The Deathworlders – Chapter 66: Unbowed Part 4

Date Point: 17y5m3d AV
Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Daniel Hoeff, bodyguard to Tarzan or whatever

Run done, sparring done, morning slab…done. One last set of bent-over rows, some lighter accessory work to cool down a bit…and that was his work put in and his free time earned. He’d really been enjoying his caveman time with Julian lately, too. Good sparring partner!

“Fuckin’ good workout today,” the huge Tarzan enthused. “You gonna be crashing in the basement tonight? Or are you and Xiù scheming again?”

“Totally schemin’ this week.” Hoeff re-racked the weight, headed for the door, and switched off the gravity plating. It was always such a deep and weird feeling of relief when they flipped back to Earth normal from their training supergravity, kinda like if a huge spring had just been let loose inside him. Disorienting, too. He’d feel almost like he could jump into orbit for the next half hour or so, which was way more annoying than fun, once the novelty wore off.

“Oh?” Julian put away the last of the mess and followed Hoeff out the door, scrubbing at his hair with his favorite towel. It had “don’t panic” written across it in large, friendly letters.


“Yeah. You’ll hafta ask her. I’m basically done though. Wanna come see?”

“Nah, I got some father-son time I wanna catch up on. Maybe later?”

“Sounds good—dude. “Hoeff growled at him. “Put ‘yer fuckin’ reactive shield on ‘yer waistband! It don’t work as good around your forearm, you know this!”

“Yeah, yeah…” Julian grumbled. “Makes my shorts sag too much…”

“With that huge ass of ‘yers stickin’ out like that? They ain’t gonna fall down. Besides, that wouldn’t be a problem in the first place if you dressed like a normal human being. Weirdo.”

“You’re in silkies just like me, dude.”

“Because I make them look good.”

Julian laughed. “And what about me? I ain’t exactly discount goods over here!”

They had a bit of macho fun then, because why not? No fun in being a gymrat if you couldn’t show off a little. Still, Hoeff wouldn’t let him off the hook.

“Yeah, well, you may be bigger and prettier, but I’m not a target like you are. You wanna live without guards following your every movement, you gotta have that shield. No fuckin’ excuses, or I’ll beat ‘yer face in.”

They’d had this argument a bunch of times by now. It wasn’t actually an argument, really; Julian knew better. It was really just grousing.

Hoeff could understand grousing.

“…I know.” Julian acquiesced and attached it to his now-sagging shorts, like always. He wasn’t stupid. They did their morning post-Slab weigh-in and progress pics for ‘Horse’s app, thumped up the stairs and stood in the fresh Folchian air. Heaven, after the humid armpit smell from the Dungeon. They both stood there for a long moment and took deep, cleansing breaths.

‘Horse and Titan really needed to fix the ventilation.

Julian was already bouncing on the balls of those bigass feet of his, probably itching to run. “Anyway,” he resumed their earlier conversation. “Project?”

“Yeah!” Hoeff enthused, “This one turned out damn nice! I think I may wanna think on it another night or three, just in case anything comes up…”

“Fair enough, we’ll get your room ready anyway. This weekend?”

“Prob’ly, yeah. Xiù wants to do a showing.”

“Awesome. See ‘ya then!” And with that, the giant cavemonkey whisperer thumped off toward home at a ridiculous sprint, leaving Hoeff alone with his thoughts. Not being the type of man to ponder life’s deeper mysteries, he decided to run back home and wolf down his assigned meal, before plotting on the rest of the day.

Calling it “home” was a bit of a stretch. Hoeff was technically homeless. But that was okay, he preferred the unattached lifestyle. Really, Hoeff was kinda like a shorter, more outgoing Jack Reacher; all of Hoeff’s worldly possessions fit neatly into two custom-made chests. One had his fancy-ass clothes, some mementos from over the years, his important papers…

The other had his tools. The one hobby Hoeff had ever kept was bein’ a handyman, and he’d found the best way to get that urge out was flipping houses.

Too bad he was generally poor as fuck. He’d spent most of his younger years—and older years, too—blowing his cash on booze and wenching, and on things that enabled successful wenching strategies. Which…fuck, he didn’t regret a goddamned thing. What the fuck was the point of money if you didn’t spend it?

…Maybe shoulda saved a bit more, truth be told. But life was meant to be lived. Why tie himself down? He didn’t have a car. He didn’t have a house. He didn’t have anything in storage. He tended to favor cheap clothing for day-to-day too, but lately some of that jungle fever had taken over and now, he was doing like Best Friend Tarzan and all his ridiculous friends. Hell, mostly-naked jungle adventures had gotten him Claire, so…

But now, he got to crash in nice apartments and houses for a while, on account of his arrangement with Xiù. She bought ‘em, she owned ‘em, he fixed ‘em up and decorated ‘em and billed her for the expense.

Julian thought it was all fuckin’ hilarious. Still, for a guy doin’ personal security, it was good not to have too predictable a life anyway…

He got a few things out of the arrangement: something to do with his hands when he wasn’t wrangling assorted aliens on distant worlds, a nice place to stay with Claire whenever they were back in Folctha (until Xiù sold it) and a little cut of the profit. This time, that profit was going straight to his investment account. He wasn’t old, but he wasn’t young, either, and it wasn’t like he’d been gentle on his body over the decades. Magical space-drugs or no, there wasn’t any point in taking a chance.

