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 thunder so goddamned hard.

“Well…Yeah. Why the fuck was he prancin’ around in ‘yer gym rubbin’ his nekkid balls all over ‘yer equipment, anyhow?”

“As opposed to you,” Adam gestured towards Firth’s almost non-existent attire, “who found someone that makes neon yellow reflective silkies so small they’re practically a thong…”

“Which he makes ten times worse by squeezing himself into a goddamned Hawaiian-print wife-beater…” Titan muttered from where was lying upside-down with his feet over the back of the couch, reading a fantasy novel.

“I’m just amazed anyone makes a size ten-XL wife-beater in the first place, and that it’s still way too small…’ Faarek chipped in from the table, where he was carefully painting an Eldar army. Not exactly Firth’s style, but whatever, he had to admire anyone who could paint that good with claws. Besides: more enemies to crush!

Adam chuckled to himself, “It’s practically a chop top!”

“It’d be a sports bra on you, ‘Horse.” Titan rolled over, briefly contemplated sitting on the couch like a normal human being, then decided against. Back to upside-down for him.

“Dude, do you know how much people would stare? Leave that to attention whores like Firth!”

“Aww, senpai noticed me! And here I thought you’d never look my way!” Firth decided to troll ‘Horse a bit and shook it like a five dollar hooker.

Adam had learned a thing or two about banter over the years. “Well…I mean, I do like me a big ass, and they don’t really come any bigger than yours…”

Titan turned a page. “So that’s why you like Daar! His is just as big as Firth’s!”

“No way, too much tail! That damn thing has a mind of its own, too…”

“What about Yan? Not only is his even bigger, but it’s a different color, too!”

“I think God missed an opportunity there,” Firth grumbled happily. “Coulda been bright red or somthin’ but it’s just slightly lighter tan instead.”

Adam laughed, “Dude, his tail can straight-up bend steel beams! Fuck that, I’d take Firth over gettin’ my jimmies smashed any day!”

“Is that all I am to you?” Firth asked. “Just a slab of meat? I thought we had a connection!”

“Nah. I’d have Freya, Blac, ‘Base, and Marty after me. A man don’t need that kind o’ drama!”

Firth snorted and retrieved one of his hourly food containers from the fridge. Steak, brown rice, broccoli, and all the butter ever. He vanished it in a few efficient mouthfuls while Horse sewed, Titan read, and Faarek delicately applied a highlight to his space elf.

“An’w’y,” he resumed around the last mouthful just before he swallowed it. “Before y’all started lustin’ after my glorious ass—”


“I still wanna know why the hell you let Coombes pose all nekkid in ‘yer gym with Ava pointin’ a camera at him. Like, does she just want pictures? ‘Cuz she can do that on her own time…”

Adam raised an eyebrow, looking irritated. That girl was always gonna be a sore spot with him. “…The whole Laid Bare thing was his idea in the first place. Coombes, I mean.”

“It wasn’t the Great Father’s idea?” Faarek asked, washing his brush. “The whole thing seemed…very Daar.”

“Yeah, Ava said he kinda ran the show from the moment he turned up. Turned the whole relationship between interviewer and interviewee on its head.”

“…That sounds like him, alright. The, uh, ‘worstest’ part is how he doesn’t mean to do it, either.”



“Anyway,” Firth decided to drag things back on topic, “I just…I dunno. Are you okay with this?”

“Dude. If I wasn’t I’d have told her to do it someplace else,” Adam said. He tied and broke off a thread, then picked up the next item he was working on. “I think it’s a good thing they’re doing.”

“…Yeah. I know. I’m sorry, I just worry. I think I’m gettin’ old.”

“You’re a senior master sergeant now. Being old is, like, required.”

Titan chuckled. “And you’re gonna be a family man too. All sorts of old man going on!”

“Maybe that’s why I’m worried? I dunno.”

‘Horse sighed and put down his sewing. “What are you worried about, anyway? Is there something specific, or are you just, like, generally anxious?”

“This is Ava we’re talkin’ about, bro… Is she gonna fuck over Coombes like she did with you?”

Wrong thing to say. Titan suddenly became even more interested in his book, while Faarek glanced sharply at ‘Horse, his nose twitched, and then he quickly slunk out of the room on four-paw. ‘Horse meanwhile gave Firth the cold murder-glare and slowly pushed his sewing kit aside.

