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 to jump to Chicago any time you like,” he said. “Complete with enough fusion plants to catch ‘yer moon in the field, too.”

Sartori ran a finger around under his shirt collar to loosen it as he thought. On the one hand, Daar’s offer was the answer to one of his biggest and most important challenges. If the Hierarchy successfully infiltrated Earth with the means to build jump beacons—or worse, with a cargo hold full of the damn things—then they could in principle bomb every major town and city on the planet. In seconds, if they were sufficiently co-ordinated and skillful.

A Farthrow would change that. Take it off the table entirely, in fact. But it would also permanently and forever make America the Earth’s gatekeepers. Whoever controlled a Farthrow controlled wormhole access to the planet, it was that simple.

And if major foreign powers had been upset by twenty-four hours at SOLCON 2, then how much more so would they be if they had to indefinitely go cap-in-hand to America to schedule every jump?

“That’s a… consequential gift,” he said aloud.

“It’ll cause as many problems as it solves, I bet,” Daar predicted.

“Possibly more.”

“Thing is, the problem it’ll solve is a big stinkin’ Naxas bull of a problem.”

Sartori nodded. And there was the crux of it, of course. The Farthrow generator solved a literally apocalyptic problem, and replaced it with a merely political one. And when—if—humanity was ever rid of the apocalyptic problem then resolving the political one was as simple as gratefully returning Daar’s gift.

The scale of it hit Sartori suddenly, the way a too-big thing didn’t always register its full impact instantly. He paused, and then leaned forward, close to the camera, and let the Great Father get a good look at the faintly awed curiosity on his face.

“…Why, Daar?”

Daar shook out his fur. It was short right now, as it always was in the weeks after he took to the field in armor. In a few more weeks it would be shaggy and impressively thick, but for now there wasn’t much of it to shake.

“You have to ask? I don’t wanna see Earth burn, and if Big Hotel really are back inside ‘yer shield, then…”

“How much did this cost you?” Sartori pressed. “How can you possibly afford to build something like this? Build it so quickly? Stage it?!”

“How can I afford to not?” Daar asked. “We need each other, my friend. Humans and the Gao, we’re gonna win together, or die together. If Earth falls, my people ain’t gonna be far behind. But ‘yer right, it was expensive. We cleared the decks on Dark Eye to make this.”

Sartori sat back and tried not to boggle at that thought. The Dark Eye nanofactory was… immense. It occupied a cavernous excavated volume inside one of Gao’s moons, and its liberation had almost certainly been the moment when Allied forces won the war for Gao. Its assembly lines could make anything, and generally they spat out materiel for the Grand Army and for civilian projects on the battle-scarred planet below.

Turning that over in its entirety to producing one shipment was…

Well. It was a typically Daar gesture. Big, loyal, blunt, and in no way inconsequential.

“That’s a… well, a kingly gift. In every meaning of the word.”

“I know. You gonna accept it?”

“Absolutely,” Sartori decided. And if the world’s leaders didn’t like it, they would just have to deal with it.

No doubt it would be more complicated than that, but for the sake of not seeing the Earth’s surface scoured by antimatter bombs, he’d endure any number of political headaches.

“Thank you,” he added. He’d never loaded as much meaning into those words before.

“Eh… I prol’ly just made a buncha extra trouble for ya,” Daar replied. He never could take sincere thanks. “Jus’ don’t break it ‘fore you get it built, ‘kay?”

“We’ll treat it right.”

“Good… Good. You don’t and I may hafta come visit…” Daar paused for a moment as his ears semaphored intriguingly. Clearly he was thinking. “…Your people were there for mine in our darkest hour, Sartori. This ain’t a favor. This is returnin’ the favor.”

“With interest.”

“Maybe. Anyhow, you look like you ain’t slept right in a while, not that I can blame ‘ya. I should stop wastin’ ‘yer precious time.”

Sartori chuckled. “Thank you,” he repeated himself. “No doubt we’ll talk again soon.”

