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Subject: Here At The End: A Short Story rss

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Jason Beck
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Felix alearum famis! Et posse impares sumus erimus en tui semper favoris.
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A group of nine sat, crowded ‘round a table with a shaky holo-projector in the middle. The projector cast a three-dimensional image of a massive, gleaming factory complex- a stark contrast to the rickety rectangular table underneath it. As if to emphasize this point, the image flickered a bit. One of the men at the table reached out and gave the delicate piece of technology an emphatic shake, and the image stabilized.

The group’s leader pulled a piece of paper from inside of his coat, unfolded it, and laid it out on the table in front of him. A quick succession of taps brought the papercomp to life, and a few more inputted a password. Numbers ticked along the bottom of the paper and several files were open on the interface above it. The dark-haired man fidgeted with his beard, uncharacteristically betraying his nerves. "Three minutes to detonation," he said.

The men and women around the table subconsciously leaned in closer to the hologram; tiny figures scurried around the building in their daily routine, producing weapons for the Alliance’s enormous, repressive military machine. A woman with scarlet hair lifted her eyes from the factory and trained her gaze on the bearded man: "Are the others on schedule?"

Tap tap slide tap tap tap. The image of the factory complex was replaced with a military spaceport. "Four minutes for this one," he said, nodding. Tap tap tap. Thunder crashed outside and drowned out the rest of the thumps on the papercomp that indicated the man was pulling up more files, more datafeeds. The room was windowless, so the rain had nothing to tumble into but the roof. The image of the military spaceport was replaced with an enormous supply depot and power plant complex, far larger than the others. "Five minutes on the third," he said, nodding. A few more taps and the first factory complex’s image was back.

This was their biggest strike yet, a blow designed to cripple the military-arms production center here on Gideon, a center that shipped countless weapons out to the Alliance, day after day after day. The plans had been laid for months, so carefully, painstakingly laid out. Quiet reigned in the room, and no thunder crackled to interrupt it.

"Thirty seconds."

The door to the room was flung open and a man in a dripping, tan trench coat came running in. His black hair was plastered to his face, and water seemed to soak his every appendage. "Something’s wrong," he said, panting, "with the detonation waves."

The group looked up in shock. "What do you mean, George?" "They can’t be wrong!" "We checked them over and over!" A cacophony of worried interjections spilled out from the assembled crowd. George pointed at the scarlet-haired woman. "Julia. You were responsible for the detonation frequencies. You did this."

Outrage erupted.

"Ten seconds."

Quiet reigned again.

The time ticked down, down down, and then- nothing. Eyes widened. The factory remained. Frantic tapping on the papercomp flipped to the next target. Baited breath, silence, and nothing. And the next target. Nothing.

Arguments. Shouting. Yelling. Pointing. Accusations. Betrayal.

An appeal for calm was made. "All is not lost," said another man. His clothes were neater than the rest, and he did not particularly look like someone who schemed and planted bombs. "There are still secondary targets. The missions tomorrow and Wednesday still need to be executed. This is a temporary setback, nothing more." His sweater vest and demeanor radiated a need for rationality. "It is possible that a mistake was made. Everyone here ought to be able to trust each other. If we can’t do that, we cannot hope to carry out phases two and three."

Several heads bobbed in agreement. George continued to glare at Julia.
"I want her replaced," he said. "Send someone else on the next mission." He pointed at the man with the sweater vest. "You go. Send Michael," he said to the group, "and Justin, Sarah, and Steven. But not Julia. I forbid it."

Steven, the bearded man with the papercomp, looked warily out at the group. "This is a change from the plans, and Michael is not an operative, he is in charge of messaging and recruiting, as you well know."

“Recruitment is seriously down," George retorted, "so perhaps he’s better used elsewhere anyway."

Michael’s eyes glittered with anger. "You know as well as I do that the Alliance’s crackdowns are responsible for the downturn in recruitment, and-"

Henry held up his hands and appealed for calm. "Please, please, let’s not do this. A simple vote should suffice. All of the foundational work has been done; the final phases ought to be easily accomplished by any of us here." More nods in agreement. A show of hands, and near unanimity saw the motion pass.

~

There was no rain the next day, no thunder. A rickety table with a holo-projector, and another set of failed missions. More accusations. Betrayal and infiltration seemed the only reasonable explanations. A new crew was selected for the tertiary objectives.

~

More rain and more thunder. The group sat around the table again, malevolent glances passing from some to others. The atmosphere was tense. Betrayal seemed unthinkable; they’d worked together, headed up individual Resistance cells, each had a decorated past. And now, here, at the end of the journey, the culmination of everything- to turn? Faulty design, oversight, accidental error, these all seemed like better explanations of the previous days’ failures.

