The Deathworlders – Chapter 66: Unbowed Part 1

Date Point: 17y4m2w AV
Relay world, deep uncharted space

Ferd Given-Man

Hand signals only. No words, only silent footsteps, glances, gestures. Tail-flicks and crest-waves, which the Humans had long ago learned to read. They didn’t have tails to flick back, but they could say much with their faces the People couldn’t. Ferd and his men could read those faces as well as each other’s tails. They were all brothers now, and they had no secrets between them.

At a gesture from Rees, they melted against the old, broken walls as an arrowhead of five death-birds slithered past overhead, moving slower than something which flew ought to. They didn’t turn, slow or show any sign of spotting the team. Keep moving.

They had carefully walked around much of the machine-village’s border, a hand of a hand of klicks and still more to go. So far, they hadn’t found any kind of gap in the shield.

Ferd didn’t think they would. Or if they did, the Big Enemy would know about it and have it watched closely. Still, they had to try, so onward they hiked, from the start of dusk to the middle of night. It was a lot of work and he was starting to feel it. The bomb on his back was the biggest the Gaoian sky-tribes had and it was heavy like a prize old Werne bull, maybe like if a hand of extra Ferds were riding on him. He wouldn’t mind that, but it was also surprisingly small and shaped strange, so all that weight bore down on his shoulders and the pack-belt around his waist, if he stood tall on his feet.

Ferd was a very strong man, and he could handle that easy, no problem. But his feet already sunk deep into the forest loam without that burden, and all that extra weight was making it hard to hide trail. Walking upright-ish would make less trail-sign but he felt like if he did, then the muscles in his belly might break his pack-belt, so he mostly knuckled along on all fours. That was much more comfortable, but then he had to worry harder about his trail-sign. Nomuk was following him to hide any mistakes and watch their backs, but even so, a man should never leave sign on a hunt.

Another gesture from Rees as they reached the edge of cover, where the walls and trees gave way to open ground. They paused. He checked. He gestured. They darted across the open ground and back into the safety of the overgrowth. Ferd and his men were very fast, much faster than the Humans. But the Humans had a sort of slinky, silent way of moving that worked for them better, and Ferd could respect that. Every hunter had to love the quiet, but Wild was better enough that Ferd wondered if that’s why he had that name.

There were advantages to being smaller, too. Frasier could climb up weak, scraggly branches without fear of breaking them. He did that just then to peer over a corner, to see past the next open area toward a low spot, where water looked like it sometimes flowed. He climbed back down quietly—not as pretty as the People could do it, but only a young one could have climbed such a scraggly tree in the first place. Once he was down they formed up, readied themselves, checked carefully for any death-birds or seeing-machines…and moved. The Humans had lighter packs, and didn’t move as fast…

But they moved well. Small or not, they sure moved like true hunters. They played the game a hand of hands more times, looking for a gap in the sky-magic shimmer-wall, never finding one.

Despite the danger and the uncomfortable ‘uniform’ pressing his crest down flat along his back and tail, where his sweat didn’t have a chance to cool him down or dry out…Ferd was enjoying himself. Something about any hunt was always good. The best hunts were when the Taking was a trial in front of the gods, and a slow, stupid, weak man might end up Taken himself.

Nobody on the team were any of those things, and the hunt was already a trial for Ferd’s men, and the Humans, too; the gods had made them to last, and last long, which was very much needed for this hunt. But that was okay. The gods gave the People that strength too, but it was one they had to find inside themselves, and earn. It was almost like the People and the Humans were always meant to find each other, to share learnings, the ways of their strength.

Ferd liked learnings.

Wild signed them to a halt in a dense bit of overgrown stone where the forest was taking back the old city and shook his head while pointing at the shield. Pointed at the bomb, signed for “fire” and pointed sharply at the ground where they were standing.

He didn’t mean the ground, though. Ferd knew that the bomb’s strength would mostly go into the ground under their feet if they left it there. The best would be to leave it very high up a tall, tall tree, so the bomb’s voice would slide along the ground and roar faster instead of mostly going straight up, where it would do no good.

