Sitting in his personal tower, the Rex looked out over his wife’s domain and for a moment, smiled. A smile filled with sharp teeth and massive jaws, his wife’s favorite feature. The scent of wild life was rich and abundant and for a moment, he felt the urge to leap from the tower and stalk a wild surbuck, just for the thrill of it.
He turned his back from the open window hesitantly, regretfully before making his way into the keep. Smelling the hyper-oxygenated air of Galtan II, one of the twenty Gaian super-moons of the Toranor System, the sting of bitter ozone reminded him, while this was where he now resides, it was not home.
It was the primary enclave of the Pan-humanity and Sjurani governments. It is also home-world to the Beteans, a plant and animal symbiosis, strange even by galactic standards. On this world of forests, whose great trees rivaled the skyscrapers of modern worlds, both in size and complexity, the ambassador to the Imperium contemplated leaving home again under less than ideal conditions.
While not exactly family-oriented, he had promised the Queen-mother once he had been awarded his genetic viability rating, he would have children to help perpetuate his beleaguered species. Entering deeply into the lair of the duchess, the hot air was still and smoky. This, of course, was the desired effect. One’s home should reflect the nature of the revered Homeworld’s beautiful tropical forest.
Insect life flew abundantly through the air and were fed upon by the various primitive house lizards, which occasionally became a snack for one of the children in the middle of the night if there were no adults nearby. The Rex moved though the household, which had the appearance of an old-world Sjurani castle estate made with the most modern equipment. And while it looked primitive, the security systems of the building were state of the art. The Rex marveled at how well organized the household appeared to be; almost military in its precision.
The lights of the audience chamber were kept at a low level allowing the eyes of the Family to maintain their hunting sharpness at night. The air was redolent with musks and other scents from dangerous animals of the local forest near the ducal estate of Shishe and the House Su-xing-qu. The Duchess insisted the surrounding countryside retain some of its wild nature and forced her hunt squads to travel deep into the nearby forest for prey.
She sat amid a variety of cushions covered of various silks from the Qiandong Human province on the continent of Chen. The silks from the region were some of the finest in the quadrant and even though mechanically created silks seemed as good in quality, all Sjurani preferred the organic nature of true silk to anything created by machine. The claim was an awareness of the true nature of silk to their enhanced senses. The silk trade was one of the great businesses of the the House of Su-xian-qu.
The walls were covered with a variety of wooden reliefs painstakingly carved from the dense hardwoods of distant forests and each window was shuttered with doors of exotic corals from the deep seas. The house was arranged with an artist’s eye, with each element enhancing everything around it. A perfect balance of space, dimension, color, and art. The eye of the Duchess ensured the natural energies of her estate flowed freely enhancing reproductive fecundity. The household boasted three clutches in fifteen years, an extraordinary number considering the state of Sjurani reproductive politics.
There was a quiet hum of activity until Essver entered the chamber and stood awaiting the attention of the Duchess. As he strode into the room, the lesser males quieted the children they were attending and retreated backward into the room. As he approached, Duchess Su-xian-qu spoke and the room grew silent. “Greeting beloved, I understand you are making plans to depart the system. But I say to you, nay I implore you to reconsider your plans. Your duties lie here, my mate. Your clutch is barely three standard years of age. They need thy strong influence for them to imprint properly. Thoomas can take care of himself. Your days of constantly gating all over the galaxy are over. I regret being the one to say these things to you. I know you value your freedom and I have done all I can to allow it.”
With a smile on his face and a light tone, Essver looked at the duchess, deeply into her terrible green eyes. “I say to you, dear Duchess, these tiny hellions can take care of themselves. The Nine Devils pray daily none die before they are able to evacuate the Seven Hells for these beasts to roam free in. Imprint on me? They are more likely to feast on me whilst I slept.”
Undeterred by his commentary on the strength and beauty of his children, she continued, “We have a duty, Dream-Singer, our people have been devastated by plague, war and now a pestilence of our own devising. Your genome is strong and produces healthy and viable offspring. There are too few Rex remaining who are able to do that in these days. The Gene Council has begun to consider taking samples of our clutches for gene bank profiles. The time for saving the galaxy one world at a time is over. You must save our people too.” When she finishes her statement, one of the second husbands brings a youngster to the Duchess and she gives the child some meat from a nearby platter. The child, beautifully formed with scales of a glittering greenish gold, hungrily stuffs the food into his mouth and chews noisily.
Essver watching this bonding ritual is only mildly repulsed and continues, “This is not about Thoomas, my lady, this is about our contractual obligations to the Imperium. We would be poor citizens if we did not employ our capabilities to the benefit our families as well as the Triune Council. My Queen-mother, three starred general, though departed, would be unhappy to know her son turned completely away from the Gentle Art before his two hundredth birthday. Would you be the cause of such personal shame for me?” Essver paused for a second, before making the next pronouncement. “I will consider turning fully toward the First Trade upon the completion of this assignment.” Essver was actually very good in the First Trade, and had made several fortunes even as he performed his work in the Gentle Art, or working with Thomas Wilks and his human interpretation of the Gentle Art.
