Tybaud Yards is a city on Loald, a world deep within the Empire. The downtown is a collection of stately towers. Most are compositions of smooth blocks, in matte pastels. But there are a few in a newer style — light, warm shades, mostly brown, with shallow decorative curves suggesting organic, even anatomical shapes. And there are plenty of older styles — wood grain, or pale grays ornamented with reliefs of flowers, eagles, lions, and other symbols. There are lots of windows and lots of balconies. Balconies are very popular, just now, anywhere with a sufficiently descent climate. Following the towers up into the sky, you see still more towers, hanging in the air. There are other buildings up there, lying on their sides. The mix of styles is the same; mechanical TK is an old technology here, and all these suspended buildings are firmly bound to foundations of deep bedrock.
Many things are suspended here: traffic lights and signs, trash bins, park benches. Here and there, above the sidewalks, hang neat little ovals, painted gold and purple and studded with lenses. These are police monitors. Of course, the police could monitor the streets with invisible sensor foci, but this is visible, and so gives deterence to the criminals and reassurance to the law-abiding. Most cities of the Reach have these, if they can afford them, though, for instance, in Aondoar, they are less numerous and, of course, the colors are different — black and white. They project spotlights as well as carry sensor pickups. On restive worlds, they may also project stun beams.
There is very little advertising. The Empire doesn't permit it. Aondoar is much gaudier that way, with signs and screens raving at you from every vantage.
Of course, there are no power lines. They are unneeded, and they would hinder the aeriel traffic. Traffic, both aeriel and surface, is very largely buses, cabs, and delivery vans. All are of bulbous, streamlined shapes — eggs and teardrops in bright, shiny colors. Last century, they were faceted, like giant jewels, but fashions change. The groundcars slide by on variable-friction runners. The aircars adhere strictly to marked airlanes, and never come near the elevators that bob up and down between the floating towers and the sidewalks below.
Evening comes on. The towers are soon awash with indirect lighting — no street lamps here. Looking up, you see a few stars beyond the suspended buildings, and, directly overhead, a point of light that is Tybaud Sky, the sister city in synchronous orbit.
You walk up to a taxi stand and wait. Soon, a dark red egg-shape slides up on loop-shaped runners like the ghosts of wheels. It bears a black and yellow logo. A band of headlighting has just now come on, because of the hour. The cab has no moving parts; even the door is a stretch of membrane that becomes translucent and permeable as you approach.
Sliding through, you find no controls and no driver, only a sign on the dashboard asking, "Destination?" You say, "Spaceport." The sign changes to "Tybaud Municipal Spaceport. Fare: M1.25 — ?" The question mark blinks. You say, "Fine." The cab waits. It has interrogated your personal effects to see if any of them are credit pins that are willing to pay the fare, but none are. However, you are already pulling a two-mark bill out of your wallet. You drop it in a slot and receive your change as the cab moves off.
As your cab slides down the streets, you study the pedestrians. They are a very uniform lot. There are no aliens or neo-beasts. This is a city made for humans, period. There are no AIs; the machinery doesn't even talk, if it can help it, but flashes signs at you, like the autocab.
Elsewhere in the Reach, it is different. Some worlds near the edge see alien visitors, and there are AI enclaves, where your cab might be in business for itself. But not here.
Even within their species, these folk are a uniform lot. Most look Eurasian. Of the rest, most look Polynesian or Slavic. Hair is black to dark brown, straight to slightly wavy. Blacks, blondes, and redheads are rare. This is standard New Terraformer stock.
Most look between twenty and fifty, and there are very few children. This is the result of senestasis as part of public health. The few children attract interested glances. The few elders look either downtrodden or distinguished. No one wears age unless they can't help it or are making a fashion statement.
Both sexes wear hair short or, if long, braided. Women may wear hairpins. Neither sex wears makeup. The men may wear mustaches, but beards are rare.
Many wear pajama-like clothes over body-stockings of the same colors. In many cases, these pajamas bear logos, rank insignia, or other signs of being uniforms or livery. These are work clothes. The ones in dark pajamas over white body-stockings are servants; they look either aloof or harrassed.
If you watch closely, you can see the wearers of the various uniforms and livery watching each other closely. They are estimating relative rank, and sometimes it isn't easy. Is a self-assured servant employed by an officer-rank household, and so enjoying borrowed status? Is a high-rank technician above or below a mid-rank office worker? Better yet, why do they care, when all that is at stake, here on the street, is who averts their eyes first or subtly gets out of the other's way?
