Waters of Babylon – Mitzvah Part 3

Date Point: 14Y 5M 1W AV

Office of the Great Father, High Mountain, Gao

Champion Yeego, Goldpaw

Yeego had never been invited to the Great Father’s private chambers. Most of the Champions hadn’t, and to have been so was considered somewhat of a dubious honor; Daar preferred to do his business on the move. In his suite where he slept, ate, consummated his daily mating contracts…if the Great Father felt the need to interrupt any of that to speak to a Champion, there could hardly be anything good about it.

There was nothing to be done. Yeego glanced in the mirror one last time and made sure he was impeccably groomed. It wouldn’t do to insult the Great Father with anything less than perfection, and while it was well known that Daar had rather more…primal…tastes, it was also a well-known fact that he was vastly more perceptive and intelligent than he generally let on.

And that made him exceedingly dangerous.

He reached the top of the interminable staircase, finding the outer office manned by Father Regaari, with a pair of Stonebacks guarding the entrance like a pair of…something hulking, furry, and savage. The mental comparison he’d been about to make shorted itself out in what was probably primal self-preservation.

“Champion Yeego, thank you for coming,” Father Regaari said. “It will be just a moment, the Great Father is attending to something.”

“Send ‘im in, Cousin.” The Great Father’s powerful, booming voice could be heard through the stonework and yet it was obvious he hadn’t raised his voice.

The Whitecrest stood, and gestured towards a heavily scarred…wooden door bound with iron that looked like it had been there since Fyu’s time. Which, come to think of it…it probably had. The door creaked open on heavy oiled hinges, and he was ushered inside. Then it closed, leaving him alone with Great Father Daar. Regaari, he realized after a moment, hadn’t come in with him.

Daar leaned against a heavy table, his back to the door and fiddling with something. “Be with you in a moment, Champion.” The delicate gossamer-like scent of ekasi blossoms wound its way through the much heavier scent of the Great Father’s overwhelmingly potent musk. It was an odd contrast, really.

Yeego stood, unsure quite what to do with himself. Habits learned over a lifetime of evaluating situations asserted themselves, and he took inventory of what and where he was. The room had an almost primal, aggressive simplicity—all hard lines, deep stone windows, furniture heavy enough to probably even support a Guvnurag…and an actual unfinished wooden floor. The casual ostentatiousness of it nearly took Yeego’s breath away, and he found himself once again reproaching himself for misjudging the Great Father.

Clearly, this was not an accident at all. Which meant…what?

Daar stood abruptly, turned, and leaned against the table corner. “There. Think I got that just right finally. Took forever, I’m so used to doin’ heavy things with my hands and claws, bein’ all delicate takes me some doin’.”

”…My Father?”

Daar turned a bit further at his waist and flashed his gigantic bestial paws, then extended the biggest claws Yeego had ever seen by a long shot. Daar examined them for a moment and somehow extended them further. Yeego swallowed and laid his ears back in unconscious submission, which provoked a dark rumbling chitter from the Great Father.

“Like I said…Anyway, I gotta ‘member to thank Gyotin for the idea, ‘leastways after I’m done bitin’ his tail ‘fer suggestin’ it.” He rumbled a deep chuckling chitter. “What d’ya think?”

Yeego looked at Daar’s handiwork. It was a sparse arrangement, very clean of line with a wide, open vase in which the plant sat. Austere yet…beautiful. It seemed a very Gaoian thing. Once again Yeego realized he had greatly underestimated the Great Father, and once again he reminded himself how dangerous and foolish that was.

”…I think Fyu would be proud,” Yeego said honestly.

Daar’s expression was complex. He wasn’t angry and he wasn’t amused. He was…thoughtful. Not something one typically expected of a Stoneback, especially not one as obviously purebred a brownfur as Daar.

“Yer prob’ly wondering why yer here, ain’t ya?” he asked Yeego, appraising him finally in turn.

“I am, Great Father, yes,” Yeego said.

“We got a problem, Champion, an’ I think it’s one you and your Clan are our best…only…bet at finding a solution on,” Daar said bluntly. “There’s a Keeda-damned big Corti ship with a coupla escorts sittin’ right outside our system shield right now. That’s one problem.”

“That is…concerning, yes.”

“The other problem is, I can guess why they’re here. The line they fed Yefrig and the Racing Thunder was that they’re here for the relief effort. I think they wanna make a profit off us, and I ain’t feelin’ real charitable about it.”

