Among the Enemy
The night is quiet, except for the sound of gentle waves.
I wake once to find that the Feldin treat me as one of their own, sleeping tightly against me, even on this warm night.
Makish lies next to me, where she fell asleep, and Shazira and the children sleep nearby.
I wake again at dawn when the Feldin get up to return to the sea.
The Heelu fly in a circle above me, as the Feldin enter the water.
When the last of the Feldin are gone, the Heelu quickly follow.
The city is quiet, except for the occasional bird song.
Mayla joins us a few seconds later.
“Did the Fiklow find us during the night?”
“No, and they’ve recalled all their probes, back to their ship.”
I let go of a long breath.
Siksa is still safe this morning.
The Fiklow honor their promise, and wait for our meeting.
Makish and I say our goodbyes to the others after breakfast.
“Mayla,” I tell her, “I need to leave the sword behind, in a guarded place.”
She nods, and opens a tunnel that goes down five thousand feet.
I take off my belt, and glide it down to the bottom of the storage place.
The tunnel closes above it.
We transport back to the outermost ring, and walk to a room, where we can pass through the city walls.
Mayla stares at the walls ahead of us, and they begin to glow, as a wave of light moves back and forth across the wall.
“Walk straight through, without stopping,” says Mayla.
The walls cling to us slightly as we pass through, but not enough to slow us down.
A strong wind greets us, as we stand outside by the mural.
I love being in the city, but I’m happy now to be free of it.
My body rejoices in the untamed sunlight, and unfiltered air.
I fly just above the ocean, so I can feel the spray.
Makish flies a few feet above me, and to my left, as we glide toward the island which lies close to the meeting place.
We leave our clothes on the island, dried and sealed in a hollow stone container.
Then we fly to the rendezvous point, and hover above the water.
When we dive and enter the water, we are still Jiku, but a moment later, we transform into Fiklow.
Makish and I rebuild our mind shields that have slipped away with our change of form.
The Black-headed ones, arrive a few minutes after us, still a few minutes ahead of the rendezvous time.
A hatch opens, and Makish and I swim into the scout ship.
There are three of them operating the small ship.
Each of us has eight large, powerful tentacles, and four smaller ones.
The smaller ones are used to handle tiny objects, and have additional senses.
Our faces are not built to express emotion.
Instead we express it through our language, through chemicals released into the water, and through the movements of our smaller tentacles.
The crew is nervous.
I see it in the way that they move their tentacles, and I smell it in the water.
“The artifact is here,” I tell them, clutching a bag that contains the box.
Are the Fiklow more afraid of Makish and me, or of the artifact that we bring with us?
“My captain was confident that you would bring it,” one of them says, without enthusiasm.
“He will be pleased.”
The leader of the small ship is female.
She doesn’t look different than the others, but I feel her energy in my tentacles, and I can smell the difference.
“I don’t want to be within fifty light-years of the cursed thing,” she says, “but I’m commanded to examine it and verify that it’s authentic.”
“Don’t be offended.”
She points a device at the bag.
She is both pleased and unhappy when the device tells her that the artifact is in the bag.
She continues to scan Makish and me, and is more troubled.
“I don’t understand,” she says to me.
“There are traces of the artifact’s energy in you, but not your companion.”
“Contact your captain,” I suggest.
“If he prefers, I won’t come aboard your main ship, and I’ll leave the artifact with you.”
Their fear grows with the idea that they will be left alone with the artifact, but they are saved by their captain, who tells them to bring us.
The scout ship docks, and we enter the main ship.
The captain greets me, and asks me what I think of his ship.
“It’s a fascinating and beautiful ship, at least the corridor that I’ve seen.”
He laughs, a rhythmic wave that passes through his small tentacles.
“I’m sorry,” he says, “but for security reasons, I can’t show you much else.”
We swim to a nearby meeting room, and fifteen of us form a circle.
I pass the bag to the captain.
One of his crew takes the bag, looks inside, and moves quickly out of the room.
“We’ll swim in a familiar sea by nightfall,” says the captain.
“The danger has passed, now that we have the artifact again.”
“Thanks for making this so simple for us.”
“I’m happy to return it in peace,” I tell him, but the danger is not over.”
His tentacles stop moving, as he focuses calmly, and completely on me.
I don’t speak of the sword, but I tell them that the artifact was damaged, ages ago, by an unknown enemy.
“It’s incredible,” he says, “how you take the form of an object, and see its past.”
“This is tied to a power of healing?”
“We have some ancient ways of healing that use the energy web, but nothing like you describe.”
“How can you exist and think in a dead form?” he asks in wonder.
