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 and eating. Any group of Hunters allowed an avenue of escape would just regroup and resume their bloody feast, and the concept of surrender seemed completely foreign to them. POWs? Even a wounded, dying Hunter would lash out too violently to be safely captured.

They had to be surrounded and destroyed. All of them. And that made for a series of desperate last stands, each one of which came with a heavy cost. The navy could drop all the bombs and RFGs it wanted, but some poor bloody infantry inevitably still had to go in there and make sure everything with more legs than fingers was dead.

And as the survivors starved, their bouts of blood-frenzy got more frequent. When that happened, the Grand Army had no trouble finding the enemy, but holding out against the resulting wave of teeth and claws was no small feat. Casualties were heavy.

The city itself was a casualty too. In fact, it was effectively gone: There was barely a wall still standing within six kilometers of where the Hunters’ suppressor had been, and cleaning up all the nuclear debris, conventional munitions, corpses and whatever nasty surprises the Hunters might devise would be the work of years, probably.

They hadn’t even begun the liberation of the planet yet, but today was the symbolic day that began. It was the final push to sweep the city remnants clean, where the first truly enormous wave of infantry from the Grand Army would jump in and make their presence known, and the planetary suppression field would finally come online.

At the head of that would be the Great Father. There was important symbolism involved—Gaoians very much needed to be led personally by men they respected. Of course, it would have been preferable if the only male capable of leading their species didn’t need to take the field. Endangering an irreplaceable head of state wasn’t a good option.

Though, if Caruthers were honest with himself, there weren’t any heads of state like Daar. He had a billion-strong, fanatically devoted army. His personal Claw-Brothers were chosen from among the most elite warriors that could be found, including a few trusted human “contractors.” If all that failed, he was himself one of the most dangerous beings alive, clad in a set of personal armor matched only by the HEAT.

So, of course, several of the enormous “Super-Hunters” had made themselves known almost as soon as he stepped through the array.

They had become a recurring thorn in Daar’s and the Fang’s sides in the lead-up to the Grand Army’s march on Rvzrk. Their tactics were…vexingly effective, and deeply dissimilar to those of conventional Hunters. They seldom engaged seriously and preferred harassment and probing forays. Daar saw through their gambit and was cautious about deploying his forces so as not to yield any information of import. That did not deter them. They skirmished, probed cautiously…

So, the Fangs set a trap. After a number of these hit-and-runs, it became obvious the new Hunters weren’t interested in causing any real harm. They had left important lines of communication unharassed, and only attacked relatively soft targets when their opportunity for escape was maximized.

“They’re studyin’ us,” Daar had growled. “We need ‘ta study ‘em back.”

They hatched a plan: enticing the Hunters into a situation they could neither resist nor escape. In the end it was only half successful: the Hunters certainly couldn’t resist it.

But they did escape, via previously un-demonstrated ability to fly. Daar himself along with the rest of HEAT—Powell and Thurrsto had been pulled in for this, too—had engaged once the trap was sprung. It was a short, brutal, fast-moving fight that lasted all of two minutes. Caruthers found himself slowing down the footage during his after-action review, the combatants moved so fast.

Right at the moment they had managed to isolate one of the giant tank-sized Super-Hunters and drop its shield, and just as they were about to pounce…it rocketed into the air with its fellows, rained ordnance down upon the blasted terrain, and made a beeline for the edge of the portable suppression field. They winked out of the battlespace with a pulse of blackest black, and they were no more.

The probing attacks had ceased after that incident, and Allied Command was of the opinion the Hunters had learned more about Allied capability than vice versa.

The HEAT had left Rvzrk with a dent in their morale. They’d bounce back quick enough no doubt, but losing Genshi and then being vexed by these new Hunters had clearly left them feeling that they’d failed to meet their own nigh-impossible standards.Their replacement, however, was the Grand Army, which had the undeniable quality of sheer quantity. Deploying them in full would take weeks, but by the end of the first day there was definite grounds to call the operation a success: The city was secured.

Nevertheless, an unknown number of Hunters remained on the planet, trapped behind the field disruptor and seemingly impervious to the notion of a tactical retreat. The HEAT were spent and needed to recuperate. All four of Stoneback’s Fangs were in need of relief, and the fight with the Super-Hunters had tested Daar’s mettle.

He was, however, unscathed and victorious and his legend as a warrior had certainly been burnished. He was the last to leave with the first wave, and gave a rousing, quick speech to the sustainment forces that were streaming near continuously through the jump platforms. He had made his point to the Gao, the Hunters, and the Galaxy writ large.

