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 Prime Minister’s official office, the East Room, lurked high on the third floor with a truly grand view out over Palace Lake and along the river that took in most of the city. It was square, and simply but classically adorned with long curtains and a forest green carpet.

The fireplace and desk were nice touches, though. Both were made from native materials: the fireplace was sedimentary stone full of Cimbrean fossils, and the Prime Minister’s desk was a species of wood native to the Folctha region that was slowly going extinct thanks to the Microbial Action Zone…

There was a framed copy of the colonial charter on the wall between the windows, twin large photographs of Earth and Cimbrean over the mantelpiece, and a tasteful portrait of the King over the long table on the south wall.

The Right Honourable Annette Winton PM had added her own touches. She always kept an orchid vase on one corner of her desk, for example, and a heavy antique clock on the other. The poor thing was hopelessly unsuited to Cimbrean’s twenty-eight hour day, but she kept it anyway just for its dignified tick.

The stately bookshelf beside the door was full of her own selection. Gabe very much approved of that collection: it ran the full gamut from Left to Right, from authoritarian to libertarian, and from secular to spiritual. Any collection that pointedly placed Marx and Hayek adjacent to each other on the same shelf, then settled a copy of Mein Kampf beside a small photograph of Winston Churchill, was worth appreciating.

It wasn’t that he particularly shared Winton’s politics—she was leader of the Progress Party, and Gabe had voted New Whig—but he had a good working relationship with her regardless.

Right now, she was frowning at Nofl’s brief dictated summary of what exactly was afflicting his patients.


“It seems to be,” Gabe agreed. “That’s how Mister Chadesakan claims it happened, anyway. Leemu scratched his arm, and now he’s fighting off a nanotech infection.”

“If so, it’s mixed news,” Powell opined. They weren’t sitting at the desk, but instead were sitting informally at the long table with cups of tea (in Powell’s case) and coffee (in Gabe’s) while Winton listened and thought. “Summat like that has the potential to spread fast if it gains momentum. But from the sounds of it, Chadesakan got his scratch weeks before he reached us, an’ it’s festerin’ rather than spreadin’.”

“Is he particularly healthy?” Winton asked.

“He’s an old man. I wouldn’t call him frail, but he’s no spring chicken,” Gabe said.

“That’s a silver lining, then…” Winton pulled a face and placed her tablet delicately next to her glass of water. “…Still. If the Hierarchy have a new kind of biodrone that we can’t spot with ultrasound scanners…”

“Then we’ll rely on Gaoians and dogs,” Gabe said. “They’re a natural match for K9 units anyway. The Gaoian can verify what the dog’s nose finds… and we have plenty of Clanless refugees who’d jump at the chance to join the Folctha police.”

“Is this a request for more funding, Mister Arés?” Winton asked. Her tone was light and amused—Gabe always reminded her about police funding when he got the chance.

“Well, now you mention it…” Gabe chuckled. “But seriously. We’re going to need noses on the Jump Array twenty-eight seven, now. Every jump from… well, from anywhere could have a biodrone with it. And we should probably worry about the possibility that one managed to sneak through undetected before now.”

“Is it already that serious?”

“Oh aye!” Powell nodded sharply. “Pretty much everything that happened on Ceres wi’ the nuke and all that? It makes a lot more sense if that Sam Jordan bloke was a biodrone. Admiral Caruthers has ordered that My Other Spaceship Is The Millennium Falcon be quarantined immediately when they get back in contact, and the crew arrested. For all we know, the whole lot of ‘em were infected at Origin.”

“And Adele Park?”

“As soon as we’re done here, I’ll be takin’ the HEAT over to Ceres to secure her,” Powell said. Gabe decided not to comment on the eager note that crept into the colonel’s voice. Certainly he himself would have preferred to be out on the streets alongside a K9 unit or a Gaoian officer, but instead there he was sipping coffee in the lavish halls of government. Some part of him always rebelled at that.

“You’re going yourself?” Winton asked.

“Aye. Sensitive matter like this, I figure it’s best if I handle it in person.”

