Stone Walls Do Not a Prison Make

You are reading: The Final Bounty

Written by Antagony on 03 Jul 2017 05:29.

Qādisiyyah was an old city. Perhaps a fortress. As such its history was shrouded in mystery. The city’s elders who held nominal power over the city would speak of a race of ancient beings. Wingèd creatures, who one day and without warning, abandoned the burgh and the planet. Never to return.
Oddly, the city was alone on the planet Tigris. No other settlements, no other ruins. Just Qādisiyyah. As such, its current inhabitants called themselves ‘Citizens.’
It had been built atop a mount in the heart of a jungle, or rather a column, as the sides were perfectly octangular. Perfectly vertical. Miles high. Carved into the sides like a hive, were hundreds of elaborately carved bays, since converted into hangars for spacefaring vessels. Their outer doors made of stone. All of them, were interconnected by a network of huge passages leading up to the surface. While a separate set of tunnels were connected to underground reservoirs of water, or acted as a cooling system for the city. Wherever there was space, hands, or perhaps even brilliantly sculpted talons, being at least ten metres long, struck out of the column in the thousands. And in their grasp, swords and spears and axes.
At the top were hundred foot stone walls and battlements surrounding the city, as well as eight large towers. And today, sentries were posted all along it. The likes of which seemed unnecessary if the city had been built as a fortress. What was most likely, was that they had been constructed to prevent its citizens from accidentally plummeting to their deaths.
And of course, inside was all manner of mayhem. Buildings of the same granite throughout the city sprawled along its plan. With no panes in their windows, and no doors in their houses, and tall trees growing out of each of their roofs, their roots breaking apart the foundations of all of them they were so old. Inns and restaurants, baths, brothels and saloons occupied similar buildings, albeit they were taller and their lights shone brighter. And basilicas, temples and shrines, which stood even taller than that, were adorned with pillars and domes and spires. Then narrow avenues wound through like snakes seemingly without pattern. While at its centre, was a great souq, so large as to put all the people inside it, and then ten million more. As often, there were.
Regarding the souq, anything one could think of, it could be purchased there. It was replete with exotic produce, live meats, psychedelic herbs and the most divine spices. Luxurious textiles and fine jewelry were abundant. There were precious stones, rare metals and gases, ores and fuels that could be solid and malleable, and reluctant. Or could destroy the entire city in a single beat. There were ship parts, tools and deadly weapons. Livestock and slaves of all breeds and all species, made up a third of the headcount in the market. Not all of it was legal either. But it was more than just that.
It seemed there was something far more to do than merely buy and sell wares. Seers lurked in alleys on its outskirts, while monks made pilgrimages between their temples, with chained behind them, delirious young oracles spouting as much nonsense. As much as orators on podiums rallying crowds if only to their attention. And multiple gangs would patrol the streets and enforce their own laws in whichever quarters they held sway. Territory which extended well below the surface. The gang leaders styled themselves as 'Suzerains.'
Meanwhile, all new festivals and carnivals took place daily, representing different cultures and religions. The parties were loud and extravagant, and especially colourful. Original attractions opened and closed like the weather, featuring spectacles of alien worlds, thrilling rides, and the most amalgamating drugs and potions to imbibe to heighten every experience. Either on the streets or in makeshift theatres constructed in mere hours on the high ground, were live performances from talented and talentless actors to famous singers and orchestras, from dancers to jesters and wrestlers to stunt artists. Galleries of art and relics of every medium were open to the public, as well as auctioned off to the highest bidders. Then there were fights and competitions at the stadiums for anyone to enter, showing off skill and agility, feats of strength, and combat, as well as fast-paced or in some cases, high-flying races in the skies above. It was in both cases, where fortunes could be made or lost depending on who or what was bet on. It was entertainment like no other.
Beings of all walks of life came from near and far across the galaxy to be there. In Qādisiyyah. Species like the green, celluloid Marinduque, or the tusked Mindoro. And the small, if willful Palawan, and the violent, quilled Romblon. Even a few adventurous human beings were known to frequent the city and its fabled souq. Among them all was Kalimantan, who had one purpose there that day. Supplies. Though for the moment, his brother and the rest of the crew saw to it that it was loaded safely aboard Varuni. So he claimed to need to look for one more thing.
Yet Kalimantan walked amidst the stalls of the Mindoro, where they seemed to focus on selling artefacts from their homeworld. Giant rattles or clubs made of quartz or rubies. Vases and chalices of a similar make but equal quality. Nothing he or the Makassar could possibly need. Though even then, their merchandise didn’t interest Kalimantan. For he wandered past them, and the throng gathered around, toward the middle of the souq. To see one of the greatest wonders the city had to offer.
