The Deathworlders – Chapter 57: Cat and Mouse – Hunter and Hunted Part 6

Date Point: 16y5m4d AV
Harlem, Manhattan, New York City, USA, Earth

Wilhelmina “Bill” Briggs-Davies

There was a different person in the mirror, now. Bill found that of all the ways to entertain herself she had available, the one that kept her enthralled was just standing naked in front of the mirror and staring at her reflection.

The specimen looking back at her kinda-sorta wore her face, and wore all her tattoos and piercings. But Bill herself had never been five-foot-ten. She hadn’t had an eight-pack, nor arms like a fucking bodybuilder.

She was still getting used to what she could do. She could jump onto the roof of her safe house from a standing start. Punch through a brick wall. Pull-ups? As easy as walking! Last week she’d done them for literally hours, and the only thing that stopped her had been hunger. And it wasn’t just strength, either. She was fast, had endless endurance…

There were downsides. She couldn’t swim anymore. She discovered that when she’d broken into the nearby community swimming pool in the middle of the night by casually vaulting the fence. It was only by keeping a calm head and walking along the bottom towards the shallow end that she hadn’t drowned. She’d since smashed a scale underfoot too, and there was never a moment when she didn’t feel like just stuffing her face full of food.

It felt good, though. The way people got out of her way out on the street, when she ventured out for supplies. She looked terrifying and she knew that she was far more fearsome than she looked.

The way people scattered and tried not to piss her off made her smile like a lioness. The world had been shitting on her right from the moment she’d been saddled with a stupid-ass name, and now…

People only respected power, and violence. Oh, sure, they said stupid bullshit about the other stuff they claimed to respect, but the truth was something else. The truth was, the world was just a tapestry of power. Those with it ruled those without, and they made damn sure they kept it all to themselves.

Bill had been a ‘without.’ Now she was a ‘with.’ And she was itching for the chance to prove just how broken that system was. She was a weapon now. She wanted to be a weapon. And weapons weren’t meant to just hang over the fireplace.

Her reflections on her reflection were interrupted by a knock on the door. Tap-tap-tap, pause, tap. She grinned, grabbed her phone, checked the cameras. There was a man outside, dressed forgettably in jeans, a jacket and a New York baseball cap. Nobody else in view of her cameras, and she’d hidden some of them very carefully.

She stomped over, enjoying the way the floor creaked under her strength, yanked the door open and welcomed him in. “‘Bout fucking time.”

“Put some clothes on,” he retorted, evenly. She snorted and went to grab her pants.

“Is it time?” she insisted, once she’d found them. She’d left them in the bathtub. Not like she could use the damn thing now anyway. She didn’t fit.

“I have an opportunity for you. You’re going to like this, I think.”

He handed her a paper envelope. It had one of those new “paperthin” cheap tablets in it, which was in turn filled with material on a massively built, very familiar and annoyingly handsome man.

“…Etsicitty?!” She felt a rictus-grin stretch her cheeks. Fuck, this was, like, the jackpot!

Her handler smiled. “Of course! He is one of the Enemy’s chief propaganda tools and the direct agent of corruption of the Ten’Gewek under his thrall. He, along with a couple of his monkey-toms are going to be in Manhattan on one of those insufferable morning news-talk shows.”

“What about his bitches? Chang and Buehler?”

“Sadly, they’re still under guard on Cimbrean, which is inaccessible to us. It is an entire planet with only a few defined ways in or out, after all. Our cell in Folctha have never once had an opportunity against the Great Father, nor anyone else. They’re too well-watched. And the less said about their available security response resources, the better.”

“Alright…” Bill checked the dates. She’d still have to wait a while. “…Okay, I’m gonna need some more bags and needles and stuff. I’m nearly out.” she indicated her bed, and the IV stand next to it.

The contact shook his head. “Good news on that front: your bloodworks are in. You’re stabilizing now, things should be much less dramatic. No more IV sessions and sedation.”

“But things just got good!”

“And they’re as good as they’re gonna get. The rapid adaptation protocol has limits. You need rest and recovery time now, if you’re to have any hope of surviving the process.”

“I’m adapted just fine.”

