Dear readers, tonight with us is a young soldier who left his bucolic world to get a taste of the bigger universe. He’s here to tell us about the people of a thousand worlds, of the technomagic that binds them together, and picking sides when the rebels are people he grew up with.
Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?
I was born in Nes Peridion, one of the newly colonized worlds in Meon Cluster. My parents came from Tarviss—well, they were brought by their lord, but quickly realized that away from Tarviss he had no way to keep them under control and got rid of him. So we lived as free people.
My parents were simple farmers and the first people to settle in Nes Peridion. It took them a lot of work to turn it into the fruitful farming colony it is today. The beginnings were especially hard, our crops and stock needed time to adjust to local soil and climate. I was born a few cycles after they settled and I think that by that time, the worst was already over. Some years were rough, though.
What did you do as a child?
There was always something to do at the farm, and we had to help since we were old enough to stand. Not the hard stuff, just keeping an eye on zeeath birds or working in the herb garden.
I have a sister and two older brothers. Well, had. My brothers died as children, taken by the diseases. I don’t really remember them too well.
My sister’s fine. She lives with our mom in Nes Peridion.
Between dead siblings and constant work, that sounds like a pretty rough childhood.
It’s the one I had. Do you think Dahlsian children have it better? They may get their education and their playtime, but they spend their lives locked in. They never feel the sun on their faces, or the breeze in their hair. They never play with living animals. They don’t even eat real food, only this tubed sludge. And when they go outside, they freak out, they go down with allergies, sunburn, and their immune systems are so compromised, a light cough can kill them.
I was never sick in my life. Drop me in a new world and I can survive, I don’t even need any fancy technomagic. I know how to find shelter, make water safe to drink, find food. I could build my own house if I had to. And I’m strong enough to carry a Dahlsi person through half the world—I already did that once, when my colleague broke her leg. She was as light as a feather.
So was it really that bad for me?
Do you have any cherished memories?
Hm. Maybe the times Aeva and I ran to the river to play. I liked making patterns with colorful stones. Aeva was always better at pretending. She also learned to crochet little dolls—I think in old Tarviss they were used for some rituals, but we just used them to play. Although mom would always undo them to save the yarn. Textiles were hard to come by in Nes Peridion.
Just the two of you?
Yeah. We were never good with other people—well, Aeva was a bit better, she even had friends. But most of the time we preferred each other’s company.
It got harder as I grew older and my brothers died. The amount of work to do remained the same, but there were fewer hands to do it. We were a small community, you know, so we had to do everything by ourselves. Not just grow food, but make houses, make furniture, make tools. Travel to the lake to fish or the nearby mountains for salt and lime. Also, there was no iron anywhere nearby so if a tool broke and no trader came, we had to replace it with a flint one.
It’s not so uncommon. All the metals in Tarviss have been mined ages ago; iron tools have to be brought from off-world and if they break, people have to use what they have on hand.
I became quite good at this. Maybe because I could sit for hours hitting rocks until they produced something I was happy with.
What do you do now?
I left Nes Peridion to work for Mespana. It’s a Dahlsian organization, but they accept outworlders. Our primary job is exploring new worlds within Meon Cluster and assessing their usefulness to the colonists. But we also had other duties. Escorting tax collectors or helping colonists with various problems.
What sort of problems?
Recently someone was murdering hatis colonist. We weren’t even sure if that was wild animals or sentient beings, they left no traces, so we had to use magic. No wonder; it was a group of kas’shams—sentient, but predatory and much more closely attuned to their primal instincts. Without magic, they could kill us and we’d never know.
You mentioned magic, are you a sorcerer?
Gods, no. I’m just a guy with a wand. That’s the great thing about Dahlsi: they are so big on equity, they came up with all of this amazing technomagic to allow people like me, with a low Kevar score, to use magic. But for this particular task, we needed a real sorcerer. You know, a guy with a degree. The magic we needed was more complicated than just waving a wand.
So what’s your qualification?
Um, none. My people were from the lowest class in Tarviss, so they couldn’t even read. There was a Dahlsian woman who came in to teach us to read, count, a few other things. And when I joined Mespana, I got through basic training, picked up some spells and fighting, and that’s it.
What do you plan to do now?
Well, I just got back to Sfal. I need to submit my report. Then get a bath, a decent meal, wait for the next assignment. I saw some commotion near Mespana Offices, but I don’t know what this is about.
Do you think it might be important?
I hope not. I’m tired and I have already made plans for my free time. I hate it when my plans get disrupted.
Do you plan to stay in Mespana forever?
Uh, sure, why not? I like the job. And the pay is better than anything I could make in any other line of work.
What about the dangers?
Eh, they’re mostly overblown. The equipment we’re issued is so good, almost nothing can harm us. And most of the tasks are pretty boring. Just accompany tax collectors, look intimidating, make sure no one tries anything.
Does anyone ever try anything?
So you never actually fought anyone?
I did fight. It just… Wasn’t as interesting as people think.
What was the scariest thing you ever faced?
Having to submit my application to Mespana.
Seriously? I was expecting some giant beast or wild magic. You’ve never dealt with any of that?
I did, but they’re not so bad. I mean, with wild magic, you need real sorcerers to tame it, so I can only stand aside and make sure no one bothers them. And most beasts in Meon Cluster are not actually that big.
But to come here, I had to leave my entire life behind. My mother was furious; my dad had just died and I think she was afraid to be left alone. But I didn’t see myself toiling in the dirt for the rest of my days. Entering an arranged marriage, having kids… No, that’s not for me. I wanted more.
More of what?
