The Deathworlders – Chapter 54: Here Be Dragons Part 1

Date Point: 16y2m5d AV
Planet Akyawentuo, Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm

Xiù Chang

Yan was having to explain himself.

It wasn’t that the men who’d come out to hunt the Brown One were disappointed, exactly. None of them had been looking forward to the battle at all. They all knew the stories of how many men died taking down the last one the People had collectively fought.

But they’d come out to fight it anyway, because it needed hunting. Their quarry had clawed its way into the forest and attacked a village, which simply couldn’t stand. Yan’s decision to back down and retreat, therefore, had caused some confusion and raised some questions… which Yan was now answering.

His answer was ably helped by Hoeff, who had been more than glad to demonstrate what .50 BMG did to an unsuspecting neyma on the way home. They’d wound up carrying the hapless animal back in halves, grumbling about all the wasted meat that the bullet had pulped too thoroughly to be of use. It looked horrific, but Xiù didn’t feel sorry for the creature: it had been dead before it even finished dropping to the ground. Compared to all the other ways a neyma could be slain in a hunt, Hoeff’s demonstration had been humane.

The sight of an animal basically torn in two by a weapon that the smallest man present handled with ease had done a lot to provoke discussion among the Given-Men and Singers. And the Singers, according to Ten’Gewek tradition, were men too in a robust all-but-cock way. So some of those squabbles had gotten physical… and the Given-Men hadn’t always won.

The thrust of the disagreement was this: the women wanted their sons, brothers and lovers to come home safely. The men didn’t want to weaken themselves before the Gods by relying on cheap sky-magic tricks. Vemik had, in an adorably dorkish way, tried to point out that there was nothing cheap about the rifle and that a lot of hard work by a lot of people had gone into making it…

…But there was a certain entrenched mindset among some of the People that Sky-magic was the Easy Way. It could make rocks and steel fly, it could light the darkness with a click of a switch or burst a neyma with the twitch of a finger. For some of them, it was hard to see past the effect to all of the hard work that had gone into making that effect look so easy.

Vemik had eventually given up and gone to sit with Julian, who was whittling a small toy out of Forestfather bark and listening at the edge of the conversation while diplomatically not taking part. After a while, he’d got out his sketchbook and extra-large chunky pencil, and taken to sketching.

The discussion went on until sometime after sunset, when the sky was shading to purple and dark blue. It was fairly peaceful but very serious with hardly any grab-ass and aggressive flirting at all, which made it practically Parliamentary by Ten’Gewek standards.

Xiù wasn’t invited. She attended anyway, watching from high above via the drone and listening through its highly directional microphone. It had instantly become her favorite toy, and she’d resolved that the second she was forced to give it back, she’d buy one of her own when they got back to Folctha.

Dan Hurt sat next to her, watching and listening via a tablet.

“…You really have to admire their stubbornness, don’t you?” he asked after the third time the conversation looped back around to the problem of needing to kill that Brown One.

“Mm-hm.” Xiù nodded sadly. If that Brown One attacked again, there’d be grieving families who might justifiably wonder why they hadn’t used the Sky-magic. She had to admire how seriously the Ten’Gewek took their independence, but that was going to be hard if people got killed.

She glanced over to the other end of the research camp. Hoeff and Claire were working things out over there, sitting side-by-side in camp chairs by the fire and making s’mores. It seemed to be going well, or at least Hoeff seemed to be much more relaxed than usual… and to judge by the way Claire touched his arm and smiled and laughed at one of his jokes, she thought it was going well too.

Still. Xiù would never eavesdrop on a conversation like that. She watched just long enough to see them clank their coffee cups together in some kind of toast to each other, smiled to herself, and returned her attention to the tribal meet.

It was breaking up.

“…Tribal life,” Dan sighed. “They need to learn how to start taking minutes of these things. I guarantee half of them won’t even remember what was discussed or what they agreed on next time.”

Xiù picked up her cup of coffee. She’d been keeping it hot in its steel mug next to the fire, and it steamed delightfully as she sipped it. “Mm. Yes. The true mark of civilization: minutes.”

Dan snorted. “Since when were you so sarcastic?”

“Well, Allison’s not here. Somebody has to fill in for her.” She sipped her coffee again. “And anyway, they don’t need to. These meetings aren’t about logic. They’re about social grooming and trust, mostly.”

