The Deathworlders – Chapter 55: Reinvention Part 2

Date Point: 16y2m3w AV

Hierarchy/Cabal Joint Communications session #1722

++0008++: In summary, the infiltration of Sol means the operation was a success, though not an unqualified one. We have four Injunctors on Earth, and a further two in the outer system, but the new Arutech biodrones appear to be an abject failure. The Cimbrean infiltration was foiled by an animal, and our infiltrator on Lucent is completely pinned down. They cannot act without an unacceptably high risk of discovery.

++0011++: Furthermore, Proximal remains unaccounted-for. He has missed every scheduled check-in, failed to respond to every urgent update request, and has not activated any of his safe pings. The last time this happened was when the Humans captured 0006.

++0008++: An event that had profound negative ramifications for his sanity and competence. His behaviour ever since has been… erratic.

++Metastasis++: <Annoyed; Loyal> Cynosure unilaterally achieved more success in re-infiltrating Human space than the entire Hierarchy did over an interval ten times as long.

++0008++: His brilliance is not in question. His stability on the other hand, is. 0006 was always…

++013++: <Suggestion> A troublemaker? A maverick? Uncontrollable?

++0008++: <Diplomatic> Unorthodox.

++Metastasis++: I wonder if you would have the courage to say any of those things in his presence.

++0008++: For all I know, he is here right now. He has a bad habit of lurking in these conversations without revealing himself.

++System record: Inactivity for 100 cycles++

++0008++: <Satisfied> Clearly he either isn’t here, or doesn’t care.

++0011++: <Accusatory> The Cabal has lurched dramatically in its strategy. Not so very long ago we adopted your recommended strategy of playing nice and seeking an accord with the Humans, at least until a better alternative presented itself–

++Metastasis++: And a better solution presented itself. Need I remind you, we now have half a dozen Injunctors in the Sol system, and an infiltrator on Lucent? What is that, if not an improvement on the position of abject paralysis we were in before?

++0013++: What happened to all that stuff about inevitably needing a partner species in matterspace? Not merely janissaries, but active participants?

++Metastasis++: Humans turned out to not be that species.

++0013++: So where does this leave us? Are we winning or losing?

++0008++: That, I suspect, hinges on what has happened to Proximal….

Date Point: 16y2m3w2d AV
Scotch Creek Extraterrestrial Research Facility, British Columbia, Canada, Earth

General Ted Bartlett

“Even the Gaoians are stumped. Champion Wozni had to admit it’s way above his level of understanding, and their most expert Father on the subject of quantum computing is, uh, tentative.”

Bartlett nodded and massaged his face. Age was catching up with him, and he was still pulling young man hours when big discoveries came in. He always paid the price in pain and fatigue later.

But things like the captive Igraen they had in storage down in the basement, alongside the captured Abductor from Egypt, an assortment of Dominion and Alliance technology acquired via legitimate and less-legitimate means, and several warehouses full of Hunter tech definitely qualified as big discoveries.

As was the latest quick evaluation of the devices found deep in the Hierarchy’s mine on Messier.

“What would he commit to?” he asked.

Captain Thierry Pelletier, the man now in charge of what had once been Claude Nadeau’s department, sighed and shook his head. “Not a lot. He speculated that some of the results he got from a subatomic analysis suggests that they’re somehow using individual electrons as transistors.”

Bartlett’s eyebrows shot up. “…If so, these things must be at the absolute physical limit of processor density.”

“Very close to it, certainly . Wozni didn’t want to even speculate on just how much processing power those things have, Wouldn’t even venture a couple of orders of magnitude. The best he’d give was ’a lot.’”

“Helpful,” Bartlett snarked.

“He’s a very precise kinda guy. And this is only his first analysis, which he worked up in the middle of some kind of business trip to Cimbrean on the Great Father’s orders…” Pelletier shrugged. “If these things are the physical hardware for the Hegemony, then… I mean, finding a warehouse full of these things in an entire galaxy? Impossible.”

Bartlett grunted, and swiped through a few folders on his desk, looking for something specific. He found it quickly, thank God for good filing.

“…Ironic,” he mused.

“What is?” Pelletier asked.

Bartlett shrugged distractedly. “Oh, just a heretical thought.” At Pelletier’s continued intrigued look, he explained “I was thinking that it’s very likely we’re only around because of the Hierarchy.”

