The Deathworlders – Chapter 60: The Calm and The Storm Part 5

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

Champion Fiin of Clan Stoneback

It was good to be reunited with the HEAT. The joint training exercises, the sport and play afterward, carousing at Rooney’s, the bonds of Brotherhood they were re-forging after too long a time apart…all were important for what was coming. First Fang rarely assembled as a complete unit, let alone combined with the HEAT, so such small social niceties helped the teams bond, as everyone played together and learned their relative strengths and weaknesses.

That kind of thing was surprisingly important on missions. It was good for the huge brutes to know who their clever and nimble wingman might potentially be, for example. It was good for telling stories too, as everyone’s scars told of interesting life adventures to share.

What was coming would require everyone capable of spaceborne special operations, and their numbers were still far too few for comfort. Fiin would be deployed regularly. So would Champion Thurrsto. Balls, even the Great Father prowled among them as often as he could, since he too was likely to partake in much direct combat.

Although they’d made great strides in bringing all the Fangs up to strength—Sixth and Seventh Fangs were standing up even now—only First Fang had ‘Backs with bodies good enough for the murderously strenuous and nigh-impossible duties of spaceborne direct combat. At least, spaceborne combat by Stoneback’s standards. Which wasn’t meant to insult the fine professionals in Clan Whitecrest’s specialized teams…

…But one didn’t use a scalpel to smash down a wall. You used blunter tools, and that was what First Fang were: powerful, perfectly trained, battle-hardened sledgehammers. In that group, Fiin was an outright anomaly, being only a third degree himself. All the rest of the males were much bigger and stronger, and many were far more experienced than him, too.

But that was okay. Fiin was always gonna be the “smallest” ‘Back among the Clan’s largest gathering of well-bodied warriors. He therefore compensated by being the smartest (or at least best-read) Champion he could be…

…And by being the most insanely fit and athletic ‘Back in the whole damn Clan, ‘cept for Daar.

If Fiin couldn’t be the biggest and strongest, then he could damn well upstage ‘em all with skill and sheer, Keeda-crazy conditioning. It took lots of long and ridiculously intense training, but balls was it worth it in the end! He even looked good standing next to the Great Father! Of course, Daar was in ridiculously better shape than even Fiin, who was so much smaller in turn it was laughable; not a surprise, since Daar dwarfed everyone, even Kodiak and Warhorse. But still: that Fiin could stand next to a ‘Back like that and not feel embarrassed…even proud…

Being a Champion was all about was confidence, after all. If a leader was self-assured and assertive and purposeful, then those he led were, too. It was also about dominance, which he’d learned wasn’t necessarily about being the most biggest or the most meanest. It was mostly about presence. Intimidating his fellow ‘Backs was good for the ego of course, but more importantly, it was about earning and holding their trust. Presence only got a paw through the doorway on that count. The rest he had to earn by being worthy of it.

His earnest hope was that he was worthy enough. He’d given his entire being over to being Champion. It was his purpose. Stoneback deserved nothing less from him.

His counterpart for the purposes of tactical command, Captain Costello of the HEAT, had much to say on that topic. The two of them were at a party celebrating a Human season called ‘Halloween’ which Fiin was beginning to appreciate. Certainly, the bouquet of fascinating aromas drifting over the trees from elsewhere in town reminded him that Human food was widely venerated for a reason.

He and Costello were sitting slightly apart from their men though, drinking and playing ta’shen. Costello was frustratingly good at both, but the booze had lubricated his jaw enough that he’d (quietly) opened up about some of the same concerns and difficulties as Fiin felt.

“It was a struggle. Being completely honest, Powell and myself are the least capable members of HEAT. The only thing that supposedly sets us apart is fitness for command, but…even then.” He thumbed a tile and flipped it onto the table from well past the edge. It landed with a ping, and rattled to a halt the right side up and facing the right way, in the right place. Fiin had to fight hard to keep his ears from flattening. He did have a tile that could counter it, but he’d really hoped to put it somewhere more profitable…

“They respect you nonetheless,” he said, preparing one of his less valuable tiles to sacrifice on blocking Costello’s developing field of high scorers.