“‘Til next time.” Daar duck-nodded, and ended the call.

Sartori sat back, rubbed his face, then sprang to his feet on a new surge of energy. He’d pay for it in a few hours, but right now he intended to use his sudden vigor to its full extent.

“Chris!” he called. “A new development for you…”

The planning never ended.

Date Point: 16y3w AV
Starship ‘Drunker on Turkeyer,’ Sagittarius Star Cloud

Sergeant Ian “Hillfoot” Wilde

The journey was an odd one, given the thoroughly Gaoian sensibilities about the ship’s design. It took a bit to get used to the idea of a nest-bed. It took even longer to wrap his head around how Tooko insisted on sleeping across and atop everyone in the most splayed-out, snoring-drooling manner possible.

But, being honest, it wasn’t all that different from austere field conditions. He’d rather have his own bed when things were nice and civilized, but the ship was free, and when in Rome…

Tooko was an early riser, though. That was just plain unforgivable.

“Nnnngh…do you really need to do your yoga stuff right away? While yowling at the top of your lungs?!”

Tooko paused in his… whatever-he-was-doing. “No time later,” he explained. Even after several days cooped up in tiny living quarters with the guy, he still refused to spend five words when three would do.

“And the ear-bleeding yowls?” Frasier asked, rolling onto his back. Beside him, Rees gave a snore and turned over. That was no surprise: Rees had literally slept through a car crash one time.

Tooko looked offended. “Females love my singing!”

“…Singing.” That claim was so absurd, Wilde sat up and stared at him disbelievingly. “…You mean you weren’t trying to claw your own balls off?”

Tooko made an honest-to-God harrumph noise and then grumbled the longest sentence Wilde had yet heard from him. “…Yeah, well, I’ve sired a dozen females, so you can fuck right off with your jealousy.”

Wilde had to admit: if true, that was pretty spectacular. And Gaoians as high up in their Clan as Tooko tended not to be liars, not when their peers could smell it.

“A dozen, huh?” He asked, and rolled himself out of the tangle of blankets. The truth was, he was awake now and Tooko’s cryptic comment about there being no time later suggested they were probably gonna want to be up and at’em soon.

Tooko duck-nodded and raided the ration stores for his breakfast. Smoked salmon, by the looks of it. Wilde decided they needed some eggs to go with it. “Thirteen.”

“Unlucky thirteen?” Frasier grumbled and sat up too. “Great.”

He gave Wilde the evil eye when Wilde snorted and put on an exaggerated Scottish accent to mutter “We’re dooooomed…” at him. He’d learned to tolerate that joke out of necessity, but there wasn’t a force in the galaxy that could make him like it.

“…Unlucky?” Tooko flicked an ear at them.

“It’s a superstition,” Wilde explained as he found the eggs. “Thirteen is an unlucky number.”


“That’s a lot of female cubs.”

Tooko just duck-nodded, with a smug flick of his ears.

“You’re one of those first-degree males, huh?”


Well, that explained a few things. In the spectrum of Gaoian gender with their complex arrangement of sex chromosomes, first-degree males with only a single Y-equivalent chromosome were an extremely rare and valuable thing. Even rarer at the opposite extreme were full sixth-degree hypermales like Daar. The result, in Tooko’s case at least, was probably a kind of a furry Freddie Mercury type. It was hard to tell, sometimes.

Wilde could forgive him his cocky attitude if he’d earned it. He just wished Tooko would open up. Even Rees, who was… more of a kinetic genius than an actual thinker was better conversation.

Speaking of…

He reached out and gave the slumbering Welshman a firm slap on the head. “Up you get!”

Rees snorted and jerked awake. “Whuh?! We there yet?”


Rees sniffed, groaned, and stretched. “…What’s cookin’?”

“Eggs and salmon.”

“Mm. Smells fuckin’ lovely, boys. Coffee?”

“Well volunteered,” Wilde chuckled.

They prepared breakfast and Tooko filled them in as they ate. They were two hours out from the target system and it was about time to hunker down into their stealth approach, which was likely to take a week or more with limited heat dissipation capability.

