Watchtower island is two hundred fifty feet across, a circle of rock surrounded by a strip of sand.
No more than a dot in the ocean, if not for the thin, sharp mountain that rises a thousand feet before leveling off, and the tower that rests on top.
Few Jiku have seen the base of the island, except for the guardians and their children.
Why would anyone else be interested in the thin beaches here, when they could visit the tower?
Besides, there is better swimming on other islands not far away.
Berek walks around the edge of the island, waiting for the sun to disappear over the ocean.
The sand is still warm from the day, and welcomes his bare feet.
He stops, crushed by a longing for his father, Yagrin, gone for two years, and perhaps, forever.
“Why do I suddenly miss him so much?” he wonders.
Instinctively, he steps back from the onslaught of emotion, and the feeling fades.
“There’s something strange about this place,” he thinks, and he opens his inner sight.
A spinning vortex extends a foot from the surface of the sand, filled with tangled strands of energy.
He touches its edge, and the feeling returns.
One deep breath for courage, and he steps forward until his energy body covers the vortex.
The energy races to his heart, then rushes out along his arms, and circles around him.
The tangled look of the energy fades, as it spins faster and faster.
He stretches out his arms, until his hands meet the shell of energy.
The longing returns, stronger than ever, but only for a few seconds.
Then the energy passes along his arms, up through his head, and radiates toward the sky.
“What was that?” he wonders.
The world is quiet for a few moments until an answer comes.
“An echo of long ago,” says a small voice within him.
“Yagrin was here once, and his energy left a mark.”
“This is where his spirit came to Siksa.”
Berek sits and spreads his listener across the water and up into the sky.
The sound of the waves fills him, and leaves him empty of thoughts.
Minutes pass, and the sun fades, but the darkness never takes hold.
Far above him, the watchtower glows, and fills the sky with light.
He pulls back his listener and stands up, his inner sight resting on the tower, where his adopted parents are the guardians now.
Berek comes every few weeks to spend a day with them, but the visits grow more and more tense.
His parents feel that he has abandoned them, and his mother cries every time he leaves.
“Why won’t you come home!?” she asks.
He tries to explain, but he knows that no reason is good enough.
He is their only child, and lives half a world away, in Tshuan, of all places!
That land and its king have been enemies of the guilds for a thousand years.
Berek loves and misses his parents, but home is not with them anymore.
Tshuan is ruled by the young queen Keela, his best friend.
Tzina and Dilasa, his sisters, are there.
He feels like he can do anything, when he is with them.
And his father will come there, if he ever returns.
There’s so little time left before the war tears at their lives.
When the chaos is over, Keela must take a bondmate.
Even now, her advisors push her to start dating.
“Tshuan needs a queen and king,” they tell her.
She refuses again and again.
“I’m already the commander,” she shouts at them.
“What does Tshuan need with a king, now?!”
“War is coming, and there is no time for distractions.”
“Someday the war will be past,” thinks Berek, “and Keela will find her mate.”
“What will I do then?”
“There will be no room for me in her life.”
“I’ll have to go back to the guild lands, to forget her, but how can I leave my sisters?”
He thinks of war every day, at first sun.
Will the enemy come today?
There are visions that show an alien race conquering Siksa.
His father, Yagrin, told him that the future promised in visions can be changed.
Yes, but usually the vision comes true.
“Why fight?” he asks himself, “if we know there is little hope of winning?”
He steps into the ocean, feeling the wet sand beneath his feet, and fingers the Tshuan necklace that he wears.
It’s called the shield, and he must find a way to use it to protect Keela and his sisters when war comes.
Berek always waits for sunset before he returns to Tshuan, so he can see the watchtower bursting with light.
It comforts him.
He was a mute child for five years after seeing the Krale kill his birth mother, and the man who he thought was his father.
Zias and Bintar took him in, and one day they brought him here, where he found comfort in music and art.
Berek’s voice returned in the heart of the tower, after long years of silence, when Yagrin fought the Krale to save him, and died for the first time.
Berek thought Yagrin was his uncle, then.
The tower gave him everything.
His art came alive here, and he met Tzina, who became his best friend.
Later he learned that Yagrin was his true father, and Tzina, his sister.
The tower is home and strength.
At one time, only the tower’s light could stand against the Krale.
The creatures are dead now, but the sight of the tower still makes him feel safe.
