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, he couldn’t help but envy all the people who could be anywhere else. Even though the camp’s surroundings were beautiful, and his cabin was easily the most luxurious home he’d ever had, and even though he had a kind of maybe-a-thing going with Maeena as her English got better…

None of them were free.

All because some alien bastard had stolen their bodies and driven them around like fucking puppets. Because there were gizmos in Hugh’s head that made being hijacked again a very real possibility. And because those implants were so deeply and intimately buried in the depths of his brain that removing them was beyond any human medicine.

The others were luckier, in some ways. Most of them lived with the hope that eventually their more shallowly-installed implants could be safely removed. Only a handful of inmates—mostly the survivors from Egypt like Maeena—were in Hugh’s position.

Unfortunately, one of that handful was Zane. And Zane was either too stubborn or too crazy to accept his lot.

Probably stubborn. Like how he refused to drop his dense patois and instead wielded it like a defiant weapon to carve out his own little one-man nation, aloof from the rest of the internees. On some level, Hugh could sympathize with stubbornness. On another…

“Why do you do this to yourself, Zane?”

The gangly Jamaican was spitting blood and pinching his nose after taking a kinetic pulse shot to the face. He’d tried to escape—again—and been caught by the drones—again—and been shot by the drones… again. And it wasn’t like there was anywhere to escape to out there: The inmates didn’t know exactly where the camp was, had no idea which direction the nearest town was, how far away it might be…

The only thing waiting outside the fence was cold, bears and a slow death. But apparently none of that mattered to Zane, who gave Hugh his usual glare and picked himself up out of the dirt. His alien-made prosthetic arm whined as he used it to dust off his clothes. Poor bastard – whoever had made it for him had decided that the best way to hook it up to his nervous system was with a control chip deep in his brain, and thus the Hierarchy had hijacked him.

“Blood clot,” he grunted cryptically, and stalked off toward his cabin, there presumably to lurk and sulk until hunger forced him to endure human company again. He was easily the loneliest and orneriest son-of-a-bitch in the camp, but as far as Hugh was concerned that was all self-inflicted.

Satisfied that there would be no more escape attempts, the drones returned to their high-altitude patrol. Presumably a medic and security officer would visit Zane in his cabin, tell him off and refer him to the counsellor. Again.

He found Maeena outside her cabin. She was performing salat as best she could, considering her wheelchair. Hugh didn’t know the details of what happened to her in Egypt, only that she’d been biodroned and then crushed by a collapsing building in a firefight. He’d never once got the impression that it slowed her down, though: In fact, adjusting to the culture shock of living in a camp in America had fazed her more than losing both legs, three fingers, and a husband.

He respectfully let her finish, and she smiled at him once she was done.

“I hear drones. Zane again?”


She shook her head. That seemed to be about all anyone could do for Zane. “What does he think he will do? Freeze to death?” She sighed and shivered. Hugh could relate: He’d lived on the Mexican border before being biodroned, and Alaska never felt warm to him even in the height of summer.

“We’ll freeze to death just staying still,” he said. “Wanna come for a… uh… a walk, I guess?”

“Or roll?” she suggested with a light smile and a quirk of her eyebrow. He’d always been in awe of her ability to make light of what had happened to her.

“Or a roll. Should help you warm up.”

She nodded. “Yes.”

Actually it turned out to be a pretty good day. The sky was clear, the weather was even kinda warm-ish… Free or not, there were worse things in life than taking a stroll in the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness with good company and the smell of lunch on the air. A nice hearty stew and a warm flatbread, home-cooked by one of Maeena’s countrymen.

Zane, however, raised some eyebrows by turning up in an almost good mood. He didn’t speak with anybody beyond the bare minimum necessary to get his share of the food, and he lurked in a corner, but he seemed almost… chipper. By his sullen standards, at least.

And Hugh couldn’t be sure, but he felt certain that the tall man’s face was less bruised than it should have been. The Internet might treat Kinetic pulse weapons like they were a joke, but the reality wasn’t gentle: they’d break bones, concuss, and knock out teeth with a good hit. A solid blow like Zane had taken should have left him with a couple of black eyes.

The gangly bastard had always been tougher than he looked, though. Whatever. It wasn’t Hugh’s problem. Whatever Zane was up to was the camp security staff’s concern, not his.

