On the world of Thanah there is but one City. It is set on the eastern coast of a northern continent in a cirque valley on a high, high cliff, and it spills down to a harbor in the shelter of the mountain’s arms. The Fourteen Houses are spaced along the arc of the cirque like the prongs of a setting around the central jewel of the Agora, with the finest gem being the great Temple of Athēna Arkhegetis—Athēna the Originator—the founder, protector, and patroness of the City.
The Houses encompass the Lords of the City, their families, their workers and their families. Each House has its businesses, its offices, stores, warehouses and the like in locations throughout the City, but most of the workers live within the enclaves that are the physical Houses.
Within the Houses, the Master is the source of his or her House’s well-being—what each member needs to live: food, clothing, shelter, and health. Their House provides these to each member in exchange for their loyalty, their service, and their obedience. As with the great feudal lords of Europe, the Master of each House holds the rights of low, middle, and high justice: where his people interact within the House, his word is the final law. There is, of course, a certain parity of law across the Houses.
Elsewhere throughout the City, the Law is set by the Assembly; the lawmaking and governing body made up of the Masters of each House. Where people of multiple Houses interact, the Assembly is the final arbiter of law.
Thanah was settled more than two millennia ago by humans of Earth, brought there by an alien race known to them only as the Seekers. All that long time ago, a Seeker ship was cast away in the mountains above a great polis called Athenae, known to us now as Athens. The people that lived in the mountains befriended the Seekers and helped them to survive in their—to the Seekers—primitive world for the many years it took for a rescue to come. In gratitude, when the Seekers left for the stars they brought their human friends and servants with them, and settled them in the valley most like the mountains of their former home.
But as often happens, there was a worm at the heart of the beautiful fruit. Something in their new world was different. Whether it was something new and inimical, or something lacking, even the Seekers were unable to discover, and as generations passed children became fewer and fewer, and miscarriages more and more frequent. At long last the Seekers did the only thing they could think of to do: they went back to Earth and convinced more humans to return to Thanah with them in the hope that in time together they would discover and correct the problem.
It was not to be. At first again, the births were many, the children healthy, and the parents overjoyed. But once again the problem returned with succeeding generations. And so the Seekers went back—again, and again, and again.
In that same time, the Seekers taught the humans their technology, and their medicine, and all the other trappings of civilization.
And in that same time, the Seekers themselves waned as all life will eventually. When each Seeker knew its death was near, it took ship to seek a place among the stars, and soon there were no more Seekers. But the humans had learned well, and had built their own Ship, manned by them and sent out to the other colonies the Seekers had settled throughout the long generations. Colonies of humans, and of other races stranger still than the Seekers themselves. Through those years, the humans of the Ship of Stars traveled among the worlds as traders and explorers. But when it became clear that that their numbers would soon fall below what was needed to survive, the humans of the Ship went back to the world of their origin.
But they had never gone with the Seekers before and seen how they found their new colonists, and so the humans of the Ship simply took what they needed. Wherever there was a small village, or a group of people alone on a road or in a field, there the Ship-folk gathered their quarry, sending them to sleep with their technology and carrying them back to their new home of Thanah.
And so it is that the Gather-Ship travels a great circle among the stars, carrying goods and artworks and crafters in trade to the colonies, and thence back to Earth to acquire seeds and stock and goods and pretty things—and people. There is but one Gather-Ship, and its course among the stars takes almost twenty-five of Thanah’s years; more than twenty-seven of Earth’s.
This year, the ship brought back almost three thousand people from Earth. Among them was a young woman named Ari Dillon—and Thanah will never be the same.