Xenology - Story Driven PBW|
Originally Written by Dogscoff, civ2buf, Unknown Enemy and Murden. Now Updated by Dogscoff and Unknown Enemy.
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This is the pre-game back story for my empire in the Xenology game on PBW.
Sensing a change in the rhythm of the craft’s grinding progress, Kleesh snapped back into wakefulness. Fragmentary remnants of dreams clung to her mind as the technician called out depth readings, and she barked him a few curt orders. Her courtiers displayed a suitable amount of awe, firstly at the level of coolness required to sleep during such a strange and unique voyage, and secondly at her immediate and absolute authority over the cowering technical functionary.
“We have broken through to the water, My Lady.” Offered the technician.
“Very well. Reverse a few lengths and open the hatch.” She felt a satisfaction that was quite unfamiliar to her: This technology had the potential to solve the overcrowding problem that had plagued her people for a dozen generations. If she could prove its usefulness she would be favoured by her people and her parents, and would almost certainly be selected as heir.
Kleesh slithered out into the darkness of the tunnel gouged into the ice sheet by the revolutionary vehicle. Below her lay a deep, warm ocean harbouring a bounty of exotic life. That ocean covered the entire planet, and it in turn was completely covered by the thick ice layer that Kleesh’s machine had just bored through. Kilometres above, beyond the uncountable tons of ancient frost that encased her, she knew there to be a frozen, thinly-atmosphered vista, lit by a distant sun and populated by only the hardiest flora and shaggiest fauna. She saw nothing irreconcilable in these two extremes, for the ice tunnels that joined these two worlds were home to her and as a princess of the KanesS, she was a mistress of all.
The technicians left the tunneller to inspect the freshly exposed waters while Kleesh’s courtiers gathered excitedly about her, chattering and competing for her favour with their frivolities. She wondered how she could so recently have considered these inane sycophants her closest friends. Although they were her contemporaries, their behaviour seemed so… juvenile. It occurred to her that the responsibilities of her birth and peculiarities of her upbringing must have matured her more quickly.
Irritated by their lack of occasion, she wrapped her tail tightly around the throat of the nearest courtier and snipped sharply at his face. He retreated, wounded and confused and Kleesh almost regretted her harshness. Her target had been Slekell, a friend since hatchling and one of the more thoughtful and tolerable individuals in her social circle. She drove all thoughts of pity out of her mind, reminding herself that the authority here was hers and that she had a duty to assert it.
Kleesh led them all towards the water, talking as she did so.
“Friends, this is a historic event. What we are about to discover may hold the key to the future of our people.”
“Really Kleesh,” piped up ZakleSs, one of the more air-headed nobles in the group, “It’s just a scavenging party, we do this all the time. You can be so melodramatic sometimes.”
Kleesh turned slowly to ZakleSs, and briefly considered tearing her throat out. She might just get away with it now, but ten generations ago it would have been expected. Five generations before that she’d have been entitled to auction off the corpse for meat. People still turned a blind eye if you ate the occasional rival or irritating neighbour, but things had changed since the old days.
“We need to find new food sources, ZakleSs, or very soon the peasants will start to starve.”
“So let them starve. I have plenty to eat.”
“Yes.” Replied Kleesh, “I know that. And so do the peasants. And that’s why, when they get hungry enough, they will come and take your food from you. Then, when they’ve taken your food they will come for you and chew you down into pellets for their hatchlings.”
It was utterly dark in the artificial cave, but each was acutely aware of the presence of the others due to a highly developed sonar sense. Therefore they were all well aware of the long glare she directed at each one in turn, hoping to drive her words home.
“The part of the ocean we will scavenge in today has never been explored before.” She said, breaking the silence at last. “This won’t be like diving for food back home. We have no idea what we’ll find down here, but you’d better hope it tastes better than you do.”
“It still seems like a lot of trouble to go to for a bunch of stupid peasants.” Whined ZakleSs. “Why can’t we just let them devour one-another? I’m sure they’d prefer it to that horrid farmed food I hear they live on. Imagine that! Having to eat something raised and killed for you on a farm! If I didn’t have scavenging rights I think I’d just die.”
Kleesh turned on her again. “We can’t let them eat each other because that’s how the Red Plague is spread, you idiot. We’d all be dead within a decade. Besides, the only way we managed to stop them feeding on one another in the first place was to tell them that killing KanesS is evil. No-one thought they’d take it so seriously. I heard yesterday that some plebs are raising entire broods to adulthood- they won’t even eat a single hatchling.”