Other folk wear patterned pajamas over bright, solid-color body-stockings, with translucent and delicate patterns on the pajamas of some of the women. These folk are at their leisure, informally clad. They tend to ignore the folk in uniform. Temporarily, at least, they are not playing the status game.
A third population wears quasi-Greco-Roman robes over their body-stockings. The robes are deep, solid colors, the body-stockings more muted. These costumes are accented with one or two pins, or, for the women, a little braiding or lace. These folk are in formal or business wear, and the folk in pajamas tend to get out of their way, while they act as if they were alone in the street. These folk are officers or higher, or at least used to some considerable wealth, or a high academic or clerical rank. Or, just perhaps, they are faking it.
Your cab leaves the higher towers and the hanging towers behind. The buildings get smaller, lower. You pass a few clusters of isolated houses, but not many; these folk more often live in apartment blocks or strips of town houses. And not all of them are rich. As you reach the edge of town, you see apartment complexes that are severely plain, visibly worn. There are more old-looking people here, more large print on the uniforms. The leisure pajamas are gaudy-looking, and more often ill-fitting.
Mingled among the poorer dwellings are chunks of machinery — massive gray blocks of factories, festooned with tangles of exterior piping, or huge, round tanks in titan rows. Often, these things are half-buried, and downward ramps in the roads show there is more industry underground.
The people themselves look different here. They are paler; there are more blondes and redheads. These are the Old Settlers of Loald. Long ago, before the Empire was founded, they or their ancestors allied with one admiral or another among the New Terraformers, but they backed the wrong side. Rival admirals won the wars among the terraforming fleets, and eventually seized Loald.
The New Terraformers and the Loaldans are merging, but only at the glacial pace of an unaging population. Perhaps there are veterans of the Admirals' Wars tramping these dark streets, speaking in Loaldan argot and Terranic instead of Universum.
But the Old Loaldans share their misfortune. Their neighbors are the unlucky among the New Terraformers, and occasional families of Koliots, and a scattering of people from all over the Reach, wandered here in past times of upheaval and now stranded.
There is an apartment with a half-meter-high letter psi blazing greenly in the window. A local psychic, advertizing. Across the street is a Christian church, made over from an old store, a red chrismon projected in the air above it. In between are colorful jumbles of stalls and stores, maybe not opulent, but clean and busy.
The unpopular are tolerated here, and no one is too badly off. The Empire is no utopia, but Loald, at least, is no place to look for dissidents, either.
Here is an apartment block right next to a big factory complex. In fact, it stands on the factory grounds, behind a fence. Some of the workers must live on site. Some of them may well be slaves. Other factories that you have passed may have had slave barracks buried underground, in with the nether parts of the factory itself. Not that the slaves are necessarily prisoners. Some may be; others are as free to come and go as their owners' schedules permit, constrained by the poor chances of escape.
The spaceport is a few clusters of large buildings, dwarfed by wide, flat landing fields, laid out in the traditional manner — clusters of square landing zone of various sizes, separated by safety lanes for ground traffic. In the evening light, this game board for spaceships is outlined in strips of multicolored light.
The spacecraft sitting on the fields, or rising and falling above it, are all fairly small, no bigger than large houses, and with some hint of streamlining about them. Bigger craft dock at Tybaud Sky, the space-station city in synchronous orbit above. The current style in spacecraft, like that for buildings and cars, is fluid and seamless, with a minimum of interuptions save for ports and hatches. Most are white, with a few bold symbols and registration numbers relieving the blankness. A few very old craft are in different styles — modular masses of cylinders and blocks, with brilliant color schemes and a panoply of heraldic symbols. No wonder there was a reaction into plainness.
The main spaceport concourse is an old building, made of vitrified stone, with many subterranean levels, high ceilings, and gingerbreaded with reliefs of larks, stylized shooting stars, lightning bolts, and some alien insectile resembling a dragonfly. It might date back to the times when the Old Loaldans held their world alone.
As you might expect, there is a greater variety of people here. Besides the Eurasian-looking New Terraformers, you see blacks and whites from Aondoar, Asians from Chuji, furry folk from Belu, Semitic folk from Mossim, dark Indics from Pocop, blonde midget Asians from Bwi, some pattern-bald men from Cassard, and some Meliors from Meth. But all still human. It would be rare to see an ET this deep in the Reach. Some of the self-propelled machinery here might be AIs. Or some of the apparent humans. But probably not.
