Dec 051999
 

The Veelab Species

Overview

The Veelab species is an alien culture which evolved on a jovian planet’s largest moon—a frigid, barren planetoid with nearly no atmosphere and a primarily metal crust. Scraping themselves up from the primordial ooze of their dim-witted ancestry, the Veelab learned to shape their bodies—and the bodies of their vanquished cousins—to resist the rigors of the wasted planet. Since developing space flight, they have gone on to colonize other “ice ball” planets, asteroids, and even some comets.

Veelab are intelligent, shape-shifting, colloid-based blobs that live in massive, planet-encompassing colonies which they call “Choruses.” They are able to thrive in the harsh climes of their origins (as well as in those humans would call “tropical desert”) through careful physical cooperation and a strict class system that is a combination of theocracy and coral reef.

Each Veelabling is trained from the moment it leaves its birthing vestibule to perform one of four primary duties for The Chorus (also called a planet-being):

  • morph into a wide vacuum-tight panel, absorbing sunlight while sealing the planet-being from hard radiation and pressure (called “Guarders”);
  • flex and climb about the planet-being, transferring liquids and mitochondria-like energy cells to the other classes (called “Gilders”);
  • manipulate crust materials to construct objects and morph its own body to supports the kilometers-deep mass of the planet-being (called “Girders”);
  • conduct off-planet missions in search of knowledge and sensations, morphing into forms acceptable to the source species or necessary for survival (called “Æsthetes”).

Most Veelab spend their entire 100 year adult lives in service of—and in harmony with—The Chorus, never knowing any sensation other than the slippery, warm pressure of neighboring Girders or the sticky sweetness of passing Gilders. They use “The Song” to keep in touch with the rest of the planet-being—a constant background harmonic vibration through the entire world that is communication system, legislature, educational system, and theatre simultaneously. Each Chorus comes the closest any culture of living things can to being a gestalt mind. Not a hive mind: each Veelab is as individual as a snowflake, within the context of its main social role.

The role of the highly-adaptable Æsthete class is that of diplomat, purchasing agent, and poet laureate for its Chorus. Bred as a mingling of each Veelab class, they are morphable as Gilders, yet capable of being as resilient and photo-sensitive as Guarders. As soon as it is ready, each Æsthete Veelab is equipped only with its Vod-dpah and sent forth to travel the stars, find the unique and engaging and “un-Veelab,” and return with Songs of it to its Chorus….

Sizes

Guarders ~150kg, 2m3 (9m2 x 4cm thick and rigid when Guarding)
Gilders ~90kg, 1.5m3 to 3m3 (amorphous gel when Gilding)
Girders ~80kg, 1 m3 (rigid tetrahedral lattice when Girding)
Æsthete ~130kg, 1.5m3 to 3m3 (amorphous and variably textured)

Senses

Guarders Photosynthetic receptors can be arrayed for rudimentary sight in the “mid-blue” to ultraviolet range of the spectrum.
Gilders “Mitochondria-like” organelles can be arrayed for rudimentary sight in the infrared range of the spectrum.
Girders “Mitochondria-like” organelles can be arrayed for rudimentary sight in the infrared range of the spectrum. Internal “motion-sensor” organelles provide extreme vibration sensitivity.
Æsthete Photosynthetic receptors can be arrayed for very poor sight in the “mid-blue” to ultraviolet range of visible light. “Mitochondria-like” organelles can be arrayed for rudimentary sight in the infrared range of the spectrum.
All Endoplasm can be made sensitive enough to hear extremely low and high frequency vibrations. Endoplasm can be made malleable enough to feel very subtle textures. Absorbed chemicals can be discriminated with a canine’s sense of smell/taste.

Ingestion

Guarders Light and nitrogen (N2) for photosynthesis (can transfer heat energy to Gilders).
Gilders and Girders Heat energy and oxygen (O2) (transfer heat energy freely to other Veelab).
Æsthete Heat energy, chemical energy (internal absorption of cellular matter), light, O2, H2, and/or N2 —depending upon whether using photosynthesis, digestion, respirations, or a combination.

Reproduction

From one to eight (this is considered by Veelab to be only a reasonable limit, not a theoretical one) non-Æsthete Veelab enter a birthing vestibule. They leave later. Don’t ask for further details. Two years later, a Veelabling emerges, already partly pre-disposed to a certain Veelab sub-physiology.

Lifecycle

Gestation in two years, maturation and primary education in ten years, adult for 100 years, “Sat-Tya-Tsin” (roamer within the planet-being) for remaining twenty to forty years of life. Consumed by Gilders upon death.

Psychology

All but the Æsthete class are shy and avoid non-Veelab, but they are generally understood to be reserved, contemplative, slow-going beings.

The Æsthete Veelab, however, are gregarious, out-going, boisterous, and brash. Since they are always questing for the unique, sublime, or exciting, they are driven and energetic to a fault. Coupled with their tendencies to be obsessive about a particular field of research or art, they can be exhausting companions. Their confidence and competence in times of crisis, however, offsets their madcap natures often enough to make them valuable allies.

Technology

The Veelab have developed extensive architectural, sonic, and chemical sciences, but their physical adaptability dissuades them from expanding sciences into—for them—useless areas. Their principle unique development, in the space sciences, is the Vod-dpah: a semi-symbiotic device that is a collection of metal tubes, genengineered sacs, and polymer bottles that resembles nothing so much as a bagpipe designed by H.R. Geiger.

A Vod-dpah is usable only by Veelab because they must absorb portions of the Vod-dpah into its body, leaving certain tubes and sacs exposed. With this configuration, the Vod-dpah will allow a Veelab to jet powerful (or not), heated (or not) gases in complex sequences. This mechanism can be used as a flame-throwing weapon, a jet-pack (in low gravities), a welding tool, a cutting tool, and even a life-support system (for Veelab and species with similar heat, pressure, and air requirements). It also contains a basic multimedia recording computer and large data storage cells (which interface directly with the Veelab’s sensorium, for maximum fidelity). With it, an Æsthete or Guarder Veelab can break from the gravity of a planet-being’s world and patrol nearby space (as long as it, of course, morphs its endoplasm into a pressure seal). It is in this way that Veelab Æsthetes can reach orbital facilities, where they morph into humanoid form to conduct business (and pleasure) in the Lattice.

Communication

Ultra- to hyper-sonic transmission and echoing across the whole planet (similar to whales of Earth). “Touch” language of the Veelab (unique, requires shape-shifting ability to attain fluency). Limited radio and light communications system for solar-system-wide comms (anything more interferes with The Song).

