Prologue: Back to Where it All Began
  • Macavity116

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    Prologue: Back to Where it All Began

    In a time before time the Great Hyperspace Core was found. With it came the gift of interstellar travel and the Outer Rim Trade Routes were established, uniting the Galaxy in peace. Four thousand years passed before the Second Core was discovered on a distant planet. Pain and bloodshed flowed in its wake until the Exiles reached their destination.

    The Battle of Hiigara left the galaxy in turmoil. In a choice that would have repercussions for centuries to come, the Galactic Council permitted the Exiles to return to their Homeworld. The Exiles left a path of destruction across the galaxy and killed countless innocents along the way. Having escaped from their hot and dusty prison, the decedents of the power-mad warmongers who once dared to raise their hands against the Bentusi reclaimed the temperate paradise that had rightfully been taken away four millennia ago.

    Meanwhile, with its Immortal Emperor slain at Hiigara, the Taiidan Empire was swiftly destroyed by both internal and external enemies. Fractured by civil war, the most powerful nation in the galaxy was reduced to a handful of warring splinter-groups seemingly overnight. While the “New Hiigarans” celebrated the dawning of a new time, the rest of the galaxy trembled with fear and anxiety. Dozens of minor states struggled to find their way in this new international order while Karan Sjet started building a new Hiigaran regime upon her stolen planet.

    No one was capable of filling the Hegemonic void left behind by the Taiidan. Instead, the galaxy was divided up amongst several regional superpowers. Partogans, Blorg, Assurians, and Hiigarans all competed with one another to replace the Taiidan as a new galactic superpower.

    Out in the Great Wastelands, the Kingdom of Partoga took full advantage of the power vacuum left behind by the Taiidan and seized over half of the territory once controlled by the Turanic Raiders. Having rapidly doubled in size, the Kingdom suddenly found itself in the unenviable position of being a regional superpower, dominating the region once shared between the Taiidan and the Turanic Raiders.

    The new regions of space Partoga had acquired were set aside for the Levakians, a race of mammalians who shared their Homeworld with the Partogans. Six Levakian Kingdoms were built. They could have functioned and operated as independent states, but none of the Levakian Kings were willing to break their oaths of vassalage; oaths sworn to the Queen of Partoga after the Levakians had been conquered by the Partogans two centuries before. Instead, the six new states were simply extensions of Partogan power and influence.

    Yet all is not well. The Kingdom is stretched thin, her space fleets and armies too few in number to effectively control the massive new territories. Fringe elements are left unchecked, the borders unsecured, lawlessness creeps in from the outside, and the seeds of something destructive are planted deep within the new empire.

    110 years before the birth of Jericho, someone else’s story is about to begin...



    y4mEzwe2s7VjKJAfsaqXJyENBc1t4vAqiGOA7XsXSKA68s5aurlTPPts1c0DfqFeb-PviMxf9SCXQ84An5GPaaYh5TBSNN4hhJLfNxbtBwsjFjvIgCnPr-3uTdGAjYOslEDUL8wM0BhRTHd2av0j5Gv-3mchUiAA2d6IQXp460RbEmaLmgPQXTUGA8ujRfTan0_6U_e6W_LjMsP1preSJg-bw


    It took us a few moments to get our bearings. We had arrived in a place that was both foreign and strangely familiar. We stood on the precipice, at the edge of this strange new realm for a moment overlooking a vast ocean of swirling color and shadow. Then we remembered: Our Guide is waiting for us.

    She takes our hands into Her own, and guides us into the Shroud.

    For a fleeting moment, we are lost and a sense of utter panic washes over us as we contemplate an eternity spent within the Shroud. Then we regain our footing, and the terror recedes.

    We are in no danger. She will not abandon us.

    We come to a tempestuous region of the Shroud. Massive currents of raw psionic energy are funneled through here, giving violent birth to semi-intelligent spiritual apparitions. Confused, these beings do battle with one another, releasing vast amounts of power in clashes that last for millennia. Several such duels play out before our eyes.

    She tells us to proceed with caution. Even a stray thought can be shaped into something tangible in this place... and more often than not, turned against oneself.

    A flock of spirits glowing with dazzling colors that none of us had ever known of danced around us for hours as She led us deeper into the Shroud. The spectacle is enjoyable, until the realization hits us:

    We are being shielded from them by Her power.

    Suddenly, in a painful moment of clarity, the nature of our existence was laid bare. A multiverse where thousands of galaxies like our own are locked in endless cycles of conflict. It begins, it ends, and then it begins again. Each time with trillions of lives hanging in the balance.

    “SO IT IS,” a voice whispers, “AND SO IT SHALL ALWAYS BE.”

    She waits until the voice has finished speaking, then commands us to follow her. We comply, partly out of obedience, partly out of curiosity.

    Finally, the path She had guided us along came to an abrupt end. We could go no further.

    She bade us to step forward and gaze into the abyss below...

    It was Partoga. The great city looked different yet familiar. Even through the obscuring wall of flames and smoke we could recognize the Royal Science Academy, the Great Library, Mihaka Tower, and the outer walls of Fort Miranda. All were reduced to ruin. Thousands... no, millions of bodies litter the streets. The smell of volcanic sulfur was overpowering.

    “YOUR FUTURE.”

    Nothing living remains in the ruins. In the sky above, massive orbital installations have begun the slow and inevitable descent towards the planet, leaving a trail of acrid black smoke in the air. Are we witnessing one possible future out of many?

    “NOT ONE OF MANY. IT SHALL COME TO PASS. AS SURELY AS THE SUN RISES. YOUR DESTINY WAS SOLD TO US... BY HER.”

    We turn to our Guide. We demand an explanation, we refuse to believe She had betrayed us. She tries to explain, to tell us why She made a covenant with this monster, but the presence forced Her to be silent, and then took Her away. The monster lashed out at us with a massive wave of psionic energy, causing great agony to some of us and knocking others unconscious. We had no choice but to withdraw and escape from the Shroud, leaving our Guide to Her fate.


     
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    Announcement: The 4th Wall is missing...
  • Macavity116

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    Before we start for real, the lead characters wanted to say hello as well... I can't find the 4th Wall right now, so I say "Why not?"

    =================

    Hiya! Thanks for choosing to read our story! Blake is doing his best to make sure that everything is ready for you.

    To make those quiet moments between chapters a little more fun, Blake just said the three us can respond to your comments whenever he's busy or unavailable. If you leave a comment after reading a new chapter then one, or two, or even all three of us might stop by and add our own thoughts to whatever you had to say.

    Of course, we'll only chime in if Blake himself isn't around to respond to comments.

    Don't worry about us spoiling anything.

    So here's how to tell us apart: You see that blue text in "Times New Roman" font? Yup! That's me! Mami Tamihana!

    The orange "Verdana" font is me. My name's Tantomile, by the way.

    The name's Mihaka. Eteka Mihaka. I'm the green text and "Courier New" font.

    The one using "white Times New Roman" is Blake Robinson. You'll see him around.

    And we'll see you too, alright! Thanks for reading Faith in Chaos with us. Now let's get this story started!!

    Signed,

    Mami Tamihana; Lead Protagonist
    Tantomile; Deuteragonist
    Eteka Mihaka; Tritagonist


    ==============
    I checked with a moderator, and this unique comment/response system doesn't count as an "Interactive element." I thought it was a fun idea, but we'll see if it sticks.
     
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    Chapter 1.1: The Wasteland Girl
  • Macavity116

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    Chapter 1.1
    The Wasteland Girl

    March 15, 1928 A.D.
    The Gardens of Kadesh – Outer Reaches of the Kingdom of Partoga


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    Caption said:
    A Partogan Vako Nui-class Corvette. These ships are considered to be cheap and inferior knockoffs of the Taiidan Empire's Diirvas-Class Corvette.

    A lone Partogan warship crossed the dense nebula at high speed. A massive green flare and a florescent ion trail erupted from the ship’s engine bell, the only sign of the incredible stress the vessel was under. This was the Partogan Corvette HMS Mahiki, and it was responding to a distress call. Burning her engines at maximum acceleration, the little warship careened through the nebula, moving faster and faster with each passing second. Inside her cramped little cockpit, four teenaged Partogans were strapped into their seats and working furiously.

    In the center of the cockpit a girl named Mami Tamihana gave orders to her three comrades. In front of her, Rapati Hipango had both of his hands on the helm, keeping the Mahiki flying straight. To Mami’s left, Arahu Ranginui was quickly flicking his control screen back and forth between the sensors manager and the weapons control system. On her right, Eteka Mihaka was holding his headset to his ear with one hand and writing down the latest message with the other.

    “Tamihana! A second signal!” Eteka reported,

    Mami looked away from the Sensors Manager screen on the armrest of her chair.

    “Read it back,” she said. Eteka read the new distress call aloud.

    “This is Imperialist Taiidani Resource Collector Tonkin. We’ve struck a mine and are adrift near the entrance to the Kadesh Hyperlane. We have no engine capability and are stranded. Please come at one!”

    Mami frowned. She thought quickly, then turned to speak with Arahu.

    “Ranginui, is our engine powerful enough to tow a Resource Collector?” She asked,

    “Perhaps,” Arahu answered, “But the Taiidani will have to jettison their ore container. Otherwise they’ll be too heavy and we’ll waste all of our fuel dragging them to a Starbase.”

    Mami nodded.

    “Okay,” she said, “Mihaka, compose a message telling the Taiidani our plan. Hipango: get our tow cables set up, and Ranginui: I want you to change our stance from Evasive to Neutral. We’ve got to conserve fuel wherever we can.”

    Arahu was typing a new set of commands into his computer when an alarm on the console caught his eye.

    “Wait a second!” he said, “We have a Hyperspace Signature! A Mothership-class vessel 16,000 Kios off our port!”

    Instinctively, Rapati swung the helm around, turning the Mahiki to face the new ship. Mami’s heart sank when she saw the long thin profile of a Kadeshi Needleship filling the forward window.

    “Oh, no,” she breathed, then said loudly, “Action Stations!”

    Everyone tightened their harnesses and donned space helmets. Slightly muffled by the glass helmet, Eteka announced,

    “We’re being contacted by the Kadeshi!”

    Again, Mami asked him to read the message aloud. The cockpit of the Mahiki fell silent as Eteka began to read:

    “This is the Garden of Kadesh. For thirteen generations we have protected it from the unclean. The Taiidani who came before you refused to join and were punished for this trespass. Like theirs, your ship has already defiled this holy place. If you have come to join, we welcome you and will spare your ship until all have disembarked. If you have come to consume the garden you will be removed at once. What are your intentions?"

    Mami motioned to Eteka, he spoke into a little microphone embedded in his helmet.

    “Kadeshi vessel, this is the Partogan warship Mahiki. You are outside of the Kadeshi Reservation and engaging in unlawful contact with a Partogan vessel. Turn around and return-”

    Eteka stopped talking and tapped the side of his helmet, as though checking to see if something was wrong. He looked around at Mami and saw she was waving at him, one hand over a button on her armrest.

    “Sorry Mihaka, I had to cut that comm channel. They’re just trying to distract us from that! Look!”

    A second Needleship had just dropped out of hyperspace to the Mahiki’s right flank and was rapidly closing the distance between itself and the Partogan Corvette.

    “It’s a pincer attack! We can’t fight them both!” Arahu said, “Mami, we should fall back to Fort Odina!”

    “You’re right!” Mami replied at once, “Bring us about and make for the Nithascal Hyperlane! Engine ahead flank!”

    The Mahiki turned and fled. Behind her, the two Needleships began to pursue before abruptly slowing down. It was Rapati who noticed the change in Kadeshi behavior first. He looked down at his sensor manager and spotted the reason why the Needleships had fallen back.

    “Incoming strike craft!” Rapati reported, “Fifty or sixty Swarmers, supported by two Fuel Pods and one Multi Beam Frigate.”

    Rapati, Eteka, and Arahu all looked at Mami. There was no way their heavy and sluggish Corvette could outrun the light and nimble Swarmers.

    “We’ll be overrun before we get to the Hyperlane.” Aranu breathed,

    “Not on my watch!” Mami used a confident tone of voice to mask how nervous she felt. “Ranginui and Mihaka, get on the guns and keep our tail clear! Hipango, keep us heading towards that Hyperlane! I’m calling for help!”

    As the Swarmers closed in, the Mahiki’s Mass Driver turrets swiveled around and opened fire! One little ship was unlucky, it was shredded into millions of little pieces in one hit! The rest regained their formation and bore down on the Partogan Corvette! Rapati twitched the helm, causing the Corvette to strafe back and forth as the Kadeshi Swarmers unleashed a hailstorm of Mass Driver rounds in return. Meanwhile, Mami punched a small red button on her console and spoke into the microphone in her helmet;

    “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! This is the HMS Mahiki of the Partogan Royal Navy. We are under attack by two Kadeshi Needleships inside the Gardens of Kadesh and need support! We’re going to be overrun! Send help immediately!”

    Almost at once, a voice replied!

    Mahiki, this is the LVK Griddlebone. Responding to distress call and engaging Hyperspace. Estimated time of arrival: 5 minutes.”

    “WHAT?!” Eteka yelled, “We can’t hold for five minutes! We’ll run out of ammo!”

    Mami leaned as far forward in her seat as the safety harness would allow and pointed out the cockpit window to a celestial formation just below the ship.

    “Hipango! Take us into the asteroid field!” she commanded,

    “Are you gripped!?” Rapati replied, “That’s a pilot’s worst nightmare in there!”

    “Exactly!” Mami said, “It’ll be their worst nightmare! I can trust you! Get us on the other side of it!”

    Rapati took a deep breath and nosed the Mahiki into a dive. The Corvette plunged into the dense cloud of rock and ice, launching Mass Driver rounds at the pursuers the whole time. The sound of dust and ice hitting the ship was like a high-intensity rainstorm as Rapati carefully negotiated the larger, more dangerous space rocks.

    While the Mahiki fled deeper and deeper into the asteroid field, the squadron of Kadeshi Swarmers seemed to be having a far worse time. Some got caught by Mass Driver fire, others slammed into asteroids. Fifteen Swarmers bailed out of the fight entirely, exiting the asteroid field and returning to their Needleships. Only five Swarmers were still chasing the Mahiki! Mami pumped her fists in the air and yelled!

    “Yes! We’re almost there! You can do it, guys!”

    Eteka and Arahu both fired another Mass Driver volley and took out two of the pursuers! Rapati pulled hard on the helm, bringing the Mahiki over the horizon of a particularly large asteroid. Then he wrenched even harder on the controls and screamed,

    “WAI-WAIT WAIT NO-NO-NO-NONONO N-”

    Out of nowhere, a mountain rose into view from the surface of the asteroid below! The Mahiki was too close to the surface to react in time, no matter how hard Rapati pulled on the control column. All four smiles in the cockpit vanished as the Corvette plowed headlong into the mountainside at full speed!

    Sys/ Simulation terminated due to mission failure.

    Sys/ Ship crashed!

    Sys/ Controlled flight into terrain.

    Sys/ Flight simulator apparatus disengaging...




    March 15, 1928 A.D.
    Officer Training School, Fort Daxia – Trecta Star System, Kingdom of Partoga

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    Caption said:
    Fort Daxia, Partoga's largest spaceborne military installation, located near the Partogan Homeworld (right)

    Mami, Eteka, Rapati, and Arahu were unceremoniously removed from the Spaceflight Simulator by a crew of Partogan Royal Navy workers. After shaking their heads and sharing a sigh of disappointment, the team split up. The three boys reported to one locker room while Mami went to the women’s locker room by herself. As soon as she was alone, Mami kicked the door of her own locker in frustration, denting the metal with her steel-toed boot. Once the last of her frustration was vented, Mami opened her locker, grabbed a comb and went to a nearby wall mirror. She needed to do something about her hair before the Debriefing began.

    Mami gave her reflection an unsatisfied look, and the reflection did the same. After a moment, Mami smiled. She couldn’t stay mad at herself, after all.

    Like the vast majority of Partogans, Mami Tamihana had light brown skin, straight white hair, and vivid purple eyes that stood out even in low light. Unlike most Partogans, Mami was significantly taller than the average 13-year-old girl, she looked down on everyone her own age. Mami made up for her unusual height by being strongly built. Her arm, leg, and ab muscles were all in peak condition thanks to nearly four years of continuous military training. Despite being through a (simulated) series of stressful events, Mami didn’t feel tired or worn out in any way. She was in the best shape of her life. The Royal Navy had been good to Mami, and she would definitely return the favor... as soon as someone actually put her on a ship, anyway.

    Mami ran the comb through her white hair, straightening out the tangles that routinely appeared whenever she flew in the simulator. She’d given up on trying to prevent or escape the static electricity that tormented her whenever she spent a lot of time in that little capsule. Once Mami looked a little more presentable, she changed into a fresh uniform and left the locker room.

    Mami was the first member of the team to report to the door of the Drill Instructor’s office. Eteka Mihaka showed up next. He was a tall and slender kid with short grey hair, a round face, and rectangular glasses that kept sliding down the bridge of his nose. Arahu Ranginui appeared a few moments later. He had recovered from the shock of failing the simulated mission and was back to his smug “look-at-how-cool-I-am" appearance; Arahu’s long hair was carefully combed and slicked back while his face was decorated with an incredibly self-assured smile that made everyone feel just a little inferior to him.

    “Where’s Hipango?” Mami asked,

    Arahu rolled his eyes at Eteka, who rolled his eyes at Mami. Then all three of them said together:

    “Shower.”

    Rapati Hipango had always been a “less-than-perfect" Student-Soldier. His physical fitness status was just barely passable, he couldn’t be trusted to remember basic general orders, and he couldn’t go more than two days without upsetting a Drill Instructor. His career at the Daxia School had been so lackluster that his classmates were able to predict his mistakes and failures with unerring accuracy.

    And sure enough... Mami, Eteka, and Arahu had guessed correctly again.

    Rapati came dashing into view. His boots made wet squelching noises on the metal floor and water was soaking through the front of his PRN uniform, which was improperly assembled. Eteka and Mami went to work correcting all of the little errors on Rapati’s uniform while Arahu sniggered and said,

    “The Commander said you’d be ‘wet behind the ears’ but this is ridiculous!”

    Arahu waited for someone to laugh at his joke. Mami just shot him a disappointed look.

    “How has your sister not killed you yet, Ranginui?” Mami said exasperatedly.

    She was about to go on when another voice interrupted her.

    “I ask myself the same thing every day, Cadet Tamihana. Still don’t have the answer.”

    Mami, Eteka, Arahu, and Rapati all jumped to attention and raised their arms in salute. Standing in the now-open doorway was a middle-aged Partogan Navy officer. Bright red shoulder epaulettes showed him to be a Drill Instructor. He waved Mami and her team into his office, where they sat down on four uncomfortable chairs and waited for their Drill Instructor to seat himself behind a large desk.

    Drill Instructor Ruiha Tahana drummed his fingers on the desk, looked at each soldier in turn, then said,

    “Well done on the Kadeshi sim today. I saw the whole thing from the Commodore’s office.”

    Mami and Eteka looked at each other in confusion.

    “Wait,” said Eteka, “I thought we failed the sim.”

    Drill Instructor Tahana nodded,

    “You did. But you got further than most Cadets before you failed. Most of the kids like you try to stand and fight the Kadeshi. They get blown up in the first minute or two.”

    Rapati seemed to perk up when he heard this, but Drill Instructor Tahana wasn’t finished.

    “The fact is, you still failed to meet the standard, and I don’t care about this being your first attempt at the sim.” he added as Mami opened her mouth to protest, “Your mission objective was to rescue that Taiidan ship, and you did no such thing. The Royal Navy expects nothing less than excellence from its soldiers. If you don’t meet our standards, you don’t get to be part of this military. It’s as simple as that. You will have to redo the simulation ten days from now, so Ranginui and Hipango, I expect you both to keep studying hard while Tamihana and Mihaka are gone and to bring them both up to speed when they get back week after next.”

    Mami’s heart skipped a beat. What did the Drill Instructor just say?! Eteka, Arahu, and Rapati turned in their chairs to look at Mami, who instead addressed Tahana.

    “Uh, sir?” Mami asked slowly, “What are you talking about? Why are Mihaka and I going to be ‘gone’ for a week?”

    Tahana raised an eyebrow at Mami.

    “I never forgot, Tamihana.” He said, “Eight months ago, you asked for permission to go on leave so you could do the Rite of Passage. And you, Mihaka. You did the same thing, right around the same time. Well, the paperwork for both of you has gone through and your requests were approved. Tomorrow, you’ll each be picked up and taken to the Homeworld by a family member.”

    Tahana gave Mami and Eteka a respectful smile.

    “Mihaka and Tamihana, I’m sure both of you know how your lives will change once you complete the Rite of Passage. Especially you, Tamihana. You’ve been a member of the Navy for nearly four years, yet I’m still legally obligated to treat you like a child. If you come back here after summiting the Mountain then I promise your life will be changed instantly and for the better. You’ll be given the respect and treatment someone with your level of experience deserves, and...”

    Tahana tapped a piece of paper on his desk.

    “You might have promotions and deployments in your future. Don’t forget there’s still a war on right now. The PRN needs trained and skilled soldiers like you and your team. So, I expect you to both come back to base as fully-grown adults. Good luck and happy climbing.”

    And then he dismissed the team. Mami, Rapati, Eteka, and Arahu half ran, half jogged to the mess hall, which was located deeper inside of Fort Daxia. As soon as they reached the mess hall, all four of them burst into celebratory cheers!

    “I’m gonna climb the Mountain!!” Mami squealed,

    Eteka patted her on the back.

    “We can climb together!” he said, “So there’s no way we can fail! It’s so lucky the Admiralty is letting us go at the same time.”

    “Oh, please,” Arahu commented smugly, “You know my Great-Uncle ‘convinced’ the Admiralty to let you go, Tamihana.”

    Arahu put his arm around Mami’s shoulder and drew her into a close side-hug, ignoring the uncomfortable look on her face.

    “Being friends with the Ranginui family has so many perks, you won’t know what to do first!” Arahu declared, “Welcome to the winner’s club!”

    “Hey ‘winner,’” said Rapati, “Why haven’t you done the climb yet?”

    That took a little wind out of Arahu’s sails.

    “I... uh.... didn’t get around to it.” he said,

    “Uh-huh. Sure.” Said Mami. “Don’t worry, Ranginui. I’ll bring a piece of the summit back for you!”

    Laughing and joking, Arahu and Rapati went to the chow line to get some food, leaving Mami and Eteka to claim a table for the group. The two stared at each other awkwardly for a moment as they sat down.

    “So, I guess we’re going home for a few days.” Eteka said, trying to start a conversation. “That’ll be cool. Didn’t you say you lived somewhere far away, like by Candon or something, right?”

    Mami giggled,

    “I’m not from Candon!” she corrected him, “Heck, I’ve never even seen the Homeworld! I’m a colony brat.”

    Eteka put his head in one hand and just stared at her.

    “So, where are you from then??” He asked, “Your accent is pretty close to someone from the Homeworld, you’ve gotta be from the Core Worlds at least.”

    Again, Mami shook her head.

    “Nah, I only talk like a Core Worlder because I’ve been here at Daxia with you guys for years. I’m actually from Aoraki.”

    Mami thumped her chest with pride and Eteka’s jaw dropped.

    “Aoraki!” he repeated the name in an awed whisper, “You mean that planet that’s-”

    Mami nodded.

    “A cold Tomb World so far above the galactic plane that it might as well be outside the galaxy?” She finished Eteka’s sentence for him, “Yup. That sounds like Aoraki to me.”

    Eteka leaned forward, he wasn’t ready to believe her just yet.

    “Aoraki,” he repeated, “Where the nights are fifty hours long? Aoraki? Where the sun is blocked by clouds for hundreds of days at a time? No oceans, no lakes, rivers, or streams. Nuclear winter all year-round. Dark... arid... cold... Aoraki. You and I are talking about the same planet right!?”

    Mami smiled,

    “Oh, stop.” she said, “You’re gonna make me homesick. And we do have clear skies and sunny days, you know. They’re just really... uncommon.”

    Mami couldn’t help but feel that Eteka was looking at her with newfound respect.

    “So,” he spoke slowly, reading Mami’s reaction, “Never been to the Homeworld?”

    Mami shook her head.

    Eteka started to reach across the table as if to take Mami’s hand, but withdrew it quickly and rubbed his arm instead. Mami chose to ignore the aborted hand-hold, but still felt a little hurt.

    “I was thinking...” he started, “Since we’re both going to be on Partoga at the same time, why don’t we just do the Rite of Passage together? I’ve got five siblings who’ve all climbed the Mountain before, and my family always sends someone to help. We know the best way up and we really wouldn’t mind at all of you join us.”

    Tackling the Unnamed Mountain with her best friend and his family? The idea had been lingering in Mami’s head ever since the Drill Instructor’s office. Mami definitely would have asked to join Eteka if he hadn’t beat her to it. So, she smiled and answered casually;

    “Sure. Sounds like fun!”


     
    Last edited:
    An Abridged History of Partoga and Levakia
  • Macavity116

    The First Stormbreaker
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    Could you tell us some of the history of Partoga up until this point? It seems really interesting.

    I didn't forget about you. Here you go, enjoy!

    ==========================

    A Very Brief History of the Kingdoms of Partoga and Levakia

    Section 1 and 9: BEGINNING OF THE 115th CYCLE (Circa 1400 AD)

    In a time before time the Sentient lions of Levakia were just beginning to unlock the secrets of steam power. Small cities arose on the Supercontinent of Levakia, and brave seafarers had navigated the broken islands of E-Ena. Traveling far to the west, the Little Continent was discovered, along with the big delicious game animals it played host to. Many brave lions and lionesses, whose names are long since lost, traveled to the new continent and established the first Levakian colony on a new world. It seemed as though the Levakian people stood on the precipice of a wonderous new era.

    One morning, late in the summer, the entire Western Hemisphere of the planet was treated to its first (and only) solar eclipse. Since the planet doesn’t have a natural moon, the sudden darkening of the sky was taken as a sign that the entire world was about to end. Whole prides fled the cities and returned to the forests and mountains, terrified of whatever the Dark Sunlight would bring.

    Eventually, the eclipse ended. Lions all across the world began to emerge from their hiding places and return to their old territories. The Levakian continent had not been visited by the Daytime Darkness, so there was very little panic or apprehension. On the newly discovered Western continent, however, there was much to fear.

    As the sunlight returned, Levakian colonists spotted roving bands of hairless apes. The newcomers draped their bodies with strange cloth and spoke in strange tongues.

    First contact was peaceful, if not tense. The hairless apes were clearly terrified of the Levakians and kept as far away from any lion settlement as they could. While the newcomers tried to find a place to live on the western continent, they were struck by a schism.

    After a brief conflict that doesn’t really qualify as a war (hardly anyone died) The newcomers split into two tribes. The tribe of pale-skinned apes settled on the western coast of the Little Continent. The tribe of brown-skinned apes left the continent entirely, choosing to live on the broken islands of E-Ena. For years, the brown-skinned apes lived close to Levakians. Eventually, the lions began to make more serious efforts to establish relations with the newcomers. Those in favor of Second Contact were primarily Gifted Lions.

    The Gift (Levakia’s term for “Psionic powers”) is extremely prevalent amongst the Levakian population. Lions who develop the Gift (read: mental powers) are held in the highest regard in Levakian society and are treated with the same level of respect that newcomers treated their Tohunga (priests) with.

    Gifted Lions (now called “Witches” in modern day) began to travel to the islands of the brown-skinned newcomers. The Gift itself is rare, and only presents itself to the wisest of lions, so their travels and journeys were met with celebration and approval from most Levakians. Eventually, the effects of living in close proximity to a Gifted One took hold. The newcomer’s minds were opened to those of the Gifted Lions, overcoming the language barrier between lion and newcomer. At last, the brown-skinned newcomers could converse with the lions.

    As years went by, the brown-skinned newcomers slowly assimilated into Levakian culture. Constant exposure to the Gift caused more and more of their children to be born with white hair and purple eyes, the features which normally signified a Gifted Lion. Sadly, no newcomer ever showed signs of having received the Gift.

    When asked to identify themselves, the brown-skinned newcomers used a name for their tribe that was unpronounceable in the Levakian language. The greatest Levakian scholars toiled for days to give the newcomers a name that could be spoken in both tongues. Finally they came up with a simple word that meant "people" in both languages:

    Partogan.

    Soon, the Partogans revealed a mystery to the Levakians. None of their people had realized that they had been transported to another world until first verbal contact with Gifted Lions. Despite the best efforts of both Gifted Lions and Partogan Tohunga, there was still a significant majority of Partogans who refused to believe that they were on another world. They insisted that “talking beasts” had somehow made their way to a place called “Ao.”

    Section 2: Riri Nui and the Wars of the Famine (1480-1515 A.D.)

    Partogans and Levakians lived happily together for decades. While the Partogans continued to be assimilated into Levakia (which was undergoing an industrial revolution at the time) the white-skinned newcomers (dubbed “Snowskins” by a Partogan Tohunga) continued to be aloof and mysterious.

    After hundreds of translated interviews, historians agreed that the Partogans and Snowskins had never seen one another before their sudden transport to the Little Continent. The Snowskins spoke a language the Partogans didn’t understand, and were uninterested in living or working with talking lions.

    The Snowskins built a kingdom upon the Little Continent. Ruled by a male who styled himself as “King,” the Levakians saw this as a threat. Sensing war on the horizon, Levakian society quickly reorganized itself to meet the danger. The greatest huntress of all was found and elevated to the rank of “Empress of Levakia” and charged with building an army of lions to meet the Snowskins. But on a cold winter morning, everything changed.

    The tallest mountain on the Little Continent exploded.

    *Historian’s note: The explosion of Riri Nui is the single most important moment in Partogan history. Their calendar counts the number of years since the disaster occurred. The explosive power Riri Nui unleashed is roughly equal to the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora on Earth. On Earth, Riri Nui would have been given a Volcanic Explosivity Index number of Seven. (7)

    The Snowskin’s kingdom was annihilated on the first day. Then the ashfall began across the Levakian continent. The sun was hidden and day became night for a month. Ash and dust fell on the Levakian continent continuously for days. Hundreds of thousands perished. By the time the skies cleared again over a year later, millions were dead. Modern-day historians estimate that between 44 and 45 percent of the total Sentient population perished during this period.

    Even though the skies were clear, ash and toxic fumes continued to blow across the Silver Sea and land in Levakia. Fields withered away, game animals and livestock died, and famine was followed by death, which in turn brought disease to the survivors. Many feared the continent would soon be uninhabitable. Thousands of boats ferried the survivors across the broken islands of E-Ena and onto the shores of the Western Continent.

    A small number of Snowskins had survived. During the few months between the return of the sunlight and the arrival of the Partogan/Levakian refugees, the Snowskins had scoured the land for any and all food and water. The Snowskin King hid his massive stockpile of food inside a fortress along the southern ridge of Archer’s Canyon, a great gorge that split one side of the continent like a wound.

    Despair took the refugees. The Snowskins had picked the land clean. No crops or seeds remained. Farmfields were saturated with ash and pumicite. Every animal had been slaughtered or herded inside the walls of the Snowskin fortress. The refugees had only the food and drink they’d brought with them from Levakia. When it ran out, everyone outside the walls of the Snowskin fortress would die.

    One Partogan refused to give up hope. A teenage girl named Whetu Kealoha famously broke into a Snowskin arsenal in the city of Candon. She emerged, clad in Snowskin “Sam-oo-righ" armor and carrying a sword. She declared to a crowd of refugees that she would raid the Snowskin fortress and bring back food for her fellow refugees. When she asked for volunteers to help her, the mob became an army. Because the Levakian Empress was too badly injured to join the hunt, she legitimized Whetu’s crusade by declaring her to be “Queen of the Partogans.”

    The Wars of the Famine lasted just two weeks and had only four battles. The Refugee Army, with Queen Kealoha at its head, surged across the land, moving from East to West and fighting with the sunrise at their backs. The Refugee Army wiped out what little of the Snowskin army remained. Finally, they encircled the Snowskin fortress at Archer’s Canyon. The King knew he simply needed to hide inside of the walls and wait for Whetu’s army to starve to death.

    There are no two historians in the Galaxy who can agree on what actually happened during the Battle of Archer’s Canyon. The event itself is shrouded in myth and legend.

    Some people say that Whetu had the Gift, and that she employed her Psionics to tear the walls of the Snowskin fortress as though it were made of paper. Others think that the Unnamed Mountain (formerly known as Riri Nui) exploded a second time, attempting to kill both tribes at once, but succeeding only in breaking the fortress walls. There is also a legend that at the last possible second, a teenaged Snowskin girl turned traitor and held the main gate open while the Refugees surged through. Nonetheless, the Refugee Army somehow managed to get inside and storm the fortress.

    It was genocide. The Snowskins were butchered by the Partogan/Levakian Refugees. None survived. Many witnesses claim to have seen Queen Kealoha and the Snowskin King meeting face-to-face on the ramparts during the heat of battle. However, it is impossible to know for certain what happened to either leader because neither of their bodies were found.

    Section 3: Rise of the Church of the Mountain and the Golden Age of the Queen (1515-1865 A.D.)

    The Battle of Archer’s Canyon came too late to save the Levakian way of life. The Empress had starved to death before the first caravans of food could arrive. The refugees were leaderless and in mourning over the loss of Queen Kealoha. Aimlessly, the survivors began to spread out across the continent, trying to make a new life for themselves in this grim new world.

    *Historian’s note: For hundreds of years, even up to modern day, there are still scattered reports of a solitary teenaged Snowskin girl being sighted in Partogan territory. However, no Partogan has ever lived past the age of 120. Any report of such a sighting after the year 60 should be discredited.

    Perhaps because its location near the sea was so advantageous, many Partogans began to settle in the ruins of the old Snowskin city. Renamed “Partoga” by its new inhabitants, the city would spend every morning caught in the shadow of the Mountain that had once destroyed it. Jokingly at first, then with grim seriousness, many Partogans took to worshipping the Unnamed Mountain. At the end of every year, Partogans and Levakians alike would thank the Mountain for a bountiful harvest and beg it to spare their lives for another year.

    It took several decades for this religious movement to coalesce into what we now know as the Church of the Mountain, but in the interim, the first signs of a new central government began to appear. In the Partogan year 30, (1545 A.D.) thousands made an impromptu pilgrimage to Archer’s Canyon to mark the anniversary of the great battle there.

    No one knows who started the idea of building a new central government in Queen Kealoha’s honor, but there are scattered rumors that a lone teenaged Snowskin girl may have been present, whispering ideas into the heads of impressionable students.

    Historian's note: The above claim is absurd.

    The very first National Assembly convened later that year. Made up of Partogans and Levakians from all over the continent, they built a new unitary government. The Kingdom would be divided up into principalities. Each Principality would be ruled by an authoritarian Prince or Princess. These rulers would be appointed by the Queen, who would serve as the head of government. The National Assembly decided to elect the new Monarch in honor of Queen Kealoha, who (according to myth) refused to accept the title of “Queen” until her friends and supporters voted amongst themselves to give it to her. The Assembly would elect someone who was roughly the same age Kealoha had been when she had taken up the sword. (Between 10 and 15 years old) And so it was that 15-year-old Kotu Aranui became the second Queen of Partoga.

    Kotu was a student of Snowskin history before her election. During her exploration of Snowskin ruins, she had found a book written in a strange language that was slightly similar to Snowskin, yet it was a new language entirely. The book was filled with accounts and names of a third tribe no one had ever seen. Kotu started a new tradition. To ensure that the memory of both the Snowskins and the Forgotten Tribe would never die out, each new Queen of Partoga would choose a Royal Name from the Book of the Forgotten.

    Kotu renamed herself “Sophie” and retroactively renamed Queen Kealoha to “Miranda the Great.”

    Shortly after the new Monarchy was established, the Levakians tried to restore their own monarchial government. Queen Sophie deployed the first Partogan Army to stamp out this little rebellion before it could get started. However, she forgave the rebel leaders for their crimes and gave them their freedom on the condition that they respect Partogan dominance from that day forward. Awed by her restraint, many now call this ruler: “Sophie the Merciful.”

    For nearly two hundred years, Partogan civilization continued to grow and strengthen, while the Levakians backtracked and fell from grace. Living in great sprawling shantytowns like Enzor and The Mangaia, life for a Levakian was nasty, brutish, and short as they tried in vain to eke out a place for themselves in a world that was becoming increasingly Partogan.

    Queen Sophie was succeeded by Sarah, formerly known as Aperiria. Sarah oversaw the dawning of the age of steam power and guided Partoga into a technological revolution, leaving the Levakians even further behind.

    After Sarah died in 151 (1666 A.D.) Anne the Builder was elected. Under her reign, Partoga City grew in to the Megalopolis it is today, stretching as far north as Archer’s Canyon and as far south as the Rahkshian Jungle. Half of the Little Continent was now Partoga City. As such, the entire landmass was renamed: “Partoga”

    All this time, the Church of the Mountain had grown larger, wealthier, and stronger. Fear of the Mountain’s wrath was what put people into pews and tithes into pockets. Some Partogans quietly feared that the Priests of the Mountain had the power to bring Riri Nui's wrath down upon anyone who disobeyed the Church. Church leadership did nothing to dispel this notion. Doctrine issued by Church leaders was taken just as seriously as Royal Decrees. Sometimes, the two would even collaborate, such as with the National Dress Code. (Commanded by the Church, upheld by the Queen)

    The nature of the Church-Queen relationship changed radically in 183. (1698 A.D.) Queen Anne the Builder had passed away after a bout of illness and the Royal Election was held, as was the tradition. The 13-year-old daughter of a businessman was elected Queen. She took the name “Emily” and almost immediately started ignoring the commands of the Church. Believing that the Church was subordinate to the Queen, Emily fired her religious advisors and forced them to leave the palace.

    A few hours later, the most elite soldiers of the Royal Armed Forces, the Green Guard, stormed the Royal Palace. They found Queen Emily and killed her on sight. There is a famous photograph which depicts the body of Queen Emily being thrown down the Grand Staircase by a teenaged Snowskin girl wearing a Green Guard uniform.

    Historian's note: While that photograph is one of the most well-known and highly regarded examples of Partogan photojournalism, there is a unanimous opinion among analysts and historians that the image itself was doctored. While the identity of the soldier in the picture is unknown to this day, we can be certain she was not a Snowskin, as they had all died out over a hundred years beforehand.

    During the second Royal Election in as many months, armed Green Guard soldiers monitored the voting very closely. The candidate put forward by the Church of the Mountain won in a landslide, and Queen Ihiko changed her name to “Karan.”

    Queen Karan the Scientist ruled for nearly 70 years and brought Partoga into the electric age, but missed out on the dawning of the digital one by few years. After Karan passed away her successor, Queen Carol the Pious, struggled to keep the Church of the Mountain intact as people’s lives were slowly taken over by touchscreens, movie streaming, and instant virtual mail.

    Partoga’s technological advancements weren’t entirely indigenous. Explorers and adventurers had ventured back to the Levakian continent (which was still dead at the time) and salvaged a great deal of Levakian technology. Two hundred years ago, the Levakians had been the most advanced people on the planet. Now they lived in tin shacks with no electricity or running water, unwanted and ignored by the Partogans.

    Queen Madeline the First inherited Carol’s problems. She did her best but was overwhelmed and died of stress-induced illness at the age of 47.

    Queen Phoebe fared better, helping Partogans find a balance between their fast-paced, technologically enhanced lives, and the slow, thoughtful ways of the Church. Under her rule, an age-old tradition was cemented into law:

    For over a century, many young Partogan children had taken to climbing the Unnamed Mountain and visiting its Crater Lake as a way of proving their strength to classmates. Under the guidance of the Church of the Mountain, Queen Phoebe declared the Crater Lake to be a Holy Site, and that every Partogan youngster must visit the lake in a “Rite of Passage.”

    The Church took full advantage of this. Providing both physical and spiritual assistance to children who made the climb, the Church reduced Mountainside fatalities from thousands-per-year to dozens-per-year. Its membership also swelled to record levels.

    Queen Lucy the Seafarer was a relic from a bygone time, yet it was under her reign that Partoga reached the stars. Spending far more time in her boat on the Silver Sea than behind a desk, Lucy governed from the waves. She encouraged Partogans and Levakians alike to attempt to colonize the desolate Levakian continent as practice for colonial efforts on other planets.

    Thanks to generous subsidies from Queen Lucy, Partoga’s fledgling space program grew into a juggernaut of industry. Intrepid explorers had gotten no further than low Partogan orbit, but plans were made for the exploration and colonization of the neighboring planets Waitiri, Kiwa, and Rehua. Wannabe colonists and explorers viewed the three worlds through telescopes intensely, plotting out what they’d do with the land when they got there.

    At the same time, plans were being made for the Levakians. The rampant urbanization of Partoga had gotten to the point where lion settlements were viewed a nuisance. Levakians were treated more and more like unwanted wildlife than as a Sentient species.

    *Historian’s note: No attempts were made to keep track of the Levakian population during this time period. However, we do have reason to believe that their numbers were dwindling, as there are fewer and fewer reports of Gifted Lions during this time.

    Industrious businessmen such as Matapiko Mihaka developed plans to relocate (forcibly or otherwise) the entire Levakian population to another planet once the technology had been developed, allowing the entire homeworld to be exploited by Partogans. The meetings to develop Partoga’s first interstellar colony ship often devolved into shouting matches because the engineers couldn’t decide if it should carry Partogan Explorers or Levakian Exiles. There are stories that a teenaged Snowskin girl was also present at some of these meetings, deliberately goading people into fighting.

    *Historians's note: The above claim is so ridiculous that it brings shame to the profession.

    Section 4: Interstellar Empire (1865-1928 A.D.)

    There are no records of Levakian dissent or civil disobedience during the pre-FTL days of Partoga. Most historians agree this is due to Queen Madeline the Second’s unusual choice to burn all records of her predecessor’s reign. However, countless interviews and innumerable pieces of physical evidence confirm that very real resistance to Partogan rule started to materialize in the years leading up to First Contact with the Galactic Community.

    Most resistance was localized to one area or another. Occasional car bombs, assassination attempts, riots, and other such events were too few and far in between to assume the existence of an organized rebellion. It’s much more likely that three centuries’ worth of abuses and deliberate neglect were starting to take their toll on the downtrodden lions, and the lions simply lashed out from some combination of anger, frustration, or despair.

    On 13 Noema 375 (Circa November 1890 A.D.) Partogan Star Command launched an experimental spaceship carrying a prototype Hyperspace Module. The Hyperdrive test was a failure, and the ship vanished into deep space. Royal Star Command gave up all attempts to contact the vessel and its crew of three were declared dead.

    Two days later, a Bentusi Trade Station appeared in high orbit above Partoga and offered to return both the lost ship and its crew, who were alive and hungry, but otherwise unhurt.

    *Historian’s Note: The Bentusi are a race of nomadic traders who once dominated the Galaxy as a military Superpower about 4,000 years ago. Having since gone down the path of Pacifism, the Bentusi are harmless unless attacked first. The Bentusi Exchange peddles in information and technology. The general consensus among historians is that the Bentusi learned the Partogan language by purchasing the knowledge from the Micore Empire, who maintained an observation post above Partoga from 1840 until 1890 A.D.

    Once the shock wore off, the Bentusi and Partogan government were able to have a very productive dialogue. Eventually, Queen Madeline II was able to purchase Hyperdrive technology from the Bentusi. As part of the exchange, she handed over design schematics for Fort Miranda, which was being built at the time.

    *Historian’s Note: Levakian terrorist attacks against Partogans were very frequent during this era. Fort Miranda was designed to act as an “Emergency Relocation Center” for the Partogan Government in the event of a full-scale Uprising. Interestingly, Fort Miranda is built on top of the battlefield where Queen Miranda the Great vanquished the Snowskins.

    Over the course of several months, Partoga was inducted into the Galactic Community by the Bentusi. Queen Madeline II gave her first speech to the Galactic Council General Assembly less than a year after First Contact, and Partoga would get a seat in the assembly soon after. Within a year of First Contact, Queen Madeline II was on the floor of the GCGA regularly, debating the future of the Galaxy alongside political powerhouses like Taiidani Emperor Riesstiu IV the Second, Blorg Archon Heidi Vestergaard, Vanian High Comissioner Atrata Sakati, and Zudjari Warlords like Origin and Axis.

    As soon as commercial space travel became available to the Kingdom of Partoga, a mass exodus of Levakians commenced. Fleeing the Trecta system entirely, whole prides of lions would relocate to the Great Wastelands, an empty region of space claimed (but not controlled) by at least half a dozen empires. Queen Madeline II subsidized companies, businesses, and other ventures that aimed to remove Levakians from Partoga. The name "Partoga" means "land of the people" and by this point it now applied to the city, the Continent, the planet, and the entire Kingdom. During this time, a small number of lions had crossed the Silver Sea and were living on the Levakian Continent once more. Queen Madeline II authorized local security forces to evict those lions forcefully so that the buildings could be given over to their new Partogan owners.

    Lightyears away from Partoga, Levakian society underwent a renaissance. Gifted Lions came out of hiding, strong males battled for territory, and the first Levakian political movement in nearly 400 years started taking shape. A group of young lions came together and started building a unitary Levakian government. This new government was a copy of the Partogan one, except the constituent Principalities were called Kingdoms and ruled by Kings. The head of the new Levakian government would be an Empress.

    Seeing the danger coming, Queen Madeline II dispatched the Green Guard. She followed the example set by Sophie the Merciful so long ago and offered the Levakians a choice: The new Levakian government would be allowed to exist so long as it remained a Vassal of Partoga. The lions accepted and the Kingdom of the Mangaia was founded. Its territory comprised of the entire southern hemisphere of Partoga itself, splitting the homeworld in half and placing a clear line between Partogan and Levakian lands. Several planets in the outermost reaches of Partogan space were also given over to the Mangaia government.

    Every Levakian was expected to live in territory controlled by the Mangaia government. Lions who wanted to go into Partogan territory for any reason needed a permit. Without one, they could be arrested for vagrancy. Although the terms were harsh, many lions took this agreement as a victory, the first step in a long and arduous road to something much... much... greater.

    In 408 (1923 A.D.) the Galaxy was rocked by a series of traumatic events. The Kushan Exiles flagrantly violated the Hiigara-Taiidan Peace Treaty by conducting an illegal Hyperspace test. The Taiidan Empire responded to the senseless Kushan aggression by destroying their planet, killing some 300 million Kushan Exiles and earning the unjust condemnation of nearly the entire Galactic Community. Only Partoga and the Democratic Republic of Assuria came to the heroic defense of Emperor Riesstiu IV the Second’s decision to protect the Galaxy by burning Kharak.

    Moving too fast to intercept, the Kushan Mothership and its fleet passed through the Great Wastelands, fighting their way past the Turanic Raiders, before bypassing Partogan space entirely by going through the Gardens of Kadesh. Before the Galaxy had time to react, the Kushan war criminal known as “Karan Sjet” had led her fleet to the doorstep of Hiigara. Partogan ships were scrambled to help, but before they could arrive, the barbarian Sjet and her allies had slain the Taiidan Emperor in battle.

    The Battle of Hiigara was but the starting gun to a much wider war. The Taiidan Empire collapsed on itself. Queen Madeline II sent over 70% of the Partogan military into Taiidan space to help the Imperialist faction fight against the traitorous Republicans and their Kushan/New Hiigaran allies. The Republicans also received help from other Galactic powers such as the Blorg Commonality and the United States of Assuria.

    The conflict dragged on and became a lengthy, protracted war. Battle after battle sapped Partogan manpower. Desperate for warm bodies, the Partogan Royal Army and Navy both lowered their minimum age requirements. By 413 (1928 A.D.), teenagers as young as 14 were being sent into battle against the Republican Taiidani.

    Meanwhile, Queen Madeline II took advantage of the Taiidan Empire’s collapse to grow Partoga’s western borders. In an agreement with the automated representatives of the Micore Empire, the Gardens of Kadesh were divided between the two states, leaving only a small sliver of territory for the Kadeshi to live in unmolested. A subsequent invasion of this space by the Turanic Raiders was ignored, as were reports of a solitary teenage Snowskin girl fighting alongside the Turanic Raiders during the final Annexation of Kadeshi territory.

    *Historian's note: The above reports are most likely Turanic propaganda designed to scare the Kadeshi, who by this point, probably had a basic knowledge of Partogan history.

    Over 50 unoccupied star systems in the Outer Rim were seized, causing the Kingdom of Partoga to double in size. Very few of these planets were warm or temperate enough for a Partogan to live comfortably, however. Preliminary surveys done by science ships also revealed little in the way of usable resources. The region was worthless from an economic standpoint, but Madeline II was unwilling to let another empire take the region.

    The new Outer Rim territories were given over to the Levakian government. Predictably, Levakian terror attacks and agitation declined radically overnight. Although during this time many urban legends sprung up, telling about a teenaged Snowskin girl wandering the streets of the Mangaia at night, singing lullabies to lions.

    *Historian's note: This moronic claim doesn't deserve a response.

    The Levakian Empress divided the Outer Rim territories into six new Kingdoms: Ninigai, Aiarua, Paku Nui, Waioku, Vaopolu, and Asalele. All six of the new Levakian Kings swore fealty to the Levakian Empress, who in turn, swore vassalage to the Partogan Queen.

    Queen Madeline II died of a stroke in 410. (1925 A.D.) Queen Marie the Scholar was elected to succeed Madeline II in the late summer of the same year, but her reign has been characterized by misfortune and disaster. Only 10 years old on her coronation day, Marie had more hospital visits than any previous Monarch, averaging one hospital visit every five days during her reign. Her title of “the Scholar” comes from a famous newspaper photo of the young Queen, showing her sitting upright in a hospital bed, surrounded by books, papers and reports from government officials.

    Many analysts claim that Partoga went into a decline immediately after Marie took over. Levakian nationalists made louder and louder calls for concessions from the Partogan government. The Royal Navy suffered multiple serious defeats and was actively training children for frontline combat less than two years into her reign. Meanwhile, the Galactic Council Security Council voted to censure the Partogan representatives after they heroically spoke out in defense of what the GCSC mistakenly called “The Kharakan Genocide.”

    International pressure to abandon the Taiidan Empire continued mounting on Partoga. In 412 (1927 A.D.) the Blorg Commonality issued their first ever diplomatic insult, verbally assaulting Queen Marie and chastising her “misplaced loyalty” to the Imperialist Taiidani. There are also numerous unconfirmed reports of a teenage Snowskin girl fighting alongside rouge Levakians who had joined the enemy side.

    *Historian's note: All of those reports can be attributed to hallucinations, post-traumatic shock, and Battle Madness.

    Section 5: The Reign of Queen Kendra the Peacemaker (1928-1952 A.D.)

    You can learn more about this part of Partogan history by reading new chapters of “Faith in Chaos” once they are posted.

    Section 6: Subspace Echoes and the Run-Up to War (1952-2015 A.D.)

    You can learn more about this part of Partogan history by reading new chapters of “Faith in Chaos” once they are posted.

    Section 7: The Second Hyperspace War (2015-2036 A.D.)

    Agamemnon and Astynome entered the Galaxy on September 11, 2015 and combat operations began immediately. Within a month, the Bio-Mechanical Virus known as the Beast had infected between 20,000 and 30,000 spaceships and was rapidly spreading throughout the Galaxy. Historians estimate that about 200 million Partogans were either killed or subverted by the Beast Virus during the first year of fighting alone.

    Partoga’s location in the Galaxy granted the Kingdom some protection, but it didn’t last long. The Beast gained access to the Hyperspace Network in early 2016 and by the end of the year every Hyperspace Gate in the Galaxy had been infected and was passing the Virus onto any ship that entered the network. Partogan scientists were able to develop a vaccine that immunized all Partogan warships against the Beast during the fighting season of 2017, but by 2018, the Bio-Mechanical Virus had adapted, rendering the Beast immune to the vaccine.

    This pattern repeated for nearly a decade. Every time Partoga or an ally developed a new Vaccine, the Beast would adapt and spread to another star cluster. By 2018, the first infected ships were being found in Partogan space.

    By 2019, the Galactic Front Line was solidly inside Partogan territory. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and thousands of ships were poured into the battle each month, fighting the Beast to a stalemate, just as the Hiigarans and Vaygr had done on the other side of the Galaxy. With the Hyperspace Network compromised, Infected ships had infinite directions in which to spread the plague.

    Asalele was the first Levakian planet to be infected. The Beast ran rampant through the dense urban centers. Between 1.2 and 1.5 Billion lions were converted into Beast materiel. Asalele was subsequently destroyed by a Taiidani Planet-Killer to avoid giving the plague a chance to spread.

    By 2025, Queen Miranda II had authorized the destruction of 15 of her own planets in order to avoid giving the Beast a beachhead in Partogan territory. In 2027, the situation began to stabilize somewhat as a combined Hiigaran/Blorg/Vaygr/Taiidan/Micore armada managed to bog down a huge fleet of Infected ships at a conflict now known as the Siege of the Nanjim Star Cluster. This capital ship slug-fest would last for nearly 3 years and give the Galaxy a much-needed reprieve.

    During the “lull” in the fighting, Queen Miranda II traveled to Hiigara and after much negotiation, created a military alliance geared specifically towards fighting the Beast.

    The newly founded Triple Alliance consisted of the Kingdom of Partoga, the Levakian Confederation, and the Hiigaran Empire. All three nations contributed some 80,000 warships to a United Front and inflicted serious defeats on the Beast across multiple combat zones. The Triple Alliance also carried out the first Multi-Fleet Inoculation, creating the largest armada of Beast-Immune ships in the Galaxy. By 2030, the Beast was in full retreat on all fronts and for a few sweet months, there were more uninfected ships in the Galaxy than Infected ones.

    This wasn’t to last. The Beast adapted once more, and by the beginning of 2031, it was fully immune to the Multi-Fleet Inoculation. Once again, every nation in the Galaxy was in retreat. The Blorg, Turanic Raiders, Amadii, and Assurians were wiped out during this time period, cutting the total population of the Galaxy by a third.

    In 2035, the situation stabilized again and a new Galactic Front Line formed. In the Galactic South, an armed rebellion against the ADVENT Coalition had plunged the Sol system into a high-intensity civil war. This should have been a non-event, considering what else was happening, but it caught the attention of both Agamemnon and Astynome. The Fathership and Mothership of the Beast both stopped what they were doing and began flying towards Earth on Slower-Than-Light drives to avoid detection.

    They were detected.

    Queen Miranda II lead a massive Triple Alliance fleet to Earth and staged an intervention in the Earth War. The leaders of the human resistance movement (XCOM) were offered a bargain: Miranda II would help the humans to overthrow the ADVENT Coalition, but in return, Humanity as a whole needed to start pulling its weight in the Second Hyperspace War. XCOM Commander Laura Harper agreed to the demands, and Partogan soldiers began to land on Earth, fighting alongside human warriors and bringing destruction to the ADVENT Coalition. Within months of the intervention, the first human warships joined Partogan ones at the Galactic Front Line.

    During the intervention, Partogan soldiers found a small tribe of humans who spoke a language that sounded similar to Partogan. Physical similarities between the Human and Partogan species were also noticed. Eventually, some Partogan soldiers reported that there was an entire nation of living, breathing Snowskins occupying a chain of islands on Earth.

    If this discovery had been made during peacetime, it would have caused riots and chaos on the streets of Partoga City. Instead, the news was drowned out by the sound of air raid sirens and blocked out by shelter doors as the umpteenth squadron of Beast-infected bombers made an attack run on the city.

    In the late months of 2035, it became blatantly obvious that Agamemnon and Astynome were interested in something on Earth. The Fathership and Mothership both approached Earth very slowly, gathering up a colossal armada of infected ships as they went. The Triple Alliance began gathering strength too. For the better part of a year, allied warships continued pouring into the Sol System. Word leaked out of the buildup, and soon, hundreds of thousands of battle-ready ships were entering the Sol System from all over the Galaxy.

    The rumors going around were that all Sentient life was going to make an epic final stand against the Beast at Sol, but it was the humans who put that rumor to bed and replaced it with an even better story.

    When the Partogan Royal Navy arrived at Earth in force, they discovered the human’s secret weapon: A Genetically Engineered Hybrid being that was half human and half... something else. The woman answered to the name of “Jericho” and was, without question, the most powerful Psionic in the entire Galaxy. This was undoubtedly the reason the Beast was closing on Earth. It wanted to pass the Infection onto Jericho, and potentially subvert a living weapon of mass destruction.

    In dark corners of the cosmos, nervous combatants would dare to utter their last hopes in a hushed whisper:

    “Jericho, the Hybrid Human. She’s the Chosen One, isn’t she?”

    The Galaxy had never seen a cult of personality as powerful as the one Jericho drew around herself. tens of thousands of Partogans who had travelled to Earth as part of the Triple Alliance fleet now swore allegiance to Jericho and her band of warriors: the Stormbreakers. If things had gone differently, she would have been worshipped as a God.

    Knowing she needed to meet Jericho face-to-face and plan out a proper military strategy with her, Queen Miranda II decided to go to Earth. However, the Queen was in poor physical health, having suffered a minor stress-induced heart attack a few weeks prior. The Queen decided to be cautious. When she departed for Sol, she took the entire National Assembly, plus four Queen Candidates, with her.

    Upon arriving at Earth, Queen Miranda II dispatched an invitation to Jericho. Before Jericho could respond, a last-second armed conflict erupted on Earth, pitting Jericho and her Stormbreakers against a solitary teenaged Snowskin girl whose Psionic Powers managed to rival those of Jericho.

