The Deathworlders – Chapter 57: Cat and Mouse – Hunter and Hunted Part 5

Date Point: 16y4m1w AV
V1661 CYG 23.3° 83-EIW2Y4-BINARY K3V-1, Deep Space

Alpha of the Bleeding Brood

Repairing the ship had taken four days. PIcking up the quarry’s plasma wake had taken half that again. And a ship tracking another’s plasma had to move carefully and slowly so as not to lose the scent.

To most of the Bleeding Brood, such a long hunt would have been tooth-grinding agony had they not been in stasis. The Alpha was a veteran, though, and had learned patience, and focus. It also found that plugging in to the sensor array and interpreting their output as olfactory sensations had a viscerally satisfying effect. It felt like it was sniffing the prey down, rather than watching a warbling emissions spike on a sterile monitor.

The Builders didn’t care. They never did. They tended to the ship, always fine-tuning and polishing it, adding little upgrades and refinements as they went. Their hunger had to do with chasing the impossible perfection.

How could anything enjoy a hunt without a reward? The whole point was to sink one’s teeth into the hard-won meat at the end! And yet, the Builders were just as obsessive in their pursuit of something they would never reach as the most blood-hungry Hunter.

To the Alpha, they were alien things. But they made its ship run smoothly and brought the meat ever-closer to the maw. So it tolerated them.

The scent trail led to a binary system, far from the space lanes and prey-planets. It was of no interest to the Hunters—no life-bearing worlds, just four gas worlds and their barren, volcanic, icy moons. There weren’t even any space stations, just another unappetizing wasteland in a sea of unappetizing wastelands.

…Except for the prey’s stench.

It was everywhere, flitting from rock to rock to iceball to rock. There was a sharp fizz to the scent near one of the ice planets where the quarry had paused to rid itself of excess charge. The Alpha did likewise, blending its own spoor with the prey’s, then followed the meager traces of warp ions as they bounced around the system.

This time, it kept the ventral shields reinforced with supplemental power drawn from the other shield facings. The thief would not hit them in the same spot again.

But this time… there was no attack. This time, the meandering trail visited one last asteroid that had been stripped of a bare taste of its most accessible surface minerals… and then the plasma trail shot out into empty space again.

The prey was on the run.

Date Point: 16y4m1w AV
Planet Akyawentuo, Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm

Julian Etsicitty

There was a moment’s pause as the Brown One tasted the air and snarled at the men waiting for it. It was smart, alright. Smart enough to know that something was different here. Smart enough to stop and evaluate, just for a second

But it was still, ultimately, an animal, and it still tasted a scent on the wind that belonged to food. And it was used to barreling headlong into herds of Werne. Brown Ones hunted that way, they didn’t bother with picking off the sick and the weak, they went straight in for whatever they could catch. This one was scarred from the knees down where generations of Werne had sliced at its shins as it charged into their midst.

It howled, and charged.

To Julian’s right, Vemik and his apprentices started winding back their siege bow. To his left, Yan raised his voice with a cry of “Steady!!”

Up in the trees, the first bows thumped.

Arrows were expensive. Straightening them properly was fiddly enough, but then came the need to make glue, pluck root-birds, knap heads, and use glue and twine to fletch and tip the shafts. Each one was quite a lot of work, and so the bowmen in the trees didn’t have many. They used them carefully.

The beast flinched and half-turned as a dozen shafts buried themselves in its face and neck. Thick hide or not, those had to sting. Julian raised his own bow and drew it back, felt the cams help him hold at full draw. Even still, it was a fierce bow and he’d not have been able to use it a few years ago. He lined the sight up, and released.

He got it smack in the jaw, and it jolted in pain. Something feral that wasn’t quite a grin stretched his lips and gritted his teeth as he grabbed the next arrow and notched it. Distantly, he marvelled at how steady his own hands were.

The archers had their intended effect. They weren’t there to kill the thing, just to enrage and confuse it. The Brown One’s earth-thumping charge became a kind of agonized dance, like a cat being stung by bees. It spun and snapped, and every time it moved to attack its tormenters, more arrows from the other side stole its attention.

Still. It was getting close enough to the spearmen that it might ignore the arrows and attack them if Vemik didn’t—

There was a heavy, metallic thump from Julian’s right.

The Bawistuh was designed to throw a spear so big and heavy that even Yan would have struggled with it. It had the finest steel head that Vemik had been able to make, and he’d tested the design time and again. It flew straight and true, with tree-cracking force behind it.

It crunched into the Brown One’s flank, just behind the point of the shoulder.

Rather than roar in pain or anger, the beast gave a kind of stunned cough. It staggered, uttered something like a contrabass whimper, and its legs gave out under it. It turned, and tried to bite at the shaft now protruding from its ribs.

Yan was elated. “Again, Sky-Thinker! Hit it again!!”

“Can’t!” Vemik called back. ”It broke!”

Julian risked a look. Sure enough, the Bawistuh was wrecked. The metal bow arms had survived, but the frame had split down the middle like firewood.

…And the Brown One was climbing back to its feet.

There was a roar from Julian’s left, and suddenly a dark-crested, muscular figure was bounding forward with his spear held high. Torf. The obstreperous old Given-Man had clearly given up on sky-magic, and flung himself at the wounded beast while ululating a savage war cry.

There was nothing for it. Yan charged in with his own spear, and so did the rest of the Given-Men. Julian emptied his quiver as fast as he could before there were people in the way.

