Illustration by Remko Troost
Altronus Barasul Dovenayan was born into House Holdare, a traditional and respected family on the kasatha generation-ship-turned-homeland Idari. The Holdare trace their lineage to Great Families already well respected when the Idari left Kasath for their centuries-long trip to the Pact Worlds, and have maintained strong connections with both the houses that rose to prominence on the ship while crew functions were paramount, and younger houses risen to prominence since the Idari became an enormous space station. Much of the influence of House Holdare comes from their renown for producing skilled adata—scholar-priests who oversee the removal and preservation of thin slices of the brains of deceased kasatha in technomagical temples called adats. Even in times when ships officers, pilots, and navigators find their social relevance waning, the adata remain highly respected in kasatha society.
The eldest living member of House Holdare, Barasul Naedarin Allar of Clan Allar, Keeper of Ten Million Thoughts and doyen of the ship's adata, took a special interest in Altronus shortly after his birth, though he was but a distant nephew to her. Of course the attention of so great a clan elder comes with more responsibility and expectation than comfort, and though Altronus was raised with significant prestige and resources as a youth, he was also pushed to begin adata training very early, his family even going so far as to name him after famous adata doyens.
While Altronus did not excel at his studies the way his family had hoped, neither did he do poorly, and most people chalked his merely adequate results up to his relative youth. In truth, Altronus was indeed an excellent scholar, simply one who had trouble focusing on a single topic for long. Inevitably, some interesting fact in his studies would pique his interest and draw his research off into unrelated sidetracks. This broad, self-directed education made him adept at making connections between disparate fields, yet earned him little love from traditionalist teachers who saw his scattered studies as a failure to focus and a deliberate rejection of tried-and-true scholarly practices.
Though his close family were dedicated worshipers of Talavet, the Storyteller deity, one of Altronus's more sympathetic teachers felt his wandering focus could be better brought into line with training in the philosophy of the Cycle, which teaches that existence is an endless, connected series of events as stars are born, die, and born again. Though the Cycle is the guiding philosophy of the solarians, contemplative warriors with a tradition stretching far back into the history of Kasath, it's also seen as a useful tool for training body and mind in preparation for the rigors of other vocations.
Altronus was accepted as a student into a prestigious cosmonastery on the Idari, and taught to focus his thoughts on the forces of the universe around him, to draw strength and guidance from the endless repetition of celestial creation and destruction. He took to the training immediately, and soon was among the most advanced students, most of whom sought not just to understand the lessons of the Cycle, but to embody them in the path of the solarian. Altronus, however, was still slated for a career as an adata. This preordained path didn't bother him—as he approached adulthood and the yearlong ritual walkabout of the Tempering, he was allowed to take on guard shifts at the ship's famed Sholar Adat. There he watched over rooms of stasis pods where adata connected to the Sensorium, the technomagical temple archive where flashes of memories from archived kasatha brains could be experienced, sorted, and analyzed. On rare occasions, he was even allowed to experience ancient Sensorium memories himself, and it was these glimpses of lives and secrets long lost that most drove Altronus to complete his studies and become a full adata.
During one of his last scheduled shifts as an adata student, Altronus was assigned to an inactive Sensorium access node—one rarely used, but like all Sensorium access points still important enough to be protected by force fields and a round-the-clock guard. Though most such shifts were uneventful, on that night Altronus was surprised by the appearance of a fully cloaked and apparently rushed senior adata, Remura Esolla Kaiban of Clan Senthen, flashing a warrant to allow unscheduled access to the memory of a recently deceased citizen. Thanks to his tendency to collect trivia, Altronus knew Remura was scheduled to be giving a lecture at the far end of the Idari. What, he wondered, could be of such great importance that the revered adat would end the lecture early, not to mention need an emergency Sensorium warrant?
Altronus knew he should mind his own business, but again curiosity overrode his training. Altronus contacted a friend at the far end of the ship, who informed him that not only had Adata Kaiban not left the lecture early—she was still on the stage.
Immediately Altronus sounded an intruder alert, and rushed into the Sensorium access node to confront the false adata. To his surprise, Altronus discovered not a kasatha, but a small, sickly gray humanoid standing in a pile of robes and strange machinery, with long wires and humming crystals latched onto the Sensorium feed and hundreds of images flashing from the access node to the gray creature's alien devices. Altronus leapt to activate the Sensorium emergency disconnect, but the bulbous creature struck him with a taclash, ripping the pulsecaster from his grip, then shot him with a pistol that fired a searing green ray. Through the resulting haze of pain, Altronus managed to seal the access node's security force fields, trapping himself and the gray intruder inside.