“They’re trying to annihilate us,” Pelletier pointed out, frowning.

“Oh, sure, they’re our worst enemies… but without them, I’m not so sure Humanity would ever have existed. Or maybe we’d be slaves of some rampant Deathworld empire. Or maybe we’d have had an Independence Day scenario where some giant flying saucers rocked up over ancient Babylon and wiped us out so they could take Earth for their own.”

He smiled faintly at Pelletier’s expression. “That’s the thing about the butterfly effect: Everything combined to bring us to this moment, not just the good.”

Pelletier nodded slowly. “So… ironic. The people who are going to finally beat them are of their own making.”

“Ultimately, they may have done the galaxy a favor.” Bartlett set the thought aside with a wry expression. “Be that as it may, the task at hand is wiping the bastards out. And these databricks, if they are the hardware for the Hegemony, might just be the weak point we can strike at.”

“Why in the hell did Six point us toward it, then?”

“Who knows? He’s insane? He didn’t know how important that facility is? It’s a trap? Whatever the reason, it’s a lead.”

“A lead on an unknown number of facilities scattered theoretically across the entire galaxy,” Pelletier reminded him. “Finding all of them will be a big ask, sir.”

“That depends on how many there are, and I can’t imagine a facility like this would be cheap. Secondly, we don’t know how much territory this, uh, ‘node’ might service. If it’s like, uh, a really tall cell tower or something…this might be one of a handful of stations.”

Pelletier pulled a face Bartlett had worn himself many a time: that of a man whose superiors were saying things that scratched at his sense of exactitude. “Or, it could be one of thousands. There are a hundred billion stars in the galaxy, after all. Virtually all of them harbor planets.”

“Either way, that’s why I called you in.” Bartlett handed over the file he’d been looking for. “I’m putting you in charge of a new research operation, codenamed MINOR MASTER. I think we’re on to a good breadcrumb trail with the wormhole booster on Stinkworld, and I put in some time last night to run an idea through my field equations. If I’m right, a sufficiently large telescope might be able to pinpoint other wormhole booster fields elsewhere in the galaxy. We won’t have to guess how many there are, we’ll be able to count them.”

Pelletier took the document and opened it to the first page. “How large a telescope?” he asked.

Bartlett grinned. He loved moments like this, when he got to favor his officers with something cool.

“How would you like,” he asked, “to be in charge of the first interstellar observatory?”

Date Point: 16y2m3w2d AV
”Stinkworld,” the Irujzen Reef

Meereo, Champion of Clan Longear

“…Dammit, dammit, dammit!!”

Ears swivelled, then noses turned diplomatically away as Garl snarled something vicious in Clan Stoneback’s private dialect and then swept aside the tablet he’d been peering at with a slash of his paw. The Grandfather’s claws left shiny streaks in the steel tabletop.

Then he stormed out of the tent.

Several pairs of eyes turned back to Meereo, and much ear semaphore communicated his next task. Meereo sighed, turned from group, and followed after Garl. The old ‘Back must have set a brisk pace, because he was already out of sight, but fortunately he’d always had a strong scent.

Meereo decided to take it slow and dignified rather than chase. Give the Grandfather time. He followed his nose and the occasional angry claw-mark on a tree, and even so he realized that Garl must have slowed down the second he was out of sight. His path was meandering and his scent heavy, and it led down toward one of the few nearby areas that wasn’t suffused with Stinkworld’s characteristic rotting-meat miasma—a stream.

It wasn’t that the planet’s omnipresent aroma was absent down in the little gully where the water had cut through rock over the march of aeons, more that there were other scents there to take the edge off. Wild flowers, fresh water, and a local moss that smelled faintly of cotton candy. It was a peaceful spot that a lot of the Gaoians present liked to visit when they had a spare moment.

It was also a natural echo chamber and amplifier, and Meereo had very large, very sharp ears. He rounded the corner just as Garl fling a large rock viciously into the water then slouched down on the pebbly beach, muttering to himself.

“Fuck… Not like this…”

Meereo keened softly despite himself, and Garl’s ears snapped around, followed by the rest of him. Nothing wrong with the old ‘Back’s hearing at least.

After a moment, he unwound and dropped to all fours. “…Eavesdroppin’, young’n?”

