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Dark Lords: Book One, Shadows Chapter 29


I hope you’re enjoying Dark Lords, book one, Shadows, Copyright 2013 T. Masters-Heinrichs. If you are, please share!

Chapter Twenty-Nine


North Continent, Armed Forces Base, Albion, Realm System


Jason looked around the office of Admiral Lena Rachet. He had spent the last two days in recovery from the so called minor surgery. The Armed Forces Base was literally insane with activity. Leaves had been cancelled and there were some sort of major manoeuvres planned. Supply ships, troop carriers, transports and a hundred other types of ship were flying day and night. The buildings, and his head, were actually humming from all the engines running twenty-five hours a day.

Who ever had gotten him his assignment, Jason decided, was clearly having their own problems, possibly requiring medication. It had taken him almost the whole day to finally see someone in charge. He looked down at the tablet with his new command displayed, then back up at Admiral Lena Rachet. “No, seriously. I mean seriously.”

“Captain Malwas, your orders are clearly stated. I do not have time to sit here and discuss them with you.”

“All right, you got me. Where is the vid recorder?”

“This is not a joke, Captain Malwas,” Admiral Lena Rachet said. “You need to take this seriously.”

“I need to take this seriously? Me? Hmmm. Let me get this straight, okay?” Jason’s voice rose higher as he spoke through a tightening jaw. “You have made me a Captain. My Master-Chief is older than I am. My Ship’s Doctor is a recovering addict. Oh, she is also older than I am. Both of them were living quite happily in retirement homes a week ago. You have given me a museum piece for a ship, which was in dry dock. Was it in the process of being refitted for battle? No. They were removing it’s training systems and modules because it is just too outdated. It was scheduled for decommission two months from now. It was going to be sold, most likely for recycling. Let us not forget that eighty percent of my crew were cadets yesterday.”

Jason took a deep breath, his jaw was beginning to throb with pain. He found himself standing in front of the small woman, breathing hard. He picked up his tablet. “Oh, look you’ve given me a complete squadron of 311 Peace Keepers, too bad they don’t come with pilots! And sadly they have to be launched from the new doors you have just cut into the aft storage bays because the ship, the Ivy; is that the Poison Ivy ? Is that the, I’m Going to Strangle You to Death Ivy? Because the ship is just too bloody old to have launch bays.”

“I understand you are still recovering from minor dental surgery and are suffering from some discomfort.”

“Minor? Minor dental surgery?” Jason sat down, mouth pursed, he took a deep breath. “Well, if you call having my mouth cut open, my upper jaw broken and reset, and feeling like my face is going to explode minor surgery, then yes, Ma’am, I have. And, yes, ma’am, the surgery has left me in some discomfort. Don’t worry, Admiral. I bet my ship’s doctor can recommend some of the good stuff. I may be stuck in the navy for the next five years, but with her help, I won’t care.”

“Regarding your orders, Captain Malwas—”

“My orders?” Jason put his head on his arm and made a sound somewhere between a whimper and a moan. Two sectors. Not just any sectors, but on the edge of Lakosh Space, the Independent Systems and of course a little slice of the Dreckets and Pendock territories. Oh, and someone had included, just for fun, a big slice of the Wilds. His little Ivy, no doubt leaving a trail of debris in her wake, was supposed to keep the peace. His face began pounding.

He straightened up and tilted his head backwards. That seemed to help somewhat. It was clear, she was trying to kill him. Claudette De La Roche had obviously decided that he, Jason Austin Malwas, had to die. Though somewhat convoluted, it was clearly a plan to kill him.

“Captain Malwas. If not for our situation I would court martial you for your attitude and lack of respect. Do you honestly think I do not have qualms about this? Do you, sir, not realise that we are doing this because it is the best and perhaps the only choice we have!” Admiral Lena Rachet, stood slowly and carefully.

Jason realized the woman had no legs below her thighs. He looked up at her. She stared down at him with hard dark eyes. Lena Rachet, Admiral, leaned forward as she spoke. “In one hundred and sixty-seven hours the fleet leaves. I must have some semblance of patrols, of protection. I can assure you, Captain Malwas, our enemies will be quite aware of the Fleet’s departure.”

“How much of the Fleet is leaving?”

“All of it.”

Jason looked at her. Then it came to him. Admiral Lena Rachet was insane, because only an insane person would believe that the entire Fleet would be heading off anywhere, all at once, at the same time.

