Henosis – Chapter 4

“Hey, that’s my suit!”

A naked Gaoian fell on the Hunter from the tree above, landing on the sextupedal predator’s back. The impact was enough to stagger the creature, and Keegi was nearly thrown off. The claws of one paw extended, sinking into the Hunter’s glossy flesh as he held on as hard as he could. The Hunter screeched – not with pain, but outrage at the temerity of the prey.

The Hunter swung blindly behind it, and a claw traced a long bloody line through Keegi’s fur. The Gaoian spat with anger but ignored the pain – any moment and he would be thrown off! He raised his other paw, and with all his Gaoian strength sunk the cutter he held into the skull of the vicious creature.

An insectile cry filled the dome – the cry of a Hunter wounded! Elation filled Keegi’s body, granting him energy as he grabbed the Hunter by the throat, his other paw stabbing harder and harder into the its head. Pulse blasts ripped through the brush and splashed against the distant dome even as the pale blood of the Hunter splashed against his fur. Keegi didn’t notice – his world had narrowed to his paw, the Hunter’s head, and the relentless motion of the knife up and down.

At least until the Hunter collapsed as one side of legs gave way. Keegi was thrown aside, the knife coming loose in one last spray of pink-white blood. The Gaoian’s breath was knocked out of him as he hit the dirt, but he still found the strength to roll to his feet, weapon at the ready, ready to lunge back into the attack.

It was unneeded. The Hunter remained on its side, twitching as its muscles and cybernetics received the last mangled signals from the ruin of its brain. Keegi sighed with relief.


He was moving before he even understood why, saving his life as a pulse blast ripped through the air where his head had been a moment before – the Hunter’s partner had caught up. Lev had seen the creature emerge from the lift from his hiding spot, responding to the transmitted distress of its pack-mate, and must have called out a warning – Keegi would berate him for revealing himself later. For the moment, the Gaoian was more concerned about diving behind the tree that he’d been perched on top of moments before.

How was he going to get out of this, now? Keegi was surprised by his own calmness – he could feel the panic there, but something was helping him ignore it, to push it aside as useless in favour of actually trying to solve the problem. Namely, the problem of an angry Hunter stomping his way, its pulse guns firing again and again, shivering the tree that served as his shelter. He barely fit behind the trunk, and he could see bits of bark and splinters flying away with each blast.

His paw clenched around the knife. His one hope was to come out swinging once the Hunter got close enough. Maybe he could get in between those pulse guns, although that would put him in biting range of those horrid teeth

Another blast shook the tree. There was a crack, followed by a groan, and more cracking.

Oh. Well, spit.

Keegi jumped to his feet, trying to get out from under the toppling tree. He was briefly out in the open, an easy target for the Hunter. The tree saved and doomed him; it spun as its trunk broke, tipping sideways and following the Gaoian’s escape path. The upper branches saved Keegi from being crushed, but he was knocked flat and pinned beneath the wood.

He struggled, but the tree budged only slightly. Desperately he began scraping at the dirt beneath him, trying to dig down far enough to get loose.

A hissing rose above him, and he twisted his head to see the Hunter standing there, its pulse guns aimed at him. It was hesitating… it wanted him to see his impending death. It wanted him to panic and despair.

He wouldn’t. He bared his teeth right back at the ugly creature, spitting in defiance. Do your worst. I killed one of you. A predator, killed by the prey.

The Hunter could see he wouldn’t die afraid, and its lips drew back in a silent snarl. It lowered its guns, stepping forward, wanting to claw him to pieces.

The bushes behind it rustled and then burst open, a giant, shaggy shape erupting from the foliage.

It was easy to forget how strong Guvnuragnaguvendrugun were. They were not, of course, on par with Hunters or humans… at least, not proportionately. But they were huge creatures, bulky and heavy, and that took muscle to move about. It was rarely a factor, as the species was entirely made up of congenial, herd-dwelling herbivores. They preferred talk over action, compromise over conflict. They were gentle and (as even they would admit) cowardly.

Which was why Keegi suspected he was one of the first beings in the galaxy to witness a Guvnuragnaguvendrugun in a murderous rage.

You will not!” Levaraggan roared, his flanks rippling with the deepest red Keegi had ever seen.

