The Deathworlders – Chapter 61: Violence Part 4

Date Point: 16y10m2w AV
Wi Kao city, Planet Gao

Xiù Chang

Yulna’s pyre was huge, and fierce. And, in a mark of Daar’s considerable respect, it was a wooden pyre rather than the industrial, gas-fired thing that was how the Gao usually said farewell to the dead.

Wood, to the Gao, was about as valuable as the same weight of silver.

There was probably some gas-fire trickery in there too, to make the flames so hot and so high that they completely obscured the body: It was supposed to be a dignified farewell, after all. Yulna’s cloth-wrapped remains had been laid among the logs with care and reverence by ceremonial guard-sisters, led by Guard-Mother Myun, but when the flames went up they had hidden her from sight, and when they subsided there would be nothing left but ashes.

Xiù had expected to cry. Instead, she found, she’d already done enough of that. There was a hollow feeling in her stomach, but also a warm little nugget of relief that at least her good friend—her Mother, in so many ways—wasn’t suffering any longer.

There weren’t many males at the ceremony. Gyotin and the Great Father of course, along with a few of his guard, plus Julian and Harrison a respectful distance back, but apart from them it was an almost exclusively female event.

Gaori tradition was to wait until after the flames were down to coals and embers before speaking. That meant a lot of silence. A lot of reflection. Plenty of time for quiet words and conversation.

Xiù spent much of it in conversation with Naydra, who kept looking over at Harrison.

“…You know, it’s a funny consequence of Giymuy’s decision to make you an honorary Gaoian that your cub—child, sorry—could technically be an honorary Gaoian too.”

“I…don’t know how appropriate it would be to stake ownership on his soul like that, as it were…. Besides, don’t forget his daddy’s an honorary Ten’Gewek.”

“A child of three speci es…” Naydra mused. “…I can’t decide if he’s fortunate or cursed… Oh my!”

That last was in response to Julian hoisting the baby aloft and swooping him around on his palm, which was Harrison’s idea of a great time and never failed to prompt a huge smile. It looked kind of alarming at first glance, but Xiù had grown used to it.

…Of course, Gaoian cubs were raised almost exclusively by females at this stage in their development. Naydra had likely never seen a male interact with an infant before. “…Do all Human males play so rough with the cu–the children?”

“Julian’s hands are the safest place in the whole galaxy,” Xiù declared, confidently.

Naydra watched him wrangle the baby a little more, ears twisting back and forth in the fascinating way a Gaoian’s ears always did when they were far away in thought, then shook herself and turned back to the present moment.

“…Thank you for bringing them,” she said. “I think it’s important to see the living examples of Yulna’s legacy. And her story.”

“She had quite a life.”

“Again…” Naydra managed a small, discreetly appropriate chitter. “I’m not sure if that’s fortune or a curse.”

“Well there’s an apocryphal curse that goes ‘may you live in interesting times.’ So, I guess we’re all cursed right now,” Xiù said. “But I don’t feel cursed. I feel very, very lucky.”

Naydra duck-nodded, slowly, then again rather more sharply. “…Yes. I know what you mean,” she agreed. She sighed and looked back at the pyre. It was dying now: soon, the speeches and eulogy would begin.

“I wonder how different things would have been?” she mused. “If you hadn’t been in that holding cell, where would we be? I’m sure it was miserable for you, and I don’t want to say that I’m glad it happened… but I am.”

Xiù gave her a small hug. “Don’t worry. I’m glad I was there too. It was a nightmare at the time, but now…” She glanced back at her son, her partners, and her daughter. “That’s life, really. At the time it might be terrifying and awful, but years later you can look back and see that, actually, you have something that you’d never give up because of it.”

Allison saw her looking at them, and probably gleaned a lot of what she was thinking just from her expression. She stopped playing with Anna, who was in a baby-carry on her chest, long enough to make a heart shape with her thumbs and fingers.

“I suppose…” Naydra agreed. “…Though I can’t help but feel that Yulna’s suffering was unnecessary. None of us are richer for her pain.”