The flickering hologram of a fueling depot hovered a few inches above the table, but no one bothered to fix it. The countdown began: numbers, silently ticking away on the papercomp, no one counting along.

"Ten seconds," Steven whispered. Thunder cracked and boomed outside, making a dramatic mockery of the emotional storm in the tiny room.

Tick tick tick and the numbers melted away to zero. The fuel depot flickered and remained unchanged. The room erupted in fury. George leapt across the table at Julia, whose scarlet locks were pulled back in a severe bun. He yanked his pistol out of his hip-holster and pressed it into her chest. The others stood, tumbled back over chairs and out of them.

"She did this," he spat, his voice ragged and harsh. "I warned you there was a spy here. She’s ruined everything for us."

More appeals for calm were made, but they were ignored. Steven looked thoughtful. "She wasn’t on the last two missions, George," he said. Uncertainty flittered across George’s face. "There is more than one spy here," Steven continued.

BAM.

George fell to the floor, his pistol tumbling out of his hand, a ruby flower blossoming on his chest. Henry trained his gun on Steven. "Don’t move," he said. Shock registered on several of the faces in the room, but not on all of them.

Sarah looked across the room at Michael, who was busily typing into a comm device. He looked up and saw her anger; the golden curls that framed her face did nothing to soften the rage dancing in her eyes. "All this time," she whispered, and the room grew hushed, "and you’ve been working for the Alliance?"

He nodded, flicked his eyes back down to the comm, resumed typing. He finished, smoothly deposited it in his pocket, and looked back up to meet her gaze again. "Even after the Balmorra incident?" she asked, her throat tightening. "How can you work for them after what happened?"

"The Alliance stands for peace," he replied, calmly. "Order. Prosperity. Stability. It is only the actions of the Resistance that threaten all this, and that is at an end."

Steven and Justin made a move towards Henry; he calmly shot Justin in the leg, who crumpled to the ground. Steven continued, and drew a lengthy dagger out from somewhere: He made it to Henry. A scuffle ensued. A gun was dropped. A dagger was pressed against a throat. Everyone else watched, frozen in surprise.

"There are only three of you," Steven breathed angrily, "you’ll never get out of here. We’ll just do it all again."

"No, brother," said Maria, pressing a grey pistol to Steven’s temple, "there are four."

The door crashed open and heavily-armored Alliance troops poured in, enormous assault rifles trained on the crowd. Shouting, shouting, shouting, and the grey-and-purple-uniformed troops observed the speedy arrest of the five remaining Resistance members. Hands were bound, bodies patted down, weapons confiscated.

"Your orders, sir?" one of the troops asked of the man in the sweater vest.

"Take them to the Bureau for processing," he replied. "Facility 967."

He looked down at the four apprehended rebels. "Peace and stability," he said, thoughtfully. "We’re making them better worlds. All of them, better worlds."

~

The carrier-van sped off into the night as rain lashed its sides. There were no windows in the van, and there were none in Facility 967, either.
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Jason Beck
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Virginia
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Felix alearum famis! Et posse impares sumus erimus en tui semper favoris.
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This is the fourth in my short-story-ish-style session reports. You can find my report for Twilight Imperium here, for Acquire here, and for Last Night on Earth here. /shameless self-promotion off

This was a ten-player game, which meant four loyalists and six resistance members. We didn't get beyond three rounds, as all three were successfully sabotaged, despite two spies being more or less outed early on. It wasn't enough, though, and there was enough ambiguity after the first two missions that the third (and, clearly, final) mission contained a sleeper spy, who had successfully maintained a very low profile all game.

All-told it took about half an hour and was an excellent game, despite being a heavy defeat for the resistance members.
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Agent J
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Coldwater
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He's looking real sharp in his 1940's fedora. He's got nerves of steel, an iron will, and several other metal-themed attributes. His fur is water tight and he's always up for a fight.
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He's a semi-aquatic egg-laying mammal of action. He's a furry little flat-foot who'll never flinch from a fray. He's got more than just mad skills, he's got a beaver tail and a bill.
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This is a good story, but it fails to capture the best part of it all... that we know there are spies... yet we go anyway... failure only a spy away...

At least, that's my favorite part.
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M. B. Downey
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Suitland
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All Hail the Glorious Alliance!

Those filthy traitors got what they deserved.

The game was very enjoyable, especially since we had five people there who had never played it, at least one of which is not really much of a game. Always a joy to introduce the game to more people.

And as always, an excellent write up Jason!
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