2021.12.04 01:15 x-rayspex Winter

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2021.12.04 01:15 DanOfThursday (Help) (xbox) (DS3) Pontiff help please

Meet at the door password 226
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2021.12.04 01:15 Ulric2depique Can you help me identify those green trees/plants/mushrooms? Location : Quebec. Time : fall(1) and summer(2). I think those are cedars because of the scales/ leaves but I don’t know cuz of the size… the second I just wanna learn about that mushroom… if it’s eatable or not, etc.

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2021.12.04 01:15 dnorma2 Zweilous team fr gl

Zweilous db dark p bs Azumaril b ib hp Ariados ps cp mh
This team gets straight b’s on pvpoke
What’s the lead here azum or zweilous
Would you trade out ariados or azum or both for a better zweilous team
Does zweilous work better on lead or close cause I know from experience he is a terrible safe swap
Thx for any help guys and as always go zweilous!!!!
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2021.12.04 01:15 Tinkerbell_Jollybean Pork Sausage & Bell Pepper Risotto

Pork Sausage & Bell Pepper Risotto submitted by Tinkerbell_Jollybean to hellofresh [link] [comments]

2021.12.04 01:15 ok_u_say I'm 21[F] virgin and I've a query

Sorry if it's a repetitive query or not because I searched but couldn't find this query.
I finally got into a relationship 7 months ago. My first relationship ever. Before him, I never really tried to get into relationships nor had any thoughts of getting sexual with anyone. I rarely watched pron before.
But now, we are getting a little intimate and I'm fine with that. But I have a fear of getting penetrated. Last week, we were in his house and got aroused while kissing and all that. He was ready to put it in but I said no and he was fine with that but I felt bad now.
I have seen pron now including amateur ones to get tips and ideas but I notice that women in them seem uneasy in pain at times like holding the bedsheet tightly or even screams. Is penetration that painful?
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2021.12.04 01:15 chercheur17 How to simultaneously disappoint and please your high school guidance counselor

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2021.12.04 01:15 nebulousdots South Seattle USPS after-hours larger collection box

Hi, was wondering if someone could help me out here.
Where I used to live (TX), USPS would leave their doors to a part of the lobby open so people could drop off things into collection boxes bigger than the typical ones on the street.
I have a package to ship out and the USPS I went to in Columbia City doesn't seem to have this same setup. My package is just slightly too big for the normal collection box. Anyone know if there are any USPS stores that have drop off boxes accessible after hours?
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2021.12.04 01:15 Fulminaire03 "I Don't Know Anymore" Anime-esque painting?

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2021.12.04 01:15 roygbivr Blocked him on every social media

He was withholding communication and I kept trying to explain things to him. But the more I tried to explain the more it annoys him. I had been in similar situations before where I met people with clear avoidant attachment style and I always cut contact pretty fast when I noticed a pattern.
But things with him changed pretty sudden (in the span of one week), he had always been warm and communicative and he never made me feel like he was an avoidant before. So again, I tried to explain things to him even though he was withholding communication. I just couldn’t bring it to cut contact with him because I valued the relationship too much (even though it’s casual). I also felt like it’s decent to explain before cutting contact, but I never ended up cutting contact after I explain.
I’ve also been doing a thing now where I believe blocking someone to move on is not healthy and I should communicate with them instead (clearly backfired on me).
What triggered me was that I found him posting passive aggressive tweets about me when I was sending him messages. I just feel so devalued and humiliated. I never expected this from him of all the guys I talked to. He was already being passive aggressive yesterday, which was the first time he was mean to me, but when I confronted him he said “no” (huge red flag to me, I should’ve blocked him then). I guess you’d just never know. Maybe next time I shouldn’t let my personal feelings cloud my judgment, if it’s time to block and go NC, block and go NC.
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2021.12.04 01:15 deadwizards My pre teen son wants to learn Russian but having a hard time finding study materials.

He's done Duolingo, Babbel, Rosetta Stone, and has a good grasp of basics but he wants to learn more and those ones are lacking in material. What resources would you recommend? How can I help him become fluent? Would an in person teacher be best? I live in a big city but not NY or LA.
We are looking at Russian books so any recommendations would be appreciated.
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2021.12.04 01:15 FreeSpeechOrGTFO How do you know your morals are justified?

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2021.12.04 01:15 ASUS_FX553VE Legion 5 Pro or Strix G15?

