Endo the Line

Big thanks to our friend Malvear for working on this beautiful Drone, he’s quickly become my go-to for Jarilans and has helped inform  their designs in many ways. This one was commissioned by a reader who prefers to remain uncredited. Make sure you click on it to open it in full resolution!

I did a short story to accompany it, which you can read below:

The rifle rocked into Amethyst’s shoulder, the extra padding beneath her armor helping to dampen the recoil, the loud crack ringing out across the valley. She put a few more slugs downrange, shifting her position as she lay in the grass, watching them tear through the gel targets before kicking up a torrent of dirt in the mound of earth behind them. More shots echoed through the forest, her sisters following suit, a line of some two dozen Drones dumping their magazines.

The sky overhead was a bright blue, wisps of white cloud drifting across it, blown by the same breeze that ruffled her feathery antennae and the towering trees that surrounded the little firing range. The warm sun beat down on her, making her purple carapace shine, its subtle iridescence shifting hue as she moved. She could smell the pollen on the air, the scent of flowering plants drifting in, joining the smell of the hot coils on her barrel. The little valley where the Jarilans had founded their hive was only a stone’s throw from one of the growing human colonies, but being immersed in the beauty of nature out here, it was easy to forget about civilization.

She paused, holding her XMR in her upper pair of hands as she reached up with the lower, swapping in a fresh magazine and tweaking the zero on her scope. It was a little like playing an instrument to her at this point – a combination of practice and instinct giving her an intuitive understanding of how to operate the weapon. She must have put thousands of slugs downrange by now.

It was a small frame suited to the more diminutive member species of the Coalition, and she had equipped it with a long barrel packed with magnetic coils, her scope positioned a little more forward than was customary. It required some tweaks to the balance of the weapon, but she liked it that way. The stock could fold to help mitigate the barrel length, and it packed a lot of punch for its size – just like she did. Drones were strong, and she could handle it.

She tuned up the voltage a little, centering the digital crosshair on the target as she pulled it tight against her shoulder and squeezed the trigger. The tungsten slug sang as it cut through the air, the heat that it carried with it making it glow red like a tracer round, the organic gel sizzling when it punched through.

“Nice shot, Amy,” her neighbor chimed. It was Cassia, easily identifiable by her lemon-yellow coloration and her ornate horn, even if her scent hadn’t been on the air. “Right between the eyes. If a gel target had eyes, of course. They’re more like lumpy cubes, really.”

“I think it’s called a carbine,” Amethyst mused as she turned the weapon over in her hands to examine it. “The human Marines use them sometimes.”

“It certainly has more range and stopping power than the usual PDWs,” Cassia replied, giving her own weapon an affectionate slap with a lower hand. It was the same small variant, but with the magazine situated behind the trigger, the shorter barrel equipped with a forward grip to help control the recoil. “I like the bullpups, personally. That extra barrel length is really useful.”

She shouldered her weapon, lining up a shot before letting off a short burst. The trio of slugs tore up the target, sending shredded strips of gel raining to the ground.

“I prefer the forward-loading receivers,” Amethyst added, rising to a knee. “I find that they’re easier to keep on target.”

She emptied her magazine in semi-auto mode, careful to place each shot on target, then performed another rapid reload without breaking line of sight. The empty mag dropped as she hit the release, and as quick as a flash, she reached for her belt with a lower hand and slammed the next one into place.

“Alright, alright,” Cassia chuckled. “Looks like someone is trying to get deployed as quickly as possible…”

“It’s what we were bred for,” Amethyst replied with a shrug. “I’ve been fully mature for almost a year now, and I still haven’t seen any action. I want to put all this training to the test – get out there and mingle with humans, see the Galaxy.”

“Speaking of mingling,” Cassia began as the plates of chitin that made up her face rearranged into a smile. “Are you coming to the club tonight?”

“Hell yeah, I am!” Amethyst replied enthusiastically. “My new dress just cleared customs, and I want to try it out.”

“You realize that the hive provides all of the clothing you’ll ever need?” Cassia said with a smirk, gesturing to the armored plate that covered Amethyst’s chest. It wasn’t part of her natural carapace – rather, a piece of artificial chitin formed to match its color and shape perfectly. Ferals had worn them as supplemental body armor, but Jarilans had a little more modesty to preserve than their wild cousins due to their hybrid heritage.

