I. THE ACCUSATION AGAINST OURSELVES
First part: That as we leave our world that we have ruined, from henceforth shall our Race bear the burden of its restoration. Someday we shall return to cleanse it, yet only after we have cleansed ourselves. Hear us all born of Liyanna (Liánna), of Clan Liyo, children of the northern lands, you Illenyani; from now on the path of Clanhood shall be above all things – before your family – your clan. Before your rulers – your clan. Before insult, before glory – your clan. On this day we are all reborn, sworn that never again shall we risk the extinction of our entire Race for the sake of a mere slice of true greatness.
Objection 1: Wheter the path of Clanhood is necessary?
Answer: If war cannot be excised from our hearts, then let war be the fire that tempers the steel of our resolve. The ultimate purpose of the Clanhood is to separate and isolate our entire species into distinct groupings, then to unify them. To prove power. For the sake of ideology and factionalism, we have destroyed our life, our wondrous Kithàrra (Kitara). Must we then repeat this devastation upon a greater scale?
Objection 2: Wheter true Clanhood is attainable?
Answer: Like our old religions, the Clanning is an attempt to alter fundamental social thinking. But where our olds faiths were service to dead gods, our new faith is a service to the past behind and the future ahead of us. Where in one we trusted our destinies to external factors now we must take responsibility for every action we undertake. We have been reduced to such a state, that only we, our own executioners, can save ourselves. What matters most is that the main principles of Clanhood is the TRUE AND UNCHANGEABLE, AGREED UPON BY ALL CLANS, TO BE HELD TO BY ALL NATIONS, BY ALL OF OUR PEOPLE, FOR AS LONG AS WE EXIST AS A SPECIES. Whatever differences we had before have vanished in the fires consuming our world’s surface. We are all anew, we are all saved from the sins of our forefathers.
Objection 3: Wheter Clanhood is the only way to restore Kitharrana (pristine Kitara)?
Answer: Until we have determined which Clan shall rule the Clansmeet, which ideology is best to guide our entire Race, we cannot return. Otherwise we risk the repeat of history. We now fight not just our enemies, but all of history, all of biology, all of psychology. Before we can tame the stars of the galaxy, we must first tame ourselves.
1. A Child of Liyo
Selar flicked his ears, bored. All Clanbooks started similarly, trying to destroy the justifications of its formation, pre-empting any argument of the future generations. These objections and answers continued on for much the first half of the tome, then the actual rulings that built the path towards true Clanhood. The Inyislar, the Clanning, didn’t really prohibit the formation of independent governments and territories, the ascribing to other religions, nor war within its own people. Its writers, in their rabid attempts to fortify their Doctrine early on, had been truly afraid that the grand experiment might fail. It was their last chance at redemption.
Yet their work held. For nearly three thousand years.
Selar was a boy, of fourteen Kithome years (fifteen in the Clanhome calendar). Compared to other Kitarans, he was just a bit taller, a bit more wiry, and his hair had an unique yellowish-orange tint to it. He could be instantly recognized as a child of Clan Liyo (Liyan; the-exalted). His somewhat slanted eyes marked him as a someone from Riiya, or at least close to Clanhome, Those near the borders had more rounded eyes from mixing with other clans; with such territories constantly being taken, retaken, or exchanged.
Clans existed before the exodus. An even greater Clanhood was agreed upon by the surviving leaders of the old nations of Kitara. It was clear to them that the ever-present conflict upon her surface had exhausted Kitara, the mutual annihilation they very nearly pulled rendered the homeworld only marginally habitable. It was necessary that they leave. It was necessary that they don’t inflict the same insanity on their new worlds.
That Kitara herself was a deathworld couldn’t bar the Kitaran race from trying to reclaim her. It was literally the centerpoint of Kitaran space, the shortest road to war. After many quarrels, many battles, many treaties, many exchanges of thought – it was deemed that the Clans leftover from the Suhmirao, the slow attrition of Clans, were nearly militarily equal. A fact which he was sure would have greatly annoyed the original founders.
The outworld Clanning had another unexpected effect. Kitara already had a higher mutation rate than other planets due largely to a global nuclear exchange known as the First Cataclysm.
This was reinforced even moreso during the Second Cataclysm, a cometary impact bringing another cold dark age to the slowly re-emerging Kitaran civilization, arriving at time when they were around the industrial age – knowing, through telescopes able to see their doom, and lacking any ability to stop it. It was not an extinction event, but it was the long winter.
For a thousand years more they had to huddle in their own separate self-regulating communities, managing the little they could eke out from the cold soil. The impact of this in their culture was immense, in the creation of traits and prejudices that would shape their contacts and conflicts for millennia to come.
Clan Fantyra (Fantira-ani; those-of-shadow) were the first to use selective breeding of their people to improve the basic genetic stock. Being militaristic they sought with each generation better soldiers to master the dark jungles of Ilanyan continent. However, even without manipulation, this speciation and selection process occurred naturally with the other Kitaran clans. There were now separate ‘breeds’… the kyrra… of Kit’i (Kit-harani), shaped and molded by the Clans they belonged to.
When they took to the stars, isolation made these traits irretrievable from both the physical and the psyche.
The industrious Tabbana(Tabbin-una; build-virtue) were rather short, but stocky. Those Jiragan(Jiran-aga; searching-ones) technocrats had pale hair, paler skin, and delicate finger bones. Tiragans(Tiran-aga; discarded-ones) were tougher to environmental stresses, as their chosen chemical-rich Clanhome was harsh and hot, also with the effect of forcing rust-colored fur and flattened faces over the generations. It went on and on, save for the Clan Solaris (Sula-rissa; children-of- plenty), whose acceptance of different peoples and ideas made them capable of blending in with anyone – a fact that was irksome to affluently self-satisfied Clan Liyo (Liyo; golden).
This affected the boy as well. He looked at his reflection in his mirror and grinned toothily. Yellow hair, yellow eyes. He said with an exuberant whoop, “It’s like they’re ashamed of what they are,” he mused about the obsessive inclusiveness of the Solaris. “I’ll always be proud of being Liyo.”
These two were the strongest, and diametrically opposite Clans. Liyo was a strict Commercial Monarchy, with military tradition and nobility. The Solaris were in their eyes dangerously unstable, with their unchecked democracy, a freedom that might not think about the consequences of its actions or might not make the unpopular yet needed choices. Would that be a fitting guide to Kitaran destiny?
Liyo and Solaris constantly fought over Kitara, with alliances with other Clans here and there. Over time two essential camps evolved, only with Clan Tabbana remaining as neutral as when they stepped off Kitara, lest their Industrial Republic be destroyed in the precarious balance and sabotage the very motives of Clanning. So it was written.
Selar yawned and threw away the book. He watched it spin in low gravity.
“It’s like all good things about being Kitaran are passing me by.” For the moment there was a truce. The issue was impossible to settle without destroying the opposing Clan, and for the moment they had more important concerns.
The Kitarans had at last made contact with non-Kitaran civilizations. There were other lifeforms in the galaxy, and some of them were as disgustingly warlike as the Kitarans had so far been – and trying not to be – and not succeeding. There were others though, that had found peace and embraced it completely.
So it was that he, Liyo Amra Irece Selar, had been pulled off his home on Ilwas, dragged thirty-two light-years, and put into orbit around Kitara herself. The alkhi they’ve encountered, those strange winged beings called Taenarians, they had the technology to TRULY restore Kitara – to bring to them Kitharanna! His parents were assigned to the still-under construction Nekonni Station. That his parents apparently all but loathed each other, and had in actuality been living apart for years, seemed a small matter.
His ears flicked again. Was that a buzzing he’d heard? He adjusted the gravity back to normal and bounded out his room. His mother frowned at him.
“Your father is here.” said Liyo Irece Ibhaya. “Have you finished studying?”
He nodded. She didn’t look to his eyes to gauge if he was lying, but to his tail. He had yet to learn how to control that nervous twitch. He was supposed to be studying math, not reading about old legends. Selar’s tail flicked slightly, but there was such hope in his eyes that Ibhaya had to relent. The law did dictate that the child spend equal time between parents, until he learned what his clanship would be. They were of minor nobility, even if they lived in a small, unpretentious station-home.
But then again, they simply could look out the window and behold Kitara herself. Not even the Queen herself could have that honor.
The main door opened with a hiss-slap noise. Hesitantly, Liyo Amra Lamar stepped in.
“You… are looking well as always, Ibhaya.”
“As transparent as ever you are, coordinator.” she responded, not looking up from her calculations on her terminal. Kitara used to have three moons, and all but one had been destroyed in war. Neko Station needed to emit an artificial gravity well to stabilize the climate. Kitaran gravitics and inertia control technology must steadily improve, even though it was reported they were already ahead of most the other races in this field. They were not limited to what they could learn from the Taen-ni. “Return him undamaged – in body AND mind. I don’t want him catching any of your bad habits.”
“Rest assured, Ibha, his decisions will always be his to maintain.” the boy’s father replied evenly.
2. An Alien Trade
If asked whether he had any preference as to whose life road he should follow, Selar wouldn’t be able to answer. He would even reply such was a question that wasn’t meant to be asked.
What he did know however, was that his father seemed happy, uncharacteristically happy. On the surface, the duties of a coordinator would seem to be more interesting. As an ambassador to alien races and other Clans, his days would be filled with constant change and enforced amusements. And yet, although everyone looks to him for a decision, the coordinator was but a helpless buoy in the face of political storms. A mathematician or at least a scientific aide was always assured of work, barring incredible bungling.
“There is a Tamaran ship in dock today.” Amra Lamar said offhand.
The boy perked up. The Tamarans were an ala khi introduced to them by the Taenarians. They were already starting to be called alkhi-sarril, or ‘needed other’. The Tam-mi were the exact cultural opposite of the Kit-i, though their historical similarities were profound. The Tamarans too had to willingly leave their planet, but it was due to a change in their homesun – it was clear that their world would shortly become completely uninhabitable. Unlike them, the Tamarans did not immediately set off to colonize other worlds. Nor did they go to war over limited resources. They were still in the midst of discovering spaceflight when the inescapable disaster revealed itself. They banded together and advanced their sciences for the sake of survival – first they built a station around Tamara, then adapted to living in space.
The Tamarans did not view planets in the same way as other races. Where others saw living living spaces, they saw prisons. Most were nomadic, and their elite class were those who lived entirely upon their tradeships. It was easy to admire their ability to make do with what’s on hand – with the necessary resources they could manufacture nearly anything. All without the trouble of making permanent settlements. Perfectly mobile, the ultimate in soft defense.
Even if the Kitarans were in a mood to go conquering another species; or more importantly had the ability to do so, they would have found trying to contain the Tamarans an impossible task. The Tamran view towards the Kit’i were mostly of amusement… of how they were so strictly landbound, venturing into space only when necessary, but their command of gravitics should logically have made spacelife the same as planetliving.
There were also who called them alkhi-rammin, or ‘corrupting other’. Some Clans had been fighting over certain worlds for thousands of years, and were justly proud of the history of their armies; the scarcity of metal limiting the number of ships their starfleets could hold. The mere existence of outside benevolence upset the entrenched status quo.
“Am I allowed to come with you, father?” It was forbidden to have unnecessary contact with the Tamarans. While there was nothing threatening about the Tam-mi, they were already in open trade with other races. Intemperate, greedy ones that declared war on each other just as soon as they’d met. The Tamarans were true traders, and as such were as willing to exchange information as goods. To anyone.
Amra Lamar lowered one ear, as if still in doubt. “I suppose it will do no harm. You have no military secrets to reveal, nya?”
Neko was a cylinder roughly thirty kilometers in diameter and eighty in length. Instead of letting it spin, and with that get gravitic forces the simplest way, the hollow was partitioned into separate sections with their own gravitic plates. Half of the Station was livable, the other was left barren. That was where the port and shipyards would be.
It was a better use of the immense structure. Its main cavity used to be active generator of the largest pulse- wave plasma cannon ever built – used only once, and that was enough to shake the very foundations of Kitaran virtue. They had become far too proficient at killing each other. The weapon was disassembled and made the staging platform for the launching of the Kimar-rika – the great Clanships.
Dsala Porema sniffed the recycled air and grunted as he painfully made his way down the gantry. The accepted Kitaran gravity was higher than other Races, and every motion of his after the long transit in half-g was difficult. What alarmed him however were the defense turrets newly-installed, spaced five hundred meters apart. How a culture could so consistently be self-destructive was beyond his understanding. War solved nothing, that was the core of their own culture.
“Myaun rii.” he greeted Amra Lamar. Be gladful. “Ihanri suu emiu rao.” You will walk on loving soil.
Selar giggled, then looked abashed. He asked forgiveness for his rudeness, but silently he thought the warbling way the Tamaran spoke Riikan, the Kitaran common tongue, was just too funny. He supposed the trader couldn’t help it, his mouth wasn’t made for it. Tamaran heads were flat and salamander-like above long necks. Their skin was spotted, and had changing pigmentation. Their communication was as much visual as lingual.
That much too, they had in common with Kitarans. A flick of the ear, a motion of the tail, a narrowing of the eyes… these could imply many things.
“Tamaran…their Lemura, is cursedly hard to master. They even have different words for the laughter of a man and the laughter of a woman.” his father informed him.
“Forgive how I mangle your wonderful language.” Dsala Porema bowed slightly. So full of hisses and hard sounds. You all sound angry even when you talk endearments! For the hundredth time, he questioned whether it was safe to let them loose into the cosmos.
The boy’s attention was already consumed by the unfamiliar sight below. On the spacedock, a strange ship had moored. It was larger than their own ships, and bulbous instead of daggerlike. Its hull had a greenish tinge to it. “Is.. is that a tradeship?” Selar asked, forgetting his manners again. “How many people are inside?”
Dsala laughed. “Yes, it is my tradeship. But that is not an Ancestral Tradeship. Those are what you really want to see. They carry our clans – entire generations live and die onboard. Our crew is but fifty.”
“Are they bigger than Clanships were?”
“A little smaller, perhaps. Our population isn’t as… vibrant… as yours. We do not normally need to move millions at once.” His spots had become bluish, signifying worry.
Amra Lamar intervened. In meeting with the alien, it was important NEVER to try and see which of your respective civilizations were better. In matters of technology, all right. Comparisons were inevitable and these differences are what encourage trade. But in matters of culture – never presume! The coordinator immediately veered the conversation into safer topics. “Are you carrying Subspace Jump Drives?”
“Eleven complete systems. There should be no problem in refitting your ships to use these drives.”
Selar felt his father’s hand on his shoulder. “Have I told you, my son is already an adept m-space programmer? He would make a skilled applied mathematician one of these days… he could be a coordinator, if we could fix that problem with his teeth.”
“My teeth?” Selar asked. There was nothing wrong with his teeth.
“It fails to keep your tongue in.” Amra Lamar’s ears remained up, so he was just joking. While Selar recognized this and grinned appropriately, the Tamaran completely misunderstood.
“Ah. Well. M-space is your starfaring medium, correct? The border between subspace and normalspace. Unlike our old drives, which warp space around the ship, you try and bring the ship down into a state where constant acceleration doesn’t run into the relativity barrier. I suppose we could call them the Subspace Skip and Skim drives. I bring with me the Subspace Jump Drive, a Taenarian gift.” He tilted his head and looked at Selar with large, deep green eyes. “Unlike our respective mediums, it is true subspace travel, and as such does not have a lightspeed limit – how much is yours? Five times, six times the speed of light?”
“Seven point two, sir.”
“Ah.” The Tamaran ships did not have to contend with battle-inertia, and with its power efficiency could go up to eight point four. But then, their sublight acceleration and maneuverability was practically nil. “Perhaps it is not good tidings I bear, for if we are all to use this.. SSJD.. m-space navigational programming would be obsolete.”
“Yet the concept of travelling lightyears per hour is intriguing, nya?” Amra Lamar asked.
“Nyao, father.” Of course.
“Perhaps someday you will even get to see Taenaria, young kit.” said Dsala Porema.
“Unn… why not Tamara?”
Dsala made a dismissive gesture. “Tamara is just another gas world now, a burning globe of toxic chemicals. It is not something worth crossing the stars just to see.”
The boy leaned over the railing to watch the jump drives being unloaded. He couldn’t wrap his mind around the idea of someone viewing his own homeworld in obvious contempt. What was clearer was the reverence in the way the Tamaran spoke of the Taenarians. Even his father spoke in hushed tones when referring to them. He had never met one… nor even seen an image of one. Only the Clanmasters really knew. They had come, almost eighty years ago, and suddenly put a stop to all war around Kitara.
All he knew was that they had wings. He had a vision of something bright and terrible.
“Do you mind if we speak in Lynna?” said Amra Lamar.
“Let it be so.” the Tamaran answered in the melodic Taenarian language. “What do you wish to know?”
“How goes it outside the Jump Points?”
“The Deriv-Zallun War has satisfactorily concluded.” Dsala said with a bob of his head. “As we expected, the other races were willing to risk total destruction of themselves, just to annihilate their enemies. Four battlemoons were sent towards Derivia Prime. The entire Derivian Navy was ready to meet them.”
“Insane…” Amra Lamar muttered. “You must always leave the enemy an honorable way out.”
Kitarans did not fight for the goal of defeating an enemy per se, but for the attainment of a new status quo. Once it was seen that the losses of battle would outweigh the rewards, and agreement was now possible, they would stop. Wars were merely their way of showing their seriousness towards their just rights. Constant, brutal, but at least short-lived were their conflicts. This was the Clan Way. They were of one blood. Although sometimes they must cleanse the body, they must all strive to keep their collective spirit.
Or, to be less charitable but more precise about it, theirs was a society built upon the idea of raiding and ritualized invasions. Tamarans, as a species supremely adapted to living in space, had no little amount of pirates and privateers.
The Deriv-Zallun War, the first Racial War, had consumed hundreds of worlds. Such widespread waste was detestable to the practicality of both the Kit’i and the Tam’i. The Zallus just couldn’t administer their gains, and the Derivian counterattacks were to their view just unproductive.
Selar didn’t think it rude that the two men seemed to have forgotten he had ever existed. Although he couldn’t understand the language.. it had such a musical quality to it, so different from their succinct Riikan or flowery Lemura… by the clear agitation his father showed it had to be bad news. The Tamaran pressed a datastick into Amra Lamar’s palm.
“As requested, the full specifications of the Derivian and Zallun navies at their height, battle videos, more than a few of their political speeches. I’m sure these will be of great use.”
The coordinator merely looked more uncertain. “This is a blatant disregard of our agreements with the Taen-ni, but… what can we do? We must do what is necessary to save our races.”
After that exchange. the two men relaxed and pretended as if nothing of serious import had happened. They spoke of Tamaran bionics, in how their machines required so little energy and were capable of self-repair. Their primary achievement were artificial musculature, which were a great improvement over myomer. When damaged, the fibers could be soaked in a chemical bath, and the connections were encouraged to re-knit.
Dsala pointed to how his ship sported several thin arms. His tradeship was capable of ‘resourcing’, of mining and refining asteroids into more useful substances.
They even commented on the ship having six large turrets along the main spine. The weapon placements were top and bottom, for broadsides firing while fleeing. Kitaran ships had guns mainly oriented towards the front, made for skirmishing and formation battles. The Tam-mi weren’t reticent about their weapon capabilities; they recognized that the Kitaran’s focus on bolt plasma, self-guided missiles and mass drivers were superior to their assortment of lasers and stroking the Kitaran ego in such matters didn’t harm; happy Kit’i were spendy Kit’i. Kitaran ships were faster in sublight, but Tamaran ships were unmatched in strategic FTL. .
But the duties of a coordinator and a trader were many, and they could not spare too much time to simply show off how important their own workloads.
3. The Ancient Enemy
Neko meant ‘bravery’, and it indeed was brave; to fly in the face of tradition and attempt a reconstruction of Kitara without full Clanhood. Resistance to the idea had been fierce, and bloody in some, but it was deemed at Clansmeet that it was more important that the Kit make themselves the equal of the other Races.
To Neko Station were sent representatives of all the Clans; their best, their brightest, jokingly admonished not to kill each other on sight. The prospect of pristine Kitara, the amazing technology of the Taenarian race, these were well worth the tests of patience. Eventually they hoped, they could look past their different faiths, and become as one people again – and THEN they would be worthy of returning to Kitara.
After that, they could proceed with mastering the galaxy.
Every level had a library. Clanhood was a secular religion, and these were its temples. The Ramir at the front desk greeted them blandly. Every hair in his body had been bleached white, and it was difficult to tell just how old were these Kithome keepers. But young or old, they were all vexed that the task their ancestors had set for them would probably never come to pass. The Clans had finally and anti-climatically landed on Kitara, setting up their Clanhearts. Each Maryani was a city-state and fortress from which they were protected from anything short of fullscale planetary bombardment.
A man in a red and gold Royal Officer’s uniform was also waiting for them. He had a young girl by his side, who bared her teeth upon seeing them. Selar frowned.
Amra Lamar greeted his brother, Amra Irumar. “Go with Anyi, we have things to discuss.” he told his son.
She grabbed Selar in a headlock and dragged him into the general reading section. The fathers smiled at seeing how well their children got along, and then walked off for their grim business.
It was a good hold, no matter how much he squirmed he couldn’t break free. His hands couldn’t grab anything and her flesh was well out of reach of his teeth. The Ramir’s glare followed them, and that disapproval kept most of Selar’s unexpectedly extensive vocabulary from being used. The keeper’s expression said: ‘This is a library, a holy place of learning. Kill each other, if you wish. As long as you do it silently.’
“Myaun rii, my dear enemy.” Anyi said as she dumped him into a chair. “It’s been a while.”
“I loathe you, you know.” he replied, rubbing his neck. She grinned at him more. “How was clanhome?”
There was now a difference of about a year between them. Although they were born at near the same time, traveling from Riiya was three years of coldsleep. He had left first, and then while he slept she had grown. Her own journey had not evened out the advantage. It was annoying. It was enough that girls grew faster than boys, but she loved rubbing in that she was going to be stronger than him from then on.
“Eh. Boring, boring, boring. I liked the Academy better than the Palace. At least there people talk to me like I have a brain. Even High Royals should know better than to treat me like some sort of decoration.” She shuddered. Everyone always looked so patronizing when she said she wanted to be a Royal Officer.
As if that was certainly assured. She was of royal lineage after all. As if it didn’t matter that she wanted to earn that title.
She pushed a chair beside him and sat. “How have you been? Neko, other clans, aliens, the forbidden knowledge of the Ramira. You must have been having fun.” She smirked, as if to say – now that ends, and your suffering begins.
“Nnnnnot that much.” Selar whispered. He looked around. Aside from them and the Ramir, there were also several adults absorbed in their reading. He was Liyo, of a clan that deemed itself more ‘civilized’ than others. If with the worst thing you could do as a Fantyrani was to be cowardly, then a cultural crime to the Liyo would be being inconsiderate.
Even though the Keepers had made way towards the creation of subspace radar – and by extension subspace communications, the information lag was still immense. News came in large chunks, and collected in the libraries where they could be viewed directly or linked to personal terminals. Anyi veered from the things that happened in her three years of isolation and towards a shelf of carefully preserved wood from forests long since gone.
“They have ALL the clanbooks? On paper?!” she gasped and ran her fingers upon the bound tomes.
“The printed page is eternal.” the Ramir growled suddenly, provoking surprised yelps from the children. “Its words are clear, its worth is proven, and requires no batteries to view.” The Keeper was well-muscled, from lifting books and preparing for the day he would have to fight to preserve the knowledge from rapacious clans. His eyes had dilated pupils. He wouldn’t tolerate the spoiled fruits of Clanning to insult the holy history of their own race. They cowered slightly under his baleful gaze.
Not everyone left the world that was becoming more hostile with every generation. Some remained, as guardians of blessed Kitara.
It was the destiny of those elected clanfathers (or clanmothers, as the case may be), to travel to Kitara when their useful age to their clans were near end. There, they would cast aside all their old allegiances and prepare for the day they would have to test the coming Clans. At first the relativity barrier meant that only their most honored leaders would undertake this journey; but their discovery of jump points allowed for limited but manageable interstellar travel…. and fleet movements.
