The Deathworlders – Chapter 61: Violence Part 1

Date Point: 16y10m1d AV
Cloaked Hunter observation ship, Spacelane BlueSquare-552, the Guvnuragnaguvendrugun Confederacy

The Builder Alpha-of-Alphas

Things… collapsed. Spectacularly.

In one instant, the battle had been at a deliciously productive impasse. The Hunters’ own ships were grappling with the Humans’ and Prey-Species’ war vessels, neither side had a clear advantage and for the first time ever the Builders were able to study their foes at length. Previously, every estimate on those ships had been estimates, with quite a wide margin of error.

Precision promised the opportunity to duplicate, or even improve upon, their designs. The prolonged brawl had been eminently desirable from the Alpha-of-Alphas’ perspective, therefore.

The rapid way it fell apart, however… that was a surprise.

It began with a broodship at the half-radian position in the Hunter formation. The battle was elongated and flattened thanks to the prey-convoy, so the formation was not perfectly three-dimensional, and that broodship had been somewhat out of position as the web of Hunter forcefields built up. It had been left with a heat debt, that only got worse as it locked shields with the others and began to help dissipate the battle’s ferocious energies.

As the stalemate had formed, that problem had been left unresolved… Right up until the broodship exploded. Suddenly, spectacularly, and without forewarning.

There was an almost shocked quality to the moment of stillness that followed. As though neither side could quite believe what had just happened.

The Humans reacted first. With almost Eater-like ferocious glee, they capitalized on the new opening and poured on the pressure anew to exploit the sudden weakness on the Hunters’ flank. The Alpha-of-Alphas watched in dismay as the broodships on that end of the formation first recoiled, then retreated under the withering firepower that now threatened to overwhelm their interlaced shields.

The freighter the Hunters had been attempting to secure was abandoned, and the Fur-Faced flung themselves into the gap, seizing the initiative. Swarmships were smashed by the dozen in the space of just a few blood-pulses.

The future played out in front of the Alpha-of-Alphas with mathematical certainty. The deadlock was over, and now that the deathworlders had the momentum they would not be so timid as to hand it back. The Hunters had only one choice, now: Leave empty-handed, or die.

It gave the command to withdraw, in an orderly formation. It would have preferred for the Swarm to jump out, but the big Gaoian ship in the middle of the formation was generating much too powerful a wormhole suppression field for that. The only option was to warp away, and seed the retreat with gravity spikes to prevent a pursuit. Escape the suppression field, then jump.

To the enemy, it would look like a victory. The Hunters would appear to have been forced to retreat and the deathworld forces would reclaim the cargo ships, which the Alpha-of-Alphas predicted would then be escorted to the prey-world.

If so, then the bait had been taken. The enemy were slippery, agile, unpredictable. They arrived quickly and struck hard, faded away in response to serious opposition. Catching them, therefore, had required a change of strategy.

Now, their position would be known. Their course would be known. They could be controlled. Followed.


From the safety of its cloaked command ship, the Alpha-of-Alphas watched, and waited. And it revelled in an emotion that was rare for a Builder: the thrill of the hunt. The jaws of its trap were closing as intended.

It wasn’t the kind of trap its predecessor would have thought of. The Builder had different priorities to the Eater, and while its maw might drool at the idea of getting the Fur-Faced alpha-of-alphas on its vivisection table (after all, what worthier prey was there than the so-called ‘Great Father’ and his secrets?) its real prize was elsewhere.

Time to let the enemy get comfortable. Let them commit themselves, let their inertia accumulate. The Alpha-of-Alphas was patient: It would let them settle on those freighters and protect it well. After all, while seizing those freighters would have been most pleasing…

…The true hunt was still to come.

Date Point: 16y10m1d AV
HMS Violent, Spacelane BlueSquare-552, the Guvnuragnaguvendrugun Confederacy

Admiral Sir William Caruthers

“Can we pursue?”

“…No sir. They’re dropping G-spikes as they go. If we try to go around, they’ll be outside the Farthrow field before we catch them.”

“…Alright. Move Caledonia forward, and get the HEAT over to those freighters. Maybe there’ll be a few survivors…”

There was a forlorn optimism. The freighters had been boarded by the Hunters long before the fleet arrived, and remained firmly captured throughout. Though the Hunters had abandoned them in their retreat, Caruthers knew in his gut that the HEAT would find nothing but blood smears and gnawed bones over there.

