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Act 1

Modern Savages


Chapter 1



Godgin Strait.



The United Earth Defense Force had the Muu barge surrounded. Isolda stared out of the window, mesmerized by the pointy, dark ships gliding across the murky drink.

A wailing swelled as the initial shock wore off her fellow travelers. She strained her ears, hoping for some direction, but the crew was gone. They’d bailed out before the UEDF had come to a complete stop, choosing a running start over loyalty to their captain. The pretense at legitimacy was over.

This was a ship filled with thieves and fools, Isolda knew, for a fact. She recognized many of her recent employers, including the broker who had arranged passage for her in exchange for the security codes to the UEDF’s storage lockers on Station Fringe.

The air stank of fear, or was it her breath that had gone thick and sour in the dry heat? Hundreds of people popped out of their seats, coordinated to flee forward to the escape pods or to the hold deck below.

Thumps and thuds accompanied falling hand luggage. Screams burst like firecrackers. Prayers crested over lame excuses; and then there was Signe, pleading like a helpless child.

“Toesa, what are we going to do?” She pitched her voice high and loud, using the honorific title of toesa, my sister who leads me. Already setting up her defense.

“Be quiet!” Isolda snapped as she looked down, wondering whose ugly hands were these? Hers were supposed to be smooth, with plump digits that were only good for leafing through books.

Blobs of sweat rolled through her pixie-cropped brown hair and splattered on the backs of those wiry mitts. Her fingers were curled like hairless paws. Nervous energy set a tremble so bad, she couldn’t get the shriveled things to work.

Her once-lauded mind was unraveling. Undone by the constant push and pull of premeditated transgressions and guilt. She was supposed to be erudite, instead she was naked prey. Isolda tugged at the three-point harness holding Signe in her seat, unable to process the simple word ‘press’ stamped on the big button right in the middle of the buckle.

“Toesa.” Signe was practically in tears.

From the corner of her eye, Isolda saw the UEDF TAU Sword swing aft, leaving its complement of Valfore star jets. They were coming. Nothing could stop them.

Cold dread proved sobering. She came back to herself, almost thanking the UEDF for the shock as she freed her subordinate and pulled her to her feet. “Move apace!”

“What are we going to do?” Signe whimpered.

“Hurry and don’t panic.” In a moment like this, a lot of if onlys played on the mind. Try as she might, Isolda couldn’t block them out. If only their race hadn’t been driven to near-extinction by one careless act. If only the few surviving refugees had stayed on their homeworld instead of taking up a nomadic life in space—which they were neither prepared for, nor did they know anything about. If only she could have remained a carefree girl running up and down the breezy hills of Ethanos. She would have taken a male by now. There would have been children at her hearth, and she would have known the useless blonde by her side only in passing. If only, if only.

“To all passengers,” the Muu captain’s wobbly voice broke across their backs like a wave. The ship-wide announcement crackled with static, but the captain’s anxiety came through loud and clear as she recited the United Earth Defense Force’s warning verbatim. “Acting under the Article of No Quarter, the UEDF has the right to search any Muu vessel for time-sensitive targets. Cooperation is mandatory.”

The dread hit a new high note. There was no hiding the alarm of suddenly falling under the UEDF’s scrutiny. If the biggest, baddest standing army in the known universe found cause to put its eye on an insignificant bug drifting through space, it certainly wasn’t to pass out gift baskets.

“Return to your assigned seat,” the captain ordered.

Which was impossible to do.

“And present your boarding pass and identification to the UEDF officers.”         

Which no sane person would do willingly.

“They are going to search every inch of this ship,” Signe squeaked. “Perchance with scans and frightful probes.”

“For goods stolen from them by raiders. Nothing more.” Isolda took the announcement like a death sentence in spite of the optimistic words that kept coming out of her mouth.

“But we stole from them, too.”

“Not goods, and that is all they are looking for!” She felt the need to qualify their position. After all, they weren’t greedy thieves trying to fill their pockets with more of what they already had, kindred to the panicked fools spinning around them like moths. “We are scientists. We will show them our manifest and say our cargo is too sensitive to search—”

“AGH! We are all dust in space! The Youee will blow us to dust in space!” A man rooted like a rock in a stream. His eyes were glassed over. He’d sprung out of the grip of reality.

He was hard to dismiss. Everyone knew the UEDF didn’t need the pilfered goods. This raid was a warning that would conclude with a dramatic show of force when they destroyed their reclaimed property. If the Muu transport suffered damage or if anyone dropped dead of fright, well so be it and all the better as a cautionary tale.

