SEVEN HUNDRED WORLDS: CHAPTER ONE
Twilight was a sight to see on Bergantis.
Of all the Seven-Hundred Worlds, Bergantis always seemed to hang at just the right angle to the gas giant and the sun, just enough to catch the glimmering aurora off the surface of the swirling green and orange gasses of Jerraterrabat.
All the Worlds orbited Jerraterrabat, and Jerraterrabat orbited the sun, giving the seasons to the Worlds as it approached and retreated in its ellipse. And through it all, Bergantis would always hang just so, just right to catch those glimmering lights as the sun set over the horizon. And every night as the lights faded, Tomas Arbizu would stare out at the stars and wonder.
“Staring again?” Tomas’ brother Ricardo said as he approached. Tomas looked down at the dust where he sat. He fiddled with a stick which lay there.
“You know the Tenets,” Ricardo continued. “We’re Jodari, Tomas. We have a duty to this place. It’s the will of the gods.”
“I know the words,” Tomas replied.
“Then why do you insist on staring out there?” Ricardo said in a harsh whisper. Ricardo had a short temper. Tomas knew better than to try and fight him right now, especially after the argument they’d had at the dinner table. So instead Tomas said nothing. Ricardo sighed. With a great thud Ricardo plopped his heavy, muscular body into the dust beside the slender frame of the young Tomas.
“You think I’m a brute, don’t you?” Ricardo asked.
Again, Tomas said nothing.
“Well, I’m not. I’m a realist. The Jodari Tenets are as old as Jerraterrabat. We have a sacred duty to live here, right now, and provide for the survival of everyone else in the Seven-Hundred Worlds. We cannot forsake that heritage. It’s bigger than us.”
Still, Tomas said nothing.
“Have you been talking to those Rocket Jockeys again?” Ricardo said hotly. “They know nothing of our people. You can’t—”
“Thryll Seekers,” Tomas said.
“What?” Ricardo replied.
“They’re called Thryll Seekers.”
“Don’t romanticize them, Tomas. They may hunt the Thrylldabeasts, but just because they bring us the bodies of those space whales doesn’t mean they know anything about us, or what we are. Just mind your place, Tomas; you’ll be happier.”
Ricardo stood quickly,
wiping the wispy red dust from his trousers. The world of Bergantis was essentially one big ball of dust, dotted with the occasional mesa, shrub forest, and stream; and over it all clung the red dust. Tomas spat in the dirt, and rolled a little ball of the red dust into a bit of clay.
“Fine,” Ricardo said, kicking up dust at Tomas, “Act like you don’t hear me. But you know I’m right.”
Ricardo left, walking swiftly back to the small ranch home of their family. Tomas held up the little ball of clay, hovered it just so, and made it look to his eyes that it was their world in orbit around the mighty gas giant.
“We’re just one little red ball in a huge universe,” Tomas said to himself as he examined the ball, turning it again and again. He heaved himself from the dirt, dusted his pants, and turned to walk home.
Tomas started at the sight he found: A tall, lank Thryll Seeker, stumbling toward him from the desert. Tomas knew he was a Jockey right away; he wore a vibrant yellow Capsuit, its armored chest and shoulder plates still glowing red and steaming from rapid-atmosphere-entry.
“Tomas!” The Jockey called.
“Spence?” Tomas relpied, “Is that you?”
Spence was Tomas’ best friend. When others Tomas’ age would ridicule, Spence was always friendly. Spence’s Thryll Seeker pod traveled a lot in search of the Thrylldabeasts, and it had been nearly two months since the two had seen each other. He’d grown much taller.
“Good to see you! But no time to play games now. Your family home?”
“Good. We’ve got a Space Whale coming down right now, and there’s no time to waste. Hurry!”
Tomas leapt toward his home. He loved to see a Thryllda come down, especially after sunset. He ran like a field rat, straight for the glowing door of their ranch home. Inside he found his family: his three older brothers Ricardo, Boon, and Lucas sharpening and repairing farm tools by the fire, his two little sisters, Lillian and Phyllis mending torn clothes at the table, Don the baby tormenting the cat by mother, and his mother Zoe, reading as usual from one of her many stacks of novels.
“Thryllda coming down!” Tomas shouted from the doorway, “A Seeker is outside right now!”
Ricardo shot to action.
“Boon,” Ricardo barked, “Run and get the Blanco family. We’ll need hands. Lucas, get the Jetty and hitch the oxen, take Lil and Phyl. Tomas, come with me.”
As Ricardo shouted the orders, Zoe closed her book, picked up Don (much to his protest) and put him in a pouch sling around her chest in one quick movement. The entire family had ambulated from the home in a matter of seconds.
Ricardo ran up to the Jockey, Tomas close behind.
“Always a pleasure to see you,” Spence said as Ricardo approached.
“What’s your name?” Ricardo asked.
“Lead on, Spence,” Ricardo replied.
As Tomas ran beside Ricardo and his mother, with Spence leading the way toward where his pod of Seekers would be bringing down the beast, a spark burst in the sky. Tomas’ heart thrilled. That little spark was the smoke of entry; the sign that the Jockeys were coming in—and that a Thryllda was right behind them.
Soon the sky filled with a dozen little sparks.
“This’ll be the place,” Spence said. The area was right at the edge of Red Gorge; a terrible place to bring down a Thryllda. If the creature skid off the cliff, there’d be no way of retrieving it. Tomas wanted to protest, but before he could, Spence had called his Rocket.