Meereo gave him a complicated, apologetic look and dropped down four-paw as well to approach.

“It’s my responsibility to know what’s going on here,” he pointed out. Garl just huffed, shook himself, and sat down in the dirt again.

“…I’m on my way out,” he said. Meereo keened again, but duck-nodded. He’d suspected as much—he’d thought he could smell it, even over Stinkworld’s background stench—but he’d have liked to be wrong.

“…Will it be…soon?”

Garl took in a long, slow breath and flicked a smaller pebble into the bubbling water. “…Yeah. I ain’t lost any strength yet, but… I been wakin’ up with blurry vision err’day ‘fer a while, an’ lately it ain’t just the mornin’ no more. I was starin’ at that fucking tablet for half a Ri’, couldn’t read the damn thing.”

Meereo sat down next to him. “That’s not fair at all,” he sympathized.

“You’re fuckin’ right it ain’t.” They sat in silence for a little while. Meereo knew better than to be the first to speak, and finally Garl threw another stone into the stream and found his voice again.

“It ain’t…I’m at peace with the inevitable. Balls, I’m a ‘Back on First Fang, I’ve almost bought it more times’n I can count. I’m just…I wanted ‘ta finish this.”

Meereo duck-nodded some more, just listening.

“…I’d hoped I’d have time,” Garl added, then sighed. “…But I guess the tokens jus’ didn’t flip ‘fer me.”

Meereo wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. He wasn’t in command, and wouldn’t be a natural fit to take over…which, thankfully, provided a step forward.

“I hate to ask…but what would you have me do?”

“…I need a replacement. Champion or not, y’ain’t a Back an’ the Fangs need one’a their own at the front, even if you din’t need ‘ta focus on the nerd shit. I’d suggest Brother Torun of Fourth Fang, he’s been here a while.”

“And what about your larger role as Warleader of the Grand Army?”

“That’s somethin’ the Great Father’s gonna hafta ponder.”

Meereo nodded slowly, feeling his ears droop. Eventually he looked over at Garl, and then offered a paw.

“…It’s been a privilege.”

They shook solemnly, before Garl yoinked Meereo up and smothered him in a massive hug.

“An’ it’s good knowin’ this is in the right paws. You an’ Torun, you’ll do well.”

Meereo didn’t know exactly what to say to that, not that he could really have spoken anyway. Nor did Garl linger on the topic for long. “An’ anyway, I s’pose this means I’ll die livin’ the Stoneback dream. Prol’ly gonna keel over from too much matin’!”

Daar, it seemed, had inherited his relentlessly boisterous personality from Garl.

“I can think of worse ways to bow out,” Meereo admitted, with a chitter.

“Can’t think of any better, that’s ‘fer damn sure!”

“A little bit traumatic for the poor female, though.”

“Well, that’s her problem, ain’t it?” Garl pant-grinned, then stood up and stretched. “Come on, young’n. I ain’t gonna waste what little time I got left on mopin’ around down here feelin’ sorry ‘fer myself. I’ll damn well get somebody to read aloud to me until the jump cycle’s ready.”

Meereo nodded, stood, and brushed some sand and pebbles out of his fur. He made a note to himself that the next time he was back in civilization, he’d live it up a little and woo a female or two himself. Life, after all, was too short to not seize with both paws.

But here and now, they had a job to do. And if done right, it might just mean long, lazy futures for them all. Garl might not be able to finish it, but Meereo had no plans to suffer the same disappointment.

They turned away from the stream, and got back to work.

Date Point: 16y3m AV
Planet Akyawentuo, Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm

Yan Given-Man

“Bawistuh. Hmm. A Human idea?”

“No. My idea,” Vemik said, and the lash of his tail showed just how strongly he felt about that. “I didn’t get the idea from the Humans, I thought it up myself! It wasn’t hard, it’s just a big steel bow!”

Yan gave him a cunning look. “But a Human word for your idea…”

“Humans are an older spee-shees. They’ve had longer to have the same ideas.” Vemik handed the bellows off to the care of his apprentice and stepped out of the forge. The smoke in there had darkened his skin almost black, and he licked his palm to clean the worst of it from around his eyes. “I thought, if this idea works, they’ll have done it too and they’ll have a word for it. So I followed Jooyun, and I listened.”

Yan grinned at him approvingly. “How long until you can try to make it?” he asked.

