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FICTION: RECAST OF CLEFT'S SPELL by Acquanetta M. Sproule  

Posted by Scott Wilson



HOW IT BEGAN



"ALLIES?"



The Day the World Changed

began not with a shout or

sigh...but a whimper.



Swift, but delicate

as flowers, the small, valiant

defenders fought hard.



Dogoni were meant

to fly and sing, play and love;

not be crushed and ground.







To be snatched from life

by mindlocked Hordes, adds insult

to one's extinction.



Inundation by

waves after waves of death, drowned

all hope, save one...Drol.



The few Dogoni

able, watched their salvation --

hovering, gauging.



Elite black, dwarfed by

the multi-hued, lower castes,

Lord Drol...decided ...



Lord Drol then vanished,

reappearing above the

Hordes' warrior front.



Drol's hands began to

glow, a pulsing crimson sphere

swelled about each fist.



Below, tall and broad,

trudged the Mindlocked Totec up

the mountain's main pass.



Buried under tons

of rock, both Mindlocked Totec

and bright-hued corpses.







Drol thought Its success

and regrets to Its mate, who

tried to sooth Itself.



In the Totec camp,

the other Drol thought back Its

own great amazement.



One of the Totec

had, somehow, overridden

his Masters' Mindlock.



He strove against his

own fellows, while struggling to

destroy some machine.



In camp, Drol blasted

the device, destroying it ...

and the Horde halted ...



WIX

There once was a female called Wix,

Who belonged among Yovern's sex picks.

When to Drol Yovern went,

Wix was grudgingly sent,

By his wife for his straying to nix.









THE UNMAKING OF A CONCUBINE

"We Concubines have

an honored profession,"

Wix would tell people.



So, many were quite

surprised by her reaction

at young Yllsa's rape.



Old Gregor had fought

with Wix's owner, Yovern,

against the Vretrich.



Gregor and Yovern

were never friends, but comrades

learned to help comrades.



So, Gregor agreed

to help the new "Messenger"

run the Embassy.



It was Gregor who

suggested that Wix, and child,

remain on Ogon.



"It wouldn't do," he'd

suggested, "to let Wix flaunt

her at Beatrice."



Yovern agreed that

his noble-born wife: "might not

respond very well."



Gregor's solution?

Wix "fixed" and available

for Yovern's returns.



"If you'd like," Gregor

offered, smirking, "I'll keep her

well lubricated!"



Yovern surprised him:

"Guard them both with your life," then

went home to his wife.



Gregor kept his staff

from indoctrinating young

Yllsa, before time.



For years, he trained her

as a clerk, mostly to keep

a close eye on her.



One drunken night, he made

her stay for..."additional

clerical training."



Gregor laughed when she

resisted, and reminded

her to "keep her place."



That same night, Yllsa

quit, explaining why to Wix,

who informed Yovern.



Yllsa did Gregor's

job well. She now knew she would

never want Wix's.





GREGOR

… though dead

lives on and on and on ...





LORD JING, THE INSIGNIFICANT

Surprisingly, Jing

(the runt), was the only child

to live from his Brood.



Lord Drol named him "Jing"

because he had struggled so

to live...and had won!



Elite Families

rarely conceived twice, never

thrice, but Lord Drol had!



Perhaps due to the

strain of repelling the Horde's

attack, perhaps not ...



... whatever the cause,

Drol's Mating Travail began

soon after That Day.





Dr. Senob feared

they would lose all the children ...

but Jing wouldn't die!



Jing learned to fight for

his place among the other,

older Drolchildren.



But, with no Broodmates

to back him, Jing often fought

"all comers"...alone ...



Eventually,

he decided that his sibs

weren't worth his effort.



Child Jing even tried

to find playmates among the

Lower-Cast children.



But this was frowned on

by the Elite Families;

and Drol forbade him.



So, Jing exercised

what he saw as his only

option...Solitude.



This distressed Lord Drol,

who commanded all to treat

Lord Jing with respect.



Ev'ryone from then

on behaved properly ...

at least in public.



Lord Blithen, Drol's heir,

continued to torment Jing; the

Elite kids did, too.



(All except Punic,

a junior daughter of a

- one time - minor clan.)



When Jing could, he'd hide --

brooding for some, ANY, type

of escape...any...





THE VRETRICH

-Look up.

-See the stars?

-See how they shine and twinkle?

-Lovely, aren't they?

-Have you noticed that at night, when the sky is blackest and you're away from the City's lights, have you noticed how many more stars you can see?

-Did you know that some of those stars are Suns, providing life-giving warmth to many worlds?

-Did you know that some of those Suns turn red and bloated, scorching the life from the worlds they once nourished?

-Did you know that some of those hungry Suns then shrink, their gravity increasing until they pull any/everything that ventures near them into themselves...and never, ever releases it again?

-If you know these things, then you know the Vretrich.

-Look up. See the stars?

-Be afraid...



DOGONI

We are wind.

We are gentle breezes to disperse the morning mists.

We are hurricanes which lay waste to all.

We are solar winds on which to glide between worlds.

We are tornadoes which destroy one life while sparing its close neighbor.

We caress butterflies.

We sink ships, with all hands.

We cannot be captured or destroyed; only momentarily diverted...if we allow ourselves to be distracted.

We are Dogoni and we must fly, because...

We are Wind.



STONE

The Totec are of basic humanoid design (2 arms, 2 legs, etc.) Their coloration is a uniform medium-dark brown with very little variation. The average Alpha-male's height is 6'8", the average Alpha-female's height is 6'5". The other classes' heights range from just below the Alphas down through the Acks (messengers, space-station helpers, concubines) whose average male/female height is about 5'3".

A Totec's status is determined by 1) Family Status, 2) Job Description, 3) Physical Size and/or 4) Military Accomplishments. As a group, they are not as stringent in regards to movement/association between the classes as are, for example, the Dogoni (who are completely intolerant of socialization between the Castes).

The Totec are a pragmatic people, not given to jesting and playing, (which makes their continued association with the, sometimes, excessively frivolous Dogoni baffling to this researcher). An excellent example of the Totec people's no-nonsense culture is the name they have given themselves. "Totec" roughly translated means "People who have Tec glands."

Although little factual information is available to non-Totecs regarding this gland, this writer has been able to glean some basic general information:

a) The Tec gland, located beneath the collar bone of both genders and all classes, may have some bearing on the Totec reproduction system.

b) The males glands are, purportedly, slightly convex, the females, slightly concave.

c) Assuming the information regarding the Tec gland shapes to be accurate, one could also assume that the male and female Tec glands are meant to touch at some point during the procreative cycle.

d) If the touching of Tec glands is required, one could also assume the transference of some hormonal substance (as with the KeKeLuegans of the Northern Upse Island on the planet of Noge).

e) Direct observation of the Tec gland by non-Totecs is impossible due to the wearing in public by all Totec of a "Warden." It is an article of clothing that is a roughly oblong leather device covering the glands and is attached to straps around the neck and under the armpits.

