Shazira is furious.
I repeat what Mayla told us, and I try to explain, but Shazira continues to yell at me.
Tzina and Dilasa come to our room, surprised by the yelling they hear when I open the privacy shield.
Shazira stops when she sees the children.
“What’s wrong?” asks Dilasa quietly.
“Visions!” answers Shazira.
“What visions?” asks Tzina.
Shazira is silent.
She doesn’t want to speak to the children while she is so angry at me.
Dilasa tells Tzina about the visions and the Dream School.
Tzina looks at me.
“Today, ina?” she asks, and starts crying.
Shazira softens when she sees Tzina’s tears, and hugs her.
She glares at me.
“You act like it was my fault,” I tell her.
“Don’t you know,” she says quietly, “how much we miss you when you’re away?”
“We never know if you’ll come back to us.”
“I miss you too,” I tell them.
Dilasa takes one of Shazira’s hands, and looks in her eyes.
“He’ll come back,” she says, adding her own tears.
“How can you be sure?” asks Shazira gently.
“Yagrin wraps himself in danger.”
“Sindar is a great Dream Hunter,” says Dilasa, raising her voice, “and he says that I’ll protect Yagrin!”
“Without Yagrin I have no home,” she adds quietly.
“I won’t lose my home again.”
It would be laughable for any other six year old to promise such a thing, but when Dilasa says it, her eyes are like fire, and we all believe her.
Shazira stares at the powerful will that shines through those eyes.
Tzina and I look at each other, and wonder how such a strong spirit fits in Dilasa’s small shape.
I notice Berek, standing outside the room, listening to us, but hesitant to enter.
“Come in, Berek,” I tell him.
“Maybe later, ina,” he answers.
“I’m leaving soon.”
He enters, and I seat him next to Dilasa.
She tries to speak with him, but he gives her quick answers, and he can’t seem to meet her eyes.
“Berek,” I tell him, “I need you to do a favor for me.”
“Take Dilasa flying for thirty minutes.”
“Give her a tour of the city and the ocean.”
“Show her the beaches, too.”
“Maybe she’ll get to see the Feldin.”
He’s uncomfortable, but he has no good reason to refuse.
“I’ll take her, but the Feldin are underwater at this time of day.”
“I don’t have your glow, ina, to draw them out.”
“Try lightning,” I tell him.
“Mayla tells me that lightning never strikes the Feldin in the wild, and they love to watch it.”
“They love storms?” asks Berek.
“Yes,” answers Mayla.
“You have lightning inside the dome?” Dilasa asks Berek.
“There’s no rain or storms, here,” he answers, “but I can make a small lightning storm above the beach, to attract the Feldin.”
“You can make a storm?!” she asks, breathing hard.
“A real storm, not something like the Hikweh?”
“You have to show me that!” she says, taking his hand, and almost dragging him out of the room.
Clues from an Abandoned World
I haven’t seen Balshown or Mayla all morning, although Mayla is always listening, even when her body isn’t here.
She quietly sees and hears everywhere in the city, and across much of the planet, although she rarely speaks of it.
I just raise my voice to call her.
“Where’s Balshown, Mayla?”
“Gone,” she says.
“He woke before first sun, and we spoke about the probes, your visions, and your time in the Dream School.”
“I showed him some of the images of the Hikweh and he looked troubled.”
“Then he asked to leave the city, and I let him out.”
“Why did he leave?”
“He wouldn’t say, but he left a note for you.”
Mayla seems so Jiku when I speak with her, but she’s not.
Her intelligence lives deep below ground in the main computer.
Sometimes, she greets us with holographic projections, and other times, she uses the Jiku-like bodies to interact with us.
One of her bodies enters the room, and hands me the note.
I’m a coward, Yagrin.
I’ve tried to forget my old life, never speaking of how my spirit traveled, and came to this Jiku body, until now.
I deserted my world, and I’m embarrassed to tell my story in person.
We live in a galaxy that neighbors this one, and we look nothing like the Jiku.
We are hatched in water, but spend most of our days in the air.
Unlike the Jiku, our young are born aware, and we feel the energy web from the moment of birth.
It’s a great sight, Yagrin, to see the swarms of our young fly along the energy web.
Each of us has two minds, two ways of being.
Sometimes we think with our own private mind, and other times we live in the group mind.
We were a proud race of energy masters, Yagrin, with a long, bright history.
There are many living worlds among the stars, and many visitors saw our skies and waters.
Some came as enemies, though now, I realize that most were just curious.
We thought we were superior to all, and called all visitors enemies.
When the energy hunters came to our world, we thought of them as just another enemy.
