Rising Titans – Chapter 41

9 Years, 6 Months, 13 Days After Eridani Landing


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 double take as she took in Diana’s appearance. Diana smiled keeping her weapon pointed at the woman. The woman for her part only quickly glanced to either side down the corridors.

“Make a sound and I shoot you, now walk over here.”

The woman apparently at a loss for words took a small step forwards as Diana had directed.

The building shook and a rumble from a distant explosion ripped through the air. Diana blinked in surprise and already on edge the woman let out a blood curdling scream. Diana quickly fired hitting the woman sending her to the ground.

Another explosion sounded and Diana winced and picked up the Comm again.



“How long have you had the tail specifically? Since the hospital, or before that?”

The line was silent for a moment and Diana heard several warnings going off in the background and [Orin] fighting with the controls of her transport.

“Before the hospital.”

“Meaning it’s not the Empire following you, it’s the guys we stole the ship from. To top it off you advertised where I was and what state I was in.”

“Well I’m sorry we tried to save your life! I don’t know anything about medicine beyond bandages! We injected you with some of the nano-machines but you were still bleeding!”

“This is just going to be more interesting is all, and I’m not going to have to do much for a distraction. Meet me on the roof on time!”

Diana closed the line as [Orin] began to swear again.

“Idiots!” growled Diana, not putting much force into the words. In all honesty the two of them would be able to without her guidance run the criminal networks on the planet if she removed the other class C’s. Which was saying something considering she had only had a month to train them.

The building shook again and Diana rolled her eyes. Sek was once again taking the more direct route it seemed, simply blasting through the hospital to find her. He was not sneaking in as a guest with some sort of poison to inject while she was unconcious, no he was literally breaking into the hospital guns blazing.

Diana paused, she hoped it was him at least. He was a known factor, and one that despite his brutality was predictable. The only other group she could think of was some wort of Empire clean up crew fro dealing with class C’s.

Shrugging Diana began to jog down the corridor, looking for a stairwell. Doctors, staff, and those patients who could get out of their beds were all cautiously looking around and sticking their heads out of doorways. An alarm began to sound as Diana rounded the corner and ignoring the odd looks from others around her quickly found the stairwell.

Several people hesitantly got in her way as she ran towards it, Diana pushed them away trying to avoid shooting anyone else.

Reaching the stairs and bounding up them moving far faster than the patients and others moving down Diana paused at the third floor looking at the lettering on the wall, pediatric wing. For a half moment Diana stared at the plaque, the building shook again and Diana heard the sound of twanging gunfire in the distance.

Shaking her head Diana turned from the door and continued up the stairs moving as quickly as she could up the building now, trying to ignore the part of her that was yelling to go back and ensure that the children would at least be out of the building before Sek and his ilk swept through the wing looking for her.

Growling in frustration Diana swung away from the stairs and ran into the next hallway, the weapon hastily clipped onto the vest she had stolen.

The medical personnel and staff were by this point in full evacuation mode pulling patients who were an even mix of class A and B from rooms, life support equipment was rolling in every direction and Diana quickly spotted a younger looking class A directing everything from a small raised stage in the middle of what looked like a waiting area.

He had an orange suit on like the other woman, and he was shouting over the crowd pointing and directing others to work.

“Hey!” shouted Diana.

The man finished telling a subordinate something and then quickly turned, his eyes widened slightly looking at Diana, and the blood stained uniform she had stolen.

“You alright?”

“Intercom, or the public frequency what is it?” asked Diana.

“What?” asked the man confused.

Diana stepped forwards and with her left hand grabbed his smock and lifted him up.

“You want these people to survive or not? I need the intercom to deal with the idiots shooting out the lower floors!”

“There are people shooting!?”

“Class C’s, intercom now!” shouted Diana.

The man’s red skin paled slightly and his eyes went wide.

“Class C’s!?”

“Intercom!” Diana set him down but kept her hand on his shirt holding him steady. The room which had been a loud hubbub a moment before was now deathly silent.


The man handed his Comm to Diana.

She smiled, and raised it up.

“Sek! You want to get me I’ll be on the roof! Come and get me you bastard!”

Diana pocketed the Comm and spun around trudging back towards the stairs.


Diana turned, the man was looking at her, “Why are class C’s here!? How did they get here?”

“Well I’m here to sightsee, the other class C’s? They’re here to kill all of you.”

The man blinked and he took a step back, “You, you,” he stumbled over the word several more times.

Diana raised the weapon, and gestured at her commandeered armor, “This isn’t my blood. Now get your patients out, this building is going to be burning by now I think.”

Diana spun and strode away from the man back towards the stairs. Reaching into her pocket Diana drew the Comm out again.

“Sek! Coming into a hospital to get to me? It’s nice to feel wanted. Although I suppose you think shooting all of the aliens in here is acceptable, they’re after all on the other side right?”

