The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 7

“Laid Bare—Warriors in their own words” Issue #3: Sachi Patel Author and photographer: Ava Magdalena Ríos

“I think if they’d really treated me like “one of the boys,” I’d be dead now. They all are. But one of the last things they did was make sure I was safe.”

Reactor Technician Sachi Patel is very different from other interviewees in this series for several reasons. Quite aside from her gender, she is easily the smallest and most unassuming of my subjects. She has also lost more comrades in battle than any of the men: When HMS Caledonia was sunk during the Battle of Gao, it went down with the loss of two thirds of of its two hundred crewmembers.

Patel was among the survivors, and was the only survivor from the ship’s reactor and power systems specialists. These systems, buried deep in the heart of the ship and full of densely contained energy, are intensely dangerous to work with. Indeed, it was an electrical fault in the capacitor banks that caused the fire which left Caledonia in dry-dock for several months to undergo repairs.

Grappling with such a beast is not for the faint-hearted, and there is absolutely nothing faint-hearted about Sachi. Instead, she is talkative, gregarious, and absolutely unreserved about shedding her clothes for our photo shoot. Nevertheless, she represents a new and unfortunate form of survivor’s guilt: that of a female serviceperson who is acutely aware that she is only alive because her male colleagues prioritized her survival over their own.

In our correspondence prior to this interview, she made it completely clear that she intends to continue to serve, no matter the danger. In her words:

“We lost dozens of amazing people. I want to make sure they aren’t forgotten.”

When we first begin our session, however, her trauma is not immediately visible.

[Image: Patel posing in water that comes up to mid-thigh. She has her hair bunched wetly in both hands behind her head and is beaming bashfully at the camera.]

Tell me about your childhood.

“I grew up in Swindon. My family didn’t have a lot of money… my father was a manager at Kwik-Fit, my mother stayed at home and looked after us. And, uh, home was a council flat. But I did really well at school, I loved science and maths, and netball…”


“It’s basically a female-friendly version of basketball. And yes, I know, I’m not exactly the right height for basketball…”

This is an understatement. At exactly five feet tall, Sachi is only just taller than the minimum height requirement to serve in the Royal Navy.

What attracted you to military service?

[Image: Patel displaying a sheepish grin.]

“I wanted to work with nuclear reactors.”

That’s… specific.

“Something about them just fascinated me! I can’t explain it, but I’ve always found electricity fascinating, and nuclear power in particular. In school, I used to imagine that I’d be the one to invent a fusion reactor, or come up with a better way to use our nuclear waste… something like that.”

Still, why the military and not the civilian sector?

“I think because of my cousin Sanjay. He picked up a lot of student debt to get his degree, and then he spent years and years struggling in bottom-rung jobs and never getting anywhere. Eventually he started working for his father as a plumber and that was a good job for him, but when he was earning enough he had to start paying back his loans. So when I was sixteen or so and considering which “A” levels to take and where I wanted to go in life, I saw a Royal Navy recruiting video on Youtube and I thought if I went that route, I’d get the training and qualifications as part of the job, I wouldn’t have any debt to pay… and then there was the appeal of doing things like delivering disaster relief after hurricanes and tsunamis and things like that. I thought, ‘if I get to play with reactors and that powers the ship that sails halfway around the world to save lives, then that’s having my cake and eating it.’ My parents weren’t too happy, but they didn’t try to stop me.”

She laughs.

“My father said something like ‘Raising a daughter is like watering your neighbour’s garden.’”

That sounds…

“Sexist? It is.”

She doesn’t stop smiling.

“I think that was another reason I was attracted to the Navy. They didn’t care that I was a petite little woman, all they cared about was whether I could learn how to do an important job well. And I could!”

[Image: Patel floating in the water on her back, hair forming a halo around her head.]

What was your career like?

“It was exactly what I hoped it would be! I got the training I wanted, I worked hard, I got what I earned. And, okay, so in fact it turned out that most of what I was doing once I finally got to sail was kind of dull, but at least it was dull in, like, the Panama Canal or wherever. And I guess growing up with such a big family in such a tiny flat prepared me a bit for what life aboard ship was going to be like, because I never had much privacy in either situation.”

