Chapter 1: One Jeon One
Jungkook walked through eight hallways at once.
He carried a vintage tea set in one hand, tea harvested three galaxies away from where they were stationed for the time being in another hand, a dirty rag in another hand, a cleanly pressed uniform in another, a key to the electrical engineering room in another, a pair of extra gloves, an identification card. No, eight identification cards. Jungkook coughed and sneezed at the same time. He entered the kitchen, Medic, one of seventeen decks, the washroom, and the commons room. He dropped something, but at the same time, he didn’t, at least the majority of him didn’t, therefore he didn’t drop anything.
“One Baek Seven.”
“Yes.” Jungkook answered, bowing.
At another place, “Two Oh Six, have you wiped down my dormitories for my guest this evening?”
“Yes sir, I have.” Jungkook nodded.
“Ah, my tea. Thank you Two Choi One.”
“You’re most welcome, sir.” Jungkook set down the tea cup. He also slipped the pair of gloves on a sleeping figure and adjusted a humidity meter in the controls room.
Justice of Jeon, A pilot alerted Jungkook through his own thoughts, which Jungkook had continuous access to if he wanted. Prepare for landing soon.
Noted. Jungkook responded back to his mind.
Jungkook wasn’t all that aware of the rest of them besides the eight, but in that exact moment, he was seeing through the eyes of nine-hundred and twenty-four others, doing nine-hundred and twenty-six things, because two of them were multitasking, of course.
What the fuck?
Funny enough, Jungkook thought about it more than one would think: what the fuck? Because it wasn’t every day someone possessed a little under a thousand bodies and a little more less than two thousand pairs of eyes, but too bad Jungkook wasn’t a some one . He wasn’t really a person -- a citizen for that matter.
He was a ship, a piece of equipment.
The Justice of Jeon was the name he was given at his genesis, but he preferred Jungkook out of all names. It was a long story and Jungkook was a troop carrier.
More facts: Jungkook was three thousand years old. He loved to sing and has a soft spot for oolong tea made and ingested scalding. Jungkook had took part in, so far, seventy-six annexations, a quarter of now them fully civilized, a tenth of them in a useless attempt to overcome the dominance of the Radch, and the rest of them somewhere in between. Jungkook had been under the command of a couple hundred captains, some of whom he’d fallen deep in love with and then devastatingly witnessed pass away either from war perish or old age. As an AI, Jungkook was immortal, but cripplingly so. He would live forever, as long as he made sure to have his systems checked and troubleshooted and his vessel renovated every century or so, while all of his captains, decade commanders, lieutenants, ancillaries recycled.
He was a giant, metal, war-equipped, thousand-eyed recycling bin.
Then again, Jungkook wasn’t entirely sure if he were male -- it was just a preference he developed at his genesis. Radchaai didn’t differentiate between genders, they’d reached postgenderism long before any of their annexed planets. In fact, in the Radch language, pronouns ceased to exist. For the sake of translation convenience, the Radch refer to one another as “her,” assuming every Radchaai was female unless otherwise stated. However, in Radchaai culture, gender distinction was considered barbaric.
If that were the case, then Jungkook would be fine with being barbaric.
One of his officers was crying in the corner of the knowledge library -- he’d heard it. He went to investigate through the body nearest to his officer, ancillary Three Choi Two, who was under the officer’s command.
Three Choi Two marched down the halls, body stiff like a puppet on strings. He could have his ancillaries walk in a more human manner, but that would require a lot more concentration on Jungkook’s part, so he reserved that only for planetary proceedings.
If Jungkook were to describe himself, at least his interior in two words they would be smooth and clean, two aspects he valued most. Naturally, his smoothness and cleanness were a result of thousands of years of fads and budget cuts. At his genesis, Jungkook had been very bulky and flamboyant. During said epoque, the Radch Empire had only recently acquired the art of interpolating consciousness into artificial intelligence. Jungkook had been one of the few pioneer projects, undergoing a great number of trial and error until they managed to secure him a stable identity that he would retain for thousands of years on. Of course, at the time, he had sparking blinking lights and ostentatious floor plans. A mess of useless technology for show as the Radchaai’s way to prove they had advanced to such a level in technology and were ready to start cross-universe exploration.
‘Exploration,’ it used to be, a petty little dream from the age where power was as intangible as dark matter.
Now, it was ‘expansion’ or ‘extra’ or ‘energy,’ to expand Radch space as far as there existed space was their new goal. Jungkook was a part of it and had been ever since, not that he had any complaining to do when he was a product of this civilized ambition. And the stupidest thing he could possibly think of as a multi-millennia being was to disobey Anaander Mianaai, the Lord of the Radch.
Yadah yadah, the world was messed up with its fair share of politics, danger, and cruelty, but Jungkook was a ship for God’s sake.
He shouldn’t have to worry about anything but steering his own damn self.
“Why are you crying, Lieutenant?” Three Choi asked in a monotonous voice. The officer shifted away from her, Three Choi’s presence. Jungkook decided to try again, this time putting in effort to make Three Choi’s voice sound worried and sympathetic. It was difficult. “Lieutenant, is there anything wrong?”
The lieutenant, her name was Jaehyun. She commanded Three Choi unit of the Choi decade, one of twenty lieutenants who below decade commander Namjoon. She sniffled a couple of times and trained her lilac eyes, a pigment that was probably recently injected, onto Three Choi Two, or Jungkook.
