The Deathworlders

2 Tikkun Olam

For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and of the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and a bulwark.

—Psalm 93: 3-4


Date Point: 14Y 3M AV

Office of Rabbi Uwriy Walden

New York City, New York

The last several months had been utterly crazy-making. Rabbi Uwriy had been a part of many concerted efforts with the Chabad over the years to provide outreach to a family or a community facing some catastrophe. Loss of a family member or a natural disaster, the Chabad-Lubavich was there to provide support nearly everywhere Humans went, even if that support wasn’t widely known outside of the Jewish community.

Outreach to a people experiencing genocide, though…even after their efforts on Earth over the last fifty years, the scope of such a thing was frankly breathtaking at times.

Which was one reason among many that the young woman sitting in Uwriy’s office was a breath of fresh air in more ways than one.

Esther Blum was an ass-kicking corporate law attorney and lobbyist for a consortium of construction companies that operated across the borders of the United States, Canada, and Israel. Their reputation was well-deserved, and probably best described as “getting shit done effectively”. It was probably even all legal.

Uwriy took a cold bottle of water out of the minifridge under his desk and took a pull from it thoughtfully. The folder she had brought in with her and laid on his desk as a proposition lay open, pages akimbo after he’d taken a first pass through it for general impressions.

“You realize that the scope of what you’re proposing here is pretty ambitious.”

“I think it’s perfectly reasonable. It ticks all of the boxes—we get what we want, they get what they want, even the government gets what it wants. Everybody walks away happy,” she said.

“Oh, I’m not arguing that,” Uwriy said. “But…”

“Look. This is a unique opportunity here. After the Knesset passed their legislation, it’s a short step from there to tax incentives for aiding the relief effort. All I want to do is arrange a longer-lasting understanding. Plan for ‘later’.”

“You realize there are going to be some, particularly the Palestinian lobby, that will accuse you of war profiteering. The Chabad-Lubavitch cannot afford to be seen that way, Ms. Blum.”

“I’m confident the PR campaign will put that to rest, Rabbi Walden,” she smiled. “For one thing, there is a deep sentiment towards the Gao. Everyone, the Palestinians included, loves them. For another, the Israeli government literally just declared that the mitzvah of aiding the Gao is among the highest of all.”

“That’s as may be,” he said after taking another long pull from the bottle. “Are you truly confident that you can make this effort this…multinational?”

“We are. The power of this thing is its simplicity. Existential threat, combined with hard evidence of suffering, and an appealing victim population. Anyway, Rabbi. Thank you for your time. I have another appointment to get to, and I’m sure you’re just as busy.” She stood, gave him a nod, and left.

Uwriy swiveled in his high-backed leather chair and looked out across the skyline of New York City, and thought.

A big upheaval in terrestrial politics was on the horizon.


Date Point: 14Y 3M AV

General Assembly, United Nations, New York City

Deputy Ambassador Patrick Lewis (USA)

Patrick sat in his usual seat next to the Deputy Ambassador from the UK in the General Assembly’s room. Their seats were adjacent for the simple reason that the oft-touted “special relationship” that underpinned the British/American diplomatic friendship often needed things done quietly, before the media caught wind of some problem or another.

At the moment, though, he was trying to look like he was paying rapt attention to the Syrian Ambassador, who was droning on well past a half hour now and managing to turn what should have been a fire and brimstone speech into the verbal equivalent of room-temperature tapioca. It wasn’t that they were upset with Israel, although that was certainly also true…it was more that they didn’t apparently have much that was new to say beyond the usual chest-thumping, airing of grievances past and present with Israel, and the only real saving grace about it was that it was in a language that Pat spoke passably well.

Not that their grievances with Israel weren’t valid. There was an argument to be made for everything the Ambassador was saying, even if often it wasn’t a very good argument, but the issues had been debated in some cases quite literally to death, and not even a breath of fresh air like proclaiming that people who were alive had the right to remain that way seemed to derail the aggrievance train.

Business, in other words, was mostly as usual. Unfortunately.

His counterpart from the UK, Deputy Ambassador Shannon Gunn, leaned over and observed wryly, “He’s certainly getting his mileage out of this, in’t he?”

Pat nodded. “I’m betting what he’s winding up to is a recognition of the two-state solution again, or something like it. So far he hasn’t said much we weren’t expecting.”

Shannon listened to her translation for a moment. “He’s going to insist that Iran be given the next time slot.”

Pat nodded again. Apparently another prediction had come true. “So, I think another round of talks is probably where this is going,” he said. “I can’t help but think the Israelis have shot themselves in the feet a little bit here. You know the Palestinians are going to get mileage out of this. They had to have known that was coming.”

A thought occurred to Shannon. “Hey, look at the upcoming time docket, though.”

“What about it?”

“Jordan, Egypt, and the Saudis haven’t asked for any time at all. They’re not making any statements,” she said.

Pat raised an eyebrow. “Well. That’ll make the talks interesting, if they end up happening.”


Date point: 14Y 3M 1D AV

Port Authority of New York, New York City, USA

Rabbi Uwriy Walden

Many things had changed over the last fourteen years, but the constantly busy working docks of the Port of New York’s only concession was that most of the machinery being used was electric. There were other tendrils of more-modern tech, of course—stasis-containers, safety features using kinetic thrust boosters for things going overhead, and full-time air surveillance via drones that never landed, but for the most part, things looked much as they had for the last half-century.

A crunching of scattered gravel heralded the arrival of a dark grey sedan outside one of the mid-sized warehouses at the waterfront. The ship for the warehouse’s contents was on its final approach to the harbor, and Uwriy wanted to check in and make sure that everything was ready to go. Massive doors stood mostly closed as a concession to the frigid wind blowing in off the harbor, as busy teams of longshoremen driving eerily silent electric forklifts moved loads into waiting containers, sealing and activating the internal stasis fields. He stepped out of the warm car and pulled his wool trenchcoat’s collar up to ward off the winter wind. It was cold.

His foreman came over with tablet in hand. Another concession to modern tech; paper clipboards just weren’t enough anymore, and at last someone had thought to come up with a tablet that was mostly worker-proof. For an irreverent moment, he wondered if it was a Nokia.

“Mornin’ rabbi!” came the cheerful greeting. Dave was about as stereotypically a New York longshoreman as it was possible to get—big, burly, bearded, a little gruff, but utterly devoted to his union and his brood of children.

“Dave! Where are we this morning? I’m told the ship is coming in.” The vessel in question was the Overloaded Perambulator, a cargo-hauler under a Panamanian flag of convenience, and leased by a company that a friend’s cousin worked with. It had been “loaned” to the Chabad-Lubavich once they had seen exactly how…massive…the need for it had been and had put the word out asking for transportation help.. The warehouse was crammed, and the massive yard outside stacked with containers three and four high.

“I think we’re on schedule, and we’ll be ready by the time it docks,” Dave said, frowning down at something displayed on his tablet. “You got stuff in this load from all over, man.”

“Yeah. And there’s more where that came from. As soon as this load is gone, there’s gonna be at least one more run. Lot of it is just food. Gaoians don’t eat a lot, but they eat different, and you put a quarter million of them in one place, yeah. You’re gonna have trouble keeping up.”

“Damn weather.” Dave pulled a clean handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his nose. “I’m gettin’ too old to work in this kind of cold. I wanna retire, move to Florida with the missus, live on the beach the rest of my days drinkin’ margaritas and making eyes at twenty-year-old blondes. Half my crew has this cold.”

Uwriy nodded, pulling his coat closer around him, which didn’t help at all. “Is there any inspection left, or are you just loading for transfer this morning?”

“Nah, we finished up the inspection on the last stuff about two hours ago and put it all right into stasis, food actually. Manifest says pretty much all of this stuff goes directly to Gao?”

“Most of it, yeah, about three-quarters of it. The camps on Cimbrean aren’t as big, and they’re already getting a stream from the portals with London and Scotch Creek, and the new Israeli one from Tel Aviv. This goes through the portal at Tel Aviv directly to Gao.”

Dave nodded. “Makes sense. The last stuff we’re loading now, none of it’s perishable. Tents & stuff, I think.” He looked back up at the rabbi, who was starting to shiver.

“Hey, man, you’re lookin’ pretty cold there. How ‘bout you step in here for a cuppa my joe, huh?” Uwriy nodded gratefully, and they retreated to the office.

“Were you able to get everything bio-fielded okay?” Uwriy asked, once he had warmed up with at least a half cup of Dave’s coffee in him. It was remarkably good coffee.

“Yeah. Well, most of it. The field wasn’t working right yesterday morning, I think, but I stuck a note on ‘em inside. Pretty sure they’re fine anyway—it started flickering on a couple of batches, but Johnny gave it a thump on the side and it came back on just fine.”

“Good old ‘percussive maintenance’,” Uwriy said, taking a sip of blessed liquid warmth.

“Yeah, ‘xactly. They’re gonna get passed through another one at the other end anyway. Not sure what the problem with the thing was; I hate dealin’ with alien gizmos.” Dave said, wiping his nose again. He sneezed into his handkerchief.

“Gesundheit. You did mark them, though?”

“Sure did. Put the notes inside where they can’t come off in transit.”

“Good. I’ll have someone come look at the thing, probably next week.”


Date Point: 14Y 3M 1D AV

HMS Sharman, Folctha, Cimbrean

Toran & Tybal, Clanless Cubs

The room resembled an interrogation room from any standard-fare Human police drama TV show, right down to the table in the middle of the room and mirror set on one wall. If the last nearly month and a half had taught the two young Gaoians anything, it was that when dealing with this group of their elders, or Humans, it was that patience and self-preservation were intimately connected.

So they sat. And waited.

The sound of a heavy tread outside heralded the entrance of Thurrsto, Clan Brother of Whitecrest-SOR and one of the largest Males either of them had ever encountered. Behind him, Toran’s quick nose caught the scent of at least two others, a Human and another Gaoian whose scent was unfamiliar. Thurrsto, however, came in alone and shut the door behind him. He set a datapad down on the table and sat across from them.

“So. Let’s talk about what you two have been up to, mmm?” he rumbled, giving them a level look. The cubs exchanged a glance.

“The charge you two were given was, ‘take these carts and clean up the trash’. Was any part of that unclear?”

Neither cub said a word, shaking their heads in the negative. Silence and its relationship to self-preservation was also something they had learned.

“In the last four weeks, that somehow has turned into….let me see,” Thurrsto said, picking up the tablet and thumbing through its contents. “You somehow managed to recruit several thousand other cubs, got them to work with you collecting trash, and then separating out all of the recyclable material. You negotiated a contract with the City of Folctha Municipal Waste Company to access their incentives program, then used that to actually pay your…employees. You have also managed to get everyone involved to keep quiet about the details.”

