Table of Contents
Lost Waters - Chapter 9
"Sir, they've requested that all high
ranking personnel be brought to the Telka Barryd central meeting room
for a tour, a meeting and an announcement. It seems that it would be detrimental
to some great plan they have for us to continue with our own encampment
out here. They're inviting us to become part of their barryd, providing
the details can be worked out satisfactorily. Can you believe this? Having
three-hundred sixty-odd people in a field sixty miles away is going to
interrupt their great plan. These guys think ahead — I can't wait to poke
around their barryd thing." Mason seemed oblivious to the fact that
Tara had just woken up from a sleep that was far too short for her needs.
Tara yawned and stretched, realizing that
for the last month, she had been oscillating between two very dirty outfits.
Currently, she was wearing the poorly patched uniform she had crashed
in. "In other words, we're being worked into their Great Plan. I
wonder if their plan will work with ours. This meeting will be interesting,
to say the least." She got up, feeling around the nylar mat under
her feet for her slippers. "Time to break out the dress grays. Tell
everyone from the Arrallin Insurrection team that's down here to get ready
for the meeting. If we're going to openly discuss options, we're going
to have to consider letting the Dimar know about the hive restructuring,
and I'd prefer that certain humans down here didn't know about the Alphas
just yet. We still haven't closed the gate, and if Landry got wind of
things, we could be leaving the planet open for an invasion force."
She scrunched her feet into the warm fuzzy
yellow morrak slippers that Tarrin had made for her as a joke. The Dimar
had fallen over in sneezing fits when she made the mistake of wearing
them outside for the first time to go to the showers. She looked down
at the two pair of beady black eyes, formerly shirt buttons, on each slipper,
noting how the rabbit-like ears flopped as she moved her feet. They really
did look like morraks. At least, the heads did. True to the real McCoy,
the slippers had the distinctive blunt snouts, with a cow-like nose and
floppy ears. Morraks themselves resembled a cross between a cow and a
flop-eared rabbit, and were proving to be exceptional pack animals.
"Mason, any word on the palatability
of local flora and fauna? These slippers are making me hungry, and I'd
bet they'll have some kind of food waiting for us when we get there. I'd
hate to have to turn them down because we weren't sure we could eat it
and risk permanently insulting them."
"From everything we've seen, as long
as it's cooked, we can eat it. The animals here are, aside from some structural
differences, no different from animals on earth. The basic lines of evolution
are the same. They're carbon-based life — they're just evolved about four
million years past our animals, plus they've been tinkered with fairly
severely to produce more high-grade meat. Feel free to eat hardy. Now
lets just hope that they won't be offended if we throw everything they
serve us into the fire..." Mason pulled at his mustache, his trademark
nervous gesture, as he pondered the possibility of a political incident
relating to food. "There are native botulism strains, and other toxin-producing
bacteria, but if the kills are fresh, we'll be fine. The fish are especially
good eating, I'll wager. I just hope they're not serving sushi."
"What about plants? Do we need to
cook them too? What varieties of fruit have you seen the Dimar around
here eat, and can we eat them?" Tara slipped out of her casual uniform,
fingering the collar on her dress gray jacket.
Mason politely turned away, allowing her
privacy while continuing his report. "We've done a full spectrum
of plant tests. Most of the plants are inedible, but the nectar on most
flowers is fine, and the fruits on especially the 'potato tree' look like
they'll be a native mainstay of our diet. The giant grape-like vines are
also fine eating, and I suspect that the betas are already brewing a test
vat." Mason caught Tara's angry look, and smiled appeasingly. "Okay...okay...we
shouldn't have tried the grapes, and we shouldn't be brewing, but what
else is there to do between analysis tests? They're really long, and brewing
is a great way to stay practiced in our chem lab skills. Anyway, I'm not
dead, and the grapes are some of the best I've tasted. And I hate grapes.
Then again, I've been living on C rations for the last three months, and
the only fresh meat I had was from that dead pony in cargo bay 12. Pony
jerky just doesn't cut it. The betas are complaining that if they're going
to have to keep eating like this, they've got to have booze."
"What else have you and other members
of the encampment sampled without ill effect?" Tara buttoned up the
front of the starchy white dress shirt, tucking it carefully into the
gray suit pants so that no wrinkles would show on the front. Waiting for
Mason's reply, she turned toward the mirror and slipped on the close-cut
gray jacket. The long wool sleeves were a bit much in the heat of the
Dimar dry season, but she'd suffer to make a good impression. The AI had
altered the standard Earth Confederacy uniform to create their own look.
