The Deathworlders – Chapter 65: Leaps of Faith Part 3

Date Point: 17y4m1w2d AV
The Clawhold, a liberated world, former Hunter space

Ginn, aide-de-camp to Grandfather Vark of Clan Stoneback

With the endless global industry halted, air quality was soaring. There was still a haze of carcinogenic particles in the air, but it was thinner than ever before, to the point where Ginn could actually see the mountains near the Clawhold with the more-or-less naked eye. They looked dirty, dead and brown, but they were still a view.

It was hopeful. One thing Ginn hadn’t properly appreciated in his short years was just how connected to nature a people truly were. Balls, it wasn’t until he’d left Gao for an alien world to save an alien species that he noticed just how much he…missed it. Missed Gao.

Speaking of that alien species, though, the clear weather had brought out the rioters.

Hooded and swathed in their own cobbled-together protective gear, armed with an assortment of stones, work tools, glass bottles full of flammable liquid or acid, or just angry words, there were a few thousand E-Skurel-Ir marching determinedly down the cracked asphalt that had once been a major road. In a few minutes, they’d reach the Clawhold’s checkpoints, and then…

Ginn was not trained in riot control. That was something for the Straightshields, who had been arriving en masse over the last couple of days, complete with their identical armor, all wielded by the same identical Judge-Brothers. Same respectable-but-not-ridiculous height, same capably broad shoulders, same burly-but-not-huge build. They had the same authoritative voices. Same movements. Balls, they almost had the same scent. It was deeply unsettling.

But of course, workhouse rivalries could get pretty nasty…so it wasn’t like they were out of practice.

The E-Skurel-Ir rioters were doggedly ignoring the loud broadcast warning them to disperse, however. They were religiously angry, and Ginn hadn’t really seen that before. They weren’t just angry, they were disgusted at something, and eager to purge it.

He wasn’t part of this fight. He was glued to Vark’s side, taking care of the daily little hairball-like problems for the Grandfather, so he could focus on leading, and doing. So, for now, Ginn was merely observing.

He knew what he was about to watch, having seen a couple of workhouse riots. He was about to watch the Straightshields beat the E-Skurel-Ir into bloody pulps.

There was a reason Emberpelt medics and Openpaw doctors were staged up behind them.

A bottle, trailing oily black smoke and licks of flame, arced through the air and smashed on the concrete a pounce in front of the Straightshield line. The armored Brothers ignored it, even as blue-edged flames slathered the road.

“Y’ever seen a riot before, Ginn?” Vark asked, conversationally.


“Were ‘ya on the receivin’ end?”

“No.” Some honest instinct compelled Ginn to clarify after a second: “I slipped away before it turned nasty.”

“Prob’ly smart. It ain’t fun gettin’ smacked around by batons.”

Of course Vark knew what that felt like. Ginn duck-shrugged. “It was the gas,” he recalled. “Like getting smacked in the nose by a bag full of drain chemicals. I don’t think I could have taken a real dose of that.”

“Yeah. Too bad the E-Skurel-Ir are kinda immune.” Vark sniffed behind his mask. “We might need ‘ta use CS gas on ‘em. It’s a Human thing. Burns the skin horribly, an’ it’ll make even them hurt in their nose.”

“That sounds… awful…?”

“Naw. That all clears up the second ‘ya get outta the gas. But trust me, CS gas for a Gaoian’s nose feels like if Daar jumped on ‘yer balls. An’ lit ‘em on fire.”

Gin suppressed a shiver at that mental image, and silently wished for some kind of work to come along to distract him. He was pretty familiar with violence himself, it held no fascination for him. He’d be quite glad to be back indoors, taking care of Vark’s business.

“Grandfather…may I ask why we’re here?”

“Stoneback and Straightshield, we’ve got ancient relations, right?”


“Well, part o’ that is we back each other up. I’m here ‘ta see jus’ how bad the rioting’s gonna get.”

Ginn watched the Straightshields heft their shields and angle them upwards to deflect a rain of thrown rocks, before advancing. They smashed their batons against their shields to the cadence of their steady, relentless forward march, a heavy hammering sound that bounced up and down the street and off the buildings.

The rioters’ answer was more thrown firebombs and acid bottles.

“…Are the Stonebacks going to get involved?”

