The space elevator dominated the main viewing port; it consisted of two massive black tethers suspended from a large space port in geosynchronous orbit. On either side of the elevator were two titanic Quin'tel vessels which were obviously capitol ships—they were all flashy angles and gleaming gold, defying all basic engineering principles in a display which indicated only one thing: We have the kind of power at our disposal that we don't need to be practical.Flashing lights all along each tether warned others of their presence, as they were otherwise invisible to the naked eye. Winterborn was astounded at the sight of the elevator, not because it was an astonishing alien technology, but rather because it wasn't. Each planet in the Terran Dominion had at least one similar in size and design to this one. Gaia, herself, had several, allowing for multiple points from which cargo and personnel could be transported from space to ground and vice versa. She was merely surprised to see the same technology so far from home.
She supposed that the engineering principals behind the structure were such that there was very limited room for experimentation and improvement. After all, the concept was relatively simple—instead of expelling massive amounts of energy to brute-force your way out of the atmosphere, you simply borrowed the energy from something you wanted to bring down to the surface anyway. If you wanted to go up, load the other line with a weight heavier than that of the car you're on. Want the opposite? Do the opposite. Of course, you would need to help it along with massive brakes, motors, and even emergency thrusters, but the basic idea was ultimately quite simple. The result seemed to be that the Quin'tel and Humanity had experienced a convergent evolution in technology.
They docked smoothly, the elevator latching onto the craft in a seamless, obviously routine motion. The elevator lowered the shuttle through the atmosphere deceptively fast, cutting through the outer atmosphere at over six hundred kph. Winterborn watched the descent in fascination. Cities that could just barely be seen behind the cover of extremely dense jungle were sprawled out over the landscape. The skyscrapers, were, in part, crafted to resemble the dense foliage surrounding them. The forest, itself, was all-encompassing, stretching out for thousands of miles, only split by a large network of rivers and lakes.
Gul'bres stepped up beside her, looking wistfully out at his ancestral home. "Beautiful, isn't it?"
Winterborn nodded, smiling. "Your home world is breathtaking."
"Yes, yes it is. All of my people love and revere this planet—even if they've never actually stepped foot here."
"It's much the same with Earth," she said. "Many never actually make the journey to see the birthplace of Humanity, but they all wish to. Deep in our hearts, there's a longing."
Gul'bres let out a crackling exhalation of breath, sounding like the static of a poor communication link. The translation subroutine downloaded into her neural implant informed her that the Quin'tel was sighing wistfully.
"When all of this is under your rule, I hope you will be a steward of this place. This, more than anything, is the heart of my people."
Winterborn looked away from the sprawling jungle to look Gul'bres in his slitted eyes. "You have my word on that, Gul'bres. I will do everything in my power to ensure your home is well-kept. Tell me, would your people prefer for the Capitol planet to be moved from Quin'tel? I'm sure we could find a planet around to establish my people on, we could eventually make that the seat of power in the Empire."
Gul'bres hissed, actually hissed, at the suggestion. "No, we would not prefer such an action. The Empire has stood for a thousand years, and through it all Quin'tel has been the seat of power."
She raised her hands in a warding gesture. "That's fine by me, it was just a thought. Though, I think that I will aim to have a planet colonized; it would be nice to have a center of Human culture in the region."
Gul'bres visibly relaxed, no longer looking like a deer caught in the headlights.
Winterborn gestured around the shuttle at the foliage surrounding them. "Do your people always prefer to live in a jungle environment? I've notice that all of your ships and shuttles tend to be laid out to look much like your home world."
Gul'bres nodded in the Human fashion. "Well, yes and no. Most Quin'tel—almost all Quin'tel—only feel at home surrounded by the plants of home. There are however those who live, and have always lived in one of the few deserts on the planet. They mostly keep to themselves however, and we don't try very hard to bridge the gap."
"Social pariahs, then?" she asked.
Again, he nodded. "Exactly. They have strange ideas and even stranger personalities. As long as they provide taxes to the Empire, we leave them alone altogether."
