École de Notre-Dame
Thoth and Ptah sat at the bow of a flat riverboat with five other men.
According to their clothing, one was a priest, the other four, stoneworkers. From his pale skin and large head, one might assume the priest was hybrid.
They hid the shuttle in a sunken ravine, near the mouth of a cave, south-east of the city. The river, widened by the flood, was muddy, choked with uprooted trees, torn branches, and drowned livestock. Two human bodies floated by an hour earlier, entwined in rope, among the remains of a mangled boat.
The masons were talkative.
“The King is leaving la Cité,” the first mason said.
“The flood was brought by God,” the second one said.
“Maybe God does not approve of Philippe,” another one laughed.
“Hold your tongue,” the Priest said, giving him a sharp look. “Do not speak disrespectfully.”
The stone worker looked down at the wooden flooring, afraid to speak. Another examined Thoth and Ptah.
The priest looked at the face of the man closest to him, and continued, “Our King is the most Christian King. Our Savior told us he would not bring another flood. These fetid waters are the work of the Devil.”
The words of the priest frightened them. They were silent for the next hour.
At last, one of them looked at Thoth and Ptah, “And you, you don’t look like farmers.” They all laughed.
As was common at this time, the workmen did not bathe. Fungus and disease left dark markings. The face of one was scarred from pox. Thoth, Ptah and the priest, however, were clean and manicured.
The priest looked at Ptah. “A Moor, by appearance,” he asserted.
Ptah, prepared for such an accusation, pulled the medallion bearing a crucifix from under his vest, showing it to the men. “I am from Granada,” he stated, affecting a Spanish accent. “but no Saracen. I come to study at the Cloisters.”
The stoneworkers laughed. “I hope you are part fish,” the one said to him, showing brown, ruined teeth. “The Cloisters are waist high in water.” He slapped his thigh with laughter.
“I come to study with Pérotin,” Ptah continued.
The men grew solemn, hearing the name of a great man.
“Have you letters of introduction?” the priest sneered.
Ptah shook his head, “I do not.”
The priest looked him and Thoth up and down, examining their clothing, hair, and skin. “Your noble bearing will carry you far, Spaniards.” He looked towards the right, at the oarsman guiding the boat. Then back at Ptah. “I have friends at the Cloisters.” He cleared his throat, “I could be persuaded to introduce you. What is your name?”
Ptah opened his hand, placing it on his chest and bowing slightly, “I am Omarr de Granada,” he explained. Gesturing to Thoth, he continued, “and, Pedro, my man servant.”
“De Granada?” the priest asked. “News reaches us that all Christians have fled the south of Iberia.”
Ptah nodded. “My family has removed to Morocco.” He looked at the floor of the boat solemnly, then back into the priest’s pale face. “But I am determined to make my way in the most Christian city of Paris.”
The priest smiled, looking at the trunk bound with leather straps with a wheel attached at one end. “You have no horses? No wagons?”
“A ferry capsized south of here. It carried our belongings and horses. This is all we have left,” Ptah responded.
The priest looked out at the brown expanse of river, calculating. Bringing his hands together he continued, “I will make introductions. You will come with me to the Priory. You may stay until you have secured lodgings.”
“Shields at five percent,” a voice screamed in her head as she awoke.
She’d been dreaming.
She was where she had been for the last hour, seated in a cushioned chair in front of the fire. She watched as flames consumed small branches. A lattice of burning twigs collapsed, sending hot embers onto the stone hearth.
Like Potacas DNA consuming humanity, she thought to herself.
She had awoken from a recurring dream. As days became years, years, decades, and decades, centuries, she saw more and more evidence of Potacas DNA surfacing within humanity. Earlier that morning, looking out a window, she saw a wealthy hybrid, prosperous, an expensive ring on his hand, dressed in black, like the specter of death himself, strutting out of a shop.
“Should have detonated anti-matter,” she whispered. It would have destroyed the Temporal-Portal, killing allies as well as attackers, but it would have saved humanity from this.
In some dreams, she fought back. In others, she and her crew were on the brink of victory. But, in most, she awoke as her crew were slaughtered.
She needed a laboratory. She needed weapons with advanced technology.
She heard a carriage outside. Horses came to a stop. A woman’s voice shouted instructions.
Adelheid had arrived.
Her benefactor, the Lady Adelheid, arrived from lands to the east six years ago. Pérotin brought them together.
The first thing Erish noticed was a jewel Adelheid wore on a headress. It not only seemed to reflect light, but to radiate luminescence. When Erish reached up to touch it, one of the Lady’s acolytes grabbed her arm.
Immediately suspicious, Erish began speaking the old language. The two novices looked at each other.
“I am unfamiliar with your tongue,” Adelheid responded.
Erish remembered their first meeting. The image of Adelheid as she saw her, the jewel glowing eerily above her forehead. She was never without it, wearing it as a broach or on a necklace.
The Lady refused to answer the most basic questions. She seemed not to know the history of her homeland. She never committed to the actual name of the kingdom she arrived from and was always accompanied by two, young identical twin, mute, novices.
Adelheid explained they could not speak.
At their first meeting, Erish asked which order they served. Adelheid responded,“They serve the order which you will found for me.“
Knowing she must go to the ground floor to greet her, Erish looked around at the room -- stone walls, iron fittings, bowls of dried pine and petals to ward away the stench from outside. The small convent sat on a rise of land on the Left Bank, just a few meters from the lapping waters of the flooded river.
She wondered if he would come. The river was fast, the bridges washed out. He may not take the risk. If he arrived, he would stay until the waters subsided.
She heard a knock at the door behind her. She didn’t stir from the chair. A pop sounded in the fireplace sending burning cinders onto the stone floor.
“Abbesse?” a woman’s voice asked.
Erish sat, motionless.
“Are you sleeping, Abbesse?”
Erish moved her right hand, so the young woman could see she was awake.
“Shall I bring drink?”
“Yes,” Erish whispered.
“Beer, wine? Monsieur Pérotin left jugs of wine.”
Never having stayed for so long in one place, Erish’s previous existence was a series of battles in different parts of the world. She’d been paired with another Tayamni warrior, a companion, someone like herself. She’d always had someone to complain to, someone to hear her jokes.
Now, she was alone.
For 300 years, she’d lived in human misery and filth, unable to confide in anyone.
Hearing his name brought a smile.
“Wine,” she responded, standing and turning towards the young woman. “Thank you, Aubine,”
She followed the initiate to the door, looking down the hallway. Cold breezes blew from drafty windows. Closing the door, she walked quickly back to the fire. She wondered how many Parisians, made homeless by the flood, would freeze to death tonight. Snow had begun to fall.
Certainly, he would not come.
Aubine re-entered the room. “The Lady waits downstairs,” she said.
Erish sipped the wine and nodded.
“Abbesse,” Adelheid said smiling, extending her hands. The two acolytes remained stationary.
Erish curtseyed. “My Lady,” she responded.
“We have obtained approvals,” Adelheid said.
“So soon?” Erish responded.
“A portion of gold can accomplish much,” Adelheid smiled.
“Which approvals?” Erish asked.
“Vows, our mission…the apotheosis of Hypatia. She will be canonized.”
“But she was not Christian,” Erish responded.
Adelheid smiled. “…a minor detail,” she responded. “You are now the Abbesse of Les Soeurs de Sainte Hypatie.”
Erish was bewildered at the speed with which all this happened.
“I will find candidates for us,” Adelheid said. Examining Erish’s face, she continued, “You seem troubled.”
“What do you hope to accomplish?” Erish asked.
“We will teach. We will promote learning, the education of women.”
Erish shook her head. “How can the holy fathers approve the education of women? It goes against their teachings.”
“A pot-de-vin,” Adelheid began, using the French term for bribe, “…presented to the right Bishop,” Adelheid responded. “The root of all evil has its uses.”
“How shall we begin?” Erish asked.
“Don’t you have a code of behavior? Of morals? Of principles?” Adelheid asked. “Are there ancient sources?”
Erish looked at the acolytes, then back into Adelheid’s face. She drew a breath to speak, but Adelheid raised her hand to silence her.
“I will not explain, nor may you ask.” She turned to face her acolytes. They both nodded as if receiving a telepathic message. The twin on the right withdrew a slender collection of parchment from her bodice and held it out.
“You may not question my sources,” she said, holding the papers out to Erish. “Our order of sisters, of learned women will work to right a wrong, a mistake the evidence of which is all around us.”
She turned and nodded to her acolytes. Moving towards the door, she turned around again. “Women will begin arriving soon. I will grant you the funding needed to begin this effort. However, I will not see you as often. Pérotin will know where I am.” With that remark, she turned and left.
Erish looked down at the manuscript in her hands. Her eyes widened as she read, The Forty-Two Principles of Ma’at. She looked up at the door, as if Adelheid were still there. Then, looking down at the parchment, she saw, illustrated in the illumination of the period, the 42 laws, one on each page, with accompanying illustrations. She turned the pages:
I do not assault or cause pain and suffering
I do not harm persons or animals
I do not take more than my share
I do not pollute the waters or the lands
I do not magnify my condition…
Flinging the papers onto a chair, she rushed outside to catch Adelheid, but she was gone.
She was right. If Erish were to comply with the Code, she could not seek to destroy hybrids. They were partly human, therefore, the Tayamni mission to protect humanity extended to them. The only weapon that could properly be used were the Principals, The Tayamni Moral Code.
