The Deathworlders – Chapter 54: Here Be Dragons Part 6

Date Point: 16y2m2w1d AV
Planet Akyawentuo, Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm

Vemik Sky-Thinker

One of the Human archaeologists was a metallurgist. Tilly was a strange and delicate name that didn’t suit her at all, Vemik thought. She had a sharp face full of metal piercings, skin full of bright pictures, and a half-shaven crest of hair the same shade of blue as a slush-ee.

She was…very pretty in a completely alien way. Slim like only a Human could be, narrow and sharp and angular. Vemik had trouble looking away, and Tilly had given him such a playful smile…

The Singer had caught him staring. He’d been apologetic, but that just made her trill, roll her eyes, and twitch her tail in a very telling way… Then shrug and walk away without saying anything but wearing a smug look.

Well! Vemik wasn’t going to let permission like that go to waste! Especially not when the much more important reason he wanted to talk with Tilly was that she knew a lot about metal.

Bronze was an interesting thing. According to Jooyun, Humans had discovered it before steel. According to Tilly, it was made from two other metals, called Copper and Tin. All Vemik knew was, the little pieces of it that the archaeologists found at their dig site came out of the ground covered in a vibrant blue-green powdery scale, and it was Tilly’s job to do… something with them. She spent a lot of time carefully cleaning the dirt off them, then placing them under various strange tools.

Vemik didn’t know what any of them did, but she was kind enough to show him when he asked. The micro--scope was amazing! She had to turn the light down for him—Humans loved painfully bright light—but it let Vemik look at very, very tiny things and see everything!

“You need to be careful, this equipment needs a gentle touch. Gentle isn’t exactly a cavemonkey specialty…”

She was teasing him, the way any woman teased a man she liked. Vemik trilled and played along.

“I can be gentle…but I very strong too! I show you!”

She rolled her eyes as he bounded away across the site, which just made Vemik trill harder. He wanted to do her a favor! Something she’d want near their plastic huts—there! The Humans kept clean drinking water in big round blue steel cans near the river and their filter, which were tall and big enough around the middle that Vemik couldn’t get his arm completely around. They were heavy when they were full too, so much that Jooyun was the only Human there who was strong enough to easily move them around. Even then, he had to wrap both his big arms around the can-things and hug them to his chest, which made him walk more like the People than a Human. He could do that just fine…but it made him tired if he had to walk like that for too long.

Not Vemik. He was stronger. He had longer arms too, so he wrapped them around two and brought them both back! Easy!! He even bounced nice and big for her, because every Human he’d ever met always grinned when he jumped high above their heads.

“Not a problem! See?!” Vemik rolled each up onto a shoulder and snarled playfully, then jumped as high as he could. It wasn’t as good as Yan could do, but he could still jump higher than everyone but Jooyun!

Tilly’s reaction was a little disappointing. “…Thank you. Put them over there, please.” Her tone wasn’t impressed. More kind of dry and patient, though she was smiling.

Vemik frowned and set them down where she asked, then knuckled back to get a look at her face. “…Did I make you mad?”

She laugh-sighed and shook her head. “No Vemik, but if you’re trying to impress me… you’re barking up the wrong tree, honey.”

…Well. He could feel himself sag unhappily. “Okay,” he said a bit sadly. It had been a long time since a woman said no to him, but a man always stopped when—

“That was impressive, though,” she admitted, and Vemik sat down again feeling a little better.

“I kinda figured it’d only be a matter of time before you wanted to pick my brains,” Tilly added, sliding a little bronze disk into another machine. This one had those strange yellow-and-black triangular pictures on the side that Vemik knew were meant to warn that the thing was dangerous in some way.

“Yes! But what does that mash-een do?!”

“It’s an X-Ray machine. It… uh… looks at the coin with a special light that we can’t see, and lets us see inside it.”

“That Humans can’t see, or the People?”

“Neither. But it’s dangerous light. I don’t know if I can explain exactly why…”

Vemik sat, and listened, and asked questions. This all had a purpose beyond spending time with an interesting woman. His bawistuh project had hit a snag, and he needed to know more about steel in order to fix it.

He’d caught a glimpse of what he needed on Earth-place, when he’d picked up the back end of their ‘Suh-burb-en’ one day and looked at how the wheels connected to the steel box they rode in. With springs! two of them, one curled up like a man might curl his tail if he was sitting down for a long time…of if he had a pretty woman in his lap, even better…

…But there was also a leaf spring. Which looked suspiciously like a lam--inated bow!

