The Deathworlders


1 Tzedakah

For He will instruct His angels in your behalf, to guard you in all your ways.
They will carry you in their hands, lest you hurt your foot on a rock. You
will tread upon the lion and the viper; you will trample upon the young lion
and the serpent

—Psalm 91

Date Point: 14Y 1W AV

Jerusalem, Israel

The hastily-summoned Knesset was in a low uproar. Earth’s news organizations had been able to get very little out of the tight-lipped military regarding the one question everybody wanted an answer to: what was happening to Gao? Speculation was rampant, and the various members of the Israeli Parliament were, mostly, just as much in the dark as anyone. The few reports received from Cimbrean that hadn’t been summarily censored showed massive numbers of hollow-eyed Gaoian refugees pouring through the jump platforms, and while no one seemed to have actual facts, it was obvious that there was very, very little good news to be had.

A harsh bang of the gavel from the raised dais at the top of the chamber brought an end to most of the buzz of side conversation, as the members looked to their own leadership. The session had been called at an unusually early hour; overhead, the rising sun was just illuminating the high windows, and most of them had had to be roused from bed to attend. It was unusual enough that, to a man, they had assembled.

“We will come to order,” intoned the Speaker into his microphone. The last whispering stopped, and, uncharacteristically, the room was silent for a moment. “Thank you. We recognize the Prime Minister.” So addressed, the Prime Minister stood and approached a podium. She adjusted a pile of papers, then looked up.

“Thank you, members, for coming this morning. I realize this is earlier than the customary time, and I apologize for bringing you here at this hour. What I have to say, however, cannot wait or face delay.” She paused for a moment, and then plunged on.

“My office was made aware yesterday of several developments in the ongoing Gaoian crisis. Allied Extrasolar Command has successfully secured the Gaoian system from outside attack, driven off the Hunters, and deployed a system defense shield.” She held up a hand to forestall comment, even as she was interrupted by applause and shouts of approval from most of the room.

“There is much, however, to be done simply to secure the surface of Gao from remaining enemy forces. We received word yesterday that the Gao have raised a Great Father, for the first time in millennia, to address this, and of course there is the deployment of the US Army to the surface for ongoing combat operations.”

“Humanity is at a crucial and unprecedented point today. Fourteen years ago, we learned for absolute certain that we are not alone in the universe…and one topic that has been conspicuously absent from this body’s deliberation is whether the laws that govern us all, the rights that we have called human are, in fact human rights at all. I believe they are not. I believe that God created our non-human friends as He created us, and I believe it is time that this body led the rest of Humanity in recognizing this central truth.” She paused, waiting for the racket to die down, as some applauded, some booed, and some shouted. It took several minutes and several raps of the Speaker’s gavel for the chamber to be quiet again.

“Our American friends, several hundred years ago, put into one of their founding documents that they hold the truths of equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to be self-evident, that they are granted by a merciful and just God, and that they are inherent to all men.. I have come before this body with a challenge, to be the first among nations to righteously declare that there is a right to existence and sentience possessed by all living peoples, be they human or no.” The chamber was dead silent as the members looked at one another. The Prime Minister went on, more quietly.

“This nation, this people, this very chamber and every man and woman here, is here because the history of the Jewish people is written in tears. We understand loss. We understand pain. We remember. It is graven in our very bones. It is therefore right, and just, that we lead our fellow Man in recognizing the right of all sentient people to exist, that moakh shalit al halev, or, the heart is ruled by the mind, and that a people who remember the Holocaust must never permit such a thing to happen to others without answer. Thank you.”

Date Point: 14Y 1W

Office of Governor-General Sir Jeremy Sandy, Folctha, Cimbrean

Sister Niral

The scratch scratch of a Gaoian at the door was, for Sir Jeremy, a welcome break in what felt like a week that would probably not end until the universe died of heat death. Sir Jeremy had been functioning on an hour or two of sleep snatched at odd intervals since the launch of the Gaoian Crisis. He couldn’t remember the last time he had showered, had an uninterrupted hot meal, or more than five consecutive hours of sleep, but being able to actually receive a Gaoian visitor while he was in his office felt both like a return to some kind of normalcy and an encouraging sign that the refugee camps’ internal organization had progressed to a point that they were able to send someone to him for something.

“Come,” he said in a raised voice. The door swung open. “Sister Niral. How may I be of service?” Without asking, he poured her a cuppa, having literally just heated the water for himself, for the umpteenth time that day, and slid it across to her.

She took the cup with a grateful tilt to her ears. “I…we cannot… I cannot thank you, and every human, enough for all you are doing for us, Sir Jeremy. If there was any doubt that our peoples are meant to be allies, I think the last week has dispelled that.” She held the cup in tired paws, simply feeling the warmth and inhaling the delicate fragrance.

“We were in no position to help the Guvnurag,” Sir Jeremy said after a moment. “The words never again have a special meaning for my people, as you may know. To stand by and watch that happen to your people was not something we could abide.”

Niral sipped. “We are more grateful than you know.”

Sir Jeremy grimaced. “Even now, I and the commanders of our forces wish we could do more.” He sighed and took a sip of his own tea, which, as always, was a panacea if only for a moment. They sat in silence, both sipping.

“I came to ask, actually, if the hall for the Thing is available,” Niral said, finally. “While your organizations are doing an incredible job managing things, some of us feel that it is past time we took over organizing logistics for incoming refugees and the cubs, and played a more direct hand in managing. We appear to be here for the long term, Governor, and it would be wrong of us to allow you to shoulder it alone.”

Sir Jeremy raised one eyebrow. “I don’t believe we have anyone housed there currently…which is unusual now that I think about it. I don’t see why not…but the Thing might have to be convened. That isn’t a decision I have the authority to make, Sister. What did you have in mind to use it for?”

Niral frowned. “To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure. We don’t govern the same way you do—we make decisions communally and informally—but I think there’s a lesson there in having a place…dedicated to making decisions and to assembling…that isn’t used for something else. And there is no way that those decisions and discussions can happen in the camps—the camps are too busy and chaotic for it.”

Sir Jeremy was nodding as she finished speaking. “Aye, I will be happy to take this to the leadership, and I’ll run point on getting word back to you. How does that sound?”

Niral gave him a faint Gaoian smile with her ears cocked. “Thank you, Governor. I need to be going.” She finished her tea, and nodded again to him, and closed the door on her way out.

Date Point: 14 Y 1W AV

Interfaith Center, Folctha, Cimbrean

Gyotin, Clan Starmind

The sound of plucking strings and a soft, haunting melody wafted through the air, as Gyotin returned to the Interfaith Center both to check in with his fellow Starminds and to get something to eat. The sound started and stopped, with the voice of a male human speaking every time it stopped to an audience of some kind.

Gyotin rounded the corner and stopped, surprised. The floor of the big central room was absolutely stuffed with cubs, several Mothers overseeing their wayward charges, but that wasn’t the surprising thing. The surprise was…they were all, every last one of them, holding still and paying attention. By itself, this was nearly miraculous—there were probably fifty of them, divided into three groups roughly the same size as one another, and grouped mostly by age. The human standing at the front of the room with a stringed musical instrument of some sort was speaking to the littlest ones with the aid of a translator on his arm.

“Okay…just like we were practicing earlier,” and the song began again as he addressed the other two groups. “I’ll cue your groups to come in—remember, this is called a ‘round’, meaning you’ll all be singing different parts of the same song at the same time, and here we go, with me….” He nodded to the youngest cubs, and they began to sing, hesitantly pronouncing the unfamiliar words and then gaining more confidence. The verse ended, and began again, and as the first verse ended, the second group picked up and began singing the same song over the top of the first group. The melody was sad, and soft, and full of haunting regret and loss, remembrance of places, people, and things gone forever. The Mothers, Gyotin noticed, were doing their utmost to be silent as the cubs sang. He walked in quietly and stood next to several of them by the youngest cubs in the room.

It wasn’t a long song, Gyotin noticed, and as it came to an end, several of the Mothers he stood next to surreptitiously wiped tears from their eyes and at least one inhaled deeply in an attempt to not whimper. The cubs’ attention was still on the Human at the front of the room, who smiled as the song finished, the deeper voices of the almost-adult cubs at the back of the room trailing off, followed by a final chord from his instrument.

“That song is a verse set to music, but the verse was very old, for humans. It was written, we think, about four thousand of our years ago, and what we’re singing now is a translation…of a translation, of a translation, I think. This music is much more recent, it was written maybe fifty years ago; this verse has been set to music many times, as have most of the verses in the same book,” the man said. He caught Gyotin’s eye and nodded. “Okay. I want to hear some of the songs you know now. You figure out what you’re going to sing—I’m going to go talk to the Mothers about boring grownup things.” He winked at the room, and a round of chittering flickered across the room, as he walked through the narrow opening between groups of cubs, as they busily began moving around, pulling things out of covered bags and making room for one another by essentially piling atop one another in a recursive heap of fuzzy cuteness.

“That was lovely song. Very …haunting? That was the right word?” Gyotin asked in English. The man bowed, and replied in accented but otherwise flawless Gaori.

[“Haunting is perhaps the exact word, yes. My people have many songs that reflect loss; that one is a favorite of mine both because it is so simple and because it’s very well-known. And it’s easy to sing.“] He stopped speaking and nodded his head towards the exit, as the more enthusiastic older cubs demonstrated to the younger, more energetic ones how the various percussion instruments they were pulling out worked. The resulting thumping, clanking, banging, and sounds that had no convenient onomatopoeic description was quickly becoming difficult to talk over. The four Gaoians and taller Human exited the room and let the door close most of the way, and all three Mothers sighed in relief once the cubs could no longer see them.

[“Cubs are a blessing and a burden at once, aren’t they?”] the human said with another smile. [“I’m Aaron.”] The females and Gyotin introduced themselves quickly. Back inside the big room, the sounds of tall drums settled into a rhythm, augmented by a deep rhythmic bark that was half a shout and half a simple challenging exhalation. It built quickly, as more of the cubs picked up the rhythm, and before more than a minute had gone by, Aaron started chuckling.

“That’s a haka, isn’t it? Or at least, it sounds a lot like one,” he said in English. He looked inside to see, sure enough, a chittering line of young male cubs dancing for the group in moves that no human spine could possibly emulate.

“They must have seen one in our media….that’s…that’s actually pretty well done.” He looked back at the group to see all three of the Mothers with a scandalized set to their ears. “Oh, you mustn’t think I’m offended. Quite the opposite, really. I’m glad they have so much resilience.”

“We…need to get them settled down, I think. It’s getting late, and the small ones at least will be up all night if they’re not nested down soon,” said one of the Mothers, to agreement from the other two. “Thank you for your time, Rabbi Aaron. We look forward to more music.”

The three Females re-entered the group, bringing the gyrating frenzy to an abrupt and unpopular halt. Once the drums were stowed, and the elder cubs press-ganged into getting the youngest together, in a remarkably short time, the Gaoian children left the Interfaith Center, chirruping goodbyes to “Rabbi Aaron” in high-pitched little voices.

“It is a good thing you do,” said Gyotin kindly. “Come. Have tea and sit with me a while.”

“Tea sounds wonderful,” Aaron said. They went into one of the many side rooms lined with books, and Gyotin busied himself for perhaps the hundredth time that day. His simple version of a tea ceremony never seemed to fail in applying its magic, and while he’d had lots of practice on refugees lately, he was interested to see how a human would respond.

As the water heated, building up in a steady quiet whistle inside the pot, Gyotin regarded his new visitor. “This instrument you have…is a guitar, yes?” Aaron nodded.

“I’ve played since I was a teen. A major part of my work at home is seeing to refugees in camps not unlike the one outside of town here, although they’re entirely populated by humans.”

Gyotin cocked his ears. “I often forget how few of your people are involved beyond your own world.”

“Parts of our world are still very primitive. Music, I’ve found, is one of the few ways that I can connect with nearly anyone, and I was interested to see how it would work with, well, non-humans. The opportunity was too good to resist.”

“My people’s string instruments, what few we use, are much less complex,” Gyotin observed. “Fewer strings, and much different configuration—some are large and have many strings, but each string is one note, not many as yours seems to be.” Aaron swung the guitar in front of himself.

“This is a purely acoustic guitar; it’s been in my family for a long time. Six strings, tuned at the top with tension, with different thicknesses to allow for different ranges of notes,” he gestured to it as he explained. “Pressure on the strings at different points makes for different sounds, like so…” he demonstrated a single note, rising in pitch as he slid his hand further towards the bottom of the string.

“Strings can be plucked…or struck….or strummed…” He demonstrated the various different methods. “There was one famous electric guitarist that used a power drill to play. He was amazing in his day.”

Gyotin was fascinated despite himself. Even in simple tools, humans consistently demonstrated a depth of thought and development that was mostly unprecedented in the larger galactic community, doing more with less than anyone else ever had. “How many kinds of guitar are there? You mentioned that this one is acoustic…and you have electric ones too?”

“Oh yes. And hybrid guitars that are acoustic but have electric pickups. Guitars made of different materials, different types of strings—all used for different kinds of music. Here, let me show you.” Aaron pulled out his phone and accessed the colony’s cache of YouTube.

“So… here’s that guy I was telling you about.” They watched Eddie Van Halen for a moment, and Gyotin’s tail was soon twitching to Van Halen’s classic.

“So energetic,” Gyotin said, leaning over to look closer at the small screen as the video wound down.

