The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 6

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

Daar, Great Father of the Gao

“Poor bugger hardly knew which way is up…” Powell grunted, once Wagner was gone.

“Who can blame him? His whole crew going violently psychotic on him with no warning, only to be stasis-hopped right into a Corti’s lab being sniffed at by the Great Father?” Nofl tittered, which was just wrong. “He’s had an interesting day!”

“I ain’t that horrible a guy ‘ta meet…” Daar grumbled.

“No, but I daresay you’re a surprise.”

Well… okay, that was hard to argue with.

“Reckon we’ve all had a bloody interestin’ day,” Powell said. “…Mind if I cadge some of ‘yer coffee, Nofl?”

“Be my guest, dear!”

“Ta. I bloody need a pick-me-up. Might even have a fookin’ cigar later…”

“Those are bad for you, you know…” Nofl reminded him chirpily.

“Summat gets us all in the end, mate.”

Daar could sympathize. And as vices went, caffeine and one or two premium cigars a year were pretty damn mild.

He sat on Nofl’s examination table and mulled over everything the day had brought to light. A minute or so later, Powell joined him.

“…Got a lot ‘ta think about,” Daar muttered.

“Aye. Need a sympathetic ear?”

“Mostly, I think I need Naydra.” Daar scratched behind his own ear then sighed and straightened his spine. He couldn’t wallow in self-pity right now. “…Or Gyotin.”

Powell arched an eyebrow, which was a trick Daar sometimes wished Gaoians were equipped for. Then again, Humans couldn’t flick their ears. Fair trade.

“For different reasons, I hope.”

“Ha! I don’t think Gyotin’d last too long…”

Powell chuckled with him and sipped his coffee. “One thing I like about you, you aren’t pretentious. I think we’ve needed that in our leaders for a long time.”

“Speak of the Devil, by the way!” Nofl sang out. He pointed at a small monitor next to the door: Champion Gyotin was sprucing himself up and grooming his fur before ringing the doorbell.

Daar rolled his eyes before he had a chance to stop himself. He got it, it was respectful and all that…but damn if he didn’t wish people’d just relax a bit around him!

…But, well. He’d become the Great Father by brutally executing two good people for the crime of being stupid at the wrong moment. So…yeah.

Fuck he wished that hadn’t needed to happen.

Gyotin finally decided that he’d gussied up as well as he could, and pressed the button. Nofl buzzed him in and went to go do something arcane with some small samples. He at least pretended to be discreet, Daar had to give the little guy that much.

Daar couldn’t help but make a small comment as the Champion of Clan Starmind joined them. “Gyotin! You’re looking healthy.”

“And you smell like you were having a healthy day this morning, My Father,” Gyotin replied. Of all the Champions, he was the one most comfortable with irreverence, but even from him it was generally pretty mild. He sniffed again and his left ear flicked. “…What in Keeda’s name is that awful smell?”

“Sticks around, don’t it?” Daar agreed. “That, my friend, is why ‘yer here. And the rest o’ the Champions I summoned, when they git here.”

“Something happened?” Gyotin ambled a little closer to Nofl’s coffee emporium, where the nasal landscape was a lot more pleasant.

“Big Hotel broke out a new trick,” Powell said. “You familiar with the OmoAru at all?”

“I know they’re effectively extinct…” Gyotin hedged.

“You know why?” Powell asked. He nodded when Gyotin shook his head. “They took cybernetic augmentation to an extreme. Wound up upgrading their bodies on the cellular level with nanotech. That’s what you’re sniffin’.”

Daar could smell the alarm pulse so strongly from Gyotin, it was almost shocking. “They…why would they do that?!”

“Ignorance of the danger, I guess.” Powell shrugged. “From what I gather, the upgrades woulda put them on even footing with any deathworlder, physically and mentally. Too bad for them there was a bit of a giant fookin’ downside.”

“And now Big Hotel have co-opted it,” Gyotin surmised.

“Assumin’ they’re not the ones who gave it to the poor buggers in the first place, aye.”

“An’ now we’ve got a problem, Champion. We’ve got a poor-fuck Clanless, name o’ Leemu, who got turned into somethin’ like a biodrone. Bozo sniffed ‘em out as he was makin’ the border crossin’. The nut-greasy Hierarchy fucks, uh, ‘drouded’ ‘em pretty much right away. He’s in stasis ‘til we decide what ‘ta do.”

“Drouded?” Gyotin asked.

