Chapter 13: The Guardians
I tried to get up and chase after them, but found that I couldn’t. I looked down to see the same sticky, silky threads that carried Ari away wrapped around my legs. I used my hands to tear at the stuff. It was like something from a nightmare. The more I tore it, the stickier and stronger it seemed to become. Finally, just as I heard Ari scream again, it gave way and I was able to move. I jumped up and ran as near as I could to the direction of her scream, but soon found myself lost and confused. I could see nothing of her or her captors. There were no more screams.
Ari awoke unable to move. She wondered why, then memory came flooding back and she panicked. She tried to thrash her tail, and struggled fiercely to move any part of her body even just her fingers, it was no use. Eventually she stopped, calmed down and tried to catch her breath. She was upright and firmly affixed (glued) to a vertical surface. Only her face was free. She wanted to open her eyes, but had an unreasoned fear that they would become stuck open, that she wouldn’t be able to close them or even blink.
Gradually she became aware that she wasn’t alone. Something large was near her, moving slowly and carefully. It didn’t sound right. She thought she knew what it was, but it only made her squeeze her eyes more tightly shut. She had gotten only the merest glance at her captors as they carried her off. It was enough. They evoked memories of the only land creatures she truly feared.
Ariadne’s family trip to the Amazon, when she was seven, was the only one from which she actually had a bad memory. The river was beautiful. The life within it, wonderful. The fresh water dolphins were playful and accepted her as kin almost immediately. But she couldn’t get the huge fish-catching spiders out of her mind. She identified with the poor fish and had nightmares ever after of being trapped, paralyzed in a web, waiting to be sucked to a dry husk and discarded.
Something poked her, she shuddered. Ari very badly wanted to scream, but she was afraid of the response it might provoke. Then a thought entered her head, from outside.
What are you?
She was poked again, on the abdomen this time. She clinched her eyes until tears flowed and bit her lip to keep silent.
What are you? The thought repeated.
Another thought, this one from within her, emerged. Ariadne, you fool! You are a diplomat! Do your job! Then she tried to calm herself again and spoke aloud. “I am…I am a Syrenkan, a human chimaera. My name is Ariadne of Clan Spindrift.”
Syrenkan? We know neither that name nor your form.
“My people were authorized under Confederation Council Resolution 41,432 on 15th August 3018. They were first released onto the surface of planet Kepler 519b, since named Syrenka, on 22nd February 3019.” Ari felt it unnecessary to add that they were prisoners convicted of thought crimes against the Directorate. “Now, tell me who you are.”
We are the Guardians of this facility, placed here in the year 2997. It is therefore plausible that we would know nothing of you.
Yet another ‘voice’ entered her head. Some information has been held back, Anak, but there is no intent to deceive or harm. She is in my view, acceptable.
They can read my intentions! Ari wondered how deeply they could read her thoughts.
Thank you, Khiel. That is who we are, Ariadne of Clan Spindrift. As for what we are, we are human chimaera as well.
Ari’s blood ran cold. She should have known. The ancients were never able to create intelligence from mere animals. Dear God! She thought to herself. What crime did their ancestors commit that they should be altered so horribly?
Please keep your eyes closed for a few more moments. Thought the first ‘voice’.
Ari had no difficulty complying. She smelled a strong chemical scent as some liquid was sprayed over her. Soon she heard a cracking sound, like ice rapidly melting. The webs that held her in place became brittle and began giving way. She slid to the floor, lost her balance and fell to her hands and tail.
You may open your eyes now.
It took a supreme act of courage, but after a few moments, she did open them. The face, only a few inches from her own, would have been human but for the four, bright red, faceted eyes, the fanged mouth and light blue skin. The torso, with arms, hands and even female breasts was also very human. But there the resemblance ended. Below the waist the being’s body blended into a dark-blue thorax to which were attached four pairs of segmented legs. Behind was a large, egg-shaped abdomen. Ari tried to suppress a shudder. Finally, she spoke. “Where is my mate?”
The main-line human you were with?
He met the parameters and was not armed; therefore he has not been detained. He is still somewhere in the facility.
Ari was thankful that they did not seem to recognize the metal bar he carried as a weapon. “He needs to be told that I’m all right and allowed to join me, please.” She hoped that Anak understood her anxiety for Dri.
I stopped, frustrated. I had been running around aimlessly for hours. Ari’s captors were as adept at climbing as they were at running. There didn’t seem to be anything I could do. I was totally outclassed. They might even be watching me from somewhere above at that moment. With all the technological clutter everywhere, I’d never know. I sat down.
