The Deathworlders – Chapter 55: Reinvention Part 1

Date Point: 16y2m3w AV
Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Daar, Great Father of the Gao

“Hey, this ain’t a bad little house at all!!”

Daar followed in behind Gorku, who was carrying a completely exhausted Leemu on his back and had to mind his steps.

“Humans know how to build houses arright,” he agreed. “Maybe with a few extra tricks they learned off’a the Gao…”

Actually, that exchange had gone both ways, and Folctha’s ravenous appetite for new housing had created an important local industry: Kit homes. The factory was a ways out down the coast toward New Penzance, and via its private jump array it imported wood from Earth, aluminium and steel from Gao, copper from Ceres, pre-made plastic components from Lucent, as well as locally-sourced glass, concrete and gravel by road.

What it produced was houses. Some assembly required. But all that had to happen was, after the terrain levelling and foundation was complete, a couple of trucks would arrive, drop off a pair of containers which got turned into a nice sturdy deck at the end, and the whole house would come together with some busy worker activity like a mushroom appearing overnight.

Interior finishing of course took a bit longer. It always did, people never really thought ‘bout that bit. But at least most of the home’s permanent systems were already assembled and ready to go. Just add air handling, a water heater, and some grav plating…good to go!

The grav-plates were Gaoian make, too. That made Daar extra happy.

Preed Chadesekan followed in alongside Daar, who was also walking on four-paw to give him something to rest against. Daar didn’t mind. He didn’t show it, but Daar could smell the faint, slightly acrid traces of pain chemistry emanating from the old Human’s knees. Luckily, the top of his back was a bit higher than Preed’s hips, which meant Preed could comfortably rest his right hand right in the middle of Daar’s shoulder blades, gently scritching in an absentmindedly affectionate gesture as they walked along. He could tell Brother Tiyun was silently fretting about dignity or whatever—it was his aide’s job to fret about such things, after all—but that was okay. Walking apparently helped with Preed’s pain, and Daar was the kind o’ ‘Back who took any excuse to be outdoors, so…

Besides, Daar alway respected his elders. And truth be told, this case made it hard for Daar to wash his paws clean.

One of the few advantages of being an absolute ruler was that he could exercise his prerogative on what was important. Brothers like Sartori, their office had all sortsa official duties and restrictions, which was nice ‘cuz it both limited his responsibility, and protected the people against a mad tyrant. The downside to that, though, was that it was hard for someone in a position like him to take a personal interest in a thing when it mattered.

Daar had no official restriction on what he could or could not do. The only thing that constrained his paw was himself, and the consequences of his actions. That was an awesome and terrible responsibility, but it did mean he could do things like, well, take interest in a case about ordinary people in an extraordinary situation. They were little in more ways than just their size; they didn’t have the means to stand up against something like this. But, they were good people, who were doing their best, and Daar wasn’t about to let them suffer needlessly for it.

The workers had really outdone themselves. The house in question was a single-floor rambling kinda thing on a nicely solid concrete slab, with all sortsa considerations for whatever species might wanna live in it. Strong air filtering, independent gravity plating, a trench commode for gaoian sensibilities, scratching-plates at the outside doors…

The master bedroom had been converted into a nice nest-bed, too! One of the other bedrooms was an office, and the “garage” had been converted into a very nice studio for Leemu’s physical therapy, an’ being honest, Gorku’s sanity too.

Also, the house had been equipped with double-wide doorways and had the floor directly on the concrete slab which made it easier for big ‘ol ‘Backs like Daar (or his bestest human friends!) to pay a visit. That was good thinking!

And a good thing too, ‘cuz Leemu was up on his feet and…well, the poor damn lil’ guy was a trainwreck. His body prob’ly hurt worse than a beating from Warhorse, he had all sorts of suppressed genetic code activating itself which couldn’t have been too pleasant, but much worser than all that was what was going on in his head.

The poor silverfur had been trapped for days in a Droud-fugue. That meant days of having every pleasure receptor in his body activated, every pain or discomfort receptor brutally suppressed, and his whole mood steered into a hell of constant, profound, all-pervasive bliss.