Torf met the beast first. He launched himself into the air in a mighty leap and put all his mass and strength behind a skewering blow to the throat. The Brown One went down again, rolled and flailed. It shook Torf loose, then turned and tore him apart with a single snap of its jaws as it staggered to its feet.

Maybe it still had some fight in it despite everything, because it still turned to face the Given-Men’s charge. Julian would have liked to take another shot, but it was a moving target surrounded by leaping, hooting, hollering Ten’Gewek and he didn’t want to hit anyone.

It was limping badly, bearing its weight on one leg while the other one, having a ballista spear half buried in the shoulder, swatted feebly and painfully at the attacking men. It backed off, roaring and snapping as they split and went to either side of it. Yan went right, on its wounded side, and Jooyun heard him howl ferally as he drove his spear into the Brown One’s guts.

Unlike Torf, he immediately let go of his spear and dove backwards. Even so, the creature’s teeth snapped perilously close to him with a fearsome SCHNOP! Another Given-Man wasn’t so lucky—Loor was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and got stomped on as the Brown One staggered.

Thank fuck, though, its resolve finally broke. It turned and fled with its tail between its legs exactly like a kicked dog.

The Given-Men turned their charge into a running javelin-throw with their spear-men right behind them. A Given-Man’s spear was more like steel rebar than a javelin, made of a dense, heavy wood that felt to Julian’s hands about as heavy as a barbell. Even as strong as he was these days he couldn’t throw one very far. A Given-Man, on the other hand, could throw that spear hard enough to knock a bull werne clean off its hooves.

Each of them had a strong spear-man with them today, who kept them armed and ready to throw again. The Brown One staggered and whined as spear after enormous spear found its mark. Blood was running in rivers down its back, its neck and his hindquarters now, but none of the thrown spears had finished it. Julian had never seen anything take punishment like that and keep going, but the Brown One scrambled up the slope, clawed its way over the ridge, and vanished from sight.

Even after all that, they hadn’t killed it.

Baseball was down to Loor’s side immediately, having taken a flying leap from their perch and sprinted like a human blur across the blood-spattered field to reach his patient. Somehow, the crushed Given-Man was still alive. He wasn’t in a good way though, because ‘Base jabbed a few somethings into his outer thigh and drilled something else into Loor’s shoulder before cramming him bodily into a stasis bag.

He looked up at the Singer, who was very high above the fray in the tallest Ketta. She shot a glance in the direction their quarry had gone, then descended the tree and bounded across the grass.

“Is he…?” she asked.

“He’s safe in there. Nothing can happen in a stasis bag, but I gotta get him to the Array and into theater.”

She nodded. “I come with you.”

“Sure. After Julian is safe.”

The drone returned to Julian’s side. He hadn’t even noticed it leave, but Xiù got his attention with a sharp buzz of its field wings.

“It’s bleeding out,” she told him. Her voice sounded strained and queasy. “It’ll be a bit before the Given-Men reach it, but… I think you got it.”

Julian nodded, and looked to ‘Base. “Go. I’m not gonna be in much danger now. Me and Hoeff can handle it.”


Tracking the Brown One was trivial, given that it had left a blood trail like a fucking slip-n-slide. Rather than run after it and stab it, they jogged and tried to keep it in sight. The beast was still dangerous and enraged, but it was obviously bleeding to death. One man was dead and another badly mauled, but the hunt was over now and there was no sense in pointless heroics. All they had to do was let it collapse, and finish the job when they caught up.

Xiù kept the drone circling high above in case any other Brown Ones decided to pay them a visit, but saw none.

After maybe a mile, the Brown One slumped to the dirt. It groaned loudly enough for Julian to hear it even from some distance away, then staggered back to its feet and trudged onward. Then it fell a second time after just a hundred yards or so, and then there was just a sorry mountain of fur lying in the middle of the plains. There were so many spears and arrows sticking out of the thing that it looked remarkably like a roadkill porcupine.

Still, somehow, it was breathing. It was moments from death, but still holding on.

The long pursuit over open ground took it out of the Given-Men. They were carrying the last of their spears, and Ten’Gewek just weren’t built for upright running: their anatomy forced them to give chase with a series of bounding long jumps that were nowhere near as economical as a human’s jog. So while Julian and Hoeff were pretty comfortable and barely exerted themselves in the pursuit, the sweat-soaked aliens leant on their spears and breathed heavily when they finally caught up with their quarry.

They approached the Brown one carefully. Nobody wanted to be the victim of a sudden last burst of strength on its part.

“Jooyun…” It took a moment for Yan to regain some breath. “We…stay with it…not die alone.”

Julian nodded seriously, and stood with the Given-Men.

Carefully, they rounded the thing’s nose, staying back just far enough to respect whatever strength it had left. The Brown One’s bloodshot eyes fixed on them and a blood-coated tongue licked the air as it made a pathetic noise that wanted to be a growl, but was more like an excruciating wheeze. Julian could hear its lungs, like a huge slow pair of forge bellows. Could hear the bubbling inside them.

Part of him felt profoundly sorry for the pain they’d caused it.


“Gods,” Yan agreed solemnly, and looked up at the sun. “Be here. See this.”

He hefted his spear, stepped forward, then with a feral hoot he leapt onto the Brown One’s flank and drove the spear between its ribs with all his strength. The shaft sank deep into its chest, and skewered its heart.