Isolda would have stopped to give the man the motivating slap he undoubtedly needed if she had a moment to spare. No one should meet retribution beggarly with hands red on both sides from their sins. Unfortunately, she had to let the flow of bodies sweep her past that benighted soul, closer to where she needed to go.

The dingy Muu transport wasn’t built for comfort. It was all jump seats and cavernous holds mishmashed together on two of the most narrow, impassable decks Isolda had seen in all  their wanderings. She steered Signe over to the edge of the fast-moving crowd toward the churning clank, clank, clank of metal being assaulted.

The rusty stairs rattled under the weight of the stampeding herd. Isolda rejoiced when the way cleared before them. Most of the forward lot chose to jump over the railing to the level now only yards below. Flags of colorful cloth billowed in the outrageous avalanche and pretty day slippers took off in every direction. It was a comedy of reckoning worth the price of admission if she wasn’t about to go down hardest of all.

The old barge listed sharply. A gust of wind accompanied a terrible hiss. The TAU Sword’s umbilical had attached to the aft air lock. Isolda stumbled five full steps and caught herself against the wall only to be bowled down the rest of the flight by Signe’s uncontrolled fall.

“By all our craven gods, girl-ean, can you not help yourself?!” Isolda despaired in their native language as she hauled them both to their feet with a sharp stitch of pain hobbling her every step. She was tired of having to keep them gainfully motivated all by herself. She couldn’t understand why such a devious woman wasn’t equally as ambitious. “The captain will try to stall for time, but eventually the UEDF will board. We must keep going.”

“To what end, toesa?” Signe mewled as  they pushed past fat merchants frantically checking their inventory for anything that could be confiscated.

“Where did this come from? Fringe? That is a port the Youee uses. Was it stolen?” A loud voice sounded the zeitgeist of their shared nightmare. 

“We paid fair market value in good coin, madam. How can the Youee take it?”

“Because it was stolen!”

Frayed nerves sparked heated arguments in every corner of the great hold. Isolda tripped the door lock once they’d passed through to the private compartment area, praying she’d brought them a minute’s peace and, hopefully, another to work with.  

“We have to be quick!” she instructed as they turned into their small rented stow.

Red emergency lights washed out the wall-mounted display screens and exit signs in the eight-by-ten space. Isolda never understood the use of the color of blood as a warning. It seemed like overkill. Wasn’t reality stark enough without glutting it with an intrinsic sheen of terror? 

A gargantuan rectangular box ate up the real estate center stage. It sat there like a spotlit curiosity shouting, Search me! I’m full of tickling wonders.

Isolda took crowbars out of her duffel bag, but Signe stood frozen in a stupor born of all the things she inherently lacked, like the ability to plan on her feet and a reliable spine. “What will we do?” She continued to trill like a puling infant.

“Help me!” Isolda pried at the seams of the rectangular box.

Looking at it now—lucid with regret—the box was a piss-poor design. The kind of thing criminals threw together on the fly. A crate made of wood should not have had painted-over metal vents or mechanisms that hissed at the slightest provocation.

When the lid was breached a computerized warning sounded, "Stasis field interrupted," revealing a sophisticated, streamlined, medical stasis tube complete with its own power source and a naked man stretched out inside.

Isolda lamented:  there were so many unacceptable oversights that seemed perfectly reasonable during construction. The very least she could have done was tint the clear casing of the tube so their illegal lading wasn’t in sensational view.

It was too late to turn back now. She left her bygones to sort themselves out as she reached into the stasis tube. Signe hooked the man under his arms, ready to do her share.

Isolda could admit that at face value both she and Signe were a pitiful amalgam of unfortunate genetics, meanly packaged in the tiniest, most useless bodies any make of demi could come in. Isolda: skinny and dark, with not much beauty to speak of; and her polar opposite in Signe, barely more shapely, pink and twee, if not for the cosmetics she slathered on her baby-cute face.

Still, they were Kitteren demi-warriors. Hoisting the unconscious man out of the disguised stasis tube wouldn’t have been a great feat for either of them alone, much less working together.

“The shallow sleep never took full effect.” Signe, too, had noticed his skin was degrees warmer and more supple than it should have been.

“Right now, that works in our favor.” Isolda couldn’t stop to ponder the scientific minutia, though she sorely wanted to know what had gone wrong during the process.

She opened the bag she had packed with clothes for the specimen. Never once in all her careful plotting did she imagine she’d be dressing her subject in haste on the cold rusted deck of a ship with the UEDF bearing down on her head. She almost laughed out loud, wondering which star would burn out if she were allowed to succeed at one thing in life.

“Ogh!” Signe complained as she bullied the crisp fabric up his slippery arm. “We will never be able to dress him properly in time.”

“Anything above naked will do.”

