The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 8

“Laid Bare—Warriors in their own words” Issue #4: Julian Etsicitty Author and photographer: Ava Magdalena Ríos

On our last call before the shoot, my next subject left me with this bit of advice:

“You get used to the gravity pretty fast, actually. Or, at least I did. Well, no. We did, and the other fellas with us did, too.”

Julian Etsicitty is, to put it mildly, an unexpected interview choice for a series about warriors in their own words. He is a civilian—albeit an unusual one—and has no military or law enforcement background. He is not a particularly aggressive-seeming man nor is he steeped in any of the associated ethos. While soldiers in general (and the combat arms in particular) tend toward boisterousness, Julian generally does not. He is mild-mannered, polite, deferential, and solicitous. His voice is deep yet soft-spoken, and he tends to revise and backtrack over his thoughts as he speaks them. One very much gets the impression that he thinks as he talks.

Nor is he one to crave attention. Julian’s sparse social media presence is mostly limited to smiling selfies with fans or the occasional snap taken during an adventure. While he and his partners appear frequently in Byron Group promotional materials, he rarely photographs himself, and he never posts pictures of them [Disclosure: ESNN is a wholly-owned subsidiary]. The most numerous items are videos of Bozo, a Folcthian legend of a dog who, it has been rumored, may have explored Akyawentuo when the powers that be weren’t paying attention.

Julian’s personality is not, therefore, exactly one that a larger-than-life hero might be expected to possess. Meeting him in person is another matter entirely. Unassuming and friendly, yet not at all shy, Julian has a ruggedly handsome face and a thick-chested, charismatic presence that must be seen to be believed. Much like his friends, his huge shoulders are these days about as wide as a doorframe. They slope up to a massive set of traps that nearly touch his ears, which in turn frame a sinewy wrestler’s neck that’s significantly wider than his head. He prowls about as if ready to fight at any moment and has a perpetually wolf-like, loping posture, yet even then he stands six-foot-one in his bare feet. Julian is much larger in person than he appears on screen.

As with the Great Father, photography rarely does him justice. I aim to correct that.

In this double-length issue, we will explore the world of a man who, along with his partners, has rather unexpectedly found himself uniquely entangled with—and critically important to—the fortunes of the three sapient Deathworlder species.

We meet up at the jump facility on our way toward Akyawentuo, ready for the first off-world shoot of the series. Julian arrives burdened with a rather bulky-looking set of rugged travel cases, sets them down and shakes his head.

“Professor Hurt and his dang books…hi!”

[Image: Portering books for the “nutty professor.” Julian carries several large cases wedged under brawny arms, hands gripping numerous carrying handles.]

He grins a friendly grin and proffers a hard, paw-like hand that encircles mine entirely. We’ve been friends for some time now, making this gesture more of a nervous joke than anything. We make brief small talk and amble onto the platform. There’s an almost-didn’t-happen flash of black, a thump that can be felt just as much as be heard.

The gravity hits instantly and it is surprising, but not impossible to manage. For those of us who grew up in Folctha, it feels like a high-gravity session at the gym, which are still effectively mandatory at least three times a week. Stronger still is the air; it is heavy, cloying with too many overwhelming scents to catalog, and simultaneously oppressive yet energizing. Akyawentuo’s atmosphere has a higher oxygen content than Earth and it goes to ones’ head immediately.

And it is beautiful. I plot another excursion at a future date to more properly document Akyawentuo’s beauty. For now, a single photo which I took later on will need to suffice.

[Image: An otherworldly sunset. Julian’s head and shoulders are visible in the lower left corner, sitting on a cliff ledge and overlooking the jungle.]

The humidity is near dew-point and the temperature is genuinely hot, our time of arrival being the peak of midsummer noon. I break into a clammy sweat almost immediately, and understand why neither human nor Ten’Gewek are too keen on wearing much of anything at all, here.

[Image: A Ten’Gewek child perched on Julian’s shoulder, staring curiously into the camera.]

“I reckon he weighs about a hundred kilos.”

Julian hardly seems to notice the weight. Like most burdens, he handles it stoically and matter-of-factly. He isn’t bragging, he’s more interested in telling us about the Ten’Gewek.

He sends the child to handle some errands for him and introduces me to Yan Given-Man. Yan is both the most influential chieftain and his village is closest to the Jump Array, so this is a matter of etiquette. I am, after all, a stranger visiting their land.

