The Deathworlders – Chapter 57: Cat and Mouse – Hunter and Hunted Part 1

Date Point: 16y3m1w AV
Planet Akyawentuo, Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm

Doctor Claire Farmer

Vemik’s ‘Bawistuh’ made a pretty surprising noise when he test-fired it for the first time. Claire had been imagining it would make a deep bassy sort of twang like a rubber band or something.

Instead it cracked like a gunshot. For a second, she worried it had broken or something but… no, to judge by the way Vemik and Tilly both whooped joyously and slammed their hands together in a high-five, it had worked perfectly.

Tilly ended up massaging her hands shortly thereafter, and there was a playful look between them…


Claire… couldn’t say she disapproved of her colleague’s adventures in cavemonkey sex, but she definitely didn’t approve either: She was ambivalent. And even if she’d been single, she would have had no interest in trying it for herself.

As it was… Hoeff made for a sufficiently interesting boyfriend.

For starters, she still thought of him as “Hoeff.” Even though his name was Daniel. But then again, a name was whatever people called you by, so by that metric he was always, firmly and forever a Hoeff more than he was a Daniel.

Short. Blunt and to the point. Monosyllabic. Yup. Hoeff was definitely a Hoeff. He and the cavemonkeys had some spirit in common on that point, despite his protests.

…And he was plenty “weapons-grade” enough to stand up to the likes of anyone, as far as she was concerned. Anyway.

The bawistuh was more of a giant siege crossbow. Vemik had gone with basically a huge laminated steel recurve bow rather than torsion springs or whatever. Which was… probably the difficult way to do it, but Professor Hurt had been very clear about letting him experiment for himself. This was an area where the Ten’Gewek had to arrive at the solution themselves. Tilly’s involvement was nothing more than an extra pair of hands to fetch and carry.

Julian was helping too, probably unknowingly. Mostly that happened whenever Vemik would hound him about whatever he’d done, and then scrutinize his reactions closely in an attempt to glean positive direction… A scrutiny that was definitely helped by the fact that Julian had the Worst. Poker face. Ever.

Miraculously, the bow seemed to have worked perfectly. They’d chosen a fallen Ketta for their test firing, and the result was that the splintered remains of the spear were driven so far into the fallen wood as to leave a crack that Claire could have fit her hand into. It took a lot of work and digging with a tool to retrieve the spearhead.

Yan and the other Given-Men were certainly satisfied. Even skeptical luddite Torf had grudgingly admitted that Vemik had put so much work into the machine that it didn’t count as cheating.

Now, there was a buzz around the villages as they contemplated the idea of taking down a Brown One without losing a single man to its teeth and claws. Still. The way Vemik sucked air sharply between his fangs as he inspected the bow said there were still a few teething problems to work out.

With the test demonstration over and done, the Given-Men and watching humans drifted away. Claire cuddled up to Hoeff’s arm as they enjoyed the stroll back up to the research camp. He squeezed her hand and smiled at her, but said nothing. He was surprisingly good at affection: There was a tender side to him that didn’t get much exercise.

“Whatcha thinkin’ about?” she asked.

She was expecting the classic Guy Reply, something along the lines of ‘nothing’ or ‘not a lot.’ Claire didn’t mind: cheesy romantic stuff was nice, but she knew from experience that guys really could happily spend their time with an entirely vacant head. Far from finding it frustrating, she’d always felt it sounded restful.

He surprised her though. “Career an’ stuff. Wonderin’ how long we’ll be welcome here, stuff like that. The future, you know? And my family.”

“Did something happen?”

“Dad ain’t as healthy as he used’ta be. An’ Grampa died young. Younger than Dad is now. Kinda gets me worrying that next time we relay-synch with Earth I’ll get messages tellin’ me he passed on, and…”

He didn’t finish the thought, just shrugged. “…Happy stuff like that. Gotta figure things out.”

She smiled, even laughed a little at the self-deprecating humor, and squeezed his hand again. “I guess you have more freedom to worry about that kind of thing now, huh?”

