The Deathworlders – Chapter 54: Here Be Dragons Part 2

Date Point: 16y2m1w2d AV
Gaoian embassy, Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Daar, Great Father of the Gao

There was shit to catch up with. Stuff to read, stuff to make decisions on, stuff to be briefed on in case he had to make a decision later…

At first Daar did his best to address it, but he quickly found he couldn’t focus. He still had the problem of Leemu on his mind. And the whole question of dragon slaying.

Death was a damn big dragon.

Eventually, he had to admit defeat and tackle the issue head-on. He was being briefed by Father Seen of Clan Goldpaw, an expert in livestock trading who was proposing they make a purchase of sheep from Earth. He’d given a whole bunch of reasons about… stuff. And that was the problem, Daar should have found it all interesting and listened closely, but right now…

“…My Father?”

Daar became aware that he’d drifted off. Again. He sighed, scratched his claws through his whiskers to straighten them out a little, and shook himself back to attention.

“…I’m sorry, Seen. I don’t ‘fer a blink think this ain’t important to know in excruciatin’ detail, but right now I gotta ask ‘ya for ‘yer direct recommendation. Do we make the purchase, or not?”

“…I think we should, My Father. Yes.”

“Okay. Good. Make it so. We’ll talk ‘bout levies an’ taxes at tonight’s session. Right now, though…I gotta go resolve somethin’ really fuckin’ awful, or I ain’t gonna be any kind o’ useful.”

“Champion Gyotin said you have something big on your mind…” Seen sympathized. He gathered his notes and documents and stood up. “A little more time to negotiate won’t hurt,” he said lightly.

Daar chittered appreciatively. “Thank you.”

“Of course, My Father.” Seen bowed slightly and let himself out.

Daar growled at himself once the Goldpaw was gone and stood up. He prowled the room in thought for a moment, then threw his head back and gave in to the inevitable.

Nothin’ much for it. Time to go sentence Leemu to die.

He threw open the door and marched out with as straight a posture as he could muster. “I’m goin’ ‘ta Nofl’s lab,” he announced. “I don’t wanna be disturbed unless it’s an emergency.”

His personal aide, Brother Tiyun, duck-nodded in understanding, and didn’t even show any weariness from all o’ Daar’s recent Kwek-dung. Hopefully the big package of Werne jerky he had planned would paper that over. Anyway.

Like usual, he chose to run to Nofl’s lab. Maybe just so he could get some wind blowin’ between his ears, maybe ‘cuz the cherry trees were blooming and it smelled like a riot o’ life….

Maybe ‘cuz he wanted to take the long way there.

He arrived, and scratched on the door. There was a distracted “Yes yes, come in!” from somewhere inside the lab, so Daar grumbled a bit, wedged himself through the door, and prowled over to Nofl’s workspace.

Nofl shot a glance over his shoulder and beamed at him, as merrily and as gaily as ever, which just seemed fuckin’ disrespectful of Leemu.

On th’other hand… Corti didn’t smell of much except fungi and science so it was hard ‘ta get a read on them sometimes, but Daar’s nose did more than sniff stuff. He’d always been a little superstitious about it, an’ right now it was tellin’ him that Nofl’s go od cheer might be more’n just his usual camp act.

“This is kinda a solemn occasion, Nofl,” Daar said, kicking the door shut behind him with a rear paw.

“Great Father! No no no, it’s a happy day! I believe I have a solution!”

The tiny flickering ember of hope that Daar had managed to nurse even as far as the door glowed back into life.

“Nofl…you better not be shittin’ me, but I’ll tell you what: you solve this problem, and you ain’t never gonna worry ‘bout fundin’ ever again.”

“Oof! That’s a dangerous promise, dear.” Nofl hopped down off his stool and skipped across the lab to grab a tablet.

“I like to live dangerously,” Daar remarked drily. “Brief me.”

“Well, the cure is arguably even worse than the sickness, but… I’m going to give him Crohn’s disease. Or maybe lupus, I’m not sure yet!”

Daar blanked at that. “Uhh…. Ain’t that one’o them cripplin’ Human diseases? Where, uh, their own immune system goes bonkers?”

Nofl couldn’t have looked more pleased. “Ex-act-ly.”

He pranced up the steps to the big holo-emitter in the middle of the lab and waved his hands through its control interface. Three human portraits, all of fairly elderly individuals, shimmered into live. Daar recognized Dog Wagner and Preed Chadesekan instantly. The third took a second to click—Adele Park. He’d never met her, but he knew of her.

