The Deathworlders – Chapter 57: Cat and Mouse – Hunter and Hunted Part 2

Date Point: 16y3m1w1d AV
Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches


Today was a good day. Leemu had got up early, feeling refreshed and eager after a good and restful night’s sleep. He’d taken a dust bath, done some stretch-poses, had a nice breakfast of an Earth fish called Salmon, plus a couple of poached eggs.

Every day it seemed his color vision got that little bit stronger. The salmon was a really distracting pink shade, and the eggs were the most gorgeous orange inside…

He’d gone grocery shopping while Gorku and Preed were still asleep. Gorku loved to sleep and Preed was elderly and took his time to get moving in the morning. There’d been a female, a Sister, doing her best to herd a trio of cubs around the supermarket. She’d looked at him like he was interesting.

Leemu couldn’t remember feeling so good in a long time. He took that energy with him into his studio, eager to capture it in oil and canvas.

He’d learned to balance out the red. At first, he’d slathered it everywhere, delirious with pleasure at having something entirely new and unseen by Gaoian eyes to work with. But human artists of course had been using red for hundreds of years, and they knew how to use it properly. They had actual theories about color and its correct use… and Leemu had to agree, they were right.

Still. He decided that warm orange, pink and red were going to feature heavily in the portrait he was about to make. He wasn’t specifically painting the sister from the supermarket, so much as his impression of her… how she’d made him feel.

He considered his options for a moment, then shrugged and set brush to canvas and let it guide him.

He’d nearly finished by the time Gorku scratched on the door and joined him.

“Oh, hey buddy! Already went shoppin’?”

“Yup.” Leemu tilted his head and ran his tongue across his teeth as he used the liner brush and some thinned paint to give his portrait some whiskers.

“She’s pretty. Anyone we know?”

“She waggled her ears at me in the supermarket.”

Gorku chittered delightedly, and Leemu sensed he barely restrained the urge to deliver some kind of vigorously physical congratulations. He knew not to mess up the studio.

“Balls yea, little guy!! Did you talk to her?!”

“She had cubs with her. Besides… I’ll just take little wins right now, you know?” Leemu finished the last whisker, then turned around. “…what happened to your nose?”

Gorku shrugged. He’d picked up a small cut from somewhere. “Gricka. Or, uh… cat. I guess. I went to say hello an’ I guess he didn’t like me.”

“It’s still bleeding.”

“Shit, is it?” Gorku dabbed his nose. “I ‘spose that’s why I can’t smell nothin’ right now…How could you tell?”

“Blood is red. Very red, actually. It doesn’t blend with your fur at all.”

“It is, huh?” Gorku licked his nose, then shook himself. “Man. Seein’ these things is gonna be weird.”

Leemu paused in cleaning his brushes. “Say that again?” he asked.

“Already made the appointment! Now that Nofl’s done pullin’ my brain apart…” Gorku pant-grinned magnificently.

Leemu shuddered at that. He’d seen the procedure just once, and it was…how Gorku could cheerily watch his own brain get delicately peeled apart inside his own skull was…

Brains were pink. And not in a nice way. It was the first time he’d seen a hue on that spectrum that disgusted him.

“You’re getting the gene therapy?”


“Gorku, you don’t have to do this for me…”

“Balls yes I do, don’t pretend otherwise! ‘Sides, I’m kinda jealous. I wanna see red too!”

“What does the Great Father think?”

“None of his business!” He said with some bravado. “I’m a free ‘Back, an’ it’s my body!”

“No no, I mean…”

“What?! I trust him, I trust you, I don’t mind bein’ an experiment really, an’ it’ll help everyone!”

Leemu sighed and finished washing his brushes. The portrait had a rough and unfinished quality to it, but now that he stood back and looked he felt like it worked. He still couldn’t believe anybody might be interested in buying his paintings, but Preed had been absolutely certain. Maybe this would be the one where he finally found out if their Human friend was right. He carefully dismounted it from the easel and put it in the corner to dry.