The Brown One gave one last whimper, stretched its muzzle toward them… and died. Julian shut his eyes as its final breath washed over him.

They stood in silence, and prayed for it.

Date Point: 16y4m2w AV
FBI field office, San Francisco, California, USA, Earth

Special Agent James Mazur

“What caught him in the end?”

“I think he was scoping out Federal buildings. Unfortunately for him, he walked past the MEPS in San Jose without his shades on. Facial recognition flagged him immediately.”

Fiorillo looked a little smug about that one. Jim could see why, when she showed him the incriminating evidence. He was trained to see through simple disguises, including beards and hats and sunglasses, but the cameras had identified Alex Hamlin from five postage-stamp sized stills taken when he’d briefly strayed into view of a camera.

He was sitting dejectedly in an interrogation room, looking like the whole world hated him. Three months of not shaving had given him a decently full, though unkempt, gingerish beard, and he’d lost some of the softness that came from sitting on his ass playing videogames all day. In his threadbare sweater and a black cotton beanie, he looked like a hobo.

“Okay. Besides hanging out with Briggs, has he done anything I can really scare him with?”

“We’re pulling security camera footage from other Federal buildings in the area. If I’m right then between his history and the company he’s kept lately you should have enough.”

“His probation?”

Zoe shook her head. “Served in full, I’m afraid. If you don’t count the stolen cellphones we found in his desk, he’s been a good boy for the last few years.” She hesitated, then qualified that. “Well. Mostly. He’s not set anything on fire, at least.”

“So he’s a loser who’s desperate to not be a loser any longer…” Jim mused. That was good. He could work with that. “Well. Guess I’ll say hello.”

He let himself into the interrogation room, returned Hamlin’s sulky look with a light smile, and sat down.

“Hello, Alex. I’m Special Agent Mazur.”

He got surly silence in reply. No matter.

“You’ve been kind of an idiot, haven’t you?” he asked, conversationally. “You had a good thing going back in Logan. If you’d kept working on it, maybe you’d have built up your second-hand computer business, made a name for yourself. But here you are, a long way from home, and you’ve been hanging around with the wrong people again. And scoping out Federal buildings? With your record?”

He shook his head mournfully. “Bad idea.”

Hamlin continued to say nothing, but Jim noted the way his beard moved as he clenched his teeth.

“Hanging out with Bill Briggs, though? That’s where you really screwed up,” Jim added. “Do you know what she’s wanted for? You just burned a house down. She orchestrated a bombing, Alex. People died. Playing with her puts you in the big leagues, where a nobody like you really doesn’t belong… And as far as she’s concerned, you are a nobody, or else she wouldn’t have left you behind.”

That stung. Hamlin winced almost as if someone had poked him with a thumbtack.

“I don’t need a lot from you, Alex,” Jim told him. “You know what? I’m happy to let you go back to tinkering with computers. I’m happy to give you nothing worse than a slap on the wrist for the stolen property we found in your trailer. I’m happy to let you have another shot at building a life for yourself. You are far beneath my notice, and we both want it to stay that way.”

He leaned forward. “All I need from you,” he said, “is what exactly happened the night Wilhelmina Briggs-Davies visited you. You give me that, and you’ll get the gentle treatment.”

Hamlin fidgeted, and finally spoke. “…So, what. You’re the good cop?”

“I’m the only cop, Alex. We’re not gonna play games with you because you aren’t worth the investment. I’m just the guy who makes the fate you choose come to pass. You either choose to cooperate and we get this over with, or you choose to be obstinate and someone will get around to dragging this out forever. But you choose now.”

The moment crackled as it dragged out.

Hamlin blinked first.

“She… she called me from a rest stop in, uh… Missouri? I think she said Missouri,” he said. “She wanted food and a place to sleep.”

That much was true. Fiorillo had pulled the call logs off the stolen phone in Hamlin’s desk. “Did she tell you where she’d been or what she was doing?”


“When did she arrive?” Jim asked.

“About sunset, I guess. Just before it got dark.”

Also true. Good. Now, on to the real questions.

“You got in her car and drove it somewhere,” Jim recalled. “You were gone for an hour. Where did you go?”

The pained look of the thoroughly defeated crossed Hamlin’s face, and he sagged beaten in his chair.

“…I drove out to Fielding. It’s half an hour out of town. She said some friends had left her some stuff in a trash can out that way.”

“And had they?”

“Yeah. A duffel bag.”

“What was in it?”

“Clothes, a shitload of cash… two guns.”

“Guns? What kind of guns?”

Hamlin shook his head. “I don’t know. A pistol, and a rifle with a scope on it. And some ammo.”

“Make? Model?” Jim pressed.

Hamlin shook his head again. “No idea. I don’t know guns. They were just… black. Military-looking, you know?”

“Anything else?”

“Yeah. Medicine of some kind. Weirdly blue.”

Jim had a lot of training in keeping his face blank. It came in handy at that moment. “Weirdly blue?” he echoed.

“Yeah, like… sky blue. Thick, milky stuff. She dumped it in a glass of water and drank it.”

“Did you see the ampule it came in?”

“Not really. She hid it from me, you know? And with somebody like Bill, I mean… I wasn’t about to ask dumb questions. She’s dangerous, man.”

Jim nodded. “Okay. So you got this dead drop for her then drove back to your place?”


“What happened next?”