He looked around, thinking hard about what he could see. He needed something strong he could climb, that wouldn’t break or crumble under his weight. Or the bomb’s weight, either. It needed to be high, but not exposed, and it needed to have somewhere at the top where he could hide the bomb so it wouldn’t be found.

They were too low to the ground to get a good look. They needed one of Rees’ sky-magic quiet-birds. Ferd got Wild’s attention and gestured “can’t see” at him. Wilde signalled his understanding. A quick flurry of sign language told Rees what to do, and Rees, after checking all was clear, heaved the quiet-bird off his back and threw it in the air with a heave. It was just a square block as big as a good butchering stone, but it twisted through the air in a magic way and vanished into the sky with a faint thrumming of invisible wings.

It had an invisible-cloak too, so once it was far enough away, not even Ferd knew where it was no matter how hard he tried; he could see and hear better than anyone on the team, too.

He prayed in his head that the death-birds couldn’t see or hear better than he could.

Rees had a tablet that let him see through its eyes. He watched it, then nodded and indicated something to the north-west, two klicks.

They got moving again. The night was short, they didn’t have time to waste. Already, they were more than half through it, and the sky would brighten quickly when dawn came. And Ferd was running low on his food-drink, too. Best to get this done, before he grew too tired to carry the bomb.

He saw what Rees had found pretty soon though. There was a rocky point above the city, with some old walls at the top. Long ago, the people who lived here had had… something up there. A tower to watch for foes maybe. Whatever it was, it poked out high above the old ruins, with enough rubble and stone up there to hide the bomb. Better yet, the approach was grown over. It wouldn’t be an easy climb, but he wouldn’t be exposed the whole way up. It was a good choice.

The climb ended up being a trial of a workout. The gravity there was strong like what Humans preferred, or maybe a bit stronger like his own people liked. That felt nicely familiar and meant he didn’t need to think about climbing, but with the weight of the bomb pulling him down and backwards the entire climb, it wasn’t long before his forearms were burning and his uniform was completely soaked through with sweat. His whole back felt tight and even his huge biceps were starting to feel tired. The worst, though, were his lower legs: big and strong even for a Given-Man, but they had to hold up all Fred’s weight, and the bull-like heft of the bomb, and crush his foot-grip fiercely into the stones underfoot so he didn’t slip or fall. He could feel a soreness growing deep inside the thickest part of the meat, one that would hurt tomorrow.

Ferd didn’t often drag Werne straight up cliffs, especially not ones hanging off the back of his shoulders; if he had to, he’d use his tail for that. He’d never hauled a full-size bull up a cliff so tall, either. He was higher up than any Ketta, high up enough that he might even die from a fall if he didn’t land it well. He had to take it careful, make sure each handhold and foothold was strong. He didn’t want a stone to break away and bounce loudly down the cliff, or send him falling. More than once, he froze against the stone in an awkward spot and waited as another death-bird patrol passed by, far away but still too close.

Holding himself perfectly still and in mid-reach, maybe just by one hand and one foot, maybe holding it long enough for the stars to move a bit, no matter how much his muscles screamed in pain…he’d brag about that to the women, when he was next on leave.

The last fifty meters went straight up and was completely exposed. No way around it but to be quiet and fast, so he looked carefully, found the best curves of the rock to hide his movement…and moved. Hopefully, Rees took video so he could show Yan. Ferd made the top with shaking legs, heart thumping angrily in his chest and his breath hard to catch. He knew what he had to do; before anything else, he dug out his best meal and devoured it as quickly and as quietly as he could, then washed it down with the rest of his food-drink. That was the big Taking of big, hard muscles. Food, air, hard work to keep them…and much painful practice if a man wanted to use them for a long time.

Ferd had learned a lot from the Humans. One of the biggest learnings was when and how to rest, so he did, until his sweat started to feel cool and his heart wasn’t complaining so hard. He was better at that than his men, so on this task he was alone; they couldn’t keep up. This thing was too important to risk a fuck-up like that. And more than one man moving on that cliff would definitely attract attention. No good.

