The Deathworlders – Chapter 64: Survive Part 3

Date point: 16y11m3w AV
The Clawhold, Liberated world, former Hunter space

Ginn, Foot-soldier first class, Grand Army of the Gao

One could only play so many games of Ta’Shen before they lost their mind.

It wasn’t that Ginn was particularly eager to face down cloaked Hunter death machines or a slavering horde of crazed monsters boiling up from their underground burrow. The Clawhold was actually pretty nice, in an austere and tightly regulated way. At least, it was a place where he didn’t have to wear full body protective equipment all the time which made it several steps up on the field. The lack of bullets, fusion claws and drooling tooth-lined jaws coming his way was a bonus too.

But Keeda’s left nut it was dull. Though his Ta’Shen winnings were steadily growing…

He’d been reassigned. Inevitable, really. One didn’t dime out one’s officers to the Grandfather of Stoneback and General of the Grand Army without a few consequences, and Ginn’s excuse that he hadn’t known he was talking to Grandfather Vark hadn’t been persuasive. He was on administrative duties now.

Which really, was just proving Vark’s point. Ginn was good at what he did, so taking him away from that right as things were at their most intense? The Hunters might not have any hope of victory now, but they were still lashing out fiercely, determined to do as much damage as they could before they were all hunted down and crushed. The war needed every able body, and here Ginn was getting a crash education in paperwork rather than manning his gun like he should have been.

He was young! Fit and strong! Well, strong for a normal male, anyway…but he trained hard! He had a good nose and sharp claws, a sense for how to fight…

“Make sure you sort all the accessions by date, because pretty much every Clanless has the same few names…”

Blah, blah, blah. He couldn’t resent the somewhat older male who was introducing him to the intricacies of the Grand Army’s obscenely impenetrable personnel records system, but he gave off the general air of somebody whose highest aspiration in life was to have all his pencils sharpened to the exact same length.

That was uncharitable, Ginn chastised himself. Teffik probably had a lovely personality.

In a jar somewhere.Stored safely away next to his motivation and fighting spirit, in a box never to be opened.

Fyu. And he was Ginn’s immediate superior now. That was an oppressive thought.

Ginn was about to make his excuses and go get something to eat “to help his concentration” when Teffik’s physical and spiritual opposite prowled into the office unannounced. It was Vark, looking energetic and somewhat pleased with himself. Ginn found himself standing up immediately out of respect, but Teffik’s response was practically groveling.

“Oh, hush up. Relax! Knew I’d find ‘ya here, Ginn! Take it ‘yer leadership’s still bein’ stupid?”

“The last time I intimated as such, I got reassigned.”

“Essactly! An’ ‘yer gettin’ reassigned again! C’mon lil’ guy, ‘yer my assistant now!”

Well, Ginn didn’t need to hear that more than once. Vark turned to head out the door without a second word, and Ginn didn’t even spare Teffik a glance in following him.

“I feel bad just leaving my unit…”

He found himself following behind at a somewhat too-brisk pace while Vark more or less cheerily bulldozed past everyone in the hallways. He didn’t seem to notice.

“Happens allatime. Don’ worry, I’ve made my displeasure clear an’ ‘yer old occifers are gonna get’em some remedial education in how ‘ta lead infantry.” Vark chuffed deep in his broad chest, “I imagine they’ll find it an outstanding opportunity ‘ta learn!”

It didn’t take them long to reach the backdoor, where vehicular traffic was handled. Fortunately Ginn was in pretty good shape these days, so it didn’t take him long to catch his breath. “Not to sound ungrateful sir, but why’s it even worth your attention?”

“Duties of bein’ in charge. A billion things that goes wrong in a big army, yijao? You see somethin’ wrong, if ‘ya have the power ‘ta fix it, or at least get it fixed, you do it.”

Ginn took a moment to consider his new boss. Stonebacks were a little overwhelming even at their most laid-back, and Vark was Grandfather of his Clan, a position only given to an experienced old-timer who embodied his Clan’s ideals. He smelled of plenty of years, wood smoke, gun oil and limestone cement. He looked like he’d been run through a hammermill a few times and had an immense, craggy strength forcibly beaten into him.

And not even a week ago, the Stonebacks hadn’t even had a Grandfather to Ginn’s knowledge.

“Okay…uh, can I ask a question, sir?”


“When did you become Grandfather? And how?”

