The Deathworlders – Chapter 53: The Wild Hunt Part 5

Date Point: 16y2m3d AV
Gaoian embassy, Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Daar, Great Father of the Gao

People who didn’t know Daar all that well thought he had a pathological aversion to Civilized pursuits. Not true at all! Daar had always enjoyed history, writing, and the more subtle arts of courtship, and he had to admit he was seeing the appeal in flowers and such, too. Refined arts weren’t an alien concept to him, he simply preferred to enjoy them sparingly. After all, a treat was to be savored and enjoyed, not eaten every day, and Daar was firmly of the opinion that if a ‘Back wallowed in Civilization too much, they might lose sight of what was so special about it.

Why it was worth preserving.

And so Daar found himself practicing his calligraphy with a letter to Naydi, because his aide, Brother Tiyun of Clan Highmountain, was one of the more remarkable veterans of the War for Gao, and had at some point become a Keeda-damned mind-reader on all matters Great Father. He somehow always knew what Daar needed at any given moment, even if that were a sparring partner…though bein’ honest, he wasn’t very big even for a silverfur, so Daar tried to spare him that particular entertainment.

He was getting better, though. Daar had made a Project of him because he would be damned if his friends weren’t the bestest fightin’ tails they could be.

He shared that thought in his letter to Naydi. Writing letters helped him clear his mind almost as well as exercise did. And the history of Gaori lettering was one of those mysteries he ached to solve.

The basics were simple. That was the whole point. Each little line and shape was a phoneme, combine them to get a syllable. The rules were clear, simple, regular…way too perfect. So even if language shifted and changed over the centuries, he could read Fyu’s poetry aloud. Couldn’t understand half of it, but poetry like that was about rhythm, tone and cadence anyway.

Fyu had been a way better poet. Sometimes, Daar wished he could talk to the old legend, get ‘ta know him some more. How the hell would Fyu have handled a problem like Leemu?

… Would he have even understood it? Tech-wise, Fyu had lived in an age a lot more like the Ten’gewek than like modern Gao.

Daar blinked and put his pen down, carefully wiping the ink off and setting it aside in its holder, putting the lid back on the ink and closing his antique writing case with all the careful prec ision that the civilized art demanded. That done, he sat back and frowned.

…How would he explain the problem to Fyu? Or Yan?

Well, Yan had shown time and again he could get his head around big sky-thoughts with some translation and a running jump. He might not know cell biology, nanotech or microsurgery, but he could get his head around the idea of a magic that could bring folks back from the dead.

And that was what they were playing with, when he got down ‘ta diggin’ in the dirt under all the weeds an’ flowers. If the Corti could copy a mind from the body and then download it back into the body, and… take the body apart, rebuild it, clone it or whatever in the interim, well… they could back up people to archive. Restore them if they got killed.

Or, shit! What if they could build a body to order, and download the mind into that instead? Could they take someone like Tiyun and shove him in a body like Daar’s? What would the world be like if they could build an army like that?

…Would they even know how to use their new bodies? It had taken Daar years to build himself into a worthy match for his bestest friends, and most of that was learning how to do, instead of just the actual doing…

The phrase ‘can of worms’ was so weirdly fucking apt for a problem like this. He peeked inside, and all he saw was crawling problems, all of them disturbing to look at. And the nasty part was, the can was open now and it wasn’t gonna close again. Now that Tran and Nofl had floated the idea, they were gonna take it back to the Directorate and work at it even if Daar said no to trying it out on Leemu.

He didn’t wanna sentence Leemu to death.

It felt a little weird even thinking that. Daar had personally executed billions of his own people. He had committed intimate acts of bloody, brutal murder against irredeemable criminals, not to mention a couple of good men whose only crime had been being too inflexible to do the right thing. He was no stranger to death, nor was he shy about doling it out when needed.

But the thought of leaving Leemu to the ravages of the droud made his fur crawl.

So… ‘kay. Explain the problem to Yan.

