The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 6

Date Point: 15y9m3w AV
Mrwrki Station, Erebor System, Unexplored Space


“Does it seem… different to you lately?”


“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 spectacular view of the gas giant Durin and its spinning dance of moons. It was easily the most interesting backdrop she’d ever had to work against, and she never quite got tired of it, even though the landscape immediately around Mrwrki itself was rather dull and desolate.

“Honestly, it’s hard to tell,” she said. “It’s never quite been the same twice whenever I interact with it.”

“Bet that makes your job fifty shades of fun.” Lewis muttered. He threw his head back and massaged his scalp: clearly something was stressing him out. Considering how near-terminally laid-back he was, that was saying something.

“Trouble in your lab?”

“Eh. More philosophisin’ and big questions over, like, V-N probes and stuff this morning, and now we’ve had a big setback on the footballs.”

“And where does the Entity come in?” Darcy asked.

“I tried to pick its brains now that it’s decided to speak English allatime. I figure, it knows a butt-boat about the Hierarchy, maybe it’s got some insight into how footballs work…”


“And I got a zen fuckin’ koan as far as I can tell.”

“It… may not have understood the question. Even though it’s taken to using the Ava-construct more now, I sometimes wonder how accurately that construct can translate concepts from meatspace to dataspace.”

“Dude, that thing is fuckin’ ghoulish anyway. Like, I can read her articles if I feel like seeing some military dude’s dick, and then go talk about it with a digital clone of her that got–”

Darcy interrupted him. “I know what happened to her. It.” After all, it weighed on her conscience.

“…Right. Sorry, dude.” Lewis shifted and frowned.

“…Makes me wonder, though.”


“Well, if it’s filtering your questions through her memories, then maybe the reason you got such a head-scratcher was because the memories don’t know some of the terminology,” Darcy suggested. “The real Ava Ríos is a journalist. She’s a very intelligent woman, but so am I and most of what gets discussed on this station goes right over my head. I bet she wouldn’t be able to define a…a fermion, say, if her life was riding on it. Never mind however the hell a system defence field works.”

“…Makes sense,” Lewis admitted. “Could be I—”


He was interrupted by two of the station’s resident ETs; their resident Corti Vakno, and a more recent arrival from Clan Highmountain called Wilo. Both suffered from a similar problem, in that they had no problem at all with just butting in on a conversation and interrupting it. Apparently that was the only way to get anything said among Highmountains, and Vakno was simply too brusque to care.

“Big news!” Wilo said. “Even when we factor the Sol Neutrino Clock into Bartlett’s Equation, we still get an open topology.”

Whatever that meant, Lewis immediately lost all interest in the Entity and gave them his full attention. “No shit? Deetz!”

What followed was the most bewildering conversation Darcy had ever heard, peppered here and there with words like “Euler,” “non-orientable,” “homotopy” and “dude.” They spent several minutes scribbling on a paper napkin in three different sets of mathematical symbols, producing something that may as well have been a demonic summoning for all Darcy could tell.

Eventually she’d had enough. It would have been more polite to make her excuses and leave them to it, maybe, but she was honestly curious to know what the hell was so important.

“Guys… Guys!” She finally managed to break through the academic trance they’d entered.. “…Could you maybe dumb it down a bit? Start from the top: What’s the Sol Neutrino Clock? I mean, I’ve heard of neutrinos but explain them like I’m five years old.”

Lewis chewed this thumbnail for a second, then launched into an education. “Neutrinos are super-tiny particles that don’t hardly interact with the kind of stuff we’re made from at all. Like, Erebor—” he gestured through the window at the bloated red star they were orbiting “—is spittin’ out fuckzillions of the things a day, and tens of billions’ll pass through your thumbnail every second. But you won’t notice.”

“Because they’ll just… what? Slide right through me?”

“Dude. Over your whole lifetime you’ve maybe got a one-in-four chance of one of those neutrinos deigning to interact with one of your atoms.” Lewis grinned. “Which makes detectin’ them a bitch, right?”

“I can see how it would,” Darcy agreed. “But we have detectors?”

