The Deathworlders


Chapter 9: Aftermath


A few days after The Pirate Raid
SOR Headquarters, HMS Sharman, Folctha, Cimbrean

Major Owen (Stainless) Powell

“Let’s get this over with. Send him in, Rebar.”

This was exactly the sort of thing Powell hated most about command. But it was necessary, and with men this gifted and in possession of such power, discipline was absolutely critical. Warhorse fucked up and it was only through Regaari’s deft maneuvering and other, unspoken actions that the horrific end to a foolish Gaoian pirate had not become a major political incident.

It was even worse, too, because Powell was reasonably sure he’d have done the same thing, were he in Adam’s position and possessed of his strength.

Warhorse entered in his full service dress uniform, groomed and prepared to absolute perfection. He marched forward, executed an absolutely perfect left-face, stood crisply to attention and rendered the sharpest salute it was possible to give.

“Sir, Technical Sergeant Arés reports as ordered.”

Powell did not immediately return the salute. He instead stood up and slowly, carefully inspected the NCO before him. He took his time, looking for any defect in uniform, posture, bearing or hygiene. This was always part of the punishment; woe betide any enlisted man who showed up to a dressing down in anything less than perfection, and that went triply so for NCOs. As expected there was nothing that could be found. Major Powell was silently grateful. He was loathe to make the situation worse with something as petty as uniform violations.

Adam’s boots were polished to a flawless mirror shine; quite how he’d found black leather jump boots to fit his enormous feet on such short notice was itself impressive. His woolen trousers were smartly bloused, creased and worn exactly as they should be. The rank was sewn on perfectly, the hem of his shirt and coat sleeves was absolutely regulation. If there was any flaw to be found it was that uniform was perhaps too tight on the big man; his every breath threatened to pop a button and his collar was clearly just slightly too small for his ridiculously thick neck, but given that uniforms are (at least nominally) provided to the enlisted man by his service, he could hardly penalize Adam for outpacing uniform issue in the intervening months between wear. Growing bigger and stronger was, after all, essentially his job.

The ribbon rack, name tag, career badges and other assorted hardware were positioned perfectly, including the well-earned Silver Star from his actions at Capitol Station. Powell inwardly cringed at that. Arés was a genuine hero, no longer the wiry, intense, hyperactive puppy-kid from the good ‘ol days, and it was Powell who had only recently pinned that medal to Adam’s enormous slab of a chest. Powell could barely contain his pride in the boy—no, man—and he could remember Adam’s beaming smile as he pinned it…and now, this. It wasn’t a happy thing.

Powell grunted his satisfaction, sat at his desk, returned the salute, held it, and lowered. Adam immediately snapped his arm down—again, in absolutely perfect form—and stood at rigid attention. Powell fixed him with his worst glare.

“Technical Sergeant Arés, do you know the purpose of this meeting?”

Powell said it with an almost conversational tone. Formal dressing-downs like this were not a bellicose affair like training. That made them infinitely worse.

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you have an explanation, sergeant?”

“None that would suffice, sir.”

Powell inwardly chuckled. This was an ancient technique of all enlisted, a verbal maneuvering to minimize the surface area for attack. I am glad Rebar has prepared him.

“I should think not. Still, you must have been powerfully motivated.”

“Yes sir.”

“Would you care to elaborate?”

“No, sir.”

That caught Powell off-guard. “Why not, sergeant?”

Arés hesitated for a moment, then stated, “Article thirty-one of the Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibits compulsory self-incrimination.”

Well, shit.

“We aren’t on fookin’ American soil and this ain’t an American command.”

“The treaty between the Allied Nations explicitly states that all member personnel are under ADCON of their originating nations and units, sir. UCMJ governs this situation.”

“I fookin’ well know it does, lad. I—”

Powell calmed himself with a deep, controlled breath through his nose. He could only hope this did not escalate. True or not, Adam was quite clearly in fear for his career.

“Very well. This is not a judicial proceeding so I shall cut to the chase. It is my finding that your actions, while fully justified in the heat of battle, could not have come at a worse time for this new alliance. Was it necessary to destroy him?”

“He shot my patient, sir.” Arés maintained control but there was a definite flash of anger in his eyes.

“Aye, that he did. But Gaoians are tough, Arés. Dismantling one like that is not far from the same against a small human being. Can I expect you would do the same to a too-young jihadi in far over his pubescent head? Did you think we would never face domestic issues? That it would be acceptable to obliterate all opposition in such a manner?”

