Good Training – Survival Part 5

Date point: 14y 2m 3w 4d AV
SOR barracks, HMS Sharman, Folctha, Cimbrean, The Far Reaches

Brother Faarek (Southpaw) of Clan Whitecrest–SOR

“Are you sure you want to do this, Brother?”

“Yes,” Thurrsto said with absolute conviction. “She’s the most beautiful Female I’ve ever seen and she’s hurting. I can’t bear doing nothing.”

Faarek ignored the accidentally implied insult to his honor and instead focused on Thurrsto’s needs. “Father Regaari would be proud of you. You’ll do fine. Just be sure you know your heart, and remember: Females are fickle.”

“I know, Brother. This is not my first proposal.”

Faarek bit his tongue and duck-nodded along. “I understand, Brother. Did you get your package back from Ironclaw?”

Thurrsto chittered and flowed over to his wall cabinet in the hallway next to the kitchen. “Got it in yesterday, said it’s balanced for someone of her stature.” Thurrsto retrieved a well-made box and handed it to Faarek. “What do you think?”

Faarek peeked inside and admired the gift’s craftsmanship. “She should like this!”

Thurrsto chittered happily, “Good! Now, I just need to find my nice stasis box…”

He bustled off, singing an old Clan tune to himself, and shooed everyone out of the kitchen so he could make his dual masterpieces in peace.

That was good. Faarek was glad to see him happily occupied and feeling more positive. Like everyone in Clan SOR he’d taken their sidelining in the War on Gao pretty harshly—more than the rest, actually—and he’d needed some distraction in his life for months now.

Faarek just hoped it would go well for him. Thurrsto’s luck with Females had always been…tricky. And Myun was an intimidating beautiful goddess of a prize, being the only living daughter of the Great Father, the personal savior of the Mother-Supreme, and having battled and lived through more than all but the most capable males in martial Clans could manage. Faarek couldn’t imagine himself braving the whims of someone that impressive…

And that, in its own way, made Thurrsto the bravest Whitecrest he knew. Faarek chittered to himself, and pitched in with the cooking.

Date point: 14y 2m 3w 5d AV
Office of the Mother of the Guard, the Clan of Females, Folctha, Cimbrean

Mother Myun of the Clan of Females

Myun sat at her desk doing paperwork, a half-hour before lunch and, like every day lately, about ready to bounce off the walls and just kill something. She knew how important it was to protect the Commune and the refugee camps, how prestigious it was to do this thing with the Mother-Supreme’s personal blessing, and yet: wouldn’t she be more useful on Gao, hunting down the holdout “Clans” and nailing their flea-bitten pelts to a wall? The guards on Cimbrean were perfectly capable and besides: the Humans were there. So was the SOR. Her talents were being wasted in a way she couldn’t just say so to Yulna, which…

It seemed so unjust in a selfish sort of way. She could fight! She could—

Sister Leelo’s claws scratched at her door. “Packages for you!”

“…For me? Who are they from?”

Leelo’s ears flicked in a decidedly scandalous manner, and now Myun was wary. “From an admirer! A Brother Thurrsto from Whitecrest, I think.”

Myun remembered that name though she didn’t remember having met him. But! A male sent her things! She would have been a stinky liar if she’d pretended that didn’t excite her.

“Is he cute?”

Leelo flicked her ears in amusement and chittered. “He’s…well, cute isn’t the right word. I don’t even think handsome works. And yet…”


“Well.” Leelo put the two boxes down on Myun’s desk. “I might ask after him when you’ve had your fun, that’s all I’ll say.” And with that, Leelo flounced out of the room with a swish of her tail, leaving Myun to puzzle at the boxes before her.

The first was long and thin, clad in black linen and wrapped with a long, deeply blue silk ribbon. She picked at the knot with a claw and unfurled it, then gently lifted the cover.

Inside was a dagger. A beautifully-made one with a long, double fuller and a hilt that seemed just the right size for her. She lifted it out of the box and it fit her paw perfectly. It had the right kind of weightiness to be serious, but it was light enough that she could slice this way and that without any encumbrance. A few practice swipes confirmed her assessment. A test cut on the ribbon revealed it to be exquisitely sharp. And with a closer examination—

The blade’s fusion edge snapped into brightness. The trigger was right where her claw would rest on her fourth digit and, with just a couple of practice attempts, proved easy to reach.

It was perfect. Myun found herself keening quietly in appreciation. Just then she realized a scent was tickling her nose; faint, but it was one of exertion, of clean musk, of honest work. It smelled male in all the good ways and it was coming from under the cover. She flipped it over and saw a note card, with a simple inscription in a well-practiced, semi-formal style of gaoian calligraphy:

» A warrior should never be without the proper tool for the job. May this prove a weapon worthy of your skill.

» —Thurrsto, Brother, Clan Whitecrest–SOR

Myun keened softly in appreciation. This Thurrsto fellow sure knew how to treat a Female! She gave the card an appreciative smell. Myun had the nose of a pureblood Stoneback and she could smell many things about this male: he was healthy and strong, and when he wrote the card he was clearly quite pleased with himself. There were other hints there, too, nothing concrete but he must have been confident and surrounded by other high-quality males, too.

Why had she never met him? Life was weird sometimes. She set the card down appreciatively on her desk and noticed his mobile number on the back written in Human numerals; infosphere addresses were so much more convenient but of course, the human Internet was still the more pervasive network on Cimbrean. She whipped out her mobile and saved his number.