The argent machine roared across the plains
with a guttural chug, straight toward Spence. He leapt onto it as if it was a galloping horse, and with the flaming roar of afterburners it took off toward the heavens and the waiting Thrylldabeast. As Spence left the planet surface, Boon came over the hill with the Blanco family and their Jetty, followed shortly after by Lucas and his. The Jetties chugged as their steam engines churned and puffed. Their rusty chain-harpoons looked like hawk talons in the light of the twin moons. Tomas found himself thinking that soon those talons would clutch the Thryllda and drag it blazing from the scorched sky.
The others were gathering and handing out cracker spears, one to each man. Zoe grabbed one too.
Tomas could see them all now—the fiery cinders of the Rocket Jockeys bursting like meteors into the Bergantian atmosphere— and right behind them the behemoth. The sky actually lighted from the fire erupting across its body.
“That’s the biggest Thryllda I’ve ever seen,” Ricardo said.
“The biggest anyone’s ever seen,” Said Mr. Blanco. His forehead bristled with sweat at the sight of the monstrous creature.
The Thryll Seekers spiraled around the beast, shooting it with their wrist-jacks—a device which launched a thin chain of magnetized metal, tipped with a barb—and pulling it more toward the area where the Jodari harvesters waited for it.
The Thryllda fought hard, jettisoning boiling gasses from its blowholes. While the gas posed a great threat in space, either by tossing nearby Thryll Seekers from their rockets, or by causing rapid temperature change to the Capsuit, once the beast hit atmosphere it became devastating. Like a series of mighty flame throwers the Thryllda sprayed the Jockeys. Some of the Rocket’s caught flame in their ramjets, and sputtered away.
As the creature came close to the ground, about thirty kilometers away, it bellowed.
“A shame,” Thought Tomas, “That these creatures never hear their own voice until they are nearing death.” He wiped the thought from his mind, and instead focused on the Tenets.
The Jodari are of ancient days, far older than the sands
And from them came the ancient ways, the devices.
Then, by the gods decree, gave them to all of Man
And resigned instead to leave men to their Vices.
Never again to sail the stars
To harvest ores and heal the scars.
As Tomas finished the last line of the First Tenet, the beast was about five hundred meters from the ground, rocketing fast toward the Red Gorge. Ricardo stood firm in its path, his eyes narrowed, and his hands clutching the cracker tightly. Everyone could hear the crackling of the fire which rushed around the Thryllda’s nose. Lucas stood at the keys of his Jetty, while Mr. Blanco stood at his. The creature was falling fast—three hundred meters, two hundred meters, one hundred!
“NOW!” Yelled Ricardo, dropping his hand in signal. The Jetties fired simultaneously—their chained hooks blasting from the steam jets. Both hooked seamlessly into the blowholes on the top ridge of the beast just as the creature slammed explosively into the dusty surface. Immediately a plume of the red dust filled the air, expanding in a huge mushroom that enveloped the entire party and effectively snuffed out the blaze of the creature and its gasses. As it bored into the dust, still headed for the cliff’s edge, the Jetties dragged behind it like anchors. The wheels creaked, but held firm against the straining monster hooked on the lines.
The maelstrom was over; the Thrylldabeast was grounded.
As the Rocket Jockeys came down and landed, the air filled with their hoots and hollers; they joined in their clan chant, clasped hands and knocked helmets in jovial displays. The Jodari, as was their way, made no such shows; their job had only just begun. Both families surrounded the beast, each person with cracker in hand. They formed a tight circle, each clapping their cracker to the one of the man or woman beside them, and recited the First Tenet. When spoken aloud it was melodious, soft, wistful. The Jockeys quieted as the Jodari’s sang the Tenet. When they had finished, Zoe struck first.
The beast’s iron hide
cracked as she hit it. A blast of hydrogen exploded from the hole. The smell was pungent, like the smell of overcooked pork. Ricardo and Mr. Blanco hooked their crackers in the fresh hole, and pulled. The hide split perfectly along its topside seam, and out rushed more gasses, probably chlorine from the yellow-green color. Everyone pulled a rag over their faces like clockwork; the hazards of Thryllda harvesting were no new experience for any one of them.
There inside the Thryllda’s glistening carcass were the prizes they all wanted: ribs of aluminum, scales of tungsten, nerves of silicon and gold, all coated with ice, a most precious resource. And the gas bladders—hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, each noble gas in turn, and helium. Each sac was bloated with gasses, and only a Jodari knew how to harvest them, and which sac contained which gas.
After many hours of harvesting and refining in the quickly made sand kilns, the massive beast was reduced to little more than a crater in which the rich blood of the beast had begun to absorb into the dust. Soon it would begin to sprout new plants from the incredibly fertile substance.
Every piece of the Thryllda was harvested and neatly smelted into bricks, which steamed in the red dust channels which had been carved just for that purpose. The smell of hot metal filled every pore of Tomas’ body.
Then began the trade-bartering. As Ricardo and Mr. Blanco argued with the Jockey chieftain, Spence and Tomas talked.
“How are your projects?” Spence said quietly.
Tomas looked around to see no one was close.
“Doing well,” Tomas said.
“You’ll have to show me when you’re done. Let me know if you want any more lessons. You’re too smart to be just a farmer, you know.”
Tomas smiled, but when he realized that Ricardo was looking at him, the smile faded. He went back to work.
As the trade haggling continued with the Jockeys, Tomas walked up and down the smelting channels, collecting the drops of slag into a Thryllda skin pouch.
“What are you doing, Tomas?” Zoe asked, walking up beside him, cradling little Don as he slept against her breast.
“Waste not?” Tomas replied with a smile. She smiled in return, rustling his hair with her free hand.
“You’re just like your father, you know,” Zoe said. Tomas’ smile faded. Tomas loved his father; but the man had disappeared a little over a year ago. No warning. No messages. No word, for over a year.
To Be Continued…