waving seemed random at first but there was a sequence to it; they all paused, waited for one to wave, then all began waving, then paused, then repeated. Whatever they were talking about presumably on a closed channel was anyone's guess.

Safaa pulled a quick 180 towards the shuttle and quickly boarded it again, emerging a few moments later with a large backpack and a large case in her hand, and much like Eliza, a sidearm visibly holstered on the side of her hip.
"I call dibs on the 'outside experience'" she replied, quickly volunteering in case there was a chance they'd assign slowpokes to the interviews. There was no way in hell she was going to do a sit-down with a journalist. One exception that crossed her mind was dragging Eliza into it with her if she did get 'voluntold' purely to see the resulting hilarity.
It felt a bit odd to be carrying around her gear in friendly territory as she tightened the bag straps with a free hand, but if they were getting up close and personal with local wildlife then there was no way Safaa was intent on letting it catch her unaware. She didn't doubt the local AU forces weren't capable, but there was no reassurance quite like wearing your own armour.

Arachne gave two-thumbs up to the Major, "Yes, Sir. Wise of you to send the least socially inept of us." She hums- waggling her eyebrows in the general direction of the rest of the group, "Who's it going to be? It'll be a good experience. Talking to the public isn't so bad once you learn how to tackle it. Even the enlisted have to play face on occasion. Especially when you do all the- frankly- crazy shit we get up to." She, once again, checks her coat for wrinkles and brushes her fingers across the material, "Try not to have too much fun hitting the town without me, Captain. I expect you'll give me a proper tour after the interview is over?"

"Fun?" Eliza barked with a chuckle. "Never too much fun without you Archie." She gave a wink and a grin, tipping her hat to her. "See you on the other side, Face on Occasion." Sassy movements complete, she took her group onwards. There was an adventure to complete.

Vinsue stood with the group her pack slung over her shoulder. She quickly went to follow the Captain Bakarra. As much as she liked alien teck she was not a political type. With her newest, um, condition she also thot it best not to be near political people. Vinsue however was excited to see a new place, even if new taxes was known for its big bad extremes. She was a Astroneer and she love the thought of adventure. She however was not going to volunteer for public face interview stuff as she was not a very vocal person eather. Avoiding stressful camra stuff was probably also a good idea at least untill she had this dragon thing under control

"Alright, let's get going," Caleb said, nodding as he started for the headquarters building. "We'll meet up once we're done."


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Headquarters, Fort Alamo, New Austin

"Everyone here?" Govenor Campana asked, the politician looking nervous at the sight of two different arthopod species in the room, though there were fully armed soldiers standing by the door.

"Yes, sir," Caleb said, looking as soldiers brought in a couple of palets of Aos Si, Theradectan, and Vrexul tech.

"Well, lets get to it," General Romney said, tapping her datapad as she looked at Thakozois. "I've read the reports, so as far as I understand, you and the rest of your group don't really have the most up to date knowledge on the situation of the rest of your species, correct?"

"That'd be correct," Taco replied with a nod. "We also weren't given a map of where our home system is, sadly."

"We'll figure it out," the General replied with a nod. "Maybe it's just as easy as going through that planetary node on Antioch. Anyway," she continued, turning to the Vrexul, "among many reasons, that's why we've asked you to come here. With you being the most up to date on the situation, we want to know everything you know. If you need something from us, let us know."

"Antioch - planet - old, history runs deep. Our kind ages ago - massive wars against 'theradectan' camps opposed to their royalty. The vrexul of the Blood Axis and Primordial Voice, enemies of ours and soon, yours." The largest of the four paused its synth-speech for a moment, the sonorous flanging speak seeming to echo in the chamber as component across its masked, semi-cybernetic "face" peeled away and projected a holographic image to the centre of the room.

The image began to move, tinted in a grainy green-white, particles of data rearranging themselves to reveal footage from the corpse-covered ruins that had nearly been the end of the human-theradectan team.

"Our forces remain present on 'Antioch', hunting in ruins. Source of chaotic power lurks beneath; power that awakens destroyed bio-machine of wars past. Machines that fight and think, forged in the will of the tyrants. Bone-white with purple flesh, machinery of the Axis, ancient in origin but against which your soldiers are not foe but prey. The entity 'Caleb' knows this first hand."

The same monstrous creatures that had caused so much trouble to the humans and spiders in the ruins but had been annihilated by the four vrexul could be seen. This time however they were not still in false slumber. Gaping wounds, sparking holes, missing limbs - they crept and crawled in patterns chaotic and deliberate, shuffling among rubble and ruin. The holo-video blurred, rearranging into sights of something even larger than the gun-platform centipede-like abominations from before - something enormous and bipedal, blurring the camera feed with its mere presence and sporting a bhudda-like assortment of enormous curling crab-like limbs, marching by the view of the camera and covered in skittering, wing-flapping, grotesque cricket-beetle like constructs.

"So, ancient Vrexul soldiers were sleeping until we showed up and then attacked anything that wasn't them?" Romney asked, frowning at the images of the zombie-like aliens. "I really don't like how ineffective our weapons were against these things. Weren't they a century or something old or something and we still had a hard time getting through their armor?"

"Yes, sir," Caleb said with a nod. "Think we were able to take down one at the cost of 3 casualties and were only not wiped out thanks to our friend's intervention."

"Well, there's something to work on," the General replied, taking a few notes down. "Anything else the rest of the team wants to point out while we're here?"

"Not soldier. Machine of chitin and metal. Alive yet not. Not Vrexul, creature like this unit of four that protected your kind. Vrexul faster, smarter, armed to greater degree. Bioautomata units encountered in ruin were ancient: close quarters and weapons platform type. Intended to fight theradectans; humans not primary prey. Not immune to your weapons but you were not armed for equivalent of light vehicles."

Footage shift - engagements from other teams in the ruins, their bio-electrothermal chem-guns roaring and blasting off chunks of the biomachines - a much wider variety than what had been encountered previously. Some of which seemed less insect and more like some sort of floating weapons platforms made of a Giger-esque fusion of biomass and machinery.