“Whatever it is they’re selling, it could certainly aid with this plague. At what cost though?”

The Great Father stood away from the table, and walked over to look out the window. “We can’t allow our people to get taken advantage of by war profiteers, Champion. I’d bet whatever that ship’s carryin’, or can make, could make the difference between us making it through this year okay an’ not. It’s one of their big biological research vessels that they use for terraforming.”

Yeego’s ears splayed out in shock. “That’s the equivalent of an industrial nanofactory, but for medication, crop seed stocks, and almost anything else we could need.”

Daar looked back at him. “That’s right. An’ I’m about to hand you the task of cutting a deal with them for it. You must succeed, Champion. Whatever they have, you need to get, an’ we have to be able to afford it.”

Yeego bowed in a daze, echoing the ceremony from several months before when he and the other Champions had knelt before the Great Father. The promise of almost literally unlimited wealth, prestige, influence…all of the things he had always valued and fought for as Goldpaw’s Champion, paled utterly before the task he was being given. The risk of it…entering into negotiations with the most notorious technological merchants of all, for a prize that could save the Gao from sickness, death, and despair…it was unlike any challenge anyone had ever been given, and it made his answer stick in his throat a little, for all that it was an easy thing to say.

“My Father, Goldpaw will not fail you. We will not fail our people.” There was nothing else to say.

“Outstanding,” Great Father Daar rumbled. “I won’t keep you, Champion. Hurry.”

Yeego turned and left, not even closing the door behind him and pattering down the stairs. Daar followed a few steps behind and hung in the doorway as Regaari gave him an inquisitive look.

“Well? He looked excited.”

“You’d think I’d just offered him a mating contract,” Daar said.

“I doubt very much he would survive such an encounter with you, Cousin.”

Daar sniffed. “I’m too much man for him anyway.”

Date Point: 14Y 5M 1W AV

Grand Commune Construction Site, Tiritya Island, Cimbrean

Sister Naydra


So I said I’d send you a picture. I don’t know how much more engli elnig englightened I feel now. My paws ain aren’t very well suited for stuff like this, so I suppose I got some exercise in patience out of itt at least. Looks cool, though, don’t it?

Sorry about the spelling. Guess what else I don’t get lots of practice with?

Had an unexpected thing happen yesterday. A couple of Corti ships showed up at our front door! The big ship they brought is a bio-research ship. I don’t know what they want or they’re offering, but I sent the Goldpaw Champion to go find out. I can’t let them make a profit off us, but at the same time, I don’t know if we can turn away whatever they’re able to bring in. Things are so precarious now.

The sickness is starting to pass, I think. We haven’t had very many deaths. The key seems to be staying active while recovering. Sitting still or lying down gives the virus too much of a grip on a person’s ability to breathe. Most of the deaths have actually been biodrones, which I guess could be worse, but we’ve had a few cubs and elderly that couldn’t fight it off. I think we’ve evacuated almost a million and a half Females and cubs now.

I don’t know what else to say about what you’ve suggested. I know you want it, and I but I can’t. The title puts me in a place that…I don’t know how to put this. The Great Father has some really fuc ancient obligations, cuz Fyu, he weren’t actually the first one. It would put you in a position of always being alone, being cut off from your sisters as well as other Males. You’d never be able to take a contract from a male other than me, ever again, and that just ain’t right, because I can’t make that same promise to you. I’m still Stoneback’s Stud-Prime. I have several mating contracts everyday now, I don’t wanna hurt you with that.

I hope you understand.


Date Point: 14Y 5M 1W 1D AV

Conference room, High Mountain, Gao

Champion Yeego, Goldpaw

Yeego examined the tips of his claws and wished, not for the first time in the last five months, that he hadn’t lost his gold claw-sheaths. They had been a gift from a particularly fruitful mating contract a number of years before, and had always helped him focus just that little bit more. Or at least it seemed that way.

The Goldpaw Fathers that were available at short notice had gathered to High Mountain with some annoyance. To a man, every last one of them had multiple projects aloft that they were juggling, whether it was speculation on Naxas dung or jockeying for control of huna juice futures. Taking time out to actually physically travel was an irritation, and although they knew that Yeego wouldn’t have gathered them together without good reason, it was hard to think what in Keeda’s name could be this important. Once they were assembled, Yeego, brought the lights down and activated the 3D viewer.