“Help everybody…” he muttered. “That’s… Fyu’s nuts, that’s a big thought, Gorku.”

“Nofl said it won’t just help Gaoians, neither. He said the Corti were backin’ themselves into a corner and this might help pull ‘em out. …’Zit weird I’m kinda glad? Few years back, I couldn’ta cared about the Corti ‘fer a thousand mating contracts, but now…”

“Maybe you just like Nofl?”

“Well, yeah, I do… But I figger, if I like one Corti then that means the whole species ain’t bad. There’s gonna be others I’d like too, right? They’re just folks.”

“Well, I suppose that’s true. The Great Father seems to like Nofl too. And you can tell him yourself, he’s probably going to say hello this afternoon.”

“…how do you know that?”

“Ninja Taco had their mascot handing out half-price coupons for the Shinobi Trio. He literally visits us every single time they do that.”

“…He builds his schedule around a taco stand?”

“Probably not, but it’s nearby and he seems to like flirting with the female running the stand…”

“He likes flirting with every female, though. And he’s always successful…” Gorku had an almost wistfully jealous tone to his voice.

“Not with her! She turns him down. Every. Single. Time.”

“Huh.” Gorku scratched the side of his nose. “…Y’know, that kinda makes me feel better, knowin’ even he strikes out sometimes.”

“Mm.” Leemu duck-nodded, distractedly. He was still thinking about the prospect of more Gao taking the gene therapy… and more, what about if he had a cub? That had been the other reason he’d been shy with the Sister that morning.

There was a big future ahead. A deathworlder future, if it didn’t stop with him. And he couldn’t deny the results, or the benefits. His senses felt sharper than he remembered from before the Droud, he was unquestionably stronger and faster and more precise… He’d learned how to paint so quickly, and found big improvements with each new piece he created.

What happened if he passed that on, or if others like Gorku took it up as well? If there was one thing Leemu had learned in life, it was that nothing good ever came without a catch, or a cost. Sooner or later, the universe extracted its fair payment.


Daar had authorized this, when Leemu couldn’t and nobody else could. And in the time Leemu had known him, he’d seen right through the Great Father’s big dumb veneer. Daar knew all about sacrifice and the bigger picture. After all, he’d personally pushed the button that killed millions to save billions.

He knew exactly what fucking around with the genes meant, of that Leemu was certain.

If Daar had foreseen that Leemu’s genetic therapy would be a danger to the Gaoian people, then Leemu was pretty sure he would have opted for merciful euthanasia rather than this. Instead, he’d let it go ahead and hadn’t even forbidden Leemu from seeking mates if he could get them. Gorku had at least his tacit approval to pursue the therapy as well, so…

…So the question was not so much how much Leemu worried about the future. The question was how much he trusted the Great Father.

“…Do you think she’d like it?” he asked.

“Huh? Who?”

“The Sister I met at the supermarket. If I found out who she is, do you think she’d be flattered that I painted her? Or would that seem creepy?”

Gorku duck-shrugged and sniffed the painting. “You used a lotta red and stuff, didn’tcha?”

“I always do.”

“Ain’t like she’ll get the full impact, then.”

“True…” Leemu sighed.

Gorku chittered, and gave him a brotherly smack on the shoulders. “C’mon!” he boomed. “If they’re doin’ half price tacos, I want in! An’ maybe you can be ballsy an’ flirt with the Sister there. Maybe she prefers sleek little Silverfurs like you!”

“Compete with the Great Father?” Leemu thought about it. On the one paw, that seemed somehow like betraying a friendship…if he could make such a preposterous claim. But on the other it really tickled his mischief to imagine he might attract a female who’d given Daar the cold shoulder. “…Why not?”

“Wear that shirt you did,” Gorku suggested. Leemu shrugged and fetched it from the table in the corner. The brief experiment with fabric paints and a plain white Human t-shirt hadn’t really worked out to his satisfaction, but Gorku said he liked it… and he never lied. He was a Stoneback associate, after all. He might be ferociously loyal, but ‘Backs didn’t tell little downy lies to their friends out of loyalty.

