The balaclava wearing man hunched over his multiple computer monitors, Russian Hardbass playing at dangerously bass-boosted levels. A half-empty bottle of vodka was wreathed by stubbed-out cigarettes on the well-worn desk, cigarette ash falling haphazardly into his many mechanical keyboards. The clacking noise of his fingers against the keys provided an ever-present undertone to the playlist – and it was only minute one out of a potential 96 hour marathon. The similarly-clad agent on the other side of the skype call let out a mirthless laugh, stubbing out his own cigarette on his keyboard.
“Cyka, you better be. We can’t do this forever, but we can buy you the next few hours.”
“Tch, Blyad. With this clearance level I can stay in here for weeks-”
“But you have 4 days.”
“Da. That’s all I need.”
“No, that’s all you have. Our window of opportunity isn’t forever-”
On his screen, a battle was waging – multiple accounts hacked, small amounts of GRC moved here or there, wallets opened and checked before disconnecting and sanitizing the server. He was playing a game of “how much can I get away with before the algo knows I’m here” and the answer was, surprisingly, a lot.
“Da, da. You done?”
“Pizda. Don’t forget this kindness.”
The first breaker snapped, and suddenly the balaclava-clad man had sudo-user access. For the first time, he smiled.
“Nothing I am about to do is kind, comrade.”
With a keystroke, a command was entered.
With that keystroke, Zephyr Station 8 Descended into chaos.
= = = = = =
“<GET UP, VERMIN.>”
The two humans groaned as harsh light flooded their cold cell, the two beings shakily standing to their feet. There was no way for them to know how long they’ve been held, and there was no way to know when they would be rescued. They weren’t exactly in … civilized space, after all, and their “warden” – using that term loosely and generously – constantly took advantage of that fact.
“[We’re up, we’re up! You don’t have to be so mean!]”
Dr’sspremsnkresh smiled maliciously through the titanium bars. “<Oh? Sass? So early in the day? Well I know just what to give you to shut that mouth of yours up->”
“[W-wait!]” The other human said, reaching out towards the bars. “[Please, we didn’t mean-]”
There was the sound of a squeak, and then a rushing torrent of cold water as the two humans were hosed down. The cell was already kept cool, so the water absolutely did not help at all. After a few moments of the humans fighting vainly against the torrent of water it was shut off, only to be replaced with the mocking laughter of the warden.
“[Oh no!]” The one female said, turning to the other. “[These threadbare prison clothes are now totally soaked through! You can even see my enlarged and soft breas-]”
“<IT’S EDUCATIONAL->” Shpressnrek yelled far too loudly, reflexively slamming her console with her hands in a panic to change everything. “The Misadventures of Warm and Wet” were very quickly replaced with spreadsheets, crew manifestos, atmospheric readouts and … well, “The Misadventures of Warm and Wet” – except now the audio was somehow coming out of the speakers.
Jessica – nee Eagle-screm – recoiled slightly at the quick and panicked movement, the clipboard she was holding moving from “flat table” to “desperate shield of last resort”.
“<-That’s right, humans. You’ll have to take off those wet clothes and huddle for warmth->”
“[W-wait-]” Jessica said, lowering her shield just a bit.
Shpressnrek’s hands were a flurry over her console, trying to desperately figure out what the fuck happened, what settings were changed, and how to get the very erotic and not at all work-safe sounds to stop coming from her work console.
“[-so big! There’s no way we can fit that all inside-]”
“[No way! Shpressnrek, I know it’s the night shift but is that-]”
“<IT’S AN EDUCATIONAL FILM AND ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE->” Shpressnrek anxiety-hissed; apparently she had somehow pushed the movie to a desktop that she didn’t even setup and the damn thing had used her default speakers and she couldn’t get in without 2FA and why did they ever let humans help code their consoles ever-
“<That’s right, both of->”
There was a very loud PANG of flesh-on-metal, and a soft whine as the speakers slowly lost their charge. Eagle-Screm lowered her clipboard just enough to see that her shift co-worker, Shpressnrek, had physically punched out the main speaker of her console. This of course didn’t mean that the movie had stopped playing, and that meant that there was still shenanigans afoot.
