The Deathworlders – Chapter 59: New Life Part 3

Date Point: 16y7m3w1d AV
Planet Akyawentuo, the Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm

Julian Etsicitty

The best part about hunting, was that Julian didn’t need to think about anything else for a while.

He’d come over on the jump with Hoeff and Claire, which was honestly a nice distraction; the two were so completely in love, they were doing the playful cuddling thing people did, where they were oblivious to everyone besides themselves, whispering little secrets to each other…

It was hard not to smile after that. And a really good hunt was a spiritual exercise of its own.

Akyawentuo was murderously hot just then, and it was right at the peak of the hottest days, with the temperatures dangerously high and the humidity, as always, at the saturation point. But there was no rest for anyone, because the Ten’Gewek’s rut had finally…well, calmed down to a mere roiling boil instead of its usual volcanic power. Having regained the tiniest ability to think beyond hunting and sex, they had immediately begun their relentless campaign to build up winter stores, even though said winter was, by the human calendar, almost a year away.

Autumn and winter were short but intense on Akyawentuo. The Brown Ones retreated north toward the equator, and the werne flooded out onto the grassy plains to crop them short before the frost really set in. But it was also the time when the Ten’Gewek made the most cultural progress; they taught stories, craftsmanship, and lately reading and writing to the children, while the adults learned stories from beyond the sky. Now that they’d effectively mastered preserving food, they were eager to surge forward during the winter, where even the leanest and showiest red-crests gained a thin layer of fat and a placid, relaxed sense of contentment, instead of their usual testosterone-poisoned need to screw literally anything and everything with a warm, willing hole.

That was when Vemik—now definitely a red-crest—tended to get the most work done and come up with his best ideas, too. His aggressive mania never really died down. In fact he was like any other red-crest, meaning he was one of the most red-blooded men of the People. But rather than grumble aimlessly and play at war, he usually just…refocused his energies.

It was all part of his charm, really. He applied his ample aggression to sky-thinking when he had the chance. But if they were going to enjoy a peaceful winter, they needed to be ready.

All of that meant almost all the men were out hunting. When Julian arrived, it was only the smallest and youngest orange-crests guarding the village, along with a red-crested male named Obuk, who was relaxing from his turn out in the bush. The women were busy making pots, tending herbs…

They welcomed him warmly, allowed the children to climb all over him for a few minutes of play, and then sent him directly out onto the trail; the village could never have enough werne. He’d found his prey an hour’s trek deep into their tribe’s land, and from there…he hunted.

The werne’s scent was strong on the breeze, so strong that Julian could tell his prey was a bachelor bull without a herd. Werne smelled a bit different once they’d acquired a harem, and the People in general avoided those bulls. For one, they were usually more dangerous than the trouble was worth, for another it ensured the herds would remain healthy, strong, and defended.

Bachelor males, on the other hand, were one of their favorites to pick off. They provided more and higher quality meat, generally sported the kind of lard-like fat the People craved and needed for many things, and were exactly the kind of foolishly aggressive a hunter appreciated.

The forest floor rarely got a nice refreshing breeze, which today was blowing somewhat constantly through the underbrush. Normally the forest air was still and cloying but today he could almost smell the salt from the ocean much further south; definitely a big stormfront, maybe even a hurricane or something. It sure felt like they would be getting absolutely torrential rains in a couple-few days, not that he or anyone needed a weather satellite to figure that out.

Though of course, they had plenty of those. The surveysats he’d personally launched from Misfit were still up there, peaceably watching Akyawentuo and providing all the useful services that satellites did.