Arés shuffled almost imperceptibly on his feet, his face a mask of neutral expression, but Powell could tell. The man wasn’t hearing it.

Powell sighed for effect. “Sergeant Arés, this the not the first time you’ve unleashed your incredible capacity for violence, but not all situations are created equal. Few of our enemies are hapless biodrones in a secret war. Even fewer lord over a village of damned children. Many of our actions will have unavoidable public consequences. You know this better than I. Hell, in the places we’re likely to be deployed you will find people are not nearly so strong or well-nourished—or as well-trained—as you.” He paused, then asked sternly, “Can I trust you to execute proper judgement? That you can do a thing, does not mean that you should. We in the combat arms must know this to the core of our beings, and that goes doubly so for SOR.”

He folded his hands in front of him, then asked, “Do you have anything to add, sergeant Arés? Anything you say will be considered appropriately.”


Powell sighed and slid the paper over. “You do not face charges. I will instead issue a Letter of Counseling which shall be maintained in your Regimental records until such time as I see fit to dispose of it. This is not punishment. This is a very stern warning, and most importantly it is evidence. Do not add to it with further incidents. Do you understand?”

“…yes sir.”

“Read the LoC.” Arés did, twice, carefully.

“Sign at the bottom. That does not indicate agreement, only that you have been served notice. If you care to write a rebuttal you have thirty days. Any rebuttal will be retained with the LoC. It is my understanding that the US Air Force provides an Area Defense Counsel in these matters. If you object to the Letter I would highly recommend you avail yourself of their services. Is that clear?”

“Yes sir.” He signed.

“Very well. One last thing, and this is on a more personal note.” He ambled around the desk and sat on its edge. Adam did not break from attention. “Go talk to Firth. I think he may have things to say that you need to hear and I am not in any position to say them.” He paused, “This isn’t an order, but…please.”

“…I will, sir.”

“Very well.” He returned to his chair and sat, and in his best command voice said, “Technical Sergeant Adam Arés, you are dismissed.”

Adam rendered another perfect salute, which Powell returned. Adam executed an about face, then a right face, then marched out of the room.

Powell sat for a moment. There was little worse than unloading on a young man with a Silver Star on his chest. He prepared a shot of whisky for himself and slammed it home.

Technical Sergeant Adam (Warhorse) Arés

The encounter with Powell left Arés in a particularly foul mood. This bothered him, because he couldn’t place the root of his anger. He could of course see Powell’s point but Adam couldn’t shake the feeling he was right to do what he did.

Or so he thought. Maybe. In either case he needed to get his rage out. Mind made up, he headed back to the barracks, changed out of his monkey suit and Firth’s borrowed pair of slightly-too-tight boots, slipped on a pair of infinitely more comfortable ranger shorts and barefoot jogged over to the gym. It was a light training day for him so he thought he’d do some boxing, some intervals, some light weights, maybe a bit of wrestling later…

Two hours later he felt nicely exercised but not particularly sorted out. Some half-formed notion of his problem was gnawing at him, a feeling that refused to surface properly. He found it immensely irritating. He contemplated another round of intervals when he heard a loud thud from the combatives room, followed by quieter, rhythmic whumps against something extremely solid, along with a surprised cry of pain and a deep, distinctively aggressive growl. He smiled; It could only be Firth and Blaczynski practicing their combatives, very much a case of an unstoppable force beating on an unbreakable man. Recalling Powell’s request, he grunted and put his weights away, then thumped over to watch the brawl.

What he saw was Firth in all his giant, terrifying, raging glory, viciously and methodically beating the ever-lovin’ shit out of Blaczynski. Firth had Blac completely pinned to the floor and just swung his fists into Blaczynski’s core with reckless abandon. Blac could not escape, could hardly move, could barely do anything but tense his trunk, guard his head, and survive the onslaught. Given his toughness and endurance he stood a very good chance of simply out-lasting the giant’s onslaught, but Firth was no slacker. Like all SOR men he had endurance to spare. This could well be a very long battle and had obviously been going on for some time before Adam arrived.