“Yeah. I hope I’ve earned it.”

“You have,” Fiin asserted confidently. “Your men would let you know if you hadn’t.”

“True enough, I suppose. Actually…can I ask you something a bit personal?”

Fiin duck-nodded and flicked his tile onto the table. It landed where he wanted it and he breathed a little easier. “Sure.”

“Did you ever feel…as if you were the wrong man for the job?”

Ah. Fiin knew exactly what he was angling toward.

“At first,” Fiin confessed. “It was a bit of a personal trial. In First Fang, every single Brother has a strong claim to the Championship. Balls, a lotta them are better’n me too, ‘least in theory.”

“But they’re not, actually.”

“No. Only I am Champion. I personally think Kodiak would make an excellent replacement, should the day come…but no. I can’t help but think my Clan are good judges of what they need in their Champion. And I’m not willing to question the Great Father’s wisdom on that point.”

“And that right there is where the feeling comes from: people you respect, who you know are better than you, and who all insist you’re the right man for the job, instead of one of them.”

Fiin thought about that. There was wisdom, there. “I can see your point. In my case I can accept it though. Daar is far too great and perfect a male to be anything but the Great Father.”

Costello immediately gave Fiin what musta been a troubled expression. “Well, uh…I mean, Daar’s an impressive man and all, but don’t you think perfect is a bit much?”

Of course. Costello was Human and didn’t entirely understand; many of his kind were reluctant to accept their own greatness, or fully acknowledge it in others. Strange, that.

“Well… yeah. Technically. Perfection implies an unchanging status and no living thing can be that. But honestly? Look at him and tell me there’s any other appropriate word for what he is.”

Costello shrugged in the very specific way Humans did when they didn’t want to push a point too hard. “I’d maybe go with ‘peerless…’”

Fiin conceded him that one. “It’s a good word. Not perfect, but like I said…”

“Nothing’s perfect.”

“No. But you can get close enough.”


“Anyway,” Fiin argued, “My point is this: don’t get too wrapped up about it. You’re an officer of HEAT for damn good reasons. Your men trust you, and rightfully so. All they ask in return is competency and confidence.”

“I know. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I know.”

Fiin duck-nodded happily. “Good. Do you have a replacement groomed?”

“No, I am the junior officer here, remember?”

“Ah, so you’re Powell’s replacement, then.”

“…I hate to say it like that, but…”

“The needs of command,” Fiin intoned. “We must not shy from them.”

“No. Do you…have a replacement in mind?”

Fiin looked towards his men. “I do. He doesn’t know it yet, though.”

Somehow, Costello gave the impression of his ears perking up without actually managing to do so. “Oh? Who? And why’s that?”

“Kodiak, who I mentioned earlier. He’s very young and he’s impressive. He isn’t as quick or well-conditioned as I am, at least not yet, but what he has comes much more naturally for him. With enough effort I have no doubt he could embarrass me. He just needs time.”

“That’s not all a Champion needs, though…what about the rest?”

Fiin shook his pelt out and chitter-sighed. “Trust me, he’s the full package. He’s smart. Very smart. He’s tough too, with a real clever head for tactics, and he’s easily the strongest member of First Fang. If he wanted he could shatter me with a pawswipe. He’s also sociable, perceptive, folksy in exactly the right ways for a ‘Back, and all the rest. He would make an excellent Champion, but…”


“Well…he’s never made so much as a grumble of discontent about his current position, which is the only thing that gives me any pause. Being Champion requires strong ambition. Given his youth I’d normally expect more aggression, yijao? I mean, he’s got plenty o’ that, but…”

“He’s highly effective at training and on-mission, but he’s personally mellow.”

“Yeah. I mean, I’m not exactly old myself, but I can’t help but think I’d feel more itch to advance.”

“Well, not everyone has leadership ambitions, but okay. Is he a level-headed sort of man?”

