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The Rise and Fall of Altair

Altair was never more than a regional power. A mostly educated populous and the low grade discrimination over the planet’s biotech specialism led to quite an introverted culture, and by the End Time Wars both the ruling body and the people wanted little to do with the wider galactic community. Even in the war itself Altair had little to do with the end result, though was the site of one of the final battles.

The AI virus wiped out nearly every machine humanity had, along with the ability to make more and in some cases the ability to even fix them. Large scale failure of cybernetic implants rendered brain-dead the rich and powerful, and more importantly the skilled. Only those off the network at the time, or those without significant electronic outsourcing, survived as anything more than a shadow of their former selves but their story is for another time.

Altair had one of the lowest numbers of cybernetic implants due in most part to trade regulations and their own small electronics sector limiting access, not to mention they had their own biological substitute, the ex-brain[1]. When computers fell, Altair almost didn’t notice and a few weeks of disruption, while the electronic systems were shunted over to the biological or simplified, was the worst they had. Even their food production was unaffected, most of their farming being done by trained biological systems that continued functioning.

It is one of the huge advantages of a biological focus that its products are extremely hard to break. Okay, so they also tend to be hard to manufacture, and take years rather than ours to reach a useful stage, but when you break an axle on a mechanical tractor you have to call in a mechanic, on Altair you gave it two weeks bed rest and a special calcium feed for the rest of the month. Not only that, but even if the secrets of biotech’s design is lost, they have a tendency to be self propagating[2].

Because of this, while even Earth lost a couple hundred years of its development Altair was more or less unfazed, but that left it standing head and shoulders above the other planets who were struggling even to hold a government together, let alone feed the survivors of the war.

Within months Altair had become the biggest export of technology in all history and fleets of trading ships filled the skies between her and the core worlds. Refugees streamed onto the planet, so many that at the height of the troubles Altair closed its doors to prevent its own people starving.

As you can imagine during this time Altair became very rich, but also powerful. Therein lay the seeds of their downfall as Altair had never had power before. They always survived under the protection of another and had no martial history to speak off beyond a small, near ceremonial militia[3]. Thus, when power was handed to them they used it badly, investing in a secretive defence program Project Q.

This was to be their ace in the hole, the telekinetic population granted by this project would be supremely powerful as both a trained army and a militia, but they failed to see the flipside. As their power waned the rising Empire of Earth had to remove Altair as a threat[4] but the people of Altair could not be cowed. While Altair’s official military and fleet was paltry in comparison to the forces the Empire could muster, one on ten of their population could take on a fully trained man in close combat, one in a thousand could take on tanks and there were a few individuals that could destroy armies if they put their minds to it.

There was no attempt to occupy Altair. The nukes began to fall before the space battle had even finished, and it was only the efforts of over eleven thousand merchant vessels that any Altairians escaped at all and even then barely a tenth of the population escaped with their lives.

[1] Short for Exterior Brain (again, Altairians aren’t good with names) the ex-brain had been designed some fifty years prior and was extremely popular for those trying to get an IQ boost beyond passive genetic mods. Essentially a lump of unconnected neural matter the ex-brain would learn along side the original brain and allow for greater parallel processing and so quicker and more accurate thinking. Many foreigners disregard the ex-brain as inferior to computerised processing as it is not capable of the same speed or aclarty in its function but many, even outside of Altair, applaud its ability to mirror human thinking patterns as it does not introduce the overdependence of wholly logical processing required to use an electronic mind. The fact it can act as a back up form in case your cranium is blown out is just a plus.

Reproduction of the ex-brains were lost with the destruction of Altair though a few still exist and still have personality.

[2] Never plow during the mating season, you get some interesting fields out of it that’s all I’ll say.

[3] The Hawks just for reference.

[4] The Empire exists by promising protection for tribute. However, with only the Empire as a major power the only protection they can offer is protection from the Empire and so only their overwhelming firepower and technological superiority prevent a wide scale uprising. Altair as a nation powerful enough to resist them is not therefore compatible as a single power world can protect the worlds around it from the thinly spread forces of the Empire and so form its own power block and fight back. To ensure galactic peace therefore, Altair had to die.

Hell collapsed onto the deck, trembling with terror for a good few moments before realising two things. First, he wasn’t dead, which was odd because he was fairly sure he could remember the bullet hitting him. But more importantly there was metal panelling under his palms, cold metal, and he couldn’t actually think of a place in Yann hi Shanapi where you could find such a thing. Well, not in one piece anyway.

