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Tall Tales (Chapter Cover Art)

Story By JA Baker[]

Nuzhat al-mushtāq fi'khtirāq al-āfāq
Author JA Baker
Series Name Tall Tales
Alternate Universe Name
Year Written September 20th, 2020
Story Era Dark Age Era

The Spacers Guild is old. As in, pre-Hegemony old.

It was actually started by the Terran Alliance, before even the Deimos Project got off the ground, as a way of training and certifying crews from all over Terran under one, uniform system. And, somehow, it has managed to survive the Age of War, the Rise and Fall of the Star League and Four Succession Wars. Oh, sure, it's no longer the same single unified body it once was, but once you get your Guild certification, you can find a job anywhere in explored space. Not all Spaces are Guild members: militaries usually have a bar on our joining, out of fear of where our true loyalties may lay, and anyone with a head for mathematics can learn to plot a jump. We just tend to be better and quicker, making us popular with merchants and independents.

Like a lot of old and venerable organizations, it has its secrets.

See, the Guild isn't as centralized as it used to be, back in the day: the proverbial wheels coming off of civilization will do that to any organization not called ComStar, apparently. So the Guild fractured, but the splinters managed to remain on friendly terms for the most part, resulting in the Twelve Grand Masters, the heads of the various Houses that make up the Guild. And because I know you're going to ask, they are as follows;

House Voidwalker, House Shadowkeeper, House Blue Star, House Odysseus, House Charlemagne, House Bligh, House Rosewater, House Kangnido, House Heyerdahl, House Joseon, House Starstrider and House Hightower. No, I have no idea where those name came from. I'm not sure anyone does anymore.

How do I know all this? Because I did my apprenticeship under House Heyerdahl, earning my silver sextons at twenty-four, reaching Master Navigator by thirty-seven, which is pretty impressive. That meant that I had to meet my House Master, and I think she took a liking to me. Said I reminded her of herself at my age. No, she wasn't grooming me to be her successor or anything. Just because even back then, it was clear that I didn't have a head for the politics of running a Guild House. We'd meet up in the backroom of some bar on a recharge station, drink like we didn't want to see tomorrow and play Koi-Koi.

So came one fateful night, as the old saying goes. It was at that point where late becomes early, and we had several bottles of... something exceptionally strong scattered around the table as she talked me into yet another hand. It was just the two of us, her usual minders having been convinced to wait outside so we could get down to some "girl talk" in private. Truth was we were both near paralytic. Taking turns to trash-talk my, at the time very recently ex-husband. We'd reached one of the quiet moments, where we didn't have any new insults to throw at him, and this odd expression comes over her.

So she starts to talk, and what she says has me feeing real sober real quick.

She tells me that there are actually thirteen Guild Houses, not twelve and that the Grand Master of this unknown House is actually the Grand High Master of the entire Guild. They're the one everyone else secretly answers to. Tells me to keep an eye out for ships with green jump-sails, how there was far more to the Diaspora than we're told. How there are other nations, hidden and kept off the maps. Then she looked around, as if she was making sure that we were alone, that no one was watching us, in an otherwise empty room.

"They've been hiding for so long. So, so long. Afraid of us, afraid that we'd remember. That they took to the stars ahead of us. But some of us... some of us remember, we keep the secrets, keep faith in the Old Ways... we remember what happened the last time we met, we remember the wars..."

She didn't exactly say much after that. Just mild sobbing between shot-gunning a bottle of something better suited to cleaning DropShip engines, and I soon joined her. She never mentioned it again, and I never let on that she'd said anything out of the ordinary. A Grand Master is privy to all kinds of secrets, some of which they're required to kill to keep from all but their designated successor. And given that I was nowhere near being in the running for that, I kept my head down and played dumb.

Problem is it's kind of hard to forget something you shouldn't know, because you're constantly reminded of what you're trying to forget. I certainly couldn't forget the odd combination of fear and sadness that I'd seen in her eyes as she'd rambled on. Something odd considering the power she wielded as head of a Guild House. Anything that could frighten her was something I didn't want to face, but at the same time, became obsessed with.

So, how do you go about digging into a secret that's only now by a handful of people in the entire universe? A secret so well guarded that they'll slit your throat without hesitation if they even suspect you know it?

Carefully, obviously. Fortunately like any society, the Guild has its outsiders and troublemakers. The proverbial Black Sheep in our otherwise happy little family. Not exactly the kind of people I was used to socializing with, but needs must and all. So I set about making some disreputable friends. It wasn't easy. Given my by then well known position as the Masters drinking buddy, but I guess some of them liked the idea of corrupting someone so high up. It still wasn't easy, or safe, and more than once I had to use my trusty knife to defend myself. See, sometimes people get expelled from the Guild for breaking the more serious rules, while others carry a grudge because their application was rejected. Either way, there are plenty of arseholes out there willing to spill blood as a way of getting over hurt feelings.

The Guild knows this. Not only makes sure that everyone can defend themselves, but is more than willing to be proactive in dealing with such threats.