With every generation, the guardians of Kithome dreaded the day the Clans would deem themselves strong enough to try and reclaim Kitara.
The Kitaran capital star system had long exhausted her resources, but they still had the cannon. Debris left from the old wars were scattered throughout, they could be collected or left there to interfere with sensors. It was the final fury of the greatest minds the Clans produce, to travel to Kitharra, there to live out the rest of their lives in teaching those born in orbit above the homeworld how to defeat the Clans they had led. The Issan Rai Kemii was being rebuilt when the Taenarians made contact. Had it been completed, it was likely even the victors of Clanhood would have its victory turn to ashes in their mouths. The haki-ra, or purebreeds, would resist the coming of barbaric, inbred naki-ra-a.
The Ramir pointed out each of the leather-bound Clanbooks.
“Clan Solaris… the only great clan unchanged from prior to Suhmirao. Clan Liyo, formed as a cultral reaction when the conquering clans of Illenya collapsed… the militaristic Fantyra, which combined the disaffected of clans Sylena and Issaya. The Jiraga who believe only in the truth of science, and the stubborn unity of Tiraga; the two factions that broke off Clan Tyana.”
These were major fighting clans. From the six kimari ‘trueclans’, there were fourteen fighting clans when the time for the great Clanning come about. Of these, only six again were left. “Iranye, Miras, Errise.” Gone. “Jassile, Sunya. Amra.” Absorbed, now mere subclans of Liyo. “And then there are the Tabbana – who will endure on, in their peaceful labor, even when all others have gone mad in their ambitions.”
He touched a clanbook with a blank label. “Illena.” The hated clan, which brought all Kitarans closest to self-annihilation. Those who abused a gift given to their bloodline, for which they were eradicated down to the last child.
“Do you chronicle the Anuma?” Anyi asked. The Unclanned, who left the duties and rights of their blood either willingly or unwillingly, those who were regarded as renegades and parasites upon their balanced society.
“We Ramira consider ourselves also anuma.” the Keeper replied with clear affront. “Therefore, yes.”
Anyi apologetically bowed.
“Tell me, Kit-yi. Do you know what anuma means?” they were asked. When they answered with the obvious retort; the unclanned, he snorted in dismay. “It should be mar-una. Instead, we have the prefix anu- before the clan ma-ri. It simply means, before the clans. Or above it. Do you think we have always had the clans, that our race had not experimented with living for themselves, instead of for the collective?”
“I thought that was the reason Kitara was devastated so..” Selar put in.
“That is what popular history would like to say. But the reverse is true – the clans prior to the Great Clanning were so consumed with their own desires that any attempt to create a commonality between all Kitarans was met with force – sudden, overwhelming, and effective force. When we tried moving from our tired world and into space, we took with us our old habits, and for that one of our moons was destroyed and half a continent erased from her surface. The Fourth Cataclysm, the Folly of Supremacy, the Punishment of the Superweapons. The climate of Kitara was permanently altered. Our gentle rains, our accepting seas – now they scoured the land of all that was left. To remain on Kitara, we would need to be as savage as our world had become.”
The Ramira took out Illena’s clanbook. “And we were given the way to cross along the kinship of stars. Of all Kitarans They chose us, for we were closer to their prominence. They have shown us the glory of the searching mind, and now we shall give this joy, this destiny, to the rest of our race.”
He closed the book. “Soon after, the Illena went to war. What they wanted was a culling of the entire Kitaran race. Within two years we were striding the line for extinction.”
“Why.. why would they do such a thing..?” Anyi growled out.
“The Illena were led by ha-raio. I believe you now have a new word for them.”
“Psionists…” said Selar. Wait… weren’t the Taen-ni also called the alkhi-ha-ranraio? The extra syllable -ran was emphasizing; minds of overpowering might.
“This book is no longer studied in your schools. In fact, it is pretended as if it did not exist. The mistakes are old and remote. You are made to feel as if you had grown beyond your ancestors…. but here, we strive for Clanhood in spirit as well as the society. The past is the foundation upon which we build the future.
Mystery first – who is the They, that the Illena constantly refer to? Mystery second – the colonization effort from the first clanships were simply explosive. The clans settled a fistful of worlds within a few years… the transit speed of the first clanship was apparently several magnitudes greater than our current and supposedly more advanced technology… Mystery third, and most important – the entire Illena cannot be insane, even if their leaders were. Why did they approve the massacre of entire populations, saving only a small sample from each? Why were all of the Illena then killed? What made them so dangerous, that even their very genetic legacy was forfeit? And are they all truly dead?”
Both children shrugged. Such things weren’t part of their contemplative universe. They did know however, that psionic activity in the entire Kitaran race was rare, and even in active cases were rather weak.
“The anuma were created during Clanning, to ensure the clans never forgot that their loyalty is to the Race as a whole.” The Ramira placed the book back. “We remember, and we shall destroy all those that try to tread the path the Illena had blazed.”
4. A Brother’s Keeper
Amra Irumar stood unwilling to break the silence. He polished the new golden badges on his lapel while he considered the right thing to say. As usual, his brother seemed content just to stare off into the infinite distance of space. The observation deck was typically deserted, as even the spaceborn Ramira were loath to remember an invisible gravitic shell was all that separated them from oblivion. He of course, as a Royal Officer and commander of the Royal Battle-Cruiser QUEEN NERI, was quite used to it..
“The Queen sends her regards.” he said after a while. He was a Royal Officer, damn it! Victorious over many battles, respected by his people – and yet why was it that they chose to remember Amra Lamar? The radical at court, who exiled himself in disgust for its workings.
Amra Lamar merely nodded.
“I would not come all the way here, if it was not of vital… even Royal… importance.”
Amra Lamar smiled. “Of course, Irumi. I expect no less from you.”
But I expected more from you, thought the Royal Officer. Early in life, he had two choices – to try and surpass someone who seemed to accomplish everything with serene, if accidental, ease or to forever live as a second to someone who was born his equal.
Lamar meant ‘scale’ while Irumar meant ‘quantity’. He had always been the dark child, huddling behind his brother’s brilliance. He hadn’t resented it. He had slipped into the mold of a younger, slightly more responsible sibling without hesitation. He became a Royal Officer simply because Lamar was; and family must stand together. Lamar would command, he would carry it out. That was the plan, even when they were children.
Amra Lamar seemed determined to waste every gift, every opportunity presented to him. He shirked from duties, he never studied, never prepared, never cleaned up after himself – and yet still fulfilled a level of competence that more hardworking persons couldn’t reach. And when he performed badly, they were all too ready to forgive him. Irumar didn’t resent this absurd luck. It was already a fact of life to him.
Then Lamar left. Inexplicably, abandoning everything. His command, the Royal Assault-Carrier PRINCESS MIKA SARRIN; the adoration of the queen-in-waiting, the duchess Ilyani Kire Sujanni; and the subtle but growing power grab that would put the family of Amra in control of entire Clan Liyo. That was almost thirty years ago.
“Why?” he asked. “Why did you betray us?”
Amra Lamar grinned. “You’re braver now. Five years ago you it was most you could to pretend things were normal between us.”
“The Queen, Lami. The Queen! And more than that, she was Sujanni. Suji, we called her. Remember? You taught her how to make plastic explosive out of kitchen chemicals. Before she was even declared the Soranna-mirao, she was our friend. She loved you, she really did. Do you realize how many and how much, that we are prepared for just to get her to smile again? Why did you throw that in her face?” He stopped and chose his next words carefully. “I can’t believe… the brother I grew up with wouldn’t be that cruel. Or wasteful.”
The Royal Officer abruptly found himself pressed into a bulkhead, a hand clutching his throat. Amra Lamar snarled, his golden eyes glittering. “You will NOT call my son a waste. You will NOT call my WIFE a waste.”
His sibling called upon his years of fighting the Fantyra and steeled himself. “You had them years after you left Clanhome. Why did you endanger the Clan’s destiny?”
Amra Lamar relaxed. “I had to be cruel.” he said in a low voice. “You do not understand. Suji represented the planetbound nobility, I represented the military. We would have united the differing voices of the Clan.”
“You say that as if it is wrong.”
“It is, curse it! No more checks and balances, the power shall rest solely behind the Clanhome throne. The little baronies and semi-independent governments that form the Sovereign Space of Liyo… one voice, one will. And Clanhood.”
Amra Irumar balled his hands into fists. “Because of you, this ultimate dream, fading like mist.”
“We cannot, Irumi! We must not! OUR Clansmeet wanted me to bring them into full war. Not just against Clan Solaris – but to retake Kitara. Had I done so, we would have been annihilated. This station.. this damned GUN, was at seventy percent efficiency. Then the other Clans would have come.”
“Reason!” the coordinator thundered out. “Will it surprise you to know that I did care for Suji? She will be a magnificent queen – her heart is pure and generous. Yes, our Fleets just might squeeze a victory – but at what cost? I could not place the burden of war on her soul, her hands must remain untainted by the blood of millions. I could not do that to her. I’d rather damn myself, than let history revile her name.”
There was another long silence. Amra Lamar was unsure if Irumar believed what he’d just said.
“We require a report on the other Races. Clansmeet is discussing the possibility of expanding… now. Even without true Clanhood.”
“Let me take a guess.” Amra Lamar held up his hand. “Nexus. With the Tamarans granting the schematics, our drive technology is equal, if not superior to those of the others. It is vital we grab our portions of the galaxy before the other races fill up all the viable worlds. We must take this chance, while we still can. We must be seen as equals.”
The Royal Officer flicked his tail, annoyed. “So.. you already know.”
“Suji…. the Queen… talked to me before I left for this place. It was.. painful. For the both of us. But if I cannot stand with her, then I will do my duty.” He moved towards the vacuum barrier and pushed against it, feeling it react with equal force. “But you did not have to come here just to ask for my advice. I could have sent it within the next message ship.”
“There is no need. You can tell the Fleet itself when they come.”
Amra Lamar whirled around. “WHAT?!”
“The Fleets approach. While you dabble in diplomacy here, we have been forging alliances, making sacrifices. The lines are clear – stand with Liyo or Solaris. Thirty years ago, we were unprepared. Now we are. Kitara is no longer essential… we shall begin to move into Nexus. There shall be a new border; a Racial border. And Kitarans shall walk with other races. With the Tamarans behind us, we cannot be stopped.”
“Walk, yes! And just as blindly!” Amra Lamar let out a long roar. “Suji… did she…” The answer was in Amra Irumar’s eyes. “Fools! This is unnecessary. Had not the Taenarians shown to the Clansmeet the idea of a Federation Of Races? Peace for the galaxy? Prosperity and equality for all?”
“We refuse this offer.”
Amra Lamar silently stalked off, seething with a mixture of anger, fear.. and yes, regret. .
“Don’t walk away, run!!” Amra Irumar shouted after him. “It will be more dramatic!”
Still playing the deposed prince, he thought. But I control the spotlight now.
5. A Practical Lesson
Here, here..!” Selar beckoned to Anyi, guiding her into a deep alcove within the library. The Ramira had moved on, being intensely questioned by a Jiragan scholar. As always with their clan culture, only the most exact information wound suffice. While the resident Keeper was distracted, they snuck into the Specialized Information room.
“Seriously, Sela – why not just TELL me what you want to show me. I’m a clan-soldier, I can’t get excited over something I don’t know about.”
“Well… my parents usually leave me in the library if they have work to do. I’m already too old for a creche, and the schools… well, they are only for a few hours a day. Mother doesn’t get back until night, and Father’s… ah.. worse.” He took out Amra Lamar’s keycard. “So he gave me this. He doesn’t think adult literature is solely for adults, or that adults can’t learn from simpler, more obvious writings.”
The thick, armored door opened.
“So what’s here? What form of ‘adult knowledge’ do you have to show me?” she asked, unafraid.
Selar stepped into the darkness. The room was then lit, but from glowing lines on the floor. These were etched in a complex, circular pattern. “Initiate holoviewing sequence.” he said to no one in particular. “Display entry, clawship. Prototype. Serinna Myaka.”
Gas seeped from the floor, and low-power refractive lasers popped down from the ceiling. Upon the ionized air, an image began to form in three-dimensional space. It was a ship.
“The Serin-class clawship.” Selar announced, as if its existence was owed solely to him. “Prototyped by Tabbana String Orbital Yards, Clandate 2681. Archive, read.”
A mechanical voice answered:
“Hear me, children of the clans and children of kithome. This is the myaka, your clawship, your pride, your solemn pledge. Listen to the words of Clan Tabbana. Listen to your servants, whose toil allows you to make war. From the shipyards of Tabbima we give to all, the Serinna Myaka. She is the ultimate expression of our technology, and our virtues of war. This we can say without doubt, that she is unstoppable. She is the perfect Kitaran ship, and must be weilded with care.
One thousand two hundred nyars, she is long, four hundred and fifteen tall. Three hundred eighty in width, and she bears seventeen and a half million anri with her Quadruple Ion Pulse Engines with peak inertial compensation of one-point-six percent sublight.
She shelters within her hold sixty Iriya-class transatmospheric fighters, thirty Bennu-class spacefighters, thirty Ramil-class linkable fighterpods, and twenty Jarin-class fighterpods. These are the weapons that we can no longer improve upon.
Her long-range missile battery is unparalleled. Her linear accelerator is the most powerful ever mounted on a ship. Her nine tri-barreled heavy plasma pulse cannons can savage entire fightercraft wings. Her paired 220 su-nyar Heavy Rail Cannons spit death at a one-sixth of lightspeed. Smaller 120 su-nyar cannons and dual 40 rana-mir yield mega Plasma Pulse Cannons inhibit approach. Armor, my brothers and sisters, is now obsolete.
Hear us, children of the clans. We have made this ship as an offering. We are all killing ourselves slowly. This is a ship of peace, not of war. Cease the devastation. Clanhood is controlled violence, the vote is applied violence, the concept of peace backed by force. We are wasting ships, we are wasting lives. We are straying from the very virtues that we have been made to preserve. Let the clawship tear asunder your enemies, but have a care. We shall build sixteen of these, and only sixteen. Learn to value what little of our respect you still have.”
“I still can’t believe putting a new weapon into service actually WORKED in stopping the full feud between Jiraga and Tiraga. The Clawship… what happens when it runs out of ammunition? With sufficient target saturation you can still take it down.” Anyi huffed.
“The Tabbana bribed the Clans. They were never part of the eternal competition for territory, as they have no territory to call their own. The String Worlds, a line of settlements that loop from near kithome and passes through every clan’s chosen territory, are neutral and untouchable. There is no way to force the Tabbana to do anything, for to attack them is… um, a blasphemy, or whatever else to call it… which calls for the combined punishment of all Clans upon the offender.”
Selar reverently poked the fog upon which dancing lightbeams created the green model. This was the Kitaran way of asking. Send pleas. Send gifts. If neither works, do not threaten. Do. “If they didn’t scale back the conflict, the Tabbana would stop producing ships and materiel. They still control most of mining and heavy industry, with a stake even on companies owned by other clans. If they ever picked a side, they were a dagger already poised to drive into the heart of every Clan’s core worlds. They too, were a part of suhmirao. They too were willing to die for their beliefs.”
Which did the clans value more? The tenous victory, as other clans would inevitably adjust to the power balance, or the lives of their people, the source of their clan?
The clawship was a solidified philosophical question. The Kitarans were known for such practical lessons.
Anyi paced around the room, and walked over to the projector. She stared up at the clawship, at its long ‘neck’ that carried a linear accelerator big enough to propel full-sized fighters. It could accelerate smaller projectiles to almost relativistic speeds. The two rhomboid bins at its side were packed with numerous anti-capital ship missiles – two hundred per volley. Below it, on a massive and independently-controlled turret, were the two huge barrels of the Heavy Rail Cannon – a pair of what usually was a spine-mounted weapon on Cruisers.
The ship looked like an open claw; the index and little fingers tucked in, the middle and ring fingers out, the thumb perpedicular… ready to gouge out an eye or tear open a neck. What struck her fancy most was that the clawship had no curves, no sloping armor. Why?
Selar had the answer to what was abandoning seeming basic sensibility. “In space, having two combating ships exactly parallel is rare. The clawship was never meant to attack in broadsides, either it’s somewhere ahead or behind the enemy.” He showed his palms, as if ships meeting each other. “In such instances, a straight hull gives a much sharper incident angle than a curved hull, really. The actual thickness of the armor is more important. Flat surfaces are easier to repair.
But I think it’s mostly because that no ship could dare hope approach a Clawship and live. Its long-range capability is devastating. Entire flotillas could be wiped out before they even get close. The only thing that can challenge a clawship is another clawship – and since thick armor is useless; only via gravitic deflection can any damage be avoided, which requires the largest possible generators.
The final defense is to make kinetic impactors to pass through the hull with little damage. Triple-redundancy is what allows the larger ships to still fight even with half of themselves gone. Each projectile takes out only a small part of the system.”
Anyi got to the heart of the matter faster. “It has longer attack range than anything… even planetary defenses?” The ability to strike at the enemy before he can even get you within sight is its own invulnerability.
Selar said yes. In attacking worlds, the attacker always has the advantage. There’s this helpful thing called the planet’s gravity well that aids his shots and the defenders must calculate against. Planets can’t dodge, and thus why everyone had to agree not to use KKVs in MAD.
“Can you show me the Iriya?”
“Display Iriya fighter, proper scale.”
The room darkened, and then with a dazzling display of lights it ‘built’ an Iriya-class fightercraft around Anyi. The craft itself wasn’t big, a one-man fighter that was surprisingly well-armed. Two bolt plasma cannons poked out from its nose, a rack of missiles above the cockpit. Its wings were on two ‘tails’ that jutted out from the main fuselage. One huge ion charged-reaction drive made up much of its mass, with small verniers dotting the frame.
The Iria was meant to link with the Rammil. That was three-wheeled one-man lander nearly unhittable in its agility. It had a smaller ignition thruster, mostly to enable its jumping maneuvers. In space, it couldn’t match up to a spacefighter, but it did have larger main armament and decent speed. And more importantly, it was capable of atmospheric entry with its own oversized gravitic generator.
Together they formed a heavier fighter capable of combat in all ranges, all situations, without sacrificing precious mobility. The Iriya-Rammil linkup gave the pilot stronger shields and more powerful vernier thrusters and a top turret, while the Rammil crew no longer had to split their attentions, able to focus on gunnery and ECM.
The hologram sank into the floor, to give Anyi the illusion of being within the fighter. Its ‘walls’ were still halfways transparent, and the green glimmer on her exultant face made her seem… ghostlike. But not macabre, more of an otherwordly grace.
For the first time, Selar realized that his old friend was pretty. Pretty frightening.
The girl had fierce grin on her face, as she held out her arms sideways. She swayed, as if viewing the horizon. Soon enough she would be old enough to pilot one. There wasn’t much glory in commanding ships… Kitaran battles were fightercraft-heavy. Casualty values were likewise, but those who survive were much admired. There had not been any improvements on fightercraft technology in over a thousand years. They were already as perfect as could be made… “This is smaller.” she said. Lighter, therefore – faster. “That the Ramira have such knowledge of our capabilities…”
Selar laughed. “I can download the entire ship’s index onto my terminal.” What military secrets? Kitarans had no such military secrets left. After many millenia of war, all maneuvers, all tactics, all stratagems had been tried. In the end, it all rested upon pure skill.
The Tamarans would never understand, but they were confident their race was all the better for it. Physically, mentally, and most important of all – emotionally, the Kitarans were always at their utmost readiness for war.
7. Generations of Fighters
The sounds of artillery rang in Amra Lamar’s head as he made his way back to the library. Although most of the time Kit battles were face-to-face, there were still times when they had to break up an enemy advantage or batter them into submission. Those had been particularly gruesome. Although armies and ships were light, fast, and nearly unarmored, bases were meant for the long-term and were hardened appropriately. Kitaran factory elements were far more mobile than others, therefore their fortresses were place in highly… inaccessible… locations.
To be killed by something you can’t see, was detestable to the Kit heart. He’d hated doing it to others, even if they were anuma raiders. He couldn’t bear to inflict that fate upon his own people. Damn Irumar! He couldn’t dare even think about damning his precious Suji, but.. if she was willing to sacrifice her own people for the tarnished glory of supremacy…
He calmed himself down by thinking of another sound – that sound which changed his life forever.
“Enthuèl alma nessa, sálve ime thelle.” The truest strength is love, and love is not suffering. Even her voice was beauty in itself. And when she sang, everything else fades away. It was indeed possible to love a different sort of woman without desiring her, trying to keep her for your own. A true unselfish love. Emellia loved the Kitarans, but her love was such that she would let them do what would make them happy, even if it cost them terribly. She gave them a choice, which the clanfathers never did.
He wondered where she was now, if the people of other races were seeing the gift she was bringing them. It wasn’t the technology, it wasn’t the peace – it was being able to finally accept the responsibility for their own actions. That mythical true freedom, always just out of reach of all governments since time immemorial.
The children weren’t in General Reading. He did the sensible thing and asked the Ramira.
“Since they are within using your unique access pass, I assume you have reason for this?”
“The boy can be a Coordinator, the girl is in training to be a Royal Officer.” The observation screens behind the Keeper’s desk showed that the two had begun playing simulations of fleet and fightecraft movement. They were arguing heatedly about which was really better – launching missiles then fightercraft, or fightercraft first then missiles to cover their approach. An old dilemma, but completely lacking any solution. “They… might soon find such knowledge useful.”
The reason of course, that the holochamber is barred from all but serious study, is how easily it could be abused for games.
The Ramira grinned, but not at the youthful antics. “So at last they approach.”
It took the coordinator several moments to realize what was being implied. How could he have known – unless… was every inch of the station monitored? Unlikely. But the other implication required such rapid and impossible spycraft from the Ramira. And they had an agreement not to do such! But that was hardly important, anyway soon enough clan Liyo would relay their intentions to the Clansmeet. They would know then. They would have time to prepare.
“Will you hold to the doctrine?”
“I know all the laws, all the failures of law, all the lessons paid for in blood. The lore is my guide. I cannot disobey the doctrine, it is insulting to even imply.” The librarian turned, and gave him a neutral gaze. There was something else occupying his thoughts. “Will you help us now, as we helped you this thirty years past?”
“I will help ALL OUR PEOPLE, as always I have sworn and done.” Lamar replied with a snarl. “I have not been Royal Officer for all thirty years. I will tell you only this – if any harm comes to my family, I will kill you myself.”
The Ramira’s ears merely flicked, but in no means seemed angry or intimidated.
The screen showed Selar once again pinned to the ground by Anyi. Apparently they made a little simulation and he had won. The girl, did not take kindly to losing. Perhaps because he, as a mere student, should not have won at all against someone trained in fleet action… perhaps he shouldn’t have gloated. Quite as extensively as he had done.
“All right, all right! I surrender! I apologize! Get off me, you beast!” he yelled.
She merely tightened her hold on his neck, and brought her teeth closer to his jugular. “Hey, Sel..” she whispered. “Will I be your enemy forever?”
“I will hate you until the ends of time.” he replied. His anger was overriding his good sense.”Get off me!”
“Will I be your only enemy?”
“Doubtless there will be others that will love the idea of causing me great bodily harm, but… really, I don’t think I will find someone quite like you.” This he said with such clear conviction. He had a choice between finding the right words, or saying what he really felt. He chose the latter. This was what frustrated his parents – he didn’t have the placid temperament for a gravitics master/navigator/mathematician or the discipline of a coordinator. He braced himself for her insulted rage.
She began to lick the nape of his neck. He struggled wildly from this torture. “Aagh! Cease! Cease! Mercy!” He was also extremely ticklish, as most Kits still developing their complicated senses were.
