by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright Oct 2007
"Raid base Nora commencing activity." I announce in English on the Human Channel. My announcement goes out three more times in three different languages on three different communications channels. Nora would be the communications center for a raid being conducted by Drill, Shaloopa, Fornkarns and humans -- four species, alien to each other, with four different languages and cultures. Our job, the humans job at this base, was to help these other people coordinate and cooperate (I use the term people loosely).
These three species we are working with are harvesting from the HX as we humans are. Like 99% of the races who harvest from live HX, the other three are synthetic species -- they have been genetically engineered for HX raiding by their various "mother species" who live on planets far away. They are much higher performance than humans. They can move faster, they can think faster, they can endure more extreme climate conditions, and they can talk faster among their own species. But... they can't talk to other species because their native speech is hardwired into their growth. That's where humans come in. Humans learn languages; these other species don't, for them learning language is like learning walking, it just happens and they learn just one. They speak very fast and very well compared to humans, but they can't learn a new language. This is why even though humans are a slow and clumsy "planetary" alien compared to these others, they are valuable on HX raids.
One of the tricks humans started working on a hundred years ago was talking HX Maintenance Language (HXML). We have gotten steadily better at it with time. At first we humans could only listen, nowadays we can actually carry on some conversations. Since few HX raiders can talk HXML, it is plainly spoken throughout the HX and easy to intercept. The big issue to overcome for better and better speaking has been building context -- discovering what HX maintenance beings were talking about when they talked about this and talked about that. Human's progress at learning more context as been steady for the last hundred years, and it's now pretty good. Knowing HXML context is one of humanity's "family jewels" in the HX community. Knowing the context of allied alien speech is another -- the same as with an HX: talking to a Drill is only easy after you know what the Drill is talking about.
So, for a hundred years humans have been adapting to the HX environment by learning more and more about what other alien species are saying, and by being able to talk to them better and better. The payoff for getting better has been rising pretty steadily, too, and it is now very high -- mixed species raids with humans as coordinators have brought back some of the most spectacular hauls in that are known about in the HX raiding community.
And... we could have an other potential record-breaker here in Task Force Omicron-Bradly, our looting has been going very well.
One of the keys to a productive raid is finding the right piece of HX maintenance machinery to talk to. There are thousands of kinds of machines in an HX that talk HXML, and their helpfulness to raiding varies a thousand fold. A talker can be too dumb -- it doesn't have the brain to say much. This would be something like a door -- a door can say, "I'm open. I'm shut. I'm broken." and nothing else. Or it can be too specialized -- it has an OK brain, but it doesn't think about much beyond a single task that it does -- a sector environmental control unit, for instance. On the other hand, a good talker who knows a lot about what's around it can be too smart. A Sector Overseer can tell you the world about what's going on in its sector, but as soon as it realizes it is talking with outsiders, it will tell HX Security. That will bring either mild or serious trouble. Usually the most reliable "little friends" to a raiding force are cleaning bots or repair bots -- for their intelligence, they know a lot about where things are in their local area, but most aren't smart enough to call Security. There are other useful bots, too, and they can be a whole lot more useful than a cleaning bot. Traffic bots know where things are going, and a warehouse Chief Storage Bot can give you the complete inventory of the storage location it is in charge of. Talking with a storage bot in charge of the right warehouse is a gold mine.
Getting some little friends with good information lined up and getting a perimeter of friendly bots established so HX Security has trouble finding a base is one of the first parts of getting a raid base started. We had done that at this Nora location about 24 hours ago. Since then, we have been moving in and setting up equipment. Now, most of that is done, and it's time to start finding and moving out loot.