He wanted to believe in miracles, though.

Caledonia made slow progress through the debris field around the freighters. While it was certainly within her power to bulldoze aside the torn metal, shattered glass and dismembered body parts that had fallen into close orbits the Hunters’ gravity spike, there was the possibility of escape pods, explosive devices and other things to watch out for.

In the end, she found neither. The first ship in the formation was registered as the Orcoray, and HEAT Team 1 boarded her through a large hull breach where a Hunter assault pod had punched right through into the flight deck.

Their grim report on the crew’s condition was pretty much exactly what Caruthers had expected. Team 2 reported much the same aboard the Toruyn and First Fang had nothing but bad news from the Mokohur. HEAT Team 3, boarding the Erivuhn, encountered a handful of stranded Hunters that had been left behind by their retreating fleet, and dealt with them accordingly. Again, no survivors.

It was that last news that prompted Caruthers’ heavy sigh. A defeat, then. Technically. Yes, they’d sunk a Broodship, forced the enemy to withdraw and saved the cargo for safe delivery to Ugunduvur… But the primary objective had been saving those crews, if they could.

Daar clearly felt the same frustration just as keenly, even if he had a tight lid on it. There was a terrible fire behind his eyes when Caruthers called him and Grand Admiral Ak’kk’brr; his mind was clearly set on vengeance.

“They’re learnin’ faster’n I’d like,” he grumbled. “An’ we can’t get stuck in stand-up brawls like that again. They’ve got more ships than us.”

“We may not have a choice,” Caruthers replied. “If we’re going to salvage any kind of a win from today, these freighters have to get to their destination. We can’t leave them unescorted.”

“…How long to Ugunduvur?”

“That depends on how quickly we can crew them, make field repairs, and how fast their warp drives are,” Ak’kk’brr supplied. Days, at least.”

“Days?” Caruthers echoed.

“The Orcoray in particular took heavy damage to its flight and navigation systems. My war platform has the equipment and facilities to get it moving again, but such repairs are slow work in vacuum and freefall.”

Daar made an unhappy noise. “That’s a long time ‘ta be hangin’ our tails out ‘fer the Hunters ‘ta nip at.”

“Yes.” Caruthers nodded. “And I doubt the Hunters will give up easily. They hit this convoy for a reason, and fought hard to hold onto it.”

“Perhaps we should consider scuttling the freighters to deny its cargo to them, then,” Ak’kk’brr suggested. “Parts and equipment are replaceable.”

“It took months to drum up this shipment,” Caruthers pointed out. “The people on that planet will suffer if it isn’t delivered.”

“An’ the freighter crews will have died ‘fer nothin’,” Daar added.

“I do not believe that the dead care whether they died for something or nothing, Great Father,” Ak’kk’brr replied. “The living, on the other hand, will be left vulnerable.”

“I for one knew damn well when I signed up that my career would mean putting myself in harm’s way for the sake of others,” Caruthers said. “Ugunduvur needs this convoy, gentlemen. A few days’ delay will be painful and difficult for them: the months it will take to replace this shipment if it’s lost could very well be catastrophic.”

Daar’s duck-nod sealed their decision. Ak’kk’brr bowed his head, slowly and gracefully on the end of its long neck. “Well said, and thank you for reminding me,” he said. “In that case, I will maneuver the Strike With Both Hooves into position to begin repairs on the Orcoray.”

“What can we do to speed the work along?” Caruthers asked.

“I think, Admiral, that your people are best used exactly where they are,” Ak’kk’brr said. “While I don’t doubt their skill or intelligence, in this case the repairs will involve systems they are not familiar with. My engineers will complete the work as rapidly as possible.”

Caruthers nodded solemnly. “Very well. We’ll send out long-range scouts and protect the war barge while it works. Sir, should I assume you’ll be returning to Gao?”

“I might hafta. I got a personal jump portal on the Fury if need be. I got about a dozen other irons in the fire right now, and one o’ them’s gettin’ pretty hot…”

“That sounds like you’re looking for a reason to stay, if I may be so bold.”

“‘Cuz I am.”

Caruthers allowed himself a small chuckle at that. At least Daar’s brand of brutal honesty included self-reflection.

“Then as much as I value your tactical acumen, I might suggest that your considerable and irreplaceable presence would be much better utilized elsewhere.”