The bomb was the biggest kind of sky-magic but he didn’t need to understand it to use it. All he had to do was tuck the bomb in among the stones, in a corner of the old wall. It took him a hand of minutes to hide it under crawling wall-plants and old bricks until he couldn’t see it. It was as hidden as it could be, but such a flimsy wall would do nothing to make the bomb weaker. Good. That done, he pulled off the flat metal cover and pushed the key in as best as he could. His hands were much too big to fit through the hole, so he had to hold the key awkwardly between his fingertips. It took a hand of tries, but finally the key clicked. He turned it and the little painted tab under the glass went from green to blue; the bomb was now armed.

Ferd didn’t want to spend any longer than he had to next to something like the bomb.

The trip back down was a blessing without the bomb’s weight. Still slow—he had to be quiet—but without all that weight on his back, it felt light and easy, and the climb did wonders at loosening up his muscles; maybe he wouldn’t be hurting tomorrow! He was sorely tempted to just jump down, but Wild said that machines could hear his hit-thump through the ground, and it was hard to miss seeing someone falling through the sky. Too bad. He could have made it.

The group was waiting nearby. A nod to Wild, a nod in return, and they turned back for the long ruck toward the ship. It was going to be close, but the important part was already done. The bomb was deployed and ready to fire. The mission was already complete.

All they had to worry about now was living through it.

27th day of the first year of freedom
A new world, far from the old one.


“…You’re certain it’s safe?”

The big Human, Julian, looked very different to the last time Uku had seen him. Then, he’d been wrapped in protective clothing to spare him the poison air of a punished world.

Now, he was hardly wearing anything at all. There was a tough garment of hard-wearing fabric around his hips that kept whatever Humans had there modestly concealed. It had an abundance of pockets and came most of the way down his upper legs. He’d arrived wearing a shirt made of dark fabric so thin Uku would have considered it a cleaning-rag, and it was stretched tight enough across his frame it was hard to understand its purpose. There was a faded pattern printed on that shirt as well, but it made no sense to Uku’s eyes at all.

Nonetheless, almost as soon as they had arrived at this new, warm world, he’d peeled it right off and stood there, grinning hugely as he savored the sunlight. Besides the thing around his hips, the only other things he wore were tools, all nestled safely in his many pockets. The rest of him was impressively uncovered. Even his sturdy-seeming, oddly shaped feet were bare.

“I promise,” he assured her.

Uku believed him. She’d never seen somebody stand so… naked under the open sky before. Not even the Gao were so bare, their skin was covered in fur.

Humans and these Ten’Gewek though? Bare skin. The colour of varnished wood in Julian’s case, a leathery stone color in the case of the three crested brutes sitting in the background, waiting patiently to meet her.

One was like if Julian had been squashed down a head-height or so, another was plainly female and, like her companions, wore only a kind of hide skirt. The third…was a monster. A walking, talking, fanged boulder with a rather darker crest than the others. If he were a Punisher he’d be the most fearsome of them all.

As it was, something about his expression was…placid, somehow. He saw Uku watching and issued a soft hooting noise that could only be a friendly welcome.

Uku gave him a grateful nod, then turned her attention back to the human, then glanced over her shoulder at the Great Father, who was the biggest monster of all, ambling around on all fours and sniffing the air rather than looming over her.

None of them wore breathing masks. And from what she knew, generations of growing up amidst the toxic smog of their homeworld had left her people better able to handle airborne filth than even these friendly monsters, so Uku knew she was being ridiculous…

But a lifetime of warnings, fear and education were not so easily dispelled. It took a hard effort of will to persuade her hands to move and unwrap the cloth around her head that bound her breathing mask tight to her face.

Even once it was off, she hardly dared breathe. Only when her lungs started to protest did she finally relent and draw her first ever breath of pure, unfiltered, surface air.

That first breath shivered with emotion. It was… sweet. Light, even. A cool breeze kissed her cheek and rather than tasting of nothing as she’d expected, she found it tasted faintly of…

Well… of things she’d never tasted before. There were scents she didn’t have words for, notes and tones on the wind that were at once entirely new, and yet familiar to her deepest instincts. Her body had been starving for a clean atmosphere her entire life, and she’d never known it. Now, as her confidence grew and she took a deeper, headier breath, her body drank its fill and she knew there was no going back.

“…Almighty…” she whispered. She barely noticed that she was weeping.

