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[OC] We intend no harm - Chapter 23 (Hynian Adrenaline)

Hello again.
Well well well. This chapter took a bit longer, because I had to deal with friends and food and fun. All that stuff keeping me from writing ;)
As usual, I wasn’t sure how things would turn out. But now that the chapter is complete, I’m satisfied.
Have fun reading.
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Captain Zork was standing in the crammed map room. He listened to Zokosh reporting the events that had led to his weapons officer’s death. When he heard that she had been attacked while showering he felt bad that he had to question her. But it was the standard procedure for murder cases. Luckily Zokosh knew this procedure. She had stated at the beginning of the ‘interrogation’ that she would take no offence and he was just doing his job.
While he listened to her, he noticed that Zokosh did not seem to be distressed over the events. Her voice was as calm and steady as if she was reporting a slight malfunction in an unimportant subsystem. When she described how she pierced him with her knife, her voice took on an subtle sharpness and disdain. It was easily missable, but when the captain picked it up he felt its icy chill creeping down his spine. He instantly hoped to never incur her wrath.
After the Captain had tried to poke a few holes into her story, as it was mandated, he told her to get some rest. While Zokosh went to her quarters to properly dry off, the captain went to the crime scene. Karom the ships medic was already examining the body. The Captain told him Zokosh’s story.
“That matches the evidence.” Karom pointed at the dead hynian male with the combat knife sticking in his skull. “But there was something I found strange when I looked at the crime scene.”
“Something strange? What do you mean?” The Captain asked looking at the corpse and than at the shower stall trying to find something odd.
“Look at the body. There are no knife wounds. A lot of scratches from claws and some bruises. But if she had the knife in her hand, shouldn’t there be at least some stab marks?” He bent a bit forward and jabbed his hand repeatedly against an imaginary opponent.
Now the captain understood immediately. “If you look at the scratches on his chest, she could have stabbed him a dozen times. Maybe she had to pick up the knife from somewhere.” He looked at the Stall. It was the easy to clean kind, just a flat wall with a single push button for activating the shower. No shelf to store shower gel, shampoo or knifes. Zokosh’s stuff was still standing on the floor.
“I can’t imagine her picking up a knife from the floor during a fight. I heard that a crewmember had seen her putting the knife between her lips. But you told me, he had put his hand on her mouth.” Karom said and showed the captain the corpse’s right palm with the bloody bite marks.
Zork’s ears twitched while he was thinking. “You're right. Something is strange.”
The medic pulled the bloody knife out of the body’s skull with his gloved hand. Then he looked at the injury. He gently closed the knife's wound with his fingers. “Look at that.” In the middle of the closed cut was still a round hole.
“What kind of weapon would leave a small hole like this?” Captain Zork asked confused.
“Hmm … something like a stiletto dagger, maybe? But why hide the wound with the knife? And then again 'where would she keep it'.” The old medic was thinking hard. “I heard some rumors about the Secret Order. Allegedly they are using...”
“Shut it!” Hissed the Captain causing the Medic to flinch. “Don’t talk about them.” After the captain had calmed down he continued. “So, he was attacking her in the shower and she killed him in self defense?”
“Yes, Captain. The evidence backs it up. It looks like he was waiting in the stall at the far end for his opportunity. After Admiral Xem was able to struggle free, she pierced his skull. If I could do an autopsy, I could tell you if he died of blood loss or because she broke through the bone and penetrated the brain.” Stated the medic.
Zork sighed. “Well, that was not the kind of penetration he had hoped for.” He had known the dead guy only for a few months, so he wasn’t too attached.
In hynian culture women did not have the same rights as men had. They were meant to be pleasant and nice to look at. Just like the beautiful flowers in the imperial palace’s gardens had to be protected from pests trying to feast on them, it was the honor and duty of men to do the same. Ironically some of the most beautiful flowers in the gardens were poisonous enough to kill any pest touching them. Of course the Captain had never been in those gardens, but every hynian knew about that metaphor.
“Do you still need that?” The captain pointed at the former weapons officer.
After the Medic flicked his ear dismissively, the Captain grabbed the dead guy’s jumpsuit and ripped his rank insignias off. Then he wrapped the jumpsuit around the corpses neck and dragged him across the ship.
The rumor has spread fast around the Cheshnak Ra. So the crew gave their best to not notice the corpse. All of them knew what Zork was about to do. A captain was responsible for his crew, so it was his job to rid them of their collective shame.
When he reached the trash compactor the first officer was waiting for him. He did not salute, it would have been a disgrace to the emperor to do that in front of trash. Except for the FO only the crew members working in this section were present, they were focusing intensely on their mundane tasks.
“For the report. He was not killed in action. He had been trialed, judged and executed for sexual assault. He has become the pest in the garden. Thus he was stripped of his honor as a man and his rank as an officer. He will not be permitted into the afterlife. His family will be informed that he is neither be named nor grieved. He will have never existed.”
After the FO had filed the record, the captain hoisted the corpse into the trash compactor and closed the lid. The crushed and mangled corpse would be disposed with the rest of the Cheshnak Ra’s waste. In cynian culture the body had to decompose to let the soul reach the afterlife. Pressing a body into a cube and letting it drift through hyperspace was the ultimate punishment.
It would take a few days until it would be time to dispose of the trash. Of course they could throw it out right now, but nobody dared to give this pest even that amount of attention. Later someone would sneakily dispose of the tainted jackpot as well.
++++++
After Admiral Zokosh had returned to her quarters, she took off her jumpsuit and started to dry herself properly. Once she was done, she climbed into her bed and switched the light off. She had been lying in the darkness for a while, but she was unable to sleep. Her blood was still saturated with adrenalin. With an annoyed hiss she got up again, put her clothes on and left her quarters.
Most species especially prey races had a flight response when they faced danger. Some had a fight or flight response. Hynians instinctive reaction was always to fight, they had to willfully work against their biology to flee or surrender. Luckily their bodily reaction was not as strong during ‘unpersonal’ fights like spacebattles. A crew on adrenaline could not operate a spaceship properly. But in ground combat or even hand to hand combat, their instincts would still trigger the same chemical processes as eons before.
Hynian adrenalin was an impressive ‘drug’. They produced more of it than any other species and it was way more potent. There are reports of hynians who ripped tendons because their muscles were overstimulated in particularly intense life or death situations. The other thing that was special was that the adrenaline would not dissipate for a few hours.
Zokosh knew that she needed her brain to realize that the threat was gone. Seeing your enemy dead before you would normally do the trick, but the pest’s death was so quick, that her brain refused to stop producing adrenaline. There were two more ways to get rid of it. She was not in the mood for one of the methods right now. It would also undermine her authority and her self respect. So she took the other option.
Soon after she left her quarters the Admiral reached one of the storage rooms. She opened the door and looked inside. Some of the night shift who were on standby were training with weights or sparring with each other. Even the best life support systems could not get rid of the humid smell of fresh sweat.
The one crewman who was facing the door almost dropped his weights when he saw the Admiral. Of course everyone knew what happened a few hours ago. Zokosh flicked her ear signaling him to keep on. Then she walked over to the half naked guy pummeling the punching bag. His blue skin was glistening in the artificial light of the makeshift gym.
Zokosh tapped him on the shoulder. “Excuse me, but I really neeeed that right now.” She blushed a bit, when her voice had such an seductive tone. With this amount of pheromones in the air her body seemed to have considered option one against her will.
The crewman looked surprised at her and then at the punching bag. It took him a moment to understand, then he smiled and stepped back. “All yours, Admiral.”
“Thanks, Crewman. As long as I’m off duty, you can call me by my name. If you think you earned it, you can call me Zok.” She responded returning the smile. This offer was directed to everyone present. Then she started to beat the punching bag with a combination of many fast jabs mixed with some heavy blows. She was quick on her feet evading imaginary attacks. From time to time she sprinkled some kicks into the mix.
The crewmen who were training were giving their best to not mess up their training routines, while watching the woman dish out one hell of a beating. Of course all of them had heard how she toyed with that guy before she boarded the Cheshnak Ra. But seeing her go all out was a sight to behold.
Zokosh was the beautiful daughter of a duke, so she could be seen as the epitome of what hynian women should be like. Right now she did not give a fuck on proper conduct. She wanted that adrenaline out of her system and it felt great pummeling away at the sandbag. Because of the adrenaline her stamina had increased about tenfold. She could not care less about sweating or the eyes that she could feel on her.
The crewman had grown up in hynian society, so they were raised to see women as beautiful but fragile. Some of them were shocked to see how intense Zokosh could be. Some were discovering that they really liked that kind of woman.
After 15 minutes of a nonstop beating, Zokosh decided to get more air. Without a second thought she unzipped her jumpsuit to her midriff and let it fall from her back. She was wearing a sports bra, because she had anticipated that this might happen. After she tied her sleeves around her waist she continued the pummeling.
Wearing a tight top like a sports bra during training was not that uncommon. But because the crewmembers weren’t expecting her to do that and because all they had on this ship were data sticks with red dots, they looked at her surprised and a bit too intrigued. Zokosh did not care. Maybe that was caused by the slowly decreasing amounts of adrenaline in her blood.
One of the guys who were sparring earlier was walking over to Zokosh. He was shirtless and had wrapped his sleeves around his waist just like her. “You look like you need something better than that old bag.” He flicked an ear at her, obviously joking with whatever he meant. His fellows laughed amused.
Zokosh smirked at him, while beating the living daylight out of the punching bag. “You want to help me get rid of the adrenaline? I’m sure your idea involves that mat. But are you brave enough to take me on in front of your friends? Might be embarrassing, if you were finished after a few seconds.” She was breathing heavily while talking.
Goshk looked surprised for a moment. He had expected her to reprimand him or make him clarify that he had sparing in mind. For a moment he thought about trying his luck today and offer her some private practise somewhere else, but then he decided against it. “I would be totally up for that but I meant sparing.”
“Brave enough to admit, but smart enough to make the right choice.” Zokosh responded smirking impishly, not revealing what she was thinking about that. Before she went to the sparring area, she took a chug of water from her bottle.
While they were taking positions the other eleven crewmen surrounded them. Zokosh looked at them her heart was still pumping fast. “I can’t go back to the sandbag after fighting for real. So you guys better get ready, if Goshk goes down to fast.”
After she said that, they were discussing the order in which they were facing her. If you were to late in line, you might not get a chance at all. If you were to far in the front, you would most likely get beaten quickly. The best places were somewhere in the middle. Grappling with this sweaty women sounded alluring to all of them.
“Any rules other than the standard?” Asked Goshk.
“Hmm … If you try to cop a feel, I’ll knock you out. Except for that, no holds barred.”
“Fair enough.”
One of the spectators gave the starting signal and the sparring partners started to circle each other. Goshk knew that if he waited for to long Zokosh would recover her stamina, so he had to make his move quickly. He lowered his center of gravity and tried to grapple the Admiral. She dashed sideways and hooked his foot with hers, causing him to stumble. In this situation she could have brought him down and locked him to the mat easily, but she wanted this fight to last longer than one exchange.
Zokosh let him turn towards her before she attacked him with a flurry of punches and jabs. Of course she did not go all out on him, like she did with the punching bag. She used just enough force to make sure he would not want to get hit. He protected himself pretty well and used an opening to start his counter.
The spectators were watching the fight in suspense. The two opponents were enjoying the spar just as much as the spectators. This time Zokosh did not have to show off, so she held herself just enough back to keep the fight enjoyable. She was sure that Goshk must have noticed it. After a few minutes Goshk managed to grapple her, making him the crew member with the closest contact to a women in months. Zokosh held against it, trying to topple the bigger Hynian.
Her heart was still beating fast and now it was pounding against the males chest. She did not notice it, but the spectators were quite envious of him. After both of them showed some impressive footwork, Zokosh managed to hook Goshk's leg. All she needed to do now was to push her upper body a bit more against her opponent to throw him off balance.
Goshk fell backwards and Zokosh slipped out of the grapple. When he hit the ground, she grabbed him and placed him in an armlock. Her leg was bent and her shin was pressing against his face while she was locking his arm whith hers. To do that she clamped his forearm between her upper arm and her flank, while holding his upper arm with her hands. She did not use enough pressure to cause him pain, but her grip left him nowhere to go.
“Do you give up?” Zokosh smiled victoriously. Her adrenaline levels were now dropping fast.
“You got me.” he replied with her leg in his face. “You held back, didn’t you?”
“It’s more fun that way. I hope you don’t want to complain.” She let go of him and laid down on the mat breathing exhausted. She was still smiling. The reduced adrenaline make her realize, that she was showing the crewmembers way more than they should see. Hynian adrenaline was one hell of a drug.
She knew she should cover herself, but she still needed some time to cool down. Luckily the spectators were surprisingly decent. They had openly watched her pummel the sandback and they had looked at her during the fight, but now that she was lying on her back breathing heavily, they went back to their training routines. Maybe they had looked enough earlier. Whatever the reason, it gave Zokosh the time she needed.
Goshk had already gotten up. He was not ‘high’ on adrenaline, so he had noticed how her chest felt against his. He could have sworn that he felt her heart pounding. While he was drinking from his bottle, he looked at the half naked smiling woman. His ears raised for a moment, then they flicked in opposite directions.
“I’m going to get a shower. I’m all sweaty and stuff.” He said to no one in particular.
One of the less buff, more cheeky crewmen responded. “Better take a long shower, to get all that ‘sweat’ out … off. I meant get that sweat off.” The rest of the guys chuckled, but it didn't bother Goshk. They were just jealous that he got a good reason to take a shower.
Zokosh did not react, maybe she did not even hear it. She was focusing on herself. She savored feeling her heart rate slow down and her muscles relax. When had finished her post adrenaline rush ‘meditation’ she got up and put the upper part of her jumpsuit back on.
“Thanks for letting me rest.” Zokosh was pulling her zipper back up. “I guess i need another shower.” She said to herself.
The cheeky guy responded again. “Don't worry, we’ll stay here. Except you want someone guard the door.”
She smiled at him. “Thanks for the offer, but that won't be necessary. Good night, guys.”
“Sleep well, Admirell.” Responded the group.
Zokosh flicked her ears in an amused way and left. ‘When did they come up with that?’
When the Admiral had left the improvised gym. One of the guys laughed. “Dude, you could have told her that Goshk is ‘showering’. If she goes there now she'll totally run into him.”
“You could have also told her. But you didn’t. Maybe they go for a round two in the shower? I don’t want to rob Goshk of that chance.” The cheeky one laughed again.
“You know that she just stabbed a guy in there, might be a bit strange to do it.”
“She looked like a case of adrenaline rush, not like she was bothered or something like that. The law says that he is to be forgotten. So doing it right there would be fine. At least I would totally do it there if I had the chance.” He explained.
“You would do it anywhere if you had the chance.”
The guys laughed.
“Hey, wanna bet if they do it?” Asked one of them
++++++
Zokosh was writing a message on the datapad taped to the door. ‘Attention. I'm taking a quick shower. Please do not disturb. Zokosh.’ After she did that, she opened the door and waltzed in. She blushed when she saw Goshk walking naked from the bench to the shower stalls.
Goshk had expected to have the shower all to himself, it was the middle of the night after all. He looked surprised and confused at Zokosh. Than he looked down on himself and at the reason why he needed that shower.
The female Hynian bit her lower lip while she was looking at him. “Can you keep a secret?” She asked.
“Hm? I guess?” He replied still confused.
Zokosh closed the door behind her. “That’s not good enough. I’m an Admiral and a noble. Can you keep a secret?” She repeated her question, slowly unzipping her jumpsuit.
Now it finally clicked for him. “Yes! I’m really good at keeping secrets!”
“That’s good. If someone asks, I have seen you in your underpants we had a laugh and then I went to bed.” She was stripping fast letting her clothes trail behind her. When she reached the enamored male, she pushed him eagerly into the shower stall.
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I wasn’t sure, if they should hook up. At first I wanted to add the shower scene as a funny mishap, but then I thought, that the two got some good chemistry.
I hope you enjoyed it :) good night.
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Tennis Betting - Tips For Exchange Betting on Tennis Matches