So I'm a bit torn between two laptops, the lenovo Legion 5Pro and the Strix G15 from asus. They both have a 3070 gpu but the 5pro gets a higher tdp. However, in terms of CPU the Strix G15 gets an R9-5900HX while the Legion 5Pro gets an R7-5800H.
Quick specs:
ASUS Strix G15 - R9-5900HX + RTX 3070 (115W)
LENOVO Legion 5Pro - R7-5800H + RTX 3070 (125W)
SSD and RAM speeds are not really an issue for me since I can just swap them out when I need to.
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2021.12.04 01:15 alfmartin23 20 m uk im looking for [friendship] or [relationship] see where things go

Hey all im new here so hello all. Im 20 from england near Windsor and really bored and lonely atm. Im looking for whatever reddit messaging i guess mainly but happy with whatever is easiest for others:)
Im a honest nice chattie person who just wanna get some new mates and try this as ive never done it before:). My hobbies/ interest are football gaming wwe youtube dogs and a bit of ufc/ boxing. Im a bit cocky but on the inside im really insecure tbh, if u have anxiety or anything it really dont bother me at all im so happy to talk to anyone from anywhere. Sadly tho i can only speak english.
A bit more about me atm looking for a job and still living at home with my family what is my mum 2 bros 1 sister and 3 dogs.
Feel free to dm me or comment on my post ill reply to everyone.
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2021.12.04 01:15 attatact Could "raw run" be added to the game in future?

Raw run, in other words, is downhill longboard. You can find various videos on YouTube, take a look if you have time. When I first saw that I felt excited, and had a similar feeling to when I found Riders Republic. So I mean, if longboard gears, raw run races, and of course trick events were added in later season of the game, it would be so much great.
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2021.12.04 01:15 froggy_kiwi Auburn OC Job

Who do you guys think is gonna be the next Auburn OC?
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2021.12.04 01:15 bot_neen Latinus Diario: 3 de diciembre

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2021.12.04 01:15 DiyarHasso Any update about the glitch ?…my BRP was On September 15th 😞

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2021.12.04 01:15 nullSword Just testing the bot

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2021.12.04 01:15 That1Kidddd This is the TRUTH

This is the TRUTH submitted by That1Kidddd to Kanye [link] [comments]

2021.12.04 01:15 Kungfu_Coho Easy/accessible books on Zen/ Buddhism Like "The Dharma of Star Wars"

Can anyone recommend any good lighthearted books on Zen or Buddhism generally?
I really enjoyed the Dharma of Star Wars by Matthew Bortolin.
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2021.12.04 01:15 djmv3 Space boi

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2021.12.04 01:15 Funny-Professional92 My really bad Norray art

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2021.12.04 01:15 stickmaster_flex No Separate Peace - Part 1 Chapter 4 - Coffee and Other Liquids

