The Deathworlders – Chapter 63: Torn Part 2

Date Point: 16y10m3w AV
Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches


There weren’t many Clanless who could claim a personal friendship with the Great Father of the Gao. That had enjoyed (and survived) cuddly afternoon naps with him. Or really knew that the pictures or even videos didn’t do the in-person experience any justice, not even a little bit. That, yes, his mere presence could fluster pretty much literally anyone and that his musk was strong enough to make even a Human feel a bit overwhelmed. That he could so effortlessly court any Female, that he was so ridiculously shameless about it and that it worked every single time…

…Well. Not every single time. Somehow by some absurd twist of fate, Leemu had won a Female’s heart, and it was one the Great Father himself had been courting for months. And by some unspeakable miracle, Daar wasn’t even mad. Balls, he was happy for them!

Sister (now Mother) Leela had just the other day confirmed that she was pregnant. With a female! Leemu had been so over the moon, he’d done something that, in any other situation, would have been beyond stupid. He once again sent the Great Father a text message.

It’s a girl!

Leemu immediately regretted that decision. Had he overreached? Presumed too much? It was so easy to think of anyone who treated him so well and so easily as his friend, but…

…Well, Great Fathers didn’t have friends. Did they? Could they?

When Daar finally replied, though, he was nothing but cheery congratulations… and unbelievable ego, too.

Balls! Good job ‘lil guy! We’ll see what happens when I get my turn!!

His unreserved happiness for Leemu, combined with his absolute certainty that he’d eventually win her heart…balls, he was like a Keeda tale come to life! She liked him, too. She liked him a lot, but given what had happened in the War…well, it would take time. But Leemu had won her heart first. Won against the greatest Gaoian and ‘most bestest’ male to ever live, and had done so in the context of what was becoming a genuine friendship.

Sure, maybe it was a bit distant—Daar was the Great Father after all, and Leemu was just a random Clanless with a knack for painting, starship repair, and the occasional bit of hard labor—but still. Leemu was happy to take what affection he could get. And he certainly wasn’t complaining about being on a first name basis with the Great Father, even if that more than occasionally meant being inescapably mashed up against his giant steel-like furnace of a body for a nap, or a play-tussle, or because he was feeling affectionate, or…

Daar had peppered him with questions and Leemu had happily shared, and from there…they struck up a regular correspondence. Sort of. Daar was a busy man and he only checked his communicator very occasionally, so it wasn’t exactly a quick conversation. But still. Leemu had a long and increasingly pun-filled text chat. With the Great Father. Who wanted to know everything about Leemu’s life. The Great Father was interested. In him!

Him, how Leela was doing, his art, how his roommates were getting on…

Which led to the matter of Gorku.

Preed was doing just fine pottering around, tending his garden, living off his abductee resettlement fund and generally just enjoying being around his own species again, albeit in a foreign nation. And Leemu was finding that his art sold as fast as he could make it, for values that had his ears twisting in bemusement. But Gorku…

Gorku had grown restless. He’d gone from being an honest workin’ brownie to being Leemu’s carer and helper, to being… what? Leemu was actually quite happy with life, nowadays. Looking back on his experience with the Droud had taught him how to appreciate the real pleasures in life, the ones that were more than just mindless, overpowering stimulation of his receptors. There were still times when he’d find some small thing that used to bring him some joy only to find it… flatter… than before, and sometimes he got depressed about it, but mostly his new abilities and senses had added so much to the world that he was finding new ways to be happy.

But that journey had for a time cost Gorku his purpose. Daar had eventually mentioned how valuable a trichromatic ‘Back might be in the Clan, and hinted in that uniquely un-subtle brownie way that Gorku might think about that…

The big lunk managed to get the message. Nowadays all he did was train like a demon, and study until he couldn’t keep his eyes open. Clan progression was fiercely competitive.