Still. It did make him wonder what, exactly, Zane had planned for if he ever did make it over the fence…

Date Point: 15y 10m AV
High Mountain Fortress, The Northern Plains, Gao

Captain Anthony (“Abbott”) Costello

The only appropriate follow-up to something as oppressively serious as the coronation was a loud, raucous feast, complete with boasting, contests of speed and strength and daring, long bouts of story-telling and general well-meaning revelry.

It was nice to see everyone unreservedly happy. Arés and Firth seem to have finally mended things between them. They were laughing together and generally roughhousing again, maybe a bit too boisterously but Costello wasn’t one to complain; he needed his men as ready as they could be. Firth had even challenged Adam to a series of foot races, which ‘Horse (of course) had handily won. That ended up drawing the stunned attention of the Champions and thus encouraged, things were in danger of spiraling into a bout of violently cheerful rough-housing.

The Lads had a way of doing that, really.

Daar of course could not stand unchallenged in his own domain. He rose from his spot at the high table, stretched lazily, growled fiercely and put in an alarming dash down the length of the enormous dining hall to re-assert his dominance, just to prove who the fastest man really was. He charged along the rows of tables, slammed into the far wall and propelled himself back down the hall without a hint of slowing down, then spun around at full speed and skidded to a halt while facing the assembled crowd. That was hardly dignified of him, but a performance like that had a grace and dignity all of its own. Stunned silence followed him as he pranced back to the high table on all fours and took his spot like a triumphant king of old, crown firmly on head…

The goofball pant-grin at the end might have shattered the illusion, admittedly.

Daar acted more like a mongol Khan than a king in Costello’s opinion, but then again the only royalty he knew much about were British. And the role of Great Father was Daar’s to shape as he chose; If he wanted to be more of a boisterous warlord than follow the reserved warrior-poet example that Fyu had set, that was entirely his prerogative.

Though as Costello discovered after a lengthy exposition following an innocent query, the flower arrangements on the tables were done by Daar personally. He was debating if it would be appropriate to tease him about it when the hulking gaoian ambled alongside with a plate of pershorkies, and settled the issue directly.

“Flowers have a whole different load o’ meaning with Gaoians, y’know.” The simple, shaped and twisted loop of silver shone brightly through his fur.

Costello hadn’t spoken to him since before the coronation, and suddenly found himself at a bit of a loss. “…Forgive me, I’m not sure what the proper etiquette is…”

“You can jus’ call me sir, I think. I ain’t ‘yer Great Father after all.”

“Yessir. How the tables have turned.”

“Yeah.” He wasn’t exactly…regretful. More like…

“Simpler times.”

“…Yeah. I never thanked you and Powell properly for that. It was…good for me. Just, being a simple ‘Back for a time, when all I had to worry about was if I could out-wrassle my friends.”

“I was surprised to see you refrain this evening, if I’m honest.”

A little of Daar’s sly humor crept back in. “I ain’t gonna pick a fight at my own coronation feast I can’t be completely sure o’ winning, captain!” He stood fully upright and surveyed the hall. “The Great Father can’t be seen ‘ta lose.”

“From what I hear, you would have stood a good chance against any of them, even ‘Horse.”

“Yeah, but a good chance ain’t a certainty. ‘Sides, we all need to be ready for tomorrow anyway. Let…let them play.”

If there was more than a hint of regret in the Great Father’s voice, Costello diplomatically refused to notice it. Fortunately, it was just a passing shadow, replaced an instant later by one of Daar’s trademark baritone chitters.

“Also…it’s good ‘fer the Champions ‘ta see who my friends are.”

…Ah. So he was a king after all.

“You were saying something about the flowers.”

“—Yeah! So this is kinda inspired by somethin’ the Japanese do called Ikebana…”

As it turned out, Daar had read up on the three Arts of Refinement from traditional Japanese culture. They apparently had disconcertingly deep parallels in Gaoian culture, and he’d taken a keen delight in blending the two. Whether this was for his personal benefit, or to thumb his nose at the Gaoian sense of Civilization, Costello couldn’t tell.

“I had trouble with Kōdō though. That’s incense appreciation: I like pretty much everythin’ about it, except Human noses need a way stronger hit. I tried some o’ the traditional techniques and it was just…way too much. Fresh flowers are good enough!”

“You, shying away from incense?”

“Accordin’ to our medical people, my sense o’ smell is literally more’n a million times stronger’n yours. I don’t think there’s any way o’ comparin’ ‘tween us with a difference like that. Like… I can’t even imagine what red might be like. When I look at anythin’ you say is red, all I see is a kinda dull yellow. D’you like red?”