The Gao were not to be fucked with.

Of course, the HEAT had made their own point…for enemies that were clever enough to decode the message. The Hunters had made their point, too. That message had been heard loud and clear.

For now, though, the task was recovery. The Great Father had pyres to light, and a friendship to mend. There would be relatively little rest for the HEAT, as their next wave of recruits was due soon, and their arrival would finally bring the team up to full strength. They even had an extra Defender and Aggressor, who would likely find themselves as part of Team Two in a couple of years…

Clearing out the remaining Hunters would take months, probably. They were scattered and disorganised, their lines of communication severed and their command structure utterly demolished. Any other species would simply accept that they were beaten at this point…

But Hunters just didn’t know how. Their invasion would only end when the last one was dead.

It had all been… not easy. Not remotely close to easy. But it had been smaller than they’d anticipated. In fact, the inescapable conclusion that Caruthers had to draw, which he did alongside Daar, Powell and Kolbeinn, was that this had not in fact been a full-blown invasion.

….Just how many Hunters were there if an operation on this sort of scale was their idea of a probing, guerrilla-type attack? Had destroying the Ring hurt them as much as the Allies had hoped? Or had it simply reduced a problem of insurmountable proportions to a merely very, very big problem?

And nagging away at the back of Caruthers’ mind was the certain knowledge that if the Hunters were this intractable when surrounded, isolated and hopelessly outmatched on a single planet… then it didn’t bode well at all for the war against them in space where they had room to maneuver.

They were going to be doing this for a long, long time.

Date Point: 15y 11m AV
Ceres base, asteroid belt, Sol

Drew Cavendish

Drew was down to just three suspects. And, God damn her, Adele had been right: Drew M was among them, alongside Sam Jordan and Shinji Aida. All three shared the same damning trifecta of opportunity, means and motive.

Opportunity: they’d been aboard and in the right part of the ship between the last known moment when the missing bomb had been logged in inventory, and the probable moment when the heist had taken place.

Means: a pulsed spacetime distortion of some kind. The physics behind that one was all kinds of screwy, which for Drew’s money took his Aussie counterpart out of the running: Drew M was a damn clever man, but his talents ran to foremanship, workplace safety, scheduling, logistics and geology. He was no kind of a physicist… but then again, neither were Jordan and Aida. A pilot and a drone operator respectively. Hardly the kind of people who could reprogram a warp drive on the fly to create precisely-shaped eddies in the flow of causality.

Motive: Unknown.

And that was really the sticking point. None of the three men had any kind of a good reason to steal a nuclear physics package. Hephaestus’ security department had dug into all three of them with voracious intensity and turned up absolutely fuck all. No terrorist connections, nothing worrying in their psychological profiles—and Drew now knew a lot more about all three men than he felt completely comfortable with nowadays, right down to the kind of freaky porn that Aida liked to watch—nothing.

Jordan was kind of a cocky smart-ass with a chubby for his own talents, but who could blame him? The man could take a freighter and literally park it on a penny. He’d landed I Met God And She Booped My Nose on the target asteroid with its drill array aligned to within two or three millimeters of perfection.

A bloke who could walk his talk like that had earned the right to mouth off about how great he was, as far as Drew was concerned… And he suspected that anybody so lippy and egotistical wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to drop hints and little taunts if he was behind the theft.

Aida? Aida was a relentlessly practical sort, utterly dedicated to perfection in everything he did. He was kind of obsessive about things being just so but that was a virtue in an asteroid miner. Theirs was a job doing dangerous things in a remorselessly hostile environment and yet they had a so-far perfect safety record when it came to injuries and fatalities.

It had to be said that that statistic owed something to luck, but it owed a lot more to diligence, precision and professionalism, and everybody wanted to keep the record going. So, there was nothing to raise an eyebrow at over somebody having a bit of a stick up their arse.

And Drew? Drew very literally trusted Drew with his life.

So either the real culprit had slipped the net, or one of the three wasn’t who Drew thought they were.

He sighed, and set the investigation aside as an email from Drew M popped up bottom-right in his screen. Subject: “SUIT MAINTENANCE”

He clicked it open while rubbing a thumb through the hair of his temple in a futile attempt to relieve the sensation that had settled in over the last several days that his cranium was stuffed with cotton wool and bees.