Culture

As near to a gestalt mind as possible without telepathy. Religion, government, entertainment, family, commerce, strife: for the Veelab, all this occurs in The Song of The Chorus. Few Veelab can be away from their Chorus for long. Few want to be.

They colonize only as space for a new Chorus is needed. They do all that they can to avoid warfare with other species, since they are very vulnerable as planet-beings. For this reason—and to encourage hospitality for their Æsthetes—they make scandalously goods deals on the music, sculpture, and chemicals that they export to the other races of the Lattice. This generosity (and the quality of their goods) encourages most of the peoples of the Lattice to give Veelab planet-beings a wide berth, and their emissaries a comfortable trip through the Worlds.

Hyt-tyl-tyl-bas (“Number Twenty-Four”)

Æsthete of the Segillut-4 Chorus

Age – 20 Standard Years physical / 72 Relative Years actual

Mass – 120kg

Typical Appearance– Stocky, gray-skinned male humanoid, bald, with huge green eyes and bushy-seeming green eyebrows (both are, in fact, clusters of photosensitive organelles pushed near to his skin).

Base or Relaxed Appearance – Translucent to transparent, milky gelatinous mass with small, granular organelles floating around inside.

Abilities

Each Æsthete Veelabling is trained in the Common language, diplomacy, history, music, and art.

Equipped with, and trained in the use of, the Veelab Vod-dpah (see Veelab Species above).

At A Glance

Æsthete Hyt-tyl-tyl-bas is a “typical” Veelab Æsthete. He (for lack of a suitable gender pronoun) is on tour in the Lattice, gathering sensations and songs for his home Chorus. Though he has no itinerary, per se, he hopes to enrich his planet-being’s knowledge of current events in the “neighborhood,” and will thus seek out “hot spots” rather than “centers of culture” when given a choice.

An eager Æsthete, Hyt-tyl-tyl-bas has a zest for life that borders on seeming lunacy. He tends towards overzealous pursuit of excitement and adventure, often at great risk without ever realizing it. He is jocular, overly-trusting, noisy, and often brash—but generally endearing more than annoying to those whom he befriends. If any part of his personality could be said to be “dark” or “closed,” it is his attitude towards his Vod-dpah: he is terrified of its destructive potential and avoids it being seen by the public, least they fear him as much as he fears it. He uses it only when he must, and has yet to use it on a living being.

Strengths

  • Genial and likeable. Perceptive.
  • Shape-shifting (not doppelganger-like. He will always be motley-colored and lumpy, have cartoon-like facial features effected by pushing internal organelles into configuration near the surface of his skin, have just enough control to have stubby hands, and have octopus-like rigidity control).
  • Amphibious (endoplasm can absorb needed gases—O2, N2 or H2, by choice—from appropriate hydrospheres and atmospheres).
  • Excellent hearing and sense of smell (via “tuning” of endoplasm).
  • Feeds on light (through endoplasm) and cellular energy (through absorption of live animal or plant cells for internal breakdown).
  • Immune to pressure extremes (endoplasm hardens into a gray shell).
  • No need to breathe (until Vod-dpah sacs and bottles drain). Can configure to share with someone else, assuming “human-standard” respiration requirements.
  • Vectored flight in low to null gravity (until Vod-dpah sacs and bottles drain).
  • Flame-thrower/ welder/ cutting torch/ lantern (until Vod-dpah sacs and bottles drain).
  • Can recharge Vod-dpah (requires some time, light, and above gases or liquids).

Weaknesses

  • Overly-trusting. Gullible.
  • Overconfident. Ignorant of the variety and swiftness of the dangers in the world.
  • Extreme distinctive features (cartoonish, lumpy humanoid usually; gooey to shell-like exterior of a variety of shapes at other times).
  • Very poor (infra)vision (sees about 20/80 with special configuration of its heat- and photosensitive organelles).
  • Extremely vulnerable to ingested and insinuative poisons (if his skin isn’t in “shell mode,” any contact or gas poison has a particularly effective transfer through his endoplasm).
  • Extremely sensitive to loud noises (imagine if your whole skin got “deafened!”).
  • Sexless (this could be a “Zero Sum,” but it seems like it would be a disadvantage more often than not in a variety of social situations).
  • Suffers from motion sickness (personal problem, not a Veelab trait; Hyt must absorb appropriate pills prior to fast driving, air flight, zero gee, heavy acceleration, or extreme altitude changes).
  • Fears the responsibility and “stigmata” of the Vod-dpah.

Future History Of The HSL

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Jun 221997
 

Communiqué from
Juringen Helkarkennen, W-MR-ff2-2cf93d
Senior Supervisor, Core Border Region
Western Spiral Material Management Division

transcribed by David Artman

General Introduction

Welcome to the Human Stellar League!

Your star system has been approved for Standard Trade Status in the Human Stellar League (HSL) with all the rights and privileges that Status entails. Though your planet’s history does not record the seeding of your populace, we assure you that we have watched the progress of your colony for the past four thousand years and are now confident that you are ideologically and technologically advanced enough to resume membership in the galactic community.

Local History Adjustment Briefing

Your system’s current historical record holds the view that your race is evolved from a local fauna indigenous to the tropical latitudes of your home planet. This view is actually a confusion of the facts. Your system was originally seeded by Colony Slowboat W-373 “Ortomoshtik” which carried the template for your home planet’s entire ecosystem as well as 20,000 colonists from the Rigil System who had been genetically engineered to survive in your rather low gravity and oxygen rich atmosphere.

Unfortunately, those colonists were highly religious and were led by a traditionalist government that encouraged ‘natural’ living. The only allowed tools for written communications were inefficient data storage devices fabricated from local materials of rather less durability than the HSL-standard OptiCrystal. As a result, over the first thousand years of your colony’s expansion, historical and material management records were transcribed onto some form of plant fiber pulp using water and animal fat based inks. These records are lost today, since the colonists stopped annually uplinking through TessComm (q.v.) to report their status to the HSL. At the time, senior MMD personnel did not think much of this strange colony’s lack of communication and set a revisit by HSL officials as a very low priority. This was our error and for it we do apologize profusely.

It seems that during that first millennium, the colony divided on a number of religious points (no surprise) and splintered into isolated tribes. Within three hundred years, the Common tongue spoken throughout the HSL was lost to your ancestors as secret religious cants took primacy. When our agents finally made their rounds to your system, they found barbaric, warlike peoples scattered across the planet and nearly all of the HSL-standard technology destroyed (except, of course, your primary satellite, which is the CS Ortomoshtik). The people were in no state to be accepted into the HSL, even had they wanted to, for their oral history tradition had thoroughly corrupted the facts of Metaphysics into spiritual and god-like forces. The agents, with much regret, activated a Quarantine Beacon in far solar orbit and the HSL waited.