Heff had growled at Vemik after a little while so he couldn’t look for long. He didn’t want to make the short Human angry, so he put it down gently while Jooyun chuckled. Heff was…strangely scary, somehow. Even if he was friendly. Best to stay on his good side. But the idea had stuck, and when he’d first sketched his bawistuh design, he’d been thinking of that leaf spring.

So, he’d tried to make one. The result had been… It had just bent and stayed bent, then snapped. In the end he’d reforged the steel into knives and spearpoints, and they were good knives and spearpoints, but no good at all for making a bawistuh. He needed supple, strong steel that would bend and snap back when whatever was bending it let go, like a tree branch. He knew it could be done, and he knew what the Humans called it.

Spring steel.

He had no idea how to make it though, and steel was too valuable to just throw away on endless tinkering. It took the whole village a moon or two to prepare for a new melt.

That just left Human knowings. He needed either a Human who knew about metal, or a book to read. Or both!

Tilly, it seemed, wasn’t as immune to his charms as she liked to pretend. She chatted happily with Vemik about bronze, and he found it pretty easy to guide their talking toward steel instead. High carbon, soft steel, spring steel…

“I see it on Earth-place. Would be very useful! But I can’t waste good charcoal on so many melts for tinkering…”

“That makes sense. I always wondered how ancient humans first invented their techniques, you know? Did they just find things by accident, or was somebody rich enough to actually experiment?”

He’d wrapped her up in his tail and taken her high up in a Ketta to watch the sunset, her arms nicely hugged as far around his shoulders and chest as she could manage. If she maybe seemed like she was enjoying what she felt, Vemik didn’t say anything…

It was a pretty tree, too! The wind through its canopy tasted like fresh flowers and fruit, It had a comfortable branch very high up that could hold even Yan, and it also had a good view towards the east. Vemik found it a little too bright—even when low on the horizon, the sun was still blinding, and it washed all the color out of the world—but Humans could look right at it at the very dying of the day, when it was touching the world.

To be able to stare unflinching at the very home of the gods themselves…!

The other advantage to being that high up was that Professor Daniel wasn’t in earshot.

“I mean, lucky for you, spring steel isn’t that hard. The big thing is, you’re using a water quench and cold water makes for very hard, very brittle steel. I’m guessing a few of the blades you make just break when you quench them, right?”

“Some…” Vemik admitted. “But I use hot water. It helps.”

“It’ll help, yeah, but there’s this problem with… we’re getting into something called the specific heat of a liquid, right? It’s… how much energy has to go into it to make it hotter. And water has a pretty high specific heat, it takes a lot of energy. So it sucks all the heat right outta the metal very quickly. For spring steel you wanna quench in something like a light oil, so the metal cools more slowly. Aaand, I probably shouldn’t be telling you any of this…”

“I won’t tell Professor Daniel.” Vemik promised. She laughed and looked toward the sun again, kicking her bare feet lightly in the breeze. He kept his tail firmly around her waist because she didn’t have much tree-sense just yet, but Humans learned to mind their grip very fast.

“…So were you just flirting with me for information, or are you actually interested?” she asked.

Vemik hooted, trilled and decided to be honest. “Both!”

“Cheeky!” Tilly grinned, and then suddenly grew very quiet. “…Have our people ever…?”

“No. We could, the People and Human men, mostly the same shape. Not like Gaoian.” Vemik shuddered slightly, then looked at her, grinned, and puffed out his chest a little bit. “I think, the People mostly bigger! Maybe you say no because I too much man for you…”

Vemik earned some rolled eyes and a grin she tried very hard not to show. “You certainly think highly of yourself! But…” She looked him over quick while pretending not to, and blushed slightly. “Well, it would be a brave gal who took you on, that’s for sure.”

Vemik gave her his friendliest fang-filled sideways snarl. “I can be very careful, Till-ly! Also! Is very brave woman who visit other worlds! And let cave-monkey take her, uh…hundred meter up into Ketta?”

She laughed. “Flattery will get you nowhere…” she said, but the wink she gave him said otherwise.

“Maybe… But will it get me spring steel? Ooh! And how it works!”