“She was asleep. I went to bed. She woke up early in the morning, gave me some of the cash, took the bag and left.”

“In the same car?”


“And you left that evening.”



Hamlin by now was a picture of misery. He planted his elbows on the table in front of him, as much as his restraints would allow, and tried to bury his head in his hands.

“I just… I was so fucking mad, you know? She just came along and used me and then fucked off and left me stuck where I was and… I just wanted to… I dunno. Do something. Anything!”

“She didn’t give you instructions? You weren’t here in Cali to meet somebody or do something for her?”

He shook his head dejectedly. Jim gave him a silent moment, then stood up.

“Alright,” he said. “I’m going to verify what you’ve told me. If I find any inconsistencies…”

Hamlin just nodded the nod of a broken man. Satisfied, Jim let himself out.

Ben Poole and Zoe Fiorillo were already poring over the stupid kid’s revelations when he reached the observation room.

“—mean, a dead drop like that on short notice? And don’t forget the car swap.”

Jim nodded and sat down. There was a latte waiting for him on the table. State highway patrol had found Briggs’ car found abandoned a few miles outside of Logan, with the keys still on the passenger seat. Tire marks in the soft earth by the road had suggested she’d transferred to a different vehicle.

Combining that with the news that somebody had delivered some hard-to-get supplies to a separate dead drop in the same rough vicinity at much the same time created an ugly picture.

“The APA are making us look like fucking donkeys,” he commented. “How the fuck many people do they have?”

“They had more than a day to get people into position,” Ben pointed out.

“Even so. That’s a lot of material support on short notice. And it was slickly done, too. If she hadn’t got sloppy and opened the bag where he could see it, we wouldn’t know what was inside. And if she has Cruezzir…”

“Taken orally, too,” Fiorillo agreed, looking grim. “Fortunately, that stuff’s tightly controlled. There’s only a few dozen clinics licensed to use it, so if we can figure out which one is missing some inventory…”

“Good call,” Ben agreed.

Zoe sighed and sipped her cappuccino. “Even so, we’re still three steps behind. Knowing where they got the Cruezzir won’t help us catch up.”

“Which is a problem,” Ben replied. “With her psych profile… If she goes full Delaney, then I don’t think she’ll be happy to have those weapons and not use them. Not now that she’s feeling the heat.”

“You think she’s going to hit something,” Jim surmised.

“Or someone.”

“She’s had plenty of time…”

“That doesn’t automatically mean she’s had the opportunity,” Zoe pointed out. “Especially if that was her first dose. She’ll need to lie low and eat, like, a ton of food for at least a month to get the full effect. And if she has an assassination in mind? An attack on somebody specific? Then yeah, it could be a while before she’s ready.”

“Plausible, but we don’t have enough information to say for sure. Much less identify a target,” Ben nodded. “Alternatively, she could just have those weapons as a just-in-case, or so she can go down shooting when we catch up with her.”

Jim grumbled and rubbed his chin. “Okay. Well, I guess all we can do at this point is to notify everyone on the APA’s hit list.” He glanced at the forlorn figure of Alex Hamlin in the monitor. “As for the small fry… Put the fear of God in him and then throw him back.”

“And after that?” Zoe asked.

“We keep the pressure on. Briggs will make a mistake eventually.”

“Hopefully before she kills someone,” Ben said.

Jim had to agree.

“…Hopefully,” he said.

Date Point: 16y4m2w AV
Folctha General Hospital, Extraterrestrial WIng, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Loor Given-Man

Dying wasn’t what he thought it’d be like. Loor woke up in a strange place, on a nice comfortable bed…a steel bed?

The blanket was strange, too. Thin, very soft, definitely not a pelt of any kind. He was in a hut, maybe? Bleary-eyed, he looked around, then felt something tugging at his arm. A thin clear vine of some kind, which went to a bag of…something…up on a metal hook.

Something told him he probably shouldn’t fiddle with it. Or sit up, either. Actually, not sitting up felt like a very good idea. Still, he turned his head.

Yan’s niece, the Singer, was sitting on a mat of some kind in the corner, humming to herself as she did… something. A Singer-spell. Loor had never learned the ways of Singers. But she looked up and smiled when his head turned.

He was pretty sure she hadn’t died in the battle. And now he thought about it…

“I…” his mouth was as dry as a stone. He licked its inside and tried to wet it until he could speak. “….I didn’t die?”

She nodded, and used her tail to push herself to her feet. The smile she gave him said she was glad to see him, but also a little… intimidated. “The Human ‘doctors’ say you came very close. They almost couldn’t save you. Many broken bones, broken heart, flattened lung. ‘Baseball’ saved your life.”

As if summoned by her words, a tall and skinny human wearing a thin blue ‘shirt’ joined them. He paused and let a strange yellow light sweep up and down him a couple of times before he came in properly.

“Well met, Loor Given-Man,” he said in the People’s own words… except his mouth didn’t match the sounds. There must be a speaking-stone hidden somewhere nearby. “I’m Mister Gupta. It’s good to see you awake.”

“He is a traw-mar con-sult-ant,” the Singer exp lained. “A healer of people who get badly hurt like you did.”

“…Well met,” Loor nodded vaguely. He hadn’t felt this weak since his Trial of Manhood, hands and hands of summers ago. And it was dawning on him that the Singer was wearing very strange clothes. They looked Human-made, and brightly coloured. They didn’t fit well, either.