The conversation is quick but pleasant (though Yan shamelessly flirts with me: Apparently, he flirts with every woman he meets regardless of species) and he’s kind enough to point us toward a suitable locale for our shoot.

During the trek out that way, Julian points out local flora and fauna. It’s quickly apparent that he’s easily the most nervous and self-conscious of my subjects to date. The source of his nervousness isn’t nakedness, as such—he’s quite famously noted for going au natural on Akyawentuo some days. Given the oppressive heat, I entirely understand. For him, the nervousness seems to be about the camera and the situation.

“We’ve been setting this up for months. 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?”

I reassure him that we won’t proceed unless he’s comfortable, and we make some related small talk. He replies by chuckling softly, sighing, and peeling off his t-shirt. His physique is…striking. I snap up my camera and take a rapid-fire series of pictures, which he seems to find amusing.

[Image: Candid with sideways grin, abs tensed mid-chuckle while thick, stone-hard muscles fight for space on his frame. He pauses and flexes his forearm while unbuttoning his jeans.]

“I never thought I’d be this kind of a fella, you know?”

What do you mean?

“Well…this.” Julian gestures across himself in what seems like mild disbelief, then reaches behind his head with his arms and tenses his huge biceps for the first proper shot of the day.

[Image: A heroic body. Full-body frontal flexed pose, with arms the size of his head bulging prominently on either side. His expression is friendly but nevertheless nervous.]

“If you had asked me ten years ago what I’d be doing…well, okay. I suppose firstly I’d still be in stasis, but whatever. Even then, after having been abducted, rescued, even been a thief for a bit? I wouldn’t have ever guessed I’d end up wrestling gorillas for a living!”

Julian has worn many hats in his adult life: park ranger, alien abductee, castaway, explorer, research assistant. The revelation about his life of crime is a new one to me.

When you said you were “a thief for a bit,” what does that mean?

“You know the Cimbrean system defence field? I, uh… kinda stole it. From the Guvnurag.”

Tell me more.

“I was, uh… you know, I’d just spent like six years stuck on this hellhole planet with no way off, and then I got rescued. And the guy who rescued me, Kirk, he was eager to see humanity get a foothold on a colony planet. But Cimbrean was way vulnerable, it didn’t have any kind of serious protection so at the time it was only ever gonna be a little secret outpost. The only way it could grow was to get it a system field, and the Guvnurag weren’t selling. So Kirk hatched this plan to steal a crate of footballs right out from under their noses—uh, tentacles I guess, whatever—and it all hinged on a human who could set a decent distance-running pace.”

And that human was you?

He shrugs, which is a gesture he performs habitually, then after a moment he grins mischievously and sprints toward a far tree at a blistering pace. When he reaches the tree he quickly runs up the trunk, gracefully flips himself head over heels, and charges back.

[Image: Strength and grace. Three images capture Julian in flight, feet off the ground while running away, running back, and running past in a blur.]

He returns a moment later with a waterskin and takes a hefty swig, grinning hugely.

“I like running! Sprinting, long distance, track and field, whatever! Always did. I ran trail since I was a kid, not even in middle school yet. And I was so grateful to be rescued that, uh, I guess a little grand larceny seemed like a fair price. Especially for a good cause.”

You seem to get everywhere.

He shrugs again.

“For a while there, me and Allison were two of, like, only a handful of humans who were really doing anything outside Sol.”

Tell me about the others.

“Well, Xiù was doing her thing with the Gao obviously, but we didn’t pick her up until later… but on the ship there was Al and me, there was Lewis—He’s a really cool fella, shame we don’t get to hang out more. And there was our pilot, Amir…”

He looks down at the ground for a second.

“…Rest in peace, man.”

[Image: Mourning. Julian’s wild hair partially obscures his face.]

What happened?

“Sanctuary was attacked. Now, bear in mind, Sanctuary was this high-speed luxury yacht. Totally unarmed, civilian grade stuff. She couldn’t even begin to stack up to a warship. It damn near tore us in half, and Amir… he was wounded. Bad. But he held it together and flew circles around the bastards long enough for the rest of us to abandon ship, and then kamikaze’d them. He saved us all.”

This was the event that left you and your partners in stasis for five years?”

