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 that the risk of physical injury was inconsequential next to the certain harm she’d caused by cloistering her sons.

And as it turned out, the difference between a man and a boy was mostly a matter of size. Even when the three men in question were HEAT-sized monsters.

They were playing… well. It wasn’t any kind of a formal game as far as Allison could tell. She’d dubbed it ‘Boyball,’ and it looked more like a scuffle than anything with actual rules. Still, every so often the soccer ball would bounce off the garage wall and there’d be cheers and groans and victory laps. Clearly the boys understood it, even if she didn’t.

It didn’t matter, she decided. They were having fun and, more importantly, they were keeping all that male energy out of the house and out of the way.

Inside the house was pretty much the exact opposite. There were a total of four babies in there if one counted the pregnancies, which meant a lot of discussion about the joys of getting kicked in the bladder and, in Marty’s case, Diego’s status as an apparently endless generator of poop.

Mothering was a glamorous business.

“I can see why the Gaoians do it the way they do…” Xiù muttered, as there was another thunk of ball on wall from the game outside, and Julian did a victory lap around the lawn with Ramsey under his arm. She’d suffered at first from a case of morning sickness that had rendered her miserable and almost immobile. Now she was coming up on her twentieth week and the baby was turning out to be quite the gymnast himself, to judge by the number of little somersaults he was doing.

God, and they still had twenty more weeks to go.

For Al, it was familiar territory, sort of. It wasn’t her first pregnancy after all… Except this time she wasn’t terrified, ashamed and confused.

“Which bit?” Marty asked. She was sitting on the floor, keeping a watchful eye on Diego as he determinedly explored the world around him. “I think Gaoian cubs miss out for not having a father’s influence in their life when they’re small…”

“I mean sharing the workload, mostly. And they do have father figures, it’s just probably not their actual father.”

“I thought the whole point of the commune is it’s a male-free zone?” Freya asked. As predicted she’d given birth to the biggest baby boy Allison had ever seen, who’d promptly been named for his paternal grandfather Joseph and would no doubt grow into an absolute wall of a man in due course… but for now he was a peaceful baby. Eat, sleep, poop, repeat.

Xiù shook her head. “It isn’t. It’s a safe zone. Males aren’t in charge there, but they visit all the time. Cubs are mostly males themselves after all, and they grow up very fast. They strike for Clans starting around five, usually.”

“So the Clans show up to recruit?” Marty asked.

“Workhouses, too. Some of the most prestigious are super competitive to get into, apparently. But it’s not that cynical: Mostly they show up because they just love the cubs.”

“And fatherly men are hot as hell, too,” Allison snarked, getting a grin from Xiù for her efforts.

“That too, yeah.”

They giggled, and as one decided to go peek out the window and watch the boys at play. They’d migrated to the backyard and were quite blissfully and obliviously living up to every stereotype they could. The boys were being exuberant boys for maybe the first time in their lives, and the men were gleefully galumphing about in their hilariously immodest nylon ‘silkies.’ Seriously. Most of Julian’s underwear was less revealing–which was saying something, honestly—and definitely more functional. Why not just wear those instead?

…Still, the man-candy was…nice to ogle, Allison wasn’t ashamed to admit. And the moment when Tristan and Ramsey ‘tackled’ Adam and ‘wrestled’ him to the ground to ‘steal’ the football produced a synchronized “aww!” from all four of them, and a proud beaming smile from Marty.

“Those two seem a lot happier…” she observed.

“Julian too. He just…lights up, you know?”

“Next thing you know, they’ll be coming home with skinned knees and grazes and stuff.”

“That’s already happened,” Allison recalled. “Ramsey actually seemed excited by it.”

Xiù snorted softly. “Boys… though honestly, it’s still surprising how much poise the men have. Julian’s so big these days, the rugby league was worried he might accidentally hurt somebody. They wouldn’t let him play on Mark’s team! And yet there he is, roughhousing with the boys and everyone’s just fine.” She couldn’t hide the pride in her voice.

“It’s because he’s so big,” Freya said wisely. “Big men are usually much more careful. They have to be. It’s the little guys that are constantly causing trouble…”

“I think that may just be bias on your part,” Marty suggested, probably more than a little aware of her tiny physical stature next to the other women present. She was even an inch or two shorter than Xiù.

“Heh. Maybe.”