    Historians never learned the name of the Snowskin who caused Jericho so much trouble on Earth. We do, however, know the code-name XCOM used to refer to her:

    PARADOX

    Once “Paradox” was captured and incarcerated, Jericho and Queen Miranda II finally sat down for their meeting a mere month before Agamemnon and Astynome were scheduled to arrive in the Sol System. Not only was Jericho present, but so were the leaders of every nation and military force that would participate in the final stand at Sol. Presidents, Generals, Kings, Warlords, Archons, High Comissioners, and all sorts of interstellar leaders were in the room. All witnesses who were there that day tell us that the meeting went well, and that a cohesive strategy to defend Earth was worked out. But before the anyone could agree to anything in writing, Queen Miranda II suffered a sudden heart attack and died in the conference room.

    The Queen’s preparedness was a simultaneous boon and curse. Because the entire Partogan National Assembly was present on Earth along with four eligible Queen Candidates, a Royal election was held almost immediately. Unfortunately, a few hours before the voting started, “Paradox” escaped from custody and infiltrated the building where the National Assembly was meeting. Six Stormbreakers followed her inside.

    While no violence occurred during the voting, multiple members of the National Assembly were approached and spoken to by “Paradox” and the Stormbreakers. “Paradox” was recaptured before voting ended. The general consensus of historians is that all seven humans interfered in the Royal Election and almost certainly changed the outcome. 12-year-old Kailani Kalili was the first girl in Partogan history to win a Royal Election with less than 90% of the vote. She became Queen Miranda the Third.

    11 days later, Agamemnon and Astynome arrived in the Sol System at the head of a massive infected armada. “Paradox” escaped from custody one final time before the fighting started and was never seen again.

    The War in Heaven occurred on September 11, 2036 and the Second Hyperspace War ended immediately afterward. Approximately 150 billion Partogans died across the entire Galaxy during 21 years of war. When the sun rose on September 12th, only 5 million Partogans were still alive.

    There are no historical records of what happened for the next 160 years.

    Section 8: After Everything (2200-2203 A.D.)

    You can learn more about this part of Partogan history by reading “After Everything.”

    *Historian's note: Because so many Partogans died during the Second Hyperspace War, historical records of the conflict itself were very poorly maintained, if at all. By the time the historical record picks up again in 2200, the Partogans had forgotten a vast amount of information about the Galaxy, including both the identity and nature of the Beast, choosing to refer to the enemy as "Extragalactic Invaders" instead.

    Section 9 and 1: END OF THE 115th CYCLE (2229 A.D.)

    You can learn more about this part of Partogan history by reading the interludes of “Faith in Chaos” that occur in between the main chapters.


    ======================
    And that, good reader, is the history of Partoga and Levakia in a nutshell. We now return to our regularly scheduled program. Chapter 1.2 of Faith in Chaos should be posted on Friday and subsequent chapters will be posted every 5 to 6 days.


    SO IT IS, AND SO IT SHALL ALWAYS BE.
    The Paradox said:
    no, it won't.
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 1.2: The White Lioness
  • Macavity116

    The First Stormbreaker
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    Mar 1, 2018
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    So, I'm having a really, really good day. Let's do Chapter 1.2 a full day ahead of schedule!
    ======

    Chapter 1.2
    The White Lioness

    March 18, 1928 A.D.
    The Mangaia – Partogan Homeworld, Kingdom of Partoga


    y4m-hJZCU5Us6wv0QhL8CBVOb_a2mFL6vhZgjyOamQrqK99ySj3OpUCkKhkcQ7LW0qtY9QtHap6FNzZmKFy998t1muV96ms9s2kUVIsf4UGIJUG38v_jIK8r9dlGfZ81p1L0XoXd3kT5pOjyyVFFTW2_FIrwuk2L_nLX_gMbISvbvrc1LnjaU5RTYC_E509SVQpNeYFfgyVPFz_rSfXUTO3Gw

    Caption said:
    The Partogan Homeworld, located just a few hyperlanes away from the Southern Border with the Micore Empire. The Northern half of the planet belongs to the Kingdom of Partoga. The Southern half belongs to the Kingdom of The Mangaia. --- Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t make the “Tidal Locked” Modifier go away. (A symptom of using Trappist-1 as the starting system) For story purposes, it’s not there. The other two modifiers remain in effect.

    Carefully placed between the wide ocean and the dense Rahkshian Jungle, the city called Mangaia grew upwards instead of outward. Mighty skyscrapers dominated the area and threw whole sections of the city into semi-permanent darkness. Further away from the city center, massive urban complexes spotted the cityscape, each one consisting of hundreds of compact, low-rise building erected as close together as possible and conjoined by a network of staircases, skywalks, and covered bridges. The noise of industry and vehicles merged together into a dull roar that suppressed the crashing of ocean waves. A hazy layer of smog hung above it all, giving the city a sickly brown color.

    In the middle of this densely packed metropolis was a palace. It was nowhere near as grand or audacious as the one in Partoga City, but it was clearly a palace nonetheless. It was the home of the Imperial Pride, a group who controlled the Gazania Throne. The leader of the Pride was Jemima, the Empress of Levakia.

    The Grand Staircase leading away from the front entrance faced to the East, as did a great statue at the base of the steps. The statue contained a stone recreation of two people. The first was a Partogan woman in her middle years. With her right hand she raised a sword, pointing at the Eastern horizon.

    The second stone individual was a fur-covered creature. This creature had two legs, two arms, and a head atop its shoulders, but this was where its resemblance to a Partogan ended. If it stood at full height, the creature would have been well over twice the height of the Partogan woman. Its body was that of an apex predator, built with massive paws, lethal claws, and a huge mane of wild hair that covered its neck and chest. The creature’s face was built to kill, with terrifying incisor teeth, a large, powerful jaw, long whiskers and big pointed ears.

    This lion-like creature was a Levakian.

    The stone Levakian was sitting on its haunches before the stone recreation of Queen Lucy the Seafarer, and she had placed her left hand firmly atop his head, much like someone would do to a pet. The complete and total subjugation of the Levakian race was not symbolized by the Queen’s sword or her hand atop the lion’s head. The greatest symbol of Partoga’s domination of the Levakian people was in the fact that the stone Partogan was facing East... towards Levakia... while her subject faced away from his ancestral homeland.

    Anyone seeking to enter or leave the palace would have to walk past this statue and be reminded of who truly ruled this continent, this planet, and the surrounding star systems.

    One of those beings had just woken up after sleeping late into the afternoon, far later than she’d actually intended. In a second-floor bedroom of the Mangaia palace, a ray of afternoon sunlight found its way into a window and woke the two princesses who had been curled up in deep sleep.

    A young lioness named Tantomile roused reluctantly and gave a great yawn, stretching her limbs and arching her back. Leaving her older sister Coricopat to sleep in, Tantomile loped on all fours partway across the room before straightening up to open the door.

    From a biological standpoint, bipedalism (the ability to walk on two feet) was an extremely recent development for the Levakian species. It had been bred into all Levakians through a highly aggressive eugenics program carried out by the Partogan government about 90 years ago. It had taken even more time for the Partogans to convert the Levakian’s front legs into a configuration that just barely passed as “arms.” Needless to say, Tantomile and all of her fellow Levakians were still feeling uncomfortable using their front paws to open doors. It would be several more generations before this discomfort fell away. Like most lions, Tantomile spent most of her time down on all fours and only stood upright if it was necessary, which seemed to be happening a lot more often as time went on.

    Outside her bedroom, the Mangaia palace was silent. It had only been this way for a little while. A week ago, the seven other lionesses who made up the Imperial Pride had gone into the Rahkshian Jungle on a hunting expedition. They wouldn’t be back for another five days or so. Then, just two days ago, Tantomile had woken up to discover that her mother, the Levakian Empress Jemima, had abruptly left the palace and boarded a spaceship bound for Paku Nui in the Outer Rim.

    “It’s an emergency meeting, your highness.” one of palace servants had said. “She’s responding to reports of a famine in Paku Nui and wanted to speak to King Emerdon directly. She didn’t have time to say goodbye, but she did leave instructions for you... ahem: ‘Don’t break anything.’ That’s all her Highness said.”

    Realizing their mother had left them alone in the palace for at least two days, Tantomile and Coricopat immediately did what many adolescents would have done in that situation: They invited all of their friends over for a night and had thrown a massive party.

    Coricopat, ever the social butterfly, had gone chattering and gossiping from one young lioness to the next. By the end of the first night, she’d formed a tight clique of friendly lionesses that looked like the beginnings of a new lion pride. Tantomile, meanwhile, was the more ambitious sister. She had hunted down and stuck up talks with lions who were already members of powerful prides. She traded hunting stories with the sons and daughters of pride leaders, and improved her already impressive knowledge of which prides were secure, which ones were in danger of being taken over by a strong young male, and which of those males were currently single.

    Pacing the ballroom and surveying the damage left behind, Tantomile couldn’t remember if the palace servants had fled before or after a young male lion had climbed onto the crystal chandelier and brought it crashing down to the floor. He hadn’t done it for no reason. Korova, a powerful Mangaia lion, had been in the middle of a fight with another lion. With so many young, eligible lionesses at the party, such a thing was inevitable. Nothing spurs lions to fighting one another more effectively than the gaze of a lioness.

    Tantomile slunk down the north wing of the palace and started pushing open the doors to the guest bedrooms. As she suspected, all of the party guests had finally left. All but one.

    Sure, Korova had impressed all of the lionesses by outmaneuvering his opponent and causing a great deal of chaos, but at the end of the night, there were only two lionesses who Korova sought. Coricopat had gotten to him first, but Tantomile refused to let her keep Korova to herself. Eventually, the sisters had struck a truce: the two lionesses agreed to “share” him. No one ever asked Korova how he felt about being “shared” between two girlfriends. He just went along with it.

    Eventually, Tantomile found Korova in the last guest room she tried. He was awake and didn’t notice Tantomile pushing open the door because his head was stuck out the window. Korova seemed to be having a hurried conversation with someone standing in the palace courtyard. Tantomile didn’t interrupt. She took a moment to admire Korova’s form instead.

    The two Levakians looked nothing alike. Korova was absolutely massive. Even when compared against your average male lion, Korova could only be described as a colossus! Nearly 2 Bios long and weighing almost 300 Kilograms, his shaggy brown mane made him look even bigger than he already was. Korova’s ears were almost completely hidden by the thick brown fur of his mane, and his paws were bigger than a Partogan’s head. Everything about Korova was just... big.

    By comparison, Tantomile looked like a domestic housecat. Sleeker and more lightwieght, she had a coat of pure white fur with no spots or stripes, soft and smooth from a lifetime of daily grooming. She also had deep purple eyes that caused most other lions to do a double-take when they saw them. Normally, the combination of white fur and purple eyes signified a Gifted Lion. However, Tantomile had never exhibited the faintest trace of Psionic aptitude. At just 19 months old, she was far too young to be Gifted Lion. Mental powers would only manifest in an adult lion, usually around the age 3 years. The lack of powers hadn’t stopped Tantomile from becoming a force to be reckoned with, though.

    Since the dawn of civilization, lionesses had always been the hunters and warriors of Levakian society, and Tantomile was no exception. She was lean and muscular; her massive teeth were sharp and lethal to anything in her path. Many wild Kikanalo had met their doom in her jaws. Once, Tantomile had even killed a Partogan man during a barfight by crushing his chest in her teeth. Tantomile’s mother, the Empress Jemima, had gotten her out of trouble that day, but every now and then, Tantomile would lick her chops and gleefully remember the taste of Partogan blood.

    When she’d seen her fill of Korova, Tantomile reached out and touched his shoulder with her paw. Korova startled and gasped, jumping up and hitting his head on the top of the windowsill. Whoever was standing in the courtyard sprinted away before Tantomile could get a good look. Instead, she looked at Korova and was about to give him a greeting when she saw the fearful look on his face.

    “Korova, what’s wrong?” Tantomile asked, “Did I scare you?”

    Korova’s eyes darted from Tantomile to the window and back again.

    “You didn’t,” he said, “That was my friend, or rather the news he just told me.”

    Tantomile’s ears swiveled as she picked up the sound of heavy paws thudding away from the window. Korova crossed the room in one stride and approached Tantomile. She tried to nuzzle him affectionately but Korova raised his head just out of her reach. He wanted to talk. She didn’t. Resigned to starting the morning with some bad news, Tantomile laid down on the carpeted floor and gave a huge yawn.

    “Alright. What’s the bad news?” she asked,

    Korova either wouldn’t or couldn’t relax. While Tantomile stretched out on the floor, blinking her purple eyes slowly up at him, Korova began to pace up and down the length of the guest room.

    “That lion, he’s an old friend of mine. Name’s Sadala.” Korova started, “He just told me that her Highness the Empress is on her way back. She should be back in the city sometime tonight.”

    Tantomile rolled over, belly up and legs in the air, and started scratching her back on the floor. It felt so good that she started to make a deep growling noise that some Levakians could pass off as “purring.” With the top of her head pressed to the floor, she had to angle her ears to keep listening to Korova.

    “Alright,” Tantomile sighed from the floor. “That gives us a few hours to clean up the mess from the party, unless you’re going to scram or something.”

    Korova stopped pacing and looked at Tantomile.

    “That’s not the important part.”

    Tantomile rolled over again and sat up. She’d noticed how grim and serious the tone of Korova’s voice had become. He sat down across from her.

    “Sadala said King Emerdon left Paku Nui an hour before Jemima did. He’s also on the way here.”

    Okay, that was actual bad news. Time to sit up.

    Emerdon had become King of Paku Nui long before Tantomile had been born. She had met him only once and had come away disturbed by just how ambitious he was. King Emerdon craved power, but seemed to be cursed with eternal dissatisfaction with any gains he made. Out of all seven Levakian Kings, Emerdon had carried out more Pride Takeovers than any other King.

    In a society of lions, the phrase “Pride Takeover” meant everything the name implied: A male lion forces his way into a pride and supplants its leader, often by fighting and/or killing them. While minor prides experienced Takeovers all the time, the ruling prides were left alone... for obvious reasons. It had been decades since the last time a ruling pride had experienced a Takeover.

    A pulse of fear flickered through Tantomile’s body.

    “He wouldn’t!” she gasped. “Everyone knows that King Mirringo is a really savage fighter. Emerdon’s gonna get himself killed!”

    Korova cocked his head to one side.

    “That’s why my friend was just here.” he said. “He can’t find King Mirringo. I think he left the city.



    Tantomile and Korova went up the Princess’ bedroom and roused Coricopat. Tantomile’s older sister looked nothing like her. Coricopat had unkempt brown fur, yellow eyes, and a worn face that bore scars left over from a fight with another lion. She took the news of Mirringo’s absence grimly.

    “Sounds like he’s just giving up and letting Emerdon have the Mangaia.” Coricopat commented, “Doesn’t think he can take Emerdon in a fight, that’s my guess.”

    Despite being female, Coricopat’s voice was significantly deeper than Tantomile’s, to the point where she could be mistaken for a male if one closed their eyes while she was talking.

    The three lions began to patrol the courtyard of the Mangaia palace, taking in some sunlight and arguing with one another over how Emerdon’s possible takeover of The Mangaia would affect Levakian politics. While Korova and Coricopat raised their voices and roared at one another (as lions do when they antagonize each other) Tantomile turned her eyes to an Imperial Guard standing on the far side of the courtyard.

    The bronze lion guarding the rear entrance to the palace locked eyes with Tantomile, then held his slugthrower rifle in front of him, pretending to inspect the weapon and running his paw along the stock.

    This was a signal that Tantomile recognized: This guard was one of her Thralls, a lion who had sworn to support Tantomile in the event of a succession dispute. Coricopat had her own Thralls as well, but none of them were close enough to make eye contact at the moment. Korova was no one’s Thrall, but that could change if Jemima died without naming an heir.

    If.

    Making sure to keep a line of sight to her Thrall, Tantomile sprinted across the courtyard on all fours to catch up with her sister and Korova. They were still arguing about Emerdon.

    “Paku Nui is a star cluster!” Coricopat was saying, “The Mangaia is a hemisphere on just one planet! The change in scale is way too big for any one lion to handle.”

    “Moving from a big territory to a small one won’t make him a micromanager,” Korova countered. “It might be a nice change... a change... wait a second.”

    Coricopat and Tantomile both stared at Korova. He looked like he’d just been struck by a powerful thought.

    “Why...” Korova said quietly, “Why would Emerdon try to take over a Kingdom that’s smaller than the one he’s already ruling?”

    Korova had a good point. Emerdon’s ambitions were practically public knowledge. He wanted personal aggrandizement, fortunes, political power, and numerous cubs to continue his bloodline. Taking over The Mangaia would give him none of those things.

    And then the idea slowly started to work its way into the trio. Tantomile said it aloud:

    “He’s not going for The Mangaia. He wants the big prize... Our mother... The Imperial Pride.”

    Neither Coricopat nor Korova disputed her claim. They both knew she was right.

    The evidence was circumstantial at best, but overpowering all the same. Emerdon had waited until both the Empress of Levakia and the King of The Mangaia were too far away to properly defend the palace... waited for the perfect moment to strike.

    Coricopat swayed on her feet. She wasn’t taking this well.

    “How can we know?” she asked, her voice trembling. “He... he could be coming here for any other reason, right? Maybe he’s going to the shipyard? Maybe he wants to see Mirringo but doesn’t know he’s gone? Who said this has to be a Takeover?!”

    “If it were anyone else, you’d have a point.” Tantomile replied, “But in Emerdon’s case, it makes sense. I’m really starting to think this is the real thing.”

    She turned to Korova; a dark look came over him. Tantomile knew that he was imagining himself in Emerdon’s place, mentally planning out a Takeover of the Imperial Pride. Korova was old enough to have either witnessed or attempted a Takeover of his own. He would speak from experience.

    “Yeah, this is definitely a Takeover attempt. He’s doing everything right,” Korova said his thoughts aloud. “Strike when the King is old, weak, or away. Sweep the territory... shadow the strongest female... separate her from the cubs... kill the cubs... then take the females.”

    He pointed to Coricopat.

    “You’re what? Two-and-a-half? Three years old? You’ll be Emerdon’s next wife.” Korova then pointed to Tantomile. “You’re definitely less than 18 months old, Tantomile. I’m sorry, but if this is a real Takeover then Emerdon’s gonna kill you.

    Tantomile flattened her ears and showed her teeth.

    “I’m sorry,” Korova added, “Takeovers always go that way. If you aren’t going to have his cubs, then he's got no reason to keep you around.”

    Tantomile unsheathed her claws and growled,

    “I know how a Takeover works!” she snapped, “What do we do now that we know he's coming!?”

    Coricopat and Tantomile both looked at their shared boyfriend. Korova furrowed his brow in thought.

    “You’ve got two choices.” he said. “You can stay here and fight, try and hold out until Empress Jemima gets here... but my friend Sadala said Emerdon’s got a head start on her. I dunno how long you’d have to hold him off for. Otherwise... you can run. He wouldn’t chase you out of The Mangaia. Too much effort.”

    Coricopat hesitated. Tantomile had an idea. She wheeled around and roared at her Thrall.

    “HEY YOU!! GET MY MOM ON THE HYPERWAVE RELAY RIGHT NOW!!

    “Yes, Princess!”

    The Imperial Guard ran up the steps and back into the palace. Tantomile followed him with Korova and Coricopat close behind her. All the way up the steps, Coricopat muttered under her breath,

    “This can’t be real, this isn’t happening, this can’t be real.”

    In a large room with a high ceiling, the trio of lions found the spherical Hyperwave Relay revolving gently in its cradle while two lion operators tried to establish contact with Empress Jemima’s ship.



    The Hyperwave Relay is simultaneously an affront to science, an anachronism in the course of history, a direct insult to the laws of physics, and the single most important communications tool an interstellar empire can possess. It allows for near-instantaneous communications with any other Hyperwave relay anywhere in the Galaxy.

    This is impossible.

    The “calling” relay initiates contact by beaming a Recognition signal directly into Hyperspace. The signal then permeates the entire Hyperlane Network and enters the old Hyperspace Gateway Network. At every possible exit point the Recognition signal enters normal space and radiates outwards in all directions at the speed of light.

    This too, is impossible.

    The “receiving” relay then detects the incoming Recognition signal and decodes from it the Normal Space coordinates of the “calling” relay. The “receiving” relay then opens up a miniscule Hyperspace entry point inside of its core mechanism. Radio waves are beamed directly into this Hyperspace entry point and exit a similar point in the “calling” relay. Both relays can then communicate with one another in real time by using Hyperspace as a go-between.

    This is also impossible.

    The adoption of Hyperspace-based communication soon caused a litany of temporal-related issues to crop up. As Hyperwave relays became more and more popular, hundreds of rapid-fire Causality violations caused dangerous fluctuations in the Galactic Stock Market. The Galactic Council remedied the situation by imposing a “Galactic Time Zone” system to minimize instances of involuntary time-travel and accidental timeline cancellations. Every star cluster in the Galaxy belongs to one “Time Zone” or another and the “Galactic Date Line” serves as a clear and unambiguous divide between the twin Galactic Arms.

    This is patently impossible.

    It took about thirty minutes to establish Faster-Than-Light communications with Empress Jemima, who was about 1,100 Light-years away and approaching a Hyperlane Entry Point at Slower-Than-Light speeds.

    ...

    The Hyperwave operators gave Tantomile a tablet computer to hold. It was connected to the Hyperwave relay by a thick electrical cable. On the screen, Tantomile, Coricopat, and Korova saw the bridge of a Levakian warship and a middle-aged Lioness frantically waving to get their attention. When she saw her two daughters, the Empress of Levakia let out a sigh of relief.

    “Tanty! Cori!” Empress Jemima gasped, “I’m so happy to see you. Who’s that lion?”

    Korova slinked out of view, tail between his legs.

    “No one important,” said Tantomile, “Look, Mom, we just heard that Emerdon is on his way here and that he might be doing a-”

    “YES!” Jemima interrupted loudly, “Tanty, it’s a Takeover! Where are you? My lieutenant says your Recognition signal’s coming from the Mangaia Palace.”

    “We’re in the palace.” answered Coricopat, “Mom, how do you know it’s a Takeover? What’s going on out there!?”

    Jemima’s ears twitched, then the words came tumbling out.

    “Listen, cubs: we don’t have a lot of time to talk. There’s a political faction out here in the Outer Rim that’s getting out of control. Best way to describe them is ‘militant nationalists,’ maybe you could call them separatists, but the name doesn’t matter. They’ve been taking advantage of the famine out here in Paku Nui to grow their support base. They’re planning to do something stupid and dangerous. I came out here to meet with their leaders, try and talk them out of their idiotic plan. Well, I was the damn idiot. They just stalled for time so Emerdon could head your way. We’re trying to catch up with him, but he’s got a half-day lead on us. He’s heading to The Mangaia right now with a ship full of huntresses. Thirty, maybe forty of them!”

    Tantomile gasped, but her mother continued delivering bad news;

    “There’s more: Emerdon isn’t the only one on the move. My huntresses are telling me there are Pride Takeovers happening all over Levakian space right now. Lots of old lions are being put out to pasture today. Cubs, you’re not safe! You need to get out of The Mangaia!”

    Tantomile and Coricopat looked at one another.

    “Where do you want us to go?” Coricopat asked, “Up north into Partoga?”

    Jemima shook her head.

    “If the Partogans think our government is unstable they’ll end our autonomy.” she responded, “Every last bit of our hard-fought freedom taken away. No, this is a Levakian problem and it needs to be solved by Levakians. You should both get out of the Kingdom entirely.”

    “Out of the Kingdom!” Tantomile burst out, “Mom, you might as well exile us!”

    “You can hide outside Partogan space until this is all over,” said Jemima seriously, “or you can take your chances with Emerdon and his huntresses when they catch you. There’s no way I can beat him to you, so you’ve got to take care of yourselves! Now look, I know you both have ships-”

    Tantomile and Coricopat both gasped and flattened their ears. They thought they had managed to keep their personal spaceships a secret from their mother. Empress Jemima snapped at her daughters,

    “There’s no time for that! I know you both have ships. Use them and get as far away from Partogan space as you can. Hide someplace in the Middle or Outer Rim. Go to Blorg, Amadiio, Assuria, I don’t care! Just get anywhere that’s not Partoga and lie low until this whole thing blows over. Keep your eyes on the news and do not contact me. It’ll be easier for me to protect you if I don’t know where you are. You’ll know when it’s safe to come back. Am I clear?”

    “Yes.” said Tantomile, but Coricopat seemed to have frozen.

    Jemima locked eyes on her oldest daughter.

    “Coricopat! Do you understand me!?”

    “Isn’t real.” Coricopat muttered. “This can’t be happening.”

    On the screen, Empress Jemima looked around her. The sounds of a Hyperspace Alarm could be heard in the background. The Empress swore.

    “CORICOPAT!” she yelled,

    Tantomile decided to act.

    “I’ll get her off-world, Mom.” she said. “I love you, I’ll keep watch for you!”

    “Be safe.” were Jemima’s last words before the connection was cut. Coricopat suddenly recovered from her catatonic state.

    “Wha-Where’s Mom?” she shook the blank tablet.

    “By now, a radiation shelter.” said Tantomile. “Let’s go.”

    Tantomile and Korova lead Coricopat out of the Hyperwave Relay room and all the way across the Palace. They were aiming for the big doorway that lead to the Grand Staircase outside. Once they got to the door, Coricopat finally regained the ability to walk unassisted. The shock seemed to be wearing off.

    Coricopat pushed the palace door open. On the other side and at the bottom of the Grand Staircase lay The Mangaia, the city which served as the beating heart of Levakian society. The city which the two sisters now had to flee. While Coricopat looked helplessly at Korova, Tantomile turned to face the palace one last time. She opened her mouth wide and roared!

    “TANTOMILE CALLS FOR HER PRIDE!”

    The sound of her roar echoed across the palace grounds. As soon as they heard it, some fifty Imperial Guards, palace servants, and city workers abandoned their posts, exited the palace compound, and reported to Tantomile. Korova looked impressed as Tantomile’s loyalists came to her, but Coricopat gasped quietly;

    “Why do you have more Thralls than me?!”

    Once she had done a headcount of her loyal hunters and huntresses, Tantomile turned to her sister and shared boyfriend. She stepped forward and rubbed her head and face against Coricopat’s in an affectionate way, rumbling with a deep purr.

    “I’m sorry, big sis.” she said, “but just in case... just in case, you know... it happens... this is where we’re gonna part ways. I love you, big sis, and I hope it doesn’t happen.”

    With that final parting word, Tantomile beckoned her hunters and huntresses to follow. At the bottom of the Grand Staircase, crowds of Levakian citizens parted to let their youngest princess through, blissfully unaware of the reason why Tantomile and fifty other lions were running straight from the Palace to the spaceport. They also didn’t know why Coricopat did the same thing a few minutes later, escorted by about twenty lions.

    As the sun reached its highest point in the sky and started to sink back down to the horizon below, two spacecraft rocketed away from the city of The Mangaia.

    The first was a Blorg Marine Frigate. It had only one Mass Driver gun, but it made up for this by having an Infiltration Module, a structure designed to make it easier for the ship to do its actual job: deploy boarding parties. The docking ports bore signs of damage leftover from the ship’s recent theft. The bulbus frigate chassis had once been painted green and black, but now it shone yellow and orange against the blue afternoon sky.

    The second spaceship was a Partogan Assault Frigate, its many Mass Driver guns looked like spikes in the afternoon light. The Assault Frigate took aim for a faint blue star in the Outer Rim and throttled its engines to full power, leaving the planet far behind. Like the first ship, it had been repainted. The green and red stripes of Partoga had been replaced with the yellow and orange colors of Levakia.

    Yellow for the eyes of the lion. Orange for his fur.


     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 1.3: Rite of Passage
  • Macavity116

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    Chapter 1.3
    Rite of Passage

    March 20, 1928 A.D.
    Base Camp, The Unnamed Mountain – Partogan Homeworld, Kingdom of Partoga


    y4mxPC9d5fBV3RhxphgmDpErl7TUEJwYc_LMU78ANCyfn9o1WaW8-jLZ41C8E8bw6F-aClR_f8ALhDsD7WNzLM6Nu0hWTfZfpROUqaO7aC6sTCM8LyAVlaaxRRPtuDVkC4ma4kohKsuPVNXqea339zIJY_yrg98UVzH23MFr_6efvsS4gLUV_LKjW8LG8TnVdXZA3soUXbknIdtM9pwhCa92w


    Caption said:
    In terms of size, shape, proximity to a major urban center, and potential to inflict apocalyptic loss of life, Mount Mayon in the Philippines is the best real-world analogue of the Unnamed Mountain. Unlike Mayon and luckily for everyone on Partoga, the Unnamed Mountain is dormant and hasn’t erupted since the Great Wrath. The Unnamed Mountain is 7,009 Meters tall (116 Meters taller than Ojos del Salado, the tallest Volcano on Earth.)

    Mami wished she had another set of eyes. The wide-open skies of Visonia seemed to go on forever, each gust of wind caused great ripples in the terrain as whole fields of wheatgrass bent to the rushing air. The beauty of the landscape was almost overwhelming. Mami wanted to see everything! Meanwhile, all around her, thousands of Partogans and Levakians were hustling and bustling about Base Camp as they, like Mami, prepared for the nightlong ascent.

    Earlier that afternoon, Mami had arrived in a small overcrowded camp near the north face of the Unnamed Mountain. She wasn’t alone. Her right hand was being held by her mother. Angiangi Tamihana had only visited the Homeworld once, and it was on the day of her own Rite of Passage decades ago. Like her only daughter, Angiangi was excitedly looking around, anxious to see everyone and everything while she still had the chance.

    Mami and Angiangi were being pulled through the crowd by the person holding Mami’s left hand. Eteka Mihaka had lived on Partoga his whole life, so the rolling foothills of Visonia were nothing new to him. His father, Rakato Mihaka, had already guided five of Eteka’s older siblings through the Rite of Passage, so he knew exactly which way to go and what to do. It was Rakato who guided the other three through the mess that was Base Camp.

    Base Camp itself was fascinating! It wasn’t really a town, since no one lived here permanently. It wasn’t a campground either, because all of the tents were designed for communal use, and therefore were quite massive. Surrounding Base Camp on all sides was a caravan of semi-permanent shops and stalls where Partogans and Levakians alike sold last-minute supplies to climbers at vastly inflated prices. Mami almost got into a shouting match with a Levakian who tried to sell her a small bottle of breathing Oxygen for an outrageous and possibly criminal price of 6,000 Dirams.

    “I could buy your whole shack for 6,000 Dirams!” Mami had screamed at the lioness while Eteka dragged her away. “And get you a one-way ticket back to The Mangaia!”

    Mami and Eteka had prepared as best they could with only five days of warning time. Both of them were wearing shorts and tee shirts in preparation for the intense heat of the summit. Both children were also carrying heavy backpacks that were filled with first-aid kits, flashlights, batteries, spare boots, a change of clothes, and six canisters of oxygen with a spare breathing mask for each one.

    As the two Mihakas guided Mami to the far side of Base Camp, she saw some of the other Partogan children and Levakian cubs who were preparing for the Great Ascent. She tutted dismissively at overconfident youngsters who bragged that they didn’t need so much spare oxygen, felt sorry for a heavily burdened Levakian cub whose backpack was too full and about to burst, and she also gave a smile of encouragement to a ten-year old boy who was so scared of the imminent climb that he was refusing to let go of his mother’s leg.

    Finally, The Mihakas and Tamihanas reached the end of Base Camp. Here a giant clock had been set up, revealing the time. Just like any other mountain on any other planet, there was a time when it was safe to climb, and a time when it was not. Since a dormant volcano was hiding beneath the surface of the Unnamed Mountain, it was only safe to do the Rite of Passage at night. Partogan nights were unfathomably cold due to the planet’s slow rotation speed. Often the cold nights produced thick fog, slippery ice, and sometimes even a layer of snow many hours before the sun finally returned to clear it all away.

    The volcanic heat rising off the mountainside would keep the climbers warm as they ascended. It would also prevent ice, fog, and snow from confounding the horde of young climbers as they made for the summit. No one dared to climb the Unnamed Mountain in the daytime. The combination of the Mountain’s own internal heat and the warmth of the long Partogan day was enough to kill anyone long before they got close to the summit.

    The clock at the end of Base Camp revealed that the sun would set in about three hours. No one would start climbing until then.

    “Three hours!?” Mami gasped, “Why did we get here so early if we’re just gonna have to wait anyway?”

    Eteka and his father gave knowing expressions to each other.

    “Young woman,” said Rakato, “Tonight, some fifteen-hundred kids and cubs are all going to try and summit the Holy Mountain at once. They’ll each be escorted by a family member. If my son told you once, then I’ve told you a thousand times: You must stay in front of the pack. The first Kio of the climb will be the crux. It’s where the chaos happens and people get hurt or killed. Eteka’s brothers and sisters can attest to that.”

    Eteka nodded at Mami.

    “If you’re gonna die on this Mountain, it’ll be because you got crushed by the crowd during the first Kio.” he said. “Stay at the front of the group with us, and you’ll be fine. All my siblings did and none of them got hurt.”

    Rakato got down on his knee and held the two children by their shoulders.

    “Children,” Rakato said, “You’ve both spent the past four years serving in the Royal Navy. You are stronger and smarter than nine-tenths of the kids here. Use that strength and those smarts. It’ll get you to the top.”

    He let go of the children and straightened up. Stepping aside, Rakato allowed Mami’s mother to speak.

    “Mami, you’re more than a child, no matter what the Mountain makes of you.” Angiangi said, “You’re an Aoraki girl. You’re a survivor, the daughter and grandchild of survivors. Aoraki couldn’t break you. The Navy’s Officer School couldn’t break you either. This Mountain-”

    Angiangi turned and pointed to the Unnamed Mountain. It loomed in the distance with a deceptive tranquility.

    “That Mountain can’t do a thing to do. And if it won’t just give you your Adulthood, then you walk right up there and take it, you hear me?”

    Mami nodded.

    “Just like you did, Mom?”

    Angiangi squealed with pride and hugged her daughter.

    “Conquer that Mountain... my little Toa.”



    After an hour of waiting, the number of children, cubs, and family members waiting at the end of Base Camp had multiplied twofold. The vast majority of kids were eager to complete the Rite of Passage that would make them adults in both society and the eyes of the law. A select minority were being pressured, if not coerced, by frustrated parents and loved ones. Those youngsters hung out near the rear of the pack.

    With less than two hours to go until the nightly ascent started, both Angiangi and Rakato decided to double back into the shops to purchase colored flags, saying they were going to need help spotting Mami and Eteka in the rapidly growing crowd. For a few minutes, Eteka and Mami were alone near the giant clock, watching the sun set below the western horizon.

    As the orange disk of Trecta was broken up by the distant skyscrapers of Partoga City, Mami and Eteka sat down on the grass, watching the crowd of climbers get bigger and bigger. A pride of Levakians shuffled past them on all fours, growling and snarling at one another. Then a pair of Partogan girls skipped by, loudly singing Enutanga’s latest hit song, "First Final Kiss," for anyone who cared to hear. Eteka turned to Mami.

    “Didn’t think you’d spend your last hours as a child people-watching, did you?” he asked.

    Mami shrugged.

    “I never gave it a lot of thought.” She admitted, “I guess I was too busy planning what I'd do once I got to be an adult.”

    Mami and Eteka both wistfully stared into space, quietly fantasizing about doing all of the things that adults were allowed to do and children were not.

    “I wanna drink some Madu Cabolo , become a mercenary, and own a really big gun!” Mami said, “Then maybe drink a little more Madu Cabolo .”

    “I want...” Eteka pondered his words, “I want to buy a house in Visonia... marry a farm-girl... and buy a boat so I can go out on Lake Naho by myself when the wife starts asking why I spent so much on the boat... and yeah, I guess I’d wanna drink some Madu Cabolo too.”

    They both shared a laugh.

    Rakato and Angiangi came back, each parent holding a pair of bright green flags attached to metal rods.

    “If you still have a flag leftover when you reach the summit,” Angiangi said, “Write your name on it with a marker and plant it in the crater. Nearly everyone does it.”

    Mami and Eteka stuffed them into their backpacks as best they could before all four Partogans settled down for the final long wait.

    The final two hours snailed by... and finally, it was time. As the stars began to fill the night sky and the last rays of sunlight vanished, nearly two thousand children had gathered in Base Camp, escorted by nearly five thousand parents, siblings, and other family members.

    Next to the giant clock, a group of men had appeared and quickly set up a small stage, a sound system, and a set of lights to illuminate the person on stage. They had done this so quickly and effectively because someone had been carrying out this tradition every day for as long as the Kingdom of Partoga had existed, in one way or another.

    As darkness fell, a Partogan man dressed in green and white robes took the stage and was handed a microphone by one of his comrades. The speakers on either side of the stage blared loudly with the sound of feedback for a moment, catching the attention of everyone present. All eyes fell on the brightly lit stage and the man who was calling for quiet.

    “Good evening, young ones and returning climbers alike.” The man started, “I am Chaplain Enoka Ranginui, I represent the local branch of the Church of the Mountain. Perhaps a little too local... I mean, it’s right over there.”

    A few people chuckled at the Chaplain’s attempt to tell a joke, rather than the joke itself. Chaplain Ranginui brushed this aside and carried on. He pulled a script from his pocket and began to read aloud in the dull, monotone voice one can only acquire by reading the same dry script over and over for hundreds of days without a change in routine:

    “Children, you are about the climb the Mountain. This is the final test of your strength and knowledge. Those who reach the summit, drink from the sacred waters of the Crater Lake, and return to this point will be granted the legal status of Adulthood by the Royal Government and will be given all of the rights, freedoms, and protections that status entails. Remember, YOU are the one being tested. You must reach the summit and return to Base Camp without being physically helped in any way, shape, or form. If you are found to have been pulled, pushed, picked up, carried or otherwise assisted via physical contact with another person, Adulthood will be withheld from you and you will be required to start over from the beginning. Don’t test us, please. The Church has eyes and ears everywhere. Parents, siblings, family members and supporters: You are allowed to follow the child as they climb the Mountain. You are allowed to speak to the child and encourage them. You ARE NOT ALLOWED to physically touch the child or intervene on their behalf in anyway unless their life is in IMMEDEATE DANGER.”

    Chaplain Ranginui allowed this crucial line to sink in for a moment. Then he went on.

    “For the safety of everyone involved, Church officials have built an Oxygen Dispensary at the final turn in the road before the summit. Oxygen tanks and tank refills will be given, free of charge, to anyone who asks for it. The DANGER ZONE will begin 100 Bios up from this Dispensary. At any altitude higher than the Dispensary, you will begin to suffer from serious Altitude Sickness. DO NOT NEGLECT YOUR OXYGEN TANKS. The summit and Crater Lake are located 150 Bios above the Dispensary and 50 Bios inside of the Death Zone. Finally, I urge you all, children and parents alike, to stay on the path. There are no detours or shortcuts. Be patient and don’t waste your strength all in one place. Good luck to you all!”

    As the Chaplain descended from the stage, he and his comrades backed away from the crowd, which grew more and more excited with each passing moment. Mami and Eteka looked at one another.

    “Stay with me.” said Mami.

    “Absolutely.” replied Eteka.

    “Oh, you’re right,” Angiangi whispered to Rakato, “They do work well together, don’t they?”

    Mami turned her head to ask what her mother was talking about, but it was too late. Chaplain Ranginui shouted into his microphone:

    “YOU MAY BEGIN!”

    And surging forward as one, the mob of thousands of children and adults rushed out of Base Camp, stampeding irrevocably towards the Unnamed Mountain. At the front of the group, Mami and Eteka lengthened their strides and got as far in front of the crush of Partogan and Levakian bodies as they could. Almost immediately, the air was rent with the sound of screams and cries of people in pain! Some kind of disaster had just unfolded behind Mami and Eteka! Mami looked around for her mother, but Eteka yelled above the noise of the crowd,

    “Don’t look back! Keep going!”

    From somewhere behind them, Mami heard Angiangi’s voice,

    “Keep moving forward Mami! We’ll catch up! Use your flags and the light!”

    Eteka reached up to his backpack and pulled out one of the green flags. He stuffed the little metal pole into a pocket of his backpack so that the flag stuck up high above his head. Mami did the same, and then they both clicked on their flashlights and continued down the heavily beaten dirt road at a brisk pace, not quite running but definitely not walking, keeping the massive crowd behind them.

    For nearly an hour, Mami and Eteka jogged at a fast pace along the dirt road in the dark, guided only by their flashlights. A whole pride of Levakians raced past them at top speed, all cheering on a pack of cubs who loped along awkwardly on their little legs and big paws. Two Partogan boys, carrying absolutely nothing except the clothes on their backs, ran past at a dead sprint, huffing and puffing loudly as they went and disappearing into the night. Over the course of the next hour, they were passed by between fifty to sixty climbers who were moving at a slightly faster pace. Nearly all of them had military haircuts.

    Behind them, they could hear the sound of the massive crowd. Eteka’s father had been right. Judging from the loud screaming and wailing of distraught mothers and siblings, a stampede had actually occurred in Base Camp.

    “Do you think anyone got hurt?” Mami asked Eteka. He nodded grimly.

    “There’s never been a day when someone doesn’t get hurt trying to climb the Mountain.” he said, “Usually, about twenty or thirty people die per year. Nearly all of them go down in that crush right at the start. That’s why it was so important for us to be at the front, look!”

    Eteka turned around and pointed into the darkness behind him. Two adult figures had separated themselves from a large group of Partogan climbers and were approaching Mami and Eteka at a run. They were both waving bright green flags above their heads. Mami laughed out loud.

    “No way!”

    Finally, Rakato and Angiangi caught up. Neither of them was out of breath. They had both summitted the Mountain before and were used to this environment.

    “Looks like about four dozen injured and at least one dead Levakian!” Ratako reported, “That was one of the worst crushes I've ever seen! And I’ve climbed the Mountain six times!”

    He smiled at Eteka.

    “Good work. You got one helluva lead on the main pack of climbers, Eteka. If we all keep this pace, we should get to the summit just after midnight. Best case scenario, we’re back in Base Camp just before sunrise.”

    Everyone started walking again.

    Looking back on this later, Mami was able to divide the climb into three distinct segments: She named the first segment the “Gentle Road.” Here the incline was shallow and the dirt road was wide enough to drive a car along. It felt more like Mami was out for a very long walk at night with friends rather than climbing the tallest Mountain on the planet.

    Mami dubbed the second segment of the ascent the “Great Curve.” About two hours after Mami started her ascent, the real incline began. Mami and Eteka had to keep their flashlights pointed at the ground as the dirt road became a narrow trail filled with large rocks and boulders. To make the ascent more challenging, the trail didn’t go straight up the mountain. Instead, it wound its way laterally across the mountain face, zig-zagging back and forth from west to east. Mami, Eteka, Angiangi, and Rakato crossed the same three streams and creeks no less than four times as the Great Curve took them higher and higher.

    About four hours into the climb, Mami was completely out of breath, her feet hurt, and she was starting to develop a headache as well. Remembering her high-altitude survival training with the Royal Navy, Mami decided she needed to stop for a moment.

    “Han- Hang on.” She panted. “I need a little break.”

    “Oh, THANK MIRANDA!” Eteka shouted, and he collapsed to his knees on the spot. Both Angiangi and Rakato laughed out loud, the noise of it echoing across the mountainside.

    “We were wondering when you two soldiers were going to take a break.” Said Rakato. “Have you even touched your water yet? Drink up, take a moment. Summit’s not going anywhere.”

    Mami plucked a thermos from the top of the pile of stuff in her backpack and sat down on the ground to drink, before immediately springing up again when she made contact with cold water! In the hot, muggy air, it caught her completely by surprise.

    “Gah! Another stream?!” Mami complained, “We need more lights out here!”

    In the darkness, Mami heard the sound of her mother making a tut-tut-tutting sound.

    “Oh, come on, Mami.” Said Angiangi. “I was almost at the summit before I realized I had all the light I needed. You’re smarter than me. Figure it out!”

    Mami pointed her flashlight at her mother. The brilliant halo of light illuminated her and nothing else. Angiangi put one hand on her hip and started tapping the side of her head with the index finger of the other. Light reflected off of Angiangi’s white tank top and rebounded into Mami’s eyes, drowning out any other source of light and making it look like Angiangi was standing alone in a sea of darkness, rather than on the side of a mountain swarming with climbers.

    Mami was waiting for her mother to give her a clue, but Angiangi wasn’t going to do that. So instead, Mami swung her flashlight around, looking for anything that might help her demystify Angiangi’s statement about “Having all the light she needed.”

    Mami pointed her flashlight into the stream she had just accidentally sat in.

    “Hang on,” she said, “We haven’t crossed this one before. Look, the water’s moving really fast compared to the others.”

    Eteka stepped into Mami’s cone of light.

    “Don’t you recognize it?” he asked, “This is the headwaters of the Raki Nui river!”

    “Raki Nui?” Mami asked, “I’m from a planet that doesn’t have rivers, remember? Throw me a hint!”

    Eteka chuckled,

    “Oh, come on.” he said, “Haven’t you heard of Archer’s Canyon? Half a Kio wide, fifty Kios deep? THAT canyon was made by THIS river.”

    He pointed down at the fast-moving stream.

    Instinctively, Mami turned her head and flashlight to the northwest, trying to spot the legendary canyon in the darkness. Instead, all she saw was that same cone of light extending out and away from the end of her flashlight. Frustrated, Mami thrust her hand down, aiming the flashlight at the ground. As soon as the cone of light left her vision, Mami saw something that caused her to gasp and drop her flashlight on the ground.

    “Hey!” said Eteka, “Don’t just drop your equipment like-”

    “Eteka!” Mami interrupted, “Turn your light off!”

    “What ar-?”

    “Just do it!”

    Reluctantly, Eteka killed his light. The party was plunged into absolute darkness. For a moment, everything was silent except for the rushing of the small but powerful Raki Nui River. Out of the darkness, Rakato said,

    “Wait for it...”

    And then, there it was... a river... made of light! By this point, nearly five thousand people were making their way up the Unnamed Mountain. The vast majority of them were behind Mami’s group, a few hundred Bios below; but above, the path ahead had been lit by several hundred industrious Levakians and a few hardy Partogans. All over the mountainside, thousands of flashlights bobbed up and down. They were being carried in hands, attached to helmets, or held in the mouths of lion cubs.

    Then there was even more light! Partoga City was blocked from view by the Mountain’s western face, so there was no light pollution to obscure the night sky. The light of millions of stars shone down from the cloudless sky and gently illuminated the path. As Mami’s eyes adjusted to the darkness, she became even more aware of this low-level illumination of the Mountain:

    Spaceships and airbreathing flyers were passing over the Mountain every few minutes or so. As they passed directly over the Mountain, these flyers would turn on their floodlights, trying to give the young climbers a brief helping hand.

    In a moment, Mami made up her mind.

    “Flashlights off. We can use the starlight. Save the batteries for when we really need them.”

    She looked back at Eteka.

    “What do you think?”

    Eteka turned his light off.

    “The second the path starts getting chossy, I pull the light back out.” he said. “I trust you, Mami, not the starlight.”

    Mami nodded,

    “Right, then. Stay behind me.”

    Mami lead the way, Eteka following in her footsteps while Angiangi and Rakato following close behind. The incline got steeper one last time after an hour. Now the ascent felt like Mami was walking up a seemingly endless staircase. The struggle was made even more difficult by the fact that Mami’s headache seemed to be getting worse. The pain must have showed on her face, because Eteka asked,

    “Do you need to stop and drink some water?”

    “No.” Mami replied, “I’m good, but I’ll stop and wait if you need to drink.”

    “Nah,” Eteka replied, “I’m just making sure you’re good.”

    About an hour before midnight, Mami said,

    “Hey Eteka. It feels like it’s going on 35:00 hours. Have you had any water?”

    “No.” Said Eteka. “I’m good. Do you need to stop and drink?”

    “No,” Mami answered. “I’m fine, just checking on you.”

    Somewhere behind them, both parents erupted with laughter.

    “If you keep this ‘Oh, I’m tougher than you’ game going,” said Angiangi, “You’ll both die of dehydration!”

    She was right. Mami and Eteka took another break to down some water. While Mami emptied her second thermos and started shuffling about in her backpack for another one, Eteka pulled a tablet computer out of his backpack and shone his flashlight on it.

    “It’s 35:20 hours.” Eteka reported, “I think we’re near the summit.”

    “What makes you think that?” Mami asked.

    “One: Our pace.” Eteka explained, “And two, everyone is panting. We’re starting to run out of air.”

    Mami looked at the parents. Sure enough, both her mother and Eteka’s father were taking deep, slow breaths, yet they still seemed to be winded. Now that Mami thought about it, she too was lightheaded.


    It was decision time.

    In their backpacks were six canisters of Oxygen each. There was enough breathable air in those bottles for about six hours. They still hadn’t reached the Dispensary that was supposed to be just below the summit. If Eteka’s guess about the distance was off, or if their pace slowed down... their attempt to summit the Mountain might just end in failure. Mami decided that failure was preferable to being dead.

    “Eteka! Mask up!”

    Mami hadn’t meant to use her command voice, but Eteka complied right away. After four years at the Daxia Officer Training School, he’d gotten used to Mami being his Team Leader. He pulled a bottle out of his backpack, attached the breathing tube and used an elastic band to tie the breathing mask to his face. Mami did the same. Then she looked at the parents. Angiangi and Rakato each had only one bottle and no spares.

    Angiangi gave her daughter an obstructed smile and flashed a thumbs-up.

    “Rakato and I are stopping at the Dispensary.” She said. “This is your Rite of Passage, you know.”



    As Mami’s group got closer to the dispensary and the Danger Zone, they crossed paths with the first people to have reached the summit that night. A dozen Levakians escorting two exhausted cubs greeted Mami and Eteka with a cheerful:

    “You’re almost there! Keep going!”

    Ten minutes later, two Partogan men dressed in the green and white colors of the Church of the Mountain passed Mami’s group in the opposite direction. They were busy talking to one another and didn’t address Mami. Not five minutes later, a father and his boy came down the Mountain as well, both looking at the ground in shame. Mami only had to glance at the pair for a moment before knowing that the little boy had given up before reaching the summit and was descending in failure.

    “Not every story was going to be a happy one tonight.” Eteka commented.

    Finally, Mami, Eteka, Angiangi, and Rakato reached the third and final phase of the ascent. It was the shortest, but also the most challenging. Years later, Mami would call this: “The Scramble.”

    The Church officials running the Oxygen dispensary had just started their shift and were more than happy for a little company.

    “Of course, you can wait with us!” One of them replied when Angiangi told them that Eteka and Mami were going to the summit by themselves. “We can pray for the children together, and... uh... wait up...”

    He gave Angiangi and Rakato a nervous look and asked,

    “How far behind you is the main group?”

    “About an hour and a half.” Eteka said as he stocked up on fresh Oxygen bottles. “What was that about prayers? How can the Mountain hear us when we have masks on?”

    All three of the Church officials shot Eteka a grumpy look.

    “Let your parent do the praying.” One of them said, “You focus on getting up that rim. Do you know the way up? Your landmarks?”

    Eteka nodded and recited the last three landmarks before the summit from memory:

    “Hate Sink, Dead-End Dihedral, and Blue Skirt.”

    Mami was surprised to learn that Eteka had memorized the layout of the Unnamed Mountain so well. She knew what the Hate Sink was and where to find it; however, she’d never even heard of Dead-End Dihedral or Blue Skirt. She stood to one side of Eteka and said,

    “Alright, your turn to lead the way.”

    Rakato and Angiangi waved goodbye to their children and cheered for them until they were out of sight. Then the Scramble began. Immediately, the footpath which had existed since Base Camp gave up all attempts to...well...exist. It gave way to rocks, then boulders, and finally a 150 Bio tall ridge, lined with boulders on a steep 40-degree incline. Up and up Mami and Eteka went.

    With each Bio in altitude they gained, the air around them grew hotter and hotter. Mami’s tee shirt stuck to her back and her hands became sweaty, making it harder to grip the jagged volcanic rocks without slipping. Once, Mami’s left hand slipped on a razor-sharp stone, cutting her forearm and drawing blood. Mami ordered Eteka to hold still while she reached up to his backpack and retrieved one of his bandages for herself and wrapped up her arm.

    Now she understood why Eteka and his father had put so much emphasis on staying at the front of the pack. Once the main group of climbers got here, there was going to be one hell of a traffic jam on the Scramble, slowing hundreds of climbers to a crawl in both directions, with only sharp rocks and hot muggy air for scenery. It would be a nightmare.

    They hit their first landmark in 20 minutes. The Hate Sink was properly named. The steep slope of the Scramble suddenly gave way to a relatively level plane that was filled with boiling water! It bubbled out of its little cauldron and splashed down the mountainside in a scalding cascade. Steam erupted from the water’s roiling surface and was instantly whipped away by the wind. Eteka guided Mami around the dangerous deluge and soon they were above the Hate Sink. Once the noise of the volcanic pool was behind them, Eteka yelled to Mami, talking through his breathing mask;

    “This is it! We’re in the Death Zone now! Summit’s 50 Bios above us!”

    Eteka led Mami towards a corner where two huge stone slabs met at a perpendicular angle. Eteka walked around both and disappeared behind the far side. As soon as Mami rounded the corner to join him, she was blasted in the face with hot winds! Eteka had just led her to the windward side of the Mountain! Far, far away, Mami could see the distant lights of Partoga City blinking at her through the darkness.

    “That was the Dead-End Dihedral!” Eteka yelled over the wind. “Lots of people think the path stops there and get lost! Lotta summit attempts end right there!”

    “What about us?!” Mami yelled to make her voice heard over the wind.

    “We’re good!” Eteka yelled back, “Blue Skirt’s right up there! The summit’s just on the other side of her!”

    Wait a minute... Mami thought. Did he just refer to a landmark as “her”?

    Mami had heard him correctly. In order to scale the final section of boulders and rocky outcroppings, Eteka had aimed his flashlight at a stretch of rock just above his head.

    Mami looked at the illuminated rock face.

    She saw “Blue Skirt.”

    And she began to scream.

    “Blue Skirt” was the remains of a dead Partogan girl. In the darkness, it was nearly impossible to make out any physical features besides the one article of clothing that gave the landmark its name. Curled up in the fetal position facing away from Mami, the powerful winds caught her long skirt and blew it about like a tattered flag. Mami wasn’t ready to see this. Hearing her screams, Eteka turned around and shone his light into Mami’s eyes.

    “Don’t get gripped now!” he yelled. Mami stopped screaming and choked up.

    “Why’s she there!?” Mami asked through tears, “Why hasn’t someone come up here to get her?!”

    Eteka tapped his Oxygen bottle.

    “Too expensive and too risky.” He said, “She’s been up here for ten years; and she’s also the reason our parents are allowed to follow us up the Mountain now. Government finally realized how dangerous it is to let kids climb a friggin’ Mountain all by themselves. So, give Blue Skirt a big “Thank You” when you pass her by. Everyone does.”

    As Eteka scaled the rocks mere Bios from the place where Blue Skirt fell, he loudly thanked the fallen climber for her sacrifice before moving on. Mami stopped in place on the rocks, and she muttered a short prayer to the Mountain, asking it to make sure Blue Skirt wasn’t disturbed while she was resting. Then Mami followed Eteka to the top of the ridge.

    y4mcrIU-VvmxCN72ENma-QJCngURLJb0vEDmJxyAVeQ2Y_sSgtLhfNgDbZeSAJpyMwKi8d4RFRWoDdm479reMDxZCassvWAh95bYjd_Wpvm57C00nxsw6_CAfAZuna7qS0NQioxZ_vvFSBo5juPPq5lK-A2RB2GEDusW5Xhro3PhVR6QnkWjKwM0Vkqg2KK6OG9gW5k1qIO9RBx4fww9F1yAQ

    Caption said:
    The caldera of Mount Paekdu, a dormant volcano in North Korea, closely resembles what Mami would have seen if she had reached the summit during the daytime.

    The summit took her by surprise. Of course, like every Partogan, Mami had known that the Unnamed Mountain didn’t have a proper “summit” due to it being blown away by the Great Wrath 413 years ago. With a few exceptions here and there, the top of the Crater Lake’s rim is generally accepted as the “summit” because one had to climb over it in order to reach the lake.

    Rounding the top of the ridge, Mami almost walked headlong into a flagpole. The fluttering yellow banner proclaimed to have been placed there by a member of the Patariki family. Looking around, Mami saw thousands of flags on the ridge surrounding the Crater Lake. Thousands more had been planted on the ground inside the crater, going all the way to the shores of the Crater Lake itself, crammed so closely together that none of the banners could fully extend without hitting each other. Many more had been blown over by the wind and were scattered all over the ground. Next to her, Eteka pulled one of the green flags out of his bag and wrote his name on it with a marker. Then he turned to Mami.

    “Gotta find my sister’s flag.” Eteka said through his mask, “There’s no rule about where to plant your flag, but usually families stay together. I’ll meet you at the Crater Lake.”