“Yeah. And we nearly didn’t make it. It was… close. Real close. Like, we actually got a taste of hard vacuum before making it to the lifeboat.”

He shudders.

“I don’t recommend it.”

What was it like?

“…Totally silent, except for my heartbeat. And… it hurt. All over, this crazy pain that just drilled down into me like I was being torn apart by thousands of little fish hooks. And a choking feeling in my lungs and my throat. I could feel the moisture on my eyes fizzing away in the vacuum, and… I mean, we were dying. We had, like, seconds before we passed out. And then when we got in the lifeboat and pressurized it, it was like being hit with a baseball bat, all over. And then there was more pain because we got a nasty case of the bends… I dunno if we passed out from the pain or fell asleep from just being exhausted.”

He shudders again.

“Either way… we made it. We spent a couple weeks in hospital, but we made it.”

You were rescued by [Warhorse] as I recall.

“Yeah, and his friends too. He was a lot smaller then. Well, relatively speaking anyway. But he still had the same goofy…everything, really. After that there was recovery. I bounced back pretty quick I guess. Took Xiù a bit longer, but she came through like she always does. Al I think was hurting the worst of us, but she powered through it.”

[Image: A distant fond smile.]

What inspired the three of you to join the Byron Group’s exploration program?

“We… sorted out our relationship, you know? Talked it out, figured out how we felt about each other, and decided we wanted to stay together. Well, no. We knew that from the start, but still. And the thing about what we’d gone through was that coming back to Earth was really kinda weird. Or maybe…like, we didn’t belong there. Yeah. That’s better. Xiù threw out literally all her stuff, ‘cuz she said it didn’t feel like hers any longer. Allison… I mean she didn’t really have any ties anyway. And in the years I’d been gone, my Grampa’d died…”

He trails off for a second.

“…That was real hard to take.”

You were close with him?

“He raised me. I’d like to think he’d be proud of me. Well, yeah. He would be, I think. He always worried after me too, always did want me to feed me better, but he couldn’t afford it. Something he always felt guilty about but I didn’t complain. It wasn’t like I was starving, you know?”

And Byron Group?

“They came to us. Being honest, my first interest in it was just…paying the bills, and getting their, uh, really famously litigious lawyers on my side!”

He laughs.

“There was a whole bunch of legal stuff about Grampa’s estate and the house and everything. I never asked how much it all cost, but Mister Byron likes to grumble about it now and then… Al and Xiù had their own reasons. Al was the one who really wanted to get out there. She said she felt like she mattered out there, you know? I think Xiù felt the same way, but it took her a while to figure it all out. Except, uh… like, she never hesitated, or anything. It’s not like she was lost, she knew what she wanted. It just took her a while to explain why she wanted it.”

[Image: A collage of Julian talking and waving his hands about wildly, showcasing his pacing, thoughtful mannerisms and the way he stops to brush his hair out of his face.]

And you went to Mars.

“Well, I mean, we went to Nebraska first…”

He laughs again.

“…But yeah. And the weird thing is, out of everything we’ve done, that’s the bit that seems the least, uh, real. I guess. Like, everywhere else we’ve gone there’s been life and people or at least trees or whatever. Mars… ain’t like that. It’s so not like anywhere on Earth, or any temperate planet, it just… I can’t imagine people living there. You can just feel it, it ain’t a living place. It ain’t been a living place in millions of years. It’s, uh…a Deadworld maybe.”

But after that, you found worlds full of life.

“Not at first! Our first find was Aphrodite, which is like, I guess a proto-Earth. It’s basically still molten under the steam clouds. Maybe there’s some organic molecules down there from all the comets, but that’s just guessing. Spectro wasn’t very helpful.”

But then you found Lucent.

“Oh man… Lucent.”

[Image: close-up of an unreservedly happy smile, head tilted upwards and stretching his neck.]

“Lucent was the jackpot, but more than that it was… It was spiritual. The first time we saw the glittermotes… I mean, Xiù saw them first. It’s her helmet cam footage we shared when we got back. But… there’s some things are just so profoundly beautiful, a fella like me can’t put it into words. I hope the Chinese appreciate what they’ve got there. If it were up to me, the only human presence on Lucent would be a jump array, and a couple of park rangers. And we’d take people out into the na il-tree woods and they’d see the glittermotes and go home.”

