Bend-Serkeft Ring, Capital Station
For once, the chambers of the Civîneşra were silent save for a single voice. It was a rare occurrence for the unruly council, which still hadn't managed to gain the least bit of decorum despite its new surroundings. Though they now sat in a room covered in alien decor from the greatest powers of the galaxy, decor which was supposed to impart a sense of grandness and honor upon those whom it surrounded, they remained the same bunch of loud-mouthed, mannerless, tribal representatives as they always had been. But for the past hour or so they had all been completely silent, captivated by the holographic projection in the center of the room.
It was an amalgamation of news reports from across the galaxy, all about the Commonwealth. To the Bilnd-Sûmangişt, Biryar Arlydlan, it represented the perfect opportunity for the Urdji to withdraw from the treaty themselves. He was already coming up with ways to spin it, how best to convince the galaxy that the Urdji were just trying to survive-or trying to keep the fragile peace held together. As he looked at the faces of the tribal representatives in the chamber he, for once, felt like it wouldn't take much effort to get them to go along with it.
The stream of reports finally came to an end and Arlydlan was quick to get the first word in. In a more civilized (as the landers might put it) government's chambers it would have been a given that their leader would speak first. No such guarantee could ever be made for the Civîneşra.
"As you can see," he said, "we have found ourselves in a rather grave situation."
His words were distorted slightly, somewhat slurred and somewhat deepened, in his trademark gravelly voice. To the Urdji it made him sound wise beyond his years, but to a lander it was only an indication of illness. Many of his vocal chords were paralyzed entirely by a tumor, a rather common affliction for Urdji elders but not quite as common among men in their middle age such as he. He had been born into a small and poor tribe and had lived in their liveship's outer hull, having been exposed to as much radiation as a man twice his age.
The representatives nodded, all following.
"Indeed," said one, "the actions of the Commonwealth are worrying. They are clearly on the warpath."
"And we will be caught in the middle of that path, just like last time!" Shouted another, "I had hoped not to say this, but keeping the Mez-Jemivan intact was the right decision. I regret voting against it."
"We cannot all be right about the future, Vaiger," said Arlydlan, "none of us can fault you for hoping for peace."
"What shall we do about this, Bilnd-Sûmangişt?"
Arlydlan wondered for a moment if it had even been worth it to strategize, since it seemed as though he would get his wishes handed to him on a silver platter.
"It pains me to say this," he began, "truly, it does. But I am afraid we have no choice. The stars are our home, our livelihood, we have all been born in the void and we shall all come to rest in it. The Commonwealth, in their attempts to conquer the stars, is making themselves a threat to our very existence. This madness surrounding the planet of Agdemnar seems to have eroded what little good judgment the landers once had. Neither I nor any of you have any idea whether the Commonwealth will see us as a potential ally or just another stepping stone to some delusion of galactic hegemony. We must remember, to the landers we are not to be respected, not to be honored. They see us, every last one of us, as mere savages! If the Commonwealth thinks that we might stand in their way they will almost certainly not hesitate one moment to destroy us, and their withdrawal from the treaty is a sure sign that they are making sure they will be able to do so!"
He paused, allowing the representatives to nod, mutter, and shout. His words had provoked the exact response he had hoped for, and some of the more jingoistic representatives in the chamber were positively frothing at the mouth.
"The very world which hangs beneath our feet, Bend-Serkeft, was once theirs. And though we went to great lengths to ensure its people were treated well, even accepting many of them into our own nation, a power-hungry and senseless Commonwealth may well choose to use it as an excuse to exterminate our race! Regardless of the diplomatic repercussions, regardless of the morality of such an act, we cannot allow them to construct new warships unchecked by the treaty while we are still bound by its law! As I say these words I wish, I truly wish, that we had another option but we simply do not! The stars are our home!"
A few representatives echoed his words, but this time he did not pause.