    Mami wandered throughout the bowl for about thirty minutes, searching for a flag that might bear the Tamihana name. She was almost certain both her mother and father’s flags would have been blown off the ridge and into the actual crater many years ago. Right as she was about to give up and go back to Eteka, Mami actually found one. The ragged blue banner was almost completely buried save for a corner just a few Bios from the shore and long since separated from its corresponding flagpole. Mami dug it out of the hot ground and gazed at it, then gasped as she recognized the handwriting on the flag itself:

    “Hakara Tamihana – 10 Years Old: I drank from the lake on Akuhata 5th in the year 379. I came here from Kaitaia in the Levakian Continent. Long live Queen Phoebe.”

    Mami pulled a flag from her backpack and tore it off its pole. Then she tied her father’s flag to the pole and, for good measure, used a marker to add her own words to the banner before placing the flagpole upright in the dirt once again:

    “Mami Tamihana – 13 Years Old: Found my dead dad’s flag on 21 Maehe, 413. I was the fifteenth Partogan born on the planet Aoraki in Hakihea Star System. Long live Queen Marie the Scholar.”

    Well, there was nothing left to do. Mami rounded the crater and went back to Eteka. Together, they just stared at the Crater Lake for a moment. This was the single most holy place in all of Partoga. Mami tried to wrap her mind around the myths and legends; how this one body of water was supposed to be the source of all freshwater rivers on the continent, about how according to the legends, Queen Miranda the Great had called the lake into existence after the Unnamed Mountain exploded 413 years ago, and how this searing hot water was supposed to grant the drinker a lifetime’s worth of strength.

    Mami stepped forward first. Steam rose gently from the lake. Taking great care not to let her shoes touch the water, Mami knelt down next to the waterline, clasped her hands together and prayed to the Mountain once more. She thanked the Mountain for shielding her from falls, rockslides, and the initial stampede of climbers. Mami also thanked the Mountain for helping her find her father’s flag, and then she thanked it for granting safe passage to Eteka as well.

    Finally, Mami ended her prayer by humbly asking the Mountain for one more thing:

    “With this water, give me the strength to keep my friends from danger, my family from harm, and my country from conquest. Let me become the soldier I’ve trained to be for these past four years. I will protect my friends, family, and Kingdom with my life.”

    Mami pulled off her Oxygen mask and dropped it to the ground beside her. She cupped her hands together and dipped them into the Sacred Lake. Just shy of the boiling point, the water was terribly hot! Intense pain shot up her arms and Mami gasped, barely holding back a scream. Mami kept her shaking hands together and brought them to her mouth. Tears streaming down her face, Mami poured the scalding water into her mouth and swallowed! The hot water burned her entire mouth and the back of her throat as it went down, causing Mami to choke, gag, and splutter. She fell backwards and put her hands to her throat, coughing so hard her entire body started to rattle and spasm! Finally, Mami rolled over onto her side and let out a low groan of pain, clutching her stomach.

    Eteka had watched all of this, and apprehensively knelt down next to Mami. He tied her Oxygen mask back onto her face before undoing his own.

    “How are you?” he asked nervously, “How do you feel?”

    Mami sat upright, but didn’t let go of her middle. She gave him a weak smile, then said in a raspy voice that was muffled by her Oxygen mask:

    “If this is what being a woman feels like, maybe I’ll just skip the whole “Adulthood” thing.”

    Eteka laughed nervously. Once he was sure Mami was going to be okay, he knelt down by the Crater Lake and dipped his hands into the near-boiling water...



    Almost nine hours later, hundreds of young men and women trudged back into Base Camp as the sun began to rise up from behind the Unnamed Mountain. Hardly any of them spoke because all of their tongues and throats had been badly scalded by the hot water of the Crater Lake. The few who did talk relayed news from other parts of the Mountain.

    All told, some 2,300 children had tried to summit the Mountain today. About 1,750 had reached the top. Mami, Eteka, and their parents had encountered this massive crowd of climbers while descending. As she went down the Great Curve, Mami had heard the sounds of screaming and crashing coming from behind her. Later, a descending climber told Mami that there had been a rockslide on the Scramble that had injured many and killed one.

    Of the 550 climbers who had failed to reach the summit, nearly 300 had simply given up and turned back. Another 150 had been injured at various points of the ascent and forced back to Base Camp. 96 climbers had been disqualified because someone had physically helped them up or down the Scramble.

    4 climbers were dead. The first fatality had occurred during the stampede at the very beginning of the ascent, when all of the climbers had left Base Camp at once. Mami couldn’t help but thank Eteka for his “get to the front” advice when she heard about this. The rest of the deaths had occurred near the summit. Two climbers had fallen from the Scramble to their deaths, while one more had been buried in a rockslide.

    Upon returning to Base Camp, Mami saw a swarm of government officials getting out of a shuttle and reporting to their workspaces in large white tents. Just like all of the other successful climbers, Mami and Eteka silently fell into a huge line of adolescents that snaked its way through Base Camp. When they finally reached the front of the line an hour later, Mami found herself face-to-face with two government officials. They each wore a badge on their chests that said “Citizenship.”

    The first official picked up a clipboard and asked Mami a bunch of personal questions. After writing down her answers, the second official produced a medical instrument that looked like it belonged in a dentist’s office.

    “Open your mouth.”

    Then there was a quick test to see if Mami’s tongue was scalded. (It would prove she really had summited the Unnamed Mountain) As soon as they were satisfied that Mami had done the climb unassisted, the officials made Mami (and later Eteka) get into another line. Eventually, they were both shown into a tent with many government workers. Mami was photographed, fingerprinted, questioned a little more, and then... at long last, she was issued an official Partogan Passport and a Government Identification Card,

    At long last, Mami Tamihana was a legal adult in the Kingdom of Partoga!

    y4mU0OVLva_FPiqftpA5cRaOQVZuieogoNqJdLi6M-HhvUinT1Q3QR1d_vT0tTD2FMteEdKflnpXk58V6Dd5x0XvvQ-tJcDeIHo1vGrJjQoz3RKjSlcrJ9MrwtJUlRdPDyBvTDw2LqXHmBlhEWz06sFMWzO_BFf8fFs27Z6Z9rLzQfJIseb2zkio0Oc8eHgegQO9NbiAPcB6jQ_0BA5zMmUqA


     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 1.4: Zenith
  • Macavity116

    The First Stormbreaker
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    Chapter 1.4
    Zenith

    March 24, 1928 A.D.
    LVK Shieldbreaker – Fornax Star System, Taiidan War Zone (System Under Republican Taiidani Control)

    y4mqregzstothBdq6gwfa4rex1UcM2gv7-N-2AzwXpsNV8S8n3AC867MVbMutNI7g8iuHHWTEwXQUFmnDuDyZ8MB8-oNi1FGhuWeo47WPmeW6RA487tTFMkKCU5kAtsaOFLZEFbrRO_VpUTzAHaayjPpMiMgSiuLDtEL4ZRn8tui4wgc_9373iENftQlBwC-INvYmes6_OkswTiezLaGN07PA

    Caption said:
    Hyperspace gates such as this one reduce interstellar travel times immensely. For example: without a Hypersapce Gate, it might take about 9 months to fly from Partoga to Fornax. However, using the Gates, the journey took only 6 days.

    A Blorg Marine Frigate exited the Partoga-Fornax Hyperspace Gate and descended into the star system. Ahead of it, a battle was drawing to a close. A flotilla of Republican Taiidani warships were marauding through the system, destroying and burning down any infrastructure left behind by the Imperialist Taiidani as they retreated. In the middle of the system, an Imperialist Starbase lay in ruins, its hull ruptured in countless places. Wherever large sections of the Starbase were intact, Republican Marine Frigates had latched to the hull, reinforcing a small but determined group of invaders.

    Allowed to pass by the Republican ships unmolested, the Blorg Marine Frigate flew right up to the Imperialist Starbase and latched onto its hull. Docking ports extended down from the hull of the Marine Frigate, attaching themselves to an unused docking port on the Starbase. A few Bios away, on the other side of the airlock, two Republican Taiidani soldiers manipulated the airlock controls, drawing in the Blorg ship and matching its air pressure to the station’s.

    The Taiidani were hardy folk. Outside of a combat situation, the two soldiers would have raised the station’s internal temperature to make their Blorg guests more comfortable. Unfortunately, the Imperialists still had a small amount of control over the station’s climate controls. Comfort could wait. The radio crackled as the incoming ship made contact with the two soldiers. A mammalian voice greeted them.

    “This is LV... uh... BCS Shieldbreaker calling docking control. How's the situation over there? We’ve got a few dozen Marines looking for some Imperials to fight.”

    One of the soldiers, an officer, checked the seal between the Shieldbreaker and the Starbase. He simultaneously threw open the airlock door and spoke,

    “They’re holed up near the core of the station. Have at ‘em, friends!”

    Instead of Blorg, some thirty Levakian huntresses surged into the station! Both Taiidan soldiers dropped their jaws and stared at one another in surprise before one of the lionesses stopped to speak with them.

    “Our mistress wishes to know the location of the brig. One of our own is being held there.” she explained.

    Still confused by the sight of lions emerging from a fungoid ship, the Taiidan officer pointed towards an elevator.

    “Uh, go down to deck ten.” he croaked, “Starboard side. Fifteenth room on the right.”

    While the rest of the Levakians passed them by, the subordinate turned to his officer and said;

    “Wait a minute! I thought the Levakians were on the enemy side!”

    The officer drew his hand across his throat, signaling his companion to stop talking.

    “You wanna tell them that?!”

    By the time Tantomile disembarked from her own ship and entered the Starbase, the defending garrison had been neutralized. Her soldiers had found what she was looking for, and they guided her deep into the Starbase.

    She was finally brought before a group of six Imperialist Taiidan soldiers who had been taken alive. They had been forced to their knees as she came into the dark, damp room where they were kept. One of them, an officer, raised his head to look at Tantomile as she entered, but a Levakian hunter immediately pressed his Slugthrower to the officer’s head and pressed the trigger.

    The five remaining Imperialists shuddered with terror as their comrade’s corpse fell to the floor. The hunter who pulled the trigger growled at them, speaking in halting, broken Taiidan;

    “Do not look upon our mistress. You are not worthy.”

    One of the Taiidani, a younger male, began to panic.

    “What?! What do you want!?” he half-screamed to the floor,

    Tantomile squatted down, bringing her snout and teeth to his eye level. She sniffed the top of the Taiidani man’s head, which made him whimper with fear.

    “There’s a Levakian named Admetus in the brig.” Tantomile growled menacingly, speaking in near-perfect Taiidan. “He’s important to me. If he’s alive, then you’ll take him to me. Then you can go home. But if he’s dead... then my friends will eat you... slowly... making sure to savor your conscious, squirming body as long as possible. Am I clear?”



    It took the combined strength of three Levakian males to tear the reinforced door off its hinges. Inside the cramped little cell was a powerful-looking Levakian male with golden-brown fur and a dark orange mane. He looked up from his place on the floor and stared at Tantomile. Admetus’ eyes went wide, and he stared in awe at Tantomile’s white fur.

    “Impossible.” Admetus breathed, “Princess Tantomile... is that really you?”

    “In the fur.” Said Tantomile. “If you like being a guest of the Taiidan feel free to stay here, otherwise get up and follow me.”

    Tantomile led Admetus out of the brig and began the trek back to her ship. Admetus started talking as he went.

    “The last time I saw your highness, you were such a small cub.” Admetus began, “Many things were different then. What happened? Why are you out here?”

    Tantomile shouldered her Slugthrower rifle and glanced back at Admetus as she walked upright down the corridor.

    “I’m looking for help. The King of Paku Nui took over the Imperial Pride last week. My sister and I are, well, kind of in Exile.”

    As they passed a porthole, Admetus looked out into space and caught a glimpse of Tantomile’s ship. He looked back at Tantomile in shock.

    “Emerdon?!”

    Tantomile nodded.

    “He showed up in the Mangaia with a whole hunting party.” She explained. “Coricopat and I got out, but all the news networks say that our Mother and the rest of the Imperial Pride haven’t left the palace since the Takeover. He’s holding them there.”

    “I’m not surprised,” Admetus commented, “Emerdon must be consolidating power, and mating with the lionesses, too.”

    Tantomile winced and twitched her tail. Admetus looked at the floor.

    “I’m sorry.” he said, “What about his old Kingdom, Paku Nui? Who did he leave in charge?”

    “Waiparau.” Tantomile said, grateful to be moving on, “He’s a younger lion, maybe a year older than me. War veteran, too. He was out here in Taiidan space just a few months ago. That’s why I was looking for you. Navy records say you two served on the same ship. I was hoping that you might know him, or at least be able to tell me anything about him.”

    Admetus furrowed his brow.

    “Waiparau was on my ship, yes.” he said thoughtfully, “The second-in-command, if I remember right. Waiparau never got along with his superior. They had political arguments all the time.”

    He’s on-topic now, Tantomile thought, time to ask.

    “That’s what I thought.” Tantomile admitted, “Do you know if he was a separatist?”

    Admetus startled and stared at Tantomile with wide eyes.

    “What?!” he gasped, “How do you know about us?”

    Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.

    Tantomile flashed him a smirk.

    “The Levakian Imperial Pride are Vassals to the Partogan Queen, remember?” She said, “We collaborate with each other whenever anarchists, separatists, or other militant extremists pop up, since lions like them are a threat to us both... Or should I be saying ‘lions like you?’”

    Admetus seemed to regain a little bit of his swagger as Tantomile said this. He resumed walking beside her and they struck out for Tantomile’s ship again.

    “I was a seperatist.” Admetus admitted, “But when Waiparau told me Emerdon’s plan to win our freedom, I left the cause. Don’t misunderstand me, Tantomile, I do want a Free Levakia, just not the way Emerdon was planning to do it. He only knows violence and death, so he thinks our freedom lies down that path.”

    Tantomile sighed,

    “I’ve heard people talk about Levakian Independence before,” she said, “but never seriously. Partoga’s too strong to take on in a fight, and they won’t just let us go. It’s a pipe dream!”

    “Not to those in the Outer Rim.” Admetus replied, “There are serious revolutionaries out there. Lions who want a Free Levakia, and they’re ready to fight for it.”

    Tantomile caressed the shock of her Slugthrower rifle.

    “And what about you?” She asked,

    Admetus shook his head.

    “I... I don’t believe we can defeat the Partogans... but I do think we can find an alternative to fighting. We just need more time to figure something out.”

    Tantomile approached Admetus and, to his surprise, brushed her head against his shoulder.

    “If that’s what you feel, then consider yourself among friends.” Tantomile purred,

    Admetus did not return the affection.

    “And what, Princess Tantomile, are you and your ‘friends’ planning to do?”

    Here at last. Tantomile thought.

    “King Emerdon has gotten too dangerous.” Tantomile stated, “He controls the Imperial Pride, has a puppet ruling over Paku Nui, and might make a move on the Mangaia next. I’m not going to just sit on my haunches and wait for him to lead our people into a disaster. Not when I’ve got about 50 Thralls who’ve sworn to kill whatever I tell them to kill. I’m going to act, and I want you to join me.”

    Admetus opened his eyes wide and gazed at Tantomile.

    “You’re clearly Jemima’s cub.” He said, a hint of pride in his voice. “She was a lioness of action as well. But, Princess, I’m no mercenary-for-hire. I’m still an officer in the Partogan Royal Navy-Levakian Contingent. I can’t walk away from my commission unless you offer me something worthy of the deed.”

    Tantomile smiled mischievously,

    “Still got a sense of loyalty, huh?” She said, “That’s good. I’ll need lions like you. You see, Admetus, between you and me...”

    She stopped walking again and drew close to whisper in Admetus’ ear.

    “I have twice as many Thralls as my sister.” Tantomile hissed, “When the sun sets on my mother, I will be the next Empress of Levakia. Then I’ll have the power to reward loyalty.”

    She had Admetus’ full attention now. She could feel him tense up expectantly. Tantomile’s voice became smoother and more seductive as she began to reel in her prey.

    “When the time comes,” Tantomile purred, “you might just be the one to put me on the Gazania Throne, and reap the rewards of being an Empress-Maker.”

    She had him. Very few lions could resist the alluring offer of reward from a lioness, and Admetus was definitely not one of them. In the darkened hallway, she could hear Admetus’s breathing get a little heavier with excitement.

    “As Empress, I won’t allow dangerous lions like Waiparau to run Paku Nui. I need a voice of reason out there, someone I can trust to keep the more reckless lions out there from doing something really stupid. Maybe that someone is you... ‘King’ Admetus?”

    “You’ve become very wise... your highness.” Admetus replied calmly.

    A few minutes later, they had reached the airlock. The Taiidan soldiers had deserted their posts and were nowhere to be found. They’d been replaced by two of Tantomile’s huntresses. The Levakians saluted Tantomile and one of them said,

    “Your highness, the Republican Taiidani are consolidating their hold on the system. They wanted me to ask you if we’re going to assist in the occupation. They really seem to think we’re actually on their side!”

    “That’s why we keep the Blorg ship. The Republicans love those icky mushrooms.” Tantomile replied, “I want you to call all of our forces back to the Shieldbreaker. We’re leaving.”

    “Yes, your highness!” Replied the huntress, and then she stood aside to let Tantomile and Admetus aboard the Shieldbreaker.

    Tantomile ignored Admetus’ gasps of awed wonder as he was led aboard the ship. As far as Tantomile was concerned, there was nothing overly impressive with the Shieldbreaker aside from the story of how she had acquired it:

    ...

    Two months ago, Empress Jemima and Partogan Queen Marie the Scholar had travelled to Blorg, the capital world of the Blorg Commonality and temporary Headquarters of the Galactic Council following the Battle of Hiigara. The Partogan and Levakian leaders were trying to negotiate a cease-fire with the Blorg as part of Queen Marie’s plan to de-escalate the Taiidan War. Empress Jemima had taken Tantomile and Coricopat along with her, hoping to use the mission as a chance to teach her daughters the fine art of Statecraft.

    After talks broke down, the two rulers returned to the spaceport. They were about to board a ship that would take them home when Empress Jemima got into an intense argument with Queen Marie. Despite being a 13-year-old suffering from congestive heart failure, the Partogan ruler stood her ground and verbally assailed the fully-grown and healthy lioness, reminding every witness that Marie was the master and Jemima was the Vassel.

    Unwilling to watch this play out, Tantomile had slipped away to another part of the spaceport. She chased a Blorg youngster up and down the terminal for the fun of it, all the while being followed by five of her Thralls, a group of Levakian Imperial Guards. After scaring the Blorg child for the umpteenth time, Tantomile had looked out a window and saw her mother’s ship flying away! Empress Jemima had accidentally left her youngest cub behind on a planet that was in a state of war against Partoga!

    Tantomile’s Thralls had wanted to “set up a defensible position” and wait for help to arrive. She had another idea: While chasing the Blorg child, Tantomile had spotted a Blorg Marine Frigate docked to the Terminal. Instead of waiting for her mother to come back, Tantomile had ordered her Thralls to break into and steal the Marine Frigate. Countless members of the fungoid Fanatical Befriender society witnessed the brazen theft and were left speechless as the pilfered vessel rocketed into the sky, flying in formation with the Partogan/Levakain transport.

    Jemima had been even more shocked. Publicly, Jemima had showered her daughter with praise and affection; but in private, the Empress had chastised and punished her daughter, saying that Tantomile had “undermined the peace process.” Ultimately, Jemima had ordered Tantomile to hand the stolen frigate over to the Partogan Royal Navy. Tantomile claimed to have done so, but secretly kept the ship, ordering her Thralls to study it and train themselves to fly it.

    Tantomile had also renamed the vessel. The name “Shieldbreaker” was in reference to a mythical weapon supposedly wielded by the last King during the Battle of Archer’s Canyon. Some storytellers claimed it had been used to injure Queen Miranda the Great and spill her blood, a thought that made many Levakians very happy.

    ...

    Tantomile’s lieutenant took a headcount, making sure that all Levakian hunters and huntresses were safely on board. Once everyone was accounted for, the Shieldbreaker separated from the Taiidan Starbase and began flying away from the system.

    During the long wait for the next Hyperlane, Tantomile evicted one of her officers from their quarters and moved Admetus into the vacant room. Then Tantomile went into the Situation Room. This room was installed specifically so that Tantomile could keep up with developments around the galaxy. The walls were lined with various digital screens, and in the center of the room, a table-sized tablet computer rested on a pedestal at waist height. Tantomile tapped the tablet screen and brought up a digital map of the Kingdom of Partoga, plotting her next move.

    y4m9xkvdfo5ySftqx-_LpfmFAmntgP6bQFkOG6nwUkETWFnYb-1jg-rtwo2TEtKBZeGc-MpqrySsWOrV_BZoSUWoiqnZjdhH0fGZJBiVALT2JfKRXEVinxYODnG78vdnfzbSxjvrj7G5MCkQ7n7oUema8500Ig-8F53lEnILx-jHpCboMdr6cvIe4ElPovpOS_u3hp1puKMQ0kfvckJmqDpQg

    Caption said:
    The Kingdom of Partoga and its six Spaceborne Vassal States. The Partogan Homeworld is located on the northern edge of the Shadow Nebula in southern Partoga. The former Taiidan Empire is located to the East. To the south is the Micore Empire, Turanic Raiders, and Vanian Commonwealth. To the north is the Scyldari Confederacy. and West Assuria. A small enclave called the Voor Technocracy can be found between Asalele and Partoga.

    Tantomile brought up a list on her screen. It was the names of known separatists and Levakian Nationalists who had served on the same ship as Admetus and Waiparaou. Absentmindedly, Tantomile drew a line through Admetus’ name and looked at the next one on the list.

    “Hūria: Waiparau’s favorite bodyguard. Wanted on Partoga on charges of murder and terrorism. Green Guard capture bounty: 10 Million Dirams. Believed to be travelling with a Blorg fleet called ‘True Friendship Force’ and is planning to return to Partogan space soon.”

    Alright. Tantomile thought. You’re next.

    She scanned her map of the Galaxy, cross-referenced amatuer reports about fleet movements, and after about an hour of searching, she found the True Friendship Force. The flotilla of Blorg warships was passing through Hiigaran space, heading towards a Hyperspace Gate that would take them back to Blorg space.

    Tantomile called the bridge and ordered the helmsman to plot an intercept course.

    “Are we going straight there, your Highness?” asked the helmsman, “Or do you still want to rendezvous with the Privateer Fleet in the Corug-Tel system?”

    Tantomile rolled her eyes.

    “I’m paying those mercenaries to follow me, aren’t I?” she responded, “Call their Captain and tell him to do what I’m paying him to do! Then set an intercept course for the True Friendship Force.”

    “Yes, your Highness!” Replied the helmsmen, “Course laid in. We’ll cross paths with the True Friendship Force in the Aiowa star system. Date of intercept: The 4th of Hōngongoi, 413. Sorry your Highness, there’s no Hyperspace Gates between here and there.”

    Tantomile cut off her microphone and swore quietly.

    “Three months from now. Damnit! Space is too damn big!”

    Turning her microphone back on, she said.

    “The 4th works for me. Get us there.” then she terminated the call.

    Tantomile sighed, then pressed her paw to the touchscreen and turned on the news.

    Since Tantomile and Coricopat had fled Partoga, she had been watching several news networks to keep up to date with everything that was happening in Partoga. She needed to be ready when the time came.

    Mulling over her thoughts, Tantomile started perusing through the news networks until she found the one she was looking for. The digital screen lit up with a live feed from the most popular news agency in the galaxy. On screen was an image of a major battle that was taking place just a few star systems away:

    y4mbGGV3dFiwhtlBbUTsCUaTMdi_B4quCoaIHmKZIUDr2n6WRkIqE6Zp3CwmjVtjJhazogLV2sp4kks5NducU4LkNC5sQf_b82FLyhY_dJLoS2Thdcbg4AcPoTSoKoWjVLaepakz_GFl-M60AQlUDzbk7PYciIyz93olkFooqraY2ZzXjukk6lRGrJt0i8-PSvrnRWFLDDRGbl4weZQ3vhy4g

    Caption said:
    The Battle of Gomeisa happened simultaneously to the events of this chapter. A Republican Taiidani fleet entered the system and assaulted the local starbase. The invasion was repulsed by a combined fleet of Imperialist Taiidani and Asalele Levakians.

    After a moment, the image was replaced by a news desk populated by three Xenos.

    At the desk were three sentients: The first was a sloth-like mammalian belonging to the Scyldari species. The computer-generated banner at the bottom of the screen identified him as “Velam Nordström: Anchor.” Velam the Scyldarian was talking to what had to be the single most hideous creature Tantomile had ever seen in her life: A member of the fungoid Blorg species. Tantomile didn’t need to check the banner. She knew who both of Velam’s guests were.

    The Blorg was Heidi Vestergaard, the current Secretary General of the Galactic Council and arguably the single most powerful politician in the Post-Taiidan galaxy. Finally, the third being was Fleet Admiral Makis Manaan, the recently-dismissed commander of the Hiigaran Defense Fleet.

    As Tantomile tuned into the newscast, Velam faced the camera and addressed the audience.

    “Welcome back to Xenonian News, the galaxy’s most trusted news source according to 4 out of the 5 arthropods we nerve stapled. I’m Velam Nordström, and this is the second half of my discussion about the current state of the Taiidan War with Hiigaran Admiral Manaan and Galactic Council Secretary General Vestergaard. We’ve just finished discussing the ongoing fleet battle between the Partogan Satellite State Asalele and the Taiidani Republic, and now we’ll discuss the mother country itself.” Velam said, his eyes flitting from right to left as he read the teleprompter.

    “Are our guests ready to continue?” Velam asked. The Secretary General and retired Admiral both nodded.

    “The question we’ll discuss this half-hour was submitted by a viewer.” Velam revealed. “Kel-Azan schoolteacher Ekir Inaxinirkis says his class wants to know: “Partogan Queen Marie the Scholar has been in and out of hospitals dozens of times over the past few weeks as her heart condition continues to worsen. How will the Queen’s obviously imminent death change Partoga’s involvement in the Taiidan War? Will the famine and housing shortage in Paku Nui have any effect on the Royal Election itself? Will the Imperialist Taiidani be willing to accept the aid of a freshly-elected child ruler?

    Velam took a breath, faced the camera and then continued.

    “There are over two million Partogan soldiers fighting side-by-side with the Imperialist Taiidani on some fifty battlefields all over the Taiidan War Zone, furthermore, some eight-hundred thousand Levakians have volunteered to fight on BOTH sides of the conflict, frequently doing battle against each other and occasionally even coming to blows with their Partogan overlords. In the midst of this all, we face the very real possibility that Queen Marie might succumb to congestive heart failure, leaving a freshly elected teenager to lead her Kingdom through a very confusing and complicated war. Do you, Secretary General, believe a Royal Election will change the nature of Partoga’s involvement in the Taiidan War?”

    Secretary General Vestergaard seemed eager to speak.

    “It’s the most important question in the galaxy right now! There’s nothing more chaotic and unpredictable in the whole cosmos than the Partogan Royal Election!” The Blorg squirmed in her seat with pure excitement. “Because Queen Marie is going to die young, this will be the first time that two Royal Elections happen within a single lifespan! It’s exciting for me, but troublesome for many! The unfortunate fact is that the Partogan Government keeps its list of Queen Candidates a closely guarded secret. To make things harder on analysists, a young Partogan girl has only a five-year long window where she could be elected. If she’s younger than 10 but older than 15, she’s out of the race. The near-annual turnover of potential candidates makes predicting the outcome nearly impossible.”

    Admiral Manaan, however, spoke on the side of caution.

    “Madame Secretary, there are some aspects of Partogan politics we can predict. Just three years ago when their country was threatened with war by the Turanic Raiders, the Royal Election concluded very quickly and a military girl was elected. Queen Marie was an Army recruit just barely out of basic training when she became Queen. Unfortunately, an undiagnosed heart problem tempered her victory, leaving many Partogans to feel like they’ve been cursed with a weak ruler during a time of war. If Queen Marie kicks the bucket tomorrow, (as she just might) then I’ll bet every Diram I have the next Partogan ruler will be either an Army recruit or a Navy cadet.”

    Velam gave the Admiral a quizzical look.

    “What makes you so certain, Admiral?” He asked,

    “Because of the composition of the Partogan National Assembly.” Admiral Manaan explained, “Currently, the dominant political faction in Partoga is a coalition of Princes and Princesses who favor a pacifist and diplomatic approach to foreign policy. Every time Partoga suffered a military defeat in this war, that faction has grown weaker and weaker. Partogans and Levakians alike are looking for some vengeance against both the Republican Taiidani and my own people. Any girl who tries to emulate Warrior-Queens like Miranda the Great, Sophie the Merciful, or Madeline the Second will immediately win the support of both the militaristic factions and the seven Levakian Kings. She would be elected without any real trouble.”

    “Why is it so important to win the support of the Levakian Kings?” Velam asked, “They’re a minority on the Partogan National Assembly, aren’t they?”

    The Admiral took a breath, considered his words, then continued.

    “The Partogan National Assembly is a minority-rule government.” He said. “Even though the Levakians have a minority of seats, their species makes up over 60% of the Kingdom’s total population. Any girl who can win the loyalty of the Levakians would enjoy near-universal support from all corners of Partogan society. She’d be untouchable! And don’t forget...”

    Admiral Manaan waved a finger in the air,

    “Partoga is in a defensive war right now. The Kingdom and its people feel threatened. Even the hardline Pacifists in the National Assembly might be willing to vote for a militaristic girl right now. That, Mister Nordström, is why I think Partoga’s next Queen is going to be a warrior.”

    Velam nodded and turned to Secretary General Vestergaard.

    “Well put, Admiral. Now, Secretary General, the Partogan government is under incredible international pressure to abandon their old ally, and its only getting stronger every day. Could the next Queen stand up to the galaxy? Or do you think she’ll buckle under the pressure, leaving the Imperialists to fend for themselves?”

    Tantomile didn’t hear the rest of the conversation. She turned the newscast off and leaned against the wall of the situation room, thinking things over. She realized that they had briefly mentioned a famine in Paku Nui again. This was the third day in a row that place had cropped up in the news.

    Paku Nui was one of the Seven Levakian Kingdoms, all of which were Vassal-States under the Partogan Queen. It also happened to be the largest and most densely populated of them all.

    y4mjIu6Ubv4mGz2yBvIjOSfvV-sBIGqfCO917rjNxhbbPd60y9lPGfZTQHjOS8J0O7LdvS4sx8z4q14p2R62bvoXRq3Y6QhtaPAZjFsVxGFzmvVVTSULvmhCHmd0Mn5H4_jqMNpu-VAFlUIbyYKVbRzCeb6l62Xh2Ft9zZOhEQ4J0n3o-aGrdOuOHvl5bLt6Ss4Rv66fFyDE6Vm-JmLac9skg


    Tantomile wondered if her sister was still there...

    Hesitating only for a moment, she pulled up the controls for the Shieldbreaker’s Hyperwave Relay.

    Sys/ hyperwave communication system online... please select FTL comms target...

    Cmd usr/ ---> target LVK Kakama – Partogan Royal Navy Levakian Contingent

    Sys/ searching the Hyperwave Network... LVK Kakama found...

    Sys/ negotiating with receiver... Faster-Than-Light communications established.


    Tantomile sighed,

    “This is the LVK Shieldbreaker calling the LVK Kakama. Come in please.”

    There was a pause, and then a tired voice replied.

    “Hi Tantomile. Do you know what time it is over here?”

    “Yes, Coricopat. I do. Look, the Taiidan-to-Partoga time difference isn’t that bad. We’re only violating causality by a few days. Will you get out of bed and talk to me, please?”

    There was a rustling sound over the speakers. On the other side of the galaxy, Coricopat was shuffling around in her bed.

    “Okay...” Coricopat groaned, “What’s up?”

    “Are you still on Paku Nui?” Tanotmile asked,

    “Yeah.” Coricopat murmured. “My ship got stuck in the Waikawa Spaceport. We wanted to just get some fuel and keep going to Assuria, but all of the dockworkers joined the food riots. It’s like the Wars of the Famine down here. Where are you?”

    “Neck-deep inside the Taiidan War Zone.” Tantomile replied, “I found an ex-separatist out here and I’m on the trail of an active one now.”

    “Damnit!” Coricopat sounded frustrated, “All the way out there too, huh? There’s a lot of separatists here too. I can’t leave my ship. Planet’s crawling with’em.”

    “Yeah,” Tantomile said, “I’m starting to think this Separatist Movement is really as big as we thought.”

    Tantomile and Coricopat were silent for a moment.

    “I know we’ve talked about this before...” said Tantomile, “But you didn’t answer me the last time I asked. Coricopat: If you become Empress, what are you going to do about the Separatists? Is Levakia even ready for independence?”

    “I don’t wanna answer...” Coricopat sounded like she was going to cry. “Levakia can’t be independent yet! Have you seen the videos from Paku Nui? It’s chaos down here! We can barely feed our own people! Don’t those Separatists know that!?”

    Silence once more. Tantomile put her hands on the table and looked down at the map of Partoga again. Her eyes fell on The Mangaia.

    “Tantomile...” Coricopat’s voice wavered, “What about the Partogan Queen? Has she done anything about the famine?”

    “She’s too sick.” Tantomile answered. “They say she’s still commanding troops, but it sounds bad. People are saying it won’t be much longer now.”

    More silence. Neither one of them wanted to face the reality which had been slowly dawning on them since Jemima had told them to flee.

    “It’s not going to matter which of us becomes Empress, does it?” Coricopat whispered. “It’s not even gonna matter which monarch dies first. The Separatists are gonna move as soon as they see a power vacuum. It’s gonna be chaos! Like Paku Nui, but on a galactic scale!”

    “Yeah,” said Tantomile. “Partoga’s going to end up like Taiidan. Civil War without end... until there’s no one left alive who can remember why we were fighting in the first place.”

    She looked at the map of Partogan space again. 116 star systems lay underneath the Green and Red flag of Partoga. None of the neighboring states were so big, wealthy, or powerful. Surely... this couldn’t be the end. Had Partoga’s star burned so brightly that its downfall would begin a mere five years after becoming a superpower?

    “Maybe....” Coricopat was talking more to herself than Tantomile, “Maybe the next Queen will find a way to stop the Separatists. Maybe she’ll be able to keep the peace without fighting.”

    “I’ll pray to the Mountain,” Tantomile said, “Beg it to give us someone like that.”


     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 1.5: Kinloka Squadron
  • Macavity116

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    Chapter 1.5
    Kinloka Squadron
    March 25, 1928 A.D.
    Officer Training School, Fort Daxia – Trecta Star System, Kingdom of Partoga


    y4mOyrPG5G9evYw0g5jH3IyL8Beq_6VoNWoF2JXtbnDu2GUH-jtJtzHB613MaeJh3xrdKcw0AqeQqQZfLhrPy9AXdogt5UZPVFWspTDaoS2fruefISpIbckoQUo2yz7bdSh4_eJmMJL1vWid2eRYr2kyTUCVNvyw-xP5bndWFSpO55N58_lI16XeRT5mI1MumDciPlCcnxcfMrlHHUei_nbnw

    Caption said:
    Another view of Fort Daxia in the Trecta system. The planet in the background is Whiro, the most distant planet in the Trecta system and the only planet that isn't visible from the surface of Partoga. Between 1960 and 2015, the planet was terraformed and colonized by Partogans. It was completely destroyed during the Second Hyperspace War.

    In Assembly Hall #15, one hundred Student-Soldiers stood in a tight formation, waiting to be addressed by their commander.

    “Good morning Kinloka Squadron!” Drill Instructor Ruiha Tahana called to the assembled cadets.

    “Good morning, Sir!” the class replied in unison.

    Drill Instructor Tahana ordered the student-soldiers to stand at ease while he quickly reviewed a slip of paper. Once he re-read the sheet, the Drill Instructor looked up and addressed his class.

    “Alright, everyone. First thing’s first: Let’s welcome back Cadets Tamihana and Mihaka. They both summitted the Mountain last week and are now legally adults. Congratulations to you both!”

    The sound of applause and cheering echoed off the ceiling and made Mami’s ears throb. She felt several hands slapping on her back and she briefly broke out of the Position of Attention to shake hands with the Squadron Leader. (the student who was in charge of the class whenever Drill Instructor Tahana wasn’t around)

    Once the clapping died down, Drill Instructor Tahana continued to address the class.

    “Moving on, I’ve had to make some changes to the lesson plan. All classes today are cancelled.”

    Murmurs and whispers began to fly around the formation of Student-Soldiers. At once, the Squadron Leader rounded on his classmates and said loudly:

    “HEY! DID HE GIVE YOU PERMISSION TO TALK!?”

    The Student-Soldiers fell silent. Mami looked sideways at the three other members of her team. Eteka looked nervous. Arahu Ranginui was paying very close attention, and Rapati Hipango looked like he was about to fall asleep standing up.

    Drill Instructor Tahana continued.

    “You will have the morning off, so enjoy your free time and relax. However, I’m ordering you all to return to this room, Assembly Hall 15, at 18:00 hours this afternoon. No exceptions. Am I understood?”

    “Yes Sir!” The class responded in one voice.

    Drill Instructor Tahana seemed to relax a little.

    “Alright. Enjoy your day off, soldiers. FALLOUT!”

    Mami, Eteka, Arahu, and Rapati all stepped out of the group and left the Assembly Hall. They made a beeline to the Recreation Wing. This was a massive section of the Daxia Starbase where the Student-Soldiers of the Officer Training School could spend what little downtime they had. But the members of Kinloka Squadron had been given the entire day off, and now all one hundred of them filtered into the Recreation Wing, determined to spend as much time as possible just being children and teenagers.

    The Recreation Wing was packed full of things to do. Arcade games, dining halls, a performance stage, a large gymnasium with multiple pieces of exercise equipment, even a full sized Kohlii pitch could be found here. All along a distant wall was an audio entertainment station where Student-Soldiers could listen to music without bothering anyone.

    Today, Mami wanted to listen to some Enutanga music. There were countless musicians and bands operating around the Galaxy, but there was only one who mattered to Mami. Enutanga the Silver-Haired Siren was Mami’s favorite singer, and the same applied to some 6 billion people across the Western Arm of the Galaxy. Sliding the headphones over her ears, Mami was too busy enjoying the voice of Partoga’s biggest pop star to notice that someone was approaching her.

    Right when Enutanga’s voice had reached an angelic warble that could have melted the heart of the most brutal warrior, Mami felt a hand on her shoulder. Looking up, she saw a familiar face.

    The person holding onto Mami’s shoulder was Ensign Amaya Maori. She was the highest-ranked Student-Soldier in Kinloka Squadron and the most perfect person Mami had ever met. Amaya aced every test with maximum scores, hit everything she ever shot a gun at, won every fistfight, completed every simulation on the first try, spoke Levakian fluently, and was a masterful tactician. Everyone at the Officer Training School knew that Amaya was going to become an Admiral someday. As if that wasn’t enough, Amaya was also insanely beautiful, with sleek silver hair, a charming smile, and curves in all the right places. She looked, talked, and acted like an action movie heroine.

    And now she had a hand on Mami’s shoulder. Mami wondered who had blessed her with such good luck.

    “Hey Tamihana!” said Amaya, “Got a second?”

    Mami pulled off her headphones and looked at Amaya’s teammates, who stood on either side of her like bodyguards.

    Student-Soldiers at Fort Daxia were always arranged into teams of four. Usually, these teams would stay together from beginning to end, even doing the Graduation ceremony together. Team Maori, however, was only partially whole. One of Amaya’s teammates had flunked out of Daxia altogether and had been replaced with a new Student-Soldier. The original two boys were Oku and Eraka, they were both 14 years old. The new member of Team Maori was a 12-year-old girl named Paikura. She seemed to be taking her place on Team Maori way too seriously, and stood at the position of Attention while Amaya was talking.

    “Just listening to Enutanga.” Mami replied, “Killin’ the time. What going on?”

    Mami noticed that Amaya'’s friendly grin seemed to be hiding an annoyed expression.

    “Well, I wanted to have a little team-building exercise with my new girl. Thought I’d take her out to the Kohlii pitch and run a few drills. But when I got there, all three of your teammates were there. The Ranginui kid said we had to “wait our turn” and that we could have the pitch when they were finished with it. Could you be a pal and just tell them to leave?”

    Mami followed Amaya to the Kohlii pitch and saw what she was talking about. Rapati was guarding one of the goals at the end of the pitch while Eteka and Arahu were kicking ball after ball at him. Equipped with the traditional Kohlii staff (a long rod with a big hammer at one end and a scoop on the other) and a ballistic shield, Rapati was doing well against his opponents, sending most balls back into the pitch.

    “See what I’m talking about?” Amaya asked, “Your team is in our way.”

    Mami shrugged.

    “You know, my guys need the practice too.” she said. “You sure you guys can’t wait?”

    The two team leaders folded their arms and looked at one another. Then Mami had an idea:

    “Tell you what, Maori. Let’s do some teambuilding together instead. My team on yours: Four on Four.”

    Amaya clapped her hands together and looked excited.

    “A game? Yeah, sure! Let’s play!”

    Mami called Arahu, Eteka, and Rapati over.

    “Hey guys,” Mami said. “Maori wants to play Kohlii with us. You up for it?”

    “Hell yeah!” Arahu answered quickly.

    “Alright, I’m game.” Eteka replied calmly.

    “Uuhh... sure. Okay.” Rapati said noncommittally.

    It took about five minutes to prep a full-scale match. Two goals, eight Kohlii staffs, two ballistic shields, and one heavy Kohlii ball were brought onto the pitch and put in place. When the pitch was set up, Mami and Amaya met in the center of the field.

    “So, what are we playing 'till?” Mami asked, “Three goals or time?”

    “Let’s just go to three.” Said Amaya. “I don’t wanna embarrass you in front of your teammates.”

    “Oh, now it’s on!” Mami declared, “We’ll see who gets embarrassed!”

    It was time for the game to start! On Team Tamihana, Rapati would play Goal Defender, so he got to carry a Kohlii staff in one hand and a ballistic shield in the other. Mami, Eteka, and Arahu would play the Forward positions, so they each got a staff. They reported to the center of the pitch to meet Amaya and her teammates. Mami, Eteka, Rapati and Arahu raised their arms in salute to the opposing team. Amaya, Uniki, Oku and Eraka did the same. (Oku was guarding the opposing goal) All eight players said together:

    “Play well!”

    Mami and Amaya met in the center of the pitch one last time while the other forward players hung back, ready for the action to start. Amaya gave Mami another polite smile.

    “I guess I challenged you,” she said, “It’s only fair that you start with the ball, Tamihana.”

    Mami nodded and then reached out with the scoop-end of her Kohlii staff. She catapulted the ball into the air and the game began! The Kohlii ball fell back down to the ground where Mami smacked it with the hammer-end of her staff, sending it downfield towards the opposing goal.

    Mami, Eteka, and Arahu scrambled down the pitch after the heavy Kohlii ball, trying to send it into the opposing team’s goal. Amaya darted off to one side of the pitch and started to shadow Mami, watching her every movement. Whenever Mami shouted a command to her teammates, Amaya countered with either Paikura or Eraka. The two team leaders were having their own battle of wits, moving their teammates across the pitch like game pieces on a board.

    Darting around the pitch, Mami effortlessly outmaneuvered young Paikura and brought the Kohlii ball to the opposing team’s goal. While Eteka and Arahu blocked Team Maori, Mami launched the ball out of the scoop-end of her staff! The ball careened through the air and Oku jumped to meet it! He missed, the heavy Kohlii ball just grazed his ballistic shield and went into the goal!

    1-0, Team Tamihana leads.

    Less than a minute later, Mami passed the ball to Eteka and he gave it a powerful punt! The ball rocketed downfield and struck Oku’s shield so hard that it knocked him over! The ball carried on and rolled into the Team Maori’s goal!

    2-0, Team Tamihana leads.

    Mami felt a rush of excitement! They were going to win with a shutout! They just needed one more point! Mami passed the ball to Eteka and he slammed it hard with the hammer-end of his Kohlii staff. This time, Oku deflected the shot with his shield and sent the ball towards Eraka. He passed the ball to Paikura, who passed it to Amaya. She struck the ball with her hammer and sent it screaming down the pitch! At his own team’s goal, Rapati saw the ball coming and raised his shield to meet it!

    The metallic ball struck the top of Rapati’s shield, knocking him off balance! Rapati fell to the ground and the Kohlii ball rolled into the goal.

    2-1, Team Tamihana leads.

    “That’s okay, Rapati!” Mami called to her teammate. “Walk it off and get back in the game!”

    On her left, Arahu saw Mami’s response to Rapati’s failure and scoffed.

    Play resumed. Amaya seemed to have figured out Mami’s playstyle. As soon as Eteka passed the ball to her, Mami was boxed in by Paikura and Amaya and the ball was stolen from her. Mami called out to Arahu,

    “Run blocker!”

    Arahu stopped trying to steal the ball back, and instead, he simply placed himself between Amaya and the goal. Arahu would block the next goal attempt at all costs! Amaya rapidly changed her footing, trying to fake out Arahu. He wasn’t fooled. Meanwhile, Mami and Eteka had gotten around the flanks. Holding out the hammer-end of their Kohlii staffs, both of them were going to try and knock the ball loose!

    Amaya saw what was coming. She held her Kohlii staff above her head, and using its scoop like a catapult, she sent the ball over Arahu’s head and directly at the goal.

    “Come on, Rapati!” Eteka yelled,

    This time, Rapati misjudged the ball’s trajectory and missed it altogether.

    2-2, game point.

    As Rapati prepared to throw the ball back into play, Mami encouraged her team.

    “We’re not done yet, guys!” she yelled, “Play ‘till the end!”

    “Don’t worry, Tamihana!” Oku yelled, “We’ll make this quick for you!”

    Rapati gave Mami an apologetic look, then threw the ball back into the pitch. Mami ducked low, allowing Eteka to catch the ball in his scoop. At once he flung it to Arahu, who kicked and hammered the ball downfield, evading Team Maori. Mami ran parallel to him. Seeing an opportunity, she yelled,

    “Here! I’m open!”

    Arahu punted the ball across the pitch to Mami. She reached out with her Kohlii staff to scoop up the ball when a second staff appeared! Paikura had gotten behind Mami! Her staff struck Mami’s and both players ended up missing the ball. Eraka punted the ball hard towards Rapati!

    Mami cupped one hand to her mouth and yelled,

    “COME ON, YOU GOT THIS!”

    It all happened in less than three seconds. The Kohlii ball struck the center of Rapati’s ballistic shield and bounced back into the middle of the pitch, right towards Amaya. She swung her staff in both hands like a club or a bat, striking the ball and sending it once more towards a stunned and shocked Rapati! He froze... and the ball sailed right past his head and into the goal.

    2-3. Team Maori wins.

    Mami sighed and started walking towards the Amaya to congratulate her, out the corner of her eye, she saw Rapati starting to talk off the pitch.

    “I guess that’s my fault, isn’t it?” said Rapati gloomily.

    “What?! You’re kidding!” Arahu yelled at Rapati, “That’s all you’ve got to say after making us lose!?”

    Arahu threw his staff down in rage and stormed off the pitch. Rapati watched him go.

    Mami hadn’t seen where Arahu had gone. She decided to send her two remaining teammates to the locker rooms to change out of their sweaty Physical Training uniforms before they did anything else today. Mami was about leave for the women’s locker room to do the same when Rapati touched her shoulder.

    “What’s up?”

    Rapati looked like he was having trouble picking his words.

    “Uh.. Um. Well, I screwed up back there, Mami.” he said, “If you see Arahu, tell him I said sorry, and... Uh... next time... I won’t let you down. Promise. Whatever happens, I swear you can count on me.”

    Mami nodded,

    “Sure thing.”

    Amaya waved and smiled at Mami.

    “That was fun, Tamihana! Let’s do it again sometime!”



    By the middle of the afternoon, the Student-Soldiers of Kinloka Squadron had utterly exhausted themselves. All of the games had been played, every physical training exercise performed, every wrestling match decided. All over the Recreation Wing, teenage Student-Soldiers were passing the time by sleeping, loitering, or just generally lazing about. Any conversation was carried out in a low whisper to avoid waking the sleepers.

    At the far end of the Recreation Wing, Mami, Eteka, and Rapati had a dining facility table all to themselves. Rapati was fast asleep, head in his arms, while Eteka was tapping away at a tablet computer. Mami sitting mext to Eteka and watching him, nodding off a little more every time she blinked her eyes. Right when Mami’s head was about to droop onto Eteka’s shoulder, he said,

    “I found him!”

    Mami straightened up and stretched,

    “Oh, good.” She yawned, “Where is he?”

    Eteka brought up a map of Fort Daxia on his screen and pointed to a spot just above the Recreation Wing.

    “Arahu’s in the Hypercomms room. Guess he wanted to talk to Irirangi. You heading up there?”

    Mami nodded.

    “It’s getting close to 18:00.” she said, “The Squadron Leader is gonna start moving people back to the Assembly Hall soon. You and Rapati head straight there. I’ll get Arahu and meet you in there.”

    Mami got up from the table and stealthily made her way out of the Recreation Wing without alerting anyone. Since Mami had lived inside Daxia Starbase for most of the past four years, she knew her way around it very well and could find all of the shortcuts. Enter a maintenance hallway here, cut through a junction there, up that service ladder and poof! Mami had cut a twenty-minute walk down to five.

    The Hypercomms room was a massive communication center dedicated to... well... Communications. The chamber itself was nearly three stories tall, with staircases and open-air elevators granting access to workstations embedded in the walls. Along the floor, thousands of computer workspaces had been set up for Royal Navy soldiers to use, and in the middle of the chamber was the biggest Hyperwave Relay in the Kingdom of Partoga. The spherical device rotated slowly in its housing, emitting a gentle yellow light as it worked to propel electromagnetic waves through Hyperspace.

    At one of these workstations, Mami found Arahu. He was engrossed in conversation with someone. Mami could see the image of a Partogan girl on the screen in front of Arahu and recognized her at once. Mami was about to let him know she was there when she suddenly heard part of what he was saying. Mami walked backwards a few paces and hid herself behind a serverbank while Arahu kept speaking:

    “-way too soft on the guy. Just once I’d like to see Mami really smoke Rapati, you know? Teach him some proper military discipline. He’s not gonna have a chill commander like her forever. She’s gonna get her own ship before any of us if she keeps acing her classes, and then he’ll be in real trouble.”

    The girl onscreen spoke,

    “You really think Tamihana’s that great? Or you just talking out your rear again?”

    Arahu shook his head.

    “No, I’m not, sis. Mami’s really incredible, she summited the Mountain on her first try even though she’d never set foot on the Homeworld before. That means something, right? You’ve just gotta meet her. I’m glad I did.”

    “Ooookay, bro-bro. You can stop gushing now.” Said Arahu’s sister, “I had to make sure. And hey! Remember our deal, okay? She’s gotta get my thumbs-up first, remember?”

    Arahu nodded. Mami finally realized she was eavesdropping on something that wasn’t meant for her ears. She cleared her throat and called out loudly:

    “Cadet Ranginui! Are you in here? Cadet Arahu Ranginui!”

    Then Mami walked around the corner again. Arahu was already standing up and shutting down the terminal, saying;

    “I’ll call you back.”

    On the screen Arahu’s younger sister, Irirangi, looked straight at Mami and winked before the screen went blank.

    Mami ignored this and focused on Arahu, who was blushing a little.

    “It’s about 18:00.” Mami said, “Let’s get back to the Assembly Hall.”



    Mami and Arahu were almost late for their hit-time. With two minutes to spare they returned to the doorway leading into Assembly Hall #15 and were shocked and surprised to find it being guarded by two armed members of the Military Police.

    They froze. One of the two MP’s looked down at them.

    “Are you two part of Kinloka Squadron?” he asked.

    “Uh, yes sir!” said Mami after a moment of hesitation.

    The two MP’s looked at each other and nodded. The second MP opened the door.

    “Go in.”

    All one hundred members of Kinloka Squadron were milling about in the hall. Clearly the Drill Instructor wasn’t here yet. Mami and Arahu quickly found Eteka and Rapati.

    “What’s going on?” Mami asked, “Why are the Military Police here?”

    Eteka shook his head.

    “No idea.”

    Above the chatter of confused Soldier-Students, the voice of Drill Instructor Ruiha Tahana made itself heard.

    “SILENCE!”

    The soldiers of Kinloka Squadron all turned to face their commander. Mami, being taller than most of her comrades, simply looked over their heads. Drill Instructor Tahana was holding a list in his hands. Mami recognized it as the attendance sheet he read every morning before classes started.

    “Soldiers!” said Drill Instructor Tahana, “When I call your name, you say ‘Here, Sir!’ Is that understood?”

    “Yes Sir!”

    And then Tahana began to take roll call. One by one, he marked off the names of every soldier in Kinloka Squadron, looking up from the list periodically to match a name with a face. Finally, after about ten minutes, Tahana reached the last name on the list. He looked up from his paper, then gave a hand gesture to someone standing outside the room. The Assembly Hall door opened up and two officers came in: A Commodore and a Rear Admiral.

    The Student-Soldiers of Kinloka Squadron watched in nervous silence as their Drill Instructor had a conversation with the Rear Admiral none of them could hear. Mami felt a prickling sensation on the back of her neck and looked around.

    No fewer than fifty armed Military Police had quietly entered the room and were now lining up against the walls, facing the Student-Soldiers. Then, Drill Instructor Tahana spoke those fateful words:

    “Staff Sergeant Tunui... lock the doors.”

    A general commotion rose around the hall as all the Student-Soldiers of Kinloka Squadron turned around and saw every door being shut and barricaded by the Military Police. Loud chatter erupted. Two or three members of the class had figured out what was about to happen. But before the news could spread through the whole class, the Rear Admiral called for silence.

    “Soldiers,” said the Rear Admiral, “If you are inside this room right now, it means that Her Majesty Queen Marie has ordered you and your comrades to deploy to the Taiidan War Zone for a period of fifteen months. This deployment is part of a combat mission. At 06:00 hours tomorrow, Kinloka Squadron will join Task Force Hydruka and you will all be assigned to your ships. Task Force Hydruka will then depart Fort Daxia at 07:00 hours. When I give the order, your Drill Instructor will take you through the Deployment Processing system to ensure that the entire Squadron is ready for combat. Make no mistake, you are being deployed, END OF DISCUSSION! As of this moment, you have graduated Officer Training School and are all promoted to the rank of Ensign. Drill Instructor Tahana, take charge of your troops.”

    Mami’s breath was lodged in her throat. Was this really happening?

    “Is this really happening!?” Paikura gasped, “They’re sending us to battle already!?”

    “Looks like it.” Replied Eteka. “This is the real thing... We’re going to war.


    END OF CHAPTER ONE


     
    Last edited:
    Interlude #1
  • Macavity116

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    Interlude #1

    Three and only three words were spoken.


    AFTER THE END.











    26 years after the end of Mira’s story...









    15 Days until the End of the Cycle
    June 1, 2229 A.D.
    Homai
    Kewhena Memorial Library, Partogan Royal Science Academy, Partoga City

    Stomping into the entrance hall, the 12-year-old Crown Princess wanted everyone around her to know that she was angry. She pushed past a librarian to view a large map of the building that was posted on the far wall. Wikitoria Mihaka found the room she was looking for on the map and then walked briskly out of the entrance hall towards a staircase. Up on the third floor, Wikitoria pushed open the door to a study room and spotted the person she was looking for.

    Sitting on a stool at the bottom of a tall bookshelf was a middle-aged woman with long silver hair that covered the right side of her face. Her dull grey eye was darting back and forth across the pages of a large book she held in both hands. The title of the book was: “Circular Time vs. Linear Time – Ending the Endless Debate by Irani Sanbrook”

    Wikitoria stomped loudly into the room to announce her presence. The woman closed her book, put it on a table next to a second one, then smiled at the young girl. Just like always, she was ready to listen to Wikitoria.

    “Oh, dear.” Said Mira Mihaka, “Why’s my favorite Great-Niece so upset? School got cancelled again?”

    Wikitoria dropped down on a couch and folded her arms.

    “Another earthquake.” She sulked. “It’s so stupid! I was ready to give my group history presentation today. Manawa and I worked so hard on it!”

    Mira closed her book and set it on the end table beside her.

    “I felt that quake.” Mira commented, “It was pretty strong. Will your teacher let you give your presentation tomorrow?”

    Wikitoria nodded.

    “Yeah,” she said, and then whined, “But I was ready today! Now I’m gonna be messed up tomorrow!”

    Mira brushed her hair out of her face, revealing the dark green eyepatch concealing an old war wound on the right side of her face. She looked Wikitoria in the eyes.

    “Tell you what, honey...” said Mira, “Why don’t you rehearse your presentation with me? I’ll be your practice audience. What’s your presentation about, anyway?”

    Little Wikitoria perked up immediately. She had a lot of fun doing research for this project and was dying to talk about it.

    “The election of Queen Kendra the Peacemaker!”

    Mira put her hands together and looked excited.

    “Oh! A good choice!” she said, “Her reign was the stuff of legend! When my mother was Queen, she told me about all of Peacemaker Kendra’s achievements... stuff like the Battle of Aoraki, the Pacification of the Levakian Uprising, and mediating the Taiidan War. She was a very accomplished ruler!”

    Mira leaned in closer to Wikitoria.

    “But you know... I don’t remember much about her election. What can you teach me about it?”

    Wikitoria got excited. She stood up and started talking.

    “The story of Peacemaker Kendra’s election is so cool!” Wikitoria was on a roll now. “Her election was really controversial! Kinda like the ones Miranda the Third and my Mother both went through.”

