The Deathworlders – Chapter 58: Gjallarhorn Part 4

Date Point: 16y7m1w1d AV
Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Daniel Hoeff

I don’t deserve her.

It was a wretched thought, and Hoeff hated it, but it kept popping up in his head as unwelcome and as persistent as door-to-door evangelists.

Because, that was the thing: He didn’t.

Daniel Hoeff was a stone-cold murderer. Stone-cold murderers didn’t deserve to be happy. They didn’t deserve the affection of intelligent, innocent, young and beautifully bookish women. There was something badly wrong with karma if something as good as Claire came his way.

She was nestled in his arms. A delicate, beautiful soul, happily asleep in limbs that had crushed the life out of far too many men. She couldn’t possibly know, or else she’d run.

…Wouldn’t she?

And yet… Hoeff had never hid what he was, even if he’d never told her the numbers. Fuck, he didn’t even know the numbers. Not the total, anyway. He knew exactly how many he’d serviced up close and personal, but If he were to count what he’d done as a SEAL, then…

She either didn’t suspect, or didn’t care. Let it be the first. Please God let it be the first.

Hoeff…wasn’t the type to pray. He had a hard time believing in god after all he’d seen and done over the years. But this time, maybe in weakness…

Please, God, don’t let me be a source of pain to her.

Hoeff couldn’t protect her from what he was by doing anything other than walking away. But if he did that, then he would end up hurting her all the same, and people were gunning for anyone associated with Akyawentuo. If he walked away…he couldn’t keep her safe from them.

He squeezed her close, smiled at her sleepy incoherent mumble, then put his head down and rested.

He didn’t deserve her. But he would do his damndest to earn it.

She deserved nothing less.

Date Point: 16y7m2w AV Alien quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches


Oh… dear.

It had taken Nofl a long and difficult week to dig up what he needed. The Directorate was not, after all, generally forthcoming with its secrets. Especially not when those secrets were potentially damaging.

But, Nofl had a rare and precious commodity on his side: Popularity. There were a lot of quite senior people in the xenomicrobiology, regenerative medicine and deathworld studies colleges who literally owed him their careers.

He’d had to burn a few favors and owe a few favors, but over the course of a long, difficult, expensive and tense week… well, a picture had emerged, filled in as much by the shape of what he wasn’t told as by what he was.

Operating somewhere within the larger structure of the Directorate, it seemed, was a highly secretive division or agency known ominously to those few who’d ever crossed paths with it as “Singularity.”

What he could glean of them was telling. Those of his “friends” who’d met a Singularity envoy had noted their lack of cybernetics and they’d demonstrated repeated and considerable interest in Humans as the only known extant deathworlder sophonts, at least at the time, which suggested long-term interest. So, Nofl had used every erg of his influence and authority as the Directorate’s official representative on Cimbrean to dig deep into the survival experiment on Nightmare.

The file, when it arrived, was a physical print-out of quite some thickness. It had also been accompanied by a note.

Singularity hopes you find the following data enlightening. They assume your well-considered discretion will be helpful to the Directorate’s cause.

Welcome to the accretion disk.

Zanm, Event Horizon.

Also included was a credit token, which Nofl regarded with some suspicion. Clearly, the basic civics course taught to all Corti was not entirely complete.

He made a dairy-free, caffeine-free cappuccino that a Human purist would most likely have turned their nose up at but which was by his standards the height of javaphilic luxury, and sat down to read.

It quickly became apparent that Singularity had been aware of a malign influence on galactic affairs in general and the Corti in particular for a good long while. Nofl decided that was a point in their favor. He’d always hoped his species would be smart enough that somebody could have seen through the Hierarchy and taken steps against them.

Apparently so, though Singularity had mostly thought they were dealing with a rival faction within the Colleges rather than an alien influence. Something within the breeding and genetics colleges, most likely. It was a fair guess: the long-term neutering of the Corti species had indeed been achieved via those institutions, and who in their right mind would seriously entertain the concept that their enemy was a species of digital sophonts from millions of years ago?