“Yup,” he agreed, then changed the subject. “…You get all that work done you stayed up late for last night?”

“Yup!” Claire beamed happily. She could talk about her work forever, even the boring bits like filing and reporting back to the University.

If he found any of it dull, he didn’t let on. He just walked with her, and listened, and nodded. Maybe he was just glad for a distraction from his concerns.

He did check his phone when it pinged to signal relay synch, though. He slowed to a stop as he read, brow furrowing.

“…Hey, we got any seismographs, seismometer things about?” he asked after a minute.

“Uh… yeah. Stan Heward has some for monitoring the volcanic zone. Why?”

“I think I need to talk with him. And oh look, our lords and masters in the State Department want Playboy to do some TV time. Guess that means a trip to Earth.”

“Why so unenthusiastic?” Claire asked. He glanced at her, hesitated, then shrugged and shook his head awkwardly. But the way he lightly squeezed her hand just made her melt inside.

“It’ll be boring, mostly. I won’t have my explorer babe with me!”

“I could come with you. They do give us vacation time, you know. Even if I never use it.”

He shook his head. “I’d be on the job. Gotta protect the big lunk. But… yeah. After. I could use some of my vacation time too.”

She grinned, snuggled into him, and nodded.

“Sounds perfect,” she said.

Date Point: 16y3m1w AV
Grand Commune of Females, Tiritya Island, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Mother-Consort Naydra, Life-Mate of the Great Father

Saying goodbye to a cub was always difficult.

Cubs couldn’t just be handed over to communal care the instant they were born. There were a few months there where they needed their birth-mother, needed the special milk only she could give or else they would never quite grow right.

Suckling such a tiny, pink, furless thing for so long and seeing it grow into an actual cub, with bright open eyes and soft silvery fur, made having to walk away and turn him over to the Commune…

It broke Naydra’s heart a little every time.

But the day had finally come, and the only balm for her heart was that she knew he’d do well. Drest was already eagerly exploring his world as he got his paws under him, which was always a good sign. He was healthy and strong and exactly the kind of cub one might expect of the Great Father: a fifth-degree male and the biggest she’d ever birthed, which in turn had made nursing him a challenge. Nevertheless, he had as good a start on life as she could give.

And really, what more could any Mother do for her cubs?

In any case, she’d invited Daar to spend the night before they traveled back to Gao, since he was on Cimbrean anyway; something about pre-meetings for a large defense conference his staff was arranging.

As usual she felt him thumping along through the floor before any sound or smell gave him away. It had been a long day for them both and he arrived late. His trundling thumps came to a pause outside the door, where his huge paws fumbled with the door sensor several times before he finally succeeded. By all signs he had rather thoroughly exercised himself before his arrival, which was considerate of him, in his way: he was planning for a relaxed evening, though it would have to start with a dust bath. He wedged himself through and before she knew it, he’d wrapped himself entirely around her, keening softly. They didn’t need words.

One of the best things about Daar was that, while he wasn’t a jealous tail by any measure, he was exactly the right kind of possessive. He’d squeezed the breath right out of her in one of his most affectionate hugs, and like always he expertly rode that fine line between enjoyable and uncomfortable. They held for a very long moment, just enjoying each other’s heat and scent.

“Gods, I missed you,” he said at last.

She snuffled the fur of his neck and made the happy purring chirruping sound of the deeply content. The world just felt safer in moments like these.

But still. As welcome as his scent was, if she didn’t put her foot down it wouldn’t be long before it overpowered everything else in the apartment. “I just changed the sand out…”

Daar chittered ruefully. “Yeah, yeah, I’m goin’…”

“And I’m coming with you. Got to get all those hard-to-reach places…”

Daar chittered knowingly. “Oh? An’ here I thought I was gonna have a relaxed evening…”

Cleaning him up wasn’t exactly a platonic gesture—their relationship was anything but, after all—but she subtly let him know that she was still feeling a bit too drained and emotional from just being parted with her cub to be at all interested in working on the next one.