“Prob’ly not. ‘Cuz we don’t play nice, when we gotta wade in.” Vark sniffed again. “One’a the goals of riot control is ‘ta protect the dumbshits from their own stupid. We… ain’t so good at that. We’re the breaker of Clans.”

Ginn flinched as the Straightshield line met the front row of angry E-Skurel-Ir. It didn’t look much like the Straightshields played nice, either.

But there was a logic and purpose to it all, he could see after a few seconds. While the Brothers at the front held the line, a Judge-Father behind them would identify a particularly charismatic troublemaker who was riling up the ones around them. He’d point out the target, and a pawful of second-rank Brothers would inject themselves into the mob, ignoring their shouting and battering weapons, pushing them aside until they reached the ringleader, who was surgically extracted.

There was care to it, too. They weren’t letting anyone get crushed in the push of bodies. If an E-Skurel-Ir fell, they abruptly found themselves behind the shield line rather than trampled. Before the rioter had any idea what was happening, he was shoved snout-down into the ground, his hands and feet were zip-tied together, and then he was unceremoniously tossed into a padded wagon along with the rest of them.

“Do you see the point o’ all this, Ginn?”

It wasn’t gentle, but it was careful. Methodical. Thorough.

“It’s like you said. They’re actually protecting the rioters from themselves.”

“Yeah. But this is also war, too. The goal is to break their will, so’s they don’t get any itchy ideas no more. It ain’t a pretty business.”

“…No.” Ginn nodded at that. The demoralizing effect of having their leaders and prophets snatched from their midst was already showing. The front line had less purpose now, they’d thrown their stones and bottles, they’d worn their arms out trying to beat down the shield wall. The fight was going out of them pretty quickly.

When a pair of armored vehicles rolled up behind the Straightshields and turned on a pair of high-pressure water cannons, the momentum completely turned around. The water had a bright blue indelible dye in it, and it drove the mob back up the road, creating a clear gap that brought the Brothers some respite, washed away any lingering corrosives or accelerants…

Ginn decided he’d changed his mind. This was interesting, in its methodically brutal way.

“They’ll be back,” Vark predicted, as the back of the riot started to turn ragged and drain away down alleyways and into the warrens below the old ruined streets. “Take more’n one bloody nose ‘ta beat all the fight outta them.”

“They’ve got four hundred years of pent-up frustration, rage and justice to work out of their systems.”

“Ayup.” Vark sank to all fours and shook as if he was trying to re-seat his NBC gear. “C’mon. You and I gotta get ready. The Great Father’s gonna be here soon ‘ta meet with the object of their hatred.”

“Oh, that’s going to be interesting.” Ginn warmed to the idea. He’d had the chance to get a good sniff of Ukusevi during her short stay on the base so far. She seemed to have the kind of toughness that only emerged in people who’d been hammered on life’s anvil from day one. Cushy safe job underground spent filing the papers and books notwithstanding, he could easily see how she’d managed to rile up an angry sect against her.

Seeing her meet the Great Father would be an education, no doubt.

Well. Ginn probably wouldn’t get to see that, actually. That didn’t seem like the kind of conversation lowly aides got to stick around for, and he wasn’t Daar’s aide in the first place. But it was fun to imagine.

He turned his mind back to his actual job. “Anyway, Champion Fiin sends his regrets, says he’s got a good sniff of what may be a new Alpha and possibly some breeding pools in the hills of sector White Seven. He’s not coming back in until that’s dealt with.”

“Doin’ all the fun stuff himself,” Vark grumbled…well, not exactly good-naturedly. It was definitely tinged with envy, but it was meant humorously.

“‘Fun’ isn’t exactly the word I’d have chosen, Grandfather.” Ginn thumbed through his notes. “And… yes, we are scheduled for troop inspection in four hours time back on Gao. New initiates to the Second Ring.”

Vark duck-nodded, ignoring the sound of several flashbangs detonating out on the street as he stepped down out of the guard tower. “…Right. Better get goin’ then. An’ I’m gonna need a fur trim, too. The Second Ring is important. Gotta look good ‘cuz one or two of ‘em ain’t gonna survive the training. They deserve somethin’ better’n a near-mangy Grandfather.”

“I took the liberty of arranging a visit by your preferred grooming service,” Ginn replied, reflecting once again that yup, he was definitely never going to go for the whole Clan thing. He’d rapidly grown to respect the Stonebacks, in a way that eclipsed every Clanless’s general sense of intimidation and awe of them, but even if he’d been a Brownfur himself, little details like that completely killed any sense of ambition or idealism.

