The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 3

Date Point: 15y 10m 1d AV
The White House, Washington DC, USA, Earth

President Arthur Sartori

“A vacation? Now?”

Sartori nodded. “As soon as possible, anyway. I know you never really take a vacation in this job, but if I don’t go and let my hair down sometime soon I might forget how.”

It had been a quiet day… at least, quiet-ish. Quieter. Heads of state, out of a kind of superstition, didn’t attend one another’s coronations and investitures, so as much as Sartori would probably have enjoyed another visit to Gao, he’d been compelled by decorum to remain on Earth… only for nothing very much to happen.

His schedule had been cleared ahead of the operation on Rvzrk, just in case presidential authority was required… but nothing had come up that hadn’t already been planned for and approved. It made for a refreshing change… and an opportunity to discuss something with his most valued special advisor that he really should have discussed earlier.

Oh well. No time like the present.

Margaret White laughed softly. “Arthur, I hate to break it to you, but letting your hair down stopped being an option for you years ago,” she said, and waved a hand vaguely at her own scalp.

Sartori laughed. “Yes, thank you for reminding me…” he grumbled. He’d learned to take jokes about his baldness with good grace: nothing was more embarrassing than a thin-skinned politician, after all.

“Still… is now the best time? Between the war, planning for the mid-terms, the Colony Bill…” Margaret’s tone of voice made it clear she could think of a thousand more things if she needed to.

“If I hold out for the best time, I probably won’t recognize it when it comes,” Sartori countered. “There’s always something. But I need to… go skiing, fishing, hiking in the woods, something. And I want to do it somewhere that’s not in line-of-sight of a building.”

Margaret nodded. “Well… I sympathize. The Secret Service aren’t going to like it, though. I’m sure they’d much prefer it if you went and played golf on a ranch somewhere.”

“I’m sure they would,” Sartori agreed drily.

“Did you have anywhere in mind?”

“I thought Cimbrean. I could visit Franklin and then spend some time enjoying the wilderness.”

Margaret thought about it. “That… would work nicely, actually. Yes, I can see the Secret Service being happy with that, you get your unspoiled wilderness, and Franklin gets a Presidential visit. Good proximity to interstellar concerns…”

“I’m glad you approve,” Sartori said. He stood up and took a gentle stroll around the room to loosen his bones, feeling that ideally he’d have liked to drink a bourbon or something. Unfortunately, not only was it far too early in the day for that but he preferred to remain sharp when Minot were releasing nukes for allied use.

Besides, the issue of the Hephaestus nuke theft remained unsolved, and he didn’t feel comfortable with drinking until that was resolved either. His earlier point about ‘waiting for the right time’ notwithstanding, he somehow knew that right now was the wrong time to indulge.

“Who knows, maybe you’ll meet our next First Lady out there,” Margaret teased. As a friend, she liked to encourage him to remarry. As an advisor, she had added more than once that a First Family did several things for the President that he couldn’t do alone. Sartori shrugged the comment off with his usual wry smile.

“Margaret, I think the only way I’ll ever get to go somewhere without you suggesting that is if I go on an all-male retreat.”

“That’s a good idea. Maybe you’d find a First Husband instead,” she retorted.

Sartori snorted and shook his head. “I can’t be America’s first gay president,” he said. “I’m not qualified.”

“Hmmm… you know, statistically, at least one or two of your predecessors…” Margaret began.

“Like who?”

“Well, there’s some speculation about Buchanan…”


“He was a lifelong bachelor, and he had a very close ‘friendship’ with, um…” Margaret frowned as she rifled through her impressive memory for political trivia. “…King? Yes. William Rufus King. ”

Sartori sighed. “I can’t be the first openly gay president, then,” he corrected himself. “There’s a whole qualification that I lack.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll find some pioneering colonist rancher who’ll break your heart,” Margaret said. “Just think, there’ll be plenty of strapping young men to ravish you!”

Sartori shook his head with a silent laugh, and decided that he’d take a sip of water in lieu of that drink.

“You seem to like this idea a little too much,” he accused.

“I get my fun whenever I can find it,” she said primly, though there was nothing prim about the accompanying smile. “But who knows?”

