Table of Contents
Lost Waters - Chapter 15
"Well, today's the day. How do I look?"
Tara surveyed her uniform in the mirror, fingering the smooth silk honor-band
that hung from her rank insignia. She'd waited two months for this day,
and had fought the last three weeks with the Great Mother to make sure
it would happen. The final colony shipment of supplies, and, most importantly,
of the three other Arrallin mated pairs and Kiralla, would be splashing
down in the Big Easy in an hour. "Telka colors do a lot for these
"You look great." Rakal's tone
was distracted as he worked through his own thick fur with a Dimar mane-comb.
"How do I look? Today is the day, and my social life is riding on
a good first impression. I haven't seen Kiralla in person for three years."
Tara frowned, careful that Rakal wouldn't
notice. "She's seen you in the video-comm. She knows what to expect.
Hope she doesn't mind that you're shorter looking in person." She
turned, grinning maliciously, and grabbed her side arm for the welcoming.
Rakal turned in stunned shock. "I
look..? YOU! Stop doing that!" The hair on the top of his head had
bushed out as he reacted to her jibe, and he worked to get it to lay flat
again. "Now I'm all fluffed up. I look like I've just been through
an air blower."
Tara just laughed. "It's dramatic.
I can't wait to see you fluff up when you have your full mane grown in.
If only Landry can get that good-for-nothing tub of his through the gate
and crash it..." Grabbing a report from the Dark Hope, she flipped
through the engineering progress reports. "They should be able to
head back through and shut it tonight, adding fireworks to our little
party, providing the third fuel cell holds. That's the only system here
that looks like it really needs work."
"Good. And, if worse comes to worse,
we can always have the Arralla's Pride tow it into the gate to launch
the crasher and out, and let that little toady Landry keep it. I hate
to lose my ship, though. We'd be permanently moored here without it."
Rakal fluffed again at the mention of Landry, and gave up on trying to
appear unruffled for the celebration.
Tara nodded. "Whatever it takes."
She and Rakal exchanged a long look for a moment, and headed out toward
the residence hall platform to meet with Luuko and Liur.
"You both look fancy. Rakal - I like
that fluffy look you're sporting today." Liur wiggled his ears, rumbling
deeply as Rakal slapped his side, fluffing up even more.
Tara laughed and climbed aboard Luuko's
shoulders. Instinctively, she felt around in his mane to make sure there
were no young stow-stowaways aboard. She'd been surprised more than once
when she had accepted rides from well meaning barrydmates who were carrying
hatchlings. Hatchlings had a propensity to sample with their teeth anything
put near them, and Tara didn't want a large, embarrassing hole in the
butt of her dress grays today.
"Hello Tara. Welcome aboard."
Luuko turned his head to regard Tara with his large golden eyes, and warbled
good-naturedly. She could tell that he was looking forward to the ceremony
as much as she was. "You, my big fuzzy friend are going to get a
surprise today." She mused, chuckling to herself.
"Thanks, Luuko. Always a pleasure
to fly Luuko Air." Tara stated with a smile as he wiggled his ears.
Luuko had been fascinated with the stories of old Earth airlines before
hovercars, and had taken it upon himself to act as a ferry for the residents
of the colony wings of the barryd while the stairs were being built. He
had affectionately become known as 'Luuko Air' to Arrallins and humans
Exhilarated as always, Tara caught her
breath as Luuko padded along the platform and launched himself into the
wind. Liur and Rakal sped along beside them, Rakal's long tail flying
out behind them as the air rushed by. She chuckled ruefully, knowing that
what grooming he had managed to maintain would be long gone by the time
they reached the coast.
Herds of various Dimar animals grazed below
them as they passed out of Telka's territory and into Ekal's coastal region.
Flocks of Dimar's native birds and flighted lizards spooked and took to
the air in blinding masses of color as they flew low over the canopy top,
which was divided by huge swatches of charred stumps and the firebreaks
dug by Ekal Tinar firefighters. To the southeast, the fires still raged
at the colony site, which was now a deserted neutral zone in Telkan territory.