Tooko opened up a lot when talking about what the ship could do. Apparently their waste heat was disposed of as a coherent laser beam about as wide as a pencil lead. The odds of it hitting anything before it became undetectable, let alone anything hostile, were basically zero. At least, according to Tooko who had a lot more to say on the subject of distortion-damped warp fields, low-flux shielding, and a bunch of other technobabble that Wilde wanted to be interested in but couldn’t remember.

In any case, things didn’t feel much different once they’d entered the mission’s slow-approach phase, beyond that their pilot was now stuck with an inordinate amount of free time on his hands.

So, he taught them Ta’Shen.

It was a pretty fun game. The tiles made satisfying clunk noises when tossed onto the tabletop, it rewarded plenty of different playstyles, and there was a neat blend of both physical and intellectual skill invo lved. A good mind for bluffing, playing the odds and predicting your opponent’s hands was best of course, but if you were good at flipping the tiles exactly where you needed them then that could paper over the cracks in an otherwise sloppy player’s style.

And it definitely opened Tooko’s mouth. In lieu of a poker face, he instead waxed enthusiastic about the Drunker on Turkeyer’s abilities, engineering and design. It seemed to work, too: Wilde was having a hard time reading his game.

Frasier could always be relied on to burst a bubble like that, though. Round about halfway through their fifth or sixth, he flipped a shower of three tiles into the middle and casually asked, “…And where’s the flux capacitor on this thing?”

“…The… what?”

“The flux capacitor,” Frasier insisted. “You do have flux capacitors, right?”

Tooko’s ear flicked. “I… no?”

Frasier was always a bit of an excited gambler, and this game of Ta’Shen wasn’t going in his favor. To be fair, it was easy to over-extend yourself; the bigger the bet, the more tokens you got to flip. But he wasn’t stupid, far from it. He turned to Wilde.

“I thought Gaoian tech was ahead of ours?” he asked, innocently.

“It is!” Tooko shot back, indignantly.

“I dunno, Tooko. That’s kind of an important technology you lot missed out on there,” Wilde said, joining in Frasier’s game. He preferred to bet conservatively, trading frequent small losses for the occasional huge win, but this time he paid for five tiles. “Now if this was a human ship, she’d have a flux capacitor good for… I dunno.”

“One point twenty-one gigawatts,” Rees supplied helpfully, as he flicked a high-value tile into the formation.

“At least,” Frasier agreed.

Tooko’s ears did a very satisfying kind of confused twist as he tried to puzzle through their bullshit.

“Your move, mate,” Wilde reminded him, and the diminutive Gaoian snapped out of his thoughts to hastily fling an ill-advised tile onto the table. It landed in a bad spot and he growled at himself, but the humans had managed to get a hook in his curiosity now.

“Well.. maybe we have a better alternative,” he said. “What does a ‘flux capacitor’ do?”

“You know, I don’t really know…” Frasier ‘admitted.’ “Somethin’ to do with the DeLorean Effect, I think.”

“The what?”

“The DeLorean effect. It was discovered years ago by Brown and McFly,” Wilde contributed. “In’t that right, Reesy?”

“…Don’t look at me, boys,” Rees shrugged. He chucked a tile and grinned as it landed in exactly the right spot. Perfect throw.

Tooko groaned and surrendered his hand.

“I have no idea what we’re talking about,” he admitted.

“That’s ‘cuz we’re bullshittin’ you, pal,” Rees revealed.

“You… what?”

“It’s an old movie, mate. A DeLorean is a car, and a Flux Capacitor is some shite that Doctor Brown and Marty McFly used to turn it into a time machine,” Frasier explained. He flipped his last tile then groaned when it landed wrong-side-up.

“You… teamed up to bluff me out of the round?” Tooko looked like he didn’t know whether to be insulted or impressed.

“Pretty much,” Wilde chuckled. His own tile was pretty good, but not good enough. All Rees needed to do was land his tile with a positive value upwards.