A look of deep sorrow crossed the reptilian face of the Duchess and looked as if she wanted to say something that would sooth her mighty Rex but knew no words for what must come next. The Duchess raised her arm and several distant doors opened and some shadowed forms had begun to move into the room. Their scent and their movement indicated their youth. The glinting of their scales reinforced that supposition.
Strong forms in a variety of colors, golden, red, green and teal scales approached him and he recognized them as they came into the light. They are all dressed in ceremonial armor and weapons. Essver knew this was his first clutch with the duchess. These were the survivors. Of the original twelve, seven survived to adulthood, the others lost to disease, weakness, carelessness or put down by the Duchess herself, if they were unfit.
They were approximately fifteen cycles and ready for their final adulthood rites. Several of the middle clutch and almost all of the youngest were upset as the seven surrounded their Rex in the center of the audience chamber.They would be forced to watch as their siblings became adults. “They need you, my Rex,” she began, with her voice louder and more angry, “today you are here for their blooding and passage into adulthood, but your next brood will need you again. You cannot risk being lost before they are adult. They will need you to provide for their genetic stabilization and their social status. We are slaves to our genetics. Without you, your children may not be able to become parents themselves, should they survive.”
The children moved gracefully as they gathered their weapons together. Sword, spear, axe, ranthip, each chose weapons according to their body types, mental prowess and physical power. They were all graceful killing machines, trained since they were five to be the best warriors the next generation of Sjurani could want.
Ten years of vigorous and aggressive combat, tactics and military education was their birthright. Essver was proud of his children as they surrounded him and prepared to show him their fighting skills. He would try his best to kill as many as possible. It was the Sjurani way. Only a fight, where they believed they might die would galvanize their genetic potential into actuality.
As he dropped into a combat stance, he activated his force shield and flex sword and whispered while the blood-fury filled his veins “Show me, my children, your Gentle Art.”
* * *
When Essver received his summons, he had already said his goodbyes to his mate, her lesser husbands, and his clutch and was already at the spaceport making the final preparations and checking the dossiers of new Pilots recently released from the Universitas Magistrorum et Humanitas.
He had a slight limp from a deep cut his first son had made in his leg. It was a minor inconvenience he would heal on his way to the Lorissi system. He had a number of other smaller, less challenging injuries. A day of bacterial cellular regrowth and he would be fine. Four of his first clutch would be able to become parents. Their injuries were serious, however, and would require weeks in regeneration chambers. But the genetic activation took place. Two died and one would become a sterile male. This group was considered wildly successful by Sjurani standards. The Duchess was already considering to which families they would become affiliated with.
The University was the final training facility for homo sapiens conscientia, mechanical sentients of the highest order capable of being created by the combined sciences of the Triune governments of Pan-Humanity, the Sjurani and the Beteans who initially inhabited Galtan II. These mechanical humanoids work with soldiers of the Resurrection Corps and using modern psychometric tools maintain their humanity after the rigors and trauma of dying, potentially repeatedly in their line of work. These mechanical sentients function as Pilots, technologists, scientists and companions to their Soldier. Fully aware of themselves and their work in the Imperium, the Conscientia are highly paid and highly regarded in their own right and have made significant advances to the program during their long term study, analysis and support of the Corps.
There were several promising Pilots but only a few would be ready in time and none would have been assigned a ship in time for this trip. Essver did not let this deter him and had several ships of his own to draw from during his time as a mercenary. All had been kept fit and ready in case of need, so he would use the most heavily armed of them, Glorious, as a base while he and Thomas sought the stolen Frame. It could also be refit to mount the Frame facilities in less than a day. He made several calls and the Glorious would be ready in time to transit to the fleet. He also made a request to the University’s dean to have several of the more promising students prepared, reviewed and the best of them made ready in a week to send to Lorissi, once issues had been settled there.
The communique arrived by an Council messenger while he was checking the Glorious and the messenger was officious and upon delivery retreated without much pomp, but surprising all the same, since Council messengers were rarely seen at the space docks of Rekein. His wardrobe had already been delivered to the Glorious and he chose his most impressive uniform, which was festooned with medals from his time as a leader of both a Sjurani ground assault team and as a mercenary commander in the employ of the Sjurani Council. Armed with his tribal weaponry, as effective as their modern equivalents but covered with more ornate and beautiful constructions, he arrived at the Council headquarters in the center of the Triune City of Rekein at the required time.
