Good news, everyone! I am one third of the way done with new, revised, and improved #writemotivation goals! I have finished the first chapter of Beneath.
I have, in celebration, posted it in its entirety below. I would love to hear any comments people have on it, as I want it to be comprehensible to those not familiar with the Juxian Mythos; if you read it and have any points of confusion, please point them out in the comments section so that I can make them clearer! Hope you enjoy!
“You heard me. Bloody, bloody hell.”
The stately being seated beside me raised an eyebrow and turned fully to face me. “You equate our home planet with a thoroughly unpleasant place, filled with bodily fluids?”
“What? No, I didn’t say that.”
“You most definitely did. ‘Bloody hell’ were your exact words.”
“And here was me thinking you Juxtani didn’t use the word ‘hell.’ I mean, I knew that your language – Kordic, isn’t it? – is almost exactly the same as English, with a few minor variations. I guess ‘hell’ isn’t one of them.”
“‘Hell’ is merely a word we use for an unpleasant place or situation that causes great pain.”
I chuckled softly to myself. “Huh. Well, in our language, the word means the same thing in common usage, but it derives from one of our religions. In that religion, ‘Hell’ was a place where sinners were sent upon their death. To be punished for eternity.”
“Sinners. I take that to mean someone who violated accepted codes of conduct?”
I shrugged. “I guess. The accepted codes of conduct I was referring to were that of said religion, of course.”
“Religion. An odd concept. Belief in a higher power, with no evidence as to its existence. How… quaint.”
I rolled my eyes and leaned back in my seat. It was a very comfortable seat, with soft, plush, grey cushions all around me. “Yes. Quite. Quaint. And your Juxtani religion is different because you have proof that your gods exist.”
“Gods do not exist in the sense that you refer to them, Sana Hicks. They are merely beings like us, just with immense… power, and knowledge. Your species’ continued belief in these nonexistent gods is interesting.”
“You know what,” I said, nettled at my companion’s condescending manner, turning my head to look at him square in the face. He was very light-skinned, and looked exactly like a Human. His hair was a dark brown, almost bordering on black, and hung down slightly past his shoulders. Two shorter lengths of braided hair framed his face, with jewels and other glittery objects littering them. Like a magpie. He wore his thin, oiled mustache well, and his hand-length beard was waxed so heavily that it didn’t move at all.
“Not all Humans believe in gods,” I continued, curbing the annoyance in my voice, reminding myself that I was representing my entire species here. No pressure. “We’re not all the exact same person. We don’t share a common personality. We are all different. I am sure the same is true of you Elfviyat.”
“To an extent. Your Human race contains much more individual variation than ours does. We… discourage deviation.”
“Of course you do.” I looked back out the window at the planet of Evoriim, capital of the fabled Elfviyat Empire, the cultural center of Juxtani Civilization – that United Nations-style entity consisting of fifteen thousand member civilizations across the universe.
Bloody hell, I thought again, peering past my companion, who naturally took for himself the coveted window-seat of the space-shuttle, leaving his guest in the awkward position of craning his neck to see out of the viewport beside him. You’d think for a race with a couple hundred thousand years of technological advancement over us, they’d be able to build a shuttle that didn’t look like a snapshot from a twenty-first century airplane.
Most of the trip had, thankfully, taken place on an enormous Elfviyat spaceliner, with a very Tolkienesque name: the Lorien. It had been quite comfortable. And large. Very large. With all the viewports one could ever hope for. I missed it already.
But upon our arriving within five starsystems of the fabled planet of Evoriim, all of that had changed. The Elfviyat took their capital’s security very seriously. From the time I spent among their kind on board the Lorien, I had already gathered a vague sense of the character of the Eflviyat culture, which was one of the reasons King Darien had sent me on this mission. That and to get me away from my ex-wife.
Thank god for that.
The Elfviyat were very concerned with appearances. Everything they did was formalized, and there seemed to be a ritual for everything. I couldn’t blink without making some offering to their Juxtani gods. I passed through twelve rituals on board the spaceliner. It was awful. This trip might very well kill me. The great King Darien was probably laughing his ass of back home right now. He’s in for it when I get back, the royal bastard. They seem to take their gods – or “Elders” and “Ancients” and “Kretons” and “Ascendants” and god knows whatever classifications they use – much more seriously than the rest of Juxtani Civilization. Yet no one ever laughed at them. I tried once, on board the Lorien. It didn’t end well. Humor, I think, would be a useful addition to the Elfviyat arsenal.
