Date: 1,988,511 A.D. (Earth, Gregorian); P.W. 16 (Shango Federal Calendar); N.A. 2 (Qareen Confederacy Standard Agreed Calendar)
Location: Darkworld Taal
“Ladies, gentleman, others: thank you for choosing Flash Coalition for your journey. Just a short announcement to say that we are now within five light-years of Darkworld Taal, and hence will be arrived very shortly. On Federal Time it is 1/3 cycle, but once we reach Taal, a happy evening to you: we estimate we’ll be there at 71/100. Thank you.”
On Deck 3, Darak Loq sat patiently in his room, gazing at the screen in front of him. Of course, truthfully, it wasn’t a screen; it was the whole wall optioned as one. He could in fact have chosen all the walls, the ceiling and the floor, but he had decided against it. In any event, what was onscreen was Darkworld Taal itself; a round, largely brown-blue planet, apparently natural but anything but. Rivers and lakes dotted the surface, as well as large oceans, but a careful observer would see that it was all perhaps a little too planned for nature to have brought such things about.
“Ship now in teleportation range” the screen flashed up. Anyone who wished to leave now could, but Darak preferred to sit and wait until the ship stopped. He checked his watch; it was 283/400 as he did so. In Earth terms, a few minutes to go. As they passed, he saw the planet loom larger, until it seemed impossibly big against the screen. “Computer, eliminate zoom,” he said, and sure enough, the planet shrunk to a dot.
In truth, it was inaccurate to call Taal a planet. Even though it was orbiting a star, and of sufficient size for Earth-based astronomers to categorise it as such, it was in fact a Darkworld, the primary form of residence for those within the galaxy-spanning civilisation of the Shango Federation. Taal was fairly typical in this regard; it consisted of a central sphere some 1,000km across, which in turn was surrounded by a further sixty-five concentric hollow spheres. Thanks to the materials they were constructed from, and the immense forces generated artificial systems, no pillars were needed for these spheres to remain stable. On each of these spheres, Shango citizens lived on the inside and outside, the concave and convex spheres, earning them the names of either Cavers or Vexers, and it was the immense surface area that resulted that allowed for some two trillion citizens to reside in a space about the size of Earth.
As the ship stopped, Darak set his ideal co-ordinates – his own residence on Vexer 2, the first ‘outside’ surface after the one visible from space. He watched as his possessions vanished around him, then felt the sudden lurch of his surroundings vanish too.
The feeling of being back on Taal was still strange the day afterwards.
The strangest thing was the artificial gravity, which of course, was not gravity. Darak had experienced gravity – the actual, pulling sensation that drew mass together. What Darkworlds possessed instead was a force the Shango termed Grab, which was like gravity in many ways, but like an edited photo, not the real thing, and the subtle differences could be very obvious to those transitioning between a planet, the slightly less noticeable differences of a ship’s Grab systems (which were updated more often, and hence more accurate in their simulation), and a Darkworld.
Nonetheless, he was now back home. He informed the house systems of this news, and the computers themselves spread this news across the networks to relevant people. The house itself was relatively bare; it consisted almost purely of what he had brought from the ship, although he had even got rid of some of those, feeding them back into the assembler. What was important was meeting back with those he left, which started to do when they arrived at 27/50.
The two who arrived at his open house – to be fair, it was very short notice – were Salan Fuig and Tretmor Nai. Salan, a woman some two local years his junior, had been a vague acquaintance from school who had somehow turned into a genuine friend once he left. Tretmor, he had known from his first chosen role in news.
“Any news?” he asked.
“You really have just got back, haven’t you?” Tretmor asked. “It’s pretty big.”
He didn’t seem hugely pleased about it, but then he was never the most emotionally open of people, Darak thought.
“Central government are thinking of moving the Darkworld,” Salan replied, “not sure what to think of it, really.”
“It’s ridiculous,” Darak replied, “the Intersection Wars ended years ago. There’s been no breach of the treaty since. And we’re still retreating and falling back.”
Central Government, on a Darkworld, meant just that; in a giant, solid sphere in the exact centre, government offices operated. On the surface of said sphere, there were many associated areas; Darkworld-based and galactic media often clustered about it; public arenas were often built on it, and in particular, there were frequently on many Darkworlds – and this included Taal – a series of Protest Fields, large areas purely for the visible and open exercise of free speech.
The Protest Fields, Darak always thought, were the classic case of how far the Shango Federation had come since its first movement into space, which was now thousands of years ago. Now, with a post-scarcity society, it was possible for someone to sit on the surface of Central Government, complaining about every action it did in the galactic, diasporic interest, with no need to get a job. And indeed, there were plenty of individuals who seemingly did just that. Some protested the very notion of government; a galactic entity, they said, should be able to govern itself, by and large, managing their own defence, their own justice system, and so forth.