“But she bore it.” Xiù watched the pyre carefully. The hidden gas was definitely being turned off, now. What had once been a head-height stack of logs was now a waist-high mount of black, white and glowing orange. The heat coming off it was skin-drying, even from several paces away. Of Yulna’s shrouded remains, there was no sign.

“Yes. That’s a lesson she taught everyone by example: how to bear it.”

Naydra’s thoughts trailed off as Gyotin tapped his staff on the stones at his feet, calling everyone’s attention his way and putting an end to the soft murmur of conversation. Without it, there was only the crack and snap of the wood.

He let the silence sit for just long enough, then duck-nodded toward the pyre.

“A Mother-Supreme,” he began, “Is tasked with many responsibilities. She is a leader both temporal and spiritual. She is a guide, a teacher, a care-giver and sometimes a source of stern discipline. She is, indeed, a mother. The mother of mothers, and thus mother to all the Gao… and in that sense, Mother-Supreme Yulna can rest easy knowing that she succeeded. Without her…”

He paused, then swept his staff around at all the gathered Gao. “You are alive because of her decision. Our people are alive because of her wisdom and vision. When she saw what the Gao truly needed, she had the courage to give it to us. Yulna, in our time of need, was mother to our future.”

He lowered the staff and rested his hands on it. “…Hers was a life characterized by pain,” he said, more softly. “Both of the mundane, physical sort, but also more intimate. She lost Sisters, and close friends, and cubs. She lost friendships. And always she kept her head up, her back straight, and her eyes clear. She was an example I will strive to emulate for the rest of my time… As should we all.”

The gathered mourners made assorted gestures of agreement. Gyotin duck-nodded, and concluded his speech.

“…Remember her well.”

Date Point: 16y10m2w AV
Out-system mining colony near Ugunduvuronagthuregnuburthuruv, the Guvnuragnaguvendrugun Confederacy


The Hunters had stripped out everything they could carry. There wasn’t much left. Just the biggest and densest mining equipment that couldn’t be quickly disassembled or cut apart, left behind to tumble in null-G above the foundations and robbed-out walls.

With literal days to act, unharassed and unhurried, the Hunters had figuratively picked the carcass to the bone. There really wasn’t going to be much to report. In fact, the ransacking was so total that the difference between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ had become entirely academic in this case.

Dexter and Warhorse had something in common. They could hate like nobody else they knew. Oh sure, some people like Tigger or Righteous could rage harder than anyone, but rage was an ephemeral thing, a power of the soul that reveled in the moment. It was transitory.

Hate was forever. Neither of those two men truly understood it. And as for the real ice-bloods like Highland and Carebear…

The Unseen bless them, they were lucky to keep their balance the way they did. They were…well, they could choose who and what they loved, and that was that. They were natural killers to be sure, but that still wasn’t the same thing.

They lacked commitment.

Dexter and Warhorse could choose, too. But for Dexter, he’d chosen to hate the Hunters. He’d poured a little of his soul into the prospect of their destruction. They were evil.

Very few had seen just how evil for themselves.

He’d talked about it with Commander Mears a few times. The Human counsellor was no expert on Gaoian psychology, but when it came to darkness… well, he’d seen its many shades, through many men’s eyes. He was an expert on that at least, and that was what Regaari needed.

The search of the ransacked mining outpost was a formality, really. They’d known not to expect survivors, but it had to be done.

He had Warhorse by his side to help shift debris and generally serve as the first-rate medic he was. They were both armored up in case of traps. So far, they’d not found one…

…Nor more than a few dark mats of frozen blood stuck to the outpost’s remaining skeletal bulkheads.

There was, in short, nothing for Warhorse to vent his frustrations on. No wreckage to move, no obstructions to cut away, not even any bodies to bag. He was rapidly building into a great big ball of frustration, and woe betide anyone who got in his way when he finally got to unleash.

Regaari hoped it would be soon.

They had vengeance to dispense.

Date Point: 16y11m AV
Starship Silent But Deadly, Planet Mordor, Hunter Space

Ferd Given-Man

Another day of watching.

Ferd knew why. Only a foolish hunter took his prey too early, and foolish hunters died young. But after hands of days of watching the Big-Ear people struggle and get sick and die when their monsters came from the sky to take everything…

Well, his hands were itching. They wanted to make things right. They wanted to restore the balance. They wanted to kill.

