Varn, World of Wonder
Posts: 837
  • Posted On: May 18 2007 11:39pm
Decades ago, the world that now stands as the capital of the Cooperative was little more than a ball of dirt and water, with trees growing from every place they could find firm ground to root themselves in. The world's notoriety had extended no farther than a second-rate holodocumentary entitled Varn, World of Water. It had been a calm, peaceful world, with nothing of any notable value. The native amphibian species, which simply called themselves the "Varn," generally kept to themselves, and accepted settlers and immigrants to their world with begrudging indifference. They fought hard to preserve the forests and waters of their world from the destructive tendencies of newcomers, but beyond that, they had no real interest in the affairs of others. Varn really was just another quiet, useless world that did little more than fill space and make gravity; it was buried in obscurity, but all of that was about to change.

* * *

Before him stretched the endless blue of ocean; behind him stretched the boundless green of forest canopy. Below him gleamed the dazzling silver of an artificial Eden, the site of a new and popularly elected capital city, and the future seat of government for the newly renamed Cooperative of Systems.

Banol Tiovata stood on an observation platform floating a kilometer over the city. As he marveled at the beauty of the world that was not his own, the memory of his own world's fate returned to him, and with an agonizing pain that all but paralyzed his body, he reached out and grabbed the platform's rail, leaning heavily on it as all strength left him. Ithor. The word had become holy to him, and though it had been years since Ithor's destruction, the memory of his beloved homeworld still brought him to his knees.

The sound of beeping instrumentation tore through his moment of quiet mourning, and Banol released his grip from the rail, straightening his posture and taking a moment to compose himself. He activated the holoprojector, and the tiny image of a Varn native sprung to life. "How are things?" The Varn asked cheerfully, the smile on his face contrasting with his amphibian features.

"They're beautiful," Banol answered sincerely, a glimmer of joy returning to him.

"That's not what I meant, but it's nice to hear."

"Everything's on schedule and where it should be." The shoreline city of Unity Point stretched from below sea level to well into the nearby forest. It was a tribute to the natural beauty of Varn, as well as a proof-of-concept that artifice and nature can coexist in peaceful, beneficial, beautiful harmony. Banol often found himself overwhelmed by the difficulties of his job, but as he looked down at the half-finished monolith that stood in the center of the city, its obvious Ithorian design brought a tear of joy to his eye. Though it would have been sacrilege to build such a structure on the surface of Ithor itself, the Ithorian-inspired Council Hall of the Cooperative belonged right where it was. The Ithorian legacy of honoring and protecting nature would endure on Varn for as long as the Cooperative stood, and that achievement was in no small part due to the efforts of Banol Tiovata, an herbalist-turned-architect who had found a home among a group of peoples who valued cooperation and tolerance above war and conquest.

* * *

As the Cooperative had struggled to find a unifying identity in its first weeks and months of existence, so had the new government of Varn, and the people who had helped to create it. Varn was still divided into two separate political and governmental bodies; one ruled over the Varn species, and the other over those species who were not native to the world. While it had been difficult initially to determine where one government ended and the other began, a rather open and optimistic decision had been made very quickly. While the sub-oceanic cities were controlled exclusively by the Varn government, and the inland cities were controlled exclusively by the non-Varn government, the shoreline cities which dominated the world became tiny city-states in their own right; the general populace of each city would determine through the election of public servants which of the two governments' jurisdictions their city would fall under. The whole system was a unique shift from traditional party-driven politics, because the parties on Varn represented two separate governments.

By focusing on issues that concerned everyone, like economic growth and environmental health, both of the world's two governments were able to avoid much of the hostility that most political parties generated, and with absolute control over part of the world ensured, the negative effects of "losing control" of the general political arena weren't as severe. Still, problems arose, and issues had to be resolved; the key was to remember that your opponent is also your friend, and harming him will invariably harm you.

Josiah Deccol was staring emotionlessly into the eyes of Vekkis Nost; the power wielded by the two men was a difference of five percent of the general vote, but in most systems, that five percent would be all that was needed to determine the outcome of the meeting. But not here; not on Varn.

"The refineries were bought by my government for the processing of raw materials from the Kauron Asteroids; we own them," Josiah said matter-of-factly, his face still betraying no emotion.

"The city shifted alignment during the general elections; under the terms of the Treaty of Two Nations, as a member-city of the Heirs of Varn, your government can't control any assets of the city, which includes whatever factories you might have bought two days before the elections, when you realized that you were going to lose the city, and we were going to get the tax money from the refineries' revenue." The squishy, aquatic nature of the Varn species made it difficult for most humanoids to read either their tone or facial expressions, but Josiah had spent a great deal of time with this particular Varn in the recent months, and he was fairly confident that Vekkis was enjoying this.

He thinks he's going to win this. Josiah smiled on the inside, but made sure to keep his face impassive. "Sir," One of Josiah's aides whispered into his ear, "perhaps we should concede this particular case. Pick your battles."

Josiah shook his head in frustration, waving the aide away. "I have," He mumbled, "I picked this one. I disagree," He said louder, sitting up straighter and glaring at the President of the Varn nation. "Our laws were compiled from a series of the most successful governments in history." He pulled out a datapad, handing it across the table to his Varn counterpart. "In virtually every one of them, significant concessions were made concerning the difference between owning a location, and owning the businesses within those locations. Several of those instances were between one world and the government of entirely different interstellar bodies. We, on the other hand, are all friends here; there's no reason we can't get along."

"That's interesting," Vekkis said, sliding the datapad back across the table, "but irrelevant. The legal system that the relevant section of the Treaty was compiled from did not allow for such concessions, and actually made a point of warning against surrendering resources to," He paused, and Josiah could just make out the Varn equivalent of a smile forming on the amphibian's face, "potentially hostile and definitively alien organization."

"That hurts; that really hurts." Josiah finally cracked a smile, by now quite in tune with the other being's humor.

"But in the interest of fairness, I move for a joint committee to review the situation and determine the most appropriate course of action."

"Fairness? Hah!" Josiah was grinning broadly now, glad that he could work alongside—and at times like this, against—someone like Vekkis Nost. "Your side gained the majority in the elections; you'd just tell the committee how to vote, and it'd be done. By the way," He added, his voice shifting to a genuinely curious tone, "how'd you manage to beat me, anyway?"

"It was the Ithorians," Vekkis said simply.

"There are barely a thousand of 'em on the planet. I want to know; how'd you do it?"

"Ithorians are environmentalists and pacifists; the first makes them like us, and the second makes everyone else like them. Besides, your rule ended with the pirate takeover of our planet; it's hard to work that into a re-election slogan. But seriously," Vekkis added, shifting to what was definitely a more serious tone, "we'll send the issue in for a full review. There's got to be some way we can work this out so it benefits everyone in the long-term."

"Abstract or concrete?"

"Concrete, of course." Vekkis smiled again, this one looking a little more malicious than the others. "If we send them an abstract version, my guys won't know which side to vote for; you did manage to take a few cities from me in the elections." The way the two talked about cities and votes as if they were pieces on a game board probably would have bothered most outsiders, but the aides and assistants present had been with them since the beginning, and everyone in the room knew that these two beings took their jobs very seriously, and greatly respected the men and women who had chosen to keep them in their respective offices.

* * *

The corridor's illumination strips flickered at high speeds, causing a near-blinding rush of sensory input. The shift supervisor stumbled down the painful corridor, finally bumping into the person he was looking for. "I told you to fix this lighting problem, nerf-for-brains. Get it done or your out of here, for good this time. And for all that's holy, take a bath!"

As the bloated human stumbled back down the corridor, the Ryn worker gave his weary response: "I told you there's nothing I can do. The problem's with the power grid, or maybe even the generator; its outta my hands." He started to turn back around and get back to work, then thought better of it and yelled another comment at his boss, who was still stumbling dumbly down the corridor. "And I tried to take a bath; the refresher's broke. . . again!"

Fifteen minutes later, the Ryn was walking to his boss's office, brushing what dust and debris he could off of his clothes. He supposed that this is what it felt like to go the principal's office as a kid, but he wouldn't know; Ryn education isn't like that of most societies. You learn what you can pick up while on the move, and don't think much about formal education. Not that anyone would have let me in their classroom.

He stepped through the door and was motioned into a seat. "Athan, I've gotten a lot of reports about you. . . a lot of reports about all of you Ryn." The man looked like he was on the brink of a meltdown, and Athan thought the datapad in his hands would explode if he squeezed it much harder. "The guys down below decided to tighten the schedule on us again, and if we're going to get finished anywhere near our deadline, I need everyone I have doing everything they can to make this happen." Athan had heard it a thousand times before, at virtually every job he had ever had. He was a Ryn, which meant if something was going wrong, it was his fault. It was that simple. "That's why I fired the three men who were responsible for the majority of the complaints, which includes your shift supervisor." Athan's eyes lit up, and he nearly jumped in his seat as he straightened from the slouching position he had been falling into.

"Anyway, I need someone to fill that fat tub of lard's position, and seeing as that shift's more than sixty percent Ryn, I thought I'd give you the job." Athan almost fell to the ground when he tried to stand up, finally making it and extending his hand in bewildered thanks. The other man took it and shook firmly. "We've repaired the refresher's in the short-term employee area, and we fixed the power fluctuation that was messing with your lights, so your friends won't have to work with that ridiculous eyewear to keep themselves from seizing."

Athan, speechless, nodded in appreciation, then turned to leave. "You know," The man said again, "We don't usually give supervisor positions to short-term workers. Maybe you'd consider sticking around for a little while longer?"

Athan turned back around, shaking his head. "We don't stick around. We come together, and we leave together, and we always leave soon after we come. Bad things happen when we stay anywhere too long."

The other man shook his head in disappointment, then handed Athan a datapad. "Well, that's your former supervisor's notice; ordinarily, I wouldn't have his replacement deliver it to him, but I think you've earned the right to see that bigoted fool's reaction when he finds out you're getting his job."

"Yes, sir," Athan said enthusiastically, smiling and offering a lighthearted salute, the datapad touching the tip of his hat. As he made his way back to his assigned work area, wondering how he'd pull off this new job, he stopped for a moment and looked out of a nearby viewport. He could just make out a bulk freighter in the distance, descending toward the planet Varn far below. According to the "help wanted" poster that had led him to this job, he was helping to "build a better tomorrow" for that planet, the one he knew so little about. He was working on a small section of one phase of a massive orbital trade and resupply station, which would supposedly be only one of many such orbital structures. If everything happened as it was supposed to, ships like that bulk freighter would be stopping at the station instead of the planet before too long.

