Samalas Book I : The Testing at Samalas

BOOK 1
CHAPTER I
The shipborn walked the wide main concourse of Saumus while above the markets and homes, others soared against the barely visible roofs on the opposite sectional faces of the fleet ship. The unlovely, complex optimised architecture of the fleet ship always contained spinning cylindrical bubbles of living space but the games at Samalas prompted the largest living space these shipborn had ever seen. The next fleet to leave Samalas, Saumus was tasked with hosting the games and supporting the teams of each fleet.
Three friends went quickly through the crowd. Nomic and Seta tried to go first, to make it easy for Gau. Soon it was clear that Gau saw this as a friendly challenge and all three were doing what they could to lead the others. With a laugh at their exertions, they turned through an arch in the bio-construction of a tavern to a private party as they pushed back their hoods. Large and handsome, Gau was instantly recognisable and the centre of attention.
“Thank you, my friends, said Gau, “your party is a welcome break before the tests tomorrow. I have only a few minutes with you before my coaching team figures out where I have gone.”
Gau strode through the room, spending time with each of his supporters. He shook a hand, grasped a shoulder, hugged or kissed these Saumusians. In a few unhurried minutes, he spent a moment with everyone before pulling up his hood and preparing to leave. Seta and Nomic flanked him as he slipped out again to return to his training rooms.
On their way to the party, two other shipborn strolled towards the tavern. Sub-vocally, they were so deep in communication that they hardly noticed how the crowd passed around them. Many greeted them and every salute received a mechanical flourish from the taller, younger shipborn.
The two shipborn were very different. Esclisto, the younger captain was well dressed, impressing with his distinctive enhancements. His response was frequently a respectful, supportive silent laugh, distinguished by a flash of his teeth and hardly using his lyrical voice. His friend, captain Dineol, was not given to long answers. The captain was a head shorter but thick of chest and heavily muscled. He obviously cared little for personal displays, showing few enhancements under his simple military uniform. His face was scarred from some past conflict. His grey, wise eyes blinked irregularly under beetling brows. A grey braid of hair and tissue wound down his back. He grunted just enough words to assure his friend that he was listening. His skin glowed only slightly but he was one of the most famous of the titar. Far away in the Atraspian fleet, Dineol was encased safely as he focused on this conversation with Esclisto and the difficulties of delays between their words. Saumus was at Samalas and Atrasp had left almost ten years ago, gaining speed as it headed after the fleet Esucrys.
“If they listen and we get support from Cyrocoagh and Esucrys; then Volgine will have logistic issues. We will resist his efforts to move into this system and we will drive them back and away from us. Did you hear anything that would show there is resistance to our plans, Dineol?”
“Too early to know. No room for error, Esclisto,” came the delayed response.
“Yes, it is the fate of us all. Our way of life is threatened. Generations of accomplishments lost in anarchy. We must risk a battle to stand up to Volgine.”
“As winners or losers, we’ll change the shipborn for generations, at least the millions near Samalas.”
“Atrasp was first to learn he was coming. Dineol, you will face him first, your forces will determine his resolve to take away our way of life. You have already forced him to make his move and forced your own Atraspian ships to move together against him. ” The pause took far longer than the delay between the fleets.
“We will do our duty.”
“I know you will. We all know you will. He has marked you for collection first. But that time is ahead of us so we should let it go for now. There will be time this evening to renew our plans, let’s enjoy the next few hours. Is Locny still your choice or have I convinced you that Gau will prevail over–”
The press of the crowd intruded on their conversation. The crowd murmur changed nearby into shouting and yelling.
“Stop thief!” “Hold him!” “A fight!” “A killing!”
The shipborn on the concourse kept moving to see what was going on. As shipborn pushed into the disturbance, Esclisto and Dineol were swept towards the trouble. And they were quite willing to see what was happening. In the confusion, the captains were given little notice except by those they pushed aside to see the disturbance.
They were able to make their way near the front but were held back by several shipborn who allowed the struggles of three shipborn take place. It was two large shipborn struggling with a much smaller titar. One of the large shipborn was identifying as a nearby souvenir stand owner with metal cups to commemorate the upcoming pentathlon.
“Here is my shop and I only turned for a moment when I noticed my finest cup was missing. This one had its hand where it had been…”
The other shipborn had grabbed this small one as the culprit and was demanding that he be prosecuted while the dealer was asking for the cup’s return. The small shipborn was protesting to any and all about his treatment with little effect.
“This is the thief, this halfling took the cup!” yelled the shipborn as he held tightly onto the shipborn who was dressed in an odd style and was screeching innocence. At this moment, someone lifted a cup above the tumult, “Is this it? It was lying on the ground here by the table.”