In the imperial style of the Arrallins, rank was denoted by a set of silver
interlocking triangles. Tara wore nine triangles, denoting her as a general
in the Arrallin structure, but not an alpha, who would have ten. Awards
for valor were denoted by tiny gems set in each of the silver triangles,
and the AI had granted Tara two deep blue sapphires and one emerald for
putting together the team that had brought them here. She buckled the
wide leather belt, forgoing the traditional saber for this occasion and
opting for a sidearm instead. She'd prefer not to try to slay any dragons
in the traditional style, and would trust the plasma burst to do the job
of a blade for her.
"I've been munching on the potato
fruits from that potato tree, and, well, they need bacon bits, but other
than that, they're delicious. Raw, they're a little tough, but if you
nuke them for a few minutes, they're good eating. And then there's those
blueberry tasting red fruit trees. I couldn't find any problems with the
fruit, so I had some of those. They're delicious with cream from our cattle.
And morrak itself is great." Mason rattled off the native foods he
had sampled, counting off on both fingers.
Tara turned and just gaped at him. "MASON!
You could have gotten yourself killed! That's not proper procedure...and
it explains why you've gained about 5 kg since we landed. What were you
"Well, sir, we've had a month to do
basic analysis, and with the betas going hog wild on the place, it didn't
even take them two weeks to get all the basic safety requirements for
foods checked. They're really throwing themselves into the work, because
they know that this is their new home. We're ready to start introducing
native foods into the current rations, and I felt that as chief of the
survey team, I should be the first to take the risk." Mason was deadly
serious about his responsibility for the safety of the foods they ate
on the new planet. Tara knew he had taken every precaution, it was just
that they were at least three weeks ahead of schedule on food if what
he said was true, and it was a little hard to believe, even with the propensity
for betas to work themselves to death.
"Well, it's a great coincidence that
all these foods can be cleared for eating now. I'm glad things turned
out this way, but I want you to get a full medical examination before
we leave for the northern barryd, okay? I'll need you there to guide me
away from the foods that are poisonous, and I can't have you upchucking
or passing out right there on the meeting table. I'll bring that report
and a reader with me just in case. You should go get dressed so you can
head out with Rakal and me in the hovercar." She slipped out of her
slippers and into her high black boots, standing to dismiss Mason formally.
He turned and together they headed out
into the central clearing to meet Rakal, Kimmer, Mason and Tarrin by the
transport. Dust kicked up around her feet in the area where they had cleared
the vegetation to prevent more flash-fires from the hovercar engines.
"Is this thing going to work with
all that magnetism? I'd prefer that we keep at least one piece of transport
equipment intact for use around the encampment." Tara checked the
controls, making sure all ailerons and hydraulics were working. This tiny
car had been doing a lot of low-altitude short range surveying for them.
Losing it would mean that they'd be stuck in the clearing, surrounded
by woods with few trails. She tapped the gyroscope and the compass. The
gyroscope was fine, but the compass was useless. "Fun...we don't
know which way's north."
Luuko, Liur and several other Dimar from
Rank 1 swept in from the north, landing in the clearing east of the main
encampment. With the ambling gate of the Dimar, they sauntered over on
all fours and sat around the hovercar.
"They say they're here to guide us,
sir. They understand that the Wind is disrupting our controls." Tarrin
relayed to the non-Talented in the car. "When they rise into the
air and raise their tails, it's a signal for us to follow. We can take
a place in their formation right behind Luuko, and fly in proper Dimar
Rank style. That will go over well with the council." Tarrin grinned.
"These guys are as into image as any humans."
Tara watched as the seven Dimar dropped
from sitting on their haunches to all fours, and gracefully extended their
wings. Liur, in the front, was outfitted in what Tara had come to understand
was the honor colors of Telka: purple, green and gold. The billowing silky
material stretched from each of his spiral horns down to his forelegs,
and as he rose into the air, it flowed back along his sides. His tail
banner was a new addition to the outfit, and it was marked with the image
of some odd beast on a circle of purple, banded by gold on a sparrow-tailed
banner of green. She judged by the colors that it was perhaps the particular
Two more Dimar she didn't know rose to
take positions behind Liur. They seemed unaware of the effortless grace
with which they rose. In a half leap, beating their wings hard to get
started, they each launched, but once airborne, they had only to move
their wings slightly to remain in the air. They looked like seagulls coasting
on a strong inshore breeze, but she could tell from the wind speed meter
that the air was almost completely still.