The Hunter twisted and froze, astonished by the sight of a Guvnuragnaguvendrugun rearing back, his front feet aloft, his huge hands curled into fists. It had barely begun to react when those feet came down, slamming into the Hunter’s back. All of Levaraggan’s considerable weight crushed the Hunter against the soil, and the sound the creature made as the air was forced from its lungs couldn’t have been anything but a grunt of pain.

Lev’s feet crashed against the Hunter again, but before he could do it a third time the creature rolled over onto its back and shot upward, catching him in the shoulder and hip with a pair of pulses. Lev groaned with pain and collapsed, and suddenly the Hunter was trapped just as Keegi was – pinned under a massive weight.

The Hunter was stronger, and it struggled and pushed at Lev, trying to get free. Keegi scratched and scrabbled at the dirt under him. It was a race, and there was no prize – only survival. The Hunter paused to try to shoot at the Gaoian, and the blasts rocked the tree, but the Hunter had a bad angle for a proper shot and Keegi ignored the incoming fire with desperate purpose.

The furry technician managed to get loose. The knife was nearby and he snatched it up. The Hunter was almost loose, and it was difficult to tell which creature was snarling and spitting more. Rather than run off into the brush, Keegi sprinted right at the Hunter, lead by his own furious snarl. He gripped the knife with both paws and leapt. Lev’s body rolled away, and the deadly raider was loose, just as Keegi landed.

The knife found the Hunter’s throat. Keegi screeched, leaning all his weight into the hilt of the knife, driving it down with all his strength. Blood spurted, splashing against his muzzle and chest, and the Hunter struggled, but the Gaoian refused to let up. Cybernetic limbs clawed at the air. Keegi twisted, tearing with the blade, and the Hunter slowly went still. He had no way to read its expression, but the thing almost seemed… shocked.

He didn’t let go of the knife nearly as much as simply collapse himself. His every muscle burned, and he sucked in great lungfuls of precious air even though it made the slash along his side and back burn and seep yet more blood. But he levered himself to his feet, pushing himself over to his friend. “Lev! Lev!”

An agonized groan came from the collapsed heap of fur. Though somehow he’d known Lev still lived, the audible proof sent a wave of relief running from the tips of his ears to the bottom of his feet. “Lev! Oh, thank the stars…” His ears pressed against his head. “I told you to retreat further into the grove!”

“I wasn’t… going to leave you. Never… never alone.”

“You…” Keegi tried to paw too hard, tried not to see the way Lev’s front leg lay at a ridiculous angle, the way his arm was a twisted ruin. “You… you’re an idiot! I’m a small target, you’re not! Next time, let me handle it!”



Lev’s breath was great, painful gasps. But still he managed to sound proud. “We killed… two Hunters.”

The Gaoian paused. “Yes… we did, didn’t we?” He buried his muzzle into Lev’s long fur. “Let’s not do that again.”

“Let’s… not.” They were quiet for a long moment, the silence of the arboretum broken only by the laboured breathing of the fallen Guvnuragnaguvendrugun.



“Stop… leaning on me! That… hurts.”

“Oh! Ah… sorry.”

“I’m told Levaraggan is expected to survive.”

Keegi nodded. “Yes, although it’s going to be a while. He’ll also lose his right foreleg… he doesn’t have the credits for a cloned replacement and apparently letting it heal naturally isn’t feasible for his species… too big and heavy.”

“The medbay isn’t fitted with a low-grav isolation room yet, either. He must be in tremendous pain.”

Keegi paused. He almost seemed to be checking inside himself, but then he bobbed his head in a Gaoian refusal. “No, he’s fine. Doctor Cavvi has some impressive drugs at her disposal, and she’s mentioned that temporary nerve blockage is an option as well. He’s not hurting.”

Trrkitzzkt chose not to question how sure the Gaoian seemed to be. “He was offered a spot in one of the larger medical centres in the core worlds. Why did he refuse?”

“Because he belongs here,” Keegi replied resolutely. “He belongs with us.”

The Hunters were holed up within the compartment that housed the primary atmosphere reprocessor. K’al wondered how they felt about the situation – normally it was the Dominion species that were the defenders, waiting for the inevitable onslaught. Now, the roles were reversed. Surely that must be cloying to the malevolent species? Or were they practical enough to think that the means were irrelevant if they provided the ends?