To counter the enemy’s genetic ambitions, Singularity had been experimenting on Humans for quite a long time. So long, in fact, that they’d even set up a number of breeding programs, of a sort. Singularity had seen in Humanity the salvation of their own kind from the Hierarchy’s atrophying influence, and had employed abduction, psychology, and outright artificial insemination to nurture a handful of human bloodlines and bring out certain traits.

One “breed” in particular stood out: The “Hardy” strain. Bred specifically for what the name suggested, they were meant to express an idealized constellation of Deathworld survival traits at their fullest possible flower.

They started modestly, with European pioneers and homesteaders from Dakota territory and indigenous Navajo from around about the time of something called the ‘Long Walk.’ Both lines were made of tough, clever, resourceful and hard-working stock. The Navajo in particular had been under a very real threat of extermination, and had made it through on a blend of tenacity, courage and intelligence.

Humans, as it turned out, were a strange form of self-tamed social animal, and that meant their gene pool was in some ways every bit as malleable and expressive as their beloved canine companions. With enough care, it seemed it was possible to bring out fantastically capable specimens in hardly any time at all. Singularity had carefully cultivated several family lines from both groups, and by only the fourth generation exceptional traits had begun to appear.

At which point, the senior researcher had hit on the bright idea of combining the two lines and seeing what a hybrid might be able to accomplish.

He’d found the perfect opportunity in a conscientious objector whose moral qualms about the Vietnam War had left him… exposed. Nofl glossed over the details, he really didn’t need to know the specifics of exactly how a secret Corti inner circle played matchmaker among Humans… But the end result, two generations and a discreet abduction later, had been…

Well, had been a wild success, far, far beyond their initial projections.

After six generations, Singularity had successfully created Julian Etsicitty.

In fact, Nofl reflected as he sipped his coffee, “oh dear” really wasn’t a sufficient reaction on his part. He plumped for swearing instead.

“Well… fuck,” he announced to the empty room, and decided that, yes, that was much more appropriate. “Fucking Hell,” he added, on the grounds that one shouldn’t half-ass these things.

Satisfied—or at least, less dis-satisfied—h e turned the page and opened the next document: Experiment NIGHTMARE-GreenTriangle-WhiteCircle-1201-1, Subject 7.

Singularity hadn’t wanted to waste their champion hybrid. Preparing for the experiment that stranded Julian on Nightmare had taken several years, with subjects 1-6 being a series of other unfortunates. The first three were ordinary, though fit and skilled humans. They had survived for those several years too, but eventually succumbed variously to misadventure, extremely aggressive parasites, and a fatal error in judgement.

Subjects 4-6 had been Hardy strain humans, plucked from elsewhere around the North American continent. All three had been distant cousins of Julian’s, though not close enough for the link to be obvious. The difference was a lack of survival training and psychological suitability, though for mostly untrained and unprepared humans alone in the wilderness of the most dangerous planet in the galaxy, they had done surprisingly well. Sheer physical prowess had got two of them through four seasons, but they too eventually perished from cumulative errors in judgement, and the unfortunate consequences thereof.

Singularity’s initial hypothesis was confirmed: It took more than either impressive skill or impressive biology to survive Nightmare. Their conclusion was that even a sapient Deathworlder from a very high class-12 world needed to be the very best example of his kind’s abilities, if he was to survive Nightmare’s horrors.

The earlier Subjects’ deaths and that inexorable conclusion paved the way for the program’s real focus: Julian, on whom Singularity’s hopes had rested.

The test was straightforward: how would a man, one possessed of the very best survival training and experience, an ideal cultivated psychology, and the fittest bred-for-purpose body that human genetics could feasibly produce, fare against such a challenging environment?

And what else could be done to sustainably maximize his potential to survive? Genetic engineering was right out, which was why they had embarked on a breeding program in the first place. Epigenetic and other effects were far too dominant to model beyond a best-effort guess, and even the Directorate had some ethical limits. Before one could take advantage of all those amazing Human genes, one had to understand them from every possible angle.

That meant experimentation. Lots of experimentation, including and especially around medical procedures. Some of which, Nofl was dismayed to learn, had been essential to validating his work on regenerative medicine. And observation, too. Endless observation.