He understood, and kept things to a playfully affectionate simmer rather than indulge his usual volcanic passions. And of course, if he’d really had that itch to scratch—and he usually did—he had her blessing and encouragement to go scratch it with any of the other thousands of females on the island. Would do, tomorrow. But tonight, he was here for her. For them.

Truth be told, he seemed like he was simply glad for the company tonight.

“So…” Naydra asked, as she brushed the last of the dust out of his fur, “…what did I miss?”

Daar chittered darkly. “Oh balls, you ain’t gonna ease into it, are ‘ya?”

“Bumpkin, there’s no easing into anything with you.” Naydra flicked her left ear in sympathy, then curled up on a nice, comfortable bit of floor. “What’s on your mind? I can always tell, you know.”

Daar again wrapped himself around her in a tight snuggle, then took a moment to gather his thoughts. “…Leemu is.”

She duck-nodded, understanding. “Those new deathworld genes.”

“Our genes.” Daar straightened his back a little as she teased out a knot in his fur with her claws. It was starting to grow out again from the last time he’d shaved it. “Ain’t nothin’ new bein’ added. Leemu ain’t becomin’ somethin’ diff’rent, he’s unlockin’ what we always could be.”

“At what cost?”

“That’s just it.” Daar squirmed as she finished making sure his back fur was completely brushed sleek, then turned to face her. “I dunno. I wish we coulda tried it on someone less broken first. Leemu went through a lot, an’ he’s sufferin’. I dunno how much is the change an’ how much is what that fuckin’ droud thing did ‘ta him.”

“Who, though?”

“Yeah. Can’t order someone ‘ta take it. Ain’t nobody crazy enough to volunteer ‘cept mebbe his buddy Gorku, an’ he’s kinda damaged too. That just leaves… me.”

She put the brush down and tilted her head. “…Is it a risk?”

“I don’t… think so.” Daar shook himself. “I figger, I’m prol’ly most’a the way there anyway. I mean, look at me.”

He spread his paws wide, and didn’t bother with flexing in his usual playfully macho way or anything. This was serious, and in any case he didn’t need to: Naydra was intimately familiar with every last hair on his hide, every last scar, every line and shape hidden under his fur.

“Ain’t never been a Gao like me. Ain’t hardly been many people like me, anywhere, of any species. I can hang with the best the Humans an’ Ten’Gewek’ve got. I’m as far ahead’a the best in the Grand Army as Sister Shoo was ahead’a Yulna when she an’ her friends got taken. So I’ve gotta be nearly there anyway, mebbe a few things ain’t switched on yet, is all.”

“Like red vision.”

He frowned at her, then snorted. “…You always know more’n you let on.”

“I’m your consort and life-mate. It’s my job to know things,” she replied, and tapped the end of his nose; A very sensitive, ticklish spot in his case. He snorted again and covered it reflexively. “I took the liberty of writing to Fer and Gojo about that railroad.”

“Oh?” His shaggy tail thumped, just once.

“You scared them into playing nice. I built on that.” She smiled and stood up.

Daar stood as well, shook the fur of his nape out and ear-flicked a slightly melancholy emote. “..Y’know, I used ‘ta love bein’ the scariest ‘Back ever. Still do, bein’ honest. But sometimes…”

“I find that you can achieve a lot more with a feminine touch and some bared fangs than you can with just the feminine touch.” Naydra wiped the dust off her foot-paws. “Or the fangs.”

Daar sighed happily, and pulled her off her feet and into himself for another of his inescapably tight snuggles. “I have no idea how I ended up earnin’ a blessing like you, Naydi.”

“You rescued me from slavery, remember?” She gave him an amused look.

“I do,” he sighed unhappily. “I ‘member what it felt like ‘ta snap his pelvis in my paws, too.”

“And I remember what it felt like to watch. You taught me a lot that day.”

He made a conflicted noise. “Part’a me wishes it hadn’t happened like that. Except then I wouldn’t know you. So I’m glad ‘fer how things turned out, but that means I also hafta be glad of what happened ‘ta you.”