Most of your more recent history is correct after this period, once you sort through the pseudo-scientific theories of origin and look at the records only. Your current level of technology has sent you to your nearest in-system neighbors and you are, admirably, well on the way to finishing basic fusion tools. You have finally come full circle, reaching the intellectual point at which the Ortomoshtik’s crew first started. Your system will now be brought up to speed with the HSL Mean Technology Level and incorporated into the HSL’s political structure and material management procedures.

Your Rights as HSL Citizens

Just because you are a new system in the HSL does not mean that your local traditions are to be cast aside. In fact, the League encourages races and systems and regions to maintain their unique customs and practices. The only exceptions to these liberties are detailed later in the Political Structure and Legal System section of this communiqué; generally, these exceptions protect fellow Citizens and Unlinked Systems from exploitation and harm and will likely be no surprise to you, given your local mores as we understand them.

As a Linked System, your race is guaranteed System Representation in each of the three Executive Divisions of the HSL (q.v.). Further, each Citizen has the right of vote in Regional and System Appointments to these Divisions; every one of you will help to decide who will speak for your system in the Region and for your Region in the Executive Council.

Also, all HSL Linked Systems are provided with the plans and training necessary to attain Mean Technology Level and are given credit in the Material Management Division Bank to set up business relationships in good faith with the galaxy as a whole. As soon as your local computer networks are upgraded, your system will have full access rights to the HSL CompNet and general access to TessComm channels in your area. As with every newly Linked system, your local government has Full Right of Access to the Prime Pol for your star to use as your local government sees fit. All extra-system traffic will be barred from entering this frequency of TessSpace by the standard Prohibitions (q.v.); this barring is enforced by the League Navy in conjunction with the Watcher’s Guild. More on this will follow in later sections.

In closing, your people are considered by the Human Stellar League Executive Council to be fine examples of recovered colonists, stranded by the whims of your ancestors and left to struggle back to your original glory. Now that you have reawakened to your galactic heritage, we spread our limbs to you in offer of warmest embrace, as a father would a son thought lost to war. We welcome you and anxiously await your first contributions to The Diversity.

Mean Technology Level Briefing

Fundamentals of Metaphysics

Though your local scientists are admirably well-advanced, there are a few elements of Metaphysics which they have overlooked in their focus on material progress.

The first element is that of TessSpace or Tessaract Space, Essential Space, 3D, or “Soup”. This is basically the cohesive element of the universe, a force which binds every massive object in our dimension with every other. It generates the phenomena of gravity, light, strong & weak nuclear attraction , and the ‘phantom forces’ like centripetal force and momentum. Its composition at the third dimension is referred to as Pol—short for polarity gravity flux lines. These Pols are the noodles in the soup.

The second element is psychic force, which is the material tie to TessSpace, the link between time and space, the quasi-dimension between 4D and 3D. Certain sentient beings are capable of harnessing this force; they are called, not surprisingly, Psies.

These two elements combine to form the underpinning of our League. By using psychic force to shape and chart Essential Space, the Metaphysicians of the HSL are able to effect instantaneous travel of mass between any two massive bodies as well as communication between massive bodies. The monitoring of these channels, these Pols, between massive bodies is the responsibility of the Watcher’s Guild, an elite group of trusted Psies who also maintain communications between worlds using telepathic abilities.

Instantaneous travel is effected by TessDrives, tremendous gravity sails which pull a vessel to light speed and fire a particle cannon ahead of the ship. At that moment, the Drive Engineer will focus willpower to ‘tear’ space and drop the Drive and anything tethered behind it into TessSpace. Then, the Coordinator and Sailors join in, using their psychic abilities to both perceive the ‘progress’ of the craft and steer it along Pols between massive bodies. Psies must do this because any sentient with a lower than Level III Sensitivity can not perceive time in 3D. That is why it is called instantaneous travel. Unfortunately for those with Sen3, if one is riding Pols, one perceives time as if the distance were being covered at the speed of light. Thus, a ten light-year trip will seem to all Sen3s to take ten years, even though the Sen2 and Sen1 perceive it as being instantaneous.

Instantaneous communications uses the same technique, but with fixed solar orbit cannons and laser light communicators. It uses more power to tear and requires someone to be ready to receive on the other end with a light collector, but has the advantage of requiring only one Psi to open the link, and that Psi does not need to traverse the distance. All of CompNet is networked on the interstellar level by TessComm.

But do not let all of this lead you to believe that the HSL rests on the laurels of these two achievements. Bioengineering grants humans extraordinary abilities and immunities, cybernetics extend those abilities and can make a man invulnerable, for the right price. Further, the HSL can terraform an otherwise hostile environment to be more suited to humanity. If that is too expensive or can not be completely done, we alter humans to fit the environment, creating an ecosystem tailored to the environment of the planet to support them in their new life on the world. In fact, a combination of these techniques was done to your home world prior to sending the Ortomoshtik.

Thus, between the advancement of humanity in its day-to-day life and the transfer of data and material between the stars, the Human Stellar League Metaphysicians and Psies strive to weave a strong fabric of relations between all of humanity’s children.

Political Structure and Legal System

The Human Stellar League is divided into three political functions and three spatial sectors.

The three arms of the Executive Council are the Watcher’s Guild, the Materials Management Division, and the Metaphysicians. The Watcher’s Guild is composed of the galaxy’s most trusted Psies and is charged with enforcing the legal use of Pols and guarding against the most dangerous enemies to society. They are also charged with maintaining regulations for sanity laws and criminal reform as well as monitoring against the genetic crimes of False-Psying and Psi-Boosting. The Materials Management Division is an elected body responsible for the highest level distribution planning for the galaxy. They maintain the spacelanes as well as administer to the Navy and provide millennial planning for the course of human expansion. When there is a catastrophe, the MMD marshals resources to provide relief and/or defense for the blighted area. Finally, the Metaphysicians are the brain of the HSL. They coordinate galaxy-wide research efforts, Fringe exploration, CompNet standards, and the general advancement of human understanding and dissemination of information across the galaxy. The MPs are also in charge of the greatest of HSL endeavors: The Diversity. The Diversity is the grand museum of the galaxy, an entire region of space devoted to habitats, displays, and samples of every discovery made by mankind since the inception of the League over one billion years ago. It is for The Diversity that we live, it is our god, it is our goal, it is the raison d’étre.

