Cover: Mara emerging from an explosion, unhurt, grinning

Rush to Battle
by Leo D. Orionis

Dedicated to all the teachers who inspired me, taught me how to
learn, and encouraged me to go on learning as long as I lived.

Previously in Eoverai:

Last issue we met Ekirvao Mara, a member of House Ekirvai of the Verē race on the planet Eoverai. The Verē, whose ancestors constructed the Aboǹi solar system, including Eoverai itself, share the world with another race, the Tlâń. The Tlâń are natives, who evolved on Eoverai after the Verē's ancestors created the world, but before they came to live there.

In the last war between the two species, the Tlâń used rings of power, inhabited by souls that obeyed their masters' orders. The Verē used nuclear bombs to blanket the continent of Kantos, where the Tlâń live, with electromagnetic pulses. The EMPs destroyed most of the rings; but one was seized, intact and functioning. House Ekirvai was assigned by the Speaker, the leader of the Verē people, to discover how to use the ring, possibly how to make more of them as well.

The ring-soul, however, refuses to have anything to do with Verē, especially Verē from an Orthodox household like the Ekirvai, who believe that God made them the master race, and all non-Verē are "trash people". After repeated failures, the Ekirvai hit upon a workaround to the problem.

Mara is their workaround: a creature made from the genetics of the Krahos, the race ancestral to the Verē, and the genetics of the Tlâń as well. She looks like a human being, but her brain and nervous system are mostly Tlâń. The ring accepts her and does her will.

Ekirvai Kemto, the fanatical neuter head of the household, wants to know how powerful ys new weapon will be. Y orders a series of tests, including a flight from the capital city of the Verē to an island far to the east and south. Ekirvao Mara and her ring complete the flight in three minutes, undaunted by the rise into space, and atmospheric re-entry, that it entails.

Lord Ekirvai, who hates aliens (and Verē who don't agree with ys politics and religion), embraces Mara as a daughter and gives her a helmet to wear as a special mark of ys favor. Then y sends her off to her public test: to battle the Kaitempē, the Verē military and police, in space!

Her maiden flight behind her, Mara goes to battle…

Perilei starsun system, Numestô Jazao,
Year 10,040 (First History)

Monstrously powerful:

The captain of Light upon a Million Leaves sat on his favorite stool, waiting for the convoy containing his ship to make transit to the Aboǹi system. Holding a schematic of that legendary place up in front of one of his pairs of eyes with one of his pairs of hands, he sighed from one of his speaking mouths.

The captain's people were radially symmetrical, with one to six lobes in an ovoid body. Each lobe had a pair of legs, sexual organs, excretory organs, and an eating mouth on its under side; a pair of arms at its equator; and a speaking mouth, a pair of eyes on retractable stalks, and a pair of auditory sensors on its upper side. Olfactory pores, or smelling organs, were scattered all over the body.

Generally called Leaf, because Light upon a Million Leaves was his life's work, the captain was a mature individual with five lobes at present. In his last mating, one of his lobes had been impregnated by his second in command. After the new being had broken away from the captain's body, the healing process had changed him to his current male state. The second in command had become female, and was taking care of the new single-lobed child, back on the home world.

The captain sighed again. He missed his mate very much. But someone had to get their child off to a decent start. In a year or two, the mate could rejoin the ship, and the child would be old enough for crew. Meanwhile, Leaf needed to study. His own world lay within the Verē Empire, though it was independent (and thank the Speaker Mi*wu and ys Covenant for that!), and all of Light's trading had been done within the Heart Stars, the central portion of the Second Galaxy. But he'd never dared venture to Aboǹi, itself, before. With mate and child safe on the home world, Leaf was willing to take the risk of going into the belly of the beast in search of profit.

According to the briefing materials from his government's trade association, Aboǹi meant "beacon" in the Verē language, or maybe in the tongue ancestral to that one—language that had to be learned, that could change, was a baffling concept to Leaf's race.

The system was indeed a beacon to the entire Second Galaxy. (Why the Second Galaxy? Because the Verē called it that. Why did they call it that? Another riddle.)

The principal starsun of the system, Vol, was an O-type star, the kind of supermassive, superluminous sun that outshone most of the rest of the galaxy's stars by itself.

Orbiting this monster were four more giant stars in two pairs: Ťir and Řen, red and blue giants, respectively, of equal masses, and Lua and Tranis, equally-massive yellow and white giants. These stars orbited so that they were all the same distance from Vol at all times, though that distance varied from two light years to four. The whole system was set right in the center of the galaxy for maximum visibility.

Could anything be more obviously artificial? Here is a system created by someone who can make stars, and keep them burning long after their time, and arrange them any way they want. What are you going to do about it?

