So, despite the fact that I will qualify for Howard Hendrix' unique definition of a scab at http://www.journalfen.net/community/fandom_wank/1072475.html#cutid1 , here I go.
Karish, like most people, probably believed that we were all created on the planet we called home, that we had developed on it for hundreds of thousands of years. Of course if you nailed him down for a serious discussion – assuming that’s possible – and really pressed him, he might admit that yes, we had all been brought to the world by some weird and wonderful means no longer at our disposal, but deep in his bones he no doubt felt that he belonged to our planet as thoroughly as did the air and the plants and many of the animals. It was what most people really believed, and no one thought it important enough to teach them otherwise.
I didn’t believe it, not at all, because I’d had a wonderful history professor by the name of Lynn McNaughton who’d had an absolute passion for the past, the real past. During class hours she’d taught the approved curriculum, mostly all the wars that had happened during the development of our current royal family, but if you showed enough interest she might invite you to her private chamber where she would show you what had really happened, much further back.
McNaughton had been half of a nomad circuit Pair before volunteering – volunteering! – to teach at the academy. The collection of artifacts she had accumulated over the years had been massive. She’d shown me the scores of our favourite songs and told me what some of the passages really meant. She’d shown me some old books written in a language similar to the one we spoke, but with strange spellings and words that were used differently than we used them. And she showed me little pieces and bits of machinery that we didn’t know how to use.
I’d loved it. I’d loved learning about the old music, food, sport, machines I could just barely understand and machines that were completely beyond my comprehension. I’d loved seeing the similarities between those ancient cultures and my own. Better yet, I’d loved exploring the differences. Bizarre systems of government, twisted forms of entertainment, and languages that seemed so much more colourful than what I spoke. McNaughton and I had sometimes indulged in using the slang we picked up from the ancient texts, but only when we spoke to each other. No one else could understand us.
So I did know, and truly believed, that we didn’t really belong on our world. We’d been brought there. Well, obviously, our ancestors had been. According to McNaughton and her books, there was once this huge political organization that actually spanned hundreds of planets. It had been called the Smithian Confederation, and its citizens had knowledge and skills we couldn’t even dream of. It was an ancient, powerful organization, always at war, and always expanding. There were many theories about who had founded it and when, but no one seemed to be really sure. Much of its history seemed to be dedicated to taking over one planet after another, and changing each planet into some strange artificial place with no grass and no free animals and no real air.
The Landing was five hundred and seventy-seven years ago. Historians have spent their entire careers trying to find out just why the Smithians had chosen our world to colonize, as according to the ancient records our world was some distance away from the rest of the Confederation and had no particularly valuable resource or characteristic. There was the theory that the Smithians had been looking for paradise, a clean new world to start fresh after destroying so many. I didn’t know if I could agree with that. To me the earliest records suggested the Smithians thought they already had paradise, and that they had created it with their own hands.
Whatever the reason, the Smithians discovered this planet with one of their searching machines and they sent out a ship to investigate. A few hardy souls descended, looked around, didn’t get killed, and went home with glowing reports of breathable air, clean water, fertile soil, that sort of thing. And no nasty little sentients to interfere with the rightful new owners. Paradise. The first colony ship was sent out only a few years later.
The Smithian Confederation, with its long history of colonizing planets, knew no briefing was ever anywhere near comprehensive, that every world had its surprises, that the unexpected was the norm. The colony ship was equipped with all sorts of extra machinery to stabilize the environment, protect the colonists from attack, and make fake food. The colonists themselves were carefully chosen, young and healthy and
emotionally balanced. Occupation was a consideration as well, the first batch of pioneers comprised of a careful blend of skills considered essential for survival on a new world.
The first colonists came down. They built quasi-temporary housing. They established primitive – for them – communications systems. They explored the planet from pole to pole. They studied the wildlife and tested everything. And they waited.
And nothing happened.
To everyone’s delight, no strange and hostile life forms crawled out of the forests or the sky or the water. The vegetation didn’t turn out to be toxic and nothing rose up to poison the water. Animals did not become vicious due to the season or the position of the moon. The winters could be extremely harsh in some areas, the summers dangerously arid in others, but that could be handled. The place was as close to perfect as anyone could reasonably expect. Everyone involved congratulated themselves enthusiastically.
For about ten years the first wave of colonists watched and waited and made their temporary homes a little more permanent and their communications systems a little less makeshift. They sent leagues of reports back to the home planet, rhapsodizing about the value of their new world. The venture was a glorious success. But then, such ventures almost always were.
