First Sting

 
Weapons
Shazira sits next to me as the ship returns to Siksa.
We’re quiet, and our spirits rest, together.

Dilasa sits on the other side of Shazira, and looks troubled.
She turns toward me, and I sense her mind touch, and her fear.

“How do we stop the Spiral, ina?”
“Don’t you need a plan?”

I have no plan, and no words to answer her yet.
I gently squeeze Dilasa’s small hand, touch it to my cheek, and look at her.

Shazira feels Dilasa’s fear, and looks at my calm eyes.
Then she takes Dilasa’s hand, and mine, and presses them to her heart.
When she lets go, we are all calm, and I know what to say.

“I have ideas, little one, not a plan, but don’t worry.”
“The way is waiting for us.”
“It just seems out of reach.”

“Help me let go and listen, and the answer will come.”
I pull her onto my lap, and wrap my arms around her.
In the silence and the love, something will grow.

Quiet fills the ship.
Energy sparkles and circles around the hull as we move toward home.

When we land, Shazira leaves the ship with Dilasa and Tzina.
I stay behind as Berek and Mayla close down the ship.

“How confident are you of the new weapons?” I ask her.

“As confident as I can be without testing them against an energy hunter.”
“There are no hunters here on Siksa, thank the creator.”

“We can’t rely on weapons that have never been tested!”
“The probes have identified many worlds that the hunters visit.”
“We’ll take the ship to one of those worlds, and attack a hunter.”

“What if you’re successful, ina?” asks Berek.

“Then we’ll send out armed probes to protect those worlds, and teach the beings there how to protect themselves.”

“You’re missing the point, ina,” says Berek.
“If we’re successful, the Spiral may notice us, and follow us back to Siksa.”

“Can the Spiral follow you through the ship’s star tunnels?” asks Mayla.

“I don’t know,” I tell her, “but Berek’s right.”
“We can’t risk it.”
“Give me samples of the weapons.”
“I’ll take them to Sinesu and test them against the Hikweh.”

“You need more than samples, Yagrin,” says Mayla.
“The Spiral can create hundreds of hunters on multiple Jiku and Fiklow worlds.”
“You’ll have to teach the Jiku and Fiklow how to make the weapons, and defend themselves.”

“How long will it take you to teach me?”

“Not you alone, Yagrin”
“You’ll need help.”

“How long?”

“It will take a few days to train you and Dilasa on the new weapons.”

“Days?”
“What if the Spiral attacks Sinesu before then?”

Mayla calls Dilasa, and brings us to a training circle.
Days will pass in the simulator,” she says, “but only a few hours in Siksa time.”

Dilasa and I enter the circle, and find ourselves in a large factory with high ceilings.
We see hundreds of the detectors which locate the energy hunters, and thousands of the weapons that shatter the hunters.

Mayla teaches us the science behind the weapons, and explains the machine that replicates them.
I love science and machines.
I feel like a happy child again, playing with toys, until I remind myself that these are powerful weapons that will save our friends from death.

We study the cluster of energy patterns that describe the detectors and weapons.
It still amazes me that our energy minds can recognize, remember, and use these complex patterns.
We practice flowing the weapons from air and light, until we can do it without thinking.
Unfortunately, we can’t rely on flow.
Dilasa and I can’t be everywhere at once.
We need to teach others how to build the weapons, and defend themselves.

The training circle ends, and Mayla shows me a small blue cube.

“What’s this?” I ask.

“A storage cube with the plans for the detector and weapons, and the machine that shapes them.”

I frown.

“What’s wrong Yagrin?” asks Mayla.

“The shaper is a dangerous machine, far too powerful.”
“It can produce any type of object or weapon, once loaded with the design.”
Someone will abuse its power.”

“You’re right,” says Mayla.
“A true shaper will download any design, and then shape it.”
“These shapers are more limited.”
“They’re pre-loaded with the designs for the weapons and detectors, and will shape nothing else.”

