Emerald Legion – Chapter 6

“Tell me of your homeworld, Usil.” – In which our young Champions share their impressions of their birth-worlds…




The three Champions had used their Champion’s Rings to ensconce themselves atop one of the spot-lights, watching the moopsball play-offs from a spectacular vantage point that no one else could challenge.


“I just don’t get it.  *Team* sports?  Where’s the glory in that?” Rokk muttered, not for the first time.


~Cooperative exercises are useful, Rokk.  You have to admit we worked well when we coordinated our actions and didn’t all attempt to run rampage against those gunmen…~


“That’s different.  This isn’t life or death, or military action.  It’s for *fun.*  What’s fun about sharing the glory?”


“I'm beginning to think I’d never last a second on Braal.”


“Oh, it’s not that bad, Garth.  Yeah, we’re hyper-competitive, but it brings out the best in people.  It gives people something to strive for, goals and dreams and all that.”


~That’s easy for a sports-prodigy to say.  But it doesn’t work out for everyone, does it Rokk?~


With a heavy sigh, Rokk concedes the point.  “That’s for sure.”


Garth was trying to figure out the game again, “This game is stupid!  They just run around for like, a few seconds, and then call time-out to argue about all these stupid rules for another half-hour.”


“On this we are agreed.”


~We’re all colonists, come back to the mother Earth, but we don’t really have anything in common with these people.  Tell us about Braal, Rokk.~


“Not much to say.  It’s just a rock that exports lots of exotic metals.  Just about everyone is tied to the mining and enrichment consortiums, and we work like beasts, and then play twice as hard when shift is over.  Our SP branch is the second highest paid in the UP, because we keep them so busy cleaning up after us.  The only spectator sport more popular than magno-ball is bare-knuckled bar-brawling…”


“Second-highest paid?”


~The detachment to Rimbor is the highest paid, I’ll bet.~


“Yeah.  Even we can’t compete with actual professional troublemakers.”


~Everyone has magnetic powers, right?~


“Not like mine, but yeah.  When we settled Braal it was an accident.  The third planet was lush and hospitable.  Braal, the fourth planet, was a shattered lump of metal and rock that had been split open by a cometary impact a few million years before.  The molten iron core spewed out in an enormous fountain that scorched Braal’s smaller moon, and formed the magnetite ring surrounding the planet today.  The planet was all lopsided and broken, and after some ridiculous number of years, all of the chunks of iron that had rained back down to the planetary surface degraded into particles the size of sand.  The entire planet was one giant desert, but the sand dunes were made of tiny chunks of iron, and when the moons passed overhead, the magnetic fields would sweep across the deserts and hurl up mile high clouds of charged iron particles that spent the next million years wearing everything else on the planet into dust.”


“So, obviously the colony ship wanted the third planet, and got sucked in by the magnetic forces?”


“Exactly.  They had planned for it, but an asteroid shower damaged the ship and brought them too close to Braal, and left them unable to escape its’ pull.  The captain realized that she’d drain the ships fuel and burn out the engines, and still not be able to escape, and then have nothing left to make a safe landing.  So she accelerated towards the planet and cut the engines to save power.”


“Ballsy move.”


“Yeah.  She tore into the atmosphere like a meteor, and only engaged thrusters when she was nearing impact, slinging the ship along the surface and letting the atmosphere break their velocity.  She went all the way around the planet two and a half times before the desert sands, attracted to the charge the hull had picked up during entry, reached up and pulled the ship from the sky.”


~I don’t get it.  Was it a sand-storm or some sort of magnetic interference?~


“The charged iron sands were attracted to the ship as it passed overhead, and the more of them clung to the hull, the more they slowed the ship down, and weighed it down…  Fortunately, they also ended up cushioning the ship from the worst of the impact.  The captain died, and six other crewmembers.  The passengers in cryo-sleep were heavily shielded, with triple redundancies and all back-up power reinforcing those sections, and still, 23 of them couldn’t be revived.  At planetfall, two crewmen and 227 passengers were left alive, on a planet with an unbreathable atmosphere, and magnetic fields so intense that most of their machinery flat out wouldn’t work.”