One way or another, combat was certain. The Hunters had destroyed the secondary reprocessors, leaving only the primary. If the workers of the station didn’t come to retake the compartment, it was certain the Hunters would destroy it as well, leaving them to slowly die of hypoxia. They could do it anyway, but they wanted the fight, wanted the defenders to choose between dying fast and dying slow. It was obvious in the way the Hunters had shut down the reprocessor, but not crippled it. They may not have been advancing the way they wanted, but they were still Hunting… and the machinery that provided breathable air was the bait. Hopefully it was at least a little bit irritating to them… and hopefully K’al would soon add to that.

He’d given up giving orders. It was simply unnecessary… every time he opened his mouth to give an instruction he found that the others were already acting on it. His misbegotten “assault team” – composed of engineers, mechanics, plumbers, welders, and even blessed sanitizers – was operating as efficiently as a battle-hardened brigade fresh from the Celzi front. There was no argument, no pretense. The Corti, normally the most self-interested individuals in the lot, had handed over the few shield belts to the larger, easier-to-hit Vzk’tk without a single complaint. The half-dozen pulse rifles were handed over to the sharp-eyed Rauwryhr without a word of prompting. Every single one of them had at least a pulse pistol, and not a single one had to be told how to operate it.

K’al had no idea how this had come to be, but he was intensely grateful. They needed every advantage, because battle was about to begin.

The Hunters were an ancient race, terrors that had haunted the galaxy through endless cycles of ascent and demise of other spacefaring species. If they’d stagnated, if they’d ceased to advance in technology and tactics, it was because they hadn’t needed to keep ahead. Their technology was more than any other species could match; their biology superior to any known before the arrival of the humans. They had refined their methods of hunting over millions of years, coordinating themselves thanks to instantaneous communication via their cybernetic networks. Even such a small pack should have run roughshod over the pathetic prey animals of the station.

The first indication that things wouldn’t follow their normal path was when shapes began invading the atmospheric processing compartment via the two wide doors on either side of the room. The Hunters were eager and impatient, galled at the fact that they’d had to wait for the prey to come to them instead of running them down as was only right and proper. The very moment targets presented themselves, their pulse guns began blasting.

They weren’t rewarded with the crack of bone or cries of pain. The moving shapes lurched but did not stop, and the sounds heard were that of cracking polymers, of the groan of suddenly stressed hover units. The Corti of the station had seized every hovercart or table they came across on their journey down to the utility decks, modifying their program so that instead of stationary surface they became flying, tilted shields. The tables flew into the room at a steady, fearless pace, cracking under the pulse blasts of the Hunters but never stopping until they were all but shattered.

Behind the tables came the crew of the station. The moment the table in front of them fell to the decking they would open with their own pulse weapons, firing and moving to cover behind consoles and construction equipment left behind in the room that the Hunters had never thought to remove.

Grouping up in a circle, the Hunters put the darkened main tube of the reprocessor at their backs. They peppered the room with pulse fire, only very rarely scoring a hit – the attacking Dominion members always seemed to know where a weapon was aimed before popping up out of cover. Whenever an attacker took a hit the next would slide in front, taking the blow that would have killed, and the Hunters were galled to see their own battle-tactics used against them.

The cybernetic invaders fought efficiently, with the ease of endless practice and the teamwork of instant communication. But the crew needed no communication – they acted more like a single organism, one with scores of eyes and scores of arms wielding innumerable weapons. The first Hunter fell, struck down by a fusillade of pulse fire that landed like a single blow.

The station crew took losses as well. Their shields were weaker, and the Hunter weapons stronger… a hit could kill, even if the victim was shielded. A Vzk’tk fell, struck by a blast that bled through the shield and broke his neck. His companion, a Corti, stripped his body of the shield and threw himself into the fight in his place without a hesitation.

One of the Hunters, anticipating combat with humans, had fit itself with a launcher that fired nervejam grenades. The first shot caught the crew by surprise and killed three who weren’t able to flee in time – and for a brief moment every Dominion member on the station froze, wincing in pain, giving the Hunters the chance to kill two more. When they recovered their pulse fire landed like wrath on the Hunter with the grenade launcher, smashing it to the deck despite the other who moved to shield it.

K’al moved with the crew, holding a pair of pistols in his two upper hands. He felt… detached, like his body was moving of its own accord and he was merely an observer. His thoughts seemed to move so fast that they caused time dilation; his vision felt simultaneously sharper and broader. The very instant he’d entered the room he’d seen that the Hunters were gathered around the central chamber of the reprocessor. The reprocessor was not lit as it would be if it was functioning, pulling molecules of air apart and stripping them of carbon, but it was also undamaged.