"The true risk is not the machines but to whom they may call. Once, Primordial Voice and Blood Axis roamed these spaces but were repelled many lifetimes ago. These units - remnants of invasion. Units may be old but they coordinate, cooperate, unify. Singular unit - unintelligent. Mass of units - joined network of cognitive reasoning. Potential to summon their masters."

"Oh, joy, mindless insect zombies that eat humans for breakfast," the Govenor said with a nervous chuckle. "Make sure that doesn't get leaked or we'll have mockumentaries on the net in a day."

"Not the time, Max," the General replied, rolling her eyes. "What weapons did you use to kill these...bio-forms?"

The largest vrexul raised its arm. A parade of smalelr limbs emerged like swaying ghost shrimp out of its side, reaching towards its back to pull the massive cannon-rifle in the shape of a deformed, sidways earwig filtered through a series of jagged, industrial metal plating and layers. It was the same rifle that had slaughtered the majority of the bioautomata, effortlessly held in one massive, clawed pincer-arm. Plating shifted as if flesh were beneath as antennae, ocular protrusions, and mouthparts twitched and retracted as if working away the fatigue of slumber.

Relative to the four vrexul in the room, it looked like an equivalent of an assault rifle. It was massive enough that it might be more of a shoulder-fired launcher or crew-served weapon in anyone else's hands.

Another auxiliary limb, thicker and more spider-like than the others, emerged from its side to reach into a lower compartment of the weapon, digging past carapace plating and interlocking metals. It emerged with as a four finger-pronged tip, the split ends with silver hairs on their inner portions gripping what could be presumed to be a "shell". It had the rough conical shape of one, a bit more smoothed to its tip than truly pointy but the material that comprised it was not entirely metallic. Much of its head was made of gnarled chitinous matter but this was symmetrical and deliberate in its design. A sort of over-covering encased the motley light greenish rosy bullet in a dulled blue - it was a telescoped round of some sort.

It almost looked large enough for a proper lighter vehicular mounted autocannon - chunkier in places but elongated as if it was some creature waiting to stir awake and hunt. It was the sole vrexul thing in the room that was not moving.

"Standard projectile load for zatchtraceni automatic high-impact kinetic cannon," One of its antennae gestured towards the monstrosity that passed as a service rifle. "Resistance-induced high power artificial-synthetic chemically mixed detonation core, forward-burst armor-ripper impact-head with sub-mandible munitions within front to widen wounds before blast force, fired by biological-electrical-chemical reaction, intended to kill other vrexul."

The human soldiers tensed, their hands going to their now seemingly insignificant firearms. The govenor's face blanched, looking between doors to find the nearest exit. General Romney on the other hand leaned forward, looking at the integrated weapon as she worked to parse the alien's words. "So, armor piercing, explosive rounds? I can see that working. How many rounds do you usually carry?"

"Six to eight loads of 25 to 35 projectiles each, varying munitions for varied targets, supplemented by additional weaponry integrated and external. Accounting for additional supplies carried in mission not included. Lighter munitions supplied in greater quantity for combating bioautomata, frequently due to lighter armor. Presence of larger support and suppression unit type hostiles necessitates larger munitions."

The round was pulled back into the weapon, a sound like tape being stretched and paper torn crackling out of its body as the massive rifle was returned to the back of the biomechanical juggernaut. However it attached to the surface was hard to tell; almost as if it just stuck there.

"Human infantry group was caught off guard, surrounded by lightly armored bioautomata in environmental context unfitting for their tactics. Reiteration is vital; nothing encountered in ruins is modern combat-cleared vrexul bioautomata. Bioautomata are not vrexul. The true enemy is greater in power."

"Sounds like we're gonna need effectively anti-tank weaponry for fighting against the Axis and Voice then," Romney said, frowning. "As well as making sure we don't get as easily caught in ambushes."

"Yes, sir," Caleb said, taking the hint.


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"You fight more than infantry. Drones, support units, interceptor organisms - force variation dependent on particular faction. All vrexul use a number of non-beings in combat to fulfill various roles. Primordial infantry relatively lightly armored by vrexul standards; you cannot match them in durability, but your kind are fast and your diminished size has advantages in concealment and mobility. Blood Axis is another story."

It paused for a moment to replay a different set of footage - this time, of the ambush Caleb and his squad had survived. It was clear it was a long distance observation given how grainy the footage was and how zoomed in it was. The fast, skittering creatures that had charged blindly were present, chitin and flesh scattered by assault rifle fire. The horrid forms, descending from the ceiling and creeping out of the walls, taking advantage of the short distance towards their target seemed quite vicious but the vrexul paused the footage at various points.

"You cannot afford to to specialize your weaponry. Neither can we."

"More options are always better," the General replied with a shrug. "Could use better armor penetration overall these days, with all the power armor other nations are using. Anyway, do you know where the...Primordial Axis and Blood Voice's systems of control are? Wait, did I turn them around?"

"Primordial Voice. Blood Axis. Both far east of this system, beyond where human systems dwell. Origin point of the vrexul - ours by right, taken in stages of civil conflict. Yet that is not your concern in immediate context. The antioch bioautomata cannot be allowed to send significant-vital information to either."

"We've got the planet covered by the Burke in orbit for now," Romney replied, "So we'll know if anyone shows up."

"To know is one thing. To be capable is another. Your combat units struggled with outdated automata intended to fight theradectans. The entities they were meant to support are another matter altogether."

"And one of it's sisterships got shot down by an even older Aos Si weapon," the Govenor said, shaking his head. "Have to say, I don't know if the MIC is going to be mad that their systems are being shot down so much or thrilled for the huge contracts coming their way to make more ships."

"The path forward is clear. We return to our work and into the ruins. Identify and eliminate leadership modules. Secure the source of the awakening." This time, the previously atonal and emotionless voice fluctuated, syllables and vowels bending and blurring almsot enough to be noise but too lucidly clear and harmonized by multiple channels to be devoid of understanding. It sounded almost like a growl, one created not by a living organism's throat but layers of bone and metal scraping and grating against one another.

