The Deathworlders – Chapter 57: Cat and Mouse – Worlds in the Dark Part 1

Date Point: 16y6m AV
The “tank,” the White House, Washington DC, USA, Earth

President Arthur Sartori


It was an awful thing, trust. It automatically included the possibility that the trusted individual might betray: In effect, it was a bet that they wouldn’t.

The stakes in today’s particular gamble of trust were high indeed, but the fact was that if the people now shoulder-to-shoulder alongside Sartori in the situation room turned out to be untrustworthy, then the APA wouldn’t be bothering with somebody like Julian Etsicitty: They’d have access to much more important targets.

The sole criterion by which he’d selected the people around him today was simple: That if they were APA, he himself would already have been assassinated while he sat at the Resolute desk.

Nobody else needed to know. And, if the men now springing into action in Manhattan did their jobs right, nobody would ever know.

“They’re live.”

That was Steve Beckett, director of the Secret Service.

“Alright. Now we just have to make it through the next half an hour…”

Beckett grunted. He’d voiced objections to allowing Etsicitty to stand out in an open field like that, and on some of the restrictions on this operation, but from Sartori’s perspective it was quite simple: If Etsicitty and the Ten’Gewek were abruptly bundled away to safety by their personal protection team, then that meant the APA had won.

The same went for if shots were fired, grenades went off, cars crashed or… basically if anything violent was seen to happen at all.

They either made it through today without the general public so much as suspecting what had nearly happened, or the good guys lost. There was no middle ground today.

Not for the first time, Sartori fidgeted with the little USB drive in his pocket. It contained… evidence. Very, very damning evidence about just how high up the APA’s influence went. Evidence that had already utterly incriminated an extremely senior CIA case officer, and above him…

Above him was someone that Sartori had counted as a friend.

The drive’s source —Somebody with the conscience of a saint, a hero’s sense of duty and an adamantium pair of balls—had put themselves and their young family in mortal danger to get the drive into Sartori’s hands. The Secret Service was already providing silent protection to the young fellow, whoever he or she might be. With luck, they’d never notice. That rotten case officer was still on the job, after all: They couldn’t remove him without alerting the network, which had to be dismantled all at once, and brutally.

The long knives would come out within the next few minutes.

“We’re certain about these Whitecrest toys?” he asked, to keep his hands from shaking.

“Champion Thurrsto demonstrated them for me personally. Utterly silent, instantly effective. Apparently his predecessor invented them. Or, well, had the idea, anyway.”

Sartori nodded distractedly. God, the aliens had brought a child with them…

“I have never felt so afraid for anyone,” he confessed.

“We brought the absolute best in on this, sir.”

“And I put them in the line of fire. As bait!” Sartori tried not to gnaw on his fingernails. “What fucking right do I have to do that!?”

“You are the President,” Beckett pointed out. “If not you, then who?”

And that was all that could be said, really. This was a moment when duty demanded doing terrible things to avert something worse. And if things went to plan, then Etsicitty and the aliens would never know anything had happened.


From across the situation room, one of Beckett’s chosen few gave an update. “…Our insider says the APA vans are nearly there. Looks like they’re timing it for just after the commercial break. Still no sign of Hyde.”

Hyde was the codeword for Briggs-Davies. The woman herself had been a fearsome Jekkyl already: a psychotic, a bomb maker, a cyberterrorist, and a figure of dark notoriety. The idea of her hopped up on gut-generated Cruezzir was honestly terrifying. The last time that had happened the aliens had taken to calling it the “Human Disaster” and a whole planet’s ecosystem had been written off for lost.

And those had been two fundamentally decent people. Thank God Hyde didn’t have proper instruction in how to use her newfound gifts. With luck, they wouldn’t need to send in one of their own supersoldier monsters to counter her.

Though, the time had come to use a monster of a different kind. May God forgive Arthur for what he was about to do.

“Margaret… I think it’s time for that… contingency… we discussed.”

Margaret White gave a curt, somber nod and stood to leave the room. “Yes, Mister President. I’ll see to it,” she said.

She’d be running to succeed him. If Sartori couldn’t trust her, then the war was already an abject defeat. But in that moment, he felt profoundly painful about what he’d just asked his good and trusted friend to do.

But she needed to be ready for the role if she won the election, and there were some secrets that had to be handed down personally.

Beckett looked up. “Sir? Hyde may be in play. Riddick is moving to counter.”

…Sartori need a whiskey.