“Not enough, Bill. The rapid protocol has pushed your body far beyond its natural limits very, very quickly, and that is going to have serious consequences. We can’t have you break your own bones or drop dead of organ failure in the middle of the hunt, now can we?”

“I remember the spiel,” Bill growled.

“Good, because your target’s protection does not have that problem, and has much deeper mercenary experience than you. He’s had ongoing elite training under arguably the best instructors to be found anywhere, and his everyday job revolves around situational awareness and survival. He’s perceptive and he knows how to fight dirty. If you don’t take him out immediately, you’re done. The mission is done. And it’ll be your fault.”

“…And Etsicitty?”

“Arguably worse. He’s been trained by the same people, he’s survived for years in awful places. And, not to put too fine a point on it…he is much faster and stronger than you, even now. We didn’t put you through this on a lark, Bill. We had reason. Keep your distance. One slip-up and he will break you without much effort. And that will be the end of your story.”

Bill had a hard time believing any of that, being honest. But still, she studied the surveillance and decided to keep it out for later. It included some very sneaky footage in supposedly private spaces: telephotos on his house capturing some flashes of the overgrown boyscout gettin’ frisky with his harem; some others in what looked like a private gym shower, soaped up and pawing at himself absent-mindedly like all the big dumb muscle-dudes tended to do. He was, Bill was forced to admit, impressive.

And pretty fuckin’ hot, for a vanilla square. “The fuck is this, blackmail material?”

“That was the hope, but so far he’s not given us much to work with.”

That was a shame. Fuck that boy was a slab of prime goddamned beef, yet they had nothing fuckin’ interesting on him at all?! Lame. Why he settled for his boring bitches and didn’t pimp that disgustingly perfect body of his made no sense to her at all. She read through the dossier and was entirely disappointed. No secret affairs, no shower funtime at the gym. Fuck, the worst he’d done was a get a blowjob outdoors on the lawn from his banana bitch Xiù where no-one (that they knew of) could see them. So fuckin’ “adventurous” of him, goddamned big-dick vanilla white-boy fuckin’ boy scout.

Still, media blitz and wasted pornstar opportunities aside, looks could be deceiving, photos and videos could lie. Lie hard in the right hands, even by accident. He looked like he was tough and strong, but there was no way he was good enough to stand up to her now…


“He on the Cruezzir too?”

“…We don’t believe so.”

Bill pulled the shower video up again and enjoyed watching Julian’s muscles jump and twitch as he shampooed his hair and washed his balls.


The handler shrugged. “Perhaps. It does seem unlikely, given what has so far been revealed of his capabilities…anyway. That’s our intel, and it’s pretty good. Whatever else those fascist friends of his might be doing to him, as far as we can tell he’s just a freak of nature.”

“Sounds like he needs his fuckin’ face smashed in.” Some people were just fuckin’ born with all the privilege and gifts, and then they thought that gave ‘em a right to go stamp their own way of things on everyone else. Colonialist motherfuckers. And some, like the fuckin’ boy scout, were too goddamned dumb to even know they were doing it!

“That is a risk you take for yourself. And it is a risk. If you can…just shoot him. Mission first.”

Bill snorted, “Where’s the fun in that?”

“Your mission is to eliminate him, not live out some power fantasy. However, if you insist, and leaving his alarming physicality aside, you do have one major advantage: accelerated healing. To the best of our knowledge he does not, so if you do manage to hurt him he should stay hurt. Do not let that go to your head. Remember what he did to the last cell that targeted him. He killed one by accident and gave the other permanent brain damage.”

“He had protection then,” Bill pointed out.

“He still does, remember? It’s the same man from the last incident, one Daniel Hoeff. He’s a retired Navy SEAL and JETS operator, and he knows exactly what he’s doing.”

Bill glanced over Hoeff’s case file. He was a short little fucker, but still. Dude was stocky and tough-looking, with dense, knotted muscles stretched across a broad-shouldered frame. Sorta cute actually, like a jacked-up pitbull. Would have been good for a hate fuck back in the day.

“Spec-ops, huh? Seems kinda small for a rambo. He got little man syndrome?”