"Human forces capable of assignment should be taken. Opportunity for combat information gathering and experience" The voice of the largest vrexul returned to its normal, somewhat less torturous auditory expression, its companions remaining impassive as their heads swivelled and feelers waved about.

"I'd like to volunteer for that duty," Major Schembri said, standing at attention.

"I'm glad you volunteered before you could be offered," General Romney replied with a nod. "We'll be giving everyone on the Walpole a couple of weeks of R&R, though you and Lt. Colonel Duncan are going to be busy with paperwork."

"Of course," he said with a small smile, as he relaxed.

"And we're going to be sending along some prototypes," she continued, with a nod to the Vrexul. "And some armored vehicles as well. If we have to destroy some of the ruins to fully take them, might as well have the tools to make that possible."

"Our sections hidden in ruins; we manifest when you are near. Our communications network closed; you will identify our presence by other means. Move quietly, watch above and beneath - most bioautomata lighter anti-infantry, lacking projectile weaponry. Perceptible to heat-type visual modification, larger gun-platforms less mobile yet highly armored. Do not enter past the surface sub-levels; forward units of ours will determine paths of entry to avoid most ambushes."

The creature raised a bunch of feelers emerging from arounds its feelers, pointing them backwards and its allies shuffled, moving into formation as the largest began to turn and follow suite to its allies.

"We accompany those we have previously saved. We shall be in your forward element."


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Public Relations, Fort Alamo, New Austin

"Okay, I'm not the only one doing this dog and pony show," Kapitänleutnant Hernandez said as Arachne and her group arrived. "Kapitänleutnant."

"Kapitänleutnant." Arachne nodded her head in greeting, "Of course not.. It would have been a shame to let you have all the fun."

'Fun' definitely was not how Maksim would describe this experience, but he would rather be here than getting eaten by dinosaurs with Eliza. Even if she did call him a 'fucken square,' he enjoyed the beauty of New Texas within a safely-walled city with all its comforts.

"Alright, people," a harried soldier said, looking up from his datapad at the gathered Outremer personnel. "We got a couple of reporters in the other room that we need to impress. Do I need to go over what not to say?"

"That might be good," Maksim said. He wasn't socially inept -- just quiet -- but he wasn't sure what exactly the AU would and wouldn't want the media to know.

"Main thing is that we're not discussing exact numbers of dead and wounded with either of the big fights you got into," the soldier replied, looking around at his higher ranked counterparts. "Feel free to say it was difficult or something else to that sense, but we don't want to sound defeatist. The second thing is to point out that we have made new friends despite your tribulations and are making the tools necessary to counter these threats." He sighed, as he made more notes. "No offense, but you really couldn't get an AU officer to come along?"

Arachne let out a snort of amusement, "The AU Officers are otherwise occupied. I understand this is a joint task force, but you will have to make do with what you have. I am not a Public Affairs officer, but this is far from my first public interview. We have a good mixture of military and civilian personnel here. Everything will go swimmingly " The corners of her mouth upturned into that thin smile of hers, "No use wishing for what you can't have."

"Yes, yes," the soldier replied, pointing over his shoulder at the door. "Go get some makeup done and then we'll do the interview."

"Do we really have to?" Hernandez asked, looking skeptical.

"Yes, we don't want you looking like vampires under the studio lighting," the soldier replied, rolling his eyes. "Now get going already."

"Ah, what a shame I took the time this morning to apply my own! Try not to be too down on yourself. Normally you have to pay to have your makeup done professionally!" Arachne teased. She seemed all for the idea, not even so much as the slightest hint of annoyance crossed her face.

As the group entered into the makeup room, three civilians stood at the ready. "No time like the present," the soldier said, following them in, "ándale, ándale."

"Don't get them in a tizzy," Arachne said. "You don't want to rush makeup. Especially not stage makeup. You don't want us looking like clowns on the air. We have time to spare. Some."

Maksim nodded. He used to do a bit of makeup when he was in university -- nothing special, just some concealer, brows, and eyeliner. But since starting this job he found himself much too busy, so this was a nice opportunity for him.

"Hi, I'm Sara," one of the civilians said, smiling as the group sat down. "And this is my makeup team. While we work on cleaning your skin, do you know of any allergies that you have?"

"Not as far as I know, madame," Hernadez said, blinking as bright lights were turned on.

Maksim smiled politely at the makeup team. "I'm just sensitive to fragrance," he said, leaning back in the chair as they got to work.

"No allergies, just do whatever you need to do. Maksim might need some extra work, though." Arachne waggles her eyebrows in Maksim's direction with a wink, "Make sure you get him all dolled up."


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Maksim shot Arachne a confused look before a smile of recognition grew on his face. "I don't know, I don't want to show you up on camera," he quietly countered with a spark in his eye.

"We'll make sure you each look your best," Sara said, smiling as she wiped Maksim's face down with cleanser. "And sorry about the lights, but they match what you're going to be under for the interview, so we can match it the best."

"You can certainly try." Arachne mused, tilting her head from side to side.

The makeup crew took their time, applying concealer and powdering the men's faces while taking more time with Arachne, also giving her foundation, eye shadow, and mascara. While one worked to tame the French officer's eyebrows, Sara pursed her lips as she studied Maksim, hesitating before adding the powder.

"If you don't mind, think I'll fill in your eyebrows as well," she said, pulling out a pencil.

"That's fine," he answered, glancing over at the rest of the group. His worries about the interview were beginning to fade as the minutes went by. Seeing Arachne in this environment was strange and a bit funny to Maksim, considering she played the part of his therapist just a while before.

"Alright," Sara said, leaning forward and completing her work, straightening a few moments later. "Think you're all good to go. Break a leg."

"Finally," the soldier said, opening another door and waving the group through. "We have a bunch of journalists in there that have been waiting a while."