The other box was more intriguing. It was made of brushed stainless steel and had a hinged lid. She opened it, it beeped, and her nose…

Myun yipped in happiness. Lo mai gai! That was her most favoritest human food! Four perfect bundles in lotus leaf were arranged on the left. On the right, tacos! She sniffed appreciatively: pork? It was gently spiced, not at all how a Human might prepare it, and she definitely smelled sweet-herb in there…her admirer knew what he was doing and she chittered in amusement. It was a lot of food though, and at first she wasn’t sure what to think of that but she once again smelled his scent, a bit stronger this time. She eventually discovered another card hiding in the gap between the trays, that one done in a much more playfully loose Gaori script:

» Food should be shared!

At the bottom there was a quick drawing of a Whitecrest’s head with big eyes and its tongue sticking out. But the best part?

The peshorkies at the top, served alongside an appropriate selection of sautéed vegetables. How exactly he got his paws on fresh produce from Gao was beyond her though she wasn’t about to question her fortune. Gaoian cuisine wasn’t as hugely varied as Human food but Myun had always thought their staples were subtle little masterpieces, even the veggies. Humans seemed to love big, bold, in-your-nose flavors. Gaoians liked those too but they also had more appreciation for the subtle scents and flavors, and peshorkies were the perfect example of that philosophy. Those three dumplings were one each of naxas, kwek, and nava, each in its own little dish and sitting in its own broth. And all three had sweet-herb. Thurrsto’s intent couldn’t be more clear if he were to pounce and drag her off to a convenient bush with waggling ears and a cheesy come-on line.

Which, honestly, that could be fun, too…with the right male.

Myun knew what she had to do. First, she removed the peshorkies from the box and closed its lid. It beeped as its stasis function reactivated; no use letting fresh food go cold! That done she inhaled their aroma and savored them one by one. Delicious. Then she enjoyed Thurrsto’s take on lo mai gai. Four servings was really quite a bit, but each had its own little plate. Time to share! She wolfed down a taco as well—also _fantastic_—and went to spread her food-borne cheer.

She talked him up, too. A thoughtful male deserved good attention! The other guards were very interested after she described her gifts, so after re-asserting her claim on him, Myun and her most bestest friends cyber-stalked Thurrsto.

Leelo was right. Thurrsto definitely wasn’t cute. And handsome really was the wrong word for him. But, well…there was something brutally attractive about him that was hard to define. His online presence was pretty sparse, but where he was active he generally came off as level-headed and intelligent, with a wry sense of humor. No silly political conspiracies or anything, he was straight-laced and thoughtful. Hard to pin down, even. He was interesting.

And he was big too. Bigger and stronger-looking than any Whitecrest had any right to be, bigger than most brownies and all of that was before he’d joined up with Clan SOR. Now…

Myun decided to get things going and sent him a text message while her friends chittered teasingly. Whatever, they were quite obviously a little jealous. And anyway, why not go on a date? It sounded fun, he seemed interesting, and Myun needed to socialize more anyway.

Time to visit the groomer again. She chittered to herself and made that appointment, too.

Date point: 14y 2m 3w 3d AV
Folctha Colony Amphitheatre, Folctha, Cimbrean

Technical Sergeant Adam (Warhorse) Arés

It was a date night. Sadly, it was probably going to be the last proper date night they’d have for a long while, since the doctor said Marty had to be completely free and clear of the birth control implant for several months before they could risk proper funtime again. Adam didn’t really mind. He had some pretty epic needs, no point denying it, but…hey, he could wait. He’d done it before, right? No biggie.

Besides. While a nice all-night roll in the hay was the first thing on his list of “Things That Were the Most Bestest About Dates,” If he had to pick a second-place entry—and he did, otherwise it wasn’t a List worthy of the Book—Adam would probably have to go with “dress up all pretty an’ shit.”

He’d been waiting for this moment, too. The aftermath of Dark Eye meant that everyone on the HEAT had ridden one hell of a training rebound. Everyone had seen all their numbers jump a whole bunch and he most of all. But as much as he appreciated the opportunity to grow stronger again…even if the cost was way too high, and recently their gym time had been almost a memorial service…anyway. That did mean he had to hold off until his body had calmed down, so to speak. That day arrived about a week before, coincidentally around the same time the Israeli Philharmonic of all things had announced a concert.

So, Adam took a day trip to Earth, went to a good bespoke tailor to spend a painful amount of money…and got himself fitted for formalwear. The fitting was a little awkward ‘cuz the tailor seemed like he was on the edge of freaking out the whole time, but eh, what could Adam do? It wasn’t like he could turn off his huge or anything, but in the end they got ‘er dun. He’d never worn anything that nice before, ever. And he was surprised to find it was comfortable, too!

Too bad the shoes wouldn’t last for more than a couple of uses, even if they were bespoke too. He’d slipped them on and taken one step, and the moment he’d felt the soles squish under his feet he knew their lifetime would be counted in hours, at best. As silly as his weight was these days he’d never found a pair of anything that lasted for long, except for the EV-MASS’s foot system and of course his favorite custom-made hiking sandals. Maybe he’d give up and ask for metal soles next time, or whatever spacemagic his sandals used?

