The Deathworlders – Chapter 56: Dataquake Part 2

Date Point: 16y3m6d
η Ithacae, 94.9° 12-GERBER-UNARY G2V III, “Heafield”

Technical Sergeant Adam “Warhorse” Arés

Every now and then, Adam had a day where every little thing went so well and he found himself firing on all cylinders so perfectly, he could feel right in his big ol’ slab of a chest that exact same sense of pride and purpose he felt all those years ago, right when he’d earned his beret.

Adam was a simple man. His days were usually nicely predictable and that’s how he liked ‘em. Wake up, snuggle the wife and indulge in a little morning fun time. Give Diego a big sloppy kiss, melt when he smiled back at him, then wolf down meal #1 of the day and tromp downstairs to lift. Today’s morning fun had been extra good, goddamn! Marty musta been feeling frisky ‘cuz that right there was a toe-curlingly awesome way to start the day!

Also, it was Friday before a long four-day weekend. Who didn’t love holidays?

And the day only got better, too! Diego’s morning smile had been that of an absolute angel. Breakfast was steak and eggs, his favorite. And Adam was still improving, every single day a little bit smarter, a little bit stronger. In fact he felt giddy, light and nimble on his toes, pumped up and at the peak of everything! He still had at least ten years before the Crude resistance kicked in, too. He had his extended youth, his family, his friends…life could only get better.

He’d even broken a long-standing PR of his while training arms, which unofficially meant a WR too. God damn life was fuckin’ great!

Then, right as he was grooving on all of that while jog-bouncing to morning formation, some happily absurd weight slung over shoulder in his technically-a-ruck, a flash message came in: search and rescue on a recently-explored Deathworld. Some people were trapped behind an apparent rockslide, one with broken legs but nothing immediately life-threatening. It would take possibly days for a rescue plan to be put into motion, maybe even longer to free them…

But Adam was the strongest human being there was, probably (or definitely, depending on how a guy asked) the strongest sapient being ever, and his best buddies were all right in line behind him. Normal rescuers would need heavy equipment to deal with boulders and all that. Adam and his friends could probably dig the explorers out by hand, and so that was their mission.

Aww. Yiss.

It took him only a moment to throw on his fatigues, gather his equipment, and charge over to the base jump array as fast as his feet could carry him, which honestly was pretty fuckin’ fast these days. Missions like this got him pumped! He was so amped up to go do some good he just had to burn off some energy while they waited for the jump array. He’d cartwheeled around a bit, easily jumped clean over Firth’s head a few times, just for fun. He’d worked a backflip into the last one and was gonna try something a little daring, but Firth told him to settle the fuck down “‘fore your fat ass breaks the floor.” Adam obeyed with a huge shit-eating grin and more or less vibrated in place as gently as he could.

The new planet was called ‘Heafield.’ No info on how it’d been discovered or by who, but Byron Group had sent one of their survey teams out to have a look at it, the same one that had charted ‘Grootworld.’ Apparently they’d been studying the geology of a ravine system and an earthquake had hit at exactly the wrong moment.

It was a class-twelve planet. No native sapients that they knew of, but the biology was relatively benign and the surveyors had moved on to exploring it without excursion suits. Which meant no EV-MASS! They went on-mission in their fatigues and hand-carried everything they might conceivably need. It was a bit of a hump from the jump portal to the accident site, a few klicks really, so they warmed up with a nice, easy jog on over and surveyed the situation.

The ravine system wasn’t like any kind of terrain Adam had seen before. It looked like the cracks that might form in an old leather sofa, but it ran through a rolling landscape of bare, bald wind-smoothed sandstone. The survey team leader said they thought it was old water erosion, where some river had carved channels deep into the rock exposing millions of years of geological layers. It was the perfect spot to get data on the planet’s prehistory.

She rode on a Gaoian-made hover ATV rather than try to keep up with the HEAT on foot.

Adam and Baseball unrolled their equipment while she and those of her team who’d been lucky enough to escape unharmed pointed out where their colleagues were.

One geologist was at the bottom of the ravine, pinned by a round boulder that had landed on his leg when the quake hit. Adam, looking at how many rocks had come loose, felt like it was a fucking miracle nobody had died.

The worse injury was a couple of guys who’d taken shelter under an overhang only to be buried alive when the cliff above had disintegrated. They were still in there, trapped in an air gap and apparently suffering from a few broken bones of their own but again, miraculously, alive.