Other chapters
Part 1 - Crust
Chapter 4 - Coffee and Other Liquids
James was awake and walking to the barn at first light, a covered pail in one hand and a thermos in the other. He hadn’t slept, and the family wanted their guests on their way home as early as possible, however rude that was. Fair or not, this mess was his fault, and he would see his friend off.
The sun shone through the high windows in the barn across to the far wall, lighting the workshop in a diffuse but pleasant light. Noah and Amos were sleeping head-to-foot in front of the woodstove, a pair of barn cats taking their ease between them and the warm stove. James banged on the door as he came in, and both the humans and the cats stirred. James put down his load and shifted tools and parts off to the side of the workbench to make room for the food.
“I’ve got pancakes and coffee.” He waited until first Amos and then Noah roused, pulled on their boots, and stumbled through the door to answer nature’s call. Then he set out plates, forks, and mugs. Onto each plate he piled three fluffy, steaming pancakes, fragrant with sourdough. Beside the plates he set the crock with the last few spoonfuls of honey, and the congealed lard that had fried the chicken the night before.
“Can’t wait to be rid of us, can you?” Amos yawned as he came back inside and rubbed his arms against the chill, Noah right behind him. They both gratefully accepted hot mugs of coffee and sat on stools to eat.
James ignored the barb. “We don’t have butter or syrup. I’m sorry. I’ll fill your canteens before you leave. The boys hauled water down to your horses. Looks like I’ll be seeing you tomorrow, Amos. We should talk then.” He looked pointedly at Noah, who was bent over his plate.
Amos swallowed before replying, surprised. “Yeah, alright. You know where I’ll be, if I’m not out hauling ice.”
James nodded. “Amos? Do me a favor. Remember what I said about hummers.”
Dal’vad awoke the next morning to sunlight filtering through the window and shining across his face through the wire cage. Someone had replaced the blankets that smelled like unwashed Rakiri, but the smell lingered. He lay on his back, cradling his aching left arm, and thought.
Time wasn’t an easy thing for him to track. He wasn’t even sure how long he had been on this planet. The seasons here were different, and he knew Humans didn’t measure years according to the Imperium standard. Since this nightmare started, the Humans mostly held him for a short time, hours or days, then passed him on to other Humans. He had cried with relief when his captors once took off his hood and he saw two towering Shil’vati women, but that had only lasted until they pulled the hood back down roughly and he was thrown back into darkness.
He gazed at the black metal grating above him. This was far more tolerable than the other times he spent with Humans. He wasn’t blindfolded or shackled, for one thing, and the cage was actually not uncomfortable, compared to most of the sleeping accommodations during his captivity. He could stretch out, nearly, as long as he bent his neck a bit and angled himself in the right way.
His experimental stretching had apparently made enough noise to wake the big man, who grunted, swung hairy legs over the edge of the bed, and stood. Dal’vad sat up, and stared at the big man’s chest, rude as it might be. He knew Humans had hair on other parts of their bodies than their heads, but this one had hair on his chest. Not just a little, either. It was like all the hair that had fallen from his head had found a new home between his chin and undergarments.
The big man noticed his gawking, yawned, and pulled on yesterday’s pants and shirt. He unlocked the cage, saying something and gesturing to the door.
Dal’vad dutifully followed the big man through the door and down into the main room. The window shades were still pulled shut, and the downstairs was dim without the natural sunlight. He saw the curly-haired man standing at the cooking station, and heard a sizzle as he flipped something in his pan. Dal’vad sniffed the air, and stopped short. It couldn’t be. He edged closer to the cooking area, ignoring the little Rakiri monster growling and following him closely.
He spotted the stacks right next to the cooking station, already piling up in steaming, fragrant, fantastic towers. He had only tasted this delicacy once before, a few days after his wives had arrived on-world with him in tow and they’d settled into their accommodations on the base. He and his first wife, Shusuli, had a quiet night in while Fadad, his second and only other wife, had reported for her first patrol. Dal’vad smiled. It had been a very pleasant evening. The next morning he had woken to find Shusuli missing, only to have her return minutes later with a box filled with the one Human food that had gained fame throughout the Empire.
That evening, he had made Fadad promise to get more when they had their next night together.
They never had the opportunity.
“Pans-cake?” He tried out the word curiously, carefully, as if he might scare away the golden-brown disks before him. The curly-haired one jumped about a foot in the air and spun around with the spatula before him like a knife, letting out a rapid stream of words Dal’vad didn’t catch but was fairly certain were curses. He heard “fuck” repeated quite a few times, and while he wasn’t entirely clear on what it meant, he had a certain familiarity with that particular human word.
Dal’vad backed up quickly, hands in the air and palm outwards. The little monster was doing his short, sharp cries at his feet. The curly man glared at him for another moment, then put two pans-cakes on a plate and walked over to the table, putting it down at the chair furthest from his cooking station, then pointed to Dal’vad and then the chair.