Luuko's launch was the smoothest and most
understated of all. He hardly used his legs at all as he moved his wings
in a figure eight. It was as if some unseen hand was gently placing him
in his position with the others. Liur's tail rose, and Tara gently pressed
the pedal. With a jerking start, the car rose up to take a place behind
Luuko. Checking the rearview, Tara watched the last Dimar take her place
behind the car.
Liur raised his tail again, and together
they sped off toward the north. Tara worked hard to stay directly behind
Luuko, using Tarrin's spoken play-by-play of their conversations to know
when they'd be making adjustments or speeding up. The car faltered often,
especially when they passed over the tiny Ekal Barryd, but it seemed to
be holding out against the magnetic disruptions.
A wall of smoke billowed out ahead from
a raging fire below. Through the gray veil, Tara could make out the silhouettes
of the twin spires of Telka Barryd, still many miles off.
Passing over the heart of the fire, the
hovercar gave out. Tarrin's link with the Dimar was all that stood between
them and a fiery death. He was quick to let them know that the hover system
Tara aimed the car toward a treetop, hoping
the gnarled, fire-resistant branches would survive the weight and heat
of the hovercar's underside. The engines cut in again, unexpectedly, giving
her some extra maneuvering room with which to place them in the tree.
As unexpectedly, the engines again gave out.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the
blue-green scales of Luuko's side, as he tried to slide under the car
to help guide them. If the engines cut in while he was under there, he'd
be cooked alive. Panicked, she barked out "LUUKO, DON'T!" hoping
he'd hear her through the car's plastic canopy. Luuko dropped his wing
out from under the car just as the engines cut in again, and fell away
from the car down under tree level.
Using the last bit of engine power, she
landed the car in the treetop, and shut the engines down. Prayerfully,
they waited a moment to see if the tree would hold the car's weight and
not burst into flames. Tara popped the canopy, swearing as it caught on
a branch, and slid out onto the wide limb on which the car was partially
resting. Luuko rose up from below, voicing his concern with barking cries.
Rakal and Tarrin, then Mason climbed out
onto the branch. Both Rakal's and Tarrin's fur was on end, and they stared
at Tara with a look of shock.
"What? You Arrallins never made an
emergency treetop landing before? Sheesh." She grinned. Arrallins
were lousy passengers, even betas. They turned away, conversing in low,
guttural growls. Tara could make out the imprecations in the sentences,
but not much else.
Mason was still in the car, looking a bit
"It's over Mason, come on out and
join the party, " Tara poked her head into the car and offered the
scientist a hand. Unsteadily, he climbed out onto the branch.
"I'm not too keen on heights, or fires,
or crashing hovercars, sir. Oh, and nice landing." Mason hugged the
upright branches of tree, and watched the roaring fires just a hundred
meters away with a combination of curiosity and concern. "Actually,
fires are quite interesting, providing you can get away." Realizing
he was dirtying his uniform, Mason leaned against the hovercar and attempted
to dust off the bits of reddish-brown bark all over his gray uniform jacket.
"Tarrin, can you see if the Dimar
would be willing to offer us a lift? We can make arrangements later to
try and get this car back to the camp. Being late for the meeting could
prove disastrous, though, and our first priority should be getting to
Telka." Tara was running diagnostics from the side panel of the car,
while Luuko looked on over her shoulder with curiosity.
Luuko rose his head and trumpeted a call
to the rest of the Rank, who had been circling above the crash site. Carefully,
they flew in and took positions in the trees around them.
"Luuko says you can ride with them
back to Telka. It would be just as effective for us to glide in on their
backs as to come in as a member of the rank formation. Letting the council
members see that touching us won't cause disease or death will be a powerful
image to soothe their fears about us as alien invaders or powerful monsters."
Tarrin translated the message from Luuko, who lowered a shoulder to Tara.
"He's the best flier of the group, Liur says, so you or Rakal can
fly in on him. Liur is the second best, and will take whichever of you
doesn't fly with Luuko." Perplexed, he paused. "Hey, what are
Mason and I? Chopped libber? Liver? Whatever..."