“I know you’re busy with the you-know-what that I can’t discuss. Just don’t neglect your first job, mate. Maybe catching up with suit safety will clear your head and help you figure some things out. C-team suit 12 needs some attention.

-Drew M.”

Well. There was a resounding clanger of a hint. And seeing as it was the only lead he had to go on, Drew wasted no time at all in levering himself up out of his office chair and heading straight for the surface team workstation, pausing only to grab a coffee along the way.

Surface facilities felt very different to the rest of the Ceres complex, which after all was effectively a very roomy bunker modelled to give the illusion of big open spaces. While the sprawling multi-level facility under the ground felt like the better kind of shopping mall, office building and high-rise apartments rolled into one, the surface…

Well, it was a place where people came to work in hard vacuum. There were no compromises or illusions here, everything was a hard-learned lesson in safety. Bare valves to shut the oxygen off because a fire was a much more imminent threat than suffocation. Little maintenance labels on everything detailed exactly when they were last inspected and by whom.

Including, as Drew discovered when he opened its storage unit, EVA suit C-12. Trace Freeland’s suit, distinctive in that he’d foregone helmet art in favour of a white-red-white stripe down one arm in tribute to Mass Effect.

Freeland had an utterly unchallengeable alibi – he was on his downtime and education rotation, spending six months on Earth where he could enjoy the fruits of his six-figure salary and seven-figure bonus. Right now, if he wasn’t living it up on a beach surrounded by bikinis and alcohol, he’d be brushing up on his own education and earning some extra few thousands by mentoring prospective future ‘roid miners.

So why the hell was there regolith on his suit’s boots?

There wasn’t much of it, just the faintest of dustings like what might accumulate on a car after driving down a gritted road… but enough for Drew to scoop up on a fingertip and rub with his thumb.

EVA specialists did not tolerate for their suits to be in anything less than absolutely pristine order. It was literally a matter of life-or-death, and they took it so seriously that they even touched up their distinctive decorative art after every jaunt outside. And yet, Freeland’s N7 stripe was scuffed and faded. This suit had seen more than one trip outside.

Drew ran a quick query through the suit commission logs. Nothing. The suit had, allegedly, remained exactly where it was since the last time it had been serviced, which according to the bright orange tag on the helmet was about three days before Freeland had jumped back to Earth.

Unlogged suit use shouldn’t be possible. But then again, unlogged nuclear package theft should be impossible too.

Drew turned back to the suit and considered it for a second. None of the three men on his suspect list were suit-qualified and frankly if Drew M was the thief then he was playing an utterly insane game of refuge-in-audacity by dropping hints. Besides, he was way too big to fit the suit.

…and Shinji Aida was much too small.

But Sam Jordan? If Sam Jordan was Goldilocks, then this suit belonged to Mummy Bear.

…Oh. Shit.

He turned, digging in his pocket for his phone, only to be brought up short by the frowning face of Sam Jordan himself, barely two feet away.

The young man looked genuinely upset.

“…I’m sorry, Drew,” he said.

Then there was a flash of metal. And pain, but not very much. Something strange happened in Drew’s chest, like something cold had touched his heart.

Sam’s voice in his ear: “I didn’t want anyone to get hurt…”

Then nothing.

Date Point: 15y 11m AV
Ceres facility, asteroid belt, Sol

Sam Jordan

Oh God.

Oh God, oh… shit.

In the heat of the moment it’d been so obvious, so simple. Problem; solution. And it had been simple. Up, and under the ribs. Drew had just… he’d looked confused, and then he’d looked dead. Like his brain hadn’t had time to catch up with what happened.

On the one hand, Sam wanted to vomit. On the other hand… he was glad that Drew hadn’t suffered. He was—had been—a good man. A kind man.

And innocent, too. At least, innocent of anything that deserved… this. That was the bit that made Sam’s skin crawl and made him feel like a monster. Drew had just been doing his job. He wasn’t part of the problem! He wasn’t one of humanity’s jailors, he was just a…

…Well, it was too late to second-guess now. Monster or not, innocent or not.

Sam dug in his hiding space above the airlock and retrieved the makeshift causal accelerator he’d built. He’d be needing that, whatever happened next. The second thing he grabbed was the phone with the special app on it.

Something went wrong
REALLY wrong

He locked the doors and waited in pulse-pounding agony for far, far too long before the reply made his phone chirp.

What happened?

With shaking fingers, Sam typed the most damning words of his life.