Diana of course no heard response, and turning continued going up the stairs, “You going to be cowardly enough to kill children? Cripples? The sick and injured? They’re not very tough targets! If you want an actual fight I’ll meet you on the roof!”

Diana still hearing nothing from below continued up to the last door on the stairwell. Pausing she for a half moment looked at where a doorknob would be and then looking at what was once again two needlessly complex sliding doors she raised the gun and fired into the center punching through the metal.

Stepping through the hole and onto the roof Diana got her first good look at the hospital, and what was going on.

The entire building was roughly horseshoe shaped, and she was on then end of one side looking inwards. The entire bottom floor of the other side was on fire, and people were streaming out of the base evacuating the building.

Another explosion went off and Diana winced as the second and third floors across from her were blown outwards glass, an bodies going in every direction.

Diana watched as several bodies hit the ground and burned. They were class A’s the same species that had destroyed Earth. One body was unmistakably a child. Diana stared at it for a moment .

Turning away from the carnage Diana scanned the air looking for her class B’s. At the moment the air was full of transports and emergency vehicles. Some of the largest transports Diana had ever seen, one that had to be at least half the length of the Canada were descending down on the hospital.

Already spewing large fire suppressents Diana watched as men jumped from the vehicles cald in thick armor and breathing masks. She watched as they hit the ground, apparently unperterbed by a ten meter drop and began to rush into the hospital.

A pulse of energy buzzed past Diana and she threw herself down onto the roof with a curse, the bolt hit the doorframe behind her and Diana winced as it dissolved away in a sparkling of light.


She pulled out her own Comm again, “Where are you!?”

“I’m almost there! What did you do to the place!?”

“Not me! Sek!”

“Who the hell would attack a hospital?”

“He’s a class C. He doesn’t like the competition.”

“He’s class C too? [Hal]! Are you a class C? Is everyone a class C except me!?”

Diana chuckled, “[Hal] I’m going to need covering fire. The big gun.”

Their was a faint sound of fighting and more cursing before [Hal]’s voice came onto the line, “The big gun?”

“Yes. Don’t hit me.”

Rolling to her stomach and slowly looking up Diana spotted Sek and several others on the opposite side of the building, they were glowering across the expanse at her. Diana raising her gun let loose several shots making them scramble for cover.

“Also, shoot the trailing transport when you pick me up.”

“Already took care of it!”

“Really? How…”

Diana looked up as the sound of a transport’s engine screaming out of control became noticeable.

“They followed me up to the Transport ceiling, and I might have clipped them when we fell.”

Dian watched as the Transport shot past the emergency vehicles and personnel to slam itself into the ground right in the middle of the horseshoe. A massive conflagration went skyward from the impact and in those flames Diana saw the unstable interactions as the strange matter in the vehicle dissipated.

Another transport’s engine also screaming in protest but seemingly under more control dove down past the line of fire fighting vehicles and pulling up at the last moment levelled on the building next to Diana.

“God damn it! You’re an even bigger target!” shouted Diana as she laid down another barrage of fire across the horseshoe.

The doors on both sides of the transport opened, [Hal] now with a clear line of sight hefted his weapon up onto his shoulder and fired. The Empire’s version of a minigun, which like anything else they used spat concentrated plasma, in fact it was the same gun Diana held only with a massive shoulder mounted heat sink which took up a large amount of space.

The sizzling of the energy in the air was audible above the fire and emergency klaxons as [Hal] opened up.

Diana jumped up into the transport and grabbed onto [Hal]’s collar holding him in place.


[Orin] hit the accelerator.

[Hal] let out a shout as he continued to fire, and Diana looking down groaned as his shots went wide, and he poorly tracked with the movement of the vehicle.

“Enough!” said Diana as she pulled back on his armor.

“We’re hit, something’s wrong with navigation,” said [Orin] from the front seat.

“Great, get us far away.”


Diana watched as the class A police vehicle, or military transport leveled with the other side of the horseshoe, and as men began to pour out and try to contain the class C’s.”

“Sek’s got his own car now.”

“I’ve got nothing but altitude control, we can go up or down.”

Diana turned to look at where the vehicle was going. The trees and massive wilderness stretched out in front of her and she smiled.

“Up, we’re going to finish this. Once we’re in the wilderness, try and land.”

“I’m not in control of the accelerator, we’re going to crash.”

“Then we crash.”

“No other options?” asked [Hal].

Diana glanced down out of the still open door at the ruined city flashing by below, “Unless you want to jump?”

“Let’s crash.”

9 Years, 6 Months, 15 Days After Eridani Landing


“Honestly I’m surprised you didn’t ask earlier,” said Stagg.

Bitus raised an eyebrow at that, “Then you already have an answer?”

Stagg picked up the small saucer in front of her and took a sip of the alien tea. She let out a sigh.

“Yes, I do. I’ll allow it, but not one from each of your nations.”