They were interrupted by the doorbell. Marty left Diego to explore the rug for a few seconds as she trotted through to the front door and the other three drifted back to the couch and armchair. When she returned, she had an amused expression on her face.

“Mail?” Xiù asked. Considering they were living under an active threat from a terrorist organization, all their mail went to a PO Box and was handled on their behalf by Byron security before coming to their door.

“No stamp on this,” she said, handing it over. “Just… the signature of postmaster-general of Akyawentuo.”

‘This’ turned out to be a package of four letters, in a clean-edged manila envelope. One of the letters was written on sharp white office stationery, but the rest of it had a slightly more… home-grown feel. Clearly somebody over there had invented paper. Copied. Discovered, whatever.

Allison took it off her. “…Akyawentuo has a postmaster-general?” She turned the envelope over in her hands and snorted. “…This is Daniel Hurt’s signature.”

“Heck of a promotion,” Freya quipped.

Allison giggled and heaved herself to her feet. “I’ll go fetch Julian, I bet he’d love this.”

She found him continuing to show off for the boys, with his arms held straight out to either side while Tristan and Ramsey dangled from of them, fighting to see who could do more pull-ups.

Or, well. A pull-up, it looked like.

Ramsey won just as Allison joined them, by virtue of Tristan losing his grip.

“No fair! I couldn’t keep hold!”

Allison again found herself rolling her eyes and giggling. Boys. There was just something so wholesomely corn-fed about it all.

“Hey, no hard feelings, little fellas! That’s almost as many pull-ups as I could do at your age!”

He was rather seriously understating things to build their confidence, Al knew, but she just grinned at him and let it go.

“Really?!” Ramsey jumped down and bounced next to Tristan, both too excited to stand still.

“Heck yeah! Eat healthy food and get exercise, and who knows? Whadd’ya think, ‘Horse? Think these two should join a league?”

Adam made a big show of thinking about it. “Hmm…I dunno, soccer and wrestling are both looking for athletes, but those are sports that take a lot of work. You think they’re up to it?”

Both of the boys looked back eagerly at Julian, who wiped some sweat from his face and covertly smirked at Allison. “Maybe! We’ll need to talk to your mother first, boys.”


“That’s not negotiable, Ramsey. She’s still your mother.”

“She’ll say no,” said Ramsey, despondently.

“Maybe she will. But…” Julian grinned at them. “…Me and my friends know what we’re doing, right? Maybe we can start with some basic practice. See if you like it!”

That brightened their mood. “You mean it?”

“Could teach ‘em some basic forms, too,” Christian added.

Julian looked at Allison, who nodded slightly. “Good idea, but that will need permission,” she said. She’d had to become proficient very quickly indeed when it came to navigating the twisty legal landscape surrounding her parents. Jacob had been quiet lately, but the next letter from his lawyers was never far away, and Amanda was… well, she was an incurable helicopter mom. Anything that might hurt her poor delicate babies was a crisis of apocalyptic proportions.

The fact that those ‘poor delicate babies’ were absolutely thriving on exposure to some dirt, grease, and actual father figures was completely lost on her.

Folctha’s only social worker seemed to understand, at least. Ugh.

“Al’s right. You two need to prove to all of us you can be safe, okay?” Julian warned.

“I bet you could beat up anybody!” Ramsey enthused, missing the point.

“I don’t wanna beat up anyone, Ramsey. Fighting is a last resort, not the first.”

“I know!” Ramsey sulked a bit, “But I bet you still could.”

Julian chuckled, looked over at Christian and Adam, and grinned sheepishly. “Well…okay. Let’s just say almost anyone. What’s up, Al?”

“We got a letter from the, and I quote, ‘Postmaster general of Akyawentuo’.”

“…That has to be Daniel, right? Unless somebody slipped the phrase to Vemik…”

“It’s Daniel,” Allison confirmed. “But there’s some other letters with it and the paper looks like a big guy made it by beating some bark flat with a rock.”

“Ha!” Julian grinned and rolled the two boys over his shoulder to their giggling protest. “That’s probably exactly what Vemik did, too…. Anyway, you two play nice, okay? Don’t beat up Righteous!”

“We promise,” Tristan said. The kid had a remarkably sophisticated sense of humor sometimes, including a precocious nose for irony. It got a snicker from Christian at least. That made Julian grin evilly, and with a quiet grunt, easily tossed the boys completely across the yard, right into Christian’s absurd arms.