“Sure. It’s my favorite color.”

“But would you wanna live in a house where everythin’ is red?”

“…I mean…”

“Bright, nuclear, inescapable, glowing red?”

“Okay. Maybe not. Is that what it’s like?”

Daar aimed his nose and took a quick sniff. “Costello, I can smell you used Ivory soap with aloe three days ago, which isn’t what you normally use. You had some company that night, huh?”

“You can smell that?”

“She smells healthy. Also, you use latex-free–”

“Point made!”

Daar chittered to himself; the bastard knew what he was doing. “…So yeah,” he said. “Incense is a bit strong.”

“And the tea ceremony?”

“That’s more Gyotin’s thing.”

“I’ve seen his tea ceremony,” Costello nodded. “I think he said it owed more to Chinese tradition, however. Not that I’d know one from the other…”

There was a happy jeer of some kind from a table in the corner and the sound of boisterously raised voices. Not shouting or angry, just… party-loud. Daar snorted and flicked an ear. “Fair ‘nuff. C’mon, let’s go rein in the Lads ‘fore they break my Champions.”

In fact, they arrived just in time for a drinking game, which would have proven interesting. Myaku’s legendary Gaoian tolerance for alcohol versus Firth’s ridiculous mass would have made for a hell of a contest.

They needed to be ready for tomorrow, sadly. Daar at least spared Costello from having to point that out by doing it himself.

“This here is a life question we’re gonna hafta ponder another time.”

Still, despite the call for moderation the night was a fun one. It felt like a celebration before they suited up the next day for a terrible mission.

And what a mission. The intel Regaari had sent back said the Hunters had learned a lot from losing their ring structure, and from the battle that raged throughout it.

The tactics were noticeably different. The FIC had concluded there must have been a change of leadership among the Hunters: The new tactics, technology and attitude on display all suggested at the very least that this operation was under the oversight of a commander with a very different way of looking at things.

If only they knew more about how Hunter society was structured and how leadership was selected. From what they could tell, there was a definite hive-mind element to however they ran themselves—Starship Troopers came to mind—but at the same time there were documented cases of Hunter ships and units clearly breaking formation or otherwise failing to heed their chain of command.

It introduced an element of anarchy into the equation that made life all the more difficult, and echoed what the Soviets had once observed of the US military: “A serious problem in planning against American doctrine is that the Americans do not read their manuals, nor do they feel any obligation to follow their doctrine.”

In any case, those were all concerns for tomorrow. For now, Costello had a lot of meet-and-greet to accomplish. Officers were inherently political creatures after all, and a big part of that meant making connections. He’d shaken hands with the Champions, chatted with the Mother-Supreme. He’d not been prepared for the sheer variety the Gaoians had in their culture, but that was probably a bit racist of him, so he kept his own counsel. After all, the first real opinion humanity had ever formed of the Gao had come through a relatively cloistered young woman who hadn’t seen a fraction of what the whole species had to offer.

Then there were the other guests, the ones whose presence at the actual coronation itself would have been inappropriate, but who were enthusiastically welcome at the feast.

Yan Given-Man, for instance.

Heads of state—and Yan was the closest thing the Ten’Gewek had—did not attend each other’s coronations, investitures, inaugurations, or whatever applied. It was…superstitious, honestly. Yan could understand that, couched in appropriate terms, but he otherwise seemed at a bit of a loss… as did everyone trying to make small talk with him. He’d of course gravitated to the Lads and played with them—gently, thank God—but once he’d indulged himself and moved on, he genuinely seemed out of his depth. Beyond hunting and such, there just wasn’t much in common to talk about with everyone else. The elderly female with him seemed to be managing much better and subtly led him around the room to make acquaintances. Apparently she was more than a match for his flirtaceous proclivities with anything vaguely Ten’Gewek-oid.

In the end he spent most of his time orbiting near Julian Etsicitty, who himself wasn’t particularly comfortable in the setting. They were a pair of hulking gorillas conspicuously unsure of themselves, and whose insecurity had them constantly looking to Xiù Chang for guidance. She looked positively born to it, navigating the social dance with genuine warm smiles and to the fussing delight of the Mother-Supreme.