I was caught
I killed him

The reply came quickly, inhumanly so. The sheer speed lent it the air of a sharp interrogation.

How many? Just one?

Just one no witness

This time the reply took a few seconds.

That’s not good. But okay.
We can fix this.

Its somebody really important

Even here, on this most secure communication, Sam couldn’t dare to name his victim.

First, hide the body. Somewhere secure.
The most secure place I can think of
would be out on the surface, with the

Sam glanced at the EV suit.

I can do that
whats second

That depends. I’ll work on options.
For now, just worry about the body
I’ll figure out what we do next.

Well, that really wasn’t great. This whole situation was completely fucked, actually. And maybe Sam’s friend Cynosure was just being tactful about not having any ideas.

But so far, he hadn’t led Sam wrong. The blueprints for the causal accelerator, and the forcefield focusing rig that’d let a NPXL reach out as far as the Sol Containment Field generator. The precise timing and planning of what to do, when and how to do it…

Without Cynosure, he’d have failed a thousand times over already. Cynosure would come through. They always did.

Don’t leave me hanging.

Don’t worry. It’ll work out.
I promise.

Sam nodded and hurried to suit up. Visions of somebody blundering in and catching him red-handed crawled up and down his spine, and he still felt utterly nauseated at what he’d done. Putting the suit on wasn’t easy at all with shaking hands, nor was checking the seal integrity and making sure it was good to use. Once he was wearing it, however, the powered exoskeleton made lifting Drew’s body and slinging it over his shoulder feel trivially easy.

Blood dripped to the floor. Shit. but there was no point in trying to clean it up when the body producing it was still in his arms. He’d just have to work quickly and pray he got back in time to clean up.

He knew, rationally, that he had no reason to be so paranoid. He’d done this a dozen times before without being caught, he knew damn well that with the Accelerator active he’d be gone for mere seconds from the outside perspective, and C team weren’t due to suit up for twelve hours.

He did his best to force his thoughts out of panic mode and ran his little log-beating trick like he’d done so many times before. It shouldn’t have surprised him that he worked, and he was able to cycle the airlock unchallenged.

Like always, he almost stumbled during the clumsy moment when the gravity changed. He had no idea how the EV workers made that transition look so graceful, when for him the mere act of stepping forward nearly sent him drifting clumsily up off the ground. Ceres’ surface gravity was pathetic.

But that worked to his advantage, too. He turned, oriented himself on what he thought of as the “mountains” which in reality were little more than jagged hillocks of ice and dirt, rucked up by some antediluvian impact. Carefully, he bent his knees, drifted downward, tilted forward… and then shoved hard.

A jump like that, in gravity like this, meant it would be minutes before he made contact with the ground again, by which point he’d be kilometers away from the base. From there, a few smaller jumps, some hops, skips and a shuffle would hone him in on the Device.

It seemed… He didn’t like the thought of destroying Drew’s body in a nuclear explosion. It wasn’t…. Drew deserved a proper funeral. And Sam didn’t know if it would really help him escape capture.

But Cynosure knew what he was doing. All Sam needed to do was follow the task in front of him.

He landed pretty close to the work site, by some small bit of good fortune. When he glanced up the hill, he could see the dark little lightless hollow where he’d stashed the rig and the nuclear package. So far the lay of the terrain and the solar radiation had kept any sensors from picking out the device, and there was a lot of landscape out here to cover. Even a dedicated sweep by survey drones would… probably not find it. Not at first, anyway.

He shuffled up the hill and dumped Drew’s body in the hollow, next to the spindly intricate rig he’d built. Vacuum was… not agreeing with the poor man’s remains. Some detached part of Sam’s mind found a moment of grotesque fascination in seeing the way Drew’s blood had dessicated and clotted in vacuum, or the way pressure was distorting his face and cheeks. Drew’s eyes were more than glazed over now, they were gray with cataracts and reflected the distant light of the Milky Way.

Sam knelt and closed them. “…I’m sorry, Drew,” he repeated. “I hope… I hope there’s…”

He sniffled back the urge to weep, which would have been hellish inside a helmet in low gravity, and stood up. “…Rest in peace.”

With that, he called up his comms app.

Now what?

Cynosure replied promptly this time.

Check the rig while you’re there.

Good idea. Glad for something to do, Sam shuffled over to it and ran a diagnostic. Everything came back green.

It seems good.

Okay. I think I have a solution.
Stand by.