The challenge was riding light out of galactic center when the captain's race were savages scurrying through the undergrowth of their native forests. It continued while their astronomers discovered that other massive galaxies had black holes at their centers, suggesting that the mass at the center of their own galaxy had been put to use to build five stars, the largest of them hundreds of times the mass of an ordinary sun, and keep them burning. And it only got more dire when they became able to detect planets around other stars, and found a single large world orbiting Vol, the central star of Aboǹi. To top it off, the planet's poles were exactly perpendicular to the plane of the planet's orbit around its sun, which was exactly the same as the orbital plane of the four satellite suns around the central one. Worst of all, the planet wasn't just artificial, but inhabited. It was very massive, with a surface gravity five times that of Leaf's home world, but free oxygen, carbon dioxide, and unfrozen water existed there.

The bogeyman was real, and he lived at the center of the galaxy.

The convoy:

Pâtao Vîd́a, captain of Mi*wu's Jet, watched as the last ship was fitted into the convoy. The telekinetic monitor was duplicating selected wavelengths from a volume of space around Jet, producing a three-dimensional display of whatever size he wished, in whatever detail or at whatever resolution, and so forth. Right now he was seeing the shoebox shape of Jet, with the various odd shapes of the convoy's client ships arranged in planes above and below it. For this trip they were hauling 4 planes above, of 64 smaller ships apiece, and 3 more planes below, with 32 larger ships in each plane. The total of 352 alien ships had a mile between them in every direction, for safety's sake. The whole formation occupied a volume eight miles wide by 8 miles long by 8 miles tall, easily shown on a scale of half a foot to a mile if he wished to see the entire array at once.

It was purely arbitrary, of course. The formation was maintained telekinetically by the crew of the Jet, namely Vîd́a's neuter mate, his wife, and himself. The alien ships they were hauling weren't allowed to use their various weird drives once they came near. They could have been organized in a ball, pointed in or out; in a barrel shape—Ea, they could be arranged to spell out Mi*wu's Jet, in the snaky letters of the T́uliǹgrai alphabet! But Verē males, especially, preferred simple box shapes, hence the shoe-box shape of Jet herself, and most other Verē starships. Why not have a comfortable down, up, front back, and sides, when the telekinetic drive didn't care what shape the ship was, and accelerated every atom of the ship and its contents in perfect unison? No alien ship, with a physical drive that applied an indirect acceleration to the ship alone, could make right-angle turns the way Verē ships could, or go from a dead stop to any speed desired, limited only by the pilot's reaction time.

The last ship was locked in place now. "Transit," the captain ordered, talking to himself out of habit; the rest of his family was off-duty and asleep. A tele, an interface between the physical universe and Verē mindspace, appeared before the convoy's nominal front. It was robin's-egg blue, by convention, ten miles wide and ten miles high. An instant after it appeared, Mi*wu's Jet and its convoy sailed through it and were gone from the Perilei starsun system.

Insanely religious:

No acceleration was experienced by the Heinē ambassador aboard ys ship; y wouldn't know they'd made the transit until the convoy crew informed its clients. The Heinē spoke by rubbing specialized legs together, one or two or three pairs at a time; they communicated with the Verē through vocoders, devices that turned tapped input into Verē speech or writing. It was traditional for the Speaker to give the ambassador the welcoming gift of a Verē replacement that automatically translated Heinē stridulations into speech with no manual input required, and not-at-all incidentally spared their hosts from having to hear the original speech, with its wide range of pitches, volumes, and scraping and screeching noises. Of course, since they were telekinetic devices, they only worked in the presence of a Verē.

A heinē was a small insect of Eoverai that lived by sipping sap from holes it chewed in plants. It couldn't fly (no insect could fly in 5 gravities), but hopped on the ground or crawled on plants. The ambassador's race had evolved from something similar on its own world, and in the low gravity there, were four or five feet long. Thus the Verē called them the Heinē, "the Leafhopper People" or "the Sapsucker Race".

The ambassador's personal name meant "Sweet and freely flowing", a popular personal name in his people's language. Y was a fine specimen of an adult Heinē, as might be expected of a direct personal representative of the Empress-Mother of ys race. Ys body was shaped like the sail of a racing schooner; it curved forward like a sail full of wind, swept up to a point four and a half feet high, slanted back in a straight line from there, and then curved forward from that rear point. Most of that sail was made of a material similar to a finger nail, and was as dead as a finger nail, or a butterfly's wing, and only a few inches thick. The living part of ys body was the tube at the bottom of the sail, or fin, where the brain and other organs were, arms and hands for manipulating things, and four pairs of legs supporting it all. In the earlier stages of ys development, ys multifaceted eyes had been on the front of that part of his body; but as the fin had grown, the eyes had migrated along it, and now looked down on most others of ys race from the most forward part of the fin's curve.

"We're almost at Aboǹi," y said to ys aide, "and I still don't understand this Verē concept you've been trying to explain to me. I've served the Empress-Mother with distinction in diplomacy with alien races; I can say this without false modesty, for she's honored me for it. But I still fail to grasp this 'God' thing. Perhaps it would help if you could tell me what field of science describes it?"

