Table of Contents
Lost Waters - Chapter 17
Shots rang out through the forest behind
the bluff. Tara spun away from the churning foam to find acolytes falling
to either side of her. The carnage was almost incomprehensible. As each
barbed globule struck, the firescales and skin of it's target seemed to
slough away, as if liquefied. One acolyte fell into the now slushy wing
of another, and it itself started to dissolve. Both fell away off the
bluff and into the water, carefully avoiding the Great Mother and her
Out across the treetops, massive forms
churned toward them, preceded by a pressure wave of wind that knocked
Dimar in flight out of the air and down into the trees. Tiny petals dropped
from the underside of the flying vehicles, blossoming into parachutes.
Each carried a fearsome looking cargo that either erupted in a shower
of projectiles, or sprouted legs. The mobile vehicles scuttled through
the forests like spiders, impaling Telkans on their barbs as they crushed
through the underbrush at lightning speeds. Tara had seen enough, and
grabbed a plasma rifle instinctively.
"Damn Landry's timing! We need the
Pride down here. What the hell are those things!" The sea-borne vehicles,
now amphibious, were making good speed up the beaches. What Telkan resistance
there was did little, but the plasma rifles did seem to slow them down.
Tara picked off the front legs of one of the smaller craft that was making
a bee-line for the bluff.
Acolytes crowded around the Great Mother.
They carried her off the bluff and down into the relative safety of the
lee side. She was motionless, sitting in her customary position for commanding
the fire lines, but her face lacked the sanguine expression she usually
wore. Furrowed with concentration and raw anger, her muzzle had pulled
back to reveal rows of sharp white teeth, and her eyes flashed. All around,
Telkans formed the familiar and orderly battle lines from their territorial
dances, as if propelled by an unseen hand. As each rank formed, it let
loose a furious battle cry, and swept off to engage each of the approaching
crawlers. Tara couldn't bare to watch to see how well they fared.
Luuko leapt up from the Great Mother's
side to sweep Tara off the bluff as a barrage of barbed globules rained
down from an approaching paratrooper.
Betas, working frantically in a coordinated
mass had dug a cave in a matter of minutes, while others clumped around
the alphas creating a perfect sphere of living protection for each pair.
In a coordinated mass of fur, they rolled like some giant dust-bunny into
the opening, suffering the impacts of spiked projectiles noiselessly.
A snarl still evident on her face, a tan Beta, dead from a direct impact
to the chest by one of the barbules, fell out of the clump and to the
As they rushed by, Tara noted that the
viscous fluid that had caused such damage in the Telkans had no effect
on the Betas struck by the projectiles. The Mulkol were using some kind
of biological agent to digest the Telkans alive, but either sparing, or
unable to affect the colonists. The spikes were still solid, and as sharp
as razors, but at least the Arallakeeni wouldn't start to melt and infect
others as the acolytes had.
One of the nightmare machines climbed over
the bluff, looming down over them and the Great Mother's entourage. Tara
gave a warning yell and fired five shots into it's center. It faltered,
seeming to writhe for a moment as if alive, and backed off. Screaming
to the acolytes to move out, she knew it wouldn't be long before another
and another of those machines came tumbling over after them.
She ran into the woods in a zigzag pattern,
firing on the ground-troops and foot soldiers of the Mulkol as best she
could. "A hovercar, dammit! I need a higher capacity weapon!"
What hovercars were still working had already
taken to the air. Some blasted away, working to defend the bluff from
attacks from all sides. With a deep resentment, Tara watched two hovercars
blast off back toward the old colony site to the south, firing no shots
as they went. If she lived, she'd execute those traitors personally.
Fury goading her on, she deftly leapt over
bodies of fallen Telkans, now decaying into pools on the forest floor.
She fired away at the armored Mulkol, doing little damage and avoiding
them in the complex root systems and underbrush. Again, she wished she
could get airborne. She was a pilot, and could do more damage from the
air - with the right weapons.
She skirted a clearing where a wing of
the Telkan defenders had engaged a crawler. Each had dug it's tail-spade
into the side of the vehicle, and was working to pry one of the shell-like
panels loose. The vehicle was covered in barbs that dug into each Telkan,
infecting them with the liquefying ooze that had so completely destroyed
the acolytes on the bluff. As if ignorant to the pain, the Telkans worked
on...their sheer weight dragging the crawler to it's knees and flipping
A Mulkol foot soldier approached to her
left, not noticing her crouched in the underbrush. As it latched onto
a dying Telkan and worked to pry it loose from the crawler, she quietly
took aim and neatly shot a hole through the Mulkol's skull. The foot soldier's
efforts were misguided, however. The crawler's own biological defenses
were making quick work of the Telkans. They were simply turning to jelly
and sliding off in half-digested pools, flailing ineffectively at the
vehicle as it regained it's footing and righted itself.
Tara swore in frustration. Noticing a fire-scorched
tree leaning in toward the clearing, she took careful aim. Blast after
blast blew hunks of wood out of the bottom of the tree, and finally, with
a resounding crack, it fell, crushing the crawler. The machine stopped
moving, leaving Tara with only the distant sounds of battle.