After some long deliberation he decided it was probably safe to open his eyes.

The whole world lay before him, a small blue green penny beyond a pane of glass. From up here Hell couldn’t see the scars of fifty years of war, the destruction, the death, the pain, or his own township being ravaged. For an instant he froze, awestruck.

“Where the heck am I?” Hell asked, breaking the void.

“You are onboard the fast as light star ship Curiosity,” a voice chimed suddenly and Hell whipped round, searching for the speaker. “We are currently orbiting around RD3 B, known in your language as Aesaka, at an average distance of two hundred and thirty nine thousand miles.”

“We’re in space?” Hell exclaimed. “How… No, first, who, where, and if neither is applicable, what are you?”

“I am the ship’s computer,” the voice responded. “Designated Friday.”

Friday,” Hell echoed, getting used to the unfamiliar word. The disembodied voice was beginning to freak him out and he kept twitching his head to try and get an empathic reading, at best though he was getting a vague sense of electricity in the walls, and that was about as effective as trying to read the emotional state of a light bulb.

“Okay Friday,” Hell began. “How did I get here?”

“An error occurred in a subroutine that resulted in your accidental retrieval from Aesaka,” the computer replied.

“And put simply…”

“That was put simply. Do you wish me to give the full explanation? It is rather lengthy.”

“I’m in no hurry to go back,” Hell said, flicking his tail in annoyance.

“Very well, Sir. You may or not be aware that fifty years ago the entity known as Daraen made contact with your species shortly after it was revealed that he had been affecting history for some ten thousand years.”

“Yeah, that’s that myth the Word keep spouting,” Hell interjected. “Why’s it important?”

“It is important because it is not a myth,” Friday said testily. “Daraen is a real person, and you are currently aboard his ship.”

Hell froze.

Daraen is real,” he intoned. “The Word is worshiping an actual person?”


“Which means he’s responsible for all of this,” Hell continued, voice rising in anger. “The Word’s world domination, the Last War, why our planet is a sanjva nuclear wasteland?”

“While the revelation of his existence was a major upset it was never his intention…”

“Well what was his sanjva intention?” Hell swore.

“He only wished to help,” Friday murmured.

“Help!” Hell exclaimed. “Help would have been shooting down the bombs. Help would have been shooting those Word sanjvani before they slaughtered my friends.”

Daraen’s plan to rectify the situation has been in motion for the last twenty rotations.”

“Twenty years,” Hell snarled. “He’s been sitting on his tail for the last twenty years? Where is this moron? I want to speak to him personally.”

Daraen is on the observation deck,” the computer said simply.

“Right,” Hell snapped, preparing to storm off. “And where am I?”

“On the observation deck.”

Hell jumped, and looked hastily around. The room he was in was large, but well lit by an entire wall of floor to ceiling windows looking out on the void of space, set back from the windows were a few comically oversized chairs, but there was nowhere to hide.

“I can’t see him,” Hell protested, only now realising it was probably a bad idea to insult someone when you’re a hundred thousand miles from the next place to breathe.

“Then find a mirror,” Friday sighed. “You are Daraen.”

“Sorry,” Hell said after a long moment. “Are you honestly telling me I’m God?”

“You’re not a god,” the computer snipped.

“Some alien super being from the planet Yaell then,” Hell continued, waving Friday off. “That’s ridiculous. I’m as Ewtan as the next guy.”

“Which is exactly the point,” Friday interrupted. “Twenty years ago, as the situation spun rapidly out of control, Daraen judged himself too detached from the Ewt point of view to make valid decisions on behalf of your society and, as penance, he incarnated himself as one of your people for a lifetime.”

“Meaning me?”


That, Hell felt, explained a lot. A total absence of parents, his unique colouring, the fact that he’d never really gotten close to anyone. Heck, maybe it even explained why he’d frozen against the Word; he’d been expecting something beyond himself to save the day.

“Shouldn’t you have gotten your Daraen back when I got my brains blown out then?” Hell asked, wrinkling his muzzle.

“Technically yes,” Friday explained, somehow managing to sound sheepish. “But Daraen was not in the most coherent frame of mind while creating you and more than a few loopholes were left in the code. For example, the automatic recovery routines still functioned when you received your mortal wound. Fortunately that is no longer an issue now you are already aboard the Curiosity.”