Let me explain a little more. The HX body we are in is kind of like a tree body. First off, HX bodies are huge, nearly moon sized. Second, at any one time only a little of the HX body is being intensively used, the rest is sitting around waiting for its turn to be intensively used. In a tree the "not being used much" part is the center -- the dead part which holds the tree up -- and the "being intensively used" part is the edge -- where the bark and sap are. In trees the dead part is always in the center and the active part is always on the outside edge. In the HX, life isn't so simple -- the being used and waiting parts are mixed throughout the body, and the intensively used parts steadily migrate. When we set up a raid base, we are looking for a spot in "waiting HX"-land that is close to some valuable looting locations, which are usually in "intensively used HX"-land. We use a base until it is "discovered" by HX Security and shut down. We are still not sure what discovered means to HX Security -- sometimes they seem to know about a base for a long time before they take action -- so deciding when to leave a base involves some guessing, that makes life interesting.
That's the background, now some news: At Lima, a previous base, we found a new kind of "little friend." This is not unusual, our best guess is that we humans have some knowledge of a quarter of the kinds of bots that inhabit a live HX. Most of the time when a new style of bot is found, its vital statistics go in the database and after that the bot is ignored. But this new bot was talkative and helpful. As best we can tell, it's a smart super cleaning bot of some kind: it can query and search a room, and find those things in it that are interesting to raiders. It's not in the "helpful warehouse supervisor bot" category of goodness, but it has been useful to have around. As a bonus, when we are not using it, it likes to putter around and clean. This feature is nicer than you think. Successful raid bases are typically manned from three to seven days, then abandoned because HX security moves to shut them down. (Unsuccessful bases get abandoned sooner.) So base cleaners are not part of standard base equipment, and bases do begin to drown in their own waste after three days. We take this bot with us from Lima to Mona, and then to Nora to see if it's useful again. It seems to be.
The Drill, Shaloopa and Fornkarns have been scouting and collecting from easy-to-secure sites ever since the perimeter was established. Now it's time to go after more valuable but more dangerous sites -- those that can be taken down with team tactics.
Drill, Shaloopa and Fornkarns
Humans -- humans are big and slow by alien standards -- especially so in their pressure suits. About half of HX corridors are too small for humans to move down comfortably. Their only saving grace in the movement department is that they can get down on all fours and wriggle through small spots. They are, for all their clumsiness, agile. They are very slow, but they can decipher HX writing and disassemble HX machinery. Their prime virtue for HX raiding is their ability to communicate in many languages, so they can talk to HX bots and other aliens and foster cooperation.
Drill -- These are the fighter and hauler aliens. They are big dog size creatures who are six legged and very fast. They are six legged and when you see them in action you think of movie monster cockroaches. Their prime abilities in HX raiding are their fighting and hauling. They can move fast, they can get through small places and they can swarm to attack. Their weakness in HX raiding is they can't tell useful HX stuff from worthless HX stuff. When they are collecting, they are like Army ants: they set up a line and just start moving stuff towards the raid base, to be sorted out later. When humans aren't around and helping them cooperate, they terrify other raiders because they love to attack them and take their loot streams -- the Drill know the other loot streams are likely to be higher quality than their own.
Shaloopa -- These are science aliens. They are half the size of humans, and look like kangaroos designed for low gravity. They have big tails and big back legs and they hop like kangaroos. Their big tails help them orient quickly in low G. Their front legs are more forward facing than kangaroo legs, and their heads are much more human-like in their sensory capabilities. The Shaloopa can figure out HX devices quickly. Their loot streams are high value and they can override a lot of security setups so they can get into stuff without setting off alarms. Their weakness is they can't protect their loot streams from the likes of Drill, and they tend to dawdle as they try to understand what they are looting.
Fornkarns -- Fornkarns are bat-like creatures. They are mouse-size and fly around. They are fairly common on HX because they can reproduce inside the HX. They are so common that the biggest hazard to any specific Fornkarn is being found by another tribe of Fornkarns and getting killed by them -- the "feral" Fornkarns that live permanently in an HX are very territorial. The Fornkarns are great scouts -- they can fly ahead and most HX Security bots ignore them. Their strength on an HX raid team is that they can find their way around the local area quickly. They can spot little-used corridors that by-pass HX security points. Their weakness is that they can't carry big stuff, and they don't identify what's in packages and crates well.
