Table of Contents
Lost Waters - Chapter 25
Onlookers, both Mulkol and Telkan hovered
around the pool. Both barryds were in a state of stasis, confusion, waiting
to see what was left of the link between Dimar and their respective cities.
Luuko looked across the pool at the grizzled, armored faces of Mulkol
foes. They were young warriors, just as he was a young Tinar, but Mulkol
developed a rough all-over armor that they never lost. A momentary flash
of curiosity of what it must be like to never feel the joy of wind in
light fur, or the coolness of water as it penetrated the deepest down
crossed Luuko's mind, but faded as he scanned the onlookers. He saw the
hollow look that haunted his own barrydmates. It was much like the hunter
and the prey giving up the chase in the midst of an earthquake. A greater
calamity made the war between the barryds petty and significant. Neither
side had ever expected to completely lose the precious and vital link
between their city, the barryd, and it's residents regardless of the outcome
of the battles. They were both facing complete annihilation of their cultures
if the barryds had rejected Tara.
Luuko looked down into the murky green
pool. The bubbling and foam along the edges, and the opacity of the Water
was an unclear sign. Some took it to mean that the Water had rejected
Tara completely, along with the barryds, but none of the telltale signs
of Barryd loss had set in on the upper spires of either Telka or Mulkol.
The blooms weren't growing, but they weren't dying either. It was as if
both cities were waiting.
The Water bubbled, sending tiny ringlets
of white froth out in waves to the edge of the pool. In a momentary, fragmented
exchange with what was left of Goothib, Luuko had been given an insight
into another meaning for the sign the Water gave. The active cells of
the Water had had little contact with humans. Humans were a completely
new structure and composition for them. The barryd Waters of Mulkol were
working to figure out just what exactly it was they were to repair. Luuko
hoped fervently that this was the case. The healers had avoided the pool,
leaving Tara's still form in there alone to avoid any confusion of the
Water. Experiments had proven that confusion happened quite easily, with
Luuko's thoughts returned to Goothib. He
should go visit with him again. Perhaps the warm mind-touch of an understanding
friend might bring more of his clear thinking back and pull him out of
the nightmarish world of dreams that consumed him. Harmon was with him
night and day since the invasion of the Barryd, but even her love had
not had much effect on the battle-scarred engineer.
A hand, healed and in one piece, broke
the surface. The fingers reached out of the water frantically, grasping
at the air. Tara burst forth from the pool, grabbing at her throat, kicking
frantically for the side. With unexpected tenderness, a Mulkol healer
scooped her from the water with his massive hands and wrapped her in a
leaf from the tallest spire of Mulkol. It was a luxury reserved for only
the most important members of the barryd, and the warm, soft membrane
of new leaves was known to have superior insular powers.
Oblivious to the honor, Tara proceeded
to vomit. The Water cleared from her lungs and stomach, and she gasped
in air with rasping breaths. Luuko tentatively reached out to her mentally,
unsure of what he might find. He felt every presence in the room reach
with him, desperate to feel the life of their cities in Tara. She opened
her eyes and sat upright on the leaf, and the cities answered.
A shudder ripped through the walls of the
Mulkol healing room, sending technicians from both Mulkol and Telka soaring
up toward the spires and into the tunnels to the lower rootsystems. A
full minute of shaking brought frescoes and stained glass raining down
in the healing room, sending up cries of alarm all over the barryd. Luuko
fell hard onto the floor, but refused to flee the room with others. He
just watched Tara, who sat on her leaf, looking as if she was listening
to something. He listened too.
"Unprecedented growth on the west
side! Telka's sprouting on the east...the blooms are growing again..."
Engineering reports from both Mulkol and Telka channels rang through the
air as the shaking subsided. Luuko looked at Tara, sensing a sure resonance
from Telka and a new resonance from Mulkol. He let out a whoop of celebration
and launched himself into the air. Both Barryds were alive!