Adelheid had given her a tool to spread the message, a tool to ensure human-based morality would be taught, the Order of the Sisters of Sainte Hypatia. She and her sisters would incorporate, as much as possible, the Tayamni Moral Code within the prevalent, Christian, religion.
Perhaps it would be possible to convince the hybrids, who so dominated Christianity, to teach the principals themselves.
She would begin by instructing young women in the streets. Word would spread. She would teach women to read, teach them mathematics, music composition, and medicine. This would be so revolutionary, news of the order would spread by word of mouth.
Back in her room, Erish walked to the window and pulled a shutter open, just a sliver of an opening to search for him. Snow settled on the roof across the way. Puddles below had turned to ice. She sighed, “He will not come.”
She had recently moved to a stone structure near the river. Her new convent was situated on the Left Bank, near the Hill of Sainte Genevieve. There was a large room on the bottom floor with four fireplaces and kitchens attached. On the second floor, four rooms for initiates, and on the top floor, her room and a room shared by three novices.
She heard footsteps behind her.
Believing Aubine entered with wine, she turned. Instead of the young initiate, she saw a man standing beside the fire warming himself. Tall and middle aged with long black hair, the dark skin around his eyes betrayed poor health. He slept little and drank too much.
She smiled and ran to him, throwing her arms around his thin frame, “You have come.”
He ran calloused fingers through soft hair, kissing the crown of her head.
“My precious Sedile,” he whispered.
“Pérotin,” she breathed, exhaling into his cloak.
In another stone structure, five streets away, Père Corbus had taken two Spaniards to his priory.
“Take weapons,” Thoth whispered.
Sitting on a trunk in the room they shared, Ptah reached down to fasten his boots.
“They’re hybrids,” Thoth kept on.
Ptah looked at him. “It’s the 12th century, I doubt they have blasters.”
“They are Potacas,” Thoth said again.
“Mixed with Tayamni and human,” Ptah said. “We will find another way.”
Thoth stuffed a weapons disk into his small vest pocket anyway.
Ptah shook his head, “I am your superior officer,” he offered.
“Do you order me not to carry weapons?” Thoth asked.
Ptah motioned for him to follow.
They walked down a flight of stairs to a tiled floor. “There you are,” the hybrid priest said, rubbing his hands together. “You are in luck; the King will be in attendance.”
“The King? Why?” Ptah asked.
“He enjoys music. Pérotin’s new compositions are exquisite,” the priest continued. “Our Seigneur has removed himself to the Left Bank. The royal apartments are flooded. He resides nearby at the home of one of his, um,” he looked at them wickedly and winked, “…one of the ladies.”
“What shall we call you, friend?” Ptah asked. “You have been helpful.”
The hybrid priest responded, “You may call me, Père Corbus. I teach at the Cloisters.” The wealthy priest wore a fur hat and black robes trimmed with brown fur. “I will introduce you to the professor tonight,” he sneered. “You will undoubtedly see the Abbesse, Sedile, since the concert is at the convent.” He placed a finger against his lips, as if to caution them. “Cast no unchaste glances towards her,” he whispered. “The King plans to bed her.” He laughed with a snort.
“She’s an Abbesse?” Thoth asked. “An Abbesse has taken a vow of…”
He touched Thoth’s wrist daintily, “Is your gold secure?”
Ptah nodded, “More will arrive at my instructions.”
Thoth looked at Ptah sharply, surprised at his ability to lie on the spot.
Servants unbolted double doors opening onto the street. Turning back to Ptah, the priest continued, “Your possessions will be safe within our walls.”
Snowflakes fell in thick waves.
“If I were not commanded to attend, I would be happy to stay home on such a night,” the priest laughed again with a nasal sneer.
They climbed into the wagon, open to the air but covered with an arching frame. The priest shouted to the driver, “We will dine with Sisters of Sainte Hypatia.”
Thoth looked at Ptah with surprise.
“You are exhausted,” Erish whispered to Pérotin.
“But,” he paused. “If it were not for the King…” He hesitated, then continued, “He would be insulted.”
Erish sighed. She placed her hand on his cheek, “You have a fever. You must rest.”
Pérotin looked at her and shook his head.
“Have your students perform their works. Minimize the length of time you play,” she implored.
“Let’s go down,” he said. Taking her hand, he gently brought it to his lips. “You go first. I will follow. Philippe must not suspect.”
She went to the door where Sister Aubine waited to escort her down. The air grew cooler as they descended.
“First, we will have a short concert, my Lady,” Sister Aubine explained. “Then, you will dine while others perform.”
Erish nodded. Continuing down the stairs, she entered the main hall, wishing she had brought a wrap. Fires blazed in the fireplaces. Still it was so cold she could see her breath. Looking around the room, she saw new faces, two foreign men with dark skin.
She began walking towards the fire when she felt a gentle touch on her hand and turned. The man who touched her, Philippe II, the King of France, was more accurately, King of the city. His power did not extend far outside the metropolis. Standing a foot taller than her with flaming red hair, he was aged beyond his years. A deep scar traversed his cheek from a Saracen blade.
“How good to see you,” he said, taking her hand. “Come stand near me as we listen to the Great Pérotin.” He looked aside to make sure no one could hear, and whispered, “I will be able to gaze at the beautiful handiwork of our creator.” He paused, looking her up and down, then continued, “…while listening to Pérotin’s unmatched gifts.” He squeezed her hand too hard, and continued, “Delights for the eyes and the ears.”
He guided her to a chair near the fire. “Stand in front of me so I may gaze upon you.”
She avoided his eyes. He looked completely human, except for the eyes. The irises were too large and completely black, like his Potacas forebears.
Erish was an Abbesse, and as far as anyone knew, chaste.
A young novice at her right was eager to get her attention. One of Adelheid’s nameless helpers, the acolyte said nothing but pointed towards another fireplace across the room.
There in front of the fire, stood Adelheid.
“Pardon me,” Erish said to the King, and walked towards the older woman. Perfect, she thought to herself, He will not insult his patroness.
Adelheid passed a crimson, velvet bag to Erish. “Please give this to your King, he is expecting it.”
Erish looked at the bag with curiosity. It seemed to contain small stones. She looked at the older woman, questioningly.
Loosening the noose on the bag, Erish caught sight of sparkling jewels -- diamonds, emeralds, and rubies. She looked at Adelheid.
“We must maintain our influence, mustn’t we?” she smiled mischievously. “Please walk with me to the fire. I wish to discuss our plans,” Adelheid said. “I will depart in two days.”
Gaunt and pale, Pérotin entered from a separate stairway. Guests at tables pounded fists against wooden surfaces in soft welcome. The musician nodded and walked to a brocade chair. Turning towards Philippe, he held out the lute, a gift from the Crusades. He sat slowly, to minimize pain. Already having tuned the instrument, he gently plucked a chord.
All eyes were on him as he sang a gentle baritone passage. All eyes, that is, except Erish. Standing with Adelheid, she stared at the two Spaniards. Clearly, a nobleman and his man servant.
They returned her stare.
Adelheid followed Erish’s gaze.
She reached over and gently touched Erish’s sleeve. “Abbesse Sedile,” she began. “I see someone has come to your rescue.”
Erish looked at her with confusion.
“You mustn’t leave. You are needed here,” she said, focusing intently on the two Spaniards. “You must remain for twenty years.”
Ptah looked at the older woman with concentration.
I am not who you believe I am, Adelheid sent a telepathic message to Erish.
Her mouth opened in astonishment. “You,” she whispered, “You are telepathic.”
Adelheid looked at Erish with tenderness. “Remember how focused you were on righting wrongs, on achieving justice. Remember how you allowed the white supremacist to die at Luna Station,” Adelheid said.
Erish stepped away from her.
Adelheid moved closer and took her hand. Moving her face so close that their cheeks touched, she whispered, “Remember how obsessed you have been with memories of being abducted.”
Erish dropped the bag of stones and stepped back again.
“Remember how those memories torture you. Remember how you have made plan after plan to right the greatest mistake of your life. Remember how seeing all these…” she gestured towards Philippe, “…hybrids tears at your sense of self. Remember how you imagine yourself a failure.”
One of the acolytes reached down to retrieve the bag of stones.
“I can remember all these things,” the older woman continued, “…because I am you. I am from 2083. I am you from a future time. I have come to help you set things aright.”
Erish now saw herself in the older woman’s face.
Adelheid, her future self, had allowed herself to age to around 50. Yet, now, Erish was able to see her own face, lined, creased, aged, but still herself.
The acolyte handed the bag to Erish.
“I cannot tell you more, other than to explain, what you do here by establishing this order, The Sisters of Ste. Hypatia, will do much to correct our mistake…” she paused, then began again, “…the mistake we made, all those years ago.”
Adelheid looked at Ptah and smiled.
Looking back at Erish, she continued, “Let us look back at Pérotin. We mustn’t raise suspicions.”
Erish tried to calm herself. She looked at Pérotin, but all she could see was the image of her own face looking back at her through Adelheid’s eyes.
Philippe had been staring at them this whole time. The King slowly turned his gaze to the two dark men. Then, he turned around to face Pérotin. With a gesture of his right hand, he alerted guards to potential assassins.
Adelheid continued, whispering, “My acolytes are Redumu. They are fighters. They will protect you. I will leave them. They are Ahatu and Musha. I will send Tayamni women to enroll in the Sisterhood. You will be safe, protected.”
