The two hundred and sixty-eighth alien invader I killed dropped the decoder for their language and I could finally understand what they were saying as I killed them.
“This is a misunderstanding,” a tall mantis-creature protested. “We are here on entirely legitimate authority.”
I had the option to explore that, but I didn’t.
Instead I found cover over by Paul, ducked behind it, and looked out from behind it long enough to pick the monsters off.
“They’re here on entirely legitimate authority,” I told him.
“I’d heard that,” he agreed. “Some sort of feral species management division. If we can prove that we’ve overcome our violent past, they’ll escort us out into a broader galactic community.”
There was another of their war-beasts in the distance; I put a laser through its head, and a pocketwatch tumbled from its corpse.
I remember how I used to find stuff like that funny, when I was a kid, killing ladybugs and house spiders for loot and XP; “where were they even keeping it?” I’d ask myself. Or “why would they even have that?”
But it wasn’t funny now.
“War,” I said. “War never changes.”
“You get better loot when you’re higher level,” Paul pointed out. “And you get to fight tougher aliens back at their landing point.”
“Yeah,” I said. “But other than that.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “Other than that.”
There was the chance to advance, after a while. We took a new vantage. It reeked; the scent of bonfires, burnt aliens, and death.
“You hoping for anything in particular?” he asked me.
“Something for charm,” I said.
“They’re not very charming,” Paul pointed out.
I peeked up out of cover and nearly lost an ear. I fired a wild shot, ducked back down, and scowled. “They’re not,” I agreed. “But they’ll drop a charm item eventually. And it’s not like I’d do any better anywhere else.”
“I’m hoping for an armband of medicine,” Paul said.
“You want to be a doctor?”
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s . . . I want to make things better, you know? But med school’s pricy as hell.”
“Good luck,” I told him.
There was a prickling at the back of my neck. I turned, but I wasn’t fast enough. There was one of them, behind us. It had us dead to rights, and I heard the incomprehensible clicking and chittering of it translate into a confident, “Stand down.”
“I’ve heard bad things about what you do with prisoners,” I said.
It wasn’t what I wanted to say. It was just the best I could do with the dialogue wheel I had. I wanted to point out that I’d just respawn if it shot me, but—
You don’t get to talk about things like that. Not with hostiles. That’s strictly for free chat with your allies in war.
“The rumors are ill-founded,” the creature maintained. “Our camp provides . . . rehabilitation.”
I tried to find a way to ask what I really wanted. Do you have any quests there that provide charm items? Or, well, medical training, I guess?
The best I could do was: “Let’s talk about this.”
“Drop the gun,” it told me. “Kick it away. Then we can talk.”
I flailed mentally, looking for something, anything, I could say. “Do you really rip your mate’s heads off during sex?”
“That is an intensely personal question,” it said. “Drop the gun. Now.”
“It just seems like you’re a bit hypocritical calling us savage—”
Paul blurred into a cut-scene. He shoved me out of the way. The wall behind me cracked. He had his gun in his hand. He nailed it between the eyes just as I landed a center-body shot. The alien fell back.
Even after months of farming, I expected it to de-rez, to return to its spawn point; expected it, somehow, to act human—
But of course it didn’t. They don’t do that. Their corpses don’t fade away.
“Nice,” I said.
“It was just scripted,” he said.
“I think it counts,” I said.
He seemed a little uncomfortable. Not everybody gets along well with cut-scenes. “. . . thanks,” he said.
I looted the corpse. Nothing of interest. I slipped back into cover.
“Have to watch our flanks, I guess.”
After a while, he said, “’Rip their mate’s heads off,’ huh?”
“You understood that?”
He tapped his ear. “Party member,” he said.
“I was trying to ask about quests,” I said. “My options were limited. This is why I need a charm item.”
“So you can find better things to ask your enemies about than their sexual habits?”
“. . . yeah,” I said.
“It’s probably ridiculously hard to get anywhere with them,” Paul said. “I mean, seriously. This is endgame level stuff.”
“I wasn’t really expecting to be able to make peace,” I said. “I just want to be less inane.”
“I can’t even talk to my own mother,” I said. “You know?”
“I call her up,” I said. “And she answers. And I have nothing but passive-aggressive bullshit, greyed-out options, and ‘goodbye.’ So I hang up again. Every damn time.”
“Sucks,” he said.
“I don’t want her to be my enemy,” I said. “It just kind of happened, and I can’t get it back.”
“Have you tried adjusting your family options?” he asked me.
There was a flurry of laser fire. I popped my head up, brought the gun around, and took out a mantis commander. Time slowed down as it exploded in light.
It was still moving slowly as I dropped back down, put my back to the wall, and turned to look at Paul.
“. . . there are options?”
And the aliens charged us, and died, but they did not return.