Actually…yeah. Explain the problem to Yan. Why the hell not do it in person? He could explain the problem to a little rubber squeak toy if he wanted ‘ta just talk to himself, but unlike the toy, Yan might actually have an insight. Shit, he probably wouldn’t be cluttered by all the bullshit that came from overthinking such things!

Also, he could probably tussle a bit, too! And it was good to keep friends and friendly rivalries alive.

He returned to his desk and wrote the remainder of his letter with care. Sure he could have just gone sprinting from the room barking orders, but this was a letter to Naydi. No other Gaoians were allowed to love each other, and that was a blessing he wouldn’t never forget, nor ever stop honoring.

And that, right there, was the greatest evil the Hierarchy had done to them.

He signed the letter, folded and sealed it the old-fashioned way, and placed it on top of his “send” pile. One of his assistants would ensure she got it.

Only once that was done, did he leave his office and call for a jump to Akyawentuo.

He hadn’t gone back to Gao, not while the Leemu question was unresolved. Instead he’d stayed at the embassy and claimed an office. His staff were used to following him around, and the links between Folctha and Gao were so good these days that it didn’t feel like being far from home.

Now that choice paid off. He was a short car ride from the jump terminal, and as luck had it he’d made his decision just in time to catch the next scheduled link.

Well. Maybe he’d run to the terminal instead. His head felt too full of fluff and gunk to think, and some wind through his fur might help a little.

His staff were used to that, too.

He ran, nice and fast and hard, so that he outran his staff, and arrived on time, panting heavily just as it was time to climb onto the platform. It creaked under his weight—they needed to fix that—and had just enough time to shake his pelt out nice and presentable when the Array fired.


Heavy gravity, heavy air, an explosion of scents and sounds. He stepped off and enjoyed the added weightiness he felt, a small challenge he’d always enjoyed, then sniffed happily.

He’d missed Akyawentuo.

There were a few surprised-looking humans around the array, preparing to offload the supply package that he’d rode along with. He recognized Daniel Hurt instantly.


Hurt shook off his goofy look of surprise with a small laugh and a smile. “Well. We definitely weren’t expecting you today! Welcome back to Akyawentuo, Great Father.”

“Good ‘ta be back,” Daar agreed, and indulged himself in giving Hurt an affectionate reunion hug. His staff might’ve fretted over the dignity of the office, but Daar liked to exercise his discretion, and sometimes that meant being free with his affection. “How’re you?”

Hurt was way denser nowadays. Livin’ in supergravity had really hardened him up and leaned him down from the soft academic he’d once been. Good! Daar had heard he’d been gettin’ lotsa mating offers back on Earth too…too bad Humans were so weird ‘bout all that.

Well. Weirdness was relative, really.

There was one person who was strangely absent, though considerin’ how much the area smelled of him.

“…Hoeff gone somewhere?”

“Yeah, he’s probably out in the woods on Yan’s big hunt.”

That got Daar’s attention. “Big hunt?”

“All the villages are talking about it. He plans to take down a Brown One.”

That…was a bit worrying, actually.

“Why exactly is he doin’ that?” Daar asked. Unthinkingly, he picked up a crate and helped offload the jump platform.

“All he told Julian is that it attacked a village. One of the Given-Men died protecting his tribe.”

“I mean, I unnerstand an’ all but…damnit he ain’t just a chieftain anymore!”

Hurt nodded. “None of us are really in a position to tell him that, though. And frankly, he only commands the respect he does because of what he’s done and the strength he’s shown. Taking down a Brown One would be just the sort of thing to cement him as more than just a chieftain.”

Daar shook his head. “Naw, ‘yer unnerestimatin’ him. He only got as old as he is ‘cuz he ain’t some incautious idiot. Which is why this is frankly a little alarming.”

“Or maybe it’s a test of sorts,” Daniel hefted another box off the platform, and Daar briefly wondered what was in them. There were already a lot of crates around the array. “You’re right, he’s not incautious, and I don’t think he’d suddenly become incautious overnight.”

