Žára (Honor)

It was late at night, and I could tell Odja Gateš was tired.  The children had long since been chivvied off to bed and the tent was quiet except for a few hushed conversations and the soft clatter of the last nyakadj cups being washed.

I looked at Gateš and asked, “And after that?”

“After that, what?”  Gateš replied.

“After the clans escaped, what happened?”

Gateš shrugged.  “They found a place to live.  For a while.”

“A happy ending?”  I asked.

Gateš barked a short, quiet laugh.  “The thing about stories, Djedi, is that they never really end.  When we tell a story, we pick a place to start, and a place to stop, but the story itself is endless.”

“So they found New K’mora?”

“No, they found a place to call home.”  Gateš sighed.  “You, Djedi, are worse than the children.”

But Ódja was smiling, so I took it as a compliment.

Toča Šandja Šivak av Inadji stood on the mountaintop.  A warm dry wind brought the pungent scent of young Otača trees and ruffled Šandja’s ebony mane.  No one alive had ever actually seen K’mora, but looking at the vast expanse of desert that spread out in every direction, Šandja thought that here was a vista that made real the descriptions in the Book of K’mora.  That book, the first of the O’kekin, or “great books”, had described vast, sand filled valleys between rugged mountain ridges and a sky with two suns, one blue and one red.  Well, this planet may not have a second, red sun, but it had a pale blue one.  Seven long years the Anyuvin had wandered from system to system until they had found a planet that spoke to them.  And this one had spoken so loudly that most had lobbied for transplanting the native K’moran species to this new world and calling it home.  And the Vokethal, the council of clan leaders, had agreed.

From where Šandja stood the dark green of the plants around the closer šigarin was clearly visible, and if some of those oases were fed by drilled wells, it did not seem to matter.  The plants and animals that had survived centuries aboard the colony ships took to their new home with a vengeance.  The šigarin were lush with wildlife, thriving in the light of the sun their new world orbited.  It was true, the Ašakan trees would be generations growing to their full height, but they were already bigger than any the Anyuvin had seen since the clans were ripped from their home world.  Šandja had been down to see them, visiting  one of Mora Šivak’s offspring who had married into a family living down on the Sands.  It had felt glorious to move about under the trees and to smell green growing things without the flat smell of recycled air in the background.  Being planet bound,  Šandja thought, has it’s delights.

Finally, after decades of single minded effort, there were families moving from šigari to šigari,  practicing the ancient skills and acquiring new ones as they moved their narašo herds about.  The robe Šandja wore was woven of narašo wool from herds on this planet.  It had been hard, learning how to survive in a desert environment again, but the Anyuvin were nothing, if not survivors.

Šandja shifted uncomfortably as per hip started to hurt again.  It had been a long walk up to the park, and age demanded it’s due, so Šandja settled gratefully onto the nearest of the benches.  I am getting old, evadju, and I do not think it will be long before I join you.

Šandja looked at the speckled grey stone they had placed here for Kethovi.  Kanya had found a massive slab of granite and had carved Kethovi’s carivek into it.  Not your best poem, evadju, but it will live on until the winds wear this stone away.  Šandja remembered the memorial ceremony as if it were yesterday, even though many decades had passed since then.  What had once been a deserted mountaintop was now the center of a park, that was in the center of Inadji, one of the first cities built on the planet Kethovi.  And Inadji was home to Var Inadji, the clan that held Mora Šivak, Mora Tomkotse, Mora Djatov, and all the other families that had flown on the Inadji, the flagship of the Anyuvin fleet under the Čiruk.  The park occupied the highest point on the mountain, and, from where Kethovi’s stone lay, no part of the city blocked one’s view of the world the Anyuvin had claimed as their own.

And how do you like that, evadju? Šandja thought.  I know you would never have allowed it if you’d lived, but you didn’t, did you?  And now you have no choice.  Here you are at the center of everything and they even named the planet after you.

Kethovi had told the Anyuvin to search for a new home world and had suggested the name “New K’mora”, but the clan leaders had decided otherwise.  Oh, they had looked for, and found, a planet that fit, as close as possible, the descriptions in the Book of K’mora, but it would never be K’mora and they had no intention of pretending it was.  They had chosen, instead, to honor the leader who had bought their freedom from the Čiruk at a great price. And I argued for stones for all the others.  Šandja thought, as I know you would have.  Several thousand stones lined the paths through the park, each with a name engraved.  The survivors would not forget those who had bought them this priceless new life.

We have changed so much,  Šandja thought.  We have become something our ancestors could never have dreamed of.  So, I wonder, evadju, are you really there in the Great Tent?  Or have we all become so alien to the Ancestors that you walk the Sands alone?  What have all those centuries under the Čiruk done to us?  And what is this new freedom doing to us now?