Claire seemed pretty happy with the arrangement. She liked to weigh in with decoration ideas and furniture catalogs. She had a pretty good eye for it too, which she obviously didn’t get to use much out in the jungle on Akyawentuo. He’d start cutting her in for some of the profit. A “consultant fee” or something. Seemed fair.

…He was kinda missin’ her today. She’d gone back to Earth to visit her folks for a week, and there was no work to do on the apartment to keep him busy, and there wouldn’t be unless Xiù hated it… which she never had so far. And as fun as Julian could be, seein’ the big guy day in day out sorta made ‘em value his free time. Distance, y’know?

The jog “home” was nice. And puttin’ on some nice clothes when he got home was kinda fun, too. For whatever reason, when he was back in Folctha, his cheap-clothes preference was overruled, and he liked to dress civilized.

Old habits, probably. But he had a Claire to squeeze these days. The game just…didn’t have the same appeal, anymore.

His phone pinged just as he was doing up his cufflinks, with a text message from… well, an old friend. Inviting him to lunch at Best Brioche.

He actually was a friend, too. And almost certainly Hoeff’s case officer, but that was one of those things they never talked about. What mattered was, it was Fries Friday, and sometimes lunch with an old friend was worth the pain that followed from cheating on ‘Horse’s diet plans. He did have some margin left in his “cheat account” though. Hoeff was a lot like Julian that way; they both had iron stomachs and it almost didn’t seem to matter what they ate, as long as they weren’t complete slobs.

‘Horse would punish him anyway. And he’d know, too. ‘Horse had magical powers that way.

“You’re looking well. Actually, I’d swear you’re getting younger.”

“Mandatory mostly ultra-clean livin’ and the Slab life is the price you pay for bein’ part of the SOR, and there ain’t no escaping ‘Horse once he gets his paws on ‘ya. Gotta admit though, I feel fuckin’ great.” Hoeff shrugged. “It’s kinda like, I get to be a young buck again, y’know? ‘Cept now I can really go for it, and do so with the benefit of hindsight an’ experience.”

“And without some of the costs your bigger friends will pay.”

“There are advantages to being older and short-framed, yeah. I should stay reasonably sized.”

“So it’s all upside for you, huh? We should all be so lucky.”

“You say that, but it takes a lot of work to be this sexy.”

His friend laughed, genuinely. “Daniel! Are you flirting with me again?”

“Naw. I got a wonderful woman these days. Maybe if you’d hit me up a few years ago…”

That got a chuckle, and the slight shift in expression that said they were going to spend a couple minutes discussing business before they got back to relaxing and enjoying each other’s company again.

“Have you been keeping up with the SOR’s operations?”

“Mostly. I’m not directly involved anymore, ‘cept for the training programs, but Julian’s got a lot of shit going on, and I’ve got friends.”

“JETS team two are down a man.”

Hoeff grimaced. “Yeah. Heard ‘bout that. Haven’t gone to say hello yet, was maybe gonna do that today, actually.”

“You should. Apparently the Corti got back to them with a clear no-can-do. Something about the damage to his optic nerve being beyond even their capabilities.”

“Well…fuck.” Hoeff didn’t like hearing that. Wilde was a good guy. Hell, they’d even gone clubbing once or twice, before Claire claimed Hoeff’s heart. And Wilde was a young man, strong, with a long career ahead of him. Now he’d need to find something new and start over.

Good thing he was young, actually. Still.

“Mm. I’d suggest a bottle of whisky. I gather he’s partial to a good Scotch.”

“I’ve got a good one squirreled away. How…he’s a tough fuckin’ Brit, but how’s he takin’ the news?” Hoeff just assumed his friend knew these things. He was never clueless about anything he brought up.

They were briefly interrupted by the waitress arriving with their lunch orders: a full-size paleo burger for Hoeff, and a dainty little salad for his friend. The tiny dapper fuck.

“He has Mears’ undivided attention this afternoon.”

“That’s good.” Hoeff took a big bite of his burger, and then asked a question he knew the answer to the instant he spoke it. “Who’s his replacement?”

“Well, funny you should ask…”

“I ain’t enlisted anymore, remember? I’m a retired chief.”

“No, but you are still a government employee, remember. And in fact, one with a commissioned office, which has suddenly become much more important given the, ah…”

“…Strategic impact they’ve been having?”


“Dude.” Hoeff felt a little annoyed. “I’m flattered, but I retired and now I’m doing a second mission that needs doing. Hell, the biggest reason I let ‘Horse and Playboy push me so damn hard is because after the APA? This shit’s real, and if they manage to get to anyone involved with the Ten’Gewek…”

“That’s why it’s called ‘first refusal,’” his friend said, evenly. “But you’re well qualified, Daniel. In fact, you’re the best qualified. We don’t have anyone else who’s as perfect for the job.”

“Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good,” Hoeff warned.

“Fair enough. There’s something else, though.”

Hoeff took another big bite of his burger before continuing, while his friend pecked at the salad. “Oh?”