By choosing tennis as your preferred sport for betting, you have already given yourself an "edge" against those who bet on or offer odds on other sports. To use this "edge" to make money consistently, however, you'll need to understand two fundamental principles first. Then apply the power of mathematics.
Principle #1
It is sheer folly to place a tennis bet (or a bet on anything) with a "traditional" bookmaker. The expression "You can't beat the bookie" is axiomatic; you just cannot beat the bookie over time. It's because the odds are always mathematically calculated in favour of the bookmaker. Everyone knows (or should know) that the bookie's mathematical "edge" against the punter is necessary for him to make a profit so that he can stay in business.
Computer technology has given rise to a new form of betting, known as "exchange betting" or "matched betting". With "betting exchanges" there is no bookie to beat; in other words, there is no middle-man. Every punter bets against another punter or punters somewhere out there in the Internet ether. Any punter (or "trader") can place a "back" bet that a player or team will win, and/or place a "lay" bet that a player or team will lose. Thus, any punter can choose to act as an ordinary bettor and/or as a bookmaker.
With exchange betting the odds are not set by a third-party or middle-man; they are set by the punters themselves, who place requests for odds at which they are prepared to place bets (if they wish to act as an ordinary bettor), or place offers of odds at which they are prepared to lay bets (if they wish to act as a bookmaker).
As the "back" bettors gradually lower their requested odds and the "lay" bettors gradually raise their offered odds, the software on the exchange betting web site matches all the back bets with all the lay bets at the instant they coincide. The accounts of the "backers" or "layers" are then credited with their winnings automatically a few seconds after the end of the event according to its result.
Obviously, the technology for providing such a "fair" betting service must be paid for somehow. This payment is taken in the form of a commission on the punter's net winnings on an event (or "market"). That is, commission is charged only on any positive difference between winnings and losses on the same event.
This betting system is as close to a perfectly fair betting environment as it is possible to achieve.
There are very few betting exchanges in existence, however, perhaps because the exchange betting software is so complex and therefore costly. The giant among exchange betting web sites is Betfair, with about 90% of the market at the time of writing. Others are the Global Betting Exchange (BetDAQ), ibetX, Betsson, Matchbook and the World Bet Exchange (WBX). Betfair is by far the most popular because it was the first to offer this "perfectly fair" betting environment, and is trusted to perform accurately and instantly.
Principle #2
So, why does tennis betting give you that "edge" over betting on other sports? The answer, though simple, is often overlooked even by those who bet tennis regularly. And if you're someone who's never bet on tennis, you'd almost certainly not have realized the significance of the tennis scoring system on the betting.
Consider this fundamental difference between the tennis scoring system and that of probably any other sport you can think of.
In other sports and games the trailing player or team must make up the points gap by winning a point for every point they have already lost in order to catch up to the leader. Only then can they start to move ahead. This fact seems obvious.
In tennis, however, the trailing player or team can lose the first set 6-0 (possibly with a deficit of 24 points). That team can then win the second set by the most narrow of margins, 7-6 in a tie-break, winning the set by very few points (or even by winning fewer points than the opponents, a rare but possible occurrence!).
As soon as the trailing player or team wins the second set, the two sides suddenly have even scores, even though one player or team might have actually won many more points than the opponents.
This anomaly often has a profound psychological effect on one or both sides, which affects the way they play for the next few minutes, and therefore also the betting odds requested and offered by punters on the match. This, however, is another aspect of tennis betting which may be the subject of another article. This article deals with the mathematical aspect of tennis betting and how to win money with this knowledge.
How to win at tennis betting
Now that you're aware of these two fundamental principles, how can you use them to your advantage when making tennis bets?
The key is not to be just a "backer" or a "layer", simply betting on the final outcome of an event. If you do that, you will lose out over time, because there's always a small difference between the "back" odds and the "lay" odds -- there must be, otherwise there'd be no incentive for anyone to offer odds and there'd be no betting at all. Combine that with the commission you pay on your net winnings, and the "edge" is against you mathematically (although it is not as great as with conventional bookmakers).
The secret to winning at tennis betting is to be BOTH a "backer" AND a "layer", but at different points during the event. This is another aspect of betting that distinguishes the exchange betting web site from the traditional bookie. At the betting exchange you can place a back or lay bet at any time during the event, right up until the very last second or the final point. This is known as "in-play" betting.
Because in-play betting is allowed, the odds for each opposing side change as the event progresses, according to the likelihood (as perceived by the punters) of either one side or the other being the eventual winner. The trick is to place a back bet on one side at certain odds and later place a lay bet on that side (or a back bet on the other side) at better odds as fortunes change and the odds swing in your favour. If you can achieve this, you will win your bet overall, regardless of the outcome of the event -- a true "win-win" scenario.
Why bet on tennis and not on other sports?
Apart from Principle #2, explained earlier, tennis is ideal for such "swing" betting, because the odds fluctuate after every point is played. There are therefore very many small swings to one side and then to the other. This doesn't happen in soccer, for example, because goals are so rare and a goal shifts the advantage suddenly and hugely to the scoring side.
Furthermore, a tennis match can have one of only two results; there can be no draw or tie; and one of only two players or teams can win. In horse racing, for example, the winner can come from a large number of runners.
The more possible outcomes there are to factor into the equation, the more difficult it is to win. (Despite this obvious logic, soccer and horse racing remain the two most popular sports for betting, probably for historical reasons. Tennis is already third in popularity, however, as more and more punters discover the fact that it is easier to make money betting on tennis than on any other sport.)
"In-play" betting or "pre-event" betting?
Now that you have -- it is hoped -- understood and absorbed the generalities of exchange betting and the peculiarities of tennis scoring, it is time to explain the details of how you can win at tennis betting.
Earlier it was stated that the secret to winning at tennis betting is to be both a "backer" and a "layer", but at different points during the event, placing bets at different times during the event as fortunes change and the odds swing in your favour. This can be done with both "in-play" betting and "pre-event" betting.
One method used with in-play betting is called "scalping". As its name suggests, scalping involves skimming a tiny profit by backing or laying at exactly the right moment as the odds move slightly in your favour, perhaps when one player scores two or three consecutive points, and repeating the process again and again. The biggest drawback of scalping is that it is very time-consuming and fraught with mental and physical tension. Not only must you pay full attention to what's happening during the match by live video broadcast, but you must also catch exactly the right moments at which to bet, which is, in fact, made impossible by the 5-second delay imposed by the exchange betting software between the time you place the bet and the time it is accepted.
We're not elaborating on this here because, as stated previously, this article is about winning by mathematics, not by the sweat of your brow. The maths aspect involves betting, not during the event, but before the event starts. That is, pre-event betting.
Mathematics do not lie!
There are a few tennis betting "systems", some purely manual, others using software programs, some of which are enormously complicated. From the investigations of the writer (a mathematician), they all require the input, at some point, of a "probability factor" by the bettor. This probability factor is usually the odds at which you want your "balancing" bet (the "lay" bet on the "backed" side or the "back" bet on the opposing side) to be triggered, giving you the "win-win" scenario mentioned earlier.
So, how do you determine the value of this probability factor? That, dear reader, is the crucial point of the whole matter, the linch-pin that holds any exchange betting "system" together and determines whether it succeeds or fails, whether you win or lose.
Up to now, it seems, this probability factor has had to be determined by the sheer experience of a few seasoned professional gamblers, or by trial-and-error guesswork by lesser mortals. Little wonder that so many punters lose or do not win as much as they could because they do not know the EXACT value needed to optimize their bets!
Accuracy is of paramount importance when determining the probability factor, in order to maximize the chances of winning consistently. A search on the Web for a tool to calculate it proved negative. The writer therefore created one that encompasses not only all aspects of exchange betting but also the peculiarities of the tennis scoring system, and called it the Abacus Exchange Betting Calculator, for want of a better name. The probability factor is calculated to two decimal places, merely by entering the pre-event odds of both opposing sides, and has enabled the writer to make consistently more than 10% profit from tennis betting since Wimbledon 2009.
As a parallel test, the writer also placed bets according to "gut feeling", in sufficient numbers to establish a trend. It resulted in a loss of 10% of the working capital (or "bank").
Other tests were done, using the Abacus Exchange Betting Calculator, by betting on other sports where small odds swings occur, such as American Football, snooker and darts (very long matches only, otherwise the swings are too large). The results here just about covered the commissions paid on winnings; so, it is not worthwhile.
It seems, then, that the particular mathematical formula or algorithm (which is very complex) discussed here works well only in conjunction with the unique scoring system of tennis.
Conclusion
As a scientist, the writer feels that it is highly probable to win at sports betting consistently over time only when the following factors are present:
  1. An exchange betting web site is used, not a conventional betting web site. (Beware of many sites that pretend to offer exchange betting by appearing in search engine results for "exchange betting"! Ensure that their software system enables you both to back and to lay bets at any odds you want against other punters, not against the house. If in doubt, check that their web site looks like the one at Betfair.)
AND
  1. The sport is tennis, because of its unique scoring system.
AND
3(a) You learn about and become experienced in in-play betting and are prepared to devote almost all your time glued to a computer screen while following each match, sometimes more than one simultaneously.
OR
3(b) You use software that tells you exactly the odds to request and offer and the stakes to place in pre-event betting in only a few minutes, thus allowing you to get on with your normal life.
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Tinaja Girl

Hi everyone! This is another unsolved case from Spain. This one in particular has been ranked by various Spanish crime and mystery polls as one of the most intriguing cases of our country.
This is, as always, a long read. But I hope you can enjoy it. Here it goes;

"Luci 13-12-1962"



Madrid, Spain
Wednesday, August 13th, 1969


A 20-years old firefighter walked into an old abandoned farmstead colloquially referred to by locals as Casa de la Viuda (Widow's House), near the municipality of Hortaleza. He would later tell LE that he frequented that place on his spare time; the old house was spacious, and he liked to go there to exercise and keep himself in excellent shape -as his job required him to be. Since it had been abandoned, the farm was frequented by locals at night only, as at the time it was used as a lover's lane. However, the morning of that August 13 his routine would be shattered in the spookiest way possible.

There were lots of old tools, furniture and other agricultural paraphernalia there. Among these there were several large tinajas (a type of jar-like and big recipient typical of Mediterranean and North African cultures, often used to store water, oil, or grain). One of these was particularly big. That morning the firefighter, motivated by curiosity, decided to peek inside that big tinaja. And that's when he made the disturbing discovery.

There was a dead woman stuffed inside.

Knowing that the police would secure the area for preserving evidence, the firefighter exited the house avoiding touching anything. He got into his car and drove to the nearest police station, informing LE about the gruesome finding. A team of investigators drove to the scene.

The woman was naked. A black turtleneck sweater was wrapped tightly around her neck. Her blue jeans and her panties were later found down around her ankles. She was young, her age at the time estimated to be somewhere in her 20's. Her bleached hair was of a very pale shade of blonde which, along with her at the time fashionable late 1960's clothing and her silver shoes and purse, inspired a there present LE investigator to eloquently define her appearance as 'like a space doll'.

She stood 160 cm tall (or 5'3''). Slender complexion.

He face had been battered, but later on it would be ruled that the cause of dead had been mechanical asphyxiation. More specifically, her killer had squeezed her throat hard with one hand, as the finger-shaped bruises on her neck attested. She had numerous defensive wounds in the form of bruises. Death had taken place less than 48 hours earlier, and her body was barely entering into the first stages of decomposition. The swelling in her face wasn't due to the decaying process, but due to the blunt trauma-induced inflammation. This detail would make the identification process much harder than expected. There was some dry blood on her cheeks and her clothing, but no traces of blood were found on the tinaja nor around; she had been murdered somewhere else and then dropped there later.

The contents of her purse, as well as the pockets in her jeans, were examined. This didn't produce any evidence that would point at the woman's identity. A strange piece of evidence was found trapped between her clenched teeth though; a small golden medallion with the following inscription embedded on it;


LUCI 13-12-1962


Could her name be Lucía? And what was that date referring to? Obviously, it couldn't be her birth date, since the body belonged clearly to an adult woman. Investigators at the scene pondered that maybe it could be the name and birth date of her daughter. This clue was used in the investigation.

The soil at the abandoned house showed that her killer had dragged her all the way to the tinaja where she was found in. It also showed that a car had been there. Based on the tire's pattern and the approximate wheelbase of the vehicle, investigators concluded that the car used to take the woman to there was a Renault 4L, a very popular car back then in Spain. What is more; they could also find a dent on the metal frame of the property's narrow gate. It was likely caused by a car speeding through it. Although the gate was narrow, anyone who could drive a car could easily go through it slowly. However, it seemed that someone -likely the killer- had rushed through with their car, hitting the frame in their way out, and probably full of anxiety about being seen dropping a body there.

The investigators managed to retrieve samples of red colored car paint from the dent, which gave them more information about where to look. A red Renault 4L.

It seemed that the tinaja, which was made of clay, had created conditions on its interior that had slowed down the decaying process in spite of the summer temperatures -tinajas make a rather cool storage space by keeping the heat out. Because of that, LE investigators managed to produce an excellent fingerprint profile from the murdered woman. It took the team just twelve hours since sampling her fingerprints to find a match. Keep in mind this was back in 1969, before fingerprint registries were in electronic form; the team had to split into several groups to compare (visually) the fingerprints with the registries of different public agencies. Twelve hours was a really quick time for a fingerprint match back then.

The fingerprint match came with a strange surprise. It was found by the team that had been assigned to compare the sample with the fingerprints from the Registry of Foreign Passports.

According to the match, it belonged to Kerry Payne, an American citizen. Born on December 25th, 1944 in Venice, Italy. Her parents were Richard and Nuria. The additional information in the registry mentioned 'housewife' as her professional occupation.

With the new data about her identity, LE tried to contact her family and relatives to tell them the unfortunate news about her death, as well as to move forward with the murder investigation. However, things would just start to get weirder and bizarre.

Payne's parents could not be located. Neither the US embassy, nor the personnel from the nearby USAF base in Torrejón de Ardoz could find anything about her within their databases. However, a matchbox advertising for a nightclub in Raleigh, North Carolina, had been found in the crime scene near the tinaja inside of which the woman had been found. The presence of this item had made investigators to put a lot of faith in thinking that sooner or later a relative of Kerry Payne would be found. The matchbox set them to contact North Carolina's authorities, leading them into another frustrating turn as this move didn't produce any results; There were no matching records of any Kerry Payne fitting the woman's personal information.

It was almost like Kerry Payne, also known as Tinaja Girl and Space Doll, didn't exist. So who was that dead woman really then? Where did she come from? And of course... who killed her, and why?



Chameleon among Wolves



Having clear that the whole Kerry Payne ID was fake, the investigation had stalled. Without knowing the woman's ID, solving the crime was off question. They couldn't trace down her last movements, nor question her family nor acquaintances.

The investigators split once again in teams to look for other fingerprint matches, which took a bit longer time than the initial twelve hours before the first match. After a couple of days of arduous work the investigators managed to produce a second match -which turned out to be legit. Here's another surprising aspect of the discovery of this match; it came from the team looking for results on the public mental health internment records. And so they finally had a solid name.

She wasn't American, nor Italian. In fact, her origins weren't at all exotic; she was Spanish. Natividad Romero Rodríguez (commonly addressed as "Nati") was born in the small town of Siles, located at 130 km (80 mi) east of Jaén, in the middle of the semiarid, deep Manchegan countryside. Nati came to this world on July 15h, 1941, which means that she was 28 years-old when she was killed. Her mother and her brother positively identified the body by an old scar on her right forearm.
Picture of a young Nati
Nati had been problematic from a very young age; volatile, kleptomaniac and narcissistic. She also developed an addiction to alcohol and used drugs during her teenage years. Her working-class family could not manage to deal with her extremely difficult behavior. At the age of 16 she was committed to a mental institution in Jaén, for a total of seven years, after two suicide attempts. In the first one Nati had jumped from the window of a 4th floor. The second time she had tried slicing her wrists on the bathtub.
Nati, circa 1965 The investigators' inquires revealed that Nati escaped from the mental institution and moved to Madrid in 1964. She quickly adapted to the underworld and the night life of the big city; first as a pickpocket and confidence trickster, but soon as a prostitute too. She used the name "Tania" as her identity at the time. Fifty-something questioned people later (being shown Nati's pictures), the investigators found that she lived with a man named Juan between August of 1964 and some point of the fall of 1965. There isn't much information about Juan, except that he was a black man and had a large scar on his face. He apparently was a soldier, and was sent to serve at a navy base in Rota (some 480 km, or 300 mi, southwest of Madrid). Nati didn't follow him to Rota; instead, she remained in Madrid, surviving by making money 'out of the night'.

Sometimes known by the name of Tania, sometimes by the name of Luci... and yes, also known as Kerry. She also liked to change her hair color very often, sometimes up to three times a week. These questioned about Nati -including other prostitutes- stated that she often 'worked' at the bars and nightclubs near the USAF base in Torrejón de Ardoz (active from 1953 to 1992), targeting American soldiers looking to spend some of their money on local women. She seemed to have a preference for black American soldiers, as she was often seen with them. When she was not heading to a hotel room escorted by an African-American soldier, Nati catered to local patrons posing as an American woman. She was reportedly very good at feigning an American accent, and she had discovered she was better paid for her services because of that. As for her personal life, Nati claimed to be a lesbian that the only thing she wanted from men was their money, and many people recalled her being physical with women (paid or not). Nati had, however, a worrisome tendency to seek very young girls for her personal pleasure.

Her acquaintances also mentioned than Nati always looked 'off' or 'sleepy', like on drugs. Although when considering this point it's worth remembering that Nati was an alcoholic and frequent drug user, on top of suffering from serious mental illness. When she didn't look drugged Nati was seen either drinking, looking for patrons or just looking for a fight; she was a violent woman who made an extensive use of foul language and profanity.

As the whole story unraveled, the investigators bumped into a big 'a-ha' moment when they learned that Nati had married in 1966. The name of her husband?

Leonard Payne. American citizen. USAF Airman First Class, stationed at Torrejón de Ardoz Air Base.

And yes; he was African-American.
Nati and Leonard, around 1966

The marriage was blessed with two children later on. It was also blessed, more obscurely, with generous money transfers from the US. These transfers amounted an average of around $2,000 a month, which in 2020 is the equivalent to about $16,000, or some 14,000€. It's not clear what kind of family background Leonard had, but his monthly salary at USAF certainly wouldn't match such amounts of money. The origin and motive of these money transfers has never been clear. The couple had rented a very expensive flat to live in.
Nati, with one of the children she had with Leonard

In early 1968 Leonard, who has an avionics expert, was sent to Vietnam, leaving Nati alone in Madrid. At some point of that year Leonard went MIA in Vietnam, and soon presumed dead. Seems like not long after the news of Leonard's tragic demise were received the money stopped coming, and Nati's behavior became even more erratic and unpredictable. She was eventually arrested for drugging a teen girl and sexually abusing her, a crime for which she was sent to the Ventas Prison for Women. She spent eight months there.

