The Deathworlders – Chapter 57: Cat and Mouse – Worlds in the Dark Part 3

Date Point: 16y6m AV
The Oval Office, the White House, Washington DC, USA, Earth

President Arthur Sartori

Sartori had a pen, a fine bespoke fountain pen commissioned for him as a gift from the King of England. It was the kind of subtle, classy gift that carried weight beyond mere ounces and symbolism beyond that of an ordinary writing utensil. He used it for when official hand-writing or the Presidential signature was needed, but it wasn’t his best pen.

His best pen was a Meisterstück he’d inherited from his grandfather, and he saved it for personal hand-writing. It slid freely and evenly across any paper, and the paper Sartori was using right now was the absolute best. It made writing easy, though in this case he was writing slowly and carefully. This was a letter to be done correctly. There were a few lives hanging on his conscience today, but United States Secret Service agent Thomas Child’s hung the heaviest.

He’d known Child, a little. The young man had been on his personal protection team a few times and Sartori made a point of knowing the men who would, if necessary, throw themselves in harm’s way to save him. He memorized their birthdays and a few details about their personal lives. Child had been unmarried and without any kids of his own, but he had a nephew he adored, and had collected vintage tobacco tins. He’d been left-handed, and had a golfing handicap of 15.

His family deserved more than an impersonal form letter.

Sartori refilled and cleaned the pen while consulting the draft letter he’d typed up, then nodded to himself and applied the nib to inscribing the next sentence.

…Although I cannot disclose the exact nature of the operation, I want you to know that Thomas fell protecting not merely our nation’s powerful but, much more nobly, that he fell defending the ordinary and the innocent…

It was not, in the end, a long letter, and it consisted of nothing but platitudes as far as he could tell. He bitterly wished it could have been more substantial, but there was nothing more he could write without saying too much.

Still, he poured himself into it line after line until finally he reached what felt to him like a stilted and awkward ending.

You and your family remain in my thoughts and prayers. May Almighty God bless you.

—Arthur Sartori
President of the United States of America

And with that, it was done. It wasn’t enough, but it was done. He screwed the cap on and returned the pen to his inside jacket pocket, before standing to prowl aimlessly around the office.

It was getting very late. Sunset was turning the White House pink, and touching the trees and lawn with a hint of summer fire. He watched the purples and reds in the sky for a while, trapped in a mood he didn’t want to escape.

In the end, he was lifted out of it by a knock on the open door. Steve Beckett joined him with a sympathetic expression. He was one of only a half-dozen people in the building, never mind the wider world, who knew exactly what sort of things were on the President’s mind tonight.

“We’ve got them,” he said, shutting the door behind him.

“Got them?” Sartori asked, sitting down on the arm of one of the twin cream couches in the middle of the room.

“The APA’s NYC cell broke communications discipline: What happened to them in Manhattan panicked them. We pull on that loose thread, and they will unravel.”

“Good.” Sartori returned to the Resolute desk and slid the finished letter across its surface. “Here.”

Beckett read. His expression didn’t change much, but he nodded and gave Sartori a knowing look. “You put your soul into this one.”

“He was a good man. Loved his nephew like life itself.”

“You didn’t kill him, Arthur.”

Sartori sighed, and transferred the letter to his out tray. “Never tell me that, Steve.”

Beckett said nothing.

“…The… other matter?” Sartori asked after a second.

“Being addressed as we speak.”

“I suppose I should go to bed. Though I just know I’ll be woken up in the middle of the night by, uh… some crisis.”

“…Yes, Mister President.”

“I don’t know how I’ll sleep, Steve.”

Beckett did something that would have been a smile, if it had reached his eyes. “I think you’ll find you rest more easily than you think. Good night, sir.”

Sartori nodded. “Good night.”

He was left alone again. True to his word, he retired to the bedroom suite, changed into his pajamas, and climbed into bed. The sky was still a little light outside and he lay there and considered it, certain that he wouldn’t rest as well as Beckett had predicted, and even more certain that he didn’t want to.

Nevertheless, he did.

Date Point: 16y6m AV
HMS Sharman (HMNB Folctha), Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Captain Anthony “Abbott” Costello

“Evening, sir.”

Powell had never moved to a bigger office. Apparently he liked the small one he’d occupied since the HEAT had first moved to Sharman, and Costello could see why. It had a decent but not distracting view, and it was right at the top of the stairs so he didn’t have to squeeze through the admin building’s narrow hallways to get to his desk.