A murmur of disgust passed through the assembled group, and for a moment Kleesh thought perhaps she had got through to them, that perhaps they realised the gravity of the situation. But then conversation turned again to idle gossip and she knew that they just wouldn’t understand. Even if it came to a civil war or popular uprising and these mindless fops found themselves at the wrong end of a tunnel-pick, they would be more confused than terrified.
But it was to be expected. Most of the old ruling class were stuck in a mindset that should have died decades ago. Kleesh was unusual in that she was one of the few enlightened individuals within the nobility that actually recognised the precarious nature of their current domination. Ironically, her superior understanding stemmed from a supposedly inferior education. With over six hundred royal offspring to raise, the current monarchs had sent some of the more difficult princes and princesses- Kleesh included- to middle-class schools. As it happens, only the industrious middle class- the social grouping immediately below the nobility- were at once educated enough and close enough to the real world to stand any chance of appreciating the true state of KanesS society. Rather than sink into a pit of shame and depression like many of her similarly exiled siblings, Kleesh had studied hard, listened carefully and learned a great deal. Now that she was an adult with a unique combination of perspective and position, she saw herself as the last chance for the survival of her society.
Once it became clear that the Red Plague was spread by cannibalism, laws and social engineering were introduced to clamp down on the practise, effectively eliminating the two biggest causes of KanesS mortality in a single stroke. The inevitable result was an immediate and dramatic population explosion.
Population density rocketed in every populated area, and with the KanesS’ reliance on carefully crafted ice-tunnels, new living space simply could not be constructed quickly enough. These crowded new conditions meant that it was no longer practical for everyone to go out and scavenge their own food- the local eco-systems simply couldn’t support it- so mass-distribution systems had to be developed practically overnight to bring in food from more remote areas. Suddenly, individuals had to actually raise currency in order to eat, and on several occasions it was only a brutal and well-disciplined military that prevented the starving masses from tearing society back down to a state of anarchy.
Fortunately, the KanesS are a resourceful people, and the middle classes capitalised on the cheap and abundant workers to provide a range of profitable solutions to the problems of the new social and economic structure. Tunnel-digging machines were a particularly successful industry, and several generations of development had led to this newest model, funded by Kleesh herself, which could breach even dense polar ice and consequently open up new areas for living space and food production. With an unregulated new economy to exploit, a vast workforce to draw from and a massive market to sell to, the highly competitive business sector made incredible technological advances in a very short time, and the KanesS raced through the industrial age in the space of just a few generations.
Of course, not everything can progress so quickly. The social structures on which KanesS society had been built since the dawn of their civilisation were hopelessly inadequate. The attitudes of the sheltered nobility were outstripped by social and economic change almost as quickly as food sources were outstripped by snowballing population growth. They held on to their power and opulent lifestyle by simple rule of force and a dangerous misconception of their own superiority. The industrialised middle classes were growing in wealth and influence, while the working classes grew in numbers and discontentment. Food levels would soon be insufficient for the planet’s population, and sooner or later the soft, ignorant nobility would find itself pushed out of the equation.
Kleesh understood all this, and that was shy she was determined to find a new source of food and ease the pressures on her crumbling society, and in so doing secure her own future as queen. With this broad agenda on her mind, she led the scavenging party into the cold, lightless polar waters.
An old bull surk limped across the ice plains, each laboured breath steaming before it in the thin atmosphere. His shaggy, blood-matted fur hid thousands of scars, most of them acquired in his prime when he had ruled this territory with absolute confidence, the most ferocious predator above the ice for a hundred kilometres. However the more significant scars, the ones causing him to limp and occasionally growl with pain, those wounds had been inflicted only recently, and they were killing him. After a reign of almost a hundred seasons, this king of the wilderness had been finally usurped. An upstart rival- younger, fitter and faster- had fought him for his lands and females and won. Now, with a painful wound to his hind midleg, he was unable to hunt and was gradually fading away, hobbling painfully to the fringes of his old territory. Finally, exhausted after days of hungry walking, the old beast lay down to rest for the last time. It would be a slow death, but at least it would be peaceful one, its life gradually ebbing away beneath the settling snow.
It was Kleesh’s keen senses that first noticed it. A whiff of blood on the wind, an intangible sense that somewhere close by, something was helpless and dying. She called Shkimsk back. The elder KanesS looked puzzled for an instant, then raised his snout into the air, scenting the wind. No further communication was necessary- the two of them and their servants lowered serpentine bodies to the ice and slithered upwind, stopping occasionally to sniff the air and confirm their direction.