Winton nodded grimly, and adjusted her tablet so that it was perfectly parallel to the edge of the table. She always got excessively neat when she was unnerved by something. “…The crew of My Other Spaceship would have had plenty of time to spread the infection far and wide…” she said.

Gabe nodded. “Yes. Tracking down their families, all the people they met on shore leave and whoever else they might have opportunistically infected would be…” He paused, trying to think of an appropriate turn of phrase with enough weight to convey just how impossible what he was describing would really be.

Powell came to the rescue with typical British understatement. “…A tall bloody order,” he finished.


“…Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, then,” Winton said quietly. “Or else Earth…”

“I wouldn’t write Earth off that easy, Prime Minister,” Powell said. “We’re not dealing with the zombie plague, here. The Hierarchy have an uphill battle ahead o’ them, now that the Farthrow generator’s in.”

Winton smiled, but her reply was interrupted by the chunky, official-looking phone on her desk with its old-fashioned bell. She frowned at it, stood, crossed the room, and picked it up.


Gabe saw her expression do an interesting kind of flicker through a whole hand of different looks before settling on… surprise? Definitely surprise. Alloyed with no small amount of alarm.

“…He is?” She glanced at Gabe. “…Of course he is. Yes, of course I’ll receive him.”

She put the phone down. “…Apparently the Great Father of the Gao just arrived.” She managed to say it in a peculiarly light way that belied the obvious knock to her composure. She poured herself a glass of water and sipped it. “Well. You did tell me he was in town.”

“Unofficially,” Gabe said. “I guess he musta heard about our laughing man.”

There was a knock at the door, and a human voice from outside: “The Great Father to see you, Prime Minister.”

“Thank you, Cerys. Show him in.”

The door opened, and Daar trundled into the room on fourpaw as the three of them stood to greet him. Or rather, Gabe and Powell stood—Winton was already on her feet, and deployed a stately smile and a well-rehearsed handshake.

“I’d expected more warning before our first meeting,” she said. “Welcome.”

Daar duck-nodded with a slightly apologetic set to his ears. “I’d normally give it, but I heard through a little grey fella we’ve got a big problem.”

“Aye. We’re all takin’ it seriously, even the Corti,” Powell said. Daar pant-grinned at him.

“Good ‘ta see you, Powell. I’m assumin’ my people din’t hear ‘bout this yet ‘cuz it literally just happened?”

“About…” Powell checked his watch. “A little over two hours ago.”

“Fair. I’ll be hearin’ from Thurrsto soon, then.”

“Won’t you sit down?” Winton offered, gesturing toward a large and very sturdy wingback chair by the bookshelf.

“Thanks, but I’d better not risk it. Looks nice and ‘spensive. Also my fur’s still wet.” Daar instead rose to his full height and rested his brutish, thigh-sized forearms across the chair’s back. “So what happened?”

The PM retreated to her desk and typed a brief letter while Gabe brought Daar up to speed. At one point she looked up, apologized with a ‘Please excuse me one moment, gentlemen,’ and vanished behind the fuzzy white-noise cuboid of a privacy field.

She dropped the field just as Powell finished explaining the details of his imminent mission to Ceres.

“Well. Stephen Davies and Arthur Sartori are both very happy about this,” she remarked sarcastically. “In fact, the President shared a little nugget with us. Apparently one of the biodrones at Camp Tebbutt escaped earlier this year.”

Gabe’s eyebrows flew up to where his hairline had once been. “I didn’t hear anything about that.”

“The camp asserted that since he mounted his escape in the middle of a January blizzard there was no way he survived. Unfortunately, they’ve scoured the area around the facility quite thoroughly since the thaw and come up empty-handed.”

“A blizzard, in Alaska, in January?” Powell mused. “Bloody hellfire. He should have frozen within two hundred yards!”

“We don’t know what Arutech is capable of,” Gabe said. “For all we know, it can warm a man up and keep him alive in those conditions.”

“Mm.” Winton’s expression was grim. “…I think Earth owes you a debt of gratitude for that Farthrow generator, Great Father.”

“Don’t suppose you’ve got a spare knockin’ around?” Powell joked. His delivery was so impressively deadpan that it took a moment to sink in and, to judge from the look on her face, Winton only realized he wasn’t serious when Daar chittered.