Should I head back?
There’s blood to clean up.
And the power pack on this
accelerator won’t last forever…

Just stand by where you are
for a few minutes longer.
You’ll like this.

Well. Whatever it was, it’d have to be pretty spectacular. Miserably, Sam shuffled over to a rock and sat down, facing away from Drew’s corpse. After a few bored seconds he picked up a small rock and threw it: it shot away from him in a practically straight line and vanished. Oh sure, it’d come around in a long parabola and land on Ceres again in probably a few hours, but to human eyes its trajectory was utterly flat.

In chasing its path, though, his eyes alighted on the stars.

…There was a view that never got old. The stars never looked like this on Earth, there was atmosphere and light pollution and dust to dull them and make them twinkle. Out in the hard vacuum of an asteroid’s surface, they shone steady and clear. Far, far too many to count.

It was actually kinda comforting to know that whatever fuckups and trials might be going on down in Sam’s life, the stars would always be there. It was a tiny optimistic note of sorts, and he focused on it.

Yeah. Stars. Stars were pretty awesome. He smiled softly. He’d come out here to work in space, after all. And why not? Space was just the coolest! It contained so much potential, so much future! And thanks to Sam and his Device, the whole of humanity would soon be free to benefit. It wouldn’t just be the US and their toadies with the codes to jump out: everyone would have the galaxy at their fingertips, ready to seize.

That thought made him… happy. Truly, blissfully happy in a deep way like he’d never really felt before. It warmed his whole body from the belly out and he lay back to consider the stars some more. It was a rare moment of peace and certainty, and he knew he should appreciate it while he had it.

So beautiful. So many! Counting them was a fun game that didn’t get boring, though he lost count and started over a few times. That didn’t matter though, it was all… part of the…



He blinked dozily at the large red letters in his helmet’s HUD: “O2 WARNING.” Below them in smaller text were the words “LIFE SUPPORT RESERVES CRITICAL.”

Huh. He’d… he must have been out here a while. Without noticing. A long, long while. Like… hours.

…Shouldn’t he be concerned about that?

But he was so happy here. And so comfortable… He turned his attention back to the stars and smiled at them again. They really were beyond cool now he thought about them. Except, he’d lost count again.

He started over, drumming out a happy rhythm on his thighs and humming a tune in time with the beeping.

After a while, the beeps stopped. It got kinda hard to breathe after that, but… that was okay. He was flying, and there was nothing but him and the stars.

And then there were just the stars.

Date Point: 15y 11m AV
Dataspace adjacent to Observatory Station, Neptune, Sol


Sam Jordan’s suit reported complete life support failure six hours after he’d first set out onto the surface. By then, Drew Cavendish’s absence had been noted, his emails checked, and the blood spatter in C-team’s suit maintenance bay discovered.

Ceres was on lockdown while they hunted desperately for Sam Jordan, as Six had known they would. A panicked murder blew any remaining cover or hope of stealth they had, and after that point Sam’s capture and interrogation would have been inevitable.

A pity. He’d been a valuable asset. But that translated to being too valuable to leave alive.

At least it had probably been a pleasant death. And importantly, it’d leave no marks or clues. By the time Sam Jordan’s body was discovered, if it was discovered before the bomb went off, there’d be no evidence whatsoever to say that he hadn’t just committed suicide.

Now, the only thing Six could do was wait, and hope. If the Humans found the rig and the missing suit, it’d all be a tragedy for naught.

It was out of his hands, now.

Date Point: 15y 11m AV
Planet Rvzrk, Domain Space

Ambassador Sir Patrick Knight

The air smelled of devastation, the strongest and least unpleasant note of which was the dry, powdery scent of pulverized concrete.

Behind it though was a nostril-torturing medley of burnt rubber and plastics, blood, innards, rotting flesh, diesel, gunpowder, and the musk of working Gaoians who’d gone too long since their last dust bath.

When Knight glanced up at the two aliens beside him, he saw their nostrils flare once then close protectively. Both of them tossed their heads and flicked their ears in a disarmingly equine manner as the olfactory assault hit them. Even Kirk, who was usually so composed, pranced a few nervous paces backward before recovering his dignity with a slow shake of his head.

“That…” his translator gave his voice a pained croak “…is… I’ve never smelled anything like that.”