Werne always got restless when storms came through, which had made this particular hunt both longer and much more challenging than the usual. It wasn’t without its advantages; the breeze kept Julian’s scent nicely downwind, which was important because werne had a keen “taste” of the air and Julian was probably pretty dang ripe by now. It was hot out, he was sweating buckets even with the breeze, and moving stealthily was more of an endurance challenge than people realized. He was dang good at it too, but being as big and heavy as he was these days didn’t help matters much. But the Ten’Gewek could manage it just fine, and anything they could do…

The wind would normally mean he could be a bit noisier, but the werne’s ears were up and swiveling constantly, and its tongue lapped at the air between every single mouthful of foliage. Their vision was very sensitive to movement, too. It was in most every other way quite poor, but the tiniest unexpected movement could send them on a charging rampage. Best to keep some distance. Julian was awful dang strong these days, and had, for purposes of his post-naming rites, proven he could perform the much more daring technique of leaping over the charging bull, clamping his legs around its neck, riding out its rage while simultaneously driving a knife into its neck and crushing its throat flat… That was not something to do routinely, no matter how alive a man felt after managing something like that. Only very confident Ten’Gewek routinely Took their bulls that way, generally only the biggest red-crests or Given-Men. As far as Julian or Yan were concerned, only a fool or a desperate man braved a werne bull’s razor sharp face-blades when he didn’t need to, or wasn’t assured of success.

So, Julian stalked after it, patiently waiting for the right moment to strike. When the werne’s head was down, he’d step forward one foot at a time, slowly rolling all his weight from the outside to the inside of his feet while keeping mostly off his heels. He was careful to remain in the werne’s blind spot as he silently stalked from tree to tree, ever so slowly creeping closer and closer. It had been several hours by now and the day’s heat was at its most fierce. But, a hunt never rewarded impatience. So…inch by inch, tree by tree, grazing spot by grazing spot…

Julian eventually closed to within striking distance of his prey and slowly, ever so slowly readied his spear. Today he was spear hunting and there were a few reasons for that. Firstly, the People favored it because it was the fastest way to kill prey. They didn’t necessarily do so out of a deep sense of mercy; A Ten’Gewek’s regard for his prey was pretty much in direct proportion to its strength. Anything “weaker” than them often fell outside their capacity for genuine empathy, and that included basically everything else alive. Even on their own world they were fantastically, ridiculously hardy and strong compared to pretty much any other critter they’d ever met, and over deep time that had strongly colored their psychology.

Weak things were less worthy of life. Heck, if it wasn’t for Vemik and Julian’s first encounter, they’d probably have felt much the same about humans. If it wasn’t for Daar, they’d probably have felt the same for the other sky-tribes, too. Those chance meetings had successfully expanded the Ten’Gewek definition of “strong” to encompass anything that could talk; Yan said that sky-thoughts were strong, and he so utterly outclassed the other Given-Men that, well…might makes right. He said it, and so it was, and thank God for that. Having seen the savage joy their men took in the kill, how they often savored crushing the life out of their prey…

Nonetheless, their gods frowned upon cruelty, and so the People felt it was a good idea to be respectful. After all, if you were strong enough, you did the deed as fast and as powerfully as you could. A man’s strength was his offering to the gods, and the prey was the medium. The single best way to offer mercy through strength was to ram a spear right through its heart, and bury a knife at the base of its skull. If a man couldn’t do that, then…what good was he?

There was probably a fascinating set of xenopsychology papers hidden in there, somewhere. And probably the anthropologists would have a thing or two to say about religion, too.

For Julian’s part, he was mostly interested in keeping the People’s respect. If he’d had his way, he’d just shoot the poor thing through the head and grant it the most merciful death of all. But…

Well. If the whole business with the Brown One had proved anything, it was that he couldn’t possibly come up with a faster way to lose respect. The bow just about got a pass from the more liberal and open-minded Given-Men like Yan thanks to the fact that it still took a strong man to use a strong bow. A rifle though? Anyone could pick up a rifle, as far as the Ten’Gewek were concerned. It took strength out of the equation, and thereby emasculated whoever used it.

So, there Julian was in the woods, naked of all else besides his spear, knife, first aid kit, and his earbud radio. Yan thought that was a “strong” bit of sky-magic, so he allowed it. Whatever.