Coming out of that to the gray, cold, awkward world of actual fleshly needs had ‘ta be a special kinda torture. Leemu could barely stand up, and the least little discomfort sent a symphony of agony through him. He ate listlessly and without interest, barely reacted to even a friendly back-scratch or a female’s presence, and mostly seemed to lie in bed without the will to even get up and look after himself. He was, for now, the most profoundly depressed being Daar had ever met.

Openpaw and the Human doctors had been collaborating with the Corti to consider his treatment, and so far the verdict was that some sort of antidepressant therapy might be needed while his brain found its equilibrium. Nobody really knew the right way to go about that for the moment though, so the first and most importantest step was support from his friends.

Preed and Gorku were already warming up to the challenge.

“It is quite nice! My kitchen has everything I could have ever wanted…”

Gorku gently set his friend down on his feet in the middle of the living room. “See?” he enthused. “They’re t-takin’ good c-c-care of us…”

Leemu just curled up in a crumpled heap on the floor after giving the room a profoundly disinterested look-and-sniff. Gorku looked toward Daar with the most hurt expression…

Time to do something about that. He padded over to Leemu and curled up right next to him.

“It’s gonna get better, Leemu. I promise.”

It took Leemu a long few seconds to summon the energy to reply. When he did, his tone was bleak rather than hopeful. “…Will it?”

Daar duck-nodded furiously. “The Humans have experience wit’ stuff like this. They say there’s some medicines that’ll mebbe help take the edge off, they jus’ gotta do some testin’ first. But you gotta hang on ‘till they’re ready, y’hear? Can you do that for me?”

Leemu gave the most half-assed, exhausted duck-nod and put his head down. He didn’t look inclined to move from that spot, as though even taking any kind of step to alleviate his misery was too much effort.

The Humans had said the first week would be rough, but this–!

Daar shook his pelt out. He had his briefing, he couldn’t waver. Gorku and Preed did too, and they approached tentatively to offer their support.

Preed seemed to know what to do. He sat down, put a hand on his friend’s back, and said nothing. For whatever reason, Leemu seemed to relax just a slight touch. He keened so quietly Daar barely heard it, then shut his eyes.

“…Could I have a cup of tea, please?” Preed asked after a moment.

“I’ll get it,” Daar agreed and followed his nose into the kitchen.

…How did someone make tea, anyway? Hot water, tea bag…something like that.

He didn’t find tea bags. He found a loose bag of dark green curls in a box marked ‘Oolong tea.’ He transferred a spoonful of that into a coffee cup, considered it, and decided that there was nowhere near enough in there, so added two more spoons. One splashing cupful of boiling water later, and he had achieved Tea. He hoped.

Preed accepted it without any comment beyond a polite “thank-you,” so it musta been pretty good. With that chore outta the way, Daar helped Gorku with unpacking the trio’s meager possessions and getting the gym equipment set up. Then, of course, the gym equipment needed testing…

He returned to the living room after a happy hour or so of seeing just how strong the exiled associate was to find that neither Preed nor Leemu had moved very far. Preed had apparently fallen asleep despite lying flat on his back on a thin carpet and had forgotten his tea, which had gone cold by his foot so Daar made him a replacement. Gorku did his very best not to complain, and headed toward the bedroom to prepare the nest.

…Sleep. Yeah. That was a good idea.

He nudged Preed gently awake. Leemu’s ear flicked and he watched Daar listlessly out of the corner of his eye, but otherwise didn’t move. The elderly human groaned and sat up, twisting and stretching as he yawned.

“…Surprisingly comfortable floor,” he admitted.

“I made you a new cup of tea,” Daar said, handing it to him.

“…Thank you.”

Aww, nuts. He was being polite, Daar could tell. “No good, huh?”

“…Honestly, it’s terrible. But I do appreciate the effort.”

Daar chittered ruefully. “Naydi forbid me any caffeine a while ago, so…Anyway.” Daar yawned and stretched out luxuriantly. “It’s gettin’ late an’ Leemu needs his sleep.”

“Leemu? You heard that.”

“…I heard.”

“Get up, please.” Preed maneuvered in front of him and looked his friend in the eye.

To Daar’s astonishment, Leemu groaned and heaved himself up onto four-paw. He moved like he was wearing the whole house on his back, but he did it, and staggered lethargically toward the bedroom with Preed at his side, praising him on his victory.

