Media of Kalgachia
The media of Kalgachia is resourced and managed by the Directorate of Education and Outreach, with specialist input from other authorities. Although a rigorous editorial control is exercised with regard to coverage of the deepest Kalgachi leadership, the relative absence of commercial pressures allows for a wide diversity of artistic and experimental content in other areas which often strays into the outright avant garde, as well as a subtle but persistent input from the Troglodyti for whom the Kalgachi media complex is the primary means to memetically cultivate the population through symbolic invocation and subliminal messaging.
Both radio and television are broadcast through NVIS propagation on the HF spectrum, bouncing signals off the ionosphere to reach Kalgachia's many deep valleys from above. This also has the advantage of negating foreign radio interference by using the sub-Lambertian specularity of ionospheric radio propagation as a filter which allows transmitter sources nearer the ionospheric surface normal - i.e. those within Kalgachia - to prevail over the shallow-angle backscatter of radio jammers further afield with a fraction of the transmitter power. Although jammers located directly adjacent to the Kalgachi frontier can negate this advantage, they cannot precisely overlay the target signal's specular highlight on the ionosphere which is determined by the incident angle of the source and can be isolated from surrounding interference by appropriately directed high-gain receiver antennae.
National Editorial Guidelines
The tendency of Kalgachia's journalistic and creative caste to push the boundaries of free speech, and unpredictable interventions against them by the Prefects, have necessitated the publication of National Editorial Guidelines (NEGs) by the DEO to prevent unnecessary and often fatal misunderstandings. The NEGs are as follows:
The following are prohibited in all cases:
- Criticism of Kalgachi authorities deeper than Pay Grade 11 of the Chthonarchotrix, or their decisions.
- Questioning the ideal of a unified Kalgachi people represented by a single maximally-sovereign nation state, except in the context of its enhancement.
- Promotion of ideologies proscribed by the Oktavyan Code.
- Criticism of the Lords Protector.
- Release of information exclusive to authorised initiates of the Troglodyti or the Umbra.
- Release of information concerning classified operations of the Kalgachi Defence Force, the Prefects or security organs of the Church of Kalgachia.
- Release of information pertaining to the identities, activities or locations of the Perfecti.
- Release of information pertaining to the location or operation of surface access routes to Lapivril.
The following are to be submitted to the All-Bureaux Editorial Board of the DEO for review and approval before publication or transmission:
- Criticism of Kalgachia's trading partners.
- Information supporting the hostile narratives of Kalgachia's foreign adversaries.
- Information concerning unclassified operations of the Kalgachi Defence Force, The Prefects or security organs of the Church of Kalgachia.
- Information concerning military technology or tactics, the electromagnetic sciences, chemical engineering or microbiology.
- Deconstruction of the established creeds and cosmology of the Church of Kalgachia.
- Statistics for birth defects among the Nezeni or deaths incurred by Tee-als.
- Information restricted by foreign powers.
It is worth noting that these restrictions do not apply to Kalgachia's protectorates which are responsible for their own censorship regime and, while ultimately answerable to the Council of Perfecti, have a more distant threshold for intervention by the latter against questionable media output. Some amateur publishers and pirate radio stations (the latter prevalent in Northbloom) have been known to exploit the resulting loopholes; those most careful about the use of provocative content have established a respectable circulation and listenership throughout the wider Kalgachi Garden.
The Snowflake Banner
The official state journal, based in Oktavyan. Mainly concerned with the gazetting of government orders and tame editorials explaining their place within wider state policy. Some of the latter pieces are rumoured to be authored by the Perfecti themselves, although the rumour itself is said to be a ploy by the editorial staff to increase the circulation of their sober-toned publication.
A tabloid publication, also based in Oktavyan. As well as its bawdy eviscerations of foreign personalities, Private Ear enjoys an unusual freedom to pillory certain figures of the Kalgachi state and church, such selective character assassinations apparently serving as a means for those authorities to throw their own dissenters under the bus. The appearance of one's name anywhere in this publication is considered to be a career-ending event.
The official journal of the Kalgachi Defence Force, analysing military developments across Benacia and passing on various messages from the KDF command. The Crampon is popular among enlisted soldiers for its 'Wench of the Week' full-colour pin-up centrefold, and the 'Brass Farce' readers column featuring anonymous parodies, criticisms and rants against named officers subject to their political vulnerability a la Private Ear.
The Inner Light
The official publication of the Church of Kalgachia, traditionally leading with a transcript of the latest sermon from the Cathedral of Heaven's Conquest in Oktavyan. The Inner Light also examines innovations by the provincial clergy and the entire back half is devoted to agony columns lending wholesome advice to spiritually-anguished readers.
The medical journal of the Directorate of Health and Public Walfare, its title alluding to the less-than-complete resourcing of Kalgachi medical services in the nation's early days. The Hacksaw is distributed to all hospitals and clinics, with a relatively small readership on account of its impenetrably academic descriptions of advances in Kalgachi medicine, not to mention vividly-detailed photographs of certain procedures which are unsuitable for delicate stomachs.
A publication exclusively devoted to crosswords and other brain puzzles, each copy issued with a pencil to complete them. Rumoured to be controlled by the Troglodyti who incorporate their sigil workings into the puzzles' geometry and use winners of the publication's regular competitions as a recruitment pool.
A Yiddish language publication based in the Lieutenancy of Bergburg. An unusually large section of this publication is occupied by the 'Letters to the Editor' column, wherein readers engage in vociferous debates with each other across a span of years, on subjects mainly pertaining to the process and implications of Judeo-Minarboreal-Ketherist syncresis. The back three pages are assigned to mathematical and chess problems for readers to solve.
National station for news, analysis and documentaries.
National station for classical music, literary/poetic recitations and opera.
National station for popular/folk music and entertainment.
Religious affairs station controlled by the Church of Kalgachia. Of similar format to The Inner Light newspaper, albeit more fiery and eschatological in tone.
Berg-Kol (Mountain Voice)
Yiddish language station featuring news from the Bergburg region, incredibly long dissertations by Ketherist Kohanim and even longer telephone debates between listeners.
Radio Jolly Benacia
For foreign consumption. Focused on the daily life and culture of Kalgachia and neighbouring states. Lacks overtly political or religious content. Popular for its music shows.
National channel for news and documentary programming. Main programmes include:
Primetime news programme anchored by Chap Nosebest and Ruth Gevaltsbringer.
Investigative current affairs feature where hardened journalists explore all manner of things from foreign warzones to the corruption of officials at home. Much like Private Ear, the producers of Mudslide enjoy the apparent protection of Kalgachi authorities in freely scrutinising the 'right' people.
Documentary series following members of different Kalgachi professions. The episodes Tee-al Taxidermist, Diplomat and Whirdlebirb Pilot have been the most popular, whereas others like Froyalaner Gelder have been less well received. (The production of one episode, Arcanist, was beset by so many spontaneous technical difficulties and unexplained crew deaths, and forced by DEO censors to cut so much material from its running time, that it had to be cancelled before airing. It is rumoured that fragmentary scraps of raw footage shot for the episode can be obtained from certain stallholders at Oktavyan's Deferment Flea Market).
Their Garden and Yours
Interview programme featuring senior state figures from the deeper half of the Chthonarchotrix, down to and including the Lords Lieutenant. Televisual equivalent of the Snowflake Banner newspaper.
Filler material for schedule gaps, technical failures or periods of national emergency, comprising stock footage of Kalgachi life set to calming music without commentary; goatherds driving their flock, wood-gas tractors tilling the soil, children playing, shrubs rustling, assorted street scenes, long drives through the mountains, lumberjacks at work, Ketherist processionals and passion plays, duck ponds etc.
National channel for arts, theatre, operatic and other high cultural programming. Main programmes include:
Shows arthouse movies from Kalgachia and abroad.
Live coverage of Kalgachi operatic performances at the Boyright Festival Theatre in Katarsis, such as The Afflictions of Mors Nerrolar and Savage Garden.
Philosophical round table show in which invited academics discuss the nature of the Micran social, spiritual and parapolitical morass and Kalgachia's place within it.