“…Right.” He stood up. “This little conversation keeps happening and it’s gettin real goddamned old. Let’s take this to the mat.”

Finally, a chance to knock some sense into that thick fuckin’ skull. “Awright. I’ve been wantin’ a good spar anyway.”

Adam didn’t say anything. But he was obviously in a fuckin’ mood, because he didn’t even try to soften his footsteps when he walked. He wrenched the door aside, padded over to and calmly walked down the stairs, shaking the building with every step he took.

They gym was pretty busy, full of guys catching up on their mandatories. Not just HEAT, but JETS, techs, navy…

Adam just boomed a single, irresistible syllable: “Out.”

The gym paused for one heartbeat, then emptied in two.

…He really was too fuckin’ good at intimidatin’ people, goddamn.

Adam stomped over to the sparring room, stuck his thumb on the security sensor and cranked the gravity up to something well north of absurd. He pulled off his tank top and shorts, raised his huge fists, then beckoned Firth to enter.

…Fuck. Firth didn’t remember Adam ever lookin’ so goddamned dangerous. Something about the look on his face, or the way his whole body was tensed up maybe…whatever. Time to dance. Adam rolled his ridiculously thick bullneck until it popped, then glowered at Firth. “Y’know what? I love the shit outta you, bro. But you’ve been raggin’ on her since forever. That’s gonna fuckin’ stop.”

Adam bounced lightly on his toes like was dancing on the fuckin’ moon.

“I love your loyalty,” Firth retorted, pulling his own clothes off and taking up a position opposite. The gravity was fuckin’ oppressive but he didn’t let that show. “Ava don’t deserve it.”

Warhorse flashed across the room so fuckin’ fast, Firth could hardly see him coming before—

There was a painful, desperate blur of blindingly fast defense, relentlessly knocked aside by a much faster, much stronger attacker. No time for thinking, just react, react, react. No time to counterattack, no time for anything.

He was getting pushed backward into the wall. In desperation, he leapt sideways to try and get some clearance, but Adam was so fucking fast—

Firth found himself flat on his back. Unhappy, Warhorse snarled, picked Firth up and flung him clear across the room like a sack of potatoes. He hit the wall so hard, he swore he heard something break. Firth didn’t even have a heartbeat to recover before Warhorse was right there like a bolt of lightning, pile-driving fists into his gut. The first one smacked him off his feet and back into the cinderblocks hard enough that Firth felt them crack behind him. Not even a blink later, Warhorse’s other fist landed. The second hit was much harder, followed by a third that felt like he was honestly trying to punch his fist right through Firth’s gut. He would have retched, but a fourth blow came right as his feet touched the floor. This one was so unbelievably strong that it bounced him back against the wall and sent him spinning. Firth fell, dazed and dizzy.

Warhorse instantly pinned Firth in a reverse bearhug, casually smashing the breath out of his lungs. Then the big monster switched to a leg pin, wrapped one of his gargantuan arms around Firth’s neck, and squeezed him from head to toe like a tube of fuckin’ toothpaste. Warhorse toyed with his prey for a moment, then rolled over and settled his insane, iron-like weight on top of Firth’s hips, crushing him inescapably into the floor. The fight couldn’t even have gone on for ten seconds by then, it was so fuckin’ fast.

Warhorse snarled, “Havin’ fun?”


“I was thinkin’ I’d spend the next few hours breaking you on the mat,” Warhorse growled in Firth’s ear, then bore down so much harder, Firth’s vision faded towards black. Right before he passed out, Warhorse relented slightly. “But nah. You ain’t gonna last, are you?”

Firth tried to reply, but that fuckin’ titanic bicep was crushing his neck flat like it was a goddamned soda straw. Warhorse barely twitched that absurd arm of his, and just that tiny little movement had Firth’s trachea crackling in fuckin’ agony. He clawed desperately to get any kind of relief, but it was no good, he couldn’t budge Warhorse’s arm in the slightest. Hell, he couldn’t even dent it, and Firth had a grip that could break rocks and crumble oak apart in his hands. Firth may as well have been squeezing forged steel.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Firth realized he had hugely underestimated ‘Horse, or maybe overestimated himself. Maybe both. Either way, he had made a big fuckin’ mistake.

