Din-Bidor's Sandbox
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Birdwatchers

Doctor James Summerlee-Irwin, the Dragon-Maker, is many things: a scientist; an adventurer; a legend.

At age 25, the young James was the first human to ever be admitted into Panspermia's prehistoric Terran restoration program. Soon afterwards, his name made the rounds on the Imperial scientific community as the man who successfully resurrected the entirety of the Abelisauridae family.

His work did not stop there. In his fifty years of expertise, he has dedicated every waking moment to excavate and restore as many of Earth's prehistoric flora and fauna as he can; no less than two thousand different species owe him their existence.

For these reasons, many on both Panspermia and the Empire were surprised when he announced that he would take a break from prehistoric restoration. His new focus? Conservation programs for endangered species across the Universe. A big change for someone who has spent his entire life amidst the likes of sauroposeidon and dilophosaurus, if you ask me.

"My tenure with the tyrant lizards has passed," he was quoted as saying. "Time to focus on the little guys, on the species with whom we coexist and have so cruelly driven to the brink of extinction."

In any case, Summerlee's new enterprise proved as spectacularly successful as his prior endeavors: in ten years, he has already restored most bear and wild feline populations to the numbers they held at the start of the Holocene. If that does not make him a hero, I do not know what does.

And as for his next adventure… Well, that is yet to be seen, but I hold no doubt that it will be something equally magnificent, I think as I walk towards Summerlee's laboratory, my heart pounding with excitment. Guess I'm back in the game again.


Upon entering Doctor Summerlee's lab, I notice that the old man is not alone. Deep in thought alongside the doctor, two other researchers inspect a holographic diagram depicting different Terran geological eras; it seems they've already started without me. I clear my throat to make myself noticed, and Summerlee's trademark smile welcomes me into his private sanctum.

"Sarah!" he warmly exclaims, running towards me with the vitality of a teenager. He hugs me like I'm his daughter, then gently guides me into the room.

"I am so glad you could join us, Sarah," the doctor continues. "You must be quite busy now that you're training an entire generation of new researchers."

"They're not that much trouble, James," I say, my tongue struggling to call him by his first name; even after all these years, I still see him as a sort of knight in shining armor. "But I still appreciate the opportunity to work on some actual research. Office hours can suck the life right out of you… So tell me, what is it about? Last I heard, you were about to reintroduce two hundred new white rhinos to Kenya…"

"Oh, it's nothing like that, my friend," he answers. "Yes, we've been quite successful on keeping Sudan's legacy alive through his progeny, but this is a more… personal project of mine. Now, I do believe you may have heard of my colleagues…"

The man next to Summerlee is tall, blonde and muscular, his olive skin glistening with what I can tell is some special form of moisture. His regal clothes, better suited for a noble than for a scientist, do little to conceal the set of gills that line his neck. I'm looking at Doctor Arion Keto, one of Atlantis' most brilliant biologists.

"A pleasure to meet you, Doctor Burns," he says in Atlantean, a language I studied during my time at college.

"The pleasure is mine, Doctor Keto," I respond, hoping that my grasp on the language has not slipped too much. "Doctor Summerlee has told me much about you. He even showed me pictures of the Kraken juveniles you raised together."

"Ah, yes! Those were some cute sea monsters, by Poseidon!" he laughs, this time in Imperial Common. "James almost cried when we set them free on the Bermuda Triangle. Guess anyone can grow attached to five-hundred meter cephalopods given enough time."

I look at Doctor Summerlee, who simply shrugs and grins at us. His and Keto's friendship stretches a long way back into the past: they first met at an Imperial Parliament hearing to determine whether or not Atlantis should be allowed to add mosasaurs and megalodon to its defense forces. Despite their opposing views on the militarization of sea creatures, the two struck an almost brotherly relationship, bonding over their love of extinct wildlife.

After getting acquainted with Doctor Keto, I turn towards the other scientist. His body is a hulking, imposing mass of muscle and fur, his white custom-tailored lab coat contrasting against his dark pelt. For any stranger, this three-meter tall individual might seem scary; for me, he's just an old friend and colleague. He Who Fells the Sequoia, son of the Children of the Night, greets me with a powerful hug that somehow does not crush my spine.

"Hello, Doctor Sarah of the Burns clan," he says in a deep, cavernous voice, his thick accent coloring his otherwise impeccable Imperial Common. "A long time without seeing each other. May Titania be with you in all your endeavors."

"Likewise, friend," I say, still buried in his mighty embrace.

Despite his name and the fearsome reputation of his people, He Who Fells the Sequoia is a renowned botanist and bioengineer, his work often making it to the front page of every scientific magazine worth its salt. He, with the help of his people's biotech, has been crucial in repopulating dozens of endangered plant species, including the one whose name he bears.

"Ehem…" Doctor Summerlee coughs to regain our attention. "Well, I do appreciate an endearing scene like anyone else, but I'm afraid we're on a tight schedule. We'll have to hurry if we want to be there by the time they hatch. I just wish she too had come to… Ah! There you are, Scarlet River!"