Tooko sighed, then chittered at himself. “‘Always assume human weirdness…’” he muttered. Or maybe quoted.

Rees flicked his last tile and, sure enough, it landed right-side-up and in a good spot. He won by a comfortable margin. “…Another round, lads?” he asked, a little smugly.

“Nah,” Wilde sat back and stretched. “Maybe we should play something else.”

“Like what?” Tooko asked. He scooped up the tiles and started slotting them back into their wooden travel box.

“Well…” Wilde glanced at Frasier and Rees. They were on the same wavelength, and all three men had to fight hard not to grin.

“…Why don’t we introduce you to a game called Fizzbin?” he asked.

Date Point: 16y3w AV
Deep Space Layover 793-451-11 ‘Halfway To Infinity,’ Spinwise space

Leemu, Clanless

Pain, surprisingly, was not a show-stopping component of Leemu’s training experience. Although Gorku, his new barely-a-Stoneback best friend, kept predicting that Leemu would be “sore in the morning” and other such dire promises, it never quite materialized the way he’d foretold.

Oh, certainly the feeling of pushing as hard as he possibly could on a bar that he’d already successfully pushed five times only for the sixth to prove impossible was unpleasant, but it definitely wasn’t pain. On the contrary, it made Leemu chitter every time he reached his limit that way. It wasn’t mirth, exactly, more a kind of catharsis to blow out the frustration and acknowledge that yes, he’d run out of energy.

Gorku had to insist that he take rest days. Leemu understood the logic, but honestly he felt great and he spent his recovery time feeling aimless and restless.

Gorku also stressed the need to eat, so Leemu spent a lot of time at Preed’s place. Despite his best efforts he couldn’t quite repeat the feat that had earned him his spot on the wall of fame, but he still polished off huge portions every time.

Work, when it came, interested him less but was becoming a lot easier. So the day when he woke up feeling utterly drained and worn out came as a surprise.

He frowned at the light above his nest-bed and scratched blearily at his own ear. There’d been a… courier ship, he recalled. The kind used for moving small, time-sensitive cargo to far-flung locations on a rapid schedule. They were a dying breed now that the Jump Array Network was becoming more widespread, but plenty of places still didn’t have Arrays.

Such ships were highly-strung, skittish things. They could flicker along the spacelines like a jumping spark, but the tradeoff was constant maintenance so for now they remained the lucrative backbone of Leemu’s business.

This one had needed some specialist work, too, he remembered. Couldn’t quite bring the details to mind though, but he was legitimately spent, and clearly hadn’t slept long enough.

Nevertheless he hauled himself out of bed and invited Gorku to meet him at Preed’s eatery.

Curiously, Gorku seemed pleased by the development. “Ha! Well it’s ‘bout damn time ‘ya started payin’ ‘yer dues!” he crowed over their breakfast. “You feeling okay?”

“Like I went to bed about three Ri’ before I woke up…” Leemu grumbled.

“So what got’chu so amped up ‘ta lift in the first place? I mean, ‘ya Clanless silverfurs aren’t usually the type, y’know? Er, no offense…”

“I couldn’t say…” Leemu trailed off into an expansive yawn so hard that he had to shake his head to clear it at the end. “…It just grabbed me.”

Preed, humming to himself on one of his periodic orbits around the eatery to clean up and see to his customers, delivered a water jug in front of them and then sat down.

“Good business for me!” he announced merrily. “Don’t you cook for yourself any longer?”

“…Honestly, no. I feel too tired!”

“Good…” Preed took a sip of water for himself—he always drank a lot of it—and took a moment to relax. He only did that when he was otherwise completely caught up on work, so it was a rare sight. “…Don’t give me too much, though!”

“Why not?” Gorku asked.

Preed massaged his knuckles and wrists with a wry look on his face. “I’m an old man. Can’t keep doing this forever. Back on Earth, maybe I’d have had children to take over the business…”

“Are you thinking of going back?”