The three Sectors of the HSL are as follows: Western Arm, Eastern Arm, and FrinCore. Each of these sections are, in turn, divided into scores of Regions each, and it is on the Regional level that a given stellar system of peoples is represented in the HSL. The Western and Eastern Arms are precisely what their names imply; FrinCore is a special Sector which represents the Fringe regions at the edge of the galaxy -cold and vast- and the Core regions near the Big Egg -fiery and crowded with novas. Most of the residents of the Regions in these sectors are fiercely independent -so much the better for The Diversity. Each Sector is further divided into Sub-Sectors and they into Regions. The Sub-Sectors Standard is used simply to provide a layer of representation in the HSL which addresses multi-Regional, but not necessarily Sectoral, concerns. The Sub-Sectors are, from Core to Fringe: Core Border, Wides, SpeckleVoid, and Fringe Border. The Regions are too numerous to mention here, but your home world is in the Gorht-Kythpall Region, SpeckleVoid, Western Arm.

Lastly, as a Citizen you are guaranteed certain rights and are required to respect the Prohibitions.

Isolation Of The Builder

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Mar 221993
 

There are few men in the galaxy for whom life is an exhilarating surprise, a merciful relief.

One of these few was Technician Thrace Soleman (ID# Astro.A159FC6B) as his ship, the Willie Mays, reentered normal space. Though living all his life in space—tesseracting hither and yon, withstanding gravities from nil to seven times Sol.Earth norm—he had always held his breath right before breaching essential space due to an almost unconscious foreboding that, for some reason, this tess—out of all the hundreds occurring at the same moment throughout the Milky Way, out of all the millions having occurred in the past—would go wrong.

He was, put simply, glad that sense experience had resumed; and he exhaled noisily, a grin teasing one corner of his mouth.

Technically, from his perspective the trip had taken no time as he was not psychically sensitive; there was no real (i.e. four-dimensional) interruption in his life. Yet, the Willie Mays had just completed an 8700 lightyear journey away from the edge of the Milky Way. Reclined on his cot, Soleman was staring through one section of the ship’s hull which had been left transparent; it revealed nothing but a few specks of light to the “north” of the ship and a slight glow of the Milky Way bleeding from the down side. So where is the rock?

Thrace extended the foot-hand of a wiry leg towards the cot above him and, grabbing its sideboard, swung himself into an upright position. He, with a startled yell, kept swinging up, around and back down onto the upper bunk. Only his mercurial flexibility and reflexes anchored his other foot to the bunkframe, preventing him from rebounding off its netting and back around into his cot again. His green hair swirled about his face in mockery of Great Newton.

“Where’s spin, for Its sake!” he bellowed into the intercom. He was accustomed to three gravities of spin when in a holding pattern. Stupid of me, really. After all, the view outside is obviously standing still.

There had been no reply from the pilots.

“Hai, Coordinator!” he called to the ship’s supervisor, Illyana Melder (ID# Astro.A15933C4). “C’mon, Illie, we couldn’t’ve lost you, Vrandium-mind.” The tight shades of worry began creeping onto his square, lined face.

Coordinator Melder was reputed as having the strongest will of any ship coordinator in the Human Stellar League. She had logged over five hundred tesseracts and had lived at least seventeen thousand years of subjective time during those breaches. Admittedly, at times she seemed distant and cold to others; those among them who were pilots understood perfectly. Nevertheless, the cyber-media had sensationalized her achievements by nicknaming her after the hardest metal known to Third Epoch human science; a metal which reflects all warmth cast at it.

There was still no reply.

Oh, man, after all those years, to snap now! Of course, this is probably the most uninvolved tess she’d ever made. Sailing one gravitational curve would’ve gotten pretty damned boring, I bet. Wait a minute! I’m already thinking in past tense, give them a chance. And them it was, for no one had responded to his hail; not the coordinator, neither of the sailors, and not the engine manager. If none of them were responding then most likely something had gone very wrong in tess-space. They were all psychically linked, as well as linked cybernetically with psychic circuits to the tessdrive, prior to breaching; little problems could become quite big with this intimacy. But, no. Nothing could have taken them all out.

And yet, there was no reply at all.

Anxiously, Thrace thumbed open the iris door and floated into the corridor outside the crew’s quarters. The rounded, functionally decorated hallway ran “eastward” to the commissary and “westward” to the recreation facilities and gymnasium. Across from Soleman were the labs, but there would be no one in them as there were but five people, including himself, on the ship. A short way westward, half of the hall split into a laddered chute running vertically through the ship. Leaping up to grab a rung on the ceiling, he pulled himself, foot over hand, towards the chute, bounding and covering the thirty meters like a fleeing rabbit. He arced upward and yanked himself bridge-ward, travelling so quickly that the floor-iris into the room above barely got out of his way. He soared into the control room, bending and flipping to grab the ceiling and absorb his momentum in his legs.

The clash of opposites in the room numbed his senses; it was not for several seconds that he truly perceived the carnage.

The ceiling was mostly transparent, but let in only a milky glow, there being no stars above it within a few million light years; this haze blended soothingly with the bridge’s lighting. The room’s graceful symmetry and efficiency starkly contrasted with the obvious tragedy that, with the quiet, cruel air of broken assurances, had occurred here. The simple room’s metal walls held only dark panes of acrylic in various sizes: either scanners or viewing screens. Furnishings were sparse at the moment; there were only four couches extruding from the floor which hid a plethora of other possible furnishings. The coordinator’s couch was central, just north of the vertical axis of the ship. South of the axis was the couch from which the engine manager manipulated the delicately massive tesseract drive in its starts, millisecond bursts, decade-long calibrations, and soul-wrenching stops. Finally, to the east and west of the axis, close to the room’s walls, lay the two sailors’ couches. They were the most gruesome to behold.

Three quarters of a body was reclined on each of the plastic and foam couches. Where the remaining quarter, the heads and necks, should have been, there were only large, brown, viscous stains and white shards stuck into the chairs. The globular gel smoked slightly and the charcoal smell of burnt synthsteaks filled the room. The occupants of the other two couches seemed whole in the dim cyan light emitted by the phosphorescent tracklights on the walls. They were, however, sprawled like two discarded rag dolls and their eyes were wide and burnt black, their faces frozen in agonized caricatures of laughter.

A scream would have found its way out of Thrace’s mouth had his jaw not been reflexively clenched against the rising bile in his throat. Instead, only a strangled grunt echoed in the silent chamber. He stared, wide-eyed and unbelieving, instinctual fear and repulsion at the scene causing the pores of his skin to dilate (but not to sweat, that was engineered out of his race eons ago). Perversely, the only clear thought to come to his mind was Hope that doesn’t get into the steering circuits; I can’t fix psywires. A futile hope for someone incapable of piloting tess-space.