I take the cube.

“The cube uses an ancient data format,” continues Mayla.
“Botzar’s ship can read it, and transmit the plans to the Fiklow and the Jiku.”
“They’ll need your help, at first, to produce the weapons, and connect them to a power source.”

 
Tower of Sound
It’s quiet and dark by six of the seven towers, when Dilasa and I pass through the gateway.
Each of the round towers is made of a different color crystal, and narrows to a point at the top.

The shield holds around us, and no one notices our presence.
I glide us toward Sindar’s tower.

“What are you doing, Yagrin?” asks Dilasa.
“We have to get back to Sinesu.”

“First,” I tell her, “we have to protect Sindar.”
“I want to give copies of the weapons to the machines that watch him, in case the Spiral or its hunters ever reach the towers.”

Sindar’s tower is well-lit, but it has no doorway.
Dozens of Sindar’s symbols spin around the tower in a rising spiral, and a message moves across the outer wall, near the base.
The message repeats itself over and over, in the many languages that I know.

Here lies the burial chamber for Sindar’s ashes.
Let no one dishonor his memory.
From death will come death, to all who approach.

“Is he really dead, Yagrin?”

“Probably not.”
“It’s just a way of scaring away visitors.”

I ask Dilasa to raise her own shield, and I approach the tower alone.
The surface of the tower glows brighter as I reach my hand toward it, and Sindar’s symbol appears.
When I touch the tower, my hand passes through the outside wall, and I’m pulled inside.

I’m standing in a clear chamber that floats like a bubble above the point of Sindar’s tower.
I see Dilasa on the ground far below.
The chamber is empty except for a circle of nine pearl white eggs, each egg a foot taller than me.
A simple, clear tone sounds from within each chamber.

I scan them with energy eyes.
Each holds a Jiku male, who looks like me.
As I look deeper, I see that they are not truly Jiku.
These are manufactured bodies, tools of the artificial intelligence that guards Sindar.

One egg opens, and the body within it moves.
I found it strange once to meet my twins, but it’s stranger still to meet machines who look like me.

Mayla is not Jiku, but she seems alive.
This intelligence feels much more like a machine.

“Sindar calls me Kihyez,” it says, as it rises and approaches me.
“You are Sindar’s brother,” it adds.
“The chamber opens for you.”

“Yes.”

“Still,” it says, “you will not pass beyond this room into the tower.”
“Sindar will not wake for months, even for you.”

“I know that,” I tell it.

“Then why are you here?” it asks, annoyed, its first display of emotion.

I give it a copy of the cube.
“This cube contains plans for a new type of weapon.”
“Use it to defend Sindar, in case the tower is attacked.”

Kihyez pauses for a moment, as it scans the cube.
“Weak, inferior weapons,” it says at last.
“They are useless.”

“No!” I answer.
“Only these weapons will stop a dangerous enemy that absorbs energy.”
“The unique energy signature shatters the attacker.”
“Stronger weapons with different energy will only strengthen this enemy.”
I explain about the energy hunters and the Spiral, and tell of the many worlds that are threatened, including Sinesu.

“Sindar has never spoken of this danger,” says Kihyez.

“He doesn’t know of the enemy.”
“The Hikweh came to Sinesu recently.”
“You monitor the Jiku on Sinesu?”

“Yes,” it answers.
“We have probes that watch the Jiku, and store hundreds of years of data on unusual events.”

“Do you review all the data?”

“No.”
“The probes mark data which Sindar has asked for.”
“The rest is merely stored.”

“Scan for the storms that the Jiku call Hikweh.”

Kihyez pauses.
“I obey Sindar and Geyfal, not you,” it replies.

“This is advice, not a command.”

“I see the attacks,” it says after a few seconds, “and even your battle with the creature, but no weapons.”

“The weapons are new.”

“You plan to use them against the Hikweh?”