“Two hands of days, maybe three. You remember Doonuk Given-Man came by yesterday?”

“I remember he had a big bag…”

Vemik nodded and grinned. “As much of his tribe’s newest smelting as he could carry. I traded four of my best knives for it.”

Yan was impressed. “Good trade!”

Vemik gave a soft, satisfied, deeply confident hoot. “My knives are the best, and everyone knows it.” He glanced over his shoulder to make sure his apprentice was keeping the forge hot enough. Satisfied with what he saw, he nodded and turned back to Yan. “I have enough steel now. Just need to shape it and a few other things. Special tricks.”

“Special tricks?” Yan would have liked to grapple him and squeeze one or two of those secrets out of him, but he was having fun courting a woman from Suk’s tribe, Yoonee. A rare beauty, but she actually enjoyed bathing in water, which was just strange. She must have got it from the Humans. If he went to see her while covered in soot and grime like Vemik, she’d make him—ugh—wash before she let him touch her.

Yan didn’t like the way water made him itchy. And the less said about soap the better.

In any case, he was supposed to go up into the sky today. Jooyun had sent a message that there would be a “Weaver” coming for him at noon, and to Yan’s experienced eye the sun was about as high as it was going to get.

While part of him was tempted to do mischief and show up covered in the dirt and tastes of the forest and village, he knew better. This was a meeting with a strange tribe to discuss trade, and a big trade too. From what he knew, the Corti were very strange and very weak in body… but both Humans and Gaoians spoke of them with some grudging respect. Best to take them seriously.

“I read about Human smiths. People used to be scared of them, because they had strange secrets and ways nobody else knew. And they had all kinds of magic in the forge!” Vemik glanced over his shoulder again. “…Don’t slow down!” he barked. The apprentice got back on pace with the bellows.

“You like that idea, I can tell–” Yan began, then stiffened as he heard the kind of high, distant thundercrack sound made by Human ships as they punched through the sky from above. Nobody ever forgot that sound.

“What was that joke Shyow used? [Your Uber’s here.”] Vemik trilled.

Yan shielded his brow with his tail and peered into the sky. “What is an ‘ooo-ber?’”

“I don’t exactly know! I think it’s about borrowing someone’s car, though… There it is.”

Vemik pointed, and Yan nodded as he saw a tiny black speck in the blue. It was coming down fast, alarmingly fast. Shyow had always landed Misfit slowly and gently, as had the other ships Yan had seen, but either this pilot had very different thoughts about the best way to land, or the ship was falling helplessly out of the sky.

It slowed just as hard as it had fallen. In the span of one Ketta’s height, the headlong plunge became a near-stop as bright points of light all along its underbelly seared Yan’s eyes and forced him to look away. The last little way to the ground was steady and smooth.

“…I think I know why they call it a ‘drop’ ship,” Vemik commented, with a nervous twitch of his tail.

“Back to work, apprentice,” Yan said, looking past him at the boy who was gaping at the Human machine with a mix of unhidden awe and mild fear. The young one jumped, then hastily returned to the bellows.

Weavers looked kind of like a flying knuckle to Yan’s eyes. There was nothing slim or sleek or graceful about them. Misfit had been square and solid, built rather like a Given-Man herself, but Weavers—he knew they were a kind of ship, not just one—were ugly. They existed to do one thing very, very well, and that thing was not “be pretty.” It made sense that they’d drop from the sky to the ground as hard and as fast as possible.

This one settled on the patch of hard stamped-down earth the tribe kept open near the village for moments like this, and Jooyun ambled down the ramp as soon as it lowered. He whooped as soon as he laid eyes on Yan.

[“Now that’s a ride!”] He was wearing his Human clothing today, which was a tight black thing around his torso, tough blue jeans around his legs, and boots on his strange big feet. More Human weirdness, but the jeans and boots at least made sense; Humans had thin skin, jeans were good against whipping branches and thorns. Boots made a foot-grip impossible but he could walk over anything without a care, even the jagged bite-rock that was everywhere underfoot on the mountain.

Yan had no idea what the point of the black thing was. No matter. He scooped his friend up for a welcoming hug, then put him down again. Today was a day for being serious, sadly. Maybe there would be time for more fun later. [“Is it always like that?”]