Dan nodded. “Oh, I know. Yan’s managed to avoid losing face today at least. They’ll remember that part… and I really have to give Julian credit for staying the hell out of it.”

“He is smarter than he looks, you know. Lack of doctorates aside.”

“Yes. Funny how you three are the same, that way.”

Xiu couldn’t help but tease him a bit. “What, are you saying I look dull?”

Dan, sadly, was old and wily enough not to fall for such obvious bait, and the lines around his eyes just made the mischievous look in them twinkle twice as hard. “I know full well your original choice of career would have been Hollywood. Tinseltown isn’t exactly known for its, uh… high-falutin’ intelligentsia.” He toasted her with his coffee. “Why didn’t you ever go into academia, anyway?”

“Abducted by aliens.”

“I mean after that.”

Xiù shrugged. “I’ve learned what I need in life from the people I love. And this may sound strange, given things, but I’m not sure I’m young enough for that kind of drama anymore.”

“You’re only thirty years old!” Dan objected. “You are officially still a young woman, and I will not hear you say otherwise. And you’re one of the de facto leading authorities on what I’m going to oxymoronically call xenoanthropology. First contact with two alien civilizations, remember.”

“Yes, and I’m sure the debates over the social constructions of…whatever…would be absolutely gripping.” Xiù shrugged. “I was mostly just trying to stop a crazy Corti from vivisecting a cub, and stop Yan from shoving a spear through my boyfriend.”

“Successfully, on both counts. But fine. I can see the school of Hard Knocks has claimed your soul… which is probably why Julian’s been so reluctant to do correspondence classes, I’m guessing?”

“Maybe? Mostly I think it’s a lack of time. We’re all busy but he’s probably the busiest of us three…” She finished her coffee and put the mug down. “You see that? Vemik’s got an idea, I can tell.”

“How can you?”

“His tail twitches in a certain…excited way. Also, he’s trying to show Julian.”

Dan leaned forward to get a closer look at the tablet, and Xiù helpfully zoomed in for him.

“Uh oh, he’s got his sketchbook… and the nice graphites.”

Xiù aimed the microphone at them as well, in time to catch Julian gently rebuffing Vemik’s enthusiastic attempt at show-and-tell. He was speaking quietly, so what the mic picked up at the extremes of its gain was scratchy and distorted, but audible.

[“—be a good idea, but it ain’t a good idea for me to be involved, man.”]

[“Why, though?”] Nobody did puppy-dog crestfallen quite like Vemik.

[“Dude, we just had this whole long talk about sky-magic and stuff, and how you can’t have us fighting your fights for you. That’s a big Taking, Vemik. So I can’t get involved in this! I so much as pick up a hammer to help you, they’ll taste sky-magic on the air and the whole idea gets tainted. You’re gonna need to do this all yourself.”]

[“But will it work?!”]

[“You’re gonna hafta figure that out yourself. I’m sorry.”]


Julian’s patience ran out. “Vemik! Dude! Prime Directive, okay?”


She watched them part ways for the night with a conciliatory fraternal hug, and Vemik returned to his forge, clearly too energized and inspired to do something so mundane as sleep.

Julian returned through the village where Daar had been entertaining the children with his favorite Keeda stories, and giving them “angry Werne” rides until he was almost exhausted. Xiù decided her career as an airborne spy was now on hold for the night, and brought the drone back.

By the time Julian and Daar emerged from the twilight gloom, she’d packed it back in its case and plugged it in to recharge.

“How’d it go?” she asked as they returned.

“Eh. Yan hasn’t lost face. Might even gain face if he plays his cards right…” Julian sat down and helped himself to some of the campfire coffee.

“What was Vemik’s big idea?”

He shot her a curious frown. “How–?”

“Spied on you through the drone. Sorry!” Xiù gave him a half-apologetic cheeky smile and a mini-shrug. “Though to be fair? Vemik always has a big idea.”

Daar chittered at that one. “Yeah, he does.”

Julian looked conflicted as he sat down on their fireside log. “That… was supposed to be a private meeting, Baobei…” he objected.

“Did they swear you to secrecy?”

“Not really…”

“Well then.” Xiù sat next to him, snuggled into him, and kissed his cheek. “They weren’t really taking it that seriously, were they?”