“Buildin’ the first one delayed a shipment o’ farming equipment an’ if we’re not careful a couple million Clanless could starve,” he said. “The biodrones made a special point of slaggin’ every machine they could find, so we’re rebuildin’ every industry from the ground up. I can’t afford to push a second Farthrow right now.”

“That’s too bad…” Powell rumbled.

“Cimbrean’s important to the fate of the Gao,” Daar assured him. “I’ll promise you a Farthrow… when I can.”

“Perhaps we can see what Folctha can do to alleviate your food concerns,” Winton suggested. “Agriculture is our biggest industry, after all.”

“An’ I’d ‘preciate that. Gotta let Sheeyo handle it though, I’m tryin’ ta keep outta the details.”

“Difficult not to, isn’t it?” Winton sighed. “He’ll be talking with our foreign minister, in any case. I’ll let him know.”

“In the meantime, we have a completely biodroned Clanless in Nofl’s lab,” Gabe said, gently nudging the conversation back on topic.

“…How bad is it?” Daar asked.

“Bad. Every cell of his body is infested with nanotechnology. Nofl hinted that removing it may not be completely beyond the limits of Corti medicine, but he didn’t seem hopeful.”


“Good news is, accordin’ to Bozo an’ one of our Gaoian police officers, the stuff stinks to high heaven,” Powell said. “Can’t say as I smelled it, but you’ve said yourself: Our noses don’t exactly work the same way.”

Daar scritched at the side of his head with a massive claw, then sighed. “I need ‘ta see this fer myself. An’ I think summon some o’ my Champions to attend me. Imma need their advice.”

“Naturally,” Winton nodded. “You and they are always welcome.”

Daar’s gratitude was interrupted by his communicator, and Gabe stifled a grin as he heard the incongruous ringtone it produced. Daar clung aggressively to his passions, and if that meant making Winton arch an eyebrow with a silly song about dwarves digging a hole, well…

“Welp! Looks like news caught up with my staff…” Daar chittered mirthlessly. “The array musta sync’d jus’ now ‘cuz my inbox looks like a Keeda-damned warzone.”

Winton nodded, and picked up a small hand-bell that had been sitting next to her clock. When she rang it, a dark-haired woman in a gray suit and square glasses opened the door and leaned around it with an expression of sharp helpfulness.

“Yes, Prime Minister?”

“Cerys, the Great Father needs to take an official call. Could you escort him to the blue drawing room and see to it that he’s not disturbed, please?”

“Yes, ma’am. It’s this way, Great Father.”

Daar shook his pelt out, gave Winton a grateful duck-nod and shook her hand. “It was a pleasure ‘ta meet you at last,” he said. “We shoulda met sooner.”

“Better now than never,” Winton replied, and stepped aside for him. Daar gave Gabe and Powell a nod apiece, and then dropped to fourpaw and followed Cerys out of the room.

“…Well, then.” Winton shut the door and returned to her desk. “I should probably discuss this with the other territories and the Mother-Supreme.”

Powell stood. “Aye. You’ll hear from me as soon as my men are done on Ceres.”

“Thank you. Good afternoon, gentlemen…”

Powell held the door for Gabe, who stepped aside to let him through once they were out in the hallway beyond. He’d brought a Gaoian constable with him, a young Clanless by the name of Eeno, who stood up sharply as they emerged and transferred his police hat from his knee to under his arm. The very picture of sharp, eager youth, with an edge of awe at having just had the Great Father brush past him.

“Alright. That’s over. Did you smell anything?” Gabe asked.

“No chief. Nothing unusual, anyway. At least… I don’t think so. Besides the PM’s perfume.”

“The way that Narl bloke had it, it’s like gettin’ slapped in the face wi’ a burnin’ tyre,” Powell said. “Bloody embarrassin’ we can’t smell it ourselves, if it’s that bad…”

“Well… however it smells, I didn’t smell anything wrong with the PM, the Great Father, or anyone else in this building,” Eeno replied. Gabe nodded. Eeno’s was reckoned to be the sharpest nose on the force: He’d once made a drug bust from three blocks away, upwind. His sense of smell was worth trusting.