Leemu had wound up taking care of him for a change. Reminding him to eat all (eight!) of his daily meals, since he had to pack on a lot of muscle to be where the Clan thought a fifth degree male should be nowadays, in the aftermath of the War and their return to their martial roots. Prodding him to get out and do his runs, no matter how much he hated looping Folctha; they wanted crazy endurance too, on top of all that crazy strength. They also didn’t want idiots, so most evenings Leemu found himself helping Gorku study with mini-quizzes and flash cards…

Sometimes, Leemu helped by pulling a blanket over Gorku’s shoulders, when he was crashed out at his desk and snoring louder than a naxas bull. He’d tried moving him to the nest-bed once, but, well…Gorku was a fifth-degree brownfur, after all. Even if Leemu could more or less consider himself a ‘gym rat’ these days, and keep up with some of the fitter Humans, that didn’t mean he was up to moving a big shaggy brown puddle who could probably squat a small car.

So, he helped as much as he could, with big things and little. Another one of those pleasures the droud hadn’t been able to emulate. After all, how could a device which did nothing but electrochemically stimulate his brain capture a melancholy, bittersweet kind of happiness that came with helping a good friend move on with his life… and potentially out of one’s own?

It couldn’t. But paint could. Leemu knew the day was coming where they would part ways and he wasn’t looking forward to that. But he could paint Gorku at the desk. Big, handsome, exhausted, a bit naive…definitely bittersweet. The trick to painting him, though, was getting just the right shade of brown. Which was a very tricky color, actually; brown was just orange, but darker. He’d learned that the hue itself was more a product of perception than a trick of light, and Gorku had a nicely rich color to him. It definitely edged toward the red end of brown.

The scent of the paint eventually woke the slumbering lunk. Thanks to the Nofl, Gorku had eventually regained his full senses. Nowadays his nose was even more sensitive than Leemu’s.

“Mrrf …das’ the ‘spensive red paint ‘yer usin,’” he said, without opening an eye.

“Painting something important.”

Gorku’s tail thumped once, but he didn’t bother to stir from his semi-liquid somnolent posture.

“That’s all? Just a tail thump?”

“‘Yer charmin’ but I ain’t that kind o’ male.”

Leemu sketched in a few whiskers with his liner brush. “Very droll. I thought you were looking at a third-ring career, not a comedy gig.”

“Gotta get the Second Ring first an’ I gotta get a recommend ‘ta go further. One paw down at a time.”

“You’ll get it. And you do know the Great Father…”

“No.” Gorku growled quietly. “That’ll actually make it worse, cousin. Ain’t nobody wanna say they favored a ‘Back ‘cuz o’ who he knew.”

“…You’ll still get it. You’re barely even twenty!”


“And thanks for staying still so I can finish this…”

For a little while, the only sounds in the room were the rough, soothing noise of bristles on primed canvas, interrupted by a prolonged gastric growl.



“I’m hungry.”

“You don’t say.”

“Shaddup, lil’ guy.” Apparently hunger was sufficient motivation for Gorku to pour himself down across his desk and sort of meander his way toward the kitchen.

Leemu chittered, and cleaned his brush. “Fine. Why don’t we go visit Leela?”

“We could…but I was kinda hopin’ we could stay home an’ grill some steaks.”

Leemu nodded, and considered his painting. It wasn’t finished, but he’d discovered that sometimes a half-finished painting had qualities all its own. He’d already captured everything important. Sometimes, that was all he needed. He duck-nodded, took it off the easel and put it aside to dry.

And actually…

“That sounds good too,” he said.

Date Point: 16y10m3w AV
Correspondence between HMS Sharman and the Corti Directorate

FM 5TH DIRECTOR/[email protected]// TO CMO/[email protected]// INFO HIGHCASTLE/[email protected]/ STAINLESS/[email protected]/ BEEKEEPER/[email protected]/ RINGMASTER/[email protected]// C O N F I D E N T I A L SACRED STRANGER ORCON REL FVEY CD5 BT SUBJ/ RE:Query regarding Cruezzir-D formulation// 

Lt. Phillips,

We have received your queries and concerns regarding the latest delivery of Cruezzir Derivative Serum (Human high-performance formulation v4.01) and direct your attention to the product update information included alongside the shipment, which detailed in full the expected consequences of this most recent iteration.