The Great Father chittered ruefully. “Always did like that ‘bout you. Ain’t afraid to call it like it is… ‘yer right of course. But I’ll leave the Fury here. ‘Yer gonna need her shields if the Hunters come back.”

“I’m pretty certain it’s a matter of ‘when,’ really,” Caruthers said.

“…Prob’ly, yeah. Balls, ‘yer a better mind ‘fer navy things ’n’me anyway.”

“Then I think we all know what we’re doing,” Caruthers finished. “We will, of course, keep you informed.”

“I ‘preciate it. Good hunting.” Daar sketched a small gesture of esteem to both of them, and disconnected.

Ak’kk’brr made a soft noise through his nose and performed his slow nod again. “Are we hunting them, or are they hunting us?” he asked.

“Both, I imagine.” Caruthers replied. “I’ll do my best to make ours the successful hunt.”

“Please do. I should direct matters here. Ak’kk’brr, out.”

Caruthers sat back and rubbed the back of his neck as the connection closed. Then he stood, and slipped out of his tiny cabin-slash-office and onto the deck, back toward HMS Violent’s bridge, mentally compiling the orders he needed to give as he went.

The Hunters would be back. Of that much, he was completely certain. And next time…

Well. He needed to be ready for them.

Date Point: 16y10m5d AV
“Mordor” System, deep in Hunter space

Tooko, Brother and Stud of Clan Firefang

“…That’s a lot of traffic.”

‘Mordor’ was very different to the scans and intelligence that Tooko had seen regarding the planet Hell, and doubly different to the wasteland of drifting debris and cratered continents that he’d witnessed for himself.

Mordor was busy. Even passive object tracking using nothing more than albedo and image comparison was enough to tell him that. There were thousands of powered objects out there, and the FTL wake sensors told him that local spacetime was rippling like the surface of a simmering pot.

His mission objective was blunt and to-the-point: Deposit the JETS team safely on the planet’s surface without being detected. Okay. He could do that. It was going to be tense, but he could do it. The issue he was having was that… he was pretty sure there were cities down there on that planet.

Hell had been completely given over to nature. No development, no resource extraction, nothing. Which had always struck Tooko as a waste: Planets were the place to get certain resources that were otherwise effectively unavailable from asteroid mining or orbital production. There were certain classes of organic compound that just didn’t form in a spaceborne environment.

Mordor, it seemed, was the opposite. Spectrochemical analysis of its atmosphere indicated massive pollution. The CO2 levels were so high that it’d be like a stuffy, airtight room down there. Chlorofluorocarbons were in abundance, lead levels were averaging more than half a microgram per cubic meter, and the sulfur dioxide levels were…

Well. Tooko wouldn’t like to stay down there long.

Wilde reacted to the readings with his usual dry, stoic humor. “…Bloody hell. Greenpeace wouldn’t like that one bit.”

Frasier, as ever, was more fatalistic. “What’s the radiation like?”

Tooko glanced at the readings. “…Elevated overall, but it’s difficult to give you a precise idea. You’re going to need to take dosimetry very seriously.”

Ferd and the others were all back out of stasis now. Tooko saw them give each other troubled looks before Ferd spoke up.

“Ray-dee-ay-shun? I remember this. The land-curse, yes? Can’t see it, taste it, smell or hear it.”

“That’s the one.” Wilde agreed. “Reesy? Masks please, mate.”

Rees nodded curtly and vanished into the cargo hold.

“We not do much work, if we stuck in safe-cloth all day…” Nomuk fretted.

“Well, it’s either that, or maybe never have kids. Or maybe die young. And possibly horribly.” Wilde gave him a small smirk. “Your call.”

Ten’gewek and Gaoian alike shuddered.

“…Safe-cloth it is,” Nomuk said, fervently.

“Smart man. Can we get a better idea how bad it is, Tooko?”

“Once we’re closer…” Tooko replied. “Right now we’re still several AUs out.”

“Right. Okay chunky monkeys, I think that means we need to get ready–”

Ferd gave an indignant hoot. “Am not chunky!”

“You’re bigger than me, mate. Anyway, let’s get a good hot meal in, get loosened up, take our medicine, and maybe get going on our oxygen supps. How’s the gravity, Tooko?”

“Point nine-three Earths.”

“Right. That’s not so bad.”

“For you. We have to hold on to ground,” Ferd trilled.