“Remove them.” Amra Lamar commanded, some of a Royal Officer’s imperious tones returning. He was needed again, and even though he didn’t like the circumstances just the thought was refreshing. But for the moment, he had to separate the two – his brother was now his enemy, and his son had no idea what was wise to voice. And though he didn’t hold their friendliness against the two, and though there were many such precedents, he did not feel that eventually the genetic stock would benefit from anything more than that. If both were such prime examples of kithood, perhaps.. but so far his son had proven to be much of a disappointment.
8. A Woman of Solaris
It was a much more restrained Selar that followed his father deeper into the caverns of the Issan Rai. As customary with separate, but still acknowledged parenthood, the child spends equal time with parents and in their different dwellings. Mostly he stayed with his mother, which wasn’t argued upon by anyone. Since his father had more free time during the day, he tagged along as often as possible (which granted, wasn’t really often). Ibhaya could teach and fuss over him at at any time.
Issan Rai Kemmi (The Firstborn Son) was the skeleton upon which Neko Station was being made, that once fully built should support populations in the millions, living entirely in space.
His mother’s quarters were at the station’s outer skin, where she could always view Kitara, and have the world inspire her calculations. Mathematics was almost mystical science to Kitarans; whom in their everpresent struggles to overcome the forces of gravity and inertia, to go ever faster, to make more powerful weapons, and finally to slow the deathdealing rotation of Kitara herself – Kitarans take comfort in the sensibility of numbers, even as they praise the recklessness of their fighters.
His father’s chosen residence instead far within the station’s inner skin, overlooking the plasma compression chamber. It was not nearly as ominous as it sounded, as deeper into the station, gravitics were more stable and locales more spacious. Even here, the clans lived separate from each other, but down below all passageways opened out to meet. The coordinator, who shuffled between Ramira sections, the docks, and those of the other clans with simple confidence, thought it merely convenient.
“Myaun rii.” greeted Kurrona Lamar, the clan Solaris coordinator.
“Myaun rii, Lami.” was the bland response, which caused the other to grin.
He found it somewhat amusing that his namesake was in all respects as completely opposite himself. Amra Lamar was tall, always serious, had a rugged poise and was married. Kurrona Lamar had hair veering more to copper than gold, always cheerful, and viewed the older man as a fountainhead of unconventional wisdom (if not an endless source of exciting stories of war and intrigue). “Ah, young master Selar.” he bowed slightly to the boy. “We meet at last.”
Amra Lamar viewed the other coordinator distrustfully. It was common knowledge that a Tamaran ship was in dock. Did he know that it came via Liyo-controlled space? The other coordinator reminded him far too much of himself, back when he was still full of optimism and faith in the system. Much as he also found it annoying, he didn’t want to see yet another glow of idealism die out.
The Solaris was blocking the way to his room. He held up his hand to forestall any more chatter and brushed him aside.
Again, he was blocked. “Lami, I honor you as a friend and colleauge.” he said neutrally. “Espionage between coordinators is to be expected, but must you be so obvious?”
“No, I was standing gua… I was not expecting you to bring your son along today. Please, wait a moment.” He darted over to the door and rapped at it thrice rapidly and twice harder. There was a panicked sound from inside.
After a long while, a meek voice announced. “..come in…”
Curious at needing to ask permission to enter his own home, Amra Lamar peered in. He saw a small feast laid out on his table, and a badly blushing Solaris female standing off to one side. There were a few buttons still open on her shirt. He sighed, a migraine approaching.
She fidgeted in place, unsure of how to react. She avoided looking in Selar’s direction. The boy was clear a threat. He was proof that Amra Lamar didn’t belong to her yet. He looked so much like his mother, but with his father’s eyes – those eyes that seemed to take in everything at a glance, passing judgement on everything under its gaze. How would he regard her? An acceptable replacement for a distant mother, a stranger to be tolerated, or a slut to be condemned?
This was the other reason Kurrona Lamar tried to get along with the older Lamar. His sister had expressed definite interest, and it was returned. If it continued, then there was nothing to be done except to get along with his future brother-in-law. He couldn’t find anything objectionable to the match, so all he could do was to encourage it. Interclan liaisons were rare, but the Sullamari-kan, or Voices of Clan Solaris , had less problem with that than the elitists of Liimari-kan. Amra Lamar was a rarity among his people.
Kurrona Uni had planned a little ‘surprise’ for him. Korrruna Lamar stood outside in the traditional ‘honor guard’ duty. Anyone attempting to interrupt the discussion within would be removed, with force if necessary.
This was a marriage proposal.
Selar didn’t know what to think of all of it. He knew that with his parents separated, they now had other partners. Never before had he seen them with these others, though.
“Um, myaun rii Selar.” Uni greeted. “I am Solaris Kurrona Uni. Are you hungry?”
Amra Lamar gave the two Solaris severe glares. “We will talk. Outside. Selar, sit and eat. We will not be long.”
“Uni…” He stroked her cheek. She let out a gentle purr. Ibha was never this submissive. The younger girl’s infatuation with his stronger, wordly ways could no longer fit with the situation at hand. A pity. She looked very much like Suji, albeit with short cropped hair. “I care for you, you know that?”
“My lord Amra..” Always, to him the formal name. “What would you have me do?”
“Take your brother and go. Our clans are at war.”
Her expression changed abruptly. “Announced to the clansmeet?”
“Not yet. But soon.”
She clung to him, and kissed him deeply. Their tails intertwined. “I will regret needing to kill you. Stay, I beg you, here with the Ramira… if you leave the station, we will be enemies…”
“Go, soldier. And be soldier.” They saluted at him, and left. Surprisingly he felt more at peace.
9. Two Powers
Thirty years ago, he’d spurned the will of the Clan. And how he was actively working against it, the thing that gave him birth and purpose. How many people had he used and betrayed to date? He had lost count. But what was he, and the people around him really – compared to the survival of the Kitaran race?
Amra Lamar ate heartily as his mind raced with the implications. A direct line from Liyo territories would take years… so obviously the Fleet would be using the mapped jump points. It would not be difficult to plot the invasion path, in the fraying edges of Kitara Prime’s gravity well were only four known jump points. These were held by Ramira defenses, obsolete but stockpiled over the millennia. Unfortunately the kithome was as liable to fire upon Solaris alliance as the Liyo… or let the two just fight it out, to their mutual destruction. This was beyond politics, it was the fulfillment of the most entrenched secular religion in the galaxy.
It was out of his hands now.
He speared a squid with his fork. It was! How can one man stop such an avalanche? He chewed with vigor, maybe even vehemence.
Selar picked at his food. To eat without the one who prepared the food was… impolite. Who will they give their thanks and praise for the meal to? But it had been long since he had a properly-prepared dinner… Ibhaya didn’t have the time for gastronomical flourishes. There was fish, exquisite and rare. Murro steaks, thick spicy soups, and a host of imported fruits. All of this on sparkling Tamaran crystal. His father allowed him to drink fine wine, at least the sweet kind. Although they in the station lived with spartan means, what others deemed luxuries were but commonplace there.
“Just pile them.” Amra Lamar said. While his son moved the dishes to the sink, he painfully moved towards his couch. A rhum flask was in his hand. He took a deep draught as he stared at the wall-hung starmap. The galaxy was huge, and the farthest they could reasonably perceive was only half of the Galactic Arm. Two great arms, with billions of stars, and endless possibilities…. and there, a region roughly halfway between, allowing passage between two galactic arms, was the stellar supercluster of Nexus.
For some strange coincidence, all the Races’ homeworlds and immediate territories were in star clusters deep towards the Galactic Core, shielded on all sides by the Great Barrier Nebula. The only way out towards the plenty of the Rim was through Nexus. The heart of galactic conflicts past and future. Since the beginning, the galaxy and its stars had spun its mass either inward into the hungry core or outward into the two spiral arms. Subspace remembers. Stars were linked to each other with subspace threads, and Nexus was located along the invisible belt that was once crucible of stars.
All jump threads lead to Nexus. Kitara and Tamara were fortunate in that there was a subspace route to link their territorial space, though in a roundabout manner. Everyone else would need to go through Nexus to make contact with the other races.
He glanced at his son, who was disobeying his commands and washing the dishes. The child was nothing really exceptional, bright – but lacking fire. But then, was he a father to be proud of? What did he have as price for his existence? Have I failed? Will there be anything left once this is over?
“Be strong… ” he slurred. “selar… Selar, you have to decide what you want and strive for it. I have nothing to give you except the opportunity for you to decide. By yourself. I have no land, I have no titles… there will be nothing for you when I die….”
The boy turned back worriedly. He stood in indecision, then finally mustered enough bravery to go and place a hand upon his father’s shoulder.
Amra Lamar grabbed it. “All I can give you is an equal chance. The stars are yours freely. They are for you, for everyone. Take them. TAKE THEM!”
Sheer fright in his son’s eyes calmed him down. He looked at the flask in his palm, and snarled. He threw it over his shoulder, uncaring of how it stained the white carpets.
“Sit.” The coordinator took out the datastick and inserted it into the console set into his tea table. “Selar… your life is not your own, do you understand that?” The boy slowly nodded dubiously. He sighed. “I see. Of course not. You have not found your life-worth. Whether you live or die, at this point, is of no consequence whatsoever.”
The lights dimmed. The far wall of his dwelling, blank and jarring with the decor, now showed its worth as a projection screen. A Tamaran voice began speaking in accented Riikan.
“Seven years ago, by your calendar, elements of the Second Imperial Expeditionary Fleet, the first Zallun initiative towards discovering more of the galaxy in over a thousand years, met colonial assets of the Derivian FarStar Colonial Enterprise in Nexus. The Zallun ships were enthused on meeting a new race, as far as Zalluns could be. According to the dictates of their tradition, they approached with weapons powered up, giving the militia the honor due to warriors-equals.
To the best of assumptions, the Derivians… panicked, and acted against what looked to be hostile intent. Remaining ships retreated, and told their government of a new alien threat that decimated the outer colonies. The Zalluns only knew that they were attacked while offering frienship. Their next encounter could have repaired this, but by then both were in a mindset of the other being treacherous and intent on war. Their pride plunged them both into conflict.”
Amra Lamar nodded. He could hardly fault the Derivians. Zall’i ships, painted blood-red, large and ominous, pitted with turret mounts and clad in thick, sloped armor… their mere appearance was threatening. The Der’iv had fired first, however. Kitaran-Tamaran first contact had gone better, but that was due to the obvious superiority of a Kit’i skirmiship to the Tamm’i tradeship.
“Subject: Derivians. Homeworld: Derivia Prime. Social planning: Republic, a system of elected officials representing sections of the the population. Force: Republican Navy of Derivia. Strength: Three intact fleets, of one thousand ships each. Four partial fleets of four to six hundred ships each. Production capability: High.”
The images showed the staple Derivian ship, the Sherwood-class Frigate. “Their design philosophy is based on flexibility and formation performance. The Frigate is finely balanced on mobility, protection, striking power, and drones capacity. Larger ships only have appropriate specializations; as carrier, as battleship, as support vessel, but all retain high anti-fighter protection.”
An inset window showed the Derivian ARM-CDV (Adaptive Response Machine – Combat Drone Vehicle) Mark II. “Derivian fightercraft proved to be ineffectual against Zallun armor. The Derivians created combat drones, basically an AI-controlled rocket with pulse lasers attached to the nose, and a powerful bomb strapped to its underbelly. Although only of limited use against fighters, the drones were capable of breaching Zallun hulls in sufficient quantities. Being unpiloted, they were produced in such quantities as to simply overwhelm Zallun defenses.”
Crude, both father and son thought. Kitarans would not be defeated so easily. Derivian craft were excellent multirole vessels, but unexceptional on a per ship basis. They had a lot of different ship types, many with only incremental improvements, that it was clear to see competition inside their own regions were driven by military-industrial interests. The drones might have worked against slow Zallun gunboats, but the sheer perfection of their own fightercraft would nullify any drone advantage. Kitaran gravitics control made piloted craft a slayer of guided munitions. Amra Lamar placed his feet up on a stool. The Derivians would not be much of a problem.
“We are a people of peace. We are also a people of justice!” spoke the current Derivian president. “We will not stand idly by while our citizens are destroyed by alien aggression! If there was any way we could come to an amicable solution, we would take, but these… Zallun… have no interest in peace. They are an Empire bent on conquest. We stand in their way. We stand, and we shall hold! For we are dedicated to freedom, of all peoples and all ideas! We did not start this war… but we shall finish it!.”
Amra Lamar scratched his chin. Hm… effective use of voice. There was a great sincerity, or at least the appearance of it, and even he of a different race found himself feeling an urge to take arms in defense. Derivians didn’t differ all that much from Kitarans in outward appearance… but with their nearly useless ears, weak bones, and limited vision, he wondered how they had ever survived to get spacetravel. They must have become tool-users to compensate for their utter lack of strengths. He had to admit though, the President did possess a frail beauty. Her thin figure, eyeglasses and closely-cropped hair elicited a protective response.
He remembered that President Raquel Perrino was swept into power following the assasination of her husband. Popular presumption is that it was by his foremost political rival. That emotional governance stank of peril to his Liyo sensibilities.. but she had to admit she’d been doing well recently.
War was fought on the battlefields, but it is won behind it. The Derivian fleet was well-exercised in formations, by working en masse, covering each other’s weaknesses and multiplying their strengths. More than that, however, was the sheer industry that allowed them to replace their losses. This was made possible only by a populace steeped in luxury, and willing to do anything to defend that way of life. In some way similar to that of Liyo, he supposed, but Kit’i formations were simply that much faster, like all things Kitaran.
“Subject: Zalluns. Homeworld: Zallus. Social planning: Imperial, with military leaders appointed by a tribal council . Force: Imperial Zallun Armada. Strength: One partial Imperial-class fleet, of four thousand ships. Two intact Border-class fleets of one thousand five hundred ships. Four intact battlemoons. Production capability: Low.”
A Zallun Imperial Destroyer loomed above. Rad’nu. To Destroy. “Armor thick, shields resilient, guns powerful. Their design philosophy is defensive in nature, but once on attack the momentum is incredible. Ironically, the Destroyer in Derivian parlance refers to a small class of escort ships.
The Zallun Destroyer, or what in other navies would be line battleships, is slow and has little point defense, but it has shown capable of shrugging off entire squarons of attacking ships. There are only two other ship classes in the entire Zallun navy, a carrier and a lighter picket ship.”
The inset showed a Du’maggat gunboat and a Girhoz landcruiser. “Zallun fightercraft have similar performance to Derivian ones, but were abandoned early on in the conflict due to the severe casualty estimate, as unlike Derivians they were incapable of adding to their raw soldier pool. Zalluns were forcing their way with arms and armor into Derivian space but each advance left the Armada farther from resupply. Literally, a single fighting Zallun male was worth five Derivians.”
And once on the ground, they were unstoppable. With their four arms, plated and horned heads, large muscular bodies and toughened hide, the Zalluns were a force to behold. Molded by the dry deserts of Zallus, they had a fine warrior tradition and expertise in maximum damage for minimal losses. He could admire that. He could also learn to fear that. In infantry, no other force in the galaxy could compare. Their size and four arms meant they could wear the thickest armor and use the heaviest weapons with ease.
Evolved out of a desert planet, Zalluns prized logistics above all. Their battlemoons were massive base/factories that allowed them to maintain momentum at the front line. However, even though the battlemoons could repair and refit ships, the Zallun could never solve the manpower issue.
One bright spot was that they apparently were unable to deal with extended resistance. Defeat should have been a permanent situation, or until the victor chooses to honor the loser by deeming him an equal once more.
“For the Emperor, the descendant of divine Zallus!” growled the Fleetmaster. “For him we live and die. He is the holder of life. And what is life, my brethren? It is not of mere flesh and bone. Are we beasts, to claw our way, living for the moment and nothing more? Or are we Men and Women of Zallusa, heirs to Tyrus? Life without honor is no life at all. I would rather die than shame our ancestors, who fought with honesty and truth to give us our glorious Empire. I would rather die than tell the Emperor we are beaten by cowards and decievers.
We were not even the aggressors in this, they gunned down our first contact team! We have given respect and been rewarded with betrayal. They violate fair surrender, and force us to violence. They wear us down by fading before honorable challenges and attack our helpless! Now they set their sights upon Zallus and our Imperial House with their honorless weapons of massive destruction! No more! We have suffered their insults and lies long enough. We must remove them as a galactic power so that our own families can be safe! We must end this! Let the integrity of the Zallusar shine unto the galaxy!”
The coordinator scratched at his chin. Perhaps it was unfair for the Zalluns to expect the Derivians to follow their battle etiquette. But then, these were simple rules meant to minimize harm; only the necessary force applied to induce surrender. The conquered territory would then henceforth be under the protection of the Empire of Zallus. But Derivians reject utterly the idea of an alien ruling over them, and performed resistance that ultimately injure themselves.
Amra Lamar nodded. Kitarans would not be quite so stupid. Like Zalluns, they were born of almost-barren worlds, trained to respect the neutrality of civilians. If they could meet, they would truly respect each other. Captured Zallun populations will follow their traditions of surrender, as they would find their new masters possessed of an honor lacking from their former enemies. Vice versa, Kitarans would aid their new rulers the same as they would their own Clan as long as certain customs, rights and protections were followed. It was vital then, that the Kitarans hold to their own traditions – strike first, and overwhelmingly.
The Zalluns must be kept off-balance, to prevent the rolling counter-attack. It would be more difficult, for while the Kit’i could possibly match Zalluns on land and air with their specialized battle-machines, the Destroyer would be a problem. The Kitaran navy, apart from skirmiships and the clawship, was heavily based on fightercraft deployment and long-range attack. Zallun shields were excellent against kinetic strikes, and they had strong long-range firepower of their own with their particle beam cannons.
Oh, he fully expected the Clans in their arrogance and trust in their clever little plans to get their teeth kicked in. The Clans expencted two Races willing to go on total war footing to tolerate the little border-and-planet exchanges that the Kitarans had been practicing for millennia? Ludicrous.
But then the other alternative might be worse. He shivered.
Selar looked up at his father. Fear and anger warred for the man’s expression. He looked back at the screen. The information was interesting, but hardly worth being worried about. Even the boy knew, that even with their few worlds, their mobilization would be close to a hundred percent. Military composition was entirely voluntary, and while others might need conscription to muster more than five percent of their population, even instant mobilization would produce a twenty-five percent Kitaran readiness level. That translates to a fighting force of billions.
And that would be glorious! A full war was the best of times. Everybody had a job to do, banners everywhere, military parades, extremely loud martial music, and best of all – clan cakes! Small, moon-shaped cakes of lichen paste, and various secret ingredients. Like the clans themselves, each were distinct. Liyo was sweet, and served cold. Solaris was spicy. Jiragan cakes had such a subtle flavor it was nearly tasteless. Fantyra tasted strangely like meat. Tabbana cakes simply and unpretentiously tasted like salted lichen. And so forth.
Again it should be noted that war for the Kitaran race, although constant, was limited and self-controlling.
“It is not going to be easy.” Amra Lamar said. The boy looked up, and saw that his father was, yes, talking to him. “We must stop WINNING.” he said with great finality. “There is more than superiority. Now we have an obligation not just to ourselves, but to all peoples in the galaxy.”
Selar slipped on his scholar’s mask, that serious face and mindset made for assimilating and dissecting information. “Why?”
The coordinator winced inwardly. This was the problem with the untrained. They asked the simple and most obvious questions – the ones so cursedly hard to answer. “To have greater strength is unnecessary, this is the core of our clan system, is it not? All that is needed is for the other to know that it will severely cost them to make you surrender. We are the most powerful race in the galaxy, for just like this… ” he clawed at the air quickly. “We can bring the galaxy to a dark age that it might never recover from. Suspicion and racism would never end. There would be war on a scale never before seen. Always war, always suspicion, always naked self-interest first and foremost. And all it takes… is for us to break an unspoken trust.”
“Who gave us this trust? The Taen-ni?”
“No one did. I suppose I could say all of our ancestors and all of our future generations. We have a choice – a small slice of the galaxy, and peace for all our people, for all time? Or a larger section of the galaxy, and war, and death, and eventual dissolution of our grand dominions? All empires must end, you know.”
Selar blinked. “You’re a traitor, father.” The Liyani had only one word for defeatism.
Amra Lamar choked. The boy had stumbled, and very quickly at that, into the root of the matter. He shielded all outward emotions. But damn it, that scholar’s trance was having a similar effect on his son. A derivative of the warrior’s trance, for though Kitarans didn’t have a ‘sixth sense’ they had developed techniques to easily control their consciousness. At least that was one Illena advance that wasn’t lost to time.
Finally he simply gave up. He had never thought he’d have to defend himself from his own son. Therefore, he didn’t. “Nyao.“
“I’m glad.” And Selar smiled.
The Tamaran report was extensive, a full four hour’s worth. Amra Lamar didn’t know wheter to feel impressed or dismayed. The Tamm-i had been in contact with the Derivians for only the lesser part of a year. What could those merchants have compiled in the fifty years they had known the Kitarans?
His intercom rang.
“Irumar, you surasi wretch, how dare you call me?”
“Have you an assessment?” The Royal Officer didn’t even react to being called one of the eleven deadly insults. It only made the coordinator grit his teeth. His younger brother had him where it hurt. His duty.
Honesty was also a core point of Kitaran virtue. Lies were a waste of breath; and without the fulfillment of duty, life was without purpose. Even if he was telling them wheter it was fine to go to war or not; he had to be truthful. His words were completely devoid of feeling.
“Zallun hulls are ablative. Flaking off when struck softens the strike of an impactor and removes the thermal component of beams. I have no doubt our Tamaran friends can manufacture a similar composite. But… it will be heavy. We will have to refit only a prime section of the fleet, but the majority will have to rely on the fact that our weapons vastly outranges the enemy. Our fightercraft will serve merely as a defensive screen. Against the Derivians, we can overcome if we immediately seize and utilize their production facilities. You will not be heading off to war, it will be an unprovoked slaughter. Then, once you are dug in, only then, will it turn into a proper war.”
On the other end, Irumar merely sighed. In a few hours, Amra Lamar had decided on what military planners spent months arguing over. This sense of sudden ‘rightness’ was something he could never have. Why? he asked himself. What made them so different?!
He wished it was just a sense of arrogance. No one could be right all the time. Amra Lamar never said it was that way. Except that sometimes things had to be, needed to be.. done. This way. He could offer no real proof, only how events played out as testimony to his blind wisdom. Even he distrusted his own absurd judgements. Someday, inevitably, he would be wrong, and colossally so. But there was no way to be SURE if this was that day.
But they were all Kitaran. Their every breath was faith, in whatever they chose to believe in. If only this time they weren’t at crossed ideals…
“Can we expect a measure of success?”
“The question should be – Is it right for us to expect success?” The coordinator let a pause linger. “And the answer to both… I do not know.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose. He felt so tired… “Listen. Listen to me. At the very least I can tell you the Tamarans are behind us all the way. Why should they not? They prosper either way, wheter we live or die. You know our system with clan Tabbana; we fight, they build. We give our lives, so they are left alone. The Tamarans are the Tabbana raised to a new level… you cannot even comprehend their raw production capacity. They are ready, Irumi. They are not vassals, they are our equals.” He now spoke desperately. “Listen well. One clan, the Tabbana, has sustained us all for three thousand years. Imagine the carnage, with the resource base increased a thousandfold. If we move into the power vaccuum… then the wars will never end. Understand this! THE WARS. WILL NEVER. END.”
“And that would be good.” Amra Irumar calmly replied. “Every generation is tested, the entire Race is forged anew with every passing year… I will expect your full report.”
“DAMN IT, IRUMAR!”
The connection was already dead.
He punched at the wall. There has to be something I can do!’ He felt his heart squeezing, his vision starting to black out. No, not now. Not yet. There’s still so much I have to settle first! He exhaled, and grimaced as the pain peaked, then passed. He staggered out the door. “Selar! Stay here!” he shouted in parting.
The boy merely blinked at the sudden departure. He sat at the couch for a few minutes, considering his options. Then he started to clean the place.