The aide sighed, by letting air from her book lungs flow audibly out of the spiracles along her body. That wasn't speech, any more than a human sigh is speech, but conveyed her feelings anyway. "Science doesn't describe 'God', or 'The Powergiver', which is another name for it," she answered, "because it isn't a real thing. It's an imaginary thing, which no race but the Verē—oh, and their ancestors—ever dreamed of. But it's very important to them. In some ways, it's the most important thing there is, even though it doesn't exist."

The aide's body was shaped like the ambassador's body had been, before y attained maturity, and underwent ys final metamorphosis. Y had started life as a female, like her; after giving birth a certain number of times, y had become male; then, after a certain number of successful couplings had produced offspring, y had become neuter. This was the normal pattern for the Heinē, except for the Empress-Mother, who was born female and stayed that way. The ambassador was a pale green all over ys body, while the aide was a glossy black. But aside from the former's fin, or sail, both of them had the same six body segments, with a pair of walking legs on the rear three, a pair of hands that doubled as speech organs on the first two, and a pair on the third segment that could serve as either hands or legs. Except for the migration of eyes along the front of the ambassador's fin, both had the same organs in the same places, including the brains in the first segment (and eyes, in her case), mouth parts in the second, and book lungs in the third.

The newly-appointed ambassador from the Heinē Empress-Mother to the Verē Speaker wasn't thinking about biology, however. The aide was a young, attractive female of ys species, but that part of ys life was behind ym. "That's exactly what I don't understand," y said. "If it isn't real, how can it be important?"

"It's important because they 'believe' that it's real," said the aide.

"But I don't understand that word, either. What does 'believe' mean?"

"Something like 'know', I think," said the aide. "You know something when it's compatible with the theoretical and observed structure of science and history, that is, the established facts of the universe."

"Certainly," the ambassador said patiently. "I know that 'Source of All Sap' was the first Empress-Mother; that's an historical fact. And I know that our species evolved from non-sentient beings; that's a scientific fact. So?

"So the Verē, and the species they sprang from, 'know' things that aren't real, things which either can't be proven, or have actually been disproven. They call this kind of 'knowing', belief. They 'believe', with no evidence whatsoever, that they have non-physical organs, called 'souls', that live on after they have died. They 'believe' that an imaginary being called 'God' made this universe, and all the universes—"

"But!" objected the ambassador, "Where's the evidence for such a wild claim?"

"Evidence is beside the point," said the aide, "for a believer. They believe it's true, and that's enough for them. Historically, anyone who said it wasn't true, argued about the details of it, or even didn't believe it loudly and passionately enough, could be tortured, mutilated, imprisoned indefinitely, or even killed."

"They must be insane," said the ambassador.

"Yes, that's what every other species says," replied the aide. "But it's an interesting madness. No other species has ever confused fantasy with reality this way. But apparently every Verē divides ys, her, or his brain into two parts, one for reality, and one for religion, and keeps them separate."

"Even their scientists?"

"Even their scientists."

"Insane," said the Heinē ambassador, rolling ys multifaceted eyes.

Passage through Perilei:

The Drē ship Thousand Suns plunged into the Perilei sun. Shaped like two saucers glued together at their rims, it was barely cooler than the outer layers of the star. As it descended, its temperature went up and up to match its surroundings. Neither the ship nor its passenger(s) were bothered by heat or pressure.

In the mesosphere of the small red star, just above the layer where hydrogen fused into helium and released energy, the gate to the Aboǹi system was available as a sphere darker and cooler than the plasma around it. Thousand Suns aligned itself along the equatorial plane of the rotating sphere, and pushed its way in. In a moment it was through the subspace discontinuity in the sphere's center, and emerged in the mesosphere of Ťir, one of the five starsuns of Aboǹi.

No material being could have passed through the gate without being torn atom from atom, but the Drē, and all their works, were plasma and energy, organized by the telekinesis of their minds. No purely physical means could have seen the gate, or the discontinuity at its center, but Drē senses weren't physical, but telekinetic.

The Drē saucer was watched by a Kaitempē sundiver vessel as it emerged from the gateway. The giant Verē warship was equipped with massive fields to keep out radiation for as long as possible, powerful batteries to store excess until they reached capacity, and tractor-pressor beams to seize any invader and drag it out of the sun, where it could be fought on equal terms. The Drē Wars were over, but the Verē stayed ready for the next one.

But Thousand Suns was known, it emerged on schedule, and it went directly to the convoy to which it was assigned. The sundiver noted its passage and kept on scanning the star for intruders.

Obscenely non-commercial:

"Your accounts aren't balanced," said the captain of the Deep Currents to (his1) purser.

It was the worst thing (he1) could have said. To the Huopē (as the Verē called them), who dwelt in their planet-wide oceans, culture and commerce were synonyms, and the true worth of something was reckoned to be nothing more or less than what it could be sold for. Even children were the joint property of the three survivors of the four individuals it took to produce (him1), (him2), or (her1), and could be bought or sold. No one could be a free adult until that person had purchased that status. The punishment for not keeping correct financial records ranged from heavy fines, to loss of one's corporate status, to death with forfeiture of assets.