At least it was easy enough to get Leemu into the nest-bed. He seemed to want nothing more than to curl up in the middle of it and stop being anything. He was immediately the heart of an affectionate Gaoian sleep-huddle, with Gorku on one side and Daar joining on the other.

Daar gave a plantitive look toward Preed, who hovered at the edge of the pile. Humans were always a bit weird about Gaoian sleeping habits, but whatever. This was for Leemu. The Human sighed and tried to find a comfortable spot on the cushion’s edge. Daar didn’t have time for that. He grumbled, pulled preed right into the center of the pile, and snuggled up tightly with him and Leemu. Gorku wrapped around the other side and just like that, the nest was warm, comfortable, and ready for sleep.

Preed sighed and tried to relax. Daar put his head down, and…

…Woke up. Morning sunlight speared him right in the eye as he shifted his head and he groaned. He must have crashed hard last night. All that hard work and stress catching up on him.

The other three were still asleep. Preed had at some point or another managed to escape to the edge of the bed where he was asleep on his back and snoring softly: Gorku and Leemu were wrapped around each other and the only way to tell where one ended and the other began was their different fur color.

As gently and stealthily as he could, Daar rolled out of the nest, closed the blind to spare the trio the same rude awakening as him, and grabbed his communicator. Sure enough, there were no urgent or emergency messages for him—he’d definitely have been woken for a crisis—but there were a lot of neglected requests for his attention.

Well, he’d only ever really been able spare the one night. But felt better for leaving done something.

Cautiously, he sniffed at Leemu to be certain. The wrong smell was gone, completely. He’d been worried it might come back, but that didn’t seem to have happened… instead there was another, newer scent that Daar couldn’t quite place…it smelled right somehow, but he’d never smelled it on a Gaoian before… Something that reminded him of…

He shook the thought off. Possibly it was just an aroma Leemu’d picked up from Preed, or the Corti, or the new house, or any one of a hundred other places. If not… It was something to ponder, later.

He would have liked to say proper goodbyes, but he just didn’t have the heart to wake them. Some instinct told him that getting a proper restful night’s sleep would be essential to Leemu’s recovery. Instead, he slipped away and returned to the role of Great Father.

It was time for a gear shift anyway. He had malware to delete.

Date Point: 16y2m3w AV
Hampshire, England, UK, Earth

Ambassador Sir Patrick Knight

Knight had never been interested in a big impressive display-of-wealth sort of home. When he’d had the place built, he’d done so with a view to two concerns: Privacy, and energy efficiency.

Nowadays of course the old concerns about carbon footprint were a thing of the past. Powering one’s own home was as simple as installing a collector field and drinking up the sunlight for storage in a power wall. But it was good to know that while CO2 emissions had still been a concern, he’d been doing his part. The long clawback down to pre-industrialization levels was going to take decades, but at least he’d minimized his contribution.

Privacy, on the other hand, never became obsolete. It was a privilege, and he was acutely aware of just how lucky he was to be able to sit at his desk in front of a floor-to-ceiling window and look out into the woods behind the house. Right now they were cold and scrabbly with no leaves on the trees and no bluebells carpeting the ground, but that would change. And they were still beautiful in their own way.

He lived a privileged life, really. Not an easy one—one didn’t become commander of the Royal Navy Spaceborne Service and then Earth’s representative the Interspecies Dominion Security Council just by having a silver spoon in the mouth—but all things considered it hadn’t been a hard one either. He had money, a good home, influence…

Good friends…

“Patrick? You still with me?”

Knight looked back at the monitor in front of him. Martin Tremblay gave him a wry look. Age was catching up with the former Supreme Allied Commander now, but not without a hell of a fight. Martin was too proud to let his good looks fade away on him. So, wrinkles and white hair and aching back be damned, he was still clean-shaven and square-jawed and well-dressed.

And lonely. There weren’t many dating opportunities for a gay man in his seventies, and Martin had never really had a family. He clung to what friendships and connections he had very tightly, therefore.

“Sorry, old man. It’s just a nice day here. I was appreciating the view.”

“Lucky. It’s a frozen hell over here.”

“Well, that’s what you get for living in the Northern Wastes.”