The stained carpet, an intricate example of Tamaran needlework (apparently living in space means finding ways to keep oneself from slowly going insane from boredom) had to be taken care of. And once that was done, he sat cross-legged at the floor, confused.
What was the proper thing to do?
He had never been left alone in his father’s residence before. Compared to a mathematician, a coordinator’s life was filled with opulence. But suddenly he had a feeling of dread – the walls seemed infinitely far, the air filled with decay. Like decorations in a bowl, to help a mouse forget that although it can’t see the bars, it’s still a prison. If it hides near a clump of leaves, lets the bottom horizon be obscured, it can pretend that the horizons extend farther than it can see… Selar closed his eyes and hugged himself, he felt just that small. Does father live with this every day?
Minutes passed, then hours. His father should have already returned, should have taken him back home. Selar warmed and finished off the leftovers.
There were books. On paper. Two wood-shelves full. The boy ran his finger over their tops, and ended up caked with dust. He supposed a coordinator didn’t really need to refresh himself on political philosophy. Who was Amra Lamar to his own child? Selar viewed his father as little more than a stranger, whose slightest whims had absolute power over himself. He had seen the coordinator, a man of ruthless wit and uncompromising ideals. He had seen the man, stubbornly trudging on, defeat already clear on his face. To the boy, both were unreal.
Bolstering his courage, driven by curiousity, he dared look inside his father’s bedroom. In contrast with the sloppy relaxation outside, within was all stark and clean. The large round bed was tidy, as if it had never been used.
Although he was young, he knew enough. He didn’t wonder why the lady Uni wouldn’t clean up; it wasn’t her place to do so. It was for a wife to touch. But here, the place they’d shared – she felt it was only proper.
The walls were bare metal, the only other furniture a desk upon which a picture sat alone. Photographs also endured despite holoprojectors; for even though they couldn’t display sound and motion, like knowledge on paper they were durable, portable, and required no power to view. Selar picked it up and for moment, seeing the contented expression on his father’s face on it, the face it was directed to – he thought it was of that Solarissa. Then he realized that Amra Lamar was too young, and his eyes lacked hostile awareness. Instead, there was simple happiness. His father, in the uniform of a Royal Officer, still youthful and hope-full.
Selar crossed himself. And the queen-in-waiting.
Her Highness had a mirroring expression of contentment in the picture. And now that he thought about it, occasionally on videos, he saw flickers of sad longing. It was eerily similar to what crosses his father’s face sometimes.
Station gravity flickered.
An overwhelming feeling of dread shocked Selar. His heart clenched with an inexplicable coldness. He gasped, straining to breathe. It was as if the air itself was thickening. He collapsed, curled up into a fetal ball and shivered, as if a great cold weight was pressing down upon him. The picture fell close by, cracking its glass, a fracture forming right between Amra Lamar and Kire Sujanni.
On the air above him hovered formless angry whispers.
Selar writhed, biting back his screams. Such hate. Such persistent, heavy hate. I’m afraid. I’m afraid. I’m afraid. It was all around him, in the air, in the walls, reaching across the void of space. Help me, father! Where are you?!
11. Into the Heart of Darkness
Amra Lamar took a deep breath and centered himself. He was very deep inside the Issan Rai, a place virtually unchanged from when the station was built as a weapon. The corridor forked to the left and right. He tensed his muscles, and turned right. At the end of this passageway was an armored door adorned with.simple large grey circle, symbol of the anuma’s unbiased vision. There were two honor guards, clad in light battle-suits. He raised his left hand in salute as he walked towards them. He smiled. They both nodded in respect. They were already used to his visits.
In that brief moment their eyes were away, he exploded into action. Gravity in this part of the station was kept at half-normal, in deference to the fragile bones of the Elders. With this in mind he bent his knees, screamed a raou and leapt. He caught out the right guard squarely on the forehead with both feet, and spun around to get his palms on the floor. By this he was able to maintain the necessary momentum to strike with a snap-kick that caught the other upon the side of his neck.
Both guards collided head-first with the walls with a meaty ‘thunk’, and slumped to the floor, unconscious.
Amra Lamar drifted down, wincing. It had been long since he’d indulged in violent activity. “I hope you will forgive me for this someday.” he said to their sleeping forms. “But we all do what we must do.”
Using their keycards, he was able to enter the sanctuary of the finest minds that the Kitaran race had ever produced.
He wasn’t too surprised to find that nearly a platoon of full-battlesuited infantry was already waiting for him, armed with bolt plasma rifles. A particularly nasty way to die. What the bolts didn’t pierce, they corroded with intense heat. The sensation of liquefying metal mixing with one’s internal organs was so horribly painful that fortunately most victims passed out long before they die.
From behind them stepped a man dressed in the metal-studded white robes of a librarian. He looked perfectly at ease in the midst of armored soldiers. They stood in attention as he passed. He was in command.
“Myaun rii, coordinator. To what do we owe the pleasure of this visit?”
“Nuna riien.” he answered. Rii-kan itself meant ‘land-voice’. Myaun was a combination of ‘beyond-see’, and land. The word for ‘land’ is also the same as the word for ‘gladness’ in the Riikan language. Therefore, myaun rii was used interchangeably with ‘be glad’ and ‘walk freely’. Its opposite, nuna, was ‘prison’ or ‘dryness’ and rii-en ‘lost lands’. Therefore, he’d just told them all to go to hell.
The ramira from the library earlier merely smiled, without warmth. “We are already in it, my friend.” He gestured, and the cadre stepped neatly aside. “Violence is unnecessary. You could have just asked.”
“I had expected you to be dead by now, kanta-Urisse.”
The loremaster looked startled. “You were right.” he said in a frustrated whisper. Behind the bleached hairs and formalities, he was still barely older than Amra Lamar. And yet, there was a gulf of experience between them that could not be bridged. He was exhaustively trained to be superior in all respects; physical, military, academic, and ethical, to those who live with the clan mentality – but for all that he had never known war outside of books. He thirsted for it. “Damnation upon you, Lamar. You are always right. The Clans are split in two. The anuma is split in two. Thirty years ago to the day you said to me, that I would have to make a choice between what I know to be right or what I feel is right.”
“The anuma will fight. But not protect. But to rule?” He almost laughed, but caught the murderous glare in their faces. The coordinator lowered his gaze. “This is centered around the harai question, is it not?” The keepers of kithome were suspicious of the Taenarians, and openly hostile to the idea of working with other Races.
Urisse snorted, his tail wildly trashing behind him. “One day we should do the exact opposite of what you say we will do, just to spite you.” He turned and started to walk. Amra Lamar followed, the guards lock-stepping behind them two. The loremaster sighed and fixed a lazy eye upon his guest. “The clans will not find us easy prey. After all, what is there do around kithome, but prepare? Our anuma ships might be a few generations behind, but you will find that our warriors are prepared to endure great hardship.”
“I do not begrudge you this conflict. It is your RIGHT. But I fear you, like the clans themselves, see only victory. How wonderful it is to be warriors! Death is a glory for you. What of the wives without husbands, the children without fathers or mothers, and the silence after battle? To kill an enemy is simple. To defeat them is not.”
“Perhaps. But that is neither for you or me to decide. Only history can judge us.” Another sigh. A clanborn would never understand. At the very least, this already-familiar discussion was wasting time. “You are tolerated here simply of one reason – you can stop them from firing the cannon.”
Amra Lamar grabbed the loremaster’s arm. He briefly considering moving his grip from the sleeve to the neck. “IT IS -STILL- FUNCTIONAL?!”
A sad lowering of the ears and a mumbled poem was his reply.
Nujun rosu suzenkai
Iranse toler rukkalya
Numan runja nujur mya
The lights of dawn fail me
The darkness rises with a roar
My little lamp shines bravely still
12. A Tradesman’s Loss
“Captain, we are detecting long-range subspace distortion… possibly jump exits.” Delos Porema said to his uncle. A nervous quaver could not be kept from his voice. “Multiple events.”
Dsala jumped to his navigator’s side. “Full system scan. What do you mean by multiple events?”
“The event bubble is spread over six hundred thousand kilometers of space. It is near the mapped jump point; the computer estimates several hundred discrete events.” The navigator’s console showed a floating three-dimensional representation of the entire star system. A little inward off the planetoid orbital limit, at the sun’s zenith point, was a blinking red sphere, slowly expanding… “Now thousands.”
“A war fleet.” the trader muttered with disbelief. The system map then showed a similar activity happening at the nadir point. He cursed. Tamaran language was beautifully complex, and as such was also well-suited for the description of certain acts; even biologically impossible ones. Two massive war fleets, above and below.
“Subspace stabilization commencing… switching to radiation scanners.” Sublight drives for most races still relied upon the basic principle of action = reaction. And the energy released from sustained thermonuclear activity was great indeed. Empty space was simply chock-full of hydrogen atoms, which was taken in as ambient mass for propulsion. Fusion Drives, aside from the ability to push things massing in the millions of tons, also had a side-effect of leaving a radiation trail several times wider than the ship itself. It was very simple to track and determine that two ever-growing fleets were approaching at just under a fourth of sublight. Not even Kitarans would dare test inertial dampening over half sublight. He knew however that the Kitaran medianspace drive had the ability to cruise down a gravity well, unlike jump drives. “Uhm. Estimate sixteen hours before we all die,” the young Tamaran summed up.
Even with new Kitaran-made inertia dampening systems for sublight acceleration, for them it was still eighteen hours to reach the fraying edges of the star’s gravity well… and the ability to make an interstellar subspace Jump.
Dsala had seen the Derivan and the Zalluns fight. He had also seen Kitarans fight. He would rather be in the middle of the former’s crossfire.
“Break anchor!” he shouted. “Sound all hands return!” He floated across the bridge and leapt down the access tube. Alarms and blinking lights followed him. His decision to conserve energy by keeping inship gravity at one-quarter normal was paying dividends. The power batteries were charged to full, they could even attempt an in-system jump if necessary.
Why now?! It seemed as if they were all getting along, for once. With the Deriv-Zallus War over, the Kitarans had to realize the overwhelming rewards of peace and co-existence. Why?! Their obsession with self-destruction is beyond me.
“You there! Cease loading supplies! Jettison everything we do not need! Yes, into the docks!”
Every thousand ton counted. Even if in comparison, Tamaran sublight drives were weak in the face of Kitaran ones, they could be overcharged in a hurry. Tamaran equipment was scaled back for reliability, unlike those of others that balanced upon maximum performance and breakdown.
His subcaptain, Oren Moseldu, a distant cousin, drifted up to him. “Sir! We might have a larger problem.” But instead of answering Dsala’s obvious rhetorical question, he merely showed a plastic keycard. He held it steady in front of his face. He released it gently. Two pairs of eyes could not be mistaken; it shortly began to drift left.
Dsala caught the implications instantly. The nonmagnetic card was staying in one place, it was the ship itself that was moving. Centimeter by centimeter, and they would not have not noticed, as they kept their feet to the floor. To the left was the station’s skin, to the right was the cavity’s center. Graviton collection had begun. Soon enough there would be a singularity stretching out inside the accretion tube, devouring everything that wasn’t bolted into the walls. Plasma injection would then commence, bathing in manufacture starfire everything that was left.
He cursed once more, and slid over to a wall-mounted console. “Bridge, patch me to Station Control.” There was a click, and a ‘How may I help you?’. “This is the tradeship BELESNA. Please open the dock gates. We wish to leave!”
“Forgive me, tradesman. But under war conditions, the entire station undergoes automatic lockdown. We cannot disable it. I do not recommened flying out in the first place… automated defenses will be active, and you do not possess the proper IFF signature. It is safer to remain here, I assure you.”
“Safe? Forgive me if I am not assured. You LIED to the Clansmeet, and here I thought that was the supreme blasphemy for your people; and you lied to us, who trusted you without question! This murderous weapon should have been dismantled long ago! Why must your people always choose the painful path?”
“The loss of your ship is regrettable, but please realize this situation was forced upon us.” The gentle voice on the line grew harsh. It was necessary that all thought the Issan Rai Kemmi was all but dead until nearly the last moment. “We do this only to defend ourselves.” The communications link switched off. She did not hear his next string of spoken color.
The captain jabbed at the console with savagery. “Sound all hands, abandon ship.” He carressed the smooth curve of the inner hull. His own tradeship was a part of a Tamaran’s own soul. He would almost die himself than see his ship, and all the memories it evoked, be destroyed. But he also had a responsibility to his own men, that they too should survive.
Even then, he still could not find it within his heart to hate the Kitarans.. he could only pity them, and hope that someday they grow beyond their culture of death.
Aside, he also wondered about Amra Lamar. If this suprised him, then he prayed the other would keep his composure. He had never seen anyone else hope so, completely, in the better nature of his species. It would crush him.
13. The Clansmeet
The Clansmeet was not a place, not an object, not a person, nor a way. Rather it was akin to all of these, a medium, like the air upon which voices carry. Although it was conveyed by thousands of unmanned messenger ships, endlessly shifting in or out of medianspace, it was merely of this, not by it. The true clansmeet is immaterial, as it is composed of pure law. It was the sum of all the Voices of the Kitaran people.
It pre-dated even the Marin-karin, the Great Clanning, a side-effect of the superluminal solution. Making something tachyonic, thereby bypassing the lightspeed barrier, would require literally insane amounts of energy- measurable in stellar quantities per kilomass of transmission. It was far (far) easier to submerge into a lower energy-existence and let the universe pass you by. However, it was discovered that subspace did strange things to the mind. Many of the pioneers returned insane, or were were slowly driven so with every trip. The Illena claimed their superiority for their immunity to this effect. As such, they were able to own much of the systems around, and then declare war upon, mother Kitharra.
The first line of the clansmeet was between Kitara, the second planet of the homestar Nujura and Issur, the third world of Kajura – four lightyears apart. With this, command and control was safely maintained from the Illena clanheart even as their forces laid seige to the rest of the clans. Even light takes nearly an hour to reach the forward base within the home-system. Kitaran doctrine had always been about initiative, mobility, and generous applications of firepower. This independence could have diluted the message the Illena wanted to deliver to the other clans. But with the prototype clansmeet, the forces of Illena were always under the watchful eye and unshakable grip of their masters.
Later on, as the Clanning spread, it was expanded. It became the symbol of the Clans’ balance of power. The mark of a world being truly settled and accepted into the family of Kitaran worlds was not the establishment of a government or a major industry, but the creation of its own Voice. Its Laa-kan. With this contribution into the Clansmeet, they would give and recieve information at the same time delay as the rest of the Kitaran race; one hour. Once slipped into a carefully-calculated m-space pattern, their Voice would speak true, and to all, for close to eternity. For in the millisecond that they emerge into normalspace and recieve/transmit, their assigned relay station would also jolt them with a dosage of fresh energy. Medianspace travel was not as taxing as subspace travel, aside from the mental effects – the ancient Laa-kan might have been shuffling in and out for thousands of years, but subjectively they have been in operation for mere months. There being no living beings within, the old mathematicians spliced relativity into utility.
It was the ancient agreements with Clan Tabbana and the anuma that sustained the Suhmirao. It was the clansmeet however, that makes it possible. For even as a fleet may take years to reach their assigned battlefront, within an hour the commanders at their clanhome would know of it and can administer their forces with a will.
The Clansmeet ran the entirety of Kitaran space and knowledge. Any message sent into the Clansmeet was sent to ALL in the Clansmeet. This of course necessitated security and encoding.
The Clansmeet itself had three tones in its great voice. Low, or civilian transmission, had a longer delay (as much as half a day) due to the process of handling and separating the massive flow of information. The constant stream however creates an illusion of uninterrupted and immediate exchange via local buffers. Middle, or military transmission, undergoes heavy encryption at several frequencies, at several hours lagtime. The illusion of constant communication is made by providing a series or verbose reports. The high, or the raw transmission, is as that of the ancients themselves. Pure and unsullied, it was where clans meet to hear each other, at a mere thirty minutes of delay. But strangely for this, its messages tend to be terse and direct.
The Clans themselves were more of an ethnic and philosophical composition than actual government, a single sworn doctrine over multiple smaller and independent territorial entities. To participate in the true Clansmeet was to fulfill an old and sacred duty; it was not a place for recriminations, or insults, or pointless blather. All that speak within did so with clear determination; for anything discussed within it was beyond petty politics or transient ideals, but the sheer force of history in the making.
It was the gentle murmurings of war. It was their genetically-inscribed search for a worthy death. And it goes like thus:
Liiya-kan: The Voices of Clan Liyo
Hear us, hear the voices of Her Majesty’s domains, hear the voices of Prayd’s children. Hear how they wail! Listen to our anguish. We are as the lost murro calf, bleating as the herd passes by. We are as the wounded skychief, clinging to a branch while the others fly. We cry, for the sake of all our people. Our tears are for our children, who will find themselves as captives under those who cannot understand why their peace is our death.
The galaxy moves. We must move with it. We must be strong, or we will be ground underfoot.
Hear our plea!
Tabbi-kan: The Voices of Clan Tabbana
We hear. And we see. The first to ninth Royal Fleets approach the String Worlds of the Tabbana. We ask your intentions. Do you seek our downfall, or do you seek suhmirao?
Liiya-kan: The Voices of Clan Liyo
We seek suhmirao. The Voices of the Liyo and the Matriarchy of her stars around Riiya, speaks to the ruin of Kithome. We send nine fleets to sing of this. Others also wish to be heard in this matter.
Tabbi-kan: The Voices of Clan Tabbana
The challenge is now given. Kithome stands ready to show the clans their error. Who also speaks the ruin of kithome?
Jiira-kan: The Voices of Clan Jiraga
The Voices of the Jiraga and the Foundations of her stars around Jagar, speaks to the ruin of Kithome. We send four fleets to sing of this.
Irren-kan: The Voices of Clan Irece
The Voices of Irece and the Conclaves of her stars around Asyen, as vassals to Liyo, speak the ruin of Kithome. We send two fleets to sing of this.
Issel-kan: The Voices of Clan Isselya
The Voices of Isselya and the Duchies of her stars around Issul, as vassal to Liyo, speak the ruin of Kithome. We send three fleets to sing of this.
Liiya-kan: The Voices of Clan Liyo
We wish to declare the usage of subspace jump drives. Our fleets should at this point be arriving. As the doctrines of Suhmirao state, ‘Leave them no time to scream’ . We beg for suffrance from the other clans in this matter. We ask for our rightful trial.
Tabbi-kan: The Voices of Clan Tabbana
The call has been given. Who speaks in opposition to the voices of Liyo and her allies?
Sulla-kan: The Voices of Clan Solaris
Hear the Voices of Solaris, the children of Kanna, and the Republics of her stars! Listen to our people rage. We are given the opportunity to give our children peace for all time. Listen to our shame! Listen to the sound of empty boasts! See the lust for destruction, the very antithesis of all our ancient pledges! The Kitaran race has grown self-centered and its growth, stunted. Have we become what our ancestors once had sworn not to be?
We seek final suhmirao against the alliance of Liyo.
Tabbi-kan: The Voices of Clan Tabbana
We must ask, are you certain? The final suhmirao?
Sulla-kan: The Voices of Clan Solaris
From henceforth shall Kithome and the Kitaran race be united. We speak the ruin of Kithome AND Liyo. We send seven fleets to sing of this. Others also wish to be heard in this matter.
Farra-kan: The Voices of Clan Fantira
The Voices of the Fantira, and the Brotherhoods of her stars around Pumar, speak the ruin of Kithome and Liyo. We send four fleets to sing of this.
Jassa-kan: The Voices of Clan Jassila
The Voices of Jassila and the Protectorates of her stars around Juyo, as vassals to Fantira, speak the ruin of Kithome. We send one fleet to sing of this.
Tirra-kan: The Voices of Clan Tiraga
The Voices of Tiraga, and the Republics of her stars around Rudya, speak the ruin of Kithome and Liyo. We send two fleets to sing of this.
Sulla-kan: The Voices of Clan Solaris
We also wish to declare the usage of subspace jump drives. Our fleets shall meet the opposition, as the agreement we had prior to this announcement. We beg for suffrance from the other clans in this matter. We ask for our rightful trial.
Tabbi-kan: The Voices of Clan Tabbana
Then so be it. Hear the Voices of Tabbana, the children of Graie, and her String Republics that begin from Tabbima. We shall bow to whomsoever survives the suhmirao. The neutral worlds and the lesser Clans who choose us to speak for them will cleave to this compact. No longer shall we forge your weapons for you or your enemies. No longer shall we hold back the Kitaran race from any of its dreams. Our defenses are lowered, our home corridor is opened for all that wish approach. All worlds, all Kit, hear this well. This is the end of our obligations. We approve this final war.
Keepers, the clans have made the challenge. Do you accept?
Annu-kan: The Voices of the Unclanned
The Voices of the Anuma and Kitara herself speak the ruin of all who dare to attack her restful sanctity. We stand ready with ten fleets and the Issan Rai to sing of this.
Tabbi-kan: The Voices of Clan Tabbana
The Issan Rai?! You have told us it was no longer to fit to be used. We oversaw its disassembly.
Annu-kan: The Voices of the Unclanned
The doctrine of Suhmirao do not forbid us to lie. It specifically commands us, to use whatever means to prevent the clans from claiming Kitara. Even without it, you will not find us easy prey.
Listen to our people’s glee. Listen to the downfall of your foolish pride. Come clans. Come and die.
14. A Shadow Play
Even as the clanfleet approached, a hidden war flared within the ranks of the ramira. The two factions had one thing in common, that the Clans should never retake Kitara. They differed in the matter of firing the cannon, and what should be done once they had decimated the clanfleets.
In space, the Ramir First and Tenth Kithome Guards grit their teeth and prepared to meet the two-pronged advance. Behind them, the Second to the Ninth prepared to defend the inner system perimeter. And meanwhile, deep in the recesses of the Issan Rai, corridor fighting already claimed many lives. However, the fleets outside would never know of it, or how close the entire Kitaran race had again nearly decided upon its own destruction.
The compression rifle was a comfortable weight in his hands. Exhausted, bleeding, realizing he really should have kept himself in better shape… and for all this, he felt vastly more alive than he had ever felt in decades. Everything was so familiar; the mix of fear and excitement at being pinned down, the spray of blood and flesh as chests were were opened up by bolt plasma, and most of all… that sense of rightness hanging behind his every move. He had always hated that, even more than his intuitive leaps. He was not placed upon this universe just to kill! Surely?
“You seem happy.” said Urisse.
Amra Lamar pointed his rifle at the man’s head. The Ramira didn’t even blink. Such a blatant disregard for one’s own life was intimidating, the coordinator had to admit. He lowered his weapon, and leaned back against the wall. “How..” he asked numbly. “How could this still happen?”
Urisse motioned for the troops to make headway further in. He sprawled down upon the facing wall, and laughed weakly. “It is quite simple. The Issan Rai is almost three thousand years old. Even we no longer understand how it functions. The Illena, mad and murderous, were also brilliant. There is NO way to deactivate it. The removal of several powerplants and the gutting of the reaction bowl will not prevent the Issan Rai from gathering its power. It rests on the assumption that this is a pulse/wave plasma-coil cannon, the largest ever built. IT IS NOT!” That declaration was made with a frustrated yowl. “It is a gravitic mass-harness!”
His eyes seemed to glow under the blinking emergency lights. Recognizing that Amra Lamar had only the basic knowledge of unified field dynamics, he help up his rifle and made a spiraling gesture around its stock.He grinned, showing teeth filed sharp.
“Hydrogen and other ambient mass is collected, energized, compressed, in layers upon layers, held together by an artificial, stretched singularity. The result is a spinning cone of energy upon firing, a plasma coil like what a capital ship’s main guns release. But its true hammer-blow is the steep curvature of space in front of it and the resulting anti-gravitational effect behind it. We no longer have the knowledge behind it, but we know it is a region where the weak force of gravity becomes strong, and the strong forces of subatomic bindings weaken. It gathers more and more ambient mass the further it travels, adding to its hostility. Any solid mass it encounters it will cut through. Any mass shadow it encounters feeds its hunger!