Tara stood and shyly wrapped herself in
the leaf. Onlookers hovered in the air, eyes closed, as they drank in
the emanations from their home barryds. Some Telkans, Luuko could sense,
were pouring themselves into the light of Mulkol, flowing freely out of
Telka's radiance. Mulkol flooded in, especially curious about the technological
advancements Telka had made in the many years of separation. They were
oblivious to Tara, who quietly padded off down a tunnel. Luuko quietly
followed, letting the wind carry him noiselessly behind her. He couldn't
tell what she was after, but she was intent on something in the lower
The tunnel was dark and the floor of the
passage was uneven, but Tara made her way quickly. She darted through
the twisting tunnels and passed her tiny hand over the membranes of the
recognizers, opening each one she passed and leaving it open. Luuko refused
to look into the chambers beyond; these were the Mulkol's fabled experimentation
pools. Tara slowed as she approached a large, well lit doorway. She turned
back toward Luuko, and brushed his mind with hers.
"I have to be present for as many
hatchings as I can, don't I?" Tara looked up at Luuko expectantly.
"I am not an acolyte, Tara, and I
can't speak for Mulkol tradition, but by Telka standards, yes. But, this
can't be a nest room, can it?" Luuko carefully reached out to Mulkol,
looking for their layout in the record resonances. Their system of information
storage was the same, but the layout was different. He had no idea where
to start looking.
She waved her hand by the recognizer and
slipped into the chamber. Luuko hesitantly moved inside, sizing up the
room for any signs of danger. Tara launched into a halting rendition of
a hatching song, but only parts of it Luuko recognized.
Goothib sat in a corner, rocking wildly
from side to side. Thirteen marks had been dug into the walls, each marked
with stains of deep red-brown. Harmon hugged Goothib's shoulder, rubbing
his foreleg protectively. She looked haggard, and gave Tara only a passing
glance. Her eyes were on the large mass in the center of the room. An
egg shape, covered in gently moving tendrils, was set on a makeshift nest
beside a small Water pool.
Nervous, Luuko tried to regain mental contact
...thirteen gone...he'll live...he'll live...thirteen
gone...I haven't failed...thirteen gone... Goothib was chanting to the
tune of a hatching song, concentrating on the egg. Harmon was concentrating
on him, lending him as much energy as she could to stay awake. Not knowing
what else to do, Luuko began to carry the tune as well, re-enforcing Harmon's
support of Goothib, but avoiding Goothib's horrific thoughts.
The egg shattered as a rusty-brown form
emerged. It slid down the side of the nest pad, and frantically scratched
at its face to remove the birthing material. A combination of fear and
fury emanated from the creature, but the emotions muted as Tara began
to converse with it. Horrified, Luuko realized that this was Mason.
"You're not the only one who was taken,
Cy. The barryds have taken over as much of me as you...they're just linked
to my mind is all. We knew there was no going back, and now there can
be no doubt." Tara's voice had a desperate edge, but was resigned.
She continued the hatching song tune as a background to her thoughts.
Mason? Luuko touched the creature's mind,
and did catch a very familiar set of memories of the colony, but from
a different viewpoint. Mason was furious, and his mind was bathed in pain.
"Yes, Luuko. It's me. It seems the
Mulkol were curious about how humans would react to the Water, and decided
to see if we could take a useful form for them. They didn't see much use
in our ugly, hairless, bipedal configuration and figured it would be a
great favor to convert us to more Dimar standards. So, HERE I AM. It only
cost the lives of thirty seven of my crewmates!"
Goothib continued his frantic chant. "Thirteen
gone...he'll live...he'll live...Thirteen gone...he'll live..."
"Goothib, SHUT UP!" Mason swung
his head backward, flailing blindly. Goothib halted his chant, but continued
rocking back and forth. Striking his head against the rough surface of
an egg fragment shocked Mason into opening his eyes. "How the hell
do you coordinate all these limbs! This is insane..." He kept his
head up, unwilling to see what Goothib and Mulkol had done to him.
