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Ten thousand soldiers marched through each of the white paved expressways that entered Mada through the snow-covered mountains. Tribes that had fought each other for herds, land, and honor had united in a common cause. Wartooth had given them a victory, and this was the Kishkha of Liberation!

In the heart of the mountain passes, they bore witness to the devastation of the living earth. Each tribe raised flugels to sound notes that honored the dead. When the wail of the flugels echoed into the valley, raka, dogo, and even the ada stopped their activity to howl in response.

The wailing for the dead welcomed Maana to a new day. The local star sat on the green-blue waters of the NamaUd filling the valley with her light as the three processions merged into one. Flugels filled the air with joyful notes, shaman beat tablas, and priests chanted to Raksha’s cleverness.

Along the parade route, rich merchant males wore finely dyed cloth and decorated their fangs with jewelry. The poor painted their nails and died their beards in the colors of their tribe. Rich or poor, the females danced in the streets. They tempted young males with seductive moves, then laughed and danced away to the protection of their mates when they caught one.

The Tribute celebrated making of life after battle had killed so many. During Tribute, females chose their mates, but only from the conquering soldiers. Seed of the conquered was unworthy. Making strong younglings was the purpose of the day.

When the parade intersected groups of revelers, the naked dancers frolicked from the sidelines to weave between the soldiers and tempt them with erotic moves. They grabbed crotches to test for worthiness. The hardened soldiers were eager to claim a prize but had to wait until chosen.

The choosing of mates forced the slow procession to stop. The streets became an orgy of mating with unscripted males cheering for ever more forceful couplings. As the carnal celebration subsided, the parade began again, with the sidelined males giving soldiers sweets and liquor to thank them for their service. With each gift, they vowed to raise the younglings with Raksha’s cleverness. The soldiers accepted the gifts, then gave them away to any beggar with an outstretched hand.

Wartooth was not in the procession. Bemar, his priest, had arranged other obligations. Before dawn, he signed legal documents authorizing the Tribute, and granting amnesty to any who had killed another raka. After he wailed for the dead, he appointed officials to run his new government. When the orgy started in the streets, he smelled sex with every breath and wanted to run to the celebration, but Bemar stopped him.

“You are going to be Malik, my Lord. Rutting with a commoner would not be proper.”

Wartooth made fists and bristled his hair. Bemar, confident he had Raksha on his side, did not relent.

“I had a Tribute Hall prepared for the raka commanders and your dogo. The tribes gave their strongest blooded females to the hall. I promise you will have a fine selection to breed. But that is later. You will not insult the tribal leaders by fucking a commoner in the streets.”

“Did you hear that Regear, we are too good to fuck when we please,” Wartooth growled.

They were using an old warehouse as a temporary center of government. Thirty dogo guarded it. Regear was their captain.

“I did know,” Regear said. “I saw females in the Tribute Hall. They are thick and strong, for raka. No dogo females, mind you, those are locked away by your priest.”

“Why no dogo females?” Wartooth asked Bemar.

“They are Raksha’s treasure, and not allowed to choose a mate.”

“Why not?” Regear said.

“Because the dogo race is fragile. Fertile males are rare, and those with potent seed tend to create deformed younglings. When strong dogo are born, they are usually male. Raksha’s cleverness…”

“Raksha is clever,” the group chanted as one.

“…enabled a few dogo with healthy seed, the priesthood has nurtured that gene. We will not spoil it with an orgy,” Bemar finished.

“Can you wait for a raka in the Tribute Hall, Regear?”

“To be honest, my Lord, most of my dogo are in the Tribute Hall now, enjoying themselves on a comfortable bed. If I were not your captain, I would be with them.” Regear grabbed his crotch.

Wartooth sat down. “Fine. Bemar, what’s next?”

“One more appointment, my Lord, and then we are finished.”

“What is it?”

“Who will be Protectorate of Mada?”

Wartooth snorted. This was supposed to be easy. He had intended to make Regear Protectorate of Mada. He would have been the first dogo in history to hold such a title. Bemar had advised against it. Dogo were notoriously fickle. Running off to find a fight, go hunting for a new mate, or looking for a family to intimidate.