The next convoy from the Confederation had ten ships, each bearing two hundred and fifty thousand colonists. Only slightly less carefully chosen than the first batch, this crew included whole families, poets and artists and politicians and lawyers. Their heads crammed full with visions of freedom and wealth and not much practical information, two and a half million people descended on the planet they were calling Adamsie. They built skyscrapers and huge residential complexes, roads, signal stations, shipyards, factories, and reservoirs of every sort, stripping down trees and flattening mountains and gouging into the earth in their efforts. Their ambition was to become like every other planet in the Confederation. Only better, of course.
The ancient texts describe a contraption called the dome. Apparently it was some kind of shield that surrounded the entire planet. Its functions included protecting the planet from dangerous debris from the outside and allowing total human control over the weather within. It was popular in the Confederation because it allowed the regulation of rain and drought and other unpleasant weather, and it put a halt to such natural disasters as hurricanes and floods. Its erection was considered the final and most important step in the taming of a new world. With the ease of much practice they had the necessary equipment put in place. They prepared the wine and food and music for the celebration that would mark the moment Adamsie became completely theirs. They had dignitaries give long speeches about the promise and wonder of their new enterprise. And then, they ‘flipped the switch.’
And that, so they say, is when the planet freaked.
Moments after the dome became operational, an earthquake hit the world. Not a city, not a country, not even a continent. The whole planet. According to the records, cities were swallowed up, oceans were drained, and hundreds of thousands of people died.
Relief from the Confederation came slowly. After all, Adamsie was very far away and not yet terribly important. But despite the death and destruction and bureaucratic delay, the population managed to pull itself together, patch what injuries it could, and salvage some of its sophisticated machinery. The goal of primary importance was the resurrection of the dome. Some flaw in the design had allowed that earthquake to happen. They had to make sure there was never another.
So they slaved away at it for a while and the dome went back up. And every particle of moisture was sucked out of the greatest residential areas, where people and animals dropped dead on the spot. It was so dry all the machinery stopped working. And, of course, the dome collapsed again. The drought lasted close to a year.
The Confederation was even slower about sending aid the second time around. When it finally did arrive, the first thing on everyone’s agenda was resurrecting the dome. Up it went, and out of nowhere appeared mind-bending floods that wiped out all the signal stations – which supported the dome – a couple more cities, and a few more citizens. And just to round everything out, the latest batch of machinery ceased to function, even the machinery in places untouched by floods. There was no apparent reason for it, it just stopped working.
The theme that became glaringly obvious in hindsight continued to elude my ancestors. They pounded their heads against a solid brick wall for decades, wasting billions in currency and millions of lives trying to get that ridiculous dome up. Every time they failed they lost a few more lives, the Confederation was a little slower to send assistance, and more and more of the planet-bound machinery became increasingly temperamental. Until one day, no matter how the experts tinkered, the dome refused to go up at all, and all the technological wonders were rusting uselessly on the roads and in the fields.
There were dozens of theories explaining why the dome couldn’t work on Adamsie, most of which I didn’t understand. Well, all of which I didn’t understand. But none of the theories, witchcraft or sabotage or the inherent whatever of the planet, mattered. In the eyes of the Smithians, no dome meant no colony. The Confederation left, taking what toys worked with it. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending where you stood – most of the people were left behind.
For while Adamsie hadn’t exactly descended into anything like a prison colony over the decades, it was no longer a mecca for the best and the brightest, either. After all, a heaving planet of alternating floods and droughts, a world where any machinery not powered by animal or human strength just would not function, didn’t appeal much to families or artists or academics. It was attractive to petty criminals facing their first stiff penalty, to smugglers and others who were trying to avoid the authorities altogether, religious fanatics seeking enlightenment or salvation, and nutballs who couldn’t make it in a real society. No one of any real value, or so the Confederation thought, so they left us, never to return.
Everyone lost their minds, of course. None of the current population had thought to spend the rest of their lives on Adamsie. It had become the sort of place where many did get stuck until the day they died, but no one ever planned it. And the possibility of being completely cut off from the support of the Confederation had certainly never been considered by anyone. The people were frightened, angry, and trapped, and so of course there followed a period of excessive violence. Murder, rape, theft, the descent into total lawlessness.
Out of this mess came Bora Zaire, an iron-fisted tyrannical bastard who was as homicidal as the next son-of-a-bitch and probably just as insane, but he was smarter than most. He pulled together a gang of thugs he called an army and, starting small and building up as he went along, he swept through Centerland, Adamsie’s largest continent.