Date Point: 16y6m AV
Bryant Park, Manhattan, New York, USA, Earth

Agent Thomas Child, Secret Service

Paradoxically, high-vis jackets tended to make the wearer invisible. People didn’t see people in high-vis jackets. They just saw the jacket, and assumed that some important but boring and/or dangerous work was being done by its wearer.

The work Tom and his buddies were doing was definitely not boring, and definitely was both Important and dangerous.

Silently aborting a terrorist attack at the moment it began on the streets of Manhattan at breakfast-time? Oh, sure, merely stopping the terrorists in their tracks was straightforward enough. But doing it silently? So that not one of the dozens of people in and around Bryant Park suspected a damn thing?

…Well, it was possible. Their talking raccoon buddies had some really neat toys, and had sent along a couple of cool customers to demonstrate their proper use. Awesome gear, bitchin’ mohawks, and quiet professionalism. They definitely had the right stuff.

First up: the nerveshock wand. A less-lethal adaptation of nervejam that completely put the taser out of business, it looked and operated basically the same as an old-school Maglite. Point and click, and anyone inside its cone of influence promptly lost all voluntary motor control and dropped to the deck numb and limp and paralyzed. And, unfortunately, shitting themselves.

Trick number two were Stick-n-sleep patches. Slap ‘em on a person’s bare skin and that person passed out like they’d been doing shots for a day straight. “These ones are for Deathworlders,” the huge burly one had warned. “They’re lethal to most anything else.”

And finally, Tom’s personal favorite: knockout gas pellets like something straight off Batman’s utility belt. Odorless, colorless, rapidly decomposed on exposure to oxygen so as to limit the range and not gas everyone in the area, but even more rapidly put anyone who breathed it straight to sleep. And they even came with an antidote, for the sake of the guy using them. Rub the oil on your gums, and you could huff the stuff all the livelong day and at worst you’d get a headache.

Too bad the oil tasted like fermented anchovies. “The best flavor,” the Gaoians had enthused.

For Tom’s money, though, the most effective weapon in his arsenal was an ordinary steel pry bar. All he had to do as the APA’s van full of nasties rolled up was step smartly behind it and thread the pry bar through the door handles as it stopped. The guys inside tried to open the door and he popped a gas pellet through the crack, then darted round the front, flashed the two assholes in the front seat with the nerveshock…

Done. Both men slumped in their seats and started to drool on each other. And crap themselves in a few minutes, but that was the clean-up crew’s problem, not his. The important bit was speed. They couldn’t spend more than a couple seconds on each van.

There were three. This first one had come up 6th Ave and been stopped half a block from the park, held up by some inconvenient road barriers that lent that little bit of extra credence to Tom’s Con-ed jacket and blue hard hat.

The second was coming along W 42nd, where it would be held up next to the library by some sign-waving isolationist protestors. And the third was going to find itself boxed in by a pair of very inconsiderate yellow cabs at the corner of 43rd and 6th.

All of that, though, was the easy part. If Riddick had been right about spotting Hyde, then…

Well, they’d been nervous and a little…uneasy…letting someone outside the Service be so involved in their principal’s security. They’d had discussions over the prior weeks, and at some point there had been some demonstrations. Including some mat time.

Riddick—Hoeff—turned out to be a tough and impressive tank of a man, and had managed to single-handedly humble three of Tom’s fellows at the same time, effortlessly, and with brutal efficiency. He did that despite being at a significant height disadvantage, too.

That had bruised some egos, but he wasn’t done. They next went to the range, where they ran scenarios together and recovered some pride…but then he showed them how to shoot. Which was saying something, since Tom could bullseye a rabbit at three hundred meters with plain ol’ ironsights. They hadn’t needed any more convincing after that. If Hyde was what they believed her to be, then aside from some serious small arms or, well, one of those monsters they keep on Cimbrean—or Julian himself, in another situation—it was hard to imagine anyone better to take her down.

Tom listened to the last muffled thump as some particularly hardy motherfucker in the back of the van finally succumbed to the gas, then turned back to the work he was pretending to do.

“Gas main fixed, send in cleanup,” he reported.

Cleanup, of course, would be a regular police dispersal once the TV segment was over. Which it would be in just a few minutes, once they came back from commercial.

“Hyde is taking aim.” somebody said.

“Acknowledged.” Riddick. He sounded entirely calm.