There, equally spaced in a circle were eight glorious statues. Each rose a further sixty feet into the air. They were immaculately carved clawed hands with archaic script etched into them, as well as bas reliefs depicting either startling iconography or the stories of gods and demons at war or in carnal embrace. No two images were identical. They had been painted too, and in varying shades. Most of which Kalimantan couldn’t name. It was a wash that had only withstood time and the elements because of the enamel coating said to be quite toxic if even touched. Though Kalimantan was sure it depended on the species. Much like the lesser hands which jutted out of the sides of the column, the hands before him wielded sharp swords pointed heavenward. It was steel in the clutches of stone. And for Kalimantan, this was home.
As Kalimantan marveled in his approach of one of the hands, he saw something familiar. It looked like something he had seen only hours previous. A symbol had been chiselled into the granite. A blue sphere emblazoned with a coat of red wings. Once up close, he knew where he had seen it. To what end he was drawn there, he didn’t know. Though it helped to cement his concerns about blindly accepting a job without fully knowing what it was. Money be damned.
Before he could investigate any further, his comms buzzed. At the other end was the pilot Maida. The huskiest-sounding of all the Makassar. “Whatever dive or brothel you’ve stumbled in, Kalimantan, you’d best stumble out. With or without that one last item you went out for. Captain’s itching to fly.”
Kalimantan knew the latter statement to be true. Sarawak was excited to take on the new job. It was why he had insisted on personally checking over all the supplies that came aboard, the inventory, and why he oversaw the ship’s diagnostics and any subsequent repairs.
“I’m returning to you now,” said Kalimantan.
Rather than go back exactly from whence he came, Kalimantan headed instead to the lift nearest him. To the catacombs. And there were dozens of elevators scattered throughout the city. Most looked the same. Like the entrance to a cave. Where each gate had its own unique girih-patterned portcullis. They were sealed, but the motion-activated door would lift open on its hinge to anyone, save during times of quarantine, catastrophe, or war. Behind them, a large cubicle which either propelled passengers up to the city, or down to one of the many sub-surface storeys in a vacuum chamber. However, it did not go to the base of the column.
Once at his level, it was only a short journey through the wide passage to the hangar where Varuni was waiting. There, as one would expect it seemed less a ville, and more a depot. Local engineers, mechanics, porters and even peons went to and fro, as their services were provided in addition to the lease of the ship hangar. Which was hardly some simple warehouse.
All of the hangars, theirs included, somewhat resembled the nave of a cathedral, though where there would traditionally be a congregation, there was the ship. On the floor were massive scenes of legendary battles fought on distant planets, in mosaic. Each coloured tile so small as to fit in one’s eye. Though recent upgrades when converting the bays into ship hangars saw deep canals dug for fuel to run through, and most everywhere else were long tubes and cables half the size of Kalimantan covering the ground. Along the two walls, were a pair of enormous oculi projecting natural light. It was filtered in somehow through a funnel of mirrors, for behind both walls were identical hangars. Finally, the walls gave way and curved into the ceiling, itself a masterpiece of architecture, as the vaulted arches and buttresses had been carved out of a single rock that was the mountainside. And to top it all, the roof had been studded with millions of diamonds. Which refracted the light agreeably within the chamber.
However, Kalimantan had been taken in by the sight of the hangar countless times before. Here and now his attention was solely on the ship. Since on the outside, she too was a thing of beauty. In a word, she could be described as sleek.
A long wingspan fanned out from the rest of the ship; the two structures mostly useful for gliding and atmospheric manoeuvres, though they stored fuel as well. And small lateral secondary and tertiary engines could be found there. The main engine was located in the base of the ship and would tremble above the landing gear. It seemed so huge in relation, Sarawak had hired two engineers to devote all their time to maintaining it. At the centre of the hull were the cabins, the mess, armoury, most of the life support systems, and the cargo hold at the the very front. Its two outer doors closed at a 45 degree angle, forming a sort of beak. At the crest of the ship was the bridge, protruding from Varuni’s back like a dorsal fin. In the event of an emergency it could eject from the rest of the craft. In addition, there were a number of gun turrets fitted across the ship. Those on the bow and the wings were controlled from the bridge, as were the torpedoes on the ship’s port and starboard sides. However the heavy turret mounted on the tail required a gunner, where the other rear-facing guns could be controlled.
Despite the size, and the strength of the hull material, Varuni was a long and slender craft and was relatively lightweight, with speed in mind when it came to her design and engines. And with her light artillery it was clear, even during the period in which it was built, she was not bred for battle. She was meant for incursions and extractions. Apart from the fin, the ship had the look of a bird of prey. And like a raptor it would swoop down and snatch up its prey, then just as swiftly fly away. Kalimantan even took pride in the paint, for they were Samarind colours. With the black and navy coat, and green underbelly, it looked just like their banner.