"We must defend them! The landers have left us with no other option! They have forced our hand! We must withdraw from the treaty, for the sake of our very survival! The other landers will follow the lead of the Commonwealth, we must not let them come to dominate our home! Our territory
The chamber erupted into true and proper chaos, with seemingly every single representative shouting at the top of their lungs. Arlydlan had to try his best not to smile at the display, which was all he needed to know for certain that there would be little resistance to withdrawing from the treaty themselves.
"All in favor of withdrawing, rise!" He bellowed.
Almost everyone jumped up out of their seats, still shouting, echoing the words of the Bilnd-Sûmangişt.
"Then it is decided! As of this day, the Mez-Jemivan is no longer bound by the Treaty of Detente!"Liveship Leşkgemmar
Hirç'kur walked into the workshop, the smell of ground steel, ozone, and burnt metal assaulting his nose the moment he opened the door. He went through the same motions he always did the morning, donning his gloves, helmet, and wing-sheath. Most of the men at Vekrî were clipped despite the Leşkgemmar's abundant open air, and the fact that he wasn't tended to be the primary subject of workplace banter. He carefully maneuvered himself and his wings through the smelly, spark filled shop to the master's office.
It was a cramped space for Hirç'kur, but rather spacious to most of the clipped workers. They were, perhaps, somewhat more dedicated to their craft than he. Hirç'kur, and his few other unclipped brethren, considered their wings a show of pride-proof that Leşkgemmar was a proud and prosperous tribe. But still, he was young and easily excited, and when his coworkers spoke seriously about his wings they often said that he would eventually either have them clipped or choose a different line of work."Maybe I'll be a Ranger"
, he tended to say, to deflect from the subject. He himself didn't know which of those he would choose if the choice was forced upon him, he was too young still to quite know what his role would be. Some days he wanted to quit and choose some new, obscure vocation. Usually after he'd just read about it on the net. Others he felt like there was nothing he would rather do than work with the Vekrî Guild-at the very least he was proud of what he did there.
"Morning Hirç'kur." Said the master, "Not a good one for me, unfortunately. How're those armor plates coming along?"
"Just about finished the order, master." Said Hirç'kur, "I had the Rangers test a selection last night, they couldn't find any problems. What's bothering you?"
"It's the Civîneşra. They just sent in an order for a new design they want. Planetary transport of some kind, has to be cheap, reliable, and have a fairly long range. Everyone's stumped. I don't think the representatives understand that we aren't exactly experts with this sort of thing. We've only barely started building tanks again after a few centuries, and making any of those damn things work was a hell of a challenge! Y'know, they even want longer range tanks too! Every way I look at the specs they sent it just looks impossible, you just can't fit that many batteries into these things without making them death traps."
"What about those fusion tanks that... uh... whoever it was drew up a couple years back?"
"Too expensive. The Civîneşra wants a full and proper army for cheap, and they're not willing to change supply lines either. Which means that... that weird burning shit the landers use, whatever they call it, isn't an option."
"Yeah that stuff."
"From what I've heard it's probably best that we don't use it anyways. It kills planets, or something like that."
"How the hell does it do that?"
"I dunno, just something I hear from the aliens that stop by at that bar by the docks."
"Weird. Well anyways, have a look at the specs yourself."
"This is probably one of those things where you need someone who doesn't know anything to give you their perspective. Neither me nor any of the other guys here with experience working with the tanks has any ideas."
The master handed a stack of rag-like "papers" made from thick, cotton like plant fibers over to Hirç'kur. They had a number of demands written on them in big words that just reeked of formality. Not the sort of thing Hirç'kur, or anyone else besides politicians for that matter, was good with. But he waded through the unnecessarily verbose documents, eyes widening with each paragraph.
"By Xwêdh, that's ridiculous!" He exclaimed, "There's no way we could build something to these specs that runs on batteries! What about hydrogen fuel cells?"
"They get weak if they get too hot, and they want the things usable in just about any environment."