He straightened up and twisted back and forth to loosen his back. “…He only suggested the hunt after being told that the Corti wanted to meet him,” he added.


“You got a theory?”

“Nothing I’d care to share. Yan is… something of a closed book to me. Human enough to speculate, alien enough to keep me guessing. Much like yourself, no disrespect intended.”

“Well, ‘yer a Highmountain through an’ through, an’ guys like me an’ Yan are pretty much the opposite o’ that. That ain’t too surprising…but tell me anyway. What’s ‘yer guess?”

Daniel sat on a crate, and sipped some water from a bottle he’d had clipped to his belt. “…Yan has been sensibly cautious of sky-magic so far. And not just because we’ve warned him about it, either. But suddenly, he invites us to bring all our tricks to bear against his culture’s version of a dragon? He has to know we could turn a Brown One to paste if we really wanted to, he saw what a couple of Firebirds did to the Abrogators. And he saw what that nuke you dodged did to the forest over on the other side of the mountains, too.”

…Dragon. Now there was an idea. Balls…that fit pretty well actually…

“When’d he see that?”

“A few seasons ago. The Given-Men went back to the old lodge, to fetch some keepsakes and history. They all live within two days walk of each other now, so they moved the lodge to somewhere closer and ‘nicer,’ he said. Anyway, the point is that Yan knows perfectly well that killing a Brown One is trivial with the right Sky-Magic. So the question is… why would you exterminate something your culture venerates?”

“Well…does he? Like, knowing is differn’t from knowin’ sometimes.”

“…Could be. And that’s why I don’t think it’s a complete theory. There’s a few possible explanations for what he’s up to.” Daniel sighed. “…And then of course there’s the fact that sooner or later, the Ten’gewek will have to slay that dragon anyway. There are far worse things up there than Brown Ones, after all.” He aimed a finger skyward.

“I know,” Daar sighed to himself. “I’m one o’ them.”

Daniel gave him a sympathetic look. “…“So if you don’t mind my asking, why did you come here?”

“Spur o’ the moment.” Daar explained. “Kinda hoped Yan would have a, uh… I guess uncluttered insight on a problem I got. Turns out, he has clutter of his own.”

“What kind of problem?”

Daar sighed. “I got a life I can maybe save, and maybe shouldn’t. That’s all I’m willin’ ‘ta share ‘fer now.”

“Understood.” Daniel stood up. “Well, this was our last scheduled jump today so I hope it turns out to be worth the trip.”

“Yeah. I’ll be here ‘fer a couple days most likely. Oh, as an aside…if you ever become the most biggest warlord in the history of ever, make sure ‘yer staff can think on their feet. I can’t even say how much I’m thankful I can do dumb shit like this an’ get advice without much worry. I think I’mma hunt a werne an’ make ‘em all jerky for this, I bet they’re angry.”

“Still a big leap, stranding yourself on a backwater like Akyawentuo for a couple days in search of advice. You obviously respect Yan a lot.”

“Yan…well, thing is? The Ten’Gewek got something in ‘em that were murdered outta my people. Yours have buried it under so much symbology an’ stuff it’s hard to get at. But here?”

Daniel nodded. “Here, it’s very… pure.”

“Yeah. An’ they’re way smarter an’ more civilized than they’ve got any damn right bein’ at this point in their evolution, too.”

“Much more so than we were,” Daniel agreed.

“Eh, maybe. Don’t sell ‘yerselves short. Anyway. Yeah. There are some questions that maybe it’s best if someone who ain’t got all that Civilization on top o’ them might be bestest at answerin.’ I already spoke with Champion Gyotin, an’ he don’t have an answer.”

“Possibly you should brace yourself for there not being a good answer.”

“Maybe,” Daar shook his fur out. “…But I’m beginnin’ ‘ta think maybe Yan’s got a similar problem. Is it always a good idea to slay dragons?”

“…Good question.”