It was noon now, but, in the evening, from where Šandja sat, one could could see the signs that showed how the Anyuvin race had gone down three different paths.  Just after sundown, the orbital stations glowed like large stars that moved with stately grace across the night sky.  Once the colony ships had been emptied, one had become the assembly hall for the Vokethal, some of them had become home to the fledgling Anyuvin Navy and the rest had been towed out to the asteroid belt where Anyuvin industry was beginning to thrive.  And how lucky for the planet, Šandja thought, that our fleet was better adapted to exploiting space borne resources.

Below, on the desert, the campfires of the Nyatevanin, those who had decided to return to the traditional ways, were sometimes visible.  Down on the Sands they still worked wood and glass and metal by paw.  Šandja touched the carimeza that hung around per neck.  Kethovi’s ancient spirit-glass held a place of honor in the family’s ikaničebi, together with other mementos of the departed, but, in the market square, Šandja had found a Nyatevana artisan skilled enough to copy it.  And while I would not wish to live as they do, I treasure the link to the past that they give us.

And in between those two groups, were the first Anyuvin to live in cities.  High atop the mountains and plateaus that rose up from the desert floor, some of the clans had started building.  Stone was the preferred material.  It was like watching the mountain reshape itself,  Šandja thought.  As if it wanted to become a city.   A city designed for walking, but with streets broad enough that air-cars could land in them if need be, though most of the family compounds had a landing pad of their own as well as shelters for their air-cars.

Inadji had schools, libraries and a hospital.  There were shops and restaurants in the Market District where Šandja loved to wander.  And Varši had lived long enough to see the first edjora built on Kethovi.  Mora Djatov had lived in tents for years, putting the building of their own compound aside to build what was, still, the largest Djoncari school on the planet.   The main practice floor was the size of a Ridjun field and there were alcoves all around it for individual practice and lessons.  From where Šandja sat,  the top of the main hall was clearly visible, as was the djatov atop it, an iron bird rising from copper flames that glowed in the sun.

And would you have thought, evadju, that Kanya would come to be that school’s ‘radjo?   I worried for that one after you died, Kanya was so quiet – had lost so much of that fearlessness that made that one such a pleasure.  Šandja barked a quiet laugh.  And such trouble.  Do you remember the onyova?  The tent floor was sticky for days!

Kanya had married into Mora Djatov soon after Landing.  Younger than Šandja would have liked, but after their escape from the Čiruk, Varši had come to visit Mora Šivak as Djatov’thal.  Kanya had followed Varši around like an oce pup.  After many weeks, Kanya had finally convinced Šandja to take per down to the Šhivak’s edjora.  Varši was reluctant to take on one so young, but something in Kanya’s eyes must have changed the per mind.  They had stared at each other for a long time.  In the end, Varši had agreed and Kanya soon become the old Djoncari master’s prize student.  Despite Kethovi’s fears, Varši had lived many years more, long enough to see Kanya become per equal.  Now Kanya wore the black cords of a Djoncari master and sat on the same mat, (albeit, many times repaired,) from which Varši had spent so many years watching over classes.  There are some who say it’s as if Varši had never left.

“Odja.”  Kešen’s voice was soft, but it still surprised Šandja.  Am I that old?  Or is Kešen really that good?

“You move quietly, čaban.  How long have you been there?”

“A while,” Kešen replied, “I did not wish to disturb you, Odja.”

Šandja rose and turned to face one’s grandchild.  “No, you thought it wiser to startle me out of what little time I have left in this world.”

Kešen barked in amusement.  “You are not dead yet, Odja.”

Kešen had the reddish fur of the Vanda people, with pale yellow stripes, a blood red mane and gray eyes.  After so many generations, it was odd to find someone whose appearance was so close to one of the original Anyuvin races, but Kešen’s was.  Šandja sometimes wondered if Kešen had been so readily accepted into Mora Šivak simply for that one’s exotic look.  A smile crossed Šandja’s face.  No, it was only because Kešen is such a delight, Šandja thought, but it will be interesting to see what per offspring look like.

“It is time, I take it?”  Šandja asked.

Kešen nodded.  “The ‘thalin gather as we speak.  You must decide what answer Var Inadji will give in the Vokethal.”

Šandja nodded.  “Cavi.  Although I am not sure I know what is right.”

“Šivak Kanya Djatov av Inadji.  Djatov’thal.”

Čadin, the clan’s anzenyara, called out Kanya’s name and title as per walked past the massive wooden doors and entered the council hall.  Šandja remained seated on a bench.  There were still others milling around the lobby, waiting to be announced and, as Inadji’thal, the elected leader of the Inadji clan, it was Šandja’s place to come in last.  Contemplating the question Šandja must put before the council helped to pass the time.