“I’m glad of what happened to me,” she retorted. “I wasn’t at the time, but I am now. It made me stronger, and it showed me what love is.” she stroked her claws through his chest fur, then tilted her head up at him. “…You know, you talked before about Leemu being the future of the species and the Gao who’s going to change everything.”


“Except he wasn’t. He never was. The Females would never have touched him, Bumpkin. Like you said, he’s broken. And why would we take crazy genetic risks with our cubs?”

“I mean…fair. But I don’t know that he’ll stay broken. Mebbe I’m an optimist. An’ the really awful part is this almost certainly ain’t a genetic risk at all. We were made to do this.”

She shook her head. “You know that. And I believe you. But them?” she waved a paw to indicate the island and the Grand Commune. “A generation of shell-shocked, traumatized young mothers still rebuilding after a war whose first goal was our own mass murder? They were never in the mood to take risks, Daar. Never again. And even you couldn’t possibly force them to, even if you would, and I know you’d never.”

“…All o’ that’s true. An’ I think mebbe that’s weighing on me.”

“So they need somebody to lead the way is what I’m saying.”

“Yeah. I know what ‘yer sayin. But, I gotta ask. Are you sure you want me ‘ta do this?”

“You?” She chittered. “Bumpkin. I want to do it myself.”

Daar chitter-sighed—a fantastic new emote that came out of Human contact—and shook his shaggy head at her. “I swear ‘yer the firiest woman I ever did know.”

“It’s only fair. I want to see red, too. And you will need to know how it affects females,” she added. “You know. For science.”

“Science, eh?” There was a flash of his usual… Daarness… but his concern overrode his usual proclivities, and instead he just snuggled her a bit tighter.

“Science is just an adventure.”

“You and Nofl would get along, I bet. Are gettin’ along, judgin’ by that turn o’ phrase…”

“Good. So I’ll call him to let him know our appointment is going ahead, shall I?” She could feel the mischief twinkling in her own eyes. She’d been discussing the possibility with the impish Corti for weeks.

“…Tentative. I wanna check in on my Basket Case Trio first. But then…”

She nodded, and touched her nose to his. “But then,” she finished, “we’re going to watch a sunset together.”

Date Point: 16y3m1w AV
Logan, Utah, USA, Earth

Alexander Hamlin

Alex hated his trailer. It was a mess. Too much of a mess to clean, so he just ignored it, and quietly resented it.

He resented the ankle-deep layer of unwashed clothes on the floor, the drifts of coke cans around his desk, the pizza boxes under the window and… everything about it, really. And he definitely resented being kicked out of his home to live in such a shit-heap. His stepmom had never let his old room get this bad.

There were a lot of things Alex resented. Right at the top of the list, though, he resented being useless. He should have been out there setting the world to rights, making things better. There was a whole galaxy out there running on decaying old systems of power and oppression and the strong exploiting the weak and just making all the misery even worse…

But he was stuck. Watched like a hawk by the fucking fascists who kept the status quo in good order. Under their watchful eye, there was nothing he could do. He couldn’t even hold down a job that paid shit.

Thank fuck for meth heads.

There wasn’t a lot of money in the kind of unofficial second-hand electronics work Alex did. Folks brought him their malfunctioning computers, he fixed them if he could and got paid in cash. If he couldn’t fix them, he took the old broken machines off their hands and told them “no charge.” They went away happy with his “no fix no fee” policy and then came back a day or two later to buy a new rig off him.

The new rig, of course, was always just the cannibalized parts of the old rig in a different case, paired with whatever compatible working parts he’d salvaged from somebody else’s junker. But they never put two-and-two together, and Alex didn’t give enough of a shit to educate them. Not when it paid the rent and kept the fridge stocked.

But his little “business” had come with some other benefits too. Like old phones. He’d kept a few of them, after polishing the truth a bit over how far gone they were, and people usually got uppity about getting their SIM cards back, but he’d managed to keep two—ancient turn-of-the-century prepaid things built like a tank could run over them and they’d still work—whose owners musta forgotten or got new SIMs or whatever.

