Post Spotlight: Under the Crystal Domes (Obsidian Command)

Written ByCalliope
Published On

The author of this solo post, David, joined Obsidian Command as the Chief Diplomatic Officer, and so it only made sense to invite him to play the aliens in a first contact as well. He went above and beyond in taking the physical description provided and the simple planet description and then through a series of questions posed to himself in response to the few known variables, he developed enough worldbuilding to ultimately bring it all back around to the personal— the point of view of a young Korinn delegate as she prepares to embark on a journey to the stars to try to garner Federation support for her beleaguered and dying planet.

Under the Crystal Domes

Mission: M3 – Into the Deep
Location: Korix: The Sanctuary of Tiss’Kott
Timeline: MD 09: 0100 HR
2527 words – 5.1 OF Standard Post Measure

Uanika swam through the empty upper corridors of Tiss’Kott. Twenty-foot-tall columns held up the dozens of domed skylights that crowned a few feet above the waterline. The columns were covered with bleached and dying coral. They must have been a wonder two decades ago, but these waters were among the most impacted by the pollution that was killing her home. She wondered that the Z’ala would be so callous as to kill the Great Reef and make the Great Spawning Sanctuary Tiss’Kot, the Spawning Grounds of the Korinn civilization, uninhabitable. Did they not know? Did they not care?

She wished she could have listened to the Tiss’Kot Council of Crests debate laws, pass judgment, or discuss politics, science, and art. And to be part of the spawn here! It must have been glorious.

Then again, her School would never have been invited here. The Broken Shallows School was Spawnless, they had to be invited to a sanctuary. Most years only the C’tut Sanctuary extended an invitation. It was one of the newest (if seven hundred years could be described as ‘new’) and least desirable. The four schools of the Great C’tut Spawn were vain and petty. They surprised no one when they were the first to pledge loyalty and devotion to the invaders, claiming to be the ‘z’ala,’ or the ‘great devotion.’ Ironically, ‘irix,’ the name taken by the Korinn who formed the resistance, meant ‘great freedom.’ Thus, both groups referred to themselves as ‘The Great School.’

Uanika wondered if the air-breathing aliens would be confused by this. She decided not to share it immediately. Keep it to the basics at first.
There were nine-hundred-twenty-six chambers in Tiss’Kott, most on the lower levels that descended a thousand feet into the sea bed. One-hundred thirty-two chambers made up the highest level of Tiss’Kot, where Uanika was exploring. These were the public spaces of the sanctuary, where anyone could visit at any time. There was much to marvel at.

The corridor skylights were remarkable enough, but each chamber on that level had a great crystal dome that diffused sun rays into pillars of light. The domes were carved with different motifs from Korinn history, culture, or mythology. The Thirty-second Chamber was her favorite, even if she thought the ceiling a little risqué. Or rather it was her favorite because of it. Closing her eyes, she immediately pictured the multitude of Korinn bodies chiseled into the crystal. They were thrashing in ecstasy as they mated. Even the thought caused a bashful ripple through her fur.

She’d never mated, never been part of a spawning. Not even the present-day affairs. Far different than the ones of old, they occurred on submersibles with barely enough room for ten Korinn to copulate at once. Paired with the pollution, this was one of the main reasons the Korinn population was declining so rapidly. One the main reasons Uanika had been summoned to Tiss’Kot. The air-breathers were coming.

She swam on, her progress slowed every time she paused to peak into another chamber. In each she allowed her imagination to bring the than dead and dying coral fans back to life. Bleached tan transformed into hues of gold and reds. The squiggling ridges on the round coral became violet, blue and orange. Anemones of every shade waved their tentacles back and forth, and fish of every stripe swam lazily alongside a crush of Korinn, their chains floating in halos around their bodies.

But the corridors were devoid of fish and of Korinn. Anemones had long perished and the coral trailed not far behind them. Her planet was dying.
In the distance, she caught sight of T’orpeo. He too was swimming toward the Constellation Chamber. The Great Crest had chosen both of them for the mission. If the air-breathers would allow it, they would board their alien cosmoship and leave Korix. Her stomach did a flip at the thought: leave the planet! When she was a pup, she’d hoped to become a scout for her school. Scouts swam out into the deep waters and found the groups of ua’p’nik that scuttled with their six legs across the seabed floor. The job had been considered very prestigious for her impoverished school; they depended on them for their survival.