“How is easy! I survived a duel ‘gainst Fiin! Well,” Vark chittered somewhere in the infrasonic, “there’s a lot more ‘ta it than that, but that’s the most importantest part at the end. Tradition, yijao? An’ also a Champion’s gotta trust his Grandfather’s got his back. As ‘fer when, been about a week now. Ain’t like there’s a ceremony or nothin’. An’ I need staff!”

“So…why me?”

“I’d like if some o’ my staff–like my personal aide–weren’t unfamiliar with the concept o’ mud an’ blood. Comes with a promotion an’ a big salary increase too. Sound good?”

“No objections here, sir.”

“Excellent. You understand what your duties will be?”

“I’ll be your first point of contact, control access to you, manage your diary, appointments and expenses, make your travel arrangements and liaise with your other staff.”

“More’n that, but yeah. You’ll also be a bit of an errand boy, an’ you’ll need ‘ta deal with Champions, their staff, the Great Father–”

“The Great Father.”

“Yup! That gonna be a problem?”

“…I mean…no?”

Vark chittered again. “Don’ worry, he’s actually pretty friendly. Anyway.”

They reached the office that Vark had commandeered, and he gestured inside. “Speakin’ of my diary an’ stuff…”

“Right. I’ll get to studying it.”

“‘Yer not my secretary, but that’d be a good idea, yeah. Mostly I need you as my point man.”

Ginn duck-nodded. The truth was, he didn’t mind. Compared to the mind-numbing torment he’d been facing a few minutes ago, memorizing the important dates in Grandfather Vark’s diary would be trivial, and the rest of the job promised to be much more interesting.

He wasn’t one for overweening gratitude, necessarily, but a small acknowledgement that Vark had just pulled his tail out of a slow and excruciating fire was definitely in order.

“I’ll do my best. And… thank you for the opportunity.”

“‘Yer welcome. Get the homework outta the way, and you’ll start properly in the morning. Bright and early at first bell, yijao?”

“Yes sir.”

“Good man.”

And with that, Vark left Ginn to prepare himself. There were three desks crammed into the office: Ginn picked the one that seemed presently unused, called up the Grandfather’s diary and appointments, and got to studying.

He had a feeling his life was about to get far more interesting than he hoped.

Date Point: 17y AV
Mrwrki Station, Erebor System, Uncharted Space

Lewis Beverote

“My dude!” A high five was in order.

It wasn’t that Lewis had been expecting to fail. Scotch Creek generally knew what they were talking about, and if they forwarded the design for a new kind of deep-sky observation satellite tuned to detect the subtle signs of a Hierarchy relay then he fully expected it to work. Hell, they’d even been given a patch of sky to search where a relay was known to be.

But still. When things went right like that, it felt so fuckin’ good. So he traded the promised high-five with Doctor Torayasu and then flung himself into his chair to take a good hard look at it.

Lewis had picked up a mixed bag of all sorts of arcane scientific and technological knowledge over his years on Mrwrki. In some ways he was one of the most highly and eccentrically educated men the human race had ever produced. He held no doctorate or formal qualifications, had conducted no peer-reviewed research, he was firmly Mister Beverote on every official document…

But a lot of those official documents were patents and blueprints. His fingerprints were in the DNA of most space tech invented in the last five years, a mixed metaphor that brought a small smile to his face as he watched the data scrolling up his monitor.

“Trippy.” Relays did fucky things to spacetime. He’d seen the footage from the Irujzen expedition, the way the world got twisted up all wrong above the relay. In the footage, it had just looked like a hair-thin vertical line of bright light. In person, apparently, the eye would just saccade straight over the thing and not look straight at it. As though that particular bit of reality wasn’t there to look at, but the mind could still infer its existence just like the human eye’s blind spot.

“Tell me about it,” Torayasu agreed. “You know, moments like this make me optimistic?”

Lewis nodded. “Yeah, dude.”

“Huh. Usually people ask me why.”

“No, I get it. I mean, look at this shit. Proves we aren’t even close to running out of science.”

“As nice as that is,” Lucy chimed up from her station on the other side of the lab, where she was going over some of the materials trials that were more her field, “Aren’t you two trying to pin down a specific set of coordinates?”

“Right, yeah.” Lewis stopped marvelling at the sheer fascinating weirdness of the signal, and instead turned his attention to the subtle ways it varied across the vast scope of the satellite network they’d launched.