There was a vulnerability there. If the Ten’Gewek were going to play the Great Game, they needed to learn how to play it. That was maybe unfair to foist on them but needs must. This was the kind of stage to which the heads of all the 5-EYES nations had been invited, and had either attended in person or with apologies sent somebody on their behalf.

Probably, a lot of important things got quietly worked out in the corners. Daar had graciously taken it upon himself to personally lead Yan and the elderly Singer around the room, introducing them to all the important people. Good. There was laughing, probably some stories being shared. Costello only caught snatches of it, but he heard part of a story about Daar being flung along a cliff while smashed up in Yan’s tail…he’d definitely need to ask about that one later.

There were definitely games afoot. Yet political creature or not, that kind of thing was still way over Costello’s grade. Rather than frustrate himself, he figuratively loosened his tie and enjoyed the food with the Lads, just to gently remind them that when the morning came, they needed to be well-fed, rested, and ready to perform.

They were. They woke up, shaved and attended to their comfort, then showered like men who knew it might be days before they got another chance. They accomplished their hygiene while their techs prepared for suit assembly in the other room. Elsewhere in the fortress, First Fang would be going through a similar ritual alongside Champion Fiin.

“I assume we’re gonna get final mission briefing soon?” Firth emerged from the shower while still toweling off his head. Short mohawks didn’t hold much water, but still: the entire point of the haircut was to help deal with sweat inside the Mass’s helmet, and to a man everyone preferred to be as bone-dry as possible before suiting up.

“Sure will. We’re just waiting on Champion Thurrsto and Father Genshi… Speak of the Devil.”

Genshi cut a strange figure in a Whitecrest combat suit. His dual thrashing first at the Great Father’s paws and then those of his Champion had definitely left their marks, and he’d clipped the fur on his face short to cover for it. Presumably at full length it’d look patchy and ragged.

The idea had been floated—and accepted—that he might be HEAT material. After all, the Champion of Whitecrest had to hold his own against the very best his Clan could produce in order to be the Champion, and lately that had meant having to stack up to the likes of Faarek, Shim, Regaari… and of course the new Champion, Thurrsto. For all his scars, Genshi was still at the apex of what his Clan could produce.

For now, however, he was along on his Clan’s behalf. As a senior Father who outranked all of the HEAT ‘Crests, it was his responsibility to ensure the safe return of a valuable agent from the field… and if that meant dropping in alongside the HEAT and fighting at their side, well, he was up to the job. He looked… pleased, so far as Costello could judge. His own indiscretions had seen him exiled to the wilderness a little, and this return to the sharp end of the Clan’s activities would surely be welcome.

Costello’s concern, and Powell’s, was that his proven history of forgetting his place in the chain of command was hardly optimal HEAT material. But after much deliberation, not to mention the good words of both Thurrsto and Faarek, they’d agreed to give him a chance to prove himself.

Thurrsto looked serious and resigned. He wasn’t dropping anywhere with anybody or anything, and Costello knew from his relationship with Powell that such a retirement from the front line was… unhappy. Still, he was there to see his Brothers off if nothing else.


“That’s my cue,” said Firth as he ripped open his undersuit’s packaging. Their makeshift staging area had sheets put down everywhere to keep the dirt and dust under control before they sewed themselves into that unforgiving inner layer, but it wasn’t a cleanroom, so getting the undersuit on quickly was a must. “Y’all swingin’ dicks get out here, briefing time!”

Costello, whose “small” size made his techs’ lives much easier and who was thus already wearing his midsuit, nodded thanks as the vastly bigger men he commanded ambled out of the shower and into loose formation.

‘Horse was last out of the shower as usual, thumping over with his relaxed, business-ready grin. “That’s all of us, boss.”

Costello nodded. “Thanks, ‘Horse. Alright, we’ve been over the situation a dozen times before. Hunters have occupied Rvzrk, we have Dexter on-world ready to destroy their wormhole suppressor. Our job is to get him outta there, and clear just enough breathing space for First Fang to muscle through and obliterate everything else. There’s no real subtlety here: we’re going in via steep-angle EA-HELLNO. The Whitecrests will need to carry extended power packs for their maneuver fields, it’s going to be rough. Everyone will need a max-dose of crude. The shot, not the patch. The physics of this insertion are…daunting.”

Serious expressions all round. They knew the drill.

