This part originally appeared in the November 2013 issue.
115th of 2029 (306-97): A Presentation on Daramm
War hero, that’s what they called me, now; I was one of the Thirty-Seven. I was ‘Special’. There’d been a big ceremony when we got back. Stirring music, fresh uniforms, long speeches. I wanted to disappear, to hide, to run away. Singled out forever for the damage done. Eternally broken, to be pitied, that was how I was ‘Special’. There’d been dokhtors, of course, offers of treatment, therapy, cosmetic surgery, they could make me ‘better’. I said no; how could they make it better? They couldn’t burn the memories out of my head, nothing could ever take those away. There was no way to give me back what they took, only cover up the marks they left. Everyone already knew I was ‘Special’, trying to hide it was pointless. And now, I had to meet with Lord Protector McCloud himself. A special medal, Perma y Irdarvula, Heart of the Greatest Courage, just for the ‘Thirty-Seven’.
I took a deep breath. It wasn’t just me; there’d be thirty-six others up there with me. It was easy, I could do it. Jane was here helping me, Siish and my family in the audience, it would be fine. I fiddled with my uniform. Full review dress, silver, black and purple, skirt neatly pressed, asymmetric hem running right to left, jacket fasteners smartly arranged off-centre. Jane was already dressed, she turned, “You’re crooked, deary.” I tried to straighten the fasteners.
Jane looked over. “Slowly, deary.” She was doing her make-up already1. Right, I’d got them straight. I think.
She laughed, “Almost, deary, it’s fine, just get the gong and sit. Listen to some more boring speeches then done. Here,” she reached over and fixed my last fastener, “perfect.” She handed me a make-up pouch and turned back to finish hers.
I stared at it. A deep breath. A stick, a red one I think. I turned. I stood, unable to move, my face, my once pretty face2. I felt a hand take my wrist. Jane turned me around. She smiled, she’d finished. She held me and stroked my hair “It’s okay, it’s okay, would you like me to do it for you deary?”
117th of 2029 (308-97): Daramm Downport
I woke, the bed soaked in sweat. “Lights,” I swung my legs over the edge of my bunk and tipped myself out of bed. I landed, stumbled and yelped with pain as my knees hit Jane’s trunk. A quiet giggle came from the heap of linen on the lower bunk. “So much for that famed Luriani grace and agility, then, deary.”
This did not help my mood. “Well, Jane sweetie, you can just go play with a Mmaryn.” The pile spoke again, “Now, now, deary, don’t be like that.”
But I was not in the mood. I crossed to the basin. “Damn, how do they expect people to live in this space?” The stateroom was undeniably cramped but I was just not used to being on a starship any more and it would take time to change that.
I crossed over to the basin, a curtain above it, I smiled. I set the tap to fill, cold. I waited for it to fill and plunged my face into the ice cold water and tried to forget. I heard Jane’s voice behind me “You know, you can’t actually drown yourself, deary, and I would like to use it too.” Damn, she’d surprised me, I’d have to get used to that. I pulled my head out and turned to look at her. Hair a mess, shirt crumpled and twisted, and she was still beautiful. I envied her. “Shower, now.” It was an order.
“Yes, Mother.” I squeezed past her to the shower in the corner. Two person occupancy, yeah, right. I climbed in, undressed, and threw my clothes out. “Warm.” The jets hit me from all sides, too cold “Temperature up.” Warmer now, “Set.”
Jane’s voice “Must be good to be with civilised people who use water rather than trying to shake the dirt off3.” I snorted; it was. I let the warm water run over my face as I tried to wash away the night.
A rap on the door, “Luriani, remember, can’t drown yourself.”
“We can actually, it's just harder.” I finished quickly. “Off. Where’s the towel?”
“On the hook by the door, where it’s always been.” I reached out, fumbled for a moment and pulled the towel inside, wrapping it tightly round me when I was dry.
She was waiting, she hugged me “They’re really not that bad, deary.” I’d known her too long not to hear when she was lying.
Jane showered while I picked out clothes, she got out dripping wet and looked at what I’d picked, she picked something else “Here, this one’s better.” It was… daring.
