Table of Contents
Lost Waters - Chapter 10
The feasting lasted well into the afternoon.
The Dimar performed plays from their history, calling on the powers of
their ancestors to sustain them in the time of the fires. They did a small
war-dance demonstration, showing how each season, they use this blood
sport to help define the boundaries of each barryd each year, trading
harvest fields and suburbs between major barryd centers. The war dances
were often fixed according to the needs of both barryds, except in the
case of Telka and Mulkol. Their dances were deadly serious, ending in
death for an unlucky few. Living next door to one of the last war barryds
on Dimar made life difficult for the Telkans.
Tara most enjoyed the barryd tour, and
worked to memorize the general structure of most barryds. The hall they
had feasted in was much like a great hall in a castle, except that only
1/6 the main population feasted there every night. The barryd had six
dining halls stationed throughout, with multiple kitchens and food storage
areas off each. Guilds, the economic equivalents of corporations, competed
with each other to feed the population and make the most nila (money),
creating a restaurant row in each hall. Between the graciously appointed
mahogany halls and golden walled kitchens, corridors large enough for
even the Great Mother lead to various workrooms and crafter's workshops,
as well as the rooms for Tinar, Telkai, Ela, Tel, and even Mulkai studies.
All passages, each in varying hues of wood-tones depending on the major
plant-types that had been used to create each wing, were richly decorated
with stained glass panels, paintings, tapestries and sculpture, and each
passage also connected to one of the two central spires, which, unlike
the residence spires that towered over each of the six dining halls, were
hollow, and lead up to the clear sky and straight down into the heart
of the barryd, shrouded in darkness. They entered a massive oblong chamber
that dwarfed any of the six dining halls, and each end of the room had
one huge hole in the floor, surrounded by golden wood railings, large
enough to fit four Dimar through. They were not allowed to descend, and
the scanner's bioactivity scale nearly broke when they lowered the receiver
down into the chasm.
All halls, passages and rooms were well
lit by the same blue or yellow flame cubbyholes that dotted the main hall.
Tarrin relayed for the tour guide "The barryd is constantly breaking
down impure hydrocarbons in the crust and incorporating them into the
structure, but the gas that the barryd can't consume is burned for light,
and the waste produced, mostly carbon monoxide is filtered by the leaves
higher up and again recycled for use in the barryd. Nothing is lost, nothing
wasted. We could learn from these guys - this place is a self contained
The red Dimar male continued the tour,
rumbling in low tones, and Tarrin rushed to keep up, "The rooms along
the outside, with window views of places in the distance are highly sought
after by most Dimar, and especially the visual artists. To avoid distress
among members of the barryd, the rooms are assigned in cycles to anyone
who applies, allowing all a chance to enjoy the beautiful views where
they work. If a Dimar doesn't have a window room for working, he or she
is usually stationed in a window room for sleeping. Many prefer to work
in the dark, or without a good view - much like our programming teams
- and opt to have a window room residence permanently. Refusing to give
up a particular chamber at the appointed time is considered a treason
against the barryd, and punishable by a week in the muck-room." Tarrin
paused, and his speckled ears drooped.
"We're going to visit the muck-rooms
next. It's not a pretty sight, but serves an important function for the
barryd." Tarrin shuffled a bit, trying to get a spot in the back
of the tour group.
They walked down a long, fairly deserted
corridor that angled down, and stopped on a circular pad. Behind them,
a plant-wall constricted, blocking their way out. Rakal decided to toss
the tooth bearing restriction and let loose with a low, spine-tingling
growl. The tour guide backed to the wall rearing on two legs, as another
similar plant-wall released.
"Rakal! Rakal! It's okay...this is
an airlock...ooooh...." Tarrin grabbed his muzzle as a blast of foul
air from the room beyond reached him.
Rakal's ears drooped and he howled, grabbing
his nose. "That stench! What is this place?"
"The tour guide is explaining that
this is the muckroom, where all the biological animal waste is recycled
into the finest fertilizer ever known to Dimar. The processing secrets
were a gift from Elanuru, a farming barryd to the northeast. He forgives
your aggressive behavior, and understands that you are in uncertain surroundings.
He wishes peace." Tarrin went nose to nose with the tour guide to
apologize. "Come on, Rakal. He didn't mean not to tell us about the
airlock, and he does understand why the smell bothers us. They're fairly
immune to it, but they still dislike the idea of the place. Give him some
Tara wasn't particularly bothered by the
stench, being used to her horses, dogs, goats, sheep, llamas and other
animals stored in the animal pens on board the Golden Hinde. Mason was
a little less enthusiastic.
