The ship travels outside of normal space.
Rings of energy spin around us, with tiny blue sparks striking the ship, again, and again.
It takes hours to reach the rendezvous point with Fwitay’s commander.
Makish and I stay in the cargo hold of the old Jiku ship, as we travel.
I flow some chairs, cushions, even a couch to rest on, and I add color to these cold, gray walls.
Then I surround us with food and drink, so we can renew our strength and find comfort.
Jiku food is much spicier than Earth food.
Today, I mix in curry and garlic, to remind me of Earth, as I think of the many places that I call home.
Makish and I are mostly quiet, as we eat.
We sit here, near the place where Botzar and B’tzel were trapped in their dreams, through the long years.
Our thoughts are full of Botzar.
When we speak, we speak mind to mind, so the Fiklow cannot hear us.
“I’m sorry, Yagrin,” says Makish.
“I act like a child around Botzar.”
I take her two hands between my hands and touch them briefly to my cheek.
This is an old Jiku gesture of love for one’s extended family.
“I don’t know how to act toward him, either, Makish.”
“So far, I’ve tried to treat him like a stranger, but our fates are tied together, around the sword, and someone created me from his genetic material.”
“I don’t know whether to treat Botzar like a twin brother, or a father.”
“I can just see you calling him ina,” she says with a smile, but the smile fades quickly.
“What’s the point of thinking about him? asks Makish.
“Who knows if we’ll ever get home, or see him again?”
“We will get home again, Makish.”
“I promise you.”
“Botzar and B’tzel are safe.”
“They can protect themselves.”
“I’m worried what will happen if they meet some Fiklow.”
“Will they kill one, and start another war?”
I scan the structure and the energy of the communication device, and then flow it away.
“I don’t want the Fiklow to find this device when we leave the ship,” I tell her.
“They might use it to track Botzar.”
“I’ll reshape it when we need it.”
I hear sounds from the tank.
“The captain wants to speak, Makish.”
“This time, we need to do more to protect ourselves.”
I raise an energy shield around the two of us.
“I can make my own shield, Yagrin,” she says, slightly nervous.
Among energy masters, covering each other with a shield is often a sign of affection.
The kind reserved for bondmates.
“It’s an experimental shield, Makish, that I learned about from the city’s library.”
“It may protect us from inhibitor energy.”
I show her how to raise this type of shield.
“Remove your shield, Yagrin, and I’ll raise my own.”
“Both of us must support a single shield.”
“Then, if one of us weakens, the shield still shines.”
She shakes off her thoughts, as she straightens up.
“Transformation is still a problem, Yagrin.”
“We can’t hold up a shield, while we’re transforming.”
“I have a solution,” she says.
“Let’s agree that you will always transform first.”
“I’ll hold up the shield while you transform, and then you’ll support it while I transform.”
I climb into the tank, and transform as I enter the water.
“I’m here, captain,” I announce.
“Where is your companion?” he asks.
“Both of you must enter the tank, and then, we’ll bring it aboard this ship.”
I pound the wall of the tank with a few of my large tentacles to get Makish’s attention.
Then I motion to her through the clear wall to get her to enter the tank.
She enters, and transforms.
“We’re both here, captain.”
He activates a Fiklow transport platform underneath the tank.
The platform glows, and the room disappears for a few seconds, as we move to the other ship.
The Fourteen Worlds
The transport chamber is much taller than the tank.
So we swim out from the top of the tank, and the Captain leads us to a private room, and seals the door.
This is the first time that he has been alone with us.
“I know that the two of you have a way to communicate without sound.”
“Don’t deny it.”
We don’t respond.
“Keep your secrets,” he says.
“I don’t care, but I must be sure that you will not harm the commander or her crew.”
“You’re here, unprotected,” says Makish.
“Are you sure that we won’t harm you?”
“I’ve given you reason to harm me,” he says, “when I drugged you, and put you in that tank against your will.”
“I promise you, that before the sun falls, you’ll see that it was all necessary.”
“Yagrin brought you the artifact,” says Makish.
“How many other Jiku would do that?”
“You repaid him with treachery!”
“Why did you give me the artifact right away?” he asks me.
“You couldn’t possibly trust us!”
“Yagrin will do anything to prevent another war,” says Makish.
“What do you want?” asks the captain.
“To keep him safe,” says Makish.
“Good,” says the captain, after smelling the water to test the truth of our words.
“Then the two of you will be happy to meet the commander.”
“Why?” I ask him.
“You and the commander are alike, Yagrin.”