From our talks with the "little neighbors" in this sector of the HX, we think there is an HX battery warehouse nearby. We humans have lusted for HX batteries since we first came in contact with live HX hundreds of years ago. We humans have been researching diligently how to make an HX-style battery, but have still not figured out "the magic", so the people back home on the planets still love us when we bring home batteries. Batteries are "Electric Gold" for humans. The other species in this party love them, too. Everyone loves batteries! The Fornkarns fan out to see if they can find the warehouse, and a way to it.
They find not one, but two! This sector is apparently moving it's "hot area" from one location to another. The Shaloopa liaison is ecstatic at this news of relocation. "It means there will be much to learn here." he says.
I think, "That's nice, but loot tops learning in my book."
"Oh, and there will be much loot, too." he adds, and I'm happier.
We gather the species and plan a first raid on the new warehouse in six hours.
The first raid goes well, very well. In the first raid, the Drill distract the HX security bots and draw them away from the warehouse. The Shaloopa do a quick inventory of the warehouse, while we humans look for the Chief Warehouse Bot. We find him, then work to befriend him and set up a communication channel with him that we can use in our second raid. He seems to warm up to us well. This quick warming up followed a conversation he had with the little cleaner bot we brought from Lima. That bot is making itself quite worthwhile!
Standard tactics are that on the first raid we don't take anything, we just see where stuff is and make friends where we can. When the first raid works out well, we get primo stuff on the second raid, and we don't have a lot of confusion and accidents.
We will have a planning meeting before we start the second raid, then we will have a briefing. I sleep through the planning meeting, and Captain Zorad heads the Earth contingency at that. Oh, more that you should know: Human sleeping is something that really burns our partners. This idea of getting tired and stopping work after twelve hours, then using up the next twelve in playing, eating and sleeping just drives them nuts! When they mock humans, they show us as slow, lazy and sleeping. To compensate, we run the humans in raid parties on three or two shifts -- that way there's always a human ready to function in a raid party, even if it isn't always the same human.
Because we are the people who talk to all the other people, humans head the raid meetings. This is something else the others accept, but don't like. What they accept, and like, is that when they raid with humans and others, their loot stream gets huge compared to what they get when they hunt solo. The loot stream is what everyone is watching. If the loot stream is strong, everyone is solid. If we're having hard times and the loot stream dries up, then the raid party cooperators think hard about becoming defectors. That's when you have to watch your back. So far, our loot stream has been good.
Zorad handles the meeting; I get to handle the briefing, and I will go out on this raid.
"Hello everyone!" I say to start the briefing. Even before I even finish, there are grunts, chatters, squeaks and shrills from the audience in response. These beings are not dummies, and they are now used to the ritual of having the human starting the meeting with some kind of greeting that means nothing, but that they should respond to. One of the other peculiarities that the aliens see in humans is how different each one is. The aliens are fully engineered, so they all pack the same gene package. So this concept that every being is a different mix of genes is strange to them!... it's a way that you can visibly see the difference between humans being a "planetary" species and not like the other "raider" species you find on an HX, and aliens find it uncomfortable -- their internal recognizing systems see each human as a different species.
A couple seconds after I hear the grunts and chatters, my translator comes back with things such as "Hi.", "How are you.", "Go fuck your grandmother.".... I ignore it all. It's just alien greeting talk, which is as essentially meaningless as my human greeting talk. I look over my noteboard.
"OK, we have three primaries for this raid..." I begin the briefing in earnest. These aliens are smart. They understand cooperation. What they have historically lacked that has stopped inter-alien cooperation is a means of communication. Humans provide that. When we humans talk at the briefing, everyone participating knows what order events should take place in. Humans at the sight as the raid is being conducted handle on-site surprises and changes. And finally, after the raid is complete and the loot is safely in raider hands, humans allow a negotiation process to happen to decide who gets what pieces of loot, so everyone gets something they want, and everyone has a better idea what has been brought out. Overall, the difference is surprisingly effective: human-coordinated raids typically get three times the loot quantity, ten times the loot value, and suffer one fourth the casualty rate of solo species raids. Humans pull their weight, even if they are clumsy as all get out, and too slow to carry much.