“The reasons you have been given this command is that, regardless of what the Ivy looks like in letters, she is still a Wolf class heavy cruiser. Five hundred and twelve years ago she was molecularly re-casted. Her engines have been upgraded six times, she has a fully functional slip drive. She has two rail guns. The reason she has been used so long as a cadet ship is that she can do a twelve jump run without overheating her engines. She has fourteen centimetres of collapsed titanium, carbon composite plating, including internally. She is the last of the double hulls. And the last generation  of rammers. She is thirty-two thousand tonnes dry and can take off dirtside with three times that. Which brings me to you, Captain, Jason, Malwas.”

Jason was sitting at attention, Admiral Lena Rachet, leaning forward on her fists,  was looking him right in the eyes. She leaned closer. His mouth hurt.

“Captain Malwas. First, you come from a long line of very distinguished officers. You are just not one of them, but our enemies do not know that. Malwas is a name that will give the Lakosh and several others pause before testing your resolve.

“Two, you were, as far as it has been determined, that is until enlisting, an active Independent. You have open letters of Writ that you inherited from a Captain Petrov. That means you have connections in the Wilds and Free Systems. It means you have already commanded a ship, even if it was some piece of dreck. You have rep, as the kids say.

“Three, you have connections to the Czars and not one but two Warlords. Apparently, you are on good terms with them. At any other time that would be cause for an investigation not a promotion. You should be thankful these are not normal circumstances.

“Four, rumour has it that you are pretty good in a fight.”

Admiral Lena Rachet stood tall, as she straightened her jacket. “Now, Captain. You need to get your ass out of this facility and take command of your vessel. The Ivy is to be at Sector Seven, Alpha, Alpha, Charlie, two, seven, three by four in exactly one hundred and ten hours.”

Jason stood. Admiral Lena Rachet gave him a look that could sear paint off lunar modules from a kilometre away. Snapping to attention, Jason gave a smart and proper salute. The Admiral snapped one right back.

Once outside the door, Jason slowed. His entire head was throbbing, the pain ran down his spine through the core of his being. Had someone grabbed his balls and squeezed it would have been less painful. If he believed in souls, his would be bleeding. Every step sent a new wave of pain through his body.

“Captain.” Cromby stood smartly at attention. “Is everything okay, Sir?”

“How many rail guns does a Wolf class heavy cruiser have, Cromby?”

“Which designation, Sir?”

Jason stopped walking and looked at Cromby. “E series.”

“Five, Sir. But it’s main weapon is the Mjölnir. That is its multi-mega tonne plasma cannon. The rate of fire on the E series was devastating. The Mjölnir on the Wolf class could fire five mega tonnes twenty times a minute, that is a shot every three seconds, sir. It could maintain that rate for ten minute salvos.”


“Thor’s Hammer, sir. That is why the heavy cruisers are still nicknamed Hammers, sir.”

Jason started walking again. Two rail guns … “Cromby, I need schematics of what a Wolf looked like shiny.”

“Shiny, sir?”

“New. What she came off the assembly line like. Then I need the latest on what upgrades the Ivy had done. Can you do that for me?”

“Yes, sir.”

* * *

Castle Cor, New Oxford, Albion, Realm World


Alex wasn’t really sure what the patent lawyer, Fred Wu had just said. He fiddled with the fusion cutter under the table. After his presentation, he’d been going over the modifications he’d made with the group from Knight Industries when the lawyers had arrived.

They’d been up here, at the top level of George’s workshop for what felt like days but had only been about a standard hour. Looking down he realized how dirty his hands were. He’d wiped them but the fusion cutter had lubricant and some carbon on it. He’d left fingerprints on the table. He looked around, but the space was clean, no tool boxes. He slipped the fifteen centimetre long cutter into the left leg pocket of the coveralls he was wearing and wiped his hands on his pant legs.

There were three lawyers, one for him, one for Knight Industries and the patent guy. They mostly talked among themselves while he sat there.

“The process of patenting outside of the Realm is quite expensive.” Fred Wu then started with another list of numbers. Some to do with currencies, some to do with filing dates and reviews.

Alex cleared his throat.

“I just want to be able to keep working, tinkering with engines. Including this design. If I’m on a ship, I want to be able to implement this design without getting arrested.”