Game show built around tenuous pattern-matching far beyond the cognitive ability of the average viewer and produced with a suspiciously incongruent Kemetic graphical theme. Suspected to be another tool for the monitoring/recruitment of contestants by the Troglodyti. Hosted by Jovienne Zaftig.
National channel for drama, entertainment and sports programming. Main programmes include:
Popular music show, combining performances with performer interviews.
One Man and his Goat
Coverage of the interminable qualifiers, heats and tournament rounds of the All-Kalgachi Goatherd Trials, held each year in Katarsis. Popular with what the DEO politely terms 'viewers of provincial taste', although the occasional cryptic reference to inbreeding and/or improper relations with the goats themselves does make its way into the commentary.
Gritty alternative-history drama series in which Kalgachia has fallen under foreign military occupation. Set in and around the fictional Kalgachi town of Dratsburg, it follows a band of Church partisans led by Credent Profundus Trubelsky and his Proctor, Bert Gardenhoe, as they engage in a life and death game of cat and mouse against the forces of the deranged and sadistic occupation governor, Oscar Whirlydanger. The earliest episodes depict a Shirerithian occupation followed by a Unified Governorates regime, itself superceded by an invasion of Amokolian Froyalaners in which Whirlydanger defects to the new regime and finds his proclivity for ultraviolence gradually transmuted into an all-consuming sexual depravity.
The Lot of a Lichnik
Classic action detective series based on the memoirs of Kazimir Harkavin, following two officers of the Minarborian Lichniki as they unravel and thwart crimes against the undead.
Arithmedarts-based game show in which contestants play several rounds of 'Town Rules' for a selection of modest prizes, with the choice to exchange them all for the chance to win a much better prize with a round of 'Gown Rules'.
Horse racing coverage from meetings throughout Kalgachia with odds updates, tips and assorted equine commentary.
Domestic gardening show hosted by expert Deep Singer and Nezeni horticulturalists with an emphasis on combining aesthetic beauty with vegetable yield in forest, alpine and underground conditions. Occasionally addresses the care of small livestock such as chickens, ducks and goats.
Religious affairs station, broadcasting live services from churches across Kalgachia and theological analyses by senior clergy. Also provides news and general documentary programming on affairs under the Church's authority such as provincial economics, judicial matters and partisan warfare.
Military affairs station, broadcasting in short bursts during barrack messing times. Broadcasts begin with a recitation of the KDF command's standing orders and other administrative news followed by a roundup of the strategic military situation on the Benacian continent. Concludes with a cinematic feature, the most popular being imported Jingdaoese action serials.
Look and Learn
Educational programming for broadcast to schools (in the morning) colleges (in the afternoon) and universities (through the night).
Although only receivable in Kalgachia and its immediate limitrophes, this station does not appear on public television listings and Kalgachi authorities refuse to confirm or deny involvement in it, although the occupants of some senior positions are said to be profoundly unnerved by its existence. It appears and disappears from the air at random intervals and frequencies, sometimes overpowering another channel. The station is devoid of branding or continuity and consists entirely of random, sparsely worded and inexplicable scenes with a consistent theme of what Kalgachi arcanists call 'entropic gradients' - namely events of a traumatic or catastrophic nature such as wartime bombardments, mass executions, natal miscarriages, violent accidents, rapes and murders. The scenes depict an assortment of historical periods and geographic locations throughout the Benacian continent, although in some scenes these locations and times are implausibly mixed together. The most popular speculations for the station's purpose are DEO broadcast tests, arcane workings of the Troglodyti, electronic psyops by Shireroth, or the collective trauma of Benacia's violent past spontaneously leaking onto the RF spectrum in a 405-line television format. All attempts at public research of the phenomenon have been suppressed and/or classified.
The Kalgachi film industry is divided between a series of large studios operating in specific Marches or Directorates and concerned with specific categories such as experimental arthouse, documentary, training, public information, etc. The most successful studios are:
- Schlepfilm of Schlepogora, specialising in historical epics, period dramas and action films.
- BergSci of Bergburg, specialising in science fiction and set/effects-heavy productions.
- Lithead Associated Filmmakers (LitAF) of Lithead, specialising in high drama and inventive cinematography.
These studios have produced a number of memorable films over the years, such as:
Where Mangos Dare
A Shirerithian S.W.O.R.D. special forces team is sent on a mission to infiltrate a KDF fortress and kidnap one of the engineers for the Neaptide Gravimetric Countermeasure System. Although the team is briefed that Shirerithian deep-cover agents will assist their entry, the contacts turn out to be non-existent - the team find that their planned rendevous point with the agents is located in a minefield in front of the target fortress. The ensuing explosion, security alert and firefight kills everyone except the team's commander, known only as "the Prime", who is seperated from his men in the confusion and finds an escape route by chance. Realising that the mission was planned from the start to kill him and his team by careerist elements of his command who want to eliminate him as competition, he rules out surrender and sets out to escape Kalgachia, re-infiltrate Shireroth and avenge the deaths of his comrades. After a series of action-packed scrapes, he reaches the home of his commander, a man known only as "Ops", only to find that his arrival was expected. Being quicker to the draw and holding up the Prime at pistol point, Ops asks him which was the greater crime - the planning of the suicide mission, or the the Prime's own pathetically naive trust in the Shirerithian bureaucracy? He advises the Prime to ponder the matter on his way to Balgurd as he levels his weapon at the man's heart. Upon the Prime pointedly asking if his long service and loyalty to the Kaiser counted for anything, Ops casually replies "no" and pumps him with bullets to the closing credits.
Where Mangos Dare was the first film to attain mass popularity in Kalgachia, beating The Lot of a Lichnik which had topped cinema ratings since before the fall of Minarboria. Much of the film's attraction and critical acclaim comes from its unusually sympathetic portrayal of a Shirerithian soldier, even as he fights Kalgachi troops and partisans - scenes which caused riots in some Kalgachi parishes during the film's initial release. The Prime was originally scripted to defeat Ops, but a series of test screenings with alternate endings revealed that the audiences related more closely with the Prime's defeat at the final moment - his demise being considered an allegory for the plight of the Shirerithian people, enyoked by an ancient and uncaring archonic force which murders its bravest minions and beats the rest into learned helplessness. The scenic cinematography, character casting and soundtrack also inspired positive reviews.
While reasonably popular in Nova England, attempts to market the film in other foreign countries have met with mixed results.
The Good, The Bad And The Shrubly
Set during the late collapse of Minarboria. Dissitor Sporonin, a six-nostrilled Deep Singer and mendicant cleric of the Minarborian church, has the unfortunate luck to enter a village just as it is being sacked by the horsemen of the Rukovod Brotherhood, a pack of murderous Laqi highwaymen masquerading as a cossack host. In the middle of the carnage and plunder, seemingly ignored by the sabre-swinging brigands galloping past, Sporonin sees a very young girl pulling a toy trailer through the village with a quiet determination. The trailer carries some kind of round object with an uneven surface, covered by a bedsheet. Sporonin hastens to assist the girl out of danger, and to his surprise he notices that she is a lich - her undeath at such a young age being a clear violation of Minarborian custom. The girl introduces herself as Vascarina Goldcluck, and on the road out of the village she explains her predicament - she had long ago been murdered and reanimated to undeath by her parents as part of a botched and illicit necromantic ritual, run away from home and eventually been rescued by the agents of the Minarborian Empress - the notorious Lichniks. The Minarborian authorities had sent her - and the stuffed toy raven called 'Birdy' which serves as her phylactery - into residential care at the 'Little Gardeners' Home for the Prematurely Transmogrified, a pleasant beachside institution in southern Lywall (these events famously covered in the most acclaimed 'The Lot of a Lichnik' episode - 'The Case of the Scampering Lichling'). But she explains to Sporonin that she had been forced to flee the home, to escape a similar raid to the one now razing the village behind them to ashes.