The start of the second raid goes like clockwork. We humans have been talking with the Chief Warehouse Bot for an hour, learning where the boxes we want the most are. We are also translating for the Shaloopa who are trying to find out what's "new and interesting" in the warehouse. During that hour the Fornkarns have been flying around the area, confirming that there are no surprise HX Security beings in the area. We also have some of them go into the warehouse and tag the first wave boxes, so the haulers can start moving out prime stuff as soon as they walk in. We open the warehouse door by having four Drill getting seen at the entrance, just like on the first raid. The two HX Security bots there shoo them off like they did the first time, and when the Drill prove persistent in their annoying, they give chase. As the security bots turn a corner so they can't see the door, the rest of the team rushes through the warehouse door and the looting begins.
All of the Drill and half the Shaloopa start hauling off the tagged boxes we already know we want. The other half of the Shaloopa and the humans race around the warehouse looking for more interesting stuff, and add more tags. That way anyone who has spare carrying capacity can grab more. Normally in a warehouse setting in a solo species raid, this searching goes on for two minutes, then, when the two minute chimes ding, everyone tops off on boxes and heads out. The raid is over in five minutes. With a human-coordinated raid, the searching goes on for ten minutes and the raid is over in twenty. (As I said, humans make a big difference.) If it has gone well, all that has changed in the warehouse is that some boxes are missing, and there are a few tags on a few of the remaining boxes. If the raid has gone not quite so well, there's been some shooting or damage done, and the HX may be down a couple of HX Security bots. If it's gone badly, we raiders take damage and not much loot. If it's gone FUBAR, we don't come back.
This raid goes differently, and quite strangely. At the ten minute "ding", things all of a sudden get weird. I remember I felt my head get dizzy and my vision start to whirl around, and my sensor tracks all went to static. At the time I had no idea how long this went on. But it cleared and we all headed out again. It's only as we cleared the room that we noticed HALF THE HUMANS ARE MISSING!
"What the fuck?" I heard Larry say, "What's happened?"
"STAY ON PLAN." I said, "We will sort this out after we get to the rendezvous." Whatever had happened, it was big, and it was going to hurt. But we have all learned from long experience on the HX, you investigate mysteries after the loot is safe on the carry carts and headed to base. Loot first, players second. It's harsh, but it's the HX way.
On the way back to the rendezvous, I asked the other species what they experienced. All in the warehouse said they experienced the same "blockout" we humans did. The Fornkarns outside the warehouse experienced nothing special, but a cluster of them at the far end of the corridor from the warehouse door saw something interesting: during the blockout they saw a strange parade come marching out of the warehouse. The parade consisted of a new-style of HX Security bot, and each of the new bots was carrying a human! The parade headed for Active HX-land.
Whoa! This was spooky! None of us had experienced anything like this before. We called back to Nora to report. We wanted to follow personally and make a recovery, we humans in particular, but the loot stream comes first. The Fornkarns shadowed the parade while the rest of us moved our haul back to the base. Instead of us going after the HX, the base sent a Ready Reaction team to intercept the parade.
The Ready Reaction teams are a standard part of base procedure. They are set up to cause trouble if trouble will help the cause. Their usual role is to create a distraction for a loot team that has been discovered by HX Security and is about to get destroyed. The reaction team will cause a commotion to give the HX Security a higher priority target to deal with. When the HX Security starts chasing it instead of the loot team, it leads them off, then vanishes as best it can. No one in our raid team had experienced HX Security capturing raid members, so Ready Reaction was as curious as everyone else as to what was happening. One of the teams gave chase while we moved loot.
Thirty minutes later, the news was in: the loot haul was a good one, but the news about our comrades was not. It turned out that the little HX Security parade had a lot of HX Security priority. Within minutes, it had picked up three HX Battle Bots as escorts. HX Battle Bots are nothing any raider group wants to mess with. They are big, fast, and they can do a lot of hurt -- put twenty raiders on one that is solo, and they have a fifty-fifty chance of winning. Put forty on two and the Battle Bots will "rip the raiders a new one." The only good news about Battle Bots is that they are not common. We were either being intensely unlucky, or this parade was part of some higher priority project that HX Security had hatched.