“Okay…and here’s another one….this is a contrast. This is the original, which is basically just for fun,” He let the video play, and they watched several outlandishly dressed young human males cavorting in unlikely-looking clothing.

Aaron pulled up a third video. “Look at what this guy did with an acoustic guitar, with the same tune, though.” Gyotin couldn’t help twitching his tail and bobbing his head to the beat of this one, which appealed to him a lot.

“And those are the same song!” Gyotin marveled after the video of Noah Guthrie was done playing. “We have different versions of our music, but….nothing quite like that. It’s the same song, but they’re nothing alike at all.”

“Exactly. I think music is one of the single things that humans…or, actually, thinking beings of all kinds, really…can all relate to, even if it’s something we don’t appreciate. I don’t like American country music, particularly, but there are millions of humans who do,” Aaron said, nodding. “Among my people, music is a way of remembering the past. We have songs that are older than Western civilization by thousands of years, although most haven’t lasted.”

Gyotin cocked his head. “That’s the second time you have referred to ‘my people’. What do you mean by that?”

Aaron blinked. “I…I guess I’m so used to people knowing what being a Jew means that I hadn’t considered that you might not.”

Gyotin’s ears splayed with tired humor. “How is a ‘Jew’ different from other humans? To my nose, you all smell much the same. What does it mean to you?”

“Oh, man. Where to even start?” Aaron said, thoughtfully. “Okay. You know that one of the ways that humans divide ourselves is by religion, yeah?” Gyotin nodded, aware from his reading in the human library that there were possibly as many different religions as there were living human beings; he and the other Starminds had gravitated towards Zen Buddhism for most of their still-developing philosophy, but he had found nuggets of various truths that resonated with him with nearly every religious text he had been able to get his paws on.

“So…Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are all from the same roots, what most scholars accept as being the ‘Abrahamic religions’. I personally think that all three split from the original root at different times and for different historical pressures, but in some circles that’s an unpopular opinion.”

Gyotin nodded. He had read at length about the divide between three of Earth’s major religions, and found it both alarming and fascinating that such subtle differences in doctrine had led to so much strife.

“Anyway—Christianity came to dominate the West, from about a millenia and a half ago until the present day. During that time, the Jews, followers of Judaism that is, had been dispersed throughout Europe away from our homeland. For many reasons that I won’t go into now, it was not just legally sanctioned, but religiously encouraged, to discriminate against my people. Read Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice some time, if you haven’t already, and understand that the character of Shylock is a Jew.”

Gyotin duck-nodded; he hadn’t previously encountered an actual rabbi, and didn’t want to interrupt the torrent of words coming from his new friend, so said nothing. He had found that humans, particularly younger humans that were excited or passionate about something, typically would simply fill silence with whatever that topic was until they exhausted themselves or realized that the other party wasn’t saying anything. It was useful in the extreme, because most of them never realized he was simply being silent and listening, and those that did went on about what a good listener he was. Young Ava Rios was like that.

“Within the last century,” Aaron went on, “we experienced something that reminds me very much of what is happening to your people today.” He idly plucked at his guitar, eliciting a mournful chord or two. “In places, nine out of ten Jews were…exterminated, intentionally. Roughly six million of my people were slaughtered for no crime more serious than their birth, in a span of about six or seven of our years. They called it a ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Problem’.”

“The American President released some information several days ago,” Gyotin said thoughtfully. “He said that the true enemy is the hand inside the Hunter puppet, and that they are the ones that have made so many of my people into these drones. I have heard that Great Father Daar has said the same.”

“Zombies,” Aaron said without humor. “They fit the bill.” Gyotin nodded an acknowledgement.

“Zombies, then. Yes… perhaps they try to exterminate us because they see us as a threat, you think?” Gyotin asked. “This makes me think perhaps we are more powerful than we think. In a way, it is a compliment.”

Aaron laughed, a single exhalation that had little actual humor in it. “For someone whose people is facing extinction, you have a unique point of view.”

“As do you,” Gyotin observed. “What is it that keeps your people…your people, do you think? This is a question I have asked many times since I came here, of many people, and I get many answers.”

“We have a shared history and culture that has been very resilient for thousands of our years,” Aaron replied. “In many ways, Jewish history is defined by our resilience in the face of loss.” He strummed a few more mournful chords by way of illustration and began to sing softly.. As it wound to a halt, Aaron resumed talking, as though he had not interrupted himself.

“That song is about the pogroms in eastern Europe…coming home to find everything…the town, the people you love, the very street you live on and the house you live in simply….gone. Gone forever,” Aaron said quietly.

Gyotin laid his ears back almost involuntarily and made a wordless sound of shared pain.

Aaron went on. “In many ways, I suspect that there are many of your people that will understand that song all too well before this is over, and it will make no difference that the enemy is one they didn’t even know existed. At least my people have usually understood who the enemy was, you know?”

“Knowing your enemy is important. Knowing yourself is more important, I think,” Gyotin returned.

“That’s the trick isn’t it?” Aaron asked. He strummed at his guitar without playing anything in particular. “What do you think the result of this is going to be? I mean…among my people, we formed a new nation and went after the people that had hurt us the most. Your situation isn’t quite the same.”

Gyotin thought for a long moment. “I am not sure what to think, but I am afraid, in a way.”

“What are you afraid of?” Aaron asked him, pausing with the guitar.

“I am not sure, to be honest. I…the best comparison I can give you is a Gaoian saying. I smell Keeda’s agony. I do not know what the future has in store for my people, but I think it will have much pain.”

Date Point: 14Y 1W 4D AV

Washington DC, United States of America, Earth

President Sartori

”….run that by me again, son,” Sartori said to his morning briefing officer.

“The Israeli Knesset, sir. Their PM made an early morning address a few days ago, drawing a direct parallel from the Gaoian situation to the Holocaust. In response, the Knesset enacted a new Basic Law this morning, which as you know, sir, is essentially what passes for a Constitutional Amendment, since they don’t have a Constitution. It declares the…hang on, sir, let me read this directly…” the officer trailed off. Sartori wasn’t a bad boss, as far as this job went. Most of the time, he was downright pleasant to work for, as he was anything but a bullshitter, and in Colonel Howard’s experience, that was a pretty rare thing in a leader.

”…Let’s see. Here it is, sir. …recognizes the rights of all sentient beings to exist, and to protect and defend that right by any and all means… Goes on to outline the right to self-defense, sir, but that’s the gist of it. There’s an explanatory statement that references the Gao specifically, sir, but the text of the Basic Law isn’t that specific. This also comes with a request from the Israeli ambassador for a meeting with you, at your earliest convenience.”

Sartori growled something wordless into his second…maybe third, he wasn’t sure… cup of coffee for the morning. He’d sworn off the stuff during his campaign, but his term thus far had reignited his body’s need for sufficient caffeine with a vengeance, and his staff had quickly adapted to ensuring that The Boss had a ready supply.

“All right, thank you, Andrew. Anything else?”

“Just one final item, sir. AEC says they’ll have a briefing for you in a few days on….”

Date Point: 14Y 1W 4D AV

Various locations across Western Civilization, Earth

It began in many places, as most such movements do. If it could be truly said to have started anywhere, a historian might have placed that point in Israel, but by the time anyone might have cared about such things, the moment for identifying it was long gone and forgotten.

The Knesset’s decisions, occasionally impenetrable, sometimes almost contradictory, but always impactful, typically always had an effect of some kind on the Jewish community of the West. Rabbis in synagogues read the new Basic Law, did some thinking about it, and although some of them spoke with their peers about it, nearly all of them came to the same conclusion.

Often little-appreciated, known, or acknowledged by the non-faithful was a nonetheless core tenet of Jewish faith; a mitzvah injunction to charity. Equating the Gao’s plight to the Holocaust was a powerful statement, albeit one not fully appreciated by the massive Western media until rabbis in nearly every synagogue in the West spoke about it the following Sabbath. That changed things. Enormous online communities sprang up almost overnight, coordinating the biggest question of How can I help with the biggest answer Here’s what’s needed, followed by news reports on CNN and other networks worldwide. At the moment, nothing yet was known, and inevitably, all eyes turned to the State of Israel.

They’d kicked this off. There must be a plan behind it.

Date Point: 14Y 2W 1D AV

Washington DC, United States of America, Earth

President Sartori

“Ambassador! Thank you for coming!” President Sartori greeted the Israeli Ambassador with a firm handshake and a smile polished by both years of public speaking and a genuine like of this particular Ambassador. “Please, come in, have a seat.” They were in the Oval Office, and he led the group accompanying the Ambassador around to a pair of cream-colored couches in front of the Presidential desk, gesturing to the empty one and taking a seat next to his Chief of Staff and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, from the Pentagon. Once all were seated, coffee offered and declined, and the niceties observed, he leaned back. “How may the United States help our Israeli friends?”

“Thank you, Mr. President,” began the Ambassador. “I must introduce my companions; this is General Gavriel Schur of the Israeli Defense Force, and Rabbi Uwriy Walden, a representative of one of the largest Chabad-Lubavitch communities in the United States.”

“Gentlemen…welcome,” said Sartori. “These are my Chief of Staff and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Please, go on.”

“Mr. President, thank you. As you may know, the Knesset enacted a new Basic Law several days ago, recognizing the right to exist of all sentient beings. The State of Israel is prepared to contribute materially, and to leverage our global community resource base, to assist the Gaoian people in their time of need. Mr. President, I cannot emphasize enough how gravely my government considers this. What has happened…is happening…to the Gao is another Holocaust. To us, never again means exactly that, as I am sure you can appreciate.” The Ambassador paused, and then went on.

“Toward that end, I have been authorized by my government to make the following requests of the United States, and my counterparts in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada are this morning putting this matter before the Prime Ministers of those nations. One, we wish to formally and fully join Allied Extrasolar Command as a fully participating partner in every sense; this includes, particularly, entrants to the Spaceborne Operations Regiment, and we are prepared to contribute logistical support to both Gao and to the refugee population on Cimbrean. Two, I mentioned a moment ago, we are prepared to leverage our global community resource base. Specifically, we want to directly support the Cimbrean refugee effort; we have a great deal of logistical expertise with such things, as I am sure you know. We have mobile hospitals that can network with specialists in Folctha and provide full services on-site, up to and including surgery, trauma care, or stasis transport to a fully equipped medical facility.” The Ambassador leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees and looking Sartori directly in the eyes.

“Mr. President, we consider this a moral obligation. I fully anticipate a repeat of other such refugee relief efforts as we have conducted with great success in the past. I cannot put it more simply. We offer, because we must help. Morally, we cannot allow this opportunity to pass without trying.” Sartori took a deep breath, as he usually did before responding to proposals that had considerable weight behind them.

“Pending the agreement of Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, and of course figuring out exactly what role Israel will play…the United States agrees in principle. I don’t know what help you can provide, sir, but any and all efforts are welcome.” Sartori reached a hand across the table, and their hands met in a firm, solid grasp.

Date Point: 14Y 2W 4D AV

Refugee Camp 4—Folctha, Cimbrean

Mother Seema

Seema couldn’t decide what was worse; the new, fresh, raw stench of suffering every time a new group from Gao came to the camp, the thought usually following it that her nose would simply never get inured to it, or the fear that it would. None of the Mothers had any answers for the cubs plaintively asking what had happened, when they could go home, where they were now, or why whatever was happening had happened.

There were rumors, of course. Seema wasn’t sure what to believe despite having seen events on Gao firsthand. Grim-faced Stonebacks covered in gore and tall Humans with unreadable expressions had swooped in on her commune, run some kind of sensor over her head and the head of every Mother they had brought with them, had bodily thrown them into massive military vehicles of some kind for a rough and unkind ride to a spaceport that looked nothing like it had when she had been there before. It had taken her an uncomfortable amount of time to recognize Lavmuy Spaceport, it had changed at the hands of Humans so much. Tense conversations had followed, and then she and the others were…here. Meeting humans that had greeted them with worried faces, hot food and drink, and sorrow that transcended any language barriers at all. The last two weeks had been a total blur and the most infuriating thing of all is that not even the Stonebacks would tell her what was happening and why they had destroyed her life, in a violation of everything she had learned as a cub about the Females’ special relationship with Stoneback.

She’d heard that the Wi Kao Females commune had met with tragic results, and it was rumored that some of the Females there had tried to break their sisters free and been summarily cut down. She wasn’t sure that she believed it. Mother-Supreme Yulna had released a recorded statement pleading for the Females to follow the Stonebacks and the Humans, that they were protecting the Females according to the old Contract, and that the Swarm of Swarms was about to attack Gao. There had been more, but Seema couldn’t remember everything the Mother-Supreme had said—one of the human medics that had stayed in their camp almost the whole time they had been there had called it …something. “Pee Tee Ess Dee” or something like that, but she hadn’t explained it and it hadn’t seemed important enough to demand an answer.

The interceding weeks had been uneventfully exhausting. The Humans never seemed to sleep at all; Seema would lie down at the end of a day and when she awoke, she would swear the Humans that had been up and moving around when she’d gone to sleep were still there, tending to the Mothers and the cubs. They were so compassionate….she had made friends with several, although she was unable to reconcile the caring and empathetic people with the rumors of forbidding Deathworlders. Even their cubs…children…toiled alongside parents in an endless and one-way river of empathy.