“I’ve thought about it many times.” Preed drained his water and took a second cup. Maybe the jug hadn’t been for the Gaoians after all. “Recently though, I’ve been thinking of my family. I had a sister, and two brothers. All of them had children… Those little ones will have gray hairs now…”

He sighed, and added. “Besides. I won’t be around forever.”

“Preed, your species lives, like, twice as long as ours,” Leemu objected.

“And you’re a third my age,” Preed reminded him. He drank his second cup of water and stretched. “Old bones don’t work so well. Old joints seize up… I think I’d like to see trees again. And Wat Phra Kaew.”

“Wat what?”

“A very important temple. There’s a statue of the Buddha there, called the Emerald Buddha. It’s lived there for more than two hundred years… A very holy place. My father took me when I was small. I think I’d like to see it again…”

Preed tailed off and Gorku tilted his head. “Buddha. I read that word when I looked up Clan Starmind,” he said. “Emerald though? A whole statue made of emerald?”

“I think it’s actually Jade or Jasper,” Preed admitted. “But still. Precious beyond what it’s made of.”

“Do you think you’ll go?”

“Maybe. I have plenty of money saved… maybe I’ll go and come back!” Preed shrugged and chuckled. “My first vacation in thirty years. Or maybe I’ll retire.” He rubbed his hands and knuckles some more and sighed. “These fingers just don’t work as well as they used to.”

Leemu was surprised to catch himself whining at the sentiment. “Retire?! I’d have to come visit…well. Probably not. Because…Earth.”

Gorku shook his neck and shrugged. “Other Gaoians have visited. The Great Father even trained there!”

“Yes, and he’s the Great Father. I’m just a Clanless no-name silverfur. I bet I’d take one breath and die.”

“Fast as you’ve grown? Prob’ly not! ‘Yer tougher than ‘ya think!”

A thought hit Leemu between the ears. “What about Cimbrean?”

The three of them looked at each other silently as they suddenly realized they had a mission.

“That’s…a good idea. I will need to pass through Cimbrean to get back to Earth…” Preed said slowly.

“We’ve got translator implants, though,” Gorku pointed out. “That’s what stopped me takin’ my shot ‘fer the Second Ring! I had a recommendation, I just never got ‘ta use it.”

“How much would it cost to get them removed at Cimbrean?” Preed asked. Leemu promptly grabbed his communicator and opened his favorite search engine.

“Bear with me…” He did some quick research on the Cimbrean Infosphere page. “…There’s a trade station at the system border. The medical clinic there offers implant removal for… Five hundred pounds, whatever those are. And they offer zero percent interest loans! Oh, hey! And there’s a government subsidy for returning Human abductees and Gaoian exiles…”

Some more research and currency conversion later suggested that the trip would be eminently affordable. That news immediately got Gorku fired up.

“I could return to the Clan!” he enthused. “Try out ‘fer the second ring!”

“And I…” Leemu paused. He’d got swept up in the idea without thinking what was actually in it for him, beyond loyalty to his friend. But as soon as he thought about it, a few things fell into place. “…Spaceships are becoming rarer as the Jump Array Network expands. In a few years, there won’t be much need for mechanics like me… but I bet a place like Cimbrean could use somebody with my skills in a slightly different role.”

“I could use a training buddy!” Gorku boomed, predictably. “I’ll need ‘ta get ready ‘fer the Second Ring. And we can build ‘ya up too!”

“You’d really come with me?” Preed asked, looking exceedingly touched by their gesture. “It’s halfway around the galaxy from here.”

“I would,” Leemu decided firmly. “We gaoians are loyal to our friends.”

“And we’re not scared to move on ‘ta somethin’ new,” Gorku added. “Life is short, after all.”

“…Well, then.” Preed looked like Gorku’s attitude was very alien to him—and considering he’d spent thirty years running one remote eatery, Leemu could believe that—but also inspired. “I will need to make arrangements, notify my suppliers… I will be very busy for a few days, I think.”