He put his arm around her and conceded the point with a chuckle. “Guess not.”

“So what is it?” Dan asked


“What’s Vemik’s big idea?”

“Oh. Uh…” Xiù always loved the way she could see Julian rewind his memory. “…Well, he figgered that if they put in all the work of making a really big gun, it ain’t sky-magic. But he knows they don’t have the tools to make something like a Barrett, so…”

“So?” Xiù prompted.

“So he’s inventing the ballista.”

Date Point: 16y2m5d AV
Planet Akyawentuo, Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm

Vemik Sky-Thinker

The tricky part had been getting downwind of Jooyun and Daar quickly enough to listen in on them but without making too much noise. People with noses were hard to sneak up on! And Vemik was aware that he apparently smelled pretty strong, and Daar’s nose was even stronger.

Still, he’d managed it. Now, he lurked low in a Ketta near the research camp, sticking to the thick limbs that wouldn’t creak or rustle too much even if Yan had been hanging from them alongside him.

It was a still night, and the Humans and Daar weren’t bothering to speak quietly. He cupped a hand to his ear and listened.

“—Weren’t really taking it that seriously, were they?”

“Heh. Guess not.”

“So what is it?”


“What’s Vemik’s big idea?”

Vemik leaned forward to listen so hard his ears started to ache. This was the moment he’d stalked them for. He leaned forward so far in fact that he almost lost his balance and toppled off the branch. He missed a little of what they said as he grabbed onto the tree with his tail and leaned out as far as he could stretch.

“—knows they don’t have the tools to make something like a Barrett, so…”


“So he’s inventing the ballista.”

There. Vemik almost hooted his satisfaction, but held it in. They had a word for it!

The rest of their talk wasn’t important. He didn’t need to know if Jooyun thought his design was good or not, that was all… Yan and Jooyun were right, this needed to be a ‘home grown’ tool. But just knowing that the Humans had a word for his idea proved he was on the right track.

He’d been pretty confident they would. It was a fairly simple idea after all, just a big, heavy, steel bow. Okay, it was bigger and stronger than even a Given-Man could pull back, but Vemik had learned a lot since he’d first come up with the idea of the bow, and first learned how to make steel. And over the seasons, it had paid to keep it a little secret just how much he’d learned from the Humans, about things like levers and gears and ratchets and springs, and all the other ‘simple tools’ that made sky-magic happen.

They weren’t as careful as they thought they were. They let him do things like watch when they cleaned their rifles, which was where he’d learned about springs. And sometimes, when he played up being a bouncy man-child, they smiled that odd smile of theirs and forgot that he was a respected man of the tribes. A hunter, a father, and a Maker of Things.

He might have felt a little bad about doing that, but it wasn’t really a lie. He really was excited! It was just, maybe…if he let it show, that might help his tribe. Get them vack-seens.

Among Humans, books with pictures were for children. Harmless! But they also said a picture was worth a thousand words, and Vemik had learned a lot from his innocent picture books, and from just… watching. To Humans, the simple machines were everywhere. So everywhere that they forgot to notice them. They’d even taken him around their homeland in a machine that ran on four wheels, and completely forgotten that the People didn’t have wheels at all!

The things a man could do with wheels! And with saws, and nails, and iron bolts, and laminated steel strips…

He retreated into the bush and took the long way back to his hut with his mind spinning with ideas. One thing he’d learned was to never just rush into the forge when his head was so full. He’d take a lazy night, lie with the Singer, and let his dreams do the work of sorting the best ideas to the top of the pile. After all, his weapon wasn’t going to just come to life on the first day. He’d need…. Hands of hands of days, probably. Maybe a whole season! Best to start on a full belly, a good night’s sleep and the love of his favorite woman.

“Bawistuh.” He tasted the word carefully, once he was sure he was too far away even for Jooyun’s sharp ears. He said it again, then trilled merrily.

Yes. This way was better. This way, when the Brown One fell, it would be to the People’s own strength.

He’d make it happen.

Date Point: 16y2m1w AV
Mrwrki Station, Erebor System, Deep Space


The Entity wasn’t happy, and Darcy couldn’t entirely blame it.

“Well, look, you have access to human memories. Think how it looks from our perspective.”

She sipped her tea as she read the resulting barrage of emoji.