As more, and yet more Mothers, Sisters, and cubs were brought from Gao, however, the problem of population pressure and everything it brought with it became more and more apparent. Eventually, she knew, even the Humans were going to simply run out of resources. She sat, taking her turn watching a sizeable group of youngsters try to learn a game from some Human children called “football” that involved a great deal of running and kicking a black-and-white ball according to rules Seema knew she couldn’t have remembered at this point if she’d tried. It kept them busy, however, and that was the important thing. Busy cubs were cubs that weren’t indulging their endless fascination with mischief and/or shenanigans. A shadow fell over her, and she looked up.

“May I sit with you, Sister?” said the other Female. Seema didn’t know her, but duck-nodded, grateful to have the company. “I’m Niral.”

“I’m Seema,” she said, as the other Female sat. “It’s good to see them playing again.” She nodded at the cubs running amok on the field, one particularly small and enthusiastic male with, apparently, a pair of Human shorts in his mouth running fourpaw ahead of the pack and being chased by all and sundry. The ball sat, forgotten, at one end of the field. Even the human children ran, behind the pack of cubs, shrieking with laughter and faux outrage, with the one who was sans his shorts laughing and yelling at the others to bring them back, now that the game of “football” had become an elaborate game of keepaway.

“I don’t know how you manage to keep your eye on that many of them at once,” Niral said with an amused tilt to her ears. “I typically only have about three or four of them to deal with. Or, I should say, I did before this all happened. Things have been a little different over the last week or two.”

“Where were you when this started?” Seema asked, unable to help herself.

“I…I have been with the Female Commune here in Folctha for several years,” Niral said. “I work with the human military here.” She sighed. “I was the one that found the electronic intercept showing that the Hunters were coming to Gao, but I was too late to do anything about it other than warn others.”

Seema’s ears had gone flat, despite herself. “So it is true. The Hunters came to Gao. I had heard, but no-one seems to know, really, and I don’t know what to believe.” She deflated, misery rising unchecked back to the forefront of her mind.

Niral was silent for a moment. “They tried. The Humans drove them off and put up a system defense field like the ones around Cimbrean and Earth.” She sighed again. “It wasn’t enough, though. Between the Hunters and the Hierarchy, I’m afraid the end of the Gao may be staring us in the face.”

“The Humans…. drove off the Swarm of Swarms????” Seema said in disbelief. Niral nodded.

“They did. It cost them hundreds of lives and an irreplaceable ship, but they did it. I’ve…heard about the weapon they used, but they won’t say what it was or tell us anything about it. All I know is that it turned night into day on Gao for a few minutes and destroyed thousands of Hunter ships. Millions of the beasts are dead, adrift in space now. That isn’t really what’s important, though.”

Seema could only stare at her wordlessly. The phrases drove off the Swarm of Swarms and millions of dead Hunters weren’t such common utterances that they squared neatly with not really what’s important.

Something else Niral had said a moment before stood out in her head suddenly, illogically. “Hierarchy? That’s the thing that the human President was talking about, why humans don’t use implants, right?” Niral duck-nodded.

“Yes. They’re very real. If you have implants, they can use them to…hijack your body and turn you into a puppet. They did that to the entire implanted population of Gao; a billion of our people, gone, just like that,” Niral said sadly.

Seema’s shock had turned to horror. “The Stonebacks…that is what they were protecting us from. Mother Yasru had implants!” A number of things that hadn’t made sense a few short minutes ago were suddenly falling into place.

Niral nodded again. “Yes. The Wi Kao commune’s implanted Females broke loose from the enclosure that Stoneback had them in and got into the armory. They…massacred….the Sisters, the Mothers…the cubs. Stoneback took a lot of losses shielding Females with their bodies. And the worst part was, nobody knew why it was happening, and so the only thing they could see and understand was a group of Sisters being slaughtered by Stonebacks, when in reality, the Stonebacks were trying to protect the rest of us that hadn’t been taken over.”

The two Sisters sat together without speaking further, thinking about problems that were far too big to solve and almost too big to grasp, when something in the here and now dragged their attention back to the present. Two of the oldest male cubs, both close to being young adults, were tensely facing off with one another. Their body language shrieked aggression, and Seema realized that claws were already out. Something needed to be done, quickly; neither was old enough that the Gao’s customary rules on males duelling or fighting with one another would suffice, and with that many little ones close by…

Both Females were across the field in moments, smaller fuzzy heads giving way as the Mothers arrived. Seema raised her voice, trying to forestall the nearly-inevitable from becoming actually-happening.

“Boys! What’s going on here?” The look of surprise on both young faces was comical, and Niral had to work to keep a stern Look Of Authority on her face.

“Mother…I…” both began, breaking off as they realized the other was speaking too. Finally, one plunged on. “Mother, he tripped me on purpose, when he knew I’d land with my face in the mud.” Seema cocked an ear at the other would-be combatant.

“I didn’t! Mother, he tripped over my foot! I didn’t put it in front of him on purpose, and then he got up and pushed me!”

Both of the miscreants were grass-stained and covered in mud, and neither of them smelled particularly repentant. Seema opted for the scorched-earth approach, rather than get into who had done what to whom first, in front of so many eagerly nosy faces. “Okay. Since both of you apparently have way too much energy to handle dealing with each other in a constructive fashion, you’ve both just volunteered for latrine duty this evening. Save your fighting for when it matters.”

There was a collective “awwww” from the entire group, and both of the young males—the group of younger cubs and the human kids all, of course, wanted to see Mama Seema get the older cubs in trouble, and the two hooligans, of course, really didn’t want latrine duty.

“All right,” Niral said. “Off with you….go play.” She waved a dismissive paw at the group, who dashed away and resumed whatever version of their game it was by rules that were probably transitory at best. The two Mothers walked back to where they’d been sitting before, the two would-be combatants following sulkily behind. They sat, and Niral looked up. “Oh no. You two go get busy. You know where to find Sister Gella—you take your direction from her, and no complaining or I’ll have you doing this again tomorrow.”

“Yes, Mother…..”

“All day. Am I understood?”

“Yes, Mother.” The two slouched away, not looking at each other in shared misery.

“You know,” said Seema thoughtfully, once they were out of earshot. “Those two normally wouldn’t have reacted like that.”

“What do you mean?” Niral asked.

“Toran and Tybal have been bestest friends practically since they were born, and they’re normally inseparable. Normally, if one of them pushed the other down into the mud, the one in the mud would have dragged the other one down with them, and they’d have both been covered in it, utterly filthy, and both pleased as a Keeda about it.”

“And now?” Niral asked.

“Now…those two were ready to come to blows over a little tussle in the dirt. It wasn’t play-fighting like I’d normally expect from them…or from any cub that age, really.” Seema looked around, despair overcoming her face for a moment. “We need to find these cubs homes.”

Niral nodded thoughtfully. But where? And how?

Date Point: 14Y 1M AV

The Thing, Folctha, Cimbrean

A Meeting of Mothers was much like a Conclave of Champions, and it was only coincidence that both terms alliterated nicely in English. Neither was terribly common, and both were typically invoked by their various constituencies to deal with an issue bigger than any one constituent group. Unlike the Conclave, the Mothers’ equivalent had no fixed customs for who would host or what the terms would be, other than that the Mother-Supreme was not invited except to witness or answer questions, and that all attendees were to be there by consensus, as were all decisions reached. Lack of clear consensus usually meant either agreeing to defer to the judgement of those most directly impacted, or a continuation to a follow up Meeting.

This was the first time a Meeting had been called anywhere outside of Gao, however.

The main hall of the Thing was easily large enough to host enough Mothers to adequately represent the growing refugee population, and the existence of that population along with the ever present question of what next was the reason for holding it. The presiding Mother, by general understanding the most senior Mother present, stood in the middle of the open hall and waited until the attendees resolved their initial greetings, exclamations at finding one another alive, and introductions. Mother-Supreme Yulna had not been invited to this particular Meeting, both because she was heavily occupied with the ongoing battle over Gao, and because many of the delegates felt that her actions in doubting Stoneback had tainted her opinions—her proclamation to raise Great Father Daar went a long way in argument the other way (if not outright coming out the other side, in fact), but it was generally felt that the fact that there was a discussion about it at all meant that it was wiser not to, even if she had been available or able to attend.

Mother Ginai, grey-whiskered and white-furred from nearly the point of her muzzle to the end of her tail, held up a fore-paw until the chatter stopped. It took several minutes for everything to die down. Her voice, reedy but still strong despite her advanced years, reached to the top seats due to the excellent acoustics of the room.

“Sisters, welcome. Welcome to the first Meeting of Mothers ever held in a place not on Gao.” Mother Ginai paused for a moment, turning and looking around the assembled Mothers. “This Meeting has been called to answer two Questions: First, shall the Clan of Females ask the government of Folctha to formally take over administration of aid supplies and the refugee camps. Second, shall the Clan of Females formally ask the human colony of Folctha for aid in permanently establishing a Colony of Females upon the world of Cimbrean?” She held up her paw again as comments started flying already on both questions, for and against. “We shall have order…..we shall have order,” she said over the hubbub as the questions trailed off. “We shall address the first Question first, as it has a direct bearing upon the second. To speak to this Question first, we recognize Mother Senim.”

The stout Mother so addressed surged to her feet, walked out to stand close to Mother Ginai, and began speaking almost before she had stopped moving. “I speak in favor of approving. The Humans have already done the impossible by taking on more Gaoian Females and cubs than their own population, continuing to feed us and find room for us. Human security officers patrol our camps. We live under the aegis of Human protection. To allow this to continue as is, is intolerable. We cannot return to Gao until the Great Father declares it safe; who among us believes that will be soon?” She returned to her seat.

“Discussion?” Mother Ginai said, looking around the room. “Mother Senim is correct, in that Great Father Daar has given the Clan of Females no clear indications that I know of when Gao might be safe. Mother-Supreme Yulna consults with him regularly and has said nothing.” Another Mother stood, and Mother Ginai gestured to her. “Mother…”

“Seema, Mother Ginai. I am Mother Seema.” She walked forward, slender, silver-furred and pretty, and much younger than most of the Females in the room.

“We recognize Mother Seema to speak to this Question.” Mother Ginai said, beckoning her forward.

“Sisters,” she began quietly, and then repeated, more loudly, at an impatient gesture from Mother Ginai. “…Sisters… I also speak in favor of approving, although…not for the same reasons as Mother Senim. Not quite.” She paused, gathering her thoughts. “A major part of raising cubs, as we all know, has always been to set a positive example, whether that be consistently assigning chores and punishments where appropriate. In the chaos of this last month, we have strayed from that single most important task, and I fear that the results are already, in some cases, becoming apparent.” A murmur of comments rippled through the hall, most of it rueful agreement. Mother Ginai raised her paw again for silence.

“Sisters, I fear that if we continue to allow the Humans to do these things for us, we are setting an example of accepting charity rather than administering aid. Without adequate Male Clan members, or even the workhouses of the Clanless Males to help in setting an example of proper adult conduct, we are allowing an avoidable problem to develop. This is not, I think, an appropriate thing for Females to do; we are the gatekeepers of raising responsible cubs to adults. It is we who educate them, who train them, who ready them for being productive adults at the least, and the elite Clans as a goal. It is we who are preparing our cubs to….” she paused and swallowed, then continued, “…to play a part in the Great Father’s planned need to raise a Grand Army of the Gao, and to prepare our cubs to rebuild when the fires are put out and the monsters are slain. Not to take this burden up would be failing our most basic task.” She trailed off. “….That’s all I wanted to say.” Seema scuttled back to her seat, and sat.

“Are there arguments against this Question?” Mother Ginai asked, turning slowly to survey the seats. There were no takers for a long moment, and then another Mother in the back stood.

“Mother Ginai, I call the Question. Shall the Clan of Females formally request of the Human government of Folctha that the Clan assume responsibility for refugee camp construction, maintenance, administration, and the distribution of aid?” She sat.

“The Question has been called. Since there are only arguments for, and none against, I propose to determine consensus by acclamation, unless there is dissent….?” Mother Ginai looked around again. “Hearing no dissent, all in favor, speak yes.” The resulting barked YES was deafening. “All against, speak no…?” The hall was silent. “Then we have an accord. The Clan of Females will so request of the Human government.”

There was a general susurrus of whispers, which again trailed off as Mother Ginai raised a paw. “To the second Question…,” she cleared her throat with a hrrrm noise, “…shall the Clan of Females petition the Human Folctha Colony government for aid in establishing a full Colony of Females elsewhere upon the world of Cimbrean, going further than the existing Enclave in the city of Folctha?”

A middle-aged Mother several rows from the front stood at once, beating others to their feet by only a second or two, and was gestured forward. The others sat, awaiting their turn, and she descended the steps as other Mothers moved out of the way to allow her to pass.

“I am Mother Menni, and I speak against this Question,” she said.

Mother Ginai duck-nodded in acknowledgement, and gestured with one fore paw to the room. “Speak, then, Sister.”

“Cimbrean is not our home,” Mother Menni said bluntly. “Gao is. Great Father Daar has promised to cleanse Gao of the monsters that plague it, monsters who were our own people. He has promised to rebuild. To claim, at this time, that the Clan of Females will build a home on an alien world is to, once again, say publicly that we do not honor the ancient Contract that is what we are, that we do not trust Stoneback, after the Mother-Supreme has renewed that Contract, and would say publicly that we do not submit to Great Father Daar.” She surveyed the room, which sat in silence, pondering.

“We cannot, at this point in our history, undermine Stoneback. Not submitting to the Great Father is….not an option. Sisters, this is something we cannot do. We must not.” She returned to her seat; before she had taken two steps, another Mother surged to her feet and began moving forward to speak.