But the Humans were very, very patient hunters. They watched, and they watched, and they noted things that Ferd wouldn’t have known to see, and they thought. Back on the ship, Wilde showed him on a thinking-stone how the stack of things they’d seen and watched was growing deep and wide. They were gathering a great Knowing, and if Ferd had learned anything in the last hand of years, it was that Knowing was a weapon.

That thought kept him calm, and kept his mind where it should be.

Still. It was a relief like the moment a storm broke after a hand of stifling days when Wilde finally announced, after a day spent watching old, sick and weak Big-Ears being herded into a big building and not coming out again, that he’d had enough of waiting as well.

“It’s time we phone home.”

Tooko had been dozing, curled up on the big bed with his tail over his nose. But his ears sprang up like young saplings and he raised his head looking like he’d never been asleep.

“About time!”

“Yeah. Get us aloft, Pip.”

Tooko flowed off the bed and through the cabin on four-paw, poured himself into his pilot seat, and started to do the many things he did with buttons and switches that made the ship work.

“We get to fight, yes?” Ferd checked.

“I bloody well hope so, mate.” Wilde’s voice had a growl in it. “I didn’t do all this work just to get blue-balled.”

Ferd hooted appreciatively, and went to sit by the seeing-stone that let him watch the world outside. Even on a sick and wounded place like this, seeing the ground drop away and the clouds roll out below, until even the mountains were so small they looked flat with the ground…

He watched every time, and this time he watched as the sky went dark, as the world curved and grew small behind them.

And then, when Tooko used the ‘warp drive’ it sped away behind them like a startled bibtaw and vanished. Just another light among all the others.

“…Two kilolights,” Tooko announced. “Minimum safe distance is one parsec. ETA… fourteen hours, eighteen minutes.”

That was… a longer wait than Ferd had really wanted. Frasier seemed to see his thoughts, there, and gave him a smile.

“Hurry up and wait,” he said. “No’ exactly fun, is it?”

Ferd stood up and found himself restlessly bouncing on his feet. “No. But Tooko ship-knowings keep us safe, yes?”

“Got to take it slow,” Tooko explained. “Too fast and we make ripples. Too many ripples, and they’ll catch us.”

Tumik nodded wisely. “All best things in life, take slow…”

“Not everything,” Frasier disagreed.

“What is best when done fast?”

“Driving, drinking and pulling, mate.”

“I hope none of those at once.”

“Hey, drinking and going out on the pull go hand-in-hand.”

“That explains the fuckin’ goblins you keep waking up next to…” Rees chuckled.

“Fuck off, mister ‘Happily Married…’ how is Rhoswen anyway?”

“She’s good. Thanks for asking.”

Ferd sighed, put the seeing-stone away, and flomped over onto the bed. There were only so many things he could do while waiting. He could work out, or he could sleep, or he could wrestle, or he could play Professor Daniel’s learning-games on his extra-strong thinking-stone.

…Or he could make the time go away in a blink with the stay-sis, but he didn’t like doing that. Something about it felt like strong sky-magic, and a smart man didn’t overstay his welcome with anything that powerful.

He settled for eating. The food in the boxes still tasted strange to him, but it was hot, and filling, and he was finally figuring out which bits were supposed to go together. Humans had strange rules about how some foods were for different parts of the day. That didn’t make much sense to Ferd, but he’d quickly learned that some of the things in the box did not go well when mixed.

He’d learned that the hard way when he tried to dip ‘apple stroo-del’ in his ‘mini-stro-knee soup.’

So, he ate. Then he cleaned up. Then he exercised. Then he (reluctantly) washed. Then he sat and tried some of the learning-games for a while, and got a new high score. That put him in a good mood so he spent some time wrestling with Nomuk until Wilde wearily asked them to ‘pack it in.’

When he glanced at the clock, Ferd found it had been… About four hours.

His groan made Wilde chuckle. “You were fine the whole way here,” he said.

“Was different!” Ferd replied. “That was travel. This is waiting.”

“Mate… either sleep or hop in the stasis crate. But you’re gonna go mental if you try and wait this out.”

