This short story is part of Galactic Chronicles, an ongoing space opera based on our multiplayer campaign in Paradox’s space grand strategy game, Stellaris. Events and characters, while embellished heavily in some cases, are based on actual events and characters encountered during gameplay. These entries do not have to be experienced in a specific order, but the “Earth Standardized Solar Date” header will indicate where in the galactic timeline a particular entry falls.
This story concerns the Athirova, a race of spiritualist, warrior monk-ruled Avian aliens from the planet Ayaal. Learn more about them here.
[EARTH STANDARDIZED SOLAR DATE 2246.11.20]
As the ramp on the transport ship slowly lowered itself to the ground, a brisk wind swept inside, chilling Katarina and the other passengers. The young human girl had heard Nerthika and other inhabited planets in Athirova space were cold, but she hadn’t fully prepared herself for the way the air cut through the layers of polyfiber that adorned her as the few strands of her dark hair that hadn’t been tied back whipped in front of her bright, brown eyes. She found herself wishing she had brought that bulky, itchy woolen sweater that her grandmother had offered her back in Perth. That seemed like such a short time ago, but also like a different lifetime.
For her and the several dozen humans that had accompanied her, this was a new lifetime in so many ways. Human diplomatic organizations had been living for years or even decades in xeno space since contact was established, but only recently had agreements between the UGA and the Athirova Concord allowed mutual immigration between empires. Katarina was to become one of the first UGA expatriates, and one of the first humans to become a citizen of the Concord and an adherent of the Athirova ways.
The few dozen migrants huddled together as they stepped out onto the desaturated blue-green, grass-like carpet that covered the open air landing field. A handful of rashax – the birdlike people that had created the Concord on their homeworld of Ayaal – were waiting to meet them. At the front, in flowing robes adorned with bright designs and patterns, was an individual with dark hazel plumage and what Katarina recognized as a feminine build. She strode forward, flanked by two, calm monks in plainer robes who were armed with the traditional staves of their order.
The lead rashax embraced one of the humans at the front of the throng, somewhat awkwardly, but taking care that her avian talons did no harm. A couple giggles were stifled from among the human group at the clumsy attempt to greet them with a traditional human gesture. These creatures stood half a head shorter, on average, than most of the humans, but they had an energy about them that made them seem much larger in presence.
“I am Thinadathxi,” the leader spoke in passing English, “governor of the Nerthika colony. We are joyful to welcome you here. Please, allow my envoys to assist with your belongings, and we will show you to your temporary habitations.”
Excitement mixed with apprehension in Katarina’s mind. This is what she had wanted. This is what they had all wanted: a different way of life. An escape from the materialism, capitalism, and cynicism that predominated the culture of the UGA. The prospect of travelling to an exotic world and becoming part of a very different society seemed so enticing in theory. But when the ship had departed Earth, and again now, she couldn’t help but find herself doubting. Was this really what she wanted? To live among aliens, severing so many of the cultural ties to her birth world, and possibly never seeing many of her friends and family again? In the heat of the moment, when it all became so real, her misgivings grew persistent and sharp.
She would have plenty of time to ponder this over the next several local days, as documentation was sorted out, provisions were prepared, and each new migrant was assigned a more permanent home in one of the ecclesiastical districts that made up the colony. The living modules were simple but ornate, filled with wall hangings and incense. It was clear the Athirova valued aesthetics highly, having made such an effort to saturate even such a remote governmental facility with them. Before long, she was one of the last humans remaining at the processing center. When the day finally came for Katarina to have her assignment, she was shocked to find the governor herself visiting her room, wearing a tight-beaked expression that she had come to learn indicated pleasure.
“Harmony surround you, idro,” Thinadathxi proclaimed warmly. “You have my regret that your assignment has been somewhat delayed. We identified you and a few others as candidates to go to the Mountain of Storms for training in the Athirova monastic order.”
Katarina stared mutely for what seemed like an impolite amount of time. The Athirovan monks were legendary, even on Earth. Mysterious, romantic warriors from the stars who fought with dead calm and peerless skill, all in pursuit of galactic Harmony. So far as she knew, no human had ever been trained in their ways. Much less a girl of only sixteen. She hadn’t even contemplated the possibility in her wildest dreams.
“You mean… why?” she asked.
Thinadathxi’s eyes brightened, as she leaned against a storage locker to rest her aging bones. Katarina could see the pain in her, and remembered hearing how the hollow skeletons of rashax often gave them bone diseases earlier in life than was common for humans. “We see something in you. Not something that would be clear to the uninitiated. It is in your presence. Your… I am not sure of the human word. Energy? Our sacred Truths have never suggested that it is the duty of the rashax alone to safeguard Harmony. We are all very excited to see what your kind can do, when trained to be one of us. True Athirova.”
Katarina stumbled over her words momentarily, then closed her mouth and bowed low before the governor. She didn’t know if the gesture would mean anything to a rashax, or even if they would know what it meant on Earth, but she was so overwhelmed that such considerations did not suppress her impulse.
“Yaatraka,” Katarina pronounced the Athirova expression of gratitude clumsily. “I… I do not know if I am truly worthy of this, but I trust your wisdom, wise one.”
The governor hid an amused coo at being called ‘wise one’, a term usually reserved for the councilors back on Ayaal, but did nothing to indicate displeasure. “I have long been celebrated by my peers as a good judge of people. You, young one… I feel you have the potential in you for great things…”
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