[“Fastest way to get down here. And going back up’s even faster. Ready for your tour of a Human warship?”]

[“War ship. Hmm.”]

[“Her name is USS Robert A. Heinlein. and yeah. She’s longer than a Ketta is tall. Are you bringing anyone else?”]

“The Singer,” Yan said, switching back to People-speak. Behind him, Vemik made a mournful, longing sound. “…And Vemik.”

“He’ll need to clean up,” Jooyun said while Vemik celebrated loudly. “Same reason I’m bothering with a t-shirt.” He plucked at the black cloth stretched across his chest. “Cleanliness is very important to all the sky-tribes.”

“The shirt keeps you clean?”

“Yeah. It also keeps me out of the spotlight. Half-naked Humans draw attention, and this is about you, not me.

Yan grunted, “You better clean yourself up, Vemik. Need to represent more than just our tribe today.”

Vemik glanced back into the forge, and lowered his voice. “…I do want to come. But can I leave Mavu all by himself?”

“What’s he making?” Jooyun asked.

“Just some knife blanks.”

“Good,” Yan decided. “You haven’t started your melt for the bawistuh yet. Let it be a test for your apprentice, then! See how well he does on his own. Now go, or I will find soap and clean you up myself!”

[“…Ballista, eh?”] Jooyun chuckled deep in his chest. [“Do we have a spy-monkey in our midst, too? ‘Cuz I’m pretty sure I never used that word around you…”]

Yan looked back to Vemik, who had the expression every young man did when they were caught sticky-handed stealing someone’s fruit basket.

Jooyun chuckled again, longer and a little more evil. [“Yeah. I think the price is gonna be a shower, Vemik. We have soap and warm water on the Weaver. Field-expedient hygiene system. Trust me, it’s way nicer when the water is warm. And lotion too. Xiu added that bit.”]


“Yup. Rub it on your skin, or get the hose again. Your call.” Jooyun chuckled. There was a joke in there somewhere, Yan could tell.

Jooyun turned his attention back to Yan, with a much more cautious expression on his face. [“Being honest, big guy…”]

Yan sighed. He knew this was coming. “Yes yes, if you say it will be a good idea, then it is. Yoonee from Suk’s tribe made me a new loincloth, too. Pretty! I will wear that. Vemik has one too but I haven’t given it to him yet. Vemik! Go to my hut and get the bundle near my sleeping pelts!”

“I promise, it is way better with warm water and lotion.”

“As you say.” Yan would wait until he’d tested that branch for himself.

Vemik ambled away while Jooyun led Yan to the Weaver. The floor had metal rails that made it easy to move things in and out, if they were on the right kind of square-shaped board. A good idea! That would make things very fast. Loaded onto one of those boards was a plastic tent with a hose, and some other things to keep the water from running away.

Jooyun sighed to himself, peeled off his clothing, climbed in and helped Yan use everything. There was a cloth and brush for scrubbing and different bottles of soap. Two were for his crest, first one then the other bottle, and the other for the rest of him. Their air didn’t taste of anything at all this time; he remembered the last encounter and did not dip his tongue in the odd stuff. The warm water was nice but Yan seemed to like it warmer than Jooyun did. Strange. Humans did feel a bit cool to the touch though, even Jooyun. Maybe that was it?

“Here. This is the lotion. Xiù said it should stop your skin from itching so much,” Jooyun added as he handed over one last bottle. “Use as little as you can.”

To Yan’s surprise, it worked. He still felt odd, like he could feel the air touching him a little more, but the full-body itch he’d expected just wasn’t there. He couldn’t say he’d enjoyed it, but it hadn’t been a torment, either.

Vemik, on the other hand, was surly and sullen the entire time as black water swirled away around his toes. He seemed very disappointed the soap didn’t make bubbles this time. It was surprising how much younger he looked though, once all the forge-grime was soaped away. Singer arrived right as Vemik was toweling dry, and took her turn after Jooyun cleaned up.

To Vemik’s dismay, the Singer seemed to truly enjoy it. “Maybe the city-People were right,” she purred as she took longer than she needed. “Hot water is niiice.”

“Gets in my ears…” Vemik grumbled, but his spirit wasn’t really in it. He was brushing furiously at his crest, trying to dry it out and get it to stand up properly again. .

