The Deathworlders – Chapter 61: Violence Part 2

Date Point: 16y10m1w AV
Planet Mordor, Hunter Space

Ferd Given-Man

Ferd was trying not to shiver from a mix of the cold and… Wilde called them ‘hee-bee-jee-bees.’ This more-door world was sick, and Ferd could feel the creeping illness all around him, even through the safe-clothes.

The mud was stained, dark with slime and bright with rusty red and sickly green. The waters were often orange, or covered in dense scummy foam like soap bubbles. But not a strong clean bubble, these were…like the froth of snot bubbling from a sick child’s mouth.

The grass was pale, dry and yellow. The trees were short, twisted and skinny, with few leaves. Not even the cleanest water they could find had fish, and Ferd didn’t see any birds anywhere. Sometimes he heard the small scurrying of little things in the thickest foliage near the ship, but…

Other than that, this was a dead place. Or at least dying. He kept a close eye on the ‘doze-om-itter’ screen on his watch and worried at how fast the number was climbing.

And yet, somehow, there were new sky-people here. People that the Humans and Tooko both said they didn’t know. They ran on four paws like Gao did sometimes, but their hind legs were short and their arms long. Their bodies were covered in curly, coarse grey fur, though each one had patches where it was missing or sick-looking. Their large, leaf-shaped ears stuck straight out from the backs of their head and down their backs, and their eyes were placed weirdly on either side of their heads.

And they were skinny. Thin. Weak-looking. But weak-looking like they were hungry, not weak-looking like…the gods might have made a strong people, here, if only their land was not rotten and their bellies had been full.

But they were people alright. They carried tools in bags, talked with one another in voices like the noise glass made when Ferd dragging his wet thumb across it, and drove vehicles. Whenever there was a heavy thing to lift down from a truck, they put on black harnesses around their arms, back and legs and it made the lifting go easier.

And always they watched the sky like frightened bibtaw.

Wilde, Frasier and Rees were angry, and it seemed to Ferd like he’d never actually seen an angry Human before. If this was normal, then Human anger was a terrible, cold, dark, bitter thing that frightened Ferd more than he would ever admit out loud. The jokes were gone, and Ferd had known the three Humans to joke with each other even when things were at their tensest. A Given-Man would just howl and beat your face in, and that would be the end of it.

Or he hated you enough to kill you. But this…

Humans could hate in a way that chilled Ferd even worse than the cold air. They could hate slow.

Not one bit of it was aimed at the furry big-eared people. All of that slow, held-back, smouldering anger was for the so-called Hunters… and they hadn’t seen even one of those, yet.

Rees was the only one who talked almost as much as before, inside the safety of the sound-quiet ‘forz-feeld’ that protected their hiding place. “It’s got to be soon, boys. Unless they’re gonna land a whole fuckin’ broodship all at once to take that stuff…”

“They might,” Wilde grunted.

“What do they make?” Ferd asked. The ear-people had made stacks and stacks of short steel logs. Probably hollow: they moved them too easily for it to be solid metal.

“They’re slaves. They make what they’re told… Probably oil, in this case.”


“Black oil, from the rocks deep under the earth. Very, very useful stuff. Ask Vemik sometime.” Wilde turned his binoculars and pointed. “See those? We call them ‘Nodding Donkeys.’ Dead giveaway.”

“Reminds me of Port Talbot…” Rees muttered.


“Never mind. Just feeling a little homesick…”

They returned to silence, and Ferd settled down to watch again. He adjusted the tank on his back—sky-magic made the air inside so cold it was like water, so it sloshed a little if he got too excited. But he needed it. The air here was thin, and he found himself breathing hard just doing things that should have been easy. The Humans didn’t seem bothered but they had tanks too, and Tooko was inside the ship where the air was good.

Not that he had it soft. As he’d said when they landed: “If they see us, I’ll be the first thing they blow up.”