Firth and Irish broke out the big ground anchors and tested the gravity, which turned out to be a little over 1G. Not by too much, but enough to notice. This was, after all, supposedly a “super-Earth” planet.

That just made the climb even better! Adam got ready for the descent while he listened to the brief; he pulled off all his clothing, then changed into his much more comfortable climbing gear while pretending to ignore the team leader’s boggling eyes. Being honest, he might have put on a sneaky little show for her while he standing there all free to the air and untangling his climbing shorts. She was gonna get a full view of him anyway and, well…there was no time wasted and he did like to tease people, just a little. And he really liked to show off, too…

She turned her head and blushed, right as Adam was pulling up his shorts. Victory! ‘Base rolled his eyes as he pulled up his own, while Firth gave him a Serious Look; time to behave.

In climbing, a guy generally wore as little as he could possibly get away with, mostly just enough to keep warm or prevent chafing and scrapes. For the Protectors in general and him especially, that usually meant nothing more than a little pair of comfortable shorts, a harness, and chalk. No shoes or gloves for him, his soles and palms were already way calloused.

One last check before they headed down, and a sheepish grin to the team leader. Apparently there was nothing life-threatening but the injuries were more serious than they’d heard. All of that meant they’d need to be nice and careful with the climb down—all four of them were stupidly heavy and on a supergravity world—and they’d need to bring their rescue packs and other equipment inside the litter cage, too.

‘Base took charge with a sympathetic look towards Adam. He was now the ranking Protector, and big though Firth was, he wasn’t trained for this, and he still wasn’t an enthusiastic climber. Why he hated it so much was something Adam never understood. In any case, he was along for security and any extra muscle they might need, not to do the job. “Alright, Firth, you’re on anchor duty. ‘Horse and I’ll take the big rockslide up this end. Irish, you’re small so you get the guy down that end with the rock on his leg.”

The survey team leader gave him a sideways look. Irish was only ‘small’ relative to the three men around him, but Butler was used to that joke. “Sure. Let me know if either of you lard-arses get stuck like Winnie the feckin’ Pooh, an’ I’ll come pull yez out.”

He hustled off, and ‘Base and Adam chuckled to each other as they moved up to survey the collapsed rock face.

“What was that thing about how the Irish get more Irish the further they are from Ireland?”

“Yup,” ‘Base chuckled heavily. “How far are we from Ireland right now?”

“‘Bout seven kiloparsecs.”

“I’m surprised he ain’t firing pots of gold outta his ass,” Firth grumbled good-naturedly.

A distant call of “I heard that you giant fecker!” echoed up from the…canyon-crevasse-ravine thing. Whatever it was. Ravasse.

“There.” ‘Base pointed out a spot on the rock slide where somebody had managed to open up a small hole, and marked it with a flag. “Looks pretty stable from up here.”

“Couple’a nice big ones too,” Adam saw. “I bet we can dig underneath that slab just below the flag there, make a tunnel.”

“It’s a plan,” ‘Base agreed. They quickly anchored their ropes, hooked in their harnesses, and swung themselves out over the edge.

The slide was about fifty meters down. The face they were about to climb provided a lot of opportunity for creative parkour; if it weren’t for the jagged rocks and unsteady footing, Adam would have felt he could playfully bounce his way down with a few powerful leaps from face to face. Hell, if it were maybe half as deep or if he’d been wearing the Mass, he could just jump. But no, this was a time for going slow, steady and safe.

It was cool and dim out of the sunlight. They turned their headlamps on and took the descent calmly. The earthquake had only been a few hours ago, there was always the danger of aftershocks, or that it had loosened another part of the cliff. Taking a few thousand tonnes of sandstone to the head would end the mission pretty fuckin’ quick, so they made damn sure that the rescue zone was safe before finally alighting on the pile of fallen rock.

As Adam had predicted, none of the stones were so big that he couldn’t move them by hand. The hardest part by far was the footing and the awkward angles he was working at. Any other team of dudes would’ve had to laboriously lift the rocks out with ropes and a crane. Adam just…dug.

He heaved aside a slab of fallen sandstone as big as a motorbike, and was rewarded with the sound of human voices. Specifically, a man’s voice exclaiming “Jesus Christ!”

That never got old, bein’ honest. Who didn’t like being the big damn hero?!

