When we arrived at Dobetzlimen I was relieved to learn that I’d be taking charge of the landing craft rather than protecting festering Tendanny gerels. Though eager to breathe planet air I was in no hurry to take my ship down. No one had noticed my new relationship. I could spend time with Castel Henda without being accused of manipulating the rosters.
Close to me in charge of surveillance, was Sharma Lee. ‘No sign of Tajat activity. All Dobetzilems in our zone are most likely dead.’
Before boarding this vessel I’d told Castel to take care but he floated past me dropping a remark that effectively questioned the Emperor’s judgement, ‘Why can’t we just number these poxin worlds?’
My smile in response to a criticism Sharma hadn’t heard, made her curious.
Orders came through all too soon. We were to take the ship down and prepare the incinerators. I told my crew to grab hold of something, and began the descent. There was turbulence when we passed through the stratosphere but no one landed on their rump. As for the bruising incurred from buffeting into fixtures, well, they heal soon enough.
Sharma gave me the old glance that told me I could have made the ride smoother, before looking to Castel who was rubbing his hip. I should have known she’d guess there was somebody new in my life.
There was nothing about our arrival to suggest aberrant Tajats dwelt here. I had Guards outside preparing conveyers when the first group of Tendanny, staggering atop a flatback travelling at speed, came hurtling towards us.
‘What in the name of all vile festering royals…’
‘Shut up, Castel! You’ll be heard!’
Sharma stepped closer to us, moments before the vehicle came to an abrupt halt, spilling half its passengers in varying states of unbalance.
She spoke to the Tendanny scum. ‘Whatever stinking effluence you think you saw…’
The crew leader did not make eye-contact but he did speak up with uncharacteristic firmness, ‘They are armed.’
I pushed past Sharma, knowing she’d quarrel rather than get to the point.
‘Sir,’ the crew leader, knowing me of old, addressed me directly. ‘My lord, there are hundreds of them. Our weapons have no effect on them. Our supporting Guards have requested aid.’
I eyed the man fiercely, searching for a sign of cowardice, and on seeing none sought information. ‘Your Guards’ weapons are effective?’
‘Very well. Stay in the ship.’ I hailed my crew of Guards with their superior weapon power and hoisted a fit young male Tendanny out of the group. ‘Show us the way.’ The idiot was terrified. ‘’Now! And run you dimwitted gerel turd!’
I wanted to make Castel the Guard to stay safely with the ship but it would be the wrong operational choice. It had to be a Second Echelon because I must take all First Echelons with me due to our armour. Indeed, that was the specific purpose of our particular uniforms. And also, though not armoured, the whole point of Second Echelons with Castel’s level of bio-engineering was that he could assess the technological nature of the enemy’s equipment. I’d be a fool not to have him help me expedite matters here. I am not a fool. So, instead of Castel I left a young female with good implants but little practical experience. She was brimming with confidence when we left her in charge of Tendanny who had no immediate purpose. I judged she’d lose that smug smile within the hour.
We thundered after the Tendanny boy, some flanking him with annoyance for his non-enhanced slow progress. We seemed to be heading for a sheer rock face until Castel, with his specialised implants, called for us to take cover.
I had never before seen such advanced weaponry on a harvest. Even so, even then, I took this as nothing more than mild vexation. Tajats were firing bolts of fiery energy from their hiding places in the rock face and the three Guards holding their positions had made no impact. They could hardly break cover to fire on the subhumans because that wide spray covered a large area. There were scorched Tendanny bodies spread around the sparsely-grassed, stony ground. What Castel had spotted was movement of weapons glinting post-firing, in the shadows. They adjusted the direction of their fire, aiming at us. Only one of us lacked the speed in heeding Castel’s warning: the Tendanny boy.
Now I had a situation where expertly trained Guards were hiding behind boulders like gerels, and no sign of the enemy. Castel, naturally, had dived behind the same rock as me.
‘Can you see anything?’
‘There are slits in the rock face.’
Sharma Lee scrabbled across to join us. It could have been a reckless move and if there was anything I knew well about the mother of my daughter it was that she loved danger with too little regard for consequences personal to her. She was lucky. She did not draw fire.
Castel did not immediately respond to her question. He had his emerald implant working. We waited a moment.
‘Only just wide enough for a Guard to pass through.’
I huffed. ‘Well, we know they’re not giants then.’
I stepped out. Straight and proud. No not reckless, as Sharma would call me, because I was now prepared to dodge fire I could calculate the rate of. My First Echelons joined me, prepared to learn from me or die. And when there still was no reaction we marched forward, with the Second Echelons following behind our line of armour.
Closer now, we could see the slits those walking corpses had slipped into. Cowards hiding. Easy game.
There being no response to our advance we took up places against the rock face with both First and Second Echelons using all implants and natural experience to examine the entrances for booby-traps. There being nothing other than the silicates we’d found in our general surveillance of this specific area, I sidled carefully through with my small and deceptively powerful weapon taking lead in my right hand.
With no reaction to half my body exposed in a cavern, I carried on through, noting in my peripheral vision that my fellows also were making ingress along the wall of what proved to be a long, highly polished, garishly coloured, empty, gallery. That is, it was empty of Tajats but stacked with artefacts ranging from domestic furniture to ornaments I had difficulty identifying. Most telling of all was that their weapons were scattered on the floor where they’d been dropped.
A number of us looked up. Above our heads was a ceiling, ornately adorned with glittering works of art but with no dull Tajats clinging to alien equipment up there. We spread out, studying the place for secret escape routes and that’s the last thing I remember. Until now.
The fern fronds were healthy, the moss plump and worms were rising to the surface. This should be a good harvest. Already families were preparing their preserving caves. Competition for best chef of the winter was highly contested, yet Ty stood out. I could hardly wait to see if he’d live up to expectations in this coming season or if, oh how exciting, one or even two others had kept talents hidden and planned to surprise, hum no, totally shock us!
