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Good Morning, Employee 0053-9134-8480.
Please enjoy the following inspirational message:
"Success is not the key to happiness; happiness is the key to success!
If you love what you do, you will be successful."


D A I L Y - F E E S

> INTEREST......0.01%.......
> NIGHTLY GENETIC BACKUP.....$-10,000.00
> EVERWORK INSURANCE FEE.....$-70,000.00
> PROSTHESIS FEE...x2........$-20,000.00
> HABITATION RENT............$-12,500.00
> HABITATION UTILITIES........$-2,500.00
> LIFE SUPPORT FEE...........$-50,000.00
> SPACE RIG LEASE............$-40,000.00
> SALVAGE TRANSPORT..........$-10,000.00
> PROFIT......................$14,122.06
ACCOUNT BALANCE..........$-1,654,427,814.11

harpsi name and slogan.png

"The song of progress."

Yeah, right. Frank had been singing the same damn song for twenty-six years and hadn't seen much progress at all - right now, all he could see was his debt plastered directly onto his consciousness via augmented reality, courtesy of Aperture Science. He unstuck his sealed eyelids and dislodged the crust with his fists, swinging his legs out and hopping down from his bunk.

"Morning, Frank." Greeted the employee bunked below him, the manager of an adjacent pod bay. A relatively fresh face, the light hadn't quite faded from the young man's eyes, and so Frank didn't mind bunking with him so much as his past bunkmates. He'll never forget: his first bunkie used to snore so loud, it'd shake the bed even more than the thrusters! Just the thought produced a reminiscent huff from his nostrils. But that was a long time ago, and soon, this chipper youth would be as jaded as the rest of them.

"Mornin' to you." Frank finally responded, sliding into the communal computer chair and booting up the terminal.

Welcome, Employee 0053-9134-8480.

Solar-Standard time: 0516
Next payment due in: 2 HOURS 43 MINUTES 8 SECONDS

Click HERE to authorize payment of

Processing....Payment confirmed.
Happy trails!

He sighed.

By now, a third-of-a-mil' before breakfast was as much an inconvenience as a sink full of dishes, but still the absolute scale of the payments occasionally disconcerted him. Today's was particularly brutal, as when he's assigned solely to training for the week, his identification number isn't associated with Deep Rock salvage, and that's where his main source of income lies, but he'd make up for it later.
On second thought, no he wouldn't, but it helped him to believe it so.

He stood from the chair, retrieved his pressed-and-wrapped uniform from the closet, and entered the lavatory to prepare for the day.

As Frank brushed his teeth, splashed water on his face, and combed his hair in the mirror, his reflection stared back disapprovingly, judging his every motion, searching for demerits to add to his employee record. His artificial yellow irises clicked and spun as they focused similarly to a camera shutter, relaying data that is then translated into vision, zooming in closely as he shaved around his mustache. Failure to abide by the grooming standard is a breach of the Employee Conduct and Performance agreement and will result in a corrective charge to the employee's account, the fine print on the bottom of the mirror reminded him.

"Thanks, Harpsi." He acknowledged rhetorically. "Almost forgot this time...!"

Dressed in his grays-and-golds, Frank exited the restroom, his gaze tracking a framed photo of himself as a younger man holding a small boy as he passed by the desk again.

"Nose to the grindstone, huh, boss?" His roommate teased, still tucked into bed.

"I ain't your boss, and you'd best hop-to unless you're fixin' to get fired, junior." Replied the training officer while lacing his oxfords.

"Aye-aye, sir, just... Just five more minutes." The second manager rolled over. Furrowing his brow, Frank decided it futile to try and drag the twenty-something-year-old out of bed, and continued on with his day.

Being struck immediately with the stench of pungent cleaning material crossing into the hallway, Frank did his best to ignore the offensive sting in his nostrils as he traveled a short distance to the mess hall, currently packed full of employees both waking for the day and settling after an all-nighter. He approached the Aperture Science Sustenance Dispensary Apparatus and scanned his identification card on the reader.

"Employee 0053-9134-8480 identified. Meal preference: CHICKEN. Dispensing meal now. Enjoy!" The machine announced, dropping a long, continuous glob of brown paste into a small paper tray. Despite his supposed "meal preference", his slop was identical to every other employee's in everything but name. Still, it didn't taste as bad as it looked, so he figured there were worse things to complain about.

For instance, the massive hologram of his cousin, Amadeus, overlooking the entire mess hall.

Frank sat alone at a table, glaring up at the portrait in between scoops of Aperture Science Organic Sustenance Matter, wordlessly cursing the man before him. The hologram's eyes had been programmed to follow the viewer like the Mona Lisa, sending a clear message to all inhabitants of the space rig.

"Fan the sparks of effort into flames of profitability!" Read a quote below him in golden text. Real subtle, Am.

With the clock ticking down before the start of his shift, Frank wolfed down the remainder of his meal and made his way to the administrative deck. Same as he had for the past twenty years, he distributed greetings along the line as he trudged to his desk, patting the current mission control on the shoulder when he arrived.

"Oh- Hey, Frank." The man removed his headset and stood from the hard plastic chair, evidently eager to return to his bunk.

"Good morning."

"So, four-man team's been on-planet for about twenty minutes now, they should be on their way back up soon." Reported the night-shifter, passing the headset to Frank and getting out of his way. "I checked in with 'em recently, but I'm sure they wouldn't mind a shout."

"Thanks, Chuck. Sleep well." Frank donned the headset and slipped into the desk, staring out into the abyss past the thick glass next to him briefly, then status-checked the ground unit.

"Control to surface, say status. This is Frank." He spoke into the microphone.

queendilettante queendilettante Solar Daddy Solar Daddy Kloudy Kloudy Maverick Six Maverick Six Unearthly Unearthly jarjingbing jarjingbing Mechking Mechking Nomai Nomai
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If someone had asked Maxine 10 years ago what the key to a good night's sleep was, she probably would have said something along the lines of "no caffeine before bed" or "get enough exercise and sunlight" -- something obvious, something standard.

She almost certainly wouldn't have said "arms dealing."

Maxine had been suffering a bit of a dry spell for the past couple of months; she was able to sell, just not well. Every deal she seemed able to land were smalltime agreements with nobody lunar colonists or trifling addendums to bigger deals made by Hyperion higher ups. Nothing was all hers, nothing was worth it.

Cue a quite serendipitous ravaging of an SDF base by Martian rebels and the newly-made hole in their defenses that needed to be filled. Who better, no, who more felicitous a person to fill such a need than Maxine? It was surely her ingenious marketing strategies at play and not her desperate scrambling to be the first to make an offer.

Did the knowledge that she'd armed the solar system's resident fascists with more weapons than they'd had in a decade sit well with her? Not particularly. Did the largest profit of any work she'd done in more than a year sit well with her? Oh fuck yeah it did.

Good Morning, Employee 0052-6067-9372.
Please enjoy the following inspirational message:
"The best way to predict the future is to create it. Opportunities don't happen, you create them!"


D A I L Y - F E E S
>NIGHTLY GENETIC BACKUP..........$-10,000.00
>EVERWORK INSURANCE FEE..........$-70,000.00
>IMPLANT FEE.....................$-10,000.00
>HABITATION RENT.................$-12,500.00
>HABITATION UTILITIES.............$-2,500.00
>LIFE SUPPORT FEE................$-50,000.00
>SPACE RIG LEASE.................$-40,000.00
>MANUFACTURING RIGHTS............$-10,000.00
>SALES RIGHTS....................$-12,000.00
>MEETING ROOM RENTAL..............$-2,500.00
TOTAL................... $78,654.43
ACCOUNT BALANCE...............$-1,203,455,799.04

Solar-Standard time: 0604
Next payment due in: 1 HOURS 55 MINUTES 47 SECONDS

Click HERE to authorize payment of


Processing....Payment confirmed.
Happy trails!


Hell yeah.

Maxine grinned from ear to ear as she pushed away from the terminal. The drought had officially ended with sweet, sweet green rain. Sure, she was still more than a billion in the hole, but this was something.
She needed that something.

She turned back to the primary quarters and reached around her bunk as quietly as she could feasibly manage. Rosie was still asleep, notorious for sleeping in far longer than Maxine was ever comfortable with, and she had been having too good of a morning to risk getting chewed out for waking the sleeping engineer up early. No, today was going to be good. She was owed a single good day on this godforsaken ship, right?

