The Deathworlders – Chapter 60: The Calm and The Storm Part 3

Date Point: 16y9m AV
High Mountain Fortress, the Northern Plains, Gao

Brother Tooko, Stud of Clan Firefang

The door closed, and Tooko was left alone with a male who was, in a very biological sense, practically his opposite.

Tooko was proud to be a first-degree male. It was his charm, his calling card and his selling point. He could confidently and truly boast that no other male his age had sired as many daughters, and very few had sired more cubs than him in total.

The Great Father was obviously among those few and held a commanding lead over the field, even among Stud-Primes. And while the Great Father was a figure of deference and respect of course, it was just a little but vexing to know that all the groomed perfection Tooko could ever muster wouldn’t be quite as attractive to the Females as raw feral magnetism.

He’d started playing around with a concept from human fashion to try and regain the edge. ‘Sprezzatura,’ a kind of studied and calculated nonchalance. The idea was to seem effortless and even aloof from such petty concerns as how perfectly his coat was groomed or how well-trimmed he was, while in the privacy of his own quarters he in fact tinkered with every detail. He could spend hours working on every last subtle imperfection, each one studiously judged to give the maximum impression of sexy rakish insouciance.

Tooko had to work hard at it all. Daar, it seemed, genuinely didn’t. Well…he did obviously spent a lot of time in the gym, but he would have done that anyway. He was a well-lacerated brute of a Stoneback over fifty years gone, yet somehow retained all his youthful handsomeness and energy. Those many scars covering him from head to tail were mostly hairline things that told the story of his rough-and-tumble nature without marring his body’s ridiculous perfection. Balls, they weren’t even visible unless his coat was short-shorn, which it usually was; no grizzled hide for him. The only real clue to Daar’s age was the (maddeningly) dignified silver creeping into his cheek-ruffs and the slightly longer fur along his torso-thick forearms. And as for everything else…well. There was no point dwelling on that which Tooko could never be.

But despite all that, Tooko just couldn’t work up the will to hate the Great Father. He was… likeable, even despite it all. And in all honesty, subservient awe was so much easier and more natural…but Daar didn’t like that. He respected males who thought and acted for themselves. And yet, something about it all made Tooko powerfully desirous of pleasing the Great Father.

Which, really, was pretty much the definition of subservient awe in the first place.

The Great Father duck-nodded politely. “Thanks ‘fer comin’.”

“Well, I could hardly refuse, could I?” Tooko retorted, playfully rather than resentfully.

“…You coulda. I’m the Great Father, sure, but I try not ‘ta be a kwekshit about it.”

“With respect, My Father… I really couldn’t. You’re speaking the truth I’m sure, but let’s not pretend I really get to say no when you summon me.” Tooko had studied Daar even more carefully than he’d studied casualness. There was a line between disrespect and blunt confrontation, and the closer to that line one rode, the better… provided one stayed on the right side of it.

Daar snorted. “…Guess y’don’t,” he admitted. “Don’t think I’ll ever get used ‘ta that…take a seat. JETS team two should be here shortly.”

“You’re handling our briefing personally?”

“Yeah. ‘Cuz things are ‘bout ‘ta get way more serious, an’ this is gonna be my last chance ‘fore I gotta focus on other things…”

He looked up as the doors at the other end of the room opened and three familiar humans entered, escorted by Naydra.

Wilde, Rees and Frasier were looking good, and smelled of jungle. Clearly they were fresh back from some kind of training operation… though the bouquet of other, more urban (and erotic) aromas around them suggested they’d enjoyed a productive day or two of leave in Folctha.

Daar took one whiff in their general direction, flicked an ear, and gave Tooko an amused, sly look.

“You can always tell when a Human got lucky, can’t’cha?”

“The smell lingers all week,” Tooko agreed. Of course, it was just as true for Gaoians, but Humans were so very teasable, and sure enough the three JETS operators put on a gratifying show of covering for their embarrassment with smiles and nudges among themselves.