“New word ‘fer me, too. It’s…like, if ‘ya zapped someone’s brain so’s all they ever felt was cripplin’ happiness, or pleasure, or…y’know. Whatever. So’s you’d never want ‘ta do anything ‘cept sit there an’ smile a goofy smile until you starve ‘ta death.”

Gyotin seemed to take that concept as a personal affront. “…What kind of monster came up with an idea like that?”

“Well. A human author called Larry Niven, for one,” Powell said.

“Oh. Umm…”

Powell chuckled and let the Champion off the hook. “He wasn’t too happy with the idea in his own writing.”

Gyotin scratched at his whiskers as he thought. “…This Leemu,” he said. “Can he be… it’s in all of his cells?”

“Every last one,” Daar confirmed. “Or, I ‘spose enough that it don’t matter either way.”

“Then there’s no hope for him? I’m… sorry, My Father, am I here to perform last rites, or…?”

“No. You’re here ‘cuz the Corti think there’s a way ‘ta strip the Arutech outta him. Problem bein’, it involves basically mulching the poor sap right down ‘ta his individual cells, filterin’ the tech out an’ then puttin’ him back together again.”

“…I need to sit down.”

“Don’t blame yer,” Powell said, and stood up to make room for him. Gyotin took his vacated spot gratefully and hastily: he looked and smelled queasy. Powell handed the Champion a cup of water and leaned against the countertop with his arms folded.

Gyotin recovered quickly after sipping some water, and combed a few spilled drops out of his whiskers. “…Forgive me. I just…”

“Like Powell said. I don’t blame ‘ya,” Daar assured him.

“Fyu’s rage, is that really all they can come up with?” Gyotin asked.

“It’s the only idea they’ve shared so far,” Powell said. “I take it you don’t like it much.”

“The… everything about that is just… I mean, would he even be the same person? Do we even have the right to do something so extreme?”

“It’s that or he dies,” Daar said.

“My Father, it sounds to me like the Hierarchy already killed him and you’re contemplating bringing him back from the dead!”

“…No? I mean, he’s right there, it’s jus’ he’s got the worstest damn thing been done ‘ta him. We gotta think hard about how we’re gonna deal with that.”

“And if he wakes up not knowing who he is? If he wakes up not knowing how to cope? If whatever wakes up isn’t him at all? This is… this is messing with more than just his body, there’s his soul to consider!”

“Whatever that means…” Powell muttered to himself.

Humans always forgot how sharp Gaoian hearing was, but in this case Gyotin just waved a paw at him. “Exactly!”

“I wanna save him, Gyotin,” Daar said. “He ain’t the only one, an’ if we can save him then there’s hope ‘fer the others too. I dunno if I can worry too much about his soul or whatever.”

“At the end o’ the day, a man’s soul is his own business…” Powell mused.

“…True…” Gyotin admitted, with great reluctance. “It isn’t the Great Father’s job to spare him the lifelong existential crisis. That would be his journey, whoever ‘he’ is…”

“…But…?” Daar prompted after a second.

“But… This redefines life and death, My Father. If the Corti have the technology to do this then immortality is just a step away.”

…Of course it was. Daar was an engineer at heart, and even a big-piles-of-concrete-and-rocks engineer like him was always looking for new ways to apply technology. If Leemu could be taken apart that completely and then put back together with his mind intact—or shit, even a decent approximation of his mind—then where did that end? It was the ultimate medical procedure. So long as you had a scan of a being’s brain, then it didn’t matter how bad they were hurt, you could just print them a new body.

Where did that road lead? The old living forever, squeezing out the young? Would cubs grow up to find there was nowhere that needed them because the world was full of talented, experienced, healthy immortals who’d never be dulled by age?


“Well…shit. I hadn’t thought o’ that.”

Gyotin duck-nodded solemnly.

“My Father, I submit that not only are we not ready for immortality, but pursuing it to any serious degree would destroy us all.”

“Somebody’ll do it sooner or later,” Powell pointed out. “If the pieces are all there, it’s only a matter o’ time before somebody puts ‘em together.”

“And when they do, we would need to seriously consider suppressing that development. It would, in the end, put us in exactly the same position the Hierarchy is in.”

Powell shook his head, pulling a kind of brief grimace of disagreement. “You can’t suppress summat like that forever. Not shouldn’t mind you. Just… can’t. It’s not bloody possible.”

“The Hierarchy have, for tens of millions of years.”