“These three all have had confirmed contact with Arutech, but rather than taking their systems over as happened to other humans like Sam Jordan and, I now believe, Zane Reid… these three successfully fought it off. Why? Because all three are suffering from an autoimmune disorder called rheumatoid arthritis!”

Nofl summoned a summary screen about the disease. “Now!” he continued. “I’ve been able to study the Arutech’s progress in Mister Chadesekan, or rather the way in which his system is fighting it off. It should have overwhelmed him within days but instead, well… thanks to a little adjuvant therapy to accelerate the process, he is now completely free of it. Probably.”


Nofl flapped a hand. “Ninety-nine percent.”

“That’s… nice for ‘em,” Daar said. “But how does it help a Gaoian? I know firsthand our immune system ain’t shit next to a Human’s.” There was still a fine pale scar on his paw from where a fungal infection from digging in the dirt on Earth had spread scarily fast.

“More precisely, you have effectively zero defense against their particular fungal forms. The rest of your system is perfectly serviceable…though clearly engineered. And that is the key! That is part of our opportunity!”

Daar sighed. “Yeah. It’s really fuckin’ depressin’ to know who ‘yer god is. Anyway.” He shook his pelt out, there’d be plenty of time to be bummed out about that later. “What’s ‘yer plan?”

“Well, in this case the Hierarchy did you an accidental favor. It’s…” Nofl paused and his fingers moved for a few seconds as he tried to think how to explain. “….very technical, but we’re discovering that huge portions of your genome are deliberately deactivated. Many of these sequences seem to be relics of your Deathworlder past, and most of those deactivated codons have analogs in your operating genome.”

“Oh…fuckin’ balls.” Now that hit Daar like a truck to the head. “They put a fuckin’ rate limiter in us, din’t they?”

“Mm-hmm! You are, in short, considerably less… well, less deathworld than you should be!” Nofl grinned. “You see where I’m going with this. If I can disinhibit the correct alleles and… somehow stimulate Leemu’s immune system to behave like it potentially could… and then induce it to malfunction just like a Human suffering from arthritis or Crohn’s or Lupus or… any one of the other dozen ways their body can start eating itself…”

“It’ll eat the Arutech.”

“Oh yes!” Nofl nodded enthusiastically. “Though, uhhmmm… it won’t be painless for him. Or entirely safe! We are talking about giving him a crippling chronic illness after all.”

“Well,” Daar commented ambivalently, “still better’n bein’ worm mulch.”

“I hope!” Nofl agreed. “It won’t be remotely easy. But I’m quite sure that it’s possible.”

“…I’m hearin’ a lotta words like ‘somehow’ an’ ‘could’ an’ ‘hope’ here, Nofl.”

“That’s the nature of experimental medicine, I’m afraid.” Nofl shut off the holo-emitter. “But… well, the alternative is euthanasia. And I’m afraid that’s not legal here. You’d have to take him back to Gao first.”

“An’ I gotta get Openpaw’s buy-in, too.”

“…I was under the impression you didn’t need anyone‘s approval.”

“Even I need ‘ta worry about keepin’ people happy. I don’t wanna be a tyrant. Well. When I don’t gotta be, anyway. Besides, I trust ‘em. If they say no, I’m gonna listen.”

“How likely are they to say no to the idea of mutating him and giving him a chronic autoimmune disorder?” Nofl asked.

“They’d be a helluva lot more open ‘ta the idea if y’all get rid o’ some of those hedge words.”

“Fewer maybes?”

“That’d help, yeah. Here’s the thing, an’ no offense an’ all, but this is something I don’t really think ‘yer people get. Life ain’t an experiment. It’s sacred. If ‘ya wanna take a risk, ‘ya need to know what that risk actually entails.”

“I can work with that requirement,” Nofl promised.

“…Good. Now. What do ‘ya need from me to make this happen?”

That was a bit of a risk, Daar knew; Nofl had every motivation to ask for more than he needed. But, well: Yulna had been right. Building trust meant taking a risk, because you couldn’t trust if there weren’t the possibility of betrayal.

“Well…funds, of course. I think the Directorate will take care of that. I might be helped by some broader genetic samples…”

“From who?”

“Well… Males like you.”