In my experience, Julian is not a particularly politics-oriented individual, unless that subject is conservation. This moment in our interview provokes a very long diversion along that topic. Not even a double-length issue could do his thoughts justice, so the full transcript, along with additional photography, is available on ESNN’s website.

We move on to Julian’s unwitting foray into intersolar politics, particularly with the People. The Misfit trio’s first contact with the Ten’Gewek is already well documented, so by mutual agreement we decide not to go over old ground again.

After your stint as a paid explorer, your role morphed into a sort of liason with the Ten’Gewek. How did that happen?

“God, I don’t even know, being honest. I think a big part was, uh, because I could hack it.”

What do you mean?

Julian thinks for a moment, shrugs, and decides to demonstrate. He races past me, rather effortlessly jumps high up and flings himself into the giant Ketta, then without pausing sets to leaping and swinging between the trees. Ketta tend to grow well apart from each other, making his stunt more impressive in the high gravity: twenty percent stronger than Earth standard. He apes about, runs along the strong lower branches, long-jumps between trees and shows off for the camera, then gracefully flips back down to the ground from about five meters up. He lands confidently on the balls of his feet, recomposes himself, stands up tall and grins fiercely. Warriors are often physically exuberant and so is he, in his unique way.

[Image: Collage of a modern-day Tarzan. The final image captures the moment he lands on his toes, brawny legs taut and bent slightly at the knees, with an effort-filled growl on his face.]

It only takes him two big huffs to catch his breath. He has a happy and mildly smug expression on his face, which immediately morphs into somewhat embarrassed pride.

“Fun! But I have to tell you, it took a whole bunch of just straight insane training to get good enough to do that! I’m a really big fella so it’s even harder, too. But, well…”

Here he grows a bit embarrassed about himself, and forges on somewhat reluctantly.

“Okay, back up. Dane [Bryon Group’s physical trainer] had helped me see that I had all this potential, right? Before we even left on the first mission, he cleaned up my diet and had me training not even all that hard, just something nice and strenuous, you know? Well, just by doing that I filled out fast. Like, so fast that I sort of realized I could do something almost nobody can do. Then [Warhorse] got involved, said I was something like him, I find out from Nofl [a Corti researcher, resident in Folctha] that I was picked for ‘research’ because of my background and, uh, because my genetics are really dang good I guess, which…I don’t know. That’s a strange thing to learn. A little humbling, too. Yeah.”

Julian’s physique has changed dramatically over the last several years, as readers will know from his various interviews or postings on social media. Before, one might have described him as a long-armed and rangy athlete, as if he were a wrestler that had never properly filled out.

Not any longer. I decide to broach the unavoidable topic.

You transformed yourself for this mission, in a way very few can.

“…Yeah. It’s a gift I have, I suppose. And [Righteous] says, it’s an insult to God to waste his blessings, which…I can get behind that. Still feels weird, though. Also, I’m pretty sure I know all the fellas who could even do this. That…it’s almost too much of a coincidence, you know?”

The black market has of course managed to gain access to Crude, likely from illegal Corti labs seeking untaxed profit. This has quite naturally produced a new crop of extreme performance athletes on the worldwide competitive scene across many sports, especially powerlifting, strongman, American football and the like. Yet despite this, none of these enhanced athletes have ever matched the physical performances that members of HEAT can achieve, nor those of a select few people in their close orbit, like Julian. We discuss this at length and what it might mean, though sadly I must once again refer you to the website for the full interview.

You are not a small man.


He grins sheepishly, and again tries his hand at posing. He’s still nervous but quickly gets the hang of it with a bit of coaching and, I suspect, recalling some covert practice with his jockular friends. Given that he showed up for the shoot in an impressively lean state with a tan darker than his usual, it’s clear he prepared for this more than my other subjects had bothered.

Which is odd, because the others weren’t embarrassed subjects at all, whereas Julian…

“Like this? I feel like a dork!”

He laughs, but keeps posing hard. A sheen of sweat begins to develop on him, both from the strain and the oppressive, humid heat. I silently regret not wearing my exercise clothing.

You’re doing fine. As I said, you’re not small…

[Image: rear profile of upper body, fingers intertwined behind his head. His thick lats frame a broad, powerful back, while heavy cable-like muscles run along the deep groove of his spine.]