Besides. He’d left his mark on it now, moulded it to himself. The office had spirit thanks to Powell.

He was playing with Bozo when Costello arrived, engaged in a claw-scrabbling game of tug-o-war over a length of cargo strap that was probably going to give up before either man or dog would. “How’s he holdin’ up?”

Costello smiled at the way Bozo contrived to welcome him with a wag and a glance that said, with canine eloquence, ‘I’m happy to see you, but I’m a little busy right now.’

“As well as can be expected, I think. Firth is less happy with the likely consequences for making Chief, but he knew that was coming.” He sat down. “Something came up?”

“Aye.” Powell let Bozo win their game, and the dog trotted a circuit of the room with his prize in his mouth and his tail proudly up. “Turns out the US government just thwarted a terrorist attack in New York, but not wi’out some interesting complications. The APA got their hands on some Cruezzir, dosed up one’a their worst psychos with it an’ let her loose in public. She got away.”

“I thought the Crude was a controlled substance?”

“Not Crude. Cruezzir. The original full-fat shit. And aye, that stuff was controlled as hell too, but it’s startin’ to look like the APA have friends in lots of places they shouldn’t.

“…Hmm. That’s…alarming.”

“That’s one word for it.” Powell handed over a tablet. “Read.”

Costello had mastered the art of quick-reading pretty much anything put in front of him. It was practically instant: he saw the page, took it all in, swiped down. He hadn’t been able to do that before the Crue-D, but nowadays he took it as one of the areas his training had really paid off.

The file’s contents were a hastily assembled jumble. The Secret Service, it seemed, were busy pulling on a loose thread that was unravelling practically as fast as they could tug on it… but with some conspicuous and troubling gaps.

Of codename HYDE—Wilhelmina Briggs-Davies—or a figure known even to the captured APA terrorists only as ‘The Handler,’ there was no sign.

The part that made Costello grunt and pull a small face was when he got to a list of the actors and agents involved in the little silent drama in the park.

“So. They brought one of our guys in, and used a friend of ours as bait. And they’re telling us because…?”

“Courtesy. Mostly.”

The tablet pinged as an increasingly confused Costello handed it back. Powell inspected the new message, and the tiniest of vindicated smiles briefly lifted the corner of his mouth.

“…Good news?” Costello asked.

“Expected news. Daar just caught the very last jump out off the Island, instead of staying overnight like he usually would.”

“What does that mean?”

“Best if we don’t dwell on it, I think,” Powell reasoned. “Less said, the better.”

Costello blinked, then shrugged. “So what are we doing about Folctha’s APA cell?” he asked.

“Don’t see why we have to do owt. It’s a Colonial Security matter. They fook with us and ours and I’ll want in, but if not it’s for the best if we leave it to the police.”

“So… what did you call me here for, sir?”

Powell’s reply was a grim smile, and he drained his tea. It wasn’t an expression Costello had seen often: a good deal less nice than usual, and that wasn’t even a word that most people would have applied to Powell at the best of times. Whatever was going on, the Colonel knew a lot more than he’d let on.

All he said, however, was three words, spoken as he set down his empty cup.

“…Wait and see.”

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

Ross Guillory, United States Secretary of Agriculture

“Unscheduled maintenance? The whole array terminal?”

“Apparently, sir. They say it will be up again by tomorrow afternoon.”

“We may as well just fly out to Franklin and go home that way! This is ridiculous!”

“I’ll see if that can be done, sir. I’m told there’s no communications disruption, it’s just passenger traffic that’s affected…”

“I don’t care. I want to be back on Earth as soon as humanly possible, and I don’t care if we have to go through a cargo array instead! Make it happen!”

Guillory’s personal aide fled the room with an expression like a kicked puppy, and Guillory did an angry sort of march around the Statler Hotel’s VIP suite to silently vent his frustrations.

Great. Just fucking wonderful. As a personal favor to the President—a man he considered a friend despite also being an enemy—he’d come all the way out to ground zero of humanity’s greatest shame to assist with a trade deal between Franklin and Folctha. Cimbrean was a slap in the face of everything he quietly stood for; it had an actual ongoing planetwide ecological disaster because some stupid bitch couldn’t be assed to dig a fucking latrine. He’d endured the insult silently and had to spend time in the company of that insufferably old-fashioned ambassador while the most important event of his life was underway.