That point wasn’t lost on Warhorse either, who tightened his legs around Firth’s waist and hips with so much force that he was seeing stars, then snarled right next to his ear. “Yeah, didn’t think so. I think instead I’mma use you like a wresslin’ dummy ‘till I’m feeling bored, then I’m gonna pin you down and beat the ever-lovin’ shit outta you.”

He did.

Being wrestled by an angry Warhorse must have been like being shoved into a meat grinder. It didn’t take him but a minute or two to crush Firth’s muscles into spasming goo, followed by a long interlude of toying agony just to prove his point. Satisfied, Warhorse dismounted and flipped Firth over so fiercely, even that made him see stars. The big monster grinned savagely and let Firth turtle up, but there really weren’t no point to it. Warhorse mounted from the top, completely ignoring Firth’s puny attempts to fend him off. He again wrapped Firth up in his ridiculous legs, grunted quietly and smashed him flat. That hurt. Firth couldn’t buck, couldn’t wiggle his his arms or legs free. He was utterly defenseless.

“I’m done with my warmup.” Warhorse closed his huge fist right in front of Firth’s face. “You gonna lay offa her?”

“…She’s…she’s gonna hurt—”

The real beating commenced.

Warhorse methodically punched, crushed, tossed and thrashed Firth until every inch of his body was basically a huge, livid bruise. Eventually, it ended. He had no idea how long it lasted. Adam’s fists were covered in blood, and Firth couldn’t even figure which way was up. Everything hurt.

“Get up.”

It took him a few attempts, but Firth finally managed to figure out which side was the ground, and wobbled to his feet.

Adam nodded. He was sweaty but the fucker wasn’t even breathing heavy. Just…

“You leave her the fuck alone.”

Firth couldn’t. He knew what he was about to earn, fully knew how pathetically fuckin’ weak he was compared to Warhorse, and knew how badly he needed to say his peace. Firth had seen too many women like her, watched them wreck so many lives. “She…she ain’t worth it, bro.”

Warhorse beat him again.

Worse. Much worse.

Firth didn’t remember any of it, besides pain.

This time, when it stopped and the demand to get back on his feet came, he honestly couldn’t. The damn ground kept tipping sideways and dropping him back on his ass. He finally managed to get to his feet, felt the world fade out, toppled forward, fell—

Adam bolted forward, caught and eased him down to the ground.

“…Fuck.” Adam sat down next to Firth and sighed. “I overdid it, huh?”

Somehow, a coherent thought found its way through the fog in his brain. “Nuh. G’t… get it… outta yer system.”

Adam rumbled darkly to himself and nodded. They both knew the truth: the kind of hate that men like them could muster never went away.

Instead, Adam went away for a few seconds. When he came back, there w as the familiar cold stinging sensation of a Crude patch as he applied it to Firth’s underarm, right next to the artery.

“Stay down, I think I broke some stuff.”


Adam gave him a look halfway toward an apology. “Okay…I know.”

The pain faded. It took a while, but eventually it rolled back enough that Firth could open his eyes and act like a human being again. ‘Horse was sitting there cross-legged, patiently waiting for him to speak.

“Look. I’m…” Firth groaned and raised himself on his elbows. “I won’t ever trust her. Ever. I don’t care how much good she does, she hurt you. Others, too. I ain’t ever gonna forgive it.”

Adam growled. “You know what I remember? I remember her crawling into a goddamn collapsing building to save a child ‘cuz both our asses were too big to fit!”

“I never said she weren’t a good person. I just said I can’t forgive her. I never said I were a good christian, neither. I try, but…”

Adam deflated a bit at that.

“Well… you could at least stop treating her like she was a goddamned leper,” he said.

“I can try. And maybe you can stop bein’ such a fuckin’ white knight? None of us like lyin’ and pretendin’ like it’s all okay.”

“She’s my sister, man. She’s family! What the fuck do you want from me?”

“…God, maybe that’s part of it. I dunno. I just…we love you, bro. Like, in that impossible fuckin’ way y’can’t describe, y’know?” Firth rested his head back down on the mat. “…At least tell me it was, like, a workout to beat me this fuckin’ senseless.”

Adam gave him a somewhat guilty smile. “Well…I broke a sweat, if that helps.”