“How are you feeling?” Gupta asked.

“…Like a Brown One stomped on me,” Loor trilled wearily.

The Singer trilled too, and Gupta laughed.

“That’s good!” he said, and inspected something next to where Loor lay. Loor couldn’t quite turn his head far enough to see what. “I always say, when my patients are joking they’re half-way home already.”

He nodded at whatever he was looking at, and made a satisfied noise before turning to Loor. “To be honest, you surprised me. I don’t think a human would have lived.”

Loor grunted. “I wouldn’t have lived if a Human didn’t save me.” A thought struck him. “Torf?”

The Singer shook her head. “Bitten in half.”

Loor laid back and rested for a moment, struck both by grief and an uncomfortable thought that came with it. “…I will miss him. But… is good that he met the gods this way. Giving, instead of Taking. He was always…”

“Fiery.” The Singer nodded. “I know. But a good man under it all.”

Loor nodded. “Yes. Anyone else hurt?”

“I think Jooyun’s women promised they would kill him if he ever hunts another Brown One.”

Loor trilled weakly. “Anyone so stupid deserves it.” He made to sit up, but again…

“We have you ‘sedated,’ Loor,” Mister Gupta explained, putting a hand out to gently stop him. “That means we gave you a medicine so your body wants to be calm and sleepy. It will help heal you faster. We brought some food. It’s, uh…not what you’re used to, but it should be good. Eat slowly, until the medicine wears off.”

“Will I be here long?”

“No, not long. A few years ago, you might have been here for, uh… you would say ‘a hand of moons,’ and you would never have been the same again. But our magic gets stronger all the time. Now? A wee—” Gupta paused. “…Uh, two hands of days or so. And you will go home strong and clean and healthy.”

Loor looked to Singer again. She was looking at this Gupta Doctor with barely disguised awe.

He looked embarrassed for some reason. “You’re our first Ten’Gewek patient,” he said. “The Singer here is an honorary nurse for the time being—that’s a healer who takes care of you while your body heals. She knows more about how to look after you than we do, so…”

“They teach me much!” the Singer exclaimed happily.

“It’s a good deal for us, too,” Gupta said. “You’re a very strong nurse.”

He grinned at the pleased hoot they gave in response to his compliment, then gave Loor a kind of nod. “I’ll leave you to rest,” he said. “You’ll see me tomorrow, and I’ll check you to see if you need any more.”

“I thank you,” Loor told him, formally. “Truly. I do not know how I can repay you.”

“That’s all taken care of,” Gupta promised. “So don’t worry about it. Just rest.”

Rest sounded like a good idea, actually. Though Loor wasn’t sure he’d be able to; somehow he felt too curious about things to just fall asleep. Still, he let his head fall back and tried to think as Gupta left.

“…We got it,” the Singer said, approaching his side.


“The Brown One. Yan said to have the claws from one of its paws.”

Loor trilled, then coughed. “The one that squashed me?”

She trilled too. “Of course! Also some of the good leather.”

Brown One leather. Loor tried to imagine that. A Brown One’s hide was thick enough to stop arrows and crack a Werne’s blades. To have proper tanned leather made from such a thing… What a prize! And a necklace of Brown One claws would impress even the coldest women!

“Much bounty on a Brown One…” he mused.

“Yes,” the Singer nodded. “Vemik claimed its sinews. He thinks he can make an even better bawistuh with them.”

“You must be proud of him.”

“Yes,” she smiled. “My Sky-Thinker worked his magic again.”

“We’re lucky to have him,” Loor agreed. His eyes felt heavy. “I think… I think I’ll sleep more, now.”

“I’ll be here,” she promised. “And if I’m not, the nice woman from the ‘art shop’ brought you things.”

“Good…” Loor agreed. “That’s…”

He smiled, and slept.

Date Point: 16y5m AV
Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Julian Etsicitty

Folctha’s self-driving electric cabs were a blessing, as far as Julian was concerned. They were silent, private… a little bubble of calm where he could shut his eyes and perform a mental reset.

The fact was, he was glad to be going to work. But he also felt guilty about being glad of that. Al and Xiù were…

Well, they were pregnant. That meant a hormonal rollercoaster for both of them, and right now Al was in the last couple of weeks before her due date. Her brain chemistry was doing backflips, and she was suffering through a vicious cycle where she would burst into tears over absolutely anything, get angry at herself for it, then get depressed and start apologizing to everyone. Xiù didn’t have it that bad yet, thank God, but she still had it.

They both hated it. And while Julian would have liked to pretend that he could let it all slide off without bothering him, the fact was that it bothered the hell out of him.

He’d seen them handle the most intense pressure in the galaxy. In his head, they were warriors, easily some of the strongest people he knew. But they were also his partners, and he was meant to be there for them.

In this one instance, however, he couldn’t be. They knew what they were going through, and they drew strength from one another… He didn’t. Couldn’t even. All he could do was stand there blinking in bewilderment.

This morning, it had been toast. Toast! He’d made eggs and bacon with a slice of toast on the side for breakfast like usual, handed Allison hers, and she’d stared at it sadly, muttered something about wanting it plain for a change, so Julian had shrugged, buttered a plain slice, handed her that, and…

Some minutes later she’d explained that no, there was no problem, she was actually very grateful and he was very much loved, which was why she’d been crying but… ‘ugh.’

Xiù had nodded sagely.

