I Am Khaaneph: Part 5

I Am Khaaneph Part 5

I apologize for the six month delay between parts 4 and 5.  I actually had part 5 finished for a while, I just haven’t had time to publish it.  I’m running too many companies now to be able to publish for Fists of Heaven on a timely basis, but I greatly enjoy writing, sci-fi, and the Homeworld universe, so I will not stop writing and updating my story arcs here, despite there being long delays between parts!  Now, to part 5…

Creet’tho crested the dune and entered the catacomb of the support cruiser’s hangar bay. Sand hissed its way softly inside as he dragged the sled through the fissure caused by the dune’s collapse. He paused momentarily inside the opening and drank deeply from his suit’s liquid reclamation system while casting an attentive gaze through the now-silent facility. Creet’tho had overseen many shipbreaking operations throughout his decades of service, but each experience was always accompanied by a wistful feeling of loss, and a feeling something akin to sacrilege. To him, ships were something living, with a will that mirrored that of their crew. They were centers of action, of otherwise devoid machinery functioning in beautiful harmony and synchronicity. To see such a wonderful creation lying silent and lifeless always gave him pause. To Creet’tho, entering a wreck felt like disturbing a tomb. However, he must place the priorities of the living first: he had a charge to protect, and a mission to complete.

Satisfied by his inspection of the hull’s structural integrity, Creet’tho began to move further into the interior of the ship. Despite his growing sense of foreboding and his feelings of sanctity for the wreck, its cavernous silence kindled a sudden flicker of boyish excitement. He’d never gotten the chance to inspect a Khaaneph cruiser from the interior before. He’d dismantled and inspected post-battle wreckage from smaller craft, but as far as he was aware, no Khaaneph capital ship had ever been captured intact enough to glean any information about their inner workings. He was very interested to find out how the…misguided…had modified what must be a Gaalsien-designed chassis. It had long been suspected by his people, and as he had recently confirmed, that the Khaaneph didn’t have the resources to research and develop an entirely new capital ship design. Inspecting every detail as he continued forward in search of a suitable room in which to store their supplies, it dawned on him that, without requiring any sort of inter-crew or ship-to-ship communication equipment, the maintenance and resource requirements to construct such a vessel would be markedly lower than their Gaalsien counterpart. Fabricating electronics was resource intensive and difficult, and by only needing rudimentary transmission equipment for signal jamming and early warning systems, the Khaaneph vessels would be far easier to construct.

Despite being enemies, no one could design or build a vessel like this without some measure of satisfaction in their work

Pausing a moment to press his palms against a bulkhead in a gesture of silent respect, Creet’tho continued to proceed slowly, fingers absently trailing along the interior of the passageway as he went. Through his night vision he admired the craftsmanship, felt the solidity of her mass beneath his gloves. A sudden upwelling of pride filled his chest. Pride that Gaalsien engineers and mechanics had constructed such a chassis, and pride that, in some ways, the Khaaneph had improved upon the design. Despite being enemies, no one could design or build a vessel like this without some measure of satisfaction in their work. Such work was creation, and in a small way, aligned the builder with the Creator. It suddenly struck Creet’tho that the very same joy of creation must have been present in the Khaaneph shipwrights, just as it resided in him and in his people. Despite how their creation was used, or the beliefs of it’s founders, the vessel was a creation…and like all desert-going vessels, it was a magnificent one.

As he continued his search, Creet’tho thought he would like to meet a Khaaneph mechanic, if the chance ever arose. Perhaps they could learn from each other, or enjoy a conversation about design or thermal shielding. The cruiser’s minimalistic interior intrigued Creet’tho. Her crew didn’t require any internal comms and had far fewer displays and status readouts, something that continued to surprised Creet’tho at every corridor intersection, despite his knowledge of the Rak’shiir. Decades of something as familiar as hard lines was not easily unraveled from Creet’tho’s mind. Pausing to peer through a hatch, he mused that this vessel and all like it represented hope: hope for a better life for an unfortunate people. The Maker’s punishment, albeit just, was a nevertheless a difficult one to endure.

A sudden tremor, unlike anything Creet’tho had ever experienced in his decades in the Great Wastes, shattered his musings, his thoughts dissolving into an elixir of grit, heat and worry. The vessel that held him groaned in response, replying to the tremor with a metallic protest as though it were a living behemoth, and not a bygone relic of a once-proud vessel. The portentous feeling inside of Creet’tho flooded him completely, morphing into the sickening grasp of anxiety of the unknown. Pivoting immediately, decades of muscle memory bringing his rifle forward and to the ready, Creet’tho ran. Praying silently to the maker for protection, his boots scribing their acoustic signature upon the deck, Creet’tho shot into the hangar bay just as a second tremor reverberated through metal and sand. The shifting firmament did not slow his progress, although his leg muscles began a protest which reflected that of his surroundings. Holding his rifle in both hands and pivoting his upper body with each step for maximum momentum, he completed his ascent, bursting forth from the hull fissure as through the Destroyer itself were attempting to claim him from the depths. He lept into the dark expanse, searching frantically, only to find the girl was gone. Panic began unfurling inside of him, the black tendrils of fear banishing all traces of fatigue and the desert heat. There was no wind this night, the stillness forming a temporary alliance between sand and man. He increased the gain on his night vision, and sled marks coalesced into existence, belying her direction. Creet’tho spotted her at the foot of the dune on which he stood. His eyes caught hers momentarily, and he whispered a brief word of fervent thanks to the Maker: she was safe.

I have never had anyone be concerned just for…me…before.