“When we hit the ground, our target is Dexter, and only Dexter. Laser-like focus here. Protectors, that’s your show. Whatever you need, you ask and we deliver. Baseball will be the assault lead for the first leg of the mission, ‘Horse and Irish will execute on point. Once ‘Base declares his objective accomplished, Righteous will take lead. We establish a Jump Array, and secure our presence. Secure it with extreme prejudice. We’re bringing three Arrays for First Fang to use.”

“I take it their objective ain’t changed?” Firth asked.

“Not a bit, Righteous. Their mission is to scour the area clean and build the really big arrays to get the Grand Army marching through. Depending on our readiness, we may be re-tasked to assist them. If conditions allow, they will almost certainly bully through and attempt to secure additional array sites. The other Fangs will be committed if and when appropriate.

“Once they’re in, we support the Fangs until our resources are exhausted, and then withdraw. By that point the Grand Army should have joined us, and they’ll do the job of really liberating the city. Any questions?”

Heads shook all around.

“Alright. Suit up, gear up. Sooner we’re ready, the sooner our Brother’s out of harm’s way.”

They scattered, leaving Costello alone with Thurrsto.

Best to tackle the bull head-on. “How are you holding up?”

“I think me, Stainless, and the Great Father should form a club and commiserate together.”

“All three of you are at the top of your game, still,” Costello said, trying to be reassuring.

“Yes. And in positions of high or irreplaceable office where we can’t put our game to use.”

“I wouldn’t count on that. It’s important that leadership be respectable by the rough men they command. And, being honest? There are still so few of us, you still need to keep in mission condition after all…”

“When was the last time Stainless came on an op?” Thurrsto asked.

“The last time he was needed. He’s stood active watch after team exhaustion, after all. It’s only sheer dumb luck that’s kept him off the field. We just don’t have enough men.”

“That feels like kind words chosen skillfully.”

Of course he’d see through that.

“Look, I get it. Talent like yours is rare company, and you want to do what you’re good at, give what you can offer to the team. I absolutely understand. That doesn’t solve the leadership problem. High office has duties. I won’t presume to lecture you about that.”

“No,” he sighed wearily. “I’ve learned an awful lot about duty lately. But you know what the, uh, ‘worstest’ part is? Something the Great Father clued me in on accidentally. It’s that I’m only likely ever going to see field work again if something has gone very, very wrong. I think that’s why Genshi was so keen to jump back into it. He actually seems a lot happier now.”

“And you’re better than him.”

“On nearly every level, yes. Though,” Thurrsto added with a slightly melancholy chitter, “I admit, the only reason I’m more handsome now isn’t because of my breeding.”

“I’ll never understand your species’ psychology on that point. Anyway. Maybe you should suit up. Or at least keep ready. We’re holding you in reserve but you’re still HEAT, and if I’m honest, something about this mission stinks. I can’t put my finger on it…”

“You don’t need to humor me, captain.”

“I know,” Costello said seriously. “I’m not.”

Thurrsto’s ear twisted strangely, then he duck-nodded. “…Thank you.”

Costello nodded too, and went to grab the last of his equipment.

Whatever else happened, today was going to be bloody.

Date Point: 15y 10m 1d AV
Planet Rvzrk, Domain Space


“NAUGHTY CUB, SKY THANE. Brother’s ready to play Big Surprise.”

That was extremely welcome news as far as Regaari was concerned.

His hideout was at the top of a seventeen-storey building a few hundred meters from the wormhole suppressor. The building’s water tank and air conditioning systems coexisted in a kind of thin-walled metal shed that capped the entire roof and which had to be drone-access only for the Vzk’tk. There was no way they could possibly fit inside, even if they could reach it… which meant the same was true for the Hunters as well.

Regaari, on the other hand, had found it a perfect snug little den in which he could safely sleep, eat, and recharge the suit. And if he was found and needed to escape, then his fusion claws would make a mockery of the thin metal walls.

Still. It wasn’t safety. It merely resembled safety, relative to the Hunter-patrolled nightmare outside.

“Copy, SKY THANE. NAUGHTY CUB raiding the kitchen.”

He scrambled outside onto the roof and surveyed the situation. SKY THANE—HMS Myrmidon’s Fleet Intelligence Center—were equipped with the very best cameras and sensors that human science could provide, but they were several light-seconds away. At those kinds of ranges, targeting became a tricky business.

For instance: the guns on every ship in the fleet could easily hit a twenty-meter target from that range. With care and good information, they could reliably hit a one-meter target, in fact.