“How it works? That would take a trip through quantum mechanics, and be just as hard to explain as magnets. Which is funny because it’s the same thing at the bottom that makes both work!”

“Okay. But how to make it?”

“I could get in a lot of trouble… Or, well. Daniel might give me a telling-off at least. It’s not like there’s an actual law against telling you anything…”

“Maybe…” Vemik thought quickly. “Well, the People are strong, and the gods gave us the forest. Nothing here smarter, nothing stronger. Not many bigger. But the gods made stronger things on the grass where there is more room, teach us that always, there is bigger, meaner thing…but sometimes, Brown One get jealous of the forest, and prey on us.”

“I know. I saw the drone footage…” Tilly sighed and turned to look eastward toward the plains. “…But I mean, the whole point of not just shooting the thing was you guys have to do it yourselves. Otherwise we’re Taking from you, right?”

“That Brown One will prey on us again. The People…make very good food. They stop wanting to eat other things. And when he attack us again, many of us die Taking it. I’ll be there. I don’t want to be eaten. When I Give my body, it will be to the tribe. In many hands of years I hope.”

She shivered, glanced guiltily at Professor Daniel’s hut, then sighed. “…Alright.” She half-turned on the branch to face him, looking suddenly very serious. “So, like I said, you’re gonna need to find a way to make a light oil…”

“Start from roots and climb up. What is oil?”

“…Oh boy. Okay, basics first…”

They sat up in the tree going over what oil was and what Manganese was, and what alloys were and other things until the sun was gone and the night-creatures were singing their quiet song among the trees. Vemik carried her down to the ground while there was still enough light for a safe climb, and she promised to order some books.

She had warned him that he’d need to make a very deep study of much of Human sky-magic, and that Professor Daniel would almost certainly find out sooner or later.

That didn’t matter. The Professor meant well, and Vemik trusted him—respected him—but he was not a man of the People. He couldn’t tell any of them what to do. So long as the weapon was ready before the Brown One tried to Take the People again, that was all that mattered.

Tilly surprised him by giving him a funny sort of kiss, right in the middle of his face where Humans kept their nose. Then she went back to her hut with a grin and a giggle, and Vemik went back to his.

He had many thoughts spinning through his head, but the Singer was waiting for him and had left the baby with her sister for the night.

“Fun time?” she asked, baring her fangs in a cheeky grin while her tail twitched suggestively.

“I learned much!” Vemik hooted. “No ‘fun’ though.”

Singer actually seemed disappointed in an amused way. “Why not?!”

“Eh. Humans.” Vemik shrugged. “I think she’s a little scared. She wants to, though!” He snuggled up to the Singer and wrapped her up completely in arms, legs and tail.

“Hmm.” Singer’s tail batted against the back of his head. “Seems a shame to waste an evening…”

She surprised him by twisting, pushing, and pinning him on his back so she could nip him playfully on the side of his neck. “Maybe she wants a stronger man!”

That got his fire going, and he was proud that few men could claim Singer at all. Mostly, she claimed them. She was a strong woman. But Vemik was a strong man and could flatten almost anyone these days. He broke out of her pin and tumbled them both over, pinned her in turn, then bore down on her with the hardest squeeze he could manage.

She gasped as he smashed the breath right out of her lungs.

“Maybe I show you strong…”

He had his fun that evening after all.

Date Point: 16y2m2w1d AV
Governor-General’s Official Residence, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Governor Sir Jeremy Sandy

“…Well, look at them!”

Sir Jeremy discreetly half-turned on the pretense of putting his drink down and studied the new arrivals. Folctha’s most famous family were being introduced to the other guests by Ambassador Rockefeller, and he had to agree with Annette Winton’s quiet exclamation. They were quite a sight.

Apparently Miss Chang and Miss Buehler had decided to make fashion statements of their pregnancies and were wearing dresses that subtly accentuated rather than hid the fact. A sleek, dark blue cheongsam in Miss Chang’s case, and a dignified wine-bottle-green piece for Miss Buehler. Not a foot wrong there, as far as he could see.

They were accompanied by frankly the three most handsome males in the room, two of whom weren’t even adolescents yet. The young Buehler brothers cut charming figures and looked strangely comfortable to Sir Jeremy’s eyes… But the same could not, alas, be said for Mister Etsicitty. All the tailoring in the world—and he was exquisitely tailored tonight—couldn’t make him look like he wasn’t far out of his element. And where Miss Buehler’s solution to her nerves was straight-backed composure, his was more…

“He looks like a friendly caveman who has no idea what to do,” Winton sighed.

