The Deathworlders – Chapter 65: Leaps of Faith Part 2

Date Point:17y3m3w5d AV
Planet Akyawentuo, the Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3KPc arm

Julian Etscitty

Yan’s armpits were just as lovingly smelly as ever, which Julian learned as the monstrous chief of the Ten’Gewek wrassled him into all sorts of vaguely pretzel-like shapes. But that was the price of his friendship, when they hadn’t seen each other for too long.

Julian had made a kind of family vacation out of this visit. Al had a few days of downtime while the factory at Chiune Station got the next Misfit superstructure ready for her team to work on, Xiù’s property portfolio mostly managed itself and she seemed to genuinely enjoy being otherwise a homemaker… The trickiest part had been pulling Tristan and Ramsey out of school for a few days. There’d been a negotiation with Amanda, a quick talk with the social worker…

But in the end, they’d got permission. The boys had been giddy with excitement at the chance to actually explore an alien world, and had got amusingly defensive when Al had pointed out that, technically, they lived on one.

Anna and Harrison of course were fairly portable, though they came with a sizeable luggage of stuff that the Ten’Gewek women were finding deeply amusing. Clothes and diapers and toys and changes of clothes, and pulped food because they were starting to introduce Anna to the early stages of weaning… in the end hardly any of it was actually necessary, because there were too many fascinated cavemonkeys who wanted to grin for the babies or tickle or…

Fortunately, though Ten’Gewek grew up to be a lot more sturdy than most humans, in the first year or so of their lives there wasn’t much difference.

And so, their arrival had gone off in an extremely predictable manner. They arrived, the village lookout announced them. Yan and Singer came galloping up to the platform and there were spine-shattering hugs and general happiness. Food was immediately shared—Julian had brought along a pair of hams, because the Ten’Gewek loved it the most—and once all of that had been taken care of, the group split up.

Al and Xiù were immediately swallowed up by the women and some of the older more “grandfatherly” men. Julian wasn’t worried; the Ten’Gewek weren’t savages, and besides: they were being somewhat fiercely defended by Singer. The boys were dragged off to the forge by Vemik, who despite being very thoroughly a young adult at this point, hadn’t ever lost his manic excitement over…well, anything really.

Yan had pulled Julian off to go talk in private before they spoke with Professor and the nearby Given-Men. And, since it would take them a while to show up, indulge in a protracted bout of Julian Squishing. The stronger and tougher Julian grew, the harder the Ten’Gewek wanted to play…and that was extra true with Yan.

Maybe the day would come where Julian could score a win against Yan. Hell, maybe he could beat up Firth and steal ‘Horse’s lunch money on that day, too. So, that being somewhat unlikely, he endured the indignities of being totally outclassed in basically every way a man could be outclassed, and just tried his best.

That seemed to be good enough for Yan, who eventually decided to be merciful. With a happy hoot he let Julian go, then bounced away, sprang up a tree, flung himself to another tree, barreled back down that one with a ground-shaking crash, and then sprawled on his back in the dirt with a happy expression.

“Get it out of your system, big guy?”

“You’re getting stronger!” Yan beamed approvingly at him. “Good man of the tribe!”

“Heh.” Julian did enjoy flattery, he wasn’t gonna lie…maybe he showed himself off a little. He wouldn’t tell the girls. “Feels good, yeah. Also, it’s just nice to be back, y’know?”

“You were meant for strong worlds, Jooyun. Earth, here…Cimbrean I think is too easy.”

“Well, you’re not wrong…” Julian shrugged. “But anyway, I said a while ago I’d bring the family to visit, so…here we are! Try not to play so hard with them, will you?”

“I know how to play gentle,” Yan promised, with a touch of reproach. “Didn’t break you ever did I?”

Which was honestly impressive, given that Yan handily outweighed a full-grown bull. But still…

“There was that one time when you tossed me up to grab that melon, remember?”

“Feh. You missed the branch! Not my fault. And you just had a bruise!” Yan trilled and sat up, propping himself on his tail. “What kept you so busy? Not see you in hand of hands of days!”