We turn around to greet the newly-arrived researcher, whose feet seem to glide as she enters the lab. Tall, lean and proud, Scarlet River gracefully bows her blonde head, her hair shifting to reveal her pointed ears. A smile forms on the elf's lips as she greets each one of us.

"Hello again, dear friends. I am so glad that James managed to snatch all of you for our little party… including you, Doctor Burns," she says melodiously, holding out her hands towards me. "The team is complete!"

"It is now," says Doctor Summerlee, his eyes drifting through his colleagues. "Everyone ready, ladies and gentlemen? Good! Let's go make some science!"

Cheesy, I know, but Summerlee's enthusiasm has its charm. Despite being a senior citizen, Doctor Summerlee continues to exude a childlike wonder, a fact that almost distracts me from the wrinkles on his hands and face. To see him this excited takes me back to when I first watched his exploits on holo-vid, long before I even considered applying for a job at Panspermia. For a moment, I'm back at my parents' home, a little girl watching her hero making dragons.

"Sarah, dear," calls the doctor, pointing at a big red button in the farthest corner of his lab, "would you like to do the honors?"

He need not ask twice. Like in the days of old, I jump at the chance of being the first to gaze at something wonderful.

My heart beats loudly as I press the big red button, and the twin metal doors next to it open with a hiss. Doctor Summerlee politely beckons us to enter, and we oblige.

Within is a miracle.


A clear sky casts light upon a rocky, green pasture, ending abruptly on a jagged cliff. Beyond it, I can see a sparkling blue sea, extending as far as my sight can reach. I wonder where the actual water ends and where the holographic simulations begin. Small bushes and folliage are spread throughout the landscape, with only a few trees in sight.

If I did not know that I am hundreds of thousands of lightyears away from Earth, floating in the void of space, I'd swear I'm standing on Stephens Island, or Takapourewa, as the Maori people named it. Warm memories from a childhood vacation pop up in my mind, the sounds of the sea and the wind almost convincing me that I'm back to being a toddler, my parents holding my hands as we stroll through New Zealand's pastures on a pleasant evening.

I walk in astounded silence, occasionaly glancing at He Who Fells the Sequoia, who I suspect to be the engineer behind this artificial habitat. The Yeren coyly winks at me, then goes back to feigning ignorance. I roll my eyes: If I were him, I'd openly pride myself in my craftsmanship; everything in this place is dreamlike, paradaisical.

"By the gods, James…" I say, breathless. "When did you…?"

"Install a temporary module next to my lab?" he smiles as he walks besides me. "Oh, some years ago. You've been spending too much time in your office, Sarah. Maybe come join us once in a while?"

I silently nod, my mind struggling to process everything my senses take in. It's one thing to see a prehistoric habitat that disappeared eons before you were born; seeing a perfect replica of one of your most cherished childhood experiences… well, that's another story.

"Something told me you'd like the view," Doctor Summerlee continues. "Ever been to New Zealand?"

"Only once, when I was little…" I manage to gasp, my sight glued to the magnificent landscape before me. After seeing this, I'm definitely talking to my parents about taking a shuttle there on our next vacation.

"Well, in that case, I do hope you can come with us once we start the relocation phase."

"Relocation?" I ask, ripping my eyes from the sea.

"Why, yes!" laughs Summerlee. "Come, I better show you before I keep dragging you around in circles."

Doctor Summerlee guides me towards a large bush, around which crouch Doctor Keto and Scarlet River, while He Who Fells the Sequoia takes notes on the island's soil. The elf druid lifts some of the bush's branches, just enough so that I can peek at what lies beneath.

Surrounded by small pieces of wood and debris, a cluster of tiny white eggs glisten under the artificial sun's soft light. Next to them, a pair of minuscule brown birds chirp enthusiastically, fearlessly jumping on Scarlet River's open palm as she coos in an Elven dialect I cannot comprehend. By the shape of their legs and talons, I can tell that they're a flightless species, a theory that is proven right as soon as they flap their small, weak wings.

XenicusLongipesBuller.jpg

Xenicus longipes

"What are they?" I ask, fascinated at their lack of fear in our presence.

"Bushwrens," says Doctor Keto. "Xenicus longipes, flightless birds native to New Zealand. They went extinct in 1972, and stayed that way until two years ago, when we kickstarted this project."

I look at Scarlet River, whose melodious cooing seems to soothe the birds even as we continue to inspect their unborn progeny. Who would have guessed that, ten years later, I would still be accompanying Doctor Summerlee to check on dinosaur eggs?

"Arion and I wanted to resurrect smaller, humbler species for a change," explains Summerlee. "We started working on the extinct and endangered species of New Zealand and, well, this is the fruit of our labor. This… and the other little fellows you'll find scattered through this habitat."

"We have He Who Fells the Sequoia to thank for much of this," continues Keto, confirming my earlier suspicions. "He managed to replicate the Stephen Island ecosystem for us to… test the new species. Hopefully, we'll be able to resettle all twenty birds and amphibians on their New Zealand habitats within the year."