The dealer retrieved his cup. He moved back to the struggle and the other let him go but then blocked him as he tried to leave.
“Wait, you. He’s recovered his cup but you still stand charged with its theft.”
The small shipborn just stood and looked down as if trying to puzzle out how he could get away from all this. The head scarf fell down his back revealing his glowing skin.
“He’s a titar thief!” began a bellowing bystander.
“He dropped the cup when he was discovered,” yelled another.
“We need to examine this affair,” shouted another.
But the crowd had quieted and now there was a different and darker interest in the titar. Its small size and dull features indicated it was an incomplete, almost unformed construction. Now two or three others grabbed the titar and began to pepper it with questions.
“Are you a servant, a slave? Why are you here? A slave? Who’s your master? When did you arrive? What is with that tunic and gold-laced cap? Tell us, tell us, tell us or we’ll beat it out of you!”
Now a prisoner, the questions seemed beyond the titar and if it knew what was going on, it was unable to defend itself against the accusations that were quickly becoming incomprehensible. It tried to pull loose from those that held it and away from all who reached to grab it. Suddenly it made a quick move and pulled out a rich jewel and held it up. For a second, all held their breath and then the yells went to a different level.
“What titar holds treasure!!” bawled the shipborn who had first grabbed the suspect.”He’s robbed someone else today and is running away. Sulpid has a shipborn like this as his assistant in the docks. We need an investigation.”
“That’s it!” “A thief!” “Where are the captain’s guard?!” The titar’s protests could not be heard at all as everyone around had an opinion on how to deal with the trouble.
“Hold on now, my friends,” called out a clear voice. “Let it go, I know the titar of Sulpid you are speaking about and this is not it.”
The surprise of the mob was evident and they were instantly ready to turn on this new troublemaker. For many reasons, many of them were eager to see the titar brought to justice. First one and then from many came a growl of annoyance at the interruption and then their voices changed to gasps of recognition.
“It’s Gau!” “What is he doing here?” “He’s even bigger than I thought he was!” “He is a pretty one, even better than he looks in his pictures!”
The young giant was pushing off the hands that pulled at him as he moved closer to the captive and his handlers. His presence had quieted those nearby but others were calling from further away that Gau was in the crowd. The press was starting to increase along with the murmur of the crowd became clamouring for Gau’s notice. He was a shipborn whose every feature was the best measure of beauty and the whole was a combination that exceeded the beauty of the parts! As he moved in, he shook the hood off and threw back his cloak so that as he reached the titar, he stood a head above most. He unconsciously took a challenging pose as the cloak fell in graceful, scarlet folds from his shoulders.
“Let this titar go! It is not that assistant of Sulpid,” he said once again.
In that moment, it appeared that the mob had forgotten the reason for its earlier interest and was content to try and get close to Gau. Those nearest to the disturbance seemed to be frozen in contemplation of Gau, though the titar made a quick move to press against the protector.
“Just wait a minute pretty boy!” said the man who had been holding the presumed thief, “I don’t know what you are doing here or why you are making this your business but we are holding this thief until the captain’s guard comes for him. Why are you here? Are you afraid of Locny and looking for some way out of facing the humiliation of a good beating? Are you not supposed to be surrounding yourself with the illusion that you have some chance of winning an event or at least making a respectable placing?” The man was above average in size himself but the crowd was gasping at the audacious speech.
He reached again for the titar but Gau extended just one hand. With a quick squeeze and a twist, the loud shipborn fell back to the ground. In that moment, everyone looked at their neighbours and measured their chances in a brawl that seemed likely. While Gau stood his ground, no one moved either towards him or to oppose him.
Dineol and Esclisto pushed their way to the front aided by the crowd’s sudden recognition of these noble captains. In a few moments, they were able to make a space for themselves near Gau and the titar cowering behind him.
“What’s going on!” roared Dineol, and the newcomers instantly had everyone’s attention. Esclisto stepped forward and held up his hand. His voice, low but crisp, caused all to strain to hear the words and determine his meaning. “Each of us is here to enjoy the pentathlon, let’s not be casualties of some other game. I saw what happened here and it is just a misunderstanding. You have your cup back sir, and I’m sure you would like to get back to your business? There are many new titars here from fellow fleets and not all were constructed long ago.” He nodded to indicate Dineol who was recognisable and almost indistinguishable from a true shipborn. It was a stark contrast to the small, rough form of the accused.
The shipborn merchant was eager to return to his kiosk and saw that a brawl was likely to ruin him. In these few sentences, Esclisto had disarmed the only shipborn who had any right to pursue the matter further. The merchant gladly nodded.
