I was apparently the first person to post a WildStar story over on AO3, and I can't help being mildly proud of the fact. AO3 usually requires a summary of each story posted; here's what I said: And below, the story itself... -------- He takes a stiff slug from the tumbler sitting on the table before him. "Don't tell me you're getting sentimental over the folks we've killed. They're Exiles, mate; they had it comin' from the day they was born. Not that I don't get your meaning. We 'ave been rough on 'em, all the way—but I'll tell yer again, they bloody well earned it. "I was on Adriatica Station. You've 'eard of that, ain't yer, lad? I suppose everybody knows a little about it. But as I say, I was there; I know all of it. Them stories y' hear about it, they ain't propaganda. Ain't exaggerated, neither, not all of 'em. I saw it all happen, leastways all of it as I didn't spend knocked flat on my arse. This is how it came about: "We'd got the word that a squad of Exiles had got caught away from their mothership. Intel suggested they were fallin' back through our sector, hoping to make a rendezvous with the Gambler's Ruin. So naturally the whole station's on yellow alert, thinking we might spot a glimpse of 'em—a few AUs out, like—and send an intercept. Well, you already know that's not how it shook out. They somehow evaded our eyes and came in on the opposite side of the planet. By the time we knew anyone was there, they were already in orbit and comin' up on us over the horizon... and I mean we 'ad visual contact, they were that close. "And this weren't no 'squad' neither; they 'ad theirselves a nice little fleet, like, an' armed to the teeth as well. One thing about the Exxies, they don't <REDACTED> about when it comes to firepower, particularly if they're Granok. 'Squad,' hell! To this day I still don't know how I.C.I. bunged it up so badly; our people are better 'n that. The Mechari are better 'n that, goddamn it all..." He finishes his drink, signals the barkeep for another. As soon as it's placed before him, he grabs it and takes a sip. "Anyhow, they got the drop on us. The minute we spotted 'em we scrambled every gunship we 'ad, but they were just blowing our boys out of the sky like it was nothin'. That dogfight took 'em twelve minutes, flat, and we were disabled. One of 'em had swooped in right as the fight was breaking out and fried our antenna array, so our long-range comms were out. I mean, we'd yelled for help as soon as they opened fire on us, but they didn't waste any time cuttin' our distress signal off. And we all knew that even if our call did get out, the quickest any backup could arrive was three days, standard. Turned out they knew that, too. "They'd hacked into our security, as well, so when their ships started docking with us we couldn't blow the explosive bolts and cut them off. Every one of us on the station had our firearms ready, but there wasn't enough of us to cover all sixteen of the landing bays—not when every ship the Exiles brought in had a landin' party of a dozen on board. They 'ad us outnumbered almost two for one, like. "And the ships' hatches were already comin' open before their landing gear even so much as touched deck. Literally the moment they killed the engines, their people came chargin' down the ramps, firin' off so much weaponry we could 'ardly see to shoot. One of their Espers let something loose at the gantry I was standin' on; I fell to the deck and damn-near broke me shootin' arm. I was just gettin' up when one of their lads pointed something at me—a med device in Self-Defence Mode, I figure—and shot me with it. Knocked me clean out, it did. "Well, after the smoke cleared, the final count was forty-four of ours dead to nineteen of theirs, including every last one of our Mechari. Not even countin' the wounded, that's already a rout in my book—prob'ly in yours, too. But would they leave it there? "Like <REDACTED> they would. They took all of us that had lived, an' they 'ad us up before this kangaroo court they set up in the hub. Dunno where they found all the chains they tied the surviving Drakens up with... There was a bunch of Aurin and human Espers sittin' together, some kind of mental link, I think. They told us they were going to ask each of us some questions, and we were to answer each question as truthful as possible. If we didn't, the Espers would know. I thought they were bluffin', but they had all the guns, so what position was I in to argue, right? "So they started in on us lowborns. Asked each of us how long we'd been in the service, how many Exiles we'd killed, and a lot of other bloody nonsense. I told 'em the honest truth: before that day, I'd never killed a single one of 'em, but I had been in a skirmish where I'd shot an Aurin boy in the eye. The judge grinned at that—this white-haired human lounging in the biggest chair they could find—and she made some smart remark about an eye for an eye. Then they zapped me unconscious again with another of those medi-guns..." He takes another slug of whiskey. "When I woke up again, somebody'd taken the cuffs off me, but they'd loaded me so full of painkillers I couldn't stand up. And there was somethin' wrong with my left eye; I couldn't see nothin' out of it. I put my hand up t' me face, and the eye was gone. The socket was stuffed full of cotton. That's where I got this—" He points to the eyepatch on his face. "Some doc eventually told me I could get a cyberized replacement, but I ain't spending a soldier's salary on that. Besides, I don't mind 'avin' this eye gone, so long as it keeps me from forgetting. "So I'm lookin' around, right, an' I see: <REDACTED>in' 'ell, they've done everyone else just like they done me. All the lowborns. Just a sea of bandages, we were. Bloody Mordesh stepped in and hacked us up—surgically mutilated us, that's what it was! There's folks missin' eyes, ears, 'ands, legs... One guy, they'd just flogged him and then healed 'im again—but they did it slow-like, so's to leave 'im all scarred. "They were herding us lowborn Cassians like cattle up and down the hub. They brought us to where the Draken were sitting on the floor all tied up. One of our Drakens—a girl it was—insisted on asking where their trial was. But some big Granok woman shot back that they weren't interested in givin' the Draken a fair trial... nor a dignified death, neither. All the Draken lost their minds when they heard this, as you can imagine—screamin' obscenities at our captors, struggling to get outta their chains. They didn't quiet down till half the room was pointin' guns at 'em and tellin' 'em that they were gonna get it right now if they didn't shut up. "Maybe they shouldn't 'ave shut up. Would've saved 'em a lot of time an' a lot of pain... "The highborn Cassians, they'd been put in a separate room. 