    “Hmm...” Mira mused, “Miranda the Third’s election was the one where the Humans interfered and changed the outcome; and your Mother’s election started a civil war that killed almost two hundred thousand people. What could be so controversial about Kendra the Peacemaker? Didn’t people know about her commitment to peace and nonviolence?”

    Wikitoria put her hands to her mouth and gasped with excitement.

    “No!” she breathed. “Kendra didn’t become a Peacemaker until after the Levakian Uprising! Before she got elected, she was a decorated war hero named Amaya Maori! She was wounded in the Battle of Aiowa, so she when she did the Royal Election, she ran on a platform of militarism and retribution!”

    “Really?” Mira repeated. “I admit, I didn’t know about that. Would your majesty the Crown Princess care to give her favorite Great Aunt a lecture?”

    Wikitoria launched into a longwinded explanation of the mysterious and controversial events surrounding the election of Queen Kendra the Peacemaker. Mira listened with rapt attention, soaking in every word her Great Niece had to say.

    After nearly an hour of talking, Wikitoria was starting to lose her voice. Right when it seemed like she was going to squeak into silence, there was a loud knock on the study room’s door and a voice spoke through it.

    “Announcing the legitimate elected successor to Miranda the Great, Her Royal Majesty Emily the Second, Queen of Partoga, Custodian of the Great Library, Governor of the Royal Academy of Science, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Triple Alliance-”

    “Oh, for Miranda’s sake!” Mira yelled over the voice, “Just open the door!”

    The door swung open and two people stepped inside. The first was Tui “Toa” Rangi, the former commanding officer of the science ship Midak, a vessel that had taken Mira on an incredible adventure 25 years ago. Tui Rangi was dressed up in the traditional green and silver uniform which marked him as the Kuhina Nui of Partoga. (leader of the Government and second-in-command to the Queen)

    The second person to come in was Mira’s niece, Queen Emily the Second. At 39 years old, Queen Emily II was the youngest adult in the room, yet everyone showed their respect to her. Crown Princess Wikitoria ran across the little study room and hugged her mother tightly.

    “Mo-om!” she whined loudly, “They closed school again!”

    “I heard.” Said the Queen gently. “That’s why I was looking for you.”

    Then Queen Emily looked up at her aunt.

    “Thank you for looking after her, Mira.” Emily said. “I always knew I could trust you.”

    Mira stood up and bowed to her niece. By way of greeting, she recited some literature from memory.

    “‘There is no barrier between my family and the ones I trust. It’s our shared love that binds us together.’” Mira recited.

    “You’ve been reading the Orange Book again, haven’t you?” asked Tui Rangi.

    He looked around and spotted a copy of the text he'd mentioned sitting on a table, right next to the book about time. The second book was titled: “Quotations of Tantomile, the Last Empress of Levakia

    It was opened to a section titled: “After the Battle of Aoraki” and the line Mira had just quoted was marked by her own fingerprint, lightly applied to the page as though she’d been giving the line a lot of thought for some time.

    Queen Emily II took her daughter’s hand.

    “We’re going home now.” she said. “Mira, you know my offer still-”

    Mira waved a hand dismissively.

    “Thank you, but no.” She said. “You know how I feel about him. I can’t go back to the Palace just yet.”

    Emily and Tui gave Mira a sympathetic look. They both understood. As they turned to leave, the Queen said over her shoulder,

    “It doesn’t matter what you think of my husband, Mira. The Palace door will always open to you. No matter what.”

    Then Mira was alone in the study room once more. She picked up the book about time and returned to her own thoughts.

    Meanwhile, all around the Academy campus, volcanic ashes began to flutter down towards Partoga City like snowflakes.

    SO IT IS, AND SO IT SHALL ALWAYS BE.

    ==========

    12 Days until the End of the Cycle
    June 4 , 2229 A.D.
    The Royal History Museum, Partoga City, Partogan
    Homeworld



    The volcano couldn’t be ignored anymore.

    In every room of the museum, workers moved frantically to dismantle exhibits and secure them in protective coverings. The Royal Saber was sheathed and secured in an insulated cylinder. The battered hull fragment of a Riri Nui-class Planet Killer was wrapped in heat-resistant foil and relocated to the basement. The severed head of a statue of Queen Lucy was boxed up and loaded onto a transport vehicle.

    While the myriad exhibits on the lower floors of the museum were taken down and moved to safety, Mira Mihaka arrived on the top floor where the important work was being done. She wasn’t alone. Following Mira up the stairs was her adoptive sister Moana Mihaka. Two decades ago, the woman formerly known as Moana Ranginui had served aboard the science ship Midak with Mira. The two endured many hardships, had several adventures, and had even shed blood together. Their bond was very close.

    As soon as Mira and Moana arrived on the staircase landing, the Curator of the Royal History Museum broke off his task, greeted Mira and Moana with a cheer, and hugged them both!

    “Mira! Moana! It’s so good to see you!” shouted Arapata Kirikiri, the former helmsman of the Midak.

    In the 26 years that had passed since the Second Battle of Archer’s Canyon, Arapata had never flown in space again, instead choosing to make his living by publishing a memoir of the Midak’s journey and his part in it. The book had been so popular that Arapata had been offered a job at the Royal History Museum. Once the dust of the conflict had settled, Arapata and some 200 Partogans had travelled to the battlefield and recovered the remains of the HMAS Bushranger, a Human gunship that Mira had brought back to Partoga from Earth. The 190-year-old spaceplane was then re-assembled piece by piece inside a custom-built room at the Museum.

    “And now you wanna take it apart AGAIN?!” Moana groaned. “You’re a friggin’ masochist, Kirikiri. You know that?”

    Arapata shrugged,

    “We can’t fly it out of here.” he said, “Those nuclear ramjet engines are shot. In hindsight, it’s a miracle you didn’t crash in this thing all those years ago. Don’t worry, Moana. We’ll cut it into small pieces so even people with bad backs can pull their weight.”

    Arapata winked at Moana, then he moved off to call some of his workers. Moana instinctively reached up and massaged the back of her right shoulder, as though the 26-year-old stab wound had suddenly started to hurt again.

    The whole project took about four hours. Mira, Moana, and Arapata chatted about anything and everything while they and about 40 other museum workers tore the Bushranger to pieces.

    Arapata wanted to talk about the past. He reminisced about those long days aboard the Midak and asked Mira a lot of “what if” questions. He explained that Human tourists were dying to know how Mira would have acted in a wide array of “alternate history” scenarios.

    Moana wanted to talk about the future. She made plans for re-opening the museum once the volcano fell silent, explained her plans to teach Mira’s Great Neice Wikitoria how to sail a boat, and reaffirmed her promise to attend the astronavigation class Mira taught at the Royal Science Academy.

    Mira had eyes only for the present. She explained her lesson plans for the week and complained about the school’s best space telescope being damaged by a recent earthquake. She finished by mentioning a strange dream she’d had the night before.

    “A dream?” Arapata said while pulling a control rod out of the Bushranger’s nuclear reactor. “Was it that dream again?”

    Mira took a deep breath and pulled as hard as she could. Finally, the nuclear launch computer came free of its housing. 26 years ago, Anika Aranui had used this device to kill thousands of Partogans aboard the Mothership Tantomile. Mira tossed it unceremoniously into a box and then ticked it off her checklist. Looking down the Bushranger’s fuselage at Arapata, she said:

    “Yeah, I dreamt that I was in the Shroud again-”

    Before Mira could continue, Arapata and Moana both groaned loudly.

    “Not again!” Moana moaned, “Mira, you tell us about that stupid Shroud dream every day! Can you just give us one day where we don-”

    “This time was different!” Mira interrupted, “I swear, Moana! Something different happened this time!”

    Moana and Arapata stopped their complaining at once. They had known Mira for almost three decades and had long ago figured out how to recognize her “pay attention, this is serious” moments. Arapata stopped trying to dislodge a control rod and gave Mira his full attention. Moana stopped detaching a missile pylon and looked up at Mira.

    “Look,” Mira admitted, “The dream did start out just like all the others. Just like for the past twenty years, I was in the Shroud alone, and it was quiet.”

    “Right,” said Moana, “Then you heard a noise in the distance and started walking towards it. I remember that part.”

    Mira nodded. She had recounted the dream to her friends so often that the two of them could repeat various parts from memory.

    “But you never got there.” Arapata chimed in. “Didn’t you say you’d always wake up before you could see what was making the noise?”

    Mira nodded.

    “Last night was different.” she said in a low voice, “Last night I finally got over that mountain. I saw what was making the noise.”

    Moana and Arapata dropped what they were doing and walked over to Mira, their mouths hanging open.

    “Well...” said Moana impatiently, “What did you see?”

    Mira chose her words carefully.

    “I saw a battle.” Mira said, conscious of the tone of awe in her voice, “A monster... a huge monster the likes of which you can’t possibly imagine... it was so terrifying I almost woke up right then and there... but I saw what it was fighting...”

    Mira trailed off. Moana and Arapata had leaned in so close to Mira’s head that they could have kissed her.

    “What?” Arapata hissed. “What was it fighting?”

    Mira spoke in a whisper.

    “A Human. It was fighting a Human girl.”

    Moana shuddered.

    “Oh, man. That monster had her for a snack, didn’t it?” she asked,

    “No.” Mira replied. “They were... at a stalemate. At least I think they were. The Human couldn’t kill the monster, and the monster couldn’t kill the Human. Then the Human looked at me. She saw me, even though I was so far away... and she yelled at me... but I couldn’t hear what she said.”

    Moana and Arapata gave one another a serious look.

    “Then what happened?”

    “I woke up.”

    Arapata and Moana gave each other a concerned look.

    The three worked in silence for the next hour. Piece by piece, the Bushranger came apart. When she threw the last chair out of the crew compartment, Moana shot a nervous glance at Mira. She was checking to see if Mira’s eye had turned red again, just as it had done for about six hours during the Second Battle of Archer’s Canyon. No, Mira’s eye was still grey.

    When the landing gear was removed, Arapata helped his workers cut the fuselage into chunks. From his vantage point on top of the spaceplane, he watched Mira from on high. He monitored her hands for any sign of the semitransparent fog-like wisps of Psionic energy that had once radiated out of her hands, but there was none to be seen.

    Finally, as the sun started to sink lower into the sky, the job was done. Dismantled into thousands of pieces and loaded into boxes, the Bushranger was relocated to the basement and stacked up in a corner. Arapata thanked Mira and Moana for their work, then he asked them to wait in the lobby while he got their payment ready. Exhausted and in need of fresh air, Mira and Moana left the lobby and stood just outside the front door. They wanted to take deep breaths, but the air was choked with volcanic soot. The smell of sulfur was so overpowering that both women had to pull their shirts up over their noses.

    “That,” Moana panted, “... was not worth 40 Dirams an hour. We should ask him for more when he gets out here.”

    Arapata rapped his hand on the door to get their attention.

    “40 Dirams can buy a lot these days.” Arapata said, “All the money on the market just evaporated once Riri Nui started acting up again. This’ll keep you two going for a long time.”

    He handed Mira and Moana 360 Dirams each, then waved a worker over to him.

    “Hey Mira,” he said, “But before you go, I wanted to give you something. Last week we got box with about fifty historical documents from Earth, and I thought you’d appreciate this. It’s a real piece of Earth history and we, the Midak expedition, were part of it! I don’t know if you remember, but you and Moana both met this infamous Human before she died. So, I had my people set this copy aside for you. Thought it might have some... sentimental value.”

    The worker handed a rolled-up poster to Mira. She started to unroll it and looked down at the paper. It took her just a moment to read the English letters and mentally translate them into Partogan. When Mira realized what the poster said, she let out an audible gasp.

    y4moa7kwlolWiAI4SO3-o71ZclTa4FwYxE7TH9E-LvsHLM9SnYA0otiPYVQeFwHUuOdBnZp0rxKvnsbcuJdUaCuHtyrbH6VWtjr-lWg-gL-ZaSCVJVhkEq0zbabnZZoX0DDE0dchQqObRKeG871jPpr9is-BA9QgG5y2ruE1rbLYpceDQHWwFgZogRsRGKJvxsIBAdqDtO33YMTU3qiJq9hWQ

    Arapata nodded excitedly.

    “I know right?” he said, “It’s like you're back in 544! Or 2059, as the Humans would call it. It’s cool, right? I know she was really, really old when you met her, but it’s clearly the same Human, right?”

    Mira looked up at Arapata and gave him a big smile.

    “You’re right.” She said. “That’s definitely the Mazama Abbess if you subtracted a century-and-a-half off her age. This is really interesting, Arapata. Thanks!”

    As Mira and Moana left the museum, Mira tucked the 170-year-old wanted poster inside her jacket, protecting it from the volcanic ashfall that was now descending on Partoga City almost continuously. Moana eyed the lump in Mira’s clothes cautiously.

    “Alright,” Moana said after a few minutes. “What’s up, Mira? You recognized the Abbess really quick in that picture. Tell me how you did it or I’m going to literally die from curiosity.”

    Moana gave Mira a playful look that transitioned into a more serious one. Mira sighed.

    “Promise you won’t laugh.” Mira wagged a finger at Moana, who raised her arm and said in an overly dramatic voice:

    “On my honor as a retired Chief Petty Officer of the Partogan Royal Navy, I swear I won’t laugh at your explanation!”

    “Okay...” Mira inhaled, “I think saw her... in my dream.”

    The laughter of both women echoed off the ash-covered skyscrapers and into the sky.

    SO IT IS, AND SO IT SHALL ALWAYS BE.

    ==========

    9 Days until the End of the Cycle
    June 6, 2229 A.D.
    The Great Library, Partoga City, Partogan Homeworld


    The Great Library is one of the most iconic landmarks in Partoga City. The colossal structure marked the boundary between the Royal Palace and the Royal Academy of Science, while the Royal Gardens adorned the Library’s main entrance, splashing the urban environment with warm colors and relaxing aromas.

    Up on the fifteenth floor of the Great Library, there is an entire section dedicated to “Premonitions, Precognition, and Prophecy.” It contains nearly 8,000 books on the subject, most of which were written by Gifted Levakians before the Second Hyperspace War. Yet somehow, Mira couldn’t find the book she was looking for. She had long since given up on finding her book and wasn’t doing any more research tonight.

    Looking out the window, Mira saw that the ashfall was starting to abate, and city workers were already moving into the streets with shovels and plows. A bus pulled up in front of the entrance to the Great Library and a small mob of Human tourists entered the building.

    “Uhg. Time to leave.” Mira said to herself.

    Ashfall was easier to deal with than Human tourists.

    It had been twelve years since the first wave of Human visitors had arrived on Partoga. Mira didn’t mind, since a nearly equal number of tourists had gone to Earth in return. Presumably, the United Nations government was being annoyed just as much as many Partogans. Sadly, after the first five years, the novelty of seeing Humans on the streets of Partoga City had worn off. Now they were just an everyday part of Mira’s life. Every Human that visited Partoga City wanted to meet the Partogan who had reconnected their two civilizations and take pictures with her. Mira had long since lost count of how many pictures she had taken with tourists from Japan, China, Australia, India, Russia, Germany, France, England, Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, or Canada.

    The Japanese tourists in particular were eager to have Mira re-enact her arrival on Earth aboard the Midak... in front of a camera... with aforementioned tourists. That awkward television interview she’d given 27 years ago had come back to haunt Mira with a vengeance: Japanese tourists had developed the ability to repeat Mira’s words to her with frightening accuracy. She never got used to it. Tonight, however, Mira wasn’t in the mood to be treated like a living tourist attraction. She would take advantage of the lapse in volcanic activity to return to her apartment.

    Even though it was the middle of the afternoon, a thick ceiling of volcanic smoke had blocked out the sun and thrown the city into darkness. Partogans recognized Mira on sight and stepped aside, yielding the sidewalk to her. A few of them raised their arms in salute as she walked by. Mira recognized these people. Some of them were veterans of the Second Battle of Archer’s Canyon. Others had been part of the great Solidarity March that had occurred on the day when Mira lost her title of “Crown Princess.” Mira returned the salutes and friendly looks. Some of these people had brightened her day, so she returned theirs in return.

    Mira lived in a penthouse apartment at the top of the tallest building in Old Town, a section of Partoga City that had been almost continuously inhabited since the Wars of the Famine. The skyscraper she called home was named “New Mihaka Tower” and it was a modern day copy of a structure had been built during a time period when Mira’s family enjoyed massive amounts of wealth, political power, and prestige. The original Mihaka Tower had been flattened by the Invaders during the final months of the Second Hyperspace War.

    When Mira got to the top floor, she had to walk down a curved hallway to reach the door of her apartment. Rounding the corner, Mira was looking down at her purse and grabbing her keys for several seconds as she approached her apartment door. When Mira looked up, she saw a Human standing in the hallway and looking at her door.

    Mira wasn’t used to Human tourists being this high up New Mihaka Tower, so she immediately took note of the person’s appearance. This Human was an Asian female somewhere between the ages of 14 and 16. She had very long black hair that fell down to her waist. Curiously, every article of clothing the Human wore was white. Tee-shirt, jeans, running shoes, and her hairband were all pure white... but on closer inspection, Mira realized that the Human’s tee-shirt had many dark, blotchy stains that had dried out and were heavily faded.

    When Mira looked up and saw the Human, the Human turned her head and looked back at Mira. For a moment, they just stared at one another. Then Mira spoke up.

    “Uh, hello?” Mira asked, “Are you lost?”

    The Human cocked her head to one side and spoke. The words were alien and initially made no sense to Mira. In a stroke of very good luck, Mira realized the Human was speaking Japanese, one of the two languages Mira remembered from her brief stay on Earth. (The other being English) Focusing hard, Mira tried to remember the strange Human language and converted her Partogan thoughts into Japanese speech:

    “Um... Wah...tah...shi... uh, watashi wa... um... ni-hon-go ga hana...sema...sen. Yeah, that’s it: Watashi wa nihongo ga hanasemasen. Anata wa watashi no gengo o... uh... hanashimasu ka?”

    The strange Human tilted her head and frowned. Then she opened her mouth and replied. However, the Human spoke so quickly that Mira completely missed what she said. Mira’s head spun. Had Japanese always been spoken so quickly?

    Mira tried again,

    “Uh, Yukkuri hanasu koto ga dekimasu ka?” Mira asked.

    The Human shook her head, still smiling. She pointed to the door, then at Mira, and then she said slowly:

    “Anata no namae wa Miradesu ka?”

    Mira understood that one! The Human had asked: Are you Mira?

    Okay. Now Mira got it. This person was clearly another Human tourist looking for a picture with history. Mira gave the Human a warm smile and said in Partogan:

    “Yes. I am Mira. What is your name?”

    The Human took Mira’s hand and shook it politely. Looking up at Mira, she said in slightly broken but understandable Partogan:

    “Hello, Mira. I’ve looked for you. My name Akira Jaqueline Robinson. Remember me? We met 25 years ago.”

    Mira dropped her purse.
    y4mpSsrIsirYZlq1DxNdkRWlB7Mp3gO8IoGokpJRLWXrRqWjfVWwupMycQHrgxxz7Yj7lnnNH2a6uKoDb66oXS6Wld3CBHkic3-aPzlGeJ138qlbaEQyKA8ublK_tPH2U6wzWbAndqjqecW83Y4SpXVMA7r3JYzh_q7Xmd_MHRBZklL8kh3nCE8s52aeAJU9-7N2EC3RDE8MujYGz0XlrjyPQ

     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 2.1: Into the Distant Stars
  • Macavity116

    The First Stormbreaker
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    Chapter 2.1
    Into the Distant Stars

    ======
    From: Angiangi Tamihana; Mahurangi City, Aoraki, Rakinui Sector
    To: Ensign Mami Tamihana; Kinloka Squadron, Partogan Royal Navy
    Date: 28 Maehe 413

    My little Toa.

    I just got the Hyperwave Text Message from the military saying you’re being deployed to the Taiidan War Zone. They won’t tell me what fleet you’re shipping out with, but I guess that’s for security reasons. I want you to know that I'm going to think about you and pray for you every single day until I hear from you again.

    Mami, I’m so proud of you. You’ve become your own person out there at Daxia, and I just know you’ll only continue to grow and develop out there on the front lines, both as a woman and as a soldier.

    I’m so glad I got to take you up the Mountain before you left. I got to see how strong you’ve grown, and meet your good friend Eteka. I really like him. He’s a smart and clever young man. Our old neighbor Kapua says that soldiers are only as strong as the comrade standing next to them, so I know both you and Eteka will be safe.

    I love you. I miss you. I’m so proud of you. Keep safe and come home soon.

    Your loving mother, Angiangi Tamihana.


    ======
    From: Rakato Mihaka; Partoga City, Partoga, The Core Sector
    To: Ensign Eteka Mihaka; Kinloka Squadron, Partogan Royal Navy
    Date: 28 Maehe 413

    Eteka,

    The military just told us you’ve been deployed. Son, you have no idea how proud we all are. We all stood on the roof of Mihaka Tower in the Royal City and watched your fleet leave the system through the telescope, the same one you bought Namuna for his birthday two years ago.

    Your mother is sleeping with a picture of you under her pillow. Not a day goes by when we don’t worry about you. We are also taking moments out of our days to pray for your teammates. The Hipango and Ranginui families are probably just as worried for their sons as well.

    Eteka, keep your friend Mami close, but do not overstep your boundaries. I know how you feel about her, but my advice that you tell Mami about those feelings simply does not apply in a war zone. I strongly encourage you to be the best possible teammate she could ask for; that’s what she’s going to need most in the coming months.

    We know you will do the Mihaka Family proud, son. Stay safe, and we will be waiting eagerly to hear from you again.

    Always thinking of you,

    Rakato Mihaka


    ======
    From: Erangi Hipango; Candon City, Partoga, The Core Sector
    To: Ensign Rapati Hipango; Kinloka Squadron, Partogan Royal Navy
    Date: 28 Maehe 413

    Son,

    The Navy just called to say you’re shipping out to Taiidan Space. Young man, this is your opportunity bring honor and glory to the Hipango family. This war is going to create many heroes, and I fully expect to see your name amongst them before too long.

    Your mother and I have very high expectations for you, son. Do us proud.

    E. Hipango


    ======

    From: Irirangi Ranginui; Partoga City, Partoga, The Core Sector
    To: Ensign Arahu Ranginui; Kinloka Squadron, Partogan Royal Navy
    Date: 28 Maehe 413

    Hey Bro-Bro! I heard you’re going to war!

    Dad just told me that you’re on the fleet that just left Daxia yesterday so I'm writing to say good luck! I don’t know if we’ll be able to talk regularly like we used to when you were at Daxia, we really need to work out a new system, so WRITE ME BACK as soon as you get this!

    Anyway, there’s two things I really wanna say. First, I did like I said I would and looked up that girl you like, Mami Tamihana. Yup, yup, yup! I looked up her record! She’s clean as a whistle and all of her teachers wrote that she’s a quick learner and a social butterfly who makes fast friends. But... Bro! There’s another thing!

    It turns out she’s from a really old family that’s died out! The Tamihanas were space explorers a couple generations back. Most of her male relatives were either Science Ship crew members or colonists... and all of them are :-( DEAD! :-( Accidents, disasters, and bad stuff like that. Half the stars in the Kingdom were surveyed by Tamihanas and they used to be a big name among scientific community about 20 years ago before they started kicking the bucket one by one. Anyway, since then they’ve died out, like I said. That girl Mami and her mom are the only ones left. Just imagine what Great-Uncle Whiro would say if you married Mami! :p

    Anyway, I can’t find anything wrong with her. There’s also nothing that special about her either aside from being in the top 10% of her class. But hey, if you wanna claim the last Tamihana for the bragging rights, I won’t stop you. You just can’t say you don’t know what you’re getting into. ;-)

    ;-) Just don’t forget you still have to sign off on my boyfriend as soon as you get home. That was the deal, you know. ;-)

    The second thing... Bro-Bro, you gotta keep this a secret, alright? DON’T. TELL. ANYONE.

    So. Have you seen in the news how Queen Marie is really sick and she keeps going to the hospital almost every day? If you haven’t, well, she’s had four heart attacks in the past week. The news guy says she hasn’t gotten out of bed in two days! Anyway, Great-Uncle Whiro says that the government is worried she might pass away really soon, so everyone is getting ready for the next Royal Election! And you know what that means? Great-Uncle Whiro got that list out again!

    So here’s what happened: Last week, he left it on his desk because he had to take an emergency call and I went in and looked at it... AND I’M ON THE LIST!!!!!! I’M A QUEEN CANDIDATE!!!!!!!!!!!

    :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D

    Of course, that’s not a surprise or anything, you know. Our Great-Uncle is the freakin’ Church Patriarch! It’d probably be a crime if I wasn’t on the list!

    And heck, I know I’m gonna be Queen anyway, ‘cause everyone else on the list is a joke! There are only three Queen Candidates (I’m one of them, obviously) The others are a military girl named Amaya Maori and... (drumroll please!!) Enutanga! Yeah! Her! The flippin’ outer-rim music star Enutanga! You know: the girl who wrote “One Last Dance” and “First Final Kiss!” Whoever thought Enutanga could be Queen was high on Harakeke! Freakin’ ridiculous! There’s no way I'll lose the Election! I’m the only real candidate!

    So hey, when I do get elected Queen, you won’t have to stress out about that Mami girl turning you down anymore. I’ll just make her marry you.

    Write back as soon as you get this!!

    Definitely the Future Queen,
    Irirangi Ranginui


    ======

    From: Whiro Ranginui; Partoga City, Partoga, The Core Sector
    To: Ensign Arahu Ranginui; Kinloka Squadron, Partogan Royal Navy
    Date: 28 Maehe 413

    To Arahu, my brother’s grandson,

    I am writing to wish you the best of luck in your coming military deployment. You are about to participate in a war whose outcome will surely reshape the galactic order and redefine Partoga’s place in the stars.

    By simply wearing the uniform of our Kingdom’s armed forces, you have made the Ranginui family proud. Yet we know you will accomplish so much more. Partoga’ soldiers and warships are among the strongest and most powerful in the entire Western Arm. With them at your side, you will certainly find victory against the Hiigaran foe.

    Your entire family stands behind you in support, young Arahu! No matter what you do in the name of our nation and its Queen, you will always find love and support with us.

    There is something important you must be told.

    Her Majesty, Queen Marie the Scholar, is very ill. No doubt you are aware of this. Those of us in the Royal Government have spoken with the Queen about her failing health and plans have been made. Her Majesty has given us permission to start preparations for the Royal Election before she dies. This is unprecedented in Partogan history, but her Majesty believes it will make the transition to a new Queen less painful.

    I’m telling you this now because your cousin Taiomi recently celebrated her 15th birthday, which has disqualified her from the Royal Election. In order to make sure the Ranginui family (and by extension, our Church) are properly represented during the Royal Election, I have added your younger sister, Irirangi, to the list of Queen Candidates.

    I have secured assurances from the leaders of the Partogan Royal Navy that in the event a Royal Election is triggered, you will be pulled out of active duty and returned to the Homeworld, so that you may support your sister during the most important moment of her life. If, by the grace of the Mountain, your sister is to become our next Queen, then your reassignment to the Homeworld would be made permanent.

    Her Majesty Marie is currently under the best care from the most highly trained doctors in the galaxy, so there is no telling how much longer she may live. She might even survive long enough for Irirangi to turn 15 and be disqualified, although this is unlikely. I implore you, be prepared for whatever may come, and keep safe.

    With eternal support,
    Holy Father Whiro Ranginui, Patriarch of the Church of the Mountain

    ======



    April 5th, 1928 A.D.
    HMS Ahkmou , Tediss Star System – Kingdom of Partoga

    y4mR5qN0ZrD5sILwf8d-8GKVZYAZ0JFji8T76FHnAW75O4fbpAUe6NkwTQXmzM6GJI7oFWE7IqALM1FIsj_Gxn1NPDjiMtoxtMOEaRoqCHLzQq1bVr1AOl8Fe4FppLdzCCVe-1vNWrfOCVT4lJGiHwXOTJ53X5M2iX7RML8KWS_ip1oi2KjrLhwMKxrhQ4EOqwuvjyp0yNiJPdFyPSlxXMReQ

    Caption said:
    The HMS Ahkmou, a Kraawa-class Fleet Carrier. These ships are built from poorly-drawn copies of the design specs of the Taiidani Saarkin Cho-class Carrier.

    Mami had never truly appreciated the sheer size of Partogan warships until now, and judging by the awed gasps of her three teammates, neither had they. The four members of Team Tamihana were standing inside of a pressurized gangway module, deep inside the construction bay of the Ahkmou, a Kraawa-class Fleet Carrier. Looking through the transparent Plasteel ceiling Mami, Eteka, Arahu, and Rapati all gazed up in amazement at the sight of the Ahkmou’s foundry being put through its paces.

    Nearly three dozen robotic arms of varying size, one of them tipped with a Phased Disassembler Array, were working over the skeletal hull of a warship. Slabs of metal plating rolled off an assembly line, remaining white hot for only a few seconds as their head bled off into the cold void of space which filled the Ahkmou’s foundry. The construction process was fully automated and blindingly fast. To Mami’s left, Eteka was holding a watch, counting the minutes that had passed since the new ship’s keel had been laid down.

    “Two minutes.” He reported to his team.

    The new ship’s skeleton had been covered up by a complete frigate chassis. A huge mechanical apparatus descended from its resting place on one far side of the construction bay. Sliding along the wall via a series of tracks, the giant machine lurched forward and slammed into the bow of the new frigate! Mami jumped! She thought something had gone wrong, but when the big machine withdrew, she saw that it had installed the frigate’s primary weapon system.

    Mami was only able to look at the device for a fraction of a second before it was covered up in armor plating: The Ion Cannon ran the entire length of the new ship, from bow to stern. It’s main component, a gargantuan particle accelerator, was directly attached to the ship’s power plant before multiple layers of armor plating were wrapped around it, hiding away the particle accelerator forever. All that could be seen of the Ion Cannon now was the “muzzle” of the weapon, which also doubled as the entire bow section of the ship.

    “Two minutes, thirty seconds.” Eteka announced,

    Now the rest of the Ion Cannon Frigate came together. Engines, life support systems, an artificial gravity generator, a Hyperwave Relay, and then...

    Well, Mami couldn’t see what was installed next, because the final layer of armor plating was applied to the vessel, hiding the internal section from view, although the ship’s insides wouldn’t be hidden from Mami for much longer. Right as Eteka reported that three minutes had passed since construction had started, the doorway leading into the gangway opened up and eight Partogans entered.

    Mami was quick on the draw, spotting the “Commander” rank insignia one of them was wearing. This was the man she’d been told to look out for. Mami called her team to “Attention” then raised her hand in salute and spoke to the Commander.

    “Good morning sir!” she said, “We are Team Tamihana - Kinloka Squadron, assigned to your command as of 20-hundred hours yesterday, Sir!”

    Mami reached into the pocket of her military uniform and produced a slip of paper that contained the Admiralty's orders for Team Tamihana. The Commander, a skinny man with a bald head and big bags under his eyes, took the paper and gave it the quickest of cursory glances before passing it to the Sub-Lieutenant behind him.

    “Stand at ease, Ensigns.” he said. “My name is Akehakehe Temara. You’ll call me ‘Commander’ or ‘Sir.’ All four of you will be working in the Cannon Control Room with the other two Ensigns.”

    Commander Temara stood aside and allowed the two youngest crew members to step forward and introduce themselves.

    “Ango Karaka,” said a seventeen-year old male. “This is your first combat deployment, huh? Well don’t worry. You aren’t the first cadets to get pulled out of class because the fleet ran out of bodies. We’ll take care of you.”

    The other Ensign was a fifteen-year old female. She had very long straight white hair that ran all the way down to her waist, skinny arms and legs, and a very serious look on her face. She looked as though she’d never smiled before. Right from the first moment, Mami felt as though something was... off... about her. The Ensign spoke in short, straightforward sentences and actively avoided making eye contact with anyone.

    “My name is Ensign Nopera. Given name Titohara. It is very nice to meet you all.”

    When Mami tried to introduce herself, Titohara cut her off.

    “Ensign Maori told me who you are, Tamihana Mami. It is nice to meet you.”

    Ango rubbed the back of his head.

    “Uh, think you got her name backwards, Nopera. Sorry, Mami.” He added, “She does that a lot.”

    Titohara glanced at Ango for the quickest of moments, then at Mami.

    “My apologies, Tamihana.”

    Then Titohara fell silent. She leaned against the wall and watched the construction of the new ship, contributing nothing else to the conversation.

    While Mami and her friends made their own introductions, construction of the Ion Cannon Frigate above them was completed. A huge launch clamp seized the ship and lowered it out of the construction bay and into the launch tunnel, where an airlock door lined up perfectly with the pressurized gangway Mami and her comrades were standing in.

    The gangway lurched forward, causing everyone inside to stumble for a quick moment before regaining their footing. The inflatable airlock took only seconds to form a seal, allowing the Ahkmou’s life support system to automatically match the air pressure of the new ship.

    “Right!” said Commander Temara. “Everyone aboard!”

    One by one, the twelve members of the new crew crossed the airlock threshold and boarded the new frigate. They emerged into a dimly-lit corridor that only went one way. The group followed it for about fifty Bios before emerging through a hatchway onto the new Frigate’s bridge.

    The new Frigate’s bridge was a small, cramped place, with room for only four people, five in a real emergency. There were only two chairs, and they were both integrated into workstations. Everyone else would have to stand at their posts. Mami couldn’t help but think of those old-timey submarines from the days before spaceflight.

    As he stepped out the hatchway, Eteka stopped his watch.

    “Six minutes, five seconds.” He told Mami.

    “Now don’t stop the clock just yet, son.” said Commander Temara.

    The officer walked over to a computer console that was embedded on a wall on the far side of the bridge. As the gangway separated from the new Frigate and began to retract, Commander Temara pressed his thumb to the touchscreen and spoke into the microphone.

    “Foundry Control, this is Commander Temara. I have positive control of the ship.”

    A Partogan man’s voice replied.

    “Acknowledged, Commander. Your ship has been recorded as commissioned into the Partogan Royal Navy. Callsign is HMS Rauuira, hull number is XF-901. You are authorized to launch.”

    Commander Temara motioned to one of the other crewmembers he’d brought with him. Another Sub-Lieutenant immediately sat down at one of the stations and began to manipulate the controls. Mami felt a hand on her shoulder.

    “You might want to hold onto something, kid.” said a gruff voice above her.

    Mami grasped a metal pipe that ran along the wall for support, and a moment later, she felt the entire ship lurch under her as it began to accelerate.

    y4mDz4E6jwwHw43vqBkapPd_CBdgGGYyG1Dp8GvE3J8BfNOUTlgjwiYCWy9A-_4sE7JcTz0ZX0N-zwlBOpjzFvuKRCVC9rP7v2UeztMydlLNIDWnJUTgUVCprD6NoPEbj5uTScqK35mkIcg2Fd_Qom4VmUDJWo_HKN-uJm7WIZJnvAg29AvL-XI6xs33wqzAvUy5CpZxA8QGeg5pHPYGgeGRw

    Caption said:
    The Rauuira launches from the Ahkmou.

    The Rauuira was released from the launch clamps and flew out of the Ahkmou’s launch bay under her own power, joining the formation of warships that soared through space in a loose formation, surrounding and guarding their Command Carrier.

    Mami looked up to thank the person who had spoken to her, and she felt the words die in her throat.

    Mami gazed, open-mouthed at the woman holding onto her. It wasn’t the rank insignia that started her, Mami had met countless Lieutenants. No, Mami had been startled by the woman’s face, but before she could even start to apologize for staring, Commander Temara said.

    “You know what everyone? It’s too cramped in here. Himona, we’re all going down to the Mess Hall. When we get into formation, you idle the engines and join us, alright? Everyone else! Mess Hall!”

    The woman pushed past Mami and pulled open the far door. One by one, the crew filed out of the bridge. Mami hung back and grabbed Eteka by the shoulder.

    “Did you see her face!?”

    “Did you see her face!?”

    Eteka, Rapati, Arahu, and Mami held a very quiet whispered conversation as they followed the other Rauuira crew members into the depths of the ship. Arahu and Rapati hadn’t gotten a good look and were convinced Mami and Eteka had fallen victim to either a trick of the light or the overpowering smell of brand-new metal that permeated the 10-minute-old starship.

    Once they reached the well-lit Mess Hall, there was no immediate way to verify what Mami had seen. The crew of the Rauuira was still getting settled into the tiny Mess Hall when Mami and her teammates made their way inside. The Mess Hall itself consisted of only two tables, each capable of seating six. Commander Temara had to stand on top of a stool to make himself seen, blocking Mami’s view of the woman she needed to get a better look at.

    “Welcome aboard the Rauuira, everyone.” said Commander Temara, “We’re all going to be spending the next fourteen months together, so I want everyone to introduce themselves. Our youngest will go first, then we’ll move up to the Command staff. Everyone clear? Good. Let’s get started.”

    Mami and her teammates went first. Rapati briefly talked about his home in Candon, a city on the Eastern tip of the Partogan Continent on the Homeworld. Arahu bragged about how his Great-Uncle was the current leader of the Church of the Mountain. Eteka talked about how one of his grandfather’s crazy inventions had made the Mihaka family very rich. When it was Mami’s turn, one of the officers was genuinely surprised to hear that Mami had grown up on Aoraki. Introducing himself as Lieutenant Commander Ourangi Pipiri, he said that Mami had won his respect simply by “living on that dirty snowball for years and not going insane.”

    Ensign Ango Karaka, it turned out, was born and raised in the Levakian Kingdom of Paku Nui, and had never seen large numbers of Partogans until he joined the military.

    “Still not used to the air being fur-free.” he admitted, getting a laugh out of all but one member of the crew.

    Up next was Titohara Nopera. She looked like she wanted to do anything other than talk to the group at large. Up until now, Titohara had sequestered herself in a far corner and mostly ignored the proceedings. When Ango stood up and poked her in the stomach to get her attention, Titohara glared at him in a very unpleasant way. Then she spoke.

    “Like I said before, my name is Titohara. I’m from Tapanui in the Nithascal system. It’s a mining colony located right next to our border with the Micore Empire.”

    Then Titohara folded her arms and disengaged from the conversation again.

    It was around this point that the officer left on the bridge rejoined the group. He said his name was Tirowaru Himona and that if everything went well, Mami and her teammates would never see him, as he was supposed to work on the bridge anyway.

    The Rauuira’s officer corps consisted of Temara, Himona, Pipiri, and three others:

    Sub-Lieutenant Homai Kewhena accidentally mispronounced Mami’s name as “Mom-ee” and he apologized profusely after Mami stood up from her stool and assumed a combative stance. (Mami hated it when people got her name wrong.) After that bad first impression, he was able to impress Mami into forgetting the whole thing by telling a story about how he had failed his first attempt to summit the Unnamed Mountain because he decided to carry an injured climber all the way back down.

    Sub-Lieutenant Ihanga Waaka didn’t seem to be taking this whole “war” thing seriously. She was a recovering Harakeke addict who was trying to start a new chapter in her life. Ihanga seemed to think it was hilarious that 13-year-old Mami was a legal adult while 16-year-old Arahu was not, (He hadn’t summited the Mountain yet) and she burst into laughter when Arahu talked about how he was going to become the “man of the house” when he got home from the war. In fact, just about anything would send Ihanga into a laughing fit, such as the Commander telling her to “knock it off.”

    Finally, this left the woman hidden behind the Commander. Mami, Eteka, Rapati, and Arahu all leaned to one side or another of their table, trying to get a good look at her. Finally, the mysterious woman stepped out from behind the Commander, and all four members of Team Tamihana got a really good look at her face:

    The woman was taller than all of the other female crew members, with the top of Mami’s head just coming up to her nose. Her short grey hair was tied up in a series of cornrows, making the top of her head look like a farmfield. All of this didn’t distract from her most eyecatching feature:

    The mysterious woman was wearing the Tuakiri Tattoo on her face. Patterns and ribbons of black ink worked their way up her chin in beautiful looping spirals and fractals before meeting her lips, both of which had been permanently turned black by tattoo ink. The patterns of ink danced their way up to her cheeks where they bent and curved in fascinating angles and twists before terminating just beneath her eyes.

    Mami couldn’t help but stare. In her entire life, she’d only seen two people with Tuakiri, the sacred facial tattoo; and she’d seen both of them from a great distance. The sacred tattoo was incredibly rare for one reason: Only one type of person in all of Partogan society was allowed to wear the Tuakiri, and those people were extremely uncommon nowadays.

    The woman was acutely aware of the entire crew staring at the tattoo on her chin. She motioned to her upper face with one hand and said in a gruff, tomboyish voice,

    “My eyes are up here, guys.”

    Mami had to blink a couple of times to break her gaze away from the spiky spirals that decorated the woman’s chin. It was very hard to look away. Finally, when everyone in the room was looking her in the eye, the woman introduced herself.

    “I’m Toa Wahine Kopaki Raharuhi.” she said, “I know that’s a mouthful, so you can just call me ‘Toa’ or ‘Ma’am.’ I was born in Kaitaia, on the Levakian Continent back home. As for the rest of my story... well...”

    Toa Kopaki pointed at her tattoo.

    “Now you can stare.”

    Arahu’s mouth had been hanging open this entire time. He stuttered, trying to assemble the words he wanted to say, but Rapati beat him to the punch.

    “You- You’re a Taihara! You killed a Levakian!”

    Toa Kopaki chuckled.

    “Read the tattoo, kid.” she said, pressing a finger to the inked portions of her chin. “I’ve killed two lions. Not one. That’s why the Queen gave me my title.”

    Mami remembered her history lessons at elementary school on Aoraki. “Toa” was a lesser title of Nobility that could only be bestowed by the Queen. It was given to warriors who had performed great acts of heroism. In Partogan, the title/honorific “Toa Wahine” roughly means “Female Hero” or “Heroine” and was almost as rare as the Tuakiri itself because a significant majority of people serving in the Partogan military were male.

    Arahu finally found his words.

    “How’d you do it?”

    Toa Kopaki looked at Arahu, her eyes exploring his.

    “No.” She replied, “I’m not telling Amaja stories today, kid.”

    Toa Kopaki sat down at the table next to Commander Temara, who once again stood up to address his crew.

    “Alright everyone, listen to me.” he said, “It’s time to talk about our mission: Recon units belonging to our allies, the Imperialist Taiidani, have identified a large scale Hiigaran mining operation in the Aiowa Star System. According to Taiidani scouts, the Resource Collectors and Refineries are lightly defended. Task Force Hydruka has been ordered to make an attack run on the Aiowa Refineries. Destroying the Hiigaran’s ability to harvest and process resources will greatly undermine their ability to maintain interstellar supply lines. Toa Kopaki, the maps please.”

    Toa Kopaki reached into the breast pocket of her uniform and withdrew two large papers that had been folded many times. She unfolded the first one and revealed it to be a map of Aiowa and laid it out on the table like a tablecloth. The whole crew gathered around to look as Commander Temara continued talking:
    y4m6h_GGujzPMTKdyJBs4FVCWmva9VTw_hG7xQkDu6dypazqm-wVgDk15NJiz0hxXV-oknkHG034LG83LPxyCyr3hr2vroOPDabenDGfbx1nu5DmZzpRoZY4mwMAMVAftZzo2sMat3hd1flKK2qc3GAKPPj3rcMrxiP8-Y_k7qWsKMzKAv6UcPEFh4RjSBTTklZQ5TIeOVC24fushOBqWAK6g


    “Once the fleet drops out of Hyperspace, we’ll break into four Strike Groups. Our ship, the Rauuira, will be part of Strike Group 3. We’ll be flying in formation with three other ICF’s, two Assault Frigates, one destroyer, two wings of Corvettes and four wings of fighters. Our objective will be the Resource Collectors, Refineries, and Mining Station in orbit above the third planet here. The other three Strike Groups will hit their targets simultaneously.”

    Sub-Lieutenant Homai Kewhena raised a hand,

    “Sir? What can we expect in the way of enemy opposition?”

    Commander Temara pointed to the Aiowa star in the center of the map. Just barely visible on the image was a Mothership-sized spacecraft.

    “The Hiigarans have an Explorer-Class Mining Vessel in the system." The Commander explained, "Military Intelligence identifies it as the Faal-Corum. It’s the older of the two Explorer ships and is unquestionably weaker than her sistership. The ship itself is very poorly defended. Military Intelligence reports only a few strike craft in-system. Stike Group 1 is tasked with neutralizing the Faal-Corum. Missile Destroyers will disable the Faal-Corum's weapons and subsystems from extreme range, then a wing of Marine Frigates will latch onto the enemy Mothership and start boarding operations.”

    Murmurs went around the room. Finally, Lieutenant Commander Pipiri spoke up.

    “Sir,” he said, “A ship like the Faal-Corum would need a crew of over a thousand just to fly straight! There aren’t enough spare bodies in the Task Force to fly that thing home if we capture it.”

    Murmurs and nods of assent.

    Commander Temara nodded.

    “You’re exactly right, Pipiri.” The Commander said, “The Admiralty doesn’t want the Faal-Corum taken as a prize. They’ve ordered us to capture or kill as many Hiigaran officers as possible, and to inflict as much internal damage to the ship as we can. Putting a Mothership out of commission in deep space is as good as destroying it, and building a new one would be cheaper than the cost of a recovery/rescue mission. Both the Admiralty and Military Intelligence believe the Hiigarans are more likely to spend time and resources trying to recover the Faal-Corum, so we’re going to make it as costly as possible for them.”

    Commander Temara straightened up and looked around at his crew.

    “Does anyone have any questions?”

    Sub-Lieutenant Ihanga Waaka stood up.

    “Sir, do you think we’ll be home in time for Enutanga’s 14th Birthday Concert?”

    Mami, Ango, Eteka, and Rapati all sniggered and giggled out loud. Everyone else just shot exasperated looks at Ihanga, including Titohara. (Although she just looked annoyed) Commander Temara sighed.

    “I meant ‘any intelligent questions?’”

    Ihanga sat down again.

    “I’m sorry sir.” she said, “Just trying to loosen things up.”

    “Yeah.” Said the Commander. “Don’t do that.

    He pointed to Homai Kewhena.

    “Show everyone to their bunks and assign duty rosters. It’s a two-an-a-half month flight to Aiowa from here. Let’s get settled in.”


     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 2.2: The Taiidan War Zone
  • Macavity116

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    Chapter 2.2
    The Taiidan War Zone

    June 30, 1928 A.D.
    HMS Rauuira, Shariat Star System, Taiidan War Zone (System Under Imperialist Control)


    y4mp_X8SE2kAgZeuksiL5tHFvTZv7vcdEmEn72JANieDdSOov9eKrDhIqbyqGqXmIdh9RhVnINapEEJbvnFGDXFIMQ2ZPcKBX9fAFBo1LTT-pGDbbk2wXNn_FImuNyy3yeBIiBY8Tm_91YVFy6eAYFWEsxI6E2IVt3PMXNrEv4Cc0xZvor0Lp8dw-SzAS3_OCykdzMrrrUQOr6TUfOBtazqRw


    Moving with near-incomprehensible speed, the armada of Partogan warships rocketed past the Shariat star, taking aim at a Hyperlane on the far side of the system. Keeping their formation tight, a screen of Corvettes flew in front of the group; they were supported by a squadron of Assault Frigates, each one bristling with Mass Driver cannons. The main body of the fleet consisted of Ion Cannon Frigates, eight Destroyers, four Missile Destroyers, Nearly two dozen super-capital ships, and the flagship of the fleet: A Carrier-class vessel that was heavily laden with hundreds of strike craft. The whole fleet was deployed in a defensive formation around the Command Carrier.

    As the fleet got further and further away from the center of the system, the sensors aboard the Command Carrier picked up a large cluster of asteroids caught in orbit above a planetoid. A squadron of Resource Collectors were dispatched to harvest useful mineral resources from their surface. When the Resourcer convoy broke away from the fleet, a detachment of military ships also broke formation and moved to their escort positions.

    One of the ships that began flying alongside a Resource Collector was the Ion Cannon Frigate Rauuira. Deep inside the vessel, Mami was running down a corridor that connected the Cannon Control Room with the Bridge. Both chambers were embedded deep within the ship, far away from any points where the hull might break in the heat of battle. Huffing and puffing, Mami reached the door to the bridge and banged hard on the sealed blast door with one hand, the other clutched a handwritten note that had summoned her there.

    “Ensign Tamihana, reporting as ordered, Sir!”

    The door opened from the inside,

    “On-time as always.” Said Sub-Lieutenant Himona. “Come in.”

    Despite serving aboard the Rauuira for the past two months, Mami had not returned to the bridge since the day it was built. She wanted to look around and see all of the interesting consoles and computers, but knew better. Mami stepped carefully through the cramped space, approached the Commander’s chair, (which was facing away from her) snapped to attention, and said,

    “Commander, you sent for me, Sir?”

    Commander Temara turned and stood up, tapping a final sentence into his tablet computer, then faced Mami.

    “Ensign,” said Commander Temara, “My Sub-Lieutenant has just told me something important that would have otherwise escaped my notice. We have to do something about it.”

    Mami nodded. She had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, of course, but she didn’t let him know that. To be safe, she gave the “good soldier” response:

    “I see. What can I do to help you, Sir?”

    Commander Temara put his hands together and said,

    “Ensign, do you know what today’s date is?”

    Mami was caught off guard by the question, but recovered quickly.

    “Oh! Uh... it’s the thirtieth of Pipiri today, Sir. It’s Naming Day.”

    Out the corner of her eye, Mami spotted Ihanga Waaka giggling quietly. She could just barely hear the officer whispering into her hands,

    “Oh, come on!”

    The Commander smiled politely,

    “Yes, Happy Naming Day, Ensign,” he asked, “Aside from that, what were you planning to do this evening when you get off duty? Waaka told me that today is also your birthday. Surely you’re planning to do something special. A girl only turns fourteen once, you know.”

    “I was going to ask permission to send a Hyperwave message home, sir.” Mami said, “I promised my mom I'd contact her today.”

    “Aww, that’s so sweet!” said Ihanga,

    Commander Temara put a hand on Mami’s shoulder and spoke in a low voice.

    “Young soldier, you’ve been a fine addition to this crew. No reprimands, no complaints. You’ve always reported to your post on time and worked harder than we ask you to. The three recruits you brought with you from Daxia also function very well under your command. So, to reward you, I’m going to give you something to proudly write home about, ‘Kay?”

    Mami nodded her head, then immediately started looking around the bridge, expecting the Commander to have hidden his gift away somewhere nearby, causing Temara to laugh out loud.

    “It’s not that kind of gift, Ensign.” said the Commander. “Listen to me. In five minutes, the Admiral is going to start a live-fire training exercise to make sure all of the ship crews are up to scratch. We’ll be firing our cannon for real and I want you to pull the trigger.”

    Commander Temara pointed to the Weapon Control station on the other side of the bridge, then turned back to Mami.

    “Have you ever fired an Ion Cannon before, Tamihana?”

    “No Sir!” Mami couldn’t keep the excitement out of her voice. “Uh, wait - I mean, Yes! I’ve fired one in a simulator, Sir!”

    The Commander escorted Mami to the Weapon Control station, showed her how to strap herself into the seat and explained the control panel.

    “Good,” he said, “The simulators at Daxia are based on the Taiidani Sajuuk-Cor -class ICF, but the Partogan Vohtarak-class operates on the same firing sequence: Charge, Accelerate, Fire, Recharge, Accelerate, Fire again. If you want to break the firing sequence, you’ll need to push the shutdown button here during the Recharge phase. If you do it during the Accelerate phase-”

    Mami finished the sentence for him,

    “Waste heat gets shunted into drive shaft and vented out the engine bell, causing the ship to accelerate.”

    Commander Temara nodded.

    “Very good. Now let’s get this started. Sub-Lieutenant! Have they called?”

    In the back of the bridge, Ihanga flipped a switch on the comms panel.

    “No, sir.” She said. “Sensors say we’ve got about twenty seconds until the Target Drones are in position.”

    Commander Temara rolled his eyes.

    “The exercise hasn’t started yet, Sub-Lieutenant. You didn’t see any drones.”

    Ihanga chuckled and put a hand over her eyes.

    “I’m blind as a Daikau, Sir!”

    The comms panel suddenly lit up and the voice of the Fleet Admiral made itself heard.

    “EXERCISE! EXERCISE! EXERCISE! This is Command Carrier Ahkmou calling all ships guarding the Resource Convoy! Twenty-five enemy strike craft and Corvette Class vessels sighted near our Resource Collectors! Distance 800 Kios! Engage and destroy! EXERCISE! EXERCISE! EXERCISE!”

    At once, Commander Temara turned to face Ihanga.

    “Sound General Quarters!”

    With much clattering and commotion, the crew of the Rauuira reported to their stations. Toa Kopaki, Ourangi Pipiri, and Tirowaru Himona darted onto the bridge and sealed the door behind them. None of the officers questioned Mami’s presence. Instead of kicking Mami off the Weapons Control station, Toa Kopaki strapped herself into the helm control station. Meanwhile, Temara, Pipiri, and Himona all had nowhere to sit, (there are only two seats on the bridge) so they grabbed hold of safety handles at their workstations and held on tightly. The voice of Homai Kewhena came out of the intercom.

    “Cannon Control calling Bridge! We ready! Where’s Tamihana?”

    “On the bridge.” Responded the Commander. “She’s staying here, Kewhena. Make do.”

    “Yes, Sir! Cannon Control out!”

    The Rauuira banked hard and veered away from the Resource Collectors, which had already abandoned the asteroid field and were returning to the rest of the fleet. Ihanga began calling out targets as they appeared on her sensor manager.

    “Five strike craft, 500 Kios and closing!”

    Rauuira, this is Assault Frigate Wakaheke, we’ll engage the strike craft. You keep the Corvettes off of us.” called the Commander of another Partogan ship.

    Mami’s targeting screen lit up. Ihanga and whoever was controlling the sensors manager aboard the Wakaheke were both feeding her sensor info about the battle. According to the screen, the Resourcing Operation was being defended by two Ion Cannon Frigates and six Assault Frigates. Mami could see the Resourcing operation had been “ambushed” by a two-pronged attack: first a squadron of fighter-sized Target Drones had flown all the way around the asteroid field to try and ambush the Rauuira and her sister ship. While the Assault Frigates were engaging the “fighters,” six Corvette-sized Target Drones were slowly making their way through the Asteroid field, creeping dangerously close to where the Resource Collectors had been just a moment ago.

    From the Cannon Control Room, Homai called the targets in Mami’s field of view.

    “Six Corvettes! Asteroid field, 200 Kios!”

    Commander Temara took less than a second to process this information.

    “Charge the Cannon! Raharuhi, aim for the nearest target!”

    Dozens of maneuvering thrusters began to fire all over the Rauuira’s hull as Toa Kopaki began to aim the ship at the nearest Target Drone. Mami watched with baited breath as the enemy ship slowly entered the targeting reticle... just a little more... a little more...

    A green light flashed on Mami’s control panel.

    “Cannon charged!” The voice of Arahu Ranginui came out of the little speaker next to Mami’s head.

    She faced the Commander and reported,

    “Ready to fire!”

    “Smoke ’em!”

    With two hands, Mami depressed both of the “fire” buttons and at once, all of the lights on the bridge went out! The bridge was plunged into semidarkness, illuminated only by computer screens and little emergency lights. For about three seconds, the whole ship trembled and shuddered with the force of the Ion Cannon being fired. Then the lights came back on!

    “Direct hit!” reported Sub-Lieutenant Himona, “Target destroyed! Aiming for the next one.”

    Mami punched the air in a quick celebration, then went right back to work.

    “Recharging weapon!” Arahu radioed to the bridge.

    Mami looked down at her targeting screen. The other Ion Cannon Frigate, the Whakanui, had just fired on another Target Drone, shredding it. Then a voice came over the comms network.

    Whakanui and Rauuira, hold your fire! Fighter support coming from behind you!”

    A squadron of seven fighter craft roared over the two Ion Cannon Frigates, sprayed the Target Drones down with their Mass Drivers, and flew away once more.

    “Fleet Command, this is Apanui Squadron leader. Good effect on targets. Coming around for another pass.”

    It went like clockwork. The frigates would open fire on the Target Drones, then hold fire while the fighters performed an attack run. The simulated enemy was under near-constant attack. Mami got to fire the Ion Cannon twice more. With her second shot, she grazed the side of a Target Drone and sent it spinning helplessly into space. The third shot was a direct hit, bisecting the little Drone and sending both halves in opposite directions.

    Finally, after just five minutes of “fighting,” only one drone was left. A Corvette sized Target Drone was lurking in the asteroid field, refusing to expose itself to any direct fire.

    “Fleet Command, Apanui Squadron is red on fuel. We’re bugging out.” said the leader of the fighter squadron, “Repeat: low fuel, returning to Carrier.”

    The seven fighters turned around and headed for the Command Carrier. Meanwhile, the Whakanui suddenly and violently lurched forward!

    “Look over there!” said Toa Kopaki, “They just aborted their firing sequence!”

    “Hey Puhata!” Commander Temara addressed the commander of the Whakanui by name, “What happened over there? You get scared by a drone?”

    “Negative,” replied the Whakanui’s commander. “Target went behind an asteroid. They’re off our scopes.”

    The Rauuira’s bridge crew was silent for about two seconds, then Toa Kopaki said,

    “We can fix that for you.”

    “Agreed.” Commander Temara replied, “Ensign Tamihana, target that asteroid and fire.”

