This is a “character sketch” of an NPC faction in a game I’m currently designing. Since I’ve been doing quite a lot of game design lately, and I’m still embroiled in an ongoing home improvement project as well, I haven’t had much free time to either write or explore new music. This sketch turned out fairly well, though, and it holds up under “five elements of fiction” style scrutiny, so…what the hell! Here it is, please enjoy.
* * * * *
It was a day like any other when Jurgi was called to the council chamber, the moons of Sirius IV hanging over the horizon, watchful as ever while he rode the lift to the airborne Seihr Sky Temple. Jurgi was young, especially as Seihr go, only having served for a half dozen years, and council summons still made him nervous. A downward-traveling lift zipped past, the figure inside wearing a cloak like Jurgi’s, another low-ranking Seihr dispatched on an errand. Jurgi wondered what kind of mission he was about to be sent out on. The lift darkened for a moment before breaking through the clouds, and Jurgi took a deep breath and let the bright, blue sun of his home world warm him before arriving at the temple.
Entering the council chamber, he became immediately aware that this was no ordinary meeting. Typically, he met only with Vranesh—a beetle-like member of the D’Krikas race—and his aides. This time, there were five Seihr councilmen and -women, each with a small retinue of staffers waiting on them far behind the council table, taking notes, answering messages, and attending their masters’ needs.
“Seihr Jurgi,” says the council chairwoman. “Please be seated and we will begin.” The chairwoman was a Child of Qholm, a race of ant-like beings, and she spoke through a translator device on the desk in front of her. This Child was named Denise, and rumor has it she was a minor Qholm hive queen when she was discovered and brought to the Seihr, whereupon she left all her own Children behind in the care of a different Queen. Jurgi had met her a number of times, and he liked her. He smiled, doffed his hood, and sat in the massive wooden chair Denise indicated with a sweep of one of her bright yellow hands.
“How may I be of service to your graces?” Jurgi asked. Aside from Denise and Vranesh, the other council members present were human. Two of them, a man and a woman to his right, he didn’t recognize. The third human was named Adam, a former nobleman of the Krell Empire. Jurgi didn’t know him well, but he suspected him of some degree of political ambition and therefore did not trust him much.
Denise placed her elbows on the council table, clasped her hands together, and rested the underside of her great head upon them in a gesture that struck Jurgi as very humanlike for a giant insect. “I’ll let Seihr Vranesh fill you in.”
Vranesh twitched his left wing and helped himself to a sugar cube from a small bowl in front of him before speaking. “Seihr Jurgi, you’re familiar with Duke Beregont?” Vranesh’s translator was a cybernetic implant, so he didn’t need to utter any whistling or clicking sounds like Denise and his voice came across as more natural.
“I am,” said Jurgi. “He controls the Underwood region, correct?” Jurgi shot Adam a glance, and the senior Seihr looked away quickly. Strange. Was he self-conscious at one of his former fellow noblemen being the subject of a Seihr council discussion?
“That is correct. Recently, new border agreements have Underwood directly abutting space controlled by the Conglomeration. These agreements were deemed mutually beneficial by both the Empire and the Conglomerated Free States, so we had no trouble recognizing them. However, we have observed certain,” Vranesh flexed a hand thoughtfully, “disturbing trade patterns between Underwood and Westgate, the CFS region which borders it.”
Interesting. “What kind of patterns?” Jurgi asked.
“Slaves.” This kind of directness from Vranesh was not common. D’Krikas are stereotypically long-winded creatures, coming from a society with a great history of oratory tradition, philosophical debate, and interest in legal and ethical theory. Characteristically, Vranesh himself takes far more delight in debate rather than its conclusion, often causing meetings to run far longer than planned and expressing disappointment when any point he makes is taken at face value rather than requiring him to quantify and qualify his reasoning ad nauseum.
“But,” stated Jurgi, “The Empire is allowed slaves as part of its historic tradition. Indeed, this very council has found that the subjugation of certain societies and civilizations is mutually beneficial to both parties. I know it continues to be a subject of debate here, but why are we interested, now, in Duke Beregont?”
Vranesh could tell that Jurgi was pandering to his love of argument, but he became visibly excited anyway. “This is very correct of you, Seihr Jurgi! However, jump gate logs of transport ships traveling from CFS space to Empire space strongly indicate slaves aboard ship. Empire nobles do often send their own household slaves abroad for training and cultural exposure, but unfortunately we are not able to find evidence of such coming from Duke Beregont’s house. We have contacted him for a statement, but he has been silent.” Vranesh took another piece of sugar and rolled it between his dexterous fingers, considering it as he appeared to intend Jurgi to consider his words. “We believe he is purchasing slaves, human slaves in particular, from within the Conglomerate.”