Adam grinned down into the air gap he’d just uncovered. “¿Que pasa? How you doing in there, guys?”

Another voice replied. This one sounded tired, and pinched with pain.

“I’ll be honest: I’m not great.”

“I bet. Sit tight, we gotta dig a little more…” He handed them a couple of sealed foil packages through the hole. “Here. Juice. It tastes like cheap chemistry, but drink the whole damn thing down. And then stick that sucker in his mouth, wouldya? Wide end first, under his tongue.”

“What is it?” the pained voice asked.

“Fentanyl, and some other stuff to relax you a bit.”

“…Fuck man, anything at this point…” the pained voice groaned. He sounded like he was really hurting.

“Okay. This shit works fast.”

If there was anything Adam loved more than savin’ lives or workin’ up a good sweat, besides the obvious stuff he was infamous for, it was when he could do both things at the same time.

He was glad for ‘Base’s presence. None of the rocks were beyond his ability to lift, but they were working in a tight space and sometimes the angles were just too bad. Two pairs of hands made life a lot easier. Getting any serious equipment down into the ravine-asse woulda been a goddamn nightmare. Lucky for the trapped explorers that raw human muscle and a couple of giant crowbars were enough.

A silly macho thought made Adam grin while he worked. Not even Daar’s ridiculous strength would help him here, ‘cuz the cramped space they were working in needed more monkeyforce than a Gaoian could fake!

…Admittedly, this particular job needed extra huge, hulked-out monkeys, but still.

Eventually, they’d managed to burrow open the air gap the two explorers were trapped in to the point that ‘Base could wriggle down it to assess them. His deep voice was muffled past his bulk.

“Hey, man. How you feelin’?”

Adam grinned at the patient’s now much more relaxed tone of voice. “I’m…Feeling a lot better. Thank you.”

“You’re high as balls right now, so don’t get too silly, okay?”

“…I am? Cool. I’ll just…stay here, then.”

Adam heard a relieved laugh from the guy’s friend. He widened the gap a little more and finally got a good enough angle to shine his headlamp inside.

The two trapped explorers were a wiry dude whose face was several shades paler than its usual hue thanks to the stone dust, and a stocky dude with the Fentanyl lollipop sticking out of his mouth whose face was cleaner but damp with beading sweat. He was kneeling like he was in prayer, with his face and chest pressed up against the rock and his feet trailing behind him, one of which was buried up to the knee under fallen stone. Both were wearing rugged clothing that had obviously stopped its share of scrapes, and sturdy boots on their feet.

Adam would have preferred to help ‘Base with the stocky dude, but there just wasn’t room, and they’d better get his friend outta the way. ‘Base read his mind and backed out of the hole so that the smaller dude could escape. Adam offered him his hand, and the explorer confirmed his suspicions by awkwardly reaching out with the wrong hand and twisting it, rather than with the natural opposite.

“Got some pain there, huh?” Adam asked as he gently hauled the guy out the tunnel they’d dug and into the open.

The explorer nodded ruefully as Adam helped him to his feet. “Yeah. It’s sore as hell.”

“Lemme take a look.”

Adam busted out his gruff, cheery bedside manner. He sensed somehow that would be the right approach for this guy. He explored the guy’s arm with his fingertips and then ran his Gaoian medical scanner over it just to confirm what his hands were telling him.

What he found was a classic nightstick fracture, a clean transverse break across the ulna. Presumably the guy had warded off a rock that otherwise woulda hit him in the head. The good news was that the radius kinda formed a natural splint, so it wouldn’t need setting or anything. Unfortunately, Adam knew they had a bad habit of not healing properly if treated with just a cast. The guy was probably gonna need surgery to put a plate in the bone.


“Christ, you’re as gentle as a fuckin’ gorilla…” There was a bit of a grin in the guy’s voice as ‘Base vanished back down the hole. Adam suppressed a grin: Butler had been right, with his ass hanging outta the hole like that he did look kinda like Winnie the Pooh.

…Well. Pooh wasn’t quite that black. Or big-assed. Adam rumbled happily in his chest; he was having way too much fun today, but whatever!

“Nah, I’m a lot more meaner than a ‘rilla! So, uh…We can get you outta here as you are, no problem, but you’ll probably need surgery to plate that break…or I got an alternative that can fix it right here and now…”


“Spacemagic, bro!” Adam conjured a Crue-D patch out of his kit. “This lil’ guy right here should save you some hospital bills.”