“Yeah. Think I’m gonna go say hi to Sister Shoo an’ then go find Yan.” Daar dropped to four-paw, gave the professor a parting nod, and turned his nose down the hill.

Well, first thing he did was bark out a quick message on his wrist communicator to his staff. The zero-point mode of the array would sync at least a few times yet today, and any messages should get through in a reasonable amount of time.

He had little doubt his inbox would explode the next time the sync fired.

But he could worry about that when it happened. With luck, he and Yan could get their heads sorted out, maybe do a werne hunt, give the young monkey-cubs a ride…

That seemed nice. A day or two to recover, before he went back home and pronounced doom on Leemu.

But first, it was time to catch up with a friend.

Date Point: 16y2m3d AV
Planet Akyawentuo, Ten’gewek protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm

Xiù Chang

“Okay, should be online now…”

Xiù grinned to herself as the feed from the drone came through clean and strong, then giggled as she saw her new perspective through the VR goggles. The drone was perched on Julian’s palm, leaving her feeling rather like a Lilliputian looking up at a more rugged Gulliver.

“Hi, big guy!” she told him, and wished there was some way to emote via the drone.

He, Yan, and Hoeff were high up in the tallest, strongest tree of the Wall. Yan about half-way up, Julian most of the rest of the way, and Hoeff at the very top where he could safely brace himself. When Julian smirked and then turned the drone around, she saw the canopy was mostly below them, and fell away quite quickly to the border where it just… stopped. That was the point, she guessed, where thousands of years of Werne, Brown Ones, and the other inhabitants of the plains had grazed and trampled any ketta saplings that tried to establish themselves.

“Hi! We’re almost ready, waiting for Hoeff to make his way back down to where I’m at.”

“Gotcha. What’s the plan?”

“We’re just taking a look at him today. We’re…not exactly sure what the best way to go about this is yet, so…patience is a virtue.”

Xiù nodded, then realized too late that the drone wouldn’t convey that. “Okay… Any idea where I should start looking for him?”

Julian shifted in the tree and aimed the drone down toward Yan. “Yan? Xiù wants to know where she should start looking.”

Yan grunted, lashed himself to the tree by his tail so that he had both hands free, and unfolded the map he’d drawn on a white, human-made piece of letter paper. It wasn’t exactly perfect or to scale, but he’d put a lot of detail in.

[“…We know the Werne follow high ground in the rainy season and just after,”] he said. [“The low ground gets boggy, maybe floods… plenty of grass on the high ground, and they can see a long way. They should be easy to find. Find them, and the Brown One won’t be far away.”]

Julian placed the drone on a branch to descend a level, then picked it up again. [“Boggy? How does the Brown One take to that?”]

[“He hunts Yshek in the shallow water, where they lay eggs.”]

Given that an Yshek was basically a furry crocodile the size of an orca, that was a hell of a mental image. Xiù had seen Yshek through Misfit’s survey drones and sensors, and on Earth they’d have been apex predators.

Not so on Akyawentuo, apparently. Wow.

Julian took that news calmly. [“So he doesn’t care, then.”]

[“No. Very big paws. Can’t swim, though.”]

[“So, find a Werne herd on the high ground, then check for water nearby,”] Xiù summarized. Yan grinned at her drone and gave her a thumbs-up.

“Have fun, babe,” Julian told her. He shift in the tree, drew his arm back, and whipped it forward to hurl her into the sky. The drone’s ESFS wings snapped on automatically and she flipped a tight turn between the treetops as she climbed into open sky.

The Wall really was visible, as a kind of ridge of especially tall and hardy trees. She briefly wondered what natural quirk of the local geography had caused it, then dismissed the thought and tested the drone’s top speed.

ESFS wings were great, in that they could reconfigure on the fly for different kinds of flights. They could be little buzzy energy-intensive wings for fine maneuvering, huge wide gliding wings for circling on the air currents, and all points in between. The drone shifted automatically between them, but she had the option of manually changing modes too.

