The most common and best-known natives of Mars are the City Dwellers. They are a tall folk (adults rarely stand under two meters tall) of generally humanoid appearance. They have deep chests suitable to breathing the thin air of the Red Planet, four digits on their hands and feet, large eyes and noticeably elongated lower canines. This last feature, though often caricatured in drawings of them is a far cry from the tusks depicted on imaginative renderings of Wastelanders. The males have hardened, horny growths on their elbows and knees and at the corners of their jaws. They also have a crest of similar growths running fore-and-aft across their skull. These features are much reduced, and sometimes completely absent, in the females.
Explorers have encountered a variety of races sporting a rainbow of skin colors such as blue, red, yellow, and black, the latter a true bluish black rather than the shades of brown of Earth’s “blacks.” The various races show little inclination toward mixing, save among the far-traveled float ship crews and the notorious bandit and sky-pirate bands.
Whatever their race, City Dwellers refer to themselves as the Grandchildren of Belsiash and often incorporate the Eye of Belsiash into their “national” symbols. They also frequently mark items with it to draw the loving glance of Belsiash, and thus good fortune.
Belsiash is a deity of duality, partaking of both light and dark. Belsiash’s presence in the heavens is seen to be manifest in the sun and the major moon. The lesser moon is believed to be a fugitive fragment of Belsiash, his evil nature voluntarily ripped from himself but haunting him still. The Children of Belsiash are a dozen or so deities worshiped to greater or lesser degrees by various cults.
Of the Highlanders, with their Shurref-led clans, and the plorse-herding Nomads of the Barren Lands, we will speak in time. For now, we will confine ourselves to considering the society, culture and customs of the “true” City Dwellers.
City Dwellers, male or female, usually wear a short kilt-like garment called a brek, that buttons over the right hip, or a short sleeved tunic called a zhem. The more traditional or status conscious wear a ul-brek, a plaque of hide or stiffened cloth on which is painted symbols related to the lineage of their clan. Richer Martians have these same symbols cast or fabricated in metal and mounted on the ul-brek.
Devout City Dwellers often wrap their midriffs in a fringed scarf called a jhureff under which they secrete a written prayer or small devotional object related to their cult. Devotees of a cult often wear a jhureff in a color or pattern sacred to their cult, but this is not a universal practice. There is a strong loyalty to the clan found among City Dwellers. While this is a powerful factor in their political and social lives, it is not the foundation of their society as it is believed to be among the Highlanders, the mostly nomadic folk of the Martian uplands and wild places. Trade guilds, merchant associations, neighborhood sodalities, temple fraternities and sororities, agricultural granges, noble affinities, and plain and simple political parties abound, making for a diverse, lively, and often confusing-to-the-outsider life in a City Dweller community.
The focus of City Dweller life is, of course, the city. They are exotic places with resounding and exotic names like Parroom, Bweshagore, Eelium, Sarakesh, Zhetahbhelewhe, and Kheldeeve. Each city-state boosts an intricate symbol of identity. While versions can appear on anything associated with the city, the original and definitive symbol is always found in the throne of the ruling noble, the Kheem. Included here is a rendering of the symbol of Parroom city.
The cities are centers of political power and artistic and agricultural endeavor. Canals and float ship routes form a web that links, but does not bind, them or the ambitions of their ruling Kheems. To the well-traveled Earthman, these often teeming population centers are most reminiscent of the principalities of India in their power, sway, and as general breeding grounds for intrigue. For unlike India under the benevolent rule of Her Britannic Majesty, on Mars there is no over-arching authority to keep the city-states from squabbling among themselves or from clashing with the Earthmen building a brave new world on the Red Planet.
An Excerpt from Thomas Malone’s Sketches of Parroom City
The City Dweller’s stare was piercing. By his costume, I judged him one of the nomads from the plains, a rare sight in the heart of Parroom’s souks. Something about him made me very nervous. I was jostled as one fo the crowd bumped into me and I took my eyes from him. When I looked again, he was gone as if he had never been there.
For more of Mr. Malone’s telling glimpses into Martian civilian life call for an aethyriometrically-transmitted Propagation Distribution Format document by clicking on the picture above.
Today’s City Dwellers seem a people frozen in time. They are heavily mired in ritual, tradition, and “the way things have always been done.” Strange cults, and magical beliefs obsess them. Stagnation, languor and idleness are the order of the day, though they are yet fierce when stirred. It is clear, however, that such indolence and decadence was not always the way with this race. Marvelous architecture and sculpture, strange devices, and even the Great Canals themselves cry out otherwise. These things are beyond the powers of the modern day Martian yet they exist. Some say that the Cephalids, they who the City Dwellers refer to as the Dominators, did all these things, but how can that be? What we know of Cephalid design and constructional technique is notable different. When did the change come about for the City Dwellers? How did it come about? Is their culture somehow cyclical, or has it been suppressed and warped by the Cephalids? Or are they simply a race in decline, slipping into barbarism and ignorance in a strange mirroring of their very planet’s slide into senescence?