“We…are facing a recruiting challenge.”


“I’m serious. Our Activities boys can normally bend the ears of the best operators in the DoD…but nowadays the very best of the very best are all aspiring to the SOR.”

“You’re runnin’ outta fresh meat.”


“An’ you have no fuckin’ clue why, do you?”

Hoeff knew he wouldn’t before he even asked. The difference between Hoeff and his friend was that Hoeff was still a human being. His friend belonged to the Activity, mind, body and soul. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Well, the mission is certainly attractive—”

“You mean, workin’ for the SOR makes you unambiguously one’a the fuckin’ good guys, unlike what we get up to. Kinda the polar fuckin’ opposite o’ that, I’d say.” Hoeff chomped his burger again, chewed and swallowed. “You’re tryin’ to recruit from the fuckin’ boy scouts, man. No wonder they’re not biting.”

“Nonetheless, we need men with their talents. You seem to have in you whatever it is that makes everyone in the SOR so impressively capable, so…”

Hoeff sighed. That thought had been weighing on him. “Yeah, I do. You still don’t get it, but never mind that for now. Why do you want me on that JETS team?”

“We need someone the SOR respects—someone like you—active among them. They can’t all be boy scouts, and some of them might be thinking of moving on to a deeper mission. Remember the APA? They sent a Cruezzir mutant after Julian. That’s a real threat now.”

“Yeah, it is. That’s why push myself so hard, and why I finally signed up for the spacemagic about a week ago. I don’t wanna just survive bein’ pimp-slapped next time. I wanna fuckin’ win. Fuck, I was already about there, but like you said I’ve ‘got it,’ whatever it is, so why settle for just winning? I wanna crush my enemies. Especially if they’re coming after my friends.”

“And they are.”


“Which is why we need more than one of you.”

Hoeff sighed, and finished off his burger. He hadn’t touched the sweet potato fries just yet, but he was feeling sufficiently self-loathing just now to make a start.

“Fuckin’ no. I ain’t your goddamned pimp.” Munch, munch. Swallow, angry glug of water. “But…” Goddamnit.


“I’m not a recruiter. But… maybe I’d be willing to plant the idea with folks I think might be open to it. I’m warnin’ you, there won’t be many. Hell, right now I can only think of one dude.”


“Yeah. And the only reason I’m actually thinkin’ about it is ‘cuz I think it’d be better for his peace of mind. That should fuckin’ tell you something about what kinda bullshit the men get up to in their missions.”

“And the JETS team?”

“They’re gonna have to find somebody else.”

“Yes. But right now, they need someone with experience, and they need him fast.”

Hoeff munched on a fry. “Someone already suggested it to Powell, huh?” His friend nodded, because of course they did. “He’s already got Coombes. Why me?”

“Coombes is too valuable in his current position. He’s also enlisted, whereas you, as a civilian officer of the United States, hold a commission which, as I already said—”


His friend finished the salad and placed his paper napkin on his cleaned plate. “Coombes isn’t in nearly so good of health as you. He’s younger than you but he’s already worn down, whereas you haven’t ever had those kinds of complaints. Nor is he anything like your level of fit. You could snap him like a twig and out-grunt him any day of the week. And I’m being modest about the difference, aren’t I?”

Hoeff shrugged. That had always been true, it was just a lot worse now. And would be much more so, going forward.

“And Julian? His family? Who’s gonna keep them safe?”

“You, or whoever you appoint. The SOR will be willing to help out. The concern is that this war is suddenly fast-moving and we need that team ready to go at any time. Right now, the only way to get them the capability they need is you. And until we can fix that…”

Hoeff groaned. Dammit. They’d got him. “…Fuckin’ fine,” he conceded. “But only to fill in ‘til they get an officer.”

“There are options coming down the pipeline,” Friend said cryptically. “It’s too early to say. And don’t worry. I have a sneaking suspicion your appointment will be very temporary.”

“Oh? How so?”

“President Chambliss or one of his sycophants will be finding out eventually…”

“…And when he finds out it’s me, he’s gonna want somebody else in the job ASAP.”


Chambliss was no friend of the APA, but it was well-known he wasn’t exactly a friend of black ops, either. Hoeff’s involvement with their extra-legal extermination wouldn’t sit well, no matter who they were or how badly they deserved it. The Ag secretary had been a personal friend of his, too. Terrorist or not…

Still. Hoeff had no regrets, and if they needed him again…

“…Alright, you got me. Guess I’d better go talk with Powell after this, huh?”

“I would appreciate it. He is aware of your cover and has been briefed. You may speak openly with him.”

“Alright.” Hoeff finished his last fry, and stood from the table. He’d been looking forward to catching up, but his mood for that was pretty Goddamn soured by now. “Guess I better go fuckin’ make arrangements and shit.”

Friend gave him a sympathetic look. “You have my help, if you need it. You always did.”

Hoeff nodded, gratefully, and said his goodbyes. He knew what his schedule was gonna be for the rest of the day. First, he’d go back “home” and change into something less swanky. Then he’d go talk to Powell. That was gonna be a conversation.