He was finally broken out of his shock by a soft pinging noise and a sharp pain in his right cheek. He grabbed at the spot and found a small bit of bone stuck there. Shit, there’s shards ricocheting all over this room. Better get some gravity going to settle it and clean up. He did not consider the irrationality of the idea of cleaning so soon after witnessing such horror; it was something he could do in a situation over which, he was beginning to realize, he had next to no control. He pushed off towards the south of the room and gripped a rung embedded there. The stickiness of it surprised him, and he fought hard not to consider the reason it was so. He pressed his hand to the acrylic pane set in the aluminum wall… and nothing happened. He used the arm of his jumper to wipe the pane clean and tried again.

Still nothing happened.

Panic hit. the systems burned im a dead man oh jenny oh it oh shit what am i gonna do no power no food nothing dead It went on for some time, waves of fear and loss, regrets, images in his mind, their contrast fuzzed by retrospection, forgotten intentions, and confused underpinings. His Youth and all of its freedom, irresponsibilities and passions. That older brunette who had shown him the sweet benefits of Maturation. The years he spent as Student, deciding on his lifework. The implant surgery to allow him to interface with ComputerSpace, the reflex wires that gave him control over peripheral devices. Years of study in cyber-school and space school. His spouse and her funny laugh and arousing accent. His boy, oh, his young Zephyr, just one standard year from Maturation and school. His friends among the Astros as well as landborns. He thought of all of these things and others in the few minutes he spent feverishly jamming his hand against the palmscanner. As he slid off the crest of emotion into a trough of numb despair, some reason returned to him and he looked at the tracklights in the room.

He giggled with relief; a suppressed laugh filled with gasps and breaks. The power was not gone. Rather, he was too excited for the security scanner. A little measure against hijacking: the scanner would not verify someone’s scan, even if they were in the “approved” register, unless his or her pulse rate was at a median level. This conditional kept severed hands, frightened hands, and manic hands from being of any use for gaining entry to the ship’s computer system.

Smiling shakily, Thrace intoned his mantra for a while until he could feel his muscles relax and his heartbeat soften and slow. He touched the pane again and was answered by a faint click as a section of wall slid away. In the alcove behind the panel, a coiled cord ending in a fiberoptic male connector hung on a hook much like a pay telephone cradle. Upon removing the cable from the cradle, a rounded chair inflated up from the floor behind him. He dropped into it, a faint whisper reminding him that it had a pinhole leak somewhere. He relaxed and inserted the cable’s plug into the jack behind his ear.

The stained, glowing wall before him faded to be replaced by a small city sprawled out below him. From his “aerial” vantage he could see that most of the ship’s systems were automatically functioning and doing so quite normally. He gave these systems—life support, reactor dampening, gene monitoring, biot growing—only the most cursory inspection. They were critical to his immediate survival, but not the most important functions of the Willie Mays from Soleman’s perspective. He soared above the towering sub-directory icons, across the mainframe, until he reached a cityblock-sized red icon, in the shape of an umbrella, vaulting an apparent kilometer above the “ground.” He landed at its base and touched it.

It ceased to be. In its place was a meter-high question mark: the universal iconic symbol for “System not present — Error.”

“Willie!” cried Thrace; “what happened to the tess-sail manual control system? I need spin and a tess-comm link to HSL.”

A computer-imaged persona of an android in a baseball uniform appeared before him, its hands behind its back.

“That system has been deemed useless. I was going to remove the icon, but security monitoring on the system delayed me. Someone with a hand like yours but not a temper like yours was repeatedly requesting access.”

Thrace’s head began to practice Forthanik’s Ballet for 0.5 g in D min. Somewhere above his right temple he could swear he heard a blood vessel pop, even though that would be impossible in Compspace. “Why was the control system deemed useless, Willie?” he asked in a trembling voice that seemed to want to hide in his mouth, not actually ask that too-important question.

“Because the drive no longer exists, Technician Soleman.”

The computer, of course, had absolutely no idea what had happened during the tess; it was not psychic either. There were, however, a number of cyberlectures on the subject of tesseract emergencies. In one of them, Soleman learned that several daring experiments had been conducted during the tessdrive’s conception in the Tenth Eon, First Epoch, which involved planned detonations of the drive during a breech and while tessing. Nothing was ever learned: the earlier tessdrives were not sailed, but shot “ballistically,” to their destinations; most of the scientists gave up searching the fifty lightyear test area after the first ten years of doing so. The most widely agreed upon theory was that there was a 84.78% chance that the whole ship would be destroyed with it, in spite of the 400 kilometers separating the drive from the ship, and a 13.46% chance that the ship would never again enter 4D space. In a way, then, Thrace was lucky to be alive. Great. Just fabulous for me, he had thought after learning that gem of information. Soleman also discovered a space opera simsense which depicted a group of colonists isolated by the unlikely loss of sanity by all the piloting psychics of their vessel. It was typically, if not subtly, thrilling and he could not resist making love to the (typically) stunning heroine, as consolation, during one of her more touching strophes of angst. He never bothered to figure out who he actually was trying to console; what did it matter? For that few hours, they had been the only reality, and they needed the closeness to hold back the hungry vacuum waiting patiently outside.

He realized halfway through the second week of travel under the Willie Mays’ fusion drive that he simply did not have ten thousand years to spare trying to get into the Milky Way’s shipping lanes. For the past sixteen days he had been idling about the recreation room, working out occasionally on the zero gee machines to keep fit WHY?, experimenting with the more esoteric selections on the ship’s meal synthesizer WHAT’S testicles???, scanning the documentary and technical files of the computer Why isn’t there a passage on Growing Tesseract Drives out of Matter Reclaimation Biots, or Genetically Breaching Essential Space?, and experiencing way too much simsense. On this second week, however, he awoke on Sixday with the dire paralysis of apathy. He felt cold, in spite of the life-support. He had been dreaming of his spouse and was hoping that the stark ship’s ceiling was the dream instead.

Jenny and he had been walking through the Yorkshire Dales on Sol.Earth, exploring Middleheim Castle. They climbed to the top of the southern tower and stared over the green, forested waves of the surrounding country, devoid of any other signs of man (Sol.Earth had been discovered as sentient and almost immediately declared a Refuge World). Holding each other against the chill wind, whispering insued: sweet sentiments he could not now recall, craved to recall because he wished they were true, prayed he had broken past his unpsychic genetics, had communed with his only love one last time.

He did not rise from his bunk for several hours, and then only to plug into the lavatory. His blood began flowing from this activity, and other activities began to seem appropriate. A wide grin and furrowed brow smeared his face into a cruel visage.

