Friday, May 21, 2010

The Twelve Pylon-Gates of the River Senube

The River Senube flows through the very heart of Devukarsha.  It is born from a series of twelve pylon-flanked River Gates that bring the waters of twelve other worlds into Riskail, allowing them to comingle in the colossal harbor basins that feed into the staggered waterfalls that in turn cascade down into the interconnected series of municipal reservoir-lakes that then form the head of the River Senube proper.  It is a marvel of engineering that extends across more than a dozen worlds and serves as the backbone of the thriving integrated multi-world ecology that makes life possible on Riskail.

The Twelve Rivers that feed into the Senube are as follows:
  1. The Zonges, flowing from Seleucis, a world of vast continental forests made up of gigantic old growth trees and dense underferns and myriad forms of mycological colonies that erupt from the rich humus-laden soils like rounded abstract sculptures oozing with psychoactive milky-fluids.
  2. The Dordogne, flowing from Baccarin, a cold world buried beneath mega-glaciers that have expanded to completely cover-over the majority of the continents and most of the islands, save for a few volcanically active spots where ashfalls are more common than snowfall.
  3. The Eumazon, flowing from Old Kedellim, a recovering hothouse world of seemingly never ending rains and lush lagoons that twist and wind around incredibly eroded and complicated coastlines made up of thousands of isolated buttes, bluffs and heavily overgrown columns of limestone and basalt.  The rainforests of Old Kedellim change color according to the season and their bioluminescence shifts according to the position of the sun which is mostly unseen through the perpetual overcast and constant rainfall that ranges from gentle mists to torrential downpours in the space of a few minutes.
  4. The Ob-Irtyshmur, flowing from Numia, a blasted and rocky world of crevasse-jungles growing deep down to fumarole-fed springs rich in sulphur and other minerals.  All the canyons of Numia are banded and striped in alternating shades of washed-out earth-tones bleached into a distinctive soft, pale lustrousness by the hot, bright and merciless sun that rages overhead like a violent god of wrath.
  5. The Saffronoco, flowing from Ladesh, a world of immense flowers and ferns where majestic bamboo forests have adapted to fill almost every ecological niche available to them and vast mats of sea-going vegetation form incredibly varied migratory sub-ecologies that support millions of insects, crustaceans, avians and reptiles, as well as sea-going mammals.  Living airships are grown here by various monasteries, as are various evolutionarily differentiated biofactors descended from the Feral Age.
  6. The Volgongo, flowing from Veyl, a world reknowned for its many shells, layers and caverns that extend for thousands of miles below its deeply scarred, pitted and cratered outer shell-surface.  In many respects Veyl resembles Cathelia-Prime and there also seems to be some sort of conenction to Budoji as well.
  7. The Saskarrin, flowing from Aegron, a world emerging from an ice age into Monarchist rule with the WorldKing at Admeth commanding the great orbital mirrors to drive back the harsh ice favored by the Yld-tribes who now incessantly raid the coatal settlements under the protection of the various Nobles of the WorldKing's court.  Many of the younger generations choose instead to gather their followers and/or henchmen, assemble a settlement mission, hire a few professionals or guides, take up a Royal Charter and head out through the SeaGates in saucer-shaped heliprop dirigibles in order to establish their own personal freeholds and baronial estates.  So many of the best and brightest have established thriving colonies out past the SeaGates that many have begun to remark on the decline in the general state of things around Admeth, but never within hearing of the WorldKing or his secret police.
  8. The Induphrates, flowing from Sumier, a hot and humid world of vast deserts and reedy-swamps formed by the buckling of the tectonic plates which were disrupted severely during the transit of a rogue planetoid that nearly collided with Sumier in the recent geological past.  The landscape is all topsy-turvy and given to extremes in temperature variations that make life extrmely harsh here.  Only the few family-groups of Deliberate Nomads seem to have figured out how the make the best of this unforgiving terrain and deadly-spiteful environment.
  9. The Siret-Nile, flowing from Thebu-Amur, one of the Phaoronic Enclaves known for numerous criss-crossing networks of canals lined with palm trees and narrow forests or gardens, each connecting into various lakes and oasis-cisterns.  Unfortunately, there are numerous illicit burial grounds scattered through the back-country canyons dating back to the earliest Dynasties of Riskail and other worlds.  For a price the blueblooded Elothrin clans can lead you through the saltwastes or the boraxflats to find tombs, sepulchres and crypts so far unspoiled and in pristine condition, as long as the price is right.  Viromummies from Shal'Pish have been known to make pilgrimages to certain proscribed regions of this world for so far unknown and possibly unpleasant reasons.
  10. The Angari Dar'ya, flowing from Tanus, a world of equatorial badlands and fertile polar seas that are fed by hundreds of great rivers fed by the melting glaciers surrounding the arctic zones, remnants of cometary debris used in the early stages of terraforming this world just at the very brink of livability.  All the settlements and city-states of Tanus are domed and capable of sealing themselves off from the rest of the world should it ever prove necessary.
  11. The Loire, flowing from Niris-Calais, a world known for the vivid yellow leaves of its trees, the gentle rainy season in the spring of each hemisphere, and the incredible intricate lacelike series of overlapping hills that leave little if any naturally flat spaces larger than a few dozen square feet anywhere in the world.  All the roads wind back and forth in treacherous-looking switchbacks and bicyclists, Gran Prix drivers and other sporting enthusiasts flock to Niris-Calais for the various events sponsored by the little villages and isolated enclaves nestled up in the hills or down in the fertile valleys.  The wines from this world are justly famous and much sought after.
  12. The Tiber-Danube, flowing from Drucerne, a rocky world wreathed in overlapping canopies that extend outwards over the numerous small oceans and seas to create an interlocking series of living layers that reach upwards to the sunlight while leaving the waters in shadows lit by insects, glowferns, and other living things.  The steep ravines and talus-slopes of Drucerne are misleading because of all the obscuring vegetation and climbing the various high-points is both difficult and challenging to the trained athlete and suicidal for anyone else.
Each of these twelve rivers are part of their own, distinct network of interconnected River-Gates that reach back past the worlds listed above for as few as a dozen worlds and as many as hundreds if not thousands, as the Siret-Nile is alledged to flow all the way from Old Earth itself, as are the Induphrates and the Eumazon.  No registered expedition has returned from exploring/mapping the routes of these river-networks back to their sources, but several have made progress mapping and surveying the immediate regions and zones of the rivers at least part-way, some more than others.