And, apparently, failing. Every news station in the world should have been focused on New York, but instead it was a slow news day. ESNN were covering the launch of the RSS Steve Irwin, a research vessel that Guillory personally held to be yet another avatar of humanity’s shame. Its entire job would to catalog Cimbrean’s native oceanic life before the invading Earthlings ate them all.

Today should be going down in history. Today should have been the moment Sartori and Washington and the whole world had it beaten into them just what kind of extreme measures were needed to protect alien life from the scourge of humanity.

Today, the only thing anyone on social media was talking about was Julian fucking Etsicitty and his poor duped fucking monkey-pals. Their grotesque minstrel show up in the trees was a social media coup too. All three of them were big, beautiful, unstoppably charismatic people doing what they did best in front of cameras, complete with a very pretty reporter unconsciously ogling Julian’s ridiculous body; the internet was already memeing the everlovin’ hell out of that.

It was enough to make him sick. Guillory grumbled for a while before finally saying “fuck it!” to the empty room, and deciding to order some room service. Whatever had gone wrong would just have to go wrong without him. Hopefully it was just that the Handler had spooked and called it off.

They’d passed over some other and arguably better opportunities for this because the Handler had said they felt a little too perfect, like they were staged. He was a paranoid man, but then again that was and had always been his job.

Guillory’s musing and brooding were interrupted by his phone. He picked it up, and reminded himself to be civil: His frustrations and nerves couldn’t be allowed to get the better of him and cause him to say something he’d later regret.


He listened to the bad news, and sighed. Franklin’s smaller and less developed jump terminus would be on the ‘international’ end of its long slow cycle and so flying out there would actually get him home slower than just waiting for the Folctha terminus to resume normal operations, and the cargo arrays absolutely would not transport passengers for safety and insurance reasons.

He gave up, and decided to be conciliatory. “ …Never mind. I’ll take the jump tomorrow…Yeah. Sorry for being snippy…no no, I should be more polite…right…Okay. Thanks. Bye.”

Guillory was in a foul mood, but he had an expense account and he was damn well gonna use it. He pulled up the hotel’s on-screen room service, ordered the best steak they had on the menu, along with a “Gaoian sampler” just because he was feeling extra hateful of everything, and rounded it off with a small bottle of wine. If he was stuck in the Statler’s admittedly excellent VIP suite for the night, then there was no sense in wasting the luxury.

The food arrived courtesy of a short, broad-shouldered fireplug of a brute wearing the hotel’s immaculate white uniform. “Your dinner, Secretary Guillory.” His voice was deep and gravelly almost to the point of menace, despite his polite, mild demeanor.

“Yes, thank you. On the desk, please.”

He delivered the wheeled cart to the middle of the room, pulled out a corkscrew and opened the wine with a practiced, effortless motion. Which was odd, since despite his obviously impeccable training, the man seemed wildly out of place. Rarely did wait staff have hands so broad and thick-set they were noticeable even through gloves, or a neck so sturdy he couldn’t fasten the top buttons of his shirt. Definitely a demerit for the uniform tailors, there.

Incongruous brutishness aside, there was certainly nothing bad to be said about his skills, oh no. The waiter deftly poured wine into the glass, set it on the table, and set to preparing the rest of the meal. Part of that involved making fresh hollandaise at the table, a luxurious touch Guillory had never experienced. Top points for that.

He offered some polite, absent thanks and decided not to worry about it. This whole planet was full of fitness freaks, after all, and the governments slapped some hefty extra taxes on residents who didn’t exercise. If they all wanted to be parodies of the natural human form, so be it. In short order an immaculate spread was laid out on his desk. The waiter stood to the side and even had a crisp linen draped over his forearm. Extra points for style.

Guillory picked up his wine and drank about half as he watched the research ship’s champagne ceremony, ignoring the food for now.

The wine, it had to be said, was excellent. He sniffed appreciatively at it, finished the glass, then frowned as he felt a… peculiar… sensation rush up on him from behind.

He fell quite suddenly, and the tanky little man somehow appeared behind him without making the slightest sound. He caught Guillory with one hand, the wine glass with the other, and in one deft movement had both safely under control. The effortlessness of the whole thing…

Once the waiter had placed the glass on the desk, he picked Guillory up like he was as light and precious as a sleepy child, padded silently across the room and gently laid him across the bed. Guillory was by no means a small or frail man and felt a rush of embarrassment at his sudden weakness, and tried ineffectively to move and steady himself….