"I'm impressed!" I laugh. "And here was I thinking that you'd grow less productive with age, James."

Summerlee smiles, but I can tell that something has him worried. A shade of concern darkens my mentor's expression as he speaks.

"Thank you, Sarah," he says warmly. "Though I'm afraid not everything is going according to plan."

"Why? James, what's wrong?"

Doctor Summerlee sighs tiredly and motions Keto. The Atlantean scientist pulls out a holo-pad from his robes and begins browsing through its contents. The images of dozens of plants and animals flash through the screen, all of them species I reckon to have once been either endangered or extinct; it's almost like a checklist of species to be resurrected by modern science and magic, and most of it has already been completed.

"See, Doctor Burns," says Doctor Keto, searching through the device, "we've been successful in restoring nearly all of New Zealand's extinct species… except one."

The screen freezes on the image of another miniature bird, its soft, brown plumage and yellow belly spotted with tiny traces of black and amber. Its little beady eyes stare at us with a mixture of curiosity and caution; its short wings and long digits tell me it's another flightless species. I'm tempted to call it "adorable."

XenicusInsularisKeulemans.jpg

Traversia lyalli

Under the bird's image, a label reads "Lyall's wren (Traversia lyalli). Status: Extinct."

"Elves do have their ways with animals."

"Me? How?" I ask, managing not to choke like a novice intern faced with an overwhelming task.

"And that, dear Sarah, is where you come in," Summerlee says, looking at me intently.



Xan, Second Rotation, 5099

Chronicle of Ulak the Drifter

Annotated by Shahrazad Keret

Xan, Second Rotation, 5099

My first sensation is that of falling.

Forever.

I can see the stars getting further and further away from me as my form descends towards the ground. For the briefest of instants, I reckon how I never took the time to appreciate their beauty, despite having lived among them for most of my life. Shame: a life wasted without ever paying attention to the wonders around me.

My senses force me back into reality as an alarm blasts through the ship's bridge, its deafening cry letting me know that I have just crossed the atmosphere. Incineration will not be a pleasant way to go. I close my eyes and wait for the fire to engulf me as my ship's shields fail and the entire structure becomes ablaze with heavenly flames…

But I do not die. Not by burning, at least.

In the last instant, a miracle occurs: as if given a last push by the gods themselves, my ship's shields kick in, despite the alarm continuing to bellow its threatening chant. The engines roar a silent warcry in the void as I pull lever after lever to stabilize my descent. This is not the way I die. Perhaps now, I think, trying to take back control of my vessel, I might get a another chance to look at the stars with the wonder they deserve.

The crash is mighty, earthshaking.

Despite my best efforts to make my emergency landing smooth, I am flung from my seat towards the ship's hard walls, a ragdoll thrown against the thick, cold metal that is my frigate's hull. Should have worn a seatbelt, I curse. Bone shatters and splinters beneath my skin as my body makes contact, an agonizing scream leaving my throat before I lose consciousness. Perhaps I've claimed victory all too soon…

I am ripped from the tranquility of dreamless slumber by a burning sensation, like a thousand white-hot needles burrowing into my being. Pain welcoms me back to the world of the living. It is everywhere: in the shattered bones of my left arm and leg; in the jagged rib that protrudes from my abdomen; in the ruptured eardrum that leaks hot blood; in my nose as I inhale the burning ashes of my crippled ship…

My ship… My ship!

Nearly blind from the dust and ash floating on the air, I manage to peek at the destruction that surrounds me. Devastation is a generous for this scenario: Splintered metal and smoking machinery are all that remained of the inner workings of my ship, casualties of my unlucky landing. The control room's main console had been torn off its place, ejected by sheer force of impact. Half the deck is gone, and I'm not sure where my engines have landed, if at all.

Above me, the roof's durable super-alloy remained, shielding me from whatever lied outside.

I looked through my window and the sun… the suns? Well, I nearly went blind. I had just stared at a naked star. There were no clouds, no mist, nothing. My skin also felt like it burned. I looked into a mirror and it was red like I had placed it in boiling water.


Portraits

In stormy nights like this, when cold and darkness make my cell their own, I cannot help but remember that fatal night that was the end of my friend, Helmut Bierce. In these, my last moments of sanity, I try writing. I try and fail. I try and from me emanate, like a traumatic birth, unconnected, shattered words. I try, and at long last I escape.

This is way I die, fighting against my diseased mind’s oppression.

I ask the darkness what the true face of madness looks like. Is it the face of some unnamable god from a bygone age? Is it the face of the man who, in his arrogance, falls from grace, transformed into little more than an animal? Or is it the face of a patient like me, abandoned to his fate in the stony embrace of an asylum?

No. I know the Truth. I know it like I know the cold walls of my confinement, like I know the monstrous moon that casts its light upon my wretched form. My questions to the abyss serve only to preserve what little sanity I have left. I know the face. I have seen it. Its expression twisted and cruel. Its features eternally burnt on my mind. The true face of madness is the one that observed me from the black mouth of a masterpiece painted by a man who was once the greatest mind of his generation. Helmut Bierce. Soldier. Hero. Artist. Erudite. Dead.