Tooko was unimpressed. “Ugh. You high-G freaks…”

“More reason to get you stronger, little friend,” Ferd told him.

“Not now, mate,” Wilde reminded him. “Besides, we’ve got plenty of gear to keep you weighted down…remember how I said we’re pre-breathing oxygen?”

Tumik sighed, looking crestfallen in a very literal way. “…We bring tanks, then.”

“Exactly. I’ll help Reesy bring ‘em up.” He patted Tooko on the shoulder. “You get us down safely, yeah?”

“Of course!”

In this case, that might even be somewhat easier than usual. Even with SBD’s top-tier stealth systems, FTL travel generated ripples in the fabric of spacetime. In this case though, the system was so busy and sloshing like a pool full of playing cubs that SBD’s muted and heavily damped drive would almost certainly be lost in the random interference patterns. So long as Tooko moved with other traffic, there was no way the Hunters’ in-system sensor network would see them.

Still. He kept his approach cautious. There was no need or advantage to being hasty right now. Rather than go FTL therefore, he boosted the warp drive up to a quarter of lightspeed. Fast enough to eat up the distance, slow enough to leave an invisibly faint signature and give the men in the back time to prepare.

There wasn’t as much boisterousness this time. Ferd and his men were in fact deadly quiet. Wilde, Rees and Frasier checked and double-checked their equipment calmly and competently, punctuated here and there with the odd small joke or wry observation.

It took an hour to get close enough for Tooko to have a better fix on the radiation situation. It was a good-news-bad-news kind of thing, really. Globally, the levels were… not unduly terrible. If they stayed down there for a year, they’d get about the same dose as if they’d had ten CT scans.

There were patches, however, that the mapping software pinned with a bright blue triangle and a Gaoian skull. Nobody needed that symbol translated.

“You boys might want to take your potassium iodide.”

The Humans nodded and took their pills without comment. The Ten’gewek were interesting, there: they actually struggled to swallow hard little tablets. Maybe it was just a lack of familiarity, maybe it was their tongues. Either way, it was an ordeal for them… but it passed without complaint.

Tooko duck-nodded and inserted them a low orbit. He’d be safe inside the ship, thankfully.

“So. A whole planet to choose from. Where do you want to land?”

Wilde came up from the table and sat in the copilot seat. “…Somewhere we can hide the ship but that’s close enough to those cities that we can get a good look at them,” he said. “Honestly, that’s about as good as we can say for now.”

“I love a nice, narrow, clearly defined instruction…” Tooko muttered, with a small chitter. Still, that did narrow it down quite a lot. There was a whole planet to choose from, and plenty of cities and lines of communication to pick, so really his choice just came down to finding the optimal hiding place for Silent But Deadly.

Ferd had knuckled up to the doorway and trilled quietly. “We here, because we not know what we not know, yes? Hard to plan if no knowings of knowings.”

Trying to untangle that linguistic knot while flying a spaceship, reading a map and choosing a landing site was one too many spinning plates for Tooko. “…Yes. I think.” He ruled out the largest of the planet’s three major continental masses. It had the most cities, but also the densest pollution and the most flagged radiation hazards. The other two were more or less the same size, on opposite sides of the northern hemisphere. One was dominated by desert, turning a sickly green around the shores. Not many cities… plenty of resource extraction though. Open-cast mining operations seemed to be in abundance. So many, in fact, that an alarmingly large proportion of the continent had the same kind of pock-marked texture as a heavily shelled battlefield.

Too open, Tooko decided. Those mines might be viable hiding spots if they were depleted and abandoned, but a satellite or aircraft passing overhead would see straight down into it. SBD would benefit from some overhead cover, and Tooko preferred some natural cover to go with the camo netting.

The third continent seemed to fit the bill. It had forests, of a sort. Or at least, patches high up in the mountains where large flora still clung precariously to life in places. Some of those “patches” ran for hundreds of kilometers over rough and difficult terrain. Great for hiding the ship… not so great for easy access to interesting things to scout. But promising.

He followed a river north-east out of one particular copse. It was more of a canyon, really. A deep V-shaped notch cut by thousands of years of flowing water, though the water in question quickly became something altogether nastier as it picked up the effluvia and industrial waste of the districts it passed through. No good… no good….