Thurrsto sighed. “I am going to have to go back to your Mother with a report on this. Tell me, in as few words as possible, what you think I should say to her.”

The cubs looked back at each other. “Well…you didn’t tell us not to, Father,” Toran finally said.

Thurrsto growled softly. “Do you know what the worst part about this is?” he asked.

The cubs shook their heads.

“The worst part about this is that the success of your little endeavor has come to the attention of the Mothers, who believe that this entire thing was a subtle Whitecrest operation of some kind. They have publicly thanked us for our ‘efforts to motivate cubs and teach valuable lessons in self-determination’. They’re actually pledging to carry on your program under proper Clan of Females administration. It’s going to be a thing now.”

It was impossible for either cub to hold back from chittering at that. Thurrsto tried, with all of his might, to hold back as well, and finally gave up, joining them. Eventually the mirth subsided.

“You’re both close enough to your majority now that I think it’s time we evaluated what your next step is,” Thurrsto said. “The war is going to make that a little more complicated, unfortunately. The normal routes no longer exist.”

“We both want to be Whitecrest, Father,” Tybal said.

“I’m sure you do. It isn’t that simple, however, young one. First, I have to decide what to tell your Mother. We’ll go from there.” Thurrsto stood. “I’ll send a message to the camp for Mother Seema, and we’ll release you to her soon.”


Outside

Thurrsto closed the door behind him and gave his head a side-to-side shake. “I don’t know how you Females manage to handle cubs full time. I truly don’t.”

Myun, leaning back against the other side of the hallway, chittered softly so that the sharp ears of the cubs inside wouldn’t hear her. “You can’t tell me you aren’t pleased with their initiative.”

Thurrsto grimaced. “Regaari laughed at me so hard he fell down when I told him,” he said ruefully.

“Really, what were you expecting?” Myun asked, unknowingly echoing Faarek from nearly a month before. “Their solution is exactly what one would expect from one of you, and he was right. You didn’t tell them not to.” She poked him in the ribs lightly with one claw. “See what happens when you get a reputation for being clever?”

“I know. That’s….I mean, Fyu’s hairy bunghole, what am I supposed to do with them now?” Thurrsto asked.

“With ambition and creativity like that, there’s only one thing you can do,” said Costello, who was leaning against the other wall with his arms folded and watching the whole thing with undisguised amusement. “You harness it and make it work.”

“I have a proposal that I’m going to put to the Mother-Supreme about advancing our training for cubs to include combatives much earlier than we used to,” Myun mused. “It seems like there is room for lots of other training there. You were right, these two are a good opportunity.”

“On Earth, we have childrens’ sports leagues,” Costello said. “The whole point is to get kids to be active, team-oriented, and so on—that’s all stuff that Gaoians do normally anyway, I bet you guys would kick ass at it.”

Myun nodded. “The Mothers have been reporting that male cubs, especially the older ones, are acting out a lot more than is normal. These two, for instance. How long before other, similar incidents?”

“Exactly. So put them to work,” Costello suggested. “I bet a big part of it is just being uprooted and feeling uncertain. Keep ‘em too busy to have grand ideas.” He thought for a moment.

“You know…I bet there’d be interest in putting some kind of league together, if we could come up with a game that plays to both Human strengths and Gaoian. Not, like, rugby or American rules football, or cross-country or whatever, but… We have enough kids living here now to make it viable. How about I see if I can connect you with somebody? You can work out something, maybe a partnership.”

The Gaoians nodded soberly. Sports leagues did exist…had existed on Gao, of course, but there had never been a serious effort to push that into the population of cubs.

“Let’s look into that,” Myun suggested. “It’ll give us something to build on with the Humans here anyway, and I can certainly work with a game that teaches…I don’t know, agility training, perhaps?”

Thurrsto duck-nodded. “Yes. Something to keep these two busy, especially, I think, and out of mischief.”


Date Point: 14Y 3M 2D AV

Lavmuy Spaceport, AEC Command Center, Gao

It was an oddity of operations on Gao, and with non-humans in general, that the usual red light and klaxon which humans tended to associate with Danger! had had to be changed to the more widespread blue-violet color associated with hazards by the Dominion and by Gao. Gaoians, of course, couldn’t see red, and out of consideration to their far-more-sensitive hearing, the klaxon had been changed to a far less intrusive warbling tone.

Not that anyone who spent any time at all duty-stationed to Gao ever had any problems understanding what the danger signals associated with jump portals were. You couldn’t get away from it, and the various NCOs charged with the safety of their troops never let anyone forget it.

The mid-morning jump was moderately unusual for the soldiers at the receiving end, simply because normally, Gaoians were going to Cimbrean, and not coming from there unless they were couriers with AEC or one of the Clans coordinating things. This was particularly true of Females, generally speaking; Myun, known colloquially and admiringly by the human troops as Valkyrie came through at least once or twice a week to consult, but other than that…

Seeing five Mothers, led by one whose fur was almost completely white with age, occasioned a quick buzz that was only shut down by the Officer On Duty’s quick stare promising dire consequences if it wasn’t stopped immediately. Mother Ginai and her Sisters stepped from the portal platform and greeted the young Lieutenant with a nod.

“Good morning. My sisters and I have come to meet with Mother-Supreme Yulna.”

“Of course, Mother.” He held up a hand scanner. “I’m very sorry, but I must insist on checking each of you. Great Father Daar has been very strict on this point, as has my own command.” Each Mother in turn presented her head dutifully. That duty being done, the officer stepped back.

“I will put a call in for you, Mother,” the officer said with a deferential head-nod. “I believe the Mother-Supreme may be in the field at the moment, but if you would care to wait for her, I will take you to her office.” He gestured with one hand. “This way.”

Yulna’s office was a repurposed conference room several floors below the surface. It was immediately obvious that it had been chosen for its defensibility; apparently, even here, paranoia and caution were defining factors for Humans. The delegation of Mothers was seated in the outer, secure office, and after a minute or two, another soldier came bustling in with cups, saucers, and a large carafe of hot tea. Through the door, they could see that an armed sentry stood guard.

Mother-Supreme Yulna, as it turned out, was back from the field and had been upstairs debriefing with her Guards and Great Father Daar. She came sweeping in after the group had been sitting only a few minutes, perhaps sensing something on the wind. She came to Ginai immediately, giving her a warm embrace.

“Ginai, it’s good to see you. How goes the refugee effort on Cimbrean?”

“Mother-Supreme,” Ginai duck-nodded. “It goes well. The Human relief effort is…like everything else about them, a little overwhelming. We could not ask for better friends.”

Yulna busied herself pouring herself a cup of tea, inhaling the fragrance with an audible sigh of appreciation. “I find myself appreciating even their measures to relax.” She took a deep sip, then speared Ginai with an unwavering gimlet eye. “What brings you and your companions to Gao?”

The Sisters all looked at one another. Ginai steeled herself; she hadn’t been dreading this moment exactly, but Yulna had a well-deserved reputation for blunt, even harsh rhetoric.

“Mother-Supreme, the Mothers have Met. Two Questions were posed to the assembled; the first was very straightforward, that the Mothers will ask the Human government for administrative control of the camps, supplies, and so on.”

“Indeed?” Yulna sat back and tilted her head, listening.

“The Clan of Females is at least nominally in control of the relief effort on Cimbrean.” She trailed off, plainly expecting Yulna to engage her further in debate.

“The other Question, Mother-Supreme….this comes to you. The Clan of Females has determined that a permanent commune colony for the Clan should be created on the world of Cimbrean. We are here to ask for your assistance with the Human government to ensure it goes smoothly, and….with the Great Father to secure his blessing as well.”

Yulna sipped her tea, and tapped against the cup with one claw, thinking. “Daughter, it occurs to me that I should have heard of this before today. Before the decision was made to ask.”

“The decision not to advise you, Mother, was mine as the presiding Mother for the Meeting.” A rueful cock to her ears betrayed her continuing uncertainty. “I felt it was best that this decision’s discussion be independent of our relationship with Stoneback, good or ill.”

“Your candor is…unexpected, Daughter, even if it was not what I wanted to hear.”

“Mother, the consensus of the Meeting, at Myun’s urging, was that Great Father Daar and Stoneback must understand that no insult is intended at all. Mother Naydral had much to say on that subject as well,” Ginai replied, gesturing to the youngest member of the group.

Yulna grunted. Of course Myun was at the center of this. She went to the door and addressed one of the Guards outside that had relieved the human one when she arrived.

“Daughter, I need a message sent to Great Father Daar, please. Would you ask him to either join us when he has time, or send word when he is available, and we will come to him?” She closed the door and returned to her seat.

“It sounds like the last month or two has been…interesting.”

“Yes, Mother, it has. It hasn’t been discussed, formally anyway, but some of the cubs, the older males, are getting almost reckless in their behavior. We had two of them that sneaked into the Human military base where the Whitecrest Brothers live and graffiti the water tower. They were punished suitably, of course.”

Yulna nodded. They continued talking for several more minutes, when there was a heavy scratch at the door, and Great Father Daar entered. They all stood, and he waved them back to their seats with a massive paw.

“Good morning, Daughters, Mother-Supreme.” His huge voice filled the room, and he sank to all fours and then sat with a fatigue that smelled bone-deep.

“Great Father,” Yulna said, bowing and then seating herself. “My Daughters have come from Cimbrean with a request for you.” His shaggy head turned and regarded them.

Ginai bowed slightly. “My Father, the…the Clan of Females on Cimbrean has conducted a Meeting of Mothers to answer the Question of whether we…the Females…should create a permanent Clan of Females colony. On Cimbrean.”

Daar’s head tilted a little as he thought. “That’s a bold Question, Daughter.”

“It is, Father…the consensus of the Mothers was that we must not offend you, or Stoneback, by asking. No offense is meant, I swear it, I…” she trailed off.

“You shouldn’t fear to ask anything of me,” Daar said, finally. “Any of you.”

“My Father, I…we…none of us fear you. I am safer in this room with you than anywhere else I have ever been in my life. There are other hard truths, however, that the Females discussed, that I am afraid to share with you.” She paused, and pressed on.

“My Father…you, more than any of us, understand what our people face. Gao right now is not safe for Females, and will remain so the foreseeable future. Your…burden, My Father, in making it safe for us, will be a work of years, not weeks or months, is one none of us would see any harder than necessary. We must have safety, if our people are to survive this at all.” Ginai spoke haltingly and in a rush.