“Oh, shit yeah. Big ones buried deep underground, where they can control for shit like cosmic rays and stuff. And, y’know, they’re sensitive enough that the dudes at the detector in Japan actually managed to take a picture of the sun. From underground. At night. Through the Earth.”

Vakno actually tilted her head in a subtle Corti display of being impressed.

“And the clock?” Darcy repeated.

“For the last six years, every neutrino detector on Earth has consistently detected a periodic signal spike.” Vakno explained.

“Exunctly,” Lewis said, causing Wilo to flick his ear at the joke pronunciation and give him a strange look. “Something out there’s ticking like a goddamn clock and every… twenty-three weeks or so? Yeah. It spits out as many neutrinos in one second as the sun generates in a month. Prevailing hypothesis is that it’s the Sol Field.”


“My hypothesis,” said Wilo, “is that the shield must radiate excess energy, as all things must. However, the nature of the barrier’s phase-space geometry means it cannot simply radiate this away as you and I do, via heat glow. This is why you are visible on an infrared camera. Doing that would make it a tangible object. Why the conjectured radiative process uses neutrinos specifically remains a mystery.”

“But we’ve only been detecting this ‘clock’ for six years?” Darcy asked. “The Sol shield went up fifteen years ago.”

“Possibly it took ten years to reach saturation,” Vakno suggested. “It would depend on how the shield works, exactly.”

“And that’s where we got to discussin’ the math,” Lewis finished.

“And that’s where you hit a snag,” Darcy surmised.

“…Yeah. ‘Cuz the math don’t work, dude.”

“We have rather painstakingly demonstrated the expressive equivalence of what we’ve written,” Vakno said, then caught Darcy’s expression. “…All of our symbolic grammars are logically identical.”

“Math works the same everywhere,” Lewis translated.

“Thanks, Lewis, I got that.”

“And we have taken these field equations and set them loose among some of the greatest minds our species have,” Vakno continued. “All three have come to the same conclusion: these equations describe a phase-space that is not topologically closed.”

“And that’s the snag?” Darcy checked.



“Either our math—and I don’t mean we made a mistake, I mean all math—is wrong… or the shields don’t work how we think they work,” Wilo explained.

“…Okay. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but when you say ‘how we think,’ my concern is going to be about the shield bit of this. What do you mean by ‘the shield doesn’t work?’”

“It… ain’t an electrostatic field like the ones around this station. We’ve known that for, like, yonks,” Lewis said. “An ES field operates at lightspeed, but a star system is light-hours across.”

“And yet a ‘football’ creates a field that places it in direct superluminal causal contact with events at the field antinode,” Vakno said.

“It still blocks stuff, even though it should take hours to notice that stuff happening,” Lewis supplied.

“…Yes, thanks Lewis…” Darcy nodded.

“Dude, you did ask me to dumb it down.”

“The upshot of all this is that the shield works, but we don’t know how or why it works,” Wilo summarized.

“And as a Human aphorism has it: A weapon you do not know how to use belongs to your enemy,” Vakno finished.

“And we’re back to square one on figuring it out,” Lewis added.

“It is… vexing,” Vakno admitted. “And the Guvnurag are not around any longer to seek their insight… with the exception of one, whose greatest contribution to the galaxy is a gluten-free fruit pie.”

“Harsh, dude,” Lewis muttered. He was very fond o f Vedreg.

“I don’t understand. If we don’t know how they work, how are we able to build and use them?” Darcy asked.

“Because the schematics that Clan Whitecrest stole are in a universal blueprint format that any nanofactory can read and that anybody can load into the factory and hit ‘print,’” Wilo said. “From a security perspective, that’s hardly ideal. From a practicality perspective… well, it’s the only source of footballs we have. Figuring out how they work is important, therefore.”

Darcy nodded her total agreement to that sentiment.

“How close are we?” she asked.

“It could be lifetimes, or it could be months,” Vakno prevaricated. “It rather depends on whether the shields are genuinely an original Guvnurag invention, or whether they were inserted by a Hierarchy for some purpose.”

“Like, uh… is that likely?” Lewis asked. “I know they got their fingers in a lotta pies, but we can’t assume everything is their doing, dude…”

“That’s just the problem. We have no way of knowing,” Darcy sighed. “And it’s not paranoia–”

“–If they’re really out to get you. Yeah.”