Cruezzir Derivative Serum is subject to constant ongoing refinement, in keeping with both the strict terms and intent of the contract between the Corti Directorate’s College of Regenerative Xenopharmacology, and Allied Extrasolar Command. Our highest priority in all cases is the safety and health of your personnel, and it is our mission to provide you with the most excellent possible medical solution to their unique needs.

You may rest assured that every iteration of the serum has been thoroughly studied and quality-tested prior to release, and that we will not release an iteration of the serum unless we are perfectly content of its safety and lack of deleterious side effects.

For full details, we advise you to closely study the release documentation.


Fifth Director Ebrit, Dean, College of Regenerative Xenopharmacology

Date Point: 16y10m3w AV

The Dog House gym, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

“Jesus, fellas…the hell get you going today?”

Julian lay on the floor, desperately struggling to catch his breath. He felt like he’d been run through a meat grinder and then stuffed into a sausage casing. And then smashed with a hammer. By the two biggest, most gleefully crazy meathead sadists the human race had to offer. And he felt like that because it was exactly those two men who had just thoroughly humiliated him down in ‘Horse’s personal high-G torture dungeon.

It was Julian’s first day back at the gym after switching from gut-manufactured Cruezzir to a twenty-year prescription of Crue-D, and he’d noticed two things immediately. Firstly, he felt much, much better. He just felt…cleaner, somehow. Julian didn’t really know what Cruezzir actually felt like, but he knew how it felt when it was absent. He couldn’t think of any words that didn’t sound like a raging hippy describing a detox treatment, but, well…that’s what it felt like. He felt clean.

So, instead of pretending like he could come close to keeping up with those two, he was trying to hang with Blaczynski, who was near-Beef himself—not far behind Butler and just ahead of Akiyama—and probably Julian’s closest match on the team, ability-wise. Hands-down the toughest member, too. And next to someone like him? Julian was…doing pretty good. Heck, he was proving to be just as strong! Being that kind of strong sure as heck made up for the inconveniences of being so ridiculously heavy: he ate like a Given-Man and couldn’t trust chairs.

All of that and he looked good doing it…honestly, it was awfully hard not to let that go to his head. Fortunately, he had friends who could help. Vemik was significantly heavier still and considerably stronger…and he was still a young teen probably. Adam and Daar were of course so completely insanely fit that it was almost like being friends with actual comic-book superheroes. Firth too, and all the rest of the HEAT had an edge over Julian in something. Blaczynski? The walking tattoo was so ridiculously well-conditioned, he never stopped. Ever.

Maybe all that extra energy and inspiration was ‘cuz he’d finally run out of space for more ink. Every square inch of him that could be tattooed under the military’s rules, was. It was a chaotic jumble of styles and themes: there were trashy meaningless tribal-style shapes, videogame characters, lots of skulls, a few names, some genuinely beautiful works of art bumping elbows with whatever crap he’d spied and thought ‘that looks cool’ and, bizarrely, the Ninja Taco logo on his melon-sized left deltoid.

All of that on one of the few guys around who could keep going longer than Julian, which was honestly saying something. Blac grinned at him, not breaking his rhythm as he benched… well, Julian had given up calculating the effective weight they were using, given grav-plating. He just went by which plates on which bars. A lot of the special plates, this time. And the big bar. Which was bending alarmingly. Blaczynski was definitely lifting like a Beef these days…

And the most insulting part was how he wasn’t even winded when he stopped. He just…couldn’t push anymore, but that was due to his strength failing, not from sucking air.

He sat up and without skipping a beat or even so much as breathing hard, decided to taunt Julian. “Fuck yeah, man! You ain’t fuckin’ worked ‘till these fuckers’re done with you! Ready to go again?!” The big fucker immediately went to go lift something else.