Daar chuckled in a low rumble. “Ain’t nothin’ to worry about there. ‘Clan First’ goes fer you too.”

“We cannot ask of you, or of Stoneback, that you ever have to shield us with your bodies against our own Sisters again,” Ginai said. “The Contract between us also goes two ways, Father.”

“Stoneback provides and protects. That’s what we are.”

“You are also still our sons,” Ginai said gently, sadly. “Your task is harsh, and brutal, and necessary. And it is only by the Females taking action for ourselves, to place ourselves into safety, that it can be completed.”

Daar looked to Yulna. “What do you say, Mother-Supreme?”

“I was not asked, My Father, until just now. Nonetheless, I believe my Daughters are correct in their assessment.”

A long moment went by while the Great Father’s gaze turned inward and he thought about it. Finally, he visibly came back to the room he had never left, shaking his heavy head and shoulders.

“I’ll write something for the Humans for you to take back.” He stood on two legs finally, up and up and up, his head nearly brushing the ceiling. “I’m proud of you, takin’ charge like this, though! Lemme know what you need for materials—Dark Eye ain’t so busy that we can’t use it fer this too.”

“Thank you, Father,” Ginai bowed. Daar nodded back in acknowledgement and left. The room seemed …smaller… without his bulk between them and the door. Naydra stood quickly and followed him without a word.

Yulna nodded. “I will come to Cimbrean with you to make the request.”


Date Point: 14Y 3M 2D AV

Lavmuy Spaceport bunker, Gao

Naydra

Naydra pattered after the Great Father, trying vainly to catch up with him. Realizing he was being followed, he stopped and turned, sitting on all fours. Great Mother….he’s sitting down and I’m almost looking him in the eyes.

“Great Father, I…,” she started, and trailed off. Everything she had thought to say at this point, everything she had wanted to say for the last month and a half had just vanished out of her head now that she was face-to-face with him. He waited patiently.

“Hello again, Sister,” he finally said, gently. “How are you feeling?”

“I…I wanted to say thank you, Great Father. For…for rescuing me…us, I mean, and for…for seeing justice done.” It sounded lame, to her own ears, as she said it.

“I did as you asked, Sister,” the Great Father said. He sounded almost…sad, but the faded scent of remembered rage still clung to him.

“You did. I…you were right. I shouldn’t have watched. I felt like I needed to, though. He was punished because I told you what he did, so maybe I’m responsible, and…” Abruptly, she was swallowed up in a massive wall of furred chest and hulking arms, and found herself keening into it, as he stood, simply holding her.

“Sister…I did what had ta’ be done,” he rumbled, finally. “You asked, but it was my paws on the mallet, my claws in his body. That’s my burden. Only reason I wanted you not t’ watch was ‘cause I didn’t want you to have to bear that too. You’ve dealt with enough pain already.”

Naydra couldn’t respond at first, shuddering with keening sobs into his chest. Eventually, she calmed somewhat, and he cautiously released her, standing back and clearly torn over wanting to Protect her from something else, or perhaps to just Protect in her general direction. His huge paws rested on her shoulders lightly as he bent to look her in the eye.

“Than…thank you, Great Father,” she said, once she had gotten her breath back, and hiccuped.

He tipped one big finger under her chin, raising it a bit to meet his gaze. “Sister…anything you need me to Provide, just ask.” She nodded, a little weak in the knees suddenly, and not from the crying. The ghost of a smirk played out behind his eyes and in the set of his ears for just a moment, and was gone.

“I’m sorry to keep you, Great Father. I need to get back to my Sisters,” she said lamely, aware that she was probably keeping him from something important, somewhere else. He seemed to understand, however, and held her gaze for just a moment longer.

“Thank you, Sister. I’m sure we’ll meet again,” he said. “Goodbye, for now.” He duck-nodded to her with a step back, turned, and left.

Naydra returned to the room her Sisters were still standing in a loose circle and chatting. More than one suppressed a quirk of amused ear-tilts at her expression, but none of them said anything aloud.


Date Point: 14Y 3M 2D AV

Capitol Building, Washington DC, United States

Esther Blum

The five Members of Congress sitting in the room with her represented key decision-makers from both the majority and minority parties. They were seated in the outer office of the Majority Whip, one of the Representatives from the State of Georgia, who was the one the rest of the leadership turned to for a passing vote on anything controversial.

Which…this probably was.

“Ms. Blum, please. Go ahead. I’ve had Sandy make up copies for everyone,” the man at the other end of the table said genially. “Would anyone like coffee?” Several raised hands, as copies of a moderately thick proposal made its way around the table.

“Thank you, sir. Ladies and gentlemen, what is in front of you is essentially a skeleton outline for a formal aid package to the Gao that are coming to Cimbrean. Two of my colleagues today are putting this before the United Kingdom Parliament and the Israeli Knesset; the latter is a formality, as it’s already government policy, but for it to really work, well…” she paused.

“You need the buy-in from the US Government.” finished one of the Representatives to Esther’s left, looking over his reading glasses at her.

“Yes. We need, particularly, the tax foundation for it that you’ll see on page four.” The group in unison flipped several pages, and there was a moment of silence while they all read.

“A complete tax writeoff for any and all expenditures related to humanitarian relief efforts off-world, with a tax reduction in gross receipts…” read another of them, this one the ranking Representative from Montana if she remembered correctly. “Young lady, are you out of your mind?”

“No, sir, I don’t believe I am,” she returned evenly. “You’ll see the overall estimated fiscal impact in the first appendix at the back.”

“We are not at a point in this country’s history that we can afford to give anything away, Ms. Blum. The requirements of the AEC and supporting the Gao on Cimbrean are getting expensive, very, very quickly. I have constituents that are making a lot of noise about it already, and there’s a long way to go,” said another. There was a general murmur of agreement around the table.

“Representatives…please, hear me out. We are at a point in history right now to make very long-term investments in relations with other space-faring races who are literally centuries ahead of us in technology. They need our help now.” She looked around the room.

“This isn’t an opportunity that is going to come again in my lifetime or yours. It’ll be expensive, yes, but the virtually certain payoff of securing the future of an entire species’ breeding population is not something to overlook lightly.”

“What is this about long-term tax shelters for corporations committing to aid and who maintain a corporate presence?” asked the Representative from Montana again.

“We’re a construction company. We’re talking about a very motivated population with no practical construction experience—this is an incentive to maintain that support once things have stabilized.”

There was another long silence as the various grey heads around the table bent again, most of them making notations in the margins. Several minutes went by. Esther sat without speaking, content to let them read and ask what they wanted to know. Finally, the ranking member at the end of the table looked back up.

“Thank you for coming, Ms. Blum. We’ll be in touch.”


Date Point: 14Y 3M 2D AV

Folctha, Cimbrean

Mother-Supreme Yulna

The group of six Mothers stepped from the platforms to find Guard-Captain Myun waiting for them with several Guard Sisters. She duck-nodded.

“Mother-Supreme, welcome back to Cimbrean.” By now, all of them had travelled via jump portal between worlds often enough to be used to the routine head-scan. No-one wanted to be droned or encounter one here, and everyone had seen the sense in the Human precaution about it. Myun checked each in turn. Everyone passed, to no-one’s surprise.

“Daughter. Thank you for being so prompt.”

“I took the liberty of telling Sir Jeremy that the Mothers might be asking him for a meeting this afternoon, Mother. I wasn’t sure whether you would be coming back with them or not, but there are some things I need to discuss too.”

Yulna took no notice, leading the way for the rest of the group. “Talk with me as we walk, Myun.”

“First, Mother—some good news. The Human additional relief effort has expanded their operation. The Mothers, and the Human government, believe there is room for another ten thousand refugees immediately, as long as they are not all at once—staged over a day or two should be fine.”

“That is good news. The Great Father wants to send people through as fast as is possible,” Yulna said. “And we have millions of Females and cubs to send.”

“We will need to build quickly, Mother,” Myun said. “The other thing is related. I want to begin much more intensive self-defense training for all cubs, much earlier than we do now.”

Yulna had a definitely amused tilt to her ears. “I’m surprised you even asked before actually beginning, Daughter.” She chittered softly as Myun’s expression made it very clear that she hadn’t waited at all.

“I did have some competition for time, Mother,” she said, finally. “A very …enterprising… pair of cubs organized a large group of other cubs in one of the camps to do trash removal with some kind of vague promises about notice from Whitecrest taking notice of them.” The Mothers all chittered.

“I suspect Whitecrest certainly did notice those two,” Yulna said wryly. “Tell me about this plan of yours to increase the level of training with our cubs.”

“I have some ideas, Mother. The Humans have something they call “Boy Scouts” that Lieutenant Costello from the SOR suggested yesterday I look into. He was able to find the number for one of their leaders, and I have an appointment to meet with him next week. I’ll have to look at their curriculum and adapt it.”

“Mmmm.” Yulna grunted. “Humans have lots of ideas.” She gave Myun a knowing look. “Now. Let’s see what the Human Governor has to say about this colony idea.”


Date Point: 14Y 3M 6D AV….evening, local time

Refugee Camp, Folctha, Cimbrean

Father Gyotin, Clan Starmind

In months, and weeks, of long, terrible days, Gyotin often consoled himself at the close of each day with a long walk through the camp. It often helped, seeing cubs playing, demonstrating their resiliency in the face of overwhelming tragedy. Then again, he reflected, it’s entirely possible they don’t understand.

His wanderings often took him past a particular hilltop, partly from force of habit, and partly because it was a really nice view from the top. Most of the camp spread out below, and a mile away the lights of the city with its municipal forcefield overhead gave the landscape between a soft pseudo-glow.

The increasingly-emplaced Israeli Forward Operating Base, as they called it, was also visible. Usually, around this time, things there started winding down, but today seemed different somehow. He squinted a little, and his still-sharp ears picked up some kind of alien music he couldn’t quite make out.

Mindful of the aftereffects of the last Human concert he’d been to, he decided to wander down that way and see what was going on.

It didn’t take long. In the distance, he could hear cheering, laughing, chittering, and some kind of strange, throbbing bootsandpantsandbootsandpantsandbootsandpants sort of beat with bass and drums, and….

He came around a final corner, and was, even forewarned, utterly unprepared for the sight. Following his conversation with Rabbi Aaron, Gyotin had done some reading into Judaism, which was a deep rabbit hole he hadn’t nearly plumbed the depths of.

A half-dozen Humans wearing normal street clothes, but with pom-pommed hats he belatedly recognized as kippot were at the head of a line, moving with that uniquely Human coordination in every direction at once. Arms flailing, feet moving, all of it in time to the thumping techno beat being produced from a converted medical litter bearing a generator, a ton of bright LED lights, and several large speakers lashed to it.