He played along perfectly, too. “I think, somehow, I’ll surv–oof! Ahhhhgh!”

Christian hugged the boys tightly, then threw himself backwards as if he’d just been hit by a truck, slamming into the ground and sending a tremor through the dirt. Funny how the biggest and most terrifying men always got super goofy when two little boys wanted to tussle. Al could see Freya through the window, watching with a proud, adoring expression.

“It’s cute how you let them win…” she muttered to Julian as they headed indoors.

“Builds confidence. They need it.” Julian hosed his head down quick and toweled off at the entryway; one of their only firm house rules was that ‘boy grossness’ had to be kept outside or in the basement. Onc e he was clean, however, he wrapped an arm around her waist and they stole a quick kiss while they were alone. “Gotta have confidence if you’re ever gonna kiss a girl…”

Allison didn’t mind a little smugness from her man. “You’re good at it,” she told him.

“So’re you,” He kissed her again. “My spunky greasemonkey spacebabe!”

She gave his ass a playful spank to guide in him the direction of the living room. Like usual he was barefoot, and they’d taken to keeping a shallow tub next to the back door for him to clean his feet after the third or fourth set of muddy footprints. He rinsed off, wiped his soles on a mat that Xiù had found in the pet store, then padded over towards the hubbub.


“Four. One from Daniel, one from Yan, one from Singer, and this one—” Xiù waggled something that was more like a small book “—is from Vemik.”

“Oh man, this is gonna be taxing…” Julian sat down. “I don’t really ‘get’ Vemik’s writing system yet.”

“It’s okay,” Xiù said, sitting down. “I do.”

Julian snuggled up to her and kissed her cheek. “My spaceninja polymath linguist.”

Allison smiled to herself: he was always so conscientiously even-handed with his affection. Glowing happily at the compliment, Xiù unfolded the first letter. This was Yan’s, and the size of the lettering left not a lot of room for actual message.

Marty maneuvered Diego onto her other knee and leaned over to get a good interested look at the paper. “…That seems almost cartoonishly big.”

“Yan’s got hands like a pair of shovels. They’re even bigger than those two lunks outside, so I’m not surprised,” Allison explained, then the mental image hit her of Yan hunched over a tiny piece of paper, maneuvering a sliver of charcoal in his fingers with an expression of the most grim studiousness. For some reason, her imagination insisted on furnishing him with a tiny round pair of reading glasses and she had to fight hard not to laugh aloud at the mental image.

“Fine motor control isn’t their thing, I take it,” Freya commented.

Julian shook his head out. “Eh, you might be surprised. Anyway…I think this is my name. He wrote it out like he says it, so no ‘ell’ sound… Uh…” He faltered his way through a sentence in Peoplespeak, which Allison understood pretty well and Xiù translated on the fly for the other two’s benefit.

“My friends. Writing is not easy, and paper is hard to make, but Vemik and Professor Daniel believe it is a strong tool. I think I will have them teach a girl with small hands and she can write what I say. But Daniel say, ‘practice makes perfect,’ so I write anyway.

“Weather is nice, gods smile. Good hunting this season. Three boys will take their trial soon, and we have eight new children in the tribe. One of them is mine! Two are Vemik’s, but that is just luck of timing. My crest is darker, but I do not feel old. I train like Adam say, feel younger and stronger every day. I am blessed and I miss you! Come visit when you can.


He paused and considered something at the bottom of the page. “There’s a character at the end I don’t know. It looks like Singer’s loopy writing.”

“I think that’s a spell she casts,” Xiù said. “I’ve seen her inscribe it on preserve jars and stuff… here’s her letter.”

Julian nodded and they repeated the reading performance.

“My dear friends,

“We got Yan to write at last, and it was hard not to laugh at him. He looked very serious.”

Allison’s resolve failed and she just had to laugh. “Oh man, I can just see him now…!”

“Imagine him holding it with his tail!” Xiù agreed.

“Nono, imagine him with tiny reading glasses!” Allison insisted.

Julian rolled his eyes, though he was clearly trying not to laugh himself, and ploughed forward doggedly into the meat of the Singer’s letter.

“…You can see, he did not write much. I think the Given-Men will write with few words and mean much by them.