~What a nightmare!~


“Yeah, the first year was rough.  But the passengers were all scientists and explorers, resourceful folk who had leapt at the challenge of colonizing a new world, so far out on the fringe that they knew it would be years before anyone came to check on their progress.  They couldn’t live on the surface, so they tunneled down, using the airlock tubes to make a passageway down through the iron sands until they hit rock.  Then they used cutting torches that they’d ripped off of the useless worker-droids to bore down through the rock and fashion caverns, which they immediately began to seed with renewable food sources, as they were already running short on rations.  Thoughts of colonizing the surface were abandoned when the exploration teams were attacked by what turned out to be unknown forms of electromagnetic life.  The head of the team was Resa Martel, and she was unconscious when they brought her back, her suit having been overloaded by the energy discharges, and having some sort of epileptic fit.  She recovered quickly, but the researchers discovered that she had been pregnant, and that the baby seemed to have retained some sort of magnetic charge.  Because of the high iron content, just about everyone was suffering mild metal poisoning, but she seemed to get healthier, and months later, gave birth to Genn Martel, the first Braalian.  He was born with bright purple eyes, and a powerful magnetic field, and the colonists knew that everything had changed…”


“So the purple eyes, everyone on Braal has those?”, Garth asked.


“Actually it’s a reaction to all the iron in our systems.  Like me, Genn should have had blue eyes, but all the iron makes our eyes look purple.  If a Braalian would have green eyes, the red from the iron would make them brown, and if they were already supposed to be brown, they would end up looking dark red.  Purple is kind of rare, actually.  Dark red is the most common eye color.”


~I’m surprised that the colonists so quickly accepted a child that was so different.~


“Ah, you’re already getting ahead of the story, Imra.  And no, they didn’t all welcome the new child.  A few superstitious weirdos, already stressed out by the living conditions and the shortages and the various energy disturbances said that the child was possessed by the energy creatures or something.  Anytime something would go wrong, they would blame it on the birth of Genn, claiming that he was cursed or something.  The other colonists were forced to move Genn and Resa into secluded rooms and guard them day and night, after a few fanatics attempted to kill them.  It was nearly a civil war, until two other women gave birth to children with dark red eyes and similar magnetic anomalies.  Neither of these women had ever been to the surface or encountered an energy creature, and that took some of the fire out of the movement.  The last hold-out, a true fanatic who had snapped under the stress of the living conditions, ended up being killed by his own wife after she discovered that she was pregnant.  She wasn’t about to let her husband kill her ‘demon-baby,’ and killed him with a plasma welder.”


~That’s horrible!~


“The other colonists banded together and held a vote.  It was determined that she’d acted in defense of her child, and her desperate act was actually applauded.  Five years later, she became the first elected leader of Braal.  Who would have thought killing your husband would be the first step to a successful political career?”


~Only every woman in the universe, ever?~


Heh, she’s got you there, Rokk.”


“Anyway, the shortages remained harsh, and it seemed like they ran on the brink of total collapse for three generations.  During that time there were constant fears that the rationing system would fail, and there were constant rumors of a ‘death lottery.’  According to the rumors, anyone who didn’t perform a vital function would be denied a sustenance ration, to save vital supplies for those who were necessary to the survival of the colony.  It never actually happened, but it had our people at each others throats for years, and even centuries later, we remain hyper-competitive, as if we aren’t going to get fed if we don’t break records and exceed expectations.”


~These fears only lasted for a few generations, and your people are *still* affected by them?~


“Yeah, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I guess fears rarely do.” Rokk conceded,


“Finally, the colonists encountered an underground sea, and a form of algae that was subsisting off of geothermal activity and chemical synthesis.  It wasn’t much, but it was a carbon source, and they quickly turned it into a food supply.  The days of rationing were at an end, and the deeper mines had turned up many forms of radioactive materials that could be used for power sources.  Things were looking up, and over the next two centuries, exploration teams discovered that the electromagnetic life-forms were vanishing.  Every decade there were less and less encounters, until it seemed that they were completely extinct.  The Spiritualists of the Crystal Unity claim that for every birth on Braal, one of the creatures was replaced, and that each Braalian is a composite creature, both flesh and energy, but most people don’t believe that.  Because of the whole ‘demon-child / possession’ incident, Braalians have a strong dislike of that train of thought, associating it with the crazies.  I know that *I* certainly don’t feel ‘possessed’ by any sort of electromagnetic entity…”


~And yet, I don’t feel ‘possessed’ by the organisms living in my cells, or the ones in my bloodstream, or the ones in my intestines.  Why would you be aware of a creature that has become an indistinguishable part of you?~


“I guess it’s possible.  In any event, the worst of the storms seemed to vanish along with the entities, and over the next few centuries, the colonists were able to begin building on the surface, and soon established contact with the United Planets, who had never realized that there was an thriving subterranean civilization trapped on the world that they had marked as ‘off-limits’ and a ‘navigation hazard.’  We communicated by laser, until a Coluan scout-craft landed in our main city, completely unaffected by the magnetic storms, and the diplomat’s *kid* ended up showing us how to get our antique worker-droids active despite the magnetic interference.  Something that took him a few hours of pondering, because he was bored, something he called ‘adaptive heuristic response,’ and it revolutionized our world.  Any stubborn insistence that we didn’t need the UP after all we’d accomplished on our own vanished overnight.”