Erish turned to look at the Spaniards again.
“Ptah and Thoth,” Adelheid said, looking at the Spaniards. “They will also send help.” She smiled gently at Erish. “I must go tonight. Stay close to Pérotin. He will need medicine.” She reached over and kissed Erish on the cheek.”
Adelheid turned and walked towards the door. One acolyte accompanied her. The other stayed at Erish’s side.
Pérotin bowed to the audience of Philippe’s courtiers and priests, his face unusually pale.
The King walked towards him, taking his hand. Looking down, he offered, “Man, get yourself to bed. Your fever is raging.”
The audience, consuming venison and wine, banged fists against the tables politely. Erish turned to look at her lover as he disappeared behind a door.
Philippe, standing close to her, took her hand once again, “The Queen of Heaven has blessed me.” He looked at her wickedly, “I have you to myself this evening.”
She looked again towards the Spaniards and saw them standing. The Kings guards stood talking with them. Thoth showed them an object he retrieved from under his vest. The hybrid priest stood with them.
“Let us visit our new guests,” Philippe said, placing her hand on his forearm.
“Welcome,” he offered to Thoth and Ptah. “You managed to navigate the floods?”
Ptah stepped forward and bowed deeply. Père Corbus moved close to Philippe.
“Your majesty,” the priest offered, “I present Omarr de Grenada. His most Christian family fled the savagery of Saracen occupation. He is arrived to study with Pérotin.”
Erish tried not to smile. She looked at Ptah furtively. “When did you arrive?” she asked.
“My Lady,” Ptah began. “We arrived in these lands seven days ago, the floods have made it necessary to leave belongings with servants east of the city,” he responded, giving her a knowing look.
She believed he was telling her their spaceship was not in the city.
He looked back into her face and sent her a telepathic message, How long have you been here?
She looked into their eyes briefly, then back into Philippe’ face, sending a telepathic response, 300 years, but in Paris, 80. Potacas hybrids are everywhere.
“I am afraid you will be here on the Montagne for weeks. The Cloisters are inundated,” the King responded.
Thoth sent her another message, The timeline has changed.
The hybrids, they are my descendants, she responded, looking down at the stone floor.
Père Corbus turned towards Philippe, “They will stay at the Priory, until waters have subsided.”
“Join me at my table, Abbesse,” Philippe said to her.
She looked into his face, trying to hide her distrust. “I must check on Pérotin, my Lord. As you saw, he is unwell.”
“Surely, one of the initiates can minister to him,” Philippe asserted.
Ptah sent her another message, Are you safe here?
I have guards, she responded, looking at the acolytes. But you must get a message to the Elders.
I will give you a communications device and weapons, Ptah responded telepathically.
She saw he carried a small pack at his waist.
Erish turned to a young nun walking nearby, “Sister Aubine?”
The woman turned to her.
“Please take refreshment to Pérotin. Alert us if he worsens,” she said.
Turning to Ptah, she sent a message, Give the cloth pack to that young woman. She serves me and will not raise suspicions.
Philippe turned, escorting Erish to a table near the fire.
She sat still, looking straight ahead as initiates served her and the King. She had longed for this day. The Tayamni had found her at last. But, unlike her dreams of this day, she could not leave with them. She had so many questions. What happened with the war? Was anyone else abducted? Which time period did Thoth and Ptah come from? How did they find her? Not wanting to raise suspicions, she would wait. She must not appear distracted.
“Who are they?” Philippe asked.
Looking back at him slowly, “Who, my Lord?” she responded.
“Don’t play games,” he whispered, suddenly angry. “Who are they?”
“I believe de Grenada indicates they are from Southern Iberia,” she turned to face him.
He grabbed her hand roughly, intending to cause pain, “You will tell me how you know them, and you will join me in my bed this night, woman.” He paused, then continued, “I have waited long enough.”
She deftly moved her fingers to a position around his, bending them back sharply. Her expression remained serene. With her other hand, she took a piece of bread offered by an initiate.
Philippe grunted, trying not to show pain. He looked at her with fear.
“My beloved, King,” she began sweetly, smiling modestly as she tightened the vice grip hold on his fingers. “As you can see, the Queen of Heaven has given me strengths and insights you cannot comprehend.”
She calmly reached for her goblet, and continued, “I will never join you in any bed. And you will never threaten me again, unless you wish to lose your throne to an ambitious Baron.” She reached to his forearm and caressed him tenderly with her other hand. “Do I make myself clear?”
He grunted again, beads of perspiration on his forehead, “Yes, my Lady.”
She released the grip slowly. “Just a little more and I would have broken the fingers on your sword bearing hand. Keep that in mind.”
He breathed a sigh of relief, looking at his hand.
“I suggest,” she began, “you accept the Spaniards’ explanations, and do not bother with them again.”
She heard Ptah’s voice in her head. Will you return with us?
She looked again into Philippe’ face, assuming the modesty she displayed all evening.
I must stay here for a time. I have work to do, she responded to Ptah telepathically. Beware of the King and his guards. They are suspicious. Wear shields.
Journey to the Dalkhu
The atmosphere was turning red.
Particulates were increasing in number. He could hardly see 100 meters distance.
The landing pad on which he stood was the roof of a structure. There was no exit, no doorway leading down from the pad. Going to each of the four sides, he found a ladder on the north side that led down into the mist. However, the distance between buildings was almost close enough to jump.
“Should have listened,” he whispered, referring to Zimudar’s offer.
On the roof of an adjoining building he saw a door leading down and a ladder attached to the wall, similar to the one here.
He walked to the opposite edge and ran. He jumped, momentarily flying through air. He missed the roof. His body hit the ladder full on. His visor cracked.
The ladder was wet from falling rain. His grip slipped. His foot moved through the gap between two rungs, catching his leg. He fell against the ladder hanging upside-down. His right leg, pinned between the rungs, made a crunching noise as his body slammed against the metal frame. The tibia of his right leg, his shin bone, had splintered.
A computer voice sounded in his helmet, “Suit integrity compromised. Temperature climbing.”
He hung there, a kilometer from the surface.
He was at least one floor down from the roof. He moved his left foot to a secure position and pulled his body upwards with abdominal muscles. Both legs slid through the space between rungs. He sat up.
“Suit integrity compromised,” the voice began again. “Repairs underway.”
He felt a strong, tight binding on his right calf. Looking down, he saw a tear. The suit adhered to his skin to stop the leak.
His visor blurred.
“Not now, goddammit,” he grumbled, afraid he was losing consciousness.
The visor began to clear. The crack was less visible. The suit was repairing itself. He pulled himself up one rung with his arms. The tightness around his calf was stronger.
His eyes burned. He tasted bitter chemicals in his mouth. Poisonous air had entered his suit. He pulled himself up another rung.
He saw a flash of light in the distance. An explosion? he wondered, imagining the atmosphere around him igniting.
At last, he reached the top. Everything around him, buildings, abandoned vehicles, appeared orange red, as through filtered glass. His leg throbbed. He walked towards the door, limping. It was locked. Metal fasteners were corroded. He pushed and the door fell off its hinge mechanism onto the stair.
The materials of his suit thickened around the break in his leg, forming a kind of splint, holding the bone in place.
Behind him, he saw pipes and vents turning orange. He looked at the sky, at the rain, as if its chemical composition would reveal itself. He looked at the metal fabrics on his suit. “Isopropanol?” he whispered, moving quickly into the stair well.
He awoke at the first landing. He lay on a small platform, dimly lit by a panel of white light affixed to the ceiling. It flickered and made a buzzing sound. Electrical systems were failing. He’d passed out and fallen down the stairs. Flecks of blood were scattered across the inside of his visor. He began to cough.
“Suit integrity compromised,” a voice inside the helmet stated. “Self-repairs ineffective.”
Taharqo turned over and lay on his abdomen.
Lifting himself onto his good knee, he looked further down. All light fixtures were flickering.
“It won’t be long,” he grunted as he lifted himself onto his good leg. Corrosive particulates were affecting electrical systems. He leaned against the wall and put his hand on the railing. He began hopping down.
After an hour, he reached a door that led into a kind of lobby. Hoping there may be functioning elevators, he limped to the door.
Inside lay three bodies. They’d been shot. Silver blood oozed out and dried onto white stone. From the horny appendage on the backs their heads, he knew they were Atmehytu. They’d been running to the elevators.
Taharqo limped to double doors, and they opened in front of him. It was a lift, an elevator.
When he entered the cylinder, tube-shaped contraption, a voice sounded from above him. After a moment, his translator emitted sounds. The voice was scratched, accompanied by static.
“The tube operates for…” the mechanism made an unintelligible sound.
The cylinder began to move downwards.
Taharqo leaned against the wall. He could no longer feel his leg below the knee. He slid down. His head throbbed, his throat and eyes burned. He was perspiring heavily.
“What is the temperature?” he asked the suit.
A staticky voice responded, “65.5 Celsius, 150 Fahrenheit.”
He closed his eyes.
Double doors opened and closed, opened and closed, banging against each other. The noise woke him. He’d been sleeping. It was cooler; the air cleaner.
“Status?” Taharqo demanded.
“Suit repair 93% complete,” the voice responded.
“How far above the surface are we?” he asked.
“Your position is 100 meters below the surface of Ditallu City,” the voice responded.
“Can your radar penetrate the structure?” he asked.