"I actually suggested those specifically, and get this! Arlydlan personally shot the idea down, saying he wanted to minimize radiation exposure! Radiation exposure
! Who gives a shit about radiation exposure? That's a part of everyday life, for fuck's sake! A little RTG isn't gonna give you cancer any quicker than the stars will!"
"Well I think we all know how Arlydlan feels about the course of the Mez-Jemivan. What with all the resources going towards Bend-Serkeft. Guess he's planning on having a big chunk of us live on the land someday."
"Ah, like that'll ever happen. Space has always been our home, and the vacuum is the only territory we'll ever need if you ask me."
"Agreed. I respect the man, he won the war for us of course, but I feel like he's got some damn odd ideas. Anyways, what if we just didn't use electricity for the drive at all?"
"What do you mean?"
"Y'know, find some other way to generate the force. Spin some stuff around with steam, maybe? Like those little balls kids play with but on a larger scale."
"Even if there was an easy way to make the steam I don't think that'd be efficient enough. You could burn trees or something for heat, I guess, but I have to assume that would be 'complicating the supply lines' too."
"I wonder what the landers do?"
"Beats me. Maybe they just have better batteries. Tell you what, you're ahead on the armor order so I'm going to give you some time off once you finish it. See if you can help the design boys with this."
"I'm just a welder, master."
"Which means you don't know jack shit about design and propulsion, which is perfect. We're going to need to think outside of the box on this one if we want to deliver-and I do
intend to deliver. Vekrî doesn't fail, no matter how unreasonable the demands."
"Well I'll try not to let you down then. I'll do some research on it."
"Just get the armor done first," said the master with a chuckle, "hmmm, armor. What if we used a lighter material for the tank?"
The master took the papers right out of Hirç'kur's hands and double-checked the specs, then tore off a blank piece of the final page and started doing some calculations. Hirç'kur knew better than to interrupt the master after he'd gotten a spark of inspiration like that, so he left for his place at one of the many tables in the workshop.Liveship Stêgiri
Stêgiri was far from an important ship in the Mez-Jemivan. One of the largest ships of the Merivelaş Tribe, yes, but the Merivelaş Tribe as a whole was far from important itself. The tribe had, however, chosen to move most of its liveships into the territories conquered during the Great War. Their chief had considered it to be an opportunity to grow their tribe's economy, and so the Stêgiri had found itself just a few jumps away from Bend-Serkeft. A few jumps closer, as it happened, to Agdemnar.
It had, thanks to the positioning of its captain, become a somewhat popular stop on some outgoing trade routes from the larger tribes nearer to Bend-Serkeft. More transport ships had docked with the Stêgiri in the past year than any year before, even during the Great War, and what few local businesses existed were reaping the benefits. Everyone from the hydrogen mining crews to the food stand owners were doing the best business they had in years, and the shop of Miss Eşranû was no exception.
She was the (one and only) local gunsmith. Before the relocation she did more odd jobs than gunsmithing as few people on such a small ship really needed a gun, and if they did they rarely needed work done on it. Of course, with the ship closer to Agdemnar, she had started seeing a good few more customers in recent months.
At first they had just been Rangers whom were disgruntled to have to rely on some lady from a former rear-line ship for their rifle repairs, but after the ship and its inhabitants had settled in she found herself getting regulars. Rangers would often come in every so often to ask for a tune-up of their coilgun's computer systems, or a replacement for a burned-out capacitor array. She had even managed to offload her bloated stock of pistols she had made just before the Great War under the assumption that business would pick up as a result of the war. It is a testament to the isolation of the Stêgiri that it didn't.
One day, as the ship was collecting extra oxygen from a frozen wasteland of a world that was the closest thing to habitable in the system, one of her most recognizable customers walked in. Commander Skêssor, one of the Rangers assigned to Agdemnar. He was (theoretically) eighth in command of the entire operation on the planet, being the second in command of the fourth Ranger unit deployed planetside. To landers, of course, the idea of a Commander being deployed on the ground is perhaps an odd one. Even odder is the fact that Ranger units are referred to as "ships" even if there is no actual space vessel attached. Functionally Skêssor was more or less a Major. Usually leaning on the "less" side.