As Inadji’thal, Šandja had a seat in the Vokethal, the gathering of all the clan leaders, and it was per place to bring questions raised there back to the clan for discussion.  This latest had come as both a surprise and a shock.  And, if the rumors Šandja had heard were true, if the Dj’Ošo, the Vokethal’s eight member executive council, really wanted to elect a single military leader, then the Anyuvin race might be at yet another turning point.

Šandja had hoped to find some inspiration at Kethovi’s stone, but none had come.  Of late, my mind runs more to reminiscence than deliberation.  Šandja thought.  Perhaps I should step down. Then again, people still see me as the voice of Kethovi.  If your feelings are to be considered, evadju, it appears they must come from my mouth.  I hope you approve.

“Ašakan Marane Tomkoce av Inadji.  Tomkoce’thal.”

Šandja rose stiffly from the bench as the last, and eldest, of the family ‘thalin entered the hall.  And what happens when my voice is silenced by death?  Šandja thought, walking toward the door to the amphitheater shaped room where the council met.  Oh, evadju, what will they make of you then?  What will they make of  the clans?

Šandja stood in the doorway until Čadin, the clan’s anzenyara, was satisfied that everyone was present and attentive.  Finally, per nodded and Šandja entered, followed closely by Kešen.

“Toča Šandja Šivak av Inadji.  Šivak’thal.  Inadji’thal.”

The ‘thalin rose as Šandja entered and walked toward the stool on the dais, but Šandja gestured for them to sit.  “Some of you are as old as I, rest yourselves.  I plan to.”

The ‘thalin laughed quietly.  Some disliked Šandja’s informal way of running the clan council meetings, but Šandja’s easy manner suited most and the rest usually settled for simply grumbling in a good natured way.  Kešen moved to the small desk behind Šandja’s stool and waited, as the ‘thalin did, for Šandja to be seated before sitting perself.  “You are a stubborn bunch,” Šandja said and, once the quiet laughter had subsided, Šandja opened with the topic that had brought them all together.  No point in small talk, Šandja thought.

“To say that what I must put before you disturbs me, would be an understatement.  Some in the Vokethal, have suggested that all the clans and families be organized into a single military structure.  As Kethovi did, they worry about what will happen if another race intrudes upon our space with hostile intent.”

As Šandja had expected there was an immediate outburst.  Šandja waited a moment and, when it subsided, silenced the remaining voices with a raised paw.

“Then there are those in the Vokethal who see that as a return to the slavery from which Kethovi released us.  Both points have some merit, but I suspect the answer will be found, as answers so often are, somewhere in the middle.  That, I hope, is what we will do today.”

The faces surrounding Šandja were grim as per nodded to the clan herald, “Čadin, you may call upon those who wish to speak.”

The tall Anyuvin standing on the dias with Šandja had fur so dark that one could barely make out that one’s stripes.  Čadin looked about the hall, making note of those whose paws were raised and, finally, pointed.  “Djatov’thal”.

Kanya stood and looked about the hall.  “Perhaps I worship my otanya more than most,” per said, pausing while the others acknowledged Kanya’s relationship to Kethovi.  “But I think per had the truth of it.  I believe we will – one day – face another empire bent on enslaving us.  It is almost inevitable.  We…”

“You would have us jump at shadows?”  One of the ‘thalin shouted and others joined in.  Another, “You assume they will be hostile?”

“Etamedo!”  Čadin said, in a deep voice that stopped the interruption in its tracks.  Patience.

“The Šavor,”  Kanya continued, “stand between us and our old masters the Čiruk, yet those monsters are still but a dozen portals away.  And who knows what lies in other directions?  Even after all this time, we are barely a million.  Our navy has but 10,000 or so and nothing that is much better than a gunship.”  Again Kanya paused.  “Yet.”

“It has taken us decades to understand the technology of the Čiruk to the point where we can reproduce it, but now the beginnings of a true navy sits in the orbital docks.  Yet who will crew those ships?  Most of those trained by the Čiruk are too old to serve except as teachers.  And what of our new home?  If others invade, as the Čiruk did, will we fight them on ašo-back?  Will it be lances against lasers again?  Because without trained troops and modern weapons, that is what it will be.”

Kanya paused, looking around, gauging the faces of the ‘thalin.  “I also think the Vokethal’s suggestion goes too far, but if we do not build the military strength to protect ourselves, the sacrifice of those who stayed behind to cover our escape may prove to have been in vain.  If we cannot agree with the Vokethal, then we must come up with an alternative.  Mora Djatov stands with those who feel the clans should decide for themselves, whether or not to serve.  That being said, Mora Djatov would serve with the ground forces.”