Oh well. That still meant he got to surprise Marty with a well-fitted tuxedo. With a vest! Or, well, “dinner jacket” and “waistcoat” as the Limeys called it, but whatever. She’d known he’d went to Earth of course, and she’d see the boxes under his arms…but when he got all dressed up for her and thumped back into the living room…

He’d treasure that look for the rest of his life. Then she stood up and gave him another look, and he had to take it all off again. He’d treasure that memory, too. Two days later Marty surprised him with her dress…and he’d needed to repair it, after he’d almost ripped it off of her. Eventually. He got around to fixing it late the next day, or something.

For tonight though, they were being all dapper and civilized.

“I never thought I’d actually go to an orchestra,” Adam mused.

Marty laughed that beautiful musical laugh of hers. “Why? Are clydesdales afraid of a little noise?”

“Please,” he grinned, “A warhorse ain’t afraid of some silly little violins an’ shit.” They were ambling towards the seating now, and a few of the concertgoers gave him an amused look.

“Oh,” Marty sighed and shook her head, “Silly little violins, eh? We’ll see…”

That grin. That evil grin of hers, the one that could make his heart literally stop in his chest and his IQ drop like fifty points. Not that he could afford a drop that big, but still.

Whatever. They got seated—well, she did. Adam sat in the aisle and tried not to be a giant lump in the way of everyone. Then they waited, and there was some talking, and then a single violin guy came out…tuning? Maybe? He didn’t know. But the conductor guy spoke just then:

“Ladies, gentlemen, and honored guests, We present to you the first of several pieces we intend to play for you tonight, ‘Carmina Burana: Cantiones profanæ cantoribus et choris cantandæ comitantibus instrumentis atque imaginibus magicis,’ a scenic cantata composed by Carl Orff. There are two other compositions we will perform for you tonight as well, and we’d normally list them on a Playbill, but…we would like to surprise you. Enjoy.”

“Oh yeah. You’re not meant to clap until the end,” Marty whispered.

“Okay. So, just listen?”

“Yeah-huh. No clapping between movements. You can clap between compositions, though.”

“How will I know?”

“You’ll know, trust me. And if you don’t, just clap when everybody else does.”

“…Okay.” Marty chuckled and nuzzled him quickly, then reclined in her chair.

Adam thought that sounded like it would be boring and was already maybe regretting the whole thing. He could be back working on his growing Space Marine army, or maybe—

The music started. Adam forgot everything else.

Date point: 14y 2m 3w 3d AV
Folctha Colony Amphitheatre, Folctha, Cimbrean

Brother Thurrsto (Carebear) of Clan Whitecrest-SOR


Pure. Overwhelming. A sonic assault that was almost painful. There was a choir, over a hundred strong with piercing, powerful voices. There were more instruments than Thurrsto had ever seen before, an entire section of percussion that would confound and delight the drum corps of any Clan. And at the front of it all there was a man called the ‘conductor,’ the leader of this almost military-like, well-disciplined formation of musical performers.

He raised his arm.

The music began. A triumphant, tragic roar at first that then dipped into a quieter, more urgent mode. It was in some strange language that Thurrsto had never heard before but he didn’t have his translator with him so he’d simply listened. It sounded…conspiratorial. Ominous. Then a build up, a sudden repeat of the theme from the beginning, but now somehow darker—

Very suddenly, a totally different mood. Was it a different song? But there was hardly any pause? That was different, and strange. He looked to Myun who was just as non-plussed as he was…

And the experience went on. It gave him more or less every sensation Thurrsto could imagine music invoking and then some, yet at no point was it gentle. Even the quiet pieces were somehow overwhelming, maybe because they weren’t a sonic assault. It was…masterful.

And it was an emotional roller-coaster of a ride. Carmina Burana had a number of pieces to it and ran for some time. There was an intermission, then more music, and then a final composition that Thurrsto felt certain no other species in the galaxy would have ever conceived, even one possessed of musical talents on Human scale.

The two of them couldn’t stop talking about it on the walk back to Adam’s apartment.

“Actual cannons! In music!” Thurrsto approved.

So did Myun. “Yeah! Where did they even get them from? Do they just have ‘em laying around?”

The two had decided to amble back toward Warhorse’s apartment, since Thurrsto was crashing in his guest bedroom while the barracks was being expanded. They were making pretty good time before the evening rains came along and soaked everything and everyone who was foolish enough to remain outside and exposed.

“They’re not useful in modern conflict,” Thurrsto mused. “They have far better tools now. Maybe they’re historical relics?”

“For a concert?” Myun scratched at her belly with her razor-sharp claws, “They fetishize their old stuff just as much as we do!”

Thurrsto chittered; it was true, both species had a thing for artifacts of their histories. “Maybe they had them custom made! Like giant firecrackers or something?”

“They do use disposable mortar tubes for fireworks…”

“So maybe they made these to look badass!”

That earned him a melodious chitter and a fond set of her ears. “You’re surprising! I was expecting someone all serious and stuff.”

“Who, me?” Thurrsto chittered and waggled his ears, feeling buoyed by the compliment. “How could a male with a face like mine take anything seriously?”

“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with your face! Maybe…I like it.” Myun flattened her ears, then her nose twitched up. “Crap. Rain. How far away are we?”

Thurrsto was nearly thunderstruck by the complement but rallied back to his senses at the thought of getting soaked “—Oh! Not far. C’mon!” Without thinking he sank to all fours and started to run. He cursed to himself, silently…just as Myun tore past him on fourpaw.