“Some of us,” the Mother-Consort observed, “Are discreet enough to not mention it.” Her tone was icy, but she was nothing but warmth as she sniffed noses with Daar. Tooko caught the slight, sad flick of her ear, and he knew why: the Great Father had been with somebody very sick, recently. There was a faint note of imminent death among his scent today.

Tooko had been trying to ignore it. Fortunately, it all went over the Humans’ heads.

Rees, as ever, was the loudest of the three. He grinned enormously. “Tooko! ‘Ow’s it ‘angin’, Mush?!”

He led a round of paw-crushing, painfully physical greetings that probably added to rather than diminished Tooko’s carefully scruffy appearance, and once it was complete the six of them sat to discuss business.

Daar opened with a map of Hunter space, insofar as it had been mapped at all.

“We’re givin’ you two targets,” he said. “First up is Hell, right here.”

He touched a claw to one of the highlighted systems, and it zoomed in. “Site of the ring we blew up. Prob’ly that planet is uninhabitable now, but we need intel on how the Hunters are reactin’. You won’t be landin’ there, just fly by, take some scans from orbit, then move on ‘ta the main objective…”

Another gesture, and they moved on from Hell to a comparatively nearby system, just a few hundred light years away. “…Doesn’t have a name, technic’ly. Over at Mrwrki they wanna call it ‘Mordor’ so I guess if you wanna call it that you can.”

The Humans chuckled, but Tooko was left confused. “‘Mordor,’ My Father?”

“It’s from a Human epic, kinda like Nerru when he went across the sea.”

“Ah.” That was one of Tooko’s favorites as a cub.

“We even have a Took,” Frasier chuckled.


“Never mind, Pippin. We’ll explain later.”

“After second breakfast,” Rees agreed.

The Great Father’s knowledge of Human lore was nigh-legendary, and his bass chitter was enough to kill Tooko’s objection to the no-doubt complex new nickname, at least for now.

“Back on subject?” he suggested, instead of complaining.

The Great Father duck-nodded and returned to his map. “We don’t know shit about this planet. We’re pretty sure there’s no ring around it—near as we can tell, that thing was a one-off, thank Fyu’s furry nuts—but there could by all sortsa things in the system that’ll give us grief.

“Our long-term objective,” he continued, “Is ‘ta liberate that planet an’ the people on it. That’s gonna mean bringing in the Grand Army, but it’s also gonna mean puttin’ up a shield ‘round the planet. So you’re gonna be lookin’ specifically for ground-to-orbit weaponry, jump arrays, nanofactories… anythin’ that might jeopardize the shield or let the Hunters get past it once it’s up… or stop us from puttin’ it up in the first place.”

“Purely scouting? Or do we get to blow shit up?” Wilde asked.

“‘Yer bein’ given the most stealthiest o’ ships ‘cuz we can’t tip our paw jus’ yet, so…”


“I get to fly the Drunker again?” Tooko perked up eagerly.

“Better.” Daar pant-grinned broadly. “The third in the line. ‘Sides, Drunker on Turkeyer is bein’ upgraded an’ reserved ‘fer somethin’ real special an’ important.”

“Better?” Tooko’s ears were firmly pricked up and intent now.

“Wanna see her? Heh. What am I askin’ for? ‘Course you do!” Daar gestured them to follow and ambled happily across the room toward the far door from the one they’d entered through. Beyond was an enormous elevator, big enough for cargo handling, though even it groaned slightly under the Great Father’s heft. He tapped the controls with a chest-breaker of a claw to head up to the roof and dropped to four-paw looking highly pleased with himself.

“You’ll like this one even more than Drunker I bet. She’s a li’l bigger an’ more comfortable inside, but no sacrifice in performance for that. We contracted with Byron Group ‘fer some design enhancements too, ‘cuz they’ve got more ‘speriance doin’ deep-range exploration. So: a way more bigger pantry, a kitchen that don’t suck balls like the last one did, an’ a compact lil’ fold-up gym that’d keep me nice and tuckered out. Lotsa room ‘fer cavemonkeys, too!”