The sudden stillness of the meadow, littered
with colorful pools of the dead was too much for Tara. Her head swam,
filled with a thousand frantic voices and cries for help. Dropping her
rifle, she fell to her side in the grass. In vain, she covered her ears
to block out the voices - voices, she slowly realized that were only in
her head. An almost overwhelming feeling of guilt swept through her. In
her exhaustion, she realized that she may be dead, and that these were
the voices of all the Arrallins and people she'd killed in battle before
she met Rakal. Before she understood just how wrong what she had been
doing was. "I'm trying to save them now! I'm trying to save them
now... I'm trying..." she screamed as the voices grew louder and
each cry more distinct.
A frantic shake on her shoulder knocked
her out back into reality. She rolled to find Harmon staring down at her,
stunned. "Tara...you've got to shut down your broadcasting... They're
combing the forest for that voice now!"
"Harmon...I haven't got a radio. Dammit,
I need a hovercar to do real damage, and to coordinate the counter attack!"
Tara sputtered, clamping down on her previous wild emotional outbursts
to again take command of the situation. "Contact Tarrin...find out
if there are any hovercars left near where they took the Alphas. We need
to set up some kind of communication net...the Telkans' efforts are just
Harmon locked eyes with her in a steady,
searching gaze. "Tara, you were broadcasting...you have Talent. I
can see it plain as day now. You've got to keep it hidden or they'll find
you for sure." Without moving her mouth, Tara distinctly heard, "Can
you hear this?"
"Yes, but..." Tara answered verbally,
still too shaken to know exactly what had just transpired.
"Okay...next test...can you see this?"
Harmon closed her eyes, concentrating. "Don't get frustrated...I
can sense you blocking. Okay, what do you see in your mind now?"
Images, first of basic shapes, and then colors, and different scenes in
combination flashed into Tara's mind.
Colony, Telka Barryd, the goat pens...the horses running in the grass
courtyards at Telka." Tara struggled with the unfamiliar flavor of
the images. Despite their bucolic and peaceful nature, the very presence
of the odd images was disturbing. Feeling the need to counter, she responded
with her own. She pushed out an image of her favorite horse, Tsarina,
leading the herd back at the colony, feeling the warmth and pride she
had felt when she first let them run after many long months in the ships.
"Whoa...okay...we've established that
you can broadcast and receive. Figuring your effective range we can do
later. Our first task will be teaching you how to avoid detection. If
they know you're a psi, they'll catch you for sure to lead the non-psi
slaves." Harmon's tone was caustic, and she glared out toward the
wings of Mulkol foot soldiers that swept low over the forest, carrying
off colonists and Dimar alike.
"Slaves? What? This battle's not over...we've
got to regroup and set up a battle plan." Tara struggled to her feet,
shouldering her plasma rifle. Emotionally, she was swept with wave after
wave of an unfamiliar feeling - the feeling of defeat. It emanated all
around her, an unfamiliar presence that she could never detect before.
"No...from what I can tell, the battle
is over. Reports from all over show that what Telkans resisted were quickly
killed, and those that didn't resist were enslaved. Seems that that's
the way the Mulkol do business..." Her bitter tone told Tara that
this was more than just a lost battle, but a personal loss.
"Is Goothib...?" Tara slumped
back down into the long grass.
"No...he's alive, but enslaved. Seems
his skills will make a valuable addition to the Mulkol's failing Telkai
and Tinar branches. They're not good at much beyond war." She dug
her fingers into the roots of the grass, pulling at them angrily.
Tara sat bolt upright. "The Great
Mother...is she dead?"
Harmon let loose a rueful chuckle. "No...no
no no...they've got something special in store for her. I'm not sure what,
but from what little I know of their history, it won't be pleasant. At
least she's still alive though. As long as she's around, the Telkans are
willing to at least put up some resistance."
"What about Luuko, Liur, Mason and
the others? Any news?" Tara was already forming a possible counterattack
plan, but she'd need willing resistance from the Telkans who survived,
and she'd need field marshals she could depend on. "Who's left to
finish this war on our side?"
"Luuko suffered some serious damage,
but didn't get hit with a snot-gun, thanks be. He's getting watered-up
at Ekal with the rest of the resistance. Liur...Liur was lost trying to
defend the Great Mother, as were Tewi and her mate. About half of Telka's
population was killed...the rest enslaved. Mason was captured, along with
about five dozen other humans, I suspect for experimentation purposes.
Telka is Mulkol occupied now...we can't go back, so we've lost most of
our equipment. Luckily, because the Arrallins and humans aren't psi, and
aren't considered very valuable by the Mulkol yet, most of the colonists
did escape into the woods." Harmon looked dubious at the mention
of a counter attack, but gave her report dutifully. "It's not enough
to stand against the Mulkol and these ancient war-machines of theirs.
It just isn't."
"We've got three ships in orbit, and
if need be, I'll drop all three straight on Mulkol's head. But, a direct
attack is never effective at this point in the game. We need to work smarter,
not harder to get out of this. We need support from other Barryds."
Tara knew she needed more information, but Ekal was more than a day's
march from the bluff, and the colonists were scattered. A twinge of guilt
for having left the Great Mother's side passed through her, but she crushed
"I felt that guilt as clear as rain
on my head, Tara. I've got to show you how to block...they'll hear you
a mile away at this rate." Harmon shook her head, chuckling sardonically.
A wing of Mulkol soldiers flew low over the forest near them, and turned
their way as Harmon began the lesson.