“Indeed. I think that will pass, though. I’m told it was a task to bring him ‘round on formalwear.”

“I suppose I can’t blame him. The poor man spent six years all alone, after all. It’s a wonder he’s here at all. I daresay I’d be a wreck.”

Sir Jeremy smiled as he watched the Ambassador introduce the family to the Duke of Oxford, who had a knack for setting nervous newcomers at ease and a good way with young men. They were in good hands.

“Anyway,” he said, deciding that the best thing for the newcomers was if they weren’t stared at, “You were saying about the Goldpaws.”

“Ugh, yes. They’re fiendish!” Winton stopped watching the family and returned to her previous complaint. “Do you know, their negotiators are pushing for seven percent? And they’re managing to make it sound almost reasonable!”

“I’m sure they are saying the same of our people…” Sir Jeremy replied, evenly.

“I should jolly well hope so!”

That conversation, and a half-dozen others much like it, meant that by the time the guests were called to sit down for the first course he had worked up quite an appetite.

He’d used what influence he had to ensure that the space explorers and the young men with them were seated close enough to make easy conversation with, and to overhear.

It had, sadly, meant sitting them at the same table as Nick Woodward, the man who owned half of New Botany and all of its sheep. The uncharitable joke that he’d married one of them was of course absolutely not welcome at an event such as tonight’s dinner, but it was very true that Diane Woodward had a… a certain ovine thoughtlessness that her husband was unfortunately quite blind to.

One that lamentably manifested itself in a pointed comment about the value of traditional marriage and how many people should be involved.

That revealed an interesting dynamic right away. Allison briefly had a look of cold fury on her face, but a hand-squeeze by Xiù bade her to hold her tongue. With that encouragement, she successfully adjusted her expression into one of utter blank neutrality that was arguably even more intimidating, and focused on her soup.

Julian…handled it with a folksy and surprisingly effective diplomacy.

“I mean…that’s all true. Being honest though, we didn’t plan any of this. We were, uh, all alone out there, y’know? Things just sort of…fell into place. We needed each other. Still do. It isn’t traditional, but heck, neither was being abducted by aliens.”

“Nor is raising another family’s children,” Mrs. Woodward commented, sharply.

“No, it’s not. Uh…Their mother means well, I think. The tradition just…didn’t work out. And it wouldn’t have been, uh, Christian of us to turn them out on the street when they showed up.”

Sir Jeremy awarded that round to Mister Etsicitty.

“And what do the young men themselves think?” Woodward asked, leaning forward to look past him at the smaller figures on his far side.

Another interesting dynamic manifested in the way the brothers glanced at each other, not nervously but in a moment of communication. Clearly they’d b een put on the spot in moments like this before.

“…We believe in keeping family matters private, ma’am,” one of them said after a moment. Sir Jeremy almost laughed at the precocity of it.

Julian, however, was not so amused. He leaned forward and gave a very faint growl. “You do not put them on the spot, ma’am. They are innocent. If you have issues with any of this, you are welcome to say it to me.”

His tone was quiet, assertive, and polite. He really didn’t need to be menacing at all; his rather unique presence did the real talking.

Sir Jeremy decided that, so far, Etsicitty had handled a rude socialite with aplomb. But the time had come to help him quit while he was ahead.

He leaned over and spoke at just the right volume to make himself heard. “Mrs. Woodward, I did not invite you to this occasion to harangue our Special Envoy to the Ten’Gewek, nor harass his adopted family.”

Mister Woodward had turned beet red. “Dear…”

It belatedly dawned on Mrs. Woodward that she was Committing A Faux Pas. She bleated out an apology, and hastily changed the subject to something more anodyne.

Julian’s mannerisms were definitely much more formal and distant for the rest of the evening, though. Shame.

Bringing the young brothers along had absolutely been the right call. One normally wouldn’t do such a thing, but their obvious composure contrasted well with Julian’s polite uncertainty. Well…mostly uncertain. Regarding his family there was absolutely no doubt where his priorities lie. They were just as much a guide for him through the dinner jungle as Xiù, and it was clear he was absolutely smitten by all of them.

