The Lebha

Those we are...

I man the helm, staring at the panoramic view outside. It's calm and quiet, as space ought to be. It helps me think. The recent events of the past few weeks weigh heavy on me. What do we do now?   I hear water running, the vibration of the pipes reverbing through the walls. Fraeia's probably bathing in the guest bunk. When did I shower last?   It's getting hard to sleep. I keep seeing his face; the man I killed. It's shocking how easy it was to pull the trigger. You do see the light leave their eyes.   After several minutes, the vibrations stop. That was quick. I take a deep breath and enjoy my last few moments of silence. I imagine Fraeia will seek me out when they're decent. Until then, I stare into a deep, black nothing freckled with fleeting sparks of light.   The door opens, and I roll my eyes before turning around. I try to muster a greeting but the sight has me stumbling on my words. The once pure white locks that draped down their back are now black as night.   "What?" They ask.   "Your hair…" I reply. I pause and they widen their eyes as if to hurry me along, "It's black."   "Yes?" They blink at me and when they realize I'm wanting to know why they answer their question, "I'm no longer bound to an avatar. White hair is reserved for those who are chosen."   "Why? That's an odd convention." I ask.   "The vast majority of species we emulate have hair. It's something we can spot no matter what form we take."   I turn away. "That's fair," I reply. They sound angry. I don't blame them. Their entire life has been ruined and it all comes back to me. If I just stayed in my lane and avoided Viritine, maybe she'd still be alive.   "What is it?" They ask. I hear their footsteps getting closer.   I turn, opening my mouth to speak. I pause. I don't know if I should. When I do speak, it isn't to answer their question, "are you okay?"   They don't reply, at first. It's as if they never imagined being asked how they were. Their eyes go wide for a moment then narrow only to shift back to their default state. "I don't understand."   I have to force the words out, it's like my body fights me every step of the way, "You've barely said a word since we left the breech. Did I do something?"   "You?" They ask. They cross their arms and ponder my words. They act like they couldn't imagine why I'd ask such a thing. "Of course not. I'm processing. I apologize if it seemed like it was taking it out on you."   "Do you want to talk about it?" I ask.   They shake their head as they reply, "Not particularly. I'm trying to not think about it."   "Not the best way to go about it, in my experience."   They turn and begin the walk out of the cockpit. "It's just my way. I'll move on eventually. Don't worry."
     
Let's talk about the Lebha, or eden as we humans know them. It should be said that "eden" is a term reserved for the matriarchy, an ethnic group within a much wider web of interconnected cultures originating from a single species.   The Lebha have no true form, at least as far as we know. I can't tell you much about their overall appearance because their mastery of genetic modification allows them to appear as whatever they please. Gender, sexuality, skin tone, hair, eye color, etc are all matters of preference.   One thing I can say is their overall culture and language, regardless of what ethnic group you're referring to, is always the same. This isn't the way things usually go. There should be drift, differing schools of thought, and countercultures. They are one of the oldest species in the galaxy, and yet there's absolutely no evidence of that fact in their culture.

Void dwellers

Generally, the Lebha stay in space. They have a wide variety of worlds they control but these worlds are used out of convenience. It's easier to establish industry on a planet as opposed to deep space. It's easier to centralize trade and control the flow of goods, as well.   Most species consider planets their home, but the eden lack a concept of a "homeworld." Their home is their ship, and they treat it as such. Every ship has its customs, its own culture. Those that live on the ship function the same way an established city would.   The bulk of their civilization lives in the void. Untold Billions live and die aboard their ships. The only exceptions to this rule are vigil worlds.
   

Vigil worlds

A vigil world is any planet used for vigils. A vigil is a rite of passage among the Lebha. It's a rigorous training and educational program designed to prepare those who take the vigil for a specific set of professions. A soldier would take a soldier's vigil, the Liv Hobhulis, or vigil of war. A diplomat, however, must take the Liv Thilosa, or vigil of mind.   There are six vigils: War, body, mind, soul, service, and leadership. Some professions require some to take a combination of vigils and others, such as the chroniclers, require all six. This is a tall order. The vigils can take years to complete, and that's if you manage to succeed on your first try.   Vigil worlds are locked in stasis. Vigil worlds have massive warp drives that affect the planet as a whole. This alters its relationship with time, allowing for the planet's clock to speed up relative to everything else. They can give elite training to armies in the same amount of time it took me to go through basic training at the wayfarer academy.
 