Those were the thoughts I went to bed with. Not thoughts of sufficient concern to wake me before dawn. During the night a wariness crept through the mild warning stirring my mind. We had much that other settlements coveted. I sat and clapped my hands, activating the bioluminescent plants that I cultivated in my living chambers. There was no danger within our settlement. However, once awake and concentrating I located an unknown danger in the outside world.
I called my servant, telling her to go outside and check the soil. She was confused, since it was not yet light. Obviously she obeyed all the same. Less obviously, she did not return. I sent two more servants and when they failed to come back to me I spread word through the sleeping quarters for all my people to pick up arms and, moving through the tunnels only, make their way to the Temple. We were under attack. Most likely an enemy was stealing our precious relics from the Temple at the north side, believing they had us pinned down here in the south.
It was dawn by the time we reached the Temple and there witnessed the strangest sight ever. Five people, unlike any enemy I’d ever seen before, were wandering in the sacred space. Others of the same race were entering slowly through the holy portals. Though not even studying our cherished idols and art, this was sacrilege. Someone said they were angels.
I said, ‘In that case they won’t snassing die when I fire on them.’
My first target fell to the ground stone dead while her cohorts swung around trying to see us.
I said, ‘They can’t even see or hear us. How snassing angelic is that?’
So we fired on the others and watched them scramble and fight for the narrow exits. We followed and killed a whole lot more before the rest escaped. We watched them float away on a vehicle I’d never even imagined before, to a massive new landmark; probably an airship. Equally foreign. I knew about other settlements in the world. None had that technology.
Two of the imposters, different from the others, remained behind. They differed in their size and their clothing. They were not only bigger but patently much stronger. I believe the golden torso and trunk covering was supposed to be armoured. Either way it was poor snassing protection from our weapons.
There was a problem in that we’d taken on combat form and had to stay like that as I gave orders to have bodies removed from the Temple. That’s tricky in this form. But it did add confusion to those who knew us not at all. I’d begun to get the upper hand when, snass it, some of the other snassing intruders emerged from the airship. They were the big ones in turquoise and gold. They came charging across the Vale of Desolation and so we went on the defensive, merging as well as we could with the outside scenery while I called a hasty retreat to a stronger holding position.
Inside the Temple I ordered half my people to drop all weapons that could not be camouflaged and merge. I sent the other half back through the tunnels for fear of a simultaneous attack from the north.
As I took up my place I felt the enemy closing in on our sacred space. When I sensed outrage in my fellows, I calmed them. These were beings very different from ourselves. I must study them in order to remove them from our domain.
Their senses were not alien, other than being limited. Their eyes, like ours, searched their surroundings, but they saw only the surface. My camouflage, for example, involved nothing more than merging with a set of decorated urns and pillars. The veil across the portals to the tunnels was merely a continuation of murals on the walls. Their ears heard one another’s whispers but not one heard the exchanges amongst my people.
Neither did they hear us laugh when the ones wearing purple came in with their technical equipment, trying to measure snass knows what because I’d put a mental shroud on everything except silica. Unable to cope with the confusion they turned their emotional dials to anger. We laughed harder. Anger is the easiest emotion to turn against plodding creatures such as these. And the more we paralysed them the angrier they became. They couldn’t even slide the jewel to fire their snassing weapons!
I don’t fully understand what has happened here. I remember entering the gallery. Within minutes I knew we were in a realm we could not comprehend. I had time to run an assessment of my implants, found nothing amiss within me and realised there was a physical force at work, paralysing me where I stood. But that is all. Now I float in memories.
Here is my daughter Sharex Vee taking part in her first competition, two years early. This is not pride. As her father I do what is honourable and what is right, to be certain she will have the longest life possible. Sharex, like her mother, is wilful. Sharma Lee has the attention of a royal male. He will take her for a lover. I can do nothing about that but I will be sure Sharex does not fall into the same danger.
Thus, I impose harsh discipline, to make her strong, and obedient. At only fourteen she will beat sixteen year-old males. She won’t win the competition but she will rise above many sixteen year-olds, in their own calculations. She complains. But cooperates well enough.
And now I see Castel Henda. Oh my heart, Castel. How I loved you. Why did you do it? He touched an ornament on the wall, gasped a reaction to something I couldn’t see, and fell. I could tell he was dead. I have seen too many corpses in my life. He died with words on his lips. It was ‘There’s someone here. I…’ Oh, I can’t remember your words Castel! My Love!
As my sapphire implant reactivates I remember I once had other bio-technology. Now I can hear voices being translated within the inner working of this implant. One comes over clearer than the others. Others that are apologising for speaking over one called Roselli.
Now she is clear. ‘Who are you?’
I should not reply so easily. It seems I have no control over my implant.
‘I am Gorex Viy.’
I genuinely don’t know the answer. To me it is a false question. Yet it has awakened curiosity within me. I have known the origin of every race of Tajats, obviously. We harvest them.
Roselli hears all of this. ‘Your concept of ‘Tajat’ is insulting. Also amusing, considering your lamentable lack of self-knowledge.’
Unable to suppress thoughts concerning the safety of my daughter I now fear she has located my greatest, my only, weakness.
‘There are others of your kind in the mound.’
Concepts flash through from geographical features to my landing craft.
‘Landing from where’
Now I am giving her the image and name of our vast transporters that house the landing crafts and so much more.
She is curiously unbelieving considering her hold over me.
‘How many more of you are there?’
‘Tens of thousands.’ No lie. No threat. Yet a truth that terrifies her.
‘Will they come?’
‘Oh yes. You are ripe for harvest.’