“I don’t like the sound of that.”

“Nor should you,” continued Friday. “As to bring back Daraen you must die.”

Hell felt that there really should have been some emotion behind those words; however the far more rational part of his brain had him running.

“Open!” he snapped as he sped towards a door and raced along a darkened corridor.

Hell, this is pointless,” Friday chided. “I am the ship; you can’t run away from me.”

“I can get away from any death traps though,” he shot back.

“I didn’t say I was going to kill you, I can’t anyway.”

Hell skidded to a stop. “More loopholes?”

“Yes. Look step into the control room.”

The wall next to Hell evaporated revealing a vast, featureless room with a single light illuminating a huge throne in the centre. Hell approached it cautiously, glancing nervously over his shoulder every so often, and when he was close enough touched a tentative hand to the metal.

Some memory stirred in him. Hell couldn’t say if it was good or bad, more than anything it just felt cold and sterile, but he knew that Daraen had spent a long time in this room. Lifetimes in fact. And that he was possibly the only other person ever to see it.

“You are remembering?” the computer queried.

“Yes… Maybe.”

“We must hurry then,” it continued. A slim black shape rose, like liquid, out of the chair. “Take this it’s…”

“A gun?” Hell completed, sighing. “You seriously expect me to kill myself.”

“It’s is the only way to bring back Daraen,” Friday pressed. “And he can save your world.”

“Kind of ironic seeing he’s the one who doomed it.”

“Please. Do this for your planet.”

Hell sighed deeply, and went to sling himself up onto the throne when the computer screamed.

“No! Do not sit on the chair!”

“Alright,” Hell snapped, rolling his eyes and instead sliding to the floor. “Go easy on the guy about to sacrifice himself for the planet.”

“You’ll do it then?” Friday asked eagerly.

Hell weighed the little gun in his hands. It didn’t really look powerful enough to kill. On the other hand as it was from Daraen’s ship he reckoned it could probably take out continents if you let it.

“Can I really do this?” he muttered, slumping against the side of the throne. “Kill myself and save the world? Kill myself. Save the world. It shouldn’t really be a hard choice.”

“There is little time,” the computer hurried.

“The world’s been dying for years, a few minutes won’t kill anyone.”

“Incorrect, but I understand the euphemism.”

Another long silence stretched across the room. It was probably some metaphor Hell realised. A single point of light in an otherwise totally black room. And his brain trying desperately to think of anything but his impending demise was probably significant too.

“Come on Hell, be a hero,” he murmured. “You let them all down once today. Don’t doom them all twice.”

With a deep breath, he raised the gun to the side of his head.

“Bring back Daraen and save the world. You can do it. You can…”

Something clicked.

Not the gun.

“Wait!” Hell snapped, hurling the gun away from him. “You never said Daraen would help.”

“Sir, you must do this!” Friday insisted, as another weapon dropped into Hell’s lap.

“No,” he protested, getting to his feet and discarding the new weapon as well. “Will Daraen save the world?”

“There is no time…”

“Will he, or wont he?” Hell roared.

The silence stretched.


“Evidence suggests,” the computer admitted at great length. “That even with your experiences, Daraen’s policy of inaction will continue under the assumption that he is not fit to make decisions on your behalf. At best he will attempt to mitigate the oncoming ecological catastrophe.”

“Well sanj that!” Hell screamed, taking a few aggressive steps into the blackness. “You were going to have me kill myself for mitigation! Well I’m going to do something.”

“No, you must…” the computer protested.

“Shut up!” Hell snarled, turning to sit on the throne.

A blinding wall of energy slammed into the ground in front of him, but Hell didn’t falter, stepping straight through as it were nothing more than a summer shower.

“In your own words,” Hell boomed, directly beneath the column of fire. “You can’t hurt me.”

“Please,” Friday begged, as the inferno vanished. “Don’t do this.”

“I’ll do whatever I like,” Hell snapped, and took his place on the throne.

It was uncomfortable for maybe half a second, before the whole seat remodelled itself for Hell’s physique, and he sat back, letting a wave of information wash over him. The ship was incredible. It had the power of a sun. No, two suns. It could do anything he wanted. Life, death, all could be his with less effort than twitching his tail.

A slow grin slid across Hell’s face, only for it to be whipped off a moment later as the sun exploded.