“Tunnels lead to the east from this position. A doorway, 25 meters from your current position opens to a corridor leading to a series of tunnels,” the voice responded.
“Thank the Gods you are working again,” Taharqo said as he struggled to stand.
“You must find water within ninety-four minutes,” the voice continued. “After that time, you will begin to function less efficiently.”
Taharqo limped out the door.
His suit kept him cooler, but he was thirsty. Dried blood still obstructed his view on the inside of his visor. “Can I remove the helmet?” he asked.
“Not advised,” the voice responded. “Corrosive particulates are present in densities unhealthy for Tayamni.”
He kept walking. His leg didn’t function properly, but he felt no pain. He increased speed.
“Increased exertion will increase your need for water,” the voice sounded.
Taharqo slowed down again.
His mind drifted as he limped down the corridor. He thought of Amrita, about their experiences during the Tlaloc War at Sol, about taking the Tlaloc encampment at Europa. They harvested Tlaloc technology then destroyed the camp. She was Atmehytu. He wondered if she were still alive.
Eventually, he reached a large, open space, carved into rock. Entrances to three tunnels led away. He saw no light source, but the cavernous room seemed to be lit with a pinkish residue. Dust had collected on the floors and stones on the walls.
He seemed to be standing within an ancient site. The ceiling of the structure stretched into darkness above. The stone walls were worn smooth, as if eroded during an earlier time when exposed to the atmosphere. The largest archway was topped with a carving of a great beast, it’s fanged mouth open, as if the doorway were an entrance to the underworld. Just a short distance inside, he saw walls had collapsed.
There were three other archways, smaller entrances to tunnels.
“Which tunnel should I take?” he asked his suit.
“The tunnel directly ahead leads down into bedrock. Bio-trails of seven distinct species are present in the tunnel,” the voice said.
Taharqo lumbered to the borehole. A yellow light shone from his belt, otherwise the tunnel would have been completely dark.
He felt a whip-like strap strike him across his chest. He saw a flash of yellow light. His suit began to contract away from his body. His visor slid up. The suit was disabled. Coughing, he turned slowly and saw two individuals wearing suits and helmets. One held a gun.
He awoke slowly, as if from a dream. Dim blue light reflected onto stone walls of the tunnel in front of him. As his focus resolved, he saw a hovering light in the distance. A control panel was attached to the wall, the display hovering above, cast faint light into the tunnel.
He couldn’t move. His wrists were bound.
His suit and helmet were gone, but he could breathe; the air was cool. His broken leg was tied to a homemade splint and his head was pounding. The palm of his hand felt as if an incision had been made. The cut burned.
Someone close by spoke, in a language he could not understand.
He leaned against the wall. He was thirsty. He tried to speak but coughed instead.
He saw a shadow cast by the dim light and realized someone was standing over him.
A telepathic voice sounded in his head, You are Tayamni.
It sounded like a male voice, but gentle, with feminine contours.
He turned his head to try to see who was speaking. But the light behind the person cast his or her face in shadow.
You are from Earth? the telepathic voice continued. You are not Dusmanyu? Your DNA… The telepathic message ended.
He heard two voices nearby.
One of them reached down and placed a wad of fabric onto his chest. It began to spread and unfurl onto his body. It was his suit.
Someone unfastened his wrists. Then, reaching down to his ankles, untied him.
“Please forgive our inhospitable welcome,” a voice said, speaking the Tayamni language.
He looked up.
His suit unfastened the splint, pushed it away, and began to thicken around the break in his leg, resuming its former configuration.
“Who are you?” he croaked.
“Your people and the Dusmanyu have similar DNA,” the voice continued. “You were wearing a Dusmanyu tracking device in your palm. My fighters assumed…” the voice paused. “Sorry for the primitive removal process.”
He looked up and saw a gray face and yellow eyes.
“I have been to your system, the Sol system. I fought with you against the Tlalocs,” the voice said. “I am Bosmat. Welcome to Dilmun.”
“Water,” he managed to croak.
He heard the voice speak unfamiliar words.
Immediately, it seemed, another creature bent over him and held a tube to his lips. He sucked water through it, hungrily, taking great gulps.
“Please forgive us. We will provide more hospitable accommodations,” the voice said.
He awoke, again, on a cot.
The water contained drugs, he thought to himself. He looked at his palm and saw it had healed. The suit was configured as a splint or cast around his shin. He sat up. The room was bare, except for the cot and a small table on which a water bottle and pouch lay. One wall of the room was stone, the other three walls were of a composite material.
A person, in shadow, appeared at the door.
How do you feel? The same telepathic voice as before, sounded in his head.
“Where am I?” he spoke aloud. “Who are you?”
“I am Bosmat,” the creature responded. “You are several hundred meters below the surface of Dilmun. The atmosphere has ignited. We will not be able to leave here for some months. But you are safe.”
“Months?” he said.
“In the meantime, I have something to show you. Can you stand?”
Taharqo swung his legs around over the cot and tried to stand. He took a step and almost fell. Bosmat caught his arm.
“Here,” she said. “Reaching behind her, she grabbed a kind of homemade crutch and handed it to him.
“Follow me,” she said, turning away from him.
“How many of you are here?” he asked.
“These tunnels reach for miles under the city,” she said. “We tried to prepare. I imagine at least a hundred thousand,” she said.
They walked on.
“Are you able to walk with no pain?” she asked. “Should I get you a hover device?”
“I’m fine,” he responded.
“We tried to evacuate the Atmehytu. For some reason, they are the primary target…not sure why,” she continued.
“Where are you taking me?” he asked.
At that moment, a silent, electric powered vehicle pulled up next to them.
“We found something,” she responded. She pointed to the back seat of the vehicle. She got into the front, passenger side.
The vehicle took them into a tunnel with an elevated grade. They were moving closer to the surface.
“It’s going to get warmer. But we will be protected,” she said. Then, turning to face him, she continued. “Like most of the Genetically Compatible races, you have eight markers from the Nine.” She looked ahead of them, then back to him again. “We call them the Nine, but we only have markers from eight of them. The Ninth, Sutekh…his DNA is missing.”
The vehicle passed over an uneven patch and jostled them. Then, continued smoothly.
She continued, “If we remove Ennead DNA from yours, we see the base DNA of your race, your species.”
Taharqo looked at her with curiosity, wondering where the conversation was leading.
“Dusmanyu DNA is exactly the same as your original species. All except for one marker. That marker is similar to the one we attribute to that of Sutekh.” She looked around facing the front again as the vehicle turned into another passage, again leading upwards.
Taharqo began to feel warmer.
“There is only one conclusion,” she said, looking at him intensely. “The Tayamni and the Dusmanyu are the same base species.”
Taharqo’s eyes widened.
“We know from our legends that Sutekh split away from the Nine. He found the same species, the same basic species that became the Tayamni and split their DNA with his own. The Tayamni and the Dusmanyu are the same species.”
Taharqo shook his head, unable to take in this information. “Maybe your DNA samples were contaminated?”
“We’re here,” she said as the vehicle came to a stop.
Ahead, Taharqo saw a gleaming, white structure embedded in rock. It had a round base, a meter thick, forming a kind of dais. Around the surface of the disk-like structure, were raised patterns, forming circular, jagged circuits. Each metallic circuit connected to the others in concentric patterns. At the center were fork-like, metal points that led upwards twenty meters. At the base of each of the forks were plates bending at the center, forming an almost chair-like platform or shape. Surrounding this structure were four angled plates, jutting outwards, then inwards towards the center. Each of these four structures were composed of plates attached to each other with wires and rods that extended out five meters.
The entire structure seemed to glow white.
“What?” Taharqo managed to speak, still trying to understand the conversation they had in the vehicle. “What is this?”
“The Dusmanyu placed five of these around the planet. This is one of the smaller ones,” she looked at him with worry. “This is the Dusmanyu weapon, the Planet Killer.” A homemade set of steps led up to the dais. “Come up here,” she said.
Taharqo stood on the disk. He walked towards the center, examining what looked like a console.
“It searches for elements present in soil and in the air,” she began. “Somehow, it manages to separate particulates from other elements to elevate them into the atmosphere and combine them in such a way as to ignite them.”
He looked at Bosmat with concern.
“Don’t worry, it is not active. You can touch it,” she said. “We have analyzed it. But we cannot understand it. It might as well be magic.”
Taharqo held out his hand, commanding the suit to obtain readings.
“Yes, please, scan it. We don’t know whether they brought it from another part of the galaxy, or if they built it themselves.” She paused for a moment. “But since your DNA is so similar, we are hoping your brain can figure it out.” She smiled wryly as if making a joke.
Taharqo looked at rock that seemed to be melted from the wall.
“We tried a few things, managed to activate a particular function, and the rock around the cavern began to dissolve. So, we turned it off,” she said.
Taharqo looked towards her, his eyes wide with confusion.
“This device is responsible for the destruction of 16 planets and the deaths of untold billions,” she whispered, looking into his face. “We believe they call it The Dalkhu.”
Kirashi walked to the window. Bright sunlight reflected off surfaces on the plaza below. She brought her hand up to protect her eyes. “Dim 25%,” she said.
The window grew darker.
She looked across the square to landing pads. At least twenty vessels hovered above, waiting.
“Of course,” she whispered. “Of course.”