The female Ten’Gewek was there, suddenly, with a long muscular arm around Uku’s shoulders to comfort her, crooning something so soft it was almost musical.

“Come,” she offered. “Walk. See.”

Numbly, Uku nodded, and took the sturdy alien’s hand. It was warm here. Warm in a way quite different to the heat of the library burrows. The air itself was temperate at most, but the sun actually reached the ground as something more than a weakened glow. Rather than fighting its way down through dust and clouds in the upper atmosphere, it pierced right through a clear sky of a rich beautiful blue that none of the old texts had properly captured.

In short order she learned the subtle ways that air could change. The damp, cool, living quality it gained under the trees, the simmering sweetness out in the open, a curious sharpness on the breeze that the Singer (as she called herself) said came down from the mountains, where the white crusting their peaks was no kind of pollutant, but pure clean frozen water.

At the alien’s gentle prompting, Uku removed her boots. She spent quite a long time just standing in the meadow with her eyes closed, feeling life between her toes, springing from unsullied soil.

Basking. The word was basking. She’d read it many times, but to actually do it…

When she opened her eyes, Julian was there next to her, doing the same thing.

“You don’t really know a place until you wiggle your toes in the dirt,” he opined.

“I’ve… never known a place like this,” Uku replied. “I read the old books, and saw the paintings and old photographs, but…”

He nodded understanding. “C’mon. Let’s eat and talk things over.”

The friendly monsters all ate meat, and did so with gusto. They did have the courtesy not to offer her any, though, and instead Julian handed her a big bowl filled with leafy greens–the greenest greens Uku had ever seen, with crisp-looking vegetables sliced atop. There was a fragrant glistening oil and crisp little granular cubes of toasted bread.

“Spring greens, bell peppers, snow peas, croutons and…uh, other stuff? One of my partners made it,” Julian explained. “The oil on top is a balsamic vinaigrette. Try it, it’s tasty!”

“…What are you eating?”

“Pork ribs.”

“…Ribs.” Uku suppressed a lurch in her belly.

“We are what we are. Heck, I’d eat some of the salad too, but you gotta put some m—” he stopped himself sharply, as though whatever he’d been about to say would have been inappropriate. “…Uh, you look like you need to gain a little weight.”

Uku gave the ribs a dismayed look, but the truth was she was too hungry and the bowl looked too delicious for the grisly feast the rest of them were enjoying to do her appetite much harm. And she could appreciate the honesty that went into not shying away from reality for her sake, uncomfortable though it was.

“I’ll eat as much as I can, but… this is a big bowl.”

“Don’t worry, we won’t let it go to waste,” Julian promised.

It turned out to be just as incredible as it looked. In the end, she ate almost all of it. True to his word, Julian finished the rest in a few well-practiced bites. Uku got the impression he was accustomed to eating big, and eating often. Not surprising considering his hulking physique.

The meal left her feeling more wonderfully sated and content than she’d felt in many years. Though, she couldn’t help but cringe a bit when Daar crunched the bones between his teeth. His portion of the ribs hadn’t even been fully cooked.

He seemed to know he was giving offense, but that didn’t stop him. He looked over at Julian, “Those hit the spot! Tell Mother Shoo thanks ‘fer the ribs, would’ya?”

“Mother Shoo?” Uku tilted her head.

Julian laughed slightly. “It’s… a long story. Maybe you’ll meet her and she can tell you someday.”

“So. Now that you have time to eat, look around, be here and know it…” Yan Given-Man swept a long arm around, indicating everything around them. “You like it?”

“I think it’s…” Uku sighed heavily. She wanted to say ‘paradise’ but frankly she’d done enough blaspheming lately. “…We’ll never be able to repay a gift like this.”

“Feh.” Yan made a dismissively friendly sort of noise. “You say that now. We see when you heal, grow strong again. Maybe, we have much learnings to share!”

“And if not,” the Singer added, “we owe the same to Humans. If you can’t pay back, pay forward!”

“You do?” Uku looked to Julian, whose complicated shrug-duck-nod was almost impenetrable to her eyes, but she guessed meant a blend of confirmation and modesty.