“You know that planet Ferd and his men went to?”

“Yes. He say much about that. Tell some very tall stories, maybe…”

“They’re all true.” Funny how that idiom was common between their species. And with the Gao, too! “He really did break a tank-Hunter almost by himself, and his men did much the same to another. My friends in the SOR have nothin’ but good things to say about ‘em.”

Yan hooted his approval. “Good! And the new sky-people?” He fished some Werne jerky out of his hip pouch and bit a chunk off, then tossed a piece toward Julian.

“They’re… tougher than they look.”

“That sounds like careful words.”

“I’m an envoy, remember? I have to use my words carefully. I tell everyone your people are clever, quick to learn and stronger than pretty much anybody. What I don’t tell them is that you’ve only just begun to learn steel, that your writing isn’t even two years old, that you need high gravity and dense air and a frankly alarming amount of meat several times a day…”

“Yes, yes.” Yan waved that off and tore into his jerky again, using his two-inch-long canines to rip the leather-hard meat into shreds. Knowing Yan, that wasn’t exactly an accidental show of just what kind of man he was. “So you say, tougher than they look. Means, they don’t look tough. Ferd say, they all very sick, yes?”

“Their world is poisoned. The air they breathe is poison, the water will blister your skin, the trees are all stunted and small… I’ve told you about photosynthesis, right?”

“Green plants make the ock-see-gen that goes in air that we need to breathe,” Yan summarized.

“Yeah, well, photosynthetic life on that planet is hanging by a thread. In a few more hands of years, it might have collapsed entirely, and then…” Julian sighed. “…but they’re alive. They’re tough inside, strong against poisons and radiation. With clean air, good water and enough food, they might be about the same as the Gao.”

“Sounds like they should leave.”

“Some of them want to. Others think the Almighty—they believe in a single god, like a lot of my people do—is punishing them for something their people did in the past and that it would be sinful to leave.”

“Hrrm…” Yan pinched some debris thoughtfully out of the fluffy bit of crest at the end of his tail. “Still think they should leave. Maybe they go to Cimbrean, yes?”

“And live alongside us?” Julian thought about it. “…That could come with a lot of problems. There’s too many of them for the Alien Quarter, so they’d have to make their own city, maybe even get some of their own territory… And there’s lots to go around, but negotiating that between the five colonies could take years.”

“From what I see of Dominion, take years no matter where they go.”

“Yeah. They need a place, like, yesterday. The longer they stay, the nastier that schism will get. It’s already come to blows once. Last thing we want is to save ‘em only for them to wipe themselves out in a religious civil war.”

Yan looked up into the sky thoughtfully. “…We have worlds, you said. Dominion rules gave us nearby planets once they know about us.”

“Well, yes…?”

“No good to us now,” Yan shrugged. “How long until we fly between worlds for ourselves? Vemik is smart, but not that smart. Also… we were made for here. The gods made us strong, but our strength is tied to here, to Akyarawanentuo.” He jabbed a finger toward the ground for emphasis.

Akyawentuo, the planet’s official name, basically meant “Place where all things are under the sky,” in Yan’s dialect of the People’s language. The version he’d just uttered more narrowly meant “this place where all things are under the sky.” There were times when Peoplespeak, with its weird conjugations and contractions and run-on words, could express very specific concepts.

“Y—” It took a few seconds for Julian to get his voice into gear. “…So you’d just…? Yan, that’s a… A whole planet would be about the biggest Giving possible!”

“No Giving at all, if it’s no use to us,” Yan replied, evenly.

“You’ve never been there! You don’t know that!”

“I know you and you tell me about these plan-ets. So, I trust you.”

“All I read is the Directorate survey report. That’s like if I told you there were Werne to the north, but didn’t mention how many, how far, or if there were any good young bulls. It’s not enough to make a decision like this.”

“…Hrrm.” Yan set his tail aside again. “…Maybe I should go see, then.”

“…” Julian had no immediate response but to look at Yan in wonder. “Do…do you understand what you are trying to set in motion, here? You are, on a well-meaning whim, giving away one of your people’s planets and then for an encore, asking us to mount a surprise expedition, too!”