This is no weapon, Lamar. This is an abomination, something so terrible that we dared not destroy it. This is no mere cannon. It does not suffer from collimation, the bane of beam combat. Its wrongness and area of effect increases with distance, unlike projectiles.
The Issan Rai draws its strength from Kitara’s own gravity well. When it was fired upon our world, in retaliation for the ground-clans destruction of the lesser moon Farriya-oh and all of the Illena-ki within its bases, the stroke only had to travel a short distance. The gravitic sheath of Kitara’s own mass peeled off the graviton layers, causing it to detonate prematurely. Even then, it vaporized half of the Issyan continent. The resulting gravity ripple reshaped our land masses, and killed nearly all that lived upon the surface. Only volcanoes and charred lands remain.”
The loremaster stopped, balling his fists as he tried to look past how generations upon generations would suffer for something that took less than a heartbeat to complete.
“Its range is until the edge of Nujura; outside of our own sun’s gravity well it will then have to feed upon itself. At that point, the stroke would be half the size of Kithara herself in diameter, and will detonate with the force of a small nova. We are fortunate that due to its own ancient and debased nature, any blast now generated will only expand briefly, devouring anything within a fifty million kilometers of the string, instead of tearing apart this entire star system.”
Urisse placed his palm upon the wall, and counted the vibration intervals. “The Issan Rai is already active. It will take three, or four more hours before it finishes layering. Past the three-hour mark, the process can no longer be stopped.” He did not mention that it could be fired early or late, depending upon the carnage the Ramira council of Elders, the Mim-ming, wished.
Given that the stroke travels at just under the speed of light, and the estimated battle speed of the clanfleets… hm. Amra Lamar closed his eyes.
The furthest into a stellar gravity well that fleets could jump in was about a light-day out. M-space emergence was somewhat predictable in that they would always appear at the zenith or nadir points, but the actual emergence point in space had a variance of +/- thirty lightminutes.
He did not to pretend to understand even the physics behind what the loremaster said, but he had a vauge idea of its implications. Beam combat could theoretically be fought at just under a lightsecond, the spread of heavy lasers allow for the sweeping of an area tens of kilometers wide. Any more than that, and it was easy for the beam to be dodged. This was part of the reason why Kitarans chose close combat, with high-damage but short-ranged plasma weaponry… as distance increased, the weapon power and accuracy diminishes exponentially. What cannot be dodged will simply wash over, like a warm bath upon ceramic hulls. To compensate, were the self-guiding weapons such as missiles or bombers, which too was another incentive for accurate short-range fire.
But the graviton pulse… why would the Illena need something so devastating as to be nearly useless? It would take several hours, up to half a day, for even light to reach the clanfleets. By that time, they should be already more than half-way into the system. Heat sensor, even standard battle-optics should give adequate warning. How loud would the Firstborn Son’s wail be? How often may it be fired at a predictive path?
He opened his eyes wide, the realization clear and damning. ‘This is not a weapon. This is a planetary harness. “You.. beasts.” he whispered. “The stroke is not aimed for the fleets.” He stood, and held out both his arms, pointing at opposite directions. “The orbits of our fifth world, Sussa, and our eighth, Sammpuro, are irregular. They do not follow the azimuthal plane.” He looked to the left, or downplane. “The useless rock of Sussa, if drawn into the stroke, will increase its area a thousand fold.”
Urisse nodded. “Unlike a beam weapon, the gravity weapon is a constant stream that can be bent, can be guided into its target.” He looked to the right, or up-plane. “On the other side, the massive gravitational presence of Sampurro will bend the stroke’s traveling path, and give it similar if lesser a boost in power without having to touch the gas giant. “
“Kill another planet. So what? Just to win!” Amra Lamar laughed, it was tinged with lunacy. “Oh, those fools. Those blind, those hateful, those magnificent, those provident fools! Will our Race ever again produce the likes of the Illena? Who can stand against the anger of all Kitharra herself?”
This then, was why the clans and the unclanned were so loving of war. What was there to fear? The Issan Rai Kemmi could perhaps be disassembled and MOVED. If this was what harnessing a single world was like, what if it could command the emanations of a sun? What if there were more built? The fearsome Zallun battlemoons would be as chaff to the winds of history. Their very sizes, their awe-inspiring mass would be their greatest weakness. If, in the unallowable if, that the Illena had won so long ago – Kitara would have been perfectly protected. Perfectly deadly. A mirror to the race she produced.
Even if Kitaran gravitics control was unsurpassed, inertia still applied to their ships. Stopping or abruptly changing the direction of something massing in the millions of tons, at .15 c required large amounts of force… and time. The clan ships could not simply turn in full battle speed. They must perform a slow, sweeping curve lest the innards turn into meaty paste. In the former case, going around the gas giant should leave the Liyo Mirau-ayun Lissaka (Liyo Allied Fleet) no time to usefully alter their course. In the latter scenario, the additional mass drawn from the smaller gas world should expand the stroke to such extent that it will cover the Solarissa Mirau-ayun Lissaka’s course correction.
He laughed again, a booming mockery. “The meaning of life? It has to end. We are the Kitarans. In destruction we create the truth of our existence..”
“If we fire the cannon, we will be no better than the Illena we destroyed so long ago. You must help us, Lamar.”
The coordinator turned his head with an eerie and deliberate slowness. His eyes were dead, devoid of all feeling. “Filth.” he spat. “Betrayer. I should let you all die the death you deserve. Your people have already proven they long lost the honor, that your ancestors made you to preserve.”
“Regardless, you must. If not for your duty as a Kitaran to your ancestors, then at least for all those worthy lives that will end, unfairly and outside of a warrior’s dignity.” Seeing no response, he shifted his stance. “A curse upon you, Lamar, if you run again! This is your responsibility! The clans will fall upon us with a fury not seen for three thousand years. Your wife, your son, your brother – their lives cannot be secured under such onslaught.”
Corridors were eminently defensible. Amra looked about, at the fallen soldiers of Urisse’s little rebellion and those of the devout Ramira. Those surviving fought on, trading futile fire behind wall intersections. Behind their faceplates were young faces, filled with savage determination.
They fired around corners, and every stretch of the passageway was only taken with much blood and difficulty. Urisse looked at his watch. “Two hours, thirty minutes to critical status.”
“How much further must this go on?”
“You must understand, the innards of the Issan Rai are deliberately misleading. There are many firing stations, but the master switch is within the council chamber itself. The Illena were merely being cautious. Incidentally, Lamar… destroying the Issan Rai itself will only catalyze hydrogen fusion of the layers already within the tube. This part of the station, is so well-armored, with its own gravitic controllers, that it can conceivably survive such, an unattached solar flare. Everything else around Kitara, will not.” The loremaster growled once more. “Bastards.”
Into the end-bowl of the Issan Rai, were thirty main passages. The Ramira aligned towards a more difficult and honorable way of cleasing the Kitaran race, were assaulting all of these. Having their leaders who sat within the council arrested, some shot outright, they felt they had no choice but to take drastic action. One thousand five hundred elite foot soldiers poured into into their holy sanctum. They had the advantage of the Elder’s locales being left only token guards, so as not to pollute the sanctified halls with uninspired thought. However, they had underestimated how the six hundred would view their sacriledge.
Of the fifty that accompanied Amra Lamar and loremaster, only twelve were left. Only two more bulkheads until they reached the Council Elders themselves. Likewise had all other assault groups were bogged down, with theirs at closest.
Singing wafted from the other end of the hall.
Myan su myor i sana Kali
Ikan seris sor inyi-ka
Su maras myan salis
An su rao myan seris
In hope and faith did Kali walk
We are the tools of freedom
14. In the Name of Kali
Kali was the founder of the ‘modern’ Clan Tabbana. Historically, the keepers of kithome and the Tabbana held a special relationship, even though the latter kept itself utterly neutral. The incident in the song was around one thousand six hundred years ago, when the charismatic Tabb-i Fantyra-mari Pirshan-miro Graie Sorru Kali was made the First Speaker, the Sorrani-kana of Clan Tabbana.
She was born of a Tabbana father and a Fantyrani mother, a combination of two clanlines that seemed conflicting; the heavy pacifism of the Tabbana and the militaristic tendencies of the Fantyra. However, she was convinced the suhmirao itself was provoking far more waste than it was made to prevent. Gaining the approval of the Tabbana was hard, the Fantyra doubly so, and of the Ramira all but impossible.
With their blessings, the finest artisan-warrior of her generation approached each clan with a set of new rules meant to even more ceremonialize clan warfare. Generation by generation, until the need was removed. The immediate goal was greater clan cooperation, and a more powerful clansmeet. The more powerful fighting clans had little to fear, since it would maintain status quo. Lesser fighting clans however, saw the entirety of Kitaran space united under her thumb. She seemed to be on the verge of establishing a dynasty; first under the guise of mediators, then eventually overseers.
Clan Jassila, along with several other clans, plotted her death and a combined strike deep into Fantyrani territory. If the most militarily powerful clan was brought to heel then the balance of power would swing in their favor. However, Jassila was opposite Fantyrani space and thus if Kitara herself could be taken for a time, it would be a powerful forward base to strike at or defend from any clan. As in the games of Kitaran chess, he who controls the center controls the game. The winner of suhmirao, at any point in time, would attain eternal glory. Attack against the Ramir was forbidden only by custom.
Sorru Kali was the first, and only, clanned individual to be elected to speak for kithome without the necessity of turning herself into a Ramira. She did consider herself more in common with them than anyone else.
She willingly transferred into the Jassila flagship, only to find herself hostage and a shield against her people. However, rather than be used as a pawn to force other clans and cause the death of thousands, she chose to sacrifice herself. The Jassila, seeing their leverage gone, decided to go for an all-out attack. The Tabbana and the Fantyrani, being her clan-families, loved her. But it was the Ramira that truly were devoted to her.
One battle-group, six hundred ships in strength, in anger, routed an attacking fleet of almost two thousand strong. Freed from politics, ritual, or the game of supremacy.. the keepers had the focus and an entire life of training for the inevitable. Pure skill decided the day.
The Fantyrani upon learning of her death, fell upon the Jassila with such fury that within months nearly all their worlds were taken. The Tabbana released the Mirannu-class skirmiship for their use. The other supporting clans made strikes against those allied to the Jassila, expanding their borders. Everyone gained something from her death, save the Ramira. They wept, for her and the utter impossibility of her dreams.
The incident convinced the Ramira they could no longer trust any of the clans. The Tabbana, they were friendly to, but to no one would the keepers rely on other than themselves. The Suhmirao, driven to completion, was all but proven to be the only was to save the Kitaran race. Any attempt to cut it short was fated to fail.
To the more conservative Ramira guarding the inner sanctum, the heretics showed a combination of Kali’s blind optimism with the limitless self-absorption of outsiders. Both needed to be destroyed.
Amra Lamar shivered upon hearing the song. It was the Ramira battle-hymn. They would fight to the very last.
“We need to break through.” he muttered. He glanced wildly around. Their soldiers were nearly spent, fatigue held back only with burning determination. The elemental virtue of the keepers was fire; if to the Liyo was worked gold, with Solaris the flowing water, and the Tabbana honest iron. The keepers on the other end would be in a similar state. His tail darted from side to side, and Urrise could barely hear his words. “I… I can… give us that break-through.” He looked up, wide-eyed. “I can.”
The loremaster nodded. “Ikusa, Massar, Lurika.” He made three jerking motions with his forefinger. “Do as he says.”
The three elite were understandably reluctant to follow the orders of someone clanned, but knowledge and wisdom was the true power of the Ramir. A loremaster, being a living personification of nearly three thousand years of history, was to be honored and obeyed above all. Even the Elders had to give them a certain respect.
“Have your people been trained in zero-g combat?”
Urisse nodded, but a flick of his ears implied ‘barely adequate’.
“Follow me.” Amra Lamar hugged the walls as he moved, it was very similar to shipboard combat. The Ramira were made to destroy, not to capture, he realized. This contempt for all things clanned was going to be their first weakness.
He stopped at the edge, and tapped the shoulders of those still firing. He shushed them, and bade one of the soldiers assigned to him to kneel. He held up three fingers, and pointed at three areas of the corridor’s side. Trained to take initiative, they soon realized his choice of tactics. Ikusa knelt, and fired low. Massar stood normally. Lurika sat on his shoulders. By this, the entirety of the corridor could be kept free of interference. It was impossible to aim, as seeping gases made breathing and visibility difficult. Aside from the dim red of emergency lights, only the much brighter flashes of plasma-gun fire offered any helpful illumination.
And yet, in all that spray of lethal energy, even if someone on the other end had placed their firing stances similarly… there was a place of safety. And because these people seemed intentionally trained to ignore gravity differences (which had it good points, he had to admit- such as the ability to stand and hold ground, wherever that ‘ground’ may be ), they would never have considered it was possible to use it.
Amra Lamar laughed. He found he couldn’t stop laughing. His mirth carried across the hallway, and for the moment, all fighting stopped. All this lust for battle, taken to its extremes was amusing in its own way. The calm facade of a coordinator finally collapsed. What’s the difference between the armies of child’s strategy game and elite infantry corps? Nothing! All preprogrammed collections, rushing off to kill and die with nary a care.
He stopped abruptly. He took off his shoes, and used his socks to wipe the faceplate of his gas mask. He stood up, thrashing his tail about angrily. “Give me a gun.” A Ramira soldier numbly gave his to a man who he held in clear disdain but a few minutes ago. “Give me five seconds more of covering fire. Stop for another five seconds. You may charge in, after that.”
Authority was one thing, but this was the voice of a leader in the literal sense; one who was always first into the fray. Behind him, Urisse tensed as a feeling of dread rose within.
After five volleys, Amra Lamar leapt up, clear three meters into the air. He grabbed the corridors’ edge where the wall curved up to become the ceiling, and pushed off with his feet. Up and down, left and right, in zero gravity these were useless concepts and in in half-grav; they were but guidelines. He saw bright green streaks passing harmlessly below him. Anuma raiders had been exceptional with these sort of maneuvers, ostracized by society and forced to live on its fringes… asteroid factories, mines, floating farms, and whatnot. He could understand their bitterness. And they taught him much about the the benefit of having…. a different perspective.
His first push was sufficient to sling him halfway across the corridor, losing height only slightly. This was the most dangerous part, he would have to kick off the wall to catapult himself the rest of the way. The angle would dip, bringing him within the firing zone. However, that meant they were also in HIS firing zone.
The tortured poundings of his heart echoed in his eardrums. No… I cannot die. I cannot. Not yet. I refuse to! I now have something to live for!
Wisdom dictated that the only way to gain a straight passage was through overwhelming firepower, as the defender would always have the advantage of environment. The same way with the hardened defenses of planetary garrisons. This was what both the keepers and the clans expected. It was a fatal complacency. He had repaid the unclanned who taught him this, with death. He closed his eyes in respect, even as he used the same method they slaughtered his men with.
A sense of Rightness spilled from him. Here. There. He fired in small, precise bursts. Leap to the side. Shoot. Again. Forgive me. In his mind’s eye he could see worthy lives being snuffed out. How would history change if they lived? he asked fate itself. What right do I have to decide all of this? Why did you choose me?!
A final strangled gasp, and then there was only silence. Amra Lamar slid to the floor, and blinked in confusion. Wasn’t there supposed to be one more? Twelve lay dead in front of him, but he fired only eleven shots.
Urisse lowered his own rifle. The others had followed almost immidiately. “So, this is again.. the Butcher Lamar.” he said softly.
Even in clanhome, there filtered down the rumors of a commander supposed to be unkillable. His own superior officers wanted him to fail in reparation for how he damaged the Clan. Those serving under him saw it as suicide duty. But through it all, he seemed to be in always the right place at the right time, the bloodstained mur-rami.
The ancient texts of the Ramir held certain legends of such cursedly unkillable people, and their short, unhappy lives often ended by themselves or threachery. The Ramira had saved him from himself, given him a new leash on life. The peacemaking discipline of a coordinator should have destroyed the desperate rage of a solitary warrior. In kithome, secure from whatever punitives the clans might attempt; he would have peace of mind for his family, his only grip on sanity.
His thin smile held pity, his eyes awe. Amra Lamar accepted it, feeling only the hollowness of defeat in the midst of ‘victory’.
15. Forces Arrayed
The room was large, dark, and dominated by a massive holoprojector. Kitara Prime’s defense perimeter was displayed upon the swirling globe of gas. Thousands of static sensor bases and patrolling Voices kept up a steady image of the enemy’s approach, at a mere six second’s delay.
“They are reaching the outer mine belts.” reported in Defense Point 044. “The Liiya are sending forth fighters to clear the field.” There was a chuckle. “Perhaps in some years, they will get through.”
A mine, though incapable of being commanded, was supreme in its region of space. All it need was a way to track enemies and a single engine cluster so that it could meet up with them – everything else was simple, undiluted malevolence. That region of space grew to fill the view. The mine belt was shown as a web between the jump point and further into the tenth’s planet’s orbital domain. The clans had timed it well – Sansunni and its garrison was well out of reach. Regardless, the purpose of a minefield is not to destroy incoming ships, but to divert approach. They protected bases built along the gravitic corridors as planets moved around the system, areas where inertial damping operated at maximum equilibrium with the system’s mass curvature, and thus possibly increased battle speed.
Nearly sixty million nyars long and two hundred thousand wide, the higher belt had its own stable orbit around the sun. Its mines were spaced one hundred thousand nyars apart, that they won’t explode in series when one is shot at. An Iriya squadron began standard mine-clearing operations (the main guns of warships were too inaccurate at distance beyond a mine’s detect-and-burn radius). They were small enough that mines ignored their presence, even if they were to bump onto them directly the mines shouldn’t detonate. After all, it would be pointless to waste a mine on a fighter; they were designed to flash-burn and detonate particle throwers towards the signature of ship drives.
The outermost mines exploded under their opening barrage, scattering gamma-ray bursts all around. Gone immediately were all eighteen spacefighters.
Mim Ginnar smiled nastily as the Liyo Fleet did an abrupt turn, making their inbound curve even deeper. By itself the act was wasting time, but their projected path would bring them closer to several defense points. Already ships were departing from these moonlets, their weapon mounts open to give a very warm greeting. “The Liyo Combat manual assumes that light skirmiships, cannot ever compete against heavy skirmiships. Fast as these might be, fighter-bombers are faster still. They break too easily.”
“Then we give command of the upper-level defenses to you, Ginnara. They are your people, after all.” spoke the Elder to her right.
“My thanks. Commanders, hear me. Hold fighters in a defensive screen, and perform ship to ship combat. Detatch all Byennu squadrons, and punch through with short-range missile barrage upon their fringes.” The Liyo fleet should have light skirmiships and fighters in a forward formation. Knowing full well they had numerical superiority, they expected to englobe the defenders. The Ramira were willing to let them, and eat away their formation from the inside. They really should not have concentrated their point defense assets in one spot.
The massive chamber-doors opened, making everyone inside wince at the sudden change in illumination. Into the room two Ramira guards brought Selar. The boy looked dazed, but unharmed. He flicked his nervous gaze all across the room, and yelped as he recognized several faces.
His mother was there, sitting stonefaced and crosslegged on the floor. Ibhaya allowed herself to be abducted without any resistance. By the blood on Uni’s lip, she resisted. She was switching between glaring at her captors and looking worriedly at her bother. Kurrona Lamar was beaten into submission, and had yet to wake. Amra Irumar was there too, and Anyi. Both looked glad to see him, but lost that expression quickly. Just one more hostage…
All of them were in some way important to Amra Lamar. As the keepers shoved him into a chair and placed a gun near his head, he wondered at what his father would do. He shivered again. That feeling of dread still hung over everything. Below the projector, opposite them sat the Mim-ming, on their half-moon of a table. There were six, out of normally ten. He gasped.
Seated with them, now white-haired.. but still unmistakable… was Lakuna Nunas Ginnara. Kire Sujanni’s grandmother, former Queen of Liyo, under whose rule clan Liyo all but dominated the clansmeet. She ruled for fifty years, the maximum allowed for an elected queen. She chose, in defiance of tradition, someone of a different house as successor – an Amra, come to think of it. The nobles selected someone different and more controllable, as the house of lords may overrule a Queen’s decision with an eighty percent majority vote. Such has politics always been in Liyo; an eternal fight to reach the top, and to ensure that what you’ve done won’t be destroyed once your time has past. After decades of intrigue and half-truths, the exile to kithome was a welcome rest.
How was she to know they would work her even harder once she arrived? That the previous ninety years of her life were but a preamble to this, her final duty. Here her true life begins, they told her.
It was refreshing. Respect for elders was often polite indifference, only in kithome and among the Ramir did she find a society that views itself as bound inexorably from ancient times. She could have put power aside, and lived out the rest of her life in peace, but their needs were clear. The more she tried to convince them of the Clanned worth, the more she realized how different their two cultures were. What she had all her life thought was a closed, stagnant society was instead as honest and accepting as could be. She realized it was all calculated to beat those of the Clanning, but soon that no longer even mattered. She was the fruit of several thousand years of genetic and cultural development. There was still something missing. Only in orbit around Kitara did she feel truly complete.
Selective breeding, and a society all too willing to ostracize whoever defies common values, had slowly eroded the genetic base. The Liyo cannot help but to try and shift situations to their advantage. Their very body chemistry was geared for it. The quick and unsparing of mind and tongue rose to power and passed their genetic legacy to the next generation of leaders. The unwanted drifted off to other clans, like attracts like, there to strengthen their own social animal. Only in the company of the Keepers of Kithome was this perceivable, they had a purity long lost among the clans. Their own breeding plan was to draw upon the primeval power of the root-stock kitaran strain of their ancestors, and with this brutal honesty prevail over all.
Sorru Kali proved this. The Fantyrani trait of an officer’s charismatic boldness was amplified several times by the raw focus of the Tabbana. The former was useful only in battle(it was taken for granted that the more effective Fantyrani is in battle, the more easily he could convince others to follow him even to the depths of hell itself; the more inept was he in peaceful endeavors), the latter was a powerful concentration shunning the outside world (and a Tabbana’s ability to stick to a problem until is solved, is simply legendary – neither food, nor sleep, nor marauding armies can dislodge him from his path). Their own limited cultures had a tendency to cull individuals who exhibited personalities harmful to the clan’s mentality. What remained were those naturally predisposed to orders, and ignoring emotional distractions. When these traits were subordinated to a greater purpose, such as the dawn of peace for the Kitaran race, the Ramira recognized she was a force all her own.
If this was the result of combining two directly contrasting strains, imagine if all the Clanned were combined? The analytical powers of the Jiraga, the decisive independence of the Tiraga, the adaptability of the Solaris, the Liyo ability to wave and discern falsehoods… the supreme destiny of the Kitaran race seemed to lie within, not without. Was this also foreseen by the exalted founders of Clanhood? Isolation would not merely reinforce their political philosophies, but their very essences? Taking clanhome by suhmirao would then have a greater symbolic meaning. Unifying the clans was meant LITERALLY. Once the need to destroy each other was removed, then these wandering sons and daughters brought back, their potent new blood mixed with each other… the endtime Kitaran would be something glorious indeed.
Ramir science lagged behind the clanned in all but one field. In the biological sciences they were still umatched. They had a perfectly controlled society, in which every member was part of a greater experiment. Ginnara arrived, feeling old and useless, rejected by her own people. She was now one hundred and thirty eight, and they tell her she could live until one hundred and fifty.
Everything for the glorious conclusion of the Kitaran suhmirao! The Ramira stoodnd to prevent the immaturity of the clans from dooming the future. The projector showed the 302nd Assault Wing had met the frontal fightercraft screen of the Liyo Allied Fleet. Both sides now fought furiously, trying to force an opening and bring their heavy bombers into the fray. The Elders looked on impassively.
Beyond the door, all heard muffled sounds of gunfire. Then silence. The door slid open, and Amra Lamar stepped in.
Mim Ginnar smiled again. Amra Lamar fled TO kithome, though reluctantly, instead of the many other clans happy to accept his knowledge on the Liyo secret workings. That implied both loyalty to his clan, and simultaneously a disgust for it. She heartily approved this man, who would have married her grand-daughter.