Although generally decorated in drab colors (browns, grays, blacks) and simple designs (dots, circles, schematics of planetary systems), they reveal an extraordinary amount of creativity for such a pragmatic people, as demonstrated by how, to date, this researcher has never seen two Wardens decorated exactly alike, even within close family units.

Again, this researcher must caution the reader that the above is mostly educated speculation, since non-Totec researchers who have attempted to press past Totec reluctance regarding the matter have been known to





BEATRICE

When Yovern's Lady,

Beatrice, barged in, Yllsa

hid her annoyance.



"May I speak, Husband?"

Yllsa's father waved her in,

before finishing.



"Delete all after:

'have been known to,' then send it."

Yllsa hid her smile.



"Are you being bad,

again?" well-creamed Beatrice

asked the Messenger.







"Who? Me?" And Yllsa

nearly laughed...until she saw

the look they exchanged.



"Excuse me, Father,"

Yllsa interjected, "Wix

has asked to see you."



"Yes," Beatrice said,

"Your concubine is waiting...

without, my Husband."



One day...I would love

to bash that near-smirk from "Her

Ladyship's" proud face.



Lovely, almond-shaped,

jade eyes considered/dismissed

Yllsa's silent threat.



"Beatrice..." Yllsa

began, but Yovern chimed in:

"Yllsa...keep your place."



Embarrassed, Yllsa

dropped her gaze; her rage blocking

much of what was said.



Then: "Yrtrum," "Yllsa,"

and "Husband;" that combo yanked

her attention back!







Dazed, "WHAT!?!" was all she

could manage. "I said, 'you should

be married by now."



Yllsa turned away

from Beatrice to Yovern.

Hope fled at his nod.



"Will you see to her

training, my Lady?" "May I

take her to Totec?"



Yovern shrugged: "As you

wish." Beatrice answered: "Yllsa,

tell Wix your good news."



Numbly, Yllsa rose

at Yovern's signal. "And, please,

cancel his appointments."





CHILD OF REDEMPTION

Already almost

eye to eye

with both parents

Having nearly

his Mother's beauty

and

his Father's physical power and presence

stands

Yrtrum.

***

A Late Child,

A Miracle Gift,

after frustrating decades.

***

The child of Hope.

The child of Reconciliation.

Bringing with him

the beginnings

of Love?

***

On his sixteenth birthday,

A return gift,

A little thing...

considering

his parentage.

***

His own Star Skiff.

Her Name?

Legacy!

***

Not long after, on his first trip to Ogon,

A Challenge

from Her Ladyship -- his Mother.

"Help me defang that creature Wix."

"With pleasure. How?"

"Find a husband for your Father's daughter."

A long, long pause.

Her smile thawed his tongue.

"...Mother..."

"As I said, a Challenge."

"What has my Father said?"

"I shall petition him at the proper time. He will see the value of it."

"Are you certain?"

"Of course."

***

Discreetly, quietly, so as not to jump his Mother's timing, Yrtrum cast about seeking whom might be willing to take the concubine's child.

The answers..."No one in his right mind!"

A Challenge...indeed...





PUNIC

The Lady Punic learned to sport her ember-red birthmark as a badge of power. Had she been born out of a Lower Caste Pairing, her coloration would have ensured her respectable status. But, with the small, sickle shape nestled at her and her Broodmates left shoulder fronts, seeming to pulse in their body wide blackness, the Lower Caste children HAD felt safe to echo the taunts of Punic's Elite peers...that is, until she, and her Broodmates hit puberty and their Elite bred powers manifested themselves.

Afterwards, both of Punic's Parent and all of her Broodmates had chosen to remove their birthmarks, apparently in the hopes of having those two glorious hours forgotten.

But not Punic.

She knew that crimson sickle served as a potent reminder to potential tormenters of IpBrood's rampage (which had taken one of Drol to quell and had left several Lower Caste Mated Pairs with fewer mouths to feed).

Punic realized that she could be just as effective at stopping the Elite kid's jibes by becoming a Drolchild instead of an Ipchild. And the runt, Jing, probably wouldn't mind singeing his Brood's leader's, Blithen's, hinder regions any more than she would.

Yes, as a Mated Pair, she and Jing, would stop the Elite kid's taunts...and not even both of Drol Itself might not be able to stop her fun...



BLITHEN

I am Broodleader!

I am stronger, faster, smarter than all save Drol!

I am Drol's heir!

I am Ogon's future!

The Runt is Nothing!!

He should have died with the rest of his misbegotten Brood!

I AM BROODLEADER!!

...why do You love him more...?





(HERO

Moments.

Seconds.

Instants.

Only a few more, and I'd have destroyed the device on my own...freed my fellows.

We could have destroyed the Slavers.

Hunted them from world to world...back to the place of their spawning.

Destroyed them, their world...all memory of them.

Redeemed ourselves from...the shame.

If only I had been faster...by a moment, a second...an instant...)







YLLSA

On their final morning on Ogon, Yllsa had sought out the second team's leader, Jing Drolchild, and found him, alone, on the verge of the Palace's paramount. He stood braced into the cold wind, his fur cloak billowing out behind him.

"Lord Jing!" she shouted, "Lord Drol summons you!"

He nodded - once, slowly - then faded away. Gathering her courage, Yllsa pushed into the wind to where Jing had been and squinted out into Ogon. Above, below, everywhere, Dogoni choked the skyways.

Yllsa fled back to the lift, struggling to catch her breath as she sped downward.

Afternoon.

Yllsa entered Yovern's office and waited for him and his eldest son, Yrtrum. The sturdy wood frame furnishings, stained red-brown were matched by the parallel ceiling beams from which hung greenery from two worlds. The air stayed moist and fragrant from blossoming sill gardens stationed by the many large windows. And, triply highlighted from sunlight streaming in through bay windows, was Yovern's chair, its overstuffed cushions comfortably imprinted with his memory, warm and waiting for his infrequent returns home.

Yllsa lowered herself into the much mended chair, it seemingly knowing she only meant to keep it company, and not minding. She lay back her head, eyes closed. Soon grew images of a Yovern with some black still remaining in his then shoulder length locs, and the feel of his heartbeat as they both dozed in their chair to the sound of her mother's puttering and soft songs.

Voices outside alerted her. She jumped up, almost making it to the front of Yovern's desk before he and Yrtrum entered.

"Bring refreshment," commanded Yrtrum, brushing past to sit beside the desk.