“I thought I was to be the pilot, not the ship’s wanton.”
She gave a wicked smile, “No, deary, that’s my job.” She’d changed, a lot. I put on the one I’d chosen. “That looks like a sack, deary.”
117th of 2029 (308-97): Breakfast with Mother
Sish broke a roll and selected the correct knife to spread butter on it. “So, Siishubuu, how is your life in… independent commerce progressing?” Madam4 Manish’s dislike of her son’s new life was undisguised.
“I have not joined the Wurlana5 quite yet, Mother; try to think of it as a belated grand tour6.”
She simply raised her eyebrows to indicate her continued disapproval. “If you wished to wander, your sister Gamaagin is always in need of good kaptans7.”
“I find I prefer a little less structure in my travels, Mother.”
His mother sighed, there was so much of his father in Siish. “Well, have you called on Gubashiidi Wa since your return? Her father informed me she greatly enjoyed your dinner together.”
“Sadly, the needs of the repatriation have prevented it, Mother, and Raledenet is scheduled to leave this evening.”
“Siishubuu, Gubashiidi Wa will not remain unmatched forever.”
“I am sure you are correct, Mother.” In truth, he very much hoped so. His dinner with Sharik had been very pleasant, but she was just not for him.
She sipped her tea and considered her son’s path, along with the disturbing information she had recently received.
“So Siishubuu, you are departing ‘on the evening tide,’ as it were. One presumes you have a destination and purpose in mind?”
“Stalwart Mother, I have heard Sherin Femral was asking after me.”
“Mmmm,” Madam Manish slowly buttered a roll with great deliberation. Kamees Sherin was a dangerous man. A war hero with political ambitions. She had heard he wished to ‘utilize’ her son to further those ambitions. Her son was clearly set on his course, but perhaps he could be directed on a less perilous path. “You know, Siishubuu, I do believe you may wish to call upon Kirsov Geenal-Majkor before you leave, he was a close friend of your father’s.”
Siish knew his mother well enough to know this would not be a simple social call. “Mother, what are you up to?”
“Siishubuu?” she replied innocently.
“Kirsov Geenor is well known as the Council's ‘fix-it’ man, and he is currently on Verasaryn8.”
“He mentioned to me recently he may have some ‘employment’ for you, and I believe he is arriving on Daramm tomorrow.” Madam Manish intended to call Kirsov as soon as her son left to ensure both statements were correct.
Siish pondered this awhile; his mother was definitely up to something, but employment by Kirsov Geenor would be… interesting. And it was probably better to know what she was up to than not.
“But of course it would mean delaying my departure a day.”
“It would? I had not considered that, Siishubuu.”
Siish thought if he had a keedit9 for each time she did that he’d own the Protectorate. He said heavily, “I will call Sharik when I get back to Raledenet.”
Madam Manish considered, first name, that was somewhat promising at least. “Oh, don’t be silly, Siishubuu, I’m sure you’ll be far to busy, organising your ship and such like. I’ll have Blandii bring a communicator.”
Madam Manish waited for her son to depart, extracting her usual kiss as he left. She called Blandii to clear the dishes as she placed a call. A young naval vebant appeared on the screen. “Verasaryn Naval Base, how may I help you?”
“Could you be so kind as to place me through to Kirsov Geenal-Majkor.”
“I’m afraid he’s unavailable at the moment; may I take a message?”
“Could you please inform him Lady Councillor Manish called?”
The young vebant sat up smartly. “One moment My Lady, I’ll put you through.” The screen flashed to a hold pattern, and then Kirsov Geenor appeared. He was still a striking man despite the scars and eye-patch that betrayed the adventures of his youth. Madam Manish was lost in thought for a moment; if not for the needs of politics, her life could have been very different.
“Ah, Colin, so good to see you again.”
“And you, Nashu, as beautiful as ever. To what do I owe the pleasure?” Madam Manish flushed just ever so slightly.
“Yes; I need a favour, Colin. I have heard that Sherin is sniffing round him, seeking to bring him into his orbit.”
Kirsov looked grave “That, Nashu, would not be good. A decorated war hero, youngest Vebmral in the Fleet, the Manish name, heir to your seat on the Council, not good at all.”
