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Colour me Purple; an Atysian science-fiction story.

Story 4
Shaping the Future

"Noble!?"

"Fine, one."

"Your actions could lead us to civil war, are you really willing to go that far for your ambition?"

The small crowd of reporters, quills and scrolls at the ready, went silent in anticipation of his answer.

"Nobody wants a civil war. There is a disagreement within our government and within our people about what course to take. We will resolve this disagreement through lawful and peaceful means. As representative of the people, it is my duty to push for that course of action that many of our people, including myself, believe best for our nation. If we are unallowed to ever have disagreements because it *might* cause a civil war, all politics would be meaningless. This is not about me, I only push for what many of our people want, and I will achieve it for them through the proper proceedings."

Noble Vadera briskly stepped on through the crowd as the reporters once again erupted in a barrage of questions. They wanted to know about everything, from reports of Kitin being sighted to rumours that he was having an affair with another Noble...

Such was the life of a politician. By now Vichi Vadera had gotten used to the strange combination of duties his function entailed. On the one hand the deeply serious decisions regarding the lives and deaths of thousands, on the other hand the shallow obsession with his personal life and all the vanity and rumours that came with it. Every question was as much an attempt to entice him into saying something scandalous as it was an actual request for information...

He had no choice but to play the game along, ofcourse, if he wanted to keep his position. But that was fine. After all, he was good at it.

***

"This session of the Chambre of Nobles is now opened."

The chairman rang the ceremonial bell and the murmurings in the huge room grew silent, both amongst the Nobles in the centre as amongst the audience seated in the balconies all around.

The audience balconies were packed today, noticed Vichi from his seat near the podium. That was to be expected, ofcourse. The discussion today concerned no less than the future course of their entire nation, and the Matis population was divided roughly 50/50 on the issue. Vichi had noticed in the past weeks how the topic had dominated every conversation on the streets like no political issue ever had before.

"The topic of today is known to all, it is the discussion we've been anticipating for weeks now", the chairman continued, "whether our people should return to the surface or venture into the Deep Roots." The entire room, already silent, seemed to somehow grow even more silent. Or rather, more serious. Having it laid out so plainly made everyone aware of the gravity of the issue. "But before we begin the discussion, let us renew our oaths to our great nation and the principles on which it was founded."

As all Nobles rose from their seats and the Royal anthem began playing from an unseen orchestra, the chairman turned around to the wall behind him. On that wall, in front of the entire assembly, hung a large family portrait of the last Royal family, flanked on one side by a ragged banner of the old Matis Kingdom, and on the other side by an old banner of the Karavan. Artefacts saved from the destruction of Yrkanis City. Above it all hung the modern banner of the new Matis Republic, it's flawlessness a stark contrast to the inevitably weary look of the antique items.

Each session of the Chambre of Nobles began with this brief ceremony, the purpose of which was to remind every Noble of their duty to the nation. To be precise, it was supposed to remind the Nobles of who they were standing in for. After both the entire Royal Family and all Karavan had disappeared in the chaos when the Goo overran Majestic Garden, the Matis survivors had nobody but a few surviving Nobles left to lead them. But traditionally the Nobles had been nothing more than glorified advisors, and they took up the leadership of the fledgling new nation only "until the King or the Karavan return".

Ofcourse, the years passed and they did not return, and eventually a new system of government grew. Effectively the Matis nation was now an aristocracy, and nobody expected the old rulers to return anymore. But the tradition remained.

After the music stopped, the chairman turned back around to face the room. "I give the podium to Noble Anicho Stagno."

All other Nobles sat down again as Anicho Stagno walked up to the podium and turned to address the assembly.

"Matis! My fellow Nobles! The ceremony with which we begin our sessions is meant to remind us of our glorious past! Of the greatness and the beauty of the old Matis Kingdom! We repeat it every session because we know we must never forget what we lost, and what we must rightfully reclaim! And yet apparently this is still not enough reminder for some people! To my great sadness, even amongst the Nobles there are those who would have us forget our past, toss aside our rightful place in the world and dishonour the teachings of not only generations of Matis, but those of Jena's representatives!"