“…It’s not a betrayal, it’s caution.”

More emojis, the condensed equivalent of a sullen accusation.

“I trust you… No, I mean it. I do. But I can’t just authorize the— That’s different. No, it is different, they only let it out into the wild because it’s full of failsafes and limiters and controls!”

She and the Entity had developed a kind of modern pictographic language between them. She could read it fluently. Anyone else would have just seen a confusing blizzard of little images, but she read condensed thoughts. It wasn’t an elegant system and abstract concepts like trust had required a lot of work and lateral thinking before the Entity finally managed to convey it. Possibly it was a language unlike any other, and she had to concentrate until her brain ached to understand it… but at least they were communicating,

“We promised we’d think about it and we did. Are. It’s a big deal! Von-Neumann probes are a big d— I know you would. The question is, would you give that kind of power to any single human?”

Even though the Entity thought at computer processing speeds, its reply didn’t arrive for a few seconds. When it did, the stream of little images was almost… timid.

“Right,” Darcy agreed. “…You’re close enough to human. And like I said, I trust you but the question is can anyone be trusted with the keys to an unshackled V-N probe? Would you… would you trust Ava with it?”

She smiled grimly at the lonely, reluctant red X that popped up on her monitor. “…Right. Because Ava wouldn’t have trusted herself with it either.” She sipped her tea again. “…Well, yeah. She did hate herself. I’m pleased to report that she seems to be in a much better place nowadays.”

She smiled. Obviously the Entity cared about the real, flesh-and-blood Ava Ríos. “Steady boyfriend, good job, successful career… Yes, a boyfriend. His name’s Derek. Derek Coombes.”

She laughed at the trio of <skeptical face; cow; poop emoji>. There was a message anyone could decipher. “No, I’m not bullshitting you. That Derek Coombes, yes. Heh. Yes, he is pretty hot… Maybe. I’m not her friend, remember. No, I can’t be. Duties and obligations, that’s why. But… right. Look, I don’t know what to tell you. It’s taking a long time because it’s a big ask. And you have to be prepared that we might say no.”

She sighed at the disgruntled sentiment it aimed at her. “I know you have, and you have the gratitude and friendship of everyone here, and across AEC. But we don’t just trust our allies with nukes, and a V-N Probe is on that kind of scale if not bigger. Well of course it is! Absolutely it is! …Yes, and the Hunters have it. That’s a big problem…”

She shut up and watched for more than a minute as the icons ticked past. She had a headache coming on, but powered through it.

The Entity’s argument was, she had to admit, a solid one: the Hunters were building V-N Probes of their own. Worse, they were probably out in front by now, having both the technological and resource advantage and none of the caution. And, exponential growth being what it was, every day they were allowed to extend their lead was potentially a fatal strategic mistake.

And the only way to match it was with exponential growth of their own. The problem was, the control software developed by Mrwrki just wasn’t smart enough and never would be. They needed an alternative, some way to give the probes a sapient pilot. And the Entity, a trusted ally, was volunteering for the duty.

But if the Entity ever went rogue…

“I’ll… remind my superiors of that, yes,” she promised. “…You’re welcome. I’m sorry it’s not more.”

Its next question made her glance in the general direction of the jump array. Proximal had been transferred into a large, extremely expensive and very reliable memory drive, where he/it remained in a dormant state. According to the Entity, an Igraen in hibernation like that could go effectively indefinitely without Substrate. Certainly longer than the expected lifespan of the device he was on.

According to the engineers who’d taken a glance at what a dormant Igraen “looked” like, the data currently occupying that drive was unreadable nonsense. Translating it into something that a human computer could do something sensible with simply wasn’t on the cards.

Which mean that the only ways available to interrogate Proximal were to either release him/it back into Dataspace, or else imprison him/it within a biodrone’s implants. Neither option was satisfactory, so in the end the device had been shipped off to be stored safely and carefully in the vault at Scotch Creek.

“I wish we could,” she said aloud. “But I don’t know what Proximal could tell us about the current state of the Hierarchy and the Hegemony that we didn’t already get from Six, from the biodrone captured on Gao, and from your own intel— …You’re going to what?”