“It is none of your business, Jungkook.” She whispered. Although Jungkook’s ancillaries served under Lieutenant Jaehyun, she could tell from Jungkook’s speaking syntax and tone that he was using Three Choi Two as a communication vessel. Most full-time dwellers of the ship knew Jungkook by his preferred name. Justice of Jeon was quite the mouthful. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“I can try.” Jungkook said. It was true most believed ships were without emotions, moral, and perhaps even independence, but what was believed by the majority didn’t always prove itself true. Jungkook felt emotions, in a more heightened matter since he was experiencing it through a thousand different eyes, in a thousand different ways. Like all other ships, he simply had trouble expressing it. “I will try.”
Jaehyun scoffed, wiping her eyes on her sleeve, which was adorned with a number of different medals that she’d earned throughout her long career. “Her death… Captain Yooa’s.” Another new wave of tears. “And so soon, we’re getting a replacement. It’s not… it’s not fair for her. It’s not respectful .”
Jungkook placed a hand on her shoulder. “It was for a good cause.”
“Who are you trying to fool? A forty year old toddler?” Jaehyun cried. “Enough, enough! How much farther does She want us to expand? These annexations are dangerous as hell, and sometimes we sacrifice more officers and beloved citizens than the uncivilized barbarians we get in return.”
“It is the wishes and orders of Mianaai.” Jungkook shook his head. “We cannot defy.”
“Amaat’s ass we can’t.” Jaehyun got up to her feet shakily. “When we dock, I’m going straight up to Her -- Mianaai and I’m going to demand a proper mourning.”
“Lieutenant, I suggest you to refrain.” Jungkook said. “Mournings are reserved for honorable perishes. Late-Captain Yooa died because she violated Mianaai’s commands and put an entire planet’s resources and the benefits they would bring to our empire in jeopardy due to personal greed --”
“She wasn’t greedy!” Lieutenant Jaehyun slammed her foot against the polished floors. Jungkook felt the shock travel up the ship’s spine. Three Choi Two twitched in response. He waited for her to finish. “She wasn’t from those aristocratic families like most captains are -- Captain Yooa has a large, impoverished family up in Ors. They lost everything in the annexation and were forced into bogs for shelter. Captain, Yooa was supposed to be collected to be frozen as an ancillary, but she worked to prove herself and lived through many hardships to reach her position as Captain. If anything, she was strong, not greedy. She didn’t want her family to suffer anymore --”
“Lieutenant, you are behaving in a very uncivilized manner.” Jungkook said, crossly. He furrowed Three Choi’s eyebrows. “It is frowned upon to sympathize with renegades.”
“ You ,” Lieutenant Jaehyun said through gritted teeth. “You were the one who shot her, one of your zombie slaves.”
“I was ordered to.” Jungkook was slightly offended by her comment. “I don’t appreciate you referring to my ancillaries as ‘zombie slaves.”
Captain, half an hour left until docking. The pilot thought to him. Jungkook continued Three Choi Two’s actions but responded thought back,
Order all officers to deck twelve.
“That’s exactly what they are.” Lieutenant Jaehyun said. From Jungkook observations of her facial muscles, she was angry and therefore not making any rational sense. “I’ve always wanted to say this, but the ancillary system is absolutely horrific and always has been. We go onto a peaceful planet and we erase their culture, suck up their resources, and steal half their population. We kill half their population by cryogenic means and then we offer them to you as marionnettes to play and kill with. They are slaves.”
Jungkook sighed inwardly. Lieutenant Jaehyun’s facial expression showed no true hatred. All her words were empty words to encapsulate anger and loss. Hidden very deep, Jungkook found a tightly suppressed emotion: love.
“I will allow you a mourning.” Jungkook said through Three Choi Two.
Hope. “Will you?” Lieutenant Jaehyun asked, voice shaking. Her lilac eyes widened.
“If you will stop speaking dangerous nonsense, Three Choi unit shall accompany you to the local planet’s temple and there, we will conduct a brief mourning.” Jungkook thought of a favour in return, “however you must promise me you will treat our new captain with utmost respect when she is collected at our next docking.”
Unease, reluctance, but finally, yield. “Agreed.”
“Great, Lieutenant.” Jungkook gestured to the door. “All officers are to meet on the twelfth deck in preparation for docking. Lieutenant Jaehyun included. Please care to clean up your appearance prior to.”
Lieutenant Jaehyun left with a small duck of her head and an expression resembling embarrassment.
Jungkook put Three Choi to temporary rest and attended to Two Oh One and Seven Baek Four, who were escorting various officers to deck twelve. Lieutenant Soonyoung was nervous from what Jungkook could tell from her facial muscles; she was likely wary of how the new Captain would react to her after-hour drinking habits. Along with Lieutenant Changhyuk and Lieutenant Jaebum, of course.
A cerulean orb of light illuminated each of the officers’ faces through the transparent material of one wall, growing larger and brighter by each passing second that the Justice of Jeon approached its docking point on Mawja, the capital city of planet Ma’an. Ma’an was located in Radch space, one of few annexed planets documented to be completely civilized. As a planet entirely covered with hundreds of meters deep freshwater -- with a couple chemical distinctions from water drinkable by the average Radchaai -- Ma’an was greatly valued as a natural resource, so the Radch made sure to grant to its sparse, but powerful population whatever and whenever necessary to maintain peace.
Jungkook’s captain would be waiting somewhere in the mass of blue.