Regear and his fellows studied the Tribute Hall with their noses. If a cadre of tianshen came through the door, Wartooth doubted any of them would notice. Bemar was right, dogo were terrible at managing anything.

Jo Ji, on the other hand, had proven loyal to Wartooth. When he entered Shohang’s office, Jo Ji could have killed him with an orb of living fire programmed to burn his flesh. Instead, he had twitched his nose. So subtle most would have missed it. The second time Jo Ji’s nose twitched, Wartooth shot Shohang. Then, as Jo Ji lay trembling on the floor, he instructed Wartooth on how to reprogram the orb. Together they turned the tianshen Civic Center to slag.

“Jo Ji,” Wartooth said.

“A wise choice, my Lord.”

The parade had restarted from the fourth orgy of the day, but the procession neared its end. Wartooth sat on a wooden chair taken from Baga Anka’s fortress in the Mada mountains. The chair sat atop the melted glass of what had been the tianshen Civic Center. Ada had cleared the courtyard of debris and taken the protean steel fencing as payment. The broken blue tiles of the courtyard, and the white streets surrounding it, were now Liberation Square!

Shaman, merchants, priests, and even ada all jostled to be as close as possible to Wartooth. That he had taken the Civic Center by himself, then melted it to a slag-glass dais, had sealed his legend.

The Gula tribe lead the parade in bright pink armor with a dark green slash across the breast plate. The Gula soldiers blew flugels and pounded tablas until a raka riding atop a tank signaled them to stop. The troops stomped, their banners snapped upright, and even the press crowding the square became silent.

Bemar and Jo Ji sat on either side of Wartooth. They stood as a pink armored raka dismounted his tank and worked his way through the crowd.

“You should rise to welcome Kahver, my Lord,” Bemar said.

“Kahver and his males did not kill Shohang and melt this tower,” Wartooth said.

Bemar bowed slightly. Then he smiled and extended his hands in greeting.

“As high priest of Raksha, I welcome you, Kahver Gula.”

Kahver removed his helmet, tucked it under his left shoulder, and bowed to one knee. “The Gula give the Tribute of Baga Anka’s bloodline.” He stood, waving his right arm in a grand gesture toward his tank. Three females stepped out the rear hatch. They had broad strips of green lace tied between their wrists and ankles, with thin strips of pink attached to them. The pink lace ribbons danced with them as they approached the dais.

Males in the crowd howled at their moves. Sidelined females imitated them, trying for more attention from another soldier.

Kahver bowed again, deeper this time and with more flourish. “I give these three to Wartooth so that his blood may join Baga Anka’s and strengthen the Gula tribe.”

Wartooth waved his hand to dismiss them. The crowd gasped.

“My Lord! These are Tribute from the Gula,” Bemar said. “They gave the most males to the Liberation.”

Wartooth sniffed the air. The females were fertile. If he took them, they would give him younglings. Denying them was more effort than he had expected, but he said nothing and waved his dismissive hand again.

No one moved. A female sobbed.

“My lord Wartooth,” Kahver said. “Gula genetics has the strongest link to Baga Anka. These females will give us powerful males to carry on our line.”

“Our line?” Wartooth said.

“Yes, my lord,” Kahver stood. “Baga Anka’s daughter was Gula. And we have nurtured that bloodline through generations of breeding.”

“Why is your banner pink?” Wartooth said.

Kahver pushed out his chest and spoke as if he were addressing the entire valley. “The green dash represents the grasses of Umaavadan, and the pink is the color of the soil after the Bugs…”

“Killed Baga Anka and all his army,” Wartooth said. “Am I dead?”

“My Lord?”

Wartooth turned to Jo Ji. “A simple question, Jo Ji. Am I dead?”

“No, my Lord, you’re alive, and ready to give tribute or a good fight.”

“Right, Jo Ji. I am alive and could rip this pink dressed lady limb from limb.” He jumped from the dais, then roared like a bear protecting its kill.