The three world leaders looked at one another and then at Stagg, “Why not?” asked King Henswick his voice carefully level.

“Because I don’t feel like playing your politics, and if any one of the three you send up is separated for any amount of time you’re going to claim we provided them with additional information, I’ve also not got enough crew to babysit. I fee I must also mention that I’ll not tolerate any attempts to steal data or technology.”

President Renil glared at Stagg, “Reasonable, but I thought that was implied.”

Stagg shrugged, “I’ll allow two people, one of whom I have already selected to go up to the Canda.”

“You have already selected someone?” asked King Henswick.

“Anil Yunhin-Sel.”

Bitus’s eyes widened and he leaned back in his own chair, “My aide?”

“She’s been the one most in contact with Derrick, and to be frank she is not an engineer. She will not be able to steal information simply by looking at something we have constructed.”

“You seem to be adamant on not sharing any of your technology, but you want us to ally with you?” asked President Renil.

“I am adamant about it, If I simply hand you technology you’ll not have learned how and why you should not use it in certain ways. My single ship posses more destructive power than the militaries of your entire planet. Would you be willing to give a nuclear weapon to one of the leaders of your planet three hundred years ago? Would you be able to trust they know how dangerous it is?”

Bitus smiled slightly, “Perhaps not, but if you are to be believed we do not have time to develop. Hostile aliens intend to wipe us out soon. Not in 300 years.”

Stagg grimaced, “Correct. Which is why I am against my better judgement allowing you some access to less militarized technology. Your representatives will come down from my ship with a data module that contains information about computer technology and communication architecture that is 50 years ahead of anything you have.”

“You feel it is safe to give us this why?” asked Henswick.

“Your nations and governments have only barely begun to use computers, your engineers understand them however, and I am not giving you the programs for the computers. Your national secrets and classified documents are still on paper or physical mediums. You won’t be able to attack one another digitally.”

Stagg took another sip of her tea.

“I’ll have to hope you don’t try and use the computer technology in your weapons, but really do you need a nuclear missile to be accurate to within centimeters when your current technology makes them accurate to within a meter?”

Stagg put her cup down, “I’m also betting on the fact, that like humans you don’t take kindly to the idea that someone else is going to take a crack at killing you. If you’re race is going to die, it’ll be by your own hand and no one else’s.”

King Henswick let out a small chuckle took a sip of his drink, which as far as Stagg could tell was actually alcoholic. “You’ve got that right!”

Renil and Bitus glared at the man but he ignored them.

“Any stipulations for the second person?”

“A military officer, someone who understands why we do what we do. Humanity is at this point training every child to be an insurgent, a solider. My crew is young, few have grown up in any other environment and I fear a civilian like Anil is going to have a hard enough time relating. A military man though?”

King Henswick took another swig of his drink, “I’m beginning to like Humans. I’ve plenty of military officers who would…” he paused looking at Stagg as she held up a hand.

“What does that mean?” asked Renil.

“Sorry, that means stop. No officers, an enlisted member from any one of your armies.”

Bitus sat up straighter, “Enlisted?”

“They’ll not contest the orders on my ship. One second of hesitation in space can lead to death, from what Arik tells me you’re very much aware of that fact.”

“You mean the Unthil missions?” asked King Henswick.

“It’s reminiscent of our first space programs if that’s any consolation. We had more failures than you, and ours for the most part failed in the atmosphere.”

“I’ll abstain from trying to select someone in my own military if Anil is going up.” Said Bitus.

“King, President. I’ll give you some time to select someone…”

Stagg went silent as President Renil tapped the table, she turned to Henswick.

“Crewman Pankin.”

“He’s currently in prison awaiting trial. He’s not an option,” growled Henswick.

“He’s the only one I’ll trust to remain impartial.”

Stagg leaned over across the table to Bitus, “I’m missing something here.”

“Crewman Pankin is infamous as either a traitor or hero depending on which side of the war you are on. As the public record report goes he was given orders to fire on a Fidelin Medical dirigible, intelligence had been gained suggesting that it was flying a false flag and was in fact a weapons transport. He was in formation with several other aircraft, at the point position in fact. When given orders to fire he refused, and instead radioed the transport and asked it to land for inspection, personally promising the captain they would not be fired on if they were indeed medical transportation.”

“As the story goes the Captain argued until Pankin fired a missile across his flight path and stated he had orders to shoot him down. The Captain acquiesced, and moved in to land. Another member of the flight squadron was given orders to fire on the transport, and Pankin turned and locked onto one of his own craft, again firing a missile, which detonated close enough to nearly knock the friendly craft from the air.”

“The result?” asked Stagg.

“Certus forces made it to the transport within an [hour] and performed a search. The intelligence was bad. The medical vessel was allowed to take flight again without further incident. It both damaged and improved relations for both sides. “

Stagg frowned, “So he was court marshalled.”