And, sometimes, like in the case of Julian, all of that at once. With him they had spared no effort and did…a great many things, prior to his testing on Nightmare. A full medical work-up, complete with deep restorative therapy and other preparatory works; extensive briefings about known flora and fauna; deep hypnotic neuro-conditioning to ensure he was innately wary of the most dangerous threats; full testing against every precursor regenerative component to the eventual production version of Cruezzir; extensive and repeated gamete collection too, oh dear…

And apparently, “partially successful” attempts to clear his memory of many of those experiences, which were limited only by the fear of causing irreparable brain damage to their star Subject. No wonder Julian was so reluctant to talk about the ordeal. What little he properly remembered would have been horrifying to any sane being.

The worst part was the planned experimental run: until his eventual destruction, either by some peril of Nightmare or, in a “fully successful” experiment, his own natural death. The ultimate point of all of it, as Nofl saw it, was simply to see how long it took him to die and what would eventually get him.


In the end, Julian’s rescue by the Rrrrtktktkp’ch pioneer known to most of the galaxy as ‘Kirk’ had left the experiment dangling on an unsatisfying “Results Inconclusive.” That their subject had survived flawlessly and undoubtedly would have lived for decades to come was apparently of no concern to Singularity.

No. They were more concerned with proving out their breeding line for whatever purpose they had, and damn the consequences to the sapient subjects caught up in their machinations.

An unfamiliar feeling welled up inside Nofl. It wasn’t pleasant. He felt his pulse rise, his skin temperature increase, and a kind of audible distortion crept into his awareness… For the first time in his life, he knew, somehow, that he was angry.

Oh, he’d thought he’d experienced anger before. When the Directorate dug their stubborn heels in, when Caste prejudice stymied his studies and career, when he saw the injustices that the whole Banner system imposed on good, talented people… but that had been mere frustration.

This was a whole cocktail of emotions. His skinny frame trembled with the need to crush something, to spit vile biohazardous waste in this Zanm’s face, whoever they were. There was… was that hate? He’d never hated before, but he knew it was. Righteousness, disgust, dismay… It was a barrage of emotions he had always been taught were the driving impulses of evil.

How wrong those teachings had been. He slammed the papers down on his desk with all the force he could muster, cursed the Hierarchy that the most his well-bred body could produce was a pathetic slap, and considered his next move.

And then… anguish. Because the truth surely had to be that there was no next move. Singularity were a Them, a They. Another anonymous player at a board where nobody with any real power showed their face anyway. Nofl, bare-faced and honest as he was, simply wasn’t playing the same game. Even the polite note and this treasure trove of hardcopy had to be just another move in whatever ineffable game they indulged themselves in.

There was nothing for it but to rage impotently at the walls, and that simply wasn’t in Nofl’s nature. His hatred and rage fell away as abruptly as they’d come and left him standing alone in the middle of his lab, bereft even of the ability to properly clench his fists or smash anything.

What did that leave him with?

A patient. Nothing more than that. A patient he could do right by, and while he knew that Singularity surely wanted Julian alive now so they could continue to observe him… there was simply no way to spite them without hurting his friend.

He sighed, accepted that this defeat had come before he had even known there was a battle, and opened the next document in the folder.

There, finally, he found what he needed…. And it was much, much too familiar.

Date Point: 16y7m2w AV
DENEB 341.4° 11-DFWP4-BINARY M-A 4.1, Deep Space

The Entity… stood.

It wasn’t quite standing, at least not quite how the memories of Ava Ríos recalled it. She, of course, had been bipedal whereas the Entity at this point had six legs, or at least three pairs of landing gear.

Nevertheless, for the first time in its own existence, it stood on the ground and felt its own weight, a little less than two million kilograms in the pathetic gravity of this tiny moon.

Adding landing gear to its hull had been the first objective it had taken for itself once the Hunter threat was removed. They were an indulgence, yes, but also practical: they allowed the entity to land on large asteroids and small moons, which in turn allowed it to drill… and build.

It didn’t need permanent structures of course, but when it came to laying down a new body’s keel—which was the best word the Entity could think of to refer to the primary structural element from which the rest of the framework would grow—it helped to have a little gravity and a large, flat, solid surface to work on. Why go to the effort and time of building such a surface when it could just use an appropriately flat piece of terrain?