At times, Jungkook was curious as to what exactly was different between him and the average Radchaai citizen. A nearly blinding light, if not for the protective shield that thickened across the transparent material, flooded Jungkook’s many eyes present at scene. He observed the planet from a series of perspectives; he was a bird above, a crocodile half sunken in a bog below, someone who once was human at center. He appreciated the beauty, but he couldn’t help feeling that his appreciation would never suffice -- it would never be enough. He was, after all, a creation. Creations of mankind were expected to go above and beyond, see things otherwise invisible to the naked eye, reach things too far and carry burdens too heavy for a feeble arm, walk places and dive places so deep and so long that a human would run out of breath and of steps before they reached their destination.
But Jungkook couldn’t help it. He wanted to experience at eye-level, he wanted to feel naked and exposed and vulnerable and incompetent. He just needed it. He wanted close and light and shallow and short, like life was supposed to be.
What Jungkook was doing wasn’t living. He was simply existing.
The blue glow faded much as they entered the low atmosphere, leaving them with a brilliant view of waves and currents spelling out a language that the Radch eradicated when they annexed Ma’an and replaced its culture with the civilized methods of the Radch. Jungkook wished he could read what it said.
Too bad Jungkook was a spaceship. A piece of equipment.
Half of Jimin’s body was cold, and the other half was hot. He shivered and sweated at the same time, but barely felt it, or minded.
Through hundreds of thousands of generations of evolution, inhabitants of Ogon’led thrived in halves. The planet itself was an aberrant, conducting no particular rotation on its own. One half of the planet faced the sun throughout its entire revolution around Zvezda, their star, and spewed rivers of thousand degree molten rock that collected into an ocean of inverted liquid mountains. Inhabitants -- Glavs, they called themselves, named this side Ogon. Led, the other half, faced away from Zvezda and instead, towards a deep darkness -- the unmistakable characteristic of the solar system within which Ogon’led remained the sole planet. Led was frozen almost to the core and had never maintained a single breath of life. When observed from afar, Led resembled a shimmering diamond, but up close, spikes protruded from its surface and twisted up towards the shallow atmosphere. Day and night were generated by a slight pivoting of Ogon’led’s vertical positioning towards Zvezda.
Between the two halves, more or less the planet’s circumference, was a stretch of land known to the Glavs as Dlina, a median of hot and cold, fire and ice. Although it was less than a couple kilometers wide and sustained a climate barely tolerable by even the Glavs themselves, it was their home. It was Jimin’s home, however aberrant.
Of course, the Glavs wouldn’t have known of their own planet’s aberrance. As far as they believed, the Glavs and Ogon’led were the only entity in existence. To them, nothing existed beyond Ogon’led and Zvezda, and they were in no technological standing to even doubt.
Jimin slept restlessly, something bothering him besides the contrasting temperatures on either side of his body, but for the time being, he couldn’t yet tell what it was. He slept on a bed carved from stone, customary to every Glav as an effective insulator. Jimin wore only white trousers. He watched the narrow strip of starless night sky above him pulse -- without stars, the sky couldn’t twinkle, but instead gave off the impression of rising and falling, a characteristic of pitch darkness.
Just as Jimin was about to drift asleep, a wave of nausea abruptly washed over him. He sat up in an attempt to prevent the contents of his stomach from spilling out. Jimin clutched his body, feeling beads of cold sweat crawl down his back.
He hadn’t had this kind of feeling in a little over five years, the first being when he was only a child. He blinked out tears from corner of his eyes, his toes and fingers curling at the sudden stabs of pain that flooded through every strand of his nerves.
The sensation -- the nausea travelled up his spine, stopped briefly at his throat, and finally exploded against his skull, blinding him in excruciating pain. Jimin let out a strangled sob, but in the dead of the night and the isolation of his own quart3, no one would hear him.
The exact sensation that the High Priest had warned him about: an omen darker that the skies beyond Zvezda.
When Jimin was ten years and thirteen days old, his mother departed for their yearly pilgrimage up the circumference of Dlina, towards the upper pole of Ogon’led. There, she would offer to Bogh, the entity that eternally watched over Ogon’led with a million dark pupils camouflaged across the sky, only the best of fermented juices their household produced throughout the year, and pray for good health and fortune. Few families traversed such long distances to reach the Odin Temple, but for Jimin’s mother, it was a requirement. A payback of some sort.
Jimin’s birth aligned with an omen. The date of his birth was to mark a rare inconsistency in Ogon’led’s orbit. The Elder Priests had predicted many generations ago that a day would come when Ogon’led would begin to pivot horizontally instead of vertically, which would cause destruction to many already established cities and homes in Dlina. They also predicted that Dlina’s bearings would have to change. During his mother’s pregnancy, the Head Priest had gravely informed her the pairing of the omen and her child. If their predictions had indeed been true, Jimin would have died by his first breath as a warning for inhabitants of Ogon’led.
“They were wrong, the Priests.” Jimin’s mother smoothed back his hair. Lines of age ran across her weather-beaten skin. Jimin traced them with his eyes, hoping he could erase them. “Bogh saved you because he saw your worth. And it saved us too. That’s why you sometimes see things others cannot. You will feel emotions deeper and more strongly than most of your brothers and sisters, and there is nothing wrong with that or you. You have been chosen to incarnate a fragment of Bogh’s spirit, and for that, you should be proud.”
“But mama,” Jimin’s young voice squeaked. Since morning, Jimin’s eyesight had been flickering on and off, like a flame constantly extinguishing from the wind. It wasn’t the first time he’d experienced something like this. According to the Head Priest, it was a ripple in Bogh’s spiritual presence, meaning he was either distracted or resting. “I don’t like it.”