During her time in prison she became an inmate most of the women there avoided; Nati was too volatile, too unpredictable (except for the fact that she'd resort to aggression sooner or later) and always trying to smuggle alcohol inside. In one occasion she and other two inmates ended up in the infirmary after a disastrous attempt to produce moonshine; their drink contained enough methanol to poison them. Nati and one of the two women survived. The other one died.

She was often getting into scuffles there, especially taking into account the nature of the crime she'd been sent there for. One night another inmate made fun of Nati's deceased African-American husband, using a pejorative racial slur. Nati reacted by walking up to that woman and smacking her with a heavy oil can so hard that the woman needed several stitches on her face.

After her release from prison in early 1969 Nati moved in with one of her friends -a former prostitute- and her boyfriend. It's not clear if this couple was taking care of Nati's children while she was in prison, or if the children were sent to the US to live with Leonard's family. Soon after Nati was kicked out of that residence, after she had been caught stealing from them; this friend's name was Lucía, and she was the owner of the golden medallion that would later be found between Neti's teeth. Apparently, Nati had found a job at a club, but she was fired soon after for being frequently caught drunk at work.

From this point up until her death six months later, Nati's movements become unclear. One night of late February a police patrol car found her lying unconscious and bloodied on the sidewalk at El Retiro Park. Someone had subjected her to a savage beating. The policemen drove Nati to a hospital and, after she received treatment, they tried to convince her to fill an assault report. However Nati -concussed and with her lips grotesquely swollen- refused to do so. She also claimed that she didn't know the person who had attacked her. The policemen didn't believe that, and suspected that she had been beaten up by a pimp or a patron.

According to other sex workers, Nati had spent the spring and summer of 1969 resuming her routine of trying to get black USAF soldiers to pay for her services. However, she had also expressed some concerns about her own safety, confiding to her friends that she felt 'followed'. She didn't seem to explain to them further about these feelings though.

Nati was seen alive for the last time at around 4:00 AM of August 12th, 1969. Whatever happened to her between that moment and the morning of the following day when the firefighter discovered her body was a complete mystery. By early 1970 the investigation had stalled and the case became cold. Ironically, it would take one particularly cold night about one year later to warm the case back into life...



Thugs and Knives



Madrid, Spain
Saturday, January 30th, 1971


7th Barbieri Street, early morning hours. The Piloto Bar was full of patrons, as it was habitual on weekend nights. Everyone was having a good time on that gelid winter night under the warm roof of the bar. Patrons drank, smoked cigarettes and chatted with their friends, probably about football. Others would bet rounds of beers among their friends over a game of table football. A barman in his 50's named Pedro Herraiz was the owner of the bar. That busy night the 32-years old waiter Álvaro Coque was working alongside with him, as well as another waiter, a kitchen porter and the cook.

It was a busy, but peaceful night until that guy and his friends walked into the bar.

His name was José Antonio Sánchez Gil, but everyone around knew him by the nickname 'Pepe el Guapo' ('Handsome Pepe'). His good looks and his success with women made his nickname self-explanatory. He was a tall, intimidating man who, along with his friends, regularly terrorized the neighborhood. The 29-years old Pepe was a ruthless pimp with many girls under his 'protection services'. He used that fearsome reputation to drink as much as he pleased at the local bars without paying a cent. Standing up to him would mean having Pepe and his friends doing a number to the bar, trashing the place and assaulting the staff.

Pepe ordered whiskey, as he always did. And he invited his friends to drink, as he always did. Everyone at the Piloto Bar knew that standing up to Pepe was a very bad idea. However, that night Pepe made a big mistake. It would be his last one. Apparently, Mr. Herraiz had stood behind the counter looking at Pepe as he drank, not hiding his animosity towards that thug. Then Pepe, probably feeling challenged, decided to cap the night off with the ultimate humiliation; he invited Herraiz to drink a glass of his best whiskey. A drink which, of course, Pepe had zero intentions to pay for.

The 'invitation' was met with a counter-offer from Herraiz; Pepe and his friends should leave the bar immediately and never come back. Herraiz had had enough, and that drink suggestion had been the straw that broke the camel's back. Pepe then grabbed an empty beer bottle from the counter and smashed it against Herraiz's forehead, dazzling him. Almost immediately Pepe jumped over the counter and started beating up Herraiz; his friends soon joined the beating, and the floored Herraiz was at the receiving end of a brutal barrage of kicks and stomps.

The Piloto's staff wasted no time; they all grabbed ham knives from the kitchen and rushed back out to help their boss. Pepe and his gang pulled out their switchblades and a violent knife fight ensued. It didn't seem that things would go well for the staff, as they were being outnumbered by the thugs. The cook suffered a severe stab wound in one of his buttocks. But the waiter Coque managed to catch Pepe off-guard (the criminal was distracted fighting someone else) and drove the long knife blade into his ribcage, slicing part of his heart. Pepe collapsed almost immediately.

Probably emboldened after seeing Pepe finally being at the wrong end of a knife blade, many of the patrons that night at the Piloto bar joined the fight too, siding with the staff. Pepe's gang was now overwhelmed with punches, beer bottles and even bar stools. Around this time several police officers reached the bar. All except for a couple of Pepe's friends managed to escape the beating and flee running down the street. These who couldn't had to be rescued by the police officers; the scuffle and the agitation were so intense that the officers had to use their batons to dissuade the patrons from continuing their attack on these thugs.

Herraiz, who had been badly beaten, was taken to hospital, and so was the cook because of his stab wound. Both men eventually made a full recovery. Pepe, on the other hand, was pronounced dead at hospital. His violent death surprised no one, and saddened no one either. In fact, locals joked around afterwards noticing the irony behind the fact that 'Handsome Pepe' had died, literally, from a broken heart. It seems that the man who put an end to his life, the waiter Álvaro Coque (a husband and a father of two kids who had no criminal record), faced minimal or no charges.

That night the police officers made some arrests. Obviously the thugs that didn't manage to escape were arrested, as well as the most aggressive patrons that had still some fight in them. But they also arrested a patron in particular, one who during the melee had been seen trying to not to get involved and leaving the scene discreetly.

His name was Gregorio Ávila Sotoca, more known locally as 'Goyo'. The reasons he had tried his best to avoid the fight had nothing to do with ethics or pacifism; Goyo was well known by Madrid's LE at the time. At 28, he was a mugger, thief, and a drug dealer. But he was known especially as a pimp. He had been the subject of a search and arrest warrant for the previous six months due to a string of robberies he was a suspect of, and had spent that time trying to keep a low profile to fly under LE's radar.
A picture of Gregorio Ávila Sotoca, alias 'Goyo'

Goyo was placed on a cell at the main police station -something he wasn't unfamiliar with. The police chief on command of Goyo's arrest that night was a man named Manuel Lista. Mr. Lista was a tall and big man who, in spite of his intimidating appearance, never used physical force against any detainee -back in the 1970's Spain police brutality was the norm rather than the exception, especially when the detainees were regular offenders like Goyo was. Instead, Lista preferred a slow and patient method of interrogation; without even raising his voice (looking almost fatherly, in fact) he would come up with the same questions over and over, staring into the offender's eyes. He would also question the detainees at early morning hours, waking them up several times a night.

That weekend Lista was reportedly trying to make Goyo confess to pimping women and robbery charges. However (according to him and his subordinates) something extremely unexpected happened.

Goyo finally broke down and said; "It's about that Tinaja Girl, right? Well, I killed her".

Why would Goyo supposedly admit that is not clear. Apparently, he blurted that out after Lista had asked him many times "to start talking", but no one at the station expected him to have anything to do with Nati. Goyo told them that the night of August 11th, 1969 he was very drunk and had met Nati at a café-bar. They drank some more there and then Goyo proposed Nati to go to his place, to which she refused. Then he drove her in his car -a red Renault 4L- to the abandoned house where Nati's dead body was later found. Goyo reportedly told Lista and his men that once there they 'couldn't reach and agreement and Nati started nagging and making fun of him'. This enraged Goyo, who described to Lista how he put both hands on Nati's throat and squeezed until she passed out. After that Goyo slapped her face, trying to wake her up, until he realized that Nati was dead. Finally, Goyo stripped her naked, took her money and her jewelry and hid her body inside the big tinaja.

Goyo also described how he was so full of anxiety when leaving that his car gazed the gate's frame, scratching the bodywork. By the morning he had stayed at one of his girl's apartment, and Goyo told her he was leaving later that day 'for a road trip'. He told her he was leaving to León (340 kilometers, or some 210 miles, northwest from Madrid) for a few days. However, Goyo moved into the apartment of another of the prostitutes he pimped. He later called the first girl and told her he was in León, although he hadn't left Madrid. He asked her if someone 'had asked about him lately'. Goyo returned from his 'trip' a few days after Nati's body was found.



An international affair?



With that unexpected confession Goyo thereby became the main suspect for the mysterious murder of Nati Romero, the Tinaja Girl.

When the word that Goyo had been arrested as a suspect for murder spread around, many girls mustered enough courage to speak up to LE about Goyo. It turned out that Goyo was a sadistic and violent pimp whose girls feared him enough to not to report even the most gruesome abuse. LE considered the girls' statements as very likely, as apparently they were quite consistent. In one particularly disturbing statement, Goyo had locked up one of the girls in his apartment and beat her up very badly. The girl managed to endure the beating, thinking that that would be all. But then Goyo had pulled out a pocketknife; this girl feared so much for her life that she jumped from the window (a 2nd floor) onto the street, and then hid under a car while a deranged Goyo screamed that he was going 'to rip her heart out' while looking for her. This girl had been found later that day by a police officer, who asked her who had attacked her. She insisted that a gang of teenage boys had jumped on her to take her money, never mentioning Goyo.

What is more; Goyo had a big collection of 'tools' at home (he called them 'his toys') that he would use to discipline the girls. According to the women who came forward after his arrest, Goyo would administer, in his own words, 'pain or pleasure, depending of what the girl in particular required'. The full nature of these tools is never specified, though. A total of 54 women had come forward to tell LE what kind of monster Goyo was.

Thanks to these reports, Lista and his team though they got a solid suspect in custody. It matched what they already knew about Goyo beforehand. He was often involved in street fights and had a reputation of being quick to pull out his knife when challenged or threatened. He was a very violent man, and the girls he extorted were absolutely terrified of him.

Goyo was brought to trial. And then, when everyone thought that he'd be facing a long time in prison for the murder of Nati Romero, the whole case fell apart.

First, Goyo denied ever having confessed killing Nati. He told the judge that he had been coerced into a confession and that he had been physically tortured.

This wouldn't have gone further if not for what the defense came up with. Goyo had stated many times (according to the questioning with Lista) that he had used both hands to strangle Nati. However, the forensic doctor that had performed the autopsy had noticed that it just couldn't have been that way; whoever strangled Nati did so using only his right hand; the killer had used his left hand to pin Nati's right arm to the ground, making her more defenseless. Also, whoever killed her had hands much bigger than Goyo's (who was an average sized man).

That wasn't all; Goyo said that after noticing that Nati had passed out he smacked her face several times trying to make her regain consciousness. But again, this didn't fit the forensic findings. Nati's facial injuries didn't suggest a few slaps in the face; they suggested a brutal beating, probably punched or knee'd several times in the face. Also, the facial injuries happened, in all likelihood, before being strangled, not after.

The scenario provided by the forensic doctor and his team didn't suggest a quick murder like the one described by Goyo's confession. Nati had put up a tremendous fight against her attacker, reason why the killer had to pin Nati's right arm to the ground. The high amount of defensive wounds found in her body supported this scenario. If she panicked when she was attacked, she certainly did not freeze in fear.

The confession is one of the darkest spots in this case. Manuel Lista was said to have never engaged in physical torture -which Goyo accused him of. However, his questioning methods could be considered psychological torture, at least nowadays. It's stated, though, that when Goyo was finally transferred from the station's cell to jail he had gone from 'dangerous hardened criminal' to a 'sobbing little boy' in the matter of a weekend.

Because of the lack of evidence and the forensic findings pointing at a different story, Goyo was declared non guilty of the murder of Natividad Romero. This didn't mean he walked free though; he was sentenced to five years in prison for his pending pimping and theft charges. Goyo's lawyer appealed to the Supreme Court about his sentence; the appeal was rejected.

Meanwhile, Nati's killer was still unidentified and likely at large. The Crime Brigade handed the case to the superintendent Antonio Viqueira. Viqueira (1916-1998) was a highly esteemed detective with an impressive resume; in 1958 he was behind the team that managed to catch the first official spree killers in Spain, José María Jarabo. He had also cracked several cult-related crime cases in the 1960's and 1970's, as well as apprehending a serial rapist who targeted prostitutes in the 1960's, using a clever strategy with the collaboration of the sex workers. Because of his brilliant career he was often invited for talks at Universities aimed at Crime Science students. Reportedly, he used to explain to these students that 'not only dead bodies talk; the objects found in the crime scene talk too'. And also that 'simplicity, along with logic, brings the truth to light'.

Viqueira put his method to work in the Tinaja Girl case. Following his own experience, he paid attention to the objects found at the crime scene. Let's remember a particularly unusual item found near the tinaja were Nati ended up in; the matchbox.

This matchbox was traced to a nightclub in Raleigh, North Carolina, in the United States. There was no way to buy it in Spanish territory, and locals would buy matches from Spanish companies. USAF airmen didn't frequent the abandoned house Nati was found at, making extremely unlikely that the matchbox had been there before Nati's murder. There were just two likely scenarios; a) Given her involvement with USAF African-American airmen -let's remember she had married one-, the matchbox belonged to Nati and b) it belonged to the killer.

The Torrejón de Ardoz Air Base became the target of Viqueira's attention. He believed that the killer had ties to there. More so because according to the girl whose flat Goyo had hidden at, one time she casually discussed the Tinaja Girl case with him (whose investigation was often making headlines then) and Goyo had expressed; 'I think the Yanks did it, but don't go around talking about it'.

In fact, Viqueira's inquires eventually led him to an USAF airman. He was known for patronizing prostitutes, was a physically large man... and he was also African-American. It seems that Viqueira managed to gather a significant amount of evidence against him, but the airman was never prosecuted. Some have speculated that neither American nor Spanish authorities wanted the case to move forward.

A few words about US-Spain relations at the time. In December of 1959 Dwight Eisenhower became the first American president to make an official visit to Spain -some ten years earlier Truman had expressed his hatred towards the Francoist Regime, vowing to never visit Spain for as long as Franco ruled the country. Spain wouldn't receive the visit of another US president until October of 1970, when Richard Nixon met with Francisco Franco and the Monarchy at the Moncloa Palace. John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson had avoided visiting Spain while they were in office; both were vocal about their opposition to the Francoist dictatorship. US-Spain international relationship was not at its best during that time, and it started to improve slowly with Nixon. There had been recently another incident that had created a conflict between both countries, creating a sense of distrust among Spaniards towards Americans; the 1966 Palomares incident, whose social consequences had an impact even up to 1986, year in which a public referendum was held in Spain about remaining in NATO -Spain had joined in 1982, but not without a significant opposition from a good percentage of the Spanish people.

By early 1970's both countries had improved their diplomatic relationship significantly, a trend that would later continue with Gerald Ford (who visited Spain in May of 1975, six months before Franco's death). Because of this, some believed that the Tinaja Girl case couldn't move forward. However, this was not the first case Viqueira had to accuse an American citizen of a serious crime; in August of 1960 an American woman named Mildred A. H. had rushed her 22-month old daughter Marcella H. to the Torrenjón de Ardoz Hospital with severe head injuries. She said that the little girl had fallen from her bed. Unfortunately, Marcella succumbed to her injuries that night. An investigation led by Viqueira ended up proving that Marcella's injuries had been caused after she had sustained a beating at the hands of her own father, Allen W. H., USAF sergeant stationed at Torrejón de Ardoz Air Base. Both husband and wife were arrested for the murder of the little Marcella; Allen as the culprit and Mildred as accomplice. Allen W. H. faced a court martial and was sentenced to prison. He ended up at the Leavenworth Penitentiary, in Kansas, where his sentence included penal labor. Apparently, the day after he murdered his daughter Allen had showed up to work, and his coworkers didn't notice anything odd or amiss; he looked absolutely calm and collected.



Aftermath



Whatever the true reason may have been, the African-American airman was never arrested. It could have been because the evidence gathered by Viqueira was not enough to warrant an arrest, but there's not much information about this.

Gregorio 'Goyo' Ávila Sotoca has been the only person to ever face trial for the murder of Natividad 'Nati' Romero Rodríguez. Besides the African-American airman, no other suspect has come up in subsequent investigations.

Once all the forensic work was done, Nati was buried on August 25th, 1969 at her hometown of Siles. While her family was very saddened about her early dead, they said that they were not surprised; Nati had been a very difficult person since a very young age, and was a matter of time before she would end up dead. She lived very fast, and died very young.
Another picture of Nati

Goyo Ávila Sotoca passed away in September of 1998. He was 55-years old.

The case remained cold until it expired in August 13th, 1989 due to statute of limitations. The investigation was abandoned more than 30 years ago.