"They can't smell this? Must be part
of that war-engineering they all underwent to be able to eat toxins. Maybe
I'll get a Telkai nose job myself." Mason peered in the door to see
Dimar, young and old alike, walking along catwalks with paddles to stir
and check the consistency of the various filtration pools. "Why do
they have the airlocks if they can't smell it?"
"Good question...I'll ask." Tarrin
tilted his head toward the tour guide, who was touching noses with Rakal.
"Ooooh...uuurk. The system goes through a periodic cleansing. One
set of pools is always filled with water, up to the ceiling. During the
fire season this water is pumped from cycling room to cycling room to
dilute the minerals and refuse and either spread it to the far ends of
the barryd lands, or to feed the main barryd itself. The mineral rich
water is pumped out of the barryds and is slowly released to the grasses
and other non-integrated plant life in each area in such a way that salinization
from irrigation never occurs and the plants can resist the fire. However,
the distance the system can cover is severely limited."
"I'd hate to get caught in a room
when it floods." Mason winced as he tentatively stepped out onto
a catwalk and scanned a pool. "Hey...this place is a tiny microcosm
of the ecology outside. That far pool there - you could swim in it! They're
just speeding up nature's own recycling system in here."
Tarrin relayed Mason's concern, "Our
guide, Uurlin, openly admits that leaving a Dimar in a flooding muck-room
was a popular form of execution in some of the wars immediately after
the war with the Isles, but now, the barryd itself has sensors and will
not cleanse a room unless it is completely free of air breathing animal
Two surly looking Dimar struggled with
paddles to bring raw refuse into the first cycling pool. The tour guide
pointed to them, and motioned to Tarrin.
"He says that those two, the green
and brown females over there are down here for bullying a smaller male
who is not as good at Tinar, the firefighting flight, as they. That particular
chore is reserved for Dimar with discipline problems, and to teach them
to work together. If they work well together, they can finish their allotment
of the shoveling and return to their normal schedules sooner. If they
can forge a friendship and maintain it, the Great Mother will reward them
both with places of honor at her table for a time." Tarrin looked
impressed. "They have a punishment system, but they prefer to focus
on rewarding positive behaviors instead of just punishing negatives. It's
a reform discipline system, without institutionalized revenge, but they've
still got a vengeance problem among their residents. Seems fighting and
killing one another off was at one point encouraged by the leaders to
control the populations and was a form of entertainment. Bread and circus."
Much to the relief of the Arrallins, they
were soon out of the muck-room and into one of the many garden courtyards
along the outer wall of the barryd proper.
"Each of these huge hedgerows is actually
a sub-dwelling for various families or individuals who choose to live
outside of the barryd proper. Usually they maintain the fields or herds,
and often work long hours maintaining the fire line, as their houses go
first when the heat gets through in the dry season." Tarrin began
backing toward the entrance, his tail a bottle brush, as a herd of large,
strange looking animals raced toward them. "Oolars!"
Rakal, Mason and Tara all stood their ground
as the vicious ram-horned, warthog tusked canine creatures bounded around
them. The tour guide sat back on his hind legs as they tried to climb
on him, and he warbled to them joyously. They ranged from tawny gold to
pure black, with smooth gray ram horns and claws and white tusks. Their
tails were more catlike than dog-like, but in general, they acted more
like dogs than anything. Curiously, but not threateningly, they nosed
around the feet of the visitors. Tarrin had climbed to the top of a hedgerow
to observe and translate.
"These guys are one of their forms
of pet species. They are used to patrol perimeters, and have been bred
into huge, armored war-beasts in ages previous. The tour guide has let
them know that you are not invaders, but advises caution around them anyway.
They're used to playing with Dimar, who, even when they shed their firescales
have much thicker fur and hide than we do. The females have white tufts
behind their ears and on their chin. They're also egg-layers, and the
females are larger than the males."
Tara knelt down and reached out a hand
to a black and white oolar that had been fascinated by her wool jacket
sleeve. She enthusiastically whuffled Tara's palm with a warm, dry nose.
She scratched the beast between the horns, and stroked her fuzzy muzzle.
"I could get to like these critters. I wonder how Koji and the other
dogs will get along with them."
"Dogs, nothing. The cats will be scared
silly. Good thing the morraks seem to have a fancy for the felines - they'll
need big allies with these guys around. And what will the goats and pigs
think?" Mason was sitting on the ground scratching the belly of a
tawny, spotted female, while Rakal was on all fours tussling with a buff-colored
Tarrin, holding his position in the safety
of the hedgerow, continued his translation, "They're good for patrols,
herding, hauling, digging, and baby-sitting, and have been Telkai altered
to be more tractable and intelligent than their wild siblings who still
roam much of Dimar's unsettled regions. Let's get out of here, please."
