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Short Story #2 From Dimar:

The Clubhouse

A short story by Dee Dreslough. This story is public domain. (I'm too lazy to shop it around to publishers and magazines anyway. :) )

Kalti felt the oolar's weight shift underneath him, and immediately knew something was wrong. A cracking noise, accompanied by a chuff of alarm from his mount caused the others ahead to spin around. In an instant, they were gone, replaced by a blur of roots and rock.

Kalti landed hard, bruising his tail and left leg. "Well, at least you didn't land on me, Anoo!" The riding oolar was struggling to pull himself out of the pile of loose soil that had cushioned their fall. He whuffled and snorted, as if to say he agreed. Kalti could feel through the weak psi link that Anoo was fine. Only his pride was hurt.

"Are you alright?" Palina called down from above, her unico pawing the ground uncertainly near the edge of the hole. Rafuln peeked over the side, his horse no where in sight.

Palina was scrambling down the roots as Kalti let his eyes adjust to the dim light. "You really ought to convince your father to give you a unico, or at least a horse. They're a little fussier about where they choose to step. Our mounts went right around that hill."

"Are you kidding? Anoo is better than any horn-toting mutant horse." He limped over to Anoo, who fortunately was oblivious to any psi or spoken thoughts of anyone except Kalti and his family. Kalti blinked, looking past Anoo into the darkness of the cave. "What the.?"

A dim glimmer in the darkness highlighted a large metallic looking sheet. It wasn't metal, Kalti surmised, stroking the roughened surface, but more like the material Dimar made their weapons from. It was a dim green, unlike the gray of Dimarcraft weaponry, and huge. He felt along the length of the sheet, until he came to the edge. There was an opening behind it.

Rafuln had made his way down to them, and he and Palina were quick to join Kalti's exploration.

"There's a chamber in here.It's huge. This is great! It'll be a great new hangout." Rafuln slipped inside the narrow opening, as usual charging ahead without thinking much about his own safety.

"Careful, Rafuln! We don't even know if the ground beneath this thing is stable." Still, Kalti couldn't resist the urge to explore whatever it was they'd found. He slid inside, followed by Anoo, who had begun to hum protectively. Palina stayed outside, within sight of her unico, trying to convince it to just stay with Rafuln's horse. Her unico didn't like to be separated from her for long and would panic if she wasn't careful. Rafuln's horse, fortunately, was much like Rafuln. It didn't notice danger. Mostly, it just cared about food. Finally, she got her ride settled and slipped inside the cave, whistling appreciatively at the large space.

Kalti drank in the weird shapes strewn throughout the chamber. The ground was soft underfoot, as if padded beneath the dirt. Tubes and tentacles, typical of Dimar technology, hung down from the ceiling.

"We're arrallakeeni, and for our hive, we must explore!" Palina barked out, mocking their technology studies teacher from the Hive. Just as she finished waving her arms in her grand gesture, she fell waist deep into more soft soil. "Um...There seems to be a little hole here." She laughed, and struggled free.

Rafuln had already begun to dig, clearing more and more soil from one part in the center of the floor. Kalti directed Anoo to push the dirt out the doorway back into the cavern to help. Kalti couldn't resist the urge to dig himself, and leaped into Rafuln's depression to help clear it.

Soon, they had most of the floor cleared. It was far from level; an oval bowl-like depression lined with what seemed to be a black leather or plastic made up the floor, with five large holes around the sides, still filled with dirt. One end of the depression narrowed, almost like a path, ending in another ovaloid depression. Rafuln found it a comfortable seat, except for the large beige tubes hanging down from the ceiling right above it.

"Maybe we should cut these down?" He drew his belt knife, but Palina rushed forward and stopped him.

"What are you thinking? We don't even know what this place is yet. Anyway, I think they make a nice decoration. If you lie down instead of sit, you won't even notice them, and we can always tie them back. Eventually, we're going to have to report this place to the Lord Guard of the Hive, and he'll have to have the local barryd officials come take it out." She sighed. They all were tired of the cramped confines and lack of privacy at their new, young Arrallin hive. They didn't even have proper hive-homes yet, having to share a single dining area with all the other families.