Berek rages against himself for chasing after that feeling.
“Safe?” he yells to the night.
No one is safe anymore.
What use is the watchtower against the Kizak?
And where is ina?!
Did he find and stop the enemy?
When will he come and tell us that the danger has passed?
What if he’s lost somewhere, or the Kizak have found a way to capture or kill him?
Either way, he’s never coming home.
“Stop,” he yells at himself and his wandering thoughts.
No more listening to visions and the doom they promise.
And no more waiting for ina to solve our problems.
It’s up to us.
The guilds will do nothing to prepare.
At least in Tshuan, we train, and build weapons, so we have a chance against the Kizak.
He looks at the sky filled with the tower’s light.
“Next time I come,” he thinks, “I’ll leave before dark.”
I’m not a child anymore.
It’s time to stop pretending that everything will be all right.
He said goodbye to his parents an hour ago.
Berek sighs as he looks at the beautiful tower.
Then he turns his back on it, and flies away.
Keela’s days are filled with her duties as queen and commander.
Still, she visits the school several times a week, to see Ilaz and Berek.
“Return to the palace, Ilaz,” says Keela, frustrated.
“Help me rule, or command a section of the guard.”
“You’re the only family I have left, and you’re a prince, not a teacher!”
The school is run by the sisters of the long path.
They’re almost a thousand years old, hidden away until a few years ago in a strange child-like form, and called old ones.
Now, they look twenty years old, but they’re the most powerful energy masters alive, along with Yagrin and his family.
Ilaz came to the school more than a year ago, to visit with Berek and Tzina.
Tzina was in a class when he arrived, and he came to the open door for a moment to see what she was doing.
He stood for an hour, watching the teacher and students move, unable to look away.
When the class ends Tzina sees him, and comes over.
The teacher follows.
“Hello Ilaz,” says Tzina.
“Is this the prince?” asks the teacher.
“Call me Ilaz,” he says.
“I never wanted to be a prince.”
“Welcome to the school, Ilaz.”
“My name is Hahnli.”
“Did you enjoy watching us?”
“I hope that was ok.”
“Join us anytime,” says Hahnli, and walks a few feet away to speak with one of the other sisters.
“How long have you studied the dances?” he asks Tzina, when the teacher is gone.
“I started soon after I came to the school, Ilaz.”
“Before the energy wars, there was a group of masters who practiced an art called movements.”
“It disappeared after the war, although some of the movements are still practiced.”
“Three of the ancient masters survived as old ones, and then became sisters.”
“Hahnli is one of them, and is part of our school.”
“Soon after she came here, she started to teach the simplest moves to the children.”
“I asked to join them.”
“Do you need energy talent to study the movements?” asks Ilaz, with a troubled expression on his face.
“Anyone can join the beginners class, although it takes a special type of talent to become a master.”
He’s quiet, and looks away.
“What’s wrong?” she asks, seeing the confusion in his eyes.
“I don’t know,” he answers.
“The movements have woken something strange in me.”
“At first, I thought it was a trace of the alien who once possessed me.”
“He’s gone, Ilaz.”
“Berek killed him.”
“Still, I feel like I’ve lost something important, and I have an aching hunger to search for it.”
“What’s happening to me?”
“The movements are powerful,” says Hanli, returning, “though it’s unusual to feel their strength when you’re more than a few feet away.”
“I’ve never seen anything like them.”
“You have, Ilaz, but you don’t realize it.”
“The healing movements are widely practiced.”
“And the greeting to the sun is a simplified remnant of the ancient art, and found all over Siksa.”
“Once, there were movements to mark every important occasion in life, but that was long ago.”
She looks sad.
“Most of them are gone now, or twisted beyond recognition.”
“How old are the movements?”
“No one knows.”
“The Bizra taught a few to the Jiku when we came to this world, but other movements were discovered later.”
“A master of movements has the power to sense what others need, in body or spirit, and find a movement that will take a person from where they are to where they need to be.”
“Sometimes this is an old movement she knows, and sometimes she must create something new.”
Ilaz stayed at the school, and the sisters found that he had great talent for the movements, as well as other energy ways.
In the last few months he has moved from beginner to advanced apprentice, and teaches the movements class for the youngest children.
He loves their fresh simple spirits, and the attention that they shower on him.
The children run to their classes, and often follow their teachers around when the school day is done.