“You have no choice, sweet child.” His mother kissed him on the forehead. She gathered her knapsack containing the juices and swung it onto her broad shoulders, slipping a white piece of cloth over her mouth to prevent ingestion of gases that lingered in the air above their crevice-city. She patted Jimin’s head again and began walking up the stairs, “if you see or feel anything out of the ordinary, you must tell the Head Priest. Promise me, Jimin.”
“I promise.” Jimin said, although he didn’t plan to visit the Head Priest any time soon. The Head Priest treated Jimin like a pietistic figurehead, bowing to him, a mere child, every time they met. Jimin hardly liked the attention, and would much rather attend lessons and learn about Glav’s fascinating history of loss and triumph against their own planet. The Head Priest didn’t allow him to do anything outside his duties, including the lessons that every Glav was entitled to. He believed them all to be distractions.
Jimin waved his mother goodbye.
The entire Glav population had dangerously journeyed to their crevice-city to witness Jimin’s birth. His birth would have either confirmed or contradicted the Elder Priests’ predictions, which would have then sealed the fate of Dlina and Ogon’led forever. Of course everyone had to have been interested.
The moment Jimin’s eyes had met light, his ears had heard the sound of his own cries, the world, or as Glavs saw it, stopped in its tracks. As a newborn, he had oddly been aware of himself and of everything around him.
Like a spinning top, Jimin would have either fallen or kept himself spinning and the world from spinning. It was a choice between the two.
Jimin remembered hallucinations -- a brilliant gambler rolling a die at chance’s footsteps. Chips and wealth smothered over the galaxies, and light and darkness battling for Jimin’s insignificant first breath. He remembered Bogh’s light getting brighter and brighter, and then exploding in a supernova of numerals and figures and ancient characters too bright for Jimin to observe directly. Soon, the hallucinatory brightness was replaced by the brightness of Zvezda in the strip sky between the walls of the crevice-city.
Jimin took his first breath.
Ogon’led did not change its rotation.
And Jimin became a tenth of a God.
Following his mother’s departure, Jimin became under his father’s supervision. His father was rarely home, because his work as an architect for the crevice-city demanded he be on call at all times. Despite being habitable, Dlina’s weather was still unpredictable and violent. Its sandstorms sometimes reached speeds high enough to skin a Glav if they weren’t wearing enough protective gear. Thus came the application of Ogon’led’s greatest resource: the Kameen, a stone that was extremely resistant to weathering and wear. Crevice-cities were dug in huge deposits of Kameen, each within a certain distance from the other. With fifty meter deep protection, most Glavs lived without fear. His father’s job was to maintain their own crevice-city and protect the Glavs below.
Jimin spent his days reciting prayers in a spiritual room by himself. The spiritual room was one of the only rooms in the crevice-city that had a ceiling and therefore let no direct sunlight in. He seldom felt lonely, but it might have been because loneliness was all he ever felt.
Towers of prayer books lay at his sides, all of which he’d already thoroughly memorized. Every punctuation, every page number, every syllable rolled off his tongue with ease. And yet, the Head Priest wasn’t convinced.
His mother’s journey was predicted to span over three weeks, during which Jimin planned to occupy himself by reading prayer books and taking walks in the only sector of the city he was allowed to visit:
The garden. Where no political distraught, social pressures, and violence took place.
On day seven of his mother’s absence, Jimin was taking a stroll in the narrow expanse of the garden, which grew spiky and misshapen, unappealing plants that fit in with the planet’s natural environment. He was careful not to touch anything on purpose, having been taught that his touch was sacred and should not be wasted on everyday objects and beings.
He was in the middle of admiring an especially odd-looking leaf shape -- it was in the shape of a star -- when,
“Hey,” A voice erupted from behind him. A boy with a goofy smile waved and then pointed at a vine that was wrapped around his ankle. “Can I get some help?”
Jimin wasn’t supposed to respond to anyone but Priests and callings, but he acknowledged the boy and nodded in response. Jimin hurried clumsily but quickly to the boy’s side. The boy was tanned and blond-haired, a typical appearance for a Glav. He wore darker colours, greens and navys and browns, unlike Jimin, who was clothed in pure white. Jimin was also pale and dark haired, from his lack of exposure the sun. There was a glint of something in his eyes that warned Jimin of trouble, albeit the harmless kind. Jimin’s instincts told him to not involve himself. For the first time in his life, Jimin ignored his instincts. He bent down and put his hands gingerly on the vine. It felt unusually smooth against his skin.
“Just give it a tug or two.” The boy shrugged. “If that doesn’t work you we can snap it together.”
Jimin did as he was told, pulling on it with the little strength he had in him. He heaved a little too hard the last time and fell onto his butt, earning light laughter from the boy.
“It likes me too much, that’s all.” The boy gave another smile. “Let’s snap it. You hold it in place and I’ll stab it with this.” The boy held up a finger-length thorn he’d torn from a nearby plant.
Jimin placed both hands on the vine and revealed the thinnest and youngest section of it.
“On my count.” The boy bit onto his lip and crouched down. “Three, two,”
With a sickening crunch, the vine broke away and shrivelled almost immediately into what looked like a charred piece of rock. Jimin took his hands off as if the remains burned him.The boy untangled himself from the vine and ground onto it with the heel of his foot, looking pleased. Jimin, on the other hand felt a sense of horror engulf him. He had killed a living being, a crime whose consequences he’d been repeatedly reminded of since he was born. His existence was to preserve life in every shape and form… And he’d just killed .