“Oh, thank Christ,” Frasier commented. “I wasn’ae lookin’ forward to gettin’ squashed in wi’ them.”

Wilde issued a humorless sort of one-beat chuckle, though his smile said he was in fact amused. “At least you weren’t gonna be Ferd’s personal snuggle-bear.”

The Great Father chittered merrily. “Oh, that’ll still happen, don’t kid ‘yerself. Anyhoo, it’s bigger, an’ all the specs are better, an’ we actually did listen to ‘yer gripin’ ‘bout the last mission so’s we filled it up with durable creature comforts. An’ unscented soap, too.”

Tooko glanced excitedly at the Humans, who looked more pleased than eager. Their loss.

The elevator reached the rooftop and the doors opened with a hefty gust of cold wind. The Northern Plains were a windy place at the best of times, but at this time of year they gained a frozen, arctic bite that cut straight through the fur. And as for the humans, without a nice thick natural coat to keep them warm, it must have slid over the skin like an ice cube.

The cold didn’t seem to bother the Great Father one bit, even in his habitually short coat. Instead he chitter-sighed happily and took a deep, appreciative breath.

“Refreshin,’ ain’t it?”

“Aye!” Frasier agreed. Wilde and Rees both gave him a mildly disbelieving look.

Daar gave an amused look toward Tooko. “Most monkeys don’t much like the cold, y’know. Ten’Gewek are exactly the same.”

“They’re worse,” Frasier agreed. “Dinnae like the cold at all.”

“If they ain’t sweatin’ their balls off, they’re huddled under pelts an’ complainin.’”

“They sound like fun…” Tooko said, but his heart wasn’t in the banter really. He’d just seen the keen blade of a ship parked on the fortress’ rooftop landing pad.

It was wider than it was long, swooping down to a sharp forward edge that must have had… Keeda, basically zero radar signature. Everything about its design was clearly from the same family as its ancestors, but refined, upgraded and tweaked. Even the necessary forcefield emitters on the hull were flush with its sleek lines rather than pushing outwards.

And, in a sign of the Great Father’s affection, the nose bore a stylized version of the stripes and facial markings characteristic of a genetically conforming Firefang.

For a moment he forgot himself, sank to all fours, and giddily charged up to meet his new ship.

Up close, she was a masterpiece. He couldn’t find a seam to fit his claw-tip into, which was an incredible feat for something that had to accommodate wild temperature fluctuations as it transitioned from ground to orbit and back, not to mention its own waste heat…

Speaking of which…

He found what he was looking for tucked at the back of the ship, among the kinetic thrusters. Every ship had to vent heat somehow, and while the shields could handle the job well enough, they generated their own pronounced EM signature. Stealth ships needed a way to dump heat that didn’t involve the shields, and this one was well-equipped with heatsink launchers. Several of them.

“…How long can she stay quiet?” he asked, half to himself. But Daar of course knew, of having ambled in his silent-wall-of-doom way across the roof to watch the inspection with an amused set to his ears.

“More’n three days,” he said. “If ‘ya don’t mind gettin’ real uncomfortable for the third day. An’, uh, mebbe closer to a week if you ain’t got cavemonkeys on board.”

“Or a Daar, maybe,” Rees ventured.

“Nah. Our thick fur means we ain’t gotta spend nearly as many calories as y’all bare-skin monkeys at keepin’ warm. Saves energy an’ all that. Mebbe a well-exercised Daar, though…”

“A little wishful thinking there, My Father?” Tooko ventured some light teasing.

Daar sighed to himself a bit forlornly. “Maybe…”

Rees cleared his throat. “So… I dread to ask, but what’s she called?”