“It’s better for your health, Vemik.” Jooyun toweled his head-crest while he spoke. “All the soot from the forge will leech through your hide almost as if you’d eaten the ashes yourself. [We should really fix your ventilation, too.”]

“Yes, yes…”

“You should listen to him,” the Singer swatted Vemik lightly as she put on a clean loincloth of her own and squeezed the water out of her tail. “We need you alive and well for a long time, Sky-Thinker. If forge-soot makes you sick…”

“I’m strong!”

“For now, yes.” Jooyun had a serious expression. “I’m strong too, but I’m not going to risk losing my strength just because I don’t necessarily like everything I need to do to stay healthy.”

“We all grow old and weak, Sky-Thinker. Only a fool would hasten it,” Yan agreed, though he had to agree that he would have liked to do without bathing, really.

“Shouldn’t we fly? They will be waiting for us,” the Singer said.

Jooyun chuckled. “We already took off. Look.”

Sure enough, when Yan glanced at the window, he saw nothing but night sky.

“How…? I didn’t feel anything!”

[“A really crazy piece of Sky-Magic called an inertial damper. It’s the same thing that makes the gravity plating under our feet work. Same as in ‘Horse’s gym, or in the gravball arena.”]

“But how does it–”

“I ain’t got any idea, Vemik!” Julian belly-laughed. “I mean, I know the general idea, but….Anyway. [We need to get ready. The Ambassadors will waiting for us as soon as we land. That includes Ambassador Rockefeller, who’s my boss, so…] Please don’t take this the wrong way, but do not climb him like a jungle-gym. Most Humans aren’t like me, remember. The ambassador…well, he’s a normal-sized man.”

“Small? Like Heff?”

“Nah. He’s as tall as me, but Hoeff is bigger and a lot stronger, so…no wrestling, even for play. He’s also very smart, and has very, very strong friends. Remember, you are here to speak for all your people. All the Sky-Tribes will be watching. You don’t want to represent them badly do you? So… don’t scare the peoples of every sky-place before you’ve even said hello.”

The Human standing up at the front of the Weaver raised his voice for their attention. [“Landing on Heinlein in two. Strap in!”]

“Already?” Vemik asked, turning to peer out of the window.

“Sit down,” Jooyun told him firmly. Reluctantly, Vemik turned away from the window and plopped down in the seat. They were too small for everyone, even Singer, and when Jooyun tied them to them with wide, flat red ropes he had to move little steel things around on them to make them long enough to go around Yan’s body. Even then, they were tight.

“Sorry fellas, but it’s not for long. [These seats at least don’t have armrests…”] Jooyun grumbled that last comment as he sat and wedged himself in. Yan saw one of the two men up front glance back at them, raise a thumb at the one next to him and nod.

The first they saw of the warship was a flat expanse of dark grey coming up from below. There was a man out there, completely covered in thick and heavy-looking clothes of some kind that even covered his face. A thin steel rope trailed behind him, drifting strangely in the air.

Or… not-air. Jooyun had once said there was no air to breathe above the sky, and no gravity to keep a man’s feet on the ground. Which explained how the man in the strange full-body suit could drift slowly up to meet them. He attached another steel rope to the Weaver’s outside, and Yan heard a muffled clonk as he hooked it on. There were more clonks from the other side, and from further down the ship, four in all. Moments later they were pulled down onto the ship, and then… inside. Between massive steel doors and through one of those blue sky-magic “force field” things. It was loud on the other side, loud enough to be heard even inside the Weaver, and most of it was the noise the doors made as they closed to seal out the night.

“Pretty cool, huh?” Jooyun grinned as the ramp lowered.

“Is… a lot bigger than Misfit.”

“Dude, Misfit was smaller than the Weaver. Misfit was tiny. Ships don’t come much smaller.”

There weren’t many things that made Yan feel small. He could bend all but the strongest Ketta branches underfoot, but this…

Yan kept that feeling to himself as two hands of Humans, all wearing the same dark twilight-sky clothes, bustled around the Weaver, mostly doing things he didn’t follow, though four of them tied it down with wide green straps so that it was firmly held to the steel underfoot. From up front of the Weaver, behind a curtain, Yan could hear two voices talking quietly, saying things he didn’t really follow.

“Engine two temperature?”


“Engine three temperature?”


“Coolant pump clutch?”