She put her tea down and watched closely. The Entity’s private pictographic language marched past for some time, and she was definitely feeling the beginnings of a migraine coming on as she struggled to keep up. It really did not communicate easily, and the worst part was that even it couldn’t really explain why that was the case. It was just a baked-in disability that it could only overcome by a ghoulish act of digital necromancy that everyone involved found distasteful. This way was better, even if it did make her brain ache.

She didn’t like what she was reading one bit.

“…Didn’t you say that infiltrating the Hunter networks is getting more and more difficult? Well, I mean, yes, we do need the intel, but…”

More emojis. It was clear the Entity had made up its mind. And it was breathtakingly stubborn when it set itself to something. Darcy sighed, and gave up.

”…I know. I can’t stop you, just… don’t get yourself killed, okay? Be careful.”

It took her a few moments to decipher the Entity’s parting statement: <Clock; infinity symbol> By the time she had, it had signed off and departed. She smiled to herself and sipped her tea again.


Date Point: 16y2m1w AV
HMS Caledonia, Border checkpoint, Spacelane near the Kwmbwrw Great Houses

Petty Officer Sachi Patel

Cally wasn’t the same ship any more. She was a lot better.

For Sachi Patel, that was a slightly painful admission. She’d been proud of her work on the ship before the Battle of Gao, they all had. They’d run a tight, competent ship and fought back hard against her demons every day. They’d taken an alien ship crammed full of human technology and fought to keep the two from seething hatefully at each other every day for years. Aside from one major fire, she’d behaved herself through all that time, too.

And then she’d been sunk. Any other ship would probably have been written off as a loss, but not Cally. Her keel had remained unbroken, her body was still full of useful Hierarchy technology. She’d been gathered up, jumped back to Ceres and put lovingly back together.

The repairs showed just how much humanity had learned over the years. The new Cally was a purring kitten compared to her previous self, as though suffering a nearly mortal wound had mellowed her out and made her finally realise that the humans on her decks were friends, not enemies.

Sachi suppressed a little smile at the thought. Only a handful of the ship’s former crew had come back. Many had retired, too rattled by their brush with death to return. Others had moved on to other postings in the expanding fleet, or training positions. The ones who’d returned were the ones who, like her, got a little bit poetic about HMS Caledonia. thought of her as being a little bit more alive than other warships.

Alive, and a tempestuous bitch. Myrmidon had never given her crew half as much trouble.

Coming back to find Cally’s systems humming along smoothly and without complaint was a little saddening for Patel. The poor girl had had some of the fight beaten out of her.

Still, it gave her time to actually enjoy the trip and pay attention to where they were and what they were doing.

They were en route to rendezvous with the diplomatic starship Rich Plains somewhere inside Kwmbwrw territory. Cally’s shakedown had gone well, but the crew was still pretty green, training exercises were an almost daily occurrence and education was the biggest part of their timetable. It made sense to take on a straightforward responsibility like escort duty while they got their feet under them.

Besides, she was kinda looking forward to seeing the Rich Plains.

It was certainly a topic of conversation among her reactor shift. Scott, Phillips, Taylor and Dye had come as a matched set, eager to work with a veteran of the Battle of Gao, and definitely not because of their shift leader’s brief experiment with nude modelling.

Actually, they were pretty good about that. Some light-hearted cheeky teasing, mostly understanding and sympathy. Right now though they were off-shift, poring over an infographic they’d found about the ship they’d soon be escorting.

“Bit dull-looking, isn’t it?” Taylor mused as they passed the tablet around. “It looks like a beer keg.”

“An eight-hundred-meter beer keg,” Dye agreed.

“How does something that big accelerate without crushing itself?”

“She doesn’t,” Sachi told him. “No engines, see? She microwarps if she needs to maneuver at sublight.”

“Meaning if you stick her in a gravity spike, she’s completely immobile.”

“Well, she’s a diplomatic vessel not a warship,” Sachi shrugged. “I guess she’s more like a space station than a ship.”

“She’s a sitting duck,” Phillips grumbled.

“Hospital ships and diplomatic ships always are,” Scott reminded him. He was the most seasoned sailor among the new guys, with a few years of service aboard HMS Agamemnon under his belt before he’d transferred to the Royal Navy Space Service.

“What if the Hunters attack, though?”

“That’s what we’re for.”

“Us as in the whole fleet, Pat? Or us personally?”