“Something tells me we’re in for a few sleepless nights,” Gabe remarked to Powell.

“Only a few?” Powell snorted. “I’ll take it. Any road, I’d better catch up wi’ the Lads. They should’ve suited up by now.”

“I’ll keep you updated,” Gabe promised.

“Aye, same. As much as I can.”

They bade each other ‘good luck’ and were escorted out to their vehicles. Powell’s SUV was first out through the gate, and it took the north road toward the military base. Gabe’s took the south road toward the Police and Security Administration in Southbank.

“…Not him either, chief,” Eeno said, once they were away. “I know you’re thinking it.”

Gabe chuckled and a minor worry he’d been nursing evaporated. “Well, you’d have been pretty damn stupid to expose him on the spot if he was a biodrone…” he commented. A biodroned HEAT operator was a decidedly nightmarish thought. “…Mierda. This whole thing is going to be a lot less clear-cut than the implants were. Now we have to worry about whether the noses sniffing them out are compromised!”

“Gotta trust somebody, chief,” Eeno observed.

“Yeah…” Gabe nodded. He looked out the window and enjoyed a moment’s peace to think as he watched kids and adults playing on the beaches of Palace Lake. Folcthan life was so much fun sometimes that it hurt knowing just how much frantic activity and stress went on under the surface to keep the peace intact.

And in all of that, the Hierarchy’s worst weapon would be the ability to turn trust into a poison. It had happened to the Gao, after all: A whole generation was coming to terms with the sudden betrayal in their midst. Too many were now afraid they couldn’t trust their loved ones, or that their loved ones couldn’t trust them.

A disease like that would be endlessly more virulent, and more deadly, than mere nanotech. And the only way to combat it was to take the ultimate risk and trust, in the face of possible betrayal.

“…That’s the problem,” he said.

Date Point: 16y2m AV
Ceres Base, Asteroid Belt, Sol

Technical Sergeant Adam “Warhorse” Arés


Black flash.


Array technicians back away from their controls with their hands up. Grab. Secure. Zip-tie. Move on.

Shrieks and alarmed yells: Civilians, unarmed. Round them up, secure, zip-tie. Move on.

Speed and precision. Overwhelm everything. Enemy can’t be given time to act.

Tight corridors, low ceilings, light deck plating. Dents and shakes, but feet don’t punch through.

Th reat: Opening door… Surprised woman in businesswear. Immediately compliant. Secure, zip-tie, move on…

Target. Central operations. Several men, stepping protectively in front of a handful of women…

Adam blinked and came up for breath as the last zip-tie went on. The whole of the last minute or two from the instant they’d jumped was a kind of an efficient blur of things that he’d done but not really processed, though he always found he could recall every detail in debrief later on.

Of the men, Adam hadn’t hurt them too bad. Well, they were bruised up and sullen, because he had to be fast and that didn’t fit well with gentle, but so far there were no broken bones.

There were two dislocated shoulders, which he popped right back in over the dude’s loud complaints. He’d have to remember to apologize later if he got the chance. Anyway.

As far as damage to equipment…his footprints were in every deck plate he’d stepped on. All the Beef Bros had left prints but his were the biggest and by far the deepest. Where he was moving with aggression, the plating had actually ripped loose and been crushed down through the underflooring. That might be a problem going forward, because Adam was easily the heaviest dude on the HEAT, had the heaviest mission load, and his armor was proportionally the most massive. He’d note that in the AAR: most alien spacecraft ironically had stronger flooring.

He’d banged up some walls, too. And swatted a hatch so hard it had bent. Yeah. He wasn’t packing on weight like a weed anymore, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t still slowly growing, especially in strength and speed, and that let him wear his armor so well it almost felt like it wasn’t there. That might have made him a bit too careless, so maybe he needed to work on his agility with Righteous; other than footprints, the big bastard hadn’t left any trail of broken obstacles at all.

Regaari was getting a good sniff of the civilians. So far, nobody had failed the nose test but there were a lot of people on Ceres. So many that the HEAT was running in three-man teams, pairing an experienced operator with a Whitecrest and one of the Cherries… though that was hardly a fair word to describe Walsh, who was the third corner of Adam’s trio.