At first, they killed only a few of us, but our pride was crushed.
Our energy shields and our weapons were useless, and the hunters who killed us seemed empty of intelligence.
We searched desperately for the real enemy.
Whenever we join our minds together, we’re filled with power, and our energy senses are sensitive beyond measure.
When we joined this time, to face our enemy, we felt an immense presence in the world, and we knew that the presence was the real enemy.
It must have been the Spiral.
We touched it with the group mind, and it felt our contact, but it ignored us, at first, like we were stones.
Still, it must have been offended, threatened, or attracted by our touch.
Dozens of Hikweh suddenly appeared, and they killed thousands of us each day.
Our power was nothing, our shields weak like air.
We had technology, but never space travel.
The idea of leaving our world, and the rest of the mind was unthinkable.
There was nowhere to go to escape the Hikweh.
We watched friends and family die, and wondered when our own day of death would come.
We were four billion when the Spiral came, so many that the group mind stayed strong, even as death rained upon us.
There were enough of us to survive thousands of years of this slaughter.
Our spirits were dark, but we hoped someday we would find a defense against the monster.
The years passed, and the killing continued, steady and predictable.
We were comfortable in our misery, until disaster came.
Our star erupted in a powerful stellar flare, and the energy scorched our planet.
My energy shield was powerful enough to protect me, but the planet was in ruins.
Only a few dozen of us survived, some too damaged by radiation to have young.
We could barely form a group mind.
Only one good thing came of the destruction.
There was no trace of the Hikweh, or the shadowy presence behind it.
We were an arrogant and violent race, though we had had let go of war with each other.
Before the destruction, we thought nothing of killing other races, including peaceful visitors from the stars.
We even slaughtered a great race that lived beneath our oceans.
After the destruction, we thought of the times when we were invincible, and we looked at how small we had become.
We gathered together in a new settlement, and pretended to face the future with plans to rebuild.
I was young then, and I saw our world as a living death.
Our lives were bitter, and our memories of glory were worse than death.
There was great disgrace in killing ourselves, though some left us that way.
Since the days when visitors had first found us, we made our young take an oath to die, rather than leave our brothers.
There were no ships, anywhere.
We sleep and dream half our day.
One night, in my dreams, I found my way to Siksa, and took a Jiku body.
I understood that I had pushed out another spirit, but I was untroubled by its death.
I was alive on a strong, growing world.
I could feel a distant connection with my old body, and I tried to return to it, but I couldn’t find my way back.
As the days passed, the connection with my old body haunted me.
How long will it survive without a spirit to guide it?
Will my old body claim me just before its death?
It took me some time, but I found the way to break the connection.
I abandoned the last of my race, and all that was left of the group mind.
This body was so strange for me, and I was so alone.
Why am I telling you all this?
I’ve seen that the sun’s energy can be deadly to the Spiral, but the energy you use may kill the Jiku you’re trying to save.
Find a way to safely fight this monster.
When you return, I need your help.
Mayla showed me an image of a Hikweh attack on a distant star system, only one hundred light years away from my own world.
The Spiral may come back to my world to threaten them again, and who but me can help them?
I’m tired of being a coward, and I want to go home.
I need you to find my old world, open a PathFinder gateway to take me there, and show us how to kill the Spiral.
“Did you read the note?” I ask Mayla.
“No,” she says.
“Balshown asked me not to read it.”
I flow the note into dust.
Balshown’s past is his business.
“What was in the note?” asks Shazira.
“Much of it was private, just for me, but he gave me proof that solar flares are a potent weapon against the Spiral.”
“Unfortunately, a flare powerful enough to kill the hunters, also kills the life on the planet.”
“I’m coming with you, Yagrin,” says Shazira.
“No,” I tell her.
“It’s not safe.”
“Is there anywhere safe now?”
“War will come to Siksa, whether from Tshuan or the Spiral.”
“Do you think we can hide from that?”
“I’m not hiding from the war; I’m just trying to protect you!”
“Am I a helpless child?”
“Of course not, but this isn’t your fight.”
“The Jiku on Sinesu are my people as much as they are yours, and if you can take Dilasa to fight, you can take me.”
“What about Tzina?” I ask.
“Will you take her, and put her in the path of another war?”
“If you leave her, and we die on Sinesu, she’ll have no one.”
Shazira turns away quietly, and leaves the room.
Her tears answer for her.
I start to follow, but Tzina stops me.
“No, ina,” she says, and chases after her mother.
Searching for Answers
I spend an hour at Gen speed scanning through the library, reviewing the images of the Spiral, and the destruction that it has caused in this universe.