'Adn't given them a trial neither. Now the Exiles started dragging them out, one at a time, and putting 'em up against the wall. An' they 'ad a dozen-man firing squad ready for 'em! One of the coldest things I ever saw in me life, lad. One at a time; just lead 'em out, stand 'em against the bulkhead, and some Granok would shout "Ready, aim..." He'd wait a few seconds just to see 'em start to sweat, and then he'd say "Fire!" and BOOM, pop goes yer head. Twenty-two people they done in that way, all our highborns, all our officers... would've been twenty-three if the boarding party 'adn't already killed one of 'em in the fighting. They propped our poor doped-up arses up in the three rows of chairs we 'ad there in the lobby, an' they made us watch that. "Then the woman who'd been playin' judge turns and gives a hand signal to the ones guardin' our Draken. All of a sudden, all the guards start checking the safeties on their guns—to make sure they're off, you get me? Same Draken as spoke up the first time, she sees what's about to happen and speaks up again: 'There's no honor in this. You don't dare.' "Some human says, 'What in all creation made you think we give a <REDACTED> about honor anymore?' And then they just start machine-gunning the Draken, right where they sit. Barely even gave 'em time to scream. Not one minute later, there's just a pile of corpses on that floor, an' all over 'em blood. "Now all that's left was a few dozen of us Cassians, and about fifteen Chua. Oh, those Exiles, mate. They had a golden chance to frighten those little rodent <REDACTED>s, and I tell yer they were relishing it, makin' 'em wait their turn. All the guards watchin' them were Mordesh, an' for a second I honestly thought they were gonna let the Mordesh finish 'em. Would've been poetic justice, like. Mad scientists killin' mad scientists, y'know? "But there's this one Mordesh who seems to be in charge of all his people; it's the same as with us, you can tell a commander just by the different way he stands. This guy, an absolutely terrifying smile crosses his face, an' he says, in a voice like black oil: 'We have no desire to war with the Chua, ladies and gentlemen. We harbor no grudges toward them, allied with our enemies though they may be.' His eyes are roving around the room, making eye contact with just about everyone who's still standin' up. 'But it's obvious to me,' he goes on, 'that there are some here who do bear them a grudge, and a very deep one, to be sure.' "I could barely move my right eye, let alone my whole head, but I 'ad meself a look around, and I noticed that every Aurin in the room is gettin' that same smile..." He drifts off for several seconds, glancing down into the depths of his glass. "So it wasn't the Mordesh killed the Chua. They all had this array of stainless-steel implements that they started takin' out; you couldn't guess what in hell these things were for just by lookin' at 'em. Sure enough, they don't use 'em; what they do instead is start handing 'em over to the Aurin. There was about three Aurin for every Chua in the room..." He pauses again. A distant look comes into his eye as he stares at the mirrored back wall of the bar, as if seeing something far beyond it. When he continues, it is in a much quieter voice. "I... I closed my eyes, what was left of 'em. Wouldn't look at it. Didn't help much, though... He laughs, a short, very quiet, and not entirely sane laugh. "Y'know somethin'? I never thought the day would come when I'd find myself afraid of the Aurin. "Never thought I'd 'ave it in me to pity the Chua, neither... "God. God. "...I can still hear the screaming." Abruptly, he picks up his drink, finishes it in one long gulp, and slams it back down onto the bar. He raises one finger to signal the bartender, and remains silent until his next drink arrives. One would almost think that he was done with his story from the way he begins to drain his new glass, but without warning he begins to speak again. "Afterward, they just walked out and left us sittin' in those damned seats, stoned out of our minds in a room full of gore and bloody corpses. They blew the explosive bolts behind 'em when they left, so you couldn't use the docks safely anymore. When our rescue team arrived, they all had to spacewalk to the main airlock. It took 'em the better part of a month to get things back into working order, I understand... But the first order of business was to get us the hell off the station. They stuffed what was left of us into our pressure suits and took us out through the airlock five at a time; the ship they came in had a sickbay big enough to hold most of us, the ones who was injured the worst. By then we was the ones screamin'. The drugs 'ad worn off an' our backup supplies were gone—Exiles stole 'em all. "So we made it back to civilization. Couple of us died on the way home, but still." He takes another large sip from his drink, then extracts a packet of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. "Got a light, lad? ...Thank you." He puffs thoughtfully on his smoke, a look on his face suggesting that he is attempting to organize his thoughts. "Now," he says, "there's a reason I told yer all of this, and a reason you might want t' remember it: It's no use talkin' about things like the moral high ground, not in this bloody war. So don't you ever get to thinkin' that the Exiles are on the side of the angels compared to us. "Nobody—" he gestures forcefully with his cigarette— "I mean, nobody fightin' for a just cause, could've done the things I seen 'em do. 'Just' is the last goddamned thing I'd call 'em. No, what I saw was vengeance, straight up... and it wasn't just vengeance, they were actively <REDACTED>in' sadistic about it, right? As if all as they've suffered at the Dominion's hands gave 'em the right to be as cruel as bleedin' possible when they 'ad some of us at their mercy. We may have pushed 'em hard, but not that hard, by God! Not so hard that they would..." The distant look comes into his eyes again. The hand holding the cigarette begins to shake. Suddenly, he comes back to himself, blinking furiously. "Sorry, was I driftin' off again? ...Aye, that does happen every once in a while, dunnit. "Well, anyhow, my conscience is clean. An' now you know why. Like I'm sayin', lad, the Exiles ain't worth gettin' sentimental over. I mean, my God, you don't think they get sentimental over killin' us, do yer? "I bloody well know they don't."