Despite himself, a laugh wheezed its way up from between Firth’s aching ribs. “…Fuck you. You get sweaty on a frosty morning!”

“Well, so do you…”

They sat in silence for few moments longer, before Adam shifted uncomfortably.

“…You really fuckin’ hate her.”

Firth closed his eyes and groaned. “What’m I supposed to do? We’re brothers, man. We look out for each other. And she hurt you, bad. C’mon, the fuck makes you think I’m ever gonna forgive that?”

“Because I have!” Adam snapped.

“Y’ever think maybe she’s just got you wrapped around her finger?”

“Coombes too? I say she’s cool. He says she’s cool. All the others fuckin’ trust us on this so why don’t you?”

“Because they’re fuckin’ terrified o’ you, ‘Horse. Only reason I pushed it is ‘cuz I thought I could stand up to you. Learned my fuckin’ lesson…”

“And Coombes? None’a them are terrified of him!” ‘Horse retorted.

“After you made ‘yer point ‘bout them dating? Don’t pretend that weren’t an implicit threat.”

That at least got a slightly frustrated growl while ‘Horse swiped the sweat from his face. “Fine. Look, bro… Y’don’t have to trust her. But why the fuck can’t you trust me?!”

Firth groaned and sat up again. His whole body felt like one giant bloody bruise. “…It ain’t that simple…” he tried to object, but honestly that one had hurt in a place the beating couldn’t touch.

“Like fuck it ain’t,” Adam snarled. “Bro, you know I’ve got your back through anything, even after this… I need you to have my back too.”

“I do!” Firth retorted, and gestured at the wall he’d been damn near punched through. “That’s what this was all fuckin’ about!”

Adam jerked his head sharply in disagreement. “No. You’re tryin’ to protect me, an’ that’s my job, bro. What I need from you is you let me take a risk, an’ Coombes too. An’… fuck. If you’re right, and she proves me wrong an’ breaks Coombes’ heart? You can say I-told-you-so an’ I won’t never trust somebody you don’t ever again. But… shit, d’you want to be right about her?”

Firth heaved a sigh. “I said I’d try,” he reminded Adam. “But you can’t make me forgive her, bro. Ever. No matter how hard you beat me. Only way that happens, maybe, is she earns it.”

“So give her a chance to earn it!”

Firth sighed deeply and lay back on the mat again. “…I’ll try.”

They relaxed for a while, putting the anger behind them both. It wasn’t easy. Probably not many men could have put a beating like that in the past.

…And… Christ. That hadn’t even been a fight. It had been a fuckin’ one-sided beatdown. Adam had just taken him to fuckin’ school and punched any notions Firth might have had of them being evenly matched clean out of him. That was somethin’ to chew over for a long time.

Beside him, Adam awkwardly shifted again.

“…We cool?”

Firth groaned, sat up, looked at him. “…You tell me. You gonna let her come between us, man?”

That turned out to be the first thing he did that caused any damage. Adam paused, then a slow ashamed look dawned on his face.

“…Okay,” he said. “No more white knighting. She can look after herself.”

“Damn straight. You do that, I’ll try to lay off… and yeah.” Firth held out a hand. “We’re cool.”

He grimaced and tried to ignore the pain as he got the fiercest kind of Warhorse Hug. Adam, mercifully, noticed that he should loosen up a bit after a few seconds, and they hugged it out with an acceptable minimum of discomfort on Firth’s part.

Adam scooted a bit closer. “…Firth?”


“…I’m really sorry.” He meant it, too.

Firth palmed the back of Adam’s head and pulled him tight. “I know.”

They held for a long moment longer. The surprise came when ‘Horse stood up and hit the button that returned the gravity to Earth normal. That was a weight off Firth’s battered shoulders, and he groaned as normal Gs actually left him feeling nearly weightless.

“What…the fuck you turn it up to? Fuckin’ Jupiter?!”

Adam cleared his throat. “Uh…let’s just say you, me, Yan, and Daar are ‘bout the only people who could take it.” He offered a hand and helped Firth to his feet. “I got better grav plating after Dark Eye and I’ve been slowly acclimating us to it.”

“Fuck.” There was nothing else to say.