“I tend to agree; Sherin is far too ambitious, his recklessness and aggression has already brought us to the brink of destruction once, it would not be wise to give him a second chance.”
Kirsov nodded, “No. So, what do you want from me?”
“Siishubuu appears to have developed a certain… wanderlust. I was hoping you might be able to channel it in a useful direction.”
“He is his father’s son, Nashu. You need to get the boy matched, give him some stability.”
There was a look of exasperation on her face. “I am trying, but there are complications in that respect, now.”
Kirsov’s mouth formed a wry smile. “As you well know, such things can be overcome, or at least… accommodated. However, I think I can find something for him.”
“Nothing too dangerous, I hope.”
“Everything I do is ‘dangerous,’ Nashu, you know that. But I will try to keep it minimal.”
“Thank you Colin; I’ve arranged for him to call on you at Command tomorrow.”
Kirsov let out a laugh, “And you’d like me to be there.”
“That might be helpful, Colin.” She paused, and then added, “And you may call on me while you’re here. It has been far too long.” Kirsov just smiled.
I’d spent most of the morning prepping Raledenet for launch. I’d skipped breakfast and gone directly to the bridge to run pre-flight checks and plan a jump course. Jane wanted me to meet the rest of the crew, there was a dohktor and a steward as well as Jane, Siish and I. I’d mumbled something about needing to find my feet in the pilot’s chair again and only being half an hour. I’d managed to stretch that three hours. Jane had come up after one, furious and told me to quit putting it off and come down. That and I needed to eat. But she’d left me alone after that. I knew she was right, I couldn’t put it off forever, but what could a few hours hurt? Around eleven Siish appeared.
“Jane tells me you’ve been hiding out here for hours, dinkir.”
“Getting her ready for flight.”
“For three hours?”
I looked at the deck, “Just being thorough.”
He sighed, “Just get your butt down to the lounge now.”
“Now! Or I’ll physically drag you down.” I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer.
Somebody was cooking and it smelt good. I suddenly realised I was hungry. I paused for a moment outside to draw breath then entered. I saw someone in the galley, he was young. Jane was chatting to him. Siish was setting up for a game of Zamkii10 with someone on the table. She was tall, short dark hair with just a wisp of white. She stood as I entered.
“So you must be the fabled pilot.” She spoke Luriani, but the accent was strange. I noticed a slight limp as she walked over and and gave a small stiff bow. I managed a curtsey back, “And you are?”
“Doctor Isabella Sanchez y Montoya, late of his Imperial Majesty’s Navy, but most people just call me Isabella.” That would explain the accent.
I was very curious. “So, dokhtor, how’d you end up here?”
“I was on the Apuludukii11 at Rurur, one of the lucky ones I guess.” The Apuludukii, very lucky. “Four years as an honoured guest of the Lord Protector. I was paroled to the Khaadii’s six months in and when the war ended, I stayed behind12. Then Siish wanted a doctor. He can be very persuasive, you know.”
I nodded, “Yes, very.” I looked over at the young man cooking, early twenties. He had a boyish innocence about him, his grin disarming. I half expected to see one of his mothers looking out for him. But the Guardsman’s jacket beside him told a slightly different story. A lot of battle ribbons, two Protector’s Medals for Gallantry, a Silver Cross and a Star for Valour. Rather impressive, all in all.
Jane bent over, “And this, deary, is Ariaryn Eadaasa, our steward, though I think he’s barely out of Yasa13. Serganet of the Lord Protector’s Guards and a genius in the kitchen.” She tousled Ariaryn’s straggly red hair. He gently knocked her hand away looking embarrassed. She then rounded on Siish, “So, beloved Kaptan, how did breakfast with mommy go?”
“As well as might be expected.” His voice sounded more frustrated than anything else. “She has arranged an appointment with Kirsov Geenor for us.”
Jane was wide-eyed, “‘Fix-it’ Kirsov?”
Siish nodded “‘Fix-it’ Kirsov.”
“But he’s on Verasaryn.”
“Apparently he arrives on Daramm tonight.”
Isabella looked puzzled, “Who’s Kirsov and what does he fix?”