Luuko wiggled his ears and sneezed, which
Tara knew was laughter. Liur glided in and landed on the branch next to
the car, and lowered his shoulder to Rakal, who carefully climbed aboard,
grabbing the long hairs that tufted out along the dorsal ridge on Liur's
neck. Rakal's dark black fur stood out boldly against Liur's light golden-brown
fire scales. He slid back, lying himself against Liur's back, wrapping
his paws in the Dimar's long cream-colored mane. His black tail lashed
from side to side. Tara could tell he was a bit nervous about the trip.
Arrallins did not have a history of riding other creatures like humans
Luuko nudged Tara's arm, and dipped his
shoulder to her. Much as she would board her horse, she grabbed a handful
of mane and jumped up so that her belly was across his neck. Swinging
her right leg over, she settled into a sitting position on his mane-covered
shoulders. "Is this obstructing his wings at all, Tarrin?" She
took up two handfuls of the creamy hairs, but knew that she would be able
to stay on using just her legs.
"Nope...he says that will be fine,
providing you feel safe and comfortable." Tarrin replied absently,
taking his place on another Dimar's back much as Rakal did. His voice
was impassive, but his hackles, which were standing completely on end,
showed just how nervous he was about the current proposal.
Mason regarded with trepidation the forest
green Dimar that dipped her shoulder to him. He opted for the sitting
position that the Tara had taken, and grabbed a double fistful of the
creature's dark brown mane, wrapping it around his hands tightly. "I'm
going to hate this. I can tell."
Luuko, not Liur, took the lead, guiding
the group out of the treetops in such a way that they could keep their
backs relatively level. Once they were in clear sky, Liur took his position
at the lead, but Luuko remained at his side. Tarrin and his reddish-brown
Dimar friend took a position directly behind them, close enough so that
he could yell translations of conversations to them.
"Goothib here says that they've got
you both in front so that you both appear as equals and leaders when we
arrive. We've really got to be ready to put on a show when we get there.
It seems that the leaders, matriarchs and patriarchs from more than three
dozen major barryds are at Telka, which is considered a mid-sized barryd.
They've got some myth that invaders from the stars will return here to
crush the peaceful barryds. Seems they have a history of space travel
themselves, and many of the war barryds chose the Path of the Starborn.
They don't fear other species as much as they fear the return of these
Dimar. Seeing us will soothe fears, and prove that we're not their returning
ancestors." Tarrin was howled against the wind as it roared by.
Tara watched in amazement as the ground
rushed beneath them. She could tell that Luuko was not using the air currents
to fly, but something carried them along with incredible power. She shifted
her weight, testing Luuko's balance. He was rock-solid in the air, as
if he was a part of it. The entire experience was exhilarating! This is
the right way to travel, she mused, remembering the feeling of riding
her horse over an extra-wide jump. It's like a jump, but you never get
that jarring sensation of hitting the ground. Instinctively, she shifted
her weight to remain over Luuko's center of gravity as he banked to avoid
the rising smoke from the fire that raged in the dense forest below. A
group of Dimar had formed a small line near the fire, while another group
darted in and out between the trees dousing flames and moving away from
the heat as fast as possible.
Tara watched them, almost feeling the heat
against their fire scales herself. A blast punctuated the scene as a spout
of flame shot up from the darkness of the tree cover. One dark blue one
reeled back, partially burned, as others rushed in to douse it with foam
and Water. Others shot down the fireballs from the geyser with a different
kind of lita, as the Dimar called the sacks they wore to fight fires.
They looked almost like bagpipes, with two nozzles, one that shot a high-pressure
stream of some liquid toward the different masses of flaming material
that fell toward the fallen Dimar. The injured dark blue managed a faltering
flight, and another of it's group swept in to carry the weight of the
only half functional wing and side. Together they sped off toward a small
spire in the distance — a sub-barryd, as Tara understood. It was not like
Ekal, a new young central barryd, but more like a suburb of Telka. As
they sped off, she could see the blue and it's companion fly into one
of the many shadows in the forest and disappear. She looked forward to
seeing what the inside of the barryds were like, and turned to peer off
into the distance at the approaching twin spires of Telka.