"We don't have to report it just yet. I mean, it's pretty obvious it's been sitting here for the last few cycles, undiscovered. What's another month or two? Summer will be over then, and we'll be restricted more to the hive anyway. Then they can have it." Kalti doubted the validity of his argument, but they all really desperately wanted a place to get away. This would be their club, with no pesky Lordling Arrallin to boss them around, and no more complaints from the adults that they were always underfoot.

"I agree." Rafuln said between bites of morrak jerky. "Speaking of food, we better get back to hunting. If we don't come back with something after being out this long, we'll be dinner."

The three of them touched noses and made a solemn oath. No one would know about the clubhouse until fall. It was their secret.

"You were out all day, and this is all you could catch?" Tilluri, the juvenile Alpha Arrallin, future king of the hive, demanded an answer imperiously, his eyes wild.

"Easy, Lordling. Easy." Mawu, the Lord Guard, the current adult leader of the hive, patted his shoulder patiently. "Your temper is the greatest hindrance to you becoming a truly effective Arrallin for this hive." The young lord shrank back, rebuffed. Mawu was about the only person in the hive the little king might listen to.

Tilluri cast the three a glance that could curdle milk, and stormed off, leaving them to deal with Mawu. Kalti didn't know what was worse, the screeching and scolding of the little brat, or the quiet disappointment of the Lord Guard, who really did deserve better from him.

Palina and Rafuln pressed into him from either side for moral support. They all tensed, waiting for the judgement Mawu would pass.

"For the time being, ignore our young future Hive King. He's had." Mawu paused cryptically, "a very stressful day. Our neighbors to the north, you know." He examined the three roe deer they'd managed to catch at dusk, after their adventure at the clubhouse. Normally, they might have had a few birds or possibly even a wild Dimarian pig to add to the pile. "You did well. These are fine. You have caught much more this summer than we expected off day is certainly your due."

They melted, settling on their haunches on the floor. "What a relief!" Palina sighed, letting her fox like tail swish from side to side. Mawu smiled down at them from the dais before the kitchen storeroom. He easily carried all three deer at once back into the cool recesses of the refrigerated chamber; he was huge for an arrallakeeni. Kalti remembered someone comment at the last Mirrai festival that he was larger even than most Arrallin leaders, and stronger.

Returning from the storeroom, Mawu offered some words of caution. "From now on, though, do not." He laid his ears back and wagged a clawed finger at them sternly, "Do NOT hunt in the woods and fields to the north. There's plenty of game in the south areas, and they'll be migrating that way anyway as winter approaches." He ran his hands through the fur along his sides, preening in a nervous gesture that Kalti had very rarely seen. "We are indeed having a difficult time with negotiations with the village to the north. I doubt they'd actually do anything to you if you were found there, but we'd hear no end of it at the next boundary meeting. Humans do love to complain."

The three nodded solemnly and were dismissed for dinner.

"Whew! I'm sure glad he didn't say don't go south. We'd never get to go back to the." Palina slapped her paw down on Rafuln's muzzle, holding it shut. The tip of the Lordling's tail swished out from a side hallway in front of them. Rafuln nodded, completing his sentence as she let go. ".South hunting grounds. We didn't do well today, but the game there is getting heavier every week." He grinned smugly as they passed the hallway and the Lordling fell into step behind them.

Kalti chimed in, enjoying the game. The Lordling wasn't allowed to leave the Hive for hunting, and Kalti knew it rankled him greatly. "Oh, yes. I'm sure we'll catch some of those large blue turkey-birds tomorrow. They're always great sport. Anoo loves to flush them out."

Kalti stifled a chuckle as Tilluri growled, unable to hide his frustration.

They pretended not to know the young Arrallin was behind him. Feigning surprise, they all spun and bowed as he stormed past. He snapped back at them as he rushed on toward the dining hall, "You don't appreciate anything. You don't know how lucky you are." His voice cracked on the last sentence, and he fell to a four-legged run to get away. Kalti felt badly. He really was upset about something.

Kalti tossed the day's catch down into the pit that lead to the clubhouse. "We made more than our quota today." He scrambled down the vines, following Rafuln. Palina was close behind them. "We get the whole afternoon to just hang around and do nothing!"