“Thankee, Ginn. ‘Yer the bestest some days, y’know that?” Vark had long mastered the fine art of the truthful back-handed compliment. It helped that he was pant-grinning as he said it.

“Only some days?” Ginn sniffed, though he was genuinely amused. Vark’s humor was… Clannish, but heartfelt.

“Well…ain’t nobody perfe ct, really. C’mon. Lessgo.”

Ginn still spared one last glance back out at the riot, which was now down to a few trapped diehards who’d been surrounded and were basically just being contained until they finally got fed up, from the looks of things. There were a lot of arrested E-Skurel-Ir to be processed—and Fyu alone knew what Law applied in this situation—but things seemed to be over.

All in all… it had been disturbingly efficient.

“Right behind you, sir,” he said, and followed.

He’d seen enough.

Date Point: 17y4m1w2d AV
Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Senior Master Sergeant Christian “Righteous” Firth

Morning was the usual. The alarm screamed, he smashed his fist down on it. He rolled out of bed, shrugged on his shorts, grabbed a shake from the fridge and was in the gym before he’d even properly woken up. Same as usual.

Today was a heavy Slab day so the morning lift went on for a couple of hours, but it was also a weekend, so that meant he could go back upstairs and crawl back to sleep, if he wanted.

It was six in the morning. And, as it happened, the house was awake when he got back. Adam, Marty and Diego had come to visit. Diego was already toddling around and talking ‘ferchrissakes—had it been that long already? Joseph hadn’t quite got his feet under him yet, but Christian was super proud to say that his boy was already a pretty extreme outlier in all the best ways; he was big and well ahead of all his development milestones!

So was Diego. He was already showing a bit of a daredevil streak too, always trying to climb, always pushing footrests and things around…

And Marty was pregnant again. Somehow, Christian suspected she was going to be pregnant a lot over the next few years. She seemed to like it.

He and Freya…eh. They were definitely thinkin’ about a bigger family, but two or three at most seemed to be Freya’s line, and Christian was more than happy to respect that. He’d grown up in a warren of a family, so…he knew.

“Uncy Firf!!” Diego stopped trying to tip over a chair and instead ran headlong into Christian’s leg. Which was…

People tended to think of Christian as a giant Viking berserker made entirely of highly compressed murder. Which he was. But kids seemed to short circuit that in him. He picked up Diego and tossed him up nearly to the ceiling before swooping him around on a palm while making airplane noises. The little guy was built like a rubber ball, neither of his parents batted an eyelid.

He found himself in a much better mood, suddenly.

“‘Sup, fatass?” he gave ‘Horse a meaty smack on the back as he sat down. Which was more or less like slapping a granite boulder and left Firth’s entire hand tingling, but whatever.

Adam hardly seemed to notice. “Broke some PRs this morning. We still sparring later?”

“Yup! Costello said, and I quote, ‘as long as you two don’t break my walls again.’”

“But we can break each other just fine.”


“You know in any other house that would be a scary conversation, right?” Freya asked. She’d made shakshuka, enough for eight. Well. Eight normal people, anyway.

“Just proves Costello’s a sweetheart,” Marty opined. She hoisted her son up into a high chair. “Anyway…how did it go?”

Christian sighed, but not as sadly as he’d been prepared for. “Board din’t promote me. Which…weren’t surprising. But! They did say I’m not out of the running for future boards, so…”

“You two had to tie on that one too, huh?”

Adam grinned smugly. “Well…gotta tie on something, I guess.”

“Har har. Laugh it up, midget.” Which was a ridiculous thing to say about a dude who stood about six-foot-nine these days, but whatever. Tradition.

They took their time and enjoyed breakfast, talked about family stuff, baby stuff, work stuff, solved some of the world’s problems until the clock had ticked over a couple of times and Marty stood up with a yawn and a stretch.

“Well. Better go measure some big men.”

“Workin’ today, huh?” Christian suddenly understood the visit. Freya must be looking after Diego for her.

“Deacon wanted me to help out, and I sure don’t mind getting some of that contractor money.” she grinned. “Now that Team Two are getting simulator time, they need help training up more technicians.”