Even with the center of the barryd kilometers
in the distance, Tara noticed a definite pattern in the forest growth
around the barryd proper. Rich bands and glades of trees, with thick heavy
trunks sprang up, interconnected by hedgerows of smaller leafed bushes
and shrubs. Fields, each holding herds of morraks and other land-based
vegetarians, dotted the landscape in between these massive groups and
rows of taller plants. As the spires grew closer, she could make out the
multicolored bodies of Dimar, all resting on branches off the central
spire. Down below, a thick canopy of leaves and vines blocked her view
of internal structure of the barryd. They approached a large clearing
near the southernmost of the central spires, and the melodic cries of
the Dimar beneath the leaves resounded and echoed in unseen halls. Dimar
on the spire launched themselves toward them, and Tara looked to see Rakal
bristle, his tail swishing from side to side.
She was a little nervous herself, with
so many large animals flying toward them.
The trumpeting subsided, and was replaced
by an eerie song, as the mass of Dimar flying toward them assumed a rank
formation. Luuko tried to vocalize an explanation to Tara, "Dey are
The eight members of their group descended
toward the clearing, and the singing Dimar settled in the canopies all
Remaining as level as possible, Luuko,
Liur and the two others landed on all fours, and gently sat down on their
haunches, allowing them to all slide down their backs into the thick grasses
and flowering plants in the field.
Mason slid off his Dimar and disappeared
into the meter-high grass. "You should check this biodiversity! I
could write about seventeen theses on this patch here alone. They've got
insects and at least fifteen species of plant right here, along with these
small lizardy-looking critters that we recorded before and...OUCH."
There was a pause, but he continued. "Some bite. No matter — I'll
medic it." The grass rustled as he dug around and hopped up with
his medkit, sucking on his left index finger.
"Mason, I know you're a scientist,
but we are on a diplomatic mission. Try not to dig around in their front
yard until after we've met them, eh?" Rakal's ears were back and
his tail swished from side to side as he surveyed the thousands of singing
Dimar all around them.
The singing rose to a crescendo and abruptly
halted as figures appeared in the gaping doorway ahead of them. Liur and
Luuko rose up on their haunches and stood attentively as a column of Dimar,
each glittering with gold or silver bands around their necks, and silken
tapestries of various three-color combinations and stripe-widths hanging
from their horns to their wrists, strode on all fours out into the sunlit
Tara instantly noticed that in the third
row, a murky brown and black striped Dimar was wearing the colors of Mulkol.
He looked particularly fearsome, and despite the fact that he was a male,
he dwarfed most of the females in the group. Tara had learned that the
males had much narrower hips and shorter tails than the females, and were
often smaller, as they did not need to carry eggs. Tarrin stood between
Rakal and Tara, ready to translate announcements and discussions.
The bannered Dimar filed out, each taking
a position to the right or left of the main doorway.
Tarrin whispered, "The great mother
of this barryd will be the last to file out. These are all matriarchs
or patriarchs of other barryds. Looks like there's 38 barryds represented
here. The ones with gold bands on their wrists and horns are Tel barryds,
the engineering-focus barryds. The silver colored ones, that's actually
platinum I think, mean that those matriarchs and patriarchs are from the
Ela barryds, or the food-production and animal breeding focus barryds.
Guild-based barryds, which are like trading cities, use stone-types to
denote themselves. See the green stone cuffs on that one…ooh...look: That
one there, the blue, black and red bannered one with the iron-black wrist
and horn cuffs — he's Mulkol. He's got his psi-walls up clear to the moon,
and the other 'archs each occasionally try to peer into his thoughts.
I'm not even going to try. This guy's a pro."
Luuko rumbled approvingly as a deep purple
Dimar appeared in the doorway. Her mane was snowy white, and her muzzle
hair was grizzled with age. She was a massive female, and she strode out
with a slight limp. The banner colors of Telka swept down around her forelegs,
and she dipped her head to them with stately grace. Her banners were decorated
with many small golden circles, much like the belt a belly dancer might
wear, and they jingled as the wind rustled the silk.
"She's wearing the golden circles
to show that she's the discussion leader for this Council Gathering. It's
a day of high honor for Telka, being allowed to host this many major barryd
dignitaries, as her barryd is only considered a secondary one. Some of
these 'archs have come from as far away as the twin continents to the
east." Tarrin pointed to one light blue female and a coppery male,
each wearing gold bands of a Tel barryd. "The blue, yellow, and green
silked female there and the copper one with the red yellow and green are
from the twin continents." Tarrin conferred with Luuko again, and
returned to explain more. "Check the bracelets of the Dimar you see
along the wall. If they're wearing bands of the colors of a particular
'arch, then, you guessed it, they're from that barryd. Oops... the Leader
is getting ready to declare the Great Council open to you guys. Be ready
to smile, but with no teeth, and bow, Luuko says."