Keela thinks that all of this is a waste of time.
“This is my choice, Keela,” says Ilaz, getting annoyed.
“I need you to respect it.”
“Some choices aren’t ours to make.”
“What about duty?”
“Your friend Berek teaches art and music here with Tzina.”
“Do you question his choices, too?!”
“Berek is like his father,” says Keela, quietly.
“None of us can measure what they are capable of, or what they need to do in this world.”
“You’re wrong, Keela!”
“We could all be like that, if you would just give us a chance!”
Ilaz walks away angry, and she stands there watching him, until he disappears around a corner.
Berek is sitting outside, surrounded by children, when Keela finds him.
The children stand up and bow to her, as she approaches.
She is their queen.
Berek gets up, but doesn’t bow.
Keela greets them all, and then picks one of the children to speak with for a minute.
She chooses a different child each time she visits.
When she’s finished, Berek says goodbye to the children, and he and Keela walk outside.
“When did you get back?” she asks.
“How did it go?”
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asks.
“What’s the point?” he asks, frustrated.
“It won’t change anything.”
“My adopted parents will never understand why I’ve chosen Tshuan, my sisters and you over them.”
“Like other guild masters, they don’t believe that aliens will come.”
“How can they deny the danger?” asks Keela.
“They can feel that the web is different, and Master Yagrin told them that the alien probe caused the weakness.”
“The guilds may have half-believed him once, but years have passed without an attack.”
“He’s gone, and they’ve seen me and the rest of his family move to Tshuan.”
“The guilds don’t trust his words anymore, and they don’t trust us.”
“You’re here to help us prepare for war.”
“When we fight, we fight for all of Siksa, whether Tshuan or guild.”
“The council refuses to see the truth.”
“They think that Tshuan is preparing for war with the guilds, and that I’m helping you.”
“They’ve convinced themselves that you used inhibitor technology to weaken the web, so the guilds can be easily conquered.”
“What more do they want?!”
“You gave them plans for the most powerful hand weapons that Siksa has ever seen!”
“Why would you do that if you’re helping Tshuan prepare to fight them?”
“They think it’s an elaborate trick.”
“Some masters believe the weapons will stop working the moment you attack.”
“The guild has never trusted the use of weapons.”
“They think that technology has become a crutch and a poison that will ruin the energy ways.”
“How many of the weapons have they made?”
The council has just agreed to form a committee to decide when and if they start production.”
“We don’t have time for this.”
“It will be months before they take action.”
“And if they do anything, it will only be because they’re afraid of you.”
“Tshuan will fight the aliens,” says Keela, “even if the masters stay in their beds!”
“We can’t defend all of Siksa by ourselves.”
“We need the help of the guilds, but I don’t know how to convince them.”
“If ina was here, he could get them to work with us.”
“Maybe, but he’s not here, Berek, and who knows if he’ll ever return.”
“We’ll have to go to war without the guilds.”
“Eventually they’ll see that the threat is real, and join us.”
“Then, they’ll wish that they took your weapons, and learned Kruta.”
Kruta is an ancient, and deadly martial art that was outlawed before the energy wars.
Practitioners learn to draw power from the web, and move at unnatural speeds, killing as many attackers as possible, as quickly as possible.
The training is highly dangerous for the student, especially if they’re not suited to it.
The guilds ordered all traces of Kruta wiped out, but knowledge of it was secretly preserved in Mayla’s library in the City of Life, and she taught it to Yagrin and Berek.
Berek tried to teach it in Tshuan, without success.
Kruta requires an advanced sensitivity to the energy world that comes from talent and energy practice.
Until the sisters came, Tshuan had no schools to teach energy ways, and even now, only orphan children are allowed to attend.
The queen would happily allow others to join, but her advisors tell her that the people will not accept it.
There is still too much mistrust of energy masters.
Prince Ilaz is the only Tshuan adult who has taken classes in the school.
He sees Berek practicing the Kruta movements and is intrigued.
“Who created it?”
“A movements master.”
“Most of the other masters rejected it, but the practice continued until it was outlawed.”
“The movements are graceful.”
“Come practice with me.”
“How could I ever move that fast?”
“You don’t move like that at first.”
“Just focus on the way you have to move, not the speed.”
“You haven’t been at the school for long, but everyone sees your natural talent for movement.”
A few days later he tells Berek that he has to stop.