It wasn’t his sun, he realised a moment later, as a tidal wave of stellar dust ripped through the thousands of orbital habitats clustered around it in total silence. Billions were dying he knew, though he wasn’t quite sure how he knew, and tears clouded his mind’s eye as the planets buckled beneath the unstoppable tide of death. There would be no survivors. Only a half dozen ships could outrun the firestorm, and he was on one of them.

Within a few scant hours he could be the last of his species.

Hell smacked himself around the head to try and clear the memory only to have another try and take its place.

He’d spent eons searching, scanning the sky for another whiff of atmosphere, and at last he’d found it a scant thousand light-years away. At long last he wouldn’t…

“Get out of my head!” Hell screamed.

Angels or animals they’d said; well they’d been all too right. But there was one that showed promise, a small newt like pack hunter that seemed on the path to sentience. Maybe with a little guidance he’d one day have someone to…

“Argh! Computer, stop!”

A suddenly as they’d come the memories were gone.

“Maybe now you understand,” Friday sighed.

“He had his chance,” Hell panted. “And with it, he destroyed my world, for a conversation.” Hell reached into the ships systems with little more than whim and began to charge the main cannon, turning the dozens of satellites onto the surface of his world.

“What are you doing?” the computer demanded.

“Fixing the world,” Hell growled. “Starting with the Word of Daraen.”

The temple of the Word appeared on a floating view screen, seen from above and resplendent in the new dawn light. Around it sprawled a huge river delta and a bustling city. From the lofty height of the camera you could only just see that there were people down there.

“You’re using too much power!” Friday exclaimed. “You’ll kill them all.”

“That’s kind of the point,” Hell whispered.

“Please Hell,” begged Friday. “Daraen will never recover if you do this.”

“Good,” he replied, with a wry smile. “Computer,” he ordered in English. “Unleash hell.”

The Rise of Hell

“I say we fight!” Hell roared, storming to his feet and the Mayor stuttered to a stop mid word. Hundreds of stunned eyes turned on Hell from across the auditorium and for once he didn’t balk.

“How long have The Word of Daraen been destroying this world?” he continued, glaring down at the gathered councillors. “Since the Revelation? That was fifty years ago. You think they’ve changed since then? Since they nuked the sanjva world.”

There was a silence as Hell pause to draw breath. One of assembled councillors looked as if he was going to say something, but Hell stared him down.

“Look around you,” he declared, motioning towards the empty seats dotting the hall. Once the room had been a theatre, back when Yann hi Shanapi had been a town of twenty thousand. Now, the entire community were there and they didn’t even fill more than six rows. “This is the result of the last time The Word tried to impose their will on our lands, and we’re still dying because of it. Now they want to come and throw salt water into the wounds!”

He strode onto the stage, still the focus of the room and relishing it. “Well I say, no more. Their troops pillage and burn but they won’t find us so willing to bow our heads without a fight. Who’s with me?”

Hell thumped his tail onto the stage, the thud reverberating around the empty hall. There was silence for a moment.

“Well?” he barked.

“I’ll fight by you!” Vanpa announced, leaping from his seat and smacking his own tail on the floor.

The gesture was taken up by another of the young males, then another, and another, and pretty soon the room was reverberating with tail slaps and whoops of approval.

“This is madness!” one of the senior councillors hollered over the din. “They’ll kill us all.” But he was shouted down by the youths and Hell waved him aside, ignoring the horrified looks of the elders as the waves of enthusiasm washed over him.

The black Ewt on the stage, Hell, grinned showing rows of teeth; he felt the years of persecution melting away. All the taunts for his unnatural colour, jibes over being an orphan, the rocks thrown at the spacey kid, washed away by the cheers of the crowd.

They were his.

Now he just had to lead them to war.

The shell screamed over Hell’s head, blasting out a crater from the wall with an explosion of flame and pulverised concrete.

“Get down!” Vanpa roared over the din, tackling Hell and they hit the ground behind a pile of rubble, heavy machine gun fire from the tanks arcing over their heads.

“Oh Mother. Oh Father,” Hell gasped, as Vanpa scrabbled to his feet, firing over the barricade at the Word troops, yelling all the while.

They were losing. It was as simple as that.

Sure, their ambush of the Word troops had gone without a hitch. But that had been but a vanguard, and now hundreds of heavily armed soldiers were pouring through the city, killing indiscriminately.