By law the river-ways are free and to remain open to all travelers at all times.  Anyone can travel through the river-gates regardless of their social status, class, standing, wealth or affiliation.  Several smaller cults make use of this provision to maintain floating raft-colonies or shrine-boats that ply the river-ways just outside the reach of the law.  Smugglers, slavers and other unsavory types also make good use of this provision to transport their illicit wares and the like in and out of the city-states along the rivers.  Fisherfolk travel up and down one river after another along seasonal circuits and proprietary routes handed down from one generation to another in strictest secrecy so as to preserve their way of life which depends upon knowing when are the best times to harvest various plants, collect certain forms of aquatic fungi or algae, or when various species of fish or crustaceans spawn.  The Fisherfolk are wise in the ways of the twelve rivers and though they may help you find what you're looking for, you'll never be quite sure how they did it.

Each one of the Twelve River-Gates flows into its own harbor basin which stretches back behind the river-gate in a tunnelized channel that connects to a domed reservoir, crater-lake, deep cistern, series of fresh-water grottoes, or other subsidiary structure.  All of the harbor basins have docking areas for smallcraft, holding pens for various aquatic pack-beasts, and full harbor facilities for even the largest riverboats and most dirigibles and aerostats such as those commonly arriving from Aegron, Drucerne or Ladesh.

Lutrin families maintain makeshift shacks all along the inner-rims of the harbor basins and it is not uncommon to see a few Du'vallja out in the basin doing whatever it is that they do out in the dark, deep and fast-moving waters.  Venduu likewise maintain a noticeable presence in these precincts and their foam-nests and bubble-gardens are all over the place.  Venduu Bubble-Gardens are glistening biomechanical bubbles of translucent material housing specialized greenhouse-operations, carefully tended topiaries, orchid-farms and similar micro-ecologies, all watched over by Nebru, or other plant-bonded hominids who have been designed and bred by the Venduu as biocaste slaves or geneered servitors. These greenhouse blisters slowly crawl along like domesticated gargantuan slugs, clinging to various surfaces and making their idiosyncratic ways through the entire expanse of Devukarsha and the worlds beyond each of the River-Gates. Most of these structures are public access, or have facilities for hosting visitors, but a few are very strictly private.  Even headblind mammals can tell an open bubble-garden from a closed one by the pattern of their external markings; swirls and curves mean the bubble is open to visitors, harsh, angular patterns mean keep out under pain of death, and it will assuredly be painful.