“Aye. At great an’ terrible cost.” Powell sniffed. “And yet here we are, discussin’ it.”

“So the genuine question is this: do we push that snowball down the hill, My Father? The moment we do, it will gather everything in its path and become unstoppable. Meanwhile, the Directorate is in a unique position of authoritarian control of its people.”


They turned. Nofl had padded back into the room on silent feet and was staring at them seriously with big, dark eyes, his camp facade completely dropped for the moment.

“…’Scuse me?” Daar asked him.

“If the Directorate have the technology to do this,” Nofl repeated. “You’re theorizing on a possibility we’ve only conjectured. There may be other therapies available. It might not require something so extreme. It might be that we try and suffer an abject failure. We can only learn the possibility space with exploration, and that means we must explore.”

“And if you succeed?” Gyotin asked. “If it turns out that in fact resurrection is within your grasp?”

“I know you’re familiar with Pandora’s Box, Nofl,” Powell said. “You want to open it? Fook me, d’you want someone like Tran to open it?”

“Tran is a leader of my people, and he earned his position on merit,” Nofl pointed out, though he sighed. “I might find the… restrictive mores and culturally mandated amorality of the higher castes tiresome, but he is a trusted thinker. And he may surprise you in how far-sighted he can be.”


“You said it yourself, Colonel. What the Corti collectively want can be unintuitive from your perspective. The Directorate might make a virtue out of self-serving venality, but that doesn’t mean we’re stupid. It means we want what’s best for ourselves, and I assure you: we are quite capable of seeing the hazards in the road ahead, when we have reason to look for them.”

“You didn’t with your eugenics program,” Daar pointed out.

“That was the Hierarchy’s influence.”

“How many times have Corti research ships nearly unleashed disaster on the galaxy?” Gyotin asked.

“Dammit, my people are not stupid!” Nofl snapped, in the first show of real anger that Daar had ever seen from him.

“Ain’t none of us gonna accuse y’all of stupidity, Nofl,” Daar tried to soothe him. “But bein’ honest, an’ in the spirit of friendship an’ all, there ain’t many who’d call ‘yer people wise.”

“And yours?!” For a moment, Nofl seemed to forget that he was dealing with beings who physically outclassed him in every conceivable way. Sheer frustration seemed to loan him a few extra feet. “Should I recount all your species’ errors and decry all of the Gao for the mis-steps of a few?”

He jabbed a finger at Powell. “Or Humans! A species who successfully managed to industrialize warfare, and thank fuck they did because just imagine the mess we’d be in now if they hadn’t! But were they wise and foresighted when they did it?”

His rage evaporated as quickly as it had come. “…I know… I know you have had… bad examples in the past. I know they have colored your opinion of us, and not entirely unfairly. But we are not a species of myopic eggheads playing carelessly with forces we don’t understand. If you make the case to Tran why such research would be a bad idea, he will listen.”

There was a moment of impressed silence. Gyotin broke it with a quiet, tactful question.

“…And if he doesn’t agree?”

“Then… then… I don’t know.” Nofl sighed dramatically and flapped his hands. “I just want you to respect us.”

Daar glanced sideways at Powell and Gyotin, then pushed himself forward off the table and dropped to fourpaw. There was simply no way for him to physically come down to Nofl’s level, but he did his best.

“…I respect passion and honesty,” he said. “And you’ve got both.”

Nofl sighed deeply, then nodded. “…Thank you.”

“So…” Powell interrupted the moment, and cleared his throat. “…What’s the verdict? Do we give it a shot an’ maybe open a can o’ worms we’re not ready for yet? Or do we let Leemu die peacefully wi’ a smile on his face?”

“Only one person in this room can make that call,” Gyotin said, and looked to Daar.

Daar stood back up and hung his head in thought. But there was only one honest answer.

“…I don’t know,” he said.

For the first time in a long, long while, the Great Father had no idea what to do.

Date Point: 16y2m AV
Planet Akyawentuo, the Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm

Julian Etsicitty

“Not even once? It’s been… How long?!”

The driest place in the village by a long way was Vemik’s forge, and Vemik had been hard at work when Julian and Xiù had arrived.

It was definitely the rainy season. There was a heavy, rumbling, here-for-the-long-haul kind of quality to the rain that left little streams criss-crossing the village and divided it into the subtle bumps and lumps of high ground the Ten’Gewek had found to keep their huts dry. It streamed off the forge’s leafy thatch in thick rivulets, but nary a drop made it inside.