Julian, after a minute of catching his breath and slamming down some blissfully cool water…

…Yeah. Yeah he was ready.

Which was scary as heck, really. Kinda scary how good he felt for leaving the Cruezzir behind, given that Crue-D was by all measures the much more potent medicine. His recovery was much faster, almost scarily so. He was gaining about a kilo a day with his body now properly adapting to the stress he was putting it through, rather than simply healing up faster than he could break it. He could feel it in his mind, too. Things were sharper, more intense. His feelings were wildly powerful, all in just a few days. His strength was growing like crazy! It was a heady feeling, like he was finally building himself into what he was always meant to be…

He could see right away why Crue-D was a dangerous miracle drug. A fella riding this dragon needed a heck of a support system, and that was true even for him. Maybe even especially for him. But with the right friends, and the right people around him…

Boy, things were gonna get really interesting whenever Crude became everyday medicine.

But for now, he was one of the few blessed to use it, and also “blessed” to have had a part in making it. So, he put himself under that ridiculously overloaded bar once Blac was done, settled in and with a grunt, got to pushing. He didn’t manage as many reps. But he managed so many, keeping track at that point was honestly only dick-measuring; they’d need to go a lot heavier next week. And he felt pretty faint for a bit, at the end. There was yelling, and encouragement…

And then the bar was back on the stand. Somehow. Did he put it there?

He lay and drew in some air, before forcing himself to sit up. Eventually, when things started to make sense again and his pulse wasn’t pounding quite so hard…

“Seriously though…” He grunted. “What’s set you fellas off?”

Adam shrugged, and grinned that goofy grin of his. “Slabbin’! What more do you need?!”

“I mean…sure. I get it. But today I can pretty much literally smell the testosterone dripping offa you three. And I’m only half-joking.”

Firth, as ever, had little shame. “Damn right. Smells good, huh?”

“I mean, I don’t kink shame but that ain’t my fetish. Blaczynski though…”

Blaczynski laughed. “Hey! What we got goin’ is a beautiful thing. Don’t you judge us.”

“Uh-huh. Don’t you have a girlfriend these days, anyway?”

“That don’t count ‘fer nothin.’” Firth rumbled with his tremendous viking arms crossed across his chest and a smug smirk on his face. “He’ll always be my best bottom-bitch.”

Adam and Julian both rolled their eyes. Love in the combat arms was often expressed through insult, and the bigger the insult, the greater the love.

Firth would do anything for Blaczynski, and vice versa.

“Well, whatever gets you two off, I guess…” Julian teased, and then groaned a bit from the pain. Those last few reps had absolutely kicked his ass.

“Right,” Blaczynski grinned. “You get all your grabass with the cavemonkeys! Hey, is it true their dicks’re bigger than—? Ow!”

Adam had given him a brotherly clout in the back of the head.

“Hey!” Julian grinned, “Vemik’s my good buddy! He hardly ever means anything by it!”

Blaczynski chuckled and grinned, “Sure, but you didn’t answer the question!”

“…It’s not like I’m gonna actually whip out a tape measure, or anything,” Julian replied.

“C’mon man, I need to know if we’re still champions of the galaxy!”

“I swear to god you’re the most cock-obcessed man on the team,” Firth rumbled. “And you’re only a little gay, too…”

“Fuck you! I was drunk and it was just that one time!”

“Wait,” interjected Adam. “I thought you two were a thing!” He knew damn well they weren’t, but of course the team never stopped ribbing the two bromances in their ranks.

“Only in the bromantical sense of the word.” Firth pulled the (relatively) smaller man into a firm bear-hug. “‘Sides, a puny ‘lil dude like him couldn’t possibly satisfy me.”

“Fuck off!” Blaczynski wriggled free, laughing, then turned his attention back to Julian. “And you still didn’t answer my question!”

Julian slipped into a troll grin. “…Can’t say I feel much threatened, if you know what I mean…”

“Don’t tease tiny-dick here,” Firth grumbled. “It’s not nice to make fun of the handicapped.”