“For the record, Margaret, I am not gay. I feel I need to remind you before you ‘ship’ me with, I dunno. Whoever you’re crushing on right now.”

She shrugged. “Oh well. Plenty of cowgirls in Franklin too. I understand most of them are…quite handy, you know.”

Sartori laughed in earnest. “If the public knew how scandalous your mind is…”

“Then ‘half’ of them would love it, and the other ‘half’ would find some way to complain about it, and the overwhelming majority wouldn’t care one bit.” She giggled and stood up. “Well, fair enough. I’ll find out who you have to buy a coffee for around here to make a Presidential vacation happen.”

“Thank you.”

“Of course, you know the moment you step out of the office there’ll be another crisis,” she pointed out.

“There always is. There always will be,” He agreed. “Better for everyone if I face it feeling relaxed and happy, right?”

“That’s fair. I’ll see you tomorrow, if not sooner?”

“Yeah. Thanks, Margaret.”

She smiled and let herself out. He wasn’t sure, but he could swear he heard her chuckling to herself as she headed back toward her office in the West Wing.

He glanced up at the wall, to the framed photo of his late wife Emily. The truth was, she’d probably have sided with Margaret. Hell, she’d have joined in with the teasing and taken it much further. And he’d have got lost in watching the way her hands moved and her eyes sparkled, smiled at how laughter made the end of her nose twitch slightly, and…

…Fuck cancer.

Anyway: Happier thoughts. He tore himself away from Emily’s portrait and decided to grab his laptop. Time to research what adventures he might partake of on Cimbrean.

It’d be good to get away for a while…

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

Captain Anthony “Abbott” Costello


A hail of gunfire. The two Hunters retreated, fading into invisibility even as bullets flashed off their shields.


Regaari sprang out of Baseball’s grasp and dashed to his former Champion’s side with a frantic keening sound. Baseball was an instant behind him, already grabbing his medical kit but….

Futile. Fusion blades killed too quick and clean: there was no life-saving intervention to be done on those steaming pieces, and ‘Base knew it.

“…Man down.”

Dexter actually howled.

“‘Horse! Get him through that array now!” Costello spat. He ran a shaking glove up the side of his helmet: there was a deep gouge in it that had come a finger’s width from lobotomising him.

Arés didn’t need telling twice. He grabbed the squirming Regaari by the back of his suit and hauled him away from Genshi’s remains with a grunt of effort, ignoring his thrashing objections. It took a ringing slap upside the helmet to stun Regaari into submission: he landed on the jump platform in a keening mess. There was a flash of true-black stasis field, and he was gone.

Champion Fiin ducked out of the Array in his place, flanked by his First Fang brothers. They fanned out with their weapons ready, but it was the tableau with Costello’s damaged helmet and Baseball tending to their fallen comrade’s remains that caught Fiin’s attention.

“…Keeda! What happened?”

“Hunters. Cloaked ambushers, with fusion blades. Stay alert.”

The Stonebacks took that seriously. They spread out in a search pattern, alert for the first hint of danger.

“Who is that?” Fiin asked.


Fiin paused, then hardened. “…They’re gonna fuckin’ pay ‘fer that.”


The Array thumped again, delivering more Stonebacks. One of them handed off another power pack to Moho, then set to deploying a second Array.

Costello checked that the Hunter that Genshi had killed was really dead, then gave it a kick. “Base. Pack this up for Scotch Creek. ‘Horse, Moho, go catch up with Righteous and the others. We’re gonna kill ‘em all.”

‘Horse’s voice was a vengeful growl. “Vamos a chingarlos.”

They took off toward the sound of gunfire, and Costello switched over to the command channel. “STAINLESS, ABBOTT. Target secured, but we have a casualty. PACINO has fallen.”

The reply was about a second late.

*“…ABBOT, STAINLESS. Copy target secure. Confirm PACINO is KIA?”

“Confirmed, STAINLESS.”

“…Copy that. I will inform TIGGER. Do you require additional fires?”

Costello reviewed all the intel his suit was gathering from the HEAT, their drones, the firebirds and the ships overhead. The FIC’s supercomputers were working overtime creating a detailed map for him, and it painted a triumphant picture. The Hunters had obviously been planning an orderly withdrawal, but the fleet had smashed their jump arrays. Right now, the deathworld forces had the advantage… but not the numbers. He needed to keep the initiative, and the best way to do that was to let the Aggressors do what they did best.