Rokk shifted as the night breeze whipped Imra’s cloak into his face.  “Well, that’s it for Braal.  You’ve pumped me for info, now it’s your turn.  Tell us about Titan.”


“Yeah!  I heard it’s cold there.”


~Very.  Titan is the oldest Earth colony, but no one knew that for a long time, because we were hidden from Earth for centuries.~


“But Titan’s in the Earth system!  How could they miss it?” Garth protested.


~Let’s start at the beginning.  Telepaths have been native to Earth for millennia, but rarely welcomed.  Sometimes burned as witches, or persecuted as ‘demon-children,’ like that first Braalian child, the only telepaths that survived were the ones who learned to hide their gifts.  By the early 22nd century, there were enough of us being born, and humanity was so closely connected, that it became impossible to deny our presence any longer, and some cultures turned paranoid and began to cull any child that showed signs of the gift.  There wasn’t a culture on the planet that didn’t strictly regulate telepathy, declaring telepathic contact to be ‘mental trespassing,’ or eavesdropping, coercion, espionage or even rape!~


“That’s just crazy!”


~Everybody had secret shames and fears back then, Garth, and would die, or, more likely, *kill,* to keep those secrets.  Telepaths were the ultimate threat to society-as-it-was, and so we found it increasingly impossible to live in peace among ‘normal’ humans.  The first proposed withdrawal was at a summit in Europe, a summit that was attacked by racist terrorists, resulting in the deaths of some of the most outspoken and publicly-known telepaths.  It was in Amundsen City that the Earth’s telepaths began to gather, but even Antarctica wasn’t far enough away, and they came up with a desperate scheme.  Earth was constructing it’s first large-scale colony ship, intended to take five hundred colonists to settle Mars, and the telepaths seized control of a cruise ship, the Pacific Princess, and traveled to the launch site in Hawaii, where they co-opted the entire site with their combined powers, and left Earth completely, leaving the would-be Martian colonists stranded on Earth, wondering what had happened.~


“That’s awesome!  How did they know how to fly a spaceship?  Did they have telepath-astronauts?”


~No, but a few hours alone with the original pilots, and the telepaths knew everything they needed to know.  They knew that Mars was not an option.  Earth could too easily retaliate, and yet the ship was not sufficient to leave the system.  One telepath had worked as an intelligence agent for several nations, under various guises, and had learned of an alien base abandoned under the ice of Titan.  It had been ultra-classified, and he wiped all knowledge of it’s existence not just from the data-records, but from the very minds of the few who knew of it.  That was the telepath’s goal.  They practiced mind-over-body techniques and entered trances, to reduce oxygen consumption and eliminate the need for foodstuffs, since the ship didn’t have supplies adequate for their longer-than-projected voyage, and upon entering orbit around Titan, they quickly located the base, and shuttled the people down over the course of several weeks, stripping every usable thing they could from the colony ship, before programming it to fly to Jupiter and plunge into the Jovian atmosphere in front of the exploration satellite orbiting that world.  As far as Earth knew, the stolen colony ship had fallen into Jupiter’s gravity well and died with all hands.~


~The colonists spent the next centuries confined to the alien base, lacking the technical know-how to expand the facility.  It took many generations before the technology was re-invented necessary to add onto the structure, and by then our people had grown accustomed to the bleak sterile surroundings, cramped conditions and tasteless protein bricks assembled from raw elements by automated machine.  Making sound, or showing emotion, was considered rude and disrespectful.  We became a race of pale-faced ghosts, never speaking, eating only tiny bites of tasteless food and drinking only water.~


”It sounds as hard as what the Braalian colonists went through, in it’s own way.” Rokk noted sympathetically.


~And yet, it was paradise.  I would sit in my tiny undecorated quarters, gray walls over my gray sleeping mat, close my eyes and soar through skies of colors I had never seen with my own eyes, surrounded by living creatures I only knew from the memories past down over a dozen generations.  We live a life of the mind, and most Titanians are content with that.~


“But not you.” Rokk added.


~No.  I had to see these things for myself.  I didn’t want to relive someone else’s dreams of sunsets that I would never see, of flowers and birds and a world with warm scented breezes where children and run and play in open fields.  Mind-pictures weren’t enough.  I had to *feel* these things for myself.~


“Is it everything you’d hoped?” Garth asked, as Rokk had fallen quiet.