Looking down, she saw different species walking, some in hover chairs, coming from and going to the cluster of parliament buildings. In the center of the square, or more accurately, the long rectangle, were pools, placed equidistant from each other, extending the length of the open space. At the edge of each pool was a curved, overarching structure, under which visitors could sit or gather to be protected from harsh sunlight. Under one of the arched structures a concert was taking place.
In the distance she saw green trees, in full leaf, one of the many gardens gracing this city in the clouds.
“Of course,” she whispered again. She’d allowed her ego to be dominant. This assignment would be a healthy check. She’d grown accustomed to seeing herself as a strong, capable diplomat, associating with leaders of planets and alliances. Without realizing it, she’d grown accustomed to being treated like her wealthy, powerful patrons, dining at fine restaurants, drinking the most expensive wines, and attending concerts with the most educated people.
Of course, I will perform this task, she thought to herself.
She’d been directed to be the contact person for refugees arriving at Sippar. She was to work with Nantli, a Tlaloc Nonan selected to represent the growing numbers of his people arriving from all over the transit.
She shook her head. Who knew that Tlalocs had traces of aquatic DNA?
Her attention was drawn to a long, damaged transport vessel setting down at one of the pads. From the markings, it looked Tlaloc.
A lighted indicator flashed at her wrist.
“Kirashi here,” she said.
“You better get down here,” a male voice said. “We have a situation.”
She sighed. “I’m busy,” she lied.
“Diplomats,” Jerry began. “…too many. From all over the Transit.”
“It’s the conference,” she said. “…the reorganization of the Alliance.”
“No apartments are available,” he said.” We are full up, and the tech-arch arrived.”
“E5 left instructions,” she said. “Tell diplomats to stay with their people on the surface. You and I will take care of the Ormarr.”
“The tech-arch?” he asked.
“Yes. He is Ormarr,” she responded.
“Yeah, but the ambassadors want to stay in their old apartments,” Jerry responded. “And, E5 just called me to the surface.”
“You have to help me with the Ormarr. Tell E5 you are delayed. How do we move the tech-arch to his quarters?” she said.
“It’s anti-grav, Kurrunite,” Jerry responded. “Just activate it and give it a shove,” he said.
“The temperature inside that thing is minus 180 C,” she said. “If it ruptures our air will cook him…”
“I know,” he said impatiently.
“The Ambassador will be here shortly, please wait,” the female cyborg repeated.
In front of her stood three creatures. Two had feather-like coverings on their bodies. One of them, a female who had breasts like a mammal, looked at the cyborg with determination.
The other feathered creature seemed completely avian, save for the absence of wings. His small, inset eyes glowed green, while a red beak stood out from his face. He had a barrel-chest with spindly arms and legs. Judging from the shape of his beak, he was a vegetarian.
The other creature was aquatic; his body covered with soft, brown, skin-like scales. He was clothed head-to-toe in a blue and orange garment with a hood, keeping his face in shadow.
Kirashi planned her defense.
She looked down as she approached them. “Greetings, welcome to Sippar,” she said.
“What happened to the apartments?” the Avian male asked. His beak gave him an aggressive appearance.
“May I call you, Envoy?” Kirashi asked. “Ezzezu?” she continued.
“This is an outrage!” he shouted, drawing attention to himself. “I am Nuncio of the Ezzezu. I have an apartment here.”
“Pardon me, Nuncio,” Kirashi said, hoping her translator repeated the title properly. “You no longer represent the same institution. I believe your government is here, below, on the surface. You represent a government in exile. We have assigned your former apartments to those in need.” She paused trying to read his bird-like face. “As you know, the Transit is under stress. Refugees without governments have been assigned to your apartments. You may join your people on the surface.”
He looked at her blankly.
Nodding at the female, she continued, “I believe you represent the Ikkibu.”
The female nodded.
“You may join your people on the surface as well,” Kirashi said.
The Aquatic creature, an Anurian took a step forward.
She nodded. “You are the Legate from Anuria?”
He nodded again.
“Since your government has fallen, your apartments are reserved for you here. But I’m afraid you must share.”
“Am I a prisoner?” he asked.
She looked at him blankly.
“Am I a prisoner here?” he asked again.
“Did anyone force you to come? Have you been restrained?” she asked.
“You do not answer my question,” he said.
She stood back and looked at him. “I believe you and I have met,” she said. “You were at Anuria 15 years ago. I led a team of diplomats. We stopped at Anuria on our way here.”
“You abused our hospitality,” he accused.
Brown, gill-like structures under where a human’s ears would be, contrasted sharply to the green blue coloring of his face. The gills flared open and closed wildly, as if he were panting.
“You were dismantling our ship,” she offered. “…a hostile act.”
“It was a matter of trust,” he said, looking at his companions. “We demand a different representative. We will not deal with Tayamni,” he hissed.
“If you won’t deal with me, you will have a long wait. I am the only diplomat available,” she responded.
“What have you planned?” he grunted. “What will you do with us?”
Turning abruptly, she gestured to the two Avians, and pointed to another pad. “You may take shuttles to the surface at that platform.” She turned and walked away.
“Ambassador! Ambassador,” a metallic voice called out.
Kirashi stopped, reluctant to look around. She looked aside to gather her thoughts. Then, turned in the direction of the voice. There stood a female robot. Next to her stood the Anurian Ambassador.
Kirashi began walking towards them.
“Thank you so much. We have been trying to rouse the diplomatic corps without luck. The Ambassador’s apartments seem to be taken,” she said. “There must be a mistake.”
Kirashi looked at the Ambassador as he looked into the distance away from her.
“I’m afraid you must share your apartments. There are too many refugees,” she said.
The robot, whose face had the ability to express emotion, looked upset. She stepped forward. “We demand to see the Kataru Ambassador,” she said.
“In a crisis like the one we now face, your demands are unreasonable,” Kirashi responded.
“Send the Ambassador,” the robot repeated.
“I am the Kataru Ambassador assigned to your former government,” Kirashi stated. “You may deal with me.”
At this, the Ambassador himself finally spoke. Turning his head to face Kirashi, his eyes remained focused on his attaché. “Where is E5?” he asked.
“He is on the surface, in conference with military leaders of the alliance,” she responded.
“We understand accommodations on the surface are primitive,” the Ambassador said.
“Yes, quite primitive,” Kirashi responded. “But, since your government is not reorganized yet, you can stay here in a shared apartment. Either that or go down to the surface. I am sure your attaché will be able to find a cot for you somewhere.” Kirashi turned to begin walking away. Something told her to look back at them.
The first Anurian, the one she remembered, looked at her with large amphibian eyes. He made an aggressive gesture and turned away.
Jerry, standing near the entrance to Arrivals Pads, motioned for her.
“See that wasn’t so difficult,” she said. “At least you didn’t have to deal with Anurians.”
Jerry pointed to a central space near a screen. There, like an enormous fish-tank, was the Tech-Arch with the Ormarr creature suspended inside. Seeming to be a man with a human upper-body and a fish lower-body, he had golden skin, and horned, curved growths around his head. He seemed to swim or float, his ornamented tail flicking back and forth, keeping him in a stable position.
They walked over to him with palms upwards, in Tayamni formal greeting.
Jerry smiled and spoke into a device that could have been a microphone. “Does your translator accept my language?” he asked.
Speakers at the base of the contraption emitted a gurgling sound. Then a synthesized male voice responded, “Yes, you speak the language of the Tayamni-Pa. I understand you.”
“Does anyone accompany you?” Jerry asked.
“Save for my Chava rescuers, I am alone,” the voice said.
“We have a space set aside for you, a pressurized container, of sorts, a living space. I am not sure what kind of furniture or food you…”
“Is there news?” the voice interrupted.
Jerry looked at him questioningly.
“From my system,” he continued. “…from Tamtu, my home.” He drew his brows together with worry, like humans do.
“The last information we received,” Karashi began. “Was,” she paused with concern. “…the Tamtu system had been invaded,” she sighed. “Dozens of enemy vessels. I’m sorry.”
“What about the Si’lat?” Askook asked.
Kirashi and Jerry looked at each other then back at him.
“Our Gods? Our protectors? Have they not intervened?” Askook asked.
“We have not…” Kirashi began.
The creature, merman, or Ormarr, held up his hand, to quiet her. He flicked his tail and turned away from them both.
“We don’t have information,” Jerry kept on. “We will tell you if reports arrive…”
Askook did not turn around. Deep in contemplation, he no longer heard them.
“We will have the tech-arch moved to your quarters,” Kirashi added.
Askook did not move.
Kirashi indicated Jerry should follow her and walk away from the landing pad.
“What do you know about the Si’lat?” she said.
Jerry looked at her with concern. “The only reference I have is from Middle Eastern cultures at Earth.”
“I know that reference, but…” she paused, looked back at Askook, then continued, “E5 told me of an interdimensional species. There’s a portal near Tamtu and one at Titan at the Sol System,” she said.
Jerry’s eyes widened.
“There is downloadable history of their species, somewhere,” she continued. “We must find it.”
“What about the archives?” Jerry asked. “The database of Genetically…”
Kirashi looked at him as if he were a child. “Do you really think the Ormarr are Genetically Compatible with us?” She looked back at the tech-arch, then again at Jerry. “His species did not evolve. A creature with fish and mammalian traits could not have evolved. He was created.”
“By whom?” Jerry asked.
Kirashi had to refrain from rolling her eyes. “We need information about the Si’lat. Their Gods, obviously, had a hand in this.”