“I am Mother Kyrie, and I speak for this Question,” she said, walking up to Mother Ginai and hardly waiting for an acknowledgement. Ginai duck-nodded again, and gestured to the room.

“Sisters, we are faced with a situation unlike anything in our history since Mother-Supreme Tiritya forged the first Contract with Great Father Fyu. We are faced, not with the eternal dance with the Males of our race, but with extinction at the hands of a foe whose evil I struggle to comprehend. Stoneback, the Humans, and Great Father Daar, sent us here to take shelter, to recover, and yes, to rebuild. Homes, for Females and for cubs, is wherever we happen to be.”

“Menni is correct. Cimbrean is not our home…because we have not yet made it one. We have lived in communes on Gao, on Gorai, and now here on Cimbrean, for our entire recorded history. Now we are presented, at the hands of Great Father Daar, with the opportunity for salvation…to rebuild not just the Gao we remember, but our very people, and to do so forever beyond the reach of our enemy. Great Father Daar wages war on our behalf upon our home world, and he has sent us here, for sanctuary, to the newest home made by our only allies in this fight.”

“No, Cimbrean is not home. Let us seize the opportunity offered by the Great Father, and honor the sacrifices that Stoneback and our Males make on our behalf, and let us make it so.” Mother Kyrie nodded in acknowledgement to Mother Ginai, and returned to her seat.

Another Mother, closer to the front, stood and made her way to the central floor. She acknowledged Mother Ginai with a duck-nod and turned to face the room.

“I am Mother Tiya, and I speak against this Question,” she said. Mother Ginai acknowledged her in return and indicated that she should speak with a paw-wave.

“While I believe Sister Kyrie is correct, that coming to Cimbrean for safety was Great Father Daar’s wish, I also believe that it is, and always was meant to be, temporary. Part of the definition of a crisis, which this most certainly is, is that such things are transitory, and if we are to rebuild our people, we must do so with an eye to the future and a nose to the wind. We cannot….must not, as Sister Menni said…place our home where we are not directly under the protection of Stoneback. Doing so insults them, grievously, and we have given them hurt enough with our distrust. Whether there was cause, or no, is beyond me, and is beyond the ability of this Meeting to determine—debating that is without merit. We have renewed the ancient Contract. The very Words of Stoneback, their motto, are to Provide and Protect….for us. No Human has ever sworn such an oath to a Female. Putting our future in the hands of aliens is not acceptable, and I urge that the answer to this Question be a resounding no.” She returned to her seat, passing another young Mother who had been seated up front, having jumped up the instant she was done speaking.

“I am Mother Laamu, and I speak for this Question,” was her declaration. Mother Ginai, seeing the trend in speakers, simply nodded, content to allow the younger Females to wax eloquent without needing to direct them.

“Tiya, and all of us, have forgotten a fact about the Humans. They are not aliens to us and they are not strangers. They are Cousins. Do we so quickly forget Sister Shoo, who left Gao to try to prevent exactly what has happened this last month from occurring at all? Do we so quickly forget her sacrifices, her valiant defense of both Mother-Supreme Yulna and others? Do we so quickly forget her taking the fight to the Hunters and single-handedly killing an entire raiding party of them by herself, boarding their ship and destroying them with her bare hands? Do we so quickly forget her clever hands teaching cubs to cook, or her prowess at teaching them the ways of war?”

“That, Sisters, is what this Question is about. Do we make a home here, when we have no idea how long, or ever, it will be before Gao can ever be a safe home for us? Do we make a home in the very nest-bed of our Human Cousins?” She waved a paw at the closed door. “There is an entire planet full of Sister Shoo outside these walls. They are not like us….but they are the best Cousins, the best resource, the best protection outside of Stoneback we could ever wish for, which is why Stoneback sent us here, out of harm’s way, that they could get on with the bloody work at home and not worry about our safety.” Laamu returned to her seat.

Mother Ginai stood silent. No further speakers stood to address the group, and she eventually ventured a thought.

“It seems we have a divided body, and from the arguments already advanced, I think perhaps further time to consider is in order. If there is no dissent,” she paused, looking around, “…I believe a continuance is in order; this Meeting is not ended, but we will close discussion for now. All attendees—you should discuss this Question among yourselves, and with the other Mothers in the camps. A consensus will present itself eventually—for now, we are adjourned.”

Date Point: 14Y 1M 3D AV

London, United Kingdom

Airlift in any military’s lexicon inevitably meant royal fucking pain in the ass for loadmasters, pilots, ground crews, tower crews, and whatever other usual traffic happened to be trying to use the same airport, runways, or general airspace. It was with a sigh that the traffic controller crews at RAF Northolt greeted the news that they were going to spend the next God-only-knew how many hours negotiating traffic around a massive airlift that was coming in across the European continent from Israel. Although the USAF for decades had had a regularly scheduled airlink in roughly the same route, because this was out of the main pattern, it was going to have an effect on “normal” operations. The consensus was that it was much better to be at the UK end, and not at the Israeli end, where the airlift was, in many cases, coming out of airports that weren’t used to handling heavy lift traffic.

Fortunately, the Israeli expertise with airlifts manifested itself in a well choreographed, steady flow of aircraft that took into account what few limitations the British had at the receiving end. A C5 Galaxy was followed by another, and then several 767s commandeered from El Al airlines stuffed with security personnel, doctors, nurses, surgical teams, vehicle mechanics and drivers, logistical technicians, and a bewildering assortment of other professions. Cargo payloads were quickly matched to the staff that went with them; the vehicles with their loads were driven off the big cargo aircraft almost before the ramps came down, and the aircraft lingered on the tarmac only long enough to take on fuel for the return trip, while the next group was landing, de-planing, and getting organized.

It went on for hours, each iteration bringing an expanded collection of materiel and personnel that built on the prior loads during the day. One controller on the early afternoon shift made the mistake of remarking out loud that things were going well, and was rounded upon by his superstitious coworkers immediately, summarily forced to wear a dunce hat for the rest of the shift, and had to buy the entire tower crew drinks at the end of the day to relieved and good-natured teasing.

At the jump portal to Cimbrean, things got a little more complicated. The power cycle of the jump portals and the need to synchronize them meant that the people, machines, and supplies could not go through as quickly as they were arriving, and they had already been operating at capacity sending through foodstuffs. It took nearly two days for everything to be sent through.

Folctha, Cimbrean

Rav Samal (Chief Sergeant) Moshe Harel, IDF

Stepping onto an actual, real alien world in the flesh was oddly anticlimactic. In the movies, things were accompanied by something that immediately demonstrated that one was in a place that was different. About the only thing Moshe could clearly identify as being different in Folctha was that the air was cleaner and smelled much less like centuries of culture and bad plumbing. That, and it had been mid-morning a moment ago and now was at dusk under a completely different set of stars. He shook off the sense of the oddly familiar and attended to the work in front of him.

It had been nearly four years since Moshe and his squad had spotted a lone van sitting unattended and by itself near their checkpoint. After discovering what had been in the van, he had abruptly changed his life plans and had decided to go career on little more than a sense that there was more to come. He’d questioned his decision occasionally ever since, but the revelations from the American President a few weeks earlier had cemented that it had been the right one, and the decision of the Knesset had only lent him additional resolve. It had put him at the head of the line to volunteer for relief duty on Cimbrean, one of the first to follow the urgings of tzedekah and perform a mitzvah unlike any of his forefathers before him. His parents and sister had originally been nonplussed at his decision; his mother had actually yelled at him and twisted his ear when he’d come home on leave after deciding to go career, but today she bragged about him to any that would listen.

No, he knew he was in the right place, and at the right time….and if he was honest about it, the idea of pulling duty with the Gaoians that everyone had seen in the broadcasts had him nerding out a little. Right now, however, he had a job to do; cajoling his junior platoon members into clearing the jump pad as quickly as possible so that the next exchange could take place was as easy as pointing a direction, hoisting himself up onto a floorboard, and riding on the outside of the vehicle to a large and obviously hastily arranged staging area. A frazzled-looking female Cimbrean Colonial Security officer waved them through with lit wands to another with simply a reflective vest and gloves who looked equally tired. Moshe hopped off as the truck was about to go past to talk to her.

“Help you?” she said tersely.

“I think it’s the other way ‘round, ma’am,” Moshe replied. “Do you have relief coming?” The look she gave him was more than clear enough an answer. “How long have you been out here?”

“What’s today?” she returned with a humorless, tight grimace.

“Okay, so we have a ton of stuff coming through today—major airlift into the London jump station. You’re gonna be at this for a long time getting us through. How about you contact your CO and I see if we can give you some help. What do you think?” She didn’t even pause, pulling her mic up to her face and calling for an officer to attend her station.

As it happened, the response wasn’t who she was expecting. As he pulled closer, she pulled herself tiredly erect. “Sir…Chief….I didn’t think I’d see you down here at this hour, sir.” The shorter Latino man waved a hand at her to relax.

“Carry on, Medina,” the man said “I’m Chief Ares. What’s going on?”

“I happened, sir,” Moshe said. “Moshe Harel, Israeli Defense Force. I’m here with a big aid package from the State of Israel, and when I saw how tired your people were….I think we can take over traffic duty, sir. Let your people get some rest, both of these two look like they’ve been at this all day.”

“Aid package, huh?” Ares said, looking at the vehicles that had pulled to a halt neatly and had greenish-brown uniforms dismounting. The rumbling of wheels on pavement behind him warned him, and he stepped off the road and let Medina direct the next several trucks coming through. “How big is it?”

“We’ll have loads coming through as fast as the jump portal can charge and send them, sir. I’d guess we’ll be at this all night and tomorrow at the very least; several mobile hospitals, support vehicles, and a lot more I haven’t even been told. My country has decided to aid the Gaoian refugees with as much as we are able. I’m just the first wave.”

“It’ll be welcome,” Ares said grimly. “We have refugees pouring in from Gao as fast as they can send them through, and it’s overwhelming us. All right—I’ll need to leave a liaison officer with you and link you into our comms, but I think we can manage that. Medina, gather up Flores over there and go home. I don’t want to see either of you back on duty for at least 12 hours, starting right now. Go.”

“Sir,” she acknowledged, handing Moshe her light wands and nodding in thanks. She left without another word, waving the other CCS officer over on her way out.

“My unit is mostly MP’s, sir,” Moshe said. “We’ll take care of things—if we can help and give some of your other people involved in logistics or direction a break, just say the word.” He said a few words over his radio, and two of the IDF MPs jogged over from the rest of the unit. Moshe handed off the light wands and gave them quick instructions on where to direct the next set of trundling, heavily laden trucks coming through.

Ares watched them working, then shook himself. “Bueno, I’ll leave you to it. I’ll send somebody down to liaison with you as soon as I can free them up. Oh,” he paused. “Wait. How are your people with the Frontline implant?”

“We were all given the treatment several days ago—everyone tapped to come through,” Moshe told him. “It wasn’t a fun acclimation process, but necessary.”

Madre de Dios, isn’t that the truth,” Ares asked rhetorically. “That’s outstanding. Ok, I’ll send somebody your way. Thank you, Sergeant.” He left, talking on his radio to whatever the next crisis was.

Date Point: 14Y 1M 5D AV

Folctha, Cimbrean

Aluf Mishne (Colonel) Tidhar Matusov, Israeli Defense Force

The last of the Biblical-sized tide of IDF troops and personnel finally came through the jump portal from London nearly 48 hours after they had arrived in the United Kingdom. The portals at both ends had been cycling as quickly as possible, load after load and vehicle after vehicle transiting, then making their way out to the staging area until a full-sized convoy was ready to go. First through had been the MPs for traffic control and the materials for a base and buildings on massive trucks, followed by supply materials of every imaginable type, then food, water, medical supplies, and then, finally, a full battalion of troops, aid workers, doctors, nurses, engineers and three completely self-contained mobile hospitals.

The convoys had been rumbling through the streets of Folctha and out to the refugee camps in a steady river of men and materiel. Rav Samal Harel’s unit, as the first unit through, had also been tasked with finding a good location, which they had done. It was more or less central to the plotted-out camp structure, had decent access to the thoroughfares that had been created by default to move both refugees and supplies, and was in a good position to accommodate further expansions of the camps if it proved necessary. Harel’s unit had staked out several acres, marking ingress and egress points, outlining the boundary fence, and had surveyed for one of the three hospitals, command bunkers, barracks, a warehouse, field generators, forcefield emitters, and, perhaps most crucially, the planned jump portal to Tel Aviv.

Crowds of curious Gaoian cubs gathered to watch as the Human soldiers arrived, many jumping and chirruping with excitement to anyone that would listen. Mothers also watched, trying to keep an aloof demeanor and keep an eye on the cubs, but no less interested at the sudden development. Truck after truck was waved through by the MPs, pallets of supplies being offloaded by three-wheeled forklifts and placed in neat stacks according to where they would be needed and the priority in reaching each one. Several portable excavators made their way to the surveyed boundaries of the camp and began to work their way around, delineating the boundary and making it clear where the ever-curious cubs shouldn’t be standing.