“You’re doing so well.”
“Hahnli doesn’t like it.”
“Did she forbid it?”
“No, but she’s my master.”
“I trust her.”
“Don’t feel bad, Berek,” he adds.
“Kruta’s not right for me.”
“I’m not a warrior, and I never will be.”
“I can’t imagine killing another living being, even to save my own life.”
Shazira and Tzina will not train.
“Too violent,” they say.
“It’s like carrying a bomb with you at all times!” says Tzina.
Dilasa would love to train, but Shazira forbids it.
“Yagrin would never permit it.”
“You’re too wild already,” she adds.
Dilasa thinks that Yagrin would allow it, but she doesn’t speak.
And her father/brother is gone, so no one can ask him.
Will he ever return?
The only other energy masters in Tshuan are the sisters of the long path, and they refuse to learn Kruta, offended that Berek would even ask.
Kruta is a violent skill, and they are dedicated to peace.
Keela’s voice interrupts Berek’s thoughts.
“You should speak to the council again about Kruta.”
“I just can’t!!” he yells.
“What’s wrong, Berek?”
He waits a few seconds until he calms down.
“You know what happened when I first offered to teach Kruta, months ago.”
“The council stood up and screamed at me.”
“They called me a liar for suggesting that I knew Kruta, and they nearly threw me out.”
“When I gave a demonstration of my speed and strength, it was even worse.”
“Yes, they were convinced, and quiet, but they stared at me in horror.”
“The guilds believe that Kruta corrupts the spirit, and turns the practitioner into a murderer.”
“They council said they would call for me when they make a decision.”
“I could feel their fear.”
“Months have passed.”
“Maybe they’ve calmed down.”
“I found out that they’ve been debating this whole time what to do with me!”
“My adopted father told me that they will issue an order of isolation against me, my sisters, Shazira, and Tshuan.”
“The order makes it forbidden for any guild member to speak with us.”
“And the order takes effect today, after first sun.”
“Once a year, the council will review the order and decide whether to continue it.”
“With fools like the council in charge of the guild lands, the aliens will conquer us easily!”
“I don’t care about the war, Keela!”
“I’m sorry, Berek.”
“I didn’t think about what this means to you.”
“You need a way to speak with your parents without the guilds finding out.”
“I’ll get you secure communication disks today.”
“My parents won’t defy the council.”
“How could they obey?”
“Aren’t they furious?”
“My father has known about the order for weeks.”
“He’s upset about it, but he thinks the elders made the right decision.”
“He’s sure that I’ve been corrupted by Tshuan, and he hopes that such a drastic step will shock me, and make me change my ways.”
“And your mother?”
“My father asked the council not to tell her until the order took effect.”
“He thought she would storm into the council hall and threaten them.”
“He could have told her right before you left, so she could say goodbye to you!”
“Who knows when you’ll be able to see her again?”
“He thought the news would ruin our last visit.”
“Isn’t that better than pretending that everything was normal?”
“My life has never been normal, Keela, but I’ve always been expected to pretend that it is.”
“So now you calmly accept the council’s actions?!”
“You should be boiling inside!”
“I am angry, but I hide my emotions so no one can use them against me.”
“There’s nothing else I can do.”
“You should have said something to your mother before you left.”
“It’s hard for me to express my feelings, but I forced myself.”
“I told my parents how much I love them, and promised to visit as soon as I can.”
“My mother was surprised by my words, but she kissed me, and didn’t cry as much as usual.”
“My father looked into my eyes, and hugged me.”
“Then he whispered, Don’t forget us.”
“When he let go, I looked at them quietly for a few seconds.”
“I mouthed the word never, and then I left.”
Keela walks with Berek along flower-lined paths that lead into the hills.
Two heavily-armed bodyguards shadow her wherever she goes, except inside her bedroom.
At first she couldn’t stand it, but now she just pretends that they aren’t there.
“Will all of Tshuan support you in the war?” asks Berek.
“Why would you ask that?”
“When I fought Ilaz’s friends, someone in the crowd called for an end to the queen and wars.”
“There are groups of Tshuans who feel that the military should be separate from the government.”
“We meet with some of them, at least once a year, to hear their recommendations.”
“How many of your people want this change?”
“We don’t know exactly, but we suspect that at least a third of the people want it, maybe closer to a half.”
“And the movement is growing.”