“Patrick, you live further north than I do.”

“Yes, but I, my friend, have the good sense to live on an island, and avoid that lovely continental climate.”

“How’s the rain treating you?”

“Fresh and invigorating, thank you for asking.”

They chuckled at each other. It was old banter, but comfortable.

“How’s Ellen?” Martin asked.

“Today is a good day. I think. At least, I heard her up and about earlier and Katriane isn’t here, so…” Patrick glanced at the door. His daughter had suffered a traumatic brain injury during the battle of Gao, and gone too long without access to Cruezzir for it to heal properly. Frankly, it was a miracle she’d survived considering that the most medical attention she had for a few days was bed rest and painkillers.

She’d been left… impaired. Some days were worse than others. On her best days, she was completely herself, completely active and just as sharp and driven and fearsome as ever. On bad days, she needed a carer. And she had been very, very clear indeed when she could that she didn’t want her old man to be that carer. Patrick had to agree: Ellen had a lot of years ahead of her, him not so many, and not so able in body either.

Hence Katriane, a professional carer. All Ellen had to do was hit a large button next to her bed, and Katriane would be there within half an hour in her Land Rover, armed with everything they might need to make the day go smoothly. She was an absolute godsend and Knight liked her enormously… but in a perverse way, he was glad not to see her on any given day.

It was all paid for by the Royal Navy of course. All part of the deal, with injuries suffered in the line of duty. But it wasn’t how Knight had wanted her career to turn out.

It was what it was, he supposed.

“Glad to hear it,” Martin smiled. “And the symposium planning?”

“Oh, that’s flying along almost faster than I can keep up!” Knight groaned. “The Dominion is… understandably eager to make progress.”

“Well, they nearly got eaten. I bet that focuses the mind.”

“One would think.” Knight sipped his tea then put the cup down. “It’s going ahead. Planet Rauwryhr, in the not so distant future. I’m rather looking forward to it, I believe we’ll be the first humans to visit. Apparently the Great Trees are quite a spectacle.”

“Yes, I did some reading. The largest tree on Earth is called General Sherman, it’s in the Sequoia National Park in California. By the standards of a Rauwran Great Tree, it’s a baby. Quite a spectacle indeed.”

“You know you’re welcome to attend.”

“I was hoping you’d say that.”

“Well, I daresay your perspective would be very welcome.”

Martin shorted. “Oh, I see. Can’t just invite a friend, you need to justify it, eh?”

Knight laughed. “You wouldn’t want me to be accused of abusing my influence would you?”

“I’m sure your impeccable reputation would survive… how is security looking?”

“The Rauwryhr have granted us permission to bring a few of our ships, as much for demonstration purposes as anything. I thought a wargame between the US Navy and the Royal Navy would be a fun showcase… and good training.”

“Or between Humans and Gaoians,” Martin suggested.

Knight sighed. “The Kwmbwrw kicked up a stink about the Gao attending. I don’t know what Henenwgwyr’s specific problem with them is, but she seems determined to leave them out in the cold. I objected and so did the Rauwryhr, but she made it very clear that either the Gao attended or the Kwmbwrw did. Not both.”

“That’s… foolish. Have we made our displeasure clear?”

“Crystal.” Knight sighed and shrugged. “Sometimes, the Kwmbwrw are just incredibly alien. Their idea of brinkmanship is my idea of lunacy. And the Grandmatriarchs have an entrenched ‘My Way Or The Highway’ mindset.”

“They’re not used to being ignored, eh? Like the Clan of Females, but worse.”

“Well, they’re one of the Dominion’s economic powerhouses. They have a lot of weight to throw around… too bad for them that neither the Gao nor us are dependent on the Dominion’s goodwill.”

“That sounds like the beginnings of a painful lesson in international politics. I presume the Gao are attending anyway?”

“Of course they are. And the Kwmbwrw aren’t. Those stubborn fools are their own worst enemies, they could learn a lot from the Gao.”

Martin shook his head sadly. “Prejudice doesn’t go away overnight, Patrick.”

“It had better. I can’t help but worry that we don’t have long before the Hunters come out with some new trick and something truly serious happens. That ground incursion in the Domain was bad enough, but if they wanted to really do some damage… I suspect they’ll have learned how, by now. They’ve won every single action since the ring orbital fell.”