You pass through a short security corridor, where you are invisibly frisked, and on into a shuttle. This is, essentially, an elevator, like the ones you saw drifting to and from the suspended towers in downtown Tybaud Yards. It is much larger, looking like a giant covered cake dish ornamented in steel curliques, and it is, of course, airtight and supplied with gravity. But all it does is rise and fall telekinetically, between the two cities.
Inside the shuttle, the seats are modernized — cushioned, backless benches suspended in the air. There are a couple of vending machines, an attendant, and nothing else. The attendant is a low-ranking spacehand, or possibly semi-vacationing on light duty, and is there only in case of emergencies. He knows where the pressure belts are and how to work the emergency comm links. But he doesn't need to use them. The trip takes fifteen minutes, then you walk out into the corridors of Tybaud Sky.
Tybaud Sky is a cluster of a few dozen very large buildings. Two, one very old and one a former fortress, spin. You glimpse them as your elevator slides into its bay in Ward Alpha, the largest of the buildings in Tybaud Sky. After that, it is all interiors. The Tybaud Sky Spaceport is just an arbitrary chunk of Ward Alpha. Stretching your legs while you wait for your ship, you stroll out of the spaceport proper, into the space station at large.
There is a large atrium near the spaceport, with a ten-story window looking out on space. The floor and an airy maze of balconies bear interior gardens. Stalls and stands give the place the aspect of a giant shopping mall. Short towers hang from the ceiling like stalactites, and there are even two small blocks the size of houses, floating in mid-air.
But this is the high-rent downtown. A few exploratory turns take you down a notch. You walk down a corridor. Most of the station is just rooms and corridors. This one is a nice one. It has a row of planters down the middle, and most of the wall is mirrors. The mirrors work overtime; not only do they reflect, they subtly curve, increasing the apparent room by magnifying the apparent distance to your reflection; they bear holograms, appearing to add statuary and still more potted plants to the scene.
People on space stations love potted plants. They have for centuries, all through human space. All these are well-tended, gene-tooled a dark green for enhanced oxygen production, and festooned with tiny colored lights to spur their photosynthesis. It's all an illusion — the oxygen in the air is recycled mechanically — but the plants are pretty and give the residents the feeling that they can do something to bolster the air supply.
A few turns later, the corridor is narrower, the ceiling is lower, the light is dimmer, and suddenly it is noisier. No more subtle anechoics to muffle footfalls and make the place sound larger. Fewer plants. The mirrors have no tricks. The store fronts and office doors that interrupt the corridor look less prosperous. The side corridors have no mirrors at all. Let's turn back.
You work your way back through atrium, concourse, and hallway, into the space station and the boarding gates. Your ship hangs outside a window-wall, against stars and black, a smooth, flattened cigar-shape of white, with rows of windows and shallow domes of observation decks here and there.
The ship connects to the space station by a railed walkway, apparently quite open to vacuum. Of course, there is really air out there, held in by diffusion barriers. The spacehands wafting about the ship all wear pressure belts generating miniature diffusion barriers.
Some of the spacehands move with thruster packs, but many just move, showing off their TK — a valuable talent to a spacehand, and never mind the disreputable air that hangs about psi. Spacehands don't care much about disreputability, as you can see from the haircuts, jewelry, and outworldish clothing many of them wear in addition to the regulation tabbards of the ship or station.
Soon, they are done servicing the ship. The spacehands depart, gravity comes on along the gangway, and the attendants usher you through the airlock, along with the other passengers. A few cannot bring themselves to make the short walk through the abyss; attendants smoothly hand them blindfolds and lead them through by the elbow.
The ship is a nice one, decorated rather like parts of the space station, with colors, proportions, mirrors, and acoustics cleverly exaggerating the space available. To see real space, however, you go to one of the observation lounges under the shallow domes. Already, the ship is kilometers away from Tybaud Sky.
You know when the overdrive comes on, because the planet abruptly shrinks to nothing and the sun reddens and fades out behind. All the other stars slide toward the bow of the ship, in a dopplered starbow, red at edge, through orange and white, to blue-white in the center ahead. The ship picks up speed. The starbow contracts, turns violet at the center, then dark as the light of the forward stars shifts wholly out of the visual spectrum.