Of course they would, Šandja thought as Kanya sat down.  Mora Djatov have been the keepers of Djoncari since before the Čiruk invaded and their adherence to the O’djorin is unshakable.  Šandja sighed, and Mora Šivak  will likely vote for joining the navy, if only to honor Kethovi.

Čadin looked around the hall and pointed again.  “Tomkoce’thal.”

Odja Marane, leaning heavily on a cane, rose to speak.  Old as Marane was, per voice could still be heard across the hall.  “Djanza, may per dwell in the Great Tent, was my djondji and my šovo‘thal.  I know per felt the clans should each decide how to live for themselves.  I think perhaps, each family should.  I know there are families in our clan that would prefer to build our world, rather than prepare for it’s possible attack.”

“Mora Tomkoce has not yet held it’s final council on this matter, but it is likely we will choose to serve, though – if I have any say,”  and here, Marane looked at Kanya, “it will not be with the ground forces.”  Kanya smiled and Marane barked a quiet laugh.  “Perhaps they can find a nice zero-G classroom for me to teach in.  These old bones could use the rest.”

And Marane calls upon Djanza’s name, Šandja thought, as the ‘thalin laughed with Marane.  Those two were inseparable in so many ways.  As spouses and as commander and subordinate.  I am surprised Djanza managed to convince Marane to leave with the rest of us.  I wonder what Djanza said to Marane?  And, again, Šandja sighed,  probably much the same thing that Kethovi said to me – one of us must live.

“And yet,” Marane went on when the laughter faded, “I agree – the Vokethal goes too far if it thinks it can strip freedom from us as if it were a tattered robe.  There is a difference between service freely given and that which is taken by force.”  A polite rumble of agreement crossed the hall.

“Further, there is another matter to consider, and that is how to support this new military force.  Those who serve cannot dine on honor, nor will courage protect them from the sun.  How much will those who choose not to serve owe those who do?  And who will decide that?  The Vokethal?  I fear my faith in them is somewhat shaken.”

As Marane sat, others clamored for attention, but Čadin had long since selected the order in which per intended to call speakers.  “Ašakan’thal.”

Vakim spoke slowly, not bothering to rise from the bench that one occupied.  “I do not doubt that there are races out there as imperious as the Čiruk, and I stand with my karanye, Marane, in opposing the Vokethal’s plan.  But, for my part, it is because I cannot see the sense in diverting valuable resources to a military we might need when we are still trying to build the world we will need, while we are still trying to recover as a race.  What’s more, I fear for those clans, or families, who chose not to serve.  Once the military has the force required to defend us, who will defend us from them?  If they…”

Again a wave of angry outbursts swept the room and even Čadin’s strong voice was drowned out until per finally shouted, “M’tok!”  Stop.

Šandja put per paw on Čadin’s arm and rose to speak.

“We are all old enough to have served.”  Šandja said, rolling up the sleeve of per robe to show those assembled an arm and the jagged scar that cut through the fur from wrist to bicep.  “I have stood my station in battle.  I have watched friends and family die. I know what honor is and I know that – even if my heart turned toward such arrogance – my honor would never allow me to take advantage of others in such a way.”

Vakim waved Šandja’s comments aside.  “You, Šandja?  Your honor is beyond question.  You I would trust with my life.  You do not have to show me the scar – I carried you from the gun mount that day, or have you forgotten?”

Šandja shook per head, “I have not forgotten.”

Vakim then turned to wave at those around the hall.  “These?  Most of them I know well enough to trust.  But we – as a people – are changing in ways we could not even imagine when we came to this world.  Who knows what will live in the hearts of those who come after us?  Even now, how many still adhere to the O’djorin?  How many more will drift away as generations pass?”

Šandja shrugged.  “No one can tell what the future holds, Vakim, that much is true.”

Vakim nodded, then continued.  “I must confess that, like Marane, my faith in the Vokethal is shaken.  No, let us be honest.  We know where this idea comes from – the Dj’Ošo!  I sense, in their actions, a growing fear.  And what they fear, I believe, is change.  The change we all see around us.  They would return us to the same kind of slavery the Čiruk imposed – not because it is necessary – but simply because it is more familiar.  They seek to control change, which can not be done.”

Vakim stopped for a moment, then went on.  “I, too, fear for the future, but more so if the Dj’Ošo have their way.  Even if the clans are allowed to chose, there is one thing we must keep in mind: if the Vokethal controls the military, then whoever controls the Vokethal controls us all – and we all know who controls the Vokethal.”  The last came out in a thunderous roar.