Walking down a short cooridor, the group soon came upon a stage, with three chairs set on either side of the room, one side of which was already filled.

"Sorry for taking so long," the soldier said to the people present, before introducing everyone. "This is Kapitänleutnants Arachne Panagiotopoulou and Jérémy Hernandez, and Researcher Maksim Sedova," he said, before turning to the others, "Sasha Jacquet of Nine-Tails News Network, Thảo Peterson of The Elysian Times, and Payne Pierce of Union Public Newscast."

"Looks like I'll have to get an interview with the hometown soldier later," Thảo said, with a shake of his head. "Not too often we can get a native Plutionian in such a situation."

"Sorry, but Major Schembri is busy with other meetings," the soldier replied with a sigh of his own. "Anyway, we'll start shortly, so please take your seats."

Maksim held up a hand and gave a sheepish smile. "Hi, nice to meet you all," he said as he approached the chairs, hesitating on where to sit before choosing the chair farthest from the cameras. He regarded Thao's statement with a bit surprise. Major Schembri had never mentioned he was from Pluto, but hearing him described as some sort of hometown hero gave him pride as a member of his crew. Right after this thought crossed his mind, however, a sense of imposter syndrome filled his head, which increased his nervousness back to the level it was before. What was Maksim doing here?

"FYI," one of the film crew said as the group was sitting down, "your title and affiliation will be shown on screen, so don't worry about saying that."

Once the group was settled, the cameras turned on and an assistant counted down, "Three, two, one," before pointing at Sasha.

"Good evening," the French reporter said to the camera, "I'm Sasha Jacquet, here with a couple of my colleagues-"

"Thảo Peterson," the other male reporter said with a nod.

"And Payne Pierce," the female reporter replied with a smile.

"And we're here today as a follow up on the Outremer Expedition," Sasha said, turning to the group. "Please, introduce yourselves."

Arachne shifted in her seat and the polite smile on her lips spread a little wider as her eyes settled on Sasha, "Doctor Arachne Panagiotopoulou, it's a pleasure to be here."

There was a slight pause before Maksim went next. "I'm Maksim Sedova," he said, remembering to smile and not glance at the cameras.

"Jérémy Hernandez," the soldier replied with a nod.

"Thanks and for the first question, I think we'll go with a softball," Sasha said, "What brought each of you to Outremer?"

"Ah! I could go on and on with reasons," Arachne sat a little more tall in her seat as if the reporter finally truly had some of her attention, "First and foremost because I was told to be." She let out a chuckle, "In reality, the opportunity to research other species while ensuring that my... colleagues don't catch something that we'll all regret is something I would be terribly silly to miss. Several parts duty, but also my own curiosity and desire for scientific progress. Someone has to keep the boots healthy, you know."


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Maksim's tight smile became a little more authentic as Arachne spoke. "Uh, and I was introduced to the idea by a professor of mine with connections to the program at Houston. I've always wanted to...see other parts of the universe and do some real, meaningful work, so I accepted right away."

"For me, the assignment came up as optional," Jérémy said, "and I decided to come along when I heard about the stuff the first batch of scientists dug up. Much more interesting than sitting around in the Silburn system."

"Fair enough," Sasha said, before turning to Payne.

"Our subscribers are curious about the aliens you've come across," the Chilean reporter said. "What are they like? And maybe the scientists can speculate on why they're both insectoid."

"We were on their planet, seems imprecise to call them the aliens." Arachne raised both her eyebrows and shifted her gaze towards Maksim, "Most of what I saw in person resembled the arachnids we have here. Just of... a substantial size. Of course, I spent most of my time examining small samples under a microscope. Perhaps my colleague would have a better description?"

"I agree, we were the ones who were aliens." He ran a hand through his hair. "It was like nothing I've ever seen before. Nothing was familiar -- except the way the Theradectans looked. They really are like large spiders, only much more intelligent with their own complex culture. There were...some difficulties understanding one another's intentions at first, but it has been fascinating getting to know what life is like for them."

"Yeah, we're still learning about the Vrexul as well," Jérémy said with a shrug. "Our recent passengers haven't been too forthcoming on their culture. The Theradectans on the other hand have been very curious about our culture and we've learned a lot from them. They're polytheists, raise their children collectively, and their teenagers are just as annoying as ours."

"Teenagers, huh?" Payne said with a chuckle. "The funniest things transcend species."

"Apparently," Jérémy replied. "Though the one we've dealt with most, her name is Camelia, is pretty capable of taking care of herself. Helped protect Maksim in the last mission as well."

"On that note," Thảo said as he leaned forward, "Are you satisfied with your leadership? Rumor has you losing a Statesman and who knows how many soldiers. Seems like some of the blame for that loss of life and material needs to land at the feet of those in charge of the mission in general and squads in particular."

The media soldier frowned, but shrugged when Jérémy looked at him. "Fair question," he said. "I'd rather that be the closest we get though."

"If I wanted to be in trouble, I'd ask what a Ruskie was doing in one of the most secret installations in the Union," Thảo said, looking at Maksim for a moment. "But I'm sure leadership put in the same amount of effort in its vetting as it has in preventing the Assembly Insurrection."

"And because you don't want to be in trouble, we'll just strike that last comment," the soldier replied, sighing as he made a note on his datapad.

Arachne held her hands up and gave a disarming smile to the group of reporter's, "Really asking those... very deep questions today! How about we move on? We have lots of things we're absolutely more than happy to share." The first two reporters nodded, but Thảo shook his head.

He had been starting to relax, but Maksim's muscles strained once more as Thao's words striked the air. He felt his heart begin to race and face redden, attempts to find the right response falling flat as his mind went blank. Maksim had worried that topic might come up, as he worried about many things, and yet here he was in disbelief.

"Surely you're not gong to call his integrity into question," Jérémy said, with an eye roll. "He's been an AU resident for five years, essentially for his entire adult life. What are you implying anyway?"

"I'm implying," Thảo said, looking at the French officer, "That the leadership of this expedition made serious errors in judgement and I wouldn't be surprised that they missed a Russian agent in their haste to go poke around alien technology."