“Ssh, relax.” The man’s gravely voice was almost gentle. “No point in bein’ uncomfortable.”

He couldn’t—Guillory tried to speak, and the words…he couldn’t talk. He couldn’t talk!

The man in white entered his field of view with a blank, calm expression. Guillory blanched as a lance of white-hot fear shot through him. There was no way any mere waiter or chef or whatever had ever had eyes like that. Guillory had never met anyone who did before. If the eyes were the window to the soul, then this soul had sent many others on their way ahead of him.

Then he noticed some of the details. The man had white gloves on…and the waiters in the hotel normally didn’t. The uniform came right up to his collar and covered everything up to the man’s tree-trunk of a neck. He had no long hair, no beard, no piercings, nothing…

…Nothing that might leave evidence.

“I am sorry, Secretary Guillory,” the man said, quietly. The apology seemed weirdly genuine. “Arthur conveys his sympathies, his apologies, and his personal disappointment.”

…Oh God, oh fuck!

With that, the man effortlessly tidied Guillory into a comfortably dignified position on the bed, as though he’d just taken a nap in his clothes: on his right-hand side, just like he normally slept. He also pulled off Guillory’s suit coat, removed his shoes, removed his tie, loosened his belt, opened his pant’s waist and undid the cufflinks, all exactly like Guillory would have done. He could do nothing but quietly rage at the personal violation, and marvel in the back of his head at the attention to detail. For his part, the man had no trouble at all maneuvering Guillory or wrestling him into position, despite that he’d been reduced to a two hundred and fifty pound sack of limp meat.

That was the most terrifying part of his sudden predicament. Guillory had never felt so helpless.

Satisfied with his work, the man then silently hopped off the bed, tidied the comforter and pillows, padded over to the desk, and re-covered the food. He moved out of Guillory’s field of view for a moment and did something with the TV. He was, Guilllory realised, carefully removing every trace of his presence, including any sign that Guillory had ordered a meal.

Guillory was starting to have trouble breathing, now. And his heart was suddenly racing in his chest. Somehow, he knew that wasn’t from his own terror. He tried to say or do anything, but the most he could coax from his traitorous body was a strangled, panicked grunt. That at least made his…his assassin look back at him.

The man again seemed polite and almost sympathetic. He proffered some advice.

“Nobody is coming, I’m afraid. And it won’t be quick, or painless, but you’ll have about a half an hour before it gets bad. Try and fall asleep if you can. After that…”

He shrugged, matter-of-factly. Guillory tried, and failed, to whimper. His secret service agents should have burst into the room, they were in the adjacent suites…

With a lance of horror, Guillory realized they’d been compromised. They wouldn’t be dead, because that would ruin the assassin’s work. They were working together! His team had undergone a routine rotation about five months ago…

Oh my God… Guillory realized this must have been in the works for months. Against that level of pre-meditation, against the President’s secret service… His doom was certain.

Guillory could do nothing about it besides helplessly watch the assassin’s work. The man took a minute or so more to finish cleaning up, then wheeled the cart back to the door. Once he’d done that, he quietly laid down a big sheet of plastic, carefully pulled off his fake uniform to include the shoes, then stripped down to his skin.

Guillory would have gulped if he could. The man was a study in powerfully knotted masculine geometry, the kind which spoke loudly about hard-earned ability and his willingness to use it.

But other than that, the assassin was fascinatingly plain. He was quite handsome yet generically so. He had no obvious racial features beyond a plain American blend of “white.” There were no tattoos on his body, no scars, no body hair, no physical malformations, no significant asymmetry, and yet no remarkable symmetry. There was absolutely nothing about him besides his height and extreme muscular fitness that might serve as identification. In a normal place that might have been of some use, but here on Cimbrean…

If Guillory somehow survived this experience, there would be little useful to tell the police. But he wouldn’t, he knew. That realization gave him a strange sort of calm. Nothing he could do.