“Yeah. We’re gonna hafta figger out the Couch situation too. A full Team One and some nubs from the future Team Two?”

“Who are both Protectors,” said Adam, predictably proud.

“So fatasses, then. Ow!” A loving punch in the side was his minor penance, one that woulda broke ribs with regular folk; life as a tank weren’t so bad, really!

“You’re pronouncing ‘studly heroes built outta pure muscle’ the wrong way, dude.”

“Giant fuckers breakin’ my floors an’ eatin’ us outta house and home, then! Anyway, day room’s gettin’ awful crowded. Gonna hafta finish the new day room up on the top floor.”

“And upgrade the Couch.”

“Of course.”

They cleaned up and walked over toward the base, and ran into a few of the newer guys who were still halfways scared to death of mean ‘ol Firth. But…hell. It was an off day. He weren’t in uniform. And he was feeling friendly, so why not make friends?

Well, at least they weren’t standing at parade rest quite so rigidly, anymore. Give ‘em time.

They paused on the way in, for one other thing: There was the memorial to respect. One smiling photo longer than it had been a few months ago, and the sight of it was kinda like unexpectedly touching a live wire.

He didn’t have the force of will to keep it in anymore. Part of being what he was these days meant that feelings hit him hard. Life was being pretty good to him these days… but it was never going to be as good, now.

But. He had always been a man of extremes. Hell, he’d been that way since his nuts had first dropped, bein’ honest. All bein’ HEAT had really done was turn it all up way, way more. And the thing about big, deep feelings like his? They hit hard, but they were also cathartic and cleansing instead of lingering like a bad fog.

The sideways hug from Adam and Marty’s warm hand on his back helped too, he weren’t afraid to admit.

They parted ways with Marty, who picked up her security pass and went to go help out with technician-y stuff while Christian and Adam got some chores done. Then they Slabbed again; it was a heavy day, after all. Adam was of course the strongest human ever and was again getting humiliatingly stronger every day, thanks to Corti witchcraft and his own pure insane willpower. But! Firth was improving too, and he was improving even faster. Hell, it was getting to where he could actually sorta almost keep up with Adam for a change, and maybe dodge an attack now and then too! At least…when Adam didn’t feel like showing off, anyway. One day…

It’d be nice if they didn’t feel quite so embarrassed next to Daar, too. Big goals.

Between the physical training, breaks, food and taking care of some minor chores around the place, mid afternoon rolled around pretty quick, and with it came Costello and Powell, who showed up for their own daily grind. Firth and ‘Horse did their cool-down workout while the officer-types put in their work. There were some benefits to being the “little” guys, relatively speaking; they didn’t need to spend nearly all their off-duty hours (or most of their scheduled training time, for that matter) in the gym, on the mat, running trail… Must be nice, having unscheduled hours in the day.

But if a man wanted to be the best, he had to do the grind and serve the time, day in, day out, year after year, never missing meals, studying every day, training every day, never skipping a day, never making excuses. Firth didn’t mind. It was almost like meditation for him, even as it fed his competitive instincts against ‘Horse. The Tao of Slab, even…if he were feeling half-snarky.

All in all, it was a quiet day until Coombes showed up and brought some actual work with him.

“Oh, bloody hell…” that was Powell in a pretty good mood. He shot Coombes an amused look that took in the tablet under his arm. “An’ here I thought I might have a nice relaxing day for once.”

Coombes looked around at the ruins of the gym and the literal tonnes of metal lying everywhere. “…Relaxing?”

“Fookin’ right. Light day today, so ‘Horse is goin’ easy on me.”

“Still gotta re-rack everything, sir…”

“…You planned that on purpose.”


“You’re too bloody sneaky by half, Arés.” Powell chuckled, but the bustle of activity that followed got the place squared away just fine pretty quick. Anyway. Enjoyably grunty stereotypical activities aside, they did have some serious work to address; such was life in a special team.

“Right… so what’s on ‘yer mind, Coombes?” Powell asked, once everything was as they’d found it.

“JETS team two are due to report back soon, and that got me thinking about what we should do with teams three and four.” Coombes waggled the tablet.

“…Arright. May as well hash that out.”

They used the mission planning room. It had all the maps and documents and a nice big table, and big chonky chairs that were actually sorta comfortable, and a few touches of sci-fi tech here and there that mostly just got used as a real fancy Powerpoint presentation.