“RIGHTEOUS and STARFALL will call it as they see it,” he decided.

Of the big ones and the kind of stalker that had got Genshi, there was no sign however.

That was… troubling, actually. The competent hit-and run, and the obvious intent to withdraw both marked a serious change from previous Hunter tactics.

Something was very fucky here. And Costello didn’t like it one bit.

There was only one solution.

“Let’s go to work,” he said.

Date Point: 15y 10m 1d AV
Hunter broodship, Rvzrk System, Domain Space

The Builder Alpha-of-Alphas

The elites returned via their onboard jump systems. Three of the stalker variants were dead, two having fallen to Gaoians rather than Humans. That suggested a need to upgrade them. Other than that, however, they had performed admirably.

Their discipline was especially pleasing. When ordered to withdraw, they had done so without hesitation or complaint.

Not without frustration, however. The Alpha-of-Alphas could feel them emoting it among themselves as they swapped out their war components for more everyday cybernetics. Rewarding their loyalty would be simple, however: they were Eaters. Give them first pick of the choice prey, and they would be satisfied.

The Alpha-of-Alphas would return them to the fray soon. This was a test run, after all: more data was required. Perhaps, if they moved quickly, there would be time to install some upgrades.

Nevertheless, the first trial of the stalker variant had been a measured success. They had come within a fraction of a claw-length from decapitating the Human commander, and that would likely have been a devastating blow. Certainly the individual in question was the same one that had led the assault on the Hive, which implied that the Humans did not have many at all.

They would target that one specifically whenever they could. One such assault would inevitably succeed eventually. And when it was, they would…


A distracting new note joined the communications channels, and the Alpha-of-Alphas tuned into them with a growing sense of interest. It had expected to receive intelligence and insights as the stranded Eater forces were surrounded and crushed. It had expected mounting panic.

Instead… there was something different on emote feeds. Something entirely unexpected.

<Delight> <Ecstasy> <BLOOD FRENZY>

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

Brother Taro, Warleader of First Fang

Things all started to go wrong when Brother Durn fell.

It was a moment of sheer bad luck that got him. He was on the charge, chasing a trio of Hunters along the shattered terrain made by flattened buildings. Up, across, a flying leap–

He landed with a thud, but Durn was one of their most biggest ‘Backs. His sheer size broke something underfoot, he yelped in surprise, and the rubble collapsed under them. By stupid bad fortune he landed on his back, stunned, and one of the nut-greasy fucks found itself lucky. It bit down and snipped off Durn’s brawny arm before Taro could react, and then…

The Hunters… changed, suddenly. They stopped acting so much like thinking sophonts, and became more… animal. Feral, even. Suddenly, it was like they didn’t give a shit about whether they lived or not, they just became intent on killing. Poor Durn vanished under an avalanche of biting teeth as all the nearby Hunters seemingly forgot every other target and descended on him in a feeding frenzy.

Taro didn’t need to voice anything. All his ‘Backs reacted immediately. They cordoned, attacked, and ripped the nutless shit-stains apart from the rear.

Too late for Durn, though. When they dug him out of the body pile… there wasn’t a lot left. What remained, however, had his fusion knife buried in a Hunter’s gut.

Taro and his ‘Backs weren’t so nice to the stragglers, after that.

But something had definitely changed. Something dramatic. First Fang fought on the principle of shocking and awing the enemy: engage ‘em, tear their shit apart, scare the balls off’a them and scatter ‘em to the winds.

That all fell apart when the foe charged recklessly at them in a slavering wave of fangs and fusion claws, the ones in front falling by the dozen, but by the time their bullet-riddled carcasses slumped to the ground, the unharmed ones behind had closed half the distance.

Well. No ‘Back worth his salt was gonna be ‘scared of vermin like the Hunters.