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People often say that dying is a lot like falling asleep. Rosie Lynch, well-experienced in both, disagrees. You don't really dream when you're dead, for one thing. And dying is way more painful, for another. But the biggest difference she's found is that it's just a lot harder to wake up from being asleep.

It took her a good fifteen minutes longer than Maxine to do it, but Rosie eventually managed to open her eyes. And the first thing she did was roll straight out of bed and onto the floor. It used to be that she had gotten out of bed normally, like a chump, but she found out that this was way more fun. And after so many times doing it, she didn't even faceplant onto the ground anymore.

Not much, anyway.

Fortunately, today she managed orient herself in just the right way to land on her feet, which she took to be a good sign for the day ahead. Eh, but now that she had gotten so good at it, it was starting to lose its kick. Maybe one day she'd get up to the top bunk and truly test her skills.

Speaking of the top bunk, Maxine was already awake, as was standard. Rosie had no clue how that woman could always manage to get up before her. Didn't she ever have nights when her brain was going too fast to settle down? Or mornings when she just wanted to lie down for hours? It was bizarre. She wasn't a bad bunkmate, but her sleeping habits were completely beyond Rosie's comprehension.

She greeted her with a quick "Mornin'!" and strode over to the terminal, stretching her arms as she went. For a while, a few months, she had made a game of seeing how long she could leave it each morning before she paid. Suffice it to say, the time she almost had a heart attack when she left it until 7:59:59 had snapped her out of that. Dying was one thing, but termination was another matter entirely, and definitely one risk she wasn't quite ready to take.

Good Morning, Employee 3437-6269-8463.
Please enjoy the following inspirational message:
"Did you know that smiling when sad can actually make you feel happy?
Always remember to keep on smiling!"


D A I L Y - F E E S

> INTEREST......0.01%.....
> NIGHTLY GENETIC BACKUP.....$-10,000.00
> EVERWORK INSURANCE FEE.....$-70,000.00
> HABITATION RENT............$-12,500.00
> HABITATION UTILITIES........$-2,500.00
> LIFE SUPPORT FEE...........$-50,000.00
> SPACE RIG LEASE............$-40,000.00
> SALVAGE TRANSPORT..........$-10,000.00
> EQUIPMENT RENTAL...........$-20,000.00
> EQUIPMENT REPARATIONS.......$-5,000.00

> PROFIT......................$17,563.56
ACCOUNT BALANCE.........$-21,540,833,578


"Sweet, new high score." Rosie grinned to herself. It was very rare that she didn't increase her "score" each day, but it happened, usually after she engineered up something particularly cool and hadn't used up too many Spares for it. But to her, those things were pretty much contradictions.

Solar-Standard time: 0625
Next payment due in: 1 HOUR 34 MINUTES 2 SECONDS

Click HERE to authorize payment of

Processing....Payment confirmed.
Happy trails!

Whoooosh! She could almost hear those two million dollars flying away. She had realized a long time ago that there wasn't much she could actually do about it, but it still stung. On the other hand, if she kept her head down, she had guaranteed bed and board for the rest of her life. Plus the fact she was practically immortal now. And with no parents and no kids, she had no idea who her next-of-kin would be, so she didn't even have to worry about springing her debt onto someone she knew if she ever ended up croaking.

Basically, ignoring how she was going to be in servitude for the rest of her days, everything was pretty much fine.

"So, how're we feelin' today?" The question was directed to Maxine, but Rosie was already moving away to do something else. She was still listening, of course, she had just always figured it was better to also do other stuff while talking to people. In particular, she was getting a headstart on her morning routine. She grabbed a hair tie from her bunk and tied up her hair into a ponytail. And with the fact that she had slept in her uniform, that was her routine basically done. Let it never be said that she wasn't efficient.
Maxine looked at Rosie from the mirror she was brushing her teeth in front of. "Wee'r fleeung ghleaht! Yuu klno-... uh" She spat out the toothpaste. "Sorry, uh, I said we're feeling great." She tossed her toothbrush into its holder, wiped the water from the sink with the shitty Haprsi-Towel they were provided, and stepped back into the main room. "'s all yours," she gestured back to the bathroom behind her.

Maxine had no actual plans for her day, the SDF deal having consumed much of her waking energy for the last week, and wasn't quite sure what to wear. It couldn't be too fancy, that would be an unnecessary risk of damage to clothes more expensive than her profits, yet she wanted to look like someone that'd just scored a multimillion dollar deal.

Decisions, decisions.

She appreciated the freedom to dress for different occasions, one of the few perks of having a customer-facing role in this company, but seeing Rosie roll out of bed in her wrinkled-to-hell uniform wasn't without some envy; Harpsi would probably double her debt on the spot were she to ever show up to a sales meeting with clothes like her bunkmate's. And that was to say nothing of how her manager would berate her.

"How about you?" she asked, holding out two near-identical black blazers that she pulled from the closet to compare. "Anything riveting on the agenda today?"

Unearthly Unearthly
A precise beam severed the thin link between a strut and the hull it held onto. Singed and red-hot, the metal floated slowly away from its origin just barely enough to give Ethan Taylor assurance it was fully removed. With speed and finesse Ethan pried into the recent incision and gazed upon his goldmine; a rectangular coil surrounded by bundles of wire and a few faded warning labels. Among the most well-designed were the WARNING: HIGH VOLTAGE hand zap and the DANGER: HAZARDOUS MATERIALS skull and bones. Classics. Ethan always had a bet with himself wondering exactly what stickers would be plastered around the big payout parts. Sure, technically all of the necessary ones legally required by code should be provided around sources of danger such as this, but seemingly for shipmakers, warning signs were for nerds and you could just slap whatever you had on hand as a good enough deal. It was amazing any ship got past inspection honestly.

But it wasn't Ethan's place to make ships. It was his job to break them. He readied his cutter just as he'd practiced hundreds of times and prepared to make the next incision.

"Ethan, hope you're making good progress on that extraction. You know the whole song and dance; wrap it up soon or there's a hefty fee and maybe a demerit for you." The comms receiver in the shipbreaker's helmet buzzed to life, reminding Ethan of the futility of his work.

"Yeah, got it." Ethan responded, holding off on making his cut until the conversation was done. He didn't feel particularly eager to regenerate another spare by making an unfocused cut. "Just got the core and some regulators left to peel off. All of the dangerous pieces'll be secure once I'm done here." Ethan looked out from the metallic skeleton of a once worthy vessel, now decommissioned and partly dismantled. The view of space was always a little breathtaking regardless of how often Ethan saw it. "Hey Chuck, if you had to choose between-"

"Cut the chatter, Taylor. We don't get paid to be philosophers," the voice on the other end cut in. "Core and regulators, ASAP. Job-pertinent questions only." The line cut out and Ethan was once again left in silence. Guess I'll just have to save it for Rin.

The next few cuts were near surgical and his work day went on like any other. Despite handling some of the more dangerous parts for this run, Ethan was undisturbed and smooth in his actions. He continued as dutiful as he had been for the past hours, cutting away endlessly at the bowels of the ship. Even this long into his shift, Ethan had probably barely cut through the cost for just leasing his tools. By his calculations, Ethan would be breaking down ships until the last star in the universe burned out, and maybe even a little past then.

Oh well, Ethan thought as he prepared for the next cut. Just a bit longer and I'll be in the mess hall, and after that, sweet, sweet sleep.

Eventually, once Chuck swapped out for Frank, Ethan poked the channel once more. "Howdy, Frank. Hope the slop was excellent this morning. Wrapping up extraction now, probably don't have long before I'm done this set. I'll be heading in soon."
Gerrard Karlos Nukehammer, or Gary for his friends, slept deep in his bunk. He had some late missions yesterday and tried to get in as many hours of sleep as possible - although he always fell short. An alarm tried to wake him up only to be slapped aside and a second alarm going off. After a bit of grumbling Gary slowly got up to shut it down. He shuffled his way through a few pieces of scrapmetal and confirmed his payment - no longer caring about the amount after over 40 years of work - and went straight back to sleep.

Good Morning, Employee 4285-7225-2719.
Please enjoy the following inspirational message:
"You do not work for yourself, you work for all of humanity!
Working hard brings humanity forward!"