He stood in the shadows amongst the undergrowth, not even three yards from the werne. He considered his prey. The werne was a young unscarred male, but it had been well-fed and positively rippled with muscle and good, hard fat. At a guess, it was probably at least the same mass as a proper bull on Earth; a bit shorter, a lot stockier, and even more ornery. Not long ago that would have been a werne right at the limits of Julian’s ability to take, before that it would have been impossible. Lately…well, maybe he felt the need to prove himself a little more than he normally might. He could do it, but getting it back to the village would be a hell of a lot of work.

Humans were generalist survivors: pretty good at a lot of things, naturally excellent at a few more, and could excel at most anything…with enough determination. Ten’Gewek though, they were perfectly evolved for a hardy, deeply physical survivalist lifestyle in a rich temperate rainforest. Julian would probably never match a Ten’Gewek man’s ability to haul many times his own weight across his shoulders without much fuss. Their short, powerfully muscled legs, combined with their heavy rock-crushing tails and their heroically thick posterior chains running from their calves up to their neck, made them uniquely well-suited to werne-hefting work.

Ten’Gewek had been carrying werne bulls across tangled ground and up trees for probably hundreds of thousands of years. Like everything else about them, their utterly ridiculous physical strength had probably evolved specifically to accommodate that survival need of theirs, all other concerns be damned. They could leap with werne across their shoulders too, almost as impressively as they could unburdened. Julian couldn’t do that, at least not very high. Hopping over logs or small boulders, sure. Much than that? He had to climb, or go around.

Still, Julian had grown crazy strong himself. Evolved for werne-carrying or not, he could still hack it, so he’d do it. Good workout either way. If he was gonna be…well, literally bred and, uh, involuntarily enhanced for hard work and survival, then he may as well put his increasingly developed brawn to use feeding people he cared about.

The werne buried his head in a bush, thereby blinding itself for a brief moment. And in that moment, Julian struck.

Werne had quick reflexes and the bull reacted like a lightning bolt, but from that close, with that little warning? There was no way Julian could miss. He exploded forward and rammed his spear between the creature’s ribs with all the force his ridiculous weight and strength could generate. The spearhead was wide, designed to slice a broad entry wound, behind which the slimmer shaft could follow and penetrate deep into the werne’s innards. Getting through its interlocking ribs took an amazing amount of force though, even with a reasonably sharp and sturdy spearhead. Julian slammed into the werne so hard he knocked it sideways, and it was only after ramming it into a tree that he was able to break through and drive the spear home.

Nothing else tested a man’s raw speed, brute strength, and sheer focused aggression quite as thoroughly (or as dangerously) as spear-hunting a werne. Julian doubted there were many men who could manage; for humans, basically just the HEAT bros, besides Julian. A few really big Gaoians too. Heck, even smaller orange-crests had trouble doing it and often went in through the neck, which was a much riskier way to get meat…but a man’s gotta feed his tribe, danger or not. The bow might end up being the most important thing in Ten’Gewek culture because of that, just as important as steel.

The werne coughed its peculiar bleating moo, gurgled, and collapsed heavily, doomed before it had even finished slumping to the ground. Still, Julian made sure by skirting around it, respecting its blades, locked his legs as tightly around its thick neck as he could manage, and used both hands to shove his knife firmly into the divot between skull and spine where a werne’s thickly muscled neck was most penetrable.

The blade in its nervous system made the body twitch, once when the knife went in, and once again when Julian withdrew it. A good, clean, quick strike. The beast went limp. Werne were tough, though. It took another minute, with Julian squeezing down as hard as he could manage, but it died without any more noise and, importantly, without any more suffering.

Julian detangled himself, desperately gulping for air and with the edge of his vision a bit blurry. He caught his wind, knelt on the forest floor in front of his werne, and honored his prey.

It was a prayer, sort of. Julian didn’t really believe that God or the Ten’Gewek’s gods were beings, not in the sense that there was a personality there who watched and listened as a sapient mind would, or had ambitions, dislikes and expectations of mortals. But he still had a sense of the Divine in things, and moments like this were sacred. He’d just taken a life, and done so cautiously, for good reason. The hunt could have gone very differently if he were impatient or foolish. His quarry deserved respect in death.

