Author Topic: Part 43: Going Home  (Read 9596 times)

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Offline Daen

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Part 43: Going Home
« on: April 07, 2023, 05:06:47 AM »
The Qarier was truly a thing of beauty.

Nearly sixty spans from end to end, and more than twenty from the ground to its summit, this new cart was the first joint mechanization project between the Sandkin and the Continental Union. It was thorny with thunderers, with more than forty lining the edges, and was capable of carrying four treqars: two in the front half and two more in the back. One person controlled the direction, two were on the weapons, and one handled the overall course. Moss' term 'navigate' was starting to catch on, though it was new to most people. The Qarier also had sixteen wheels instead of Moss' original four, to accommodate the increased weight.

In addition, these new wheels weren't just solid metal anymore, as proven as that design had turned out to be. They were covered with interlaced metal plates, which allowed them to grip the ground more tightly, the same way that some mammals used hooves or claws to push themselves upwards more easily. Telden had named them 'trackers', for the interesting patterns they left behind in the ground.

Moss hadn't liked Telden that much at first. The sandkin builder had shown up near the ruins of Grove Kulik, with a huge entourage of small sandkin carts laden with supplies from the other side of the desert: metal, both purified and unprocessed. Apparently he'd cleaned out their stockpiles before leaving, and it was necessary to build a sort of hodgepodge smelter right there in Kulik. The sandkin must have put a lot of faith in his abilities. Fortunately there was plenty of unintelligent plant life nearby to burn—they wouldn't have to resort to burning what was left of Kulik's residents.

At the time, Moss had been a little preoccupied though. He had reconnected to the Union's interroot just outside of Kulik, and had sent a message to ken'hroahen'vol, the same Sergeant who'd basically arrested him just after this war had started. Sending a message straight to Chancellor Esta would have attracted immediate trejun attention, and despite how many thunderers the sandkin had brought to protect their new project, Moss hadn't wanted to risk it.

Thankfully the Sergeant had been both discreet and intelligent about it, and had smuggled a radio past the front lines to their location. After that, official negotiations between the sandkin and the Union had begun.

While he'd been kept busy as an advisor to the Chancellor, and a still-angry Char had been doing the same for the collected sandkin negotiators, Moss had still had time to examine the work Telden had begun. He was arrogant, brash, inconsiderate, and a little overbearing, but he definitely knew his craft well. The Qarier had taken shape quickly. By the time the treaty had been finalized, this new machine of war was finished and fueled.

Now, Moss was lying atop it, senses connected to the other three people up there. As the Qarier rolled past the hills, pushing northwards, Moss had to admit that Telden had outdone himself. Not that he could take all the credit of course. He had a team working for him, and Moss had offered advice with what little free time he'd had available.

The war machine's wheels weren't just lined with trackers, they were outfitted with individual rods that could change direction! This way if the ground suddenly shifted quickly, as was known to happen on sandy beaches, the wheels could be moved side to side, and not just forward and back! It was brilliant.

The device would still be under construction actually, if not for the unexpected arrival of over two thousand qars, from the east. The sandkin had been breeding them in secret, though not many had survived the trek north out of the desert. They still had several queens hidden away somewhere, in case the trejuns tried to wipe out the species again. That had been what had given hope to Moss, far more than any treaty or mechanical design. He thought he'd never see another living qar again, but here they were, working in and around the mechanical controls, right up on the Qarier with them!

That had been the inspiration for the machine's name, actually. One of the reasons Moss had been requested to help with the project was because he had a lifetime of experience controlling qars. He'd given a few pointers to the enthusiastic, but admittedly sloppy, sandkin builders, and each of them had taken charge of a hundred or so qars. When the time came to name their new creation, Moss strongly suspected that the sandkin had insisted the decision be his. Telden certainly wouldn't have named it after these creatures he so clearly despised.

Moss supposed he could see from Telden's perspective—figuratively, of course. They certainly weren't close enough to share senses directly. He'd learned that Telden had been one of Char's advisors back in the day, when she'd been working undercover at the Arbormass. In a way, he had helped design the carts as well, and really, really didn't like sharing the credit. Even with crawling insects.

Core, the Arbormass seemed like a lifetime ago now.

And now things were coming full circle. For the first time in over a year, Moss was going home, to Grove Praska. The Qarier was just the largest of about two dozen carts, each laden with a sandkin. They'd drop him off like a seed falling from a tree, and continue northwards to aid the war effort.

Thanks to the treaty, the war had turned from a defensive action into an active response on the part of the Union. Hundreds of treqars had been trained in using thunderer-equipped carts, and sent westwards to push the invaders back to the coast again. Not that there had been many trejuns to fight. They'd gotten reports of trejuns flying here and there, well out of range of thunderers, and directing jun attack forces to try and destroy the carts themselves. Some had even succeeded, but it was clear by now that the enemy was running out of Streek Fire. Perhaps Trejuna didn't have much by way of rock oil deposits.

"Company to the west," a voice cut into their four-person network, jolting Moss out of his thoughts. It was a rough taciturn sandkin speaking—the unofficial leader of their little unit. The Union had a strict hierarchy especially in their military, and the sandkin had no hierarchy at all, on purpose. As such, their military units were still a little… awkward.

Eolos shared his senses with the others, and Moss tried to hold in his apprehension. At the edge of the sandkin's senses, there were four distinct clusters of juns inbound. Moss was in charge of the forward thunderers, and quickly made sure they were loaded. He could sense the others readying for combat as well. Eolos turned sharply to the south, to give the other carts a chance to form a circle. They weren't nearly as well-limbed as the Qarier, and as such would need to protect each other while Moss' team took out the main threat. Zaras was using his enzyme connection to flash a message at them using a reflective surface, from one side of the Qarier. They couldn't risk using radios to communicate, not this close to the front lines.

The juns sped up, spreading out and gaining altitude briefly. On Eolos' command, Moss fired his thunderers in sequence, and was rewarded by seeing one of the clumps break up as its explosive package came apart. He immediately got to reloading, as Eolos continued his turn so the other side could get their shots in.

This was the second attack since they'd set out from Kulik. Fortunately no one had been killed, but it had been a near thing. Moss felt a surge of fear again, towards one of the carts on the far side of the convoy. If something happened to that one-

Then, suddenly, it was over. The second barrage of thunderers had gone off, and the remaining juns were in retreat, flying back to whichever warmaster had directed them here. Slowly, the convoy formed up again, with the small carts encircling the Qarier and staying close under its protective 'branches'. Moss checked his supply of powder and ammunition, and reported that he was still doing well on both. He was a little distracted though, and at first he missed the message sent to him. "Sorry. What was that?"

"I said you don't need to report to me," Eolos repeated, sending out some amusement, mixed with relief at their recent encounter. "You're in charge this time, remember?"

"Right. Still getting used to that," Moss explained, holding back his discomfort. This group was three-quarters sandkin, and therefore three-quarters weird.

The sandkin way did make sense in theory, he supposed. While people's jobs were decided by how good they were at them, and how much the job needed to be done, who was in charge rotated around. On the rare occasions when they acknowledged that one person had to be giving orders, and others had to follow them, they did it this way. Eolos was still controlling their direction, and Moss was still in charge of the forward guns, but they would keep rotating the person who made the decisions, until everyone had had a turn. Then, everyone would vote on who did it best. Since this was day four of their trip as of a few minutes ago, coincidentally, it was now his turn.

Not that it would matter, given that he'd be saying goodbye to them once he got home. Still, it was a sandkin tradition, and he was required to follow it, being a legal sandkin himself.

Again, Moss' thoughts drifted towards that cart on the far side of the convoy.