“No one but her would risk her career to sponsor my mission.”
“She understands that only one of the lost Jiku can end the war, forever.”
“End the war, Captain?”
“Don’t you want the possibility drive for itself?”
“What will we find in another universe that we can’t find in our own?”
“My mission was to find the artifact, and bring it back.”
“Today, there is no killing of Jiku, and no war,” he says, “but that which is unfinished can return, and rise again.”
“A male Jiku took the artifact, and started the war.”
“Complete the circle, Yagrin.”
“We will all benefit when you succeed.”
“How will the commander benefit?”
“Will this help her career?”
“Yes,” says Fwitay, “but that’s not her main goal.”
“A simple return of the artifact would bring Keesha honor, and advance her career, but a male Jiku bringing it back, is an event.”
“This will end thoughts of war with the Jiku, forever, and that is what she wants.”
“What are her current duties as commander?” asks Makish.
“Who do the Jiku fight?”
“Many cycles ago the commander led battles, and commanded squadrons of ships.”
“Alien pirates raided the outer worlds, in those times, but after a great defeat, the pirates have gone elsewhere.”
“In recent cycles, Keesha manages research projects, and, she is the military liaison to the Jiku worlds.”
“What Jiku worlds?” asks Makish.
“There is no need to lie about it,” says Fwitay.
“You had the probability drive, long before us.”
“Of course, you have visited our universe secretly, to speak with the remaining Jiku among us.”
“On the fourteen Jiku worlds.”
“You smell my surprise, not lies,” says Makish.
“We never sought to return.”
“We were terrified of another war, and we thought that all Jiku worlds were destroyed.”
“How extraordinary,” says the captain, excited.
“Your words smell true.”
“How did the Jiku survive?” asks Makish.
“There were five Jiku colonies with no military presence,” says the captain.
“They were never a part of the war.”
“We still restrict their military activities, but otherwise, we leave them alone.”
“They have resettled some of the original Jiku worlds, including the Jiku homeworld, and grown to fourteen.”
“In the last few hundred cycles, we’ve begun to trade with them.”
“I thought the old Jiku worlds were destroyed,” says Makish, “or filled with radiation.”
“Our weapons kill enemies, but leave no lasting damage to the environment.”
“There’s an old Fiklow saying:”
“The sea is large, but you can’t escape your own poison.”
“The old Jiku worlds still support life.”
“It’s your species who spoils worlds with your weapons.”
“Nearly every Fiklow ocean that the Jiku attacked is full of radiation, and dead to life.”
“Did you think that the war was one-sided?”
“Ninety percent of the Fiklow population were killed in the war.”
“We had to look for new worlds to swim in.”
“Now, some of us live in the oceans of old Jiku worlds.”
“A few cycles ago, Keesha planned and sponsored an unusual new colony.”
“Fiklow and Jiku live together on one world.”
“The Jiku live by the coast, and the sea feeds us both.”
“Sometimes, we even swim together near the top of the sea.”
“How do the Jiku and Fiklow speak with each other?” asks Makish.
“We have message machines that understand each other’s sounds.”
“We also made two languages of movements, so we can speak together without sound, and without machines.”
“One for Jiku arms, and one for Fiklow tentacles.”
“When we will meet your commander?” I ask.
“Our ships will dock in a few minutes.
I smell his nervousness.
“What’s wrong, captain?”
“You won’t like it.”
“When you meet with the commander, her ship will be surrounded by an inhibitor field.”
“This is a standard security procedure when meeting any untrusted energy binder.”
“You have energy binders?” asks Makish.
“Yes,” he says proudly, “and our binders are more powerful than the Jiku binders on the fourteen worlds, and the binders of any race that we have met.”
“Except for the two of you,” he adds.
“Your commander knows about our strength?” asks Makish.
“She does, but she is not afraid.”
“If not for protocol, she would meet you without the inhibitors.”
“She has spoken with hundreds of Jiku, but never with ones who swim in our shape.”
“She is thrilled to meet with you on Gunal, and wrap tentacles.”
“Gunal?” I ask.
“The original Fiklow homeworld?”
“Such a sad place, captain.”
“Why meet there?”
“I can still see that dark moment when the artifact burned away your oceans, and left the world without life.”
“It’s true, Yagrin,” he answers, “that Gunal is a tragic place, but that is where the artifact was taken from, and where it must be returned.”
“It’s time for Fiklow, and even Jiku to hear what you do, to correct the ways of your ancestors.”
“Even our dead will rest better when this is done.”