Before I had left New Atlantis, the beloved capital city of King Darien’s bold new Human Empire, I had studied up on what was known of Elfviyat culture, and found that it was surprisingly little. Having worked in Ulaanbaatar – the capital city of the Human Empire before King Darien’s revolution – as a private investigator dealing with alien races for two decades, this fact surprised me. It disturbed me, as well, that in my field, I was lacking a fundamental understanding of one of the most powerful civilizations in the universe.
When I brought the matter up before King Darien, of course, he was greatly amused. “Oh, then this mission will be perfect. When you go out to Evoriim, use your amazing memory and observational skills to learn all you can about the Elfviyat, for use in the future. I expect a full report. Let’s say 250 pages. Single-spaced, size twelve Times New Roman font. Half-inch margins. Ten by twenty centimeter pages.”
How I regretted telling the good King Darien about that lack of knowledge now. And, alas, the glorious spaceliner Lorien was no longer my companion. We disembarked from it five star systems away from Evoriim itself, onto a cold space station orbiting the planet Loreas. It was crafted from polished obsidian, and the lights sprinkled about its vast and airy hallways had done little to lighten the blackened gloom.
I was grateful I had brought little with me as we made the trek from the Lorien to the far side of the station – easily a thirty minute walk. I had a rolling suitcase with forty changes of clothes compressed in vacuum bags, and a small arsenal scattered throughout it. Everything else I needed I carried in my pockets. Everything else consisted, of course, of the all-purpose PAU. My Personal Assistance Unit.
It did everything. It was a Juxtani thing, and when Jakken Jalhalla Servidos brought the Juxtani with him, he brought also the PAU’s. They were hooked up the Juxtanet, which functioned sort of like a massive, intergalactic internet, and served as a credit card, ID card, Juxtanet surfer, digital reader, telescope, camera, and even, with some modifications, a hoverboard. My own PAU was my pride and joy; any technician poking around at its innards would never recognize it. From the outside, though, it is just a flat chrome circle about the size of my palm. Holographic projectors make everything easier to read. They were provided to everyone in Juxtani Civilization, free of charge. One of the perks of hobnobbing with aliens, I suppose.
After our disembarkation on Obsidian Station – I bet it was called Moria – those of us traveling to Evoriim piled onto the cramped shuttle I had the delightful pleasure of being on as the planet itself came into view. Most of the other passengers on the Lorien – which I had gotten on at the station of Galikia, having taken a Narrut shuttle from Earth to get there – were going to the planet below the black station, but eleven of us, myself included, were headed to Evoriim. I was carrying the least by far; the poor soul who had the enviable pleasure of sitting next to me on the flight had four wagons of belongings, and had to be assisted by a group of manservants waiting around for just such an occasion to arise. Of course, the proper ceremonies had to be respected before they could touch his belongings.
God, I hope I don’t screw anything up. I bloody hate formality.
The first interesting thing I had noticed upon our switching transports was that all eleven of us were Ayudari, and I was the only non-Elfviyat in the group. Like I said, the Elfviyat took their Juxtani gods very seriously, and afforded those five races who had been created in the image of the Elder Ayudarin – the Elfivyat, the Ayakk, the Dassens, the Shortel and us Humans – greater respect than pseudo-Ayudari, who shared many characteristics with us but were still different, and the non-Ayudari, who were completely alien in form and function. On board the Lorien, about three-quarters of the passengers had been Ayudari, and most of them Elfviyat, but there had been a smattering of pseudo-Ayudari and the occasional non-Ayudari loitering around, as well. From this, I deduced my second conclusion about Elfviyat culture: they are not very welcoming or tolerative of outsiders. Indeed, on board the Lorien, a vessel owned and operated by the Elfviyat Empire, the non-Ayudari had been confined to a small area on the bottom of the vessel, and needed special permission to leave there. It was no wonder so few non-Ayudari wanted to visit Elfviyat space, if that was the treatment they would get.