His father an Englishman, his mother a German aristocrat, Helmut Bierce sailed from Europe in 1917, fleeing from an absurd war, a clash between the two halves of his identity. He drifted for a year, conflicted and alone, until, as if an unknown force beckoned him, he entered the country. Instead of the peace he sought, he ended up entangled in a conflict that was nearly as bloody as the one that raged in his homeland. Bierce was left with no option but join the first guerrilla that found him, lest he be executed. From that point on, he had to fight for his life.

With his aristocratic background and profession as a painter, Bierce should have died in some unnamed skirmish, his corpse forgotten in no man’s land. Instead, not only did he survive, but he saved the life of his superior officer, a man by the name of Álvaro Obregón. Bierce, who up until that point had been a lost kraut, a stranger in a strange land, became a sort of local legend, who was admired and respected by his superiors and peers, myself included.

When the war ended and violence turned into political repression, Bierce and I found ourselves in a relatively favorable situation. It did not seem our newly anointed republic would recall the men that had bled for her any time soon, despite our new leader’s patriotic speeches. Bierce and I, however, were not particularly worried. The war in Europe had also come to an end. Bierce soon had access to a massive inheritance left entirely to his name by his older brother who, trapped in Europe, had expired in the fields of Verdun wearing the colors of the German Empire.

I, on the other hand, invested what little moment I had in the quickly reforming train industry. My bet gave its fruits, and soon, Bierce and I, battle-forged friends, retired into a life of comfort.

In order to avoid hedonistic boredom, Helmut and I surrounded ourselves with a resurgent intellectual caste. Though I was not a sophisticated man, I soon found myself enjoying the company of our country’s most illustrious thinkers. My new friends and I founded numerous libraries, financed museums and held heated debates on classic literature.

Helmut, always the loner, went back to his artistic profession. War had changed him.

Before leaving Europe, both his demeanor and his art were kind, soft, romantic. Now, having gone through the horrors of the battlefield, his character had turned nervous, fearful. At night, his soul found no rest, and he stayed awake until very late. Loud noises, like a horse’s trotting or an automobile’s rumbling, awoke dark visions in his mind. The canons’ roar, the screams of the dying and the grief of the widows and orphans followed him wherever he went.

His work changed too, deeply affected by his experiences. His vivid landscapes were replaced by violent paintings full of horror, cruelty and misery. War spoke through his hands. The dead came back to life with each brush stroke, condemned to an eternity of agony in those infernal portraits. Helmut’s paintings reflected man’s worst atrocities. They were the portrait of a man’s shattered psyche, the soul of a good man who had been thrown into the jaws of Hades.

Despite its monstrous new themes, Helmut’s art was well-received by all in our small circle of intellectuals. His talent and the perfection of his technique were undeniable: the paintings looked alive, tangible, as if one could throw himself against the canvas and become part of the scene.

Many figures of great renown offered to organize art shows and galleries where Helmut’s works could be admired by all, yet Helmut showed little interest in becoming popular or admired. Despite allowing us to parade his works as if he were a modern Da Vinci, he never showed himself in public. Never did he allow himself to be interviewed, never did he pride himself on his newly found recognition. He preferred to be left alone in his home, locked away with only his instruments and his disturbed mind.

The canvases began piling up. Soon, half of Helmut’s mansion was filled to the brim with his macabre paintings, transformed into a museum of wartime horrors.

At this point, we decided it had been enough. We took those macabre yet magnificent paintings and stored them in a bodega.

Helmut did not oppose us. In his eyes there was a sort of silent relief, as if he had been trying to scream for help without anyone ever hearing him. After our sacking of his paintings, he began talking more, to leave his home more often and even to visit the libraries and museums that had been funded with his money. In truth, it was almost as if we had exorcized Ares from the mind and soul of Helmut Bierce.

Content with our rescue of Helmut’s sanity, we turned to the issue of what to do with his paintings. We could not store them forever, so we decided to auction them. This we did not only to get them away from Helmut and ourselves, but to finance our new project: a theater that would rival those in the European continent.

Thus, weeks after removing the paintings from Helmut’s home, we organized a large, pompous auction, hosted at one of the first museums we had financed. We contacted all art brokers we knew of; we invited every artistic personality in the city and promoted the event on each and every newspaper and magazine.

Our auction was a success: Helmut’s art sold like bread. In a few hours, we had enough money to start building our new theatre.

Helmut himself made an appearance before the public, to deafening applause. Art critics and collectors alike praised him as a genius, a mastermind that had, until that point, remained undiscovered and foreign to the world. For them, his new willingness to share his vision was a blessing from heaven itself.

Drunk with our success, we decided to take a small tour through the museum. Helmut seemed almost elated at this idea; never had I seen him smile so widely, laugh so heartily. Whenever he spoke, his eyes glistened with excitement, a living portrait of his vivacious youth, long gone in the midst of his traumatic experiences.