“Yes, to a limited degree, we have included that—”

Alex shot to his feet, banging the table. Panic overwhelming him. His heart was racing. “What the frack!”

The three lawyers, his, Wu, from the Patent Office and the one representing Knight Industries exchanged glances.

“Mr. Hunter? Are you okay? If you don’t like—”

“Ahh! Something’s wrong!” Alex went to the railing and looked down at the LQ 9. Kelvin was discussing its performance with a pilot from Knight Industries. “Kelvin! Kell-vin!

Hearing the panic in Alex’s voice, Kelvin raced up the support and came over the railing. “What! What?”

“Where’s Abby? And, and Keith? Where are they?” Alex had grabbed hold of the front of Kelvin’s shirt, their faces centimetres apart.

“I do not know!”

“They’re in trouble!” Alex took a step back and let go of Kelvin.

“What? Really? No!”

Kelvin looked at the three lawyers, they shrugged back at him.

“Alex, Cor would know and send out a warning. You would not—By the Blood, they are in trouble!” Alarms sounded even as Kelvin finished speaking and he ran out the door to the patio outside the windows. He stood for a second then was gone to the right in a blur.

“Mr. Hunter!”

Alex spun back, already at the door.

“Security will deal with this.” The patent lawyer, Wu said.

Alex could see the lawyers looking at each other, not knowing what to do.

“Um, yes.” Jude Whitehorse, the lawyer for Alex nodded his head. “I am sure all will be well. And yes, we can work that freedom to further development, to a larger degree, into the contract.”

Alex could feel the pull, like a call for help coming from somewhere over ‘there.’ Through the wall and that way, north? He should be doing something. The lawyer, Wu, was going on about limits of patent reach.

“Look, I can’t be the only person who has come up with this. Once the ships start cruising, any scanner will see the altered energy signature. So you won’t be keeping this BG for long.” Damn it! He really needed to be out there!

“BG?” Asked Dirk Philips from Knight Industries.

“Background. You can’t keep it hidden in the background. So here’s the thing, cut my residual, I don’t care how low. I’ll sign now and you can write it in, okay?”

“I must insist you—” Jude stood.

“Done!” Philips yelled, shoving the paper work, actual paper, toward Alex.

“No!” Jude slammed his hands onto the pile. “This is not the way things are done here! This man is clearly under duress!”

Alex put his hand on the recorder, “I, Alex Hunter, being of sound mind, approve as my agent and proxy, Mr. Jude Whitehorse.”

At the door he stopped. How far away were they? Far. They were far, on the edge of … here. Alex shook his head, he ran onto the patio and turned right. He ran for what felt like forever and nearly hopped over the fence before seeing the twelve metre drop to the back doors and parking area of the garage. “Frack!”

He couldn’t get down there. You’re an idiot, Alex Hunter! Trying to think of as many words as he could for idiot, he started to turn when he heard it. The lovely purr of engines. Above him vehicles were heading toward the danger.

No! They were heading the wrong way! He could hear sirens in the distance. Stepping toward the edge he looked down. Several of the vehicles from the garage where out in the paved space, being washed by hand. Of course they were, this was the Realm after all.

Alex stopped, a fuzzy white sheep with a black face was looking at him. The creature turned and vanished. Alex went to where the creature had headed down the grassy hill. Alex followed, slipping and sliding down mostly on his ass, but at least it was quick. He climbed the fence. The shiny blue Avalon Touring Sedan was parked in the sun. Outside the thing was huge, bigger than most multi-person transports that Alex had seen.

He put his hand on the handle and the door opened. “G1!”

Climbing in he pushed the button. The Sedan purred to life. “Forward.”

Nothing happened. Alex looked down. He remembered his dad showing him the schematics. These things had gears and rudimentary control assist. They used a ‘drive’ system. He gripped the lever and moved it to D. A loud alarm sounded. He pulled it back. A button on the dash with a ‘plus’ symbol and an embossed ‘DA’ in blue lettering caught his attention. He pushed it.

“Driver Assist has been engaged.”


“Repeat your command?”

“I need to drive very quickly, forward. How do I do that?”

“Engage the gearing.” The panel next to the seat lit up.

“I tried that, it didn’t work.”

“You must first disengage the parking break.” 

A handle at the back of the panel lit up. Alex squeezed it and pushed it down. He put the lever into the D. The Sedan rolled forward slowly.