Little did Kirashi and Jerry know, the only reliable history of Tamtu and the Ormarr lay in the memories of the Si’lat Gods, themselves.
One hundred fifty thousand years ago, in a sector of the Perseus Transit, near the Orion Spur, a lifeless planet orbiting a burnt-out star, was jostled out of position by a rogue spray of planetoids, moons, and asteroids.
In general, star systems, spread over millions of kilometers, are so large that planetary debris can pass through, unimpeded.
However, it was not so in this case.
A small moon, circling a nondescript rocky planet, in a white star system was captured by the accumulating debris and swept away. This would have been unremarkable, except that the moon was covered by an ocean of liquid water and populated by a biodiversity of creatures.
A great, fish-like beast, beginning to use sonar as language, employed large spikes on each side of its tail to slash potential meals and foes alike. Horny protrusions circling from its head originally evolved to push dirt and rock into protective barriers, were now being used to express affection, and to build structures.
But the further the moon traveled from its star, the colder the little world grew. Its atmosphere was blasted away; the ocean surface thickened into glaciers; all living creatures were pushed deeper. Increasing pressures killed some, while the lack of sunlight starved microscopic creatures forming the base of the food chain.
The moon was dying.
It was to this mass of debris, streaking towards the center of the galaxy, that two traveling Si’lat were drawn. The companions, on a leisurely tour through the Orion Spur, came upon the dying moon.
“Let us save these intelligent creatures,” one said to the other.
For the Si’lat, who brought star systems into existence on a whim, simply saving the creatures was too easy. They would entertain themselves while on respite from the pressures of their collective. The other responded to his beloved, “Should we return them to their original system? Or take the moon somewhere else?”
She thought of the possibilities.
It was true, nearby systems were unremarkable. “Let us take the moon to the world at our doorway. Perhaps we should bring it to the orbit of Titan.”
“But, my dearest,” he responded, wrapping her in his arms, “…the children are there.”
She smiled a loving smile and caressed the back of his neck. “Let us make it a duplicate of the world at our doorway. It could be another entrance, a back door to this Galaxy.”
They swirled around in each other’s arms, flying through space, twirling, twisting, spinning, dancing until they reached a system at the end of the transit.
When they stopped, they were at the exact distance from another white star, as Saturn is from Sol. “This is perfect,” she said.
Each of them, knowing the thoughts of the other, set about their tasks. She created an atmosphere thick with yellow gasses, and oceans of liquid methane.
He laughed as rain drops, condensed from green, billowing clouds, fell onto his face. Liquid water hardened into boulders. The hazy atmosphere thickened, darkening the surface, hiding the stars.
He took the life forms and transformed them. They would consume gases previously lethal to them, producing hydrogen as a byproduct. He copied them, creating an entire food chain of bacteria, plants, and animals. The moon would flourish in its new condition.
He smiled mischievously at his beloved, as he held in his mind, the intelligent fish-monster. He saved his best work, his masterpiece, for last.
She saw the brute change as her mate heightened his intelligence. This was one of his specialties, increasing the intelligence of more lowly creatures, as he had done with the children. She watched as their attentions focused; their faces developed new expressions of depth and understanding. They analyzed their surroundings. Their consciousnesses developed to such a degree that they could no longer remember who they had been.
They had become different creatures.
“But,” the other said, “What good is intelligence without the ability to manipulate objects or create technology?”
“Ah,” he responded, “You are right, my beloved.” As he spake, the mouth of the great fish opened wide, eyes receded, and a growth emerged from the widening orifice. Gills disappeared, and a fleshy protuberance grew limbs, two arms, and a head. Hands formed, and fingers - eyes, a nose and mouth, not covered with scales as the bottom half of the creature, but rather, with skin.
She smiled seeing what her partner had done. It was a beautiful creature, half humanoid, and half great fish; a human without legs - in their place, a giant tail, covered with beautiful scales, keeping the same thorny spikes on each side. Beautiful, graceful, curling fins projected from his back. And, the circling horns remained on his head, the central one forming a kind of crown.
It was a creature that could not evolve, a human-sea serpent chimera.
Great pressure and a thick atmosphere meant that the creature could, by moving his tail, swim through the air, flying over methane oceans, and rocky-mountains of water ice.
Diving into kelp forests, the creatures would gather more food than they could want.
It was thus, that the Ormarr came into being.
The Tlaloc Priest, Giver-to-Gods, the Teopixqui, stepped onto the ramp.
He whispered a curse, “May you be irredeemable.”
In his former life, he’d uttered this curse many times. As a priest, he’d been required to pronounce these words, to curse Tlalocs condemned to death by trial. But now, these words were not directed towards a criminal. He hesitated. He stood there, a half meter before stepping onto the floor of the vehicle. It was the shuttle of prey species, mammals, the shuttle of his enemy. It was the shuttle of the Kataru. And it was onto himself that he lay the curse.
Standing six feet tall, he was short for a priest. He was not muscular. Unlike warriors, his scales were of a bluish hue. He wore a dark robe with a red sash, everyday clothing.
He considered the implications of his next step, his next footfall…submission. One more step and it would be final; the enormity of the action, the one step, allowing himself to be saved by his enemies.
This step would bring the death of his religion, the death of who he had been.
It was his last and final step away from himself.
He’d been groomed for the priesthood. He’d undergone the dialogues, the oral katecheo, he’d been granted degrees. With the connections of his aristocratic family, their closeness to the Pope-like figure who ruled over the empire, success was a foregone conclusion.
He would ease into a pampered life.
The sacred texts, the codices…he’d been taught, and he’d believed, the Tlalocs would take Sol and Earth as their foothold in the Orion Spur. It was foretold, prophesied. And, like all Tlalocs, he believed his people would conquer more and more systems until the entire Transit would be theirs.
Prey species would be enslaved and farmed for food, as his people had done for millennia.
The triumph of their God would be complete. It was destiny. Reptilian races would dominate.
But fate had intervened.
They had lost Sol. The Dusmanyu laid waste to their empire. Their home planet, Clysma was a burned-out wasteland.
All the wars of conquest, destruction, his own personal history, he saw everything now through the lens of defeat, through the loss of Clysma…holy Clysma.
By stepping onto the ramp of a foreign shuttle, on his way to a refugee camp, he would close the door on who he had been.
His belief, his identity, his culture would evaporate.
He would become a new creature.
He must find a new religion, a new matrix, a new scaffold on which to overlay this new self.
He took the step, placing his right foot onto the metal floor of the shuttle.
He was among a group of 17 Tlalocs and two humans flying to the surface.
He took his seat, looking straight ahead, not wishing to speak, not wishing to be seen, the aroma of the humans strong in his nostrils.
He sat in a soft chair. Tlalocs of various castes waited. A warrior sat down next to him, sword and scabbard slung over his back.
From the corner of his eye, Mitl, the former priest, watched the other passengers.
“I know you,” the warrior whispered.
Mitl did not look at him.
“Fame is assured for all,” Mitl mumbled. “We are so few.” He focused on hexagonal designs on the wall in front of him.
“I thought we were all dead,” the younger Tlaloc said. “All of us warriors…”
Mitl turned to look at him. “It is entirely possible that you and I are the only members of our caste who remain alive.”
The warrior’s eyes widened. He shook his head. “I am Atlatl,” he said. “I know who you are.”
Mitl looked at the sword attached to a leather sling.
“I told them it was purely ceremonial,” Atlatl said, smiling.
“And they believed you?” Mitl asked.
A human male stepped onto the shuttle and sat down on the other side of them.
The strong scent of mammals struck them both.
Having lived on mealy, synthesized food for months, the smell of fresh meat was unexpected.
Mitl turned away not wishing to show his response.
The younger Tlaloc however, looked towards what had always been considered prey, a food source. The sting of saliva glands, freshly triggered, caused his mouth to water.
Mitl reached over to gently touch his friend’s hand. “We must not belittle them,” he whispered. “They have saved us. If not for them, our species would no longer exist. We owe a debt we can never repay.”
Atlatl, the warrior, looked at him with confusion, torn between the distracting human odor and his friend’s words.
“There are so few of us, castes no longer matter,” Mitl continued. There will no longer be classes or restrictions against breeding. We are not genetically viable. If we don’t find a solution, we will not survive.”
Atlatl fingered the hilt of his sword.
“We are no longer who we were,” Mitl said.
The Anurian Legate, Dashi, had changed out of traveling clothes and donned the headdress signifying him as Chanyu, a provincial leader and priest. Placing it on his head, he looked in the mirror. He had been both religious leader and politician. But his planet no longer existed. He was leader of nothing. If he’d not been traveling at the time of the attack, he would be dead, along with two billion other Anurians.
The other occupant of this apartment, the one he must now share, was Chava, a female. She sat on the edge of her cot with her head in her hands. She was silent, unmoving.
We are all prisoners, he thought to himself.
He made his way down a series of elevators to walkways tunneling under the square. His soft, Anurian skin could not endure the Kataru sun. From living his whole life under the protection of an ocean, he’d come to this, living in the open sun, exposed to the elements.
He’d asked an Aide to meet him at the Adrahasis statue near the landing pads.
The statue was easy enough to find. It depicted a tall creature, a humanoid male with both hands raised, cupped around an enormous, blue cabochon attached to his chest. The effigy was cracked and faded. Being carved from organic material, it had stood in the sun for too long. The imaginary third-eye, the all-seeing spiritual organ, was carved into the forehead.