Yllsa started to remind him the he was no longer on Totec, but decided that doing so might be unwise -- in Yovern's presence.

"That can wait," said Yovern, rifling through Yllsa ordered stacks. "Yllsa, please sit down."

"Remain standing," countered Yrtrum. "Father, she must be taught proper conduct, before I take her home or I will not be held responsible for contracting a true marriage."

Discarding caution, she stepped toward him intending to instruct Yrtrum on "proper conduct," Yllsa style; but was halted by Yovern's hand signal.

"Please, sit down, Yllsa."

Yllsa sat.

"Father,..."

"Yrtrum, we have more important things to discuss right now besides differences between Totec and Dogoni etiquette. I want to be sure that you are both clear on your missions."

"Father, I both understand your instructions and will succeed with my assignment," he said, standing. "You just make sure that this one," indicating Yllsa, "keeps her place. If you can."

"I am confident, then, of your success. You may leave." Yovern rose and, ignoring his son's glare, went to sit in the old chair.

"With your permission, Messenger," said Yrtrum, not waiting. "Come with me, Yllsa."

Yllsa watched Yrtrum leave, then strolled into the small kitchenette adjoining the office. When she returned, Yovern still sat brooding by the open windows.

"Father? Will you except this tea I've made?"

Surprise showed on his face for the first time in years. "Yes, daughter," he said, taking the cup, "and I thank you."

"I am always honored to serve you, Messenger."

Yllsa struggled to keep her own expression respectfully neutral, apparently unsuccessfully judging from Yovern's quiet reaction. But, she felt that her lapse had been understandable, because, when he'd accepted her tribute, Yovern had smiled.

"Fix yourself something, if you want, and come sit by me."

She did so and, confiscating Yovern's foot stool, sipped tea while her father talked.

"Do not be concerned about Yrtrum. When you return, I shall make other arrangements for finding you a husband. But for now, I must be certain that you, at least, understand the importance of this mission."

She watched worry succumb to tightly held fury in his black eyes, and nodded.

"If our intelligence is correct, then Dr. Bennarlda's operations are a threat to all Totec, regardless of the benefits that Lord Drol seeks. Do not let either young Yrtrum's parochialism or Lord Jing's flightiness distract you. Remember, should Yrtrum fail, Cleft's Spell must be destroyed!"

"I shall not fail you, Father."

Abruptly, Yovern leaned closer, impaling Yllsa with smoldering eyes. "It is not I for whom you must succeed, daughter, but for every Totec. The stakes may be our lives, Yllsa. All of our lives." Forcing down the renewed terror, she nodded again.

"Good," he said, frowning amiably. "Now go find some real food, while you can."

Yrtrum was no longer in the area when she left Yovern's office. So, softly humming a long forgotten melody, she went in search of something to eat other then the space rations she'd soon have to endure.

Evening.

Slowly, Yllsa rose.

She placed her travel rations checklist on the table and closed the supply locker door, then turned to glare up at Yrtrum, his bulk filling the open doorway to his ship's galley. Though taller than Wix, and taller than most Dogoni, she still stood a head and a half shorter than the glowering Yrtrum. No matter, she decided, just means I can get to his vitals easier!

"Yovern wronged you when he allowed you to be raised here instead of Totec," Yrtrum continued. "The family will have difficulty finding a Totec fool enough to take you. But do not fear, child of my father's pet. I will use our time between worlds most effectively. I shall teach you proper respect!"

Yllsa advanced on the youngster. "You are not my father. Do not expect that I will allow you to command me simply because you feel yourself his equal. You are not!"

She leaped back as Yrtrum drew his fist back to strike, but realized, too late, how much her movements were restricted in the cramped cabin! The blow spun her around and off balance! She saw the galley's table rushing toward her and tried to block her fall! Another blow bashed her Warden-first across the table's edge! Pain sucked her into darkness...

*

Later -- much later -- Yllsa resurfaced on white pulses of fire radiating outward from her Tec. "Should have ducked faster," she scolded herself, stifling a groan.

"Yes, you should've! This will perk you up some."

Yllsa felt a quick pressure on the side of her neck. She sighed her relief as the pain waned and slowly opened her eyes to see Yrtrum's teammate, Dr. Emas, smiling down at her.

"Sorry, but I thought it best to Port you here," Emas whispered, conspiratorially. "The injection will get rid of the nausea and dizziness."

Now, with the pain nearly gone, Yllsa felt her stomach begin to settle. She hadn't noticed it's churning before. Distracted, I guess.

"Thank you," Yllsa managed. "Water, please?"

"In a moment. We don't want you giving it right back, do we?" Emas twisted around to speak to someone behind her. "Let's let her rest a bit, now. Don't worry, Messenger Yovern. She'll be just fine."

"Be grateful, Yrtrum. Very grateful."

Yllsa shrank away from the deep space coldness of his voice. Even knowing that Yovern's anger wasn't directed at her, she couldn't suppress the shudder Yovern's tone elicited. Emas smiled comfortingly down at her and patted her shoulder.

"Father," began Yrtrum, with exaggerated patience. Yllsa marveled at his foolish arrogance.

"Say nothing! Come with me! We shall discuss this matter - in private!"

"Really, Father..."

"BRING HIM!"

Emas sighed, and turned back to dab something cool on Yllsa's Tec. "I just hope he doesn't sulk all the way to Cleft's Spell," she said, rising. "You rest. I'll be back once I've reported to Lord Drol and Dr. Senob."

Once Emas left, Yllsa drifted off, contentedly outlining scenarios by which pompous idiots might become lost in space...

*

"Perhaps," said Chief Medic Senob, sounding very far away, "we should postpone their departure for a day or so, Lord Drol."

Sleep fled!

Yllsa froze when she realized that one of Drol sat on the side of her bed, tiny hands gently keeping her from struggling up!

"Peace, child," said the other, "do not overexert yourself."

Yllsa shrank back into her pillow, unable to relax in the presence of the Cynosure of Ogon. She gaped, wide eyed from one of Drol to the other, as always amazed that they appeared identical and, except for the age difference and his slightly greater height, to Jing as well.

The far Drol turned back to Dr. Senob saying: "The mission cannot be postponed, doctor, which is why we have agreed with Lady Punic here..."

"...that she may become young Jing's team mate," continued the near Drol.

"Lord Drol," interrupted Yllsa, locking glares with the Lady Punic and amazed at her own audacity, "I am quite well enough to continue the mission and would consider it an honor to all Totec if you would allow me to do so."

"Truly the child of a Totec diplomat!" said the grinning Senob. "And I presume that not letting you go would be perceived as an insult to Totec. Eh, Yllsa?"

Yllsa met his gaze, and smiled.

"She seems feisty enough, my Lord, and Emas will be there."

"Very well, child," said Drol.