They seemed to be only interested in Ari. The reason for their curiosity about her was obvious. What seemed odd was their total lack of interest in me. Evidently, I was completely under their radar. Would they become more interested if I started banging away at things with my stick? If I was a prisoner too, at least I would be with her and together we could figure out a way to escape. On the other hand, if I started actively causing damage, their reaction may be…well…very unpleasant. I wouldn’t be of much use dead. Perhaps, on the other hand, I can derive some advantage out of being effectively invisible. First, I would have to get in contact with Ari. If I’m close enough (about fifteen meters?) she can pick up my thoughts, if she’s conscious. I sighed. Two very big ifs!
I looked up. About fifteen meters over my head was a catwalk. That’s convenient. I should be able to cover twice the area from there. There were no ladders. The way up wasn’t hard, but I’d have to leave the metal bar behind. Having a weapon was comforting but probably no longer of much use. I propped it against some compressors and began climbing.
About ten meters up, I started pulling myself onto a platform and came face to face with a blue woman with four gemlike red eyes. At least she was a woman to the hips, below that she was pure nightmare. Before I could react, she hissed, flipped a bulbous abdomen between her multiple legs and hit me full in the face with a mass of sticky silk. Confronted with suffocation or falling, instinct made me choose the latter. I let go of the platform and tore at the fibers covering my mouth and nose. Before I could fall, more webs hit me from different directions. Fangs pierced my shoulder. I became instantly limp and soon lost consciousness.
I awoke from a dreamless sleep to see Ari’s head floating above me. A light in the ceiling made a sort of halo effect through her hair.
“Are we dead?” I asked.
“Are we prisoners then?” I looked around. We were in a small, featureless, gray room. A trapdoor, near the ceiling light seemed to be the only exit.
“I’m not sure. I’m afraid I asked them to fetch you. Were they rough?”
“Let’s just say I have much more sympathy for flies now. You know, if they had just asked, I would have come quietly.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. I’m sure your experience was just as bad if not worse.” I lifted my head from Ari’s lap and sat up. Other than a slight headache and sore shoulder, I was fine. “What are these things? Are they people?”
“They are human chimaera, like me.”
I didn’t find that very flattering to Ari. “I’ve never heard of such chimaera before.”
“They’re very restricted. I don’t think they exist anywhere else. They have very strong mental programming, probably built into their DNA, like instincts. They cannot leave this facility without triggering extreme depression and death. They can’t harm the colonists (that’s the Rii) or other humans unless they threaten the facility. They will also, without question, give their lives to keep the machine functioning. ”
“Sounds rather sad.”
Ari shrugged. “They don’t see it that way.”
“What was that first thing we saw? The one that ate the skitter.”
“It was a helper, a cross between a dog and a servant. They do most of the physical labor.”
“Not exactly cuddly.” I stated. “Just like their masters.”
“Mistresses, they’re all female.”
“They each have semen stored in pouches in their bodies. They pass some of it to their daughters when the latter are near maturity. They impregnate themselves, when ready to bear young.”
“But won’t the semen eventually run out or, pardon the expression, go ‘bad’?”
“Yes, eventually it will run out, but I’m guessing a little goes a long way, twenty-five centuries so far,” said Ari. “As for going bad, they have a strong instinct implanted in them to kill mutations among their offspring.”
“Hmn…That would also serve to eliminate any anomalous males that might turn up. A set of XY chromosomes and male genitals would seem like a mutation to them. Ari, I get a strong impression that these people were designed to eventually go extinct. Their creators wanted them to be a biological dead end!”
Ari looked thoughtful. “That is so very sad. I’d never realized before just how cruel and evil gengineering could be. I’m glad my people weren’t treated like that.”
“Me too.” I stood up and walked around our cell. It was a cube about five meters in all three dimensions. Except for the light panel and trap door, it was totally featureless. “Do you think you could balance on my shoulder while standing on your tail?”
Ari looked very doubtful. “I don’t know. Maybe, for a short while.”
“They may not lock that trapdoor, thinking we can’t reach it. It’s just something to consider, if they decide to try and keep us.
“By the way, you seem to have a nice, chatty relationship with these folks,” I continued.
“With one of them, named Anak. She’s the only one I’ve seen so far, but not the only one I’ve talked to. They’re skillful and strong telepaths, so watch your thoughts. In fact, that’s the only way they’ve communicated with me so far. I don’t know if that’s just their preference or if they’re otherwise speechless.” Ari raised herself on her tail and whispered in my ear. “They may not know I’m a telepath.”
