A Reclaiming Tale

Part I, ‘Memento vivere’

‘Know this, above all else, your soul is infused with divine spark, but your heart goes forever dark with the venom of original sin. Within us all there is no greater force of putting inequity into motion, at willful defiance of the One True God, as that wicked thing does with every beat.’

Meditations on Stoicism for an Udorian, from ‘Tash-Murkon Catechism V VII’ by Artrus Arkkon

She was three years old, born just after the start of YC121, and now she lay dead in the permafrost of a grave dug for her in the black earth of Tash-Murkon V’s northern tundra.

Given the planet’s dimensions, surface gravity, and atmospheric weight, it was on the threshold of human open air survivability by nanite aided cybernetics. At this latitude, much of the year was a perpetual star on a horizon haze, an ever dawn. The tundra and its industrial bacteria plantations were archipelago in the far flowing cold wind moors, to the seemingly endless horizon of the planet with a near hundred thousand kilometer radius. Deep greens, browns, and blacks, with rust tones made up the hinterland, like a moss covered volcanic rock.

Anastzz’ia Coloria un Murk’Udoria was the child’s name, designating her as a slave, but also of the class of ‘proto lower vassal’ as she would have been the sixth generation of her blood being brought to God through the holy crusade of Reclaiming. Her tiny body had been wrapped in a fine Ammatar inspired funeral shroud of black and silver, small trinkets of gold adorned her with religious iconography. The Murk’Udoria Holder midwives knew this day had been coming, when upon Anastzzia being fitted for her initial compensator mods in utero, needed for the developing lungs and heart to grow properly under the high gravity and atmospheric pressures of V, unworkable genetic breakdown causing cybernetic neural synapse disorder was suspected. Over time the child’s heart and lungs would manifest neurological degradation. Whether in zero G, or high G, low or high pressure, she would have never survived the broad environments modern humanity adapted to for survival across the stars.

Uriel looked down to his side, as he felt the tiny gloved hand squeezing his, the young lady’s eyes looking up to him for answers he wasn’t going to be able to give. A sister of the departed had come over to stand by him, which none gave much thought. Dressed in fine blackest gown, the girl was eleven and despite being a slave, carried herself with the regality as an attendant servant in the Holder’s home should. Unlike the partially and ill informed by Gallantee mass media, the complicated reality of Reclamation slavery, even within Tash-Murkon, was a tortuous institution with as many answers as there were Holders and planetary regions. Here now, as part of the Holder’s house, Uriel and the child were in a recognized period of mutual mourning. As was the tradition among Udorian Holder’s of V in the north, a laxing of formal relationship to a familial was permitted for the time upon a slave child’s passing until the next morning’s dawn after the deceased was buried. For the slave’s family, of an indoctrinated generation, the loss of a child was recognized as a tragedy and potential for a crisis of spirituality. For the Holder family it was also seen as a light which was hoped to be brought to the greater light of the One True Faith, entrusted to them by God, was now extinguished just as it was coming close to that Grand Glow.

The two exchanged no words, as Uriel in a fraternal manner, took the girl’s hand firmly with the start of the funeral party going to give final farewell to the departed. All of them, Amarrian, Udorian, Khanid, Ammatar, and slave, were here dressed in conservative black mourning attire. House Murk’Udoria, under their matriarch, was an oddity in one clear matter; most minor Holder lineages came from roughly equally born male and female blood. Murk’Udoria was overwhelmingly a house of daughters. As such, given the Udorian ‘Liberalism’, they had more often than not welcomed in husbands, brothers, of Amarrian, Khanid, and all other free and Reclaimed bloodline as deemed by the Empire, to their fold. As often for political and economic security, as out of true and proper love under the eyes of Holy God.

Coming to the grave’s edge, Uriel kneeled down and took up some of the dirt, handed some to the girl whose one hand he still held. In an old dialect of Amarr, by tradition tied to the Udorian people at the start of the Reclaiming, they said the short prayer as they cast the sprinkle of dirt down to the foot of the grave.

‘So as thee, our beloved, we shall also be. For of the dust were we formed, and to the dust we shall return. Praise be God’s will, and go unto thee with our love.’