“Expedition first,” Yan said, breezily. “You’re right. Shouldn’t give it away without looking at it first.”

He bared his teeth in a pleased grin at the dumbfounded look on Julian’s face. “Crazy?”


“Lots of crazy in the sky. Lots of crazy in here, too.” he unfolded a long arm and prodded Julian gently in the forehead. “Crazy enough to fight a war for my people. Nearly get killed. Nearly get your women killed for us. But you did it, and if you hadn’t…” he left the thought unfinished.

“That’s not even remotely on the same scale.”

“No? All of my people, alive and well, with vack-seens now and better health than ever and better hunting than even my grandfather would boast of. We killed a Brown One, Jooyun, and lost only one man. You gave us a whole future. That’s the biggest Giving, for me. One plan-et we probably never use, next to that? Bah.” He waved the same hand dismissively.

“You wouldn’t even be Giving it to us, though!”

Yan gave him an impatient look. “You want to help these people or not?”

“Well… Of course I do. But not at your expense!”

“All things are at somebody’s expense, Jooyun.”

“Well, yes, but it’s not just yours anyway. It belongs to all Ten’gewek. Yan Given-Man can’t just give it away on a whim.”

Yan shrugged. “Lodge will think as I do,” he predicted.

“Yan,” Julian sighed. “Of course they will. You fucking terrify them.”

“Yes,” Yan said with no small amount of smugness in his voice. “So I talk last, and listen to them before I scare them. But Jooyun, you say yourself many times, you think my people probably will always be ‘one-planet species.’ So does Professor Daniel, and Core-tie. And so do I. We are made for this place. If we do as you do, build cities, civilize, then we grow like the city-People. Safe. Weak. No use to anyone. What good is a world that would make us soft? We are not sky-smart.”


“I think, probably not ever. We would need to Give all that we are now, and you know this. So does Professor. It makes him sad, I think.”

“We did it once,” Julian pointed out. “We used to live like you, you’ve seen that. We Gave all that we were and became what we are. That’s life. That’s… you change, or you die, Yan.”

“You did not have Sky-Friends. We do. We have strength you need. I listen to Ferd. He boasts, but he does not lie. No, what we can Give is special. Let us Give as we can.”

Julian ran a hand through his hair out of a mix of frustration and… what? Admiration, sure. A lot of that. But that was the problem with arguing with Yan: once his mind was made up, it took earth-shattering force to change it.

The big guy hooted at his expression, clearly tickled. “And I am not giving them all the plan-ets, Jooyun. Just the small one!”

Jooyun sighed, but a chuckle was on its heels. “I can see I’m not gonna talk you out of it.”

“No!” Yan agreed, and flashed his smug grin again.

“…Fine. I’ll talk to the Ambassador, arrange a survey trip for you and whoever else you think should go. It’ll take a long time, we’re talking a whole planet here, you don’t just land and look around. A proper survey takes months. Hell, the girls and I only managed three in the whole time we were doing it.”

“They do not have much time,” Yan reminded him. “But I think we say everything important. We say more when other men come visit. But now, I want to meet babies! Then maybe go fuck Loor’s Singer too!”

Julian laughed. The Singer from Loor’s tribe was one of Yan’s more regular ‘partners,’ in the carefree Ten’Gewek way. She was Loor’s half-sister, and her consistent favoring of Yan was one of the driving factors behind the two tribes’ close relationship.

She was, by Ten’Gewek standards, stunning. Hell, by human standards she was quite pretty, and that was honestly an achievement. Not because Ten’Gewek were ugly—they were far from it. It was more… Their woman could put most any bodybuilder to shame, Singers doubly so, and she in particular was a formidable amazon of a gal. But, Singers weren’t chosen just for their looks. They were chosen for their insight, intelligence, diplomacy and skill at wrangling the men.

She certainly wrangled Yan pretty well.