He’d rigged up a little hiding spot for them under a false bottom in his desk drawer, even got a power outlet in there to keep them charged, managed to get the numbers out to some old friends…

Nothing had come of it. He kept them anyway. Just in case something ever happened.

Until then… he played a lotta battle royale.

Having the headphones on meant he didn’t hear the phone ringing for the first couple seconds. Then he dropped his mouse, tore the headphones off his skull and scrabbled desperately in the drawer, not giving a shit that it left his character standing out in the open like a dumbass.


He hadn’t heard the voice on the other end for a few months. It was soft and high, but intense. “Fe Fi Fo Fum, Matchstick.”

Alex’s blood froze solid. “Bill?!”

“Eh. This phone better be as clean as you said.”

“Relax, it belongs to the old dude who runs Beehive Laundry. Shit, Bill, I saw you on the most wanted list…”

“Shit went south. I need cash and a roof over my head. And a phone.”

“What the hell are you calling me on right now?”

*“Public payphone. This thing’s from the fucking stone age.”

“…Where are you?”

“What, you think I’m gonna just tell you?”

Alex groaned. Bill had always been paranoid, which was probably healthy when The Man was always watching. But sometimes…

“Bill. If you don’t trust me, why are you even coming to me for cash?” he pointed out. “And if this phone’s not secure, the Feds’re gonna come down on us anyway.”

“…I’m at some truck stop in, uh… Missouri, I think. Shit, I dunno. I’ve been driving for like twenty-four hours.”

“You gonna be okay?”

“I’m so tired I could even sleep on that fuckin’ roach farm you call a bed. But whatever. Maybe I fall asleep at the wheel and crash and this shit’s all over, maybe not. I’ll see you… whenever. When I get there.”

Bill hung up. Alex weighed the phone in his hand carefully for a moment, then put it back in the fake desk drawer and closed it up again before returning to his game.

By some miracle his character was still alive, and inside the ring. He shrugged, took hold of his mouse, and was promptly run over by three guys in a humvee.

He sighed, quit out, and loaded up the next round.

Date Point: 16y3m1w AV
High Mountain Fortress, the Northern Plains, Gao

Shoo, Cub.

The fortress was old. Mama Geymi said it was the oldest place anywhere on Gao, now.

Grandfather Garl was old too. He was so old he was all white, from the top of his ears to the end of his tail, and he didn’t look at anything. Mama Geymi said he couldn’t see anything now.

His nose worked, though. He lifted it to the breeze and looked happy when he smelled Shoo and the other cubs coming. He smelled happy too, in a weird way. Shoo didn’t know how to say it, but he smelled a kind of… deep and long kind of happy.

The cubs were there to hear a story from him. They’d had a good look around the fortress too, or at least all the bits where a guard didn’t chase them away. But the garden was quiet and full of nice smells, and Garl was sat in one corner with some snacks and a blanket and a head full of stories.

“A pack o’ little ones! I ‘spose ‘yer all here for a story?”

This time, he told them one Shoo hadn’t heard before.

“Did you know Keeda had a brother?”


“Oh yes! But Keeda’s brother Gour wasn’t half as clever. He was a lot bigger, though! A lot bigger! As big as the Great Father, or maybe even bigger than that!”

“Mamma Geymi says, he’s the most biggest ever! And that he smells like naxas bulls!”

Garl chittered. “And she’s right! On both counts! Anyhoo, Gour was as strong as Keeda was clever, and Keeda was very clever indeed… but he liked to play tricks on his brother. After all, who doesn’t like to play tricks? And Keeda was the most bestest trickster of them all! So one night, when it was absolutely dark and even the moons were asleep, Keeda snuck around and he stole poor Gour’s nose.”

Shoo chittered happily. The story was already silly, and Garl told it in a silly way. He pinched the end of his own snout and made a funny pop! noise.