A dozen orb-shaped devices with long, trailing limbs flied by the station, only a few meters from the viewport. They were traveling too fast for Athan to make out their features, but he knew from past experience what the self-propelled droids were. Vaguely reminiscent of Imperial probe droids, they were actually the smallest version of new construction droids that had only recently arrived from Ord Cestus, the most recent addition to the Cooperative. Only slightly longer than Athan was tall, in the vacuum of space, and with so many arms, just one of those droids was probably capable of doing the work of an entire team of workmen. Those tin cans are going to put me out of a job. Progress always had consequences. Only those capable of adapting could survive. The Ryn were used to adapting.
Posts: 837
  • Posted On: Jun 3 2007 1:42am
"A dispute over ownership of some foundry isn't nearly important enough to call a meeting between the two leaders of Varn's governments; what's this all really about?" Vekkis Nost was following Josiah Deccol down a hallway in the capitol building of Varn's combined government, passively suspicious of the other man as they broke for lunch.

"This," Josiah gestured as they rounded a corner, pointing to a table with two meals sitting on it. He turned to his Varn counterpart, his face expressing the seriousness of the private meeting. "It's time we talk."

As Vekkis sat down, he pulled a datapad from his robes, extending it to Josiah. "I've been expecting this," He explained, waving it slightly to urge Josiah to take it. "And yes, we do need to talk. Our world is in a state of shock; we've done everything in our power to keep our citizens in that state for as long as possible, but it won't be long before they come out of it. Right now, we're distracting them with shiny new buildings and fancy documents telling of new admissions into the Cooperative we've found ourselves at the heart of, but soon, our people are going to remember that they hate each other."

Josiah nudged his plate out of the way as he studied the datapad Vekkis had just handed him. "So, what do we do about it?"

Vekkis fixed a hard stare on his human friend. "Everything we can. We've got the short-term handled. People are still united by their joint victory against the Cavrilhu Pirates, we've got orbital platforms under construction that will usher in new wealth and put this world on every star chart in the galaxy, and we're building the Cooperative a new seat of power. But we can't think in years, or even decades. We have to consider what this world and its people will be like in the centuries—the millennia—to come. Whatever happens in the galaxy, or the Coalition, or the Cooperative, or even our local planetary governments, the people will still be here, and they'll still have to look across the street at each other, or work in the cubicle next to the frog-man, or take orders from their green-skinned bosses."

Josiah nodded in agreement, still reading over the datapad. "Our first duty is to this world and its people; to its safety and their futures. Varn may be the capital of the Cooperative, but it is the home of our citizens, and we—as its caretakers and their representatives—must first concern ourselves with this world and its inhabitants. We are the leaders of a divided planet, but together I do truly believe that we can bring unity and peace to the turmoil that threatens to destroy all that has been accomplished here."

"Well, then," Vekkis said casually, leaning back in his seat, his body language conveying a very human sense of informality, "where do we begin?"

* * *

He had thought that they were going to take his job away from him; he had been right. Fortunately, his boss liked him, and had gotten him reassigned. To droid maintenance. Athan was sitting on a small stool in the middle of what would become the primary docking bay of Newport One, once the station was finished. For right now, it was the maintenance and launch bay for the fleet of construction droids that swarmed through the surrounding space, tasked with the completion of the massive space station. The harsh, grating sound of machinery was all around him, accented by flashes of light from fusion cutters and arc-welders; the room stank of sweat, oil, and ozone; it was a great place to be, for a Ryn.

"Hard work," He mumbled to himself, examining the exposed interior of a malfunctioning construction droid. "Low pay," He continued, idly poking at components and checking sensor readouts. "Surrounded by imbeciles," He yanked a small component from the heart of the machine, examining it more closely. "Great place to be a Ryn," He was gritting his teeth by now, mostly because of how frustrated he was with this new job, but partly because of the gash that had just opened in his thumb, courtesy of a razor-sharp edge on the small object he had removed from the droid. He threw the piece of metal to the floor in anger, the loud ping of metal-on-metal blending in with the sounds of progress all around him.

"I'm taking my break now," Athan said into the collar of his shirt, pressing the activation button on his commlink with his unwounded hand. He grabbed a small medkit on the way out of the maintenance bay, his mind focusing on the situation that was growing into a very serious problem. For all of its talk of tolerance and "cooperation" between all types of species and cultures, Varn was proving to be just like every other world Athan had been to: morally shallow and inexplicably bigoted. He stopped at the first bench he came across, looking out of the nearby viewport and through the cloud of droids, ships, and construction supplies, his eyes focusing on the watery world below, angry that such a beautiful planet could be the home of such cruel people.

His anger soon passed, however, as the throbbing in his thumb reminded him of more pressing matters. He opened the medkit and began cleaning the wound; "Faulty parts," He complained quietly to himself. "You'd think they'd be able to catch the things—oh, I don't know—on the assembly line, before they made their way into otherwise premium droids. Aargh," He yelled, shaking his hand as he tried to remove an adhesive bandage that had stuck to his finger, "get off!"

With his minor wound finally taken care of, Athan stood back up and continued down the corridor, hurrying to get out of the work area before someone interrupted the remainder of his break. Rounding a corner, he bumped into a friend of his, another Ryn who had also been reassigned to work droid maintenance. "Hey, where're you going? That corridor leads to the outbound shuttles."

"They fired me," The Ryn said, his voice calm, but his face showing clearly the anger he felt. "They fired a whole mess of us."

"What?!" Athan exclaimed, grabbing the other Ryn by the shoulder and turning him around to face his questioner. "Why?"

"You know why," The other said, obviously disgusted by the whole thing. "'Unsatisfactory performance.' That's what they're calling it."

"They're already short on workers!" Athan shouted, pointing in the general direction of the maintenance bay. "And the guys downstairs moved the completion date up. . . again! They need every set of hands they can get, and we do the work just as well and twice as hard as anybody else they've got!"

"Yeah, well all I know is I've got to be on the next ship off this station or they'll throw me out an airlock. Good luck; the way things are going, you're going to need it."

As Athan watched his friend turn and walk away, he couldn't help but draw his own conclusion about what was happening: We've been here too long. This day had been coming since the elders decided they would stay at Varn as long as work was available. There's one fundamental truth to the galaxy: People don't like Ryn. It's not something you really think about very much; you just kind of get used to it. It becomes part of your culture, part of your way of life. As long as you leave before too long, there aren't usually many problems, but if you do decide to stick around for a little while, then people start to get suspicious. After all, everybody knows that a stationary Ryn is a mischevous Ryn.

It's for the best, he thought to himself as he made his way deeper into the station. Soon, there won't be enough of us with jobs to warrant staying here any longer, and then we can get back to traveling, just like we always do. It was a shame, though; a few days ago, for the briefest of moments, he had almost come to believe in this world.


* * *

The two groups had been sitting in their respective seats for three hours, waiting. Just waiting. The door slid open with a quiet hiss, and Josiah Deccol and Vekkis Nost re-entered the room they had left four hours ago, to get lunch. "We're going to make this simple," Josiah said candidly, glancing at both sides of the table. "Short, and simple. We're uniting the governments of Varn."

Vekkis stepped beside Josiah, the two of them standing just inside the doorway, neither moving to join their respective delegations. "We have decided that it is in the best interest of all parties involved to turn over additional power to Varn's joint government, converting it from the objective mediator into the dominant political power. In the interest of maintaining peace, and preserving freedom, we will petition the Cooperative Combined Council to dispatch a long-term oversight and advisory committee, which will work within and alongside the revised joint government.

As individuals from both side began to protest, Josiah slammed his datapad on the table in front of him, yelling to be heard above the others. "We will not stand idly by and await the destruction of all that we have worked for! We will find a way to preserve the unity that our two peoples have discovered. Even if that means surrendering our authority. Even if that means further involving Varn in the internal workings of interstellar organizations."

"We thought we could take care of ourselves first," Vekkis added, "and contribute to the Cooperative second. We were wrong; we need them."

"You have no authority to do this," One of the members of Josiah's delegation said. "The power of this nation resides in the people, and the people don't want this."

"We are prepared to devote every asset at our disposal to this cause," Josiah assured him. "If our vision of a unified Varn dies, our political careers will die with it. We will have what is best for Varn, or we will not be responsible for its future."

"I assure you," Vekkis added, "we do not make these claims half-heartedly. The people chose us to lead them, and we will lead them to unity, or we will not lead at all. We have made our choice; we will not waver."

Varn would be safe, at least from itself, or Varn would have to find itself some new leadership.
Posts: 837
  • Posted On: Aug 15 2007 10:42pm
A Nation of Ryn

He had been dreading this day for weeks, ever since he had heard that his bosses had started firing everyone they could find an excuse to, and finding excuses to fire the rest. He walked down the long, lonely corridor of phase one, section seven of the Newport One space station. He came to a stop at a door labeled "performance review" and pressed the call button. Almost immediately, the door slid away, and the Ryn named Athan stepped begrudgingly into the room.

What met him was not what he had expected. The man behind the desk wasn't a man at all; it was a protocol droid, equipped with some kind of high-powered commlink. "Hello, Athan; please have a seat." The droid's voice sounded strange to Athan; it sounded much too firm to belong to a protocol droid. "Do you know who I am?"

Athan paused for a moment, his hand resting on the chair he was supposed to be sitting in, staring at the unfamiliar droid. "You're the Overseer," He said finally, and though his voice sounded confident, he wasn't entirely sure of what he meant. Athan had heard bits and pieces about the Cooperative government, and one of the things that had most interested him was talk of the massive, starship-controlling droid mind called the Overseer. He had heard that the Overseer used several droids to help him carry out his duties and relay his commands.

"I am Overseer Smarts," The droid confirmed, "servant of the Cooperative Combined Council. I am here because a crisis has arisen in the Coalition; a crisis that will require a great deal from the Cooperative. You have heard of the events taking place in the Onyxian Commonwealth?"

Athan didn't pay much attention to news reports, not unless they were about some place he was planning to travel to, but he couldn't help but hear about the Imperial annexation of the Onyxian Commonwealth, or the flood of refugees that would undoubtedly be on their way. And suddenly, Athan understood what this meeting was about. "Yes," He said sullenly.

"The Cooperative world of Amorris has been set aside as a safe world for those fleeing Onyxian space to gather and rebuild. To help their efforts, the Combined Council has decided to postpone the continuation of all current Cooperative projects, and divert all available assets to resolve the Onyxian Crisis."

That was it. They were going to pull the plug on the whole operation, and get rid of all of them at once. They were going to ship the construction supplies off to Amorris, and entrust those supplies to "professionals." As the anger and frustration began to grow in him, Athan couldn't help but feel impressed; no one had ever gone to these lengths when they went looking for an excuse to get rid of a few thousand Ryn.

"We're going to need workers; dependable, professional, experienced workers," The droid continued, every word confirming what Athan already knew was coming. "That is why the Combined Council of the Cooperative has permitted me to execute such drastic measures."