A pity it was never meant to be. The coordinator took in the situation, and glared hatefully at the Mim-ming. Snubrifles loaded with hollow-point ammunition were held to the heads of those he cared for. Not waiting for the command, he threw away his own rifle, and motioned for the others to step back. Urisse hesitantly copied his motions, and walked in behind him. The door slid shut again.
“A clumsy tool, is violence.” Amra Lamar repeated this old Tamaran proverb in his head. “Violence is the first refuge of the weak in mind, weak in heart, weak in will. The truly strong accomplishes more without its false allure.”
“Leave them be.” said he. “Or die.”
“Myaun rii to you too, Lamar.” Mim Ginnar replied with genuine amusement. “It is unfortunate, but even our death changes nothing. Surely you must know this.” She steepled her hands under her chin, in a gesture almost coy. “The Ramir remembers. This is our purpose.” She indicated the others beside her. “We remember the truths that the clans fear. And I, I remember thirty years ago, a man that should be at the height of his own achievents, walking sallow-eyed, all but dead.”
Amra Lamar stood unresponsive, with his head bowed, his fists shaking, his teeth fixed into a snarl. “Kill me or leave me be.” he repeated what he’d said all those years ago. “There is no help for you here.”
“You cannot die, Lamar. You cannot even kill yourself. You have no way of knowing when your purpose will be fulfilled. It is difficult to defy fate if you try to ignore what it says to you.” Mim Ginnar considered Ibhaya. “How long did take you to overcome this wall? Sometimes it is necessary for what is right in itself to be forced upon someone else. The mind is all too clever at hiding from what the heart shouts out.”
The woman nodded, showing the barest minimum of respect. The former Queen liked that. She had steel within her, enough to master the writhing monsters inside Amra Lamar. She also spared Uni a glance, who just had her first true glance of her romantic rival. The girl was too deep in her animosity to stop and recognize just how overmatched she was.
She continued. “This peaceful life you live. Did you think it carries no price? Too many have died by your hands, Lamar. Did you think penance could ever be sufficient?”
She found him way off in the outer worlds, in a tin hut facing the ocean. He was just waiting for his time to run out. Away from any vital decision, the inner voice remained silent. There still remained the nagging doubt that he had something important left to do, but he hoped it was THAT, the single instance in his life that he would be wrong; and fatally so. Mim Ginnar was not so crude as to directly order him to kithome. She told him to find the path towards redemption.
The Elder farthest to the left stood up. He still was battle-fit for his years. “Did you see, as you wandered the silent seas above? The arrogance, the simple bigotry of my people? I was Fantyrani Russen Sala Riccora, War Master for the Brotherhood of the Fantyani Reaches. Before, you fought against my people and grew to respect their skill. Did you see the price others pay for their prowess? The broken lives? The disdain for what others valued in peace? You were repulsed, and so you left. For you found much in common with yourself.”
The Elder next to him also rose. He was shrunken and bony, but his eyes held such contemptuous energy. He stood, as a person of sheer defiance. “As a Royal Officer you fought the Fantyra on principle. Us, you fought with the very song of your blood, your eternal enemies. We offered no solutions, you said before you strayed into our homes. We were content to let the Fantyra be callous as they are, the Jiragans up to whatever deviltry they wished, or the anuma to prey upon civilized society. We are a chaotic people, and in chaos we prosper. So. For a time you were one of my people. Have you laughed with them? Danced with them? Made fun of the backwardness of other clans? Seen how their politics consisted of pitting one clan against another? I was Solaris Jarin Amunre, Minister of State for the Republic of the Solarisa Stars, and like you I saw all the things done in the name of freedom.” He ignored the Kurronas entirely.
“Did you loathe fighting, Lamar?” gently spoke the next. She was short of stature, so unthreatening, and something within them all ached to protect her. But the bare wrists hinted at wiry strength. “Did you come to us, thinking we could give you rest? I was Tabbana Graie Issuya, First Speaker of Tabbana Industrial String Republics, and I apologize. We could not protect you from your own demons. Custom itself protects us, and nothing else The happiness of our people are always subordinate to the desires of others. Have you seen the serenity in their eyes, the lack of ambition? Have you heard their talk, so devoid of the future? Others praise our generosity and work ethic. We make unsurpassed tools of war, because we are afraid. Not of death, but of being unnecessary. We are selfish in our own way.”
The one to the right of Mim Ginnar also spoke his mind. His bionic eyes flared briefly, bathing the pallor of his skin a sickly red. There was a soothing calmness to his voice. “There is no acceptance in the Fantyra, or resolution in the Solarissa, or succor in the Tabbana. What then, did you expect to find with the Jiraga? I was once Jiraga Shanna-miro Bann Karrao, a Prime Originator in the Foundations of Jiraga. It is obvious what happened, you found yourself beyond your depths. Have you heard their arguments? Have you seen how desperate they are to find recognition? What use is mechanical progress if it does not bring about positive societal change? By their works thou shalt know them, and what they failed to do. Knowledge and wisdom are two separate things, Lamar.”
“The Tiraga only barely tolerated you.” The next stood slowly, his shadowy build thick and powerful, his beard full and a flaming red. “You are a Royalist. You stand for everything we have fought for centuries. Even if you fought for us, you will never become one of us. I was Tiraga Numari Esun Sabbir, a Fellowman of the Citizen’s Gathering of the Tiraga. Have you found harmony in their family togetherness, or an inborn dogma? Was it finally equality or a systematic repression of the individual? You had in your Royal duty laid siege to our worlds, and many of our people chose to become anuma in retaliation… forcing you to destroy them as well. Do you blame yourself for this, or the society that raised them?”
“So at last, you return to Liyo, but only when you heard the Queen was wed. Her husband could only be all too generous to you, lest he risk appearing a jealous fool. You refused all offers.” The former Queen smiled with her ears flattened, to convey irony. The half-smile, the careful control over her still majestic expressions, all were unchanged as if she was still exchanging subtle insults with all the other nobles. “What else was there to do? The ambitions, the power struggles, all seemed so pointless. I was Lakuna Nunas Ginnara, Queen of the (my) Her Majesty’s Boundaries of Liyo. I need not ask you to say if the foibles of our people is the same as I remember. I am sure they are. You are proof of that.
In the end you were conquered by someone utterly opposite from my granddaughter. I was already here in kithome, but I heard of how she wore down your defenses. By being utterly nice, slowly, systematically, ruthlessly taking apart every mask you put on, and unconcerned of how even speaking to you could make her a pariah. For a time, you were happy again. And yet in the end too, you left her. To be precise, she kicked you out and kept your son. She knew well, what you needed to face.”
That last part was no longer said with any good humor. “You could have spent more years in futility, but Sujanni sent you here. Your wife, your son. At my behest. Only here can you finally belong. And STILL you run from yourself! Have you learned nothing?!”
“The clans are unworthy of Kitharanna.” said Mim Amunre, banging at the able with his cane.
“You could have a seat here with us, you only had to ask.” Mim Riccora put in. “But you choose to waste the moments of your life with petty arbitrations. Any peace achieved by compromise is oft a temporary one, only by proving the superiority of one side does the battlefield grow silent. Your refusal to shed blood again, is as much a betrayal of your victims as was your violent rampage against the established order. Such a waste of potential… the finest warmaster of his generation…” He shook his head sadly.
“And you are still Liyo, after all you have seen and done. Even I am amazed at the power of this residual loyalty to Sujanni.” spat the former Queen.
His reply was a whisper. “For her, I cannot die a soldier.”
“No more games, Lamar. You still have the Gift. Repay your debts. Or we shall take recompense from their hides.” What is right must be forced upon those who continue to deny it. In times of corruption, justice is sometimes disguised as madness.
Urisse had momentarily forgotten him, and the mystic importance others placed on the man’s insight; instead the loremaster was absorbed by the terrible sight above. “Blessed mother.. ” he said in a pinched voice. “It has… no… end!” Ships were still pouring through the jump point. The sensors estimate already well in excess of sixty thousand – at each exit point! The entirety of the the home fleet was only less than thirty thousand, and split into two.
16. A Forced Decision
Not even a man of colossal power can stop the inevitable. No one had that power.
What set the Kitarans apart from other races was not their willingness to die, for no people has a monopoly on martyrdom. It was to have an opinion, and a willingess to defend the rightness of said opinion past what should be suicidal recklessness. It was as if life was the abstraction, and deeds the dogma. This was a vast difference from how others treated their words. Other cultures varied in their freedoms of speech. Kitarans were constrainted by tradition, but for each their individual word IS their life.
To speak of it, to attack others who differ in belief, was simple. It was infinitely harder to continually test the idea that you, yourself may be wrong. Any child born to two parents of one clan was only half-clanned. He or she must on their own determine the purpose of their existence. To bind themselves to a false ideology was to waste their lives, and those of their ancestors that lived and died to produce them. The concept of death therefore, was not to die for one’s cause but in failing to live up to its obligations.
Everyone is accountable for what he does with his life. Everyone is connected, every one person is vital. Everyone lives through the Clan. This contemporary faith, this personal sense of responsibility, was unique to the Kitaran race. Selar had always thought it a comfort, to be with others who believe as he believes, who will never let him be any less than what he could be. All they asked is that he search his heart and find exactly, just what it is that makes him a Kitaran. Seeing his father hunched over, as if knifed, he realized that sometimes it could also seem like a trap. It was in extremes, either be of the ma-rina or reject them all, as anu-ma. The cultural median was of mediocrity, to say that he believes nothing, and would rather fade away rather than shine… at risk of being wrong.
Amra Lamar was in the unenviable position of being utterly rootless. However, the lack of belief in the greater Kitaran tenets, was also its own creed. Even this strange faith was enough to sustain him.
“It is as foreseen.” said Mim Sabbir. “The clans shall strike in all their power, in hurry and unfairness seeking to gain the eternal prize.” As cowards do. He felt personally abashed for the Tiraga with them. They placed themselves, and willingly – under the power of another!
Mim Karrao noticed Urisse, and his state of shock. “Ah, loremaster. Do you see now? It was always a necessity that the cannon should be fired. Rebuilding it surrepitiously was difficult, but we managed. That it escaped your notice is nothing to be ashamed of.”
That brought him out of his trance. “Whether is is necessary for our survival is besides the point. It is deceitful and dishonorable. What is the worth of our continued existence if we lose the trust the Kitaran race placed upon us? After the power of the clans are broken, who shall step in? History has shown us again and again, that any attempt to exploit the path of Clanhood is doomed to failure. We are strong, as long as we REMAIN apart from the clans. You think I don’t see? We all see! Even the clans know this! You desire to rule, to guide the race to its final form. The only difference from the Illena, is that you work at a greater scale. I am Ramira. And whosoever seeks to repeat the Illena -“
Only Mim Issuya didn’t laugh among the Elders.
“How naive.” replied Mim Ricorra. The former Fantyrani warmaster manipulated the overhead display to show the clan’s fleet deployment.
They were still stalled, so he shifted to a planet view. Below, on Kitara herself, the clans in the clanhearts they built, were already at each other’s throats. The only thing keeping the Ramira planetary garrisons from being overwhelmed was the innate need of a Tiragan soldier to shoot at a Jiragan, or a Liyo at a Solaris. The main body of the Keeper’s Ground-based Defense Forces however, was hiding its strength in preparation for the clanfleets’ true invasion.
“If Lamar suffers from seeing too much of what is here, you have too much concern for what do not exist. It is not the time for suhmirao. If the clans succeed at this, the uncontrolled expansion will dilute our Kitaran identity. Our three thousand years of Clanhood will all be wasted. This is real. This is immediate. This cannot be allowed.”
Mim Ginnara raised her hand, and pointed at Lamar as if blessing him. “Speak now, Lamar! Who shall fail? We shall triumph without anyone’s aid, but we give you this one favor. The power of one clan will be broken today. Who shall it be? Liyo? Or Solaris? After the suhmirao is beaten back, we shall moderate the clan’s activities with the other races. However, our duty is only to guard the fruits of Clanhood. What they attempt upon the galaxy at large is something we can never control. Here we decide the eventual face of the Kitaran race. Speak now. At whom should we aim the Issan Rai?”
“I might be wrong!” he shouted back. “Damnation on it all, I might be wrong! Do not ask this of me, this might be my time…”
“Of course, we know, you could be! Just who do you really think you are, Lamar? A god, or the inexorable hand of fate? You are just a man, stumbling in the darkness. This is why we trust you, someone as mortal and fallible as the rest of us. The only difference is that we are all biased in some way, you are not. Your voice might as well be the voice of the entire Kitaran race.”
Her words seemed to come from so very far away. “To decide.” he breathed. “Never else has such a simple thing… been utterly not.”
Meekness comes easily to a Tabbana. They were of worked iron, honest and unadorned. Mim Issuya placed both her hands on the table, and touched her forehead to these in a deep bow. “Forgive us, Lamar. We brought them here to help you decide. Please, do decide. Give us this one last service. Do this, and whatever you desire is yours. Even to be left alone.” Unspoken was the ‘or else’. It was their way, to pretend they had no leverage at all. Even Lamar almost forgot that she was well-capable of mowing down enemies by the auto-weapon clipful. She flicked an ear, and the guards immediately stepped away from their captives. “I beg of you. Tell us what needs to be done.”
These were the Mim-ming. Literally, true-soul; the very personification of their clan’s strengths. Amra Lamar looked up, and in those six weak frames saw more raw power and determination than even his furthest imaginations. He grit his teeth, and prepared to match his own stubborn will to theirs.
Selar should have felt relieved, at having the guns pointed somewhere other than his skull, but his unease only grew. The past was something his parents didn’t seek to inform him, and he felt no need to know. This lack of motivation was the source of despair for his teachers. However if he has no view of his future, at least he had a perceptiveness born of being concerned only with the present. To sit, and observe; never mind if it appears as simple laziness. “I knew father was a Royal Officer.” That was easily known, with a search of the Liyo registries. “But… I never even thought he was almost Unclanned.”
It was a repulsive thought. How things might have changed, even he wouldn’t have existed, if Amra Lamar had given vent to the blind rages boiling within him. The mere thought of himself, being… not him, of another clan, or of no clan at all… the boy couldn’t even concieve of a different existence.
The feeling spiked when he saw Amra Irumar hug his daughter, and tightly, as if in farewell. The Royal Officer stood up, and stepped forward. He straightened his lapels and said, “I stood upon the valley of the Queens, and watched the sun rise above the peaks. The shadows of large stone columns marched across the mountainside, illuminating the carvings our people painstakingly transplanted from Kitara. We stood there, Lamar. You, and I, and Suji. We watched the shadows of empire darken the history of our people.
In ancient times, there was no Liyo. There was the Lian-na-nuja, the Sun’s Own Glory. It was a time of kings, of empires, or grand ambitions… The more powerful the Liyanna grew, the greater their greed. They made war upon the world, and sailing eastwards into the great continent of Sulass, they met what would be our hereditary enemies, the Solarissa. And they would be defeated. From the shards of broken arrogance arose Nunas Ilyana Praid, war bride of the King Nunas Giren Sur the Last, and our first Queen. From then on our people became dedicated to the pursuit of justice, the defeat of tyranny, and a rejection of the wastes of war.” He closed his eyes, as if feeling bitter cold winds again. Liiya was a world chosen well, resembling the continental attributes of Illen-ya almost perfectly.
“And learned their lessons well, did the Golden Horde.” Mim Ricorra put in. “It was the might of the great continent that defeated the raiding Liyan. Valor, they had in abundance. But the Solaris had ships by the thousands, and gold to field vast armies. Is that not why the Liyo are wealthiest of all clans, now? Pirates you once were, and now it is pirates you detest.”
The Illen-ya were a grim mountain people, seeking minimal contact with the clans of the great continent, when not engaged in seasonal conquest. The Liyo are cultured, sailing the sea of stars with their grand merchant fleets, in war seeking a quick resolution with the minimum of fuss.
Amra Irumar sneered. “What is it, that makes you loathe your own kind so much, Lamar? A refined monarchy is the direct antithesis of totalitarianism, NOT unbridled freedom! In just another guise, it is might makes right, the aimless blunt power of the mob. A wise queen enlightens all of her nation, an incompetent one at least limits the appetites of the bureaucrats. A strong one makes us seek new heights of national achievement, and even a weak one provokes discourse – and a bad one is quickly overthrown by someone more capable.
Is this such an evil thing to convey into the galaxy? Our power is dispersed to those that are worthy of using it, not tied up in endless ceremonies or in the hands of corrupt rabble-rousers! Only the Queen may wage war. And her entire existence is for the prevention of it! Sujanni deems this a detestable but NECESSARY ACT. Lamar!
Did you love her because she was stupid?!”
At that, Amra Lamar’s head jerked up. There was a fire there, that hadn’t been seen in thirty years. Amra Irumar continued heedlessly, his own fury could not be denied. “This is not a discussion, this is an ultimatum! We WILL crush the weakness the Solaris will breed into our race, we WILL win through into kithome, and WE SHALL see you WRONG!” He heaved air back into his lungs, and sniffed haughtily at the Mim-ming. “I believe you overestimate the power of this weapon. Knowing of it will not halt our fleets. Instead, we shall send them, one after the other. We will never stop. We are the custodians of our own destiny! Without Tabb-i support, our victory against you is a foregone conclusion.”
“You will be destroyed.” said his brother. “So much.. death… I cannot bear it.”
“WE DECIDE! US! ALONE! It should be left all to us! This is the sacred trust of all fighting men and women..” He dropped to his knees. “You are my brother, not my father. Our parents are dead, Lamar. And we ourselves are growing old… a generation stands ready to replace us. I have a daughter. I want her future to be full of possibilities. I want her to be part of something strong, secure, and aware of its own limits. If we allow the Ramira to continue with their control, we will remain here, while the galaxy beyond passes us by. If we hand over control to the Solaris, we shall lose ourselves in the company of greater powers. I ask you this, not as your brother, not as your duty to clan Liyo; I ask you this in the name of my daughter, your son, and all the yet unborn. I beg you, Lamar. Give the the freedom to choose their own destiny!”
Amra Lamar looked away, away from the shaking shoulders and the forehead pressed to the floor.
“Freedom?! Freedom!” Kurrona Uni stood up, shock and disbelief on her face. “You and your castes, and your roaming fleets, and your thousand little pressures, what do you know of freedom? Do you realize the risks you impose upon all our people?” She took one step towards the center of the room, and reconsidered. She bent down and dabbed at the blood on her own brother. Her next words were gentle, but nonetheless conveyed full loathing. “And you, my lord Amra. What am I to you? Just something to slide your thing into? How could you… how could you let all this continue, coward! How could I have let myself hope that you could finally let go. How dared I even hope, I could cross the old prejudices… “
Amra Lamar reacted as if stung. “Uni.. if .. if that is what you believe…” He clutched at his heart. It is her right. Never did I do anything to imply the contrary.
“…then you are fool.” Ibhaya finished. Both turned to her, confused. “I left the fool, and fool he still is, but you are even greater if you cannot see his love.” Lamar’s previous wife nodded with a smile. “Do you expect me to be jealous? Oh, you two – so different, but so similar. You live in worlds of your own making, and punish yourselves when no others will.” She was a realist, even if her work dealt mainly with the unseen and the intangible. “He is yours, if you want him; but speak to him as a proud Solaris and not an injured woman.” She smiled again. “It is the duty of men to strive for for their goals, it is ours to remind them of their absurdities.”
Uni felt a rush of gratitude for the older woman, never having pictured their first meeting as thus. She’d often wondered how a mere mathematician could capture Amra Lamar’s eye. Compared to her or to Queen Sujanni, Ibhaya was quite plain-looking. But there was a sense of purposeful assurance to the woman, a trait quite… wifely. She mouthed a silent ‘thank you’.
“Lor…” She stopped. She took a deep breath, and tried to connect past his sunken spirit. “Lamar. There is an oath by which I was sworn into the Solaris Starfleet. I, Solaris Nessar-miro Kurrona Uni, dedicate myself this day, to the freedoms and the decency of all peoples, wherever they might be.” She closed her eyes and got a wistful expression. “The sword swung in my name shall be swung for all the peoples of our heart. The ships flown in my name shall strike for the powerless who cry for justice. My hand will bring relief to those that have none, peace to those who never knew it, protection to those that find no shelter, acceptance to the refused, and hope to those that are lost. For everyone is endowed at birth with certain rights, sacred and uncompromising; among them the right to live, to love, to have free choice, and to seek their happiness. To be a Kitaran is to stand unshamed in one’s own existence.”
Mim Amu spoke with little tolerance to the child of his old faith. “Never have anyone said such values were wrong. It is simply ill-applied. The oath is fine, the methods are insufficient. Do not let yourself be lured into thinking we are aways perfectly altruistic in our actions.”
“We have made mistakes, but -“
“Never! It was all deliberate. It is a mistake, only when the intended effect is not reached. All decisions by any decent government are always intentional; otherwise these would not be decisions but mere lottery results, and society itself is ineffectual. When the politicians bungle beyond an ability to explain away, it is an ‘unfortunate’ error. When they succeed, it is the ‘triumph of freedom’.”
Such clear self-revulsion. Uni was unprepared for such a degree of hate from someone who was so highly-regarded as a vanguard of democracy. What magics had the Ramir worked on his mind? Her reason, because it is it a necessary good, looked insufficient to pit against someone well-versed in the defenses of her beliefs. She could only sit, bewildered, while seconds ticked by.
Weakly a hand reached up, to touch the bottom of her chin.
“..the actions… of the few.. do not negate… the integrity of the many… evil exists, corruption rises, it is a fight our ancestors fought, and we fight them still. we are engaged in the same futile efforts… it means the conflict is far from being lost.” Kurrona Lamar coughed up blood. With his stained teeth, he grinned. “no matter when, no matter where, it has always been so. comfort, pride, and injustice. better still… it is… to live uncelebrated.. in virtue, than to… pleasure… just an act.. of virtue.”
Kurrona Lamar lay back and felt his ribs grate together. He wheezed his next words. “… the power of the solaris.. is not.. measured in soldiers… in materiel.. in territory.. gnhhin economic figures.. sister. It is measured in the common ethic… people like you, uni, are what makes the solaris. not.. the politicians… or the songwriters.. or the historians…………… the fight is eternal… it cannot be lost… but our enemies can make us feel defeated.”
He coughed fitfully again. “lord amra… all are born equal, we do not need… to kill.. others who have never harmed us… to prove this. it is something that the heart knows, not… hak.. something that can be brought by force. Ever since.. since… the nations of solace united under one clan to fight the… menace from the south… we have always known that for evil to triumph, all that is necessary… is for the good… to do nothing. ” He closed his eyes. “freedom… also includes accepting the consequences.. of one’s own actions. uni.. worry not. He will do.. what is right. let me sleep.”
The hand dropped. Until the very end, he would not lose hope in the good future.
“Ah, youth.” Mim Amunre scoffed. Amra Lamar snarled in outright hostility, at that. It seemed to suprise the Elder. Lamar himself had abandoned such foolish optimism long ago. Such bravado, even if admirable in its own way, should not move those who embraced the hard realities.
“He needs a doctor!” Uni shouted.
Urisse approached her, but halted halfway as the guards pointed their weapons at him. “I am also a physician. Let me help.”
A nod from Mim Ginnar lowered those guns. Hurriedly, the loremaster checked the coordinator’s vital signs. Normally, a Ramira should be able to incapacitate an enemy without truly harming them. The martial arts knew certain locations that brought extreme pain without lasting damage. None of these were used; it was a simple and brutal thug beating. He scowled, but couldn’t direct it at the guards; he had no way of knowing if they were responsible or just honor guards for the Elders.
“There might be internal bleeding, but he appears to be stable. Your brother is in no danger, but what could he have done to deserve this?” He refused to believe any Keeper would do this of sheer malice. They should already be beyond all such petty emotions. They should be skillful enough to avoid such pain centers, only by intent was it possible.