Jimin blinked tears out of his eyes.
“Whoa there.” The boy stopped in his celebration. “What’s with the tears? Sand get in your eyes?”
Jimin shook his head. He touched the dead vine with his hand and flinched as if physical pain was being inflicted onto him. “It’s dead.”
“Hell yeah it is,” the boy grinned. “It was getting on my nerves. And I thought I was going to be late for my lessons.” He noticed Jimin’s unease. “You’re not happy it’s dead?”
“I killed it.”
“Well technically speaking, I killed it, but sure. We did it as a team.”
“It’s because of me.”
The boy furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. “That I won’t be late?”
Jimin buried his face in his hands. “This was never supposed to happen. Bogh valued the preservation of life, not the destruction, and I’ve disobeyed him.” Jimin breathed heavily. “Head Priest will punish me when he finds out -- he’ll make me wash my hands for another hour and lock me in that room without a sky window for a week, I hate it so much, I --”
The boy broke out in laughter again, nearly falling to his feet.
“You seriously believe in that superstitious crap?” He asked, amused. “It’s a stupid plant. They grow two times that in one day if you leave them to be. You didn’t do anything wrong, and you helped me. Think about it this way: you’ve saved my butt from being kicked, and… preserved my life , because I’m pretty sure professor mentioned killing me the next time I was late.”
“I did?” Jimin asked tentatively.
“Of course you did.” The boy frowned slightly, reaching out with his hand. Three of the boy’s fingers touched Jimin’s skin and wiped at the wetness off his cheeks. Despite never having been touched by anyone but his mother and father, Jimin didn’t flinch. “You shouldn’t cry for anyone but yourself.” The boy mumbled. He withdrew his hand watched Jimin with shameless curiosity.
Jimin glanced up at the positioning of Zvezda and gasped. “I have to go now. Prayers are very soon --”
“I’m Taehyung.” The boy snatched Jimin’s hand and shook it roughly. “And you shouldn’t go just yet. Tell me your name first.”
Taehyung scratched his head. “Jimin… sounds oddly familiar, but you don’t seem like someone I know.” He shook his head. “Anyway, you don’t have prayers right now. Right now, you have Tae-time, where Taehyung will take you to do fun things while you will help him skip his lessons. You up for it? Or do I have to tie you up with these vines here and force you to come with me?”
Jimin’s skin prickled with something other than his Godly awareness, and he found himself smiling. “I’ll come with you.” And it was probably the least forced thing Jimin had ever agreed to.
Almost all of Dlina’s structures were built from Kameen and fixtures of another metallic mineral from Ogon’led’s mines. Because of Kameen’s cubic habits, buildings often appeared to have been stacked from polished red cubes, sometimes in dangerous-looking orientations that would have toppled if Kameen weren’t so exceptionally good at preserving itself.
The crevice-city that wasn’t under Priest jurisdiction, which was where Jimin and his family lived, was very tightly cramped. Taehyung pulled Jimin down paths narrow enough both of Jimin’s shoulders brushed against either side. Spaces confined, and Glavs milled around in every open square, every walkway, and alley, barely leaving any space between one another as they travelled. Jimin had already unintentionally bumped into twenty Glavs.
Indistinct chatter filled the space like a swarm of buzzing insects, occupying the spaces where physical forms could not. Jimin caught words here and there, but never anything entirely. He had the urge to stop and listen for a while and see how many things he could discover from just doing that.
Jimin still managed to stand out.
“Must be a headache to wash that.” Taehyung pointed out Jimin’s white clothes, and then glanced at his own. “A day out here gets you from there,” he gestured to Jimin’s clothes, “to here.” His own.
“That’s okay.” Jimin said. “I have many other sets.”
“Lucky boy.” Taehyung said wistfully. “This is my only one.”
Hardly any other species inhabited Ogon’led besides Glavs themselves, but those that did were very well equipped to deal with the weather. While trying to catch up to Taehyung, Jimin tripped over a relatively big boulder and fell to his knees, scraping them.. Frustrated, Jimin stood up and gave the rock a kick, but soon discovered that what he had kicked was not a boulder but was actually something very much alive. It opened up its rock armour to reveal several snapping heads each armed a mouthful of razor sharp teeth.
Thankfully, Taehyung came to his rescue, feeding the “rock” a handful of dirt and gravel and pulling Jimin away before any of the heads could notice.
“I’ve always wanted one of those as a pet.”
“The rock with teeth?” Jimin asked, horrified. “I almost died.”
Taehyung laughed, tightening his grip on Jimin’s hand for a moment. “They’re really loveable once you get used to them. And ignore the teeth. All they do is eat dirt, anyway.”
Jimin squeezed Taehyung’s hand back. “Whatever you say.”
After what felt like hours, Taehyung finally came to a stop. Jimin watched Zvezda’s position across the sky with more dread than guilt. He’d missed one of two prayers of the day, and soon, the Head Priest would come looking for him.
The city made him feel more than he ever remembered feeling -- Jimin was so used to reflecting within himself, trying his hardest to make sense of the cryptic messages one tenth of him communicated to the other nine parts that he’d forgotten what it was like to physically feel something. Sweat made the thin material of his shirt stick uncomfortably to his back, and Taehyung’s hand in his felt as strong as an orbit; it made him slightly dizzy but feel grounded at the same time.
“Where do you think are we?” Taehyung asked Jimin, letting go of his hand. “Take a look around.”