Now she would be helping T’orpeo, the messenger of all Korinn. She would be ecstatic if the cause were not so terrible.

As she swam past the doors of the Constellation Chamber, she stopped to rest her hand on the cool stone. Not truly doors – they did not shut – each was ten-feet wide and twenty-feet high and were carved from a smooth iridescent green rock. This rock could only be found in deep trenches. Considering the doors were two thousand years old, no one knew how the ancient Korinn had quarried them. The technology couldn’t have existed! Historians had postulated different theories, but none proven.

Letting her fingers glide across the stone as she swam, she crossed the threshold into the chamber itself and couldn’t help but look up toward the thick, but clear dome. Two hundred feet wide it sucked in sunlight that illuminated the perfectly engraved night sky. For ages, the Korinn had believed that the heavens to be another ocean, stars distant cities. When the telescope had been invented, they’d discovered not only was it not made of water, those distant lights were similar to their own daystar.

She looked away from the ceiling and to the small knot of three Korinn gathered in the center of the chamber. Ten slate pillars, five feet thick and swirled with gray-green kelbonite and shining sapphires, held up the skylight. The circular chamber was big enough to hold two thousand Korinn and its emptiness felt eerie, as if filled with ghosts examining the proceedings.

As she neared the group, Uanika could clearly hear P’ta’too. Chiding herself for her tardiness, she swam faster. The markings on the old Korinn’s fur still bore the symbols of the Vibrant Shoals School and his rank as Crest, but the pattern of his chains floating around him named him advisor. She was told that he once was fat from feasting on too many m’po. If it was true, his gut had receded considerably.

“We are starting a war so these air-breathers can flee? Their kind have found us. Let them rescue their people.”

Uanika swam up and turned onto her back to recline as the others were. She knew from her studies that the air-breathers used something called a ‘chair’ to repose in. How could she connect with people so alien?

T’orpeo spoke a few chiding whistles, “There is no guarantee that the air-breathers will come down from orbit. If they don’t, Uanika and I will not be able to act as emissaries. The air-breathers on the island, who have also suffered, will be of some value.”

“I thought Uanika said these air-breathers were curious.” P’ta’too shot a glance at her. “Did you not?”

“The aliens on the beach were curious when they first arrived. They told the slaved Irix that it was the way of their people,” she clicked and whistled cooly, not liking his questioning her expertise.

“Then they will come. No need to start a war over it. We will not last long if we do. Housing all the Irix if they escape slavery will be miracle enough. Hiding them in the Abyss…I don’t believe we can do it.”

“And yet we must, old friend.” Tck’cos spoke with deep whistles, chuffs, and clicks. At 105-years-old, she was among the oldest of the Korinn, but that was not why she was made the Grand Crest of the Irix. She could inspire a rock and engender it with such passion and zeal for life that it would throw itself from the sea. Her cunning mind could strike like a silver shark, quick and deadly. At least that’s how Uanika thought of her. She wasn’t alone. “Our scientists tell us we have at most ten years before our seas are irreversibly polluted. We have maybe twenty before they become uninhabitable. We either die fighting or we die with a whimper. The longer we wait the weaker we become.”

Tck’cos slightly turned her head toward Uanika. “Uanika has also told us that this…what was the word?”

“Federation,” Uanika said in Standard before translating it into trata’nosa the Korinn phrase meaning ‘blended fish of different seas.’ It was the closest way to explain what a “Federation” was. There was no word like it in her language.

“Yes. She tells us this trata’nosa may want to talk to the Pyrryx before they go to war, as they did with their last great enemies. Perhaps that will do. Either way, they might need time to try different ways of helping us. Hopefully they will be successful in less than ten years.”

P’ta’too whistled derisively. “So, we bind ourselves with fish who like to talk. Were these enemies strong and mighty like the Pyrryx?”

Uanika barely glanced at P’ta’too when she answered. “Irix on the island were told by the air-breathers that their last enemies were liquid people whose strength was in their minds and in warrior slaves.”

“Liquid people. A truly remarkable place that you and T’orpeo will travel – no, old friend, they will,” she added, shutting down the other Korinn quickly. “Any future we hope for will be over if they do not. Now, I don’t mean to rush our conversation to a close, but I need a word with Uanika in private. Tell our scouts to turn on the signal and hope someone comes down to hear it.”