They looked just like he remembered, and smelled even better, but there was something missing. They weren’t exactly dry, but when he tried to swallow his second bite, it stuck in his throat. Near panic, he looked around the table and found a cup still half full of water, and gulped it down, wincing as the big wad of food passed into his stomach. Refilling the cup from the big stone jug on the table, he ate the rest of the pans-cakes much more slowly. The curly man had already disappeared, and the rest of the family was filtering into the room, getting plates and serving themselves.
Having finished his breakfast, Dal’vad cleared his plate and walked towards the large double basin sink. The pump he had seen operated already, and it was simple enough. The sink also had two taps with symbols he knew were Human writing. He recognized the H and C from his time in various windowless rooms with only a bed, toilet, and sink for furnishings. He shuddered at the memory, but reached for the one he thought of as a ladder. Sure enough, water flowed, and after a moment or two it was hot enough that he pulled back his hand. He looked at the pile of dirty dishes left by the curly man. This at least was a job he could do. He rolled up his sleeves, and they promptly fell back below his elbows.
He was about to try again with a tighter roll when a voice from behind him said “Here,” and a hand gently took his wrist. He flinched, but didn’t pull away. The dirty woman frowned at him, then drew him away from the sink. “Come on”, she said, then something he did not understand. He followed, afraid. Of all the women in this house, he thought her the least intimidating, as she was only slightly taller than him and wasn’t the hard woman. Of course, she had also pointed the big shotgun at him more than once, and looked ready to use it.
The dirty woman pulled him through the room, past the spot where his cage had sat until the previous night, and through a door. Dal’vad’s shoulders slumped as he saw the bed inside. He knew it was too much to hope that this time would be different.
The dirty woman released his wrist and went to a small chest in the corner, and started digging through it. She emerged with several shirts with short and long sleeves, some with clasps up the front, all heavily patched but whole, and laid them on the bed. She gestured to the clothes, said something he didn’t understand, and went to the closet and pulled out a pair of stiff-looking blue pants with frayed seams. It went beside the shirts.
Dal’vad stood uncertainly where she had released him. She looked at him, spoke slowly, and he picked out a few words, but couldn’t make sense of it. Finally, she picked up one of the shirts with short sleeves, it was grey with more Human writing on it, and tried to hand it to him. She pointed at him and mimed pulling off her shirt. Dal’vad understood. This was just a nicer version of the places the Shil’vati had kept him. Still, if he pleased, maybe he could stay here, and not be passed off somewhere else.
Dal’vad pulled off the oversized shirt as carefully as he could, trying not to move his stitched arm too much. For a moment, he stood with his chest bare to her. Most women liked a moment to admire their next conquest. A moment later, he untied the string holding his pants up and let them drop, and the dirty woman’s eyes popped. She made a high-pitched shriek, her cheeks turned a bright red, and she spun around, covering her eyes with the gray shirt.
The big man came running in a moment later, took in the scene of the buck-naked blue Shil and the blushing woman, and started laughing. He took a shirt and the pants from the bed, handed them to Dal’vad, and said something ending in a strange word Dal’vad had never heard before. “Commando.”
Once Dal’vad understood that the dirty woman just wanted him to have clothing that fit, he dressed and returned to the kitchen. With the help of the dirty woman, he mastered the sink setup, learned what the Humans used for soap, and cleaned the mass of dirty dishes from breakfast. The curly man had another fit of cursing when he saw Dal’vad cleaning the black iron pans, but had stopped when he saw two of them already drying on the stove with a fresh coating of oil. He had given Dal’vad a considered look, nodded, and left Dal’vad to his work after that.
Dal’vad for his part was astonished that a house with two men and only six women and children had been allowed to get as disgusting as this one. The dishes done and put away (there seemed to be no pattern to the contents of the cabinets, a project Dal’vad mentally scheduled for later), he started with the countertops.
The hot water tap had gone lukewarm and the water pressure had dropped significantly over the course of his dishwashing, so he took a ladle and scooped steaming water out of the large pot the family kept on top of the big black stove in the corner, splashing it on the stone surfaces and scrubbing with a soapy rag. It was slow work without any of the cleaning products he was used to, but he didn’t want to bother any of the Humans and didn’t know the words to ask anyways.
Once the counters were as clean as he could get them (which was likely as clean as they had ever been), he moved on to the table. Rinsing out his rag thoroughly, he considered the massive slab. Half the things Humans built seemed to be made of wood, but Dal’vad had never needed to clean any of them. It looked and felt similar enough to materials from his home village that he assumed a damp cloth would work, but he wouldn’t want to use too much water or it might discolor or swell. He ran a finger over the surface. It was smooth, almost like plastic. The Humans must use some sort of sealant on it, but it was marked all over with scuffs, scratches, and gouges.