Some angry murmurs arose amongst the Nobles due to this surprisingly accusatory speech. Vichi suppressed a smile, which due to years of practice he could do perfectly. If the old man jumped straight to attacking his opponents in the Chambre, it could only mean he was getting desperate.

"The current state of our people was born out of necessity to survive, nothing more! After the other homin races turned on the Karavan, the King saw that it was inevitable that the Goo would eventually overrun all of Atys. The methods to tame and control the Goo, that our scientists were working on alongside the Karavan, would not be completed in time to safe us, now that the war had left our resources depleted. Our only hope for survival was to infect ourselves with modified Goo! Mutated Goo our scientists had invented, that allowed the infected to retain their mind. This was the only way to safe our people from being consumed by the Goo entirely, body and mind!"

"But our salvation came at a terrible price. The mutated Goo left the mind intact but still ravaged the body. Only 1 in 10 Matis survived the infection. Those that survived found their infected bodies could no longer tolerate sunlight, forcing our people underground. No longer could our people live in the beautiful forests and magnificent gardens that they had called home for generations. From now on we would live in the darkness. But perhaps that was even a blessing, for at least in the darkness we could not constantly see our final sacrifice: Our people's own beauty, long the pride of the Matis, now ravaged by our self-inflicted Goo infection!"

To underline his argument, Anicho Stagno stripped back his sleeves and raised both his arms in front of the Royal family portrait on the wall behind him. In the bright lights illuminating the podium, everybody could clearly see the skin of his arms, rough and pockmarked, permanently covered in boils and pustules, and shaded in hues of purple and gold - the same as the skin of every Matis in the room. There could not be a greater contrast with the Royal family on the portrait behind him, showing Matis as they had looked like before, their skin smooth and fair as the finest fiber.

"All this was just out of necessity to survive! Our infection, our appearance, our life underground! It should never be what we strive for! It is not our rightful place in the world! Due to our tenaciousness, our people have courageously thrived in this horrible situation, but we should not tolerate it any longer than we have to! We should always strive to undo these curses and restore our former glory! We have lived like this only in preparation for the time when we could do so, and that time is now coming!"

"Our society is once again strong. No longer lost refugees in the Prime Roots. We have built cities, roads, industries, armies. We are well established. And now our scientists have perfected a treatment that allows us to once again live in the sunlight. With this treatment, a few scouts have already returned to the surface, and they have reported it is open for the taking. The kitin are gone, and the other homin races are reduced to isolated pockets of civilisation. Nothing stands in our way of reclaiming the surface. We can return to our forest, rebuild our civilisation as it once was, and in time find a way to restore ourselves as well. We can recapture our former glory and more, as this time we shall be greatest of all the homin peoples, not even needing to fear alliances of the other races anymore!"

"Therefore, I urge you all to vote for directing all our efforts and funding to the project of returning our people to the surface!"

As Anicho Stagno stepped down from the podium and returned to his seat, the room erupted in hushed conversations, which the chairman allowed to continue for a few minutes before calling for silence once more. "I now give the podium to Noble Vichi Vadera."

Vichi slowly rose from his seat and stepped up to the podium, receiving some cheers and boos from the audience. Though officially there were no parties in the Chambre and every Noble spoke and voted as an individual, like any collection of people the Chambre naturally split into factions, each with their de facto leaders. Anicho Stagno was the de facto leader of the faction that sought a return to the surface. Vichi was generally considered the leader of the faction that opposed it.

"Matis! My fellow Nobles! Much of what Noble Stagno has said is true!"

"It is true that we should never forget the glory of the old Matis Kingdom, and that we should always strive to restore that glory in the future! It is also true that our current situation was not freely chosen by our people, but born out of a necessity to survive!"