“No, never was, really. I’d always been a big fella even when I was just a kid. Strong as heck, too, but…not like I am now. I mean I was always, uh, big-boned? Yeah. Sorta. Even when I was little I had the frame and the strength, but I just didn’t have enough food to fill out like I could have. Might have ran varsity track or wrestled if we could’ve afford it, but…”

He shakes his shaggy head in mild self-disbelief, then continues:

“But now? I guess, uh, I made up for lost time. I’m strong enough I can edge out most of the [Ten’Gewek] men, and heck, I’m about level with Vemik! He’s a bruiser these days.”

He pauses again, spins his flank toward the camera and allows himself his first unreservedly self-confident grin of the shoot.

“But I’m still growing, and I can outrun them all too!”

[Image: A flash of pride. Side portrait of Julian with an aggressive, half-snarl grin as he holds a particularly strenuous full-body pose.]

Julian does not directly compare himself to anyone but his adopted tribe, and while he is not shy about his abilities, he generally prefers modesty over braggadocio. However, leaving aside the rough equality between the three Deathworlders at the figurative top of their respective species, the average Ten’Gewek possesses a physicality on par with the best that human and gaoiankind can offer. That curve is dramatically shifted in their favor, and yet Julian finds himself comfortably among them through luck, work ethic, and his sheer force of will. I know the pain he paid for those abilities better than most and prompt him accordingly.

I imagine it wasn’t easy.

“Oh fuck no it wasn’t. Still isn’t, won’t ever be! But we…well, heck, I’ll be honest, I needed to prove to them we could play by their rules, even if God made them better at it. Turns out though, he made us humans pretty damn good at this, too.”

It is difficult to illustrate with photos just how impressive Julian’s casually immense speed is. He can move like a blur when he wants to, though he is reluctant to state exactly how fast he is. His equally immense strength, however, is easier to depict. I cast about and point to an almost round boulder which has taken residence against the roots of a Ketta. Julian grins, prowls over to it and pries it out of the ground. The boulder is about as wide as his broad chest, and he picks it up and curls it repeatedly with quiet, satisfied grunts. I later learn how impressive a feat this is—for details, see his stats and other info in the full write-up on ESNN.

“Not many… hnngh… can do something… grr… like this!”

He lifts it above his head a few times, then falters, pauses for a moment, and looks at me.

[Image: Honest strength. Side profile of Julian pausing mid-curl while holding a large boulder in his hands, his arms bulging outrageously yet his expression questioning and uncertain.]

“…I guess that’s pretty stupid and macho of me, huh?”

I withhold any comment and press forward. Julian has become a mentor and teacher for a young Deathworld species who, while in many ways are much like us, value traits like physical strength much more strongly. Teaching them requires that he push himself past limits most of us would hardly believe a human could breach. He is still coming to terms with what that means for him.

Why did you feel it necessary to build yourself up, knowing you were at a disadvantage?

Julian looks at the boulder in his hands for a moment, then raises it above his head, jumps up and throws it an impressive distance away, as if it was merely a medicine ball.

[Image: Rock toss. Julian’s feet are a meter off the ground, his arms up, the rock mid-arc.]

He lands, huffs in a satisfied manner, and dusts his hands roughly against each other.

“Well, I’ve said it before, Ten’Gewek are smart. Really smart, maybe smarter than most people. But even still, they’re neolithic hunter-gatherers. You can’t just live in the trees with them. You’ve got to be able to hunt, bring the kill back, defend the tribe, do the hard work every single day. They respect survivors, and here that means a person has to be tough and strong in the tribe’s eyes. I have to hold their respect if we’re going to help, and I’m, uh, the right guy in the right place at the right time. Which is a weird feeling, but whatever. I won’t let that stop me.”

[Image: Self-contemplation. Julian examines his hands in this off-side relaxed portrait.]

Did you know you had it in you to rise to to the occasion?

“No, I didn’t! I had no idea what I had in me, I just wanted to keep Vemik from beating me up!”

The moment is punctuated by none other than Vemik leaping down from the tree onto Julian’s back. I’m reasonably sure such a tackle would have proved fatal for me—and most people, for that matter—but Julian seems only happily surprised.


An incredibly physical wrestling match ensues, where the two almost impossibly strong combatants crash about through the woods, throwing and trash-talking each other with massively happy expressions on their faces. My inexperienced eye has trouble following the action as they’re both simply too fast for me, but at some point Julian catches a lucky break. He gets Vemik around the waist, flings him backward and (according to some amusing internet research) manages a painful belly-to-back suplex. A quick scuffle ensues and Julian emerges on top, pinning Vemik firmly to the ground.