“Well…okay! Go for it, I guess…” The explorer looked dubious. Adam just grinned and massaged it into the guy’s wrist, right above the vein. The explorer hissed as it dissolved through the skin and straight into his blood. Adam could sympathize; that bit always felt like getting a tattoo on top of a bee sting.

Once the discomfort from the patch faded though, the Crude only took seconds to get to work. It really was spacemagic.

“…My whole arm’s warming up.”

“Yup. You’re gonna be thirsty as fuck in a minute, too.” Adam handed him another juice pouch.

“…And the pain’s fading, too.”

“Dude,” Adam enthused, “That arm’ll be whole and strong and healthy in like twenty, thirty minutes. You just sit tight over there and let us help out your buddy, ‘kay?”

“You got it.”

“Need anything, ‘Base?”

His friend looked up from where he was scanning the patient’s trapped foot. “Yeah. Looks like a Chopart and a Lisfranc, and it’s developed into compartment syndrome. He needs to be in theatre about half an hour ago.”

Adam grimaced. “Jesus. Guy’s a fucking trooper.”

He took a look at the display from ‘Base’s scanner. Sure enough, the patient’s foot was crumpled awkwardly inside his boot, and the soft tissue was swelling so profoundly around his displaced metatarsals that it was choking off the blood supply. And he’d been kneeling awkwardly on bare rock for hours. No wonder the guy’s cheeks were so clean, he must have been weeping tears of agony.

…Man. And all he’d said was ‘I’m not great.’ And the other guy hadn’t even mentioned his arm until it became relevant. Adam had to give the surveyors credit for being tough as hell.

“There’s a big block about two, three feet down,” ‘Base revealed. “That’s what’s really pinning his foot. If you can move it, I’ll free him.”

Adam nodded, and palmed aside a few handfuls of loose gravel and debris to take a look. He uncovered a fat triangular slab as big as a door and like a foot or two thick or something. He worked his fingers, crowbar and pick through the loose stuff, finding the edges until he’d all but completely excavated it.

“I can move it,” he declared. So…he did. It wasn’t easy ‘cuz the angles were all weird, but he was able to awkwardly heft it over a waist-height wall in the debris, then shove the slab hard so that it slid and crashed down to the bottom of the rubble pile.

‘Base gave Adam one of his complicated looks that usually meant a bunch of things at once, but mostly came out whenever Adam did something big. “…Jesus, ‘Horse.”

Adam loved that kind of admiring praise, especially from ‘Base! He doubled his efforts to free Stocky Guy, digging out the rest of the boulders locking him in place just as fast as his prodigious strength would let him. Adam tossed ‘em over the wall one after the other, until finally Stocky Guy’s leg came loose with a gasp and a sob that spoke volumes about how much he was suffering even through the drugs. “That…really hurt, you guys…” he commented in a relieved way as he flopped gratefully on his back on the rescue board.

“Worst part’s over, bro,” ‘Base promised him, and got busy making sure the dude’s leg was as protected and safe as possible for his trip to an operating table. A Crude patch in the field was no good here, the guy needed his bones putting back together properly first.

And that…about wrapped it up, actually. Up at the other end of the canyon…thing, Butler and Firth were heaving the cradle containing the third victim up onto the flat ground. ‘Base’s patient was nearly ready to be winched out, and Arm-Guy was waiting patiently to ride up and out on Adam’s back.

It was a good day to be HEAT. Doing with four dudes and a couple hours what it woulda taken a team of twenty a good day or more to achieve.

“That’s everyone, right?” Adam checked.

‘Base nodded. “Rog. The whole team’s accounted-for.”

“Awright. I’m gonna head up, unless you need anything…”

“Nah, I’m good. Get going, ‘Horse. Don’t break your new friend.”

Arm-dude looked up at Adam a bit nervously. “So, uh…”

“I’m gonna strap this on you,” Adam showed him the buddy harness, “And clip you to my back. Then I climb out. Easy. All you gotta do is not get in the way. Think you can handle that?”

“No problem.”

It only took a well-practiced minute to get arm-dude cinched up and ready. Like most dudes he was a bit uncomfortable with the whole thing—people got hung up on the weirdest shit at the weirdest times—but Adam had practice with that too.