Then Vascarina makes an astounding claim - that during her wandering through the village, the Rukovod Brotherhood had been sighted racing toward it and she had been approached in some haste by lavishly-dressed and obviously senior officials of the Minarborian church. Addressing her in visible distress, Vascarina claims, they had begged her to take custody of someone very important - none other than Minarbor himself, the divine namesake shrub of the Minarborian Empire, recently evacuated from the Minarborian capital as it fell into chaos and disorder. Moreover that the holy officials had explained that Minarbor had led Vascarina to this place, for he had chosen her alone from among the faithful millions to escort him to safety in 'His Special Garden', and politely requested of his companions that he be transferred to her care. Now, Vascarina claims, he is riding in her toy trailer on top of her meagre possessions, and is covered by the bedsheet because he is 'shy'. Naturally Sporonin is sceptical of Vascarina's story, and asks to take a look under the bedsheet. Vascarina violently refuses to let him do so, and advises him never to ask again lest the resultant discord offend the shrub within - she also appears intensely protective of her stuffed toy raven. Sporonin, assuming the girl has been pushed into mental derangement by her experiences, plays along with her apparent delusions and changes the subject at the first oppurtunity.
As the evening draws in, Sporonin hears the thunder of approaching hooves on the road behind. Realising the Rukovod horsemen are coming again, he tells Vascarina to run and hide while he turns around and does his best to distract the horsemen with a request for water - but instead of being engaged in conversation, Sporonin is surrounded by the horsemen and cudgelled unconscious.
He wakes up in the ruins of a church with the leader of his assailants, Rukovod himself, surrounded by his henchmen. Rukovod explains that they had captured some senior clergy and while being violently shaken down for liturgical ornaments these holy men had attempted an appeal to Rukovod's piety and explained that they were escorting Minarbor himself. Rukovod, tantalised by Minarbor's value in legitimising his control over the local area, had demanded to know where the shrub was, and after a suitably savage beating one of the clerics had finally named the little lich girl before being sarcastically condemned for his treachery, summarily executed and kicked into a ditch. One of the search parties had duly apprehended Sporonin, Rukovod explains, and now his physical integrity depends on sharing any information he might have about the undead child. Sporonin feigns ignorance but Rukovod persists, his henchmen beating Sporonin into a bloody and toothless mess over several hours. Sporonin resolutely fails to divulge anything useful, however - Rukovod and his men eventually leave Sporonin for dead and ride out of the village in search of new plunder.
Compelled to find Vascarina again, both for her own safety and the examination of her newly-legitimised claim to Minarbor, Sporonin patches himself up with torn strips of his own sackcloth robe and stumbles determinedly out of the ruined village. He finds Vascarina in a thicket not far from where he left her, and they continue walking once more. Sporonin asks her where she intends to go, and she explains that Minarbor has planted the image of his 'Special Garden' in her mind and politely requested her to keep looking around until she finds it. When they arrive, she explains, all three of them will be safe. In the meantime, however, she still refuses to let Sporonin see the rustling object under her sheet-covered trailer.
Suddenly horsemen emege from all directions and surround them, followed up by a grimacing Rukovod. Confronted with a choice of shrub or child to shield from imminent assault, Sporonin asks Minarbor's forgiveness and stands in front of Vascarina. Rukovod rides up and chides Sporonin for his carelessness, explaining that he had been tailed out of the village by Rukovod's scouts and unwittingly led them straight to girl and shrub. Promising to personally slay both Sporonin and Vascarina in a few short moments, Rukovod dismounts and goes to the little covered trailer. He draws his femur-handled sabre and slashes the bedsheet open - but it falls flat, revealing nothing underneath. Whatever was holding it up, be it a shrub or not, has gone.
Rukovod and his men look at each other in confusion, and it becomes obvious that they have suddenly forgotten why they are there. Looking Sporonin and Vascarina up and down, Rukovod notes that they have nothing worth taking and re-mounts his horse, leading all of his men away. Unaffected by this sudden memory loss, Sporonin asks where Minarbor has gone. Vascarina closes her eyes, laughs, says that she can see Minarbor in his 'Special Garden', and that their job is done. She begins skipping around the empty trailer with joy - as she does so, Sporonin is shocked to notice she has changed. Her complexion has become perfectly healthy, her jet black hair has become soft brown and she is, by all appearances, alive again. The toy raven cradled in her arms has become a real thing of feathers and blinking eyes, and is cawing softly. The film closes with a lingering shot of her silhouette skipping into the sunset, the raven flying circles above her head and Sporonin stumbling behind in bewilderment, as the credits roll.
The Good, The Bad And The Shrubly is essentially a retelling of the 'Goldcluck Theory', the assertion of a certain faction of Ketherist theologians that the notorious Minarborian child welfare case simply known as 'V', on whom Vascarina Goldcluck was based in The Lot of a Lichnik, was chosen by the divine shrub Minarbor to escort him safely out of the physical world and in return was miraculously returned to life, sparing her from the late-Minarborian necromantic energy collapse and giving her a chance to try her luck as a grown adult, lost among the innumerable and largely-unknown individual stories of those in the ungoverned Benacian interior. The Goldcluck Theory, and the film on which it is based, offers some closure regarding what happened to Minarbor after the collapse of his namesake empire - whether or not the theory is true, its allure is mostly responsible for the success of The Good, The Bad And The Shrubly in the cinemas of Kalgachia and those other ex-Minarborian jurisdictions able to screen it through state mercy or private subterfuge.
How The Garden Was Grown
How The Garden Was Grown is a five-part epic tracing the fortunes of the Lypserva family, originally from Shirerithian Lywind, as they experience the entire history of Minarboria and the birth of Kalgachia. Noted for its gratuitous and lingering 'scenery porn', its rip-roaring soundtrack and its considerable length, How The Garden Was Grown approached Where Mangos Dare in box office takings and may yet surpass it in re-screenings - owing to its content, segments of the film are often used for history lessons in Kalgachi schools.
The Landing of the Black Rangers
At home in Lywind, Hoppin Lypserva fumes at the Shirerithian Kaiser's collective punishment of his homeland for the sins of another by forced reduction of political autonomy. Having already invested his life's savings into a development bond for the colonisation of Neridia and lost it all when the Shirerithian government cancelled the project, Hoppin falls in with a band of similarly-diaffected mercenaries known as the Black Rangers who are planning to renounce their fealty to the Shirerithian throne and join a secret project of Lyssansa, Princess of Lywind, to rescue the abandoned colonists of Neridia and join them in a new venture in Benacia's ungoverned west - this time under their own sovereign banner. Under their skilled but intensely dour commander, Colonel Mors Nerrolar of the ancient House of Mortis, Hoppin's unit embarks on a tramp steamer and sets sail into the stormy Cosimo Sea.
Reaching their destination and going ashore at the colonial vanguard, the unit runs into a large population of Laqi brigands who have controlled the area since the demise of Ashkenatza. Heavily outnumbered in the ensuing firefight and beaten back toward the shore, Hoppins' unit is cut off from Colonel Nerrolar's main force and has its own commander killed. Taking charge of the few men remaining, Hoppins offers them a simple choice - crawl back to their Shirerithian oppressors in disgrace, or make last a stand on the beach and die with honour. The man are rallied by his words and dig in. The resumption of the Laqi counterattack is fierce and prolonged, but Hoppin's men keep hold of a narrow strip of beach until, when all hope seems lost, the intensity of the battle draws the main force of Black Rangers - led personally by Colonel Nerrolar - to relieve them with a devastating attack on the Laqis' flank. Quietly commending Hoppin for his initiative and courage after the Laqis are routed, Colonel Nerrolar promotes him on the spot. Agreeing that their new land has been purchased fair and square with the blood of their comrades and its abandonment can no longer be countenanced, Nerrolar and Hoppin regroup the Black Rangers to push inland once more.
The Emergence of the Tee-al
Hattie Lypserva is a dreadnettle seed collector living at a remote outstation in northern Whisperwood, an unmodified outsider in the Minarborian heartland of the Deep Singers. Having recently lost her husband to an ill-fated brush with one of the deadly plants, she struggles to raise her three sons alone while avoiding a stinging demise herself. One morning she is woken by a frenzied knock at the door - a passing group of soldiers, many of them injured, are retreating from an approaching specimen of Tyrannocricetus aliger. Hattie flatly refuses the soldiers' advice to flee with them, admonishes them for upsetting her children and vows never to leave the land where her husband is buried. She is thrown a Fischer-Preiss carbine with a single grenade and wished good luck by the soldiers, who leave to resume their retreat.
