I do not own Stellaris. Paradox Interactive does.
Thanks to R. Moonstalker for editing!
Chapter published 4/28/18.
She stood outside the sealed door, staring at it with concealed fear. Cari took a deep breath through her nostrils, grinding her beak against itself.
Everything was ready. All the paperwork was filed, all the preparatory ceremonies were complete. There was just one thing left to do; be officially crowned as the Great Khan of her people.
Her tailfeathers, perfectly brushed, quivered. Her arms, tucked against her chest, trembled and sent the wing-like feathers along them shaking. Nervous anticipation boiled and churned within her, so Cari forced herself to take another calming breath.
Through the door ahead of her was the ceremony chamber of this habitat. Normally it was reserved for formal duels between clan leaders, but one of the reforms she had negotiated was the formation of regulated arenas where her people could blow off steam non-murderously and good-naturedly.
With a hiss, the door opened on its own, sliding up and out of sight. Calm and collected, she strode forward into the chamber, following the narrow path.
This was not the greatest honor she would achieve. This was not the greatest achievement she would grasp. Not if she had her way.
The relics of the chamber's arena days were quite visible in its layout, painted in mottled black and gold. All along the outskirts of the round room were rows of seats, filled to bursting with fellow Imari of all clans and colors. That they mingled so well warmed her heart; golden Imari from clan Shrieking Talon sat next to the rusty birds of clan Thrashing Beak. Bright white plumage from her own home clan, Slashing Feather, next to the icy-blue of clan Darkened Aerie. Many more lesser clans mingled among the four major ones, not a hint of distrust between them.
It was happening. It was finally happening. Years of struggle, of rising through the ranks, of proving her worth, had all come to this.
She walked down the central path. Pale blue lights shone down onto her, and she was surrounded by the hundreds of elevated seats in the vast, circular chamber. Ahead of her, the path went up a trio of glowing steps to a wide, central disk elevated above the ground. In the center was an ornate nest, illuminated from above, with wing-rests that spilled their own lights on the ground and twin spots of glowing red. It was more than a nest. More than a throne. It was the symbol of everything she had achieved, and the tool to achieve her future goals.
Cari walked forward, her wing-arms tight against her chest. The colorful feathers on her forehead bobbed with each step. The only noise was the soft click click of her golden, polished talons and the soft shuffle of her tailfeathers dragging on the ground. Her breaths came shallow through her nostrils, not nearly enough to sate her thudding heart. With a force of will she swallowed her fears and ascended the steps with a dancer's grace.
Standing beside her soon-to-be throne were four Imari, one for each of the main clans. Cari had made it her business to know as much of them as she could; their names, their favored combat strategies, the names of their first pets, everything. She approached them gracefully, and stopped once she stood before them, two to either side of her. Straight ahead was the throne.
Respectfully, she fanned open her plumage, training the eyespots on them. Her gizzard churned and her heart pounded hard enough to echo in her earholes. She struggled to keep her beak closed; this was not the time to be chirping like an excited chick.
"Captain Cari Alvie," began Physeta Arkan, his own white plumage open as he stared right at her. "Today, we gather to review your accomplishments; the triumphs you have brought, the friendships you have forged, all that you may lead us into a new age, and to see unto you the just rewards for your service." He bobbed his head. "You have brought great honor to our clan. You have gone on many a raid against the outsiders, brought back crates of plasteel and depleted uranium, mountains of food, and enough credits to purchase a planet, all with record low casualties and times."
"You have shown kindness to us," Sapi Popoka continued, her icy feathers soothing Cari's raging heart. "When illness struck our habitats, it was you who provided aid and relief, and guarded us from those who may do us harm, until we could stand on our own again."
"You have guarded our positions," Akrok Yukonna said, shifting his ruby feathers back and forth hypnotically. His orange eyes bored into her, seeking and searching. She kept her posture strong; he would find no weakness. Not here. Not now. "Even when we were doing the bidding of the cowardly Vulo, you ensured we had warm nests and fine grain to return to, rather than a coup."
"We have debated long, and concluded that you are the leader we need, for these reasons and more," finished Emeraldplume Aruk, sizing her up and down. "Cari Alvie, do you swear to protect our people, lead us into glorious battle, and take the glory and power that should've been ours long ago?"