Jane explained, “Kirsov Geenor is the man the Council goes to when they’ve got something they want done but can’t be seen to be doing. They tell him to fix things for them.”
I chimed in, “So I guess that means we’re not leaving tonight.”
Siish sighed “No, tonight I have a dinner date with Sharik Gubashiidi.”
The Grav Carrier was skimming low over the waves. The Protectorate Central Command Complex loomed in the distance, its five spires anchored to the sea floor hundreds of metres below the surface, warships patrolling the waters around. Siish had got back late from his dinner last night and Jane was teasing him mercilessly about it. “So you decided to sleep alone, then?”
Siish was used to this. “It was dinner, nothing more. Sharik is charming, but no fire, there.”
“Ohhh, Sharik now, and charming, we’ll be seeing practice invites, next.”
He took a deep breath “Gubashiidi Wa is a lovely woman, but not for me, Jane.”
Jane had said he had eyes for somebody and in truth I’d been dying to find out who for weeks, “So who is for you Siish?”
He chuckled, “Dinkir, if I ever decide to go beyond dinner with someone, I’ll make sure you’re the first to know.” Sometimes the man could be so frustratingly evasive. Jane was rolling her eyes at him.
Siish looked relived when Ariaryn broke the conversation. “Command has taken us on auto; we should be landing in a minute.”
Siish nodded, “Good.”
“So what’s this all about? Why does Kirsov want to see us?” I asked.
“Our beloved kaptan’s mother’s scheming will end up getting us killed, no doubt, deary.” Jane as bright and cheery as ever. We heard the whine of the turbines as the carrier began to slow.
“We’ll know soon enough, Jane, so sit back enjoy the ride.”
The carrier set down neatly in a bay on the tenth level. The security station was manned by a rather bored looking Guardsman, his uniform embroidered by a string of ribbons marking medals, battles and campaigns. “Can I help you?” I could feel his eyes on me, my broken face.
Siish spoke “We have an appointment with Kirsov Geenor at ten.”
He tapped on his screen and brought up the details, looked up and saluted. “Manish Vebmral. I didn’t realise.” Jane sniggered and whispered, “Told you, you should have worn your uniform.”
“Level nineteen, room four-A. If you could just look into the scanner.” Siish went first, retinal pattern and DNA, a security pass spat out. Jane, then Isabella. Ariaryn last, now my turn. I placed my face to the eye piece and my hand on the pad. A bright flash and a prick. The green light of a confirm. I watched as my pass printed out, the picture was dated, from before. I stared at my face on the card. I ran my hand down my check and felt nothing, but I could close my eyes and the burning blinding pain was there.
“I'm sorry, Komant, we’ll have to update the records.”
I mumbled my reply, said sorry and just kept looking at the picture. Siish gently took it from my hands and pinned it to my blouse. He smiled and stroked my hair14. “You’re still as beautiful as the first day I met you.” Beautiful? Siish never called me beautiful.
Level nineteen, room four-A was a nondescript room in a nondescript corridor. The plaque on the door simply said ‘Kirsov Geenal-Majkor’. Siish knocked and waited. The door was opened by a middle aged seror, her hair neatly plaited and uniform clean. “Vebmral, the geenor is expecting you. Please come in.” Kirsov’s office was a plain room; two desks, a filing cabinet and a large starchart adorning one wall.
“Renal, could you be a treasure and get some more chairs?” The seror smiled and set off on her errand.
“So, Siish, you brought the whole crew.” He sounded amused.
“Seemed like the proper thing to do.”
“Well it’s a pleasure to meet you all, and an especial honour to meet you, Komant.” He singled me out. I looked at the floor.
“So, Geenor, to what do we owe the pleasure?” Siish took the lead as he usually does.
Renal seror had returned with the extra chairs. “Sit, please sit.” Kirsov was pulling papers from a draw as we sat. “Well, I suppose you know what I do.”
Ariaryn, this time. “You fix things, sir.” Sir? What kind of Luriani calls somebody sir?15
“Ah, direct as ever, Eadaasa serganet. Yes, I ‘fix’ things.” Obviously, Kirsov and Ariaryn were acquainted.