I’ve heard warships don’t offer much personal space…

“They offer no personal space at all! And of course, most of the crew are young men so after a few weeks at sea I kind of learned to tune out the smells and the way the curtain on a guy’s bunk might be rocking… or, uh, learned how to keep the curtain on MY bunk from rocking…”

She clears her throat before continuing.

“And you get used to your crewmates walking around the crew berthing in nothing but their socks or whatever.”

Is that why you’re so comfortable doing this, do you think?

“Well… it’s nothing the guys I served with haven’t already seen, let’s put it that way.”

Does that feel safe?

“With them? Yes. I only ever had problems with one man, and, well. The others took care of it. That’s all I’ll say. Besides, there was a little bit of separation. A curtain hung up, that kind of thing. On newer ships the berthings are completely separate, but a ship is a crowded and raunchy thing. There’s only so much privacy to be had.”

[Image: A profile photo of Patel pouring water out of her cupped hands and onto her upturned face. Her expression is serene.]

Did you expect to see spaceborne service?

“No, not at all! But when Chief Andow was selected to be Caledonia’s chief reactor technician, he asked for me by name. We’d already worked together for a year or two by then and I guess he thought highly of me.”

You guess?

“He wasn’t the kind of man who’d just come out and tell you something like that.”

How did it differ from your previous assignments?

“The big difference was that we actually had more personal space, not less. Caledonia was a captured and refitted alien vessel you see, and the alien design was just more roomy. [That] took some of the pressure off, which was good because Callie needed us all to be at our best. She was this weird hybrid of alien and human technology, and we were constantly having to work around that. When she worked properly, she was unbelievable–to this day, she’s still the fastest and most agile ship we’ve ever had in the fleet–but keeping her at her best was a lot more interesting than all those boring shifts I mentioned before. I don’t think we ever had a boring shift with Callie. I don’t want to imply she was a deathtrap, she wasn’t. But for any ship underway, disaster is always a lot closer than you’d think, and that’s doubly true in an environment as hostile as space.”

[Image: Patel talking animatedly. She has a lively, expressive face, and her hands are a blur, suggesting she waves them around and gestures vigorously with them as she talks.]

Tell me about the Battle of Gao

Her demeanour changes. Up until now, Sachi has been animated and enthusiastic. My question seems to flip a switch. She immediately becomes quiet and hesitates, assembling her words carefully before sharing them.

“Gao was a land war. So, our job was to deliver the HEAT and stand by in low orbit to provide support. The Gaoian fleet and the V-class destroyers had already cleared the field for us, we thought. Uh, I should point out that really, I spent the whole time monitoring power loads and making sure we didn’t overcharge the capacitor banks. I wasn’t really aware of the situation outside.

“When the Hunters attacked… it came out of nowhere. Suddenly the alarm went off—there are a lot of alarms, but this one was for hull breaches and enemy boarders. I remember, I kind of froze up, then… I remember looking over at the chief, and then I got back to work. I had a job to do, and repelling boarders isn’t part of that job. My job is to make sure the power systems stay within acceptable bounds. So, I kept doing that. I could hear weapons fire elsewhere in the ship, and every so often there’d be this heavy bang through the hull.

“And then I guess when the Hunters realized they were losing, they self-destructed. And when an explosion tears out part of the superstructure, things start to go wrong fast. When a lot of them happen in quick succession…”

[Image: The central two-page spread image is a candid shot of Patel standing knee-deep in the water in an acutely vulnerable posture. She is staring off into the distance at nothing in particular, and her right hand is protectively cradling her left arm. Despite being a still image, the picture still manages to convey the impression that she is shivering.]

“…It was chaos. I remember looking up at the systems board and seeing just how many emergency forcefields had gone up. And worse, just how many of the shield emitters were down. That’s bad because warships radiate waste heat through the shields. If the shields are completely gone, then the heat will just build up and up and eventually we’d all cook, but our bigger problem was spreading hull failures. We were in low orbit with Hunter ships buried in us like ticks, and they were just… pulling the ship apart. And if one of those ships self-destructed and took out a capacitor bank…”

She shakes her head.

“When you store that much energy in such a small space, you basically have a bomb. The cap banks are some of the toughest, most hardened compartments on the ship, but they’re not invulnerable…”

At this point, she trails off completely. After a few seconds, I decide she needs prompting.