"If Yovern has no objections," Drol cautioned.

"Then the mission will proceed as planned."

"Thank you, my Lord."

"You are most welcome, child."

"Come, Lady Punic," Drol commanded as they both faded away.

Yllsa propped up on elbows and smiled her victory at the seething Lady Punic.

"My patient must rest now, Lady Punic. And I believe Lord Drol requested your attendance."

Punic Ported out with an audible crack.

Senob waggled a finger at Yllsa. "My patient must rest now, Yllsa," he repeated, Porting out with considerable more dignity than had the Lady Punic, and leaving his chuckle behind.



PUNIC

The Lady Punic was bored.

There just wasn't enough to do...wouldn't be until planet fall. Not that she wasn't comfortable sharing the Mindlocked Yrtrum's quarters.

At times, the child could be...entertaining. What a waste of a good ship, though, giving it to a child!

Barbarians!

Punic had half a mind to have him give the Legacy to her, and forget he'd done so -- just like how now he couldn't notice her, until she willed him to. But, that would draw attention away from where she wanted.

Bored! Bored! Bored!

Maybe...maybe she'd just pop in to the cargo bay. Heat up the animal's box, again. Or freeze it! No, the last few times hadn't brought any kind of reaction. Maybe she was dead; that wouldn't do. Punic needed to find some way to get Yllsa's whereabouts known to the Runt.

Now, that might cause some excitement!

Whom to volunteer?



YLLSA - I

She had never thought

that the color black came in

so many subtle shades.



She had never thought

that much about the color

black at all...before.







And, technically,

black is not a color, but

a lack of color.



A lack due to all

colors being sucked in and mixed

together and held.



Mixed together and

held. Nothing escaping -- not

light nor heat nor life.



Blackness, Queen Mother,

pregnant with everything; from

Whom all things spring forth.



All things. All colors.

Even searing red spark trails

knifing the Blackness...



Cutting a birth path

into Yllsa's chamber from

an Outside Somewhere.



Agonizing pain

from stiffened muscles jerking

away from the light.



From Outside, blazing

bright shadows silhouetted

against dusking grays.



Mother Blackness'

shadow children, two looming...

the other dream-fades.



Shadow whisper-screams:

urging, egging, entreating...

nuisancey creatures.



Cold white explosions

joined Yllsa whimpers as small,

dark hands pulled at her.



Traitorous limbs failed

to halt her forced removal.

I AM A BREACH BIRTH.



Accepting new life,

Yllsa stopped fighting against

her Shadow midwives.



Embracing new life,

She cherished the agony,

as dusk became dawn.



Her Shadow midwives

cradling her...BLACK fades to black.

Rainbows greet her birth.



II

Pre-Birth Yllsa, back

on Ogon, pondering the

Whys? behind her finds.



Mystery Mission

procurements requested by

Drol, of her father.



Young Totec partnered

with unPaired Dogoni to

recon a "Cleft's Spell."



Yovern's long-distance

agreement had been given...

but, tentatively.



Gregor's position,

his accesses overlooked,

yielded riddled clues.



But even her best

on-line investigations

revealed few answers.



Tantalized, Yllsa

hacked into the Dogoni's

systems...(still easy)...



She never before

had tried to break into the

Palace's systems...



...but the relative

ease of entry strengthened her

Dogoni bias.



Reminding herself

of Gregor's complacency,

she hid her tracks well.



She contemplated

how best to use those little

information bits.



She'd put it aside,

until Yovern returned home

with wife and her pup.



Wix had been giddy...

until Beatrice's "gift"

had nearly crushed her.



Wix's stunned silence

worried Yllsa, though less than

her own helplessness.



If only Yllsa

could get away from Ogon,

and avoid Totec.



An inspiration!

Yllsa would "procure" herself

for Lord Drol's Mission!



Perhaps Yllsa's skills

would be considered useful...

on the Vretrich worlds...



III

Dogoni version

of privacy...soft rainbows

kissed by fragrant breezes.



"She's waking, Emas."

"Thank you, Dalili...Hello."

"Hello," Yllsa croaked.



"I wish Bukua

and Haki could've found you

sooner," Emas said.



Yllsa tried to tell

the doctor how glad she was

being found at all.



The little doctor

patted her shoulder, smiling

her understanding.



"Nurse Hesima has

been hovering over you.

You don't mind, do you."



Yllsa glanced at the

eager, young nurse. "I don't mind,"

she managed. He grinned.







"Don't be afraid. I

won't let anyone hurt you,"

Hesima stated.



"And Lord Jing won't let

anyone hurt him," Emas

added, teasingly.



Yllsa felt that the

Drolchild could handle Yrtrum.

(Maybe...hopefully...)



...but it was the small

nurse's fierce protection that

comforted her most.



She watched him bully

the amused Emas aside,

'tsk'ing to himself.



"Bado needs help with

calming Maasi. Do you

think you can manage?"



Hesima shot her

a look. She winked at Yllsa

then faded away.



Through the gaps between

the curtains, Yllsa saw the

others were huddling.



They seemed awfully

quiet considering all

of the gesturing.



He must be blocking

the argument, she thought. Then,

liking him more...slept.



IV

Pre-Birth Yllsa

battled futilely against

Yrtrum's neck-scruff grip.



He lifted and flung

her in a cargo bay, a

crate edge stopped her skid.



With long strides, he reached

her before she could prepare

to defend herself.



Less than half her age,

this child hauled her up by her

tunic, dangling her.



The tunic snatched tight

against her injured Tec gland.

She refused to scream.



Smiling, he turned her

to face him: "You have courage

above your low class.



"A few more basic

points, and your training should be

done," he commented.



Yrtrum released her

and she plummeted to the

deck...hating her tears.



After one final

boot nudge, Yrtrum turned away;

but he halted, tensing.



Dogoni crowded

the doorway...all eyes on Jing,

him watching Yrtrum.



"This does not concern

you Drolchild. Go back to the

other cargo bay."



"Please, my Lord. Make him

let us help her." This from the

smallest of the group.



"You were all ordered

not to interfere with me.

Isn't that correct?"



"Please, my Lord." The small

one, again. "He'll kill her if

you don't stop him, now."



"My Parent warned against

confrontations, Hesima.

This is their business."



Slowly, Jing vanished.

One by one, the rest followed.

The small one left last.



Alone...again...(still).

Yllsa hauled herself erect

and faced him...waiting...



V

She startled awake.

"Don't worry, Yllsa. I'm here."

Hesima. She sleeps.



Morning sounds. Yllsa

cautiously stretches. "No pain?"

"No. Just soreness." "Good."



"I'd like for you to

try and sit outside while I

straighten up in here."



With the small nurse's

help, Yllsa made it to the chair.