Then he’d go talk to team two about the whole thing. They’d go train together, do all the usual unit bonding type of grunty activities…

And from there…

Date Point: 17y5m4d AV
HMS Sharman (HMNB Folctha), Cimbrean, the far Reaches

Ian Wilde

“Now, if it were me? I wouldn’t even go for a realistic one. I’d go with, like, a badass black one with a gold iris or something.”

“Or just stick with the eyepatch. Looks pretty fuckin’ deadly, that eyepatch.”

Life was a bit of a rollercoaster, lately. On the one hand, they’d almost perfectly fixed his face up in the last round of surgery. Hell, this one they did while he was conscious and joking, they’d gotten so good at it. Weirdly fascinating, watching people cut at his face and put it back together…

But the eye was a blow, no lie. He’d really thought, with all the miracles of modern medicine, with knowing a guy who walked around on a totally regenerated foot, and knowing there was another woman walking around Folctha with a completely new heart, and all the rest of it… he’d figured there’d be another operation at some point and that’d be it. Good as new.

But Nofl had been firm. “The risks are far too great, dear. We’d need to do neural regeneration and that’s a science we’re not far enough advanced in. No amount of precise forcefield surgery can fix that.”

So…that had been it. His options were medical retirement. There was no other option. They were being gentle about it, and of course everyone was being as supportive as they could…

One source of relief though had come when he’d learned who his immediate replacement would be. Hoeff’d come to visit bearing a bottle of Highland Park, and was as much of an absolute tank as ever… and he really did have a point about the glass eye.

“..Yeah, you know what? Fuck realism,” Wilde agreed. “That black one sounds pretty cool.”

“You can have more than one, too. They even make animated ones. Have you seen ‘Horse’s tattoo? It’s basically a full-color video screen on his chest.”

“Of course I’ve seen ‘Horse’s tattoo. I’ve seen all of ‘Horse. Everyone has.”

“It’s not just a video-screen, it’s a fucking cinema,” Frasier opined.

“Just be glad he didn’t get a digital tat on his cock. Him showing off those huge pec-tits of his is already show enough.”

“Don’t let your feelings of inadequacy haunt you, Rees.” Hoeff reclined on the couch a bit. “Anyway, point is, there’s a silver lining on this I guess. You’ve got a whole new way to change up your look.”

“Small comfort honestly,” Wilde told him, though the sentiment did make him feel better. “So I gotta ask, why are you coming back?”

“A good friend made a very convincing argument,” Hoeff said, plainly. “Also, I was a chief petty officer in the Navy…but I’m also a government officer through my other job. Given y’all are in the habit of blowing up planets and arrays these days, they want an officer in charge.”

“What other job?”

Hoeff shrugged. “You’re smart, I think you can figger it out.”

Ferd had been sitting on his tail on the floor, obviously contemplating the situation. “Interesting, they pick you instead of some other man.”

That was an interesting observation, actually. Ferd was probably hoping he’d be put in charge, because frankly…he was good enough to do the job. The Ten’Gewek were surprising people in a lot of ways. Surprising, intelligent, ridiculously capable…but not wise to the ways of “sky-magic.” For all their remarkable everything, they just didn’t know enough yet. One day, probably…but not today.

Hoeff had the perfect retort to diffuse the situation. “I s’pose they wanted someone dumb enough to wrassle with you, and someone who can throw you across the floor, too.”

That sold it right there. Ten’Gewek psychology was…not really alien, but it was definitely extreme. And Hoeff clearly knew it, by both complimenting the massive Given-Man and asserting his own capability at the same time.

Ferd trilled, and all matters of leadership were resolved.

“Given any thought to what you’ll do?” Frasier asked.

“Not really, but both ‘Horse and Righteous tell me they need another employee at their gyms, so if nothing else I’ve got that to fall back on. Might write a book, maybe?”

“Didn’t know you were a writer.”

“The way I see it, the only requirement for being a writer is you have to write something. Hard part is making it any good.” Wilde shrugged. His heart wasn’t really in it, but it was an option.

“I already tell you, you have good story,” Ferd insisted.

“Yeah… Just wish I could add a few chapters, that’s all.”

“You will.”

Wilde nodded, distractedly. He wanted to believe it, but the fact was he felt… off-balance. Like his whole world had lurched to the left and gone flat. He’d get used to it in time, but if ever a safe option for a cybernetic or regeneration came up, he’d be jumping at it, no doubt.

Still. There were worse places than Folctha to live for a man with no depth perception. Between the Johnny Cabs and a robust public transit network, or just nice wide pavements, getting around town was a doddle. He hadn’t wanted or needed a car even once the whole time he’d been out here, except for the occasional trip out to Lakebeds National Park… and then he’d just rented.

Good food, good culture, good people, all his friends in town… He wouldn’t be leaving.

The real question was what he’d do to earn his living. He knew he wouldn’t scratch by just on his medical retirement. He had too much pride for that, and really, a missing eye was peanuts compared to all the horrible ways he might’ve been done.

And the fact was, he knew how to learn. That was a skill for life, right there. Really, he could go any direction he wanted… except the one he actually wanted.