He terrorized the population into a sort of order, and under his despotic rule cities were built. Not of huge skyscrapers constructed by machines, but small homes and offices pounded together by human muscle and sweat. Rediscovering skills that had been discarded as obsolete thousands of years before, massive sailing ships were built. With ships came the exploration of the other two continents, where forgotten people had their heads knocked together and were brought to heel.
Everyone was miserable during Zaire’s forty-year reign, but no more so than they had been before it, and at least under Zaire life was a little more predictable. The laws were ridiculous but they were consistent, and even while living under brutal regimentation there was a sense of safety that hadn’t been enjoyed before. There was order, and order allowed growth.
Zaire’s son and successor was a hopeless sot possessed of all of his father’s cruelty and arrogance but none of his brains or resolve. After a few floundering years of rule, during which the society kept running largely out of habit, his wife slit his throat while he slept and took over. About a thousand times more intelligent than her late and completely unlamented husband, she killed his supporters on principle and accumulated her own through intimidation and charisma. She assumed the title of World Empress and loosened the iron fist of the ruler. Slightly. Perhaps abject misery bored her. Much more fun to encourage education and artistic development.
Her daughter, the next empress, loosened the grip a little more and promptly got stomped on by what would later be called the High Landed Class. They were the descendents of Zaire’s most trusted thugs, and over time they had accumulated their own personal armies. These personal armies were much smaller than the empress’s, of course, but the imperial army was spread out over three continents. Once the different members of the High Landed Class were able to strap down their egos and communicate with each other – and that took some doing – they were able to cooperate. Two or more would band together and send their armies to pick on the local imperial detail, often with no warning and without identifying themselves. The local imperial detail would send for reinforcements, which often took an age to arrive. During that age the aggressors would melt away and disappear, while a couple of personal armies on the other coast were gathered together to attack the local imperial detail there. So the reinforcements would gallop over there, and before they got there another group of personal armies would be causing problems on the other side of the equator. And so on. They had the Imperial Army running from pillar to post for years, until Her Majesty’s soldiers were more likely to die of exhaustion than of any battle wound.
So the empress split her powers with the High Landed Class, and that satisfied them enough to shut them up. A few revolts from the peasants sent some, though not much, power down that way. Life became almost bearable for almost everyone. Yet there were still some malcontents, some who couldn’t fit into the two categories of leisurely aristocrats and dirt-poor peasants. They wanted to create a niche of their own, and they did, but they didn’t use politics or military might to do it. Instead, they used enterprise.
There was a particularly luscious fruit called diadi, which grew only on a remote island in the East South Sea. It not only tasted divine – I’d had it once – but its husk could be used to redden lips and cheeks. Therefore it was extremely valuable to the High Landed Class. They sent their personal forces out to collect the fruit regularly, until a continental shift resulted in the waters around Diadi Island becoming fatally treacherous. After the first few mutinous crews brought their captains’ heads home in buckets, the High Landed Class got the hint and looked for others who might be willing to acquire the fruit for them. Stepping up to the line were some lunatics, some third-born aristocrats with nothing but honourary titles in their purses, and a few particularly brave or desperate peasants.
Six ships went out. Two came back, low and clumsy with diadi. The crews refuse to dock, dropping anchor just out of reach of the catapults on the shore, but close enough that anyone with an eye glass could see what was happening on deck. One man rowed in to deliver the message. The fee would be increased ten fold, or the cargo would be destroyed. The demand was refused, predictably. Those on shore got to watch as the crewmembers availed themselves of their delicious cargo or, even worse, tossed the fruit uneaten over the sides, the salt water destroying the valuable husks. It was more than the precious aristocrats could bear, and so they agreed to the new price. And thus was born the merchant class. My people. The dirt at the feet of the High Landed, despised even more than the peasantry because we dared to have money.
Through all this the planet had continued to heave and buckle and flood. It didn’t like us any better just because we had given up on things like independent machinery. It was as though our ancestors’ insistence on the dome had been the final straw and the planet had decided we were all a bunch of destructive little parasites that deserved to be wiped out. If one cared to attribute thought to a planet, which I didn’t.
People accepted the disasters. There was nothing else they could do. If one studied the history of music and literature since the Landing, one could see how people’s attitudes towards the planet’s antics changed. There was a progression from heroic resistance to the evil forces of nature, though dreary defeatist lamentations concerning the loss of all family and property in one amazingly depressing disaster after another, to the disappearance of earthly acrobatics from the stories altogether. After all, everyone had endured disasters and everyone had lost people because of them. No point in making a fuss over it.