“I’m not sure I would want such a man on my ship, but then I feel like he would fit right in.”

“Your crews are rebellious?” asked Bitus.

“I was only following orders is something that is frowned on in human militaries as a defense, and has been for some time. We committed far too many atrocities under the guise of blind obedience. Still, when given a mission soldiers are expected to carry it out.”

“So you won’t allow this man on your ship if they select him?”

Stagg reaching out picked up her cup again and quickly drained it.

“No, like you said they might not agree on anyone else.”

9 Years, 6 Months, 16 Days After Eridani Landing


“Why are you making me come with you?” asked Derrick annoyed.

“You know this species best. You’ve been on the ground longest, and you know Anil.”

“Captain the chief Engineer’s and my own time would be better spent on the planet!” said Arik her voice and image projected in the cockpit of the shuttle.

“I disagree. We need these people to start trusting us. Besides, you’re still in orbit. Keep working down here with the engineers.”

Derrick groaned and sat down in the seats on the side of the shuttle, “I’m playing enough politics getting engineers from three nations working together, and engineers as a whole hate politics!”

“Your most difficult argument besides which engineering standard to use was what types of stimulants would be stocked in the break room of the facility,” said Arik coolly.

“Stimulants?” asked Stagg.

“Coffee, and tea, or the equivalents, as well as something laced with caffeine I have to feed to the programmers. In the end I just ordered everything. Now they all love me.”

“Yes, although now you’ve got them trying to figure out how to duplicate human coffee now that you let them sample it. They’re planning to ask the diplomats to request it in trade.”

“I’m not giving up my own coffee,” growled Stagg.

A bang on the back of the shuttle interrupted the argument, “Oh, our abductee’s are here!”

Both Derrick and Stagg shot the AI a withering look. Moving over to the hatch Stagg hit the release.

The ramp slowly slid down and hit the tarmac.

“Anil!” Derrick raised a hand and waved at the alien. The atmospheric regulator in his suit beeped and dumped cold oxygen into his back. Derrick jumped in his seat and quickly turned to fix it.

Stagg looked at the guards who had escorted the two C1803’s to the ship.

“Anil, and Pankin?”

“My rank has been reinstated ma’am,” said the alien as he awkwardly stepped forwards and held his arm out ramrod straight to Stagg. Walking down the ramp she took it and shook his hand.

“I’ve been told why you were selected, as well as that turned out for you I’m not going to have any of it. This is my ship, my crew, and you will not understand enough to know if something is dangerous, foolish, or safe. You’re going to do exactly what I order understand?”

The larger specimen of C1803’s eyes widened slightly, “Completely sir! I simply didn’t want to kill a ship carrying wounded!”

“Why?” asked Stagg.

“I have some amount of honor Captain.”

Stagg’s eyes fell slightly, “Well hold onto it for as long as you can.”

He frowned slightly at that but Stagg turned and trudged back up the ramp before he could say anything else.

Anil and Pankin followed her up the ramp. Anil quickly moved over to sit next to Derrick, her eyes were wide taking in the interior of the shuttle again.

“It seemed smaller last time.”

“Last time you were sharing it with marines.”


Pankin followed Stagg and sat down in the back of the shuttle as well, he looked at the straps and frowned.

“We don’t need suits?”

“We have spares on out ship and you’ll be issued those when we get there,” said Stagg as she sat down next to him.

Anil looked around and then up at the cockpit, “Where is the pilot?”

Derrick glanced up, “Oh, Arik’s flying. We’re still waiting for your governments on the synthesis of fuel for our atmospheric craft. We’re going to need to save as much as possible for taking the satellites up. So we’re doing weight reduction measures, meaning no pilot when Arik can fly.”

“You can’t?”

“I could, she’s the better pilot though.”

“Yes, last time you flew what happened?” asked Arik her image on the monitors of the cockpit.

Derrick ignored her and turned away, “Pankin, you’re a fighter pilot?”

“I am; I fly a G9-Falin the most advanced fighter jet on the planet.”

Derrick nodded, “I’d love to get a look at one.”

“Really? Your own technology is decades ahead, why would you want to look at some outdated craft?”

“I want to see what you did like Humans, and what you did differently. Just a matter of curiosity to be honest”

“I’ll see what I can do, although I really want to fly this thing! I’ve only been high enough to see a slight curve of the planet.”

“You are not flying my shuttle,” growled Arik.

“Your shuttle?” asked Stagg raising an eyebrow.

“My shuttle.”

The craft jolted up moving, and everyone in the back of the vessel was thrown to the side of their seats as Arik angled the craft up and poured on the speed.

“Arik!” shouted Derrick.


“Stop showing off!”

“Keep showing off!” shouted Pankin a wild grin on his face.

The acceleration forces started to die down as the vessel climbed up into the air, and out of the atmosphere of the planet.