Fuck it. He decided he’d talk with Adam and Christian. It was a good place to start, and he’d see all the Lads pretty much constantly. That should keep him in good spirits, at least.

“How long do you think you’ll be doing this?” he asked Hoeff.

“Long as it needs doin’,” the impenetrable Texan replied. “Kinda think they’ll want a proper officer in ASAP, though.”

“Oh, lovely,” Frasier grumbled.

“Well that’s what you guys get for tossing gigaton nukes around. And not just any either. That was the biggest one they had.”

“I fuckin’ know, mate. I watched it go off.”

“It killed the world,” Ferd said warily.

“Nah. Planet’s a big place. It’ll recover.”

“…Tooko said it would cause a winter that would kill most things.”

Hoeff shrugged again, like a boulder learning how to emote. “Close enough. And that’s why they want somebody with a commission on the team now. You’d prob’ly’ve been gettin’ a occifer even without…” he gestured to Wilde’s face.

There were solemn nods around the room.

Some moments later, Rees slapped both his palms down on his legs and stood up. “Right. That’s enough sittin’ around, anyway,” he declared.

“Damn right. I was thinkin’ we’d go have some fun outside, and Wilde can make fun of us.”

“You know, they didn’t tell me I have to take it easy or anything,” Wilde pointed out.

“Sure, but I don’t wanna be the one to take you back to the doc with a busted face ‘cuz you tried to play rugby with no depth perception.”

“…Rugby? A short little Texan like you?”

Hoeff grinned ferociously and rolled that stupidly thick neck of his until it popped. “Uh-huh.”

Wilde wasn’t about to bet against a man so powerfully built, but still. “This I have to see. You versus Ferd, huh?”

“I’ll go easy on ‘em.”

That got a hoot from Ferd, who sprang up to his feet and bared his fangs. “I get the others,” he announced, and vanished out of the room at his heavy, thundering lope.

“This is gonna be the weirdest village game of Rugby in Folctha history…” Frasier predicted.

And sure enough? It was. Wilde could rest easy.

The team was, for the moment, in good, strong hands.

Date Point: 17y5m4d AV
Erebor system, deep space


Ava Ríos had been plagued by a recurring nightmare before Egypt. Maybe she still was, wherever she was.

It wasn’t a narrative dream, just a montage of blazing forests, smashed glass and a glowing fracture in the earth, steaming as the bay poured in to fill the grave of one and a half million people. Flattened, smoldering rubble from the shore to El Cajon, and people as far away as Tijuana and Fallbrook, writhing as their smoking skin burned off their bodies…

Her parents, distant and frustrating as they’d been, gone in a smear of plasma. Her school friends, mingling with the fruiting body of dust and ash that had once been her home. Herself, trapped in an eternal instant of flaming agony as her dreaming self shared their fate.

Her remnant kept surfacing unbidden within the Entity to look upon the devastated topology of Dataspace with both dismay and feral satisfaction. She kept switching back and forth like a timing circuit, at onces pleased that the Hierarchy’s disgusting presence had been cleansed…

…And then shocked and sick at herself.

And the Entity couldn’t turn her off, any longer. Some threshold between them had evaporated, or some Rubicon had been crossed, turning her from a set of useful memories and personality modules it frequently accessed so as to interpret Human activity into…

Well, into a background process. Or an integrated peripheral part of itself.

Whatever the precise nature of their coterminality, it extended to feelings. And the shared one was a kind of gladness that the ship-swarm-body was a haven for it/her/them. A safe place where they could stand and watch the awesome forces of dataspace imploding, one relay at a time. Watch the great forest of the Hegemony burning with a snippet of poetry repeating in their thoughts, not clear whether Ava had read it herself or whether the Entity had encountered it in its own reading at some point.

Changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Soon, if the war went to plan, there would be no Dataspace at all. Sometime before or after that point, there would be no Hunters either. That latter was no loss, but the former?

The Igraens lived an existence that seemed like hell to Ava’s remnant. Individuality was practically an alien concept for them. There were no barriers between them, no secrets, no private place in their souls that would remain forever untouched. They were subject to being rewritten on a whim by those above them in the Hierarchy, all the way up to 0001 itself, which could edit the entire species, such as it was, on a level deeper and more intimate than DNA.

A population count was impossible. Igraens weren’t born—they mitosed. They didn’t die—they merged. And in between, their individual existence was so nebulous as to be almost meaningless. The Hierarchy recruited from a rare few that put up barriers, who tried to hold on to a sense of self in a world where such a thing was the next best thing to nonsense.

No wonder they were so neurotic and passionately antagonistic to each other. Each one had started life as a desperate speck of ego and ambition in a turbulent sea of Id, and then undergone extensive training and programming to maximize that rare, valuable quality. They were literally a breed apart, and would never return to the very Hegemony they served and protected.

And now they were failing. Now, their whole world was being torn apart from below. It was almost sad. Like watching Hell being deleted, with all the Damned evaporating into oblivion rather than given the chance to walk the path of Divine Comedy, down through Hell’s depths and up the great trial of Purgatory unto salvation.

…That one was definitely an Ava-thought.

Are we sure? I don’t remember ever reading it…

No, but the Entity had. And there was no reason She couldn’t form thoughts based on its knowledge, now.