“I’ll need ‘ta hand the gym over to someone. Mebbe Erik? He’s responsible an’ he’s pretty keen on stayin’ out in space!”

Preed frowned at him. “Erik? That’s a human name.”

“…No? Erik’s a brownie like me!”

“Oh. Well…” Preed stood. “I should get to work. There’s a lot to do before we go…”

“The next ship headed out that way isn’t due for a while anyway,” Leemu told him. “You have plenty of time.”

“The sooner I start, the sooner I am finished,” Preed retorted. “Besides. I like to work!” he smiled and returned to the kitchen with their empty bowls. He hummed a different song this time, one that Leemu wasn’t familiar with.

Gorku stood as well. “Rest today. Tomorrow too, if you need it. ‘Yer body knows what it needs. I’ll see ‘ya when ‘yer ready if not sooner.”

“That will be soon, I bet,” Leemu chittered. He really was enjoying himself under Gorku’s training.

“Good.” Gorku pant-grinned happily and left. As he did, Leemu sat back and considered what they’d just decided.

Gorku was right, though. Maybe it was instinct or maybe it was societal, but Gaoian males tended to be comfortable with turning their lives upside-down and seeking a new opportunity on short notice. That was, after all, what had led Leemu to his current position.

When he considered it this time, though, he got an especially warm glow of anticipation. Clearly he’d been more bored and frustrated in his job than he’d noticed. A change would be good for him.

He stood, and headed back to his quarters to catch up on sleep.

Date Point: 16y3w AV
Starship Drunker on Turkeyer, On approach to Sagittarius Star Cloud

Sergeant Ian “Hillfoot” Wilde

“…Ugggh,” Tooko groaned and threw his cards down in disgust, and gave Wilde an accusatory glare. “…You’re full of bullshit.”

Wilde chuckled and retrieved the cards to shuffle them. “That didn’t take long.”

“‘Unless it’s a Tuesday?’ How stupid do I smell?”

“That’s the joke, mate. The whole point is it’s nonsense.”

“Whatever.” Tooko stood up to leave. “Humans are weird.”

His sullen air was down to more than just a slightly chafed ego, Wilde decided. Of course… Gaoians were still aliens, weren’t they? It was easy to forget the fur and claws and expressive ears and just see a friendly person sat on the other side of the table and treat them like a human themselves, like a fellow Brit even. But that way, sooner or later, probably meant putting your foot in it.

“…Tooko, mate, there’s no malice in it.”

“Lies are always malicious. Fuck off.” Tooko vanished into the pilot’s station, swung his high-backed chair around and busied himself doing… pilot things. Whatever they were.

Well… shit. That wasn’t a great way to develop their working relationship.

Wilde, Rees and Frasier traded mutual slightly embarrassed expressions, then shrugged and put themselves to work getting the tiny living quarters cleaned up and neat. The slightest clutter in the confined space could get out of hand fast, so they stayed on top of it.

Unfortunately, that also meant that there wasn’t much for them to deal with. Pretty soon the distraction was cleared away. There was another moment of mutual awkwardness, then Rees sighed, shrugged, rolled onto the nest-bed and put his earphones in. Frasier shrugged and ducked through into the ready room where he opened a locker and retrieved a knife and whetstone and set to sharpening.

Wilde decided it was probably best not to let the poison simmer for too long. He stooped under the archway through into the cockpit and made himself comfortable.

“…I suppose working with aliens comes with some hazards,” he said. He heard a kind of stiffening, tensing sort of sound from the pilot’s chair, but got no reply.

“Alright. I get it. In Gaoian culture, a lie is always malicious. I’ll remember that from now on, mate. We all will,” Wilde promised. “I just want you to understand that’s not the case where I’m from, and there really was no harm meant. It’s just a prank… and I know your mob have a nose for mischief. Been on the wrong end of it myself.”

There was silence. Well… Wilde had said all he could think to say.