“Is it all a dream?
“It’s not a dream,” I answer.
“My thought and life is bound to my energy body, not my physical body or the object.”
“Is this the way of all your companions?”
“Ah, then you are the only one who can see the past.”
“Among my companions, I’m the only one that I know of, but the sea is wide and dark.”
He laughs again.
“You had a good teacher to learn our ways and stories.”
The others touch freely and often, but none of the Fiklow touch us except the captain.
He extends a tentacle, and I wrap one of mine around his, as I have seen the others do.
“I am Fwi-tay.” [he who devours his enemies]
“Your sound, then?” he asks.
He tastes the sound, repeating it again and again.
“What is its story?” he asks.
He takes another tentacle and winds it around one of Makish’s tentacles.
“I am Fwi-tay,” he repeats to her.
“What is your sound?
Again he tastes it and repeats it.
“She is your mate, Yagrin?”
“No,” answers Makish.
“He has another.”
“She grows from my brood-sister.”
“Too bad,” he says.
“Her sound is a good match for yours.”
“I would gladly speak with you for days,” he says, “but time is short.”
“Hear my request.”
“Both of you will come with us for a moon.”
“We could teach each other many things, and plan together how to face the common danger from the world of the towers.”
“An intriguing offer, Fwitay,” I tell him.
“I would gladly taste your sweet waters, but not today.”
“For now, I’m needed on my own world.”
The female that leads the scout ship joins us and confers with the captain.
I can smell that he’s upset about something.
“I knew before you entered the ship,” he says, “that you have traces of the artifact’s energy in you.”
“Of course, we find this troubling.”
“Even worse, there’s a ship in orbit around your world with high levels of the artifact’s energy.”
“Can you explain that?”
“That ship holds two Jiku in stasis, somehow imprisoned by the artifact’s energy.”
“What about your strange energy?” he asks.
“I’ve had brief contact with the artifact, as well as that ship.”
“Simple contact with the artifact never leaves an energy trace on living creatures,” says the captain, frustrated with me.
“You know more than you tell.”
The trace of the energies must be from my time among the Seklu, but I can’t speak of it.
“Perhaps touching the history of the artifact left that trace on me,” I suggest.
He doesn’t believe me.
“Among the Fiklow,” he says, “it’s easy to smell when someone lies.”
“Only small children and the insane try to lie.”
“Tell me what you’re hiding.”
I don’t answer.
It upsets him, but he ignores my silence.
“We have to take the old ship with us for study,” says the captain.
“We’ll try not to harm those who are trapped there, if they are still alive.”
“Perhaps we can even free them.”
“No!” says Makish.
I reach out to touch her mind.
She feels my mental touch, and lowers her wintzal.
“Why won’t you let them take the ship, Makish?”
“The two of them are trapped there forever.”
“I know that Botzar was your friend, but that was a long time ago.”
“Botzar was far more than my friend, Yagrin.”
“We would have bonded, but his father wouldn’t allow it.”
“In those times, the royal family never married a woman with Bizra eyes.”
“I’m sorry, Makish, but we can’t fight with them over this.”
“Other ships will come, and we’ll have another war.”
Makish breaks off the mind contact, and raises her wintzal.
“I knew one of the men on the ship,” says Makish to the captain.
“You can’t take them, unless you also take me.”
“Come,” says the captain.
“You are my guest.”
He turns to me.
“Will you change your mind, and come with us?”
“I understand,” says the captain.
“We both have our responsibilities.”
I smell something strange, but before I can react, I pass out.
The water smells funny when I awake — too sterile.
Makish and I are resting at the bottom of a clear, large tank, on the cargo deck of the old Jiku ship.
We’re uncomfortably close to the stasis fields of B’tzel and Botzar.
I feel the vibrations of the machine attached to our tank.
It’s here to filter and oxygenate the water.
Another machine rests several feet away, and fills the ship and the tank with a strange energy.
“It’s an inhibitor,” says Makish, after she awakes.
“I can’t change form, or glide along the web.”
“We’re so stupid,” she says, as she swims nervously around the tank.
“We should have surrounded ourselves with a physical shield to block against the gas.”
“No, Makish,” I answer.
“It would have blocked out sound, and oxygen-bearing water.”
“We wouldn’t have been able to breathe or hear the Fiklow.”
Like Makish, I can’t flow, or glide on the web.
Still, my listener and healing energy are with me, and I can touch minds, and see with energy eyes.
I reach out to her mind, and she lets me in.
“We should mind speak, Makish.”
“The Fiklow must be listening to everything we say.”
“You’re right, Yagrin,” she says.