He gave him a Look. “Dude, I’m your rescuer, not your boyfriend. Wrap those fuckin’ legs around my waist and hang on.”

It was an easy climb out. He took it slow and steady anyway, even though he coulda bounded up the rocks like a goat, but Adam did have some kind of a bedside manner and he didn’t want to jar his passenger’s healing arm.

Grateful and helpful surveyors were waiting at the top, and immediately started cooing over his patient’s arm. Adam left them to it, and kept half an eye on them as he helped winch up the poor bastard with the mangled foot.

The patients were loaded into the Array, though that took a bit of persuading in Arm-Guy’s case. He kept insisting that he was now absolutely fine and there was no need to fuss. Which…he was, but still. Adam shut him down quickly and firmly.

“Nah, dude. I’m good, but better safe than sorry. You gotta get checked out and looked after properly, that ain’t negotiable.”

His unique combination of friendly puppy-ness and sheer hulking authority worked its usual magic. The guy grumbled a little, but obediently joined the two stretchers on the jump platform. Firth hit the recall, and the three patients were returned to Cimbrean with a thump and an anti-flash of lightless nothing.

“Alright. Grab your gear, saddle up. We’ll catch the next one out…” Firth began, before a new voice interrupted him.

“Uh…Hey. Excuse me?”

They turned. One of the uninjured explorers, a rugged, sporty gal with her hair in a brown ponytail and hard-wearing shorts was dashing in their direction with a tablet and a worried expression.

“Somethin’ the matter, miss?” Firth asked.

“I…well, I don’t know. There might be.” she approached him a little nervously, clearly intimidated by his sheer size. “We have seismometers set up all over the area and we just got the weirdest readings back after that quake.”

Firth frowned at the tablet, and gave her his very best, weaponized Southern Charm. “…I ain’t exactly a scientist, ma’am. I think ‘yer gonna hafta do the thinkin’ for me an’ explain it like I’m jus’ some big dumb ape who pretends like he can talk now and then.”

It worked. She smiled, and got a good deal less nervous as the others huddled round to examine it. Adam found himself looking at several squiggly lines. There was a really big spike somewhere near the middle of each graph. The surveyor tapped it. “This is the earthquake, seen from several different monitoring stations. With this we can tell how deep the quake was, how big, and all sorts of other things. And it’s…wrong. It’s giving a depth of zero kilometers.”

“So, this one happened at the surface?”

“Earthquakes can’t happen at the surface, by definition. But this one was…I don’t know. So shallow that our instruments can’t give us a proper depth. Less than three kilometers, five at the most.”

She swiped forward a bit, and indicated some smaller spikes. “…And then there’s this. Those are…echoes, effectively. Sound waves travelling underground hitting things and bouncing off. And it looks like there’s a very hard and regular feature very near the epicenter.”

“Hard and regular?” Irish asked.

“Cuboid,” Baseball said, scrutinizing the lines. “And metallic.”

The geologist gave him an astonished look.

“He’s the genius ape,” Firth informed her. “Don’t worry, he’s friendly.”

She nodded, gave ‘Base a look of newfound respect, then rallied and called up a map. “We’re right in the middle of the continental plate, here,” she said. “This area shouldn’t be getting shallow earthquakes at all, let alone ones at salt mine depth.”

Now, Adam wasn’t by any means stupid. In fact, Mears had once run them all through IQ tests and he’d been…well, pretty damn shocked to learn that his score was embarrassingly high. That didn’t mean he was a thinker, though. The thing he learned over time was that being smart and being intelligent weren’t exactly the same things.

Adam was a highly intelligent man…but he wasn’t naturally a smart man. He could study his ass off as hard as anyone, but ‘Base never really needed to. He just got it. Adam…didn’t. Mostly they were speaking Greek.

He was smart enough to figure out the outline of things, though.

“So, basically, someone did something here. And there’s no native intelligent fauna.”

“Well…no…” She shifted uncomfortably. “But there is a stratum with a massive CO2 spike of the kind we’re probably leaving in the Earth’s geological record right now. That’s why we were down the canyon there, we’re trying to determine if this planet has a history of intelligent colonization even if there’s no native sophonts…”

“So basically,” Firth interrupted, repeating Adam’s words with that infuriating charm of his, “Someone did something here.”