D A I L Y - F E E S

> INTEREST......0.01%.......
> NIGHTLY GENETIC BACKUP.....$-10,000.00
> EVERWORK INSURANCE FEE.....$-70,000.00
> HABITATION RENT............$-12,500.00
> HABITATION UTILITIES........$-2,500.00
> LIFE SUPPORT FEE...........$-50,000.00
> SPACE RIG LEASE............$-40,000.00
> MINERAL TRANSPORT..........$-10,000.00
> PROFIT...................$1,124,658.04
ACCOUNT BALANCE..........$-4,764,793,324. 64

Solar-Standard time: 0734
Next payment due in: 25 MINUTES 17 SECONDS

Click HERE to authorize repayment of


Processing....Payment confirmed.
Happy trails!

harpsi name and slogan.png

After a few more necessary hours of sleep - although still too few - Gary finally stretched himself awake in his lonely bunk. He didn't have a bunkmate for quite some time now, the supervisors having learned their lessons and not assigning someone to the same room as him. It's not like Gary particularly hated the company of others but he needed space. The bits and pieces of mechanical scrap that he "acquired" and tinkered with over the last couple years being strewn about everywhere in the small room. Oh, and it probably doesn't help that Gary snored louder than a drop pod on reentry. Bunkmate efficiency tends to tank without sleep and all, so his first human interaction of the day had to wait.

As Gary washed himself up a bit and began brushing his magnificent (non-regulatory) beard, he remembers a good friend of his - Dave. Dave and Gary met on his last job site and became fast friends after complaining about supervisors together. They helped each other out and did their best to survive together in this corporate hellhole. And one of the favours Dave did for him was scrubbing his history clean and making it look like the data simply got lost. "Nukehammer" isn't Gary's real last name but it stuck after his previous last name was "lost". Hopefully Dave is still doing fine. Although Gary suspects that he probably got terminated at some point. After all, HarpsiCorp tends to out the source of "accidents" quite well. Although that doesn't mean they will tell you the truth about it...

Gary finished dressing up for a day and put on his signature sunglasses. He doesn't want others to be discouraged by what his eyes truly look like, least if all himself. Not that he's disfigured but the emptiness his eyes seem to radiate sometimes scares even Gary himself.

On his way to the canteen Gary thinks about the somewhat recent mining accident. He and a DRG mining team went planetside to extract some liquid morkite. Everything went fine and the refining station was nearly finished when it detonated, taking all the resources and the mining team with it. HarpsiCorp determined that some exploding bug got too close to the station and Gary being the leader of the expedition as well as their main gunner was determined to be at fault and charged with multiple billions worth of debt. Just as he was somewhat close to paying off his debt. And although Gary doesn't think HarpsiCorp would self-sabotage their profits just to have him on until he dies, he still thinks there was some foul play involved. But it might also be his paranoia speaking. Well, no use dwelling on it now - he has arrived at the canteen.

Gary got himself his "plastic-free" sludge and a hot brew of "coffee" and chowed down. It's all become quite tasteless to him but he still needed fuel to keep going. Work won't wait for long. Although he did stop by a terminal just before heading off, sending an application to be trained as a Hyperion weapons engineer. It'll probably get denied but one can hope, right?
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3000 meters deep and with time to spare, the mission was going smoothly. Rin and her team were able to navigate cave system H4-31 with negligible obstacles, minus a few narrow passageways that Lance--the largest member of their crew--briefly got caught in. Nothing their solar lasers, which sliced through the rock like a hot knife through butter, couldn’t handle. Plus, it gave Rin some ammunition to use against him; he still hadn’t let her live down the time she’d slipped face first into a pool of arachnid bile. Fun times.

Speaking of arachnids, they had encountered startlingly few of the carnivorous, venom-spitting bastards in H4-31, especially in comparison to some of the other cave systems on Hoxxes IV where they ran rampant. They found a few clusters of fist-size juveniles in the upper levels, but they scattered as soon as the light from Squad IX’s helmets brushed over them.

Unhindered by webs and surprise attacks, Rin’s team made good progress. They had been sent to map out the tunnels for analysis of mining viability, and already her sensor was indicating that they were rapidly approaching the end of the tunnel. By all accounts, this was a good thing, but Rin couldn’t shake away a feeling of uneasiness. It was almost too easy.

“Hey boss, I think this is it!” Raj called as the tunnel they had been traversing opened up into a cavernous chamber.

Even though their helmets distorted their voices slightly, Rin did not miss his enthusiasm; Raj had only signed on to DRG a little less than a year ago, and still approached each mission as if Exeter Hearthwright himself had risen from the grave to personally assign him to it. Rin didn’t think she had been nearly that invested in the Harpsicorp cause when she first joined, but maybe she was just cynical, amongst other things. She remembered a small hand gripping her own--a toothy, dimpled smile--infectious, high pitched laughter. She closed her eyes shut, grateful that her helmet obscured her face, then returned to the present.

“Easy there, Diver,” Amelia said, clapping Raj on the shoulder. “Don’t want to announce our arrival to all of Spider-ville.” Though her tone was light and teasing, Rin knew long-term squadmate was dead serious.

“Oh come on, ‘melia,” Lance retorted. “Haven’t seen so much as an arachnid eye-ball since the second level.”

“Doesn’t hurt to be cauti-” Rin began, but was soon interrupted by the tell-tale buzzing of mission control in her ear piece. The voice that requested a status update was familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it. Then again, she never was fantastic at remembering what people sounded like. Or what they looked like. Or what their names were.

“Ground team to control,” Rin responded in a practiced manner. “Everything is good down here. We’re about to begin our ascent.”

“You heard the woman,” Lance said when Rin clicked off. “It’s almost sludge time.”

Amelia groaned. “I swear, if you call our food -- which we have to eat, I’ll remind you -- sludge one more time, I will personally cast you into the nearest hot spring planet-side.”

“What? That’s what it is.” Lance argued, and Rin grinned despite herself.

“Alright, enough with the bickering you two. Let’s make it back up before control decides to leave us behind,” Rin said, ignoring Amelia’s mock salute. As she began to turn back to the tunnel, she caught sight of Raj standing in the far-left corner of the cavern.

“Uh, you guys might want to take a look at this,” he said as the others quickly made their way over. There was a small gap in the floor of the room, and as Rin crouched to get a better look, her eyes widened. Twenty feet below, a sea of arachnids scattered the ground and dangled from their silk threads.

“Is it just me, or are these a lot bigger than the arachnids we encountered up top?” Amelia asked, her hand reaching reflexively for her flame-thrower.

“Definitely bigger,” Raj agreed.

Well, this was going to make for an interesting report. As for now, they would make their way back to the surface; no need to serve themselves up as arachnid breakfast.
"Control to surface, say status. This is Frank."
“Ground team to control,” Rin responded in a practiced manner. “Everything is good down here. We’re about to begin our ascent.”

"Received, surface nine. Control out." Frank clacked his fingernails against the desk, surveying the half-dozen screens before him displaying a myriad of information, from the team's dive depth to their vital signs, and everything in-between.

His prosthetic eyes glazed over the monitors, then began to wander towards the windows, the fused silica the sole barrier between him and the great beyond. Past the space rig's innumerable antennae, past the Lynx salvage vessel and the Hyperion security satellite, Hoxxes IV appeared as though he could hold it right in his hand - if he could, he daydreamed, he'd simply squeeze it like a lemon, extracting all of its materials in one fell swoop, and cast it off into the infinite compost bin surrounding him.

Just as a chuckle at his own machinations built in his throat, his gaze was forcibly zipped back to the workstation by his ocular implants, which then produced a message only visible to him.


The nanomachines within his skull detained his consciousness for several seconds, then returned him his autonomy to continue his shift. These involuntary movements were programmed like reflex, as though doing anything but work was to touch his hand to a hot iron, only to be immediately pulled back. Frank grunted, always discombobulated by the loss of control, but quickly collected himself and answered the beeping pager in his ear.

"Control." He spoke wearily through the second channel.

"Howdy, Frank. Hope the slop was excellent this morning. Wrapping up extraction now, probably don't have long before I'm done this set. I'll be heading in soon."