“Pyrrhic victories.”

“Only by our standards. As far as the Hunters are concerned, they’ve achieved their objective with every attack, even the assault on the Rich Plains. Intelligence says they did it for information, and they got plenty.” Knight grumbled uncomfortably. “The fact is, blowing up the ring seems to have done them a service. We’re certain they have new leadership now, and much more competent leadership at that.”

“I bet the Great Father is just pleased as punch with that analysis…”

“It was the correct decision regardless. Many billions of Hunters were destroyed in the conflagration, along with virtually all of their infrastructure.”

“Then how does that constitute doing them a favor?”

“Which is more dangerous, a large force under an incompetent general, or a small force led by a genius?”

“That depends. How good of a general is Daar?”

“…He’s good. So is his general staff, they’re learning very fast. The Gao’s objectives tend to be simple, and their tactics are direct, pragmatic, aggressive, and successful.”

“And their logistical command?”

“The Americans are suitably impressed.”

“…Well. Considering all of that, I would say it’s hard to know. A small force can be snuffed out if its enemy is clever and ruthless enough to press a size advantage. A large force, however, takes time to destroy. No amount of clever combat reduces the mass problem.”

“So the question is… how big are the Hunters still? That’s the sort of thing we’re going to discuss at the symposium. The sort of talk I think you’re best qualified to give.”

“Sounds good.”

Knight nodded. “Right, well. I’d better walk the cat.”

That was an old joke between them, too. Code for ’I’d love to chat all afternoon but unfortunately life never stops and I have responsibilities to take care of.’ Martin nodded understandingly and waved goodbye.

“Have fun.”

“You too, my friend.”

And that pretty much summed it up for the day’s pleasant engagements. On the roster for this evening was a lot of reading, some emails, a few business phone calls and maybe having to jump back out to spend the night on Rich Plains if he was unlucky. Honestly, Knight hadn’t been so busy since the days when he’d actually been in charge of a warship at sea.

It was exhausting, and likely to run a man his age into the ground… but he’d tried to retire and just couldn’t. He was embroiled, probably for the rest of his life, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

He opened his emails and got to work.

Date Point: 16y2m3w AV
Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Ava Ríos


Ava hadn’t done anything for her birthday, back on December 26th. It wasn’t a particularly important one, and she’d fallen out of the habit of celebrating her birthdays anyway.

Still, people at work had asked. And then they’d found out she’d turned thirty-one a mere two months ago, and allowing this modest milestone to pass without comment was apparently completely unacceptable. A sentiment shared by Adam and Marty, Gabe and Jess, Charlotte and Ben, Jack, Allison Julian and Xiù…

So in the end Derek had booked a big couple of tables at Andalucia and Ava was left blinking and inwardly freaking out over just how many people showed up to a party organized on what seemed to her like the flimsiest possible excuse. It was… different parts of her brain were occupied with being delighted, being mortified, feeling like a total fraud, enjoying herself, worrying if she was just being egotistical in thinking this was about her at all…

Hannah was working overtime, sitting quietly at her side with her chin on Ava’s lap where Ava could stroke her head under the table. Derek’s arm behind her back was a comforting help as well. Thanks to them, she was able to keep the positive thoughts up front and not ruin everybody’s night by having a breakdown.

Most of the people at work hadn’t met Adam before, they’d only seen him at a distance. He stood at the end of the table near the ESNN staff and towered over them rather than endanger the furniture, wearing his usual technically-a-t-shirt and utilikilt-type get-up, and was the same ludicrously huge and happy bro that he ever was. The effect was much like a bunch of curious and faintly terrified puppies surrounding a hulking, panting pit-bull. Some of them had taken to a more adversarial journalistic approach to the HEAT in general, but for now he seemed to be winning them over with his usual cheery, over-excited desire to Make Friends With Everyone.

Or maybe they were just being nice on her not-birthday. She’d take whatever she could get, frankly.

In any case, the food was amazing and the wine was even better, and she received a number of small, tough decorative paper bags with an assortment of gifts, not to mention a small hill of birthday cards, and managed to hold back the feeling of being a little overwhelmed long enough for the party to amicably break up until she was left with just a small core. Allison, Julian and Xiù made their apologies about having young boys to look after and a pair of baby bumps to rest, and that just left…

Well. Her oldest and closest friends and family.