Coupled with the heat coming off the coals, it was the perfect place to warm up and get dry after the long walk down from the jump station.

Forging was an all-day process, it couldn’t just be abandoned even when treasured and long-absent friends visited unexpectedly. So, while Xiù was treated to the delighted attention of the women who wanted to know all about a human pregnancy, Julian had joined Vemik and was steaming gently as the forge-heat dried him out.

He calculated slightly, trying to convert the nineteen Earth weeks since Xiù had announced her pregnancy into Akyawentan time. “A… hand of moons, give or take.”

Vemik shuddered in a full-body wave from the top of his crest down to the tip of his tail. “How do you sleep?”

“Uh… in my bed, with two gorgeous women cuddled up to me?”

Vemik growled an annoyed sound and used his super-precise pronunciation. “Exactly! Don’t you want?”

“Dude, it’s not like they died! There’s, y’know, other ways to enjoy each other.”

“…Oh.” Vemik frowned as he considered that. “…Not the same, though.”

“It’s good enough for me, big fella.”

“But you Humans, your tongues so small–!”

“Vemik!” Julian laughed, “Boundaries, man!”

“…Sarry.” He paused, then gave a big fang filled snarl-grin and trilled, “Maybe, you Humans don’t know what you missing!”

Julian quirked an eyebrow and chuckled. “Vemik, buddy, remember the mint? I know exactly what I’m missing. I know more about your long-ass tongue than I ever wanted!” He glanced at the forge. “…Give the bellows another squeeze, I think.”

“–Oh! Yes.” The manic cavemonkey wrapped his tail around the handles and worked it in and out with a well-practiced squeeze. Neat trick, that. It left his hands free for use, and he took advantage by lining up his melts on the obsidian table in the order he would work them.

A minute later the coals were bright orange again and everything was lined up for production. Julian crossed his arms and watched until Vemik was satisfied everything was to his liking. He hooted to himself in a pleased manner, then crashed back into their earlier conversation.

“But still! How can you stand it?!”

“God,” Julian sighed. “You’re not gonna let it go, are you?”

Vemik ignored that. “I’d feel, like maybe itchy? Couldn’t sleep, couldn’t stop thinking… Is there word in English?”

“Restless? I know you would, buddy. That’s just how your people are. Nothing wrong with it.”

“Rest-less. Restless! Yes, I’d feel restless. When Singer was heavy with our girl, she kicked me out of the hut one night and said I should go fuck—”

“That’s not how we work, bud!” Julian just barely managed to keep a straight face. Ten’Gewek were so matter-of-fact about these sorts of things. “Well, not how we work. Al and Xiù, I mean. And me. We stick together, like you do with Singer.”

Vemik unconsciously code-switched back into his native tongue as he kept a working eye on the heating metal. [“Singer sometimes tells me about other women to lie with, though.”]

Julian didn’t mind switching languages himself, if it made life easier for the distracted cavemonkey. [“Yeah-huh. Like I said, most of us don’t work that way.”]

[“That makes me wonder if she should visit other men.”]

[“…Wait, what? I wouldn’t want my women with other men. Big fights get started that way. People get killed. Wars, even.”]

That caused Vemik to stop what he was doing and thoughtfully twitch his tail back and forth. [“Why, though? If tribes play-fight, many babies happen. Maybe one day, Yan gets beaten by some big young Given-Man! Singer would lie with him and I’d have a strong son.] And it keeps the peace! Why is that bad?”

Julian shrugged. [“The Gods made you one way, and they made us another,”] he said.

The question bothered him more than he let on, though. After all, it wasn’t like his own love life was a conventional monogamous one…

His gut, though, knotted up at the idea of breaking fidelity with either Al or Xiù, and doubly so when he imagined either of them even wanting to fool around with another man. Even in the unlikely event they both encouraged him to go for it, he couldn’t really imagine wanting to.

Vemik glanced over at the women, who hadn’t stopped cooing over Xiù since the second they’d arrived. From what Julian gathered, baby bumps didn’t start to show on Ten’Gewek until late in the pregnancy. Their women were solidly built around the middle—Xiù’s slimmer, flatter waist was apparently a source of curiosity and amusement.

[“She is very pretty,”] he said. [“I mean, Human-pretty. Sky-pretty! Both of them are. It’s a shame Awisun could not be here.”]