Once stripped, the assassin pulled out a suitcase from the cart’s lower shelf and quietly bundled the old clothing up in another plastic sheet, then stowed it in the suitcase. Another suitcase came out, and then he quietly and efficiently did…something to the cart. The cart’s table folded down, its legs extended out…

A lance of pain fired down Guillory’s left arm. Heart attack in my sleep, then. At least Arthur left him his dignity. Finding himself resigned to his fate, he watched on, fascinated.

The cart now looked exactly like one of the hotel’s luggage carts. Leaving the rest of it aside, the assassin’s alarming quietness again struck Guillory as the most frightening part. His killer loaded the first suitcase onto the cart, then bundled the remaining evidence of his deadly room service into the other. That left nothing left but the large plastic sheet and his nakedness to resolve.

He had a plan for that, too. The burly little killer reached for a large packet of some kind, broke its seal and pulled out…hell, a gigantic moist towelette or something. He then carefully wiped himself down, broke the seal on another packet, and pulled on a full-body running suit of the kind the local fitness fanatics wore for jogging in Folctha’s ice-cold evening rain. The final touch was some thin running gloves on his sturdy feet.

That done, he carefully folded up the plastic sheet and stowed it in one of the suitcases and loaded up the luggage cart, leaving absolutely no sign anything had happened.

Ironically, the dark running suit made the assassin look much more like Guillory might have expected, if it weren’t for the thick reflective stripes running around his biceps and chest. His killer was covered from head to toe, no longer looked anything at all like a hotel employee, and suddenly had such a powerful, intimidating presence, nobody would stop him for chit-chat.

That was probably the intent. The assassin gave Guillory one last look before he left. He nodded, with perhaps the faintest trace of consideration on his face. “Goodbye.”

With that, he was gone. He left the lights and TV on. The slow news day continued, something about persistent rumors regarding the Mother-Supreme’s health… Guillory didn’t listen. He was far too concerned about his own health, especially when, as promised, things grew exquisite. His vision was going unfocused and the pain in his chest was mounting into a sickening, queasy agony that was somehow so intense he couldn’t even scream.

It lasted a long time. Then, very abruptly, it faded. In its wake was the eerie absence of something he’d heard and felt his entire life.

Secretary Ross Guillory lived just long enough to realize that his heart had stopped in his chest.

After that…

Date Point: 16y6m AV
Ark Project, Planet Tangent, the Corti Directorate

Project Archivist Tlenm

The first Corti v2.0 baby was decanted at a healthy weight of nearly double that of an ordinary Corti.

It was a female. Over the ensuing seven hours, her “siblings” all reached the same delicate hormonal tipping point that triggered their gestation chambers into delivering them safely into the world of air and movement, but Female One was the first. And it fell to Tlenm to start her Banner.

A whole new caste had been discreetly invented for the Ark project: Carbon. Tlenm felt that the black cloth of this new caste’s banner was actually rather distinguished and handsome, a sentiment he would have suppressed anywhere else in the directorate.

Here, though… in the Ark Project, the rules were a little different. The “distraction” of sentiment was somewhat less taboo. The Carbon Caste were anticipated to be a universally more passionate breed than the existing Castes, and that demanded an environment which stressed healthy management of emotions, not their relentless suppression.

The very first item on the banner was, of course, name and date of decanting. The gestation unit provided the infant with a name from the approved list, and Tlenm signed off on it as acceptable and appropriate.

He set the machine to stitch it across the top while he composed the Accolade to be recorded beneath. Being the firstborn of one’s species’ hopes for the future was the sort of thing that deserved an Accolade.

In the end, he kept it simple.

Decanted: 7847.226.54, Ark Facility, Tangent, District 1
Serial number: X0012-0002114/X0012-0003445/C000000000001

First of the experimental 12-series generated by the Ark Project using deathworld-derived genetic data. The foundation of a new future.

It was, despite the relative mundanity of recording a newborn’s name and opening their Banner, an important moment in Corti history. Very, very few Corti had ever been born with a known caste and with an Accolade simply for existing. Usually the process of caste determination took years, and hinged in part on the collection of Accolades.

Meru and her siblings were deeply special, Tlenm knew that better than anyone. He took special care over their Banners, and placed each one next to the wriggling newborns as they were delivered into the special care of the creche and the nanny robots that would care for and raise them in the opening months of their lives.

He was surprised by the burst of… affection that settled on him. And another emotion he wasn’t familiar with, a sense of loss when the newborns were out of sight.


He quashed the feeling, and moved on to prepare for the next day’s decanting. There was much to do: by the end of the year, there would be thousands like Meru.