After the Ten’Gewek fashion, he anointed his brow and cheeks with its blood, and sat in silence until he felt that it had dried, then a little longer until he felt… right. It was hard to put into words, but there just came a moment where he knew his vigil was complete. The Singers said that moment was when the creature’s spirit finally moved on and… well, it was a fitting description. Something had departed that had held him in silence for a while.

With it gone, that left the not inconsiderable task of hauling the thing back to the village. Like all the werne in this part of the forest, it was massive. Far too big to be much threatened by the prowling wolf-things that flit in their packs among the trees. That meant they could grow big, grow many, and grow fast, which their species did whenever they had the chance; it was as if they were made to be rich prey. The Ten’Gewek were always choosy about their prey too, all of it calculated (whether they knew it or not) to maximize the r-strategy effect in the herd. As long as there was enough foliage and grains to keep them healthy, and the People didn’t overpopulate…

He sighed, and over the course of a practiced few minutes he gutted the big critter to save some weight. That done, and with his arms filthy to the pits, he worked his way under the bull’s bulk. With a grimace and a hell of a lot of effort, he managed to stand up with the damn thing draped across his shoulders.

It was murderously heavy, even without its enormous water-filled and smelly digestive tract. The village was a few miles away, too… He’d kept the other organs but the women would still cluck at him for leaving the intestines. Too bad. Pulling the stomach out probably cut a quarter-ton of weight off his shoulders, since this particular werne was pretty much completely full of water today. Not surprising; they tended to gorge along the river until their stomachs ballooned out, then not come back and drink for many days. A proper Ten’Gewek would save that water, but…

But there were limits to how far Julian felt he needed to go to prove himself, frankly. If he was gonna heft a ton and a half of meat back home through a tangled and hilly rainforest and do so in goddamned supergravity on top of it all, then he could at least be spared the survivalistic joys of hot rancid werne-gut water.

Something ticked at the back of his mind, and he looked at the good hiding spots all around him…and spotted a wolf-thing. Julian was ever-wary of those. He made eye contact, snarled with his teeth bared, and the critter ran away…along with about twenty of his best buds. Nowadays he could quite literally punt them hard enough to flatten their rib cages if he wanted to, but anyone would have trouble dealing with an aggressive pack, if they ever got the idea they might win in a fight.

They’d probably follow after him, once they’d picked the gut pile clean. Best to keep an eye out. With a grunt of effort, Julian steeled himself and set to the long hike back to the village.

It was early evening by the time he returned. His whole body felt like it was on fire and his legs in particular like they were made of Jell-O. Hoeff gave him a sideways grin as he staggered up to their big table to the sounds of congratulatory trilling and the sudden bustling of women and the Singer.


Julian was much more interested in eating and resting than banter. He grunted in acknowledgement, grabbed an offered bowl of stew and stalked back to his “hut” where the idea of collapsing on his nice, soft field mattress sounded awesome. Though, he lamented the fact that Al and Xiù weren’t here, he sure could have done with a nice rub-down after all that hard work…

No wonder the People got frisky after a hunt! Well…no. They got frisky after basically any activity at all, so that wasn’t really saying much. Maybe Hoeff would help…

The thought made him chuckle, and he gave Hoeff a Suggestive Look, just to troll him a bit.

Hoeff picked up on it immediately. “Nuh-uh. I’m taken, remember? I swear we’ve had this conversation before.”

“Aww, can’t help a fella out?”

“Weirdo,” came the refrain, as was tradition.

“Uh-huh.” Julian decided to inhale the contents of his bowl just then. Nothing would ever beat Xiù’s cooking, but dang if the People didn’t know how to make a hell of a stew. He’d eaten it all before he knew it, and one of the younger women swept by and refilled his bowl just as he was happily belching out his compliments to the cook.

He slowed down about half-way through his second bowl when he noticed Hoeff was looking at him weird.


“You gonna put any fuckin’ shorts on?”