There is nothing there to help me fight the Spiral.
“Mayla,” I call out loud.
“Message everyone to come together now to eat.”
“After the meal, Dilasa and I are leaving.”
Shazira and Tzina sit on either side of me.
They take my hands, and touch them to their cheeks.
I sigh, and respond in the same way, holding their hands tightly when I’m done.
No words pass between us.
Soon, Berek and Dilasa enter the room, laughing, and they sit together.
“She’s funny, ina!” he tells me.
“I was laughing so hard, I could barely fly!”
I smile, happy that they enjoyed their time together.
Their laughs fade away, and they quiet down, joining the silence.
I drag out the meal, knowing that I must leave when it’s done.
When we finish, we join hands to bind the blessing.
Then we get up, and start to say goodbye.
Mayla stops us.
“You can’t leave yet, Yagrin.”
“A probe has just returned, with information about the Spiral.”
“How long has it been gone?” asks Shazira.
“This is one of the first probes that I sent,” answers Mayla.
We hover in space, and ships explode all around us.
Then, we find ourselves on planet after planet, where the Hikweh kill an endless stream of strange creatures.
Dilasa buries her face in my back.
“It’s horrible, Mayla,” I admit, “but we’ve seen attacks like this before.”
“What will this death teach us?”
“This probe has been shadowing a hunter for hundreds of years, Yagrin.”
“The Spiral has two types of energy hunters,” I explain to my family, “one that operate on planets, and another in space.”
“I call them Hikweh and Nikol.”
“The space hunters follow ships through interstellar gateways.”
“Sometimes they gather energy from the active star drive, but don’t harm the ship.”
“Often, they make the star drive explode and consume the explosion, as well as the fire energy of the lives aboard.”
“Almost two hundred years ago,” continues Mayla, “the probe trailed the hunter, and found a race called the Dakwil.”
“That race had many ships, and the hunter remained there for several years, attacking and consuming several ships.”
“One day, the Nikol followed a ship to a nearby star, only ten light years away.”
“The ship moved close to the star, and the hunter followed.”
“It’s well known that activating a star drive too close to a star can result in stellar flares or even a nova.”
“When the Nikol approached, the Dakwil ship activated its drive, and escaped.”
“Before the hunter could follow, it was consumed by a flare.”
“Balshown told me about the flares, Mayla, but they’re too dangerous to be used as a weapon.”
“I’m not finished, Yagrin.”
“The Dakwil ship returned, and saw that the Nikol was gone.”
“Then, it noticed our probe, and made contact.”
“The probe shared its data on the Nikol and Hikweh, and the aliens told it that they were developing a weapon against the hunters.”
“The weapon,” they said, “will simulate the energy signature of a stellar flare, in a highly focused beam, without putting a star at risk of nova.”
“Once perfected, we will be able to use this weapon, even on our planet, with minimal danger to life.”
“When the first prototype weapon was complete, the Dakwil tested it on their planet, away from population centers, and the Hikweh was destroyed.”
“It was a treasured victory, widely celebrated, but the aliens knew that it was only a beginning.”
“We need more time,” they told the probe, “to develop a more precise weapon, safe to use within the cities.”
“It will take even longer to produce and deploy enough of the weapons to protect the homeworld, and our colonies.”
“It took too long.”
“The Dakwil were attacked before the weapons were ready, and nearly their entire civilization was wiped out.”
“Only a few civilian ships escaped the attack, and none of them had the weapon.”
“One of them approached the sun, planning to generate a flare or nova, to cover the homeworld and destroy the hunters.”
“A Nikol destroyed the ship before it could activate its star drive.”
“The probe watched all of this, and waited.”
“Then, something surprising happened.”
“A powerful stellar flare erupted from the star and covered the planet, destroying the hunters, and all local traces of the Spiral.”
“What ignited the flare?” asks Tzina.
“It was the star itself,” says Mayla.
“Impossible,” says Berek.
“Stars aren’t intelligent.”
“That’s what the probe thought, too,” answers Mayla, “until the star spoke with it.”
“The star is the physical shell for a type of energy being – a star spirit.”
“The spirit has a connection to its star, but is unaware of our universe most of the time.
“Its awareness moves within a distant energy world, where it lives with others of its kind.”
“It spends only rare moments within our universe.”
“During one of these visits it saw the attack, and drove away the Spiral.”
“It couldn’t kill the Spiral?”
“The Spiral stretches across galaxies.”
“The part of the Spiral within a star system is like a small limb.”
“Only the limb was destroyed, along with the nearby hunters.”
“What’s the point?” asks Shazira.