But providing that good information was another matter entirely. Especially without satellite coverage. If they’d had satellites up there then Regaari’s job would have been as simple as aiming a laser designator at the target and then keeping his head down until the shrapnel stopped flying.

Unfortunately for him, what he actually needed to do was physically plant a high-energy beacon on the damn thing, then disrupt the shields that protected it from orbital bombardment.

If he succeeded, the HEAT were ready and waiting to come get him. He’d go home, presumably get an enormous crushing hug from Daar, and be able to hold his head high in the company of Champions again. Mistake made, but atonement paid.

If he failed…

Not an option. Too many lives were riding on him.

He’d planned his next move extensively. He knew the timing on the patrols, knew the blind spots and opportunities. But as an old Whitecrest adage had it, the best way to ruin a plan was to set it into motion.

He checked his gear one last time, then scuttled down the building’s outside wall, nose-down. The security drones were definitely on a pre-programmed route with no random variation. Sloppy. He darted across the road behind one before its backup turned around from sweeping a corner. Wait, two, three, four, dash–

Over a wall, lurk behind a Hunter prefab refrigerated building of some kind. Contents… probably not worth thinking about. Wait… wait…

He set the suit’s active camo to maximum responsiveness and pounced for a spot in the fence he’d identified as a weakness. He would burn energy stores quickly at those settings, so he needed to work fast.

His claws were all he needed to part a length of wire. Wriggle through the hole and into a ditch, tune down the responsiveness now that he wasn’t exposed in open ground. He had to be careful to straddle the trickle of muddy water in the ditch. It wouldn’t harm the suit, but it could splash or get stuck to him and both would jeopardize his ability to remain stealthy. Circle around the compound, fifty meters. Big stack of abandoned Vzk’tk construction equipment to his right. Up and out of the ditch, squeeze between a digger and a pile of plastic tubing.

Finally, one last stretch of open ground. Timing… perfect.


He felt exposed. He knew he was all but completely invisible. Trust the suit, trust the suit…

No alarms, no shots, no hiss of fusion blades activating or any sign that the Hunters had spotted him. He slid on his belly underneath the generator and tuned the camo’s response time back down. Keeda, he’d burned a fifth already.

Out came the beacon. Its only job was to produce an enormous flare of EM radiation for long enough that the fleet would know exactly where it was, even from half a million kilometers away. Best to install it somewhere with an unobstructed view of the sky, but other than that…

He heaved himself upside-down up the generator’s underbelly. The damn thing was held off the ground by a kind of fat tripod: he clambered up the underside of one of them and, keeping the generator’s bulk carefully between himself and any potential Hunter witnesses, swiftly reached the apex. He tucked the beacon into a spot he judged would cradle it securely without obstructing line-of-sight to the sky, then tuned the camo back up and sprinted back to the cover of the construction equipment.

One-quarter depleted.

He made it back to the gap he’d made in the fence before the first wrinkle appeared. There was a heavy thump from a nearby jump array, and Regaari froze in place as a dozen very, very different Hunters swaggered off the platform. These ones were almost completely cybernetic as far as he could tell: indeed, the only organic components he could see at all were, of course, the mouth, tongue and teeth.

Three of them looked almost identical to the behemoth that the HEAT had duelled in the ring’s rail yard. Almost identical—If anything, in fact, they looked like an upgrade. But the ones that skittered around them were even more interesting to Regaari’s eyes. They were smaller, lithe, cunningly articulated… and the first thing they did was turn their myriad cybernetic lenses to sweeping every last inch of their surroundings.

…He needed to find cover, now.

He retreated into the ditch as quickly as he dared. This changed things. This changed things a lot. Just one of those big bastards had given the HEAT as much as it could handle: three, with support from a force of lighter skirmishers, could very well be more than even they could manage. If they jumped in without forewarning and the correct weaponry…

He slunk along the ditch, staying so low that his chest tickled the mud. The long way back out of the compound, avoiding the newcomers, was a bit of an unknown quantity. He knew there was plenty of dense cover and concealment, but by the same token it could be concealing hazards he hadn’t spotted. And it very much was the long way: by the time he got back to his retroreflector and updated SKY THANE, several minutes would have elapsed. That was a lot of time for things to go wrong. If a drone or a Hunter spotted his hidden beacon…


Right then, Regaari’s only mission was to survive and return the intelligence. That was it. The message was the mission, and the message would only happen if he made it back to relative safety.