“I pray that your babies are strong, and I hope to meet them when they are big enough to travel. Daniel says Awisun will have a girl. I don’t know how I feel about magic that can say whether a child will be a boy or girl before it is born, but he says it is a medicine that knows without taking or giving. I think it changes nothing to know, so if you want to know and there is no harm in it then why not? He did not say if Shyow’s baby will be a boy or girl, so maybe you did not tell him or maybe you do not want to know. Either way, I know it will be strong like its parents.

“We have learned more about the water people and their cities. Claire showed me a hole she dug, and showed me how the different layers of rock and mud and sand in the side of the hole told the story of what they built. Then I helped with the digging for a while. It was so interesting, I forgot to watch the sun and nearly didn’t make it back to the village in time for the song that ends the day.

“Claire and Heff still make us all groan. Everyone can see they want each other very much, but Heff still says he is no good and she deserves better. I think Yan wants to break him in half sometimes, but he knows there are some learnings you can’t beat into a man. We can only wait and pray for them, I think.

“Vemik’s apprentice Yetu has made a very fine knife. Daniel called it a “masterpiece.” He left the forge to go back to his home village and start teaching apprentices of his own, which I think Vemik is glad about. He says kind things about Yetu, and is always visiting the others to talk about new ideas and ways of working steel. I think he used a whole leaf of paper to talk about it. I am watching him now and it is hard not to laugh as he sticks his tongue out when he writes and makes the markings carefully. He looks very serious. Even more serious than Yan!

“I could say more, but the day is getting late and I must sing soon. It has been too long since we saw you. If you cannot come soon, please write to us. Either way, blessings and peace on you all.

“–The Singer of Yan’s tribe.”

“…It’s gonna be a long time before we can go back,” Allison sighed, and ran a hand down her belly. There’d been some discussion about names now that they knew they were expecting a girl. So far the only thing she’d ruled out had been that the lass’ name wouldn’t start with an A. And she was more than happy for her daughter to take the surname Etsicitty. The Buehler name didn’t mean much to her.

“Will it?” Freya asked. “A brief visit couldn’t hurt too much…”

“I dunno. I’m not sure I like ‘couldn’t hurt too much,’” Allison replied.

“Well, we do have expecting mothers doing high-gravity yoga at Venus.”

That was a women-only gym downtown. Allison and Xiù had checked it out once, but… well, notoriety came with a downside. Neither of them were interested on appearing in somebody else’s Instagram feed.

“Everything weighs twenty percent more there, Freya. You might not notice, but I can’t toss tractor tires around for fun.”

“Grow stronger, then! How else are you going to put your man in his place?”

“Yeah, Al! How are you gonna put me in my place?”

“Hush, babe,” Al told him, without looking at him. All part of the game.

Julian chuckled. “Yes ma’am.”

“Good boy.” Allison grinned at Freya. “That’s how.”

“Teach me your ways, wise sensei!”

“Mostly it’s ‘cuz she can work miracles with her–” Julian began, before Xiù gave him a ringing slap on the arm on Allison’s behalf that made him descend into a fit of boyish giggling.


Freya and Marty weren’t exactly prissy blushing prudes, though. Both of them found it deeply funny, and Julian was eventually shooed out of the house to go play with the boys again.

“He is such a troll sometimes…”

“He’s trouble!” Marty laughed. “In the best way. Anyway, aren’t we gonna read Vemik’s?”

“Have you seen the size of this thing?” Xiù asked, and flipped through the veritable tome of smashed-bark leafs. “I think much of this is, uh, ‘field reports.’ There’s drawings, see?”

Sure enough, a surprisingly good drawing of a giant butterfly-like insect took up an entire page. Vemik hadn’t colored it completely, but he had used crayons to suggest what the colors should be, hinting at an iridescent purple-green like a hummingbird.

“We should copy this and get it to Doctor Tisdale.”

“Which one?”

“Both of them. Anyway, this is…” Xiù leafed through the ‘letter’ with a look of mild disbelief, “…a lot to handle. I’ll translate it for you and mail you a copy.”

“Sounds good. I bet xenobiology is fascinating,” Marty nodded.

“It really is,” Allison agreed. “I– oh dear. I think someone’s hungry.”

Marty looked down at the grabby, complaining infant in her lap and smiled fondly. “Yeah. He’s his father’s son.”