Led into the council and announced it was a long time since he had heard his full title: Triune Ambassador to the Imperium, Essver Dream-Singer, of the People of the Sjurani, son of Minru, son of Daor the Terrible, warrior-poet of Galtan II, Sjurani Rex, mated to the nugongjué, the Glorious Pielienhis (pe-le-en-hiss) seeking the audience of the Phoenix and the Triune Council.
The room was ornate, as is the habit of the Sjurani, covered with a variety of artworks, metalcraft, stonework reliefs reflecting ancient heroes of legend, of every caste and every race. The chamber had been held on one of the Greatships of the Sjurani fleet that landed here and was over twenty thousand years old. It had been moved to this location as the center of government for the Sjurani, Pan-Human and Betean Councils. The Phoenix stood and her august plumage was in full release with her arms outstretched. Her coloring was brilliant and each feather a work of natural art and genetic manipulation blended perfectly. Her proportions were strong and even indicating her supreme heritage and likelihood of descent from the greatest heroes of the Phoenix line, the Flame King and the Summer Queen, the first of the Line of the Phoenix. While she was a Phoenix and he a Rex, he felt some level of attraction at a subconscious level. He could also feel her powerful operant psychic presence even though his psychic potential was limited to physical expressions of power.
The Phoenix was small in comparison to Essver, but it did not stop her from being physically imposing. Her two Raptors, armed with dual pulse pistols, flex-swords and the highest quality flex-field armor stood vigilant even though they were actually more ornamentation than true defense. The courtroom, was liberally sprinkled with a variety of defensive technologies, mechanical sentience, and a good portion of the Sjurani council were capable and armed warriors themselves. She stood nearby as she paced in front of Essver who was in a supplication position on one knee in the center of the council chambers.
As he had entered she had been speaking about the Corvan government and their recent loss of a squadron of Resurrection soldiers and their support troops due to poor intelligence. It was bad enough to have been using them against the Dalrothi on the edge of the Imperium, but to irrevocably lose nineteen to the True Death was unthinkable. Now they wanted to take the one survivor, who had lived for two years in completely inhospitable surroundings and through over twenty deaths without a Pilot and accuse him of treason?
This soldier, Wilks and his Frame were a treasure trove of data that simply must be recovered. He was sent to Bel-ha to allow his suit’s information to be downloaded and for him to experience psychological support of the type the Bel-ha’s superior technology could provide. He was the perfect example of the superiority of this program and why we must be allowed to continue to develop it further. The Imperium was the primary client of the Resurrection Corps, but the technologies created allowed this group to manufacture something of lasting value to the Imperium and take their rightful place as quality sentients in the eyes of the elder galactic races, who considered Pan-humanity to be upstart races at best and vulger abominations at worst.
She turned her sharp eyes toward Essver and he could feel her psychic might pressing against him. “You must recover that Frame, there is no alternative. Use all means at your disposal to discover what has happened to the technology. We sent a recovery team to Brennan 326 and nothing remained of Those That Served. In the proper procedure, Majoris Wilks disposed of any remains that survived the crash, and the normal automated self-destruct procedures. We must continue to maintain our patents and you will see to this, Ambassador.”
She paused, considered a data-tablet handed to her by a minor functionary and continued. “On another note, since you are making a trip to the Bel-ha Collective’s main planets, we would like you to establish a connection to the planet and see if it will be possible for us to establish a more solid trade arrangement. We already get many of our nanite programming from their world but the distance simply makes it difficult for us to maintain our relationships. We would like to establish one of their facilities, complete with scientists, on Galtan II near the Resurrection facility. That mission is both a cover and a secondary objective. Recover that soldier and that Frame.”
She stopped for a moment and shuddered, her feathers fluffing and spreading. “I understand he is your friend as well,” she began, “I am happy to hear he has survived his ordeal and I have reviewed your service records together and find that you have both been extremely successful and fruitful as agents of Pan-Humanity and the Sujurani. We are at your disposal. What would you ask of us?”
Essver considered himself and then raised his eyes. “Your greatness, the Corvan Fleet is leaving today and will arrive in four days in Bel-ha space. The Corva are going to expend a considerable amount of energy to make the jump in that short a time. The fleet commander, Admiral Lolikai has requested an opportunity to speak with me, in regard to our people and continued good will between the Imperium and our tiny piece of the Empire.”
Making eye contact with the Phoenix, he declared, “I believe the Imperium values the durability, accessibility, and resourcefulness of our agents. I do not think this Admiral will want to do anything that will risk that relationship considering the quality of the success of our operations in Imperium Space. I have all that I need, save a new Pilot. One will be selected, outfitted and sent to Lorissi in less than a week. Thank you for your generosity and I will return with our technology and our Soldier. You have my word.”
Insurrection: The Gentle Art © Thaddeus Howze 2010. All Rights Reserved [@ebonstorm]