“And then he went and hid it! He climbed the highest mountain around, and hid Gour’s nose in a nest he found at the top! Now…. when Gour woke in the morning, he was very confused. All he could smell was birds! Poor Gour! He couldn’t smell his breakfast, or his friends, or the flowers in his garden! Just stinky birds!

“But Gour, he wasn’t stupid at all, oh no! People liked to think he was just a big dumb brute, ‘specially his brother Keeda, but that weren’t true even one little bit! So he sat on his tail and had himself a big, loooong think. “Birds live in high places,” he thought to himself. “And I bet whoever took my nose wanted to hide it well. So I bet it’s waaaay up there at the top of that mountain!” So he went a-climbin’ and a-scrabblin’ up that mountain and when he reached the top, sure enough there was a nest with his nose in it, bein’ sat on by a big grumpy Tweku like it was her own egg! So Gour got his nose back and he went down the mountain an’ he ate a big roast Tweku dinner that night!

“Now mean ol’ Keeda, he wasn’t happy. His prank hadn’t worked at all! He needed to do better, so this time he waited until Gour was asleep, and he snuck an’ a-slunk all around and he made away with poor sleepin’ Gour’s ears!

“Now, the thing was this wasn’t so bad for Gour, ‘cuz his nest-mates used ‘ta snore somethin’ awful. So he got a really good night’s sleep ‘fer a change! All he could hear was the gentle sound of waves on the rocks. An’ for a while there he thought ‘ta himself ‘I slept so well last night, maybe I don’t really need my ears…’ but… no. He looked really silly without his ears and all the females chittered at him an’ even though he couldn’t hear it he still knew.

“So he sat and thought himself a beeg think again, and he remembered a beach he used to go to with his brother. And he thought ‘the waves I hear now sound a lot like the waves on that beach!’ And sure enough when he went down to the shore there, he found his ears on a rock, right next to a nest of tasty little scuttlin’ Kabu! So not only did he get his ears back, but he had himself a nice seafood soup that night!

“By now, though, Keeda was gettin’ angry. Gour had beaten him twice, an’ that just wouldn’t do! Keeda was the most bestest trickster ever, an’ he wasn’t gonna lose to a big ol’ lump like his brother! So he thought to himself ‘I know what I’m doin’ wrong! When I took Gour’s nose, he could smell birds, and when I took his ears he could hear the sea! I need to take somethin’ he can’t hear or see or smell or taste with!’

“So once again, Keeda snuck an’ slinked about… an’ this time he stole Gour’s tail. An’ as erryone knows, a tail’s a nice thing ‘ta have, but ‘ya can’t smell with it! ‘Ya can’t hear through it! Why, ‘yer tail don’t help you sense nothin’! So when poor Gour woke up and found he din’t have no tail no more, there was nothin’ he could do! It didn’t matter how long he sat an’ thought, he just didn’t have any clues to tell him where his tail mighta gone.

“But still, he thought. An’ then he thought some more. An’ then he stopped ‘fer lunch, ‘cuz thinkin’ is hungry work for a big strong ol’ Gao! But after lunch, he thinked even more an’ finally he figgered somethin’ out.

“‘I bet I know who stole my ears,’ he thought. ‘My brother Keeda loved that beach, it’s just the sorta place he’d hide ‘em. An’ Keeda loves ‘ta climb too, so I bet he’s the one who stole my nose! And if he stole my nose and my ears, why, he prob’ly stole my tail too!’

“So Gour went to Keeda’s burrow, an’ he said ‘Brother! You stole my tail, didn’t you?’ An’ Keeda, he says ‘Whatever do you mean, Brother?’ ‘Cuz Keeda is a clever tail, an’ he knows Gour has the most bestest nose of any Gao, and can smell the tiniest lies. So they argue back an’ forth ‘fer a while, an’ Keeda never answers any o’ Gour’s questions!

“Well Gour, he ain’t so patient, you see. An’ he’s a big, mean ‘ol tail sometimes, so what does he do? He tackles his brother so hard, they fly all the way across the land right into the mountain! They wrassle ‘fer a long, long while, but Gour is bigger an’ stronger an it don’t matter how sneaky an’ clever with his words Keeda is now. Gour carries him ‘ta the top of the mountain an’ says ‘I know you hid my nose here!’