“It’s pretty,” Amethyst chided, turning up her horn with an exaggerated pout.

“You know what else just cleared customs?” Cassia asked, her tone turning sly. Amethyst could immediately smell the excitement in her pheromones. “A new shipment of Endos just came in – fresh-faced recruits ready to serve on those new ships they’ve been building in orbit. Word in the tunnels is they’re very bored and very available.”
Amethyst perked up at that, her long antennae twitching.

“Thought that might get your attention,” Cassia snickered, switching her weapon to safe mode.

“Well, it’s not like we have one male for roughly every ten thousand females or anything like that,” Amethyst grumbled as she rose to her feet and brushed off her plates. She crossed her upper pair of arms across her chest, passing her weapon to the lower pair. “It’s like being given a rifle but never being allowed to fire it. I have all the equipment, but nobody will let me use it.”

“That’s the problem when you have a Queen handling all of your reproduction,” Cassia sighed. “Almost makes you long for the days of being a mindless drone shoveling dirt for the dopamine hit, doesn’t it? They didn’t have to deal with dating.”

“We’ll get lucky eventually, Cass,” Amethyst said, setting off down the dirt track that led back to the armory. “We were made for this, after all.”

“I can’t even remember the last time I saw a male Jarilan,” Cassia sighed as she walked along beside her sister. “They’ve been shipping them all off to paratrooper training practically the moment they pupate.”

“Endo boys are a fine replacement,” Amethyst added as they rounded a bend in the path. “The Queen engineered us to be compatible – it feels like what we’re supposed to do, you know?”

“Sounds conspiratorial,” Cassia giggled. “As though we only like human boys because she wished it to be so.”

“That’s kind of true,” Amethyst said, adjusting her rifle in her lower hands. “Our Feral ancestors survived through adaptation – by being their most dangerous and efficient selves. Our Queen was wise enough to realize that cooperation was the way forward, and she made the next generation to be…cooperative. We have no more or less free will than a human – we’re just driven by the same hormones and emotions that they are.”

“Maybe she made us to seduce unsuspecting Marines,” Cassia said. “You’re less likely to bomb someone from orbit if you’re banging their daughter.”
“They say that Alexander the Great encouraged intermarriage between his soldiers and the women of the territories he conquered as a way to build familial bonds and cement his rule,” Amethyst mused. She reached up to catch a falling leaf, holding it in her hand for a moment. “He took a Persian wife himself. The idea was that those bonds would be stronger than simply ruling people as subjects.”

“Did it work?”

“I’m pretty sure it didn’t,” Amethyst admitted. “It’s a nice sentiment, though. Maybe they just weren’t trying hard enough.”

“Maybe they weren’t as pretty as us,” Cassia added with a smirk. She jogged to get ahead of Amethyst, then turned to face her, walking backwards. “These puppies are non-functional, sister,” she added as she rapped on her chestpiece with a fist. “You know why we have them…”

“Save it for the club,” Amethyst chuckled.

“Oh, I am – believe me. I’m either ending tonight in a hotel room with an Endo who smells like heaven, or I’m asking the Medics to surgically remove the part of my brain that processes horny.”

“I’m not sure how much brain would be left,” Amethyst joked.

“Very funny, but you’re the one who ordered a sexy cocktail dress from off-world.”

“It’ll work, you’ll see,” Amethyst replied.

***

“I was kind of expecting a bigger city than this,” Jason said as he walked down the main street. A lot of the colony’s buildings were still prefabs lifted off the muddy ground on stilts – little more than rounded boxes connected by a makeshift network of insulated power and data cables. The road, at least, was paved. A few buggies and transport trucks laden with cargo containers trundled past, their beefy tires designed to handle rugged terrain. The spaceport was behind them, the massive cable that joined to the tether’s anchor rising up above their heads, higher even than the enormous fir trees. The alien structure looked fleshy and somehow alive, some product of Jarilan technology, the organic rope gradually fading into the blue haze.