“I need more speed!”

“Apply gas.”

“What gas? Another word for gas please?”

“Apply throttle.”

He looked. There was nothing that said G or T, or had the symbol for acceleration. Alex took a deep breath, the anxiety was worse now. Stop Alex! Think! Everything is within the driver’s reach. His foot hit a pedal. He looked down. There were three. He touched the middle one. The Sedan stopped rolling with a jerk.

Yelling from the doors of the garage, made him hit the lock button. A kid was pounding on the door. Telling him to get out.

He hit the left pedal. The front of the sedan rose slightly, but nothing else seemed to happen. Alex removed his foot and Sedan rocked on it’s wheels. Some sort of limited anti-grav. He hit the right peddle. The Sedan shot forward. There was a loud crunch and more yelling, as a yellow speeder went flying.

“Slow! Slow!” Alex yelled, pulling on the steering wheel. He managed to make it around the other three vehicles and through the gate. On the road he pushed the accelerator hard. The Sedan purred louder, the acceleration pushing him into the seat. He hoped five hundred equivalent horses was fast.

“Do you wish for Driving Assist to be fully engaged?”

“Yes!” He immediately felt the Sedan speed up. Alex took his hands from the wheel, ready to call out directions. The Sedan veered right. He grabbed the wheel, straightening the vehicle out. “Frack! Is driver assist engaged?”

“Driver Assist is fully engaged.”

“Why can’t I let go of the steering wheel?”

“Please repeat your question?”

“Why aren’t you driving the Sedan?” Turn Right! He had to go right. Ahead of him a gate appeared in the stone wall. Heart pounding, Alex knew he was going to hit it, but it swung open. Auto gate? The transport can’t drive itself but the gate auto opens? So Albion!

“Please repeat your question?”


Alex swerved left. Off the road and onto a field. Where by the Seven Jupiters was he going! He came over a rise in the field and the Sedan was air borne.

“You are driving at excessive speeds for road conditions. Please lower your speed for safety.”

The big sedan hit the ground and bounced.

George is going to kill me! That sound was definitely something coming off the Sedan. He was going to get there and everything was going to be fine. Except the Sedan of course.

Mud sprayed up both sides of the vehicle. Ahead a stone wall was getting closer. Faster! FASTER! 

Alex put his foot right to the floor. The Sedan growled and sped up. The stone appeared to be shrinking.

You are not on a designated roadway.”

“Frack!” Alex yelled. The wall had become a ramp, but the hedge was still there. The Sedan was again airborne. Branches, leaves and other stuff flew up. They hit, bouncing. He just managed to keep the Sedan pointed straight.

“You are driving at excessive speeds for road conditions. Please lower your speed for safety.”

The Sedan began to slow.

“What’s wrong?”

Driver Assist is lowering the speed to safe levels.”

“Disengage Driver Assist!”

The sedan continued to slow. Alex hit the button, the sedan immediately leaped forward. It was growling again and pulling to the left. Alex hit the button.

Driver Assist has been engaged.” Immediately, the sedan stopped pulling and straightened out.

“Do you wish for Driving Assist to be fully engaged?”

“No!” He was getting closer, he could feel it. Faster! They were in trouble and he wasn’t going to make it. The Sedan had nothing more to give. “Can this vehicle go faster?”

“Engaging overdrive will exceed safe driving speeds under these driving conditions.”

“Where is overdrive?” Alex looked a button on the panel next to him glowed. He pushed it. The Sedan made a sound like an engine under sudden load. It was a good sound. They were airborne again. As they came down, Alex hit the far left peddle. Much smoother!

Great, now if he could—“FRACK!”

There was a ship, not large, but it was directly in front of the sedan. Alex had just enough time to register some sort of collision warning. Then the Sedan was air borne and the ship got very, very big.

* * *

Abby was in pain. The things had hurt Nana. She did not know if Keith was still alive. It was carrying them both under it’s arms. Their hands and feet were bound. Something was strapped around their heads and under their chins. She could not feel Keith. The way he had collapsed! No, he was not dead. It had come into their heads. She had thought she was going to die.

Keith moaned next to her. Abby cried out in relief.

“Nana? Momma?” Keith whimpered.