There was a small stream of miraculously clean(ish) water that ran down into a lake of alkaline sludge. Undeveloped, save for a bridge that crossed it. A few kilometers from… he swiped around, examining the area. Was that a rail goods yard? The Hunters did use railroads. And to the west was high ground with views over a sprawling built-up area…

It wasn’t perfect. But he had a whole planet to look at, and nobody had enough time to pore over every last square inch of a planet’s surface, even if it was their full-time hobby for years on end. Realistically, he was never going to find the perfect spot even if it existed. Finding a good enough spot so quickly was encouraging.

He looked a little longer, trying to find a better candidate, and abandoned the search once it became clear that his passengers were completely ready. Time to get them on the ground.

With a silent, fervent wish to the universe that he’d done a good enough job, he flipped the Silent But Deadly around and accelerated into a de-orbit burn.

Time to see what the Hunters did with a world like this…

Date Point:16y10m5d AV
Mrwrki Station, Erebor System, Uncharted Space

Lewis Beverote

“Okay, so that’s a hit. How much damage?”

“Uh… sixteen.”

“Okay, that cultist’s dead…”

“And I’ll use my cunning action to disengage and step behind Lucy again.”

The party of “heroes”—currently blundering their way through foiling an eldritch ritual and rescuing a hapless maiden because the bounty was good and they owed rather a lot to the local Thieves’ Guild in gambling debts—looked up when their sorceror entered the room. Darcy was always a little late to sessions, and had long since given them permission to start without her.

For the first time in several days, she was smiling.

“Oh, hey!” Lucy stood, temporarily abandoning Morag the Barbarian, and hugged her. “Good news?”

“Yeah. Finally managed to get that monster to talk about numbers.” Darcy kicked her shoes into the corner and sat down with a grateful sigh. “Damn thing has the math schooling of a kindergartener.”

“So, ‘twenshy to power ten’ means…?” Lee asked, from behind the DM screen.

“Two times ten to the power ten. Thank God.” Darcy rubbed her face.

“Oh, only three orders of magnitude difference then,” Lucy chirped.

“Dang thing can’t count, huh?” Lewis noted. Darcy just laughed despairingly and shook her head.

“I tell you, that Hunter is as dumb as a sack of dead squirrels. The only thing it cares about is dominance, and meat.”

“It must have some brains,” Lee frowned. “Wasn’t it an Alpha?”

“Yeah. Turns out the way to become an Alpha is to kill more things, including the previous Alpha.” Darcy shook her head, then accepted her miniature when Lee handed it to her. “…Which pretty much matches the Father Garaaf debrief. There’s a caste of Hunters for fighting, and another caste for the actual brain work.”

“And just our luck, we got one of the dumbfucks,” Lewis finished. He flipped his character sheet and added another tally to Daring Dan’s impressively long kill count. Oh, sure, everything was supposed to be on tablets nowadays, but at this table they stuck to tradition, with paper and dice.

“Well, you know. In this case it’s a win.” Darcy leaned forward and decided to put her sorceress at the back of the room, safely behind all the less squishy characters. She put on the lopsided smile she always wore for sarcasm. “For some entirely inexplicable reason, AEC got nervous when numbers like a trillion started to float around.”

The fourth member of the party, its cleric and healer, rumbled at length before venturing to speak as one of his face-tentacles reached out to pluck up a d20.

“I think I can imagine why,” Vedreg said. Wry purple shimmered across his face and down his flanks.

“Eh. We were pretty confident it was just an error on the captive’s part,” Darcy said. “Anyway. Game.”

They dropped back into the scenario, where some timely spellcasting and a rather fancy bit of footwork on Daring Dan’s part helped them unexpectedly capture the cult leader, who might otherwise have escaped through a hidden door. Conversations about work were never far away on Mrwrki, though: Everyone was so heavily invested in their jobs that nobody could resist the urge to talk shop for long. So when Lee went to the bathroom, the conversation picked up as though it had never stopped.

“So, guess you’re gonna want a captive thinky-hunter next, huh?” Lewis asked.

Darcy nodded. “Garaaf called them ‘builders.’ And… yeah. Honestly, I really don’t think we’re going to get anything more from the one we’ve got. It’s just a crazed murder machine. No personality, no interests, no nothing. I know a lot of ETs—” she gave Vedreg a small smile “—but that Hunter? It’s an alien.” That’s the only word that fits. And it cannot stand the notion that a ‘fur-face’ is what ultimately brought it down.”