“Your graces,” Jurgi said quietly, then more loudly, “Surely you have questioned Free State officials?”
Denise spoke next. “We have. And we have reason to suspect that officials within Westgate are complicit in these transactions.”
This is bad. The CFS are widely held to be morally bankrupt at best, concerned only with their own profit and often at the expense of their own inhabitants. But what profit could be had from operating so plainly outside the law and risking crossing the Seihr?
“What is needed of me?” asked Jurgi.
Adam cleared his throat. “Seihr Jurgi, we need you to go to Underwood and meet with the Duke. As a member of our Order, he will welcome your presence in his house, and you can find out what his role in this is, if any.”
“Sir!” blurted the human woman at the far end of the table. “To me, the evidence seems clear. You continue to disbelieve that Duke Beregont is entirely complicit in illegal slave transport into his domain?”
Adam stood abruptly and angrily, startling all present. Remembering himself, he paused, sighed, and gave Jurgi a sad look. “I certainly hope not, for his sake. But no, I don’t believe it. The Duke’s father was just a robber baron, and his own noble status was quite tenuously awarded. He is of low rank, and controls a border region at that. He has too much to lose, and very little to gain. This is not an opinion that is unanimously shared by this council, but I think he is being manipulated.”
“Your graces,” said Jurgi, “with all respect due, this sounds like a diplomatic assignment. I am still young, and I am not skilled in these matters. Not to question your wisdom, but why send me?”
Adam seated himself and Vranesh stood to his full height of eight feet. “No, no, don’t get up. I just need to fan out a bit.” He stretched both his wings wide and fluttered them slightly, and if Denise had eyes she would have rolled them. “No, Seihr Jurgi, you are not a diplomat. But we do not wish to arouse suspicion by sending a large procession of our Order into Underwood space, especially if our suspicions remain unconfirmed. However,” and here he paused to eat the piece of sugar he had been playing with, “if we are right, we will want someone with your particular talents close at hand, ready to act as soon as we know for sure. First and foremost, there can be no doubt. We will continue our investigation. Go, observe, and report, and we will alert you if and when the nature of your mission is to change.”
Jurgi believed he understood. “Very good, your graces.” He stood. “I will leave at once.”
Denise formed the sign of Se and all present rose from their seats. “May Se be with you, child.”
“I am, as always, a humble servant of the Se.” Jurgi bowed, turned, and left the chamber.
* * * * *
Jurgi’s diplomatic mission has turned to one with a darker purpose. Instead of his Seihr cloak, he now wears the uniform of a Blart Mart company soldier, having deceived his way into a high-ranking security position at the discount store chain’s corporate headquarters in the Westgate region. BlartCo has a well-established history of marginalizing its work force, and its executives could write dozens of books on advanced wage slavery, but this particular executive has taken things a step further by actually enslaving Conglomerate citizens and selling them to the Empire.
For what? For profit, surely, but this one’s motives do not revolve solely around money. During his snooping, Jurgi found profiles and dossiers on those who were enslaved. All women, mostly humans but some Greys and Jovians as well. All very attractive. Given that they were destined to serve in various palatial estates throughout the Empire, one could argue that their standard of living would be much improved over a life of stocking store shelves with packaged, processed foods.
But Jurgi isn’t interested in the greater good. This is illegal, and it is reprehensible, and Jurgi’s duty to stop it is clear.
The four soldiers in the Executive’s security detail are well-trained and well-armed. Jurgi’s only edge is that he is the one in charge. Oh, and his training from his previous life is far superior to theirs. The other soldiers are waiting in the corridor outside the Executive’s office, standing guard. Jurgi is inside, alone with him.
The Executive gives Jurgi the creeps. He is on a viscomm session with another BlartCo company official like him. No, not like him. This one, here, is particularly disgusting. Every word that comes out of his mouth drips with conceit, and narcissism, and self-entitlement. He destroys the lives of those who serve him, his own employees whom it is his responsibility to protect. He violates their rights and their bodies. The Executive is a predator of the worst kind.
Jurgi is standing behind him. The conversation is wrapping up, and Jurgi subtly unbuckles the retention strap on the company issue monofilament blade at his hip. The cutting blade of the weapon is a single molecule of pure crystal, harder than diamond and more flexible than fine steel. So, it appears that Jurgi has a third edge. As soon as the viscomm screen goes black, this edge will find its mark.
Jurgi is not afraid of the Executive, who won’t have a chance to fight back, or even the additional security outside who surely will. Jurgi is a predator, too, after all, and lions do not fear snakes.