9 Years, 6 Months, 15 Days After Eridani Landing

Deep Space, The [Singer]

Sitting up [Vann] grunted in pain as he hit the bulkhead above him. Groaning and rubbing at it he slowly turned and put his feet down on the metal floor of the captain’s quarters of the old ship.


The room remained dark.

“Lights!” repeated [Vann] as he stood.

The lights in the room slowly flickered on. Vann once again looked around the small quarters, in the past it might have been luxurious, and indeed some ancient ancestor of his lineage had commanded the ship at one point. That had been only just after the Empire have moves on towards the stars though, and now the ship was small and clunky in most respects.

The only upgraders were in her power production, shields, weapons and support systems. As well as her cloaking system, which was unique to her. The [Singer] had been serving as the testbed for most systems for generations, but never in the way of personal accommodations.

Going over to his wardrobe [Vann] pulled the simple uniform from the rack and yawning began to slowly strip out of his nightclothes to put it on.

“FULL ALERT!” was shouted through the ship.

The klaxon in his quarters began to sound and swearing [Vann] pulled on his uniform and stumbling over himself scrambled out of the cramped quarters into an even more cramped hallway. One advantage he had to admit was that the captain’s quarters were on the same deck as the bridge, so he was never far away.

The doors of the bridge were already beginning to roll shut for combat conditions, and hopping past them before they completely closed [Vann] looked around the bridge.

“Report!” barked [Vann].

“Three enemy contacts, all of them just jumped into the system. They have fired missiles, and performed a blink! They have not been detected again!” shouted the man at tactical.

“Shield’s to full for projected impact section, prepare and seal all other stations and compartments. Prepare to reinforce armor. When we lose shields divert the power to inertial systems.”

[Vann] strode over to tactical, “When you get a fix fire at their trajectory, and then I want you to fire all point defense batteries in rotating arcs into space, they’re going to blink again.”

“Yes sir!”

[Vann] turned and moved back to the center of the ship, [Syn] held out a cup of tea and [Vann] carefully took it.

“Thank you.”

“Your welcome. Want to status report now?”

[Vann] looked over at the tactical hologram in the middle of the bridge and shook his head, “No we got some surprises last time I’m thinking we’ll have more this time. Best to stay on my toes for them.”

“You’re trying to predict them?” asked [Syn].

“I’m trying yes, although…” he trailed off looking at the tactical readout.

“Sensors, what’s going on with the star?”

“I’m not sure, the readings are odd. The magnetic field is going haywire.”

“Guess, have those ships shown up yet?” barked [Vann] turning back to tactical.

“No sir!”

“The readings for the star, they line up with models for a star going supernova sir!” shouted the sensor officer.


“If the models are correct, we have a wall of plasma heading right for us!”

“Helm, prepare us for a jump any beacon!”

“We cannot get a lock sir! The stars throwing out far too many tachyons! I can’t get anything!”

Vann looked out of the main display and watched as the star exploded, flinging matter and energy in every direction.

“We’re dead,” he muttered dejected as he sat back down in his seat and took a sip of his tea calmly waiting for the explosion to hit.

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Ruck, Willinkree Year 3042 Day 35 “No! Let go of me!” shouted [Sil] as she struggled to break the brute’s hold. The class C stared dumbly back at her, glaring at him [Sil] pulled at her bonds and sat down on the ground unable to make them even budge in the large alien’s hands. On

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Waters of Babylon – Tzedakah Part 2

Date Point: 14Y 1M AV The Thing, Folctha, Cimbrean A Meeting of Mothers was much like a Conclave of Champions, and it was only coincidence that both terms alliterated nicely in English. Neither was terribly common, and both were typically invoked by their various constituencies to deal with an issue bigger than any one constituent

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Waters of Babylon – Tzedakah Part 1

For He will instruct His angels in your behalf, to guard you in all your ways. They will carry you in their hands, lest you hurt your foot on a rock. You will tread upon the lion and the viper; you will trample upon the young lion and the serpent —Psalm 91 Date Point: 14Y

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Good Training – Survival Part 9

Date point: 14y 9m 1d AV Planet Akyawentuo, The Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Meeting of Given-Men Yan Given-Man “When will Jooyun return and take the Rite of Manhood?” Yan mopped some of the sweat from his crest and loosened up his crushing grip on his challengers. “Soon,” he said confidently. “Soon.” Fall was almost

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Causal Results – Chapter 4

Species C543 System 4 Years 2 months 23 days Before C1764 FTL Jump “Ma’am.” [Sil] tried to turn away from the noise and tried to remain in the blissful realm of unconsciousness. “Ma’am!” [Sil] forced her eyes open and let out a low groan of pain. [Fred] was next to her on the ground, her

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Good Training – Survival Part 8