Daar pant-grinned. “Well, she’s the latest in the line that started with Drunk on Turkey, and then o’ course we had the Drunker on Turkeyer so o’ course my first instinct was ‘ta name her in honor of her proud heritage.”

Tooko distinctly heard Wilde mutter ‘Oh, Christ…’ to himself under his breath.

Daar ignored him. “But then I thought, nah, this ship deserves its own name, so it’s not always in the shadow of its ancestors. So after much deliberation and hearing a few suggestions, I settled on somethin’ that really catches the finesse an’ power o’ this baby.”

He looked fondly up at the ship, then pant-grinned at Tooko again. “So, young Fireclaw,” he continued. “I proudly give you… the Silent But Deadly.”

Tooko hesitated warily. “…Oh. Well, that sounds like quite a fine—” he began, but the Humans were groaning.

“Problem?” Daar asked them, innocently.

Wilde sighed. “…Sir, I think I speak for the whole galaxy when I say that only you would take the latest and greatest in stealth warplanes and name her after a fart.”

Daar’s pant-grin got wider. “Actually, it was Naydi’s idea! It ain’t my fault ‘yer people get hung up over fart metaphors!” He chittered again, then sobered. “So. You get a month ‘ta train with her, get used ‘ta her an’ make ‘yer preparations. There’s a team on hand to make modifications an’ stuff—within reason—an’ some o’ that time’s gotta be used ‘fer Tooko’s shakedown, and gettin’ ‘yer cavemonkeys ready, too. They gotta know safety procedures…”

“So, we’re definitely taking some Ten’Gewek with us?”

“Yup. They’re ready as anyone can be, an’ okay mebbe they’re not gonna be so useful ‘fer the first leg o’ the mission, but ‘fer the second? Absolutely. Shit, they know more about scoutin’ new terrain than anyone. An’ after that ‘yer goin’ relay-world hunting. Kinda wish I could go wif y’all, but…”

There was a distinct note of…longing to the Great Father’s scent. Tooko felt a certain sympathy for that: he couldn’t imagine being permanently forced out of his work to take on a higher calling. What Daar had been doing in the field had been important, and while being the Great Father was about the most important thing he could possibly do—why else would he be doing it?—Tooko could tell that he’d have been more comfortable in the dirt, doing the hard work himself.

Wilde’s thoughts, clearly, had gone in a different direction. “As I recall sir, your relay missions took weeks. The Ten’Gewek are…high performance, let’s say. Especially Ferd, he eats like a Beef Bro.”

Daar duck-nodded. “Yeah, an’ if you were doin’ a long-term mission on a world that’d be a problem. Ideally ‘yer not, though. We figgered out the most importantest part is ‘ta get in, get sensors emplaced, and get out. Nominal mission’d be a couple-few days. Also, these are all gonna be deathworlds too, so there’ll prol’ly be game and such they can hunt in a ‘mergency.”

“Well…then no offense to them or anything, but…” Rees began.

“You much like climbin’ hunnerd meter trees with a hunnerd kilos o’ gear, Rees? An’ can ‘ya do that silently? How ‘bout in supergravity? They can do that effortlessly all day long.”

Rees paused. “…Fair points, those. Fuck, I’m sold!”

Daar chittered again. “Thought y’would be.” He looked up at the ship. “The Hunters are big. The Ring proved that. They’ve been around a long time, they’ve outlived a lotta species. Made a few extinct themselves, mebbe. You know I gotta lotta respect ‘fer Humans, an’ I know y’all have a lotta respect ‘fer the Gao. We both know that the other species can do things we can’t. But we both need ‘ta start respectin’ the Ten’Gewek ’fer the same reason.”