“Hey, you’re still gettin’ stronger though! You didn’t seem to notice at first…” Adam enthused as he opened the door so they could head back out into the main gym hall. He looked like he was returning to something like his usual happy-puppy demeanor…

Right up until he got a metaphorical ice bath when the gym turned out to contain Captain Costello. He was standing in the middle of the room with his arms folded and an absolutely arctic expression of disapproval written across his face, and it occurred to Firth that they may have just been very, very dumb.

“We need to talk, gentlemen,” the captain said.


Date Point: 15y9m2w AV
Ceres Base, Asteroid Belt, Sol

Drew Cavendish

“Let me see if I understand this correctly. You’re saying that the whole of Ceres, including Boop, managed to get out of synch with Earth by nearly ten minutes?”

Drew nodded solemnly. “Yes. That doesn’t happen. We’re using ovenized quartz oscillators in our time servers, they lose like a second every fifty years. And we account for Relativity, too.”

“And that was just missed somehow?” Adele seemed understandably incredulous.

“The mis-match was so huge that the servers assumed there was an error and requested an update from the atomic clock Earthside. That re-adjusted all the timepieces on base, the scheduled comms and supplies jumps… everything. And because the update had a valid explanation…” Drew shrugged. “It’s not like these systems were designed to accommodate causality manipulation. Especially not across the entire asteroid. That’s a five-hundred-kilometer radius temporal dilation field somebody put up.”

Adele shook her head disbelievingly. “How in the heck didn’t we notice that then? Wouldn’t that involve a lot of energy?”

“Yup. Just as much as, say, one of the ore drones needs to go to warp.” Drew grimaced. “Once we knew what to look for, the timing was immaculate. ”

“And how didn’t we notice ten minutes suddenly going missing in our day?”

Drew shrugged. “A-shift was asleep, B-shift were busy, and most of C-shift were watching the season finale of Four Branches,” he said. “What were you doing halfway through B-shift that day?”

“Uh…I think I was reviewing the proposal for expanding the habitation levels and adding a creche,” Adele frowned. “…Or the monthly shareholder report. One of the two.”

“Right. You weren’t watching the clock, at least. You were working. And you don’t work to the clock anyway, do you?”

Adele shook her head. Much like Drew, she didn’t have that luxury: she worked until her In tray was empty. If that meant a fifteen-hour day, then she worked a fifteen-hour day.

“Right,” Drew repeated.

“So where does this leave us?”

“It’s a rabbit hole, at least. I don’t know how deep it goes or what kind of wacky fun we’ll find down it, but it’s more than we had yesterday.”

“It rules out the APA though, doesn’t it? Temporal manipulation is a Hierarchy trick.”

“Ergh…” Drew squirmed a little. “In theory, temporal manipulation and warp technology are the exact same thing. We just haven’t figured out how it’s done, yet. But the only difference between a stasis generator and a warp drive is what kind of a pretzel they make out of spacetime.”

“There’s a comforting thought…” Adele muttered.

“Why, what could possibly be alarming about manipulating the curvature of the universe?” Drew asked. It made her laugh a little at least. “I mean… you’re right. The only people we know use that trick are Hierarchy.”

“Which means they’re our number one suspect now. We’re absolutely sure that nobody is implanted?”

“Absolutely everyone is accounted-for and checked. There isn’t a single cerebral implant on this asteroid, guaranteed.”

“So we have a Hierarchy trick, but no biodrone…” Adele sighed and brushed some stray hair out of her face. She looked as tired as Drew felt. “That’s going to be fun when I explain it to our friends from AEC… But does it explain how the bomb went missing, or who took it?”

“Not exactly. Actually, it massively increases the number of suspects. The time… thing… happened exactly after the missing bomb had been signed for and loaded but before the magazine was locked up. That all happened, while Boop was still docked, so the list of suspects now includes everyone in the loading bay too.”

“…Wonderful. One step forward, three backwards.”

“Sorry Adele. There’s still a lot we want to dig through, hopefully now that we know where to look some more clues will fall out.”

“Before you do that, Drew…” Adele’s tone was careful.


“It was Drew M’s idea to check that detail, you said?”


Adele fidgeted by tapping a nail on her desktop twice before standing up. “…He was on Boop when this happened,” she pointed out. “Which means he’s a suspect.”

“I thought we all are,” Drew retorted. “We’re all under investigation aren’t we?”