There is, however, no Lorentz contraction; the stellar displacement is a Newtonian effect, as is the doppler shift. The overdrive field carries within it a sample, as it were, of the reference frame you just left behind.
With the old hyperdrive, the ship would have jumped through a carefully sculpted event horizon, into hyperstate. The stars would have vanished, replaced with a scattering of faint violet lights — the cores of black holes, shining with tachyonic radiation. But hyperdrives are complex, cranky, and must be re-tuned after each use.
The overdrive, on the other hand, is just a large-scale version of a simple bipolar gravity generator. People knew since before starflight that such things could pass the light barrier. But it was a long time before the scaled-up version could be made powerful enough to reach the required speed in a useful time, and longer still before the field could be kept smooth enough for organic life to survive in.
And there were advantages to the old hyperdrive. Its flight was inertial, for one thing. For another, a ship in hyperstate interacted very little with normal matter, and so needed virtually no shielding compared to an overdrive ship. (Even now, you see a circular aurora in front of the bow, where interstellar hydrogen ionizes and flames in the gravitic bow-wave.) Finally, you could time-travel with hyperdrive, if you dared. To do so with overdrive calls for inertial valves as fragile and cranky as hyperdrives.
You leave the lounge and seek out your cabin. It is tiny but well-equipped, strictly a bedroom. It shares a small bath and parlor area with three other cabins. Your semi-roommates are a Loaldan businessman bound for an appointment in the Aondaor Stellar Republic, an Aondoart trader going home, and a couple from Impri, who grin as they inform you they are on their honeymoon.
The Imprines and the Loaldan are all New Terraformer hybrids; their Eurasian looks are more European than Asian, the Imprines dusky, the Loaldan fair. The Aondoart is Amblack, a mixture of European and African stocks. She gives brief, polite, uninterested answers to all the questions the Loaldan asks about Aondoar. Probably she would prefer more privacy, even at the cost of tinier quarters. But this is an Imperial ship, and the Empire doesn't value privacy much; the cheaper accomodations are even less private, barracks-like. Even the honeymooners snuggle freely on the sofa, giggling when the trader hastily excuses herself, retreating to their cabin eventually, but only eventually.
Of course, part of the honeymooners' sang froid may come from rank. They introduced themselves as Honeura and Honeur Somethings, indicating they are in the lower levels of the aristocracy. At least one of them must belong to a senatorial family, or at least ex-senatorial. The Loaldan gets a little obsequious after the introductions, and you catch the Aondoart shooting him a slight flare of contempt.
The five of you are served dinner in your lounge, and the Loaldan manages to establish, in conversation, that his family is of the officer class, the next eschalon down from the aristocracy. The Imprine couple smile blandly; the Aondoart registers deliberate boredom. Perhaps nettled by her anti-meritocratic attitude, the Loaldan begins asking the trader questions about Aondoart politics — something about scandals in a current election, a topic calculated to put democracy in a poor light. Once again, she answers laconically. You resolve to take your next meal in the ship's cafe, and so avoid an increasingly sour situation.
You get up around 0800, ship time, and, returning from the common bathroom, notice that the table by the Aondoart's door has some figurines and a small incense burner on it, all arranged on a checkered mat. One figure, carved in light wood, is a smiling woman bearing a six-sided die in each hand. She stands in the center. Flanking her are two male figures in darker woods — a slender youth, likewise smiling, with winged boots and a little dart-shaped spaceship in one hand; and a sober, robed man bearing a pair of scales.
These are Goss, the goddess of chaos and luck, Draffo, the god of travel and traffic, and Nanish, the god of commerce, all of the Awundi pantheon — the natural deities for an Aondoart trader. A little assertion of national identity here, deep in the Empire?
If so, the Loaldan matches the trader's ante and raises. You come back after breakfast to find no one about, but the table outside his door now bears four holographic icons: Luck (a horseshoe on a field of four-leafed clovers), Prosperity (a heap of gold coins and gems), Victory (a trophy cup adorned with blue ribbons), and St. Yarth. The first three are popular concepts from the Platonic religion of Ideolatry, the official faith of the Empire. St. Yarth is popular everywhere, including the Empire and Aondoar. The holo depicts a smiling woman in blue and white robes, holding a blue globe on which are picked out the continents of Earth; she personifies the home world. Before the icons are scattered some scented paper flowers, and a pocket player softly jingles a cheery little general-purpose hymn.