The outburst that followed lasted for quite a while, and it was a long time before Čadin and Šandja got things back under control.  And so it went – calm discussion punctuated by angry outbursts that seemed to get worse as the afternoon progressed.  On and on it continued until finally Šandja called a halt to it.

“We all have families to return to.  I will call another meeting when I have had a chance to consider what I’ve heard.  I suggest we all give this matter the deliberation it deserves.  One thing is clear to me – this is not a moment for the faint of heart.  We are deciding the future of our race. ”

Šandja sat by the fire bowl in the center of the common area.  Of all the things that had happened when they left the ships, what per loved the most was the return of fire bowls to the family common areas in Inadji.  The Nyatevanin had quickly discovered that tents get cold at night and had brought back the old cast iron fire bowl.  These had found their way into the houses of the city dwellers.  True, they sat under vents that funneled the smoke out through the roof and most of the city families weren’t burning ašo dung, but the flames held a special place in Šandja’s heart.  It was amazing how easily per could get lost in the flickering light and, sometimes, that was precisely what per needed.

Tonight, however, Šandja was deep in thought.  That one had figured the clan’s ‘thalin to reject the Dj’Ošo’s plan – and was quite prepared to count on the other clans to do the same.  The Nyatevanin would never leave the desert and there would be a brutal, if somewhat short, war if the Vokethal tried to make them.  Too many families in the city clans had found other things to do and would be loath to give them up.  Or have them put to uses they had never intended.

What bothered Šandja the most, however, was the rumor that the Dj’Ošo wanted to elect an Ankora’thal – a “military leader”.  In the old days, on K’mora, there were occasional wars – the Pašav and Mōjari peoples were particularly prone to fighting and it was not unknown for them to elect a single leader in time of war, but in times of peace the clans preferred a somewhat looser organization.

But to unite the entire Anyuvin race under one leader?  Given that there wasn’t likely to be a war any time soon, Šandja found the idea very disturbing.  The Anyuvin had a tendency to keep things “in the family”, and if this was, effectively, a permanent position, one family – or one clan, at the very least – would likely hold the position for a very long time.   Given the outrage over the Vokethal’s public proposal, Šandja was glad not to have mentioned that little gem in council.

This evening’s family council had gone pretty much as Šandja had expected, although Mora Šivak had decided to serve along side Mora Djatov in the ground forces.  Well, our families have always been close, Šandja thought.

In many ways, Mora Šivak’s decision made Šandja feel better.  Per could not shake the feeling that this was all a bad idea, but if per could plant the seeds of caution where they would grow.  If per could somehow insure that honor, rather than power, was the foundation of the military – true honor – then perhaps any attempt by the Dj’Ošo to misuse the power of the military, would be doomed.  And per knew both Mora Djatov and Mora Shivak would cleave to honor.   Still, the uneasy feeling would not subside.

It was that phrase of Vakim’s: “if the Vokethal controls the military, then whoever controls the Vokethal controls us all – and we all know who controls the Vokethal.”  It almost sounded too pat, like nothing more than a bit of fancy word smithing, but that rumor…

The Dj’Ošo, in Šandja’s opinion, already held too much power.  Make one of them Korath’thal – and it would be one of them – and it would mark the beginning of a dynasty that could stretch out for centuries.  The first few might be elected by the clan ‘thalin, but sooner or later politics would see to it that the Vokethal became little more than a rubber stamp.  If that was not to be the case, then something would have to keep the military in line.

Šandja could think of only one thing that might do that.  The chill of camadjana passed through Šandja’s body.  Suddenly, every moment that per could spend looking about was precious.  The fire bowl, the ikaničebi that would, if the premonition was correct, soon hold some memento of perself.

I must tell Kanya, Šandja thought.  Per must be prepared.

Šandja woke up feeling much more calm and, after the morning meal, walked the half mile from Mora Šivak’s compound to the Djatov edjora.  A student at the door, pointed to the entrance of the practice hall.

“But Kanya’radjo is leading class at the moment,” per said, bowing deeply.

“And you are?”  Šandja asked.

“Dzakal, Inadji’thal.”

“I will be most quiet, Dzakal” Šandja assured per.  Dzakal looked of two minds, but could not find it in perself to stop someone so important.  Šandja walked over to the practice hall door.  Behind it, Šandja could hear Kanya’s voice, clearly calling out the cadence of an exercise.  When it stopped, Šandja opened the door and slipped quietly into the hall.

All around the edge of the practice hall, students had left bundles and packs holding their street clothes – and in more than a few cases, military uniforms.  Šandja slipped quietly out of per own sandals and bowed to the shrine at the head of the practice hall, then moved along one side to get a better view of the students in the class.  Already, Šandja could see how many of the students had the close cropped manes that marked those who served in space.  By Šandja’s count, almost half the class was already part of the Anyuvin Military.