Some sources (Spanish)


https://criminalia.es/asesino/el-crimen-de-la-tinaja/
http://elojocritico.info/los-casos-del-comisario-antonio-viqueira-y-ii/
http://manuelcarballal.blogspot.com/2008/07/los-casos-del-comisario-viqueira.html
http://psicokillers.com/el-crimen-de-la-tinaja/
https://espaciodeindrianiblog2.blogspot.com/2016/09/el-crimen-de-la-tinaja.html
https://www.libertaddigital.com/opinion/fin-de-semana/el-crimen-de-la-tinaja-1276230125.html
http://manoquemecelacuna.blogspot.com/2017/03/el-crimen-de-la-tinaja.html
submitted by HelloLurkerHere to UnresolvedMysteries [link] [comments]

[OC] Chronicles of the Siren War [Chapter 59]

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A/N: Please consider supporting my writing efforts on Patreon. You can follow this story and be alerted when new chapters release via fanfiction.net.
Special thanks to Tobi from the discord server for a double visual accompaniment today as well! They are not perfect representations of in chapter events, but they set a great scene nevertheless!
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“Well, what do you think?!” Houston asked gaily, taking Fredrick by the hand and leading him aboard her mint condition hull. Modifications had clearly been made in the absence of a physical crew, leaving the ship sleeker and more evasive while maintaining its substantial firepower. The three triple 203mm batteries aboard the vessel were mimicked by the girl’s rigging, a complex system of hydraulics and tubes connecting her miniature guns to her waist. They sat aboard large steel-gray and red stabilizing fins that would help her maintain balance in open ocean combat, and were completed by a small, grinning Cheshire cat decal above the letters USN. She carried a pistol in her hand, a replica of one of her 40mm Bofors batteries.
“I think the smile on your face says it all,” the young cook replied, tilting his head to steal a glance at the exposed skin between her shoulder blades. Just below her collar, a vibrant rigging mark in the shape of Texas’ lone star still glowed, fading slowly in the wake of the ship’s new construction. As soon as they were aboard Houston activated her engines, pulling the cruiser out of dock so that Minneapolis could begin work on her own hull.
“Hmm, you’re rather sweet, Frederick. I’m glad you’re back safe and sound too,” Houston told him kindly, walking around her deck as she inspected her guns and fittings with pride. Many parts of the ship came to life under her touch, pivoting and changing elevation as if partaking in a firing exercise.
“I could say the same, Miss Houston.”
“Oh come on, all I did was laze around and help look after the kids!”
“Doesn’t mean something couldn’t have happened. It’s war, after all,” Miles reminded her, though it certainly wasn’t necessary. She spun on her heel to face him, her large Union Navy tattoo plainly visible on her upper right thigh. “Be safe tomorrow too, Miss Houston. It would be a shame to come home all this way just to…” The young man could not quite bring himself to say ‘lose you’, but Houston seemed to understand his meaning all the same. As her rigging shimmered and vanished, she reached out and took his hands in hers.
“You cut yourself. Be careful in the kitchens,” she observed, fingering a tender wound that would surely leave a bright pink scar atop one of his knuckles.
“And Lord willing, that's all the action I’ll see in this war,” Miles replied, taking a deep breath and squeezing her fingers tightly. “The way the Commander spoke, it sounded like the largest fleet ever assembled is coming for us.”
“And you’re worried about me,” Houston finished quietly. It was not a question.
“I’m worried about Hatsuharu and Yuugure and all the rest too, but at least they’ll be on the island. I can do something if it comes down to it. You’ll be very far away,” he worried as Houston found herself a suitable location in the bay just north of the base and dropped anchor next to the California.
“But I’ll be thinking of you!” She promised happily, though those words only served to draw Fredrick’s face tight in a frown. “Fredrick-”
“Just be careful,” he insisted. “It’s a beautiful ship; it would be a shame to lose it again.”
“Yeah it would, wouldn’t it?” Houston agreed thoughtfully as a pair of gulls settled on the top of her aft crow’s nest. “But Fredrick, I’m already on borrowed time. I can feel it in my cube, in my bones. I was supposed to die at Java, without having ever met you.”
“Miss Houston?” Fredrick whispered, feeling a small pit of fear worm its way into his guts. The air about her had changed significantly, revealing a sober and almost world-weary woman underneath her metallic cat ears and vibrant pink hair.
“Fredrick, have you ever lain with a white woman?” Houston asked before seeming to remember herself. She tittered at his shocked expression. “No, I didn’t think so given you are barely allowed to speak with them. What about any woman?”
No more adequate an answer was forthcoming from the young man as he found himself rooted to the spot, Pacific breezes ruffling his uniform. Houston took his hands again and stepped close to him. “Second chances shouldn’t be wasted, don’t you think, Fredrick?”
“I uh, but aren’t you… what I mean to say is the Commander-”
“Is an exceptional and handsome man!” Houston agreed readily. “He’s kind, reserved, and saved my life. He’s competent too, and I think he’ll see us through the battle tomorrow. That doesn’t mean I want to go to bed with him. Not every girl in this fleet has dreams of glory. I just want to live this life I’ve been given. I’m happy to take you back to the docks right now, Fredrick, but I don’t want to leave you tomorrow with just a peck on the lips. Come live a little with me, ravel up my ball of yarn?” she suggested with a cute swipe of her fingers against his uniform.
When he leaned closer, Houston sealed her request with a brush of her thin, soft lips against his own. The boy’s mind may not have known how to respond to her, but his body needed no such training or consideration. He allowed his lips to part in invitation, one she greedily but gently accepted. The two fumbling lovers embraced, with Houston gasping against his mouth and pulling back as his left hand brushed against her rigging mark. “Did I hurt you?” Fredrick asked quickly, swallowing heavily as he noted the growing flush in Houston’s cheeks. The girls back home, the ones he was allowed to long and lust after, did not blush like that.
“No, not at all. It was just intense!” Houston gasped, gathering herself and reaching over her shoulder. She took his hand and returned it to her back. “Be gentle, please.”
Miles was more than happy to oblige, experimenting with feathery brushes of his fingers and the comforting cover of his large palm over the area, sheltering it from the wind and warming it with his own body heat which was steadily rising thanks to their ongoing kiss. When the sensations from her rigging mark simply could not be withstood any longer, the electric shocks turning to warm pulses of longing thanks to his easy touch and unassuming manner, Houston took his cheeks in her hands. She could feel the slight beginnings of stubble under her palms. Bright green eyes met dark brown and delightful laughter bubbled up from her chest. “Fredrick, I didn’t want to do this so soon but it seems Akagi and Kaga decided not to wait around. Would you make love to me; show an unordinary girl an ordinary life?”
Houston’s second proposition was no more answerable than her first, but again the young man’s body knew the correct reply. He had no way, no words to explain to her just how unordinary their union would be. But he considered the coming battle, considered the fact that she might be lost. There was only one course of action to be taken. Without a word he shrugged off his jacket and shirt, laying them down on the deck for her. Houston laid herself down graciously, throwing him a coy yet innocent smile that beckoned him to oblivion. He was powerless to stop it as she freely bared herself to him, save her choker. As the base prepared for war and a New Orleans class hull came to life at dock, no one took the time or effort to glance out to sea as Houston felt herself come alive again.
-----
“Don’t you want to be down there with her?” West Virginia asked Javelin. The two of them were seated near one of the base’s fixed AA batteries, about halfway up the slope to the dorms and radio tower. Mountains of shells were ready and waiting to be fired, courtesy of the bulins and Akashi.
“I feel like I’ve done nothing but remain at her side since she arrived here,” Javelin replied sadly, recalling Zed’s desperate flight from her own faction. “She’s one of my best friends. I can’t let this be anything but her decision. Sometimes it feels like she and Laffey are my sisters, even though I love Jupiter and the others dearly as well.”
“Mmm,” the stoic battleship agreed, fingers resting on the neck of her guitar. “So your focus is evasion?”
“Yep yep!” Javelin affirmed, playing with her blueish-purple hood and adjusting the small crown atop her head. “Don’t count me out when it comes to submarine warfare or gun battles either. I wish I could do something about my torpedoes though. Those new girls from the Sakura have such amazing armaments.”
“Yeah, but their guns couldn’t even tickle me if they tried,” West Virginia countered. “Based on what happened with Downes and Laffey, at least what I understand of it, keep training and keep focused. When the Commander grants you that power, or when you feel the need to claim it for yourself, I think you’ll acquire the strength you need.”
“You make it sound like magic,” Javelin replied with a smile. West Virginia’s eyes softened slightly.
“Not sure what else to call it. Not even Commander Thorson or the minty kitty really understand those cubes. They know how they work to an extent but the rest might as well be magic. But that’s good. If they’re shooting at you and missing, that gives me an opening. You’ll find that us Colorado’s aren’t the fastest or most maneuverable. And I don’t have as many barrels as Pennsylvania or Tennessee. But…”
“But?” Javelin prompted.
“Woe to any ship that tries to face me woman to woman, even a carrier if I can see her. Did you know I used to have torpedo tubes?”
“No! Really?!” the Royal destroyer demanded excitedly, tapping her namesake weapon against the ground. The battleship gave her a full smile that time.
“Yeah, really. When I was injured at Pearl Harbor and they wanted to rebuild me, I told them to get rid of them. A fast little demon like you is perfect for that sort of thing. Me? It would take so long to turn and fire the other tubes it would be pointless, to say nothing of my main battery rotation speed. But don’t worry. I’ve made up for it.”
“Uh huh, how so?” Javelin was eager to learn more about her battle buddy, having never seen a Colorado-class hull before their arrival at Thorson’s base.
“You won’t tell Tennessee?”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because we were redesigned to be better than her,” the battleship replied neutrally. Javelin shrugged.
“She doesn’t care. No offense, but I’d still bet on her in a fight with you. She’s merciless!” The destroyer’s tone was one of approval.
“No arguments there, at least not right now. But she’s only got sixteen 28mm guns and fourteen Oerlikons.”
“Right. And you?” Javelin tapped the AA battery with the tip of her spear to accentuate the point. West Virginia struck a chord on her guitar.
“Forty 40mm Bofors, forty three Oerlikons, and of course the eight 406mm guns. Just focus on the seaborne threats when we fight. My sisters and I know how to provide a protective AA envelope. With Cleveland on our side our odds are even better. Maybe it’s because she’s a cruiser but I just can’t beat her precision.”
“With so many guns you won’t have to! But do you really think we can win? It sounds like the enemy has as many aircraft as they want.” For the first time, true worry crept into the young woman’s voice. West Virginia placed a hand on her shoulder.
“We have unending firepower and resolve too. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty over in the Atlantic, but don’t underestimate the will of those who lived through Pearl Harbor. I remember the smoke and the flames, the screams of dying men. Oklahoma and Nevada didn’t make it. Downes and Cassin were torn to pieces. But in the end they failed. Even if they destroy Enterprise and her sisters tomorrow they will have failed if they can’t kill us.”
The conviction in West Virginia’s words, especially given her typically mild manner, gave Javelin pause. She remained silent as a squadron of P-40’s flew by overhead, now a sight on the base almost as common as the flocks of seagulls. Far out to sea she could see Yamashiro and Fusou’s float planes returning from a scouting mission. The battleship continued.
“Those of us who didn’t perish in those fires are now stronger than they could possibly imagine. I went all the way across the country and back, met the people I’m defending. Colorado dismissed her entire crew in the wake of the attack and rebuilt herself with her own hands. Maryland hasn’t ceased sharpening her skills since that day. If she ever finds the ones who killed Oklahoma they’ll wish they were already dead. And I know I don’t need to speak for Pennsylvania and Tennessee.” As a group of three Fulmars rocketed out to sea to join in the scouting mission, West Virginia struck a harsh chord on her guitar. Javelin’s foot was tapping soon after.
Send them over the waves, her sentinels. They’re reporting the news, position of our foes. This battlefield’s been chosen, Thorson orders advance! Time to alert our sisters, they’re soon in range.
“Midway! We meet at Midway!” Javelin added happily, bobbing her head from side to side. The battleship threw her a favorable look and continued. A passing bulin stopped to sit and listen.
Call all women to deck, keep the fortress strong. Head out into the sun, descending on our foes. This is the crucial battle, in the heat of our war. To sail and sink our targets, out in the waves.
“Midway!”
Display our might, order and chaos, battleships at war.
“We meet at Midway!”
We’ll win the fight, tactics are crucial.
“Naval war!” Cleveland cut in from the stairs as she and the Portland class sisters headed to the Sakura dorms to spend some time in the onsen.
Far from shore a Pacific war, Shells are raining from the skies. It’s a Dreadnought day, it’s our naval way, A blood-red sun is on the rise.
West Virginia wailed on her guitar for a few chords, allowing some of her pent up frustration and battle energy to seep into her music before transitioning to working her fingers along the strings individually. By the time she and Javelin repeated the chorus another couple of times and struck the final note, they’d garnered a small audience, including several manjuu, who dispersed or hopped away after polite applause. When they were alone again the battle partners looked at one another. The USS Minneapolis sounded her horn from the docks below, another weapon in Thorson’s arsenal.
“I think this is the beginning of something beautiful,” Javelin declared. West Virginia smiled thinly behind her collar.
“You’re my favorite tea-drinking Royal, that’s for sure.”
-----
“Come on, sis. Tomorrow’s going to be a big day. Live just a little bit?” California insisted as she and Tennessee strolled along the beaches to the east of the docks. Since arriving at the base, the beach had become, unsurprisingly, California’s stomping ground. She strode through the shallows, kicking up the seafoam remnants of waves with her bare feet, her body clad in a dark blue bikini with gold trim. From her feminine hips hung a sheer shawl designed after her state’s flag, the bear and golden star accenting her behind.
“Easy for you to say. Tennessee doesn’t exactly have any beaches,” the elder sister replied.
“And since when did you care about your home state?”
“Never.”
“Then you have no excuse! Come on, Tenn; the water’s great!”
“We’re boats, of course it is,” she sighed, nevertheless caving and joining her sister, if only to stem the tide of good-mannered nagging. Her uniform vanished and was quickly replaced by PT shorts and her black sports bra. California groaned.
“You have absolutely no fashion sense, sis, you know that?”
“I’m a machine of war, Cali. I don’t need fashion sense.”
“Mhm, your partner doesn’t seem to mind admitting she’s more than a boat,” California countered coyly, pointing with discretion towards the dry sand of the beach and the tropical tree line just beyond. There sat Downes and Ooshio, the former having long discarded her jacket and oversized t-shirt.
“I’m going to have to talk to her about that,” Tennessee said quietly, seeing that Downes had managed to connect her studded leather collar to a bra in similar black material, complete with metallic studs along the straps and over her nipples. The battleship didn’t bother looking close enough to see if she’d changed her underwear to a similar material, or if she was just indulging in rank hedonism on some sort of brave whim. Regardless of her own thoughts on the matter, the ensemble was having the desired effect on its intended recipient. Tennessee watched with a hardened expression and clenched jaw as a flushed Ooshio ran her fingers tenderly over Downes’ exposed musculature, the Union destroyer leaning against a palm tree and her new girlfriend resting among the sand and grass. Despite the lewd situation the two of them were deep in discussion, with Downes waving her hands about animatedly. No doubt she was in the middle of one tale or another. Catching Tennessee’s eye, the ashen-haired girl waved from the shade, prompting Ooshio to look their way as well before promptly turning red again and burying her head in the crook of Downes’ neck.
“Aww, she’s so cute! And she was looking straight at your abs by the way,” California laughed. She didn’t know Downes well, but the young woman had always struck her as a dominant and protective type. “It’s a good match, don’t you think?”
“I think I need a new sparring partner,” Tennessee growled.
“That’s not fair, sis! She can have her fun and still train with you.”
“And what about you?” The elder sister pulled her cap over her eyes. “You have yourself someone to watch your back?”
“Other than you, you mean?” California smiled as a wave lapped at their bare ankles.
“Yes, other than me.”