Shieldsticks. So useful. They rattled to the ground and created an instant barricade, which the hunters flung themselves against with slavering, thirsty desperation. The fight descended into hand-to-hand combat, in which neither Stonebacks nor Hunters had a clear advantage. It wasn’t so much any particular advantage in skill or tactics, it was the sheer overwhelming numbers they had. All of First Fang’s two hundred Brothers were through the portal, and they were standing against literally thousands of Hunters, with more and more coming every second.

What was it that Murphy human-Brother called this? “Zerg rush” or something?

Taro would definitely need to get Mister Murphy drunk on Talamay when he got back. If. There had to be at least fifty thousand Hunters streaming down through the wreckage of the surrounding city. They needed air support, now.

The human’s Fleet Intelligence Center pinged him with a happy suggestion. It would be too long before Firefang established operations, and several of those Keeda-ass HEAT Brothers were combat controllers, after all…

He yipped his agreement, the FIC patched him into a new command channel, and a deep, aggressive voice came online.

“Name’s STARFALL,” He said it in perfect Gaori, though with a bit of a Whitecrest accent, sadly. That’d need fixing later. “I hear you got shit you need blown up?”

A new icon on his visor showed the human was closing with his position. The FIC was truly a marvel, sweeping all the clutter aside and telling him just what he needed.

“Got a bit of a Hunter infestation over here.”

“Copy that, I’ll be over soon. You ‘Backs protected against radiation?”

“We’re deployed in a nuclear environment, STARFALL…”

“Yeah. I plan ‘ta make it more nuclear.”

That sounded like a very welcome idea as far as Taro was concerned. “Be my guest.”

“Alright.” Taro flicked an ear inside his helmet. The human sounded… grim, rather than the fierce anticipation Taro himself would be feeling about the chance to play with the big guns. “Enemy’s thickest toward the city center, that’s about five [kilometers] away from your position. That’s gonna be danger close…hold out for a minute more. STARFALL out.”

Easier said than done. Still, the shields were holding, even if his ‘Backs were running out of ammo, even if they’d need to press against the shield wall to force the horde away. With nothing else for it, Taro fell into ranks and managed their tactical retreat towards a more open space. Hopefully open enough that air support could strafe it eventually.

There was a warning pip in everyone’s visors.


A shieldstick’s height was adjustable, but that added functionality came at the cost of power drain. Hopefully it would only be needed for a moment—

Double flash. Everyone’s visors blinked dark for just the bare and exact moment needed to stave off blindness. The Hunters weren’t so blessed, and were clearly stunned. It would have been great to take advantage but they wouldn’t need to.

The shock wave did most of the work.

It also took out the few walls that remained with one brick on top of another. It made the ground buck like an itching Naxas, and gave Taro a full-body punch in the gut. If they’d been standing in the open without shield protection, it would have pulverised them.

As it was, even the rebound shockwave off the splintering walls behind him, even the sound was like a battering ram.

There was a resounding thud as an absolutely gigantic human jumped down right next to him, carrying a weapon so large he must have been compensating for something.

Everything Taro knew about the HEAT, and his own instincts, said the big Human should have been whooping and grinning over what he’d just done. Instead he threw a drone in the air and surveyed the area around them in silence.

“…Alright. That fucked ‘em up good.”

“That’s nice.” They moved forward together as Eight Claw re-took some lost ground and dispatched all the dazed, blasted, burned Hunters they could find. The orbital strike had taken the pressure of, but the fight wasn’t over. “We could still use some air support.”

“Rog. They’re inbound right now. HEAT’s got release priority but we’re always willin’ to share.”

Air support really was a beautiful thing. Taro stood back with Starfall and together, the two of them spent a wearying long time shaping the fight towards something more advantageous. Firefang eventually deigned to show their pampered fluffy silver asses, of course right as the local fight was turning into a rout. Whatever bloodlust frenzy had gripped the Hunters finally broke, but it took a long-ass time and a heck of a lot of work… not to mention a few lives.

But in First Fang, a few lives—any lives, really—was a big loss. Each one represented at minimum three years of setback. Candidates were rare, the training was arduous, few of those selected to try would ever pass, and few of them made it to the Third Ring. Every Brother who fell greatly delayed rebuilding the retired Fangs.

In human parlance, they were raiders and special operators. They couldn’t afford to heedlessly wade into melee. They didn’t have the numbers.