“You’re gonna need to leave your scientific precision behind for a bit,” Baseball translated. “Lemme explain our concern. We don’t get to deal in the logically precise like you do. What we deal in is clear and obvious threats, and you’re saying there’s an artificial structure of some kind near here, a couple klicks down, that shouldn’t be there, and that triggered an earthquake that got three of your team hurt. That about the shape of it?”

“…Yes,” she admitted.

“An’ that means I gotta start being a mean ape,” Firth intoned sympathetically. “Y’all might wanna pack up, ‘cuz you’re being evacuated.”

“Now wait just a minute–!”

“I wasn’t asking,” Firth said…politely. The friendly charm had hardened quite a bit. “An’ I was being nice. But If you haven’t figgered it out, not bein’ nice is my specialty. Let’s maybe keep it so’s I don’t gotta show ‘ya what kinda person I really am.”

…Jesus. And Adam thought he knew how to intimidate. Firth hadn’t even changed his tone of voice, but the geologist went pale and small and compliant in a wide-eyed mousey way.

“R-right. I–I’ll spread the word.”

“Thank you. Just your personal effects, please. I personally guarantee we ain’t gonna touch nothin’ ‘less y’all are here for it, okay? It’s just we gotta scramble a security force now.”

She nodded, and scrambled off to start calling out for the rest of her team.

“You went hard pretty fast,” Adam commented.

“Had to. She’s a deep-space explorer, that means strong-willed an’ independent. I like that, but sometimes ‘ya gotta cut through the bullshit.” Firth turned to Butler. “Right. ‘Base, Irish, you two go ahead with the gear, tell Stainless what’s up. Me and ‘Horse will stay behind ‘fer security reasons, and prol’ly help ‘em move shit, too. And ‘Horse, change outta those hotpants o’ ‘yers, shit’s serious now.”

“Those are my climbing shorts,” Adam remarked with a slight grin.

“They have ‘Thigh of the Tiger’ embroidered on ‘em.”

“…They’re still authorized under my career-specific equipment allowance.”

Firth sighed, and shook his head. “Whatever, dude. Now git, all y’all. I gotta go make nice. We’ll probably be done here pretty quick anyway, they won’t wanna keep us here if they think shit might be going down elsewhere, if ‘ya catch my drift.”

Irish and ‘Base nodded, and retreated to the Jump Array.

Things became busy. Adam changed back into his fatigues and, looking much scarier in his camo pants and stretchy t-shirt and big stompy boots and all his weapons and stuff, he helped round up the surveyors. It didn’t take long to get the small team mustered up and lined up for the jump.

He reflected while he waited on the pad for the array to fire. It had been a good day. He’d saved lives by doing simple, yet difficult things that literally only he could have done. But it wasn’t looking like it’d end on a happy note.


Stainless was waiting for them back on Cimbrean. His expression said it all: Something had gone Awry.

He waited until the base MPs had escorted the survey team away before huddling up to explain.

“Summat’s happened wi’ the Hierarchy,” he said. “Turns out Daar just blew up the relay on Stinkworld.”

“…Daar just what?!”

“Aye,” A small, grim smile pulled at the edge of Powell’s mouth. “An’ it looks like it really bloody hurt the bastards, too.

Well. Adam’s fantastic day suddenly got interesting.

Date Point: 16y3m6d
FBI Field Office, Miami, Florida, USA, Earth

Special Agent James Mazur

Shaun Robertson had been a big strong man once. Actually, he still was. A few longstanding untreated injuries and considerable personal neglect hadn’t taken away the heavy muscle that layered his arms and chest, just…padded it a bit.

He was pretty much exactly the kind of person Jim had predicted he might be, though. The kind who blamed the unfortunate trajectory of his life on anyone and anything other than his own choices.

His failed football career? No, it definitely wasn’t because he’d failed several drug tests, it was because he’d fallen foul of quotas and tokenism. His own tight-fistedness when it came to medical bills had obviously played no role in his wife’s untimely death.

He was, in short, the kind of man who had a log in his eye and kept doggedly ignoring it to focus on the specks in everyone else’s.

That made his subsequent interrogation really…quite easy. All Jim had to was inexorably point out Robertson’s many manifest failures, one by one, relentlessly, and inescapably. He had the big idiot in tears within ten minutes.

A good place to start.

“So. How do we get a start on fixing this?”