    Mami stared open-mouthed at her commander for half a second. By the time he started turning to face her, Mami was already starting to fire the Ion Cannon, trying hard to keep the expression of stunned disbelief out of her face. She couldn’t see what, if anything, this was going to do.

    The bridge was plunged into darkness again as Mami fired the Ion Cannon at the asteroid. The space rock was annihilated! Chunks of ice, dust, and rock flew in all directions as the asteroid came apart, revealing the last Target Drone hiding behind it. Before the little drone had time to move, it was caught by an Ion Beam fired from the Whakanui and blown to pieces.

    “This is Fleet Command. All enemy units have been neutralized and we show no other contacts on the scope. Good work out there. All ships stand down.”

    Mami let out a deep breath and leaned back in her seat. That was way more fun than the simulator! Relieved, the bridge crew stood down from General Quarters and started moving about and talking to one another. Commander Temara asked Sub-Lieutenant Himona for an After-Action-Report while Toa Kopaki walked right up to Mami, put a hand on her shoulder and said,

    “Nice work, happy birthday and all that mushy stuff. Now get out of my station, kid.

    Mami unstrapped herself at once and removed herself from the Weapon Control station. Commander Temara lightly punched Mami on the shoulder and said in a jovial voice,

    “Hopefully, the Mountain will bless us with a battle that goes as smoothly as that!” He said, “And now you have a story to tell when you write home tonight, Ensign. Go back to your team now and tell the rest of the ship to stand down General Quarters!”



    “That was you!? You blew up the asteroid!?”

    Eteka had to repeat Mami’s words because he was having trouble believing them.

    All six of the Rauuira’s lower-enlisted crew members were in the Mess Hall, listening to Mami’s tale. Eteka, Arahu, Rapati, Ango, and Titohara had hung on to her every word. All five of them had been stationed in the Cannon Control Room during the exercise and had seen the whole thing from beginning to end via Sub-Lieutenant Himona’s computer. When Mami had reached the part about blowing up the asteroid, everyone gasped. Even Titohara momentarily rejoined the conversation:

    “I wish I could’ve seen that.” She said, “It sounded like a little fun.”

    “Forget blowing up the asteroid!” Arahu cut in, “Toa Kopaki works on the bridge, did you get to talk to her at all?”

    Mami was a little hurt. Had Arahu... Arahu of all people, forgotten that today was Mami’s birthday?

    “Just for a moment,” she sighed, “A really quick moment.”

    Arahu, and Rapati leaned in close to Mami, as though their very lives depended on knowing more about anything Toa Kopaki might have said. Frustrated, Mami reached up and removed Rapati’s hand from her shoulder before saying,

    “Hey! She just told me to get out of her seat! Nothing else!”

    This just seemed to make things worse. Raptai and Arahu both looked frustrated. On the one hand, Mami was glad that Arahu’s unwelcome romantic attention was currently being focused on someone other than her, but the tradeoff was that she now had to listen to pitiful obsessed comments like:

    “Did she still have the Vuata Maca berries I gave her this morning? Do you know if she ate them?”

    Mami glared at Rapati when he said that.

    “Oh, Holy Miranda!” Mami pushed Rapati away from her. “What is it with teenage boys!? You saw an older woman with a Tattoo and you freakin’ went to pieces!”

    Immediately, Arahu and Rapati came to Toa Kopaki’s defense. Each one of them launched into a short speech about how beautiful women were “misunderstood” and “artificially elevated” because of their Tattoos. After about 15 seconds of this madness, the two of them stopped addressing Mami and began chattering amongst themselves about the myriad number of ways in which Toa Kopaki’s tattoos had turned her into the most beautiful woman they’d ever seen.

    Titohara got up from the table.

    “Conversation’s still boring...” she murmured before she walked out of the mess hall.

    Mami rolled her eyes. This was still better than Arahu making up stupid excuses to be around her at Fort Daxia. She’d long since lost count of how many times Arahu had tried to get Mami to be alone with him. No, she wouldn’t stop him redirecting onto Toa Kopaki. The woman seemed like she could handle it anyway.

    Mami ignored Arahu and Rapati so that she could get back to her meal, but Eteka stopped her. He tapped Mami on the shoulder and pointed his thumb at the door. Mami and Eteka got up from the table and started making their way to the exit. Out of the corner of her eye, Mami saw Ango excuse himself and follow. Arahu and Rapati were so engrossed in their conversation that they didn’t notice Eteka, Mami, and Ango leaving.

    Out in the hallway, Eteka looked over both Ango and Mami’s shoulders before speaking.

    “Hey, Mami. Ango and I wanted to ask: have you been watching Titohara?”

    “Huh?” This was not the talk Mami had been expecting. “N-no. Sorry, Eteka. She’s not that interesting.”

    Ango folded his arms. Eteka leaned in close to Mami and whispered,

    “There’s something really wrong with Titohara.” Eteka said in a serious tone. “I looked up her service record and it said she’s from Tapanui, all the way out in Nithascal. But she talks in a Core Worlder accent like you and me!”

    Mami shrugged.

    “So what?” she asked, “A lot of us colony kids lose our accents when we join the military. How else are we supposed to understand you?”

    Eteka shook his head and Ango spoke up.

    “You’re missing the point.” Ango said, “Her accent is a small part of the bigger mountain. She doesn’t get any mail and never calls home.”

    “Oh, come on guys.” Mami protested. “I always thought she was a loner, but there could be a lot of reason-”

    Ango cut her off.

    “And did I tell you the story of how she joined the Rauuira crew?”

    Mami was silent. Ango spoke in a dark, serious tone.

    “When I got assigned to the Rauuira, they told me to wait on the Ahkmou and meet up with a female soldier named Maori. Commanding officer said she got broken off Kinloka Squadron and separated from her team to serve on the Rauuira. Special orders directly from the Commander of Fort Daxia. But when I get to the rendezvous point, Titohara’s standing there instead of Maori. She’s holding a paper that says she’s been transferred to the Rauuira and that she’s replacing Maori, who’s been sent back to her original team. The orders were signed by the Kuhina Nui himself.”

    Mami cocked her head to one side. There was no way for her to deflect or minimize this one.

    “That’s... odd.” She finally admitted.

    “Odd?” Ango repeated, “Oh, come on, it’s as suspicious as the day is long!”

    Eteka unfolded his arms and gave Mami a very serious look.

    “Mami, you’re my friend and I trust you. I hope... no... I pray you’ll believe me when I say this: I think Titohara is an enemy spy. I think she’s Hiigaran.”

    Mami swayed on her feet. Her brain seemed to have stalled.

    “You guys... That’s a... that’s a very serious thing to accuse-”

    We know.” Eteka interrupted. “That’s why we came to you first. You’re my friend, teammate, and Team Leader. You know I’d never commit to something serious without going through you first.”

    He put a hand on Mami’s shoulder. Ango looked around one more time, making sure the three soldiers were still alone.

    “Please believe me, Mami. There’s something wrong with that Titohara girl. The next time I see something suspicious, I swear on Miranda’s grave, I’m gonna tell the Commander. It would mean a lot if I can count on you for backup. It’ll look bad if we go alone. Please, Mami, help us out on this one.”

    Eteka and Mami stared at one another. Ultimately, Mami’s doubts were overpowered by her willingness to trust Eteka. A four-year long friendship will do that, after all.

    “Alright. I’ll keep an eye on her,” said Mami, “and if you wanna go to the Commander, I’ve got your back.”

    Eteka and Ango both gave Mami a friendly look. Then Ango opened the mess hall door and stepped back inside. As the door started to swing shut, Mami and Eteka were alone for just a few seconds. With one arm, Eteka caught the door and held it open; with the other he reached out and gave Mami a quick half-hug. He released her just as quickly.

    “By the way, Mami: Happy birthday. I think Arahu and Rapati forgot about it. Want me to chew ‘em out for you?”

    Mami smiled, her face showing both gratitude and mischief.

    “Make it hurt.”


     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 2.3: Lightning in the Dark
  • Macavity116

    The First Stormbreaker
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    Chapter 2.3
    Lightning in the Dark

    July 4, 1928 A.D.
    HMS Rauuira, Aiowa Star System, Taiidan War Zone, (System Under Hiigaran Control)

    y4mVTFZbiXAGOpzdXLaYsFWI1SG188aCZU8_hoS_H-oo0GSm6qOPlqwsHNAPa39Na5bZN_dJv4Voc1c-tPa4t30F-WuNZN2zNf5beeMgMOlW5zXWEzn1wJMHKHid-eRrqUil_suZYSdiqRezqaQkibTzqm_LqycZANeMtYw9aqxL6KoPiehNHuEK_4aBUvF6RZM_AyyQsX1NJFM9JsdKlk6MQ

    Caption said:
    Task Force Hydruka enters the Aiowa system unopposed. Destroying the mining operations here will greatly hamper the Hiigaran's ability to make war on Partoga's ally, the Imperialist Taiidan.
    The Quantum Wavefront washed over Mami and her comrades as the Rauuira dropped out of Hyperspace. As soon as the soothing computerized voice said “Shipboard Radiation now at acceptable levels” Commander Temara stood up and told his crew:

    “Go straight to General Quarters!”

    All 12 members of the Rauuira’s crew exited the Radiation Shelter and reported directly to their battle stations. Mami, Arahu, Rapati, Eteka, Titohara, Ango, and Sub-Lieutenant Homai Kewhena all went to the Cannon Control Room, deep inside the Rauuira. It was a cramped little space with seven computer workstations for the crew to sit down at. At each station, a niche had been carved into the desk, shaped exactly like the object filling the cavity: A Gauss Pistol.

    But it wasn’t going to be that kind of mission. Mami wouldn’t need a handgun. Just like at the other five terminals around her, Mami’s computer controlled a series of reinforced superconductor heat-sinks. When all six sets were used together, the Ion Cannon could be fired repeatedly with no fear of overheating. The Cannon Control Room also served as a redundant “backup bridge” in the event of a real emergency. Once Mami and her comrades were strapped into their seats, the Commander’s voice was piped into the room via intercom;

    “I’m gonna leave the Admiralty’s line open for you down there. Keep up with us and we all go home in one piece! Good luck, soldiers, and may Queen Sophie’s strength go with you! Charging Cannon!”

    With a loud humming sound, the Particle Accelerator above everyone’s heads began to spool up. Behind Mami, she heard Sub-Lieutenant Kewhena say,

    “I’m linking you all into the ship’s Battle Computer. Call out targets and threats as you see them. Remember the three D’s! Description! Distance! Direction!”

    Half of Mami’s screen was filled with a sensor readout of the Aiowa system. She could see the ships of Task Force Hydruka beginning to break into smaller groups and go after their targets. Hundreds of thousands of Kios away along the Task Force’s left flank, a Ghekula-Class Destroyer fired its Mass Driver guns at a Hiigaran Mining Station. The orbital facility erupted into millions of little spinning shards.

    Then a new voice came over the intercom. Admiral Kingi, the Commanding officer of Task Force Hydruka, was broadcasting her voice to all ships in the fleet:

    “This is Fleet Command, we detect minimal enemy presence in-system. Break into your strike groups, then engage and destroy assigned targets!”

    “Here we go!” said Eteka, “Cannon charged!”

    y4m4N0tRbchTarGGVWNkeVADbQ40W_aTl1S-k94AqgUi-sLTUZSoOItDcGOC29dW1hojzS0ZZWwBcaWB_jB3yd-OLUbwiGwaVhUPr6w0A7gAFK_lvz-PCAwws3OXV1MsX9mR1Gw62Fu-3ocNfMQMsGplIY2yP4vSuz55hqgCJ9SsxilnXyg1sH9Ep9QqIpwof60rzz74AZgKGveR0GmxL801w

    Caption said:
    The Rauuira joins a strike wing of Partogan warships in an attack on some Hiigaran Resource Collectors.
    “Enemy Resource Collector!” Called out Titohara, “One-hundred-ten Kios! Bottom starboard quadrant, ventral side!

    Commander Temara gave the word;

    “FIRE!”

    Above Mami’s head, the Particle Accelerator made a loud rushing noise, as though hurricane-force wind and rain was slamming up against the side of the hull. Mami’s ears throbbed from the intense noise. After a second or two, it was over. On her screen, Mami saw a beam of particles, no wider than a hair but brighter than the sun, darting through space away from the Rauuira’s bow and instantly connecting with the hull of a Hiigaran Resource Collector. The enemy ship never stood a chance. It tumbled away into space, lights off, life signs extinguished.

    “Recharging weapon, standby!” Mami reported.

    She threw a switch that activated her own heat sink, drawing waste heat away from the Particle Accelerator and venting it into space.

    “Mihaka!” Sub-Lieutenant Kewhena yelled over the noise of machinery, “You go after Tamihana, then Ranginui! We’re gonna cycle the heat sinks counter-clockwise!”

    “Acknowledged!” said Eteka,

    “Understood!” replied Arahu,

    “Enemy Mobile Refinery!” Ango called out, “Ninty Kios! Top starboard quadrant, ventral side!”

    The Rauuira reoriented itself to face the unarmed mining ship. The readout on Mami’s screen told her that there were about 150 Hiigarans on board.

    “FIRE!”

    The Ion Beam drilled a hole in the ship. Atmosphere vented out of the wound, cutting the number of life signs by half!

    “Recharging!” Eteka called out, then he activated his heat sink.

    “Cannon charged!”

    “Fire again!” Temara yelled, “Knock that contact OUTTA MY SKY!”

    The Mobile Refinery didn’t survive the second hit. Its crew, exposed to the harsh elements of space, perished instantly. The crippled ship tumbled away from the battle. Meanwhile, Partogan fighters were rampaging across the system, chasing down and blasting Resource Collectors apart. Mining Stations, with no propulsion of their own, were sitting ducks for the Ion Cannon Frigates. Just above the Aiowa star itself, the Mothership-sized mining vessel Faal-Corum was re-orienting her Mass Driver cannons to face the oncoming threat. The Faal-Corum was alone, unprotected... an easy target.

    Mami was about to study her sensor readout of the Faal-Corum when she heard Titohara’s voice to her right;

    “Incoming Hyperspace signature! Multiple Hiigaran Super-Capital ships!” Titohara reported, “One-thousand-five-hundred Kios! Lower Starboard quadrant, dorsal side!”

    “Hiigarans!?” repeated Commander Temara. Judging from the sound of his voice, he was craning his neck to look at a sensors manager. Mami flipped a switch on her own computer and found exactly what Titohara had seen:

    y4mBHFo-mU1_dIHXLFuHQyuhTnO0o9x6wqyHAaqTlieqInPBo2rD93NkgsPd8DqFFzbn5KMaGgOTa9PF_rVXmmN-boVrIPfUEANCMLoBuhF75fqf9BnjCFgAQGsxkcAv2eyhEjjxTJQyUMknMWsyvaw6BgNp4h7U--wqDbtAICAo1ue4z9rfbh9JpzpgI9HHiSIUY5P_3HYrf1Ja_A6ME1WfA

    Caption said:
    The Shin-Clah fleet. This Carrier Strike Force is attached to the Kiith Somtaaw mining vessel Kuun-Lan, which is the Faal-Corum's sister ship.
    “Oh, by the Mountain!” Gasped Temara, “Rauuira calling Command Carrier Ahkmou! Hiigaran warships on approach to our right flank! I count 2 Carriers, 6 Heavy Cruisers, 10 Destroyers, 40 Frigates, and about 120 strike craft! I repeat! HIIGARANS ON OUR RIGHT FLANK! Requesting reinforcements!”

    The reply from the Command Carrier was immediate and bone-chilling:

    “All Task Force ships, be advised, we have Blorg Hyperspace signatures on our left flank. Repeat, the LEFT FLANK is under attack by Blorg Friendships! Redeploy at once to defensive positions!”

    Mami and Eteka turned and looked at one another.

    “It’s a pincer attack!” Eteka gasped,

    “It’s a trap!” Mami confirmed.

    y4mt7k8zTnuI2CRnzHVfoQdWKHJMyRsE2dhJEp5zq3qcViVMGchZzxfGYqTm43aO1qxLkGs0hcHmKVNh1NaglCyxdtHWeN6GDfk5IqCjoKAm_moxLWbxKUqPMGPNdzA-CbykgO4DieoC00-EF1lu8xxPLp2J0sJC0yl8MDLbO8_JCGc-HUOiXBxdPW11rCztIrNptdyZypbgdTlnBceNe6QWA

    Caption said:
    The True Friendship Force. This fleet represents about half of the Blorg Commonality's total military firepower. The fleet is lead by the Flagship of the Blorg: the BCS Soulmate.
    Chaos and confusion ruled the day. The Partogan fleet was pinned down as Blorg and Hiigaran warships attacked from two directions. All thought of the resource raid was abandoned as the separate strike wings rejoined the main fleet. Ion Beams stabbed the darkness of space, millions of Mass Driver rounds cascaded in all possible directions. Nearly three hundred warships of varying size and scale danced and darted around one another, spitting fire at each other with incomprehensible speed.

    y4mDwdnkKAxYGI7UTYAfL9hedFp2VUTycGS42zUJPvhR9TG0DxlPV9JPUylBaGqWcs0NlkppGD1O7thqLaFZ5IyBPkJTQ1k3xFzr6IBRVjA9MSpvCy1Ph9Fxw_Hc80BEY8jXvhdNy2sVxTGu0lkyggccEyLqeHDvJVHssHnKOVA4k-Wi_mF2Zgv1ilGbdFGcN7cRBZabIuwd5qLaJCuBDw87Q

    Caption said:
    Task Force Hydruka is outmaneuvered and attacked from two directions. The Partogans turned to fight the Blorg head-on, opening an opportunity for the Hiigarans to hit them from behind.
    The Aiowa star wasn’t the only thing lighting up the battlespace. After only a minute of fighting, a pair of Blorg Battleships managed to isolate and pummel a Partogan Cruiser into submission. All along the decks of the Partogan starship, fires broke out, engulfing the vessel before it began to explode from the inside. Great fountains of smoke and flame erupted from the burning hulk before quickly dissipating into the void.

    Piercing through a cloud of wreckage and debris, the Rauuira and five other Ion Cannon Frigates outflanked and began to pour fire into a formation of Hiigaran warships! While Ango cycled his heat sinks, Mami picked the next target:

    “Enemy Destroyer!” She called out. “200 Kios, upper port quadrant, ventral side!”

    Mami’s sensor readout told her there were 220 Blorg on board the Destroyer.

    “Cannon charged!” Ango reported, wiping sweat from his brow,

    “Fire!”

    The Rauuira’s Ion Beam joined three others, cutting the enemy ship to ribbons!

    y4m7ZHlMYZ84uGLRUBRuyz-E6-GEuEe5kXAFoSfmkvoqh9BWMgU-PsLKiJmUUooQNSpgz_flCT-R8yH7sNlLBasIhMmKIWECMBD8_GSf5BXtDhEtpBuRrfUxD_vg2k8FyyUKBMrPhl0eYtrdwi4umboLYgGOIZ7jD86afDrOa0p91K_7vNecwJ-c4iLKKnL-Bs5I3ACEZj53kTMFvs37O0GjA

    Caption said:
    A formation of Ion Cannon Frigates concentrate their fire onto a single target. This brutally effective strategy was very popular amongst fleet commanders during the Taiidan War and many subsequent conflicts.
    Like clockwork, Eteka moved to cycle his heat sinks. Mami scanned the battlespace quickly and spotted something.

    “Blorg frigates moving around the starboard side!” Mami yelled,

    “Confirmed!” Titohara’s voice chimed in, “They’re moving to flank us!”

    Mami felt the Rauuira lurch violently to one side as the frigate began turning to face the new threat. At the same time, a loud hissing noise told her the Ion Cannon had just been fired again. It was starting to get really hot in here... sweat dripped down Mami’s hands and caused her to fingers to slide all over her touchscreen.

    “Commander!” Sub-Lieutenant Kewhena called up to the bridge, “You’re not giving us enough time to cool the cannon! We’re gonna burn up in here!”

    While the Sub-Lieutenant was speaking, Mami started to activate her heat sinks. Simultaneously Titohara did the same! Waste heat was vented out of the ship’s dorsal vents and from her engine bell, pushing the Rauuira dangerously off course and deflecting her cannon away from the enemy!

    “What the hell is going on down there!” Commander Temara yelled, “Keep the damn cannon cool!”

    “You’re firing too fast!” Sub-Lieutenant Kewhena complained, “The heat sinks can’t keep up!”

    “There’s nothing I can do about that right-” Temara paused for half a second, then he yelled: “INCOMING FIGHTERS!! BRACE! BRACE! BRACE!”

    Mami, Eteka, Rapati, Arahu, Ango, Titohara, and Kewhena all grabbed their workstations and held on for dear life as the Rauuira was rocked with incredible violence! Blorg and Hiigaran bombers had outflanked the squadron of Ion Cannon Frigates, none of which were equipped with any kind of point-defense weapons.

    It was a shooting gallery.

    At the Rauuira’s helm, Tirowaru Himona executed tight maneuvers and hairpin turns to try and escape the enemy strike craft, but compared to the enemy fighters, the Rauuira was slow and unwieldy. Mami was thrust backwards and forwards in her seat as the ship was hit again and again and again! The sound of groaning and creaking metal was now being joined by loud crashes and bangs! Something, somewhere, had broken!

    “Hull breach at the stern!” Toa Kopaki’s voice said over the intercom, “Engines are dead! We can’t move!”

    For the briefest moment, Mami was able to get a glimpse of her computer screen while the ship continued to lurch about beneath her: The Rauuira was spinning out of control, falling below the plane of the main battle and into a region of space where Partogan, Hiigaran, and Blorg ships were skirmishing without any semblance of organization or strategy. Two ships had broken off from the main battle and appeared to be chasing after the Rauuira. The rising sense of panic in Mami’s mind vanished when she spotted the green, red, and gold colors of the Partogan flag painted on the side of both ships.

    “Rauuira!” Called an intercom voice Mami didn’t recognize, “Kill your maneuvering thrusters! We’ve sent a couple of Salvage Corvettes to get you!”

    “Hey!” Mami yelled to her shipmates, “Let’s cool the cannon while we’ve got the chance! Everyone, open up your heat sinks!”

    The Rauuira began venting hot air from six different points, the dorsal, ventral, starboard and port vents, the engine bell, and even the gun barrel itself. The venting from all sides helped to stabilize the ship and stop the uncommanded spinning. Mami reached over to Eteka and grabbed him by the shoulder.

    “You alright?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Hey Rapati! Arahu! Is everyone okay?” Mami called over her shoulder, not daring to unstrap herself.

    “I think Titohara’s gonna puke!” Arahu called back, “Other than that, we’re fine. My screen is down, Mami. Can you see anything?”

    Turning back to her own screen, Mami tried to check on the progress of the two Salvage Corvettes that had been sent to rescue the Rauuira. What Mami saw caused her heart to skip a beat.

    y4mZc5EJmlP-8KhY8RyqQC3C0Ae0YxMv1m6S4qxbZ0HGz6fm931_Q9Rkd6Bp-QPrAvm2_s0t3sztwjgOxN0j6fj79ltLPXk57S_ZW6iRk6LbPQkEJDp7Lp-NFX96dEsh2udqK8g_aQ4jZOD_qJHm7a3DJk8BxE0azsOGVVfw6-oEtef3NJhm1YkCe_BhGTKiPWJSEeLrEAoTtdNNsRNQijzcA

    Caption said:
    A Blorg Marine Frigate descends onto the Rauuira. The Blorg Commonality doesn't have the ability to manufacture these ships on their own, so the Blorg leadership chose to purchase a fleet of Marine Frigates from the Hiigarans instead.
    Both of the Salvage Corvettes were turning to flee, heading back towards the rest of the Partogan Fleet. Meanwhile, a Hiigaran Marine Frigate painted with the colors and insignia of the Blorg Commonality was bearing down on the Rauuira!

    Mami didn’t hesitate. She slammed her fist into the “Call Bridge” button and said,

    “Commander, there’s an enemy Marine Frigate right over our heads!”

    “We see it! We’re trying to find a way out of here!” Temara replied,

    “The engines are still down!” said Sub-Lieutenant Himona,

    “Can we spool up the Hyperspace Module?” Asked Lieutenant Commander Ourangi Pipiri, “Let’s jump out of here!”

    “Negative!” said Temara. “It’ll take too long to charge and we might just drag them along in our wake. We need another way out of here!”

    “Charge the cannon!”

    Eteka’s voice seemed to have come from nowhere. Mami turned her head to look at him.

    “Are you crazy?!” she asked,

    “No!” Eteka said, “Abort during the Accelerate Phase and-”

    But Commander Temara had heard enough. Above Mami’s head, the Particle Accelerator had started charging again. Mami felt the air around her getting hot and she watched the Blorg/Hiigaran Marine Frigate draw closer and closer until,

    “Cannon charged!”

    “ABORT FIRING SEQUENSE!”

    The Rauuira lurched forward abruptly and chaotically. Loud hissing noises told Mami that maneuvering thrusters had been used to augment the sudden acceleration. Mami flipped a switch on her computer, displaying a feed from one of the rear-facing cameras on the outer hull of the Rauuira. She saw that not only was the ship accelerating away from its attacker, but its orientation in space was also changing. The bow nosed down while the stern rose up; the Rauuira was doing something akin to a cartwheel, tumbling end over end...

    Except...

    The enemy frigate was too close! The Rauuira’s stern and the enemy bow were-!

    “Brace for impact!”

    The two frigates collided with a mighty CRASH!! Mami could barely comprehend what was happening as the Cannon Control Room rattled and shuddered intensely. By the time the shaking, crashing and smashing was done, half of the lights had gone out, plunging the room into semi darkness. All but one computer was dead as well. The bluish light from the screen made everyone in the room look like ghosts. For a few more moments, there was a terrified silence. Mami was too scared to do anything. She just remained still, staring forward into the dim light and feeling the rapid, desperate flutter of her own heartbeat.

    “What- What’s happened?” said the Sub-Lieutenant. “C-Cannon Control Room calling Bridge. What’s going on?”

    Pause.

    The sound of groaning metal.

    Another pause.

    Mami held her breath, trying to hear anything. Then, very suddenly, Temara’s voice sounded over the intercom.

    “We’ve been boarded!”

    Mami and Eteka stared at one another in horror. Then Temara spoke again;

    “Everyone, listen up! We have been boarded by Blorg Goundhuggers and Levakian hunters! Remember your boarding drills! Barricade yourselves in place! Resist! DO NOT allow-”

    Temara’s voice was cut off as an alien voice forced its way over the speakers:

    “We are the Blorg . Depolarize your armor and prepare to receive our friendship. Do not attempt to resist our Groundhuggers . FRIENDSHIP IS MANDATORY.”

    Then the voice cut out. Sub-Lieutenant Kewhena took charge right away.

    “Everyone up! Grab your weapons! Ranginui and Mihaka! Block the door with this!”

    Kewhena ran forward and grabbed Mami’s computer workstation right as she unstrapped herself from it. Pulling with all his might, Kewhena broke the electrical cables and separated the whole console from the wall. While Mami, Rapati, Ango, and Titohara secured their Gauss Pistols, Kewhena, Arahu, and Eteka barricaded the one and only door to the Cannon Control Room. Then they backed away from the door and looked up at the ceiling. Above and around them, Mami could hear the sounds of enemy boarders moving around the other parts of the ship.

    “What about the Commander and the other officers?” Titohara asked,

    Kewhena opened a locker and produced a Gauss Rifle.

    “They’ll barricade themselves on the bridge.” Kewhena answered. “If he thinks the ship is going to be lost, then the Commander will trigger the self-destruct function.”

    “Oh, that’s encouraging.” said Rapati. “How do we avoid losing the ship if everyone’s locked themselves in one room or another?”

    Mami knew the answer to that. She tapped Rapati on the shoulder and pointed to the ceiling.

    “We gotta hold out until friendly ships get here and blow that Marine Frigate off of us!” Mami explained. “Otherwise those boarders can get reinforcements and resupply all day long.”

    Kewhena nodded.

    “She’s right.” he said. “Everyone, find or make cover. Get behind anything big enough to shield your whole body. Knock something over if you can’t find cover. GO!”

    The six Ensigns scattered, setting up a strong defensible fighting position inside the Cannon Control Room in less than sixty seconds. Above them, Mami could hear the sound of two explosions in another part of the ship, near the stern.

    “Sounds like they just breached the Engine Room with Thunderflash bombs.” Ango said. “That means our room is next.”

    “Shhh....” hissed Kewhena, “Be quiet. Listen!”

    From her hiding place next to an overturned desk, Mami could hear shuffling footsteps in the hallway. There were also three voices. Two of the aliens spoke in garbled, gurgling tones, while the third spoke in deep mammalian growls.

    Mami looked around at her comrades.

    “Two Blorg” she whispered, “One lion.”

    Facing the barricaded door again, Mami chambered a round in her Gauss Pistol. She was terrified. Mami’s heart was thundering so loudly in her chest that she felt the enemy must be able to hear it. Everyone heard the sounds of an object being attached to the door.

    “Breaching charges.” hissed Ango. “Be ready, they’ll throw a stun grenade as soon as they blow the door!”

    On the other side of the door, one of the Blorg Groundhuggers began to make a rhythmic noise that sounded almost like musical chanting.

    A countdown.

    Here it comes.... Mami put her head down below the desk, hiding behind her makeshift cover.

    CRASH!!

    The door and its barricade exploded inward and into the Cannon Control Room. Debris and wreckage flew everywhere! Armed with a wicked-looking Plasma Rifle, a Blorg Groundhugger shuffled into the doorway, spotted Titohara looking its way and said in a squeaky, high pitched voice:

    “Friend?”

    Titohara raised her Gauss Pistol and fired! The Blorg was hit squarely in the center of its body and staggered backward, lurching out of the way and into cover as its comrade threw a small cylindrical object into the room. It bounced off the workstation Arahu was hiding behind and rolled into a far corner of the room.

    “THUNDERFLASH!” Eteka yelled.

    Mami crouched low, closed her eyes tightly and covered her ears with both hands!

    The sound of the Thunderflash detonation still made her ears ring, but Mami acted quickly. Alongside Eteka, Rapati, and Ango, she rose from behind cover, took aim at the doorway, and started shooting as soon as she saw movement. The first Blorg Groundhugger collapsed in the doorway, taken down by a hailstorm of Gauss Rounds. Mami’s Gauss Pistol almost slipped out of her hands as she frantically reached to her belt to grab and load a fresh magazine. Weapon reloaded, Mami peeked from cover again.

    The second Groundhugger chose not to enter. Instead, Mami saw, for the quickest of moments, a flourish of movement as the other Blorg began pulling the pin on a grenade.

    “TAMIHANA! DOWN!”

    Mami dropped to the floor and put her hands over her head. She heard the powerful blast of Kewhena’s Gauss Rifle, followed up almost immediately afterward by an explosion that caused the desk Mami had used for cover to slide across the floor and hit her. Mami peeked around the corner to see what had happened.

    The second Blorg had tried to throw a stun grenade into the room, but Sub-Lieutenant Kewhena had shot the enemy through the wall, causing it to drop the stun grenade onto the floor. It had detonated there, killing the Groundhugger outright.

    In the silence that followed, everyone poked their heads out from behind cover and looked around. Then Eteka said,

    “Wait, where’d the Levakian go?”

    With a loud clank! A third stun grenade flew into the Cannon Control Room from the hallway. This one ricochet off of the wall and rolled into the middle of the floor where Rapati yelled,

    “I’m gonna throw it back!”

    “NO!” Shouted Kewhena, but a movement had caught both his and Mami’s eyes.

    Huge, muscular, and with claws unsheathed, a Levakian male had rounded the corner and was charging into the room at full speed, running on all fours and aiming directly at Mami!

    It all happened in about three seconds. No one had any time to think. They just acted.

    In the first second, Mami turned to face the lion, holding her pistol in both hands. Behind her, Rapati scooped up the Thunderflash in his right hand and cocked his arm back, preparing to throw the live explosive towards the oncoming lion and simultaneously bringing the Thunderflash up to the lion’s eye level. Eteka, Arahu, and Ango all dove for cover. Kewhena began to raise his Gauss Rifle and pointed the barrel at the middle of Mami’s back because she was standing between him and the Levakian attacker. Titohara spun on her feet, turning almost 180 degrees so that she was facing Kewhena, and she started to run at him!

    In the next second, Mami squeezed the trigger of her Gauss Pistol, sending the first round barreling into the Levakian’s neck at speeds greater than 1,800 Bios per Second. Behind Mami, the Thunderflash exploded inside of Rapati’s clenched fist, blasting his right hand apart, illuminating the room, and blinding the Levakian. Unable to see, the lion propelled itself forward with both of his hind legs, reaching out to Mami with its claws as it soared through the air at her. Behind everyone else, Kewhena was blinded by the Thunderflash, in desperation, he started to squeeze the trigger, forgetting that the weapon was still pointed at Mami’s back! Titohara jumped towards Kewhena, one hand reaching for his weapon and the other going for his head!

    In the third second, Mami’s vision was completely filled with the image of a lion lunging at her! She squeezed the trigger and fired her Gauss Pistol once more. This time, the Gauss round entered the lion’s chest cavity, inflicting horrific damage. Behind her, Rapati fell to the ground, blind, deaf, and in immense pain. Behind everyone, Kewhena simultaneously pulled the trigger of his rifle and was tackled by Titohara. Gripping the rifle firmly in one hand, Titohara pushed the weapon away from Mami! The Gauss round rocketed across the room and embedded itself harmlessly into the wall! Titohara pushed Kewhena all the way down and hit his head on the floor, knocking the Sub-Lieutenant unconscious!

    The lion crashed down onto Mami, crushing her right to the floor! Mami felt the padding of his paw for millisecond before razor-sharp claws raked her face, descending from forehead to chin! Pinned underneath the still-moving lion’s body, it was the immense pain of this new injury that kept Mami conscious! With all her might, Mami pushed up on the Levakian’s flank with one hand, freeing up her Pistol-hand to move!

    Mami knew that she was about to die. There was absolutely nothing a 60-Kilogram girl could do to harm a 200-kilogram lion, but by the Mountain’s will, Mami was going to hurt this thing as badly as possible before it could kill her!

    Screaming loudly, Mami fired her Gauss Pistol into the lion’s body as quickly as she could pull the trigger. When the charging handle jumped back, indicating the gun was out of ammunition, Mami shrieked and began wildly kicking, punching, and biting every inch of the lion she could find! Mami could feel the lion release one long, low growl from deep within its chest. Desperate, panicking, and out of options, Mami intensified her feeble assault. Above her own screaming, Mami could just barely hear the voices of her friends! She could feel the lion moving above her, and then!

    “Mami, stop! STOP! IT’S DEAD!”

    Eteka’s voice was the first thing Mami noticed as the lion’s body was pulled off of her. Mami saw two of her friends standing above her. Eteka and Arahu both looked at Mami and recoiled in fright.

    “Are.... are you okay!?” Eteka asked,

    Mami didn’t answer. She wriggled out from under the lion carcass and stared at what she’d done.

    The Levakian was most certainly dead. Shot no less than eight times, its legs twitched and Mami startled. Eteka grabbed her by the shoulder.

    “You got him!” he said, “Calm down and let me take a look at that.”

    Now that the immediate danger seemed to have passed, Mami’s heart rate was slowing down, and the adrenaline left her bloodstream. The pain on the left side of her face was back and it was incredible. Mami sat down on the floor, leaned against a cabinet and dropped her pistol so that she could apply pressure to the wounds with both hands.

    “Gah, got my face.” she muttered to Eteka, who replied,

    “Yeah, those cuts are deep. Lion claws. Wait here and keep putting pressure on that. I’ll get you a Medikit.”

    CRASH!

    The entire ship suddenly lurched and rocked more violently than ever before! All of the lights went out and Mami was thrown against the wall alongside a lot of debris and two bodies. After a few seconds of chaos, the lights came back on, and Mami saw that Eteka and Rapati had been thrown against the wall with her too. A bloody trail led across the floor and terminated with the stump that had once been Rapati’s right arm.

    Before anyone could say anything, an unfamiliar voice spoke over the intercom.

    “Attention HMS Rauuira. This is the LVK Shieldbreaker. We are here to offer assistance. Do not engage our forces! We are here to help you!”

    “Crew!” chimed in the voice of Commander Temara, “Levakian members of the Partogan Royal Navy are coming aboard. DO NOT fire on any lions wearing the Orange and Yellow! Those are friendlies! Use signs and countersigns to ID them!”

    Mami looked over at the body of the Levakian she’d just killed. His uniform was colored blue and white. Hostile.... was hostile.

    The sounds of gunfire and explosions sounded from the bow of the ship, near the bridge.

    “That’ll be our rescuers.” Kewhena said in a groggy voice.

    Slowly getting back to his feet, Kewhena stepped over the debris and bodies and took up a fighting position near the blasted door, ready to ambush anyone coming down the hallway. Mami and Rapati were both done fighting. They rested against the wall while Titohara and Eteka sprayed their injuries down with Medikits. Meanwhile, Arahu and Ango covered the door as well. Mami didn’t hear the footfalls first, but she became aware of them after Kewhena shouted,

    “Halt! Who goes there?”

    A mammalian voice called to him from the hallway.

    “Levakians from the Shieldbreaker!

    “Hakihea!” Kewhena yelled, keeping his rifle raised until the Levakians gave the proper countersign:

    “Aoraki.” replied one of the Levakians

    “Kia roa te Kuini. Come in, comrades.”

    Four Levakian females rounded the corner and entered what remained of the Cannon Control Room. The first one was armed with a Slugthrower Rifle, a single-shot shoulder mounted firearm that was a favorite of the Levakian species. Two of them had golden brown fur and were carrying medical equipment. The fourth lioness was clearly the one in charge. Her orange and yellow PRN-Levakian Contingent uniform concealed the fact that every last hair on her body was white.

    The white lioness directed her subordinates to see to Mami and Rapati. One of the lionesses snarled at the body of the dead male lion.

    “Your Highness,” the lioness said, “I think that’s the lion we’re looking for. He matches Hūria’s description.”

    The white lioness asked Kewhena a question that Mami couldn’t hear. Kewhena pointed to Mami and replied quietly. Then the white lioness and her two medics approached Mami. The medical lioness sat down beside her and started dabbing at Mami’s wounds with a cloth.

    “That was really impressive, Partogan.” said the white lioness. “you don’t know how long I was hunting for that guy, and you just knocked him down on your first shot. I owe you a drink.”

    Mami finally found her words.

    “Hiigarans, the Blorg-”

    The white lioness cut her off.

    “Full retreat. They saw my puny little flotilla and thought we were the vanguard of a bigger force. The bad guys are probably halfway to Hiigara by now.”

    One of the medical lionesses examined Mami’s face more closely. Mami could feel their hot breath on her face. It made her wounds sting. The lioness held up one of her paws to Mami.

    “Um, I don’t think we can save that eye, kid. Can you tell me how many pads you see?”

    “Uh, two?” Mami guessed.

    The medical lioness nodded. She straightened up and turned to Kewhena.

    “This one needs surgery, right now.” the medical lioness pointed to Mami as she spoke. “Put her on a stretcher and take her to our ship. We’ve got facilities and a Partogan doctor who can handle this sort of thing.”

    Kewhena nodded.

    “Go.” he said. “I’ll clear it with the Commander later. My responsibility.”

    Mami (and after a moment, Rapati) were both loaded onto makeshift stretchers by the Levakians and carried away. Mami watched the ceiling of the Rauuira’s various corridors race by above her as she was carried to the vessel that had rescued her and her shipmates. One of the Levakians injected Mami with something, she asked what it was.

    “It’s a mild painkiller.” said the white lioness. “This is a really bad time for you to go into shock, so we just made you a little numb. We won’t put you out until our doctor is ready to do surgery. Speaking of which, you!”

    The white lioness pointed to a group of Levakian hunters who were interrogating a captive Blorg.

    “Send your fastest runner to Okiara and tell him we’ve got two Partogan casualties! One who needs facial surgery and one with an amputated arm! Fast!”

    A young-looking lioness snarled one last time at the terrified Blorg and then sprinted down the hallway on all fours.

    Mami went back to looking at the ceiling. The way the lines between panels flitted past her one good eye was hypnotizing. She felt herself starting to nod off.

    “Stay awake now.” said the white lioness. “Keep talking to me. That should help you stay alert.”

    “Okay,” Mami muttered, slurring her words, “What do you wanna talk about?”

    “Well,” said the white lioness, “It must take a real tough badass to kill a lion up-close. Especially a traitorous villain like Hūria, he’s the dead lion in your cannon room. Who are you? Where are you from?”

    Focusing on talking made Mami forget about some of the pain.

    “Mami Tamihana. I’m from Aoraki.”

    The white lioness gave Mami a quizzical look.

    “Really?” she replied, “That tomb-world below the galactic plane?! You are a badass.”

    “What about you?” Mami asked, “You from anywhere cool?”

    The white lioness shook her head.

    “Nah. I’m from The Mangaia. Oh, by the way, my name’s Tantomile.”


     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 2.4: Taihara
  • Macavity116

    The First Stormbreaker
    17 Badges
    Mar 1, 2018
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    archiveofourown.org
    • Stellaris
    • Stellaris: Nemesis
    • Stellaris: Necroids
    • Crusader Kings III
    • Stellaris: Federations
    • Stellaris - Path to Destruction bundle
    • Stellaris: Apocalypse
    • Stellaris: Distant Stars
    • Stellaris: Megacorp
    • Stellaris: Lithoids
    • Stellaris: Leviathans Story Pack
    • Stellaris: Synthetic Dawn
    • Stellaris: Humanoids Species Pack
    • Stellaris: Ancient Relics
    • Stellaris: Digital Anniversary Edition
    If you've read the Abridged History of Partoga or the Afterward section of After Everything, then you'll know that both of my Stellaris Stories are part of a much, much bigger story that I've been making up for the past decade.

    Well, starting right now, that "bigger story" is going to start forcing its way into Faith in Chaos.

    Buckle up. ;)

    ======

    Chapter 2.4
    Taihara

    August 2, 1928 A.D.
    LVK Shieldbreaker, Orthama Star System, Taiidan War Zone, (System Under Imperialist Taiidani Control)



    “One more time, read from left to right the smallest row of letters you can see.”

    With her one remaining eye, Mami focused hard on the chart hanging from the far wall.


    y4mS7IuPBOpThTb0ChobqSE5O8EouligOtTl5qDE7LWMgd3scf6NG_c7nw0xQFk1nd3SnHDdd-5qIUTJZXIBA-0MmEhoB2lrZSoQBUttCleNyi22EO33NxqqSRYq3XNco10miR1R2u6iR9bsPh5hAtM6rWHDGnUxIRbzdrpj9WEvxOMtiSPaGcOdtAvRpPGd7NWi0XbSLoJJPZIRhBvyBGDfA


    “Row Seven,” she said slowly, “I read... f, e, n... o... p... z, d.”

    Doctor Okiara nodded.

    “Very good, Ensign. I’ll transmit the test results to your Commander. You may go now.”

    Mami stood up from the examination bed and made her way across the infirmary, heading for the exit. On her way out, she waved to Rapati, who’s mangled right arm was wrapped up in neat white bandages. Rapati’s arm couldn’t be saved, and had been amputated at the elbow. Doctor Okiara had already beamed the medical data about Rapati’s injury to Fort Daxia. Last Mami had heard, her friend was going to be fitted for a prosthesis as soon as they returned home.

    Mami and Rapati weren’t the only Partogans in the Shieldbreaker’s infirmary. Some 20 injured survivors of last month’s battle were recuperating alongside Mami and her comrade. Partway down the line of beds, Mami spotted another familiar face.

    Something was clearly wrong with Amaya Maori. According to several of the newly minted veterans of the Battle of Aiowa, Amaya was the lone survivor of a Missile Destroyer that had been overwhelmed near the beginning of the fight. All three of her Daxia teammates were dead. Oku, Eraka, and young Paikura had been killed when a Hiigaran Ion Cannon Frigate ruptured and depressurized the Missile Destroyer’s hull. Amaya had barely survived the same disaster, having been exposed to the environment of space for a few seconds. Mami had tried to help Amaya mourn for them, but whenever she or anyone else tried to interact with Amaya, the young Ensign would turn catatonic, refusing to engage or interact with anyone around her. Amaya was catatonic right now. She was sitting upright on her bed, knees drawn up to her chin and hands around her ankles, while her eyes were glazed and watery from being held open for so long.

    Mami tried to catch Amaya’s eye and give her a supportive look, but there was no response as usual. She gave up and left the infirmary. Of course, she’d have to come back eventually. She didn’t have anywhere else to sleep. But for now, Mami headed down to the mess hall to get some food.

    By this point, Mami had spent a little less than a month aboard the Shieldbreaker. She felt some satisfaction to hear that the ship itself had been stolen from the Blorg Commonality, and simultaneously uncomfortable when she found out that the vast majority of the crew were Levakians. At first, Mami was terrified that the lions would exact revenge on her for killing one of their own, but that fear had been put to rest by the white lioness Tantomile. She explained that the lion Mami had killed was an enemy of Partogans and Levakians alike, and that the Levakian crew of the Shieldbreaker would have fought him if Mami hadn’t.

    A few days after her talk with Tantomile, Mami had been confronted by a pair of lionesses. They told her in no uncertain terms that they respected Mami for killing a “rouge lion” in close combat, but that they were still angry with her for making them travel partway across the Galaxy for nothing.

    “We were just gonna capture the terrorist Hūria and turn him in for the bounty.” One of the lionesses said. “You know the Green Guard won’t pay us for a corpse, right?”

    Whispers followed Mami whenever she moved around the ship. Every member of the Shieldbreaker’s crew seemed to know that Mami had been the one who had killed Hūria, and she didn’t need to feel any worse. That fight aboard the Rauuira would replay in her mind every night as she drifted off to sleep. The memory of the Blorg cautiously asking “Friend?” before Titohara killed it caused a chill to go up Mami’s spine whenever she remembered that moment.

    Then there was the memory of Hūria himself.

    “Hūria” was the name of the Levakian Mami had killed aboard the Rauuira. She had learned the full story from Tantomile: For the past two months Tantomile and her crew had been hunting for this lion. Hūria was a wanted criminal back home in Partogan space. Claiming to be acting on behalf of a Levakian “Separatist Movement,” Hūria had ambushed the Prince of Partoga City outside his home, killing the poor man. Hūria then left a manifesto at the scene, calling for all Levakians to revolt and create an independent Levakian state. The Green Guard had put out a capture bounty soon afterward, offering tens of millions of Dirams for anyone who could lead them to Hūria.

    Hūria’s death was a problem for Tantomile. The Green Guard couldn’t extract intel from a corpse, so they had refused to give anyone the big payout. The crew of the Shieldbreaker had almost mutinied at the news, but Tantomile calmed the situation by telling them about the reward money being offered for Task Force Hydruka survivors.

    Having narrowly survived the Blorg/Hiigaran counterattack, the Partogan Fleet was eviscerated, losing nearly three-quarters of its ships. The remaining vessels of Task Force Hydruka had set out for home, leaving nearly half of their personnel stranded in the Aiowa system aboard the disabled warships. Word got back to Partoga quickly, and Queen Marie had publicly offered a monetary reward for any ship captain who rescued Hydruka survivors and returned them to Partogan space.

    Tantomile’s flotilla of mercenary ships had rescued the lion’s share of survivors. Heavily laden with Partogans, the ragtag collection of mercenary, privateer, and pirate ships were now flying towards a Taiidani Hyperspace Gate that led directly to Partogan space.

    “We’ll take you as far as Nithascal.” Tantomile had explained. “Then we’ll turn you over to the PRN. I can’t go any further into Partogan space... I’d cause... a lot of problems.”

    The journey home would take about five weeks. Mami had spent the first four going in and out of the infirmary, receiving and then recovering from facial reconstruction surgery. She hadn’t seen any of her Rauuira shipmates in this time. (Besides Rapati) All of this meant that Mami was overjoyed when Tantomile sat down with her in the Shieldbreaker’s mess hall and said:

    “Good news, Tamihana. Your shipmates are coming aboard in a couple hours to join you.”

    Mami looked up from her plate of raw Ruki fish (which tasted disgusting) and gazed at Tantomile.

    “That’s great!” said Mami. “Rapati and I really miss those guys. Uh, no offense of course. You and your shipmates have been... gracious... hosts to us. So... uh... when are you sending us back to our ship?”

    Tantomile shook her head.

    “The Rauuira was declared a total loss by your Admiralty.” she said. “It’s been scuttled. Your crew is going to make the trip back to Partoga with us. I’ve got it all arranged, the twelve of you will be on Deck Two. I’m sorry, but you’re all going to have to share one room. We’re carrying about ninety extra Partogans here, and it’s already getting too cramped.”

    Mami shrugged.

    “That’ll be okay with us. We just wanna go home, doesn’t really matter how.”
    y4mBdMEe_nWCoLINSVxLpq-Fx_Aji6g1PV86QtMbKlnuVXPaOK0JFHSkTkDygO4ncWMU5jR1dCjgTDtWcv4XygGmttbjWrUF4_HeWzoLv9siV1yEk6YqDtc6M-IBugruJfYCnnmWLlgh8rSwirm0tivklt17iIY25aK3avdmVUyrD1eI0eF4QrApd4PiYgveiMVAMzDWqXo-5LUa6nSUZOzSg

    Caption said:
    Tantomile's Armada uses an artificial Slipgate to jump directly to the Nithascal System in Partoga.
    Later that afternoon, a Vaygr Destroyer that had been repainted with the orange and yellow colors of Levakia pulled up alongside the Shieldbreaker and docked. Personnel and supplies were moved back and forth for several minutes. Once the swap in people and goods was made final, the two vessels split apart and continued on their path towards the Orthama Hyperspace Gate.

    In the corridor outside of the Shieldbreaker’s airlock, Eteka ran forward and embraced Mami in a tight hug before she could even say hello.

    “Heya, Mihaka.” Mami said, patting him lightly on the back, “I missed you too.”

    One by one, all of the Rauuira’s former crewmates leaned in close and tilted their heads to get a good look at Mami’s face. Ihanga Waaka got really close and lightly touched the surface of Mami’s new eyepatch with the tip of her finger.

    “Can’t tell what looks better on you, the scars or the eyepatch.” Ihanga said softly. “Fact is you still got your good looks, Mami. Nicely done.”

    Arahu also hugged Mami and said,

    “It’s kinda lucky you lost the left eye.” he commented, “Didn’t you always use your right eye during Rifle Training?”

    Titohara did not hug Mami.

    “I’m sorry about your eye.” she said. “Honestly, you should have died back there. Nice to see you didn’t.”

    “Alright everyone,” barked a scratchy, butch voice. “Back off and give the new Taihara some room to breathe!”

    Toa Wahine Kopaki Raharuhi forced her way to the front of the group. Mami again caught herself staring at the woman’s facial tattoos and forced her eyes upward. Toa Kopaki’s cornrows were disheveled and unkempt. Stray hairs sticking up from her scalp gave her the look of a lightning-strike victim. She was actually a little scary to look at now, to be honest.

    Toa Kopaki swept Mami off her feet and lifted her into the air in a mammoth hug! Mami gasped for air,

    “Hey! Wait!”

    “I can’t believe it! You did it!” cried Toa Kopaki! “YOU KILLED A LION and I missed it! You're one of us now!”

    Toa Kopaki set Mami back on her feet. A little disoriented, Mami reached up to adjust her eyepatch, which had slid most of the way down her cheek, while Toa Kopaki continued to gush over her.

    “Oh, I wish I was there! You shouldn’t have tried to take him alone! I don’t think- What you did is-… it- it's unheard of!”

    Toa Kopaki paused to take a breath, and Commander Temara put a hand on her shoulder to silence her.

    “What she’s saying is that you might be the youngest Taihara in a century or two. We can’t remember the record-holder's name off the top of our heads, mind you, but we’re pretty sure that if you didn’t break the record, then you got close. Congratulations are in order, young woman.”

    Mami, who had been raised on a distant backwater planet far away from urban Partogan culture, finally broke the spell. She tapped Toa Kopaki’s arm and asked,

    “I’m sorry, but what does the word Taihara actually mean?”

    The atmosphere in the corridor changed, as though Mami had suddenly brought everyone out of their bubbles of euphoria and back into reality. The twelve crewmates were suddenly hyperconscious of the many Levakians in their immediate vicinity, walking up and down the corridors, working in nearby rooms, or leaning against the corridor wall, watching Mami and her friends.

    Temara faced his crew.

    “Let’s get to our room. We’ll suss out the details in there.”



    Just as Tantomile had warned, the room where the Rauuira crew would spend their final week of interstellar space travel was tiny and cramped. There were only four bunks.

    “Right.” said Temara. “We’ll work and sleep in three shifts. That way all four bunks are warm and in use, and all four of our female soldiers can stick together. Everyone understand? Good. Now let’s deal with the Kahgarak in the room.”

    Moving as one, everybody in the little space turned to look at Mami. She suddenly felt very small and tried to retreat into a corner. Toa Kopaki reached out and gently held Mami’s hand.

    “It’s okay, Tamihana.” she said, “You said you didn’t know. Ask away and I’ll do my best to answer, okay?”

    Mami nodded.

    “First,” she asked, “what’s that word mean?”

    Mami wasn’t an idiot. She had passed all of her language classes with high marks. In the Partogan language, the word “taihara” was an adjective used to describe an action that was deceitful, treacherous, or outright illegal. Yet Toa Kopaki was using it as a noun, calling Mami “Taihara” as though it was her name. What the hell was going on?

    Toa Kopaki seemed to be considering her words carefully while the rest of her crewmates watched.

    Taihara... is a name the Levakians gave to people like us.” she explained. “When you translate the word ‘murderer’ into Levakian and then back into Partogan, it sounds a little like ‘taihara’ and it just kinda stuck. That’s what the word means: ‘Murderer.’ Lions stick that name onto anyone who spills their people’s blood.”

    Toa Kopaki sighed.

    “Listen, if you get called a Taihara by a Levakian, it's an insult. They’re disrespecting their Partogan masters and they deserve whatever hell you throw at them in turn. But if you get called a Taihara by a Partogan, then you hold your head up high and be proud; because it’s a sign of respect. You’ve struck down a lion twice your size and weight. By being a Taihara, you honor the memory of Queen Sophie and the thousands of Partogans who worked to subjugate the Levakians four hundred years ago, so that our generation could live among the stars in peace.

    “But to the lions, you and I are murderers. It doesn’t matter what we do with the rest of our lives, that distinction will stay with us forever. No title or honorific will ever supersede that word, because it has such important meanings in both cultures. You could become a charity worker and feed thousands of starving cubs in Paku Nui. You will still be a Taihara. You might join the Church of the Mountain and become a devout nun, but you’ll still be a Taihara. Hell, you could be elected Queen but it wouldn’t erase the fact that you are and will always be a Taihara... a murderer.”

    On those last two words, Toa Kopaki traced the lines of her facial Tattoo with one finger. Then she reached out, and using that same finger, she traced the lines of an imaginary Tattoo along Mami’s chin and cheek. The teenage soldier trembled.

    “And... uh... do I have to get the Tuakiri?” Mami’s voice quaked.

    Toa Kopaki pulled away from Mami.

    “It’s not required.” she said, “It’s just a very old tradition. Dates back to the reign of Queen Sophie the Merciful. Think of it this way: A few years from now, when you’re out of the Navy and back home on Aoraki, your friends and neighbors are gonna ask how you lost your eye and got that scar on your face. What are you going to tell them without a Tuakiri? No one will ever believe you without the ink on your face to prove it. Besides, getting the Tuakiri is like the ‘final step’ in truly becoming a Taihara. It’s a sign that not only do you accept the name, but that you’ll proudly make it a permanent part of your identity. Wherever you go, whatever you do, people are going to look and see the ink on your face. They’ll know immediately who you are and what you’ve done. Levakians will fear you and teach their cubs to do the same. Partogans will love you and honor you as a hero.”

    Toa Kopaki leaned close to Mami again.

    “You are a Partogan, right?”

    Mami nodded,

    “Do you want to honor the tradition of the Tuakiri?”

    Mami looked around the room. Eight battle-hardened warriors stared back at her, alongside the three faces of her friends. Everyone was looking at her. Mami felt like she was going to drown in their expectations. They all wanted her to do this.

    “Don’t worry,” whispered Titohara, “Every Taihara gets the ink at some point. I know some who were set for the rest of their lives because everyone kept giving them gifts. Everybody loves Taihara.

    “There’s a Taihara living in Candon,” said Rapati, “She can’t go into most public places without random strangers proposing marriage to her every half-hour. I don’t think she’s ever alone. Always got a friend or two around her. Dozens of potential husbands waiting in the wings.”

    “Famous Taihara sometimes get titles from the Queen.” Ourangi chimed in, “Toa Kopaki did. The Prince of Visonia is a Taihara too.”

    Mami’s doubts and concerns about getting the Tuakiri were being chipped away. Fantasies began to creep into the back of her imagination:

    Images of an older Mami being given free food in restaurants when people saw her Tattoo...

    Levakians flattening their ears to their heads, putting their tails between their legs...

    Men falling over one another for a chance to hold her hand...

    Queen Marie gently tapping Mami on the shoulder with the Royal Sabre and saying “Toa Wahine Mami... Princess of Aoraki...”

    Mami raised one hand to her eyepatch, tracing with one finger an imaginary pattern of black ink as it danced and looped across her face, forming a permanent memorial to Mami’s battle with Hūria... Just like Toa Kopaki...