“Fuck you, I ain’t tiny! Most girls can’t even get their hands around—hey!!”

“Hush, child.” Firth had grabbed him at the back of his neck like a wayward pup and dragged him toward the pull-up bars. The size difference between the two was frankly ridiculous; Firth was a goddamned giant. “Anyway. You, get back to Slab. An’ you, stop encouragin’ him.”

“Fine, fine.” Julian chuckled, and took another prolonged drink of water. “…But seriously, holy fuck, fellas. You’re normally at least friendly about completely kicking my ass…”

“…Shit, sorry bro.” Adam was the first to speak up. “It’s just…” He looked to Firth for help, who thought about for a moment, and then shrugged. “…Iunno bro. Just… been feelin’ good and strong all week. All of us are…so, y’know. We can all pretty much guess why, but…” Adam shrugged again.

“…New Crude?”

“Probably, yeah. The Gaoians got the first improvements with Crue-G, Daar and First Fang got the second round, so this is probably just…iterating on things.”

“…Man, if I was in your boots, I would not be happy at being used as guinea pigs like that. Well, no…I guess I am now too, huh?”

The two giants looked at each other, then Adam looked down and helped Julian back up to his feet. “Yup. There’s no backing out now. Not for you, anyway.”

“Why did you do it, anyway?” Firth leapt up to the pull-up bar and started cranking out reps. The readout behind him said he’d turned the gravity all the way up, which would have been impressive as hell without the already insane workout he’d already done.

“…Well, uh. I’m gonna sound like a broken record but…remember the whole Cruezzir problem I had? With my family, specifically? Well, the Corti came back with an answer.”


“Yeah. It turns out it would probably have been fine for me…but it absolutely would not for Al and Xiù. So, we gotta get them off it before it does all the long-term harm. Which means I can’t be full of it either, or I’ll just re-infect them. But I can’t wean myself off it without risking major problems, so… I have to start taking Crue-D to replace it. For the next twenty years. At least. Which, y’know…”

“Puts you in the same boat as us.”

“Yeah. Maybe worse though, because of my history. And then there’s the kids, ‘cuz they’ve got chronic Cruezzir Gut themselves, and we’ve gotta figure out how to safely get them sorted out. ‘Cuz maybe they’re genetically adapted to it like I am…or maybe they’re not. And I can’t take that risk. So I can either do this, save my family and deal with what that’s going to mean for me, or I gamble my kids’ futures and I never get to be intimate with Al or Xiù again. And I’m not gonna let either of those things happen. So…here I am.”

Adam joined Firth at the pull-up bar, but with a ridiculous amount of weight hanging off his waist. Annoyed, and obviously feeling competitive, Firth dropped down to go load up the same. “Just don’t forget that playing at this level is fuckin’ dangerous, dude.”

“I know. I have been paying attention to you fellas. And reading up.”

“Right.” Firth returned with one more plate than Adam, and jumped up to the bar to resume his pull-ups. “You can’t miss ‘yer meals on any day you’ve been hard at it. You gotta get regular bloodworks, now. You gotta…hnngh…stay on top o’ this shit, y’hear me? No slackin.’”

“I won’t.”

“Good.” Adam nodded, and sped up to annoy Firth. “Also I see you aren’t lifting anything…”

“Heh…. right…” Some part of Julian wanted to play up being half-broken and exhausted, but the truth was that the short rest had done a lot to restore him. He doubted there was room on the bar for one more though, and he’d already done some of those, so he grabbed his notebook and checked. What had he exercised the least recently? Something less… full-body for a bit. Maybe…calf raises, or neck bridges? Heck, why not both?

Time for round four.

Date Point:16y10m4w AV
ESNN Extraterrestrial news article

Sino-Indian treaty promises surge in migration to planet Lucent Author: Ava Ríos

After years of lengthy negotiations, the Chinese and Indian governments today announced that they have finalized a mutually agreeable solution for dividing the continental landmasses of the planet Lucent between them.