He looked back down at the four of them. “Cavemonkeys or not, they’re with us. Shit, they’re standin’ up to enlist in a war they don’t even really unnerstand. And they can bring somethin’ to it neither of us can. Primitive they may be, but they’ve got bodies better’n ours in basically every possible way, and their senses an’ instincts are super-sharp an’ perfectly tuned ‘fer this kind o’ adventure. That matters ‘fer missions like this, yijao? How ‘ya gonna deal with a bear-snake if’n ‘ya wanna avoid gunfire? What about if ‘ya gotta move boulders, climb cliffs, any o’ that? Can you guarantee ‘yer food? Is ‘yer awareness so good you wouldn’t want eyes an’ ears like theirs? We’d be fools ‘ta turn ‘em away just ‘cuz they ain’t industrialized.”

He looked at Tooko and flicked his ear mischievously. “Don’ worry. I’ll tell ‘em ‘yer fragile an’ they should play gentle.”

The thing about Brownies was they had an uncanny way of teasing that somehow lacked the sting of direct challenge. Daar being the “mostest” brownie, and being above the need to directly challenge anyone, was particularly good at it.

“So long as they don’t muss the fur job, I think we’ll get along.”

Daar chittered heavily, then looked back up at the Silent But Deadly. Something seemed to be on his mind.

After a moment’s thought, he revealed it. “…Look. You all know this is important anyway. Ain’t none of us can stomach havin’ somethin’ like the Hunters around. But there’s more ‘ta this mission than just kickin’ those balless fucks where it hurts. We’re sittin’ on a time bomb here. Come with me.”

He led the way to the edge of the roof and gestured to the horizon. “See there? The town of Pan Sho. What’s left of it, anyway. Destroyed by RFG, on my orders. I come up here an’ look at it most days…”

He considered the distant ruins for a moment, then turned away. “The Grand Army ain’t a cure for what the war did to us. It’s a patch, a band-aid. A way of takin’ all those males who survived the War an’ didn’t know where to turn an’ puttin’ em to good use. ‘Cuz the thing is, what I’ve got here is what the Humans call a tiger by its tail. Hundreds an’ hundreds o’ millions of fit, motivated Males all eager to do somethin’… It ain’t jus’ that I gotta keep ‘em useful an’ productive. There’s only so much employment that’s possible given’ how much was destroyed, an’ how much has to be built back up. I owe ‘em some kinda legacy, too. I am the most blessedest male ever. I’ve sired over a thousand cubs now, an’ I get to love a woman who is as close to perfect as a woman can be…”

He trailed off, sadly, and looked back over his shoulder. “None of ‘em…they’ll never get that. Mosta them ain’t gonna ever sire a single cub. Their legacy dies with ‘em, ‘cuz of the evil that were done to us. There just ain’t enough Females left, even if we took away their rights an’ became the kinda monsters I executed during the War, ain’t no physical way in the whole world for all the males in the Grand Army to pass on their line.”

“…But if they aren’t working toward something good…” Tooko realised, running ahead of the Great Father’s train of thought.

“…Then the charismatic sociopaths among ‘em won’t see things so clearly. They’d look at the Clan of Females on their island an’ think ‘we’ve got all these men and weapons, why can’t we just take our future?” And then I’d need to put them down.” Daar finished. He shook his huge head despairingly. “It ain’t a matter of if. It’s a matter of when. An’ the only thing can stop it is if most of the Grand Army feel they’re buildin’ a future that’s as good as all the cubs they’ll never sire. They did the first bit an’ helped free the Gao from invisible slavery. Right now, though… they’re sittin’ on their asses. That needs to change, as soon as possible.”

He gestured to the ship. “You’ll find ‘yer specific orders an’ full briefing waitin’ inside. But this is why I wanted ‘ta brief you in person today. ‘Cuz you need to unnerstand what’s at stake. An’ I can smell that you do.”

They nodded solemnly. He looked at each of them in turn, duck-nodded, and turned back toward the elevator. “See ‘ya on the day you head out.”

His absence left the roof feeling… quiet. And large. And open and cold. Tooko covered for the sudden feeling of discomfort by opening the airlock and swarming up the ladder to check out the interior.