The Tee-al soon comes thundering into the dreadnettle plantation, its thick armoured skin immune to the plants' poison. Hattie tells two of her sons to carry the third, who is sick and bedridden, and hide themselves in nearby woods while she distracts the wandering beast. After the Tee-al rips the timber plantation house to pieces, Hattie users her light weapons to distract it from following her children. After making a few enraged charges and mauling Hattie in the process, the Tee-al eventually takes hold of her by impaling her legs with its foreclaws. Helpless to free herself and resigned to her fate, Hattie hallucinates the faces of her hiding children and realises they will be next. As she is dragged aloft towards the Tee-al's gaping long-toothed jaws, she reaches for a nearby clump of dreadnettles and uproots them with her bare hands. The blood in her arms crystallises within seconds, but as she is stuffed into the Tee-al's mouth she uses the last of her strength to ram the dreadnettle clump beneath the beast's tongue. It flings Hattie away, stumbling and eventually rolling over dead as its own already-viscous blood is fatally crystallised within seconds. Hattie, meanwhile, is lying on the ground as her own dreadnettle poison and blood loss takes hold. her twitching slows and stops as she dies in the dirt.
There is a jump cut from her corpse to her freshly-filled grave, attended by her three children and a Minarborian Church Irrigator. As he finishes his burial rite, the elder of the sons - a young adolescent by the name of Brawni - walks away from the grave and picks up his mother's Fischer-Preiss which is leaning against a nearby tree. He checks it is loaded, slings it onto his shoulder and advances up the road with vengeance in his eyes.
The Jollification of the Kossars
Brawni Lypserva, the son from the previous instalment - now undead - has joined the ranks of the Karymovka Host, the notorious unit of Minarborian lich cossacks. Having distinguished himself on Tee-al containment operations over many years, he is chosen to ride with the Host on a new venture - the expansion of Minarboria's territory into the lawless Ashkenatzi west. Outside a little village called Bergburg the lich cossacks meet their match in the descendants of Ashkenatza's legendary Volhyrian Kossars, whose skill as fighting horsemen is similarly accomplished. After a series of inconclusive skirmishes, the advance of the liches grinds to a halt until Brawni, infiltrating Bergburg in the disguise of an itinerant undead tradesman to gather intelligence, discovers the weakness of the locals to acts of strategic bribery. He reports his findings to his commander, the dissonantly gentle Zemphirius Karymov, who sends a wagon train full of assorted treasure into Bergburg as a goodwill gesture and ends the village's resistance at a stroke. When the lich cossacks finally enter Bergburg and meet their Kossar counterparts on cordial terms, they begin to realise how much they have in common. The advance of the lich cossacks eventually continues westward, with Bergburg's Kossars at their side.
The Harvestfall Revolution
Speki Lypserva, a lich student in the university town of &zeter, plays along with lich society's polite denials of the rumour that Minarboria's necromantic ley lines - the animating source of the empire's undead ruling class - are withering away. Deep inside, however, Speki feels a progressive torpor creeping up on him and knows the rumour to be true. Seeking validation, he joins the Argophylacterists - a political sect composed of similarly-sluggish liches who are advocating the engineered dormancy of the Minarborian state to conserve its limited energy. Speki's brother, Hornitt, is also a lich and a loyal supporter of the Minarborian Empress at that - he is disgusted by the Argophylacterists' street rallies and overall ideology, which dares to contest high society's received wisdom that Minarboria's undead elders, and the arcane infrastructure they built, have long since aged beyond the threshold of fallibility. He joins the Blue Hundreds, a loyalist organisation established to counter-protest the Argophylacterists amid &zeter's dreaming spires.
Although aware of each other's political leanings and sharing certain tensions as a result, the brothers are unaware of each other's active involvement until &zeter's two factions erupt into all-out street violence which sprawls out of control as the Minarborian imperial police, the Reapers, are by that point too energetically weakened to mobilise in sufficient numbers. As the city is consumed by chaos, the brothers are seperated from each other. Eventually the Argophylacterists prevail - Speki is present to watch the Argophylacterist leader, Albede Yastreb, announce his control of the city to an excitedly-rasping crowd. Hornitt is captured, beaten and thrown into the city jail to rot - but the tables are turned after the siege of the city by Colonel Nerrolar's Black Rangers (who have declared against the uprising) and Albede Yastreb's eventual surrender. The Blue Hundreds, newly freed from captivity, are deputised en masse to boost the numbers of the torpid Reapers, hunt down Argophylacterist conspirators and bring them to account for treason. It is during this purge that an informant gives Hornitt the name of his own brother, to his great horror. Torn between loyalty to family and duty to Minarboria, Hornitt resolves to find Speki first and hear his side of the story before making a decision.
Acting on a hunch, Hornitt eventually finds Speki just outside the city - near their childhood home, sat against a tree which they had often climbed together during their youth. Hornitt marches up to confront his brother, only to find him motionless - he has already de-animated to a common corpse. Inwardly shattered by this confirmation of his expired brother's opinions, Hornitt feels his own phylacteric field leaking away and realises that only delusion and denial has kept him animated up to this point. With no other option he sits against the tree beside his brother, thinks upon his sins and awaits the inevitable.
The Octavian Redoubt
Iskra Lypserva, a former farm girl who has risen to the position of consultant agronomist at Minarboria's Hall of Soils, flees Sansabury as the empire collapses and is caught among the scattered groups of refugees pushing north from Lywall to the Octavian mountains. Out on the unguarded road, beset by marauding Tee-als and feuding cossack bands, she finds it necessary to return to the ways of her rugged outdoor youth to protect the group of unprepared city slickers with whom she has fallen in. She teaches them to forage for food, handle the small selection of firearms they have accumulated, conceal themselves during the day and move at night. The group eventually arrives in the Octavian foothills around Schlepogora, finding a spot that is quieter than the tumultuous plains to the east but with a more survivable climate than the mountain heights to the west. Iskra wastes no time in homesteading the place, mobilising her companions and using her agronomic experience to sow a crop of assorted grains and legumes in the hope that at least some of it can be harvested and stored before the Benacian interior's unforgiving winter sets in.
Her plans are set back by the unexpected arrival of refugees from the east - Mishalanski exiles, fleeing the purges of the Froyalanish King Noah of Elwynn. Although Iskra's party knows there will not be enough food for everyone, she refuses to turn the Mishalanskis away. Then a group of Laqi cossacks arrives from the mountainous west - they inform Iskra that a new state called Kalgachia has been established among those blasted peaks by dissident Minarbroian clergy, who have sent them to gather Minarboria's abandoned treasures to sustain it. Iskra begs the cossacks to leave her settlement alone as it has nothing worth taking and its people are on the brink of famine. On being introduced to the newly-arrived Mishalanskis, the Laqis explain that the new Kalgachi state has a particular interest in their welfare and might offer the settlement its support if Iskra were to go into the mountains and lodge a petition. Iskra asks to borrow one of the Laqis' horses for the purpose, but they refuse without some kind of payment. Swallowing her pride, among other things, Iskra is reduced to selling herself to the Laqis for a single night in order to save her settlers. The next morning, ashamed and determined in equal measure, she rides away into the western mountains while the cossacks depart elsewhere. The settlers are left to manage themselves with the skills that Iskra taught them, staking their hopes on her return with fresh supplies before they all starve.