Merchant males ran to hide behind the Gula soldiers. Females fell to their knees. Dogo guarding the dais laughed at the crowd’s reaction.

Kahver kneeled and put his firearm on the ground.

Wartooth stood over him. “Am I dead, Kahver Gula?”

“No, my Lord.”

“Baga Anka is dead, and his army is dead,” Wartooth let his saliva drip on Kahver’s head. “He died, and the Bugs ate raka for generations. Do the Bugs eat raka now?”

“No, my Lord,” Kahver spoke to the ground.

“I could hear you, but I don’t think that priest on my slag-glass dais could. Speak up.”

“No, my Lord,” Kahver yelled.

“No, what?”

“No, my Lord, you are not dead.”

“And what did the Bugs do?”

“The Bugs ate raka until the bugbear’s saved us, my Lord.”

Wartooth kicked Kahver in the face. He flipped over, landing hard on his back with his eyes closed. Blood poured from his broken nose.

“Any raka uses that word, any raka using any tianshen word to describe our world will be defanged.” He walked to the shaking females. “This Tribute is unworthy,” he said. “This tribute is unworthy because the Gula are cowards.” He raised his arms and yelled so all the gathered raka could see his size and hear his strength. “I and two little ada took this tower…”

“Wartooth!” Hoot and Joot pushed and rolled their way to the front of the dais.

“Yes! Hoot and Joot! When I took this tower, the Gula and their pink ladies were on the other side of the Mada mountains. This brave Kahver.” Wartooth pointed to the unconscious raka. “Did not want his males at the vanguard of the attack. Do you know why?”

Wartooth turned in circles with his arms above his head. The crowd was silent.

“Yes, yes, yes. Living earth,” Hoot said.

“See! Even the little ada are braver than the pink ladies of the Gula and their Baga Anka blood.”

Wartooth jumped to the top of the dais. “No! I will not take this Tribute. The Gula are cowards, and until they can prove otherwise, I strip them of their precious bloodline. I take their colors and order their males west of the mountains until I call for them.”

No one moved.

Bemar kneeled next to Wartooth. He spoke softly. “My lord, this is an insult. You will not have Gula males to invade The Mountain.”

Wartooth lifted Bemar by his beard. “I did not have Gula males when I captured Mada.”

“Take the pink from these Gula ladies.” Wartooth said to Regear.

“I will do it,” Bemar said. Wartooth released his beard.

“Strip your armor and leave Mada at once,” Bemar commanded the Gula troops.

The warriors dropped their armor and weapons. The crowd mimicked Wartooth’s slur of pink ladies. When the Gula males were naked, they ran through the side streets of Mada with younglings chasing them, throwing food, and chanting, “Pink ladies! Pink ladies!”

“Defang Kahver,” Wartooth said to Regear.

The dogo undid Kahver’s armor, opened his mouth, hooked him like a fish, and carried him away like fresh catch.

Wartooth wrapped a paw around Bemar’s neck. “I will not be so hard on the Vaal. I still have a use for your priest.”

Bemar choked, and, for a moment, Wartooth felt that old shake of fear in Bemar’s flesh. The tremble that used to overtake the shaman when they first met. Satisfied, he let him go.

“Yes, my Lord,” Bemar said from his knees.

The Nukela tribe wore leather armor of camouflage browns. They arrived in silence, having witnessed the Gula running naked through the streets. Mar Nukela offered Wartooth three females as well, but with less flourish. He and his females walked with the soldiers and approached the dais on their hands and knees.

Wartooth’s nose twitched in approval. “Regear will take them for his Tribute.”

Regear pushed his way through the crowd, wiping blood from one of his paws.

“Excellent leather,” Mar said to the dark-brown furred dogo.

“Nukela make the finest armor. It allows for a full range of motion,” Regear said. He shadow-boxed with a merchant from the crowd, who laughed, then fainted as the dogo turned to the females.

“But it does not stop a rifle shell,” Wartooth said. He lifted the dented breast plate of the protean steel armor he had worn.