Yan nodded, and this time his hoot had the quality of firm agreement. It was a remarkably expressive sound, and did a lot of heavy lifting for his people’s emotional expression. “Jooyun is the man who save all my people. If he and Awisun and Shyow had not met us, we would be dead, and no sky-people would know we ever were.”

“…Another long story?” Uku asked.

Julian cleared his throat. Clearly he wasn’t comfortable with praise. “Same story. Different chapter.”

“Point is,” the Singer said, “You pay us back or not, doesn’t matter. You need this world, it’s wrong for us… We can Give this, and do good with it when otherwise it would do nothing. Doesn’t have to be… uhm…” she frowned and her tail lashed for a second as she visibly dredged her memory. “…Ah! Mercenary.”

Uku nodded gratefully. Part of her soul was waiting for the cost to land, but something she’d already learned about these people was that, different shapes and faces and skins aside, they shared a common thread of powerful morality: They valued strength, the Ten’Gewek explicitly so. But weakness, to them, wasn’t some opportunity to sink their teeth in and feed as the Hunters did. It was, rather…

They loathed weakness. They sought to eradicate it wherever they saw it and leave strength in its wake. They nurtured, and gave, and built, and protected. And as that particular lens settled into place in her mind, she saw the Hunters through her new friends’ eyes for a moment and realized just why their enmity ran so deep and so implacable.

The Hunters loved weakness. They loved being strong while others were not. But Gao and Human and Ten’Gewek alike, it seemed, could not be happy unless they were culturing strength wherever they went.

Probably that was a naive and unsophisticated analysis, but it was a perspective from which to start. It at least gave her something she could understand about them, something that explained their motives, their sacrifice and their incredible generosity as something other than the hand of the same fickle Almighty who’d supposedly tormented her people for generations.

At least… it made sense. A little.

“…We have a lot of work ahead of us,” she said.

“More than you know,” Daar agreed. Aside from thanking ‘Mother Shoo,’ whoever she was, he’d been pretty silent since arrival and kept his own counsel. “‘Yer startin’ from nothin’. ‘Ya don’t even have ‘yer libraries an’ tunnels no more.”

“We have the Long Chant,” Uku reminded him, and tapped the side of her head. “The important parts of our history are right here. As for the essentials? Food, clothes and medicine? We… will have to depend on your continued generosity, I fear. For the time being.”

“Does the Chant teach you how to grow crops?” Julian asked.

“…There are…certain tomes in the libraries that would help there,” Uku admitted.

“You’ll have ‘em,” Daar promised. “An’ that ain’t just ‘cuz you mention ‘em. My people tell me some’a the radicals are goin’ real regressive. They’re talkin’ about purging everything from the… whatchacallem. The Sinful Times?”


“‘Yup. An’ that makes me real sad, ‘cuz now I gotta show ‘yer people what a Great Father’s all about.”

“Either that or let them burn all the books,” Julian muttered. His tone suggested he found the idea just as unholy as Ukusevi did.

“Story o’ my life. Anyway.” Daar stood. “If ‘ye’ve seen enough, we oughta get back. You need ‘ta organize ‘yer people, an’ mine have books ‘ta save.”

“And we’ll head back to Akyawentuo,” Julian agreed. “The, uh, the Array here’s all set up. Don’t press any buttons until the techs come through and give you the safety lesson, but…”

“Thank you,” Ukusevi told him. She stood, nodded her gratitude to the Human, bowed to the Ten’Gewek, and then followed Daar back toward the jump device that had so effortlessly borne her between worlds.

She didn’t mind going back to make preparations. But now that she’d seen what a world could be like… Well, the Punished World would never be home again.

And good riddance.

Date Point: 17y4m2w AV
Relay world, deep uncharted space

Sergeant Ian “Hillfoot” Wilde

The problem with hauling a giant alien superweapon all night was you never knew what kinda weird shit it might do that you couldn’t know about. Tracks and stuff were easy enough to cover, but what if the bomb leaked some kind of radiation, left behind some lingering energy trace of its presence?

Or maybe they’d just missed a footprint. Whatever the reason, the route back toward the ship was being… inspected. A trio of those turkey-sized Hierarchy drones were hovering over a patch of dirt the team had definitely crossed a little while earlier, and giving it a pretty thorough going-over with whatever sensors they had on board.