“…I’ll see if I can get some comprehensible answers out of the Entity. But I suspect I’ll need a carrot of some kind. It’s on our side, but we’d pay anybody else.”

“Handing out carrots is way above all our grade, dude,” Lewis pointed out.

“True. Still. I’ll think of something…” Darcy stood up. “I’ll get out of your way so you don’t have to dumb it down any longer.”

“‘Preciate it… Lucy said to remind you about Girl’s Night on Wednesday.”

Darcy smiled. Mrwrki’s staff didn’t exactly have a fifty-fifty gender split, so of course Girl’s Night had become a thing. An opportunity to escape the relentless maleness even though really all they did was drink fruit juice and play cards. They’d considered inviting Vakno but… well, Corti really didn’t engage with the concept of gender at all. And in any case playing poker against somebody with a completely expressionless face and an eidetic memory probably wouldn’t be much fun.

“I never forget,” she promised.

She returned to her office with a head full of thoughts, and sat down at her desk to consider them. Apparently the Entity was watching, because it promptly manifested its avatar on her desktop. She’d never quite worked up the courage to tell it that she really, really felt uncomfortable seeing a tiny holographic Ava in front of her.

…At least she’d persuaded the damn thing to put some clothes on it.

“Hello, Darcy.”

“Hey.” She had to smile—It was so innocent, in its strange way.

“How was your break?”

“Very interesting.” Darcy opened a new file and spent a few seconds considering how to phrase her questions. “…You spoke with Lewis.”

“We did, yes.”

“He didn’t really like the answers you gave for him.”

“His questions were… difficult. Questions about matterspace are always difficult.”

Darcy nodded, and settled on her approach.

“…Let me ask a dataspace question then,” she said. “…Did the Guvnurag invent the system defence fields? Or did the Hierarchy implant the idea?”

The answer surprised her.

“Both.” The Ava-construct offered a very human shrug and apologetic smile. Too much so. One could almost believe she was alive. “Let me explain…”

Date Point: 15y9m3w
Folctha Jump Array, Cimbrean, The Far Reaches

Ava Ríos

Ava had about half an hour to kill before the scheduled jump to Akyawentuo, and was using it to put in a little creative contribution to some of the other stories her colleagues at ESNN were working.

There was plenty to choose from, today. The Cimbrean seed vault—a direct copy of the one in Svalbard, built way down in Cimbrean’s antarctic circle—had taken receipt of its first delivery from the parent facility. In theory, between the two vaults, tens of thousands of Earthling flora and fungi were now permanently protected against extinction, or the vagaries of misapplied genetic manipulation.

Then there was the human gene vault at the same facility. In theory, even if the whole bunker completely lost power the samples would remain frozen. The temperatures down there were sub-zero up there all year round.

Ava’s own genes were in that vault. When the project had come knocking around Folctha asking for sample volunteers, she’d jumped at it. Adam and Marty had contributed too… in the end, about eighty percent of Folctha’s population had donated to the gene vault. It made sense: not only were the samples local and therefore easy to safely transport to safe keeping, but Folctha was a genetically diverse place, being almost exclusively populated by immigrants.

It was also, being honest, a bit flattering. They didn’t archive everyone’s genes, even if they took samples from all comers.

Actually… there was an interesting angle.

She left a comment on their group project. ‘IIRC there were some protests and angry letters from disability rights activists. The vault refused samples with BRCA1, Downs and other stuff. Could be worth a paragraph.’

The reply was instant. ‘That’ll poke the hornet’s nest. I like it.’ Jason. ‘Might do an interview with one of the so-called human supremacists who keep trying to hand out flyers near the alien quarter.’

Their Gaoian reporter, an especially fiery female called Minyi, replied to that one with a laughing emoji. ‘I’ll do it! Just to really screw with them.’

Ava giggled and replied. ‘That little head-turn and questioning voice you do so well…oh God. Film it, please! I’ll be too busy for the next four hours or so.’

‘Filming nekkid hot man-candy, got it. 😉 ’ Zöe added. Zöe was probably Ava’s favorite coworker, and treated the whole Laid Bare series with just the right kind of irreverence. She was looking after Hannah for the next few hours while Ava was offworld.