…Oh yeah.

“Eh, I dunno. It’s hot out…why? You like what you see or something?”

Hoeff shrugged nonchalantly. “Nah. Ain’t me you gotta worry about. But Singer’s young Dancer over there is givin’ you the bedroom eyes…”

Julian looked over and, sure enough, the Dancer was… Well. A human gal would have been playing with her hair and chewing on her lip. The Ten’Gewek version was a feline tail twitch and idly fidgeting at the ground with her prehensile toes.

Julian finished his stew in a few practiced gulps, and nodded in agreement. “Right. Since Yan’s not back yet, I’m gonna go nap. Can you let him know I was looking for him?”

“Will do. G’on, git before the ladymonkeys decide to help themselves.”

That was a weirdly flattering thought. Julian didn’t dwell on it, but instead heaved himself achingly over to his “hut” and crash-landed on his nice clean werne-hide rugs, stretched himself out as best as he could, downed an entire skin of water, and then crawled his way into bed.

Normally, he quietly dreaded sleep when Al or Xiù weren’t there. His mind tended to…dwell. Not on bad things, at least not always, but without them he always reverted to the old instincts that had kept him alive on Nightmare: the ones that kept a hatchet to hand and full alert wakefulness just a slight rustle of foliage away. That instinct had kept him alive, but it made him a very light sleeper indeed and he never quite felt like he’d wake up rested.

Not today. In fact, Julian was so tired from the hunt that he passed right the fuck out almost as soon as he was horizontal. No dreams, no jerking awake in the night, nothing. He only woke up sometime early next morning when a wrist-thick finger gently prodded his face. It was Yan, sitting on his tail next to Julian’s head, calmly waiting for him to wake up.

[“Heff said you wanted to talk with me.”]

Julian groaned, and went to rub the grit and sleepy stuff out of his eyes when he realized he was still foul from the hunt and probably shouldn’t go rubbing stale werne juices into his eyes. In fact, he should probably brush out the hides on the bed, too.

He sat up instead. “…Yeah. [I have some interesting news.”]

[“You should clean up,”] Yan said. [“You taste bad.”]

Well that was an achievement, though not one to feel proud of. Julian grumbled and rolled off his furs, stood up and stretched, and decided he’d wear shorts today to at least spare Hoeff’s blushes and himself from the Dancer’s attention. Thus modestly dressed, he ducked out of his hut and headed for the sandy pit at the edge of the village that the People used to scrub themselves off.

As part of the Singer’s efforts to modernize and improve the village’s hygiene based on what she learned on Cimbrean, there was a row of clay pots full of clean and boiled water by the sand now, plus the result of her first efforts at making soap from wood ashes and werne tallow. It smelled quite nice actually, but had a texture closer to pumice than smooth. Julian put two of the components to good use: Water to dilute the mess on his arms and body, the soap to break it up and scrub, water again to rinse.

Ten’Gewek hides needed a very aggressive scrubbing, so they used the sand as an abrasive to scour themselves clean, but their skin was a lot thicker and tougher than a human’s, and there were the equivalent of sand chiggers in that sand that could make Julian’s skin a hellscape of bite marks if he wasn’t careful.

In any case, Yan was right: he needed to wash. The water running off him was foul.

[“Interesting news?”] Yan asked, sitting on his tail again nearby.

Julian sighed wearily and applied the soap a second time. He’d forgotten to bring his own, and was regretting it now. [“Yeah. Like I said, about my family, and also about the Corti…”]

[“That sounds more than just interesting.”]

Julian nodded. [“Oh, yeah. There’s big sky-magic involved, too. And secrets and lies and questions I’ll never know the answers to…”] He translated Nofl’s findings as well as he could. By the time he’d finished his summary, he was clean from toes to top. It might be hell on the skin, but he had to admit that it was an effective way to get clean.

Yan listened solemnly, and only ventured an opinion once he was quite sure Julian had finished.

[“You always knew Core-tie were the ones who took you and put you on Nightmare-world.”] he said. [“We have many reasons to not trust them, and you have many to hate them. What has changed? The roots dig deeper, that’s all.”]