“If there is no theft and no complaints about anything else, we must all be satisfied to let the matter come to an end. In fact, we are here to enjoy a great contest. Any captain would be glad of the justice that you display here. Thanks to Gau, this titar is safe and we should let the champion return to his training rooms. I know that while I support Gau from my own fleet, I wish all well including Locny,” said Esclisto with a nod to both Gau and Dineol.
The mob dispersed slowly, a few glancing at Gau and the two captains who were now standing alone with the titar.
“Gau, what were you thinking?” laughed Esclisto. “I would think you would be doing something that would make all of your shipmates proud, and instead I find you out and looking for a brawl instead of planning your competition tomorrow. What would have happened if we hadn’t come along? You might have been unable to compete. The captain’s guard would certainly have taken an interest in your playing the protector to a thief if they had come along. Why did you decide to leave the comfort and safety of the training rooms?”
“This was a delightful warm-up,” replied Gau, “it is like the pentathlon – shocking the crowd, striving against all who are against me, putting my skills to work against all others and finally the decision: I am the strongest!” he said with a playful chuckle, “Well, okay, maybe I went too far. The training rooms are empty tonight. I started out looking for some of the other event athletes, to offer them some good wishes and couldn’t find anyone. So I slipped out to see the crowd. I did not expect to let anyone recognise me. But it was more exciting to be out in the crowd than sitting alone waiting for the trainers to sigh or ask if I wanted anything to eat or drink. I was just out having some fun.”
“Hmm, a very funny way to enjoy yourself, I am glad you found delight, but why would you risk so much for so little reason?”
“Okay, I understand. My friends…I was getting bored sitting again in the training room. I came along with a couple of friends and saw that titar being peppered with false accusations – for one thing, I knew he was not the dock assistant someone was describing. In the moment, I said I knew the truth and stepped forward to make the point. I was out in front of them before I had really had time to think about what I was doing. It was just the right thing to do.”
“No doubt it happened as you say and it is certainly to your credit to have stepped forward. I would like to think any of your shipmates would do the same but I think they would rather you went safely to your training room. We will see the titar is safe. Where is it?”
Sure enough, the titar had slipped away unnoticed by the friends as they bantered about this escapade.
“It appears it has a lot of gratitude,” complained Esclisto. He turned to Dineol. “Well, captain Dineol, you hoped to meet with Gau and determine his chances in your own mind. I would say that he proved himself up to everything you heard. What do you say?”
The captain had been taking a good look at Gau and despite having made an unaccustomed speech surprised everyone by blurting, “Does not look like much, and I can see why everyone complains he is too pretty.”
Gau laughed with the rest as Esclisto threw up his hands. “Why is he so beautiful and skilled? Just because Locny is ugly, he is no more likely to win than Gau. Is that the best test you could come up with?”
“I guess we will see who wins the pentathlon,” growled Dineol as he suddenly grabbed Gau’s shoulder. The muscles cracked under the captain’s grip but Gau looked coolly down at the shorter, burlier captain’s titar. The captain released his grip and held out his fist, “Open it.” The titar closely matched the strength and skills of his shipborn. Captain Dineol was a well-built warrior although much older than Gau.
Seta and Nomic crowded in without making a sound as Gau and Dineol stood face to face, hands locked. Gau’s blush increased as he applied pressure and as the struggle continued, Dineol’s face reddened too. And then it was over and the captain’s fingers had been forced open.
“He will do,” said the captain after a short delay. Yes, he will do.” With that and a quick nod to the three who stood watching, he started away. Over his shoulder, he said, “Grind Locny’s bones, I hate the brute.”
Esclisto waited for a moment before heading after Dineol. Seta wasted no time in letting everyone know that he was impressed by Gau’s actions on behalf of the titar. The crowd was beginning to press them as the privacy commanded by the captains was now replaced by the interest that the crowd felt in seeing Gau up close.
“It can be fun to hear what wordsmiths will say of you, but I must get back to the training room before my coaches miss me,” Gau said childishly, but with seriousness as he threw his hood to cover his face.
“Well yes, we want you confident and ready to face the others. Stop chattering and you athletes do what delights you most.”
“Perhaps you are right! We all have a role tomorrow and I must get on with mine.” Gau, to the others’ surprise, rubbed his eyes as he passed his hand across his face. “I know I am fortunate to be here today and I am confident of your support tomorrow. I will do my best to deserve your praise.”
Recovering from his moment of alarm at Gau’s show of fatigue, Seta was nonetheless charmed by his openness. “We are distracting you,” stated Seta.
“You are not to be blamed in the least.”
“No, I am a fool on my own merits. I should be relaxing by myself instead of strolling around.”