"So sayeth Kalti, the professional daydreamer. I could use a little something to do today besides sitting and thinking." Palina always kidded him. "I brought some sewing. I can sell it at the Mirrai. Imagine! Meezu with wings, or better yet, me! But, a flying unico is cheaper. I'll buy Meezu wings. Summer's almost over. I've got to get this stuff done before Mirrai."

Kalti's favorite hobby was, well, doing nothing. He just liked to sit and think, that's all. "If I could earn money at the Mirrai, I'd buy more time for nothing." But Kalti loved his 'nothing time', especially at the clubhouse. It was as if he could hear the whispers of some ancient story as he lay in the cup-seat in the far corner of the clubhouse. He loved it there, dreaming up stories of ancient dragon-warriors streaking through a fire red sky.

Rafuln snorted. "A new bow for hunting. One of those fancy compound multi-shot ones." He had already set about to creating a smokeless fire outside the clubhouse to cook one of the birds. He peeled away the bark from the vines, leaving only the inner pulp for the fire. It was one of his greatest discoveries. The vine centers burned smoothly, even when wet. They weren't filled with water, but some kind of flammable concoction that never smoked, allowing him to cook in the clubhouse without worry of discovery. The pungent eucalyptus scent of the vines also absorbed any food smell, even from the sensitive noses of other arrallakeeni. They had never been close to being discovered, though. The clubhouse was very far out along the mountainous southern border of their hiveland, and adult hunters tended to be lazier and stay in the middle of much easier terrain, and the other two young Arrallakeeni had jobs in the kitchen and records rooms. They hardly ever got out.

Kalti slipped inside, climbing up onto the cup-seat, waiting for his dreamy thoughts to come. Palina perched herself on a protrusion from the door, within sight of both Rafuln and Kalti. She quickly set about to setting tiny gemstone beads out in the grooves in the door-ledge and sewing them into her project.

Only the shifting sunlight, and the rapidly disappearing roast game bird, marked the passage of time.

Kalti batted at the beige rubbery tubes that hung down over the seat with his hind legs as he envisioned a blue war Dimar in shimmering gold armor flying through the sunset sky. The colors shifted and swirled, and he imagined himself soaring alongside the great warrior. Kalti didn't know any Dimar in real life, but had seen them when they visited. They were an impressive species. Perhaps with Mirrai-fair rented wings, he could fly and meet some.

He slipped one paw, and then the other into each of the beige tubes, catching a toe here and there on the holes that lead out of the center tubes into smaller tubes alongside. With a little wiggling, he realized he could fit his entire leg inside each tube, and it made for a comfortable 'feet-up' position. Settling again with both legs in his new footrests, he returned to his daydreams.
He was back with the blue Dimar, eye to eye with him as they flew low over the forest. They passed over the southern mountain range that marked the edge of the hivelands. The Dimar's head was as big as Kalti's body- he could swallow him with one bite, but the huge warrior was peaceful. Kalti felt a kind of brotherhood with him, although Kalti was anything but a fighter. Perhaps the blue Mul Dimar liked to dream too.

Kalti didn't notice the tubes gently conform and snug to fit his legs. He was too comfortable to notice the slight, almost inaudible hum from beneath the cup-seat. He flew along in his mind, circling above where the clubhouse must be, getting closer and closer to the blue Dimar in his dreams. Finally, they merged. Kalti let himself imagine the delicious feeling of what it must be like to be a Dimar, flying free on the Wind. The Wind was something Arrallakeeni could only dream about until their Psi abilities kicked in. It was the unseen magnetic force that allowed Dimar to fly like seagulls in a strong breeze, even when the air was completely still.

Kalti smiled as he felt a cool electric blue force shift through his dream self. "Maybe that's what the Wind feels like." he muttered in a daze. He rose in his dream, letting the gentle buffeting push him higher above the mountains. He could feel even more light, even more electric blue power above him, and he strained his Dimar dream-wings to push him even higher.

He didn't notice the floor shift, but Palina and Rafuln definitely did. "What the.!" Rafuln grabbed at the bird leg he had dropped, growling with indignation. "That made me dirty my food." He resumed gnawing, oblivious.