At the speed of light, and considering that the network formed a sensor nearly 20 AUs across, it was going to take a few hours for them to be able to really start getting a decent parallax as they tracked the same events in the flow of data across the whole thing, but that wasn’t a problem with the EM spectrum signals from that cluster. A telescope 20 AU across had no trouble at all in figuring out the precise relative position of all the stars in that distant part of the galaxy.

“My guess? That G-class star right there,” he predicted after a few seconds.

“Temperate planet, you think?”

“Yup. On Irujzen they had a coal mining operation. Big H kinda got set in their ways, too, y’know? Seems like if they do one thing somewhere, they’ll do the same thing somewhere else.”

“That’s kinda sad when you think about it…” Lucy mused. Lewis glanced over at her and perked up. Their marriage had grown comfortable, which wasn’t as horrible a fate as he’d have guessed back when he was single. Okay, so the mere sight of her didn’t raise his pulse any longer, but instead she had the opposite effect and made the world a calmer, safer, better place simply by existing.

And he loved listening to her think aloud. She saw him watching and shrugged. “Well, they’ve been around for millions of years. They’ve outlasted hundreds of other species. They’ve been really successful! But they’re so stuck in their rut that here we are totally destroying them. They should be untouchable, but instead being around for so long has made them… I don’t know. Lazy, I guess.”

“…Yeah,” Lewis agreed.

“I hope that’s not the fate of all species that last for so long. If I imagine a future where we’ve been around for a million years, I like to think we’d keep changing and adapting and we’d barely recognize ourselves… I don’t like the idea that the only options are stagnate or die.”

“I think that’s a problem our friend outside is gonna face, not you or me,” Lewis replied, jerking his head in the vague direction of the outer hull and the sapient Von Neumann swarm outside.

“Oh, yeah, about that giant-ass elephant in the room we’ve been ignoring!” Lucy said, and pushed her chair back from her desk. “How come you’re so chill about it? I thought VN swarms scared you?”

“The Entity’s kind of an old friend at this point, I guess.” Lewis shrugged. “I dunno. It ain’t just a machine. Nobody programmed it. Shit, it started out as a human, and there’s a lotta human left. A lotta good human. You know how much Darcy loves it.”

“Loves it? That seems kinda strong.”

“You saw how much she fretted while it was gone, and how she lit up when it came back. She’s like that thing’s mama.” Lewis shrugged. “Fact is, prob’ly the only reason this galaxy isn’t already crawling with VN machines is ‘cuz of Big H, so they’ve done some good there at least. And I bet you there’s other galaxies out there just full of ‘em, and it might take a long-ass time to travel between galaxies but I bet machines could do it. So maybe VN swarms are kinda inevitable, in which case I’m glad the one we wound up with can remember bein’ organic and actually values life and says hello by smiling at us.”

“And knows that it can stop,” Torayasu added.


“I guess that’s a lot of silver lining…” Lucy agreed.

“Enough for me,” Lewis shrugged. He smiled at her, she smiled back, then tilted her head in a small but subtle way which his well-developed Husband Senses told him meant she wanted to get back to work. So he stood up.


“Love you,” Lucy thanked him, and turned back to her work. Torayasu declined with a shake of his head, and went back to watching spacetime do its wacky shit far away in a distant corner of the galaxy.

There was a lot still to do before they had a strong, confirmed signal they could pass on to AEC and the SOR could use it to do their thing, but Lewis didn’t care. They’d just gathered data that would form the foundation for the next phase of theoretical physics, and tracked down another stronghold of humanity’s oldest and worst enemies.

Not bad for an afternoon’s work.

Date Point: 17y2w AV
High Mountain Fortress, the Northern Plains, Gao

Naydra, Great Mother of the Gao

Grief varied by species and by personality, and Naydra had seen a lot of grief in her life. She’d felt a lot of grief, too.

She and Daar were alike in that they dealt with grief through action. Naydra had spent the last several years grieving for a life that had been, and every day brought a reminder of how simple things once were…

And now, on the day of her coronation, she felt some closure for it all. Hers was a much simpler affair than Daar’s had been; the election results came in, she was announced as Mother-Supreme. The Great Father proclaimed her as his True Mate and Great Mother of the Gao, the Conclave bowed and offered submission…and that was more or less it.

At her request, her ceremony was a smaller affair. Not small, though. There were still the Clans, each bearing a pointed gift to remind her of, and represent, her responsibilities. There was still Gyotin with his flair for ceremony and his intense understanding of just how valuable ceremony really was.