Tom gritted his teeth. Etsicitty was wearing the latest in personal shield tech, a “speedbump” shield designed to rob an incoming bullet of most of its energy and deflect it, rather than stop it entirely. He’d probably be fine even if Briggs did shoot him… but the mission would be an abject failure. They could not allow the APA to pull off yet another attack on American soil, let alone an assassination on live TV like had happened to poor Steven Lawrence.

And despite everything, their infiltrators in the APA hadn’t been able to dig up Hyde’s whereabouts. This was the only way to lure her out and neutralize her, one way or the other.

Tense seconds followed.

“Bravo neutralized.”

“Charlie neutralized.”

Tom tried not to visibly sigh in relief. The three van-loads of armed men were all dealt with, anyway. Even if the APA won today and got a shot off on Etsicitty, there’d be no casualties.

Somebody grunted heavily on the radio, a pained noise.

Their controller was on it instantly. “SITREP.”

No reply.

“Riddick, status?”


Hoeff’s voice had the wheezy, gasping quality of a man who’d just had the wind knocked out of him.

“How you doin’ buddy? You good?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Hyde backhanded me through a fuckin’ wall… She’s on the move. Headed for the roof.”

“Medic, go check on Riddick. Everyone else in pursuit.”

“Naw, don’t bother. Julian’s done way worse… In pursuit, takin’ the west stairs.”

Well, damn. Tom doubted he’d be able to bounce back from something like that. He didn’t dwell on it, though, he was already in motion toward the target building, along with the rest of the agents.

Dispatch had different plans.

“Wonderboy: Move to 39th street, short black building opposite the alleyway. Hershey: 40th street, red brick building with the fire escape next to the hotel. Those are her best ways down off the rooftops.”

Tom was Wonderboy. He changed course and tore down 6th, leaving a few scandalized and gossiping pedestrians in his wake as hung a sharp left at the corner and sprinted the leather off his boots. Sure enough there was a two-storey black building on the north side of the road about halfway down, and behind that he could see a fire escape.

“Jesus! She just jumped down four storeys!” somebody blurted. “Wonderboy, she’s headed your way!”

“Copy,” Tom grunted, fetching up next to a bus and discreetly gripping the familiar weight of his sidearm under his clothes. Somehow, though, he really didn’t feel like that the SIG Sauer P229 was going to do much to somebody who could literally punch a man through a wall.

But he was in position, and dammit she was not getting through him…

Bill Briggs-Davies

The party started with a bang alright: A heavy crunching one as somebody bust the door in behind her. Bill spun, cursing, her shot ruined as she startled violently. She had just enough time to recognize Hoeff as he blitzed in through the wrecked door and aimed something that looked like a fuckin’ Maglite at her, then—


Bill had put up with a fuck of a lotta pain in her life. This one felt like a really bad electric shock, like the time she’d been tied to a bed and jolted over and over again with a stun gun. Another “show” for the Internet. She’d been nine years old.

Whatever Hoeff used felt a lot like that: it ripped through her whole body, locked up her muscles, left her numb. The rifle fell from her fingers as she collapsed, too stunned and locked-down to even scream. For an instant, just an instant, she was a scared and confused little girl again, promising she wouldn’t tell, she’d never tell if they’d just please stop hurting her…

Then she was back. And she was MAD.

Hoeff made a satisfying ”Whuff!!” noise as her lashing fist caught him unexpectedly in the chest and flung him through the air. He smashed through a wall which crumpled around him, depositing him in the next room in a shower of drywall and wood splinters.

Bill lurched to her feet. He was writhing as he tried to draw breath, and he’d dropped his flashlight gizmo. She grabbed it. Mission was a bust, no way she had time to pop Etsicitty now.

She ran.

Roof access. Stairs. Pounding feet, shouting voices. Up. Door at the top, not locked, fuck opening it. Through.


Ways down? Two, she remembered. Probably watched. Fire escape down the closer one, too slow again. Had to go for the back way.

She ran to the edge of the roof and stopped. Too far down to jump, even for her. Fire escape? Too slow. Other side of the roof was a taller building, but there was a ledge on the back side. She scrambled over a bank of air conditioning units toward it, saw at the last second that she could go down instead of up…

She jumped down, rolled hard on the concrete. Scared the shit outta some pigeons. Next ledge was four storeys down, but nowhere else to go at this point. She was committed, and it was a long fuckin’ way down if she missed her step.

Shouting behind her. She ignored it, vaulted over the edge, held on, dropped.


She hit hard, but rolled through it again. Her ankle went click in a painful way and she lay on the little strip of concrete for a second with the wind knocked out of her.