He knew the Hunters had only clawed apart the power cabling, and he knew how long it would take to repair it, and how it would be done. He knew none of the Hunters – ever so arrogant – had placed themselves on the second and third levels of the chamber in order to be able to provide suppressive fire. He knew exactly which of his crew had been hit and survived, and the names of those who had not.

He knew they were winning.

Every Hunter that fell was one less target, one less threat, letting the crew concentrate their fire on the next. Not even the advanced cyborgs had personal shields capable of repelling massed fire of that magnitude; one by one they were struck down, until the room was silent. The battle had lasted but moments; to K’al, it was as if it had taken days. He twitched as if waking from a dream, astonished at the sight of the room littered with dead Hunters. Around him he could see – he could feel! – the same reflected on the crew who stood with him.

Nervejam!” a voice cried. The Hunter with the launcher hadn’t been killed, merely crippled. It had been biding its time, but with its packmates destroyed it struck out.

The coin-shaped device spun through the air towards them, glinting with the lights of the surrounding reactors and control panels. The crew was scrambling out of the way, but some, particularly the injured, wouldn’t make it. Someone was going to die.

No, K’al decided. They would not!

Long Rrrtktktkp’ch legs flung him in front of the grenade’s path. He dropped the pistol from his left upper arm, letting it fall as he pulled his hand back. Again time slowed; his eyes easily traced the nervejam’s glittering path. He swung, and felt the small device briefly slap against his palm before it was sent careening away toward the upper walkways of the room. A lonely, disappointed beep was drowned out by the hum of the reactors.


He let his forelegs collapse, sending him into a tumble just as pulse fire tore through the air where he’d been. The Hunter was desperate to kill him, to at least claim the leader of the prey. That desperation was its doom as it exposed itself to all the other “prey”. A dozen pulse bolts stabbed in from a dozen directions, then two dozen, then three… all hitting with such perfect timing that they might as well have been three bolts from naval weaponry. The Hunter was flung away, and there was no question it was truly dead this time, having been reduced to little more than a fleshy bag of pulp.

The compartment was silent. K’al staggered to his feet, looking over his people and the corpses of the Hunters. It was almost too amazing to believe… they’d won. They’d won, and there wasn’t a human in sight! Had such an event ever occurred before?

He walked among the fallen Hunters, making sure each was well and truly deceased, crushing their skulls with pulse fire if he had the slightest doubt. As he did a bit of data was knocked loose and floated up to the front of his mind – frowning, he turned and looked back the dead predators, noting their roughly-similar sizes and level of cybernetic enhancement. None stood out as being larger or more dangerous.

Where is their Alpha?

Cavvi watched her monitor and tried not to gibber with terror. A single dot was moving its way upward through the station. It hadn’t departed from the Hunter blob, nor the arboretum, nor either mass that represented her crewmates. No, this particular dot had originated from the place where the Hunter ship penetrated the station… and it was destined for the station’s medbay.

She “knew” the Hunters in the reprocessor room were dead. She also “knew” that the Hunter Alpha was not among them. Therefore, by elimination, she also knew which Hunter was headed her way.

She really wished she didn’t have to know something like that.

Cavvi felt herself shiver with raw terror. Hunters preferred intelligent food… as a Corti, would she be particularly delectable? She’d rushed over to her workstation, fetching the injector she’d filled when the human had arrived. She’d tossed it into a drawer and forgotten about it, but now it was the one and only weapon she had.

When the Alpha arrived, it stormed in pulse guns blazing. Cavvi screeched, ducking and running, narrowly avoiding being struck by debris smashed off her desk and flung around the room. The Alpha had been firing blindly, intent on suppressing whatever resistance might be present, but when it saw her it began shooting at her as she scrambled from behind her desk to another, sturdier standing table in her lab area. She dived behind it, imagining that she could feel the kinetic blasts pulling at her feet as she did.

The cabinets above her shattered, and boxes and sample tubes and healing equipment rained down on her as she huddled against the table, feeling it lurch as blasts struck its front. One of the light strips along the wall was shattered and began flickering in a rapid pulsing strobe.

I’m going to die. I’m going to die! I don’t want to die! This sucks!