And he was right, it would make for an icebreaker. Even if it did look a little silly, he thought. Nobody really made T-shirts in Gaoian sizes, and a Human size S was just right for him in the shoulders and chest, but Human proportions were so different: longer legs, shorter torso. The end result was that the t-shirt sat on him more like a “crop top.”

It didn’t really matter, he decided. He’d learned a lot about what really mattered in life, and trying some outside-the-box fashion was the kind of thing that either made an impression and was remembered fondly, or didn’t and was promptly forgotten.

He shrugged into it.

Actually, size S was a little snug, he decided. But Gorku made an approving noise.

“Nice! Shows off ‘yer muscles. I think the Humans call that ‘extra smedium!’”

…Of course he went there.

“I’d rather she be interested in my mind…” Leemu grumbled.

“Pff. Don’t go overthinkin’ this stuff. Personality matters a lot but ‘ya gotta get noticed in the first place. And balls, ‘ya got it, so why not flaunt it?!”

“This is starting to seem like a bad idea now,” Leemu chittered. “Are you sure you’re my best wingman?”

“Bah! The worst she’ll do is say no, and you’ll still be right there to order tacos! What could possibly go wrong?!” Gorku declared. “‘Sides. Like I said, ain’t no shame in striking out where even Daar has. Balls, I bet he’d even be proud!”

Well, that settled it. Leemu shrugged, and followed his friend out of the room. But he glanced back at the painting he’d just made one last time, and felt a real glow in his chest, one he’d rarely felt even before the Droud.

However it went… Today was a good day.

Date Point: 16y3m1w1d AV
Planet Rauwryhr, The Rauwryhr Republic, Perseus Arm

Ambassador Sir Patrick Knight

The Whryvyr Conference Center was about the most grand location for a symposium that Knight could have envisioned… but then again, the interspecies defence symposium was a bigger event than he’d ever been involved with organizing.

Interstellar diplomacy hinged on the conceit that a species of billions could truly have one representative, but that created problems.

For instance: AEC represented the 5-EYES nations and NATO, but had become synonymous with the human race as a whole among aliens despite representing quite a small minority of humanity. China, India and Russia had minor off-world presences (most notably the Chinese colony on Lucent) but as for all of the African nations, the south-east Asian nations, the Middle East and the entirety of South America…

And that was just Homo Sapiens, a species of a comparatively insignificant nine billion souls.

Most of the Dominion species were in a similar situation, and much more populous. The Raurwryhr Republic was in fact a rather grandiose title for a nation that represented at best half of the total Rauwryhr population. The Vzk’tk Domain was an empire that had declined somewhat since its heyday, with most Vzk’tk and Rrrtktktp’ch living in independent city-states that functioned more like megacorporate fiefdoms than actual governments.

There was no organized Chehnash government above quite a small regional level; the Ruibal were in much the same condition as humanity, with their representative body being a loose coalition of a minority of nations; Locayl territories could be quite fierce about their independence from one another; the Mjrnhrm could barely agree on what day of the week it was, never mind appoint an official representative; and the Kwmbwrw were represented by just one of their thousands of Great Houses.

Only the Corti, Robalin and Gao were truly unified. Well…for certain values of “unified,” where the Gao were concerned.

Then there were the absent species to consider: Besides the Kwmbwrw (who were still boycotting the event despite Daar’s absence), there were the Guvnuragnaguvendrugun (who were enslaved), the Ten’Gewek (whom the Dominion was yet to officially recognize as sapient)… and of course the OmoAru, who were only technically not extinct and in no condition to talk with anybody about anything.

And finally, the Gao. Daar was absent, for his own currently impenetrable reasons. So too was the closest thing he had to a defence minister in Grandfather Garl, who had sent apologies and blamed failing health. The Gao were certainly present, in the form of assorted Fathers from the more martial Clans, but in true Gaoian fashion their contribution was… improvisational.