“You can use an upstairs bedroom if you want, or… hell, right here if you want. We don’t mind.”

Marty laughed, but shook her head. “No, we should probably go home anyway. It’ll be bathtime soon.”

“Fair enough. It’s time to bring the boys in anyway, I have an engine to rebuild.”

Farewells were said, and Marty and Adam beat a hasty retreat home before their baby decided that grumbling and pawing at Mom wasn’t enough and he needed to put his lungs to use. Freya and Firth departed not long after, and the brothers were reminded they still had homework to do, which they didn’t complain too much about.

Once they were alone, the room became remarkably quiet. Allison basked in it: the peace, the lingering warmth and the faint residual aroma of Baby.

…Well. There was also a lingering slightly spicy-acrid healthy guy-type note, too. Julian was resting against the side of a doorway with his big arms crossed, giving her a wry look.

“Thought you had an engine to rebuild?”

“It can wait.” Allison stretched and then scooted over on the couch to snuggle up to Xiù, who was still flipping through Vemik’s novel-length ‘letter.’

“Yup.” Julian padded over, plopped down next to her and wrapped himself around her firmly.

“Thought you were gonna go Slab?”

“It can wait for a few minutes. I’m behind on snuggle time. And I had a few ideas for names…” he tickled her belly gently.

Xiù put Vemik’s correspondence aside, shifted her legs over to the other side and snuggled up properly as well. “So did I.”

Allison smiled happily and put her arms around them both.

“Okay,” she said. “Let’s hear them…”

Date Point: 16y2m AV
Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Officer Narl, “Clan” Folcthan Border Force

Bozo was a frighteningly intelligent being, especially considering he wasn’t a person.

He didn’t speak, of course. He was theoretically non-sapient, too. Nevertheless, he had an astonishing ability to communicate with most anyone, but especially with Humans and gaoians. He could convey re-assurance, confidence, inquisitiveness, curiosity…and where he was trained, Bozo could directly signal what was important to the task at hand. He was so good in fact, it took Narl less than an hour to reach a rapport with the huge hound. That communication wasn’t one-way, either. Bozo could seemly read Narl like a book. It wasn’t long before the huge canine could anticipate what Narl needed and work accordingly; they’d gelled so fast it was alarming. That innate intelligence, combined with the training Bozo had been given, meant that the complex tasks he could accomplish were just…hard to believe.

Also, he was literally over twice as heavy as Narl and could outrun damn near anything; Narl wasn’t slow, either! Having caught his prey, Bozo was strong enough to just push it over and pin it to the ground. Or…much, much worse, if needed. Those teeth could rip out a Human’s throat, no trouble. What he could do to that same Human if he was angry…

But mostly, he just wanted to be friends with absolutely everybody.

He was still good at his job though, which at the moment was sniffing out stuff. There were other dogs in the Jump terminal on the lookout for other banned substances, mostly working alongside Gaoian officers whose noses could verify what the dogs had found, but Bozo and Narl specialized in explosive compounds.

Bozo occupied an interesting position in Folctha’s tiny security community. He was the SOR’s mascot dog, officially. Unofficially, he was the city’s dog too, and indisputably the pack alpha of the rest of Folctha’s canine population. But a dog that big, that intelligent and that full of energy could be a nuisance, and Bozo liked–no, needed to work. So, with his extensive training and whatever magic Dog and Human had between them, they’d found him a job.

Several jobs actually by several agencies, all related to security, and for all but the most extreme military working dog tasks, all with Narl as Bozo’s partner. For whatever doggie reasons, besides his best friends at the SOR, Bozo just…decided he liked Narl the most.

It worked out for everyone in the end. The SOR got him out from underfoot when they weren’t keeping him busy, the jump terminal got an extra nose and a lot of extra muscle, and Narl got an excellent sometimes-partner and a surprisingly good friend.

Naturally, Bozo instantly become the alpha of their working dogs, too. Whoever he approved of, the others did too. On the rare occasion he didn’t like someone…neither did they.

But in all the time that Narl had worked with him, he’d never seen Bozo take an immediate dislike to somebody the way he took to the lean, muscular silverfur who came down from Armstrong in the company of an elderly Human male and a big, burly Brownie. The very instant Bozo laid eyes on him, his hackles went up and his lips drew back all the way to the cheek, exposing every one of his fearsome teeth.