Frank smiled to himself at the young shipbreaker's satirical comment, but quickly wiped it from his face for fear of another shock. He'd warned Employee 0044-7614-3133 numerous times to check his sarcasm, else it should warrant a demerit on his profile, but it appeared his warnings fell on deaf ears. At least he wasn't still scavenging thruster fuel from decommissioned ships, as far as Frank knew - a crime of the highest order not to purchase directly from the company store.
"Received. Thanks, Cutter." He acknowledged the joke with nothing but his tone.

"Hope Chuck didn't give ya' too hard of a time today, he's wound up tighter than a constrictor on a mongoose lately! Probably on account of what happened with his balance last week, right shame..." They shared a quiet moment, which was suddenly interrupted by an ear-piercing alarm from Frank's headset and a flashing red light on his rightmost screen. In an instant, he felt a pit form in his stomach deeper than the one before Squad IX.
"Keep up the good work, Cutter. Control out." Frank blurted, turning his transponder's dial back to Squad IX's channel.

There was a small gap in the floor of the room, and as Rin crouched to get a better look, her eyes widened. Twenty feet below, a sea of arachnids scattered the ground and dangled from their silk threads.

"Control to surface nine, you've got a doozy of a swarm incoming, load up." He announced as the dots on his radar multiplied. The team was walking directly into a pack of Glyphid Praetorians, one of the meanest species of arachnid alien around, with a massive horde of Glyphid Grunts in a chasm below them as an apparent distraction. Should they continue on their path, the Praetorians would pincer them into the swarm below.
"I'm reading four- wait, six- no, twelve-- A lot of Praetorians heading your way!" Frank released the push-to-talk (PTT) button, anxiously waiting for a reply, but received none. "Control to surface nine, come in." Nothing. "Control-to-surface-nine, come in!" He further articulated his words to no avail. Damn caves!

Met only with an idle buzz in his ear, he clicked the intercom button and held the PTT.
"Squad eight, report to your drop pod immediately for emergency extraction, miners in distress! Squad eight, report to your drop pod for emergency extraction, over!" He pressed a second button, transferring the siren from only his on screen to lights throughout the space rig. If anyone could rescue Squad IX, it would be Nukehammer's team. Frank only hoped it wasn't too late already.

Interactions: Solar Daddy Solar Daddy Nomai Nomai Mechking Mechking
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"Much obliged, Max." Rosie slipped past her and into the bathroom. There wasn't much of a reason for her to be in there, given that she could care less about her personal hygiene, but she might as well. She checked her face in the mirror and noticed a smudge of oil across her cheek which she rubbed water into. It didn't help, and probably only made it more noticeable, but hey, she tried!

With that done, she was already ready to go. Sure, she could brush her teeth or something, but it wasn't like anyone cared. Or, well, it was more like she didn't care if anyone else cared or not. Besides, regulations didn't say anything about rotten teeth. She grinned into the mirror to double-check and yeah, they looked fine enough. She'd brush them later. Or tomorrow, if she remembered. Next week for sure.


She headed back into the main room, where she found Maxine still deciding what to wear, somehow. Sheesh, that had to suck. Rosie couldn't even tell the difference between those two blazers, and couldn't help but wonder if it really mattered that much. She reminded herself that even if her job in engineering was objectively kinda crappy (though subjectively it was a blast) at least she wasn't stuck down in sales.

She kicked back into a chair. "Nah, nothin' riveting. Just some, y'know, rivetin'," she joked with a smirk. "I been workin' on a thruster design lately. It's gonna be badass when I get it done, trust me, but it ain't lookin' like much more than a pile of parts just now."
She had conveniently forgotten to mention that those parts had been fully connected yesterday and then it had literally blown up in her face, but Maxine didn't need to know that. Plus, now she knew what had gone wrong she could do it even better this time! Trial and error at its finest.

queendilettante queendilettante
Working in IT requires the ability to repeatedly fix routine, unspecific problems. Only once a week is a tech issue unique in Morrigan's line of work. Most of xer time is spent behind a chair, in an office so deep and far back into the ship that xey spend most nights sleeping on the floor underneath xer desk, surrounded by gored cables and graffiti post-it note art on the walls. Most people need engagement or variety, but Morrigan was very capable in the art of dissociation. If xey just stayed in IT for a couple more years, xey could work alongside Aperture's scientists in software development rather than having to train sales associates how to use non-holographic computers, and helping xer manager find new ways to patch salesmen from playing Tetris9999 on unblocked websites.

Xey sucked down xer Monday jelly cup and took xer pills with xer third dinner at xer desk. Well, technically breakfast, for everyone else, but Morrigan had been up for the third night in a row. IT and Aperture test subjects were the first to try out a currently unreleased technology meant to keep employees awake permanently, without brain damage or fatigue, with a whopping 150 dollars removed from your debt for each night you stay awake while testing out the product. Xey took out one of the Anti-Fatigue capsules and cracked it open, huffing purple gas that smelled like steel and cleaner. Xer heart beat faster and xer eyes dilated, but the fatigue stayed. Aperture hadn't worked out all of the kinks yet.

Xey had this chronic lethargy long before testing the Anti-Fatigue capsules, so none of xer coworkers batted an eye as Morrigan worked hunched over, xer nose running with blood. Xey quickly wiped it. Xey took an hour long break once a day, and have otherwise been going now for a solid 74 hours. Soon, xey would have to take a hiatus from the experiment to sleep, but Morrigan was one of the few people who cared about trying to shave off their debt, and didn't want to lose the money.

Xey made a call. Following the same script, without fail, every time. Back and forth, a date of birth, name, and employee number were given as Morrigan instructed the other person on the end to do so.

"Okay, so, 8463-- your name instead? Alright." Xey looked over the employee file, and found their full name. "Rosemar-- no? Rosie. Rosie, okay." Xey said, doodling in ASCII with xer right hand while on the call. IT were the first to discover that art can be made under Harpsicorp, and on their work hours, too. If you drew lines structured and straight enough, it would register as writing instead of doodling on your eye lense's AI system. Morrigan only had a tracking chip in xer brain, and no AI implants, but still doodled in the same AI-tricking art style that xer coworkers had popularized in the clique. All over the IT department you could find murals of post-it note doodles of cats, landscapes, and the view of space through the windows of the mess hall. Sure, they'll all get a strike when a non-IT comes down to check up on the place, but this department was usually completely ignored by higher-ups, as long as people were still getting their devices fixed, no one really thinks about what these employees do afterwards. According to the Bureau of Labor, those working in computer science actually had less civil rights than robots! Everyone in this department was more or less abandoned, left to their own devices to keep themselves up and running, and were so overlooked that you only remember they exist when you need them.

"I'm conducting an interview, I've already talked to a few others in your circle. Were you there during the tech blackout last week in the engineering hangar? A lot of property was damaged. We still don't know what caused it down here." Xey scraped the pencil xey were doodling with xer fingernail, while staring straight ahead at a black computer screen, filled with colored text.
Gerrard Karlos Nukehammer

Gerrard was on his way to the armory next to the drop pods and as relaxed as he could be so early in the morning when the alarm started. "Hope it has nothing to do with me...", he grumbled to himself as he pulled out his datapad to check what was going on. His eyes went wide when he saw that it indeed had something to do with him. "Shit!"

Just a few seconds later Gerrard burst through the door of the armory and shouted: "No time for procedures, emergency! Get me my equipment now!"
The startled Hyperion workers complied and quickly got his things ready for him. The first thing he put on was his helmet, connecting him to his team and mission control.

"Team eight, Gary here. Got an emergency extraction. I want all of you in the drop pod in the next five minutes, not matter what! Gary out."

With trained hands Gary and the Hyperion employees got him geared up in less than a minute so he could run into the pod in less than two.
Thankfully for everyone, the rest of team eight was up a lot earlier than Gary and thus ready to go to join him in the drop pod not a minute later.

As the security harnesses clamped down on the four heavily armed miners, Gary contacted mission control.
"Team eight Gary here. Ready to launch. Give us the details on the way down and give team nine our expected drop zone."

Hard Boiled Hard Boiled Nomai Nomai
If not for the looming threat of the swarm of Glyphid Grunts they had the good fortune to discover, Rin would have found the ascent through the tunnels to be almost peaceful. Her time spent in the caves was so much different from her life on Earth. Here, she did not have to contend with the blazing heat of the sun beating against her back as she bent to collect samples of bio-waste, the light shining through the haze of the atmosphere nearly blinding her. Here, Rin could walk the darkened passageways of the caves with her team at her back, completely focused on one goal--to complete the mission and return in one piece. Here, she didn’t have to remember.