“…Here we go,” Wilde muttered, suddenly. Ferd looked at what he was watching, and understood: several of the big-ear people were going inside as quickly as they could. The few who stayed outside to wait with the oil were… the way they moved their bodies was strange, but they looked frightened. “Camo nets up, lads. Power our toys down, hand signals only.”

They hunkered down, and Rees turned off the quiet-maker. They covered themselves in the large, green blankets that Ferd knew looked a lot like bushes from far away, and Rees had said had special cloth inside to hide them in other ways too.

After that… silence. They went quiet like a hunt, so that Ferd could hear the few long-ears who stayed outside talking to each other. He didn’t know their words, but…

But they sounded scared.

A few hands of heartbeats later, there was an all too familiar noise: the roaring thundercrack a ship made when it broke through the sky from above. The low, thick, dull clouds above rippled, there was a lightning flash somewhere among them, and then their belly split open and a ship like a steel turd wallowed out into the open air.

It blasted a noise so loud that the little plugs in Ferd’s ears did their thing and damped it down. It wasn’t a natural noise, and it didn’t sound like engines did. It was deliberate: the ship was telling all the things on the ground that it was there, and had come for them.

The trembling big-ears cowered and clamped their paws to the sides of their heads. Still: hands over ears, or little plugs inside them, it made no difference to the heavy rumbling that Ferd felt through the dirt against his belly as the ship swung lazily into place above an empty stretch of ground, and lowered itself gently downwards. As light as it looked, though, the moment it landed raised dust and sent a punch through the earth.

For maybe two hands of heartbeats, there was nothing else. Then brilliant white lights lashed into life along its flank, dazzling Ferd and forcing him to blink and look away even through his shades.

By the time he could look back, great doors had opened, and Hunters were scuttling down from the ship. Hands and hands and hands of them—dozens—most with their arms cut off at the shoulder and replaced with twisted black mockeries that snatched up the oil containers so that their bearer could then scuttle back up into the ship.

It looked like a mindless scramble, with no planning. Each Hunter just swarmed down the ramp, grabbed the nearest containers, and swarmed back up again. Often they got in each others’ way, or two of them went for the same container at the same time.

They didn’t know how to work!

But they did know how to fear. The stupid mass parted around a big one like water around a boulder as it swaggered down the ramp, and Ferd bared his fangs unconsciously. This one was huge, but the only part of it he could see that still looked like flesh and bone was the mouth. Everything else was metal and plastic, and seven glaring red lights above the mouth where the others had eyes. Had it replaced its whole body? How much of it was left in there?

…Too little. Hunters were wrong, and only now that he’d seen them with his own eyes did Ferd really understand that. The pictures and video he’d been shown didn’t tell the story well enough. Only an insane thing would do that to itself.

Wilde put a hand on his arm. It made Ferd look, broke his stare away from the horrors in front of him, and that was enough. When he looked back again, he didn’t see Wrong Things any more. He just saw the enemy.

Whatever the big-ears said to it, and whether it said anything back, that was all lost in the noise of all those lesser Hunters fighting over the oil. But the big-ears were obviously petrified. They sank low, made themselves small and harmless, didn’t look directly at the big Hunter.

Even so… it murdered one.

It happened without warning, as the last of the oil was carried back to the ship, just as it looked like this was over, the big one half-turned… and then lashed out with a claw. One of the big-ears writhed helplessly, lifted off the ground on the cruel spikes that had pierced right through its body. Whoever they were, their struggle didn’t last long: they went limp, obviously dead, and the big Hunter tore off an arm, a leg and half the torso in a single savage, tearing bite before throwing the rest of the carcass to its underlings with a dismissive toss.

The survivors cowered all the more, and remained crouched right to the ground as the Hunters tore their companion’s remains to pieces and vanished back into their ship.

These were no hunters, no matter what they called themselves. The gods themselves would surely retch at a ‘hunt’ like that. The monsters had not chased down a worthy, dangerous beast. They had not Taken it with skill and courage, nor had they honored its spirit. They had just come, bullied, murdered, stolen, and now they were leaving.