This time it was Blaczynski’s endurance that failed after a few frighteningly long minutes of soaking up abuse. Victory had seemed close; Firth seemed like he was beginning to run out of gas. But he pushed through the pain of overexertion and finally overwhelmed his opponent with the grim endurance of training and motivation. He didn’t go too far, of course, because these two men were much like Adam and John. they knew each other’s limits very well and Firth stopped shortly after Blaczynski began to go slack. He punched once more for good measure, right as Blaczynski grew dazed and went limp. He crawled off and sat cross-legged next to his victim, desperately gulping air and waiting patiently for Blaczynski to regain his wind and wits.

Adam looked at Firth and the expression on his face said it all. The pure joy Adam saw there was…well, deeply intimidating. He’d been on the receiving end of Firth’s feet and fists many times. Only Baseball could make him hurt quite that bad, but Base always stopped when it got a bit overwhelming. Firth? He quite reliably went slightly past friendly every time he fought anyone. He didn’t just want to win, he wanted to dominate. He absolutely delighted in victory.

Of course, once he came down from his victor’s high he always became that stoically happy and caring Brother everyone knew and trusted. And true to form he was clearly concerned as Blaczynski stirred and moaned a bit, struggling to get oxygen to his brain. Firth hefted his still-dazed friend to his feet, hug-supported him while the room stopped spinning, nuzzled him affectionately and gently shepherded him to the wall. He ensured Blaczynski was comfortable then handed him his electrolyte drink.

“Yo, ‘Horse, ‘ya think you can give him a proper dose? I, uh, worked him over good, heh.”

All the men were authorized to self-medicate with Crue-D below a certain dosage. The smaller dose was effective for most training but it was slower when faced with extensive damage. For higher doses, one needed a Protector. The reason was to prevent premature resistance from developing in the operators. While the Corti swore up and down the medicine would remain “fully regenerative” for at least fifteen years, that depended entirely on judicious use. Therefore, larger doses required a careful evaluative eye.

Horse took one look at Blaczynski and decided he needed an immediate injection. He palmed open the security lock on the medicine locker, fetched his supplies, and quickly administered the shot.

“Bro, you feelin’ good?”

“Ungh…yeah. Feel like I got run over.”

Adam mussed his hair affectionately. “You pretty much did. Rest for a bit then go eat big, yeah? You have chicken parmesan waiting in the fridge.”

“Really? Fuck yeah! …Ow. Okay, I’ll…just sit here for a bit and recover.”

Adam chuckled and head over to Firth. He evaluated him as well. “Dude, you’re nursing a cracked rib. You need a bigger patch.”

“Yeah. He’s a tough little shit. He kicked me so hard earlier I could barely breathe for a bit. Then he beat my skull in, heh.”

“Serves you right.” He fetched the high-dose patch and re-sealed the medicine cabinet.

“Sure does. Still. I usually win, so that’s all that matters.” He chuckled a bit darkly, seemingly very pleased with himself.

Adam smirked and applied the subcutaneous patch, one of the newer generation that dissolved through the skin. It was fast but quite painful. He pinned Firth in place and pressed hard to activate the patch, who accepted the pain without expression or even a grunt. When Adam removed the backing a short while later there was no sign of the patch except a slightly raised bump under Firth’s skin.

They sat for a moment in silence. Firth, being perceptive, noticed ‘Horse’s unease. He cast a glance over at Starfall who was a bit more ambulatory and stumbling to his feet.

“Hey, shithead. Leave us be for a bit, ‘kay?” He said it with an affectionate tone.

“Yeah yeah, I’ll leave you two big-dicked freaks alone so you can compare or whatever.”

“Fuck off! And don’t eat my fuckin’ chicken or I’ll break your little body!”

A raised middle finger and a grin was Starfall’s reply as he left the room.

Righteous chuckled for a bit, then focused his full, intense attention on ‘Horse.

“What’s eatin’ you, big man?”

Secretly, Adam loved little compliments like that and they meant much more from people he either respected or feared. And Firth was, well, both an admirable and terrifying individual. It didn’t matter that Adam was, physically speaking, superior in virtually every measure that mattered to him. He was the heaviest, hardest, toughest, and easily the strongest member of the team, and he could use that power endlessly; he was definitely the alpha-dog of the pack. For now, at least. But Firth’s untapped physical potential was staggering. He had the most room to grow as he was noticeably broader and a good deal taller than anyone else on the team. He was faster, quicker and much more nimble on his feet, far more enduring in a raging high motion, and he was mean. Well, sometimes. But he was also friendly and loyal. Adam couldn’t help but admire him a little. Maybe a bit more than a little.