Beside him the Domain’s representative on the Security Council tossed her head. To his shame, Knight had never properly got a handle on her name, which sounded like somebody had stuck a handful of dog biscuits in a smoothie blender, but somewhere in the ticking, rattling mess of Domain syllables he’d picked out something that vaguely sounded like “Kara.” Or maybe “Katie,” but he preferred Kara. She’d been gracious enough to let him use it.

“No…” she agreed.

Last in their little lineup was Ambassador Sheeyo, Champion of Clan Goldpaw, and his nose was easily the most sensitive. Nevertheless, his reaction was to sniff the air just once, flick an ear, and sigh.

‘Kara’ took a number of tentative steps forward. The Jump Array was snug in the middle of a bustling camp, but she was much taller than any human or Gaoian. Presumably she could see over the tents and fortifications around them.

It was good thing the Hunters had, so far at least, declined to field snipers. Presumably such a tactic was too detached and dispassionate to occur to them. Besides, the camp and all the surrounding area were supposedly safe and secure.

“…There’s nothing left standing,” she said after a few seconds of looking around.

“This wasn’t a subtle operation,” Knight said. He couldn’t see what she saw, but when he glanced up at Kirk, the lanky alien nodded solemnly, confirming what she’d said.

“Clearly not,” Kara lamented. “Mister A’ktnnzzik’tk has assured me there was no subtle option.”

“Not when dealing with Hunters, Councillor,” Knight agreed.

“No. I suspect there isn’t.” She released a prolonged creak that was the Rrrrtktktkp’ch equivalent of a sigh, and shook out her mane. “…I’m sure the Kwmbwrw Councillor would be looking for the slightest excuse to blame all of this on you,” she added.

“And you, Councillor?” Knight asked.

“I’m known to disagree with the Kwmbwrw Councillor on several important matters.”

Knight caught Kirk’s eye. He’d learned a lot about Rrrtk body language from Kirk during their time working together, and Kirk had in turn adapted his mannerisms to humanity’s little foibles. It was amazing how much they could communicate without either of them speaking.

Kirk inclined his head slightly and shuffled his foremost pair of feet with a flick of both ears. He might as well have raised his eyebrow like Mister Spock: it expressed the same sentiment. She’d effectively, though diplomatically, expressed the view that her Kwmbwrw counterpart was a fucking idiot.

“There is an inspection tour lined up,” Knight said, carefully stepping back from any further discussion on that point. “It’ll take in… well, a lot of what we had to destroy, and a lot of what we were able to save.”

Councillor Kara nodded, in her species’ languid way. “Let us see how much there is of each…” she said.

In fact, Knight felt as the tour by Weaver dropship took them all over the surrounding region, there was a lot more saved than destroyed to see. Ultimately, the damage from the battle amounted to a single smallish city. Which had, yes, been variously flattened, demolished, shattered, scorched, melted, irradiated and obliterated but other than that…

The twin hydroelectric dams upstream of the city had been liberated without significant damage, as had much of the surrounding farmland. Pockets of hiding, traumatized survivors had even been unearthed in some of the outlying villages. An entire division of the regional defence force had been saved from a massacre by the way the Grand Army had smashed into the Hunters from behind.

Councillor Kara took it all in… not impassively, but certainly with an excellent poker face. She met the defence force’s commanding officer with the same gravity of expression as she surveyed the damage done by the orbital nuke strikes, and kept her opinion close to her chest.

Knight let Sheeyo do most of the talking. The Goldpaw Champion had a gift for putting the best spin on everything without turning it into an insulting sales pitch, and more importantly he knew when to say nothing. Whenever a military matter needed clarifying, they turned to Knight for his insight, but mostly the tour was in the Gaoian’s paws.

If Kara was phlegmatic about the tour, though, then Kirk was downright sanguine. To the point where, when he had a quiet moment while Kara and Sheeyo had wandered some distance ahead, Knight confronted him on it.

“You seem quite chipper,” he observed. “Considering how many people died…”

“I’m considering them in relation to how many people could have died, Ambassador,” Kirk said. “…you know, I grew up on a deep space trade station. You’ll have heard of ‘Outlook on Forever’ of course.”

Knight nodded, and Kirk continued. “It’s nowhere important, really. The sort of station that forms naturally at the intersection of a few major trade routes, the galaxy is full of such outposts. And even though Outlook was deep in civilized and well-patrolled territory, we always knew a Hunter raid was a possibility. Spacers like me lived with that knowledge all our lives… Planet-dwellers don’t. Or, didn’t. This will change that.”

“The attack on Gao didn’t?” Knight asked.