It wasn’t hard to find an updraft to ride. The plains were far from being flat featureless expanses of grass, but were instead ridged and rucked here and there like a disturbed carpet. Rocky features thrust through the soil every few hundred meters, and here and there they created sheltered spots where wooded copses had established themselves.

Such features deflected the wind upwards, giving her column of air on which to gain altitude. Before long she had an angel’s-eye view of the landscape, which she started comparing to her memory of Yan’s map.

Okay… there were the twin stands of trees… and that was the river… which meant the herd was probably somewhere over that way.

When they were in the forest, the Werne splintered into family groups of a bull and his harem. Out on the plains, they tolerated each other and merged into a larger mass of warm bodies. They were pretty easy to spot: their hooves had churned up a wide expanse of damp earth, and their grazing mouths had stripped the grass right down to the roots. All Xiù had to do was follow the disturbed ground.

She zoomed in on them as she wheeled overhead and took some photos for the zoologists. It looked like the herd instinctively created a wall around the calfs, placing them right in the middle. Then the cows formed the second ring around them, and the bulls…

…Were all on one side, interestingly. They had their noses down to graze, but they were definitely tolerating each other to stay together on one side of the herd.

Maybe they were shielding the herd? It seemed like as good a clue as any, so she banked, gained a little speed by dropping a little altitude, and headed out in that direction to see if she could find something dangerous.

What she found was… well… the Brown One.

Yan hadn’t been kidding about it eating Yshek. This one had dragged a ravaged carcass out of the water and was red all the way to the ears from shoving its nose inside to feast on the innards. Once upon a time the sight would have made her queasy, but well… She’d seen a lot of the grisly side of life. Nature red in tooth and claw wasn’t that big of a deal compared to a literal meat locker full of dead Gaoians.

She shivered at that memory, and forced it from her mind, instead opting to descend for a better look at the Brown One.

This had to be Yan’s quarry. It had a proportionally long, well-muscled torso with a broad, thick chest, a strong back, massive haunches and sturdy, powerful limbs. It walked plantigrade on huge paws that it could use like crude hands. Anatomically it was reminiscent of a mash-up between a big cat, a grizzly bear, or a powerful brute of a dog, rather than the quite literally dinosaur-sized prowling titan it was. All of that on a creature as tall at the shoulders as an elephant, and considerably bigger in breadth and length. It had a long and muscular tail, too, held low to the ground and lashing back and forth as it ate.

The head, though… God. That was a head that could bite a man’s whole body off. She got several good shots of a mouth full of logging-saw teeth, and an especially visceral few seconds of footage as it casually splintered the fallen yshek’s ribs with a bite.

It was starting to go dark black around the ears and whiskers, just like an aging Given-Man. Its muzzle, legs, face and flanks were all scarred to the point where there were large patches where its dense fur had never regrown, and its ears were little more than ragged stumps. This had to be the old one Yan was after.

Well. Time to see if that tagging kit Hoeff had brought back worked. Or indeed if their jury-rigged system for attaching it to the drone functioned as intended.

She picked a spot on its back between the shoulder blades where, in theory, the tracking tag would have plenty of loose skin to embed itself in and the Brown One wouldn’t be able to scratch or roll to remove it. She orbited behind it, waited for it to bury its nose in its kill again, then angled down and zipped forward.

She scored a perfect landing and fired the tagger. Her reward was a satisfying beep as the tracker implanted properly, followed by an outraged volcanic snarl from her quarry. It spun like a house cat and if Xiù hadn’t anticipated that it might get angry and started climbing the second she tagged it, the poor drone would have been swatted out of the sky in a shower of broken bits by a paw the size of a coffee table.

The Brown One, not to be so easily denied, backed off a pace or two with its tail lashing, glared up at her, and then leapt.

The drone had stereoscopic cameras on the front feeding Xiù a perfectly deep 3D view of the world. She got a perfect view down its gullet as it pounced ludicrously high into the air to snap at her, squeaked, and reflexively threw the drone sideways.