“What’s wrong, boy? Something…”

And then he smelled it. He had no idea what he was smelling, but there was something very wrong about the silverfur’s musk, and the indescribable bite of it was deeply, viscerally unnerving. It was… alien. Possibly a little metallic, or plastic, or oily… unnatural in some way. But unlike anything else he’d ever scented.

Narl pressed his panic button surreptitiously and approached authoritatively. “Gentlemen, I am going to need you to step aside and—” he began.

The silverfur froze as he approached and then lashed out at him, claws fully extended. Narl was alert for danger, but the mad panicking violence, speed and strength behind the attack wrong-footed him. There was a flash of agony in his face and he tumbled aside with a pained yelp, feeling wetness in his eye that he couldn’t see through.

Please, please, please let it just be blood…

Bozo uttered a noise that was less a bark, snarl or a hunting howl than it was pure sonic murder. There was the rough scratching of massive paws on carpet, a heavy impact and a crash, a feral snarl from the big brownie, the quiet double-hiss of a fast-acting tranquilizer dart–

The Quick Reaction Force flooded into the room and secured everything with extreme urgency.

Narl managed to get his eye open. Thank Daar, he could still see through it.

The silverfur was keening and writhing with Bozo’s jaws clamped around the back of his neck. Blood trickled through his fur and between Bozo’s teeth, promising an immediate and messy end should anything stupid be attempted. Not that he could have done anything, since Bozo was also sitting on his hips and crushing him under his absurd weight. Whatever happened next, the silverfur wouldn’t be walking away painlessly, assuming he could walk at all.

The elderly Human was being held back by two of the security team, while two more attended to the Brownie who was slumped on the ground in a tranquilized stupor. Shock and confusion were written all over the poor man’s face.

“Narl!” One of the medics got to him. Slater. He inspected Narl’s injury with a concerned expression. “…Oh wow. Damn bro, you got super lucky.”

“Yeah.” Narl lay back and relaxed as his wound was inspected. He could feel how close he’d come to losing his eye. “He’s even quicker than he looks.”

Slater nodded and cleaned him up a little to better inspect the wound. “…This is gonna need hospital time, man,” he reported. “Badass scar, though!”

…Well, Narl reflected as his wound was covered in a gauzy patch and taped down. There was a downy lining, with a good story too! First, though, there was a job to do.

“Can you smell that?” he asked.

“Smell what?”

Of course not. Slater was Human, after all.

Bozo reluctantly gave up his quarry to one of the Human handlers. He stepped away a few paces and then sneezed violently before dry-retching. Narl got the impression he would have loved to spit, if he could.

“There’s something very wrong with that silverfur. Bozo smelled it before me. He smells…balls. I don’t have the words. Fake, maybe. Synthetic, even. I was about to call for Section Nine.”

That was a code phrase, and apparently a reference to some animated series that Narl had never watched. Section Nine: suspected Hierarchy infiltrator. As opposed to a Laughing Man, which was a confirmed infiltrator.

Just mentioning those words got things moving fast. The silverfur was promptly secured and moved out of the public space.

Bozo loyally returned to Narl’s side–the one that had the gouges around his eye. He didn’t fawn or fuss, sensing somehow that wouldn’t be the right thing at the moment, but Narl had no doubt Bozo would be Helpfully doting on him for the entirety of his recovery. Narl hauled himself to his hindpaws, using Bozo’s thick neck as a solid surface to steady himself on.

“Dude, you should take it easy ‘til the ambulance gets here…” Slater cautioned.

“I’m just checking a hunch…” Narl told him. He took a good hefty snuffle of the drugged brownie first, and sorted through the assorted notes and tones of the big idiot’s scent. He mostly smelled like a healthy and hard-working male, third or maybe fourth degree. There was also a recent hint of medicine and a sterile environment, and the bitter aroma of anaesthetic.

“Did this guy have anything medical done to him up on Armstrong?” he asked Slater.

“Uh…” Slater pulled out his phone and swiped through the security team’s traveller tracking app. “…Case report says he had an implant removed right before he came down here. Um…oh. It was a cognitive implant. Says here he has a language processing disability.”

Narl duck-nodded, took one last deep sniff to be absolutely certain that the Brownie wasn’t polluted by whatever had caused his friend’s execrable stink, then decided that all was well here.