"Ah, Commander Skêssor!" Said Eşranû with a smile, "What can I do for you today? Lemme guess, rails need come fine tuning?"
"No, well, they might." Said the Commander, "I traded in my old rifle for this."
He set a coilgun down on the table. It wasn't the Vekrî arms one she usually saw him carrying, instead it was one bearing the markings of Guild Jist-a Qurtel tribe general supplies guild.
"I didn't even know the Jist Guild made coilguns, have they just started?"
"Yes," said the Commander with a frown, "and I think that perhaps they shouldn't have. It just doesn't shoot straight. The capacitors start limping three quarters or so of the way through a magazine too."
"Knowing Jist they probably didn't put much work into the capacitors, I'd bet you they're the same ones they put in all their other high-voltage electronics but with a few minor modifications. I'll see what I can do with 'em but I might have to just switch out the whole bank with some of mine."
"Whatever it takes. I do like the gun when I'm not shooting it though, it comes apart a hell of a lot easier than my old one. That's the main reason I bought it. Shame that getting taken apart is the only thing it seems to do well."
"Makes you wish that y'all could just adopt a gun and be done with it, the way the landers do."
"Y'know I hear they're trying to. The Bilnd-Sûmangişt organized some kind of arms exhibition, opened it up to all the manufactures that care to show. They say that the Civîneşra is going to pick some standard-issue arms from what the guilds show up with."
"Really?" Said Eşranû, her arms shivering a bit as her wing-stumps tried to jitter to show interest, "What guilds were invited? And who's 'they'?"
"No invites, they just posted the place and date on the net. I heard everything I'm telling you from the Captains down there with me. You know, come to think of it..."
He looked at her with a playful grin, scratching his chin as he left his sentence hang.
"Oh, please. Like the only gunsmith on some rear-line ship could win a competition like that."
"I don't know, miss, I know who'd get my vote for the sidearm."
He patted the pistol on his hip, one of the many that Eşranû had made before the Great War. She'd heard nothing but praise of them, their simple design made them, as Skêssor had once put it, "damn near indestructible".
She dismissed his compliment too, as she tended to do, and started stripping his gun to figure out just what was wrong with it. As she did so, though, she did start to daydream about what she would present to the Civîneşra. Just what would she make, if she could? What would the perfect weapon look like? What would she make it out of, would it be best to use a traditional fiberglass stock or one using more modern materials like nanotubes or graphene? What about a graphene coated stock? Would the Civîneşra be interested in a wooden stock, now that Bend-Serkeft was under Urdji control?
She chuckled a bit at the silly thoughts while she started to lay out the gun's pieces on her table. It was, as Skêssor had said, incredibly easy to disassemble. And, it seemed, rather easy to put back together. A pre-sapient primate could figure it out. That's a good idea,
she thought, shame it wasn't used on a better weapon...Spîgûl, Personal Yacht of the Bilnd-Sûmangişt
shimmering white frame moved silently through space above Bend-Serkeft's lonely, barren moon. And it was indeed silent. Even within the craft, where one's ears would normally be assaulted by the din of atmospheric purifiers and circulation fans, there was so little noise that if one simply turned out the lights it could pass for a sensory deprivation chamber. And despite that silence, the Spîgûl
was under acceleration.
Like all proper, traditional Urdji yachts it was first and foremost a solar sailer. Though it was equipped with a basic propulsion system, as were most in modern times, it was designed to be moved by nothing more than the wind of the stars. Grand sails unfolded themselves over and over again, stretching as thin sheets from the bow of the ship while the more solid maneuvering sails and radiator wings opened on the aft. Arlydlan looked out at the sails from his personal quarters aboard the yacht, which were separated from the vacuum of space only by a great window which stretched from wall to wall and floor to ceiling.