Of course. Daar used to revel in the idea that he was the most finest thread from a very fine cloth, but he was beginning to understand a bit of the discomfort the Humans sometimes had about the notion. It wasn’t…nice. The idea that there wasn’t anything better was sorta insulting in a way. Worse for him, he knew he and his entire people weren’t completely to credit for their abilities, either. He was the best of the best…but how much of that was him? How much did he owe it to his own hard work? How much to his ancestors striving to be better?

How much to the whims of sapient malware?

Gods, his next lil’ chat with Gyotin was gonna be painful like a Naxas kick to the chest.

“Dont’cha already have samples? Don’t lie ‘ta me, now.”

“I have samples from some males. And, well…a rudimentary sample from you, yes.”

“Of course ‘ya fuckin’ do…” Daar grumbled and gave a discreet sniff towards Nofl. “But…I ‘preciate ‘yer honesty. So…what more do ‘ya need?”

“Ideally, I’d want samples from Gaoians with autoimmune disorders of their own, or with particularly robust immune systems. The more insight I can get into the natural functioning of the Gaoian immune system, the more I can predict any complications. I’d… quite like a sample from Father Regaari.”

“Why him?”

“Very few have braved Earth. Fewer still breathed the air unfiltered. And Leemu is a Silverfur like Regaari, not a Brownie like you.”

Fair point, really.

“…’Kay. I’ll go talk ‘ta my Clan SOR Brothers. You can take whatever ‘ya need from me right now, on the understandin’ that ‘yer only gonna use it ‘ta help cases like Leemu. An’ then I’ll talk with Openpaw ‘bout all o’ this…but I am not gonna lean on ‘em too hard. You want this ‘ta happen, you gotta convince ‘em ‘yerself. Deal?”

“Deal.” Nofl had a handshake like a broken rubber band, but it was heartfelt.

The exchange didn’t take long. Nofl took a kinda painful biopsy from Daar’s outer thigh and just a whole buncha blood, dosed ‘em up with some Crue-G, told ‘em to eat and drink something as soon as he left, and sent ‘em on his way. Straight spacemagic, that stuff. By the time he’d made it over to the barracks, the pain was gone, any trace of lightheadedness was gone…

Which kinda implied the Crue-G was doin’ stuff his people weren’t aware of. Another point to worry about.

But, well. It was hard to worry about that just then. He had a possible solution to Leemu’s dilemma that Daar could work towards. He had friends he could wrestle and play with, just for a little. He had a Cousin he loved, who he could rebuild his relationship with…

He maybe had a solution to a nanotech horror. And maybe, he had the beginnings to an answer for the most biggest question of all.

Who were the Gao?

Date Point: 16y2m1w5d AV
Halberstadt’s, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Julian Etsicitty

“I’m not really a fan of ties…”

“You have to wear a tie with a suit, Julian. You just gotta! Also your collar should fit now.”

The first session at Halberstadt’s had been… interesting. It turned out that Ramsey and Tristan knew a heck of a lot about nice clothes and how to dress well, and the surprising part was that they actually seemed to genuinely enjoy it. Julian would have guessed they’d hate stuffy clothes and formal wear thanks to their parents, but in fact the brothers walked into Halberstadt’s like a pair of junior fashion princes and were immediately in their element.

That day had mostly consisted of Julian being escorted around the shop’s fitting area in his underwear, being discreetly ogled at by the staff while they measured every part of him about fifty million different ways. Al seemed to take some perverse joy in the situation, because one of her evil smirks was planted across her face the whole time.

That wasn’t to say it was uncomfortable or anything, everyone was polite and all. It was just a bit weird prancing about! Julian wasn’t really a natural show-off.

…Well, no. That wasn’t strictly true anymore. He’d become a lot more outgoing over the last couple of years, as he spent time in the public eye. He had no idea when that had started, but he was definitely taking more photos of everything while he explored, and yeah…sometimes those photos included himself. With people too, when they came up to say hi. Then there was the whole Laid Bare shoot, which was about as show-off as a man could get. He’d enjoyed himself quite a bit by the end. Heck, he’d had some interesting modeling offers come in too—he’d never expected that!—but he had to be careful; he was a Special Envoy, after all.

That was important, because a Special Envoy had to keep a clean reputation…and clean up nice, too. The Ambassador was gonna hire an etiquette coach from Earth—Julian still had trouble believing that was a thing. He’d eventually be attending formal dinners to advance the American interests in the Ten’Gewek…

Yeah. The boys were right. All of Julian’s dressy clothes were way too small for him these days, and he’d never really bothered to replace them. If he wasn’t in gymwear he was in his black t-shirts and his comfy, broke-in jeans, but even then his shirts were getting a bit threadbare…and uncomfortably tight, no matter how stretchy they were.