Firth was an old-school kinda guy. He prefered paper and pencils, and highlighters and notebooks. He’d rather have a book or a map. Same with Adam and Powell. It was only ever really Coombes or Costello who seemed to enjoy all the digital shit, and sure enough Coombes had a deck he’d been working on, already sitting on the file server.

He called up info on their latest recruits. The JETS teams were easier to recruit for, marginally, but only marginally. Three of the dudes going into Teams 3 and 4 were HEAT applicants who just…didn’t quite cut it. No shame in that. It weren’t no weakness in character or discipline, they just couldn’t physically perform to standard. Most men couldn’t no matter how much time they were given and no matter how motivated they were, and the reasons why weren’t completely clear. Genetics was probably a big part, but that couldn’t be all of the reason…

Whatever it was, it turned out that very few men could use Crude to its fullest potential, and who could wasn’t necessarily obvious. Natural size wasn’t a good predictor; Adam was originally a short man after all, even if he was pretty ridiculously fuckin’ muscular and athletic even as a teen. General fitness didn’t tell the story either, nor did innate strength. In the end, you just had to pick the stand-outs, the slightly crazy ones who wouldn’t let anything tell them no, and…let them try. The pipeline had a hellish dropout rate because of that, and making it to the line but not over it put those dudes in rare company.

They hadn’t failed. They’d truly learned their limits, and that was a success. It was just that their limits weren’t enough to hang with HEAT. But JETS needed men of that caliber, and that side of the SOR’s Table of Organization and Equipment was starting to look pretty healthy.

Actually, the whole table was lookin’ pretty good, a development which brought along the best kinda problems to have.

“So, here we go. Teams three and four. They’ve made the cut, they’re about ready to come out here.”

“Havin’ a couple of almost-HEAT bros will help, since we’re fresh out of Ferds and Daars.” Adam commented. “And Tiny’s growing into proper HEAT size now, so he ain’t going back.”

“They’re physically ready, maybe,” Costello said. “None of them have any off-world training yet.”

“To be fair, neither did we when we hit Capitol Station.”

“And that evolution cost us dearly,” Powell recalled.

“Yeah.” Adam conceded, while Firth nodded. The first three photos on the memorial wall had fallen on that mission. “But the point I was gonna make was that we couldn’t have had any field experience in the first place. Not quite sure what we can do here, past what we’re already doin’. There’s only so many Ten’Gewek they can wargame with.”

“And that’s what I’ve been thinkin’ on,” Coombes said, pleased. “The Ten’Gewek have been great an’ all, but one team of super-gorillas isn’t exactly gonna fill our MTOE, and besides that we need to train on more than just two worlds. Our guys need to be able to go anywhere. So I thought… What about Nightmare?”

Powell arched an eyebrow, Costello rubbed his chin thoughtfully, and Adam perked up at the idea. Firth, though, had concerns.

“Uh…Nightmare’s a bit of a different ballgame. Julian only survived ‘cuz the Corti fucks stacked the deck way in his favor. You read the report, right? Deep hypnotic conditioning, extensive briefing, some essential tools and suchlike, and let’s not even talk about the fuckin’ breeding program…”

“That’s exactly the point though. It is a different ballgame. We aren’t training boy scouts here, we’re training dudes who can go anywhere. They’re no pushovers by the time they get to us, they’re a team instead of just one guy, and of course we’re gonna monitor them. But I reckon we couldn’t ask for a better ready-made training environment.”

“I’d still feel better about it if we ran this by Julian, bein’ honest. He’s pretty involved in the training with the Tangy-Work as it is.”

“Can’t hurt to get the expert’s opinion,” Costello agreed.

“I like the suggestion,” Powell decided. “It’s got legs, unless Etsicitty comes back at us wi’ an ‘absolutely not.’ An’ we need a good long-term training option for JETS, there’s still a lot of relays out there that need our attention.”

“An’ that’s on top of wherever this monkey experiment ends up goin’ I presume?”

Powell nodded. “‘Experiment’ is the right word there. Best to keep our options open.”

“I’ll get that expert opinion taken care of, then,” Coombes nodded.

“Oh, he’s gonna love you askin’,” Firth predicted. “He’s busy as shit with this whole E-Squirrel thing.”

Adam snorted. “Do you deliberately butcher every species’ name outta spite, or is your mouth just that fuckin’ broken?”