And so on. It was all very… it was a lot of things. Serious, exact, careful. All the Humans had one job to do each, and they were focused on that job and nothing else. It was a little like how he and Vemik got when they were doing a big work-trial of smelts to make knives for trading, or arrow tips, or now tools for other forges in other villages. Vemik would lead in one kind of work, Yan the other. They knew exactly how it worked, and they had short words for it, too.

The Humans were doing the same thing, just… bigger. More. How much practice did they have on doing this?

He shook the thought off and followed Jooyun, who was following a man in green clothes. Another man in the same green fell in behind them and gave Vemik a little nudge with polite words when Sky-Thinker wanted to stop and look around.

There was an odd moment when they reached the back of the huge metal cave they were in. Jooyun stopped and spoke to a man with one of their tablets in his hands.

“Permission to come aboard?”

The other man nodded. “Permission granted. The Ambassador will meet you in the captain’s In-Port cabin.”

After that, they found themselves in tight, narrow spaces like squeezing between the trees. It was quieter there, though, and people stood aside for them. Yan found it a bit annoying. He was a very broad-shouldered man of the People and proud of it, though that did mean he had to crab somewhat sideways much of the way. Vemik and Jooyun didn’t fare much better, but Singer and everyone else seemed just fine.

She spent her time not-turning-sideways to look at the people. “…Are Human ships always like this?” she asked. “Everyone is so.. Sharp.”

“You remember the nuke?” Jooyun asked. “How it lit up the sky and flattened the forest?”


“This ship uses that same magic to fly. It’s very dangerous, so they have to be careful. And that’s just one of the ways it could all go badly wrong. When they’re on the job, they take it seriously. I bet they’re all a lotta fun when they’re off-duty, though. Work hard, play hard, you know?”

“Can’t let the forge go out.”

“Something like that. If this forge goes out, we all die. It won’t, though. We’re good at this.”

“Yes…” the Singer agreed, quietly. Yan, who knew intimately just how hard steel was to make and could see no end to the amount of it around them, almost nodded along with her.

Instead he straightened until his crest brushed the ceiling, and followed. Gnawing in the back of his head, though, was a thought: the Humans weren’t the oldest sky-people around. They were here to meet ones who were even older still, and knew even more.

He was having a very hard time not feeling small…. Until he remembered why they were there. They were there because the Core-tie wanted something from them, and because the Humans valued them as friends. They were there because, despite everything, despite the living miracle they were standing inside, the People were still strong enough to be worth something to the sky-tribes.

He stood taller again, and gave the Singer a confident grin.

Time to make a deal

Date Point: 16y3m AV
Jacksonville, Florida, USA, Earth

Special Agent James Mazur

Zane Reid’s MO was pretty straightforward. He seemed to have a knack for spotting properties whose occupants were out of town on vacation or business, and an even sharper knack for breaking in unnoticed.

Once inside, he’d eat their food, sleep in the master bedroom, and then in the morning he’d use their WiFi to work some more of his online sabotage. Then he’d leave, taking whatever loose cash he found with him. Mazur’s taskforce had been following his online trail and every time they arrived at an address they found rumpled bedclothes, an empty fridge and an unlocked door.

This time he’d also taken a gun, a Springfield XDS normally stored in the bedside table. The owner’s gun safe had been a cheap and inferior make, and Reid had busted into it by destroying the lock.

“So why didn’t he take one before? Is this just the first time he had the chance, or has something changed?”

Jim Mazur shrugged wearily. Six hours ago he’d been in Ohio. Now he was in Florida. Tomorrow for all he knew they’d be up in Maine, or all the way back over in California. Given that Reid obviously had access to a way to bunny-hop around the whole Continental US, it was kind of a mystery why he even bothered with breaking into people’s houses.

“Might just be the first chance,” he said. “It doesn’t really change anything, this is just another item on his rap sheet.”

The analyst who’d mused about that, Zoe, nodded. “Right. I guess I’m clutching at straws.”

“I don’t blame you. We’re always a step behind this guy and it’s getting old.” And the problem, Jim reflected, was that they weren’t likely to get out in front of him anytime soon.