Robertson sniffled into his wrist, wiped his nose in an undignified way, and gave Jim a miserable look. “…Fix?”

“Yes. Fix. There are lots of opportunities for a man like yourself in lower security prisons, you know. Hell, some of them have physical therapists, good medical care, access to a library…You could fix your back, get some new vocational training, build a life for yourself.”

Robertson gave him a hopeless red-eyed stare. “…Ain’t there a catch or somethin’?”

“The catch of course, is we need to feel like you’re worth investing in. And, not to put too fine a point on it…you‘ve been cavorting with a terrorist, Mr. Robertson. That’s not an easy sell to a judge. If they decide you’re an ongoing danger to society, why, they might just toss you in a supermax and that’ll be it. Bureau of Prisons won’t be apt to disagree.”

Robertson had a defiant streak, of course. People who didn’t wouldn’t’ve fallen in with somebody like Zane Reid in the first place. In his case, it manifested itself in a surly, sullen tone of voice. “Don’t see what’s so terrorist-y about makin’ some videos on the Internet,” he grumbled. “Not like we blew anythin’ up or shot nobody.”

“No, but inciting the violent overthrow of the US and her allied governments is, in fact, a crime. And I’m sure he hasn’t regaled you of his previous life…or, in fact, some of the things he got up to while you weren’t looking. Do you know what a biodrone is, Mr. Robertson?”

He shrugged the word off disinterestedly. “Heard that word on the news a lot. Alien mind control? Like something outta The Twilight Zone?” He made a dismissive noise, and a masturbatory gesture with one of his cuffed hands.

“That’s hardly indicative of the true horror of it. The thing about it is, with humans it’s different. You biodrone most of those other aliens, it’s just like they’ve been asleep or something. Not us. All those poor bastards up in Camp Tebbutt were fully aware of everything that they were doing. They were still themselves. They just had their free will switched off. Can you even imagine that?”

Robertson just stared at him. Not a man of great imagination. Definitely needed a different tack.

“Anyways, the point is that Zane, and everyone up at that facility, have done terrible things while enslaved to another. They were enslaved so deeply they couldn’t even think of saying no. There was only obedience. But the worst part? Some of the newer types of biodroning don’t go that far. Zane almost certainly had no idea what was influencing him.”

“…When the power went, it knocked Zane on his ass. Like somebody hit him in the head with a bat.”

“Ah! See, now this? This is something we can use. What else you got?”

“I…don’t know? He used to send me out on supply runs ‘cuz he couldn’t go nowhere without dogs going fucking nuts at him. Said they just didn’t like him.”

“I think we both know at this point it was something else.”

“Well…whatever. Like I said, ain’t nothin’ illegal about making YouTube videos criticizing the government.”

“In your latest, did you not directly call to arms? Remember, your right to swing your fist ends at another’s face. Your right to speech ends the moment you direct others to rebellion. That’s settled case law. Any child knows that.”

Robertson shifted uncomfortably. “…I dunno about that. Zane made the vids, I just uploaded them.”

“Ah, so now you’re merely accessory to the crimes in question?”

A trapped, hunted look crossed Robertson’s face, and he didn’t say anything. Either he’d figured out how to shut up, or he genuinely didn’t know what to say.

Jim permitted himself a sense of satisfaction. “Yeah. I think you know where this is going. You’re done, Mr. Robertson. You know it, I know it, your lawyer is gonna know it, the judge and jury are gonna know it. The only question left, really, is this: were you helpful, and are you worth saving?”

Robertson didn’t sag, exactly. His back was too stiff and painful for that. But he did droop around the edges in a defeated way. “…I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“Oh, that’s easy. Anything I ask, you answer as forthrightly as possible. You don’t hold a goddamned thing back. We’re very good at sniffing out lies. And with your help, we find the other members of your friend’s cell, we stop something awful before it happens, and who knows? Maybe prison won’t be so bad for you. Many men have rebuilt themselves in far worse places than you could be heading…if you play your cards right.”

Robertson didn’t reply in words, but his broken nod was all that Jim needed.

“Right. We know there was a third guy with you on that ship. What’s his name?”

That statement drove the last nail into the coffin as far as Robertson’s dreams of defiance went. He even flinched a little. Then, with a heavy sigh, he answered. And to Jim’s satisfaction, he answered truthfully.

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)

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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 1

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Rising Titans – Chapter 44

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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

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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