Tara sighed. The forest thinned, giving way to a stretch of prairie and
then dune. The brightly decorated landing rock came into view as they
turned south and moved down along the coast, and Tara could barely make
out Mason, Tarrin, Harmon, Goothib, Tewi and the others in a close knot
in the shadow of the rock. Luuko swept in, seemingly unaffected by the
strong onshore breeze and landed on all fours on the flat top of the red
"Just in time!" Tara slid off
Luuko's shoulder as Mason scrambled up the rock to report. A glimmering
star, the Arralla's Pride, was already in view, making it's final approach
to splash down in the gentle currents of the western sea. "Any news
about the Dark Hope, Mason? Will it be ready by tonight?"
Mason snapped a salute, and his eyes clouded.
"They're going to work right up to the minute to get that last fuel
cell in order, and they think they'll make it." He glanced at Rakal,
who was deep in a discussion with Tarrin and some of the other betas,
and mumbled, "We'll have our fireworks. Kiralla is not aboard the
"Shit. We don't have time for this.
The Great Mother is going to have a field day with this one." Tara
gritted her teeth, groaning inwardly that the Telkan Leader would have
yet another bone to pick with her for being unable to 'control her children.'
"I'll go talk to Landry and find out what's really going on."
She strode purposefully to the edge of a rock, and called to Tewi, who
was nearby. "Tewi, can you give me a lift down?"
"Sure thing..." The tall female
stood on her hind legs, providing her front legs and knees as stairs down
from the high rock. Tara was glad that the Dimar had no reservations about
being used as all forms of furniture and transport by their new 'mates.
"Thanks, Tewi! If I ever can return
the favor..." Tara winked at the green Dimar, who rumbled back at
her. "I've got a surprise for you too," Tara mused.
She slapped the comm, "Landry, report."
Landry looked calm and collected, as always.
"We're not going to make the window, sir. There's no way. We lost
2 cells... again."
"Wrong answer, Landry. We'll send
the pride up, and we'll tow you through the gate, then. That gate must
close tonight or we'll be torn to shreds by the fuzz lizards." Tara
didn't mask her annoyance - enough was enough. She knew from Kiralla's
progress reports that the ship would have been spaceworthy, and strong
enough to survive the gate crash operation by tonight. He was stalling,
"All right then, I'll institute plan
B and get the ship ready for a tow from the Pride." He shrugged,
his angular features remaining unnaturally controlled as he glanced to
the side of his console.
"Fine. Tara out." She slapped
the comm panel, and the screen blanked with a flicker.
Waving to Tewi to give her a lift, she
strode toward the stone platform, wondering how to break the news to Rakal
yet again. Rakal turned and regarded her eagerly as she strode toward
"I'm sorry, Rakal. Two cells are once
again out, and Kiralla is again not aboard the Pride." She backed
away instinctively as his fur again fluffed out. He let loose a blood
curdling shriek, and snatched a sidearm from one of the flag bearers standing
nearby, nearly knocking the small man off the bluff. The disturbance was
broken by distinct boom and hissing as the Pride made what would have
been it's final splash down in the cool waters of the ocean.
"I will return to orbit with the Pride,
and this time, I fly." Rakal stood on his hind legs, tying the sidearm
into the thick fur on his sides deftly, obscuring it from view. "I
will escort..." He paused, realizing that not all the people on the
platform were inner circle members, "the overdue engineering team
back here to the colony personally, as your Ir'est, your first officer,
Tara." In a loud voice, he announced, "Those engineers have
dishonored us by failing again to repair the ship. I will deal with them
The Arralla's Pride powered itself toward
the bluff, gradually growing larger as it coasted in on water pulse engines.
Tara turned her head slightly to the northeast, and as she expected, could
see the honor guard's banners, and the violet form of the Great Mother
sweeping in to attend the festivities. She wondered just how festive this
was going to be.