‘Shooting a serious exposé on the emotional difficulties of blah blah blah… I admit, I’m gonna enjoy this one. :p’ Ava replied ‘Though…not for the reason I bet you think.’

‘Talk about it someplace else please, girls,’ Jason requested. ‘We have an article to work on.’

That was fair enough. Ava clicked the tick icon on his comment and left the discussion to carry on without her.

Julian arrived, as ever, almost literally right before he was needed, this time with a rather comical pile of trunks and other such things under his arms. She snapped a shot without even thinking. He bounced up cat-like to the platform—apparently they knew him pretty well—let it all fall to the platform’s grates without much care, and prowled over to say hello.

“Professor Hurt and his dang books…Miss Ríos. Hi!”

She frowned at him. “…Miss Ríos? Really?”

He chuckled uncomfortably, stuck his hand out and shook hers with excessive formality and a wry grin on his face. Okay. He was nervous, doing business with a friend. And covering for it with a joke.

Well, she could play along. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mister Esticitty. Though I specifically requested a nude shot, not a Seran-wrapped model.”

“Wh–? Oh. Right. Sorry, I was running errands and the only thing I have that isn’t, like, dressy or whatever is my black t-shirts. Besides, these are actually super nice in the heat.”

“You could stand to up your shirt a few sizes…”

“Yeah, but people charge way too much for bigger. I ain’t paying fifty pounds for a damn t-shirt!”

“The jeans, though?”

“They’re comfy and they breathe! Adam made them for me, see? They stretch a little! They’re also pretty nice for hot weather, ‘cuz it’s just muggy as hell on Akyawentuo. Plus, I mean. It’s not like I’ll be wearing it for long.”

Ava glanced down at her own clothing. She was wearing hiking shorts and the halterneck top she usually took to the beach.

“Is this okay?”

“Uh…well, you might wanna ditch the boots when we get there, but the rest should be fine.”

“Just how humid is it?”

He glanced at his watch “This time of day, it’s usually about forty degrees centigrade and at the dew point. So… yeah.”

“That’s…” she calculated furiously. “…About a hundred and five in American?”

“Yup. Unless they’ve had rain come through today, the air’s gonna be chewy.”

“Hm. Great.”

“There’s a reason the People don’t wear anything. Hell, they think the science team are nuts. Being honest I kinda agree, too. Like, shorts and a thin top like you have is almost too much some days.”

Ava didn’t get the chance to reply to that, as the first alarm went to tell them to make sure all their stuff was safe inside the jump platform. An attendant jogged around the outside of the Array, making sure absolutely nothing was intersecting the dim holographic outline that had shimmered into life around them.

In theory there were safety sensors too, so even if Ava had made a mad suicidal lunge for the field boundary at the last second, the Array would have sensed it and aborted the jump. But Jump Array staff took safety very seriously. It was the one mode of travel that had never yet had a fatal accident.

Julian put his broad paw on her upper back. “Be careful. The sudden gravity is—”


Ava felt herself wanting to fall backwards, but she was no stranger to supergravity transitions anyway. Still, he held her up while she regained her bearings. “—Disorientating. Give it a second, it passes.”

“…That’s a little different to ramping up the Gs in the gym,” Ava noted.

“I know. This is instant.”

“Yeah… I’m good… uh-oh.”

Julian looked up and was just in time to intercept a dark-tan-and-straw-colored missile about the size of a chimpanzee.

Ava had a bluetooth earphone bud in her ear, and the translator app on her phone handled the Ten’Gewek language comfortably. [“Tonk! You’re bigger! And your crest is turning into a man’s!”]

Tonk settled in on Julian’s right shoulder and gave Ava a wide-eyed, bright look that was apparently universal to children. [“She’s pretty! Who is she?”]

[“This is my friend…”]

Ava extended a hand. “I’m Ava. Nice to meet you!” she introduced herself, trusting her phone to handle translations going the other way. Tonk stared at her for a second, then glanced at Julian.

[“Jooyun! Her voice—is that Sky-Magic?!”]

[“It’s a thinking-stone, and you’re being rude. Shake hands. Gently. Always be gentle with a woman!”]