Tarrin straightened up, and Rakal fluffed
out his cropped mane and tail instinctively. Tara shot a glance at Mason,
who was discreetly continuing to take readings with his hand-held scanner.
Suddenly, all the 'archs roared out "OOOLLLLAAAAAHM!"
and the crowd fell silent.
The great mother first approached Liur,
who bowed his head before her. Affectionately, she touched her muzzle
to the top of his brow. She repeated this gesture to Luuko, and each member
of the rank that had brought them.
"She's welcoming them as her children
with a traditional parent-child greeting. It's like a shoulder rub or
a playful bat for Arrallakeeni. She won't do that to us, thank Ghu. She
looks strong enough to drive us into the ground like tent-spikes."
Tarrin watched the careful procession closely. "Okay...now she's
going to sit up on two legs and call us over. Luuko says we need to go
over and bow to her, and she will declare us welcome to the meeting. Then,
we get to go eat!" Tarrin licked his chops enthusiastically, and
quickly shut his mouth. "We shouldn't bear our teeth, no matter what
happens. That would be a threat. No smiling, you humans."
Mason was recording the whole scene, and
surreptitiously turned the camera back to the Great Mother of Telka. She
rose onto her hind legs, and slowly warbled a long, sing-song message.
Then, she lowered her paws, pads out, toward the four of them.
"Okay...now bow, and rise up, and
show your paw-pads to them." Tarrin whispered as he started to bow.
Together they all bowed. Mason kept the
recorder going but clipped it to his belt. They rose, and as instructed,
offered their palms and paws to her.
She rumbled with approval, and with a brassy
trumpet, signaled the resumption of the Council talks.
Taking places in the long line of 'archs,
they followed the group into the first chamber of the barryd proper. The
room glowed with blue fires stationed in cubbyholes all along the walls
of the barryd. The floor was even, and inlaid with a pattern of braided
wood. The walls, which were twisting knots of rich mahogany, rose up several
meters to a balcony, with a railing of a lighter, golden wood. The ceiling
rose up, cathedral style for more than thirteen meters, and tiny blue
and yellow fires illuminated the scene in the darker back half of the
chamber. The front half was awash in hundreds of colors of light, as the
sunlight streamed through a brilliant stained-glass window. Instead of
lead between the panes of glass, the mahogany wall striations twisted
through the panels, holding them in place. It was as if they had grown
the branches of a tree around the glass itself. The windows depicted a
white Dimar standing on her hind legs in a blood red pool of water with
her forepaws raised to the sun, and eight other Dimar standing in deep
green pools with their heads bowed. The vibrancy of the color surpassed
any stained glass Tara had seen on Earth.
Mason interrupted her reverie, "Sir...you're
not going to believe this, but..."
"Hmm? Mason... what is it?" She
checked the readings on his scanner.
"The floor's alive, and the walls
are moving." Mason stared at one of the rich cords of mahogany, and
tentatively reached out to stroke it. "The whole room is a set of
cooperative plant species. I’ve never seen anything like this."
The walls didn't move that Tara could see,
so she checked the scanner. Sure enough, he was right. The motion sensor
did detect almost imperceptible movement, and there was definitely biological
activity in both the floors and the walls. "Incredible! I was just
thinking to myself that it looked like they had grown a tree around the
stained glass window. I guess they did!" Tara continued to marvel
at the stained glass window, noting that the panes were, in fact, glass.
Tara approached the fountain pedestal at
the rear of the room where many of the 'archs were drinking and lounging.
Two of the 'archs made way for her to see. She turned to smile at them,
but remembered the all-important rule about not bearing teeth. She bowed
to them instead, and regarded the pool. The wood had grown into a large
scallop shape, and the water, which according to the scan was just plain
old water with the trace elements they knew were common on Dimar, flowed
from a tube of a lighter, golden wood. She cupped her hands and sipped
the cool liquid, realizing just how hot she was in her wool jacket and
pants. Other 'archs lowered their heads into the fountain and catlike,
lapped away. Bowing, she took her leave and headed toward one of the other
large pedestals stationed around the room. Mason joined her.
"According to the scanner, these pedestals
aren't alive. They look like they were crafted by some Dimar, probably
as dinner tables of some kind. They're made of ceramic, and have been
fired with a glaze. The cracks of the glaze hold residues of whatever
they've put in here, and according to this, this table has held vegetable
matter." Mason looked relieved.