“A man needs to look like he cares,” Tristan had said very seriously, and with far more conviction than any twelve-year-old boy ought to have. Still…he wasn’t wrong.

And so the whole family went downtown for a little shopping adventure. The boys got measured for their new Sunday suits, too; Jacob had sent money so they would be “presentably clothed” and this was apparently how Al was going to spend that money. Julian had laughed about all that, he and the boys had a bit of goofy mean-mugging fun in front of the mirror…and then the conversation turned to textiles.

Julian didn’t know much about that sort of thing. He knew about denim, wool and cotton, Under Armour and kevlar, how to darn socks and sew buttons back on, and a few other things like that. His interests had always been about durability or comfort. He’d never bothered to know what “tweed” was, or what exactly one did with a “herringbone.”

He’d never imagined that a woollen pair of pants could in fact be so soft, he’d thought they were silk. Dang.

Anyway. Nothing they had fit him off the shelf: not the shirts, not the undershirts, not the socks… nothing. It had never been easy for him to find good-fitting clothes, not even in high school, but he was just so dang big these days that everything had to be made bespoke. Al, on the other hand, was doing her best to marry a high-waisted two-piece suit with the realities of being twenty-something weeks pregnant and naturally slender. She still managed to look damn sharp, but in the end she had to give up and follow Xiù’s example by vanishing across the road with apologies to visit Halberstadt’s partner dressmaking company.

That left Julian in the boys’ capable hands.

Tristan and Ramsey had grown up in fashionable, well-tailored clothing thanks to their parents’ treating them a little like ornaments to show off rather than actual boys. They were Julian’s opposites, in that slobbing around in jeans and t-shirts was pretty much a novelty to them. With their Buehler-blond hair properly combed and a jacket and tie on, they became junior heartbreakers.

The difference, Julian suspected, was the smiles. It was hard to imagine them smiling while all dressed up in the company of their parents, but there in the shop they were in their element and clearly enjoyed bossing Julian around.

To judge by the expression on the tailor’s face, she was thoroughly enjoying the sight too.

“No, not a skinny tie, you need a nice wide one that’s darker than the shirt…”

“No no, you need the long ones. You’re tall and your neck’s super thick.”

Julian felt like he had to tread furiously to keep his head above water. “I mean, it goes around…”

“Not far enough! It needs to just reach your belt buckle. No longer, no shorter.”

“Oh yeah, and you need a different belt, this one doesn’t fit right, either…”

When their backs were turned to dash off across the shop in search of the right items, Julian glanced at the tailor. She nodded, giving her professional approval to everything they’d just said.

“Your kids clearly have some taste!”

“That they do,” chuckled Julian in mild awe. “How long until this is all done?”

“We should have everything completed in two days. Maybe three in your case, but outsized athletic cuts have become a specialty of ours. Jeff and Mindy should get you done in no time.”

“Right,” Julian sighed. “I suppose we should, uh, settle up. Once the little fellas are done dressing me I guess…”

“Handkerchiefs, cufflinks, and a few other accessories yet to go. Oh, and do you have any appropriate briefs? Athletes like yourself can be challenging to properly fit, and you don’t want any lines showing through.”

“…I need special underwear for this?”

And so on. Those at least were big and stretchy enough that he could get away with off-the-shelf, even if they were so thin and showy that Julian had to wonder if this was some private abuse of power on the tailor’s part, or maybe part of Al’s revenge. He didn’t want to think about what would have happened if they didn’t fit… Anyway. Julian nodded numbly while the boys piled on an incomprehensible selection of… things… and he eventually managed to escape back into the free air.

At least Al paid for it all.

Two days later everything came back, and the time for final fitting, which at least took place in the comfort and privacy of their own home. Halberstadt’s were that certain of their craft.

Again, Tristan and Ramsey led the way, teaching Julian things he never knew about dressing up. He stood in front of his mirror, only just on the appropriate side of nudity in his “dressy” socks and underwear—how were they dressy when they were almost not there in the first place?—while the boys laid everything out in well-practiced sequence. Ramsey was going over their really expensive new duds with a sticky roller thing and a delicate pair of scissors, while Tristan was putting the finishing touches on their shoes. He had them polished up so well, Julian could see his reflection in them.