Vanpa fell screaming in pain as bullet holes lanced themselves across his chest, landing like a rag doll next to Hell who whimpered, curing his tail tighter against himself and clutching at his rifle

“We’re getting torn to pieces!” Adilani screamed at him, from behind another pile of rubble. Rising and firing at the approaching Word, Hell just looked at her in total confusion.

“What are you orders, Sir?”

Hell didn’t make a sound, just curled tighter in on himself. He could feel his friends, his family being slaughtered around him, one of the down sides of belonging to an empathic species. Some had picked up on his terror and blind panic. Those who’d realised it was him were already broadcasting their disgust.

“Sir!” Adilani screamed, then a high explosive round ripped through the rubble and she exploded into a cloud of gore.

Hell just curled himself tighter, trying desperately to be small and unnoticeable. Not a threat. He remained there until the Word found him.

“Heathens of Yann hi Shanapi,” the largest of the cultists boomed from his perch atop a tank. He was ugly and almost certainly knew it. A vicious scowl sat on his face which was criss-crossed by scars. Few would have been brave enough to ask him what kind of past could have granted him such a visage, but it was unlikely to have been pretty.

“Gaze upon your pitiful attempts at resistance against our divine master, and despair,” he continued, gesturing at the few surviving combatants kneeling next to his tank. There weren’t many, the Word had been reluctant to accept surrender.

The speech continued, the words washing over the gathered crowd, mostly made up of the old and the young who didn’t, or couldn’t, fight. They stood in huddled groups, all trying to keep the children obscured from the dozens of armed Ewts lining the square, and the tank cannons that tracked their every move.

Hell kneeled shivering with the rest of the prisoners, only kept out of a protective curl because someone hit him with the butt of a rifle every time he moved.

“…but we will show mercy. Like our great lord. If your leader surrenders. He yet lives, no?”

One hundred eyes turned on Hell, who attempted to cower before receiving another crack over the head.

“Well,” the cultist pressed, glowering at the crowd.

“Him,” one of the elder councillors intoned, pointing at Hell who whimpered softly.

“Him?” the cultist spluttered, eyes bulging. “That freak barely deserves the title.” He leapt down from the tank and stalked along the row of prisoners until he towered over Hell.

“Well, heathen,” he spat. “Are you really in charge of these maggots?”

“I…” Hell began.

“Bah, not even worth my time.”

The cultist’s gun was out of his holster before anyone could blink and Hell had just enough time to gasp a frantic,


Before a bullet slammed into his cranium. Hell was dead before he hit the ground.

So this post has some significance. First, merry christmas, or to anyone reading the archives, merry whatever. Second, this is my one hundredth post, oh how the time has flown, though where it’s flown I have no idea. And finally, without further ado, I’m announcing a story series ‘The Saga of Daraen’ which I will be posting over the coming months.


Otetto Rahen

Once there was a child with an imaginary friend.

This was not a child of Terra, but was instead born thousands of light years away, on a different world and in a different age. Despite looking rather like a bipedal newt, he was still a child and did childish things. Running blindly through the fields and scaring all the sow-fish, climbing trees that never could have held his weight, and one day seeing how far he could swim without stopping, which ended up with the whole village out looking for him. And when asked why he did all these mad things he’d always reply.

“Daraen told me to.”

The adults would sigh and shake their heads, and ignored the ramblings of a child, but marveled at how the boy never seemed to come to harm. As he grew older he gradually stopped doing the foolish things, though maybe never totally losing the lunacy of youth. He learnt to read, a rare thing for a small farming village with only a single old watermill, and proved to be gifted with mechanical things. One day, when asked by a curious aunt why he’d first learnt to read he again replied.

“Daraen suggested it.”

Now this brought consternation amongst the villagers. Here was a boy destined for great things. A life beyond tending the fields and shepherding the sow-fish. But the belief in imaginary friends so far beyond his years was surely a sign of madness. They called for a priest, who had to be paid an awful lot to come such a long way but the nearest thing to a psychologist they had, and eventually, with much help from his friends and family, they convinced the child that it was all his imagination. At length he agreed.

“Daraen doesn’t exist.”

The boy left the village a few years later, with enough money generously raised by his family to pay for his education at a proper school in the capital. And so he went and he studied, and he did all the jockeying for position that all young men do. He made friends and lounged around in the daktarra houses discussing the politics of the age, industrialisation and all that. For a brief while he forgot about the outside world, or that he’d ever met Daraen.