“Ri never stops,” Kanya was telling the students.  “It flows in and out of each and every one of you.  Stillness is its enemy – and yours.  You must always be moving or you will lose touch with the flow of the Ri.  For now, that movement must be purely physical or purely mental.  If you think, you will disrupt the flow of Ri through your body and your movements will be clumsy.  If you move while thinking, it will distract your mind and your thoughts will wander away from the task at paw.”

“This is the truth of it until you reach Dašari.  In time, thought and movement will become independent.  Your body will not listen to your thoughts, but simply be aware of them and react instinctively to them as it would to any of the senses.  Likewise, the mind will trust the body to know how to move and will not be distracted by it as the mind assesses the situation.  Dashari is this state of independence and awareness that unites mind and body into one entity with one purpose.”

“The drills we do teach the body how to move.  Modjun is how we associate those moves with the moves our opponent is making so that our bodies instinctively choose the appropriate counter.  It is how the body learns to recognize an opening and make the correct attack.  You must start by silencing the mind and letting the body and senses interact on their own.  To let the body learn how to follow the flow of Ri – in itself and your opponent.”

Kanya paused for a moment and Šandja could see that per eyes scanning the ranks for any student that looked as if they might have a question, then continued.

“Madjala, please go to the back and teach the beginners.  The rest of you find a partner.  Begin when you are ready.”

The students bowed in perfect unison as Kanya walked around the practice floor to where Šandja stood watching.

“You are welcome here, Odja,” Kanya began, “but it has been a while.  Shall I assume you came to visit Djatov’thal, rather than your ražan?”

“No,” Šandja began, “I came to talk to Kanya’radjo.”

Kanya’s head canted to one side, one eyebrow raised, and Šandja smiled.

“I hear Kešen is one of your students,” Šandja said.  “Per does well?”

Kanya smiled.  “Yes, quite well.  Per moves like an okume.”

“I know.”  Šandja said, smiling oneself at the comparison.  The okume was an arboreal predator that moved with amazing grace and silence.

“And Kešen spoke most eloquently in the family council.”  Šandja continued.  “However quietly per moves, Kešen is not shy.”

“Čavi, I remember per as a child.”  Kanya said, “and I was overjoyed when Kešen came here to study.  Per has taken to the O’djorin, like a kikonye to tubers.”

“I’m glad,” Šandja said.  “When I’m gone…”

“Odja!”

“Yes, I know, I’m not dead yet.”  Šandja rolled per eyes.  “I do wish people would stop saying that.  But when that time does come, look after Kešen.  And the rest of Var Inadji.”

“Odja?”

Šandja sighed.  “I do not think that Var Inadji will support the Dj’Ošo’s proposal.  And I think that the vote in the Vokethal will go against it, but I also think that enough families will join the military to give the Dj’Ošo more power than I would like to see it have.”

“If we adhere to the O’djorin…” Kanya began, but Šandja raised a paw.

“I know what you will say – and I agree – but who says the military will be allowed to do so?  And you cannot be naive enough to believe that the Dj’Ošo could not twist the O’djorin to their own purposes?”

Kanya’s jaws were clenched as per stared and Šandja could almost see the arguments running through Kanya’s mind.  If Mora Djatov had a failing, it was their belief that the O’djorin were somehow immutable, but Kanya was wise enough to know better.  After a moment Kanya took a deep breath and sighed.  “Cavi, Odja.”

“This is why I ask you to look after the clan,”  Šandja said.  “Especially those families that chose to serve.  Most of them, at least those I know, have done so because they believe in the O’djorin.  But they are a mere pawful.  And I do not know what the Dj’Ošo have made of those families who have served since Landing.”

Šandja took Kanya by the arm.  “Perhaps you should meet with the ‘thalin of these other families.  If you could discuss your concerns with them – decide for yourselves what it means to serve – if you could present a united front to the Dj’Ošo, then perhaps the military can abide by the O’djorin.  And if those families don’t have enough dedication to the O’djorin, then perhaps this is a bad idea.”

“Why would they listen to me?”  Kanya asked.

“Because they already trust your judgement, ražan,” Šandja replied.  “And because, unless they are all liars and scoundrels, the clan council will elect you Inadji’thal when I am gone.