“It’s my proud duty as a humming bean. But if ‘yer willin’ to take credit ‘fer that, seeing’s as ‘yer fist seems to find my jaw every time we spar…”

“Guess that’s the end o’ this meeting, then,” Powell rumbled drily and stood up. “Don’t break the table, lads. ‘Night.”

…Was it night already? Firth stood up and peered out the window. Well, shit. It wasn’t dark yet, but the sun had definitely moved a good distance, and Folctha’s nightly rains were gathering on the horizon, out over the lakebeds national park. Might as well get in some good cardio, then, so’s he had an excuse to go running in the rain.

If there were ever a blessin’ in his life he was eternally grateful for, it was Freya. She’d given him a strong boy, a warm home, and most importantly…understanding. She knew what kind of creature he was, and there wasn’t any judgement, no subtle attempts to “tame” him or whatever the fuck some Karen-type females thought they were doing to their poor men.

Nope. She loved him not only for what he was, but because of it. He’d got stupid lucky with her.

So, while ‘Horse and Coombes made family plans about meeting up for breakfast at Papa Arés’ place in the morning, Firth bid them both goodnight. Marty woulda gone home hours ago and picked up Diego, so it’d just be him, Freya and Joseph in the house. Maybe they’d watch a movie. Maybe…

Why plan it? Just enjoy.

He paid his respects at the memorial wall again on the way out, and went home.

Date Point: 17y4m1w2d AV
Farm near Dodge City, Kansas, USA, Earth


Austin had, as far as Six could tell, a life that from one perspective might seem dull and staid, and from another might seem simple and rewarding. Austin himself clearly felt it was the latter. He had a pretty fiance, he spent his days fixing farm equipment or driving it around a field, and he spent his time off at the motocross circuit, watching football and football-like games, playing football-like games or if that wasn’t happening, hanging out with Lauren.

There was some wasted potential, there. He was a naturally fit and strong man, and so didn’t see much need to worry about his health; work, play, and the occasional dalliance with his home gym seemed to be enough for him. He was highly intelligent too, and yet felt little interest in extending his higher education beyond his bachelor’s in agricultural science.

In an odd twist of irony, the very fact that he was so naturally gifted seemed to assure his blissful mediocrity. He was, from Six’s perspective, actually rather boring. Plant his field. Keep in shape. Make Lauren happy. Have a little fun. Such was the life of a big man, a capable man, who was nonetheless content with with small ambitions.

Though, to be completely fair…farming turned out to be a lot of work. His days were long, the labor was often arduous, and there were often so many activities in-flight, be it repairs, orders, deliveries, organizing labor…

It was an education. But still… smaller than anything Six had ever paid attention to before. His scope, previously, had been whole civilizations on the largest scale. His focus had been leaders, nations, weapons of mass destruction, the fates of whole planets and species.

And now, Six was trapped in what was by all measures a high-end human being, whose entire purpose was focused on the minutiae of something as banal as food.

Maybe that would be the key to building up a relationship with Austin. Six could start small. Very small, perhaps just some gentle chemical augmentation to help Austin’s endurance along a bit. Maybe…reward him with endorphins and such whenever his thoughts turned to ambition. Encourage him to value the bigger picture.

He’d be doing the poor man a favor, really. Helping him realize potential that would otherwise have gone unrecognized and unremembered. Helping him find a purpose beyond simple thankless toil.

There was a long way to go before he’d be able to reveal himself directly, of course. A lot of groundwork to lay down. But it was a place to start.

All he needed was the right direction to steer Austin in. Maybe they’d begin by nudging him away from the alcohol and the bar food.

Even the highest ambitions needed a beginning.

Date Point: 17y4m1w3d AV
Starship Silent But Deadly, Relay system, far uncharted space

The moment when they dropped into atmo came as a profound relief for Tooko.

Orbital mechanics weren’t easy. Shedding enough energy to drop out of orbit was easy enough, but doing it stealthily? SBD weighed nearly seventy tonnes, fully loaded. At orbital velocities, that was a lot of kinetic energy, and it all had to go somewhere. If he wanted to avoid detection, then it had to go somewhere at a sufficiently controlled rate so as to not show up against the cosmic background.

This led to a new problem: if he didn’t shed it fast enough then the ship would sink gently into the upper atmosphere at far too shallow an angle and skip off.