Dal’vad spent nearly as long cleaning and polishing the table as he had on the dishes and countertops. He was somewhat annoyed to see that the curly man and the tall child were already making a new mess on the counter he had just cleaned, spreading a white powder down and working some kind of soft dough side by side.
The Shil moved on to checking the tops of bookcases and shelves for dust, and expressing visible disgust at what he found. The man and child had left their dough on the counter, covered with cloth, and gone out with the other children. Dal’vad searched through the cabinets until he found what he was looking for, a small gray bucket tucked underneath the sink. Giving it a thorough rinse with water from the pump, he filled it, once more rinsed his rag, and got to work cleaning generations of dust off of every surface.
By the time Dal’vad was satisfied with his task, he was exhausted. His injured arm ached, his hands and feet throbbed, and his neck and back were still sore from his awkward sleeping arrangements. He sat on the couch where the hard woman had watched him and the dirty woman had napped, and stared out the window. The dark-eyed woman with tight spirals for hair sat in the armchair nearby. She was clacking two metal rods together with strands of fiber between them as a piece of fabric grew below, the sound a pleasant background. The landscape was so alien compared to the flat, arid, rocky place he grew up. Hot in the day, frigid at night, and nearly always dry and brown, his homeland contrasted sharply with the white forest beyond the window.
Once, when he was barely old enough to walk beyond sight of his house, a raincloud had arrived out of season, at night, and the next morning his world was coated with a thin layer of white. He and his sisters had marveled at the snow, and spent the morning chasing each other through it, tracing patterns in it, and tasting it. By the afternoon, it had melted into a very thin skim of mud. A few sunrises later, the desert had bloomed with more color than he had ever seen, an explosion of life in the middle of a harsh and unforgiving country. Dal’vad’s eyes welled with tears. Shusuli had made a crown with the brightest flowers and given it to him, the first gift any girl had ever given him.
Here, it seemed like there was nothing but snow and trees. Even with the black stoves nearly glowing, and through several layers of thick cloth, Dal’vad could feel the cold. He wondered if this place was ever warm. Outside, he could see the three children running across the field from the woods towards the house, one of the adults walking more slowly behind them. A few moments later they burst through the doors, the Rakiri kin following, and the peace of the house was thoroughly broken.
Dal’vad smiled. The chaos reminded him of his younger sisters, when he still lived in his family home before marrying his first wife. Dal’vad had been second oldest, and the only boy, so it had fallen to him to help his father herd the rest of the children into some semblance of order. His older sister had long since joined the militia before he was allowed to marry.
The children still looked at him curiously, but not with the open stares of yesterday. The dark-eyed woman spoke to them quietly, and they shed their outerwear. The tall child and the curly-haired man went back to their dough on the counter. The stout child and the littlest stood in front of the black stove, warming their hands and holding their feet up one at a time to soak in the heat.
A few minutes later, all three came over and sat on the other couch, now looking more shyly at Dal’vad. He tried to look friendly, smiling and returning their looks, but their expression didn’t change. Dal’vad decided to try some of the tricks that had worked on his younger siblings, and stuck out his tongue at them. He made it undulate in a wave, roll into a tube, flip from side to side, and fold back on itself in a series of strange and complicated shapes. The children’s eyes grew wide as they watched him. Even among Shil’vati, he had a particularly long and agile tongue, and he had practiced these tricks for hours in front of a mirror as a youth.
He saw the children’s eyes shift to the dark-eyed woman, and the clacking stopped just as he pulled his tongue in with a quiet, but audible, slurp. Studiously ignoring the disgusted look he could feel from her, he winked at the children, a small smile on his lips. The little one hid her mouth behind her hand, giggling, and the stout one grinned openly, while the tall one watched him intently, and stuck out his own tongue, trying to replicate the tricks.
It took Samantha and Benjamin most of the morning to dig out the aging pickup truck from where it had sat since the previous fall and get it ready to drive. Fortunately, apart from low pressure in the tires and a few nests in the engine compartment, the truck started right up once they filled the tank and reinstalled the battery.
After Amos and Noah left, James spent the day making a double batch of dough with Hamza, then took all three children on a long hike through the forest while it fermented. Dinner that night was simple compared to the previous evening’s feast, venison stew with some canned tomatoes put up the previous summer, and plenty of crusty bread. The talk pointedly avoided the current and future dilemmas, instead focusing on when they should start the seedlings in the south-facing windows upstairs, whether it was worth extending the cold-frame that was supposed to give them late season greens but hadn’t worked as well as they anticipated, and how much they might get for this winter’s rabbit pelts.