The others popped by.







Dogoni, Yllsa

discovered, were never still.

Their visits drained her.



Hesima shooed his

fellows away and helped

her back into bed.



Sleeping much too much,

she chided herself. Rainbows

undulating...dreams.

Menacing rumble,

she's still...orientating.

Furious trebles.



"You were told not to

interfere." Gregor? Yllsa

felt panic rising.



"I didn't," countered

Jing. "Return her to me, now!"

Yrtrum...just Yrtrum...



"This hole that you've crammed

us into is Dogoni

space. What's here, stays here."



"She is Totec, and

MY responsibility.

Return her to me."



Hesima: "No."



With rainbows spinning,

Yllsa struggled to shield the

small nurse from Yrtrum.



Yrtrum loomed over

Hesima, who stood his ground.

Yrtrum swatted him.



With satisfaction

she saw Yrtrum bombarded

by twin crimson blasts...



VI

Yllsa scuttled to

her fallen nurse; clutching him,

cradling him to her.



Through Hesima's soft

eiderdown, she felt the strong

rhythms of this hearts.



A frown. A small smile.

His eyes snapped open...Pulsing

embers...cool to brown.



His gaze held hers. She

couldn't look away. He blinked.

Released...but not free?







"You shouldn't be out

of bed," he scolded, weakly.

Yllsa nearly laughed.



The others, slowly,

began seeping back into

Yllsa's awareness.



Kiwa huddled with

her brother, Fujo, not quite

hidden between crates.



Haki and Bado

both hung onto Maasi,

trying to calm him.



Emas tried to pull

Hesima away enough to

examine her nurse.



Then, she saw Yrtrum,

suspended in the air, his

eyes, alone, moving.



Jing: "Is he alive?"

Emas: "Yes, my Lord. Just a

little bit groggy."



Jing released Yrtrum,

who landed in a fighting

crouch. Slowly, he stood.



"I am the Master

of this ship," Yrtrum declared,

a towering child.



"True," agreed Lord Jing,

"and I'll let you keep it, IF

you behave yourself."



"How could you take it?"

asked Yrtrum, smirking. "I could

disintegrate you..."



Smile fading, Yrtrum

turned and marched out. Maasi:

"You should have killed him."



"Perhaps tomorrow."

Hesima: "My chest's tingling..."

Concerned, Yllsa turned...





PUNIC

The gas' aftereffects still had Punic a little groggy.

She hadn't expected the Totec brat to have such an impressively destructive snit.

Ah well...this could work out even better than she'd planned.

Punic tightened her mind grip, forcing Yrtrum to re-gas the ship. This time, she knew to stay safely in her/his quarters instead of popping about, trying to make her own fun.

She had Yrtrum park the Legacy a ways from the Complex, initiating the homing beacon in case she had to leave Cleft's Spell in a hurry.

She decided that Emas might be useful and had Yrtrum suit-up and bring the physician back to their quarters. She figured that the Runt and the others were of no immediate importance...but might be later, so, not bothering to check them herself, she left them, sleeping, in the Legacy.

"Always good to have a contingency plan...or two."

Punic englobed Yrtrum and Emas, and Ported into the Complex, with the pair in tow.



YLLSA

...Night...

The last thing she remembered, before waking groggy the Legacy nowhere in sight, was turning to check on Hesima. At least Yrtrum, not fool enough to strand Drol's son without survival equipment, had left them with a rover and some camping gear.

But he did leave them without protection against the sudden, tropical downpour. Yllsa had balked at joining Jing in the cave he'd found...but only for a drenching second.

Yovern will be annoyed with this delay! Yllsa thought, furious at the dark violence raging outside the cave.

"If you come over here, I can warm you."

Jing had produced a weak, reddish glow about himself. It gave him the appearance much like a hot, sinister shadow. But light was light, so she went to him, grateful to share the warmth he provided.

They'd huddled together inside near the cave's entrance, talking quietly together well past the storm's end.





JING

Laughing, Jing flung himself up toward the withering thunderheads, an ebon shaft pursued by avian sea curses futilely protesting the snatched booty. A quick glance showed his pursuers falling away, so, with a luxurious roll, Jing slowed his ascent, the sunlight dancing in iridescent waves down his lithe blue-black form.

His aerial pirouette brought Cleft's Spell's white domes glistening into view, alarming against the greenness surrounding the Complex.

It would be so much simpler to just Port there, Jing groused, automatically calculating the distance to the Complex, if only Yllsa wouldn't be so stubborn!

Jing sought his stocky Totec companion and spotted her distant form trudging about their campsite, probably doing something necessary in her usual distressingly competent fashion.

She needs a little excitement to shake loose some of that Totec stoicism, Jing thought, smiling.

Jing wrapped the large fish in a small force globe. Wouldn't do to break out of Port with scales! he thought. Targeting the opposite side of the convenient, ancient tree Yllsa happened to be laboring near, he pulled into himself. The whisper of breeze amongst leaves masked his break out. He quietly placed the deglobed fish down onto the grass, and peeked around the huge trunk at Yllsa as she set down some or another piece of equipment, before committing herself to a sky reaching stretch. He watched her strong back muscles ripple beneath her sweat dampened tee shirt, thinking, with distaste, how poorly its olive drabness complemented her chocolate brown complexion.

Perhaps something in a dusty gold...

After one final flex and jaw unhinging yawn, Yllsa reluctantly relinquished her sky hold and frowned down at the salvaged equipment stacked at her feet.

Jing smiled and concentrated.

He broke out before Yllsa's startled face -- eye to eye, nose to brow -- and began to slowly rotate along his vertical axis. Yllsa's burst of laughter was a surprisingly light and musical sound, as if it, too, were being tickled and completely at odds with her normally solemn expression.

"Lord Jing! Please, come down!"

"Not until you give me a very good reason as to why you won't let me Port us directly to Cleft's Spell, and save me from being drearied to death!"

"Our equipment..."

"This morning you said that the rover was still in good shape. We both know that it can be programmed to bring our stuff after us. You'll have to come up with something much better, or I swear that this is how I'll accompany you into the Complex. Tell me, my Stone Princess, what will your Totec contemporaries think when you arrive with your tag along, topsy-turvy Dogoni?"

Yllsa dropped her gaze, a small smile tugging at the corners of her full lips.

"If you will come down," she offered shyly, "I will tell you."

"Promise?"

"Yes. I promise."

Jing reversed himself. "Will you keep your promise?"

"Porting," she said, continuing to examine the grass beneath his feet, "makes me exceedingly nauseous."

Together, they laughed.

***

"I've caught us a Given," said Jing, as he Ported his prize over to display to Yllsa. "Shall I fix lunch, or do you want me to help you here?" Only with great difficulty did Jing manage to maintain a straight face at Yllsa's dubious expression; since he'd earlier made such herculean efforts to hinder her post-storm clean up.