“It will come right back.”
“The spirit said that the Spiral does not soon return to a place, after one of its limbs is destroyed.”
“Still,” says Shazira, “it seems hopeless to destroy something so large!”
“There is a way,” says Mayla.
“The star spirit said that the Spiral can be erased from within.”
“Send your energy masters to us,” said the spirit, “and we’ll teach them to fight the enemy.”
“Soon after, the spirit was silent.”
“It can’t focus for long on our physical universe, and its time was gone.”
“How will we find them?” asks Shazira.
“We know nothing about them!”
Mayla displays a complex energy pattern.
“The spirit gave this pattern to the probe,” says Mayla.
“It’s called a heart map, and it shows the way to the star spirits.”
“It doesn’t look like a map,” says Dilasa.
“You’re right,” says Mayla.
“It’s not a star chart, or any other sort of map.”
“How can you be sure?” I ask.
“Maybe the map is compressed or encrypted.”
“It’s possible, but how could they expect us to know the key to use for decrypting or decompression?”
“Why would they make it harder for us to reach them?”
“I can’t make any sense of the map, Yagrin, but I’m not an energy master.”
“Maybe it’s a key,” suggests Berek.
“A key to what?” asks Shazira.
“A key to open a path to their world.”
“It’s a good idea,” says Mayla, “but where do we find the door?”
“Did the spirit explain the map?”
“No, but when it reviewed the probe’s knowledge base, the spirit asked whether the Jiku can travel as pure energy.”
“The spirit was disappointed when the probe said that no master can do that.”
“The Jiku are welcome,” added the spirit, “if they can follow the map, but I think we must light another way.”
“What’s the other way?” asks Dilasa.
“Another spirit will come and help us,” says Mayla.
“When the spirit vanished, the probe circled the dead world for a few days, waiting for the star spirit to return.”
“Then the probe decided it was time to bring the data back to Siksa.”
“It was about to activate the star drive, when there was a brief burst of light in the sky, that looked like a star appearing and disappearing, as it moved across the sky, faster than light.”
“What was it?”
“Gateways opening and closing, each one letting light from a distant star pass through.”
“How can a star move through space faster than light, ina?” asks Berek.
“How can a star move at all?”
“It doesn’t have to move faster than light,” I suggest.
“There are endless gateways which connect distant places.”
“PathFinders widen these gateways and travel through them.”
“The Spiral streams its energy through the gateways, perhaps without widening them.”
“A star spirit must be connected to the star, and have its own way of using the gateways to travel.”
“Why did it open the extra gateways?” asks Tzina.
“Was it just to let its light pass through?”
“Yes,” answers Mayla.
“The spirit wanted the probe to find it.”
“What happened?” asks Dilasa.
“The probe caught up with the star, and tried to communicate as it had done before.”
“The star was silent.”
“The probe continued to follow.”
“The traveling star stayed far away from other stars.”
“In open spaces between the worlds, it searched for Nikol energy trails, which the Spiral travels on.”
“Then it destroyed the Nikol, or the limbs of the Spiral, traveling along those trails.”
“The star also sent stellar flares through gateways to destroy Nikol and Spiral that were near planets.”
“It left the planets themselves untouched.
“The probe followed the star for a hundred years.”
“The star seemed to sense where to find the Spiral.”
“Why is the star doing this?” asks Dilasa.
“It’s trying to help us,” I answer.
“You’re right,” says Mayla.
“Recently, the star made contact with the probe, and explained why it’s here.”
“The star spirits chose a star with no planets, to help us fight the Spiral.”
“Acting together, the star spirits strengthened the bond between the chosen star spirit and its star.”
“Once bound, the spirit can hold its awareness in our universe indefinitely.”
“The spirits know of the gateways that fill the universe, and the chosen spirit was taught the secrets of expanding a gateway so the star can pass through it.”
“The spirit calls itself, the wanderer,” says Mayla.
“It will arrive in the morning at a place only a few light years away from us.”
“The wanderer expects the Jiku to meet it with a ship at a safe distance, so it can communicate with us.”
“What does it want, ina?” asks Dilasa.
“Will it fight the Spiral for us?”
“It will fight the Spiral where it can, Dilasa, but it can’t attack the Spiral on the planets without killing the life there.”
“It’s up to us to use our new weapon to crush the limbs of the Diwan that wrap around the worlds of living beings.”
“There are too many worlds,” says Mayla.
“Weapons will only help us slow the spread of the Spiral, and help a few planets protect themselves.”
“The spirit wants to meet us, to reveal a plan for us to destroy the Spiral completely.”