“Race you!”

Thurrsto chittered in relief, poured on the speed and caught up. “You don’t know…where it is!”


He burst forward, intent on keeping a lead, pedestrians jumping out of the way as the two full-grown gaoians barged through like a pair of cubs on a rampage. When Adam’s gym came into sight she surged forward and it was all Thurrsto could to to keep and expand his lead.

He won. But only just. Myun was fast and made of sterner stuff than the average gaoian. They made it to the front door just as the clouds truly opened up, for which Thurrsto was thankful and Myun was teasing.

“You Silverfurs are so vain about your coats!”

“A boy’s gotta have something!” Thurrsto chittered and unlocked the door. They padded through the gym and went straight to the staircase which seemed to surprise her.

“Oh? Not going to show off those big manly muscles of yours?”

He gave a smug little flick of his ears. “Oh, I will if you want…”

“…I do.” She said it with a hungry expression. “And I wanna tussle on the mat with you, too…”

“Tempting!” He chittered, “But I have something much better upstairs. Something that’ll get your blood really moving.”

“Thurrsto,” Myun gave him a sinfully playful look. “I don’t mate on the first date!”

“Good, neither do I. Though I’m told that’s a genuine shame,” he said, drily. Before she could retort, “I must confess, my plans for tonight are entirely chaste despite strong temptation…”

“Flatterer! And it’ll thrill and amaze, you say?”

Thurrsto didn’t reply, he just flicked his ears and pant-grinned, pointed his nose up the stairs, and charged up all four flights on fourpaw. Myun was right behind him and teasing impatiently while he fumbled the door’s palm reader; he wasn’t complaining, especially when she nipped him on the ear!

He was momentarily stunned until she snapped him back to his senses. “Door. Open.”


He eventually managed the palm lock. Damn monkeys and their stupid paws…or hands…or whatever. Anyway. Adam and Martina weren’t home yet, weren’t going to be for a few hours from what Thurrsto had understood but that was okay; first dates tended to end early anyway.

Or, at least, his did. He didn’t dwell on the idea for more than a moment.

“I’d ask if this was your place but it smells like Warhorse’s armpit. Is it his?”

“It is! We’ve got it to ourselves for a little while…” Thurrsto ambled over to the large video display and dug through the box of things at its bottom, “And that’s just enough time for me to utterly defeat you—ah! Here it is!” He fished the ancient electronic device out and proceeded to untangle its cords.

Myun was competitive and Thurrsto could smell her aggression flare. “Beat me at what, you hulking oaf? I’ll bite your tail anyday.” Awesome.

Thurrsto’s heart leapt at the disguised compliment, which might have offended a pampered pretty male…but Thurrsto could smell her interest and see her eyes trace every line of him.

But that was for another night. Instead he flipped the console’s switch, stood, and handed Myun one of the controllers. He flashed her an evil chittering grin.

“Have you ever played Mario Kart?”

Adam opened the door as quietly as he could and snuck into his apartment. Not an easy feat for him, even with a commercial-grade concrete slab and I-beam underflooring. He managed anyway, tip-toed his way to the bedroom and grabbed their “go bags” for a quick, impromptu adventure at the Statler hotel. Marty would need something besides a dress tomorrow and he’d really like some gym clothes since they wouldn’t becoming back until late…

Or, maybe the next day. Or…later. It was a long weekend, after all.

The reason he was sneaking was due to the two Gaoians curled up in a ball together on his couch, noses tucked under their tails in the most ridiculously adorable way. He couldn’t help the massive grin on his face and hurried as quietly as he could back to the front door.

Marty was waiting on the stairwell landing with a slightly confused expression on her face. He’d bid her be quiet when they got home ‘cuz the palm lock was red. She didn’t know why that was important. Not yet. That was for right now.

Just for fun, he scooped her up with one arm and carried her down the stairs over her quiet, giggling protests. They didn’t talk until they reached the bottom of the stairs.

“What now, ponyslab? You’ve got something planned. I always know when you’re planning.”

“I don’t try to hide it! Now, just gotta wait for the truck…”

“Truck, huh? How romantic of you…” She really was a cruel tease, and that grin of hers was sinfully dangerous.

“Short notice, and I’m heavier’n those shitty ‘lil plastic bubble-cab things they stick a motor and a cell phone on, you know that. Besides…” he leaned in conspiratorially and whispered into her ear, “Thurrsto and Myun are upstairs.”

“Wait. Wait. Those two? Since when!?”

“Since right now!” Adam bounced in place, “They were at the concert too, didn’t you see?”

“No, I didn’t notice! How long have you known?”

“Dude, like three weeks. He’s been planning this for over a month.”

“And you didn’t tell me? I need details, thunderchunk.”

“Okay! I’ll tell you in the ride over to the hotel.”

“…Hotel, eh?” There was that sly grin, even stronger than ever. “Also, what truck can haul your meaty ass around?”

“Ain’t using a commercial one. Asked the LT and checked out a truck from base, s’long as I send it back and pay for the milage I’m golden.”

“Clever slab! Now for the rest, lemme guess. Nice penthouse suite, right?”

Adam shrugged ruefully. “Eh, not quite. Short notice and all, and y’know. Reinforced bed. But yeah. It’s a nice room.”

“And you’ll carry me up the stairs, I presume.”