Tonk had a grip like a bricklayer, but that was probably very gentle indeed by his standards. [“Ava. You have a nice name! Not hard like Jooyun.”]

“Thanks!” Ava replied, smiling. “I like your name, too.”

This seemed to earn her an immediate friendship. Tonk hooted and shifted over onto Julian’s other shoulder, curling his tail around the back of Julian’s neck like an oversized perching monkey. Honestly, the fact that Julian was standing there quite happily with that much weight on his shoulders was impressive. Her hands reacted automatically, plucking her camera from its holster on her hip and capturing the moment for posterity in a rapid series of shutter-clicks.

Naturally, this strange gesture got Tonk’s attention. He prodded Julian in the head insistently. [“What’s that?”]

[“It’s a–”] Here, Ava’s translator tripped up. The word Julian used was obviously some kind of long compound that took it a few seconds to figure out. It eventually delivered [“Seeing-and-remembering-tool,”] by which point Julian had launched into explaining what that meant. In the end, Ava just clicked the “cancel” button to reset the translator. She was getting two conversations at once and it was too much to process.

“Trouble?” Julian asked her.

“Translator didn’t like your word for ‘camera,’” Ava explained.

“Yeah, their language is both fusing and agglutinative,” he nodded, “and the linguists still haven’t figured out all the rules. You just…know what sounds to drop. Sorry.”

[“Are those other-People words?! They sound strange!”]

[“Yeah, little buddy! You’ll be able to say them when you get older, I promise!”]

That seemed to be enough for Tonk, who nodded happily and uttered the most viral English word ever conceived. “Okay!”

[“Anyway, we need to meet with Yan Given-Man, little man. Can you go up to the scientists and tell Professor Daniel we have things for him?”]

Tonk plunged off Julian’s shoulder with an enthusiastic Helpful sound that wasn’t quite a hoot and wasn’t quite a word, paused just long enough to sketch the absolute minimum of a polite farewell, and vanished up a tree in a blur.

Julian chuckled. “The best part is how Vemik is exactly the same except literally three times bigger.” There was a certain exasperated yet fond tone in his voice.

Ava subtly rubbed her hand. “How much…I hate to ask…”

“Oh, I figure Tonk was about a hundred kilos, he’s starting to fill out. C’mon, let’s go say hi to the big boss.”

Ava managed to get one last shot with them both framed in. It wasn’t great: Tonk was already too far away for a good profile. Still, she’d snapped Julian from the rear while he was taking a nice, purposeful stride. It might be a good promo shot to kick upstairs to the PR guys.

Their visit to the village was apparently just a formality. Yan was… well, he was as striking in person as Daar had been, and imposing on a scale that not even Adam quite matched. Adam’s perpetual good-natured bounciness took the edge off. Yan was more… primal.

And flirtatious. Dear God was he flirtatious, in such an outrageous way that Ava was very briefly tempted to flirt back.

Derek had warned her about that. It was about the one time so far that she’d seen him show any hint of jealousy. He needn’t have worried, though: even if she’d been remotely inclined to repeat past mistakes, Yan was just…too much. She’d had her fill of ‘too much.’

He didn’t seem disappointed, though. Easy-come, easy-go. In the end, some of the same kind of bouncy cheer did creep across his strange face.

“There is very pretty Ketta, maybe half-finger that way.” Yan pointed out for Julian, who presumably knew what ‘half-finger’ meant. “Flowers in bloom now.”

A half-finger, it turned out, was about enough time for the sun to move half a stubby Ten’Gewek finger-length through the sky. A little less than a mile, which Julian spent pointing out every example of Akyawentan flora and fauna that crossed their path. The local answer to a squirrel in particular was damn cute. It was also about the size of a bulldog.

Funny how, despite the heavier gravity, everything seemed bigger on Akyawentuo. The Ketta trees were chunky, sturdy things kinda like an English Oak but way taller, the bushes and shrubs around their base had stems thicker than Ava’s wrists, and when Julian pointed out a flock of root-birds skulking in the shade further back, it was like watching a whole gaggle of the biggest, fattest, table-ready Thanksgiving turkeys Ava had ever seen. With drumsticks that’d feed a family.