And that was true of HEAT, too. “That’s my cue,” the tall human said as a trio of Voidrippers lanced down what had once been a perfectly serviceable highway but was now a series of blasted holes in the bedrock, intent on delivering death to something at the far end. “They’re good, I’ve trained with ‘em.”

“They’re late.”

Starfall shrugged. “Can’t always be helped. I’m being recalled by my captain, so…”

“Go. We’ve got a long few days of killin’ I think.”

“Ayup.” Starfall nodded behind that dark, glowing mask of his, and without another word he vaulted over an obstacle and charged back towards his own men. Something must have gone badly wrong somewhere.

For the moment, they had a moment to breathe, tend to the dead and wounded, and much more importantly than even that, jump in more ammo and supplies.

“Roki!” he called out to his second-in-command. “Let’s take advantage of the lull and set up camp. Get those portals through and built, so the Grand Army can come and play.”

The Hunters descended into probing attacks against the perimeter while the portal techs attended to their work. First Fang kept them at bay with skill and discipline, and relative ease: the probing attacks didn’t amount to much for quite a while.

That all changed when something the size of a tank abruptly exploded through a nearby building, ignoring the disintegrating walls around it like they were made of nothing more than air and insults. It was accompanied by three flickering dark shadows that lanced and zig-zagged strangely and unpredictably through down the street never following a straight line.

Firefang proved their mettle right away. The orbiting pilots immediately dropped down and harassed the giant fuckin’ nightmare… which waded through the explosions like they were a light snowfall. It raised an arm and a fuckin’ blizzard of bullets shredded one of the attacking Voidrippers on the wing. The stricken craft slipped sideways trailing smoke and fire, and Taro didn’t see the pilot eject before it was lost from view and a fireball bloomed into the air several streets away.

In response, the other Voidrippers rocketed up to altitude and switched to missiles. They were courteous enough to warn everyone over the radio, though being honest, nobody was too keen on closing with the tank-thing anyway. Especially not when those flickering shadows hinted at something equally nasty just waiting to slice them sideways in the ass if they tried.

Taro had a dark thought, suddenly. “Disruptor nets! We need nets on the ground!”

He’d barely got that order out when FIC joined him to yet another radio net. “First Fang, this is IRISH. I’ve still got vitals on that pilot, gonna have a lash at rescuin’ him.”

“I’ve got a walking barn and some invisible crawlies to worry about here. They bite.”


What was going on with the HEAT today? They were usually so optimistic and fierce…

In any case, it would be a few ticks before ‘Irish’ showed up, so in the meantime—

A lot of things happened very, very fast. One of the Voidrippers let loose a missile. The instant it did, there were three flashes of jump-black, and suddenly the menace was gone.

Great. So these Hunters had personal jump ability now. Fuckin’ great.

The regular Hunters on the ground decided as one in that creepy biodrone hive-mind way of theirs to give up the hunt, and beat a rapid, crawling retreat.

The missile, suddenly bereft of a target, was remotely commanded to steer upwards and detonate harmlessly overhead. The Voidrippers scrambled like a Nava had just exploded in front of them and flew off to go sort themselves out.

Right. Re-assert command. The situation needed solidifying now despite anything else going on, so Taro barked out orders to that effect, then engaged in a long radio dialog with his Champion. Fiin was…not pleased.

Irish and one of the HEAT’s Whitecrests showed up a few minutes later, both absolutely covered in blood. Most of it was Hunter blood if Taro was any judge, but Irish seemed to have a share of Gaoian blood on him too.

The Human was easily carrying a rigid, powered stasis bag on his shoulder, which he set down next to the array platform. Both men were radiating anger of the most profound kind and Taro looked to the Whitecrest for insight. “Did something happen?”

The Whitecrest sighed. “…Father Genshi has fallen,” he said.




Having no idea what else to say, much less what to do about it, Taro instead gestured down at the stasis bag and the pilot within. “Will he survive?” he asked.

Irish nodded. “Should do. Your man night need a new set o’ legs, though. Guess that big fecker hit a lot harder than the last one we ran into.”

“They’re adapting to us,” Roki said.