“But a male would sooner be laid bare than go draped improperly in public. The parting of his legs alone is a pity enough to draw unwanted attention—”

“Oh, for the love of fair gods, Signe, these are modern times!” Isolda shrieked. “The UEDF are about to show you such ferocious things wrapped in male’s skin—the likes of which only our trod-down ancestors could attest to—yet you feel spared enough to worry about the set of one cretin’s kuffiya? Off we go!” 

“Uhnnn. . . where?” The man came to as they bumbled down the hall toward the forward elevator banks.

Isolda wasn’t worried. There were enough half-faint, sweat-soaked people hanging onto one another to make their little gang look commonplace.

"Thirty-three life forms detected in forward cargo bay." The announcement of a remote probe’s discovery set off a fresh panic, but Isolda had come too far and done too much to be stopped short now. She hewed a path to the slowly closing doors and jammed both Signe and the groggy man into the elevator ahead of her reedy frame.

The passenger deck was awash with chaos. People rushed to and fro, creating the perfect camouflage for an enterprising few who knew that, for all the calamity and awe they were capable of under other circumstances, the UEDF Tactical Armored Unit’s officers had no authority to fire on non-aggressive civilians. All they could do was stand aside, huge phallic guns pointed at the ceiling, and let them flee. Which would work just fine for the plan Isolda had come up with.

Isolda steered their little party into the deserted passenger cabin, right to the front of the middle row.

“Leave him here.” She dumped the man into a seat.

“Ohhhh. . . where am I?” he groaned with burgeoning clarity.

“But our investment will be lost.” Signe huffed at the pitiful waste.

She wasn’t alone in her lamentations. Isolda paused: months of extensive research, covert maneuvering, round-the-clock surveillance, then firing up the courage to follow through with the most daring scheme anyone was fool enough to conceive of—let alone actuate—was about to be left flopped-down abandoned when they were so close to achieving their goal she could practically smell the sweet air of their new homeworld.

“The crux unbound!” Isolda found her good sense and pulled her bumbling confederate along to rejoin the mob. She watched Signe’s bottom lip swell a full inch off her face in a silly pout and marveled at how the greedy could always find time for greed.

Far forward, there were tiers of escape pods being put to good use. Isolda decided to do the same with her demi-warrior strength and threw a shivering couple bodily out of the next pod set to depart. 

Her words were as done as her deeds. She felt clean. The most incriminating of her burdens was coming to with no memory of who had done what to him. She strapped herself into the three-point harness and left Signe to do the same without instructions or go bouncing off the bulkhead when the pod launched automatically.

Once outside the mothership, the tiny craft’s independent navigation system kicked up. It only took Isolda a minute to familiarize herself with the controls.

“Toesa, we are away.” Signe heaved a great sigh of relief as the surrounded Muu transport grew small in the rear hatch.

“Yes, sister,” Isolda agreed, finally able to exhale. She set the autopilot for the nearest planet. “Our accursed ancestors want to be avenged.”



Captain Whip watched the escape pods scatter into the black from the stillness of Kingdom Come’s cockpit. The Article of No Quarter was specific, and rather favorable to the thieves; but they didn’t seem to know it by the way they ran.

His twin brother’s identical Valfore pulled slightly ahead of his in position. Glory Hallelujah’s vanes retracted. Her auxiliary flaps lengthened and locked into alignment with her maneuvering and high-lift flaps. Her slate-grey wings swept back against their fixed gloves. She looked set to live up to their squadron name and start administering some last rites punctuated with a bullet, which was probably making a lot of very scared people soil their good clothes as they puttered along helplessly in minimally shielded life capsules. 

“Hey, Wether, what’re you up to?” Whip tittered.

“Just taxin’ an’ tormentin’,” Wether replied. Glory Hallelujah’s  echo location sent a ripple across the deep that lit up the position of each and every one of the transport’s errant pods on their instrument panels.

Whip kept a visual of the TAU Sword’s umbilical. If there was a vulnerable point in their offense, it would be the delicate connection between the two ships. The desperate sort could seize a temporary—albeit ill-fated—advantage with a bit of sabotage. “Lord Vahe sure loves to take his time.” He whistled.

“Hush up now!” Wether snapped. “You want him ta hear you? Remember, we ain’t but two hundred and twenty pounds sop wet. Even together we wouldn’t be half of a challenge on our best day and his worst.”

“Hee, hee, yeah.”


Inside the Muu transport, with an uneasy calm being enforced by his small squadron, Lord Vahe chose to ignore the COM chatter. He’d had his fill of the mischievous and the wild.

He roamed away from the guard he stationed at the throughway to the Sword, reviewing the remote probe’s sweep one last time, before moving into the aft entrance of the passenger cabin.