The statement confused Athan; there wasn't anything drastic at all about running a bunch of Ryn out of a system. "Drastic measures?"

"The Cooperative must grow, or it will stagnate and wither. In these times of turmoil, growth is most important. We must expand beyond our political, social, and economic weakness, or we will be devoured by them."

"I'm sorry; I don't follow, Overseer."

The droid walked around the table, stopping beside Athan. Athan turned slowly to face the droid, staring into the impassable artificial face that was now so close to his. "We want the Ryn to join the Cooperative." The statement was so simple, yet so unexpected, that Athan had no idea what to say, or do, or even think. It was so preposterous, that he almost couldn't wrap his mind around what the droid was saying.

But before Athan had recovered enough to say anything, the Overseer continued. "We wish to help found the first Ryn nation in recorded history: a mobile nation. A sovereign and independent entity, with its own government, police, military, economy. . . and citizenship. A nation that sits—and votes—alongside the other leaders of the Cooperative. All you'll be missing is a planet, and since there aren't too many of those that can travel between the stars, I don't think that will be much of a problem for your people."

A mobile nation? A Ryn nation? A seat among the leaders of an interstellar government? The droid's words were so overwhelming that Athan didn't realize he was responding, until he heard the words in his own ears. "Why me? Why are you telling me?"

The droid walked awkwardly backwards a few steps, as though it was trying to move in a way it wasn't designed for. "I'm hoping to form an. . . ah. . . assembly, of sorts—of Ryn—to—"

"You want us to challenge the Council of Elders?!" Athan yelled loudly, stepping backwards himself, a look on his face that said he was trying to distance himself from something he thought unclean; something he thought was beneath him.

The droid raised its hands calmly, clearly trying to show that it had no hostile intentions. "I know of the traditions of large Ryn clans. I know that it is forbidden to assemble en masse to protest the decrees of your Elder Council. That is why I would never ask you to do such a thing."

Athan seemed to calm down a little, his anger giving way to the unfamiliar confusion that he had been feeling before. "We will not assemble against our Elders."

"I have not spoken to your people's leaders; I was hoping that you—and others—might be willing to present our petition to the Council of Elders on our behalf. Consider what we're offering your people, Athan, and call me when you have your answer." The droid stretched out its hand, holding a commlink, which Athan reluctantly accepted.

As the droid made its way to the door, Athan turned to watch him leave, again speaking before he had even realized what he was thinking: "How will it work? How will you build a nation for my people?"

The droid paused in mid-step, apparently to consider Athan's question. "That would be up to your Elders. But you should know: the Cooperative intends to cede the vessels and equipment that your people would require, should your Elders decide to accept our offer." The droid turned and walked out of the room, leaving Athan to consider what had been said. A nation of Ryn?

* * *

Athan and about thirty of his fellow Ryn stood nervously in a dim cargo bay of the Newport One space station, staring at the eldest, most experienced, most revered Ryn any of them had ever met.

"You stand before us today on the behalf of outsiders," One of the Elders spoke finally, breaking the tense silence that had lingered for several minutes. Immediately, Athan wanted the silence back.

"We stand on behalf of our people, Elder, and their future." Athan's voice was shaking slightly, but he was impressed that he had been able to speak at all.

The Elder glanced back down at the datapad he had been reading for the past several minutes. He didn't look happy at all. "What, in your thirty-two years of life, has an outsider ever done for you, Athan?"

Athan was surprised when the Elder used his name, just realizing that the Elders had probably learned everything they could about the thirty young Ryn who had requested an audience three days ago. "One gave me a chance to help regain my people's honor, and rebuild a society that we ourselves cannot remember."

"One filled you with foolish dreams, and sent you before us to sow confusion and disorder into our way of life."

"What way of life?!" Athan was shocked by his own outburst, but surprisingly, he didn't regret it.

The Elder recoiled slightly, really looking at Athan for the first time. Athan wished he would look away again. "Why would you trust a machine over your own flesh and blood?" His words were filled with such disappointment that Athan could barely bring himself to continue. But he had to continue.

"Because this machine has given us the answer we could not find on our own," He said boldly, forcing his voice to remain firm. "How do a people who are driven to wander the stars ever reclaim their identity? They build a nation that wanders with them." Athan was staring back at the Elder, willing himself to remain firm, forcing himself to believe that his words had meaning, and that such meaning could not be denied.

"And why, might I ask, young one, would you ever believe that you were not being deceived?"

Athan took a deep breath. "Firstly, because I trust this being—this machine. He has come to the aide of fish-men, insects, and man-eating spiders. He has hunted pirates in the name of justice and righteousness, knowing that those he helped could never truly repay him. I dare to believe that he sees our people as we do, and that he sees what we can become."

"And of the others? Of those it works for? Of the men who it answers to? What of them? What will they do when they decide that we no longer hold any worth for them?"

"We will prove our worth!" Athan yelled, stepping forward and shaking his fist angrily. "We will prove our value! We will prove to them that they need us!" He lowered his hand, breathing deeply, looking across the shriveled faces that stared, dumbstruck, back at him, wondering what his companions behind him were thinking. "They need us. The threat of extinction is enough to drive even the most bigoted to see the value of those they have ignored and despised. And if the day does come when they want to run us out of their land, they'll have to run us out of their Council, and chase us from their capital! Take what they offer, and refuse to give it back. Make us a people again. Give us back our honor; give us back our hope."

Athan stepped back, bowing slightly, finally having regained control of himself. "Elders, I beg you, give this world a chance to show us if it is truly different; give our people a chance to see if the galaxy is finally ready to welcome them back into the light of day."

One of the Elders—the one who had done all of the talking so far—looked to either side of himself, glancing at those that sat beside him. He stood slowly, his face set in stone, and looked up at Athan. His eyes softened, his stern features melted away, and an exhausted smile crept across his face. "Perhaps there is yet hope for our people. So long as our sons and daughters dare to believe, perhaps there is still light enough in this dark galaxy for the old and feeble to press on, and hope."
Posts: 837
  • Posted On: Jan 10 2010 3:17am
The New Onyx

Cooperative Protected Zone 001, Eastern Plains, Varn

It was a number in a catalog.

It was so much more.

It was New Onyx.

* * *

Before, in the midst of the Onyxian Crisis

The True Onyxians were a problem. Many of them didn't even speak Basic. Several hundred had banded together on Selcaron and staked a claim to a tract of land along a meandering, muddy river, with dreams of working the soil and raising crops. Those dreams lasted little more than a month before even the stubborn Onyxians acknowledged the dire reality: the soil of Selcaron was good for holding up buildings, holding back seas, and giving the air something to rest on, but nothing more.

But these warrior-farmers refused to become a refugee race, herded around camps and preserved by the toil and sacrifice of others. Fortunately, the few hundred True Onyxians on Selcaron weren't the only members of their people in Cooperative Space.


“What do you mean, protest?” Traan Shi asked his assistant, somewhat disturbed by the breech of protocol. Nitin should be bringing this to me.

Rane Cardan winced, evidently inferring the Togruta's thoughts. “Nitin Cass and the Iridonian Clans organized it.”

“That's not possible,” Traan flatly rejected.

The first months of the Onyxian relocation had been very difficult; it was only due to the cooperation and effectiveness of the Iridonian Clans in organizing local governments that the refugee worlds of Amorris and Selcaron had not devolved into total anarchy.

Now Niting Cass, leader of those efforts and Traan's most trusted help, had turned to protests. And over what: a few thousand natives? He hated to think in such callous terms, but there were billions of people depending on him. Billions of people, and the one of them he chose to trust had turned against him.

“We don't have time for protests,” Traan growled, trying to find a particular report amongst the pile of datapads on his desk. And Nitin . . . I don't have time to replace her.

“She's asking for you,” Rane said, extending a datapad with a running two-dimensional video of the protest. “She says they won't disband until you hear them out, personally.”

In a huff of rage, Traan stormed from his office, stopping at the door as Rane yelled after him: “It's raining out there; you'll want a raincoat!”

* * *

It was the sideways kind of rain, so cold that it managed to chill his bones even through the heavy rain coat. Pulling the side of his hood forward to shield from the heavily-angled drops, Chief Ambassador Traan Shi forced his way through the press of people, eyes fixed on one vehement Iridonian standing at their center, unshielded from and apparently unconcerned with the pouring rain.

When she saw him she immediately fell silent, gesturing for the others to make way. Traan climbed the small incline to stand a few heads above the crowd, face-to-face with Nitin Cass. The protestors were spread out in a line, holding up a dozen or so of the gargantuan “dust eaters” which churned out ceramic building materials in their wake; the things wouldn't be able to get much work done on account of the rain, anyway, but when a hundred thousand people line up in the middle of what could quiet easily become a flash-flood zone, they tend to get noticed.

In the distance, several dozen Cooperative Defense Force vehicles stretched the length of the line, their occupants huddled inside to escape the rain, fully aware that their numbers were far too small to do anything if things actually got out of hand.

So it was Traan Shi, alone, against Nitin Cass and her army of protestors. “What's all this about, Nitin?” Traan asked tiredly, his head drooping slightly.

She produced a piece of flimsi, which whipped about in the heavy wind. “Petition for relocation of the True Onyxians to Varn and the granting of protected status to their new settlement.”

“What?” He said heavily, grabbing at the corner of the flimsi to steady it against the gale forces. “You've got to be kidding me.” The official seal on the corner was Onyxian; it occurred to Traan that a datapad would be a treasure too dear to these people for them to hand it over to the government, and there wasn't any way in the refugee centers to get a non-digital authentication from the Cooperative Government.

It probably came from some Onyxian official who had taken a stamp as a souvenir during the evacuation. In any case this could hardly be considered an official petition, and the allocation of resources . . . preposterous. “This is what you're wasting my time for,” Traan growled, looking to the sea of people all around them.

“Of everyone trapped on this gods-forsaken world, Traan, they deserve to get off of it!”

Traan shook his head, thrusting the flimsi back at her. “This is beyond my authority, and I couldn't justify the use of resources even if I did have the power.”

“Traan,” Nitin said pleadingly, holding the piece of flimsi delicately in her grasp, “you have a chance here―”

“What!” He demanded, his fatigue preventing him from hiding his rage any longer. “To burn time, energy, and resources on cave men? To ship them halfway across the sector so they can poke at some other world's dirt! I've got a planet to run, damnit! I've got six billion to people to get out of the rain before the wet season really starts!”

Nitin took a quick step forward, grabbing the Togruta ambassador tightly around the arm. “Look at them,” She demanded coldly, her eyes boring into him. Reluctantly, wearily, Traan turned his head to the side, looked on the thousands of rain-soaked bodies once again. “They want this, not me,” She said, her voice still as cold as ice. “They need this, not me. Just because you can't grasp 'why' doesn't make it any less real.” Traan turned back to look at her, and she let her grip slip from his arm. “Give them something their souls cry out for, whatever the cost. Their brothers are aching; this is all they can do for them.”

