Author Topic: Part 19: Gathering Storm  (Read 126 times)

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Online Daen

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Part 19: Gathering Storm
« on: September 18, 2022, 10:59:10 PM »
Even Char couldn't quite resist the cheery attitude that ran through the Arbormass for the next few days. While they were all still officially under a news blackout, Aysa had hinted that not a single grove had been destroyed in that time. She seemed flexible on her own rules, as long as it was to the purpose of encouraging the group.

Still, there was no telling if Aysa was being honest. For all Char knew, the Union was in its last days and they'd all be dead soon. There. She felt a bit more like herself now.

Work on the rolling platform continued, with Moss taking the lead. His qars, which he seemed disturbingly attached to, had recovered the original prototype. Once it was back he'd taken it apart and made several changes to the design for the next version. At first Char was afraid he might blame her for the first one blasting out of here like that, but he didn't seem to mind. He worked tirelessly with Char on various fuel mixtures that might power their new meqar design.

Meanwhile, Aysa was working with Rax and Tobor on giving the meqars mandibles to interact with their environment. The same chemically-controlled interface that her grove had developed to use the first radios was coming into play again. If they ran electricity through a coiled span of metal surrounding a magnet, it would spin. If they had enough of these simple 'motors' as Aysa's mother had called them in grove Chaepa, they could move objects up or down, side to side, further out or closer in. The array of motions was massively complex, but an articulating arm would be the first step in making the meqar more than just a transportation device. Several times in their meetings, various people had wondered if there were other animals they could mimic instead of qars.

Juns and all the different kinds of birds were obviously out. Every machine they could build was far too heavy to float, much less fly. Most other animals weren't possibilities either, given that they had even fewer limbs than qars. It was Rax actually, who had come up with the solution. There was a five-limbed creature that lived in his province, which was known for climbing trees. His ancestors had tried to tame them, but even their youngest was far too strong to restrain. One family of these creatures had even tried to nest in Rax's grove before he'd been planted, but his predecessors had sent out qars to bite them until they left.

Apparently they were called swentos, from the local term for 'swinging'. Four of their limbs were used to move around like other animals, but the fifth would grip on tree branches and they would swing from it. It was their other limbs that interested Aysa though, once she was made aware of swento existence. They were also called 'grabbers'.

That was what she and Rax were working on now, with Tobor's occasional input. A mechanical limb which could grab and lift and move objects. Once they could build a few of those, they would test them. If they could use these mechanical limbs to build more mechanical limbs without qar labor, then maybe the Union stood a chance after all.

Char was alone for the moment. Moss was over in his corner, with a few more burn marks on his bark from recent tests, and he was busy widening the circles—or wheels as he called them, after the gears they used in other inventions—on his new carrier device. He called it a carter, or cart for short. Something which would otherwise have been pulled by hundreds or thousands of qars, but would soon be pushed by pressure from burning gas.

Lars signaled Char for a moment, and then spoke to her when she sent her availability. He seemed apprehensive, paying particular attention to Aysa, but she was pretty busy at the moment. "I just got word. The trejuns attacked three more groves this morning. None were seriously damaged, and no one was killed, but that was more luck than good shooting."

No wonder he was being cautious. "How did they get past the thunderers?"

"They didn't. From the news that filtered through to me, they flew up above, out of range of each grove's defenses. Then they dropped their bombs. The good news is it's hard to aim accurately from that far above, so our people only suffered a few burns at worst. The bad news is, we don't have any way to stop them from doing it again. Other than getting better thunderers."

"More powder and a longer tube might increase range," she theorized, surprising herself a little. Maybe Moss' fascination with building things was growing on her. So far she'd only been an expert on blowing things up.

"I had the same thought. Lens is working on a new thunderer now. When it's done, would you help us test it?"

She sent an affirmative, and he exuded relief. "But I had another scary idea this morning. What if the trejuns start delivering their bombs personally?"

Char couldn't even picture that in her mind. "What, they suddenly grow roots that can move them?"

That earned her a trace of indignance from Lars. "No, I mean what if they get their juns to fly them to the target groves? They could use their own bodies to shield the Streek Fire packages, wait until they're right above the grove, and then just let go! How much damage would even fifty thunderers do to a trejun's trunk and roots?"

He made a very disturbing point. They might scar the bark a bit, but there would be no real damage, and the grove would certainly be destroyed. "We're going to need a bigger tube."

"And bigger balls. Think of it more like throwing a metal boulder instead. Something heavy enough to knock one of those Voidsouled bastards right out of the sky!" He paused, letting the idea sink in on her. "Would the same powder mixture work for one of these trejun-sized thunderers? Or… stormers maybe? I don't know what to call it. Or would we need an entirely new kind of boom for something this big?"

She sent out a negative. "The powder I've got should work, but you'll need a ton of it. The boulder will need to fly fast enough to get up there. Wind won't really affect it like it does the thunderers, so at least we have that in our favor." Char hesitated for a moment, but then decided to ask anyway. Her people would want to know. "How bad is it out there? I did some calculations, but my information isn't up to date. How much of the Union did they destroy before the thunderers were in place and able to stop them?"

He let out a trace of despair. "Almost a third. The Chancellor is keeping the blasted zones out of the public consciousness for the time being, but eventually she'll have to tell everyone. My guess is once we have the means to go on the offensive, she'll use that to bolster peoples' spirits.

A third of the whole nation? That was hundreds of groves—thousands of people dead! Maybe tens of thousands by now.

One advantage of her criminal nature had been her exile from polite society. She had barely been tolerated in her own grove, and they'd been happy to throw her out. It was probably still intact, but she didn't care in the slightest if they burned or not. But death on this scale, affecting this many people? How could the trejuns justify this?

They came from the same species—just with different cultures! From what she'd read, the initial contacts between Trejuna and the Union had been friendly, even cordial. But with the sheer size of this war, and the efforts their president was putting into wiping out these people, all of that had been a lie. For a moment Char wished she could link up with trejun interroot. It would be interesting to peer into souls as black as her bark was. Was there even anything in there to look at?

Abruptly Char realized Lars was still waiting for her. "Sorry. Yes, I'll get to work on this new… I guess stormer is the best word for it for now. I'm sure Rax will want to name it something more interesting, but that's a fight for tomorrow. You and your brother focus on the longer range thunderer, while I work on the bigger one. We can test them in tandem."

He sent out some satisfaction, and retreated to confer with Lens. Char felt some appreciation that they had some military expertise in the Arbormass, as she got back to work. She was still wondering what the inside of Trejuna's interroot looked like.