The trek back was significantly more tense than the one down down; the squad’s usual chatter was absent and Rin could feel their uneasiness hang in the air. As they rounded a corner, Raj’s foot caught on the out-cropping of the wall, saved from a face full of rocks only by Rin’s steadying hand. In response to the sudden sound, Lance and Amelia trained their guns at the spot where Raj had just been, lowering them only when they realized that they were not, in fact, being ambushed by a rogue arachnid. Sticking her hand out flat, Rin gestured at them to calm down. Paranoia could be just as deadly as a Glyphid’s venom.

As they continued forward, their attention was quickly diverted to the flashing of their sensors. What the-? Looking down at her own, Rin’s eyes widened; a series of dark red dots began blinking onto her screen, their number growing with each passing second. Praetorians, and full-grown ones at that. Where had they come from? Their sensors should have picked up on them sooner…it was like they just popped into existence? She shuddered at the thought of arachnids acquiring the ability to teleport. But, she hardly had time to consider more realistic possibilities as the Praetorians were heading directly towards them.

“Squad nine to Control,” Rin spoke into her comm; she was met only with static. “Squad nine to Control,” she said more urgently. “Can you read me?”

“That sounds like a ‘no’ to me, Solberg,” Lance replied darkly, and Amelia cursed.

“We must have lost signal,” Rin said, not even caring that she was stating the obvious. “And of course at the worst possible time…Shit!” She froze as the tell-tale sound of clicking--slow at first, but then rapidly accelerating--reverberated against the cave walls, before springing into action.

“This way. Move, now!” she ordered, signaling down an adjacent tunnel. It was a longer route to the surface and there was the possibility that they would be cut off by the arachnids, but at this point they didn’t have much of an option. Rin only hoped that Control was aware of the situation, otherwise they were completely, utterly, on their own.
"Team eight Gary here. Ready to launch. Give us the details on the way down and give team nine our expected drop zone."
"Team eight, Control - copy. Drop sequence initiating!" Frank hastily calibrated the drop pod to the last known location of team nine.

A titanium grating latches the the drop pod shut, and the hatch seals in the rescue team with a distinctive hiss of pressurization. The reactor spools to life, the auger below the pod whirrs, and with the touch of a button, a claw releases the drop pod out of the launch tube, obliterating a collection of misplaced barrels on its way out. Powered by a thruster capping the drop pod, the team hurtles at breakneck speed to the caverns of Hoxxes IV to find their lost companions.

"Eight, Control. You're being deployed on a high-risk rescue operation, hazard level five. We've just lost contact with team nine in the Salt Pits, and they've got a massive swarm of Praetorians headed their way. You are to locate team nine, secure their M.U.L.E, and extract them in your drop pod if possible. Try to save as many miners as possible, but your priority is the minerals." Frank reluctantly emphasized, else management should detect ulterior motives. "Be advised, we may lose contact with you as well once you breach the surface, so theres a chance you'll be on your own for the duration of the dive. How copy?"

Waiting for a response from team eight, Frank flicked his transponder to contact I.T.
"Communications to I.T., I need a technician to the nest immediately, code red!" He announced over the I.T. office's little-used PA system, the nest being a colloquialism for the observation deck in which mission control resided.

Meanwhile, 425 kilometers below the space rig, team nine's predicament grew more desperate as the threats mounted. Glyphid swarmers poured out of every crevice by the dozen; The grunts below, previously undisturbed, now skittered up the wall and joined rank with the swarmers; The green glow of Praetorians illuminated the path before them as a lethal roadblock, beckoning them with an echoing, corrosive howl. Most insidiously, the miners' weight, doubled, even tripled by their equipment, spread cracks in the salt they hurried across, first imperceptible, then gradually growing wider with each stomp. Besieged by the ground preparing to give way under them and a swarm on either side, team nine was faced with a decision that may cost them their lives: Run and bear the brunt of the Praetorians, stand their ground and pray the cave structure holds, or some unthinkable third option? Evidently, it would take a miracle to rescue this forlorn crew.

Luckily for them, a miracle was on it's way, if they could survive until then.

Interactions: Mechking Mechking Bryce Brutal Bryce Brutal Mentions: Nomai Nomai
This reply was co-written by Bryce and Hard Boiled ♥

Morrigan’s placid expression on Rosie’s employee file fell as the speaker system overhead boomed to life with enough force to sputter out cobwebs and dust. Xey hung up on the landline and forced xemself out of the chair. Despite almost four years of experience, xey have never worked under mission control, which usually had its own MITE on staff. Xey ripped the laminated CODE RED: FOR DUMMIES sheets out of a nearby filing cabinet, and flipped through it, tucking it under one arm and speed-walking out of the establishment.

“Come again, Comms?” Xey repeated into xer headset. “Do you need us physically present?” Xey asked, hoping xey could solve the issue over the radio due to its time sensitive nature. Mission control would be a long walk, but luckily, there were plenty of multidirectional elevators to get you around the ship in three minutes or less, along with roller coaster restraint bars in the elevator seats, and a free Everwork SPARE if you happened to die in a not-uncommon elevator accident. Harpsicorp has done extensive math to determine that replacing a worker is much cheaper than making safe transport devices.

“Now ain’t the time for laziness, IT, get your rear-end down here now!” Demanded Frank with an urgency he deemed suited to the situation.

Frank further described the situation to Morrigan as xey loaded into the elevator and soon arrived in mission control. Morrigan admired the architecture of the room, but didn’t take much information in. Despite xer speed-walking turning into a run, it still felt like Frank was going to force xem forward into the room with his hands.

“I appreciate your training for IT, but I’ve never worked in mission control before.” Frank knew this already, and didn’t understand why Morrigan was so inconcise. “Where is your MITE on duty?” Xey asked under xer breath. Xey hadn’t internalized that xey might not be the only department where hours are getting cut to test out the Anti-Fatigue capsules.

“Seems you’re it, kid.” Frank answered, much to xer dismay.

“Look, I lost contact with team nine in the Salt Pits, and they’re about two shakes from running headfirst into a pack a’ hungry glyphids. I need you to help me re-establish the connection or they’re done for.” He slid out of his swivel chair, making way for Morrigan to take over. “I lost ‘em at thirty-two-hundred below. No static or nothin’, just like that.” He snapped.

Morrigan adjusted quickly to the older-model mouse and keyboard setup in mission control. Vintage. Xey rested xer elbow on the table of control panels, knocking over a cheap bobble-head of the CEO which sat precariously next to a cold cup of coffee. The head jiggled, letting out the Harpsicorp jingle in fractured static after crumpling to the ground.

"You’ve already reset the satellite several times. They’re definitely still fiddling with their communicators.” Xey answered. Xey looked out the window of the observation deck, and back to the screen. “I can’t find the planet’s climate rates here. Is it on a different computer?” Xey asked, watching as Frank dropped into his favorite chair, which had a Frank-rear shaped dent in it.

“No, it’s-” He reached over xem and flicked the rightmost monitor to the meteorology window, displaying all green signs. “It’s a different tab. No solar flares detected, I-I don’t know what happened!”

“It’s going to be alright. Your alarm reached me for a reason.” Xey said, going back to another tab, trying to regain the small amount of ego lost after not being able to find the meteorology tab. “Okay,” xey fully regained composure. “Do you use a magnetron transmitter or a klystron transmitter for relaying information?” Xey put xer hands out in front of them, flat and pointed towards Frank.

“A who-se-tron?” Frank’s brow furrowed.

Morrigan dismissed Frank, xer insomnia-induced headache pounding their frontal lobe. Xey opened the transmitter panel latch in the open wall. Inside the small shelving unit was full of wired, hot tech, each machine beeping and whirring, begging to work just as much as everyone else was begging it to. Klystron, xey thought. A quick fondle of the electronics showed no signs of damage or overheating. The transmitter’s manufacturing date was about forty years old, though.