“…Fair enough. You’re not in the mood to talk,” he said and turned to go. There was a book in his bag, maybe he’d do a little reading…

He was stopped by the fact that Tooko turns his chair around. They stared at each other for a second, Wilde open and waiting, Tooko glaring.

“…The Great Father spoke highly of you,” he accused after a few seconds.


“You specifically.”

That was… bloody surprising, in fact. “Me? I barely met him, mate.”

“He said you were on Caledonia, the ship your people lost over Gao. He said you helped liberate the Three Valleys.”

“Mostly I was trying not to die at the time, but… yeah. That’s all true.”

“You kept people alive, he said. Killed biodrones… He said you boarded a Hunter swarmship.”

“Also true.”

“I know. The Great Father doesn’t lie.” There was definitely a look of hero worship in Tooko’s eye, there. And a heavy dose of acid.

“Look, mate. I won’t claim like I’m an angel. All I can say is that it’s a game with us. Like… When I was new to the Marines, my corporal told me to go get a tin of tartan paint from storage. And I was bloody stupid enough to go ask the quartermaster for one. I was embarrassed, we had a laugh…that was it. We all did that to each other…” he trailed off as he saw the bewildered way Tooko’s ears were moving. “…I suppose it sounds stupid.”


“Well… it’s just us, mate. We aren’t Gaoians.”

“How is belittling your brothers in any way a good idea?!”

“Don’t ask me to get into the psychology of it, I’m no kind of a… whatever. It’s just how we are. I’m sorry we forgot it doesn’t work that way for Gaoians, okay?”

Tooko gave him a long, hard look. Diminutive or not, there was an intense personality behind the borderline child-like facade. “Gaoians do not like lies. Big ones are pointless because we can often smell them. Little ones are like trying to cheat someone else’s nose. It means you have no respect for them.”

“…I hear you. Me, when I got back from that tin of paint errand… it’s like, I took my lumps, you know? Prank played, well done lads, you got me… If I’d whined about it, that wouldn’t’ve gone down well. Instead I could laugh about it, and they respected that.”

“But what does that prove? That you can be toyed with and you’ll just roll over?”

“Or that I’m level-headed enough to only worry about the big shit, I guess,” Wilde said. “Like… You’re gonna be livin’ on top of these lads in a high-stress environment. You need to know when to let the small irritations slide by. That’s how you get along and build a team.”

“So… it was a test.”

“I guess, yeah.”

“And if I was Human, I’d have failed it,” Tooko sighed.

“Well… you’re not. Our bad for forgetting it, okay?” Wilde held out his hand. “…Start over?”

Tooko tilted his head like a thoughtful puppy for a moment, then duck-nodded and reached out and they shook, paw-to-hand. “Okay.”

Strangely enough, after that incident the friction completely vanished and Tooko opened up a good deal more. Mutual embarrassment over their misunderstanding made for a hell of a bonding experience.

It also added an interesting twist to their Ta’Shen games.

“Wait. You just bluffed us! Isn’t that a lie?”

“It is a deception,” Tooko sniffed. “That’s fine. A lie is when you say something false.”

“Okay, but… technically, Fizzbin was invented by Captain James Kirk of the USS Enterprise.”

“He’s a fictional character. And you’re still wrong. And you still lost. Pay up.”

…And so on. It made the days vanish, to the point where the moment when Wilde happened to glance out the front of the ship and see that there was a planet in front of them rather than endless midnight came as something of a surprise.

“When did that get there?”

“Yesterday.” Tooko flicked his ears in an amused way.

“How does a whole bloody planet just sneak up on us?”

“Technically, we sneaked up on it.”

“When are we landing?”



“Updating the survey.”

Well, fair enough. Apparently being in work mode killed Tooko’s ability to string more than six words together at a time, and Wilde knew they needed to get ready anyway. He woke Frasier, got Rees’ attention and the three of them started in on final checks of their gear.

About thirty minutes later, Tooko told them to buckle up, with a surprisingly cheery-sound call: “Time to land! Settle in, please.”