"Rafuln, we've got bigger problems than a dirty turkey leg! The clubhouse is shifting. We might fall even further down!" Palina ran to Kalti, shaking him. "Kalti! Wake up.Get your legs out of those jelly rolls and let's get out of here!"

Kalti kept his eyes closed, waving her away. He had never had a daydream this real, and he wasn't going to give it up for a little dirt shifting. "Higher.Higher." He pushed into the clear air of his dreams, and then noticed the shaking sensation of the clubhouse all around him. "SCHNU! Farklee!" He swore, grabbing at the edges of the cup-seat. He kicked away from the tubes that held his legs. They loosened as soon as he opened his eyes, releasing him. Together, the three of them jammed through the doorway, bursting out into the setting sunlight and onto solid ground.

Rafuln dropped his turkey leg, and didn't pick it up.

They all just stared. They weren't in the cavern by the door to the clubhouse.They were in the field.

Slowly, crowding together for security, they turned as one.

Gleaming in the sunlight behind them, they could make out the doorway to the clubhouse.set squarely in the shoulder of a massive blue-green metallic Dimar. Palina gasped, her hackles rising into a golden-brown speckled fluff. Rafuln bared his teeth, his black coat standing on end, making him look twice as large. Still, they were only as big as the dim glassy eye of the massive dragon-like head that lay next to them on the grass.

Kalti didn't feel fear, though. He felt. He struggled to put his feelings into words; "He's familiar. It's him. It's him!" He yelped and ran forward toward the muzzle. "I've been dreaming about this guy all summer. Well, not this." He motioned to the length of the structure. It was like one of the remote control toy Dimar, but scaled up unbelievably. "This must have been his ship!" The dull golden-glass eye brightened for a moment, and dimmed again, just as Kalti made the connection.

Palina chimed in first. Assured there was no danger, Rafuln had already gone searching in the grass for his last bit of turkey. "Who? WHO? We don't know anyone! Certainly no Dimar." She wouldn't take a step toward the ship, despite Kalti's beckoning.

Kalti continued to stroke the outside of the craft lovingly. "I've been dreaming about this guy.This war-breed Dimar all summer. The ship must somehow carry some of his experiences, or something. We were flying together in my daydream when this." he motioned to the hole in the ground that had formerly entombed the ancient ship."this happened."

"Well, is he around? Is this warbreed going to come looking for his ship? We're dead meat if he finds out we've been goofing around in his ship all summer. We're dead meat already, but that's beside the point." Palina was still puffed out with shock, and sat on her haunches in the tall field grass.

Rafuln padded back, rising to two legs to take the chicken leg out of his mouth. "Pretty incredible, fella. You realize, you can probably fly this thing. You said warbreed, right? It may even have weapons!" Rafuln laid his ears back, getting a crafty expression. "Imagine how much more we could catch if we could fly down herds with this thing."

Kalti leaned against the ship and closed his eyes, feeling for the presence of its owner. "No.I think the previous owner is dead. Judging from the landscape, this thing crashed here a long time ago. Maybe during those Barryd Wars. It could be a thousand cycles old!" Kalti's voice cracked with emotion. He still dreamt of meeting that great blue Dimar. Something inside him answered as if to say We already have met, young one. Warmth radiated from the ship as it basked in the last rays of the sun. Kalti could feel the power grow in it as the energy brought it back to life. "It's recharging. I think it's solar powered, or something."

"Recharging! Farklee! We're so dead. This thing may have a might bring unholy Hell down on us from one of those Mul war barryds." Palina was working herself into quite a state.
Kalti opened his eyes to look at her, reaching emotionally into the ship for more information. "No, I don't think so. The barryd that this ship comes from isn't one any of us have heard of. It must have been lost before the Gate even opened here, and that was over fifty years ago." He felt no fear from the ship. Only hope. It was hoping he, Kalti, would be it's new home.

Rafuln snorted. "I wish I'd studied more in cross-species technology class. What are you getting from that thing, Kalti? I remember something about old-style Dimar bio-armor, but nothing like this. This is a whole ship."