It took them a considerable amount of time to find the surk, by now just a snowy mound with odd patches of exposed brown fur. They stopped some distance away to evaluate the situation.
“He’s obviously been there for some time.” Said Kleesh. “And he’s definitely wounded.”
“Yes, Princess.” Replied her companion. “That’s why we should be careful. If he’s wounded, he won’t be able to hunt down prey. He might resort to trickery to catch his food.”
“You think this could be a trap, Shkimsk? Are they really that intelligent?”
“Some of the older ones can be. One snap of those jaws and we’d both be behind his teeth.”
They watched the monster for a while, noting the shallow breathing and staying carefully downwind at all times. Eventually, they decided it was worth the risk.
Shkimsk insisted on going first, not wanting to endanger the Princess unnecessarily. He slithered cautiously toward the predator, ready to flee at any moment. He stopped, just out of the animal’s reach, taking time to study it more closely. Its eyes were half closed, glazed and insensible. A pool of spittle had formed under the massive head and the stink of death was unmistakable. Shkimsk circled the Surk, carefully selecting the safest angle of attack. This animal was hundreds of time heavier than he was. Its head alone measured a greater length than an average KanesS from nose to tail. Shkimsk struck, biting the prone animal on its foot and darting immediately away. It flinched slightly and made a small noise of discomfort.
Kleesh came quickly to his side, and they exchanged a look. They both bit at it this time, inflicting deeper and more painful wounds before springing to safety. Although the Surk stirred again, it clearly did not have the strength to resist them. Hesitating only to exchange another quick glance, they dived into the soft belly with abandon, burrowing through fur and then flesh, causing rumblings of pain from their dying victim.
When they had eaten their fill, they allowed their servants to feed and then called back to the nearest city. Such an animal could easily feed hundreds of KanesS, and a collection team would come out to haul the animal back to the tunnels. By rights, Kleesh could have kept it for herself to hold a feast for her aristocratic friends. As it happened, she didn’t like many of her aristocratic friends, so she sold it for a very reasonable sum to a distributor, who would auction shares of the carcass to the working classes.
Kleesh and Shkimsk curled up atop the beast, nestling in its thick coat and watching the stars. They had been friends ever since Kleesh had met a few of Shkimsk’s sons at school. He was more than three times her age, a successful entrepreneur and a keen investor in new technologies. He owned a number of mining operations on the sea bed, three digging firms, some farming interests and he also had a couple of theatres in Narrowhead, one of the larger urban tunnel networks. With Kleesh’s funding, it had been Shkimsk’s newly-formed research division that had developed the high-density ice-digger that had recently allowed them to explore the polar areas of the ocean. Unfortunately the yield from that venture had been slight. There was precious little food to be found there, although the ability to dig living space in the previously inaccessibly dense polar depths had at least paid for the cost of development.
“Thankyou for this opportunity, Princess.” He said, finally breaking a satisfied silence that seemed to have lasted for days. “Even a person of my wealth and influence finds it hard to get scavenging rights without help from the nobility.”
“Not at all, Shkimsk. I’d prefer the company of one worldly industrialist like you to the yammering of a dozen egotistical nobles any day. Besides, I wanted to talk to you about another business venture.” She nestled further back into the warm fur and began turning, rubbing herself against the carcass to clean the blood from her lithe body.
“Really Princess? I sincerely hope I can be of service.”
“I have a friend- well, an acquaintance really- anyway, his name is Slekell. He’s a little vain, but he can be quite interesting at times. Tell me, what do you know about astronomy?”
“Astronomy, Princess? Only that it is the study of the sky above the ice, little more. As I understand it there are no practical uses for such knowledge- it is a simple curiosity.”
“That was exactly my understanding until I began talking to Slekell a little while ago. You see, he’s interested in this astronomy business, and he gave me an idea.”
Kleesh ordered her servants to bring forward the telescope she had borrowed from Slekell. As they struggled to haul it up onto the bull surk's violated body Kleesh coiled herself into the fur again and stared ambitiously at the richly speckled sky. As she stared she talked and her companion listened intently, learning for the first time about the other worlds in their star system, the empty void between them and the possibility of the KanesS people escaping their own fragile globe.
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Originally Written by Dogscoff, civ2buf, Unknown Enemy and Murden. Now Updated by Dogscoff and Unknown Enemy.
Give them Feedback at Shrapnel Forums
Copyright © by the author, posted with permission.
Published on: 2004-04-14 (37661 reads)[ Go Back ] - [ Fan Fiction ] - [ Content Home ]