“I’m returning to Sinesu now, to test them.”

“I will monitor your tests,” says Kihyez, “and I will shape the weapons, if you are successful.”

Whatever happens, Sindar must hear of it when he wakes.”

“I will tell him.”
“Now go.”

Seven rings of color, each within the last, appear on the wall near me.
“Touch the rings,” says Kihyez, “and leave the tower.”

I bring my right palm to the center of the rings, and the room fills with light.
Then I find myself on the ground, just outside the tower.

 
First Battle
Sinesu is quiet when we arrive.
The Spiral hasn’t attacked yet, but it can strike at any time.
I put Dilasa to work, shaping the weapons.
Then, I meet with Gunal, the Fiklow queen, and Vendik, leader of the Fiklow union.
Vendik swims with me and shows me the chamber where the union council meets.
Keesha joins us.

“When will the council meet again, Vendik?”

“A few weeks from now.”

“I have learned about the enemy that stalks us,” I tell them, “and I have weapons to defeat it.”
“I need your authorization to install the larger weapons on every Jiku and Fiklow world, and some of your ships.”
“There’s also a small version of the weapon that your soldiers can carry.”

“How many weapons?” asks Vendik.

“Tens of thousands.”

“Is that all?” asks Vendik, sarcastically.
“It will take months to get the council to agree to this, if they ever do!”
“After that, it will take years to deploy the weapons.”

I flow one of the hand weapons, and take hold of it with one of my tentacles.
“The enemy will attack Sinesu in a few days,” I tell them, “and I will defend it.”
“Once the Spiral learns that we can fight, it will hit us hard.”

“On Sinesu?” asks the queen.

“No, it will attack every world in the union at once.”

“How can you install the weapons in only days?”

“When I take a pure energy form called Gen, I move thousands of times as fast as any Jiku or Fiklow.”
“I can shape the weapons in an instant, and travel from world to world without a ship.”

“No one will accept this,” says Vendik.
“They will think that you’re planting bombs to destroy us!”

“What do you think?” I ask her.

“I don’t know why, but I trust you.”
“Besides, I don’t think you would need bombs if you wanted to destroy us.”

“True,” I agree.
“I can shatter a planet with little more than a thought, and leave nothing behind.”

“Have you ever done it?” she asks, the smell of fear in her water.

“No.”

She’s quiet, planning something.
“One of the new colonies,” she says, “has a moon whose orbit has become unstable.”
“We urgently need to destroy the moon, without creating debris that will drift to the planet.”
“Can you help us?”

“Is there any life on it?”

“None.”

“Tell me where to go, and when you want the moon to vanish.”

Vendik shows me the location on star maps.
“Our fastest ship takes half a day to reach the moon.”
“How long will it take you to get there?”

“I’ll check.”
I look for a PathFinder gateway that leads to the colony.
“I’ve found the way,” I tell her.
“I can be there in a few seconds.”

Seconds?

I spin my tentacle in agreement.

“Can you remain visible in a Fiklow body while you do this?”

“I can travel with a large volume of water, and raise a shield to keep me warm and safe from the vacuum of space.”

“Good.”
Vendik contacts the colony and the military ships stationed near it, and tells them to be ready in a few minutes for the destruction of the moon.
“Start transmitting images of the moon to the council,” she orders the ships, “and continue until the moon is gone.”

Vendik calls for a remote assembly of the council, by video link.
The queen and I join her for the meeting.
She asks for approval to destroy the moon, two minutes from now.

“What about the debris?” asks one of the council.

“We have a solution,” answers Vendik.

“A new weapon?”

“No.

“What then?”
“Who will do it?”

She motions toward me.

“Who is that with you and the queen?”

“Lord Yagrin.”

“How can he reach the colony in a few minutes?”

“He travels faster than any ship.”

Vendik sends me out of the room for thirty minutes, while the council debates, and then approves the action.