At least those things had narrow fields of vision. The main sensor cluster mounted on the front was basically a big telephoto lens. They had ultrasound sensors to map their immediate surroundings and avoid bumping into stuff, but when it came to taking a good look at something, they were like a far-sighted grandpa who’d lost his reading glasses.

Deadly, deadly grandpas who could carve a man in half just by flying right at him, or turn him into a steaming pile of flash-boiled slurry from two hundred yards away. Networked in a shared hive mind so that if, say, this particular squadron were swiftly eradicated, all the hundreds of others orbiting the city would descend on them.

Ferd said it best. “We are being hunted. We need to go.”

He said it without speaking, of course. Sign language and a tense lash of his tail conveyed the message. Wilde nodded, and directed the lads outwards, toward a boundary ditch they’d identified a few days ago. It ran around most of the city, and while it was snarled up here and there with trees, bushes and thorns, it was still one useful avenue through the ruins. And, importantly, one they hadn’t already used.

They melted into the shadows, moving slowly, making no noise, leaving no clear line-of-sight between them and the drones.

That was too close. If the drones hadn’t been playing lights all over the ground…

Wilde set the close call aside. It was just a datum now, hostiles here on his map. Something had changed, though—the drones had followed the same patrol route and schedule since they’d arrived, but now suddenly they were checking the ground? The crawling feeling up his spine knew there was no way that was a good sign.

And the night was wearing on. They didn’t have long until night gave way to pre-dawn glow.

They didn’t have many options. They had to return to the ship, but that risked leading the enemy right to it. They couldn’t safely trigger the bomb while they were still on-planet, because it was so bloody powerful they’d be flash-boiled from the heat pulse alone.

But the bomb had to go off. That was the mission. Getting to the ship was just how they survived the mission. And Wilde fully planned on surviving it.

With a gesture, he beckoned his men to pick up the pace; if they wanted to live, they had to get to the ship. And from the looks of things, they didn’t have time to be cautious any longer.

They only had about ten kilometers to go. That was very doable, though a lot of that would be through the forest. It was gonna be an exhausting trial for all of them.

Wilde led by example. He picked up the pace, and settled into a rhythm on the trail. Ferd didn’t need any explanation; he catapulted himself up into the tree like a cartoon spring, swinging away like he was meant to. His men followed with similarly effortless leaps far above Wilde’s head, and were caught up to the Given-Mam in just a few short moments.

They were definitely leaving sign, now. No way around it. Wilde’s gamble was that they could close those ten klicks before the drones found the trail towards their now much more obvious sign.

They didn’t quite make it. They’d just made it to the final leg when there was a calamity from the city.

The last klick was along a dried-up riverbed, which let them run more or less at full tilt toward the ship. None of them really had anything left in their tank but it was that or die, so as one, they poured on the speed and charged the last bit, scrambling over rocks and gravel as fast as they could.

But the Relay was just about in view, visible over the treetops as a black spike against the blue glow at the edge of the sky. And the moment when it pulsed with light almost shocked them all into standing still. Bright, cold, white light flooded the landscape all the way to the horizon.

Tooko broke radio silence instantly. “That was a sensor pulse! They know I’m here!”

Time for big damn hero shit, then. “Start her up! We’re half a klick out!”

Wilde and Ferd led the pack. Being honest, he wasn’t quite sure how he managed any more speed, but fear of death was probably a big part of that. Ferd on the other hand was a fuckin’ blur. At a sprint, the cavemonkeys could knuckle themselves over ground just stupid fast.

Good thing too, because there was a wave of drones building on the horizon, a tsunami of steel and sensors so thick it blotted out the dawn glow.

SBD was faster. Tooko could get her in the air in seconds when he had to, and she rose above the little gorge she’d been parked into come meet them, hugging the ground as tight as Tooko dared, missing the trees and rocks by millimeters. The short-range point defence blasters on her back thwoomped like the biggest, bassiest rock concert speakers ever, smashing conical waves of raw kinetic energy into the oncoming swarm.

Even from miles away, Wilde could see hundreds of smashed drones raining down on the treetops… and thousands more dispersing into a looser formation and swooping low to zip through the cover of the trees.