He had no reason to keep fit, so he threw the zero-gee trainer through the commissary, laughing loudly, echoingly; there were only twenty-one varieties of synthmeats from which to choose, so he jacked into the computer and launched a File Burn program at the synthesizer’s master program (it did the best job it could defending against its Prime Priority User’s wrath). There was no one to impress with his knowledge of Pre-Diaspora politics, so he set the technical files to teaching the simsense’s Drama sub-system how to do quadruple integrations, thereby generating fierce trinary debates throughout the ship’s Compnet. Finally, he had experience every It-damned simsense in the entire database and at least half of their plot variants and, quite literally, thought he was still in simsense half of the time he was doing something else on the ship. Earlier that week he had once tried to ‘stop program run’ while sitting in the commissary, throughly bored, in front of a bowl of some horrid concoction from the meal synth’s Traditional Menu called “grits.”

The next week he spent pacing the ship, staring through its now totally transparent hull. He had felt, at first, a dizzying sensation of shrinking when he had first cleared the hull to view his new domain. The Milky Way was SO far away; it looked like egg on the vast pan of the universe: an egg which he would never again taste thanks to some mysterious, capricious whim of fate. He felt minuscule… then realized that he was. The coffin-like atmosphere of an opaqued hull had been worse, however.

During these uneventful days he spoke to many people; only one, his wife, ever spoke back, and that was towards the end of the week. He raged first at Illyana for failing in her duty. She must’ve zoned during the tess and steered the sailors off the polarity-rhythm into some freaky wavelengths, the dumb bitch with her snotty ways and her too perfect lips and the way she insists on announcing every bloody minute for a half hour before tessing… Then, of course, it was the sailors, Uthor and something-with-a-P, who had zoned and failed to avoid some quirky perturbation Vrandium-mind had ordered evaded. Next, Manager Hurdles (ID# Astro.A1596115) had clearly failed to keep the drive in harmony and had fried them all in the backlash.

“And what about the fucking League with their half-assed regulations and shoddy inspection teams?” he inquired loudly of the first bowl of food he had synthed in four days, failing to recall the hassles that the Mays’ crew had gone through to con their way into this mission.

Fringe.BB20 was the first Grade G congealment to be spotted escaping Mother Milky’s possessive pull. Until then, only the occasional Sol.Mercury-sized mother lodes were intercepted in the really cold depths of space to be reclaimed by humanity. This body they had been going to intercept would have fetched them at least 20,000 stresshours apiece for only three months of crystal harvesting with the massive robotic drills and the microscopic biots. Then a small fusion-fission charge to send it back to the galaxy to be retrieved in a millennium or so, and the crew would have tessed back, retired, and done some pleasure touring of their workplace, the Milky Way. All that privilege: up in smoke. IT-DAMNED, BEAST-BRAINED…. Several long-haul teams had bid for the mission and the qualifying criteria had been intense. The Willie Mays Mining Cooperative was so very, damned lucky it was driving Thrace very, damned mad.

Then came the Solution. It took only a few feverish, ecstatic seconds to conceive and fifty-six days to effect. It was, after all, an ambitious project—if “ambitious” can describe the dreams of a doomed man.

The first thing Technician Thrace had to accomplish was to negotiate peace in Compspace between the Technosupremacists and the Aesthetics Liberation Faction, who had escalated the conflict he had initiated in his malicious, feeble vengeance a week earlier. The technical files had achieved the upper-hand with their knowledge of the Compnet’s systems, but the Dramatic files were passionately holding their own. He felt like a fool when he jacked in as a peace-keeping force. He spent several days untangling the various attack programs binding the two systems and disarming databombs. Fortunately, with peace declared, the two file systems were more than willing to provide what help they could in this task.

The next month was spent designing and building a robot which would automatically build and install additional memory to the computer. He also redesigned the food synthesizer. He cleared the majority of its database, leaving only the core formulas for synthesizing what he called the “Tree of Life Elixir,” a serum of fundamental proteins, enzymes, carbohydrates, and polyunsaturated fats. Then, Soleman modified the dispenser so that the bland syrup would be slowly and steadily drip-fed through a IV. Perfect! With the germ and biot banks to draw on, and their synthing capabilities, there should be about a hundred years of this stuff… more than enough, most likely.

The final two weeks were spent almost entirely in Compspace. He toured every alley and sewer, each database and slave node, wreaking nothingness on every inessential system. Lighting… Let there be NO light! That’s good. Fusion drive: slow burn; open all accesses to reserves. Should be a few thousand years of operation. Climate control: bridge only; seal remainder of ship. Laser distress beacon: ah, what the Hole, On. All this simsense shit: GET THEE BEHIND ME! Ooh, that’s very good. Auxiliary file systems: Good night, sweet prints. All except computer maintenance files for the robot.

Then, finally, it was finished, and with the end of frenetic activity returned morose passivity. Thrace sat on the bridge, reconsidering. There was a slim chance that the inevitable search team would stumble upon him before the ten year MIA period was over (tradition, from the early days of “spit-tessing”). 8700 lightyears is not all that much. Shit.

He spoke a soft prayer of farewell to whomever happened to be listening. The IV went into his arm with a slightly painful jab, and Thrace snickered over the irony that his last real sensation was one of pain. The eight weeks of isolation had inured him to stimuli, but somehow this faint prick seemed to wash swells of tension and melancholy up his arm and through his floating body. He thought once more of Jennifer and Zephyr and hoped they would have fun with his insurance/pension. Concluding with a particularly blurry-eyed sentiment of Love, he wished Homo Stellari a fruitful being. Then Technician Thrace Soleman jacked into Compspace.

It was dark, quiet, odorless, empty. The systems which were to be saved—life support, Tree of Life, the robotic chipper, fundamentals—hid themselves behind a masking program so sophisticated even its designer stood little chance of unveiling its secret wards. All extraneous systems were not. It was a Void… save for the One, Thrace. The One floated without buoyant support, perceived Nothing, felt the effluent of thirty-nine Standard Years of emotion swirling inside. The extensive memory crystals were limited (but growing) yet infinite, lacking a measure save the One. And cloistering, so crowded with nothing but the One. And piss-boring, lonesome. The One meditated a moment, reached out…

And It spoke a Word.

The Leaf

 Fiction, Writing  Comments Off on The Leaf
Feb 051989
 

The sun had not even risen, and yet already the work bosses were gently awakening the harvesters with their batons. Pere was roused from his deep slumber by the shouts of the bosses and the grunts of his fellow pickers; but he remained motionless, gathering his energy. An almost casual blow from one of the bosses was his cue to open his eyes. He groaned concilatorily. The boss hammered him with the standard morning greeting.

“Get up! Heavy harvest today!”