“This is the Corti bio-research and supply vessel Common Denominator, and its protective escorts. They are currently hanging just outside our system shield,” he said bluntly. “Two days ago, they were intercepted on route here by the Racing Thunder and apparently told Ship Father Yefrig that they are here for the relief effort.”

“Corti philanthropists?” asked Grandfather Margu archly.

“Hardly,” Yeego said, amused. “Great Father Daar and I spoke yesterday, and he and I are in agreement. I believe this ship is here essentially as a war profiteering venture. Great Father Daar feels, as do I, that only Goldpaw has the expertise to negotiate with them for their supplies and support. He has assigned it to us.”

“That kind of support certainly could make a difference, for the population and for the Grand Army the Great Father is so intent on creating,” said Margu.

Yeego duck-nodded in acknowledgement. “We must not fail. I will lead the negotiation team, but all of you are vital to its success. The shuttle leaves in two hours, and in that time we must plan an attack as well as compile an accounting of our assets. We dare not approach negotiation with the Corti from anything other than a position of strength.”

Date Point: 14Y 5M 1W 2D AV

Office of the Great Father, High Mountain, Gao

Father Regaari

Receiving an actual package was odd enough that Regaari put aside what he’d been working on when it arrived. The return address was a Cimbrean one, and it was in a definitely feminine hand…handwritten no less…on a flat but somewhat lumpy package that had a heft to it.

His sharp ears caught what sounded like a conclusion to the Great Father’s meeting, and knowing Daar would want to get whatever this was, probably sooner rather than later, he went ahead and slit it open. He wasn’t always in a great mood following this kind of appointment, and Regaari hoped that whatever was in the package changed that.

Out slid an actual printed picture, a sealed letter, which he cut open without reading it, and a lengthy flat gold chain with a claw-sized and shaped nugget of polished black rock that sparkled a little as he picked it up and turned it, little flecks of gold light catching the overhead lamp. The picture he turned over, as it had landed upside down on the desk; it was of a stylized female Gaoian, wearing a red kerchief and a blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and a wrench in one hand. Above and below, in English were the words, “We Can Do It!!”


This time I went ahead and sent a letter in a physical form, since I had the other thing to send you as well. It is from me to you, but it is also from the Clan of Females to the Great Father (I was told I needed to make that clear, but of course I agree with it completely). It’s one of the first pieces of stone cut in making the Grand Commune.

I wonder sometimes if you understand how much you’re overthinking things between us. I know you’re still Stoneback’s Stud-Prime. I haven’t forgotten that for a moment…indeed, I don’t think there’s a Female alive that’s capable of forgetting it. You need to be what you are, my Daar. Do not ever stop pretending to be anything but the most bestest Stoneback.

I’ll admit, I didn’t know about the obligations you spoke of. It doesn’t change anything for me now that I do know.

The flowers are wonderful! What was Gyotin’s inspiration for it, do you know?

Oh, something else I wanted to show you. You remember the ad campaign I mentioned? It looks like someone picked up on the idea. The picture I enclosed is a meme that has been making the rounds of the Human internet, I’m told. A journalist with ESNN thought I’d find that interesting and gave me a copy of it in exchange for some comments that she said she wanted to publish.



“Your engagements for tonight have arrived, My Father. Should I send them up?”

”…Don’t feel right, somedays. Yeah. Send ‘em up.” There was a heavy-sounding sigh from the other side of the door.

Regaari paused. “…Daar?” That didn’t sound good. The door opened, with the hulking form of the Grea…no, Daar on the other side. He’d dutifully tidied himself up and combed out his short coat of fur in anticipation of his evening’s company. Most days Regaari could smell Daar’s legendary eagerness and it was enough to drive anyone to distraction, but tonight…

Daar gave him a serious look, thought for a long moment, and sighed again. “Regaari, Cousin…I think I’m falling in love.”

Regaari returned the serious look, with a sense of sympathy. “I wondered how long it was going to take you to admit it.”

“Cousin…” Daar trailed off. Abruptly he thumped the doorframe with a meaty paw balled into a fist, hard enough to cause dust to fall, but not hard enough to permanently damage anything.

“I can’t fall in love. Or…well, no. I can. But I can’t do what needs t’be done about it. I can’t do that to her, an’ it’s killin’ me. It ain’t fair to every other male, neither! Why do I deserve somethin’ our species had ‘ta abandon?”

“You’re the Great Father. You are suffering for us all, Cousin.”