The timing was significant, too. Daar had almost literally come straight off the battlefield to attend the ceremony, having personally crushed the first of the major (and most dangerous) Hunter strongholds on the liberated world. The video footage of him at combat, leading the charge and quite literally breaking the remaining Alphas into pieces with his own two paws…

That footage had hardly begun to circulate when he returned home in quiet triumph, his grief still heavy on him, but at least he had done something with it. He had a victory to take the worst of its thorns and barbs away.

He took a few days “off,” as much as he could. There was a gap in his schedule between the liberation and his favor for Arthur Sartori, and he used it as an opportunity to relax a little: a few visits to the Commune, some time spent on his farm. He even spent one afternoon joining a road repair crew as they gave the northern isthmus highway a much-needed and long overdue resurfacing, because Daar’s idea of relaxing fun was anybody else’s idea of back-breaking labor.

Naydra could see how healing it was for him. By the evening of the fifth day, when it came time to perform that favor for Sartori, he was more or less back to himself.

“From one battlefield to another…” he mused, as he considered his reflection in a tailoring mirror. Naydra had inserted a small joke there by picking out a Human-style tuxedo for one of the suggested outfits. “Why do I gotta wear this? I look better in a Highmountain kilt, y’know…”

Naydra gave him a sly ear-flick. “I think the bow tie suits you.” She wasn’t lying, of course…but her reasoning wasn’t entirely innocent. After all, his neck was so incredibly thick, they’d needed to tailor one just for him…and they still didn’t have a collar to go with it.

Daar was more focused on discomfort. “Izzat what they’re called?” he said as he pulled at it to loosen it a bit, which was just enough to break the bow. “Looks like a depressed butterfly landed on my throat. An’ I still look better in a kilt! Shows off m’legs!”

And in a welcome sign of his improving mood, he showed off the goods for her, as was his eminently predictable way. And she had to admit…he wasn’t wrong at all, oh no…

“Fine, fine. The kilt it is.” Naydra gestured, and the assistants swept away all the rejected outfits and left them alone. “Fortunately, it’s formal wear among Humans too.”

“Yeah! Highland’s people wear ‘em!”

“How is he?”

“Doin’ better. Don’t blame him ‘fer bein’ shook up, though.”

Naydra duck-nodded and considered their outfits. This whole adventure was tickling her sense of mischief, which just made her like Sartori all the more. While Daar dressed, she put the final touches on her own outfit.

“Do you like the hat?” she asked, pinning it to her scalp at a precisely calculated angle.

Daar glanced over and considered it. “…It’s fascinatin’. Where’d you get it?”

“I ordered it from a milliner in London. A custom rush order. I thought it would be appropriate to wear this outdoors, and the tiara afterwards.”

“It looks nice on you. Diff’rent.”

“And you look very handsome yourself,” she said, approvingly. His final look was simple and harked back to Fyu’s era: just a well-fitted, traditional Clan kilt with a plain cut, one which didn’t get in the way and let his magnificent physique and fur do the talking. He looked… warriorly.


“What about you?” she asked, rewinding the conversation a little. “You were quite shook up too.”

Daar paused, then sighed heavily. “…I’m gonna miss the shit outta Blac,” he admitted. “An’ I dunno if I’m ever gonna shake the feelin’ like it was my orders got him killed…”

Naydra rested her paw lightly on his back and stroked it reassuringly, saying nothing.

“…But we go from one battlefield to another,” Daar finished. “The mission don’t end. Just what kinda shit we’re wadin’ into.”

“At least I’m wading into this one with you. And it might even be fun!”

“…Hope so.”

“It will be! Just think, you hardly ever get to be subtle, and I know you like to be sneaky and sly from time to time…”

He chittered, a very welcome sound after the last few weeks of brooding. “‘Yer right. An’ I think we’re ready.”

“Nearly.” She inspected him for a moment, adjusted his kilt so that it was perfectly aligned and straight—males of every species were simply blind to the way their own clothes were supposed to be worn—and decided that she was satisfied. He’d been bathed, combed, cleansed, groomed, and now tailored to the highest standard he could attain. “…You’ll do.”

He chittered again, and took her arm. “‘Kay. Once more unto the breach.”

“That’s the spirit.”

An interesting day awaited them both.

Date Point: 17y2w AV
US Capitol Building, Washington DC, USA, Earth

Arthur Sartori

It was a clear morning on the National Mall, but biting cold, and the weather over the last few days had been heavy snowfall. The crowd was a sea of thick, colorful coats, scarves, warm hats, and gloved hands with flags in them, standing on ground that had been knee-deep in snow when the sun had set last night.