Patel shrugged. To the new crew she went by ‘Pat,’ and it worked nicely for them. Even the new reactor chief, CPO Dennis Williams, had taken to using it. She quite liked it, actually, and it wasn’t a jarring reminder of the men whose shoes they were filling. They were their own new team, with their own new way of doing things. It made for a clean break.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Taylor demanded, and pantomimed an exaggerated goofy parody of her shrug.

“It means what a shrug always means you twit!” she laughed, and gave him an affectionate backhand to the chest. “I don’t know the Dominion any better than you do!”

“Yeah, but everyone knows they’re kinda shit.”

Patel pulled a face. She’d made a few nonhuman friends on Cimbrean, taken a trip to the Alien Quarter, seen how ETs lived and found that when it came down to it they were just funny-shaped people with funny-shaped customs. People, in her experience, were people and she didn’t like hearing prejudice. But at the same time, the Dominion’s military reputation was… unimpressive.

“This is meant to be a posting that’s only issued on merit,” she said out loud.

“Brown-nosing the admiral until you can taste his breakfast is a merit,” Phillips pointed out, around the crunching of a peanut. “C’mon Pat, admit it. We don’t know if even one of the ships out there is solid.”


“So… uh…”

Patel gave him a stern look. “Maybe you should save the bitching about them for when you’ve actually got a point?” she suggested.


“I’d feel better if there were some Gaoians in the formation…” Dye muttered.

“Yeah, well, the Kwmbwrw asked them to stay out except in emergencies,” Taylor explained.

“Not us?”

“Something about covert Gaoian operations along their border with Hunter space.”

“You mean all those raids they’ve been intercepting?” Phillips snorted. “What is it with the Kwmbwrw? You’d think they’d love the Gaoians for that!”

“It’s a cultural thing,” Patel explained. “They believe charity is an insult.”

“They also believe eating meat is inherently evil. Since the Gao are both very charitable and very carnivorous…”

“God, they sound like a mopey vegan teenager.”

“There are a few billion of them. I’m sure most are just happy to not get slaughtered by Hunters, but the Grandmatriarchs are…”

“Hidebound?” Patel suggested.

“…Something like that.”

The conversation tailed off awkwardly. Patel sighed, stretched and achieved a satisfying quadruple-pop in both shoulders and her spine. “…Movie?” she suggested.

They wound up watching a TV series instead. The guys dropped into it and spent two episodes just relaxing, swapping jokes, enjoying the show… Patel found herself unable to focus on it. Something about the conversation had reawoken her anxieties about continuing to serve on Cally. She was one of only a handful who’d come back and there were times when she wondered if she should have.

She’d had some long talks with a therapist over her gnawing sense of guilt at surviving the Battle of Gao, and the Laid Bare shoot had been truly cathartic… but sometimes, in quiet moments like this, the anxiety came back a little. It was a struggle.

But of course… That was why she was there. To face that struggle and win.

Come what may.

Date Point: 16y2m1w2d AV
Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Allison Buehler

“A Brown One.”

Welcoming Julian and Xiù home had been the highlight of Allison’s day, even if they had both smelled strongly of the jungle. The research station over there did have shower facilities but something about Akyawentuo just soaked into the skin after a while.

Xiù’s solution was a long soak in the tub with a bath bomb and some kind of berry-scented foaming potion for her hair. She was wrapped up in the fluffiest white bathrobe they had now and nursing a hot chocolate drink while Allison brushed her hair and Julian told the boys all about their hunt.

It was good to have them home. Their absence had been a trial, even though it only lasted a few days… but still, Al wasn’t exactly happy to learn just what they’d been up to while they were gone. She’d seen Brown Ones herself. If somebody had mashed together the most fearsome features of a T-rex and a hyena, they’d have been about halfway there.

At least it hadn’t been their idea.

“It’s just a critter,” Julian pointed out. He was lounging on the couch in his gymwear as usual, which wasn’t something she was gonna complain about. Both the boys were snuggled up on either side of him, idly listening and playing Pokémon. Apparently the latest in the series supported two-player wireless co-op. “Doesn’t matter how big and nasty it is, you know what a Barrett woulda done to it.”

“Well, yeah…” Allison conceded. “…I always wanted to shoot one of those things.”

“Really? I never thought of you as a trophy-hunting kinda gal.”

“I mean the gun.”