What happened next?

“…Chief Andow tried to get through to the bridge, to let them know he was dumping the cap. Uh, that means discharging all our stored energy so that if the capacitor takes damage we don’t all go up in a massive explosion. But for whatever reason he couldn’t raise them. So he looked over at me and ordered me to deliver the message myself.”

It’s at this point that she begins to weep. She doesn’t notice at first.

“…Looking back… I think he knew. I think he saw the writing on the wall. So he told me to go be a runner so I wouldn’t be in there when… So I’d have a chance.”

[Image: Patel sitting on a rock, wiping a tear off her cheek.]

“I don’t… I don’t really remember what happened next. I remember I was scrambling up the stairs when there was this huge explosion nearby. There was decompression, it picked me up and blew me down the deck before the fields kicked in and stopped it. Somebody picked me up and dragged me toward an escape pod. I think I said something about how I was a runner, and I had to get a message to the captain… he said the captain was dead. Then he physically forced me into the pod and launched it. I didn’t even register who he was. But I’m pretty sure he didn’t make it.”

What happened to the ship exactly?

“I don’t really know. A series of internal explosions. They broke her open, took out the power and… that was it. The emergency forcefields dropped and the whole ship decompressed. Everybody left on board would have died in seconds…

“I didn’t see it happen. I just remember being crushed into my seat by the escape pod… I think I blacked out. I don’t really remember anything much until we’d landed on Gao, and then I was lying in a frosty field staring up at the sky. In between is all… it’s a blur.”

HMS Caledonia was the first British warship to be sunk since the Falklands War in 1982, and the worst loss of life suffered by the Royal Navy in a single incident since the sinking of HMS Aldenham in 1944. She remains the only Allied military spaceship to be sunk. Her hulk was recovered from Gao’s orbit and repaired at the Ceres shipyards, where she was recently rededicated and will shortly be returning to service.

Will you be returning to Caledonia, now that she’s been repaired?


Won’t that be difficult?

[Image: Patel glaring fiercely at the camera, still sitting on the rock from before.]

“I owe it to my crewmates. I owe it to Andow, and Wilkes, Evans… all of them. Yes, it’ll be difficult… but it’d be harder to turn my back on them all.”

On that determined note, I conclude our interview.

Author’s note: This interview was reviewed and approved by Allied Extrasolar Command and the Royal Navy prior to publication. The interviewee’s views are her own, and do not constitute a policy statement on behalf of the United Kingdom or Allied governments.

(The full and unedited recording of Sachi Patel’s interview is available via ESNN’s Internet and infosphere pages.)

Date point: 15y10m AV
High Mountain Fortress, the Northern Plains, Gao

Champion Thurrsto of Clan Whitecrest

“Are you ready, My Father?”

Daar’s expression when he glanced at Thurrsto was both ernest and somehow serene. “I don’t think anyone is ever completely ready for something like this.”

Thurrsto reflected on that statement for a moment. It might be true, but if anyone were to be ready, well. One couldn’t do much better than Daar.

He was tall. Stately. Broad and powerful. Daar’s fur was lightly silvered along his cheeks and forearms with wisdom, but that laudable age was merely him at the peak of his prime; he was not in any way old or weakening. He’d grown his fur out to a dignified length and it was perfectly groomed. He was almost painfully handsome in a way that could be brutal or playful in equal measure, and there was a certain…weight to how he carried himself. Figuratively and literally, given his ongoing efforts at being the “most bestest” battle-ready Stoneback he could be.

Daar was the perfect avatar for the Gao at this point in their history, the uncompromisingly stern and indomitable leader they needed: ruthless yet not unkind, with an underlying compassionate streak and a hint of a happier future awaiting them under the weight of it all. His strength and ferocity were unmatched maybe anywhere, body, mind, and spirit. It was honestly… intimidating, and a bit melancholy. Nobody else could bear that much weight.

“They’re almost all gathered, My Father.” That was Gyotin, who would be leading the procession. They no longer had priests or what could be termed a state religion, but the implication and ritual was much the same. The little Champion was perhaps the only Gaoian alive as respected as Daar, and for entirely different reasons. He looked very much appropriate for the occasion in his dark robes, as though he was fitting into a role that the ancient fortress had remembered while the Gao themselves slowly forgot.