It was indeed bigger inside than the Drunker on Turkeyer, and the space was used more efficiently too. It wasn’t exactly the height of luxury, but…

Rees clearly felt differently. “Fuckin’ ‘ell, boys. It’s like the fuckin’ Ritz in here!”

“You’re pretty chipper for a lad who just got told the fate of a species rests on his shoulders…” Wilde commented, following him up the ladder.

“‘Ey, one thing at a time. It’s a lot easier to save the world when you got a decent place to kip, you know!”

“At least one bloke in this squad has his priorities right…” Frasier muttered. “What d’you think, Pippin? She good?”

Tooko paused, then decided he’d get to the bottom of the ‘Pippin’ thing later. For now he ran a practiced eye over the technical specifications summary and felt his ears prick up. If the summary was right, this thing would fly like a Voidripper.

“…That good, hey?” Frasier commented.

“I… really hope so!” Tooko admitted. He checked the next document, read it, then handed it to Wilde. “Shall we go collect our monkey friends? I have a jump code to Cimbrean.”

“Just like that, huh?” Wilde mused. “I was expecting more of a farewell.”

“You boys are in for a treat! Aren’t you glad I’m good at high-gees?”

The Humans looked at each other, shrugged, and settled into their seats. “Well, alright then.” Frasier said. “Let’s take a ride.”

Tooko was only too happy to oblige.

Date Point: 16y9m AV
Mrwrki Station, Erebor System, Uncharted Space

Lewis Beverote

“That thing makes my skin fuckin’ crawl.”

“Come on, it can’t hurt you. It’s completely harmless now.”

“I don’t fuckin’ care, the fuckin’ thing’s still a giant walkin’ heebie-jeebie, dude.”

The hardest part of keeping the Hunter hadn’t been making it safe—the HEAT had already taken care of that by just pulling all its limbs off. Which sounded crueller than it really was, considering that the Hunter had already swapped out all of its natural ones for cybernetics. But Lewis had to admit, literally disarming the alien did do a pretty good job of neutralizing it.

It couldn’t walk, couldn’t manipulate anything… it was the perfect prisoner. But that all came with a downside. It was quickly going unresponsive.

Darcy thought they could secure its cooperation by promising it some limited mobility and stimulation, the same way any other interrogation would go. Lewis had his doubts.

“Bein’ honest, these guys haven’t shown much in the way of common psychology…”

She sighed and conceded his point with a small sideways shrug of her head. “If you have any better ideas I’m open to them. All I know is, we’ve got a nearly catatonic prisoner who hasn’t given us any useful intel yet…”

Lewis considered the camera feed from the monster’s cell. The Hunter was little more than a denuded skinny torso, slumped in the padded center of the cell’s floor with an IV line put in where the medics had tentatively guessed was best. It hadn’t actually died yet, so they musta guessed right. It barely responded to stimuli at all, turning one or two of its seven eyes toward anyone that entered its cell and then promptly ignoring them again.

Darcy gave a frustrated noise. “I know. Somebody once said that they have ‘shades of tartan’ morality. But surely boredom is universal?”

“When you assume—”

“Don’t finish that sentence, Lewis. Please.”

Lewis flashed her a charming grin, and left the old cliche unfinished. “I’m just sayin’, the only thing I know of that’s about as alien as these motherfuckers is the Entity. Does the Entity get bored?”

“Not… really,” Darcy conceded. “But you’ve got a point, we have to stop thinking of this thing as basically a disgusting kind of human and try and get into its head. What drives it?”

She stared at it for a moment, then a slow smile spread across her face. “Hmm…”

“Dude. Penny for your thoughts?”

“There’s one trick from the old book that I haven’t tried yet…”

Her ‘trick’ turned out to be a steak, so rare that Lewis could almost hear it mooing. How the fuck she could eat in the same room as that abomination, he didn’t know. Darcy musta had an iron-plated stomach to snarf down a flat iron steak while looking at a mutilated alien maggot-monster.