    “Yeah...” Mami said slowly, “I’ll do it. I’ll get the Tuakiri.”

    Toa Kopaki clapped her hands!

    “Great!” she said. “Let’s do it right now!”

    “Wait-What!?” Mami burst out.

    “There’s a Tohunga-tā-Moko on board!” Toa Kopaki said. “The Levakians pulled him off one of the super-capital ships. I saw him earlier. I’ll ask if he’s got his tools, and if he does, we can get your Tattoo done today!”

    There was no arguing against it. Toa Kopaki left the room quickly and Temara followed her out the door, saying he was going to alert the ship’s medical team. Ihanga Waaka dug around in her pockets and produced a felt-tip marker, she started drawing the Tuakiri pattern onto Mami’s face.

    “This is so the Tohunga-tā-Moko knows where to go and what to draw.” Ihanga explained, “You killed a lion with a firearm while he was pouncing on you. It was a very straightforward killing, so your design is going to be simple and easy to draw... there we go!”

    One by one, the Rauuira crew began to filter out of the room. Everyone said the same thing:

    “We’ll see you in the infirmary.”

    Soon, Mami, Eteka, Arahu, and Rapati had the little room to themselves. The ink from the felt-tip marker made Mami’s face very, very itchy.

    “Better get used to not scratching.” Rapati joked, “I can’t wait to see you get the real ink.”

    Arahu patted his pockets.

    “Aw, man. Does anyone have a camera? We need a ‘before’ picture to remember the old Mami by.”

    Eteka shrugged.

    “Old Mami, new Mami. Doesn’t matter to me. You’ll still be my friend, no matter how much you get inked, or how many eyes get ripped out by lions.”

    He winked at Mami. Unable to wink in return, she just stuck out her tongue.



    The Shieldbreaker’s infirmary was jam-packed with Partogans when Mami and her friends arrived a few hours later. As soon as the door opened, a loud cheer went around the room, followed by a rolling thunder of applause! It seemed as though nearly half of the rescued Hydruka survivors had gotten wind of Mami’s exploits and her imminent date with the Tohunga-tā-Moko. A group of Daxia Cadets chanted Mami’s name as she walked past them to the surgical table where an elderly Partogan man was talking to Commander Temara and Toa Kopaki. Every member of the Rauuira crew was present aside from Titohara, who was predictably absent.

    Temara raised his hand and called on the crowd to be silent.

    “Soldiers!” the Commander said loudly, “This war has taken many brothers and sisters from us. While most of our Levakian subjects have remained loyal to the Queen and fought by our side, a select few have allied with our Hiigaran enemies and taken up arms against us!”

    There were boos and hisses from the little crowd. Commander Temara continued,

    “But thanks to this young woman...” he placed a hand on Mami’s shoulder and drew her close in a side-hug, “There is one less rouge lion in the galaxy tonight!”

    Partogan cheers caused the shelves and cupboards to quake. The noise of five dozen people yelling echoed throughout the entire deck!

    “FURTHERMORE!” Commander Temara had to yell to make himself heard above the noise. “My new friend, Tohunga-tā-Moko Urepo, has told me that according to his records Ensign Mami Tamihana is now...”

    Temara paused for dramatic effect,

    “The YOUNGEST lionslayer in history! No one below the age of 16 has ever-”

    But Mami didn’t hear the rest. The yelling and cheering of the onlookers were threatening to burst the walls of the infirmary. Mami’s eardrums thudded painfully in her head. Finally, the noise died down.

    Tohunga-tā-Moko Urepo gestured to the surgical bed, and Mami laid down, facing up towards the ceiling. Urepo, Doctor Okiara, and a few assistants began to set up their equipment. Looking to one side, Mami saw the traditional implements that had been used to create Tuakiri Tattoos for over four hundred years: The chisel... hammer... needles... and-

    “Wait, what’s all of the cloth for?” Mami asked,

    The Tohunga-tā-Moko briefly looked up from his tools.

    “Oh,” he said casually, “that’s for the blood.”



    On the Shieldbreaker’s bridge, Tantomile leapt out of the Captain’s Chair when the sound of high-pitched screaming reached her ears. Then everyone on the bridge stopped what they were doing as they picked up the sound of yelling echoing up the hallways and into the bridge. Tantomile’s lieutenant snarled,

    “Barbaric Partogans. They’re tattooing that girl!”

    Mami’s scream became a wail of agony before it was drowned out completely by the voices of the other Partogans. Admetus, the ex-Separatist Tantomile had rescued from Taiidan captivity, let out a deep growl.

    “Let them have their moment of barbarism.” he said, “That girl deserves far worse than what they’re actually doing to her. Little Taihara beast.”

    Admetus unsheathed his claws and scraped them on the floor, imagining it to be Mami’s body. Then he looked up at Tantomile.

    “Why not airlock the girl?” he asked, “We’d be making a much bigger bounty if she hadn’t killed the traitor Hūria.”

    Tantomile rolled her eyes.

    “Airlocking the Taihara girl won’t bring Hūria back to life.” She said, “What’s done is done. And the bounty for Hydruka survivors is better than none at all. Unless you have another plan to pay the crews of all those mercenary ships out there?”

    Tantomile gestured to the viewscreen, where the vanguard ships of her flotilla were visible as they blazed a trail towards the Orthama Hyperspace Gate.

    Admetus growled again.

    “No.” he admitted reluctantly. “I don’t.”

    “Then shut your mouth before I do it for you.” Tantomile snarled.

    “Your Highness!” one of the bridge crew members had to raise his voice to get Tantomile’s attention. “We’re about to pass through the Hyperspace Gate!”

    Tantomile returned to the Captain’s Chair and sat down awkwardly. The seat had been designed for Blorg bodies, and had none of the amenities a lioness would want from it.

    “Alright, take us in!”

    The flotilla of warships passed into the artificial event horizon of the Slipgate. Half a second later, the fleet emerged from a different gate on the other side of the galaxy, deep within the territory of the Kingdom of Partoga. The blue light of Nithascal was hotter and more intense than the gentle orange glow of Orthama, it glimmered off the hull of the Shieldbreaker.

    y4mu7JhOjp5AfwG0ODdsJp15P8OpqlAd_OG4sHkXMYFE0G6S0QgjAX0MIHJ610gCykjDclGT1qtv8dogfihBogVfRv8UDP97ScdjdBurY8MP6F_jkqVPonJ0c8IFKwYQbCnkbTUYTlBHGPmKhd72Sx50B2qv_PiHl1yt3wD_Dn3nyXrPLfTTzuiL9bcQ3YwAPfHli_HX4yBDVjhsWBYU2zpeg
    Caption said:
    The Nithascal Star System. This is the southernmost point of the Kingdom of Partoga and its only border with the Micore Empire. (a Rouge Servitor machine empire)
    “Slipgate jump complete!” reported Admetus, “All systems nominal. We’ve dropped into the Nithascal system and we’re being contacted by Fort Odina.”

    Admetus flipped a switch on the comms panel, and the message from Fort Odina was played on speakers for the whole bridge to hear.

    “This is Fort Odina Command to incoming fleet. Transmit today’s recognition codes and state your business.”

    “Yessir! Transmitting now!” Tantomile replied while pointing at Admetus.

    Admetus began to transmit the day’s recognition codes. Tantomile spoke again,

    “This is the LVK Shieldbreaker, registered to the Kingdom of Paku Nui. We’re bringing Privateer ships to Ninigai to be entered into the service of the Partogan Royal Navy Levakian Contingent, and we are also looking for a place to drop off approximately four hundred-eighty survivors of Task Force Hydruka, who were picked up in the Aiowa System.”

    There was a pause. The commanding officers of Fort Odina were probably discussing this news amongst themselves. Then the response came.

    “Acknowledged, Shieldbreaker. Um, I’m being told to ask if you recovered any survivors of the... uh... Ion Cannon Frigate... HMS... umm... Rauuira. Yeah, the Rauuira. The Green Guard is telling me they’re conducting an investigation into one of the crew members.”

    The name was familiar to Tantomile. The rescue of Mami Tamihana and her shipmates was still fresh in her memory.

    “Oh, yes we did.” Tantomile said casually. “I’ve actually got all twelve members of the crew aboard the Shieldbreaker right now. I can fly up and drop them off in your airlock right now if you want me to, sir.”

    This did not produce the result or response Tantomile was expecting. Indeed, the commander of Fort Odina took another minute to respond;

    “Uh.... um... Shieldbreaker, can you standby for me?”

    Then there was five minutes of silence, broken occasionally by either the sound of Mami screaming or her supporters cheering from the infirmary. Everyone on the bridge just looked around at each other awkwardly. Tantomile raised an eyebrow at Admetus and asked,

    “Was it something I said?”

    Admetus was about to say something when a new, unfamiliar voice crackled over the speakers:

    Shieldbreaker, this is Major General Ranginui of the Partogan Green Guard. You are carrying an individual wanted by the Green Guard. The individual is a member of the Rauuira crew and answers to the name Titohara Nopera. Female. Fifteen years old. Long white hair. She is armed and dangerous. YOU ARE COMMANDED to apprehend this individual and then bring her to Fort Odina immediately. My soldiers will take possession of the individual at Drydock Five. Do you have any questions?”

    Tantomile’s hackles rose. Something was very wrong here.

    “This individual... this... ‘Titohara,’ how dangerous are they?” she asked, “What exactly am I dealing with?”

    Pause. Then the Major General responded:

    “We're not entirely sure. I advise you proceed with caution and use overwhelming force.”


     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 2.5: The Snowskin
  • Macavity116

    The First Stormbreaker
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    Chapter 2.5
    The Snowskin

    August 2, 1928 A.D.
    LVK Shieldbreaker, Nithascal Star System, Kingdom of Partoga

    As soon as Tantomile terminated communications with Fort Odina command, she turned to her Chief of Security. Jonnar was a big male lion just over four years old. He was muscular and had a shaggy brown mane that drew the eyes of most lionesses. Jonnar was one of Tantomile’s earliest Thralls, having sworn allegiance to her over a year ago. He had listened to the entire conversation with Major General Ranginui and was already in motion by the time Tantomile addressed him.

    “Get the hunters together and keep it quiet.” Tantomile instructed, “Listen everyone, we’re gonna treat this like a Kahgarak hunt. Think of Titohara Nopera like one of them. Don’t raise any alarms, don’t make noise and do not hunt alone. We have to assume she’s already a Taihara or she’s capable of becoming one. When you find Titohara, stalk her for as long as possible, so that the rest of the hunters can join you. Stay in cover and use concealment. We’ll take her down as a pride. Am I clear?”

    Jonnar and Admetus both took half-a-dozen lionesses and left the bridge. Tantomile took a few more lionesses and set out as well. Luckily for Tantomile, the vast majority of Partogans aboard the Shieldbreaker were either in the infirmary supporting Mami or they were in the Mess Hall getting dinner. The hunt was going to be carried out very quietly.

    Tantomile met Admetus again on Deck Three about five minutes later. He was holding the jacket piece of a Partogan Royal Navy uniform.

    “I found this in the room you gave to the Rauuira crew.” Admetus said. “It has a strange scent. It might belong to the Titohara girl.”

    “Give it to me,” Tantomile commanded,

    Admetus handed over the jacket and Tantomile smelled it for a moment. A bizarre concoction of scents hit her nose.

    “Petroleum jelly... aluminum silicate... mineral oils...” Tantomile mused, then she sniffed again. “Titohara is wearing a huge amount of makeup... hell, this might even be body paint. It’s wiped out her scent entirely. Pretty clever.”

    Tantomile threw the jacket down and addressed the gathered hunters.

    “Everyone, fan out.” she said, “Sniff out any Partogan who’s wearing makeup or body paint. Focus on anyone who doesn’t seem to have a natural body odor.”

    The hunters and huntresses moved out again, and Tantomile was about to follow them into the hallway when she heard a loud voice in her head.

    -mile doesn’t loo -

    Tantomile spun around.

    “What did you say?”

    Admeuts gave Tantomile a puzzled look and shook his head.

    “I was just waiting for you.” he said. “I didn’t say anything.”

    Tantomile disregarded the strange sound and returned to the hunt. Following the scent of body paint and hair dye, Tantomile ordered a lioness named Rhassa to follow her and started combing the halls. They pushed open doors with the butts of their Slugthrower Rifles and made sure to get a good sniff at every Partogan they encountered. After about fifteen minutes of searching, Tantomile was close enough to the infirmary to hear the sound of the crowd cheering on Mami Tamihana. She was just starting to walk past the infirmary entrance, sniffing the air attentively, when she heard a Partogan speaking from inside the room.

    “These stripes will represent the speed and swiftness with which Mami struck down her foe!” declared the Tohunga-tā-Moko,

    His voice was followed up by the high-pitched clink-clink of hammer meeting chisel and a pained groan from Mami Tamihana. Tantomile began to move away from the infirmary door, nose twitching. She had matched most of the odors in the room to one Partogan or another. While a few of the females in there did wear makeup, it was nowhere near as excessive as the smell Tantomile was tracking.

    - et her some ice f-

    Okay, this time Tantomile had definitely heard a voice.

    She looked around for whoever might have spoken, but Rhassa was only one in the hallway, and the voice Tantomile just heard had been male.

    “Hey, Rhassa... did you just hear a voice? A male Partogan talking about ice?”

    Rhassa shook her head.

    “No, your Highness” She said, “Maybe-”

    But at that moment, the infirmary door opened and a teenage Partogan boy emerged. Tantomile recognized him as Arahu Ranginui, a member of the Rauuira crew. As he darted past Tantomile, he said:

    “Excuse me, I just need to get some ice real quick.”

    Tantomile’s jaw dropped and she turned to watch him leave. Then she suddenly knew what was going on.

    “Damnit! Not now!” Tantomile groaned, beating the side of her head with one paw, “Not... right... now! STOP!”

    Tantomile was furious! Not at any person or the situation, but her own brain. She was the age where lions reached physical maturity, and also the age where young Gifted Lions would start to show the very earliest signs of Psionic aptitude. Tantomile had always known she had the Gift. She had also been warned by many lions that she would start hearing people’s thoughts sometime around her second birthday... but now!? NOW!? In the middle of a hunt!?

    Now that Tantomile knew what was happening, she was ready for the next instance of uncommanded mind-reading.

    What's wrong with her? She shouldn't hunt if she’s ill. Rhassa's stray thought was so loud Tantomile could hear it with no effort at all.

    Since Tantomile had been expecting it, she had managed to intercept and read the entire thought. But this wasn’t going to help anyone. Without the proper tools or training, Tantomile would have no way to harness or control her Gift. She would just suffer, unwillingly reading the minds of anyone who got too close with no way to make their thoughts go away. It would be torture.

    “Shut up!” Tanotmile snapped at Rhassa, “You keep hunting, I’ve gotta do something about this.”

    Leaving her fellow lioness behind, Tantomile scrambled back up to the bridge, ignoring everyone and anyone she encountered. Every time she passed another Partogan or Levakian, she would involuntarily invade their minds, catching snippets of thoughts, opinions, and fantasies. After a few minutes, it began to get even worse. The “range” of Tantomile’s out-of-control telepathic hearing extended to several Bios around her, and soon she had developed the unwanted ability to hear the thoughts of every Partogan and Levakian for about 20 Bios around. Tantomile’s mind was bombarded with the thoughts of nearly 50 Partogans and Levakians, the inner monologues chaotically rained into her mind, pressing up against one another, begging for Tantomile’s attention:

    - d I leave my deo -

    - ter pay more tha -

    - ody paint. Titohara was o - .

    -onto us. Where the hell are y -

    - e war. Can’t the Quee -

    - oks terrible. Is that what I lo-

    - ss my cubs. I wann -

    -was that yo -

    -f we can’t pay the Assurian merc-

    -ite Levakian looks rea-

    -kets to Enutanga’s concer-

    -think about wher -

    - nt of hair dye. Titoha -

    - starting to scar... time for th -

    - is really hur -

    - ess hall. Mess hall. Mess hal -

    - got the scent -

    - y right hand feels itc -

    - hurts! Please let it be ov -

    - ika . I already found yo -

    - That’s her! right the -

    - ell is calling m -

    - g away! We should go bac -

    - ere’s my de -

    Finally, Tantomile made it back to the bridge. She elbowed her way past an Ensign and entered the Captain’s Office. The little space had been made her own. It had a desk, computer workstation, bookshelf, a wall covered in starcharts, and a bed for her to sleep on. The most important thing, however, was along the far wall. Tantomile had kept it here... ready for this very situation.

    One whole wall of Tantomile’s office was lined with potted Harakeke plants. Their thick, broad leaves reached up to the ceiling like arms, soaking in as much artificial light as they could. Of course, Tantomile already knew why this plant was outlawed in Partoga. Harakeke contained a potent chemical that acted as a depressant on the brain, impairing and inhibiting higher level brain functions. Right now, Tantomile needed a little impairment.

    In general, Partogans preferred to dry Harakeke leaves, roll them up, and then smoke them. Levakians, however, would simply eat the leaves whole. Tantomile pulled a few of the thickest leaves off the stalk of one plant, stuffed them into her mouth and began to chew, making sure to crush the Harakeke and expel as many of the juices as possible. For about a minute, nothing happened. Voices continued to echo around Tantomile’s head... but then they started to sound tinny, as though Tantomile was hearing them through a badly tuned speaker. Tantomile swallowed the leaves. The voices sounded very faint now. They were no louder than the hum of a Hoto bug. That was good enough for Tantomile. She exited the bridge and rejoined the hunt.

    It didn’t take long for her to catch up. Tantomile ran into Admetus in only a few minutes, and he told her that Titohara had been found in the Mess Hall. She was being stalked by a few lionesses while the rest of the hunting party assembled in the rooms and corridors outside.

    Jonnar and his hunters were covering the elevator doors when Tantomile arrived on deck three.

    “Mess hall’s going to be down this corridor.” Jonnar explained, “Take a left turn, then it's the fourth door on the left.”

    “Right.” Said Tantomile. “What does she have in the way of escape routes?”

    “There are two entrances to the mess hall. One leads this way and the other goes aft, towards the armory. My hunters got there first and closed off that route. She’s cornered.”

    Tantomile called up to the bridge and ordered all of the surrounding rooms and corridors to be evacuated. A plan was hastily developed to overwhelm and capture Titohara before she had the chance to put up a fight.

    An unarmed Levakian messenger walked into each of the rooms and hallways surrounding the Mess hall, asking or ordering the occupants to leave and go to other parts of the ship. The exodus took about three minutes. Then both doorways leading into the mess hall were covered by Levakian hunters. The ambush was set.

    On Tantomile’s command, both doors were simultaneously opened and no less than six Thunderflash bombs were tossed, rolled, or launched into the mess hall. One after another, they detonated! As a dozen Levakian hunters stormed into the room, smoke curled up from the expended Thunderflash bombs and triggered the fire suppression system! Alarms blared and water began to spray from strategically placed sprinklers in the walls and ceiling of the mess hall.

    When Tantomile finally entered the room, she saw that two Partogan women had been subdued, forced to kneel on the floor, and were handcuffed near the center of the room: a middle-aged officer with grey dreadlocks and a teenage Ensign with long white hair.

    As she advanced on the two captives, Tantomile made herself look and sound as terrifying as possible. A deep, nearly continuous growl thundered from her chest. She held her mouth partway open to reveal her sharp teeth. She also unsheathed her claws, raised her hackles, and flattened her ears to the top of her head. When Tantomile came to a stop in front of the two women, she looked like she was mere seconds away from tearing both of them to bloody bits.

    “Which one of you is Titohara?” Tantomile’s voice was dripping with implied threats and an undertone of lust for violence. “SPEAK!”

    The teenager looked up at Tantomile.

    “Uh... that’s me...” but before Titohara could say anything else, the officer spoke up.

    “What the hell do you think you’re doing!?” the officer stood up and faced Tantomile with a defiant expression. “In what universe do you think you can get away with treating us like this?”

    Tantomile reached out with one paw and grabbed the officer by the head.

    “Since you’re not the person I was asked to find, there’s nothing to stop me dumping you into space and telling Royal Star Command you died at Aiowa. They won’t know better unless I actually turn you over to them, Partogan. Now SHUT UP! OR I’ll-”

    Whatever Tantomile’s next threat was going to be, no one ever found out. On her left Admeus suddenly gasped out loud:

    “By the Mountain! She’s melting!”

    All eyes fell on Titohara. She had been standing in the deluge of sprinkler water for nearly two minutes now, and she really did look like she was melting. Right before Tantomile’s eyes, the topmost layer of Titohara’s brown skin seemed to just wash away like dirt in a rainstorm, revealing flesh that was pale white instead. Something similar was happening to her hair as well. With each passing second, Titohara’s hair became darker and darker, until it was blacker than the darkest night. At her feet, colossal amounts of makeup, concealer, body paint, and hair dye swirled around the wet floor.

    Titohara had seemingly transformed into a completely different being.

    Everyone gazed in awe and wonder at the... well... she wasn’t a Partogan, was she? Partogans don’t have black hair or skin that was such a pale white color. Titohara blinked, and her eyes changed color as well. Her irises shifted away from the purple color shared by all Partogans and became an unheard of... and completely unexpected... shade of blue.

    Everyone just stared at Titohara for a full minute before Jonnar dared to say the words out loud.

    “You...” he breathed, “You’re... a.... You’re a Snowskin.”

    The Snowskin dropped all pretense as the last vestiges of her disguise fell away.

    “Sure.” She said quietly. “You can call me that.”

    Moving too quickly to allow for anyone to react, the Snowskin pulled her arms apart and broke the handcuffs as though they were made of fiberglass! Then she did something that Tantomile had only seen other Levakians do.

    She used the Gift.

    Cold and harsh Psionic energy radiated out and away from the Snowskin, blasting Tantomile, Admetus, Jonnar, and all of the hunters off their feet. Jonnar roared loudly and charged at the Snowskin, teeth gnashing and claws gleaming! She turned to face him and shouted some strange words in an alien language Tantomile had never heard before:

    “Watashi o hottoite!”

    The Snowskin pointed her finger at Jonnar and a cone of purple flames erupted from her hand and engulfed him! The Soulfire burned every last part of the lion’s being, utterly annihilating him! Reduced to ashes, Jonnar’s remains collapsed to the floor. Tantomile raised her Slugthrower rifle and fired a single blast. The Snowskin flicked her wrist, and another wave of Psi-energy met the projectile head on, forcing it to make a 90 degree turn, then it embedded itself into the skull of another Levakian hunter.

    Before anyone could recover, the Snowskin called out to the officer who had defended her, speaking once more in that freakish alien language:

    “Hayaku koi!”

    The Snowskin wrapped one arm around the Partogan officer who had defended her and pulled her in close; and with the other, she pulled out of her pocket a small object shaped like the handle, trigger, and stock section of a small firearm. Tantomile scrambled to her feet and charged on all fours towards the Snowskin!

    At the same time, the Snowskin pulled the trigger of her device and Tantomile crashed headlong into something invisible yet very solid! The Snowskin had created some kind of Psionic shield, keeping Tantomile and her soldiers from drawing any closer to her. Tantomile slammed her paws and head into the Psionic barrier, while her soldiers fired their slugthrower rifles into it. Neither effort had any effect.

    The device in the Snowskin’s hand had started working the second she had pulled the trigger. Heralded by the all-too-familiar hiss-hum-hum-hum sound, a semitransparent purple window split open! Right there, in the middle of the room, a small Quantum Wavefront opened up to its “full” size, just barely big enough for two Partogans to step through. The shimmering purple wall illuminated Tantomile and everyone around her in magnificent light!

    “What in Miranda’s name is that!?” cried Admetus,

    Just as it would do for a ship entering Hyperspace, the Quantum Wavefront lurched backward and engulfed both the Snowskin and her companion. Once it had swallowed them both up, the Quantum Wavefront shrunk down to microscopic size with a soft hiss and closed, vanishing from normal space entirely. Left behind was a group of confused and terrified lions, gunsmoke, and Tantomile; who silently vowed to herself that she wouldn’t take her final breath until she fully understood what had just happened here...



    August 3, 1928 A.D.

    LVK Shieldbreaker, Docked to Fort Odina, Nithascal Star System, Kingdom of Partoga



    Every single inch of Mami’s face hurt. She felt as though someone had stabbed her in the face repeatedly with a sewing needle. She owed a drink... no, a hundred drinks to whoever had led her back to her bunk and laid her down on it. Unsure of how much time had passed since the Tohunga-tā-Moko had finished beating the Tattoo pattern into Mami’s face with a chisel and hammer, she rolled over to one side of the bunk and opened her eye.

    She wished she hadn’t. Pain shot all throughout her cheeks as soon as the muscles started moving. Mami caught sight of Eteka and Arahu leaning against the far wall together, watching her. Then she closed her eye again as it began to water.

    “You... creeps.” she groaned softly.

    She heard Eteka shuffling his feet.

    “Arahu was here first. He’s the creep.” Eteka explained, “I just came in here to hide from the Levakians. They’ve been on the warpath since yesterday.”

    “Eh... Leva... wha-?” Mami grumbled into her pillow. “Can’t you guys let me have one recovery day without some new crisis? Lemme rest.”

    “Not this time.” Arahu said in a depressed voice. “And for the record I was in here because I was waiting for you to wake up. I wanted to be the first person to ask you-”

    Eteka cut off Arahu,

    “You wanted to ask if women like being watched while they sleep, Ranginui? I thought the answer was obvious. Creep.”

    Mami wasn’t in the mood to play this game right now.

    “Shut up, both of you.” she mumbled, “then tell me what’s going on.”

    Silence. Mami reluctantly turned her head and quickly opened her eye again. Right before it welled up with tears, Mami saw the two soldiers looking at one another uncomfortably. It seemed neither one of them wanted to tell Mami what was happening.

    “It’s that girl who was with us on the Rauuira.” Said Arahu, “Ensign Nopera.”

    “Uh-huh. What about her?” Said Mami. “Did Eteka go tell the Commander without me?”

    There was an even longer and more uncomfortable pause.

    “Mami,” Arahu said cautiously, “The Levakians told us... that the Green Guard told them...”

    He couldn’t finish the sentence. Eteka did.

    “Titohara’s dead.” Eteka said bluntly. “They found her corpse at Fort Daxia a few days ago. Someone shot Titohara and stuffed her body into a locker. She’s been dead for nearly five months. The ‘Titohara’ we knew is an imposter. The Levakians tried to arrest her yesterday while you were getting your Tuakiri. She killed two lions and escaped.”



    “I don’t give a damn about your protocols! I want to speak to Tantomile now.”

    Mami had just repeated her demand for the second time. She wasn’t going to make a third speech. The two Levakian huntresses guarding the entrance to the Shieldbreaker’s bridge looked at one another with confusion and apprehension. On the one hand, neither of them wanted to incur Tantomile’s wrath by breaking security protocol and allowing Mami onto the bridge. On the other hand, neither of them wanted to incur Mami’s wrath by denying her entry. They had seen her face, after all.

    Mami’s new facial Tattoo had settled into its final form. A symmetrical design worked its way down from her forehead to the bottom of her chin. First, in the middle of Mami’s forehead, a black line descended the middle of her face, running along the bridge of her nose. At her nostrils, the line branched off into two “tributaries”, each traversed her face on an angle aiming towards the corners of Mami’s mouth. As soon as the tributaries struck Mami’s lips, they both turned sharply and ran down towards her chin, parallel with one another, before terminating at the beginning of her throat. Both of Mami’s lips had been turned black by Tattoo ink. Finally, both of Mami’s cheeks had been tattooed with a series of parallel lines. Running from left to right, Mami had four black stripes on each cheek, starting near her nose but not actually touching it and ending on the sides of her head before reaching her ears and hair. The ends of each line were tapered, making them narrow at the ends and wide in the center.

    To a Partogan, this sacred Tuakiri Tattoo would identify Mami as a heroic lion-slayer.

    To a Levakian, this disgusting mutilation would identify Mami as a barbaric lion-killer.

    Deciding that Tantomile’s wrath was preferable to Mami’s, the two Levakian huntresses stood aside and allowed her to enter the bridge. Mami no longer needed to try and look intimidating. The Tattoo on her face was so fresh that her skin was still red and swollen, but that didn’t matter. The mark of the Tuakiri caused everyone on the bridge to fall silent as Mami approached the white lioness sitting in the Captain’s Chair.

    Tamihana!” Tantomile sounded surprised, “I thought you were still in the infirmary. What do you want?”

    The lioness got up from her seat and faced Mami. Standing on her hind legs and brushing the ceiling with her ears, Tantomile was more than twice Mami's height. but the ink on her face gave her a little extra courage.

    “My friend just told me that Titohara Nopera, one of my shipmates, is dead.” Mami said, “He said he heard it from your soldiers. Tell me everything.”

    Tantomile looked around at her comrades. Admetus was baring his teeth at Mami and growling. She lightly grasped Mami’s shoulder.

    “Follow me.”

    The lioness led Mami into the Captain’s Office, a small room just off the bridge. Just like the rest of the Shieldbreaker, the accessories and amenities of the room had been designed for a member of the Blorg species. Tantomile pulled up the strange hemispheroid platform that passed for a chair in Blorg circles and offered it to Mami.

    For the next twenty minutes, Tantomile gave Mami a blow-by-blow recount of everything that had happened the previous day. Mami’s head seemed to spin as she became fully aware of the recent developments. Tantomile revealed how Student-Soldiers at Fort Daxia had discovered the corpse of the real Titohara last week and how the crew of the Ahkmou had discovered she was being impersonated. When Tantomile explained the bizarre way in which the false Titohara had escaped, Mami put her head in both hands and groaned.

    “A Hyperspace Jump! She did a Hyperspace Jump INSIDE of a pressurized starship?! That’s freakin’ impossible!!”

    Finally, Mami was brought up to speed. She was momentarily overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start, so she said the first thing to spring to her mind. A thing that was supposed to be common knowledge across the Kingdom of Partoga and all of its Vassals:

    “B-B-But the Snowskins are extinct!”

    History confirms Mami’s statement to be true: The “Snowskins” were a tribe of Partogans with pale skin and dark hair. They had appeared on Partoga at exactly the same time as the Partogans with brown skin and white hair. However, the Snowskins spoke a very strange language that no Partogan had ever understood. Both the Snowskins and their unknowable tongue had been destroyed by Queen Miranda the Great during the Wars of the Famine.

    “Well there’s one alive,” Tantomile countered, “and they just spent the past five months pretending to be your crewmate. She’s got a handheld Hyperspace device, an accomplice, and a considerable head start on me. If there’s anything you know... anything at all... I’d be deeply grateful.”

    Mami’s mind was working at a million Kios per hour. She was struggling to remember every moment in which she’d interacted with Titohara, or perhaps her imposter and killer. No matter what Mami thought, she was quickly forced to accept that she’d never actually met the “real” Titohara. The teenager who had greeted Mami in the Ahkmou’s construction bay had been a fake from the first moment.

    Mami stood up, paced back and forth in the little office, then swore aloud.

    “Uh-huh. You see the jam I'm in?” Tantomile responded.

    Mami nodded.

    “It’s a bad jam.” she admitted. “It sounds like it’ll be my jam soon, too. You said the Green Guard is talking to everyone?”

    “Yeah.” Said Tantomile. “I knew you were in no shape to talk to them yesterday, so I lied and said you were still recovering from facial reconstruction surgery. Told them to come back later.”

    Mami put a hand to her new Tattoo.

    “You weren’t really lying, but thanks anyway.” Mami said, “No, I’m just as in the dark as you.”

    Mami stopped her pacing.

    “So, what happens now?”

    Tantomile sighed,

    “The Green Guard is still working on that.” she said, “They said they wanted to sweep my whole ship one last time before giving up the search. Then all of the exits have to be secured because an important politician is visiting the station tomorrow. Don’t want any loose ends, you know?”

    Mami put her hands on her hips.

    “Anything I can do to help?” she asked, “You covered for me, so helping you is the least I can do in return.”

    Tantomile’s whiskers perked up.

    “Help? Really? You really wanna help us, Taihara?”

    Mami winced at the use of the word Taihara.

    “Look, I don’t care what you call me or what you think of me.” Mami said. “You helped me out, so it’s only fair I returned the favor. The offer still stands.”

    Tantomile studied Mami’s defiant face for a moment. Then she sighed,

    “Alright, let’s talk.” she said, “Admetus and I were trying to brainstorm some ideas before you showed up. How the impersonator got away with it for so long, how that Hyperspace device worked, how the hell a Snowskin went undetected for so long. We need just ideas to work from. You got any?”

    For the next two hours, Tantomile and Mami talked at length about Titohara, her death, her 5-month-long impersonation, and the possible identities of the killer/impersonator. They bounced countless ideas off the each other. Theories and hypotheses were developed around a wide range of topics, ranging from the identity of Titohara’s killer to the science of performing a Hyperspace Jump inside of an atmosphere. (Which should be impossible)

    Tantomile also gave Mami an explanation of how the Gift worked, and Mami scolded Tantomile for shutting off her own powers with Harakeke right before the confrontation.

    “Hey!” Tantomile protested, “Even if I knew what I was up against, I just discovered my Gift yesterday. I wouldn’t have been able to do anything with it! It takes months and sometimes years of training to master the Gift. I probably won’t be on her level till this time next year.”

    Then the discussion turned to the strange trinket Titohara’s killer had used to escape. Mami had never seen a Hyperspace Module smaller than a one-room house, and had a very hard time believing this part of the story. Instead of trying to fathom how such a device worked, she tried to explain it away.

    “Don’t the Turanic Raiders and Hiigarans have high-powered hologram emitter technology?” Mami asked, “What if you got duped by a hologram? She could still be on the ship while you think she’s gone.”

    Tantomile flicked her tail.

    “Holograms. No one’s thought of that yet, although a few lions have thought of other ways the killer could still be aboard.”

    Tantomile and Mami both considered the Hologram theory a little more. Eventually, they were forced to discount the idea because the mess hall’s sprinkler system was activated at the time. The immense amounts of water flying through the air would have diffused a hologram.

    Finally, they wrapped up their brainstorm with a theorizing frenzy that included outlandish ideas such as:


    • Titohara’s impersonator and killer were two different people who just happened to commit their crimes at roughly the same time... or
    • Titohara was the real killer and the corpse at Daxia belonged to someone else... or
    • Titohara was a time-traveler, and she had killed her past or future self... or
    • The entire universe had gone mad, causing all sorts of insane things like Sentient Sacrifice, Kavinikas and Muakas living together, mass hysteria, and the cancellation of Xenonian News.
    At the end of Mami’s final rant, she collapsed into her seat and took a deep breath.

    “We just chased our tails in a circle for two hours and got nowhere.” She admitted.

    Tantomile pawed at one of Mami’s hands and gave an equally deep and frustrated sigh.

    “You’re not a Levakian.” she said, “So, you’re not allowed to make that joke... but yeah... you’re right.”

    The intercom device on Tantomile’s desk buzzed. One of the Levakian crew members spoke through it:

    “Your highness, Green Guards are coming aboard to conduct the final inspection. Important political dignitaries will board Fort Odina in 12 hours.”

    Tantomile shook her head vigerously, sending white fur flying everywhere.

    “You should go.” She said to Mami. “The Green Guard is going to take all of the Partogans off the ship before the dignitary visits, so you might want to pack up anything you don’t want to lose now. I’m leaving as soon as all of you disembark.”

    “Where are you going?” Mami asked, “Aren’t you gonna keep investigating this?”

    Tantomile nodded her head and growled.

    “Damn right I am." she said, "I’ve never seen a Partogan use the Gift. It shouldn’t even be possible. I can’t help but think we’ve just stumbled into something bigger than both of us, and I’ve gotta know what it is. Not knowing would... oh, I dunno. Kill me, probably."

    Tantomile and Mami both shared a small laugh. Then Tantomile continued,

    "Anyway, I’m already planning to meet someone who can help me figure this all out. There’s a famous Gifted Lion living on Paku Nui named Sebakhira. She's wise beyond her years like you wouldn't believe. Anyway, she's currently in the service of King Waiparau. He's... uh, a close friend of my enemy, King Emerdon. When I reach Paku Nui, I'll have to somehow... convince... him to let me talk to Sebakhira. But that's my problem to solve. You'll probably be on your way back to your home base by the time I get to Paku Nui."

    Mami rubbed her hands together energetically.

    “Tell you what,” she said. “My home base is Fort Daxia. It’s where all of the Student-Soldiers of Kinloka Squadron go when we’re not in some field training exercise or being sent into combat. When I get back, I’ll do my own investigating. See what I can dig up about all this. Then I’ll contact you with whatever I find.”

    “Why do you want to help me so much?” She asked, “We’re lions and you’re Taihara. It doesn’t make sense.”

    “Yes, I’m a Taihara.” Mami answered, “But the way I see it, that shouldn’t stop me from helping a lion who needs and deserves it. You knew I’d killed Hūria as soon as you showed up. You knew I was Taiara and you had, what, two chances to just let me die? You didn’t. Clearly you don’t think I’m all bad, and I think the same about you. You helped me out of a bad place, so it’s only fair I repay the favor and help you.”

    Mami scribbled her name and Hypercomms information onto a piece of paper and pressed it into Tantomile’s paw.

    “You find out anything, or if that Gifted Lion gives you any leads: call me. I promise, I’ll share anything I find out and try to help if you need it; and if you don't call me, I'll call you.”

    Tantomile looked down at the sheet of paper, then gave Tantomile a small smile.

    “Thanks. It’s really good of you to offer to help out.” said Tantomile. “Almost like you’re a friend, you know?”

    Mami raised her eyebrow. Friend, huh?

    “Last lion that got close to me died.” she reminded Tantomile, unable to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. “Don’t get any funny ideas now.”

    Tantomile flicked her tail and swatted at Mami’s hand with her paw. It was a playful gesture with claws retracted.

    “Wouldn’t dream of it, Taihara.” she growled, equally sarcastic, “Or can I just call you Mami?”

    “Mami's fine,” she replied. “Don't forget: If you don’t call me, I’ll call you. I think you're right about this being bigger than all of us. We've gotta work together to solve it.”

    Tantomile smiled.

    “I’ll remember, and I'll listen for you on the Hyperwave.” she said. “But don’t expect me to act all gracious and friendly to you in front of other lions. You’re still a Taihara. They won’t all be as forgiving as me.”

    With one hand on the door, Mami turned around one last time to ask,

    “Hey, do you know who the visiting dignitary is? A National Assembly member or something?”

    Tantomile crossed the room, put her snout right up to Mami’s ear and whispered:

    “The Queen.”


     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 2.6: Toa Wahine
  • Macavity116

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    Chapter 2.6
    Toa Wahine
    August 4, 1928 A.D.
    Fort Odina, Nithascal Star System, Kingdom of Partoga

    y4m-6GDAZUU57ZBb6kQ8uM9Aq61oMuoN9zQH8tMBukOcOO4yp3IyLM3B0mrHEzcYwQVfuGtgIE-LwlMakp435xubrtj7_vmJBpGC7tXzz7xz8JbOe3JKHFGUxNPPs7BIctzNWotgP0B2RX6hdP9FqyMLaa9PdPWFVK15SNTCpIMLk179xmCx-Rp1wy_FR3b2Od93on2dJESdlldYaQ6x6EYJA
    Caption said:
    Tantomile's Armada has transferred the survivors of Task Force Hydruka to Fort Odina. The survivors will then be moved to Transport Fleet 3, which will fly them to back Fort Daxia. Queen Marie and her escorts arrived and will return to Partoga aboard one of these transports.
    Mami and the eight surviving members of the Rauuira crew woke up early the next morning and followed all of the other Partogan crew members across the airlock and into Fort Odina. Unlike the Daxia Officer Training School, Odina was purely a military base, designed to guard the exit of the Nithascal Hyperspace Gate, which lead directly to a network of similar gates, connecting Partoga to the rest of the galaxy.

    These Hyperspace gates were immensely useful for their ability to connect empires together over vast distances. People in Partoga could use the Nithascal gate to visit the Taiidan Empire, which was located on the opposite side of the galaxy, and then return to their homes in Tapanui faster than Enutanga could finish warming up for her next concert.

    Naturally, these transportation hubs were heavily guarded by massive installations such as Fort Odina. The colossal battlestation was the size of a small moon, and outfitted with hundreds of Mass Drivers, missile launchers, fighter bays, and Ion Cannons.

    Mami only got to see a small portion of this. Flanked on all sides by Green Guard soldiers, she, Eteka, Arahu, Rapati, Ango, and the rest of the Rauuira crew were taken into the depths of the fortress, far away from any outside views, and led into a large office where Mami was given the first of two incredible surprises that day:

    It turned out the Major General responsible for the Green Guard investigation into Titohara’s death and subsequent impersonation was Aringa Ranginui, a blood relative of her teammate Arahu. The entire Rauuira crew quickly reaped the rewards of being “friends" with the most powerful political family in the Kingdom.

    While Major General Aringa Ranginui spoke, he kept one eye on his great-nephew Arahu at all times:

    “After reading the report submitted by the commanding officer of the LVK Shieldbreaker, it’s the preliminary determination of my investigation that you have all been the victims of a large-scale conspiracy to do harm to our Kingdom’s great military. Whether you were targeted intentionally or simply caught in the crosshairs is undetermined. This investigation is under the supervision of the highest levels of government. Her Majesty the Queen is even aware of the proceedings. But for now, I want to let all of you know that you are not and never were under any kind of suspicion. If you got this impression, then I sincerely apologize. I promise you, all effort is being made to find the killer of Ensign Nopera and bring them to justice. In the meantime, I have received and been authorized to give you all your new assignments.”

    General Ranginui pulled out a folder with eleven documents in it.

    “Before I tell you where you’re all going to go,” he said, “You need to know that an important award ceremony will be taking place in Assembly Hall One today. Queen Marie will be decorating soldiers who fought at Aiowa. Since two of you will be participating in the ceremony itself, you won’t leave the Fort until it’s over.”

    Commander Temara frowned.

    “How’s that possible?” he asked, “I haven’t finished the ‘award recommendation’ paperwork. It’s right here.”

    Temara pulled two slips of paper out of his pocket. Mami caught a brief glimpse of the forms, seeing the words: “medal,” “Hipango,” and “bravery,”

    While Temara passed the two papers to the General, Mami turned her head and caught Rapati’s eye. She shot him a smile and closed her eye in a pseudo-wink. Then she snapped back to attention as General Ranginui set the papers down on his desk and said;

    “Consider those formed filed and processed, I’ll take it from here. Commander Temara, take your troops upstairs and get them fitted for dress uniforms for the ceremony. Once the awards ceremony is finished, you’ll all go to your new assignments:”

    He opened up the folder.

    “Temara and Pipiri, you’ve both been reassigned to the HMS Ahkmou, Task Force Hydruka’s command ship. You’ll be joining the bridge crew. Toa Kopaki, you’re to report to Fort Miranda on the Homeworld for induction into the Green Guard, congratulations. Waaka, Himona, and Kewhena, you’re all being moved to Naval Base Nynrah. You’ll be briefed on your new duties when you arrive. Ranginui, Mihaka, Tamihana, Hipango, and Karaka: You’re all going back to Fort Daxia, where you’ll be fully debriefed. Your battlefield experiences will become lessons for the students. Once your stories are added to the curriculum and Ensign Hipango is fitted with a proper artificial arm, you’ll be returned to active duty. Ensign Karaka, just consider yourself part of Tamihana’s team until further notice. Does anyone have any questions?”

    Ihanga Waaka raised her hand.

    “Sir, not to point out the obvious to someone like you... but... um.... Naval Base Nynrah.... Well sir, it... uh... It doesn’t exist. It’s just a story made up to scare people about what the Royal Navy might be capable of. It’s just a way to see how gullible the enemy is.... Sir.”

    General Ranginui raised his eyebrow.

    “Yes.” he said, “What’s your point?”



    Mami had done several award ceremonies before. This was nothing new to her. What was new was the dress uniform she had forced her body into. Mami’s original “dress greens” were lost when the Rauuira had been scuttled in the Aiowa system. Like her shipmates, Mami had been issued a new uniform that didn’t quite fit right. Fortunately for her, there were nearly five thousand soldiers crammed into Fort Odina’s assembly hall. Standing in the middle of a dense formation of soldiers, no one would be able to see her fidgeting about.

    The soldiers of Task Force Hydruka kept together in formation, forming one of the four rectangular groups of men and women in the Assembly Hall. Since Mami already knew that Rapati was getting an award, she ordered him to stand near the end of the Hydruka formation, so that he could move towards the podium at the front more easily.

    From somewhere at the front of the Assembly Hall, an officer yelled,

    “Fort Odina! Attention!

    Arms snapped to sides. Heads were held high and proud. Five thousand of Partoga’s best defenders were ready to greet their ruler. At the podium, a middle-aged man in smart-looking business attire spoke into the microphone,

    “Good afternoon, soldiers of Fort Odina. I’m Eru Ranginui, Kuhina Nui of the Kingdom of Partoga. Welcome to today’s promotion and awards ceremony. We will be honoring the veterans of the Battle of Aiowa for their deeds. Please join me in giving the warmest of welcomes to our most honored guest, the legitimate elected successor to Miranda the Great, the mother of our nation, the most watchful guardian of the Unnamed Mountain, Custodian of the Great Library and counter of stars...”

    Kuhina Nui Ranginui droned on and on. Mami knew exactly who the Queen of Partoga was and didn’t need to be reminded of her mountain of titles. Instead, she thought back to her meeting with Tantomile aboard the Shieldbreaker and the mysterious events surrounding the death of Titohara Nopera, a woman who Mami had never truly known.

    Now that Mami thought about it... Titohara’s eyes had never looked genuine. If the impersonator was really a Snowskin, how had they managed to fake having purple eyes? That feature was supposed to be unique to Partogans and Gifted Levakians.

    A storm of applause brought Mami back to reality. She turned her head to the middle of the Assembly Hall and spotted the cause of the commotion:

    Queen Marie the Scholar had arrived.

    The 12th Queen of Partoga was in visibly poor health. A dedicated makeup artist had tried to give her face some color, but it only served to draw attention to the fact that the Queen was sweating a lot. Exerting herself in any physical way brought Marie to the point of exhaustion instantly. Despite the bodyguards offering their arms for her to hold, Queen Marie refused their offers and walked across the Assembly Hall unsupported.

    Breathing through her teeth, the young Queen was clearly trying to conceal the fact that she was both utterly exhausted and in serious pain by curling her mouth into a forced smile. One brave soldier standing next to the isle broke out of the position of attention and offered his hand to the Queen. She stopped walking, clearly grateful for the chance to catch her breath. She shook hands with the soldier and greeted him for nearly 20 seconds, breathing deeply while he spoke to her.

    When Queen Marie reached the podium, the front of her green silk dress fluttered rhythmically, keeping time with her shallow breaths and frantic heartbeat. A soldier reached up with a towel and wiped away the massive amounts of sweat that had built up on the Queen’s face and arms. Then he lowered the microphone to her height. Kuhina Nui Eru Ranginui sent a quick hand signal to his cousin, Major General Aringa Ranginui. The General yelled,

    “Fort Odina! Present arms!

    In unison, the soldiers of Fort Odina raised their right arms in salute to their Queen. On Mami’s right, Rapati was the only soldier who didn’t do so, as his right arm had been blown off. Instead, he placed his left hand over his heart.

    Queen Marie raised her own arm and returned the salute.

    “Order arms!” commanded General Ranginui, and the assembled troops dropped their salutes.

    One by one, the Kuhina Nui began to call the names of soldiers. Each one stepped forward and received an award from the Queen. Medals for Heroism, Silver Stars, and promotions were distributed to the soldiers who had fought in the Battle of Aiowa. Mami knew that Rapati’s name had been on one of Commander Temara’s award papers, so she kept casting sideways glances at her one-armed friend. Rapati was a little confused by Mami’s gaze and raised his eyebrow at her.

    His confusion didn’t last long, though.

    “Next, Ensign Rapati Hipango from Kinloka Squadron!” Called out General Ranginui.

    Caught by surprise, Rapati stumbled over his feet as he made his way up to the podium. When he reached it, Rapati snapped off a left-handed salute and greeted the Queen politely. Then General Ranginui handed a silver medal attached to a green ribbon to the Queen. While she pinned the medal to Rapati's chest, General Ranginui read the award orders aloud:

    “Attention to orders! The Royal Government of the Kingdom of Partoga recognizes the brave and heroic act performed by Ensign Rapati Hipango during combat operations inside the Taiidan War Zone. When his ship was boarded by the enemy, Ensign Hipango protected his teammates from an enemy Thunderflash bomb by throwing it back to its sender. Ensign Hipango suffered serious injuries to his right arm in the process, yet his actions may have saved as many as eight lives and helped prevent his ship from falling into enemy hands. For his deeds, Her Majesty the Queen has bestowed the Royal Medal for Heroism and promoted him to the rank of Lieutenant with an effective date of Hōngongoi 21st, 413. Let’s give him a round of applause!”

    Mami raised her hands over her head so that Rapati could spot her in the applauding sea of soldiers. Queen Marie gave him a gentle pat on the shoulder and said one last thing to him that Mami couldn’t hear over the noise. Her words must have been kind, because when Rapati rejoined his fellow soldiers in the formation, he moved with a skip in his step and a smile on his face. Mami reached out to shake Rapati’s hand and started to say something congratulatory to him.

    The sound of her own voice nearly caused Mami to miss the second big surprise of the day:

    “The last soldier to be decorated today,” announced General Ranginui, “Will be Ensign Mami Tamihana of Kinloka Squadron!”

    Mami's voice died in her throat. She was suddenly very aware of several hundred soldiers turning to face her. Just like Rapati, Mami stumbled out of line. Suddenly, the distance between herself and the podium seemed gargantuan; and it only seemed to get larger as Mami began walking towards the podium and Queen Marie.

    Mami felt the gaze of thousands of eyes, giving her a prickling sensation along her back. When she got close to the podium, she also noticed the whispering. Soldiers who had spotted the fresh Tattoo on Mami’s face were passing the word along to their comrades. Every whispered conversation was about Mami, and this caused her to feel simultaneously flattered and uncomfortable.

    “She’s a Taihara. Got the mark on her face.”

    “You think that’s why she’s got an eye patch?

    “Definitely. Look at those scars.”

    “I heard the lion clawed her eye out and she went berserk. Pumped it so fulla bullets that it’s guts came out.”

    “I heard from Manawa that she fights like a freakin' savage. She likes getting blood on her.”

    “She’s so beautiful! You think she’s single?”

    “No way, brother. You see the way she was lookin’ at the guy with one arm?”

    “Hell, no! She can do better than stumpy-dude!”

    “Our Quartermaster said she bit the lion’s ear off.”

    “She looks really tough. I bet she’s from someplace like Asalele, Tapanui or Aoraki.”

    “I’ll take that bet. 100 Dirams on Tapanui."

    The whispering only stopped when Mami reached the podium. She still hadn’t fully recovered from the shock of being called out like this, so when she saluted the Queen and spoke, both actions were somewhat robotic:

    “Good afternoon, your Majesty.”

    Up close, Queen Marie the Scholar looked even more frail than she did at first sight. Marie’s short grey hair quivered, giving away how unsteady the Queen was on her feet. Mami was terrified that the 13-year-old ruler might just crumble to pieces right in front of her. It took Mami a second to notice the piece of silk cloth in the Queen’s hands.

    “Fighting lions isn’t a game for kids like us.” said Queen Marie. “But you seem pretty good at it. You impressed me, Tamihana. I’ll watch your military career with great interest.”

    Then General Ranginui told Mami to face her fellow soldiers and stand at attention.

    “Attention to orders! The Queen of Partoga has chosen to recognize the valor and courage of Ensign Mami Tamihana. During combat operations in the Taiidan War Zone, Ensign Tamihana's ship was boarded by the enemy, and she was confronted by a rouge Levakian who had joined the enemy. At great risk to herself, Ensign Tamihana fought and killed the lion which had threatened the lives of her fellow crewmates. At the age of fourteen years and one month, Ensign Tamihana is now the youngest person in the history to be a confirmed Lion-Killer. In recognition of this deed, her Majesty the Queen has chosen to promote Ensign Tamihana to the rank of Lieutenant with an effective date of Hōngongoi 6th, 413. Furthermore, her Majesty has chosen to bestow the Jade Sash, our Kingdom’s highest possible award for heroism and a mark of the Queen’s personal champions. Let’s give a big hand for Lieutenant Tamihana!”

    As the crowd of troops erupted into applause once more, Mami's vision was obstructed for the briefest second as Queen Marie draped the Jade Sash over Mami’s head and shoulder. Mami could see Rapati, Arahu, Eteka, and Ango all cheering for her near the back of the Hydruka formation, and she smiled back at them. Suddenly, the applause stopped and a ripple of surprised gasps rang through the Assembly Hall. It sounded like all the air was being sucked out of the room! Someone in the crowd shouted,

    “No way!”

    Then Mami heard a noise behind her. A rattling, rasping sound. Kind of like metal grinding against…

    No way!

    “Okay, Tamihana.” Said the Queen’s weak voice. “Turn around and face me again.”

    Mami slowly turned on her heels and saw exactly what had made that metallic rattling noise.

    Queen Marie was holding the Royal Saber in her right hand. The 413-year-old sword was once wielded by Queen Miranda the Great, recovered by Sophie the Merciful, and then made into a Royal Heirloom by Carol the Pious. It glittered in the star fortress’s artificial lighting. A replica of the Whetu Kārerarera glimmered in the silver crossbar. Mami knew what was about to happen, but she was having a lot of trouble believing it.

    As an attendant held a microphone to the Queen’s mouth, she gave Mami a gentle smile.

    “Your achievement wouldn’t be complete without this.” Queen Marie said, her trembling voice amplified so that everyone could hear, “Kneel.”

    Mami’s whole body trembled as she went down on one knee. What did I do to deserve this? She asked herself. There’s no way I ACTUALLY deserve to get this, right?

    Mami felt the flat of the blade come to rest gently on her left shoulder. It shook a little in the loose, sweaty grip of the wielder. Mami’s mind went blank.

    “For becoming the youngest Taihara in history while serving me in battle,” Queen Marie began, “I grant you, irrevocably and totally, the title of Toa Wahine.”

    She lifted the Royal Saber and placed it onto Mami’s right shoulder.

    “This is your Toa Oath:” recited the Queen, “‘Defend with your life the people, the city, the continent, and the Kingdom of Partoga. Tolerate no treachery or treason, and commit none in return. Never abandon a fallen comrade. Obey the commands of your Queen before and above all others.’ That is your oath, Tamihana. Swear it.”

    Mami lifted her head to face the Queen, placed her hand over her heart, and swore to uphold the Toa Oath. Her mind was still blank from shock, her words robotic and monotone.

    “I swear to defend with my life the people, city, continent, and Kingdom of Partoga. I swear to tolerate no treachery or treason, and I will commit none in return. I will never abandon a fallen comrade, and I swear to obey the commands of my Queen before and above all others.”

    Queen Marie lifted the Royal Saber off of Mami’s shoulder.

    “And may Riri Nui strike you down if you fail to uphold your oath. Now rise a Toa.”

    Queen Marie returned the Royal Saber to its scabbard. When Toa Mami stood up, Kuhina Nui Ranginui presented her with a framed certificate that memorialized the date, time, and place where Mami had become a Toa. At the Queen’s command, Toa Mami turned around to face her fellow soldiers. Everyone burst into applause! Somewhere in the formation of Task Force Hydruka members, Toa Mami could see Toa Kopaki giving Eteka a one-armed hug and whispering something into his ear.

    With the Queen’s sweaty, shivering hand on her left shoulder, Toa Mami raised her right arm in salute and shouted to the soldiers of Fort Odina:

    “Long live Queen Marie!”

    The assembly hall shuddered with the force of thousands of voices cheering:

    “Kia roa te Kuini!!”

    As the applause started to die down, the Queen gently turned Toa Mami around to face her again and said in a low whisper:

    “One last thing, Tamihana. I’ve seen the report from the Shieldbreaker... the one about Ensign Nopera. When you get back to Fort Daxia, you won’t be getting a new assignment right away. I want to meet you again. I’ve told the officers at Fort Daxia to keep you there and get everything set up for us to have a one-on-one talk next week, on the 8th of Akuhata. Understand?”

    Toa Mami nodded her head, a sense of thrilling excitement rising in her chest.

    “Yes, your Majesty! I’ll look forward to it.”

    “Perfect.” said the Queen, “I’ll see you at Daxia next week. You can go back to your troops now.”


     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 2.7: The Paradox
  • Macavity116

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    Chapter 2.7
    The Paradox

    August 8, 1928 A.D.
    Kumara City, Paku Nui – Kingdom of Paku Nui (Vassal of the Kingdom of Partoga)


    y4mO_5rcU1s8h0lC0HU4uQbZaabbyPOna0eorPFo7S7opGyaMMp35XQHQvIfyhstgjr-FMvDTvc-Cjvp7nJczdSkSDcwl8RqIPWhZGga2pa5fAXdKlDSNEG_awQ0NfQVe1zw-5vjFQH5ohupVoTSxwAlvSa79U-Y12x6-GA_ng92MPiuJyGpa9CWjFByZncSUaxWPn6-79CU9-z_dPh9-DONA

    Caption said:
    Paku Nui is the heart of the Kingdom of Paku Nui. Overpopulated to a dangerous level, there simply isn't enough food for everyone. Tantomile's mercenary armada waits in orbit while she goes down to the surface.
    From above, it looked as though a lake of shimmering light was lapping gently up against the many buildings which made up downtown Kumara. On closer inspection however, one realizes that they are merely standing outside of the most intense party in the Outer Rim. Nearly two-hundred thousand Levakians and about fifty thousand Partogans were jumping, roaring, screaming, and generally being raucous and chaotic while they waited for the girl of the hour to appear. All the while, each and every member of the crowd was clutching a small LED light, waving it madly above his or her head and lighting up the city streets as though it were early morning instead of late at night. Nearly everyone attending this event had travelled to Paku Nui from other parts of the Kingdom, since the actual population of Paku Nui was busy scavenging for what little food remained on the planet.