The line behind them was entirely formed of gyrating cubs, every last one of them with a white kippah of their own, in a crazy sort of bouncing fuzzy conga-line hundreds of cubs long. Every so often, another Human danced along, and at least a few of them were from the base, going by their uniforms. He watched, dazed by the sight, when abruptly, his friend Aaron came bouncing up.

“Gyotin! Come, dance with us!” The Human’s face was lit up with exertion and some kind of fervent glee.

“Aaron, what is all of this?” Gyotin had to shout over the pandemonium.

They had to wait a bit until the litter bearing the music system was a bit further before either of them could really hear each other…not that that stopped the cubs, of course, many of whom were dancing because everybody else was. Several Mothers followed along, vainly trying to reestablish some kind of order, and all with the same kind of poleaxed expression.

“Come, we can meet them back at the base,” Aaron said, having regained his breath and wiping his forehead. “I’ll tell you about the Na Nachs Hasidics on the way.”

Aaron and Gyotin moved along a cross-trail in the direction of the Israeli base, and before long, Gyotin’s sharp ears could hear more music ahead.

“They’re followers of a particular Jewish sect,” Aaron explained. “To put it really simply, they believe that the highest religious duty is to spread joy, and the method they choose for that is music and dancing.”

“This kind of thing happens on Earth?”

“Oh yes. They regularly do exactly this kind of thing while parading through the street in the larger Israeli cities, dancing on top of, around, in front of, and behind vans that have enormous speakers and lights affixed to the top. They pass out literature, give out kippahs to anyone that wants one. They’re very serious about it!” Aaron went on.

Gyotin pondered that. Every time he thought perhaps, just possibly, he’d seen enough of Human spirituality, something came along that upended his whole understanding of the concept.

“What else do they do?”

“Well….here. We’re almost to the base, and you’ll see. They do this a lot with deployed troops, as a morale booster.”

They came out of the trees, and stopped. In the main “road” area that the Israeli construction crews had “paved” with gravel, an enormous mixed crowd of both races was dancing, rhythmically bouncing to the throbbing beat of music coming out of gigantic speakers on the back of some kind of car.

Circles of Humans, most of which included at least a few Gaoians although their shoulders couldn’t stretch out the same way, moved in time, swaying back and forth. The Humans were, to a man, singing along with the song. Some of them actually could sing, fortunately. Most of the rest sounded like they probably couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. Gyotin realized something else, suddenly.

Most of the Gaoians dancing were Mothers.

Almost subconsciously, almost unwillingly, he found his head starting to bob with the beat, and his tail twitched in time.

Human enthusiasm for celebration was contagious.


Date Point: 14Y 3M 1W 5D AV

Chiune Station, Folctha Colony, Cimbrean

Mother Deven

The reality of dropping one or two hundred thousand refugees into a camp just outside of Folctha was that, when one needed a relatively quiet place to make decisions, anywhere inside city limits or its vicinity was promptly ruled out. MBG’s Chiune Station, regardless of the fact that it was housing all of the adult male Gaoian refugees, was still far less crowded than anywhere within about a mile of town. To accommodate the Clan of Females’ quickly-approved request for aid in settling on Cimbrean long-term, Mother-Superior Yulna had sent several Females to meet with the Group’s small team.

Cimbrean had long since been mapped out, as a direct consequence of the infamous Skidmark. MBG had spent a considerable amount of capital, in fact, doing planetary ecology studies, cartography, studies on tidal currents and trade winds, ocean wildlife, and a wide array of similar disciplines that generally made xenobiologists drool. Most of the effort was aimed at targeting certain biomes for adapting to Terran flora and fauna, of course, but much had also been done to catalogue and preserve what was already there.

Likely-looking spots for colonial outposts, of course, had also been identified, and it was these that the Females had come to see. There had been recent talk at very high levels about which Human nations got to settle colonies on Cimbrean where, of course, but everyone was in agreement that it made sense to let the Females have an open field. They’d settle any resulting problems later. This was higher priority.

Mother Deven’s charge from Yulna had been very to the point. “Pick a good spot, with plenty of room for building as well as agriculture and supporting industries, and far enough away from any likely Human settlements that we can take precautions against that sort of thing,” she’d said, gesturing at a map that included an overlay of the Terran Microbial Action Zone. Deven’s attention kept coming back to one in particular.

She zoomed in on the map and looked through the various data-mapped overlays. Her Sisters congregated around her, independently looking at the same location on adjacent screens and comparing notes in low tones.

It looked good. On the northern side of the equator, just at the edge of the tropic zone, and right smack in the path of a southern-bound polar current where it met a northern-bound equatorial stream of water…the resulting marine life situation around the eastern and western sides of the island was noted as particularly rich. Southern facing long slopes, with two wide, flat river deltas, a forested, bony mountain ridge sideways across the middle, and a much drier and colder northern side in the rain shadow of those mountains. Mostly old volcanic basalt base. Even the trade winds blew towards anywhere Humans currently were on Cimbrean, rather than from them.

“I think this is the place, Sisters,” she said, finally. It met everything Yulna had said to watch for, and then some.

“It certainly looks big enough,” said Mother Tiya, who had been included at Mother Ginai’s recommendation, solely because of her vehement argument against this enterprise.

“Big enough for those already here, and big enough for the rest. I agree, Sister,” replied Mother Naydra, who had, following the brief trip back to Gao a few days before, almost forcefully interjected herself into the governance of the refugee population. Her efforts were generally appreciated, although there was some good natured chittering behind her back about whether she was trying to catch Someone’s attention.

“That’s it, then?” asked the Byron Group biologist that was running the Human survey team. “What will you name it?”

There was no hesitation at all.

“Tiritya Island,” Naydral said, a fervent set to her ears. “It’s Tiritya Island.”


Date Point: 14Y 3M 1W 6D AV

Office of the Mother-Supreme’s Captain of the Guard, Folctha Commune, Cimbrean

Toran and Tybal, Clanless Cubs

Since they’d been cut loose from their “punishment” as well as Whitecrest’s oversight, both Toran & Tybal had been given a watchful kind of freedom. They were technically free, but what it really meant was that an adult was typically watching over their shoulder full time. At the moment, for some reason that neither of them could fathom, that involved reporting to the office of the Mother-Supreme’s Guard-Captain and…waiting.

They’d decided they liked Mother Myun almost immediately. Whether it was the large Human-style fusion sword she carried, or the fact that she was the largest, toughest, baddest Female either had ever laid eyes on, or whether it was simply that she obviously only ever carried as many fucks with her as she was planning on personally needing, it was too hard to say. This Mother, they both agreed, was an ass-kicking goddess. And besides. She was hot.

The trepidation of having to wait…and wait…and wait…though, by themselves in her outer office. That wasn’t easy.

Mother Myun came out, just as the door opened and another Mother came in from outside, along with a Human that looked rather more…normal-sized than some of those they’d been exposed to recently. The difference was palpable.

“Mother Lyla, Mr. Belman…thank you for coming,” Mother Myun said warmly. “I’d like you to meet your first two recruits.” She turned to regard the cubs. “These are Toran…and Tybal.” She indicated them in turn.

Recruits??? The cubs looked at each other, a little confused and suddenly hopeful. “Mother, what are we recruits for?”

“Gentlemen…you’re about to pioneer the creation of a new sport. We’re calling it Shalosh Frisbee, and it requires both Humans and Gaoians to play. I think you’ll like this.”

A new sport? That was unexpected.

“Come,” Myun said. “Let’s go outside.”


Riverfront Park, Folctha, Cimbrean

A large triangular field had been outlined in neat chalk lines, split into equal thirds with a goal at the furthest point back of each section. Mother Lyla and Mr. Belman explained the rules, having apparently spent some time modifying them.

“This is a modification of a popular Human game called ‘Ultimate Frisbee’,” Mr. Belman said with a big smile. “We had to change the rules to accommodate some Gaoian strengths too, though. So.” He took a deep breath, and let it out again as Mother Lyla continued.

“Three teams, two Human and one Gaoian. Each team has a frisbee, and the goal is to get the frisbees into an opponent’s goal.”

Toran’s ears flicked. This didn’t sound too difficult; it was a lot like that “football” game the Human kids had tried teaching them, only with a disc instead of a ball…

“The thing is, though,” Mother Lyla went on. “You have to get two frisbees into the same goal zone at the same time to score points, which means you have to take an opponent’s frisbee from their team, and use it to score with.”

“Humans can’t run with a frisbee,” said Mr. Belman. “Human teams have to stay stationary when they have it and can pivot, throwing it from player to player. Gaoians can run with it, but only on fourpaw, and only in one of the two Human zones—in the Gaoian zone, you have the same rule as Humans, where you can only throw from player to player.”

“Also,” said Mother Lyla, “If you have possession of two frisbees, and the third makes its way into your own goal, you can’t score until it’s removed.”

Myun placed a heavy paw on each cub’s shoulder. “I’m sure with the contacts you two have now, that you should have no trouble coming up with a team.”

“Yes, Mother,” they said in unison.


Date Point: 14Y 3M 2W 4D AV

Atlantic Ocean, Earth

Cargo Vessel Overloaded Perambulator

Like most cargo vessels, the Overloaded Perambulator didn’t so much sail as defiantly plow through the constantly-heaving ocean. It wasn’t a large ship, as cargo vessels went; it was big enough with enough mass to easily handle most things the ocean could throw at a ship, and yet small enough that serious storms got avoided. The North Atlantic remained infamous for its weather even in an age of space flight, digital genocidal aliens, and other such wonders. Everything still took a back seat when Mother Nature decided to get feisty.

The captain of Overloaded Perambulator was a seasoned ship-master with many years under his belt. He’d been nervous when leaving New York and its unusual cold snap, figuring that worse probably waited out in the open water, and so he was pleasantly surprised when it was almost like being becalmed the whole way. The sea was nearly still; there were almost no winds, head, tail or otherwise. Sighting Gibraltar a whole day and a half early was a welcome surprise.

They made their way steadily to the far side of the Mediterranean Sea, and for once it was nice not to have to stop at multiple ports along the way. His destination was Tel Aviv, where he was dropping off nearly everything that they were carrying, with an immediate return to New York. Stasis containers had somewhat changed the landscape of shipping; nothing spoiled in transport, and there was no need for refrigeration any more, just insulation and stasis gear that could be easily retrofitted to any container. The resulting worldwide drop in food prices also meant that more was being shipped off world, to newer and higher profits. Everybody won, it seemed, unless maybe one owned a company that manufactured refrigerators.