It also didn’t help that every time Firth looked at Adam he felt as if the giant warrior was killing him in his mind over and over, looking for any and all weakness. This wasn’t how Adam thought. Adam worried about protecting his charges and was constantly on the alert for threats. He always had an escape route mapped and cover located. But Firth? He was constantly destroying his enemies in his head.

Or so Adam suspected.

He sighed and shook his head to clear it out. “I’m mad about the pirate,” he confessed.

“Time for an Old Man Talk.” Adam chuckled while Firth straightened up and sat cross-legged. As a Master Sergeant and therefore the senior airman amongst the operators, Firth was the unofficial example of Air Force life for the young Protectors. One of these informal duties included advice. He faced Adam directly, who muscled himself into a similar position, ready and respectful.

Firth took a cleansing breath and released it. “Your first time, then.” He said it very gently.

“What? No! Dude, I scored the very first kill on Capitol station! And I’m pretty sure I killed more of those fuckers than anyone besides Legsy, God bless him. And there was the Egypt mission, too!”

“Hunters and biodrones don’t count,” Firth explained patiently. “They’re not people. That pirate was.”

That was a stunning statement. One that knocked Adam out of his indignation and right into cognitive dissonance.

“Ah, good. You’re ready for learning. Lemme make some educated guesses.” He thought for a moment, choosing his words. “You’ve killed a hell of a lot of Hunters these past couple of years. Some of them up close and very fuckin’ personal. I remember that mission last year where you dismembered that Red Hunter limb from limb.” He fixed Adam with a look that could pierce steel. “We Aggressors talk, y’know. We all saw that you took slightly too long to do the deed. You enjoyed it, didn’t you?”

“He ate the target! After he threw a Nervejam and almost killed my ass!”

“And the target was in no state to be moved, so you could only watch as the Nervejam killed it and—”

“FIRTH.” Adam growled dangerously but Firth was utterly unintimidated.

“Relax, buddy. I’m making a point. And you didn’t answer the question. Did. You. Enjoy it?”

“…yeah.” He felt dirty just voicing the confession.

“Felt good, didn’t it?” Firth had a strange look to his eye, one Adam couldn’t quite identify. He didn’t think he much liked it.

“…I’m not sure.”

“Bullshit. It felt fuckin’ fantastic but you don’t wanna admit it. it’s important that you do.”

“This is startin’ to sound kinda sick, I gotta admit.”

“No, you fuckin’ idiot, it’s gettin’ to th’ fuckin’ truth of the world. Because there’s a second part. When you killed that pirate, how did you feel? Answer honestly, now.”

Firth waited patiently. It took Adam a long while to answer. “It felt…right. Like he deserved it.”

“Fair ‘nuff. I suppose he did, shootin’ at a helpless man an’ all. An’…thanks fer savin’ Sikes. I’m awful fond o’ him.” He paused and smiled, genuinely, but then he dove back into the topic at hand. “But how do ‘ya feel now?”

“…I’m not sure.”

“Fuckin’ bullshit. You already tried that line and it ain’t any better. You know how you feel. Man up and fuckin’ say it.”

Adam felt pinned to floor by Firth’s words just as surely as if the terrifying giant were slowly beating the resolve right out of his body. “Fuck. I feel…like, part of me feels like I should feel really bad about killing him like that, but the other part…feels like I did it too quick.”

Firth nodded and smiled a sad little smile.

“Adam, I’m about to tell you a secret that we don’t talk about in polite society. You share it only with people you know are ready, ‘kay?”

Adam nodded.

“Good. Thing is, you and me? We’re fuckin’ killers, bro. And I don’t mean in the limited sense of like how a soldier kills or like a mom might kill to protect her child. We’re different. We’ve done it up close, personal, bloody and raw, and we figgered out were good at it…and that we like it.”

He paused for a moment, to make sure Adam was listening intently. The uncomfortable look on his face told Firth he had hit the mark.

“An’ that fucks with you, don’t it? We’ve killed people and watched the light go outta their eyes as we took their life from them, and we gloried in it, in how fuckin’ game we were, in how goddamned easy it was and how pathetic and weak and undeserving of life they were. And when they died? That’s the best part. You an’ I fuckin’ held ‘em as they snuffed out and we fuckin’ loved it.”

He let that sink in for a bit. “That’s the bit that fucks with you the most. Just how fuckin’ good it feels to do that. Everything about it. It feels so goddamned good it makes you worry if you’re still a decent human being. Sound about right?”