Regear shuffle-stepped, then rolled forward to grab two of the females by their waist and lift them onto his shoulders.

“Do that in protean steal,” he challenged Wartooth.

Wartooth stood and roared, Regear roared back. The crowd cleared the space around the dais.

“To the Tribute Hall with you!” Wartooth laughed.

“As you command, my Lord,” Regear said. The females stroked his fur as he carried them away.

Mar returned to his troops, and they marched away.

The Daku in their fine silk shirts and bare feet could not equal the tribute of the Nukela. The pirate tribe had sunk many ships and given Wartooth information and wealth. He welcomed them and gave their females to Bemar. Bemar blushed at the offer, and tried to refuse him, but changed his mind when the three took turns dancing against him. He hurried to the Tribute Hall, losing his red robe on the way.

Wartooth did not need Bemar to introduce the Dree. They built ships and had ruled the coast for generations. The Daku were their mortal enemies, yet they had put aside that ageless war for the Kishkha of Liberation. They had lost ships testing the Bay of Mada for living water. Jo Ji was Dree, so Wartooth accepted their Tribute and sent the females off with the new Protectorate of Mada.

While both Bemar and Jo Ji were away, the Asavar marched quietly into the courtyard.

“Kordaar Asavar,” Wartooth said. He bowed low to a raka riding a giant bison.

The beast’s horns were as thick as Wartooth’s legs. Kordaar grabbed one of them to make the beast kneel as well. “You are too kind, my Lord,” he said before dismounting the bison.

The crowd kneeled as one, then lifted their heads to the sky and howled. Water poured from Kordaar’s eyes.

Wartooth kneeled with his arms outstretched. “Here are the heroes of the Kishkha of Liberation,” he cried. “While the Gula were hiding behind the mountains, Kordaar Asavar volunteered his tribe to be the vanguard of the attack. Asavar males knew the living earth might crush them. But they did not hesitate. They marched. Without their sacrifice, I would have failed.”

He wailed. Dogo surrounding the dais wailed with him. The crowd joined, but raka howls were like wind compared to the assembled dogo in full bellow. The wailing emptied the Tribute Hall. The courtyard overflowed with naked females and drunk males in loose robes.

Wartooth pushed his way through the growing mass to jump onto his slag-glass dais. Bemar, in a fresh red robe, waited for him.

“Make me Malik,” Wartooth said to the priest.

Bemar nodded. “The Vaal have a Tribute for your coronation, my Lord.”

Wartooth caught a strong female scent. He nodded to his dogo commanders. With deep growls they cleared a path for the Vaal to enter the square.

“Dadrak Vaal, I welcome you to Liberation Square,” Bemar said.

The Vaal wore plain gray robes that covered them from head to foot. Deep set cowls hid their faces. The robes were grass and mud stained along the bottom. Dadrak approached the dais with his head low.

That female scent was dogo. Wartooth adjusted his position in the chair to ease his rising manhood.

Dadrak removed his cowl. Tattoos covered his face. Black metal capped his fangs. “The Vaal did not lose any males in the Kishkha of Liberation. We could not contribute boats or bison, or even weapons to the attack.”

“The Vaal sacrifice was Raksha’s cleverness,” Wartooth said.

“Raksha is clever,” the crowd said as one.

Regear pushed Bemar aside to stand on the edge of the dais. Dogo in the square tossed raka away like paper to stand closer to the Vaal procession.

“Raksha is clever,” Dadrak repeated “In choosing Vaal as harvest for the Bugs, the other tribes grew strong.”

That scent! If this ceremony did not end soon, the dogo in the square would be at each other’s throats. “Regear, order the dogo to the rear of the dais,” he said.

Regear looked side eyed at Wartooth.

Wartooth growled.

With a strained face, Regear whistled for a dogo retreat. All but one of them followed his command.

“Lull, to the back,” Regear said.

Lull did not move. He sniffed at each of the robbed Vaal.

“I will not have my coronation spoiled by a horny rat,” Wartooth said.