Suddenly the barrage of fire stopped. Cavvi quivered, covering her mouth with her hands in an attempt to silence her own panicked breathing – a stupid gesture, she scolded herself… the Hunter already knew where she was! It was probably moving forward now, it wanted her alive when it began to eat her-

She heard a hiss. It wasn’t anywhere near her pathetic cover.

She peeked around the corner of the table and saw the Hunter Alpha. It wasn’t facing her – in fact, it seemed to have forgotten about her! Instead it faced the human – the poor, pathetic, troublesome human, who sat where she always did: on her bed in the rest area, pulled away from its port on the wall… Cavvi had been helping develop a physical therapy regimen for the creature.

Of course the Hunter would be distracted by the real reason for its presence. It was a reprieve, though only a temporary one… Cavvi had no illusions that a blind and deaf creature – even a human – could possibly battle a Hunter Alpha. The Hunter would kill the human, and then it would kill the Corti who had dared shelter her.

She glanced at the injector and its fatal cocktail of drugs. There was enough in the dose to end a human. A Corti would be gone in moments, a blissful sleep from which she’d never wake. A mercy; deliverance from whatever the Alpha planned in retaliation for its pack’s humiliation on the station. It was the logical thing to do… there was no way she could defeat a Hunter, and she had no desire to endure the monster’s torment before the end.

But what of the human?

…Why did she care about the human?

She watched the Hunter advance on the deathworlder, slowly and cautiously, the closest thing to respect one would receive from a Hunter. Its pulse guns never drifted, waiting for the human to erupt into violence, and the creature seemed confused at her passivity. The human was nervous, and Cavvi wondered if she somehow knew she was being stalked. A pale hand was fisted against her chest, and every now and then she would shiver or jump as if startled, though Cavvi had no idea what she could be reacting to.

She would have no idea, Cavvi realized. She wouldn’t know what was happening when the Hunter started hurting her, would have no ability to escape. An alien emotion welled up inside the Corti, and she actually had to pause and analyze it before she recognized it: pity.

Cavvi flicked a glance at the deadly injector. She… could do it. She could rush forward and inject the human before the Hunter could react. The human would die, quickly and painlessly. The Hunter would be enraged at being denied the kill and would likely murder Cavvi on the spot… but that was also part of the plan. Both females would be spared its grim attentions. It was… logical.

She gripped the injector tightly, her muscles tensing as she prepared to fling herself in the exact opposite direction any sensible sapient would choose: toward a Hunter and its prey. She drew a terrified breath, and-


-hesitated. She didn’t know why.


The Alpha was close, barely a stride away. It leaned in to hiss, and finally the human reacted… flinching as her perfectly functional nose picked up the stench of its breath. The way she reeled made it clear that something was not quite right, and the Hunter stopped hissing and stepped away, its confusion obvious as the deathworlder gently extended a hand in front of her, feeling for a friend who wasn’t there.


She slid off the hoverbed, blindly feeling in front of her. The Hunter easily avoided her clumsy probes, stepping back out of her reach. Cavvi watched the lip curl away from the too-large fanged mouth as the Alpha grasped the human’s predicament with contempt. It walked a circle around her, coming to a stop in front. It had lowered its weapons, and its amusement was plain – the human would be an easy meal.

Hver er þar?”

The Hunter struck, seizing the human by the throat, eager for a taste of deathworlder flesh. A strangled yelp gurgled from the human. Then something Cavvi couldn’t explain happened: the Hunter paused, then let its prey go.

No… it reeled away from her!

The human fell backwards onto her rump with a cry, her blonde hair flying. The Hunter staggered and thrashed. Its hissing matched the groans of the human, who was rocking back and forth on the floor, pressing her fists against her head. The cybernetic creature seemed to be battling the air; it smashed aside a cart full of instruments, and pulse guns fired rounds uselessly into the walls and storage units of the medbay. Cavvi watched, shocked, as the Alpha began to aim one of its weapons at its own head.

Do it! Do it! Cavvi thought, directing all her fear and anger into it. For a moment it looked as if it might happen, then the Hunter thrashed once more, and its other weapon spat a kinetic bolt. It struck the human in the head, knocking her backward so violently that she tumbled backward, flipping over her shoulder and landing face-down with a cry of pain.