“Bill. Report!” Her handler had finally figured out something was wrong.

She groaned and rolled over. “We’re rumbled.” The ankle already felt better. Thank fuck for the Cruezzir.

“Are they chasing you?”

“They’re trying!”

“Can you escape?”

“I’m trying!”

“You remember the rendezvous?”

“You’d better fuckin’ be there!”

Another drop down. Six storeys, this time. Good way to break the fuck out of her legs or maybe splatter her skull all over the yard… but there was a drainpipe. She shimmied along the ledge. She could hear shouting bouncing off the walls around her. No idea if any of them could see her, maybe they’d just blow her brains out with a rifle…

She reached the drainpipe and skidded down it, skinning and cutting her fingers as she tried to control her descent. Somehow, it didn’t fall apart on her until she was only two storeys up.

She handled that landing like a goddamn cat, on her feet, hands out, stood there for a moment as surprised by herself as she was glad to be back on solid ground. Her ankle didn’t like it much, but the fucking thing could shut up.

The back of the black building was easy enough. She ran at it, then up it, kicked her foot down the wall to gain some height, stretched up with one hand to grab the top and hauled herself over.

She dropped down off the roof to the shock of some nearby New Yorkers, who got the fuck outta her way. All except for a Con-Ed worker, who was suddenly advancing on her with a pistol drawn, yelling for her to stand down.

Maybe it was the adrenaline, but even he seemed to be moving slow as fuck. She decided to try Hoeff’s flashlight gizmo. Aimed it at him.

The guy might be moving slow, but his trigger finger didn’t, and the makeshift armor under her jacket turned out to be not that great. Getting shot hurt, and the flashlight thingy didn’t work at all.

Fuck it. She launched herself at the dumbass with the gun. He got a second shot off that she didn’t even feel, and then she palmed his head and smashed it good and hard against the side of a bus. There was a kinda wet splash, sticky stuff everywhere. A lot of nearby folks screamed and started running away.

Fuck yeah. Bill could get used to this shit.

No time to have fun, though. Save that for later, if she got away. She saw the alleyway and sprinted toward it. There was a chain-link fence over the end, but whatever: She jumped clean over it.

In mid-air, something happened to her left hand. A kind of hard tug, and after that the after-echoes of a powerful gun shot.

She whipped her head around to look back and there was Hoeff, shirt ripped up and his left arm holding up a fuckin’ monster of a pistol. He wasn’t charging after her, and she could guess why: She might be able to leap over roadworks and a fence, but he looked like he was barely standing. Fucker must have sprinted the whole way over to catch up.

She ducked as he fired again. Brick dust showered on her, got in her hair and her mouth. She darted back into the alleyway, around the corner and tried to wipe the dust out of her eyes…

…Her fucking hand was missing.

Her arm just… ended, in an ugly mash of meat with two sharp bits of bone sticking out. In a kind of distracted way she noticed that it wasn’t actually bleeding all that much, and it didn’t even really hurt. Was that the Cruezzir?

…Fuck, she hoped Cruezzir meant it’d grow back.

Okay, fuck subtlety. The time had come to put a long way between her and whatever else these bastards had. She turned and crashed through the back door of some place that turned out to be a restaurant. A couple of cooks gave her a shocked look as she vaulted the counter, then breakfast diners out in the front shrieked and scattered as she plowed through and out the plate glass window in the front, cradling her new stump to her belly.

She skidded on her butt over the hood of a taxi, jinked in front of a honking pickup, into another alleyway and toward the waiting black car with its open back door. Crashed onto the back seat, hauled the door shut with her good—only—hand and gave her handler a wild look in the mirror.

He pulled out into traffic like it was just another weekday morning. “Get your head down.”


“Head. Down.”.

Bill did as he said and laid across the seat. “Dude, my hand–!”

“Cover yourself.”


“Your hand’s not gonna fucking matter if you’re spotted, cover yourself!”

There was a black tarp over the seat, the same color as the upholstery. Bill dragged it down on top of herself with a groan and lay there gasping.

“…You bleeding?” the handler asked after a second.

Bill whimpered as she inspected the wreckage where he limb ended. “…Not as much as I thought,” she admitted. Part of her was freaking the fuck out, but the rest was weirdly ice calm.

“Good. The Cruezzir should deal with that. We have a bigger problem.”

“Is this gonna grow back?”