"Why the fuss over what they keep
in their bowls, Mason?" She fingered the glittering glaze in the
bowl shaped top of the pedestal.
"I was worried that they used them
as sacrificial altars or something." he shrugged.
Tara resisted the urge to laugh, but realized
his concern was logical. They really didn't know enough about Dimar yet
to fully trust their hospitality. Tarrin had gotten a fairly complete
history on them, and supposedly many of their most warlike ancestors had
taken to the stars and been lost, but the fact remained that they had
a history of war, torture and sacrifice that rivaled that of earth. The
stained glass panel, she knew from her studies, was of Telkai, the great
engineer that gave them all wings, but she still wasn't sure exactly how
they did their biotechnical alterations, or what experiments the engineers
of the Dimar might want to perform on their new neighbors.
Two by two, various Dimar, all wearing
the colors of Telka, entered the room bearing trays of steaming fruits
and vegetables. They deposited each of the trays into a different, small
pedestal-bowl. Two large females brought out half a morrak carcass slung
between them, also thoroughly cooked, and hung it on a spit over a larger
More pairs emerged from the dark corridor
and placed raw fruits, vegetables and meats of various animals in other
pedestal-bowls around the room. Tarrin hurried over to explain. "These
guys did their homework. The cooked food is for us, and the raw stuff
is for us if we want to risk it, but is more for the other Dimar. They
do cook, but not to the extent that we do. They prefer to marinade, and
only cook if the food is old. Most of them can survive the various toxins
produced by the old foods. It's just a flavor issue. Seems the genetic
tinkering they did for their war two thousand years ago left them mostly
immune to food poisoning and many forms of disease. That Mulkol guy over
there could probably eat just about anything and not mind." Tarrin
was staring at the massive half morrak carcass, barely able to control
"Go ahead, Tarrin...I'll join you.
Enough of these frigging C rations. Let's eat!" Tara and Tarrin race
walked toward the carcass. Mason and Rakal were already digging in.
Tara reached for her saber, and cursed
herself for choosing the sidearm instead. She looked around the pedestal
for something to cut with, and found a long, spiked knife on a chain under
the lip of the pedestal. It was gray and shiny, but not metal, and cut
the meat easily.
"Hey, Tarrin. What's with the chain
on the knife? Do they think we're going to steal it like the pens at the
banks back on Earth?" She again resisted the urge to grin, noticing
that many of the 'archs were watching them intently as they ate. "Mason,
didn't you say we could eat the potato fruit and the giant grapes without
cooking? Might be a good excuse to break the ice with some of those 'archs
over there." Tara loaded a well-seasoned morrak steak onto the wooden
plates that were stacked nearby and carved it into bite sized cubes.
Tarrin explained the chain and knife as
he gnawed away on the leg of the carcass hanging from the spit. "According
to Luuko, it's a precaution so that if a fight breaks out, no one will
be able to use them. The chain is so strong that not even the biggest
Dimar can break it. Seems that very early in their history, Dimar stabbing
other Dimar was a big problem. That knife is made from a type of tree
found in the barryd. It's really a thorn from the tree that has been used
as a ceremonial site for eons. The tree is the human equivalent of Edelweiss.
Young Dimar, both male and female, try to climb the tree without using
their wings to grab a bunch of the blue flowers at the top. Bringing a
bunch of those flowers to a love is a sign of true devotion and daring.
If they slip, they might impale themselves on the thorns, which happens
Mason had trundled over to the giant grape
table and had one on his plate. The 'archs snuffled around him curiously,
but his mind was only on the grape. Again, she resisted the urge to grin.
On Earth, he had hated grapes with a passion.
Tarrin, looking satisfied, shuffled up
next to Tara. "You haven't touched a bite of that steak. You going
to eat it?"
She flipped a cube of meat at him, and
he snatched it from the air. "You wolf...it's mine. You've got the
rest of the carcass. Go carve your own, and tell me what they're all talking
about, while you're at it." She took a seat along the wall, using
a roughly level shelf as a makeshift table. Using her fingers, she picked
up the cubes of steak
She could tell from the glances being exchanged
that there was a discussion being held all around them, that only Tarrin
could hope to hear.
"They're all using private bandwidths.
I've been told that it's poor form to pry into conversations and thoughts.
I figure, with these being 'archs, they'll let us know what we need to
know when they're ready."