For every spacefaring civilization, the historic way of dealing with that was to plunge in at a slightly steeper angle and shed speed by atmospheric braking. But if the Hierarchy were being as paranoid as Tooko would have been in their position, then they’d blow any such plasma halo right out of the sky. Better to blow up a thousand meteors than let one plane full of hostile troops reach the ground.

So, that approach was out.

That left only one possibility: hypersonic reentry.

SBD had shield emitters just as capable as the Destroying Fury’s, and only her much smaller power capacity kept her from achieving the same terrifying things that the Great Father’s flagship could. What she could achieve with them, however, was an aerodynamic profile sharper than a sewing needle, and control surfaces not constrained by the limits of mere matter.

She pierced the target world’s thermosphere like a hypodermic, with nary a ripple.

Tooko didn’t bother putting his hands on the direct flight controls. They were nowhere near fine or quick enough for this. Instead, his attention remained on the string of precise instructions he’d given to the ship itself, which folded and shifted its fields around it to create a wide, flat, thin surface that slipped through the air like a scalpel, balancing the need to stay up and not plunge down into the stratosphere at meteoric speeds, with the need to not glance off the meager near-vacuum and skip back out into space.

The line between those two options was calculably fine, but far below the threshold of what he could ride with a stick and pedals.

No halo. That was the important part. Whatever he did, he absolutely could not allow the ship to generate enough waste heat from braking as to begin forming plasma. If he did that, well…

Well, they’d probably die, instantly and painlessly as some unseen Hierarchy weapon reduced them to a bowshock of ionized particles. Not a bad way to go, but Tooko was pretty set on not going at all, or at least not anytime soon.

Descent took hours. Most of a day, in fact. The whole point was to shed energy slowly, and Silent But Deadly had so much to shed, and was shedding it in such a deliberately cautious way, that by the time they reached merely supersonic ground speeds, they had circumnavigated the globe nearly a dozen times. The continents rolled past, and past, and past underneath him, broken up here and there by stormy hammer-shaped cloud formations, wine-dark seas, snow-browed mountain ranges and, memorably, a hurricane.

None of them affected the ship in the slightest. They were all much too low.

For Tooko’s part, the only thing to do was sit in the seat, keep himself alert with tea, and try not to be too envious of the men behind him who got to skip this prolonged, stressful descent.

Finally, there was a slight shudder as they dropped through the turbulent convection barrier where the thermosphere gave way to the mesosphere. The ship pulled its flight surface fields in closer, gaining some maneuverability at the expense of glide efficiency, but that was fine. When Tooko checked their ground speed, they were down to a single-digit multiple of the speed of sound, speeds that the ship could bleed off quite handily, especially once they dropped down into the comparatively dense fog of the stratosphere.

He woke up the others.

“…Shit, Pip, you alright butt?” Rees gave him a concerned look the moment his stasis field dropped.

“Stressful day,” Tooko replied. He must be looking rough if a Human could notice.

“We down?” Wilde asked.

“Next best thing. We’re about seventy kilometers up. Touching distance.”

Wilde nodded and ran his eye over the maps that the ship had generated for him. “Good work, mate.”

“Like there was any doubt.” Though, inwardly, Tooko felt a little knot untie itself in his brain at the praise. He’d needed that recognition.

Rees, Frasier, Nomuk, Tumik and Genn, of course, hadn’t been awake for the last conversation, and Frasier summed up the look that passed between them.

“Care to fill us in on what we missed? I take it Big H are up to their merry fuckin’ hijinks?”

“System’s crawling with them,” Tooko confirmed. “We’re safe for now… safe-ish…”

“But fuck knows what’s waiting for us at the relay,” Wilde finished. “Alright. Ferd had the right idea earlier, let’s get our kit out of lockup and check it’s good…”

Tooko left them to it and returned to his seat. He was going to curl up and sleep when he got the chance, but for now he had to find a landing site near the relay.

As for the relay…

He glanced at the map again. This one was different to the last one. Irujzen had been in the middle of a stinking forest, built on top of a coal mine. The relay had been pretty much the only sign of intelligent life on that planet.

This one was different.

This one was built in the middle of a city.

Previous Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Next Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Implications

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 4 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 3 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 2 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 1 (NSFW)

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

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Shades of White and Orange

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

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Mother Earth

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

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 2

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 1

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 3

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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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