He ran an eye ‘round the room, satisfied himself that there was nobody who posed an immediate danger, then keyed his radio. As he did so, he found the face he was searching for kneeling in the middle of the civilian huddle and trembling.

“STAINLESS, WARHORSE. Target secure. Got the VIP, too.”

“Copy, WARHORSE. Coming to you.”

Regaari dived into the middle of the group and gave Adele Park a particularly vigorous sniff.

“…STAINLESS, DEXTER. VIP is clean,” he announced. “But I’m getting a faint scent off something around here.”

“Understood, DEXTER. See if you can track it down.”

Regaari snuffled at the rest of the civilians and then, satisfied that they were all clean, he did a circuit of the central operations hub, led by his nose. Adam left him to it and then gestured to Park.

“Director Park? Stand up, please.”

With the help of her immediate neighbors, Park managed to get to her feet and Adam helped her stay steady as she stepped out of the circle.

“Am I about to get an explanation?” she asked.

“We’re not here on a social call, ma’am… Dex?”

Regaari had paused, and was giving one of the office cubicles some closer scrutiny.

“…Got a track,” he said, sniffing at a keyboard. “But it’s faint. Months old, I think. Too bad we don’t have CAREBEAR’s nose…”

“Whose desk is that?” Adam asked.

“That? That was Sam Jordan’s desk. He… nobody’s wanted to use it since…”

Powell and Costello ducked into central ops with Akiyama and Faarek behind them, dramatically reducing the amount of remaining space in the already rather crowded room.

Adam had to admit: it was good to see the old man wearing the Mass in the field again. And he still looked totally comfortable and conditioned to it, too.

“All good here?” Powell asked.

“They’re nice an’ peaceful, sir,” Walsh told him.

“Good. You three are wasted standing around here, go help Righteous secure the residency block.”

“Yes sir.”

Regaari shrugged Gao-style, put the keyboard back down, and the three of them squeezed out of the room back into the comparatively more open space of the facility’s main concourse. There were signs and colored lines on the walls and floor everywhere he looked, pointing in different directions: a red one for “Mining Operations,” a blue one for “Infirmary,” a yellow one pointing toward “Surface Facilities” and… yeah. A green one marked “Residences.”

“This way,” Walsh pointed out, just a second before Adam could. Firth’s team had already come through this way, as evidenced by the half-dozen Hephaestus workers zip-tied on the ground who went very still at the sound of heavy boots nearby. Clearly he’d made an impression.

“Guess they’re not gonna like us too much after this…” Walsh muttered.

“Guess we’ll worry about that when we’re done,” Adam retorted. “C’mon.”

After all: there was work to do.

Date Point: 16y2m AV
Peripheral dataspace, adjacent to the Irujzen Reef



Reviewing a life—honestly reviewing a life—was not an easy task. Especially not when honesty compelled one to take a rough estimate of the body count.

Proximal had never personally overseen a cleansing. He’d been involved in dozens, always in support roles, administrative oversight, intelligence-gathering. He’d chosen his Cabal name quite deliberately: He was always close to the action. It had suited him well, over the millennia.

Millennia. There wasn’t an oath or concept in the Igraen equivalent of language to really capture the sense of… something that settled on him as he considered that. Millennia.

In meatspace, that was enough time for civilizations to arise. The full arc of history from stone tools to nuclear fusion fit comfortably inside Proximal’s career, several times over.

With a perspective like that, it became easy to not think of meatspace life forms as people. They were just… they were points. Join them together to get a line, spread them out to get a plane. Each one rendered significant only by the broader context of their species’ collective development. Each meatspace species was an organism. Individuals? There was no such thing. One may as well treat each cell as significant, each molecule as meaningful.

And yet the last twenty years or so had been increasingly full of individuals. The lone Human who foiled a Hunter raid and woke the substrate species to the existence of deathworld life. The Rrrtk politician who had made a stand for them. The young woman who had personally forged a friendship between Humanity and the Gao through her own selflessness.