“[Let me see.]”
“[The porno. Let me see it!]”
“<Eagle-screm I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. I am a professional with a stellar and clean track record with over 200 confirmed years->”
“[200 years of watching porn! And warmcuddle porn too!]” Eagle-screm grinned, physically tossing the clipboard away as she started to climb over the railing to invade Shpressnrek’s personal space. “[Now come on let me see the good stuff!]” Jessica’s over-excited scramble to get into the same console-seat as the larger Jornissian would, at any other time or day be considered adorable and somewhat welcome. As it stood now…, well. A very large yet very firm and unyielding hand pressed against Jessica’s forehead, holding her in place.
“[Was it Warm-and-ready?]”
“[The actress. She sounded like Warm-and-ready; I can absolutely tell that it was warmcuddle-produced, as that prison/guard trope has been used tons of times, especially in lesbian and bisexual porn.]”
Shpressnrek blinked and furrowed her brow. “<And how exactly do you know this? You’re not yet 50->”
Eagle-screm sighed with a full-body sigh. “[Stop that. Besides, I only watch the good stuff. Sounded like they were going to double-team the guard, eh? Possibly slip away once he’s been “exhausted”, aaay?]”
“<. . . It’s nothing more than . . . An education->”
“[An education in booty. Besides, I didn’t take you for a – I mean, I thought you were hetero.]”
“<What? I am!>”
“[So you want to see two chicks double-team a dude?]”
“<I-I mean, it’s more like, uh. It’s just, he’s very well endowed and has a commanding presence and there’s a bit of power play a- and stop kinkshaming me>”
Shpressnrek huffed as she (very gently) tipped the inquisitive human backwards over the rail, making sure she landed on her feet with a gentle tap. “<J-just what do you want?!>”
“[Nothing! Well, I mean, it’s a little something. There’s a bit of a-]” Eagle-screm suddenly stopped mid sentence, her eyes seeming to focus on some middle-distance only she could see. Shpressnrek turned behind her at a glance, and saw that the clock had struck midnight. After a few moments of silence Shpressnrek turned back again, to see Eagle-screm physically shaking.
“<O-oh. Oh Gods, Eagle-screm are you ok->” Shpressnrek slowly reached out a hand, her other dancing on her console to quickly key in a code blue.
“<Eagle-screm, come on. Focus on me little one.>”
Eagle-screm turned her head slightly to look at the Jornissian, and looked through her. For you see, the clock had struck midnight.
“<What? Eagle-screm, you’re not->”
“[THE DEALS ARE HERE.]”
Shpressnrek tensed as the human started to look around frantically before full-body launching herself at the Jornissian. Human reflexes and speed and… well. Most everything, really, posed no immediate threat to a CQC-trained Jornissian, and Shpressnrek was able to dodge the initial flurry of blows-
-wait. Not a flurry of punches, they’re all open palms-
With a screech Eagle-screm attempted to throw herself at Shpressnrek’s console. The Jornissian wrapped her arms around the smaller human and full-body lifted her up, earning another surprisingly loud and long screech as the warm-cuddle flailed in her arms. With an errant tap of her finger, the console sent out a medical alert.
“<IRT this is Shpressnrek Keycode Thressn-Predre-78. I’ve got a mental break of some sort on->”
Her internal comm was lit up with the sounds of screaming, banging, and – was that weaponsfire?!
“[Shpressnrek Keycode Thressen-Predre-78 look I’m going to be brutally honest with you everything has absolutely gone soullight-out over here-]”
“<Where is here->”
“[Yes – that’s absolutely correct. We’ve gotten 1100 code blues in the last 30 – no – 45 seconds. 1250. 1500. By the eternal light-]”
“<What’s going on?! Nerve gas attack?! What’s happening to them->” Shpressnrek started to yell, concern sitting icy in her stomach, it’s pressure raising her voice.