One of the elite guards placed his hand where he should not. I slapped him, he slapped back… his fist was armor-plated. Lami always keeps a minute pistol in his sleeves. He pulled it out and told them that if they could not conduct themselves as warriors, they could try to behave as gentlemen. A man of honor treats his captive as he would his neighbor. To prove a point, he dropped his gun. And to prove their point – this.” She indicated the split lip, the bleeding scalp, purpled eyes, bruisings on the chest and abdomen, and an arm only recently pushed back into its socket.
“No.. no no no no.. this cannot be.” He held up his hands under her severe glare. “I believe you. But that some of my people would be so brazen as to think they could get away with this barbarism… the Myu-ramil are under the direct command of the Mim-ming.” A sigh. “In times of war the law falls silent.”
He turned to Amra Lamar, his face set in a mask of outrage. “I suppose it is my turn? Then listen well, Lamar. The choices are, to fire the cannon at the Liyo, and potentially expose ourselves to outside invasion. It need not be direct, it might be a slow erosion of our values or our markets… but it ends with our utter dependence on outsiders. Fire the cannon at the Solaris, and we risk plunging ourselves into a conflict we may never recover from. Even well-made plans are subject to the vagaries of what can never be anticipated. There is also a third choice. Do NOT fire the cannon. And savor the risk of leaving ourselves to the mercies of those coming to destroy this abomination.”
There was no response from the Elder’s table.
“You think me mad?!” he shouted at them. “A worthless death just to spite you all? You who sit there, the exemplifications of the people’s highest ideals. Such tripe! Decrepit old husks! Swallowed up in the myth of their own superiority!”
“You forget yourself, loremaster…” Mim Ricorra warned, the guards tensing at the flick of his ear.
“I forget nothing! I remember that our duty, in resistance to the clans, is for benefit of the clans. So is it written in the annals of the Ramira ‘Hold no rancor, hold no grudge, keep thine heart pure and thine purpose shining’. Your duty, in seeking retribution against the clans you left, is but a stepping-stone to a greater task. We are the Ramir. We are keepers of kithome, and all its memory. We keep its traditions. We keep its hopes. We keep fresh the penance our entire race must pay.”
He lifted both his arms upwards as if in prayer. He squinted, so that in his vision the boiling battle appeared to dance above his palm.
“Perfection is not perfection without change. Life is not life without death. Likewise our purpose is not our purpose without the possibility of failure.” He whirled around. “Su. Mim. Rao. Literally, the ‘Tool of Growth’. Victory without its corresponding value is useless, and therefore far more preferable is deafeat. When our ancestors chose to remain in our spent homestar, they did so not to pave the future but to safeguard the past. Fire this abomination, and it matters not who sits in those chairs or who flies into battle, or who dies in disgrace… we are all equally doomed, we are all equally unworthy. Lamar, hear me well. More of the same is death all the same.”
“I believe behind the loremaster’s elocution is simply thus: if we miss, the clans will massacre us.” Mim Amunre said with a laugh.
“So we must not fail.” Mim Ricorra added. “You underestimate the power of our fighting men, loremaster. Only one who has never faced battle can speak so easily of ethics, or inherited duty. The spirit finds expression through the body.”
Urisse merely bowed. “I have said my peace.”
There was another long silence. Furious did the battle go, as mobile defense points were driven to intercept fleet bearings. These were half-spheroid structures meant to service a full wing of skirmiships and their attendant spacefighter groups. The side facing the enemy was almost two kilometers in diameter and made of compacted asteroid material, meant to dissapate the heat and fury of coil plasma as its rocky layers evaporate under them. Although their battlefield mobility was negligible outside of an intercept burn, they were also useful with its hundreds of missile launchpoints. Capital ship killers surged forth. There were close to three hundred of these sprinkled across kithome space. Every one blinking out of existence in the tactical map represented the demise of one hundred and ten thousand men and women of the Ramir.
Turbulent more was Amra Lamar’s uncertanity. If gods there are, help me. Let this task pass from me, find someone else! What have I done to deserve it all? Who NEEDS to be condemned with me? He turned to his wife, in the space of a few minutes appearing to have aged decades.
“Well, Ibha? You might as well say something.”
She shook her head. “I trust you, Lamar. Just do what you have to do.” Her face softened. “Just know this… even when you had to go, I never stopped loving you…”
“And I, you.” he replied. “You understood far more than I ever will.” he added, with a slight chuckle. If not gaining strength, at least his sinking despair had stopped.. He smiled at Uni. Happines is not far, he gestured.
All saw Amra Selar step forward, all wondered why. Even the boy asked himself what he thought he was doing. It is the provice of adults to pretend as if they hold all the answers, this was his belief. A child is someone not afraid to ask. He looked around, he did not understand, but he knew what he wanted from this. He wanted warm days, his mother to smile again, his father to be whole, and even Uni.. he affirmed he would never think of her as a mother, but as an older sister or aunt, if he had to. He wanted his uncle and Anyi around, he wanted to learn from the Ramira. He wanted to be all that the Kitaran liked in itself. It sounded all selfish, but he didn’t care.
The words came easily to his lips, as if someone was whispering them directly to his ear. “You talk of what our people deserve. But what of the others we affect? What do the other races deserve from US?”
Mim Ginnar sniffed dismissively. “What a question! Something only a child would ask.”
The boy burned with embarrassment, he shrank back into the shadows. Well, that was pointless. Stupid, stupid Selar! I should have just stayed here and thought myself invisible.
Mim Issuya looked worried. “What is the answer, though? They of course deserve what they deserve, but what about the benefit of the doubt?” She made a little bow of acknowledgement towards him. A deceptively simple question long left unasked.
Mim Ricorra shook his head gravely. “No. The most anyone deserves is what one’s worth.” To prove it, all must first be placed under test.
Amra Lamar heard nothing more. He looked up, at the battle. He looked to his son, and when their eyes met, he tried to convey that for once.. he was proud. He looked at Ibha, then Uni, then his brother, and his brother’s daughter. He looked at Urisse and his fear. He looked at the Mim-ming and their arrogant assurance. He raised his gaze again, at the flowing patterns of massed fleet movements.
And then, suddenly – such certainty, such a delight all mixed with regret, so intense it was painful – he Knew.
17. The Issan Rai Screams
It was a wonder to rob you of your eyesight.
The Kitaran mathematicians had proven, mathematically, that cosmic strings should exist. These were leftover objects from the big bang, strings of energy formed of proto-matter and exhibiting quantum properties in normalspace, natural occurences of medianspace bounding. They could never simply prove it since they had no way of reaching the edges of the galaxy and sift through dark matter. They could however, generate one.
So was born the Issan Rai Kemmi. Originally it was an attempt to create a stable, open medianspace location within a star’s gravity well. A closed loop of superstring should create a region of subspace free from the distortions of gravity. Later jump node research, driven by Taenarians, would accomplish subspace gates to an astonishing degree. The ancient scientists merely ended up with singularity generator.
Artificially-made superstrings needed constant maintenance, sheer physical laws say it could not exist. Outside of the Issan Rai, superstrings softly vanish. But within that research, quite accidentally, the Kitarans mastered gravitons and anti-gravitons. The stretched singularity, this ‘blackstring’ is bound by its own graviton emission – the power of the beast is used to contain the beast. The entire station shook, as plasma injection begun, and the caged beast roared as it fed. The more it fed, the tighter did its chains grow taut. The Tamarans looked away as their tradeship became one with the cosmos. Even the observation cameras couldn’t handle so much energy being released in all spectrums, and blacked out. Sun-stuff became infinitely compressed, and then clad in skin just waiting to burst. Only in the brief flashes as they were layered into the coil, could they get a glimpse of how much anger lay safely in the accretion bowl. The Issan Rai’s wail spun, swirled, in a multitude of colors ranging from blood red at the outside and a peaceful blue close to the center. Watching it was like watching someone dancing in religious ecstasy.
Dsala Porema thought of his ship, and the life, and the laughter, and the pains, and the dreams, it had once contained within its hull. He wondered how much of the intangible would have survived to temper the madness beyond the bulkheads. He sat down crosslegged, and recited a small spacer’s chant. ‘Lumpopo unta muleritre ahha dolos lumtata.’ To the ends of time, even shall we strive.
His crew answered, ‘Miranda, iko anatholi mata imma tutos hinasa.‘ Let no man say, that I have not tried to see without judging.
The guards allowed them that final respect to their own beliefs.
“Two false stellar masses generated, injected, contained. Critical point has been reached.” announced the great cannon’s firing officer, somewhere far above. “We await your command.”
He waited patiently. He could afford to wait for several hours, his father had waited his whole life, and his father before him… all through the generations back three thousand years, preparing for this singular moment.
Eventually, a sad voice from deep within the Issan Rai. It was Mim Issu.
“It shall be.” he replied. Massive fusion thrusters long unused came to life with the push of a button, and the station pivoted on its axis. Dsala Porema could only watch in horror, and fascination, as the doomsday clock began to tick for the galaxy. Gravitic controllers strained in their doubly duty of containing the unstable amalgam within, and keeping its living contents from becoming mere smears upon the floor.
The tube flared once more as the final gravity shell was applied. The chaotic energies immediately began to take its distinctive conical shape as its own paradoxical existence of simultaneous graviton collection/generation began. Subspace and normalspace leaked and melted into each other.
Everyone felt a crushing weight, as gravitic controllers overcompensated, as the weapon fired. For a moment, night on Kitara became as noon.
The Issan Rai’s reality-shattering wail was utterly silent.
There is no sound in space.
No more songs.
Everyone’s sick of hearing them.
18. A Choice Delivered
Selar wobbled back unto his feet. Time was relative, a function of perception. He knew that. In times of crisis, a few seconds could be expanded into a floating moment that feels to last forever. But he had seen it like a series of still frames, certain images burned into his mind and the moments in between lost; to time…
His father pointed upwards to something beyond the battle. Then he lowered his arm to point at Mim Ginnar. Slowly he walked towards her, centering it between her eyes. He made a slight nod, and dropped his arm. It seemed as if all energy was sucked dry from within him.
“The choice is made.” the former queen intoned. “Our day of judgement upon kit-kind is here at last.”
“Yes.” he hoarsely agreed.
In massed fleet movements, there were only three formations used – the wedge, the cube, the sphere. All other formations had fatal inefficiencies. The Wedge was simple, straightforward, an undisguised attempt to force a weakness where there was none. The Cube was a moving defense, by spreading out your ships attain maximum and overlapping coverage for your guns. It perfectly combined the three doctrines of attack- initiative, mobility, and accuracy; and the three weapons of attack- fighter, gun, and missile. The Sphere has always been thought the most balanced, able to melt into the previous two at a moment’s notice. It held back the bulk of an attacking fleet by which it could wear away a cube by sheer attrition, and through englobement blunt an attacking wedge. It was also, the most difficult to pull of, demanding utmost cooperation from even the smallest element.
“Hold, my brothers and sisters! Hold firm!” crackled through the ins-system Voice relays. “Corral these clanned filth – it is here! It is here! Hold, and die, this is our time! For mother Kith- gaak!” WHOM!
The Liyo globe was breaking apart. The formation was never spheroid to begin with, more of an oblong. It had characteristics of a wedge at its forward groups and a cube towards the sides. Its fightercraft screen was nothing short of astounding. The Ramira defenders had yet to even glimpse at the center assets. The carriers, light skirmiships, and missile-cruisers deployed forwards had done well in attack, but against the twin wedges of the 7th Ramir they were starting to falter.
Announcement of the Issan Rai’s operational state revitalized them. The entire Liyo fleet needed to be given time to re-form, and attempt to dodge en masse, the rushing storm.
“Command ship has been destroyed. Fourth battle formation, onward! Let their deaths not be in vain!”
The skirmiships of the Ramira moved inwards, without fightercraft support. Their agile spacefighters and gunships chewed at the fringes of the formation, forcing the Marin-ka to cover each other.
It was folly to think of it as a game of paper, iron, rock; Amra Lamar could almost hear his old instructors yell. A formation is to link many ships, many crews, to become something greater than the sum of its parts. A strike-group, of four to six skirmiships, two or three missile-cruisers and one battle-carrier; was often arranged in a wedge in respect for their speed. Put four together and they stand as a wall. A command ship is always at the center, protected yet free to deliver its devastating barrages.
It is easier for the small to reflect the great, than the great to learn from the small. He closed his eyes. He could see it happening in his mind.
“This is Iriya strike squadron eighty-four. Command, do you hear? Our carrier just went on ramming speed. We are pulling back for residual operations.”
Glory, they called it. A profound neglect, he called it. The coordinator saw the battle being.. coordinated. The end result is inescapable. Down to the very last pilot in his doomed Iriya. The loss of self, where there is faith there is no death.
“Six minutes from the Issan Rai. We must LIVE that long.”
Where there is duty, there is no failure.
“Die, marin-sari! Die!”
And where he stood, there is no fear.
“Blessed be… is that it? It’s more beautiful than I-“
Amra Lamar screamed in despair, and leapt. A second ‘s surprise allowed him to clear the distance and snap Mim Ginnar’s neck within his grip. He felt bullets tear into his chest and abdomen. Almost a sense of pride at how well-trained the guards were. Although he had never acknowledged it, at heart he wished he was as one with them; casting aside all doubts and accepting only excellence. The other Elders could only dive for cover, and watch in incomprehension as he arced past them. Once, twice, he bounced on the floor, spraying blood on their white vestments. The old woman lolled back on her chair, the expression of triumph now forever frozen on her face.
And softly, most of the attacking Liyo Allied Fleet vanished. Ramira forces were all but destroyed in the blast. They fought to the very end to maintain some semblance of order in the enemy formation.
“Go then, foul death..” Amra Lamar whispered. “I have defeated you at last.”
“….NO!” Uni screamed, and ran to him, heedless of the danger. Ibhaya followed, with slight reluctance. The guards would have cut them down as well wihout hesitation, but Mim Issu forestalled them with but a slight lowering of the ears.
“More than enough blood has been shed today.”
“They should die.” Mim Amunre spat. “They should all die. Amra Lamar knew beforehand the consequences of his actions.”
Mim Ricorra bent down and inspected the marks on his mate’s neck. They were too old, too cynical for romance; it was a joining of equal minds and equal ruthlessness. He tried to keep a soldier’s perspective. He couldn’t fault Lamar’s work.’The Butcher, Lamar, the destroyer of all hope, kills as easily as you or I draw breath.’ he whispered under his breath. “And indeed he did. The choice was made. We never specified what he should do later. Have we not all but promised our estranged fellow whatever he wanted?”
Slowly he pulled back to his feet, only for his strength to suddenly fail him. He staggered back to his chair, and reflected on the weaknesses of the heart.
Our most formidable foe.
“Why… oh, my lord Amra, why…” Uni sobbed. She cradled his head in her lap, and stroked his thick yellow hair. He had liked that. “…why could you not just let go? Why not allow yourself to be happy?” Almost as if she expected an answer.
Aside, Ibhaya knelt. Her face was dry of tears. The younger woman threw an accusing glare at her.
“Yes, I do love him still.” Ibhaya’s face held peace that mirrored the relaxed expression on her husband’s corpse. “You felt it, have you not? When he is with you, he can make you feel as if you are the sum total of his entire existence. You are the center of his universe. I thought as you do, once. But then I realized, that the way he can sleep each night without the nightmares, is to quell what his heart tells him is right. He had given himself to me, totally. He had not yet found his answer to life…. he was content simply because he killed his ideals. I despised him for that. But even more, I despised myself. He was suffering in silence, but he could live with it, because I told him to.”
“Is a Curse, yes. Lamar is the type of man that needs to be needed.”
She remembered, when the stirrings of blood fought against his reluctance. The nightmares returned, and nothing she could do would chase them away. In the mornings, he would smile as always, at night their joinings were long and full of passion – they tried to go for as long as they could without sleep. She looked to her son, she doubted he remembered how frightened he became of Lamar screaming in the dead of night. “Kill them all! Leave none alive. From this blood shall we write our future books!” Or “No! Leave me! Stay away! Why are you following me? What do you want? Leave me alone… I am tired. I am nothing.”
For his son’s sanity, and his own, she had to let him go off to search for his answer – even if he presumed to have already found it. She had to admit to some relief though, that he did not find it with the Queen, recently widowed as well. Her husband was far less a masterful tactician than her first love, but in his unreasonable jealousy tried anyway.
To kithome went Amra Lamar. Six years with the Ramira, she would find him a changed man. Being a coordinator suited him, but from the deadness in his eyes she saw he had simply found a new compromise with the clamorings of his blood.
Uni kissed him on the forehead. Her words were barely discernible in her hiccuping sobs. “I would never have given him up. Never…”
“He found his answer. It is we that need to let go.” Ibhaya herself felt her iron control cracking. “He is beyond pain now.”
“I wanted him to LIVE! I wanted him to feel joy.” She was shaking. “I wanted to heal…”
She found herself enveloped in a warm, understanding hug. “Let go.” Ibhaya whispered. “Do not let his tortured existence scar your own. Rejoice with him. He is free. And he has set us free.” In that, two women in grief let themselves cry their farewell, drawing strength from each other.
Even then, Amra Irumar remained unmoved. Again! The Clan is doomed. Laaamaar! He was hunched over, shaking with a fury that his daughter mistook for sorrow. Why do you hate us so much?
All this, Selar watched with an impartial eye. ‘Not yet.‘ he thought.
18. A Cursed Inheritance
It was as if he had just awoke from a great sleep; everything was so filled with clarity, and at he same time an unreality. His father did not choose to die… rather, to take a piece of knowledge away from the Ramira. He didn’t know how he knew this, but it was the only thing that made sense. The signs had always been there, he and he others had simply ignored it. Amra Lamar knew he was going to die the moment he stepped into the room. It was all so obvious! Yet since no one picked up on it, he had to accept that it wasn’t quite so obvious to other people.
But it was all there! You just had to connect the little clues! Selar felt a great amazement. ‘Is everybody else stupid? No. I think… I just found it. My purpose.’
“Home? Home! Can you hear us? We have made contact with what remains of the Liyo Allied Fleet. The bulk of their forces apparently consisted of merchantmen and wide-load freighters retro-fitted to carry fightercraft and one-shot missile launch tubes. Curse them all! It was all a farce. It looked like a capital fleet. It acted like a capital fleet. But there are no battleworthy ships here. No wonder their defense screen was so heavy. All to keep us a distance… so they could laugh at us!’ Moving in unison, so perfectly coordinated… the signs of a fleet drilled in massive maneuvers; a main battle fleet…. or remote ships responding to pre-programmed commands.
“What?” Mim Amunre tried to stand up, but lost his grip on the handles of his chair. “Impossible! Moving that many ships out of their merchant routes could cripple their economy. At the very least, how could it escape the notice of our Intelligence?” He looked aside to Mim Karrao, who headed that service.
“I offer no excuse. The only thing I can think of, is if they were mothballing ships instead of scuttling them. Our intelligence reported capital fleets passing through the jump points. At the last moment, they must have replaced that, with this lightning rod.” They exited in deep space! All that time, in the months of preparation, a mighty fleet must have been waiting in the ignored emptiness between stars. Simple, but brilliant. A switch. Their own dependence on long-range striking power, to counter the clan’s other advantages, now doomed them.
“Devious, and unpredictable are the clans.” Mim Ricorra intoned. Someone must have warned them of the possibility of the Issan Rai. But other than the Elders, fewer than twenty knew even among the Ramira that it could still be fired. Their forces knew it at the same time as clansmeet. Still… they had prepared. It sounded… very much like what Amra Lamar would have done.
He looked at the corpse, wondering, at the answers to many questions the coordinator took along with him into the grave.
“Alert! Alert! All Ramira, hear this! Massive subspace disturbance detected ALONG the azimuthal plane. It appears to be….IT IS! THE TRUE CLANFLEETS ARE HERE!”
“Impossible!” again Mim Karrao yelled. “Unless…”
“Subspace jump drives are far more efficient than our m-space drives. They can penetrate much further into a star’s gravity well.” Mim Issu added tiredly. “Before you ask how they could have so many jump drive-eqipped ships with the limited numbers the Tamarans are allowed to trade…
Please, remember… all our predictions revolve around the assumed fact that the Liyo and the Solaris would NEVER work together. Their science and industry together would accomplish miracles.”
If they combined their fleets and fitted only their prime ships with SSJD; then they would have a fleet with power far beyond what its numerical strength implied. ‘This sounds exactly like what Lamar would have done. But he was as surprised as the others to learn we would so dare bend the ancient laws this far.’
Mim Ricorra strode over to the door, motioning for the guards to follow him. “We are needed! It is time we fought this war in the way it was meant to be won.”
“We can still fire the cannon! Look at them! They are massed together!” Mim Amunre’s exuberance approached panic. “They will reach us in a few hours. We can charge up. They will not have time to dodge.”
Mim Ricorra ignored him. “Fourth to sixth fleets, redeploy to support the defense. All Ramira still in battle should slowly fall back. Ignore the Solaris Allied Fleet… take care not to be picked off by their fighters or missile salvoes, but leave them. They are of little threat.”
“The cannon!” Mim Amunre shouted again.
“I will take command of the Second Fleet.” Mim Sabbir said, as if daring the former Fantyrani to challenge him. Mim Ricorra merely bowed, at which the other Elder slapped a friendly hand on his shoulder. “I will protect this station. This is no mere gun. This is also a home to many.”
“My thanks…” The Tiraga were famed for being able to fight with minimal collateral damage. They sold their lives to buy freedom for their people and peace for their families.
In contrast, a Fantirani was a living weapon, to be aimed at an enemy and destroy them utterly. “Too much blood have been shed…” I fight to die, he fights to live. I think, he is better than I. Mim Ricorra bowed back half-heartedly.
Mim Amunre clumsily searched for the button linking him to the firing control station. “No… no…the clans will be beaten yet. They will die! They will all die! The stupid, stupid fools! I am not useless, I am not insane… I have the power! Only power matters! This is the simple honest truth we have all been searching for all these years. This is where your ideologies end…” He grinned nastily. “Control! Hear me! DESTROY ALL WHO DARE OPPOSE OUR POWER!”
Again, stationwide gravity flickered. A deep thrumming suffused all between decks. It was as if the Firstborn Son was taking a deep breath for another tantrum.
And then the lights failed.
Station gravity went offline. The forming energies within the accretion tube died.
Everyone shivered. A cold wind seemed to rush through the corridors, a cold that cuts deep into bone. In the darkness, light-sensitive Kitaran eyes appear to glow. Selar’s eyes shone more, reflecting a light that wasn’t there. “They won’t let you.” the boy said, his words slow and sure. “This madness is at end.”
The air was thick with hatred and malice. But unlike before, it draped over him like a comfortable cloak, instead of leeching his strength. “I understand.” he spoke to no one in particular. “Yes. There was one who we didn’t take into consideration in this mess. We know this entire complex was built by the Illena. For thousands of years their name has been reviled, their deeds seen in horror- but still we repeat their methods. Did no one consider what they would have thought of all this?”
“Spirits…?” Mim Ricorra whispered, trying to find a wall. “I do not believe-“
“We pray to our ancestors all the time. Our duty is to all Kitarans before us, with us, and after us. A closed mind, is the very thing Clanning is against. We must accept our mistakes… we must find new answers to new problems.” Mim Karrao floated by. The Jiragan could still see just fine in the dark, never regretting the loss of his biological eyes. What dismayed him, was this possibility left unexplored in the calculations. “We did not stop psionic research. Yet all this time, no one, anywhere, has really a definition of what ‘mind’ is.”
All felt a cold pressure squeezing their hearts. They gasped for breath.
“When they died, they poured their pain, their regret into these walls. I don’t know if what I feel ARE the minds of Illena long dead, or the collective Kitaran spirit…or something else… but I do know… we can’t be allowed to keep destroying ourselves. It has to end someday. Father knew he would probably not live to see it…but he wanted it to happen.”
The holoprojector went active, showing the fractured Ramira defense. Slowly they rallied to meet the true combined clanfleets. Selar circled the display, with a zero-g acuity he’d never displayed before.