In fact, it was a prize worth killing for. As many had done before the Makassar had commandeered the Varuni from its previous owners. Some parts of the ship’s interior were too difficult to clean, so there remained stains of cerulean blood in a few of its corners. Indeed, at least two of Qādisiyyah’s suzerains coveted the ship, forcing Sarawak to pay higher and higher tolls to use the city’s hangars over the years. This would undoubtedly have influenced the captain’s decision to leave so soon, and for that, Kalimantan couldn’t blame him.
Two of the crew lugged a crate up the ramp into the hold. Kuraman and Rusukan. They were but two of the Makassar.
The Makassar, theretofore, had gained notoriety within the galaxy as being the rowdiest, burliest, most brutal and ruthless pirates and bounty hunters alive. This was to some extent true, albeit exaggerated. And their members did nothing to deter people from spreading such rumours about them, as this inflated their egos. However, their infamy was most derived from their perceived natures as a species. As historically, the Makassar, like all their kind were an enslaved species. Whose world had famously been destroyed. The Samarind were known as a simple barbaric people who shouted and fought with one another. Who lacked any identity and culture. Until they rose up against their masters that is, united.
While they retained their desires to fight for supremacy; to squabble or to prove their mettle, often extremely violently, they had an unbreakable, abiding bond amongst themselves which came about from their common struggle. Of tenures in bondage, and fates to wander the universe itinerant. And so above all else; above freedom, they valued loyalty and brotherhood.
As such, Kuraman and Rusukan bickered but there was no hate between them. They snarled rudely, and even shoved one another. Their arms were more massive than anyone’s. And so were their mouths. There may not have been a motive, but they argued about which of the two were moving slowest.
Kalimantan only encouraged them to argue on, “Rusukan, if we’re to leave soon, you ought to pick up the pace.” This prompted a laugh from Kuraman, but Kalimantan continued on inside the ship without sticking around to see where the argument would lead to next.
Their weapons expert, the armourer, was Rusukan. So since the Servile Wars, his job had not much changed. Fortunately his outlook had.
Kuraman was one of the engineers, though he focused on the secondary and tertiary engines, and anything else on the rest of the craft, while work on the main engine was mostly left to Muara or Pontianak. And they were headed to the cargo hold as well. Presumably to root through one of the crates for further engine parts. As they marched past Kalimantan, Muara with his enlarged head and big teeth, and Pontianak whose towering form required him to bow his head down within the ship’s corridors, informed the first mate that Sarawak was waiting for him on the bridge.
Without needing to be told twice, Kalimantan went to. Maida was there, at the helm. And so was the short-snouted Tarakan, their intelligence officer. Whose duties were far more numerous and not as cut and dry as his title implied.
Sarawak was seated in the middle of the platform. And he turned when Kalimantan joined them.
“Captain,” greeted Kalimantan, “are we not about to take off?”
But Tarakan replied, “On the contrary. We’re having trouble with the main engine.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“We’ve been grounded,” said Maida. “I’d take off now that you’re here, but external forces make that impossible. Muara and Pontianak are working to correct it, but until then, we’re stuck here.”
“Which is why I needed you aboard right away, Kalimantan,” the captain continued, “You’re the only one who can talk to him.”
“Who? And what external forces? A jammer? Some other device?” pressed Kalimantan.
“See for yourself,” said Tarakan pointing with a claw out the wide window.
None of them could resist looking, though having done so, regretted the decision. Everything became clear then. A man called Bahman Jādhōē was responsible for their internment, and in that moment, he and his entourage moved swiftly toward the ship. Varuni’s mics picked up his voice as the suzerain announced himself. As well as the enmity therein. But his was a foreign language which only Kalimantan understood.
Jādhōē said to any local workers who hadn’t already fled when they saw him coming, (and consequently, good advice for the crew) “Move or die!”
Then to the Makassar he shouted, “Open up! This is my house!”
Kalimantan translated, “He wants aboard.”
“Let him try. The outer doors are closed, Captain.” said Rusukan suddenly joining them. He was armed to the teeth. “Is today the day?”
“You know as well as I that he doesn’t need to come aboard to kill us all,” answered Sarawak.
“So we kill him first. A pre-emptive strike.”
“No Rusukan.”
“I said no. But… if you must be ready, man the rearward cannon. Wait for my order!” the captain yelled after Rusukan, so eager to fight.
“I can talk our way out of this, Captain. There’s a deal to be made here. We’re trapped otherwise,” said Kalimantan.
Sarawak agreed, “I know. But if father taught us one thing, it was to have a back-up plan. So, Maida, the moment our boys get the engine up and running, take off.”
“Aye, Captain,” Maida replied.
“Tarakan, you and I are going to arm ourselves. If Jādhōē tries to force his way to the bridge, it’ll be over our dead bodies.”
To which Tarakan gave a nod of assent.
“Kalimantan… it’s up to you.”

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