As he slowly gained some use of his limbs,
Luuko noted that the new Mason wasn't a far cry from a true Dimar. He
looked like he was half way to adult, sinuous and lanky, and even had
signs of firescales forming beneath what was a rougher version of true
velvet. His wings glittered with newness, exposing tender membranes as
he opened and closed them. His wings had a complex pattern of gold, green
and brown shades worked into them, like a Mulkol, but lacked the tiny
scaled protection Mulkol wings had. His eyes were no longer human, but
were a brilliant blue with catlike slits. They were Mulkol eyes, adapted
for both day and night vision, unlike all other Dimar, who could only
see well in daylight. His horns, however, were regular Telkan...graceful
spirals with no offshoots or points.
"As soon as possible, Goothib. You
have to change me back. I can't live like this." The pain in Mason's
mind had abated, and he was examining his foreleg. "At least I still
have only five fingers." Curiously, he extended a foreleg and flexed
a hand. Turning his head back, he stretched one wing and then the other.
Unused to psi communication, he made garbled conversational tones as he
thought, still trying to use his voice as he would have before.
Goothib collapsed in an exhausted heap,
and Harmon sank down next to him. "Only three more to go. I don't
think Goothib can take much more of this. The next one hatches in two
days, and it's an Arrallin. We'll probably lose her. He's lost 24 betas
so far, and 13 humans. Mason's the first one to live through the process.
Every death rips at his mind."
"And yours, Harmon. Get some rest
too. I'll rally the acolytes to bolster him when the hatching time starts
for the others. You're not working alone now. Things are going to return
to...well, I hesitate to use the term 'normal'. But, order will return."
Tara scrubbed at Mason's sides with a bit of her leaf, drying him as he
recovered from the hatching process. He quickly fell into a deep slumber
at the side of the pool.
Two acolytes, one Mulkol and one Telkan
tried to burst through the same doorway calling for Tara. The sounds of
scuffle began in the hall as they fought over who should enter first.
"We MADE you...so stand aside, Telkan! Heed your superiors..."
The Mulkol acolyte's tone was caustic and self-righteous. "We're
from the same stock, you morrak. And, it just so happens IF you made,
you made us smarter." The Telkan's tone was inviting a fight, and
the Mulkol rose to the challenge. As the Mulkol reared back to strike,
the Telkan slipped into the chamber first.
"Telka fifth acolyte, reporting Leader."
Smugly, the Telkan took a seat placing Tara between him and the massive
Mulkol. The larger acolyte burst in from the hallway, fuming from the
deceit. "Just like a Telkan to run from a fight." She asided
to her rival.
"Mulkol FOURTH acolyte, reporting
Leader." She eyed both Luuko and the other acolyte with contempt,
but regarded Tara with only expectation.
Tara eyed them both sternly and crossed
her arms, hugging her leaf closely to remain covered. Giving orders dressed
in little more than an oversized houseplant wasn't her usual style, but
she could tell by their gaze that when they looked at her that her uniform
didn't matter. They didn't see a human, but the embodiment of two whole
universes - Mulkol and Telka. She could probably get away with wearing
her morrak slippers and nothing else with the Dimar now. A presence at
the back of her mind waited expectantly as well. It was the Telka-Mulkol
barryd plant, with all its knowledge and wisdom of ages of growth and
the growth of its people. It was like having the entire Earth United Libraries
system hooked to her head, ready to answer even the most minute question
and bend to whichever directive she sent it. She mused to herself, chuckling,
'Wow...I could really screw this up.'
She immediately turned to the only reliable
source she could find - the barryd. Leafing through image after image
of ritual, speculation, design, tradition, all displayed to her without
opinion or pretense, she worked to find some precedent that matched this
situation, and a way out of it. There were ceremonies to pass barryd control
from usurpers or retiring matriarchs without loss of life. There was a
very common convention of doing a half-transfer to an acolyte if the Leader
had to leave the Barryd confines for any reason. The Telkan side revealed
all this the moment the thought entered her mind. The Mulkol side had
a number of options as well, and presented them in turn. She breathed
a sigh of relief and continued her research. There was an identical retirement
ceremony on the Mulkol side, as well as joint control.