Two years into my little sojourn into the dark underbelly of the Guild, and I'd finally gotten a lead on someone who claimed they had some of the answers I was looking for. They told me to visit a certain recharge station, one kept off non-Guild charts. In a system that had been depopulated during the early days of the First Succession War. There are a handful of such places, some better known than others. Just because a planet dies doesn't change the location of the star it orbits, and you'd be surprised just how many 'dead' systems are still on the trade routes. This particular recharge station had been abandoned, only to be reactivated and repaired at great expense by the Guild to serve as a safe harbor in an age when JumpShips would considered little more than target practice by the Successor States. Times may have changed, but we still maintain a number of such anchorages, just in case.

And, as it's off the grid, Guild law applies.

We arrived to find three other ships already in position, one taking a charge from the station. The other two had deployed their jump-sails. Green jump-sails. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand-up when I remembered my mentors cryptic words: green sails meant that they belonged to the mysterious Thirteenth House. As such it was with some trepidation that I took a shuttle over to the station, still not exactly sure who or what I was looking for. The station is big, and not exactly standard design, an indication of just how old it is, as it evidently predates the ubiquitous Olympus class. It had two massive counter-rotating gravity decks, one for command and crew habitation, the other...

Okay, so we've all spent time in and around spaceport, despite how much some of us might hate going dirt-side, so we've also seen the more interesting backstreets you tend to find around them. The kind of places that are narrow, with big neon signs advertising everything from "authentic" Canopian food, to brothels and other, equally unsavory destructions designed to separate a spacer from their accumulated back-pay. Well, that's what the second grav-deck looked like: if it wasn't for the curvature of the floor, I would have sworn I was planetside. Fortunately, being a Guild station, I didn't have to worry about having my pocket picked or getting shived in the back should I decide to indulge my more carnal desires. Eventually, I found the bar I was looking for, the Four Leaf Clover, thanks to the massive glowing shamrock outside. Getting myself a glass of something claiming to be whisky, I started to take in the room.

Didn't take me long to spot them. The bar was small and packed, but everyone seemed to be giving them as wide a berth as possible.

There were five of them clustered around a table in the back. Two were big, and I do mean big; big enough to give even one of those Elementals pause for thought. One had an exceptionally crude looking sword, which looked more like an oversized meat cleaver, strapped to their side, while the other was holding a long metal staff that looked fit to serve as the replacement leg on a BattleMech. They were stood behind a woman who looked unnaturally tall and thin, what exposed skin she had on display so pale it looked almost translucent. While her two companions, very obviously bodyguards, were dressed head to toe in black, complete with helmets with wraparound visors, she wore a long, flowing green and amber dress, with a matching headdress that left only her eyes exposed. If it wasn't for the plunging neckline of the dress, and the slit that exposed an almost painfully slender looking leg, it would have been easy to mistake her for a man.

The two across the table from here were short, even in comparison to someone like me, but stocky, obviously well muscled. They were dressed in cut-down coveralls, with big leather tool-belts around their waists and welding goggles on their heads. Both had scraggy, unkempt beards that looked like they'd been burnt around the edges more than once.

Even from a distance, it was obvious that some kind of negotiation was taking place, and I found a seat where I could observe them without being too obvious.

In my defense, I'm a navigator, not some private detective or secret agent. I know nothing about how to watch someone without looking like you're watching them, or how to keep an eye out for someone watching you in return. As such, I completely failed to notice the man who'd gotten right behind me until I felt the muzzle of what felt like an AC/20 pressed into my ribs, just as the negotiations seemed to end, and the two short-stacks left.

I was "invited" to join the mysterious woman at the table, and felt it was best not to turn down the other. After all, every second they're not actually killing you is another second you've got to convince them why you should be allowed to keep breathing.

"So, you're the trouble maker Alana has told me so much about." the woman's voice was like honey being dripped into my ears, "I was staring to wonder if she'd been too cryptic."
" was a set-up?" I asked, my throat dry despite all the whisky I'd been drinking.

"More of a test." the woman clocked her head to one side, and I get the distinct impression that she was smiling behind her mask, "We needed to see if you had it in you to find out the truth for yourself, no matter how far down the rabbit hole it took you."

"And what truth is that?" I asked

"That the universe is far more mysterious and full of wonders than you've ever dreamed."

With that, she pulled at the fabric sounding her head, and it quickly and silently slid down onto the table.

First to be exposed was her narrow, angular nose, followed by a mouth filled with perfect, almost painfully white teeth, and a sharp pointed jaw. But that was nothing in comparison to what followed, as the scarf continued to unravel, allowing hair the color of spun gold to fall across her shoulders down down her back. A simply shake of her head, and her long, delicate, and above all, pointed ears, came into view.

"Now then, young-one." she looked at me with eyes like frosted glass, "Let us discuss the future."

So yeah, that's how I became a member of House Evergreen. Now, my young apprentice, let me give you some advice. Do not meddle in the affairs of Elves, for they are patient and meticulous in their plotting.

The End

  • Wiki Editor Note: The title Arabic and translate The book of pleasant journeys into faraway lands, inspired by Tabula Rogeriana

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