He was right. Ferd sighed, and headed for the cargo bay, where he packed himself into the stay-sis, and pushed the big button. He wasn’t ready to sleep.

An eyeblink later, and the wait was over. Rees opened the box, gave him a friendly slap on the arm and jerked his head toward the front of the ship. “Pip says we’re past minimum safe,” he said. “Time to call in.”

Ferd nodded, and followed him back up the ladder. “…Who are we calling?” he asked.

“The Great Father,” Wilde replied, as he fiddled with the call-machine.

Even Tooko looked surprised and nervous at that. “…We can just call him up?” he asked.

“Well, no. We call the watch officer at the Pit, and he puts us through. But yeah… Go for W-link, Pip?”

Tooko nodded and did something with his buttons. “…Go.” He sounded almost afraid.

“Why so nervous?”

“Well, it’s just… he’s the Great Father. You know? I know he tries to be all approachable but…”

Wilde gave him a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, Pip. He asked us to call, remember?” he asked, and opened the link. “What’s the worst that can happen?”

Date Point: 16y11m AV
High Mountain Fortress, the Northern Plains, Gao


Daar was having one of his silent days, and the thing about him was that his silences could be very loud. Naydra’s Bumpkin was a sentimental sort of male, and she’d learned over the years that, if left to his own devices, he would be inclined to brood on those huge, deep feelings of his.

A Great Father couldn’t afford to indulge himself like that. He knew it of course, but he was only a male after all, and sometimes a boy needed a little help to pull himself out of a rut.

Fortunately, Daar had a couple of very big and very easy buttons to press.

They were walking from their personal transport toward the northern tower of High Mountain fortress, the tower where their personal apartments were perched high above the many courtyards and ancient battlements. She was strolling comfortably, upright and enjoying the sights and smells while Daar thumped along on all fours beside her and did his best to keep with her pace. He had a tendency to move quickly, but even that was subdued tonight.

The silence was, as the Humans said, deafening. Enough of that. Naydra chittered to herself and, before her nerves got to her, jumped up onto him and laid herself across his broad back.

That earned her a deep-chested chitter and a bemused look over his shoulder.

“…Kinda undignified ‘fer you, ain’t it?”

“I’m allowed to be undignified when I want.” She snuffled into his fur. “We all are.”

“Even you an’ me?”

“Especially you and me.” She squirmed forward up his back and playfully nipped at his ear. “Or is being whacked in the snout with a spatula every time you go to Cimbrean particularly dignified?”

Daar chittered at that. “Guess not. ‘Yer right. As always.”

It was Naydra’s turn to chitter. “How does that girl resist your endless charms?” she teased.

One of those charms was that Daar was in fact very much self-aware of his eccentricities. That never stopped him from playing them up, of course…

“Right?!” Daar chittered gleefully, “I got the most biggest muscles an’ the most biggest… wallet!” He threw in an ear-waggle to convey what he really meant. “What more’s a gal gotta have?!”

“Stereotypes, dear!”

“Tell me it ain’t true!”

“Oh, those things help, certainly…but not with her it would seem!”

“Bah, she don’t know what she’s missin’! Tell ‘ya what though, it’s gonna be fuckin’ sweet when she finally gives in…”

“They all do eventually.” Naydra sighed and stretched out along his back. “Just don’t forget about me.”

“Never. Not ever.” Daar sped up to a trot now that he wasn’t keeping pace with her, and Naydra found herself enjoying the gentle wind between her ears.

“So what was on your mind?” she asked, now that she’d at least punctured the problem a little.

“…A whole chain’a things, startin’ with Yulna. I miss the crap outta her… Kinda regret I didn’t make peace with her sooner.” He sped up a bit as he spoke, though it was still a leisurely pace for him. “Gyotin was right, what he said at the funeral. If she hadn’t’a done what she did, there wouldn’t be Gao no more. But… Well. You know how much I don’t like the crown. Well…wearin’ it, anyhoo. An’ I hadta wear it today…”

“And she was the one who put it on your head,” Naydra duck-nodded. “Figuratively speaking.”