Distracted, Rakal turned and greeted the
Great Mother, his tail lashing from side to side. Her disdainful Dimar
expression for his irritation did not make matters any better. Resigning
herself to the fact that this celebration would not provide any of the
much needed rest for her and Rakal, she braced herself to put on a good
show for all the colonists. This was for them. They'd suffered the most
these past weeks, and this celebration had provided them with a much needed
People, betas and Dimar emerged from the
woods, sailed in along the coasts, and landed all around the raised bluff
platform. Tara was pleased to see that many of the colony's humans did
arrive with various Dimar barrydmates, but noticed that there were many
distinct groups of humans and a few betas that carefully avoided mixing
with their larger hosts. She'd have to find a way to accommodate those
who just couldn't adapt to barryd life.
Scanning the surrounding beach, she could
tell that a majority of the colony not on fire duty, and a significant
number of the Dimar from Telka were patiently waiting the start of the
presentation. The few children and young betas, seated near to the bluff
so that they could see clearly, burbled with excitement. Various classes
and wings of Dimar flew lazy circles, proudly displaying their various
identification silks and challenging each other in mock territorial game-dances.
Crowds of humans and betas sat in dunes, or under the shady mangrove-like
trees that provided shade near the bluff, munching away on a variety of
fresh barryd foods. Despite the problems on the bluff, the crowd was festive.
The Pride pulled up to the bluff, and two
young Dimar pushed the pontoon dock up. No sooner had the dock clicked
into place, Rakal and one of the Pride's secondary crews climbed onto
it and began refitting it for another takeoff, quietly working out of
sight of the crowd. It would take at least an hour to clear the engines
and reload the fusion reaction chamber with appropriately dense material
to power it back into orbit, even with Rakal's best team working on it.
It would be another two hours to fix the tow rig, and to position Dark
Hope to successfully drop the gate crasher. Tara worked to think of ways
to lengthen the ceremony so that the gate crash would coincide with the
end of the presentations. Scanning the bluff crowd, she noticed that an
entire division of people to whom she had planned to award medals were
conspicuously absent. She hoped perhaps they'd provide the delay she needed.
The door of the Pride opened, and one by
one, the final colonists and crew from the Singularity II filed down the
dock and up the stairs to the bluff. Excited yips and purring from the
newly arrived betas exiting the ship elicited a joyous cheer from the
crowds below, and a few celebratory whoops from the human colonists inside.
Tara watched the six disguised alphas exit the ship, and exchange a short
but meaningful glance with Rakal. Stooping slightly to hide their greater
height, they quickly moved up the platform to mingle with humans from
the Inner Circle on the bluff. Following, the remaining humans filed out
behind, their faces glowing with the elation of being off a starship and
out in open, unrecycled air. A few faces fell upon seeing the size and
number of Dimar all around, but they quickly forgot their discomfort as
they were reunited with long-missed crew mates and friends around the
Tara turned to the Great Mother, surprised
to find her not ignoring the proceedings as she had expected. Her lavender
head, grizzled with white hairs indicative of her age, had an open, welcoming
expression as she looked from one arrival to another. She rumbled to herself
absently, seeming as pleased with the new arrivals as she might be with
a returning rank of her own Tinar firefighters returning from the line.
Noticing Tara's scrutiny, she snorted and turned away.
The Great Mother turned back toward her.
"Ssould I begin the ceremony, Leader Tara? All the new arrivals are
here." Her tail flicked back and forth with her annoyance. Tara wondered
if she was annoyed at having mispronounced the 'sh' sound, or at having
to refer to her as a Leader. She didn't have time to wonder.
Rising on her hind legs, and spreading
her iridescent wings wide, the Great Mother let loose a loud "OOOOOLAAAHHHM!"
The new arrivals on the bluff nearly dove into the water, scrambling for
sidearms. Other members of the crew on the bluff quickly silenced them,
careful to keep their rifles clipped and the safeties on. Tara clicked
on her amplifier set, and strode purposely to the edge of the platform
where she could be seen by both sides of the crowd. Shaking, she pulled
out her notepad. She was accustomed to addressing large crowds, to prepare
them for battle with a rousing speech. She'd never addressed a crowd of
civilians, or a newly discovered alien species.