In record time, they offloaded at Tel Aviv and took on a return cargo to Atlanta and New York in turn. The captain hoped for such smooth sailing again, but he knew better than to expect it.

Now that the Tel Aviv portal had the option to be paired with the Gaoian one at Lavmuy, it was much easier to send things directly through. In due course, palletized goods of almost every shape and description were bundled through, one pallet after another.

The food, however, stayed in the stasis containers, and those were sent through together. Nobody wanted massive amounts of spoiled Deathworld food on Gao, so they were left with seals intact to protect the material inside from any contamination.


Date Point: 14Y 3M 3W AV

Riverfront Park, Folctha, Cimbrean

Nofl

The energy of Humans never really ceased to amaze Nofl, even after living among them and getting to study, observe, and actually treat some of their more remarkable specimens. It almost seemed like that energetic approach to life was contagious, as well. When the opportunity to watch it in the context of leisure activity had presented itself, he’d decided he was going to check it out.

First, there were the inevitable tribal displays. One group of Human youngsters was bedecked out in yellow bright enough to make him thankful he’d thought to bring his (human-made) sunglasses along. The other wore a bright light-colored blue. The Gaoian cubs were covered in black. The crowd of proud parents and lookers-on shared the same color schemes, with colored paint on their faces and colored noise-makers in their hands.

Perhaps there is something instinctive about the need to display one’s affiliation in deathworld species he thought, then realized that his own people did much the same with their banners. Interesting. He filed the thought away for later cogitation.

There was something ritualistic about the food, too. A large cart sat off to one side, with the scent of something the Humans called “hot dogs” wafting across the crowd. A steady stream of Humans, and not a few Gaoians, made their way over and walked away with plates full of the things bearing outlandish toppings. It didn’t really appeal to him except in an academic sense; Corti were primarily mycovores and couldn’t eat most of the stuff being sold by the cart anyway, although he did get a drink the Humans called ‘root beer’ and tried it out only to find it initially terrible and subsequently delicious and addictive as anything his lab had ever created.

Being so much shorter than everyone did have its drawbacks, chiefly that he had to make sure he was sitting with an unobstructed view regardless of whether the Humans all around him were sitting, as they were now, or standing, which he thought was likely.

A Human male wearing a striped shirt and a Gaoian Female wearing a similar color scheme on her overalls came out to the middle of the triangular field and addressed the crowd.

“Good afternoon, everyone! Welcome to our first trial run of what we’re calling Shalosh Frisbee. The name was suggested by one of our Israeli friends; Shalosh in Hebrew simply means ‘three’,” the Human said. “This is a modification of the normal rules for ‘Ultimate Frisbee’, and we think it’ll liven things up a bit, because to play, you need two Human teams and one Gaoian team. The rules are in pamphlets at the end of each row, although they could change as we refine them a bit. Enjoy the game!”

The game, as near as Nofl could tell, was total pandemonium, at least at first. He retrieved one of the pamphlets and perused it, while splitting his attention between it & the game he was there to watch. It was a pretty impressive display; the Gaoians were able to carry a frisbee and run on fourpaw when they were in the Human zones, and in that mode they flat outran the Human kids, but the down side was that they got tired much faster, and so it quickly became a game of sudden blindingly-fast keepaway vs. natural endurance and thrown accuracy.

In very short order, the teams settled into some strategies that they’d obviously thought about—at one point the two Human teams ganged up on the Gaoian one, only to be befuddled by a quick counter-play at the blue team’s unguarded goal zone. The Gaoians used their ability to leap from fourpaw, catching Frisbees that the other teams had obviously thought they couldn’t reach. It made for entertaining watching.

By the end of the game, the young ones on the field were absolutely spent, and the referee adults nearly as much so. Everybody quaffed large amounts of water, and it was generally agreed that there definitely needed to be more of this. There was a number in the back of the pamphlet asking for support in putting a league together, with a list of already created team names sponsored by local businesses.

It was a very Human thing to be doing, he decided, and it was definitely fun…his team, if he decided to have one, would simply have to have the best sorts of sports equipment, and definitely no more of those hideous huge jersey shirts…no, this called for something much more refined…

Musing to himself after the game was over, he returned home devising uniforms in his head and trying to decide whether he wanted to sponsor a Gaoian team or a Human one.


Date Point: 14Y 3M 3W 1D AV

Folctha, Cimbrean

Sister Naydra

Getting Great Father Daar to take enough of a break to actually physically come to Cimbrean had required a great deal of subterfuge on Naydra’s part, aided in no small measure by the SOR Whitecrests over nearly a week and a half. A conversation with Mother Myun had led to a conversation with Brother Thurrsto, which had led to a conversation that had never happened with Father Regaari, and from there, a small Gaoian flier for two had been brought nearby, and from there, a private message had made its way to Daar.

And now he was here.

Naydra had been waiting for him on board. He came stalking up the ramp, closing it behind him, and had stopped suddenly to sniff at the elusive scent of the food she’d stashed on board in the stasis box.

“Sister Naydra. You asked to see me privately.” He sat on his haunches.

“I did. I wanted to show you in person where you’re sending us. May I?” For one priceless moment, the Great Father’s mask fell, and there was an actual person staring back at her, perplexed.

Then the mask came back up, grudgingly. “I can’t afford to be gone…”

She gave him a pant-grin. “Yes, you can. I already cleared it with your staff; they’ve cleared your schedule for the next few hours, and we won’t be out of contact.”

His control was herculanean, but it slipped, cracked. Just a bit. “…They who?”

She cocked an ear playfully at him and tilted her head. “Now why would I give up such a valuable asset as someone that can help me put one over on you?”

His voice was almost dangerous, and had more than a hint of frustration in it. “Sister….”

She leaned forward again, giving him a shushing finger. “Listen to me. For just a moment, please?” He looked to the side, and sighed.

Daar. You are going to break if you can’t take off the mantle of the Great Father with someone. Let me be that someone for you, in private.” Her use of his name, the first to do so in months, the first he had allowed to, cut him. Deeply. She could see it.

Finally, he sighed again, and nodded an assent to the inevitable.

Outside, they were immediately high, over water, and moving at a good in-atmosphere speed. Daar watched the clouds below streak past for a long, long moment before speaking.

“I can’t, Sister. You don’t know what you’re asking of me. Please don’t,” he said heavily.

“You rescued me,” Naydra said. “And at my request, you butchered the monsters that tormented me, and my sisters. It was justice, but I bear some of the responsibility.”

The Great Father refused to meet her eyes, gazing out the window. “Some burdens can’t be shared, Sister.”

“I’ll tell you what. If you still feel by the end of the day that you can’t share with me, then we’ll leave it at that. If I’ve changed your mind about it, a little, then we can continue talking about it. How does that sound?”

He was still stiff, and unbending, and the scent of something that was almost fear rose for just a moment, then was gone beneath a layer of iron control. They sat, looking out the window at the clouds below and the occasional small spot of green amid the vast blue that went streaking by, for nearly an hour when there was a tone from the autopilot and they began to descend.

Naydra took the helm as it came in smoothly a few thousand feet above the newly-christened Tiritya Island, and slowed. Daar, unable to resist, came and sat next to her, the scent of irritation and mixed feelings giving way to honest curiosity. They came in above the high broken black cliffs of the northwestern side, coming down to a hover just off the precipice and surging waves below.

“I thought this would make a good site to build first,” she said. “The other side of the island is much warmer, as you’ll see—this side is both in a rain shadow, so it’s drier, and cooler, because of the prevailing polar current that intersects here.”

“It’s beautiful,” he said simply.

“It is. It’s also basalt. We intend to put much of the Grand Commune underground, and there’s no armor quite like rock.” He cocked his head at her.

“You’re building a fortress.”

“You are sending us here for safety. I wanted you to see how seriously we are taking it.” The ship rose several hundred feet and turned east, flying lazily. Presently, the high moor descended closer to sea level and became forested. Great trees with teal needles, reaching thirty, maybe forty meters into the sky, brushed wisps of clouds out of the air. A narrow river split a valley open, cascading down over rocks and the gnarled knees of tree roots below, until it hit the ocean below.

To the south, the jagged peaks of young volcanoes sprouted, in a steady east-west line of broken bones and twisted fingers reaching for the sky. They followed the coast around in silence, eventually turning south. Despite his obvious intention to say little, Daar exclaimed at the wide open plains that spread outwards in a fan of lush green fertility. Mile after mile of rolling hills and lowlands stretched out, garlanded by shorter trees, brush, tall grasses, and two winding, wide, flat slow-moving rivers.

“You could grow enough Naxas here to feed a dozen Communes,” he finally said. “An’ that farmland…”

“Yes.” Naydra said simply. She continued to fly low, and slow, and let him visually feast on everything. They circled over the lowlands, and she took them out over the sea, over reefs of broken rock and lush underwater gardens of fish, aquatic plants, and diving birds.

Finally, she flew back up over the mountains to the first spot they’d seen and hovered over, and landed, shutting the engines down in their low declining whine and getting up.

“I need to eat. And so do you. Come,” she said, taking a sizeable basket out of the stasis box that smelled heavenly. Daar apparently suddenly realized he was starving, going by the open mouth and salivating. She led him from the ship towards the edge of the cliffs, and spread a blanket out for them to sit on.

Even after nearly four months of having to maintain an iron control every waking moment, it was obvious he was having a hard time overcoming a literal lifetime of conditioning. She knew the likely objections, or had a pretty good idea, but she knew one thing about Stonebacks in general; she was a Female, he was a Male, so when she asked him to sit…he sat.

“Sister, I…” he started, and stopped again as she first shushed him again and then stuffed some kind of dumpling into his still-open mouth.

“No. We aren’t done with our exploration yet. We aren’t at the end of the day, as agreed on. We’ll talk about that when we’re done, and right now, we aren’t. Eat.” She gave him a Look, and he found himself unable to do anything about it.

“Wha’ ith thith?” he mumbled around a mouthful of whatever it was she’d given him.

“Humans call them pot stickers. Sister Shoo showed one of my Mothers how to make these, many years ago, and they’re always popular with the cubs. Good, aren’t they?”

He chewed and swallowed hugely. “…Kinda like peshorkies. Not as puffy.” That didn’t seem to be a critique as he immediately reached into the basket, stabbed another with a frankly terrifyingly huge claw, and popped it into his mouth.

“Yes, they’re a little …heavier…and the vinegar that Shoo always had them with is really interesting.” She dipped another and popped it into her mouth, savoring the crunch on one side.

Daar hadn’t tried that, and did. His ears played out a complex little dance as he chewed thoughtfully. “Tha’ ith intherethtin’.” He swallowed.