There was usually a “heavy harvest” during the rainy season, of course; but the bosses always felt that this motivating comment stimulated work. So, subsequently, regardless of the night’s ripening of the Q’jall plants, each day (each boss, actually) promised a “heavy harvest.”

Pere rose from his grass tick and pulled on his jerkin. It reeked of Q’jall juices and sweat, but break day was four days away, so he tried to ignore the smell. A couple of the harvesters had already left for their morning meal; others were still struggling on their mats to resist gravity. Fortunately for the latter, the bosses had a blow or two to offer for added motivation. Pere’s back was beginning to cramp, and this only added to his hurry. He bolted out of the quarters and into the dawn.

Nearly one-third of the blue dwarf sun was above the horizon, and with its hazy glow came a flush of heat. The day was not even begun and already the temperature hovered around 110 degrees. Pere found the warmth pleasing, but then realized the high temperatures it forecasted. He was surprised at the dryness of the air and, looking up through the porch’s woven awning, saw only a few patchy cirrus clouds. This bothered him. Without the cooling rains, harvesting under the 160 degree sun at mid-day would be awful. He thanked Primar that his skin had purpled quickly this season.

He jogged across the dusty yard between the harvester’s quarters and the mess hall. His feet smarted initially, but he soon felt their tar glands ooze out enough of the sticky substance to cool them. As he burst past the mess hall’s hanging mat for a door, his nose was assailed with the scent of
charred flesh and mildew. Half of the plantation’s harvesters were seated at long wooden tables gorging themselves on what appeared to be a paste made of ground swervahs grain and fried strips of grastuh meat.

Pere understood their rush and hurried into the line of men waiting to be served. The food today seemed fairly good, but that was not what impelled him. It was what the master gave the harvesters after they arrived at the fields that he most wanted. The leaf. The line inched along, but eventually he would have it.

Pere waited impatiently and finally was given his food. He dropped into the nearest seat and began to gobble it. Within minutes, the tray lacked any trace of the “morning’s delight,” as the bosses put it. Pere leapt up and moved to drop his tray in the barrel of water at the door and get to the Q’jall fields.

When he arrived, panting, at the harvester’s stopping place the night before, Pere saw others already fighting for position in line to get their leaves and begin picking. The field master stood on the back of the huge Hover-carrier, the vehicle whose four Galactic ton bed the harvesters would have to try to fill. Beside the master sat an enticing pile of Q’jall leaves. Pere stared hungrily at the pile as he moved into line. He could almost taste the sour juice. He could feel the familiar tingles in his mouth….

His back broke his trance with a preliminary little jolt of spasming. Pere anxiously surveyed the line. Nearly all of his group of pickers had arrived; soon his torturous wait would end.

As if cued by Pere’s cravings, the master passed the top leaf to the first man in line. The man jammed it into his mouth and began chewing vigorously. The master struck the man with his energy prod, barking, “Not so fast, warth! If you collapse out there, don’t plan on getting back up!” The man obligingly began the accepted, bovine chewing taught by the masters. He was, however, already beginning to smile, and he seem to be moving jerkily as he shouldered his pick-sack and walked into the fields. One by one, each harvester was handed a leaf, and he would head for the fields chewing the precious plant.

At about half way through the stack of leaves, Pere stepped up to face the master and be given his leaf. The master started to hand it to him, but then stopped, much to Pere’s disappointment, and stared at him.

“Ah, yes…Pere,” said the tall, pressure-suited man. “I shouldn’t even give you this, what with all the extra leaf you ate yesterday!” Pere froze, terrified. He had thought that his pilfering had gone unnoticed. He cringed, apologetically, praying to Primar that he not be denied his leaf. “If I catch you stealing Q’jall today, I will see that you are cut off from future rations. You would not like that, would you, Pere?”

“No, field master,” Pere squeaked. His stomach and back tightened more, as if to emphasize his response.

“Then don’t do it, warth!” the master bellowed, tossing Pere’s leaf to the ground. Pere stooped down, retrieved it, and placed it in his mouth. The flood of sour juices nearly gagged him, but they quickly numbed his taste buds. He walked, chewing, into the huge waving field of Q’jall, and the near magical effects of the leaf began to come.

 

Despite the dryness of the previous night and morning, there was a good harvest on the plants after all. The plants were covered with large, dark red leaves and fluffy yellow flowers. The masters panted only the flowers and the darkest of the leaves. These were the most valuable off-world. Although Pere knew that purchasers of the Q’jall rarely chewed the stuff like the harvesters, he was not certain of how the powerful drug was ingested. He had heard rumors that off-worlders stuck patches soaked in some extract of the plant on their skin, but he would never try that. Pickers were warned to wear gloves when working, and he could only assume that was to avoid skin contact with the juice. This, actually, he knew was the reason, because once a friend of his had died from picking all day without gloves on. How his friend had lost them, he could only guess.

Pere began to pick his row of Q’jall, pondering the nature of the plant, just as his leaf began to say hello to him. He chewed and chewed, picking flowers and choice leaves as he went. Soon, he realized he was speeding up his motions. Typical. He picked faster and faster, pausing only to drink from his water bottle. His hands started to blur, but he knew his speed had peaked. He had been a harvester for many years; he knew his pace. The leaf could be thanked for the blur, which was slowly getting longer and longer. Within an hour after starting, he was an eighth or so of the way through his row and he could see the complete path his hands took from plant to bag and back to plant.

The sun was bearing down hard now, and the temperature had risen to about 120. Pere, however, was oblivious to the heat… and to the building clouds. He had become a picking machine; his actions were lightning quick and sure. He had fallen into rhythm and his mind began to float on the Q’jall. He thought of his parents.

They died in the wars over this planet between the Atatians and the Rumares. They had wanted to leave the planet and were saving up to do so when the wars broke out. Pere remembered the looks of terror on their faces as the Atatians, garbed in their strange pressure suits and armed with concussion rifles, marched into his home village, pulverizing its inhabitant’s bodies with their brutal blasts. Pere brushed the chilling image aside as he glanced at an ulooloo bird flying overhead. He saw it as a spacer streaking to some distant galaxy with his leaves. He hated the ulooloo. The leaves he picked were his, damn it! Those warths off-world should come down here and pick their own, if they wanted it so bad! He reached out and plucked a deep red, almost purple, leaf and, looking hurriedly around, defiantly stuffed it into his mouth to join the gummy leaf already there.

He began picking again, gnawing on the new leaf. He swallowed frequently, impatient for the next rush. He was not kept waiting long. The field seemed to swim about him in the wind. The sky darkened as clouds built, yet Pere saw everything become brighter. The blood color of the leaves seemed to leap off of them and the yellow flowers all developed faces. The faces regarded him, grinning sardonically.