A battalion of unsung heroes had put in an incredible effort to clear it ahead of the Inauguration, and the effort hadn’t gone to waste. The crowd was pretty sizable. Sartori was trying not to be petty by comparing it to the one from his own inauguration, years ago, but in his heart of hearts he hoped it was a little smaller.

At the front of the dais, behind a semicircle of bulletproof glass, one hand was raised, the other placed on a Bible, and less than a minute later the words “so help me God” marked the moment when the incumbency of President Arthur Sartori came to a quiet close, and the incumbency of President Beau Chambliss began.

It wasn’t an easy thing for Arthur to let go of. Not when there were so many things he could congratulate himself on having achieved in office, but so many more that he’d only nearly achieved.

Then again, even with another eight years he’d probably still have been in the same position. That was the nature of the work. There was always something else to do. Always something to let go of that he didn’t want to.

Hopefully the melancholy would fade with time.

Of course, he did have the satisfaction of seeing a certain power move he’d cooked up come to fruition. Nothing too big, just…a gentle reminder of certain realities. From a former President to his successor and—surprisingly—growing friend.

Sartori and Chambliss had quite opposite ideas about certain things, but during the brief time they’d worked with each other to handle the transition, Sartori had found himself growing to like the other man. Chambliss was no idealogue, nor a cowering pacifist. He seemed genuinely interested in improving the lot of America’s disadvantaged, and clearly felt strongly that the money that had been going to the Department of the Air Force, to the AEC, and to programs like the SOR and the line of San Diego class warships, could be better spent elsewhere.

He was dead wrong about that, but honestly wrong. Hence Sartori’s little gentle statement, here at the inauguration.

One of the quirks of Presidential transitions was the inaugural committees involved with planning and executing the many and varied ceremonial theatre surrounding the event. As had been a long and informal tradition, the outgoing President and the President-elect jointly planned many of the details… Including who sat in the background for the centerpiece of the day: the stage upon which the President-elect took the oath of office, and became the new President.

Which was why every shot of Chambliss had him framed and rather heftily out-massed by the hulking furry presence of the Great Father of the Gao.

That would, of course, be generating an absolute flurry of commentary on the surviving news programs, all of which were unquestionably in favor of Chambliss. The time had long passed where television news pretended to any neutrality. But even they wouldn’t be able to ignore the imagery. Normally, a head of state would want to remain perfectly neutral about these things…

And so Daar had been. Much to the shock of the more hostile media, from the moment he and Naydra had arrived on Earth they had been nothing but smooth and statesmanlike. But the image of him looming in the background as Chambliss took the oath of office was going to stick, and Sartori couldn’t really have asked for a more perfect way to leave a pointed message for his successor.

There’s no hiding from the greater galaxy.

The Great Father’s presence was of course softened and tempered by another: Naydra, Great Mother of the Gao. While the message she sent by her presence might be characteristically subtler than Daar’s, it was no less potent. She was the living embodiment of her species’ women and children after all. She represented a future the Gao simply would not have had if not for the efforts and sacrifice of humans from all the Allied militaries.

Then there was what she’d done with her emergency protective pack, a sensible precaution for any Gao visiting Earth, be they mighty or meek. Where Daar was wearing his openly on his hip, Naydra’s had been cunningly turned into a fashion accessory by the simple expedient of incorporating it into her rather fetching hat.

Daar meanwhile was wearing what was apparently a traditional Highmountain kilt. It looked quite dashing on him, actually. No doubt the Internet memes were going to be worth following.

Their time to shine, however, came later, after the applause and the speech and the waving to the crowd and cameras, when the VIPs retired from public view and the genteel, stately celebrations continued in a more select environment.

Modern inaugural balls were a delightful mix of the old and the new. There was dancing, which both Naydra and Daar were surprisingly accomplished at. They taught the guests a few Gaoian dances too, much to the delight of everyone. There were also lots of selfies. Daar waged a remarkably successful charm assault, mugging for the cameras and answering questions, being as approachable as he could be…but even then, he was deferential. The event wasn’t about him after all, and he did his level best not to steal Chambliss’ thunder…

And everyone knew it, too. Sartori had his gentle revenge.

The rest was in Daar and Naydra’s hands…

Date Point: 17y2w AV
Grissom AFB, Franklin, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Brigadier General Rylee Jackson

Hard to believe she hadn’t actually flown a real operation in more than a year. Not a lot of need or opportunity to, at the Pentagon.