“It has some pride, then,” Vedreg noted.

“It has… something. Honestly, the Entity is easier to understand sometimes.” Darcy made a small, listless stack of dice. “…Kinda miss that weirdo thing. How did I get the job of being humanity’s expert on very alien intelligences?”

“Right place, right time, right experience?” Lucy guessed.

“You know what? I’ll take that.” Darcy sipped her green tea. “I’m pretty sure our Hunter is broken, though. Like, not just the dumb, hyperfocussed agression thing. I think it might actually be having their equivalent of a psychotic episode.”

“Like, uh, how can you tell?” Lewis asked.

“Same way I can figure out Entity’s emotigrams, I guess?” Darcy shrugged. “Our Hunter won’t stop fretting about how it was captured. It calls us humans, but it refers to Gaoians as ‘fur-faces.’ And Guvnurag are—sorry about this, Vedreg—’large prey.’ As far as I can tell, we humans are the only species on the scene they refer to using our own name for ourselves.”

Vedreg had shifted and shimmered an uncomfortable blend of green and white. Now his facial tendrils rippled and a more curious pink medley shone through. “Intriguing. So they still count the Gao among the rest of us.”

“This one does. And it’s totally neurotic about the fact that a ‘fur-face’ defeated it.”

“So they can handle losing to us?” Lucy asked.

“I don’t think they’re graceful losers at the best of times,” Darcy replied. “But they don’t see us as prey. They see us as… fellow predators, I guess. But for some reason, they still don’t see the Gao that way. And in this Alpha’s way of seeing things, for prey to beat it and drag it here in disgrace is… its whole universe is upside-down now.”

“Sounds like a recipe for goin’ fruit-loop to me, dude,” Lewis agreed.

“Fruit loop? That’s a new one,” Vedreg rumbled.

“Really? Huh. Funny which ones I’da thought you’d’ve heard a million times before…”

Vedreg’s reply was his best approximation of a shrug, and the rustle of a popcorn packet as he sent three of his tendrils questing inside in search of a snack. Lewis chuckled, then turned back to Darcy.

“…So what are you gonna do with it? Can’t release it, can you?”

“Nope.” Darcy sighed. “But that’s a question for somebody higher up than me to sort out, thank God.”

“What do you think’ll happen?”

“It’ll be kept in a containment cell, probably. Until it dies of… whatever reason. Honestly, the humane thing to do is probably just to shoot it.”

There were nods around the table. Vedreg simple glimmered yellow… a shade Lewis knew well.

“Got a comment there, big guy?”

“…There are many—and knowing what happened on my home planet, and to the Gao, a part of me is among them—who would argue that humane treatment is more than any Hunter deserves. They certainly would not extend it to you.”

“That’s ‘cuz we’re better than them, my dude,” Lewis replied. Lucy and Darcy nodded fervently.

“…And yet, you speak as though it is not going to receive this humane death?”

They looked at Darcy. “…Let’s just… play,” she said, awkwardly.

“That is fair.”

And with that the question of Hunter captives and what would happen to them was firmly dropped. By the time Lee got back, they’d formulated a winning master strategy to cover their gambling debts…

Well. Daring Dan’s gambling debts, anyway.

It was a good night, in the end.

Date point: 16y10m5d AV
Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Gyotin, Champion of Clan Starmind

Humans had a long and intriguing history of temple dogs. Gyotin had looked into them: breeds like the Lhasa Apso had apparently been bred for the twin duties of barking at strangers, and sweeping the floors as they walked. They were small, noisy, fussy little balls of fluff.

Not one single word of that description applied to Chump.

Chump was one of the famous Bozo’s puppies, and frankly looked rather more fearsome than his sire, whose goofy patchwork of whites and browns had done much to, if not soften, then at least take some of the menacing edge off his hulking, muscular physique. Chump, on the other hand, was not only at least as athletically huge and strong, he’d somehow come out with a short and glossy midnight black coat, with eyes like bright cold fire. He looked terrifying.

Much like with Bozo, looks could be deceiving.

Chump’s preferred pastime when his services weren’t required was lazing on his back in the sun with his legs sprawled every which way and his tongue draped down the side of his face. When he felt like Helping, which was most of the time, he could often be seen pulling draft duty in the monastery’s gardens by fetching items, pulling carts, pulling plows…

Or, failing that, and the reason he made such a fantastic monastery dog in Gyotin’s opinion, sniffing out people in emotional pain and doing his absolute doggy best to Make Things Better. He could be gentle as downy fur, or as boisterous and aggressive as the most well-exercised brownfurs…whichever his New Friend required.