“Mmm.” He sighed heavily. “…But I shoulda got over my resentment sooner. She did the right thing. I shouldn’t’a been so angry with her for it, she din’t deserve that.”

“Did she know that, before the end?”


“Then you have nothing to regret, Bumpkin. Maybe you could have made up with her sooner, but how much worse would it be if you’d never come to terms?” Naydra scratched him behind his ears. “She gave you that crown because she knew you’d wear it well, and she was a tough old thing. I think she’d have been okay with it if you hadn’t ever forgiven her. But you did. And you parted as friends, yes?”


“Focus on that, then.” Naydra scratched behind his ears some more. “…It suits you, you know.”


“The crown. It looks good on you.”

“…Y’know something funny? Gyotin had the damn thing made o’ solid osmium so’s it’d be as heavy as fuckin’ possible. It’s like ten kilos or somethin’!”

“Hmm,” Naydra said playfully, “Far too heavy a burden for anyone else.”

“That’s a pretty unsubtle bit of analogy there…”

“Gyotin rather enjoys being unsubtle, when he can be. And you’re a very unsubtle foil.” She pinched his ear, playfully. “But you said you were thinking about a whole chain of things. What’s the next link?”

Daar sighed, more heavily than she’d heard him sigh in a long time. “You. Takin’ over from her. Everythin’ that means…”

“I haven’t been elected to that position yet. The election isn’t for another month.”

“‘Yer gonna be.”

“…Yes. Is that why you’re still wearing the crown?”

“…Maybe. ‘S weird, ‘ya sorta get the sense o’ when ‘yer s’posed ta’ wear it, yijao?” He gave her a complicated look over his shoulder and shook himself gently mid-stride, enough to communicate his feelings but not enough to dismount her. “Also, I ain’t s’posed ‘ta let anyone but me ever touch it. Easier ‘ta wear it than carry it…”

“Always so practical…” she teased.

“A crown ain’t practical! But they’re important. An’ the thing is, I gotta warn ‘ya, ‘yer gonna be crowned ‘yerself here pretty soon. The election’s gonna happen sooner’n ‘ya think, an’ after that…”

“…I know. It’s all happening very quickly, but… I feel ready for it.”

“…Might be you’re in ‘fer a nasty surprise,” Daar replied. “But… then again, you’ve had time ‘ta prepare. If anyone can be ready, it’s you.”

His words might have sounded patronizing, if Naydra didn’t know him so well.

“Well…if this thing is going to be, then I have a couple of requests.”


“Yes. The first…” Naydra tightened her arms around his neck. “How fast can you really go?”

The answer turned out to be… much faster than she would have guessed, but the really thrilling part was how agile he was even at speed. He had the strength and, between his immense weight, the sheer size of his rough paws, and the length of the sturdy claws that came with them, the grip to quite violently change direction as he took her on a three-lap circuit around the sprawling fortress’ outside walls.

She was too tired for a fourth lap. Simply staying on his wildly undulating back had made her paws hurt from gripping ‘round his neck and hips.

He knew exactly when to stop too, with no shortage of smugness in his voice.

“Coulda gone way faster, too…” he teased. “Hadta take easy ‘fer someone super important!”

Naydra massaged her aching paws, almost regretting her little moment of play. But, one didn’t play with a Brownfur if they weren’t okay with some exhaustion.

“So…” Daar shimmied his body happily, which was the real point of the activity. He wasn’t made to sit still, or be poised and regal for too long. He was made to move, and he’d be feeling better for what was, by his standards, a little light exercise. “…What was the second request?”

The crown was still there, still settled firmly on his head. His expression was…happy. Serene. Almost radiant. By the Mothers, for the first time since the coronation…it seemed right.

Nadrya sidled up closer and nuzzled against his strong neck. “I want another cub.”

That seemed to surprise and delight him, but as always he was concerned for her well-being.

“You’ve smelled ready ‘fer a while now…but are ‘ya sure? The next week’s gonna be busy Naydi, ‘fer both of us…an’ not to be crass, but conceivin’ a cub ain’t exactly light work…and, uh, I definitely ain’t an easy mate, even at my most gentlest…”

That last bit—his power, in every sense of the word—was one of the things that was most attractive about him…but he had a valid point, and he had always been one to worry, especially with her. Humans it seemed paid the cost of motherhood more toward the end, in their aptly-named Labor. With gaoians it was very much the other way around. There was a very good reason why Females were traditionally picky, and why a mating contract really was a signed, legally binding contract.