But, now that the election was out of the way and her PR services were no longer so critically necessary, Rylee had finally got her wish: she was back where she belonged, at the 955th. Commanding it, in fact.

Which meant she got to fly again. She’d kept herself qualified as a command pilot, taken all the simulator time she needed. She’d kept her flight hours up, stayed on top of the briefings…

And all that paid off. Here she was, wing commander of the 955th Fighter Wing, recently renamed and re-purposed as a full-scale space combat wing.

And every single pilot under her command had kills to their name. There were no shortage of Hunters in the black. God knew there was no shortage of them just in this system they’d allegedly abandoned.

The world and system once jokingly named “Mordor” was theoretically liberated, but the truth was that the Hunters were going to be a long-term chronic festering wound here. But, the more aggressively they treated that wound now, the less it would fester. Hopefully.

Which was why she was due to command a sweep-and-clear through the system’s second asteroid belt. It would, in fact, be the largest Human action in the system since the invasion had started. A whole asteroid belt needed a lot of ships to properly scour, and there just weren’t enough Gaoian Voidrippers available to do a thorough job. The 955th and USS San Diego would be there to make up the difference.

And, seeing as it was a lot easier and cheaper to take humans offworld than it was to bring aliens to Earth, they were making their final preparations at Grissom Air Force Base, outside the American colony of Franklin on Cimbrean.

Rylee had taken the chance to inspect the place when she’d arrived the day before. Franklin was very different to Folctha: where the British colony was an honest-to-God planned city, and not a small one at that, Franklin was sprawling and chaotic, a focal point for the diffuse stuff happening in the surrounding hundreds of miles. It was a place where unbelievably long and powerful trains offloaded grain, beans, coal, steel, rare earths and uranium, where the pipelines delivered oil and gas… and nearly all of it flowed through the jump complex back to the USA.

It was long and sprawling with no city center in particular, a military base at one end, and a highway running right through it out to the dozen or so satellite towns. Folctha was walkable, with excellent signage. If you lived in or near Franklin…you needed a car.

It was a very American town.

The main reason to hold the briefing there was that it wasn’t Earth. That made it a lot easier to coordinate an inter-species operation: Gao could visit Earth, but it wasn’t without risk. A lot of Gao were deathly allergic to grass pollens and nobody knew why. Even Daar had once had a scare with a fungal infection after he went digging in the dirt. Why worry about all that when they could just jump the humans offworld? Besides, a few of the new lieutenants needed to experience Frontline for the firs t time, too…

The Gaoians seemed extra motivated today; probably that was because of the footage that had hit the Armed Forces Network recently of the Great Father doing…well, what a titanic murderbear did. The ready room was noisy when Rylee ducked into it as human and Gao alike bragged and bullshitted and generally tried to work out some kind of pecking order of who was more awesome.

They each had their points, after all…too bad she couldn’t play those games anymore.

Somebody was paying attention though. A hefty bellow of “Room, a-ten-shut!” promptly shut them all up and brought them all to their feet as Rylee entered.

“Thank you, please take your seats.”

Chairs scuffed and squealed as they sat down again.

“This is a battle our Gaoian colleagues have already effectively won. My hat’s off to them for a quick and decisive victory. But the battle is not yet over, and the war has only begun,” she started. “There’s a lot of the system that remains unknown territory. We know the Hunters had extensive mining operations in both asteroid belts, and it’s not clear how much they took with them when they retreated, how much is still there, and how much is still occupied by hostiles. Our patrol’s purpose is to answer those questions, in a decisive and final way. We will destroy every artificial structure we find, without exception. Our initial targets have already been identified, as Officer Teyma will now explain.”

Teyma was one of the more interesting Gao that Rylee had ever met. She was, unusually for a female, a member of one of the male Clans—namely Whitecrest. She was a full rank-holding member too, having taken the Clan’s secretive Dark Rites. Her first duty was to the Clan of Females, of course, but she served that duty in military intelligence.

Rylee was no expert on Gaoian attractiveness, but she’d seen the way some of the males looked at Teyma; men were the same everywhere. Apparently the Clan’s iconic fur pattern was very fetching on a female.