The ship’s doors closed. With a pounding thump, it lurched back into the air, and sneered its way back up into the clouds and away. The so-called ‘hunters’ were gone, leaving the surviving big-ears to weep and embrace each other.

And in their wake, they left a changed Given-Man. Until now, Ferd knew, he hadn’t quite understood the Big Enemy. Hadn’t understood Yan’s allegiance to the sky-people, even if they were good friends. Hadn’t seen what they were fighting. But now…

Now, Ferd understood what it was to hate like a Human.

And he understood why they hated.

Date Point: 16y10m1w AV
Silent But Deadly, Planet Mordor, Hunter Space

Tooko, Brother and Stud of Clan Firefang

All of the team wanted long hot showers when they got back, and Tooko sensed he should let them have it without comment. Great Fathers knew, his imagination had furnished him with horrors enough to leave him feeling dirty, and he hadn’t seen any of what they’d seen.

All of them came in looking quiet, thoughtful and disturbed. Frasier, when he was out of the shower, curled up in a corner, put his headphones on, and listened to some music. Rees lay in his bunk and stared up at the pictures he’d stuck there, face entirely unreadable. Wilde didn’t even fully dress, just threw on his pants and then sat at the table. He leaned his elbows on its surface, steepled his fingers together, and rested his face against them.

The Ten’Gewek huddled together, with Ferd pulling Tooko right into the middle of it. There weren’t any words, just…a need of some kind that he was fulfilling, even if he didn’t know what.

Wilde broke the silence, eventually. He sighed, sat up straighter, and deployed the greatest gift that Humanity had ever given to the galaxy: the most expressive, versatile and eloquent word of any language, anywhere, ever.


Frasier nodded. “Yeah.”

Ferd’s tail twitched. “Not in the mood right now…”

Despite himself, Tooko did find that at least a little funny. He was pretty sure Ferd had just been distracted enough to take the word at face value.

And, as the least affected one of them—he’d had the fortune not to witness what they’d seen first hand—he was probably the one in the best mind-space to say the right thing and puncture their pain a little.

He laid a paw on the huge Given-Man’s shoulder.

“Give it ten minutes. I’m sure Frasier’s willing.”

That earned a snrrk from Frasier at least. He skewered Tooko with a Look, trying to express disapproval and outrage but there was a laugh somewhere behind his expression, fighting to get out. It was enough to make Tooko chitter nervously, which drew out a trilling hoot from Nomuk, prompting Wilde to shake his head, and his snort through the nose got Rees laughing…

It was dark mirth, all of it. The kind of slightly neurotic laughter that made for the best bitter medicine to the world’s worst evils, and though it didn’t disperse the cloud that had settled on them, it at least thinned it. The shock and trauma was flushed out, and they were ready to act again.

Rees shook his head as they collectively settled down. “…Fuckin’ hell, boys. We’ve got our work cut out for us with this one.”

“Well, Daar wanted something for the Grand Army to sink its teeth into,” Frasier said. “Don’t think he was expecting us to find a whole slave species, though.”

“So what now?” Tumik asked.

“We send our report, sneak off and find a place to emplace the beacon, and get out of dodge. Then Daar marches through with a billion Gao and fucks ‘em right up the arse.”

“Sadly… not that easy,” Tooko interjected. “I’ve been watching wormhole activity, and I think there’s a Farthrow on this planet. Or the Hunter version, anyway.”

“…How certain is ‘I think?’”

Tooko turned and called up the suspicious phenomenon in question. “The Hunters are clearly using wormhole burst communications, just like our W-router,” he said. “Honestly, I had a hard time following Champion Meereo when he taught me this stuff but the way our Farthrows differentiate authorized signals from unauthorized ones is based on something called a Nose Code. I don’t know what Humans call it, and I’m pretty sure the Ten’Gewek don’t have a name for it at all. We embed the code in the wormhole itself in some kind of tricky way that went right over my ears.”

Ferd squeezed a bit tighter and rested his head atop Tooko’s; it was a heavy, almost painful gesture of affection the Ten’Gewek used to mean something like a tease without saying so.