“You’ve had enough kids by her, big guy. Also, it occurs to me: I haven’t heard a word from either Tristan or Ramsey…”

“A good thing, with boys that age. Means they’re learning something.”

“You mean, getting into trouble.”

“Same thing!”

“Trouble with Vemik.”

“…Maybe we go back and see.”

Julian chuckled and rose to his feet. “Good idea. They’re prob’ly fine, I trust all three of them, but…”

“Always best to check,” Yan finished agreeably. With a shove of his tail he was on his feet again, and he set a relaxed, ambling pace back down toward the village with his characteristic rolling swagger.

He needn’t have worried too much. The boys were learning how to beat on steel, and had ash smudges on their faces that made their big happy grins shine out. Allison, having predicted this, had even brought along eye protection for them, and was watching with a proud expression.

Julian leaned into her and kissed her neck. “How are they doing?”

“Terrible. Worst blades I ever saw,” she grinned at him. “But hey, it’s their first time.”

“I see Vemik is super happy with the eyepro you got him…”

Ten’Gewek didn’t have noses, but they did have nasal cavities that opened into the roof of their mouths, and the adults had noticeably prognathous jaws. That gave Vemik a little spot on which he could rest his brand new mirror-coated goggles, though he was still fiddling with the elastic strap; it sat on his crest a bit uncomfortably, probably. He’d get used to it.

“Can’t have our supergenius gorilla friend losing his eyesight before he’s thirty,” Al said. “Shame they don’t make gloves in his size.”

“With hands like his? He doesn’t really need them.” Anyway. He’d not snuggled Al in at least half an hour, so he pulled her into an affectionate hug, and nuzzled at her neck.

She made a happy noise and burrowed her shoulders backwards into his chest. “…So. What important affairs were you menfolk discussing while us girls were back here looking after the children?”

Julian snorted. “Mostly wondering what kind of sammich you’ll be making me–OW!” Her elbows were pretty darn sharp. “Aww, c’mon! There ain’t even a kitchen here for you to be all barefoot in!”

“Oh, that does it!” She turned and deployed her cruellest weapon: she tickled his ribs.

Julian ran away, giggling, and it was only later in the evening, when everyone was tired and drifting off to sleep, that he had a chance to reflect. Here, safe among an adopted tribe on a quick little vacation, where he could run around and play like a little kid…

That was a heck of a blessing. He wasn’t totally free of course. He’d had to write some messages, people were getting downright alarmed at the idea of just giving away a planet…

Big important people would be getting involved very soon. But, that was a problem for tomorrow-Julian. Right now he had two beautiful women curled up with him on top of nice warm werne pelts, his kids safe and asleep at the other end of their little shelter…

Tristan snoring…

And shortly thereafter, Julian too.

Date Point: 17y4m1w AV Starship Silent but Deadly, far uncharted space


The clock opposite Tooko’s stasis booth flickered, and transitioned in an eyeblink from one date and time, to a very different one. Better yet, the new time was square in the middle of their ETA at the target system. Good.

He stepped out of the booth and shook off the lingering disorientation that stasis always left behind. Long-haul interstellar travel shouldn’t be so… well, from his perspective he’d backed into that booth and hit the button only five seconds ago, and literally nothing else had happened except for the clock. And yet, at the same time… there was some tickling thing in the back of his brain that knew it had been a lot longer than that. As though he’d just been lost in thought for a couple of months and hadn’t noticed.

…No, not quite. There was a thin layer of dust on everything, all generated before they went into stasis and then given months to settle. But other than that…

He ought to feel drained, or sore, or something. He ought to need to stretch. He ought to feel like he’d slept the whole way, not just sort of… skipped it.

He shook his head again, and slipped forward through the ship on four-paw to pour himself into his chair in the cockpit. There was a difference there: the leather felt cool to the touch through his fur. The lingering chill of low-power mode hadn’t quite left the upholstery yet.

As for his instruments… yup. They were exactly where they were meant to be. A cluster of about two dozen mostly uninteresting red stars, with a single bright yellow one in the middle

He released Wilde and Ferd from their booths. Like him, neither man took the time skip without a moment’s confusion. Ferd lingered in the booth for a moment as if waiting for something to happen, and Wilde started to stretch then seemed somewhat put out to discover he didn’t need to.