Darak didn’t really go that far in his views, and he suspected Salan and Tretmor were similarly moderate. The three of them looked out across the plain they found themselves on – a huge space of around ten square kilometres, which was strewn with people, tents, even actual, prefabricated houses. In the sky – a large structure over part of the field, erected by some of the more permanent attendants, tinted the sky for greater contrast – there were huge holographic signs, some animated, graphically depicting the source of grievance. The three of them passed one group which held up placards, protesting against the technology that the Shango Federation used. Of course, they were happy to use said technology upon returning home, and such groups were often viewed as hypocritical, or at least clueless. They passed another which made some vague, incoherent protest about the recent Caver/Vexer civil war just below the surface – the reason, in fact, why Darak had left Darkworld Taal at all. The war had in fact cost no lives; all civilians had teleported out of harm’s way beforehand, and those determined to instigate it had protected themselves immensely, so the year-long fight had proven pointless and ended in a draw.
“Vote No to Propositions 1-7 in 3 days’ time,” most of these holosigns read, and some of them shifted once again to reveal depictions of the Intersection Wars and the argument that Darak found familiar. “We have conceded defeat – let’s not continue retreating.”
The vote passed with a vote of 52.5% to 47.5%, with a turnout of 78%.
“Well,” Salam said as the vote was announced, “thirty-nine billion votes would have swung it our way.”
“Quite a close one,” Tretmor agreed, “apparently it was the swing communities on the surface and the outer Spaces. Cavers and Vexers 2 and 3, and so on, and…”
He went on analysing the results, which had turned up as a large holographic projection in the centre of the Community Centre where they had heard the news.
Darak initially said nothing. Having coming some three hundred parsecs to get home, his home was now moving, most likely some three hundred parsecs out of the Intersection Zone. Of course, he – in fact, the three of them – were all free to move, but of course, the number of Darkworlds in the Zone was dwindling all the time. The government had announced some of the Darkworlds that were staying indefinitely: Komodo, Kraken, Calibre, Panzer, Legion… all military outposts. But how long, Darak thought, before outsiders saw weakness in these withdrawals, and decided to strike?
Well, it was going to happen. Those not gathered on the surface of Darkworld Taal as the portal ring expanded from and moved away from the sphere were doubtless watching it on screens, in holorooms or otherwise tracking events. The moving of a Darkworld from one orbit to another was a rare occurrence, locally; the less explorative among the population would speak of this event for generations.
Darak had made it to the surface very early, at 1/100, to witness what was occurring. The whole thing actually began at 35/100, and as the ring headed away into space he finally worked out why he had returned. Despite everything, a planet never offered this; the feeling of a shared cultural event, a spectacle, and mass gathering. It had all felt too ruralised, even in a city; too low-key. Planet-dwelling Shango did not live on a technological marvel, and they knew it. Even as he opposed what was happening, he could not deny the magnificence of it all the same.
The ring was visible in the blue sky, primarily as a massive black band, blocking out light as it passed through the sun. By 37/100, it had reached the place it needed to be. As a Darkworld without Darkmoons, that place was just beyond the equator, so that the ring was next to, not enveloping, the Darkworld.
The next stage was to generate the portal, which – and bionic enhancements already had this covered – involved to the observer a huge flash of light, the power of a sun but mere hundreds of kilometres away. Those on the equator, Darak realised, would feel almost close enough to touch said light, to attempt the leap through already. Having started at 379/1000, though, it was over by 38/100, and faded to reveal – from the cameras relaying inner and outer-ring footage – a starscape not unlike the one previously, visible through the ring. As if by verification, however, another body – a Darkworld, no less – appeared in view, half the sphere visible on one side of the ring, but not the other.
Then came that odd feeling – not Grab, although the way it gripped his feet as it happened compounded the feeling – but the feeling of a planet shifting away from the regular orbit rapidly. The ring shifted out of sight, disappearing to the other side of the Darkworld surface, passing over the poles as it did so.
Finally the whole Darkworld emerged on the other side, steadily in orbit around a new star, two trillion individuals transported in just 5/100 of a day; and that, in fact, was a leisurely, careful pass, too. Darak, young though he was, knew that his great-grandparents would never have witnessed such an event.
“Makes you proud to be Shango,” a man behind him observed.
He wasn’t sure if that was quite the phrase, although he suspected that the pair of them had voted differently on proposition 6, the ballot measure which won out. Even so, he thought, the Qareen they had fought in the Intersection Wars could surely look at such technology and marvel. If need be, in less than a day, the Shango Federation could have thousands of worlds inside the Intersection Zone, ready to strike once more. He was proud of that.
He went home and, that evening, wondered whether he should join the military. Later, he concluded it was a whim, and decided against it.