Kalti broke, reluctantly, from the ship. "It must have some kind of residual personality. It feels like talking with Anoo. It's not just a hovercar. It wants a pilot." He rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "It wants me for it's pilot. It seems they have a programmed need for a pilot, even if their original one is gone."

Palina stared at him, her mouth agape. "I just figured it out. How could we have missed it? Rafuln, fortunately, I did study in cross-species technology. Those tubes you had your legs in, Kalti, " she broke into a wide smile, as if solving a particularly hard cross-numbers puzzle, "are horn locks! How could I have been so stupid? We didn't even make the connection." She dropped from her crouching sit to all fours and bolted back into the ship. Rafuln was right behind her, bounding along with a bone in his mouth like some kind of Earth dog. Kalti followed, still not quite understanding.

Palina lit a flare in the darkness. The sun had set, and the new position of the ship wasn't letting any light in on this side. "See here? See these four holes to each side of the depression in the middle?" She pointed to the hole she'd originally fallen into when they first found the clubhouse. "This is where his forelegs go. Those two...those are for the back legs. That fifth one in the back? That's for the tail!"

Kalti staggered back, looking down at the sheer size of the depression. The blue Dimar must have been massive! He'd seen a few war breed Dimar at the fairs he'd been to, but nothing like this. He must have been a Dimar equivalent of a Hive King!

Palina dashed up to the cup-seat, fingering the horn locks gingerly. "Look at all these tubes coming out of them. This guy must have been a general - maybe even a Barryd Leader. The more spikes, the more rank. Each tube covers a spike on his own horns. Each one controls either a communications group, a platoon.maybe even an entire army. Or maybe, weapons. I don't know." Her foxlike tail lashed from side to side with excitement. "And, I bet there are more controls in the leg holes, and in the tail. Those tubes hanging down? They might be for wings!"

Kalti reeled, falling back on his haunches. Rafuln was digging out the tail hole, and clearing any remaining dirt from the leg holes that they hadn't bothered with before. Sheepishly, he pulled out sacks of dried meats. "I guess these aren't the appropriate place for me to store my snacks." He whuffled an Arrallakeeni laugh.

A boom, like thunder, brought them all up short.

"A fire? Fire season is right around the corner." Palina gasped. "Lightning?" She trotted to the door, and climbed up, out of Kalti's sight. Kalti followed, each step against the ship bringing floods of conflicting emotion.

They moved up onto the top of the wide shoulders, and out onto one of the short, stubby wings, looking north, toward the Hive. Kalti yelped as a gout of brilliant yellow flame burst forth from one of the high rooms of the Hive. She fished in her pouch for her distance glasses, and jammed them onto her muzzle. "Farklee-Nushin! Humans, on horses! They've got fire.The Hive's being attacked." She whined, shuddering.

Kalti snatched his own hunting scope. He recognized the banners. Mawu hadn't been kidding when he said there was unrest with the human village to the north. They were burning everything with crude hand-held firebombs. His hackles rose and he let out his fiercest roar. Two winged forms rose up from behind the high rooms.Dimar mercenaries! The Hive had no defense against aerial attacks, only ground based.

Rafuln didn't need to see the action. He could smell it. He roared from inside the ship. "Time to use this ship for something. Kalti, get in here!"

Kalti jumped down - only his own fury at the scene he had just witnessed kept him from really feeling the shock of Rafuln's own transformation from the lazy hunter to an Arrallakeeni with bloodlust. Palina followed, beginning a singsong battle cry of her own.

Kalti did his best to settle down, clambering into the cup-seat. He slipped his legs into the horn locks, relaxing his breathing, but they didn't contract to fit him. He struggled to get back into a calm state, but it was no use. The ship was there, and it was ready. He could feel it desperately waiting for him, but he just couldn't calm down. "It's not working!" he nearly screamed, throwing his head back.

Palina stood over him and put her paws on his chest. "Breathe. There must be some safety mechanism to keep hotheads out of these things. Just relax. Think of the Dimar. Go back to whatever it was you were doing when you got this thing to fly the first time." She rubbed his shoulders and belly, breathing onto his muzzle to calm him.