“How will swimmers meet on a desert world?” asks Makish.
“The commander rides in a great vessel, that carries a large scout ship.”
“You will board her vessel, join her in the scout ship, and land on the barren world.”
“You and the commander will swim and speak together in the ship, and Fiklow everywhere will listen.”
“Speak as you wish, but don’t embarrass Keesha.”
“Why not use a script?” asks Makish.
“Those who listen must feel that they hear you, and not a story you have been told to tell.”
“You must be real for your actions here to have meaning.”
“You will enter a tank of water, and machines will move the tank, and place it on the desert.”
“Fiklow everywhere will be full of fear when you are surrounded by sand.”
“Imagine their shock when you transform into a Jiku, and climb out of the tank and step onto sand.”
“The watchers will be filled with joy when you return the artifact to its original resting place.”
“It must be done quickly.”
“None of us can stay long on Gunal.”
“Why not?” asks Makish.
“Gunal is warm, and it has air.”
“Gunal Kills,” says Fwitay.
“Many cycles after the oceans disappeared, some of the Jiku set up a mine on Gunal.”
“They abandoned it quickly, when the miners began to die from a strange illness.”
“Cycles passed, and then Fiklow went searching among the old ruins for an ancient treasure.”
“They found nothing but death.”
“How can you expect Yagrin to walk there?” asks Makish.
“A few hours brings no danger, but anyone, Jiku or Fiklow, who stays more than a few days dies a painful death.”
“What brings the death?” I ask him.
“Dangerous radiation?” I ask.
“None we can detect, only slight remnants of artifact energy, but it’s harmless.”
“What are you so sad, captain?” asks Makish.
“Gunal is the homeworld of the Fiklow race.”
“Even though the ocean is gone, and we can’t live there, it’s still our mother.”
“It’s a great tragedy for us that a visit here can kill.”
I turn to Makish, and raise my tentacles high, a sign that my words will be important.
“I know you want to protect me,” I tell her, “but I have to do this.”
“I’ll return to the ship as quickly as possible.”
“No more than one hour, Yagrin,” she says.
“Come,” says the captain, “the ships have docked, and the commander is waiting.”
We jet through corridors until we reach the connecting area.
The Fiklow have two movements — a slow, surface movement, using tentacles, and a fast jet-like movement produced by expelling water out of a special organ.
The passage into the other ship is filled with music, a sign of welcome for important guests.
Keesha waits as we enter the room, resting on a high platform.
She’s larger and older than the other Fiklow that I’ve seen.
She swims down to greet us, and wraps two of my tentacles with two of hers, a greeting given when meeting others of high status.
Her guards smell unhappy.
They don’t like her getting so close to unpredictable aliens.
“We welcome our Jiku guests from so far away,” she announces loudly, letting us know that everyone is listening.
“We are honored to meet you in peace,” I answer.
“It is time to return what was taken, to its rightful place.”
Our conversation continues for a few minutes, as we move slowly together around the room.
We speak about family and the places we call home.
The ship lands as we complete a circle around the room, but we barely feel it.
A few seconds later, the outer wall of our room turns transparent.
The room is filled with bright light, reflecting off the wide, flat area where the ship has landed.
A forest of colorful crystal formations surrounds the clearing.
“Something calls me, commander Keesha,” I tell her.
“There is a strange smell that penetrates the walls of your ship.”
“Our ship rests at the birthplace of the Fiklow,” she says.
“Somewhere deep within it, is the necklace that we call the throne, for it gave birth to our queens.”
“It has its own quiet voice and smell, Yagrin.”
“Few can hear it, but you are an energy binder, so perhaps the necklace speaks to you.”
“Why are you sad when you speak of the queens, commander?” I ask.
“You smell my feelings with great skill, Yagrin,” she answers, uncomfortable at speaking of feelings with so many listening.
“When the oceans of Gunal were consumed, the queen’s necklace moved deep within the planet, and was lost to us.”
“Our last queen died with the oceans, countless cycles ago, and without the necklace, there will never be another queen.”
“I understand, now,” I tell Keesha, my large eyes brightening.
“The first queen was born here.”
“This is where she found the egg and the necklace.”
“You know our history well, Yagrin.”
“More than you can imagine, commander.”
“I have seen visions of the first queen.”
She doesn’t believe me, even though there is no smell of lies.
She’s troubled that I make such a wild claim.
“Believe me, or not,” I tell her, “I will still return the artifact.”
“Give me a few moments to listen more closely to the voice, and hear what it wants from me.”