My joy, however, did not last long. So focused were we on congratulating ourselves for both the auction and our museum, that we did not notice when Helmut slipped from our group. I could have sworn we had just looked away for an instant, but when I turned my head, Helmut had disappeared, like swallowed by the very ground on which we walked.

At first, we did not think much about it. Perhaps, we told ourselves, our friend was simply a bit overwhelmed by his newly found success and wanted some time for himself. Helmut was, after all, a man recovering from trauma; fame and fortune may feel tiresome for someone with his condition.

Two hours went by and Helmut failed to return. We became worried something might have happened to our friend and we dispersed through the museum, searching the disappeared artist.

It was I who found him.

After searching the streets closer to the museum, I returned to the building, tired of walking. No sooner had I crossed the vestibule into the main gallery, I heard a muffled, joyful cry, the kind men let out when holding a newly born son. There, his eyes transfixed, as if petrified by a basilisk, stood Helmut. He stood before a painting, his back rigid, his feet firm on the ground. He looked almost like a sculpture, were it not from the tears that dripped from his eyes, forming silvery rivers down his face.


On the Joy of Writing

You write.

Badly.

Your penmanship is the only thing that surpasses your writing in its lack of quality.

You scribble.

You try not to think, to let ideas flow naturally. Brainstorming.

It’s cold, yet you manage to feel hot. The heat… it’s on your back, on your forehead, on your ears.

The quill scrapes the paper and you… you try to imagine something else… anything else.

Writer’s block. It’s a–

The word you seek is not available. Someone must have taken it without your permission. Probably the same someone who stole your pride and your desire to keep writing.

Doubt. You do not know whether to continue writing. What for? You’ve been trying to produce something interesting for months now. All ideas start ambitiously and little by little they start fall apart and decay, like food abandoned for weeks at the bottom of the fridge.

You’re frustrated. Evidently, you did not think this through before sitting down to write.

Deadlines, obligations, fatigue, and frustration. Rage. Disappointment. Now you understand how it all feels. This is hell. Or maybe, maybe that word is too –Word not available, please try again later… error– Great? Glorious? Hell would be glorious compared to this purgatory in which you lie, screwed.

Blank page and more second-rate writing (a term you are not accustomed to using, yet now employ because you’re trying to spice things up).

You stand up and look on your works. At least, you imagine you stand up.

You’ve thought about this before sitting down to write: “Faust sold his soul for talent and glory. I’d sell it in exchange for writing something moderately decent so that I can go to sleep.”

But not even Mephistopheles will present himself to claim your soul. You have already stared intently at your own reflection on the mirror, an archaic way of summoning demons, and you’ve only managed to cross your eyes for ten minutes. Some ritual.

Your back cracks. You’re fed up. Something tells you that nothing you ever create will give you satisfaction.

It’s cold and your back cracks again.

Now you lament having started on the first place.

You straighten your posture and continue, round and round.

Your wrist hurts, but you have not ceased writing.


Log of the ISS Ithaca

Captain's Logbook


When I was young, my mother read me stories about the sea. Entranced, wide-eyed and dreamy, I listened to her every word about the ocean and its denizens, from the humble schools of fish and crustaceans that prowl the coral reefs and kelp forests to the mighty predators and titans that stalk the darkest, most oppressive depths of their watery home.

It was also thanks to my mother that I learned about the exploits of the men and women, both real and fictional, who sought to conquer this magical, untamable kingdom of endless blue. From fierce pirate lord Sandokan to intrepid diver Jacques Cousteau, from vengeful Captain Nemo to fearless Leif Erikson, my mind was filled with tales of adventure and discovery beyond my little landlocked home. Day and night, I wished only to be spirited away by the ancient gods of the sea, off to live as a humble subject of their kingdom, to have my name whispered by the waves like those of the heroes whose legends I so adored.

With age came the time of emancipation, when even the great albatross must leave the nest of infancy and venture into the great unknown. My steps took me far away from home, towards the sea I had never seen yet had dreamed of every night since I was a child. Imbibed at the realization of my childhood dream, I forgot my absolute ignorance of the true toils of sea life and jumped on the first ship willing to give me a job, even if I was reduced to srubbing floors and making meals for drunken sailors, painfully aware of my condition as a woman at sea. Never again would I wish for dry land under my feet. If only my mother could see me now…

Years and years have passed, and life has changed, much like the ships and oceans I sail on. Still, my love for the great blue remained unchanged, even as I left my home world for alien seas. Through storm and mutiny I have prevailed, through maelstrom and shipwreck I have stood my ground, ever loving and defiant of the endless waters that I have long called home.

And now, here I stand, before the fruit of my labors. My ship, the ISS Ithaca, waits in orbit over a heavenly sphere of the purest blue, its surface unmarred by the presence of land: Cetus, a pristine ocean world orbiting a young yellow star. The planet looms before us, inviting… no, beckoning us to explore its mysteries. Ocean worlds there are many, uncountable through the black sea of stars that is the Universe, but none may claim to be as unexplored as Cetus. This I know to be true, for it is I who has discovered and named it. This is my destiny; this is my time.