“Fellas, should I be doing something…?”

“Just a moment,” Tristan said distractedly. He put a little more elbow grease into his polishing, gave a satisfied nod, and set Julian’s big new wingtips down next to the boys’ smaller pairs.

“There!” Ramsey handed Julian a thin cotton undershirt. He shrugged and stretched it over his shoulders—it clung to him pretty tight, but not uncomfortably so. Meanwhile, Tristan had fetched something from the shopping bag, and busied himself clipping it to the top of Julian’s socks.

“What are those?”

“Shirt stays. These are the easy kind, you don’t need a garter. They keep your shirt tucked in!”

…Okay then. Julian shrugged his shirt on and found that, actually, it fit! The collar felt okay, he could close the top button and he didn’t feel choked! Then they connected the straps and now his shirt was being pulled down which felt a little weird but once the pants were on and the belt was done up too…

He swung his arms, rolled his neck, bounced around a bit. Arms above head, nothing was pinching…

Al was leaning against the wall wearing a knowing, amused smile that got a little wider as she watched. “You look surprised, babe.”

“This is… comfortable. None of my other nice clothes were ever comfortable!”

“Well duh!” Ramsey said. “None of your other nice clothes have ever fit, Dad!”

It took everyone a second to notice the word. Ramsey was the first, and he went still and suddenly had a rabbit-in-headlights look on his face that he hadn’t worn in a long time, the one that back in the Buehler household probably would have meant he knew he was about to be on the receiving end of some parental wrath.

Julian needed a second to process it himself. He glanced at Allison and saw mingled surprise and dawning delight in her face, then very slowly he sank down to his haunches and opened his arms. The boys collided with him, and it was all he could do not to fall apart right there.

He palmed both their heads and snuggled them to himself good and hard for a long while. There was nothing to say. What could he say? He just…

He was finally able to think again when Al joined them. She knelt next to him and kissed him on the cheek. “I think we should go out tonight. As…a family.”

“What about Amanda…?”

“I’ll talk to her.” She stood up and tried really hard not to show the tears forming in her eyes. “You three…” Al paused for a moment, and regained some of her snarky composure. “Now I bet you two can’t tame Julian’s hair!”

It got a laugh, and spurred the boys into motion. Rather than standing around awkwardly, they had a moment of twin-communion and went rabbiting off to fetch… something. Julian wasn’t sure what.

He took a deep breath and composed himself.

“You okay?” Al asked.

“Oh, geez. Where do I start?”

“I suppose it was inevitable, really…” She glanced over her shoulder to check they weren’t in earshot, then drew a little closer on the pretense of adjusting his collar and lowered her voice. “They really love you, you know.”

“It’s not… weird or anything? I mean, you’re their sister, not their mom, and…”

Al dismissed that suggestion with a shrug. “So we’re weird. Stop giving a fuck about it and let them be your sons. Please? It’s what they need.”

“Al…” Julian checked they were still out of sight, then kissed her. “…I love the hell outta them too. But as much as I hate to say it, so does Amanda.”

“You leave my mother to me. And my father.”

“…Okay. Just, uh, you’ve got friends and options. And me. Don’t forget that.”

“I promise.” She stepped back and smiled at him. “…Xiù is gonna be so pissed she missed that.”

“She probably will…wait.” Julian glanced over and saw the two boys grinning like Cheshire cats. “Is that pomade?”

Tristan brandished the tin. It looked pretty rock-and-roll actually, with a black-white-and-red label that depicted a grinning skeleton barber with well-styled hair, brandishing a pair of straight razors. “Nope! Putty.”

“What’s the d—? You know what, never mind. When did you get that?”

“I bought it!”

“With your own allowance?”

“Well, I wanna look good for school!”

Of course he did. “Right. So, uh…let’s do this, then.”

Julian and the boys migrated to the big vanity, they hopped up onto the counter so they could reach him…

And some witchcraft happened.

Date Point: 16y2m1w5d AV
Diplomatic Starship Rich Plains, Kwmbwrw Great Houses

Ambassador Sir Patrick Knight

There were times when Knight tried to figure out which of the various alien species who made up the Dominion were the most alien, in terms of their life outlook, general species philosophy, foibles…

There were a few candidates. The Corti were really quite understandable once one got to know them, and the Gao were extremely relatable in an intense, canine-adjacent sort of way. Those two were the easiest to interact with. The Rauwryhr, Chehnash, and Rrrrtktktkp’ch were pretty familiar too, being respectively idealistic and curious, jaded, and cerebral.