"If you would please prepare the fish, Lord Jing, I will fetch us something vegetative. Is that acceptable?"

"Certainly," he said, flourishing a bow. Jing reglobed the fish and Ported the short distance to the cave they'd used as sanctuary against the night's thunderstorm.

Upon awakening, Yllsa immediately set about inventorying the equipment. In their haste to get to safety from the sudden, fierce storm, they'd not had enough time to maneuver the rover into the cave's small entrance. Jing soon grew bored with her industry, so he "helped" by shamelessly obstructing her work, until she finally, rather forcefully, suggested that it would be a more efficient use of their resources if he reconnoitered the area.

Jing was most agreeable.

Now, with their main course cleaned and cooking, Jing wondered if, perhaps, he'd been the one manipulated.

"Food's about ready," Jing called, "I'll need those veggies pretty quick, Yllsa."

"In a moment," but to Jing her voice sounded strained. He Ported over to where he'd left her and found her slumped, panting, against an Yllsa-tall root, one hand clutching the leather Warden which guarded the delicate Tec gland beneath her collarbone.

"What's wrong?" he asked, trying to turn her to him. "Please, let me help!"

"I am fine," she said, struggling erect.

"Well," he said, stepping back, "since you're 'fine,' I'd better go make sure that our lunch hasn't burned."

"Yes, I will be along directly."

Annoyed, Jing popped back to the campsite. When Yllsa made it back to the cave, he pretended to ignore her efforts to hide her discomfort.

But he watched her, covertly, as evening fell.

***

Hovering, Jing made one final polishing pass of his hand along the cooling mirrored surface of the cavity he'd just blasted into the cave wall; then set the remaining luminant into the center of the reflector's bowl tuning its soft golden light down to match the others around their now brightened sanctuary.

He Ported the medkit to him as he eased back into the stone tub he'd whittled for them; willing the water a tad warmer and restarting its gently stirring to help sooth away some of Yllsa's soreness.

The water's movement didn't seem to be helping him relax any.

The longer he soaked, the more jittery he felt.

Must be all this excitement. Maybe I'll do some hunting once Yllsa's asleep.

"It's this yellow packet, isn't it?" he asked, pausing in his rummaging long enough to draw her distracted nod.

"Raise up some."

Yllsa hauled herself just far enough up so that her Warden, straps dangling, cleared the water. Jing took out a second packet and, placing the medkit in the wall niche next to him, scooted closer.

She doesn't look at all well, he thought, seeing the sparkle gone from her surprisingly lovely, dark eyes. He ripped open the medicine and, squeezing some of the salve onto his fingertips, began to, very, very gently, peel off the encrusted Warden, smoothing on the salve as more of the swollen, pulsing gland became exposed. Absently wondering at the tingling spreading from his fingertips, Jing let the Warden soak while he opened the second packet and slathered on its contents.

The Tec became darker and harder as the throbbing diminished.

"Better?"

"Yes, much. Thank you."

"You look about ready to drop," he said, as he began scratching away the dried secretions from the Warden's inner side.

He was beginning to feel overheated, so he reduced the water's temperature.

"Yes," she said, smiling weakly, "a nap would feel very good right now." She reached for the Warden, but he snatched it away.

"You're not planning to put this back on right now, are you? he asked, testily.

Surprised at his own irritation, he took a few quick breaths and cooled the water a bit more.

"After I clean it, yes. Are you alright?"

"Yllsa, there's no one here but us. And I've already seen you without your Warden," he said, dunking it.

"Yes, but..."

"Look," he said, reasonably, examining the Warden for missed spots. "Let's just leave it off for tonight and see if your Tec feels better in the morning. Agreed?"

"I don't know, Jing..." Again, she reached for the Warden.

"...Who'll know? Without Bennarlda's help, what could possibly happen?" he asked, dunking.

"Jing..."

"Besides," he whispered, a mischievous gleam in his eye, "when we return home, I may not get another chance to see you completely naked!"

"Licentious, aren't we?"

"Certainly! Yllsa, between Drol's strategies and Yovern's demands and Bennarlda's plots and thunderstorms, and..."

"...Irate seabirds..."

"And irate seabirds, we could both use a little relaxation," he said, Porting the cleaned Warden away to dry. "So we might as well get it while we can."

Yllsa frowned at the out-of-reach Warden, then back at Jing.

He returned her scrutiny, all innocence.

"Would you please make the water a little warmer, Lord Jing?"

"Certainly, my Stone Princess."



DROL

The news of the Totec Starmada surprised both of Drol.

Drol's flagship would only beat the Totec fleet by a small margin. It would be enough, but neither of Drol liked cutting things so close.

We really must discuss timing with our informant, Drol shared with Itself.

Agreeing with Itself, both of Drol Ported to its flagship, ordering best speed to Cleft's Spell.



JING

"Jing," Yllsa admonished. "We don't really have time for this."

"Perhaps Totec men don't bathe mornings, but I do!" Jing dissolved the force globe, bottom first and let the clean water flow out filling their stone tub.

"But we're already a day behind schedule ..."

"Then an hour more shouldn't matter!" he snapped.

Yllsa stiffened. "As you command, Lord Jing." She about faced, but jumped back as Jing broke out right where she was about to step! "That was too close!"

"I know, I know," he apologized, gently grasping her shoulders so that she wouldn't turn away again. "Please, forgive me, my dear, dear Yllsa!"

"Well," she said, eyeing him dubiously, "All right. What is wrong with you? We've got to drive hard to get back on schedule! We must leave now!"

"Yllsa, I want, I need this time before we rush back to our 'responsibilities.' Stay here with me for just today, dear Yllsa."

"And what about the mission?"

"If you can stand a small, tiny, little Port, I can get us back on schedule and no one will ever know about the delay. Please, Yllsa. Please?"

"Well," she said, a slow, wicked smile chasing away her scowl. "I guess you may be worth a little nausea."



STARMADA

Messenger Yovern, with one of Drol at his side, told the Totec Starmada's Commander to order his fleet to postpone the razing of Cleft's Spell.

The Commander looked momentarily astonished, appeared to gather himself to defy Yovern's authority.

Then, his expression blanked, cleared. He relayed Yovern's order to the crews, sat back, waited.

"Thank you Messenger, Commander," said Drol.

Yovern turned to the Cynosure, it alone and child-tiny among the Totec Warriors.

"We are allies," Yovern, Messenger of the Totec World Council heard himself saying, "If you have a better solution, please feel free to share it with me."

Drol smiled, gave Yovern a small, respectful bow: "If you would join Myself and me on our flagship, we can go planet-side and deal with this Bennarlda together...as allies. Agreed?"