A waiter eventually successfully assured Adam that the bench seat was not going to give up its ghost under the weight of one man, not even an ogre like him. He sat, reluctantly, tentatively, flinching as he did so as though he expected it to groan and collapse. The waiter gave a vindicated chuckle as he finally settled in without so much as a creak, and threw in an extra bottle of wine on the house.

“You’re not the first HEAT bro to eat here, gordo.” Ava told him once the waiter was gone. “Firth brings Freya here on the regular. Besides, the owners frequent Rooney’s, you know.”

“Yeah, well…I wasn’t lookin’ forward to making another bench. Anyway! Happy birthday!”

The bottle of wine arrived, they opened it, passed it around, and just… sat. Talked. Caught up. A luxury, for people who all threw themselves so totally into their work.

A lot of it was just catching up. They talked about work, teased Jack a bit about how cute a couple he and Rihanna would make, endured a bombardment of Gabriel’s very best Dad-Puns, of course got an update on all the bro-things from Adam (which he kept mercifully short), and even got some good gossip on the doings of the Great Father, the team Gaoians…

“You want to be careful sharing gossip about him with me, you know…” Ava teased as Gabe recalled the minor security nightmare that was a foreign head of state jogging here and there across town as he pleased.

“He knows we talk, Ava. Daar’s a super open guy, so don’t worry. Also…if you can somehow express how grateful I am to his personal security detail, I would be much obliged. They’ve been an absolute pleasure to work with.”

Ava sat back and sipped her wine. It had been a long while since she’d last drunk any real amount, and she was definitely feeling a bit buzzed. “Hmm. How does that work?”

“They’ve got a human contractor who acts as liaison. Mike Murphy, you’ve met him. There’s others too, and they’re basically completely plugged into the local Gaoian community, they’re deputized and licensed, the whole works. The Great Father funds all of it personally, said ‘I oughta pay ‘fer my conveniences.’ Great intel back and forth, but that’s all I can say about that. “

“That sounds like a really interesting job.”

Gabe nodded, then gave her a twinkling grin. “Who knows, he might be down for an interview. Especially if he gets to take his pants off.”

There was some good-natured laughter.

“Be fair,” Derek reminded him. “Laid Bare is my brainchild, after all.”

“He’s a veteran. Served on Gao.”

Derek perked up.“Yeah? Huh. Might be good then… Or…” He grinned at the Incredible Hulk across the table from him. “What about you, Adam?”

Adam squirmed a little. “…Nah. Not…not yet. I mean, I like showing off but I belong to Marty.”

“I’d totally do it,” Marty said, giving her husband a grin that turned him red. Ava had always been slightly in awe of just how well Marty could tease him. It was like watching a virtuoso playing a violin.

“Oh! Uh…” Adam cleared his throat a bit uncomfortably. “Well. Maybe one day then. When, uh…people are ready.”


Adam sighed. “What I am and what I do ain’t something most folk can handle. Anyway…how about you, Jack? You’d do a good Laid Bare I bet! I mean, I’ve seen you in the shower—”


“Miller would love it,” Derek added with a grin.

“—Ain’t got nothing to be ashamed of! Ladies.” Adam waggled his eyebrows like a particularly cartoonish hulk and gestured at the singles sitting over at the bar, who were furtively casting gazes toward the group. “Our boy’s got the goods!” He announced loudly. “Smart, too! Nice and fit!” He delivered that with his particular brand of exaggerated latino lilt to the ladies, one of whom responded with a playful catcall, “Hell, I bet he’d probably sell a lot of copies…”


“Definitely,” Marty agreed, and gave Jack a playful wink that was probably illegal in some countries. She called out towards the bar, “He’s cute, too! Innocent and pure!”


“What?!” Adam laughed, “We’re just saying! You’re a swinging dick just like the rest of us—”


Gabe saved the day by reaching out and cuffing his son upside the head. “Pórtate bien, Mijo,” he chided.

Adam only chuckled and gave his dad a loving look. “¡No es nada más que la verdad, papá!.”