The first buildings to go up didn’t actually look like buildings at all. They came off of trucks in gigantic blue rubberized shrink-wrapped packages, and each was placed at one end of its intended destination, cut open, and a hose run to it from a nearby water tanker truck. Water was run in for several minutes, then the entire thing was cut open, dragged out via a vehicle’s tow hitch, and then each one hooked up to a blower which inflated it like a gigantic concrete balloon. There was a collective “ooooooo” from the cubs that could see, with younger or smaller ones in the back demanding loudly to see whatever new marvel it was that the Humans were debuting. Once erected, however, all they did was to spray the structures with additional water, and then all walked away leaving the blowers going. The buildings, actually, looked a great deal like a mature Nava grub about to pop, which occasioned a lot of chittering among the cubs that noticed it.

From somewhere in the middle of the scurrying horde, Matusov surveyed the work, directing as needed with as few words as possible and occasionally giving direction via his radio, or responding to a request from the Cimbrean Colonial Security forces. Chief Ares had been as good as his word at getting both a liaison officer and access to their comm channels, and thus far the two unfamiliar forces had managed to stay out of each others’ way. He had an awning set up with a table, upon which there were some crudely-drawn maps that his people had hastily put together. CCS had not been able to provide full schematics of the camps, mostly because the tents kept getting taken down and moved, and tracking who was who and where was much like trying to keep the ocean back with a broom.

His liaison officer spoke on the radio briefly, then approached him. “Sir, the CCS has identified two spots for the other two hospitals to set up.” He pointed to two places in turn on the map. “Here…and here There are a couple of level, open spots there where the trucks can set up.”

Matusov nodded in thanks. “Tell CCS dispatch thank you. Get that information to the drivers, if you would, please.”

“Yes, sir… there are two other items as well, sir. There are a couple of surgeons coming out from Sara Tisdale Memorial Hospital to talk about treatment for Gaoians. They should be here in about ten minutes.”

“Noted. And the other?”

“There is a delegation of the Clan of Females asking to speak with you, sir. They’re at the front where the trucks are coming in.”

“I’d best go talk to the Gaoians and say hello, then,” Matusov said. He excused himself, beckoned to an aide to come with him, and went up to the front, standing aside as another load of something went rumbling past. Outside the gate, there were five adult Females led by one with almost completely silver fur and grey whiskers and a truly enormous crowd of Gaoian youngsters maintaining a distance that he was somehow quite sure was not out of their earshot.

“Good morning,” he greeted them, belatedly remembering to turn his arm-mounted translator on, and repeating himself. The Female in the lead gave him a curious duck-nod of acknowledgement. “I am Aluf Mishne Matusov, of the Israeli Defense Forces, and I’m the commanding officer for this effort.”

“Good morning, Colonel. I am Mother Ginai. I would say where I’m from, but I’m no longer entirely certain that it is still standing, so simple introductions will have to suffice.”

“I am very pleased to meet you, Mother,” Matusov replied. Somehow, addressing her as ‘Mother’ seemed entirely natural, species difference be damned. “My nation on Earth has joined others for the Gaoian Crisis. We are offering military aid, to be sure, but our primary focus will be the relief effort.”

“That is excellent, Colonel. May we come into your …camp? I would talk further, away from prying little ears.” She didn’t even glance at the crowd of cubs, but suddenly, a wave of I just remembered something else I had to do went through the entire lot. The set to Mother Ginai’s ears was definitely amused.

“Of course, Mother. You are all welcome, please, come right this way.” He motioned with one hand, ushering them inside. “I do have a meeting with some of the medical people from Folctha’s hospital in a few minutes, but since it’s about us providing medical services to Gaoians, I suspect you’ll want to be present for that. We would welcome your help.” As they walked, all of the Mothers were looking around curiously, observing the bustling human activity in every direction.

“Your people are very…industrious, Colonel,” one of the Mothers ventured.

“We’re proud to have a mission of this importance, Mother,” he replied. “My government, and our people, consider aiding the Gao a moral imperative of the highest importance. All of the personnel you see here are volunteers…and to be honest, we had to turn people away. We had more volunteers than we had room to accommodate.”

A few minutes later, they had arrived at a relatively quiet corner of the new base, away from the constant rumbling of trucks and most of the directions being shouted to and fro. Matusov’s aide had had chairs brought, and they sat in a loose circle.

“I’ll get right to the point, Colonel,” Mother Ginai said, once they were all seated. “We’re guests here, of course, in Folctha. The response from Humanity has been….overwhelming in its level of support. One can only contrast that against the utter lack of support and relief coming from our supposed allies in the Dominion.”

“That being said, however, we had a Meeting of Mothers several days ago, for the very first time anywhere other than the surface of Gao in our peoples’ history, and to give you some idea how rare that is, if I understand human history well, the last such Meeting occurred before your people made First Contact…and the time before that was before you had discovered flight. The question resolved by our assembly was that we will be requesting a greater hand in administering the refugee crisis here on Cimbrean. Your arrival, I am afraid, may have complicated that somewhat.”

Matusov held up a hand, smiling. “Our sole purpose here, Mother, is to provide and coordinate relief supplies, what we call a ‘humanitarian’ effort, although the word doesn’t strictly apply under the present circumstances. Our current command oversight on the ground here is the Colonial Security force; we’ll be building a jump portal directly to Tel Aviv here for additional supply and enough warehouses and barracks here to house supplies and people, but if you’re concerned about us patrolling your camp, no. We aren’t an occupying force at all. We can provide additional manpower for such things, but that isn’t our mandate, and I would be very hesitant to take that on. The risk of cultural misunderstanding would, I think, be unacceptable to both of us.”

“Will you, then, be content to take direction from us?” Mother Ginai pressed him.

“I am confident that we can reach a solution that we are all satisfied with, Mother,” he said. “This is not the first time that I have worked to support other organizations, and accepting direction from you is, in my mind, no different.”

“In fact,” Matusov went on, “I would be pleased to host a delegation of Mothers here within the next few days—let me get our logistics set up and the camp organized a bit first—and we can arrange things to everyone’s satisfaction. The question I would be asking of you, Mother, is how we can support you. We don’t need an answer now, of course, but it is something to consider.”

Mother Ginai splayed her ears out thoughtfully. “We need…everything. Your people have supplied us with food, with water, with shelter, with organized restrooms, but the fact remains that there are already far more of us on Cimbrean than the entire population of Folctha, by a wide margin, and there remain millions of surviving Females and cubs that need to be evacuated.” The other Mothers with her all nodded.

“Mother, we have many more resources to bring to bear here,” Matusov said, finally. “The primary bottleneck in getting it here is the jump portal, which is why we’re building another directly to Israel.” He nodded a short distance away, where crews were assembling rebar and pouring concrete at an impressive pace.

“What we need,” said a younger Mother, “is hope, and for that we must begin to direct our own destiny. This has been done to us, and to regain our equilibrium, we must do for ourselves.”

“And not just us,” said another. “The cubs, particularly the older males, need something to do that is active and keeps them busy. Continuing to depend upon them to help with the younger cubs will not do; the older males are already getting fractious and rebellious. They must be given something…something useful, and productive…to do. At their ages, they would typically have been contemplating a year or two from now making a bid for a Clan, or taking up a trade with the Clanless—here, they are adrift with no future at all, and that will not do.”

“Perhaps we can help find something to occupy them,” Matusov replied. “I somehow doubt we will lack for tasks to put willing hands to.”

A man and two women came bustling up, trailing a soldier in the IDF green/brown uniform, and all three looking quite out of place in the camp. Seeing the Mothers sitting with Matusov, they visibly relaxed somewhat. Matusov’s aide introduced them as William Herrera, Sarah Janus, and Emily Masterson, from the Sara Tisdale Memorial Hospital of Folctha’s Board of Directors. Additional chairs were brought, they were seated, introductions to the rest of the group were made, and refrigerated bottles of water produced from somewhere for everyone.

“Welcome,” Matusov began. “We were just discussing our contribution to the Gaoian Crisis relief effort. I apologize for not contacting you yesterday,” he said to the three humans, “But I was trying to ensure that all of this got through the portal from the United Kingdom in good order and that my people got where they were supposed to be, to start off with.”

“I understand you have brought three…hospitals?” William asked.

“Yes, that’s correct—they’re field hospitals, but they’re fully equipped up to and including the ability to do surgery, intensive care, and stasis transport to a permanent facility,” Matusov said smoothly. “We had envisioned interfacing with your facility’s expertise in nonhuman medicine as well as identifying help among the Gaoians.” He nodded to Mother Ginai. “I assume, Mother, that you probably have medically trained people among you.”

“I am sure we have some,” Ginai said. “We will have to check.”

“We will need you,” Matusov said frankly. “Our doctors and surgeons all are well-qualified for human medicine, but not so much with your species. We will be depending on you, and on the staff from the hospital, for consultation—and, Doctor,” he said, turning back to William, “We are more than happy to fill in any staff vacancy needs you have with our people. Perhaps we can work out a trade.”

Later that day

Seeing a thousand Humans all arrive at once in gigantic vehicles (some of which were electrical, but most of which were the soot-belching internal combustion sort) and begin digging out a base in the middle of the camps had, for most of the cubs close enough in camp to have seen it, been easily the high point since they arrived. They speculated amongst themselves about the Human propensity to dig, everywhere they went—inside the base perimeter, there were literally dozens of tool-wielding soldiers industriously excavating holes here and there according to some mad plan. Trucks containing supplies and material pulled up, disgorging their loads, or taking on additional—several appeared to have been fitted with variable geometry field emitters and were having loads of gravel, water, and other components put into them, mixed thoroughly, and then disgorging slurry onto hastily-assembled beds of steel rebar that had been wired in place.

The most perplexing thing, however, was a goodly-sized team of Humans who started unpacking cinder blocks on the outside of the marked-out base, along one entire side. These, they set in place, dumped piles of charcoal down, and put down long metal grilles atop the blocks. The purpose for this was almost immediately apparent to those cubs old enough to have seen something very similar in Clanless workhouse arrangements to feed laborers on large projects, and those who knew what it meant refused to leave the vicinity, salivating.

It meant Food. A lot of food…and soon.

As the sun went down, a domed barrier shimmered into existence overhead to shield from the nightly rain, the charcoal was lit, and tub after tub of delicious-smelling meat and fresh vegetables were set out. They were clearly prepared to feed as many as possible.

The Mothers seeing this, of course, spread word to the other camps, and within minutes, it seemed, the entire refugee population had been alerted that Something was happening. Word quickly filtered back that the other two sites, where the hospital trucks and supplies had been sent, were also making similar preparations. Without direction, seemingly of their own accord, nearly the entire Gaoian population on Cimbrean began to filter in one of three directions.

The tantalizing scent of cooking meat began to waft over the crowd. The soldiers that had been doing most of the work inside the base’s perimeter were directed to put down shovels and other tools, and, understanding that there was desperation and hope outside, resolved to keep things as calm as possible. Chicken drumsticks, whole chickens, half chickens, Deathworld vegetables of every shape, color, and description, hot dogs, corn dogs (which were an enormous hit with everyone, and which were the first thing to totally run out), all came off the heat almost as fast as they were being snatched up. ESNN’s aired footage of a small female cub lying on her back, trying to eat an enormous grilled half-chicken held in all four paws by herself made it back to Earth, was aired by CNN, and resulted over the next several months in an entirely new class of memes as well as a noticeable uptick in military enrollment, charitable giving, and applications to emigrate to the colony of Folctha.

Watching the nigh-on feeding frenzy unfold, Colonel Matusov thought back to some of the things the Mothers had said earlier, about idle hands, and about hope. His cousin was a lead violinist for the Israel Philharmonic in Tel Aviv—perhaps he could help with the latter. For the former, he already had an idea. Most of these young males were likely to be headed into the Gaoian Grand Army at some point—he had been watching video and had talked to some of the American officers deployed to Gao that he’d been friends with for years. The Great Father had in mind to raise an army billions strong?

Well. Military discipline solved lots of different tasks. They’d just have to see.

Date Point: 14Y 1M 2W AV

The Thing, Folctha, Cimbrean

Membership of The Thing’s House of Representatives was sought-after by some, seen as irritatingly necessary by others, and overall unimpressive to most of Folctha’s residents. Since the colony had begun its own self-governance in a quasi-limbo legal state, the surprising result was that, like the taxation structure that emphasized personal fitness, it had resulted in a surprisingly high amount of public participation in colony governance. Voting was typically greeted by extremely high rates of votes cast vs. absolute population numbers, and the idea of a civic duty meaning something real was much less of an ephemeral or laughable concept than a similar arrangement on Earth might have been.

It was with some excitement, then, that the Representatives received, for their next session, a request from the refugee camps’ Clan of Females for an audience. Nobody was particularly surprised by it, exactly, since they had assented to allowing the Clan to use the building for their own meeting, whatever it had been. Everyone figured that there might be something to come out of that, and most were very interested in what that might be—there was speculation that they might ask for representation in The Thing, but most of the informed opinions wagered on a change in camp management of some kind.

If the Gaoian Mothers entering the Thing were discomfited by the fact that they were, quite literally, surrounded by Deathworlders, they didn’t show it; in fact, they showed much less nervousness than the lone Rrrrtktktkp’ch that represented the Alien Quarter. Mother Ginai led the way, followed by four other Mothers, looking around and noses sniffing the air as they entered, and made their way to the center of the debate floor to speak.

“Good evening, Representatives,” she began. “The Mothers would like start by thanking you for the use of your hall. We met and discussed many things, some of which is still under discussion.”

There was a murmur in the hall from the assembly. Mother Ginai forged on over the minor interruption.

