- Published: 26 March 2020
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Named the “Place of Holy Things” in the ancient Kriak tongue, TokCalahk is a rarity among the nomadic Kriak: a place they kept as their own. The Terran Sphere Navy forced them to abandon the system in the closing phases of the Second Crusade. For a century afterwards, the great shipyards lay empty, their remains looted and abandoned. Five years ago, as war raged through the sector, the mercantile An’Brik clan quietly returned to their ancestral system. They arrived expecting to perform their usual exploration and salvage operations; however, the system’s value eclipsed all expectations. They had believed that the entire system had been sacked by the Terran expeditionary fleet, and was a mere shell. Instead, they found an ancient site undisturbed, its great prize where the ship chants of old told them it would be. Now with the war distracting the Terran Sphere, they venture once more into the system. Bringing its shipyards to life once again, they hope to construct that greatest of endeavors, a Clanship on which to raise their banner anew.
The Tok-Calahk System On the surface, TokCalahk is an unremarkable binary system: the primary is a common F type white star, while its companion is a small red dwarf orbiting approximately 1000 AU distant. The inner system contains 5 rocky worlds of varying sizes, all with thin atmospheres and none that are habitable. The ancient Kriak who first came to this system simply named them “First”, “Second”, and so forth in their tongue and those names persist to this day, even as the language has shifted around them. There are indications the second world once bore life, although whether it was lost through natural processes or from Kriak siphoning off its resources for their great clanships remains a mystery, as further investigation would have been a violation of the treaty that ended the second crusade.
Beyond these planets lies a thick asteroid belt, strewn with mineral rich protoplanets. It is within this asteroid belt that the Kriak built their ships, although the rocky worlds all bear scars where easily accessed surface deposits have been removed. Unlike the planets, the names for many of these small bodies are far more poetic. Frequently they are named for some variant “An A Bria… “ of “Forebearer of” the clan ship they were mined for.
A solitary gas giant, known as the Rouge Banner for it rusty coloration lies a few AU farther out, with two ice giants making orbiting well beyond the grav shore. During the second crusade, the Terran Sphere staged many of its forces through these two icy worlds, giving them names Charybdis (for the massive storm that raged in its atmosphere at the time) and Scylla as the bloody fighting in the system raged. Several stations from this era remain in orbit, all powered down and left in standby mode.
The companion has no planets of its own, most likely due to the much greater mass of the primary. It does possess a single asteroid belt, rich in its own right, but far poorer than the one surrounding TokCalahk A. During periods of political turbulence, refugees would gather here, hoping to launch counter strikes, or simply gather enough resources to make it out of the system altogether and the asteroids are littered with relics of these periods of strife.
Finally, the entire system is home to a veritable swarm of comets and other eccentric ice bodies that make their long treks in and around the system. Some are surprisingly large, and it was on the greatest of these that the system’s true value was concealed.
History And Settlement
There are many clans of Kriak roaming the starways, each with their own unique history. Carefully tracing these histories shows the times and places when clans grew large, and split in two. Others detail the end of clans that have failed to survive. For three clans, their histories all intertwined at TokCalahk. For uncounted millenia prior to the Second Crusade, these three clans would return to the system and to the Shipyards they had founded there. While the Kriak have ever been a nomadic people, in so far as they staked a claim to any system TokCalahk was theirs. It was a place the three clans would return to time and again over the course of their history to make repairs and commission new ships from its ancient shipyards. To be chosen to be a dockworker was a great honor, even though it meant sleeping away centuries in hibernation while awaiting the return of one fleet or another. The dockworkers became mythic figures among the three clans, living links to revered ancestors, and the parents of the ships that were their very lives. To the Kriak, it must have seemed eternal, yet its end came during the war the Terran Sphere called the Second Crusade.
During the crusade, the TSN expeditionary force went to TokCalahk because their reconnaissance identified the system as a major Kriak base. In the words of one Kriak historian/storyteller: “They did not truly realize where they flew. Where they dared intrude. Fighting was intense throughout the system as fleets clashed against fleets, but the Terrans with their witches and their witch-drive ultimately triumphed. When the Chosen of the Gods fell, and her ship died under Terran fire, the back of the Crusade was broken. It would be years before the fighting truly ended, but end began at TokCalahk.” In the looting after their victory, however, the TSN failed to uncover the reason that the normally nomadic Kriak defended the system with three clanships and their fleets. Even beyond the storied shipyards, the far reaches of the system was home to what the Three Clans called “The Eyes Upon The Universe” and its attendant Archive. The TSN probes and vessels which arrived at the grav shore were all immediately drawn to the swarms of activity in system, dismissing the outer plutoids and other Oort Cloud bodies with barely a glance.
The treaty that officially ended the second crusade required that all parties abandon TokCalahk. The Terran Sphere wanted to keep the Kriak from restarting their shipyards and building more raider fleets. The Kriak saw their holy system turned into a graveyard, and wished to keep it undefiled. Although as the victors of the conflict, the Terran Sphere might have pushed to claim TokCalahk, they had numerous nearby systems of greater interest, and so accepted the terms.
The An’Brik, Te’mok, and Zis’mu clans were all but annihilated in that crusade, their clan ships lost. Ejected by an expansionist Terran Sphere, they eked out a living over the decades by trading with other Kriak and anyone else willing. Extensive trade among themselves has merged the clans in all but name, to the point that most of their young have an out of clan parent.
Then, the War broke out, and the Terran Sphere was distracted.