“Oh yeah, why use the elevator? Real men do things the hardest way!” Adam waggled his eyebrows, rolled his wrist and made his forearm swell and rip through the shirt, “I can flex my muscles and stuff for ‘ya, too!”

Marty was way smarter than him and he wasn’t stupid a stupid man at all, he just played one on TV sometimes. That was one of the grounding truths in their relationship and he didn’t mind that at all. He liked being the amiable hulky doofus to her wisecracking supergenius. But the other thing he liked, that they both liked…was that he was the most man of any man there was, and they both knew it. And both of them got off on it, too.

“…Mhmm.” She stared at his flexing forearm for a moment, then quickly recovered her snark. “And then I suppose, instead of a night of courtly romance…”

Adam waggled his eyebrows even harder. “Hey! You like a good roll in the hay just as much as me, don’t lie!”

“Oh, definitely. But knowing you we won’t be stopping at one night, will we?”

“Well. I will need to pause to eat every now and then.”

“Of course.” She shook her head and sighed indulgently. “God, you’re a predictable chunk.”

“Mhmm. You love it.” The truck turned the corner at the end of the block and Adam waved it down. Which was stupid, now that he thought about it; it was an autonomous vehicle after all.

Marty noticed and smirked but decided not to tease. “Think you could maybe not tear off my dress this time? It wasn’t cheap.”

The truck pulled up on the curb. Adam took her hand and opened the door for her.

“I won’t make promises I can’t keep…but at least I can sew.” He stole a kiss from her, then. Quick but passionate, just the kind he knew made her putty in her hands. Well, that and the bearhug. Both worked.

“Mmmm,” she purred right against his neck. God he loved that. They piled in the truck’s rear cab and ordered the destination. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

Neither would he.

Date point: 14y 6m AV
Chiune Station, Folctha, Cimbrean

Moses Byron

At the end of the day, the thing that any CEO of any major corporation had to remember was that he had an inescapable obligation: he must increase shareholder value, or at the very least not hemorrhage cash like it was going out of style. And that left Moses with a problem.

Misfit needed to turn a profit. Oh, she already had to be sure, their previous discoveries were likely to net Byron Group literally billions in profit over the coming years. And it wasn’t that the Misfit’s crew were lazing about either. They too were turning a modest-yet-solid return under the AEC’s “interim exploratory liaison” contract and that wasn’t something to be ignored. The Ten’Gewek needed them and establishing trust with another group would probably be impossible. Hell, what Julian was going through to prepare for that role was darn impressive and Moses would challenge anyone to say otherwise, military, athlete or professor.

None of which changed the central value proposition. Those kids represented many billions of dollars of potential revenue. Not using them for their intended purpose was an almost criminal act of fiduciary neglect, and his shareholders had begun to make noises.

Which was why they’d recently re-negotiated their contract with AEC, and the crew was waiting in the boardroom, clad in their ship uniform of modern tracksuits emblazoned with MBG branding, shuffling confidently about and mostly looking like a gaggle of high-achieving movie heros. Xiù especially, that woman could make darn near any situation look like a photoshoot for a Hollywood blockbuster. Allison was doing her Sarah Connor thing—and doing it well—while Julian looked like he was smuggling cantaloupes in his overstretched sleeves. Byron made a mental note to task Kevin with another uniform order.

Which was a good point, actually; Byron decided they needed to do another press junket. Eventually. While they were still in the full bloom of youth. There was a lot to be said for youthful movie-star appeal, though Moses would personally eat an entire haberdashery if the trio didn’t age gracefully….not that he’d be around too much longer to see if he was right.

“We’ve negotiated some modifications to your contract with Allied Extrasolar Command. Nothing to take you away from Vemik and family,” Byron said soothingly as Julian suddenly tensed and stood more upright, “We are just requiring you to accomplish a little exploration on the side. We can’t afford to let Misfit sit idle, now.”

The three looked at each other intently for a long moment, then faced him. Xiù was the one who eventually spoke.

“We don’t object, Mister Byron. It is in our contract, but…”

“Yes?” Byron mosied over to his bar and fixed himself a little something to drink. The crew, long since used to his charms, declined immediately.

“That can take time that the Ten’Gewek can’t afford. We were gone for almost two years last time we explored, and about, what, a year-and-a-half when we underwent refit?”

“A full season on Akyawentuo,” said Julian, who assumed his traditional cross-armed bouncer posture in the corner of the room. Lately that was a mighty effective trick of his. “There are some time-sensitive things happening with the People that would be really hard to rebuild if we don’t stick with them.”

“I’m aware. And I am also aware of your, ah, training regime, Julian. I wouldn’t spoil it for the world.” The big man grumbled and nodded while Moses busied himself making a Shirley Temple. “Fortunately, your ship hasn’t been idle. We’re still getting BEST telemetry from her even now. And our network of People out in the great wide galaxy is getting wider every day. Some of them managed to track down some old star charts for the region. Really, really old. You know you kids are the first survey ship in the region since the Corti were knapping flint?”

Allison raised her eyebrows. “No shit?” She had never been one for decorum, ever.

“Would I lie?” Moses asked. “Anyway, we compared the two and accounted for a rogue star that passed through sometime in the last couple hundred thousand years, and we have two shiny candidate worlds for you to check out. Both marked as deathworlds on the old map, both within a hundred light years of Akyawentuo.”