After my current companion had so rudely rushed to take the window seat on board the new shuttle – throwing formal apologies and requests for the seat at me as he did so – I had struck up a conversation with him, and learned a very interesting fact indeed: no non-Ayudari was permitted to see Evoriim, let alone set foot on it.
Non-Elfviyat also needed special permission to set foot on the planet, though they were welcome to look at it as much as they wanted. The PAU’s of beings leaving Evoriim, I was told, were scanned and any pictures of the planet deleted. “It is a holy place, chosen by Ayudarin herself to be the center of our civilization. It must be respected, and seen only by the eyes of those who are pure,” my companion had told me. From that moment on, I could tell I was going to love it on Evoriim. The Elfviyat reminded me of Hitler, or perhaps Yevon-Israil.
“I feel like it’s watching me,” I told my companion, who smiled.
“Ayudarin watches us all,” he replied.
I knew my Juxtani history. I had studied up on it the instant we came into contact with them thirty years ago. “Isn’t Ayudarin dead?” There’s one difference between our gods and theirs. Theirs could die.
“Well, yes, but the Light of Ayudarin lives on, far away from here. But she is always linked to the Elfviyat, her favorite of the Ayudaric races.” Of course you are. I smiled as fakely as I could, hoping to unnerve the Elfviyat. I’m an awful diplomat. Why did Darien send me out here again? “And so the eye you see represents Ayudarin’s benevolent gaze, watching over us even after her death.”
I definitely felt as if something was watching me, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t Ayudarin. From what I had read about her, she sounded nice. Evoriim was slightly creepy, and I couldn’t shake off the feeling that it really was watching me. It’s just a planet, you idiot. Stop being ridiculous.
Evoriim looked like it had been whitewashed. All of the buildings on the surface – all of them, according to my companion, who had grown rather talkative – were made of white marble. Buildings, of course, covered a large part of the planet’s surface, which was apparently sparsely populated; most of the buildings had been built to house pilgrims come to visit the Shrine of Ayudarin – an Elfviyat-only location, he hastily added. The planet had elicited a “bloody hell” from me when it came into view – after we had synchronized orbits with it, of course – because, from space, the whitewashed marble areas of the planet formed the shape of a titanic eye around the verdant green around it, complete with pupil and iris. I was told that there were was another eye on the other side of the planet.
The white areas of the planet were very, very white. The green areas were also very green. It looked as if someone had painted across its spherical face with bold brush-strokes. It was the most unnatural thing I have ever seen in my entire life.
Still, I was glad to see the planet; it meant that I could finally rest. I’d been traveling constantly since I left Earth a week ago, traveling on various astral highways and leaping through the Interstitial Aethyr to finally make my way almost literally across all of known space. It was a shame I didn’t pass by the center of known space, the fabled planet-sized artificial construction of Juxia. I heard tell that it was one of the greatest marvels of the universe. I could only imagine what space travel was like when one didn’t have the pre-established astral highways to aid you; it was said that Jakken Jalhalla Servidos’ journey from Juxia to Earth took four weeks, forced as they were to travel off the beaten path. I was exceedingly glad that I didn’t have to do that.
There was a brief impact, and the shuttle’s gentle thrumming engines shut off. “What was that?” I asked. “Why did we stop?”
A door behind me hissed open, and a group of Elfviyat wearing spotless, tight-fitting tunics walked in, their hands resting on pistols hanging at their belts. All of them, I noticed, had their hair in the same style as my companion. Actually, every Elfviyat I had met had that same hairstyle. Another curiosity. Hooray conformity!
“Welcome to Talvariim Security Station,” one of them said. Why thank you. Can I sleep now? “We promise you that your long journey will be over soon. As I am sure you all know, however,” I do? “we must first make sure that you are all unarmed. Impure weapons are not allowed on the planet’s surface. If you are carrying any impure weapons on you, please reveal them and turn them over to us now. We will hold them for you here until your return.”
My eyes moved over to the coffin-like compartment at the back of the shuttle’s cylindrical passenger chamber containing my suitcase, and my personal armoury concealed within it. Bloody hell.