Surprising all of them, Dal’vad had already established himself as the family housekeeper. Though not allowed out of sight and still clearly feeling the effects of his injuries, that morning he had quietly taken over all cleanup duties in the kitchen, then with a stepstool, cloth, and bucket, gone around the downstairs wiping dust off of surfaces that hadn’t been touched since the family moved in. When he wasn’t cleaning, he sat with the children, watching and listening intently as they played or studied. Duchess had decided he was worthy of being ignored, while Bruiser had taken it upon himself to follow the Shil everywhere, and always be between him and any member of the family that might share the room.
It was a peaceful day.
In the late night, Rachel’s door opened quietly. Footsteps crept across the room, and Rachel stirred in her sleep. A figure stood over the bed, hesitating, then pulled back the blankets and slid in beside her. His hand slid over her stomach as he awkwardly pressed himself against her back. She found his hand with hers and twined her fingers through his.
“I miss them,” James whispered in her ear. Rachel turned, pulled his head against her chest, feeling warm tears soak into the loose t-shirt she wore to bed. She smoothed his tangled hair as he held her tight.
“I miss them too.”
James considered his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He had woken early and snuck out of Rachel’s bed to stoke the wood-fired water heater and prime the water pressure tank, which had given him the luxury of a hot bath and hot water to shave. He cleaned off the sparse whiskers on his cheeks and jawline, and trimmed his bristly mustache and goatee. It was the first time he felt clean since he returned from the valley and the impromptu rescue mission, his hair washed, brushed, and tied back with a piece of black ribbon. He took his towel and wiped the last bits of soap left from shaving, cleaned his razor, and put it back in the medicine cabinet. Outside, the sun was rising in a fiery red sky.
Back in his room, he pulled on long johns and a clean pair of newly mended jeans, along with an undershirt. He sorted through his closet looking for a shirt that wasn’t stained or too patched, and hesitated on a brown, red, and green flannel lined with warm fleece. It was what passed for his Sunday best. He’d worn it the day he first came to the valley and met Isaac, and again when he had driven Gabriella and Rachel up to the house for the first time. Since then, there hadn’t been many occasions that called for dressing up.
He laid out the shirt and got down on his knees, pulling a wooden box out from underneath his bed. Inside were an assortment of personal effects, including an ancient-looking brick phone, which he deposited on the bed along with a brown leather bifold wallet. Rummaging about, he found a fat battery that he fitted into the cell phone, not bothering to power it on to see if it held any charge. He hesitated for another minute, then pulled out a small rectangular cardboard box. Inside was a gold watch on a leather band. He turned it over and ran his thumb over the inscription on the back, then wound the spring and strapped it to his left wrist.
Reaching back into the box. he pulled out a small flat metal safe. James spun the combination dial back and forth until the box sprang open, then pulled out a wood-handled 1911A1 pistol along with three magazines and a box of hollow point .45ACP ammunition. James sat on the bed, loading the magazines each with 8 cartridges. That done, he walked back to the closet and pulled out a brown leather shoulder holster rig, shrugged it on, clipped it into place, and inserted the two spare magazines into the pouches on the right side. He loaded the pistol, racked the slide, flicked on the thumb safety, and dropped out the magazine to replace the bullet now in the chamber. Satisfied, he slotted the magazine back into the pistol, holstered it, pulled on the flannel and did up the snap buttons. He slid his belt through the loops of his jeans, strapping his multitool to its accustomed place on his left hip. Standing in front of the mirror fixed to the bedroom door, he looked himself up and down.
Across the hall, Benjamin was just emerging from his room as James closed his door behind him. He paused for a moment. “You look good.”
James nodded, caught sight of the Shil following behind Benjamin, and hurried down the stairs.
It had only been a few days, but for children, that is enough. None of them gawked or stared at Dal’vad anymore. He supposed he must be fairly boring, doing nothing but clean and follow them around, staying just outside their circle when they played a game, or sitting nearby when they read a book. He had learned their names, and taught them his, a courtesy the adults hadn’t shown him yet, but he didn’t mind.
This morning Dal’vad didn’t feel like he had ever fully woken up. He was groggy, and every movement was like his limbs were dragging stone weights. Cleaning the breakfast dishes took every ounce of will he could muster, and he collapsed onto the couch immediately after. Even the little Rakiri seemed to sense something was off, and laid down beside him, not growling for once. When the family gathered outside to see the curly haired man and the hard woman off, the tall one, Hamza, had gotten him extra clothing and boots so he could join them outside. Reluctantly, moving slowly, Dal’vad pulled on the coats and thick boots.