"But what Noble Stagno forgets, is where that necessity comes from: It comes from a changing world! When the world changed around them, our forefathers had no choice but to adapt or perish! To carry on as they always had would have meant their annihilation! Adaptation comes at a cost, but our society thrives today because our people were willing to pay that cost, because we adapted our ways to suit the new world we live in, and did not stubbornly cling to a way of life that was no longer possible!"

"Has the world returned to how it used to be? No, it has not! The world is still entirely covered in Goo, from the deepest Roots to the Canopy! Then how can we think we can return to how we used to be? The forests that Noble Stagno would have us return to will not miraculously transform back to the green gardens we see in the old paintings, they will still be a purple wasteland. The world is forever changed, returning to the old ways of life is nothing but a dream that is simply impossible to realise."

"But adapting to a new world does not mean giving up on our ancestral values. It simply means recasting them in a new light. Once our people took pride in the beauty of the environment they lived in, the lustrous forests and majestic gardens. To abandon those for a life underground was horrible to them, their new environment looked cold and alien. But the new generations of Matis have learned to see the beauty of the Prime Roots. One need merely look outside, at the luminescent Topha's planted along the streets, the patterned gardens of Dziku and Plumash, the well-tended parks of Rotoa and Lumindra, to see that our people once again take pride in the beauty of our environment."

"And so it is for our own beauty as well. Our forefathers considered a smooth and fair skin the epitome of beauty, and by their standards we would be monsters. But look around in the beauty shops today, see how they are full of products to turn pockmarks into intricate patterns, to change the shade of purple or to enhance the golden glow of one's skin. See the modern books on how to turn your skin into a work of art. See how the young ladies use these products and once again flaunt their beauty."

"As for the greatness and glory of our nation... Today our nation is larger than the other 3 homin peoples' combined. And it is because we live down here while they remain on the surface, not despite. Reclaim the surface? What is the surface? It is a single layer. Down in the deeper Roots, there are hundreds of layers. A hundred times more space. A hundred times more resources. If we truly wish to strive for greatness, we should be claiming those. We could build down there a nation a hundred times larger than any nation could be on the surface."

"Some say that this is to forsake the values of our ancestors, I say this is to adhere to those values while understanding them better than our ancestors did. I say it is natural our people gain a better understanding of these values with each generation. Our people's definition of beauty and greatness was once limited to what they observed on the surface, but we now know..."

A movement on the audience balcony caught Vichi's attention. A row of guards at the front of the balcony separated the audience from the assembly, and in a split second, two Matis at the front of the audience moved forward and each pushed a guard aside, faster than the guards could react. A third person immediately took advantage of the gap by jumping down off the balcony and landing in the back of the assembly room. With a yell of "traitor!", he raised a small pistol he must somehow have smuggled past the entrance checks at Vichi.

Vichi was already scanning the room for any other attackers. This man was not a real threat, he was too far away to accurately hit him with such a small pistol. And he was now surrounded by Nobles. In the present-day Matis society, Noble positions were given to those Matis who had shown exceptional skill. Some had earned their position by being exceptional scientists, philosophers, artists, and such. But the Noble assembly also included the best warriors, and unlike the audience, the Nobles were permitted to wear weapons during the assembly.

The fastest to respond was Noble Kiaera Lirgia, sitting in the back. She had earned her position as Noble by being the best of the scouts that Anicho Stagno had mentioned earlier, the ones who had explored the surface. She had her own pistol out and a poison bullet in the assassin's head before the assassin could fire a second shot. By then the guards up on the balcony had already wrestled his two accomplices down on the ground. The whole commotion was over in seconds.

The chairman quickly called for everyone to remain calm, and suspended the assembly for half an hour. Vichi quietly returned to his seat. This wasn't the first attempt on his life and it wouldn't be the last. And as far as attempts on his life went, this one was pitifully inept. He decided this one could not have been orchestrated by any of his political enemies. They would poison his drink, or assassinate him at home alone. They would never be so stupid as to attempt killing him in the middle of a speech in front of the whole Noble assembly. No, this had to be the work of some lone fanatics. Big on symbolism, not so much on reality. Annoying but mostly irrelevant.