Under its dim green light, all others knelt as if in supplication.
“Child! Did your father know? Did he plan all this?” Mim Ricorra crowed.
“No.” Selar replied. “He might have suggested the notion of a false fleet, but what he really opened was a way for the clans to set aside their differences. He did that by showing you as the greater threat to Kitaran destiny.” Father. I hated you sometimes. I was too young to see it then. But a true man of the race, once he has children goes slightly insane. He will give everything for the sake of his children. You became obsessed with making sure the future was secure. You felt, as if the entire Kitaran race was your own.
I feel it too, now.
“What… what do you want?” softly asked Mim Issuya. She was ready to accept death. She had failed. All had failed. The Ramira cause was broken utterly.
“Selar…” Ibhaya whispered. In the darkness her fingers found her husband’s and entwined with his. ‘Lamar, what have you done to my son?’
The boy smiled. “I want -“
19. Bloody Space Battles
History would call it the Battle of the Kitharanna Plane. It was one of the largest fleet engagements, ever. In a crude pincer, the Ramira were driven to make their final stand between the two remaining moons. They would attempt to use the gravity well to their advantage, forcing the enemy fleet into close combat. All long-range missile and plasma fire would be inaccurate due to the jamming emissions being refracted within it.
In that ‘doublet channel’ would happen the Largest Fightercraft Battle Ever. Over five million lives would be lost within the first hour alone. It was a boiling sea of desperation and carnage.
War, war never changes. When you fight against another being, all of your body makes war upon his, from the blood pumping through the veins to the bones of your heel. The breath, the movements, the technique, the spirit. The capacity to move materials quickly, the ability to strike at the correct moment, the knowledge of where the enemy will go, the determination of the humble soldier. War was won or lost in the small unimpressive things. In the three thousand years of refining military theory, there were now only methods of attack in the Kitaran doctrine.
Ja-han. The straight path.
Ja-rahan. The winding path.
This was simple to them. A rolling attack will wear down any defence, no matter how hardened. Therefore, the only way to counter it is to destroy the enemy’s forces well before they arrive at your gates. Kill or be killed. Strike without hesitation. Indecision only wastes the moments of one’s life.
Eventually the clanfleets managed to punch through. Clawships led the way in, and before them entire strike groups of ships and fighters just… vanished. So staggering was the firepower of even a single one of these ships, that the defenders realized attacking them was suicide. Assault carriers then made for low orbit, sending down a cascade of dropships carrying whole armies. The Liyo fought well, reaching the planet first. And why not? The Queen was with them. She saw their efforts firsthand. They would not shame her before the other clans.
The 3rd Ramira didn’t even bother to fire back. They went full thruster burn, to ram the formation of sixteen clawships at .06 of lightspeed. Of the two hundred ships they started that manoeuvre with, less than twenty survived. Each found a target. The encapsulation of Kitaran fury blossomed into fire when they met pure Kitaran faith.
The Clawship QUEEN GINNARA was among these fated vessels. As fires began to erupt in the battle bridge, a woman took off her crown. From her lips slipped, “…our promise, Lamar.”
Every life illuminates the universe. They burn the brightest before they die.
Dsala Porema and his crew saw this from the relative safety of the station’s control center. Relative being the term, since the rough vibrations travelling through the deck plates mean that it too, was being attacked. “Deliver some jump drives into Kitara. Far, but simple. A good way to gain prestige for my men.” He sighed. “My luck is bad.”
Into the room strode the Mim-ming, followed by a boy with an extremely calm expression, then the rest of strange people from below. They even dragged an obviously sick person with them. The history books will never tell, that the fate of the Kitaran race from then on would be decided by five elders and one boy barely fourteen. They would have a much more dramatic account. Even the Porema account, the only objective account of the battle, decided not to include this little detail.
“Send our voice out to be heard!” Mim Ricorra raised his arms and shouted. “The suhmirao is done.” The control officers stood to make protest, then sat down again in cold weariness. The Elders moved slowly in the full gravity, but were resolute to see it through.
“Our people are dying…” Mim Sabbir growled out. His elite 2nd Ramira was being cut to ribbons. The Liyo were fighting well, all too well. “Will it all have been in vain?”
Selar clasped his hands together and bowed at the battle outside. “Your people are now free. They have paid for freedom, for all Kit here and forever, with their blood. They are eternal. They will never be forgotten.”
The Elder sank to his knees. “It cannot end like this… what have we all been fighting for?” Fighting, as a Tiraga, trying to make a living. He must never give up, here were so many instances in his life that he could have, but instead he rose above the challenges to glory. He should be there!”… it was all just a waste…”
“It was not!” Selar’s voice was sharp. “Never say that! Every life has its purpose. Will you so shame their deaths by making little of it? They did their duty well, now you must do yours!
Mim Ricorra looked to the boy, who nodded. “My brethren! Hear!” He pressed his palm into the console, enough to leave a dent on the metal. There was a slight smile to his face. “We are victorious! To kill, to rob the future of any more possibilities is worthless. Understand this; we have fulfilled our duty. The suhmirao is ended, be gladful! Be free! Kitara SHALL LIVE AGAIN. An old crime has been put to right this day, and old debt is at last. Lay down your arms! You are free! We are all free! Our entire race must no longer bear the burden of its ancestors.” We must move on to greater things, now that we know ourselves. No longer will we stumble blindly. We may now go to the farthest we can reach!
“You are strong, my children.” Mim Issuya’s gentle voice put in. “Use your strength wisely. The ultimate power is in creation, not destruction.” Please. End all this fighting. Three thousand years already. Like the boy said, end this madness!
Mim Karrao fitted the odds. Solaris alone, they would have won. Liyo alone, they would have prevailed. But together? Perhaps the Kitaran race had grown up, after all. “Like a round cage we protected the seedling, guided the tree as it grew, but now we can only choke its life from it. Let go. Such is life. Things must change, the old must give way to the new, lest one good custom corrupt the world.”
‘We are unnecessary now. Why don’t I feel the least bit sad? This is simply how it was meant to be…. right at the start.’ He couldn’t resist a chuckle. ‘Irony. How the founders loved irony. One day, I will die, and I will meet you magnificent bastards. But only when it is proper. I have things to do yet, things to know, and a strange new future to see.’
“Yes… it time. Forces of the Ramira, this is Sabbir, your fleetmaster. You have done well. What have you to fear? Kitara chooses to accept her children back into her arms. We are who we are, brothers and sisters together.” He took a deep breath. “Stand down. Let the Clanning be finished. Our purpose does not end here. Kitara must still live. We must make reparations for all we have done, we are not all blameless. But for now, we must stand aside and see – whose vision shall we trust? If it is their destiny, then surely they MUST win! We cannot fight the future, it NEEDS to happen.” Or we become broken, useless hearts, like Lamar.
Mim Amunre brightened at that. Yess… Solaris and Liyo still had to fight. They would probably be weakened after suhmirao. He kept silent as Selar outlined the necessary steps. Surrendering here was only a wise decision… he saw the boy under a new light now. It would keep the strength of the Ramir and keep them important in the post-suhmirao political climate. Perhaps even more important, no longer just feeding on isolationist paranoia but affecting the greater Kitaran destiny.
Power! To change and be changed.
The QUEEN GINNARA fought on. Though missing half her body, the proud ship continued, seemingly held together by pure determination. All other clawships had died. On the bridge, Queen Sujanni and her crew held feral grins, ignoring their bloody injuries and steaming burns. Superb preparation, excellent damage control, the things that money can buy!
“Lamar… our promise…” she snarled. “I will never… let my people… DIE!” She stood and swept a regal arm at the batle. “FIGHT! Show them our worth! We have what we have because we try the hardest! Once we give our hearts we hold nothing back. FIGHT! We are Liyo!”
Screaming, the two Allied fleets broke apart, and met again in a shower of plasma fire and reactor breaches. The Liyo Allied Fleet might have had numeric superiority, but the Solaris Allied Fleet held the trump card of elite the Fantyrani. But the Liyo were fighting extremely well, their morale a dam holding back all uncertainties. They were utterly equal, the smallest thing could change the battle.
The Queen felt a warm, familiar presence, and looked around her, frenzied. She saw no one but her officers busy at battle stations. But it something within her seemed empty now. Her heart clenched with dread. “….no.” she whispered. “…you promised… damn you… you promised we would laugh and talk and be friends again, when all this is over.”
Forensic investigation never revealed the sudden cause of the Queen’s death. The stopping of her heart was inexplicable, for her apparent health, for the bridge conditions, for the victory almost in her grasp. But what is certain, is that when she died, all of clan Liyo seemed to lose their desire to live as well. No other Queen in history was as well-liked, no one had expanded her domains as she had. The shock of losing the very thing they fought for immobilized them at the news. A momentary gap in the Liyo formation was enough.
Suhmirao was soon over.
The Liyo Fleet fought on almost to the last, to fulfill a monarch’s last command. On the ground, their forces overran all opposition. For their valour, although Solaris was declared winner of the trials of Clanhood, to Clan Liyo was awarded the homeworld…. to hold, to rebuild, to love and protect.
Selar felt his weird strength leave him. He dropped to the floor, drained of adrenalin. “We’re all free. I didn’t do anything. This was all how it just had to be, but…Father… I hope I made you proud.” He was then swept into hugs; his mother, Uni,and Anyi crying over him. Even the Mim-ming fairly gushed with joy and relief.
No one saw Amra Irumar look upon the boy with deep loathing.
20. Secrets Unbound
Two weeks later would find Selar again in his room, watching the ceiling. Now and then he bounced his clanbook off it, catching its return in one-sixth grav. There was a buzzing at the door.
“Selar, you have visitors.” his mother said. “It’s Anyi.”
“I don’t want to see her, mother. Tell her, I’ll be better when she returns.” ‘Uncle will take her away’, he thought with some pain. ‘Because of what she is, and what he knows, which he can’t tell her yet.’
He resumed his mindless, repetitive activity, comfortable in thinking of nothing and being nothing. For the moment he was doing he was sure countless other before him had at first handled the problem of their new existence, by ignoring it. He didn’t know whether it was minutes or hours later, but the door buzzed again.
“Selar, you have visitors.”
“I don’t want to see them, mother.” Ibhaya answered that he should, which piqued his interest. Visitors, plural. She would have turned even the Mim-ming or any clan representative away. “All right. May we just talk in my room? I feel… I don’t want to move just yet.”
The loremaster Urisse stepped in, and almost lost his balance. Selar pushed a small chair at him. “Yes.” he said.
“Yes, that’s the answer to the question you were about to ask. The Gift, or the Curse, depending on how you look at it, is passed from father to son or mother to daughter. Most of us kill ourselves before even having progeny. It’s kind of a hellish existence if you let it, I think Father hoped I too would find my own way of dealing with it.”
Urisse looked far too happy. “Do you realize what this means? We have an independently-trackable instance of psionic heredity!”
Selar got up to a sitting position and stared the Ramira squarely in the eye. “It’s not. It might decide to just go away. The talent is slowly becoming unnecessary, the Kitaran race is now safe from itself. Or even if it doesn’t… I won’t help you in this.” he spoke blandly. “You killed the Queen.”
“Whatever do you mean, young master?” responded Urisse, his face a carefully-preserved mask of amusement.
“I mean, that the spirit of the Illena, the overpowering hatred and shame I felt, it was all real enough. But it wasn’t ghosts expressing their millennia-old regret. Father felt the stirrings, and knew. He died to protect this knowledge.” He gave a similar expression of false gaiety. “It was you, all of you. The Illena are not dead. I just became the conduit to all of them, the means to apply their will. They are well and alive and within every clan. The Kitarans have rare and weak psionic activity- an accepted myth! Ha! One which your people created and fostered.”
“You are one of us now too, child.”
“No, I am Liyo. I cannot forgive you for killing the Queen. Ah! The depth of their devotion. I see now how incredible it is, and you used it as a tool for murder. You told her father was dead, magnified her anguish a thousandfold, and killed her. You say you fight, that the mistakes of the Illena are never repeated? I will fight you now, and so will those after me, as the others before me had… I think it’s inevitable. We are like.. reactions.. protectors… created by the blood of all Kitarans, to protect the race as a whole.”
The boy sighed. “Eventually, we all fight those that try to wrestle all our people to their own goals, don’t we?”
“Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you do not.” Urisse sighed. “You are not unique, Selar. In the Fantyra, there are those who can inspire such loyalty into their troops and make them do anything. In the Solaris, are those who can sense and manipulate emotions. In the Tiraga are those of surpassing physical ability, apparently able to predict the attacks of the enemy. In the Jiraga are geniuses who refuse build weapons of destruction. In each major kirra, there are those that live tortured lives. You all fear it. No one, in the thousands of years we have followed your kind, has ever abused their gifts.”
“It is as it should be.”
The loremaster shook his head.”You are not unique! Can you understand how significant the Gift is? It is latent psionic potential within ALL Kitarans, which are apparently suddenly triggered into activity by some outside event. Death of a parent, a great crisis, something at birth, a knock to the brain; who knows? It just… happens. It is quite amazing, how different and self-regulating the abilities are. It is as if each the spirit of clan chooses one in every generation to contain its historical force. The Clans saw the potential of the Illena, and wiped their memory from the books but not their agendas. We, the small band of true Illena, keep watch on the continuing evolution of the Kitaran race. Eventually, we will walk equal with Them.”
“That had always bothered me. Who are They?” Selar scratched his nose, then fell back unto his bed. “I have a feeling a war was the last thing They ever expected.”
And then it was as if the sun had walked into the room. She was only a little taller than the average Kitaran, but she held a presence that made her seem larger. Her stance was relaxed, unassuming, but full of confidence. Her eyes held surprising depth, and compassion. Her lips were naturally curved a little upwards at the tips, in a perennial smile. And her wings, brilliant, lustrous, were folded behind her. She had no problem dealing with the sudden shift in gravities.
“Hello.” she spoke in a voice more than music. “My name is Emellia Winua Senlune, and I am very pleased to meet you.”
“I love you.” he replied in hushed tones, his eyes still wide in wonder. “I don’t know why, but it feels so.. right… that I should.”
She blushed prettily, and hid half her face behind the voluminous sleeves of her shining white robe. “That is almost what your father said to me the first time we met.” Somehow a lowering of the gaze was enough to convey a deep lament. They would have given their lives that grief should never mar that face. “He was a good man.” She bit her lip, then knelt at his feet, touching her head to the floor. “So many good people have died… all in good intentions. I did not expect the Illena to do the things they did… Selar, you are the fruit of your culture. You have suffered so much, and will suffer more. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me? I was the source of all this.”
The boy jumped up. “Forgive you? For what? It’s not your fault if we’re all so damned STUPID. The Clanways work, in their fashion. what could you have done? It’s not like you could have stopped the..”
He stopped, his eyes widening in realization, the surety driving a dagger into his very soul. “You were there. But that’s impossible… that was three thousand years ago!”
Emellia looked up, sadness apparent on her face. “Taenarians live for a long time. My own mother lived for six thousand of your standard years.”
“Incredible… I can’t believe it….” Selar dropped backwards. Urisse commented that even then, the truth still seemed far too fantastic to himself.
“I was so young then, and when we came upon your people, and saw the difficulties they were going through, we just had to help…” the Taenarian whispered, protectively folding her wings over her body.
“They showed us the way. Among the Kitarans, the Illena had the highest psionic count. They thought that psionic power was a sign of people close to enlightenment, that they were ready to abandon violence. After all, they had extensive psionic powers… possibly because they are genetically disposed to nonviolence and had an open mind. It is not enough to have the correct brain wirings, full control over one’s powers required a control over oneself.”
Urisse grinned, but one tinged with irony. “Needless to say, the old Illena were just overwhelmed. Psionic control is a doorway to the galaxy. In itself, it was a delight beyond all things. Whatever sacrifices that may be taken, it was all worth it to bring the Kitaran race to an entirely new level.”
“….forgive me, Selar. I was frightened. We were all so frightened. We were driven from our original homeworld by the race we were made from, whom we tried to help but abused our kindness. It was eleven thousand years before we could be brave enough to help again. Your people were the second alien race we encountered since then. The Tamarans we helped out of their plight, it was our overconfidence in that good work that led to our mistake with your people. We gave them technology, to free you from the cycle of war over such limited resources. Such… violence! Against each other! It only intensified! I.. none of us could understand it. We had to go. I suppose the Illena felt betrayed, or that they had to be worthy enough…”
“We did.” Urisse said with a low whine.
“It was three thousand years before we could try again. We were watching you all this time, we had a responsibility to make things right again! It was our mistake… no, MY mistake. To ensure it would not be repeated, we tried to make your exposure to alien cultures gradual. We asked our Tamaran friends this time to make first contact. We have intervened to stop the Deriv-Zallus war, to stop so much unnecessary death… but for me.. it always came back to here. You were my children, I was wrong, I led you all astray. I would like to call you my friends, my equals, my partners…”
“Did you have anything to do with this suhmirao?” Selar asked, looking off into the distance.
“No. But again I fear my involvement caused you pain. It was after I knew your father and revealed these things, that he left Clan Liyo. He swore to me that he would find a way to free you all from my mistake.”
“But it was all our choice.” Selar mumbled. “Even at he very beginning, it was all up to us. We reap what we deserved. He knew this… he knew that only a fundamental change in Kitaran thinking can prepare us to face the other races…. and you.” He took his pillow and pressed it to his face. He let out an anguished scream. “WHHHYYY?! Blood, death, the price! Can we NOT find a solution that doesn’t involve death? Is it the only coin we can pay our progress with?”
“I am so-“
“No. Please get up. It’s not your fault. But…because of my father, at least from this point on, maybe we won’t have to.” He smiled wanly. I hope so. I’ll make the same sacrifice if I have to. He blinked. Damn. Anyone else would. We still have enough pride. At least I can hope the situation never comes up again.
“Selar, if you will allow then this small, last request?”
She looked pained at that. “Please tell me… this single, fatal wrong decision your father made. Do you know? Was it his decision to keep the Illena secret, or the choice of Solaris instead of Liyo? They have long-term consequences… and I am afraid for what may happen.”
Selar laughed. “No, no, I’m afraid father was wrong about something even more basic, and more long lasting.” He pointed outside. “He told me, that the stars were there for me, or anyone, I just have to take them.
He was wrong.” He closed his eyes, and drifted back.
“The stars already belong to me. And everybody. They are for no one to take, and they will be punished, those who keep trying to force their will upon them.“
Accusations Against Ourselves
I honestly don’t remember what I intended when I started this story. I do remember the feeling of frustration, that there was so much confusion going on simply because there was so much talking instead of doing. The willingness to take risks and personal responsibility was the core of the story idea. It is not enough to have belief in something, but more than just forcing that belief on others it takes greater strength to look upon this rock upon which your entire viewpoint is based; and try to smash it willingly.
The original draft was quite different. Selar wasn’t even in the story, it was all about Lamar and his continued rejection of all clan ways. He is the only one without bias, and as such is lost, alone, and unwanted. Yet he still fought on in his own way, not only because suicide is repugnant to the Kitaran culture, because someone has to shake up the boat. It was to be a story of a revolution in thinking, backed by the Ramira, who in the end betrays him as they simply desire a new status quo. And so the Kitaran race continues, trapped in the demands of its notions of true virtue and tradition. I was writing this in almost isolation, without access to the internet and input from those for whose enjoyment it was was being written.
A certain someone was right, the tale of Kitaran unification could have been written as a series of big space battles. It’s true, it might have been fun, but halfway through in disgust I had to scrap it. The quintessential angry young man seemed so blasé, it sounded ‘off’ from the shape the story was taking. Therefore, I changed it into a story of an angry older man.
Still no. What am I missing? There are these so many things about the Kitarans I want to say, but somehow they just don’t jive, man. It’s all about perspective. What’s right for one isn’t necessarily right for another. Conditions may vary, warranties may not apply if sticker is removed. Amra Lamar was so self-convinced that the Kitaran race was doomed, that he was willing to hasten its destruction.
I tried to place it therefore, into perspective. What significance does this event have on the greater timeline? The hero, so ready to accept death, but never finding it…. what IS all it about, really? The Kitarans might have a slightly japanese tinge, but they don’t need another technical pacifist Himura Kenshin. I tried to place myself realistically into the scenario. I didn’t let go of it. For several days, I tried to imagine equivalents in my life; I wasn’t just walking down any corridor; I had to imagine it was one of many in a floating space station. Who would I meet as I walk? How would I react, how are they shaped by the cultures that produced them? The actual science behind the story, I didn’t look too closely into. That was a trap, the story has too much infodump as it is I had to trust the reader to blackbox certain concepts.
That’s when the answer hit me. This isn’t just a science fiction story. It’s a space opera. I was willing to abandon mounds of explanation to accept a willing suspension of disbelief. Once that is done, whatever else I throw doesn’t matter! If the potential reader can just enjoy the story, can see all these people and in some sense know them as people on their own, then the premise is more than fulfilled. I didn’t need history lessons, I didn’t need great men doing great deeds… the greatest weapon in a writer’s arsenal is….
The deliciously unexpected. I’ve always tried to be ‘different’ in this, in the IP allowed med to try to walk on grounds left untouched. Pre-Federation was almost untouched, the Severance Era I KNOW is pristine (because I made it up), and post-Scourge war is still quite a silent time. These stories, to succeed, need to be not only different from each other, but from everything that came before them.
And so was born Liyo Amra Selar, child of a broken marriage. Amra Lamar follows the tradition of my major heroes in his tragic lovelife and stubborn will. The women of course, are strong in their own different ways. Everyone else in the fic is damaged to some degree, only at the end when they are willing to accept what others believe, to let down their defenses (mental, ideological, or otherwise) is when the finally become fulfilled; truly powerful. Technology is merely one of the shapers of history, the other is people’s hearts. A gun, unless someone picks it up and points it at another living being, is but a hunk of metal. The Chinese held black powder for hundreds of years but only saw the potential of rifles and cannons when the West came knocking. Stability and large domains have their penalties. Aggression is tempting, but it also has its price. The Kitaran race is a potential example of how the midpoint could be maintained for thousands of years, keeping the society stable and yet strong. It obviously, also has its drawbacks.
The fic has shades of the Foundation by Asimov. Damn, I loved those books. How is it that tension and excitement could be kept for so long WITHOUT direct action or violence at all?! It was amazing! It’s always been my dream for these my typing fingers to really know how that works. I could see no other way to present several different point of view, how each is correct and wrong at the same time; and the consequences of choosing one over all.
However, the primal lesson in AAO perhaps, is Carpe Diem. I spent many months in procrastination, all that wasted time. Amra Lamar knows it best, indecision kills a man. Of course, he died, but remember his words ; “...go then, foul death. I have defeated you at last.“
Know what you want, what it takes, then make a choice. Every moment wasted is death, but a purpose given execution is life shining brightly. Love, duty, appreciation, all of these things must be done while they still can be done. Otherwise, like Lamar, you can spend much of your life hurting and hurting those around you.
Selar is a symbol for the future. He doesn’t even know what he is, much less what he should do. He will have to suffer to know, but such is life. He is Kitaran, by definition of himself.
By the end of the fic, I tried to have it that the reader already knows, he wouldn’t give up any more than any other Kitaran in the same situation; ie, never. Maybe he can avoid the torment of existence that all others like him, before him, endured…? The choices before him will be hard, but he is, free to make up his mind according to what he sees fit. All Kitarans are now free to do so.
And all because one man decided that it’s better to make a wrong choice than no choice at all.
I should have chosen to do it like this in the first place. Bleh. This thing is almost a reflection of my aimless frustration. All that time, all that talk – and what does the story actually encompass? 38 thousands words for what?
ONE. KITARAN. DAY!
– CM (2005)
I really should turn this into a comic one of these days.
Also, using the word Race and Race War to refer to species-civilizations as a whole didn’t sound so iffy back in 2005. 🙁 The consistent use here was inspired by, of course, by Turtledove’s ‘The Race’ of space lizardfolk.
– CM (2017)