Stretching anyway to cover his embarrassment—pointlessly, because Tooko could smell it—he ambled forward through the ship and leaned on the back of Tooko’s chair.

“How’re we looking?” he asked.

“Looks like Mrwrki were right. There’s a strong signal coming from the second planet of that G-class system.”

“How far out are we?”

“Three hours to the termination shock.”

“Right.” Wilde wandered back through the living area then, clearly bereft of ideas for what to do with himself, grabbed the cleaning kit and started dusting.

Ferd decided to bring up their equipment from storage.

“It’ll be a long while before we’re ready, mate,” Wilde pointed out.

“Yes. Still should check things, they did not have stay-sis sky-magic.”

“Knock yourself out, then.”

Ferd gave him a confused look, then clearly deduced his meaning, shrugged, and set to work with a grunt.

Three hours later, exactly on schedule, the scant pressure of stellar plasma against SBD’s spiked briefly but dramatically, marking the moment they transitioned from interstellar space to the target system.

Beyond that…there wasn’t much interesting to report. Ferd did poke his head in–about the only part of him which fit anyway–grunted politely, and scritched Tooko on the back of his neck affectionately.

“Close, yes?”

“Ninety minutes to orbit,” Tooko confirmed.

“We should wake up men, eat, shit, warm up muscles.”

“You do that…” Tooko kept a close eye on his instruments. “I’ll get us down there in one piece…”

“Trouble?” Ferd gave the sensor readout an uncomprehending look.

“Enemy territory, and they already lost one of these things. If they’re remotely not stupid, they’re watching this one closely.”

“…Leave you alone, then.” Ferd nodded, and backed out of the cockpit.

“Thanks…” Tooko muttered, and adjusted course slightly. Star systems were energetic places, on their own scale. A giant naked fusion reaction hanging in space tended to dominate the local landscape, but all that radiation, gravity, the huge magnetic field and the way they all interacted with the planets and asteroids in its orbit…

To sensors as sensitive as SBD’s there was a lot of information out there to filter and make sense of. Little eddies in the quantum fields, odd gravimetric shifts, random spikes and squeals and mournful whoops in the radio bands coming from a gas giant…

There were things out there, visible as shadows in the noise. He gave them a wide birth, came in above the plane of the ecliptic rather than along it, and watched them closely, keeping the ship’s own warp down to a bare single-digit multiple of lightspeed. Painfully slow next to the shrieking pace she could achieve when he opened her up, but right now he was balancing speed and stealth. The longer they hung out in space, the more likely something would glance in their direction. The slower he went, the harder they were to see.

Once they were down on the surface they’d be harder to find, powered down and hidden among warm, dense, humid atmosphere, a powerful magnetic core and all the other things that made temperate worlds temperate. But out in the void…

Something moved. He killed the drive instantly, powered down to minimum reserve only. The gravity went, the heating clicked off. Ferd and Wilde made alarmed noises as they suddenly found themselves drifting in freefall.

Wilde grabbed the wall and boosted himself up to the cockpit.

“We fucked?” he whispered.

“Don’t know yet,” Tooko answered, more calmly than he felt. “And you don’t need to whisper.”

“…Right.” Wilde shivered at the volume of his own voice. “Don’t think I’ll get used to that. What happened?”

“Something’s out there. Almost as quiet as we are.” Tooko combed his whiskers with a claw, then pointed at his readout. “There. See?”

“Assume I know fuck all about these things, mate.”

“It’s subtle, but something out there’s moving superluminal.” Tooko watched it intently. As he did so, the thing—whatever it was—slipped away into the outer system at two kilolights. “…Probably a ship.”

“So… we fucked?”

“No, I think we’d be dead already if they’d seen us.” Tooko exhaled slowly. “But I’m going to take it slow on approach. We’re going to make like a natural phenomenon. Subluminal travel only from here. So, revised ETA is…” he glanced up. “…two days.”