Standing a little behind the children, the cold air invigorated him a bit, but mostly made him even more miserable. He watched, uncertain, as the adults loaded up their wheeled vehicle. He understood this was not a normal journey they were undertaking, but had no idea why. Robbie, the stocky child, was speaking to Hamza, and Dal’vad dully recognized the shift in Hamza’s stature, the fists tightening. This was familiar to him. His sisters had fought constantly and violently. It had often fallen to him to make peace, and that had been difficult once they grew bigger than him and decided that age no longer trumped strength.
When Hamza swung for Robbie, Dal’vad’s weariness was forgotten. This was nothing like the fights between his sisters, who had grappled and wrestled with each other, fighting viciously but tiring quickly. To Dal’vad, it looked like Hamza was trying to kill his brother, and Robbie was responding in kind. Without thinking, Dal’vad rushed forward. Then, his leg stopped as the rest of him kept going, and the ground rose up to meet him. His arm exploded in pain, and he curled up on the cold snow, saying the only Human word he could think of. “Sorry… Sorry…”
The day was not off to an auspicious start. The weather had warmed up to just below freezing, and the barometer was dropping as dark clouds gathered in the west. James and Sophie had packed a few supplies in the cab of the truck, and were getting ready to head into town, hoping to beat the storm. The children were supposed to be chopping wood before school, but were watching the adults standing and talking around the truck instead. Dal’vad shivered beside them wrapped in several of James’s old jackets and a worn pair of Samantha’s boots.
“Look at that, Dada’s taking Sophie into town and not you.” Robbie smirked as he needled Hamza.
“Shut it, Robbie.” Hamza’s disappointment was obvious, but Robbie heard the edge of anger in his voice.
“I told you he’d never bring you into town. You’re not as big and grown up as you think you are. Dada doesn’t even like Sophie and he’d rather bring her than you.”
“Shut. UP. Robbie.”
“You always act like you’re the favorite but you’re just as useless as the Shil.”
Hamza, quiet and thoughtful, who baked bread and couldn’t bear to watch the rabbits slaughtered and gutted, who read Sophie poems he’d written and pretended to Gabriella that he believed in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, tackled Robbie with a primal scream and began pounding his head with closed fists. Robbie was taken off guard, but recovered and rolled the taller boy off him, grabbing for his wrists and throwing punches back. Dal’vad leaped forward to try and pull them apart, but Duchess, unsure of what was happening but certain she didn’t want the Shil running at her family, grabbed his leg in her jaws and pulled him back, spilling him in the snow. Gabriella was screaming at both of them to stop.
All five adults reached the boys at almost the same time. Samantha and Rachel pulled Hamza back while James and Benjamin each grabbed one of Robbie’s arms and lifted him up. Sophie stepped between them, glaring daggers sharp enough to skin them where they stood.
Hamza’s lower lip was split and bleeding. Robbie’s right eye was red and already starting to swell. Both boys were breathing heavily, but it was clear the brief fight was over. Sophie opened her mouth to deliver a legendary tongue-lashing, when she and everyone else heard a small voice crying “Sorry… Sorry…”
Almost in unison, everyone in the family turned to the small Shil’vati, who was lying in the snow cradling his stitched-up arm, a blue stream slowly leaking out of the sleeve and onto the snow.
Rachel was the first to reach him, and scooped him up into her arms like a small child. Benjamin raced ahead of her to open the door, while James and Samantha hovered nearby, trying to find a way to help but unable to do anything that wouldn’t just get them in the way. Hamza and Robbie started towards the house, but Sophie grabbed them both by their collars and jerked them roughly back.
“You. You two are going to cut firewood until I decide what to do with you.” Sophie shoved them towards the woodpile, and they stumbled and ran, bruised and bleeding, to fetch the maul and hammer. Any anger they had towards each other was forgotten. “Come on, Gabi.” Sophie held Gabriella’s hand, and they walked into the house.
Inside, Rachel had the Shil’vati up on the table, not bothering with the canvas this time. She had sliced the layers of clothing off his injured arm carefully, and confirmed her fear. The fall had ripped out her stitches, and the arm was bleeding. She assessed the situation calmly as Benjamin brought her clean towels and a basin of hot water, along with her medical bag, and stood beside her to assist.
Sophie looked at Gabriella, then at Rachel, the Shil, and Benjamin. She touched Samantha’s arm, and nodded to the little girl watching her Mommy. Samantha nodded, and took Gabriella’s hand. “Let’s go read in my room, sweetie.” Samantha led her down the hall and up the stairs.
James put his hand on Sophie’s shoulder. “We need to go.” Sophie looked at the retreating back of Gabriella, then at Rachel and Benjamin. She sighed, then nodded.
“Yes, I suppose we better.”
James sat at the wheel, Sophie in the passenger seat, a small arsenal between them. Sophie had insisted on her shotgun, and James had argued that a rifle was more likely to be useful. As a compromise, they brought both. Sophie had her 12-gauge Mossberg 500, and James had Benjamin’s SKS, a soviet-era carbine that mostly served as the family deer rifle despite the blade bayonet folded under the stock and the completely useless grenade launcher on its muzzle. Both were resting with butts on the floor and muzzles pointed at the roof. The well of the center console, the top of which had long since broken off, held a dozen or so extra clips of rifle ammunition, a pouch filled with shotgun shells, and two sets of eye and ear protection that Sophie had insisted upon.