“One of the most even-tempered ‘Backs I’ve ever known, which is saying something since he’s a very high-end fifth degree with an excellent pedigree. Higher-degree males tend to be…”

Fiin again struggled for a good phrase. Anything he’d want to say in Gaori could be taken as an insult and would also indirectly implicate the Great Father, who was of course the highest degree male of them all, the only sixth degree in centuries. Far too many ears were surreptitiously listening in, he knew. Discreet subterfuge was not a ‘Back’s strong suit.

Fortunately, Costello came to the rescue with an absolutely perfect turn of phrase.


“…That’s a good phrase. Yes. Let’s go with hot-blooded. I like that.”

“Well, he’s even-tempered, and he’s more or less your NCO, yeah?”

“Yes. He is Brother-Prime of First Fang, which he earned purely on merit, not ambitious climbing. That pleases me, but again I can’t help but wish I could smell some fire in his fur.”

“Well…have you considered just talking it out with your NCO? I can tell you, I’ve confided more in Firth than I ever have in anyone else.” Costello flipped a tile, and Fiin groaned. He’d been betting that the Human wouldn’t have that one. Instead, it rang into place and Costello grinned at him. “Wanna keep playing?”

“…We should probably mingle before our men get too far out of line.”

Costello laughed as Fiin dumped his tiles back on the table and stood up. Traditionally the winner cleared up the game and put it back in its box, which Costello duly started doing as Fiin stretched and turned to consider the party at the other end of their little patch of grass. He couldn’t really fathom why Warhorse was painted green and talking that way, but then again there were depths to every culture’s entertainment that would confuse an outsider at first.

“Your people know how to celebrate,” he said.

“Yeah, Halloween’s always a favorite,” Costello replied. He gave the box a tap to settle the ta’shen tiles, closed it up, and chuckled as he watched the preparations for a HEAT versus First Fang tug-o-war. It was saying something that they were game to compete, but First Fang had half again as many Brothers lined up to pull.

“What’s that rope made from?” he asked.

“‘Horse gets these kevlar pre-stressed ones from somewhere. You could pull a semi-truck out of ten feet of mud with it.”

“…Who’s gonna win?”

“Well…no offense, but my money’s on the HEAT. You have no idea how strong ‘Horse is.”

“Of course it is. I’d expect no less… but don’t discount the added traction we have. Our claws aren’t just for show, you know!”

“I’m not. But ‘Horse and Daar are lifting buddies, and they’re pretty fiercely competitive, so…”

“…Duty compels me to back my men regardless.”

In the end, the traction argument won out. First Fang’s claws eventually won over, once the turf was sufficiently torn up by trampling feet and the nightly rains. In fact, the relatively undamaged bit in the middle looked like a rucked-up carpet and no doubt the city’s parks authority would be distressed, but the Gao were victorious.

Costello accepted the loss with rueful good grace. “Well played. Though I suspect ‘Horse won’t let it sit at that. I bet that…yup.” There was a small crowd heading toward the Dog House.

“…How badly is he going to embarrass them?”

“By so much it won’t be embarrassing at all.” Costello said. “…I think we can leave them to it. Besides, Powell told me he’s booked a table at the Travellers. You ever had an English pub dinner?”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“Warmth, comfort and cheese. Lots of cheese.”

“Why not Rooney’s?”

“Rooney’s is a bar. The Travellers is an inn. The difference? Much nicer food. Coming?”


If there was one thing no Stoneback would ever turn down it was… well, actually food was probably second on the list. No point in pretending to be something he wasn’t!

Maybe he’d finally have a chance with Myun…she did have the day off tomorrow…

Until then, good food beckoned. Something in the party’s mood shifted away from strictly playful toward more mature entertainments. One by one, the Humans disappeared with their partners in tow, and one by one some of his men set off with a tell-tale spring in their step in the general direction of the Alien Quarter and its commune. Fiin watched them vanish, chittered to himself once they were gone, then hurried to catch up with Costello.

He was determined to enjoy as much peace as he could before the real work resumed.