And then down, down, down the mountain they go, an’ Gour runs all the way ‘ta the sea, carryin’ his brother the whole time! An’ he shoves Keeda’s nose at the rock on the beach an’ says ‘An’ this is where you hid my ears! I know it was you, ‘cuz you love ‘ta climb an’ swim, an’ only you could sneak up on me when I’m asleep!’

“And now, Keeda’s afraid, ‘cuz he knows he’s gone too far. Stealin’ Gour’s nose and ears were fun, they were adventures. Gour went an’ got ‘em back, and he got some good food outta it too! But now he ain’t gettin’ laid no more, an’ there ain’t no meaner thing a brother could do to a brother!

“But Keeda don’t wanna make Gour any angrier, so he plays one last little trick, ‘ta turn it back inta a game. See, he’d never actually hidden Gour’s tail. Instead, he’d been wearin’ it on his own backside right next to his own tail. It had been there the whole time an’ Gour was just too mad ‘ta notice!

So, Keeda spun around and waggled his rear right in Gour’s face, an’ then ran away as fast as he could! Now Keeda weren’t no match ‘fer Gour on most sporty things. Gour was bigger, stronger, tougher, an’ meaner. But on runnin’, well…Keeda might just have been the tiniest, littlest bit faster. So they ran, and ran, and ran, and they ran until they found the end of the world an’ couldn’t run no more.

“So, cornered, quick-thinkin’ Keeda hands Gour his tail back an’ says ‘You see, brother? This was an adventure too!’ An’ Gour, all pleased with himself ‘cuz there weren’t much he liked more than hard work an’ an adventure, decided Keeda was right. But…

“Well, he couldn’t just let Keeda git away with it, yijao? So he chittered and said ‘You’re right, Brother! And a grand adventure it’s been! But I think it’s my turn to steal somethin’ of yours!’ …And with that, he stole Keeda’s paws, and ran away, with a parting yell of ‘You can have ‘em back when you get home!’”

He chittered softly to himself. “…But I can smell some’a you young’uns are ready ‘ta get up an’ run around a bit ‘yerselves, an’ all this talkin’ has made me sleepy. So how ‘bout you come back in a bit an’ we’ll talk about that story and what it means. Hmm?”

A few of the more fidgety cubs were up on their paws right away, but they all remembered their manners enough to say ‘thank you, Grandfather’ before tearing off to go have fun. Shoo, though, paused. She’d always had a really really good nose, and Garl smelled…

“…Do you need anything, Grandfather?” she asked. He jumped a little, like he hadn’t known she was there. His eyes looked far through and past her when he turned his head.

“…Young’n… I got everythin’ I need,” he said. “Go. Play.”

Shoo paused, then decided she’d go get him something from the kitchens anyway. It was a nice run across the grass and down the stairs, and the Brothers down there in the kitchens always had little snacks and things to hand out. They were so nice to her, too!

Garl was asleep when she got back. He’d put his head down on his paws and shut his eyes, and he didn’t wake up even when she put a whole plate of meeshi biscuits down in front of his nose and gave him a gentle prod.

Mama Geymi trotted over and scooted her away. “Leave him alone, Shoo. He’s… he needs…”

She paused, and stared at Grandfather Garl for a long time. Then she did something Shoo had never thought she’d ever do ever. She dropped to four-paw, sniffed him, and then keened softly.

“…Is something wrong, Mama?”

Geymi keened again, then turned and scooted Shoo away a little further.

“Go… go get… someone,” she said. “One of the Stonebacks. Tell them… Just tell them to come down here.”

Shoo took one last glance at the sleeping Grandfather before she ran off. He seemed very still. He must have been sleeping real deep, because she couldn’t even see him breathing.

…But he still smelled happy.

Date Point: 16y3m1w AV
I-95 near Daytona Beach, Florida, USA, Earth

Special Agent James Mazur

“You reading that kid’s file again?”