But the outside world would not forget about him.

A war to end all wars swept across the planet. The nations of the world united against the centre of progress, of industrialisation, of everything that was wrong with the world, and as one they marched on our hero’s home country.

As an engineer in training, he fully expected for the war to pass him by, or simply be forced to spend time forging coils for the new muskets. But alas, the war went badly, and he soon found himself drafted. Flung into a world he should never have been a part of, trodden down into the muck by the gears of war, alone and afraid.

It was only his third week when his platoon was ambushed and was forced to flee into an old mill. There they fought bravely, holding out against the sword wielding masses of the enemy army, but there are only so many men even musket troops can take at once, and by the dead of night there was only one man left.

Recruit Otetto Rahen.

He crouched in one corner, tail curled tight against him, clutching his empty musket with a white-knuckle grip. He knew there was no way out. He knew that they would find him not matter what, so there was no use hiding. He knew that he didn’t have a hope of fighting the uncountable hordes of barbarians beyond the walls. What he didn’t know was how he was going to survive. Like any boy of his age, he just wanted to go home.

Movement suddenly caught his eye and he whipped round, trying to focus on the gloom with tearstained eyes. A moment later he relaxed, letting his gun splash to the floor.

“Daraen,” he said slowly, nodding with a touch of respect as he recognised the form. Daraen was somehow different from his childhood friend. He was older, and had lost that joyful glint from his eyes. Not to mention he was dressed in the same dark green scale armour that Otetto was wearing, complete with musket and bandoleer.

“Funny how you’re always here when there’s trouble.”

“Well that’s hardly fair,” Daraen admonished. “You were quite capable of getting into trouble without me.”

“Isn’t that the truth,” Otetto sighed. “Well, best get it over with.”

“Get what over with?” Daraen asked with confusion written across his jowls.

“Claiming my soul,” Otetto explained. “After these last few weeks I was expecting Mother, but hey, if you still think I can go upriver I’m not complaining.”

“I’m not God,” Daraen said simply, not seeming to be particularly perturbed by the accusation.

“Then who the hell are you?” Otetto snapped, clicking his teeth in frustration. “Fifteen years I spent thinking you were real! No kid over three has imaginary friends; they were a half step away from sending me off to a monastery. And then you just up and vanished when I needed you the most.”

“My presence wasn’t proving as helpful as it once was,” Daraen admitted, looking sheepish.

“Disappearing wasn’t very ‘helpful’ for my sanity either,” Otetto growled.

“It stopped you getting committed though,” Daraen interjected. “For what it’s worth I’m sorry. It was however the best option.”

Otetto huffed in frustration. This was too much. Being killed in battle he’d been prepared for. The possibility of losing his mind was something he hadn’t thought about for a few years.

“And it’s a thing good you weren’t committed because you certainly aren’t mad,” Daraen said casually.

“And you say you’re not God,” Otetto snorted, just taking in his stride that Daraen was reading his mind. “Who on Earth are you then?”

“Asking questions, that’s good,” Daraen noted. “Nice to see you aren’t forgetting the old times.”

“Yeah, and you’re avoiding questions just like you did then,” Otetto shot back. “Who, or what, are you? Heck, are you even real?”

“As real as you are,” Daraen replied, pulling a pellet out of his bandoleer and dropping it into the water where it made a little ‘splosh’.

“Then how come no one else can sense you?”

“I don’t want them too,” he explained, simply.

“Clear as murkwater,” Otetto muttered. “Are you at least Ewtan?”


“And you say you’re not God,” Otetto said.

“I’m no more divine than you,” Daraen explained. “I’m a… well you don’t quite have a word for it yet. Think of some kind of fantasy creature, like a fae, but not from a nearby world, from a place so far away that if you set off now your children’s children’s children’s children would be long dead before you were halfway.”

There was a pause as Otetto tried to compute this. He was kind of getting the principal of it, helped at least in part that Daraen had brought up a similar concept back when he was young.

“So, not a God,” Otetto said at length. “That still begs the question, why are you here?”

“Would you believe that you’re interesting?” Daraen queried.

“Me personally, or the world in general?” Otetto clipped.

“Both really,” admitted Daraen. “The world is full of people after all.”

“Right,” Otetto replied. “And if you’ve come all this way, you must be pretty powerful?”

“By your world’s standards I suppose,” he admitted.