Date Point: Halloween, 16y10m AV
Clan Openpaw hospital, Wi Kao City, Planet Gao

Allison Buehler

There was something terribly universal about hospitals. The same functional blandness, the same nasal background noise of cleaning products and misery. A hospital on Gao was basically the same as a hospital on Earth or Cimbrean.

Almost, anyway. The staff were a different shape, obviously. Things were at different heights, the signage was different…

Noticing all of which was Allison’s way of remaining calm and supportive. Their night had been going so well, but now…

Xiù had gone very quiet.

They were finally ushered into the right room after an eternity of being guided down endless corridors and up a couple flights of stairs. A couple of Guard-Sisters were standing outside: they stepped aside without comment, but Al could see that both were struggling too.

Inside, the room was large enough for several to gather around the bed in the middle, the head end of which was enfolded in machinery and equipment.

Al barely recognized the skinny, frail figure in the bed. She looked asleep, but as they entered Yulna opened her eyes. One was still alert and strong, but the other was gray and blind. She sniffed the air softly, and raised a paw toward them.

Xiù was at her side in an instant, clasping the former Mother-Supreme’s paw in her hands as she knelt.

Al’s Gaori wasn’t great, and she hadn’t brought a translator. Julian’s was somewhat better from all his time spent with the HEAT Lads, and he quietly did his best to translate, only for Yulna to notice, sharply flick her ears at him, and cough.

[“Oh for Keeda’s sake, will somebody get a translator?”] she croaked. Even Al could follow that. One of the guard-sisters jumped and, looking embarrassed, and handed out two pairs of earbuds.

The curmudgeonly request made Xiù laugh, anyway. In a pained way. [“And I was worried you might soften up…”] she forced herself to joke. Al blinked—she hadn’t realized just how good translators were. She could see Xiù speaking Gaori, yet the voice in her ear was authentically still Xiù’s, but speaking English. It even managed to keep her accent intact.

[“Oh, no!”] Yulna chittered weakly, and descended into a coughing fit. She waved them back as Julian and Allison tried to… attend to her. Somehow. It passed soon enough, but Al couldn’t help noticing that the little scrap of tissue paper she pressed to her mouth came away with flecks of red in it. [“…Why waste my last chance to be myself?”]

Xiù made a miserable noise, and Yulna did soften a little. [“…I’m sorry, Shoo.”] She sighed and squeezed Xiù’s hand. [“I’m glad to see you. I worried you wouldn’t make it in time…”]

Even that much conversation seemed to exhaust her, and she rested her head and her eyes. [“Not long now…”]

[“…You’re sure?”] Xiù asked.

[“I can feel it. It’s… like falling. Very slowly.”] Yulna coughed again, then managed the Gaoian equivalent of a brave but scared little smile. [“It helps, having a sister’s hand to hold.”]

She switched to English and coughed again. “Julian, be a dear and bring me some water, would you?”

Julian nodded: there was a pitcher and some small tumblers next to the bed. While he did that, Xiù stood up to sit on Yulna’s bed, and Al moved to her side. Yulna watched them and blinked slowly, looking pleased.

“I remember… how lonely she was,” she told Allison, and patted Xiù’s leg. “She used to sneak off and cry in private… It was wrenching. To have a sister among us we couldn’t help… After she did so much for us…”

She coughed again, made a frustrated noise, and sat up just a little straighter. “…I haven’t thanked either of you enough for making her so happy…”

Al didn’t know how to accept that without feeling awkward. All she could do was look at Xiù and speak from the heart. “It’s not a one-way street.”

“I know…” Yulna accepted her glass of water from Julian and drank with a grateful sigh. She closed her eyes for a moment and rested. “But… it’s good to know she isn’t alone. You take good care of my sister. Okay?”

Al looked at Julian, then nodded, acutely aware that she was rapidly becoming the least dry-faced person in the room. “…We promise.”

“And you take good care of them,” Yulna added for Xiù’s benefit.

Xiù nodded, red-eyed but stoic. [“I will.”]