Among other things, it included an injury clause.

But she was ready. She’d already completed her half of the paperwork, in fact, and filled in as many of his details as she could, as she showed him when they reached their apartments and she indicated the small pile of documents on her desk.

“…Paper? We coulda just bumped our communicators together…”

He was touched, she knew.

“Some things are worth doing with a little more ceremony, don’t you think?”

“That they are.”

The pen was a gift from President Sartori. Made by Pilot, with a technique called Maki-e, it was a one-off “Emperor” sized writing instrument that would be preposterously large in anyone else’s paw.

Daar picked up the pen and considered it. Then he considered the forms.

He turned and looked her dead in the eye.

“If you ask me, I’d set aside all tradition, step down as Stud-Prime o’ my Clan, an’ swear myself t’you an’ you alone. ‘Ferever.”

That was…she ached to accept his offer. But she couldn’t. It was a moment of personal weakness that prompted him to offer, but she knew in her very soul it was genuine.

And… she also knew that his love of the Females was the most important thing there was. She couldn’t jeopardize that, under any circumstances. No matter what the personal cost may be.

She knew, then, what it truly was to be a Great Mother.

“Bumpkin…” she sniffed his nose, and nipped tenderly at it. “…I already have more of you than anyone else ever will. Don’t make offers you know I won’t accept.”

He nodded, signed the forms, and flowed around her like the loving predator he was. “Ain’t never met a stronger woman. Gods an’ the Unseen, I love you…”

He snuggled into her, sweeping her thrillingly toward their nest-bed, overwhelming her in the most beautiful way. She was ready, he was ready, everything was absolutely perfect. They wrestled as one: friends, soul-mates and lovers true. This was her Bumpkin at his most tender, his most fierce, the very best of any—

…And of course, that singular, perfect moment was when his communicator rang.

Date Point: 16y11m AV
Starship Silent But Deadly, Planet Mordor, Hunter Space

Sergeant Ian Wilde

Daar’s snarl was about the most terrifying thing Wilde had ever seen or heard.

“…’Yer one o’ only three people I’d let interrupt me right fuckin’ now, so…what’d ‘ya find?”

Tooko’s tail shivered nervously, and Wilde knew why. That was not the greeting a lowly Clan-Brother would want to hear from the most powerful Gao to ever live…

…Not the situation, either. Daar was sitting up in bed on full magnificent display, and the camera’s field of view told the full story about what exactly a Great Father did in his evenings.

Wilde stood straight-backed to give his report with as much dignity and discretion as he could muster. “The planet has natives, sir. A whole enslaved civilization, industrialized to a crazy degree with no regard for the environmental impact. As far as we can tell, the Hunters are taking that world for every resource it has, and they’re happy to snack on the slaves while they’re about it. Tooko also isolated the location of a Farthrow generator.”

The Great Father shifted and the camera went flying for a moment. After some grumbled protests, the image re-centered on his face, and mercifully kept…anything else…out of view.

“…Rapin’ a planet ‘fer resources, then. How wary d’ya think they are jus’ now?”

“Swaggering and confident, from what we saw. Every single facility we watched, it’s the same story: Slaves churning out fossil fuels, metals, plastics, whatever, and then the Hunters come and take it and maybe butcher a few by way of a thank-you.”

“Puny sick-skins murder sky-people for fun like little boy smushing bibtaw,” Ferd snarled. He’d changed since witnessing that first incident. Wilde reckoned the young Given-Man had a much firmer grasp on the stakes and the evil they were up against than he’d had before.

Then again, Ferd’s tribe had fled the fighting during the Hierarchy war on their homeworld, and their previous Given-Man had died fighting the Igraens’ machines. He hadn’t seen the enemy first-hand, before this mission. It had been harrowing enough for Wilde.