“No. But you’re not gonna die, and we can deal with that later.” The Handler’s driving was getting on Bill’s nerves. She would have been flooring it away from the scene like a bat out of hell, but the fucker even stopped for a red light.

“I think I got shot, too.”

“You think.” The Handler grunted. “Better check.”

Bill groaned and tried to inspect herself. As it turned out, the steel plate in her jacket had stopped the bullet. She found a neat hole through her upper arm, clean through the meat. She hadn’t even felt that one. She also found a number of cuts and scratches, all of which were healing way faster than any other she’d had in her life. She wasn’t quite Wolverine, but goddamn if the Cruezzir wasn’t working.

“…Except for the hand, I think I’m okay,” she decided.


“I mean, the hand is kinda a big deal,” Bill repeated. She felt like he wasn’t taking that point seriously enough.

“What do you want me to do about it right now?” He clicked the indicator on and smoothly turned right. “What can I do? Look, we were clearly set up here. They were waiting for us. All three of the trucks went silent and then you were attacked. We must have a seriously high-level infiltrator, so for all I know there’s a drone tailing us even as we speak and we’re about to be intercepted at any second. If that happens, I guess you’ll get your hand seen to.”

Silence fell. After a minute or two, Bill inspected her wounds again. They were definitely healing.

“…What happens next?” she asked.

“…Assuming we aren’t being followed,” the Handler added, “We have some planning to do. But you let me worry about that.”

He turned the radio on, and that seemed to be the end of the conversation. Bill shut her eyes, laid her head back, and tried to just… cope.

But failure was a damn difficult thing to cope with. In the end, exhaustion and pain and the adrenaline crash and the fact she’d been awake all night combined to lull her into a doze.

She knew one thing, though. She was going to get her revenge.

Date Point: 16y6m AV
Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Daar, Great Father of the Gao

Daar felt like he could stare into the fire for days.

It was as if…as if he’d been blind his whole life. He’d finally noticed the change one day while staring at something funny shimmering against the horizon up at High Mountain fortress. It took him the longest time to figger it out, but once he did, he was so excited that he’d been vibrating with glee the whole time they held their quarterly rationing board—most were lifted! He held it together despite that he’d been just itchin’ to finish up so he could go chase that shimmering, strange newness that he was seeing so far away…and then, down in the field…and…

He charged outside to see and it hit him like a wall of bricks to the face. It was as if the world had completely changed. He paused, awe-struck at the vastness of it all. Never had he felt so small! Never had he felt so humbled. Or so blessed, to share this with his love. His Naydi.

Gods but he loved her!

He’d decided to hold court on Cimbrean that week, which was convenient for a lotta reasons, defense planning being one of the most biggest, but another was that it gave him and Naydi ready access to people who could help them understand what the hell they were seeing.

Preed really was the most graciousest host, balls. He didn’t complain or nothin’, just smiled and let Daar crash with them. Every waking moment that Daar wasn’t attending to matters of state, or doing liaison, or visiting people back on Gao, or…any of the billion things he did on any given day, he was either cuddled up with Naydi or play-tusslin’ with Leemu and Gorku.

They talked too, a lot. And so far, Daar was progressing mostly like Gorku did. It was a slow and gradual thing, maybe even slower than Gorku, but once he saw it, he couldn’t ever unsee it. Everything was slowly different. Every single thing. There wasn’t a balls-damned element in his daily life that weren’t enriched by red, and it was growing stronger every day. Holy balls, he just din’t have the words for it. Not yet, anyway.

Naydra had surprised them all by having her new color vision come in fast. Leemu’s had taken a couple of weeks: Naydra’s, a couple of days. Daar and Gorku were the slowest so far. Mighta been a degree thing. Which, Daar’d heard that Human males tended to have color-blindness more often than females, so maybe there was something similar going on?

Well, Daar was a lotta things, but a geneticist weren’t one of ‘em.

It mighta been worse too, ‘cuz Gorku was a very rare fifth degree. Talk about the most bestest of bad luck! By the Female’s reckoning, there were maybe only a few thousand or so fifth degrees possibly alive, and that was before the upcoming census, the first since the war. That Gorku would be one of those precious few, and have his prospects jus’ stomped on by bad developmental luck, and then find himself tied up in this drama…

…Actually, maybe that was why he liked Gorku so much. A lot of fifth degree males went way off the rails when they were young. Bad developmental luck was common, but so were bad temperament, bad injuries, way too much aggression so they’d end up gettin’ kilt long before they’d ever had a chance to breed…

Well, Gorku’d be one of the first fully restored gaoians, so that hadta be pretty good for him! He was still young, not even twenty-one, so he had plenty o’ opportunity to catch up if he wanted. He was workin’ at it, too! And bringin’ not-so-lil’ Leemu along! Daar couldn’t help but like ‘em.