Jim looked up. He was riding in the back seat of a Bureau SUV, and in theory he should have been trying to rest. In practice, he’d never been able to sleep in a moving vehicle.

“Kinda pointless, really,” he admitted. “I could recite the damn thing from memory at this point.”

His colleague, Ben Poole, chuckled. “Alright. Go for it.”

Jim chuckled too, then shrugged. “Alright… Wilhelmina Leah Briggs-Davies, AKA “Bill” to her friends and “3DollarBill” online. Age thirty-seven. In and out of juvenile for theft and arson, spent time in prison for illegal firearm possession, assault and…”

“Jaywalking?” Ben suggested. Jim gave him a tolerant look in the rear view mirror.

“…Fraud,” he finished. “Online identity theft. She’s banned from using electronic devices, but…”

Ben nodded. Nobody hit by a ban like that had ever really obeyed it.

“Ties to organized crime and the Alien Protection Army… And a psych evaluation from her time in Juvie that reads like a fucking horror movie,” Jim finished. “There’s been a warrant out on her since the Byron Group attack three years ago. Intel suggests she was the bomb-builder.”

“Christ. How haven’t we picked her up yet?”

“That’s the APA in one sentence,” Jim grumbled. The Alien Protection Army were not only the biggest home-grown terrorist group in America’s history, they were also one of the most frustratingly tenacious. They always seemed to be a step ahead.

“How is she the kid when she’s thirty-seven years old?” Ben asked, idly. Beside him, on the passenger seat, their analyst Zoe Fiorillo snored gently and half-turned. Unlike Jim, she could sleep anywhere.

“‘Cuz Shaun Robertson is way on the wrong side of fifty, that’s how,” Jim opined. “Such a damned waste of potential, that man. He’s still built like he’s in his prime, and yet…”

“He can’t see past his own narcissism?”

“Can’t see past his own gut, either.” Jim sighed heavily. He hated seeing good potential go to waste, and that was the other thing about the APA. They had a knack for finding twisted talent. People who should have been exceptional, but had gone badly off the beaten track. Robertson really was in incredible shape for a man of his age and physique.

“So what’s Briggs’ problem?”

Jim shrugged. “Some people just hate everyone and everything from God on down, man. Her file says she was a problem kid right from kindergarten, and the psychologist who first saw her in Juvie said she scared him…. Did that sign say Starbucks? I can’t sleep anyway, let’s grab a latte and I’ll take over for a while.”

“Right.” The indicator clicked softly as Ben pulled off the Interstate. “So where do we think she’s going, anyway?”

Jim indicated the slumbering Fiorillo. “Zoe thinks pacific north-west. Olympia, Portland… maybe Berkeley.”

“That’s a hell of a drive.”

“Yeah, but it’s the APA’s home turf and they’re still recruiting out there.” Jim put his work aside as Ben pulled up in front of the coffee chain. “…She’ll have to stop somewhere though. Nobody can drive that far in one go, can they?”

“Care to take a guess how many rat-bait motels there are between here and there?” Ben asked. He nudged Fiorillo awake, gently. “Zoe. Coffee? Restroom?”

“N’thanks… M’good…” she mumbled, and fell asleep again. Jim envied her.

A thought struck him as he got out of the car. “Actually… Robertson said she only had enough cash for groceries.”

“On any halfway modern car, that’ll get her to the west coast, but… no money for a motel,” Ben calculated.

“Yeah.” Jim paused, then turned back to the car. “Hey, get me a latte and a BLT, yeah? I’m gonna check something.”


Jim climbed into the driver’s seat, grabbed his tablet, and did a quick lookup. He knew who he was looking for, even if he didn’t specifically know who they were.

It didn’t take long. By the time Ben returned to the car and handed him his drink, he knew exactly where they were going next.

Previous Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Next Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Implications

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 4 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 3 (NSFW)

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Sweetness – Chapter 2 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 1 (NSFW)

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

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Shades of White and Orange

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Mother Earth

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 2

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 1

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

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Good Training – 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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