In fact, Xiù was the real gem at the table, and managed to find an inroads to getting Julian and Nick talking about livestock, a conversation that dominated the main course and dessert as far as Sir Jeremy could tell. One little nudge in the right direction at the right moment, and she steered the conversation effortlessly onto something both substantial and agreeable to all involved.

With that table firmly in such capable hands, Sir Jeremy felt able to relax and spread his attention more liberally to his other guests.

He was drawn back to them, however, by a comment from Miss Buehler as the coffee arrived.

“…Mind you, the real enthusiast for livestock would be D— uh, the Great Father of the Gao,” she said. “His Naxas herd is huge.”

“And he likes nothing more than wrangling them himself,” Xiù agreed.

“Well, good on him!” Nick Woodward agreed. “It’s good to stay in touch. You’ve gotta know how to handle them on the ground if you’re gonna own them.”

“It’s hard to imagine the big fella wrangling sheep, I gotta be honest. Naxas are…ornery. That’s what he likes about ‘em.”

“Are you kidding? He’d love it!” Allison said. “He’d play sheepdog.”

Xiù nodded with a merry giggle. “He’d make the joke himself if he were here, too!”

“…You’re acquainted with the Great Father?” For the first time that evening, Diane Woodward looked impressed at them.

“Yes, we all are. He…maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, but the last time he visited, he gave both the boys a ride on his back.”

“He can go so fast!” Tristan blurted out with a massive grin. His brother kicked his ankle under the table and again Sir Jeremy had to stifle the urge to laugh. There were real children under there, not just perfectly polite little princes.

“Yeah,” Julian chuckled, “He’s the kind of fella who really, really just wants to be a regular guy. But nobody else plays the game as good as he does, so…”

“I had no idea you were so well-connected!” There was the Diane Woodward thoughtless streak again. She really was appallingly artless. Behind her, her husband visibly resisted the urge to bury his face in his hands.

“I believe Miss Chang is also a personal friend and confidant of the Mother-Supreme,” Sir Jeremy interjected, and gave the subject of his comment a twinkling smile to let her know he was on her side.

She smiled warmly at him, and then nodded for the Woodwards’ benefit. “Friends, yes. And both are very much the kind of friendships where we try not to impose.”

“I… see.” Diane cleared her throat.

“Well, if he ever wants to play sheepdog, I’d be honored to give him the chance,” Nick said, hurriedly. “A man like him works hard and plays hard, I bet.”

“If it ever comes up, I will let him know,” Julian said amicably.

Satisfied once again that there would be no Incidents at that table, Sir Jeremy returned to conversing with his table-guests and was able to safely put the Woodwards, Buehlers, Etsicitty and Chang out of his mind for the rest of the night.

He met Rockefeller’s eye before he did so though, and they shared a mutual moment of satisfaction. Sir Jeremy tilted his wine glass toward the Ambassador in a gesture of acknowledgement, received a similar glass-tip in reply, and that was that: In front of the right people, the Special Envoy and his family had said and done the right things. The test, in fact, had been passed with flying colours.

And thank God, because frankly he had no idea what they’d have done if it hadn’t been.

Date Point: 16y2m2w1d AV
Lakeside, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Xiù Chang

Julian and Allison were never more frightening than when they were frozen over with cold fury. Both of them were pretty much on the same wavelength when it came to that particular emotion.

Only the fact that it made the boys nervous stopped them from really indulging in it. They softened up the moment they realized they were making Tristan and Ramsey tense. Still, it was there under the surface. Neither of them shed anger quite that easily.

They buried it well enough until they were home and the boys had said their good-nights and gone upstairs, though. At which point Julian yanked his tie off like it was a snake trying to bite him.


“Ugh, yeah,” Allison agreed readily. She flumped down onto the couch with a groan. “‘I didn’t know you were so well-connected!’ What a bitch!”

Xiù sighed and decided they all needed some tea and the chance to chill out. “She’s just got more money than sense,” she said, heading into the kitchen. “Don’t let it get to you. Come on, the rest of the night was pretty good wasn’t it?”

“Whose idea was it to stick us on that table, though?” Julian complained.

“Probably your boss,” Xiù opined. “I doubt it was an accident.”

“Lovely boss you got there, baby,” Allison griped to Julian, who sighed and shrugged off his jacket.