My name is captain Amelia Corso, and I lay claim to this world in the name of science and discovery, for the glory of my Empire and the benefit of all who’ll come after me. In this captain’s log, I shall document and report any and all scientific findings I and my crew make during our stay on Cetus.

May the waves be ever calm and the winds always at our backs.


On New Gomorrah

Ever since the Krolovar Invasion, which resulted in the dissolution of the League of Ten Kingdoms, the Galactic Triumvirate has maintained peace and stability throughout the known Universe. The Immortal Empire, the Emerald Hegemony and the Solar Dominion have become the undisputed rulers of the Seven Galaxies. Through their territories, they have sought to preserve order by any means necessary, from gallant diplomacy to brutal repression. Historians in Midgard have reached the consensus that the rise of the Triumvirate has indeed ushered an age of peace and prosperity in the Seven Galaxies: a Pax Galactica.1

The zenith of lawlessness, however, is not a planet in Triumvirate-controlled territory. Though many worlds in the Triumvirate are virtually governed in their entirety by crime syndicates, none can compete with the planet known as New Gomorrah, whose purple skies watch over a planet-spanning city, an ever-churning machine that grinds and tears and makes whole again.

The following is a brief summary of New Gomorrah, a recollection of its history and demographics, an attempt to understand its position in the Galactic Community.


New Gomorrah: An Introduction

There are few planets in the Universe as infamous as New Gomorrah, world-city of eternal dusk. Most citizens of the Galactic Triumvirate regard it as the largest haven for chaos and anarchy in Midgard, a blot in the face of civilization. It is only sought after by two kinds of beings. On one side, those who have nowhere else to go: fugitives, exiles, political enemies and other undesirables. On the other side, those who would exploit the planet’s lawlessness for their own purposes: Pirates, hitmen, smugglers, gangsters, hackers, religious fanatics and terrorists all mingle with each other in the neon streets of New Gomorrah, world-city of eternal dusk.

Thus, it is not unreasonable that New Gomorrah is seen as home to the worst lowlifes of the known Universe. Known mostly for its perpetually purple skies, its highly corrosive rain and its rampant technology, this planet is the largest hub of criminal activity in the known Universe, far surpassing the criminal underworld of any star system under Triumvirate jurisdiction. Often nicknamed “The Great Sprawl,” the planet is dominated in its entirety by an immense, polluted urban landscape inhabited by nearly thirty billion beings from across the Universe. This figure overshadows even Idhai and Numera, the capitals of the Immortal Empire and the Emerald Hegemony, respectively.

With such a large population, it is not unexpected that New Gomorrah’s crime rate is the highest of any registered planet. Be it murder, rape, thievery, organ and drug trafficking, weapons smuggling, hacking or biohacking, New Gomorrah hosts it all, and almost seems to relish in it. The deeper one descends into the Sprawl’s foundations, into that neon underworld made of metal and concrete, the more disturbing amusements one will find. Crime syndicates like the Zahn Society and the Black Nebula turn any conceivable illegal activity into a lucrative business, while mega-corporations dictate the only semblance of law and order amidst the chaos.


Because it was founded by humans and this species is still the most numerous on the planet, understanding the history of New Gomorrah’s history means reminiscing back to the integration of the planet Earth into the Immortal Empire, the Imperial year 2109 (Sol year 3042). The centuries prior to the Earth’s and Mars’ induction into the Empire was marked by a series of phenomena that radically altered the planet’s social, political, cultural and religious aspects.


Morbid Diversions

The ground shook as the colossal mass of flesh and metal came crashing down, further fragmenting the already cracked concrete floor. The cracks and dents filled with the blood of the fallen fighter, drinking up every drop of the thick blue liquid, made to shine under the arena’s bright neon lights. The Death Pit, the Tournament of Blood and Oil, was about to claim a new victim.

The beast writhed in agony, its six legs squirming and trying to push back, trying to get up and keep on fighting, keep on tearing and clawing and killing. Its powerful form, twenty tons of muscle and cybernetics, tried to lift itself, and failed. It was almost as if it were glued to the ground, vulnerable and frail. Its three mouths, filled to the brim with serrated teeth, let out a pained roar as its organs further ruptured from the effort. Five consecutive wins, five consecutive kills. It had come in as a hotshot, ripe with potential, quickly rising to be a prospective favorite for the season. Engineered to be a natural predator, its arsenal had been further enhanced by mechanical implants and circuitry. The perfect fighting beast. Now, it was about to become prey.

Its rival stood over the creature’s mangled form, a towering figure of primal rage and hunger. It moved in an arrogant, nearly elegant fashion, more like a trained martial artist than a brutish beast of war. It was almost a mockery of a man, standing on its firm hind legs and clenching its clawed forelegs, still dripping with its enemy’s blood. The neon lights reflected off its shiny polymer skin, off its plated, armored spine. Beneath it, powerful muscles, enhanced with the latest batch of nanorobotic implants, tensed with the anticipation of the kill. Its tail, nearly a third of its body’s length, curved and poised itself to strike, a cruel, twin-bladed implement emerging from its tip.