Taro surveyed his surroundings as the array they’d just built fired for the first time, sending the stricken pilot home and summoning the first elements of Second Fang and the Grand Army.

“Well,” he said grimly as that thought sunk in. “That’s just gonna make this more fun…”

“Sure.” Irish stood up. “I’ll take all the fun I can feckin’ get. We’ve got a lotta payback to give.”

The Whitecrest—Taro hadn’t yet learned his name—rapped him on the chest with the back of his paw. “You see that?”

“I see it.” Irish gave Taro a respectful nod and again, like Starfall before them, the two HEAT operators made themselves scarce. No doubt the FIC had found something for them to do.

Taro turned his attention to the Grand Army’s deployment. His own job wasn’t even close to finished, yet…

They had plenty more payback to arrange, first.

Date Point: 15y 10m 1d AV
High Mountain Fortress, the Northern Plains, Gao


Daar got precious few peaceful moments, and Naydra had learned how to nurture them, sustain them, and let him enjoy them. After all, he badly needed every opportunity he got.

Sometimes they were vigorous, other times… quiet. Simple. The only thing he loved more than doting on her was being brushed and taken care of in turn, and sometimes—like now—it even managed to put him to sleep. That was usually a sign that he was exhausted from stress.

She kept his communicator turned down too, at times like these. Not silent—anybody who called needed to be listened to—but enough that he’d wake gracefully rather than with a jolt. Which would spare her, seeing as she was completely trapped with him curled around her and on top of her.

Still. It was a shame when the device did inevitably chime and wake him.

“…Nnnf…balls.” Daar grumbled himself awake, snuffled in the top of her headfur, and detangled from their comfortable pile. He reached out a long arm and hooked it toward him with his claw.


She could smell his anguish hit before he gave any voice to it. “…I unnerstand…no, no. I’m sure they did what they could…yes. I’ll be there. Full honors, you hear me? Yeah. Sorry. I’m…yeah. Gimme a few. Yeah. Bye.”

When he hung up the phone, he crushed Naydra tight to himself and keened his agony like she’d never heard him do before.

A terrible suspicion struck her and she cradled him close. “Oh no… Is… Regaari…?” she couldn’t bring herself to ask the question in full, but he shook his head.

“…No. It was Genshi.”

That was maybe worse, as Genshi was… had been… one the most important males in Daar’s life, growing up. He was a mentor, he’d sponsored a certain troublemaking, high-spirited cub into the Gao’s elite social life, and probably had a claw in getting Daar in front of Stoneback’s recruiters in the first place. Disciplining him after his… incident… had been profoundly and personally painful for Daar. He’d even mentioned unhappily that he’d felt more personal anguish over it than over the order to nuke most of Gao’s cities.

“After all,” he’d said, “That was… strategy. It needed doin’ and there weren’t no other way. This was… it was personal.”

It had been difficult for him to wrestle with his guilt over that.

And now Genshi was gone. There’d never be a reconciliation, not that Daar had ever held much hope that there could be. She keened softly with him, sharing his grief.

“How did…?”

There was a hitch in his voice as he growled to himself. “I…I dunno yet.”

He keened again and fell silent for a long time.

“…I should…I should go,” he said more resolutely. “They got Regaari home safe, I need…”

“Go, my love. I’ll be here.”

He whined gratefully at her, and was gone. Naydra heaved a huge sigh and slumped on the couch with a soft keen for him, and for Genshi. She hadn’t known the former Champion well, but…

…Whatever else had happened between him and Daar, she hoped he’d died a hero at least. He deserved to be remembered well by the Gao.

She shook herself and stood up. There was a lot for her to organize, and never enough time. Peaceful moments like they’d just shared were just as important for her as for him, though she’d never let him know it.

If being a Great Father was a heavy burden to bear, then being his consort was nearly as bad. But she never regretted it, not for a second.

She sighed, stood up, and got back to work.