Though that was gettin’ ahead of himself, cuz they only had a sample size of four and one of ‘em—himself—was a totally unique case. There hadn’t never been a recorded case of a sixth-degree male since the Gao learned ‘bout genetics, ‘cept for a couple o’ really well-preserved ancient Stoneback monks. In hunnerds o’ years o’ routine genetic assay for every single cub, they ain’t never seen even one sixth degree, an’ it was to the point they’d thought it was prob’ly impossible now…and then Daar was born. He din’t find out about any o’ that until later, but…well. He always knew something was different ‘bout him. Way different.

It was a good reminder that, for all Daar’s singular gifts, his luck might have been the bestest of them all. That, and the discipline his den Mothers beat into him from a young age, which the Stoneback Fathers then took way, way further than any Mother would ever dare. It sucked at the time, but balls: without that he wouldn’t be a Great Father. Wouldn’t be Daar.

He’d see if he could pay it forward with Gorku. The young Associate had almost everything he needed. Maybe with a little bit of mentoring, and some firm but not unkind encouragement…

Whatever. That was scheming for later. Daar considered that he musta been super happy and content since his mind din’t usually wander that far afield, and that was okay. Been a while since he felt so relaxed! He had Naydi, he had new friends on a weird new adventure with him, he had his weights and his sparring with Champions and HEAT operators and big caveman friends, and everything with the Gao was going super nice right now…

Well, there was some stuff goin’ on with the Humans that might end up not so nice for people Daar cared about. He was confident it’d be taken care of, though; Daar trusted ‘em to do it right, and Champion Thurrsto had personally shared some Gaoian tricks ta’ make sure.

He knew it’d end up okay in the end. And Red was happening in his life! And it was making absolutely everything better! Even the colors he’d always been able to see were better! Greens were…more alive. Blues sometimes became so intense they were almost difficult to look at. Yellows had colors that were actually called orange and some of them blended into something called cream which was so much more…more…

It wasn’t just the vision, either. Everything was getting sharper, more intense. It probably wasn’t to nearly the same degree that poor Leemu had experienced, but he could feel himself sorta…hell, climbing up through the gears, maybe? He’d always had a sharp mind, even next to Humans, but now he was finding himself a bit quicker on the uptake, a bit more eager to obsess over a topic and learn, just like he did when he was young and preparing to Challenge the Champion. Recovery from exercise was just a bit faster, too. Maybe there were improvements in other things too, maybe it was just the general feeling of intensity growing inside him, but he swore that he was just that little bit more attuned to the world around him, just that little bit better. That little bit was a little bit more, every single day.

And he smelled better, too! Sharper, stronger, manlier even! Well, Naydi said so, anyway, and if anyone was an expert on what a Daar should smell like, it was his Naydi.

Anyway. All of those were things he thought about while he stared at the fire, arms and neck curled up around his Naydi, with Leemu and Gorku crushed affectionately under his strength.

The log split open, revealing the glowing embers within. They were such a fantastic shade of what he now knew was ‘orange,’ and it only grew prettier every day. Daar keened and pulled everyone in nice and close for a smashingly tight snuggle. There were some brief chittering protests from the three, but ain’t nobody don’t like cuddles. They sighed happily in unison.

Preed sat in his chair, doing something with a big bowl of freshly-picked garden veggies. They smelled nice! Clean, crisp, kinda sweet! They also sounded like they might be crunchy, and they had a really nice bright green color, too. Preed looked up, gave them one of his affectionate smiles, and stoked another log on the fire.

“I find myself almost jealous, watching you four discover all of this.”

“Maybe we should figure out how to sensitize the Human nose next,” Naydra suggested playfully. She was lying on her back, counting embers as they drifted upward.

“If my nose were any more sensitive, I don’t know how I’d tolerate Gorku after he’s been at his weights…”

“Or me!” Daar said playfully.

“Oh… Fssh.” Naydra made a dismissive sound. “You’d enjoy so much more!”

“‘Specially your own cooking!” Gorku agreed, loyally.

“Gorku, one of these days you’ll figure out that I was never a great cook,” Preed told him. “I was just the best cook on the station.”

“Wassat word Champ Gyotin said? Heresy!”