Later that day, as the assembly resumed, the debate continued. Now that the de facto leaders of both major factions had held their opening speeches, other Nobles from both factions took the stand, mostly repeating the same arguments, with some calling for somewhat alternative solutions. Both factions were internally divided as well. Those that wanted a return to the surface about whether to subjugate the other homin races or peacefully coexist and trade, and about whether to move all Matis back to the surface or to maintain their cities in the Prime Roots. Those that wanted to expand deeper underground, about whether to stay away from the surface entirely or to at least open a few outposts and perhaps engage in trade with the other homin races.

After all the speeches there was the opportunity for "questions" back and forth, which in practice was always more accusations back and forth. Again it was more of the same arguments, though one of the smaller conservative religious factions still brought in that the Karavan had forbidden going into the Deep Roots.

Finally, the assembly moved on to the next topic - at least officially. Vichi was to present his trump card, the report from his scientists about the recent kitin sightings. Officially this was a new subject for the assembly to discuss, unrelated to the last. In practice, he'd use it as another argument for his agenda.

The report was the final conclusion of the Matis' research as to what had happened to the kitin when Atys was covered in Goo. Why they had disappeared and not been seen anymore since - until now. What had been found was that as the Goo overtook the surface of Atys, several nests of kitin had become infected. The un-infected kitin nests deeper underground had responded to the threat and waged war on the infected nests. Thanks to the greater numbers of un-infected kitin, they were able to wipe out the infected nests, at least initially... but ofcourse, every un-infected kitin who struck down an infected kitin became itself infected. And so even as the kitin wiped out every infected nest, they could not prevent that nest after nest became infected in turn.

"We speak of the war between kitin and homins as the Kitin War. But if any event is deserving of being called the Kitin War, it would be this. Imagine it. It is estimated that the huge swarms of kitin that wiped out the old civilisations were really no more than a few nests, no more than 10% of all the kitin on Atys, with the remaining 90% remaining hidden in the Deeper Roots. Now image that entire population of kitin engaged in a titanic, apocalyptic war against itself. Billions of kitin slaughtering eachother, healthy against infected, throughout hundreds of layers of Deep Roots, and spanning all across Atys. It is a scale we can sparsely imagine. And it all happened beneath our feet, unbeknownst to us. But our Deep Roots explorers have found the remnants of these giant battlefields."

"They believe this war raged for decades. It ended, unavoidably, when the last nest was infected. With nearly all kitin wiped out, and but a few infected remaining. Perhaps even just a single last nest, somewhere so deep underground that no homin has ever come close. This is why we have not seen a kitin up here in generations. It would take the infected kitin time to rebuild. But rebuilding they would have done, from the moment the war ended. The fact that there have been kitin sightings again can only mean they are now sufficiently rebuild to venture this far up again. It is inevitable that we will soon face a new Swarming, this time of infected kitin. There is no question the Goo would try to use them against us."

And then came the debating again. Vichi's opponents argued this was all the more reason to get out of the Prime Roots before the kitin overtook all of it. But Vichi knew their argument was hollow, even they knew deep down the kitin would not leave them alone on the surface. They would have no choice but to fight. And, he argued, it was a fight they could only win by eventually expanding into the Deep Roots to push the kitin out, and definitely not by getting into a possible war with the homins on the surface, which would only force them to fight on two fronts. His opponents were then resorted to attacking the credibility of the report, which they argued had been researched at Vichi's own request to begin with.

At the end of the day, ofcourse, neither side had attained a majority in the assembly. So the Nobles had no choice but to enact a compromise that divided funding equally between the project to return to the surface and the project to expand underground. But as Vichi walked home that evening through the streets of Matia Prime, he knew he had once again gained ground today. It was only a matter of time until he would have his majority. The times were simply on his side. Though the older generation of Matis yearned to return to the surface, the younger generation of Matis increasingly felt the Prime Roots were their home.