"Three months ago..." She began,
her voice cracking. "Three months ago we colonists were all running.
Running from Earth Command, debts, imprisonment, slavery...the drudgery
of what has become life on Earth, Arralla, and the Fleets. Three months
ago we were searching - searching for a new way of living, wishing on
distant stars for elbow room and a place we could call our own home. Today,
our running is over." A cheer went up from the crowd, punctuated
by the various wisecracks from those who Tara recognized as living in
the third level barryd rooms, which were the most crowded of the temporary
housing. "Level three...I can hear you!" She jibed, eliciting
another roar of applause from the crowd. She paused, waiting for the crowd
to refocus it's attention once again on the bluff.
"Today we have a home. And, as we
all knew when we joined this team, we have a lot of work ahead of us.
As the people of Dimar have embraced us, so must we embrace them and work
together to ensure our continued mutual survival. Without them, we'd have
been burned alive. Without us, they'd be enslaved by their neighbors...or
worse...Earth Force." The crowd quieted at the mention of Earth Force,
knowing that until the night sky lit up with the explosion of the gate
crasher closing the star gate, they were all still very much in danger.
Liur cast a worried glance skyward, and quietly slipped off the bluff
and glided back toward Telka. Tara didn't have time to worry and continued
on. "Together, we will form a new Telka, as well as new colonies
all around Telka territory - strengthening it against attack and against
fire. We will be a part of the Dimar Plan. We will make this world our
own, and it in turn will become a part of us." She saw eyebrows raise
in parts of the crowd with the mention of new colonies. Many of the colonists
were itching to rebuild the first settlement, and to claim their own pieces
of territory free from the constraints of the barryd. "We all will
find a space on Dimar that we can call our own home, where we can determine
our own will and our own way, in the great barryd and out." The colony
crowds cheered again, but the Dimar didn't echo the sentiment as loudly.
Tara was walking a tightrope by pushing the colony concept and knew it.
She continued, keeping the speech fluid as she altered it. "Our way
will be a new way - the Dimar way. We will honor the great Plan that the
Telka and all peaceable barryds have laid out. We will not deadbuild.
As the true children of the Water, the Telkans will guide us as we become
a part of all of Dimar. We will take the best from all three societies
- Arrallin, Human, and Dimar - and together build a new, better world
for our children." Most of the humans were not part of the Inner
Circle, and the comment about the three societies started an undercurrent
of discussion. Arrallins were no longer considered a society by humans,
and using Arrallin instead of Lupine or Furry to refer to them was questionable.
"Now, to celebrate this momentous
day - the arrival of the last of the Singularity II - I would like to
begin by recognizing individuals who have shown particular valor during
the first tenuous months on Dimar. First, the fire crews - Tinar 1, 4
and 5, and our own firefighting teams..." She beckoned for Mason
to bring forward the award case. All heads turned as a howling whine issued
from the back of the crowd. The Great Mother wiggled her ears and whuffled
loudly, laughing as the Tinar ranks rose out of the forest well behind
the crowd and glided toward the bluff. The whining noise became more familiar...it
was bagpiping, but it was horrible! Tara cast her glance up to the ranks
moving in to see if they were the source of the noise. Each lead wore
honor silks - but unlike any Tara had ever seen. They were plaid! They
each wore a hideous mix of Telka colors, green gold and purple, arranged
in a tartan pattern. As the ranks approached, the crowd parted, revealing
the three dozen human and beta firefighters, dressed in full kilts made
of the same hideous plaid silk, playing bagpipes fashioned from old lita-sacks.
A roar rippled through the crowd, and those Dimar still hovering in the
air dipped and swooped in a fit of sneezing Dimar laughter. Liur landed
next to Tara, and announced, "The first integrated Tinar rank reporting
as ordered, sir!"
Tara recovered her composure enough to
manage a reply. "Well, I can see you all haven't lost your sense
of humor, but I won't comment on your taste in fashion." Sean MacNamara,
a true Scottish fanatic who had headed the southern border fire-defense
at the colony, strode purposefully up the stairs and onto the bluff. "I
should have known, Sean. But next time...give your crew time to learn
the bagpipes before you let them play." A few kilted betas had already
fallen over with the effort to maintain the howling off-key bagpipe note
they'd managed all during the procession. "Kill the bagpipes, Tinar!"