Daar chittered a little, although there was no mirth in it. “You know what the worst part is?” Regaari just cocked an ear at him. “The worst part is, just a year or two ago, it woulda just been a scandal, right? What’s this do to us, if I set this kinda precedent? We can’t go back to that kinda…arrangement, even if the Females would allow it, which they won’t.”

Regaari thought for a moment. “You know, having their Grand Commune on Cimbrean is going to change things. A lot.” Daar nodded soberly.

“It will. I see things changin’ already. I s’pect they’ll end up settin’ up some kinda facility in their Commune for it, and Males will need to go there, to them. They ain’t said, but that’s my guess.”

“So, to your problem…”

“What about it? There ain’t a solution, far as I can see, other than what I’m doin’.”

“Then perhaps the rest of this conversation is something you need to have with her.”

Daar rested his massive forehead against the door frame. “I know. Problem is, every time I’m ‘round her, my brain turns off. How’m I supposed to talk when I can’t fuckin’ think?”

Regaari reached up with one consoling hand. “One problem at a time, I think. And that question is one I don’t think anyone has the answer to.”

“I’m gonna have to just keep doin’ what I’m doin’. There ain’t a solution I can see that doesn’t hurt anybody other than me, and I ain’t gonna do that. That ain’t the Stoneback…fuck. That ain’t my way.”

Date Point: 14Y 5M 1W 6D AV

Construction site for the Grand Commune, Tiritya Island, Cimbrean

Mother Kyrie

The Dig was going remarkably well, Kyrie thought for perhaps the hundredth time that day. As the architect and construction supervisor, she’d thought her role was going to be much more looking at a screen, making “hmm” noises and suggestions, and be generally hands-off. Apparently, that wasn’t how it was done on projects like this when Humans got involved. Instead, to her utter delight, she found herself almost constantly busy, far below the surface. She ended every day with muddy paws. Every day, there was dust and rock and mud in her tightly-curled ruddy fur, and every day she ended up taking a dip in the ocean or a river to wash it out, and she loved it.

Human industrial machinery was a study in brutish elegance, much like Humans themselves. Gaoians had invented such things, to be sure, but their designs were somehow less…solid, less elegantly simple, and, well…

There was no easy way around it, but the boring machine and the way it thrust into the rock, moving forward inexorably, with its lubricating slurry and the screw hauling out the excavated stone was just…sexual. Uncomfortably so. The first time she’d seen the thing operating, she was involuntarily catapulted back to her first mating contract for a moment and had had to take a deep breath and focus.

The major excavation was going on in several directions at the same time. First in had been the massive central shafts for transportation up and down, water, hydroponics, and some light. That was still ongoing, the massive machines chewing up rock as though they were heated knives going through chocolate, moving ever downwards until they were ready to turn and begin carving out the bottom level for the industrial machinery that had to support the Commune.

At a higher level, far enough below the surface that surface buildings could still be supported, was the first of the primary living levels, with long, wide hallway tunnels that would have suspended floors above the support lines, snaking out to larger dormitory halls, kitchens, and classroom/gym spaces, offices. Finally, at the edge of the digging area, she had designed a space for the Mother-Supreme, an office complex with bedrooms, an outer defense perimeter, and a private balcony with deep-set porch overlooking the north sea.

The humans’ tunnel boring machines were only the first step. Finer work, with remaining pillars and arches of living rock, would have to be carved over the next few centuries as the Females truly moved in and made the space their own. First, they had to have enough space to live in. As the machines bored out tunnels, then turned again and again to carve out living spaces, they left behind tunnels buttressed with segments of natural-looking basalt, formed out of the tailings by the clever engineers of Dark Eye and shipped back in exchange for raw material. The inside of the tunnels, when one hit it with light, was a deep interstellar black, but with flakes and flecks of gold everywhere, like tiny stars.

“Kyrie!” called one of the human engineers, waving her over. When she was close enough that they could hear each other clearly past the hearing protection they both wore, he leaned in and continued loudly.

“He’s moving along pretty good today. I think we’ll have this one done in about an hour, and then we can move on to the major side passages.”

He? Kyrie looked up at the backside of the enormous drill head, upon which was hung a sign spray painted in an obscenely bright orange spraypaint, “RASCAL”. Oh. The machine.

“That’s good!” she yelled back. “As soon as this level is ready, the Mother-Supreme’s orders are to start moving refugees in.”

“Well, that’ll take longer than it looks. Still have to actually carve out the living spaces, and that takes longer ‘cause it ain’t just a tube that we can put reinforcement cladding into. It’s amazin’ what these babies can do, innit? Rascal here bores over spec so far now he’s practically in his own class.”