Daar duck-nodded softly. “…You kept it simple, right?” he asked.

“I’m not about to spring any surprises on you, My Father. Not after we rehearsed it…” Gyotin chittered. He seemed more relaxed about this than anyone else present. “But it has always been simple. At least… the ritual has, yes?”

“Yeah. I guess. We march out, I take an oath, you crown me, my Champions clothe me. Naydi joins me at my side and she’s consecrated, too. Simple…” There was a resigned tone to his chitter. “It’s the consequence that ain’t so easy.”

Gyotin duck-nodded, then flicked an ear as some update or another came through the earbud he was wearing. He glanced around at the Champions.

“Well. The Mother-Supreme and the Humans have arrived and taken their place… and so, intriguingly, has the Corti ambassador.”

Interesting. The Dominion species had been invited as a matter of court esy, but all had politely responded with variations on the theme of ‘regret we cannot attend’ according to their own understanding of what passed for polite. The Chehnash one might have been taken as a snub by anybody who didn’t know them.

It was interesting that the Corti had accepted. Then again, they had been behaving strangely of late. Thurrsto had sat through a great many long briefings about the internal maneuverings of the Directorate, with Whitecrest’s general impression being that they were Up To Something. Something big, too. Epochal, possibly. All while making friendly overtures to the three extant Deathworlder species, despite the fact that the Dominion didn’t yet formally recognize the Ten’Gewek as sapient.

Things had changed dramatically, there. Previously the Corti had been the driving force between the insulting ‘non-sapient indigenous fauna’ label, as it provided a useful cover for their ‘xenobiological studies.’ For them to pre-emptively recognise and aggressively sponsor a species’ sapience was unprecedented.

And now, here they were at Daar’s coronation.

…Questions for later. Thurrsto stood up tall and straight as the Champions were called to order. He was in the honour guard’s second echelon, behind Loomi and Fiin—Highmountain and Stoneback were naturally at the front—and alongside Champion Myaku of Clan Emberpelt, who might just have nosed ahead of Fiin to be the second-largest gaoian present after Daar himself.

That was definitely not traditional. Fiin was, in practical terms, a hulking specimen by either human or gaoian reckoning, yet Stoneback Champions were traditionally much larger. Most of his First Fang was at least half again his size, after all, and Daar, of course…

Conversely, Emberpelts preferred to err on the side of burly over hulking, yet Myaku could stand toe-to-toe with Fiin. He was also, apparently, tied for the most accomplished fire rescueman in their history. That had been the trend over the last few decades, actually: competency over strict breed conformance. They were leaders of their Clans almost purely on their individual merit.

That spoke volumes about the quality of them both, and of the other Champions. And if he was being honest, it spoke volumes about Thurrsto, too. His own situation, he was not too modest to admit, was similar. The War had hugely accelerated that trend and caused a lot of re-shuffling among the Champions and Grandfathers. Combined with Daar’s clear preference for results first and foremost, the consequences had been impressive. There hadn’t been a group this smart, or this well-regarded, or this well-bred in possibly centuries. Most of them were pretty atypical for their Clans, too, at least in one way or another.

And here they were, about to proclaim to the Gao and the galaxy writ large their selection, approval of, and abject unending submission to, Daar; the one, true, uncontested and unquestioned Great Father of the Gao.


Gyotin had a simple wooden staff he was using for a ceremonial… object. Mace? Wand? A stick to beat unruly witnesses back into line? It certainly looked weapon-like… Either way, he raised it and tapped it sharply on the stones.

“It is time,” he intoned.

The doors to the Great Hall opened.

Technical Sergeant Adam (“Warhorse”) Arés

“…Damn nice, all of this.”

“Keep quiet ‘ya lump,” Righteous grumbled next to him.

“Yessir, sarry.”

Righteous grumbled again. They were still…working things out. Nothing bad, really, and they were still bros, it was just a little weird between them, still: neither of them had really realized how big the performance gap was. It felt maybe like when a little brother realizes he can not only beat, but totally wipe the floor with his bigger, cooler older bro. Adam wasn’t sure he liked that.


So far, it had been something pretty spectacular to watch, though. Especially the procession up to High Mountain Fortress! They’d been invited—and when the Great Father invites you, how do you say no?—so of course they were all there in their nicest uniforms, watching the proceedings and all of Gao’s high society preen before each other.