A tingling sensation caused Tara to involuntarily
blink. An obscured set of images relating to Mulkol barryd leaders caught
her attention. Something was pulling those barryd pages out of her reach,
but she managed to catch them before they were gone entirely. An ancient
and complicated ceremony for relieving a barryd leader of duty for rejoining
with a Starborn craft, with most of its details intact flipped through
her mind. Nearly instinctively, she stored it in a remote section of the
Telka barryd data stores. There were Mulkol forces at work that didn't
necessarily follow the straight and narrow line outlined by their Leader.
She wasn't surprised...the Mulkol had a deep history of feudal organization
by family and clan. Mulkol families within the barryd were probably at
this moment taking their family histories and knowledge and breaking off
from the core of the barryd knowledge base. Realizing that as time progressed
Mulkol was probably splintering even further, she took a seat right at
the edge of the pool and worked to snatch as much information as she could.
"Tara? What are you doing?" Harmon
began to approach, but the two acolytes bared their teeth and blocked
Tara continued her research, chasing image
after image and storing it away as quickly as the unknown Mulkol could
pull it from the Mulkol core, only peripherally aware of the conversation
that began around her.
"She communing with the barryd and
should not be disturbed," the acolytes chimed in unison. More annoyed
at the similarity of their replies then Harmon's actions, they turned
to face each other and growled.
Absently she shot a command at both Explain
it to her, and politely, or you'll enjoy a stay in the muck room. She
pulled more and more Mulkol data into Telka, swapping out some of Telka's
information as the core had difficulty creating unoccupied cells. She
was wreaking havoc on both plants, and what little Dimar restraint had
been passed to her wasn't enough to keep her from knowing whatever it
was the Mulkol so desperately needed to hide. She could sense engineers
from both barryds drinking up the mixed information and untold Telkai
secrets now laid bare by Tara's exhaustive pursuit. Goothib's personal
bandwidth wasn't far behind her own, racing through the core of Mulkol
to find the culprit.
The Telkan acolyte deferred to the Mulkol
with a mischievous wiggling of ears, "Age before beauty, Mulkol.
You try explaining this to the human."
The Mulkol hissed at the Telkan with annoyance,
correcting him. "Don't call me Mulkol, Telkan. It's improper! Mulkoli
if you like, but not Mulkol - especially in front of the Leader. My name
is Freia." The Mulkol regarded Harmon, not sure how to proceed. "She,
Tara, is one of us now, and she is the only one who should be called Mulkol.
She's not a tiny single-minded grub like you anymore, so you can't treat
her like some mate you'd just approach and pester. She's the barryd. We
are all the barryd, but she is closest to the whole, so when she communes
and you disturb her, you threaten us all." The Mulkoli swung her
massive head down to view Harmon squarely, and bared her teeth.
Harmon just stared blankly at the Mulkol
"Oh, good one, Mulkol-eee. That was
a polite explanation? Did your Leader study these beings at all before
you decided to raze Telka?" He snorted and slapped the huge Mulkol
acolyte's side with his tail teasingly. "I, Karti, will explain -
in my best understanding of human terms. I am thankful that you, Harmon,
are blessed with a full mind - a psi." He paused to regard the Mulkol.
The Mulkol acolyte fell into her own reverie
as she raided the Telka barryd's informational stores for information
on the colonists. She slapped the ground with her right paw in a Mulkol
gesture for the Telkan to continue in her place, but the Telkan did nothing.
The Mulkol's scale encrusted ears wiggled
with unaccustomed mirth as she made her own jibe at the sarcastic Telkan.
"This gesture, Telka, means continue. It is clear that you did little
studying of your closest neighbors over the last few, oh, thousand cycles
or so." She slapped the Telkan's side with her tail in a friendly
manner, but the force sent the Telkan rolling to the side. He hopped up
and returned to Harmon, taking a seat on the Mulkol's tail.