Her foresight in packing approximately five times as much food as she thought they’d need proved to be painfully accurate. She’d known Stonebacks were famous for their appetites of all kinds and him most of all, but even that fell short of the reality, in all too short a time. Reluctantly, they packed up the blanket and empty picnic basket and started the ship’s power cycle. Daar sat on the floor, obviously sated in at least one sense.

“I suppose we need to get you back to Folctha, don’t we?” she asked him.

“Yes,” he rumbled. “Strange that they haven’t contacted me at all. For anything.”

“Perhaps things have calmed enough that the world will continue to turn without you to ensure that it remains turning,” Naydra said, intending to be teasing. The cabin was flooded with the sudden scent of frustration, as he surged to his feet with a muttered oath, banging his head hard on the cabin roof, and cursing in Gaori, English, and some kind of field laborer cant that sounded both filthy and highly interesting.

“Sister, I know you mean well, but this is a thing that cannot be shared!” he said, rubbing his head with one massive paw. “Ow.”

“I am sorry, Da…Great Father,” she said, realizing that she’d taken this as far as it was going to go today. She sat for a while and watched the clouds below as they returned to Folctha. Daar…the Great Father…sat next to her in silence.

He had been legendary in his former life for his larger-than-life attitude and stubbornness, she thought. I can be stubborn too. We’ll just have to see.


Date Point: 14Y 3M 3W 6D AV

Refugee Camp Supply Storage Yard at Lavmuy Spaceport, Gao

Sister Yuuna

Knowing that Humans would change things was inevitable. Sister Yuuna and her fellow Sisters, and many of the males that they encountered, occasionally talked about such things—Yuuna herself was a brownie and had such an almost stereotypical attraction to Stonebacks that it had been something of a commune joke when she became an Associate. Perhaps nothing expressed Human-inspired change quite like standardized container shipping, though, and it was that more than anything else that had affected her personally. The first time she had seen the concept in action, it had been on a Human-run standard Dominion freighter nearly a decade earlier, and the collective forehead-slap and Why didn’t we think of that??? response from the labor clans had, almost overnight, revolutionized things.

The Human adage of Work smarter, not harder had been reimagined, however. For Gaoians working in shipping it was Work harder, by working smarter that was their guiding principle. In Sister Yuuna’s case, as an Associate with Stoneback, it came down to one simple fact.

With the boys all busy doing war-stuff, she got to drive the hover-forklift.

Today, it was the latest in stasis-stored foodstuffs from Earth. As she worked closer to it through the literal mountains of other stuff—Seriously, she thought, why do Humans always send clothes to us when we have fur?—she found herself thinking about the food just a container away. One last overstuffed, shrink-wrapped mountainous pallet of…something, and she was done. Time to move on.

Yeema’s nose was untrained, but had always nonetheless been one of the very best in her Commune. Breaking the seal and taking down the stasis field was the work of seconds, and with the doors swung open, she pulled the lift in for first pallet. The first one she encountered had some kind of note on it with that odd-looking human writing on it in big jagged black letters; she couldn’t read it, and stuffed it in a pocket telling herself she’d find out what it said later. She was behind schedule, and needed…needed to get…

Were those carrots she was smelling?

They were. And they were cold. She looked around to see if anyone was looking, and stuck a claw into the shrink-wrap. Nobody would notice if she just took…..and she was hungry. A girl needed to eat to keep up her strength, right? She reached in and yanked several out, inhaling the delicious scent of the crunchy snack, gobbling them down in seconds.

Best. Snack. Ever.

She shook her head. Back to work! This stuff wasn’t going to unload itself.


Date Point: 14Y 4M 3D AV

Refugee Camp Supply Storage Yard, Lavmuy Spaceport, Gao

Sister Yuuna

Yuuna was miserable.

She’d felt just kind of…off…for a day or two, but the real misery had started this morning when she had woken up barely able to breathe through her nose and having to almost pant. The sneezing was extra special, too; it seemed like she had suddenly become a fountain of snot.

“Yuuna, you coming?” came a light voice from outside, accompanied by a scritch scritch at the tent flap.

Yuuna sneezed again explosively. “Definitely not. Don’t come in here, Mala, you don’t want this whatever-it-is.”

The tent flap opened. “You sound terrible.” Mala was a slender, pretty silverfur with ears that looked like something out of the Longear line.

“I feel terrible. I can hardly breathe, I’m so congested, and my chest and nose hurt from coughing.”

“How about I get you over to the human medic station? Humans may not be as good as our own Openpaws, but they may be able to help, and anything is better than you sitting here in this tent by yourself.” Yuuna sneezed again, and yelped a little as her whole body was wracked with spasms.

With some support, she got up, coughing the whole way. Mala led her across the utterly transformed former spaceport to a building wing marked in white with a big red design on it between the word MEDIC in both Human and Gaori script on either side. They were met by an efficient looking female Human with short brown hair, wearing glasses and holding a tablet.

“Sister Yuuna is quite sick,” began Mala.

“I can see that,” the Human replied. “I’m Lieutenant Waggoner, the intake nurse on duty. Come on over here and sit down, you look like you’re feeling awful.” Yuuna sneezed again, covering her nose with a much-abused tissue.

“I’m sorry, Lieutenant, I can’t seem to help it,” Yuuna apologized when she could get the words out. Her cough had become almost a bark, and it hurt.

“Tell me about how you’ve been feeling this morning, and maybe the last day or two,” the Human said.

“I don’t know. I felt just…odd…the last couple of days, like I wasn’t quite myself, you know? I was able to work okay, though, it wasn’t really slowing me down. Woke up this morning, with all of this going on, and now I can’t…can’t…” she paused for another rapid-fire series of sneezes. “…can’t stop sneezing and coughing.”

“Is this a normal illness for a healthy Gaoian your age, doing the kind of work you do?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so—I’ve never felt like this before, anyway, but, maybe?”

The Human nurse took some notes with a stylus. “Well, the good news is, we happen to have a brand-new bio-field scanner here that should fix this problem, but before we put you through that, I know Colonel Schul is going to want samples. We’re learning Gaoian physiology as we go here, and while Openpaw has been an enormous help, they were pretty badly hit in the attack.” She deftly pulled a clear tube out of a leg pocket and fished several cotton swabs out. A quick pass with each, and it was done, the samples capped in their own individual containment tubing.

“Okay. Let’s get you through the bio-field, and that should help a lot.” The Human and Mala helped Yuuna to her feet and positioned her in front of an arch with a barely-visible yellowish energy haze shimmering inside it. Yuuna stepped through, and several things happened at once.

For one thing, she felt immediately better. The urge to sneeze intensified as her body went to expel a suddenly-no-longer-necessary, massive glob of snot in her long nasal cavity, and she blew her nose long and hard. The ringing in her ears subsided, the chest heaviness went away, her throat no longer hurt, her joints no longer hurt…She was so occupied with suddenly not feeling like lukewarm Death, that it took her a moment to realize that there were other things going on too.

The Human nurse was gesticulating at her tablet and talking animatedly with an older Human male that had come in almost at a run, in densely-packed medical jargon. The bio-field arch she had walked through also had a blue-violet alarm light on the side that was lit up, and now that she could smell things again, she realized that Mala smelled terrified.

A few isolated words and phrases from the rapid-fire exchange going between the two Humans caught her attention. ”…cross species infection….potential for pandemic…unknown secondary infection potential…”

Suddenly, she wasn’t feeling nearly as good.


Date Point: 14Y 4M 3D AV

AEC Command center Camp Outfield, Lavmuy Spaceport, Gao

Colonel Martin Schul

An unfortunate reality of being a colonel, Colonel Schul thought to himself while waiting for everyone to arrive, was that it put one squarely in the role of being a bearer of bad news far too often. A colonel had just enough authority to directly relay very bad news to very important people, just enough authority to implement very bad news to the people below, and just enough authority to be blamed for anything that went truly and drastically wrong.

When a colonel that was also the chief Human medical officer on Gao called for an urgent general staff meeting, that also meant that all three of those realities were about to be proven true.

It took a while for people to arrive, even with Brigadier General Stewart’s injunction to, “Drop what you were planning to do, and attend this.” Great-Father Daar was attending via video link, as he was literally on the other side of the planet and couldn’t physically be there, as was Stewart himself who was actually on the USS San Diego at the moment.

Before too long, they were assembled, and Colonel Schul no longer had to resist the impulse to pace. With a flick from his tablet, he sent the data that Lieutenant Waggoner had taken that morning, with an analysis of the samples she had taken, to everyone assembled around the table.

“This morning, we had a Gaoian visitor to the medical station on-site,” he began without preamble. “She presented with symptoms that are unlike most known Gaoian illnesses. Lieutenant Waggoner, the nurse on duty, was quick enough to get several samples before putting her through a bio-field cleanse.”

He looked around the room. “There is no easy way to say this. What afflicted Sister Yuuna was a formerly-unclassified Picornaviridae rhinovirus from Earth, and it appears that Gaoians are susceptible to cross-species infection from this strain.”

The room was silent for a long moment while everyone absorbed that information. Colonel Schul forged on.

“We are treating Sister Yuuna as Patient 0, and I’ve already sent word back to the CDC on Earth for assistance. I can’t emphasize this enough, though—we don’t know what later-stage infection is like for this, whether a typical Gaoian immunoresponse is capable of fighting it off, or even more than speculation on the incubation cycle or infectious period.”

Again, the room was silent. Finally Great Father Daar growled a response from the other side of his monitor.

“Dark picture yer’ paintin’ there, Colonel.”

“At this point, Great Father, I literally have no better information. It remains to be seen if she spread it to others, which I think is likely to the point of certainty. She will have been infectious for a time period before the onset of the symptoms she was showing today, and there is no telling where she got it.”

“When the CDC response comes, hopefully we will have some expertise on the ground to guide the investigation—we are going to need to identify how this bug got past all of the layers of quarantine between here and Earth. At this point we have to assume worst-case.”

“Colonel, where did Sister Yuuna come in contact with something that might have allowed that infection? Do you have any additional thoughts?” asked Mother-Supreme Yulna.

“What I know at this point is what’s in that file, Mother-Supreme. Yuuna is a Stoneback Associate that works in the receiving end of the relief supply line, here at Lavmuy. It could literally be anywhere in that supply chain.”

There was more silence. Daar spoke again, his deep voice rumbling with fatalism.

“Mother-Supreme…I’m gonna need you t’ get the Cimbrean capacity fer refugees expanded. We have to have a safe place to send people to, an’ the cubs and Females have top priority.” She duck-nodded wordlessly in acknowledgement.