Happily, the howling died down with a sickly
moan, and the Dimar in the air above the ranks landed and filed in with
the betas and Humans below. "To each of these brave defenders, I
would like to present the Order of the Flame, for their dedicated service
to the barryd, the colony, and to one another." The crowd cheered
as one by one, humans, betas and Dimar filed up onto the platform to accept
each of the small silver pins. "And, to the Great Mother, and her
Tinar ranks who selflessly gave each night to the colony to dig firebreaks
despite direct orders from the council of Leaders, I would like to present
this token of our esteem." She signaled to one of the unloading crews,
and they brought up a large white box. "This was done on board the
Singularity II while it was in orbit by one of our own artisans, Kelsey
Dreslough. We snuck the materials up with each of the Pride's shuttle
runs." She pulled away the container cover to reveal an intricate
metallic sculpture depicting a graceful Tinar line hovering before a wall
of carved rosewood flames. Tara grinned as a number of Dimar artisans
near the platform rumbled approval of the work.
"It is most beautiful. Perhaps our
own artisans can learn from yours, Tara." The Great Mother strode
forward and took the sculpture carefully in both paws. Holding it before
the crowd, the Dimar joined in a chiming song of thanks. With perfect
timing, one of her acolytes came forward and spirited the sculpture back
to the barryd, skimming noiselessly over the crowd. Tara noted with a
spike of jealousy how handy psionic communication was for these ceremonies.
The Great Mother retook her place in the back of the platform, and nodded
to Tara, signaling her to continue.
"Now, it is both a human and Arrallin
tradition to recognize acts of bravery and ingenuity whenever they occur
- even in the heat of battle. She saw a few puzzled looks from the various
Dimar in attendance. During the course of the attack on the colony by
the Mulkol, many individuals showed exceptional self-sacrifice by risking
themselves to save our colony, even though it was not their own home.
For their bravery, the colony would like to recognize three Telkans -
Luuko, Tewi and Namalki for their efforts to defend the colony from the
attack and hold the fire lines." A buzz went up among the Dimar in
the crowd, and all eyes were on the Great Mother.
She stepped forward slowly and gracefully,
towering over Tara. It was clear from her expression that she was psionically
explaining the situation to the Dimar, quelling their protest. Speaking
aloud for the benefit of the non-Talented, she roared, "As the colonists
honor our traditions, so must we allow theirs. These awards are not for
Mulkai action or Mulkai thought, but for bravery in a crisis. These individuals
did not kill cruelly, or choose the Mulkai path, but instead chose, as
any of us would, to defend the colony as if it were our own barryd. That
is within keeping with our own Telkai tradition. We will accept this.
There will be no questions." Her tone was final, and the Dimar were
Tara stepped forward to Tewi, her mate
Namalki and Luuko. "Tewi and Namalki - for risking yourselves and
your unlaid eggs for our colony, I present the Order of Kinratta. It is
an ancient Arrallin award reserved for alphas carrying children who go
into combat." She placed a blue silk ribbon bearing the golden insignia
around each of the females' necks. She wondered about the frequency of
same-sex pairings in Dimar culture, but had her attention snapped back
to the business at hand.
"For you, Luuko, who bravely endured
flames to try to drive off an entire Mulkol rank with minimal loss of
life by engaging the rank leader, I present the Silver Cross. It may not
be commonly known to Telkans, but by driving off the leader of a group,
you can sometimes break the entire formation and force it to retreat.
In attempting to do this, Luuko was not only saving the lives of those
defending the colony, but also sparing those lives of the young Mulkol
in the first line of the battle who were ordered to retreat when the rank
leader fell." An appreciative sing-song tune rose up from the Telkans
in the crowd, and Luuko bowed his head modestly.