“Better give big fella, I’ve got some tricks you haven’t seen yet…”

[Image: Julian grinning savagely as he holds Vemik face-down, legs tangled up around his waist, Vemik’s arms crushed far up his own back. His thick tail pulls futilely at Julian’s hands.]

Once the bout is over, Julian explains what he’s doing to the curious ET, who spends the rest of our shoot watching from the sidelines with a manic, barely-contained curiosity.

“Being honest though, he wins more often than not. Vemik’s got…God, over thirty kilos on me still? I’m catching up…longer legs help a lot. Practice with my friends helps a lot more, heh.”

Vemik makes Julian promise to teach exactly what he did to win later on, which is agreed to with a soft chuckle.

“A surprising amount of this job has been like that, actually. Like, if you weren’t here, the next thing we’d be doing would be, uh, ‘samples’ collection, or maybe we’d go round up the smart kids for storytime with the professor, or talk about food, tools, that sort of thing. They never want to sit down and learn unless they’ve had a chance to play good and hard, first. Not even Yan.”

Why is that?

“Wrestling for them is how they build friendships. You and I might just sit down and have a good conversation, but Ten’Gewek will insist on a good roll in the dirt every time. They can be gentle about it, to be fair…but if you can’t play hard they start to think of you as a bit like a child.”

You had to work hard to earn their trust.

“Yeah. First contact woulda been a massacre one way or the other if not for Vemik there. He saw that we didn’t want a fight and stepped in… But let’s not re-hash all that. We met, he was friendly, I slabbed up…and so on. The interesting bit is what happened when the Hierarchy showed up. I think, uh, yeah. That’s the reason they respect us I think.”

I could see Vemik nodding unconsciously in my peripheral vision.

How so?

“Look, up until that point we were just these weird tall skinny people who showed up out of nowhere with a whole lot of magic and not a lot of muscle. And the People, they respect magic, but they respect strength a whole lot more. Again…just take a look at Vemik.”

I do. Vemik draws himself up to his full height and smiles aggressively at me. His physique is also striking, and his abilities are comparable to Julian’s despite being almost a foot shorter.

[Image: the two men side-by-side. Vemik is doing an impression of one of Julian’s poses from earlier in the shoot, and Julian has his hand up to his forehead, grinning in amusement.]

“He’s their inventor, their tinkerer, their smith, the guy with a head full of ideas. Like, if he were a human we’d call him an eccentric geek. He also has a child, and he’s one of their best hunters, and one of their strongest warriors too. If he wasn’t all of those things, then the eccentric geek stuff wouldn’t get him any respect at all.”

At the risk of sounding human-centric, isn’t that a little unfair?

“No. It’s easy to forget how easy it is to live in a proper civilization. All you need is some way to earn money. Here, that won’t cut it. Among humans, you can be a photographer, or a poet, or a movie star and people will respect you for it. And that’s certainly easier… But here, if you’re a man who can’t carry a Werne back to the tribe, you’re only a step above useless, and that means people die. It’s harsh maybe, but that ain’t the People’s fault. That’s how their world is. It took us… Fuck, millennia of hard work before that wasn’t how our world was, too.”

He has something on his mind he wants to get out and starts to pacing. He tends to bounce on the balls of his feet and swing his arms as he does this, and I remark how most people tend to freeze in their tracks while pondering something. This amuses Julian, and prompts him to prowl over to the boulder he tossed earlier. He sits himself down on it and needles me with a wry grin.

“Is this the official, Ava-sanctioned ‘deep thoughts’ pose?”

[Image: sitting on a rock, life modeling of the Thinker. He can’t quite manage a straight face.]

Perhaps if you weren’t bouncing your legs so much…you seemed caught by a thought just now. Something about civilization?

He pauses, shifts a bit, and rests his left leg across the other. He lets loose on a thought that’s clearly been brewing for a long while.