James considered himself a realist. Sophie was not known to be an optimist. Neither expected this day to end well. Nor did either think the weapons were likely to help much. Still, it was some comfort being as prepared as they could be. For the first dozen miles, before they reached the road that would take them to the road to the valley, they drove in silence.
Sophie finally broke the silence. “You don’t have to tell me everything, James.” Her voice was steady, but kind. By unspoken agreement, the family did not pry into each other’s past. In the years they’d scraped by, bits and pieces of their old lives slipped out, and Sophie had collected them as part of her duty to keep them all together, as individuals and as a unit. For all James occasionally spoke of his wife and kids, Sophie had never heard about the years between the invasion and when he joined the family.
James’s jaw clenched and his grip on the steering wheel tightened. He swallowed, then opened his mouth, and closed it again before beginning.
“Ok. I… Before the invasion, I worked for a big tech company. Some of the stuff I worked on, it was a big piece of the pre-war Internet. We were a massive content delivery network.” Sophie looked at him blankly, and he gave his canned simplification, rusty after all these years but still familiar from dozens of cocktail parties long gone. “We stored copies of websites close to big hubs and when you go to the website, you got it from us, so you got it faster than if you had to go all the way to the original.
“Specifically, my job was cyber security. Incident response. We were a really big, really juicy target. In some areas, we were serving 50 or 60 percent of the total internet traffic. If you got a video, a podcast, an ad, pretty much anything that wasn’t voice or video calling, that was coming from us. So, we had huge server farms at every major hub, banks of routers, switches and firewalls, redundant connections to every major ISP, and my specialty, intrusion detection systems.
“Then… the fucking orcs came in and… you know. I, uh…” He swallowed again. “I got recruited. I always assumed it was whatever was left of the old government. I mean, given the resources they had. Anyway, they needed people who knew the infrastructure, the stuff close to the wire. They wanted communications with their operatives and intelligence on the Shil, and they wanted it at the source. I specialized in network traffic inspection, sifting through huge volumes of data instantly, picking out patterns and interesting bits. I was… angry, and got convinced that this was the way I could help kill some orcs.
“It wasn’t even hard. We had months, and free reign, and the keys to the kingdom, so to speak. There were some other techs who I never met outside of whatever encrypted communications we managed to patch together, but they were embedded in every backbone internet provider, every big data security company, every major research center. Even the Russians and Chinese were cooperating, in their way. We were exchanging documents and code on USB drives, sneakernet style, or embedded in innocuous network traffic, system update files, DNS zone transfers. But we did it, and we had everything ready to go before the Shil managed to really consolidate their control on the internet backbone.
“We built a tap on global communications the likes of which the NSA would have drooled over. Engineers at security companies were giving us their root keys that underpinned encryption that would take a quantum computer thousands of years to crack. Data centers let us put server racks directly in their interchange rooms so we could mirror traffic straight from the backbone.” James actually sounded awed, reverent even, like a peasant from the quarry looking up at the cathedral built from the stones he had cut.
“Shil didn’t give a shit about our technology beyond getting their propaganda into the network and intelligence out. I don’t think they actually had a single programmer or engineer in that first wave, just lackeys who followed their little checklists and got things plugged in. We turned it on, it worked, and I thought I was done. But her... she decided she needed me for something else.” James’s voice was getting quiet, and he was driving more slowly now even though the roads were getting better maintained and, if not exactly plowed, were at least somewhat groomed.
“I did… some other things. Eventually, I left. Didn’t want to stick around to see what other… projects… were so important that she could only trust them to me. I took a car and I drove, and when I couldn’t drive anymore, well, you know the rest.” He paused. “I guess she finally found me.”
“Are you going to kill her?” Sophie had expected something like this. She had seen James angry many times before, especially in the first year he had come to the house. She had seen him storm out into the yard raving, and throw firewood and swing wildly with the maul into knotted logs of oak until it jammed so tight it took an hour with wedges and a sledgehammer to free it. Angry, damaged men she understood and could deal with. She had only once seen hate in his eyes, only once been frightened of him. That was when he answered her question at the family meeting with a single name. Alice.
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2021.12.04 01:15 Versuski It says I have no power but there's clearly a conduit right there. What am I missing?

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