Regear jumped. He landed a meter behind Lull. Lull turned to have his snout crushed between Regear’s smashing fists. Lull fell to the ground like an empty sack. Regear put the young dogo over his shoulders, then jogged for the Tribute Hall. The crowd parted like water.

Wartooth started to command Regear.

“Better to let them work it off in Tribute, then start a riot in the square,” Bemar said.

Dadrak bowed low. “My apologies, my Lord, I did not consider the other dogo when we approached.”

Wartooth could not restrain himself any longer. “Make me Malik, priest.” He sat on Baga Anka’s chair, spreading his legs wide so everyone could see the outline of his hardened manhood beneath his leather pants.

“This is a Kishkha,” Bemar began. “But it is also a Janvaar. The Kishkha is a time of renewal. We celebrate it when the Paschk Mountains send their icy wind and thick snows to cover the Umaavadan grasses. But Raksha is clever.”

“Raksha is clever,” the crowd echoed him.

“The Father provided warm valleys on the NamaUd coast for rakshoon to escape harsh winters. We gather in Mada, in the Father’s House, to honor the Father by putting aside weapons and sharing stories.

“This is also a Janvaar, a gathering of tribes behind a common banner. Most Janvaar are of two tribes against another. Only twice has a Janvaar united all the tribes against a common enemy. The first was Baga Anka’s Janvaar, but he did not free this valley from the tianshen. The second is now.

“Wartooth freed the Father’s House from the tianshen. Because of his victory we name him Malik! Whether they be dogo, raka, or ada, the tribes are now one, and Wartooth is their Lord and Father!”

“Wartooth, Wartooth,” the chant erupted like a clap of thunder.

Bemar nodded to Dadrak. Dadrak returned to his meager procession, took one of the robed figures by the arm and led the hunched figure to the dais.

Wartooth strained to see under the cowl. Bemar glared at him. The priest had kept his promise, so he tried to act as if he did not care.

The robed figure stood next to Wartooth. Her scent overcame him. He whined like a youngling. Bemar stood behind her, pulled the cowl back to reveal her face, then undid the robe and let it drop to the ground.

The crowd erupted in cheers and whistles.

Freed of the robe, she stood upright, and the crowd stopped with their collective mouths agape.

The tianshen made the dogo by genetically modifying raka. They were a temporary solution to a viscous crisis with the orhatea, so the tianshen had made them infertile. But violence alone did not quench a dogo’s passion. They took raka females in Tribute for their victories, and one of them was fertile enough to produce a mostly dogo female.

A gift from Raksha, the priesthood named her Pratha. They hid her from the tianshen. She became an adult, and in the spirit of Tribute, she mated often. In her brief life, she birthed ten strong dogo males, and three females. Dusa, Tisi, and Chow. The priesthood hid them as well. These three became the mothers of the dogo race.

Since that time, Raksha’s priests managed all dogo females. They hid them away in mountain temples and only allowed them to breed with genetically compatible males. No raka outside the priesthood had seen a dogo female. Until today.

As Maana vanished behind The Mountain, and darkness covered Mada Valley, the first dogo female allowed outside a temple stood naked before the crowd pressed into Liberation Square.

On bare paws, she was a head taller than Wartooth in his boots. Her arms were not as thick, but her legs and hips were fuller than his. Her undecorated claws looked like white daggers. Dark red fur covered her body. She tossed strands of her darker brown mane over her shoulders to uncover six firm breasts. The two on top larger than the other four.

The crowd was so silent that Dadrak did not need to raise his voice. “As Tribute to our first Malik, I present this female so that your bloodline will be strong.” He covered his head with his cowl and returned to his procession.

Wartooth shook with anticipation but also with something else. He tried to speak, but only squeaked.

She growled in return. Her growl was so deep, it shook the dais. He thought the pupils of her brown eyes turned red. He wanted to turn her over, bite her neck, and fuck her till she cried. He was afraid she would fuck him first.


As if she read his thoughts, she snarled and raked a claw across his leather vest. Blood followed the tear of the garment.

“What is your name,” he managed to say.

“Begonia,” she said.

Without a tribe, he thought. The younglings she birthed would be the start of a new tribe.