Even more mysterious is the class or caste known as Venerated Ones. Like the Scouts, they go about veiled and covered, swathed in voluminous robes that hide their shapes and identities. A necessity, it is whispered, since they are not like ordinary Martians. Just how they differ is never spoken of.
They are said to be ancient beings, steeped in wisdom and lore so old that the dusty tomes that are their bibles are copies of crumbling parchment which are themselves copies of volumes long since fallen to dust.
They are said to move through the palaces without hindrance, able to come and go at their will. No guard or locked door can bar them.
To date, no Earthman has knowingly held converse with one of these esteemed personages. They have been seen, certainly, glimpsed while standing masked, robed, and silent behind a potentate’s throne or gliding silently and purposefully through the shadowed halls of a palace.
A rational man can easily perceive that these Venerated Ones are simply the stuff of smoke and mirrors. They are no more than fancy dress trickery intended to lend to the courts of the rulers something of the style and mystery that City Dwellers seem to love so well, no more real than the Pa-powered abilities of the Sverdlinkers.
City Dweller belief is things magical is embodied in the shamans and charlatans called Weirdlinkers. While their spells, charms, and curses are clearly no more than tricks, they have a strong influence on the susceptible Martians and travelers to the Red Planet should not underestimate the effects that such chicanery can have on Martians in their employ. Like the witchdoctors and medicine men of primitive societies on Earth, these individuals hold their fellows’ minds in grips of fear, and fear is a powerful motivator whatever its source.
A related belief among the City Dwellers is that individuals may be touched by the Weird, the magic that infuses the universe. While such sensitives do not have the powers of a true weirdlinker, they can sense, if only dimly, the flow of the forces that fuel those powers. Such individuals are known as weirdlings and are valued for the warnings of danger that they can bring.
I think I could show you the very paving stone upon which I stood when my eyes fell upon the carving, and a pang of terrific awe passed through my very soul. It was between the Parroom Customs House and the palace of the Holheem’s nephew, where a one-legged fruit-vendor displayed the morning’s crop. Never again would I be the same.
–M. Andre Clien author of The Mysterious Heritage of Mars
City Dweller Militaries
A typical warlord maintains units of both infantry and cavalry as well as a small fleet of float ships. A weak kheem might only have companies of troops while a stronger kheem or a city-controlling holheem will likley have mutliple regiments to enforce his will. Most warlords have a haphazard collection of artillery as well. In times of crisis, some potentates enlarge their forces through forced drafts from among the civilian population, but most raise citizen militias to supplement their standing regiments.
Royal infantry are the regular troops of a City Dweller army. They are typically musketeers andwear uniform tunics in the colors of their overlord as well as traditional helmets and leather and metal harness. The helmets and harness plates are usually plain, burnished metal, but some cities and elite units lacquer their metal harness in their lord’s colors. A royal infantryman’s musket is fitted with a somewaht broad blade which, though it can be used like a bayonet, effectively transforms the weapon into a pole-arm similar to a halberd for close combat.
Although most royal infantry are musketeers, some are armed with rifles.
The Holheem’s Guard of Parroom are the fellows you’ve seen most often in photographs of Martian royal soldiers, but the Holheem of Parroom is not the only potentate on the Red Planet.
Cavalry is, as on Earth, a force much associated with the aristocracy and often hide-bound by tradition, They rely on lance, sword, and occasionally pistols. Their uniforms, helmets, and harnesses are similar to but often more made than those of the infantry.
Naturally the harness are more elaborate than that worn by their men, with more numerous and more highly decorated plates. Their helmets often mount great nodding fans of feathers or elaborate crests of worked metal which has been silvered or gilded to glint heroically in the sun.
Citizen militias are often poorly armed, mostly with close combat weapons and whatever personal firearms the members may own. When they are issued muskets, the guns often do not have the blades for close combat. Militiamen rarely wear uniforms but sometimes a particular unit shows civic or trade association pride by adopting a uniform tunic or wearing some other token of affiliation like a particular scarf or sash.
The sailors of royal float ship crews wear uniform tunics only for parade. Most fighting is expected to be done by the ship’s complement of marines (armed and uniformed as royal troops) leaving the sailors to be armed as their captain sees fit.
The variety of float ships in use by the City Dwellers is far to great to be detailed in a short article. The vessels come in an astonishing range of sizes from small one-man fliers to massive ships that dwarf the largest of Earthly sailing ships. Their uses are as varied: from dispatch couriers to cargo vessels of varied shapes and sizes to the inevitable warships. These craft may be of the true voleric type as the small war skiff pictured to the above right and theWarroom-class war craft below, wherein both lift and motive power come from the voleric engine, or they may be of the more ordinary sort of float ship in which the engine provides lift alone and motive power must be obtained from some other source.