“[We don’t know. 27 – no, 4,500. We’ve been trying to reach the stationmaster but we’re getting nothing. 7,860. Incident Response is quarantining the entire station; nobody in or out. We can’t raise anyone in fleet, and the other stations aren’t taking our hails. Use backdoors – the official channels are flooded with useless data – 9,942 -]”
“<Useless data?! Harsak-crushed lies. What is it?>”
“[Look Shpressnrek I really shouldn’t even be taking your call but we’re friends so-]”
“<An example. Just one. Just->” Shpressnrek held Jessica a bit tighter, the human trying to full-body wiggle out of her grip. “<Give me an idea.>”
“[Fine, fine… uh. 7,500% off of Wumbo.]”
“<7,500% off of Wumbo->”
“[NEEED IT! I NEED WUMBO-]” Jessica screeched, thrashing about ever-more-violently in the Jornissian’s grip.
“[That’s all I can give you. Suggestion is support them through their spasms, let them tire out, and then move to a medbay – any medbay. IRT’s setting up triage- good luck.]”
The comm link went dead. The clock struck midnight, and all hell broke loose.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = =
The Russian hardbass had not stopped. If anything it only got stronger.
The balaclava-clad man was now wearing an ushanka, allowing him to upgrade from 3 keyboards to 5 – it didn’t matter that only 1 of them was connected to anything; it was all about the setup, man. Soon, he would have to break out the programming-squats, a dark art only used in the most dire of situations.
Day one had passed, much as planned. 4 deaths on Zephyr Station 8 – bodies on ice, roughly 500 other hospitalizations. The entire station had been sealed; nobody goes in or out. Data traffic had also been closed up tight, which means that only people with sudo-level access could access the net at large. Everyone else was stuck with either broadcast television or whatever information they could get in print. Worst case scenario, you’d have to make your orders through the nanofabricators themselves.
Which was, of course, all according to kekaiku.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Shpressnrek pressed her body against the hallway wall, sliding up it slightly to use as a support. With a higher vantage point she peeked around the corner and frowned at what she saw.
15… no, 20 warm-cuddles. Milling about as if they had no purpose, staring fixedly at one of the hallway monitors, the bright colors and flashing images mesmerizing them completely. Their hands moved in silent rythms only known to them – as far as Shpressnrek could tell, the issue was with some of their implants, or implant-related. It didn’t matter, not anymore – she had left Eagle-screm in her console after she passed out, and watched with morbid curiosity as she woke up, threw herself at the screens, and began to place orders for nonsensical things. Services, items, widgets to contraptions she didn’t even own – whatever had possessed her friend had so completely taken over her will with that of blind consumerism. Eagle-screm didn’t look up, didn’t move, didn’t blink, so focused was her concentration on draining her bank account…
Well. Until someone broke that concentration – then the warm-cuddle would turn on the transgressor as one hive-mind unit, tearing them apart. She was able to fight off Eagle-screm very easily, and a few other humans she met in the hallways were easy to subdue as well.
Large groups? She’d seen them swallow a Dorarizin whole. Just. Crest over the poor Janitor like a wave, and when they receded, there was nothing left.
… except for a Dorarizin. Sitting in a pile of GRC.
Without anything to his name.
Shpressnrek slunk back around the corner, mind racing. She could probably just slide right past them at full sprint, but, doing so might end up crippling one of the warm-cuddles if she ended up body-checking them into the wall. She knew, like everyone who was stationed at Dirt, that when push came to shove their lives came before her own; a simple and horrific mind-parasite affecting everyone on the station was no excuse to use lethal force.
“[I agree completely.]” Tr’Grakz, nodding sagely.
“<WHA->” Shpressnrek recoiled as she made eye-contact with the Karnakian that had suddenly snuck up on her.
“[Hello friend. Dark Skies ahead, it seems.]” Tr’Grakz said, pushing past the hyperventilating Jornissian to peek around the corner. “[Mmmm. This is less than ideal.]”
“<Just – how did you. What?->”
“[Not important right now, is it? Where are you headed?]”
“<Uh. Hangar. I thought that maybe one of the->”
“[All shuttles are AWOL. None have come up from Dirt, none are going between stations.]”
“<What? But I’d think that the warm-cuddle government would be notified about->”
“[It’s affecting everyone.]” Tr’Grakz said, as matter-of-factly as a sapient could when presenting such horrific news. “[I’ve only been able to verify 14 and 3, but. Same thing; Hermetic seals, quarantine. Nothing in or out, and noisy data flooding every spectrum.]”