The first recorded appearance of what people think is a Source took place slightly under three hundred years ago, in a now-dead city called Too Far. The story went like this. The typical earthquake was happening, throwing people and animals about and destroying buildings. Apparently it ticked off some young guy – the village idiot, in fact – to the point that he stood tall, melodramatically threw his arms out, and cried, “Stop!” After which he convulsed long and hard, as though experiencing a fit. Then he dropped dead. But the earthquake stopped.
Of course, no one connected the two events. It was a coincidence. A few more earthquakes, tornadoes, floods and lightning storms struck and a few more people died in an identical fashion. It was assumed that people who were already a little weird were finding the disasters intolerable and dying from some kind of shock. Highly sensitive people, don’t you know. The fact that those same disasters were being halted mid-breath had nothing to do with anything.
No one clued in until the first Shield, Nirah Kaddaffi, was discovered about two hundred and twenty years ago. She and Mandir Olsworth had hated each other from birth. They had forced each other to eat dirt and bugs in the sandbox, poured ink on each other’s smocks in school, and stole each other’s suitors in the courting lane. But when a tidal wave – in the middle of landlocked Will’s Plain, go figure – threatened to wipe out the small city of Yon Way, instinct took over. Mandir felt compelled to stand out in the middle of it and Nirah stood beside her, watching her, as still as stone. Ignoring the powerful winds and gushing water and the panic all around them they stood there and, to all appearances, did nothing.
The tidal wave collapsed in on itself. It sank harmlessly into the ground and disappeared. Neither Nirah nor Mandir were dead.
They were arrested, though, as the cry of witchcraft rang from pole to pole. It didn’t matter that they had saved the city. To an idiot’s way of thinking they had no doubt endangered it in the first place. Fortunately Erison Tiyeth, the Baron of Yon Way, wasn’t actually an idiot. He had the two girls tossed in jail for their own protection. While everyone else was crying for their heads he was talking to them, asking them in a most rational manner what they had done, how, and why.
Other spontaneous Pairs were discovered in other cities. When the Baron heard of them he saved as many as he could through diplomacy, bribery, and extortion. He brought them back to Yon Way and studied them, and was baffled by what he found. The members of the Pairs seemed to have nothing in particular in common. Different ages, different classes, different beliefs, reacting to their fear in very different ways. The different Pairs didn’t seem to know each other, and weren’t terribly interested in each other. They all just wanted to go home. It seemed unlikely that they were the grassroots of any dangerous new movement.
The Baron and a few intelligent others decided these strange new Pairs were nothing more than some kind of human adjustment to the planet, a way to make it quiet and safe. Actually some people, myself included, feel that conclusion was due more to hope than any true logic, and no doubt people at the time recognized it as such, but as it worked out for the best few were willing to write down any objections. Anyway, those who shared the Baron’s beliefs bought as many minstrels and playwrights as they could. Overnight there was a rash of stirring ballads and dramatic epics about the heroic Sources and Shields defending poor farmers and the like from the devastating effects of earthquakes and so on. A little more diplomacy and a little more bribery and not a little blackmail resulted in new laws forbidding the persecution of these strange new humans. When Nirah and Mandir were finally released from their protective incarceration, they found themselves facing a road very different from the life of marriage and child-rearing they had envisioned.
Stories about the First Pair will claim that they grew to become fast friends and lovers, and that when Nirah died the grief-stricken Mandir killed herself. More objective biographies reveal that the two women never liked each other, though they became mature enough to work together, and that they died together because that was a biological aspect of their bond.
No one could figure out how the bond worked, and it remained a mystery through the intervening years, but there was one theory that everyone decided to accept. Certain people, Sources, were able to tap directly into the forces of the planet, the forces that made it spin and breathe and try to crush human beings like bugs. It was a human adaptation to the world. As theories went it was pretty light but it was better, I thought, than demon possession or a touch of divinity.
There was no one physical characteristic shared by all Sources, and the talent didn’t appear to be hereditary. Centuries of studying Sources and dicing them up after death had yielded no answers. Channeling was a talent, like singing or painting, with no discernable origin. There was no predicting where it would show up and it couldn’t be taught to someone who wasn’t born with it.