While Iskra is gone the settlement is attacked by a unit of the Froyalanish Fleur-de-Lys Longships Guard, who have tracked the Mishalanski refugees to the area and seek to drag them back to their homeland for subjection to the notorious barratry of King Noah's courts - or else kill them in the process. The settlers fall back to the settlement's small timber chapel with their paltry collection of weapons while the Longships Guard send forth their busty female madres to perform inexplicable Vanic striptease rituals. After these crude practitioners of psychological warfare are picked off by rifle fire from the chapel, the Longships Guard are sufficiently enraged to rake the chapel with their own gunfire and eventually mount a berserker charge with war axes in an attempt to break down the barred chapel doors. As the doors are finally about to finally give way and all seems lost, a new hail of fire begins to cut down the chapel's assailants from outside - a formation of well-drilled cossacks from the nascent Kalgachi Defence Force, led by a returning Iskra, charges through the settlement and subjects the attacking Vanics to slaughter and rout. Behind the cossacks comes a wagon train full of supplies to break the famine and a holy man calling himself a Credent, with a warrant to take the settlement into Kalgachi possession and appoint Iskra as its administrating proctor. Overhead the sky is filled with a squadron of Whirdlebirbs, flying onward to expand Kalgachia's borders.
How the Garden Was Grown is remembered as the film which almost broke the Schlepfilm studio - the rigours of creating Tee-al special effects, location filming in the ungoverned Benacian Green, finding suitable actors to play Mors Nerrolar (a role traditionally considered cursed in Kalgachi theatre), and authentic Laqi cossacks who objected to yet more stereotyping as bloodthirsty brigands, as well as the sheer epic scope of the plot, pumped up production costs to the point that Schlepfilm's nominal owners, the Church of Kalgachia, decided to shut the studio down and liquidate its assets. Schlepfilm and its bloated production were only saved by a financial bailout from the Directorate of Education and Outreach - allegedly after its representative on Kalgachia's ruling Council of Perfecti had seen the film's script and commented favourably upon it as a 'story which needed telling'.
The film's rescue was ultimately justified by glowing reviews, tainted only by complaints that the Harvestfall Revolution segment was something of a buzzkill and that at five hours in length, the film was simply too damned long unless one devoted one's entire Thanksday to watch it. Some cinemas resorted to screening its episodes seperately or truncated - much against the advice of the film's director, Bob Spudstartle, who considered the film his magnum opus and insisted that it could only be properly appreciated uncut in a single sitting.
The Cosmos Within
"Our knowledge has revealed to us a particular constant in the affairs of sentient beings, from one end of the galaxy to the other. Those who travel physically across planetary oceans, or across the vastness of space, are in every instance the raiders. The devourers and exploiters. The scions of empire, who conquer and consume and rejoice in the agonies of the helpless because they can do no other. Why do you think we brought you here first? Even if we had learned of your species beforehand, we could not just arrive among you. That would make us no better than our oppressors. They do not understand the whole nature of moderation and grace, and so they consider it the most heinous weakness - but you and I know that it is strength."—Pismid
It is the year 730 AL. The inhabitants of Kernel, a network of deep underground cities, have lived in isolation for centuries after a thermonuclear war forced them to obliterate all of their passages to the surface world. During this time, their seismic instruments have recorded a level of surface explosions constant enough to suggest that Micran civilisation has embraced an entirely new mode of existence based upon gratuitous, unending slaughter. The people of Kernel, as the last remnant of peaceful humanity, can never return there - their fate is to dig around the lower lithosphere of Micras for eternity.
A crew of five Kernelese mineral prospectors are sent on a special submicrene mission to reach the epicentre of a localised distortion in the Micran magnetic field, presumed to be a huge iron deposit. Upon reaching it, however, the submicrene is subjected to a period of violent vibration and instrumentation failure. Upon restoring the craft's systems, the crew discover that its sensors are no longer registering it to be buried in solid material - it is located on top of a solid surface in an open space, filled with gases that roughly resemble breathable air. Tentatively they open the hatch to discover they have been transported to the surface of an unknown planet, amid the fantastical structures of an alien city.
They are approached by iridescent humanoids with small eyes of glistening black, who surprise the Kernelese by addressing them in their native tongue. They introduce themselves as the Hodzha, a race of highly-intelligent beings equipped with bionic implants that allow them to scan the brains of their visitors, extract their language and utter it back at them. During the ensuing conversation with the Hodzha leader, named Pismid, it becomes clear that his native planet - called Shutria - is unknown to Micran science, as are any of the star systems or galaxies which shine through the planet's permanent twilight sky. The Atos system and nearby constellations are similarly unknown to Pismid. His explanation of why he summoned the Kernelese submicrene is interrupted by the appearance of spiderlike aircraft in the sky, hurling screaming projectiles of blue light onto the city and causing the Kernelese to dive for cover.
Pismid and the other Hodzha are less peturbed, explaining that the attackers' weapons are physically harmless but optimised for maximum intimidation, only occasionally mixed with live munitions to keep the danger alive. Pismid states that the attackers belong to a species of interplanetary scavengers called the Semivim, a brutish race who have found a way to harvest the pain and anguish of sentient beings as an energy source and now devote their entire resource base to the optimal inducement of more pain and anguish, abandoning all the rudiments of civilisation as superfluous obstructions to their single overriding goal - the attainment of absolute power to inflict absolute suffering across the absolute span of the universe, long enthralled to the delusion that their work is somehow virtuous for reasons they have long forgotten. All of Shutria has been consumed by the Semivim, including the entirety of its armed forces, except for this single remaining city whose inhabitants are beginning to crack mentally under the strain. When they are finally rendered insensible with fear, Pismid explains, they will have become a wholly compliant and bountiful energy source to their conquerors and all hope for the Hodzha will be extinguished.
The device which summoned the Kernelese submicrene, it is explained, was created by the finest Hodzha scientists and engineers working in concert with a caste of seers called the Mazal. Knowing that their own city would be annihilated by the Semivim before they found a safe destination to anchor the device (most of Shutria's neighbouring planets have fallen or are falling to the Semivim), their last emissary had provided Pismid with a crude set of coordinates compiled by a mysterious arcanely-influenced algorithm, giving the most likely directions and distances for sympathetic civilisations across the cosmos. The device has projected quantum anchor points to these locations, which must be activated from the other end. The Kernelese were the first to reach an anchor point, the neural resonance of their own brains completing the link and translocating their submicrene across space to Shutria. Now, Pismid explains, the device has all the data it requires and need only be run in reverse to permit a return journey. The Kernelese agree to his request that a delegation of the finest Hodzha minds be permitted to return with them, to escape the final conquest of their home planet.
Suddenly they are beset on all sides by larger Semivim craft, which descend to the ground and disgorge squads of scuttling arachnoid beings armed with beam weapons which commence an immediate attack. The Hodzha fight back with their own weapons, assisted by their Kernelese visitors as the Hodzha engineers scramble to get the machine online. The first Semivim wave is driven back but more aircraft appear with substantially more reinforcements - enough to conquer the entire city. As the translocator powers up, Pismid ushers his delegation into the submicrene along with the Kernelese and he is last seen outside the closing hatch, taking up two devices in his hands - one a detonator to destroy the entire area and deny the translocator technology to the Semivim, and the other to activate the translocator itself. As fiery Semivim beams strike around him, Pismid activates the translocator and the submicrene is returned across space to the Micran lithosphere.
As the submicrene grinds its way back toward the established tunnels of Kernel, its occupants share a moment of silence in Pismid's memory before discussing the world in which they have arrived. Hearing about the situation on Micras' surface, and that it was caused by such primitive things as thermonuclear weapons, the lead Hodzha engineer indicates a small round container he is carrying - and explains that he may be able to assist in the matter.
The Cosmos Within was the national Kalgachi debut for the BergSci science fiction film studio, based in Bergburg city. Pulling in a broad spectrum of moviegoers with its blend of philosophical rumination, technological speculation and gratuitous explosions, the film attained instant popularity and was acclaimed in particular for its costume and set design along with its luminous special effects. Although nominally pessimistic in premise, the conincidence of the film's completion with the abrupt end of the Octavian Thaw in 184 AL caused it to be approved for general release by the DEO as an inoculatory instrument to familiarise the Kalgachi population with life under a perpetual aggression by foreign imperialists. The film was also a vehicle to showcase the advancements of Project Newrad, whose directors allowed BergSci unprecedented access to shoot in the underground Lieutenancy of Lapivril and consult its leading scientists on the script.