“We did, however, arrive at a consensus on one topic—we wish to thank you, again, for opening your homes, your hearts, and your hands to us, and we believe that the time has come for the Mothers to take over administration of the camps. You took the burden of providing for us upon yourselves, and we may never be able to truly thank you for it. We are now at a point of recovery, however, where we are able to at least coordinate the relief effort and relieve you, in turn, of that burden.”

A Representative rose to reply. “It has been an honor to be of service to the Gao. I think I can speak for this entire Assembly when I say we are humbled by the opportunity, and we are very, very glad to be able to hand off the burden of administration to the Mothers.” He bowed, to scattered applause of agreement.

“We realize that there will continue to be some involvement from the colony’s leadership in coordinating the continuing supply needs of the Gao,” Mother Ginai said. “If you would appoint a representative from this body, perhaps to work through Chief Ares’ office, we would be pleased to have a single point of contact for coordinating such things.”

“Thank you, Mother, for your counsel,” the Speaker replied. “You should know, as well, that this body agreed before you entered to have an invitation extended to a delegation of representatives from the Gao to attend, witness, and participate without a vote in this body’s deliberations. We welcome your input, as friends of Humanity, and as representatives for our population of guests, while you remain.”

Mother Ginai and the others conferred for a moment, and then turned as one to bow in acknowledgement. “We are very pleased to accept your invitation.”

Date Point: 14Y 1M 3W AV

HMS Sharman, Folctha, Cimbrean

Toran and Tybal


You shhh…. I’m already ssssh’ing.”

The two cubs, having crept past the outer fence surrounding the base, slinked in behind a short hedge and remained motionless. It was late enough that the nightly rain had, overall, stopped, but early enough that dawn was still several hours away. Toran led the way, with Tybal a close shadow at his heels, and both of them watching eight directions at once. This was the home of the SOR, after all…the biggestest, scariestest humans and Clan of all. Even scarier than Stoneback.

The two young Males had decided that, with their age of majority coming up, a proper bout of mischief was warranted before they were too adult and had to be all serious. The male Clans were utterly in disarray following the events on Gao, but both of them felt they were clearly elite Clan material; these were extraordinary times, so getting the attention of the Clan they both wanted to join, Whitecrest, was going to take something extra. Being efficient and doing both Mischief and getting the Clan’s attention at the same time was, they felt, exactly what an elite Whitecrest operative would do.

It had been Toran’s idea. The afternoon they’d been assigned to latrine duty, they had found themselves working within a clear sight-line of the back of the Human base, and they’d been able to see the gigantic Humans and the Clan members of SOR doing…something…outside that looked tough and physical. They had forgotten all about whatever it was they’d been arguing about, and had seized on the idea of sneaking in to see what the SOR was doing. Toran had just wanted to sneak in and look around, but Tybal had, as was typical for the two of them, had a Different Plan. Why just sneak in, when you could sneak in and do something? Several weeks had gone by, and the two of them had steadily pilfered the supplies for their adventure they were going to need. Stunningly, none of the rest of the cubs in their usual group of friends had picked up on what the two miscreants were planning, and it didn’t seem like Mama Seema had caught on, either.

Tybal was in charge of the climbing supplies. Toran, being the (self-declared) better artist, had claimed the cans of bright yellow marking paint that one of the IDF surveying crews had left unattended for a few moments. Everything was secured in packs they had scrounged and put together to prevent any untoward noises, and tonight was the night. Creeping on soft feet, they had evaded the sentry (who was probably half asleep anyway), scaled the fence, and were now at the base of the water tower. Tybal unslung his pack, getting out a rope and gloves for each of them while Toran kept watch. Both were simultaneously utterly convinced that nobody had seen them yet and also that the entire SOR were waiting to pounce on them from the bushes at any moment.

A quick loop of rope over the lowest horizontal beam got them as far as the ladder that started about ten feet up, and from there it was easy to scale the tower. The really hard part came when they got to the top of the tower and realized that their intended target, the flattened top of the oval water reservoir, was going to take a bit more work, but they managed it without too much difficulty. Once at the top, Toran took out a can for each of them and busied himself doing the outlines while Tybal filled them in. It wouldn’t be visible from anywhere except directly overhead, but they would know it was there. They quickly finished work, stashed the cans back in Toran’s pack, and descended the tower, chittering softly and convinced they’d gotten away with it.

As Tybal was stashing the rope, however, intent on leaving nothing behind to say that they’d been there at all, a shadow detached itself from one of the massive vertical supports for the reservoir.

“So. Whatcha doing?” A large adult male with a prosthetic left hand and a white topknot of fur that nearly reached the tips of his ears leaned easily against the big metal support, idly chewing on a stalk of dry grass. The cubs froze, realizing that in terms of getting caught, this was probably nearly as bad as it was possible to have been. “Let’s see,” he went on, sauntering over to them slowly. “Climbing gear, backpacks, fresh yellow paint on your paws, and the middle of the night in a secure military facility. Clearly you were having a picnic and got lost, yes?” He looked up at the tower. “At least you had the good sense to pick a target others have picked before you.”

Tybal turned, instinctively looking for another direction to flee, and found himself looking up into the teeth of another Whitecrest that looked like he belonged in Stoneback, or perhaps a Naxas herd. I didn’t even smell him….

“Oh no, little one. We’re going to have fun with you,” the behemoth growled down at him, definitely not pleased. That was a lot of teeth, Tybal realized, trying to back up into Toran and feeling his friend do the same thing.

The cubs both instinctively looked back at the first, marginally smaller male, who was regarding them with a mixture of sympathy and sadism. “Brother, you’re going to need to be more careful with these two. You can’t expect to keep breaking your toys and still be allowed to play with new ones. I don’t want a repeat of last time, am I clear?”

They could hear the grin. “I’ve been practicing with the other Protectors. They won’t break until I’m ready for them to.”

“Who is your Mother, and what camp is she in?” the smaller adult asked Toran.

“Mo…mother Seema,” Toran replied. “She’s in camp four.”

“And what do you think she will say when I tell her where you two have been, cub? Will she be pleased at your initiative?”

”…No, Father,” they both said, sneaking a glance at one another.

“I should think not,” he said. “Some level of shenanigans from cubs your age is expected, and no Clan would ever accept a cub that had no motivation. I think it is important, however, that you learn that there are limits…particularly when you are dealing with humans and human holdings.”

“Yes, Father,” was the glum reply.

“Thurrsto, you and Faarek take our two new play toys over to that lovely vertical obstacle course that Warhorse was so kind to introduce us to. They love to climb, it seems. I’m interested in how their time stacks up against Great Father Daar’s. He certainly had the most bestest time with it, and I’m sure they’ll love it too.” Another shadow materialized from the lee of a nearby building to join the others, and the cubs were led away, tails dragging.

Regaari watched them go. When they were out of sight, he dropped to fourpaw and began scenting out their ingress pathway. Major Powell was very likely going to ask more questions when he spotted a pair of teenage cubs being run through an obstacle course that had given Daar problems by the unkind attentions of two Whitecrest HEAT members. The cubs’ Mother was going to need to be told where her erstwhile charges had gotten to, and it was probably best that she learn about it before the rest of the authorities.


Two young male Gaoians lay gasping for breath and utterly spent. Thurrsto was attending to watering them with a hose, as it had quickly become quite a warm day by mid-morning, and to their credit, they hadn’t started complaining. Regaari stood watching from the shadows of the command building balcony when Powell walked up, a SOR-sized stainless steel mug of steaming tea in hand.

“How are the ‘prisoners’ doing?”

“Surprisingly well. They didn’t give up. They went until they flat ran out of energy and kept going until he couldn’t Motivate them any further.”

“You sound impressed.”

“Their infiltration was…amateurish, but talented. With some training, those two could be ghosts.”


Powell ambled down the stairs and over to the two gasping cubs. “Get up,” he ordered. As wrecked as they were, they scrambled to their feet as quickly as they could.

”…You pair of bloody idiots could’ve got yerselves shot,” he said simply. “An’ about the only reason you didn’t is because we saw you comin’ days ago an’ decided we’d let you break in as a kind of test…which, to be frank, you failed. You are In Trouble, young men. Deep trouble. You have, in fact, committed a major crime.”

One of the cubs opened his mouth and Powell’s hand shot up to indicate that he would brook nothing other than total silence right now. “I wasn’t finished,” he snarled, and the pair cringed. “First, the good news. We’re impressed. You’ve shown daring, initiative an’ skill. Useful traits. The bad news,” he added as their ears came up hopefully, “is that talent an’ daring aren’t enough for us to overlook a serious count of trespassing and vandalism. Which is why we’ve sent for your Mother, and why you will be receiving a bloody harsh punishment, which you completely deserve.”

He let them stew in their shame for a second. “See out that punishment well, conduct yourselves from now on in a way as befits would-be Clan, and maybe we’ll give you summat in the way of an opportunity later if you ask very, very politely. Am I understood?”

Both cubs nodded numbly, unsure if it was proper or wise to speak to a very large, very angry Human who was obviously the Father here.

Powell nodded. “Outstanding. I’m going to leave you in the capable hands of my Protector here. Do not waste his time. Either of you. I’m currently in a good mood, and that would make me …unhappy.” He sipped at his Tetley.

As luck would have it, Mother Seema arrived at that point. It was like watching an oncoming tsunami or a tornado, or, Powell reflected to himself, like being a farmer watching the Vikings come ashore. Her claws were extended from her hind-paws and she was digging up little tufts of turf with every livid step. The only thing the scene was missing was lightning. She stomped up to the teens and managed to loom over both of them, despite being shorter and outweighed by both of them. Thurrsto, standing behind them in vaguely her same direction of travel, took a step back and gave Powell a look that clearly said I’m not getting paid enough to get in her way.

Gaoians, much like Humans, had a nerve cluster between their neck and shoulder that if grabbed just so was breathtakingly painful. Seema reached up, grabbed each of them with one hand, and ignoring their yelps of pain, bodily dragged the two of them nearly out of earshot of the rest of the group muttering imprecations under her breath the whole way. She took a deep breath, deposited them flat on their rear ends and stood over them, lecturing in a quiet, firm, and truly awful tone that, despite being low enough to not hear actual words, nonetheless managed to convey a full range of precisely how truly they had fucked up. Neither, to their credit, even attempted to give her an excuse or response.

“Now get up,” she finally said, louder. “Over here. Now.” She led them back to Thurrsto, and looked up at him, managing somehow to still look bigger than the enormous Whitecrest.

“Your name?” she asked tersely.

“I am Brother Thurrsto of Clan Whitecrest, Mother,” he replied.

“You are taking charge of these two?” she asked. Thurrsto nodded. “Excellent. My expectation is that their punishment will be profound, inventive, thorough, and sufficiently public to deter others from even considering attempting anything remotely similar. Am I understood?”

Thurrsto bowed in acknowledgement. “Yes, Mother.”

Seema glanced back at the teens. “You will remain with Brother Thurrsto and the Whitecrests until further notice. You may not come back to the camp until I tell you otherwise.” They nodded, staring at the ground, and without a backwards glance she marched back the way she had come.

Regaari had come to stand next to Powell, and nodded to Thurrsto, who pointed the cubs back to the obstacle course without a word. Powell took another long pull of his tea.

“Bloody ‘ell,” he said finally. “Forget WERBS. Let’s just point her at the Hunters.” Regaari nodded in agreement. “What did they graffiti on top of the tower, anyway?”

Regaari smirked. “The Whitecrest mon. They certainly have ambition, and it actually looks decent.”

A rare smile plucked the corners of Powell’s mouth. “Aye,” he agreed. He finished his tea and straightened up. “It’d be a shame to waste ambition like that, I reckon. See to it they don’t.”

“With pleasure, sir.”

“Carry on, Regaari.”

Date Point: 14Y 2M AV

HMS Sharman, Folctha Colony, Cimbrean

Thurrsto, Brother of Whitecrest and Clan SOR

“They aren’t giving up.”

“No. I believe they’re trying to impress you,” Regaari replied.

“They’re doing a credible job of it, Brother. Look at their vitals over the last week.” He handed Regaari a datapad. “Marked improvement in every category I’m measuring. They’re actually getting close to being able to complete this obstacle course adequately, and after their first shot at it a week ago, that’s saying something.”

Regaari mused, scrolling through the short data list. “This is that test protocol you and Warhorse were working on for the 82nd and their training efforts, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Thurrsto replied simply. “We wanted to establish a baseline on training from zero—all of us were already well-trained when we came here, after all.” He looked up at the two cubs. “I’ll give these two this much. They’re motivated. I’m going to move them up to the next phase a week early, I think.”

“Ah, you’re going to take care of that other thing you were wanting to work on, hmm?” Regaari cocked his ears, teasing. “Excellent. I’ll leave you to it.” He handed back the data pad and sauntered away.

Thurrsto had spent the better part of the prior week alternately running Toran and Tybal through the SOR obstacle courses and a watered-down version of their exercise protocols, and stuffing them full of food. This was the sixth time through the course today, and both were gamely trying and utterly failing to climb the hemp net about a third of the way in. He walked, at the slow, deliberate, leisurely pace that would have been instantly familiar to any variant of any military service drill instructor on Earth. When he reached the point the cubs were at, he stood below.

“Disgraceful. Get down here, both of you.” He paused for a moment, just long enough to allow them the sudden hope that the pain might end within their natural life spans. “NOW!!”

Tybal came slithering down at what was obviously an attempt at a controlled descent. Toran…plummeted…having let go and fallen, landing with all of the elegance of a Hefty sack filled with gravy. Thurrsto loomed over the two, baring his teeth down at them.