“Sound like Vemik Sky-Thinker.”

“Thank you. I think.” Tooko chittered. “…The Hunters are doing the same thing, and I owe Meereo a big favor, ‘cuz I’d have missed this if he hadn’t told me what to look out for.”

He flipped a screen around for them to look at. “See that? It looks like random noise, just… much much louder than it should be. If we tried to W-comm back to the Great Father from here on the ground, without encoding the wormhole with the right code…might as well stick a big glowing ’come and get us’ sign on the top of the ship. And he wouldn’t get the call either. And if we left a jump array and departed, then come time for the invasion they’d try to open the door and… nothing.”

“So…” Tooko could feel Ferd’s tail twitching in thought. “We both do same sky-magic to far-talk from star to star, yes?”

“It looks to me like the Hunters are copying Clan Longear’s work. Which we need to report immediately.”

“So. Take off, get out-system, phone home,” Wilde summarized.

“Yup. You lads didn’t leave anything out there, did you?”

Frasier looked indignant. “C’mon Tooko, give us some credit.”

“Then… yes. Now.”

“Do we know where this Farthrow is?” Wilde asked. “If they do have one, the first step of the liberation is going to be killing it.”

“No, but we won’t be able to find it until we get orbit anyway. I didn’t know to look for one until now.”

“Alright. Get us aloft.” Wilde stood up, and addressed his fellow Humans. “Tea, lads?”

“Aye, thanks.”

“Cheers, I’m fuckin’ gasping.”

Wilde busied himself with hot water, cups and little white squares full of dark powder. Tooko could hardly believe how many of those the Humans went through, but the three of them never turned down a ‘cuppa.’ Apparently they were trained not to.

“…If we’re prepping for an invasion, we need more than the site of one oil refinery,” Wilde pointed out. “Command’ll want to have a way more complete picture of what they’re extracting, where and suchlike. So we can’t leave system just yet. There’s a lot to see first, and it’s all going to be just as fucking horrible as that, I’m sure. So steel yourself, lads.”

Tooko duck-nodded, squirmed out from Ferd’s grasp—he’d discovered that if necessary he could tickle a Ten’Gewek with his claws in some spots and be immediately let go so quickly it was almost like being flung across the room. In this case, though, Ferd knew better than to interfere with work. He let go, and pushed himself to his feet with his tail to go grab something to eat himself.

Their rations were efficiently and densely stacked in the hold, each box containing enough food to fuel a Human through one of their 24-hour days with energy to spare or stuff Tooko until his cheeks bulged and he felt too sick to move. It was prepackaged, unprepared stuff that they had to finish in the ship’s galley, but according to Wilde it was at least better than survival rations for the field.

The problem was, a Ten’gewek needed even more food than a Human, and Ferd in particular was voracious enough that even devouring Tooko’s leftovers wasn’t quite enough to sate him. They’d planned on foraging and hunting to extend the food supply, but as Ferd pointed out… that wasn’t an option on Mordor.

“…Food won’t last long,” he said as he returned from the hold with food for himself and his three fellows. “This place too sick for hunting. No prey, and if there was, wouldn’t be good to eat. Box food only.”

“Right.” Wilde nodded. “That puts a pretty hard time limit on things, Pippin.”

With a last duck-nod, Tooko settled in his chair and began pre-flight checks, knowing full well that they had a lot of planet to cover and not long to do it… And that the sooner they were finished, the sooner the Hunters would get what was coming to them.

“I’ll work fast,” he promised.

There was a lot of justice to be handed out.

Date Point: 16y10m1w4d AV
Cloaked Hunter observation ship, Spacelane BlueSquare-552, the Guvnuragnaguvendrugun Confederacy

The Builder Alpha-of-Alphas

The enemy had brought in free-floating defence satellites, of the kind that normally protected high-value stations. The Hunters were used to those: they were easy enough to slip past undetected, and a weapon that could not sense its target was no weapon at all.