“I don’t know many people who would say he’s small nowadays. Once again, Bill, do not let your ego get the best of you. A spider could still kill you with a bite, and Hoeff is much deadlier. He’s an expert with both long-range weapons and close quarters combat. Quite frankly he’s got a much bigger body count than you do.”

“What does it matter, if I take down Etsicitty first? Bagging that Hoeff guy an’ the monkeys is a bonus, I guess. And it’s not like I’m gettin’ outta this alive, is it?” She grinned at her contact, who responded with a slight shrug of one shoulder.

“That depends on a great many things.”

“Nah, I’m goin’ down in a blaze of glory. That’s what you said first time we spoke, right?”

“Hmm.” The contact paced slowly around the apartment with his hands behind his back. “The FBI interrogated Alex Hamlin, you know.”


“You should have killed him. He told them about the dead drop.”

Bill just shrugged. “Maybe I shoulda. But I wanted to get outta there quietly, y’know? Without the neighbors calling in shots fired. He didn’t know enough to change anything.”

“He knew about the Cruezzir.”

Bill scowled. She’d been certain Hamlin hadn’t noticed her taking the medicine. Dumbfuck kid was sneakier than she’d thought. “Think it’ll change anything?”

“We don’t know. That’s the problem, Bill. We’re fighting people who are convinced they’re right and we’re evil, and they aren’t stupid. They’re very good at what they do, which is why fuckups like that can ruin everything.”

“Well… whatever. You got another Cruezzir-fuelled killing machine hidden away somewhere?”

“No. And I say that honestly. The drug is very tightly controlled, and the version we were able to obtain cannot be duplicated. It would therefore be…unfortunate…if you were to expire.”

“What, you think you’re gonna rescue me from prison?” Bill scoffed. “This goes one way, pal. I kill Etsicitty and his monkeys and whoever else is nearby, NYPD comes down on my ass like an avenging god, and I see how many I can take down with me. If they take me alive, I’m going away forever. So, they ain’t gonna take me alive.”

He just gave her a faint smile, and said nothing. There wasn’t much that had ever intimidated Bill, especially now…but her handler was definitely one of those things.

“Familiarize yourself with the plan,” he said, and turned to go. “I’ll make sure everything is in place. You just be ready.”

Bill grinned. Her heart was beating in her ears, making her feel so alive it was like she was on fire. She couldn’t wait to get started.

“I already am,” she said.

Date Point: 16y5m1w AV
Folctha General Hospital, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

The funny thing was that, despite being pale and sweaty and red-eyed, and generally at about the least glamorous he’d ever seen her, Julian couldn’t remember ever thinking Allison looked more beautiful. Or maybe it was just the fact that she had his sleeping daughter on her chest.

She was also as high as a couple of moons, having taken basically every drug under the sun.

“I’ve got nothing to prove,” she’d said. “And it hurt like hell last time.”

In the end, it had been an uneventful birth. Difficult for Julian and Xiù, but Al had rode the medication and her own tenacity and if her grip had been tight enough to make Julian’s hand creak… well, he really couldn’t blame her.

Now, in the quiet aftermath, she was halfway asleep herself as she gently ran a finger down Anna’s—and what a perfect name that was—back.

Anna Ayma Belle Etsicitty. Xiù had been in floods when Julian had suggested the middle name, and that had pretty well sealed it. It was a beautiful name for the most beautiful thing Julian had ever seen.

There was a soft swishing sound, and Xiù finally decided that she’d managed to properly detangle Allison’s hair. She set the brush aside, then bent forward and gave Al a kiss on top of the head for good measure.

“Wow…” she breathed.

“I know,” Julian agreed.

Xiù leaned over and rested her head on his shoulder. “…She’s beautiful.”

“You’re a proud mom already, huh?”

She nodded, dreamily, then leaned forward a little to check Allison’s face. “…Yeah, she’s asleep.”

“I can’t blame her.” Julian took Xiù’s hand and squeezed it. “Nervous about your turn?”

“A little. That looked… intense. And Yulna still wants me to go to the Grand Commune for it.” She shook her head ruefully. “I know they’re the most well-equipped natal unit on the planet, but… Gaoian births are a lot easier. Have you seen newborn cubs?” She gesticulated, suggesting something maybe half Anna’s size.