The ship boasts a low-g swimming pool. You gather up your swim suit and leave the quarters to bask in piety.
Your ship stops for a day and a half at Salss, giving you a chance to see the planet. It is a martian — a planet too light to retain significant surface water and, as is typical, tectonically dead. But Salss was not left dead. As your shuttle descends, you study the network of canals that covers the surface. The widest ones are visible as shiny streaks; the rest are outlined by greens and darker browns against a tan background.
This network is the cooperative work of two civilizations separated by geological ages. The oldest and hardest work was done by the Old Terraformers. They carved the canals into Salss, filled them with water from cometary ice, then stocked the planet with life. Presumably, they lived here themselves, maybe for millenia.
They did the same thing on many, many worlds in this stretch of the galaxy, so that the density of life-bearing systems is four times normal. This part of space, more than a light-century wide, is called the Terraform Reach, in consequence.
Then they left. They did not die out, and they weren't wiped out. They just left, for Elsewhere, apparently taking their cities with them. If they lived in cities. In any case, they abandonned their worlds, including Salss. That was 35 million years ago. Slowly, the canal water was soaked up by the rocks of Salss, or leached away into the thirsty air, which itself exhaled into space, overcoming Salss's weak gravity. One by one, the species died off.
When humans discovered the Reach, Salss was nearly lifeless. Soil bacteria and some tenancious lichen-like plants were the sole survivors. The canals were dry, littered with interesting xeno-fossils. Humans explored, but no one stayed.
Then the New Terraformers came, religiously dedicated to expanding the scope of life. All over the Reach, they set themselves the task of repairing the works of the Old Terraformers — whether anyone was already living there or not. Salss posed no such problem; it had no "native" Old Settlers. It did have competing admirals of the New Terraformer fleets fighting over it from time to time — though not very much, since there were many richer worlds to quarrel over.
In between battles, there was usually someone to drop a comet on the poles every few years. (Not that it was that simple. The comets had to be selected for high water content, steered and driven in, and finally broken up to reduce mechanical shock — no good kicking up world-swaddling blankets of dust.) Over the centuries, water came back to some of the canals, and air and water-vapor came back to the planet as a whole.
Then the Empire arose, with Salss within its borders. It still drops the occasional comet, but Imperial interests are more economic, political, and military, whatever lipservice Imperial ideology gives to terraforming.
Still, Salss is not too badly off, now. Your shuttle sinks onto a landing field similar to the one you left behind on Loald. But this field lies near a canal. It twinkles in the sun, the far shore barely visible, no shores at all visible athwart. The city of Salssport sprawls next to it. Flanking the canal, grey-blue stripes on the horizon, are mountain-high cliffs, the original shores of the canal.
You skip through the city (which looks like a flatter, quieter version of Tybaud Yards) and head for a wilderness area at the foot of the distant cliffs. As your rental car speeds on, you see the cliffs rise higher and higher. Remembering that they are sculpted, artifacts, you begin to see why the Old Terraformers figure in the public mind as mythic, even ominous, figures.
Once in the wilderness, you land the car in a clearing and stretch your legs. At first sight, it could almost be an Earthly forest. Here are scrub and birch. Behind them rise oak and pine. Then your eye lights on a "pine" with bluish needles, a teal evergreen. Its bark is gray and neatly ranged in fish-scale patterns. Its kind come from Capek, far away in Terran Space.
A little further on, you find a black conifer, with needles sprouting from trunk as well as branches, giving it a furry appearance. On second glance, you see it is not black, but a deep, dark green, the gloom broken by strings of orange and red beads hanging from the tips of its branches — fruiting bodies. This is an "old pine," an organism cultivated by the Old Terraformers and found on many worlds of the Reach. They died out on Salss, millions of years before, but the New Terraformers have re-introduced them.
The same is true of the bug that lands on your sleeve. It looks like a miniature crab, but it is winged, and tucks those wings under beetle-like elytra. There are many species and genera of "air-crabs" on the Reach worlds.
Eventually, you return to the car and follow a rough road into a canyon, a fissue cut into the cliff walls. The floor of the canyon rises gently, forming a natural ramp up to the true surface of the planet. The road follows this, dotted with occasional warning signs about dropping air pressure. You pop a few oxygen pills.
Up you go. And up. And up. And...