“I like it,” Archie replied, his hands in the pockets of his blue Navy coveralls as he walked along beside his friend. “After being cooped up on that jump carrier for so long, some fresh, clean air that hasn’t been run through a thousand scrubbers will do you some good. This place is pristine – look at those trees.”

“I’ll admit, it’s pretty impressive,” Jason conceded. They were some native species of flora, but they looked like redwoods to Jason, the lower gravity allowing them to tower even larger. It felt like someone had bitten a chunk out of the forest and just scattered the clearing with buildings.

“A lot of the colony’s industry is apparently below ground, which is why we can’t see it,” Archie continued as they passed by another cluster of prefabs. “The colonists live on the surface, and the Jarilans live in their tunnels with all the factories and foundries.”
“What do you make of them?” Jason asked, watching a little group of squat Workers waddle along on the opposite side of the road. They were only around four feet tall, but they could carry their own weight and more, the fluffy antennae and little ruffs of white fur around their necks blowing in the wind. No two were alike, each one sporting a different color of shell along with a unique horn that sprouted from their foreheads like a stag beetle. The way that their plates arranged to form a face was a little uncanny at first, but surprisingly cute when one got used to it, their eyes large and expressive.

“They’re certainly industrious little creatures,” Archie replied, raising a hand to wave to the aliens. They returned his greeting happily, seeming excited to see some new faces. “Friendly, too.”
“That guy at the bar tipped me off about a club outside the city,” Jason continued as they passed by a store, the neon sign that hung above its door flickering. “End of the Line, or something like that. Supposedly, it’s where the Jarilans go to socialize with aliens.”

“You looking to do some socializing, Jay?” Archie asked with a knowing smile.

“We’ve been cooped up on that carrier for months,” he grumbled in reply. “For once, I’d like to have a conversation with someone who I haven’t showered with.”
“It sounds like the place to be,” Archie chuckled. “We’re on shore leave, and we have nothing better to do than haunt the barracks, so let’s do some socializing. Worst-case scenario, we meet some interesting people and get some drinks in us.”

 

***

 

“I think they spelled it wrong,” Archie said, lifting his eyes to the glowing sign above the door. “It says Endo the Line.”

“Maybe it’s supposed to be a pun?” Jason suggested with a shrug.

Night had fallen, and the stars were twinkling in the sky, bright and stark without any light pollution to speak of. The only thing brighter was the nearest tether, the miles-long cable covered in flashing warning lights to ward off any passing aircraft. Jason could actually see a passenger car climbing it, the observation windows illuminated as it sped up the cable.

The club was a little ways from the colony, situated in a clearing down a dirt path that wound between the trees, like some kind of cottage from an old fairytale. It was made of interconnected prefabs that were raised off the carpet grass and wildflowers on little outriggers, a pair of large doors accessible via a ramp. Jason could already hear music and conversations leaking out into the silent forest.

They made their way up and stepped inside, the doors opening at their approach, the muffled music growing louder. Past a small foyer lined with doormats to clean the mud from their boots, they emerged into a large room, the expansive floorspace and tall ceiling suggesting that it had originally been intended as a warehouse.

The cold metal and polymer of the prefabs had been replaced with soft carpeting and what seemed to be Borealan-inspired drapery hanging from the walls, the colors all soft reds and pinks. A beautifully carved wooden bar occupied one wall of the room, the shelves behind it stacked with bottles of all shapes and colors, some of their labels sporting alien text. Real wood was a rare commodity on most worlds, but Jarilo was teeming with abundant lumber. There were comfortable chairs and long couches scattered all around, piled high with pillows and cushions, some of them surrounding wooden tables where guests were drinking and eating. It more resembled some kind of upscale social club or maybe a lounge.

There were plenty of humans – some natives wearing civilian clothes, and others who were clearly Marines from the carrier that had recently arrived. There were aliens, too. Jason could spot a few towering Borealans, a well as a flock of reptilian Valbarans that were clustered around a low coffee table, their colorful feathers flashing as they chattered.