“How long can you let it go, without taking action?”
“Why not give them a voice?”
“In ancient times, most of the great council was elected by the people, and it had real power.”
“My council of advisors is still dominated by individuals chosen by the people.”
“Yes, but they have no ability to make laws.”
“My father, and many of the kings before him, considered this issue.”
“The visions promise that a war will come, and we must be ready for it.”
“Can we wait days or weeks while a council debates?”
“Look how long it takes the guild council to act!”
“When the war is done, we will re-establish the great council, not before.”
“What if the Kizak try to use this disagreement to weaken Tshuan?”
“The people have their demands, but they are still loyal.”
“They will stand with their brothers and sisters, and set aside their differences until the war is done.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“Don’t worry, I am.”
“What about you, Berek?”
“What do you mean?”
“Will you stay with us when the war comes, or go back to the guild lands.”
“I always planned to fight along side you, even before the guild council issued the order of isolation against me.”
“Now, I have no choice.”
“What about after the war?”
“What will you do then?”
“I don’t know.”
“I haven’t thought about it.”
“Not at all?!”
“Maybe a little.”
“I can’t look past the war.”
“Besides, I’m only fifteen.”
“Your age is just an excuse,” she says angrily, and starts walking fast.
“You never let anyone in Tshuan treat you like a child,” she accuses.
“Another year and you’ll be an accomplished warrior, and sixteen.”
“You can bond then, or do anything you want.”
“Bond at sixteen?”
“I can’t imagine being ready for that.”
“Do you have some girl in mind for me?”
“You really are a child,” she says, disgusted, and walks away.
“Why is she mad at me?” wonders Berek.
He takes a deep breath, and turns to go after her, but before he can move, his head is filled with a faint, low-frequency hum that only he can hear.
The starship is here, and signaling me!
But why hasn’t ina touched my thoughts?
“Keela!” he yells after her.
She keeps walking.
He moves at high speed to catch her.
“Get out of my way, Berek!” she says, when he stands in her path.
“I’m too angry to speak with you right now.”
The guards move in, and point their weapons at him.
“Lower your weapons,” says Keela.
“They’re useless against him, and I can handle this myself.”
She turns to Berek.
“I have nothing to say to you.”
“This is urgent,” says Berek, “and my words are for you only.”
“Leave us until I message you,” says Keela to the guards, annoyed at Berek.
The guards move a half a mile away.
“What do you want?” asks Keela, expecting some sort of apology.
“My father’s ship has returned,” says Berek, quietly.
She takes a deep breath, and some of the anger drains away.
“That’s great news!”
“Now, we have a chance against the Kizak.”
Berek is quiet.
“Where is master Yagrin?” asks Keela, surprised at Berek’s silence.
“What news does he bring of the enemy?”
“The ship signaled, but my father hasn’t contacted me.”
“I don’t even know if he’s on the ship.”
“You have to find out!”
“The ship is only a few miles from here.”
“I chased you because I want you to come with me.”
She contacts the guards, and tells them to stay where they are, while she takes a short trip with Berek.
The guards don’t listen, and come to her.
“Commander,” says one of them, “protocol is clear.”
“You can’t go anywhere without us, especially with someone from the guilds.”
“Disobedient fool!” she says, striking the guard in the face.
“Berek has royal blood, and may be your king someday.”
“King?” asks Berek, confused.
“Go back to where you were,” she tells the guards.
“I’ll meet you there in ten minutes.”
When they’re gone, she turns to Berek.
“Take me to the ship.”
He picks her up, and flies toward the signal.
The ship opens when they come within fifty feet, but the door is only visible to them.
“Empty,” says Keela, disappointed, after they pass through the airlock.
“Report,” commands Berek.
The ship projects images of what it has seen, and begins to speak, summarizing Yagrin’s travels over the last two years.
“Never mind the history,” says Keela.
“Where is master Yagrin?”
The ship ignores her and continues with the report.
“Answer her, ship,” says Berek.
“Yagrin is planning to kill their emperor.”
“He hopes that will stop their attack.”
“In case he fails, he sent me back with technology that could be useful against them.”
“How long have you been traveling?” asks Berek as he handles the armbands that his father sent.
“Yagrin opened a portal into this galaxy, and sent me through it about a week ago.”
“The Kizak fleet will arrive in another few weeks if they follow through with their plans.”