Their subsequent reconoittres of other facilities had followed much the same pattern. They’d seen other hapless, helpless aliens being literally worked to death, poisoned by the side products of their own labour, or cruelly eviscerated by their overlords.

One population stood out in Wilde’s memory: They’d been processing lead, or some other heavy metal. That was the only station the Hunters hadn’t fed at, but it made little difference: some of the workers had been so palsied and so obviously dying that leaving them alone was very probably the crueller option.

Daar’s deep eyes watched through the camera, he flicked an ear once, sniffed, and duck-nodded. Clearly he could see what they were all thinking.

“‘Kay…now riddle me this: how bad’ll me rammin’ the Grand Army down their throat make ‘em squeal?”

“…I imagine losing a whole industrialized planet, all its resources and a slave species would very painful for them, sir,” Wilde ventured.

“Is it worth killin’ a million Gao? ‘Cuz that’s gonna be the opening bet.”

That question was well above Wilde’s pay grade, but the answer he gave came quite guilelessly from the heart. “…Sir, after what we witnessed down there? I’ll lead the bloody charge myself.”

Daar duck-nodded. “Sarry. That weren’t fair. But I’m kinda in the mood ‘fer gettin’ to the point, yijao? So: can ‘ya knock down that Farthrow an’ get a beacon emplaced?”

“…Tooko?” Wilde turned to their pilot.

“I can flatten the generator, but SBD doesn’t have the firepower to break the shield around that facility. We’d need to deploy a Dump. A big one.”

“And ‘ya got literal tons o’ barbarian cavemonkey fun on-board with you, so…”

“We can do it,” Wilde affirmed. “We have the dump-web packs in their biggest sizes.”

“Good. I’ll call my general staff in’ the mornin’ when I ain’t busy an’ we’ll set things in motion. Anythin’ else?”

“Clan Longear may want to look at the signals I recorded, My Father,” Tooko said. “I’m no expert, but it looked to me like the Hunters are basing their work on our technology.”

“Okay. Fine. Make it so. Now, is there anythin’ that needs my undyin’ attention right now?”

“…No, sir.”

Daar sighed. “Right. Good work, I mean it. Now you sit ‘yerselves in a nice, safe orbit an’ git me all the surveillance ‘ya can. We’ll be in touch in…balls, what time is it?”

A muffled voice mumbled something from off-camera…Wilde did his very best not to listen. “…Right, less’ say twelve standard hours, ‘kay? Git sum shuteye. Now if’n you’ll ‘scuse me…”

There was the beginnings of an obviously playful growl, and the video mercifully cut short.

For the Ten’Gewek, of course, that was pretty normal. They hooted appreciatively, made a few innuendo-laden comments in their own tongue that Wilde barely followed, and then went to follow his advice to sleep.

As for Wilde….

“Well. Now we know why he’s called the Great Father, I guess…”

“You had to go there…” Frasier muttered, though Tooko was chittering.

“Jealousy doesn’t become you, Wilde!”

“Dunno if I’d be jealous o’ something like that… I mean, how do any of his partners…?”

Tooko chittered again, then turned his attention towards the ship. “It won’t take me long to get us into a safe surveilling orbit. We can’t image the entire planet in ten hours but we can make a good first pass over the main continent.”

“Yeah. That’ll have to do.” Wilde turned toward the sleeping area. “Don’t neglect your own rest, Tooko. You’ll need it tomorrow.”

“Don’t worry about me.”

Wilde nodded, and went to bed down. Worrying, sadly, was going to be a definite feature but he’d learned a long time ago how to not let that keep him from a good night’s sleep. After all, nothing his imagination could possibly create would be made better by fatigue and tiredness.

He hadn’t bothered to decorate his bunk much. Frankly, he hadn’t expected to use it much give Gaoian and Ten’gewek sleeping habits, but in fact they’d largely come to respect that humans had their own way of doing things. He settled in, noting with wry amusement that Rees was already snoring softly, and watched the ceiling for a minute as he filed away and sorted his own feelings.

Nerves? No. Well, some. But a lot more of it was anticipation. After all the horrors he’d watched over the last few days, he was itching to give the Hunters some much-deserved pain. It wasn’t going to be easy…

But it was going to be right.