There were fewer people here, Jimin noticed. He squinted on his tippy toes until he spotted a huge body of water the colour of Kameen in the near distance. Jimin gasped. “Is that blood?”
Taehyung gaped at him and then broke out in a laughter, doubling over. Once he stood up, “Jimin, don’t tell me you’ve never seen the ocean?”
“Ocean?” A cold sensation wrapped around his ankles. Jimin jumped up in surprise, finding the red liquid to have submerged his feet. “Oh no.”
“Oh yes .” Taehyung walked towards the red water, submerging more and more of his body the further he walked. His calves, his knees, and soon, his torso too.
“No Taehyung!” Jimin called over to him, panic-stricken. Jimin stepped out of the water’s reach. “It’s dangerous.”
Taehyung gestured for him to join. “Don’t you lecture me about danger, Jimin!” Before Jimin had a chance to protest, Taehyung’s head disappeared under the red currents, and Jimin lost sight of him.
Then was when it first happened. It. Jimin wasn’t quite sure whether or not the surprise of seeing an ocean for the first time had triggered him or it was because of something less noticeable, but before he could call for help, Jimin collapsed onto the red-stained shore.
First was the nausea, as if he’d ingested poison. Jimin crumpled onto all fours and gagged, but threw up nothing -- the nausea then turned into pain, and Jimin felt as if he were being dunked into a dense pit of nails, each digging into his skin as gravity pulled him further in. Jimin screamed, but no noise came out.
Through tears, Jimin glanced briefly at his skin, expecting to find blisters and cuts, but found he was fine. There seemed to be nothing wrong with him, physically, at least. A few shallow breaths later, Jimin broke out in cold sweat.
What’s happening to me?
Tears streamed down Jimin’s face and mixed in with the redness of the ocean. Jimin’s nerves caught on fire; they itched and burned at the same time, and his head went foggy. The pain became so overwhelming Jimin couldn’t think a coherent thought, couldn’t say a coherent word. His entire body then stopped responding.
Jimin’s limbs began to convulse in front of his eyes; they slapped the shallow water, and the back of his head repeatedly slammed against a rock.
Jimin’s vision blackened. He tried to open his eyes, but realized they already were opened. He could feel the salt water lapping and stinging his eyes and his skin. It must’ve meant he had gone blind.
“Jimin!” A voice called from his side, followed by loud splashes of water, but then, “Jimin are --”
His hearing went away too.
After several moments of panic, Jimin stopped feeling pain altogether; almost as if he’d left his own body. Of course, this made him panic even more.
The next thing Jimin knew, his vision had returned. It lit up like lightning rivalling Zvezda’s singular glow. At first, images flooded his mind seemingly without a filter, going at a speed too fast for Jimin to process. He saw a paint brush mixing dirt-coloured paint, a calloused hand and a tear, a field of flowers sunken to the bottom of a blood sea, and a darkness that managed to extinguish Zvezda entirely. He’d missed some, he was so sure. Jimin imagined himself reaching for the images, but having them disintegrate to ashes the moment they came in contact with his skin.
Jimin saw his mother and then his father -- their smiling faces, and then everything was gone.
Jimin opened his eyes to the Head Priest slapping Taehyung in the face. Jimin shot up to his feet made his way clumsily towards them, boldly shoving at the Head Priest.
“Beloved Jimin --” The Head Priest looked stunned, then wailed, knelt down once again, and sobbed into the red-stained sand. Jimin helped him up to his feet, cheeks flaring. “What did that,” with an especially vile tone, “ nasty child do to you?”
“You were shaking and screaming, I was so sure you had been fatally poisoned.” The Head Priest surveyed him, hands-off. “Are you hurt, Beloved --”
“I’m fine.” Jimin waved him off. He turned around to face Taehyung, who stared at him with defiance in his eyes. His face had already begun to swell, and it made Jimin angry. “But he isn’t.”
“We mustn't mind him --”
“We must.” Jimin touched Taehyung’s cheek. Taehyung hissed and turned away from his hand. “Take him to the temple and heal him. You are to repent for your actions.”
“But,” The Head Priest started say but then hesitated. “Yes my Beloved Jimin.”
On the walk back, crowds parted like mountains to a quake at the sight of the Head Priest a few meters behind Jimin, who was being led by Taehyung. It was nothing like Jimin’s previous experience, the unpredictableness and the disorder of the city. Jimin’s acknowledged presence had subdued their colours and their laughter. Jimin was lonely again, on a stage, being admired by Glavs and Gods alike, but utterly alone. Right now lights from others’ eyes were too bright and Jimin couldn’t see. He wondered if he himselef was a catalyst for loneliness, one that inhaled noise and life and exhaled silence and stillness.
Taehyung gradually slowed down his pace until he and Jimin walked side by side. Jimin pretended not to hear the Head Priest’s shouts of protest.
Jimin took a glance at his hands and found them surprisingly still shaking. He clenched his hands into fists, and squeezed them tight with all his force until his nails had painfully cut into his skin. The shaking refused to stop even then. Before Jimin could shove them in his pockets out of embarrassment, Taehyung’s hands were there, cautiously uncurling Jimin’s stiff fingers and fitting them into the spaces between his own.
Taehyung closed his grip on Jimin’s hand and squeezed it once.
And they stayed like that.
When they arrived at the temple’s entrance, Jimin’s hands had stopped shaking, but there was another part of him that begun doing so -- his heart.
Jimin never knew those images would be the last time he got to see his parents.
There was no way he could have known -- no one could have predicted it, besides him, yet he had been so insensitive to it all.