Colonization rights to the planet Lucent, which was originally charted and surveyed by BGEV-11 ‘Misfit,’ was jointly purchased by the two governments shortly after its existence was made public, and both governments have already installed a number of small scientific outposts and civilian operations on its surface for the purposes of exploration, survey and xenobiological research.

Although early speculation suggested that both nations would view the planet as a golden opportunity to relieve their intense domestic overpopulation concerns, the expected exodus did not materialize as quickly as expected, in part because of a dispute over how much of the planet’s available landmass and resources was due to each power.

Complicating matters further, the Interspecies Dominion has been slow to recognize the Chinese and Indian governments, neither of which are members of the Allied Extrasolar Defence Coalition or 5-EYES.

Despite these speedbumps, Chinese President Han Zhanshu and Indian Prime Minister Raj Shastri both seemed full of good cheer today when they announced the planet-sharing treaty, and promised the long-awaited surge of extrasolar colonization would go ahead “soon.”

At this point, it’s not clear what kind of defensive measures will protect the Lucent colonies. It seems unlikely that China in particular would be happy to depend on AEC in the face of Hunter or other nonhuman threats. Nevertheless, for the millions of prospective colonists who have been waiting for this day to come, and for the millions more looking forward to having a little more elbow room, this treaty will be a cause for celebration.

The treaty is not without controversy, though. Alien conservation groups have expressed concern for Lucent’s native ecosystems, especially the bioluminescent forests and insects for which the planet is named. The fact that the treaty places neither government under any obligation to protect the planet’s unique ecology has prompted fears of another rampant microbial contamination event as happened on Cimbrean, mass extinction, or wholesale eradication of Lucent’s native species.

Neither President Zhanshu nor Prime Minister Shastri would be drawn to comment on such concerns at today’s press conference, instead choosing to focus on the bright promise of all the good that colonizing Lucent can do for their countries, rather than the potential damage.

One thing is for certain, though: as thousands of buses and trains start threading their way across India and China, carrying pioneering first-wave colonists to the jump arrays and the prospect of a new future on an alien world, life has firmly changed for everyone on Earth. Cimbrean was just the first of humanity’s extrasolar colonies.

And now, she isn’t alone.

Date Point:16y10m4w AV
Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Xiù Chang

Julian was technically on leave. Which didn’t mean too much, honestly. He was still working as hard as ever, since there really wasn’t anyone else who could step into boots as big as his, figuratively or literally…but it did mean that he could spend more time with his family.

Most people might just loaf about and relax while on leave, but not him. It was a lovely sunny day in Cimbrean’s early spring and they’d had a nice long run of low-drama weeks, so he’d decided to spend them pursuing his favorite hobbies with particular zeal: hardcore Slabbing and other strenuous training of course, but also one that was a bit surprising: gardening.

He’d rented a truck, bought a pile of…stuff…and set to digging a garden plot in their backyard.

A big plot. By hand.

Xiù and Al indulged his inner caveman and let him more or less order them to relax and take it easy, which wasn’t something either of them much protested: mothering two demanding and excessively energetic babies was draining. They weren’t unhappy with the view either, oh no. Julian practically glowed with happiness and muscular exertion as he stood resting against his garden fork for a moment, all big, bare-chested and barefoot country boy stud in a pair of worn-out, wonderfully flattering basketball shorts. Man-candy just didn’t come any better.

He still didn’t have much in the way of clothing. Partly that was because of how massive he was these days, but mostly it was because he’d never had a lot of concern for that sort of thing in the first place. What he did have tended to either be well-made and practical…or comfortable, but also old, threadbare and probably ill-fitting. Today’s basketball shorts were from when he was merely a big rangy teenager, but now…well, they were a bit more modest than his usual.

But not by much, happily. Julian never skipped leg day.