“I bet he’ll explain it all later on and it’ll be all reasonable but… ugh. Fuck it, I’m gonna go downstairs and blow off steam. I have to get ready for this Corti-slash-Ten’Gewek summit in the next little while too. I’ll…be up later.”

Allison sighed. “I wanna lift heavy stuff too, now.” She looked ruefully down at her belly and massaged it through her dress. “…Probably a bad idea.”

“That’s why I’ve made you tea,” Xiù said firmly. She set the cup down firmly on the coffee table and Allison pulled a face.

“Tea? Really?”


Al sighed again. “…Yes ma’am.”

“Good girl! You should have one too, bǎobèi.”

Julian shook his head. “I got energy to burn off. Feel like I’ve got fuckin’ bees under my skin.”

Xiù nodded sympathetically, and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. He stooped to kiss Allison as well, then thumped his way to the basement, dropping his expensive clothes as he went. A few minutes later, the pounding sound of heavy metal managed to faintly penetrate the floor.

If there was one downside to the way he’d built himself up over the last several years, it was his new surplus of aggression. Intensity was hot, but Xiu definitely preferred Julian when he was a sleepy wolf rather than a caged bear. She sighed to herself and picked up his clothes.

He’d probably be much cooled down when he came up.

“…I should help,” Allison said guilty as Xiù grabbed some clothes hangers from the laundry room and made sure the jacket and trousers at least weren’t going to get creased.

“You’re fine,” Xiù promised her. “I like taking care of you, remember?”

“I know, but… Ugh.” Al sipped her tea, and Xiù suppressed her amusement at seeing her not want to admit how good it was. “…I feel a lot like he does right now. I wanna be doing… something.”

Satisfied that the expensive clothes were safe from harm, Xiù sat down next to her, cuddled up, and kissed her. “I know. I’m really proud of all of you.”

“You are?”

“Of course! She really was a bitch.”

Al snort-giggled, sipped her tea again, then set it aside and wrapped her up in a hug. “…Wo ai ni. You always know what to say, I don’t know how you do it.”

Xiù felt her face glow happily. “You’re not bad at saying the right thing yourself…” she said.

“Hmm… Oh! I think I’ve settled on a name. And I know Julian will like it, so I wanted to see what you think.”

Xiù sat up to look at her. “Okay, fire away!”

“What do you think of Anna?”

Xiù couldn’t help giggling. “…Yeah, he’s gonna love it.”

“And what do you think?” Allison insisted.

“I like it too. Is having a name that starts with A gonna be a tradition, or…?”

“Well, my grandmother was Amelia, my mother is Amanda… so yeah, there’s a theme there.” Al frowned at herself. “…Is that weird? I mean, I don’t exactly like my family, but I kinda want to keep that going…”

“It’s worth remembering where you came from, I think.”

“…Yeah…” Al picked up her tea again. “So. Anna?”

Xiù picked up hers and tapped the cups together. “Anna.”

Al looked down and toasted her daughter. “…Here’s to giving her a good family.”


They drained their cups, and Al stood up to refill them. All in all, Xiù decided, as much as she liked a good workout herself, she preferred this way of chilling out after a stressful night. And when it came down to it… dealing with one snooty nouveau riche socialite was a small price to pay for what she had now.

Now if only she could teach Julian and Al how to let the little stuff like that slide off them, things would be about perfect… Or…No. They were who they were, and she loved who they were. She loved their passion.

She wouldn’t change that for all the worlds.

Date Point: 16y2m2w1d AV
Directorate Starship Empirical Razor, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Daar, Great Father of the Gao

The odds were good. Daar kept telling himself that. Leemu was prob’ly gonna survive.

It was weird how much the fate of one silverfur he’d never met or spoken to was affecting him. Considering his office that was prob’ly both a strength or a foible of his, but, well. Fuck that. Leemu mattered exactly because he was a random victim that Daar had the power to help.

If he couldn’t care about one random silverfur, how could he care about billions?

Of course, the silverfur had friends. There was a tough an’ seasoned ‘ol human with a bit of a paunch named Preed, and a rather strapping young associate from Stoneback who’d had a really bad turn of luck. Nofl, bein’ a ‘shroom-munchin’ genius, had restored much of Gorku’s ability to speak, though the young male was still lookin’ kinda silly with a quarter of his skull shaved to the skin. It had worked though: not perfect but Nofl was confident Gorku’s speech would get better over time, with practice and therapy.