With a shock, Altronus realized the severity of the situation. Any response to his alarm would take precious moments to arrive, and still more to disable the force field. Unarmed, Altronus had little chance of holding the intruder at bay. He had no way of healing the wound from the creature's pistol. For the first time in his life, Altronus truly confronted the fact that he was going to die. Like the stars themselves, he too would be extinguished, his body breaking down and eventually being reincorporated over millennia into new entities, new worlds, new stars. At last, he truly understood the Cycle. With his final moments, he reached out to the universe, embracing it.
And the universe answered.
Altronus was as surprised as the strange gray alien to find a long, shining golden blade suddenly sprouting from his lower right forearm. Yet he had seen enough of solarian training to recognize the blade of stellar energy for what it was, and leapt to put it to use, placing himself between the creature and the node's access panels. The two fought in grim silence, and though it was clear the gray invader was the more skilled, Altronus stood his ground, putting to use every scrap of training he'd gained. He didn't need to win—only buy time, keeping the creature from finishing its infiltration of the Sensorium until help arrived.
Blow after blow fell upon Altronus, and the pistol's strange green rays continued to singe and scale his flesh, but Altronus would not fall. His blade scored many fewer hits, and at times seemed to pass cleanly through his foe to no effect, but he pressed the attack as best he could. As he did, a fierce joy welled up in him, a sense of the rightness of the path that had led him to this moment. This cosmic contentment continued to expand until he had no choice but to release it, unleashing a burst of searing stellar flame in all direction.
At last, ship security arrived, using their command bypasses to deactivate the access node's force fields and dragging the half-dead Altronus from the fight. Yet upon seeing that it was outnumbered, the bulbous-headed alien didn't continue to fight, or attempt to escape. Rather, it paused to take stock of the situation, toggled a device on its arm—and detonated its own head like a bomb.
The security team secured the body and questioned Altronus. When several true adata arrived, they immediately attempted to preserve part of the horrid gray thing's exploded brain. While their efforts to pull meaning from the splatter were greatly hindered, two ideas were recovered. The first was that gray spies had deeply infiltrated the Pact Worlds. The second was that the time of something important called "Phase Three" was coming soon.
The Doyenate of the Idari was informed, and additional security added to Sensorium access nodes. While the matter of gray infiltrators was officially left open to investigation, with no more solid leads and no further incidents, official attention quickly turned elsewhere.
But Altronus couldn't let the issue lie.
Questions filled his mind. How thoroughly had grays infiltrated the Pact Worlds? Had they successfully infiltrated the Idari? What did this gray seek to learn from the Sensorium? Why had it sought to destroy its own brain when capture became inevitable? And, most importantly, what was Phase Three, and how soon would it arrive? Altronus tried to quiet his mind with further solarian training, but while his powers grew, his sense of calm did not.
As it came time for Altronus to begin his Tempering, he realized he could never accept a role as an adata while the mystery of the gray invader hung over him. He sought, and received, approval from his house doyen to abandon the path he had long trod, and informed his family that he was leaving the Idari. He had no firm idea of where he would go, nor how his investigation would advance, only a vow to chase down every strange occurrence that might mark a potential gray incursion within the Pact Worlds. While many of these events had other—sometimes equally strange—explanations, he found enough potential connections to the grays to support his growing suspicion that secret conspiracies indeed existed just out of sight. Still a rigorous scholar, he began to accept that he'd need to give more credence to outrageous claims and unlikely stories if he ever wanted to uncover the truth.
Now inarguably an adult, Altronus has nevertheless remained on his Tempering for much longer than the traditional year, and still sees himself as working to form the traditions that will guide him through his later life. He often signs on with freelancers and adventuring companies as a guard, scout, or researcher in order to support himself—especially if their activities align with his obsession—yet his primary goal always remains researching the shadowy web of plots he first glimpsed that night in the access node. Ironically, while he comes across to many kasatha as overly impetuous and offbeat, his natural kasatha love of traditions, his devotion to the Cycle, and his scholar's desire to monologue about admittedly unconventional research often causes members of other races to see him as an eccentric professor or addled conspiracy theorist. Any skepticism as to his usefulness, however, disappears in the first firefight, as Altronus launches himself into the fray and "lets the cosmos take control," slicing through hordes of enemies with terrifying calm.