So, distracting those three Battle Bots to do some kind of lead-off would likely result in death of many distracters, but the Drill in the Ready Reaction team tried. Oddly, the Battle Bots would not be lead off. Instead they stayed close to the parade, and responded by attacking any Fornkarns they saw. Battle Bots bothering with Fornkarns? This was even more out of character! And more of a pain -- we were losing our eyes in this battle. Sadly, it was all over in about twenty minutes -- the parade moved deep into Active HX-land, and we lost our ability to track it. Damn!
That "evening" we had a full war council. A few hours after our experience, Human Central reported that we were not alone in that odd experience: several other raid teams had had some of their humans carried off in a similar manner. "And, the best we can tell from the routes of the three parades we could track, HX Security is gathering their captured humans at a central location, deep in Active HX-land." As our council meeting began, we first all just looked around at each other.
We did that because, first off, this situation was just plain strange. The HX is a strange world to start with, but this was beyond the usual strange. Why would HX Security cart off just humans?
Second Captain Zorad, who was chairing the meeting, was still consulting with the Shaloopa attending. (These meetings usually have one, maybe two, of each species of aliens attending -- except humans, who like to have four or five. Having lots of members gathered to work on ideas is yet another strange human practice, and yet another wasteful thing we do in the other aliens' eyes. Our communicating ability benefits have to overcome a whole lot of perceived weaknesses to make these teams seem attractive to the other aliens. Pray, pray, pray for fat loot streams!)
"Gentlemen!" Zorad started the meeting proper.
"This new wrinkle has a lot of implications. First off, as Mr. Shaloopa has pointed out, if it continues to happen, it changes the value of humans to raiding teams. If teams are going to get 'picked on' by HX Security because they have humans in them, that lowers the value of humans to raid teams.
The Shaloopa attending said something, and the translators spoke up saying, "It's sad, but true." We pass that on to the Drill and Fornkarn attending.
"The question we need to address right now is: What has changed? Things are not the same as at Mona, so first off we need to ask ourselves what has changed between Mona and Nora?"
... It was incredibly bad timing for the new little cleaner bot that it came into the meeting at just that time. While it was in the room, we talked about other thinks that had changed, and there were about a dozen things we came up with. As soon as it left, we sent out an order, and while it was cleaning in the next room, two Shaloopa jumped it and began disassembling it for a comprehensive analysis.
We talked for another hour, and while this was very important, there was no easy answer as to what we should do differently. If we tried to hide or restrict human activity, their value to the team diminished. In the end, we decided to carry on as we had been, and wait for further recommendations from headquarters. But, we would move on to Raid Base Olivia, all the species now felt that Nora was bad luck.
Olivia went well. We collected a lot, and there was no more unusual HX Security activity. While Olivia was active, the Shaloopa reported on their dissection of the little cleaner helper. "Based on it's construction and software, it was part of HX Security, not HX Maintenance, and, yes, it was reporting on our activities. So, we have something new to watch for." We reported the news back to Human Central
Picton also went smoothly, and now our raiding time was nearing an end. We'd done hard work for nearly three weeks, and it was now time to head back to Human Central for a well deserved rest (well deserved in our eyes, at least). One more base, and we headed home.
At Quill another odd helpful bot showed up. It wasn't a cleaning bot this time, but our antenna were still up from the Nora experience, so anything odd and helpful came on our "radar." We reported it to Human Central, and kept it away from sensitive areas while we waited for feedback. Sure enough, they reported that about one quarter of the raid groups just had a helpful bot show up.
"Dissect it and move on." was the advice of the Shaloopa.
"Good advice." said Captain Zorad, "And I would agree, except for one thing. I'd like to find out more about that disrupter technology, and I'd like to get our people back."
"Finding out how that disrupter works would be nice. I can see that. But how will getting your people back help the loot stream?"
"HX Security wants humans, live humans, for a reason. I don't know what it is, but it's a good guess it's not good for the loot stream."