She glanced back at the Pride, and saw
Rakal's signal that they were ready to take off. "And now, for the
first of two sets of fireworks for this evening. First, the Arralla's
Pride will take off again - a spectacle with which we are now all thoroughly
familiar. And, with the Pride overseeing the operation, in a few hours,
we will all be able to view the closing of the gate, which promises to
be something to remember." The crowd, Dimar and colonists alike let
out a strong cheer at the news. "We'll spend the remainder of the
evening enjoying a wide variety of new recipes, and hearing reports from
all divisions of the new barryd/Colony."
The Pride detached and pulled away on water-pulse
engines, working toward takeoff speed. As she watched it go, Tara was
filled with a sense of foreboding. She scanned the crowd, trying to figure
out what was triggering her nervousness, but with no luck. She clicked
over to the Pride's communication channel. "Rakal, is everything
okay on board? You got that fuel transfer done in record time, which isn't
exactly a good thing."
"The Pride is as good as ever, and
I'll throw it into orbit myself if need be. We'll be off this rock in
10 minutes, and I'll be with Kiralla in another five. I could fly without
a ship right about now. I'll keep you posted on how the operation is going,
relativity allowing. Rakal out." His voice resonated with a familiar
confidence as he piloted the craft out into the calm water. Tara wondered
how much he would miss long years in space, piloting the more challenging
destroyer class ships.
Still, Tara could not shake the apprehension
she felt as the ship moved out of view. She concluded her presentation
and prepared the crowd for Mason's important biological survey information.
He took the broadcast channel, and she tuned back into the Pride's communications
frequency nervously. She scanned the horizon, watching for the plume that
would mark the Pride's liftoff toward orbit. Rakal's voice broke her reverie.
"We're beginning liftoff, but I think
I should abort...there's something big down there. Like a school of fish,
moving toward the coast fast!" Rakal sounded torn between keeping
the Pride and its weaponry power close to the festival and getting up
into orbit and on board the Dark Hope with Kiralla.
Luuko padded up, his head swaying back
and forth with alarm. "Tara, Kiralla just spoke to me...something's
very wrong with her," he whispered.
"Rakal - no time for fishing. Get
up there now! Seems Kiralla just told Luuko that there's something wrong
up there." Tara fervently wished that Kiralla had not gone into season.
His bark of alarm was coupled with a roar from across the ocean as the
Pride lifted on a plume of steam.
"Luuko, give me a full report...as
best you can. Did she say that she was going to mate?" Tara stared
deep into his blue eyes, seeing her own panicked reflection staring back
"Landry is moving the ship...and yes,
she will mate very soon. He's heading for the Gate...he may not close
it. He knows Kiralla is alpha and has her alone in the hold of the ship."
He blinked nervously, careful to modulate his voice so the Great Mother
could not hear. She was engrossed in her own discussions with her acolytes,
listening to Mason's report.
Wincing, she clicked back onto the communication
channel with Rakal. "She's going into season, and Landry's making
a break for the Gate. Damn furverts! He knows," she moaned. "I
don't know how, but he knows! Get up there, and prime the cannons."
She clicked out, not wanting to hear Rakal's reaction. She blinked back
tears of rage, hoarsely whispering, "He'll never make it. Landry's
120 minutes from the gate, and he's 30 minutes from Landry. If he drops
the Gate Crasher as he goes through, Rakal could be killed up there!"
She felt as if she were watching a friend die.
Luuko whined a concerned note, and the
Great Mother momentarily turned her gaze to them. She looked away, feeling
completely drained and helpless.
"Her voice is very strange...she doesn't
sound like herself." Luuko stared out across the water, as if listening.
"She isn't making sense right now."
Tara bit her lip. She was under the influence
of 20 years of pent hormones. And, isolated from her beta entourage and
alone with Landry, she'd have little choice when she reached her mating
peak. Bleakly, she turned back to the crowd to listen to the reports.
The Pride was little more than a speck
atop the pillar of steam at this point, but the engine roar seemed to
be getting louder. The water around the bluff became rough, with the waves
getting higher and higher. The crowd went silent. The ground beneath her
feet shuddered as the Great Mother screeched out a strangled cry of alarm!