He bent down to pick up his jug, took a big and very photogenic swig of water, then glanced over at Xiù and smiled that big heart-melting sideways grin of his…and went right back to work. If he was maybe going at it a bit harder than he needed to impress the boys—and his girls for that matter, who were certainly not complaining—well, Xiù wasn’t going to dissuade him. He’d gone straight from his early-morning Slab to their big backyard, then proceeded to laboriously break and turn the soil over with a spade and garden fork. Both the boys (and Amanda!) were helping a few hours later, right as he was finishing up the most back-breaking bit of the work.

“That’s it, we’re almost done! Just a few more feet to go…”

The boys both looked dead exhausted, but they also practically hero-worshipped Julian too, and neither seemed willing to “wuss out” in front of him. If he noticed them struggling, he didn’t make a big deal out of it. He was a big, encouraging font of cheery praise…

And he didn’t let them stop, either. Tristan and Ramsey would both be sore tomorrow.

“So, once we get this all broken up, we’re gonna dig it all out and put in a protective barrier in so we don’t contaminate things too bad. Then we’re gonna shovel it all back in and put a good few inches of mulch over the top, then turn it over again so it’s nice and mixed up. We gotta inoculate it too, and get all the Earth microbes and worms and beetles and stuff all in there.”

Ramsey didn’t much like the prospect.

“Don’t they make machines to do this?”

“They do, yeah. But I grew up tough and strong partly because I had to do all the work myself. Turns out, that’s been a heck of a blessing for me. You wanna grow up tough, right?”

Allison predictably rolled her eyes at “macho boy things” but none of the boyfolk noticed, and it seemed to be exactly what the two needed to hear from him.

And, sure enough…Julian showed off for them a little more blatantly, now. He curled his arm low down in front of them, and that great big bicep of his had them both excitedly freaking out, their comparatively tiny hands feeling it and all complaints suddenly forgotten. Xiù couldn’t help but giggle; it was such a laughably macho bonding moment! Still, it was exactly the right thing to do, and the boys loved him for it.

“The ounce of hurt you’re feeling now is a ton of pain you maybe won’t need to pay down the road, too. Plus, how hard is your competition working, Tristan? I bet they couldn’t hack this, so…how bad do you want to win that meet?“

A little more showing off…and Tristan was nodding his head seriously, all eagerness to work restored. Ramsey too, though he was always a bit more of a hero-worshipper and was more interested in impressing Julian than crushing his competition.

Still. It got the two back to work. They definitely deserved extra dessert.

Xiù tapped Allison’s arm, and indicated with a tilt of her head back toward the door that as fun as watching Julian work might be, they had other responsibilities to worry about. Al nodded, and followed her indoors

There was always stuff to do in running a house and keeping it. Especially seeing as there were still social workers hovering around the Buehler family, they were all determined to keep their household looking unimpeachable. Normally, changing the bedding and stuff like that would have been Tristan and Ramsey’s job, but they were working hard enough already. By unspoken agreement, Al and Xiù took the job on instead.

If Xiù could get away fast enough, she’d whip up a nice little treat for them, too.

“…How’s your stomach?” Al asked, picking out one of the neat little bedding packages from the closet. One of the few things she’d unhesitatingly picked up from her mother was the trick of keeping bedding sets together by packing them inside one of their pillowcases.

Xiù grimaced. A total gut biome replacement was the opposite of fun. Or dignified. Thank goodness they had a house with three bathrooms, and thank double goodness that modern batteries could last days between charges, because she’d been worried that she might have to set up shop permanently on that toilet.

Life as a hermit queen, on her own personal throne. In hindsight, that thought was enough to make her giggle, which got a raised eyebrow from Allison.

“…Better now. Yours?”

“Nofl had better be right about us never needing to do that again, or I’ll use his coffee set for clay pigeons. I went through three cans of air freshener… Do you ever miss the days where we were glamorous space explorers?”

Xiù laughed. “…Not really, no. I mean, I enjoy remembering them wistfully…but Julian’s sleep-farts could be epic.”

“We haven’t escaped those, baobei.”

“No, but the room is bigger and I make all his food! They’re just loud now, instead of deadly.”