[“We need to take you somewhere safe,”] he said clearly and calmly in Gaori. [“Your friend is okay.”]

[“Where… Leemu…?”]

[“Hospital. Openpaw. Safe. Okay?”]


The poor fucker’s head was going to hurt when the tranquilizer wore off, but at least he seemed docile. Satisfied, Narl turned to the old man, who’d sat down on a bench and was shivering and lost.

“Sir? I need to perform a scent test,” Narl informed him. “This won’t take a second, okay?”

Even old Humans could pack a serious punch if they decided to be trouble, but this one seemed like he wasn’t inclined to fight. He just nodded numbly and tilted his head to one side. Narl again took a deep breath, investigating his scent.

Humans always smelled so complex. There was the usual musky, leathery, warm tone of a human male, but under that were cooking scents: hot oil, flour, detergent, vegetable sugars. They were deeply ingrained into him, like he’d spent his whole life saturating in those scents and they’d become a permanent part of him.

And yes, there was the very faintest hint of that same awful stench that had enveloped the silverfur. Narl tracked it carefully, down the old man’s arm until he found where it was most intense: on the forearm, hidden under a long sleeve.

“Roll your sleeve up for me please, sir,” he said. The old man did so, and Narl took a troubled step back. There were Gaoian claw marks on his arm, apparently healed but the area looked reddened and inflamed.

“How did you get this scratch, sir?”

“Leemu did it,” the old man said. “But… some time ago. Several weeks.”

“Has it been like this ever since?”

“Off and on. I thought it went away, but then it came back. I didn’t want him to worry. He wasn’t himself that day.”

Narl looked up at the security officer who was chaperoning the old man, and saw his own worries reflected in his colleague’s eyes.

“…You’ll need to get it seen by a specialist,” he decided. “It would be helpful if you would agree to an immediate examination by one we have on retainer.”

“I… this is all so confusing. He’s a nice person!” the old man objected.

“I don’t doubt it, but he may be, uh…”

“Sick,” Slater offered helpfully. “Let’s go with that.”

“Oh…” The news seemed to cause the elderly Human real grief. “…Will he be alright?”

“That’s not for me to say, sir,” Narl replied. In fact he was worrying about his own condition, now. If those claws could give the infamous Human immune system that kind of trouble, then the wound to his own face was…

“Why don’t we all head over to our specialist right now,” Slater urged tactfully. He knew the stakes too, and a quick glance at the reaction force set everything in motion.

Bozo stood by Narl’s side, whined quietly, and gave an uncertain wag of his rudder-like tail. Narl scratched his ears as much for his own comfort as for the dog’s.

“Good boy,” he said. “Good dog.”

His reply was a slightly stronger wag and a quiet version of Bozo’s usual floor-shaking bark.


Date Point: 16y2m AV
Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth

Zane Reid


Zane had woken up in pain before, but never like this. This wasn’t a hangover, this was…

He wanted to writhe, and scream. His whole body felt like it was on fire but something forced him to stay still. When he tried to shake or move he felt his muscles creak like they were…


His eyes slammed open with a shocked, horrified gasp. He was lying slumped against a tree, in a shallow hollow in the deep blanket of snow around him. His clothes were soaking wet, his dreadlocks were covered in a solid layer of ice… and he was steaming. White clouds billowed off him like he was freshly-brewed coffee on a winter morning.

He shut his eyes again and suffered, too wracked with agony to do more than go to a strange meditative place in his head, far away from thought.

After some time, he became aware of… something. A heavy thumping through the nearby trees and a snuffling sound. He opened his eyes again and groaned, though he was grateful for any kind of a distraction.

…It was a bear. A huge, shaggy brown Grizzly that looked skinny and starved under its coarse fur. And his arms and legs still refused to work at all. It pawed at a patch of snow, excavated down to the soil, then shoved its claws into the frozen ground and pulled it apart, sticking its snuffling nose into the resulting hole.

Whatever it found, it clearly wasn’t satisfied. Instead it turned and trudged through the snow toward him. A few paces away it paused, snuffled at the air again, then came closer. Right up to him.

Its jaws were big enough to fit around his head. And Zane’s body still refused to move. All he could do was stare wild-eyed at its teeth… then at the nose as big as his face that it shoved right up against his throat and snuffled again.