How had it gotten them? Her head hurt so much and she still could not feel Keith, or anyone. Abby felt her heart tear. Even Cor was gone! Nana’s last words came back to her. Fight child! 

A strange droning sound was getting closer. The thing stopped and looked toward the sound then started moving as fast as its damaged body would let it. The Nannies and chaperones had not gone down easy.


“Keith! Fight!”

She flung herself back, twisting her body. Keith was doing the same. The thing, still moving quickly, teetered. Keith was yelling, snarling. He reached up with bound hands and claws out, tore the thing’s face. Abby grabbed the hand holding Keith and twisted it.

The thing dropped them, teetered away a few steps then turned. The droning noise grew louder. Abby pulled back, but it just grabbed her by the nape of the neck. It picked up Keith the same way. It turned and then Abby saw the ship, it was a small runabout, but more than big enough to take them far, far away.

“No!” Keith cried out.

The thing took another step then stopped.

Abby blinked. It looked like her Dad’s sedan. Except it was flying and the sedan could not do that. It flew right into the side of the ship. There was a terrible sound. Metal screamed as it buckled and tore. The ship rocked. What had looked like the sedan had vanished into the ship. Abby clearly heard a pinging sound as the ship went over onto it’s side. A very odd thing happened next. Smoke began billowing out of what was now the top of the ship.

The thing let go of them.

“Huh.” Keith said from the ground beside her. “I think that was your dad’s Sedan.”

“It did look like that, did it not?”

A loud bang came from inside the ship. They looked at each other then back at the ship. Getting rapidly closer was the beautiful sound of sirens.

* * *

Alex opened his eyes. He was encased in something white that gave. It took his mind a minute. Crash foam. Yes, he was encased in crash foam. There were distant groans and metallic sounds from outside the semi hard foam.

A muffled voice was speaking. Something about emergency ejection due to fire? Fire? What did that—Alex was slammed by acceleration into the side of the crash foam. The passenger pod hit something, hard. The foam had cracked all around him. Then he was rolling, the passenger module came to a stop with Alex on his shoulders.

The glowing yellow section would be where the release was. He dug in, found the handle and pulled it. Immediately smoke made him choke and cough as the foam beside him popped open. A fire suppression system was trying vainly to put out whatever was smoking.

Alex crawled toward a patch of light and green grass. He knew the rules, stay in the foam and stay safe, but he had to find the kids. The smoke was black, thick and burning his eyes. What, by the black, was burning?

Choking, he yelled Abby’s name. Nothing. He pulled himself through the square of natural light and stumbling, hurried away from the shadow of the ship.

There was a person staring at him. Alex, still coughing, eyes streaming, dropped to his knees. He looked up at the person now walking toward him. There was something odd about the walk. There was something not right about the person.

“It’s okay, I’m—” It’s face glinted, because part of it was hanging off. Then he registered that Abby and Keith were on the ground and they were tied up and wearing some kind of weird head gear. They had bands around their heads and under their chins. He jumped up, opening his mouth as pressure hit him behind the eyes. “Oh, frack.”

Fear filled Alex. He was going to be a vegetable! A drooling vegetable!

He reached into his right pocket and brought out the stunner. The thing grabbed his right wrist. His head was pounding worse than his wrist as he saw Kelvin run up to the kids.

“Get them out of here!” Alex yelled twisting sideways. His wrist made a snap that sent a wave of pain that took him back to his knees.

The thing turned toward Kelvin, who had been trying to untie the kids. He grabbed them now, under his arms and lifted. His eyes went wide as he dropped them, falling to his knees, hands going to his head.

Alex reached into his left pocket and pulled out the fusion cutter. He pushed the tip length to the full fifteen centimetres, turned it on and cut the thing’s right hand off at the wrist. He stood and kicked the thing in the damaged right leg. The hand dropped from his arm. The fusion cutter was so hot that the not-flesh was seared. The smell was sickly sweet.

It took a step toward the kids.

“Hey!” Alex used the fusion cutter like a short blade in his left hand. The cut took out the thing’s spine. Except that it didn’t fall down. The thing turned back to him. The pressure was back. The thing swung toward him. Alex deftly took off it’s left hand. Keeping his right arm against his body, he stepped back.

Blood was dripping from his nose. If you’re going out, Alex, you’re taking this fracking thing with you!