The Vokethal chamber was huge, filling what once had been the main cargo bay on the colony ship.  Over the decades, the Vokethal chambers had become more rich, with dark wooden railings marking off the different clan areas and each clan had brought up furniture to suit it’s own taste.  Var Inadji favored simple Ašakan wood, the only decoration being an Otača and Adjidzan wood Inadji inlet into the top.  The artisan had chosen different hues of the red Otača wood to bring out the shape of the Inadji, and the pure white Adjidzan wood for the plume of frost from it’s mouth.

The debate had gone pretty much as Šandja had predicted – the resistance of the clans was greater than the Dj’Ošo had expected and their frustration had been obvious.  When those eight clan leaders had finally adjourned the session for the mid-day break, their faces could barely hide their anger.

Šandja had to admit that there was a certain satisfaction in that.  The notion of one of the Dj’Ošo controlling the lives of every Anyuvin was frightening.  And yet, if even ten percent chose to serve, that would amount to 100,000 troops – more than enough to command the obedience of the clans, even if their greater scheme failed.

“Inadji’thal.”  Šandja turned to find a young Anyuvin standing just outside the railing around the area reserved for the Inadji clan.

“Yes?”

“The executive council invite you to eat with them.”

Šandja was pretty sure that this meal would include either a threat or a bribe – possibly both.  Neither was going to work, but refusing the invitation would only anger the Dj’Ošo more.  Šandja nodded to the messenger and looked at Kešen with a raised eyebrow.  Kešen shrugged and Šandja stepped through the small gate in the railing, following the messenger to the Dj’Ošo chambers.

If the Vokethal had developed a richness over the decades, the Dj’Ošo chambers extended well in the direction of opulence and it was hard for Šandja to hide per disapproval.  A table of Ošikan, “night wood”, held enough food, it seemed, to feed the entire Vokethal, its intricate knot work of inlaid copper showing only briefly between the platters of food.  A tall Anyuvin, pale furred with red stripes approached Šandja.  There was no mistaking the ‘thal of Var Čikad.

“Inadji’thal!” Noda Ikimi Kanažo av Čikad’s voice sounded warm and friendly, but Šandja did not trust it.  “Please, may I call you Šandja?  It would be an honor.”

“Čikad’thal.  Of course, if I may call you Ikimi.  And I am honored by your invitation,” Šandja said with what per figured was the same level of sincerity.

Ikimi ushered Šandja to a small table.   Two other members of the executive council were already seated there – the rest of the council and their assistants being spread out among the other small tables.  Šandja recognized Nažet, who was Kočarece’thal, and likely the least powerful of the eight member executive council.  The other, Ikimi introduced as Lakaš, Koragače’thal.  The dishes served were heavily spiced, something Šandja was not particularly fond of, but whoever the cook was, per had skillfully balanced the flavors of the spices and Šandja could appreciate that.  The conversation over the meal was also pleasant enough – Ikimi  and the others steered it well clear of the debate in the Vokethal – but Šandja knew it was only a matter of time before the subject was raised.  And so it was.

“Let me show you the view from our observation room,” Ikimi said, toward the end of the meal.  “I for one would like to walk around a bit before the nyakadj is served.  I think you’ll like our nykadj,”  per said, taking Šandja by the arm.  “The Nyatevanin of our clan grow it in a small sigari just outside Čikad city…”

Ikimi nattered on as the two of them walked across the room and through a hatchway skillfully disguised as a wooden arch.  As they passed through, Šandja spotted the hatch itself, and was surprised to see – not regular steel, but the dull grey-green of armor plate.  It would not surprise me, Šandja thought, if the entire chamber was armored.  That must have required an enormous amount of re-engineering, as the colony ships were not, as a rule, very heavily armored.  Someone, Šandja decided, is worried about being attacked.

The view was, as promised, spectacular.  The ship’s orbit currently had the sun behind them and Šandja could clearly see the dark massifs that broke up the brightness of the Sands.

“Your djondji bought us this freedom,”  Ikimi said, finally.  “I wish I could thank per myself.  Alas, all I can do is try to preserve what per has given to us.”

Šandja turned to face Ikimi.  “That is all any of us can do, Ikimi.  And I agree that we need a military – certainly more than the small number of units we currently have.  But, by my count, a full fifteen percent of our people have chosen to serve.  Do you not think that is enough?”

“Under the Čiruk we all served.  Kethovi was your djondji.  Surely that one told you how each battle went.  How many would we have lost if we’d had fewer warriors?  If a single Čiruk fleet were to get past the Šavor, our forces would be gone in a heartbeat.”

“Cavi.  More so than I’d like to think about,” Šandja began, “but only for now.  As our numbers grow, so will our military.”

Ikimi’s head shook slowly.  “But it is now that I worry about.  Perhaps, in time, we could relax that, but…”

“Let us be honest, Ikimi,”  Šandja said firmly.  “That day would never come and we both know it.  Kethovi – and all those others – bought our freedom with their lives.  I will not waste my djondji’s sacrifice by throwing my clan’s freedom away.”