All of that was in the broadest possible strokes, of course. It was dangerous to try and sum up a species of billions of souls using just one word, but at the same time…

The most alien were probably the Allebenellin, the Versa Volc and the Robalin. The former two grappled with knowing that their species were only sapient because of scientific meddling by the OmoAru tens of thousands of years ago, and had a certain degree of resentment toward species who’d achieved sapience under their own power. At least the Versa Volc were personable enough in a distant way.

The Robalin meanwhile were just impenetrable. Those big, dark green, pupil-less eyes were unreadable, their motives remained inscrutable and they rarely deigned to explain their reasons for anything they did.

Given their history, Knight wasn’t sure he wanted them to. The Robalin were thirty years out of an internecine war that had seen them deploy bioweapons and genocidal tactics on a scale not even the Nazis had matched… And the Robalin Nazis had won.

Entertaining their ambassador therefore was not his idea of an evening well spent.

It wasn’t even entertainment, not really. His usual tactic of welcoming his opposite numbers with an assortment of appropriate food from Earth fell flat in this case as the Robalin ambassador simply sipped on a tiny cup of water and politely declined to eat anything. He seemed to treat even that as an unwelcome delay before they could finally get down to business.

Knight was only too happy to oblige him.

“So what can I do for you?” he asked, once it became clear that pleasantries were not involved here.

The Robalin language was complex. The words were sibilant, but overlaid by a parallel stream of clicking vocalizations that served about the same purposes as the tones in Human languages like Mandarin. The same syllable could have markedly different meanings depending on which clicks went alongside it.

Fortunately, his translator earpiece could handle it confidently.

“Trade. You have powerful antibiotics, the most powerful on the market.”

“Indeed. Often too powerful…but then I suspect you’re in need of something quite strong these days…”

The Robalin’s head tilted. Not a nod, nor a shake of the head.

Knight nodded, and decided to treat himself to a small glass of beer. “You do, of course, understand the difficulty. We are only just now beginning to understand the depth of your…recent activities. Much of the Dominion was shielded from that knowledge too, so much so they thought we were the first genocidal species to enter the Council. That isn’t true, is it?”

The Robalin’s head tilted the other way. “We are not here to discuss recent history. We are here to discuss trade.”

“Which makes this relevant. We too went through something like your recent history. The consequence of that episode has placed such an immense burden of shame on our people, that merely discussing trade with yours is problematic. The governments I represent are inclined to place an embargo, so I need to know why you want our antibiotics. And I should be blunt: there had better be a damn good reason.”

He matched the alien’s inscrutable blank gaze with a fiercely principled one of his own. To his gratification, the Robalin blinked first.

“…Let us call it damage control,” the ambassador said.

“One of your old toys gone rogue?”

“One of the lower-grade strains deployed by our predecessors persists despite our best efforts to eradicate it. It now has a chronic presence in our hospitals: Civilians go for unrelated treatment, contract the strain during their hospital stay. Some die.”

“Why come to us? The Corti have biofilter technology.”

“Ineffective, in this case. This is a highly mutagenic strain, it adapts faster than we can update the organism definitions. We require a new solution, one that can eradicate the contagion before it adapts.”

“…It’s a bacterium? Our antibiotics don’t do a thing to viruses.”

“It is effectively a bacterium, yes.”

“So, to recap: Your government created a highly mutagenic bacterial bioweapon which has now gone rogue and is establishing a chronic presence among your civilian population. You need us to bail you out before… how many people die?”

“…As many as one in three of those infected.”

Knight didn’t let his reaction to that show. He’d been briefed, in fact, on the Robalin’s domestic bioweapon problems, and that mortality rate put the Spanish flu to shame. Hell, in recent years the human race had managed to claw the Ebola mortality rate down below that threshold.

He didn’t like the Robalin government, not at all. It was censorious, tyrannical, pathologically hostile to citizens who didn’t conform to its ideals… it offended his sensibilities as a classic liberal thinker in every way.

But on the other hand, a thirty-three percent mortality rate across a whole planet was a lot of lives. A lot of people, however strangely-shaped and inhuman, who’d just had the misfortune to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time to the wrong species and under the wrong government.

“…And what can your people offer in return?” he asked. “It’s hardly a trade unless you can give us something we want.”