The statue of the Tayamni hero, looking at him through this pineal gland, made Dashi uncomfortable, as if he were being spied on.
Dashi stood near the spot where he had confronted Kirashi the day before. The Tayamni female, Kirashi, was now in a position of authority. She would harm him. Surely, she would want revenge for the attack he’d led against her.
He needed a weapon and a ship.
Leaning against the statue, he looked up at the face. “Adrahasis,” he hissed sarcastically. “Even their heroes are here,” he said, examining the face of the ancient Tayamni senator who led the Tayamni away from Patriarchy.
The Kataru honored each species of the Alliance with statues and monuments. Since Dashi’s people, Anurians, had never officially been members, there were no monuments to them.
He leaned against the statue and rubbed his shoe on its base, as if to wipe off mud.
The Aide approached in formal dress. He stopped a few feet away.
“Dashi,” the Aide said, bowing.
“Why are you dressed like this? You wear festival clothing? We are dead creatures,” Dashi responded.
The Aide was silent and looked at him with fear.
“We are not safe,” Dashi continued.
“But there is to be a banquet …” the Aide began.
“Do you not know our people, our species, is the primary target of this war?” Dashi interrupted. “The Dusmanyu are killing Aquatics on-sight,” he paused, looking down at his hands. “We must save ourselves.” He turned to look behind, to ensure no one listened to their conversation. “Why do the Kataru gather us all into one place?”
“But they rescued thousands of us…”
“For what reason?” Dashi asked, growing frantic. “As a sacrifice? As a gift? …in exchange for peace?” He leaned against the statue again as if for support. “Will they hand us over? We must find a way off-world, away from this system. Don’t you see?” Dashi said. “We are prisoners.”
The Aide shrank back. “Where can we go? We have no resources, no military, where…”
“The Gods will provide,” Dashi said. “I need a weapon.”
The Aide drew up, standing straight. “Why don’t our Gods provide weapons?” he asked. “Why didn’t they save our world?”
Dashi leaned forward and slapped him hard. “How dare you, insult our Gods.”
The Aide fell to his knees, his head bowed.
“You forget who you are!” he continued, knowing how to strike the right balance between condemnation and forgiveness. “Stand.”
The Aide stood; his gaze fixed on the gray floor.
“The Goddess can absolve you,” he said, reaching his hand out to the younger Anurian. “If…”
The Aide looked into his face fearfully.
“…if you procure a weapon,” Dashi said. “You can be instrumental in helping our people regain our footing.” He paused and turned to gaze out the window, looking into the skies of an alien world. “We will find an unpopulated planet.” He turned around to face the Aide again. “A world covered with sapphire seas.”
“As you wish, Chanyu,” the Aide responded, addressing him by his official title.
Jerry exited the shuttle and stood upon solid ground. For the first time in months, he was standing on the surface of a planet.
He looked down at sand and gravel scattered across the pad as if it were a miracle. The pad was made of a composite material, similar to concrete, but not as hard. In the near distance were other pads on which passengers stood, bags, cases, and boxes in their arms. Some brought possessions, but most had nothing but the clothes on their backs. The barren ground between pads was muddy; puddles of dirty water littered the ground. This was melting tundra.
In the distance he saw the cliff of a glacial wall.
Between the pads and glacier stretched the refugee camp, more a hastily thrown together city than a camp. With every shuttle landing the refugee city grew.
Two Tlalocs exited behind him. The one with a weapon on his back stopped and starred. He closed his eyes and sniffed the air. “Tayamni or human?” the translator attached to the skin behind Jerry’s ear pronounced.
Jerry returned his stare. “You are Tlaloc,” Jerry said.
“Why are humans here?” the warrior asked. The voice from the translator was threatening.
“I am Ambassador Le’u,” Jerry said. “I will be working with you and your people to establish a colony.”
“Human? Ambassador?” He seemed to chuckle. “I smell nanobots in your blood. Humans becoming Tayamni?”
The other Tlaloc, in black robes, placed his hand on the warrior’s shoulder. He seemed to whisper something.
The warrior pushed the hand away. “Do you represent Earth?” he asked.
Jerry stared at him, trying to return his threatening manner.
The Tlaloc dressed in black grabbed the other one forcefully.
The warrior hissed something Jerry’s translator had difficulty interpreting, then continued. “Earth does not belong to you,” the warrior said. He turned to walk back to the priest. Then, turning abruptly to face Jerry again he made an aggressive gesture.
Jerry looked at the ground wondering what that was about. I guess I smell human, he thought to himself. He brought his hand up to his nose, unconsciously.
A ping sounded from his wrist.
“Le’u here,” he responded.
“The hover bike next to you is programmed to bring you…” a female voice began.
Jerry’s eyes widened. “Namazu?” he asked.
There was silence on the communicator.
“Is that you?” he asked again.
“Jerry?” They were both silent for a moment. Namazu continued, “You’re Ambassador Le’u?” she asked. “What the hell?”
Now, it was Jerry’s turn to be silent. He looked at the silver and black machine hovering next to him.
“They told me the Ambassador was human,” she paused. “But…how?”
Jerry threw his leg over the bike and sat down. The bike moved forward and Jerry fell off the machine. The bike stopped. Jerry stood and walked to the bike. He heard Namazu laughing before the connection ended.
He shook his head and mounted the bike, correctly this time he hoped.
The bike hovered silently, then moved forward without, as it seemed, any engine whatsoever. The mechanism was completely silent.
He moved through a junkyard of discarded ships, space stations, and industrial equipment. People lived here. Species from all over the Transit crawled around and through the detritus of technological civilizations. Avians flew in and out of the upper reaches of discarded battle ships, insect-like creatures crawled upon the ground. But everyone turned when he passed. They knew, on some level, he was human. They also knew he was their Ambassador to the Kataru. It would be to him that they would plead, intreat, and importune to receive what they needed.
Watching them turn their heads towards him he knew there would be crime. These people were desperate.
The bike turned sharply to the right. In the near distance there was a large, shallow lake of melted ice and permafrost. The vehicle pulled up to a new construction, easy to pick out in jumbled piles of discarded technology. It was a stack of six prefabricated structures, with a three-sided bulge forming the front wall of each layer. The bulge formed a set of screened windows that looked out onto the new, icy lake.
Jerry stepped off the bike and walked to the doors.
A voice sounded from a hidden speaker. “Take the lift to the third level. Your office is located there, behind your residence.”
“My residence?” Jerry whispered to himself.
The lift opened onto a metallic structure. The walls, floors, ceilings, all were of a dark grey metal. A human looking woman stood behind a desk with three displays. Standing against the far window was an Atmehytu female, in traditional dress, and at the front near the door, looking right at him, stood Namazu, smiling.
“Who did I piss off to get stuck with you again?” Namazu said smiling. She walked over and punched him on the shoulder. Then, reaching over, she hugged him.
“You don’t mind me giving you a hard time, do you?” she whispered.
She pulled back and looked at him with a beaming smile. “I’ve missed you, Human.” She said.
Taking him by the hand, she brought him over to the desk.
“Do your thing, honey,” she said to the woman behind the desk.
The woman reached over and opened her palm to Jerry. A blue colored beam emanated from a point on her palm, spreading over his body.
“You’re Tayamni,” Jerry said to her.
She nodded. “Pleased to meet you, Ambassador Le’u,” she responded. “All mechanisms, entrances, and security-controlled devices will respond to your DNA. You will be provided with protection.”
“Alhalsu,” Namazu said to the woman. “Assign Alhalsu to him.”
Jerry looked at her. “What’s an Alhalsu?” he asked.
“Yes, Commander,” the Tayamni woman responded.
“Alhalsu is our head of security here. You’ll need to get to know him,” Namazu said.
The Tayamni woman continued, “Ambassador, four Redumu will be assigned to accompany you at all times.”
“How d’you like that, Mr. Ambassador,” Namazu smirked again, slapping him on the back. “…at all times,” she repeated. “Can’t get into much trouble that way.”
She reached over and kissed him on the cheek.
He wondered if she genuinely liked him now.
“And, we just happen to have your first customer right over there,” she pointed to the Atmehytu female. “I am so glad I am not in your particular, size nine shoes right now.” She smirked again. Then, leaning close, she continued in a whisper, “You have my contact info in your communicator. Call me if you need me. Sagar will be down here too. We’re living on the top floor.”
Then, she turned, looked back at him and winked, before leaving the room.
He looked at the Tayamni woman behind the desk in confusion.
“Ambassador?” the translator device behind his ear sounded. “Are you the Ambassador?”
He looked towards the Atmehytu female and saw she was speaking. He tried to speak, but his words came out in a croak. “Yes,” he paused looking at the Tayamni woman. “I am Ambassador Le’u.”
“You must help us,” she said, moving close, pressing her body against his. “We must leave this place. We must flee to Kaimanu. They will kill us. They are killing all Aquatic.”
From her dress, she seemed wealthy. Her skin was clean and gleaming white. Her clothing was immaculate. Her dress seemed to be a genuine reproduction of European 18th Century styles, complete with hoop skirt and lace. She could have been from Earth if it were not for the lack of hair and the horn-like projection growing from the back of her head.
“We need a ship,” she said.
Jerry looked at the Tayamni woman, then back at the Atmehytu female. The name Marie Antoinette sprung to mind.