“She got a promotion. [That means she’s in charge now, like when a Dancer becomes a Singer, and has a Dancer of her own. Gonna make a hand of Misfits a year.”]

Vemik hooted appreciatively, then glanced into the forge to c heck on the progress of his latest blade. The forge changed every time Julian saw it as he experimented with different ways to improve his craft, and honestly he had a better grasp of workflow than Julian did. His tools were all stored just so, so they’d be exactly where he needed them when they were needed.

There was other stuff, too. Little changes to help air flow through the coals, that kind of thing. Right now, apparently, he was experimenting with a hot-water quench.

There were other bladesmiths among the People, but nobody had been as marked by it as Vemik. The heat had handsomely darkened his hide, and all the good food, hard work and his ongoing training had dramatically filled out and hardened his body. His crest was as blaze orange as the strongest men, and the attention he was getting from the women was noticeable…

…To everyone but him, apparently. If he were a human, Julian might think he was almost something akin to autistic, being honest. Well, no. That wasn’t the right word. He wasn’t blind to any of it, and when he’d noticed the attention, he’d dance like all the other men. Way better, actually. He could jump clear over the bonfires, easily flipping tail-over-head…

It was more like he had two all-consuming loves in his life. Tinkering, and the Singer. Everything else was a pleasant diversion.

“Should be hot enough soon. I want to see this ‘welder’ thing you brought!”

“I thought I’d save that for when Yan gets back.”

Yan was away on a hunt. He was a skilled tracker and spearman, but at this time of the year the Werne stayed on the move. It kept their body temperatures up and also brought the herds into contact, where in a manner not unlike the Ten’Gewek there was inevitably a lot of rutting and breeding.

It made for good hunting. Solitary males bulked up in anticipation of fighting the herd bulls to take over the harem, and defeated pretenders and deposed bulls alike could often be founding limping and suffering with deep gouges from their rival’s face-blades. Either way, there was plenty of good meat on the hoof out there, and the Ten’Gewek were all too happy to hunt them. It ended their suffering, kept the herds fit and fed the tribes.

The only downside was how far a hunting party had to go to find their quarry. Yan’s party had been gone a hand of days, which was about average when hunting Werne at this time of year. Maybe he’d be back today, or tomorrow… maybe he’d be another hand of days if the Gods were feeling particularly unhelpful.

That was the pace and rhythm of tribal life. Sometimes you just had to take it as it came.

“Aww…” Vemik’s disappointment didn’t last long as he glanced into the forge again, gave the bellows one last squeeze with his tail, and then grabbed his tongs and fished a glowing billet from among the coals. It was on the anvil in a flash, held steady by tail and left hand. Julian stepped aside and gave him room to swing his ridiculous mallet. Where a blacksmith on Earth would use a pneumatic power hammer, Vemik just used a hardened steel mallet the size of his head. Julian had tried his hand at swinging it, and quickly decided he’d prefer something much smaller. Slow and steady was the key for him.

Vemik’s approach made for a hell of a show. The steel took rough shape in mere seconds.

“Who’s this one for?”

[“Brovee. Singer’s sister’s half-son.”]

‘Half-son’ was the Ten’Gewek term for a child raised by a couple where only one of the pair were the parent. In this case it sounded like Brovee’s mother was a woman other than the Singer’s sister, and since children tended to stay with their moms that usually pointed to a sad story.

“What happened?”

Vemik hooted sadly. [“A raid, and their Given-Man couldn’t defend them. Yan wasn’t happy.”]

“Idiots,” Julian muttered. There were so few Ten’Gewek these days, and while most of the tribes knew it well and kept their raids playful, there were a handful who hadn’t got the memo. They’d been pushed out to the edges of settled territory, where the hunting wasn’t as good and the Ketta weren’t as old and strong, but that had just embittered them. When they raided, they weren’t playing.

[“Mm. She survived the raid and what they did to her, and she escaped but… she got sick. Her Singer said she doesn’t know what illness it was. The Singers say there are new sicknesses on this side of the mountains, and they don’t know how to treat them.”]

[“What happened to the raiders?”]

[“It was Soono’s tribe they raided.”] Vemik trilled grimly. [“That should tell you all you need to know.”]

It did. Soono was nearly as old as Yan, and of an even more choleric temperament, but importantly he was also one of Yan’s closest allies. He believed in the peace more than most, and if that meant inflicting unholy violence on anybody who broke it, well…

“…Even stupider.”