He loved the stars. To him they were the most beautiful thing in all of creation, unmatched in splendor by any other sight. The clouds of a gas giant, the peaceful and barren landscape of an airless moon, the sight of the shining lights of Liveship Qurtel set against the inky black of the void, none could even compare as far as he was concerned. Like many other Urdji he viewed them with almost religious reverence. They had been the first thing he had seen when he was born, they were the source of all energy and by extension all life in the universe which nourished him in life, and he knew that his death would come by their hands.
For all his efforts to drag the Mez-Jemivan into the modern era, when he looked out at the stars he always knew that he could never let them abandon their true home. He had heard, on numerous occasions, lander sailors describing how it felt when they first looked down on their homeworld. A sense of wonder, but also of insignificance. A feeling of joy, but also of sorrow. All shared the same story, the same confusingly profound mix of emotions, the overwhelming power of the sight. Perhaps, thought Arlydlan, he had the same experience when he gazed at the stars. They were, after all, the closest thing he had a to a homeworld.When landers die
, he thought, they return their energy to their world's land. When we die we return our energy to the stars.
Nothing more than an observation, at first. A simple tangent of a mesmerized mind. But he dwelt on that comparison as his yacht was slowly pushed out of orbit by a breeze of photons. Their land cannot compare to the stars. The stars gave the land form, gifted the land with the energy which can nourish life. We return to the source of all energy, the landers return to merely the start of their little circle of energy. And who could fault them? Thousands of years ago we were the same, we knew nothing of the universe beyond our insignificant bubble of air. But we were forced to evolve, to become closer to the source of life.
On that, too, his mind dwelt. The insignificant bubbles of air which the landers seemed forever bound to, no matter how far towards the sky they stretched their arms. A thought entered his mind which shook his core, but he did not ignore it. He could not. To ignore a frightening thought would serve only to validate its every word.Are our ships any different?
He found no answer. He was not sure what to feel about that. Angry? Sorrowful? Afraid? Perhaps even comforted, or content? It would have to wait for another time, though, as his meditation was interrupted by the hissing of the door to his quarters sliding open.
"Good evening, Xweste." He said, turning to face the woman as she entered. Unlike Arlydlan, she hadn't had her wings clipped. They were certainly handy for traversing the corridors of the Spîgûl, which only ever made use of its artificial gravity system for the benefit of foreign diplomats.
"Taking in the view were you, Biryar?" She asked.
"I feel a better term may be 'meditating'."
Xweste and Biryar, as she and few others knew him, went back as long as they could each remember. She had, on their home ship, been the daughter of one of the bridge crew. Though neither ever quite specified to anyone else how a boy from the outer decks and the daughter of the chief engineer had met in the first place it was well known that her connections with the ship's officers had given the young Arlydlan a way into the liveship's local ranger unit. He had returned the favor many times since the formation of the Third Mez-Jemivan and Xweste was now the "Captain of Bend-Serkeft", in practice a position akin to "colonial governor" or "viceroy".
She looked out the window at the stars and smiled, knowing just what he was talking about.
"I see," she said, "the Chinvat flows both ways."
is in orbit of Kavê-Hişk, and I have received word from Mûcîz that she is expected to give birth before they make another jump."
"I supposed as much. You are lucky, to have a nephew born from the light your father was returned to."
"Indeed. We are going to stop there on our way to Rolvius, I would like to be there at his birth if I can. Such good omens are rare."
"That'll add a fair bit of time to the trip."
"It will, but we have courier ships aboard if we must reach the Civîneşra on short notice. And our business with the Rolvians can wait for a short while, it is not as if your broad-strokes infrastructure project is particularly time-sensitive. And as I understand it you're simply trying to figure out how to manage the biosphere."
"Yes, that's all. There are a fair few examples in the galaxy of worlds being, well, killed off
by industrial mismanagement. Or something, I really don't understand it which is why I want to go to the Rolvians."