“Will you have me in Tribute?” He asked.

She looked over the crowd, then at Bemar.

Bemar nodded.

“Yes,” she said.

Flugels blew long and hard. Under the notes, shaman beat tablas as hard as they could. The crowd erupted into an orgy.

Wartooth bit Begonia on her neck.

She bit him on the shoulder.

The night became day.

“Akassh! Akassh!”

The crowd stopped their revelry. They fell to their bellies repeating the sacred word.

“Akassh. Akassh.”

Bemar fell to his knees, his snout open, his hands held out to welcome the sacred light. Even Wartooth and Begonia pushed back their dogo desires to look up at the glowing sky.

“Akassh. Akassh.”

Legends said that when Raksha destroyed the tianshen’s star, the nighttime sky turned as white as a freshly spun sheet of cloth. The fire of his rage blanketed all other stars and made the ink black of the nighttime white for many days.

This was not a pale white light, but a bright one that flashed on. For a photographic instant the white light captured the entire planet. From Tar Mountain at the equator, to the Paschk Mountains squatting around the arctic circle the sky was as white as new fallen snow.

“Akassh. Akassh,” the crowd chanted in unison.

Then, as Wartooth and Begonia fell to their knees, a band of black formed from behind The Mountain. Silent as a shadow, the blue and black ink of space resumed its place in the night sky. In the that blackness, a fireball chased the receding white light.

Females in the crowed screamed at the fireball which seemed aimed at the valley.

“Raksha is clever,” Bemar said. He raised his arms and repeated the refrain in full bellow. “Raksha is clever,” the crowd echoed him.

The fireball dropped straight down, as Raksha’s gravity grabbed it. For a moment, it looked as if it would splash into the Bay of Mada, but then it turned, and Wartooth recognized the black shell of an orhatea ship.

“Bugs!” He yelled.

In an instant, the dogo on the dais surrounded him with their firearms drawn.

The crowd’s chant became a mixed chorus of fear and command.

The ship dove again. The narrow cone of the fireball pointed at crowd. The dull commotion became panic, but soldiers from the Asavar controlled the panic. They sent females and merchants to the shelter of nearby buildings and directed their bison to circle the dais.

Two claps of thunder echoed off the valley floor. Sonic booms from the crashing ship, which seemed inches from the tops of Mada’s tallest buildings. Then, when it seemed the Tribute would end in disaster, the black ship lurched upward, as if tugged by a rope. Its engines burned blue hot against the darkening sky, and with a terrible rumble it hovered over the assembled crowd. Soldiers fired their rifles and pistols and the ships belly.

One of the engines blew orange fire and black smoke. The scream of metal stressed against the planet’s gravity caused the crowd to duck and cover their heads as a single unit.

The engine tore free and fell for the far side of the square, but the ship did not falter. It lurned up again, then with a blast that sent a furnace like wave the crowd, it rocketed toward the Mada mountain range.

Engine debris landed with great thuds around the square. A large flaming piece fell into the Tribute hell, where it exploded with such force raka on the dais fell back.

Wartooth was on a knee when the blast wave hit him, his attention focused on the ship. This was not an attack, but he knew a ship that large had to be a transport ship. A transport ship with tens of thousands of bugs in it.

The ship had gained altitude, it knocked snow from the tops of mountains, then dipped and vanished from sight.

The blast from the exploding engine had flattened Begonia. She pushed herself up snarling and swearing as if she were a soldier.

“You are not injured?” Wartooth said. He took her arm.

She slashed at him with her free hand. Her white claws, cut another mark across his armor and drew more blood from his chest.

“Don’t touch me,” she said. “The Tribute has ended.”

Wartooth growled but Regear and Bemar interrupted.

“That was a transport ship,” Regear said.

“Raksha has taken their home,” Bemar said.

A banshee like scream came from the mountains, followed by a deep boom.

“The priory,” she said, covering herself in her robe. She looked at the Mada Mountains. An orange sky framed their peaks. The snow covered peaks echoed

“We don’t know where the ship

Spider Beast

Arita swallowed. She sucked in arotea until her stomach ached. She needed the strength. When she surfaced, her fluids sank.