“[We don’t know. It seems to be originating from Dirt itself, so.]”
“<… Mnemonic hazards have been outlawed for millenia->”
The Karnakian rounded on Shpressnrek with such speed and fervor that he appeared as a blur to her own excellent vision. “[Do not insinuate what you are. We cleaned that planet of everything, and they were children.]”
The two stared at each other for a few moments, each small increment of time sagging with the weight of history and unsaid fears before Tr’Grakz turned back to the hallway, crouching down in thought. “[… we simply must play to the disease in order to move forward.]”
“<… so where do we even go?>”
“[First, here is truth; I am Intelligence and Whispertalk. Nothing dirty.]”
Shpressnrek stared at her friend – well, at the back of his head – and thought for a few moments before responding. “<… Field Medic. Wetwork. Pandemonium.>”
Tr’Grakz bobbed slightly as the revelation rolled over him. “[… what an interesting choice to send here.]”
“<I could say the same.>”
“[Still. You’re doing good for someone used to taking directives. I’m trying to rally as many people as I can to get to the food court.]”
“<Wait, food court? Why?>”
Tr’Grakz waved his tail in a “get back” motion, and Shpressnrek obliged. He inhaled deeply –
“[BLUE LIGHT SPECIAL ON AISLE 5-]”
There was an unreasonably loud chorus of screeching as the mob turned towards the noise and began to run.
“[TSST!]” Tr’Grakz hissed, pressing himself hard against the wall. After a few agonizing moments the group of humans ran past them, bodies hunched over and arms stretched back in their wake as they ran past the duo to the mythical Aisle 5. After a few moments the sound of the pitter-patter of little feet dwindled to nothing but background noise.
“[We go. I explain on the way, but, the long and short of it is that in all warm-cuddle media when something like this happens, the answer is to go to a retail store. They’re safe, stocked, and large – so we should be safe there too while we regroup.]”
Shpressnrek nodded and fell in behind Tr’Grakz as they raced towards the elevator, towards the lower decks, towards the safety of a massive retail chain.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Heels in sky, western spy.
Heels on ground, camrade found.
Heels on seat of computer chair while spinning softly, chain smoking and overdosing on krokodil, that’s still not overkill.
Time had lost meaning to the triple-balaclava wearing madman; he could no longer see, but he didn’t need to see. He was one with the Hardbass. He was one with Mother Russia. He was one with the hacker known as four chan. Newly-fingerless gloves grinding down keyboards, his window open to allow the frigid arctic air into his brutalist lair, the hacker continued his mad quest.
It had been… a day. No. Three. It was the last day – soon, he could rest. Soon it would be over.
Soon, it would be his.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = =
“<Tr’Grakz this was a terrible idea->”
Shpressnrek was coiled around the tallest point of a warehouse shelf, a veritable sea of warm-cuddles thronging below them. The Karnakian – whose claws were usually so adept at latching onto metal – found himself wanting, as with each claw-gouge he would weaken his own platform, causing various packaged goods to fall into the sea of humanity…
…and be utterly destroyed.
“[How was I to know they purposefully make bad decisions?!]” Tr’Grakz snapped back, trying to maintain balance on an ever-shakier middle shelf. “[Why would they even make movies like that?! Why would they teach themselves wrong? Is it a joke-]”
“<L-look. I know things have been hard since we lost Rgrezneh->”
“[She… when she lost her mate, she just… let go, and, she just-]”
“<Tr’Grakz, look at me. She gave up, that was her choice – but we can survive this, ok?! Just hang on->”
“[…she looked like she had such peace. Like… she just… let go. Of everything.]”
Shpressnrek’s mouth went dry as she looked at her friend – her fellow survivor – and tried to reach out across the aisle. “<Tr’Grakz. Don’t. Don’t look down, don’t look at them.>”
Tr’Grakz’s platform rocked as the horde far below them shook it, nothing more than the animalistic desire of wanting stuff to fall onto them, to be absorbed, to be devoured. A few more errant boxes found their way down to the masses below, and like before, they were ripped apart. Tr’Grakz watched with morbid curiosity as some bits of what was in the package made it’s way to the front, to the back, to all points of the store in a pattern only the human hive-mind could discern.