In this case, however, they posed a vexing problem. If—when—the Hunters did counterattack to retake the freighters, those platforms would unleash devastating firepower. And while normally that wouldn’t have been an issue—a satellite without engines was an easy target to destroy—the new shield-linking tactics that the Humans had developed made it likely that those satellites were a good deal more durable than they had once been.

There was another problem: Available ships. The loss of the Hive had been truly, genuinely devastating to the Hunters, and much of the Swarm of Swarms was now hard at work in the heart of their controlled space, performing duties that had once been performed by the supply ships that came and went from and to the Hive. So many had been lost in its destruction that simply keeping enough meat in enough maws to fight was a logistical harrowing.

Manufacturing capability was grossly down, breeding capacity was a shadow of its former output… A war of attrition was simply not feasible. Too many of the Hunter population were tied up in simply maintaining the species, keeping the slaves docile, and in the torturous process of rebuilding what had been lost with the Hive.

Sometimes, the Builder almost regretted its role in the Hive’s loss. The then-Alpha of Alphas could have crushed the invading assault force, had the Builder not sabotaged it. Could have captured and devoured the fur-faced alpha of alphas, even. Even now, there were Alphas who simmered with resentment over that loss, especially once it became known that some fur-faced meat was as delectable as any Human yet tasted.

The Builder’s betrayal had been a necessary and calculated gamble, trading the Hive and so much power for new and much-needed direction, clarity and intelligence… But in moments like these, it privately questioned its own wisdom.

Not all had been lost. There were still nearly two hundred billion living Hunters, mostly Eaters locked away in stasis where their voracious appetites could not starve the whole species. When the time came to invade a planet, they would be self-sufficient as they feasted on their slaughtered prey.

Furthermore, the Broods still controlled six “sport” worlds. Four were much like the world the Hive had encircled: high-habitability worlds where prey species could be released to breed and be hunted. The remaining two were different, having borne their own thinking Prey whom the Hunters had duly enslaved. Both were vital sources for those materials that could not be easily created aboard space habitats and ships.

If only some of the ancient worlds were still viable. There were hundreds of them, dead, decayed, denuded, utterly stripped of their resources and left poisoned to the bedrock over the long ages. If they were still useful, losing the Hive would not have been so painful.

Instead, their depletion was the reason why it had been built in the first place.

As it was, things were only just balanced toward growth and reconstruction. The Prey, meanwhile, were productive, and those freighters contained sufficient tiny necessities for a whole beleaguered planet. The Hunters needed that cargo to tip the balance even further, accelerate their regrowth even faster. But they could not afford to lose much in acquiring it.

And the Builder was running out of ideas.

It had tried to lure away a few Human ships by allowing a raiding party to stray close, which had been watched but ignored. It had faked a distress signal from some distance down the spacelane: the Humans had dispatched small single-pilot strike craft to investigate, which had been too nimble to catch.

In short, the Hunters were waiting for the other side to make a mistake, and that wasn’t going to happen.

…It was that thought which finally yielded an option, an option so simple that the Builder almost wanted to gnaw its own arm off out of self-directed irritation. If the convoy was unassailable, then perhaps its destination was not!

It gave a flurry of orders. Its underlings, bored and frustrated by the lack of progress, were swiftly stung into action by this chance to actually achieve something, and the cloaked command ship withdrew from the convoy at a slow, stealthy warp until the Builder Alpha-of-Alphas was satisfied that they were beyond even the best of the foes’ sensors.

With that, they applied all power to the superluminal engines, and sped toward the Prey World much faster than most ships in the galaxy could match. Not even most swarmships were so speedy.

The planet itself was obviously unassailable. The system shield was up and whatever good fortune or act of sabotage had allowed the Swarm to assault the Large Prey’s spawning world seemed unlikely to happen a second time. But a system that intended to receive supplies from elsewhere clearly could not be completely sealed off.

This thought was vindicated when, a quarter of a day-cycle later, the command ship stole quietly into the target system’s outer reaches and made passive observations of the activity in its orbits.