Al grinned, and with a shake and a flourish she flapped the duvet and got it square over the bed. “This is a glamorous, highbrow conversation we’re having.”

“We’re glamorous, highbrow gals.” Xiù cuddled her from behind and nipped the back of her neck. “Allegedly.”


Xiù squeezed her tighter. “What’s on your mind?”

“Just… All this extra energy Julian’s had lately, and the Crue-D and stuff… “Al ran her hands up and placed them over Xiù’s “…I’m scared for him. And for our babies.”

“Your mom’s not that bad of a babysitter.”

Allison begrudged her an amused snort. “Shut up, that’s not what I mean.”

“I know what you mean. But… come here.” Xiù led her to the window, and gestured downwards. They were play-wrestling in the very specific flip-over-shoulder, boisterous-living-junglegym way that dads the world over somehow all learned to do. “…Tell me he’s anything other than an amazing dad.”

“…I mean, I think he is. But I don’t exactly have a lotta good dads to compare him to.”

“Oh, hush up and listen to your instincts,” Xiù chided her. Al nodded, but gave her a quizzical look.

“…What’s that have to do with his health, though?”

“I don’t think he’d take a stupid risk with his health, ever. He’s got four kids to love, and us…”

“And he’s an actual spacemagic gorilla now!”

“He was basically that since the day we met him, babe. He’s just more now, because he has to be. And don’t lie, you enjoy it too.”

Allison’s expression went complicated. “…Story of all our lives, huh? Being what we have to be?”

“Exactly. Remember, he’s doing it for the people he loves, Al. Not just us either! I mean, look: does he get off on being a gorilla freak and a glam magazine stud? Of course he does. He’s a guy. And… I won’t lie, I do too.”

“That makes three of us,” Allison agreed.

“…But I’m pretty sure he’d forego all the extra work if he could, too. What he’d rather spend all his time on is right out there, and back on Akyawentuo.”

“I know. But would you rather I didn’t worry?”

“Of course not.” Xiù gave her another squeeze. “I like that you care. But let him carry that worry. It would make him feel better.”

“Fair enough…” Al picked up the laundry basket. “C’mon. Two more beds to do, and then we can have some fun.”

“What have you got in mind?”

“Something involving lingerie. I’ll work out the details as we go.”

“Oh! That kind of fun!”

“Been too long, don’t you think?” Al asked, pushing the door open with her butt.

“…Two days?” Xiù thought about it, then grinned, and followed.

“…You’re right,” she agreed. “Far too long.”

Date Point: 16y11m AV
Correspondence between HMS Sharman and the Corti Directorate

FM CMO/[email protected]// TO 5TH DIRECTOR/[email protected]// INFO HIGHCASTLE/[email protected]/ STAINLESS/[email protected]/ BEEKEEPER/[email protected]/ RINGMASTER/[email protected]// C O N F I D E N T I A L SACRED STRANGER ORCON REL FVEY CD5 BT SUBJ/ RE:RE:Query regarding Cruezzir-D formulation// 

Fifth Director,

We are gratified by your assurances of product safety, quality, and effectiveness. I direct your attention to Chapter 2, ¶7, §4:

“Any modifications to the Contracted Formulary must, upon the advice and consent of the Purchaser and after review of the proposed modifications, be submitted for evaluation to the Centers for Disease Control and Public Health England, excepting those changes deemed critical to the ongoing safety and/or efficacy of the Contracted Formulary, which shall require prompt and timely notification to the Purchaser.”

Does the Directorate suggest these recent changes were “critical to the ongoing safety and/or efficacy” of Crue-D? As this is a matter of deepest importance, I have referred the case to our Ambassadors, who will be contacting their counterparts among the Directorate, as appropriate.


Lt. Wyndham Phillips Chief Medical Officer, HMS Sharman

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 – Chapter 4 (NSFW)

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Sweetness – Chapter 3 (NSFW)

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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)

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Shades of White and Orange

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Mother Earth

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 2

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 1

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 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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