Tension was thick. The felled creature still posed a threat, still mighty enough to crush bones and rip metal from flesh. Good thing it had shattered its shoulder cannons as it fell. The other monster, its silver skin stained with fresh blood, would need to strike fast. Once it had completely disabled its opponent, then it would have its fun, slowly killing its prey, feasting on its still-living body.

Seconds felt as an eternity while the creatures watched each other, anticipating the inevitable. The cries of the fallen beast were deafening. And suddenly, with a sharp whistling that heralded the hit, the silver monster struck. The sharp blades at the end of its tail slashed its rival’s chest, ripping and tearing. It slashed and slashed, painting the arena’s floor and walls blue. It did not stop until its victim’s cries were silenced, until colorful intestines flowed out of the ruined abdomen, until it was heel-deep in gore.

And then, it began to feed. No glorious victory, no higher purpose. Merely animalistic, instinctive hunger. Its victim wailed in agony as the victor fed, but its screams faded and died without the other creature paying it any heed. It was too busy feeding to even care if its prey was still alive. Its teeth sank deep into the mutilated flesh. It tore out chunks as large as a small hovercraft, voraciously gulping them down. A feast worthy of a champion. Its thin, angular skull almost disappeared as it feasted on the cadaver, like a worm burrowing on wet soil. So focused it was on its prize, that it nearly did not notice when the other started moving again.

It was as quick as lighting. In an instant, two appendages as thick as columns emerged from the fallen monster’s bloodied torso. They wrapped themselves around the victor’s slender form, brutally strangling and pulling it towards the repugnant mass of dying flesh. One of the fallen creature’s mouths opened and let out a harrowing cry, an agonized sound that filled the air with horror. It gaped wide open, awaiting its victim. The victorious creature, now trapped between its enemy’s barbed and muscled tentacles, tried to resist. It slashed and bit and writhed. Its skin secreted an acidic substance powerful enough to melt iron in a few seconds. Its hands grew metal talons so sharp that they could tear through a spaceship’s hull. All in vain.

The fallen creature pulled its enemy towards it and pressed. Its central mouth clamped on its prey’s head, trapping it and piercing its flesh. It tasted blood, and felt its tongue and gums melt and dissolve from its rival’s acid secretions. It pressed on, crushing the supposed victor between its tentacles and its mangled body. It kept going, ignoring the pain, until bones cracked, organs ruptured, and metal splintered. With a disgusting, wet pop, the silver creature burst like a ripe grape, its innards thrown in all directions, soaking the arena and its rival with gore and golden blood, the ichor of a fallen god.

The true victor, the dying, disemboweled beast, let out a final cry, and fell silent, rigor mortis finally overtaking what remained of its body. It laid there heavily, still clasping its enemy’s remains, and moved no more. For a moment, all was silent.

Then the storm came down.

The sound of a million voices, mad with extasy, pierced the air, cheering and booing and laughing at the carnage that had taken place before them. It was as if the barbarity of ages long past, a time when man and beast were indistinguishable, had returned in all its gruesome glory. The multitude was as a cruel, mad god that thirsted blood and oil and sparks. It made bets, exchanged secrets, swore and cursed and counted the night´s profits.

For outsiders, the Death Pit was an oddity in a Universe where most gladiatorial combat was prohibited, a morbid diversion for the ever-decaying society of the world known as New Gomorrah. But for the inhabitants of the Great Sprawl, it was the highest form of entertainment. Here, under the purple skies of New Gomorrah, deathmatches appealed to everyone from the richest of oligarchs to the lowest filth of the Great Sprawl. Everyone enjoyed watching blood spilling, guts tearing and the occasional twist of fate. “Everyone” included the man quietly observing the bloodbath from his seat high above the arena, a saucer-shaped craft with the circumference of a Ferris wheel, floating nearly hidden by the noxious clouds that rained acid over the entire city-world.

His name was Khalid Nam, and his night was not going as planned. He could almost see a million credits going down the shitter as the cleaning robots scrapped his champion’s remains off the arena’s floor. That’s what he got for not betting on the underdog. He lit another cigarette. He exhaled and let the smoke trail off, dissipating almost as quickly as his hopes of making back his lost money. The worst part was he had no one else to blame. That way, he might at least have had the satisfaction of firing someone.

He turned his head around. Empty seats met his gaze. He grunted. It seemed he was the only attendant watching the show. Better that way, he thought. Maybe like this no one would ask him how his bets had turned out. The last thing he needed right now were the snide remarks of some rich asshole or snobbish “kaiju connoisseur.” He extinguished his cigar, only half-smoked, and got up from his seat. Time to count his losses. Time to check his chances at another shot tonight.