    In front of this massive group of revelers was a huge concert stage, set with all of the lighting, amplifiers, and musical equipment a rock’n’roll band would require. For the moment the stage was empty, but the crowd was willing to wait. After all, this wasn’t any ordinary musical act they were waiting for. There was only one person in the entire galaxy who could bring so many Partogans and Levakians to this desolate rock hidden away near the very edge of spacefaring civilization. Near the front of the crowd, at the bottom of the stage, a man held a small microphone to his mouth and then raised his voice, amplified a hundredfold by an advanced speaker system:

    “Ladies and lions!” the Master of Ceremonies bellowed, “The show is about to begin! Are you ready to rock!?”

    Thousands of young lions roared, drowning out the screams of their Partogan companions. The MC jumped up on the stage, fingered his microphone and shook his head at the crowd.

    “That didn’t sound right!” his voice blared out of the amplifiers and into the night sky. “My friends told me that you fans can make planets quake and starships shake! Lemme ask you again: ARE YOU READY TOOO ROOOOOOCK!?”

    The crowd of music fans raised such a din that the buildings of Kumara City shook in their foundations all around the concert venue. A rhythmic chant started somewhere in the center of the mob and grew until it seemed to have become an overwhelming force of nature:

    “Enutanga! Enutanga! ENU-TANGA! ENU-TANGA! EEENNUUU-TAAANGAAAA!!!!”

    Just when it seemed as though the crowd would lose its collective mind, a spotlight abruptly lit up a darkened corner of the stage, revealing the most popular music star in the entire Outer Rim.

    A wave of noise washed over Enutanga as she strutted purposefully towards the center of the stage. The light of nearly a dozen spotlights danced off of her curly silver hair and made it sparkle like starlight. Once she reached her mark, Enutanga picked up a handheld microphone from a stand and struck an alluring pose for the crowd, which thundered its approval.

    Once she had gotten her fill of the audience’s adoration, Enutanga greeted her fans in a cheerful voice.

    “Hey everyone! I’m so happy you could all come to my birthday party!”

    More cheers! More cacophony!

    “Thank you for all coming tonight!” Enutanga announced, “Today is going to be a special day for me AND for all of you!”

    The massive crowd of spectators fell silent as Enutanga put on a serious face.

    “Look, a lot of you know that when I announced this concert a year ago, Paku Nui was in a better place.” Enutanga explained, “Since then, this beautiful planet has been struck by one of the worst famines in the history of the Outer Rim. Tonight, some three million lions are going to sleep hungry!”

    Behind Enutanga, a video began to play on a white screen that had gently descended into place from the stage scaffolding. The audience let out a sympathetic aww as they saw an image of unclothed Levakian cubs plodding sadly along a dirt road, dragging their big paws and tufted tails on the ground from exhaustion. Each breath the cubs took caused their ribcages to show.

    The rock star waited just the right length of time. Once she was sure she had the sympathy and pity of the crowd, Enutanga continued.

    “I, for one, refuse to let these lions suffer and die through no fault of their own!” Enutanga declared. “So tonight, I’m proud to announce that all one-hundred-percent of the profits from tonight’s concert will be donated to the Legion of Mercy, a charity-”

    But Enutanga’s words were drowned out by a fresh wave of cheering. The audience roared its approval and started to chant Enutanga’s name again. She had to raise her voice to be heard.

    “The Legion of Mercy is working day and night to import hundreds of thousands of tons of fresh food from the Democratic Republic of Assuria and they need our help! I need you all to show that you really are the best fans in the whole Galaxy! The profits from any merchandise you purchase tonight will go straight to the Legion of Mercy! Let’s feed all of Paku Nui!

    For a few minutes, there was pandemonium amongst the audience. Salespeople, heavily laden with Enutanga merchandise, were making their way cautiously into the crowd only to be swarmed by fans desperate to swap money for souvenirs and trinkets. After a mere five minutes of this madness, all of the merchandise had been sold and the salespeople were scrambling back to their staging areas to grab more.

    Enutanga had prepared for this. When the buying frenzy started so slow down, the greatest pop star in the outer rim would remind everyone why she was called that. Enutanga spun skillfully on her heels and pointed to a group of musicians who had taken over the equipment behind her.

    The explosion of sound that erupted from the concert venue was comparable to a salvo of Battlecruiser-sized Mass Driver cannons. It was the perfect cover…

    y4mg42jSObHdiFkCgDvg7Yh-EUekrKEJEikwHKlGUR0i8Q5SxMp2hjoBs7DmoLprIZwrpVwXmHupifXIFCdKXNnXCbzl-YLZ5hQkVke5dV-Jrn7EtHMRhhejS1u5oZEWMnjn7lT8k-0315CL68rnRA2GMERFixQ3CPYQvFGqmTwXZkVoalO3Je0tl8oTrp34erCcW2zEORQsXr4MegSY1ijoQ


    Nearly five Kios away from the concert venue was a district of large, affluent homes built and lived in by Kumara’s wealthy elite. Each home had dozens of rooms, fancy decorations, and expensive vehicles parked in big garages. In the center of this collection of houses was a massive compound, stretching nearly half a Kio in all directions. Surrounded by high walls, a mansion existed in near-total isolation from its neighbors. Armed guards patrolled the walls and courtyard around the mansion. Each and every one of them was a Levakian armed with a Slugthrower rifle and paid an inordinate amount of money to keep unwanted guests out.

    The sound of Enutanga’s Birthday Concert was louder than rocket engines at ground level. Angry homeowners shut their windows and drew their blinds. Very few people were going to see or hear what was about to happen. Even fewer would be believed.

    Timing their incursion to perfectly coincide with Enutanga’s concert, two Marine Frigates descended through the atmosphere and began to circle the compound, getting lower and lower with each pass. The guards on the ground didn’t have enough time to react. Mass Driver fire cut down anyone caught in the open! When all movement in the courtyard had ceased, both ships descended to the ground in a vertical landing pattern. Mere moments before touching the ground, one of the two frigates lurched violently and heeled over to one side. Its engine caught the compound walls and failed. The stricken Marine Frigate crashed to the ground and lay still.

    The second ship stuck its landing perfectly. Her Infiltrator Module deployed and nearly a hundred Levakian hunters and huntresses streamed out of the belly of the LVK Shieldbreaker. They were followed to the ground by a white lioness. On the ground at last, Tantomile took command of her troops.

    “That ship’s done!” she yelled, pointing to the wrecked Marine Frigate. “Get everyone off and scuttle it now. You! Call the backup ships and get them here twenty minutes ago! Squads A and B, clear the barracks and get the rest of the guards! Squads C, D, and E: clear the house! Get me Waiparau’s witch! I WANT HER ALIVE!!”

    Slugthrower fire! Tantomile dove for cover as a gun battle erupted in the courtyard. What few guards remained tried valiantly to defend the mansion, but by now, the surviving hunters and huntresses had exited the crashed vessel and joined the fight. Heavy gunfire was trained against the house, and its defenders backed away from the windows. Tantomile pulled a stalk of Harakeke out of her pocket, jammed the whole thing in her mouth, and began to chew on it like a piece of gum. Then she flipped her Slugthrower’s selector switch from “safe” to “fire” and lead a squad of her own personal guards into the fray.

    In the kitchen, Thunderflash bombs sent cooking utensils and crockery flying in all directions. An oven burst into flames, filling the surrounding rooms with an eerie orange light. Tantomile and her troops swept through the house, killing half-a-dozen lions on their way in.

    “Check the bodies for intel!” Tantomile ordered. One of the hunters from Squad C broke off from the group to comply. “Everyone else, we’re clearing the second floor!”

    A lion wearing the uniform of Tantomile’s crew bounded around a corner on all fours, panting as he gave his report.

    “Your highness… he’s -hah- he’s on the third floor!”

    Tantomile turned to face Rhassa, a huntress with bronze fur she’d met aboard the Shieldbreaker recently.

    “Get up there!”

    Thunderflash bombs rocked the building, then another wave of gunfire and violence rippled up to the second floor. Four more lions fell, but none of Tantomile’s raiders were casualties. They killed their enemies with swiftness and skill, moving quickly from one action to the next and refusing to engage the defenders in drawn-out firefights. Rhassa and her team cleared the second floor in minutes.

    Outside, the noise of Enutanga’s Birthday Concert had grown even louder. The singer’s heavenly voice warbled throughout the compound, masking the sounds of gunfire and explosions. Up on the third floor, an elderly white lioness threw open her window and screamed at a passerby walking near the mansion’s outer wall, begging for help. However, the noise of Enutanga’s siren song drowned out the voice of the lioness, and the passerby didn’t see the two Starships hiding behind the high stone walls of the mansion, so they ignored the lioness and carried on with their night.

    Meanwhile, Tantomile’s raiders were moving up to the third floor of the mansion. In a tight stairwell, the lions moved in single file. Tantomile took cover in a dug-in fighting position on the second floor. She wasn’t going to risk her life at such a crucial stage in the mission. She waited.

    Cra -crack!

    Two gunshots pierced the (relative) silence. A thud on the floor above, and then Rhassa reported over the radio:

    “Regicide! I say again! Confirmed Regicide! Enemy VIP is KIA!”

    Tantomile raced to the top of the steps. At the third-floor landing she saw Waiparau, the King of Paku Nui. He was lying flat on his back, shot twice and clearly dead. She wasn’t overly interested in this development. Turning to her lieutenants, Tantomile made a demand.

    “His witch. Find her!”

    It took about two minutes to find the Witch. With much yelling and commotion, an elderly lioness with white fur and purple eyes was dragged out of a bedroom. Psionic energy radiated outwards from the Gifted Lioness and made everyone in the room feel very uneasy. When the Levakian Witch saw Tantomile, she recognized the white fur and purple eyes of a Gifted Lion and cried out to Tantomile.

    “Sister!” the Witch cried, “help me! We can overpower them together!”

    The Witch must have thought Tantomile was an ally. Tantomile drew close to the Witch and made her intentions very clear.

    “The only one getting ‘overpowered’ will be you if you don’t cooperate with me.” Tantomile growled. “If you help me in my work, I’ll drop you off on any planet you want with cash in your pockets. If. You. Help."

    At Tantomile’s signal, the stunned Witch was hauled back to the Shieldbreaker.

    Meanwhile, Tantomile’s troops ransacked the office that had once belonged to King Waiparau and found a treasure trove of crucial documents, intelligence, and dossiers. These papers were stacked together and placed in a special kind of satchel that was designed for Levakians to wear and use. As this was happening, the huntress Rhassa approached and said,

    “Your Highness, Enutanga’s concert is going to end in fifteen minutes!”

    Checking a clock on the wall, Tantomile threw the switch on her Slugthrower Rifle from “Fire” to “Safe.”

    “Time’s up!” Tantomile announced to her troops. “Everyone back to the ships!”

    In the courtyard, the body of King Waiparau was tossed onto an already massive bonfire while the Shieldbreaker spooled up her engines. Two more ships had landed in the courtyard: a Kel-Azaan Pickett Corvette and a Levakian Missile Corvette. Survivors from the crashed Marine Frigate were being loaded onto both Corvettes while a group of fresh warriors disembarked from them. Leading this second group of hunters was Admetus.

    “Well, Tantomile? Good news?”

    “The best news.” she replied. “I got the Witch I wanted, and you’ve got yourself a Kingdom. You have enough lions? I can always spare a few.”

    “No, thank you.” Admetus replied. “I’m too far in your debt as it is, Princess. When the day comes, you’ll have me and my hunters!”

    Tantomile raised her paw in salute, and the new King of Paku Nui returned it.

    “Long live Tantomile!” he shouted, “Rightful Empress of Levakia!”

    Tantomile quickly brushed her face against King Admetus and growled in a friendly way. Then she sprinted back towards her ship.



    Back in Kumara City, Enutanga had worked the crowd into a frenzy. Bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet as she sang, Enutanga was completely caught up in the thrill and excitement of yet another successful concert! The thundering BOOM BOOM BOOM of the drums behind her reverberated throughout the air and synchronized with her own heartbeat! Could this night get any better?

    Yes, it could!

    Three shooting stars pealed across the night sky above Enutanga. As she reached the climax of her song, she stuck one hand up into the air and pointed at the streaks of light. Everyone in the audience did the same, reaching for the heavens and screaming their lungs out! Then Enutanga lowered her head and faced her audience once again, she finished her song and cheered right along with her audience!

    “YA-HA!” Enutanga screamed, “You guys are great! Best fans in all of Paku Nui! I love you! Good night!”

    Enutanga and her band members slowly started to walk backwards towards the stage exit, waving and smiling at the fans for as long as possible. Then they were backstage, where the good mood was tempered by exhaustion. Enutanga gave her manager a big hug before disappearing into her dressing room. Inside the cramped little space, Enutanga pressed the power button on a small tablet computer that was lying on her makeup shelf and typed a command on the touchscreen:

    Cmd_usr/ Play xenonian news live feed

    While Enutanga started to disassemble her costume, she heard the voice of the Xenonian News anchor fill the dressing room.

    “In other news, Interstellar musical prodigy Enutanga is performing in Kumara City tonight as part of her fourteenth birthday celebration. Many concerned parents have lodged complaints with the Paku Nui government demanding the performance be cancelled, citing a recent Galactic Council Security Council report that compared Enutanga’s amplifier system to a weapon of mass destruction. The report in question was written after an Enutanga performance on Jigoku where hospitals were inundated with between thirty and forty thousand young adults suffering from serious hearing loss. We’re now going live to... uh... wait a minute. I’m being told we’re not going live to Paku Nui. I... I.... Hold on everyone, I’ve just been handed a breaking news story and we’re still trying to make sense of it here in the news center.”

    Enutanga stopped undressing and turned her full attention to the Tablet computer. Velam Nordström, the Scyldari Anchor, was turned away from the camera and having a whispered conversation with a producer standing just out of view. Then he turned back to the camera and gave a big sigh. Enutanga felt nervous. Whenever Velam sighed like that, it meant that he was about to deliver some very bad news.

    “I’m sorry.” Velam began. “We’ve got our Husi in a row now, and we’re ready to bring you some breaking news. But first: If you are watching Xenonian News from inside the Kingdom of Partoga or one of its Satellite States, then you should know that our signal is about to be pre-empted by the Partogan Emergency Broadcast Signal. Nothing is wrong with your televisions, radios, or streaming devices. The tone and voice you are about to hear is intention-”

    Bleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee -

    Enutanga reached forward and lowered the volume on her Tablet. She was stunned by the sudden switch from calm newscaster to impersonal beeping. Her mind blank, Enutanga prepared for whatever message the Emergency Broadcast Signal would deliver.



    August 8, 1928 A.D.
    LVK Shieldbreaker, Paku Nui – Kingdom of Paku Nui (Vassal of the Kingdom of Partoga)

    Tantomile’s warship rejoined the formation of mercenary warships as it streaked away from the planet. While her lieutenants debriefed the hunters and huntresses, Tantomile went straight to the brig where the Shieldbreaker’s newest passenger was being kept.

    Nearly two dozen lions were standing guard at the entrance to the brig. They were not, however, guarding the door. Instead, the lions were watching each other, looking for the signs of mental invasion or mind control. Tantomile was guided to the only occupied cell. Flanked on both sides by lionesses, Tantomile stepped inside.

    Inside the brig, an elderly lioness with white fur and purple eyes was lying on her side and breathing deeply. Right before she stepped inside the cell, Tantomile ate a couple stalks of Harakeke to calm her mind. When Tantomile did enter, the Levakian Witch sat up and looked at her. Tantomile instructed her guards to wait outside, they hesitated, but left anyway. The Witch didn’t move from her place on the cell floor. Tantomile spoke first.

    “I have a very strange problem...” Tantomile began. “And I need your help. You are Sebakhira, are you not? The Witch who predicted the Kharakan Genocide? Who sensed the death of Riesstiu IV the Second? Sebakhira, under whose gaze nothing can pass unnoticed?”

    The Witch sank low, pressing her chin, chest, and belly to the floor. Amongst lions, this is a sign of submission.

    “Yes. I am Sebakhira.” replied the Witch. “It must be an incredibly serious problem if it caused you to kill my King and kidnap me.”

    Tantomile flattened her ears and snarled. Sebakhira pressed herself to the floor even more.

    “Tell me the problem, Princess Tantomile.” the Witch said cautiously. “I can’t be helpful otherwise.”

    Tantomile was taken aback. She had expected Sebakhira to already know why she was here. The feeling showed on Tantomile’s face.

    “You’re expecting me to have read your mind.” Sebakhira said lazily. “No. It is rude and disrespectful for one Gifted Lion to enter the mind of another Gifted Lion without permission. I was going to assume you already knew that, but you’ve been conducting yourself like a youngster whose Gift hasn’t revealed itself yet.”

    Tantomile shook her head.

    “You’re only partly wrong.” she said, “I found my Gift a week ago and I don’t have any control over it yet. That’s not why I’m here, though.”

    Tantomile decided not to beat around the bush. She laid everything out for Sebakhira to hear.

    “About two weeks ago, my ship was infiltrated by a Snowskin. They had the Gift. It killed three of my lions and then escaped by walking into Hyperspace.”

    Tantomile watched Sebakhira’s face closely and wasn’t disappointed. The elderly lioness shuddered with fear, swished her tail, and bared her teeth.

    “Are you sure it was a Snowskin?” Sebakhira asked. “Describe it.”

    Tantomile took note of this. Sebakhira hadn’t invoked the supposed non-existence of the Snowskin race. She had sought confirmation. She knew something.

    “It had the shape of a Partogan,” Tantomile explained, “But its skin was as white as snow, it had blue eyes, and hair so black you could have seen the stars in it. That thing was a Snowskin, I’m sure of it.”

    Sebakhira stood up and drew closer to Tantomile.

    “Was it a young female?” She asked.

    “What the hell does that have to do with anything!?” Tantomile spat,

    “It’s the difference between a blessing a nightmare.” Sebakhira said in a shaky voice. “Was the Snowskin a young female?”

    Tantomile nodded.

    “Maybe fifteen or sixteen years old.”

    Sebakhira was now shaking perceptibly. She had flattened her ears to her head and swished her tail back and forth like a pendulum. Sebakhira lay down on the floor again, assuming the position of submission once more.

    Paradox.” Sebakhira spoke in a whisper. “You saw the Paradox.”

    Tantomile sat down next to the Witch.

    “What is the Paradox?” she asked. “Why are you scared of her?”

    Sebakhira clawed the brig’s floor as she spoke;

    “The Paradox is not unlike the Māui, a trickster god the Partogans told stories about in the days before the Great Wrath. She is unpredictable, unknowable, and very dangerous. The Paradox is ally to none and enemy of all. For over four hundred years, a small number of Gifted Lions like myself have kept a record of every time she has appeared. She comes and goes at will, and has left her mark across all of history. Sometimes she helps us, other times she hurts us. There is no historical era in which the Paradox hasn’t interfered. Some of us think she is a physical manifestation of Time itself… because she always appears during history’s most crucial moments.

    Tantomile’s jaw dropped, Sebakhira carried on.

    “Many Gifted Lions have tried to raise an alarm, but no Partogan ever believed us. Queen Carol said we were making up stories to undermine her rule. The most powerful political families ignore us too: The Ranginui family thinks we’re trying to start a religious cult, the Mihaka family only acknowledges our warnings when it’s in their political interests to do so, and the Patariki family ignores us outright. Hundreds of generations of lions passed, but some of the Gifted Lions continue to pay attention.”

    Tantomile found her voice.

    “W-Wait a sec, you said the other Gifted Lions are keeping a record of whenever she appears?” Tantomile asked, “Where is it?”

    Sebakhira seemed grateful to talk about something other than the Paradox.

    “Asalele.” She said, “It’s the Levakian planet furthest away from Partoga. It’s the only place the Partogans would allow our people to build a research facility with a large-scale library complex.”

    Sebakhira saw the astonished look on Tantomile’s face.

    “Many Gifted Lions pay attention to the Paradox.” Sebakhira explained, “But only a select few have dedicated their whole lives to studying it. They work out of the facility on Asalele.”

    Tantomile stood up, turned around and yelled out of the cell door:

    “Rhassa! Pass the word to the helm! Set a course to Asalele at best possible speed!”

    Sebakhira grabbed Tantomile with one paw.

    “I warn you, Princess.” Sebakhira said in a dangerous tone, “If you have encountered the Paradox, then it means she’s trying to force you towards one very specific destiny. You’ve either been blessed with the best possible fortune, or you have been doomed.

    Tantomile pulled herself free from Sebakhira’s grip.

    “You’re wrong.” She said defiantly, “I’m the master of my own future. If that Snowskin wants to control my destiny, then I’ll give her a fight worthy of your library.”

    Sebakhira smiled at Tantomile.

    “That’s an attitude worthy of our next Empress.”



    “WHAT THE HELL!?”

    Coricopat’s voice erupted out of the speakers and caused Tantomile to flatten her ears. She was back in the Shieldbreaker’s Situation Room, talking to her older sister via Hyperwave Relay and regretting her decision to do so. Somehow, Coricopat had already found out about the Takeover in Kumara City and she was very upset about it.

    “Come on, Cori,” Tantomile groaned, “It was a firefight! We didn’t know who we were shooting at until Waiparau was already dead!”

    “Screw that!” Coricopat screamed, “You have any idea how Emerdon’s gonna react when he finds out you killed his friend!? Did you STOP AND THINK about what he might do to our pride!? What he might do to our mom!?”

    “Cori,” Tantomile tried to cut across her sister. “You’re missing the point! Something important-”

    “IMPORTANT!?” Coricopat was dangerously close to hysteria. “Our family is being held HOSTAGE and you think there’s something more important than that?”

    Tantomile was about to reply when she heard a male voice in the background.

    “W-wait a second.” said Tantomile. “Korova? Is that you?”

    “Tanty.” Korova spoke in a very curt voice. “Don’t start. I’m on Cori’s side this time. You were reckless.”

    This was the last thing Tantomile needed to hear right now.

    “Both of you, just SHUT UP AND LISTEN!” Tantomile roared, “I’m trying to tell you something important!”

    “NO! You listen!” Korova roared back, “What good is having a King in your pocket going to do anyone right now!? You’re going to bring consequences down on everyone! Emerdon’s going to find out you overthrew his supporter and WHAT do you think it's going to look like!?”

    “Korova-” Tantomile tried, but he cut her off.

    “It’s gonna look like you’re going for the Throne! Usurping power while your mother the Empress is still alive!!” Korova roared, “Is that what you want or is that what you’re actually doing?

    “SHUT UP!” Tantomile tried again, “I’m not a cub anymore, so stop lecturing me like one! I’ve been trying to tell you-”

    But Tantomile was interrupted again by Coricopat’s voice yelling from the background:

    “KOROVA! WHAT THE HELL IS THAT NOISE!?”

    Tantomile and Korova stopped yelling at one another. Tantomile perked up her ears and listened. Wherever Korova and Coricopat were, they both did the same. Then, Tantomile heard the sound coming through her speakers. Wherever her sister was, a long, loud tone was sounding:

    eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

    Korova recognized the sound first.

    “It’s the Emergency Broadcast Signal!” he gasped,

    Tantomile instinctively reached up to one of the wall screens in the Shieldbreaker’s Situation Room. A noise over the speakers told her that Coricopat and Korova were doing the same thing. Tantomile quickly typed a command into the touchscreen.

    Cmd_usr/ Play xenonian news live feed







    “We interrupt this program.

    This is a national emergency.

    Important instructions will follow.

    All stations have interrupted their programming at the request of the Royal Government to broadcast a message to the nation.

    Standby for a message from the Kuhina Nui of the Kingdom of Partoga:

    ‘Fellow Partogans, this is the saddest hour for all of our nation. I must tell you with the most solemn of hearts that Her Majesty Marie, our Scholarly Queen, has passed away. The Queen suffered a severe heart attack approximately one hour ago and was transported to the Kealoha Military Medical Center at Fort Daxia. The Queen was pronounced dead on arrival. I pray that her family can find comfort in the memory of all she accomplished for the people, the city, the continent, and the Kingdom she loved so much. Marie’s incredible journey and remarkable life has come to a final conclusion after thirteen years.

    In response to the situation, the National Assembly has declared a state of mourning and accordingly has issued the following instructions to the people of the Kingdom: The national flag must fly at half mast, bright colored clothing is prohibited, and all military leave is cancelled, as are all sporting events. Weekly church attendance is mandatory for all citizens. This requirement will be enforced by the Green Guard.

    Our nation stands on the brink of great change. I urge you all cooperate with Church officials and the Green Guard, and most importantly: remain united.

    Praise the Mountain, lest Riri Nui rise again.’

    You have just heard a message from Eru Ranginui, Kuhina Nui of the Kingdom of Partoga.

    This message will repeat until the National Assembly provides new instructions.

    Please follow the commands of the Green Guard and keep your device tuned to this station for further instructions.

    All stations have interrupted their programming at the request of the Royal Government to broadcast an emergency message to the nation.

    We have interrupted this program.

    This is a national emergency.

    Important instructions will follow.”







    “Cori- Coricopat?” Tantomile breathed, “Cori? Are you still there?”

    Silence. The computer screen showed that Coricopat’s ship, the Assault Frigate Kakama, had terminated the call and entered Hyperspace.


     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 2.8: Royal Vacancy
  • Macavity116

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    Chapter 2.8
    Royal Vacancy

    y4m_YbYR8xCRTLEzybyD_DuDcO5HaZhWg7eVMGzJN2Ago5UD7Nz6EOz2VwKVgbWXh9INvbwYYWPIsQ-SfHEJ2Uipp2yjYTN7ZB9b4f9t4k-XIhrUFf__fkHwm9Hiveidg4SJUw4cPNhiZQRfHz1qkOBfDy6s5SCQu_pZwrgky175vSdD-JLahNSs2-4vJjI3fEzjZzxLwtto4XCJIyGC1jI-g


    August 9, 1928 A.D.
    Fort Daxia, Trecta Star System, Kingdom of Partoga

    Fort Daxia was in mourning. The Command Staff held a moment of silence. The dockworkers raised a drink together. Cannon crews hastily executed a 200-gun salute. Student-Soldiers sought out any window that could give them a view of the Queen’s Transport ship as it pulled away from Fort Daxia and began the solemn flight back to Partoga. Even in the infirmary, a kind of shocked silence had descended upon patients and caregivers alike.

    In his medical bed, Rapati Hipango flexed his new prosthetic arm absentmindedly. He had lost all interest in the incredible Bentusi technology that allowed his new mechanical arm to do all of the same things his organic one could. He didn’t care about the fascinating micro servomotors that allowed his mechanical fingers a range of motion that was superior to the flesh and blood fingers on his left hand. He had eyes only for a television screen placed at the end of his bed. Every patient in the infirmary had one, although many of the privacy curtains were drawn so that the war wounded could mourn in peace.

    At the far end of the ward, a single bed lay unoccupied. Soldiers ignored it. Medics didn’t dare touch the medical chart hanging from a hook on the headboard. The heart rate monitor was still live, although someone had muted the dull flatline tone yesterday night. However, the screen still glowed brightly, showing in green letters the words:

    Mokara Patariki
    Age: 13
    Female
    Time of Death: 14:59 hours, 8 Akuhata 413
    Cause of Death: Sudden Cardiac Arrest

    No one wanted to interact with the screen, the bed, or the medical chart in any way. It was too soon, too painful.

    In the bed directly across from Rapati Toa Wahine Mami Tamihana was watching the same news program as him, so the noise of the two monitors mingled and became louder, overpowering the noise of about thirty other televisions. Toa Mami’s eyepatch was lying unused on her bedside table. Partogan medics had just left a few minutes ago after examining her damaged eye socket. With her one remaining eye, the young Toa watched as a computer-generated map of Partoga City was displayed on her screen. The planned route of Queen Marie’s funeral procession was overlaid onto the city streets, extending north towards the Southern Ridge of Archer’s Canyon, where many Queens had been laid to rest before.

    Toa Mami was still in shock. Queen Marie had been alive and well just yesterday. Perhaps Toa Mami was having trouble accepting this because she had not actually witnessed the Queen’s death. Instead, Rapati and Toa Mami had been escorted into the infirmary for some routine post-combat checkups, only to see about three dozen Green Guards standing in a semicircle around Marie’s body. Toa Mami didn’t need to be told what had happened. She’d figured it out pretty quickly. Like everyone else, Toa Mami was in shock, paralyzed by disbelief. She had no idea what she was supposed to be doing now that Queen Marie was dead, and she didn’t feel like doing anything else. She just wanted to sit here on this warm bed and feel bad.

    Toa Mami was busy tracing the funeral procession route with her finger, so she didn’t notice the infirmary doors open and close. She only looked up when she heard a familiar voice.

    “I hate to pull you away from the news, Lieutenant Tamihana. I had to do the same for myself.”

    Looking up, she saw Drill Instructor Ruiha Tahana. He looked very somber. On his left, Eteka, Ango, and Arahu were waiting. Toa Mami saw an extremely uncomfortable look on Arahu’s face. She swung her legs out one side of the bed and started looking for her boots.

    “Are we still doing the debriefing, sir?” she asked.

    “Yes,” Drill Instructor Tahana replied, “But we’re going to have to cut it short. The Royal Navy has a large number of secret doctrines, rules, and regulations that have to be followed when the Queen passes away. I need to get back to my emergency duties as quickly as possible. Ensign Hipango, come with us, please.”

    Toa Mami, Eteka, Rapati, Ango, and Arahu all followed the Drill Instructor through the halls of Fort Daxia in silence. The soldiers and crew of Fort Daxia seemed to have fallen into a rhythm. Many officers were carrying out the classified orders Tahana had mentioned. These “Orders to be carried out upon the death of the Queen.” seemed to involve a gargantuan amount of paperwork. Low-ranking soldiers were being ordered to make copies of certain documents and to destroy certain other documents. A paper-shredding machine in one hallway had been mobbed with some eighty soldiers, all clamoring for a chance to destroy sealed envelopes given to them by officers. Further down the hallway, there was a line of nearly two hundred soldiers waiting for a chance to use the incinerator. They carried a vast array of electronic devices such as tablet computers, portable hard drives, and data vaults so big they had to be carried by two people. All of these devices had been labeled with red tape and the words: “Hard-Coded Data - Destroy upon royal vacancy

    Finally, the six soldiers had returned to Tahana’s office. The Drill Instructor allowed Toa Mami and her friends to go inside first. He locked the door behind him. Once everyone was seated, Tahana reached into his desk and pulled out a sealed envelope. Toa Mami leaned forward in her chair to get a better look at the black text on the envelope which said: “Classified Orders – Open ONLY upon Royal Vacancy.”

    Tahana waved the sealed envelope in front of Team Tamihana.

    “This is going to become very important in a minute.” he explained. “Fact of the matter is that the entire Government is about to have a change in leadership. The new Queen never keeps her predecessor’s Kuhina Nui, and the next Kuhina Nui is probably going to overhaul the military leadership, since that’s almost always the first thing a new Queen orders him to do. By the time everything settles down again, the new government is not going to be interested in the After Action Report of five teenagers. They’ll only want to read the AAR written by the Fleet Commander. So, here’s what’s gonna happen: Admiral Kingi is a personal friend of mine. She’s agreed to make your story part of her AAR for the Battle of Aiowa. You five tell me anything you want, and I’ll make sure it goes up the Chain of Command to her, alright?”

    They took it in turns. First Toa Mami and Eteka explained their suspicions about Titohara and how they had been confirmed by the Levakian crew of the Shieldbreaker. Arahu gave a blow-by-blow recount of the space battle in the Aiowa system, explaining in great detail how the Rauuira’s Ion Cannon had nearly overheated because the firing sequence was too short. Toa Mami elaborated on her meeting with the Levakian exile Tantomile and she explained the theories the white lioness had come up with to explain Titohara’s murder and impersonation. Ango talked at length about the boarding of the Rauuira, about how Rapati’s arm had been blown off by a Tunderflash bomb and how Toa Mami nearly been shot in the back by Homai Kewhena before she had earned her Tuakiri Tattoo. Rapati told of how the Rauuira crew had been rescued by the Levakian ship Sheildbreaker.

    After ten minutes Team Tamihana just collectively ran out of breath. Drill Instructor Tahana had written their statements across seven sheets of paper, his handwriting getting messy as he tried to keep up with them. When he got to the end of Rapati’s last sentence, he set his pen down and sighed.

    “Metaphorically, a lot of heads rolled here at Daxia when we found Titohara Nopera’s body. Major General Ranginui was investigating that case for a lot longer than you and he still hasn’t found anything of worth. I’ll pass your information up the chain of command.”

    Toa Mami sat up very suddenly in her chair.

    “That reminds me!” she burst out, “Sir, has anyone called for me on the Hyperwave Relay?”

    Tahana fingered a slip of paper on his desk.

    “Uh, your mother called for you twice.” He said, “But I thought you returned both of those calls. Were you expecting someone else?”

    She nodded.

    “A Levakian, the one on the Shieldbreaker who ran into Titohara’s impersonator.”

    Tahana shook his head again.

    “No one else called for you, Lieutenant.” he said, “But someone did call for your teammate. Ensign Ranginui, this is for you.”

    Toa Mami, Eteka, Rapati, and Ango all dropped their jaws as the Drill Instructor picked up the sealed envelope and passed it to Arahu, who accepted it with shaky hands. Arahu stood up and shuffled into the far corner of the office. Toa Mami would have watched Arahu open the envelope, but Tahana gave the “don’t look” hand signal, and everyone else turned their backs on Arahu.

    “Don’t forget, Ranginui,” Tahana said loudly. “You can’t tell us what it says unless you’re authorized to do so.”

    For a few moments, there was silence as Arahu opened the envelope and read the message inside. When Toa Mami heard Arahu gasp out loud, she had to fight the urge to turn around and look.

    She didn’t have to fight the urge for long.

    “Uh, guys?” Said Arahu. “It’s okay.”

    Everyone turned around. Arahu was clutching the paper close to his chest, smiling wider than Toa Mami had seen him smile in years, and had tears of joy streaming down his face.

    Eteka scoffed.

    “You gotta be kidding me.” he said, “What’s going on, Ranginui?”

    Arahu sniffed.

    “I’ve been ordered to go back to Partoga.” he said. “They want me to be a bodyguard for my little sister. She’s a Queen Candidate!

    Eteka, Ango, Toa Mami, and Rapati all surged forward and dog-piled Arahu, trapping him within a massive group hug!

    “Congratulations!!” Toa Mami shrieked,

    “How about that?” said Eteka, “I told you Irirangi was gonna go far!”

    “Good for you!” added Ango, “That’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!”

    Rapati however, poured some metaphorical cold water on the cheerful moment:

    “When are you leaving?” Rapati asked, “No one’s announced when the Royal Election is going to be held yet.”

    “Hipango’s got a point.” Drill Instructor Tahana brought all attention back to himself. “The Election can’t happen until the other three Candidates have been found. The Government has a list of Queen Candidates, but Government officials usually have to go out and collect them. Chances are, Ranginui, your little sister hasn’t been picked up yet. Your entire family lives in Partoga City, right?”

    “Yessir.” Arahu answered.

    Tahana nodded.

    “Okay, the government is definitely going to collect your sister first. Then the search radius gets wider depending on who else is on the list. Four years ago, when Marie was elected, one of the Candidates was living all the way out in the Nithascal System. It took almost six months to get her to Partoga City.”

    “Oh!” Eteka interrupted, “I remember her! That was Maoro Hinakiri, right? Wasn’t she the Candidate who got exactly zero votes?”

    Everyone cringed. They had all watched the infamous defeat play out on live television. Awhina Mahuika had been dealt the biggest electoral defeat in Partogan history, with zero members of the National Assembly voting for her becoming Queen, 29 voting against her, while the rest of the Assembly abstained from the vote. Awhina was humiliated so badly that she committed suicide in public just a few days after Queen Marie was enthroned. It put a damper on all of the celebrations.

    Arahu gave a very deep sigh.

    “There’s no way that’ll happen to Irirangi. She’s too likable.”

    Everyone snapped out of their dark thoughts and raced to agree with Arahu.

    August 12, 1928 A.D.
    Fort Daxia, Trecta Star System, Kingdom of Partoga

    In two days, Arahu was going to leave for Partoga. Ango Karaka would permanently replace him on Team Tamihana. Toa Mami found that this impending departure had brought out a side of Arahu she knew existed, but thankfully had only seen on very rare occasions.

    In his last days inside the Fort Daxia starbase, Arahu started making serious attempts at getting Toa Mami to be alone with him. This was frustrating because Toa Mami, Eteka, Ango, and Rapati were trying to spend their free time tracking down and interviewing people who had known Titohara Nopera before her death. Arahu, however, had lost all interest in the investigation. He was completely distracted, and Toa Mami knew why. She had known that Arahu had feelings for her for several months, ever since she overheard Arahu’s Hypercomms chat with Irirangi, but those feelings only went one way. Toa Mami simply didn’t feel any attraction to Arahu. Whenever he asked Toa Mami to go somewhere with him, she made up an excuse to bring Eteka with her.

    Eteka, for his part, quickly clued in to the change in Toa Mami’s “relationship” with Arahu and was starting to act like a bodyguard. He elbowed his way in between Toa Mami and Arahu at every chance and would force his way into every conversation between them. Eteka ran interference for Toa Mami for two full days before she finally worked up the courage to do what needed to be done.

    While Team Tamihana was waiting outside the Infirmary for Rapati (who was having a test done on his prosthetic arm) Toa Mami pulled Arahu aside and told him in a stern voice:

    “If there’s anything you want to say to me before you leave, this might be your last chance. Do it now.

    Arahu sucked in his breath, considered his options for amoment, then released:

    “Toa Mami, you’re an incredible woman. I don’t know anyone like you, who can bounce back up after being knocked down like you can. You’re resilient and very beautiful...”

    Toa Mami shivered and bit her lip as Arahu’s eyes seemed to scan her from head to toe. His gaze lingered on her Tattoo for a second too long, making her feel very uncomfortable.

    “... and I was thinking,” Arahu went on. “Why don’t you come to Partoga City with me? We could-”

    “No.” she stopped him cold. “I’m sorry, Arahu, but the answer’s ‘no.’ You’re my friend, teammate, and I outrank you by a Kio. I respect you too much to jeopardize that relationship by trying to build something that just doesn’t belong there. I’m sorry.”

    Toa Mami saw Arahu withdraw a little and ball up his fists. Thinking fast, she added;

    “This doesn’t change anything, Arahu.” She said. “I’m still your friend, and I’ll be there to support you when it counts the most.”

    Arahu opened his hands and slowly reached toward Toa Mami, who stepped back and folded her arms in front of her chest.

    “I can’t do that for you, Arahu. I can’t be that woman. But I can be that teammate, friend, ally.”

    She unfolded her arms and put her hands on her hips.

    “Look, if your sister does get elected Queen, the two of you will need all of the teammates, friends, and allies you can find. You can count on me then, alright? I’ll come you as one of those, but that’s it.”

    Arahu nodded.

    “Okay. Fine.” he said softly. “Thanks for, uh, talking to me... and all.”

    August 14, 1928
    Fort Daxia , Trecta Star System, Kingdom of Partoga

    For the first time in four and a half years, Team Tamihana reported to morning formation with only three of its original members. Arahu had been picked up by a transport craft and flown back to Partoga very early in the morning. Ango had finally been issued a Daxia Officer Training School uniform, but Toa Mami thought it had been given to him by mistake. Rapati’s prosthetic arm had finally been cleared for use in frontline combat, which meant that Team Tamihana had been added to the list of Teams awaiting an assignment to a new warship.

    Mami had tried her hardest to stop her team from being redeployed to the front. She personally wanted to stay on Fort Daxia and investigate the death of Titohara Nopera, but Queen Marie’s death had left the government only semi-functional. By the time someone processed Toa Mami’s paperwork and issued a ruling on her request to stay aboard Daxia, she would be very far away from it and unable to return.

    This morning Toa Mami, Eteka, Ango, and Rapati had gathered in one of Fort Daxia’s many assembly halls like always. Alongside them were about 400 Partogan soldiers who had just been released from medical treatment and were waiting to be cycled back into combat. The soldiers milled about in the assembly hall and talked amongst themselves while they waited on a group of Navy officers, who entered and left the room every few hours or so. Every time this happened, the officers would take the names of everyone waiting for an assignment, and then left again.

    “What are they doing?” Rapati groaned, “I thought the Navy was desperate for soldiers. Why the backlog?”

    “The government’s decapitated.” Ango commented. “Normally, the Kuhina Nui or someone in his government has to sign off on ship assignments, but he’s probably busy hunting down Queen Candidates or setting up the Royal Election. Too busy to approve ship crews right now, I guess.”

    Toa Mami was about to chime in when someone accidentally walked into her.

    “Hey! Watch where you’re- oh!”

    She just stared for a moment, and Amaya Maori smacked herself in the forehead.

    “Tamihana!” She gasped, “Or, I guess I should say ‘Toa Mami’ right? I swear, I didn’t recognize you! It’s the Tattoos, you know?”

    “What are you doing here?” Toa Mami and Amaya asked simultaneously.

    They both laughed. Amaya shrugged.

    “My whole team got killed at Aiowa. So, they sent me back here for a mental evaluation. Took some time, but I proved that I was fine and now I’m heading back into combat.”

    Amaya gave Toa Mami a forced, uncomfortable grin that convinced absolutely no one that she was “fine.”

    “I gotta get back out into the fight.” Amaya said. “I owe it to my team, you know? Especially Paikura. She deserved better.”

    Instinctively, Toa Mami hugged Amaya very tightly.

    “Damn right.” she said.

    When she tried to let go, Toa Mami found out that Amaya was holding onto her extremely tightly. Both soldiers held the embrace for another minute, then let go when Eteka said,

    “Look! Something’s happening!”

    An officer wearing an Admiral’s insignia had just stepped into the assembly hall.

    “Soldiers!” he yelled, “Your attention please! As of this moment, we are enforcing a temporary moratorium on combat deployments!”

    Confused chatter arose all around the room and the Admiral called for quiet again.

    “Soldiers, listen to me!” he said, “The change in agenda is due to a major development in the upcoming Royal Election!

    The atmosphere in the assembly hall changed dramatically. Every female soldier below the age of fifteen was suddenly hyperconscious of the hundreds of eyes staring at them. Toa Mami and Amaya stood back to back, terrified of the looks people were now giving them. When the excited chatter died down, the Admiral spoke again.

    “The Royal Government has positively identified two young women aboard this station as Queen Candidates. Representatives of the Kuhina Nui will be boarding the station in two hours' time to collect both of them. Combat deployment operations will resume once both Candidates have left the station. To facilitate and accelerate the collection of the Candidates, all female soldiers below the age of fifteen must report to Assembly Hall #1 immediately. That is all.”

    Armed members of the Military Police began working their way into the crowd of soldiers, grabbing teenage girls by the arm and guiding them towards the exit. Toa Mami, Amaya, and her comrades all turned to face one another.

    “Amaya, how old are you?” Toa Mami asked,

    “Fourteen.” Amaya answered. “You?”

    “Fourteen. They’re gonna take us both.”

    Toa Mami rounded on her teammates. There were only two dozen teenage girls in the room, which meant she had less than a minute until the MP’s spotted her.

    “Okay, guys. Amaya and I will be back in two hours. Rapati’s in charge until then. If you guys get deployed before we come back, we’ll stay in the Hypercomms Room and wait for a message from you. If you can’t reach us, the next point of contact is Drill Instructor Tahana. Clear?”

    “Yes, ma’am!” said Rapati, raising his mechanical arm and giving Toa Mami her first salute since she had been promoted to Lieutenant.

    “You two!”

    The Military Police had reached them.

    “How old are you?” The MP asked.

    Amaya stepped forward.

    “I think that’s obvious, big guy.” She said curtly. “Just point the way to Assembly Hall One.”



    As it turned out, there were exactly 160 girls below the age of fifteen and above the age of ten living on Fort Daxia. 85 of them were actual soldiers, while the rest were family members of Daxia crew. The 85 female soldiers (including Toa Mami and Amaya) clustered together on one side of the hall, leaving the other 75 girls to gossip and chatter amongst themselves.

    Amaya passed the time by quizzing some of her fellow soldiers on the General Orders. (a set of rules and regulations that always applied to Partogan soldiers, regardless of situation or context) Toa Mami killed time by asking her comrades if they had known Titohara Nopera.

    After about an hour of interviewing some thirty soldiers, Toa Mami had gotten a decent idea of the “real” Titohara. When she was still alive, Titohara had been a chatterbox, unable to stop talking once someone got her going. She had also been something of a clutz. When her corpse was found, many initially assumed Titohara had accidentally shot herself, since a firearm had been found on the scene. Toa Mami found this detail interesting. Perhaps the killer had been the real clutz, since no murderer in their right mind would leave the murder weapon at the scene. However, the suicide theory had been invalidated once it became known that Titohara’s body had been found stuffed into a locker.

    Strangely, no one could agree on why Titohara had been killed. She had no known enemies and was extremely friendly and outgoing. Many soldiers said that if Titohara and Toa Mami had met, they would have quickly become friends.

    “It was impossible to get angry at her.” An Ensign from the Outer Rim said. “She had that kind of smile, you know?”

    Right when Toa Mami was starting to regret not having a notebook to preserve all of this information, the door to the assembly hall swung open and silence fell.

    Thirty members of the Green Guard came in and stood along the walls, pointing their Gauss Rifles at the ceiling. Four men and one woman followed them inside. They were dressed in very expensive looking outfits that had been decorated with colorful sashes. Toa Mami knew at once that these Partogans were members of the National Assembly. The girls of Fort Daxia fell silent as the National Assemblymen gathered at one end of the room. A man in his middle fifties broke away from this group and pulled a small slip of paper out of his pocket. He unfolded the paper and spoke at the same time.

    “There are only twelve women who have been elected to lead our great nation.” he began, “The important part is that they were elected. The Royal Election is one of the most sacred institutions of our Kingdom, and to be a Candidate is a great honor, second only to being elected Queen.”

    The man finished unfolding his sheet of paper and looked around the room again.

    “My name is Akuhata Tunui. I am the Prince of Kaitaia and a member of the National Assembly Secular Council. I will be one of the 52 electors who will choose our next Queen. In my hand-”

    Prince Akuhata waved the sheet of paper above his head for everyone to see.

    “-I hold the names of two Daxia soldiers who have been chosen by the Royal Government to be Queen Candidates.”

    There was a loud oooohhh. The huge collective groan of disappointment had risen from the 75 civilian girls as they realized that none of them had been chosen. Prince Akuhata ignored them, focusing on the soldiers.

    “Listen closely to me. The Royal Government takes its choice of Queen Candidates very seriously. We in the National Assembly also seek to honor the legacy left by Queen Miranda the Great. She did not seek to become the founder of our great Kingdom, nor did she aspire to become a ruler. Power was thrust upon her. It may be thrust upon you too. If you are chosen as a Queen Candidate, you will not be permitted to shirk or dodge your responsibilities. You WILL PARTICIPATE in the Election. You WILL stand before the National Assembly, and if elected, YOU. WILL. RULE.”

    The words echoed around the silent assembly hall. Toa Mami could sense the nervous apprehension filling the room. All 85 female soldiers grouped closer together. The feeling of camaraderie kept everyone standing as all of the girls trembled with nervousness, anxiety, and a wide array of other feelings.

    Some girls were scared of being humiliated in the election.

    Some girls were prepared to throw tantrums if they weren’t picked.

    Some girls were terrified of the thought that their friends might get picked.

    Some girls didn’t want to be on television.

    Some girls didn’t want the national spotlight.

    Some girls didn’t want to be Queen.

    Some girls just wanted to go home.

    Prince Akuhata held up the paper to read it.

    “When I call your name,” he said, “exit the door to my left and follow the Green Guard soldiers. They’ll take you to our ship, and we’ll fly you to the capitol, where you will stand for Royal Election. First: Ensign Amaya Maori!”

    Toa Mami felt Amaya’s legs give out next to her. Stooping quickly, she caught Amaya before she hit the floor. All around her, noise erupted! The cheering and clapping were so intense that Toa Mami thought she would go deaf. Amaya was still conscious, but in shock. Deciding against letting Amaya embarrass herself, Toa Mami grabbed Amaya’s arm and draped it over her own shoulder. Letting Amaya use her body for support, Toa Mami started pulling the Queen Candidate out of the crowd towards Prince Akuhata. Walking side-by-side, she guided Amaya all the way to the Prince and she said to him;

    “I’m sorry, sir. She’s a little stunned!”

    Prince Akuhara gave Toa Mami a sympathetic look.

    “Don’t worry.” he said kindly. “This isn’t the first time that happened.”

    Prince Akuhata signaled his soldiers. Two Green Guards shouldered their weapons and offered their hands to Amaya. The newest Queen Candidate turned around and, leaning against one of the Green Guards for support, waved enthusiastically to her comrades one last time. The female soldiers of Fort Daxia broke into a fresh wave of cheering and applause! While Amaya was escorted from the room, Toa Mami started walking back towards her comrades, eager to rejoin them.

    Toa Mami was able to see all 83 of her fellow soldier’s faces. She saw every expression change to one of excitement and wonder as behind her Prince Akuhata held up the paper a second time. As he began to speak, Toa Mami was still about 3 Bios away from her comrades. They were all looking over her shoulder towards Prince Akuhata.

    “The other soldier who will be a Queen Candidate is: Toa Wahine Mami Tamihana!

    Every one of her fellow soldiers shifted their gaze from Prince Akuhata to Toa Mami. She saw their mouths moving, but didn’t hear the cheers.

    Overwhelmed, Toa Mami had gone numb to the universe.



    END OF CHAPTER TWO



     
    Last edited:
    Interlude #2
  • Macavity116

    The First Stormbreaker
    17 Badges
    Mar 1, 2018
    1.116
    395
    archiveofourown.org
    • Stellaris
    • Stellaris: Nemesis
    • Stellaris: Necroids
    • Crusader Kings III
    • Stellaris: Federations
    • Stellaris - Path to Destruction bundle
    • Stellaris: Apocalypse
    • Stellaris: Distant Stars
    • Stellaris: Megacorp
    • Stellaris: Lithoids
    • Stellaris: Leviathans Story Pack
    • Stellaris: Synthetic Dawn
    • Stellaris: Humanoids Species Pack
    • Stellaris: Ancient Relics
    • Stellaris: Digital Anniversary Edition
    Okay so I hope this story explains the freaky teenager.
    ======



    Faith in Chaos – A Stellaris Story
    Interlude #2







    The Paradox is ally to none and enemy of all.







    This was true
    .







    This
    is true .







    This will be true.










    SO IT IS, AND SO IT SHALL ALWAYS BE.
    ==========

    9 Days until the End of the Cycle
    June 6, 2229 A.D.
    The Mihaka Family Penthouse, Mihaka Tower, Partoga City, Partogan
    Homeworld

    Mira had seen and done many improbable things across her journey aboard the Midak. She had visited the Shroud, accidentally contaminated herself with an extremophile bacterium that refused to die, used telekinesis to deflect bullets, survived a storm of radioactive rainwater, done battle with Manaaki Ranginui at the height of his power, and awakened Riri Nui from a nearly 700-year slumber. However, there was nothing in Mira’s past as improbable, unthinkable, or downright impossible as the fifteen-year-old human girl now sitting on the couch in Mira’s living room.

    Akira Robinson kept her hands folded in her lap as she watched Mira with a friendly expression. On the other side of the room, Mira slowly sank into an armchair, clutching both armrests as though they were her last links to sanity.

    “Y-you... y-” Mira stammered,

    Akira smiled gently and said,

    “You’re wanting to say something like: ‘You’re dead.’ And technically, you are right. You did meet Akira Robinson, and she did die... rather horribly this time around, too.”

    Mira found her voice.

    “Never met someone who talks about their own death so calmly.”

    Akira’s smile didn’t flicker or fade. If anything, she seemed to have anticipated Mira’s comment.

    “That’s where things get technical.” she said. “Let’s not go there yet. We need to wait for the shock to wear off.”

    Mira gave a nervous laugh.

    “Shock?! What shock?!”

    Akira leaned back on the couch and stretched her legs. She was far more relaxed than Mira.

    “Because,” Akira started, “the last time we did this, you pulled a really funny face when I started to mention time travel-ohmygodthereitis!!”

    A look of complete shock overtook Mira’s features, causing Akira to burst into a fit of hysterical laughter. Tears streamed out of her blue eyes and ran down her cheeks.

    “I’m sorry!” choked Akira, “I knew it was coming this time and I still couldn’t hold it in!”

    Time travel. Mira’s mind was racing at a million Kios per hour. Of course, there were many Partogans at the Royal Science Academy who had come up with time travel theories, but every single one had been disproven with extreme prejudice. Time travel was a scientific impossibility! Now that the logical center of Mira’s brain had returned to full strength, she was ready to challenge this human!

    How could Mira have been so stupid!? There was no way in hell this human girl was really a time traveler! She was just a tourist who happened to look a little like the girl on the wanted poster Arapata had given to Mira! A tourist who was trying to milk the situation for all it was worth! Mira was going to put this whelp back in her place!

    Mira stood up from her chair, causing Akira’s fit of giggles to subside.

    “Now you listen here, human-” Mira started to say, but Akira interrupted her.

    “Oh, were you going to tell me why you made a covenant with the End of the Cycle after We stacked the timeline so heavily in your favor that you never needed to do that?!

    The words died in Mira’s throat. Her brain had given up all hope of making sense out of this new development. Mira slumped back down into her chair.

    “H-How do you know?” was all she could say.

    Akira’s smiled noticeably faded. It was being undermined by impatience.

    “God-damn. You really don’t remember the last time we had this talk, huh?” Akira sighed, “Well, I guess I’ll start at what you think is the beginning.”

    Mira leaned forward.

    “Are you insulting my intelligence?”

    “No.” said Akira. “I’m insulting your forgetfulness. I told you all this during the last cycle, but clearly you don’t remember, so let’s take it from the top!”

    Akira gave a very deep sigh and sat up on the sofa.

    “My name is Akira Jaqueline Robinson.” She began. “I was born on Earth in 2045, that’s 530 on your calendar. My parents were Stormbreakers who fought in the War in Heaven: Blake Robinson and Chihiro Tachibana. My paternal grandfather was President of the United States of America and my maternal great-uncle was Emperor of Japan. I have the Gift. I got it from Mom.

    “Now pay close attention, Mira. This is the part you had trouble understanding last time: In my time, we were suffering. The War in Heaven devastated the Earth really badly, messed everything up. Thousands of spaceships crashed to the ground and threw Earth into a nuclear winter. A lot of the crops died, and most of the animals too. People were starving to death. Some of us thought Humanity was just going to go extinct.

    “That’s the world and the time I was born into. Mom, Dad, my brothers and sister, and all of their friends were working hard to try and find a way to stop humanity from dying out, and we were getting desperate. We all left home for a few weeks when I was twelve, flew to Japan in my Dad’s old spaceplane. We were supposed to be salvaging anything useful from the ruins of XCOM HQ in Nagasaki. Anyway, when we got there, I met an old man named Weir. He claimed to be an XCOM scientist, but I’m pretty sure he was insane. He latched onto me while we were there, the guy was desperate to tell me about his ridiculous theory about how time worked. He told me about time being circular, and that if someone were to move faster than time... they might just reach the end of time and “loop around” to the beginning of time. He said that ‘going forward was the only way to go backward.’

    “Of course, his idea was insane and there was no way to test it anyway. Faster-than-time travel wasn’t possible... yet. When I went home, that old creep Weir kept trying to contact me. He called me, sent letters, called me some more, and even showed up at our house in Wailua once. My dad thought he was a pervert and chased him away. But every time Weir got in touch with me, he’d give me pieces of blueprints or schematics. Slowly but surely, he was working out a way to adapt a Progenitor Hyperspace Core so that it would ‘catapult,’ for want of a better word, the user through time. It was time travel... in a sense.”

    Mira interrupted Akira’s story.

    “So, he found a way to go back in time?”

    Akira shook her head.

    “No. You’re not getting it.” she said. “Backwards time travel is a myth. Science fiction. Time itself can only move in one direction: Forward. Weir’s device would allow a ship to enter Hyperspace and then wait there while the time back in normal space kept going forward. For the ship in Hyperspace, the journey would be instantaneous, but it would just kinda ‘skip’ the amount of real-space time programmed into the Time Core before dropping back into normal space.

    “When Weir gave me, oh, I’ll say half of the blueprints I needed to build his Time Core, that’s when I started making my plan. Look, Mira: Weir was an old coot who studied time because he had nothing else to do while he waited to die. I was starting to get an idea. I knew I could do something with his knowledge.