And Vichi perhaps felt this strongest of all. One look at the city around him, the capital of the Matis, filled him with pride at what his people had accomplished down here. Matia Prime, built in an intersection of Prime Root tunnels, it's buildings giant branches that reached from the floor of the cave to the ceiling, and from wall to wall. Up close, every part of every building was decorated, while from faraway, the buildings themselves formed an intricate network that was itself a work of art, as much as a fortification. From the bustling main streets atop the wide horizontal branches, to the countless small walkbridges and spiralling staircases that connected the different branches, everything was at every level designed with defence in mind and yet shaped to aesthetic perfection. Each part of the city was in it's own unique style of décor, and everything was lit up in intricate colour and shadow patterns by genetically engineered luminescent Prime Roots plants. Vichi could not imagine why anyone would want to abandon this city.

Arriving at one of his apartments, he left his guards in the hall and retreated to his bedroom, which doubled as his study. As he sat down at his desk to write his summary of the day and make his plans for tomorrow, he suddenly realised there was somebody else in his bedroom. His hand instinctively moved to his pistol. "Such a futile gesture," spoke a voice behind him, "I'm quite sure I'm faster than you." Vichi recognised the voice, belonging to spy-turned-Noble Kiaera Lirgia. "You never thanked me for saving your life today, I think I'm owed something for that," she continued. Vichi turned around to face her. "How did you get in here?" Her only response was a knowing grin. "A lot of people want me dead, Kiaera, and this is a serious security flaw, it's just a good thing you're on my side."

"Oh no, Noble Vadera, I'm quite sure it's you who's on my side." Yes, he supposed that was true. The rumours of his affair with another Noble were all designed to hide his real relation with Kiaera. Using a minor scandal to hide a bigger secret was a tried and true technique, it gave people an explanation for secrecy. The truth was that although everybody considered Vichi the political mastermind behind the movement to expand into the Deep Roots, it was really Kiaera. She gathered all the information, made all the plans. Vichi had never met a Matis more devious and cunning than she. But she worked best in the shadows, and needed him to divert the attention. She lacked the charisma and oratory skills that he did possess, and that were needed to lead a political movement.

Kiaera crossed the distance to his chair and wrapped her arms around his neck. The affair part wasn't a lie, although Vichi sometimes wondered if it was possible for people like them, their entire lives made up of appearances and lies and manipulation, to feel real affection. Did she really love him, or only need him? Did he really love her? He had no doubt that regardless of her feelings, she'd toss him aside the minute he was no longer useful. But he also knew that would never happen. She would never find another Matis both as skilled in politics as Vichi, and as willing to play second string to her.

After placing a kiss on her cheek, he stared into her eyes, coloured red by the treatment that made her immune to sunlight, set into a face that was remarkably round for a Matis. Vichi knew she had some Tryker blood in her, and though he'd never admit it, that was deep down why he didn't want war with the surface races. Vichi had never seen a Tryker, but if this woman with some Tryker heritage was the most magnificent Matis he had ever met, he had a hard time thinking of them as inferior. Kiaera herself had seen Tryker, and Fyros and Zoraï, when she'd been sent up to the surface to spy on them. Vichi suspected she'd grown fond of them while observing them. She often spoke how the cultures she observed up there were so different, that the world would be a poorer place without them.

That thought reminded Vichi. "You never had the chance to tell me about your last trip to the surface yet. I heard you discovered the homins up there were building a canal?" He always enjoyed hearing her stories of the surface. "Indeed," she said, "why don't I tell you all about it in bed?" As she dragged him along to the bed, he was still staring at her face, fascinated by the patterns of black dots and purple stripes, the pink patches and golden lines, and the large purple stain starting to form on her cheek where he'd kissed her. He really did not understand people like Anicho Stagno, who considered skin like hers repulsive and longed back for the boring fair white. Vichi felt he could stare at Kiaera's skin forever, while listening to her story. "So, it all began when I was exploring the borders of the Tryker..."
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