“Alright.” Xey sat back down, and switched to the manufacturer’s tab in the co-pilot’s computer. “We’re going to test to see how much power it’s amplifying. A klystr- this kind of transmitter should be good to broadcast across entire solar systems, and it’s the size of a space basketball.” Xey checked past amplifications, and saw that every message sent back and forth to the crew was barely enough output to get the message across. Xey widened xer eyes for a quick second, and quickly relaxed them, not wanting to further strain Frank’s mental state. This was the equivalent of balancing on a tightrope that someone was gently sawing– and to believe that executives were sending out entire mining operations on this tightrope! Maintenance would be so cheap, too…

“Here’s the gist: You’ve basically been whispering into a megaphone this whole time. We need a much stronger source of energy for the transmitter. Do you have any ideas?” If they knew each other slightly better, xey’d probably be gripping his face right now.

“Alright, well-” Frank’s gaze darted around the room, eventually settling on a power relay out of the corner of his eye. Hesitating only long enough for his ocular implants to focus and to fully resign himself to the decision, he sprung from his seat and hurried to the nearby terminal. “This here controls the power flow from the main reactors to the pod bays, I know a thing or two on how to adjust it. I could redirect some a’ the power to the transmitter, but I’d need authorization, a-and that could take days…!” Again he paused, staring down the monitor, its idle text cursor simply waiting for his input.


Inquired Frank’s eyes, partially obscuring the terminal, as if to reach out from the spirit of HarpsiCorp itself to halt his initiative. Shutting his eyes and attempting to rub the message away, Frank was only successful in replacing the backdrop with darkness.

“Urgh, no!” He grunted to thin air.

Morrigan leaned back in xer chair, watching his body pause as he took in the HarpsiCorp stimuli from inside of his head. Was someone talking to him? Requesting something from him? Prohibiting him? Xey had to phrase this carefully, in case his eyes were also triggered by other’s words.

"Is it preventing you from trying to save people? Describe what you want me to do, as abstractly as you can.” Morrigan stood up, giving him space, making sure to comfort him with words, keeping xer hands off of him. Xey hoped he would catch on to xer very thickly applied ‘subtext’.

“Naw, it’s too late.” Frank insisted, opening his lids with apparent strain. “They already know we’re breaching protocol, might as well go the whole nine space yards.”

“The space basketball is in your space court.” Morrigan replied, xer dark brown eyes and short wavy bob obscured by an orange frame with orange text.

“Okay…” With no other option, Frank tilted his head back so that the monitor would be visible at the bottom of his view and got to typing what could only be described as organized gibberish - though apparently, it did have meaning, as when Frank hit ENTER, all of the lights in the space rig hummed down to emergency power. The alarm, which had long since faded into ambience, finally ceased, and the bustle of the satellite screeched to silence.

The pair huffed, the intensity of their breathing noticed only now that they could hear it, and looked to each other. The prompt had disappeared from Frank’s eyes, sensing he no longer needed support. He looked to his mission control terminal, the only lit desk remaining, and nearly sprinted back.

“Control to team nine, do you read me? Control to team nine, how copy?”

From the static birthed a female voice, unintelligible at first, then growing clearer. "Control? Thank God– there's a swarm of praetorians up ahead. We're taking the alternate route back up, but– shit!"

Frank released the breath he’d been holding, and rocked back in his seat.

"Team nine, control, stand your ground! Team eight has been sent in to extract you, E.T.A five minutes! Team nine?!”

Again, he was met with no response, this time not from a technical error. Though their fates were still uncertain, confirmation of team nine’s present survival surged a wave of relief over Frank’s body, a sensation he hadn’t felt in years. This would be perhaps the first decision in his entire career that wouldn’t keep him up at night. And as for his MITE, well, he’d put xem up for promotion at the very least, the only token of gratitude he could offer from his meager position.
“Phew… Good work, Snorpler. Just up to Nukehammer now…That’s one for the books, alright!” He laughed, then braced for a shock - but none came. Apparently, his implants’ signal must’ve been interrupted when he diverted the power, an unintended benefit that he was wholly unprepared for.

“We’ll redirect the power once team eight makes contact.”

Morrigan’s energy had rapidly sapped in the past three minutes. Xer trial-pills seemed to have reached their limit. How long did xey set the timer for? Seventy-something hours?

“Yeh.” Xey replied, xer lips unmoving. Xey sat back in the chair, xer blood pressure slowly climbing back to a normal rate. Xey knew xey should be proud of xemself, but every emotion was overridden by xer lethargy. “I’m… I’m so high right now.” Xey replied as Frank sat back in relief, watching the vitals of each team member over his own monitor. “But… let’s celebrate. When we both have time off.” Even in this stupor, xey knew to plan a time to celebrate xer accomplishment, with the scraps of mental health Harpsicorp had left. Frank watched Morrigan, only four feet away having fallen asleep; xer forearms making a pillow. No one in their right mind would sleep on the job, especially not in someone else’s office, but xey were clearly far, far past that point.

Frank would let Morrigan sleep for a couple minutes before xey would clock out and finally rest in xer cabin. After all, Morrigan had work tomorrow.
Rin wasn’t afraid of dying. That wasn’t a bold proclamation of her bravery or particular disregard for life, but anyone who worked in Deep Rock Galactic had to get accustomed to death rather quickly. No, it wasn’t the act of dying that most people feared, it was the accumulating debt that came at the expense of generating a new spare.

Though Rin never intended to leave HarpsiCorp--there was nothing out there for her anymore--she knew that wasn’t true of the rest of her team. Despite the near-Herculean feat it would take to pay off their debts, she knew that Amelia and Lance dreamed of one day leaving the company behind--Amelia to care for her aging parents and Lance to reunite with the children he hadn’t seen since his stint in a Jovian prison. And Raj…Raj hadn’t even experienced his first death on the job. The realization hit Rin hard and dread filled her lungs. No, she didn’t want him to go through that; not yet.

Doing her best to ignore the faint cracks that splintered with each step they took, Rin led the squad further into the narrow tunnel. The cave walls were thinner here, and she could only pray that whatever twisted higher power resided over Hoxxes would take pity on them and prevent the tunnels from collapsing. Rin nearly melted with relief when they regained signal, but her momentary flicker of hope was soon stripped away as more dots appeared on her sensor.

A dozen--no, twenty--countless Swarmers were seeping into the tunnel behind them; they were pinned from both sides. No no no no no no no… She heard Lance cursing, and Raj--frightened but trying not to show it--asking, “Wh-what now?”

And Rin didn’t know. She didn’t fucking know. If they turned back they would be overtaken by the Swarmers, and even if they managed to get past the first wave, they would be no closer to the exit. If they continued forward, they would be met with a horde of Praetorians who would likely rip them to shreds while the Swarmers closed in on them. And, her team was slowing under the burden of their equipment. They were about just as good as spider-meat, but, if one thing was certain, they couldn’t take on both the Praetorians and the Swarmers.

Gesturing for Amelia and Raj to continue on, Rin grabbed Lance’s arm and pointed at the ceiling where massive stalactites jutted downwards. “When I say so, we’re going to shoot there and bring those rocks down.” It was incredibly risky--firing in such a delicate cave system could wind up bringing whole tunnels down--but they had limited options. If they were lucky, they could block off this segment of the tunnel and prevent the Swarmers from reaching them, and if they died…well, given the current situation they would have been dead anyway.

“Are you out of your goddamn mind?” Lance asked, but he drew his gun anyway.

“Maybe, but I’m still your captain,” Rin replied, raising her own. “Now!”

The resulting blast shook the tunnel, sending the stalactites they had aimed for (as well as many they had not) crashing to the ground. Fragments of the ceiling collapsed inward as well, sending up a cloud of dust and debris. Lance let out a cry of pain, and if Rin hadn’t been standing right next to him she wouldn’t have been able to find him in the haze. A stalactite had sliced through his leg, and though it had not pinned him, he was bleeding profusely.

“You…owe me…big for this one, Solberg,” Lance said through gritted teeth as Rin helped him to his feet and pulled him towards the others. The tunnel was blocked, but the cracks along the floor rapidly grew deeper and wider.

“What in the name of Hearthwright’s holy ass happened back there?” Amelia asked, lunging forward to take Lance’s other arm.

“Solberg decided to blow this place to hell,” Lance replied, and even through his pain, Rin detected a hint of approval.

Rin squeezed his shoulder and said, “We need to keep going--don’t bleed out on us, Lance.”

“But the Praetorians--” Raj interjected, stepping in front of them.