“Yep, brand new ships too!” California insisted, pointing at the Houston and Minneapolis far out in the bay. Tennessee nodded.
“Good.”
“When are you going to talk to him, Tenn, seriously?” California’s tone grew worried. “If the worst happens-”
“There’s nothing to talk about, Cali!” Tennessee insisted sternly.
“You can lie to the others but not to me. I see right through you. I’m your sister,” the younger replied, holding Tennessee’s gaze.
“Look,” the battleships gaze out to the northern ocean. “If both of us survive tomorrow, there will be nothing that needs to be said.”
“Your state may not have beaches, but you’re more stubborn than a Tennessee mule,” California relented, throwing her hands up. “Oh well, I’ll just have to make sure you two hardheads live to tell the tale!”
“Just stay behind me, sis. Everything will be fine.” Tennessee wrapped her arm around California’s shoulder and pulled her closer. The sisters continued along the shoreline, silence supplemented by the song of gulls, the rustling of palm fronds, and the roll of the surf.
California smiled as she rested her head on Tennessee’s shoulder. “Yeah, we’ll be fine.”
-----
As Z23 stumbled out of the conductive matrix, gasping for breath, a rush of relief and weakness washed over her. Her collapse was forestalled by Thorson’s arms. When the waters had risen above her head and her world went dark, horrific flashes of the past returned. His warmth banished them.
“Zed, you alright?” he demanded quietly. Their corner of the labs was deserted and quiet, with bulins occasionally entering through the main doors far at the other end to pick up ammunition or oil for the ships ready to sortie.
“It is done, mein Kommandant.”
“Shall we go see her?” Thorson suggested, relieved and pleased to feel the give of her body against his arms. The girl of skin and bones who he’d bathed weeks before was gone. Her cheeks were rosy, her hair had grown flaxen and lustrous, and her chest finally looked at home on her slim, fit frame.
“In a moment, Kommandant. I am still weak,” she explained as the Iron Cross of her rigging mark still glowed almost angrily with a bright blue light.
“No problem,” he smiled, pushing up quickly with his legs into a standing, bridal carry. Zed gasped and held on tight, finding her arms wrapped around his neck and her lips brushing against his fabric-covered clavicle. He could feel her exhale against his pulse point. Her lips followed after. When he glanced down at her, she craned her neck and offered him another kiss, which he accepted willingly.
“I would be loath to head into battle knowing Laffey and Javelin had received your affections in such a way without me,” she whispered as he carried her to the nearest door that led to the docks outside. Her words saw him halt and give her another, longer kiss. This one she was strong enough to receive and relish. Downes’ bravery had broken his resolve with regards to his more mature destroyers. The looming specter of death by kitsune was also a factor, if he was honest with himself. “Mein gott, Kommandant… I did not know you felt such-”
“I remember when you first came to us,” was all he said as he turned and pushed his back against the door and carried them out into the sunlight. A gleaming, sleek hull of Germanic make sat in the waters before them, devoid of any hint of siren taint. She was narrow enough to fire her torpedoes to starboard or port from two fixed quad torpedo batteries in the middle of her hull. To her stern sat depth charge launchers and other anti-submarine armaments common in the Atlantic, and her four 5.9 inch cannons completed the look. Placing Z23 on the docks, Thorson stood back as she activated her rigging and placed her hand against the cool steel. Atop her mast appeared an ancient flag, one Thorson only knew from his studies of the wars of the European continent, the North German War Ensign. “How long since that flag has flown?” he couldn’t help but wonder.
“1919, mein Kommandant,” she replied sadly. “That was the year my people’s spirit was broken. They still believe the Fuhrer commands them… we would never recover if they knew the truth.”
“About the sirens?”
“Ja, Kommandant. If it is too much I can-”
“I think it suits you far better than Akashi and Fusou’s splinter faction colors, Zed,” Thorson assured her.
“It is a shame that the Ironblood and Union were never allies. Such a force would be unstoppable,” Zed insisted quietly, her expression one of contemplation as opposed to practical conquest.
“Maybe that’s for the best then, at least until we face the sirens directly. I know we have to fight this battle first, but I haven’t forgotten what they did to you and the others. I’ll help them if I can, Lord willing.” Zed took his hand.
“Danke, for standing by me until I was ready to stand on my own again, Kommandant. You should go and be seen among the rest of your fleet. I will take her to sea and begin maintenance drills at once.”
“Don’t be late for dinner Zed, that’s an order,” Thorson commanded, removing her beret and ruffling her hair softly. She smiled and took her headgear from him before turning back to her reforged vessel.
“You may call me N-Nimi, if you wish. I would never deny your orders, Kommandant. I will be alright, I promise.”
“That’s what I’m counting on out there!” Maryland shouted, walking along the narrow strip of cement dock that separated the lab’s dry-dock from the building itself. She laughed at the expression on Thorson’s face. “Don’t worry, I didn’t hear anything. Two of you look cute together though. Commander, I’m going to spend some time getting to know my battle partner one on one. Do as she says and run along now?”
“You big seven are something else,” Thorson laughed, straightening his cap.
“And tomorrow you’ll be happy you have us, sir. See you for dinner. Let’s go, little one.”
“Of course, Maryland. Allow me to show you around my armaments, radar, and sonar,” Zed agreed with pride in her voice that could only be described as German, leading the battleship onward. Thorson was left behind to appreciate the ship as it let out a blast on its horn and took to the sea, the dry-dock filling itself thanks to the prompt action of the bulin crews. He didn’t know how to describe the worry in his chest, but he thought it might be something close to the sorrow of a father sending his son off to war.
“Godspeed, Nimi.”
-----
“Tono-sama, it is good to see you,” Fusou said quietly from her seat atop one of the cushions on the sheltered deck that oversaw the rest of the onsen. She was quickly drowned out by Yuudachi and company, who reacted quite strongly to Thorson’s state of dress. The three destroyers were doing their nails along with their battleship counterparts.
“Yamashiro-san, I can smell him all over you, you know? And please stay still. Shikikan, can you not walk around with your chest out like that. It makes this difficult!” Shigure insisted as Yamashiro moved her fingers in an effort to turn at the waist and catch a glimpse of Thorson’s towel-clad figure. He nodded to his battleships.
“Just following Akashi’s rules, no shirt no shoes for me at least. Can’t just snap my fingers and summon a pair of swim trunks like you lot. This looks fun.”
“Arizona-san, not you too nanoda!” Yukikaze groaned, watching the Union battleship’s face soften and eyes sparkle as she let her gaze run over Thorson’s war-forged body.
“Oh my sweet little Yukikaze, when you’re grown and you find the right man you’ll understand too. Would you like a bow in white, red, or black? We have plenty of colors to choose from,” Arizona asked caringly. She brushed Yukikaze’s short, snowy hair as the Sakura destroyer sat between her legs, looking over silk ribbons to accentuate her look.
“Yukikaze the Great does not need a man, nanoda! But she would like this black ribbon please,” the kitten requested, holding out a black strip of fabric trimmed with white lace. Arizona leaned over and pecked the girl on her head, the teardrop hairpin she’d received from Yamashiro months before glinting brightly in the late afternoon sun. “He he heeee~” Yukikaze tittered, closing her eyes and relenting against the onslaught of Arizona’s kind attentions. Nearby, Yuudachi and Pennsylvania had no such compunctions.
“You thinking what I’m thinking, pup?”
“Meat. Tasty looking meat, wan~!” Yuudachi replied immediately, licking her chops as she and Penny looked at Thorson. Fusou couldn’t help a giggle as Thorson proved more adept at handling open affection from his ships than when he’d first opened up to the idea.
“I like the green. It matches your eyes,” he said to Pennsylvania before turning to Yuudachi. “And that’s quite the colorful ensemble you have there.”
“Do you like it, Shikikan?” The snow white inu asked happily, almost flashing the entire crew as she hopped up quickly, her breasts bouncing as she held out her nails for him to examine. They were a mix of pink and baby blue. On another girl they’d be gaudy, but they seemed to fit Yuudachi quite well. He gave her a firm pat between the ears.
“I do. It’s perfect for you. Glad to see you’re all making the most of this time. Now why don’t you finish up with Penny, yeah? She deserves to look good too, right?”
“Wan~! Pennsylvania-san, can we take him to bed together tonight?”
“Nope. If I’m spending a night with him he’s mine and mine alone. You work up the courage yourself if that’s what you want. Now get back here and paint my left hand, would you?”
“Okay! Maybe later, Shikikan!” Yuudachi told him, returning to her cushion and nail polish as Thorson allowed himself a relieved laugh and sat next to Fusou. She readily leaned against him and inhaled.
“Shigure is right, tono-sama. I can smell my sister all over you. It will take days to come off.”
“N-Nee-san!” Yamashiro squeaked as Shigure wiggled her armored ears.
“You should not have taken him so many times if you were going to be embarrassed about it,” Fusou replied serenely. “Though somehow I doubt he minded?”
“Way to put me on the spot, Fusou,” Thorson said quietly, wrapping an arm around her plush waist and making sure she knew he’d absolutely not had his fill of Fusou-class battleships in his bedroom. “For now I just want to make sure everyone’s alright.”
“See for yourself,” the shrine maiden insisted, gesturing to the pools beyond. The kitchen staff and other Asashio class sisters were clustered together in the water having a polite conversation. Ark Royal could be seen in a one piece suit, taking each of the flavored kittens for their turn at swimming. Mutsuki and Mikazuki were sitting at the side of the pool, splashing their feet in the warm water as Ark supported Kisaragi’s belly and instructed her in freestyle.
“She’s really good with them,” Thorson said quietly, unable to help but consider shipgirls as mothers. He’d already taken many as lovers; it was the natural progression of things.
“She is indeed. Tomorrow will be trying for them,” Fusou observed sadly.
“We won’t let them hit the island,” he promised, earning nods of approval from destroyers and battleships alike.
“Someone has to put Akagi and Kaga in their place,” Shigure insisted. “Their aims were noble, but they sacrificed too much, and were too willing to sacrifice others.” Following that surprisingly mature proclamation from the black dog morph, Yamashiro hugged her tightly.
“Have faith in tono-sama. He will see us through.”
“Not like I have much of a choice at this point. I defected to come find you, remember? With Yuudachi and Yuki gone that Sanctuary was awful. Now stay still please, so I can finally finish your fingers and we can move onto your toes. Oh don’t blush so much! I’m sure he saw your toes and a whole lot more when you two were breeding like cats!”
“Quiet with the little ones around,” Fusou insisted sternly with a whip of her thin, black tail.
“Haha, baka-inu,” Yukikaze teased, only to have Arizona pinch her cheek just hard enough to be uncomfortable.
“Bad kitty,” she chided softly. When Yukikaze’s lower lip began to quiver, Arizona took her into a surrounding embrace and kissed her ears. “There there, I still love you, little one. It’s just good to be polite to our friends. Here, let’s get this bow on so you can look your best for the battle tomorrow. There we go!”
Thorson gave them all a broad smile as order and peace was restored, with Yuudachi standing up to brush Penny’s hair. Even the usually stoic battleship seemed happy to indulge in her feminine side around him and her friends. He couldn’t help but point it out. “We’ve come a long way since that night you arrived here,” he told her. She nodded.
“And the journey has only begun, sir.”
“Hey Michishio, can we have meat for dinner?” Yuudachi wondered loudly. The shrine maiden’s manjuu chirped happily and she nodded. “Hooray! Wan~!”
“Yeah, would be a shame to have it all end now,” Thorson agreed.
-----
Following a wonderful spread at dinner, testament to hard work by Fredrick and the girls, the base finally descended into peaceful tension. The afternoon’s frolicking gave way to training and meditation, with Downes, Tennessee, and many others sparring hand to hand around the Union dorm’s annex. Fusou, Yamashiro, and many other Sakura left for the shrine to pray to the gods for victory. Some shipgirls, like Minneapolis, simply headed out to their hulls, wanting to settle in before the battle. Knowing he was very unlikely to find sleep that night, Thorson headed back to the onsen. While the view of his girls in towels and bathing suits was certainly easy on the eyes, the sound of running water, the view of steam and lanterns in the night, and the softness of the cushions Akashi had provided all recommended the onsen as more than just a place to see and be seen. When he emerged from the men’s room he found a pair of white rabbit ears popping out from behind the rocks that lined parts of the onsen’s border.
“Hey Laffey,” he called quietly, smiling as they twitched and she turned to face him. She hummed and stood, completely unfazed as he looked at her naked body, glistening with water and moonlight.
“Commander has come to spend the night with his first love, yes yes,” Laffey declared, collecting her towel and flask. She tied it around her chest and concealed her matured form from him once more, proof of her retrofit. Silently she followed him up to the lounge area and promptly sat in his lap. After a swig, she offered him the flask.
“How could I ever forget my first ship,” he whispered, feeling the burn of warm bourbon slip down his throat. “This is it for tonight. We can’t be drunk tomorrow morning, or hungover.”
“Laffey understands well, yes yes. Commander yearns to defeat the evil foxes and their fleets. Laffey will assist.”
“Thanks,” he murmured, kissing the back of her head and leaning back against one of the pillars that held up the structure. Laffey took the opportunity to press herself back against him.
“Does Commander ever wonder why Laffey has not sought him out at night?” she asked, displaying a maturity he was unaware she possessed.
“No.”
“Why, Commander?”
“That’s why,” he said quietly pointing to two figures that had just entered the onsen from the women’s showers. Javelin was gleefully leading Zed by the hand towards the warm water. As they approached, the former allowed her towel to fall away from her lithe, evasive body freely. She hopped into the water and sighed happily as it enveloped and soothed her. Zed was left standing nearby, holding her towel tightly to her figure. Thorson smiled thinly. “She’s come a long way.”
“Laffey loves Zed and Javey. She is afraid we will face Ayanami tomorrow, yes she is.” The bunny took another swig as Zed finally stepped into the pool, quickly removed her towel and dropped the rest of the way so as to not expose herself. Javelin laughed anew and hugged her, complimenting her on her bravery and figure before pointing to Thorson and Laffey. The Ironblood almost fainted on the spot.
“If we can avoid her, we will. You know I don’t want to kill them… not her at least,” Thorson promised. Laffey nodded.
“But she may try to kill Commander, and Laffey cannot have that, no no. This cannot be the last night Laffey sleeps together with Commander and her friends.”
“And who decided that?” he wondered, taking another swig. Without warning Laffey turned and kissed him hard, claiming her share of the alcohol before pulling away to look at him with sleepy, red eyes.
“Laffey decided when Zed decided to fight again, yes yes.”
“Mission accomplished,” Thorson sighed with relief, resting his head back against the wooden beam. Laffey nodded in agreement before returning to her position and taking another sip.
“Mission accomplished, yes yes. Laffey and her Commander have a new mission now. Laffey is stronger. Laffey is wiser. Laffey is drunker. Laffey is ready, yes she is.”
“Then I’ll be taking that,” Thorson declared, snatching the flask away, capping it, and tossing it towards a nearby kotatsu. Laffey didn’t have time to protest before both his arms wrapped around her. The trade was adequate, and by the time Javelin and Zed finished their soak and joined them she was fast asleep. A quick rearranging of cushions later, the three girls were snuggled soundly under a kotatsu along with Thorson. Though his nerves mounted and grew with each passing moment, the sounds of the island at night and the soft breathing of the girls who trusted him lulled his eyelids closed with the help of the bourbon. And so on the eve of Midway, even Andrew Thorson found sleep.
-----
“Hey, nee-san?”
“What is it, Hiryuu?”
“Is it wrong that tonight feels… beautiful?”
“You aren’t often known for sentimentality, little sister.”
“Can’t help it. Tomorrow, no, it’s surely long after midnight. Today there will be fire, blood, and chaos. Today we finish what we started back in December. But for now, the moon is beautiful. Watching it set in the west as the sky begins to turn red in the east? There’s nowhere I’d rather be right now.”
“The world has seemed… brighter, these last few days. But do not allow it to cloud your focus. Ready your talismans and cards. This will be the greatest game of hanafuda we ever play.”
“I’m as ready as I’ve ever been, Soryuu-nee. We’ll secure victory for the Sakura today. We’ll fulfill our destiny!”
“Yes… yes we will.”
“The time for preparation is over. This is Akagi of the first carrier division! All carriers ready your aircraft. All ships prepare for battle! Our first target is the airfields at Midway.”
-----
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We Discovered a New Island in the Pacific Ocean. I'd Rather Die than Go Back There [Part 2]