Rakal dislodged himself from the shoulder
of the carcass, in which he had barely made a dent, and slumped against
the wall. "I'd like the rest to go, please." He winked at a
passing red Dimar, who wiggled his ears as Tarrin translated.
Just as Tara was finishing the last of
her steak, the Great Mother, who had been reclining on a Dimar-sized couch
in front of the largest fire pit, rose and addressed the crowd in a lilting
"She's getting the meeting underway.
She'll start with a synopsis of the discussion until now, so that we'll
know what they're talking about. She's authorized me to translate. Shnu,
like she had any choice." Tarrin whuffled with amusement.
"Okay... it seems that they've been
studying us through the Dimar that have been stationed around our camp.
Because we do not use Telkai, we are smothering the soil beneath our buildings
and decreasing the total life that Dimar can hold. She doesn't mean this
as an insult, and she understands that our ways are different. There's
a sacred plan being realized by all the barryds that will encourage the
planet to carry more life than ever before, as well as bringing an end
to fires on Mainland. They would prefer that the plan continue, and that
we try to adopt the ways of Telkai and live in barryds if this is at all
possible. They will teach us what we need to know, and Telka hereby welcomes
us into the barryd as residents, if we choose to accept their offer of
kinship. If the blending of your colony into Telka is successful, other
barryds will allow your people in, and as your population grows, you will
take a place in each barryd as an integral part of their social and executive
structure." Tarrin struggled to translate the concepts in clear speech.
"She thinks in incredibly vivid pictures. I wish you guys could see
what she's envisioning for the future. According to what I can see, she's
got entire wings of the barryd that she's ready to dedicate to human and
Arrallin habitation, providing we allow one Dimar to reside in each room
to see if we can all get along. She knows that humans and Arrallins live
side by side with ease, so she doesn't anticipate any major difficulties.
She'd also like our help in improving the fire walls and helping to stave
off the fires that threaten the barryd every dry season. Boy, does she
ever believe in the power of positive thinking." Tarrin regarded
the Great Mother with the same look of respect and appreciation he often
directed at Rakal.
"Um...hold on, guy. Huddle time. Mason,
leave the grape and get your butt over here." Mason left his plate
by the pedestal almost forlornly and hurried over to where they sat. "This
is all going a bit too fast for me. What are we missing here? How will
this hurt us, and how will this help us? Why are they being so generous?"
Rakal agreed. "There's no such thing
as a free lunch, or are these guys just saints?"
"More importantly, is this an ultimatum,
or can we choose to stay at the colony instead? Will they shuffle us back
out through the gate?" Mason looked around the room nervously. He
wasn't a man who enjoyed not having options.
Tarrin clarified, "We can stay in
colony form, providing that we adopt either a subterranean lifestyle,
or we can borrow some of their plant-tech and start developing our own
living home structures. They really just don't want us using nylar or
dead materials over the topsoil. It sours the soil and kills plants that
are necessary for balance in the region."
"Oh good. We've got a choice in this,
what little choice it is. We've got some mining equipment that can be
refitted for use in atmosphere, and our plasma rifles can act as cutters."
Mason's gaze drifted as he contemplated the engineering options.
"She's also sent me a message on a
very private bandwidth, warning us that the firestorms are moving toward
our area. The other 'archs wanted to see how well we deal with the storms
without their help, so she was risking some serious loss of face by telling
us even that much." Tarrin turned back toward the Great Mother's
dais, watching her curiously.
"Like we couldn't tell about the fires.
We've been watching them for the last two weeks, and I've noticed that
our friends from Ranks One and Four who have been hanging out with us
fly over at night and dig firebreaks. We've got at least one ally with
Telka." Tara whispered to the four, forgetting that none of the 'archs
would understand. "So, what time frame are they giving us? When can
Tarrin cocked his head and his eyes grew
distant. "Um, the offer stands for the next 2 cycles. Seems they
move slowly with these kinds of things."
"Two cycles? That's four years! Cool.
I'll revise my timetable accordingly." Mason, looking relieved, trundled
off and brought back his grape.
"So, it looks like we can shut the
jump gate. We've got a new home." Rakal rumbled, "Give the great
mother our thanks, and let her know that we'll make a decision on their
generous offer of cohabitation within the two cycles allotted. Now, I
have a morrak to finish, if you all don't mind..."
With that, he leapt back onto the pedestal
and dug back into the massive shoulder.