“…Back in the box, huh?”

“For you two, yes.”

“Right.” Wilde clapped his hand on Tooko’s shoulder, and left him to work. “You heard the man, Ferd.”

They retreated back into the cargo bay, and a moment later a pair of beeps indicated to Tooko that they’d returned to stasis. He was alone on a dark ship that was barely generating any power, and he was being hunted.

He sighed, grabbed a blanket from his locker, and settled in for a long and stressful fall down the gravity well.

Date Point: 17y4m1w AV
Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Julian Etsicitty

“…That would solve a big problem.”

Julian was tired. He’d enjoyed his time with the tribe, obviously, but the thing about that was he always had to participate. Ten’Gewek didn’t get days off, after all. The tribe always needed feeding, so there was always a hunt, always the need to bring home the kill, prove his value as one of their Men…

He could hack it. Heck, he could hack it well, these days. But that just meant he had to hunt bigger game, and do so more often. None of his increasingly ridiculous strength ever quite made up for him being human, or them being Ten’Gewek. They were built for different kinds of work and for them, carrying a bull Werne across their shoulders, up trees and hills all day long was easy. Running a few miles, though? They could if they had to, and could even get good at it…

Small victories were the secret to happiness, Julian had learned.

And of course, Yan never let him go without damn near breaking him in half. Affectionately. You…had to know them, to understand. For them, war and play and violence and sex were all dangerously related concepts. As long as nobody got hurt, and everyone had fun…

So the chance to sit down on a comfortably huge (and discreetly ultra-durable) chair in Ambassador Rockefeller’s office, drink some of his excellent coffee and just talk was pretty welcome. It wasn’t a substitute for the Xiù-massage and long nap he was going to enjoy when he got home, but it was still respite from his aching muscles. And considering he was on a high-dose Crude regime these days, that was saying something.

It was almost enough to distract him from the problem at hand. Almost.

“Them giving away a whole planet seems…” he shifted uncomfortably.

“It’s their planet to give away.” Rockefeller shrugged. “And from what I gather it’s Class Five. So Yan may be right, it may well just be useless to them.”

Julian waved his hand at the ground. “I mean, we’re sitting here on a Class Four right now, and Cimbrean’s plenty useful…”

“To us, yes. With a huge terraforming effort.” Rockefeller sipped his coffee. “You’re comparing apples to oranges, Julian. They aren’t us, their needs are different. Heck, you understand that better than most.”

“I’m just not sure that Yan gets how big what he’s proposing to do is…”

“Funny, and every other time you’re the one telling me to not underestimate just how well he understands things.” Rockefeller looked amused, but he finished his coffee and put it down. “I respect your concern for them, but don’t forget your obligations to us as well. You’re an officer of the United States, and it’s not your place to talk them out of decisions they have a perfect right to make.”

Julian nodded resignedly. “I know. And… heck, I admire their generosity. I’m just worried about it hurting them in the long run.”

“That ‘long run’ is probably at least a hundred years distant anyway.” Rockefeller sat back in his chair with a creak. “Meanwhile, the E-Skurel-Ir are descending into civil war. The violence has already started. There was an attempt on Ukusevi’s life.”

Julian forgot all about his Ten’Gewek concerns with a cold shock. “Just an attempt? She survived?”

“She’s now under Mister Hoeff’s protection, and enjoying the hospitality of Grandfather Vark of Clan Stoneback, General of the Grand Army of the Gao.” Rockefeller looked amused.

“…I don’t think I’ve met him.”

“Nor I, but I am given to understand he’s exactly the kind of Clan-Brother the Great Father can appreciate.”

“So…big, blunt, cheery, and violently direct?”

“Exactly. I suspect she’s safer than you or I, right now.” Rockefeller’s amusement twinkled in his eyes, then faded as he sat forward. “But those people are tearing themselves apart right now, and she’s requested asylum for herself and her like-minded. We need a place for them immediately, and Yan’s offer is about the best thing we could ask for.”

“So you’re going to approve it.”