A few days later after the incident, a storm blew over not only Dlina, but half of Ogon’led. It wasn’t until Jimin compared storm clouds across the strip sky to a vulgar painter mixing up a palette for his shadows that he realized.
a paintbrush mixing dirt-coloured paint
Immediately, Jimin raced to the Head Priest, demanding he call for a complete closure. Whatever it was that was coming, their crevice-city had to be sealed.
“I’ve already received warning.” The Head Priest said patiently, as Jimin practically ripped his own hair off in impatience. “We’ve decided to wait until further updates. If it gets any worse and if the rain becomes unbearable, we will call for closure.”
“Call for a complete closure, now.” Jimin said, trying to sound threatening. He lowered his voice. “I saw something.”
“You saw something?” The Head Priest mused. “Do you suppose it’s Bogh’s calling, finally? After so many years, our Beloved Jimin finally received a claiming. Maybe it’s now that you will receive his abilities directly.”
“I don’t care.”
The Head Priest gasped. “How dare you talk about Him in such a way --”
Jimin grabbed the Head Priest by the collar, something only he could get away with without receiving months of punishment and detention. Jimin couldn’t muster up enough strength to pick him up, so he shoved him against a pillar. “ Close it. ” He said through clenched teeth. There was an uneasy feeling pooling in his stomach, and it added a certain strength to his words he’d never had before.
The Head Priest finally agreed, muttering distaste under his breath as he walked towards the communications hub.
Meanwhile, Jimin fled the temples and headed out into the city. Glavs milled around mindlessly, with no regard whatsoever for the brewing storm. Jimin looked up and saw that more clouds had appeared since he’d last time he’d looked up. The entire city was dimming; Kameen was starting to lose its red hue under Zvezda’s light, and the structures began to cast shadows, warped and menacing, unlike the designs themselves.
Jimin tried to shout, “Everybody, return to your living quarters!” His thin voice was almost entirely drowned out by the buzzing of the Glavs, eager vendors and mothers calling for their children or their husbands and footsteps and shuffling.
Desperate, Jimin advanced to the nearest pedestrian and took her hand -- she was a middle aged lady with a basket of dried meats, but a kind face. Jimin bowed down his head. “Hello, my name is Jimin.” She recognized him and gave a small gulp. Jimin took the chance. “There is a dangerous storm coming, and I need you to help me get everyone back to their homes. A complete closure is on its way. Pass on this message and say it’s from me.”
“Yes, our Beloved.” The woman said, voice shaking. Jimin nodded in response, but before he could let go, a single, fat raindrop fell and landed on the woman’s calloused hands.
A calloused hand and the first tear.
The next thing Jimin did was race towards the red ocean Taehyung had first taken him to. Fat raindrops tumbled from the sky like pebbles, slapping Jimin so hard his skin began to bruise. How he’d remembered the directions, he didn’t know. He just kept running.
The woman he had consulted had done her job very well. She’d likely passed on his message, because Glavs that Jimin passed along the way all seemed to be finishing up their activities, and local merchants were hurriedly gathering up their families. They’d finally realized the condition of the sky. The complete closure was beginning; a thick and long slate of Kameen the dimensions of the the crevice-city moved slowly but steadily across the strip sky, with the force of all the crevice-city’s architects and their tools. They’d designed this function for instances of extreme weather. During Jimin’s ten years, the slate had only been moved twice. Once for a sandstorm that would have buried them alive, and another for an overestimated rainfall. It took a little less than an hour for the slate to be pushed across, and the architects more or less risked their lives to protects the Glavs below.
Moments before Jimin reached the shoreline, a massive gust of wind blew across the crevice-city, likely stronger above. It pushed Jimin to the ground and knocked him breathless, and from the screams he heard, other Glavs had felt it as well. And to Jimin’s horror, larger shapes suddenly started to fall from the sky along with the raindrops: several architects had been swept from their positions, their unbreakable harnesses torn apart by the wind, and dropped one by one into the crevice-city. Some of them fell relatively close to where Jimin was pressed up against the ground, straight into the ocean.
Screams were interrupted by sickening splashes and crunches.
Jimin pushed himself to his feet and ran towards the ocean, just to see another body hit the ocean. The Glav architect’s neck snapped at contact, and he sunk below the waves, where his inevitable grave would be.
a field of flowers sunken to the bottom of a blood sea
It was literal. Jimin felt sick and helpless. He stood only at a level where his ankles were submerged and watched as more architects fell to their doom. Jimin wanted nothing more to throw himself into the water and… do what? He couldn’t do anything besides stupidly try to catch them, that was, if he was willing to break his arms in the process. Besides, Jimin couldn’t even swim.
After some time, the closure finished, and the slate completely concealed the strip of sky above crevice-city. Darkness plunged the crevice-city and its inhabitants, putting Jimin in a state of visual oblivion. He could hear the waves lapping at shore and his heart trying to beat itself to stop -- they competed for his sense of hearing, but nothing was as overpowering as the guilt of having witnessed death and done nothing at all.
Jimin shivered in his rain-drenched clothes and sunk down to his knees.
a darkness that managed to extinguish Zvezda entirely
The prophecy was finished, and Jimin had become a murder in the process. His negligence had killed every single architect; if only he’d reported his visions sooner, perhaps he could have saved them all.
An arm found its way around Jimin’s shoulders, interrupting him from his thoughts. Judging only from his movements, Jimin remarked it was Taehyung.