Who Says You Can’t Go Home Again?
Correctly believing the Terrans distracted by their war with the Shohan, the An’brik took the opportunity to revisit the site of their great defeat. There they discovered that the shipyards were not as damaged as they had thought. As the war deteriorated for the Terran Sphere, the Te’mok, and Zis’mu clans were invited to help repair the long dormant foundries and began to build a new clanship. The intense effort required to build a clanship is consuming the engineering expertise and labor of all three clans, and it remains to be seen if the Kriak will fully merge into a single clan with a new clanship, or if they will attempt to build three ships.
Kriak security is extremely high. The three clans are acutely aware of the clanships that were lost here, and are adamant that their newest not be lost in similar fashion. The grav shore has been posted with early warning satellites along likely entry vectors, while the three clans have stationed the majority of their fleets around the shipyard. The Kriak would no doubt like to keep their revived shipyard covert, but if the secret is out, they will settle for defense.
The TSN would no doubt be interested in the recent construction as well. The reactivation of the shipyards places the Kriak in violation of treaty. Were they not already at war, the TSN would no doubt revisit the system. The losses incurred during the last crusade seem to have cost these Kriak their taste for violent piracy, leading them instead to survive by salvage and trade. But, perhaps the crusade did not remove their taste for piracy, only their ability? Will a new clanship prompt the Kriak to resume raiding? Given the war against the Shohan, can the TSN muster enough force to stop the construction of the clanship? Perhaps the TSN could give diplomacy a try, presuming that old hardliners in the admiralty don’t shoot first.
Battlefield: Loose Lips (GM Information)
Most taverns along the spaceways don’t synthesize Kriak intoxicants, but the Jovian Glitch makes a point of tempting every sentient to walk through the door. A Zis’mu trader, surprised to find his favorite beverage at a human establishment, overindulged, and let slip that construction of a new clanship was underway. The Zis’mu’s taste for violence seems to have died with their original clanship in the second crusade, and with the war on the construction of such a large vessel is of minor concern. Unfortunately, he also let slip that an ancestor of his oversaw a tangle reservoir greater than any known. “Gotta thousan probes. Mor’an a thousan. Need lotta tangle fer all tha.” That sort of whisper can travel very far in a crowded tavern…
For any Admiral, the thought of a resurgent Kriak power in the middle of the Terran Sphere, in the middle of a war with the Shohan is likely enough to make them wish the uniform came with brown pants. However, the Strategic Signals Division is salivating over the idea of a sensor network of this scope just waiting to be tapped. Should that loose lipped Kriak’s words make to the Fleet, it’s likely they will organize a mission to the system with all possible haste, but who is calling the shots on this? The players might be here to sabotage the clanship and/or yards. Perhaps they are here as diplomats, seeking assurances that these clans won’t turn piratical once they have another clanship. Or perhaps one is cover for the other and even members of the same team might not share the same mission objectives as factions inside the Terran Sphere lock horns with one another.
Private or self employed players have a simpler task: they are likely here for the rumored probe data. They may desire a conventional trade compact with the Kriak, or may use negotiations as a cover for espionage, but the Archive’s data is the jackpot. Private interests could use such data to leapfrog conventional exploration and surveying efforts by decades. At war’s end they could immediately race out to claim choice systems for themselves, while competitors are still organizing their expeditions. For the fringe, one of the greatest problems with islander colonies has been finding a good system to settle that hasn’t already been claimed under the law of the Terran Sphere or another power. The Kriak will under no circumstances give up the Archive, but may be persuaded to trade some of the historical survey data. Players might be able to break into the facility to steal such data for themselves, however it is all recorded in ancient Kriak language and units of measure. Deciphering that could prove a greater challenge than stealing the data in the first place.
The Kriak, meanwhile, are unified more by their project than their ideology. The An’Brik see a clanship as the capital of a mercantile empire. The Te’Mok wish to strengthen their defenses against what is clearly a violent universe. The Zis’Mu seem to be in it for the prestige. They simply want tomorrow to be much like today, only better. Underneath the factions, there is a cross faction group of hawks that still seek revenge against the Terran Sphere and other races of the Fourth Population. The group does not have much in the way of official support among the officers and ship lords but their cross faction ties do give them some advantages.
Officially in charge of the clanship project is Jethara Birik. Daughter of the system’s last harbormaster, Jethara escaped the Terran assault with a group of Zis’mu technicians. She was instrumental in convincing the Kriak survivors to work together across clan lines, a task that she kept at for decades. It was her influence that caused the An’Brik salvagers to alert the other clans to their findings, and her force of will which led the three clans to join together reopen the old foundries. Although lacking technical skills herself, Jethara sees the clanship as her baby, and will beg, cajole, or beat the three clans into seeing it done.
Outsiders, on the other hand, are a problem. Jethara knows she can’t afford to start a war, and doesn’t want to kill anybody. However, the clanship must be completed. Visitors will be politely interrogated as to their origins and intentions. Jethara needs time and secrecy to finish construction, things she will trade for or sieze as prudence dictates. The construction of the clanship is too big to hide from observation, however the Archive is still well concealed in its ancient icy abode. The Kriak will deny the existence of such a thing as long as they can. The players will need to walk a fine line, being neither so insignificant that they can be chased out of the system without consequence, nor hostile enough that the Kriak feel the need to kill them.
[A Tall Ship and A Star To Steer By]
[Home Is Where the Hearts Are]