“On the other hand, Gaoian females have much narrower hips.”

“Trust me, it’s not the same ordeal for them.” Xiù sighed and stroked Allison’s hair again. Al turned her head slightly, opened her eyes, gave them both a slight, dreamy smile and then dozed off again.

“I bet,” he admitted.

Xiù’s hand flew to her tummy. “…And you gave me a big baby boy too. Oof.”

“So, all things considered, you’d rather have human assistance.”

“Well, wouldn’t you? I mean, I love the Gao but they have claws. And as for the Ten’Gewek…” Xiù giggled.

“Hey, the Singers are experienced midwifes!” Julian objected loyally.

“And the Mothers at the commune handle dozens of births a day. But no thank you. As much as I like them both, I want somebody of my own species handling this one,” Xiù said firmly. “…And frankly, if Al took that many drugs, I think I’m going to as well. She’s right, I don’t have to prove anything.”

Julian kissed her on the forehead. “You never did, babe.”

“Tell that to my mom.” Xiù smiled fondly. Julian chuckled: he got along okay with Xiù’s parents, who had never really approved of the whole poly thing, and were honestly a little unconsciously racist, in a benign way. There was no malice in them at all, and he’d always felt welcome when he met them, but…

They’d seemed shocked to learn he could, in fact, speak Mandarin. Haltingly, but he was getting better. And Meili Chang, Xiù’s mom, always found excuses for him to reach high places and move heavy objects. Or to mess with his hair, which she’d cluck over like some vaguely dissatisfied hen.

Good lord could she cook, though.

“She thinks you should go without?”

Xiù waved a hand. “She had this thing about it being a transcendental experience and how you should really experience becoming a mother…” she said. “I’ve had transcendental experiences, thanks. They’re not pleasant.”

“That’s kinda the point, isn’t it?”

She laughed. “I guess… It’ll be so good to see them tomorrow though.” It went unspoken that she’d been worried they wouldn’t come. They’d never been unpleasant to Allison, not at all. They were much too universally warm and hospitable for that. But…

Well. They were coming, so they obviously cared and accepted her more than they let on. That was a happy thought.

The sour note for Julian was in knowing that he’d have to call up Rockefeller in the morning and confirm that he was on for that trip to Earth and the TV interview. The dates had all been set in anticipation of Anna’s birth

Still, the mere thought of being parted from the tiny life now slumbering just a few feet away was agonizing.

Of course, he was going to have to do that soon anyway. There was nowhere for partners to sleep on the ward, so he and Xiù were going to have to return home at some point. And then in the morning Amanda was going to want to meet her granddaughter, and Tristan and Ramsey would want to meet their niece, and…

It occurred to him that Anna was very lucky indeed. Two badass moms, two doting older kids, a wealthy loving home, friends in very high places across multiple species…

And a protective caveman for a dad. And a few one-man-army uncles.

As starts in life went, things didn’t get much better. He was going to have to work hard to keep his kids grounded, he thought, but that was a problem for much later. Right now…

His thoughts were interrupted by a visitor who would have been deeply unlikely in anybody else’s hospital room.

The Singer had been politely and gently but firmly thwarted by the hospital and clinics when she’d inquired about learning more of human medicine. They weren’t a training facility, and for a lot of complicated legal reasons they really couldn’t have an untrained, unaccountable nonhuman poking her n— …Uh, inquiring into private healthcare matters. But in this case, well… Anna was a daughter of her tribe. There were Rites.

She let out the cutest, softest hoot Julian had ever heard as she laid eyes on the slumbering mother and baby. A human would have gone “aaaawww!!” …Though a human wouldn’t have flicked their tongue halfway across the room to get a really good sample of the baby’s scent.

“Healthy,” she declared approvingly, and coiled her tail behind her to sit on it. “I watched video of human birth. Looks hard. Your babies have big heads!”

[“Yours are the same size almost, Singer! It’s just you got big ‘ol hips!”]

[“Don’t remind me, please…”] Xiù muttered.