Huope is the T́uliǹgrai stem for a blanket, and the Huovē looked like blankets, with eyes and other sensory organs along their edges, and tentacles for stinging, grasping, sex, and excretion hanging below. They moved by rippling their flat surfaces through the water. They spoke by modulating electrical currents.

The water fairly boiled with the voltage of the captain's wrath. "How could you make such an elementary mistake?" (he1) said. "I trusted you!"

The purser struggled not to roll up into a bundle to reduce (his2) surface exposure to the captain's ire, though (he2) fancied (he2) could feel (his2) edges beginning to shrivel. "Beautiful one, I don't understand, (he2) said. "Please, what have I done?"

The captain was indeed most beautiful. A child of a wealthy family, (he1) had been heavily tattooed all over (his1) upper surface with ornate patterns in a variety of colors, especially the ultra-violet colors by which their people mostly saw. After paying (his1) child debt, (he1) had continued to invest in (his1) body treasure: adding fluorescent dyes to (his1) patterns, having metallic threads sewn into major motifs and into (his1) edges, having jewels inset here and there.

(He1) was in no mood to be flattered, however, even by the purser (he1)'d been considering as a potential mate. "Look at this," (he1) shrieked. "Just look! Convoy expenses: pending. Pending! What worth has 'pending'? How much is this passage costing me?"

"Well, that depends," said the purser, cautiously.

"Depends?!! On what?" shouted the captain.

"Please, captain, you're upsetting my wives," the purser said. As (he2) spoke, (he2) ran manipulative tentacles underneath (him2self), where a dozen handkerchief-sized (female2)s hung like leeches, attached to veins with their mouths. At the soothing touch, they stopped mewling in fear and returned to their feeding, once again purring with contentment.

"I'm sorry," the captain said; no decent person liked to see children or wives2 upset. "But I need a good explanation of this entry, just the same."

"And I have one," said the purser. "I should have realized"—if I didn't do all my thinking with my copulatory tentacle whenever I'm around you, (he2) thought to (him2self)—"that you'd never had dealings with the Verē before."

"No, all my previous ventures have been up and down this arm of the galaxy," the captain said. "How did you know?"

"The Verē are non-commercial," the purser said. (He2) uttered the obscenity not lewdly, but in a matter-of-fact way; it was all the more shocking for that. "They don't buy and sell; they don't use money; in fact, they don't practice ownership."

"Stop!" the captain wailed. (He1) could feel the purser's statements cracking (his1) sanity, like hammers on eggs. "Stop! Are you crazed?"

"Now it's my turn to be sorry," the purser said. "I never wanted to utter filth to you. But you must understand this, if you're going to deal with the Verē. Many choose never to do so," (he2) added.

"But… if Verē 1 has a fish, and Verē 2 wants it, how does 2 buy it from 1?" asked the captain, falling back on the familiar ground of Huopē economic theory.

"(He1) doesn't," the purser answered. "1 can keep the fish, and 2 can catch (his1) own; or 1 can give the fish to 2, without compensation ("Eek!" squawked the captain), or 1 can give the fish to 2, and 2 can give 1 something that 1 wants; a shell, maybe."

"They live by barter?" the captain said, groping for understanding. "But who sets the value of the fish and the shell? The government?"

"No one sets a value to anything, and they don't have a government," said the purser.

"AAGGH!" screamed the captain, in an unmodulated crackle of electricity. "How do they live, then? Who buys their food?"

"No one," the purser said. "They don't eat. They absorb energy from their sun; not chemically, like plants, but telekinetically."

"Arggh! Look—There's a spaceport on their planet, right? Well, who built it?"

"A bunch of their police/military, using machines, under the orders of their superiors."

"So it was a military project. But the military is part of the government."

"Captain, there is no government. The Kaitempē act under orders from the Verē Speaker."

"That's their king, right?"

"No, captain, sorry. The Speaker isn't a king, or part of any government. (He1) just speaks for all the Verē."

"I don't understaaaaaaaaand," sobbed the captain.

"I'm so sorry, love," said the purser helplessly.

"Do you understand? I could make you officer in charge of dealing with Verē," the captain said, desperately.

"I don't understand, not really. I know all the answers to all the questions you want to ask, but it makes no sense to me, either."

"Look," said the captain, "just tell me this: what is this trip through the Verē system, as part of this Verē convoy, going to cost me?"

"Somewhere between 3200 and 3600 credits," said the purser. "But we won't know the exact amount for a while."

"Oh," said the captain, back in a steady current at last. Relief rippled through (him1). "That's not bad at all. Who decides the price? And when will we know?"

"The Verē do keep records, just not financial ones," the purser said carefully. "Our government keeps track of things the Verē do for its citizens, and bills us for them, at a rate calculated to keep commerce going without getting too heavily 'in debt' to the Verē. Then the government applies any little thing it can do for the Verē to the collective debt, keeping us out of the Verē Empire."