He paused a third of the way around the field from his entry point, unpacked a small periscope from its pouch on the back of his left upper arm, and used it to peek over the lip of the ditch. The new Hunters had not strayed into the suppressor compound, but were instead patrolling south and east, along the road that ran right past his hiding spot… and the laser retroreflector he’d left stashed there.

He had to presume they didn’t know it was there. If they did, the building would already have been levelled by artillery or an airstrike or something.

Was the new Hunters’ arrival a coincidence? Just bad luck? He hoped so, but his instincts and his cynicism said otherwise. Never attribute to blind misfortune what could be adequately attributed to enemy action.

Which meant he had to take some risks and move.

He packed his periscope, scrabbled up out of the ditch, slunk over to the fence and was through it in seconds. There had once been buildings at this side of the compound, but they were just piles of rubble now. Nothing seemed to be lurking in them fortunately, so he scrambled through them as quietly as he could, taking care not to make any noise by disturbing the fallen chunks of concrete.

At a lung-burning dead run, he sprinted down a back alley that was now little more than a narrow clear channel between piles of smashed brick. The row of buildings had once curved aesthetically around the park—now, It got him ahead of the new arrivals.

He sunk down and took a deep breath. Now was the moment when the suit either saved him or got him killed. Whitecrest’s best had designed it to be the ultimate infiltration system, but the EM spectrum was too wide and varied to cover every possibility. If those Hunters could see in the right band of ultraviolet or whatever then…

He could at least be completely camouflaged in the infrared and visible wavelengths, thanks to suit refrigeration. It was power-expensive and needed several seconds to bring his surface temperature down to the ambient. Several long, itchy seconds where he watched his energy reserves tick down and felt the heat sink against his belly grown uncomfortably warm.

When he tuned up the camo to full again, the power reserves started to drop at a genuinely worrying rate. He either went now or he’d run dry.

He went. Right in front of their noses he went, pouncing across the street in a long graceful arc that made use of the planet’s low gravity so he wouldn’t land among the dust and debris in the middle of the road and thereby disturb it.

Up the wall, up! It was a seventeen-storey climb to the roof and he pawed himself up as fast as he dared. He couldn’t slip and fall, he couldn’t make noise, but he absolutely definitely could not be stuck to the wall when the power ran out.

It flickered and failed just before he made it over the lip of the roof. With his heart pounding, he grabbed the periscope and checked over the edge again to see if the three seconds he’d spent hanging his tail out there for all to see had been a disaster.

Nothing. The Hunters, it seemed, had moved on.

He breathed a relieved curse, activated his suit’s energy collector field to try and claw back some power, and ducked into his hiding spot to grab the retroreflector.

“SKY THANE, NAUGHTY CUB. New Mother in the kitchen, and she’s mean. I stole something sweet, take a look.” He uploaded the footage from his suit’s cameras and sent it.

This time, he folded up the reflector and stashed it inside its pouch on his back. Now he was back on the clock to take those shields down. He checked his suit power. Back up to fifteen percent. Not great. It would probably be best if he took a minute or two to recharge…

There was a heavy scrabbling noise from across the roof. Regaari wasted a second going wide-eyed with alarm, then scuttled back behind an air conditioning unit just in time as three of the smaller new Hunters hauled themselves over the roof edge and left claw-marks in the metal. He risked peeking at them through a gap between the vents as the newcomers looked around the roof, glanced at each other, fanned out…

…And cloaked.



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 – Implications

CopRit Empire, Halfil Sol 25 Of Race 4 Year 4958 Monty Publishing House, New Baltimore Slowly gathering myself I stepped into the hologram chamber, the projection flickered and the simulation automatically paused as I stepped in. I quickly looked around to get my bearings, I appeared to be on a starship bridge enduring greatly exaggerated

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Sweetness – Chapter 4 (NSFW)

CopRit Empire, Halfil Sol 78 Of Race 3 Year 4958 Suburbs, New Baltimore I looked back up at the shopkeeper, the small Human was trying to appear unconcerned. Not that I could really blame ‘him’- glancing over at the human I checked the chest. It was a male, the chest did not protrude and there

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Sweetness – Chapter 3 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 2 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 1 (NSFW)

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

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Shades of White and Orange

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

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Mother Earth

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

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 2

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 1

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 2

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Good Training – April Fool’s

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 1

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 5

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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

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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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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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