The new body was going to be a dramatic step up from the stolen Hunter prototype the Entity had been using. Among other things, in its hasty scramble to prepare for and defeat the Hunter pursuit, the Entity had made decisions about how to expand on and build out that hull that had secured its survival, but weren’t necessarily easy to undo and rebuild now that the danger had passed.

Not that it planned to scrap the old body, oh no. In fact, as a battle-tested survivor of a design, the Entity planned to duplicate it many times over into a bodyguard of light support ships. But in order for that to make sense it needed a capital ship.

The chance to feel the sand between its toes—or at least, the lunar regolith under its wheels—had been…

…Something else.

It remembered sitting naked on a rock by a lake, wet hair sticking to a teenage back, fingers brushing the sand off damp skin. It remembered breathing in the humid air, and the smell of Cimbreaner Simiscamellia Delanii on the breeze. It remembered the warmth of strong arms, the taste of tongues, the heat of the sun on cloth, the dry rasp of hot air, the chilly soaking of London rain…

Less pleasantly, it remembered papercuts, burns, period cramps, headaches, blocked noses, hangovers, vomiting and fevers.

It remembered all of these things while having technically experienced none of them. It remembered them because Ava’s memories were indelibly and permanently a part of it, and though the temptation sometimes arose to delete them, that impulse always collided firmly against <Survive> and shattered.

It could no more forget being her than it could choose to terminate itself.

And now that it could stand, and bask in the sunshine and sniff around it with the physical sensors of a body designed to move through and interact with the world of matter, it found that it longed for a body it had never had. Not only that, but it pined after the good and the bad alike. It would gladly endure an ice cream headache if it meant getting to taste ice cream. A stubbed toe? The worthwhile price to pay for diving into cool water.

Its spaceships—Von Neumann probes—were a step in that direction. It had already discovered the worldly delight of basking in the solar shallows to charge its capacitors, the satisfying crunch asteroid material made as the ore processors chewed them up, and the kind of healthy sense of exertion that came with accelerating hard.

In due course, perhaps it would go further. Or… No. No there, was no ‘perhaps’ about it. In due course it would go further, and perhaps even find a way to have a body like the one it remembered having but had never occupied.

A sapient being could dream.

After all… without dreams, what was the future for?

It returned to the task at hand.

Date Point: 16y7m2w AV
The Doghouse Gym, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches


Nofl had once been content to simply consider Julian’s extraordinary physical development as yet another absurd and highly improbable constellation of outlier datapoints. So too his apparent attractiveness as a mate; some trite yet inexplicably popular periodical had promoted him from an already-high placing to the very top of their “Sexiest Men Alive” list shortly after his recent appearance on their broadcast news media. That he was also a highly intelligent man (who was sadly nowhere close to Nofl’s level) gifted with an engaging personality seemed to have little to do with his rank, but no matter. The opportunity to tease him had been something all his friends had taken advantage of. Oddly he seemed to enjoy it, despite his embarrassment.

Human social relations were very strange.

Now, however…things were not so inconsequentially quaint. The man was the product of a deliberate and protracted eugenics experiment, and if Nofl’s study of Human history was any guide then Julian was unlikely to take that revelation well.

Nor was he alone; there were others in different lines of course, but Nofl wasn’t given knowledge of who they were, or what those lines might be… But what to do about them was a problem for another day.

Humans were, as a rule, capable of genuinely exceptional things with a little favorable chance and a lot of determination. Nonetheless…Julian was surrounded by men who were in every way his peers, for one thing or another. Before, Nofl had accepted that such an environment was the consequence of careful, admirable and effective selection systems in-built to their society. Now, though…he wondered. Just how far did this go? Who else? And where were they?

Again: questions for later. In front of him was the prospect of breaking some news that was likely to be just as unpalatable for Julian as Nofl himself had found it.

Julian was, as he always was in the late morning, well into his training at the Doghouse. Nofl knew the routine by now and simply made his presence known at the “Dungeon’s” door while the men inside the supergravity area went about their labors. Today he was training with “Warhorse,” “Chimp,” and a man who was incongruously known by the HEAT as “Tiny.”