“The whole company is under investigation. That’s not the same thing as each individual being a suspect. You have an absolutely airtight alibi and so do I: Neither of us were on the ship or in the loading bay when that bomb went missing. He was.”

Drew shook his head. “Adele, he’s given us the first breakthrough of the investigation. You can’t seriously be telling me you suspect him!”

“I know he’s your best friend. And I agree that coming up with that is a point in his favor. But yes, I suspect him. We have to. So I have to question why you’re allowing him to help in the investigation.”

“Because he’s…. He wouldn’t!” Drew floundered. “Adele, be reasonable–”

“I am. You’re the one who’s putting loyalty ahead of reason.” She stood square in front of him, and not for the first time Drew found himself marvelling at just how much presence an aging Korean woman six inches shorter than him could muster. Adele never looked up at anybody, even when she was in fact physically aiming her face upward. “The stakes are too high for that, Drew.”

“He’s given us our first thread to pull on! That’s a direct sabotage of this bomb heist!” Drew argued. Anger and outrage on his friend’s behalf were warring with the fact that on some level he knew Adele had a point.

“Or a red herring to sabotage the investigation.”

“Oh, come on–!”

“Drew.” She cut him off with just his own name. “…You know I’m right.”

Drew shook his head sharply. “I know damn well that you’re not, and I’m going to prove it.”

“Please do,” she said evenly. “But until you do, I don’t want him taking any further part in the investigation.”

Drew glared at her. He didn’t voice the thought that slipped darkly into his head that out of everyone here, Adele had had the most direct contact with the enemy. Who knew what they could have done to her during her abduction? She was well-placed to sabotage the investigation herself, after all.

But, damn her, she was right. There were very few people on Ceres who weren’t suspect, and the most suspect were those who’d actually been on I Met God And She Booped My Nose. There was no getting around that. Not without solid evidence. And as much as it infuriated him right now, Drew prided himself on trying to be a rational, practical sort of man.

He backed down. “…I don’t like it. But alright.”

She nodded primly. “Thanks… is there anything else I can do for you right now, Drew?”

“No, thank you Adele. I’m… I need to let Drew know. And get some sleep, I guess.”

“Then I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Sure. See you tomorrow.”

He left her office feeling deeply frustrated. He’d gone in with such good news, and now…

Nothing for it. They at least had a breakthrough. Even without Drew moving forward, he’d given them something to work at.

That would have to be enough.

Date Point: 15y9m2w AV
HMS Sharman (HMNB Folctha), Cimbrean, The Far Reaches

Captain Anthony Costello

Firth couldn’t even stand up straight. He was trying to stand upright, but there was barely a square inch of him that wasn’t bruised, grazed, scraped or bloody. It was more than his body could handle to actually stand properly at attention.

Arés on the other hand was merely a bit sweatier than normal, and his knuckles looked raw. Up until this moment, Costello had always reckoned the two men were about on the same level.

Firth may have believed that, too. Not anymore.

“…I presume you’ve taken a dose of Crude, Senior Master Sergeant?”


“Is there anything either of you want to comment on?”

Both men chorused a “nossir.”

“Will there be any problem going forward?”

Firth spoke up, “Nossir.” Arés glanced over at him and seemed subtly relieved.

“Hmm.” Costello nodded. They were protecting each other, which meant they were still brothers. Good. However… “…I don’t care who started this. You’re both supposed to know better. So it comes as a disappointing surprise to me that you apparently don’t. This gym is supposed to be full of servicemen getting their PT in but instead I find it full of just you two and I note that the fucking walls are damaged. Were you two role-playing as a crane and a wrecking ball?”

Neither man ventured an answer.

“This is not your personal playground. We have unit readiness to consider, and the men whose workouts you interrupted today are going to have to make up the difference later. All because the NCO in charge of physical training—that’s you, Technical Sergeant Arés—decided to interrupt them to take care of a personal squabble. Can you tell me why, exactly, you felt it necessary to literally beat your senior NCO to within an inch of his life?”

“I ain’t hurt all that bad, sir,” Firth said loyally.

“Don’t lie for him, Senior Master Sergeant. Your left eye is swollen shut, your jaw is crooked, and I’d bet a million dollars that you’ll be pissing blood later. You can barely stand at attention! Right now you’re in no fit state to wear an EV-MASS, so I definitely need to know why Warhorse here felt it was appropriate to inflict that kind of damage on you.”