Adam discovered he was holding his breath. “Fuck.”

“Yup. And it’s worse, too, ‘cause you’re a step above like me. We’re natural killers. Most people? They’re pretty much harmless. They can’t really do anything to each other except under extreme provocation, no matter how much they claim or feel otherwise.” He shrugged, “Maybe some of them learn to be killers. Everyone can if they’re brave. But you and I? Well.”

He left the rest unsaid. It didn’t need voicing; Adam seemed to understand…but Firth knew better than to let him be. He fixed Adam with a piercing look. “I’ve been there, bro. Um…remember a while back, when I, uh, shared with you?”

Adam nodded.

“That feeling you had? The one we just talked about? That’s the Caveman. That’s what I gotta fight in my own head every goddamned day. He’s that little part of me that knows exactly how good it would feel to just break that bureaucratic clerk over my knee, or, uh, punch whatever annoying dude so hard and so much he’d be permanently stupid…or, um,” he grew embarrassed and ashamed suddenly, “Makes me really, really careful around women. So…I get it. I get it better than prol’ly anyone on the rest of the team.”

He paused awkwardly, unsure how to proceed. Both men stared at each other at a loss for words. But suddenly, Firth understood what to do. He scooped Adam up in a massive, crushing hug like he was as light as a feather, lifting him totally off the ground and squeezing the very breath from him. It was the only the second time Firth had ever hugged him in such a heartfelt manner. It was warm and tight just like a Baseball hug and it felt good. “You ain’t gonna face your demons alone, bro. I’m here.”

Adam snuggled into Firth’s bearhug in gratitude while Firth mussed his bristly hair, much as Adam had done to Blaczynski. Firth was an intensely macho-stoic man who cared very deeply for his Brothers; he wasn’t one to flaunt his feelings. But when he did express himself it was unfiltered and unreserved, and that made it all the more valuable and much more appreciated. They held for a long moment as Adam silently processed the conversation.

“Christ you’re gettin’ strong,” complimented a slightly distracted Adam, happy for the hug and the male bonding.

“Heh, yup. I’m closin’ in on Baseball pretty quick. And I’m gonna beat you one day, or die trying.” He grinned savagely and squeezed much harder. Adam laughed and hugged back fiercely but carefully, mindful of the Firth’s mending ribs.

Firth chuckled affectionately in response and gently set Adam down. There was a slightly awkward pause as there always after such emotion. Firth remained close, resting his enormous mitt on Adam’s shoulder. The giant man waited expectantly.

“So,” Adam asked hesitantly, “What does this make me?”

“Human. Male. A warrior. All of that, even the ‘sexist’ bit I bet you hate. It makes you like me, and Powell, and Murray, and Blaczynski too when he’s level-headed enough to think things through. Hell, even the Defenders. They were Delta Force after all.”

Firth paused. “You okay bro?” His hand gripped Adam’s shoulder reassuringly, a crushing hold that would injure most men but was merely pleasantly firm to Adam.

“Yeah, I guess.” It was an unenthusiastic statement.

“Liar,” Firth grinned. “But it’s okay. I did too when I got this talk. Just remember: you may be a Protector, the best goddamned Protector we’ll ever have, I bet, and even Baseball would say so. You’ve devoted your life to saving others and that’s fuckin’ admirable as shit, man. But your heart is like an Aggressor’s.”

Firth stood up and headed back towards the barracks. He stopped at the door, turned around, and said, “There’s something even better than taking your foe’s life. You wanna know what it is?”

“What?” questioned Adam weakly.

“When you can, and it’s right, but you don’t. That’s how you stay human. Don’t ever forget it.”

He wouldn’t.

“Regaari, he seems…upset. And sad.” He pointed his nose over towards Warhorse, who was busy chopping a mountain of vegetables for a stir-fry.

“Indeed. He…regrets how he handled the pirate. I think he regrets it more than you or I would.”

Daar thought on that for a while. “I think that is good.”

The two sat on the floor with Bozo, rubbing his back and scratching his ears. The big dog seemed to understand the mood amongst the operators was cautious and dour, so instead of his usual boisterous “WURF!!” upon meeting friends, he was quiet, subdued, and careful. It was remarkable, really, how completely a non-sapient creature like Bozo could understand.