“The Hunter attack on Gao was thwarted.”


Kirk sighed, and shimmied his neck. “You must remember the psychology of nonhuman species,” he cautioned. “A thwarted attack on another species? Even if the attack was barely thwarted by a militarily superior species? That’s not an imminent threat. Species like mine are generally content to… well, to graze and only pay attention to immediate danger.”

“With respect, I think you have too cynical a view of your own people,” Knight replied. “They built cities, they have a standing military reserve… they’re clearly capable of foreseeing a long-term threat and planning for it.”

Kirk swept his head around, then harrumphed and indicated the columns of smoke on the horizon with a slow wave of his cybernetic arm. “And there is the fruit of all our planning,” he retorted.

Knight tugged on his lapels to get his coat seated a little more comfortably on his shoulders. “This isn’t your homeworld. It’s your third colony world, as I recall.”


“It seems… unfair, to me, to suggest that a species capable of bootstrapping themselves off their homeworld to settle not one but several alien planets, is incapable. The mere existence of this world is a triumph, wounded as it is.”

Kirk did not seem convinced, so he pressed his point. “We didn’t come up with… this… so as to fight the Hunters. Ninety percent of everything my people did here, we learned and refined from fighting each other. There are many cities on Earth that have been razed just as flat as… what’s that one called, again?”

Kirk’s answer was a strangled rattling sound that Knight gave up on even approximating. “And yes, I know. Berlin, Stalingrad…”

“Aleppo, Warsaw, Nagasaki, Kabul, Sarajevo… It’s a long list. This is what war looks like, Kirk. But we didn’t learn its ways because we foresaw the Hunters, we learned its ways because that’s what we grew up with. It’s not your people’s fault they were too peaceful for a warlike galaxy.”

“We had wars,” Kirk retorted.

“And what did they look like?” Knight asked. He’d done his research on Domain history. “Your last major land war was decided by a formation of troops with pikes, and the losing side quit the field after losing barely a hundred men. And in my professional opinion, that was the smart decision on their general’s part. He elected to preserve his men to fight a better battle elsewhere, and his sovereign turned out to be a nincompoop who mistook one lost battle for a lost war and capitulated.”

Kirk’s ears swivelled: he was clearly impressed. “That was thousands of years ago,” he said.

“Yes. And after that your people developed the communications technology to sustain a peaceful global federation which eventually became the Domain. In many ways that’s admirable, Kirk. Your people are peaceful and inclined to grow together. They weren’t to know it would leave them woefully unprepared for… this.”

Knight took a deep breath. He hadn’t exactly rehearsed this speech, but he’d certainly mulled over versions of it when he was alone, after every time Kirk got depressive over the innate superiority of deathworlders.

“Meanwhile,” he continued, “my people’s perpetual squabbling did prepare us for it. And the cost was hun dreds of millions dead in awful ways. If we lived in a nicer galaxy, we’d be the monsters. As it is…”

“As it is, you’re the only ones who know how to properly deal with the Hunters.”

“Your people will learn how to deal with them too. And honestly, that saddens me.”

Kirk sighed heavily, then gave Knight a sidelong look. “…You’re a hopeless romantic, Ambassador.”

“And you, my friend, are far too melancholy.”

“Melancholy? A few minutes ago you said I was chipper.”

Knight chuckled. “True.”

Kirk made a whickering sound in his throat that was his own version of a chuckle. “I’m not melancholy, Knight. Far from it, I see a future where nobody has to live in fear of being dragged away screaming by monsters. And if the cost is a few flattened cities, and a generation with their innocence in tatters having learned how to become monsters ourselves when needed…”

“It’s a terrible price.”

“The alternative is worse.”

“I suppose it is,” Knight agreed. The Hunters had been around for all of the Dominion’s recorded history. When he thought of the scale of their ring orbital, and imagined something like that grinding on for thousands and thousands of years…

“…We should catch up with the others,” he decided.


They bustled to catch up, and Knight noted with satisfaction the way their Gaoian escort didn’t miss a beat in adapting to what the VIPs were doing. They’d been trained well, and even though the Gao had a much more bellicose history than the Domain species, it still boded well for what the Vzk’tk and Rrrrtk might learn, with time and proper guidance.

Hopefully, Councillor Kara would see things the same way.

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)

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Sweetness – Chapter 3 (NSFW)

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Sweetness – Chapter 2 (NSFW)

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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

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Mother Earth

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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

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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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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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