Tara smiled up at Tarrin. "Come on
down and get used to these guys. I'm going to try to get a pup or two
for the colony, so you'd better learn to adapt," she chimed teasingly.
Gingerly, he made his way down the side
of the 5 meter high wall of shrubs, and landed on all fours in front of
Tara's female. They touched noses, and she sat in front of him and lowered
her head for a pat. As if expecting an electric shock, he carefully patted
her head once. With more confidence, he stroked her broad head, and then
sat back on his haunches. "Hey... they're not so bad. They're better
than your dogs, I'd say, and they've got a tiny glimmer of awareness in
there. Not Talent as I know it, but enough to relay good fast commands."
A wing of Dimar swept in - it was Luuko,
Liur and the others.
"Ah, here's our rides to the upper
levels. Seems that since all Dimar can fly, and most Oolars are carried
by their keepers or use the venting tunnels to move about, we'll need
to take another flight to continue the tour." Tarrin trundled toward
his red-brown Dimar friend and hopped onto his back, grabbing two fistfuls
of his mane. "Not going to drop me, Goothib, right? Mason, Tewi is
willing to take you again, providing you don't rip out too much of her
mane this time." He whuffled an Arrallin chuckle.
The dark green Dimar wiggled her ears at
Mason, who blushed. With considerably more confidence, he climbed aboard
her shoulder and sat astride her back. "Yee-haw," he muttered
with a half grin.
Rakal was aboard Liur, again choosing the
reclined position on his back. Like Tarrin, he was much more comfortable
with the idea of riding Dimar-back, but he still wasn't ready to risk
Tara bowed to Luuko, and hopped across
his neck with the grace of a practiced horseback rider. Her time riding
in the minute spaces of the cargo holds of the Golden Hinde had allowed
her to keep her skills well honed, but she still took two handfuls of
Luuko's mane, just to be safe.
The tour guide led, and gracefully, the
five forms rose with cautious speed. Sweeping around the twin central
spires of the barryd, Tara was able to get a much closer view of the structures.
Layer after layer of canopied tree cover was stacked around the central
spires. Flat-topped branches reached from the spires over roof-branches
of the residence rooms, serving as perches for the Dimar who were off
duty from their various crafts or fire line duty. At the top of each spire,
there was a wide platform, and various Dimar, each wearing the honor silks
of Telka sat, watching the fire line intently. Above the platforms, large
bulbous pods ending in rich violet petals, arrayed like a set of bluebells,
hung over providing shade to the Dimar on the platform.
They circled, echoing the greetings from
relaxing Dimar on the branches with musical warbling cries, and swept
in onto a platform at the end of a long passage on the top level. All
the rooms that faced the outer wall had railed balconies, and were wide
enough for two or three Dimar to land and sit comfortably. Tara envisioned
three Dimar with a pellet-stove having a barbecue, and stifled a giggle
as she slid from Luuko's shoulder.
"Oh, the great mother bids us to come
and witness a...miracle?" Tarrin looked intrigued and padded down
the hall on all fours, forcing the humans to double time it to keep up.
His gaze was distant, as if he was guided by a strong scent, and not any
They skittered around corners and worked
their way through the twisting residence passages coming to a halt before
a spacious set of living quarters, huge by human standards, currently
packed with Dimar of all colors. The yellow wall fires burned brightly,
bathing the room in warmth. Judging from the many beautiful paintings
that hung about the place, it was the residence of a more prominent artisan
of the barryd, or of a very serious art collector.
"Okay, Mason and I are allowed to
enter, but Rakal and Tara must remain in the other room. The Great Mother
of the barryd is the only 'arch allowed to be in the same room with a
hatchling, to prevent child-stealing." Tarrin slipped through the
doorway on two legs and sat slightly behind the deep purple back of the
Telka Matriarch. Mason followed, the scanner and recorder buzzing in his
"Oh, great." Rakal muttered,
and the Great Mother turned to hiss at him.
Tarrin translated, "They need silence
to listen for problems in the eggs."
Tara and Rakal both stood in the doorway,
careful not to cross the braided knot of floor the marked the base of
the door. Two eggs sat in a large leaf-lined nest, with carefully quilted
pads all around them. Their shells were speckled with dark brown blotches
and multicolored spots on a variegated tan base, and looked a bit like
giant wild chicken eggs, except that they were lightly coated with a chalky
powder. Each egg had many holes knocked in it, and fractures along the
sides, but neither had opened to reveal enough of the babies to know what
they looked like.
In the deathly silence, they could hear
the frantic tapping of the young inside.