In-system traffic was more sluggish than expected. Despite clear evidence of considerable development on the three desolate rock worlds, the many moons of the three gas worlds, and in the system’s two asteroid belts, the number of ships trafficking back and forth was somewhat depressed.

The system field itself was projected by a remarkably tiny object deployed at the third gas giant’s outer gravitational conflux point. It was inside its own shield, and therefore unassailable, but outside the shield there was indeed a processing station. Quite an old one, to judge by the many repairs, expansion and patchwork additions.

Ripe prey if ever there was any. And more importantly, prey that the Humans were likely to defend, if forced.

Yes. Time to really test them…

Date Point: 16y10m1w4d AV
HMS Violent, Spacelane BlueSquare-552, the Guvnuragnaguvendrugun Confederacy

Admiral Sir William Caruthers

“It’s a trap.”

Ak’kk’brr looked skeptical, at least according to the translation software’s best attempts to interpret his facial features. “…Are you sure?”

“Absolutely. They’re trying to lure us away again, only this time they’ve chosen bait we can’t so easily ignore.” Caruthers grumbled. “If we go to relieve the receiving station, they’ll pounce on the convoy. But if we don’t then a lot of people die, and offloading the convoy’s cargo becomes much slower and more difficult.”

“Is there nothing we can do?” Ak’kk’brr asked. “If we must choose, I would choose to stay here. Better to secure one objective than risk losing both.”

“I agree. But fortunately, I think we have an alternative. Right now, I have the HEAT sitting on Caledonia’s deck and First Fang on Sword Of A Poet, both doing absolutely nothing. I think it’s time they earn their keep…”

“You propose to send them alone?”

“Not unescorted, no. But Cally, the Sword, one of the V-destroyers and a few fighters should suffice.”

“So few against so much?”

Caruthers nodded, allowing a small, tight smile. “The HEAT have come through much worse. They have a habit of turning traps back against the trapper. But don’t worry, we have plenty of tricks that we haven’t used, yet. I don’t waste lives, especially not theirs.”

“You know what you’re doing, of course.”

Caruthers nodded his thanks. “I’ll keep you informed.”

He closed the line to Ak’kk’brr, and opened the one to Caledonia’s deployment deck instead, where Lt. Col. Powell answered him. He listened as Caruthers explained the situation.

“Hotballs, then.”

“Yes indeed. Seed the field with them, then get indoors to repel the boarding parties. Between the hotballs and Caledonia you should have an unexpected firepower advantage.”

“They’ll never know what hit ‘em. I’ll go along on this one, though. You’re going to want somebody senior over there.”

“I thought you’d say that… I have every confidence in the HEAT, Powell, but this isn’t going to be straightforward. Be sure you understand the risks, and the priorities. The Hunters might well come gunning for you. Certainly if I were in their position, I’d think destroying the HEAT and First Fang was more strategically important than a few freighters.”

Powell nodded seriously. “Aye, but if we sit around and play cargo all the time, we may as well be dead and gone anyways. So we’ll be ready to deploy in five minutes.”

Caruthers nodded. “Good hunting, then. Give them Hell.”

“We already took that from them, sir.” Powell grinned, and that was the end of the call. Caruthers found himself chuckling as he made sure that the fleet and the Deep Space Weapons Reserve were ready to link with the hotballs and show the Hunters a new trick.

Time to be in two places at once.

Date Point: 16y10m1w4d AV
Starship Silent But Deadly, planet Mordor, Hunter space

Tooko, Brother and Stud of Clan Firefang

Three observation missions in, and a kind of rhythm was beginning to establish itself.

First, came decontamination. Humans and Ten’Gewek alike inevitably returned to the ship coated in filth, disease, poison and contaminants. The first order of business was to essentially pressure-wash them the airlock, until all the muck had sloughed off of them.

They’d already had to change the filter twice.

Next, they stripped down and soaped up with an evil-smelling decontamination detergent, rinsed with extremely hot water, and then spent some time basking in strong UV lights. The Ten’Gewek quite liked that bit. The Humans…not so much. Lastly, the decon fields swept them, and they took an anti-radiation supplement, before finally being allowed back into the main cabin.