More numerous were the Jarilans, insects of every size and shape mingling with their alien counterparts. There were squat, stocky little Workers milling about and even a few seven-foot, willowy Pilots striding amongst the shorter humans. They had long limbs and slim builds, seeming almost ephemeral in the way that they moved, far more graceful than the little Workers. There was even a Replete tending the bar – a caste that Jason had never seen in person before. She was wearing an apron that covered up her figure, but he could see the beginnings of her cleavage, the cherry-red skin translucent and filled with some kind of gel or fluid that wobbled as she moved.

As Jason and Archie walked over to the counter to order some drinks, Jason paused, something catching his eye.

Through the crowd, the glint of gold drew his gaze. There was a Drone eyeing him from the other side of the room – a combat caste about the size of a short human at five feet and change, putting her somewhere between a Worker and a Pilot. She had a grape-colored carapace that subtly shifted hue beneath the lights, waxy and iridescent, like the paint job of some fancy sports car. Four long, fluffy antennae sprouted from her head to give the appearance of long hair, sharing the same white color as the large ruff on her collar. It almost gave her the appearance of some ancient European noble, the fine, white strands shimmering like frayed optical cables. There was more of that fluff around her wrists, too.

She was leaning on a small table with her lower pair of arms, the upper holding a drink, the plates that made up her face split open to let her dip a fleshy proboscis into a glass of amber liquid. The branching horn had a pair of ornamental pendants dangling from it on tiny chains – that was the golden glint that he’d seen. There was more gold around her eyes, the reflective paint or makeup drawing him in, sparkling as she sipped at her drink. And what eyes – large and impossibly blue, even her irises showing a little of that rainbow iridescence. He found himself momentarily captivated as she watched him, rubbing her fingers through the soft vanes of one of her antennae in the way that a human woman might idly play with her hair.

Unlike many of the other Jarilans, she was wearing clothing – a red dress patterned with gilded filigree that matched her paint. It clung to her tightly, the hem barely reaching her knees, the fabric split to expose her smooth thighs. Without her figure being broken up by all of those interlocking plates, she looked remarkably feminine, her wide hips tapering into an hourglass waist. She had a bust, which was something he hadn’t noticed beneath the chest pieces of the other Jarilans, her more human features leaping out at him the longer he stared.

“Yo, Jason,” Archie said as he gave him a nudge. “Did you hear me?”

“Huh?” Jason replied, turning to face his friend.

“I said, let’s go get a table,” Archie reiterated as he waved a bottle and a couple of glasses at him. Jason swung around to search for the strange Drone again, cursing under his breath when he saw that she was gone. She had been strangely beautiful…

“They say Jarilans are part human,” Jason said as he and Archie made for an unoccupied table. “You think that’s true?”

“Yeah, they’re hybrids,” Archie explained as he pulled up a chair and set down their drinks. “They have some human DNA in them. The Bugs that we fight can’t speak or emote or really do much of anything outside of their assigned task. Jarries were literally made to interact with other species. The guy who brokered the peace deal with them donated his genetic material to the Queen, and she made the Jarries. They’re related to us in a kind of weird, genetic engineering sense.”

“Hey, did you see that girl in the dress?” Jason added as he scanned the room.

“A girl in a dress?” Archie repeated as he filled their glasses. “Can’t say I have. We’ve only been here for five minutes, Jay – you don’t have to go for the first girl you see. You can afford to shop around a bit.”

“It’s just that…she was so…maybe you’re right,” he sighed as he lifted his glass and took a sip. “Maybe I was cooped up on that carrier for too long.”

“You could have gone for one of those Borealan girls,” Archie suggested.

“I like to end my evenings with my skin still attached to my body, thank you,” Jason grumbled. “What is this, Scotch? How the hell did they get Scotch out here?”

“Maybe they make it here?” Archie replied with a shrug.

Jason lurched as someone set another glass on the table beside him. He turned his head to see the Jarilan in the dress peering down at him with her blue eyes. She was leaning over his table, this position giving him a view straight down her dress, something soft and enticing wobbling gently beneath it as she lay her lower arms on the polished wood. There was a strange scent about her that filled his lungs with each breath, like a bouquet of wildflowers, something more alluring lurking just beneath it.

“Got room for one more?” she chimed, giving him a smile.