Part 1
“Spetsnaz,” Simonov repeated, patiently explaining to the team. “They were Soviet... and later Russian special forces. Think of them like your US Marines.”
“So what in the name of all that is unholy is a Commie Spetsnaz helmet doing way out in the glowing tunnel underneath the island that only just appeared on the face of the Earth a couple weeks ago?” Wagner grilled him, perhaps a bit too hard considering he seemed just as confused as the rest of us.
“I don't know man. Who knows if it's even real? Normally they don't even print words on the side of the helmet like that.”
“We've been monitoring this island like a hawk ad nauseam ever since the Hall tsunami and we would know whether some deranged Russians tried to sneak past us, which means only one thing. It looks like the Russians were here at some point before us.”
“Hey,” I interceded attempting to calm the situation. “Let's just keep on moving, obviously he doesn't know any more than the rest of us, is that really important right now? And besides, I think I see something else up there as well,” I told him, pointing up about 20 feet ahead of us.
I swept aside my pity for Simonov, who, in my eyes, was an unjust target of scrutiny because of his nationality, and carried on down the tunnel while grasping the Spetsnaz helmet a good foot away from my body, not wanting to further contaminate any artifacts found here, but I quickly realized that wouldn't be much of an issue. My head turned towards the floor as my lamp shone upon the abundance of strange items littering the floor of the cave, which at this point I was questioning was even a cave at all.
A helmet here, radio there, body armor, boots, gas masks and more were strewn across the ground in a haphazard fashion. Their condition was congruent with or more deteriorated than the helmet we had stumbled across only minutes earlier and almost appeared to be... digested? For the helmets I saw on the ground, they appeared to be irreparably rusted, while the body armor and uniforms had massive patches missing or severely eaten away, leaving only fibrous strings gingerly holding the pieces together. Whether it was due to natural degradation or some kind of chemical process seen only in this unearthly cavern, I couldn't tell for sure because this wasn't exactly my line of expertise.
“What the hell....” I muttered as I sifted through the remains of some god-forsaken mission, consisting of helmets, gloves, vests, pants and jackets.
As I coughed out the foul air after my brief jog, nearly gagging on it's stench this far into the tunnel, I called out to the rest of the crew to further investigate
“Winter accessories...” Simonov muttered, shuffling through the fatigues. “Perhaps they were washed in by the tide.”
It didn't take me long to realize he was right. All of the items of clothing we found there, and there were a good amount, seemed to be suited for Arctic training, combat, exploration; whatever it was those poor Ruskies were doing on this god-forsaken rock in the first place. Scanning over the clothing myself I quickly realized that they were, in fact, of Russian origin, and almost all them were eroded or shredded beyond repair.
Once Simonov was done riffling through the remains of our doomed predecessors, he placed what he was carrying into my arms and turned back towards the rest of the group.
“I think we should be leaving now,” Simonov advised, wiping the grime from his hands onto his shorts.
“I second that,” agreed Perez, who by now was backing up towards the end of the pack.
We practically jogged back the way we came, eager to escape the lost passage from hell, although I wasn't all too thrilled with having to carry the... artifacts we discovered . The walls of the pathway seemed to be growing brighter and brighter by the second, bathing our faces in the luminous azure hue, while simultaneously, they appeared to be vibrating and undulating faster and faster. I couldn't bare to look at them, and kept my eyes focused on my feet and the bundles of Soviet contraband.
Normally I'd be fascinated by the discovery of this mold or algae-like mire that coated the walls and would be itching to give a further inspection to this as-of-yet undiscovered life form, if it really was alive at all, but something about the coursing blue lines mimicking veins simply did not sit well with me, and in the moment I prioritized living over curiosity.
“Fucking run!” Wagner shouted, as we nearly broke into a full-on sprint.
Sweat was now pouring off my face in buckets, absolutely coating my back, chest, arms and even crotch, mingling with the seawater that had yet to completely dry from our earlier stint through the shallows. I was never one to be a record-setter for the hundred yard dash, especially uphill with a backpack full of supplies and arm-full of garments, but the adrenaline coursing through my body made me feel light as a feather.
I was suddenly jolted to reality as I roughly slammed into something large and unwieldy. Simonov didn't even look back at me after our collision, but I certainly looked up at him.
“Why'd you stop?” I asked, moving around him to get a better look, but no one responded and they didn't need to.
What stood in front of us was a rounded clump of bright blue goop which seamlessly melded into the walls around us.
The opening to the cave was sealed off so smoothly and so uniformly, that it was almost as if it was never even there at all. It took us a few minutes of deliberation before agreeing to continue into the cavern, hoping against hope that another exit could be discovered on another part of the island (or whatever this place was). Sofia was rather adamant about staying behind alone at the now walled off cave entrance in case it opened back up again, but after some convincing I managed to get her on the bandwagon with the rest of us.
Our retreading of the path was far more solemn and quiet than the first time around and by this point I had already discarded what I was holding, figuring our lives were more important than some Soviet relics and shockingly, the walls had ignited to a vibrant neon blue, rendering our headlamps completely obsolete, which most of us had turned off anyway to conserve battery. I still saw the same strange patterns pulsating across the cavern's interior and it still gave me the same unnerving feeling when I first saw them.
As we trotted along, noticeably more jittery than at any point since we first landed here, I began to spot them. Deep inside the glowing translucent walls of the cavern there were what looked like small black patches strewn haphazardly here and there. I pointed them out first to Simonov, and then the rest of the crew, not even bothering to speculate as to what they might be. As we furthered our decent both deeper into the island and deeper beneath the surface I found out that they were not patches nor were they small as I first ascertained upon my initial glance, but rather globules of free-floating reddish-black objects.
They seemed to be getting closer and closer to the surface the longer we walked, and after walking for what I estimated to be 500 yards, they were practically bulging out of the walls, creating a strange and unsettling contrast with the rest of the tunnel. Wagner was about to poke at one of the strange dark pockets embedded on the right side of the wall with his machete when Simonov grabbed his arm.
“Don't even,” Simonov warned, and Wagner looked at him with a look of understanding on his face, appearing thankful that someone stopped him from such a reckless act.
Whatever it was, messing with the ecosystem in this alien environment was likely not a very splendid idea, considering that the contraction of our previous entrance may or may not have been related to the acupuncture Simonov performed on the side of the tunnel.
After another 15 minutes of walking or so the dark pockets began to peter out, but we made what was possibly the most shocking discovery of the day. As the walls of the tunnel began to widen out and the ceiling started to slope upwards, we came upon the mouth of what seemed to be an even bigger cavern than the one we were in.
The glowing blue jelly was relegated to the roof hundreds of feet above us in this massive cavern, raining down light almost like an artificial sky which stretched as far as we could see. The reason our vision was impended was due to a plethora of large rocks and stone structures that expanded nearly to the edge of our eyesight, perhaps further. The ground also seemingly morphed from the smooth faux-organic material from earlier in the tunnel to dirt and red rock not unlike that found on the surface.
But by far, the main star of the show was the number of large stone pillars that lay across this place, some standing upright, others leaning on each other, but most completely flat along the ground or crumbled into dust and mixing with the ashen earth at their bases, and I wondered if they could quite possibly be related to the red stone spires we discovered on the surface. Without saying a word, I ran to the lip of this new cavern's entrance and started to half-sprint/half-slide down the hill that remained our only obstacle between this new mystery to be unraveled and as I grew closer it became very clear that these structures were not at all similar to those found on the surface, as rather than tapering off into points near the top, these appeared more as rounded columns of stone, although I was still too far away to make out for sure.
Sofia was quick behind me and by this point had completely ditched the heavy rucksack at the top of the hill, although in a cloth she still carried the heavy metal instrument that Simonov had used to puncture the cave wall earlier, clearly not feeling entirely comfortable with putting it back in the bag with the rest of her belongings.
“These pillars...” I inquired while gesturing to the abundant stones. “What do you think they're made of?”
“Hard to say, dolomite? Limestone maybe?” She responded, engrossed in the rocks and sediment deposited at the base of one particular column which was around 4 feet wide and as for how tall it was, I couldn't begin to guess, but it didn't quite reach the ceiling of the cavern.
The rest of the team had followed us down the embankment but their attention was set elsewhere as I could see Allen picking up some stone fragments from the ground.
“Hey Singh,” Allen shouted to where he and his wife were inspecting a rough patch of Earth. “What do you figure of this here stone? You're Sou'frican, right? The pattern on it looks to be of some kind of African origin to me. I mean, my first guess was alien, but I guess anything's possible.”
“Well hold on now, just because I'm from Africa doesn't mean that I know about all of African anthropology,” Singh started while Allen grew closer with his find.
He handed it over and the 3 of them began to study what looked like to me to simply be a small concave stone fragment.
“Actually...” began Kekana, grasping the stone in her hands. “It is African: Egyptian as a matter of fact. Or at least it's based on the style of pottery found during the Late Period of ancient Egyptian history, or perhaps the Ptolemaic dynasty.”
“Egyptian!?” I suddenly interjected in a voice a bit too high-pitched and squeaky than I would've liked. “How could ancient Egyptians made it way out here to the Pacific when, for all we know, this island could've been underwater? And what's up with the columns? Are they Egyptian too?”
“Not Egyptian...” Singh trailed off, sliding his bare hand across the subtly ribbed surface of a nearby pillar. “They look to be Greek actually.”
At this point, my head was spinning. How in the world could ancient Egyptians or Greeks have made it to the bio-luminescent cavern of a lost island in the middle of the Pacific ocean? I thought to myself.
Allen spoke up and gathered us around for what he proclaimed was an important revelation that he guaranteed would “completely blow our minds”.
“Look...” he began with more confidence than I had ever seen him wield. “I have a theory, and I want you to take it seriously,” he continued with the most stern of expressions; eyebrows furrowed and eyes squinted. “It's going to sound a bit outlandish, but is it any more outlandish than the things we've seen since we arrived on this island?”
“Just get it out there,” barked Wagner.
“ You see, thousands and thousands of years ago, the Greeks wrote about a place like this,” he began. “Plato chronicled an entire city on an island that vanished overnight. I believe that this is that island and we're in that city.”
“So you're saying we're in-” I started before being interrupted.
“-Atlantis, precisely. I think that if we continue snooping around here we'll find more and more evidence to support my theory. Everything lines up so far, only I don't believe that the city sunk into the ocean. I think the city sunk into the ground, and then the island went into the ocean.”
“Oh really? Then how do you explain the Soviet fatigues? Winter fatigues nonetheless? And what hell is Atlantis doing way out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Shouldn't it be in the Atlantic Ocean considering it's name?”
“Here's what I think, you can take it or leave,” Allen continued while beginning to pace back and forth around the pillars. We all stared at him dutifully. “This place, this landmass, it clearly didn't just pop into existence the other week during our nation's worst tsunami in history. How do you figure it got here? And in pristine condition too?” He looked around the group and locked eyes with me in particular. “That's right, it was moved here from somewhere else. I don't think this is a natural island at all, just look at that tunnel we just came out of and the glowing ceiling above our heads. I think that this place is a vessel, a vessel that came from out of this world,” Allen concluded looking somewhat satisfied with his brusque dissertation.
The group fell silent before immediately erupting into a squabble of accusations of absurdity on the part of Allen, who stood unfazed by our mockery, completely content with his proud logic. Singh and Kekana hypothesized that perhaps the island was settled by ancient Greek or Roman sailors who got lost on the way to India or elsewhere in Asia, Sofia was still occupied with studying the structures and rubble that towered over us and said that she couldn't tell how old they were due to unnatural erosion patterns, but it could've been anywhere from hundreds to thousands of years old and she assured us it certainly didn't look like a hoax to her.
“Stop wasting our time with your Discovery channel bullshit theories,” Wagner cut us all off. “This place wasn't created by Aliens, but it does however have Ruskie fingerprints all over-”
Wagner ended his sentence abruptly as most of us took sight of something slithering around the pillars around 40 ft away from our circle; something that could only be described as... alien.
Wagner and Perez immediately stepped forward, guns raised, as out from between two faded tan pillars the thing stepped out, or more aptly, splashed out from the shadows. Between the duller bright blue lights shining from the ceiling and the light from our head beams we were able to make out the same reddish-black blob that we encountered cocooned in the gelatinous walls of the tunnel.
It had a somewhat smooth and rough surface, but the best way to describe it would be if ferrofluid was being stretched in all directions simultaneously while attempting to locomote in any given direction. As this curious, horrid creature began to slink from between the pillars we noticed it left behind a thin inky black trail in it's wake and it let out the most horrid combination of clicking, chirping and scuttling noises; something I found akin to nails on a chalkboard, and which I found quite odd since I couldn't spot a single orifice or organ on the creature with the exception of slimy black tendrils which shot out and attached to any and all neighboring objects within a foot radius around it, including the neighboring pillars and the ground.
As it grew nearer and nearer, the creature seemed to change from an amorphous ever-shifting blob into a more humanoid shape, albeit extremely unshapely and crude to say the least. It almost looked like what a 3 year old would draw when attempting to portray their family members in their preschool art class, and it would appear that the subterfuge was failing as parts of it's gooey, black, outstretched “arms” began to drip down and plop onto the ground before being reabsorbed by it's wobbly, stumbling “legs”.
Unlike in most horror movies, the soldiers that were with us weren't stupid enough to attempt contact with this dripping maroon madness or do something asinine like order it to halt. We all had a common understanding that this thing was not human and likely did not have the best intentions for us. Wagner took the lead, turning off the safety for his rifle and opening fire on the monstrosity at around 10 yards with quite stellar accuracy before Perez joined in.
The shots were definitely hitting their mark as black gunk exploded out from behind the creature, peppering the wall and pillars in it's wake, but just at that very moment it lurched forward, moving quickly almost as if it was leaping across the ground in an extremely fluid motion. Surprisingly, it went for Perez first, completely vaulting into the poor man's chest and knocking him and his rifle to the ground as the rest of us scattered, shrieking in terror.
The creature stood over the downed man, almost as if it were inspecting him, before one of the dripping fluid tendrils of god knows what snaked down from it's “arm” and directly into Perez's chest, clearly knocking the wind out of him rendering him unable to even scream. But something certainly did escape from his mouth just then, a combination of bright crimson blood mixed in with the creature's own disgusting dark fluid, with the two mingled, before it becoming clear that the fluid was the dominant substance being released from Perez's outstretched mouth, all the while Wagner released the rest of his clip into it's side.
I only managed to get a brief look at this while fleeing to the right at the tail end of the remaining crew, but Wagner continued to shoot with his AR, quickly running out of ammunition and switching to a Beretta, putting round after round into where he assumed the creature's head would be. At this point, the creature's “head” lifted up from it's latest victim and pointed it's faux-arm in Wagner's direction, shooting out a spray of dark tendrils directly into the top right quadrant of the soldier's face, completely flooring him within seconds and sending his Beretta flying out of his hand and into our general direction.