Assumin’ he wanted to even try. Both of ‘em were depressed as balls. Daar could smell it so strongly when he’d entered their room, he’d almost gagged. He didn’t know much about Wai-ing and the one he got from Preed seemed formal and respectful, but also slow an’ resigned. An’ Gorku was an inch away from cowering at Daar’s mere presence…

Oh well. There was something he could do about that at least. Daar play-bowed and flicked an ear, and they made instant friends in the most Stoneback possible way.

Daar won of course, but he was friendly about it. Preed cracked a smile at least, especially when a flailing tail knocked on the observation window and Director Tran shot an impatient glare at them, shook his head and returned to his work.

Daar helped his flattened new friend up to his paws. “There! Much better! Also! I have maybe good news!”

The two of ‘em perked up according to their species. Gorku was the first to speak. “Good news for Leemu? We thought he was, uh, too sick to help.”

“Well, I still can’t say why his case is so important.” Daar shifted uncomfortably. He hated withholding information, but needs must. “What I can say is that Leemu accidentally holds the keys to a lotta mysteries ‘bout our people. Nofl and Third Director out there have a treatment plan. They’re givin’ him pretty good odds, considerin. Better’n half. I sorta think…maybe a little better’n half. An’ that’s why I’m here.”

Daar looked over at Brother Tiyun. “You get the arrangements taken care of?”

“Yes, My Father. Got a good price, too…”

Daar chittered, “Of course you did! I still ain’t buyin’ into ‘yer investment scheme though.”

Tiyun was always so teasable. “It’s a perfectly well-constructed opportunity!”

“Uh-huh. Anyhoo. I’m also worried ‘bout you two, an’ I know ‘yer, uh, both without means just now…so I got you a house. Nothing too fancy,” Daar said before anyone could object, “An’ I also got a Goldpaw ‘fer a personal negotiator so, y’know. But still. It’s yours. Oh, an’ you get an allowance ‘fer a while too. I’m sure my people’ll work out the details later.”

“Oh…” Preed looked lost. In fact, Daar could smell he might just cry. Humans were awfully independent-minded sometimes and he didn’t know exactly what to do, but maybe some affection was a good idea. He padded over with his head low and hugged. Gently.

“Uh…there’s more too. The local Humans are helpin’ to set ‘yer home up, and the Ambassadors are doing something too… I dunno, honestly. I’ve been leavin’ it to Tiyun here.”

Tiyun duck-nodded. “You’re being provided with furniture, some garden tools—you will need to keep and maintain grass now—a working kitchen and a pantry. The last one was done by the Thai Ambassador’s staff personally, so I’m told it has all your culture’s staples. I…am ignorant of the details beyond that, sorry.”

“It’s just to get you on ‘yer paws…er, feet again,” Daar re-assured. “I kinda suspect ‘yer gonna be pre-occupied gettin’ Leemu back on his. He comes outta this, he’s gonna prol’ly make a full recovery…but he’s gonna be a wreck. An’, uh…well, I can’t say just yet, but all I’ll say is ‘yer gonna have ‘yer paws full. Hands. Whatever.”

“That is… very generous of you. I don’t know how we can repay you…” Preed began. Beside him Gorku duck-nodded fervently.

“Y-yes. We’re j-j-j…” he sighed, took a deep breath. “…Just a chef a-and a-a llllaborer.”

“And personal trainer. Don’t unnersell ‘yerself! Anyway, that’s not me bein’ charitable, unnerstand? That’s ‘yer payment. I’m gonna be employin’ you two ‘fer now as Leemu’s caretaking staff, ‘kay? It’s important to me that he gets better. I want you two better, too. ‘Ya think ‘yer up to that?”

Gorku duck-nodded enthusiastically. Preed’s nod was slower, more solemn and sadder.

“It seems I won’t be going back to the old country after all…” he said.

“I bet ‘ya can still visit!”

“I hope so. I always promised myself that if I ever came back, I would go to see the Emerald Buddha…”

“Emerald Buddha?”

Preed nodded. “The palladium of my home country. A very holy thing…”

“Well…do this for me, an’ maybe I’ll come with you. If that’s okay,” Daar added hastily. “Bein’ honest I jus’ want an excuse to visit Earth again!”