“All right, let’s get you back,” began Seta. “What happened has happened and we have survived. We should be either distracting you from the pentathlon or helping you concentrate on it, what do you prefer?”
“I just need to get going back,” chuckled Gau lightly.
“This is supposed to be fun for all of us, think about that!” cried Nomic; “I know you are thinking about Eniom. Your day-dreaming caused this distraction. We have to get you thinking about Locny.”
“Can you blame him?” smiled Seta. “We are looking forward to tomorrow’s entertainment, but the victory party will pale compared to their wedding. It has been a developing celebration since they announced their plans.”
“I would like to know why captain Dineol told Gau to grind the bones of the champion of his own fleet?” asked Nomic, curiously.
“I can explain his feelings,” replied Seta, who sat with most of the captains. “Most importantly, Locny’s family is a vocal opposition to Dineol. It began years ago. Not only is he massive, I would have to say that from the soles of his feet, Locny is a rude brute, even to the point of embarrassing himself with Dineol’s wife at his champion’s dinner. And according to some people, he helped delay the news that Volgine was coming to Samalas. All I would say is that he has made some strange friends who had thoughts of aligning with Volgine.”
“Those rumours have been heard at every gambler’s table,” Nomic interrupted promptly. “Locny is not working with Volgine, not that I know him that well, but Volgine makes plans for Volgine.”
“Most of us will have questions for Volgine. Not that I have any time for war, but I guess there will always be those who take what they want and those who go along with them. It seems that way to me. Always some who say it is our nature and there is nothing we can do about nature. There are captains who are with Volgine and they have their reasons, even if I do not know what those reasons are.” Nomic trailed off as he looked to see Seta salute him. “You know these shipborn for a living Seta, but I feel in my gut that some of the captains are with Volgine.”
“Okay, okay, let the war wait!” ordered Gau, with a weary shake of his head. “Today our battle is in the arena, that is war enough for me today!” With that, he went into his rooms with a final, brief wave leaving his friends to look at the closed door.
“There is the weakness” sighed Seta, “within his mind is his own success, his own terms, living only for his own purposes. Such shipborn seem destined for the disappointments of realising their small place in the universe.”
“We have known him since we were children, Seta. You went to classes with him from first days. Perhaps our friendship blinds us, but Gau deserves praise for what he has done and who he is.” Nomic was a bit uncomfortable speaking up but had to support his friend.
“Fair enough, I meant no criticism…I have just seen too many sad things in my life,” said Seta meekly. “Listen, my friends, I have taken advantage of your good nature, I am foolish. We should get back to the party and support Gau’s efforts. He is sure to win tomorrow.”
“Yes, and as friends, we have lightly considered the strengths and weaknesses of our friends. We are still friends. Let’s look forward to the arena and cheer for Gau. What say you, Nomic?” said Seta diplomatically.
“You are right,” said Nomic with a laugh, “let’s get back to the party, my friend!”
As Gau took to his lounge after a shower, he met his secretary, Manes, who was holding a small, brightly wrapped box.
“A strangely dressed titar brought this for you, Gau. There have been all kinds of things left at your door, but it asked that I deliver this immediately to your hands. It seems safe enough.”
The package was opened easily and, inside the box, they found a bracelet in a shiny mount. There was no note or any other marking that identified who had sent the treasure. There was a simple note in an uncertain script, “To the beautiful champion who has served me greatly.”
Manes lifted the bracelet high to catch the light and admire its perfect lustre.
“Esclisto was wrong,” Gau remarked. “the titar was not ungrateful. But what titar has access to the likes of this? And who knows. Make a note, Manes, to let Esclisto know about this gift in case there is a connection to some other plans for the arena. He should know about it as soon as possible. At any rate, there is nothing I can do about it for the moment. Make a note and lock it away. I want nothing to do with such mysteries tonight. Perhaps it is a good sign to arrive now for the battle I face tomorrow and maybe the bracelet will fit Eniom.”

Serial story by Sylva Richmond
Copyright © 2016 by PICogeneration
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Please enjoy this story of the Samalas region where along with others, there was a struggle between the Atrasp, Saumus, and Volgine fleets. It is a brief part of the unfolding history of the shipborn and the planetbound universe.
Articles, short stories, novellas, and novels based in the universe are in various stages of publication.

Support for this project. Please feel free to contribute and comment about this writing project. It is important to indicate the story name in the message block included in the order form. The minimal cost is meant to reduce trolling that is so common with female artists. In addition, as more and more projects are added to the site, contributions will be used to prioritise which projects will be updated regularly. Thank you for all your support, past and present. Sylva.