"A good guess, but just a guess. There are many things that affect the loot stream. Why should we others get involved and take risk?" said the Shaloopa.
"The more we know, the less risk there is in having humans on the team."
"You have interesting logic, Captain Human, but not compelling."
And so at Quill we destroyed the helpful bots, and moved immediately on to Regina. But, we didn't drop the idea. Instead we contacted Human Central about the idea of having a ready reaction group becoming bait to one helpful bot out of their next appearance wave, and following up with a massive raid to free humans... if there were any to be freed. It could be that HX Security bots had developed an appetite for humanburger, and all we would find at the site was a restaurant. After a hundred years, there was still so much we didn't know!
There was a lot of discussion of the project at Human Central, and it was heated. There were a lot of supporters of making a raid, especially among those in the field. The brass was less enthusiastic. Their thinking was: people died all the time on raids, anyway, why risk more... a lot more, for such an unconventional mission? But when fifty of us who were just coming off raid duty volunteered for a special ready reaction force, the brass knew they had to do something. They passed on human thinking on this project to the aliens, and this time the aliens agreed to help.
As we finished Regina, and headed back to Human Central, the Fornkarns scouted deep to see if they could find exactly where the humans were being held. Once we humans got back, we set up a special monitoring section. We had the Fornkarns take out some communications tappers to splice into to the local communications lines in the area to see if we could hear the humans being talked about. Both worked. The Fornkarns saw the humans being held in a large hospital-like facility, and there was a lot being said about them on the comm lines in that area. We even found a feed that gave hourly reports on their health. Whatever was going on, it was interesting news to a lot of HX in that area. Those were the good pieces of news. The bad pieces of news were that Active HX-land is not easy for aliens to survive in, even for something as superbly sneaky as a Fornkarn, so there were some deaths.
As we deciphered the monitoring stream, we found we had a gold mine of information: there were 46 humans being held, they were all in one building, their healths ranged from a normal sedentary state to critical and comatose -- which meant extraction would involve triage -- leaving the sickest behind. This was normal, in HX raiding one didn't bring along gurneys or body bags because if a situation went bad enough to produce bodies, it was too bad for body recovery -- no truces were ever called with the HX Security.
There was a lot to talk about at the next meeting.
"What we are talking about is a military-size assault: The target is deep in Active HX-land, it's clearly of interest to HX Security, and it's hauling out up to 43 humans. Speaking of hauling people out.... That's a hospital facility, and from those monitor feeds we know our people are being examined. Can we find out if they still have their suits on?" said Zorad, "Are we going to have to bring suits?"
"What's the loot stream?" asked the Drill.
"A lot of HX medicine and medical technology." I said, and even as I said it, I knew it was a weak answer. Medicine and medical technology is a strong pull for humans, but not so strong for engineered aliens. That's because a lot more "medicine" comes in their genes than we have in our human genes. In fact, the engineered aliens have a whole subspecies of "doctor people" back at their home bases. At their home bases, the alien "mobiles" -- the ones we work with -- merge with their doctor people in various ways and the doctor people get them healthy and ready for their next active run. (We humans think their merging is a lot like sleeping, but the aliens say, "No, no, it's very different!") So in short, medicine was a pull for humans, but not for the others. We would need something else.
As I expected the Drill said, "Good for humans, now what for us?"
The Shaloopa came to our aid, "Also in that building are several new styles of communications links and sensors. These can be used to monitor all sorts of effects. Some sensors are quite small, so they can be carried easily and they will be hard to spot if they are used for spying." The Shaloopa was talking about the same equipment Zorad and I were, the medical equipment, he was just talking about other uses of it. We would see if that was enough to convince the Drill that this was worthwhile.
There was a pause as the Drill considered. He said, "It is good enough. We are in."
"How do we deal with the Battle Bots?" asked the Fornkarn.
The Shaloopa said, "The usual way: we give them something else to worry about so they move off."
"That won't work. Remember: these Battle Bots don't move away from humans." said the Fornkarn.