Julian chuckled low. [“We shouldn’t tease her,”] he told the Singer. [“This will be her first baby and, uh…”]

“Will be fine, the Singer said, confidently. Julian wasn’t sure how they’d fallen into the courtesy of speaking each other’s languages, but it made sense really. Everyone got practice. “Not easy, but you’re strong. And I saw human doctors work magic on Loor. The Gods made women for having babies. They didn’t make men for getting squashed by Brown Ones!”

Xiù giggled.

[How is Loor?”] she asked.

“Like he was never hurt! And many women after him, now!”

Julian chuckled and nodded sagely. “Not bad, Loor.”

“I think he would maybe choose an easier way to win women if he could,” the Singer trilled, then stood up, and woke Allison with a gentle touch to the face. It would have seemed like a slightly odd gesture to anyone who didn’t know her species’ ways, but it worked.

Al blinked blearily at her, then woke up properly. “Mmmuh? Oh. Hey.” She squirmed up a little in her bed. Anna gave the faintest of protest sounds, shifted a little, and was still. So far, she was quite calm about the whole life thing. “You came.”

“She is niece to me,” the Singer explained. “Of course I come. I will sing her name to the Gods for you.”

Al sat up a bit more and gave the Singer a hug with her spare arm. Julian smiled at that: Al had been a little skeptical about the Ten’Gewek rites, but she’d never objected. Mostly she treated it all with bemusement.

It was important to Julian, though. He could never explain just what taking the tribe’s Rite of Manhood had changed in him, but… it mattered to him. Anna would grow up and chart her own course, and maybe she’d take a Ten’Gewek magic-name when she was old enough… Or maybe she wouldn’t. But that was for the future. Here and now…

The Singer had a little ritual paint with her, a vivid terracotta red paste. It was basically just iron-rich mud and berry juice, and Julian knew it was harmless. They painted it on their own babies for this too, and a Ten’Gewek newborn was just as delicate and soft as a human newborn.

“May I hold her?”

Allison took a deep breath, and handed Anna over. She looked tiny and fragile, resting in the Singer’s huge, thick-fingered slab of a hand, but the Singer handled her with experience and a soft, reassuring coo as she scooped a liberal smear of paint onto her thumb. She crossed to the window and opened it with her tail so that the sunlight shone in.

“Name her,” she instructed, looking Allison in the eye.

“Her name is Anna.”

The Singer nodded, and Anna shifted slightly but didn’t otherwise react when the Singer applied a bright red thumbprint to both of her cheeks and the middle of her forehead.

The Singer nodded, turned, and raised the baby toward the sun before raising her voice in a chant. [“Gods: Be here. See this. This is Anna, u Jooyun n Awisun. Know her name…”]

It wasn’t a long rite. After all, what mother and baby wanted to be separated for long? Allison, Julian and Xiù sat quietly together and watched the Singer perform it, until finally she turned away from the sun, cooed over Anna one last time and returned her to her mother’s arms.

“Strange gods here,” she declared. “Strange sky, strange sun. But warm. No clouds, no shadow. She’s blessed.”

Julian suspected he’d never forget the look on Allison’s face. Maybe it was the drugs, but there and then in that moment, despite her usual skepticism, it clearly mattered to her. She gave Anna a cuddle, then gave the Singer a smile.

“…Thank you.”

“I leave you to rest,” the Singer promised. She flicked her tail at Julian in a we-need-to-talk gesture that meant exactly the same thing as if she’d beckoned him to follow.

Reluctantly, Julian gave Al a kiss and stroked his daughter’s cheek before following her. He shut the door behind him. “Thanks for doing that,” he said.

“You are Tribe. So she is Tribe,” the Singer replied. “I should thank you. It means a lot you take our ways… um…”

“Seriously?” Julian suggested.

“Yes. You are alien. I know you worship the gods… or, uh, God… in other ways.”

“Being a little bit of two species seems to be a thing with our family.” Julian shrugged. “What’s up, anyway?”

“Trip to Earth soon. I have… a bad feeling. Last time, you were attacked, Yan and Vemik were attacked. And you want me and Vemik to come on Teevee and bring our child…” She glanced toward the room. “Now you know what it is like, to be parent. Think of bringing Anna into danger. If you had bad feeling… would you go?”