“[I bet it was peaceful.]”
“<Tr’Grakz, no. No. Look at me, take my hand, I can pull you up->”
“[…It was so quick too-]”
Shpressnrek watched in mute horror as her last friend – and last survivor – looked at her with sad, quiet eyes. He smiled, though it didn’t light up the room as it once did, and nodded.
Shpressnrek smiled a slightly hopeful smile and reached out a little further, stretching as far forward as she dared. Tr’Grakz reached up and gave a very human wave –
– and fell backwards.
“<NO! HARSAK-DAMN YOU, THAT WAS THE WRONG ANSWER!>” Shpressnrek roared in sadness and frustration as she watched the Karnakian plummet to the floor. As one the humans descended upon him, and she saw him no more.
The clock struck midnight.
“[Excuse me, Ma’am?]”
“<-Oooooo…oh?>” Shpressnrek petered out, slowly deflating from a defiant-rage-against-the-gods to a living questionmark. She looked down at the rapidly-dispersing human mob, who seemed absolutely none worse the wear for their past multiday ordeal.
In fact, they looked ecstatic. As they dispersed she saw the very-much still living Tr’Grakz, naked as the day he was hatched save for a significant pile of GRC laying on his chest.
‘<Huh. So that’s what that looks like.>’ Shpressnrek thought idly, before shaking her head clear. “<I uhm. Yes?>”
“[Yes, you. Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to not climb the shelves at Low-Home*Mart & Beyond. If you need help, an associate will help you.]”
“<I um. What. What just – What just happened?!>”
“[Ma’am I don’t know what the problem seems to be but I need you to get off the shelf; you’re not an elf and this will only raise our insurance premiums.]”
The two sapients stared at each other for a few moments, the happy murmur of human conversations and the merry beep of the checkout lines settling in as an omnipresent white noise.
The human sighed and wiped his hands on his smock before turning towards her fallen comrade.
“[Shpressnrek! I’m alive!]” Tr’Grakz chirped happily, waving up to his friend in a daze.
“[Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to put on pants… again.]”
= = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Glenn Abramson stumbled out of his impromptu crypt, the acrid scent of cigarettes, terrible food and illicit drugs clinging to his disheveled form like a man adrift at sea clings to what floating scraps he can find. He stood at the viewport window, steadying himself with a hand as he tried to will the world to stop spinning.
Glenn frowned and turned to his partner-in-crime, Ivan Ivanovitch Ivanovsky and growled. “Fuck, give me a moment.”
“No, no. Not after that investment. I want what we need, now. You say the future of this station and everyone rests on it-”
“It’s being delivered you inbred gopnik.”
“Davai. Coffe is made, da?”
A warm mug was thrust into Glenn’s chest, which he readily accepted and drank with zero apprehension.
“So? What is it? What is worth shutting down the entire station network, multiple deaths, and the public maiming of our… visitors?”
Glenn swirled the half-drunk mug in his hand for a moment before smiling softly.
“I got a great deal on replacement caps for those disposable bic ballpoint pens.”
Ivan’s face fell. “No… such caps – it is legend.”
[Secret Bonus Ending]
“Nope.” Grinned Glenn. “It’s real as you and me – and as real as the merchandise you can now buy of They are Smol – all at cost, physical shitposts, delivered right to your door just in time for the holidays.”
“Aaah! It’s the utopian promises of communism, made manifest!” Ivan exclaimed, looking directly at the reader reading these words with their eyes. “That promise being, as Marx wrote, the propagation of rampant late-stage capitalism. So, in the spirit of this holiday shopping season, we are happy to shill out with terrible and obnoxious product placements. Go buy your physical shitpost today!”
And the secret bonus ending left everyone with a bad taste in their mouth but also a morbid curiosity that could only be quenched by going to a website that would give google a bunch of questionable algorithm connections to make.
Happy Holidays, from the Writeforge/TaS team to you. We do love you.
And remember: If you died during black friday your bloodline is weak and you deserve to be culled.