Fancy big room, too.

…Okay, that was underselling it. The Great Hall was a fucking great hall, and they’d pulled out all the stops to make it greater and hall-er for this. It was definitely making his List of Big Cool Really Old Rooms—he’d made that List in London. There were big monochromatic banner things hanging from the rafters, and those rafters were made of wood. Like, wood over a thousand years old. Daar had given them all a quick tour of the Fortress last night—the Gaoian HEAT operators had been in a state of near awe the whole time, too—and it was then Adam had learned that, for a Gaoian, wood was as naked a display of wealth as gold, so…damn. Daar’s personal apartments were filled with it, the entire hall was made of it too, like some of the cool buildings he saw in England…hammer-beam? Was that the word?

There were swords up there, too. Thousands of ‘em. Somebody had gone up there and cleaned every last one so the shadows gleamed with lethal sharp edges. He had to wonder who’d done what kind of shenanigans to pull that duty.

Their earlier reunion with Daar had been fun, if too quick. Adam had been discreetly seeing him at least weekly for some time now as he clawed himself up the last grueling steps towards the amazing peak of his abilities; working out with Daar was fun! Firth had, uh, gotten re-motivated after their fight and he was back on track again, but still, it was nice lifting with someone who could keep up.

As for the others, they hadn’t had any chance to train with Daar in a while, and their surprise at just what he could do now had the big furry goofball downright giddy with manic happiness. Too bad, it was pretty obvious he just wanted to laze about and tussle with everyone all day long, but, well…duty first. Maybe they could bro out tomorrow.

…After he was crowned. After they made him what might as well have been a god.


Anyway. He was still Daar under it all, and his hard work had made a hell of an impression on Firth. “…He’s been eatin’ his Wheaties,” he whispered, continuing an earlier conversation.

“Yeah. He said, and I quote, ‘make me good enough to beat your ass.’ So…here we are.”

“Did you?”

“Some days, I wonder… Looks like things are starting.”

The giant wooden doors creaked open, and Gyotin processed through them with a sturdy-looking staff of some kind held vertically in front of him. It was kinda hard to tell it was him because the robes covered basically everything but his nose and paws, but still. He advanced to the middle of the dais at the hall’s end, and rapped the staff’s metal shoe down on the stones hard, three times.

It sure as hell got everyone’s attention.

“Please stand,” he requested, once the hall was silent.

There was the prolonged sussuruss of hundreds of people rising to their feet. Gyotin duck-bowed to acknowledge them, then turned and rapped his staff on the stones again. In smart lockstep, the Champions emerged from the shadows beyond the door. At the front was Fiin, layered in Stoneback’s extremely functional ceremonial steel armor, with a durable, well-used rifle over shoulder. Beside him was Loomi, bare-furred except for a kind of layered heavy wool kilt-like thing. The Emberpelt champion wore a straight boss looking heavy leather coat and matching corded pants, along with what was unquestionably a fireman’s hat; Adam grimaced internally when he thought of how much needlework went into all that.

Beside him was Thurrsto, looking dark and sharp in unadorned, sleek, well-fitted black clothing with an evil slender blade to hand. Nobody could miss the hard lines of his body showing themselves through his fur and clothing. To Adam’s eyes, despite being the smallest—relatively speaking, anyway—and least visually spectacular of the four Big Bads, Thurrsto looked the most genuinely dangerous. Which, considering he was standing next to Fiin, was saying something.

He’d need to arrange a spar between them one day.

After the honor-guard of four, there came a procession of all the other Champions. It went on for a while. Each of them was wearing their Clan’s idea of ceremonial garb, ranging from the humble hard-wearing white doctor’s robes of Clan Openpaw to the riot of wood and gold beads and fine silks adorning Champion Sheeyo. The very last onto the stage was Clan Forestnettle, the newest major Clan to be recognized by the Conclave, wearing a woolen cap and a utility bandolier. Adam couldn’t remember what they did, exactly.

The honor-guard remained in the middle of the stage while the remaining Champions fanned out to the edges. Once the procession was done, Gyotin rapped his staff on the stones once more, and onto the stage stepped the center of it all: Daar.