“…Yeah. I get it, I do. But still!” Julian replied, in English. [“They bred my family like dogs!”]

[“But not your children. It ends now you know about it. And in time… you will have many children, I think. And your children will have many many children. In time, lots of humans will be stronger for it. You cannot Take back what the Core-tie owe you, so make some good out of the bad.”]

Julian sighed, and returned to English. “That’s the thing. I’m here, bein’ a survival expert—and I love it! But now I’m doing exactly what they made me for.”

“And that is problem?”

“…No. I think I just need to vent about it. Can’t change it, can’t pretend like it isn’t there. It’s just…what right did they have to do that?!”

“They had no right. But you do what you like doing, yes? And would not be able to do this if you were not you. Not many men of your people can.” He said it without judgement; not many Ten’Gewek were so fair-minded. “It was no good thing, but you can make good.”

“…I’ll try.”

[“No.”] Yan stood up and knuckled over toward Julian, and pulled him in for a loving, crushing, tail-around-waist hug. [“You’re stronger than that, I know you are. You’ll be fine. Don’t let the Core-tie win.”]

“…” Julian didn’t know what to say, so he just returned the hug as best he could. Sometimes, something as simple as that was all the medicine a man needed.

He felt much better about it, he had to admit. Everyone he loved and admired had been super chill about it. Adam had nodded levelly, saying “I’m glad we weren’t losing our minds.” Al and Xiù were of course perfect partners…he wished he could call them both wives. Legally. The Ambassador had told him to man up in the best possible way…Heck, even Vemik would probably have something useful to say whenever he got back from his own hunt…

…But right now, They’d better get on to the actual business that had brought Julian here. He was clean enough to get through the day, so he shook out his shorts, stood up and looked Yan right in the eye.

“Yan, big fella, there’s some big happenings we gotta talk about…”

Yan Given-Man stood on his feet and nodded solemnly. The hard work was just beginning.

Date Point:16y7m3w1d AV
The White House, Washington DC, USA, Earth

President Arthur Sartori

“We invited the Ten’Gewek?”

Sartori nodded. “They have as much right as anybody to be there. Hell, of all the Hierarchy’s living victims, they came closer to extinction than anyone else.”

“Unless you count the OmoAru.”

“The OmoAru are already dead, Margaret. They just haven’t quite died yet.”

Margaret White half-shrugged her head. “I suppose, but… this isn’t like that little group visiting Folctha, or their visit to Earth. The Rauwryhr are fragile, Arthur, and the Ten’Gewek have a long way to go before they’re ready to respect somebody so… well… weak.”

“The Ten’Gewek are also intelligent, rational and level-headed,” Sartori replied. “They’ve come to respect us. They’ll respect the Rauwryhr too, if they see a reason to.”

“Like what?”

Sartori shrugged. “Flight? Have you seen them in the air, Margaret? It’s like they’re a different species. On the ground they’re ungainly and comical, but they’re magical on the wing. They impressed the hell out of Daar.”

“Daar’s got the softest, goofiest heart ever. He’ll like anyone if they give him a reason to.”

Sartori shook his head. “He’s amiable. He’s not a pushover. They impressed him, Margaret. That’s no easy feat. He might like easily, but he doesn’t respect easily. Remember, Daar is the man who ordered the orbital bombardment of nearly every major city on Gao to end a war.”

“…I stand corrected.”

“As you should. What the Fearless did at the battle of Rich Plains was borderline suicidally brave. They’ve earned our respect, and the Gao’s: They’ll earn the Ten’Gewek’s.”

Sartori twisted in his seat until his spine popped, then stood up to take a stroll around the room. He spent too long sitting down, and a chance to stretch his legs was always welcome. “I’m running out of office time, Margaret. Not long left, now, and a lot still to do. Whoever f ollows me—and I pray to God it’s you—is going to have to deal with Daar and Yan as peers.”