So all things considered, it was nice to escape into a world that wasn’t quite so vigorously emotional. His weekly meeting with Ambassador Rockefeller was about perfect.

The Ambassador was a father himself, three times over. He gave Julian a knowing smile when they sat down.

“I know that look,” he said. “Your partners are nearly due, aren’t they?

“Next week, in Al’s case,” Julian agreed. “Everything’s, uh… intense, right now.”

Rockefeller chuckled. “Ohhh yes.” He handed over a small, modest parcel wrapped in silver gift paper. “Here. A little congratulations from my family to yours.”

Julian accepted with a smile. “Thank you. You didn’t have to.”

Rockefeller dismissed that with a shake of his head and a flash of his hand. “Oh, I did. It just wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t. I imagine you’ve had quite a few.”

“You could say that,” Julian agreed. “Hand-me-down baby clothes and furniture from our friends, a big box of baby care supplies from the Mother-Supreme, a Misfit mobile from the Byron Group, some blankets from the Ten’Gewek…”

Rockefeller nodded. “Yes, about the Ten’Gewek. How does it work with you being a member of Yan’s tribe? Does that mean your kids are too?”

“Yeah, they will be!” Julian nodded. “The Singer’s even gonna jump over and perform their Naming rite when they arrive.”

Rockefeller chuckled and sat back comfortably in his chair. “And of course, Miss Chang is legally a Gaoian,” he added. “Meaning that your son, when he’s born, will in some sense be a child of three species. That’s… quite the diplomatic event.” He nodded and raised his hand as Julian started to object. “Yes, I know he’s nothing but human in a technical sense, but from a diplomatic perspective… have you chosen a name for him, yet?”

“Oh. Uh… We’re probably gonna go with Harrison, after my Grampa. Harrison Gan Etsicitty.”


“Chinese. It means ‘daring,’ or ‘adventurous.’ Also, coincidentally, the Gaori word for… uh… chutzpah, or moxy.’”

“And what happens when he’s fifteen years old and the Ten’Gewek want him to take a trial of manhood, as one of their tribe?” Rockefeller asked. “What happens when he passes and takes his Magic-Name? Or what if he decides he wants to join a Clan? This is the sort of thing we need to think about a good long while before it happens.”

Julian scratched behind his ear awkwardly. “…I mean… Yeah. I can see how all that would get complicated.”

“And don’t forget the human element in this,” Rockefeller reminded him. “You’re celebrities, Julian. Your kids are gonna be celebrities too. And there are elements on Earth who are going to feel very uneasy about a human child being raised with alien influences.”

“Bigoted elements,” Julian said.

“Maybe. Well, yes. But I don’t believe in leaving bigotry to fester unanswered. I believe in winning hearts and minds, and on that score we have an opportunity I think.”

Here it came. Julian tried not to sigh. “We’re going on TV again, aren’t we?”

“You are. I can’t fairly ask your partners to, not right now. But ESNN ran a small interest piece on the Ten’Gewek patient in our hospital last month. The image of a Singer wearing scrubs and picking up some modern nursing techniques went viral.”

Julian nodded. Loor and the Singer had gone home less than a week after they arrived, but the consequences for the Ten’Gewek were going to echo for a long time. Folctha General wasn’t a teaching hospital and of course they couldn’t actually put an untrained iron-age alien into a sensitive patient care role, but that hadn’t stopped the Singer.

She and Vemik were perfect for one another. They shared the same unlimited happy curiosity wrapped around a pragmatic core. And of course the Singers had excellent memories. A large part of their Singing, in fact, was mnemonic tricks to record their oral histories and their magic.

She’d gone home with a few dozen chants detailing her (very perceptive) grasp of how human nurses and doctors tended the sick and wounded. Chants she’d no doubt teach to her Dancers, and to other Singers. In a few months, the lessons she’d picked up would have spread to all the tribes.

“You want me to take Ten’Gewek on TV?” he asked.

“At least invite them,” Rockefeller said. “We thought a morning talk show. Something benign, to… well, humanize them. For lack of a better word. But more importantly, to show that they don’t resent us. The old Prime Directive thing keeps rearing its head in politics, lately.”

“Do we need to counter that?” Julian asked. “I mean, it’s not wrong, is it?”

“Not as such. But it’s useful propaganda for extremists like the so-called Alien Protection Army… and from the latest news, the APA may have an even more extreme inner circle who are committed not just to human isolation, but human extinction.”

“That’s…alarming. Why would anyone want that?”

“Oikophobia, perhaps? It’s hard to say, really. What I can say is there’s a powerful thread of utopianism in the more activist circles, and that conversely tends to lead to self-loathing and nihilism. There’s some fascinating reading I have on the subject if you’re so inclined.” Rockefeller shook his head. “There will always be lost souls who grow enamored of an ideal, look at the world, see that it doesn’t and won’t ever live up to that ideal, and so get angry enough to burn it all down. The concern with the APA is that they’re possibly finding enough such people to start getting organized.”

“Organized enough they damn near killed me in rural goddamned Canada,” Julian growled.

“Organized enough that they managed to detonate a truck bomb in a US city, too. So, we agree that the APA are deadly serious, and that we need to push back. The more exposure we can give to the positive relationship between ourselves and the Ten’Gewek, the less ammunition they have.”

Julian nodded. “Alright. All I ask is to put it off until after my daughter arrives. I don’t want to be stuck on Earth when Allison goes into labor.”