"Of course," Jérémy said, leaning forward, "The KGB just sends out so many 19 year old agents into a variety of schools, just in case they get picked up to go a secret ISOC base? What is this, a bad 'YA' novel?"

"I'm sorry?" Arachne's smile very quickly faded, "What we are absolutely not going to do is turn this interview into you throwing wild conspiracies into the conversation at the expense of civilain personnel. You are a journalist, not a high-schooler with a blog. How about we act like it?" Her voice was nearly a hiss, "Now. Moving on. Any further questions?" The venom in her voice faded away and her smile was back.

Maksim looked back and forth between Arachne and Jeremy, watching as tensions rose to a boil before Arachne threw a lid on it, the tension still bubbling in the silence.

"Wait," he said, his voice breaking slightly. "I want to say something." But what did he want to say? He wasn't even fully aware of those words falling out in the first place. Maksim took a deep breath and looked the reporters in the eyes.

"Since you're curious, I would be happy to share one thing. I am no 'Ruskie.' I may have been born in a planet under the CCM, but I hold no love for any of that. I left my planet because I wanted to see what the universe offered and see what I could make of myself and have the freedom to do those things. And it was a horribly selfish thing for me to do." His throat tightened, but the words continued to spill out. "It costed everything. But if risking everything for a stupid, selfish idea isn't the American Dream, then I must've misunderstood everything I've learned from my time in the AU." Maksim boldly stared at Thao for a few seconds before realizing the words had stopped. He took another deep breath, ran a hand through his hair, and smiled sheepishly. "Uh...that's all I wanted to say." He looked at Arachne. "Sorry, we can move on now."

Thảo grumbled, looking down at his datapad at a backup plan. "I want to dig into the Theradectans some more. How well did you work with aliens that can kill you with a quick bite?" he asked.

"I mean, it's not really that different from working with a human that has a gun on them all the time," Jérémy said with a shrug. "Spent my entire working life in that situation and it's worked well for me."

Arachne nodded to Jeremy, "How much danger am I in from you biting me?" She shifted her eyes back towards Thảo, "That's the same amount of caution I feel around the Theradectans. The danger is never zero, but it is quite unlikely. They are people, not wild animals. I am more terrified of a clumsy lab assistant than I am our new friends."

Maksim nodded, relieved the converation was going a different direction. "They may look a little scary, but the risk is -- " His mind flashed with memories of their encounters with the Theradectans before they were on friendly terms. He was going to say "justified", but he reached for a different word. " -- there's always reward that comes with risk."

"Alright," the media soldier said, tapping on their datapad before looking up. "Think we've got everything we need."

"And more," Sasha said, with a nod to the three interviewees. "Thanks for coming, despite the... rougher parts. Please feel free to contact my company's office if you want to do a more friendly interview."

"Puff pieces always play well," Thảo muttered, picking up his belongings. "Let your Major know that I'll be looking for him," he added, before walking out.


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Lacandan Jungle, New Austin
"And here's your equipment," the pilot said to Eliza, pointing at the crate of camping supplies and weapons. "Are you sure you don't need another local to come along? I trust you know what you're doing, but I'm not really sure about the rest of your group."

Kat seems to be close to the pilot now. Giving them an attempt at a friendly smile. "Please don't worry, I am a local, despite my lack of public nuisance reports". Kat gives a friendly nod and a very friendly smile. "I think we will do just fine" moving close to the camping supplies. Having memorized the face of the pilot.

"I'm sure we can handle a few dinos." Vinsue replied as she went to help Kat with the supplies. "I thought all people from New Texas were trouble makers" She said jokingly to Kat.

"There's a very small subset of locals known as "Fucken Squares," Eliza said, already swinging weapons over her shoulder and picking up the crate. "These Fucken Squares live life without having actual fun. Instead, we're gonna expierence a true Camping Under the Stars... experience. Feels weird to say that word twice in a sentence. Not important. We're gonna be solid Pilot Man, if we die horrifically, pour one out for us." Carrying more than should really be possible, but seemingly not caring, she struck into the wilds.

"I'll... choose not to take offense to that." Kat laughs emotionlessly as they sling a bag over their shoulder and follow after.

Kat takes one of the weapons and looks it over, making sure the safety was on and the mechanisms where active. Though still keeping an eye on the trail they seemed to have dropped the false smile they had plastered on before.

Vinsue smiled at the remark. She had taken a weapon and followed after the others. "So guys if I shift, do me a favor and don't shoot." The likelihood of being shot was something she had not calculated before but with everyone armed it seemed a good of time as any to say it. "So any good story's you'll got to pass the trip."

"Sorry about that," the pilot said to Kat before heading to the small helicopter that'd brought the group there. "Well, if you're good, then I'll leave you to it. Recon flights found a couple of herds to the north. Just call on sat phone when you're ready to be picked up."

Kat nods to the pilot, having decided to not cut that person's breaks when the opportunity was available. Having decided to focus on the new information from Visnue.

"what do you mean by 'shift'? Could you elaborate on why there would be a fear of shooting if that was to happen?"

"Remember the node incident, well it changed me." She said scratching her head. "Sometimes I randomly puff smoke. Wait wasn't this in the briefing?" She put her arm back down to support her bag. "Anyway, by shift I mean I literally turn into a fire breathing dragon, wings and all. And why worry, we'll were literally going large reptile hunting."

Eliza had heard some bullshit before, but this was the bullshittiest. A fucking dragon? That seemed so medieval for this void bullshit, why that of all things? All Eliza got was a hypothetical restraining order enforced entirely by her desire to shoot that void thing if it came back. "That's some bullshit," she finally said, "all I got was a crippling hatred of magic void bullshit. And now magic spiders think I smell like magic, and I don't want spider people in my business. Without Ben I'd just shoot them if they pressed me."

