We drop from warp near the edge of the system and from the moment the lights turn back on, I can tell this is a bad idea. To say the system is crowded would be an understatement, even when you consider just how vast space is.   Kambrea is the trade capital of The Dhitol Trading Guild, an ecumenopolis with over a thousand ships coming and going at any point in time. That's a lot of ground to cover.   I turn to Fraeia who stands behind me and ask, "How do you expect to sift through every ship? Even if we pinpoint where they make the antimatter, how are we going to find a target?"   They reply as they sort through a list of transponders, signals that display the name of every vessel in the system, "We know now that antimatter weapons are still in the developmental stages of production. We're looking for a military vessel, which narrows our list down significantly. Scan the planet for the highest concentration of energy output."   I give them their answer in moments, "Northern hemisphere, Plate 13, sublevel 8."
There are two ecumenipoli currently known in the galaxy. The first is Safeharbor, humanity's adopted homeworld. The second is Kambrea, the capital of The Dhitol Trading Guild. The two couldn't be more opposite. I spent a good chunk of my life living on that rusted planet of metal and faulty machinery. It's strange to see what Safeharbor might have looked like in its prime.   Nestled near the red dwarf Xhoksa, Kambrea is the second of three planets in the system. There used to be five. The others were strip-mined, torn apart to feed the beast that is Kambria. It's twice the size of Safeharbor, housing more than fifty billion citizens, most of them being Dhitol.   The entire surface is metal. Any flora you find was put there after the planet's conversion was completed. The fauna consists primarily of lost pets, exotic creatures that found a way to grow their population in secluded corners of lower levels. The lower you go, the more pollution, poverty, and danger there is.  


Kambrea was originally the territory of The Dhitol Confederacy, which collapsed less than a few centuries ago. It's rare for a trading organization to represent an entire people. In the waning days of the confederacy, the trading guild amassed such power and influence, that it managed to annex the majority of the confederacy without a fight.   This is when construction began on the ecumenopolis, an endeavor that took extreme feats of engineering considering the whole planet was both being terraformed and inhabited at the same time. Even with their priceless merchant fleets along with all the resources and labor they could need, the project took two hundred and seventy-three years.   Those involved lived and died working to make this dream a reality. They spent their lives focused on making a better, brighter future, not for themselves, but their children and their children's children. Granted their descendants decided to poke a sleeping giant by provoking the eden, but… still.

Cutting Costs

The excuse goes like this: With so much ground to cover, there's bound to be things overlooked. Accidents happen. There's always an accident here, a tragedy there. They're big enough to matter but too small to make a difference. Then you have the lower levels. The lower levels are often where those who slip through the cracks go to die quietly, out of sight and out of mind.     It's a horrible place to live. A dystopian cesspool dominated by small corporations and criminal syndicates dedicated to keeping the poor as poor as possible. Ironically, these levels are where the support for the plates above are located. It takes one bad day and one angry citizen to change the game, here. Eventually, someone will look up to rock formations and the supports holding the plates above then wonder, "what if I break it?"   Naturally, this takes a delicate approach, and with that, we're back to money. Crime and terrorism are rampant in the lowest levels, gangs fighting to control territory to get a little bonus from the trading Guild to ensure they don't detonate a bomb on the supports. Crime pays here, and there's no law willing to delve into the depths to change that fact.

The City

A planet-wide city needs constant maintenance and upkeep, so why bother? It's simple. Money. It's always money. Overpopulation is one thing, that's what colonies are for, but this? This planet is an economic powerhouse.   An ecumenopolis is like layering the surface of the planet on itself several times over. Every level provided more space and more opportunities. Every level is divided into districts, some focused on housing and recreation, others on industry, infrastructure, and R&D.   Can you imagine an entire planet's surface worth of factories, each producing different goods? Now imagine the next level below is an entire planet's surface worth of research laps and below that an entire planet's surface worth of residential districts to house those who work on the levels above. It's costly, but the profit is just as exponential in growth.
"There," Fraeia says, pointing to a name on the list. They lean over and place the screen in front of me, but I can't seem to focus. "The Fair Wage, a destroyer. It just left plate thirteen and-" they pause, realizing I didn't even bother to look.   My head feels heavy. I hear a buzzing sound, like the bees at the apiaries on Safeharbor. I'm not entirely sure where I am...who I am. I know I'm on the ship, but I feel as though I'm not there. I can hear Fraeia, but I can't see them. It's like I'm in a dream.   I'm seeing flashes, images of things I've never seen before. I see an underground bunker just two worlds away, a woman in an elegant white dress with a crown and scepter. I see Gibraltar, its tendrils spread out and spiraling through the void. Is this real? Is this happening or am I just disassociating?   "Amber?"   I see something new. A woman? No. Not a she, but a they. An eden. They're beautiful. I feel like I know them, or I should. Their eyes are narrowed, their teeth flashing as they scream at me. Why are they so angry?   "Get out," They scream.   I feel my bottom lip quiver, "What did I do?"   "Amber? What's wrong. What is it showing you?" Fraeia asks.   Right, I think, their name is Fraeia. I do know them. Oh no. Why are they mad? "Did I upset you?" I ask. They shake their head but I apologize anyway. "I'm sorry."   I see a final flash, an image of Gibraltar drifting in rainbow starlight. It all makes sense. The black signal changed. I can almost feel it. Gibraltar speaks, and now it can do so even when I'm awake. The message is clear to me when I finally come to my senses.   "Amber?"   I look at Fraeia and smile. I don't think they know how to react. They back away, cocking their head and raising their hand as if ready to defend themselves. "There's something buried in this system. I need to find it."   "What?" They ask.   "Sorry. Hold on." My head hurts. I run to my temples as I try to understand their question. It's only then I realize how little I know about what just happened. What did I hear compared to what Gibraltar intended me to experience?   It's a sobering realization, and one I've had before. I can't trust my own perception of reality. I anchor myself to the here and now. I focus on the rumble of the engines underfoot vibrating the hull. I listen to the various sounds around me, the beeps and pings from the terminals of the cockpit. Fraeia's breathing is what levels me out.   I take a breath then speak. "Gibraltar has something new to say."   "I know. You were gone, like a corpse. The light left your eyes. You spoke."   I look up, my brow furrowed. "I did? What did I say?"   "You spoke my language. Lir ouer abhil midai."   The translator works its magic. I understand, but it doesn't make sense. "We must keep her safe?"

Cover image: by Nasa


Please Login in order to comment!
Feb 4, 2022 08:39 by Catoblepon


Feb 6, 2022 13:13 by TC

wait. wait what???? gibraltar wants to keep Amber safe now??? Gibraltar talked to Fraeia????? What is going on!!!!! Thank god there's two more articles here because god I would've hated to wait :')

Creator of Arda Almayed
Apr 28, 2022 00:10 by Grace Gittel Lewis

Rad to see an ecumenopolis show up!   And dangit, there you go again with the tasty cliffhangers.

Powered by World Anvil