For a terrifying heartbeat she feared she'd lost her voice. But she opened her beak, and her voice was as calm and steady as it'd ever been. "I so swear," she agreed.
Aruk crooned quietly in admiration. The gentle hum of her psychic powers confirmed that it was in earnest. "Then by the power given to us, by might and right, we hereby crown you Great Khan of the Imari People! Your dreams are our dreams, your vision our vision, your word our order."
It was like the floor fell away beneath her. Her head buzzed with dizziness. It'd happened. It'd actually happened. Like in a dream she strode forward, dipping her head to each of the clan leaders in turn, and climbed onto the throne. She turned. She sat, hiding her feet beneath her body. She gazed out at the gathered crowd. The speech, how had the speech gone? She'd practiced it so many times.
"The galaxy considers us rot," she began. "The Vulo and the nations of the Conjoined Species look down at us and see us as mindless barbarians, barely more than animals. The Empire of Shadows look at us and see another puppet state. And at our borders, the vile Stranglevine Composters gather their fleets, thinking us an easy mark. Are they to be correct?" she asked.
In response, boos filled the chamber, spaced with angry squawks. She waved her tailfeathers in agreement. "They see us as rot, and yet it is they who are soft and effete. How many other species have traveled the stars, how many others have we effortlessly plundered, that are no longer here? Even the old ones retreat to their lives of leisure and decadence, with hardly the skill to pilot a mining vessel. Thus I swear to you that a new age begins. The galaxy will kneel before us, or be swept aside like so much dust. We will have space to spread our wings and fly. Worlds upon worlds, riches we can only dream of, songs sung in our glory as we rid the stars of the weak and the savage. All will be united under one nation; our nation. This, your Great Khan promises you!"
Riotous cheers filled the chamber. Cari took a deep breath through her nostrils as her people, her subjects, roared their approval. She sprung to her feet and gestured to the horizon with her arms. "Now, we go to our ships! We assemble our warriors and set out on our fleets! I have personally gathered a list of the most fearsome among us, to serve with me on an armada that will have even the Sapon Remnant trembling. A new age has begun - the age of the Imari Horde!" she finished.
The stands exploded, birds standing and cawing, bustling and shoving for the exits, playfully slapping each other with their wings. Cari herself strode from her throne, the four clan leaders falling into file beside her.
"A rousing speech, Great Khan," Physeta said.
"You flatter me," she said simply, heading for the nearest exit. "But the day is not over. There is still much to be done, least of all is to announce our reign to the galaxy at large."
"Is that truly wise?" Akrok asked quickly as they entered a corridor, glancing at her. "If we are to attack the soft nations, especially the Composters, then the element of surprise would be in our favor, no?"
"If we were dealing with emotionless machines or a pack of animals, certainly," she agreed, walking through the halls of the space station, making way for her private quarters. "However, intimidation goes a long way. Specifically for the Vulo." Without stopping she turned her head to look at him, her tailfeathers open wide to give him her respect. "You served alongside them, no? Fighting that..." She waved a talon. "... ancient fortress in their space."
He nodded, eyes sparkling. "Indeed. That was a glorious month!"
"Would that I had been there." They stopped at a door, and she waved it open so the five of them could proceed. "I meant every word I said; the Vulon leaders are simpering cowards, but they gave you the spoils of war, did they not?"
He hummed. "Certainly, they did. Those encoders and decoders have been working marvelously."
"Precisely. The Vulo may be unable to fight their own battles but they are not without their loyalty. And more importantly, not without their troubles. I announce to them our mission, and they will bend over backwards to give us what we need if only we will spare them, and focus our fury on their neighbors." Her face hardened. "But no, the Stranglevine Composters will receive no message, no warning. They are nothing but savage butchers and we will dismantle them."
Akrok dipped his head. "That is good to hear, your greatness."
They arrived at her chamber doors. The gleaming metal was sealed, with a screen of black glass on the right side. She stopped and turned to the four leaders. "I am happy to put your minds at ease. Now, please attend to your duties. We all have much to do if our people are to have a prosperous future. Physeta, please stop by at light-on tomorrow. I need to discuss a few crew changes on the Windstorm Voidwings with you. And Sapi, if you can please come by at high-light, I want to fly some health service proposals by you."