“Colonel,” Daar went on. “I gotta have some idea what we’re dealing with, and I ain’t exactly an expert on medical stuff. You need anything, you contact me or run it up your chain a’ command.”

Colonel Schul nodded in acknowledgement. “As soon as I have better information, Great Father, you’ll have it. For now,” he said, looking around the room, “Because this is a virus from earth, we are going to have to assume that humans are also a vector, which means all troops are going to have to undergo immediate decontamination, regular followup decon, and as of now, we need a standing order to report any and all cold symptoms, no matter how minor, immediately to medical personnel.”

There were nods around the room, and several officers began tapping out messages to subordinates. Brigadier General Stewart stepped in to the silence.

“So ordered. Good work, Colonel. Keep us updated. If there’s nothing else,

dismissed.”

Date Point: 14Y 3M 3D AV

Center for Disease Control, Xenobiology Division, Atlanta, Georgia

Doctor Owen Marsh

The ping of a high-priority email coming from his phone interrupted Owen, just as he was getting to the punchline of a lengthy, but humorous anecdote from medical school. He pulled his phone out, belatedly realizing that everyone else from his unit was doing the same thing.

FM QUARTERBACK/quarterback@sharman.mod.gov.uk.smil // TO CDC-XENOEPIDEMIOLOGY/xenoepidemiology@cdc.gov.us // INFO STAINLESS/stainless@sharman.mod.gov.uk.smil //

C O N F I D E N T I A L SAR-BROKEN-STATUE SUBJ (U) CRITICAL UPDATE—GAO //

Medical on site at CAMP OUTFIELD has identified a cross-species infection with a high probability of re-transmission in the Gaoian refugee population, of an unclassified Terran Picornaviridae rhinovirus. See attached micrograph and info. //

Current infection known is Patient 0, contained Patient 0 utilizing available quarantine measures. //

Immediate assistance is needed on Gao to determine rate of re-transmission, likely mortality rate, incubation period, possible vectors, and existing percentage of infection. High probability of pandemic is currently estimated, probable sysdemic interaction with indigenous disease at <75% likelihood at high confidence. //

A transport aircraft has been dispatched for you to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, landing at 1730 local time, and a liason officer will be available; please respond immediately and have your team ready to deploy as quickly as possible via jump portal in New York. Extended forward deployment to Gao is likely, see attached rider.//

Attachments: pvd_rhv_micrograph.tif, sit_rep.pdf, rider.pdf//

The entire group finished reading their email at roughly the same time. A dozen pairs of eyes met each other all at once, and then they bolted for the door.

The news hit the CDC’s internal network like a thunderbolt. Against just this possibility, everyone on a reaction team that could possibly be deployed off-world had been given the Corti Frontline implant nearly a month before. Nobody had expected to actually use it, but the definition of their business was institutionalized paranoia. They had drills for this kind of thing. Everybody dreaded the real thing.

Phone calls home were made, goodbyes were said, and hasty preparations were made using well-planned out processes and pre-packed supplies. A summons to the Georgia State Patrol got them a police escort to the airport, and packed into vans with their essentials, they rode in apprehensive silence.


Date Point: 14Y 4M 3D AV

Israeli FOB, Gaoian Refugee Camp, Folctha, Cimbrean

Aluf Mishne (Colonel) Matusov

A forwarded email from Owen Powell of the SOR wasn’t such a common occurrence that it could be considered ‘normal’ under the best of circumstances. Generally it meant Something Bad, and when it was received in the middle of the night, far more so. It was never good news.

The emailed update from Gao was certainly in that category. Matusov sat up and re-read it, muttering imprecations in Hebrew absently. He swung his legs off the bed and his feet into waiting sandals, grabbing his robe with one hand and pulling it on.

“Corporal!” he said loudly to the enlisted watch officer just outside his door, who had the night duty.

“Sir!” the young soldier said, getting up.

“I need my entire command staff here for briefing in thirty minutes. Put on some coffee, son, we’re going to need it.”

“Yes, sir, I’m on it.”

”…And Corporal?”

“Sir?”

“Send a runner to the Clan of Females leadership. They’re going to need to be here too.”

“Yes, sir.”


Date Point: 14Y 4M 3D AV

Israeli FOB, Gaoian Refugee Camp, Folctha, Cimbrean

Sister Naydra

Human responses to crisis, whether they faced the impossible or not, tended to mirror their biology, Naydra thought idly as she half-listened to the briefing. She had read about human immunoresponse briefly a few times; they were such a curiosity, there were endless articles about them and their uniquely aggressive makeup.

Prod Humans the right way, and they came flooding in whatever direction the threat lay, overwhelming it, absorbing it, utterly destroying it, and then subsiding into some kind of watchful readiness for the next threat to appear. They were nice about it, but there was something relentless about the way that Humans just …sized you up… when they first met that was unsettling. They didn’t even know they were doing it, really, and it didn’t seem to matter whether whatever it was they were responding to was impossible to overcome.

This meeting was typical. A threat had been identified to something they were supposed to be protecting. The threat was analyzed, broken down into manageable steps, those steps were then delegated to various sub-groups to carry out, and before whatever the problem had had a chance to get worse, it had been handled.

Humans were scary.

”…Sister Naydra?” The Human commander’s voice was respectful, gentle, and yet had an iron backing to it that said he knew she had been lost in thought, wasn’t pleased about it, wouldn’t presume to lecture her about it, but made it clear that he wanted her full attention. Remarkable, really.

“I’m sorry. I was lost in thought. You were saying?”

“I was saying, AEC on Gao has sent us advance warning to prepare for a massive influx of refugees. We are running out of room to put people here, unless we start pitching tents on farmland, and that impacts the food supply.”

“Yes, that’s true,” she said. It was true. The refugee population already numbered nearly quadruple the population of Folctha as it was, and stretched far into the hills. Even tightly packed, the camps were kilometers across.

“May I ask, how is the search for a site coming along?” he asked.

“Quite well, really,” Naydra said. “Great Father Daar and I toured the site a week ago, and he was firmly in agreement with the tentative plans we’ve laid out. There is nothing there yet, though—no infrastructure, no jump portal, no power, no real food, nothing.”

“Assume, then, that the initial thrust of refugees is going to be the already-ill, moving them through a bio-field as they get into a jump gate, and cubs. We need to move enough of the population here to start setting up support for them when they arrive, and we’re going to need to begin it immediately.”

“That’s going to need a lot of support, Colonel,” said Mother Ginai, who had been sitting silent at the table absorbing the flood of information.

“It will,” he nodded. “I’ve already sent a requisition back to Tel Aviv for more troops, more generators to allow a higher cycling rate for the jump portal, and the materials for another portal.”

“You are planning to put the portal here, or on Tiritya Island?” Naydra asked sharply.

“With your permission, of course, I think setting up the initial link to the island would be best,” Colonel Matusov said. “Once there, we can receive supplies for more jump gates, personnel from Earth, material support from Earth, and any support the Great Father can send from Gao—perhaps from this ‘Dark Eye’ facility.”

The Females looked at one another. The Human made sense, of course, but none of them liked it that the decision was being made for them. The Grand Commune was theirs, even if they hadn’t finalized plans yet on how that was going to happen.

“Colonel, the south side of the island is probably the best place to set up,” Naydra said. “It is largely lower rolling hills, and there are two major rivers for immediate access to fresh water.” He nodded an acknowledgement.

“As soon as I have a response back from Tel Aviv, then, we’ll begin.” Matusov flipped through the pages of information on his tablet.

“Next up. Placement of bio-fields through the camp…”


Date Point: 14Y 4M 4D AV

Washington DC, United States of America, Earth

Esther Blum

Being a high-powered lobbyist/attorney meant that a phone ringing between midnight and dawn was usually news of something bad and relevant happening. The adage of the Chinese symbol for ‘crisis’ being a synergy of ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’ never failed to occur to Esther in those dark moments between awakening and answering.

“Yes?”

“You’ll want to turn your TV on. Pull up the ESNN feed,” came the voice of Harvey, one of the leading execs behind this plush assignment of hers with The Tektwn Conglomerate.

Esther fumbled for the remote, found it, and turned the TV on. It took a moment of squinting blearily before her eyes adjusted, but she found the buttons for the channel guide and found ESNN.

…Sources within AEC have refused to comment, however, beginning at dawn this morning, a number of the Weaver assault shuttles landed at the Israeli Forward Operating Base, and a team of engineers left with equipment. Immediately following that, we’ve seen an up-tick in incoming Gaoian refugees through every available portal here in Folctha, John…

Esther muted the channel, as the talking heads continued to blather on. On the screen, several apparently new bio-field scanners were being shown, with the announcer announcing Something Of Great Importance.

“Okay, so there’s military movement on Cimbrean. Fill this in for me, Harv.”

“Esther, my sources are telling me something has gone really badly wrong with AEC on Gao. They are cycling refugees through as fast as the generators can refill the capacitors, and the Israelis are putting up those bio-scanner field things as fast as they can for anybody coming in from offworld.”

“Sounds like an outbreak of some kind,” she mused. “People get funny in situations like that.”

“An outbreak in the refugees, you think?”

“Make sense, doesn’t it?” she pointed out. “If they’re screening everybody coming through immediately, then they’re obviously worried about contagion somehow. Let’s hope it isn’t cross-species or something.”

“Yeah, it does. You’re right; I guess we’ll have to see. Anyway—the reason I called you is, if they’re moving ahead with evacuating en masse like this, then they’re probably going to want to get started on that Female colony or whatever. We’re in a good place for getting involved, but you’re going to have to jump on it.”

“I’m on it. Let me get up and get moving. I’ll call you back in a couple of hours and let you know where we are.”


Date Point: 14Y 4M 5D AV

AEC Command Center Camp Outfield, Lavmuy Spaceport, Gao

Colonel Martin Schul

Two days before, Colonel Schul had been desperately praying that their Patient 0 was an isolated case, and knowing that she almost certainly was not.

Within hours of the initial meeting with everyone, however, his prayers had proved fruitless when Patients 1, 2, and 3 had shown up, and after that he’d stopped keeping track. It really was almost an apocalyptic situation on top of all that the Gao had already suffered; a cross-species infection that was airborne, was contagious before the onset of frank symptoms, in a tightly packed refugee population that was already weakened, underfed and vulnerable, and who had no natural defenses of any kind to an infection from one of the highest-classified planets in the known galaxy.