"Also, how do we deal with whatever is shutting us down? Whatever that is, that's likely to be there, too." I say.
"Good point." says Zorad. (Another little something about speaking with aliens: When we are meeting with new-to-human aliens, we humans are careful to let only the leader human speak out human opinions. Because of their identical genes nature and fast communications, it's disconcerting to the aliens to watch humans do the usual human jabbering that we call exchanging ideas. That's because if one alien thinks of something, it is most likely his brothers/sisters will quickly hear of it and agree. At this meeting we are ignoring that courtesy because these aliens have been around humans enough that they are now used to humans exchanging ideas.)
"We deal with it by finding it and taking it." said the Shaloopa, "Finding that piece is our main interest in this raid. We want it so we can research how to neutralize it."
".... OK, that leaves the Battle Bots."
"There are other things the Battle Bots will protect as well. I suggest that while we are assembling for the raid, the Fornkarns look for other sensitive targets in the area, and we launch a diversion."
I was surprised. The Shaloopa were taking the lead on this project. They saw more in it than we did. We saw saving 43 humans. What did they see?
The planning went on for another two hours, and the marshaling of forces began just six hours later -- enough delay for the humans involved to get some rest -- things can happen fast in "raidland."
For it's size, the raid went like clockwork. It was clearly not something that HX Security expected us to try. The Fornkarns found a climate control station near the hospital. The diversion didn't need to go in, it just got close and got noticed -- climate control is something every space creature is touchy about. As soon as the Battle Bots got close, the diversion force scampered away, they did a wonderful job and suffered little doing it.
As soon as the Battle Bots moved out, the Drill overwhelmed the remaining hospital defenders. It's like we humans have always said, "You don't want to face Drill in a dark ally." As the Drill were cleaning up defenders, humans moved through the building acting like medics. The sight we saw there was strange, indeed. The building was being kept to human comfortable, and all the humans were out of suits. It was strange and scary, like out of some horror movie: the humans were being experimented on! From what we could tell, there were more like a hundred humans in the hospital, not 43, but most were bodies. Ewww! We rescuers became sort of like zombies -- we performed, but we didn't think about what we were seeing. We ignored those we couldn't help, we suited up those we could, and as we left we said prayers for those we had to leave behind. In spite of the fact that we were "winning", and winning in a way that had never been done before, none of us human rescuers left that hospital happy.
There was one little hitch on the way out: The Shaloopa had found the Shutdown Device, but it was huge. It took up three rooms of space. So before we actually left, we humans and the Drill spent twenty minutes helping the Shaloopa unbolt pieces from that monster machine so we could haul them back, too.
By human standards, the raid was an off-the-charts success: We invaded deep into active HX-land. We took over a medium size hospital even though it was protected by three Battle Bots. We made off with roughly a ton of prime medical loot. We rescued thirty five human prisoners (something that had never been done before). And we got chunks of the new, mysterious Shutdown Device. At the next meeting, we humans were happy, happy, happy.
The Drill and the Fornkarn both got good hauls of loot, so their reps at the meeting were happy, too.
The Shaloopa rep, on the other hand, was gloomy.
"We won this time." he said, "But what we found means there's big change coming, and it's not good. That hospital was set up specifically for humans. It's existence, and the presence of the treacherous little helpers, means that the HX Security are now hunting and collecting humans. We have won this time, but, sadly, we will see this fight happen many more times in the future."
"HX Security is hunting humans? What for?" I ask.
"I don't know." said the Shaloopa, "Time will tell. But it means you humans will have to be even more careful in the future. For some reason, you are now special to HX Security."
"What about the Shutdown Device?"
"Oh, that's still much of mystery. Some of its function involves dark matter, which is why the device is so big. And that's the good news about it, too. Because it's using dark matter, it's not likely to get smaller easily, so we are unlikely to see a handheld version any time soon. That warehouse where we first encountered it had one built into the second floor. That means HX Security spent a lot of resource designing that building as a trap. Which is all the more reason why we Shaloopa worry for you humans. HX Security badly wants to catch lots of you humans... very badly."
-- The End --