“With a performance that poor, the only hope for you two is to find something…simpler…for you to handle. I would think after a week and six tries today, you would have at least attempted to find a way to better performance. Sadly, I’ve never found a punishment that makes cubs think effectively. I think tomorrow I’ll try something else. Something new. Something…what was it your Mother said? ‘Sufficiently public’?” He sniffed. “Come. I don’t recommend you stay up at all tonight. It’ll make tomorrow worse.”

“Here. Sleep. Morning comes early.” The teens fell onto their assigned nest-bed in a furry heap and were asleep almost before they landed. Thurrsto shut the door thoughtfully.

The next morning

Toran and Tybal, Clanless cubs

Tybal was the first to awaken, possessing just enough cognitive awareness that his sense of something here isn’t right roused him a step ahead of Toran. He blinked awake, and realized, simultaneously, two things.

One, he was surrounded by the largest adults he’d ever heard of outside of Stoneback, or, perhaps, Emberpelt, who were staring down at him.

Two…everything hurt. Even his fur hurt, and even after a week of it, this was a new level of discomfort.

“Oh good. You’re awake finally,” a voice growled. Tybal recognized the voice of their enormous tormentor. “You, lads, get to play with some new toys today. In a way, you’ve made some of our Human Brothers very, very happy, because they got to build something they’ve been wanting to. First, though, you need to eat. A lot. You’re going to need it today.”

The cubs groaned and rolled apart. Toran yelped a little as he, too, realized that absolutely every part of his body, even the parts he’d forgotten he had, hurt, worse than they had throughout the week.

“Up. Or I will water you again,” Thurrsto growled. Remembering that particular indignity from their first day, they scrambled awkwardly to their feet, standing in a passable imitation of an ‘attention’ stance. They could feel the disdain coming from the Brothers behind them.

Thurrsto grunted, then indicated with his muzzle that they were to come with him. Wordlessly, they followed, still encircled by Whitecrest Brothers. Thurrsto led them outside where a table piled high with food that smelled like it had been marinated in Essence of the Divine sat next to a pair of metal carts with wheels, two long handle-like attachments sticking out front like…

…like livestock carts.


“Sit and eat, gentlemen. You’re going to need every bit of energy you can get today.” The two didn’t need any further encouragement and bolted for the table, inhaling food nearly before they sat down.

As they finished, they were joined by two extremely large Humans that the simple sight and scent of sent every sense either cub possessed or had developed in their short life clanging with fear. Although they’d seen both from a distance, up close these two were clearly predators, in a way neither had ever encountered before. Two sets of eyes, one blue, one brown, and neither particularly friendly, met theirs and evaluated them. Both Humans were grinning…hungrily.

Thurrsto pant-grinned in a most disconcerting way. “You two have a choice. You can let my Clan SOR Brothers here, Righteous and Warhorse, continue your instruction; it will be similar to, but not nearly as pleasant as, your experience on the obstacle course. Your other choice..,” he held up a pair of harnesses, “is to put these on and drag those carts wherever I tell you to go.”

The cubs looked at each other, and then as one reached for the harnesses. They nearly changed their minds when they realized that properly attaching them to the cart was impossible while standing on two legs.

These…were going to require being on fourpaw. A look back at the two still-grinning Humans, however, cemented their resolve. It took a few moments, but finally they were hitched to their various loads and stood expectantly, wondering what was going to happen next.

“I suppose you two are wondering exactly what part of this has to do with making you think,” Thurrsto said. “I was going to personally supervise your entire time period of punishment in person, but watching you two continuing to squirm is throwing off my delicate sensibilities, and rather than take something for it, I’ve decided to deal with something else that requires my attention. Whether that’s fortunate for you is up to you to figure out.”

“The camps have a problem that’s gonna get worse if it’s left alone, and that’s the problem of waste. Since so much of both camps are laid out over little trails, the big movers aren’t able to get in there and deal with the problem. You’re both young strapping lads…and no Female should have to handle trash. Trash is a Male’s job. Your job.”

“So.” Thurrsto stood, looming down at them. “You have yourselves, and you have two carts. You will gather the trash from the camp and get it to the Human waste disposal organization—this will continue until you have gotten it all.” He pointed up, at a barely-visible drone with cameras overhead. “We’ll be watching when we need something entertaining to watch. For this morning’s starting point, you will follow Warhorse on his first morning run. Try to keep up—if you lose him, he won’t be doubling back to check on you—he is Clan SOR, not a babysitter.”

Warhorse stepped out front, clad in little more than the short shorts that the Human SOR Operators seemed to all wear, bouncing just a little on his toes and with an enormous happy grin plastered across his face. “All ready?” he asked the teens. “Okay. Here we go then.” With that, he took off at a bouncing jog, both cart-pulling Gaoians behind him and straining to keep up. Somehow, they managed to stay in sight of his billboard-sized back all the way out of the base, up the hill, and out to the still-being-built Israeli base that was at the natural epicenter of the camps spreading out across the landscape.

They pulled up a few moments behind him, both gasping and winded already, and in agony from the effort. Warhorse, for his part, wasn’t out of breath at all, and was pacing back and forth with exaggerated steps that displayed a ridiculous amount of flexibility. The only saving part out of it for Toran was when he noticed the jaw-dropping looks from the Humans inside the perimeter.

“You two okay?” he asked kindly. They both duck-nodded, heaving and utterly convinced they were about to die. “Okay,” Warhorse went on. “Your Brothers want you starting right here, with this camp. Enjoy.” With that, he turned and dashed off at a pace that made it abundantly clear that he’d been actively trying not to lose them before.

Toran and Tybal looked at each other, and set to it once their breathing had returned to mostly-normal. They realized several things almost immediately; this was going to suck, because the tents weren’t set up into neat rows. It was going to take forever because nearly every tent had quite a lot of amount of trash already. It was going to suck, forever, because they were doing this job in front of every last one of their peers and younger cubs that looked up to them, and neither had any doubt at all that Mama Seema had advertised at least something of the reason that they were doing it.

Date Point: 14Y 2M 1D AV

Israeli Defense Force FOB, Folctha, Cimbrean

Rav Samal (Chief Sergeant) Moshe Harel, IDF

“Hooooooooooly SHIT!”

The startled expletive came from one of the work teams by the quickly-erected border fence. Moshe ambled down to see what had happened, as he’d been looking the other way and hadn’t seen whatever it was they were gawking at.

“What’s going on?” The group of three soldiers were still staring off into the distance; whatever it was that had occasioned the comment was no longer in view. Moshe looked after them, raising his binoculars to make sure and seeing nothing out of the ordinary.

“That….guy. You didn’t see that dude!?” one of the youngest, a new recruit in her late teens said.

“No. What ‘dude’ are we talking about?”

“Fuck. Sergeant, I swear to God, that was the biggest fucking guy I’ve ever seen. He just went sprinting by, didn’t even say anything, and the only thing he was wearing were these tiny exercise shorts. I swear, I felt the ground shake and he wasn’t even wearing shoes.”


“Yes, Sergeant?”

“You’re currently standing on another planet, digging a hole so that we can help protect a race of skinny raccoon people from invisible digital monsters. A large naked man running past and giving you a funny feeling in your lady parts is far from the most unusual thing you’re going to encounter out here, so best to focus on what you’re doing and try not to get distracted.”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

“No matter how moist.”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

Date Point: 14Y 2M 1D AV

Refugee Camp, Folctha, Cimbrean

Toran and Tybal, Clanless cubs

Surprisingly, the job they’d been handed was difficult, but both more and less so than they’d thought it would be. As Toran pulled up, lugging a heaping cart-load of refuse that stunk to high heaven, he found himself pulling up next to Tybal. His friend was up-ending the cart, having unhooked the harness and was dumping the contents of it into a sizeable pile. They exchanged a look and started chittering ruefully.

“This…isn’t a good way to go about this,” Toran said, unloading his cart next to his friend’s.

“We’re being punished, stupid,” Tybal said, his ears splayed out playfully and removing the sting of the insult.

“Yeah,” Toran said. “That’s not what I mean, though.”

Tybal cocked his head. “What do you mean?”

“Well, look. Brother Thurrsto said we were supposed to think, right?”


“So…we weren’t told how to do this, just that we had these carts, and we were told that we were supposed to remove all of the refuse, right?”

“Right.” Tybal thought for a moment. “So you think we should…what….find a way to do this better?”

“Exactly. Doing this the obvious way isn’t what a Whitecrest would do. That’s more of a Stoneback thing,” Toran chittered softly at the thought. “On my route, what took me the longest was getting the bags together and into the cart, because they’re never out by the trailside.”

“Me too.” An idea struck Tybal right between the ears so hard he nearly fell over. “Great Father Fyu. I…just….”

”…had an idea.” Toran’s eyes went wide. “I bet I’m thinking the same thing you’re thinking.”

The two cubs looked at each other with glee. Tybal led off, with Toran close at his heels, one cart right behind the other, back into the camp. On their prior trip, both had been sort of sulkily doing as they were told, loading up bags of putrid-smelling refuse into their cart and dragging it willy-nilly along their chosen trail. This time, though, they bounced along as though the whole thing was a game of their invention…which, of course, it was to some degree.

They’d gotten no further than perhaps a half-dozen cart lengths into the next pathway, when they were stopped by a young Mother. Behind her, crucially, several very curious sets of eyes and ears peeked and poked through the bushes, around trees, and over fallen logs.

“What exactly are you two doing, racing around on fourpaw and behaving like draft animals?” she asked.

“Good morning, Mother! We’ve been asked by Clan Whitecrest to see to the trash here in the camp!” Tybal said enthusiastically.

“I see. All by yourselves?” she asked archly.

“Yes, Mother. It’s an extra-special duty that we earned, just the two of us,” Toran replied. “The Brothers spoke to us this morning, and gave us these carts.”

“Well, if you earned it, then you should get on with it, of course. Your Mother does know what you’re doing this morning…?” she asked.

“Yes, Mother. She knows where we are,” Tybal said.

“Very well…slow down a little, though. Some of the little ones are still asleep, and you’re making a great deal of noise—I realize you have a lot of work to do, and it’s very responsible of you, but you must be patient,” she said, turning back to her tent. “Here you are.” She held out a small bag of trash, which Tybal took and tossed into his cart.

“Thank you, Mother!” They moved along quickly, and behind them a growing crowd of very curious cubs followed, as stealthily as possible. When they reached the end of the path and were ready to turn back, having gotten nearly everything in one cart or the other, they found themselves cornered by nearly thirty younger cubs led by a young male nearly their own age.

“How come Whitecrest picked you to take care of this? That’s not fair! You’re going to be old enough to take the Rites soon, and they’ll pick you for sure. Nobody else is even going to get a chance!” Firin spat, his ears at a nervous angle that belied his belligerent tone.

“Hey now, hey now,” Tybal said smoothly. “Hang on a minute. We didn’t exactly ask for this, you know. They picked us for a reason, that’s all I can say.”

“I bet the Mothers would be furious if they knew you were trying to sway Clan Trials like this,” a much younger, big-eyed female cub named Ciera said. “You’re just trying to hog all the glory.”

Tybal grimaced, and his ears splayed out shamefacedly. “Okay. I guess…” he looked at Toran.

“No way. You heard Brother Thurrsto..,” he trailed off to outraged shouts from the group of cubs. “Okay! Okay!” he said placatingly. “We’ll let you help…but you have to promise you won’t sell us out, here. The Clan Brothers picked us for a reason…they didn’t tell us we couldn’t have help, but…”

Firin’s ears took on a more determined set. “You’re going to let us help, or we’ll turn you in,” he declared. “And there’s nothing you can do that will convince me otherwise.”

Tybal sighed. “Fine. We’ll let you help, just…please, don’t ruin this for us.”

Date Point: 14Y 2M 1D AV

Israeli Defense Force FOB, Folctha, Cimbrean

Rav Samal (Chief Sergeant) Moshe Harel, IDF

Word had quickly gotten around the base throughout the day about the Very Large Mostly Naked Man running through the refugee camp; the truism that gossip exceeded all known parameters on FTL remained confirmed. A high number of interested female soldiers and curious male ones managed to find something to plausibly be doing within a short distance of the border fence, and so the third time that the guy came through, Moshe was a little better prepared and in position. Sure enough, here he came…Moshe could feel the impacts of his feet as he ran—barefoot—down the main thoroughfare from some distance away. The man had to be one of the SOR—HEAT troops they’d seen online. Nobody else could plausibly be…that big.

He stepped over to the fence and waved the guy down, curious despite himself and fully realizing how many of his troops were trying very hard to find the perfect line between being in earshot and far enough away to not get called out for eavesdropping. The man skidded to a stop, wet with sweat but not particularly out of breath.

“Hi!” He came over to the fence and gave him a handshake with an enormous iron-like hand.

”…The fuck do they feed you?” was all Moshe could stutter out. The guy gave him an enormous grin.

“Mostly all I can stuff in my face. I’m Warhorse, with the Spaceborne Operations Regiment, but I kinda get the feeling you knew that part. Nice to see IDF here, man. The colony can sure use the help.” He bounced on his toes and the balls of his gigantic feet.

“So what are you doing out here besides making all of the women in my platoon flustered and nervous?” Moshe asked with a grin.

The gigantic slab of a man actually blushed at that and belly-laughed. “Ha! Just out for a run; I needed to do something a little different for exercise today, and had something else that brought me out this way anyway. Figured I’d run thru the camp a few times…“”


“Hey! I’m taken and Marty wouldn’t approve. Prob’ly.”