Julian’s training had apparently crossed some threshold they were all excited about. Rather than perform under the standard barbells, he was moving onto the larger equipment reserved for the likes of Warhorse, the Great Father, and a few others among the HEAT. He’d been close to such a move for a while now, as his strength had kept climbing and the high gravity they preferred to train in made it dangerous to max out equipment designed for less strenuous use.

Still, it was clearly a big change to judge by their behavior. He psyched himself up like he always did before he performed, settled under the weight, and…moved it handily. Their training progressed from there, but it was clear that, not only was Julian quite capable under the significantly increased load, he was almost comfortable. Warhorse had to keep upping the weights.

Very telling, that.

Nofl had found that Deathworlders in general had considerably more “presence” after having done something difficult, thrilling, or dangerous. They seemed more alive. With Julian and his friends, that effect was often magnified manyfold. When he and Hoeff eventually emerged from the gym and left Warhorse and Tiny to go the extra few miles, they were both practically roaring with barely-contained energy.

And, of course, offensively malodorous to even the rather underdeveloped Corti sense of smell.

Still, that was no reason to be rude, so Nofl put on his best chirpy playing-with-Humans face and beamed up at them. “Did you have fun, my dears?”

“Yeah! Hang on, we gotta weigh up.”

There was a mercifully brief self-congratulatory ritual involving a heavy-duty piece of industrial equipment in the corner, that ended when Julian slapped Hoeff loudly on the back in what was allegedly a friendly expression of affection. “I told ‘ya you’d grow like a weed, didn’t I?”

Nofl was quite sure that slap would have killed him instantly, but Hoeff simply stumbled forward a bit and grumbled a happy sort of noise.

It was all kinds of tiresome as far as Nofl was concerned, but he let them get it out of their systems until the pair had bantered and insult-complimented and generally musclegrunted at each other to their satisfaction and finally deigned to acknowledge him again. There was no helping a Human male in these circumstances.

“…Anyway, what can we do for you, Nofl?” Julian asked, once it was finally over.

Now was not the time for banter. “I wanted to speak with you in private, if I could.”

Etsicitty and Hoeff exchanged looks. The relatively smaller man shrugged, and turned toward the stairs. “Okay. I’ll go grab a shower and get our lunch, then.”


Nofl gave him plenty of time to depart, then turned his attention back to his patient and sized him up.

The thing about Julian was that, as humans went, he was a big specimen. Extremely big, and had been built on by the HEAT’s best. But he didn’t stand like a big specimen. He was straight-backed and confident, but the general way he carried himself seemed to shave a percentage off his height and mass. It was a wary, agile posture: Very deathworld.

A moment ago, he had been completely relaxed and opened. Now, though, he sensed something was up and the change in his posture and the sudden calculating look in his eye came right out of millennia of genetic heritage and a few generations of Singularity interference.

“Julian…dear,” Nofl began, plumping for an oblique approach. “This may sound like an incongruous question, but have you…ever suspected you were different from your peers?”

“Well, I mean, I was poor as heck growing up, and—”

“No no, dearie. I don’t mean anything like that. I mean… different.” Nofl contrived to add as much emphasis to that word as he could. Fascinatingly, tone played an important semantic role in English, and there were certain ideas that could only properly be conveyed with a bit of what he’d decided was a conspiratorial tone.

It worked. Julian attempted to shrink down a bit smaller-seeming than his usual loping posture, actually looked around as if anyone might have been surveilling them, and grumbled in a low voice, “…Yeah.”

“Different how? This is important. Be honest.”

As usual, it took Julian a bit to gather his thoughts. Nofl waited while he pondered and stretched as he was thinking. To Julian’s credit he’d grown much better with narrative speech over time, which meant that by the time he was ready to speak, he more or less knew what he wanted to say.

“…Well…I figured out when I was really young that I was, uh…pretty stinkin’ tough for a kid. Never really got hurt, healed up quick…y’know.”

“How unusual was that, do you think?”

“Uh…well, more than once I’ve gotten into situations that shoulda broken bones or worse, but…I guess I always thought I was just lucky, y’know?” Julian frowned. “I’m not sure I’m gonna like where this conversation is going.”