Kalti squeezed his eyes shut, and pictured the blue Dimar. It was distant, so he imagined his own wings again, and flew toward it. He blended with the electric blue wash of power that rose up from the mountains and the ground beneath them. He did notice this time as the horn locks tightened around his legs, and the ship hummed to life. He merged with the blue Dimar in the sky of his dreams, and suddenly, he was in the field again, but it was much smaller. He could feel Palina and Rafuln.inside him. He was the ship!

He turned his head to the north, and felt the will to rise into the air. The electric blue force that held them aloft was stronger now. He turned to admire himself, and chuffed with amusement. "It seems this ship didn't make it through the barryd wars unscathed. We're missing most of the tail and the back legs." He could see bits and parts hanging down off the back of the ship.

Quietly, he heard Palina. "What about weapons? What do we have?"

Chuckling with a voice not quite his own, Kalti answered, "For now, we are the weapon. However, have Rafuln stand in the left front paw. I have only control of my wings for the most part. I will tell him how to move. I am our eyes."

He urged the ship forward, toward the fires. The blue Wind cycled smoothly around him, recharging ancient batteries. He could feel the numbness where the ship was damaged, and could feel flashes of the great blue Dimar's last battle, and his ship crying out to him. He had left his ship for an honorable combat, one on one, in that very field where he had crashed. It had been an ambush. Kalti turned his mind away from the ship's stories, focusing on the ever-approaching battle ahead.

He watched his father, swinging an old Arrallakin dueling blade at a mounted human. His shot was good, but the human's club crashed down on his head. His father crumpled, and his mother leapt forward to take his place in the line. Kalti let out a bloodcurdling roar that reverberated throughout the ship, emotionally and physically. The human's horse bolted, and he crashed to the ground. All eyes turned up in horror to see the looming figure, firelit, above the hive.

"Another mercenary.and by Youf, it's HUGE!" his mother cried out, falling to her knees on top of the fallen human. Screams rang out on the ground, and the human forces broke and scattered.

Kalti roared again, "I COME TO DEFEND THE HIVE TULMARK! SEND FORWARD YOUR MERCENARIES - dimar WARRIOR BLOOD WILL RAIN FROM THE SKY TODAY!" Kalti knew, as much from the ship's strategy component as from his own, that the two airborne mercenaries were the keys to the battle. If reinforcements didn't come, he would have to fight them off. They wouldn't stop fighting until ordered back by the humans, and Kalti/Tsugir, his ship-self, didn't think the humans were well organized enough to remember to do this. "COWARDS! THERE IS NO HONOR IN THIS FIGHT. COME, CHALLENGE ONE WORTHY OF YOUR SKILL." He had to get them away from their burning and looting.

The mercenaries rose from their positions, dousing and burning the high rooms. Kalti/Tsugir could feel the Arrallakin psis calling out to a distant barryd, but he could not feel the answer.

Reinforcements might didn't matter. The ship lurched, like an eager riding oolar at the sight of prey. The two warriors came into full view in the smoky moonlight. The ship felt no fear, but Kalti did. His response shut the door to the ship, sealing the three inside, safe for battle.

Kalti croaked out his first command. "Palina, take a position in my left front paw. I will need them both." She clambered down into the depression, and slid into the hole up to her shoulders. Kalti could feel her slip her feet into a forefinger claw and a thumbclaw, and flex them. Rafuln did the same.

Gulping, Kalti struggled to control his fear. The ship-self calmed him; we've been here before. We know what to do. This is nothing! These are not armies.these are only two Mul!

With a strategy that Kalti could only describe as 'Bowling for Mercenaries', the ship sped forward, right at the two Dimar, who themselves let out a mighty cry and brandished their weapons. "Rafuln, swing the arm left and out.NOW!" Kalti/Tsugir slammed into the left Mul Dimar squarely, crushing him midair and raking a gash through his wing with Rafuln's outstretched claw. He forgot just how much larger the ship was than even a Mul Dimar! The tiny form fell, crashing through the ceiling of the dining room of the Hive, mind-speaking a faint "I yield, great one! I yield!"