Neither man said anything. Of course not.

“Right. Well, I can about guess anyway. So here’s the deal, sergeants. You’re both confined to barracks, and I don’t give one wet fart how much your wives complain. You earned this, and I will be explaining the situation to them personally.”

“Sir, I’ll be fine in–”

“I didn’t order you to fucking speak, sergeant!”

He finally got silence, save for the echo of his own voice. He let it die, glaring into Firth’s good eye until the last ring was gone, then returned his attention to Arés.

“A fine job of protecting you did just now, wouldn’t you say?”

That was almost too cruel, and had Arés on the verge of tears almost instantly. It didn’t matter, this point needed making. “I know good and damn well the Crude will have him fixed up in a day, but that doesn’t matter. What would I do without my best Aggressor?”

No answer.

“Right. Firth, you are ordered to convalesce. Arés, you are to spend every single last waking second in heavy physical training until I decide otherwise, like the immature pipeline child you so clearly are. You are going to pay for everyone’s wasted time by yourself. If I find you doing anything besides eat, sleep, or train? I am going to make this punishment formal. Once you feel up to it, Firth, you are to join him in his sentence. Do I make myself crystal clear?”

They both belted out, “Yes sir!”

“Good. Now.” Time for the carrot. “Technical Sergeant Ares, were you aware you were being considered for early promotion?”

“…No sir. I wasn’t.”

“Up until now, you were a shoo-in for STEP promotion. The Air Force saw fit to give us two slots before anyone else. Do you know how valuable those are?”


“The total number of STEP promotions number in the dozens, some years. Now I can no longer justify something like that with you, can I?”

Beating on Adam was exactly like kicking a puppy, but he needed it right now. “No sir.”

“Right. That said, your next eval is a long way away. We just did your EPR last month, after all. That gives you almost a whole year to so thoroughly impress me that I might not remember this incident when Firth here writes your next EPR. So that’s two people you will need to inspire, and one of them you just beat so hard he can’t stand up straight. You broke my walls with him. So…you’ve got a bit of a challenge ahead of you, huh?”


Costello allowed himself to soften a little. “…Understand me, sergeant. I want you to impress me. I think you can. God knows you earned those bronze stars. The Air Force needs you, and we need the best version of you. We need that noble man who has an Air Force Cross pending under his name for a mission we can’t talk about here. We don’t particularly need the fastest and strongest man to ever live as a literal uncontrollable rampaging hulk. Think you’re up to it?”

“Yes sir!”

That, Costello decided, was probably as much as he needed to do. Stick applied, carrot wafted… now for the other player in this drama.

“As for you, senior master sergeant…” he said, turning to Firth, “I don’t want to know the details. I’m pretty certain I know enough anyway. But let me ask you this: does it become a senior NCO to provoke such a pointless dick-measuring contest? Especially one you stood absolutely no goddamned hope of winning?”

Firth was not a man to be easily shamed. But he had a strong sense of duty, and pricking at that had to be the most constructive way forward.

“…Nosir. It don’t. I was stupid. Most o’ the blame lies on me.”

“Is that the sort of example you want to set?”


“No. And we both know you’re capable of so much more. I’ve seen your self-discipline. I know the standards you set for yourself…and I expect you to live up to them, senior master sergeant.”


“Good. Now. You two go get cleaned up and make arrangements. Call your wives, tell them you’re living in the barracks until I say otherwise. Word of advice? Don’t sugar-coat it. The spouse gossip network on base is strong… and I’m pretty sure any women who can handle you two can see through a mile of bullshit anyway.”

That earned an unconscious, rueful nod from Arés. Costello chose not to notice.

“Right. Dismissed.”

He inspected the damage to the sparring room once they were gone and had to take a moment to shake is head in disbelief.

Just…holy hell.

They hadn’t knocked out anything structural, but those were cinderblocks they’d smashed. Or, that ‘Horse had smashed using Firth. The facilities personnel were going to have conniptions when they saw it.

The interrupted servicemen who’d had their PT so rudely disrupted started trickling back in now that the Hulk and the Juggernaut weren’t duking it out any longer, and he got out of their way to let them marvel at the aftermath. He had paperwork to get back to, not to mention his own PT to think about later in the afternoon. Paperwork first: that way he could blow the mental cobwebs out, rather than going home sore and stressed.