Neither of the others tarried; when the Grand Crest said leave, you left, even if she did say it in a respectful manner. They didn’t pay homage to the Grand Crest with any foolish motion – the crests were not demigods – but they simply nodded their heads. As they swam away, Uanika was shocked to see several bubbles escape Tck’cos lips. It was a testament to the pressure of the moment to see her express even the mildest emotion. Suddenly, Uanika felt a great crush as if she’d passed into the Abyss from the Midnight Zone.

“A leader who doesn’t show fear is an asset. However, it is good to remind people of the weight of the moment, yes?”

Uanika chuffed in affirmation. She shouldn’t be surprised that Tck’cos knew what she was feeling. The Grand Crest was the Grand Crest for a reason.

“I feel unequal to the task,” Uanika admitted.

“Don’t we all?”

“‘When the razor-toothed ruppa’to attacks, we have no choice. We will swim on until strength is expended,’” she quoted.

Tck’cos fur rippled in amusement. “Thus spoke Tuya’Yuta, the founder of Tiss’Kot. Now, she was a great crest.”

“As are you, if I may be so bold.”

“No. Mine is in title alone. Real great crests build something to last. I am simply making choices of what to give up so that we might survive.”

“What could be more lasting than our survival?”

“For one so young, you are a marvel of wisdom.”

“Only because I had you as a teacher,” Uanika told her.

“Now you do flatter me,” Tck’cos clicked in amusement. “I chose well when I selected you all those years ago. Your mastery of the air-breathers language is an added bonus.”

“Thank you for those words. T’orpeo will lead, of course, but I will do my best to assist him.”

“Ah. That is why I wanted to talk to you. I have already spoken to T’orpeo. He says that you are superior in the Th…the sth…sss” Tck’cos whistled in frustration. The ‘f’ sound was a particularly difficult one for Korinn to master. “…the trata’nosa language. Further, he thinks you will adapt faster than he. You will be the first emissary; he will be your assistant.”

Uanika’s eyes widened in surprise, “He is thirty-years older than me! He was a hunter! A scientist! He has spawned many times! Surely, of the two of us his experiences will matter!”

Tck’cos whistled and clicked with laughter; not the response Uanika was expecting. “The trata’nosa fought liquid people over vast distances of space. Liquid people.” She moved her waved her hand back and forth through the water, emphasizing the strangeness of someone being made of it.

“I don’t believe T’orpeo, you, or any of us have any experience that would prepare us. Your ability to master anything set before you will matter more than the fact that T’orpeo has spawned or been a scientist or swam the seas years longer than you. Besides, he will be there to assist.”

The pressure in her stomach now felt like she’d entered the deepest trench. “I am unsure how to respond. I don’t want this.”

“You think I wanted to be Grand Crest? Before this, do you think I wanted to be Crest of the Foam Wave School of the Great Spawn Tiss’Kot? No! I wanted to garden the kelp forests and teach pups. When we have the skills, however, we are called. You are being called.”

Uanika stared at Tck’cos. In her anxiety, a few bubbles escaped her lips and rose to the surface. The Korinn were depending on her. “I will obey. I will not fail.”

“It is only necessary that you obey. Do the best you can, that is all any of us can ask. We’ve studied the air-breathers only through those on that island. We’ve learned their language not by speaking with them, but by slaved Irix passing it to free Irix. We don’t really know if we’re pronouncing their words correctly. The trata’nosa on the island built homes from trash. What will their architecture be like? Their worlds? We don’t know. There will be a great many surprises. You are the best for this job.”

“I am honored by your trust. Terrified, but honored.”

“Is there any other way to be?” Tck’cos cooed pleased with the way the conversation had gone and leaned her head back, allowing the water to cradle her entire body. “I don’t mean to be a bore, but I plan to stare at this ceiling for a while and remember when this chamber hummed with excitement. A time before the Pyrryx. Care to join me? I’ll tell you about the first talk I saw here. P’chaua and Mauua, great philosophers who debated morality.”

“I would enjoy that.” Uanika tried to relax as Tck’cos began speaking, but her hearts fluttered with nerves. All she could think was about the air-breathers. When would they come?