“Simple home cooking and stews, that’s all,” Preet said as he sat down. “Do you know how long it took me to get the noodles right? I could barely remember how my mother used to do them…”

“Well…I like it.” Leemu was just as loyal as Gorku! “And, uh, My Father…I’m having trouble breathing.”

“…Oh! Sarry.” Daar let go. A little. It was enough for the two to squirm into a more comfortable position but he weren’t gonna let ‘em up just yet. He had more snuggle time to catch up on!

“Is it me, or does red have a scent in my head?” Naydra asked, dreamily. “Not just the one I can smell right now, but whenever I think of it, I feel other things, too. It’s all connected now.”

Daar could definitely sympathize with that. He snuffled at her neck and sighed happily, then rolled everyone over to enjoy a different view.

“Red has always made me think of smoke, and spice, and warm things,” Preed agreed.

“Yeah… but other stuff too.”

“Passion? Rage? Life? Those are other associations humans have with it. Where I grew up, Red is Sunday, the day of Surya so it’s associated with the sun… in China, red is good luck. It also has political connections! In America it means the Republican party, elsewhere it means socialism, or communism, in Thailand it’s the colour of pro-democracy…”

“I dunno if I can load all that into it,” Daar mused. “I’d, uh…mebbe not wanna load it down with how Humans think ‘bout it, yijao?” That was a nice sharp clear thought, which was always nice when he was wallowin’ in sensation. Kinda literally, just then.

“I have some books on colour theory, My Father. You can borrow them if you want.”

“Hmm! I might jus’ take ‘ya up on that, lil’ Brother! Still…meebe we should explore all this on our own. An’ I think you been doin’ that already, ain’t’cha?!”

“I’ve tried.”

Daar decided he needed to encourage the little silverfur, and he did it the only way he knew: smother him in affection. Which was admittedly more of a brownie thing…but whatever.

“Naw! I seen ‘yer paintings, and they’re pretty damn good I think!”

“Hnnngh! My Fath–hrk!!”

“He can’t paint if you squish him, bumpkin…” Naydra said, softly.

“But I ain’t hardly squeezin’ much! We just gotta git him stronger!” Daar felt his tail wag up a storm.

“I think his eyeballs might pop out, my love.” Naydi was trying not to chitter, he could tell.

“Oh…fiiiine.” He let Leemu up, who gasped a little overdramatically. Daar followed up with a fond nip on the ear. “Don’t unnersell ‘yerself, y’hear?”

He was about to pounce on Gorku and spread the love a little more, when Brother Tiyun showed up pretty much from nowhere, like he always did. Sneaky silverfur, he was. He may have been an off-breed Brother of Highmountain but he had to have some Whitecrest in him.

“I have your evening briefing, My Father…”

Daar sighed, rolled over, kicked through his legs and kipped himself up. Life didn’t stop for new colours.

“Alright,” he grumbled. “In private.”

“The Fourth Claw material is very brief tonight, My Father.”

“Oh! Well, less jus’ bubble up, then.”

Daar flowed over to his Bag of Many Things and grabbed his personal privacy button. It made a nice little opaque and silent space just big enough to fit him and an advisor or two; super useful for briefings on the move. He pressed it and enjoyed the very satisfying clunk it made, then shook his head at the sudden very heavy silence.

“Alright, what’s first?” he asked.

Tiyun flicked an ear and ducked in a slight apology. “An update on that matter with Mister Etsicitty. The game went off well. No public notice of anything untoward.”

“Oh? That’s good t’hear. And the rest…?”

“In motion, My Father. From what I can tell, the AEC nations will shortly be purged of the APA’s influence.”

“…Good. I’m glad. Very glad. An’ nothin’ at all outta shape ‘fer my friends?”

“Nothing that we know of, My Father.”

Daar duck-nodded. “Good news! What else?”

“That’s it for the sensitive items. I did say it would be brief, My Father.”

“…Fair ‘nuff!” Daar clicked his Button again, and was again put slightly out of sorts by the sudden presence of background…everything.

“Okay. What else…?”

Tiyun briefed him as they meandered into Leemu’s studio, where his sleek lil’ aide sniffed interestedly at one of Leemu’s paintings. Even as Daar had used to see them they’d been pretty good he thought. Now, of course, they were so much more.

Mostly, it was a bunch of trade deals and Clan actions that the Conclave had somehow (Daar wasn’t sure how) decided needed the Great Father’s approval. He’d made a point of diligently respecting their advice, ‘less it was something completely fur-brained.