Uriel kept all emotion absent from his tone, a somber face, as did the young lady at his side. His heart ached with utter but not shown sincerity, holding the hand of the daughter, to a crew member of his frigate. A slave who at five generations, shown faith, and devotion, and submission to the scriptures and Vitoc method. Of the man’s genuine conversion to the process of the Reclamation, Uriel had no doubt. The capsuleer captain saw every breath taken by all aboard that ship. It was why they had with all manageable speed returned from anti Sansha Incursion patrols in the lower Tash-Murkon region on the border with Stain to be present for this funeral. That along with the matter of fitting, and preparing a recently procured assault frigate, of the Retribution class, to further aid in purging Sansha’s Nation from Tash-Murkon.

A benediction given by the attending clergy, a prayer of mercy for a slave from God, ended the funeral. With it, Holder, house vassals, and slaves quickly made distances from one another as they went to board shuttle craft for the brief flights back to estates, barracks, and industrial sites they resided in. For a beautiful, and beloved child, though a slave, a place in an estate cemetery had been given. The Murk’Udorian line, while devout Reclaimers, were as equally devout in the serious business of making faithful from wayward. To lose a potentially last generation slave, one who would have grown to give birth to Redeemed offspring, free of need for Vitoc, could not be easily lost on them.

Taking a seat in the Matriarch’s shuttle, in the upper vassal’s section, Uriel found a place to sit with his half Khanid cousin.

‘It was… Well. Right.’

Uriel tried not to smile, but a sense of having missed his cousin’s Khanid mannerisms for such things, as treating slaves with such care, rose up nostalgia in him. A look of returned fondness for his company was shared by the woman as she took her cousin’s hand when Uriel sat down. One for social affairs, and house intrigue, he could feel her tension as the shuttle craft rose away from the surface. V was a high G planet, and flight on it had a long, interesting, and often tragic romanticism to it.

‘Oh Cousin, Capsuleer cousin. How my heart aches holding this clone hand of yours. Even more so as I ponder, do things such as that funeral even measure with you now?’

Her deep brown, black, and gold flecked eyes looked into his, as she leaned in closer. Turning away, Uriel looked up to the chromatic and reflective gold dome top of the cabin they sat in as servants began to move about and serve their better folk’s drinks. Other than the somewhat oval Udorian face shape, his features were Amarrian and hers Khanid. His eyes dark emerald to hers, his skin pale to her olive, her hair raven black and his own light brown with reddish tinge.

‘Sweet Cousin, Lady of Murk’Udoria. and loved Sister in the Faith, I am of noble purpose in our House’s work in the Reclaiming. To have left my birth given flesh, to serve my Matriarch and Holder as her Capsuleer, was no sacrifice. I do it gladly, for Holder, Faith, Emperor, and God, regardless of the cost to myself. Stoic, stoic is the one who submits to God’s will for no one owns their own life. So if you must know, yes, the passing of a sweet child does have measure with me. But soon, such pause and grief I must let pass, for the enemies of the Faith and our blood have no measures at all for the evils they plot on us.’

A feigned look of being touched by his words came to the Lady’s face. But then a genuine sad expression for a moment, before a look of complete seriousness took her. If the House were a military, Uriel would be sitting holding the hand of its chief counterintelligence operations officer. When she went to speak again, it was with the measured tone of a commander to a subordinate.

‘When we arrive at the Beloved Holder Matriarch’s estate, I will need you to escort me to a House Counsel. Where a discussion will be had on matters militant and dire to our part in Tash-Murkon’s future. I am taking you from the militia naval forces, and re-assigning you to my office, effective immediately and with the Matriarch’s say on the matter.’

Uriel replied with some measure of curiosity, ‘The Holder gave you leave to make me your sword?’

To which, with a military officer’s sureness of an order she replied, ‘It was the Holder’s direction that it be you.’

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Part II, “Deteriores omnes sumus licentia.”

“Holders, treat your slaves justly and fairly under the Scriptures’ law for the Reclaiming, knowing that you to, also have a Master in Heaven, and a chosen Emperor in this life’s flesh to reveal the Divine will.”