I wasn’t sure. I’m still not. One thing I know: I wasn’t prepared for other worlds. Marka-na-Sfal was the first city I saw and it was bigger than our entire colony in Nes Peridion. And then I entered the dome and everything became very small. Then I was sent to Iria Maspana for training and I found myself surrounded by people from different cultures, with no single Tarvissi in sight. That was a bit of a shock.
Dahlsi are very different from Tarvissi. I had to learn everything from scratch, the magic, the customs, the look. Good thing I already knew the language. Not that it mattered much, I got Lopham thorns in my ear and tongue that allow me to understand and be understood by any sentient being. Still, I feel better knowing it. And I think it gave me some insight into Dahlsian culture, one I wouldn’t have if I didn’t know it.
Did you get used to it?
I don’t know. I learned to live here, but I’m not really… I’m trying to blend in, but I’m not sure it’s even possible. I’m too different. Anyone can see I’m not a real Dahlsi.
Do you have problems because of that?
Oh, no. Dahlsi are very… kind. They have this strong sense of community. They would do anything for another human being. Even… Ah. Rih-Dahlsi. That’s the word. Citizen of Dahls, but not ethnically Dahlsi.
Where do you live now?
My Cohort is stationed in Sfal. It’s the world connecting Meon Cluster with the old worlds so everyone coming to settle in Meon has to come through here.
What did you first think when you arrived in Sfal?
I was overwhelmed. And anxious. It was so different from Nes Peridion. Like nothing I’ve seen before.
Marka-na-Sfal is the only city here and as I said before, it’s bigger than our entire colony. And because there are so many people from all around the universe, it seems very chaotic. There is the central dome built by Dahlsi, but all around it there are buildings in a thousand different styles, tall and short, made of stone, wood or brick, some with inner gardens, others with underground complexes.
And then there are people. It’s the first time I saw nonhumans. In Nes Peridion we were pretty sheltered. But here, it sometimes feels like there are more nonhumans than us. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing—I know we, Tarvissi, have a reputation for being speciesist, but I don’t mind nonhumans. I was just a bit surprised the first time I saw them. But I got used to it.
I got used to all of it. Found things that work for me, like shopping in the morning, when the crowds are not so bad.
What is the worst thing about living in Sfal?
Crowds. I feel like no matter what I do, people are staring at me.
What is the best thing about it?
Food! You can’t believe what you can find in Sfal. Foods from all around the universe, old and new worlds, all the cultures, even nonhumans. It’s amazing.
And you don’t even have to go to a fancy restaurant, you can grab a meal from a cart or a shop or even a person sitting on the curb and it’s all delicious.
My favorite meals are Chaarite red stew—every cook has their own recipe, but you want to know the secret? The whole taste comes from three spices. The rest, even the famous color, can be whatever. Even the fruit they use for color in Sfal is not the same they use in Chaar. And if I went to Tydus—that’s another big world in Meon Cluster—they would be using something else. But it would still be a red stew.
Sfal seems like a pretty cosmopolitical place. Aren’t there people like you living there?
It is. And there are. There’s a couple dozen Tarvissi living in Sfal. But none of them works for Mespana.
Do you have any friends among them?
No. I told you, I’m not very good at making friends.
What about Dahlsi?
Also no. I think I’m too different to form relationships with Dahlsi. I mean, there aren’t many things we would both enjoy and communication is a bit hard because our cultures are so different. Even when I try to reach out, I always say the wrong things, and it gets awkward, and… Eh, it’s better if I don’t say anything.
Any romantic involvement?
No. I’m not interested in such things.
So, do you have any close person?
Not really. But it’s fine. I’m fine on my own.
What do you do in your spare time?
When I’m not on a mission? I mostly walk around looking for good food to eat. In Nes Peridion we ate the same stuff all the time. Here I can get anything, fruits and vegetables from all around the universe, as much meat as I can eat, dishes I wouldn’t even imagine. It’s amazing.
I also like to read. There weren’t many books in Nes Peridion, so now I’m making up for this.
What do you like to read?
I like reading about other cultures and species. In Nes Peridion we were very sheltered. No, we Tarvissi are very sheltered, my people in Nes Peridion were just continuing that. I don’t think they consciously had anything against people from other cultures or species, it’s just… We never had any contact with them, you know?
You could just go out and talk to people from other cultures.
Hm. Reading seems safer. And learning languages. I taught myself three languages. And writing in Tarvissi-é. I think I’m the only person from Nes Peridion who can write in Tarvissi-é. It was nobles’ privilege and when they were gone…
And I like old epics. You know, ancient heroes, powerful sorcerers, great battles over the fate of the worlds. It seems like life was much more exciting in the past.
Wait. Your job is literally exploring unknown worlds. You live in a cosmopolitan city, surrounded by people from all around the universe and you use magic every day. You wouldn’t say that’s exciting?
Well, when you put it like that… But it seems awfully mundane when you do it every day.
Do you think the heroes of old ever got bored of their epic deeds?
Hmm, I never thought about that. Perhaps. But what can you do after you save a world from destruction? I can’t imagine them going back to doing simple things. Where would you go after saving the world? What could compare to that?
I think I’ve seen your commander on my way here. He was looking for you.
Damn. Couldn’t you tell me earlier?
I wanted to get this interview done before he steals you away.
Natalie J. Holden is a cat at heart and a hopeless herbal tea addict. She prefers imaginary worlds to the real one, but shamelessly uses fiction to tackle real-life issues. She also Takes not being good with people to the next level.
You can find Aldeaith on the pages of The Outworlder.
Join us next week to meet the villain, from a Regency-era romance. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.