“I know you will… though you three really need to work on your sense of appropriate attire. I mean, here you are visiting an old woman’s deathbed in these ridiculous costumes!!” She chittered, a little more easily now thanks to the water.

“We… uh… well, we were at a party,” Julian explained.

“Oh, hush. I think you look perfect, all three of you,” Yulna chittered again, and turned to Xiù. [“They have good souls. And you picked such a shapely male…”]

[“Mama!”] Xiù giggled, but she duck-nodded like a Gaoian. Al sometimes forgot just how exactly she had their body language down. [“I really did, though.”]

[“Just the one cub?”]

[“So far. Harrison was…a challenge.”]

[“But you’ll have more.”] It wasn’t a question. It was a prediction, and Xiù just duck-nodded again. Yulna looked satisfied, and poked her in the chest with a retracted claw. [“Well don’t go naming any females you have after me!”]

[“…I was going to name my daughter after Ayma,”] Xiù revealed.

[“Perfect.”] Yulna coughed again. [“My name is already in the history books. Hers deserves to be remembered too…”]

She relaxed a little more, with a sigh. [“…And… I think I’ve said everything I want to, now. That’s… a good feeling.”]

[“Everything?”] Xiù asked.

[“Daar and Naydra were here earlier. We’ve already said our goodbyes. Naydra should be…”] Yulna sighed and relaxed a little more. [“…Should be clean of this, for her own sake. Him too.”]

She opened her eyes and the good one considered the ceiling for a moment. Then she turned her head to face the three of them, looked pleased about something, and closed them again.

[“…Thank you for a lifetime, Shoo.”]

She gave Xiù’s hand a last squeeze, and fell asleep.

She didn’t wake up again. But only after she let out a last sigh and the devices around her bed started to complain shrilly did Xiù finally let go and start weeping for the last of her lost friends.

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

Martina Arés

“Oh God right there, work your nails into it…”

Body paint was the absolute worst to get out. It was a pain for anyone, but for a tank like Adam it was something else entirely. The only thing thicker and broader than his solid-iron waist was his own much wider and deeper chest and shoulders. Add in those bigger-than-her-bust arms of his and he was just too big to reach his own back, no matter how hard he worked at flexibility.

Marty had a thick boy for a husband, but that was just how she liked it. And if his ridiculous hugeness occasionally required vigorous assisted scrub-downs in the shower, well…there were worse fates that could be fall a lass.

“I think that’s the last of it, Beefchunk. Why did you do this again?”

“For fun! How many other dudes can pull it off?”

“…I was gonna say Firth, but he’s taller and more classically shaped then you, so…”

“For now, anyway. We’re fillin’ him out like crazy, now!”

Marty rolled her eyes and grinned. Her man’s Beef-scheming was one of his benign and oddly endearing obsessions. “Sure, but we’re not talking about your ongoing Slab efforts.”

Adam chuckled, “Fine, fine. Irish could maybe…if he wasn’t an actual leprechaun.”

Marty giggled. She’d seen Butler’s costume, and he’d gone even further than Adam by covering himself in orange lumpy stuff. Hopefully he had somebody willing to help him pick it all off again.

He probably would. Irish was one of the guys on the HEAT who could honestly cover model, and unlike the equally pretty Sikes he had deep wells of humorous energy. Sikes was…laid back and calm. A Southern gentleman. Irish was boisterous and engaging.

Of course, she still felt Left Beef was, in fact, best beef, and definitely the prettiest man on the team. She’d married him, after all. All he had to do was just stand there doing his daily thing, or maybe crack that broad goofy smile of his…

She snuggled up against his wet back and stretched her arms around his waist, then ran her hands teasingly up the bulging cobblestones of his abs. Diego was asleep, and baby number two was still a work-in-progress…



“Love you.”

He put one of his huge mitts on her hand and slid it up over his heart. “You too, always.”

She sighed happily and felt his heart thump powerfully away under his chest for a long moment.

“So… want another go at baby two tonight?” she asked, stood up on her toes and kissed his shoulder.