Smart. There was an agent in charge.

Tooko dropped down to scant inches above the stony ground, the ramp already out, and hovered. Nomuk was the first to arrive at the ramp. He spun around and immediately began laying down covering fire. Ferd arrived next, with Wilde and his lads right behind.

Genn and Tumik were bringing up the rear, puffing and straining under their heavy gear but spurred to keep moving by the looming wave of metallic death about to crash on them… right up until Tumik tripped at full speed and at the worst moment, with that massive pack of his still on his back.

He shrieked, picked himself up and tried to run, but something was clearly wrong with his left foot. Ferd threw his pack up into the ship—Jesus—and circled back while Wilde and his men stood point to protect them from any drones overhead. Given how fast Ferd could move it only took him a moment to get there, but he was running on fumes by that point. Wilde could see the pain on his face as he galloped back with Tumik wrapped up in his tail.

A drone zipped out of the tree-line. Frasier shot it down. There were five more behind it: the leading edge of the swarm. Nomuk and Genn opened up with their own heavy rifles, buying seconds with bullets.

They made it to the ramp, right as Ferd hit his wall and began to stumble on his feet. Rees and Wilde were there instantly under an arm each. The Given-Man was murderously heavy—and that was with him only resting a bit of his weight on them, too—but it seemed to be just enough to get him into the ship, and just in the barest knick of time.

Wilde was last up. “GO!!”

A drone clipped the ramp’s actuator even as Tooko climbed: the thick metal smashed the drone to bits, but its fusion-edged wings wrecked the mechanism and sprayed white-hot metal droplets into the compartment.

Agony erupted in Wilde’s eyes, so much and so shocking that even screaming wasn’t an option. He just… fell. Hands to his face, thrust into sudden, sickening darkness.

There was violent motion. Something picked him up and tossed him into—

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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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Date Point: 16y2m2w1d AV Planet Akyawentuo, Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Vemik Sky-Thinker One of the Human archaeologists was a metallurgist. Tilly was a strange and delicate name that didn’t suit her at all, Vemik thought. She had a sharp face full of metal piercings, skin full of bright pictures, and a half-shaven crest of

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ESNN Magazine article: “Prisons In Their Head- an interview at Camp Tebbutt” Author and photographer: Ava Magdalena Ríos [Cover image: two men seated on a bench in front of a chain-link fence, with a stunning Alaskan vista behind them. On the left is a scruffy bearded white man with shaggy salt-and-pepper hair, and next to

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+ 7 Minutes 38 Seconds The Canada “Captain, your message?” asked Arik as her Avatar superimposed itself over the main monitor. “Surrender now, call off the fighters and we’ll let you live. Then we can begin to negotiate for an end to this pointless violence.” “That’s it?” asked Arik after a moment. “Unless anyone else

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Date point: 16y2m3d AV Planet Akyawentuo, the Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Professor Daniel Hurt “What exactly did he say he’s fetching, anyway?” “An M107.” Daniel frowned. Although he’d learned more about firearms in general over the past few years than he’d ever imagined he would, there were times that the people who really “got”

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Rising Titans – Chapter 47

+ 30 Seconds The Canada “The Empire ships are now in range of the ACE field!” reported Arik. Stagg grimaced as the ship shook “Activate,” “New contact!” shouted Arik interrupting. “What?” “IFF is identifying the vessel as the HSB Russia, they just exited a spatial rupture directly between us and the Empire fleet!” “Open communications!”

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Date Point: 16y2m1d AV personal sanctum, Dataspace. Cynosure/Six Data sophonts did not sleep, and thus did not dream. Nevertheless, Cynosure had a recurring nightmare of sorts. When his attention wandered, he found that it almost inevitably alighted on a handful of disturbing subjects. The details varied, as he worried at different aspects of the problems

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 5

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

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

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Good Training – Survival Part 1

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

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-7 Hours CHRONT THE CANADA “More contacts!” said Arik as she flashed every monitor on the bridge a bright red. Stagg glanced up at the monitor, “How many more?” “I’m counting!” “You’re counting!?” A grainy image of the approaching Empire patrol vessel was quickly displayed, a small box around it. Additional boxes quickly filled the

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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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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

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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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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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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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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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