“They’re tasty as hell, too. That breast meat on them is a good four inches thick!”

He was nervous, she realized. Really nervous.

Well, she’d picked up a trick or two there.

“I guess we’d better get some of the boring business stuff out of the way,” she said.

“Uh… like what?”

“Oh, the usual.” she unslung her backpack and dug in it for her tablet. “Consent forms, statements, your signature on like four different documents. All the stuff that our corporate overlords demand so you can’t sue the shirt off my back.”

Julian eyed the tablet warily. “…Oh God. Paperwork.”

“Yeah, you’d think you could just whip your clothes off and I’d take pictures right?”

He chuckled nervously. “You’d think, I guess. I dunno. We’ve been setting this up for months and up until now I’ve been looking forward to it… Now that we’re here, I’m getting a serious case of cold feet, you know?”

“Over what, the undressing or the paperwork?”

That made him laugh. “…Both? Why’ve we gotta do paperwork?”

“Gotta keep the lawyers happy,” Ava explained. “Angry lawyers are the worst.”

He laughed again. “God, I can’t even imagine just, I dunno, whipping it out for someone like Miss Bader.”

“…Nofl’s attorney? She always reminds me of a panther that learned how to wear a pants suit… d’you wanna guess what her first name is?”

“She has a first name?”

“Yeah, and you will never guess it.”

“…It’s gonna be something really inappropriate, isn’t it? No, no guess. Just tell me.”

Ava grinned triumphantly. “Tiffany.”

“…No. No way.”


“Tiffany Bader…” Julian tested the weight of the name on his tongue, and seemed not to be thinking about it as he grabbed his T-shirt by its collar and pulled it off. “…Actually, that works. But it doesn’t fit her. I woulda imagined like… a Brunhilde, or a Helga. Something angry and German.”

He balled the shirt up and tossed it aside, cleared his throat, awkwardly, and unbuckled his belt.

Her hands did what they did best and took the shot almost without her conscious direction. He noticed, laughed at himself, and paused in undoing his jeans to flex his arm at her. Nerves or not, at least he was getting in the spirit of things.


Photographically, she’d chosen well.

That shirt turned out to have been concealing a lot, even having been skin-tight. Julian was built. To be fair, he wasn’t a barge of obscenely muscular furry murder like Daar, nor a superhuman tank of pure writhing strength like Adam. Nor was he like Yan, who was a primal balance of both ideals at once. Instead he was…

She settled on the word heroic. Julian was massive, with enough muscle slabbed onto his frame to make a comic book character blush. Yet he was also athletic and trim, with a solidly strong waist and an aesthetic profile. He was the kind of model a propagandist would kill for.

“Y’know, if you were looking to do warriors in their own words, you could maybe think about interviewing Yan one day…” he suggested once he’d folded his clothes on a rock. He stood awkwardly and self-consciously, not really knowing what to do with himself. Funny: Daar had been brash, Derek had been full of laughing bravado, and Patel had seemed genuinely comfortable. Strange how different people could be in these situations.

Ava had to admit, it was harder to get more surreal then standing on an alien world chatting with a naked god of a man, who was suggesting she might interview a talking gorilla.

“I mean… maybe? But the fact that it’s a nude shoot would be kinda wasted on him…”

“Yeah, I suppose…” Julian glanced down at himself and cleared his throat again. “…I didn’t shave down. Was I supposed to?”

“No, the body hair works for this. I don’t want this too contrived, it still has to be genuine. And it’s important. The nudity, I mean. Like, symbologically. It’s not just… it’s not eye candy.” She tried not to curse at her little Freudian almost-slip.

Fortunately, Julian didn’t seem to notice it. “No no, I get it. I mean…I’m the one with his dick hangin’ out in the air. And it does feel weird.”

“Which part, the air, or your dick?”


She took a picture. Click. His grinning indignation made for an excellent portrait.

“Wait. You did that on purpose!”

“Yup! Try putting your arm behind your head. Right. Good, that works for you. Tense it…good. Why did you decide to do this?”