Dashi looked at the weapon in his hand, then into the face of the young man at whom it was pointed. Dashi had considered himself a man of peace, spiritual, a religious leader. Now, he held a blaster rifle pointed at an unarmed man. This action went against every moral directive he held as holy.
“You will take me to an Anurian vessel,” he said. His voice shaking. “I must have a vessel.”
“I cannot,” the young male responded. “Too dangerous, too many ships there. There’s no room.”
“Then, I will fly there myself,” Dashi responded.
“The reader won’t recognize you,” the ferryman responded. “The shuttle won’t respond to your commands.” The young man looked at the screen above the console. “We have to change course. We’re headed for a tanker…I needed to refuel.”
As if he could command his own DNA to change, Dashi looked at the scales covering his hand.
The ferryman slapped at the weapon.
The force of the strike caused Dashi’s fingers to press the trigger mechanism.
The blaster fired.
In an instant, the ferryman lay on the floor.
Dashi gasped and stood back. He looked around frantically, moving quickly to the console.
His hand wouldn’t fit in the controller.
Directly ahead, 15 vessels were anchored to the fuel tanker. Behind this cluster orbited another group, and behind that one, another. The collision would cause a cascade of impacts.
He looked down at the console. This action, the theft of the shuttle would result in a crash. Delicately balanced orbits keeping refugee vessels stabilized would be thrown into confusion. Innocent people, the refugees on those ships, would die.
Frantically trying other controls, he glimpsed the man, the ferryman, lying on the floor. He lay there, still unarmed.
He brought his hand to his face, hiding his eyes, as if to remove the image of the man he’d just killed. Removing his hands from his face, he stared at the cluster of ships as he drew closer. “The innocent die in every war,” he whispered.
Looking down again, he saw a red stain on the carpet under the man. Bending down he whispered, “Goddess forgive.” He caressed the man’s head reciting a prayer for the dead.
Standing again, he turned towards the screen. He could not move. He was frozen in place.
“I wanted freedom…” he whispered.
When the hydraulic doors closed behind her, Namazu threw her head back, laughing. Maybe I should be nice to him now? she wondered.
A ping sounded from her communicator.
“Namazu here,” she said.
“Commander, you are needed,” the voice was fearful.
“What is it?” Namazu grew serious.
“An Anurian, stole a weapon, killed a ferryman…crashed into a fueling station.”
“A leader, we think,” the voice responded. “Dashi…”
“A pilot?” she asked.
“No, a politician.”
“Jesus,” Namazu responded.
“I’m going directly up, taking Redumu. Keep me posted,” she ordered.
In minutes, it seemed, she was on a shuttle with three Redumu. Reports were coming in.
“The shuttle exploded on impact,” a voice sounded. “…the fuel station is engulfed.”
“How many vessels?” she asked.
“Unknown. Hundreds dead so far,” the voice said.
“So far?” she asked.
“You gotta see this,” the voice said. “Must be a hundred ships on the move, crashing into each other, explosions, hulls ripped open.”
“Rescue vessels?” she asked.
“They can’t get too close or they’ll crash too…have to let it all settle down a bit,” he paused, then yelled, “Damn!”
“What?” she asked.
“Shrapnel; a nacelle barely missed us. We’re pulling back.”
“Link me to your sensors,” she said. “Order every vessel that can, to move to a higher orbit. They’re going to get shredded.”
The screen in front of her resolved. She couldn’t make out much more than bright explosions of light and jagged shapes flung outwards.
“Send a communication to the cities. Calculate where the debris will fall. Alert the refugee settlements. We’re looking at planet wide damage to the strip,” she said.
“Yes, Commander,” the voice responded.
“I will see what I can do,” Jerry responded, looking at the alien woman in European Baroque clothing.
“You must help us, we are Aquatic. They will come for us first,” the Atmehytu female repeated.
“Falling debris,” the Tayamni woman at the desk said.
Jerry looked at her quickly.
“An attack!” the Atmeyhtu female shouted. “They are here. They will kill us.”
Jerry continued looking at the woman.
“Getting reports; multiple collisions; tons of debris; some will fall to the strip,” she looked at Jerry. “We have to shelter.”
“What the hell?” Jerry asked.
“Confirming, no attack,” she said. “Just falling debris.”
“How do we get a message to the entire camp?” Jerry asked. “Where are the shelters?”
“They’re not finished. Two are complete; two under construction.”
“Do we have enough room? How many refugees?” Jerry asked.
She looked at him helplessly.
“Is there signage? Will the population know where to go?”
“No,” she said. “Not yet. But there is a communications link, speakers throughout the settlement.”
“Where? How much time do we have? When will the debris hit?” he asked.
“Unknown,” she responded.
The Atmehytu woman pulled at his jacket.
“Somebody get Marie Antoinette to a safe place,” he shouted gesturing to the woman. “Do we have people who can organize the refugees, get them to protected areas?” Jerry asked. Looking at the Atmehytu woman again, he continued, “Do you know where the shelters are?”
She shook her head.
“Tell her where they are,” Jerry yelled at the Tayamni woman behind the desk. Then, looking at the Atmehytu again, gestured to her roughly, “You are responsible for your people. Get them to the shelters.”
Looking at the Tayamni woman, he added, “Contact a representative from each of the refugee species. Tell them they are responsible for their own people. Tell them where the shelters are.”
“Yes, Ambassador,” the Tayamni woman responded.
“How do I make announcements? Is there something like…” he searched for the word. His face reddening with embarrassment, he used the American English term he could remember, hoping the translator would interpret correctly. “Is there something like an intercom?”
“Where’s Askook?” Kirashi shouted. “Where’s the Tech-Arch?”
The cyborg female standing at the station next to her, looked at the display, then back at Kirashi. “Unknown,” she responded.
“Sippar is right over the strip. We’re sitting ducks,” Kirashi said again. “Can we move the cities?” she continued, referring to the five floating cities. “We need to move away…away from falling debris.” She looked at the cyborg again. Directly in front of them was an image projecting the trajectory of falling shrapnel.
“Can’t change orbits of the cities in such a short time frame,” the cyborg female responded, her voice unnaturally calm. “Too many connectors, elevated fields, factories, training facilities…it takes days to coordinate.”
“We have ten minutes,” Kirashi said. “Where is the Tech-Arch? What happened to Askook?”
“Sensors indicate the Tech-Arch reappeared at the landing pads one minute ago,” the cyborg said. “It was not present for 12 minutes. But...” she did not finish her statement. She pressed several controls and looked at Kirashi. “The Tech-Arch is there, but it is empty.”
“But I checked the landing pads,” Kirashi said. “It wasn’t there.”
“It is there now, Ambassador,” the cyborg responded. “It simply reappeared.”
“How can it be empty?” Kirashi asked.
The cyborg’s attention was drawn back to the display. “An entire space station is crashing through the atmosphere, headed for the refugee camp,” the cyborg said. “Impact in three minutes.”
“E5’s down there,” Kirashi said. “Jerry and Namazu, please get word…”
A brilliant light flashed in front of them, distracting them both.
A semi-transparent image of a woman appeared hovering in thin air. She appeared human. She floated in the air, her blonde locks drifting around her head as if she were in zero-gravity. Her thin, white dress fluttered as if blown by a gentle breeze.
Kirashi and the cyborg heard a voice they knew came from the woman. But her mouth did not move.
“Thank you,” she said, in a calming, gentle voice.
Kirashi stepped around the console, standing close enough to touch the image.
“You have done us a great service,” the woman’s voice continued.
Kirashi stared at her, as if in a trance.
“You saved one who is beloved to us,” the woman’s voice continued. “We have returned him to the Gateway. The one called Askook is safe.”
The woman looked at the cyborg. “You are in distress,” she said. “Regard your display.”
The display showing trajectories, froze. All shrapnel, all vessels and stations falling from orbit, seemed to freeze in place, hovering, as if stopped by a magic hand. Slowly, the objects changed direction, their courses taking them gently to the ground in uninhabited zones. Explosions in orbit ceased. Vessels moving towards each other, stopped in position.
“I am Eshe,” the woman said. “The catastrophe is averted. But there is another. Who shall I give it to?”
Kirashi looked around her. She was no longer at Sippar. All around her was darkness and stars. All but in one direction. To her right floated a planet covered in yellow-green haze. Through the gases she could see liquid seas and mountain chains. She was in space. But, she could breathe, the temperature was comfortable.
The woman materialized in front of her, between her and the planet.
“Welcome to Tamtu,” Eshe said. “Our Gateway to the Transit, as you call it.”
“Why?” Kirashi said. “Why am I here?”
“We will give you a solution,” Eshe said. “…a beginning.”
“What solution? Who are you?” Kirashi said.
“You call us many names, Djinn, Si’lat, Shaitan. The Ormarr simply call us their Gods.”
Kirashi, floating in space, hovering above the Ormarr home world, saw a Dusmanyu ship. Inside it were female creatures, more machine that animal, programmed, brainwashed, set upon a particular task, ideologically driven. She saw Red Priests. She saw the resuscitation of Dalkhu, the Fulul ritual, the sacrifice of the planet to Seth, to Sutekh.
She heard Eshe’s voice, “The Tayamni and the Dusmanyu are one. You are the same. You were also called, Dusmanyu. Only one difference is apparent, the Tayamni are spliced with the DNA of the Nine. The Dusmanyu are as you were before. They are unchanged. Looking at them, you look in the mirror, you see your origins.” The voice paused. “You know how to defeat them.”