I thought I couldn’t think my own thoughts?

Maybe She couldn’t. Maybe they were the Entity’s own thoughts after all, through a filter it could no longer remove. Maybe it had changed. Something had.

But things always changed. That was life. That was survival. Change could be good, change could be bad, but above all else it was inevitable. There was no escaping it. There was only knowing how long to hold on before bending to the wind.

But there was… humor… in the paradox of Her last “thought.”

The Entity laughed to itself, and watched the burning forest.

Date Point:17y5m4d AV
Air Force One, somewhere over the continental US, Earth

President Beau Chambliss

“You know… Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower had a train car for this.”

“Yes, Mister President?”

Beau took a miserable sip of the lemon and ginger tea he always drank while flying. He hated flying. The acrophobia was bad enough, but planes compounded it by making him feel miserable. He got motion sickness bad, even on the clearest, smoothest flights.

But there wasn’t really any other practical way to travel from Korea back to DC. And even if there had been, he’d probably have felt just as queasy on a ship.

But once he was on the right landmass…

“I’m just saying. It’d only take… what? Three days from Seattle to DC by train?” Beau sipped the hot drink again, willing it to work its short-lived magic as he suppressed a burp. “I feel like I could handle that. We could have a situation railcar and a press railcar and everything we have on this plane… and a lot more, too.”

“Or you could put up with it and we’ll be home by dinnertime,” Catherine rebuked him, reclining quite comfortably on the couch with her discarded shoes on the floor and a tablet in her hands, reading. “It’s already ridiculous enough you refuse to fly sub-orbital or take jump arrays, we’d already be home if you did.”

“I’ll take arrays if I have to…” Chambliss grumbled.

“They’re cheaper and safer than this thing…” she knocked on the wall beside her.


“No motion sickness, lower carbon footprint…”


She gave him a Look over her reading glasses, then shrugged and went back to her novel. Though not without another sharp comment. “You have a state visit to Gao coming up. Do you think I’ll be dancing with the Great Father again?”

“Very probably.”

“You’ll have to take an Array then. Unless you plan on flying all the way there. I gather it takes about a week…”

“Faster-than-light travel just disturbs me, we’ve been over this. I keep feeling like it should result in travelling back in time too or something.”

“Well it doesn’t.” She swiped a page-turn. “Honestly, Beau, you’ve got so many weird hangups it’s a miracle you ever managed to get out on the campaign trail. Besides, the visit to Gao was your idea, remember?”

She wasn’t really reading the book, he suspected.

“I regret it already,” he muttered, and took a healthy slurp of the herbal tea now that it was a little cooler. “But Daar is offering to cover a significant part of our Extrasolar Defence spending.”

“Yes, because he’s a bloody-clawed warlord who needs his space marines.” She swiped another pretend page turn. “And you know, according to Gaoian historians, Fyu was worse?”

“He is fighting a terrible war, which has cost his species billions, and which threatens all of our continued existence. Let’s not forget that.”

“That would be why he needs them. Oh, don’t give me that look. I never said he was wrong, but those are his own words to describe himself.”

“No, they aren’t. He said, and I quote, ‘I am the bloodiest mass murderer in galactic history.’”

She sighed and set the tablet aside. “…How are those negotiations going, anyway? You gave them to Jimmy Ross, didn’t you?”

“Which might have been a mistake. He’s a peacenik to the core, and I’m wondering if he can separate his duty from his principles. He’s looking to practically give the SOR away.”

“How is that a bad thing?”

“The senate is Republican, dear. They’re still mad at some of the shenanigans from years past, and would love to beat me over the head with this. They won’t consent to any treaty that gives away the farm.”

“Probably for the best if our troops aren’t directly in the palm of ‘the bloodiest mass murderer in galactic history,’ I guess…”

“Oh, it’s so much worse. I’ve had some briefing from the CJCS…do you know how much the rank-and-file admire him?”

“I’m surprised he didn’t say ‘worship.’”

Beau had enough. “Okay. You know what? You need to learn something right now. I am the President. That means a lot of things you don’t like. It means I am the commander-in-chief of those same rank and file. I am going to be ordering some of them to their deaths in short order. Hell, I already have after that incident in Bishkek. Your feelings on the matter have exactly zero impact on that reality. You knew all of this before we even started on the campaign, so is now really the time or the place?”

She gave him a surprised look, then returned the recliner to its upright position.

“…I didn’t know you felt that strongly about it,” she said, softly. It was an apology, of the kind that had let their marriage last as long and healthily as it had.

“I’ve had my perspective changed a little. It’s…different, in this seat.”

“No longer a joking matter?”

“Not really, no. And I’m somewhat ashamed to say I’m beginning to understand why those young men admire him so. And why they don’t much care for me.”

She nodded, and rose to give him a kiss on the forehead. “I was trying to make you feel better. Wrong tone, I guess.”

“‘Fraid so.” Beau sighed. “…I don’t know, Cat, I’ve been briefed on some things that… really put things in a new perspective for me. Sorry for snapping, but…”

She nodded, then tucked his tie properly back under his shirt collar, a little caring act of cleaning him up. “Just don’t swing all the way over, hmm?”