“Yeah. I think, maybe too many of us don’t really get just how much civilization actually costs, you know? Farmers pay for it with toil, policeman and soldiers pay in blood. Steel mills, now there are some hard-working fellas. It’s just…so many people are disconnected from it. They don’t respect their food, value their safety, or marvel at steel. The magic talking rock they have in their pockets replaces actual human contact sometimes. Well, no. I think maybe it just makes it easier to have, uh, fake friendships. Like, okay. Nobody these days has to really trust each other, except for, uh, like, the police and soldiers and whatever trust each other. And I think that maybe means we’re pretty fragile as a civilization. There’s a long, long way to fall, if we fall.”

Whereas the Ten’Gewek have only barely started that climb.

[Image: Close-up from below eye level, hands animated, face bright.]

“Yeah, exactly! Yan and Vemik, they’re in a really unique position. They come from a place where steel is magic and the idea of money, finance, vaccines, all that is radically alien and magical. Like, the word doesn’t even mean the same thing with them. Magic is more like, uh, how some tribes used medicine. Like, a powerful force. Well, no. I think, uh, magic means a lot more from their perspective. I think sometimes, we lose the magic of life with all the distractions, you know? They don’t. These two know what magic actually is. We took them to Earth, and showed them magic like they can barely grasp. It’s like…we’re elves to them.”

And yet they don’t respect us?

“Respect is earned. And up until the Hierarchy showed up, we hadn’t done that. Earned it. You know? We’d impressed them, sure, but that ain’t the same thing, you know? We didn’t earn their respect until we stood side-by-side with them in battle.”

And until you took their Rite of Manhood.

“Yeah. That’s why I’m the way I am now.”

What was it like?

“It was an ordeal. Well, the whole point is it’s an ordeal. Yan more or less decided I’d go through the whole thing pretty much right after the fight with the Abrogators.”


“I think… well, okay, so at that point we’d earned his trust, you know? But there’re a lot of tribes and not all of them were there for the battle. For the ones who were there, we’d proven ourselves. Humans, I mean. For the ones who weren’t, I guess… well, maybe he just needed to prove to them that humans can be real men in their eyes. Even if most of us don’t because we’re different, it’s enough that they can look at me and see that when we set our mind to it, we can be the kind of strong they value too. And once we did that, maybe they start asking, ‘what does strong mean to a human?’”

That seems very selfless of you…

“Well… it has its perks. I’ll admit, it’s nice being able to toss boulders around…so yeah. It’s not completely selfless, ha! Being this kind of ridiculously strong has some big costs, but heck, I’ll take it. Especially on high-carb days!”

Your cloned foot has been the talk of the gossip columns lately.

This comes as news to him and he barks out a surprised sort of chuckle.

“What, really?”

[Image: Powerfully muscled calves flexed hard for inspection atop wide, sturdy feet. The thin, tattooed line above Julian’s left ankle shows where his cloned foot begins.]

You are among the first humans with a cloned replacement limb.

“Well, I mean… I know it was an experimental procedure…”

If it was experimental, why didn’t you stick with the prosthetic?

“I did at first, went through two of them in fact. In some ways a prosthetic is still better, too. It’s repairable, it can be adapted for specific uses. The funny thing though, is it turns out the human foot is a heck of a challenge to replace. I was constantly having to adjust for it, or put up with the prosthetic breaking…the costs were promising to get pretty ridiculous, too. But really, the final straw was when the damn thing nearly got me killed.”


“Some APA goons attacked us while I was showing Yan and Vemik around Earth.”

For the first time, I see him angry.

[Image: Undisguised fury on his face, balled fists and gritted teeth. The expression manages to dramatically change his face from handsome to monstrous.]

“Alien Protection Army? Please. They ain’t protecting shit. They tried to kill us! They’re a bunch of cowards scared of a bigger universe who wanna pretend like we’re the biggest bad around. We welcomed Yan and Vemik to our world as guests, and these morons attacked us!”

You defended yourselves.

“You’re damn right we did.”

Just as suddenly as it came, his anger slides away, and he briefly looks ashamed.

“Anyway… My foot broke during the fight. My prosthetic. I mean, being honest I should have expected it would break eventually, but…”

Why is that?

He shrugs resignedly and sits down for a moment.

“The first one broke all the time. The second one, well, it was great at first…but [Warhorse] made me a project of his. I’m pretty stupidly heavy now, like…I’m wary of cheap furniture, I’m bigger than competitive strongmen. I’m exactly the kind of strong that weight implies too, and I work on a high gravity world. It’s a rough life. And, well, Vemik is rough on me, too.”