“This place will collapse on us if we don’t move,” Rin said. “So it’s either take our chances against the Glypids or let the tunnels do their work for them.”

“She’s right,” Amelia said, pushing Raj forward. “They’re smart bastards, they know what they’re--” At that moment, their sensors emitted a sharp, insistent series of beeps. The red dots that had been waiting complacently towards the entrance of the tunnel began surging forward at an alarming speed.

“I guess they got tired of waiting for us,” Rin stated grimly, readying her flame thrower as her squad drew their own weapons.

The Praetorians were on them before they had much chance to do anything else, and the caves were overwhelmed by the onset of flashing lights and gunfire and the gnashing of pincers, and the ground fractured further. She heard a scream and turned just in time to see a Praetorian skewer Raj through the shoulder, pinning him against the salt rock wall. Panic coursing through her veins, Rin unleashed a barrage of fire against the back of the arachnid. It recoiled in pain, oozing a toxic, black liquid as a patch of its exoskeleton melted away, allowing Amelia to pull Raj away. The arachnid rounded on Rin quickly, powering through the flame and tearing into the flesh of her hand with its pincers, letting go only when Lance drew it attention with a volley of heavy rounds.

White, blinding pain overtook her, and she wasn’t even aware that she was screaming. With a deafening crack, the ground beneath them gave away and they were falling, dropping at least ten feet before hitting solid rock. Her flamethrower gone, Rin crawled towards the sound of the others’ moans; they were still alive, but certainly in no fighting shape. Amelia--strong, stubborn Amelia--was attempting to lift her gun but her arm was bent at an unnatural angle. Lance was supporting Raj, trying futilely to pull him to his feet.

Though her mangled hand burned, Rin managed to reach the team, drawing her laser pistol with one shaking hand as the Praetorians slowly climbed down into the pit with them. Looking over at her squadmates for what she thought would be the last time, at least in this body, she felt a crushing despair. This was it; she’d failed them. Raising her voice just loud enough for them to hear, she said, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Ethan let silence fill his end of the line as Frank threw a few words at him over the comms. He knew Control wasn't in a position to idly chat, especially not by encouraging it, so Ethan let the conversation die out shortly after it began mostly to keep from dragging Frank down with him. It was a shame, too; Ethan would probably work twice as hard if he could actually enjoy a bit of talking from time to time. Without it, his work was mind-numbingly slow and monotonous. It made him feel sterile, cold, alone. Even with someone directly on the other end of the line, it just wasn't the same as shooting the shit with his coworkers pre-Harpsi days. Back when he had the fragments of a soul left, at least.

Ethan was dazing again, stuck in his own mind, rather on-topic with his thoughts and his lack of progress. Ethan waved his extremities lightly through weightless space to keep the sensors in his suit from picking up his stagnation. It didn't work forever, but it at least kept the small nickle-and-diming from building up passively in the background. It was almost second nature to idly shift in place whenever he zoned out, which was far more often than he'd want the Suits to know about.

When his eyes finally refocused on the task at hand, he blinked hard a few times before using his cutter tool to sever another connection of metal holding yet another valuable in place. He was almost done his shift and soon he'd be enjoying the nice cold floor of his room once again.

Halfway through his next incision though, Ethan saw a flash of light in the direction of the station. Losing focus of his job to gaze over at the new event, Ethan squinted to see the shuttle abruptly blast from the station down towards the planet's surface. For a moment, he thought his imagination was just running rampant. But the second Ethan keyed in to his comms again, the buzz of rapid chatter seemed to confirm his visuals.

"Frank?" Ethan said, metal rivulets and shavings slowly floating from his last cut. "What the hell's going on over there?" There were no scheduled drops that he knew of. Even if Ethan didn't expect a response from Control, Ethan simply couldn't refrain from asking. The difficulty Ethan had focusing on dismantling his current ship was now completely rampant with the thoughts of a risky, daring rescue mission full of action-hero poses and one-liners. Of course, soon enough the realization hit Ethan that Rin was down there; a support team meant nothing but trouble, and Ethan now had a wave of guilt hit him. Maybe he should refrain from picturing his friend fighting for her life as a fun adventure. This was Harpsicorp after all. Nothing was easy nor safe when working for them.

Ethan's eyes were darting back and forth between the planet's surface and the station, as if expecting the answers of the current situation to suddenly present themselves in a text crawl over his head. It wasn't until a sudden, harsh light blasted his eyes and forced the cutter to squint. The hell was that?

Ethan looked down and realized he'd gotten so caught up in the commotion, his current job was in peril; the core he'd so diligently worked to free from its titanium tomb had activated during the distraction, and Ethan suddenly jolted into the present, reminded he wasn't just watching a scene play out. Ethan quickly went to work on disabling the core in as calm of a manner as he could, but the fear of death - and by extension, regeneration - made his hands shake and his breath rattled. Had he zoned out for even a minute more, he'd have to call a general abandon of the site and hope he could escape the blast in time - even though he knew he couldn't. He couldn't even imagine the debt he'd wrack up for setting off a core this close to the station.

It was a painstakingly slow task for how dire the circumstance was, but eventually Ethan managed to expertly dissect the power lines keeping the core spooling in his lap. It was still a nuclear bomb in scope at the time, but at least it wasn't actively ticking down. Fuck me.

"I'm returning to the station after this one, Frank. We should be all set from here on out." He refused to mention just how close he'd gotten to wiping out almost the entirety of the shipbreaking yards. "Business as usual."
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Gerrard Karlos Nukehammer

"Copy mission control, team eight over and out."
Garys expression darkened. A rescue mission wasn't unusual but they seem to be getting more and more dangerous. As if these damn bugs are getting smarter. But worrying won't help his comrades who are currently trying not to become bug-food.

"Okay team, you heard mission control. This is a big one so use everything you got. Priority one is the survivors, more people means a better chance to get the cargo out."
He had learned over the years what needed to be said in Harpsi to get what you want while still remaining as compliant with protocol as possible.
"Also means we have more hands and guns so we ourselves don't end up 6,000ft under."
A dry chuckle came from the rest of the team as the drop pod hit the surface and the connection to mission control was cut.

The ride into the depths of the planet was accompanied by unusual silence from the team. Normally a bit of banter or bets were exchanged to lighten the mood but they all knew what was at stake. Dying was and is never easy, not the first time, not the hundredth time. And while Garys team is more focused on heavy firepower as well as more used to life-threatening invasions, most mining teams were not. The planet is treacherous at the best of times, adding bugs on top of that just seems overkill.

A beep rang out of one of the consoles of the drop pod.
"Signal from team nine, seems they're alive but not at the expected location?"
"Can we change course?"
"Negative, boss. Mission control calibrates the pod and we can only send it back. Changing it now would require hardware access as well as proof dangerous on our way back up. The pod isn't known for steering the best in these tunnels."
"Darn hunk-a-junk! Fine, mark the signal on the scanner and get ready."

Just a few seconds later the pod came to an abrupt halt in a dark cavern. As soon as the door opened, a big flare was launched in the ceiling and the four rushed out, expecting a swarm waiting for them. But only a few bugs greeted them, only to be shredded by bullets seconds later.

"Where are the bugs?"
"All converging on one place. This can only be-"
"Team nine. Shit! Fastest route?"
"...Direct route is blocked by rubble and bugs. other route would take a bit."
"Guess I'll have'ta make one then. Cover me!"

Gary pulled out two big mining drills and headed for a nearby wall which had been pointed out to him by his members. The drills made quick work of the stone and dirt of the caverns, slowly forming a path for team eight to move forward in. While Gary was drilling away the others widened and stabilized the tunnels, as well as kept any arriving bugs away. After just a minute or so, they had nearly reached their target.

"Boss, the bugs found us! They're coming from the walls!"
"Damned things. How much further?"
"Nearly there, seems like a cave-in happened and swallowed them up."
"Okay, everyone get back! We're going in!"

Gary put away the drills and instead threw down a big explosive charge. Then he booked it to his team which were already huddled behind an unfoldable blast shield.

A loud explosion shook the caverns as team eight had made their entry. A rather sizeable hole had been made out of which the four members poured out and took positions before beginning to fire at the oncoming bugs. Gary quickly spotted the survivors and threw a small disk towards them. Just as one of the preatorians began to unleash its acid spit, it deployed a dome-shaped energy field around team nine and protected them from all incoming fire, as well as repelled any bugs that wanted to get too close and personal.