The other Dimar was quicker, and was behind him now. He could feel it on his shoulders, digging into his ship-neck with its weapon. The attack was not ineffective. There were openings in the ship-armor because of the crash and long dormancy underground. A challenging mind-voice flooded his head, "It will be an honor dying at the hands of you, Tsugir, legendary Great One of the stories of my youth! But it will be even more of an honor bringing you back a captive to my Leader. Muloktan Clan Yubina does not forget - the war is never over!" Kalti/Tsugir reeled his head around and snapped at the Dimar. His ship-self admired the warrior's tenacity, but Kalti could only focus on the pain of the sky hook stabbing into his neck. He scooped up the tiny form, carefully holding the warrior in his ship-teeth. Kalti sighed with relief. The ship's power from the few rays of the sun was fading. Now he could safely land.

"There will be no battle to the death today, Warrior of the Muloktan. Let there be peace between us. Let the war end." Kalti/Tsugir reached out through psi to the furious form trapped in his mouth.

"I DO NOT YIELD!" It screamed back, thrashing itself against the pseudo-metal teeth. "KILL ME!"

"No. I call us equals. We draw." Kalti offered, knowing from his ship-sense that this would not only let the warrior return home without a loss of face, but actually a massive status boost. It would let himself call himself equal to Tsugir; at least until he discovered it wasn't Tsugir he had fought, but a 17-cycle-old Arrallakeeni with a penchant for daydreaming. As the ship's power faded, so did the ship personality, and Kalti felt more like himself. The ship lowered itself to the ground at Kalti's urging, and released the warrior, who bowed as it climbed out. Kalti reached out with his massive nose, and touched the nose of the warrior in the sign of equality, sealing their agreement. Dimar and Arrallins had that symbol in common, and it was comfortingly familiar to touch noses with something, even if it did probably mean to kill him not a moment before. The warbreed Dimar took off straight for his barryd. Kalti was glad. It might have eaten him once it found out he wasn't Tsugir.

Palina scrambled out of her hole. "Kalti, we're not psi yet! We can't see what's going on. Did we win? Did we win?"

Kalti released the door, and it glided open. Mawu and the Lordling stood in front of a crowd of frightened Arrallins, crowding around the warrior as if he wasn't even there. That was the last thing Kalti saw as the ship faded back into sleep and his own ship-vision was gone.

Nervously, he kicked free of the horn locks. "We won, but we're going to catch some kind of Hell for this, I'm sure."

Rafuln whuffled a laugh, returning to his usual laid back self. "Yep. All we'll here from the Lordling is, 'I wanted to fly the ship! Me! Ship! Me me me!'" He took his place at Kalti's side, patting his shoulder reassuringly. Palina took her spot at his other side, laughing. Together, side by side as always, they marched out into the moonlight to face the consequences.

Mawu's jaw hung open as the three emerged. Tullari just stared, unmoving, looking fiercely proud, but then baffled. "You guys!?" His eyes boggled.

"Um, Hive Lordling Tullari, we are proud to have been of service to the Hive." He crouched into a deep Arrallakeeni bow and rose again, in unison with Rafuln and Palina.

Tullari broke out in a series of laughs. They weren't mean or mocking laughs, but practically hysterical cries of relief. "Thank you, guys! Thank you! You saved us all!" He rushed forward and bowled the three over in a heartfelt hug. The crowd pressed in around them as they frantically tried to answer all the questions.

Kalti awoke the next morning, trying to figure out just what from yesterday was a dream and what had been real. The smell of smoke and the mourning calls of families that had lost members in the battle brought him back to reality. His father, with his head wound dressed with fresh gauze, snored in the bed next to him, his mother curled against his side protectively. It had been no dream. He felt the ship call to him, powerful again in the dawn sunlight, and he smiled.

Careful not to wake his parents, he slipped from the family nest-bed and padded out on all fours into the hallway. Palina was ahead of him in the hallway, crouching by the dining room door. He barked, calling out to her, and she shushed him.

"What's going on?" he whispered, padding up next to her.

"More humans, but from the east this time. And several Dimar! They're from the Academy!" Palina's eyes showed apprehension, but also excitement.

The academy! Kalti's mind reeled. They must have heard about the ship. "They're here to take Tsugir," he said bitterly. He rose onto two legs and strode out into the large room.