“Make sure that you are seen, Lord Yagrin!” she instructs me, just before I leave.
“The council must see you, for this to work!”

Why is she so focused on this, and why does she want me to do it now?
She should speak with the council about the Spiral and the weapons.
They are far more important!

As I open the PathFinder gate, I decide how to make sure that I’m seen.
The union represents itself with a diamond-shaped symbol.
Four planets are shown, one at each corner.
A tentacle comes out of each world and reaches toward the center, where the four tentacles meet and wrap each other.
Stars fill the spaces between the tentacles, one star for each world in the union.

I pass through the gate and project a large, sparkling image of the symbol, close to the moon.
That should get their attention!
The glow fills me, growing brighter and brighter as I move toward the center of the symbol.
I stop there, and touch the moon’s balance, hesitating for a moment, before I shatter it.
I have mixed feelings about destroying a world, even if there is no trace of life on it.
When the moon becomes a cloud of debris, I manipulate gravity to send it all into the sun.

Vendik congratulates me when I return.

“Now, explain why you wanted me to do this,” I tell her.

She smiles.
“I wanted them to see how dangerous you are, Lord Yagrin.”

“That won’t get them to trust me!”

“Are you sure?” she asks.
“They’ve agreed to let you deploy the weapons.”

“Why?”

“They saw that you can travel faster than a ship, and destroy a planet in a few seconds.”
“They are more afraid of you than any machines you put among them.”

Vendik brings me to a computer interface.
“You need to understand how Jiku and Fiklow electronic systems work, so you can help us integrate the weapons into our command computers.”
I take on my Gen form, and establish a high-speed connection to the computer.
Then I spend an hour speaking with the computer about control systems, and power sources.

The computer also gives me the location of ships that are waiting to receive the weapons, as well as orbital and ground-based installation sites on the Fiklow worlds.
I contact Wisten, and get the same information from her for the Jiku.

I flow the weapons, and deliver them through PathFinder gateways.
In orbit, and at ground sites far from cities, the weapons rely on a built-in power source, and will fire whenever they detect a hunter nearby.
At other sites, the weapons are integrated with external power and command systems.
I also deliver hand weapons to designated military sites.
I move too fast to be seen by living eyes.
The equipment appears, and I’m gone.

Two days pass, and the weapons are in place on every Jiku and Fiklow world, ready for the test.
I’m aboard Keesha’s ship with Dilasa and Vendik, in orbit around Sinesu.
On every world but this one, the automatic weapons are disabled, ready to be activated with a coded signal that I’ve provided.
Both the Fiklow and Jiku have agreed to activate the weapons, after the test, or when their worlds are attacked by the hunters.

At Vendik’s suggestion, we’ve called the weapons Ketkin.
Ketkin are small creatures that live in the sea, and have a powerful poison sting.
The Fiklow are immune to the sting, and sometimes keep the Ketkin as pets.

Vendik stares at me.
I smell that you’re troubled, Yagrin,” she says.
“Are you unhappy to have me here for the test?”

“I’m concerned for your safety and the safety of Commander Keesha,” I tell her.
“If the weapons fail, how will I protect you?”

“I had to come, Yagrin.”
“The council is impressed with your power, but it took more than that to get them to agree to install the weapons.”
“I had to demonstrate my confidence in you by promising to be here for the test.”
“When I see that the weapon is effective, I will send an order to activate the weapons throughout the union.”

“Thank you for your trust.”

“Your daughter is here with us,” Vendik answers, dismissing my gratitude.
“I expect that you will not fail her or me.”

“We’ve told the union that the Spiral may initiate a massive attack in response to our first use of the weapon.”
“Do you think they’ll believe us, watch for the hunters, and activate the weapons?”

“I’ve explained it personally to the planetary leaders and military.”
“They have seen your power, and heard stories of you.”
“Now, we must hope that everyone will follow their orders.”

The test begins.
Our ship moves out of orbit and searches for the space hunters, but we can’t find any.