“…Really.” Julian was suddenly interested and prowled over to the display on the wall, intent on studying the targets. Silently too, which wasn’t something a man his size should have been able to do. The floor had a creak in it but somehow he’d always managed to move without a sound no matter where he was or what he was doing. It was for that reason that of the three, Julian was the only one who could be genuinely unsettling. He was quiet.

Moses had brought a science advisor for this meeting, a reedy little man called Thom Westridge who seemed to be more than a little enamored of the crew. “That’s three candidate worlds out of nearly fifty thousand star systems, including Akyawentuo. You should be able visit both with a total of one month for flight time and a month each for survey.”

“Apparently that kind of density makes Earth’s neighborhood look like the Sahara Desert,” Moses added.

“It’s a real shame because some of the other features in the area are really interesting. There’s one proto-temperate planet out there that we’d just love to look at and see how it’s changed in the last quarter of a million years…” Westridge trailed off with a reluctant sigh, leaving the impossibility that Misfit might conduct that survey unspoken.

“That’s stuff we’d love to do, man. It sounds interesting. But…” Julian shrugged hugely.

“…But ultimately that planet won’t suffer if we don’t check it out just yet,” Moses said. “Shareholders and profits though, they get antsy mighty quick.”

“And it’s going to affect our bottom line, hon.” The ever-practical Allison looked toward Julian and Xiù, who both nodded along.

“That’s the nature of the private sector,” Moses agreed. “We’re not doing this for the sentiment, even though believe me the sentiment is there.”

“So the plan is for us to check out those two,” Xiù summarized. “…What happens next?”

Moses sat back and rested his hands on his gut with his fingers interlaced. “That’s up to you,” he said. “For my part, so long as you’re flying Misfit and finding stuff then I’ll jump at the chance to sign a third tour, and a fourth, a fifth if you want ‘em…” he reached forward and picked up his drink. “But if you find your interests drifting elsewhere, well. I need to know, because I need that ship making money. And I may not be young anymore, but I think it’s pretty obvious you three have plans, and they don’t include long-term voyages.”

They looked at each other uncomfortably. Bingo. People could say what they would, but Moses Byron had a knack for human nature and right now those three were as lovestruck as it was possible for anyone to be. He’d have to be blind not to see it.

Far be it for him to get in the way of nature and youth. That left only one question: how could Byron Group profit from it?

“Right. So let me give all three of you an open job offer right now. Any position in the company that fits your skills and personality. I know Doctor Brown wants you on her design team, Allison. Full benefits, medical, dental, pension, shares…” he grinned “…and you’d better believe I don’t make open offers like that to just anybody. The Hephaestus Consortium and others will try to headhunt you; we’ll beat any offer they make.”

Julian reached behind his head to scratch the back of his head, and his arm-cantaloupes threatened to burst his upper sleeve. “…Dang. That’s a hell of an offer.”

Moses deployed one of his subtler charming smiles. “We did just send you flying around the galaxy in a multi-billion dollar spaceship, and you easily repaid that trust a thousand times over,” he pointed out. “D’you really think we wouldn’t maybe want to keep you?”

“Most employers don’t lay it out quite that thick,” Allison said drily. “It ain’t good tactics to let someone know how far you’re willing to go.”

“Most employers aren’t Moses Byron.”

“Most fellas don’t refer to themselves in the third person, either.”

“They’re not Moses Byron either,” Moses joked, and let a real smile deepen his wrinkles. “For real though, obviously we have our limits… but so do all the others. As Governor Sandy once said to me, don’t try your hand at equine dentistry.”

The three of them pondered for a long moment. Eventually Xiù approached Thom and pointed at the overview on the display. “What do we know about these two worlds?”

“The first one’s a super-Earth. One-point-two Gs. The survey data—which bear in mind is older than ice ages at this point—said that it was warm and dry overall, with small ice caps. Local flora and fauna were all noted to be quite large. Think of giant ground sloths from the Pleistocene era.”

“Like on Akyawentuo. That’s a very wild world. Lots and lots of megafauna.”

“The second one is a very close match for Earth. Its surface gravity is almost identical to ours, similar oceanic coverage, similar humidity and average temperature. It’s quite tectonically active and the survey comes with a note from the OmoAru surveyor about interesting microflora that feed on—get this—the ‘large volumes of petrochemical oil under the ocean floors’.”

Julian rolled his eyes and rested one leg against the other. “Oil, huh? Never let it be said you ain’t entirely obvious, boss.”

“We’re never going to be free of the need for it, Julian,” Moses informed him. “Gasoline and diesel may be going out of fashion, but the Devil will need a parka before humanity quits plastic. And if anybody knows how to make it without oil, they aren’t sharing.”

Julian chuckled and crossed his arms again, this time with a sideways smile. “Oh, you’ll never hear me complain. A clear plastic sheet out in the woods is useful as hell.”

“There’s research into algae systems,” Thom said unconvincingly, and found himself dragged into a sideways one-armed hug by Julian. The look of fanboy surprise was a little much.

“The way I see it, even if we somehow can’t profit off the oil, if there are microbes out there that eat plastic then we can profit off those instead,” Moses said. “Either way that planet pays for the whole EV program all by itself, including the failures. So you go out there, you plant the flag and you name it whatever you like.”

“Ayma,” Xiù said firmly. “We’re naming it Ayma.”

There was a defiant shine in her eyes as though she was expecting somebody to argue, but Julian and Allison just nodded fervently, while Thom simply looked lost.