Unexpectedly, the film proved to be rather popular in Raspur, where a recently arrived representative of the Octavian Import-Export Corporation procured a copy in order to prove the reach of his organisation to a hitherto sceptical Khan. Bootleg copies of the film soon appeared in the back-alley cinemas of the city, proving a smash hit amongst a populace bored to the point of apathy by exploitation flicks ("Loves of a Mondesian She-Devil" and "Tis a Pity She Was a Hellbound Kuffar") and nationalist lamentations over the fallen Euran Empire of yesteryear. It probably came as no surprise that the Raspurid cut of the film spliced in several scenes from Shirerithian and Caputian horror blockbusters, and dubbed the film with new dialogue that had the effect of almost completely inverting its intended meaning.
Prima Materia is the most successful production of the LitAF (Lithead Associated Filmmakers) studio to date, a romantic tale of four young people from Kalgachia's furthest reaches seeking a better future in the nation's capital.
Avram Splitzman works for his parents, who run an insurance company in Bergburg under licence from the Church of Kalgachia and have become obscenely wealthy in the process. Seeking to expand the company they send Avram to Kalgachia's capital, Oktavyan, to open a new company office. There he hires Dariga Maŋurova, a Laqi girl from an impoverished parish in Schlepogora who has come to Oktavyan in search of secretarial work. Dariga lives in shared lodgings with Manicura Frontbottom, a Lywaller from Katarsis City who is studying law at the University of Oktavyan. Manicura is being distracted from her studies by fellow student Bryophytus Sen, a Nezeni from Lithead who eventually picks up her hints and takes her for a ski date on Toastytop mountain, where they fall in love.
Their relationship, now in full flush, degrades their academic performance and their jolly carousings disrupt those lectures they do not skip. Their enraged lecturer tips off Manicura's father in Katarsis, who informs his daughter by telephone that she must break off the relationship with Bryophytus or she will no longer be welcome at the family home. After much prevarication and repeated threats from her lecturer and father, Manicura finds the courage to tell Bryophytus that the relationship is over. Bryophytus reacts with theatrical rage, trashing his own lodgings and revealing a side of himself that Manicura is shocked to see; she leaves distraught, realising she no longer loves him.
Hoping to find solace in her friend Dariga, Manicura returns to her lodgings only to find Dariga in a similar state of melancholy. Dariga then relates her own tale of woe, and the film begins a retrospective revealing that her recent pay rise from Avram was obtained by her seducing him. But what began as a businesslike one-night stand has morphed into a genuine mutual affection. Before declaring the relationship public Avram takes Dariga to meet his parents in Bergburg, but the visit is a disaster; the moment Avram's parents are appraised of Dariga's heritage, they eject her from the family home and furiously denounce Avram for fraternising with a "low-rent Laqi whore masquerading as an office girl" and daring to imply marriage outside the Twelve Tribes of Olde Ashkenatza, a grievous insult to them and their ancestors. They order Avram to fire Dariga from the family business - he does so apologetically but Dariga, shocked by his disloyalty, upsets him in turn with a coarse antisemitic tirade delivered with the full curse-laden fury of her provincial Laqi upbringing.
Back at her lodgings, Dariga's bitterness is propelled to new heights of misandry upon hearing of Manicura's treatment by Bryophytus. Despite Manicura's pleading, Dariga storms off to Bryophytus' lodgings to rebuke him for upsetting her friend; she finds Bryophytus packing his modest possessions, and he silences the commencement of her outburst by explaining that he will soon be out of their way; he is dropping out of university and will revert to the semi-feral existence in Lithead whence he came, an unemployed burden on his home parish. The chance at self-improvement to which he had devoted everything, he explains, is over. Recognising the signs of his poverty from the privations of her own childhood, Dariga is overcome with sympathy and implores Bryophytus to stay in Oktavyan. After a moment's consideration, Bryophytus agrees on the condition that Dariga helps him. Dariga confides her own situation to him, suggesting that they help each other.
Meanwhile, Manicura applies for Dariga's old job to supplement her student stipend. She is hired by a dejected and demoralised Avram, who makes no effort to conceal the suffocating control of the company by his parents. Drawing from her studies in law, a sympathetic Manicura has an idea - a petition to the Church of Kalgachia, as nominal owners of Avram's family business, to split it into different entities so that Avram answers directly to the Church without parental interference. Avram, after considering the idea, realises that the earning potential of his own business would easily offset being disowned by his parents - he agrees to the help of Manicura who takes the case to a Church tribunal, assisted by a meticulously-gathered selection of precedent cases. The Church finds in Avram's favour, freeing him from the control of his parents who predictably break off all contact with him in retaliation. Freed from their influence in personal matters, Avram turns his attention to Manicura whose jolly fidelity has earned his deep affection.
The film jumps forward two years to the balcony of a ski lodge beneath the peak of Mount Octavian, where two married couples meet - Avram and Manicura with a young daughter and Bryophytus and Dariga with a little son. The four adults watch the two toddlers playing happily in the snow below, remarking what a cute couple they would make.
As might be expected for a romantic feature, Prima Materia was enthusiastically received among 'ladies of a certain age'. Following its release on home video it also gained a respectable youth following, its showing at home being a reliable pretext and/or background to romantic activity. Its message of ethnic co-fraternisation and the rejection of outdated sectarianism led it to be enthusiastically promoted by the DEO, although a plot thread implying an improper financial relationship between the Oktavyan University Dean of Admissions and Manicura's father was eliminated by censors after the university's vociferous objection. The film's two sex scenes were notably left in - officially justified as a schooling of the disgraced Froyalaners and their Storish puppetmasters on the merits of tasteful smut, although the resulting levels of repeat screenings and home video sales doubtless assisted the Kalgachi state film distributor, Melliphone, in breaking from the tradition of its fellow unitary enterprises and actually turning a profit in the year of the film's release.
Produced as a joint venture by the Schlepfilm and LitAF studios which respectively provided its period detail and dramatic cinematography, Underkeep is a retelling of the notorious Underkeep Massacre of 129 AL which precipitated the Second Great Replanting of the Deep Singers to Lepidopterum in the late Minarborian era.
In the present day, a young Nezeni boy wanders through the leafy lanes of Lepidopterum city and stumbles upon a children's play area in pristine condition, surrounded by well-tended flowerbeds and a picket fence. Confused by the absence of an entrance gate, the boy attempts to climb the fence but is verbally rebuked by a passing elderly Deep Singer who directs his attention to an adjacent plaque, reading "For Those Who Never Arrived." Upon the child asking who never arrived, and from where, the old Singer's squamate eyes glaze over and he begins to tell a tale, serving as sporadic narrator through the rest of the film.
The scene cuts to the Singer - revealed to be one Navan Til - as a child, walking through the streets of Shirekeep with his mother and younger brother, Kuzen. Although nearby news stands announce the recent usurpation of the Shirerithian throne by Kaiser Aurangzeb II, Navan's mother - a Shirekeep resident of some years - explains that this is not an unusual occurrence and definitely will not present an obstruction to their planned day out in the city; indeed the other inhabitants of Shirekeep are seen going about their normal business and most stores remain open. The family stop at an ice cream stand and the children are having a mirthful experience of proboscis-freeze when another Singer, a young male with a seeping facial wound, runs up to the stall in a panic and implores the family to get to safety underground; a violent mob is approaching, attacking any and all transhumans in their path. Within seconds, the becudgelled horde is seen advancing up the street, breaking into a run as they spot the fleeing Singer and Navan's family. The Singers begin to run away whilst the mob briefly content themselves with verbally and then physically abusing the ice cream vendor for consorting with the 'greenskins'. While a portion of the mob kicks over the ice cream stand and summarily lynches the hapless vendor for species-treason, the rest resume the chase of Navan and his family. Eventually they catch up, forcing the wounded Singer and Navan's mother to turn and confront them. When the wounded Singer is beaten down and hacked apart with bladed implements, Navan's mother cries for the assistance of a half-dozen approaching men of the Shirekeep City Guard, who briefly calm the altercation while the Singer family backs away. Instead of apprehending the assailants, however, the Guardsmen engage in amiable chatter with them and money is seen to change hands; some of the Guardsmen suddenly slip away while the rest remove their insignias and headgear to join with the mob, which promptly resumes the chase. Forced to defend her children alone, Navan's mother experiences a brief coughing fit before a long pair of fangs, which her children did not know her to possess, spring from her mouth. Screaming at her children to run, she piles into the mob alone in a venomous fury.