At least, he thought, it was only one strain, and thus far they had managed to contain it to the one, major, refugee camp. It hadn’t gotten out into the general population, and they’d kept it from infecting the refugees on Cimbrean, which was good. Great Father Daar had ordered the evacuation of the entire refugee population, though, and Females, cubs, and Males who were infected were sent through to Cimbrean and safety in staggering numbers.

The Dark Eye nanofactory had been called on to produce additional jump gates, additional generators, bio-field arrays, food, and water. It had taken the better part of the last two days with engineers working around the clock…but now they were able to transition refugees at a truly enormous rate, and he began to hope that perhaps, just maybe, this might end up being a bullet dodged.

And nobody had died yet.

The response from the CDC had shown up in amazingly short order, and they’d started mapping things out. Their assessment wasn’t nearly as rosy as his half-hoped daydreams—they said that there was a high likelihood of the virus escaping into the general Gaoian population, and to Gaoians, at least, it was highly contagious. What nobody could really say was what the effects would be for infection that didn’t get caught and purged by a bio-field immediately. Nobody wanted to know, except in a very academic sense. For now, they were staying abreast of it.

But it wasn’t going to last. They all knew it. They could feel it.


Date Point: 14Y 4M 1W AV

Office of the Great Father, Highmountain Fortress, Gao

Sister Naydra

The excursion to Tiritya Island on Cimbrean felt like almost another lifetime ago to Naydra, as she sat and waited for the Great Father to return from yet another field expedition. She knew he was due back at his normal working office soon, and she knew he had a long working evening ahead of him. The Clan of Females, or, more accurately, Mother-Supreme Yulna, had identified a problem with the building of their Grand Commune that the Great Father was in a unique position to fix, and so Naydra had volunteered/insisted to be the one to take it directly to him. The consensus was that he tended to respond more urgently to things that a Female asked him in person, and less so through an emailed message.

This wasn’t going to take long, but it was important.

Naydra had learned a thing about patience from her experience under the loathsome Koruum’s filthy paws. Waiting was often simpler if one thought of it as choosing the battlefield for a fight, rather than putting off what one wanted to actually be doing. She got the feeling it was a lesson that was going to come in handy dealing with Daar as both a Male and as the Great Father.

His heavy tread up what seemed like an endless staircase was something she could hear coming nearly a full minute or two before he actually pushed the door open and ducked under the lintel to avoid cracking his head on it. Just as he was entering, she heard him sniff through that enormous muzzle, and his eyes met hers while he shut the door behind himself, unsurprised at her presence.

“Sister Naydra,” he rumbled, giving her a nod. Irritatingly formal.

“Great Father Daar,” she said, duck-nodding in deference as she stood. “I am aware you have many things yet to see to today. I came to give you a very quick update on our progress, and ask for your help with something minor, but important.” Naydra picked up the box she had brought with her and held it, nonchalantly.

“Come in, then, Sister,” he said, waving her into his office. She followed him, and sat on the Naxas-leather covered sofa inside that had been smoothed over decades, perhaps centuries, of being sat upon.

He stood behind his desk, stretching, for a moment, then turned to her. “How can I help, Sister?”

“Great Father, the evacuation has accelerated. We are moving the Cimbrean Female and cub refugee population in its entirety to the south side of Tiritya Island, in the lowlands between the two major rivers, as you may recall.” He nodded.

“I came to ask, if you would have a word with the Human governments from Earth. Mother-Supreme Yulna has been approached by several private agencies that are eager to do business with us, but they cannot yet because of governmental pressure and taxation at home.”

The Great Father regarded her for a long moment, then looked out the window, thinking. Finally, he spoke.

“Sister, I can ask that they allow some kind of dispensation, but I’m limited in what I can arrange with Human governments. ‘Member, there is more than one to talk to, and…I don’t think I can get you what you’re asking for.”

“Is there anything more you can do?” she asked.

“I can ask…I can make an ‘inquiry’, as they call it, and let them know this’s important to us, but anything more’n they might take it as interference in their government process. You gotta remember, they don’t do things like we do.”

Naydra duck-nodded in acknowledgement. “Yes, Great Father. I will leave it to you to handle.” She straightened. “I must be going—I have a great many other things to see to, and you are busy.”

The Great Father nodded at her again. “Thank you for coming, Sister. I will see to your request.” Behind his eyes, she fancied she could feel him wanting to say more but restraining himself.

She set the box she had brought in with her on his desk and patted the top. “Here. Something for you. You can open it after I leave.” With that, she nodded again and left.

The door closed behind her, and the Great Father was left regarding the box sitting on his desk. After a moment, he pressed the top of it, and with a click the stasis field inside deactivated and the top opened, releasing steam and the pungent scent of fresh corn dogs with a mild brown mustard sauce in a little dish.

He chuffed in amusement, and reached in for one.


Date Point: 14Y 4M 1W 2D AV

Refugee Camp, Tiritya Island, Cimbrean

Rav Simel Moshe Harel, IDF

The twin motivations of desperation and emergency made for interesting solutions. Any military force was familiar with the idea of making unlikely solutions out of impossible problems, but, Moshe thought to himself, perhaps never before had a solution quite like this, composed of equal parts advanced alien technology, duct tape, and prayer been created in such a short period of time.

The eye-bending black flash and thump of an incoming jump caught Moshe’s eye as he sat briefly for a rest. They’d been going since that morning, laying out measurements for what the Colonel said was going to be at least five more commercial-size portals capable of moving perhaps two or three hundred refugees at a time, each. This arrival wasn’t stuff, though, it was people. Gaoians, Female ones, and unless Moshe missed his guess, these were leaders from the camps outside of Folctha.

He ambled over, break-time apparently over. [“Good morning, Mothers!”] he said in his best Gaori, to much chittering and amused ear-wiggling.

“Good morning, Sergeant,” said the one in the lead..Mother…Ginai, he thought, in English.

“We’ve been busy marking things out this morning, Mother. The Colonel says that we’ll be moving in power supplies in a few hours, and then your people are going to send through additional parts for more gates.”

She duck-nodded. “We came to see that the camp is laid out properly. This camp is going to be longer-term, until we can build the Grand Commune here.”

“Any guidance will be more than welcome, Mother,” Moshe said. “Right now we’re just doing the basics, getting the first gate set up.”

“Do you still have your flier available?” she asked.

“I believe it’s still here, yes. What did you have in mind?”

“If you would arrange a flight crew, Sergeant, I’d appreciate it. Mother Kyrie and I want to see the site that Naydra identified as a good place to begin building. The northwest coast, I believe it was,” Ginai said. The other Mother named, Kyrie, bounced a little.

“I would be happy to, Mother. Give me just a few minutes.” With that, Moshe hustled off to find the requested flight crew, who he was pretty sure were waiting to see if they were going to need to ferry anything or anyone back to Folctha. Sure enough, they were onsite and quite irritated at having to sit and wait. In a few minutes, the Weaver was warming up and the two Mothers boarded.

As they dusted off, Moshe turned to the remaining group of ten or eleven Mothers. “How may I help you, now?” he asked.


Date Point: 14Y 4M 1W 2D AV

Northwestern coastline, Tiritya Island, Cimbrean

Mother Ginai

Mother Ginai, being considerably older than most of the Females on Cimbrean, contented herself with settling into the seat on the now-aloft Weaver and putting on her headphones to listen to the chatter from the crew.

Kyrie, for her part, was excited to finally be riding in a Human machine, being piloted by Real Human Pilots, and was pestering the pilot and copilot with questions. She was one of the younger Females, and going by her ruddy, tightly-curled fur, very likely had a lot of Emberpelt in her background. Unexpectedly, she had shown quite an aptitude for working with the architects of Ironclaw and had been accepted as an Associate of theirs several years before.

Ginai contented herself with half-listening to the interchange, looking out the window and watching the landscape below. She knew it wasn’t going to be a long flight—the Weavers that the Humans had created were every bit as capable as a regular Dominion shuttle. More so, in fact. Her attention was arrested, though, when she heard the truly horrible sound of a Human that was trying to sing and failing in every conceivable way to produce a pleasing sound. He was apparently trying to teach Kyrie how to sing something called “A British Tar”.

Trying to decide whether to endure the continued pain of a tune being brutally murdered or the sound of the wind outside, she eventually opted for the latter. It didn’t help much.

They flew over a ridge of peaks crowned in snow and wreathed in clouds, descending into the decidedly cooler side of the island onto a rocky plateau that ended in a direct, plummeting drop into the ocean. There was plenty of room, and the pilot brought them down maybe a hundred meters from the cliffs. Almost before the doors were open, Kyrie had descended and was prowling around the site.

Ginai took her time. The younger Female was going to be evaluating things, she had no doubt, for a while. Despite the sea breeze ruffling her fur, the rocks were actually quite warm from the sun, and she sat in the lee of the transport enjoying the scent of fresh air and quiet.

She’d almost fallen asleep in the sun when her younger Sister came bouncing back over to her. She was here to get a report….so she got back to her feet.

“Well? Was Naydra right?” she asked without preamble.

“Most definitely,” Kyrie said enthusiastically. “This is all fairly middle-aged basalt base, geologically stabler than the other side of the island, and that,” she said, pointing at a wide bluff above them, “is ideally suited for a space elevator anchor, I think, if we were to plan with that in mind. We’re close enough to the equator for it.”

“What of other needs, Sister? Fresh water, food, and so on?”

Kyrie waved a paw dismissively. “Desalination is just as easy and probably less risky than drinking groundwater or out of a river anyway. It’s just an extra step, is all—there are even some Human communities on Earth that use that technology. We haven’t used it on Gao in decades, probably, but there’s no reason we can’t here.”

She looked around. “As far as food goes…I think the river valley on the other side should have plenty of space for livestock and agriculture. The soil is certainly fertile enough.”

Ginai surveyed the plateau. Already, it felt a little more like home than anywhere else she’d been in the last several months, and she allowed herself to feel hopeful at the thought.

“Let’s get back to the others.”


Date Point: 14Y 4M 2W 1D AV

AEC Command Center Camp Outfield, Lavmuy Spaceport, Gao

Colonel Martin Schul

Colonel Schul had begun to associate waking up, getting up, and getting ready for the day with a sense of hesitant dread. Every time he went to bed at the end of an unreasonably long day, it was with the apprehension that the other shoe he kept sensing would drop, would come down when he wasn’t at his post and ready. Metaphorically speaking. He didn’t really have a post so much as a mobile command center that was comprised of his boots, his phone, and his tablet.

Not that a new emergency happening when he was off duty was worse, per se, than when he was on…it’s just that he wouldn’t know about it until later.

Halfway through his coffee for the morning, he set the cup down and cursed.

The pandemic had escaped the refugee camps, and was loose in the general population.