The whole thing was, in short, a bloody mess. No wonder the Rauwryhr had elected to hold it in their most capacious conference center. Trying to pack it all into even quite a grand hotel would have been impossible.

And now Knight had been pulled sharply out of Martin Tremblay’s presentation on the march of Hunter tactics to learn that the Guvnurag were no longer quite as enslaved as he’d thought.

“The whole planet?”

Admiral Caruthers nodded. He was on wormhole comms from the bridge of HMS Myrmidon, a very long way indeed from Rauwryhr. Direct zero-point wormhole communication was still plagued by the need to balance power draw and bandwidth, so in the case of the portable unit Knight had access to his image was low-resolution and low-framerate. But it was still effectively face-to-face.

“Yes. It’s their second colony world, I’m… not even going to try and pronounce the name. Twenty billion souls, at the point we lost contact.”

Knight raised his eyebrows. “Self-sustaining?”

“Completely. The Guvnurag were always very careful about that. They set up all three of their planets to be net exporters. Still, they’re reporting some malnutrition and a minor medical crisis, but compared to some of the other humanitarian missions we’ve had lately…”

“I take it we’re sending aid?”

“The CS ‘Actually Three Smaller Ships In A Trenchcoat’ is loading up at Ceres as we speak. By the time we arrive, she’ll be ready to jump and deliver cargo.”

Knight nodded, and picked up the cup of tea one of his personal assistants had delivered. He had good assistants: He’d barely noticed its arrival, and certainly hadn’t asked for it, but it was very welcome.

“I’m honestly amazed we even have any aid to give, after the Gaoian relief, the Rvzrk incursion and our own home-grown crises.”

“There’s never quite enough, but there’s always a little more,” Caruthers replied. “Don’t ask me where it comes from.”

“Alright. I suppose I should share this happy news,” Knight decided. “Getting the other species to weigh in and help could be a good first challenge for them to overcome together.”

“Good luck,” Caruthers replied, drily. “I’ll keep you posted.”

Thus ended the conversation. Knight drank his tea, composing a brief summary of what he’d just learned in his head, and then returned to the auditorium where Tremblay was just wrapping up the section of his presentation that dealt in training and indoctrination. Knight trotted down the stairs and then onto the stage, not stealing it from him yet but making it clear he had something to announce before the Q&A.

It was nice, he reflected, to have the opportunity to make an announcement that consisted of unvarnished good news. Though what the assembled delegates chose to do with the news was still an unknown.

Then again… they were here to listen, and learn. Which meant it was time for him to lead.

He could do that.

Date Point: 16y4m1d AV
Logan, Utah, USA, Earth

Alexander Hamlin

Alex remembered Bill mostly as a wiry, tough, skinny body packed full of anger and bearing a primordial chip on her shoulder. She listened to angry music, smoked like she hated her own lungs, drove like her main goal was to wreck the car… even the way she dressed was a gigantic middle finger aimed squarely at the whole concept of fashion.

And she sure as hell didn’t give a fuck about niceties like turning the sound system down as she skidded to a halt on the gravel outside Alex’s RV. He heard the sound of her giving the handbrake a vicious yank even over the music that rattled his windows.

The cacophony shut off with the motor. Alex just about made it to the door and opened it before she could knock.

“Subtle,” he commented as she stalked up the stack of cinder blocks he used for steps. She glared at him from the recesses of her hoodie, and then pushed past him.

“Whatever. At this point they fuckin’ catch me or they don’t.”

Alex shut the door and lowered the blind. “What the hell happened?”

“Florida was a fuckin’… thing.” She threw herself onto his couch, kicked off her boots, and lit a cigarette.

“What were you even doing down there?”

She shrugged. “I was flying around in a fuckin’ flying saucer.”

“…Fine, whatever. So I don’t need to know. I get it.”

“Right. The Man’s watching you, matchstick boy. I don’t tell you shit. You got that?”

“Sure, sure. I’m just a place to crash.”