“Julian, none of us have that authority. This is between the Ten’Gewek and the E-Skurel-Ir. Your survey mission to that planet will go ahead as quickly as your ship can be made ready.”

“We have a ship?”

“An old friend of yours, actually: Misfit. The Byron Group very kindly made her available to us. If you’d been on this planet last night, you would have seen her landing.”

“…Oh. Wow.” Julian had to admit, that was unexpectedly welcome news. Misfit hadn’t been home for three years. It’d be nice to see her again. “Uh… so how’s that going to work?”

“Her current crew will shuttle you, Yan and whoever else you think is necessary over to the target planet and together you’ll survey it. After she’s had some maintenance out at Chiune Station, of course.”

“…Oh man, Al’s gonna be giddy!” Julian smiled to himself. He wished he coulda been there to see the look on her face when she got back out to the hangar and found her old ship parked and waiting for her. Of the three of them, she’d always loved Misfit the most. She’d probably give it a hug.

Rockefeller chuckled. “Well, I won’t keep you then. You look like you need some rest anyway.”

Julian knew when he was being gently dismissed, in the nicest way. Besides, the Ambassador wasn’t wrong. He nodded, and rose to his feet. “Okay.”

“Enjoy yourself,” Rockefeller smiled, shook Julian’s hand, then turned to his computer. Julian let himself out.

As much as he wanted that cuddle and nap, however, he had one more stop to make on his way home: Nofl.

The whole transition off OG Cruezzir and onto Crue-D hadn’t been completely smooth sailing. Crue-D might be the more refined, more sophisticated, better drug in every way, but that was exactly the problem. There had been something kinda like withdrawal at first; he’d felt weak and lethargic, as if some vital part of him had just been…removed. There were also a few false starts as his gut biome had to be completely flushed and replaced—an experience he wouldn’t wish on anybody—and the attendant nutritional problems as his ability to properly digest food had taken a day or two to recover as well.

He was addicted to the drug, now. Addicted like the HEAT, kinda like the Spice from Dune. It was the perfect drug, in that way. It did nothing but good, so long as you kept taking it…

All-in-all, it would’ve been even worse without Nofl’s input. And if Julian was honest, less fun too. The little guy’s inimitable bedside manner was growing on him.

“Darling! Fabulous to see you! Come in, come in! Hop up on the slab and I’ll get the anal probe ready…”

Julian snorted. “Graffiti troll’s been back again, huh?” Nofl’s lab had suffered a few cases of vandalism over the last few months. Somebody out there had a grudge against Corti, and a passive-aggressive approach to venting it.

“With a scatalogical return to form! His recent work just hasn’t been inspired, but this morning’s offering was a masterpiece. I might have it framed!”

“I wouldn’t encourage ‘em.”

“It’s alright, I have a plan. I’ve decided to build a guard!”


Nofl pointed to a half-finished…project… on one of his smaller workbenches. “Stabby the Flamingo!”

“…I have so many questions. But, uh…let’s just stick with the physical.”

“You’re probably right. No anal probe, then?”

Julian smirked, “…No. Thank you.”

“Probably for the best, I don’t own one anyway.” Nofl tittered and guided Julian toward his scanner suite instead. “Back from Akyawentuo, I notice.”


Nofl indicated the biofilter arch around his lab’s front door that swept his guests safely clean when they entered. “There’s a unique class of microorganism on that planet that you probably don’t even notice. Almost like an airborne phytoplankton. Totally harmless, in fact by deathworld microbe standards it’s practically a puppy. But…”

Frontline doesn’t catch it?”

“Oh, it’s not harmful. In fact it’ll all be dead by tomorrow, Human skin is not a hospitable environment for it, oh no.” Nofl rummaged through a mess of tools on his bench that was probably perfectly logical and ordered according to his own system. “But its presence is a surefire telltale of somebody who visited that planet. Ah!”

He turned and waved an implement up and down Julian’s body. “…Tch. Being pulled and stretched like that must hurt.”