“I know. I’ve been worrying about that.” Margaret half-turned on the couch to follow his progress. “They’re both very… male. And with all due respect to them both, their cultures are still heavily segregated by gender. We’re a lot more egalitarian than them in that regard, and I’m still going to have trouble domestically.”

Sartori looked at her and suppressed the urge to sigh. “If that’s the attitude you go into this with, then you’ll be absolutely right.”

She arched an eyebrow at him, so he took that as an invitation to elaborate. “As President, you’ll be called to lead a nation. That includes some awesome responsibilities, such as ordering good men to their deaths. All that anyone asks of a leader in that position is that they have a spine, and everyone has one of those… but Presidents haven’t made use of that to any significant degree since the seventies, Margaret. But I tell you this: the second you bring up your status as a woman in relation to virtually any aspect of leadership, people will automatically ask, ‘why is she mentioning that? Is it an issue?’ And my answer is: no. It won’t be, until you make it an issue.”

“That opinion is very male too, Arthur.”

Sartori had been here before a few times in his career. Usually it was simplest not to argue, but Margaret was a friend and, he hoped, his successor. If he couldn’t be frank with her then he could never be frank with anyone.

“…If I could offer advice? Just approach them like you have a perfect right to be a leader, because you do, and they’ll respect that,” he said. “They won’t worry about your gender if you don’t.”

“Won’t they, though?”

Sartori shook his head no. “They won’t. It’s…never really been about man versus woman, I think. I think that’s the biggest mistake we make as a civilization when we talk about this. It’s usually about leadership, and our refusal to accept that men and women have different, complementary natures. In our era of plenty, where we aren’t in a total struggle to survive and our menfolk aren’t bound to the land or the sword in constant, dangerous toil…we can indulge. Neither the Gaoians nor the Ten’Gewek can.”

Margaret White had always been a calm person, and expressed herself in understated ways. Folding her arms was an indicator of quite serious indignation. “Indulge?” she asked. “I know you well enough to believe you aren’t dismissing gender equality, Arthur, so what exactly are you saying?”

“Oh, I’m not dismissing it… but it absolutely is an indulgence,” Sartori replied. “And one we can only afford because women can provide for themselves nowadays. In past centuries that just wasn’t true, and just surviving was a partnership and a division of labor.”

“Do you want to go back to that?”

“Absolutely not!” Sartori shook his head firmly. “That would mean going back to harder times. Worse times, where life was harder and shorter. Women’s liberation was hard-earned and benefited us all, but it absolutely is a luxury that only developed, stable economies can afford.”

“Treating women as equal to men is a luxury and an indulgence.” She said it flatly, unimpressed.

“And those are good things! You can only afford luxuries and indulgence when you’re succeeding!” Sartori replied. “But… Indulge me in this. You’re talking about treating women as equal to men? What does that even mean? Equality is such a loaded word.”

She frowned at him but gestured an invitation for him to continue, at least giving him a fair chance to explain. He wandered the room, thinking aloud. “…Nobody sane argues that women are not due the same dignity or protections as men,” he said. “But men are not interchangeable with women, ergo they are by definition not the same. Ignoring those differences is a fantastic luxury, and it enriches our civilization.”

“I get the feeling this is a subject you could talk about for a long time,” Margaret noted drily.

“I could, yeah. But what’s important here is that our alien allies simply can’t afford the kind of liberation we take for granted. The Gaoians are literally attempting to breed themselves back from the brink of extinction, on top of their massive natural sex imbalance, and the Ten’Gewek are literal hunter-gatherers. With them, it’s a simple division of labor brought on by a massive sexual dimorphism, and again, the needs of childbirth.”

“If it’s a luxury we can afford and they can’t, I can see them resenting our good fortune,” Margaret pointed out.