"You know it feels like the boundry on 'bullshit' is kinda shrinking day by day." Safaa muttered as she passed by Eliza. "But I guess it's an easy rule to keep in mind between her and the wildlife, you know, wings versus no-wings."
She put the case she'd been carrying down with the rest of the supplies before eyeballing the campsite ground, deciding where to set up.
"So, anyone got any advice when it comes actually taking on a lizard here?"

"It seems I went with the right people..." Kat clicks their weapon into functionality again. As they do, seemingly having a finger in the safety. "when you want to take down a lizard your options will change based on the form, if it's standing taller on two or more legs you want to stand to it's side. That will keep you away from legs, possible claws and the bite. You want to either go for the neck if fragile, if the neck is thicker than a log then either go for the eyes or whichever other viral spot you can find."

they seem to be rambling on the optimal methods for dinosaur hunting.

"now if you want to take out one of the four legged ones you definitely don't want to be by its side. That's where most herbivores have a radius of danger. Usually tails or just a nasty shove. Diagonally in front of it is the best plan Of attack, easier to move away from it if it goes for you."

it's not looking like they are planning on stopping unless told to.

"Chear up Eliza if you smell like magic you may be magic it may just take time to work." Vinsue said.. if she did turn it may be a fun traning experience. "I had a burning throat for a while before I learned about my wings." She listened and took mental notes of the hunting tips.

Safaa nodded and quickly geared up, a small part of her felt using the armour and its gear was cheating a little, but at the same time fair play didn't seem as important in the face of being eaten. She stood up as the last plate secured itself into place and loaded an assault rifle, flicking the fire switch to single-fire before stowing it on her suit.

A few minutes after the group walked away from the landing site, they got to a cliff edge that overlooked the entire valley. The Lacandan Jungle was deeply forested, with even the river that had cut the valley over millions of years covered by the triple canopy. However, the eagle eyed among the group could see a few group of trees shudder every few seconds, the sign of passing megafauna.

Vinsue had stopped at the edge of the cliff. Something in her wanted to jump but she stood there looking over the foliage for movement. Her eyes would slit as she focused on one of the shuttering sets of trees.

"A burning throat?" Eliza sighed. Did she wanna really ask more things? No. "Sounds like you got the weirdest part of the magic bullshit. If I got anything, it better be cool. Like wings. Wings would help with this." She said, gesturing to the signs of the approaching beast. "I'd be so hot with wings. Like a warrior angel, with more guns than God."

"Alright, creature's on it's way." Eliza broke from her day dreaming, holding two assult rifles, one in each hand. "What we're gonna do is something called the Streaker's Gambit. Invented about 20 years ago by my great uncle, but this time we're wearing clothes. All y'all stay back, guns at the ready. When it breaks, I rush in, fire at it, and then run the fuck away. Motivated by pure revenge, it'll chase me out of spite. The dino's here are spiteful bitches, and it probably already knows of my bloodline."


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She cocked a rifle, one at a time, grinning all the while. "So, while it chases me, shoot it. Aim for eyes, necks, and testicles if you see any. Is that clear?"

"Genitals are mostly hidden inside the body for dinosaurs." Kat says, offhandedly as they take a step to the side. "Though during mating season when they are at their most aggressive that may change. We should be a week or so away from that... wait, what day is it?"

They checked an electronic. "Okay... ignore what I said, in fact pretend I said nothing. Just shoot and try to not die. Try more so than usual" they grip their firearm tighter.

"Question, what exactly killed your great uncle?" Safaa felt it somewhat neccesary to know the context surrounding the tactics they were about to employ here. She was far from worried, the local flora seemed ideal for her grapplers. That said, she held off from using her suit's sensors to track the incoming creature, deciding to leave some of it to the excitement of chance.
"And how sure are you that you can stay ahead of one of those things long enough for us to get a clean shot?"

As the group talked through their plan, they could the line of shuddering trees was moving in a way that would put their prey past them in a few minutes.

A puff of smoke pored out of Vinsue's mouth at the mention of it. She gave a quick nod and smiled as Kat realised what season it was.

Vinsue cocked her Rifle and pointed it in the direction the beast would be coming from. She was ready to take down the beast one way or another.

"As if I don't know the season from the smell of the trees," Eliza laughed, weapons hot. "Alright, spread out a bit. Vinny, maybe don't turn into a dragon, they might get the wrong idea." Eliza's plan was put in motion, the still primed rifles now on her back. She held a single revolver. "This'll get it's attention, and then the fool will think I'm small and delicious. When it gives chase, nuke the bitch."

Leveling the sidearm at the incoming form, she began sprinting parallel it's path, and fired center mass at the vague form, screaming, "Bite me motherfucker! I taste like freedom and lead!"

Damn Americans. Safaa sighed at the somewhat cliche baiting cries of Eliza before grappling herself up to a large tree. She perched on a lower branch so that she didn't get lost in the canopy and could still look down without issue. After an experimental tap on the rest of the branch with her boot and satisfied it would hold her weight Safaa's suit responded to her thoughts and passed her weapon to her.
"How long are we letting it run for before shooting?" she asked somewhat nonchalantly despite Eliza's current position as human bait. She'd be fine, probably.

With Eliza's provocation, a dinosaur roared and ran towards her, revealing it to be a Drumstickorex, a mostly herbivorous pseudo-reptile. The reason for it's aggression was revealed when several smaller Drumstickorex ran the opposite way, letting their parent deal with the sudden predators.

Kat would step to the side of the mini stampede, taking a few extra steps to end up a good few Dino steps out of attack range.

"three seconds." Kat answered Safaa.

Lowering to the ground just a little to give the impression of a smaller target as the Dino stampeded towards Eliza. "one second" they corrected.

"Hell no. Aren't no dino getting in my pants without getting me dinner first" She replied to Eliza. She than remained quiet.

Vinsue opened fire aiming for the left eye as she stepped to the left to stay out of its way.

"That's the spirit sister! Make 'em work for it!" Eliza fired carefully at the beast to deal fruther damage, though with her skills it looked like she was just firing indiscriminately. Maybe they were the same action.