They sat in silence for a moment, lost in thought while Bozo’s gaze panned between the kitchen and the Cousins. Quietly, he contemplated the situation with his non-verbal, canine brain. He made his decision: FRIENDS! He nuzzled Daar forcefully, earning a chittering laugh, then rolled onto clown-sized paws and padded to the kitchen. He looked back with an expectant expression. Daar, perhaps because he was new, perhaps because he wasn’t Warhorse’s close friend, or maybe just because he was the only thing like an advocate for the unfortunate pirate, finally got the hint and decided something must be done.

“Let’s help him cook.” Regaari agreed.

They stood up and headed to the kitchen where Warhorse was unloading a massive pile of chicken and beef from the fridge. Without a word they set to work, with Daar helping unload and Regaari busying himself with the massive wok on the burner.

Simple gestures convey much, and for Adam, the emotional relief was profound. Regaari was subtle to read but Daar was totally unambiguous. Happily, and with absolutely no hint of fear, anger, or grudge, “It will go much faster if we help!”

There was a look in Warhorse’s slightly moistened eyes that Daar could not interpret. “Thanks.”

The Gaoians nodded in reply. The eyes were important for reading the subtler human emotions, Daar was learning, and a quick glance at Regaari confirmed all was well. They worked, and after that things remained quiet except for business-like instruction here or there. Chop this into thin strips against the grain…No no, let me handle the chicken…Add oil. And so forth.

It was always a minor magic how a brotherhood bonds and teaches the beings within it. Some of that energy transcended even language. Bozo, sensing something Important with his limited doggy means, fetched Righteous with wordless suggestion, leading him to the kitchen with his body and nose. Firth saw there was work to be done and decided to set the table. Bozo wagged his tail, pleased with his success, and naturally decided EVERYONE could help. He then fetched Rebar, who arrived, saw that beer was in order, and then went to bring up the keg. One by one the men filtered in, led or nudged by the big, goofy mascot.

It didn’t take long for the whole of SOR, either human or Gaoian, to pick up on the vibe and break from their routines. The humans quickly found themselves busy with dinner while the Gaoian Brothers almost as one set to cleaning the barracks. The kitchen and dining area were getting crowded, after all, and the chores wouldn’t take long. Chatter resumed. Quiet and tentative at first, until at last Daar and Regaari said something suitably ridiculous and Warhorse cracked a smile.

“There ain’t no way you could flip a car! I mean, you’re big and all…”

“Can too! I’ll prove it after dinner!”

“Now this I gotta see.” Firth grinned as everyone paid attention.

“Ain‘t no way he can do it.” Sikes folded his arms across his chest with a bemused expression.

“And if he could?” Regaari showed a positively evil grin, “What would you be willing to bet?”

“Hmm…” Adam stroked his chin. “Y’know, we could really use a laundry boy around here…especially since next week is Gravball and sim week. Just think of all those stinky shorts!”

Hoots and jeers of approval from all gathered. Regaari blanched just a little.

“Seems fair,” said Daar. “But if I can flip that car, you gotta be Regaari’s, uh, what’s that show? ‘My Little Pony?’ ”

Regaari regained his confidence at the giggling cheers and red-eared reaction from ‘Horse. “A personal transport! Yes, I approve. I shall ask Ayma for tips and tricks!”

That little zinger unlocked the floodgates. Adam forgot all his misery and anger and what might have been, or what he could have done differently. The SOR were once again loud, boisterous, happy and productive. With so many strong and energetic hands available, the food was prepped, the barracks spit-polished and squared away, and the pots and pans thoroughly cleaned as the food was cooked.

Soon it was time to eat. They sat at the two huge tables in the dining area. Instead of chairs they used heavy metal benches, both because they were simple and durable, and of course they encouraged the kind of close-shoulder comfort that was so very important for the happiness of the men. Adam, ever the cook, tried to sit last but that was denied as Righteous and Baseball frog-marched him to the bench and sat his ass down.

“But the food isn’t done—oh.” Titan walked up with the enormous wok in his hands, the men’s slightly racist teasing happily ignored with wicked, loving insults at the ready. In short order everything was at the table. The men crammed onto the benches and went about their meal with as much enthusiasm as giant, boisterous men would be expected to display. Daar and Regaari? Daar was wedged in between Arés and Firth on the left, and Regaari on the right, smashed comfortably against Baseball. It was warm, and affectionate, and the jokes flowed freely…

One may be forgiven for thinking Adam was ever in a foul mood. In the corner Bozo watched, happy and relaxed, and took a well-deserved nap.