“I don’t think so. I think they’ll only resent it if it’s made an issue. Daar is…protective. And, yes, absolutely a bit of a chauvinist. All Gaoian males are but it’s largely benign, and in fact approaches something like worship. But the thing is, they’re protective in general. The Gao see us as good, loyal friends who helped them through their greatest trial. They also see that, now that they’re recovering, and even with the population bomb about to go off…they hold pretty much all the cards in the relationship. If they survive the next twenty years, that imbalance will be severely in their favor, Margaret. Now, consider that Daar’s ‘most biggest’ hope in life is to just cuddle everyone he loves and keep them safe…”

“Probably not a good idea to trigger resentment. And the best, safest way to do that is to just be a strong leader,” Margaret summarized.

“Exactly. A strong leader isn’t a strong male leader or a strong female leader, they’re just a strong leader. And you’re capable of that. It’s just that, well…and now I’ll actually be a bit of a chauvinist here. I think that may come a bit more naturally to men. But that’s okay, since some of the very best leaders either of our species have ever seen were women, after all.”

Margaret gave his self-confessed chauvinism a cool look, but let it pass. “I can see the Ten’Gewek being a tougher nut to crack,” she pointed out instead.

“…True. Yan Given-Man is…an absolutely ridiculous flirt. Even worse than Daar, and I know how you enjoy bantering with him…” he ventured a mischievous smile.

Finally, her cool indignation slipped. She laughed, looked aside and cleared her throat. “…Yes, well. At my age, flirting is a rare thing.”

Sartori chuckled and sat down opposite her, feeling more comfortable now that the ice had thawed again. He’d always held that true friends were the ones you could have difficult conversations and honest disagreements with, but there was always danger in actually testing a friendship like that. Her laugh reassured him that all was well.

“In any case, you have a path there too,” he said. “Their Singers are all women after all, and every tribe has both a Given-Man and a Singer…and the Singer is pretty widely considered the more important of the two. If a tribe loses a Given-Man, one of their red-crests will take over. Lose a Singer, though…and the tribe is broken. Yan is primed to respect you. Even if he can’t ever be allowed to sit on the couch.”

“But that’s contingent on not showing weakness,” she said. “And according to you, even mentioning that I’m a woman is showing weakness.” . Sartori picked his words carefully. “…In most circumstances, I think mentioning that I’m a man would weaken me, or at least exclude people unnecessarily. As I see it, the art to leadership is to never, at any time, in any circumstances, make something about you if it isn’t also something about all of us,” he replied. “Maybe men are more sensitive to that sort of thing, I don’t know. I bet there’s some psychology papers on it. But…. look. Maybe men really are chauvinistic, and so am I. But I didn’t pick you out of charity, Margaret.”

“I’ve never felt you have,” she assured him. “It’s the aliens and other world leaders I worry about. But I think you’re right. If I just march out there and act like I have a perfect right to be among them… well, that’ll be true. I will have that right.”

“Exactly. How you got that right doesn’t matter, they respect it nonetheless. Both of them were thrust into duty, after all.”

She nodded, and Sartori could see that she’d gone a few miles away in her head to think. He let her, for a few seconds, then decided to give the ice one last thaw.

“So what do you think? Reckon I’m a chauvinist?”

She laughed again, quietly. “…Well, if you are, at least you’re a thinking one,” she said.


She flashed a smile, then checked her watch and stood up. “If I wait any longer I’ll be late for my meeting with General Kolbeinn,” she said. “He wanted me to look at his presentation to the Defence Council.”

“Well, I won’t keep you then,” Sartori replied warmly. “Good night.”

She opened the door. “Good night, Mister President,” she said, and was gone.

Sartori sighed to himself, and returned to the desk. There’d be some new thing for him to deal with along in seconds, he was sure. But he’d enjoyed the conversation.

She’d do well, he knew it. Assuming she won the election, of course…

So. All he had to do was not drop the ball before she could pick it up.

Back to work.

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

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Good Training – April Fool’s

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 1

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 5

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 44

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 4

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 3

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

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Good Training – Pecking Order

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Tidying Up

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 2

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 43

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 1

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 5

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 4

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 4

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 42

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 1

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 3

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 41

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

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The Good Samaritan

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 6

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 40

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 2

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 4

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

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