Vemik nodded solemnly. [“Yes. A few escaped, we hunted them for a hand of days… Brovee took vengeance for his mother. He’ll be taking his Rite when the rains clear, so this knife is for when he’s a man.”]

[“No doubt about that, huh?”]

[“No. He’s strong. Too bad he doesn’t want to learn steel…”] Vemik tilted his head slightly and considered the shape of his creation. It looked like he was giving Brovee’s knife a drop point.

“I see Hoeff’s been teaching you knife things again.”

“Yes! Heff has, I think, ‘mag-a-zeen sub-scrip-shun.’ Pictures! This point, hard to forge but make knife good for stabbing.” He flipped the blade around, switch to one of his much smaller ‘detail’ hammers and delivered a few well-practiced blows to shape the tang, then returned the metal to the forge.

[“…Mosee’s baby died,”] he added, indicating a young woman who was sitting next to Xiù with a deeply sad expression on her face. Xiù, of course, had picked up on it and was commiserating with the bereaved mother.


[“Yes. the shivering-sickness again. They all get it. My son did too… he lived, but we had many nights with no sleep.”]

“Sounds bad.”

[“…The Singers think three babies out of every hand will not grow up.”]

Seventy-five percent child mortality. Fuck. And Julian lived in a society that took it for granted that children lived to adulthood.

“…Was it that bad on the other side of the mountains?”

[“Ask the Singer. Over there, it was just the way of things. But now…”] Vemik glanced over at Xiù again. [“…Now we know things can be better, it’s harder to bear.”]

“Knowledge is a curse, huh?”

Vemik shook his head. [“Knowing but not having the way to do something with the knowing is the curse,”] he said.

He looked up at the sound of a bullroarer—a singing-stone as the Ten’Gewek called them—thrumming from somewhere among the trees to the north. A minute or so later, Yan crashed back into their midst.

There wasn’t any other word for it, because he had the rear ends of two huge Werne over his shoulders, while two other men bore up a front end apiece. Julian was suddenly very glad he hadn’t been around to be dragged out on that hunt.

“Yan!” Julian called from the forge and gave an apologetic look toward Vemik, who nodded happily and turned back to his work. “Breaking in a new hunting party I see!”

He braced himself for the hug, and Yan didn’t disappoint. The two carcasses were unceremoniously dumped and Julian was treated to a full-body, full-speed and thoroughly wet charge-and-hug. Thank God for the rains, at least: they completely damped Yan’s usual potent body odor.

“Bud, errrgh! If I didn’t know you I’d have run for my life!”

“Good!” Yan put Julian back down and hooted merrily. “Surprise visit! And you bring Shyow! With baby, too!”

Xiù had joined them during the hug, and she laughed happily. “Hello, Yan. Be gentle please, the baby isn’t as strong as Julian.”

She was treated to a much softer show of affection, but of course Yan wasn’t going to tolerate any suggestion that one of his tribesman’s offspring was weak.

“Feh! Not as strong yet you mean!” He bent down and aimed a finger as thick as a firehose at Xiù’s belly, and proceeded to lecture the unborn infant. “You grow fast and strong, yes? Make your father look small!”

“Ohh, he will,” Xiù promised.

“Hey!” Julian grinned. “I’m right here you know!”

“Yes! You come help boot-cher Werne, big feast tonight!”

Julian could hardly refuse. He gave Xiù a peck on the cheek and picked up one of Yan’s dropped Werne-ends. It was hellishly heavy, and there was no way he’d be able to carry it any further than to the wide, flat rock the villagers used for butchering, but it had to be done. The men of the tribe respected strength above all else, and a man who didn’t carry his load and do his work was no man at all as far as they were concerned.

The load got a lot heavier when one of the other men, Nobo, lifted the front end.

[“Think you can make it to the forge, Jooyun?”] he joked. [“Or maybe you fall down before then!”]

[“I just might.”] Julian growled and paused to catch his breath. “God-damn man…!” he muttered under his breath, before switching back to People-speak. [“Maybe Xiù can take over when you fall down.”]

It wasn’t exactly the height of wit, but Nobo’s hunting companion Zook found the suggestion that a tiny pregnant Human could do Nobo’s job hilarious. He belted the other man on the back with a brotherly open-palmed slap. [“Don’t worry, Nobo! Not far to go now,”] he trilled, and hoisted his own Werne with a grunt.

Xiù fell in alongside Julian as they hauled the meat across the village.

“They’re gonna get on with the Corti like a house on fire…” she muttered.