Sources could feel natural disasters on a level beyond what any normal person experienced, sensing some kind of vibration on a mental rather than a physical plane. More than that, they could touch the core of the turmoil and channel its power away, draining it of its destructive force and sending the power out to some place where it did no harm. But all that power was hard on the fragile human form. It sent the blood rushing through the veins about a thousand times faster than it was ever made to flow, and the heart, it just went mad, working far harder than nature ever intended. And if that weren’t enough, the rush of power through the Source created a kind of absence within the human body, leaving it extremely vulnerable to the forces it wasn’t channeling. The destructive forces rushed through it, leaving it hollow, and the other forces of the world pressed in to crush flesh like a dry eggshell.
That was where the Shield stepped in. The Shield’s task was twofold, keeping the Source’s body from running itself into destruction and fending off the forces not being channeled. A Shield could not touch the forces directly, but could manipulate them through a Source. So while a Source was particularly sensitive to the world, Shields were particularly sensitive to Sources. The Shield could feel the blood as it rushed and slow it down, sense the activity of the brain and calm it, at the same time warding off the forces threatening the Source. Channeling really required nothing more than being in the right place at the right time, throwing down interior protections and acting as a kind of funnel. Shielding required intense concentration and a thorough knowledge of how the Source’s body functioned. Instinct and intellect, working together.
Any Shield could protect any Source. It didn’t actually require a bond of any kind, just a chance for the Shield to observe long enough to learn how the Source’s body worked. But it was the bond that enabled a Shield to feel the blood moving through her Source’s veins as though it were her own, to hear the workings of another’s brain. Any Shield could protect any Source, but only a bonded Source could be protected well.
And no one knew how the bond was created, or why two particular people just had to work together. Lots of theories but they all sounded stupid. For reasons no one ever understood, two people were particularly suited to working together. Class, personality, and level of skill seemed to have nothing to do with it. Just another mystery of life.
In the year 378 – three hundred and seventy-eight years after the Landing – the Triple S was established. The Source and Shield Service. A school comprised of three academies, two Shield academies and one Source, and a dispatching agency. Any
discovered Sources and Shields were sent to one of the academies for compulsory training, and when they were considered trained enough they were sent to the Running arena. Those who bonded were then sent off to one city or another, and their only job was to calm any turmoil that came their way.
By the time I was born in 556, Shields and Sources had become something of a class of their own, regarded with the wary interest shown to lawyers and lunatics. If there was a Source or a Shield in a crowd, everyone else wanted to know about it so they knew how to behave. Sources wore a black braid over the left shoulder of every garment they owned, Shields a white braid. This was so everyone knew not to be offended by the truly bizarre things that sometimes came out of a Source’s mouth, and to be careful what kind of music was playing so the Shield wouldn’t go berserk. Also, in exchange for rare talent and what others considered potentially fatal responsibilities, Sources and Shields were guaranteed free board, free food, free clothing, and free anything else they wanted.
There had been incidents of regular people posing as Sources or Shields, just so they could coast on the benefits. It was easy enough to sew a braid onto clothing. The punishment for that little pretence was death. I thought that was harsh, but the supposed logic of it was that if someone claimed to be part of the Triple S, others would rely on them and expect them to save the day when disaster struck, which could possibly endanger a lot of lives. No one could deny food or shelter to anyone wearing the braid, that was the law, but if anyone suspected they were being taken they were to report it, and the Triple S would take care of it.
In stark contrast, the law was extremely lenient with members of the Triple S. Drunkenness and brawling were completely overlooked. So was theft, though I didn’t understand why anyone would bother stealing when they had everything handed to them. Still, some did. Stupidity is universal. Shields have been known to evade murder
convictions by blaming the music that was playing at the time, and just try to get a Source convicted of slander. No matter what the crime, Pairs rarely landed in jail, and they were never ever executed.
There were two reasons for this. The first was that Pairs were considered too valuable to be sitting in a prison or hanging in the gallows. The second was that it was difficult to punish one partner in a Pair without punishing the other. Killing one meant killing both. Send one to jail and the other is left free but useless, unable to work alone and unable to find another partner, not permitted to find other kinds of work due to the fact that all members of the Triple S belonged to the Triple S, body and soul.
The Triple S did have the right to restrict Pairs to one of the academies, and the other option was to send them out to remote and cold sites. Not a perfect solution, because it still resulted in both partners being punished for the actions of one, but it was the best that could be done.
I was twenty-one years old. It was 577, the third day of summer. I was a calm, thoroughly trained Shield bonded to what was surely going to be one of the most notorious Sources in history. Things were bound to happen. It was going to be ... fun.