Kyrie duck-nodded. “Watching them work has been amazing. We have tunneling machines, but they don’t work like this, and the process of excavation isn’t quite as well…thought out.” For the Sisters that had experience doing excavation and mining, watching the human boring machines had been an exercise in figurative head-slapping. It wasn’t what was being done, it was the thought process that put it into practice that made Human ingenuity so…so frustratingly obvious in hindsight.

“Your Sisters have been amazing at this, though, I gotta tell you. Sister Leelo. That girl’s a natural born miner, man. She’s, like, a mechanical genius or something; I didn’t think it was possible to get this kinda performance outta Rascal, but lookit him go!” He gestured up at the enormous bore head, turning and slicing away rock in a steady churn. Doing away with the conventional bits and using fusion cutters had actually not only sped the thing up, it had noticeably lowered the amount of ambient noise it put out.

If only everything could be improved that way.

“Why are you building everything underground, anyway?” the human asked her. “You Gaoians are such…I dunno, above ground types, living underground just seems odd.”

“A bunch of reasons, I think,” Kyrie said, motioning him away from the enormous machine straining and grinding at the rock face. “The material we’re mining out here is getting used as building material here and elsewhere, and this is essentially an armored bunker. The Great Father sent us here to be safe, and I took that literally when I was designing the base for the colony layout.”

“Kind of a hard way to go about it, Sister,” he said.

“That’s true,” Kyrie returned. “Maybe it’s easier to think of it as a den. I suspect as time goes by, we’ll want to move above ground and put whatever industry we want to build here below…but I thought of this as a three-dimensional complex of buildings, not just building on the surface.”

“By the time we’re done here, Sister, you’ll have room for probably at least a good half-million, maybe even a million Females and cubs underground. That’s pretty well fortified.”

“If you notice, I included space for jump portals to be built underground as well. The Females will never be slaughtered like we were again.”

“I noticed the armories labeled on the diagram. You’re serious about all of this, aren’t you?”

“Wouldn’t you be?”

Date Point: 14Y 5M 2W 3D AV

Tiritya Island Refugee Camp, Tiritya Island, Cimbrean

Mother Ginai

Even with all of the additional refugees that continued to stream almost uninterrupted through the jump portals from Gao, Ginai found herself at the center of attention for younger Females needing guidance, direction, instructions, life advice, cub-raising advice, and all manner of other subjects. She’d asked for and had gotten a larger tent as a sort of office for exactly this sort of thing.

One thing she hadn’t prepared for in her long life, however, was a Female so scarred from her time upon Gao that she never wanted cubs again, and never wanted to lay eyes on a Male again.

The Female in question sat in the corner of her office. She was a broken-looking little thing, scarred from her ordeal and from the rough attentions of the violent Clanless males that had taken her and her Sisters hostage for months. They’d been freed after months of daily, often hourly violations, and many of her Sisters had died in the process.

Great Father Daar hadn’t been there to free her or the other survivors. The fate of the Clanless males had been just as brutal as the fate he had dealt Koruum; the Grand Army soldiers that had found them had literally torn their captors to bloody rags. The Great Father couldn’t be everywhere, unfortunately, and the soldiers that had freed them had said more than once that they felt freeing them couldn’t wait.

Nothing could bring back her sense of self.

“Are you certain this is what you want, Sister Wuuyi?” Ginai asked. She’d already asked, and had been answered, once, but it was best to be sure.

Wuuyi bristled. Her mangled, torn ears twitched this way and that, and even with the best healing that Gaoian medicine had to offer, even with the best attention from the Openpaws, the ropy keloid scars that marred her fur would probably never heal enough to make her beautiful again, and it was evident that she knew it.

“Mother…I want to be left alone. I don’t want to ever have to deal with a Male again. No matter who it may be, I will always remember.”

“May I show you something, Sister?” Ginai asked. The only response was a noncommittal shrug. “I would like to suggest you read something, given to me by a friend of mine at the Folctha camp before I came here. I’ve found an interesting and unique peace in it. Maybe it will help you.” She reached into the chest sitting next to her chair and took a book out.

“This was translated by Champion Gyotin of Starmind. I know,” she held up a forestalling paw as Wuuyi immediately made a gesture and noise of rejection. “I know. But he didn’t write this. It’s a human text.” She handed it to her visitor, who turned it over in her paws to read the blurb on the back, her natural curiosity asserting itself.