“Nnrgh!” Julian shrugged his load for a moment’s relief. “Yuh. No problem there…”

He could hold a Werne, or hold a conversation. Not both. She got the message, nodded and touched his arm affectionately, which definitely helped him carry the carcass with his head a little higher.

Still. Dumping it on the “table” was a very welcome relief. He got a congratulatory slap on the back from Zook and apparently Nobo had learned the fist bump from somewhere. Reputation: solid.

Julian crouched down and rested his hands on his knees as the two men departed. Subjectively, he’d been enjoying a supergravity leg day with Adam and Daar only a few hours ago. He had a capacity to recover that frankly amazed himself nowadays, but unlike Adam he wasn’t on a Crue-D regime. His legs felt like they were made of taffy.

Yan, at least, understood. “Good effort,” he said, and drew a skinning knife

“I had to interrupt a leg day with Warhorse to come here, Yan. So…yeah.” Julian pulled out his own knife and set to carving the trotters off the Werne with a grunt of effort and a loud crack of snapping bone. They’d make good broth, and one of the women immediately swept past to appropriate them.

Yan hooted his approval. “With Adam? Good! But…you have reason to visit, yes?”

Xiù sat down on the rock. “…Yeah.”

“The Big Enemy tried to sneak onto Cimbrean again,” Julian explained. “A new way. It nearly worked, too.”

Yan snarled as he worked one of the blades off the Werne’s skull. Apparently this one had impressed him enough for him to keep the trophy. “Bad?”

“Nobody died. But somebody is… very sick. So sick, we had to ask the Corti for help. And Corti never do anything for free. They have a price.”

Yan nodded as he removed the other blade. “Their price is?”

“They want to come here and try to strike a deal with you.”

Yan set the two horn-like items aside and started to skin the carcass. “…What do they have that we want?” he asked.


Yan didn’t reply to that directly, but the slow, sad look he cast in Mosee’s direction told a complicated and sad story. Mosee was one of his nieces.

“…And what do we have that they want?”


That got his attention. He glanced at Xiù. “…I remember you saying, they don’t think much of strength.”

“They don’t value brawn.” Xiù corrected him gently. “That’s a word that means strength of muscle. But things are changing. I…can’t say why. I think Julian knows but he has to keep secrets now because of his job.”

Julian just shrugged.

“…And they think they can take our brawn?” Yan asked. “They think we will give it? Or is this one of those strange takings-without-giving?”

“…No. You’d still have all the brawn you ever had,” Julian said. “But there’d be a Taking alright. Just… not one that’s easy for you to see right now.”

“What kind of Taking?”

“I really can’t say, buddy. That will be for them to tell you, if they want. I’m here to ask if you would be willing to travel and meet them. You and whoever you think should come.”

“Hrrm…” Yan mulled it over as he worked his knife under the Werne’s hide, neatly and expertly separating it from the meat. “…No. They can come here, if it is so important to them. They must make a Giving. You say they are weak in body?”

“Weak enough that this planet would kill them, without the right tools. And also…I would advise against inviting them here, Yan. They would get what they want without asking if you did.”

Yan made a frustrated noise deep in his chest. “Is rainy season! Time to hunt, time to grow, time to fuck and make tribe stronger. I will not leave right now. Manhood trials start soon!”

“Is there some way to meet in the middle?” Xiù asked.

Yan sighed, put his knife down, and cupped his hands to fill them with rainwater so that he could scrub the blood off. “…You have an idea?”

“A ship maybe. A human one or a Gaoian one. Up in the sky where they can’t take what they want but you won’t really have left.”

“Hmmm…” Yan thought it over as he watched Julian skin the Werne’s hindquarters. “…Maybe. I do not trust these Corti, but I trust you and the Gao. You can keep the peace?”

“If there’s one thing I can guarantee, it’s that the Corti won’t want to fight you,” Julian said.

“They may just… ask for more than you will give,” Xiù said. “They tend to ‘drive a hard bargain’ as we say.”

“They are coming to us. That puts us in strong place…” Yan mused. “…Hmm. Yes. I meet them, but only on a ship in the sky. And I will be back here every night, if talking is long.”

“We could just go through the Array every day,” Xiù added. “You have provision for that.”

“Would be Giving too much. They must earn it,” Yan said. “I will not leave Akyawentuo for them, not until they prove themselves like Human and Gao did. That is my last word on it.”

Xiù and Julian looked at each other.