~So much more.  I want to go back to Titan and shake them and scream in their heads what they are missing.  We don’t have to hide anymore.  We don’t have to live like that.  There is another world out here, of sights and sounds and scents, and it’s so *real.*  Not dreams or psychodramas, actual flesh and dirt and sound.~




~But they’d think I was crazy.  They’d ‘calm’ me with soothing platitudes and psychic readjustment, saying that I was ‘overstimulated.’~, although the Ring keeps her warm, Imra wraps her cloak around herself anyway.  ~I’m never going back there.  It’s all I’ve ever known, but it was never my home.~


Garth massaged his shoulder, which had stiffened up from sitting in the same position for so long before standing up and stretching, “Well, I guess it’s my turn.  But it’s kind of a let-down.  Winath was colonized only 200 years ago, and there really isn’t any big drama.  It was a rich, fertile planet, and we moved in and planted some stuff and now it’s the bread-basket of the galaxy…”


“I’m sure it’s a *little* more interesting than that, Garth.”


Winath was old when we found it, really old.  It had been crawling with life for millions of years, but a radiation wave-front from an exploding supernova in the next system had sterilized most of the living creatures on the planet.  It was perfect for colonization.  A million years worth of fertile chemically rich topsoil, oceans teeming with decaying organic matter, an entire dead ecosystem lying in front of them, and it was all fodder for the new plants and animals that they introduced.  We measured the topsoil on our farm once, and it went down nine and a half meters!”


“That’s a lot of tordek poop...”


“Yup.  It was like a graveyard when the colonists landed, and they just dropped seed and stuff started growing like wildfire.  The planet was just waiting for new life.”


“And that’s when they discovered the twin thing?”


“No, that’s a myth.  Stuff grows fast on Winath because the soil is so rich.  If you used the right fertilizers and genetically modified crops, you’d get the same crop yields on Braal.  The only reason the colonists have twins is because we’re gene-modified that way.  Our sperm trigger a chemical reaction that causes a fertilized egg to divide exactly once, and then chemically repel towards opposite sides of the womb, so that the two fetuses don’t get in other’s way during development.  They remain connected by something sort of like an umbilical cord, so that if even one egg implants, the other one is ‘tethered’ and won’t be flushed out, to help prevent single births.  It was intended to speed up colonization, but it’s become such a way of life that they never changed it back.”


~Yikes.  The colonists *chose* to always bear twins?  That’s quite a commitment…~ Imra thought, her hand brushing over her stomach dubiously.


“Yeah, it was.  There was no way the women were willing to just bear twins as is, there was almost a riot.  So the first generation of genetic modifications caused their hips to expand slightly, to make child-birth easier on the body.  It’s kind of a galaxy-wide joke that Winathian women are ‘full-figured.’”


“That must be the source of the term ‘child-bearing hips.’”


~On behalf of women everywhere, we prefer ‘Juno-esque.’~ Imra declared defensively.


“Juno-esque it is, not that *you’d* ever need to worry about that…” Rokk backpedaled diplomatically.  “So the farm animals don’t actually have twin births?”


“Some were modified in the earlier years, but for the most part, not any longer.  It’s just the people.  And those stupid space-legends about crops producing double the yields because of some weird energy field?  That would be really nice, but it’s just a load of crap.”


~What about your powers?  Rokk and I come from worlds where everyone can manipulate their bio-magnetic field, or read minds, but Winathians aren’t generally known for throwing lightning…~


Garth looked down for a second, but was smiling, maybe a bit too broadly as he replied.  Winath isn’t just the breadbasket of the galaxy, it’s also got the most sophisticated weather-control systems ever constructed, since our whole planetary economy revolves around crop schedules.  Turns out that those big signs at the weather control sub-station that say, ‘danger, don’t touch’ are actually important…”


“Garth, I don’t need to be a telepath to know that’s not the whole story.”


“Look, I don’t want…”


“No, you look.” Rokk stood up quickly and moved so that he right in the taller man’s face, “We’re your friends Garth, and that means *if* you want to talk about something, then we’re here, any time, no matter what.”  Garth’s mouth started to move again, and Rokk smoothly put his hand over it, blocking any protest, “And it *also* means that if you *don’t* want to talk about something, we aren’t going to pry, and it’s none of our sprocking business.”  He removed his hand from Garth’s mouth.  “Got it?”


Garth looked to Imra, unsure of her reaction, “Imra?”


~Everything Rokk just said.  Every word.  Applies to me as well.  We’re not your parents, Garth, we’re not here to judge.~


Garth folded his friends up in his arms, “I love you guys!  You guys are the greatest, you know that, right?”


“Oh, I’ve known that for years, Garth, but thanks for saying…”


~And we’re so modest, too!~