"Well, anyhow, a short little stop won't put the biosphere of Bend-Serkeft into jeopardy I'm sure."
"Not at all. I do have just one request, though."
Arlyldan chuckled ever so slightly, already knowing what she would ask.
"You want to be there too, eh?"
"It would be an honor."
"I'm sure that Mûcîz would be happy to have you there. The birth of a child, especially one born under a good omen, would be a welcome escape from all of the exhausting political maneuvering we have been occupied with for so long. "Agdemnar, Dereî Outpost
Dereî Outpost sat in solitude near the peak of one of Adgemnar's great mountains, surrounded by the rest of the range which acted as a convenient natural defense. Lacking any proper ground force, the Urdji had chosen to just try and stay as far out of the way as possible. And that particular mountain, which the outpost had been named for, had presented a unique opportunity. It was bisected by Point Jakurna's shield, which to the earliest exploratory ships sent to the planet looked like an easy way in. It wasn't long before they realized that the shield covered the entire point in a sphere, but the mountain was still a convenient way to hide their attempts to pierce the shield.
It was also a convenient way to hide the outpost's extensive sensor array which was listening in on whatever comms signals it could pick up.
The troops deployed to Dereî were, as of late, getting to be rather on edge thanks to that array. Hostilities seemed to be increasing across the planet, not to mention in orbit of it. A courier ship had been dispatched just a couple days ago to beg for reinforcements as it became increasingly clear that almost every other power had sent a proper invasion force while the Urdji had just dropped off some of their most experienced Rangers.
As a result of their fears, the Urdji had started to construct numerous new defenses around Dereî. Gun emplacements, trenches, bunkers, anything they could think of to give them at least a fighting chance were a hostile power to attack. A number of Xegîn class corvettes which had been deployed for in-atmosphere support fire had been permanently landed in hastily built drydocks on the side of the mountain, their shield bubbles being extended to cover the entire outpost.
Even amidst this, however, one of the units deployed to Dereî was still going about its usual business. Deep within the mountain base, one ensign was trying his damnedest to flap his wings against the constant assault of a wind tunnel's fan. A distressed cry from the ensign for "Rashnu's mercy" quickly brought an end to the fan's motion, and the ensign fell limp and exhausted as he hung from his harness.
"Ensign Neçirva? Are you alright?" Called a wingless doctor as he dropped a clipboard to a table.
"I'm... fine, I think I just-" Neçirva yelped as he tried to move his left wing, "No, I'm not alright, there's somethin' wrong there."
The wind tunnel's cargo door was opened, and Neçirva was slowly lowered to the grating covering the fan by his harness. He just laid there on his belly, moaning in pain, until the doctor got to him.
"Agh, oh that hurts. Shit. Please tell it looks fine, Doc."
The man leaned in closer to get a look at the wing and promptly yelled.
"Medic! Get a stretcher over here!"
"Don't worry, it's not too
bad. It's just a mild dislocation."
"A 'mild dislocation' of a wing
? There's no such thi- Gah! I'll be bedridden for days!"
"Look, it'll heal and that's the important part. But I'm starting to have my doubts here..."
"No! It- ow! It'll work... just... gotta get the angle right."
"Fair enough. If your wings heals properly then we'll keep trying. This whole idea is crazy to begin with though, our wings just aren't meant to take that much stress."
Neçirva turned his head as far as he could without moving his wing muscles and looked the doctor in the eyes with determination which, the doctor assumed, only he could possibly muster given the circumstances.
"Like hell they ain't! It's just terminal velocity, we can glide down from that!"
"Can you glide down from terminal velocity after a dozen minutes of freefall, and reentry, and
any number of things that might go wrong there?"
"I don't know, but I sure as hell intend to find ouuuu-AAH! Medic, couldn't you at least hit me with some painkillers before you manhandle my wing like that?"