The arotea chamber was not full. A lifetime of eating should have filled it with the life source of the orhatea. She treaded the amber colored liquid to stay afloat. She was as comfortable in it as she was in space.

From this chamber, she could run to the space dock, steal a ship, and escape to Tojisoon. The first step to a successful escape was reconnaissance. She needed to know more of Karey’s plans, so she entered the mental landscape. No point in hiding. Karey knew where she was.

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The Daisen

The green linen sheet flew off Nic of Tar. He shot off his bed, naked, but ready for a fight. A thought reconfigured his reflexes for optimal reaction times, another thought improved his field of vision to three-hundred degrees. No one was in the room.

He looked out the open window to check branches below and above his bedroom. His stomach turned from vertigo created by the fisheye effect of his augmentation. He canceled the enhancement and marveled at how his perception of the world collapsed around him. Someone slapped him on the shoulder.

With unnatural speed, he spun with his left palm out and open while he tightened his right into an arrow-hand. His left hand caught an arm, but when he struck for his attacker’s throat, he hit what felt like an armpit.


A window in his vision indicated that a voice analysis had begun.

The attacker tried to pull free of Nic’s grip. He followed the force with a simple toe-in step that should put his back to the attacker. He tested the theory by thrusting up with his right palm. He struck the attacker on the elbow. He toed-out and in, turning to throw his attacker over his shoulder.

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The chill Nic felt was not from the cold wind drying his soaked clothes. His personal augmentations were regulating his body temperature against that chill. He was upset at himself for using the implant in Wad’s brain to restrain his friend. They had not spoken of it on the walk back to the camping wagon, but the sudden glow of the wagon’s lights made Nic feel exposed to his betrayal. He wanted to apologize again. Wad had more important thoughts.

“I should have brought some fishes,” he said as they stepped into the warmth of the wagon’s exterior lights.

“We have food Wad,” Nic said. He had lost his appetite for fish.

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Raksha protected his people at the Bay of Mada. Over millennia the valley had become a city, and the bay a port for sailing ships. In an earlier time, when ice covered the plains of Umaavadan, the rakshoon took refuge at Mada. The mountains surrounding the valley trapped warm moist air rising from NamaUd and made the Kishkha a time to forget old rivalries, study old texts, and share stories of Raksha’s cleverness. Wartooth had been here before, at the Kishkha of Betrayal.

This fortress, this very room, was Baga’s home. Baga was the first raka to gather quarreling families and clans under a common banner. That fight was against the tianshen and their perverse occupation of Raksha. In that great age of the first empire Baga carved his home in the side of the Mada Mountains and, on a morning like this, he stood in this window and commanded his troops in the defense of his home world.

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Fishing Bird

Nic of Tar inhaled the rich, earthy aromas of the mountain’s páramo. The breeze had changed direction, earlier it carried the crisp smell of saltwater. Augmentations in his nasal cavity analyzed the air sample for pollen counts and trace chemicals. A window with the results opened at the corner of his vision. The dramatic fall in pollen from yesterday indicated the freeze was early today.

This planet, Tojisoon, had a single ice-covered continent and a vast ocean. Temperate zones at the edge of the continent supported an abundant and hardy array of life. The tianshen, however, lived on an island near the equator. Tar Mountain, the dormant volcano that formed the island, reached high into the atmosphere, and drove the climate for the island. As the tianshen’s primary source for crops and fresh water, maintaining its climate for maximum yield was essential.

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A Turn of Harvest

Arita’s fluids quickened as she approached the Amah’s chamber. Orhatea were good at hiding, Tomo were masters of it. The beat her temperature increased, her obsidian shell compensated, covering her temperature spike, masking her presence to the motion sensors hidden in the floor and ceiling.

A narrowing of light along the walls indicated recording devices. Most would not have noticed it, but Arita had trained for infiltration and assassination; spotting and avoiding recording devices was her nature. Avoiding these would get her killed.

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