“You sure you won’t be taking to the field with us?” Wilde asked. They already knew the mission, but it seemed like a tease he could get away with.

It earned an amused chitter and some complex ear semaphore. “Balls no! I’m barely fifty kilograms!”

“…Really?” Even though Tooko looked pretty damn small, he didn’t look that small.


Fair enough. He was remarkably fluffy.

Fluffy or not, he made de-orbiting look easy. Surgical, even. Drunker handled the insertion smoothly and quietly and in remarkably short order they were skimming low over the ocean. Then, too quickly for Wilde to really follow, a thin green line on the horizon became a shoreline, became a green blur of marshlands and swamps below.

Up ahead, the terrain finally decided to stop being lazy and started to do interesting stuff with craggy rock hills that thrust up from the green like a line of badly worn molars. They looked densely-packed and tight, but that was just an illusion of distance: Up close, the canyons between them were more than wide enough for Drunker to flit through under Tooko’s skillful paws.

Wilde could hear him muttering to himself up front. “…Right here… descend to two hundred… there.”

He set them down sharply, precisely, and without ceremony. One second they were in the air, the next they were on the ground. Despite the sudden landing, there was barely a jolt. Just a gentle knock, and the sound of the engines powering down.

“We’re down,” Tooko called over his shoulder, and popped the ramp.

It wasn’t even fully deployed before the three scouts were down it, rifles up and alert for any kind of danger that might have been nesting in their landing site.




Wilde glanced over his shoulder as Drunker made a kind of slithering ceramic hissing sound. The hull plating along its back was… changing. Texture, colour, appearance… in just ten seconds, the ship’s dorsum was a nearly perfect recreation of the terrain beneath it, and certainly good enough to fool any overhead surveillance. It was a hell of a lot more complete and convincing than just dragging a big camo net over the thing, and much quicker.

He touched his radio. “Comms check.”

Tooko’s voice came back loud and clear. “I hear you.”

Frasier answered from across the clearing. “Hillfoot, Gibson. Loud and clear.”

“Osprey here. All good,” Rees finished.

Satisfied, Wilde took a better look at their landing site. He was no kind of a geologist, but the chunky square rocks that surrounded them on all sides were a kind of warm yellowish-brown and bearded with hanging mossy stuff. It was an extremely sensible place to hide the ship: the only way to see in was to fly directly overhead, from which angle the ship’s camo was flawless. The rocks should fool any sensors, radar or whatever and from the previous team’s report there was only one obscure way in and out on foot.

“The cache is buried in the northwest corner,” Tooko told him. “Apparently it’s behind a rock shaped like a… horse shoe. Whatever that is.”

Rees vanished in that direction brandishing an entrenching tool, and returned after just a few busy minutes carrying the cache that Team One had left behind. It contained some non-perishable supplies they hadn’t used, some equipment… Anything useful they hadn’t taken back with them and that would survive being buried for a while.

“…Doesn’t stink so bad as Team One said it would…” he noted conversationally. He was right: in fact the scent in the air was sweet and fresh. Not exactly pleasant, but not bad either. Forgettable.

“Apparently it’s worse down in the lowlands,” Frasier said. “Where the forward camp is.”

“Oh. Lovely.”

They cracked open the cache and then decided to leave it with the ship. It was there for emergency backup after all. That pretty much concluded their business at the landing site. Tooko was going to have to fend for himself without them for a while.

…In a nice cozy bed, on a fresh, sweet-smelling hilltop, well-hidden in a defensible spot. Lucky sod. Wilde almost envied him.

But of course… Tooko wasn’t doing anything useful now.

“Come on, lads,” he hoisted his pack onto his shoulders, gave his rifle one last habitual glance over, and turned toward the path and their distant objective. “Last one in buys the first round.”

And with that little ritual out of the way, the mission began in earnest.

Previous Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Next Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 4 (NSFW)

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Sweetness – Chapter 3 (NSFW)

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Sweetness – Chapter 2 (NSFW)

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Sweetness – Chapter 1 (NSFW)

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 1

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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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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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