In Mother Shoo’s case, he’d settled for lying quietly alongside her as she meditated under the tree in the monastery’s front garden, resting his chin on her knee and watching her with worried eyes. His great bruising baton of a tail occasionally beat a couple of wags back and forth whenever she moved, before going still again.

Gyotin gave her time and space. Everyone knew she’d been close to the Mother-Supreme, and she only came to the monastery when she really needed to escape for a while: A rare event. She was usually entirely content with life, but Yulna’s death had surely hit her hard.

As for Gyotin… well, he had a Champion’s responsibilities to think of, as well as his personal mission to soothe hurting souls. The matter of succession in the Clan of Females was of professional interest therefore, though mercifully compatible with his desire to offer a slightly more refined version of what Chump was doing.

He guessed she’d completed her meditation when she started to scratched the dog’s ears and neck with both hands, rather than just absent-mindedly with the one. He gave her a moment, then ambled across the tiles to say hello.

“…She’ll be missed,” he said, by way of a hello.

Shoo looked up, gave him a small smile. Misery was an old coat for her: She’d worn it many times, and was clearly familiar and comfortable with it, but it really didn’t fit or suit her.

“…For a while, she was like a mother to me,” she said. “But… she isn’t in pain any more. I’m trying to focus on that.”

A tongue like a warm, wet leather belt licked pretty much her whole arm and Chump’s tail thumped the ground a few times. She gave the dog a rather warmer and stronger smile and hugged him. “This guy here wasn’t exactly what I was expecting…but I’ll take it.”

“You were after a serene time and possibly a tea ceremony?” Gyotin guessed, a little self-deprecatingly.

She laughed, and massaged the dog’s ears. “…What’s his name?”

“Chump. One of the original seven, from Bozo and Hannah’s first litter. Doofus, Dingus, Nitwit, Ditzy, Lulu, Gaga… and, of course, Chump here. He was the runt, apparently.”

“…You’re kidding.”

“No!” Gyotin chittered. “But somehow he ended up the biggest of them!”

Chump of course had to comment on that point. “Wuff!!”

“…His eyes are mesmerizing…”

“They seem to work wonders on our visitors, it’s true. Alas, tea is not among his talents. Only drool.”

Shoo giggled for several seconds, and finally extracted herself from under the dog, stood up, and brushed off her clothes. “Probably for the best. If he could make tea…”

“I’d be out of a job,” Gyotin chittered, glad to hear her laughing. “Shall we?”

“…Tea would be nice.”

They walked side-by-side back toward the main building. Chump dashed ahead and nosed the door open for them, with much wagging of tail and happy grumbles of Helpfulness.

“…He’s smart.”

“They’re a smart family. One day they’ll be a smart breed. Now go help our Brothers in the gardens, Chump. Go on, git!”

“Wuff!” Chump spun a circle and thundered off in a flurry of enormous paws.

Gyotin watched him go, chittered again to himself, then turned back to escorting his guest.

“Speaking of families, how are yours?” he asked.

“Two babies are a lot of work.” Shoo’s smile said that this was not at all a complaint. “And Al and Julian are great. Even when they ogle the neighbors.”

She caught Gyotin’s curious head-tilt, giggled, and explained. “We have a new neighbor, she does yoga in her garden. In very tight pants…” She shook her head. “But, no. They’re a rock. They always know how to help me feel better…”

“But I think, a busy household is not the most conducive to meditation.”

“Well, no. Sometimes it is nice to get away for an hour or two. I’m lucky that I can, really…” Xiù smiled as they entered the tea room, and Gyotin parked himself to begin preparing it. One of the junior Starmind brothers was just as serious about tea as he was, and took pride in keeping this space in particular ready for use.

Shoo settled down opposite.

“…Also, Naydra asked me to speak with you,” she added.

“Ah yes? I thought she might.”

Shoo nodded. “Yulna’s funeral is in a couple of days. After that… well, everyone knows Naydra’s going to be the next Mother-Supreme. Starmind is the only male Clan with any serious holdings on Cimbrean, and so close to the Folctha commune…”

“Does she have concerns?” Gyotin asked, rinsing the cups with hot water to warm them.