She slipped between its teeth, and heard them chomp shut bare inches behind her. The Brown One dropped back down to the boggy ground with a splash, and she recovered from her evasive sideslip by powering under its belly, zipping low across the water, and then climbing sharply.

There was a frustrated roar, and she relaxed. Losing the drone would have been…

Well. Seeing teeth like that coming toward her had been intimidating enough. The surge of adrenaline made her giggle, and she circled the drone up to an altitude of maybe a hundred feet or so, set it to hover, and radioed Julian.

“Tagged it,” she reported.

“Nice! How’d it go?”

“I’ll have to show you the footage later. My hands are shaking!”

“Close call?”

“I could tell you how many cavities it has.”

She heard Julian make a faintly disbelieving sound, or maybe a laugh.

“Julian…” she cautioned, watching the Brown One stop prowling and glaring up at her and return to its feast. “…Really don’t underestimate this thing. He jumped like twenty feet in the air from a standing start.”

“…A critter that big managed that?”

“Julian, I don’t think it was even really trying.”

“…Oh, Jeez.”

A commotion of some kind reached Xiù’s ears despite her headphones, even as she laughed quietly at Julian’s understated melancholy. It sounded like the villagers were greeting someone.

“….Yeah. Look, I’m gonna set the drone to a high orbit and go idle for a few minutes, something’s happening here.”

“Like what?”

“Don’t know yet. BRB.”

The drone had an autopilot function that could keep it aloft and tracking a target—like, say, the radio tag—for a couple of days if it needed to. It should be fine without her. She instructed it to do exactly that, then took off the VR headset and headphones.

As she emerged blinking back into the real world, she found a large, scarred, and very familiar but entirely unexpected muzzle poking in through the tent flap at her.

“…Hello, Sister.” Daar looked troubled.

“Da—? Uh,” Xiù caught herself. She was a Female of the Clan of Females, even if she was human. And Yulna had bared her throat to him just like the rest. It seemed maybe a little silly, but these things were important. “…My Father? What are you doing here?”

“Had somethin’ ‘ta discuss with Yan. When I got here, it turned out ‘ta be two somethings.” Daar pulled his head out of the tent, and Xiù ducked through after him. There was a light drizzling rain going on outside, and she wrapped a blanket the Singer had given her around her shoulders to ward it off.

“…An’ you can drop all that ‘My Father’ stuff,” Daar added. “Please.”

“Sorry… You heard about the hunt?”

“It’s okay, and yeah. I think…balls, wassat phrase? ‘Feeling his oats?’ [Like ‘stiff-eared and ready’?’]”

“Yan?” Xiù felt like he’d jumped ahead a few steps in the conversation. Still, she code-switched into Gaori for him. [“Well… I don’t know, really. I don’t even know if it’s going to be much of a hunt in the end. We’ve got a drone, a radio tracking tag, and Hoeff brought a really big gun from Earth. One of those] Barrett rifles? [He said it doesn’t matter how big and tough a Brown One is.”]

[“Don’t that strike you as odd?”] Daar asked. [“Yan takes huntin’ seriously. An’ he respects his prey. But now suddenly he wants easy mode?”]

[“It’s definitely odd. I’m… not sure if he really understands how much easier this will make it. It’s not like they have a translation for the words] ‘point and click,’ [you know?”] Xiù agreed. [“But on the other hand, he’s not stupid. I think he has his reasons, he just isn’t sharing them.”]

Daar grumbled and sniffed the wind, and Xiù tilted her head curiously. [“…Why does it worry you so much?”]

Daar scratched at his ear for a few seconds, still sniffing the wind. When he spoke, he did so carefully, like he was laying down his thoughts in front of him and stepping on them carefully.

“I’m… wonderin’ if it’s always a good idea ‘ta slay dragons,” he said in English.

He lapsed into a kind of contemplative silence, and Xiù reflected once again on how routinely her life seemed to take a turn for the absurd. How many other thirty-year-old expectant mothers ever had stood in the rain in an iron-age village on an alien world, discussing allegory with the king of a different alien world?