It usually wasn’t. Well, sometimes the Sea Clans got a little testy…but they’d always been that way. As long as they weren’t warring over territory out in the archipelagos…

“That concludes my briefing, My Father. Which puts us slightly ahead of schedule, for once. And we need to be, today…”

There was one last game afoot, and it would make getting home difficult, so Daar duck-nodded. “Right, yeah. I s’pose we’d better git our tails in motion, then.”

“Yes, My Father. We’ll want to be back inside Gaoian territory within the hour.”

Leemu sniffed the air and his ears shifted suspiciously as Daar and Tiyun returned to the living room. “Uh…is something wrong? My Father?”

He was a courteous lil’ tail, which Daar always appreciated even if he was still a bit manically nervous. Daar pulled him into a fond and reassuring one-armed hug.

“Ain’t nothin’ ‘ya should worry ‘yer handsome lil’ head over, Leemu. So don’t, ‘kay?”

“…Yes, My Father.”

“Oh, don’t gimme that! If it were something ‘ya needed ‘ta know, I’d tell ‘ya. Now I gotta git goin’ ‘cuz a Great Father’s games never stop…” Daar chitter-sighed resignedly. “An’ believe me, ‘yer better off not knowin’ this kinda shit.”

“Okay.” Leemu seemed happier with that explanation. “I trust you, My Father.”

“An’ I trust you to do the right thing. Anyway! I hear tell there’s a pretty lil’ number over at Ninja Taco who’s taken a shine to ‘ya…”

Daar had to admit, the look of sudden nerves and maybe a bit of fear that flashed across Leemu’s expressions was…well, he would be lyin’ to himself if he claimed he didn’t enjoy it. He…mighta pulled the lil’ Brother in a bit tighter too, jus’ for fun…

“Uh…My f-f-father, I can explain–!”

And that was enough; Daar never let people dangle too long, that would be mean! “Naw! Brother, I’m the most happiest ‘fer ‘ya! She an’ I, uh…well. Les’ just say I remind her way too much o’ some really bad memories from the war.”

Everyone knew what that meant, and both Leemu and Gorku keened in sympathy for her.

“Did…she git her justice?” Gorku was a purebred ‘Back an’ he had exactly the right attitude. Daar was decided; he needed to invest in him.

“Yes. I gave it personally,” Daar growled. “But she don’t know that. I din’t wanna, uh…take advantage. Or ruin the fun.”

“I won’t tell her,” Leemu swore. Daar needed to invest in him, too. Maybe Starmind might be a good fit…

“I’d ‘preciate that a whole bunch, but you can tell her someday, if it’ll help. Anyhoo. Mostly it were a sorta game ‘tween us, yijao? And I’m seriously happy ‘fer ‘ya both. Now go make a cub! When ‘yer ready I’ll send over a nice blanket or somethin’!”

Naydra uncoiled gracefully to her feet, gave Leemu and Gorku affectionate cheek-nips in farewell, shook Preed’s hand, and followed him out.

“It went well,” she commented once they were outside. They both knew she wasn’t talking about their visit and ‘color therapy’ session.


She snuggled up to his arm. “I’m glad.”

“We do have a request of your time from the Mother-Supreme, My Father,” Tiyun interjected. “And there shouldn’t be any transit problems from the Island portal…”

Daar whined softly. “I know. I’d better go. Both of us, ‘specially you Naydi.” Daar gave her a significant look. She seemed resigned to what this meeting was likely to mean.

“…Yes,” she agreed. “We’d better.”

Duty called.

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 – Chapter 1 (NSFW)

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Good Training – Survival Part 2

Date point: 14y 7d AV Planet Akyawentuo, The Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Later that day Julian Etsicitty It was approaching mid-day and the day’s morning work had been taken care of. The scouts had come back and reported that the nearby werne had just calved and would need to be left alone for a

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 6

Date Point: 16y2m AV Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Daar, Great Father of the Gao “Poor bugger hardly knew which way is up…” Powell grunted, once Wagner was gone. “Who can blame him? His whole crew going violently psychotic on him with no warning, only to be stasis-hopped right into a Corti’s lab being sniffed

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Rising Titans – Chapter 46

9 Years, 6 Months, 14 Days After Eridani Landing Jikse Diana blinked in surprise as the jungle was suddenly lit up by a fantastic reddish glow, glancing behind her towards the city Diana watched as another blast of energy, identical in color to the flash fell from the sky. Unable to see from her vantage

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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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