Julian shrugged. “Not too bad.” Truth be told it hurt quite a heck of a lot, but, well. There was pain, and there was pain, the kind that warned a fella he was about to be torn in half. Yan was usually pretty good about avoiding the latter.

“Oh well, no major damage, and your bruises heal quickly… hold still, this is the tickly bit.”

Julian sighed and pulled his shirt up for Nofl to press the scanner to his belly. Sure enough, it tickled.

“Mmm…good news all around. No sign of a hernia or anything. Whatever you’re doing to have such a strong core, keep doing it! Internal organs are adapting to the Ceuezzir-derivative nicely…your heart seems to have strengthened considerably, goodness me! That’s one long-term worry off the list, eh?”

“I guess I’ve never really worried too much about that.” Julian shrugged.

“Unsurprising. The life you lead you’re far more likely to be shot, stabbed, blown up, or eaten by something…”

“No no, I mean…I’ve never really felt heart pains, y’know? Like, I’m always out of breath before I feel anything like that.”

“A good sign! Still, given your prodigious mass, it’s good to keep on top of these things…”

“Right. So. Clean bill of health?”

“As far as my considerable talents say, yes. You’re as healthy as a HEAT operator!” Nofl turned, tossed the scanner back onto the bench and grabbed a tablet. “Now. I’m sure you’re much more interested in my impression of your children.”

Julian gulped, and nodded fervently. On that point, Nofl was so right that he didn’t even want to say it.

Fortunately, the little guy saw right through him. Corti faces weren’t very expressive, but Nofl had a particular smirk he wore in moments like these as he handed over the tablet. “They have, I’m pleased to announce, suffered no detectable deviation from their expected neural development. As far as I can tell you have a pair of basically normal human babies, just as your own doctors said.”

Julian heaved a huge, relieved sigh. He trusted human doctors, of course, but Nofl was the guy who’d first invented Cruezzir. There was absolutely nobody in the galaxy more qualified to comment on its effects. Between his opinion and the expert advice of the paediatricians, a dizzying weight had just slid off him.

Still, where his kids were concerned, there was no such thing as too safe. “You’re sure now? Normal?”

“Well. They’re well-developed for their age, but within normal bounds. I don’t think you need to worry about either of them growing up as schizophrenic supersoldiers.”

“Christ.” Julian leaned against a counter. “…I feel like we dodged a bullet there.”

“My working theory with Cruezzir and its relationship to human mental health is that it strengthens the pathways your brains naturally develop in response to repeated crisis situations. You’re a profoundly resilient people that way. But your babies, of course, are being raised in a loving home. No abnormal stress means none of the triggers that Cruezzir amplifies.”

Julian nodded. “…That makes sense. So they’re basically normal.”

“Completely normal, darling. And by ‘normal’ what I mean is ‘within expected biological norms.’” Nofl smiled, and sauntered over across his lab. “I can tell that’s a weight of your shoulders. Coffee?”

“No thanks. Already had some, and I was gonna take a nap when I get home.”

“I have the best decaf in the galaxy?”

Julian chuckled. “…Some other time. Thanks, Nofl.”

“Oh, I always have time for you. Why don’t you check in later, you can see how Stabby is progressing.”

Julian glanced at the bizarre project. “…I’ll… see if I can make time in my busy schedule.”

“There’s always more time than you think, darling! But go on, be your usual busy-bee self!”

Julian shook his head and let himself out, chuckling to himself. As far as he could tell, Nofl viewed him as a kind of challenge. Julian had long ago stopped finding his antics shocking, so Nofl responded by being aggressively weirder whenever Julian visited. So far, it seemed a stalemate: Julian wasn’t yet completely immune to the little gray fella’s antics, but Nofl still hadn’t achieved whatever his definition of victory was.


He went home. There’d be more work coming in the imminent future, and he needed to rest up for it, spend time with his loved ones…

But at least now he could worry about them a little less.

Previous Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Next Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Implications

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Sweetness – Chapter 4 (NSFW)

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Sweetness – Chapter 3 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 2 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 1 (NSFW)

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

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Shades of White and Orange

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

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Mother Earth

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 2

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 1

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 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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