The Hunter was freed from whatever assault it had been enduring, snarling with undiluted rage. It stomped over on its six legs and seized the fallen female by her long hair, hauling her upward so it could strike her across the face with its other cybernetic arm. It did it once more, splitting the human’s brow and drawing a trickle of crimson blood to run down across her nose.

-Now, please! Help!-

Cavvi was moving before she’d even made the decision to do so.

You will not!” she screeched as she rushed forward. Her legs strained, and she nearly slipped… the Corti body was not made for sprinting. She refused to heed her physical limitations, casting them aside. Crossing the intervening space with greater speed than she’d ever thought possible, it was with an almost sexual sense of triumph that she slammed the injector down, delivering its deadly payload straight into the Hunter’s lower back, through its thick, pale skin.

Its reaction was immediate. It dropped the bleeding human to swing at Cavvi, and if it was furious before it was apoplectic now. She felt the bones of her arm crumble as the prosthetic-enhanced limb crashed into her, and she experienced a curious moment of freefall as she was lifted bodily from the floor, flung across nearly the entirety of the medbay before the gravity plating reasserted itself. Her large head bounced off the decking, stars exploding in her vision, and pain made itself known in screaming fire that raced up her mangled arm and ribs.

The agony was incredible, but something pushed her through it, helped her mind keep operating. She weakly struggled to get her good arm under her, blinking away double-vision, fighting to lift her head. She was gripped by a need to see, to witness her own end, although the sensible parts of her mind were telling her that she might as well just close her eyes and wait.

She saw the Hunter standing over her. She could feel its hate – it knew it was dying, knew it had been killed by a creature it considered weak, little more than a prey animal. The insult drove it far beyond rage. She almost felt like she could see herself through its eyes… bleeding, broken, sprawled on the deck and unable to flee. It would make sure she died before it did, but it wouldn’t use its pulse weapons, no… it wanted to feel her body pulp under its blows!

Cavvi could do little more than stare up at it. And grin, because for some reason she found the Hunter’s dying fury incredibly satisfying. That’ll teach you to underestimate a Corti! The cybernetic arms fell with murderous intent.


A sturdy body appeared in between the Hunter and the Corti at the last second, taking the blow on Cavvi’s behalf. The human was knocked to her elbows and knees with the impact, and Cavvi gasped with shock… and fear, because if the human fell on her – especially in her current condition! – it would be just as deadly as the Hunter!

The human seemed to know this as she braced herself, somehow also knowing where to place her hands on either side of Cavvi’s head. The blows and eventually pulse fire rained against her back and she cried out in pain, her arms shaking, but still the human held strong.

The Hunter eventually tried to claw her out of the way, slashing through her robe and leaving a trio of lines along her back, but its strength was fading. The hits slowed, and its breathing became more and more laboured until it staggered on its six legs and fell over, wheezing. From beneath the shelter of the human’s body, Cavvi saw it twitch on its side, foam flecking its mouth. Soon only its eyes, incandescent with hate, had any sign of life… then those, too, dimmed and went out. The Hunter was still.

Cavvi was quiet for long moments, terrified of some trick… but soon it was obvious that the creature was well and truly gone.

It’s done. It’s dead!

The human groaned and let herself tip over, gasping with pain as she thumped against the decking. The area around her right eye was turning a livid purple, and the blood from her head wound painted one side of her face and some of the ash-blonde hair. It dripped onto the decking, and Cavvi tiredly noted some had even landed on her face.

Wonderful, she thought with wry annoyance – now she’d need a wide-spectrum antibiotic on top of everything else. She sighed.

-That hurt-

Cavvi wasn’t sure that was her own thought, but wasn’t particularly interested in figuring it out… her arm and ribs were demanding attention. “Yes. Yes, it did.”

“Killing a Hunter Alpha single-handedly… that’s quite the feat, Doctor Cavvi.”

The Corti waved dismissively. “It was preoccupied with the human. I saw the opportunity and took it.”

“Most sapients wouldn’t have done that much. You did, and survived as well. I believe that deserves some respect.” Her response was a noncommittal shrug. “And you say the human, this Karin, did nothing?”

Cavvi watched him carefully. Trrkitzzkt was much larger, but he felt like prey under the unblinking gaze of those large, black eyes. “No. The human was only useful for monopolizing attention and taking a beating. I’m told they’re good at that.”

“No, she was in the medbay the whole time,” Keegi replied, confused. “She’s blind and deaf. What could she have done?”