Teyma, of course, was all business. “Our current surveillance suggests most of the remaining Hunter presence is sheltering within the asteroid belt,” she explained, smoothly taking over. “Excess heat signatures around these large asteroid clusters—” she gestured at a new slide showing false-color sensor imagery, “—are our best lead for initial targets. We anticipate all the usual Hunter shenanigans: cloaks, hit-and-run tactics, and so forth. We’ve not yet seen any major new developments with weaponized shielding, though the heat blooms I just mentioned suggest heavy industry, which in turn suggests they may be working to change that. Our target prioritization obviously favors recon of these heat blooms and then destroying them, if possible.”

There was more than that, of course. Teyma spent several minutes going through slides, recounting the known classes and varieties of Hunter ships known to be operating in the target system, the kinds of defenses and countermeasures that previous Hunter facilities had exhibited and all the other important details.

All of the male Gaoians paid her rapt attention. It was all Rylee could do not to roll her eyes. Oh well…at least her pilots were paying attention to the intelligence for a change.

As intelligence presentations went, though, Teyma’s was swift and efficient. Rylee thanked her with a nod and resumed her briefing after the final slide.

“One point I want to address specifically is the possibility of structures that our weapons can’t hurt, say because they’re buried inside a big asteroid. Such things will probably require a HEAT response, so if you find such a thing, you establish a perimeter and call it in. Other than that, your specific targets and instructions will be handled in the frag-outs, as per usual. Does anyone have any questions for me?”

Nobody ever had questions for a brigadier general giving a mission brief, of course, but she waited just in case someone was smart (or stupid) enough to ask a relevant question.

“Alright. Flight leads, you know the drill. First wave departs in three hours. Dismissed.”

The next couple of hours were spent with her flight planning, an hour of rest time—hardly restful, though she did her best to sit back with her earphones in and listen to some music and try to just chill and store up energy ahead of the long work to come—and an hour in biomed being suited up and made ready.

After which… her Firebird awaited.

It felt good to run through her pre-flight checks, feel and hear the distinctive way a Firebird woke up around her. She always imagined it stretching and yawning, flexing its talons and yawning before settling down and sitting up attentively, ready and alert. There was a lot of sharp, lethal power stored behind her in the capacitor banks, and all of it was now awake and poised to go to work.

It had been far too long. She grinned behind her breathing mask as everything fell into place, as they were confirmed all ready, as the mission was officially good to go.

She hit the button, and flew again.

Date Point: 17y2w AV
National Building Museum, Washington DC, USA, Earth

President Beau Chambliss

Daar was a monster. A heroic monster, perhaps, who’d done the terrible things he had out of necessity, or so his supporters claimed… but a monster nonetheless. Those supposedly necessary things included nuking several major cities on his homeworld, fighting bloody-pawed at the head of his armies and special forces, and personally intervening in a few high-level capital punishment cases, where he had dispensed extreme justice with his own paws and claws.

All in all, the Great Father was a bloody-handed slaughterer with about the highest personal death count in the galaxy; again, he had personally pressed the button that snuffed out billions of his people. Hopelessly biodroned or not…And it was this man who was present at Beau’s inaugural ball, at Sartori’s invitation and with the approval of several other people whom it would have been impolitic to ignore. It was difficult to fathom how so many important and powerful people could feel so comfortable around him.

Or maybe it wasn’t so difficult to fathom, and spoke dark volumes about their characters.

Then there was Naydra. The newly-coronated Great Mother of the Gao was harder for Beau to figure out: everything he’d seen, read and experienced about her said she was an optimistic, bright soul with a nurturing and comforting nature. She’d certainly been a happy force so far in the evening, with everyone she met walking away smiling for the experience.

Still… She was married, in the Gaoian sense, to a man known for summarily eviscerating his political opposition. Not once, either. Twice. So she couldn’t be all nice.

Nevertheless, It would have been a snub not to dance with her, once the first dance with the new First Lady was done. So, out of diplomatic need, Beau entrusted Catherine to Daar, and took Naydra’s hand as the orchestra struck up the next dance.

She danced differently to a human, thanks to the shorter legs, but not awkwardly so. In fact, she was quite an easy and forgiving dancing partner, which of course made it easy for her to make conversation.

“So! I know Bumpkin and I already congratulated you earlier, but let me say it again,” she began, brightly and honestly. “Congratulations, Mister President.”

“Bumpkin, eh?” That just didn’t fit at all. “How’d you come by that pet name?”

“Given the option, he’d happily have spent his life herding naxas and digging ditches,” she explained. “He’s a country bumpkin at heart.”

“That seems…” Beau paused and considered his words with care. He needed a word that could convey his skepticism without implying she was a liar.