The Drumstickorex stumbled from the shots, but continued it's run, steering from the Captain and go after the three other sources of pain, all conveniently located around a tree. By the time the hunters could react, the Drumstickorex was running at full clip towards them, armored head running right at them, it's bleeding eyehole only adding to it's desperate charge.

And now it's running at her, what was she thinking in all honesty. Go with the new Texans on a dino hunt. This was a stupid idea and now it was charging straight at her. Between anger and fear vinsue could fill her inner dragon awakening. She was two focused on using the running dino as target practice to keep her dragon at bay.

She dropped her gun and began running towards the dino. She had burley dropped her pack befor her wings completed the dragon. She stood a full four foot tall but she raised her wings to look taller and gave a roar of her own. Fire dripped from her mouth as she braced for impact.

Eliza grunted with frustration, seeing that the creature was an herbivore instead of a far more predictable carnivore. A carnivore would chase her, as she was the most vulnerable creature, being away from "the pack." An herbivore, one with something to protect, was far more dangerous to the group. She stopped, turning around, and in a mad dash started running after the beast. She hated it when a plan didn't go well, even more when the reason for it was a dumb animal.

Man Eliza was jealous of Vinny, especially at this moment. Vinny gets to be a little dragon, all headpattable and dangerous, and all she got was a cosmic stalker.

Realizing the plan has changed to be just meeting the thing dead on rather than allow it to tire itself out. Kat decided to aim and take out its ankle, hoping to just throw it face first into the ground..

After the shot they sidestepped away from the bullrushing line of destruction about to happen, and looked around. Making sure no scavengers or even larger predators would come by.

Safaa had been waiting as the others opened fire, or unexpected challenged the damn thing in a straight-up fight. A friend had once joked that if you'd travel enough you'd see everything, and now she was looking down watching a dinosaur fighting a dragon, suffice to say, Safaa probbly owed them a drink now. She held her rifle up and peered down the scope, aiming for the center mass of the group's hunt while calmly flicking it to a single-fire mode with a free hand. Pausing to breathe out, steadying the weapon to avoid accidentally hitting the wrong lizard, Safaa squeezed the trigger, firing several carefully aimed shots.

The Drumstickorex roared in pain as more bullets entered it's body, but the sudden appearance of a a threat the pseudo-dinosaur was evolved to recognize gave it the focus required to keep going. Charging down the smaller dragon, the Drumstickorex lowered its head, aiming its horned nose at it's target's belly.

Vinsue again roared at the charging threat this time she shot fire. Vinsue would become as small as possible to protect herself from the sharp horn. She knew this would not completely protect her but it would give her a chance to bite a leg. As it seemed this creature was all about charging.

The Drumstickorex was confused by the smaller reptile's actions, but instinct took over and it hit Vinsue's back, scraping off a line of scales before attempting to trample her.

Pain hot and fresh cut through her. It was distracting in the least but she had no time to do more than vocalise the pain. She carefully backed up avoiding the creatures feet as she looked for the perfect place to bite. She would bite its leg and hold on for dear life as she bought time for the others to fire there weapons.

Deciding it's better to keep active fire against the Dino, Kat pulls the trigger again. peppering the creature once more. Although it was getting hard to avoid shooting the apparent dragon person.

"You're not making this easy..." she muttered to herself as the hunt devolved into more of a brawl. "Trust the American to come with the plan that doesn't do subtle."
The literal close quarters made things a little bit more complicated, even if the goal still boiled down to striking center mass as before. She shifted her postion to aim again before the robotic arms quickly deployed from her suit's backpack again, this time two of them securing themselves to the tree branch and the other two reaching forwards to help stabilize her weapon.
Yeah, that should do nicely.
She opened fire again, repeating the same pattern of controlled single shots.

As Kat and the rest of the crew fired at the Drumstickorex, though careful to aim at the higher parts of the beast to hopefully not hit their comrade, their prey slowed as it passed them. This was most obviously due to having Vinsue riding along their stomach, but as the pseduo-dinosaur tried to turn and go after Kat, blood was running from what was left of its left eye and other frontal injuries.

Taking a few more steps, the beast groaned and collapsed at Kat's feet, its last remaining eye staring at the soldier's eye level. Unfortunately, this effectively smothered the dragon underneath its bulk.


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Everyone was safe and no one was hurt but her. And they had effectively killed the dino. Her newest problem was that the dead dino was now on top priority her and it was not something she could pick up. She would push up as hard as she could simply to breath. "Um, guys. Get this thing off of me!" She would scream.

"Maybe next time we should bring nets." Safaa quipped as she rappelled down the tree and jogged over to the downed creature. "Or take a page out of the history books and try to drop it with a higher-power single shot instead of pouring it on like an American at the sight of the CCM."
She walked up to the dogpile and placed her hands up against the dead beast, her suit's arms following suit by bracing against the creature and the ground behind her to help push, and waited for the others to stand ready.
"On three?"

"We didn't have time to dig a pit trap," Eliza growled, reloading her spent weapons with ease, just in case something else came out of the woods. "That would have made the whole thing a lot easier. High powered rounds are expensive, and you don't wanna be the one to tell the Brass we used some high powered ammunition on personal time. I've tried, they don't like that."

Muttering under her breath, she looked over the creatue with an appraising eye. "Damn good looking beast though, once we pull the lead out and cut her up we'll have rations for weeks. Takes the edge off the nerds that have to worry about that." Stowing her weapons in various holsters, she smiled. "This was a good kill." She leaned over the creature, speaking to Vinny with an amused tone of voice. "Next time, you gotta roll out of the way at the last second, let it hit something else."

She gripped the beast in tandem with Safaa, and quietly whispered, "Come on magic bullshit, do something cool for me for once. There's gotta be an upside this shit."

With the group working to push the Drumstickorex, the dead weight of the creature barely moved at first. However, with the second attempt, Eliza felt a sudden heat flare through her body, a slightly toned down version from her encounter in the Outremer-Antioch node, that was followed by an increased strength, to the point that the dino was pushed aside easily, putting the rescuers at risk of falling on top of the dragon themselves.