Vahe imagined the Valfore pilots wouldn’t be in such a playful mood if they were the ones trying to maneuver an armored battle suit through the constricted bowels of a rickety over-used storage bin. 

On top of the tight fit, the integrity of the old deck plates was in serious question. Every footfall left impressions on its thin face.

Lord Vahe had mapped the vessel’s skeleton, and cautioned his people not to bunch up, and to walk along the support beams as much as they could before he let anyone take a single step out of the Sword’s sure umbilical.

Still, he expected to find himself in a free fall through to the lower deck at any given moment. His master-at-arms suggested the use of their Personnel Body Armor. Certainly, the no-mecha gear would have been worlds easier to negotiate and equally as intimidating on all their no less than six-foot-seven, three-hundred-fifty-pound bodies, but they wouldn’t be nearly as protected. 

No Quarter calls were rare, but always memorable in some unanticipated way. On the last one, the ship they boarded had been hastily booby-trapped just for them. As soon as they entered the cargo hold, a daisy-chained link of grit grenades seeded along the hull timed out and half of his detachment was blown into space. They were lucky to have survived the rending explosion and the vacuum, considering how damaged the PBAs were; and there wasn’t a single uncracked helmet among those who had escaped the ejection, but not the blast radius.

The costly debacle made Lord Vahe even more judicious and mistrusting of people who quailed en masse. There were wolves hidden among them, the same ones who had been bold enough to steal from the Youee in the first place. They only feared the UEDF up close. If given half a chance, they wouldn’t hesitate to strike.

“What end, what now?” Vahe grunted, mid-slinging of his M256 assault rifle. His second-in-command, Commander Enver, was escorting the Muu captain to him for an audience. The woman had a harrowing look about her, as if she were going to the gallows unsung.

“Please, my lord.” She knew who he was by the sight of his onyx black armor alone and how to address him so as not to supplementarily incur his wrath. “When can we be on our way?”

“After we offload our stolen goods,” he answered her without prevarication.

“I would not know yours from whose. There were three hundred sixty passengers on board, each with their own cargo. My only occupation was to ferry them safely to Godgin II.” Her words sputtered and dipped. 

His intra-helmet display panels lit up before his eyes with reports of the chemical changes in her body: elevated heart rate, increased serum calcium and neutrophilic leukocytes. Constriction of the peripheral blood vessels, piloerection and dyspepsia inducing flatulence. He didn’t need bloated scientific terminology when he could see the fear dancing in her eyes. She was in a roll-around fight with her every self-preserving impulse to continue speaking calmly while staring up at the ghostly Rorschach image savagely painted on his faceplate.

Vahe resolved to flip her out of the hot seat as quickly as possible. Of all the things indicated, lying wasn’t one of them. “I suggest you go scoop up your peas. There are at least fifty escape pods bobbing in space nearby and thrice that many making good time across the far away. Leave us to finish without further ado.” 

“Yes, my lord.” She bowed respectfully as she beat a hasty retreat.

“Sir.” Master Sergeant Yehu radioed in. “We have located our supplies.”

“I am on my way down,” he responded as he started toward the forward elevators with his soldiers trailing closely behind. Vahe took little notice of the lone passenger still in his seat, no matter how the bioscans warned of his affected condition.

“W-wait. . . Lord Vahe. . . please. . .” The man clamped an iron grip on the last TAU officer in line.

“Sir, we are not here for you.” Commander Enver carefully unfolded the man’s damp hand from his gun belt. 

“Admiral Vahe!!” the sickly man screamed with strength he couldn’t spare.

The man’s pulse’s readout revved dangerously. Lord Vahe turned, a little weary of having to placate the overwrought one by one, but willing enough to give such a last-ditch effort the attention it deserved. Besides, precious few—even within the UEDF—called him by his rank, and he was curious to learn what made this stranger-out-of-nowhere so bold.

“Sir. . . UEDF. . . Captain Aaron Hjorth. . . squadron Crazy Eights. . . I’m. . .” The pleading face was slick with anxious tears. He fought his own frailty to speak, but his consciousness gave out before he could finish.

“Captain?” Commander Enver took alarm at the prospect of this supposed stranger being one of their own.

“Confirm his identity.” Lord Vahe opened the man’s collar as his second administered the stick test. He didn’t need a DNA field screening to tell him what his old friend’s tattoos could.

In the entire universe, the citizenry of the Nation Fleet were the only ones who wore markers on their flesh as a personal choice.