Bug-distracting gadgets were deployed and explosions rang out as two members of Garys crew covered the way for their medic to reach the survivors. As Garys minigun began to spool up, he winked towards the downed miners.
"Uncle Gary arrived just in time, eh?"

Nomai Nomai Hard Boiled Hard Boiled
As Rin braced her elbow against her knee and leveled her laser pistol at the nearest encroaching Praetorian, she had the strange realization that she was staring her death in the face. Breathing steadily, she aimed at the arachnid’s mouth but held her fire. She had one shot at this, and if she was going to die, she at least wanted to take some of these fanged bastards down with her. As the Praetorian opened its jaw and ejected a stream of acid her way, Rin pressed the trigger of her pistol and readied herself for the burn of melting metal and flesh. But it never came.

A domed wall of energy sprung up between her squad and the Praetorians, absorbing both Rin’s laser and the arachnid’s acidic spit. Milliseconds later, a surge of gunfire and flashes of light and flame erupted around them, and it seemed to her that the world was burning. She and her team watched in astonishment as the bodies of the Praetorians slammed up against the energy field before crumpling, lifeless, to the ground. As the gunfire ceased and the smoke dissipated, Rin could make out four figures in the darkness, their weapons still held at the ready. The DRG had actually come for them.

When the leader of the rescue squad, Gary--she knew that name--introduced himself with a teasing remark, Rin let out a choked laugh. Despite their pain, soon enough the rest of her team was laughing too…or maybe they were sobbing. Possibly both. Probably both. Rin cradled her ruined hand, grateful at least that no one had sustained any fatal injuries, as Gary’s squad quickly hauled them out of the pit they had fallen into and bandaged their wounds. Even though they were not yet out of the caves, she felt the tension in her muscles begin to melt away. They were still alive. They were going to be okay.
The caves shook mightily as the miners erupted in gunfire. Stalactites fell all around them, piercing bugs and lodging into the cold stone as pillars. Through drilled tunnels, across ziplines and immense gaps, the teams slayed their path to the drop pod, its headlights welcoming them with a hot yellow embrace amidst the murk of the caves. Arachnid aliens of all shapes and sizes clung to their four-legged Mining Utility Lift Engine (MULE) as it was loaded into the pod, mincing the creatures with a terrible crunch as it slid into place. Just as it seemed the cave would collapse entirely around them, the pod doors sealed, taking the upper-half of a Glyphid Grunt with it. Meanwhile, a green light flashed on Mission Control's terminal.

"Eight lifeforms accounted for - they got 'em!" Frank cheered to Morrigan, the entire space rig still in disarray trying to determine the source of the outage. In the nick of time, Frank clacked a few keys on the power relay beside him and the satellite roared to life yet again, its emergency lights dimming and the ever-present fluorescent buzz returning. Practically running and sliding back into his seat, Frank turned a few knobs, pushed a couple buttons, and the drop pod detached from its auger, activating its thruster and propelling straight up the hole it created on the way down.
"MULE secured, extraction commencing - great work, team eight!" He leaned back, feeling the weight on his chest lift with the drop pod. Fully expecting a jolt or an alert from his following comment, he held on tight to the armrests and spoke.
"Karl would be proud."
No shock came.

Opening one eye first, then the next, Frank gradually loosened his grip, looking around to see if some unforeseen punishment would befall him, but found nothing. Of all things, he figured mention of Karl would be outright forbidden, despite the frequency in which the Deep Rock grunts saluted to him. Nearly fifty years since his passing, and Karl was still giving the miners hope, never resting from his duty. For Karl, Frank repeated to himself and powered down his mission control terminal. For Rock and Stone.

Ripping him from his ideation, the space rig's external communications booted, bombarding Frank with twenty-something different backed-up alerts directly into his eyes at once.







The notifications stacked and stacked, completely obscuring Frank's vision.








Seeing no other option, Frank braced himself and mentally directed the call to be answered.
The notifications minimized one-by-one, shrinking into the corners and revealing a displeased Amadeus Hearthwright, visible only to him, audible directly into his brain.

"Francis, what on Earth is going on over there?! We're receiving reports that your space rig went completely offline for ten full minutes!"

"Yeah, look, Amadeus-"

"Look? Look?! You look, Francis!" Amadeus flapped a paper and held his thin ovular spectacles to read it. "Unapproved pod launches?! Rescue missions? The only operation that remained active was the Shipbreaking vessel! What has gotten into you?!" His eyes and nose peeked over the paper.

"Team Nine was gonna die. We saved 'em." Frank stated to the black screen in front of him, leaning forward in his chair.

"They die all the time, Francis, they're miners, for God's sakes!" Amadeus tossed the paper behind his back.

"Yeah, well, that don't make it right!"

"You're concerning yourself with things beyond your scope again, Francis." Amadeus sang. "Need I remind you of our agreement?"

"Stop calling me that. We ain't boys anymore."

Amadeus clicked his tongue.
"Alright, Frank. I put you in communications to keep you out of trouble, but you always seem to find your way back to it...Do you have any idea how much you just cost Aperture alone?"

"Who cares how much the spares cost?! We saved their lives!" Frank shook his hands at the air.

"You didn't, Frank, their lives are in our computers. You saved their bodies, which no doubt are going to need extensive repairs, when we could have just given them new ones!"

"I couldn't just let them get killed!"

"They're supposed to be killed! That's why we spend so much on regeneration tech, you dullard! It pays for itself!"

Frank paused, dumbfounded.

"Spares hardly cost us a dime! It's what we charge for them! You think we're just burning money, bringing these tools back to life? It doesn't work if they all live!"

Frank choked. Hardly a dime?
"So... So what about me then, huh? All them years ago, that first one of mine." He'd shed a tear, if his ocular implants had tear ducts. "Cost me everything. I ain't seen my boy in twenty years, Amadeus. I don't even know what he looks like anymore. That was all for- for what, my money?"

"Well...I can assure you, Isaac is doing quite well in our Research & Development team. Hard worker, takes after his pa." Amadeus bragged, twisting the knife. Frank only dipped his head.
"I thought you'd have understood your place after so much time, but I see now that my generosity is being exploited... Debrief the survivors, then speak with me again, it appears we may need to reconsider. Have the spares regenerated, get them back to work as soon as possible. Perhaps you can still salvage this disaster. Am I understood?"

affirmed through his teeth.

"Good. Happy trails, Francis."

The video call ended, leaving Frank alone with his blank mission control terminal and the coworkers around him who only heard half the story.
He sat up and put on his headset, turning the transponder to the Everwork lab. He knew what would happen if he didn't comply this time. There was no choice in this. No choice at all.
"Doc, Control." No choice. "You've got four spares inbound for..." No choice. "...Decommission. Regenerate them and send them back to their stations. Control out."


Frank remained in his swivel chair, with nothing to do but wait for the pod to arrive. He thought of Nukehammer, who rose to the occasion at the drop of a hat. He thought of Rin and Lance, probably still thanking everything they hold dear that they survived. He thought of calling the team and warning them, but didn't see a point. Why spoil it? A welcoming party was already amassing around the pod bay as engineers, other miners, stevedores, even desk jockeys like I.T. came down to witness the rescue team return. A rescue mission had never occurred on this vessel - it was completely unheard of, and nobody wanted to be one of the ones that missed it.

Eventually, the pod did dock, and the crowd froze as the doors opened.
"They're alive!" Someone announced, erupting the Harpsi horde into cheers
They whooped and clapped and hurrahed, throwing their fists in the air and shouting "Magic Eight!" or "Lucky Nine!" Nukehammer and his team were walked down the airstair like it was a red carpet, and Rin's squad received an even greater ovation as they were eased onto stretchers and carted off to the Everwork lab by technicians. "For Karl!" here, "By the beard!" there. This kind of joy had never been felt this far out in space. It was simply electric.

"Rock and stone!"
"To the bone!"

The miners in the crowd chanted, the celebration quickly overtaking the entire pod bay.
"Rock and stone!"
"To the bone!"
"Rock and stone!"
"To the bone!"

Frank peered over the terminal to watch, a smile emerging from his despair, but was zipped back to the blank monitor by his implants.


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