“Marty? I mean…he must be a brave man.” Moshe found himself blushing, then.

“What? Haha, no! Martina, my fiance!”

“I think you’ve just broken a lot of hearts.” Indeed, behind him, he heard several muttered curses.

Warhorse grinned smugly. “Yeah, she’s possessive…anyway. It always helps out CCS when one of us runs through town, even if we don’t do anything in particular, so…”

“So you thought you’d come out this way to play King Kong?” Moshe said, unable to help himself. He was rewarded with an enormous and hearty laugh.

“I like that! Anyway—I got limited time here, so I gotta run. Seeya!” With that, he darted off, if getting a hulk that size moving could be called ‘darting’. Moshe turned around, and suddenly everybody in sight realized they had Something Else To Be Doing Right This Minute, Sergeant. In moments the coast was clear.

An hour or two later

Warhorse came thundering up to the IDF camp, and realized as he was passing it for the fourth time that morning that this time was a bit different.

…He was being cheered this time for one thing, and some wag had obviously been busy hooking up a bitchin sound system, solely to play what had to be the most appropriate choice of music ever. Laughing uproariously, he threw several lightning-fast jabs as he ran past, pumped his fists over his head, and was gone.

Left behind inside the compound, several young women exchanged looks and went back to work.

Date Point: 14Y 2M 2D AV…. early

Thurrsto and Faarek, Clan Whitecrest

Thurrsto sat in the barracks common area, pondering the video feed from Sikes’ loaner camera drone. Despite what he’d told the two cubs the day before, he hadn’t actually been actively monitoring them the day before, having had other things to work on. He had done a quick video once-over, and had had to backtrack to almost the beginning to understand what was happening and what his charges had done with his instructions. He found himself chittering softly.

Behind him, the barely-heard whisper of soft clawed feet padded up as Faarek joined him.

“Can’t sleep?” Faarek yawned theatrically.

Thurrsto gave him a level look and handed over the datapad with the linked feed. “Here. Our two would-be Whitecrests had quite a day yesterday. I wanted to see what they’d been up to before I woke them up this morning.”

Faarek dutifully scrolled back to the beginning and watched as the feed advanced at a speed multiple, condensing it into something meaningful. His ears remained where they were for a long moment, and then cocked quizzically, and he began chittering as well.

“Your instructions to them appear to have been followed, Brother,” he chortled. “I’m interested in what, exactly, they said to the rest of those cubs…but really. What were you expecting?”

Thurrsto imitated a human gesture he’d seen, usually on the faces of the SOR techs when accommodating an unruly Operator, and pinched his muzzle right in front of his eyes, shaking his head. “I suppose I should have anticipated this. I’m sure Regaari would have. Great Father Fyu, now what??”

Faarek hadn’t stopped chittering. “See it out. See what they make of it! Turning a punishment into an opportunity is what a First Rite is all about, anyway. I can’t think of a more …Whitecrest response, actually.”

“I’ll think of something,” Thurrsto mused, taking the datapad back.

“That’s what you said about…”

”…Yeah, I know. It’ll work. I should have the rest of the ingredients in the next day or two. I think I have the right presentation idea, I just…”

“You know,” Faarek said thoughtfully. “I bet she would appreciate a fighting knife. I have a Cousin in Ironclaw that does custom work; he actually has a shop here on Cimbrean, he didn’t work on Gao. She’s well-known enough here, I bet he would jump at the chance to make her something…special.”

Thurrsto’s ears perked up. “That is an excellent idea. I can put a note with it too…”

“You’re going to send her a …note? Brother….” Faarek was serious now.

“I have better luck with the indirect approach…you and Regaari made sure I knew that.”

Faarek let out a whine of apology. “I’m sorry, Brother. You’re right…and I’ll help you with this one.”

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

The Thing, Folctha, Cimbrean

Sister Naydra

It was with some trepidation that Naydra attended a Meeting of Mothers. By all accounts, this was a continuation of a previous Meeting, which wasn’t so unusual—such Meetings were rare and never called for simple reasons that could be easily resolved. What was unusual, however, was that she had been invited specifically—normally, it was Mothers that would attend, not Sisters. The Meeting could invite theoretically anyone they wanted to—when she reached the building, shimmering in the afternoon sun, though, she realized why.

Myun was waiting for her outside, standing apart as well as head and shoulders above the rest of the congregation. On seeing her, Myun beckoned her over urgently.

“Sister! I am so glad to see you again, and looking well,” she said quietly.

“I am…healing, I think,” Naydra said. Myun duck-nodded, her ears set in sorrow.

“I wanted you here specifically. I’ve been asked to speak as well, but you’ve had experience that is…well, relevant, and it’s experience I believe this group needs badly to hear.”

They filed in, trying and utterly failing to blend with the rest of the crowd—Naydra because she didn’t feel like she belonged, and Myun because she simply intimidated her way through the crowd. Nobody seemed to want to be in the way of the massive young Guard-Captain, although she was actively trying to be polite.

They entered, and sat together, watching the hall fill. An elderly Mother with white fur and silver whiskers stumped to the middle of the central floor and stood, awaiting the seating of all of the Mothers attending. Finally, she rapped on the floor with the butt end of a wooden staff until the chatting, chittering, and noise of feet had stopped, and the hall was still.

“This Meeting of Mothers is called back to order. We meet to continue to discuss a Question; shall the Clan of Females formally ask the human colony of Folctha for aid in permanently establishing a Colony of Females upon the world of Cimbrean?”

“When this body last met, we heard many arguments, for and against this Question. We risk insulting Stoneback by building a home away from Gao. We were sent, and are continuing to be sent in massive numbers, here from Gao as quickly as the infrastructure here is built to handle our numbers, by Great Father Daar. We do not know how long it may be before Gao is again safe for Females—Great Father has promised us a return to our ancient homes, but cannot say when.”

“We begin with testimony from Mother Myun, Guard-Captain for the Mother-Supreme. Myun, come up if you please.” Myun was already standing, a graceful, elegant, and imposing sight as she stalked forward into the center and stood to address the crowd.

“Thank you, Mother Ginai. Sisters, it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you how things stand upon our homeworld now. There must be no misunderstanding—Gao is not a safe place for Females right now, and it may never again be as safe as it was before the attack began.”

She began to pace back and forth as she spoke. “Sisters, there are multiple dangers now upon Gao for Females. The Implanted continue to target us, to target our cubs, first of all in an effort to destroy both our present and our future in one blow. Would-be Clans of males are springing up, and Females are becoming …currency. Hunger and disease are rampant, despite the best efforts of our Males and of the Humans.”

“Even if, today, every Implanted was laid to rest, and we were certain that none remained behind, still we would have to fear the unfocused aggression and predation of the strong upon the weak. I brought with me a Sister who has experienced this brutality first hand, and to whom we must all listen.” She beckoned Naydra up, and Naydra found herself rising almost involuntarily, walking out to the middle of the floor almost dreamlike. Myun leaned down to her and spoke quietly.

“Just tell them all what happened to you. You don’t have to give them details, but, they need to hear it from you, Sister. I will be right here, next to you.” Naydra turned, nervously, and saw the room staring back at her with rapt and expectant eyes.

“I…am Naydra. Sister Naydra. I was captured by a group of Clanless following a vicious and stupid male who was a serial labor clan reject. He, and the males that followed him,” she paused, swallowing into a dead silence, “…gang-raped my sisters until several of them died. Koruum, however, laid claim to me the day I arrived, and forced himself upon me multiple times daily for a month.”

Naydra’s eyes really saw the room suddenly—the shock, the horror, the compassion, the sorrow, the anger, the rage…it was all there, every bit as much as she’d smelled in the room with Great Father Daar. It strengthened her.

“Sisters… Great Father Daar asked me many times if I was absolutely certain that none of the males in that would-be Clan deserved mercy, and pleaded with me not to watch their punishment, but in the end, I was certain they did not, and I did. I…wish now I had heeded Great Father’s warning, because the cost of doing what had to be done to ensure that their example was both public and extreme was a high one.”

“Sisters, we cannot ask this of Stoneback. We, all of us, love our Males and the cubs we are charged with protecting far too much to lay the burden of enforcing such things upon them. Great Father Daar sent us to the arms of the Humans for protection while he destroys the monsters that did this to us, and in his name, I entreat this Meeting to see the truth.”

“We must form a home here, because there is no other home for us now. Not now, and maybe never again. Great Father knows this. He…” She paused, gathered her courage, and continued. “When I was being…debriefed, I asked what he would do. He said to me he would do ‘whatever I wanted.’ Then he proved it. He did an awful thing in my…in our name. For us. He continues to do awful things. And Sisters…Mothers…it is killing him to do it. I only met with him briefly afterwards but there is a sorrow about him…”

Myun placed an enormous and comforting paw on her shoulder lightly. Naydra went on. “I will not let his anguish be for nothing. He wants us safe. I would be safe, here, where I will never again be touched by a male unless I invite him. That safety…does not exist on Gao.”

The murmur of approval that swept the hall prevented her from going on, and in a way it was a relief to take her seat. Myun returned to the center to speak, apparently not finished.

“Sisters, I am Mother Myun, and I speak for this Question. You have heard the testimony of a survivor. Understand something. There are millions more Mothers still trapped on Gao; as fast as the Great Father can send us through, time and the reality of things prevent him from freeing all. Even if he were able to, they would have to remain in the quickly-growing tent cities on Gao, surrounded on all sides by dust, ash, ruin, and terror.”

“We must form a Home for the Females here upon Cimbrean. There are no other choices.” Myun walked back to her seat, and sat.

Mother Ginai looked around the hall. “Thank you, Mother Myun. Are there others who would offer thoughts on this Question?” The hall was silent.

“Then I call this Question, and ask for a vote by acclamation: shall the Clan of Females formally ask the human colony of Folctha for aid in permanently establishing a Colony of Females upon the world of Cimbrean?” The answering bark of approval was deafening.

“Is there dissent?” Silence.

“Then we have a consensus. We will petition the Mother-Supreme and the Great Father to so ask the human colony of Folctha. We are adjourned.”

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

Folctha Colony Amphitheatre, Folctha, Cimbrean

The Israeli earth-moving teams had been busy over the last two months, between putting down actual gravel on the roadways through the camps to rein in the daily issue of a gooey, sticky mud encrusting everything as well as building up actual earthworks to delineate base boundaries and sidewalks in every direction. One mysterious project that the IDF engineers had thus far refused to discuss beyond the obvious, however, was an enormous amphitheatre just outside of Camp 2 where it overlooked the city, carved out of a natural divot in the hilltop. It was clearly not intended to be short-term, as much of the rest of their work had been—this had the air of permanence, with good-sized stone blocks lining the pathways and providing seating for a huge amount of spectators. Rammed earthworks formed a stage, as well as a wall at the top that was less a barrier and more a declaration that this was where the seating began. The acoustics were as nearly perfect as possible, enabling even a speaking voice at the bottom to be heard at the top row.

It was with some interest that the Gaoian Mothers watched this develop, but once it became obviously some kind of place for performances, they discussed it informally amongst themselves and decided that if the Humans wanted to surprise them with something, it was probably best to let them, or even pretend they hadn’t noticed—the consensus was that properly managing Humans was much like managing males. Most of the skillset transferred over nicely.

An announcement went out, once it appeared that the amphitheatre was completed. The handbills were in Gaoian and English, and advertised an “Evening of Music with the Israeli Philharmonic” from Tel Aviv…and, apparently, accompanied by “guests” from the Israeli Defense Forces, although little more information than that was given.

The performance was scheduled early enough in the evening that the piece would be concluded, and everyone should have time to return home before the nightly downpour started. As the sun began to descend towards the horizon, the audience assembled; almost all Gaoian, but there were a considerable number of Humans present as well. Some of the more sharp-eyed noted the four tents immediately behind the musicians’ places as seemingly out of place, but there was no indication given what they were or why they were there.

Right on time, the performers began to assemble, the seats in the audience all full to capacity and then some. Most adults, of both races, had at least one or two cubs on their lap, and Bozo, the SOR mascot attending with Major Powell and several of the Operators, was at the bottom of a slowly-squirming pile of fuzzy. The conductor for the Philharmonic came out last in a black tuxedo, and walked to the center of the stage, waiting for the buzz to die down.

“Ladies, gentlemen, and honored guests, We present to you the first of several pieces we intend to play for you tonight, Carmina Burana: Cantiones profanæ cantoribus et choris cantandæ comitantibus instrumentis atque imaginibus magicis, a scenic cantata composed by Carl Orff. There are two other compositions we will perform for you tonight as well, and we’d normally list them on a Playbill, but…we would like to surprise you. Enjoy.” He bowed with a flourish, turned, and the music began.

After the concert

Gyotin found himself walking out of the amphitheatre just ahead of a good-sized group of cubs with a Mother that looked familiar. He cast his thoughts back several months as he slowed to match pace with them. The cubs, particularly the older male ones, were waxing enthusiastic about the music piece and its …accompaniments.

“It may be difficult to get them to go to sleep tonight,” he said to her. Seela…? Seema? Seema, that was it. She gave him a resigned nod. “What did you think of it? It was very…human, I thought. The finale, particularly.”

Seema said nothing as they walked for a long moment, and he realized she was yawning a little, trying to equalize her inner ear pressure. She was probably sitting closer than I was to the guns. Finally, she replied, “Only humans would turn explosions and enormous cannons into music.”