“Entirely fair,” Rockefeller agreed. “These things take time to organize anyway.”

He glanced up at his wall clock (an old-fashioned nautical-looking thing) in response to a chime from his phone, and sighed. “…I hate to cut this short, but the Secretary of Agriculture just jumped over from Washington. Do yourself a favor, Julian: Never get involved with the Cabinet. They’re an even bigger headache than Franklinian livestock barons.”

Something about his tone was different this time. “…Sir?”

“Just some friendly advice. You’re too decent of a human being to wrap yourself up in politics at that level.”

“I’ll… take that advice. Thank you.” Julian stood up. “Until next time, then.”

“Best wishes to Allison. I hope it goes smoothly.”

Thus ended a day of work, sort of. There’d be emails and stuff and liaising with Dan Hurt and Hoeff which he’d have to do before the jump comms synchronized with Akyawentuo for the day, but the Akyawentuo Array was waaaay down the priority list compared to the steady flow of passengers, mail, imports, exports and especially data with Earth. Usually they got around to it sometime in the deadest part of the night, so Julian had all day to worry about his paperwork.

Which meant he didn’t have to stress out too much about it. With that thought, Julian grinned, and jogged over to the gym.

After all. He had a responsibility to himself as well.

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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Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 1 (NSFW)

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 5

Date Point: 16y2m AV Folctha, Cimbrean, The Far Reaches Julian Etsicitty The house was a mess when Julian got back, which was rare. Nobody in their household was naturally untidy—living on Misfit had driven Allison, Xiù and himself into an ingrained habit of orderliness, and the boys had lived in fear of their father’s belt

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 4

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 3

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

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Good Training – Survival Part 1

You may also want to read Pyrophytes in The Deathworlders series. Same story, different angles. Date point: 14y 7d AV Planet Akyawentuo, The Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Professor Daniel Hurt “You want me to read it by next week?” Julian mopped the sweat from his face and bounced loosely in place. “What was it

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Rising Titans – Chapter 45

-7 Hours CHRONT THE CANADA “More contacts!” said Arik as she flashed every monitor on the bridge a bright red. Stagg glanced up at the monitor, “How many more?” “I’m counting!” “You’re counting!?” A grainy image of the approaching Empire patrol vessel was quickly displayed, a small box around it. Additional boxes quickly filled the

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 2

Date Point: 16y2m AV Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Nofl Leemu had become unresponsive. Nofl’s quarantine facility had alerted him after the patient had been anomalously still for twenty minutes, and the reason why became obvious upon a quick inspection of the cell: Leemu was sprawled on his back, staring blissfully up at

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Good Training – April Fool’s

13y 3m 29d AV One-Fang workhouse, Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Sergeant Regaari (Dexter) of Clan SOR One of the best things about the humans was that they had a springtime holiday dedicated to mischief. Before them, only the Gao could claim to celebrate such a thing and it was one of the

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 1

Date Point: 16y2m AV Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Nofl Nofl’s lab was spacious, but inevitably finite. When it contained an alarming number of alarmed Humans, not to mention one particularly sculpted canine and a Gaoian brownie who was doing his best not to loom at everyone… well, there were times when Nofl

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 5

Date Point: 16y2m AV Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Allison Buehler After a lifetime of helicopter parenting, Tristan and Ramsey seemed addicted to every opportunity they could find to do something their mother would have scooted them away from. And who could blame them? Amanda had never managed to get her head around the idea

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Rising Titans – Chapter 44

9 Years, 6 Months, 28 Days After Eridani Landing Deep Space The Russia shuddered again as the engines slowly powered down and the ship slid out of the red blue haze that was the tachyon FTL corridor. James blinked several times trying to clear the haze from his eyes as the regular black background of

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 4

Date Point: 16y1m AV Dataspace adjacent to Mrwrki Station Entity The Entity understood the concept of boredom in an academic, abstract way. It could even vaguely summon up Ava’s memories of being bored. But understanding the idea and actually feeling the emotion were two different things. The closest it could get was the sensation of

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 3

Date Point: 16y2w AV Air Force One, somewhere over Asia, Earth President Arthur Sartori “…You want to give us a Farthrow generator.” Daar’s image was janky and low-resolution thanks to the vagaries of current wormhole comms, but the audio was a lot clearer now. Technology marched onwards. “It’s loaded up on a train and ready

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Good Training – Pecking Order

13y, 8m AV Operator’s Barracks, HMS Sharman, Folctha, Cimbrean Officer Regaari (Dexter) of Clan Whitecrest “I got an idea, Regaari.” Regaari flicked his ears forward in annoyance. “This again?” “Well, yeah. I gotta win that bet, Cousin!” Regaari duck-nodded wearily. Not long after Daar had received the SACRED STRANGER briefing, he’d sulked off to think

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Good Training – The Champions – Tidying Up

Messier 24 Mission day: 3 Sergeant Daar (Tigger) The third day was always when things settled into routine. Daar didn’t really know why, ‘cuz that was prol’ly some complicated psychology stuff (maybe he should read up?) but he did know how it worked, practically speaking. Daar always pondered morning thoughts like that when he was

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 2

Date Point: 16y2w AV Weaver dropship, Gaoian space Sergeant Ian “Hillfoot” Wilde “So in all the excitement, we clean forgot about these things. That’s what you’re telling me.” Champion Meereo made a sound that was half a sigh and half a chitter. “…That’s more-or-less exactly right, yes. We had… well, bigger priorities.” Wilde had to