“…Good name,” Moses said, as kindly as he could.

“We’ll do it,” Julian said on behalf of the three, who nodded in return. “As long as we aren’t endangering AEC’s mission on Akyawentuo and as long as they agree.”

“Good!” Moses decided it was time to move on to other matters on his schedule. “I won’t keep you three waiting. Kevin will have your contract for you shortly. Thom, if you can give them the briefing…?”

Julian half-dragged the little scientist and plopped them both down onto the couch alongside the room, and immediately began grilling him on the details of what they were planning.

Moses knew enough to let his employees handle the details. He was a big picture man; pick good people, pick the right mission and goal, and pay everyone well enough that they would attend to everything on their own. It was a much less stressful way to run a company, and besides:

A crew like those three needed to feel valuable. That was his most potent recruiting tactic. With luck, it would keep them under his employ, out of the talons of his competitors—

And their hard work would increase shareholder value. Moses finished his Shirley Temple and left them to it.

After all, it was a long way back to Earth.

Previous Chapter

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CopRit Empire, Halfil Sol 14 Of Race 4 Year 4958 Frostal Secondary, New Baltimore Sitting down in the chair across from the Principal’s desk I nervously swallowed and tried to calm my heart. The Principal could probably hear it, and smell my perspiration. Which was only making me more nervous. “Thoomaas,” squeaked the principal from

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Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

CopRit Empire, Halfil Sol 14 Of Race 4 Year 4958 Frostal Secondary, New Baltimore Sitting down in the chair across from the Principal’s desk I nervously swallowed and tried to calm my heart. The Principal could probably hear it, and smell my perspiration. Which was only making me more nervous. “Thoomaas,” squeaked the principal from

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Good Training – Survival Part 1

You may also want to read Pyrophytes in The Deathworlders series. Same story, different angles. Date point: 14y 7d AV Planet Akyawentuo, The Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Professor Daniel Hurt “You want me to read it by next week?” Julian mopped the sweat from his face and bounced loosely in place. “What was it

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Rising Titans – Chapter 45

-7 Hours CHRONT THE CANADA “More contacts!” said Arik as she flashed every monitor on the bridge a bright red. Stagg glanced up at the monitor, “How many more?” “I’m counting!” “You’re counting!?” A grainy image of the approaching Empire patrol vessel was quickly displayed, a small box around it. Additional boxes quickly filled the

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 2

Date Point: 16y2m AV Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Nofl Leemu had become unresponsive. Nofl’s quarantine facility had alerted him after the patient had been anomalously still for twenty minutes, and the reason why became obvious upon a quick inspection of the cell: Leemu was sprawled on his back, staring blissfully up at

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Good Training – April Fool’s

13y 3m 29d AV One-Fang workhouse, Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Sergeant Regaari (Dexter) of Clan SOR One of the best things about the humans was that they had a springtime holiday dedicated to mischief. Before them, only the Gao could claim to celebrate such a thing and it was one of the

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 1

Date Point: 16y2m AV Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Nofl Nofl’s lab was spacious, but inevitably finite. When it contained an alarming number of alarmed Humans, not to mention one particularly sculpted canine and a Gaoian brownie who was doing his best not to loom at everyone… well, there were times when Nofl

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 5

Date Point: 16y2m AV Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Allison Buehler After a lifetime of helicopter parenting, Tristan and Ramsey seemed addicted to every opportunity they could find to do something their mother would have scooted them away from. And who could blame them? Amanda had never managed to get her head around the idea

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Rising Titans – Chapter 44

9 Years, 6 Months, 28 Days After Eridani Landing Deep Space The Russia shuddered again as the engines slowly powered down and the ship slid out of the red blue haze that was the tachyon FTL corridor. James blinked several times trying to clear the haze from his eyes as the regular black background of

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 4

Date Point: 16y1m AV Dataspace adjacent to Mrwrki Station Entity The Entity understood the concept of boredom in an academic, abstract way. It could even vaguely summon up Ava’s memories of being bored. But understanding the idea and actually feeling the emotion were two different things. The closest it could get was the sensation of

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 3

Date Point: 16y2w AV Air Force One, somewhere over Asia, Earth President Arthur Sartori “…You want to give us a Farthrow generator.” Daar’s image was janky and low-resolution thanks to the vagaries of current wormhole comms, but the audio was a lot clearer now. Technology marched onwards. “It’s loaded up on a train and ready

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Good Training – Pecking Order

13y, 8m AV Operator’s Barracks, HMS Sharman, Folctha, Cimbrean Officer Regaari (Dexter) of Clan Whitecrest “I got an idea, Regaari.” Regaari flicked his ears forward in annoyance. “This again?” “Well, yeah. I gotta win that bet, Cousin!” Regaari duck-nodded wearily. Not long after Daar had received the SACRED STRANGER briefing, he’d sulked off to think

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Good Training – The Champions – Tidying Up

Messier 24 Mission day: 3 Sergeant Daar (Tigger) The third day was always when things settled into routine. Daar didn’t really know why, ‘cuz that was prol’ly some complicated psychology stuff (maybe he should read up?) but he did know how it worked, practically speaking. Daar always pondered morning thoughts like that when he was

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 2

Date Point: 16y2w AV Weaver dropship, Gaoian space Sergeant Ian “Hillfoot” Wilde “So in all the excitement, we clean forgot about these things. That’s what you’re telling me.” Champion Meereo made a sound that was half a sigh and half a chitter. “…That’s more-or-less exactly right, yes. We had… well, bigger priorities.” Wilde had to