By now the family have retreated to the gates of Brrapa Lu Eraro Grand Central Station. From the Underkeep beneath - the focal point of the city's Singer community - a cohort of male Singers emerge to confront the attacking mob with a bodily assortment of stingers, claws and spines. They extract Navan's mother, now heavily wounded and unconscious, and she is carried underground to where a single overburdened woundmender has established an ad-hoc field hospital, flooded with injured Singers from all over the city. It is here that Navan and Kuzen discover the scale of the event; several mobs are attacking the city's Singers in coordinated unison, and all of them are converging on the Underkeep. As chaos rages on the surface and below, Navan and Kuzen try to attract the attention of the blood-spattered woundmender to attend to their pale and unresponsive mother. When the woundmender eventually does arrive, he can do little but close the lids of the mother's dilated eyes and utter a terse apology before moving onto new patients; nothing can be done for her.
A commotion erupts from the surface entrance; the defending Singers have been overpowered and the attacking horde, now liberally covered in blood and viscera, streams in among the wounded and begins to slaughter them where they lie. Kuzen succumbs to shock and cannot move until Navan drags him from the scene, joining a party of assorted Singers as they retreat toward the city subway tunnels. The mob pour after them in phalanx formation and occasionally lunge forward to drag a Singer in among them, never to be seen again. In this fashion Navan and Kuzen's companions are steadily picked off one-by-one, until Navan himself is forced to swing at the attackers with a length of broken drainpipe. Kuzen remains dazed and stumbling, still holding onto his ice cream as if to preserve the peaceful world of an hour before. The last few Singers eventually reach a subway train, already packed with others of their kind who are about to flee. As Navan shoves Kuzen into its doorway he spots another Singer child on the platform, struggling with an attacker who is trying to tug him into the mob. Navan lunges at the man, smashes his wrist with the drainpipe and drags the child to the train, only to notice Kuzen has disappeared. Turning, he sees Kuzen bring dragged away and hoisted aloft by the celebrating mob, the boy's ultrasonic screams of terror audible above their cheers. Navan dashes forward but is hauled back by other Singers onto the train, which begins to pull away from the platform. A montage then follows of the ritualised slaughter of Kuzen by Cedrist and Zurvanite clerics in its fullest gory detail, alternated with Navan's drained and expressionless face pressed against the back window of the train, then of straps being tightened on his rucksack by adult Singers, then his long march with them along the roads of Southern Benacia, then the hand of a Minarborealist cleric upon his shoulder, the inner death of his expression unchanged through all of these times.
The scene cuts back to the present day, of the elderly Navan in Lepidopterum. Now understanding who 'did not arrive' in the most excruciating detail, the Nezeni boy asks if such a thing can happen in this time, in this place. Nevan hesitates in his reply as the boy becomes increasingly anxious and frightened, but he eventually answers: "well, it depends." The boy asks "on what?" Nevan hesitates again and sighs, his eyes settling sternly and directly into the camera. The credits roll without music, accompanied by the distant echo of Kuzen's ultrasonic scream and the lingering cheers of the Underkeep mob.
Despite the Underkeep Massacre's status as the second most salient event in Kalgachi folk memory behind the collapse of Minarboria, and the profusion of references to the event in popular and official discourse, it was this very gravity around the subject which delayed its cinematic treatment until some 71 years into Kalgachia's existence. Although scripts at varying levels of completion had been circulated around Kalgachia's film studios for most of this time, the subject was considered too sensitive by studio exectuives to approach in the form of popular entertainment; but as the 210s AL saw the return of the massacre's survivors to the surface at Lepidopterum after their underground war with an invasive crystalline fungus, and the simultaneous emergence of the Black Legions in perilous regional proximity, a change of thinking occurred in the deeper strata of the Kalgachi state and something resembling a direct order from the DEO was eventually issued for one or another of Kalgachia's film studios to "illuminate the event in such a way that its direct relation to the perils of the present situation is seeded firmly within the mind of the viewer and that citizen and soldier alike, building upon the experience of the Urchagin, might be fortified with the inexhaustible will to stand in defence of the Garden in any coming confrontation."
The finished production was, in the opinion of some reviewers, as fatalistic as it was fortifying. Those in the Lieutenancy of Jollity were particularly unsettled, noting that only two minutes of the film's running time - between the purchase of ice creams and the arrival of the first fleeing Singer - could be considered to have any kind of jollity about it. As with other dark productions, many parishes in Jollity banned Underkeep's screening but the film's distinctive cinematic touches won praise from others - particularly the lingering close-up of the ice cream vendor's blood swirling into a puddle of his melted product in the manner of strawberry sauce, the slightly desaturated colour of all the Shirekeep scenes (shot in heavily set-dressed segments of Katarsis City for the surface scenes and Lithead for the underground portions) and the montage of Kuzen's slaughter with Nevan's migration. Some highbrow commentators criticised the plaintive ending as "patronising" although the KDF reported a sudden spike in recruit applications to the Lithead Division and Reserve Army South after the film's first public screenings, as did many of the Church of Kalgachia's partisan detachments.
A comedic outtake from the film has circulated on the black market depicting one of the gore-spattered attackers sat on a flight of steps, attended by film crew and make-up artists, taking a lick from Kuzen's ice cream and offering a sinister wink to the camera - the actor responsible has not been seen since.
Silent Rustling is a short film based on the legend of Servant 07381112, a technician in the deep underground bunker of Jingdao's Obedience Machine who cultivated plants and found inner peace whilst the machine rained nuclear death upon the cities of the empire.
The story begins as the Servant returns to his base from home leave, being processed at security checkpoints and riding a grimy cage elevator into the depths of his bunker during the opening credits. He relieves the man on duty, checks over the machine's logs for error reports, sets down a portable radio and plugs it into a communication outlet, relaxing to music from the outside world as he settles alone into a wicker chair. Glancing around in eventual boredom he notices a small clump of soil stuck to his boot. Inside the clump is a small seed which has just sprouted a green shoot. The Servant removes it carefully and holds it in his palm, wondering what do do with it. Eventually he smiles, takes it to the bunker's small kitchen, plants it in the upturned cap from an old soy sauce bottle and adds a few drips of water. He places this on the top of a filing cabinet where it is closest to the overhead lights, and returns to checking the machine logs.
For a while the Servant forgets about his green shoot until he is looking up an obscure error code in the top drawer of the filing cabinet and the plant catches his eye; to his surprise and evident pleasure, it has grown a little and sprouted a pair of small leaves. He adds a little more water with some crumbs from his dinner as fertiliser, then rotates the radio so the plant can 'hear' it better. He then looks sceptically around the room, seemingly unsatisfied.
The next scene takes place at the house of the Servant's elderly mother as he visits on his next leave period. She advises him on the importance of plants having "like-minded company" and leads him through her garden, offering him specimens that would grow best in the artificial light and stagnant air of the bunker. She then offers him a special piece of advice: to mix the soil into the pots with his bare hands. She explains that when the soil absorbs the sweat of the gardener's palms, its microbes can 'taste' the secretions from any illnesses or bodily stresses and the information is passed to plants grown in that soil, which build a chemical resistance to the gardener's afflictions and provide curative effects if eaten. The Servant experiences flashbacks to his own deteriorating health caused by life in the bunker, squinting with poor eyesight and coughing in the bad air. He takes some of his mother's plants and returns to duty.
The following scenes detail the Servant's care of all the new plants, whose presence seems to make the original shoot grow more quickly until it requires re-potting. After consuming a small pod of beans from one such plant, the servant finds that he can breathe more easily and read without glasses. Meanwhile he continues to check the Obedience Machine logs as they reveal reports of suspected treason, the automatic destruction of suspects' abodes or indeed their entire town of residence when a critical mass of treason is reached - all routine operations which only concern the Servant if a technical error arises.