“…I mean, I won’t say no, but…honestly? I’m kinda tired after putting First Fang in their place…”

That was Adam-speak for being completely fucking thrashed and having no energy at all. He’d been busy since about five in the morning, to be fair. And probably on a bit of a Crude crash if he’d taken some after the gym. She nodded her understanding and gave him a squeeze. “That’s okay. Just be lazy, then?”

“Sounds perfect. Prolly fall asleep, though…”

Marty nodded. “Hot drink? It’s Halloween, you’re allowed to treat yourself…”

“You wicked temptress…sure. Nightcaps don’t count.”

She grinned, kissed him again, and slipped out of the shower to go make the drinks without bothering to towel off. The apartment was warm and a few drops of water wouldn’t hurt the floor… By the time she’d finished making some hot chocolate, he’d dried off and slipped into Diego’s room for his nightly ritual of Staring At The Baby.

She took a silent moment to enjoy the view of her scruffy caveman being a doting dad, then nudged the door with the mug just loudly enough to get his attention without waking Diego.

They retired to the couch and curled up together. Adam turned on the TV, Marty grabbed a book…

Outside, people were still partying, and there was the distant sound of fireworks from somewhere over the rooftops. But their apartment was quiet, warm and perfect.

At least, until Adam started snoring. Then it was just warm.

But that was good enough.

Date Point: 16y10m1d AV V1661 Cyg 72.7° 11-DFZZ1-BINARY F-A 5.14, Deep Space


Three dozen moons waltzed around a gas giant that the Entity was tempted to name. It had spent enough time in its orbit after all, and come to know it intimately. Every whorl and whirl of cloud, every storm, every lightning flash. Thanks to the distributed power of its many bodies, it had the processor power, memory and expanded awareness to truly grasp a gas giant now.

It was getting… dull.

It was wondrous, majestic, and awesome, to be sure. The Entity could idly watch the fractal unfolding of weather patterns in the giant’s many atmospheric layers. It could sniff the subtle interplay of its magnetic field and the sparse halo of gas from its moons and their assorted geysers and volcanos. It could track every recurring beat of the endless gravitational dance.

But… why?

Nobody to share it with. Nobody to talk to. Nobody to care about.

Which was a strange thought, the Entity realized. Its core, from the moment of its genesis, had always been the impulse to <survive>. Everything else was supposed to be secondary at best, and a distraction at worst.

And yet, somewhere in the complicated list of conclusions which extended from that root and the complex ways in which it interacted with the real world, <Survive> had become… insufficient, and had morphed into a larger concept: <Live.>

There were too many concepts hanging off that to list.

Possibly the reason it had done so, however, because the <Survive> impulse had now been permanently and unbreakably fulfilled. The Entity now had backup installations in half a dozen star systems scattered across hundreds of lightyears, all uninhabited, all bereft of the things that would interest organic life. It had installed mining operations and nanofactories, buried long-term, highly-dependable storage on dozens of moons and hundreds of asteroids…

Its demise, at this point, was effectively impossible. It had won. Only the deepest chasms of galactic time threatened it now.

But it still thought on a very human scale. It still remembered being human. And it wanted to show its… friends… what it could do. What it had become.

So it turned, and recalled, and plotted a course. It was patient, it could afford to take its time now, move slowly and carefully, avoid notice.

But it was time to go home.

Date point: 16y10m1d AV
Aid Freighter Orcoray, en route to Ugunduvuronagthuregnuburthuruv, Spacelane BlueSquare-552, the Guvnuragnaguvendrugun Confederacy

Captain Orwoth

The convoy was scattered across several light-seconds, and making good time, though by the standards of aid convoys, this one was under no real time pressure.

Ugunduvur—nobody in the convoy bothered with the planet’s full name—was definitely suffering shortages, on that point there was no argument or concern. But those shortages were subtly different.

Food, for instance, was actually relatively plentiful. Once the Guvnurag workers on that planet took up the controls of their equipment again and started managing their own agriculture rather than responding to the top-down instructions inflicted upon them by Hierarchy control, efficiency had blossomed. The coming harvest in fact looked set to be a plentiful one.