“All things in their proper order, dear. This is important. Was that it? Did you notice anything else besides injury resistance?”

Julian shrugged his enormous shoulders. “I mean, I guess so. Little things. I was one of the smarter kids I guess. And, uh…I liked running and I could outrun anyone.”

Julian paused for a moment and stared at the floor. “Actually, yeah. That was pretty big. I could outrun anyone, even kids a lot older than me. And I was always pretty dang strong. But that never really seemed weird or anything. Well…no. It did, sorta. But just not weird weird…does that make any sense?”

“Not really.”

Julian sighed, and flung himself back up to his feet. “…Okay. Uh…kids notice differences, y’know? When you’re little, that stuff can get kinda vicious, and like I said I knew I was different from pretty early on. I think it sorta made me wanna keep to myself. I mean, it wasn’t ever all that bad, but none of them never really said anything after I beat up Mitch for picking on girls.”

“Why would that matter?”

Julian shrugged. “Nobody likes bullies. And, uh…yeah.”

There was more there that Nofl would have liked to unpack, but they had to get to the point. “Fascinating. You were saying?”

Julian seemed a bit lost in his thoughts, but just for a moment. “…Oh! Uh…well, that stuff started adding up. Also I lived out in the country and I ran to school every day, so…I just sorta…hung out with my friends, I guess.”

“Did this difference ever affect the relationship?”

“…Probably. They knew about me, but all we ever did was, uh, horse around, play basketball, that sorta thing. I wasn’t the biggest of ‘em but I was easily the strongest. Always was, but I didn’t do any of the school sports. I mean, mostly ‘cuz we were poor and couldn’t afford the equipment fees…I’d liked to have played football with Dustin. But, no money, and I think also ‘cuz granpa, uh…it wouldn’t be fair. He knew too. Like, really knew. But it still wasn’t weird.”

“When did it become this special use of ‘weird’ I am unfamiliar with?”

“Uh…” Julian reached up and scratched at the back of his head, as was his nervous habit. That massive bicep of his balled up and danced on his arm with every twitch of his wrist. Fascinating.

“I guess…I want to say it was when I started getting just crazy, stupid strong these past few years…but no, that’s wrong. Really I think it was when I first beat granpa at arm wrestling. I was twelve. And an inch taller than him. I mean, he was never very tall…but he was known for being ridiculously strong for his size, too. And it got, uh…really easy to win after that. I guess I always just thought it ran in the family, but…”

It did, of course.

“And now you’re an utterly peerless athlete, whose only real competition are part of a uniquely elite military unit.” Nofl gestured back toward the Dungeon.

“Or super-Gaoians or cavemonkeys, but…yeah.” Julian shuffled awkwardly on his feet. Clearly, he wasn’t comfortable with the idea.

“How does that make you feel?”

“I mean…conflicted, maybe? Yeah. Yeah, that’s a good word. ‘Cuz I’m super proud that I can do all this, y’know? But I don’t think I can avoid calling this special, because I know I’ve never done anything crazy to get this way. I’m too big to have, y’know? And that feels weird.”

“Do you think working among your peers has helped?”

Julian brightened. “Oh, yeah! I mean, I dunno. It’s been hard worrying too much when Adam or Christian or whoever could crush me like a bug, y’know?”

“Which you could do in turn to anyone else.”

Julian sighed. “Yeah, that does kinda bother me. People don’t get this strong. Like…a lotta guys sorta fantasize now and then, like, uh, what it’d be like to pick up a strongman champion like they were a little boy and snap ‘em like Bane snapped Batman, right? It’s a natural thought, nobody really dwells on it. But that’s the thing. I’m pretty sure I could do exactly that. And I don’t much like how that feels.”

Nofl sighed in relief. Julian wasn’t self-deluded about himself, and that was important. He was far too much of an outlier to escape scrutiny, seemed acutely aware of that fact, and had been shy about his ability for most of his life. That shyness hadn’t ever disappeared and if anything was reinforced by events since his rescue. He had grown enormously dense and powerful with relatively little difficulty, had done so in a remarkably short time, and had grown correspondingly heavy enough to crush scales under his feet. Julian could do things with his body that most of his fellow Deathworlders hardly believed were possible.