Letting the reporters into Camp Tebbutt had been a pretty effective antidote to some of his vitriolic videos, but not enough. There was a large underbelly to American society that simply couldn’t and wouldn’t trust the government, who were sick of war spending on expensive shit up in space when there were homeless people in their city centers, or kids struggling in school who wanted to blame education spending…

There were a lot of people out there who wanted to believe what Reid was selling. As a percentage of the population, maybe not that many. As an absolute number, though…

All of that should maybe have been beside the point from Jim’s perspective. He was tracking down a fugitive from a Federal prison who had a literally apocalyptic agenda, and everything else was somebody else’s problem, in theory. But life just wasn’t that clean and clear-cut, and all it would take was one potential witness who was actually sympathetic to Zane Reid, and the whole investigation could be delayed or misdirected.

They’d been assuming Reid was armed, of course. Having it confirmed didn’t really change anything, but it did highlight again that they didn’t know what his long-term plan was, or that of his puppetmasters. Given how easily he could flit around the country, his next move might be anywhere, doing anything, and until he made some kind of an unforced error they were always going to be playing catch-up.

Manhunts weren’t supposed to go that way. Done right, the fugitive was always scrambling to stay ahead, constantly making mistakes, always losing ground. Done even better, the fugitive languished in their sense of false security right up until the moment they found themselves surrounded by Federal agents.


Zoe’s little grunt of surprise dragged Jim out of his thoughtful fugue. “Got something?” he asked, not particularly hopefully but…

“You know the blood sample on the lockbox?” Zoe gestured to the broken metal case, which she’d been swabbing and running through her portable tools. Reid had cut himself while forcing the lock, and she was diligently recording it.


“It’s not Reid.” She handed him her tablet. Sure enough, the report from the little hand-held blood work lab she used was pretty clear and concise: ‘NO MATCH.’

“Could it have got confused?” Jim checked. “I mean, this is a guy’s house…”

“I’ll check it against DNA samples from… hmm…” Zoe stood up and slipped into the en-suite bathroom. She made a pleased noise.

“Found a razor and hair samples. One minute…”

Jim gave her the requested minute as he stooped to inspect the box carefully. It was pretty clear that Reid—or whoever had broken into the box—had sliced their finger on a sharp metal edge. It wasn’t a lot of blood, and nobody from his team had cut themselves on it…

“Yup, confirmed. No match with the homeowner,” Zoe said, returning from the en-suite.

“So it’s either one of us…” Jim said.

“It isn’t. The lab knows all of us.”

“…Or Reid has an accomplice.”

“Yeah. One whose blood isn’t full of Arutech.”

That was a development. Jim swiped down to look at the ancestry summary, only to be disappointed. The accomplice’s genetic profile was about as generically European as they came: Germany, France, England, Ireland. Five or six percent from the Indian subcontinent, and a sniff of Spain.

“Anything we can work on?” Zoe asked.

“Accomplice is a male of European descent. Dark hair, brown eyes,” Jim read.

“That doesn’t exactly narrow it down.”

“It’s something. We can feed that data into the Watson at least. You never know what it’ll cough up for us.”

Sadly the blood sample turned out to be the only breakthrough, and in any other situation it wouldn’t have been much. But this was the first time in the whole investigation that there’d been any kind of new evidence. It was a complication—with an accomplice, Reid could achieve a lot more than if he was working alone—but at least they knew about the accomplice now. Or maybe accomplices plural?

Having that information couldn’t harm the investigation. Which was why Jim went home that night in a pretty good mood.

They were a step closer.

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 – Chapter 4 (NSFW)

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Sweetness – Chapter 3 (NSFW)

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Sweetness – Chapter 2 (NSFW)

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Sweetness – Chapter 1 (NSFW)

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Shades of White and Orange

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Mother Earth

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 2

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 1

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 4

Date Point: 16y2m AV Hierarchy/Cabal Joint Communications session #1536 ++Asymptote++: I have bad news. It would seem our new drones are detectable. ++0004++: <Dismay> you’re certain? ++Asymptote++: The force I sent to Cimbrean was captured immediately upon arrival. ++0007++: How? ++Asymptote++: Unclear. The Arutech drones don’t report as concisely as conventional biodrones. The connection is…

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 3

Date Point: 16y2m AV The Thinghall, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Gabriel Arés Every civilization needed its icon of executive power. The UK had the black door of Number Ten Downing Street and, somewhere behind it, the Cabinet Room; the USA had the White House, and the Oval Office; Folctha had the Alien Palace. The

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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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