Behind it, Kelvin was up, cutting the kids free. Then the thing moved toward Alex. It lost it’s forearms. A jab to the stomach, more of a graze, stopped it. Alex moved back in. Right thigh. Left. Right arm dropped to the trampled grass. Left arm joined it. The thing was opening and closing it’s mouth, but no sound was coming out. Alex moved in again. This time an acrid smell was released as it took the hit in the left shoulder.

Alex kept moving. The smell was getting worse. He knew that smell … “Frack! Kelvin! Get the kids out of here! Now! It’s going to blow!”

There was no time. Alex dove forward, opening the thing from neck to crotch. He kicked the armless man shape. It tried to step toward him, then fell backwards onto the sticky grass, one leg stayed standing. Alex severed the head. He used the fusion torch to start cutting the pieces. If he could just get them small enough!

“What are you doing? It is down!” Kelvin was standing over him. Ships were landing, people in black, with guns, were running toward them.

“Get out of here! It’s going to explode.” Alex had dug into the thing’s gut. Someone in black, a gun in hand, ran up to Kelvin. “This much fusion gel will be a fracking big bang! I have to find the ignitor! Get them out of here!”

Alex pulled out a disk. Tossed it on the ground. Men in black had already grabbed the kids. They were pulling Kelvin, trying to get him to pull back.

“What are you looking for?” The man in black asked.

He picked up the torch, started cutting again. “Metal. It’ll be a piece of metal about—”

There was a loud fizzing sound and a sudden stink of something sour burning.

“Oh, oops.”

“Oops?” Kelvin looked down at the thing. The men around him froze. All faces were staring at the thing.

Alex reached into the still hot wound and pulled out a small piece of metal. He put it on the ground and pulled out the other half. “I cut it in half.”

“Are we okay?” Someone asked.

“Don’t ask me,” Alex said looking up at the ring of covered faces and Kelvin. “I don’t know anything about synthetics. Am I making any sense?”

They all stared at him. “Oh, frack. I’m fried aren’t I?”

Two people ran up and started spraying the thing’s parts with a neutralising foam.

“I guess it’s a life of gibberish for me,” Alex said with a sigh. His entire arm was throbbing.

“Well, you are an engineer, Alex, kind of goes with the occupation,” Kelvin said as he helped Alex up.

“You understand me?”

“Most of the time. Get you around engines and, well.” Kelvin shrugged. “You leave me behind rather quickly.”

A man ran up and grabbed Kelvin in a bear hug. Alex recognized him from the Sports Club. Sir Ector? Yes, Brendan Ector! The Vampire he’d beaten, barely beaten. There were tears on the man’s face as he put Kelvin at arm’s length. “Do not ever do something like that again!”

Then Kelvin was again being hugged.

Alex could see George and Claudette hugging Abby. Nearby, the Morgans had completely engulfed Keith.

Then Brendan turned to Alex. Instinctively, Alex reached out with his right hand. That was a mistake.

“This man needs a medic!” Brendan yelled.

“I will help him.” Kelvin smiled and started leading Alex toward the waiting emergency vehicles. “I am a trained medi-vac pilot.”

“Dani!” Alex turned toward the ship. “Dani, Daniella might be in there!”

“Sir, we’re searching the ship now.” One of the mil-ops said. “We need to get you to medical facilities.”

* * *

Abandoned Mining Asteroid BT 11987, Lost Souls Asteroid Belt, System 873,

Edge of Uncharted (Wilds) Zone


Dani could not open her eyes. The cold was penetrating her very core. She could not feel her limbs. Could barely feel her skin, which was a relief. She struggled for each breath. Whatever they had drugged her with had made her weak. The men had placed her in a vat of protein grubs, an oxygen mask over her face. Then they had pushed her body into the mass of moving worms. The tiny white bodies had closed in over her face like water. Through the mass of slimy wiggling bodies, she had heard the lid close.

The mask kept the fat white wriggling worm like grubs from her nose and mouth. They crawled into her ears, against her eyes. She did not dare try to open them. Grubs wiggled into her pants, under her shirt, bra and down her back. The pressure on her eyes increased. She could feel them wiggling against every inch of her body. They had kept moving until the cold had come.

Now the lid was open. She was being lifted from the container. Grubs falling away from her face, her body. As she was put onto a rough floor, she could feel grubs being crushed by her weight. Then they were hosing her off with a pressure washer. She gasped, the water burned.

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