“Rose Madder….Stephen King,” Wuuyi read aloud.

“It’s an interesting concept, and story. It’s fiction, but it’s relatable. I think you might like it.”

“What’s the story?”

“You’ll have to read it. I think it may help you think more about yourself, and less about what’s happened to you.”

Date Point: 14Y 5M 3W AV

Grand Commune Excavation & Construction Site, Tiritya Island, Cimbrean

Sister Naydra

Naydra couldn’t help shifting a little from one foot to the other as she stood with the others awaiting the arrival of some distinguished guests. Great Father Daar, she knew, was coming, and he was apparently bringing along several others…Champion Fiin of Stoneback, Champion Turan of Ironclaw, and a few other specialists in excavation and construction. She had a little more trepidation than some of the Females there, she figured, but everybody was a little on edge.

It wasn’t an “inspection”, and it didn’t need “approval”. The Great Father had been quite clear about that when he had grudgingly accepted their request to come and tour the progress they’d made so far. As a matter of fact, he had all but demanded that they acknowledge that, and it had been the Mother-Supreme that had finally put paid to that discussion by tartly pointing out that they’d already submitted to him formally. His grumbling about that had reportedly been epic.

Naydra privately also thought there was another, major reason. Digging was undignified in a way, and no amount of persuasion could keep the Great Father from trying to help. Daar, quite possibly the greatest Gaoian to ever live, ennobled and dignified as the savior of their people despite his simple, brutish origins…or perhaps because of them…

…could never turn down an opportunity to dig in the dirt.

The designated time arrived, and right on cue, the eye-warping utter blackness of stasis flashed, giving way to the Great Father himself and his entourage. His eyes, set in a head that was head and shoulders above everyone else, flicked around the reception and settled on Naydra. With an ear-flick that would have been uncertainty in anyone else, he and the others stepped down from the platform, and they began the tour.

They didn’t get much of a chance to talk. Naydra didn’t have a lot to say in the tour after all, as she wasn’t involved in the actual dig, or the above-ground construction, or even the burgeoning farms/Naxas ranches that some enterprising Sisters had set up a few miles from the outskirts of the ever-expanding main camp. The flow of refugees from Gao continued, almost unabated despite the camps there being empty; almost in unison, the Clan of Females had determined that its destiny lay in self-determination, and almost to the last of them, they were making it so. Naydra’s role was in administration, for which she had demonstrated an aptitude she’d surprised herself with, in getting people from one place to another and ensure that the logistics of supporting them once they got there were in place.

It took some doing. Fortunately, in the Humans, she had excellent teachers for those rare things she didn’t already have an understanding of.

Great Father Daar insisted on watching the massive machinery brought from Earth work, and it was evident from Champion Turan’s furiously blank expression that he was internally evaluating exactly how much advancement Ironclaw might get for itself in taking on collaboration with Human industry. For the Great Father’s part, it was obvious he was enraptured by the machines, like a cub watching something so massively cool that he had to just nerd out about it a little. She edged a little closer, the opportunity presenting itself while he was getting all googly with the gigantic thing.

Abruptly she realized he was humming something, and…well, not singing, exactly, because that implied the ability to carry a tune.

”…digging a hole….diggy diggy hole…diggy diggy hooooooollle…” was all she could make out. Mercifully, he noticed her coming up behind him and broke off.

“Sister Naydra,” he duck-nodded formally. “Are you well?”

She gave him a mock-outraged head-tilt and crossed her arms. “You know I am, we exchange messages at least twice daily, you hairy lump.” Incongruously, she noticed something. Daar was wearing the pendant she’d sent him, although most of the chain was buried in his fur and the pendant was at exactly the right height to get lost in his chest ruff.

His ears went back, and for a moment she was afraid she’d misjudged his mood. With visible control, he relaxed, his ears came forward, and if she hadn’t been able to smell the wave of frustration coming off him, she’d never have been able to tell that he was upset.

“I’m sorry,” she said as he whuffed a deep breath. “That wasn’t…[ladylike] of me.” She used a Human word she’d learned a few days earlier. HIs ears did a complicated dance atop his head as he sorted that out.

“Sister…” he trailed off uncertainly. Seeing the Great Fath…no, Daar, uncertain was like watching an earthquake decline an invitation to a tea party. There was something fundamentally unnatural about it. The scent of frustration, pain, and, stymied desire roiled off him in a cloud that was almost visible. Absently, she noticed that the other Gaoians had moved their conversation a little further down the tunnel to give the two of them some privacy.