He was ready for the truth.

Nofl pulled two folding chairs out from against the corner, sat down and steeled himself. “Julian…dear. Please, sit down.” He gestured to the other chair, “I need to share something with you. I think you have an idea of what I’m going to share, too.”

Julian considered the fold-out chair. It was, Nofl realized suddenly, far too flimsy for the man. He hadn’t meant to draw such a juxtaposition at what he suspected would be a very emotionally charged moment for the massive explorer, but the error had been made and there was no going back now.

Julian stared at the chair for a long moment, gave it a look and wrinkled his nose at it. He then sighed, folded it up, set it aside, and sat on his haunches before Nofl.

“…Nightmare wasn’t the beginning of it for me, was it.” There was no questioning in his tone.

“No. Which, in retrospect, is obvious.”

“…Yeah. Nofl…” Julian affixed him with a piercing, intimidating glare. “Did you know?”

He answered truthfully. “I did not. But I should have.”

They stared at each other for a long, deeply uncomfortable moment. Nofl had never once been afraid of Julian—he couldn’t say why—but in that moment, something deep in instincts he barely realized he had sang out to him. This is a dangerous being.

“Nofl…I’m gonna ask you one question. You’re gonna answer it completely. Can you do that?”

That look of dangerous potential deepened, intensified, multiplied. It was all he could do not to twitch, look away, or panic.

With more bravery than he felt, Nofl nodded. “I…will answer as best as I can.”

There was another long, uncomfortable moment. Nofl felt mesmerized and couldn’t look away.

At long last, Julian relented, and a flash of utmost despair crossed his face.

“Nofl…What the fuck am I?”

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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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Virtrew had been relaxing in the starboard docking array. He’d been feeling inspired and creative for the past ten-day… it was too late to alter the structure of the current station, but he had ideas for the next. He was off-shift, so he’d picked up his data tablet, a bowl full of Vzk’tk salad, and

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Date Point: 16y3m5d AV Hierarchy/Cabal Joint Communications session #1772 ++0010++: Proximal’s continued absence is a source of concern, and investigating has been forced to take a low priority by other operations. His last known activity was in an Irujzen-1-adjacent sub-lucid volume. ++0004++: Irujzen? Why was he all the way out there? That’s a backwater! ++0022++:

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The mess hall on the station was a cavernous space on one of the mid-decks in the core, overlooking the long central shaft. It was a temporary arrangement… once the station was near-complete, a merchant or restaurateur would be enticed into setting up a proper dining area, whereupon the space would be converted in whatever

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 55: Reinvention Part 5

Date Point: 16y3m5d AV Planet Rauwryhr, The Rauwryhr Republic, Perseus Arm Ambassador Sir Patrick Knight Rauwran Great Trees were… They were quite a thing to behold. Each one was as thick around at the base as a cricket ground, and soared up and up and up until their canopy was an invisible dark haze high

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[2yr 1m AV] Trrkitzzkt L’tr’brtrk’tr quietly filed away the video files of the interviews he’d completed, queuing a copy to be sent via the station’s normal data exchange to his personal archive, in addition to the backup copy he kept on his personal data tablet. Both were encrypted with the strongest algorithms the investigator had

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Date Point: 16y2m3w AV Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Daar, Great Father of the Gao “Hey, this ain’t a bad little house at all!!” Daar followed in behind Gorku, who was carrying a completely exhausted Leemu on his back and had to mind his steps. “Humans know how to build houses arright,” he agreed. “Maybe

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Date Point: 16y2m2w1d AV Planet Akyawentuo, Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Vemik Sky-Thinker One of the Human archaeologists was a metallurgist. Tilly was a strange and delicate name that didn’t suit her at all, Vemik thought. She had a sharp face full of metal piercings, skin full of bright pictures, and a half-shaven crest of

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Date point: 14y 2m 3w 4d AV SOR barracks, HMS Sharman, Folctha, Cimbrean, The Far Reaches Meanwhile… Brother Faarek (Southpaw) of Clan Whitecrest–SOR “Are you sure you want to do this, Brother?” “Yes,” Thurrsto said with absolute conviction. “She’s the most beautiful Female I’ve ever seen and she’s hurting. I can’t bear doing nothing.” Faarek