Captain Hjorth was proud of his full suit. It took the artists of the Hori Guild years to complete the masterwork of ancient mystical creatures locked in combat and beautiful renderings of floral genuses that hadn’t bloomed on any planet in a thousand years. He’d show off his art with a lack of restraint that neither suited his age—or his station—but such was the human spirit. Its boldness galvanized three galaxies and kept them all banded strongly together. 

An angry heat rose out of Lord Vahe’s heart when his eyes met the familiar ink. Captain Hjorth was a friend. This pale recreation with the slimy, clammy skin was the leftover someone forgot to take home. His biology had been altered away from its original design. This form of desecration wasn’t common, but it was easy to recognize. Captain Aaron Hjorth, leader of the UEDF fighter squadron Crazy Eights, had been scrambled.

 “Identification confirmed.” Commander Enver read the results, visibly struggling with his own memories of the affable captain to maintain his professional objectivity. “How is this possible?”

“Captain Whip, an unexpected development,” Lord Vahe reported. “We have come upon Captain Hjorth. ID confirmed.”


“Aaron?” Whip bolted up straight with the shock. “What the fuck is he doin’ on a Muu transport? Wether, can you get an update on the status of Crazy Eights Squad?”

“On it,” Wether said.

Through their melded bond, Whip could hear his brother’s thoughts and the response from the Southerland’s communication tower that Wether reviewed in his mind before he made a mission-wide announcement.

Wether’s voice was measured and low. “Basilisk confirmed the Eights checked in on time ten light-hours ago. Their next check isn’t due for another sixteen shots. I told ’em to give them a shout.”

Everyone knew it was a pointless exercise in protocol. Just rules to follow and to trip over to keep them neatly in line. Loyalty, duty—the life’s blood of a soldier—could never be run dry by policy. Certain things would always be elementary. If their captain was here, half a galaxy away, abused, debilitated, and left in ruin, then the rest of the Eights were dead. 





Foundation Hill Men’s Hospital.

“Ahh, kind healers, one moment if you would!” Dr. Sunduvall’s singsong timbre echoed through the main lobby in time with the click of her heels on the polished marble floor.

Vladimir and Tendart paused in their steps. It was most unusual for such a conservative warrior to raise her voice, let alone run to catch them before they could exit the building.

“Good Doctor, have you forgotten something?” Vladimir asked once she had closed enough of the distance between them. They had left a consultation meeting with the team she was on moments ago. A lot of words had been passed and less than half of them lingered on any one point for long.

“Oh, no. . .” she sputtered as she tried to catch her breath, “I thought. . . that is. . .”

The Micromales faced her with their curiosity. Not only was she acting out of character, she was stumbling over her own thoughts, unable to express whatever had her frantic.

“Well. . .?” Sunduvall hemmed. “Is it true that the Hand goes wherever you are needed?”

“Indeed, we do,” Vladimir responded, his interest boiling to a pitch.

“Have you employment for us?” Tendart cut to the chase.

Vladimir couldn’t blame Tendart for his impatience. They had a full day’s worth of caseloads to transcribe, which would take long enough without the delay of a protracted conversation.

“Since it is so, I have need of your services. At least I fear I do.” She grew more shy with each word until they could barely hear what she drizzled out by the end.

Scandal was on the tip of her tongue. Sunduvall was a mindful family woman—long willed and deeply rooted in

the community—but it seemed even the most stalwart warrior was no better than she should be.

“I assure you, madam, we are the soul of discretion. Whate’er need you have, we will endeavor to serve you utterly.” Vladimir hoped that was the last assurance he’d have to offer her. 

“I fear this enterprise.” Sunduvall strengthened enough to begin to sound like her proper self. “It is too strange a thing, but I cannot feign ignorance o’er the matter. ’Tis on 

my father’s account why I have come to you. It is likely that he breeds.”

“Oh?” Vladimir found her concern quite puzzling. What could be unusual about that?

“I have seen the signs of it. Yea, my father is a Human.”

“Well. . . e’en so, Human males can be caught by the loins.” Vladimir shrugged a little. “We are not strangers to delivering such men—”

“But a man such as my father?” Sunduvall cut him short as she dared to get one step closer than a warrior should to two lone men in public. “His age is advanced,” she whispered huskily. “Sixty-five years are on him.”

The men understood. They came within a yard to keep as much of her confidence as decorum would allow.

“Y-you say?” Tendart’s brow tightened into something bordering a judgmental scowl.

“Aye.” Sunduvall nodded. “When would it be possible for you to see him?”




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Act 2

Damnatio Memoriae


Excerpt from Chapter 7


Centaurus Wall.

The Southerland.


Jackson dragged himself upright, wondering what he had done during the heat of the Season that left him in so much pain.