“A few. Yulna was known to be fairly… um… cool about you guys.”

“She never had much interest in our particular syncretism, though on a personal level she and I got on quite well,” Gyotin recalled.

“Officially neutral, then,” Shoo rephrased. “Nobody ever accused her of undue favoritism. Naydra’s worried that some of the other Clans won’t see her that way…”

“Clan Starmind does enjoy the Great Father’s favor,” Gyotin agreed.

“Which is fine when it’s just the, uh, the pecking order of the male Clans that’s at stake… but when the Females are involved, that’s a different story.”

Gyotin duck-nodded his understanding. “I can see why she asked you to raise this with me. Though she must have a talent for delicacy if she could do that at such a difficult moment and not leave you feeling resentful.”

“…She really does,” Shoo sighed. “I think she really would have liked to grieve for a while, but, um… well, the succession is moving forward. The election is already organized. She doesn’t have time.”

“And she needs to secure from my Clan a token of our assurance that we won’t abuse our proximity to the Females on Cimbrean,” Gyotin summarized. The tea was nearly ready to pour. “As for the Great Father’s esteem, I doubt we could abuse that even if I was inclined to. If he somehow didn’t notice—and the consequences for me personally would be terrible, not to mention my clan—Naydra would.”

“She really would,” Xiù agreed.

Gyotin duck-nodded. “…Please tell Naydra that I fully understand and appreciate the position she is in, and that she has my word as Champion of Starmind that my Clan will only ever seek to be of help to her in her new role, never a hindrance.”

“…No actual specific promise regarding the local Females, then.”

“That would, alas, be a lie. And I believe she’s quite acute at sniffing those out.” Gyotin chittered. “You can’t ask a Clan of males not to aspire to siring as many cubs as possible. We couldn’t even work up the heart to neuter Chump! No, the life of celibacy isn’t the Gaoian way, and my Brothers have a Commune close at hand… and I would point out that the Commune came after we did.”

“She’s not asking you to ignore them…”

“Mother Shoo, there are only a little more than a hundred million Females left alive, of whom barely sixty thousand live on this planet and only three thousand or so live here in Folctha,” Gyotin said, evenly and politely but firmly. “Most of the post-bellum Communes on the homeworld are de facto Stoneback enclaves thanks to the permanent guard. A young male looking to win over a prospective mate and secure his legacy is pretty much required to parade past battle-hardened, well-exercised and well-scarred specimens of the most powerful and influential Clan there is. There are very few who can do that without losing some confidence.”

He poured more tea. “…Of course, it’s for the Females’ protection. It’s practical and necessary,” he said. “I know that. Indeed, I can say that there have been long and difficult conversations behind closed doors about the level of favoritism that demonstrates. So let me assure you—and through you, the future Mother-Supreme—that Clan Starmind shall not abuse our position. But I can’t, out of practicality and necessity, promise that we won’t, ah… be suitably grateful for our good fortune.”

Shoo nodded. “Thank you.”

“…Enough politics, yes?” Gyotin offered. She smiled, and let out some held tension as a sigh.

“…Yes. I… Yulna’s funeral is in a few days. Maybe we could talk about that?”

Gyotin duck-noded, sipped his tea, and then put the cup down. “…You knew her well,” he said. “And her death symbolizes a lot. I think it’s only appropriate if you have a han d in planning her farewell…”

“Yes…” Shoo drank her tea as well. “I had a few ideas…”

Gyotin listened. And after listening, he was completely sold. Yulna would have a fine sendoff, on that point there was absolutely no disagreement or controversy. He wanted it, Shoo wanted it, Naydra wanted it, and the Great Father absolutely wanted it. It was her authority that had elevated him to his rank, after all. And in so doing, ultimately, she had saved her people.

They all owed it to her to remember that.

And so they would.

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 4 (NSFW)

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Sweetness – Chapter 3 (NSFW)

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Sweetness – Chapter 2 (NSFW)

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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

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Mother Earth

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 2

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 1

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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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Rising Titans – Chapter 45

-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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Good Training – April Fool’s

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 1

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 5

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 44

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 4

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 3

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

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Good Training – Pecking Order

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Tidying Up

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 2

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 43

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 1

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 5

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 4

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 4

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 42

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 1

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 3

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 41

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

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The Good Samaritan

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 6

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 40

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 2

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 4

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

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