“More than that. I need you to grab me a few things. Starting with some fuckin’ food, I’m half dead here.”

Alex nodded and dug out some ramen and half a cold pizza from the fridge, plus a beer. “Like what?”

“Can you drive?”


“You’re gonna take my car, drive out to some place called, uh, Fielding. You know it?”

“Yeah, it’s not far.”

“Right. Some friends of mine are leaving me some shit. Cash and stuff.” she stood up, plopped down in his desk chair. “…Fuck, Hamlin, this is some vanilla-ass porn.”


“Get over it.” He heard her clicking and typing. “…Here. Remember this spot. It’s just south of town, before you cross the river…”

Alex leaned over and looked. She’d called up the satellite map, and tapped a spot on a bend in the road. “Trash can next to a stop sign. Think you can remember it?”


“Good. There’ll be a bag inside. Bring it back here.”

“…What do I do if I get pulled over?” Alex asked, handing her the bowl of noodles. She stubbed out her cigarette on a plate and shrugged at him.


Alex snorted as she dug in. “Oh, that’s helpful. Seriously, what do I do if–”

She shrugged again. “Enner a fuggin’ plea bargain, I gueff,” she mumbled around a mouthful of cheap ramen, then swallowed. “Maybe you’ll only get, like, minimum security. So… don’t get pulled over.”

She grinned ferally at the look he gave her. “Oh, yeah. You’re goin’ to prison if they catch us, man. Just for me comin’ here and sittin’ on your couch. We really pissed Uncle Sam off.”

“Seriously, what the hell did you do?!” Alex insisted. This time she waved her fork at him for patience and chased the noodles down with a swig of beer before replying.

“The less you know, the less you can tell ‘em,” she said. “You go do my grocery shopping, maybe I’ll let you in on some of it.”

“What’re you going to do?”

“I’m gonna sleep.” She stood up and parked her butt on his bed, still holding the noodles. “I’ve been driving for like a day and a half.”

“How the hell—?”

She gave him a look of deep fatigue that said she was not going to answer any more of his stupid questions, and slurped noisily on the last of her noodles. Alex sighed, grabbed the car keys she’d left on his desk, slouched out to the car, sat down and turned it on.

Pure hateful bone-pummeling noise assaulted him as the sound system came on full blast again. He clawed desperately at the volume dial, and straightened out of his reflexive cringe.

Bill was… definitely a little too intense for him.

He sighed, put the car in drive and pulled out. To his surprise, it was fully charged and ran smoothly. No warnings on the dash, and all the lights were good too. In some areas, Bill actually gave a fuck. Or maybe it was just that she didn’t want to get caught over a busted tail-light.

Whatever the reason, he passed a police cruiser on the way out of town and they ignored him as he nervously projected the most nonchalant air he could. It was pretty much the only traffic he saw the whole half-hour out to Fielding, except for a Suburban going the other way.

He found the bend with the stop sign, and the trash can underneath it. Sure enough, there was a duffle bag inside. It was stuffed so full the seams were almost creaking, and heavy. He stuffed it in the trunk.

More surprise when he got back: she’d chosen to sleep on the couch, and left him his bed. He put the bag down next to her, and hit the sack himself.

Despite the marathon drive, she woke up first. He jumped awake when she plopped down on the mattress next to him and started rummaging through the duffel bag. It was still mostly dark outside.

“Good work,” she said, unrolling some nondescript plain clothing to reveal a rifle, pistol, ammo, and several thick wads of cash. She handed him one. “Here. Payment.”

Alex took it. There had to be a few thousand dollars in his hand, a lot more than he’d ever held before. As he counted it, she stood up and vanished into the kitchen where she made herself a glass of water.

Out of the corner of his eye, Alex saw her glance at him. Then she tore the top off a plastic ampule of some kind and tipped it into the glass. Ropey filaments of a surprisingly bright blue milky liquid diffused through the water for a moment before she pinched her nose and gulped the concoction down.