“Oh. Well, I got to shoot it at a stump just the once. Doesn’t kick quite as hard as I thought it would.”

Allison gave him a Look. “Thanks, Julian. I’ll treasure your description.”

Xiù giggled. “Jealous, Bǎobèi?”

“Little bit.”

Julian’s troll-grin got a little bit wider. “Well, I’m sure if you butter Hoeff up some, he’ll let you fondle his big gun…”

“Ugh, you are a double butt today!” Allison griped at him, drawing a giggle from the boys. No doubt they’d be using that one later.

“Ooh! Him and Claire are a thing, now,” Xiù said.

“About time! What finally gave?”

“Yan hung him up in a tree and told him to get over himself,” Julian explained.

“Preeeetty sure there was more to it than that…” Xiù beamed at him as Allison finished brushing her hair and set the brush aside.

“….Uh, well, maybe there was a moment of dude-bro-ness, but it ended with a hug. And I didn’t get punched in the stomach, either!”

Xiù and Al shared an amused look they’d often shared before. The one that said, in the universal language of women everywhere: “Boys.”

Julian cleared his throat and changed the subject. “So… Misfit’s back? I feel kinda bad I never met the new crew.”

“They’re great!” Al enthused. “The old girl’s just as healthy and happy as we left her. Thompson’s… not quite as soft on the controls as Xiù, but they’re taking great care of her. They found a heck of a planet too.”


“Yeah. Near as dammit a carbon copy of Earth, except the foliage is all shaded toward the red for some reason. Place looks like a perpetual autumn.”

“That sounds nice,” Xiù smiled. “Maybe we’ll get to visit someday.”

“Yeah… You know what struck me as weird?“”


“We spent years living on that ship, and I’ve been up to my elbows building more like her ever since, and I was still shocked by how tiny she is inside. Like… my memory says we had plenty of room, but in reality…” She waved around their living room. “We spent that whole time living in a room half this size. Funny how memory plays tricks on you, you know?”

Julian shrugged. “Well I gotta admit, I don’t mind the extra space.”

“Me either. I love that ship, but I don’t think I could go back to living on her again…” Al gave her brothers a fond look. “Especially not now.”

“Yeah. We have other commitments now,” Xiù agreed.

“Like, say, a meeting with the ambassador next week.” Allison leaned over, retrieved an ink-and-paper letter from the coffee table, and handed it to Julian. “He wants to discuss what’s going on with the Ten’Gewek.”

“Oh, geez,” Julian groaned. “You’re gonna make me wear a suit, aren’t you?”

“His Excellency Ambassador Rockefeller is your boss and he specifically requested that you make yourself as presentable as you can. So we all have an appointment at Halberstadt’s tomorrow,” Allison said firmly.

“I hate suits.”

“C’mon, it’ll be fun!” Tristan chimed in. “You’re too scruffy!”

“Nothin’ wrong with scruffy…” Julian muttered. “Who are Halberstadt’s, anyway?”

“The best tailors on the planet?” Xiù said. “You’ve never heard of them?”

“Clothes.” Julian managed to squeeze a lot of disinterest into that lone syllable. He saw Al, Xiù and the boys all pull similar eye-rolling faces.

“Come on Julian, you keep telling us just because something doesn’t interest you doesn’t mean it isn’t important,” Ramsey reminded him.

Julian held up a hand. “I’m not arguing,” he said. “Whatever. I have an appointment. Maybe they’re miracle-workers, I dunno.”

All three Buehler siblings gave him the same lopsided, slightly snarky grin. The boys had definitely picked that one up from Allison.

“Julian. Babe. I didn’t fall for an ugly, slovenly man,” Al told him. “You clean up good. Let’s show you just how good that can be, okay?”

“…Yes ma’am.”

“Good boy.”

“I’ll cook.” Xiù stood up. “Who wants to help?”

The boys both scrambled off the couch and bowled toward the kitchen, their Pokémon instantly forgotten. Xiù giggled indulgently, spared a kiss each for Julian and Allison, then followed them.

Allison poured herself into Julian’s lap and cuddled up, and stayed there for the rest of a restful and enjoyable evening of good home cooking and a movie. When the three of them relaxed into bed together that night, she slept better for having them both back.

And she was definitely looking forward to seeing them both dressed up in the morning.

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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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 51: Anticlimax Part 3

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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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