Sixteen years previously—eleven by her count, thanks to stasis—she’d spoken with the Dominion ambassador to the Gao and advised Mother-Supreme Giymuy on whether or not the Gao should accept full Dominion membership. And now here she was again. Kind of.

“Dragons,” she said aloud, flatly.

“Yeah. That’s what the Brown One is to the People. It’s a dragon. Symbolically an’ damn near literally. I’ve read a lot about the symbology your people attach to dragons.”

“…When you say ‘my people,’” Xiù said carefully, “Who do you mean?”

“Huh? Humans.”

“Right.” Xiù thought for a second. “…Daar, there’s more than one kind of dragon. It depends where you’re from. If you asked my parents what a dragon represents, they wouldn’t talk about slaying it at all. In Chinese culture, a dragon is… well, it’s not a big dangerous fire-breathing lizard with a hoard of gold. They’re good omens. They represent luck, perseverance, courage and happiness. Not ruin and danger.”

“…That’s a good point. Still don’t sound like something you’d wanna kill, yijao?”

“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him,” Xiù countered.

Daar flicked both his ears in a look of momentary befuddlement. “…Dunno how Gyotin would feel about that one,” he said. “What does it mean?”

“It means… I think it means once you’ve learned everything there is to learn from something, holding on to it might keep you from learning anything more.”

There was a swirl of cold rain and she backed up a step or two into the shelter of the hut. Daar just ignored it.

“…An’ what if you ain’t learned everything there is to learn yet?” he asked.

“Then you don’t meet the Buddha, I guess.”

“Hmm.” Daar gave that some thought, then finally shook out his fur a little. “…Which way did they go, anyway? I came here ‘ta talk with Yan, an I’m gonna do just that.”

“Can’t you smell him?”

“Rain, an’ the whole camp smells like his armpit. Gotta get a little upwind of it first.”

“Okay. They went southeast. I can guide you via the drone…” she indicated the headset. “I mean, I’ll tell Julian you’re coming anyway, so…”

“Thanks, sister…” he gave her a warm look. “…How’s ‘yer cub? Uh, baby?”

“He started moving last week,” Xiù smiled, and gently tickled the bump with her fingernails. “So far so good.”

“That’s good.” Daar said, earnestly and wholeheartedly. “…I’d better go catch up with ‘em.”

“Southeast. Just call if you need directions, but I doubt you’ll have trouble sniffing them out.”

He chittered, and lumbered off between the trees.

Xiù took a deep breath and the Singer caught her eye. The Ten’gewek shaman managed to say quite a lot with just that glance, reflecting Daar’s anxieties with little more than a lift of her brow and a twitch of her tail, then shrugged and went back to her duties.

Xiù retrieved her radio.

“Um… Julian? You’ll never guess who just showed up…” she began.

Date Point: 16y2m4d AV
Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches


Even Corti needed to sleep sometimes. The Directorate had done their best to engineer the need out of their species, but all they’d succeeded in doing was to make Corti sleep very… efficient.

In other words, tiredness came on quickly and hard every fifty hours or so, and the actual slumber itself was impenetrably deep for the few hours it lasted.

On the other hand, Deathworlders spent significant portions of their life asleep. Gaoians averaged a quarter of their day, Humans a third, and the Ten’Gewek were apparently quite fond of napping at every opportunity they got. That was probably a consequence of their high-performance bodies; much more self-maintenance was required.

Of course, they also seemed to transition from sleep to wakefulness with some inertia. A human in the morning, before their exercise, carbohydrates, caffeine and some fresh air could be barely recognisable as the poised, agile, intelligent creatures they really were.

For Nofl, waking up was simply a case of blinking, opening his eyes, frowning at the ceiling above his cot for a second, and then standing up.