The most traditional source of propulsion relies on wind, resulting in the magnificent sight of a ship under a full spread of canvas plying the skies. Sail rigs are many and varied, and some, given the lack of a sea to caress the hull, distinctly strange – even unnatural to the eyes of an Earth-born sailor.
The skies of Mars, like the seas of Earth, can be fickle, stranding a ship when it most needs to move. The City Dwellers have addressed this problem with devices of intricate clockwork and even muscled-powered crankshafts to turn propellers and push their vessels through the stillest of airs. Recently, with the arrival of Earth-built steam engines, some float ships have taken to using such devices to turn their propellers.
The most versatile aeroscaphs of the City Dwellers rely on ancient voleric engines for both lift and propulsion. Large ships of pure voleric type are relatively rare, their propulsive components having been damaged or failed over the centuries, but smaller vessels remain common. The Wind Cutter is a class of small, fast vessels often used for courier duty or as the pleasure vessel of a kheem.
Profiles of three Float Ships of the ancientTa’Tween design family are shown below and to the right. On top is a large warship capable of carrying multiple cannon, several ports for the Tears of Death, and a substantial force of marines as well. In the middle is a small multiple purpose craft. It may serve as a simple transport, carrying cargo or a small unit of soldiers. It can also be kitted out as a dedicated warship that mounts a fixed, forward firing cannon and a Tears of Death port. On the bottom is a cargo carrier. Though clearly related to the others, its bloated form is swollen through the heed to carry bulk goods, rendering it not nearly so sleek and swift as its relatives, but of far more use to peaceful purposes.
Float Ship Weaponry
Float ships can be armed with any sort of cannon and gun available to ground forces. In addition, many are fitted with rams. The R-gun is a popular choice for small vessels as it has no appreciable recoil to disturn the trim of a light ship. The heaviest guns are usually mounted in line with the keel of a ship to avoid rolling the vessel when firing.
Tears of Death
The Tears of Death are a common weapon carried by City Dweller warships that is used for attacking targets on the ground. Vulgarly known as spike droppers, these weapon deploy bundles of sharpened stakes, sending them plummeting from on high to strike with devastating force.
The traditional Dethkatilleen races held in most Martian City States have their origin as training for war. Over the centuries, they have transformed from a simple display of martial skill to an elaborate sport of their own with myriad traditional rituals.
Race days in Martian cities are festive and elaborate affairs. Racecraft fly in heats with winners advancing to further rounds until a final, or Crown Heat, in which the most successful racers compete head-to-head for the prize. Competition is fierce. Needless to say, betting on the outcome of races is also fierce.
City Dweller Sverdvolk Cults
The Sverdvolk are a secret society on the order of the Society of Righteous Fists (also known as the “Boxers”) in China or the Thugee in India. Like the those Earth-bound organizations, their secret lies in their membership rather than their existence. Alas, also like those Earthly groups, the Sverdvolk are rabidly reactionary, opposing not only the various colonial influences, but the very presence of Earthmen on the Red Planet.
The Sverdvolk are said to refer to themselves as the First Born, apparently in reference to the belief that their lineage is the oldest of the Grandchildren of Belsiash. Sverdvolk doctrine seems to lean heavily on traditional ways even more so than the ordinary, hide-bound City Dwellers. This focus is especially seen in the Sverdvolk devotion to traditional forms of combat. When cultists have gathered for war, they have armed themselves with hand-to-hand weapons. While such armament might seem laughable to a civilized man armed with a modern rifle, the courage and determination shown by the Sverdvolk easily rivals that of the Ansar or the Zulu.
It is difficult to obtain details about Sverdvolk hierarchy, a situation not made any easier by numerous charlatans and “false prophets” who trade on the respect and fear engendered by true Sverdvolk cultists. One thing is clear, ordinary City Dwellers as well as cult devotees revere the martial adepts known as Sverdlinkers, the Masters of the Sword Path. Many tales are told of the great skill and mystical abilities of the Sverdlinkers. They are said to be masters of the Pa, an invisible energy that permeates the universe and can be channeled to great effect by a true master. While a Sverdlinker’s skill with a blade, especially with the two-handed zwai-sverd, can be astonishing, stories of superhuman abilities can be nothing more than tales set about to enhance the prestige and mystery surrounding the Sverdlinkers.
The mockeries who seek to replace the Dominators are not Men. They may look like Men in a soft way, but they are not Men. They have no souls. They cannot be treated as Men. Their blood is the color of the sand. Let it become one with the sand.
— Tarassi, Sverdlinker