He…really, really looked the part, somehow.

He wasn’t wearing any fancy swords or robes or whatever, in fact he wasn’t wearing anything at all. He didn’t need to. Maybe it was because some groomer did a really nice clip job, maybe it was all the extra training they’d done together, maybe it was just how he was. Maybe all of it at once. Daar stood in the middle of all of it, towering over everyone besides maybe Loomi, who in any case was too lanky to have a command presence strong enough to stand against him.

Gyotin returned to center-stage. He stood before Daar, looking up at him, then turned to the audience and rapped his staff on the ground again, just once. The sound echoed in the respectful hush.

“I call this Conclave to order!” He announced. “Before you, in the sight of all we hold sacred, stands Daar, to whom the Champions of the Clans have bared their throats in supplication. Do the Clans recognize him?”

As one, the Champions all barked their agreement. It was a quick, powerful, and honestly…a pretty scary thing to hear. Just a single, punching sound, that echoed around the ancient hall long after it had been voiced.

Gyotin rapped his staff again, then turned to face stage left. “I call forth Yulna, Mother-Supreme of the Females, seat of our culture and foster of life.”

Yulna was the head of a procession of three, flanked by Naydra on her right and Myun on her left. There was some kind of ritual challenge where Myun stepped protectively in front of the Mother-Supreme, baring a shield and sword. Gyotin duck-bowed formally, and Myun stepped back. Naydra was holding a rich blue cushion with an object on it that Adam couldn’t quite see.

With that done, Gyotin turned to face stage right. “And I call forth Reeko, Champion of the Straightshields, blind giver of justice, arbiter of disputes.”

Reeko was faceless behind a full suit of armor, brushed to a dull gleam rather than polished. His guards were completely identical. They were the same height, same build, moved in exactly the same precise way. It wasn’t robotic, they were definitely alive under there… But it was completely indistinguishable. Eerie. The only thing different about Reeko was the brass and wooden intaglio down the crest of his helm. The trio bore spears, which they planted firmly on the ground in front of them, and became perfectly statue-still.

Gyotin turned to the audience. “Are there any among us who would Challenge the sacred rite we are about to undertake? Is there a soul who would dispute what we do? Speak, now, and be heard: but be warned. You would Challenge the Conclave, the Clans, and Daar himself.”

Nobody answered, of course: who could Challenge Daar? Not even Adam was that stupid. Daar was a hell of a fight even way back when he was less than half Adam’s weight, what with his ridiculous speed and those teeth and claws of his. Now that they were about level? In a real fight? No gracias. Adam couldn’t imagine either of them coming out of that intact.

Adam had to suppress an urge to giggle at the idea, which Firth noticed out of the corner of his eye. He gave a very slight grin, rolled his eyes and shook his head ever-so-slightly. In any case, Gyotin waited a good long while for some immensely stupid person to try their luck.

None did. He turned back to the center of attention.

“Daar. You stand here before us, under the sight of our esteemed witnesses and the Clans of the Gao, here where the priests of ancient tradition invoked the spirits of the world. May they grant us grace. You have been recognized and acclaimed as the Great Father we require, and thus are called to a great and terrible duty. Do you understand and accept this burden?”

Daar spoke for the first time in the ceremony. He’d always had a booming, gravelly kind of voice, but now it was percussive as he raised his muzzle and announced: “I do.”

The words bounced off the back wall.

“And will you take the oath required of you, before those Seen and Unseen?” Gyotin asked.

“I will.”

“Then repeat after me…”

Gyotin’s voice was low enough that Adam could only just hear the words. When Daar repeated them, however, they carried real weight.

“I, Daar, Brother, Father, Warleader, Champion-Emeritus, Stud-Prime of Stoneback…”

His voice boomed across the hall.

“Pledge to keep and protect the Clans of the Gao against all enemies from within and without, physical and spiritual…”

“To provide Justice, Security, and Foundation…”

“To guide our kind through the twisting river of fate toward a bright and prosperous future…”

“To foster friendships across the stars, that our lands, our spirits, and our knowledge might grow…”

“And to respect the advice of the Champions, and to lead with integrity and wisdom.”

“I accept this singular, supreme, and unassailable authority as my burden alone…”

“…to be shared with no-one, and never bequeathed. I pledge to keep this office until the day I die, and I pledge that it shall die with me.”