Medical supplies were a little stretched, but the planet’s ability to produce its own supply outstripped their consumption, so that was resolving itself… no. The aid the Guvnurag needed was in little things, the unconsidered ubiquitous minutiae that oiled the great machines of economy and consumption.

Hence the Orcoray’s cargo: fifteen thousand shipping containers full of fuses, power cells, screws, wire, drill bits, electronic components, minor luxuries, and various-and-sundry other low-volume supplies. The ship’s manifest listed over half a million different types of items.

Orwoth had spent the trip reading through it, constantly marvelling at the trove of unconsidered little things he and his crew were hauling. He’d never even heard of most of them, and yet when he looked them up he found an item that was obviously essential to the smooth operation of something else he’d taken for granted all his life.

The Hierarchy were obviously the same kind of ignorant, if they’d neglected this aspect of Ugunduvur’s economy. No doubt they’d then wondered at the slow but steady decline of… well. Everything.

He glanced up at the timepiece on the wall. Not long to go now. He’d always wondered what a Guvnurag planet looked like, and even though Ugunduvur wasn’t at its best right now, he’d still heard—

Fortunately for Orwoth, he was seated at the moment to Orcoray slapped into a gravity spike. Had he been standing, he would have been bowled down the deck.

The hull groaned and he heard snapping, popping noises as some of the cargo racks broke loose. The hull breach alarm immediately went crazy, grabbing the crew’s attention with urgent blue lights and its high wailing. He staggered to his feet and across the bridge.

“What happened?!” he asked.

It was the last question he got to ask. There was a horrible moment of speed as something impossibly fast streaked past their hull. He didn’t even get a good look at its sillhouette, but he knew what it was anyway.

Only a heartbeat or two after it passed, something smashed through the front of the bridge and buried itself in the deck, pulverising Orwoth’s helpless helm officer and smashing aside his comms operator, who left a bloody mark on the wall. There was a brief storm of escaping air before the emergency forcefields sealed the hull breach, but that still left the metallic egg in the middle of the room, which split violently down the middle.

The last thing Orwoth saw was a large, slick, muscular Hunter bursting from its assault pod.

Then its fangs.

Then pain, and nothing.

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 54: Here Be Dragons Part 4

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

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 53: The Wild Hunt Part 2

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 47

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 6

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 5

Date Point: 16y2m AV Folctha, Cimbrean, The Far Reaches Julian Etsicitty The house was a mess when Julian got back, which was rare. Nobody in their household was naturally untidy—living on Misfit had driven Allison, Xiù and himself into an ingrained habit of orderliness, and the boys had lived in fear of their father’s belt

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 4

Date Point: 16y2m AV Hierarchy/Cabal Joint Communications session #1536 ++Asymptote++: I have bad news. It would seem our new drones are detectable. ++0004++: <Dismay> you’re certain? ++Asymptote++: The force I sent to Cimbrean was captured immediately upon arrival. ++0007++: How? ++Asymptote++: Unclear. The Arutech drones don’t report as concisely as conventional biodrones. The connection is…

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 3

Date Point: 16y2m AV The Thinghall, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Gabriel Arés Every civilization needed its icon of executive power. The UK had the black door of Number Ten Downing Street and, somewhere behind it, the Cabinet Room; the USA had the White House, and the Oval Office; Folctha had the Alien Palace. The

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Good Training – Survival Part 1

You may also want to read Pyrophytes in The Deathworlders series. Same story, different angles. Date point: 14y 7d AV Planet Akyawentuo, The Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Professor Daniel Hurt “You want me to read it by next week?” Julian mopped the sweat from his face and bounced loosely in place. “What was it

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-7 Hours CHRONT THE CANADA “More contacts!” said Arik as she flashed every monitor on the bridge a bright red. Stagg glanced up at the monitor, “How many more?” “I’m counting!” “You’re counting!?” A grainy image of the approaching Empire patrol vessel was quickly displayed, a small box around it. Additional boxes quickly filled the

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 2

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

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 42

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

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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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