“I was so mad at myself, that I didn’t think to try a mind touch.”
“My healing sense also works, Makish.”
“I could use it to shatter the tank at any time, but without the ability to change form, we’ll suffocate in the air.”
“I could shatter the inhibitor, but it’s near the stasis field.”
“I don’t want you to be hurt by the explosion, and I don’t want to chance freeing the prisoners.”
“Just wait, Yagrin.”
“When the right time comes, I’ll take control of a Fiklow mind, and force it to free us.”
She settles down next to me.
I open my energy eyes to see where we are.
The Fiklow ship is moving toward the sun, and pulling the old ship with it, in an energy field.
It’s easier to open an inter-dimensional jump point closer to a star, where the force of gravity is strongest.
I watch with my energy eyes as they open a jump point.
I see the kind of energy that they generate to pull at space.
In a moment, both ships are moving above the possibility sea.
We move toward another universe, and hover above it.
I scan the target universe, and record its energy signature.
I watch, as the Fiklow generate a jump point to enter the universe, and we’re gone.
A moment later, the tank shatters.
An Ancient Debt
Makish lands hard against a nearby wall of the ship, and is knocked unconscious.
It’s better for her this way.
She won’t be awake to suffer through her own death.
We can’t live long without water, and the hull is ruptured.
The ship is bleeding away its air and warmth.
I can survive the death of this body, but how will I save Makish?
Without water, and with little oxygen left in my Fiklow blood, I can’t get far.
Anyway, there’s no place to go.
The inhibiting field fills the whole ship.
Do I risk shattering the inhibitor, and freeing Botzar?
Suddenly, I feel different, and I realize that the inhibiting field is gone.
I take back my Jiku form, and use healing energy to restore my strength.
I repair the damage to the ship’s hull, and fill the ship full of warm air.
Then, I transform Makish back into her own form, and revive her with healing energy.
She’s still groggy, as I pick her up, and cover us both with a powerful energy field.
The equipment that generates the inhibiting field is already damaged, but I destroy it completely.
High-pitched sounds come out of the broken tank, as the Fiklow try to communicate with us, but without a Fiklow body I can’t make sense of the message.
I reshape a tank around the sound projector, and fill it with ocean water.
Then I climb in and return to Fiklow form.
“Are you all right?” asks the captain.
“We sent a release signal to turn off the energy field, so you could use your full strength to save yourselves.”
“Did the signal reach you?”
“No, but something damaged the equipment, and the field dropped.”
“That saved us.”
“This ship was old and weak, captain.”
“The hull and tank ruptured under the stress of a jump.”
“If your crew examined the ship properly, you would have known that it was too weak for a jump.”
“My crew was ordered to prepare this ship for the jump,” says the Captain, “and they just re-scanned your hull.”
“There’s no trace of a breach or repair.”
“The hull is in perfect condition.”
“Tell them to look more carefully, and look at older scans of the ship.”
“I’ve replaced the entire hull with a different alloy, stronger than the original, even when it was new.”
There’s silence as he waits for his crew.
“You’re correct,” he says at last.
“The ship was in poor condition before.”
“You took us by force, Captain, and blocked our strength.”
“Now that the inhibitor is gone, what will you do?”
“I’m sorry, Yagrin,” he says, “that this happened.”
“I’ll send someone to help you.”
“If anyone approaches, we’ll kill them,” I tell him.
“I know you’re upset,” says Fwitay, “but there’s no point in trying to attack us.”
“We removed the ship’s weapons.”
“Besides, without us, you’ll never get home.”
“I don’t need ship’s weapons to attack you,” I answer, coldly.
“If I wanted to kill you, I would just shatter your ship.”
“Still, I know that if you wanted to kill us, you had your chance when we were unconscious.”
“I’m under orders,” he says slowly, “to bring back all traces of the artifact, and you have artifact energy within you.”
“That’s why I drugged you when you chose not to come with us.”
“Most of my crew wanted me to kill you, and bring you back dead.”
“That’s why none of them told me about your weak hull.”
“They will be disciplined.”
“What do you want?” I ask him.
“I want you to carry the artifact to its resting place,” he says.
“This will create a lasting peace between us.”
“I also want you to speak with my commander.”
“There have been strange attacks on several Fiklow worlds.”
“Perhaps the attackers originate from the seven towers you spoke of.”
“We need your help to discover the truth.”
“I’ll come with you, captain, but I may have to work to convince my companion.”
I’m interrupted by knocking on the tank, and I reach out to Makish to touch minds.
“Look outside the tank, Yagrin!” she shouts within my mind.
The stasis fields are gone, and B’tzel and Botzar are free.