“Will we see any hunters today, Yagrin?” asks Vendik, suddenly doubting me.

“It’s harder to find them in space, Vendik.”
“We looked here first, to try and move the battle away from the planet.”
“I know where to find them on Sinesu.”

I direct the ship to Sinesu to search for Hikweh.
There are a series of detectors in orbit, on the ground, and aboard ship, all networked together.
The ship’s computer provides us with a consolidated view of Hikweh anywhere on the planet.
We’ll know instantly if more Hikweh appear in response to our attack.

“There are none here!” says Keesha, looking at the display.

“There are always a few,” I tell her, “hiding within an electrical storm.”
“We have to get much closer to the storm before the detectors can see them.”

Sinesu has immense electrical storms, similar to the ones on Siksa.
On this world, the largest storms stay over the great ocean, one storm always hovering over the center of the ocean.
Between attacks, Hikweh rest there, and draw strength from the storm.

“Move us to the outer edge of the storm,” I tell the pilot, giving him the coordinates.
The ship’s crew has been told to follow my orders during this mission.
I sense that they will obey, but I smell their fear of me and the unfamiliar enemy that we face.
Dilasa joins us in the command room, and her presence on the ship seems to calm the Fiklow.
Their protective instincts take over in the presence of a child, and push away their fears.

We activate the ship’s shields to protect us from the lightning, as we reach the edge of the storm.
At close range, our detectors can see into the storm, and find three Hikweh.

Our weapons are set to activate automatically whenever hunters are close to the ship, or moving toward us, but these Hikweh are stationary, and too far away.

“Target and activate,” I tell the crew.
An energy pulse leaves the ship, and enters the storm where the Hikweh are resting.

“Take us back ten miles,” I tell the pilot, as the weapons fires again, automatically.
The Hikweh emerge from the storm, unharmed.

“Why didn’t it work, Lord Yagrin?” asks one of the crew.

Before I can answer, another pulse is automatically released, and the Hikweh are shattered.

I watch the planet with energy eyes.
With the gift of strength from the star spirits, my vision moves without limit.
I see the Spiral as it drifts through the web and the flocks of Heelu.

“Why didn’t it work the first time?” asks Keesha.

I turn to her, taking my attention away from the display.
“The electrical storm blunted the effect,” I answer, “but the Hikweh still felt its sting.”
“The detectors showed a small disruption in the Hikweh energy.”

“The detectors,” shouts one of the crew.

I see the Hikweh as they erupt from the streaming energy of the Spiral.
Hundreds of Hikweh appear, all over the planet.

“Send the transmission to activate the weapons on other worlds,” I shout.

“Already done,” answers Vendik.
“We’ve received confirmation from all facilities.”
“The automatic weapons are active.”

Here on Sinesu, new Hikweh appear, almost as quickly as they are destroyed.

“They keep coming, ina,” says Dilasa.
“How can we win?”

“Don’t worry, little one.”
“The limbs of the Spiral near us are consuming an immense amount of energy.”
“It can’t continue for long.”

A few minutes later, the Hikweh are gone.
The same pattern is repeated on many of the other worlds in the union.

“The test is a great success, Lord Yagrin,” says Vendik.
“There is damage and loss of life, but no trace remains of the Hikweh!”

I see the last streams of the Spiral disappear through a gateway to a distant place.
I find little comfort in its going.
This is only a short moment of peace, with more war to come.

An inner voice whispers that the real answer lies deep beneath the sea, where the storm hovers.
I must act quickly, for the Spiral will return, in a few hours or a few days.


Echoes of War -- 4: Dances of WarPrevious StoryNext Story
  1. Paths of the Towers
  2. Stardust Rising
  3. Visions of Play
  4. Star Voice
  5. Star Shadow
  6. First Sting
  7. Oceans of Fire and Light
  8. Death Cry
  9. Awakening

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