“Then I would like to draw your attention to the pool full of bodies!” Otetto roared, leaping to his feat and bearing his teeth at the surprised Daraen. It was a rare outburst.

“Could you have saved them?” Otetto continued, still screaming.

“Most likely,” Daraen replied slowly, likewise getting to his own feet.

“Then why in the name of the Black River didn’t you,” Otetto snarled, gesturing at the bloodbath lapping around their ankles.

“Which ones,” Daraen growled back, with a flash of teeth. “The ones in here or the dozens that you shot beyond the walls? This isn’t my war.”

“Well it sure as hell isn’t mine,” Otetto pointed an accusing finger at Daraen. “And you could have stopped it.”

Daraen regarded the finger coldly. “Yes, I could,” he admitted, icicles hanging from his voice, and with a jolt something forced Otetto’s hand back down. “But do you know what will happen if this war stops?”

Panic sprang up in Otetto’s eyes as he realised he may have just insulted the most powerful being on the planet.

“No? Well let me explain. You’re being invaded because you’re industrialising. Everyone else says that you’re committing heresy by stealing the river’s flow for your machines, but in reality they are scared. They are scared that if you have long enough you’ll make such fearsome weapons of war that you’ll take over the entire planet. A ceasefire would be exactly the same as handing your country victory on a platter.”

“But we’re…” he began, but Daraen cut him off.

“Progress. I know,” he completed. “And you may well be right. I certainly haven’t run into any of your Gods, so I can’t say your opponents’ cause is right. But it isn’t my call. This is your civilisation’s dilemma. And while I many not agree with the ‘might is right’ attitude you guys have adopted, it’s your choice and your world. I won’t be stepping in until the nova bombs start flying and you’re a hell of a long way away from that.”

“That’s not fai…” Otetto began again, but stalled. “No. That’s the absolute fairest you could possibly be,” he admitted, slumping. “Bastard.”

“See, I always said you were smart,” Daraen continued. “And also I’ve always said intelligence should have its reward, so here’s the deal. You get one boon. Any request, as long as it’s not Earth shattering, and I will do my best to complete it. Sound fair?”

Otetto laughed bitterly, but the gears where already whirring behind his eyes. His first thought was just to get the hell out of there, but he quickly flipped to his departed squad mates. Too bad that raising the dead would probably count as Earth shattering, though maybe not as much as he thought. Then he remembered his own family. His village was no more than a few miles from the front line, by now they could very well have been conquered.

There was no real moment when he made his decision, but Otetto knew what he was going to ask.

“My family,” he began at length. “Can you make sure they don’t get caught up in this war?”

“Very well,” Daraen said, taking the musket off its strap round his shoulder and casting it away. “By my decree,” he boomed. “No member of your family shall be harmed for the duration of this war.”

“Now,” he continued, this time taking off the ammunition belt and handing it to Otetto. “If there’s nothing else. I really do have to be off.”

“Wait, this is real,” Otetto said in shock, fingering the pouches in bewilderment. “You’ve never been solid before.”

“Real and solid isn’t the same thing,” Daraen pointed out, and in an eye blink, vanished.

Otetto leapt backwards as a dozen enemy soldiers appeared in the mill with him and instinctively went for his gun. He was half way through stuffing a pellet into the coils when he noticed that none of them were responding to him. They were systematically going through the bodies stabbing them for good measure and smashing their muskets, but not one had noticed our hero in the far corner.

“Hello?” he said softly. No one responded, not even a flicker.

“No member of your family shall be harmed,” he echoed, chuckling bitterly. “What a wonderfully ambiguous statement.”

And he left.

There once was a civilisation destroyed by war, burnt for their hubris as the reached for the stars. But from this war came a man, and from this man came a dream. And one day, many years hence when the rivers flowed again, they rebuilt the broken mills. Industry and prosperity returned and the jealous armies once again rose.

This time they did not stand alone. Countries and armies bought by the power of the river and the promise of future riches, pledged their support and the war raged across the globe. When the silt settled there was a new power, the light of industry. Which shone far and wide, bettering the world, or so they believed.

Maybe it wasn’t the quite co-operation Daraen had hinted at. The world moving forwards as one. But in Otetto’s opinion, it was much better than the revenge his country had wanted after the first war, and maybe that had been his friend’s point. People had to chose, not have a choice thrust upon them. There was however one thing he was quite sure of:

Daraen was lying when he said he wouldn’t interfere.