Every muscle ached, and creaking bones fought his attempt to raise himself to his feet. It was a wonder Nanette hadn’t been roused by the protest of his abused body.

If he were a thirty-three-year-old Human he’d still be enjoying his prime, full of vigor and verve, bouncing around the way his Horde brothers did. But as a mature Yomin Jackson had seen too many unforgiving Seasons, suffered as his people were left to.

He stood over the toilet and realized it was a mistake not to sit when his rubbery legs threatened to collapse him to the floor. This cycle of renewal wasn’t natural, but how else could an asexual people be convinced to reproduce? 

It was hard to rally his faculties to complete the task, leave it to happen, and not drown in regret. Jackson felt weaker with every cycle. Eventually, it would end badly if it was left up to him alone.

The closer the Season drew, the more unlike himself he was. He was Jezrah, still angry. Then he was Jesse: soul-sick and weary. Jackson’s single brain couldn’t contain his full verenigd. It hurt and at times it was impossible. He was too tired to stay conscious. He felt himself fading back behind his own eyes as Jezrah surged forward.

“Why do I always get clean up duty?” he asked himself out loud. “Look it this! She bit me.” Jezrah surveyed the landscape of his body.

“Jackson?” Nanette called.

Jackie. Jezrah called, too, but Jackson was too deep. 

“Yeah,” he answered her. “I’ll be about soon.” Nosy-ass crier, he groused inside.

“I’m a scribe.” Nanette answered his surface thought.

“Jackson?” She paused in the bathroom’s threshold. “Oh. . . It’s you. Why are you back?”

“Jackie’s worn out,” Jezrah replied. “Gimme a minute alone, please?”

“I can help you,” she offered.

“Next time don’t rake me raw, that’s all I need from you.” He complained, but Jezrah felt it was his job to maintain their one body’s good condition. He laughed as he applied a topical healing factor to the cuts and bruises he could reach. His body could process the injuries in a day without first aid, but he didn’t want to walk around looking like a victim a minute longer than he had to.

“It must be because you’re born-stock.” Nanette came to help anyway. “Your brain isn’t mature enough to maintain the partition between the three of you. At best you should be a voice in Jackie’s head. You shouldn’t be able to overtake him.”

“I didn’t. He fell asleep,” Jezrah said. “Mebbe if you didn’t run me through.”

“I did no such thing.”

“Then who did this?” He flung his arms wide. “Looks like I’ve been whipped after a beatin’. Didja tie me up? ’Cause I can’t believe I laid there docile, letting you do me any ol’ how.”

“Why do we always close the Season with an argument?” Nanette cocked her arms akimbo.

“I’m not arguin’ with you, I’m accusin’ you.” Jezrah smirked, excited to scrap.

“You were there!”

“Only part of the time.”

“Jezrah!” She used his hair to pull him close. “You are so much fun, but try not to walk around too long. People will notice. It’s one thing to wake up in meld with Jackson and another thing to be the only one awake. Like I said: this happens to you too often. Worse, it’s happening more often. I’m not with you all the time, but I see at least two of you every time.”

“I know.” He sighed.

“You’re the only one I can really talk to about it.” She held his face in her hands. “Jackie doesn’t notice.”

“And Jesse?” Jezrah became sad and serious. “Do you see Jesse?”

“I’m about to see him right now, I think.” She kissed him goodbye.

“I’m sorry.” Jesse turned away.

“Hey, Jess.” Nanette smiled shyly.

“Time for the biannual lecture, huh?” He leaned against the counter.

“You have the power to fix this.”

“How, huh?” he asked directly. “How? You just know to say so, but you don’t know how.”

“You’re right,” she admitted. “Without our technology I can’t do a damn thing that would really help you. Because you’re born-stock I’m not sure anything can be done.”

“I keep tellin’ you, someone is meddlin’ with us.” Jesse didn’t believe his own words, but he had to defend his sanity.

“Who? When?” Nanette challenged. “Jackie is never missing. It’s you, Jesse. You need to resign yourself.”

“I am resigned! I regret this so much I wish I could die!” Jesse incautiously drew blood as he dragged his nails down his face. “Why the fuck is this happening?! Why don’t you believe me?! Why don’t you do something?! Help me!”

“I am helping you. I’m covering your ass at the risk of my own.” Nanette grabbed his hands. “We are in the Nation fleet. There’s no avenue for a malfunctioning fighter. Mister tasked me to handle you. As much as I respect and agree with your dad, I choose to help you for my own reasons. Unfortunately, physical maintenance is all I can do until we regain the use of our cloning tech. Do you hear me?”

Jesse nodded.

Nanette released her grip on his three fingers she’d trapped in each of her tiny fists. “Go to sleep. You look like hell.”