The Ten’Gewek were always itchy afterward, and needed rubdowns with lotion.

The Humans were more concerned about the UV light. “We’re gonny get a fuckin’ melanoma or some shit…” Frasier grumbled as he scrubbed his scalp dry.

“It’s not that kind of UV,” Wilde assured him.

“Oh aye? And since when were you a fuckin’ dermatologist?”

“I pay attention to briefings. You might try it some time.”

Meanwhile, Ferd had half-asked, half-pulled Tooko over to the corner to help with the lotion. In general, Humans had quite strong personal boundaries, gaoians less so and mostly with strangers…

Ten’Gewek had none. If you were any kind of friendly, then hugs, cuddles, wrestling, and personal hygiene were all in the cards, and expected.

Oh well. At least he got a good brushing out of the deal.

Wilde sighed and checked The List as he dressed. “Alright. That’s oil production, lubricants, rubbers, and now fissile material. We’re going to need a thorough check-up after that last one.”

Ferd was understandably nervous, and hugged Tooko close—painfully so, but Tooko knew that now was not the moment to complain. “Friend…if ray-dee-ashun gets us, there is sky-magic to help, yes?”

“…Maybe. That’s part of the danger. We did our best to brief you on that…”

“Yes, yes…but….maybe I think more with cock at the time.”

“I remember.” Wilde chuckled. “Relax. The dosimeters aren’t yelling at us, so we’re probably okay, and we’ve been on top of our anti-radiation meds, too.”

“This planet’s gonna be a fuckin’ nightmare for the Grand Army though,” Rees observed, slurping a cupful of water.

“They’ll be able to deal with it a lot better. A lot more logistical tail than we have.”

“Maybe, but a lot more Jack bellends who don’t listen properly too.”

Ferd looked down at tooko and flicked his left ear; universal hulkmonkey body language for ‘what did he just say?’

Tooko flicked both of his to the side. They understood each other pretty well by now.

Wilde’s response was a lop-sided grin, which was a gesture only a Human could make, with those fantastically plastic faces of theirs which more than compensated for those sad, immobile ears. “You do realize I can read your ear-dance just as well as anyone, right?”

Ferd shrugged, and re-applied the brush with rather more force than Tooko would prefer. “Don’t care! I think you like to use strange words!”

“That’s just Reesy. He is Welsh after all.”

Rees snorted into his cup of water and splashed it all over himself. He somehow found time during the ensuing coughing and self-cleaning to aim a middle finger at Wilde, though he was chuckling.

Victory secured, Wilde turned back to Tooko. “So what’s our next target, Pip?”

“You got the trackers onto those trains?”

“Yeah. Stuck ‘em on good,” Frasier promised.

“Then for now, we wait and see where they end up.” The local rail network went everywhere, far too many places for Tooko to even guess at where the isotopes ended up. The only way to know for sure was to watch where the trains actually took their cargo.

But one thing was certain: the Great Father, the Grand Army, and everyone else involved in the coming invasion would want to know where several tonnes of enriched uranium had gone.

Which meant, sadly…another trip back up to an observing orbit, where they would wait.

The Ten’Gewek spent most of that time in stasis—their special high-density, high-protein rations only lasted so long. Two of them would probably stay out though, and a Look passed between the four of them. Without any further words, Tumik, and Genn decided it was their turn, and ambled off to the stasis pods.

That left Nomuk and Ferd, who looked down at Tooko with a playful head-tilt.

“You put us in orbit, yes?”

“Yeah, big guy.”

“Then we lift,” he proclaimed. There would be no escape for Tooko.

Oh well, it wasn’t like they’d be doing much of anything else for the next day or so anyway…

Date Point: 16y10m1w4d AV
HMS Caledonia, Ugunduvur System, the Guvnurag Confederacy

Lt. Col. Owen Powell

The system wasn’t too target rich. Admiral Caruthers’ assessment that the Hunters were planning to hit the convoy if the allies abandoned it was quite clearly on the money, and the Hunter raiding party was nowhere near as big as the force that had contested them for the freighters. But that didn’t make the situation outside a picnic, either.