"Dragons don't roll" Vinsue would say. "And I didn't want it to hit the group." She was quick to move when the weight of the beast came off of her. Quickly realizing what had happened Vinsue smiled "spider said you smell of magic Eliza. I hope that's not the smell it smelled. Smells like bad body oder to me."

She would than lay down and try to see how bad she had been cut. Unfortunately it was higher up than she could see a she gave up. Now that the situation was calm and the Dino was off of her 2 things because very clear. First she was hungry. And second the cut was still bleeding and now starting to ich.

"Any chance we can try some of the Dino before heading back? I'm starving."

Kat looks up from the firearm they had started to care for as the Dino expired. Turning off a screen of sorts.

"upper flank, let it hang for a minute and then char the outside thoroughly. Quickest meal you can get out of this thing without extended cook times"

The internet is a saving grace sometimes.

"I've got a plan for the rest of it," Eliza said with a smile, looking over the beast. However, inwardly, she was freaking out. The magic bullshit was useful! At least for that moment, for that situation. She'd have to show this off at some point. "Alright kiddos, we set up camp here. We've got a night or so before the scavengers get ballsy enough t check this out, which means tonight I'm chopping this bitch up into far more mobile chunks."

She paused. "Who knows how to administer first aid to a dragon? Best I can do is offer you first pickins of the monster, Vinny. You've earned it."

"I would be happy with the head unless others want the trophy." Vinsue would say. At the moment she wasn't actually that picky as long as it was food. Actually meat and bones sounded amazing.



Drumstickorex in hand, the hunting group was met with the rest of the crew, who brought along with them more tents, protective equipment, and even cooking equipment.

"Your day sounds way more fun," Thakozois said, bringing more wood for the campfire. "I got a bunch of meetings and even more physical exams. So much prodding. Would have much rather helped catch prey."

Vinsue laid by the fire. Now patched up but still in her dragon form. She had both front legs on the bone as she chewed on it.

Maksim had many questions. Unable to figure out which one to bring up first, he compromised and slumped down on a log-turned-chair, looking back and forth between the dragon and drumstickorex.

Placed strategically in front of the actual dragon, as if she was in any way more intimidating than Vinny, was Eliza. Hunched over the fire to better smell the cook out, her elbows on her knees in what must have been more comfortable of a sitting position, even if it didn;t look it. She still had blood on her outfit, the blood of the beast they brought down, and she'd yet to change.

The crackling fire cooked the turning spit upon which dinosaur meat was suspended, and one chuck was in her hands, held up by a fork as Eliza tore chunks from it to eat. She looked at Max with a smile, made less friendly by the presence of her literally devouring meat. "So, your talk with the papparazzi go well? Did Archie fuck em up as expected?"

"Five bucks says she sat them down for a long-winded introspection that kept going until they gave up or fell asleep." Safaa interjected with a grin, laying on the ground against her backpack while picking at a plate of meat next to her.

Arachne coughed as she settled in next to Maksim, "I assume this five bucks is going to me? I was, uh, perhaps more of a firecracker with them than I should have been, but I'm not a big fan of the press. Vultures. I had not bothered to mention to the Major that I have a... small reputation in the GDW for fucking with the media. At least those that purposefully ask inflammatory questions and try to single out people they think they can intimidate answers out of." She sideyed Maksim, before slowly shifting towards him, "I hope I did not embarass you too much when I went off on that reporter. You did very well."

"Nobody shook on it, so it was an unofficial bet and not privy to regulatory oversight yet. I'm afraid I'm not obligated to give anyone squat."

Maksim took his eyes off Vinsue and smiled slightly at Arachne. "You didn't embarass me, don't worry. If anything, that reporter embarassed himself." His hand flew to his mouth, surprised at his own comment. "But I mean, he was just doing his job. I should've expected the mistrust. It's not the first time people have been suspicious of me."

"Are you joking? That reporter was a joke. They threw wild accusations at you just to create drama. A reporter is supposed to share the truth with people, not make up wild conspiracies for more views." Arachne crossed her arms over her chest and gently elbowed Maksim in the side, "You don't have to defend his actions. Fuck that reporter."

"Were they tryna fuck with my favorite Snowman?" Eliza said, referring to Maksim. "The man from the frozen land? The Ruskie lookin..." she desperately searched for a rhyme, "Husky? I ran out of rhymes, my bad. Either way, fuck the news, you git 'em Arch."

"Wait, who was this reporter?" Caleb asked, bringing a platter of smores supplies to the fire.

"Thảo Peterson," Jérémy said, taking a marshmallow and a stick. "Was real disappointed you weren't there. Bet he wanted to roast you good."

"Wait, Thảo from the Elysian Times?" the Major asked, raising an eyebrow. "Last I remember, he was posting pro-military pieces from the astroneer's perspective. Wonder what changed."

"Well, he was asking for you," Jérémy replied, hovering his marshmallow over the flames. "Sure you could find him if you asked."


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Vinsue raised her head to listen. "Can't stand reporters.or politics. But I'd bet that his reaction when he figured out he lost would have been funny." She glanced at the marshmallows. She liked smores but had two problems at the moment first the clumsiness of using claws and second the higher chance of the gooiy substance geting stuck to the roof of her mouth. Both would be embarrassing. Instead she continued conversation. "I'm just glad no one else got hurt in the hunt." With that she bit the bone snapping it into smaller pieces befor trying to eat the marrow.

Kat was looking over some equipment to the side, didn't really know any of the others to any good extent and was way too socially drained to try any more this day. It was a job, if they where lucky it would pay before the boss turned coat or croaked.

"Yeah, he seemed interested in interviewing you especially," Maksim said, picking at the melting marshmallow sticking to his hands. "Do you two know each other?"

"No, I just liked reading his pieces," Caleb said with a shrug, before sticking his own marshmallow above the fire. "Something to worry about later."