Date point: 14y 9m 1d AV Total Combat Fitness, southwest Folctha, Cimbrean Mid-morning Dr. Marc Tisdale Marc was, at heart, a gentle man. He had love for most everyone he met and refused to hold anger for anyone or anything unless they had truly, irrevocably earned it. That said, he was still a man and

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Causal Results – Chapter 3

Species C543 System 4 Years 2 months 27 days Before C1764 FTL Jump [Sil] looked at the controls for the pod and slowly shook her head, “This is not good.” [Fred] only able to operate because of the minimal effort needed to move around in zero-g drifted forwards, “I would agree, but what is the

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 56: Dataquake Part 5

Date Point: 16y3m1w Memorial Concourse, Old Commune of the Clan of Females, City of Wi Kao, Planet Gao Mother Shoua There were days when Shoua missed the old commune, at the other end of the city. The new commune was larger, more modern and much more secure of course but… …But the old one had

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 56: Dataquake Part 4

Date Point: 16y3m1w Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Ramsey Buehler Ramsey didn’t think he’d ever get used to being one of the cool kids at school. Actually, just going to school was kinda weird after all the home schooling he and Tristan had had back on Earth, but whenever he and his brother had got

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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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 56: Dataquake Part 3

Date Point: 16y3m6d HMS Sharman (HMNB Folctha), Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Technical Sergeant Adam “Warhorse” Arés “Firth, I gotta ask ‘ya something.” Per Colonel Powell’s standing orders, they had the rest of the day off for individual training time after a mission. Adam always took maximum advantage, but some of the other operators might use

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Causal Results – Chapter 2

First Landing Earth, Florida, Launch pad 39A April 12, 2033 “Ignition Sequence start, five, four, three, two, one, lift off!” The crowds several miles away from the historic launch pad watched as the craft slowly began to move up into the atmosphere. Almost an homage to the craft that had taken Humans to the moon

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Good Training – Survival Part 7

Date point: 14y 8m 2w 2d AV The Dog House, Folctha, Cimbrean Late afternoon Julian Etsicitty Agony. If Adam had a singular talent that stood out, it would have to be his supernatural ability to give his training victims some very dramatic results by inflicting insane amounts of pain. Julian both dreaded and eagerly anticipated

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Henosis – Chapter 3

Virtrew had been relaxing in the starboard docking array. He’d been feeling inspired and creative for the past ten-day… it was too late to alter the structure of the current station, but he had ideas for the next. He was off-shift, so he’d picked up his data tablet, a bowl full of Vzk’tk salad, and

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 56: Dataquake Part 2

Date Point: 16y3m6d η Ithacae, 94.9° 12-GERBER-UNARY G2V III, “Heafield” Technical Sergeant Adam “Warhorse” Arés Every now and then, Adam had a day where every little thing went so well and he found himself firing on all cylinders so perfectly, he could feel right in his big ol’ slab of a chest that exact same

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 56: Dataquake Part 1

Date Point: 16y3m5d AV Hierarchy/Cabal Joint Communications session #1772 ++0010++: Proximal’s continued absence is a source of concern, and investigating has been forced to take a low priority by other operations. His last known activity was in an Irujzen-1-adjacent sub-lucid volume. ++0004++: Irujzen? Why was he all the way out there? That’s a backwater! ++0022++:

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Henosis – Chapter 2

The mess hall on the station was a cavernous space on one of the mid-decks in the core, overlooking the long central shaft. It was a temporary arrangement… once the station was near-complete, a merchant or restaurateur would be enticed into setting up a proper dining area, whereupon the space would be converted in whatever

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 55: Reinvention Part 5

Date Point: 16y3m5d AV Planet Rauwryhr, The Rauwryhr Republic, Perseus Arm Ambassador Sir Patrick Knight Rauwran Great Trees were… They were quite a thing to behold. Each one was as thick around at the base as a cricket ground, and soared up and up and up until their canopy was an invisible dark haze high

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Henosis – Chapter 1

[2yr 1m AV] Trrkitzzkt L’tr’brtrk’tr quietly filed away the video files of the interviews he’d completed, queuing a copy to be sent via the station’s normal data exchange to his personal archive, in addition to the backup copy he kept on his personal data tablet. Both were encrypted with the strongest algorithms the investigator had

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Causal Results – Chapter 1

Dorvakian Home World 4 Years 3 months 8 days Before C1764 FTL Jump Looking across the grounds for several moment’s Silnersalkara tapped the table in front of her. The data controls embedded in the device quickly shut off and the hologram above its surface died. “Kermarcus, I’m aware of the situation. The opposition’s been attempting

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 55: Reinvention Part 4

Date Point: 16y3m AV Planet Akyawentuo, Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Yan Given-Man “I like these Core-tie.” “You do? Why the change of heart?” When the ‘del-a-gay-shun’ had returned, there was of course much eagerness to learn the news. Yan was very happy to tell everyone they would be getting vack-seens from the Core-tie as

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Good Training – Survival Part 6