Cally was outnumbered three to one by broodships, though there were more Firebirds and Voidrippers than Swarmships. Hopefully, with the hotballs, that averaged out to an Allied advantage.

A hotball was a specialized jump beacon, built with exactly one job in mind: weapons targeting. Rather than jumping ships like the so-called ‘dragon’s teeth’ microsatellites, a hotball provided a more specialized, carefully configured jump that maintained the incoming object’s kinetic energy, carefully aligned on the desired vector.

In short: incoming ammunition.

That fact seemed to surprise the Hunters, who clearly weren’t expecting one ship to strike with the power of a whole squadron. Powell grinned at the ensuing mayhem playing out beyond Cally’s hull, then turned his attention to the actual job at hand.

The target was two space stations, loosely tethered to one another. They handled customs and transit for interstellar shipping that wanted to transit the system defence field. Both were under siege.

The HEAT were hitting one, First Fang the other. It was going to be a little strange, going into battle with them nearby rather than immediately alongside, but Powell wasn’t at all concerned. They knew what they were doing, and that wasn’t praise he gave lightly.

With the deck being a little clearer of hulking Gaoian bodies, it gave him a clearer view of his own men’s respective preparations. Warhorse, for instance, was literally shaking with anticipation. That young man was a lot more bloodthirsty than he cared to admit, and the fact was he’d have been the best fookin’ Aggressor on the team, if he wasn’t already an even better Protector.

Sikes, Burgess, Murray and Coyers—the team’s four levelest and quietest heads—were going through their routines deftly and without comment. Akiyama, Blaczynski and Butler, the three merry jokers, were happily psyching themselves up, Newman and Parata were grabbing some last-moment nutrition before their masks went on…

Dexter…was eerily calm. Then again, not so long ago he’d volunteered for a suicide mission, and come home from it. His hatred of the Hunters was so far beyond anyone else’s, it had become a strange kind of serenity. He’d come out of that fire as a true Gaoian killer, with the calm of a monk and the physical presence of an unsheathed knife.

Between him and Arés, it was hard to know who was the more dangerous man.

His example seemed to inspire his brother Whitecrests to imitate him, too. Even Thurrsto, his Champion and in most ways a far superior combatant, seemed to feed off that energy.

Firth and Costello were watching everything, seeing all. Powell shared a satisfied nod with them.

“We’ve engaged the enemy,” he told them.

Firth nodded sharply, then raised his voice: “Masks on!”

Newman, Parata and Arés hastily chugged down some last gulps of their performance drinks, and the masks went on with a series of hiss-click locking sounds. There was a brisk, efficient round of seal inspections, double-checked by Deacon and her techs before they vacated the deck.

Powell’s own mask settled into place over his face easily and familiarly. Deacon checked it for him, then stood back. “Air check.”

Powell took a deep breath. The air hissed softly past his ears, and he heard the regulator’s valves clicking appropriately. It tasted cold, clean and safe. “Good air.”

Deacon nodded, tapped her tablet, then charged back toward the airlock. She was the last out: the lock cycled, the lights went red, and with an alarm hoot the bay began to depressurize as the air was pumped out.

Coyers and Sikes hauled the launches over to the door. They were little more than naked warp drives in a skeletal frame with some maneuvering thrusters and plenty of handholds, but they were quick, stealthy and perfect for rapidly deploying everyone and their gear.

Absolutely everything about this operation were per standard procedure. They’d drilled this kind of thing over and over, and done it more than once. A station full of vulnerable ETs, being boarded by Hunters? Practically the HEAT’s bread and butter. Still, nobody was complacent. The Hunters had a nasty habit of bringing a new surprise to every fight.

They would just have to see what new nastiness they brought this time.

Previous Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Next Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Implications

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 4 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 3 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 2 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 1 (NSFW)

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

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Shades of White and Orange

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

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Mother Earth

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

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 2

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 1

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

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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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