“Maybe it would be good for you to see more of it than just the West…” Preed said, then trailed off as, out in the treatment theatre, Nofl and Tran stepped away from Leemu’s supine form.

In response to a curt gesture from Tran, the air around the hapless silverfur shimmered and started to glow with a noticeable blue-shift. Leemu got blurry around the edges, as the subtle shifts and twitches of his sleeping body and the rise and fall of his chest accelerated past Daar’s ability to keep up. The information display on the glass informed the spectators that they were giving him eight hours of time in a little less than a minute, a shift so dramatic that even his body heat became visible as a faint golden glow.

“The whole idea o’ time acceleration hurts my brain,” Daar admitted in a grumbling tone.

“I used a small one in my kitchen,” Preed murmured softly. “No need to leave the bread to rise overnight, just put it in the accelerator in the morning.”

“They put out a stupid amount o’ heat, though. How’d you get rid of it on a station?”

Preed shrugged. “Powered my oven and hot plate. Don’t know how the station handled it after that.”

Before Daar could muse on the subject, Nofl looked up and gestured to them through the window. The blue warning light over the door flicked off at the same moment as the acceleration field dropped and Leemu returned to the same clock speed as everything else on Cimbrean.

Gorku stepped aside for him, and Daar shouldered through the door warily as Nofl took a tissue sample from Leemu’s lower belly and inserted it into a microscope.

“One moment, darling. I just need to see what progress our patient is making…” he chirped. Behind him, Tran fastidiously sanitized his hands after dropping a pair of disposable gloves in the incinerator.

“The results so far are encouraging,” he said.

“How so?” Preed asked, eagerly.

“The patient is alive.”


Gorku keened softly and tentatively approached his friend, sniffing mournfully. Daar didn’t need to get close, but the poor Associate was damn near nose-blind.

From Daar’s perspective though… Leemu still smelled wrong. But not as wrong. Hopefully that was a good sign, and not a byproduct of the sterile environment.

“…Well?” he asked, after waiting what he felt was long enough.

Nofl didn’t turn away from the microscope at first, just flapped a hand to request patience. When he did turn around, though, his expression was as controlled and unreadable as any top-tier Directorate member’s.

Then he blinked slowly and smiled softly, an expression of deep satisfaction for a Corti.

“It’s working,” he said.

Previous Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Next Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Implications

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 4 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 3 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 2 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 1 (NSFW)

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

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Shades of White and Orange

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

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Mother Earth

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

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 2

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 1

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

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Good Training – Survival Part 1

You may also want to read Pyrophytes in The Deathworlders series. Same story, different angles. Date point: 14y 7d AV Planet Akyawentuo, The Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Professor Daniel Hurt “You want me to read it by next week?” Julian mopped the sweat from his face and bounced loosely in place. “What was it

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Rising Titans – Chapter 45

-7 Hours CHRONT THE CANADA “More contacts!” said Arik as she flashed every monitor on the bridge a bright red. Stagg glanced up at the monitor, “How many more?” “I’m counting!” “You’re counting!?” A grainy image of the approaching Empire patrol vessel was quickly displayed, a small box around it. Additional boxes quickly filled the

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 2

Date Point: 16y2m AV Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Nofl Leemu had become unresponsive. Nofl’s quarantine facility had alerted him after the patient had been anomalously still for twenty minutes, and the reason why became obvious upon a quick inspection of the cell: Leemu was sprawled on his back, staring blissfully up at

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Good Training – April Fool’s

13y 3m 29d AV One-Fang workhouse, Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Sergeant Regaari (Dexter) of Clan SOR One of the best things about the humans was that they had a springtime holiday dedicated to mischief. Before them, only the Gao could claim to celebrate such a thing and it was one of the

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 1

Date Point: 16y2m AV Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Nofl Nofl’s lab was spacious, but inevitably finite. When it contained an alarming number of alarmed Humans, not to mention one particularly sculpted canine and a Gaoian brownie who was doing his best not to loom at everyone… well, there were times when Nofl

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 5

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 44

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 4

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 3

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

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Good Training – Pecking Order

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Tidying Up

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 2

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 43

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 1

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 5

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 4

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 4

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 42

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 1

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 3

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 41

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

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The Good Samaritan

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 6

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 40

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 2

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 4

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

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