"So the government barters goods and services with the Verē, and bills us for our share?"

"Ah… Yes! I never thought of it exactly that way, but I believe that's correct," the purser said.

"So we'll get a bill from our government at the end of the quarter?" asked the captain.

"That's right," said the purser. "Meanwhile, the bill for riding this convoy is," (he2) (shrugged), rippling (his2) upper surface in a wave from (his2) front to (his2) back, " 'pending'." (He2) waited for the captain to say that (he1) understood now.

Instead, the captain said, with a touch of shyness, "You really think I'm beautiful?"

Mara attacks!

Lisao Meńa, a Kaitempē officer with the rank of Aedile Second, wasn't surprised when his telekinetic communicator came alive, since there was an exercise scheduled. He didn't tell the others in his squadron to listen up. They'd better be doing that without being told!

"Aboǹi System Command, this is Proconsul Ekirvao Mrada, requesting permission to execute Operation Mara, per plan dated this morning."

"Ekirvao Proconsul, this is Praetor Imorao Rigo for System Command. Wait one."

Then the communicator, whose messages were normally audio only for maximum bandwidth and minimum distraction, was projecting a 3-D image of the Speaker sitting on his Throne, wearing the Double Crown—most decidedly not part of any normal exercise! The last time Meńa had seen the like was at the start of the last Imperial War. At least this time the Speaker wasn't holding the Axe. That meant this was an exercise, after all.

"System Command, you may proceed according to plan," said the supreme commander of all the Kaitempē. "Ekirvao Mara, good luck to you."

Ekirvao Mara? Operation Mara? Then the communicator spoke again, and the aedile shoved all speculation aside to give it his full attention.

"Aboǹi System, attention to orders! Eoverai Orbital, intercept missile rising from planetary surface. Moons and Near-Space, execute Operation Mara. Deep Space, you are the reserve. All convoys, attention to orders! All convoys outward bound, proceed with caution. All inbound convoys, freeze in place. All non-Kaitempē ships of any kind or destination, strictly obey the orders of any Kaitempē who gives them, without argument or delay."

Lisao Meńa's squadron of one-man cruisers, shaped like boxes 12 feet high by 18 feet wide by 24 feet long, was part of Eoverai Orbital. He began to scan for anything coming up from the planet, then frowned, unsure what he was seeing. Orders had called it a "missile", which fit its constant acceleration—no, not constant! Not only was its speed increasing, but its acceleration was as well, Surely it would run out of fuel soon and go ballistic? A quick calculation showed that even if it did so right this second, it already had escape velocity for Eoverai.

"Orders?" said the communicator, in the voice of Aedile Third Saibao Leiki, Meńa's second in command.

Since it was coming right at them… "Echelon left on my bearing," Meńa said. "Fire as you get range. Don't wait for further orders, that thing is fast."

"Any idea what it is?" Leiki asked. "It's too small for a vehicle. Could it be a person in a new kind of flight harness?"

Meńa started. He hadn't even thought of that. But… using what for air? Water, spares, weapons? Before he could say anything, though, another call came in.

"Switch to visible wavelength!" someone said, without identifying himself.

Powergiver! thought Meńa, after doing so, It's a woman! His blood turned cold as he noted the detested House Ekirvai colors, and the fierce joy on her face.

And then she was upon them.

The eight ships of Aedile Lisao's squadron fell to Mara rapidly. The echelon formation, intended to sweep an inanimate missile with beam after beam until it melted or exploded, simply meant that she took them on one at a time, or at most two at a time. The one-man vehicles consisted of a cab for the pilot, a room behind that for sleep, a store room behind that, the drive compartment below all that, and a variety of externally-mounted weapons. She ignored the tøska beams, particle beams, lasers, and rockets fired at her, letting the ring block them all; except when one of the weapons endangered the man who fired it, or another nearby. Then she muffled the blast in a yellow ball, so no one was hurt. Shearing through metal and Verē shields in response, she cracked tøska drives, sliced rockets in half, tied gun barrels in knots, ripped the antenna flanges off telekinetic weapons, and generally enjoyed herself, still accelerating outward the whole time. Every other ship she left with an intact drive, so it could get itself and one other home safely.

As she left the crippled squadron behind, another came sweeping up from the west, over the curve of the planet. Accelerating for all they were worth, Aedile First Fusao Mrada's eight single-officer cruisers caught up with Mara another thousand miles out. They attacked her from behind and all sides as they overtook her, then the leading ships flipped over once they were past, and renewed the attack.

Mara went into the same combat state developed in her by her hand-to-and and weapons training for dealing with multiple opponents at once. It was almost easier up here, once she let the ring deal with the minutiae of air, heat, gravity, and armor. The lighter weapons couldn't hurt her, and if they used the heavier weapons they endangered each other. She stayed alert in case they chose to risk that, and made sure they didn't kill each other. Meanwhile, one by one, she and the ring found openings to disable their telekinetic drives. She had more opportunities for that, since this squadron had vectors away from the planet, and wouldn't be pulled in by its gravity without drives.