“By all that I hold sacred, before those Seen and Unseen, these things that I have promised, I will perform and keep. So I do swear.”

Gyotin waited for the last of Daar’s oath to finish resonating around the hall, then struck his staff on the ground so hard that Adam actually flinched at the noise.

“Do the Clans accept his pledge?”

Again, there was that same bark of approval. Gyotin turned to his left.

“Do the Females trust his fidelity?”

Yulna stepped forward. She duck-nodded, then turned to Naydra and took what looked like a wooden walking-stick from the pillow.

“We do, and we present this token of our respect,” she declared. She stepped forward once again and placed it in Daar’s right paw. In his hands, it looked more like a humble scepter. “It belonged to my predecessor, Mother Giymuy. Carry it, as a symbol of what you must protect.”

As she stepped back, Gyotin turned to his right and addressed the Straightshields.

“Does the Law recognise his legitimacy?” he asked. Reeko stepped forward. With cold precision, he turned one-eighty to hand his spear to one of his guards. He shrugged a round shield from his back and, holding it rigidly in front of him, turned one-eighty again, stepped forward, and presented it. His voice boomed hollowly from inside his helmet.

“It does. This shield hung in the high courthouse for a thousand years, and survived even when that ancient building was flattened. Carry it, as a symbol of what you must uphold.” He then returned to the exact millimeter of stone he’d been occupying and stood, utterly still.

Gyotin duck-nodded, then gestured toward a low wooden table at the front of the stage. He spoke, his voice having slid into a more…well, serious and formal tone. It was captivating.

“Cousins of Daar, Brother-Clans of Stoneback, come forward and teach us thy offerings.”

The first to approach was Fiin, carrying his rifle. He prowled over to the table efficiently, checked and cleared the weapon with a well-practiced motion, then quite conspicuously charged it and set it on the table, pointing it in the one direction where nobody was seated.

“A rifle, one of human design, gaoian make, and mutual refinement. It has seen heavy service in the war that Our Father led us through. Many have died by its power, and it in turn has seen its masters fall one after the other. May it remind My Father always of the terrible cost of war, of its terrible necessity, and of the hope that must always be kept alive.”

…Damn. They were not fooling around with their symbology. Both Firth and ‘Base shifted uncomfortably on either side of Adam.

Next up was Loomi, who carried an ancient-looking book. He took a dignified walk up to the table and laid it down almost reverently.

“The remaining personal writings of Fyu, intended for his successor. There are secrets within that were kept by conspiracy in Stoneback, later Highmountain, and eventually through Whitecrest, when their Clan split from ours in secret so very long ago. The contents have been known only to the unbroken Rite of the Loremasters our Clans have always shared. Today, they are bestowed upon you. May they serve as a reminder that wisdom is the greatest of all blessings, and unheeded, is the most exquisite of all curses. May his writings give you the strength to wield such power.”

Thurrsto and Myaku looked at one another, then stepped forward as one.

“Our Clans represent polar extremes,” Myaku announced. “Mine is the craft of protecting life…”

“…and mine is the craft of ending it,” Thurrsto finished for him. “These are burdens and tools that the Great Father must wield.”

The pair of them took ampules from around their necks, and placed them together on the table.

“Water,” Myaku said. “Drawn from the headspring of the Bat-Yu river. That river, and the dams along its length, provide drinking water, sanitation, and electrical power for half our civilization. Without water, there can be no life. It extinguishes fires and cleans wounds… or it can flood towns and sweep away buildings. Water, like life, demands respect and careful shepherding. Guard it well.”

“Blood,” Thurrsto added. “Taken from an unfortunate soul who was simply in the wrong place at a very unfortunate time. He was entirely innocent of any wrongdoing, yet his life was forfeit for the success of a mission that had nothing to do with him whatsoever. Death, as the counterpart to what the esteemed Champion said, demands respect. Use it wisely.”

There were more, once his bodyguards had their say. Each Clan of the Conclave had a point they wanted to make, some duty they wanted to remind their Great Father of, and they made each one pointedly and solemnly. The Openpaws presented the obligation to heal via the Gaoian equivalent of the Rod of Asclepius; the Longears gave something ominous in the form of a magnifying glass. The one-fangs delivered a burned and broken helmet recovered from the graveyard orbit high overhead. As each token was given, a member of Starmind received it on the Great Father’s behalf and carried it away to a contemplation room just off the Great Hall.