I had slid down the dune that grew against the side of wrecked Khaaneph ship to continue searching for my Rak’Shiir when I feel the strange shockwaves. We…I have never felt such a shockwave before. I do not know what it is, and it makes me feel scared and very alone. I do not know what to do. Using Gaalsien night vision, I look around for enemies, but I see no one. There is only the Ko’Rhiim, rippling across the horizon. Moments later, I see Creet’tho rush out of the ship. He is very strong and well fed to have come out so fast, sprinting out of the ship and up the sand despite his heavy equipment and rifle. I watch him as he jumps over the crest of the small dune, his face glowing in my viewfinder, anxiously seeking something. His eyes find mine, and I am surprised when the first thing he does, rather than remaining on the higher ground and scanning for enemies, is start down the dune and straight towards me. He reaches me in seconds, leaping and sliding in the deep sand. His face, what I can see of it through his mask with the help of night vision, is wrought with concern. Concern for me? It must be so, for there are no others with us this night. Although Creet’tho is not Khaaneph, I feel…less lonely. Everything Khaaneph does is for the good of Khaaneph. I have never had anyone be concerned just for…me…before.

Creet’tho reached his charge moments later, barely noticing the buried smoldering deep in his joints. Her eyes implored him for reassurance, for explanations: explanations which he did not have. “I did not think that was your people” he said as he looking her up and down to asses her condition, then knelt to check her vitals. “No…it is not Khaaneph” she affirmed. “I not know what…nothing shakes the Ko’Riim like that.” “I know” he replied, standing again “and that’s what concerns me. I have never heard or felt anything like it.” “Maybe it is your God” she responded “perhaps…maybe your God is angry at you for helping me.” “We are already enduring our punishment, little one. If Sajuuk is wrathful, it is because of the blasphemers who enter space and attempt to leave Kharak, when he has forbade them to do so. It would not be because of you.” She sat, eyes still imploring him through her ill-fitting mask, seeking comfort. Creet’tho looked down at her for a moment, then wrested his palm on her head, heavy gloves meeting heat resistant armor and cloth, palm meeting soft brown hair. “Do not fear, youngling. The maker provides for all who accept him. Accept, and you will be granted salvation.” Speaking of the Maker comforted Creet’tho, and, to his surprise, seemed to comfort his charge as well. She reached out and placed her hand on his leg, and tilted her face up. Creet’tho let his hand fall as she asked “what should we do?”

Her eyes implored him for reassurance, for explanations: explanations which he did not have

“So he will forgive everyone, or only the Gaalsien?” The girl asked. The smooth, burnished skin of her face glowed in the reflectance of a small lantern Creet’tho had set between them. They were just inside the maw created by the hull collapse, resting in a small thermal shelter Creet’tho had erected. A compact peltier heat exchanger provide a modicum of comfort despite the situation. Although going deeper into the wreck would provide more protection from the sand and sun, Creet’tho thought it prudent to remain near the exit in case of a collapse from the mysterious tremors. He’d positioned one side of the shelter against the bulkhead, and was working on unpacking and connecting radio equipment. The Khaaneph girl was opposite him and sat with her chin in her hands, peering intently at him as he worked. He’d decided that the best course of action was to remain as undetectable by potential enemies as possible for the time being, and to set up his long distance portable radio in an attempt to reach his people once again with a narrow beam transmission. After carefully sliding the girl and equipment down into the hangar area, he’d completed the shelter’s assembly and placed her and the equipment inside. After another trip back up the dune to unfold the radio’s directional antenna, he’d returned and was now in the process of unpacking the radio. While he worked, the girl asked questions, and surprisingly, the questions weren’t about finding her Rak’Shiir. Instead, she wanted to know more about the Great Maker. She seemed to have an endless supply of questions, which no longer surprised him: her people had no concept of spirituality or history, besides the assumption that the Gaalsien possessed some sort of mystical ally that granted them increased prosperity over the Khaaneph. Although her expression still showed lingering incredulity that the Maker did not tangibly interact with his people, she seemed fascinated by the concept. Creet’tho was very glad to answer her questions, for they were the most important questions any of the Godless could ask. He paused, turning away from the equipment crate to look back at her before answering. “The great Sajuuk will lift up any who ask it of him, youngling! Despite the punishment he has ordained on his people for their disobedience, his mercy is so great that he will shelter and protect all who ask it of him. We are the only kiith that still adheres to the Maker’s commandment ’you shall not seek the stars’, but we are not the only ones eligible for the protection and salvation granted by his hand. We accept and endure our punishment willingly, and thus we survive, even thrive. We wish that all would know, accept and obey the Great Maker, for without doing so, one is surely lost. All of the peoples of Kharak know of the Maker, save the Khaaneph, little one. Many blaspheme him by not adhering to his great commandments, but they at least know of his glory, believe, and although they may be misguided, worship. I do not know if blasphemers will be forgiven by Sajuuk, but to not even believe of the Maker…we Gaalsien know of no worse abomination…or tragedy.”

I do not know for certain if what Gaalsien Creet’tho says is true, but I do not doubt for a moment that he believes it is. His eyes shine with conviction, love, and a deep reverence for this…Sajuuk…this Great Maker. The horror he felt when speaking of not believing in Sajuuk caused him to shiver at the very thought. For Khaaneph, being alone is incomprehensible…for the Gaalsien, to not know Sajuuk, is, I believe, equally so.

Creet’tho has not abandoned me, although I am an enemy, and I am injured. His Maker had better not abandon him.

I hope you enjoyed this piece!  You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 herePart 3 here and Part 4 here.  Also check out my other stories: Reunion, and The Encounter.  Art by Julian Schlottmann.

Michael Maddox is Editor-in-Chief at Fists of Heaven, and can be reached at mike [at] fistsofheaven.com

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