Praetor First Kranao Mota ordered the smaller units of his flight away from the action, and called in eight-man ships from Haĵi, the closer of the two large moons. Praetor First Mapao Hane of Mid-Space Command (aka "Near-Space and Moons" or "Moons and Super-Orbital"), which controlled the space containing the orbits of Rihos, Haĵi, Gron, and the Kaitempē bases and resources upon them, ceded Mota a squadron of the larger ships, but reminded him that there'd only be time for one engagement, at the target's ever-increasing acceleration, before the fight passed into his territory.

Ekirvai Kemto, the head of Mara's household, knew that the really powerful weapons were stationed far from Eoverai, at Vol and its satellite suns, and on stations at galactic north and south (above and below) the Abońi system. Mara's instructions were to continue heading outward until she reached a sun, defeated everyone sent against her, was defeated, or the exercise was halted.

"Defeated" included "killed", if she proved wanting; certain Kaitempē officers from Orthodox houses, especially Imorai, Ekotkai, and Ekirvai, had personal orders to kill Mara if they saw a chance. This was a test to destruction; if she couldn't survive everything thrown at her, known or unknown, fair or foul, overt or covert, Mara wasn't the weapon Ekirvai wanted.

The eight-man vehicles that attacked Mara next were much more powerful than the cruisers she'd defeated before. The larger ships were equipped to stay out for periods up to a year. They had the same proportions as the cruisers, but were four times as large in every dimension. Into that volume they packed a control cab for a pilot and a co-pilot at the front, a backup cab on the back for two more, and eight rooms, in two rows of four, in between. On the floor below that, there were weapons racked below each cab, deployed by tele to the outside. In between these armories was a live garden for recycling air, an air tank for backup, and a water tank for the garden and the men, and for converting to oxygen as a second backup for the air. On the bottom floor was the drive unit and the backup drive unit, plus storerooms, tool shop, and batteries for storing excess energy. At full alert, as now, there were two men each in the control cab, its backup, the drive unit, and its backup. Normally, the crew operated with four men on duty, and four men off.

All eight medium cruisers launched a 100-megaton atomic missile at Mara, and detonated them simultaneously at eight points of a sphere around her, so that the blast, radiation, and EMP converged on her. Some of the blast, etc. went outward, too, but the ships put up their own shields as soon as their missiles were away.

They very nearly overwhelmed her. Later, Mara would become more skilled and more experienced. Later, her ring, which was already experienced, would become more powerful, and more assertive about overriding her orders when those orders were foolish. Here and now, however, Mara saw the missiles coming and didn't even try to stop them.

She had never heard her ring scream before.

Completely unhurt herself inside the yellow sphere the ring had made, she held the ring to her cheek and crooned to it, weeping. "Poor baby," she said. "Oh, I'm so sorry!"

Pain pain pain pain PAIN, said the ring.

"I'm so sorry," she repeated. "Are you hurt?"

PAIN!!!

"But are you wounded? Are you damaged? Shall we quit? Shall we tell them that they've won?"

! said the ring, indignantly.

"Well, then," Mara coaxed. "Shall we fight just a little bit longer?"

!!!

"All right, then," Mara said, beginning to smile. "But no more standing still and daring them to give us their best shot! From now on, if they want to touch us, they're going to have to work for it!"

Grrr! said the ring.

"So," she said, "Brush my hair, and clean my uniform, and let's go out there grinning like that was the most fun we've ever had! That should make them think twice!"

Tribune Second Takao Maxa uttered one word: "Quiet!" The jubilation in his squadron of medium cruisers shut down right away.

"Better," he said, looking at the projected heads of the Tribunes Third commanding each ship. "This was no deadly enemy of the Empire, but a weapons test. Rejoicing over the death of a brave test pilot is out of line, gentlemen."

"Also," he said, "it's unconfirmed."

"But, sir! How do you expect to confirm it? What could possibly be left?"

All of them looked at the boiling, expanding cloud of gas and light and heat. The mushroom cloud that would have been shaped by gravity and air, on the surface of a planet with an atmosphere, here expanded outwards in all directions, containing very little matter, rather than the tons of dirt or water that would've been swept up in the rising fireball. The gases, and the radiant heat and light, still had to get out of their own way; it wasn't instantaneous.

Just as the radiation density fell to where light could escape, all the watchers gasped, gaped, or swore. Out of the cataclysm came Mara, straight towards them, fresh as a daisy and baring her Krahos teeth in a fierce grin.

Praetor Kranao Mota watched the medium cruisers rendered unfit for combat in a couple of searing moments by yellow buzzsaw blades that sliced all their weapons in half lengthwise, and hammer blows that smashed their drive domes into curved shards. She still wasn't killing anyone, he noticed.