Date point: 14y 8m AV Residence of the Great Father of the Gao, Folctha, Cimbrean Sister Naydra The months on Cimbrean had been…therapeutic. She found herse lf greatly appreciating the Female presence on the Human’s first colony world, and everything it stood for: stability, acceptance. Survival. The Humans had done so much to support the

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 55: Reinvention Part 3

Date Point: 16y3m AV USS Robert A. Heinlein, Akyawentuo Orbit, the Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Third Director Tran Some of the other Directors had expressed reservations when Tran had informed them he was taking Nofl along to the meeting with the Ten’Gewek. He’d invested some of their trust and patience by reassuring them that

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 55: Reinvention Part 2

Date Point: 16y2m3w AV Hierarchy/Cabal Joint Communications session #1722 ++0008++: In summary, the infiltration of Sol means the operation was a success, though not an unqualified one. We have four Injunctors on Earth, and a further two in the outer system, but the new Arutech biodrones appear to be an abject failure. The Cimbrean infiltration

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Rising Titans – Chapter 51 (End)

9 Years, 7 Months, 2 Days After Eridani Landing Chront Leaning down and putting her head to the table Stagg yawned. “Try the tea,” repeated Derrick sounding just as exhausted as she felt. The Captain turned to look at the engineer and then at the small pot on the table. “I did. Taste’s like mold.”

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 55: Reinvention Part 1

Date Point: 16y2m3w AV Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Daar, Great Father of the Gao “Hey, this ain’t a bad little house at all!!” Daar followed in behind Gorku, who was carrying a completely exhausted Leemu on his back and had to mind his steps. “Humans know how to build houses arright,” he agreed. “Maybe

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 54: Here Be Dragons Part 6

Date Point: 16y2m2w1d AV Planet Akyawentuo, Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Vemik Sky-Thinker One of the Human archaeologists was a metallurgist. Tilly was a strange and delicate name that didn’t suit her at all, Vemik thought. She had a sharp face full of metal piercings, skin full of bright pictures, and a half-shaven crest of

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Good Training – Survival Part 5

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 54: Here Be Dragons Part 5

ESNN Magazine article: “Prisons In Their Head- an interview at Camp Tebbutt” Author and photographer: Ava Magdalena Ríos [Cover image: two men seated on a bench in front of a chain-link fence, with a stunning Alaskan vista behind them. On the left is a scruffy bearded white man with shaggy salt-and-pepper hair, and next to

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Rising Titans – Chapter 50

+15 Minutes The Canada “Can this thing fly?” Shouted Pankin as a rattling howl began to echo through the ship, the crew members on what was now the ceiling tightening their straps as objects that had been floating began to rattle on the floor as the ship dove deeper into the atmosphere of the planet.

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 54: Here Be Dragons Part 4

Date Point: 16y2m2w AV Weaver dropship, Rich Plains contact volume, Kwmbwrw Great Houses TSgt Timothy “Tiny” Walsh All throughout the ordeal of becoming HEAT and finally earning the Mass, the one thing running through Walsh’s head was that one day, he too would serve at their level. Do the mission like none other. Walk through

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 54: Here Be Dragons Part 3

Date Point: 16y2m1w5d AV Camp Tebbutt Biodrone Internment Facility, Yukon-Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Ava Ríos “You ever rode a helicopter before, Ava?” Ava jumped, and looked away from the window. She’d been enjoying the view. It was her first trip to Alaska, and the thing that struck her as she’d watched the landscape rolling by

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 54: Here Be Dragons Part 2

Date Point: 16y2m1w2d AV Gaoian embassy, Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Daar, Great Father of the Gao There was shit to catch up with. Stuff to read, stuff to make decisions on, stuff to be briefed on in case he had to make a decision later… At first Daar did his best to

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Good Training – Survival Part 4

Date point: 14y 2m 1w AV Planet Akyawentuo, The Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Singer “So, if we salt the roots in boiling water with some herbs, and use a very tight…what was the word?” [“Jar,”] Julian said encouragingly. “—And then we boil the whole jar with the lid on loose, so the bad spirits

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Rising Titans – Chapter 49

+10 Minutes The Singer [Vann] stood in the center of the bridge the three-dimensional hologram showing the entirety of his fleet as well as the surrounding space. The cubic formation was going to be tested now, up to this point the only gauge of effectiveness was how [Charles] had reacted to it in simulations. He

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 54: Here Be Dragons Part 1

Date Point: 16y2m5d AV Planet Akyawentuo, Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Xiù Chang Yan was having to explain himself. It wasn’t that the men who’d come out to hunt the Brown One were disappointed, exactly. None of them had been looking forward to the battle at all. They all knew the stories of how many

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 53: The Wild Hunt Part 6

Date Point: 16y2m4d AV Planet Akyawentuo, the Ten’gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Julian Etsicitty Daar caught up with them about an hour after Xiù called ahead to let them know he was coming. A lot had happened in that hour. Yan had laid out his bibtaws in a kind of scent lure, some distance out