“It need not be that bad,” Ikimi said, a sly smile on per face, even as the ears folded back.  “The next election cycle is coming up and I fear that Var Kočarece is no longer as strong as it was.  They have made enemies in the Vokethal and will likely lose their seat on the council.  There are many of us who would be pleased to see Var Inadji on the council.  Especially someone of Mora Šivak.”

There is was.  Šandja wondered if Nažet knew per clan was being sold out, but  it did not matter.  What had been, until now, simply a possibility was now a reality and Šandja’s stomach fell with the realization of what per was committing per clan to.  The council would not forgive Var Inadji’s opposition to their plan.  Šandja had the respect of many, not just as a member of Mora Šivak, Kethovi’s family, but as a ‘thal in per own right.  Šandja’s speeches in the Vokethal met with silent attention, for the most part, and per words carried weight.  Yet, if they do not also carry honor…

“I appreciate the meal.  And the view is lovely, but I am afraid that is not enough to sway me.  I will support a build-up of the military, but no more.  Var Inadji will not surrender it’s freedom.”

Šandja watched Ikimi’s eyes harden, even as the smile froze on per face.

“I did not really think to sway you, Šandja, but the others thought it worth trying.”

Ikimi waved Šandja back toward the chambers.  “And I’m glad you like the meal.  Let us go finish it.”

Šandja leaned against the window as the shuttle dropped toward the planet.  For a moment, as the shuttle banked, Šandja could see the massif on which the city of Inadji sat, a brown and tan plateau criss-crossed by the lines of streets, the single, central hill darker with the vegetation of the park where Kethovi’s stone sat.  Kešen sat in the aisle seat, going over some notes.

The vote in the Vokethal had gone against the Dj’Ošo, as Šandja had anticipated, so there was that to be proud of.  What the clan council would think of Ikimi’s offer – and Šandja’s refusal – was anyone’s guess, but Šandja felt sure they would support the decision.

The tiredness, that had started while they waited for the shuttle to launch, grew and there was a sharp pain in Šandja’s stomach.  A small moan escaped before per could stop it.

“Are you alright, djaba?”  Kešen asked.

“Yes, čezu, I’m fine.  Just tired.  And my stomach hurts some.”  Šandja barked a quiet laugh.  “The Dj’Ošo eat richer food than I am used to.”

Kešen frowned, but Šandja patted per paw and said, “It is nothing.  I’m sure it is nothing more than a long day and old age.”

Which, Šandja suddenly realized, was not the truth.  Per mind ran back over the events in the Dj’Ošo’s chambers.  When Šandja had refused the Dj’Ošo’s ‘generous’ offer, what had happened next?  Šandja had returned to the table, to the meal that had been left behind when Ikimi had taken Šandja aside and offered Var Inadji a place in the Dj’Ošo.  When Šandja refused, had Ikimi given some signal?  Or had Nažet figured out that per clan was about to lose its place and decided to take action on per own?

There was nothing for it now.  That little piece of carelessness is going to cost me,  Šandja thought and turned back to look at Kešen – yes, that frown was still there and per was watching Šandja closely.   Kešen knew, or at least suspected.  Please, čezu, Šandja thought, do not do anything stupid.

It would be nice to know how this all comes out.  Šandja thought, but it did not seem to matter.  “Have I mentioned, evadju, just how much I miss you?”  Šandja murmured closing one’s eyes.  And I am so tired.  If you don’t mind, I’ll sleep the rest of the way down.

“No need for that,” Kethovi said, taking Šandja’s paw.  “Walk with me.”

The Sands stretched out all around them, tinted red by the last of Vežni’s light and above them The Shrouds glowed, two pale blue-white streaks in the western sky.  Off in the distance there was a sigari with many tents about it and warm candlelight poured from their open flaps.  There was a moment in which Šandja wondered just how one could get from a shuttle in flight down onto the Sands.  But it was only for a moment.

“That’s where you stop?  Šandja dies?”  

Gateš shrugged.  “It was Šandja’s story.  Why shouldn’t I stop with per death?”

“But Šandja was murdered!”  I protested.  “Nothing came of that?

“Of course something came of it.”  Gateš sighed.  “Life is movement, Djedi, and stories are life.  What did I say?  Stories do not end – ever.  There is always a ‘what happened next?’ ”

“But…”

“I am tired, Djedi.”  Gateš said, finally.  “Perhaps tomorrow.”

I started to protest once again, then stopped.  Of course you stop telling the story here, I thought.

I smiled.  “Sleep well, Odja.”