Julian took a deep breath. “…I understand,” he agreed. “I really do, especially now. All I can say is, we’re going to have Secret Service protection. That’s men whose whole job is keeping others safe. And they are very, very good at it.”

“Heff said there was an… alert?”

“Yeah. We’ll have a few little extras, too. Some sky-magic, you’ll see… or well, I guess you won’t. Hopefully.”

The Singer trilled, glanced at the door again, then nodded. “…Okay. If you trust these secret men…”

“There’s nobody under any sky anywhere who I’d trust more,” Julian assured her. “Protection is what they do.”

“…Then I will see you on Earth.”

She knuckled off toward the exit, and Julian let himself back into Allison’s room. She was settling down and looked like she might fall asleep again soon.

That was okay. She’d earned a rest. And if Anna woke up and needed a new diaper or whatever… Well, what else were dads for?

He cuddled up to Xiù and basked in the moment for as long as it lasted.

Date Point: 16y5m3w AV
DENEB 320.7° 37-EJ7H2E-SEPTINARY FII-D, Deep Space

Alpha of the Bleeding Brood

This system was unusual, and the Alpha couldn’t figure out why their quarry had chosen it.

Every previous system on its route had been metal-rich and dense in accessible bodies to rapidly mine. With each passing system, the Builders had observed that the Entity responsible for stealing their replicant ship was getting more and more efficient in its mining, claiming an ever-increasing mass of useful minerals in the short time before it moved on.

This time though…

The system was nothing but stars. No fewer than seven of them, in fact: a big and blisteringly active yellow-white giant, orbited by three red dwarfs, the most massive of which had three brown protostar “moons” and the other two of which danced around a common center of gravity.

The radiation levels in the inner system were truly fearsome, and the gravity well was deep enough that the Alpha slowed their approach much further out-system than it usually would have.

There was no sign of any rocky bodies anywhere. Radiation and solar wind had long since ablated away what little hadn’t either been swallowed up by the whirling stars or spat out into the interstellar dark.


The Builders turned away from their scanners and gave the Alpha their usual disinterested stare. Of course, this wasn’t a hunt to them. This was a survey. They probably didn’t appreciate that they were now being hunted.

They’d modified the ship too, during the pursuit. Now, there was armor plating around the warp drive, and a redundant drive housed next to a secondary reactor in what had been cargo space behind the bridge. Short-range magnetometric and gravimetric sensors had been manufactured and installed to provide passive close-range awareness, and the hull was now covered in reactive armor and explosive blisters.

The Alpha had fought hard for every such upgrade. The Builders seemed more interested in learning about the thief and its mining activities than in preparing them for the next clash. Only the Alpha’s argument that the ship needed to remain intact in order to return its valuable data had been persuasive.

<Explanation> +We are being hunted.+

The reply was predictable: <Skepticism> +Explain and prove your hypothesis.+

Where to begin? Over the latter half of its lifetime, the Alpha had hunted an ever-more-intelligent Prey, and was one of the few left alive that had tasted Human flesh. (So long ago! So sublime!)

How could it condense the certainty of well-honed and seasoned instinct into something terse that would get these near-sighted neuters to move with purpose?

<Insight> +A marked change in strategy indicates a change in the Prey’s state of mind. So far, the Prey has run ahead of us, taking easily-acquired resources before fleeing. Now we are in an utterly barren star system, and I see no exit warp trail. It feels confident enough to face us now, and it is an experienced predator itself. We should activate the Brood.+

The Builders looked at each other, and took an agonizing length of time to confer among themselves on their own secure channels.

<Concession> +You may do so. Activate your Brood.+

The Alpha carefully stifled the urge to broadcast the medley of irritation and relief it felt, and instead uploaded its understanding of the situation into the stasis systems before releasing the Brood’s flight crew. They blinked off the momentary disorientation of stasis, understood the situation instantly, and hastened to their stations with gratifying precision and speed.

Thus staffed, every facet of the ship’s performance could be appropriately fine-tuned.