"Of course," he said.
"I shall be there," she replied.
One by one they left, Emeraldplume and Sapi tapping on their personal tablets with one talon as they walked. Cari, for her part, calmly placed a hand to the glass plate on the door and let it scan her talons. A moment later it beeped green and the doors slid open. She relaxed her tailfeathers enough to let them drag behind her, and slipped inside right before the doors could close on her.
Only once she was inside did Cari allow herself to chirp excitedly, filling the room with her excited squeaks. She hopped around, fluttering her arms up and down and clenching her talons on the luxurious green carpet. "I did it! I did it I did it I did it!" she cheered, throwing herself onto her nest. She closed her eyes and thrust her head into the cushions, chirping repeatedly.
Abruptly she sat up, one of her crown feathers drooping in front of an eye. She pushed it back into place and took a deep, calming breath. "Okay, okay. Not done yet." Cari hopped out of her nest, taking a moment to survey the room. It was fit for a Great Khan, with metal walls painted in soothing shades of violet. Not exceptionally spacious, but still a luxury on the cramped space habitat. The floor was covered in a carpet, colored like a forest. There was a doorway leading to a private bath, and a seldom-used wardrobe. The wardrobe was a leftover tradition from ancient history, from when her people needed to entreat with aliens that had nudity taboos. For now, it collected dust.
Her nest was wide enough for herself and several concubines, and the cushions were the same blue and white of her plumage. Off to the left were drawers of various trinkets she'd gathered over her short life. In one of them was her personal tablet, currently charging.
But the dominant feature of her chambers was the outlook. Bathed in soothing blue light, it stuck out from the edge of the habitat into the vacuum of space, with reinforced one-way glass giving her a view of the entire system. The local black hole sat far below, eternally distorting the stars. Above it, hundreds of stations and habitats and thousands of ships hovered, each covered in a cloud of service vessels.
Cari Alvie's eyes were drawn to the closest ship, whose size dominated her field of view. The size of a small asteroid, the IHE Midnight Tenu was to be her flagship. Long and gray, with a thin front that blossomed outward to a heavy rear, it bristled with the finest weapons her people had, and within the week she would be aboard, leading her people to a bright future and leading the galaxy at large to peace.
The reminder of her duty hardened her eyes. Peace. There was so much to do before peace could reign in the galaxy. So many worlds to conquer, so many fleets to break. She stepped over to the drawer, grabbed her clear, plastic tablet, and placed it up against the nearest wall. It magnetically stuck to the painted metal walls, and after booting it up and going through some of the functions, she reached the camera.
Cari stepped back and fanned out her tailfeathers. She adjusted the metal torc around her neck, cleared her throat, smoothed her feathers, and gestured with a talon for her tablet to begin recording.
"Greetings. I am Cari Alvie," she began sagely, wracking her memory for the speech she'd composed. ", Great Khan of the Imari Horde. I am here to announce to the galaxy that a new age has begun. Gone are the dark days when my people would senselessly slaughter each other for scraps of resources and misdirected honor." Cari softened her voice. "I have solemnly promised my people a new age, through the formation of a great empire that will forever enshrine our names in galactic history." She narrowed her eyes, gave a menacing wiggle of her tailfeathers, and hardened her tone. "To those who would oppose us, know this; nothing will stop me from realizing the true destiny of my people. Stand in my way, and your forces shall be ground to dust. End recording."
There. Done. Short and to the point. Cari approached her tablet and pulled it from the walls. She'd need her servants to analyze it, give her feedback, and edit it. When it was done, the finished product would be sent to the so-called 'civilized' nations of the stars. Then she'd need to strong-arm the Grand Vulon Clan into serving her, if they didn't on their own. Her fleet would need to be readied... so many things needed doing. She would rise to the challenge, as she had many times before.
She looked back through the window, staring ponderously at the flagship of her fleet. Her heart thrummed within her chest. Soon, so very soon, her quest would begin in earnest.
If she had her way, the title of Great Khan would not be the greatest honor she would achieve. It would not be the greatest achievement she would grasp.
But without doubt, this was the most pivotal day of her life.
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