But he knew that he would always consider her to be special.

Date Point: 16y6m1d AV
Presidential bedroom suite, the White House, Washington DC, USA, Earth

President Arthur Sartori

In the end, Sartori was woken at about 4:30am. As always, it took him a confused moment to get his brain into gear. A dream about playing football—not an unpleasant one, but strange in the way of all dreams—slipped into forgotten oblivion, but just for a second he found himself disoriented and wondering how the hell he’d gone from the field to… here…

Then whatever slumbering part of his brain was taking longer to catch up finally fizzed into life and he was awake. He blinked at the alarm clock by his bed, registered the time, then turned his attention to the door.

Whoever was outside knocked again.

“…Come in.”

It was his personal aide, Hagen Hodgkins, who turned the light on as he entered. The young man should have been asleep, but instead he looked like he’d dressed hastily, forgetting a few details about his suit. His shirt cuffs weren’t buttoned up, and his tie was sloppy.

“Mister President, I’m afraid it’s bad news.”

“What happened?” Sartori asked, sitting up and stretching. He suspected he knew, but Hagen wasn’t in the loop. He hadn’t needed to know, and he was too honest, too idealistic and too innocent anyway.

“I’m… afraid we just got an urgent message from Folctha, sir. The Agriculture Secretary was, um… He was… they found him dead in his hotel room, sir.”

Sartori swung his legs out of bed and looked down at his feet. “…Ross is dead?” he asked. He didn’t need to fake the grief in his voice.

“Yes sir. I’m sorry, sir.”

“What happened?”

“They… found him in his bed sir. They think it was probably a heart attack or something, but…”

Sartori sighed. “Well… if so, at least it was quick,” he said. “And merciful.”

An evil, primitive part of his brain supplied the opinion that quick and merciful was a lot better than the treasonous fuck deserved. He crushed that thought and stood up. “I’ll get dressed,” he declared. “And we’ll prepare for the morning press release.”

“I’ll get you a coffee.”

“Get one for yourself,” Sartori replied. Hagen shut the door and he stood in the middle of the room to balance himself.

He’d authorized plenty of deaths. Most had been terrorists and criminals in far-flung corners of the world, and the authorization had been vicarious, filtered by giving his approval to CIA action, air strikes, SEAL teams or other such applications of the state’s occasional duty to end lives.

But he’d spoken at Ross Guillory’s son’s college graduation. He was going to have to write a letter of condolence to the newly widowed Juliet Guillory, and address the nation and praise a traitor for his hard work and dedication to the USA. He was, in short, about to tell a bare-faced lie to four hundred million of his fellow Americans.

But the alternative—honesty—required admitting that the very Cabinet of the United States had been infiltrated by the largest and most successful domestic terrorist organization in the nation’s history.

He got dressed. Picked out a graphite suit with a neutral silver-and-black Prince of Wales tie and the stars and stripes lapel pin, which he paired with simple cufflinks. Today was a day to look somber and plain, not that he needed to fake it.

Hagen had his coffee waiting when he stepped out the door. Sartori accepted it with thanks and sighed at the darkness outside the windows. Early mornings were a hazard of the job, but this one felt extra heavy.

“Do we have anything prepared?” he asked.

“You know Jill. She has speeches prepared for almost any situation.”

“The mark of a good press secretary.” Sartori sipped his coffee again. “I’ll glance over it. Is Margaret awake yet?”

“She’s on her way. Liam’s compiling a shortlist of potential new Ag Secretaries…” Hagen looked a little uncomfortable. “I mean, I know it’s early…”

Sartori sighed and nodded. “It’s okay. We have to be practical and a little callous about these things… I’ll need some time to pen a letter of condolence to his family.”

“Yes sir. More coffee?” Hagen indicated the empty cup.

Sartori handed it over. “Thanks.”

He walked by himself the rest of the way to the Oval Office, alone with his thoughts aside from acknowledging the greetings and commiserations from the few staff who were awake and available at such an early hour.

Let most of them rest. This was his own cross to bear. After all, he’d made it.

But that didn’t make it any less heavy.

Date Point: 16y6m1w AV
Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

They’d had to change the division of labor around the house a bit. Al of course had to be at Anna’s beck and call at all hours, so Julian and Xiù had taken on some of the stuff she usually did to free her up.