Strange fancies enliven the upward glide. If you gunned the car for all it was worth, would it launch into orbit? Is the road getting steeper, eventually to tip upright and spill you off? If the car gave out, would you slide all the way back down, faster and faster, ending in a meteoric crash?
By now, you are past the trees. Dark green grass — "old grass," another reintroduced creation of the Old Terraformers — sprouts in tufts amid the tumbled rocks. When you finally reach the top of the cliffs, the old grass has become a dark prairie. Here and there, on the rocks, you see multicolor patches. This is Capeknik lichen, also well-adapted to thin air. It and the old grass are sorting out their respective niches here on Salss, choking each other out in slow, vegetative warfare. Perhaps, in a few million years, they will adapt to each other, even form symbioses.
Only someone would have to keep dropping comets on the planet.
At the top, you pull the car off the road and get out. It'd be a good idea to walk around a little — gently — until those oxygen pills really kick in. You do so, and eventually turn around to look back the way you came.
You are looking down on cloud systems, strewn over the glittering sea-strip of the canal and the neat, distant gridwork of the city. You resolve to get a look from further along the clifftops, away from the canyon. That must be even more impressive. There is a cliffside road that might have been laid exactly for this purpose.
The local day is short, and the sun — a G-class star very like Earth's — is starting to set when the road turns away from the cliffs and takes you out of the grasslands, into a stretch of sand. A few kilometers into it, you find a museum. "Old Terraformer Nanofact Collection of Salss," its sign reads, "Salss Altoplan Park Service."
You had been wondering when to turn around and start back. This makes a perfect terminus to your daytrip. Inside, you find a collection of holographic exhibits and matched microscopes.
The Old Terraformers, being master ecologists, were distressingly neat people, from an archeological point of view. They picked up after themselves in a quite irritating way, leaving damned few clues. But the few artifacts they left vary enormously in size, from, for instance, the planet you are standing on, through organisms like the air-crabs and old pines, down to microscopic bits of machinery. It seems that a lot of these samples of nanotech were found in the sand here.
You dutifully examine the holograms and the microscope slides. The nanofacts vary in appearance. Some look like glass pollen grains. Some look like hybrids of dust mite and integrated circuit. Some look like tiny surgical instruments. Almost all are chipped and broken, and almost all are of unknown function. A plaque lists the usual guesses — chemistry control of soil, water, or air; transgenics tools; surveilance; materials repair; some kind of teleportive function (pairs of nanofacts have been made to transpose by no known method; individual nanofacts have been made to vanish mysteriously); a public ampsi utility, etc.
Out back, in a wide, fenced area, there are several tourists, prospecting. They pace the sands with little instrument packs, or with Y-shaped dowsing rods, hoping to find more nanofacts.
You decide not to try. Instead, you head back, looking forward to the view of sunset and city lights as you slide down that long canyon road.
It is two days later, and you are between ships. For today, you are on Chelard, an independent planet a few parsecs beyond the Imperial border. As on Salss, you are taking a daytrip to get a glimpse of the planet.
Just now, your rental car is parked at a sea shore. The sea, like the canals of Salss, is an artifact. Chelard was originally a venusian, wrapped in a searing cloak of carbon dioxide. The Old Terraformers stripped off that cloak, and the result glitters before you in the light of a pair of suns. The water itself is formed, in part, from the oxygen of the carbon dioxide, combined with hydrogen of unknown origin, though archeologists generally suppose it was pumped in, somehow, from a gas giant elsewhere in the system.
Some of the carbon now forms the big black reef of coal that lies in the middle distance, eroded into a shallow lump, covered with dark green weed, perched on by unnerving white things that look like wasps trying to be sea gulls. You're assured they are harmless.
Reefs and beds of coal lie thick at the bottom of Chelard's seas. There are many species of microbe that devotedly add to them, year after year, age after age. Like the wasp-gulls, they were put here by the Old Terraformers. And here they have stayed. Chelard is a stabler biosphere than Salss. While Salss dried out and lost almost all its life, Chelard just evolved a little, here and there.
Once in a while, one of the "vespines" (as the gull-wasps are called) whirrs aloft and dives on some unfortunate creature on the beach. These come in two main varieties — things that look like origami done with sheets of leather, and things that look like crustaceans living in clam shells. The local fish equivalents look like fish, to your uninstructed eye, and are sensibly out of sight in the water.