[Image: Cross-legged on the ground, contemplating his left foot.]

“Anyway. The dang thing picked the worst possible time to go crunch and it nearly earned me an axe to the face. And in the aftermath, all I could think about was the pain that’d have caused… everyone. Al and Xiù, Yan and Vemik. Singer. All of them. So, yeah. I swallowed my pride and squeamishness and got a clone graft. That little incident taught me the hard way, you can’t put your own discomfort ahead of what’s really important. My partners, the Ten’Gewek, they depend on me. I have to protect them. That’s all there is to it.”

And who protects you?

“We protect each other. I’ve got some pretty good friends, too. Byron Group has been good to us…we’re not alone. None of us really are, you know?”

This is the moment that Julian’s inner warrior shines through. Unconventional though he may be, he is passionately committed to protecting those he loves, and fighting for their futures.

[Centerfold image: A stern, resolute expression, arms crossed in front of his chest. He stands tall and proud, his body taut, ready, and covered in sweat from head to toe.]

“The guys I work with, they talk sometimes about being the sheepdogs, protecting the flock from the wolves. I get that. But it also ain’t quite like that, because no sheep ever set up a charity for their wounded sheepdog, you know? Sheep don’t have monuments and memorial days. They…I don’t know. I think part of what makes them them is how they see themselves. Maybe. But like… part of what makes us humans is we can understand when somebody’s putting themselves on the line for the rest of us. And we can appreciate it. We can give something back. That’s what this whole series of yours is about, right?”

That was a viewpoint I had honestly not considered, and told him so. I had envisioned this series as a means for our defenders and protectors to share the world through their eyes, but it hadn’t occurred to me that the opportunity itself was more valuable to them.

“That’s, like… the contract. It’s the basic deal, you know? You pick the people who matter to you and you do your best for them. And in return, you want them to give you something that’s worth your best. If you’re not gonna enter into that kind of a contract with somebody then…”

Then… what?

“…The worst part of bein’ stuck alone on Nightmare for all that time was I had nobody with me. And in a way, well… I guess I was totally free. No obligations, no ties, you know? I had one concrete goal, look after myself. But why? I didn’t really think I’d ever see home again. I didn’t really have a reason to keep going, except that I didn’t want to die. And maybe the vague hope that maybe one day I’d be rescued. But I was living just for myself, and it… you can’t understand loneliness like that. I’m sorry, but you can’t. Thank God, there’s hardly anybody who’s had to go through it.”

Julian looks off at nothing in particular, his expression one of unreadable, quiet pain.

[Image: a distant, haunted look.]

He is not one to dwell, however, and my next question prompts him right back into optimism.

But now?

“Now I’ve got this misfit little family, I’ve got babies on the way, I’m a man of the tribe now in a way I never was with my own people and they all depend on me, you know? I would never have done any of this if it didn’t matter. It’s a heck of a lot of work living on two worlds and carrying this much weight around! Heck, it’s a lot of work being half this busy or half this big! But look what I get! I get a purpose, you know? I get to give my best to people who’re really worth it. That’s something I treasure every day.”

I pick out one word from among that thought.


He smiles, a genuine beaming smile that makes his whole face light up.

“Yeah! Both Xiù and Allison! We’ve been trying for a few months now, and… well. They said it was okay to share that, too. So, I guess I’m gonna be a daddy twice over in not too long!”


“I know, right?! It’s the next big adventure… You know what’s funny? I’ve been in some crazy situations. Gunfights, I got blown up, I got spaced… But I think I might actually be more scared about raising my kids right than I was about any of that other stuff. It’s a big responsibility.”

But you’re looking forward to it.

[Image: Julian sweaty and exhausted after this marathon modelling session, but grinning in a warm, deliriously happy way from ear to ear.]

“Yeah. The future’s looking bright.”

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 1 (NSFW)

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Good Training – Survival Part 2

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 6

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 46

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 5

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 4

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 3

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

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Good Training – Survival Part 1

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 45

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 2

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

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Good Training – April Fool’s

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 1

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 5

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 44

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 4

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 3

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

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Good Training – Pecking Order

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Tidying Up

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 2

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 43

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 1

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 5

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 4

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 4

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 42

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 1

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 3

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 41

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

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The Good Samaritan

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 6

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 40

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 2

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

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

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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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