“These are really images of another galaxy?” asks Keela.
“Yes,” says Berek.
“It’s hard to imagine.”
“Tshuan has airships, but nothing that can leave the planet.”
“I could take you into space right now.”
She smiles, but the smile quickly fades.
“Duty comes first, Berek.”
“You need to review the technology, and any other information the ship carries, and see how we can use it.”
“I must return to my guards.”
Keela flies away, and Berek brings the ship to an open space near the school, where it hovers ten feet above the ground, unseen.
He listens to the message that his father left him, again and again.
Then he brings his sisters to the ship to listen to the messages that his father left for them.
Finally, Berek waits on the ground with Tzina and Dilasa as Shazira listens to her message.
She looks both happy and sad when she comes out.
“It’s so good to hear his voice,” says Tzina, taking her mother’s hand.
“Yes,” agrees Shazira.
“I never thought he would be gone this long.”
Dilasa asks the question that they are all afraid to voice.
“Do you think he’ll come back?” asks Dilasa.
Shazira gives her a hug.
“The Kizak have millions of soldiers, scattered across their galaxy,” says Berek.
“He can’t fight them all, especially with the cage in place.”
“Why doesn’t he just wipe out their home planet?” asks Dilasa.
Shazira looks at her, shocked that Dilasa would suggest killing billions of people.
“Ina spoke about that to me,” says Berek.
“The Kizak aren’t coming here to kill us.”
“We would lose our independence, and our connection with the web.”
“Ina won’t kill millions or billions of intelligent beings to protect us from that.”
“Still, he thinks we should fight them when they come, if we have any chance of driving them away.”
“But he’ll kill the emperor,” says Dilasa.
“Then they’ll forget about us, and he can come home.”
“Their society is built on conquest,” answers Berek, “and their guard is disciplined and powerful.”
“Even the death of their emperor won’t stop them for long.”
“What do you think, oodah?” asks Tzina.
“I think that we should prepare for war, as ina asked, while we wait for his return.”
“The technology he sent will help, at least here in Tshuan, where they’ll use it.”
“The guild council will never accept it, especially now, that there’s an order of isolation against all of us.”
“I’ll bring the tech to Keela,” says Berek.
“Tshuan will build the armband cage nullifiers for us and the sisters.”
“Each one lasts for about five minutes.”
“We’ll carry several of them, and hide others in key locations, so we can reach them in emergencies.”
“Tshuan will immediately start manufacturing weapons that are shielded from the Kizak tech screen.”
“I’ll ask Keela’s advisors to transmit the information to the guilds.”
“The guilds hate Tshuan, but there’s no order of isolation against Keela and her staff.”
“The advisors will explain that the tech was sent to us by ina for the war, and he wants the guilds to have it.”
“Maybe the council will surprise us, and decide to use it.”
Berek returns to the ship, and sits at the pilot’s console.
“There’s another message for you, Berek,” says the AI.
“From my father?”
“It’s from Mayla.”
“Did you know that she still lives?”
“I know that a copy of her survives, somewhere near Siksa.”
“My father said to tell no one.”
“Yagrin ordered me to broadcast a message to her as I passed through this planetary system.”
“He hoped that Mayla would break her isolation and respond.”
“The message included details about the Kizak fleet that will attack us, plans for the nullifiers, and some additional tech that could completely neutralize the cage.”
“Why didn’t he give me the tech that will undo the cage?”
“That tech relies on anti-matter, difficult to create, and dangerous to handle, even for those who understand it.”
“Without that knowledge, the tech is useless to us.”
“Yagrin couldn’t find information about it, and I know nothing about anti-matter.”
“What about Mayla?”
“Maybe she has knowledge of it in the library.”
“She responded by sending an untraceable probe with a brief message.”
“Her words are worse than silence.”
Berek, you will not see my help in this war.
I will stay hidden, and wait for a better future.
I analyzed Yagrin’s information about the Kizak fleet, and the tech he sent.
I ran simulations about how the guilds and Tshuan will react to the aliens.
Nothing can change the outcome of your first battle.
I have no knowledge of anti-matter, and can’t undo the cage.
The web will fail you.
Your weapons and planning will not stand against the enemy ships.
They will conquer you, and thousands will die for nothing.
Your only hope is to pretend to accept them, so you may discover their weaknesses, steal their weapons technology, and rebel someday.