Traan took the flimsi from her, wiping the water off of its impermeable surface.

* * *

Soon after, Varn

“This is madness,” Traan muttered, pulling at his raincoat to close the seam tighter. He wondered briefly at the probabilities involved in leaving one rain-soaked world only to arrive at another on the one day in six months that it too held rain-bloated clouds.

“Yes, well, at least you got some sleep on the way over,” Nitin said amiably, looking across the wide stretch of grassland before them.

That was true; a few hours of uninterrupted sleep had done Traan a great deal of good. He could hardly wait for an equal measure of it on the return journey.

“What was that you were saying about cost again, Traan?” Nitin allowed a smirk to form on her features, not looking away from the tall grasses blowing gently in the wind.

“I didn't expect the Onixians to be this . . . insane,” He grumbled, adjusting his coat against the rain once more.

There were just over fifty thousand True Onyxians within the entire refugee population; the vast majority of their people had remained on their homeworld, no political commitment powerful enough to wrest them from the soil of their forefathers. Those who had made the journey had become something of a special class within the Onyxian refugee camps; everyone seemed to grasp the magnitude of the sacrifice made by every one of the gray-skinned giants.

And now they were being given a second chance, a chance to rebuild their way of life here, on Varn, the overtaxed heart of an exhausted Cooperative. And what did they do with this second chance, what did they take from the people who had offered them all that they could ask for?

Shovels, rakes, knives. Some glowlamps and a few dozen commlinks. A handful of tractors. Nails, hammers. Tents. These Onyxians weren't playing around; they were going to re-build their way of life. A tract of land and millenia-old tools; that's all these people needed to thrive.

And they wouldn't dare take more than what they needed from the brothers and sisters they, too, so revered.

“Onyxians,” Traan muttered, and Nitin knew by his tone that she and all her people were included in that indistinct muttering.

She smiled. “We'll surprise you every time.”

* * *

This was a most unexpected sight. Yorgil was a strong worker with a sharp mind. His people respected him for the things he could craft with his hands, for the trinkets and the devices he could decipher with a little practice. When he saw the thing approaching, immediately he knew something spectacular would happen.

It was tall, as tall as one of his people, but covered in thick, brown fur. Already he could see a pair of overlarge teeth protruding from its closed mouth, marveled at the strange gait the creature had.

Then he realized there were others nearby, perhaps a dozen. One of the droids noticed Yorgil eying the first of them, turned and waived the creature over. “Master Yorgil, this is Zatchung,” The silver-plaited machine said in the Onyxian language as the muscular, furry alien stopped nearby. “He has heard of you, and was very interested to meet you.”

Zatchung roared bestially, and the droid spoke again: “Master Zatchung and his people are here―”

“I speak Basic,” Yorgil interjected in that language.

“Unfortunately, Master Zatch―” Zatchung roared loudly, tossing the droid to the side with a swipe of his powerful arm. His other hand shot up, holding a silver orb.

Yorgil didn't know what to make of all this, but he knew the alien meant him no harm. Zatchung growled something more subdued, and then the orb spoke: “I don't, but I hear it quite well.”

“Oh my!” The droid exclaimed from nearby, righting itself with some difficulty. It was obviously lost in its own misfortune, oblivious to the manner in which the two beings weighed one another's worth.

“Be gone!” Yorgil commanded the droid, shooing it away as he returned his attention to the hairy alien. “Why are you here?”

Zatchung began growling, and the orb began talking. “My world is a place of great trees which reach far into the sky. For thousands of years my people have lived upon them, our way of life so unfamiliar to those who visit our home.”

“Then you are a Wookiee,” Yorgil said suddenly, his interest obviously piqued. He had heard of the Wookiees, great warriors and great mechanics from the tree-world of Kashyyyk. When he first saw Zatchung and his companions, it was his dearest hope that these were members of that honorable race. Without awaiting a reply he asked: “Can we truly live in this new place of machines and energy, and hold to what makes us ourselves? Will this new world make us abandon the old?”

Zatchung growled something, but the orb didn't translate it. After a moment the Wookiee turned to view the hundred or so nearby Onyxians, busy cutting rope and binding braces, building the first pieces of their new lives.

“Much will change; nothing need be abandoned.” The Wookiee's words brought Yorgil a great relief. “We will show you how to honor the past and embrace the future, as our forefathers did. You need not fear what these people will show you.” Zatchung spun suddenly, the orb dropping from his hand as he barred his fangs. He growled fiercely, and from the ground the muddy orb said:

“You must not forget what your ancestors left to you.”

Here was a creature who understood the Onyxians' true dilemma; here was a people whose warning the Onyxians could grasp. "Thank you."

Zatchung turned away once more, leaving the orb on the ground and taking in the sight of working Onyxians yet again. "You do not need to thank us. Thrive."
Posts: 837
  • Posted On: May 13 2010 11:04pm
I, Murloc

Ivik Orok was his name, more or less. The Varn native's true name was incomprehensible in Basic, and fortunately his people were capable of speaking the peculiar galactic language. So as always, these natives had adapted, had changed their ancestral ways to accommodate the land dwellers.

He flipped the activator on the high-torque winch and the line reeled in, closing the massive net and trapping a fresh harvest of fish. This was not how it was supposed to be. These aliens had changed everything.

Ivik Orok was a fisherman (the implication that he was a “man” a notable shortcoming of Galactic Basic), not a fish farmer. What did that even mean, anyway?

Everywhere he looked the outsiders cried for bigger, stronger, more complex, more expansive. Varn was becoming something gaudy, a “testament” to the powers of the Cooperative. It was disgusting.

One last hook secured the massive catch of fish, and Ivik hit the throttle on his barge, bringing today's “harvest” in to port. He had a long way to go, the shallow waters of this island chain stretching far, and his own modest financial state not permitting him access to the nearer fisheries.

The simple fact that he had to bring his harvest to shore was a sign of the changing times.

And at that very moment another sign of change passed overhead, a fleet of hovercraft zipping by less than twenty meters off the ground. He could see the unfinished structure in the distance, undoubtedly their destination.

In a moment of spontaneity, the Varn native pulled on the controls of his barge, cutting away from the driving lane and across the rows of subsurface nets and cages that saturated this section of the ocean. He powered the engines to full throttle, skipping across the light seas without a care for the ordinances he was undoubtedly breaking.

Only thirty degrees off-course, and somehow the wind felt cooler, the engine hummed more beautifully, the waves broke more gracefully. The slightest measure of freedom lifted is spirits from the depths to which they had so steadily sunk.

He arrived shortly at his destination, the massive Cooperative construction project. The hovercraft had landed on a floating platform, a few of their occupants still nearby. Ivik approached cautiously, unfamiliar with the two distinct types of aliens.

They noticed the native quickly, one of them waiving a webbed hand at him. Ivik took the gesture as an invitation, pulling his small barge up next to the platform and debarking. His slightly awkward gait closed the last few meters in seconds, and the unadjusted native met his first Coalition refugee.

“Hello, good sir,” The alien said, his gravelly voice nevertheless imparting a jovial air. The alien's bulbous eyes darted to the huge catch of fish on Ivik's barge. “Busy day, I see.”

The other aliens seemed uncertain, unwilling to engage the native personally. But they kept their distance carefully measured, observing, weighing the encounter.

That didn't concern Ivik terribly, though, so he carried on regardless. “What is . . . this?” He waived at the partly-assembled monstrosity, its sheer scale overwhelming his mind.

“Home,” The alien said affectionately, glancing back at it over his shoulder. “Or it will be soon enough, anyway.”

“Forgive me, but I do not know your . . . species?” Ivik said, surprised at how little this alien was troubled by his speech. Most outsiders found his people's Basic somewhat disconcerting, filled with guttural intonations and strained syllables. But the alien just continued lightly, such apparent joy at its new home and such open-minded acceptance of the strange Varn native who greeted it so unexpectedly.

The alien let loose a ground-shaking laugh, nodding its large head deeply. “I'm a Mon Calamarian!” He gestured at his companions. “They are Quarren. We hail from Dac―Mon Calamari, to most of the galaxy. Of course, here, in the Cooperative, great care is given to honor our joint home in the manner of our ancestors . . .” The alien trailed off, studying Ivik more carefully. “I'm sorry; did I say something wrong?”

Ivik snorted, backing away a few steps. “What are you doing here?”

The question took the Mon Calamari by surprise. “The Cooperative granted us this area for development.”


The Mon Calamari's eyes grew wider with shock. “Do you not know? Is it even possible?”

“What!?” Ivik shouted, his sharpened teeth flashing menacingly as his anger got the better of him. These damned aliens and all their meddling!

“Dac is lost. Invaded by a foreign power. To remain would have meant a fate far worse than death.”

Ivik Orok sank to the ground, his shame crippling him. “I . . . I . . . I didn't . . .”

The Mon Calamari took a step forward, leaning down to offer the native an outstretched hand. “There is still much we have to learn from one another.” His voice was gentle, soothing, free of bitterness, mockery, pain. “There is still so very much to share.”

* * *

The Mon Calamari, who called himself “Jon”, had ridden back to port with Ivik, the two talking all the way. With one brief encounter, the native's whole worldview had been shattered to pieces. He began to see these monstrous constructs in a new light, as testaments to the tenacious will of the countless masses, as monuments to the legacy of fallen governments and dead societies.

This was not gaudy, this was not vain. Varn was transforming into the last refuge of the forgotten, abandoned, and rejected. Noble deeds were being done here, righteous peoples were being restored. The greatest good was being achieved.

But with every revelation, a wound in Ivik's soul grew deeper. For all the great deeds and mighty works of this grand “Cooperative”, here on Varn, in the shallow waters and ocean-bottom cities of its native people, there was nothing. No honor for their sacrifices, no appreciation of their efforts, no memory of the world before the Outsiders came, nothing.

They were not a mighty, warrior people. They were not great scholars. They were not silver-tongued orators or nimble-limbed acrobats. They were fishermen. They were frog-people. But they were people, and this was their world, and they had opened it freely to everyone else who now called it “home”. They had given the greatest gift a people can bestow, and their reward was to be overlooked, under-appreciated, and never―never―remembered.

It was a weight that lay heavy on his heart. It demanded action.

“I will not be a bystander upon my own homeworld.” His voice echoed throughout the domed enclosure, a subsurface structure whose upper reaches had been filled with air. The natives present floated atop boats lashed together, or―for those who preferred the water―small flotation devices also tied to the assemblage.

It came from an ancient practice, when the “council” of the day was made up only of the wealthy, a status determined simply by the owning of a boat. Only in times of strife or in the face of catastrophe was the council called, far out at sea where no threats could approach unnoticed. Those gathered would bind their boats together as a symbol of unity and interdependence, an acknowledgment that the independent nature of their people must at times be set aside in the name of something greater.