All seven of its eyes watched her hatefully as she did so.

Finally, when the plate was empty of all but a ruddy smear, Darcy pushed it aside and delicately wiped the corner of her mouth. “That was delicious. Really hit the spot, y’know?”

The Hunter made an angered growl.

“What’s the matter? You hungry? Want something more in your life than intravenous nutrition, do we? That might be possible…”

The growl got fiercer.

“I’m serious. Prime, juicy, deathworld red meat. And there’s so many kinds to explore, you know. Beef, lamb, pork…”

The Hunter did its best to spit, without success. “An’mal.” it sounded revolted, but that was a breakthrough for the ages considering it hadn’t been coaxed to communicate at all before that moment.

“We are all of us animals in the end,” Darcy replied, amiably. “It’s tastier than a needle in your throat and it’s the only option on the menu. We don’t eat sapients. Take it or leave it.”

The Hunter’s nostrils flared. It turned its head, the growl intensified….

“…Quesh-shunsh. Ashk.”

Darcy nodded, produced her tablet, and opened her list. “Let’s start with the basics, shall we? How many Hunters are there in total? A rough estimate will do.”

The Hunter lay in its restraints silent for nearly a minute. Darcy just watched it, as patient as the desk.

The Hunter’s will broke first.

“…Twenshthy. To power ten.”

Date Point: Halloween, 16y10m AV
Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches


Uthrug’s second life began with a thump, and a vague sense of unease that had nothing to do with leaving behind the planet he was born and had lived on all his years, and everything to do with the faint, disconcerting sense that the universe didn’t really approve of jump arrays.

Take the momentum, for instance. He’d just transferred instantly and seamlessly from one planet’s surface to another. Both worlds were undoubtedly moving at thousands or even tens of thousands of thousand-paces per quarterday relative to one another. They were spinning in different directions, had different surface gravities, were two thousand years apart by light’s reckoning…

And yet the most he’d felt was the barest of tiny jolts.

And then there was the waste heat! The great accounting department of the universe tracked energy down to the minutest fraction, and the amount of work involved in what had just happened, according to classical mechanics, should have generated enough waste heat to flash-vaporize cities at both ends of the wormhole… with enough left over to seriously inconvenience any nearby continents.

Uthrug knew the field equations inside-out and upside-down. He could perform them in his head in base 2, 8, 10 and 12. He knew perfectly well how the technology he’d just used accounted for those things… but he just couldn’t shake the nagging sensation that somewhere, in some way, the universe sighed morosely to itself and reached for an eraser every time mere uppity life forms decided to exploit the tricky loopholes.

He’d always had a vivid imagination.

He shook off his unease and lumbered off the jump platform at the urging of a pair of Humans in bright clothing as orange as sunset. He eyed them curiously as he went, having never actually seen their species in person before.

Their conversation made no sense at all.

“Nah mate, that’s the easy part. Her brother’s black judogi, one of my t-shirts, five quid in the toy aisle, job done. It’s the chicken wire and paper mache taco shell that’s driving my missus up the wall…”

The other shook his head and laughed. “I tell you mate, ever since the Gaoians picked it up? Halloween’s got a lot harder… Can I help you, sir?”

Uthrug realized that the question was directed at him, and that he’d been staring as he listened. He flushed a contrite shade of lemonade pink, shook his head and moved on with an apology.

Outside the array itself was customs and immigration. As the only passenger coming through on that jump—he’d been surrounded by boxes and sacks, but nobody to talk with—it seemed a little extravagant to open the booth just for him, but sure enough there was a Gaoian sitting inside, a male whose fur and uniform were both the precise color of bureaucracy.

“Welcome to Folctha! Papers please!”

Uthrug fished his travel documents out of one of his shoulder-satchels and handed them over.