She gave him the perfect one. “Surprising?” If she’d been human, the chittering sound in her chest would have been a merry, tinkling laugh. “Yes, most people think so. I daresay you’re surprised at how civilized he’s being tonight.”

“I might have said, he’s playing against his habitual type.”

“Not so! One of his favorite hobbies is flower arrangement! Besides, he is what he needs to be, when he needs to be, as much as he can be without being inauthentic.”

“And you?”

“For the most part, I’m what he needs me to be, without being inauthentic. Isn’t that what the First Lady is for you?”

Beau glanced over at his wife, who was doing a magnificent job of not appearing overwhelmed by her dance partner…Who in turn was proving to be surprisingly smooth.

“I don’t think of my relationship with Catherine that way.”

“No? Well, I’m quite comfortable with it that way. A relationship like ours can build things together which wouldn’t be possible in isolation.”

So that was the dance she wanted tonight. Well, fair enough. “I think it’s important for both parties in a relationship to be of equal stature. The dynamic where one side dominates and the other supports seems…” again, he found himself searching for the right word to complete his thought without being insulting.

“Exploitative?” she suggested, with a sly shift of her ears that would have caused a less well-designed tiara to fall off.

“Well, I definitely don’t want to exploit my wife,” Beau agreed. “I want to be her partner.”

“And yet, she is not the President. There can only be one President, and if she was the President, then you would be the First Husband. You fill different roles, but you’re still partners, still a team. You don’t have to be equals to be a team.”

“I’d be First Gentleman, in fact.”

“And My Father’s true title in this situation would be inappropriately belligerent, so His Majesty will have to suffice. Niceties can be complex.”

“You call him ‘My Father?’”

“Yes. Some of the nuance gets lost in English. Father and Father have a different glottal stop at the end.” She demonstrated two almost entirely indistinguishable versions of the word. “One denotes a relation, the other an honorific.”

“They both imply paternal authority over you, though.”

“Indeed. And as both our people say, ‘Mother knows best.’” She chittered merrily again, and brought her by now slightly off-balance dance partner back around to the core of their discussion. “But we were discussing exploitation. Is exploitation always the strong exploiting the weak? Or the dominant exploiting the subordinate? Look at our brown-furred breeds! They’re physically much stronger than the silverfurs, to the point where they used to pull our wagons and plows, a role for which Humans used horses or oxen. The same trait that made the Brownies fill the role of a beast of burden also made them militarily dominant. So were they the exploiters, or the exploited?”

“I suppose in your case the relationship between dominance and exploitation is a little more complex…” Beau ventured.

“Oh, I think it’s just as complex for your people too. How many people live under the umbrella of military safety provided by America and her allies? How much have your people been exploited in that regard?”

Naydra glanced over toward Catherine and the Great Father: the two of them were clearly enjoying themselves, despite the vast gulf of difference between them. The way the Great Mother slightly flicked her ear was definitely mischievous. “I think a difference in power can be useful and enjoyable. Or it can, as you rightly fear, lead to oppression and resentment. Which one we get depends very much on how we play the game, don’t you think?”

The dance came to an end in a smattering of applause before Beau could reply. Naydra gave her dance partner a Gaoian approximation of a smile and politely applauded him too. “Thank you for a lovely dance, Mister President.”

“And you,” Chambliss replied. “Until the next one.”

She duck-nodded, then swished away to mingle and Beau finally got a chance to step away from the dance floor and grab a drink. He used a napkin to discreetly mop his face and gathered himself. He was feeling thoroughly out-danced already, and it came with the impression that the Great Mother had actually gone rather easy on him.

When it came time to spar with Daar… He didn’t expect such gentleness.

He’d have to be 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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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)

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Sweetness – Chapter 1 (NSFW)

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Date Point: 16y2m AV Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Daar, Great Father of the Gao “Poor bugger hardly knew which way is up…” Powell grunted, once Wagner was gone. “Who can blame him? His whole crew going violently psychotic on him with no warning, only to be stasis-hopped right into a Corti’s lab being sniffed

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Rising Titans – Chapter 46

9 Years, 6 Months, 14 Days After Eridani Landing Jikse Diana blinked in surprise as the jungle was suddenly lit up by a fantastic reddish glow, glancing behind her towards the city Diana watched as another blast of energy, identical in color to the flash fell from the sky. Unable to see from her vantage

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 5

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 4

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 3

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

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Good Training – Survival Part 1

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

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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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