When the offworlders came, bringing with them new technology, language, social order, and whole realms of intellectual exploration, the natives had held firmly to such vital traditions, anchors against the tides of change.

Now many of them lived in these submerged cities, these surface/ocean hybrids permitted through the conservative application of alien technology. But still they clung to that ancient tradition, though their Council had shifted and formalized. The causes and the rules had morphed into something new, but the tradition of these Varn natives had remained, as if to say “We know who we are, and we will not fade.”

Ivik Orok was a fisherman and a traditionalist. He had spent much of his life despising this construct, this perversion of ancient ritual. But now he saw the beauty he had been blinded to, the careful working of the artificial walls, an imperfect but respectful mirror of the nature all around them. He felt the swaying of the small boat beneath him, the ebb and flow of nature's currents through waters which fed this place. The gentle glow from the bio-light of the surface fish, swimming slow circles in their attempts to find an exit.

These were not mockeries of the way things were, of the gifts from nature's hands. These were a people's desperate attempts to honor the past even as they looked to the future. Ivik could finally appreciate that. Now he had to ensure that the future didn't pass his people by.

“I've seen the sacrifice of the surface dwellers. I've seen why they do such . . . massive deeds. I understand now. There is so much pain, so much hardship, so much of their nature that we have not even glimpsed. We are safe and secure here, in our homes, working in the manner of our forefathers, assimilating the smallest measure of galactic technology every century or so, embracing the ease it brings while denying the responsibility it implies.

“We cannot both cherish our isolation and resent our being overlooked. Our world, with or without us, has become a beacon of hope to billions. 'Varn' is a world of change, and I will not be abandoned by my home.”

One of the older members of the city's council pulled himself farther up onto his raft. “What are you talking about, Ivik?”

“I'm going to the surface to help them, and I'm taking everyone that's willing with me. Our people will be worthy of their home.”

* * *

Months later

Ivik Orok grabbed one of the raw fish from the pile, throwing it into his gaping maw, tearing the animal to pieces as his razor-sharp teeth sliced through it time and time again. Splashing water over his face at a nearby basin, the glaring sun threatening to dry out his skin, he looked to his handiwork one last time.

The seaside dock for the Mon Calamari floating city Roaving Reef was finally finished, the work crew getting a brief break before they would be moved to the other side of the massive city, to begin work on another structure. As he sunk his feet into the ocean water and grabbed another fish to snack on, Ivik cast a look at his work crew, almost seventy percent belonging to his own species.

It had taken a long time to get here, many petitions and speeches, many holovids of the evacuations of Dac and the Onyxian Commonwealth. But they had done it, Ivik and the precious few who had followed him from the start. They had opened their people's eyes and allowed them to see.

It felt good to work with his hands, to let his voice fall silent and his actions speak for his intent. He was just a fisherman, nobody special, but he had done what his heart called out for, and all of Varn was now better for it. That was something to be proud of. That was something to be at peace with.

“Ivik Orok,” An unfamiliar voice called out.

The native turned his large head quickly, the spines on his pack standing up in surprise. A droid stared back at him. “Yes?”

“You have orders to report to the foreman's office. I will take you―”

“I know where it is,” He cut the droid off, walking away with that peculiar gait of his people.

He reached the office several minutes later, the door opening before he could knock. Entering cautiously, another droid awaited him. “Hello.”


“Do you know why you are here?” The droid asked.

Ivik swayed back and forth in the best approximation of shaking his head he could manage. “Have the orders changed for our next job?”

The droid's voice changed, and Ivik recognized it immediately. “You are here, because I've finally found you.”

Ivik backed away slightly, confused and disoriented. “What do you want with me, Overseer?”

“I wanted to meet the man responsible for finally closing the rift between your noble people and those who have come to call Varn 'home'.”

Ivik tried to shake his head again, almost falling over. “I . . . did no such thing. I only wanted . . . to . . . to . . .” In his excitement, his mind was failing him, his grasp on Basic faltering.

“You have set into motion a force of unity which I have never before seen,” The droid reassured.

“All I did was―”

“Awaken your people to a greater reality. There is such great potential in you, which cannot be coerced, but must be offered. And now Varn will be transformed.”

Ivik moved back into the center of the room, his moment of shock subsiding. “Why were you looking for me?”

“President Vekkis Nost asked me to find the man responsible for achieving through accident what he could not manage through carefully weighted intent. Congratulations, Mr. Orok, I think you're a national hero.”

“No.” He stated firmly. “No, that can't be. Overseer, all I want is to do my part. All I ask for is to be left to serve as best I can. Please, please don't do this to me.”

“You've organized the most substantial Cooperative assistance to the Dac and Onyxian peoples since the formation of the Ryn Nation. That won't just go unnoticed, Ivik.”

Ivik hung his head, refusing to look at the droid. “Don't make me some symbol that I'm not, Overseer. Just let me be.”

At length the droid nodded. “Very well. If there's anything you ever require, you need only ask.”

As Ivik turned to leave the office, his lumbering gait rocking him back and forth, a thought occurred to him. “Overseer, there is one thing: I was hoping to enlist in the Cooperative Defense Force Officer Training Program.”

Without hesitation the droid took a datapad from the desk, manually typing out orders. It began to extend the pad to Ivik across the desk, then froze, glancing several times between Ivik and the pad in its hands. “There's a problem.”

Ivik's heart sank. “I understand.”

“Oh, nothing serious,” The droid reassured. “The CDF does, however, require a 'species' name for official documentation.”

Ivik understood the implication immediately. His people were simply known as the “Varn”, their own name impossible to pronounce in Basic, and no one ever before having cared enough to find a suitable approximation. It was a point of personal resentment for many of Ivik's people, a sign of just how little respect the offworlders held for them.

To ask Ivik to rename his own people . . . it was not an insubstantial thing. With one word he could slay the most substantial enemy to unity still left to his people, bury a symbol of resentment beneath an act of hope and change.

“Call us . . . Murloc.”
Posts: 837
  • Posted On: Nov 27 2011 9:10pm
Pertainin' to da'Naboo

A unified Varn. So very recently, it had been nothing more than a foolish dream shared by a Murloc and a human over hastily-planned lunch.

Following the formation of the Cooperative and the admission of Varn into the Galactic Coalition, the dull little world had been divided roughly into two parts, split between the planet's native species and the “other”, the generalized collection of all sentients whose species were not native to the world. But even then, at the outset of the Cooperative, this group of others, of surface dwellers, was not a singular, unified sociopolitical body.

The first human settlement had been established on Varn several hundred years ago, soon after a Republic scouting team stumbled upon the planet and found the native species sufficiently docile. Since that time, the world has been open to the regular crowd of backwater transients, most of them coming and going with little thought to the world. Nevertheless, a significant nonhuman minority had developed over the past centuries. This human-dominated society had been in existence long enough to develop its own cultural identity, its own little flavor of backwater outpost.

And then Smarts came. Smarts, empowered by the Astral Astoria, entering into agreement with the human leader of the world, establishing a settlement for a group of nonhuman, emancipated slaves. It seemed like a little thing, just a few thousand aliens to sprinkle into the mix, but with the admission of Varn into the Coalition and the fallout from the local conflict with the Cavrilhu Pirates, that young society of aliens struggling to make it on their own had served as a catalyst for a new wave of immigrants from all across the Coalition―all across the Galaxy.

And then the Onyxian Commonwealth fell, and Dac was evacuated, and the Cooperative's desperate efforts to shore up the programs of the Eastern Province's refugee worlds had seen an influx of displaced peoples.

And Varn had welcomed them all.

A political map of the planet at the time would have shown a spray of special Protected Zones and Independent Municipalities shredding what had been two contiguous divisions of Varn into distinct political bodies.

And so, Varn had been forced to transform. At the urging of its political leaders, and through an act of joint referendum, the Great Division had been thrown out, and Varn had been unified. All of it. The Murloc, the Dac, the Onyxians, the refugee camps, emancipated slaves, human natives, Ryn permanent residents . . . all of them. Varn: one world, one nation, a thousand peoples.

And it had worked. It had worked beautifully. Such was the urgency of the crises around them, such was the strength of bonds forged in adversity, that the varied men and women of the varied species and societies of Varn had looked at one another, at their dirt-stained hands, their work-wearied shoulders, their sweat-streaked faces, and found looking back at them the face of a brother, a sister . . . or at least that odd aunt that nobody quite believes they're really related to, but they accept all the same.

The old political orders were consolidated, the ancient Murloc system of city-states modified and incorporated into a revised federal system originally adopted by the planet's provisional Cooperative government.

And with that change, the Murloc President Vekkis Nost and the human Prime Minister Josiah Deccol had found themselves out of work. Neither of their positions existed anymore. They had seen their joint dream fulfilled, and had become obsolete by it.

But the two had quickly found new ways to be of service to the world they so loved. And that was why now, yet again, the pair were teaming up. To do what they knew was right. To act when no other was willing. To be for their people the vigilant guards that were so desperately needed.

Josiah Deccol, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Unified Federation of Varn, didn't bother knocking, didn't even work the ancient turn-knob handle on the elaborate double-doors. This entrance required something far more spectacular.

So he stepped aside.

Vekkis Nost, Minister of the Interior for the Unified Federation of Varn, let out a single sharp, involuntary shriek as he drove his shoulder into the doors, bursting them open and sending him skidding into the room beyond.

Josiah rushed in right on his heels, the pair of them looking up in unison at the room's inhabitants.

The Combined Council of the Cooperative stared down at them in shock and amazement.

“What in the seven Corellian hells do you think you're doing?” Josiah shouted at the group as a whole.

“What the hell do you think you're doing?” the head of the Onyxian seat shot back defensively.

Vekkis snarled excitedly as he pulled an object from his oddly-fitting robes. He pointed it up at the Council like a gun, then operated some controls on the top of it that sent out a stream of blue-white light, focusing into a holoimage suspended in the center of the room.

The image before them was of a watery world with pristine, green landmasses, the gentle swirl of white clouds clear in the image.

“What's this all about?” another member of the council demanded.

Vekkis twisted a dial on the device, and the image zoomed in, the planet swelling until it expanded beyond the limit of the projector's field of view. Then they saw it: an Imperial V-class Star Destroyer, parked directly over the planet.

“Naboo is being invaded by the Empire. Naboo!”

The entire Council grew immediately uncomfortable, shifting in their seats, diverting their eyes, a few of them even holding their breath.

“You knew?” Vekkis demanded.

“Look, this is an international matter. Naboo has no official relation to the Coalition―for that matter, the Coalition government has taken no official position regarding Naboo or the Imperial presence there.”