"Mid-Space Command, this is Orbital, ceding control," Mota said. "She's all yours, Hane."

"Ea! Thank you so much," Praetor Mapao Hane responded, without enthusiasm.

Continued next issue!

Verē Households

The Verē resistance, during their long enslavement by the Krahos, organized in small cells. They couldn't organize in families, because their "masters" broke up birth families as a matter of policy, and sold or traded their slaves regularly. This was intended to keep the slaves disorganized and at the mercy of their "owners." The Old Ones were aware of how strong and tough the slaves were, and terrified of what they might do in revolt. Yet they were too valuable as property to give up, and too much of the new births each year continued to be Verē, to simply exterminate them. Too much of their property value would disappear, and too much of their population would die. Who would do the work, raise the food, make the goods sold by the economy?

Deprived of birth families for support, the slaves organized themselves into Houses. At first, all the slaves at a given estate were a single household, led by the individual most respected by the others. As slaves were sold or traded around, those sent away remained true to their house, and became the seeds of that house in other places. Likewise, if the head of the house were sold away, those left behind continued the household. Either way, the largest estates, with the most slaves, became the sources of the largest households. Smaller estates that traded their slaves more frequently could also have this effect.

The slaves of each great estate, then, were typically divided among themselves into one, or sometimes two, greater houses, and several to many lesser houses with fewer members. Though all the houses were united in the goal of ending their enslavement, each house was independent, ruled by its head, with no governmental structure for the Old Ones to detect or defeat.

The crunch came when the Krahos decided that they needed to exterminate the Verē once and for all, and damn the consequences. The slaves far outnumbered the masters, and this would only get worse. Attempts to "send slaves away" and murder them en route simply resulted in their "escorts" being attacked and killed by the growing army of escaped slaves, their ranks swelled for the night by slaves from both estates, and others nearby. Afterwards, the saved slave joined the others in the wild, and ys, her, or his rescuers returned to the estates where they lived. Not until the Krahos formed an army for the purpose of going from estate to estate, killing all the slaves at each estate in turn, did they learn just how strong, and just how organized, their slaves had become.

Someone had to lead the Verē, and give the ultimate commands. Division and disorganization among the slaves was the only way the "masters" could win. They counted on that, and on the favor of their gods. Ten great houses provided the generals of the uprising, but the leader of the Verē was the Speaker of House Ihed́ai. Y was the direct descendant of the first Speaker, and the prestige of that was part of why y had the largest household, and had the allegiance of all the lesser households.

After their victory over their oppressors, the Verē didn't set up a government. Governments had always betrayed them, and it was the laws of Krahos governments which had legalized and enforced their enslavement. Instead, they went with the customs forged along with their chains. The Great Houses met and settled matters by discussion. By custom, each house, though sovereign and equal to every other great house, abided by the decision of them all. All the lesser houses decided things for the people of their houses. The Speaker, who was always a member of House Ihed́ai, usually a direct descendant of a previous Speaker, and usually the head of that House. When Y spoke for ys household, that was one thing; but when y Spoke for the whole race, custom demanded obedience. Custom was sometimes out of luck; but typically, most of the Great Houses, and almost all of the lesser ones, accepted ys decisions when made on that foundation.

Kaitempē Ranks

Every male Verē was required to be trained in the Kaitempē, which kept the peace among the race as a kind of police, and defended the race against hostile alien races as the Verē military. Anyone who chose not to be full-time Kaitempē had to, by force of custom, go through another training period every couple of years; the full-timers were constantly training and taking part in exercises.

By custom, Verē males serving in the Kaitempē were on leave from their houses, and enforced the decrees and proclamations of the current Speaker without regard to household loyalties. Also by custom, those not active duty were forbidden the use of Kaitempē weapons, or to wear the uniform. Abuses of these customs, almost always by members of Orthodox houses, were strictly punished by Kaitempē of Liberal great houses, or lesser houses, under the command of the Speaker.

The Kaitempē rank structure was a simple hierarchy, from bottom to top. Since the race had all been slaves together there was no custom of common solders and noble soldiers, no division into a dual structure of enlisted men and officers. Since their fighting had largely been guerilla actions until the final uprising, there was no custom of ranked units such as company, regiment, battalion, etc. with an officer of a certain rank for each size unit. Each unit was designed for its purpose, with the manpower and equipment needed to carry out its mission, and every man in every unit has risen from the lowest rank to whichever one he now held.

The Kaitempē soldier, as a direct subordinate of the Speaker when on duty, wore the Speaker's colors, which was also the People's colors. His uniform was a green long-sleeved shirt with a yellow collar and cuffs, green pants with a yellow belt, tucked into green boots with no fastenings, and a green helmet. His rank was displayed on both shoulders, and on his helmet, in yellow.

From bottom to top, the ranks were:

1. (1. in decimal numbers) Ētanai Harol, meaning "spearman" or "spear carrier" three. Written in English, in fiction on this site, as the rank of Spearman Third. Also referred to, informally, as a "1-ranker".
Insignia: A spear, point up.