“So, think you can handle more, huh, warth?” one of the faces asked.

“I did yesterday,” Pere replied obstinately.

“Oh, right! Weren’t you the one that field master Domery was yelling at about that? My brothers,” the flower said to the other faces, “perhaps we should call field master Domery and tell him.”

“N-no! Please!” Pere begged, but the flowers had already begun hailing Domery. They alternated between yelling for the master to come and jeering accusations at him. He snatched them off the plant in an effort to silence them. Their dying screams echoed in his head.

“Great Primar, but you’re a brute!”

Pere looked to the voice’s origin, but saw only a mouse, seated at the base of a Q’jall stalk knitting three-toed socks. It looked at him pityingly.

“I’m supposed to,” Pere responded, but the mouse said nothing; it just kept knitting. “Damned fool mouse,” he muttered and resumed picking. The flowers had quit yelling and simply cowered, frightened. Pere laughed to himself as he viciously plucked them. “This’ll teach you to try to get me in trouble. You’re mine for the taking,” he said venomously. As he reached out to pluck the next leaf, he noticed something wrong with his glove. He distractedly picked a couple of flowers, then looked down at the glove’s palm in which they lay. He realized that it had lost the look of grastuh hide and now resembled steely pressure suit gloves. Puzzled, he glanced at the flowers’ now cadaverous faces. They resembled… no, they were his mother and father’s faces.

Horrified, Pere stuffed the buds into his sack. When he withdrew his hand, his glove was its normal, brown, stained self. The flowers on the plants had resumed their normal appearances as well.

“Strong Q’jall,” Pere muttered to himself. His hands began their streaking ministrations once more.

 

As quickly as the sun crossed the sky, Pere moved along his row. The building clouds had threatened to break earlier, but now, with two hours until dusk, were firmly blanketing the sky. Around mid-day, Pere had decided to curb a slight hunger with a small portion of Q’jall. Now, as the wind picked up and shook the plants to life, he could feel a building oppression in the air. The Q’jall’s waltz seemed to sway towards him, threatening to absorb him into their midst. Then, the plants relaxed their assault on Pere and began to bow, rhythmically, towards the sun. Pere ceased trying to pick the now frantic plants and turned to face the object of their supplication. The sun’s glow through the clouds seemed to grow in size, and the winds from it swelled further.

Quite suddenly then, the sun blinked out, the winds died, and an inch of rain dropped. Pere mimicked the Q’jall in squatting to the ground beneath the heavens’ aquatic onslaught. He cowered in fear for several moments before the memory of his task found its way back into his consciousness

Pere rose to a half-stand and resumed his methodical pickings. He went but a few meters down his row before he stumbled over something and fell into the thickening mud. He pushed himself up onto his elbows and peered back, nearly blinded by water, to regard what tripped him. It appeared to be a large purple foot. Not large, but colossal, in fact. As his gaze traced up the purple leg connected to the foot, his vision blurred for a moment. Then, a hazy ray of sunlight found a hole in the blanketing clouds, and his eyes snapped back into precise focus. He realized to what the Q’jall were bowing. He found himself regarding Primar.

The towering figure had to be Primar, so regal was his bearing, so mightily he stood gazing down at the smaller Rumare. Pere could only stare back, dumbfounded. The Q’jall, now, so ruled his psyche that he no longer acknowledged its presence. For him, he was now seeing his god. He quickly responded by dropping flat to the ground. He bowed, fearing to meet Primar’s stare.

“Why do you grovel before me so?” Pere nearly swooned. The High One spoke to him! Him! A lowly harvester. “Well…?”

“I…I fear your visit forebodes ill omen, High Primar,” Pere responded.

“When has the presence of Primar forecast thus? I am of your people. I come for you.”

“No…not to take me away!” Pere shook with fear and felt a frosty hand grip his stomach.

“Not FOR you; in your favor, Pere. I have been here for your people, our people, for eons. I have seen our planet’s plight. I know your suffering, I feel it. It should end.”

“Will you destroy the Atatians?”

“Feel you not the emptiness about you?” Pere noticed that, despite the rain and wind, the fields seemed remarkably still. He rose to his full height to look over the Q’jall. He saw no one. No Atatians or harvesters.

“Have you sent them away?” Pere felt his face flush with joy. His heart raced in excitement. He, for the first time in so many years, felt the burden of laboring for the Atatians lifted. He had almost forgotten, or grown to accept, the harshness of his conditions until, in retrospect, he now viewed their basic cruelty from the lofty height of freedom. The Rumare were once again a free people. The full weight of this realization buoyed Pere’s emotions even higher. He began to shout praises to Primar as the smiling god faded from view.

The Q’jall then, predictably, dropped Pere. He was asleep before he hit the ground.

 

A pain. A pain… in his side. That is what pulled Pere from the depths of the dreamworld. In his dreams, he roamed the fields, talking and dancing with other Rumare. He felt elated and content. Even though he knew it was a dream, he was assured—by Primar himself, no less!—that his dream life was a reflection of his long forgotten, but newly regained, way of life. He eagerly awaited the next day, but was content with the sleep. That is why the pain in his side was such a bother. More than a bother, now, for the next pulse from the master’s energy prod was of a far greater voltage. Pere convulsed upward into a nearly seated position, arms flailing about for purchase and eyes bugging.

Over Pere stood field master Domery and three lesser bosses. Domery glared down at him.

“Well, now, Pere… You seem to have fallen asleep,” the master’s hollow, echoing voice stated from within his pressure suit. “Have you any particular explanation for your slumber, warth? Up too late last night?”

“N… no, uh, field master,” Pere groggily stuttered. “Uh, I mean ‘yes,’ field master.” Pere waited for the inevitable.

“LIES! ALL LIES!” the field master screamed, fogging his helmet’s visor. “You’ve been in the Q’jall, eating stock! Holper,” he beckoned one of the waiting bosses, “He is to be restricted from any more leaf and kept in the watched fields. If there are any more transgressions…,” and here Domery savored Pere’s anxiety before continuing, “…have him dig himself a grave and kill him.” With a flourish, Domery spun on his heels and stepped onto his Hoverboard. The boss named Holper manacled Pere and began leading him out of the fields as Domery soared away.

Pere was put into an individual cell not even large enough in which to lie flat. He was told, as Holper turned the latch to his door, to expect no evening meal as further punishment. He could, however, look forward to “morning’s delight” before beginning work in the guarded fields. Oh, and without any Q’jall. As the light in the hall switched off, Pere slumped into a ball in the corner—and center—of his room and waited for the back pains to come. If he was lucky, they would wait until morning.