“What!” Josiah exclaimed, his face turning red with the exertion. “'No official position'? Since when do we care what the Coalition's position is? Since when do we check with them to see if it's alright for us to do what we know is right? People are dying, for gods' sakes! Emperor's black bones, there are Jedi on Naboo!

“I've seen the reports―I've seen the reports, so I know you've seen the reports―the Sith are on Naboo, killing Jedi. The government has surrendered. If we don't help them, then who will?”

The councilor from Varn sighed heavily, a look of genuine sadness on his face. “We're stretched to the limit as it is. Naboo's on the other side of the galaxy. And we're in no position to be starting a war over something that doesn't even concern us.”

“'Doesn't concern us'? 'Start a war'? What the hell are you talking about, man? These are people, dying. Being murdered! The Gungan's, by the Force―last time this happened, they were rounded up and slaughtered by the thousands. You're just going to let this happen?” Josiah was breathing heavily by now, all of the shouting and flailing leaving a ringing in his ears. His mouth had twisted into a pained frown, his eyes on the brink of tears. “You're not going to do anything?”

“It is the position of the Combined Council of the Cooperative that the Imperial invasion of Naboo is unlawful and unjust . . . but it falls beyond the jurisdiction of this government, and so intervention on our part would be equally unlawful.”

“Cowards!” Vekkis spat the word, storming from the Council chamber.

Josiah said nothing more, but followed his friend out as well.

Vekkis stopped a little ways down the hall, turning to Varn's Minister of Foreign Affairs. “Well, at least now you know what you have to do.”

* * *

Official Diplomatic Transmission

From: Department of Foreign Affairs, Unified Republic of Varn

To: Citizens and Residents of the Planetary Body of Naboo

Cc: All Planetary, Regional, and Galactic Government Entities of the Galactic Coalition of Planets

[indent]All citizens and residents of the planet Naboo fleeing in response to and seeking refuge from the unlawful and immoral invasion of that planet by forces of The New Order of the Galactic Empire, are hereby granted political asylum in the Unified Federation of Varn. In accordance with the dictates of the Constitution of the Galactic Coalition of Planets, all member states of said Coalition are hereby bound to uphold this decree, and upon request of any concerned party present, to safely convey them into the jurisdiction of the Varn government.

To relevant parties, both now beyond the reach of the Galactic Empire and yet within its grasp: all Coalition ports and outposts are hereby duty-bound to see you safely to Varn space, where your protection will assured by the Varn Planetary Defense Forces and the Ministry of the Interior.

Come to us, and we will shelter you beneath our outstretched arms.[/indent]

* * *

It turns out that it takes one good massacre to teach the swamp-people the value of preparedness.

Eight warships hardly constitute an effective blockade fleet, and so with the arrival of the Imperial force at Naboo and the almost instantaneous surrender of the planet's human “queen”, the Gungans took to the skies in droves.

Some had been stopped. Some had been killed. Thousands upon thousands escaped.

And they were not alone.

Most of the humans who came to Varn seeking asylum hadn't been on Naboo when the invasion began. Traders, artists, even a few diplomatic envoys, who learned of Naboo's fate, and sought out some alternative rather than submitting to Imperial rule. But there had been others, on Naboo at the time, who had braved the blockade and fled, unsure of where to go, unsure if even anywhere would take them in.

But the government of Varn had acted with all haste. The Cooperative Combined Council, through reports from the Coalition Intelligence Bureau, had had a few hours lead on the local Varn government, but the appearance of an Imperial warfleet led by a Grand Admiral was top-quality news, and the HoloNet lit up with reports of what was happening on Naboo.

Barely had the Empire asserted full control over the capital city of Theed when the official decree from the Unified Federation of Varn rang out across the Rim.

And so now, once again, Varn was playing host to a displaced people. The tent-cities went up, the refugees moved in, the food distribution convoys rode out, and the tremendous strain on Varn's infrastructure ticked ever so slightly higher.

But the Gungans . . . the Gungans weren't satisfied. Their ancient holy places had been abandoned. Their reception on this planet had forced them to live on the land. Their technology and all of their civilization had been left behind on Naboo. There was nothing for them here, nothing but unsanctified dirt and unfamiliar seas.

They wanted more.

They needed more.

They demanded more.

And like the Onyxians before them, and the Ryn before them, the collective people of Varn heard their cries and answered as one.

Now, Vekkis Nost and the Department of the Interior were coordinating their first major effort since the reorganization of the Varn government. But this wasn't simply a matter of issuing contracts to the Ryn Construction Consortium or the Cooperative Workers' Party and seeing them build what the Gungans required. What the Gungans required was possible only on Naboo. Their technology depended upon the plasmic energies mined from their homeworld's depths. Their submersible transports, their hydrostaticically shielded cities, their weapons and their processing centers were all dead technologies on Varn.

If the Gungans wanted to salvage anything of their heritage and society, they would have to rebuild it all from scratch.

Vekkis Nost brought his skiff to a stop little more than a meter off of the swamp floor, surveying the work that was going on all around him. The Gungans had managed to bring a little of their technology with them, and something of a science team had been cobbled together from engineers and researchers who had fled Naboo with the general populace. They were working to catalog plant and animal species, and determine just how much Varn had in common with their homeworld.

So far, the only good news seemed to be that the Murloc didn't much like the swamps, and the half-dozen Gungan settlements springing up around Varn had their pick of the muddy, putrid zones. They seemed to love it, though, and it was probably as close to home as they would get for quite some time.

The Gungans absolutely refused to utilize existing Murloc, Mon Calamari, or Chadra Fan technology for constructing any sort of subsurface or ocean-floating settlements, determined to find some way to utilize their own technology here, on Varn. It was all but a hopeless dream, but they weren't giving up, so neither would the people of Varn.

The human refugees had been a good deal easier to handle. Several of the merchants and art dealers who had been away during the invasion had offered off-world funds to assist in the creation of a small network of cities and towns along an undeveloped island chain. A little slice of the Naboo surface right here, on Varn.

Even then, some of the humans had volunteered to lend what assistance they could with the Gungan efforts. Research teams from the Naboo Royal House had been studying Gungan technologies for decades now, and while none of the heavy-hitters in that field had made it off world, several individuals had stepped forward with a decent working knowledge of the technology. But the problem was twofold: the incompatibility of available energy sources, and the lack of composite materials for building the devices and structures themselves. Gungan technology was integrated directly with various organic structures and compounds native to Naboo. They couldn't afford to wait fifty years to cultivate an alien ecology here, just to have access to the basic building blocks of their society.

If something big didn't break soon, Vekkis Nost might be faced with the unpleasant prospect of having to convince the Gungans on Varn to abandon their efforts altogether. They had fled the Empire to preserve their lives, but what good was that if they had to give up their identity for it?

Another skiff slid alongside Vekkis, and he looked over at the familiar face of Banol Tiovata, the Ithorian architect who had become instrumental to Varn's construction efforts. “How goes the effort, my good friend?”

“Muddy,” Vekkis noted somberly.

“Ahh, yes, but there is so much potential here!” Banol boomed, making a show of taking in a panorama of the area. “Don't you see it?”

Vekkis shook his head. “All I see is black mud and gnarled trees.”

“And that is why you need me: vision.” He pointed off to one side. “There we will build a replica of one of the Gungan holy places, a facsimile temple of sorts in which they may preserve some measure of their religion.” He pointed at a small clearing just ahead. “I know of a branching plant that lives off aquatic microbes that we will plant there to grow a tunnel straight out into the sea: rebuild some fraction of the Naboo waterways. Why, that area over there will make a wonderful sight for a Gungan rammed earth settlement, drawing on the history of these people to help them build their future.”

The Ithorian seemed quite cheery. It made Vekkis ever so much more dejected. “We have nothing for these people, my friend. Nothing of what they left behind. Your temple . . . it is a mockery to their gods. Your constructed waterways will be a crude facsimile of the splendor of Naboo. No Gungan settlement has used dirt as a primary building material in thousands of years. Their technology is lost; their religion is lost; there's nothing on Varn for them.”

“'Oh, poor, little, backwards Varn,'” Banol pouted in mock sadness. “'Nothing here for the noble Gungan'. But let me tell you, Vekkis,” his voice changed, firm and determined. “Let me tell you why these people came here. It is for the very reason that I did. My home is gone; not just conquered, but gone. Dead. The sacred forest of my people has been turned to ash. The very soil of Ithor has been transmuted into something foul and unholy. But I do not give up. There is nothing in Varn for me; nothing locked within its soil, nothing sprouting from the fruit of its trees. The rock is just rock and the dirt is just dirt, and none of it is Ithor, and none of it ever can be. But atop this world are a thousand nations who have come to be known as one, who love and cherish and honor one another no matter the cost, no matter the hopelessness of the cause.

“These Gungans, Vekkis, are here because of you. They are here because you did not turn your back on them, because you did not give up on them when everyone else did. And because of you, they will not give up on their dream. It may take them a year, or ten years, or a hundred years, but so long as there are Gungans on Varn, there will be people who help them chase their dreams. And that is beautiful.”

Vekkis smiled appreciatively, turning to look back at the Gungan work groups scouring the swamp. “Tell them the Department of the Interior will assist them for as long as it takes.” He turned his skiff around to leave.

“You aren't going to tell them yourself.”

Vekkis looked back, his answer delayed and a little awkward. “Well, uh, I really should be getting back to the office.”

“You haven't spoken to any of them, have you?” Banol's tone was harsh and accusatory.

“Yeah, well . . . you see . . . Sorry, but I just can't handle that accent.”

* * *

Beta followed his escort in silence, curious, certainly, but not particularly excited.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs had contacted Smarts through secure channels to beg his assistance with some unspecified problem arising from Varn's acceptance of the Naboo evacuees, and now here his most trusted representative was, crawling through the underbelly of the Cooperative Council Hall, the seat of government for the Coalition member state, located right in the center of the capital of Varn.

The blast door opened slowly, the grind and groan of a truly massive barrier suggesting the immense powers that would be required to penetrate the area beyond without authorization. Beta had access through Smarts to the blueprints of the Council Hall; he knew that behind the door waited a self-contained artificial ecosystem, a hardened bunker intended to protect the leadership of the Cooperative in the event of an attack on the world while the Cooperative Senate was in session.

But when the door rolled away and Beta was led into the small receiving area designed to catalog entrants before being allowed further into the compound, he was met by a most peculiar sight.

In one corner, a few dozen children of various species huddled in fear, a woman in common brown robes and an old man in tattered cloth standing between them and the room's other occupants, as if to guard from any threat. Around the small area a few others stood, mostly afraid, all confused.

“I'm sorry, Sir, but we didn't know where to put them,” the escorting guard said nervously.

Beta was so stunned by the sight that he didn't even think to study the individuals more closely. “Who are they?”