As he walked towards the crowd gathered near the center of the room, his mind wandered off towards a happier, more comfortable place. He imagined himself back at his penthouse, with no other company than a good bottle of wyvern whisky, away from the blood-soaked arena, and from his peers. He glanced around, trying to identify some known face amongst the indistinct sea of expensive suits and revealing dresses. There was Kynae Nu, CEO of Sarnath Bioengineering, getting his face stuffed with exotic meats. Justine Gillian, retired assassin and former supermodel, courted a woman forty years younger than herself. And Nym Zonder, the mastermind behind Zonder Cybernetics, used his cybernetic nose to voraciously inhale a pile of narcotics laid before him, his eyes emerald green after years of usage.

These were the people who Khalid was forced to interact with in order to preserve his social standing. These slobs. These tasteless, grotesque men and women. Obscenely rich, obnoxiously snobbish. They would gather around, cawing like carrion birds, flapping their mouths in order to bring attention to themselves, seeking nothing but expensive pleasures made cheap by their tastelessness. They thought themselves sophisticated and cultured, but most of them could barely call themselves educated. Their abilities as businesspersons were undoubted, but they lacked any other salvageable trait. Insensitive to art, ignorant of their own uncultured nature, misguidedly proud of their lifestyles. An oligarchic class made up of adult-sized children. Capricious. Whimsical. Philistine.

It extended even to their sense of decoration. To say the room Khalid was lounging in was ugly would be an understatement. Red velvet and tasteless gold ornaments decorated every wall, giving the room the appearance of a bad attempt at an aristocratic setting. Large marble statues depicting famous people from across the stars paid homage to the guests’ bloated egos. Tables with the length an Olympic pool displayed the most varied and exotic foods in the Universe, piles so large that food waste was inevitable. Chairs and cushions of every shape and size, made from the finest materials, hosted a multitude of drunken or otherwise intoxicated guests, their every need and whim dutifully attended by scantly clad men and women. With such diversions, in single moment the entire room could erupt into an impromptu orgy.

To Khalid, who had always been a minimalist, these excesses were borderline obscene. Compared to what his fellow guests were getting up to, the violence of the Death Pit seemed nearly artistic. He would have complained more if not for the one perk he was getting. Hovering platforms and podiums were reserved for the superrich for various reasons. For one, they kept their immaculate little clothes and cybernetics away from the filthy mob that filled the Pit’s grades. For another, they were far safer than the actual Pit. Accidents involving felled beasts crushing multitudes into pulp or going rogue and eating someone were not uncommon. The better the seats at the arena, the more the risk of getting flattened or covered in some noxious secretion. That was a problem the hover-plats circumvented by transmitting the fights in the highest definition possible through screens, windows and holograms spread throughout them. It was practically the same as watching them in person, only less odorous.

Finally, the reason Khalid had yet to cease his rides on these lavish platforms: the immense central window displayed not only a close, high-resolution view of the combats below, but beast statistics, popularity numbers, right ownerships, money invested and betted. This was data vital to someone like Khalid, privileged information displayed only for those who could truly invest in the beast combat business. Here, investors and sponsors could choose what monster to support, what newcomer team was worth their time and money. Betting trends flashed before the spectators, market value of the creatures was estimated, and lucrative offers were made for the sponsoring and merchandising of every triumphant beast. This was Khalid’s world, the world he had thrived in, the world he now owned.

Khalid would not speak of it unless asked, but he was both a founder and a member of Goliath Group’s board of directors, the biggest name in the world of blood sports. Their notoriety came from the brutal efficiency their creatures displayed in New Gomorrah’s arenas. No other biotech firm could replicate the lethality Goliath’s beasts demonstrated. No other company had managed to so seamlessly integrate biological and mechanical components into a giant combat monster. Goliath had gone from being a small team with a mediocre monster to completely dominating the blood sport market. Every company in New Gomorrah wanted their brand emblazoned in the Goliath’s breeding tanks. Every sponsor and investor wanted a bite out of the juicy steak that was Goliath. Khalid could not be more pleased with his and his team’s efforts.

In New Gomorrah, at the cover of the planet’s eternal dusk, life and death were only as valuable as the audience deemed them. Tickets to events displaying a Goliath beast sold out almost instantaneously. The revenue Goliath got from advertisement alone was enough to buy a solar system. The beasts were treated like celebrities, like popular athletes. They received media attention, had merchandise mass-produced in their likeness. Once used to wage war and decimate entire populations, the bio-engineered creatures were now the stars in the galactic underworld’s most popular form of entertainment.

The business was not risk-free, however. One single war beast took billions of credits to engineer, and millions more to promote. A creature dying on the Death Pit meant a nearly complete loss of time and money, even though the genetic material was still useful, and the body parts could be sold as souvenirs, raw materials and even food. The real profits came from bets, sponsorships and advertisements, and no one ever bet on dead meat. Every victory filled Goliath’s vaults and represented opportunity for further moneymaking. Every defeat meant a loss of trust from sponsors and investors. Like any other sportsmen, the beasts played to win. Only here playing meant tearing an opponent apart in front of a cheering, bloodthirsty audience.


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