Date Point: 15y 10m 1d AV
Lavmuy Spaceport, Gao


Somebody had pressed a mug of sweet-herb tea into his hands and gently nudged him along toward a comfortable waiting room. He followed, numbly, his senses overloaded with the sounds and smells of the Stoneback Fangs ready and raring for deployment. He could sniff out their high-testosterone eagerness to join the fray, their indomitable sense of superiority…

The waiting room was a sudden, jarring calm space. The mere act of being escorted into it felt like being wrapped up in thick cloth and insulated from… everything. Regaari finally had the mental and physical space to take in his surroundings and realized that his escort was actually his suit tech, Yarro. He’d been so totally overwhelmed by the bustle, the smells and, and…

…and Genshi…

…to even notice.

“…Yarro.” He tried to think of what else to say, and gave up with a shake of his head. The young male was one of Whitecrest’s associate members, meaning he hadn’t quite made it through the trials to become a full Brother but had shown enough promise, skill and tenacity to still be very valuable to the Clan. “I…”

Among Yarro’s virtues were tact and understanding. He shook his head no and set about dismantling Regaari’s suit.

“Just rest,” he advised.

Good advice. Now that he was here and safe, Regaari was quickly realizing that he felt tired. Tired to the bone, tired to the very core of his being.

He drifted into a kind of fugue as Yarro expertly took the suit apart. Soon enough it was disassembled and set aside, and the very, very mandatory post-suit grooming was underway. Between the petroleum jelly necessary to slick his fur down so that it could be zipped up in the first place, plus days of accumulated oils and bodily grime, the first step after any prolonged session in the Suit was a vigorous brushing.

On happier occasions this would often be with his Brothers or, if he was very lucky, with a Female. Not today. But Yarro was pretty good with the brush, and the gentle massaging pressure of it was enough to all but knock Regaari out. Especially when combined with the gentle scent of his tea.

He was brought back to alertness by a heavy scratch on the door. Yarro apologized, put the brush down, and slipped out.

After a few seconds Regaari could hear the Great Father’s unmistakable rumbling basso profundo voice attempting to hold a “quiet” discussion just outside the door. Yarro was no doubt arguing (respectfully) that it would be best to leave Regaari to rest.

“Send him in, Yarro,” Regaari called wearily. “The Great Father waits for nobody.”

The Great Father’s nose peeked through the door trepidatiously. “I’d wait ‘fer you, Cousin.”

Cousin. That one word said everything about the conversation to come. It should have filled Regaari with joy but here and now he was too drained to do more than lift his ears slightly.

Daar seemed to understand, and approached on all fours almost as low as he could. By his standards, this was an abject apology.

Regaari went to stand up, only for Daar to rise to two-paw and shake his head, putting a paw on Regaari’s shoulder to stop him. Wordlessly, the Great Father picked up Yarro’s discarded brush and picked up where the young Associate had left off.

“Rest, Cousin. We’ll worry ‘bout all the naxas dung later.”

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Regaari noted that Daar had left the door open a crack and made no effort to close it. He did that deliberately, his inner Analyst commented snidely. Regaari had never been able to turn that part of him off, and there were many occasions he wished he could.

And he had to admit… Yarro was both a softer and defter touch with the brush. Daar truly had no idea how much of a brute he really was, sometimes.

….But the thought counted. It counted for a lot. So, he tried to relax into the rough treatment and let a moment of comfortable silence settle on them. At least his fur would be inescapably clean.

Eventually, Daar set the brush aside and sat down to Regaari’s left. The bench complained loudly as he did so, but Daar paid it no mind; it was a massive thing built to seat a claw of heavily laden Stoneback Brothers, which stoically withstood the Great Father’s weight. Barely.

“…Y’know you prol’ly saved millions’a lives over on that planet,” he said.

Regaari sniffed, and duck-nodded solemnly. “And maybe with time, I’ll find that thought comforting,” he said. He heard the faintest, quietest keen he’d ever heard from Daar, and a huge paw hugged around his back.

“…Maybe I will too, someday.”

Regaari turned his head to look at him, then keened and leaned into the hug.

“…We lost Genshi.”

“I know.”

“He saved Costello’s life, probably.”

“…Powell din’t mention that.”

“Costello didn’t tell him… He saved my life, too. There were… some kind of advanced Hunters, with cloaks and fusion blades. I saw them decloak, and I… he pushed me back mid-pounce, then jumped in himself. Took one of them down with him.”

Daar duck-nodded gently to himself and thought silently for a long moment.

“…How does Whitecrest honor their dead?”