To judge from the look on her face, it tasted vile.

Alex pretended not to notice. Instead he counted the cash a second time.

“…What happens now?” he asked, when she returned with a second glass of water.

She sat down and started to roll the contents of the bag up into a tight bundle again. “I leave. You go back to your videogames and your boring-ass porn and…” she shrugged. “Maybe you hear from me again, maybe you don’t.”

“So you’re just… gonna leave me here?”

She turned and gave him a slow, cold look. “…I told you, didn’t I? I said, if you went and torched your Mom’s hick hillbilly cabin in the woods, you’d get caught. You didn’t listen, you wasted your shot, and this piece of shit RV you live in is the consequence. Fuckin’ deal with it.”

She stood up, stuffed the clothes and stuff back in the bag without using them, and left. The last he heard of her was the way she cranked the music back up until it masked the sound of tyres skidding on dirt.

Alex drooped back down onto his bed and stared at the stack of used bills in his hands. Then, in a fit of sudden rage, he stood up and flung them violently at the wall. They fell to the floor with a thump, and he went back to his games and tried to forget about her.

But he couldn’t. And as the day wore on, the words she’d left bouncing around his skull got louder and more vicious until he could think of nothing else.

Fuck that. He’d wasted his shot? Fuck that.

He stood up, glanced outside. The sun was going down. He’d wasted most of the day. He resolved it’d be the last day he wasted, grabbed the cash Bill had left behind, and counted it up while the beginnings of a plan started to unfold in his mind. He didn’t have a clear picture of what he was going to do—yet—but he knew one thing: He wasn’t going to do it from a trailer park in Utah.

He packed a bag of his own, and left.

Date Point: 16y3m1w1d AV
Camp Tebbutt Biodrone Internment Facility, Yukon–Koyukuk Census Area, Alaska, USA, Earth

Hugh Johnson

The camp had an infirmary, of course. Many of the residents had long-standing health needs, and in any case the camp was frequently cut off by the weather for long stretches of time.

Still, it wasn’t the most private facility available. While the residents mostly respected each others’ dignity and privacy, sometimes sheer natural human curiosity took over. Especially when someone came back from the dead.

Zane had run off in the middle of an Alaskan blizzard. That was, as far as anyone in the camp knew, as dead as dead got. They should have found his frozen carcass just yards from the fence after the spring thaw, but instead, somehow, here he was. Very much alive.

And currently in an induced coma, as far as Hugh could tell.

They’d confiscated his cybernetic arm, too.

He looked in a bad way. Zane had never stopped complaining about the cold the last time Hugh had seen him, but now he was sweating like a foundry worker and tossing his head gently on his pillow, despite the sedation. All the dreadlocks down the left side of his head were gone, shaved down to the skin.

Maybe he’d had brain surgery? Modern medicine could close a surgical wound in minutes, and leave no scar…

Whatever was going on, Hugh didn’t get to see more than that before he was shooed out of the infirmary by their indignant doctor. But he’d seen enough.

Not for the first time, the topic of Zane Reid dominated their conversation around the cooking fire that night.

Date Point: 16y3m1w2d AV
Logan, Utah, USA, Earth

Special Agent James Mazur

It was a nice day in Utah. Clean air, clear and an open view that stretched for miles with mountains in the background…

It beat the hell out of planes, offices and Bureau cars, that was for damn sure. Planes might be faster and more comfortable nowadays, but Jim was getting pretty damn sick of bouncing all over the continental US cleaning up Zane Reid’s loose ends.

And as loose ends went, Wilhelmina Briggs was arguably worse than Reid. She was a homegrown monster, whereas Reid was as much a product of Hierarchy indoctrination and technology as he was of his own demons.

And his eagerness to bring her in was very much at war with his nerves about what would happen when they caught up with her. Bringing her in alive was going to be a challenge.

As for Hamlin…

“No sign of him?”

Fiorillo shook her head. She’d been going around the neighboring trailers, talking with the residents while Jim and Ben poked around inside Hamlin’s squalid trailer. Her search, at least, he been vaguely productive.