The differences were subtle. Minor redistributions of power to the different weapons based on predictions of what kinds of attack were most likely. Similar adjustments to the shield geometry, a rebalancing of the main thrusters versus the auxiliary thrusters….

Anticipation was the talent that set Hunters apart from their machines. The computers could react infinitely faster, but they could only react, never proact.

In these situations, proactivity was the line between life and death. This was a battle of anticipation, and the Alpha knew that it would be over in a single move.

It therefore moved to thwart its opponent’s predictions. Last time they had approached cautiously, cloaked and stealthy. It had proven ineffective.

This time, it went for the aggressive approach. Sub-light warp maneuvers and aggressive sensor sweeps of the surrounding space would surely light them up, but the Prey could not sneak up on them. With full surplus power to the shields, they could not be crippled by the first strike.

Sure enough, the sensor returns came back loud and strong. And sure enough, the Prey had indeed been coming up on them from behind, as before.

With a savage, gleeful broadcast of triumph, the Alpha activated the master stroke of its attack: the aft-firing plasma cannons.

Twin dense jets of blazing copper gas and molten droplets blasted the sensor contact into dust.


The celebration, however, was short-lived. EM sensors took a long time time to cover an entire star system, and finally a new return came back from further away. A much, much larger return.

It arrived only a few milliseconds ahead of—

Nobody in the galaxy used directed energy weapons, with the exception of nuclear-pumped X-ray lasers. Coherent energy beams were an inefficient way to deliver energy on target, the heat debt incurred in generating them was prohibitive, and they generally just didn’t deliver enough energy to truly threaten a starship.

This laser, however, boiled the broodship’s shields and hull away like ice under a blowtorch, and the Alpha had only the barest scrap of time to understand what the Prey had built, low in the photosphere of the system’s largest and hottest star.

Directed energy weapons were inefficient, and no ship could produce enough energy to power them…

…But the focused heat of a white giant star would do it.

Date Point: 16y5m3w AV
DENEB 320.7° 37-EJ7H2E-SEPTINARY FII-D, Deep Space


The broodship popped like a bubble, which it effectively was: a thin sheen of molten metal that no longer had the strength and rigidity to contain tonnes and tonnes of warm, densely compressed gas. The forcefield lens array had worked perfectly, and the decoy had held the Hunters still for just long enough.


There was no kill quite like overkill, after all.

Date Point:16y5m3w AV
High Mountain Fortress, the Northern Plains, Planet Gao

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

It was good to be home, and the fortress definitely was. Naydra had put quite a lot of herself into renovating their quarters, and had eventually managed to find a balancing point between Daar’s taste for modesty and utilitarianism versus her own preference for things to be a little more cosy and sumptuous.

The compromise was in the color pallette. She’d gone with browns and creams and warm greys. Fur tones. So long as the place was tidy and well organized, then it seemed more minimalist than it really was. So, Naydra got her furniture and her rugs and shelves and touches of luxury, and Daar got to look around and see a clean and apparently simple aesthetic.

In fact, the only really vibrant spot of color was Daar’s current flower arrangement. He tended to prefer simple stems and pots, but the flowers themselves were often a riot of rich blues and yellows.

And soon, probably, reds.

At Naydra’s request, Nofl hadn’t started the therapy in his lab. Instead he’d concocted a series of injections for them to take, with clear instructions about the sequence and timing involved. She wanted to make a date of it. This was a big step forward into an uncertain future for both of them.

She had the kitchens prepare a nice big meal beforehand. Something rich on micronutrients and protein. It was all in stasis containers, as fresh and hot as the moment it came out of the ovens, waiting for him to finish the day’s business.

Daar didn’t keep her waiting long. She heard him coming up the stairs (which were ancient, and creaked under anyone’s weight, especially his) and turned off the stasis fields just in time for him to enter the room to a wall of steaming olfactory bliss.

He shut his eyes and followed his nose for a moment.

“Mmm… Naydi! I swears ‘yer the most romantical woman I’ve ever did know! What did I ever do to deserve you?!”

“How many times do I have to answer that question?” she retorted, and offered him a poached Naxas testicle. He snacked on it happily and chittered. “Anyway, this isn’t just a romantic gesture. Nofl told me to front-load you especially on some nutrition before we take our medicine.”