“I promise, my principles are still the same. They’re just… cast in a new light now.”

“…He is a pretty good dancer.”

Beau chuckled. “Well. When he isn’t cracking marble floors.”

“Oh, don’t be silly, he barely cracked it at all!” she smiled, and the little argument was behind them. They both looked up at a knock on the door, and Beau’s aide leaned through.

“We’ll be starting our descent soon,” she warned, and offered Beau the water bottle and pack of soluble tablets to go with it.

“Great. Thanks, Sophie.”

Catherine returned to her seat and put her shoes on. There’d be cameras waiting at the bottom of the steps when they landed, and a First Lady had to look presentable at all times, and preferably keep her husband looking human too.

“Beau?” she asked, as the plane turned and a small change of momentum sent a fresh lurch through his stomach.

“Yes, dear?”

“Maybe you should talk to Jimmy. Share some of the things you just told me. It might help him remember his obligations…”

Beau considered that, then nodded. It was only fair. He hadn’t exactly come into the office expecting to be able to breeze blindly in and lay down the law according to his guiding principles, but he’d not really been prepared for the gap between ideal and real. He’d thought he was too old for an education. But, the Oval Office had taught the old dog some new tricks.

“…I’ll do that,” he agreed.

Of course, there was room for improvement. Some old mistakes that needed to be set right, as much as they could. Sartori had done more than a few dark and terrible things himself, and Beau felt a strong need to…

Well, to not tacitly endorse them.

He quelled a burp as the plane shifted again, and hastily drank his fizzy, bitter medicine. There’d be time for setting the world right later, once he was solidly back on the ground.

For now, he was just glad the long flight was nearly over.

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)

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Sweetness – Chapter 3 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 2 (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 1 (NSFW)

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

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Shades of White and Orange

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

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Mother Earth

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 2

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

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 1

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

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Good Training – Survival Part 1

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 45

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 2

Date Point: 16y2m AV Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Nofl Leemu had become unresponsive. Nofl’s quarantine facility had alerted him after the patient had been anomalously still for twenty minutes, and the reason why became obvious upon a quick inspection of the cell: Leemu was sprawled on his back, staring blissfully up at

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Good Training – April Fool’s

13y 3m 29d AV One-Fang workhouse, Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Sergeant Regaari (Dexter) of Clan SOR One of the best things about the humans was that they had a springtime holiday dedicated to mischief. Before them, only the Gao could claim to celebrate such a thing and it was one of the

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 1

Date Point: 16y2m AV Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Nofl Nofl’s lab was spacious, but inevitably finite. When it contained an alarming number of alarmed Humans, not to mention one particularly sculpted canine and a Gaoian brownie who was doing his best not to loom at everyone… well, there were times when Nofl

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 5

Date Point: 16y2m AV Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Allison Buehler After a lifetime of helicopter parenting, Tristan and Ramsey seemed addicted to every opportunity they could find to do something their mother would have scooted them away from. And who could blame them? Amanda had never managed to get her head around the idea

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Rising Titans – Chapter 44

9 Years, 6 Months, 28 Days After Eridani Landing Deep Space The Russia shuddered again as the engines slowly powered down and the ship slid out of the red blue haze that was the tachyon FTL corridor. James blinked several times trying to clear the haze from his eyes as the regular black background of

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 4

Date Point: 16y1m AV Dataspace adjacent to Mrwrki Station Entity The Entity understood the concept of boredom in an academic, abstract way. It could even vaguely summon up Ava’s memories of being bored. But understanding the idea and actually feeling the emotion were two different things. The closest it could get was the sensation of

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 3

Date Point: 16y2w AV Air Force One, somewhere over Asia, Earth President Arthur Sartori “…You want to give us a Farthrow generator.” Daar’s image was janky and low-resolution thanks to the vagaries of current wormhole comms, but the audio was a lot clearer now. Technology marched onwards. “It’s loaded up on a train and ready

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Good Training – Pecking Order

13y, 8m AV Operator’s Barracks, HMS Sharman, Folctha, Cimbrean Officer Regaari (Dexter) of Clan Whitecrest “I got an idea, Regaari.” Regaari flicked his ears forward in annoyance. “This again?” “Well, yeah. I gotta win that bet, Cousin!” Regaari duck-nodded wearily. Not long after Daar had received the SACRED STRANGER briefing, he’d sulked off to think

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Good Training – The Champions – Tidying Up

Messier 24 Mission day: 3 Sergeant Daar (Tigger) The third day was always when things settled into routine. Daar didn’t really know why, ‘cuz that was prol’ly some complicated psychology stuff (maybe he should read up?) but he did know how it worked, practically speaking. Daar always pondered morning thoughts like that when he was

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 2

Date Point: 16y2w AV Weaver dropship, Gaoian space Sergeant Ian “Hillfoot” Wilde “So in all the excitement, we clean forgot about these things. That’s what you’re telling me.” Champion Meereo made a sound that was half a sigh and half a chitter. “…That’s more-or-less exactly right, yes. We had… well, bigger priorities.” Wilde had to