“We note that certain of your peoples are ascendent in the Long March of progress. If you desire to solidify that lead—”

“Let me stop you right there.”

Knight congratulated himself as his interruption extracted the first proper reaction he’d got from his alien counterpart so far: a scandalized blink.

“…Yours is an aggressive and willful species, Ambassador. Past a certain threshold, you will become ungovernable. The Gao have an answer to that problem in the Great Father. That is not a long-term solution, and the Great Father himself clearly knows it. Our intelligence suggests he is leaning hard on the medical sciences to extend his viability as a ruler for as long as he can…but what comes after him? What will their answer be? What will yours be?”

“Ambassador, let me be very clear. We are here to discuss the possibility of my people helping out your civilian population by trading medical supplies for something concrete and physical. We are absolutely not at home to your political ‘advice.’”

The Robalin hardened, and Knight had to give him credit for doing what few others like him did—he didn’t seem the least bit intimidated by the trademark Deathworlder Glare.

“It is not advice, Ambassador Knight. It is very painful, hard-won experience. We too once entertained delusions about diversity being a strength. What you may not know is that this is not our first such war. It is our eleventh. There comes a time when such endless bloodbaths must be stopped once and for all…we would spare you that suffering, if we could. Though I sense you are not ready to see the point, so…let us return to trade. What would you be interested in?”

And there, Knight thought, was the hard part. What would they be interested in? If the Third Reich were still alive and kicking in the mid-twentieth century, what might the 5-EYES nations have been interested in buying from them? Was there anything at all?

“…We can offer life extension technology,” the Robalin hinted, after a second. “Before you ask, this knowledge was not obtained via conflict. We were a short-lived species some centuries back. No longer.”

He blinked again when Knight frowned at him. Knight had no idea what that meant, but it felt smug. “Humans are not short-lived,” he continued. “You are in fact the third longest-lived species we know of after the Guvnuragnaguvendrugun and the Kwmbwrw. We could extend the human lifespan to upwards of two hundred of your years, and you would maintain your prime health and vigor throughout eighty percent of that time.”

“Hmm.” Knight stood up and went to make a cup of tea.

“I can see you think this sounds like a fair trade.”

Knight had had enough. “Can you? Interesting. I was just thinking how it sounds like an awful idea.”

He turned around. “Let’s imagine our people start living for two hundred years or more. What happens to our young people, hmm? They already struggle as it is, imagine being young and trying to break into a job market saturated by more experienced workers who still have the full flower of their strength. The young have only two advantages over the seasoned: health, and plenty of future. Deprive them of those edges, and what do they have left except desperation?

“Then,” he continued, “there’s the question of who gets to enjoy the longer lifespan. The wealthy? The powerful? Everyone? If so, who pays for it? What happens to our birth rate? What happens to our economy? What happens to social mobility and meritocracy? No, I think that’s a Pandora’s Box I have no interest whatsoever in opening, thank you very much.”

The Robalin’s expression shifted. Confusion, possibly. “A what box?”

Knight sighed. “…I suggest, Ambassador,” he said, “that if you intend to negotiate with somebody, it pays to know some things about them. The story of Pandora and her box is one of our oldest and most important myths, so much so that we named our first FTL prototype ship after it. If you don’t even know that about the human race, then you are not in a good position to negotiate with us.”

The ambassador stood up. “A criticism I level in turn. You, like many others, are quick to judge our history. You have no idea what led to that. You do not know the horrors. You cannot know. I remember them. I lived through them, and I did my part in bringing them to an end.”

“Mmm. I count myself very lucky not to have lived through them, and you have my sympathy,” Knight assured him, levelly. “But I absolutely know what caused those horrors, ambassador, and you just offered it to me like a bag of sweets. So….”

He crossed to the door and stood straight-backed and stern. “Thank you for coming. But I think it is best if our negotiations continue in writing.”

The Robalin’s movements were jerky and fierce as he drained his cup of water, shook Knight’s hand, and departed without a further word. The alien was, Knight suspected, deeply angry.

Knight wasn’t inclined to care. He’d lost two great-uncles in the Second World War and he wasn’t about to dishonour their memories by striking a devil’s deal with the exact same kind of person they’d given their lives fighting against. The strange lizard-ant appearance, the extra arm and leg, it didn’t make a difference: He’d just had tea with a man who was the moral and ethical equivalent of Joseph Goebbels.

He needed a bath.

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

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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