The Queen's Courtesan
00. Return to Darkhaven.
Darkhaven was one of the first major offworld colonies of the Realm of Oroven in the centuries-long space race that dominated the late history of the Gilkesh people on their homeworld, Shakti. Relations between the tribes of Oroven and those of the land of Ullari to the south varied from year to year.
The Gilkesh space age did not erupt in a single generation like its terrestrial counterpart, but came about from the steady improvement of the flying machines of the Industrial Age. Still, the Gilkesh are in their own way no less competitive than humans, and tribal pride probably played an important role in spurring Shakti's aerospace engineers to greater creativity. Perhaps, too, the night-loving race yearned to consummate its ancient love affair with the stars.
For generations, space travel evolved slowly but steadily. Like the seagoing ships of their world or ours, the spacecraft of the Gilkesh did not change radically over time, nor vary far from a few basic designs, except as improvements in materials or engineering warranted. For the majority of the Gilkesh space age, all space travel was sub-light. Propulsion was either chemical (hydrogen/oxygen or methane/oxygen) or fusion-driven. Interstellar voyages were conceived and carried out as multi-generational projects.
The first contact with extramundane intelligent life is a matter of dispute; there are numerous conflicting historical accounts and the questions will probably never be fully resolved. It is generally accepted that the first aliens encountered by the Gilkesh were a reptilian (or quasi-avian) race known as the Fao, who also lacked exotic space travel technologies. However, some sources insist that the first contact was actually with the elusive Voha'i.
Over time, a few of the colony worlds would rival Shakti in population and influence, though they remained subordinate to Shakti in terms of direct political power. Worlds like Arrikhar and Darkhaven, already well established even before the advent of hyperspace travel, would become major centers of Gilkesh power in the ages following the Cataclysm. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Hyperspace travel was first developed by Gilkesh engineers at the research facility on Arrikhar; at least, that is the official story. Unofficially, some have claimed that the technology was borrowed from the Voha'i. In this version, the planet Voha takes on a mystique not unlike that accorded by many humans to the town of Roswell, New Mexico. But regardless of who invented it, the Gilkesh quickly learned to master and manufacture the hyperspace drives that would bring them into contact with new worlds and new universes. It was only then that they would cross paths with an alien race very much like themselves; but once again, we are straying from our story.
The accession of Queen Kathris cemented relations among the Factions, which united (at least in name) to form the Kathrite Realm. Prosperity and an assertive space policy soon followed, and Darkhaven experienced a population boom as astronauts and laborers settled there and started having babies. The climate - harsh but habitable - was gradually tamed by bioforming, and its rich mineral deposits guaranteed a mutually beneficial trade with the homeworld. The planet hosted a vast shipbuilding facility at Nar Anak, and a strategic military base at Kor Ethrim. Towns and villages sprang up, and with them came all the other institutions of civilization - local governments and police, libraries schools and temples. With the burgeoning commercial possibilities, and the increasingly easy and regular travel between Shakti and Darkhaven, it would not be farfetched to suppose that the women of the Kathrite Supreme Council began to see the planet's top-secret military status as an anachronism and a liability.
It was to this Darkhaven that the warrior En-Qhoi of the Shadow Regiment returned from a dangerous solo mission to the planet Voha, ancestral home of the Voha'i; and yet, it was a world she scarcely recognized.
[To be continued.]