“Jackie’s not ready.” Jesse whispered. “I’ll set this body right. Leave me to it, na?”

“Okay.” Nanette left the bathroom.

Jesse could hardly look at himself in the mirror. Nanette’s primitive words added to his confusion. Clone was a loose term, too easily tossed around. But the Yomin had no word for the constituent parts of the verenigd and the Humans had no other language to describe an entire race multiplied in identical sets who weren’t otherwise related.

The Yomin weren’t rolled off an assembly line like the latest model in a catalogue. Fertilized genetic material was harvested from the procreator caste or from prime units who were deemed valuable research;  they were divided; matured in tanks; and set to task. Simple and nothing more, but how could a bewildered, unsophisticated, marginally educated Human understand? They barely understood how their own bodies worked, and they invariably lacked either the imagination or the will to process anything unlike themselves.

Humans wasted untold amounts of DNA every single day. Their precious women were born with thousands of viable eggs and used less than a tenth of one percent of them in a lifetime. The landscape of their existence was littered with the remnants of the unborn, an unforgivable waste.

Regular harvesting made use of a Yomin’s full potential. Sex for pleasure was unnecessary; and death, as it came to Humans, was a gruesome, unthinkable, nightmare.

Jesse was born in a verenigd of three, after the Yomin were subdued and processed into the Nation Fleet. His father was a leftover from the procreator caste, but Mister was his true architect.

Raising children in households was not the normal Yomin way. His mother was an unnamed depot donor; and it was doubtful their father had any say in their conception. That was all Mister’s design. Lord Ersha had a plan for his people, which he set in motion as soon as he left detention. His fifteen selves spread out across the fleet, establishing Yomin communities and houses. Everyone called his name with respect, but Jesse numbered among the few who could call him familiar. Lord Ersha was Mister, his father, teacher and protector.

Procreator Beor had probably never seen a child before the Maduro Yomin fell. He was a tool Mister used. Jesse chuckled to himself, The Old General worried about the Kazen’s agenda while the Yomin had never formally surrendered.

The Yomin quickly—and quietly—re-established the parameters of their society. Procreators were hidden away from the nosey, dirty-minded Humans. Mister set himself up as Procreator Beor’s housemaster. Jesse’s biological father did absolutely nothing for himself.

Beor never left the cabin, not even to find food. On the rare occasions when he didn’t seem shocked by their continued presence, he’d call them close and tell them about his master’s court where life was simple.

In direct contrast, Mister had no time to waste on bygones. Every thought he sent was an important education. Mister said one day they would have to go away from him. They were not of his caste, and everyone had to function in the manner they were meant to.

Procreators had to procreate, and fighters had to fight, but without the benefit of their lost technology, they had to do this whole growing-up thing first—which was an annoyingly slow process in the eyes of a man who saw childhood as a useless, nearly unsurvivable state of being.

Mister’s directive was simple: every Yomin had to participate in their continuation as a species, doing what they must, not what they felt like doing, the way the Humans did. No Yomin, regardless of their caste, could ignore that responsibility thanks to a fail-safe condition called Master Season.

It was necessary. That simple reason was one of the first thing Jesse learned. Their people had become too contrary to function normally in the later days of the war. How do you convince a veritably asexual people to reproduce in the face of mortal destruction? The answer was you couldn’t. You used force. Fuel the Yomin war machine or live without the security of recycling. If a matured male did not mate during the Season, his body would die. As punishment, no new body would be cloned for him.

The Yomin weren’t clones as the Humans want you to believe,” Mister explained. “We are reconstitutions of an original self, multiplied in sets, divided into verenigd when the matrix became too evolved for one brain to bear. A precious soul continuously repackaged by advanced technology so far beyond their conquers—or anyone else—that it could not be explained. The Yomin condition could only be experienced.

The state of childhood didn’t end with a grown body. It took six of the Human’s month-divided years to become physically grown enough to be useful in some small capacity. Then eight more years to achieve regular functionality within society. But the maturity to start fulfilling one’s true mandate could only be achieved by making welcomed a mate.

Even one such encounter would age the blood then they would be fit in their masters’ eyes. What a gentle, proud, way his father, Beor, legitimized what was, in actuality, a lifelong bane. For a procreator, cycles of heat were normal. He obviously couldn’t tell one heat from another, one had no more power than the last or the next. They acted in happy concert to keep him working like a well-oiled machine.

Jesse might not have had the Human’s version of a loving family; but when he left the nest, he was unafraid and ready for the world.