“The voice grows louder and louder.”
First, I send my listener and the grandmother to touch the world, wondering whether I’ll find a twisted balance or only silence.
It takes me a few moments to digest what the listener finds.
The planet still has an energy spirit, but it’s sick, waiting for death, crying for its oceans and the life that lived within.
The Weight of Spirits
“What do you hear, Yagrin?” asks Keesha, not believing that I hear anything, especially with the inhibitor in place.
“Gunal is sick, commander, and she longs for her rich oceans, and the Fiklow who brought light to the great depths.”
Keesha’s smell tells me that the words move her, even if she doesn’t believe me.
The great web is weak here, and my energy eyes are dim when they first open.
I fill myself with the glow, and find the strength to see clearly.
How can this be?
There are billions of fire bodies here, living spirits that surround the ship, attracted by the glow.
They are the Fiklow dead, I realize.
The artifact’s energy killed their bodies, and bound their spirits to the planet.
I try to touch their thoughts, but I have too much flesh.
“Commander,” I ask, “where do Fiklow spirits go after death?”
“Yagrin,” she says diplomatically, “this is a great and noble discussion, but you have been told of the danger that haunts Gunal.”
“We can’t speak of spirits now.”
“You must hurry to complete your task, so we can leave.”
“No, commander,” I tell her, my glow growing brighter.
She moves back, and her guards move forward.
“There are spirits beyond number that still swim on Gunal.”
“Impossible,” she says, moving toward me.
“Our spirits leave their birth planet and roam beyond the stars.”
“Why would they still be here?”
“The artifact imprisoned them here, and their voices cry out in pain.”
“Can you speak with spirits, Yagrin?” she asks in disbelief.
“I can leave my body behind, commander, and speak with them, and then, swim again.”
I consider letting the physical body dissolve, but that would frighten the Fiklow too much.
Instead, I separate my fire body from the physical body, and leave the ship.
The world is thick with energy beings, spirits of the dead Fiklow, and among them there is one who shines brighter than the rest.
“Who are you?” she asks.
“Your energy is Fiklow, and not Fiklow.”
“I come from another world, and live in many shapes, but today, my body swims as Fiklow.”
“You are still alive?”
“Tell me why you are still bound to this place.”
“The energy that burnt the oceans trapped us here.”
“We cannot rise beyond the old height of the oceans.”
“Why are you here?” she asks.
“I’ve come here with your children to return the artifact to its resting place, and protect others from it.”
“Since you came, its presence here fills us with pain.”
“Our memories of the moment of destruction, haunt us, again and again.”
“Take the artifact away, so the vision will disappear, and at least we will find rest in our eternal prison.”
“What about your children?” I ask.
“They will have no rest until the artifact is hidden away.”
“Would you let another world be killed by the artifact as you were?”
“Let their queen protect them, and bless them with peace.”
“You were the last queen.”
“They are full of sorrow at the lost throne.”
“My children have no queen?” she says, remembering.
“How could I have forgotten?”
She takes me to a place deep within the planet.
A bubble of energy, egg-shaped, floats on the molten rock.
Energy streams from one end of the bubble to the other, like lines of force in a magnetic field.
“Do you know what this is?” she asks.
“The egg that hides the throne.”
“Before the fire, the egg was hidden in a chamber far below the oceans, but the path to the chamber crumbled, and earthquakes pushed the egg deeper.”
“Bring it to the surface,” I suggest, “and I’ll return it to your children.”
“I’m only a spirit, and my power is weak.”
“I can’t free the throne, but perhaps you can.”
“Help me return the throne to my children, and I will let you bury the artifact here, even though we spirits will suffer, forever.”
“Why do you think that I can help?”
“Your glow reminds me of the energy that fills the egg.”
“I will find a way to help you,” I promise, “but how do I open the egg for your children?”
“You don’t open it,” answers the queen.
“The one who is worthy to be queen will be drawn to the egg, and her touch will open the egg.”
“When she puts on the necklace, the throne energy will transform her.”
“Then the necklace will return to the egg, to wait a generation, for the next queen.”
“Wait for me,” I tell her, “while I speak with your children.”
“Where would I go?” she asks.
I’ve only been out of my Fiklow body for a few minutes, but as I approach, it seems weak and sluggish.
Makish and the others swim around my body, full of fear that I’m dying.
I pour healing energy into the body to restore it to health.
The glow returns, and the Fiklow back away.
I take back my body, and rise, to tell everyone what I’ve heard.