The Saint Tal-Romon Reader, volume III, ‘On Reading the Book of Reclaiming in Holy Scripture, to Serve the Emperor’

House Murk’Udoria, an onyx and gold veined marble Amarr manor house atop a low hill on the surface of Tash-Murkon V was not a luxury estate despite the cultivated grounds of a tundra bacterial plantation about it. A pleasant facade to a more clandestine complex. Past the gates went carefully chosen slaves tending to the grounds, and their dormitories, along with cultivation of the massive protein and bacteria bio-mass generator pools for production into the pipeline of the Murk’Udoria’s wetware mainframes. Simple dark rust brown compressed earth cobblestone roads and paths, lined by hedges of local green and violet flora. Pseudo black wrought Iron fencing, and mahogany wood substitutes, done in the style of old Amarr, made up the majority of structures. A careful aesthetic recreation, a bygone time of transition from old Athra, under the undeniable divine will of the Reclaiming, into the new of Amarr.

Uriel felt the tremendous weight start on his ears and chest as the lift station from the surface started to descend the depths before the environmental controls system adjusted atmospheric pressure and coordinated with the smart communications schema of cybernetic and nanite medical implants throughout his body to establish a pseudo adaptation to the leagues of the below ground bunker complex. Solar photons like true daylight came to his eyes when the lift doors opened again, and he stepped out into the well-lighted security checkpoint of chrome, silver, and glass. Both him, and his cousin, along with several other vassals, stepped forward toward the house guard. Immediately as they were put through the protocols, validations of bio signature, checks for cybernetic bombs, viral implantation, and most critically Sansha nervous system ‘taps’. Politely all were asked to submit to searches of their person, and scans by security apparatus within the walls about them.

Throughout the empires, particularly the Amarr, Sansha agents made great effort to make unsuspecting folk with access to places and information of interest, unwitting spies by getting far harder to detect ‘bugging’ nanites within their flesh. While nowhere near the numbers, or complexity, needed to take over a host’s nervous system, these nanite invaders could for short periods siphon off the audio and visual nerve impulses of a mark to gather intelligence as they attempted to masquerade as being medical in nature. Amarrian, Ammatar, and Khanid Kingdom intelligence services had in a rare multi-agency effort identified the threat about the same time as CONCORD’s COMSEC R&D department had. For one of the first times since the initial multi special forces deep strikes against Sansha’s Nation, all four empires had allowed their intelligence services’ operations and communication security folk to engage in exchanges of data and information to have critical protections in place against the existential threat to them all. Despite the four Empire’s efforts, given their strained relations, Sansha’s technology continued to develop ways around their collective safeguards.

It was a sudden flash of coordination and practiced security action; a black bag was placed on one of the vassal’s head by a house guard. Another guard drew a white noise projector, as she started to broadcast the audio disruption technology directly into the vassal’s skull. A third quickly helped the other guards to carry off the security threat for a minimum seventy days of quarantine in an isolation cell. Before any of the arrivals could react in any meaningful way, the episode had ended in the same sudden way it had begun.

‘Please, continue to follow security protocol. You all have been cleared to proceed to the operations briefing room. God be with you in your serving of Our Holder.’

As the head of the house guard detail dismissed them, Uriel looked over to his cousin, sharing a somewhat surprised expression as they walked forward ahead of the others to the double doors of the briefing room.

‘How has Our Lady been?’ Uriel asked with genuine interest as they stopped and waited for the doors to open.

‘She is as she would will herself to be, sharp, ready, and capable to carry out duty to God and Empress. Although she has made the rather gracious concession that she is indeed still mortal, and at her age needs to actually get sleep from time to time.’

A wink and a smile was given to Uriel as his cousin continued talking in a hashed voice.

‘I think she mostly does it for our sake, so we can feel useful to the Holder.’

Uriel tried to not roll his eyes with the familial joke.

Lady Murk’Udoria was well over a hundred and thirty now, and the hall about them presented images from that life. She had long ago left her first post, started nearly in her teens, as a case officer running Ammatar agents within Tash-Murkon’s slave populations. Her counterintelligence work was well fitted with her family’s business legacy of developing specialized information technology hardwares for the Empire’s security apparatus. Various holo images from press releases, and regional news stories, showcasing the various awards for innovation and service presented to the minor Holder’s house relayed about the party.