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Rising Titans – Chapter 43

9 Years, 6 Months, 28 Days After Eridani Landing Bellona “Ready?” asked Alpha from where he sat on top of the Captain’s chair. “I’m good!” said Red from where he sat at the controls for the ship. It hadn’t taken much to convince him to pilot the vessel. James glanced down at his own console

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 1

Date Point: 16y AV Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Zane Reid The cold didn’t hurt anymore. At first, it had been like forcing his way through a wall made of knives that cut through his clothes. Zane’s every breath had blinded him as it billowed and steamed in the air, and when he’d experimentally licked his

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 5

Date Point: 16y AV Camp Tebbutt Biodrone Internment Facility, Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Hugh Johnson Snow. Of course, snow in January in Alaska was hardly surprising, and this one threatened to be heavy. At first, Hugh had thought it was probably just an seasonable dusting that’d add a couple of inches to the foot or

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I had made my way through the tournament, but most of my matches had been won by the skin of my teeth, and I had only the advantage of being evolved from a pursuit predator to thank for it. Our great endurance had been the one boon that had kept me going, and I was

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 4

Date Point: 15y 10m 1w AV HMS Violent, Rvzrk System, Domain Space The ground battle churned on for days. That was the problem with Hunters. There was no surrender involved, it was a kill-or-be-killed fight where smashing their will to engage in war simply didn’t achieve enough. Any Hunter left alive would just keep murdering

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 4

He awoke to a pleasant smell. “…Eggs?” Hoeff detangled himself from Natalie and the sheets and stumbled towards the kitchen. Daar was busy in front of the comparatively little stove and fridge, humming some terrible Gaoian tune to himself. Seriously, their music was like Chinese opera with extra pain. Some Humans liked it, though…but “atonal”

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Rising Titans – Chapter 42

9 Years, 6 Months, 15 Days After Eridani Landing The [Singer] The explosion hit and [Vann] watched at the lights on the main hologram and different panels flashed a blinding white light, before dying and plunging the entire bridge of the [Singer] into darkness. “What were we supposed to do?” asked someone near the weapons

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Day 1. I’ve made it on board the human trading vessel! They didn’t detect my presence, and I’ve managed to smuggle myself into their engineering bay, and disguised myself within a cluster of cables! My small, serpentine body makes me indistinguishable from a thin, grayish cable, and the Humans won’t notice my existence until it

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 1

Date Point: 15y 10m AV Camp Tebbutt Biodrone Internment Facility, Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Hugh Johnson Camp Tebbutt wasn’t actually a bad place to live, if you didn’t count the fact that it was essentially a prison for innocent victims. Hugh understood why he was there, and why he couldn’t leave… but after eleven years,

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 3

Firth Regaari chittered, “It is difficult to imagine you ‘humbled,’ Righteous.” “Heh,” Firth chuckled. “You do know most of my attitude is straight fuckin’ bullshit, right? Adam and John know why.” Regaari looked over at John, who shrugged massively. “He’s a scary dude. Being ridiculous kinda takes the edge off, y’know?” Regaari duck-nodded. He was

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Rising Titans – Chapter 41

9 Years, 6 Months, 13 Days After Eridani Landing Jikse Moving down the hallway Diana paused at the double doors, carefully she moved forwards into it’s threshold and they slid open. A woman in an orange smock looked up from her Comm for a moment, and then going back to look at it did a

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The Good Samaritan

I felt a white-hot pain in my back as I was stabbed. Once, twice and then three times. I fell to the ground clutching my new openings, and for a moment I couldn’t grasp what had just happened. I had walked through an alley as a shortcut back home, and then suddenly someone had grabbed

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 6

Date Point: 15y9m3w AV Mrwrki Station, Erebor System, Unexplored Space Darcy “Does it seem… different to you lately?” “What?” “The Entity. It’s actin’ different, dude, I swear it is.” Darcy sighed and set aside her work as Lewis sat down. She was sitting drinking a Moroccan Mint tea in the station’s rec lounge, with its

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Rising Titans – Chapter 40

9 Years, 6 Months, 13 Days After Eridani Landing Jikse Popping the restraints off of her legs Diana swung herself off of the table, the two class A’s still in their isolation suits were pounding at the door of the room the three of them were in. “It’s out! Open the door!” shouted the man

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 2

Master Sergeant Christian (Righteous) Firth The end of the movie came and the ladies were fast asleep and prolly too tired to head home with any comfort. The other bros were asleep, too, and Firth was tangled up with them pretty good. Oh well, both ‘Base and ‘Horse were heavy-ass sleepers and only danger or

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Hell. It’s a completely Human concept. The concept of a realm of eternal torture, to which you are sent depending on the whims of one deity or another, is something only found in Human fiction. And it’s not an isolated occurrence. Almost every human culture since the dawn of humanity itself has had it in

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 4

Date Point: 15y9m2w AV HMS Sharman (HMNB Folctha), Cimbrean, The Far Reaches Senior Master Sergeant Christian (“Righteous”) Firth “Hey, fuckers! Guess what hit the newsstand today!” Adam looked up from his needlework for a second and raised an eyebrow. “Imma guess Coombes’ centerfold spread with Ava?” Firth deflated, somewhat flummoxed that ‘Horse had stolen his

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