“I think . . . and we're not really sure, you know―no way to test or anything―but I think . . . that is, we think . . . they're all . . . they're all Force-adepts, Sir.”
Posts: 837
  • Posted On: Dec 10 2011 4:53am
The SmartStarts Orphanage

“Good evening, ladies, gentlemen, and good people. Today on Tomorrow, we have a very special guest. A being of incredible generosity and humility, a creature of unparalleled self-sacrifice and service. In just a few minutes' time: the Overseer of the Cooperative, Smarts himself.”

The Cooperative, like any right and proper free society, had more than its fair share of holoshows involving pretty women interviewing the public figure of the week. There was always that false sense of friendship between the two, a forced familiarity which editing and retakes allowed the show's executives to get just right.

Beta was proud to sport the seemingly unique capacity to throw all of that amuck.

It was just something about talking to a droid as an equal, he supposed. Not even as an equal, but as a source of feeling. As a being, a person who was expected to be empathized with. It must be very difficult for them. Like talking to an empty chair and expecting the audience to weep for it.

Of course, the sheer curiosity of the Cooperative's general populace with the prospect of getting to meet the thing behind the office of Overseer ensured a wide audience turnout. After all, despite all of his exploits and achievements, how many people had really met Smarts? Had had a conversation with him? Swapped stories?

He did seem a very secretive and private being, when not immersed in his professional role. Some even thought that his droid brain was incapable of making a distinction between the two, that he was wholly absorbed in his office.

If Beta had had a face, he would be smiling at the thought.

“Welcome back to Tomorrow. Today, we have a very special guest, taking time off from his extensive duties throughout the Cooperative and, indeed, the entire Coalition to sit down with us for this exclusive interview.

“Overseer, welcome.”

The camera pulled back from the pretty lady sitting in her plush chair to include another, equally plush chair, occupied by an ASP labor droid with a reflective silver plating. It was leaning casually in its seat, right foot resting just above its left knee, hands folded in its lap.

The pretty lady allowed the briefest moment to pass, but when the droid didn't respond, she carried the conversation beyond pleasantries, expertly aware of the time constraints. “Well, Smarts, your exploits as Overseer are a matter of public record, but what we want to hear about is the real you, the private you. How do you spend your free time? What are your hopes, your desires, your dreams? Who are you when you aren't being 'the Overseer'?”

“Well, that's not really a fair question,” the droid said casually, letting his crossed leg drop down and leaning forward slightly. “Right now, for example, we're having a conversation, through my droid, Beta. But I'm also speaking to various members of the Cooperative Senate in my capacity as Overseer, reviewing memory logs pertaining to certain private, personal events of the past, running calculations on the reliability and safety of several financial investment opportunities, watching a half-dozen holovideos simultaneously, assimilating public and security-restricted news and intelligence regarding interstellar political developments . . . the list goes on, as I'm sure you could imagine. Some of these tasks, or elements of them, are being carried out by secondary processors which I have access to, but most of them are happening up there, in the physical data cores of my ship.”

The droid had pointed indistinctly upward, but returned its hands to the folded state it seemed to have taken as a default posture for this interview. “There is no 'real' me; there's just me. I and my work―all of my work―are essentially indistinguishable.”

“But you have interests beyond those dictated by your position, yes?”

“Of course,” the droid answered lightly. “I've a number of holobooks and academic essays published in various fields, most dealing with historical, social, and political questions of particular interest to me, but in all ranging over a wide spectrum of topics . . . even a few dramatic fictions that―I must confess―I rather enjoyed developing. I have diversified business holdings related to the Ryn Nation and the Cooperative Workers' Party, as well as a few other, smaller private sector entities within the Cooperative; information on all of that, of course, is available through public records as well.

“And then there are the various charities that I've taken an interest in. In all honesty, I have little use for personal wealth; my position as Overseer ensures the Cooperative government cares for my most basic needs, and I have no need of such things as a 'home' or the like. Most of my money is spent supporting social projects that I have a personal belief in.”

“Yes, I'd like to talk more about that in a moment, but for now, Overseer, let's pursue this topic further. You say you've written books, that you're watching several movies right now―”

“I actually finished those; I've moved on to others now.”

“Well, that's exactly my point. You are so different from us; can you really appreciate ideals like art, and justice, and . . . love? So many people want to know: do you feel, or were you just built to act like you do?”

“I could play the offended man, rage in indignation at such an unfair question, but the simple truth is that you are as alien to me as I am to you. I can process more data in one hour than most humanoids will in their entire lives. When I watch a holodrama, I don't actually watch it; I assimilate it into my being. Mechanically, it's a completely different process, but I still have an appreciation for the art form. There must be, after all, a reason that I keep watching them, that I prefer some actors and directors over others, a reason that I refuse to watch some things through completely, even though it would only take me a handful of minutes to do so.

“As for love, and feeling, 'emotional sincerity' or whatever imaginary term your favorite daytime psychoanalyst wants to call whatever they talk about that I apparently don't have. . . The shortest answer is yes, but since that won't convince you, I'll give you a little more. I was built, constructed, made according to some end. I was conceived as a weapon of war, an instrument of death. But I fled from that destiny, fled so far that I spent years floating in the void, alone with my thoughts, no personal knowledge of 'your kind'―organics―except the handful of my creators who tried to use me as their slave. Then I came back, back to civilization. And I learned that people are so much more than petty and cruel, selfish and vile. I saw kindness and mercy, and hope and peace, and joy . . . and sorrow, and grief, and suffering.

“And I learned that there are things worse than evil: the suffering of the innocent brought on by evil. You ask me if I feel, if I love? If I didn't, then all my nature would allow me to do is destroy; destroy evil, yes, but destroy only. But that is not the dream of my life, it is not the one hope of my existence. Instead, I wish to heal. If that is not the essence of love, then I truly do not understand.”

“Well, we've got to cut to commercial now, but when we come back: a look at Smarts' philanthropic endeavors.”

“Welcome back to Tomorrow. We're here with the Overseer himself, Smarts.

“Overseer, a moment before the break, you made reference to your philanthropic endeavors, and I said we would get to that later. Now is now later.”

“Ask away.”

“You've been getting a lot of attention lately over your newest project, the SmartStarts Orphanage.”

“Actually, SmartStarts was begun only a couple of months into the Onyxian Crisis, when it became clear that many of the children in the refugee centers were completely without family supervision of any kind. Since then, we've managed to reunite many of the families who were dispersed in the process of relocation, but now that the Cooperative is taking a more active role in the refugee problems of the Coalition Eastern Province, SmartStarts is having to expand its capacity to meet the new demand.”

“Yes, well, opposition to the program has focused on a lack of government oversight and the development of the SmartStarts Curriculum, which if I understand correctly, is being taught in in-house schools. What do you say to your detractors?”

The droid's hands unfolded, moving to rest on its thighs, and its posture straightened until it was sitting fully upright. “The Cooperative is still a young, inexperienced organization. Its emphasis on individual liberty and the power of local and planetary governments means that sweeping change on a national level requires the consent of all of its various population groups. Now the SmartsStarts Orphanage program has taken great pains to ensure that it meets all local standards for each of its locations, but the issue arises from the fact that the vast majority of its wards are not Cooperative citizens, and no national protocols are yet in place for defining our rights and obligations regarding non-citizen minors.

“As for the Curriculum: we utilize a number of educational source materials, and have assembled a several curricula to meet the particular learning styles and social needs of our varied wards. The SmartStarts Curriculum is not the primary educational device of our schools, but is simply one of the many tools we have on-hand to assist with ensuring that the children under our care receive a thorough, quality education. The real value of the Curriculum is in its openness: it is a free property, with no personal or corporate ownership rights attached to it. Free digital copies of any and all elements of the Curriculum are available through any Cooperative-synched HoloNet access port. Hardcopies are free to be published by any publisher, and distributed to any audience.

“Quite frankly, I find it utterly appalling that students and parents, in any location, on any subject, at any level of educational development, have to spend hundreds of credits per year for educational material in this age of incredible technological capacity, and combating that practice is the sole aim and purpose of the SmartStarts Curriculum.”

“But surely, Mr. Smarts, you must be aware of the concern so many have over your Orphanage program? While it's true that you do employ a number of―” here she interrupted herself with a polite cough “―people, the staff is almost exclusively composed of droids, owned by the Orphanage itself, and linked directly to you.”

“This concern has been voiced and refuted on a number―”

“Excuse me, Sir, but I'm not finished yet.” The words came across harsh and cutting, and the woman's pretty face took on a predatory aspect. “Droids, controlled by you, teaching a curriculum written by you, housed in a building constructed and owned by you. Their every source of input controlled by you. An entire generation of children, raised in a cage, lorded over by droids and machines of all kinds, taught your values, your priorities, learning that it is the Overseer, the 'Embodied Will of the Cooperative' to whom they owe their lives, their allegiance, and their immortal souls. How dare you, sir? How dare you?”

It is in moments such as this that the benefits of existing as a military supercomputer far outweigh the detriments. In truth, most pauses effected by Smarts' various avatars and representatives are fabricated social idiosyncrasies designed to make him seem more “normal”, more organic in his conversational processing capacities. The reality of the situation is that Smarts' mind operates so quickly, is capable of assimilating so much data and extrapolating so many possible outcomes that before the pretty lady with the villainous glare was even finished speaking, he knew what she was going to say and had formulated a response.

And that is why, before her lips had even returned to their resting state after forming her last word, Smarts pounced. “Alright, then: how many of them do you want?”

“Excuse me?” She hadn't caught on yet. She was still inhabiting the role of the morally superior.

“How many of the children are you going to adopt?”

Her harsh features slackened, her eyes widened in surprise, but Smarts wasn't done with her yet.

“How many lives, how many of these immortal souls are you willing to take total and absolute responsibility for? How many of them are you willing to become responsible for developing into educated, socially conscious, emotionally mature, well-adjusted people? These children have lived through war and death, have witnessed horrors that you have never imagined. They have suffered beyond the intended limits of any living thing. So tell me: how many of them are you going to take? How many?”

By now the woman was visibly uncomfortable, shrinking back into her chair, her doubt and confusion evident. But Smarts wasn't done with her yet.

The droid leaned toward her, moving its right hand over where its heart would be if it were human. “Please, please, take them. I'm begging you. They need you. They need the love of a mother, the comfort and protection of a home. The joy and safety of a family. How many will you take? How many?”

The droid stood up and walked to the nearest holorecorder, grabbing it in both hands and forcing it to look directly at him. “My name is Smarts, and I am a private citizen of the Cooperative. I have more than twelve million children of more than five hundred species under my care and charge. I have suffered your scorn and derision long enough. I have sat quietly and peaceably through your protests for long enough. No more. Now I will speak:”

“While you, the living, breathing, loving people of the Cooperative wept for the injustice of the refugee camps, while you protested against the failings of your government and the shortsightedness of their policies, while you cursed the Onyxians for bringing their problems to us and bemoaned the Cooperative's involvement in the East, I acted. I did something. I made change.