When the doors opened, the Holder was there on the other side of the room, about her trusted bodyguards and hound. Short steel gray hair, with fading platinum blonde highlights, was nearly taken down to her scalp except for the top. The lithe frame sat upon a chase with the posture of one well versed in the making of court within the Empire. Over her hanged inkwell black robes of a fine velvet and lace composite fabric. And on all sides of her were the external components to the latest life extension units which interfaced with her body’s own cybernetics from Inherent Implants, working to provide her some measure of physical quality of life despite the ravages of extreme aging. Despite it all, her face still barred a regality, and more than just artifacts of the unparalleled Udorian beauty which had served her well in her chosen profession. The meeting room was a titanium oxide white, more a swank lounge than would be expected and almost glaring with the contrast it had to the deep black modest styles of clothes worn by everyone present.

Immediately all in the arriving party took to a knee and lowered their heads. But were nearly instantly waved off by the Matriarch. Her deep raspy voice, saying to them all, ‘Arise, arise. I thank you for your piety and decorum. But little is our time, and best we sacrifice formalities to work toward results.’

With the doors closed behind them all, as they went to take their places on the sofas in the hall, Uriel felt the instant release of the psychological conditioners as he again made eye contact with his cousin, Lady Karem Mau’shee. Outside secure locations with the broadcast ultrasonic decryption keys attuned to his implants, his very mind had been conditioned to not allow him to think of her by her proper name and identity, burying those synapses of memory beyond his ability to cognitively recall. Such was how the House’s counterintelligence efforts had to be, their work so sensitive, that they were ghost within their own families to limit what information their many enemies may gather on them through infiltration of the blood.

‘Now, I am about to show you footage captured from the neuroptics of one of our recent sleeper insertions within Sansha’s workforce. Keep in mind, we must not discount that we are only seeing things, we were meant to see here. And that we still have no real clear information on, well, who it is that we are actually seeing.’

With Lady Murk’Udoria’s words, holo footage was displayed in the air above them. Shaky, and at times blurry, if not static, due to both the limitations of the technology and the weakness of its data and broadcast power. Uriel leaned forward in his seat, taking in the sights and sounds, those of one tapped with technology inspired by Sansha’s own. Uriel relied on psychological conditioning to put aside the horrors of the spectacle to search for critical details to use as data to develop actionable intelligence like the rest of the company about him. Still, it was a challenge as folk going through various steps in the becoming of Sansha minions aboard a mass transport, following a planetary raid, were displayed.

A particularly horrific image was that of a woman trying to let loose screams. Her body completely invaded, and controlled by cybernetic nanites not allowing her to, as it controlled her absolutely from the neck down. Her face contorted, hysteria and panic, lips quivering, eyes flowing with frightful tears, expression of a mind given way to Hellish insanity, the awful realization of not simply being trapped in her own body, but having it controlled by another force as it made her stand in a line with the others to be processed by their kidnappers for some purpose.

It was then that the main point for showing the group the footage happened. It was slight, a mere second and a half. But various algorithmic diagnosis tools confirmed that a woman seen walking with a known, and yet unnamed ‘True’ Sansha past the mole, and was of mixed Amarrian descent, with the projected adult features and gait to her walk of the long-lost Lady Elzbeth Murk’Udoria, great granddaughter of the Holder of House Murk’Udoria. Her scarlet red hair style, and dress were an odd alteration of Amarrian style, but also clearly influenced by the ‘culture’ of the Sani Sabak heretical cult. No one in the room gasped, or had some other outer emotional reaction, but a mutual startle hung in the air for Uriel.

Lady Murk’Udoria spoke up, as the footage was allowed to loop, and algorithmic overlays came online to point out possibly useful data points to the gathered intel analyst.

‘Let me be clear on one thing, here and now. We are not in the early stages of developing some rescue effort. I command all of you, despite who we may think we are seeing here, this person of interest represents a multitude of possible threats to our House, regardless of if they are a prisoner or a…’

The Holder paused as she gathered her thoughts for a moment to best give her direction on the issue.

‘As of now, none outside this room ever knowing is a better outcome than most scenarios I am sure you can individually come up with on your own. Whoever this woman in fact is, she is first a priority target. We can spend time and effort to figure out the how and why later, along with the who. Am I clear?’

Looks of unease crept over the collected household’s faces in the room, as they were forced to weigh out that they were likely going to be killing one of their own, especially one of the Holder’s direct blood, and sacred flesh. But as the briefing continued, Uriel and Karem exchanged looks from time to time as both seemed in sync with the other’s thoughts on what would be needed of them with dire little time to plan and carry it out.

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