“I know.” She drew close to him and put a paw on his massive arm. “I know. I read every letter you send me, some more than once. I know how you feel about this…but I know you feel the same way I do.”

“Sister…” he began again, visibly struggling with his composure. “I would give you anything. Anything but that. I can’t. It don’t matter if I want it, an’ it don’t matter how much you do either. This’ somethin’ that can’t be. I’m sorry. I hafta be the face of our people, an’ now more than ever, takin’ a mate is…”

She reached up and put a shushing finger across his mouth, not caring at all how scandalous it would look or what the various dignitaries a short distance away trying valiantly not to notice would think. His eyes boggled a little, and she realized absently that this was probably the first time since he’d been smaller than she was now that a Female had shushed him.

“I know there are difficulties. You suffer on behalf of all of us, and it has to be in silence. I understand that, and I welcome it. I’m offering you the ability to set that aside, if only for a little while at a time.”

One enormous paw clenched in frustration, then relaxed. He hung his head a little.

“I…I’m sorry, Sister. It ain’t gonna work out that way.” He keened a little under his breath. “It don’t matter how much I want it or don’t want it, and it don’t matter how much yer willin’….it just ain’t gonna work.” He steeled himself and stood erect out of the slump.

“We need to get on with the tour. ‘Nuff questions are gonna get asked about this already.” He led her back to the group, and the tour resumed, although the Great Father was much quieter and inwardly focused for the rest of it.

Naydra trailed the group at the back, also lost in thought. He’d said something a few days ago about getting advice from Champion Gyotin…the flower arrangement thing. Part of Daar’s problem, she knew, was that he felt like he was so alone…and in a way he was, but he had allies that were working on his behalf that he wasn’t ready to admit existed.

She let herself back up to the top as the tour concluded, and made a comm call.

If she couldn’t get through Daar’s intransigence alone, she’d just have to have some help.

Date Point: 14Y 5M 3W AV

Riverfront Park, Folctha, Cimbrean


Nofl had found, unexpectedly, that he rather enjoyed taking walks in the evening. It was odd, and he often found himself ruminating on why he enjoyed it. A simple belt-mounted emitter and power pack kept him shielded from the rain, and he found he rather enjoyed the pitter patter of raindrops on his makeshift umbrella as he walked. His main postulated reason for why he, a result of generations of Corti that disdained physical activity in nearly every way, should enjoy such a thing was that the Humans had simply rubbed off on him, as they seemed to do with everything.

The other benefit, of course, of his shield in dim light was that he was lit up enough to not be summarily trampled by the Humans, Human pets such as dogs, and Gaoians that often used his favorite trail. It made for a nice peaceful stroll, with the relaxing light drumming sound of rain and just enough solitude to be able to think, and just enough people to watch.

People-watching, it seemed, was becoming one of Nofl’s newest hobbies.

He had found himself pacing a group of senior Mothers and listening to their conversation this particular evening, as they, in turn, walked behind a larger group of junior Mothers and…there was nothing else to call it but a horde of Gaoian youngsters tearing about on fourpaw, climbing all the things, jumping, puddle-stomping, and otherwise wreaking havoc.

Wisely, the senior Mothers he was shadowing were keeping enough distance that they were out of the line of fire for errant throws of mud and other unmentionables. He listened, idly ruminating on a vexing theoretical model for the perfect mix of mushrooms from Origin and Terra to make the perfect risotto, when something one of the Mothers was saying caught his ear.

”…Common Denominator showed up. I guess the Great Father thought of the Goldpaws to do the negotiations,” she was saying.

“I have a friend who had a contract with Champion Yeego once,” said another. “By the time those two were done, that contract was fifty pages at least of terms and conditions.”

There was a general round of chittering at that. The second Mother went on.

“I tell you, if they sent out him to do the negotiations, those Corti will be lucky to walk away without having to pay for their own waste reclamation!” There was another gale of chittering.

“Stil l, it says a lot that the Corti were willing to come and help at all,” said a third Mother, who had been hanging towards the back of the group a little. “None of the rest of the Dominion did, I notice. I guess we know who our friends are.” The others made little yips of agreement.

Nofl fell back so as not to make it obvious he’d been listening, and primly smiled to himself.

It was nice when plans turned out as one projected.