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 53: The Wild Hunt Part 5

Date Point: 16y2m3d AV Gaoian embassy, Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Daar, Great Father of the Gao People who didn’t know Daar all that well thought he had a pathological aversion to Civilized pursuits. Not true at all! Daar had always enjoyed history, writing, and the more subtle arts of courtship, and he

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 53: The Wild Hunt Part 4

Date point: 16y2m3d AV Planet Akyawentuo, the Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Daniel “Chimp” Hoeff Julian had a habit of singing in the woods. Not loud, exactly, and Hoeff wasn’t even sure he was totally conscious he was doing it, but loud enough to hear. Apparently it kept critters from blundering into them that might

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Rising Titans – Chapter 48

+ 7 Minutes 38 Seconds The Canada “Captain, your message?” asked Arik as her Avatar superimposed itself over the main monitor. “Surrender now, call off the fighters and we’ll let you live. Then we can begin to negotiate for an end to this pointless violence.” “That’s it?” asked Arik after a moment. “Unless anyone else

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Good Training – Survival Part 3

Date point: 14y 1m 2w AV “Clan Young Glory,” western unincorporated territories, Gao Sister Naydra Naydra and her fellow Sisters were slowly dying. The “Clan” that had “liberated” them from the clutches of what they now knew were biodrones had decided their honored guests needed “protection.” Their so-called protection consisted of imprisonment. Their “protection fees”

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 53: The Wild Hunt Part 3

Date point: 16y2m3d AV Planet Akyawentuo, the Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Professor Daniel Hurt “What exactly did he say he’s fetching, anyway?” “An M107.” Daniel frowned. Although he’d learned more about firearms in general over the past few years than he’d ever imagined he would, there were times that the people who really “got”

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 53: The Wild Hunt Part 2

Date Point: 16y2m1d AV Chiune Station, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Allison Buehler Allison hadn’t slept well in a couple of nights. It wasn’t that she begrudged Julian and Xiù going offworld, not at all, but it did disrupt the sense of familiarity that made home, well… Home. If she didn’t have her brothers to

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Rising Titans – Chapter 47

+ 30 Seconds The Canada “The Empire ships are now in range of the ACE field!” reported Arik. Stagg grimaced as the ship shook “Activate,” “New contact!” shouted Arik interrupting. “What?” “IFF is identifying the vessel as the HSB Russia, they just exited a spatial rupture directly between us and the Empire fleet!” “Open communications!”

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 53: The Wild Hunt Part 1

Date Point: 16y2m1d AV personal sanctum, Dataspace. Cynosure/Six Data sophonts did not sleep, and thus did not dream. Nevertheless, Cynosure had a recurring nightmare of sorts. When his attention wandered, he found that it almost inevitably alighted on a handful of disturbing subjects. The details varied, as he worried at different aspects of the problems

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Good Training – Survival Part 2

Date point: 14y 7d AV Planet Akyawentuo, The Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Later that day Julian Etsicitty It was approaching mid-day and the day’s morning work had been taken care of. The scouts had come back and reported that the nearby werne had just calved and would need to be left alone for a

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 6

Date Point: 16y2m AV Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Daar, Great Father of the Gao “Poor bugger hardly knew which way is up…” Powell grunted, once Wagner was gone. “Who can blame him? His whole crew going violently psychotic on him with no warning, only to be stasis-hopped right into a Corti’s lab being sniffed

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Rising Titans – Chapter 46

9 Years, 6 Months, 14 Days After Eridani Landing Jikse Diana blinked in surprise as the jungle was suddenly lit up by a fantastic reddish glow, glancing behind her towards the city Diana watched as another blast of energy, identical in color to the flash fell from the sky. Unable to see from her vantage

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 5

Date Point: 16y2m AV Folctha, Cimbrean, The Far Reaches Julian Etsicitty The house was a mess when Julian got back, which was rare. Nobody in their household was naturally untidy—living on Misfit had driven Allison, Xiù and himself into an ingrained habit of orderliness, and the boys had lived in fear of their father’s belt

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 4

Date Point: 16y2m AV Hierarchy/Cabal Joint Communications session #1536 ++Asymptote++: I have bad news. It would seem our new drones are detectable. ++0004++: <Dismay> you’re certain? ++Asymptote++: The force I sent to Cimbrean was captured immediately upon arrival. ++0007++: How? ++Asymptote++: Unclear. The Arutech drones don’t report as concisely as conventional biodrones. The connection is…

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 3

Date Point: 16y2m AV The Thinghall, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Gabriel Arés Every civilization needed its icon of executive power. The UK had the black door of Number Ten Downing Street and, somewhere behind it, the Cabinet Room; the USA had the White House, and the Oval Office; Folctha had the Alien Palace. The

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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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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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