Riverboats, gigantic cargo barges, autotugs, and colorfully-pennoned ferries all crowd the harbor basins.  Many transfer their cargoes onto the wharves and docks in order to return back up the river they came down on, but a few will make use of the secondary gates at the far ends of each harbor basin to move from basin to basin until they reach the particular river upon which they wish to continue their journey.  The back-channel for each basin is paved on both sides to serve as broad service roads that connect to warehouses, storehouses, and a wide array of specialized freight handling services, teamsters, couriers and so forth.

The River-Gate harbor basins form a staggered series of markets and bazaars that parallel and rival those of the waterfront districts and the floating wharves that serve the great ships that ply the seas and oceans that lie beyond the Sea Gates.  The competition between the freshwater basin-markets and the saltwater waterfront markets is fierce and at times can get more than a little heated.  The Unions are always getting called-in to mediate conflicts and grievances, sometimes to address legitimate claims. Ongoing feuds between rival alley-gangs, raids upon the warehouse districts of the more aggressive droogs and the occasional roacher-poachers out for a quick and easy score are nightly occurrences.  Dronecops patrol the common spaces and private security, mercenaries and bully-boys manage the rest.  It pays to know where you're going in these areas, as it is extremely easy to crossover from public spaces into gang territories, temporary authority zones, urfolk enclaves, droog hunting grounds, or worse.  Many people hire native guides from amongst the least objectionable urfolk or some of the harbor-tribes, mostly because their information is more certain to be accurate and up to date, while the various databases and municipal registries are woefully misleading, often on purpose.  One also has to beware of so-called tour-guides, most of whom work for the exotic meat industries.

Unlike along the seaward waterfront, the bars in the river-gate harbor-basin areas are more impromptu arrangements, most often informal affairs arranged between the brewers, vintners, or enterprising folks with a barrel or a keg and a tap or some salvaged cases of wine that they sell from their make-shift bar assembled on the spot from stacks of pallets, bales, boxes and containers until all the booze is gone, the money runs out or someone rousts them from out of their spot.  You will never drink in the same place twice in the basin districts.  Likewise there are no lodges, no inns and no hostels in the immediate vicnity of the harbor-basins.  Anyone seeking accomodations invariably needs to take a tram, trolley or gate to one of the near-by hotels, rental flats, etc.  Or you could take your chances and attempt to bribe a Lutrin family to let you sleep in their rickety shack or see if a Venduu will let you sleep-over in one of their bubble-gardens, but it's not recommended.

Hopefully you came to the harbor-basin districts armed and in at least a reasonable-sized group, especially if you're silly enough to be mucking about the place at night.  The roachers are notorious for abducting stray travelers for ransom or dinner and there are numerous other, less friendly types who only come out to do business in the dark or during certain obscure configurations of the moons phases.  It is best to just simply avoid the alleys and rampways of the basins at night, unless you belong there, have grown up there, or just don't care.  It's a dangerous place for the unwary, uninvited or uninitiated.

I'm wrapping-up work on a set of tables for encounters in the harbor-basin districts and another set of tables for random boats and cargoes that can be encountered.  Each of the River-Gates and the worlds beyond them will be detailed, much like how Thebu-Amur already has been, though I plan on coming back to that one in due course and detailing it a bit more.  Just detailing some of the types of resources and cargoes that come through each world via the River-Gates would be interesting.  The Lutrin, Nebru, Venduu, roachers and droog-gangs will also get their own write-ups shortly.

Whatever you do, don't drink anything at Alex's Milk Bar.  Even if it's on the house.  Especially if it's on the house.


  1. Horrorshow stuff.

    I'm picturing the harbour basins as a cross between Hellenistic-era Rhodes, the terraformed Mars of KRS and Space:1889 fame, and the world-hopping farcaster river from Dan Simmon's Hyperion series.

  2. Hi Chris--the Rhodes connection is brilliant as I do have a series of Colossi-arcologies stradling or flanking each of the major basin flowage-grilles, much like the ancient colossus of Rhodes. I didn't have the illo ready, so I held-off on talking about them as they feature in one of the stories that's about to go up at Riskail.

    What's KRS? Someone else was telling me to read Simmon's stuff; is it any good? Blair has suggested Gene Wolfe's stuff and I haven't gotten to it yet, so if you say that Simmons is worthwhile, I'll see if I can pick up some of his stuff for after Wolfe...I still have 98 Nick Carter paperbacks to wade through this summer...

  3. KRS = Kim Stanley Robinson. Sorry. I had a bit of a brainburp while typing that last comment, and didn't go back over it to add his actual name. I was thinking of his Red/Green/Blue Mars trilogy.

    Simmon's Hyperion (book 1 of the eponymous quartet), and his Ilium and Olympos might be worth your time.


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