 
Day 4: A cooked meal...
I wake up in a fog, rising from my cot as if lifted by the most amazing smell. I stumble towards the door and when it opens, the smell hits me like a soft cloud. It smells like home, almost. Fraeia stands in front of an electric heating plate. They stare at a pan on top of the plate, motionless and impatient.   The pan starts bubbling and steaming as I scan the counters along the wall. I see two other pans, freshly used but also freshly cleaned. How long have they been cooking and what happened to the first two meals?   "What are you doing?" I ask.   "Cooking." They turn to me and then to the clean pans on the counter. "Trying to cook, at least."   "Cook what? All we have are tasteless bricks." I reply.   They narrow their eyes and open a drawer to their right. "Yes I know, but You have an entire shelf in here with spices. It doesn't have to be tasteless."   "I do?" I ask. They must have stocked the kitchen before I left Safeharbor. That's nice of them.   "You didn't know? I've been trying to find the best combination but I can't seem to get there."   "It smells fine to me."   "Does it?" They scrape the food out of the pan and into a black container. They hand it over, along with utensils.   I suddenly feel under pressure, but I feel a wave of relief when I take a bite. I'm not sure what surprised me more. Was it the radical change in texture or the amazing taste? I guess they diced the nutrient brick, giving it the consistency of rice. It somehow softened while being cooked.   My eyes go wide as a wave of savory flavor hits my tongue. Fraeia appears worried, clearly unsure of how to interpret my reaction. I shake my head and hold my hand over my mouth as I speak, "How? What sorcery is this?"   They narrow their eyes and smile. "You do know these bricks were designed to be cooked, right?"
 

Eden cuisine

Nutrition blocks, nutrient bricks, void rations… whatever you call them, these monstrosities were designed by the eden, yet another marvel of genetic engineering. They come In several varieties, each matching a specific species' nutritional needs. You wouldn't be able to tell the difference, though.   They're tasteless, designed to be shaped and molded to suit whatever dish you're trying to simulate. The texture changes when heated. The result depends on the amount of heat applied, and the amount of time it's cooked. They can be tenderized, giving them a consistency of meat, diced and cut to resemble slices of fruit or vegetables, the possibilities are endless. With the right seasoning, you can emulate just about any dish.   It makes sense when you think about it. The eden spend most of their life in the void. Food spoils over time, meaning you'd have to make frequent trips to resupply. More than that, the storage required to maintain a proper food supply would be a logistical nightmare.  
 

An art and a science

Eden cuisine took on a whole new meaning with the development of these bricks. Since they don't rely on what we would normally think of as food, they aren't limited by ingredients. As long as you have something to give it flavor, you're golden.   For this reason, the eden learn how to cook with it while living as neophytes. It offers variety and spices can be easily obtained. When not available, they can be artificially produced using a gene lab. Experimentation is encouraged and often yields spectacular results.   Cuisine among the eden is a serious matter, and they pride themselves on whatever original dishes they manage to create. This does have a downside, however. They are a little sensitive. I got lucky. If you do find yourself eating something that's not to your liking, grin and bear it. It's better that way.  
 

Genetic matrices

The eden are a species of clones rendered infertile due to countless millennia of genetic tampering. Every eden resembles a member of a different species. That would mean there is no such thing as a true eden. Their biology is different, but from the outside, their bodies are the same.   To emulate a species, the eden collect genetic samples from individuals of that species. These samples are studied and used to develop a genetic matrix, a genome designed to illustrate all prime example of said species. It could take thousands of samples to produce it, sometimes more if the gene pool is suffering depletion or full of problematic mutations.   Once a matrix is complete, newborn eden may select it during their growth stage. While the eden can alter elements of their genetic code at any time, the matrix itself is another story. An eden using a human matrix will always appear human. That being said, it is possible to change it. It just takes enormous amounts of time and effort. Changing your matrix is also said to be extremely painful.
   
   