He nodded to himself, shut his eyes, took a deep breath, and slept well.

Date point: 16y11m1d AV
Headquarters of the Grand Army of the Gao, planet Gao

Fiin, Champion and Stud of Clan Stoneback

“It’s dangerous over there. Never mind the Hunters, we’re going to lose more troops to the environment than to enemy fire if we aren’t careful.”

Fiin made a disgruntled noise as the analyst—a young, genetically conformant Whitecrest associate named Mekuulo—showed him a summary of all the environmental hazards the Grand Army would face on Mordor. The younger male had passed through the rites of Whitecrest’s First Ring and was now working on his qualifications to challenge the Second… one of which was spending some time here at Headquarters.

Champion Thurrsto and Father Regaari had given him strong recommendations. That all but confirmed the sleek young male he was looking at was an initiate of the Dark Rites.

Which meant Fiin had to watch his every word around him. Fiin didn’t know what the Dark Rites entailed, exactly—he was one of few outside Clan Whitecrest to even know they existed—but he knew they were…challenging, to put it mildly. One attempted them by invitation only, and rumor had it that many did not survive. If two of the more intimidating Gao he knew had gone through them and lived, then Mekuulo was one to watch.

They’d certainly resulted in a competent, sharp analyst.

“….Do we have enough protective gear?”

“For the first campaign wave, yes. Almost a million full sets of equipment. Most of the Grand Army will find it…burdensome…but then again, that would have been their complaint no matter the balance. Always, there is more ammo for the soldier to carry, more gear, more rations…”

“And most of the Grand Army are on the small side,” Fiin grumbled. That was unfair, really: the Grand Army trained hard and were almost universally strong and sleek, but against a well-conforming Stoneback…

“Logistics are confident they can keep the troops supplied with what they need to survive the poisons and radiation over there. Personally, I suspect we’ll see more than a few casualties due to simple negligence.”

Fiin sighed. “Ain’t nothin’ we can do ‘bout that. They’ve been given training, if they wanna risk irradiated balls that’s their own lookout.”

Mekuulo duck-nodded solemnly. “Anyway. The second and third cohorts are active and ready. Fourth, Sixth and Seventh are being called up, and should be ready by the end of tomorrow. First and Fifth have been recalled from field training exercises, they won’t be ready for at least five days. The rest aren’t yet trained and equipped for the environmental hazards.

“I presume they’re mustering at their parade grounds, ready for jump?”

“That’s right. Clan One-Fang are ready to jump seven heavy cruisers, four light cruisers, thirteen escorts and the orbital superiority platform Raining Vengeance. With its jump arrays and heavy lifters, we’ll have heavy armor on the ground within thirty minutes. Three wings of Voidrippers will be on hand for air support and interception.”

Fiin duck-nodded, satisfied that all was proceeding as smoothly as it could on such short notice. “…Right. Well, give the lockdown order, get everyone ready to go. I will brief the Great Father in our next meeting, where hopefully I will have a new Grandfather to announce…”

Mekuulo didn’t show any undue interest at all. No ear-flick, no sudden look, no nothing. He was the picture of perfect self-control.

As the Humans would say, bullshit.

Stoneback still kept a few secrets, and one of them was their Nose: specifically just how far they’d developed it over the centuries. Fiin took a surreptitious sniff of Mekuulo as he prowled past. The faint note of excitement was impossible to disguise, though the slightly ionized after-scent on the air suggested he was trying.

Most anyone else would have been fooled, it was so faint. But a ‘Back who’d mastered the Third Ring? Mekuulo still had a few things left to learn.

Not many, though.

Fiin left the young Associate to his work, and stalked back towards his shuttle car. He’d need to be on the parade grounds soon, and fully armored. Establishing the clawhold was going to be a Stoneback job, the kind of thing Third Fang was made for, ably supported by the urban assault specialists of Second Fang.

He’d be no Champion at all if he wasn’t there in the first jump. He’d be a pretender, an impostor. In that regard, Human leaders had it easier.

But they’d all have wanted to be there too.

The time to go to war had finally come, and the Grand Army was ready.

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)

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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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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 2

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 1

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 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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