After what seemed like hours to Tara, a
tiny clawed hand emerged, punching it's way through the wall of the more
greenish of the two eggs, soon followed by a wet nose with a shiny black
egg-tooth and a decidedly grumpy face. The little gray-blue Dimar, wrinkled
and scaleless, without even a hint of underfur, fell out of the egg and
down the side of the nest onto one of the quilted pads. It's father, a
small brown, crooned over it, touching his muzzle to it's forehead, and
gently lifted the pad with the exhausted baby toward it's mother, a light
green Dimar with an almost white mane, who also greeted it in Dimar style.
The baby screeched crossly, but quieted when the father settled it in
the thick mane on the mother's back and shoulders. With unusual strength,
the baby grabbed onto the mother's fur, wrapping itself deep into the
silken mane and shoulder pouch, and fell into a deep sleep with only the
end of it's muzzle and the spade of it's tiny tail showing.
Not to be outdone, the second blue and
brown speckled egg shattered with force, popping the pointed end of the
egg off and onto one of the pads. The little blue-gray baby inside kicked
away at the shell and fell on it's belly into the nest. The mother this
time, lifted the tiny baby, who, unlike it's cross sibling, only warbled,
and greeted it, and held it out to the father, who also greeted it. She
nestled it in the rich chocolate brown fur on the back of the father,
and it too dug in and disappeared into the pouch, except for a wing tip
and the tiny snout, with it's shiny black egg tooth.
Once both children were safely hatched,
the noise of half-spoken, half-thought conversations filled every room
in the apartment, and the Great Mother sung a long, complex tune in a
major key to welcome the new barrydmates.
Mason came out of the room, wiping tears
from his eyes, followed by Tarrin.
"Much more dignified than whelping,
I'd say." Rakal chuckled, watching the new parents, craning their
long necks to watch their sleeping charges.
"So, what's the story? Those wrinkly
little guys are male? Female? Will they both be gray-blue? What's their
gestation period? What's the hatching period?" Mason bombarded Tarrin
with questions faster than he could get answers from the people in the
"Okay...okay...they'll be whatever
color and sex they turn out to be. Oh, there! Look...see that little velvety
guy over there -with the deep blue velvet skin. He's an immature Dimar,
like a human twelve-year-old. He'll fly by a firestorm and shed that velvet
to reveal his first coat of firescales, and he'll probably be blue, judging
from the velvet. Sometimes the color of the immature velvet doesn't match
their scales and fur, much like all Arrallins are born camouflaged and
develop their mature coloring. It will be a cycle before they'll be able
to discern visibly what sex the babies are, but the Dimar don't differentiate
much between egg layers and egg keepers, female and male, so it doesn't
affect their schooling or socialization. Their vocal language is gender
neutral in most cases." Tarrin kept his eyes on the tiny snouts that
poked through the fur on the parents' shoulders.
"Seems the big dark green male and
the yellow female in there are the alternates - god parents for Dimar,
and the Great Mother or one of her acolytes is required to witness the
hatchings and help if necessary. Because Telka is a Telkai-focus barryd,
the 'archs are taught the healing arts, and this 'arch tries to make every
hatching she can." Tarrin continued, bowing his head to the matriarch
as she turned to regard them.
Tara felt totally drained, and was glad
Mason had brought extra disks for the recorder. She'd need to review all
of this to make a final determination on the feasibility of cohabitation
with this species. With the Arrallins 30 years ago, the decision had been
easy, as the betas naturally flocked to the captains of their alien ships,
full of new and interesting human technology to study. The humans couldn't
beat the betas off with a plasma cannon. But these Dimar were very individual,
and much more advanced than both humans and Arrallins in their knowledge
of biotech. The problem would be keeping her people from flocking to the
She got that now familiar feeling in the
back of her mind, and turned slowly to face the red-brown Dimar that had
brought Mason in. She stared at him, seeing a faint blue-green light behind
him and an image of Harmon flashed into her mind. Her stomach knotted.
"Tara? You still with us?" Rakal
nudged her shoulder.
"Yeah...I'm just completely beat.
After that huge red-meat meal, and then all this," she held out her
arms, as if to encircle the room, "to deal with. It's given me the
stares." Quietly, she aside to Rakal, "I think we're going to
have the same trouble keeping our ranks in line as you had when humans
dropped in on Arralla."
Rakal nodded somberly, watching the matriarch
who had been very pointedly not looking at them, but lavishing attention
on Tarrin and Mason. The end of his tail twitched slightly, as if he were
Tara had dealt with ornery captains, uppity
first mates, generals, prime ministers and dozens of cutthroat politicians.
She had even survived working with Rakal, an Arrallin alpha. She could
handle one competitive fuzz-lizard, it would just take time.