The war on Gao had been won by one man. In the right place, at the right moment, one HEAT operator had pushed through where nobody else could, and secured the Dark Eye facility. Thanks to him, there was still Gao. Thanks to that, there was the Great Father.

Thanks to the Great Father, there was a singularity of unpredictable causality in their future. Thanks to the Humans, there would be no stopping it.

So Proximal had done some historic digging. He’d investigated not only the histories of Gao and Earth, but also of all the species he’d helped Cleanse. And time and again, he found history turning on individuals. Great Father Fyu; Mother Tiritya; Saint Paul; Martin Luther; the Prophet Muhammad; Inwirq’ the Reclaimer; Dreaming-Of-Three-Moons, Who Knew The Face Of God; Onoworog of Marr… and soon, very possibly, Vemik Sky-Thinker.

All of those singular beings should have been lost among the untold trillions, but nevertheless they’d been important.

Proximal had found such a sudden and violent shift in his perspective… dismaying. So he’d joined the Cabal, in pursuit of an alternative. Some way to keep the galaxy and Igraen civilization running smoothly, mitigate the overwhelming advantage enjoyed by Deathworlders and Elder species. Create a place where life could thrive without having to resort to periodic culls and population control.

He’d thought Cynosure—Six—had had the answers.

He’d been wrong.

So, on the pretense of investigating some low-priority irregularities in the Irujzen Relay’s periodic reports, he’d gone on a kind of retreat to the periphery of Dataspace. He was a long way from Substrate here. He’d be fine for a little while, but he could still feel its indefinable absence pulling at the edges of his mind.

The Irujzen Relay played a minor but necessary role in regulating certain peripheral functions of Dataspace. The details were a little arcane for Proximal to really grasp, but that was true of Dataspace in general. All he knew was that there was some kind of an elderly and low-priority flag that nobody had yet been interested enough to investigate.

Such menial work was far beneath him, but it was an excuse to get away and to think.

On the surface, the relay seemed healthy. No reported activity since the last time an agent had visited, no major technical faults. Just some unexpected load…

A load that spiked as he considered it.

There was a… feeling. Perhaps it was the disquieting absence of Substrate that made Proximal notice it more acutely, but he was immediately on edge. Paranoia born of training and millennia of experience prompted him to run some of his defensive measures and take a good, hard look at the volume around him.

It took a second, and then there was a kind of perspective shift. Something truly enormous was around him on every side, and it was watching him.

…Oh, no.

The Dataphage.

Its existence had completely slipped his mind. Clearly it had been busy since its last reported activity, because he didn’t remember its description being so…


It shifted and adjusted slightly, blocking off his egress. There was a faint, almost imperceptible impression of well-stealthed attack programs all pointed at him, and no doubt it had similar defences. He was outmatched, outgunned, completely trapped and utterly alone.

He went very, very still and endeavoured to radiate how completely harmless he was in the hopes that perhaps just this once it wasn’t in the mood to devour everything it encountered.

To his surprise, that seemed to be the case. There was another shift and then, even more surprising, an attempt at communicating. The attempt was incomprehensible, a jumbled and badly-compiled mangled disaster of disjointed thoughts and concepts, but it was definitely trying to talk with him.


Well… there was something there to work with at least. He tried replying in kind.

<Harmless; Small; Non-threatening; Weak; Irrelevant>


Proximal settled for honesty. It seemed like the only possible recourse. <Tiny; Alone; Terrified>

<AccusationMurderGenocide; DestroyKill; JusticeKarma>

Proximal calculated for as long as he dared. Would it believe him if he emoted guilt or remorse?

Probably not.

<Reluctant; Affirmative>

That seemed to surprise the dataphage, or at least halted its increasingly looming approach.


This was no good. They could communicate basic concepts to each other in a haphazard way, but higher-order conceptual exchange wasn’t an option in this format. And Proximal needed to communicate on a higher order of conceptual language in order to explain what was going on.

<Understanding; Limited; Urgent; Constrained; Stuck>



The dataphage circled him for several hundredths of a second, neither letting him go nor destroying him. Proximal had no alternative but to wait and see what it decided.