Date Point: 14Y 5M 3W AV

Female Commune, Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean

Toran and Tybal, Clanless

Lots of exercise and hard training. Lots and lots of food, all of it rich and dense. Some of it was Gaoian, much of it was Terran, all of it was more than the cubs had ever dreamed they would be eating in a single sitting. And they were being made to eat constantly, it seemed.

It had results, though. Strength. Performance. Thurrsto’s tender ministrations had packed an incredible amount of muscle onto the two formerly-lanky teens, and done so very, very quickly.

They’d finally reached their age of majority, and even if they’d done so in a refugee camp, it was still worth noting. Before the end of their world had descended upon them a few months before, they’d expected the usual series of adjustments, ideally getting snapped up by a Clan they’d tried out for and expressed interest in. More likely, they’d have been Clanless, at least initially; most cubs were. Both, though, had had a lively interest and laser focus on Whitecrest, and the intervening few months under the tutelage of the mostest Whitecrests anyone had ever heard of had done nothing to diminish that in any way.

Which was why they were sitting at the Female Commune, waiting for an appointment. Both had gone through their morning ablutions early, combing out fur and getting generally as visibly ready as they were capable of, despite having little idea what they were about to go through.

Finally, the door opened, and Mother Myun came in, followed by Thurrsto and Faarek, who they knew, and another Whitecrest they…didn’t…but…

Daar’s balls, it was Genshi. The Whitecrest Champion.

They looked at each other, and both gulped.

“And here we are,” said Myun breezily. “Champion, Brothers….these are Toran, and Tybal.” She gestured to each of them in turn. “I’ll leave you to it. And boys,” she said, pointing at her own eyes and then at them with two fingers on one paw, “Good luck.” She winked, and exited.

Champion Genshi, Brother Thurrsto, and Brother Faarek sat opposite them as Myun closed the door behind herself.

“Normally,” Champion Genshi said, “This would be done by a Father. Champions rarely take on sponsorship of recruits, as I’m sure you can imagine. Father Regaari, however, is currently busy with other duties.”

“Tell me why you want to be Whitecrests.”

They’d planned for this, a little, although neither had been expecting who they’d be speaking to. Toran spoke first.

“Champion, I…we…want to make a difference.”

“There are many ways to make a difference. Even the Clanless do—the Grand Army of the Gao would not exist without their perseverance,” Genshi replied.

“Champion, with all of the…darkness…that surrounds us, with everything that’s happened, every light is necessary,” Tybal said. “Whitecrest’s words…speak…to us.”

“And we’ve already had some experience at Brother Thurrsto’s paws,” Toran put in.

“Oh, that was barely a taste of real trials,” Thurrsto growled. “You two have done passably well, but you will have to prove yourself to be Whitecrest material, and that’s not the same thing. The work we’ve been doing is enough to get you admitted to the Grand Army, and probably to one of the labor Clans, but Whitecrests have to be able to think.”

“Then teach us,” Toran said.

Genshi leaned back in his chair and chittered a bit, looking over at Thurrsto. “You did say they’re sharp, Brother,” he said. He looked back at the two no-longer-quite-cubs. “If you’d said you knew already how to think, I would have had some hesitation about this.”

“Understand something, though, young Associates,” he continued, suddenly serious, “Every year, applicants to the Rites die during those trials, and we will not change our standards now. You will be tested, and taught, and forced to learn beyond what you think your limits are now. If you choose to go ahead with the Rites and become full Brothers, you won’t be who you think you are now.”

“Yes, Champion!” the two newest Whitecrest Associates barked.

“Gather your things and be at the jump portal back to Gao in twenty minutes,” Genshi said. “You’re coming back with me to Gao.”

Previous Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 1 (NSFW)

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Good Training – Survival Part 2

Date point: 14y 7d AV Planet Akyawentuo, The Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Later that day Julian Etsicitty It was approaching mid-day and the day’s morning work had been taken care of. The scouts had come back and reported that the nearby werne had just calved and would need to be left alone for a

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 6

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 46

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 5

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 4

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 3

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

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Good Training – Survival Part 1

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 45

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 2

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

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Good Training – April Fool’s

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 1

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 5

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 44

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 4

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 3

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

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Good Training – Pecking Order

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Tidying Up

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 2

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 43

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 1

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 5

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 4

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 4

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 42

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 1

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 3

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 41

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

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The Good Samaritan

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 6

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

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Rising Titans – Chapter 40

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

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 2

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

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

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 4

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

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