“…I guess we have an answer, then,” Julian said.


“No Awisun this time?” Yan asked, changing the subject.

“She has responsibilities.”

Yan nodded. “We see her again soon, yes? Is strange, seeing you two but not her. Seems…” His brow furrowed for a moment. “…Incomplete.”

Julian chuckled to himself. Yan was like a lot of the true slabs of muscle he knew: breathtakingly intelligent, and determined to act dumber than he really was. His English vocabulary was actually pretty huge, but he stuck to the simple language so as to seem simple.

…Why did they all do that, actually? It wasn’t like Julian was ever small, and he never pretended to being a simpleton…and it was cross-species, too! People could be weird.

“Yeah,” Xiù agreed, with a twinkle in her eye. Julian guessed her thoughts were probably along the same lines as his. “It’s always weird being away from her.”

“Also, not even I fuck two women every night!”

Xiù’s face went crimson. “Yan!”

“What?!” Yan slapped Julian heavily on the back, knocking the wind out of him and probably leaving a diluted bloody handprint behind. “Is good man! Strong, very hard body, too…”


“Laying it on a bit thick there, bro,” Julian coughed in a combination of amusement and post-slap recovery. Yan’s ribbing was good for the ego…but still.

“Pssh. You Humans, so strange about these things.”

“Other species think we’re weirdly over-sexed,” Xiù grumbled, still blushing pink from eartip to collarbone.

“Well…” Yan ducked his head and grinned sheepishly. “Maybe, Given-Men…what is words? ‘Ham it up?’ Why ham is word, I do not know…”

“And you’re just about the biggest ham there is.”

That earned a hoot of approval, and Yan tore off the Werne’s front leg and shoulder with very little apparent effort.

“Here.” He handed it to Xiù, who grimaced a little at suddenly finding herself holding a whole leg of freshly butchered bloody meat. “Take home, for you and for Awisun. Eating for four now! Werne meat will make the babies strong!”

“…Thank you, Yan.” She even managed to accept the gruesome gift gracefully. “I’ll… go pack it, I guess.”

Yan trilled as she carried it away. Julian briefly wondered what she intended to pack it in, but then Yan leaned in to have a conspiratorial word and rather overwhelmed him.

“Maybe we go hunt while you’re here. You take them werne-blades and hides! Good blankets!”

Julian hesitated. He’d been about to demur on the grounds that he needed to get back to the Ambassador and Allison, but snubbing Yan was… not necessarily the wisest idea. Especially when the big brute obviously had some jolly surprise in mind.

“I… guess I could have Hoeff take your reply back to the Corti…”

“Good! But make sure he come back, yes? We need him.”

“…Okay, what’re you thinking, Yan?”

Yan’s grin was truly feral. He fully bared his two-inch fangs and ran his tongue across them.

“I’m thinking… special hunt. Bring back real trophies for your women, yes? In fact, you bring rifle this time. You bring all your sky-thinking tricks. No shame in using them for this.”

Julian had a very bad feeling about this, now. The Ten’Gewek tended to view rifles as cheating. In fact, the only reason bows got a pass was because even a strong man couldn’t hold a good bow at full draw for long. If Yan was giving him a pass to use a rifle, it meant he had some truly fearsome quarry in mind.

“Oh…okay? Why? What are we hunting?”

Somehow, Yan’s grin got even wider. He glanced around conspiratorially to make sure there were no women and especially no Xiù in earshot, then lowered his voice to an eager, bloodthirsty murmur.

“Brown One,” he said.

Previous Chapter

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

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Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 1 (NSFW)

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Rising Titans – Chapter 46

9 Years, 6 Months, 14 Days After Eridani Landing Jikse Diana blinked in surprise as the jungle was suddenly lit up by a fantastic reddish glow, glancing behind her towards the city Diana watched as another blast of energy, identical in color to the flash fell from the sky. Unable to see from her vantage

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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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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 5

Date Point: 16y2m AV Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Allison Buehler After a lifetime of helicopter parenting, Tristan and Ramsey seemed addicted to every opportunity they could find to do something their mother would have scooted them away from. And who could blame them? Amanda had never managed to get her head around the idea

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Rising Titans – Chapter 44

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 4

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 3

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

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Good Training – Pecking Order

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Tidying Up

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 2

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 43

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 1

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 5

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 4

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 4

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 42

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 1

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 3

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 41

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

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The Good Samaritan

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 6

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 40

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 2

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 4

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

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