Against my better judgment, I halted while the crew continued on running. As fast as I could, and while the creature was distracted with hovering over it's prey, I sprinted towards the carnage and without skipping a beat, leaned down, picked up the pistol and started once more in the opposite direction, unfortunately gaining the creature's attention as I did so. Although I had a lead of a good 30 feet I knew it could cover ground fast, and in a fit of testosterone-fueled fury I pumped my legs like an Olympic sprinter, knowing that this time, it really was a matter of life and death if I wasn't quick enough.
Shockingly, at this pace it actually didn't take me too long to nearly catch up to the rest of the group, although still at the back, and I turned around and saw, to my horror, that the creature was now joined by 2 others, all of them moving in that mesmerizing yet horrific manner of sliding and splashing along the ground. As I witnessed the creatures swim through the air towards us in all their twisted glory between the clicks and hisses and wet slaps of their fluid tendrils along the ground I heard one speak in what I could only describe at the time as nothing other than an alien language.
“Pommoomi ooobimeennaa,” one gargled out in a horrific display. “Pozallllluuuusssst-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t,” said another, the ending of what I assume to be it's word morphing into a distorted ungodly clicking pattern.
Although horribly obscured, I could still tell that the sounds the creatures were emitting were without a doubt some kind of language, a fascinating, albeit somewhat irrelevant discovery considering the more pressing matters at hand.
This distraction almost cost me my life as I had failed to notice the rest of the group splitting off and it was only after a few more seconds of me blindly running forward with my eyes dead set on the abominations that I heard Simonov cry out.
“Over here my friend!”
I turned and saw that the entirety of the group had diverted and entered a small hole that appeared up in the wall on the right side of this gargantuan cavern, and I started making a beeline up the steep hill that led up to this newly discovered tunnel. I spat and whined and gibbered and cursed the entire time during my ascent up the treacherous terrain littered with gravel and stones of varying size, knowing that one trip would spell out certain death, but if I could only just regroup with the rest of the crew in the newfound tunnel, perhaps it could lead to some kind of safety.
However, I peered up and saw that the entrance to this new tunnel was very quickly beginning to contract from the outside-in, closing in with a material not unlike that we stumbled upon at the entrance of the very cave that trapped us in this hell, and hence my brain furiously sent signals down to my legs to drastically pick up their pace, even if I already felt like they were about to snap at any second.
I propelled myself head-first up and into the contrasting opening, that, by now was only a few feet in diameter, and I almost felt like I'd look back to see oozing dark maroon tendrils grabbing my leg and dragging me back into the fray, but thankfully I landed on the others side, frantically scrambling deeper on my hands and knees, hacking up the stench that was coating my lungs.
I looked back and saw that one of the creatures had shoved it's head into the opening, which by this time was the size of a basketball.
”Ooobay meenaaaa!” The creature croaked out in the most horrific of displays.
I saw Kekana, Singh and Sofia clutching their faces in terror, right before Simonov, wielding the metal rod from earlier, smashed it directly into the head of this abomination, sending a spray of inky gunk flying out of the hole, leaving nothing but black and red residue to slide down the now solid wall of flesh that had closed us in yet another catacomb.
“I knew I shouldn't have signed up for this man!” Allen repeated to himself, pacing back and forth. “Why on Earth did I ever trust the government in the first place? They probably weren't even planning on giving me my payout, and now I'm fucking dead man!”
“Allen, stop panicking and get a hold of yourself!” Simonov shouted, grabbing his shoulders and vigorously shaking him back to the moment.
“Let him stay here and rot with his aliens,” Singh stated, strapping up his boots and standing up. “We're getting the hell out of here. Mankind was never meant for a place like this.”
We could still hear the things -the aliens? wildly screeching, hissing and clicking from the other side of our only line of defense.
“Hey guys,” I stammered out between bouts of wheezing and coughing. “I don't know if I'm going completely screwy, but it almost sounded like those creatures were speaking to each other, like they were intelligent,” I stammered out.
“I heard it too,” Simonov assured me. “You are not crazy.”
“Yeah,” Allen chipped in. “Those aliens were probably giddily chatting with each other about which one of us looked the most tasty!”
“Those were not aliens,” Simonov insisted with a scowl across his face.
Simonov leaned against the wall for support, but immediately grimaced in disgust as I could tell that the slimy exterior of the wall was quickly oozing through his shirt and likely coating his back.
“Man, I've seen this enough times to know where this is going,” Allen whimpered, clearly letting fear completely take control of his mind at this point.
“This isn't a movie,” I assured him, more to comfort myself than anyone else. “We're not going to die and we will find a way out of here.”
“Those aliens just killed our only protection! We're fucked!” Allen shouted.
“For Christ's sake, they are NOT aliens, you buffoon!” Simonov blurted out with a raised voice, now noticeably aggravated.
“Oh yeah? And how can you be so sure?”
“Because that wasn't an alien language they were speaking...” Simonov began as his eyes drifted to the ground. “It was Russian.”
“Help me... Please... Help me,” Simonov translated solemnly, taking in a deep breath and pausing for a second before finishing. “...Kill me.”
The dread was now palpable on the face of every surviving crew member, especially Allen, although Singh and Kekana expressed more of what seemed to be worry.
“My Russian is not as good as my Ukrainian ever since I left my home country 20 years ago, but the languages are very similar and I could clearly make out the words after the 4th or 5th time they were spoken... or however it was that those things were able to make those sounds.”
However incredulous it sounded that those things, those unholy freaks of nature, could make a cheap mimicry of a language, an actual human language, I had to believe it since I had heard it for myself.
“But those things...” I began. “They're not human. There's no way they could be.”
“Maybe not anymore, but I think this answers our question of what happened to the missing crew- the Soviets,” Simonov replied. “I nearly hesitated back there when it almost came through the hole after us once I heard it speak.”
We had begun walking down the tunnel by this point and by looking at Simonov's face, even in the thick humid air and radiant blue lights that surrounded us, I could tell that he was completely drained of any color, and I would take a guess that if I had a mirror that I would see the same in my own face. Sofia was practically clinging onto us, more so Simonov than myself, but careful not to stray more than a couple feet away after that horrific display we had witnessed.
“You think that really is them?” I inquired. “What could possibly turn a man into an animated mass of petroleum? Plus, we saw them in the walls earlier, I'm sure you noticed that.”
“They could still be aliens!” Allen shouted from ahead of us, but both of us ignored him, seeing the serious psychological toll this experience was having on him.
I had noticed a distinct bend in the trail we had been walking on for the past couple hours and it almost seemed to circle back around. I had seriously hoped that we weren't just being led in circles or going further into this nightmarish realm. Simonov was still grasping the large metal instrument he had used to secure our first act of retaliation on the creatures, while I had tucked Wagner's Beretta into the front of my waistband, which I have to admit was remarkably uncomfortable, despite what television shows would have you believe.
After rounding a particularly sharp bend in the path, an opening to another cavern was quickly becoming clear, only this one was definitely not the same one we had just left since I would estimate we were a good 20 or 30 yards deeper underground than when we first started walking. Although smaller, the layout to this cavern was very similar to the former and similarly, I immediately spotted more stone structures, only these were far more recognizable as actual buildings and had less damage done than the ones from above. We cautiously poured out from the tunnel, rapidly missing whatever false sense of security it had provided for us and peered around the ruins. I spotted a glimmer in the dim blue light being emanated from the ceiling and saw, much to my surprise, that is was a machete.
“I can't believe there's more Greek structures here.” Singh stated, somewhat lost in the moment. “This has got to be the most fantastic anthropological discovery in the history of the world.”
“I'm not going to lie, discovery isn't really a huge concern of mine right now,” I quipped back at him, reminding him of our ever-so precarious situation.
That's when I spotted it; a large figure around 50 ft away in the ruins, wearing those familiar tan and green military fatigues. I dashed over and confirmed my suspicions when I saw a disheveled Wagner leaning away from us against a large stone wall, and I couldn't believe he was still alive.
“Wagner? Holy shit!” I shouted, astounded by what I was seeing.
The figure then turned to face us revealing a scene that can only be described as a living nightmare.
“Holy shit man!” I repeated, only the tone and emphasis of my words expressed an entirely different attitude than before.
The upper right portion of Wagner's face had bloated to extreme levels you wouldn't expect to see outside of an emergency room. Thick black veins ran up and around the new growth on his head, trailing down to other parts of his face, neck and lord knows where else. His eyes had taken on a cloudy sheen but I could still make out bloodshot sclera, only instead of red veins, they were closer to black in color, matching that found on his face. Dark fluid leaked out of every orifice, leaving trails of shadowy liquid smeared across his face, hands and uniform, and what parts of his skin I could see that weren't covered in bulging black veins or the oily substance took on the pallor of a corpse.
“Jesus, Wagner, what happened to you? Where's Perez?”
“Perez? Perez who?” Wagner hoarsely replied before getting his bearings. “Oh, the little guy! They grabbed him already, but he's fine.”
The rest of the group had approached now, their head's cocked in confusion, only with terrified expressions plastered on their faces as well, clearly overshadowing the puzzlement.
“What? Who? Who took him!?”
“Anyways, has anyone seen my car keys?” Wagner droned on, completely ignoring my questions, seemingly in a daze. “My arm has been killing me and I think I really gotta go see my doc-”
He interrupted his own sentence after being wrapped up in a raucous coughing fit, ending by wiping his mouth with his sleeve, leaving a trail of black ooze smeared across his face.
“Wagner, we're going to take you to see a doctor, I promise, but first we have to get off of this island.”
“Island?” he rasped in a quizzical manner. “No, no, no, no, I came back from the island weeks ago...” His face suddenly took on a look of extreme confusion. “Wha' are you guys doing in my house anyways?”
The man had positively lost his marbles, I thought, not knowing whether he was ever going to be okay again.
Wagner, pushed himself away from the wall and opened his mouth to speak, but instead of words, a volley of reddish-black tar came pouring out of his mouth like he was a freshman who had too many beers at his first house party. It pooled on the ground at his feet and Wagner lifted up his face to take a look at us, peering down and noticing what I was holding in my hand. I can't speak for the others, but I was certainly at a loss for words.
“Hey kid?” Wagner started. “What are you doing with my machet-t-t-t-t-t-t-t,” but the end of his sentence morphed into a rapid clicking sound as he attempted to eject the words from his vocal cords. I immediately took a step back in shock.
“Wha's happn-n-ning?” he let out as black slime drooled down his lips and added to the shimmering puddle.
Taking a cue from the rest of the group, I slowly started backing away with my arms outstretched in a defensive posture.
“Wagner, stay right here. We're going to come back with some help for you, okay?” Simonov stated in a lie so obvious I wondered why he even bothered in the first place.
“Wai- don' go. I don' feel very good-” was all he was able to get out right before another jet of the same reddish-black fluid shot out from his mouth in an impressive display of projectile vomiting which I had to swiftly part my feet away from to keep from getting soaked.
“Wagner, stop!” I ordered as he slowly stumbled after us in a drunken manner, although I could tell that he wasn't completely incognizant as of yet. “You need to stay here. You can't come with us right now. I don't think it's safe for the rest of the crew.”
“No, no, you have t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-to geh me out-t-t-t-t-t-ta here. Please,” Wagner wailed as his voice quickly deteriorated into a garbled mess of clicks and chirps, almost sounding like a human being attempting to imitate a cicada on a warm summer night.
He reached his arms out towards us and I noticed the oozing black blemishes that littered his skin underneath the sleeves of his arms, and I knew for a fact that I wasn't letting him anywhere near me. I looked over to the group and saw that, without a word, Sofia had already taken off and I motioned for the rest to follow her and once more we began our sprint through this cursed place. I didn't know how long my stamina would last or how long my body would put up with this before it collapsed under sheer exhaustion but that was certainly a preferable option to the alternative.
“Wai- wai-” Wagner (or at least the thing that used to be Wagner) screamed at us, running after us in a fury, the black tar dripping from his body like sweat off a star athlete.
I dodged and ducked my way through the remnants of this lost civilization, something I'm sure Allen would equate with the urban practice of parkour, and words could not express the absolute terror I felt knowing the infected Wagner was only feet behind me in this subterranean maze of horrors. The very last words he said to us while chasing us through the darkness of the ruins have stayed with me ever since.
“Don' run away! Don' run away!” Wagner screeched in a rather pitiable tone. The most disturbing aspect of it was that he didn't seem to be angry or violent or aggressive. He only seemed to be absolutely terrified like us and I imagine in an immeasurable amount of pain and suffering.
“Don' run away! Don' run aw-” he was abruptly cut off as I turned around to see him trip over a stone column that lay flat along the ground.
He broke his fall with his forearms but his face still smacked against the dusty ground, sending a wave of black ooze splattering onto the floor from his face, almost as if someone dropped a carton of milk. As he crashed to a halt in his own muck, I saw that it seemed as if his right arm had actually broken off halfway down, revealing nothing inside but the very same gunk and slime that the creatures we saw earlier were made of, which somehow kept the arm attached in one piece despite it's mangling.
Even though the threat of Wagner seemed to have been dealt with on it's own, we continued running and I knew that I for one was merely seconds away from gagging and expelling the contents of my stomach. I carried on with a combination of fear and disgust and terror... and guilt, but I rationalized to myself that there was nothing we could do for Wagner at this point. With any luck, we lucky few could escape these underground depths with our lives and never visit this island again. In fact, I planned on staying away from islands altogether in the future, maybe moving somewhere nice inland like Montana or Wyoming.
“Here!” Sofia shouted from the front of the group, pointing at another tunnel entrance in the side of the cavern.
It couldn't have been any worse than trying our luck in the Greek city with the half-dead plague man, so I hedged my bets and entered after them.
“We'll send a retrieval mission for Wagner once we get out of here,” I panted out to the group, trying to justify our monstrous actions. “Right now our priority should simply be to get out of here and let the world know what we've seen.”
But it didn't seem like anyone was absorbing my words as I saw that once more they had all come to a halt shortly in this tunnel.
“Iсус Христос...” Simonov let out, the first time I heard him speak in his mother tongue.
They gathered in a half circle facing the wall, huddled around something that seemed to be of great interest, or at least interesting enough to briefly forget about the oozified Wagner. I could tell that they were shocked by their expressions, but at this point I assumed that nothing could truly terrify me more than anything we had seen already. I was wrong.
“What? What is it?” I asked while coming up behind him and parting them aside so I could get a better look.
I took one look once I was inside the tunnel and nearly dropped the machete I was still white-knuckling from before. In the wall was a large black cocoon comprised of that all too familiar reddish-black slime, with tendrils and a patchwork of other fibers stretching out in all directions. Although buried under a few feet of the translucent slime that comprised the tunnel walls in these depths, I could still clearly make out what lied in the center of the hellish mass.
The bloated and butchered face of Perez gazed out from the substance's embrace, his mouth fixed open in a noiseless scream and glazed over eyes bulging out of their sockets.
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In 2015 I entered a haunted maze with five of my best friends and only I came out. [Part 5]