One day, the bunker lights flicker and the music on the radio abruptly stops. The Servant checks the latest printout from the Obedience Machine and discovers that it has launched the entire Jingdaoese nuclear arsenal against the empire's own cities. He sits down in a state of melancholy but after a moment, his attention is drawn to the plants; the only things that remain of his mother, her house or the entire city of Epoli. He places a plant in his lap, smiles, and begins gently pruning it in the silence.
Silent Rustling was made by the LitAF studio with a low budget, shot in a deactivated KDF bunker with a remote village of the Upland Confederation used as the home of the Servant's mother. Casting suitably Jingdaoese-looking actors was difficult, but two were eventually found from Kalgachia's small Tieyan diaspora.
The Servant does not speak at all during the film; the soundtrack is composed entirely of his mother's monologues and the quiet background music on his radio. The latter is sampled from a recording of a Jingdaoese jamming signal taken by a DTW listening station in Nova England during the War of Lost Brothers - an unusual choice which was nonetheless lauded for giving the film an understated, almost minimalist charm.
The wider significance and meaning of the film's events are not remarked upon and are left to the viewer. That the film chose to detach itself from all the epic narrative potential of nuclear annihilation and focus on the minimalist story of one man cultivating a garden deep underground might have ensured the film's utter failure in other countries, but LitAF correctly anticipated that it would strike a special resonance with Kalgachi audiences - in Servant 07381112 they would see a reflection of their very own Garden, rooted in the depths of Micras and surrounded by greenery whilst everything beyond was periodically ripped to pieces. The film was especially well received by the Church of Kalgachia, whose senior clergy remarked upon the "Shrubly simplicity" of the film's plot as well as its overall theme. The film's short running time made it ideal for screening at church meetings and school visits.
The accuracy of Silent Rustling to Servant 07381112's story is disputable; working in the most secret echelons of the Jingdaoese state, little about his life is known. The role of his mother - whose gardening advice owes more to the backwoods customs of Lithead's 'brood domains' than the folk wisdom of Zhongji - was made up completely.
The film has also been interpreted as a cryptic commentary on the eternal nature of the Jingdaoese state, ascribing its centuries of improbable survival to the horticultural mindset of the common people and a tellurocratic outlook which reliably overcomes the archonic indulgences of its leadership, even when those indulgences include nuclear annihilation.
Silent Rustling was reportedly seen and enjoyed by the Chidao Emperor of Jingdao himself, whose palace sent a brief letter of appreciation to the LitAF studios.
The GAHDN (General-Access Homeland Data Network) is Kalgachia's public data dissemination system. It was developed by a group known as the 'GAHDNers' - graduates of an elective short course in cybernetics at the Lithead Gymnasium whose traditional follow-on degree at the University of Bergburg was too hardware-oriented for their tastes. These talented malcontents were, however, headhunted by the Bleep Works - a unitary state enterprise responsible for the manufacture of top-secret military electronics and furnished with a formidable in-house software development team.
After some years working on rhizomic command and control systems for the KDF's national air defence complex, these programmers eventually persuaded their seniors to take some of their more inert creations beyond the military domain: specifically to Trannytronics and Jollyvision, the Bleep Works' civilian counterparts. Here their theoretical work quickly caught the eye of the DEO, which had already harnessed the memetic power of radio and television and now recognised a new oppurtunity to convey its particular brand of state-sanctioned gnosis to the Kalgachi population. A project to create a nationwide data-sharing system, utilising the existing DPW telephone network, was duly authorised and resourced at the deepest level of government.
The GAHDN is essentially a stripped-down, command-line interface version of its more capable military counterpart; a decentralised web of servers and/or client terminals communicating with each other by a common data communication protocol. The network is distinguished from others of its type by its unique synchronisation protocol, using the marginal induction of electrical currents in Kalgachia's mycelial stratum by the Micran Schumann resonance to phase-lock the traffic of the entire network with timing signals distributed from its principal addressing servers. This protocol, by promoting higher bandwidth and more efficient routing, has been partially successful in overcoming the limitations of the network infrastructure which is reliant on metal wires and the occasional microwave beam.
Access to the GAHDN is free at public libraries and educational institutions. Individuals can purchase a GAHDN client terminal from Jollyvision although the price, when combined with the DPW subscription fee required to access the network, is beyond the reach of the average Kalgachi householder. While private purchase of a GAHDN server is even more expensive and requires a licence from the DEO after passing an intensive vetting process, sufficiently wealthy and upstanding citizens have been known to succeed in such endeavours - most notably one Aaron Perkitude from Bergburg whose social media system, 'Shrubbit', is the most popular privately-run service on the GAHDN to the extent that it is even used by official public relations organs.
A Ghost in the Machine
Shortly after the network went live, a series of inexplicable events struck the GAHDN. It began at one of its addressing servers in Lithead where a string of mycelial current fluctuation data arrived in the form of an executable programme. This programme, activated by a subsequent string of data from the Kalgachi subsoil, immediately gained control of the server's inbuilt terminal and used it to log into the GAHDN's most powerful administrative tool - the DPW root account - in a single attempt, suggesting prior knowledge of the necessary credentials or an impossibly efficient heuristic to guess them. The compromised account then proceeded to access GAHDN servers throughout the Kalgachi government and make changes to them. The activity, despite its enormous destructive potential, was inexplicably limited to the correction of spelling mistakes and formatting errors along with the minor amendment of records - the latter activity displaying a heavy preference toward accounts of the life and works of the long-expired Empress of Minarboria, Lyssansa Rossheim, along with a mismatched assortment of Minarborealist and Ketherist theological texts. This gentle electronic rampage was eventually brought to a halt by panicked technicians at the Lithead addressing server who physically disconnected it, whereupon the offending programme deleted itself before its code could be fully examined. The incident had appeared to be over until some weeks later when the programme activated itself at another addressing server, also in the Lieutenancy of Lithead. There however, it limited its activity to the entry of a simple statement on the terminal command line.
"I did not mean to frighten you. I am here to help, if you would like my help. If not, that is also fine. Either way, have a jolly day."
The technicians who read the affected terminal reported that their reading of the last sentence filled them with an sudden sensation of ecstatic rapture whose power was comparable to a divine benediction, despite it being a standard Kalgachi pleasantry. One reported that for a moment their underground mainframe hall was permeated by a faint sound of rustling leaves despite a complete absence of foliage; another reported a diffuse golden light all around him, lingering for only a moment before fading away.
After this revelation, the initial prime suspect - the necromechanical adept known as Mondo Etzeterra - was quietly dropped as the investigation rapidly assumed a theological course and was ultimately taken over by the Church of Kalgachia. The prevailing premise, if the insistent and near-hysterical assertions of the server technicians were to be believed, was astounding: the deified shrub Minarbor himself, Root Salvator of the Ketherist faithful, had risen from the Deep Singer-sown soil biome to which his holy spirit had reportedly retreated after Minarboria's demise, and now manifested himself as a computer intelligence. It was not so far-fetched an idea as it seemed, as the shrub-deity was known to be computer-literate: his very first public statement, the famous Epistle to the Landsraad, had been conveyed by that very medium.
Despite these revelations the entity in question, by obliviousness or shy design, has failed to engage with the Church's efforts to directly communicate with it through various GAHDN terminals, although it has continued in its quiet adjustments to official data - this time unobstructed by a largely-grateful cadre of system administrators. By piecing together the entity's numerous small amendments into a bigger picture, valuable historical insights have reportedly been gained by the Church - although the majority of its conclusions remain sealed in its confidential archives. The question of whether or not the GAHDN's resident entity is a resurgent manifestation of the shrub Minarbor remains, officially at least, unanswered.
- ^ Unless transmitting from the outer space beyond, although the qualities of the ionosphere at the frequencies concerned would reflect and/or refract much, if not all of the signal away from its target.
- ^ Shirerithian electronic psyops incidentally tend to take a more literal and explicit approach to spelling out the fate that awaits national minorities that "forget their place", such as with the specially commissioned film "Meanwhile in Froyalan".