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Rising Titans – Chapter 43

9 Years, 6 Months, 28 Days After Eridani Landing Bellona “Ready?” asked Alpha from where he sat on top of the Captain’s chair. “I’m good!” said Red from where he sat at the controls for the ship. It hadn’t taken much to convince him to pilot the vessel. James glanced down at his own console

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 1

Date Point: 16y AV Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Zane Reid The cold didn’t hurt anymore. At first, it had been like forcing his way through a wall made of knives that cut through his clothes. Zane’s every breath had blinded him as it billowed and steamed in the air, and when he’d experimentally licked his

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 5

Date Point: 16y AV Camp Tebbutt Biodrone Internment Facility, Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Hugh Johnson Snow. Of course, snow in January in Alaska was hardly surprising, and this one threatened to be heavy. At first, Hugh had thought it was probably just an seasonable dusting that’d add a couple of inches to the foot or

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I had made my way through the tournament, but most of my matches had been won by the skin of my teeth, and I had only the advantage of being evolved from a pursuit predator to thank for it. Our great endurance had been the one boon that had kept me going, and I was

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 4

Date Point: 15y 10m 1w AV HMS Violent, Rvzrk System, Domain Space The ground battle churned on for days. That was the problem with Hunters. There was no surrender involved, it was a kill-or-be-killed fight where smashing their will to engage in war simply didn’t achieve enough. Any Hunter left alive would just keep murdering

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 4

He awoke to a pleasant smell. “…Eggs?” Hoeff detangled himself from Natalie and the sheets and stumbled towards the kitchen. Daar was busy in front of the comparatively little stove and fridge, humming some terrible Gaoian tune to himself. Seriously, their music was like Chinese opera with extra pain. Some Humans liked it, though…but “atonal”

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Rising Titans – Chapter 42

9 Years, 6 Months, 15 Days After Eridani Landing The [Singer] The explosion hit and [Vann] watched at the lights on the main hologram and different panels flashed a blinding white light, before dying and plunging the entire bridge of the [Singer] into darkness. “What were we supposed to do?” asked someone near the weapons

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Day 1. I’ve made it on board the human trading vessel! They didn’t detect my presence, and I’ve managed to smuggle myself into their engineering bay, and disguised myself within a cluster of cables! My small, serpentine body makes me indistinguishable from a thin, grayish cable, and the Humans won’t notice my existence until it

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 1

Date Point: 15y 10m AV Camp Tebbutt Biodrone Internment Facility, Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Hugh Johnson Camp Tebbutt wasn’t actually a bad place to live, if you didn’t count the fact that it was essentially a prison for innocent victims. Hugh understood why he was there, and why he couldn’t leave… but after eleven years,

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 3

Firth Regaari chittered, “It is difficult to imagine you ‘humbled,’ Righteous.” “Heh,” Firth chuckled. “You do know most of my attitude is straight fuckin’ bullshit, right? Adam and John know why.” Regaari looked over at John, who shrugged massively. “He’s a scary dude. Being ridiculous kinda takes the edge off, y’know?” Regaari duck-nodded. He was

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Rising Titans – Chapter 41

9 Years, 6 Months, 13 Days After Eridani Landing Jikse Moving down the hallway Diana paused at the double doors, carefully she moved forwards into it’s threshold and they slid open. A woman in an orange smock looked up from her Comm for a moment, and then going back to look at it did a

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The Good Samaritan

I felt a white-hot pain in my back as I was stabbed. Once, twice and then three times. I fell to the ground clutching my new openings, and for a moment I couldn’t grasp what had just happened. I had walked through an alley as a shortcut back home, and then suddenly someone had grabbed

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 6

Date Point: 15y9m3w AV Mrwrki Station, Erebor System, Unexplored Space Darcy “Does it seem… different to you lately?” “What?” “The Entity. It’s actin’ different, dude, I swear it is.” Darcy sighed and set aside her work as Lewis sat down. She was sitting drinking a Moroccan Mint tea in the station’s rec lounge, with its

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Rising Titans – Chapter 40

9 Years, 6 Months, 13 Days After Eridani Landing Jikse Popping the restraints off of her legs Diana swung herself off of the table, the two class A’s still in their isolation suits were pounding at the door of the room the three of them were in. “It’s out! Open the door!” shouted the man

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 2

Master Sergeant Christian (Righteous) Firth The end of the movie came and the ladies were fast asleep and prolly too tired to head home with any comfort. The other bros were asleep, too, and Firth was tangled up with them pretty good. Oh well, both ‘Base and ‘Horse were heavy-ass sleepers and only danger or

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Hell. It’s a completely Human concept. The concept of a realm of eternal torture, to which you are sent depending on the whims of one deity or another, is something only found in Human fiction. And it’s not an isolated occurrence. Almost every human culture since the dawn of humanity itself has had it in

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 4

Date Point: 15y9m2w AV HMS Sharman (HMNB Folctha), Cimbrean, The Far Reaches Senior Master Sergeant Christian (“Righteous”) Firth “Hey, fuckers! Guess what hit the newsstand today!” Adam looked up from his needlework for a second and raised an eyebrow. “Imma guess Coombes’ centerfold spread with Ava?” Firth deflated, somewhat flummoxed that ‘Horse had stolen his

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