"When you colonists look at a flower,
you see the flower only. You don't always see it's dependencies - both
internal and external. When we Dimar," he paused to emphasize both
Mulkol and Telka in the term, "view a flower, we see the soil elements
- minerals, bone meal, fertilizer and dried animal blood, as well as live
elements like active cells in the soil," he showed microbes at the
roots, "but we include in the definition of flower anything that
lives on it that it can't live without. Bees would be a dependency of
flowers, and flowers of bees. It's simply an emphasis on relationships
between entities, rather than the entity itself. A flower cannot live
without a bee, and bee cannot live without a flower. They tend each other.
The bee is the eyes and arms of the flower, and the flower is the stomach
and mouth of the bee."
Harmon nodded, continuing the thread, "So
the Dimar are part of their barryd, and the barryd is part of the Dimar.
You tend the barryd, and it feeds you. So Tara is now fully integrated
into the dependencies of the barryd, whereas we other colonists aren't."
"Exactly, but there's more."
The Telkan continued. "Imagine there was one live being that could
embody the condition of the entire whole. A barryd is a whole so complex
that it is nearly aware, like us. The leader serves as the voice for the
barryd plant/animal...whole" the Telkan couldn't find a word or simple
tag for the idea even in his advanced English vocabulary. "Tara is
now that voice, and she is having a conversation with the barryd. If she
is interrupted, and her orders misdirected, the whole suffers. It is dangerous
to interrupt a Leader in this state. Learn this state, and learn to protect
your Leader when she is in Reverie."
"She looks like she's watching TV."
Harmon winked at the Telkan, who wiggled his ears and whuffled.
The Mulkol acolyte broke into the exchange
with an excited whoop. "These colonists! What history they have...I
will enjoy this post greatly." She flashed images of Medieval knights,
Samurai, Zulu tribesmen, Aztecs with blood rituals. Proudly, she displayed
an image of an Afghanistani rifle, covered in intricate hand carvings
and decorations. To her, this image said it all - that war was not a battle
for land, but an art and a holy calling. She flipped through images of
the machines of war through the ages, reveling not so much just in the
destructive power of each, but in the grace and care with which they were
built. "See, Telka...your colonist friends have a strong and proper
Mulkai tradition. You should learn from them."
The Telkan turned back to Harmon, and commented
wryly. "Correction. Telkans are nice regular bees, and Mulkol are
nasty killer bees. But, the barryd plants we are part of are the same,
as much as a cactus and a rose can be considered the same."
Goothib emerged from his reverie, refocusing
his eyes on Harmon. He lifted his head to Harmon and the Acolytes, Remember
this signature mark...find the Mulkol who bears this signature mark. They
are renegades. He clearly broadcast a colorful band - a kind of psi signature
left on images to identify the source.
Tara broke her trance and stretched. "Well,
I think I've made quite a mess of things, but we have much more to learn
from our Mulkol friends now than we would have. Yes...yes...if you find
the renegades, let me talk with them. Time to smooth things over with
my internal and external dependencies, as it were." She rose, as
an acolyte entered with her careworn dress-gray uniform. "Now, if
you all don't mind, I have to figure out how keep the Leaders of all the
other barryds on Dimar from wiping all of us - Mulkol, Telka, Arrallin,
and Human - off the face of the planet. Our nosy neighbors have been watching
the events of the last few days with some interest and even more concern."
On a restricted frequency, she sent word to Ekal where the three planet-based
mated pairs of Arrallins waited for the results of the raid on Mulkol.
She gave explicit orders for them and for several human colonist groups
to move out and settle as far away from the barryds as was possible. Current
events not withstanding, she would not fail in her mission to provide
the Arrallins with a new homeworld in co-habitation with humans. She thought
of Rakal, who seemed years as well as light-years away now.
Dressing quickly, she made her way down
the elegant slightly arched hallways toward a Mulkol spire that she only
knew from a borrowed memory of the barryd. She had never seen these halls
with her own eyes before, but they seemed more home now than her own ship
ever did. The reverent memories of Mulkai who'd gone to the stars reverberated
in each panel of the corridor walls. It gave the whole barryd the soothing
air of a museum or memorial to heroes long departed. Although she felt
at home, the atmosphere didn't ease her worries about Rakal, or Earth.