    “When I realized Weir was serious about his time travel theory, the idea hit me: What if the War in Heaven ended differently? What if Jericho beat the Beast so badly that the rest of the Galaxy wouldn’t have to suffer the consequences? What if the rest of the Stormbreakers survived? What if the Second Hyperspace War could have a different ending? A better one where the Beast was destroyed and everyone could be safe and happy?

    “I started studying history. I read firsthand accounts of the War in Heaven. I found and interviewed Partogans, Hiigarans, and Vaygr who’d gotten stranded on Earth after the War in Heaven. I learned everything I could about the Second Hyperspace War and how the stage for that final battle was set.”

    Akira was leaning forward in her seat now. She was getting really excited. She kept telling her story, now with enthusiasm:

    “Any moment I had to myself, I started figuring out how I could change the War in Heaven... how to give it an outcome favorable to Humans, Partogans, everyone. The saying’s true, by the way. Hindsight really is perfect. I realized that if certain events throughout Galactic history were different, then the Stormbreakers and their allies would have a huge advantage over the Beast during the War in Heaven. Big and small events alike all stack up to impact the future, Mira! Don’t you see! A potent combination of small choices and circumstances could transform the destiny of millions! One big change could alter the entire Galaxy so much the new Galaxy would have nothing in common with the new one!

    “I made a list. It got pretty long at one point, but it was of several hundred points in history that I would have to ‘correct’ in order to create a timeline where the Stormbreakers would utterly crush the Beast. I knew what I had to do, so then I started building Weir’s Time Core.

    “Whenever my parents thought I was visiting friends on Oahu, I was really in the old XCOM hangar at Honolulu airport, working on the Time Core. It took almost a year, but I built the Time Core from the schematics Weir sent me, and I figured out how to install it on my dad’s ship. He never flew it anyway, so he never found out. But I wouldn’t be able to time travel until I had a Progenitor Hyperspace Core.

    “Luckily... I knew where to find them. And I had a ship.

    “It was the first time I ever flew in space, Mira. You remember your first spaceflight, right? That sense of awe, seeing your homeworld laid out below you? I saw Earth from above, and it was a ruin. I saw the craters. I saw the blasted lands where great cities used to be: Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Madrid, London, Paris, Berlin, Istanbul, Moscow, Cairo, New Dehli, Shanghai, Beijing, Hanoi, Seoul, Pyongyang, Tokyo, Sapporo, Nagasaki... all gone. But if Weir’s insane theory was right, then I’d be able to fix that. Millions of lives... restored. Maybe more. Seeing the wreck I called home... It gave me purpose. It gave me strength.

    “I flew the Ark Angel into the debris field where the War in Heaven happened and I found Sajuuk. You remember reading about Sajuuk, right Mira? The Progenitor warship the Hiigarans worshiped as a god? Well, Sajuuk didn’t survive the War in Heaven. It was pretty far gone when I got to it, but I used the Grapple Arm on dad’s ship and got hold of it. All three of the Progenitor Cores were still in there. The Bentusi Core was absolutely destroyed, and the Vaygr core was stuck. I couldn’t get it out. So, I took the Hiigaran Core. Took four days and fifteen spacewalks to cut it free, then an extra five-hour long spacewalk to dislodge and dump out the body of Karan Sjet, but it was worth it.”

    Mira’s mouth fell open.

    “You’ve got a Hyperspace Core!” Mira gasped, “You can Far Jump!?”

    Akira nodded.

    “Far Jump and Time Jump.” She confirmed. “I could go anywhere I wanted in time and space. Of course, I tested it first... I skipped a whole week. When I dropped back into normal space and flew home, my dad thought I ran away! He called the cops and everything!”

    Akira laughed. It was a stilted psychopathic laugh that didn’t suit a teenage girl.

    “You should have seen my face when I realized what I could do with that kind of power! I thought I was gonna go mad!

    “I had it all figured out,” Akira went on, “I was ready for the last test. I knew that time only moved forward, which meant that in order to fix history and create that perfect future, I’d have to leave my own cycle behind forever. I’d never see my original family or home again, but I knew I had to do this. I had to create a future where they could live happily. So, I went back to Wailua to say goodbye and-”

    Mira suddenly found her voice and cut off Akira.

    “Say goodbye!? I thought you killed your whole family!”

    Mira reached into her purse and pulled out the wanted poster Arapata had given her. She unfurled the paper and showed it to Akira.

    The smile on Akira’s face vanished instantly. Cold and harsh Psionic energy radiated out of her hands! Akira’s eyes shone with a brilliant purple light as she stood up, crossed the room in three strides and grabbed Mira’s head with both hands!



    “I had it all figured out,” Akira went on, “I was ready for the last test. I knew that time only moved forward, which meant that in order to fix history and create that perfect future, I’d have to leave my own cycle behind forever. I’d never see my original family or home again, I knew I had to do this. I had to create a future where they could live happily. So, I went back to Wailua to say goodbye, and then I took off from Honolulu airport.” Akira continued. “Weir never told me what to expect at the end of the cycle. I was ready for anything, but... I’ll tell you the truth, Mira. I honestly thought I was going to die when I reached the end. Weir had never found a way to prove that time was circular. I was flying on a hunch!”

    Mira finished drawing a diagram on a blank sheet of paper she had pulled out of her purse. Then she blinked her eyes.

    “uh... um...” Mira said.

    Akira raised an eyebrow.

    “You okay Mira?” she asked, “You look confused. You still following everything?”

    Mira shook her head vigorously, as though trying to rattle her brain.

    “I’m sorry.” Mira said. “I don’t know why, but my mind just went blank for a minute.”

    She looked down at the sheet of paper. Then she remembered why she had drawn a series of loops on it.

    “Oh,” Mira said, “So, how did you know you’d reached the end of time? Did you just loop back immediately or-”

    Akira shook her head.

    “When I got to the end of the cycle... I met the End of the Cycle.”

    Mira’s blood ran cold. She remembered the nightmarish monster from her forays into the Shroud. She also remembered how it had fought alongside her at the Second Battle of Archer’s Canyon, and how it had imparted itself onto one of Mira’s telepathic attacks that had gone astray. An attack that struck the Unnamed Mountain and caused Riri Nui to awake. Mira was also fully aware of what the End of the Cycle was going to do in just nine days. She had long ago resigned herself to the worst, giving up all thought of resistance and she was planning to just let it happen.

    “What did it do?” Mira asked, her voice trembling.

    “Same offer as when it met you.” Akira replied. “Power beyond measure. In return, all I had to do was end my own cycle. I took the deal.

    Mira gasped.

    “So... you ended your own cycle?” she said slowly. “You wiped out your own world!?”

    Akira leaned forward again.

    “I took the power it offered me...” she said. “...augmented my own powers... and then I ran.

    Mira dropped the pen and paper. She just stared at Akira, at the teenage girl who had just claimed to have scammed the End of the Cycle itself.

    “How?” Mira gasped, “Where?”

    “The thing didn’t know I was planning to bolt.” Akira said. “Maybe it did, but it sure didn't catch me before I fired up the Time Core and jumped straight to the end of time itself... All of the clocks and chronometers on the ship suddenly went haywire and I dropped back into normal space.

    “Or at least, I didn’t realize I was back in normal space for a while.” Akira admitted. “It was just like Weir said, I’d hit the end of time and looped all the way around to the beginning again... and let me tell you, Mira, the beginning of time is a really unpleasant and dangerous place to be. Took me almost a year to figure it out, but I’d dropped into the universe about thirty minutes after the Big Bang. The rapid inflation of the universe was so chaotic and traumatic, it almost destroyed my ship then and there! Every cycle since, I’ve made sure to stay in Hyperspace and wait out the first 13 billion years or so of history.

    “Anyway, that first time, I was so thrilled that I’d actually managed to launch myself into the next cycle, I didn’t get anything done for a couple weeks. I just celebrated. But then I remembered my mission: Fix history. And I got to work. I started flying all over the galaxy and altering the timeline. The earliest event I messed with was the collapse of the Progenitor Empire about... oh, Ten thousand years ago. I pushed around a few wrecks and relics to make them easier for future Hiigarans to find them. After that... well...”

    Akira gave Mira a nervous look.

    “Last time around, you didn’t believe me, Mira. Promise you’ll hear me out this time, alright?”

    Mira was still struggling to take in all of this information. She just nodded,

    “Well,” Akira said, “The first really big part of history that I changed was.... I started the First Hyperspace War.

    Mira’s arm slipped off of her armrest.

    “Bull.” she said simply. “No way you did that.”

    Akira sighed and nodded.

    “By this point,” she said. “I think I’ve triggered that war almost ninety times. I’ve gotten really good at pushing the Hiigaran’s buttons. I’ll admit, though: the Galactic Rebellion wasn’t a work of art. If anything, it's my sloppiest work. I had a lot of close calls, and the Bentusi almost figured out I was from a different time. In the end, I found that it was easier to mess with the aftermath of the war than getting it to start when I wanted it to.”

    Mira cocked her head to one side.

    “Wait a second?” she said, “What do you mean ‘the Bentusi almost figured out you were from a different time?’ Were you disguised?”

    Akira nodded and explained,

    “I used a mix of makeup and Psionic manipulation to disguise myself as members of other species. That way I could hide amongst them and alter their history without anyone noticing me.”

    Mira raised a hand.

    “Wait a second... What's ’Psionic manipulation?’”

    Akira shrugged.

    “I can influence the way people perceive the sight of me.” she said, “For example, my natural eye color is blue, right? Well, if I tried to hide among Partogans, I’d get spotted really quickly. So, I just use a tiny fraction of my powers and...”

    Mira stared in amazement as Akira’s eyes slowly shifted from blue to purple. Her skin also seemed just a little bit darker, too. Not quite the Partogan shade of brown, but it was clearly no longer white. Akira relaxed, and her body returned to its normal color palette.

    “And you’ve never been caught?” Mira asked,

    Akira shook her head and laughed.

    “Oh, hell no.” she answered. “I’ve been caught hundreds of times. A few times on Partoga itself. Haven’t you ever heard a Snowskin story?”

    Mira nodded.

    “Sure.” she said, “Everyone’s seen that picture of the Snowskin who killed Queen Emily the First-”

    “That was me.” Akira said simply.

    Mira’s jaw dropped. She was lost for words. Akira nodded.

    “Yup.” Akira said. “I got sloppy with my disguise that time, I would have tracked down the photojournalist who took the picture, but the Green Guard got to him first and he panicked. He copied and distributed that picture as far and wide as possible. I could have spent a hundred years searching and I never would have found them all. Had to just take the loss and move on... a little more carefully. Next cycle, I’ll be sure not to let my disguise slip.”

    Mira sat back in her chair, absorbing and analyzing all of this new information.

    “So... when time ends and you loop around to the beginning...” Mira asked slowly, “Do any of the changes you make carry over into the next cycle?”

    A look of great disappointment darkened Akira’s face.

    “No.” She admitted. “Without me getting in the way, history goes down a kind of ‘default’ path, which is the one I was born in: The 'First Cycle.’ That’s why I have a lot of practice with certain events. I’ve repeated the same moments over a hundred times... over...and over... and over....”

    Akira trailed off, looking a little sad. Mira, however, thought of another question:

    “Hang on...” Mira said, “The War in Heaven... the one in my timeline, ended really badly. Humans and Partogans are the only sentients species left, and we’re not exactly thriving. You changed history hundreds of times and you still failed?”

    Akira sighed and sank back into her sofa, looking like a child who’s just been told Naming Day was cancelled.

    “Mira...” Akira said slowly. “I’ve tried to fix history, and failed... over a hundred times. I’ve been doing this for so long that I’ve had to start using my powers to keep my body young. I think I’m somewhere around 70 years old right now. Every time I see that the War in Heaven doesn’t end the way I want it to, I jump forward, reset the cycle, and try again.”

    Mira actually felt dizzy when she processed this new knowledge.

    “No matter what I do, what I change, the War in Heaven still ends badly.” Akira said, “And believe me, I’ve tried a lot. I’ve helped Empires rise and caused some to fall. I’ve triggered natural disasters, inspired great thinkers, helped legendary inventors, protected war heroes, stopped important machines from breaking at the wrong time, breaking important machines at the right time, and warned people about future events more times than I can count.”

    Mira put her head in her hands.

    “So, if you’ve done all that...” she asked, “Why hasn’t the War in Heaven changed?”

    “The End of the Cycle.”

    Mira looked up at Akira.

    “It’s been hunting me ever since the First Cycle.” Akira said. “You saw what happened to Manaaki Ranginui, right? Well, it’s trying to do the same to me. I’ve had to work hard to stay ahead of it.”

    “Why hasn’t it caught up to you yet?” Mira asked,

    “It has a few times,” Akira admitted. “I fought my way out, but I had to give up on my mission and skip the entire cycle whenever that happens. Heck, it just happened a couple cycles back.”

    “Really!?” Mira gasped, “How long have you been doing this, anyway?”

    Akira stood up from her sofa, stretched, then put her hands on her hips.

    “Number one hundred-fifteen.” Akira said. “That’s what cycle this is for me, how long I’ve been doing this. This is the 115th cycle, and it’s almost over. Which brings me, in a way, back to both the reason I’m here and the question I had for you.”

    Akira sat down again.

    “Let’s do the question first.” she said in a dark tone. “Why the hell did you make a covenant with the End of the Cycle? You didn’t do that last time. Hell, I don't think you’ve ever done that before. We deliberately stacked history to make the fight against Manaaki easy for you. Explain yourself.”

    Mira opened and closed her mouth like a fish out of water. The honest answer was: I wasn’t thinking straight. Mira started to wonder if Akira would even buy that answer when the teenage human said,

    “You weren’t thinking straight, huh?” Akira shook her head. “Damnit Mira, were you even thinking at all? You know what this means for us, right? You just guaranteed the End of the Cycle is gonna catch us before we can get out of this cycle and into the next one. Now we have to fight it!”

    Mira suddenly became very agitated.

    “We!?” she repeated, “Is that what this is about? You’re here to recruit me into your insane mission so we can both get killed by that thing!?

    Mira was now getting very heated. She stood up and raised her voice.

    “You expect me to join in on your suicidal, endless crusade through time, knowing full well what enemy we’d be up against and knowing there’s no way to fight against that kind of beast!”

    Akira crossed the room quickly, cold and harsh Psionic energy radiating out and away from her body. All the lights in the penthouse flickered as Akira grabbed the front of Mira’s shirt with one hand, forcing her to bend down to Akira’s level. With the other hand, Akira touched Mira’s forehead!



    Akira sat down again.

    “Let’s do the question first.” she said in a dark tone. “Why the hell did you make a covenant with the End of the Cycle? You didn’t do that last time. Hell, I don't think you’ve ever done that before. We deliberately stacked history to make the fight against Manaaki easy for you. Explain yourself.”

    Mira opened and closed her mouth like a fish out of water. The honest answer was: I wasn’t thinking straight. Mira started to wondered if Akira would even buy that answer when the teenage human said,

    “You weren’t thinking straight, huh?” Akira shook her head. “Damnit Mira, were you even thinking at all? You know what this means for us, right? You just guaranteed the End of the Cycle is gonna catch us before we can get out of this cycle and into the next one. Now we have to fight it!”

    Mira leaned back in her seat and scratched her chin, deep in thought.

    “You know,” Mira said. “I don’t have my powers anymore. Even if I agreed to go with you into the next cycle, what help would I be? It sounds like the workload you’re under would be just as immense with two people.”

    Akira sat up excitedly and clapped her hands together.

    “Oh! I completely forgot to mention that! Mira, you won’t be alone with me. I’ve got a team!”

    Mira raised an eyebrow.

    “A team? How?”

    Akira smiled.

    “Remember how I said I got caught a bunch of times? Well, every few cycles or so, I end up having to explain myself to someone, like I’m doing now. Some people understand and try to help me in their own cycles. But then there’s a wonderful few who’ve volunteered to join me!”

    Akira stood up and started fumbling around in the pocket of her white jeans. She found what she was looking for: a photograph. Then she walked over to Mira and stood next to her while Mira looked over the photo.

    A group of nine people were standing together in front of a black and white spaceplane. Mira recognized it as a Human Battlemaster-class gunship, the same type of vessel as the HMAS Bushranger. As for the people standing in front of it, Mira saw four Humans, four Partogans, and one Hiigaran. They had all linked arms and were smiling at the camera.

    “We had this picture taken on Earth during the Second Hyperspace War.” Akira explained, “It’s the only place-time combination where we don’t look out of place. No suspicion, so no disguises.”

    Mira startled,

    “Hey!” she said, “I recognize her! That’s-”

    Mira pointed to one of the Partogan women in the picture, and Akira finished the sentence for her:

    “Anika Aranui. Your old Midak shipmate. Well, not exactly, anyway. That version of her is from the 68th cycle. Can’t you see the difference?”

    Now that Akira pointed this out, Mira realized she was right. In this picture, Anika’s dreadlocks were longer and messier. Her face also seemed more worn out and her right hand, which was draped over the arm of a very old Partogan man, seemed to be bonier than Mira remembered. Her gaze slid to the old Partogan man...

    “MANAAKI!!” Mira screamed at the top of her lungs! “WHAT THE FU-”

    She barely felt the tip of Akira’s finger press into her temple.



    “We had this picture taken on Earth during the Second Hyperspace War.” Akira explained, “It’s the only place-time combination where we don’t look out of place. No suspicion, so no disguises.”

    Mira startled,

    “Hey!” she said, “I recognize her! That’s-”

    Mira pointed to one of the Partogan women in the picture, and Akira finished the sentence for her:

    “Anika Aranui. Your old Midak shipmate. Well, not exactly, anyway. That version of her is from the 68th cycle. Can’t you see the difference?”

    Now that Akira pointed this out, Mira realized she was right. In this picture, Anika’s dreadlocks were longer and messier. Her face also seemed more worn out and her right hand, which was draped over the arm of a very old Partogan man, seemed to be bonier than Mira remembered. Her gaze slid to the old Partogan man...

    No. Way.

    Mira felt her blood starting to boil.

    “Is that... Manaaki Ranginui!?

    Mira’s finger shook with rage as it rested on the old Partiarch’s face.

    “Yes and no.” Akira said. “The Manaaki you fought, the one from the 115th Cycle, is currently in the Shroud wishing he was dead. The Manaaki in the picture is from the 83rd Cycle. History in his cycle took a very different path, which has made him into a completely different person from the one you knew.”

    Mira felt her rage begin to subside. She could accept that answer.

    “Okay, who are the rest of the people in the picture?”

    Akira seemed glad to talk about her teammates.

    “That woman there is someone you’ll recognize.” Akira said, “She’s Whetu Kealoha. Although you probably know her as Queen Miranda the Great. I picked her up from the 2nd Cycle, all the way back when I was first getting started. She has the Gift and she’s really powerful! She, Manaaki and I are the ones who do all of the Psionic combat on the team.

    “Next to her, that guy is Hakara Tamihana. He’s from the 15th Cycle and was one of the greatest Partogan Scientists who ever lived. He actually worked on a deep space Science Ship just like you, Mira. He’s kinda replaced me as the brains of the operation.”

    Akira blushed a little.

    “Don’t tell Yukiko I said this, but I’ve always thought he’s kinda cute.” she whispered, “I keep my body young ‘cause I know he likes it that way.”

    Akira winked, then pointed to the human standing next to Hakara in the picture. Mira was amazed. The person identified as “Yukiko” bore a very strong resemblance to Akira.

    “So, that’s Yukiko Takahashi.” Akira explained, “I realized I was getting caught so often that people were going to start putting two and two together. I went back to Earth and recruited some girls who look a little like me but are clearly different people. When you were on Earth, did you read about Yukiko Takahashi?”

    Mira nodded.

    “I was in Japan.” she said. “Kinda hard to miss stuff about her. She betrayed Japan to the Soviet Union during World War Three. Every Japanese person I spoke to said that she was the most notorious traitor in their nation’s history.”

    “And she’s a damn good fighter and she’s Gifted.” Akira chimed in. “Mind you, she’s nowhere near as powerful as Whetu, Manaaki, or me, but she can hold her own in a fight. I picked Yukiko up in the 40th cycle. Anyway, the other human I picked to be my doppelganger is right here. That’s Song Soo. She’s from the 70th cycle and she’s the youngest on our team... biologically anyway. Both she and the guy standing next to her are from the same Human country: North Korea, but they’re from different cycles. In the 70th cycle, Song Soo and Lee Chong-Il never met, but in the 101st cycle, where I found him, they were married for a little while before she died.

    “Anyway, Soo was dead in the 101st cycle, and Chong-Il was all too happy to join me when he found out she was on my team. He said it was like I'd given him his life back!”

    Mira pointed to the last unidentified person in the picture.

    “So, who’s that? The Hiigaran?”

    “That,” answered Akira, “Is Arioch Soban-Re. He was a war hero during the Kushan Exodus and the Taiidan War. He’s really intelligent, gives poor Hakara a real run for his money, you know? Anyway, I found him in the 111th Cycle. He was the newest member of the team until we tried to recruit you during the last cycle.”

    Akira took the picture back and glared at Mira. For the first time, Mira found herself feeling a little guilty.

    “Oh, no.” Mira groaned, “What did my past-self do?”

    Akira folded her arms and gave Mira a serious look.

    “Let me tell you what you did.” Akira said in a scolding tone. “Two cycles ago, Arioch and Hakara figured out how to build a timeline where the Stormbreakers had the best chances of crushing the Beast. We had it all worked out and we were so close to success, so close to a perfect timeline! There was literally... LITERALLY just one historical event left to change. We needed a fifth Partogan to help us pull it off, so we recruited your counterpart at the end of the 114th cycle and brought her into the 115th.”

    Akira sounded genuinely angry right now.

    “Then Mira #114 got caught. She screwed up so badly that she got herself killed and the rest of us were almost caught too!”

    Mira groaned.

    “Oh, I’m so sorry.” she said.

    Akira calmed down.

    “Don’t be,” she said. “You didn’t screw up. The other Mira did. We were hoping that if we altered the timeline so that your life was a little easier, you’d do better on your mission the second time around... but then you made a deal with the End of the Cycle... so all of our work was pretty much for nothing.”

    Akira sighed,

    “Now we have to fight our way out of this cycle, and you are at the exact same level of preparedness as the last time we tried to pull this stunt.”

    Akira pressed her hands to her face, and sighed.

    “The only thing we’ve got going for us this time is that we know what’s going to happen next cycle. I swear, we can stop you getting killed this time around. We’ve just gotta deal with this speed bump first.”

    Akira looked over at one of Mira’s wall clocks.

    “Anyway, it’s getting really late. We should get some rest before we head out to the Ark Angel tomorrow.”

    Mira looked around and found the wall clock. Holy Miranda! They had been talking for so long that it was past midnight!

    Akira got up and started making her way towards the door.

    “Listen Mira,” she said, “I’ll come back tomorrow around midday, and I’ll take you to the Ark Angel. Last cycle, you didn’t agree to join us until after you saw the ship and met the team, so I won’t put the pressure on ‘till then, alright?”

    Mira nodded, then stood up to hold open the Penthouse door so Akira could leave.

    “Alright, fine.” Mira said, “I’ll wait here for you. See you midday tomorrow?”

    “Absolutely.”

    Akira was about to leave the Penthouse when Mira remembered one last thing she wanted to ask:

    “You didn’t tell me,” Mira said, “What part of history were you trying to change when my, uh... past self... got herself killed?”

    Akira answered without hesitation.

    The Levakian Uprising.

    Mira let out a low whistle.

    “Well, I can already guess at how I got killed. I’ll see you in the morning.”

    Akira shut the Penthouse door and was gone. Mira crossed to one of her couches, slumped down onto it, and fell asleep almost at once.

    SO IT IS, AND SO IT SHALL ALWAYS BE.
    No it's not. No it won't.
    ==========

    8 Days until the End of the Cycle
    June 7 , 2229 A.D.
    The Royal Palace, Partoga City, Partogan
    Homeworld

    Maki Mihaka couldn’t sleep. She hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep in nearly 13 years. The cause of this problem grunted loudly and rolled over in the bed.

    Maki’s husband, Tai Whiu, was the reason Mira refused to return to the Royal Palace. He was also the cause of Mira leaving the Royal Family. 27 years ago, Mira and Tai had forged a close friendship during the Midak expedition, the Second Battle of Archer’s Canyon, and the events leading up to it. Mira and Tai were such good companions to one another, one could have mistaken them for siblings.

    Then, 13 years ago, Tai had started expressing a romantic interest in Maki. Mira had put her foot down at once, saying that Tai had no business even thinking about her niece like that. Unfortunately, 26-year-old Maki had not been as wise as the present-day Maki. Flattered by the attention of an older man, Maki had fallen for Tai Whiu and had started dating him, secretly at first, then in public. This enraged Mira, who disapproved of the relationship with every fiber of her body.

    For months Mira struggled and worked to end Maki’s relationship with Tai, but this had only brought out a defiant streak in Maki. She clung onto her lover even harder, alienating her aunt in the process. It didn’t help that Maki was the Queen and had the power to do whatever (with whoever) she wanted.

    In the end, the last straw for Mira had been Maki’s near simultaneous wedding and pregnancy. It had just been too much to handle. Mira renounced her place in the Royal Family and left the palace, declaring that she would never return so long as Maki and Tai were still married.

    The last connection between Mira and the Royal Family was Wikitoria. Tai and Maki’s daughter had taken a liking to Mira at first glance. The two would frequently spend time together at the Royal Academy of Science and had a very good relationship. Mira was also surprisingly well-behaved around Wikitoria. As far as Maki knew, her only child wasn’t even aware of the powerful hatred Mira felt towards her father, Tai.

    In hindsight, this entire situation was Maki’s fault, and she knew it. Sadly, there were very few avenues the young Queen could go down to solve this problem. Maki wasn’t willing to divorce Tai, since she actually loved the man and she didn’t want to deprive Wikitoria of a father. Mira didn’t contribute to the peace process at all. She had interpreted Tai’s courtship of Maki as a betrayal of the worst possible caliber, and would start spewing hateful and vitriolic language as soon as she became aware of his presence.

    All Maki could do was blame herself for the feud, accept this could have been avoided, and then move on with her life, making the best of a bad situation.

    Ignoring her husband, Maki stepped out of bed and started pacing up and down the Royal Bedchamber. After thinking things over for a few minutes, Maki put on her slippers and pulled a shawl overtop of her nightgown. Then she quietly pulled open the bedroom door and stepped into the hallway.

    A Green Guard snapped off a quick salute. Maki raised her hand and returned the gesture.

    “Soldier,” she said quietly. “Will you call down to the kitchens and ask them to send a bowl of hot Thornax Stew to the Library? I’m on my way there.”

    The Green Guard nodded.

    “Right away, your majesty.”



    The Palatial Library was the Great Library in miniature. There were just as many cozy sofas, couches, and reading chairs as there were bookshelves. Wrapped in a cocoon of blankets, the Queen of Partoga curled up next to a tall window that overlooked Old Town, the part of Partoga City where Mira lived. Mihaka Tower was just barely visible as volcanic ash mixed and mingled with the snow flurries that usually happened at this time of night. Sipping hot stew from a bowl she held in both hands, Maki felt the heavy warm meal filling her stomach and tried to force herself to sleep through sheer force of will.

    No luck. Maki’s mind was far too active to allow her to sleep. She thought about the recent evacuation of Enzor, pondered the fate of several scientists who had recently disappeared along the slopes of Riri Nui, theorized about the unconfirmed reports of a Human Gunship landing in the Boron Desert, and wondered just who in their right mind was wandering around outside at this time of night.

    From her vantage point, Maki could just barely see a lone figure walking through the streets of Old Town, moving in the general direction of the Royal Palace. For nearly half an hour, the figure continued their slow approach to the palace, moving at a leisurely pace, as though they had all the time in the world to work with. By now, there were only a few buildings and street corners between the stranger and the main gate of the Royal Palace. Maki perked up in her seat, curious as to where this midnight wanderer was going.

    Passing two more buildings, crossing another road now. Maki could practically count the paces now. No way, she thought, why would someone visit the palace in the middle of the night!?

    The stranger had reached the palace gates and was now talking to two of the Green Guards stationed there. As far as Maki could see, the encounter appeared to be non-confrontational. All three people kept their arms at their sides and appeared to be conversing very casually with one another. Maki was now so close to the glass window that her breath was causing it to fog up...

    “What’cha lookin’ at?”

    Maki jumped with surprise, spilling some of her stew onto the windowsill.

    “Don’t startle me like that!” she groaned, then lightly punched her husband on the stomach.

    Tai Whiu ran his hand through Maki’s hair, then looked over the top of her head and out the window.

    “Were you watching the arrest?” he asked, “Seems like this one’s pretty boring.”

    Maki turned around to see what Tai had spotted. The stranger who had approached the palace was now being escorted inside, with both of their arms being held tightly by a Green Guard. A third soldier was speaking into his radio.

    “Probably another one of Wikitoria’s friends.” Maki said dismissively. “They’ll get sent home in the morning.”

    The loud buzzing and crackling of handheld radios caught Maki’s attention. Two of the Green Guards standing outside the library entrance were having a conversation in low voices.

    Maki rolled her eyes and passed her bowl of stew to her husband. She stood up and crossed the library, trailing a cloak of blankets behind her.

    “Alright, tell me who it was?” Maki said to the guards casually. “If it's that Manawa kid again, keep him in lockup until his mother gets here. That’ll teach him not to sneak into people’s homes at night.”

    One of the guards put his radio to his mouth and said into it:

    “Negative, sir. The Queen’s right here. Do you want me to ask her?”

    The other guard spoke to Maki.

    “Uh, your Majesty, it looks like the intruder was an adult female. She claims to be your aunt Mira.”

    Maki and Tai both gasped.

    “Tell the guards to bring her to the Atrium!” Maki gasped, “We’ll meet her there!”

    Maki had never raced across the palace so quickly before. Tai had to struggle to keep up with her. In less than three minutes, Maki and Tai reached the Grand Atrium, where visitors were supposed to wait before being shown to other parts of the Palace. Four Green Guards were standing around a woman, who looked to be waiting patiently and didn’t react when Maki and Tai entered the room.

    As Maki approached, the Green Guards stood aside, but remained close, allowing her to get a good look at the visitor.

    The woman who looked back at Maki was a Partogan with light brown skin, long silver hair, a big black eyepatch, a deep scar cutting across the right side of her head, and a single dull grey eye.

    Maki and Tai stopped in their tracks. This person... whoever they were... looked like a carbon copy of her aunt... and yet... this person was clearly not Mira Mihaka.

    No.

    The real Mira would not have greeted Maki with a smile when Tai Whiu was in the room. She would still be angry at him! She would scream and curse about how Tai had “betrayed” Mira by sleeping with and then marrying her niece! The real Mira would have thrown something, cursed up a storm, sworn vengeance or something like that!

    This smiling impostor was clearly some kind of cruel joke. Maki got angry.

    “That’s not Mira.” she said to the guards before addressing the impostor. “You’ve got some guts, moron. Now get out of my sight before I decide to send you home without ‘em!”

    Maki gave the Green Guards a “take her away” hand signal, then turned on her feet and started to walk away. But she hadn’t taken more than three steps when she heard something happening behind her!

    Maki spun around to see that the Impostor was walking across the Atrium, right towards herself and Tai! The four Green Guards were still standing in their original positions, as though they were completely unaware of what was happening! Tai spun around, saw the Impostor coming, and yelled!

    “HEY! STOP!”

    Cold and harsh Psionic energy suddenly began radiating out and away from the Impostor! Tai tried to grab her by the arm, but she countered and pulled Tai down into a headlock! Maki screamed!

    “GUARDS! HELP! HELP!!

    The Impostor grabbed Tai’s head with one of her hands. As soon as her fingertips made contact with his scalp, Tai went limp and collapsed to the floor! He lay there, immobile, with is eyes wide open!

    Maki screamed again and ran full tilt towards the stairwell door that lead to the Palace Security Office! The Queen had only run a few paces though, when she felt the Impostor’s hand close around her own wrist. Maki struggled for a few seconds before she felt the palm of the Impostor’s other hand make contact with her top of her head!



    Maki and Tai reached the Grand Atrium, where visitors were supposed to wait before being shown to other parts of the Palace. Four Green Guards were standing around a woman, who looked to be waiting patiently and didn’t react when Maki and Tai entered the room.

    As Maki approached, the Green Guards stood aside, but remained close, allowing her to get a good look at the visitor.

    The woman who looked back at Maki was a Partogan with light brown skin, long silver hair, a big black eyepatch covering her right eye, a deep scar cutting across the right side of her head, and a single dull grey eye.

    “Mira!” Maki gasped, “You came back!”

    Mira gave her niece a small smile.

    “I did.”

    Maki ran forward and gave her favorite aunt a great big hug. Tai hung back, allowing aunt and niece to enjoy the moment.

    “I’m so happy to see you!” Maki gasped, “Why did you come back?”

    Maki pulled away from Mira and saw that her aunt now wore a very solemn expression.

    “I... I wish I could’ve come back at a happier time.” said Mira, “But I’ve just learned something incredible, and I need to show it to you, Maki.”

    Maki shuddered.

    “You barged into the palace in the middle of the night.” Maki said, “Are you sure ‘incredible’ is the right word?”

    Mira nodded, then she took her niece’s hands and held them tightly in her own.

    “It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.” Mira said. “You’re the Queen, Maki. My Queen. You should be the first to know, but I think you should wake up the rest of your Cabinet.”



    It took only a few minutes for Mira to explain the crisis. Then it took about an hour to raise the alarm. While snow and volcanic ash continued to swirl around outside of the Royal Palace, the highest-ranking members of Partoga’s government were being dropped off at landing pads inside the Palace walls. The Kuhina Nui, Church Patriarch, leaders of both houses of the National Assembly, Princes and Princesses, Army, Navy, and Green Guard leaders all reported to the same conference room where Queen Phoebe the Second had made Mira the Midak’s Science Officer 29 years ago.

    As every person entered the room, Mira greeted them with a warm and friendly hug. Each time she hugged someone, Mira would gently touch the back of their head with her hand. Everyone received this physical greeting from Mira.

    By the time everyone was seated, there were just 7 hours left until sunrise.

    Acting in her capacity as Queen Emily the Second, Maki called the meeting to order. She sat at the head of the conference table, but three other chairs had been pulled up at the head of the table with hers. One of these seats belonged to Mira. The other two belonged to a pair of assistants Mira had invited to the meeting. Neither of them was here yet.

    “Everyone!” Maki said loudly, “Over the past hour, we’ve been made aware of a situation that demands our immediate attention!”

    Prince Kahu Koraku, son of the late Kahurangi Koraku and one of Mira’s old allies from the Second Battle of Archer’s Canyon, raised his hand.

    “Your Majesty, my people in Visonia are suffering greatly at the Mountain’s ashfall. What could be so crucial that you had to pull me away from my Principality instead of telling me via radio?”

    “I’m sorry, Kahu.” Maki answered, “But this is something you have to be shown. It’s not something that can be explained over a radio call.”

    “Let me explain.” Mira said. “While I wait for my assistants to arrive.”

    Mira got up from her chair so that everyone could see her.

    “Nearly 700 years of science tells us that above Normal Space is Hyperspace, and more recent science from the Second Hyperspace War tells us that above Hyperspace is the Shroud. A few days ago, I found evidence that there is some kind of intelligent being inside the Shroud, and it is trying to make contact with us.

    Excited chatter filled the conference room. The Patriarch of the Church of the Mountain, a middle-aged Partogan man named Horere Tuterangi, said loudly

    “Our prayers have been answered!”

    All eyes turned to him.

    “Don’t you all see?” said Horere, “This is the answer, the way to calm Riri Nui and return it to its slumber! The Mountain awoke because we fought and squabbled amongst ourselves for petty reasons. Should we make peaceful contact with this... Shroud-life... we may yet secure the Mountain’s blessing once more.”

    Another wave of chatter went around the meeting table. Maki called for quiet.

    “My aunt and her scientists have been working on a device that will allow a small delegation to enter the Shroud.” Maki explained, “Their objective will be to meet this intelligence and establish peaceful contact and, hopefully, start a dialogue.”

    Mira took center stage again.

    “When I was on Earth,” she said, “I heard rumors about powerful beings who lived in the Shroud. These beings could grant incredible favors to a civilization that was willing to pay a hefty price.”

    Maki spoke up.

    “Our civilization is in crisis right now! Riri Nui is threatening to bring its wrath down on us again, and we can’t just take our chances and hope we survive another Great Wrath!”

    “Her Majesty is right!” Chimed in Holy Father Horere. “We have the means and the opportunity to preserve our own future! We must take the chance!”

    Right on cue, the door to the meeting room opened up and two Partogans made their presence known. The first was a woman Maki knew, but hadn’t spoken to since the Second Battle of Archer’s Canyon.

    “The Gateway is ready!” said Anika Aranui, “Just give the word, Mira!”

    Twisting her grey dreadlocks nervously, Anika watched as the man who had been with her entered the room and whispered something into Mira’s ear. Then he turned to the Queen and introduced himself.

    “We’re ready, your Majesty. If we’re going to do this, it’s got to be now.”

    Maki addressed the group at large:

    “I’m asking for thirteen volunteers.” Maki said, “to go with me and Mira into the Shroud. We’re going to be making contact with, and asking for help from, a being that’s on a significantly higher plane of existence than us, so we’ll need people with spiritual and diplomatic experience.”

    Prince Kahurangi, Holy Father Horere, and eleven others rose from their seats.

    “Right!” the male assistant said to the group at large. “Everyone going to the Shroud, follow me!”

    As it turned out, the Shroud Delegation only had to move to the next room. Inside this massive chamber, Anika, Mira, and the unidentified man had set up a bizarre-looking contraption. A crescent-shaped device rose up from the floor, with its two points aimed towards the ceiling. The whole apparatus just barely fit inside the room, and it had clearly been disassembled and reassembled rather than being moved in one piece.

    y4mniLPrpoPDhLFv9JzQZezRLO5I70iaQNX9P76wix9ZjUog38kuNZtnUbUYJHhe15sI6ou-gSoZ1Ub3UvZ1x9TkthijIz4Opd_rrVX03-8yf9CvpSbU_KZ3ie0Ph7BWlMqkQ_9TZKFkFAHNdLw4P6kLQ_Qa80l2Xmyqb5IF1zteMX7XMzmpzlvv8MIp-wMQteH1xfZmjfzkqZGMBus3BSnkA

    Caption said:
    The Second Hyperspace War-era Psionic Gate used by XCOM bears a very strong resemblance to the one now idling in the Partogan Royal Palace.

    “Everyone, take an Amplifier!” Anika said.

    She passed out a series of strange, rectangular handheld devices, one to each person making the trip into the Shroud.

    “Whatever you do, DO NOT let go of your Amplifier while you’re inside the Shroud!” Anika said, “You’ll need it to get back!”

    Mira, meanwhile, was doing a headcount of the Shroud Delegation. Maki tapped her on the shoulder.

    “Do you really think the being in the Shroud is friendly?” Maki asked, “Will it agree to help us?”

    “I’ve never heard a reason to think otherwise.” Mira said, “Everyone I’ve ever talked to said this thing is friendly.”

    Mira picked up her own Amplifier and faced the Shroud Delegation.

    “Since my aunt has been inside the Shroud before,” said Maki, “She’s going to be our guide! Everyone, stay behind her and do as she says! Holy Father Horere, you stay close to me!”

    Mira pointed to the unidentified man.

    “Hakara! Fire it up!”

    The machine made a deep gurgling noise like a flooded engine, then a brilliant purple light emanated from a semicircular ring near the center of the machine. A semitransparent purple wall appeared between two huge beams at the bottom of the machine. The wall became more and more opaque until the Psionic Gateway had finished opening. It bore a small resemblance to a Quantum Wavefront, but it didn’t make the all-to-familiar hum-hum-hum sound.

    Maki looked at her aunt.

    “After you.”

    Mira didn’t hesitate. She strode forward purposefully and stepped into the Gateway. She vanished from sight instantly. Maki went next, then one by one, the rest of the delegation followed their Queen into the Gateway... and the Shroud.

    y4m1tgVo7prlCjSVuNm1yWlG4ddqa-k5vXtgrtprJW1YaVmfKMyqOS1sv9q72AvtMcVI3sb8BGNutP5k4rqsfxmHCV9m2tcUVYrOzo5JRDBS5oHUd1trqUPQl74_isH3hDlOGcKZL7HfU3E4B6jHHG6FIUjhHmQhRi1Nj8Sx_7lHXprfuq0h7LSo-IbMTVc1Y7nDzdw_xMfHzr5oAx0Xh5cNA


    It took everyone a few moments to get their bearings. The Delegation had arrived in a place that was both foreign and strangely familiar. They stood on the precipice, at the edge of this strange new realm for a moment overlooking a vast ocean of swirling color and shadow. Then someone remembered: Mira is waiting.

    Following closely in Mira’s footsteps, Maki and her delegation entered the Shroud.

    For a fleeting moment, Maki was lost and a sense of utter panic washes over her as she contemplated an eternity spent within the Shroud. Then she found her footing, and the terror receded.

    Maki knew she wasn’t in any danger. Mira was here.

    The Delegation came to a tempestuous region of the Shroud. Massive currents of raw psionic energy were funneled through here, giving violent birth to semi-intelligent spiritual apparitions. Confused, these beings made war on one another, releasing vast amounts of power in clashes that might very well last for millennia. Holy Father Horere was mesmerized as several such duels played out front of him.

    Mira warned everyone to proceed with caution. She said that even a stray thought could be shaped into something tangible in this place... and more often than not, turned against its creator.

    A flock of spirits glowing with dazzling colors that no Partogan had ever known of danced around the Delegation for what felt like hours as Mira led them deeper into the Shroud. Maki enjoyed the spectacle for a while, until the realization hit her:

    Those things could probably kill me if Mira wasn’t here.

    Suddenly, in a painful moment of clarity, the nature of all existence was laid bare before Maki and her Delegation. A multiverse unfurled before them, populated with thousands of galaxies like their own, locked in endless cycles of conflict! It began, it ended, and then it began again. Each time with trillions of lives hanging in the balance.

    “SO IT IS,” a voice whispers, “AND SO IT SHALL ALWAYS BE.”

    Everyone froze while the voice spoke. Maki expected Mira to offer some kind of explanation, but instead, Mira simply waited for the voice to fall silent, then she beckoned the group onward. Maki and the others complied, partly out of obedience, partly out of curiosity.

    Suddenly, the path came to an abrupt end. Maki, Kahu, Horere and the others all looked around nervously.

    Mira asked the group to step forward and gaze into the abyss below...

    Maki gapsed as she looked down on Partoga. The great city looked different yet familiar. Even through the obscuring wall of flames and smoke she could recognize the Royal Science Academy, the Great Library, Mihaka Tower, and the outer walls of Fort Miranda. All were reduced to ruin. Thousands... no, millions of bodies littered the streets. The smell of volcanic sulfur made Maki gag. Above and around her, the voice spoke again:

    “YOUR FUTURE.”

    Nothing living remained in the ruins. In the sky above, massive orbital installations had begun the slow and inevitable descent towards the planet, leaving a trail of acrid black smoke in the air. Maki was terrified. She asked Mira if she was witnessing one possible future out of many? he strange voice answered Maki’s question.

    “NOT ONE OF MANY. IT SHALL COME TO PASS. AS SURELY AS THE SUN RISES. YOUR DESTINY WAS SOLD TO US... BY HER.”

    Everyone turned to face Mira. Maki demanded an explanation, she refused to believe Mira had betrayed everyone. Mira started to explain, but the End of the Cycle appeared at last.

    It was the single most terrifying thing Maki had ever seen in her life. It made her hair curl and her breath stop. Maki’s heart beat frantically as though trying to escape. She couldn’t comprehend how such a being of pure horror could exist! There was no nightmare in history that could compare to the monster that now wrapped one appendage around Mira and pulled her away from the group. Purple light flashed from Mira’s Amplifier like a brilliant flare, the first sign that she was putting up a fight against the End of the Cycle.

    Striking out with one semi corporeal appendage, the End of the Cycle lashed out at Maki’s Delegation with a massive wave of psionic energy, spreading chaos and confusion amongst the group. Realizing there was nothing she could do against the End of the Cycle itself, Maki ordered the rest of her Delegation to fall back, escape to the Psi Gate, and return to Normal Space.

    This was a terrible idea.

    The End of the Cycle saw the Delegation moving to flee. It threw Mira aside and it began to give chase. The stricken guide hit the “ground” hard and disappeared into a cloud of purple smoke. When Maki and her Delegates reached the spot from which they’d entered the Shroud, another terrifying discovery was made.

    There was no Gateway.

    And without Mira, no one knew how to get out of the Shroud.

    Panic started to settle in. Kahu was the only one who resolved to fight, while most of the delegation simply threw down their Amplifiers and ran away, screaming hysterically. The Holy Father had succumbed to madness, and was laying on his side muttering nonsense words nonstop. Maki could feel the Shroud closing in around her. It was going to destroy her mind and leave her body intact!

    The End of the Cycle had reached Maki and Kahu! It seized Kahu and raised him up off the ground! The Prince beat and struck every inch of the End of the Cycle he could reach, determined to die fighting!

    Kahu’s wish was granted. The End of the Cycle annihilated him. Thousands of little bits of Kahu’s body flew in all directions, splattering Maki with blood and bits of bone. Paralyzed with fear, Maki stood motionless as the End of the Cycle reached out towards her with one grotesque arm-like limb.

    Maki felt the End of the Cycle wrapping its tendrils around her arms and legs. It constricted her like a snake.

    WHERE IS AKIRA ROBINSON?

    I don’t know. I don’t know who that is.

    This was it. This was going to be Maki’s final thought! She was going to die now, she knew it.

    But the End of the Cycle released Maki! It ejected her from the Shroud entirely, throwing her back into Normal Space! Maki crashed out of the Psionic Gate and slid across the floor before coming to rest at the feet of nearly two dozen shocked Government officials and Green Guards!

    “Your Majesty!” One of the soldiers gasped, “Are you okay?”

    “SHUT THAT THING DOWN!!” Maki shrieked, pointing at the Psi Gate.

    Green Guards descended on the Psi Gate, and in a matter of seconds, they had not only shut the gate off, but had damaged it beyond any hope of repair by smashing its most delicate parts with the butts of their Gauss Pistols. While this happened, Kuhina Nui Tuu Rangi picked Maki up by her shoulders and said,

    “What happened in there? Where’s everyone else? Who’s blood is this!?”

    “Dead.” Maki choked out. “All dead.”

    Maki sat up and looked around at the stunned faces of her surviving government.

    “It was a setup.” Maki cried, slowly getting her breath back. “Mira betrayed us, she sold us out to some kind of monster and then she disappeared.”

    Maki looked around one more time, taking a mental headcount of everyone in the room.

    “Wait...” she said, “Where the hell are those two assistants who were with Mira? Aranui and the other guy? Where are they?”

    Right on cue, two Green Guards burst through a far door.

    “Thank the Mountain!” one of them said,

    The other spoke into his radio.

    “We have the Queen! She’s safe!” then he spoke to Maki, “Your Majesty, we have an active shooter situation out on the Palace Grounds. Three Partogans just fought their way past us and are fleeing into Old Town! Two female, one male!”

    Maki stood up and rounded on her Kuhina Nui.

    “Listen here, Rangi. My aunt just betrayed us and tried to feed me to her extradimensional pet. You get your soldiers out there, RIGHT NOW. You find Mira and put a bullet in her skull! AM I CLEAR?

    ========
    SO IT IS, AND SO IT SHALL ALWAYS BE.

    You don’t scare me. You didn’t even recognize me.
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 3.1: The Four Candidates
  • Macavity116

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    Chapter 3.1
    The Four Candidates

    August 23, 1928 A.D.
    Mihaka Tower, Partoga City, Partogan Homeworld


    The Ambassador Corvette carrying Toa Mami and Amaya arrived in the middle of the night. Green Guard soldiers were waiting at the landing pad. Toa Mami never would have realized where she was if Amaya hadn’t pointed to the tower and named it while they were flying over it. Half of the rooftop had been set aside to be used as a landing pad for Corvette-sized spacecraft, while the other half seemed to be a multi-room complex that had been added to the structure after the Tower had been built.

    Throughout the entire journey from Fort Daxia to Partoga City, she and Amaya had been pampered to no end. Both girls had been given plenty of delicious food, warm beds, and an extensive wardrobe of dark-colored dresses to wear. (bright colored clothes were temporarily outlawed during National Mourning) Having grown up on Aoraki, Toa Mami could count the number of times she’d worn a dress on one hand. She couldn’t get used to such a strange garment. Sarcastically, she’d asked for a pair of pants, only to be taken by surprise when one of the Green Guard soldiers opened a trunk full of clothes and obliged. Toa Mami stepped out of the Ambassador Corvette wearing a black shirt and grey cargo pants. Compared to Amaya Maori’s ankle-length sleeveless dress, Toa Mami looked like an unusually pretty street urchin.

    Both Queen Candidates were exceedingly grateful to finally get off the ship. Normally, the flight from Fort Daxia to Partoga took about six or seven days, but this time the journey had taken a painfully slow two weeks. No one told Amaya or Toa Mami why the flight been so slow, but neither Candidate raised an objection because as mentioned before, both girls lived in the lap of luxury the entire time. Toa Mami barely noticed the cold night air as she was led out of the ship by soldiers and escorted to the odd complex on the other end of Mihaka Tower’s roof. They were about 20 Bios away from the front door when it swung open. Toa Mami gasped!

    “Mister Mihaka!”

    Eteka’s father, Rakato, stepped out of the doorway and met Toa Mami, Amaya, and their escorts on the cold, windy rooftop. He was carrying a metal briefcase that appeared to be very heavy.

    “Captain!” Rakato said to one of the Green Guards, “What’s the dayword?”

    Toa Mami had no idea what was going on. She looked up at the man Rakato had spoken to. He seemed to know because he answered with only one word.

    “Elda!” He answered.

    This must have been some kind of codeword because Rakato immediately reached to his belt, produced a handheld radio and said into it:

    “Sir, I confirm delivery of Queen Candidates Maori and Tamihana.”

    A voice responded, crackling over the radio.

    “Understood. We just took delivery of Enutanga down here. Thanks for letting us use your pad, Mihaka. We’ll get out of your hair as soon as you’re ready.”

    Rakato put his radio away. He stepped towards the Captain and held out the metal briefcase.

    “Here you go Captain...” Rakato said, “The first 2 million Dirams, as promised.”

    The Captain nodded.

    “You get ten minutes alone with her. That’s the best I can do.”

    Toa Mami’s blood ran cold with fear. Next to her, she got the feeling that Amaya had also tensed up. What was going on here?

    Rakato seemed to consider his options for a moment, then he said;

    “Give her to me first, then you’ll get the other half when I give her back.”

    During this final pause, Toa Mami could hear her own frightened heartbeat over the sound of the Corvette’s engines. The Captain’s reply was short but definitive:

    “Deal.”

    A big, powerful hand suddenly shoved Toa Mami towards Rakato! She panicked and made a terrified squeaking noise! Amaya said very loudly;

    “W-wait! What the hell’s going on!? What are you doing!?”

    Rakato stepped forward, grabbed Toa Mami’s shoulder, and said to Amaya.

    “Politics. That’s what’s going on. Tamihana, come with me.”

    Rakato steered Toa Mami into the open doorway. She was too scared to resist.

    The entrance, it turned out, led to the biggest penthouse apartment Toa Mami had ever seen. Spacious, luxurious, and decorated with all sorts of priceless artwork and sculptures, the Mihaka Family Penthouse was truly worthy of the second-richest family in the Kingdom. The patriarch of that family locked the penthouse door behind him and pressed his ear to it for a moment, then he crossed the room in two strides and took Toa Mami by the shoulder again.

    “Half a year ago, if you’d told me that my son’s best friend would have a one-in-four shot of becoming Queen, I’d have said you were crazy.”

    Rakato hugged Toa Mami.

    “I still can’t believe you got picked to be a Candidate, congratulations!” he said, “Eteka was stunned when he got the news. I don’t know if he’s on his way back to Partoga now, but we have spoken on the Hyperline. How are you?”

    Toa Mami relaxed considerably.

    “I-I’m still in shock right now.” She admitted, “Why’d you wanna talk to me so badly, anyway? And since when does it cost 2 million Dirams to talk to me for ten minutes?”

    “Four million.” Rakato corrected. “And it was worth every Uka. Tonight, there’s nothing more important than the talk we’re going to have.”

    Toa Mami gulped.

    “My son told me,” Rakato began, “...that you have never participated in politics before... is that true?”

    Toa Mami shook her head.

    “No.”

    Rakato inhaled sharply again.

    “Alright, then listen close, Toa, ‘cause this is your crash course: Partogan politics is a cutthroat game whose players have a very short life expectancy. Now, this isn’t a nice thing to say, but it has to be said: Whoever put your name on the Candidate list didn’t do it because they like you or because they thought you deserved to be Queen. The truth is, and this applies to all four Candidates: Whoever made you a Candidate thinks you’re malleable and easily manipulated. Someone is trying to make you into their puppet, and rule the Nation through you.”

    Suddenly, Toa Mami felt scared again.

    “W-who?” she stammered, “Why?”

    “It was most likely the Ranginui family or one of their allies.” Rakato answered. “Whiro and his ilk have near-total control over the Church of the Mountain. In turn, the Church allows him to wield incredible influence over both the Government and the people.”

    Somehow, Toa Mami had a harder time believing this than Tantomile’s story of the Snowskin’s escape from the Shieldbreaker .

    “Wha-?” Toa Mami said, “Come on, you can’t be serious. The Church is all about helping people out, not controlling them. They’ve built so many houses, fed lots of starving people just on Aoraki, not to mention they have this awesome program to help young people get out of debt-”

    “Do you really think the Church of the Mountain is doing all of that out of the generosity of their hearts? That Whiro is doing such noble, altruistic things with no plan for a reward?”

    Toa Mami opened her mouth, but couldn’t think of a rebuttal.

    “That’s how the Ranginui family and their Church get control of people.” Rakato said darkly. “They exploit the less fortunate by waiting until some great unsolvable crisis comes around then appearing with the offer of salvation; and the price is unquestioning... obedient... servitude.”

    Toa Mami shuddered, Rakato put both of his hands on her shoulders.

    “I saw it happen during the last Election, Toa Mami. Whiro tried buy the obedience of the Candidates by offering them a guarantee of victory. I beg you, do not fall into his trap! Don’t accept anything offered to you by the Church or Whiro or his family. You can win the Royal Election and become Queen without selling yourself to him!”

    “How?” Toa Mami asked,

    Rakato checked how much time he had left, then hurried on:

    “If you want to do anything or become anyone in the Capital, then you need to have friends in all the right places. Many powerful people figured that out a long time ago. There are five factions in the Partogan government.” Rakato explained quickly. “Each group of people have their own set of beliefs and ideologies about how the government is supposed to work.”

    Rakato looked up at a wall clock. He didn’t have much time left.

    “Spiritualists, pacifists, militarists, xenophobes, and Levakian nationalists.” he said quickly. “The pacifists and spiritualists are allies. Together we have a majority in the government, which means we run the show. We’re called the Prosperity Caucus, or just ‘the Coalition’ for short. I’m not a member of the National Assembly, but I have a sibling and some cousins who are, and they’re all part of the Coalition. You can trust them.”

    Knock knock knock.

    He grasped Toa Mami’s hand tightly in his own.

    “Trust the Prosperity Caucus. We are your friends and we will put you on the throne if you give us the chance. You’ve got about a month until the Election, that’s plenty of time to introduce yourself to my brother and our cousins.”

    Knock knock knock.

    “Times’s up, Mihaka!” the soldier’s voice came through the door. “That girl needs to be in government housing five minutes ago!”

    Toa Mami jumped! Rakato straightened up.

    “Remember,” he whispered, “The Prosperity Caucus is on your side. We’ll help you.”

    Right as Toa Mami was being shepherded out the door, she turned around and said to Rakato,

    “Wait, Mister Mihaka! How do I know you’re not the one trying to manipulate me?”

    Rakato gave Toa Mami an apologetic look.

    “You don’t.”



    Amaya and the Green Guards were waiting for Toa Mami at the elevator doors.

    “What did he want?” Amaya asked,

    “Talked about deals.” Toa Mami answered, “He wanted me to avoid taking one, I think.”

    Amaya gave her comrade a concerned look. Then she spoke to the Green Guard nearest the controls.

    “Sir, where are you taking us?”

    “Special government housing for Queen Candidates.” the soldier explained. “You’ll each get to live in a private one-story home. It’ll have everything you need to live comfortably until Election Day. It also has as a library and an office where you can write your speeches.”

    Toa Mami and Amaya looked at one another. They both knew what he was talking about. About four years ago, during the election that resulted in Queen Marie the Scholar, all four Queen Candidates had been allowed to deliver a short speech to both houses of the National Assembly before the body casted its vote. A few well-chosen words and 52 votes were all that stood between the Queen Candidates and becoming the authoritarian ruler of Partoga’s interstellar empire.

    Toa Mami barely had any time to look around at the audacious lobby of Mihaka Tower. As soon as the elevator doors slid open, she and Amaya were both guided across the gilded room towards the huge main doors. The gold-trimmed curtains decorating the windows seemed to shimmer in the lobby’s artificial light.

    Then they were outside again. For a second, Toa Mami thought she’d been caught in a lightning storm! Dozens, then hundreds of bright lights flashed and went out milliseconds apart and were accompanied by a wave of loud noises.

    “Follow