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I awoke with a start, alone but for the gentle blue-green glow around me. I didn’t immediately remember where I was, or why, but my heart raced and the primal part of my brain still hardwired for survival was on high alert. I froze where I sat, disoriented, but listening for movement. I didn’t, in that moment, know why I was frozen and listening, but a part of me screamed that it was imperative, so I listened.
It was safer to listen.
But only silence filled the cavern. The kind of silence that swells in the space where sound used to be. The kind of muffled emptiness that follows a power outage. It was as complete a silence as I had ever heard, and it lasted, unbroken, for several minutes.
In that time, memories surfaced.
Dad’s notebook.
Ben’s arm.
Being hunted in the maze.
The viney gate.
Santiago’s face.
Ben’s disappearance.
The mosaics.
The glowing arch.
The cavern.
The luminous moss.
The snorting shadow.
Being chased to exhaustion.
The exit in the wall.
I leaned out from my hiding place and looked toward the cavern wall nearest me: the wall the creature had passed through. I didn’t relish the idea of following its tracks, but the cavern was huge and I’d already lost track of where I’d entered. Who knew how many branches peeled off from the chamber I was in, or how many times those branches further split. I was already tired, sore, and hungry, and I didn’t know how long my lamp would last after hours of continual use. Following the creature through the wall made more sense to me right then than wandering in the dark, hoping I’d find some other way out did.
I slowly climbed to my feet, groaning as quietly as I could. My back ached—hell, my whole body ached. From sleeping against rocks, from helping carry Ben, probably even from going through that damn portal. Everything hurt, but I pressed on because moving helped.
And because not moving meant giving up.
I looked into the shadows in the direction the creature had disappeared, and picked my way over to the cavern wall. I was still careful to step on the moss when possible.
Just in case.
At the wall, I waited just a bit longer to make sure nothing else was with me before turning on the lantern for aid.
Cave silence isn’t like normal silence. There’s a strangeness to it, even when nothing is there to make a sound. The Earth has its own subtle voice, so even though I couldn’t say anything around me was making noise, it wasn’t like being in an anechoic chamber. It was kinda close, though, with all the stalactites and stalagmites baffling the cavern, and the glowing array of moss, but there was a quality to the silence—maybe just out of range of my ability to adequately perceive it—that kept me from hearing the obnoxious creak of my own joints as I waited.
Nothing but the sound of my own breathing penetrated the not-quite-silence. I was as certain as I could be that nothing currently stalked the cavern with me, so I turned on the lantern again.
Its light burned brightly, temporarily blinding me instead of helping, but as my eyes adjusted to the change I felt a little better. Detail and color came back to the world, if only within the radius of my lamp, and I lifted it to get a better look at the wall. Maybe there was a seam, or some kind of join that would indicate a doorway of some kind.
I didn’t see any seams. No cracks. No joins. No signs of masonry. There were no scratches on the floor from something grating across it. No unusual dust, like from stone wearing down stone in one spot. It looked like any other cavern wall, except for the complex series of petroglyphs scraped into the stone in a roughly grid-shaped pattern.
At least I assumed they were petroglyphs, though they didn’t look like any I’d seen before. Not that I was an expert. I enjoy history well enough to have some passing familiarity with the subject, and to my untrained eye they resembled petroglyphs.
The lines were sinewy and strange. They didn’t quite manage to depict anything that looked organic—no human-esque shapes, no obvious animals—just alien figures and unidentifiable silhouettes, curving and soft in awkward ways I couldn’t quite understand, and I couldn’t shake the uncomfortable dizziness I got while looking at them. “Dizziness” isn’t quite accurate, but, as with so much about that place, it was close. Looking at the symbols was like having an intense bout of vertigo, or standing still after spinning in a tire swing. I knew my equilibrium was fine, but it felt like my eyes were trying to stop the world from spinning when it wasn’t.
And that tickled a memory. A recent one.
I rummaged through my messenger bag and withdrew my dad’s notebook, flipping through the sparse pages until I found the one with similarly uncomfortable characters.
They were much as I remembered, soft and curving, straining at the periphery to leave the page. My eyes ached as I compared them to the symbols scratched into the stone.
There were five that stood out in my dad’s notes, grouped together in a pattern that came up multiple times. Looking at the same symbols on the wall, I noticed a subtle wearing of the stone, a faint sheen absent from the other symbols, like the gentle wear that came from regular rubbing.
I reached out, curious, and touched one.
Warmth spread beneath my fingers, and I felt sick.
I don’t know how to explain it. The wrongness of it. It was sudden and sinister, beyond simply startling me. That brief kiss of heat left me feeling touched. Deeply, though not in a physical sense. I felt like it had touched my soul, if there is such a thing. As if something in the stone had been made aware of me, and in that second it had reached deep inside me, brushing my soul as I had brushed the rock.
My heart raced as I jerked my hand away, and I wavered, my mind swimming with aimless panic.
Some anxious voice of reason inside me clawed at my paranoia, whispering that whatever it was lurking beneath the stone was hungry, and keenly aware of my presence. It cautioned that touching the symbols would only invite the thing closer, giving whatever it was purchase in some part of me I couldn’t adequately defend.
And I believed it. Given all I’d already been through, of course I believed it.
And I was terrified.
I glanced at my dad’s notes, letting my eyes go unfocused to avoid straining against symbols that didn’t want to be seen, and wondered … did I really need to do this? Did I really need to go this way? Nothing since the ticket booth had made any kind of sense, and every step forward had only brought on more suffering, more terror, and more exhaustion. What made me think this would be any different?
I didn’t want anything to do with those weird symbols and whatever hid behind them. I didn’t want to touch it again. But … looking around the cavern, where the darkness encroached on my thin halo of light and a wall of shadow hid the rest of the cave, I knew I didn’t have a choice. I could either swallow my fear and face whatever the glyphs invited in, or find a nice patch of moss to die on and hope dehydration wasn’t as painful as it seemed.
Heck, maybe I’d get lucky and die of starvation instead.
But that was worse. Giving up was worse than everything the maze had thrown at me. The thought of it was even worse than the nauseating memory of warmth still lingering in my fingertips.
No. I knew I didn’t have a choice. I had to keep trying, regardless of the fear, regardless of the challenges ahead. I had to try.
So, I focused on the notebook. If it was anything, I decided, it had to be a key. All of it.
Multiple pages bore these symbols—some of them scribbled in the margine like footnotes, some of them crowding the page like an essay—but more than once, dad had grouped the same five of them together. I couldn’t say I really recognized the symbols at that point, because I couldn’t even remember them enough to compare between each set, but I recognized that there was a pattern.
That had to mean something. Especially when, as far as I could tell, the glyphs on the wall and the symbols in the notebook looked like they were from the same upsetting family.
That was somewhere to start, right? Maybe it was just a matter of pattern recognition. Maybe if I could find the glyphs on the wall that matched the ones in the notebook, I could make the wall open like the creature with the cleaver had. Like entering a code on a keypad. And if that were the case, then I already had a head start because of the symbols surrounded by worn stone.
Worn stone meant regular use. And it was somewhere to start.
Of course, that was all easier said than done when I couldn’t remember the symbols. Every time I looked away from the page, I’d forget the shape of the glyph I was looking for. It was like they didn’t want to be learned. Obviously I knew they weren’t alive or self-aware, but I couldn’t shake the notion that they didn’t want me learning them.
It didn’t make sense, though. Why make a written language if it couldn’t be learned?
I mean, it was a language, wasn’t it? Communication of some kind? The symbols had to have some meaning to them, some use beyond frustrating me, but how the hell was anyone supposed to communicate with a written language that didn’t want to be learned?
I ignored the revelation nagging at me from a quiet corner of my mind. The one that somehow understood the meaning of the symbols without the ego of reason getting in the way.
Language is a social construct, it wanted to say. Understanding transcends such petty limitations.
But I didn’t want to understand. I just wanted to take another step forward, toward the freedom I hoped was somewhere on the other side of that wall.
So I changed my approach. I tried a few different memory tricks, including the old Memory Palace standby, but nothing stuck until I started describing them to myself. I took away the need to remember them and simplified their visual traits to a single word or cluster of words—snake arm, drip bulb, too long. I could remember the word clusters.
I searched the wall’s glyphs to find the ones that fit those word clusters and started making actual progress.
Still, it was tedious progress wracked with constant setbacks. Every step forward was more likely to send me back to the beginning than toward my goal. I couldn’t even memorize where they were, because, I think, it required remembering the symbol, and as soon as I looked away I’d forget the symbols and their locations.
And the damn things didn’t want to be learned.
Eventually, I fished a pencil out of my bag and drew up a rough grid on the back of a blank-ish page to keep track of the wall glyph locations.
That was my breakthrough moment. It still took me about three hours to properly map after my breakthrough (if my phone could still be trusted), but I managed to do it.
Once I had the pattern and locations mapped out, I just counted the glyphs—A5, C3, E2, B1, A1. I didn’t bother checking my work at that point. My head hurt and hunger was twisting my stomach in knots. I didn’t think food waited for me on the other side of the wall, but steady silence, hunger, and the hope I was headed toward some kind of exit made me bold.
The wall warmed beneath my fingers as I touched each symbol. I felt the unseen eyes of some colossal awareness turn on me. I felt small and insignificant.
And then I was explored.
All my thoughts, all my memories, explosively laid bare and rifled through with all the delicacy of a child sifting through someone else’s toys. Moments of joy were carelessly discarded and the cream of the worst moments of my life rose to the surface.
The last time I saw my mother’s face. At her funeral. Her skin dull and pink, flush with the imitation of life she no longer possessed. The horrifying chill of her beneath my lips as my grandmother forced me to kiss her goodbye one last time.
The carnival where I was abandoned. Screaming children. Aggressive flashes of color and light. The twisted faces of clowns and patrons blurring together. A hall of mirrors, dark and unnavigable. And me, scared and alone.
The maze. Ben’s face when his arm was trapped in the hedge. The sound of his scream echoing into eternity, resonating through me until I swore I’d shatter like glass.
And through them all, the awareness slithered through me, filled me up, pushed out all my sense of self and replaced it with its own. I was everywhere and everything. Through what passed for its eyes I saw it all. I saw glimpses of a forest full of malice distantly surrounding an abandoned farm house. I saw striped canvas tents that might have been vibrant in ages long gone, now left to rot in a field of the dead. I saw pyramids and monuments built out of dark, glistening stone outlined by a swirling green chaos of clouds and light. I couldn’t keep track of it all. Millions of images, thoughts and ideas, places, sensations. Some on Earth maybe. Some that couldn’t possibly be.
I saw it all in a single breath and screamed for my release while silence pressed against me like a second skin.
I also watched, distantly, as my hand continued to navigate the symbols on the wall, as if I still guided it, until all five glyphs had been touched.
And as my hand withdrew from the last symbol, I felt something shift. A gear in some cosmic machine clicked into place, and what I felt in that instant, as I was slammed back into the cold isolation of my own awareness, was even worse than the existential violation had been.
On a level I couldn’t even fathom, I knew something important inside me had been weighed and found worthy. I knew that opening this passage wasn’t simply a matter of touching the right symbols—that had been part of it, but for the way to open I also had to have the right, I don’t know. Essence? Soul? Or karma? Whatever it was, I felt the judgement pass through me. I felt the intimate release that said whatever criteria was measured to determine access beyond that wall, I possessed it.
And I felt the sickening liberty of acceptance.
Already my mind was closing up, shutting out the overwhelming glut of information I couldn’t even begin to process until only a few forgettably upsetting snapshots remained. The immediacy of the experience was already fading, and with it went the panic. I could recall what had happened—that it had happened—but the memories were scarring over and the dull ache of old trauma long forgotten had settled in. Within minutes, it was as if I’d heard about the experience from someone else a long time ago, and I couldn’t remember what had made me think of it now, and here of all places.
The wall slid open with barely a whisper.
Blue-green light brighter than the mosslight around me pooled at my feet. It glowed from antique braziers set in the walls to either side of a passage that looked engineered. Wider than the one I’d run down previously, it had a roughly consistent texture and an intentional rounding to the ceiling. Clear of any obvious threat or hiding place, I felt confident enough, for whatever that sentiment was worth, to step inside and approach one of the braziers, absently switching off my lantern to conserve whatever was left of the battery.
The braziers looked pretty traditional in an historical sense. The kind of thing you’d expect to find in an old castle. Baskets made of worked iron attached to short wooden staves were secured to the walls with iron brackets. But, instead of flames inside the brazier baskets, there was some kind of liquid. It reminded me of rheoscopic fluid—colored fluid with reflective mica powder mixed in to track currents. And I could see the currents beneath the glow. They swirled and danced, curling around themselves and each other like koi fish with delicate fins trailing behind them.
It was the first thing I’d encountered that didn’t immediately make my skin crawl.
Actually, it was very soothing to watch. Almost hypnotic. The longer I watched, the more I thought I saw some logic to the movement. Something beautifully intelligent, complex, and deeply important. And I knew if I kept watching I could figure it out.
I took a slow deep breath and dimly registered a problem.
I was sleepy. Zoning out. I could remember what I’d been doing, but there wasn’t any urgency behind it. The closest physical equivalent I have for comparison is “morphine sleep”. Morphine works almost too well on me and the transition between sleep and awake when I’m on it is almost seamless. I just pass from one to the other as if they’re virtually the same thing: different experiences on the same plane. But my body feels it. The slow beat of my heart. The deep, somnolent breaths. The way it feels like I could fall asleep forever, and that would be okay.
There’s trouble in that. And the fighting part of me recognized it.
I blinked rapidly, forcing my eyes wide as I sucked in a deeper breath to kickstart my system.
“Wake up, Joss,” I muttered, stepping back from the braziers and giving myself what I hoped was a quiet slap. The sound still echoed off the passage walls, but the sting helped me focus.
A chill of revulsion coursed down my spine. I hated that it still looked so peaceful and enticing. I hated that knowing the danger didn’t shatter the illusion. I wanted to look at them, I wanted to lose myself in their languid glow, but letting myself give in to enjoy that kind of peace was no different than giving up.
I forced my eyes away from the swirling liquid.
My empty stomach churned as I stared at the passage floor where the brazier light swayed across the stone with the soothing irregularity of water reflected. I loved it. And I hated it. I hated that I couldn’t even actually enjoy the way the light danced across the stone, because it was a beautiful lie. It’s beauty just served as a reminder that safety was only an illusion here. An illusion that could kill just as easily as cackling monsters, snorting shadows, or radically invasive vines. Maybe more easily, because it dulled the senses first. Robbed you of will and desire.
Even knowing that, I still wanted to give in.
Instead, I carefully looked back to the passage entrance. It had closed behind me at some point, leaving a blank wall with no visible glyphs to reopen it. That meant I only had forward to go. For better or worse.
I willed my gaze back to the ground, because at least the reflected effect didn’t compel me to lose myself in it. I could carry on in relative peace if I just stared at the ground. I couldn’t see where I was going without risking the silent siren’s call of the ethereal light, but I could keep moving, and that was something.
With my eyes dead center on the floor, I could see both walls. New paths split off at regular intervals, their openings somehow both darker than the passage I was in, and brighter. Some boasted shimmering lights of different colors—pinks and yellows and rosy-reds—but all of them swirled with the same watery reflection of the blue-green braziers. Who knew what sinister effect those other lights would have. Part of me wanted to know, to at least reach into their glow to feel the difference, but I kept my eyes where I knew the light had the least influence over me and kept moving.
I counted twenty-seven branches off that main passage before I reached the door at the end of the hall. That was a lot of ground to cover with no clear idea where anything might lead. I figured the safest bet, before rushing off into twenty-seven different flavors of unknown, was to get a solid picture of what the most straightforward path had to offer, and if that didn’t pan out then I could start systematically exploring each path.
After all, what else did I have to do with my time?
The door at the end of the hall was a masterpiece of stained glass and dark wood. I was tempted to take the time to bask in it’s beauty, but the soothing reflection of the braziers kept me focused.
Anything could kill me. Even a door.
I wanted to see what was on the other side, before I wandered the other paths, but the glass distorted the light in such a way that it may as well have been opaque. I couldn’t see what I was heading into, but my brain said it was forward progress and therefore it was better than the rest of the unknown.
But by now I wasn’t a fool. I knew a door couldn’t just be a door. Nothing was what it seemed here. At the very least, I knew that meant I had to inspect it enough to see if I could find any avoidable traps or dangers.
I searched it as thoroughly as I felt was safe—I was afraid (I think reasonably) that I’d be sucked into some new existential deathtrap I’d never really understand—but I couldn’t avoid the door if I wanted to make progress. So, I focused on the details—the vibrant panes separated by thick geometric leading; the wood frame so dark and glossy it could have been sealed in polished glass; an antique brass doorknob with a raised geometric pattern in the center.
Without taking a step back to view the whole picture, I could see nothing else of note. As far as I could tell, it was just a gorgeous stained glass door of art deco design sitting at the end of an impossible stone hallway that should have been a redwood forest in California.
I knew it was lying. It had to be. Appearances were deceptive here and had been from the start. I knew there had to be something else going on with it that made it terrible.
But, what were my options, really? Scour every branch off the hall behind me until I found something that wasn’t a lying murder thing?
Exhaustion pressed against the back of my eyes. I didn’t like how it felt to think I understood this place. Understanding it felt like letting go of reality, like some part of me was accepting this as my new reality. Maybe I was in that moment. Maybe surviving long enough to get out required a little acceptance I wasn’t ready to … accept. Regardless of my acceptance, I understood that whether I went through the door or picked another passage, I was only swapping one unknown danger for another.
So it was resignation that drew my hand to the doorknob. I guess I figured that when everything is trying to kill you, there’s no sense putting off one source of death just to go find another.
At first contact, nothing happened. I didn’t burst into flames. I wasn’t sucked into a portal. I wasn’t violated by unseen forces. All was quiet. So for a split second, I was simultaneously skeptical and hopeful. It couldn’t be this easy, I thought. But maybe …?
The brass blazed brilliant white when I finally turned the handle. I cried out in surprise. Pain exploded in my palm. I dropped the lantern and it clattered across the floor in pieces. I snatched my hand back as quickly as I could, but the damage had been done. The scent of my own still-sizzling skin assaulted my nose as I looked down at the raised geometric outline of a strange eye. It stared angrily back at me from the center of my palm, a labyrinthine spiral where the pupil and iris would have been.
“Fucking maze.” I swore through my teeth. Tears spilled down my cheeks in a mixture of pain, fury, and helplessness. I sank to my knees, favoring my new burn, and crawled into the corner where the end of the hall met the adjoining wall.
That’s where I cried.
I cried for Ben. I cried for Santiago. I cried for losing Anna, Khadijah, and Ember through the arch. I cried for what they must be going through. I cried for my hand. I cried for myself. I cried for how unfair it was. And for the first time in a long time, I cried for my dad.
I don’t know how long I was there, sobbing and screaming in the corner. Time didn’t feel real anymore. I just remember crying until I had poured out every ounce of pain, and anger, and grief. Then I sat in silence—maybe just as long, maybe longer—feeling empty and strangely whole for the first time. Completely drained, but oddly at peace.
I’ve come to understand this feeling as catharsis, but it took a lot of therapy to get there, and none of my therapists believed how it was triggered, so eventually I stopped talking about it and let them convince me it never happened. Let them convince me the catharsis had come from acceptance, and forgiveness, and blah, blah, blah.
But I remember now. I remember where I was and how it felt. Sitting in that passage, alone and miserable, and scared, and empty, and free.
I didn’t move again until after I’d registered the fact that the door beside me was open. Not by much, but enough to know I wouldn’t have to touch it again to get into the room beyond.
I climbed to my feet, hunger still clawing at my belly, pain still surging from my hand, and driven by pure, dumb determination.
I nudged the door open with one foot, keeping my eyes on the stone floor in case there were any other visually-triggered dangers, and stepped through.
Bright light surrounded me, and for several terrifying moments I was completely blind. Helpless, hurt, and alone. If something had wanted to take me down right then, I would have had no way of defending myself.
Slowly, as the moments ticked by and nothing attacked me, my eyes adjusted to the light.
Black pavement and soaring redwoods swam into view, lit up by the gentle fire of late afternoon sun. A parking lot stretched out before me, occupied by a sea of cars, trucks, and emergency service vehicles.
Someone noticed me.
“You,” a woman shouted, and jogged across the parking lot toward me. “You’re one of the missing students, aren’t you?”
I frowned in confusion, not yet certain this wasn’t still part of the maze.
“Missing?”
The woman consulted the clipboard in her hand. “Joscelyn van Dehn? Is that you?”
“Yes,” I said warily as I cradled my hand. “That’s me.”
The woman turned and shouted over her shoulder at the others. “We got one! She’s alive!”
“What’s going on,” I asked, my mind struggling with this new scenario. Was I really home? Was I really safe?
“Hun, you’ve been missing for three days,” she said. “You and your friends.”
“Three days …” I turned to look back through the door, but there was nothing to see. Redwoods towered silently above. “Where are my friends?” I asked, turning back to the woman. “Where’s Ben?”
“You’re the only one who’s come out of the woods so far.” Her attention shifted to the hand I sheltered against my chest. “You’re hurt. Let’s get you to one of the EMTs.”
I let her guide me toward the parking lot and one of the ambulances there, swallowing the hurt and disappointment.
I was the only one who came out.
“What happened to you guys,” she asked.
I told her about the maze—not the inside of it: something told me to hold onto that—and about the flier, and the ticket booth, and the hedges. She looked at me like I was high, and even asked if we’d done anything “recreational” before coming to the park.
I got a little mad and shouted at her, which in retrospect really wasn’t fair, but neither was implying that what we’d gone through had been nothing more than a bad trip. A bad trip only I had come back from. It was insulting, dismissive, and ridiculous, so I told her I’d show her the damn thing, and stormed off before the EMT had finished bandaging my hand. She scrambled to follow after me like she was afraid I might disappear into the trees again and never come back.
I stomped up the trail in silence as she trotted behind me. The trees around us remained silent as well, which tickled the back of my mind as being wrong.
I stopped when we reached the clearing where the ticket booth should have been.
Should have been.
“I don’t understand,” I said quietly. “This was it. This was where we found the maze.”
An empty trailhead wandered through the spot where a solid brick arch had been before. There were no hedges to be seen. No weirdly age-appropriate ticket prices. No actor in prosthetics. No trash, or debris, or anything to indicate a novelty attraction had ever been there.
A warm hand found my shoulder and held it comfortingly. Rather, it held my shoulder in a way I’m sure the woman thought was comforting. I sensed pity in the touch, and the comfort I received was paper thin at best, but I still welcomed the supportive contact. Even if the owner had no idea what had really happened.
I was taken to a hospital after that and treated for my injury and some mild dehydration. (And yes, I finally ate. Hospital food never tasted so good.)
Before they would release me, I was asked to voluntarily check into the psych wing under the guise of grief and drug counseling. Which I did.
That’s how I came to terms with it all, agreeing that even if I didn’t remember drugs being involved, one of my friends must have dosed the rest of us and we’d all succumbed to a bout of shared delusion. I believed that I was the only one who had managed to wander back from it. And for the last five years, it’s what let me pull myself back together and move on.
I had completely forgotten about the whole thing.
Until a Facebook friend shared a post about missing teens in Oregon.
Now that I know, now that I remember my experience wasn’t some drug-fueled hallucination, I’m going to dig. The truth has to be out there somewhere. I can’t be the only survivor. Someone out there must have more information. I just have to find them.
I won’t rest until I know what this thing is and how I can stop it for good.
I call it “Amaranthine”, for lack of anything better. It means “endless”. It’s not quite right—like everything else about the damn thing—but it still kinda fits. It feels right enough, and I can’t explain why.
My hand aches now. I can still feel the burn even though the lines have faded away to nothing. I don’t know what that means, but I don’t think it can be good.
I’ll be posting updates whenever I know more. Now that I know this thing is out there, hurting other people, I can’t let it go. I have to do something to stop it.
If anyone else has any information they can share about a similar experience, whether it’s happened to you or you heard about it from someone else, please contact me. I need to figure this thing out, and if I can … end it forever.
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The Amaranthine Report
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Matched Betting (or “Match Betting”) is a proven technique used to earn tax-free profits from the free bets & promotions offered by online Bookmakers. It’s based on a simple risk-free strategy rather than chance — so it’s not gambling at all. Matched betting is the practice of using free bonuses and special offers, matched against an Exchange price in order to obtain a low-risk profit. It is sometimes referred to as 'bonus arbing'. It Matched betting (also known as back or lay bet matching, arb betting, or double betting) is a betting technique used by individuals to profit from the free bets and incentives offered by bookmakers. It is generally considered a risk-free bet as it is based on the application of a mathematical equation rather than chance. Matched betting for dummies – This ultimate matched betting guide will take you from match betting beginner to matched betting pro in no time at all.. With help from our matched betting partner, OddsMonkey, you’ll soon be making a guaranteed profit from the comfort of your own home. Let’s get started! Rather than rehashing existing content, where appropriate I’ve added links to Betting Odds Explained Betfair v Smarkets Betfair Guide Matched betting is a technique that enables you to make risk-free profits from bookmaker promotions. Instead of relying on chance, you simply cover all outcomes to ensure you win, no matter what happens.

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