He brewed himself a cup of his carefully decaffeinated brew on the principle that drinking coffee upon waking was just the done thing if one lived among Humans, snacked on a few dried porchini, and hopped up into his desk chair to review his messages and the results of his overnight automated experiments.

Interesting. It seemed the Great Father had gone offworld to Akyawentuo unexpectedly. His staff had politely and with some apology explained that he most likely would not return for a day or two.

That at least postponed the moment of decision over what to do with Leemu, which Nofl was perfectly happy about. It bought him some time to finish a proof of concept.

The problem, if it could be called that, came down to a basic difference between Gaoian and Human biology. Gao were deathworlders by classification, but biologically speaking the human body was a very different thing indeed. There was a certain inherent… instability to it. Humans teetered constantly on a narrow pinnacle, and could experience quite dramatic shifts in their mood, health and physical abilities in response to any number of factors and stimuli.

For instance: they frequently complained of “off days” that could adequately be explained by an interrupted breakfast, or insufficient hydration, or going to bed too late the night before. Their strength, endurance, cognitive abilities and so much more could be stretched, boosted, degraded our outright ruined in the right circumstances. The average hungry Gaoian was often just… hungry, until starvation began to set in. An average hungry Human might be irritable, unfocused, lethargic and weakened.

The fine-tuned analogy stood the test of time, it seemed. And one of its pertinent manifestations with regard to the Leemu problem was in the matter of cancer.

Cancer was universal, of course. Indeed, whole strains of promising Corti stock had once been lost to the ravages of uncontrolled tumor growth, before the Directorate had learned how to anticipate and correct such problems. Humans didn’t suffer from tumors any more or less than any other species.

Except… well… they did.

In fact, one of the most interesting insights to come out of all those years of abducting Humans and sticking them under the finest scanners the Corti had had been that the average Human body manifested a number of pre-cancerous cells every day… which their maniacally efficient immune system then brutally exterminated.

The Gao were different from the other two Deathworld sophonts in one very important respect. There were a number of oddities to their genome that had puzzled Corti and Gaoian researcher alike for quite some time…until the revelation about their origins. The Gao’s ancient heritage was as an engineered species, and that had consequences. Chief among them was a remarkable robustness against genetic drift that they’d only broken free of in the last couple of millennia, and then only in a select few of their lines.

Their…dependable cellular biology was a shame for poor Leemu however, because it meant that his immune system simply wasn’t programmed to attack his own tissues. It hadn’t evolved to deal with cancer, because protections against drift had been designed into them. And even if it had been capable of such self-harm, well… comparing the Gaoian immune system to the Human one was rather like comparing a candle to a house fire.

So while Humans had a degree of natural protection against Arutech, especially those with an existing autoimmune disorder like rheumatoid arthritis, and could successfully be treated using adjuvant therapy…

Well. Nofl was already making good inroads on delivering an Arutech cure to the Humans, albeit a crude one with a host of unpleasant side-effects. But delivering one to the Gao was going to involve a daring and dangerous sideways leap in xenobiology.

It would, firstly, involve disabling or possibly entirely dismantling their in-built protective mechanisms. A shame, really. They had the most robust genetic duplicating machinery of anyone, but that same nigh-incorruptibility was getting in the way.

Needs must, however. The alternative was an eternity in stasis, involuntary euthanasia, or being effectively cloned. None of those satisfied the objective of curing the patient.

So, Nofl had run a simulation while he slept, and was pleased to discover that it had finished by the time he finished reading and replying to his messages. The blizzard of numbers and hard data points it splattered all over his monitor would have been utterly incomprehensible to almost anyone else, but he ran a practiced eye over it and, upon seeing what he was looking for, smiled as widely as his face could manage.

It wouldn’t be safe, or easy, or possibly even effective. But it was possible, and that was a lot more hope than he’d had when he went to bed.

Still smiling, he composed a note and forwarded his findings to Tran.

That done, he sat back and sipped his coffee with a certain feeling of justified smugness.

“…What would the Directorate do without me?” he asked, of nobody in particular.

It was his best work yet.

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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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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