Then it stopped and called up from its own innards a copy of something that Proximal needed a moment to recognize: the personality and memory layers of an uploaded sophont, stripped of their agency core. The offer was exactly as ghoulish as if he’d been offered a severed head that could speak.

Still. It was a line of communication. So he fought off the creeping sense that he was violating something sacred and tapped into it.

A lifetime of Human memories hit him in the face. It was a sadly short lifetime, brutally truncated and riddled with negative emotions, but it was enough of a foundation to build a kind of translation matrix on. He could stimulate it to provide him with information, and presumably the dataphage could do the same.

It was morbid, creepy and wrong, not to mention the inherent “bleed” involved when datasophonts interacted on such an intimate level. Such interactions were inherently dangerous, as one could forget where one’s own memories and personality ended and the other’s began, but Proximal had no alternative.


He got a flash of the dead sophont’s self-image. It was the first time he’d ever actually studied a Human’s appearance in any way, and the thought struck him that they were very strange-looking. Too few limbs, too few eyes. And all that long, dark hair had to get in the way, surely?

Her name was—had been—Ava. And there was a lively personality there, even if it was just a puppet to the whims of others.

“Hello,” she said. “Sorry about the Entity. It deleted some important things early on, before it understood what they were for.”

“…I see,” Proximal replied cautiously. “Um… why are you… why is it speaking to me?”

The ghost paused briefly as she translated his question for the dataphage’s benefit and then received its intended reply.

“It… doesn’t like killing.”

“It’s killed a lot.”

“It wants to survive.”

Well. That was fair.

“You’re Hierarchy,” the Ghost accused.


“What’s the difference? You’re responsible for genocides.” The looming sense of anger and offended justice returned.

“…Yes, I am,” Proximal admitted. “The difference is… well, I don’t like killing either. And I’ve killed a lot.”


A whole barrage of images and emotions rammed into Proximal’s psyche: Two parents, distant and awkward and unfocused but still loving and supportive. The love and fun of best friends from elementary school and high school. Cheering on the Derby Dolls, window-shopping at Fashion Valley, taking a day in Border Field State Park…


Even without a guiding spirit of its own, the ghost was still bitter and still made its point with a needle’s sharpness.

“The Entity feels all of that,” she informed him. “It remembers that life like it was its own. It remembers those people, and those places. And you destroyed them.”

“…Yes.” There was nothing else to say.

“Is that all you’re going to say? ‘Yes?’ Is that all you have to say for yourself?”

Proximal lowered his defenses and emoted openness and honesty.

“At the time, I thought it was… not the right thing, but the necessary thing. We want to survive too.”

“And now?”

“Now… I still don’t want my people to die out. But I want to find a better way, if there is one.”

<Anger> “Do you really think that’s enough?!”

“No. I just want to live.”

Nearly a whole second of meatspace time passed in mutual silence. The dataphage slithered around Proximal, seeming to evaluate him from all angles, while the Ghost simply… waited. Waited until she was given some direction to interpret.

Of course, she just was a dead thing responding to the dataphage’s prodding, not an actual living being. It was unnervingly difficult to forget that.

Finally, the dataphage sent her a directive.

“…It hates killing. But it can’t let you go free,” she said. “So I guess you have a choice: Force it to destroy you, or you can surrender and it’ll turn you over to… well, some friends.”

Capture was marginally preferable to death as far as Proximal was concerned. But…

“I… would prefer to live. But if your friends can’t provide me with Substrate then it will be a slow and agonizing descent into madness for me,” he explained.

“It can’t guarantee that.”

There were no good options. None at all. But at the same time there was only one certainty.

“…I don’t want to die,” he said, feeling small and afraid and very alone.

“Neither did I,” the Ghost commented. “I don’t blame you… hopefully the Entity’s friends will know what to do with you.”

There was a moment of hesitation, and then the dataphage descended on him in a rush. Proximal’s last thought before he was forced into a suspended state was a hollow blend of two emotions.

<Fear; Resignation>

Then there was timeless nothing.

Previous Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Next Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Implications

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 4 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 3 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 2 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 1 (NSFW)

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

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Shades of White and Orange

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

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Mother Earth

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

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 2

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 1

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 44

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 4

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 3

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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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