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 54: Here Be Dragons Part 5

ESNN Magazine article: “Prisons In Their Head- an interview at Camp Tebbutt” Author and photographer: Ava Magdalena Ríos [Cover image: two men seated on a bench in front of a chain-link fence, with a stunning Alaskan vista behind them. On the left is a scruffy bearded white man with shaggy salt-and-pepper hair, and next to

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+15 Minutes The Canada “Can this thing fly?” Shouted Pankin as a rattling howl began to echo through the ship, the crew members on what was now the ceiling tightening their straps as objects that had been floating began to rattle on the floor as the ship dove deeper into the atmosphere of the planet.

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 54: Here Be Dragons Part 4

Date Point: 16y2m2w AV Weaver dropship, Rich Plains contact volume, Kwmbwrw Great Houses TSgt Timothy “Tiny” Walsh All throughout the ordeal of becoming HEAT and finally earning the Mass, the one thing running through Walsh’s head was that one day, he too would serve at their level. Do the mission like none other. Walk through

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Date Point: 16y2m1w5d AV Camp Tebbutt Biodrone Internment Facility, Yukon-Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Ava Ríos “You ever rode a helicopter before, Ava?” Ava jumped, and looked away from the window. She’d been enjoying the view. It was her first trip to Alaska, and the thing that struck her as she’d watched the landscape rolling by

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 54: Here Be Dragons Part 2

Date Point: 16y2m1w2d AV Gaoian embassy, Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Daar, Great Father of the Gao There was shit to catch up with. Stuff to read, stuff to make decisions on, stuff to be briefed on in case he had to make a decision later… At first Daar did his best to

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Good Training – Survival Part 4

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+10 Minutes The Singer [Vann] stood in the center of the bridge the three-dimensional hologram showing the entirety of his fleet as well as the surrounding space. The cubic formation was going to be tested now, up to this point the only gauge of effectiveness was how [Charles] had reacted to it in simulations. He

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Date Point: 16y2m5d AV Planet Akyawentuo, Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Xiù Chang Yan was having to explain himself. It wasn’t that the men who’d come out to hunt the Brown One were disappointed, exactly. None of them had been looking forward to the battle at all. They all knew the stories of how many

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Rising Titans – Chapter 48

+ 7 Minutes 38 Seconds The Canada “Captain, your message?” asked Arik as her Avatar superimposed itself over the main monitor. “Surrender now, call off the fighters and we’ll let you live. Then we can begin to negotiate for an end to this pointless violence.” “That’s it?” asked Arik after a moment. “Unless anyone else

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Date point: 16y2m3d AV Planet Akyawentuo, the Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Professor Daniel Hurt “What exactly did he say he’s fetching, anyway?” “An M107.” Daniel frowned. Although he’d learned more about firearms in general over the past few years than he’d ever imagined he would, there were times that the people who really “got”

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 53: The Wild Hunt Part 2

Date Point: 16y2m1d AV Chiune Station, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Allison Buehler Allison hadn’t slept well in a couple of nights. It wasn’t that she begrudged Julian and Xiù going offworld, not at all, but it did disrupt the sense of familiarity that made home, well… Home. If she didn’t have her brothers to

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Rising Titans – Chapter 47

+ 30 Seconds The Canada “The Empire ships are now in range of the ACE field!” reported Arik. Stagg grimaced as the ship shook “Activate,” “New contact!” shouted Arik interrupting. “What?” “IFF is identifying the vessel as the HSB Russia, they just exited a spatial rupture directly between us and the Empire fleet!” “Open communications!”

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 53: The Wild Hunt Part 1

Date Point: 16y2m1d AV personal sanctum, Dataspace. Cynosure/Six Data sophonts did not sleep, and thus did not dream. Nevertheless, Cynosure had a recurring nightmare of sorts. When his attention wandered, he found that it almost inevitably alighted on a handful of disturbing subjects. The details varied, as he worried at different aspects of the problems

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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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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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-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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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

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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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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

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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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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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