"Agreed"

As the Totec bridge vanished and was replaced by the cramped Dogoni bridge, Yovern felt much better about this unexpected turn of events than he thought he might have.

But, for a moment, a second, for just an instant, he knew a flash of shame...and wondered...



JING

"There's one advantage that a Totec man has over a Dogoni," Jing whispered, feeling his own pulse racing to match the throbbing of her Tec pressed wet against his chest.

"And what is that?"

He raised up to gaze deep into lovely, warm, brown eyes. "He can make love to a Totec woman," he murmured, lowering himself to taste her full lips, again.

And, again –



...Successive Shudders Chasing One Another In Ascending Waves Of Desperate Tension Merging Intensifying Focusing Centering Around And In The Engorged Tec Until With One Final Climatic Spasm It Erupts Flesh Fusing With Flesh An All Encompassing Fiery Effervescence Permeating Both Fissioning Elementally Dispersion Then Lustfully Coalescing Their Union Compressing Itself Into A Pulsing Orb Ensphered By A Darkly Glowing Mottled Membrane Settling Now (Gently Gently) Touching Down Nesting…



And they mated, Dogoni mode...for life...





JING

He who had been Jing emerged first, exuding through the ovoid's mottled membrane, reintegrating as he passed through.

Himself, though changed.

He felt strong hands support, then lower him onto some softly yielding surface. Sounds jumbled about him. Voices. Strange. Familiar. He felt empty. Hunger? No, something - some part of himself - was...missing? No...incomplete. Yes. What's happening me?

"...please, help me..."

"You are safe, Lord Jing." Jing struggled to focus on the face of that familiar voice. Elite coal black with silver peppered throughout. Laughing eyes, now tinged with sadness, concern, relief.

Senob.

"We traced you and the Lady Yllsa by the rover's homing device."

"Yllsa?"

"She is deSheathing now. Can you sense her? Reach out to her, young Jing. Calm her. Tell her not to fight my assistants. You are all safe within Cleft's Spell."

"All?"

Senob's voice betrayed his joy. "You're a father, young Jing! There are babes within the Mating Sheath! Rest now, child. Rest."

Obeying his long trusted physician, Jing reached his thoughts out and, transmitting Senob's assurances, slowly allayed both his and Yllsa's frightened uncertainty.



JING/YLLSA

Not quite oblivious to (just uncaring of) their companions' reactions this second day after deSheathing, Yllsa and Jing clung together, body and mind, fighting back disgust induced nausea at the sight of Cleft's Spell's claim to fame.

"I shall kill you, myself, Bennarlda," promised Yovern, his broad back to the others.

Beyond the thick observation window, above, below, everywhere, spread row upon row and column after column of the translucent capsules containing comatose men and women and children. Tubing ran to and from each chamber, from and to each adjacent monitoring unit, injecting correctly calibrated nutrients for life maintenance, efficiently removing waste materials, and collecting from the hundreds of grotesquely bloated Tec glands various pharmaceuticals necessary for the recent outbreak of medical breakthroughs for legions of species, on multitudes of worlds -- including (to Jing's shame and Yllsa's outrage) the Elite of Ogon -- and all at a substantial profit for the Complex's proprietress.

"That's Doctor Bennarlda."

From their corner, Jing and Yllsa watched his jaw muscles tighten, but Yovern said nothing more.

"Please don't presume, doctor," said one of Drol.

"That you have any choice in this matter," said the other.

Bennarlda shrugged her unconcern. "Without my fertility therapy, your Elite Families will soon die out and my Vats are the least costly and most efficient production method available," she said. "It would be foolish of the Dogoni Elite to forfeit this new chance of survival just for the sake of a few Totec. I never thought the Dogoni to be a race of fools. Was I wrong, Lord Drol?"

Perhaps, shared Jing, our Father will have to wait his turn to kill Bennarlda, and felt Yllsa's angry agreement.

But then, both of Drol smiled and, speaking in unison, said: "No, doctor, we are not fools. We have your records, your equipment, your supplies and your transports. We have your personnel, your entire medical complex and we have you.

"All," continued both of Drol, "that is protecting Cleft's Spell and all of your work here from the Totec strike force now orbiting this world is the Dogoni defenders, who await our command. You will have your staff begin the Tecectomies, carefully, so as not to injure the excised tissue's functionalness; and you will begin reviving your Totec victims, immediately. Or, we swear that before the suns set on Cleft's Spell this day, all that is Dogoni will be withdrawn from this star system.

"And you and your staff and your clientele can remain to discuss your differences with the Totec."

Bennarlda's eyes flicked over Yovern's taut massiveness and back to Drol.

"Perhaps," she said, "we can devise some arrangement beneficial to all concerned, Lord Drol."

"Perhaps," agreed both of Drol, one nodding to Senob, then both Ported away with Bennarlda.

"With your permission, Messenger Yovern, I will take you to Lord Drol." Yovern nodded. Keeping a safe distance between them, Senob sealed Yovern in a force globe and followed Drol out.

Not looking back into Bennarlda's Warehouse, Jing and Yllsa fled.

JING/YLLSA

One week and a day after their deSheathing, Jing and Yllsa lounged entwined in their suite, new Tec to old, discovering and being discovered; savoring the lusty innocence of the newly Paired.

With a shared shudder, they separated, Jing smiling at Yllsa's contented sigh and, both chuckling at the enthusiastic antics of his new Tec maleness, lay back preparing to resume their lovemaking.

A subtle change in the room's air pressure drew Jing's instant annoyed attention. Yllsa followed his furious gaze as Jing, pulling their top sheet possessively over her, left their bed and strode naked to glare down at the Lady Punic materializing in haughty indifference of their standing request for privacy.

"What do you want?" Jing demanded.

The petite Elite pulled herself up to her full height, the top of her head only coming to Jing's chest now. With regal disdain, she surveyed Jing's transformation; his increased height and size; the browning of his former Elite blackness; the currently quiescent concavity of his Tec; the "hair" isolated in Totec specific regions -- head, chest, groin -- instead of the sleek body wide Dogoni eiderdown; and (her eyes betraying her distaste) his member dangling, not quite deflated, from between his legs.

"You will need to fly high to keep from catching that in branches," Punic observed.

"WHAT DO YOU WANT?" Jing repeated.

She wants you to squash her into a dust mote, pranced Yllsa's laughing thought over the angry flames in his mind, converting them to a much more pleasant though no less intense sort of heat.

"Cover that disgusting thing!" Punic commanded, determinedly meeting the smile now lurking in Jing's eyes, "before you go out among civilized people!"

"I always dress before going out in public," chimed in Yllsa, "so I don't catch cold."