Daar gave the room a sniff. “Balls, smells like Warhorse had a hand in ‘yer cookin’…not that I’m complaining!” he chittered.

She flicked her ears to herself and took a plate over to the couch. The truth was, she was nervous as hell about what they were about to do. How could she not be? They were talking about mucking around with their own DNA. She’d come to trust Nofl and both the Highmountains and Clan Openpaw were clear that they’d evaluated the risks and found them to be minimal…

But still. There was a sense that they were about to come close to… what was that word? Profanity.

As always, she could never hide a thing from the Great Father. He sniffed at her, keened slightly, and snuggled against her nape. “Nervous, huh?”

“Aren’t you?”

“…Honestly, not really. Not ‘fer me, anyhoo. I’m…more worried ‘fer you. This is a very brave thing ‘yer doin’, Naydi.”

“Somebody has to.” She curled up on the couch and sampled a pickled nava grub.

“I know…Naydra. I need to know something.” His tone had gone very formal, which was how she knew he was mentally donning the Crown, and assuming the role of the Great Father.

“…Yes, My Father?”

“How long does Mother-Supreme Yulna have left?”

Naydra sighed and shut her eyes.

“…It’s ovarian cancer. Quite advanced, and metastasized. She didn’t… she stopped going to see her doctor after the war.”

Daar keened in sorrow. “…Right. I should…pay a visit. Unofficially. And, uh…say goodbye.”

“She would appreciate that.”

“Yeah…And you, Naydra. Are you prepared for the consequences?”

Naydra chewed on another grub. She knew what he meant, of course: When a Mother-Supreme stepped down or passed away, there would be an election among the Females to appoint her successor. Yulna had been named by Giymuy, and that tended to carry a lot of weight in the ensuing election… so far she hadn’t named anyone. But she’d dropped hints.

“You mean that I might end up taking over from her, as well as… this?” she asked. “No, I’m not. Absolutely not. This is more than enough work for me, I don’t want to take over on the island! We’d hardly see each other! I’m not even going to run!”

She sighed. “…Not that it matters. If I’m nominated and they vote for me, I’d be shirking my duty if I didn’t do it. But…”

“Naydi, they won’t stop at Mother-Supreme. There’s been rumblin’ ‘bout this ever since I took you as a Life-Mate. They’d want me to create you a Great Mother. An’ with what ‘yer doin’ with me, tonight, ‘fer the future of our species…I’d be wrong not to.”

“Great Mother.” Naydra repeated flatly, weighing that title in her mind. Even Tiritya had only been given it posthumously.

“It’s a big title.”

“Bumpkin… Understatement.”

“Well, I mean. You always say I should work on nuance.”

Naydra chittered despite herself, and reached over to pick up the box Nofl had given them. There was a pair of injectors in there, and the first doses of their gene therapy. She considered it with a feeling in her stomach as though it was equal parts the key to something truly transcendental, and also something as ugly as a pistol, all wrapped in one.

“…Duty has a way of complicating things, doesn’t it?” she asked, rhetorically.

Daar snuggled her tightly. “Yup. You’ve got an iron core to ‘yer soul, Naydi. And an ambition to match. That’s no small part o’ why I love ‘ya.”

He was damn perceptive, sometimes. She gave him a grateful look, then loaded her dose into the injector.

They shared a moment of eye contact, and then she pressed it to her throat and fired. Decisively and quickly, before she could start to really fear it. It stung, briefly.

Even knowing her so well, Daar seemed momentarily taken aback. She chittered, and put the empty vial away.

“…For the Gao,” she said.

Daar took his own injector, loaded it, and nestled it hard against the heavy cords of muscle layered over the large artery in his neck. He fired, she saw him wince faintly, and then he put the injector away and steadied himself with a huge, full-chested breath.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “…For the future.”

Previous Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Next Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Implications

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 4 (NSFW)

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Sweetness – Chapter 3 (NSFW)

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Sweetness – Chapter 2 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 1 (NSFW)

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

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Shades of White and Orange

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Mother Earth

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 2

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 1

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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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