"Are they space-capable?"
Gul'bres chittered in surprise. "Of course. They are Quin'tel. Though they very rarely venture out of their deserts, they do occasionally travel to other worlds to exchange goods. They have also fairly recently started a colony on Des'bre, a desert world in a nearby star system."
"I obviously have a lot to learn...so many different people, so many subcultures on top of those."
"You will come into your own, I know that. Remember though, no one expects you to learn everything. You have aides, diplomats, and computer systems to assist you. The mark of a good leader isn't being able to do everything yourself, but rather picking the right people for the jobs at hand."
"The mark of a good leader is the ability to delegate, I agree. Still, I need to at least learn the name of each species in the Empire. You should always be willing to sacrifice time and effort in the pursuit of better serving the people under your command. After all, why should people sacrifice for me if I don't do the same for them?"
Gul'bres nodded slowly. "I am glad that you were chosen for this honor, Prime. It has been a long time since our people have been ruled under such ideals."
"Don't thank me yet. The die may have been cast, but it hasn't stopped rolling. We have enemies on Quin'tel, of that we can be sure."
Gul'bres nodded slowly, sinking into his thoughts. Winterborn turned back to see the rapidly approaching junglescape. They stood together quietly for the rest of the trip, admiring the beautiful scenery.
The shuttle locked into a disembarkation platform. A walkway extended from both the shuttle and platform to form a bridge. Winterborn stepped out, flanked by two security officers as well as Gul'bres and two other Quin'tel.
She could feel the heat on her face and hands; the temperature was staggering. Despite the heat, she ultimately felt comfortable due to the cooling effect of the biomesh suit they had donned before shipping out.
"What exactly are these bridges made out of?" she asked Gul'bres.
"Nanites, they are able to mold themselves into various shapes at our need. They are actually molding a polymer with special properties, mainly being that the nanites can shape them with minimal energy expenditure," he answered.
Winterborn paused at the end of the bridge, waiting for her officers to join them.
"What do you use for powering the nanites?" she asked.
"We use the energy from antimatter engines. We project that electricity out in a field around the generators. We've developed a way to shape that energy field extremely precisely, so there is very little waste."
Commander Val stepped off of the bridge, also flanked by two security officers. She was followed by Ava, looking to Winterborn like a fish out of water. Though Winterborn reflected, I suppose that's what we all look like, I'll wager.After they were all out, a Quin'tel approached the group at the head of a delegation of two-dozen or so others. He was richly clothed, bedecked in brilliant red and gold; the clothes looked to be made out of something similar to silk. Each of his claws were covered with intricate gem work, platinum, and gold. Winterborn instantly disliked him.
The Quin'tel bowed his head only very slightly. According to Ren'brus, this would be considered an insult to someone who stood to wear the crown. He had just acknowledged her as an equal, a deadly insult indeed. Despite that Winterborn was pleased, if she didn't have to deal with everyone kowtowing this trip might not be so tedious. Her hopes were dashed as the rest of the Quin'tel dropped to the ground, prostrating themselves before her. It took every ounce of will she had to not to groan in frustration.
"I am Vor'tel, the Second to Sin'tel. He bade me come to greet his usurper."
Winterborn looked him up and down, reaching out a hand for him to shake. "I'm Willow Winterborn. It's nice to meet you."
"I'm quite sure it's nice for you," he responded sarcastically. "You can follow us, we have a train car waiting for you to board."
Winterborn stole a look at Gul'bres, he looked incensed, as if he had personally been dealt insult. Winterborn placed her hand on his shoulder, reassuring him. It seemed to work, his agitation falling away from him in spades. They followed the Second, walking towards the treeline. They came upon what looked like a game trail, but eventually linked up with enough such paths that it created a proper road.
Winterborn was just wondering exactly where they were going, when they came to a large clearing. A large building stood in the center, alien writing flashing on the screen. Again, the translation subroutines did their job—the signs indicated that this train would take them directly to the capitol.