“Well…God, I’m actually not sure…”

“Keep your arm tensed. Try to keep everything flexed at once…yeah, like that. Don’t look at me, look at the camera. Point your left foot out, squeeze, hold…perfect. Not sure about…?”


Julian was busy trying to figure out how to pose and talk at the same time, but that was the point. The more she gave him other things to focus on, the quicker he forgot to be awkward and embarrassed.

“…Oh, right! Uh, well…why I did this. Does this work?”

“Yes. Don’t worry about it, just pretend like you’re in front of the mirror. You’re not sure?”

“Well…I think a few reasons. I mean, I’ll be honest, I suppose ego is a big part.”

Julian rotated his wrist behind his neck and squeezed down on his bicep. Just… damn. That arm was the size of his whole damn head, which was something that absolutely needed to go in the story.


…And that was the shot. She’d have him hit that one later with both arms, too.

Keep hitting him with questions, keep him talking, don’t give him a chance to think. That was the key here. “That’s not uncommon. Coombes felt the same way, though he never admitted it. Why else?”


He half-turned and tried something different, showing off the lines of his back. “Uh…well, Daar was just so brutally honest, y’know? I liked that. I thought, it’d be good to maybe just let it all out, ‘cuz I think people need to know.”


“Know what? Turn around, if you would. Just stand there, look back and talk… Any other reason you can think of?”

Julian dutifully complied. Click.

“I guess… Some of what happened here. The People… well, all the stuff we didn’t touch on when we went on That Show, everything we had to go through… Some of the things we saw and did and the people we lost who I’ve never had a chance to really tell anyone about before… Shit, I don’t really know. Lots of reasons, I guess. But, well, I think the People are really at the heart of it all…”

He started rambling, but that was exactly what Ava was after. She smiled, satisfied that they’d cracked his shell, and let her hands work their magic. Their interview was just getting started.

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CopRit Empire Sol 77 Of Race 7 Year 4957 PackRat IV, 5 Months out from Halfil I slammed into to deck plating. Coughing, I rolled over onto my side and vomited on the floor, trying to get over the fact that everything was spinning around me. “You know, Humans have perhaps one of the most

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Sweetness – Chapter 2 (NSFW)

CopRit Empire, Halfil Sol 78 of Race 3 Year 4958 Athletic Complex, New Baltimore I jumped to the side, dodging the attack. I felt the breeze as the weapon passed my abdomen; it missed me by only a few millimeters. Twirling to the side, I brought my foot up. Reacting with amazing speed, my opponent

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Sweetness – Chapter 1 (NSFW)

CopRit Empire, Halfil Sol 78 Of Race 3 Year 4958 Divsion 3 Police Station, New Baltimore “What?” The officer frowned and pushed the circular data tablet across the table to me. On it was an image of the woman I had met at the bar last night. She had green skin, of a shade that

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Shades of White and Orange

Sneaking forwards Kalif slowly tilted his ears to either side and waited in the darkness. Not sensing anything he slowly crept forwards towards the statue, and the artifacts in its base. Slithering as silently as possible Kalif focused his eyes on the objects, as if afraid they might disappear at any time. Reaching the statue

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Mother Earth

Mother Earth. She’s a bitch. A hard ass bitch who tortured every form of life that she brought forth onto her surface. Every life form on her surface had to fight, feed and fuck. After that she didn’t care about what happened, only that they had improved on themselves perhaps a little bit. Life on

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Nyx fired off another shot from her rifle and the Prod nearly 800 meters down the street jerked and ducked into an ally. She frowned and sharpened her gaze on the point where the purple mass had disappeared, looking for the telltale red fragments on the pavement. “More of ’em?” asked Iyo, he was whispering

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 2

The data streams slammed into me. With practiced ease, I pushed them aside and forced myself to view the data from afar. To not see it as billions of lines of code, but rather as the small white room that any other human would see. Floating in the center of that white room was Artemis,

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 1

0 days Adam “You’re insane.” “Your point is what?” She rolled her eyes and tightened the straps holding me to the chair. “The point is that someone who can’t move shouldn’t really be this snippy.” She gestured at the plethora of medical equipment around us. “I’m sure I can do some interesting things with all

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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+ 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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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 52: Autoimmune Part 5

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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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-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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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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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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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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