“She attracted the Hunters to the station, there’s no denying that,” K’al pointed out, “but not as a deliberate act. Does she even know the Swarm is hunting her people?”

Trrkitzzkt nodded, conceding the point. “Well, thank you, Commander. I appreciate your time, and-”

“What do you intend to do when you catch up with her, Investigator?” K’al questioned, leaning forward. The question was not an idle one… he was watching the other Rrrtktktkp’ch carefully.

“I… well, we’re not like the Corti. A sapient being was victimized by a Rrrtktktkp’ch and deserves consideration. Krrkktnkk A’ktnnzzik’tk may have resigned his position, but-”

“You can’t return her to her world, not with the shield,” K’al pointed out. “And there isn’t a polity in the Dominion that would shelter her, not in the current galactic climate. Even Gao has made it clear that their human isn’t on-world anymore. You can’t give her her senses back, and you can’t give her her home back. So let me ask again, Investigator: what will you do with her?”

Trrkitzzkt could only blink, caught without words. “I…-” K’al stared at him. “I… I don’t know. But-”

“You should leave her be,” the commander said sternly. “She can take care of herself.”

Trrkitzzkt quietly passed through the corridors of the station, feeling the occasional eyes noting his passage as he did. Never before had he felt such a sense of… not belonging, not even on alien worlds where he was the only Rrrtktktkp’ch to be found for parsecs. He was an outsider in the truest sense of the word. Not like the crew of the station – there was a camaraderie among them, something that went well beyond simply having survived a Hunter attack together.

A pair of Vzk’tk were working on a shattered energy conduit together. Trrkitzzkt paused as – without being prompted or even looking – one lifted a molecular bonder and handed it to his partner, who immediately used it to seal a relay. Perhaps a sign of long familiarity with each other’s working habits… perhaps. Down the corridor, a Rauwryhr repairing a panel noticed his scrutiny, and immediately both Vzk’tk turned to glare at him. Not a single word was spoken.

Swallowing past a dry throat, Trrkitzzkt bowed his head in friendly and respectful acknowledgement and resumed walking, barely resisting the urge to flee. It was a relief when he was finally in the shuttle again, alone, away from the omnipresent gaze.

What next? Cavvi had said they hadn’t logged the destination of the outbound freighter the human had hitched a ride on, and Trrkitzzkt suspected he’d get nearly identical answers from every single sapient on board the station… whether they were in a position to know such things or not. Then there was K’al’bktktk’r’s subtle warning.

Leave her be. His words, or hers?

He would leave it to his superiors… he had no desire to make this decision himself. That just left him the responsibility to file his report, assuming he could figure out what to say. Like how to explain his suspicion that the human had – quietly, perhaps unconsciously – set herself up in the centre of the station like a Hunter Alpha or hive queen. That to replace the senses robbed from her she borrowed those of the beings around her, and whether by accident or design also tied them together into a collective tighter than any team or family. Separate but together… never alone.

Did she know that the webs she spun didn’t fall apart when she left? As she sought reprieve from the isolation and despair of the disability that had been inflicted upon her, did she know such exchanges weren’t one-way? Something was left behind in everyone she touched… valour, guile, fury, hubris – the traits that were quickly becoming those that defined humans.

Of course, if Trrkitzzkt were to ask any random sapient on any world in the Dominion what the defining trait of a human was, he was certain he’d receive the same answer again and again: chaos. With such examples as the so-called “Human Disaster”, it wasn’t hard to see why. But there was one human out there who spread not chaos, but harmony, to everyone she touched.

Like a disease. And no suppression implant could stop it.

He had no idea how to explain any of this… nor how to explain that despite how much the human terrified him, deep down he wished to know that touch. That he might willingly throw himself into her web, to gain what he’d seen on board Station 9384-mlikl.

Trrkitzzkt stood, unnerved, gathering his tablet to himself although he didn’t stop the recording just yet. K’al watched him as he did. He paused, glancing up. “You realize that the Hunters may react badly to this… event, yes? That they might make another attempt to take the human if they don’t know she’s fled? Even if they do, they may simply want to redress this defeat.”

K’al tilted his head, thinking. Then he smiled. It was a broad, toothy smile… feral. For all that the face was just like his own, it wasn’t a Rrrtktktkp’ch expression in the least.

“Let them come.”


Previous Chapter

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 – 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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