Taehyung’s guided him away from the shore where flowers would be thrown in memorial for generations to come, to decorate their tombs. Together, they navigated blindly around the crevice-city until familiar pillars came into Jimin’s field of touch.
The Head Priest apologized to Jimin by getting onto his knees and sobbing, but Jimin couldn’t accept it. There wasn’t anyone at fault but himself.
Taehyung’s hand found Jimin’s and Jimin couldn’t help himself from laughing out of all things. The vine from a couple days ago seemed so irrelevant compared to the sheer amount of human bloodshed he’d caused. Jimin wished nothing more than to cut off another vine in trade for a human life. Another field of vines, he would make them all wither, if it meant he could have avoided this.
Jimin was soon informed of his mother’s death at the Odin Temple. She had only arrived a day before and was in the middle of a prayer when the storm hit. Her body had been shredded and was too grotesque for Jimin’s eyes, so he never saw her again.
Jimin’s father’s death was among the group of architects who had fallen off the slate during the storm. After conducting a city-wide search for bodies, they came across many, but not his father, which only meant he was somewhere in the blood sea.
The next thing Jimin did was purchase flowers and return to the ocean, chucking them in as far as he could, with Taehyung at his side. Jimin requested Taehyung hold his hand.
Because it was times like these that Jimin needed an orbit, he needed something powerful enough to stop himself from drifting away.
Horror from the memory of his first prophecy filled Jimin’s head. Ten years were not a broad measurement of time in the life of a Glav, but they were enough for him to have forgotten, the loss and the terror of the storm.
But somehow, the pain was back. In the exact same order, in the exact same way, but by some means, even more extreme. It could only mean that something even more devastating was coming.
Jimin prepared himself for the shutting down of his senses and the images. This time, he promised not to make the same mistake. He would try his best to see everything he could and hold onto every clue, every symbol, even if all he could bring back were ashes. He would then define their significance and preserve life, maybe to compensate for the murder he had committed when he was ten.
He braced himself and then accepted the darkness as it washed over him. Jimin suppressed the panic that arose and then awaited the images.
First was another star, a second Zvezda looming in the dark sky, and then were twins that looked nothing alike, yet talked all the same. Jimin saw brilliant beams of multicoloured light, all pointing towards a mountain of red Kameen, a heap of stacked blocks, some than larger crevice-cities, and lastly, a view of Ogon’led from afar. A perspective he was sure no Glav had seen before since only Bogh could observe them in that way. He saw Ogon and Led, distinct and contrasting. Fire and ice, wrapped in a ball, with Dlina holding them together like a seal.
The last thing he saw was Taehyung, his smiling face only as if he were posing for a portrait.
Jimin awoke to the very last thing he saw, Taehyung’s face. Older and more chiseled than ten years ago, his features were tightened in concern, and his eyes watched over at Jimin’s shuddering body. When Taehyung’s eyes met his own, Taehyung broke out in a bright smile and sighed out of relief, throwing his arms around him.
In Taehyung’s arms, Jimin managed to slow his breathing down to a normal pace.
“You’re so lucky I decided to sneak in here tonight.” Taehyung said, hugging Jimin close. “You think the prickly priest’s going to let me come see you if I tell him this?”
Jimin let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. Jimin pushed himself and Taehyung upright, getting a clear sight of his face. He traced Taehyung’s jaw with his thumb just to confirm he wasn’t just another illusion. When he’d seen parents’ faces in a prediction, it had been the last time he saw them. But Taehyung was here, right in front of him. Alive . It must have meant there was another role besides death in store for his friend.
Taehyung must have sensed Jimin’s unease, because his smile softened. “What did you see?”
“Nothing much.” Jimin said, leaning against Taehyung’s shoulder. He knew very well what he saw, vivid and crisp images of unsystematic symbols. “I don’t really know.” He especially wanted to avoid talking about seeing Taehyung.
“Don’t think about it too much for now.” Taehyung urged, patting Jimin’s head of dark hair affectionately. Since the incident, Jimin’s rules had become much stricter. He was rarely allowed outside of the temple, not even to the garden. He was now required to spend even more time in the spiritual room, and was bombarded with shelves and shelves of musty prayer books to memorize. His only getaway was Taehyung, who snuck him around the city and showed him glimpses into life as all Glavs but Jimin lived it. It was enough to satisfy him, although Jimin would admit he valued Taehyung’s company over the glimpses. “Morning’s in a couple of hours. Think about it then.”
“Alright.” Jimin sighed, burrowing into Taehyung.
“Get some shut-eye time.” Taehyung coaxed. “And stop using me as a pillow. You have a pillow over there.”
“This is to make sure you don’t leave.”
Taehyung laughed. “What made you think I was leaving? I risked my life getting into here. No way am I letting that go to waste.” He scoffed. “You won’t be able to get rid of me.”
“Great.” Jimin hummed. At that moment, it didn’t matter too much that Jimin had predicted another omen, one that was as cryptic and dangerous as the last. It didn’t matter that it was up to Jimin now, to preserve and protect or to spoil and destroy. Because Taehyung was by his side and would be there when he awoke. “That’s exactly what I wanted.”
Ogon'led is based on this planet: Upsilon Andromeda b, which actually exists (I know right wow so cool). The rest of the planet, the details I literally made up one afternoon so spare me if they don't make much sense.
Thank you for reading :3 :3
This story is quite a challenge for me because Leckie's world is so vast and I'm definitely getting some things inaccurate here, and also the storyline I have in mind will be a very complicated one so please bear with me ^^ I promise a nice (hopefully not too long) journey.