Just then we heard footfalls above us. Something about the sound and pattern of them raised the hairs on the back of my neck. The trapdoor opened. A blue head and torso entered. Multiple pairs of legs squeezed through followed by a large oval abdomen. Unlike Ari, I’m not afflicted with arachnophobia. Nevertheless, it was difficult for me to stand there and watch. Ari had to turn away. A strong thought intruded into my head.
Is this your mate, Ariadne of Spindrift?
“Yes, Anak. His name is Rhodri Morgan. I call him Dri,” replied Ari.
Greetings Rhodri of Morgan called Dri. We know of such relationships between humans, but not humans and chimaera.
“We recognize human chimaera as also being human,” I said.
Anak raised both sets of eyebrows. Do you then see the Sisters as human?
“Yes.” I managed not to hesitate.
Yet you feel revulsion.
“It is instinctual,” said Ari. But we still know that you are human.”
You resist your instinct. Anak seemed impressed. She had entered carrying a bundle in her arms. She passed it to Ari. For you and your mate. Inside was a large carafe of water, some unknown vegetable matter and the scorched remains of a skitter. We understand you eat solids and that you prefer them ‘cooked’. We hope this meets your needs.
“Thank you!” said Ari. Proving her once again to be a true diplomat. “This will do nicely.”
Anak backed to one side of the room and squatted, evidently intending to stay for a while. With great curiosity, she looked from me to Ari as we ate and drank. I stuck with the vegetables and let my mate have all the skitter. My grandfather always said that hunger makes the best sauce. There’s a lot of truth to that, but I still wanted nothing to do with the skitter. We carefully split the water fifty/fifty. Ari was still intent to prove she needed no more water than I did. When we finished, we both felt much better. I was even ready for a nap.
“Thank you very much, Anak,” said Ari. “We were quite hungry and thirsty.”
“Yes indeed. Thank you,” I said.
The woman/spider turned up her palms and bowed. She then turned to me. My daughter, Sharak, asked me to give you her apologies for biting you. She was afraid you would injure yourself while struggling.
I bowed my head. “Apology accepted. You can tell her that I’m unharmed.”
“What happens to us next, milady? Are we prisoners?” Ari must have decided that it was a good time to be direct.
Anak was silent for a few moments, then responded. We have determined that you are not direct threats, but we must know where you came from, who sent you and why you are here.
“We will, of course, answer your questions freely and to the best of our ability. Do you wish us to start now?” said Ari.
She shook her head. We are gathering the Sisters. You will give your answers before them. I must go now to complete preparations. I shall return for you shortly. At that Anak climbed up and out of our cell.
“Sounds like a trial,” I said.
Ari shrugged then shook a few more drops out of the carafe and onto her tail. “I expect it’ll be less confrontational than that. Nevertheless, we should try to make ourselves a bit more presentable; we look awful.”
I had to agree, we looked like castaways who’d washed ashore onto an island inhabited by angry weasels. Ari’s dress was no more than tattered ribbons; my uniform was held together mostly by military discipline and wishful thinking.
Ari’s efforts on her dress only made things worse. Her left breast insisted on peeping out every time she moved her arms. We both got the giggles over that. Finally, she gave up, tore the dress off and wound its tattered sash around her chest. I thought about getting rid of my jacket, but it was the only thing holding my shirt together and covered an embarrassing gap behind me. I resigned myself to looking like a drunken pirate.
We tried to relax as we sat down side by side to wait.
Ari poked my thigh. “You know I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to have legs; to run and walk across dry land. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a tail?”
“Not really,” I said. “You’re the only Syrenkan I’ve ever known and I’ve not sat down and thought about it yet. I have to say though, now that you mention it, there’s nothing more graceful than you when you’re swimming.”
“Thank you! And you look so graceful when you walk.”
“Me? Graceful? You shouldn’t tease!”
“I’m not teasing! I’m serious! Especially compared to what I look like on land. I flop and drag my tail around like the beached sea mammal that I am!”
“I’m a gangling frog in water. And I’d rather see you flopping than a ballerina dancing!”
“Now that’s an interesting image. Maybe I could flop and drag to Swan Lake!”
“Hmn, come to think of it, an all Syrenka cast, staged in a lake, with the right choreographer, you would be beautiful.”
“At least you admit now that I need water to be graceful. Actually, we do have aqua-ballet and ballerinas on Syrenka. I’ll take you to see a performance someday. You’ll see what real mer-grace is all about!”
At that, the trap door opened and Anak put her head in.
We are ready. She lowered a ladder.
“Care to carry a beached sea-mammal about some more?” Asked Ari.
“’It would be my pleasure!”