Biological Perfection

The matriarchal eden may look like us, but biologically they are very different. Their blood, for example, is black and penetrates almost any substance, leaving a black stain behind. It's a dense fluid of elements designed to protect them from contagious diseases and extreme radiation. It also clots and heals more efficiently compared to human blood.   Genetic matrices also leave out certain vestigial characteristics of a species. An eden using a human matrix lacks wisdom teeth, for example. They also lack tailbones and chose to leave out the appendix. Furthermore, while their organs are functionally the same, you couldn't remove a human kidney and expect it to work in an eden's body.   I recently discovered that the eden also like to mix and match various biological traits from other species, while maintaining their genetic matrix. They can add advantageous traits not found in their emulated species, such as bioluminescent skin or organs like venom sacs. They incorporate these traits into their anatomy, usually using the now empty space where vestigial traits once lingered.
Day 10: a shocking revelation...
"You have what?" I ask, my face scrunching up.   "I have three organs that store electrical charges." They reply. Fraeia points to their stomach, then continues, "I have one where your appendix would be. It produces and stores large amounts of electricity that can be discharged at any time. The result is a high voltage shock." They pause and poke the skin of their forearms. "The other two are much smaller, located between the muscles wrapped around the ulna and radius. They deliver a much lower voltage."   I want to reach out and feel for it. Why do we do that? It'll gross me out, and the thought of touching skin fills me with dread. I can't help myself, though. I start to reach out and they present their arms with a nod. I prepare myself for the sensation and rub the space in between the bones in their forearm. I feel a rounded bump, a bulge hidden deep under the skin.   I feel a sudden shock, something that's hard to describe. It hurts but I feel no pain, just a vibration as the shock seizes my muscles. On impulse, I scream, and my hand jolts back.   Fraeia drops their arms to their side. They watch me squirm for a moment, then speak through stifled laughter, "Sorry. I couldn't help myself."   I rub my fingers and hands as if to relieve the tingling sensation "Why is that even necessary?"   "As a security officer, it would be my job to subdue and transport prisoners. It also helps in hand-to-hand combat. If I was to be captured, it would offer me a weapon the enemy can't take without extreme effort, and that's if they even find out about it before I manage to escape."   I smile. "That's smart."   They nod. "It also helps for medical aid. I can resuscitate someone if their heart stops, though it's difficult to control the voltage."   I look down at their stomach then back to their eyes. "How 'high voltage' are we talking?"   "I could put you into cardiac arrest in seconds. For subjects that aren't as susceptible, I can use my body to make a circuit." Fraeia clasps their hands together as if to demonstrate. "I can deliver six hundred volts, with roughly a ten percent loss per second due to grounding."
 
We sit at a white table, sat across from one another enjoying Fraeia's latest dish. It doesn't take long for them to speak up, what now?"   "What do you mean?" I reply.   They run their hand along the back of their head and say, "It's been almost three weeks now. Do you have a plan for what comes next?"   I shake my head. "Nothing comes next. I'm stuck. Even the thought grave cant save my mother and how in the hell am I supposed to get ahold of enough antimatter to kill Gibraltar?"   They nod and smile. "I've been thinking about that."   I perk up, my voice high and full of hope. "Yeah?"   "The battleship we destroyed was the one that killed Viritine. I doubt they only brought one missile."   I shake my head again, "It wouldn't have survived the explosion."   "The missiles? No. The antimatter though?"   "You think it's just floating out in the void?"   "Of course. There isn't much for it to interact with. Where else would it go?"   I scoff. "So go back to a hostile system, harvest something we have no way of detecting or storing that could be literally anywhere, and somehow build a bomb out of it?"   "Do you have a better idea?" They ask. After a brief sigh, they continue, "I guarantee we have already taken the system back. The whole attack was an attempt to wake the grave, which backfired."   "Yes?"   They let out a lung full of air and shake their head. "I don't know. It's the best option we have."   "It may be enough," I reply. I try to be enthusiastic, hopeful even. The odds of us finding anything would be slim.   "But it won't be." They add.   I resist the urge to nod and a thought creeps In, one that breathes life back into my eyes, "Maybe we don't need the leftover antimatter at all. Maybe we can find information."   "Information?"   "If we know where the stuff is made, we don't need to harvest the scraps." I'm beaming, but the smile fades when they seem unimpressed.   "We can't assault a strategic target."   I laugh. "Or what? They'll kill you?"   "Maybe, I have no way of knowing what will kill me."   I try to work on the problem and a solution presents itself in no time at all. "A smaller target then. We find out where it's made and attack a transport. Up for a little piracy?"


Cover image: by Stefano Pollio

Comments

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Jan 24, 2022 08:32 by Catoblepon

OMG Amber how long did you go without knowing you could cook these bars? Fraeia why u so cool? AMBER THAT'S A BAD IDEA, NO PIRACY

Jan 24, 2022 08:45 by Low-Life in High Orbit

Yesss piracy!

Jan 25, 2022 01:50 by R. Dylon Elder

I second this motion.

Jan 24, 2022 12:12 by TC

Yeaaaaaah LEBHA ARTICLE! lets go! I can't believe Amber has been eating raw bricks for so long, I feel so sorry for her. Also omg YES PIRACY lets go!!!!

Creator of Arda Almayed
Feb 18, 2022 07:15 by Andrew Booth

Piracy is always the answer.

Apr 27, 2022 08:58 by Grace Gittel Lewis

Oh my god I forgot we never got an article on their biology haha. Very interesting! I wonder if there are any like, full frankenstein Eden out there? Those that don't resemble any particular species but have parts from many?   I also like the touch on the bars actually being cookable and able to be made to resemble many other dishes!

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