“The old lady over there said she saw him leave yesterday evening, just before sunset. He was wearing a jacket and carrying a rucksack.”

“And his guest?”

“Loud music, old car. She said she thought the driver was a man, though. From the way they dressed.”

“That fits. Briggs is known to prefer male clothing. And we found a dozen finished cigarettes inside. Hamlin wasn’t known to smoke. Anything else?”

“I got a bit of good news: the old girl has cameras around her trailer. She let me pull the recordings, and it got a good look at the car… which has a Florida plate.” She showed him a still shot with a clear look at the license plate in full.”

“Nice. Pass that on to highway patrol in all neighboring states,” Jim said… “Yes, Ben?”

The third member of their team trotted down the cinder block steps with a smug look on his face. “Got her,” he said. “Fingerprints and DNA both match: Briggs was here last night.”

“Which means she’s feeling the heat,” Jim surmised. “No way she’d have come to somebody like Hamlin if she didn’t have to.”

“So where does she go next?”

Jim made an unhappy ‘hmm’ noise. The truth was, he had no idea. All they could do was chase leads and hints. Heat or not, Briggs and the APA were still a step ahead.

On the other hand…

“…Never mind where she goes,” he said. “Let’s pick up Hamlin. He doesn’t have the experience she does. He should be easier to track, and then… we’ll see what we get out of him.”

Date Point: 16y3m2w AV
HMS Myrmidon, Ugunduvuronagthuregnuburthuruv-gor system, the Guvnuragnaguvendrugun Remnant

Admiral William Caruthers

Myrmidon wasn’t the largest ship in the Royal Navy—that distinction still went to HMS Queen Elizabeth—but she was the largest ship in the Spaceborne Fleet now that Caledonia was a few feet shorter after her refit and repair.

Compared to the Hephaestus Consortium container ship Actually Three Smaller Ships In A Trenchcoat, however, Myrmidon was a minnow swimming in formation with a salmon. Trenchcoat was a wall of shipping containers, most of them perfectly ordinary steel ones from Earth. It felt strange to run a camera along the titanic freighter’s length and see the word “Maersk” dotted here and there.

Most of the cargo would come to no real harm in a vacuum, though. Most of it was food: tinned vegetables, huge bags of pasta and rice, sacks of potatoes. The end result of being shipped unprotected through the void of space was that the potatoes freeze-dried, but they were an emergency food shipment. Guvnurag naturally needed a lot of starch and carbohydrates in their diet, and frankly it didn’t matter if they arrived in the form of instant mash.

What mattered was that they arrived.

If there was one thing that Humanity had really brought to the interstellar market, it was food. Earthling crops were insanely rich and nutrient-dense compared to what non-deathworlders were used to. They grew incredibly rapidly, produced enormous yields, were intensely flavorful… and of course, human culinary creativity was quite the export as well.

The colonies on Cimbrean were very rich indeed thanks to their food exports, and Monsanto had even started selling a soy-based alternative to the much-loathed emergency ration balls that offered just as much nutrition at a fraction of the size and considerably improved flavour.

Now, that market niche was proving to be even more welcome in times of crisis than the human race’s other talents. Which was why, when Caruthers formally requested permission to enter the Ugunduvuronagthuregnuburthuruv-gor system, the confirmation and welcome he received in reply was almost pathetically grateful.

Things, it seemed, were bad down there.

Just how bad became apparent over the ensuing week.

Offloading a container ship in orbit to groundside was simplicity itself once a series of receiving jump arrays were installed dirtside. Actually Three Smaller Ships In A Trenchcoat had a swarm of cargo handling drones equipped with jump drives. They clambered over the hull, detaching containers and then vanishing in a flash of utter black as soon as they and their cargo had drifted safely clear of the hull. Seconds later the drone would return minus the container, dock with the ship, recharge, then repeat.