Ariaryn formed a knowing smile. “And you want us to fix something for you.”
“Indeed, occasionally the Council requires an indirect approach. There is a package that needs to be delivered to an Imperial world, and it would be better if it were not delivered officially.”
Siish again. “And you would like us to deliver it?”
“That is the general idea.”
“The nature of this package?”
“Nothing illegal, gems and valuables, but it would be better if it were not traceable to the Protectorate.”
Siish chuckled. “Funding for dissidents, I thought we weren’t allowed to do that any more.”
Kirsov nodded “We do not however, forget our friends16.”
Siish looked at us all; we nodded. “Then, I suppose we’re in the small package trade17.”
1. Luriani and Verasti Dtareen of both genders make extensive use of facial make-up and body paints for formal situations.
2. Sishgukhidtar is a transliteration of the Vilani word sashgukidhar, the best translation of which is 'Once pretty face.' It refers to the most obvious visible signs.
3. A difference between the Imperium who used ultrasonic showers and the Protectorate who used water.
4. The customary title used for the senior female member (matriarch) of an upper class Protectorate extended family (house), responsible for arranging matches in the family. The role is one of the more unusual in Protectorate society. Not only is there no male equivalent but also despite the title's Anglic name and the fact that it prefixes the name, the roles roots actually lay with the Luriani themselves. The role originated in during the First Protectorate amongst high born Verasti Dtareen families when they adopted the traditional Luriani role of Giwa (senior female responsible for arranging matches, the male equivalent Gilul being responsible for arranging employment). Curiously as the Verasti Dtareen adopted the role of Giwa in the form of matriarch, the positions of Giwa and Gilul fell out of use by the Luriani themselves (with the exception of the Wurlana) due to their exposure to Terran culture. Over time, this role of matriarch spread first to upper class Mmarislusant clans and then back to the Luriani themselves.
5. The fourth branch of Luriani culture, also known by their Anglic name of Wanderers. Descendants of the great raft ship that roamed Daramm's ocean in pre-contact times. They spend most of their lives in space, travelling in trading caravans, wandering between worlds.
6. A custom amongst the upper classes to take an extended tour of space before settling down to a career.
7. The Khaadii clan owned one of the largest shipping concerns in the Protectorate. As the eldest child, Gam Manish had taken over running the company after her father's death in 2017.
8. Verasaryn is the second habitable planet in the Daramm system. Its population is heavily weighted toward Verasti Dtareen and Mmarislusant as most Luriani find its dense atmosphere oppressive.
9. Unit of currency in the Protectorate, equal to one tenth of an Imperial Credit.
10. A two player abstract strategy game dating from the Ziru Sirka.
11. A Sylea-class battleship destroyed early in the battle. Out of its over 800 crew there were only 14 survivors.
12. Luriani rules of hospitality dictate that prisoners of war must be treated as honoured guests. The standard procedure was to parole POWs to the custody of a suitable family within the Protectorate as soon as their good behaviour could reasonably be guaranteed. After the war, a number of Imperial POWs had established ties with those families and elected to remain behind. Regarded as traitors by most in the Imperium and enemies by many in the Protectorate, they faced considerable challenges in making new lives.
13. Full formal Luriani and Verasti Dtareen names consist of a personal name, biological parent's personal names (mother first for females, father first for males), birth family name, current family name and occupation or title. Yasa is used by children in place of the occupation. However in most circumstances, a shorter, less formal name is used. The precise composition of these shorter names is dependent on circumstances.
14. Such public displays of affection are common in Luriani culture; even within military organisations they are unremarkable.
15. Racial Luriani have a strong preference for informal lines of authority, a tendency that had spread to the entire Protectorate. It was very uncommon to hear a subordinate refer to their superior as sir. Normally they would use the rank title as a mark of respect, though use of the first name was common as well. This informality was one of the major reasons for the Imperium's fatal underestimation of Protectorate forces before the war.
16. The Treaty of Ghou that ended the Luriani War specifically prohibited either side from supporting dissent within the other, a provision neither the Imperium nor Protectorate fully respected.
17. A euphemism for smuggling.