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Rising Titans – Chapter 43

9 Years, 6 Months, 28 Days After Eridani Landing Bellona “Ready?” asked Alpha from where he sat on top of the Captain’s chair. “I’m good!” said Red from where he sat at the controls for the ship. It hadn’t taken much to convince him to pilot the vessel. James glanced down at his own console

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 1

Date Point: 16y AV Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Zane Reid The cold didn’t hurt anymore. At first, it had been like forcing his way through a wall made of knives that cut through his clothes. Zane’s every breath had blinded him as it billowed and steamed in the air, and when he’d experimentally licked his

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 5

Date Point: 16y AV Camp Tebbutt Biodrone Internment Facility, Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Hugh Johnson Snow. Of course, snow in January in Alaska was hardly surprising, and this one threatened to be heavy. At first, Hugh had thought it was probably just an seasonable dusting that’d add a couple of inches to the foot or

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I had made my way through the tournament, but most of my matches had been won by the skin of my teeth, and I had only the advantage of being evolved from a pursuit predator to thank for it. Our great endurance had been the one boon that had kept me going, and I was

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 4

Date Point: 15y 10m 1w AV HMS Violent, Rvzrk System, Domain Space The ground battle churned on for days. That was the problem with Hunters. There was no surrender involved, it was a kill-or-be-killed fight where smashing their will to engage in war simply didn’t achieve enough. Any Hunter left alive would just keep murdering

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 4

He awoke to a pleasant smell. “…Eggs?” Hoeff detangled himself from Natalie and the sheets and stumbled towards the kitchen. Daar was busy in front of the comparatively little stove and fridge, humming some terrible Gaoian tune to himself. Seriously, their music was like Chinese opera with extra pain. Some Humans liked it, though…but “atonal”

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Rising Titans – Chapter 42

9 Years, 6 Months, 15 Days After Eridani Landing The [Singer] The explosion hit and [Vann] watched at the lights on the main hologram and different panels flashed a blinding white light, before dying and plunging the entire bridge of the [Singer] into darkness. “What were we supposed to do?” asked someone near the weapons

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Day 1. I’ve made it on board the human trading vessel! They didn’t detect my presence, and I’ve managed to smuggle myself into their engineering bay, and disguised myself within a cluster of cables! My small, serpentine body makes me indistinguishable from a thin, grayish cable, and the Humans won’t notice my existence until it

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 1

Date Point: 15y 10m AV Camp Tebbutt Biodrone Internment Facility, Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Hugh Johnson Camp Tebbutt wasn’t actually a bad place to live, if you didn’t count the fact that it was essentially a prison for innocent victims. Hugh understood why he was there, and why he couldn’t leave… but after eleven years,

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 3

Firth Regaari chittered, “It is difficult to imagine you ‘humbled,’ Righteous.” “Heh,” Firth chuckled. “You do know most of my attitude is straight fuckin’ bullshit, right? Adam and John know why.” Regaari looked over at John, who shrugged massively. “He’s a scary dude. Being ridiculous kinda takes the edge off, y’know?” Regaari duck-nodded. He was

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Rising Titans – Chapter 41

9 Years, 6 Months, 13 Days After Eridani Landing Jikse Moving down the hallway Diana paused at the double doors, carefully she moved forwards into it’s threshold and they slid open. A woman in an orange smock looked up from her Comm for a moment, and then going back to look at it did a

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The Good Samaritan

I felt a white-hot pain in my back as I was stabbed. Once, twice and then three times. I fell to the ground clutching my new openings, and for a moment I couldn’t grasp what had just happened. I had walked through an alley as a shortcut back home, and then suddenly someone had grabbed

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 6

Date Point: 15y9m3w AV Mrwrki Station, Erebor System, Unexplored Space Darcy “Does it seem… different to you lately?” “What?” “The Entity. It’s actin’ different, dude, I swear it is.” Darcy sighed and set aside her work as Lewis sat down. She was sitting drinking a Moroccan Mint tea in the station’s rec lounge, with its

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Rising Titans – Chapter 40

9 Years, 6 Months, 13 Days After Eridani Landing Jikse Popping the restraints off of her legs Diana swung herself off of the table, the two class A’s still in their isolation suits were pounding at the door of the room the three of them were in. “It’s out! Open the door!” shouted the man

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 2

Master Sergeant Christian (Righteous) Firth The end of the movie came and the ladies were fast asleep and prolly too tired to head home with any comfort. The other bros were asleep, too, and Firth was tangled up with them pretty good. Oh well, both ‘Base and ‘Horse were heavy-ass sleepers and only danger or

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Hell. It’s a completely Human concept. The concept of a realm of eternal torture, to which you are sent depending on the whims of one deity or another, is something only found in Human fiction. And it’s not an isolated occurrence. Almost every human culture since the dawn of humanity itself has had it in

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 4

Date Point: 15y9m2w AV HMS Sharman (HMNB Folctha), Cimbrean, The Far Reaches Senior Master Sergeant Christian (“Righteous”) Firth “Hey, fuckers! Guess what hit the newsstand today!” Adam looked up from his needlework for a second and raised an eyebrow. “Imma guess Coombes’ centerfold spread with Ava?” Firth deflated, somewhat flummoxed that ‘Horse had stolen his

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