Down on the ground, marines and aid workers made sure the food and medical supplies got to where they were needed. Up in space…

Up in space, for the first time ever, a human doctor operated on a Guvnurag patient. Ambassador Furfeg utterly filled a Weaver, and there was no hope at all of transferring him to sickbay. In the end there was nothing for it but to ruthlessly sanitize the dropship’s interior: they scrubbed it down until the ratings’ fingers were sore, scoured the Weaver with biofilter fields on maximum power, and extracted Furfeg’s neural cybernetics right there in the small craft bay.

The ambassador was in a sorry state. Badly malnourished, almost completely lacking the inches of subcutaneous fat that were essential to his species’ health, emotionally drained and mentally traumatized, it was almost a full day before he felt strong enough to speak with Caruthers.

It wasn’t a terribly productive conversation.

“You remember nothing?”

Furfeg’s huge, shaggy head lolled and he managed a mournful burst of color along the chromatophores of his facial tentacles. His natural bioluminescence was a pale and sorry thing.

“Only a sense of… pressure,” he said. “We heard the news of the homeworld, there was an emergency meeting.” He shifted in something like a shrug. “We could not think of anything productive. If our home planet, the seat and capitol of the Confederacy could be attacked so easily…”

He sighed, and a tremble of mixed emotions like ‘60s Psychedelia briefly enlivened his skin. “…I remember suddenly developing a splitting headache in the middle of that meeting… and then I woke up. In the wrong office, on the wrong continent, in the wrong year.”

Caruthers nodded. That gelled with every biodrone account he’d ever read, at least.

“Do you have any inkling what you were being forced to do?”

“That is the strange thing. It seems we were not ‘doing’ anything. We were simply… existing. The malnourishment and mistreatment of our bodies seems to be a function of economic mismanagement and an inept top-down approach to resource distribution rather than any conscious malice or neglect on the part of our enemy.”

“The famine, the medical supply shortage, the power brown-outs and failing utilties? All of it?”

Furfeg nodded solemnly. “As though the agent mind in charge of managing us did not really understand those things. The infrastructure is all present and intact, it simply needs to be used more efficiently. As far as I can tell, if we can recover our strength we will soon be entirely self-sufficient once again. The Hierarchy, it seems, wanted us alive.”

“They’re just not very good at it.”


Caruthers nodded. “Alright. Well, thank you. I’ll leave you to recover and see to your people’s needs. Fleet Intelligence will no doubt have further questions for you…”

“I will assist them as well as I possibly can,” Furfeg promised. “And… Admiral. Please extend my deepest and most heartfelt gratitude to your leaders. You have once again proven that my personal faith in your people is well-placed. When I resume my place at the Dominion Security Council, I will gladly join your faction on the chamber floor.”

That, by Caruther’s estimation, would make the Reformers the largest faction in the Council. Still short of a majority, but larger than the Kwmbwrw-led faction whose name had been tentatively translated into English as ‘Foundationists.’

Of course that made Sir Patrick Knight more politically powerful than the Kwmbwrw grandmatriarch Henenwgwyr, and there was a potential powder keg: The Kwmbwrw were proud to a fault.

Maybe they had good reason to be. For most of their spacefaring history they’d been the front line against the Hunters, or at least the most consistently raided. But if a species could be said to have a defining trait and a defining flaw, then the Kwmbwrw’s were stubbornness and pride.

They weren’t going to like being outnumbered on the council one bit.

One step at a time, Caruthers reminded himself. For now, there was a whole planet down there with a 100% implanted population. The Gaoians had blown up that relay and earned them a reprieve, but as soon as the Hierarchy built a replacement—a process that might take weeks or might take decades, nobody knew which—the biodrones would be slaves again.

His job for now was to feed them, help them get their economy back up and running, in the longer-term…

He didn’t want to even think about the logistical challenge implied by performing brain surgery on literally an entire planet’s worth of people. Thank goodness the Guvnurag population naturally reached a lower stable cap than most other species. But even so…

Even so, their work was only just beginning.

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

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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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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 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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