Jack pulled his best annoyed expression. “Anyway… I don’t have any kind of a story. Besides, isn’t it ‘warriors in their own words?’ I’m not a warrior, I’m not even combat arms!”

“Neither was Julian,” Adam retorted. “At least, not officially. Meanwhile you’re enlisted in the most elite special operations support unit there is, you deploy with us and get shot at…you do have a story, man. And you’re smart and you’re buff and you look good, too. I wasn’t joking about any of that. S’far as the whole ‘warrior’ thing…like, I get it, but don’t undersell ‘yerself.”

“And actually? I bet a HEAT technician’s story would be really interesting,” Ava agreed. “You have a pretty unique job…”

Jack sighed. “…Actually Ava… I was meaning to ask about something, now we’re kind of on the subject.”

She turned to face him. “Shoot.”

“It might kinda bring the mood down a bit.”

“Just so long as I don’t have to hear Adam brag up his innocent victims any longer…” Jess muttered from behind her wine glass.

Jack nodded, sipped his wine and then asked. “There was one guy who was… I kinda noticed a, like, an absence in your piece on Camp Tebbutt.”

Ava nodded sadly, while Adam leaned in and listened with an intent expression. The rest, except for Gabe, looked a little lost.

“…Yeah. The guy who… whose biodrone killed Sara.” Ava sighed, and scritched Hannah’s ears for comfort as the dog whined.

“…Well, fuck.” Derek muttered, and gave her a squeeze too. Ava shot him a moment’s grateful attention, then shook her head sorrowfully.

“…I’m sorry, Jack. He… apparently he took his own life barely two months after he arrived. They returned him to his family in Dusseldorf.”

Jack nodded, sighed, and sat back. “…Dammit.”


A dark cloud descended on the table for a few seconds. Jack dispelled it somewhat with a heavy sigh and three words.

Fuck the Hierarchy.”

“Amen,” Adam grunted. “…Actually.” He gave Derek a long look. “Yeah. I do have some shit I wanna get off my chest about that. I wanna think about it though.”

“…I think I’d want you for the last in the series anyway,” Ava noted. “You and the Great Father would make good bookends.”


“Tip of the spear versus the god-emperor of an engineered soldier species. You’re best friends and couldn’t possibly be further opposites along the axis of power. And, well…there’s the obvious visuals.”

“Maybe make it a joint session, then? If you wanna really capture that dynamic…”

“No, no. Spotlight on one at a time,” Derek said firmly. “Ava’s right, you’d be like, the other slice of bread.”

“Well, that settles it,” Jack said firmly, regaining some humor. “I don’t want to be in an Adam-Daar sandwich.”

“Now there’s a mental image!” Jess grimaced. “Like a mouse trapped between two bears.”

“Aww! But we cuddle so nice!”

If there was one thing that was good about boisterous family and friends, it was that they could recover from a shock much faster than Ava, and sweep her along in their happiness. She laughed, and realized she was genuinely enjoying herself.

Derek noticed, and squeezed her hand under the table. Perfect boyfriend.

Still, all good things had to come to an end, and eventually they drifted their separate ways. Jack was apparently going out clubbing with his friend Rihanna, Adam and Marty had a baby to get home to, Gabe and Jess were up very late indeed by their standards…

They took the scenic route back to Derek’s place, through the covered walkway along Riverside Park. The nightly rain drumming on the roof was soothing, and meant they had the park largely to themselves. Hannah chased a ball, Ava leaned appreciatively on Derek and reflected that she had life pretty good…

Then he stopped.

“So, uh…”

“Hmm?” Ava raised her head. The little wave of anxiety at this sudden change in pace was irrational, but that didn’t stop it from happening.

It turned to shock when in one smooth movement he produced a small black box from his pocket and went down on one knee. On pure instinct, her hands flew up and covered her mouth.

Derek laughed. “…I had this speech planned, but… Nah. I love you, Ava. Marry me?”

She didn’t think about it. She just nodded, and somehow managed to remember how to speak.


A good day couldn’t have ended more perfectly.

Previous Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Next Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Implications

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 4 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 3 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 2 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 1 (NSFW)

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

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Shades of White and Orange

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

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Mother Earth

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

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 2

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 1

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 4

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 3

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Good Training – The Champions – Tidying Up

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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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