2. (2. decimal) Ētanai Ket́ol, meaning "spearman" or "spear carrier" two. Written in English, in fiction on this site, as the rank of Spearman Second. Also referred to, informally, as a "2-ranker".
Insignia: Two spears, points up and crossed in an X.

3. (3. decimal) Ētanai Jedol, meaning "spearman" or "spear carrier" one. Written in English, in fiction on this site, as the rank of Spearman First. Also referred to, informally, as a "3-ranker".
Insignia: Three spears, points up, in a row.


4. (4. decimal) Ēlamai Harol, meaning "triangle (wearer)" three. Written in English, in fiction on this site, as the rank of Legate Third. Also referred to, informally, as a "4-ranker".
Insignia: One triangle, point down.

5. (5. decimal) Ēlamai Ket́ol, meaning "triangle (wearer)" two. Written in English, in fiction on this site, as the rank of Legate Second. Also referred to, informally, as a "5-ranker".
Insignia: Two triangles, points down, side by side.

6. (6. decimal) Ēlamai Jedol, meaning "triangle (wearer)" one. Written in English, in fiction on this site, as the rank of Legate First. Also referred to, informally, as a "6-ranker".
Insignia: Three triangles, point down, one above and two below.


7. (7. decimal) Ēnorai Harol, meaning "flag (bearer)" three. Written in English, in fiction on this site, as the rank of Aedile Third. Also referred to, informally, as a "7-ranker".
Insignia: One flag, flying to right.

10. (8. decimal) Ēnorai Ket́ol, meaning "flag (bearer)" two. Written in English, in fiction on this site, as the rank of Aedile Second. Also referred to, informally, as a "10-ranker".
Insignia: Two flags, flying to right, side by side.

11. (9. decimal) Ēnorai Jedol, meaning "flag (bearer)" one. Written in English, in fiction on this site, as the rank of Aedile First. Also referred to, informally, as a "11-ranker".
Insignia: Three flags, flying to right, one above and two below.


12. (10 decimal) Ēlevai Harol, meaning "disk (wearer)" three. Written in English, in fiction on this site, as the rank of Tribune Third. Also referred to, informally, as a "12-ranker".
Insignia: One disk.

13. (11. decimal) Ēlevai Ket́ol, meaning "disk (wearer)" two. Written in English, in fiction on this site, as the rank of Tribune Second. Also referred to, informally, as a "13-ranker".
Insignia: Two disks, side by side.

14. (12. decimal) Ēlevai Jedol, meaning "disk (wearer)" one. Written in English, in fiction on this site, as the rank of Tribune First. Also referred to, informally, as a "14-ranker".
Insignia: Three disks, one above and two below.


15. (13 decimal) Ēmalai Harol, meaning "palm leaf (bearer)" three. Written in English, in fiction on this site, as the rank of Praetor Third. Also referred to, informally, as a "15-ranker".
Insignia: One palm leaf, facing left.

16. (14. decimal) Ēmalai Ket́ol, meaning "palm leaf (bearer)" two. Written in English, in fiction on this site, as the rank of Praetor Second. Also referred to, informally, as a "16-ranker".
Insignia: Two palm leaves, facing left, side by side.

17. (15. decimal) Ēmalai Jedol, meaning "palm leaf (bearer)" one. Written in English, in fiction on this site, as the rank of Praetor First. Also referred to, informally, as a "17-ranker".
Insignia: Three palm leaves, facing left, one above and two below.


20. (16 decimal) Ējokai Harol, meaning "river (wearer)" three. Written in English, in fiction on this site, as the rank of Proconsul Third. Also referred to, informally, as a "20-ranker".
Insignia: One river symbol, i.e., three chevronels conjoined in fess.

21. (17. decimal) Ējokai Ket́ol, meaning "river (wearer)" two. Written in English, in fiction on this site, as the rank of Proconsul Second. Also referred to, informally, as a "21-ranker".
Insignia: Two river symbols, one above the other.

22. (18. decimal) Ējokai Jedol, meaning "river (wearer)" one. Written in English, in fiction on this site, as the rank of Proconsul First. Also referred to, informally, as a "22-ranker".
Insignia: Three river symbols in a column.


23. (19 decimal) Ēpirai, meaning "ring (bearer)". Written in English, in fiction on this site, as the rank of Consul. Also referred to, informally, as a "23-ranker".
Insignia: One circle.

24. (20. decimal) Da Ēpirai, meaning "greater ring (bearer)". Written in English, in fiction on this site, as the rank of Consul Major. Also referred to, informally, as a "24-ranker".
Insignia: Two circles, one above the other.

25. (21. decimal) Ērukarnai, meaning "one who decrees". Written in English, in fiction on this site, as the position of Speaker. Not an actual rank, but placed here to show that the Speaker is the supreme commander of the Kaitempē.
Insignia: Three circles, each linked with both the others, one on top, two on bottom.
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