Granules of soft wet sand press in around their stalk as Vysha squirms down the tunnel hollowed into the ocean’s bed by the bodies of Veert ahead of them. The sun has risen, but no warmlight penetrates the hard-packed sand; Vysha must press blindly forward with their flexible arms, feeling the shape of the tunnel with their whole body. With each pulse of their footbody Vysha sweeps their arms out to the sides, widening the tunnel a few centimeters. The vibrations of other Veert squeezing down the tunnel shudder over Vysha’s skin. Each Veert broadens the sand tunnel with their passage; after uncountable day-cycles the tunnels leading out from the seastack will be ready to be coated with spitstone and hardened into shape.
Soon the tunnel walls take on the hardness of rock. The water loses its saline tinge as it mixes with groundwater. Vysha is in the bedrock under Anmerresh, in one of the bunkers the Veert have carved under the city by order of the Council.
There are fears of an orbital bombardment. If Teluk’s planetary defenses don’t hold, there will be nothing to stop the Terrans from raining hyperkinetic fire onto the coastal cities. Prickles of an unfamiliar anger pucker Vysha’s skin. Veert are a cautious species, slow to anger. Yet Vysha cannot stop the unpleasant heat rising up their stalk at the decisions that have led the children of Traat to this place, burrowing their bulbs in the sand in hope of shelter from Terran weapons.
Vysha is here because the Council refused to grant the lease on a dry, waterless moon. The Veert have known, or at least suspected, the price for such a refusal in the decades since the first Terrans reached Veerthome. It was not just pragmatism but caution that led the Veerten elders to treat with the Terran Expansion. Opening Veerthome’s dry land to Terran settlement had seemed the safer choice, and not a hard one to make: the Veert are creatures of the ocean; the land is useless to them.
Vysha has always considered Teluk their home. They are part of the fifteenth generation of Veert to have hatched in the seastack of Traat since the first Veerten colonists discovered Teluk. Until now, Veerthome has been a vague notion in their mind, like the warmlight impression of someone they knew a long time ago. A comforting dream for Vysha to wrap themself in each night-cycle before torpor takes them. Vysha has never been to their homeworld—never tasted the salinity of its oceans, never touched the basalt of its great seastacks, never seen the warmlight from the hot blue sun the elders call Firstlight. And if the Coalition wins its war and closes Teluk off from the Expansion, Vysha never will.