Mawu turned toward him. "Ah, Kalti. Just the keeni I wanted to see this morning. There are some folks here from Calsida Academy, and they'd like to talk with you."

Kalti laid his ears back and bared his teeth. It was the height of rudeness, but he couldn't help himself. "You're here for Tsugir" is all he could manage to growl as the emotion welled up inside him.

A tall human with pitch black eyes and sandy brown hair came forward. "No. We're here for you. We have plenty of ships, although that's a fine one."

Kalti's ears snapped forward. "Me?"

"And your two friends, if they'd like to join the Academy. You really have no idea of the scope of what you did yesterday, do you?" The man unfolded his arms and put his hands on his hips. He cocked his head at Kalti and smiled.

Palina had slipped up beside him, as had Tilluri.

"Oh, I was jealous of you guys before, but this tops it all!" Tilluri whispered in his ear. But Tilluri sounded different somehow-friendly, and older. The pesky cub, three cycles younger, that had shadowed him all his life was changing too. He strode to Mawu's side.

Palina stared at Tilluri, and back at the human. "Me? Academy?" She laughed. "Kalti? Rafuln? This is too much!"

"Of course, Rafuln will have to get into the habit of waking up a little earlier if he wants to go, but Hive Tulmark has no objections." Mawu, as Lord Guard, spoke for the Hive as its leader until Tilluri came of age. Kalti expected some childish remark - the flick of an ear or a growl at Mawu's speaking for the Hive, but he just nodded agreement. Kalti realized that Tilluri might soon be mature enough to take over. The battle had aged him overnight, or perhaps it was the company.

A blue-green Dimar strode forward; his muzzle grayed with age. "It can take a year for a non-Dimar mind to find the link with a ship - especially a ship that wasn't originally designed for them." He lowered his head to gaze into Kalti's eyes. "You have a gift, and we need people like you for defense of Dimar." Palina had realized who this was before he had, stepping back with a sharp intake of breath. Kalti just gulped, and looked back. This was Luuko, the ancient founder of Calsida, the first academy barryd, now retired but not inactive. He must have come clear across the mainland continent. "Plus, we can't have folks just digging up ancient weapons and flying them around untrained. You did find the equivalent of a plasma railgun there. That ship, and it's pilot, are part of Dimarian legend." The old Dimar wiggled his ears with amusement.

Kalti just managed a wilting smile. "Yes, sir." Palina had joined her family, who had just filed into the room. Kalti noticed his mother in the doorway, with a handheld comm, probably allowing her to relay things to his father. Mawu was talking with them in hushed tones, but he looked pleased, not angry. Kalti's mother just stared blankly at him, and then at Leader Luuko.

Rafuln, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, stumbled in from another hallway, not even noticing the crowd. He shuffled immediately to the fresh pastries that were laid on the table for their honored guests and wolfed two down. Only as he turned with an armload of five more did he notice the Dimarian and human entourage. Unfazed, he still didn't drop his pastries. Kalti was willing to wager he'd drop those pastries in about two minutes.

"I need to speak to your young friend with the pastries there. Our offer extends to him as well. You three are an effective team, and we wouldn't want to split you up. You should probably join your mother. There is much to talk about." Luuko nudged him toward his mother, but Kalti could only feel the ship. It wanted to fly after being dormant for a few hundred-cycles.

Kalti passed his mother, who was lost in conversation between her mate on the hand-comm and Mawu. All Kalti could catch from the excited babble was ".and they want all three of them at the academy to join the team pilots training course! They'll be the honor guard for the Hive on the off seasons, and we'll never have problems with the north again." His mother never remained stunned for long. She always found her voice again.

Kalti bounded out on all fours into the sunlight, too excited to notice he'd completely forgotten about breakfast. He was sure Rafuln had a bag of treats hidden somewhere on the ship.

As he slipped into the horn locks and let his mind wander, absently munching some jerky from Rafuln's stash, he could only smile. "I will be a professional dreamer after all. But, they call it a pilot. Schnu! Makes no difference to me." With that, the gleaming sea-blue dragon-ship and the young arrallakeeni pilot rose into the air as one to see what the rest of the day, and life itself, might bring.

All art and text (c) 1996-2008 Dee Dreslough unless otherwise noted.
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