Behind you, the beach rises and gives way to grasses, then forest. The trees are the dark green of the Old Terraformer vegetation you saw on Salss; most of the trees are the same furry old pine, or near relatives. But the darkness is broken by silvery or golden trunks, bright strands of fruit-beads, and multicolor tassles and tufts that are Old Terraformer flowers.
You enter the woods, a little cautiously, find a log, sit down, and wait. You are hoping to see a good selection of wildlife pass by. The Chelardans have not hunted extensively, so the animals are not particularly afraid of humans.
Soon, something russet comes scrambling down a tree trunk. It is about the size of a squirrel, but looks more like an octopus. You count six tentacles and a pair of eyestalks. It does not look furry. Soon, another squiddel comes down the tree and they chase each other around the trunk, with high-pitched hoots or whistles. Then one drops or falls to the ground, clambers up another tree, and the other follows, out of sight. You didn't spot any suckers on the tentacles, but yellow, furry-looking strips that were probably like a starfish's tube-feet.
These air-breathing, warm-blooded "loligoforms" ("squids" and "octos" to most people, regardless of the actual number of tentacles) are among the higher Old Terraformer fauna that survive. Some are as intelligent as dogs. Some, on low-gravity worlds, are as large as deer. At the other end of the size scale, there are species no bigger than flies.
Your next sighting is a badger-sized squid, gliding along the forest floor. It has four thick tentacles, wriggling in a sidewinding motion, pulling the main body behind. This body, grey and white striped, and thus enhancing the badger-like aspect, is a slightly flattened egg-shape balanced on edge. The lower edge is lined with a waxy, horny keel that reduces friction.
The badger-squid looks you over with a stubby eyestalk, dismisses you and begins rooting under a stump, lying on its side to do so, and grubbing away with four leaf-shaped, claw-tipped tentacles that unfold from around its mouth.
The badger-squid leaves, after a while. You spot some more bug-birds similar to the vespines on the shore. You see several colorful varieties of air-crab, near kin to the bug-birds. Eventually, you have had enough and drive back to Poruth, where you are staying the night at a spaceport hostel.
The streets of Poruth are not very different from those of Tybaud Yards or Salssport. Chelard is not so rich a world as Loald, so the buildings are smaller and there are hardly any suspended ones. There is more advertizing around. But the fashions are much the same, and reflect the same class structure.
There are no slaves here, though — Chelardans despise the Empire for slavery. And the aristocracy doesn't revolve around a senatorial class, but rather around the Old Admiralty, the families of the admirals of the terraforming fleets. Such differences don't show up on the street, though.
What does show up are all the guns. Most prole males sport big flashy holsters. The prole women pack smaller ones, in even flashier holsters. Higher-class people have small, subdued weaponry, or none visible, but it's everywhere. Almost all of the guns are stunners, but they still reflect a militarism or ferocity in Chelardan culture.
"Warrior spirit" might be the best way to describe it. They aren't unusually fond of military organization, or of foaming at the mouth, but they sure like being ready for a good fight.
This is no mystery if you know a little Chelardan culture. Three times, they've had to fight off the Empire during its periodic wars of expansion. Twice more, they failed to fight it off and were annexed — though in the first case the annexation ended before the war did, when the Imperial troops retreated, and, in the second case, Chelard fought free a few decades later, during the next war. And, before the Empire, Chelard had its fair share of trouble with the Koliot Raiders. And, before that, they were embroiled in the internecene wars of the New Terraformer admirals.
So, nowadays, Chelard is orbited by six big, fat fortresses, and its people bristle with stun-guns and love dueling.
The people themselves, as you pass them on the street, vary from the Eurasian looks of New Terraformer stock to African, with many blends in between. There's no correlation between ethnic type and social class, though. The many wars have stirred the pot too thoroughly for that.
The classes here are based on the governing meritocracy, in turn based on various tests of leadership aptitude. It's the same general system found in the Empire, though the Chelardans would quickly insist they preserve the principles of Philippian meritocracy much better than do the Imperials. Both Chelard and the Empire owe their meritocratic systems to the New Terraformers.
The first sun is down, now, and the second is only a point of golden light, albeit brighter than several dozen full moons. Street lights come on, illuminating the surrounding walls. You watch them, and the traffic, from the balcony of your hostel. The sky darkens, some stars come out, and you pick out the constellations Electrum Sky and Siir Darya. Behind them lies Aondoar, and beyond that, the Captain's Cluster, and your takeoff point for Terran Space and home.