It sneezed with a disgusting blast of hot air, shook itself, and backed off as though burnt. It made a panting, roaring kind of sound then, of all things, it whimpered, turned, and fled.

Zane watched it crash away through the snow and the trees. Then, not knowing what else to do, he shut his eyes and suffered some more.

Maybe he slept. Maybe the pain just blurred the hours together so he didn’t remember them. It didn’t matter. Slowly he became aware that the pain was being overtaken by a different feeling. He felt… warm. Not sweltering hot like he’d felt before passing out, but… more like he was soaking in a pleasantly hot bath. The warmth soaked into his aching muscles and slowly, so slowly, he felt them relax and loosen up.

He shut his eyes again and basked in the feeling. When he opened them, he realized that the cold light of morning he’d first woken up to was gone: now, the sun was behind him and the light was redder. He’d spent the whole day lying against this tree, delirious from pain.

But his limbs worked now. When he tried them experimentally, he found they moved stiffly and uncomfortably, but they moved.

His arms and clothes were bone dry. When he stood up, his butt was still damp from wet earth and melted snow but he barely noticed. His fingers, his toes, his whole body felt like he had a heater under his skin to stave off the chill.

That was… weird. All of this was weird, even if it was welcome. He should be dead.

Now… well, he had options. He’d definitely proven that wandering out into an Alaskan blizzard was a bad idea. In theory he could head back to the prison…

“…B–” he choked on the attempt to speak, coughed, and tried again. It came out as a tortured croak. “…Blood clot.”

Bad idea. Stupid idea. Wrong idea. He’d just survived freezing to death in the wilderness, and his first thought was to throw that away by climbing back in his cage? But what else was he gonna do? He felt starved, in a deep way. Like his whole body was running on fumes and wishes, not actual calories.

There was food back in the prison, at least.

…And there’d also be getting locked up tighter than ever and probably poked and prodded in a lab. Or whatever they did to people who survived the unsurvivable.

He groaned and, reluctantly, turned away. He’d been heading West, he thought. He’d certainly intended to head West. May as well stick to that plan and see if his luck held.

Walking wasn’t easy at first. He stumbled and staggered like a zombie rather than walking, but movement slowly loosened him up, got the blood pumping. After a few hundred yards he was merely shuffling. A few hundred more and he was limping. After maybe ten minutes, he was walking pretty much normally. He still felt stiff and sore everywhere but at least he was moving sorta freely.

It was still cold as hell around, he could tell. He didn’t feel cold at all, but when he stumbled upon another stream—or maybe the same stream as before—it turned out to be solid ice. Still, it was open ground and easier to navigate than the woods, so he followed it toward the setting sun.

Just as the sun was genuinely setting, having gone a deep orange-red and touched the ground, he turned a bend in the stream’s channel and found himself standing on an open, flat expanse of white that could only be a frozen lake. He paused, and it sunk in at that moment just how far he was from… well, anything. Anywhere.

Anywhere except the prison.

Again, he felt a flash of anger at himself. Was he really that weak? With a snarl, he set out across the snow field.

As soon as he did, movement caught his eye. There was a flicker, a janky kind of effect like a bad digital TV signal and then there was… something… parked on the ice just a sprint away.

It looked just like a classic flying saucer.

He paused and stared at it. Somewhere in the back of his mind, some instinct was howling at him that this shit was suspicious and maybe he should really think about heading back, turning himself in, warning them.

Instead he shivered and, hunched over against the suddenly cold air, he walked toward the spaceship’s lowered ramp.

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)

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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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 5

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 4

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 3

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

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Good Training – Survival Part 1

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 45

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 2

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

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Good Training – April Fool’s

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 1

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 44

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 4

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 3

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

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Good Training – Pecking Order

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Tidying Up

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 2

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 43

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 1

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 5

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 4

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 4

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 42

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 1

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 3

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 41

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

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The Good Samaritan

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 6

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 40

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 2

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 4

Date Point: 15y9m2w AV HMS Sharman (HMNB Folctha), Cimbrean, The Far Reaches Senior Master Sergeant Christian (“Righteous”) Firth “Hey, fuckers! Guess what hit the newsstand today!” Adam looked up from his needlework for a second and raised an eyebrow. “Imma guess Coombes’ centerfold spread with Ava?” Firth deflated, somewhat flummoxed that ‘Horse had stolen his

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