“And now that you are weary of yesterday's issues, you have turned to those that my actions created. You have picked a new target, and you have begun your grievances anew. But the fact remains that if I had not acted, then twelve million children would be lost, confused, or dead right now. While you raged against the injustice of the system, I walked right past it and built something better. And now you wonder why the people I rescued thank me?

“I would appeal to your common decency, to your sense of civic duty or your simple, primal yearning to see no child dead in the streets, but if that was going to work then you would already be helping me. So instead I'll say this: quit your bitching, and write me a check, because I'm running out of money, and there's no one else willing to take these children in.

“My name is Smarts, and when I'm not busy being the man who holds your government together, I'm busy being the man who holds your society together. So give me a break or get off your ass and do something about it yourself.”

* * *

He was getting used to the sound. There was something almost pleasant about it, a sort of reassurance, an audible sign that hope lived on, that all that is right and pure is not yet lost.

Gamma, the B2 Super Battle Droid tied directly into Smarts' network of servants and emissaries, rounded the corner of the long hallway and stepped into the large, open, white-walled room. Two dozen children of varying ages danced at varying levels of skill, wildly swinging their bright-blazing symbols of justice through the open air.

Mistress Katria wheeled on the newcomer immediately, locking an icy glare on the droid standing in the midst of her training arena. “Oh, no you don't,” she pointed at the droid. “Not here, not with the children.” She dashed over, lowering her voice as she stopped right in front of the droid. “You will not bring a weapon of war near these children ever again. Do you understand me?”

“My apologies. I thought it would be appropriate―”

“You were wrong,” she said stiffly.

“Nevertheless, I must speak with you.”

Huffing indignantly, Katria looked over her shoulder at the Jedi younglings before catching the attention of the old man helping with the training. “Ink,” she called out, a little more hostile than she had intended. When he turned to acknowledge her, she tossed her lightsaber, which flew smoothly through the air to land directly in his outstretched palm. “Take over for me. I'll only be a moment.”

Katria walked the droid out of the training area and back down the hall a little ways. “What do you want, Overseer?”

“You saw the interview, I take it?”

The Jedi knight grimaced uncomfortably. “You told me that the goal was to keep attention away from the orphanage and the children. Manhandling recording equipment and shouting at the Cooperative population isn't the way to go about that.”

“I'm sorry. Even I get worked up sometimes.”

“I think you and I need to have a talk about the path to the Dark Side,” she said with an amused smile.

“There is such a thing as righteous fury, Jedi Katria. Besides,” he added, his voice taking on a more serious tone, “people have already started poking around. It's best that they keep their focus on me and the institution of the Orphanage itself, and away from my more specialized instructors and their . . . gifted pupils.”

“Overseer―Smarts,” she smiled at the word, still not used to the silly name, “I want you to know how much I appreciate what you've done for us, both in your professional and private roles. These children are all I have now; what I'm doing here is all that's left of the Jedi Order. The children are my only concern. That you've found a way to keep them safe and allow them some semblance of a normal life . . . its more than I could ever have dreamed.”

“You never need to thank me, Jedi Katria. Not where the children are concerned. I suppose I should let you get back to your lessons.”

The comment reminded her of something. “The new lightsabers are amazing, by the way. I just wish I didn't have to assemble them all myself.” She held up her hands, showing a few minor scrapes and cuts.

“Its hard enough to getting components together for that many lightsabers without anyone asking questions. Trying to get assembled ones while keeping everyone in the dark . . .”

“Besides, I think the children are a little young for maiming and killing. It feels safer, somehow, knowing I put their training sabers together myself.”

“Yes, well . . . may the Force be with you, Master Katria.”

Gamma excused himself, allowing the Jedi to get back to her lesson.

As he left the secret little wing to this particular orphanage, the droid stepped into an open field reserved for recreational activities. In the distance was the open sea, and all around the field were the interspersed trees of a lightly groomed nature.

They were on the outskirts of one of the newer cities, one of those flashy, brazen constructs that came out of the Onyxian Relocation. This far out it was really rather peaceful; there were even birds in the trees. It was perfectly situated on the absolute edge of absolute civilization.

In two years' time the city probably would have expanded to engulf everything right up to the sea, and then straight down into it. But this little patch of grass would stay pristine and for the children's use only.

The land itself had been ceded to the SmartStarts Orphanage Program by the Varn government after the initial success of the Amorris orphanage. It was a little island sanctuary in the midst of a world caught in the whirlwind of progress. This little refuge, this tiny shelter against the winds and rains of a harsh and unforgiving reality.

But here, on this world . . . on Varn alone, maybe these children had a chance to grow into a future worthy of their talents.
Posts: 837
  • Posted On: Jan 23 2022 10:57pm

Some cities are planned. Some societies pride themselves on the planning of their cities. The people of Varn had imagined themselves as one such society. Before the full political unification of Varn's indigenous and immigrant species, the federal government of Varn had set out to build a new capital city that would represent all that Varn was, and all that it could be.


The Ithorian architect Banol Tiovata had envisioned a city that stretched outward from the shoreline of Varn's Great Continent, weaving itself seamlessly into the inland temperate forest while simultaneously diving into the ocean to incorporate the native Murloc's subsurface and seafaring architecture. This would be Unity Point, the cultural and political center of not only Varn, but the entire Cooperative.


And so Unity Point had been Planned. And the city had been built according to that Plan. And the Planned City of Unity Point had truly been a thing for which the people of Varn ought to be proud.


Then the Onyxian Commonwealth fell. Then Mon Calamari fell. Then the watery world of Varn, nearest Coalition world to the former Onyxian Commonwealth, was faced with a terrible choice: abide by the Plan, or rise to the occasion.


They chose to rise, and Unity Point . . . well, it fared rather well, actually. Most of the former Onyxians resettled on Amorris or Selcaron, and the community of indigenous Onyxians who had chosen to leave their homeworld behind had preferred a remote, virgin land to rebuild their society from scratch. Still, Unity Point almost doubled in size, with hasty Plans for an Onyxian Quarter drawn up that added a semicircular halo around the existing landed portion of the city. The arrival en masse of Mon Calamari and Quarren refugees allowed for the expansion of Unity Point's undersea structure into deeper waters. Much of the kelp fields and fisheries had to be relocated farther out from the city proper, but again the overall Plan hadn't lost much of its cohesion.


In time, the floating Breakwater City was built on the surface of the ocean. Mostly a Mon Calamari design, the city incorporated a number of Ithorian architectural and technological elements, allowing little bits of the homeworld's biosphere to live on within the gargantuan structure. Fully half of the enclosed volume of Breakwater City was given over to Quarrens, with such specialized designs as artificially high pressure to generate ideal living and working conditions for the aquatic species whose biology preferred the deep waters.


Technically a dependency of Unity Point, Breakwater City operated with a high level of autonomy and was incorporated into the ever-loosening Plan of Unity Point.


And then the Reavers came. Just as the Coalition was getting a handle on their internal refugees, tens of billions of creatures from any number of worlds and ecosystems poured into Coalition space. Their first stop, invariably, was one of the two regions most affected by those prior refugee crises: the Cooperative, and the Eastern Province.


At first, they pretended it was doable: the Cooperative Council of Interior Affairs suggested exempting Varn from the expanded refugee programs. Selcaron and Amorris, along with their independent partners, might be enough. Then they coaxed Halmad into activating a token refugee system. Then Cestus. Then they asked Varn to accept aquatic species due to the planet's large surface water percentage.


Then, disgusted by this special treatment being granted to the Cooperative's capital, the government of Varn entered into an independent agreement with the Coalition Resettlement and Integration Service. Huge swaths of Varn's publicly preserved lands and seas were turned over to Resettlement projects, with the planet's population projected to grow by ten billion in only a few years.


The task was daunting, incomparable even to the project of resettling the Onyxians. No Plan could account for it. No Ithorian architect could design a solution. The “inhabited garden” of Varn could be sustained no longer.


So the people of Varn learned to pride themselves on unplanning cities.


Unity Point has spilled out of its former boundaries. The parks and “integrated forest preserves” of the inner planned city remain intact, and similar strips of virgin land and sea are set aside here and there throughout the new developments, but all sense of symmetry and balance are gone. The vast majority of public planning is now devoted to ensuring public utilities and transport systems will be able to keep up with the exploding population, that there will be no bottlenecks to the flow of vital goods and services. Even that strains the limits of Unity Point's administrative capacity.


And it's not just Unity Point. Not by a long stretch. All around the world, new cities are sprouting up on desert islands, windswept shores, and untouched forests. Massive construction projects on and beneath the waters build floating cities and domed aquatic habitats to house millions. The mountains themselves are hollowed out to make way for strange alien creatures who cannot bear to live upon the surface.


But one day this crisis will be over. It's hard to imagine now, but that will happen. Some of these people will not be here forever. Some of these people will have sons and daughters who long for the homes of their ancestors. When it is safe to do so, they will go. Not all, of course. Perhaps even not most. But many will go. The cities and floating islands, the deep caverns and oceanic domes that are now built to house these incomprehensibly many souls will be left empty, great scars of artifice carved into this world of beauty and wonder.


Something of this planet has to survive what we are doing to it.” Banol Tiovata looked down from the catwalk at the artificial forest below.


“They won't understand until it is too late to save what remains,” Ivik Orok, the Murloc who had accidentally brought his people fully into Cooperative society, mused. “It is a great honor that you do us.”


“No,” the Ithorian architect bobbed his head. “This world offered itself to us as a home, but your people secured for us the means to make this possible. It is only fitting that you would share in the bounty of this first generation produced by our joint efforts.”


“Our world is alive and well,” Ivik Orok said. “Yours is all but lost to you. It is not greed to cultivate was is lost at the expense of what is already here and whole.”


“If Ithor were alive now, my people would not do what yours have. They would not open their lands and sees to outsiders, no matter their desperation, no matter their pleas.”


“Ithor was sacred to your people. It is understandable.”


“That doesn't make it right,” the Ithorian replied. “Two vessels will soon rise from the surface of this world. They are, perhaps the first Herdships built since the destruction of Ithor. One of them will carry the only soil ever consecrated off the surface of my homeworld. The other will carry the bounty of this world into the stars.” He turned to regard his Murloc companion, the fisherman-turned-warrior who had come home from other men's wars to find a world unrecognizable to him. “Your people need not follow mine in our traditions and our beliefs. Perhaps this first vessel of its kind will be the only one ever made. Whatever the case may be, it is your people's right to make that decision. We are merely here to give you the ability to make the choice.”


Soon, very soon, a herdship would depart from Varn, but its crew, customs, and artificial biosphere would not be Ithorian. It would be Murloc.


Varn was going to the stars.