Regaari sighed. “…A lot of them died in the dark, doing something covert, off-the-record, that the Clan denied any knowledge of… Historically, at least.”

Daar grumbled unhappily, “Heroes shouldn’t die forgotten.”

“Sometimes, heroism means accepting that you will.”

“Still… you musta honored them, right?”

Regaari duck-nodded. “Much like how the American’s intelligence corps does. There is…was…a wall in our central commune. A crescent moon for each who had fallen, to be filled in with polished wood when they were eventually named.”


“For reasons that Thurrsto will have to explain. I’m a Father of the Dark Rites, I know the reasons, but only he has the authority to, ah… shine some light on it.”

Daar grumbled and shook his head. “…You ‘Crests sure love your secrets.”

“No. We do not.” Regaari looked solemnly across the room and through the door as though it wasn’t there, recalling his oldest schooling, once he’d passed—survived—the first level of initiation. “‘A secret is a burden.’ The first words I ever learned as a member of Whitecrest. Our First Rite.”

“…Fuck. I’m sorry. I just can’t stop shitting on my most bestest, can I?”

“You meant well.”

“That don’t matter. I can’t just be a well-intentioned galoot, ‘specially not with what y’all do…can I tell you something?”

Regaari gave him his full attention. “Of course.”

Daar fairly reeked of… well, of a lot of things. Of his signature unshakeable honesty, of grief, of weariness. He was an astonishingly earnest creature, even at his most subtle; Now, in their moment of reconciliation, the scent of sincerity was almost pouring off him.

“I admire the Whitecrests,” he said. “Truly. What your Clan does is brave. Maybe the most bravest. And I think you’re the bravest man I’ve ever known.”

He meant it, of course. Daar never lied. But Regaari couldn’t find it in himself to have any reaction at all to those words. He couldn’t work up the energy to be either proud of them, or to be uncomfortable. They just… floated past him, noticed but not felt .

“…What happens now?” he asked, rather than address the sentiment. “Do we pretend there was never a rift between us?”

“That’d be a lie,” Daar rumbled.


“That rift got Genshi killed, I ain’t gonna pretend like it was never there.”

“Yes,” Regaari repeated. “I… don’t know how to put things right.”

“You already did. But… Regaari, I need you ‘ta know one thing. There was never a rift between you an’ me. The rift was between you an’ the Great Father.”

“I thought they were one and the same?”

“There’s a bit of metal on my head says otherwise.”

Regaari looked up and, sure enough…balls. He had a crown.

“…I missed the coronation, I see.”


That entire subject seemed a bit raw, just going by Daar’s ears and general scent. Best not to push it. Regaari stared at it for a long moment, unsure how to proceed.

Daar eventually sighed and resumed his train of thought. “I’m two people at once, Regaari. I can never not be the Great Father, except maybe in the most private moments. If I were still jus’ a Champion, what you did wouldn’t even have made me mad. But…”

Regaari duck-nodded. “…But I disrespected that, and everything it represents.” He pointed at the crown. He’d never understood crowns before, never understood why the man in charge wore what was, after all, just a very impractical hat. Now, he could see that it was much more than that.

“And I had ‘ta wear it.”

“I thought I was doing my duty.”

“Balls, maybe you were, too.” Daar took the crown off and turned it over in his paws, sighed, and then put it back on. “I sure as shit know I did mine. An’ I fuckin’ hated it.”

They sat in silence for a second or two, before Regaari felt a little surge of positivity at last. He turned to Daar and cocked an ear at a mischievous angle.

“You know…” he said, “…the lesson I’m taking from this is that Duty can lick my nuts.”

Daar’s chitter started off slow, then it gained momentum. It was infectious, and something to be proud of, so Regaari didn’t even try not to join him.

It had been a long time since they’d enjoyed a simple moment of mirth together. It was the best kind of mirth, too, the kind that took all that was wrong and painful in the world and helped them see past it. They weren’t laughing to make light of what had happened, but to make sense of it and to take the next steps forward. Shared humor like that could mend any rift, with time.

Things weren’t right. They’d never be right, they’d never been right. But for a few minutes…

For a few minutes, they could laugh. And somehow, that made things a little better.

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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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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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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