For instance: breakfast was Julian’s job now. While Xiù took care of making sure the boys had their homework, school lunches, gym kit and textbooks, Julian juggled bacon, eggs, hash browns and pancakes for five.

He’d even learned a few flourishes from Xiù. A slice of blood orange in the juice, half a strawberry and three blueberries on the pancakes, some finely chopped chives on the eggs… practically zero effort, just a little extra attention to detail, and his breakfasts had gone from functional to gourmet.

His Grandpa had used to say something similar: “Going the extra mile only takes an extra inch.” Julian hadn’t understood it at the time, but now he was definitely gonna pass it on to the kids if he could.

Something to think about discussing with Vemik, too. It seemed like the kind of thought Vemun might benefit from, when he was old enough to listen. God, it was hard to forget sometimes that Vemik was so young, maybe only the equivalent of sixteen…

He looked young too, in exactly the same kind of incongruous way that Adam did, which made it hard for a fella to wrap their head around his friends. Was Adam nineteen? He didn’t have any laugh lines or weathered skin or anything. He looked young. Or was he twenty-eight, which is what his birth certificate would say? And what his freakshow physical development would suggest? Same thing it said for both of them, really.

For that matter, how old was Julian? Those five years in stasis made his age on paper kinda different to the amount of actual life he’d had. And what would happen when those new medicines he’d heard about hit the market? Another twenty years of youth without any of the downsides, if you took care of yourself? He’d be stupid to think people wouldn’t jump on it…

Which would re-open the Crude question for him again, probably. He knew Al and Xiù would be all in on that medicine, and he had a sneaking suspicion the civilian stuff wouldn’t do much for him. He was…probably too much for that stuff to work, being honest. And in any case, what would that mean? Another twenty years in his prime, back to being as youthful as he was when he was abducted? Or something like it, anyway? Except, now he was pretty much an actual gorilla in human form. He kept mostly to himself, but outside of the HEAT he was physically unbeatable, and he knew it. Heck, even among the HEAT…which was a scary idea for someone who would have been effectively nineteen. Except, well, he wouldn’t be, would he? He’d actually be in his fifties. Sorta. How old would he really be?

But still, whatever the answers to those questions were, Vemik was a man of his people by their own view of things. That wasn’t something he could or would disrespect.

Anyway. Breakfast. He’d taken a liking to it, though he tended to eat light in the morning. He preferred a quick jog, then a big meal, and then he’d go tackle the weights later once his chores were done and finish off with a nice long run in the early afternoon.

Nowadays, he needed all that to keep himself feeling limber and relaxed. That was one of those double-edged sword things, really; he’d built himself into something pretty special, even uniquely so if he was being honest, but now he couldn’t stop or he felt awful. Or he felt jittery, anxious, desperate to get some activity…get that dopamine hit, really.

Xiù got it. As much as Julian fretted for how active she was around her pregnancy, she was just as kinetic as ever, though she had at least quit the pole dancing classes when she got her positive test back. She gave him a swat on the butt as she slipped past him and under his arm with the morning’s laundry tucked against her hip, grinned at him, then vanished into the garage.

On the whole, it was a good morning.

Previous Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Next Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Implications

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 4 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 3 (NSFW)

CopRit Empire Sol 77 Of Race 7 Year 4957 PackRat IV, 5 Months out from Halfil I slammed into to deck plating. Coughing, I rolled over onto my side and vomited on the floor, trying to get over the fact that everything was spinning around me. “You know, Humans have perhaps one of the most

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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

Sneaking forwards Kalif slowly tilted his ears to either side and waited in the darkness. Not sensing anything he slowly crept forwards towards the statue, and the artifacts in its base. Slithering as silently as possible Kalif focused his eyes on the objects, as if afraid they might disappear at any time. Reaching the statue

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Mother Earth

Mother Earth. She’s a bitch. A hard ass bitch who tortured every form of life that she brought forth onto her surface. Every life form on her surface had to fight, feed and fuck. After that she didn’t care about what happened, only that they had improved on themselves perhaps a little bit. Life on

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Nyx fired off another shot from her rifle and the Prod nearly 800 meters down the street jerked and ducked into an ally. She frowned and sharpened her gaze on the point where the purple mass had disappeared, looking for the telltale red fragments on the pavement. “More of ’em?” asked Iyo, he was whispering

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 2

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 1

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 3

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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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