“Thank you!” the Gaoian chirped, and inspected them with a well-practiced eye.

“These are all in order, excellent… you’re applying to immigrate?”

“I am,” Uthrug confirmed.

“Okay… You’ll need to check in at the Dominion consulate no later than three days from now. This welcome package has all the details.” The Gaoian reached down inside his booth and pushed a modest-sized folder full of information pamphlets across the desk. He stamped Uthrug’s papers, then paused in the middle of returning them. “…Ah. Just so you’re aware, you have arrived on an… interesting date.”

“How so?” Uthrug asked.

“This is a Human colony, as I’m sure you’re aware. They have some cultural… quirks. Such as setting aside days specially to celebrate in silly ways. Today is something called ‘Halloween’ and you may find some of what you see confusing.”

“In what way?” Uthrug asked, thinking back to the impenetrably strange conversation he’d overheard in the array chamber.

“Honestly, I think the best thing to do is to just let you see it for yourself. If you find yourself utterly perplexed, don’t worry about it too much. It confuses the tail off me, too.” The Gaoian twitched both his ears, duck-shrugged, and returned the stamped papers. “Welcome to Folctha.”

With that peculiar warning, Uthrug ambled through the array terminus in a slightly worried mood. He read the pamphlets as he waited in line for some food (clearly marketed in several nonhuman languages as being suitable for nonhuman consumption.)

They made no mention of this “Halloween” thing, but there were a lot of decorations around that were clearly temporary, and followed a consistent color scheme of black, fiery orange, a crepuscular purple and a rather septic shade of green, sometimes with the addition of intricate webs of thin white lines. There were shapes he didn’t really recognize, though some of the black shapes vaguely reminded him of stylized Rauwryhr.

“You look confused.”

Uthrug turned. A Human—female, he thought—smiled up at him.

“I am, rather,” he admitted.

“Yeah. I know that shade of sunflower yellow well,” the Human said, gesturing at his chromatophores. “Fresh off the boat?”

“Newly arrived?” Uthrug translated. “Yes.”

“And a little overwhelmed.”

“Are all Humans so familiar with Guvnurag emotional display?” Uthrug inquired. She shook her head no.

“No. But ETs are kinda my job,” she said, and extended a hand upwards. “Ava Ríos. I’m a journalist. You grip and shake, it’s a greeting. Face tentacles are fine by me.”

Uthrug followed the invitation, glad for a friendly welcome. She shook one of his tendrils with a smile, though she did discreetly wipe her hand on a small piece of paper as she sat down at a nearby table. There was a paper cup within arm’s reach, a faint trail of steam escaping through a vent in the top.

“A journalist?” Uthrug asked, taking what he believed was an unspoken invitation to sit down and join her.

“Extraterrestrial affairs. I heard a refugee from Ugunduvur was coming through the array and… well. Would you call yourself a refugee or a migrant?”

“…A little of both, I suppose. I don’t feel… capable… of remaining on that planet any longer,” Uthrug admitted.

“What’s your name?”


“Well, Uthugvugeg, how about a little quid pro quo? Uh, that’s a fair exchange. If I could, I’d like to interview you, right here and now. We haven’t heard much about what happened to your people, and I think that should change. In exchange I’ll answer any questions you have about Folctha and do my best to help you feel welcome. How does that sound?”

“…I suppose I don’t see any harm in it,” Uthrug ventured. “And I definitely have questions.”

“Excellent!” Ava sipped her drink, then handed him a tablet. “This is a consent form, terms, agreement. Any kind of unique personal identifying mark will do.”

Uthrug nodded his head and signed it. She bought him something called “carrots and hummus” which turned out to be genuinely delicious, and started to ask her questions and answer his.

It was about the warmest welcome he’d ever had.

Previous Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Next Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Implications

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 4 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 3 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 2 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 1 (NSFW)

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

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Shades of White and Orange

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

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Mother Earth

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

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 2

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 1

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 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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