How strange it was to realize most Yomin were unlike his fathers. Yomin in the fleet bowed easily and begged pardon regularly—two strange skills Jesse had never learned. He was the son of high-caste Yomin and he carried himself accordingly, which helped him rise through the ranks of the UEDF.

Lady Cana was the closest thing their people had to a governing elder. She seemed set on remolding them into a kinder, more vestal, version of themselves. A docile herd the Humans would find agreeable, without any overtly Yomin maladies to complicate matters. Her main decree was the suppression of the baleful Season through abstinence before joining.

Virginity was a difficult thing to hold onto after tasting the freedom of the Nation Fleet’s population. Every woman Jesse saw was beautiful by the fact of her womanhood alone.

In Procreator Beor’s house all the serving castes: the minors, charges, and jauna, were men. Unrelated women were not allowed in a procreator’s inner sanctum. Growing up Jesse was peripherally aware of a different sex.

Jackson followed the lead of his Ohne Prime. Even born stock had a leader to keep them on task. What Jesse did, Jezrah and Jackson did. What Jesse wanted, so did Jezrah and Jackson. Though he hardly ever liked the consequences of their actions, Jackson tried to live without questioning his Ohne Prime.

They were content to straddle the line of serving in the UEDF and being upstanding Yomin, until the day Jesse announced he was joining with a mate who had lost her verenigd in the war. That wouldn’t have been a bad thing if she hadn’t abandoned the Yomin lifestyle to adopt Human ideals.

Aleya didn’t want three husbands, just Jesse. She set about to convince him he could live without the added appendages of his verenigd. All he had to do was cut them off.

As the Ohne Prime, Jesse had the power to. Being able to close their minds off was a failsafe, so that his master could whisper in his ear. Aleya whispered her secret wish, one only he could fulfill. Then  they could live together as a couple and raise children out of their love. Children who would be more like the Humans she so admired. Perhaps that would be enough to overcome the Season and any other unseemly facets of the Yomin condition. They could be Aleya and Jesse, minus Jezrah and Jackson.

It was quite possible the loss of her sisters had driven Aleya mad, but that was no excuse for Jesse to have bought into her delusion so completely.

He knew he wasn’t a prime unit like their father. He needed all his parts as much as they needed him. He’d led them into things none of them could take back. Minus the virginity he’d squandered, they would always fall to the Season, but only he would have a mate to sustain him. As Jezrah said, he and Jackson would be “left to scratch.” Which meant left to die.

Jesse remembered the day of confrontation very clearly. Aleya asked him to put his brothers out. That was the minute Jezrah took to hating their wife. Jackson wasn’t physically present for the showdown. He didn’t have any of his own feelings one way or another for Aleya. Jezrah was the part ready to fight for them.

Out of all the emotions the Yomin had to learn to manage, love was the most unpredictable. For better or worse, it changed its possessor and the receiver. Desire’s prerequisite of sacrifice often called for brutality; and loss was the wage of discursion from the Yomin way. Their verenigd didn’t stand a chance. Jesse’s betrayal cost both his own and Jezrah’s bodies.

Now Jackson was left with a distant connection to a lifemate who only wanted him in parts. He wandered alone, surviving how he could on the life support the Horde and Nanette provided, which did little to appease the Yomin blight he had to suffer.

The years wore on him. Shadows of painful memories danced across his weary face. His mate was gentle, but obviously, he wasn’t. Jesse stood trying to catch himself, but he couldn’t silence the nagging qualm: One woman had destroyed him with the same twisted disregard another was using to lull him into submission right now.

As the Ohne Prime he did have the power to sort their minds; but only he would be left, awake and alone. Jackson would be his final victim, just the way Aleya wanted; implementing Nanette’s solution with a tragedy she believed was as necessary as it was enevitable. There’s no avenue for a malfunctioning fighter, didn’t she say that? Jesse smirked at his rundown image in the mirror. He’d kill their last body before he turned on his verenigd again.

“C’mon, Jack, wake up now,” Jesse coaxed. “C’mon.”

Eighteen months would pass before they had to punch this dance card again. Time enough to live and be normal. To see their daughter into the fullness of her adolescence and forget the emerging details that hunched Jesse over the sink, shivering.

He picked a bottle of whiskey out of the stash he kept in the medicine cabinet. Jesse rinsed his mouth out with the first healthy swing before swallowing the second.

A little bourbon with his breakfast, a few beers with Run Run, and he might grow to enjoy the rest of his medical leave. Though he couldn’t promise himself not to fight Ricki when she came to examine him. Jesse didn’t need a doctor to tell him what his battered body already had. He passed another Season with flying colors and no mistakes. His head was clear—too clear—he remembered too much about the course of the past thirty hours, but half of the contents of the bottle in his hand should be able to do something about that.

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