It wasn’t really a surprise to him when he found Powell standing “innocently” in front of the vending machines in the admin building, apparently lost in deep contemplation on the finer mysteries of candy bars. He glanced over as Costello entered, and contrived to communicate with nothing more than eye contact and the faintest nod that they should chat.

Of course. Nothing escaped the CO’s attention.

“Good afternoon, sir.”

“Afternoon, Costello… finally happened, huh?”

“Finally happened, yeah. The walls in the sparring room need repairs.”

“Aye, those two. I give ‘em some allowance, because no other humans anywhere have the same load o’ testosterone messing with their minds. Even still…”

“We can’t have them indulging their worst instincts.”

“No,” Powell agreed. “You catch what it was about in the end?”

“Something about ‘Horse’s sister.”

“Fookin’ knew it would be…” Powell muttered. He sighed and punched in the code for a Snickers. When the machine as always failed to vend it properly, he slapped it high on the side and watched the ostensibly snagged bar drop into the tray. Apparently the vendors hadn’t noticed the large dent from men repeatedly striking the machine. “…They gettin’ on okay?”

“Covered for each other.”

“Aye, thought they would. This one’s been a long time comin’. Might even do ‘em good.”

Costello shrugged. “I dunno… Firth was bloody mess. Literally.”

“And Arés?”

“Not a mark on him. Incredible. An hour ago, I’d have called it a coin toss.”

Powell smiled, a little grimly. “See, that’s why I reckon it’ll be good for ‘em. Firth is prideful, getting his arse kicked like that might help him see where his weaknesses are. Might eventually get an Aggressor on ‘Horse’s level.”

“And ‘Horse needs a good hard reminder of what his responsibilities are now and then.”

“Aye. He’d become a fookin’ terror if not.”

“…He isn’t now? Firth could break anyone else in the blink of an eye, and Arés beat him stupid.”

“Aye. And that was fookin’ restrained. If he really wanted to, he could kill Firth just like that.” Powell snapped his fingers. “Maybe it’s good he sees that in himself, sometimes. It’ll absolutely be good for Firth.”

“You think?” Costello asked, deciding to grab a snack himself. “A wounded ego can set a guy back…”

“Not Firth. The thing to know about him, is he grew up the best there was. He’s got that mindset, through and through. If he’s ever to meet or beat Arés—and he may just be able to—then he needs to take himself much, much more seriously, and stop coasting on his natural ability.”

“The Crude resistance will start eventually, too. He’s running out of time.”

“Aye. And Arés will feel guilty about this little incident for a long while. He’ll probably be pushing Firth as hard as he can go… what’d you do with them, anyway?”

“Confined to barracks, and they’re to PT themselves like they’re back in the pipeline until I say stop. I figure having explain to their wives why they’re going to have to fend for themselves for a while is gonna sting, too.”

“That’s definitely gonna prick at ‘Horse. Not bein’ able to cuddle the baby.”

Costello shrugged. “He should have thought of that before he used Firth as a pinata.”

“Truth.” Powell finished his chocolate bar and carefully disposed of the wrapper. “We’re cavemen at heart. Sometimes, we need to communicate on that level, too. That’s something the more civilized o’ us tend to forget.”

Costello nodded. “Anyway. I need to get on with what I was doing.”

“Aye, me too. Have fun wi’it.”

Costello gave a nod and returned to his paperwork. At some point Martina and Freya stopped by to drop off some things with their men…neither of them seemed particularly happy.

Eventually he gave up on his paperwork and prowled down to the gym to check in and get his own lifting done. Adam was on the special heavy-duty rings with a ludicrous amount of weight chained around his waist and the gravity cranked all the way up. His headphones were on, he was somehow holding himself in an iron cross, and his expression was totally blank.

Costello knew Adam well enough to know that was him at his absolute angriest. It wasn’t wise to interrupt the Hulk while was angry, so Costello attended to his own routine. Much later, when the sun was down and he was heading home for the evening, Adam was still there on the rings, soaked from head to toe in sweat and yet more weight chained to his waist, his skin a deep ruddy red from exertion. A puddle had formed on the floor beneath him, yet he was still hauling himself up and down, and still expressionless.

Sometimes, the worst punishment anyone could endure was the one they gave themselves.

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Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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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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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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