The weight of it all was just…crushing. But at last it was Gyotin’s turn.

On the table there was an urn with hot coals within. He used a pair of tongs to select a coal and place it into a small bowl, which immediately erupted into thick, billowing smoke. It spread through the hall quickly, and by the time Gyotin had placed a second coal in a second bowl, Adam caught its scent: sweet, gentle, and grassy. There was a sharp resin-like note too, but he didn’t really know how to describe it. It was nice, either way.

Gyotin placed the bowls on the ground to either side of Daar.

“We burn sweet-herb in offering to the occasion. For those who are not Gaoian, know that sweet-herb comes in many forms. The ancient texts tell us of a particularly rare herb that was used only for the most sacred purposes. That herb had long been thought extinct, but modern archaeology, combined with molecular evidence, has identified its strain. It lives still, though only at High Mountain Fortress, and even then its survival is nothing short of miraculous. It was found in a single, untended garden in a worn-down, disused courtyard, one that had been slated for eventual demolition. We now know that courtyard was none other than Fyu and Tiritya’s personal garden. That herb has been carefully cultivated, My Father, and today…we offer it. May it please the spirits of all, Seen and Unseen, and consecrate these proceedings.”

Gyotin turned back toward the table, walked over, and picked up the crown.

“Let us all take a moment of silence to contemplate what we are about to do.”

Heads bowed. For a minute or longer, there was no sound at all that Adam could detect, beyond his own breath and the occasional faint rustle of fur and fabric as somebody moved. Gyotin stood unmoving in the middle of the stage, holding the crown up for them all to see.

It was a minimalist thing. It bore no diamonds, or velvet, or magnificent crenellations of precious metal… in fact it was simple. A shaped loop of silver, designed to fit snugly around his ears and the back of his head where it could shine through his fur without getting in the way.

Gyotin broke the silence by turning to face Daar.

“This crown is a symbol of your authority, and a token of your transformation. You do not kneel before me: You kneel before it, and all that it represents. Once you don this crown, you may never again be rid of the duties that come with it. Do you understand?”

Daar’s voice didn’t boom this time. It didn’t need to. He stared at the slim metal for a long second, then took a breath and spoke a modest, earnest word:


“Then kneel, My Father.”

Daar did so.

Gyotin held the crown over Daar’s head, and intoned something that felt old in a way that a spoken voice usually didn’t. “Be thou sworn by thy own word, and blessed by the peoples given unto you, who submit willingly to your rule. Be thou consecrated by sweet-herb and offerings, guarded and guided by those Seen and Unseen. And be thou crowned the Great Father, embodiment of the Gao. So too may thou bless, consecrate, rule and reign over that which is given thee, and may thou never again allow anyone or anything command thee to obedience.”

Adam fixed the tableau in his memory, feeling acutely aware that this was one of those iconic moments that’d be reproduced on front pages around the whole galaxy, and in history books for… well. Certainly for as long as the Gao and Humanity were around. Possibly even longer. His friend, on his knees with a simple loop of metal hanging over him like an axe about to drop.

It dropped, and settled snugly around his ears and scalp. Gyotin said something, far too soft for anybody but himself and Daar to hear. Whatever it was… it seemed to give Daar comfort. He duck-nodded, flicked an ear, and then stood with the crown glittering in his fur. He surveyed the crowd, the cameras, and old stone walls that had seen yet another moment in the long march of history.

“…I rise,” he said, “and am the Great Father.”

Previous Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Next Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 4 (NSFW)

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Sweetness – Chapter 3 (NSFW)

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Sweetness – Chapter 2 (NSFW)

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Sweetness – Chapter 1 (NSFW)

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 2

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 1

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Good Training – Survival Part 1

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 45

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 2

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

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Good Training – April Fool’s

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 1

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 5

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 44

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 4

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 3

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

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Good Training – Pecking Order

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Tidying Up

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 2

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 43

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 1

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 5

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 4

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 4

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 42

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 1

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 3

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 41

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

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The Good Samaritan

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 6

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 40

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 2

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 4

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

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