"Keep your place, baseborn!" shouted Punic, trying to be heard over Jing's startling boom of laughter.

"The Lady Yllsa's 'place,'" cautioned Jing, sporting a menacing grin, "is with me. We are now both Drolchild. Do not forget again...Punic."

"As you command, Lord Jing. With your permission, I will speak with you again, alone, after your meeting with Lord Drol tomorrow." Feeling exposed in Punic's cocky wake, Jing couldn't help trembling.

What does she know? they wondered together as Yllsa belatedly engaged the room's privacy shield.

*

Dr. Senob was lunching with Yllsa and Jing in their quarters, when word came that Emas and Yrtrum were beginning to deSheath. The doctor commenced his Port but stopped, infuriated, when the grinning Jing snapped a force globe around him.

"You won't do Emas much good with your atoms fried," explained Jing.

Senob's face showed his momentary confusion, and then his chagrin as Yllsa disengaged the privacy shield. Smiling both an apology and his gratitude, Senob popped out.

"We should be at the deSheathing," said Jing. Yllsa felt his disinclination and he her amusement.

"Senob can do quite well without us, husband."

"That's not what I meant. They are the only others like us. We should be there for them."

"As you wish, husband."

"Yllsa ...," he began, but the warmth of her smile filled his mind before her lips showed it.

I shall enjoy seeing Yrtrum's face once he realizes what has happened.

Jing hugged her to him, laughing.

*

They watched Yovern watch Senob's assistants strap down and sedate the shrieking Yrtrum.

"Father?" she said, reaching her hand out to him.

Yovern turned tortured eyes to her. Began to speak. Stopped. All expression, all emotion drained from his tear drenched face. Cold and grey as a distant mountain, he turned and strode away, silent.

Jing hugged her to him, sobbing.

*

The day after Lady Punic's intrusion, the young Lord and Lady Drolchild faced Punic, representing the Dogoni Elite; Chief Medic Senob; Yovern, Messenger to Ogon from the Totec World Council and both of Drol, Cynosure of Ogon.

Without preamble, both of Drol spoke: "After taking council both for and against, we have decided that an attempt shall be made to reverse Dr. Emas' and Yrtrum's forced Pairing. Should they survive, the two of you will be dePaired. When you are recovered, the Lady Yllsa will have the option of residing in Ogon or on Totec.

"Lord Jing, the Lady Punic has agreed to accept Pairing with you even in light of your recent indisposition.

"The children of both your and Dr. Emas' Parings will be placed with Dr. Senob for study and rearing. Should children be produced from your and Lady Punic's Pairing they will be allowed to remain in our line of succession. The dePairing process will begin as soon as Emas and Yrtrum have recovered from their deSheathing.

"If the other's have nothing to add, you may go."

*

The day after Punic's intrusion, Jing and Yllsa answered their Parent's summons.

They faced the smirking Punic; (She is much too smug. Yes, she thinks that she knows something, and she's too stupid to hide her knowledge. Patience.); the weary Senob: (He looks so tired. Emas is burdened by Yrtrum's madness. Punic would make Yrtrum a much better mate. Hush.); solemn Yovern: (He hates me now. I hate that he hates me. Hates us...and we will deal with him, later); and both of Drol: (Patience...)

Without preamble, both of Drol decreed: "After taking council both for and against...reverse Dr. Emas' and Yrtrum's forced Pairing..." (Good. Yes.), "...Should they survive..." (What!? Wait, listen.), "...you will be dePaired..." (Does what we want matter? No. Listen.), "...in Ogon or on Totec..." (Mighty gracious of you. Hush.), "...to accept Pairing with you..." (-?- -!-), "... our line of succession..." (OUR BABIES!), "...have nothing to add, you may go."

"Parent," began Jing, fighting to speak through the turmoil in his and Yllsa's mind.

"Yes, child."

"I am -- uncomfortable with not having been consulted before this decision was made."

"You will feel better once the dePairing is complete," Drol assured him before departing.

Yovern and Senob rose and left together, talking quietly, Yovern not meeting his daughter's sorrow filled gaze.

Punic: "Yllsa?"

The Elite smiled her victory at them before fading away.

*

"I shall have to teach that woman something about tact," grumbled Jing.

"Before or after your Pairing?" grumbled Yllsa.

The memory of Drol's words came back forcefully: "... for study and rearing..."

Our babies...

Each cradling the other, Jing cocooned them in a force globe and Ported to the Dogoni section of the Complex's nursery. Senob was already there, near Emas's and Yrtrum's Mating Sheath, in which were gestating his only grandchildren. On the cot next to her unborn babes lay Emas, one hand resting on the pulsing, mottled sphere. Their own brood were still napping in a contented jumble, so Jing and Yllsa positioned themselves on either side of the distracted Senob.

"'For study and rearing,'" whispered Yllsa.

Senob stiffened.

"'Should Emas survive her dePairing,'" added Jing.

"Do not mock me, young Lord!"

"I assure you that was not my intention, old friend," said Jing. Yllsa began massaging the tenseness from the doctor's shoulders and neck.

"If there was some safe alternative to having Emas forcibly dePaired," continued Jing, "would you be interested?"

Hope flared and died in Senob's anguished eyes: "Lord Drol has commanded it."

"Will Bennarlda's procedure work for the Families?" Jing asked.

"They worked on you."

"Well then," said Jing, taking the surprised doctor's face in his hands and gently forcing him to make eye contact. "There is no real reason to traumatize either Emas or me and my mate any further. Don't you agree, old friend?"

His eyes glazing over, Senob stared at Jing: "Yes, my Lord."

"Will you help us save Emas and her babies from Drol's mandate?" Yllsa whispered into Senob's ear.

"Yes, my Lady."

"This," said Jing, "is what you must do."

*

They had Senob rouse Emas and instruct her to prepare both her and their broods for travel, then had him summon Bennarlda to the nursery, "to consult about some unusual readings from the second batch of hybrids."

Bennarlda: "I'm on my way."

Senob went back to assist with Emas' preparations; while Jing and Yllsa waited near their own drowsy infants, trying to stir the five with tickles, but getting only sleepy complaints in response.

Jing hoisted the largest one, still only a double-handful, and held it at eye level. The child endured the inspection with only a slight frown as evidence of its annoyance at having its nap interrupted. Something behind Jing caught the child's attention. Jing turned to see what.

Bennarlda.

"I believe this one may end up being the brood leader," Bennarlda opined. Elbowing past Yllsa, Bennarlda reached for the infant. Jing lowered it back onto the bed. "That may be true," he agreed.

"Wait a moment," Bennarlda said, "I want to check something," She leaned into the crib, brushing Jing's hands aside, and not noticing Yllsa stepping close behind her, blocking the view of any casual passersby. Jing snapped his hand up, locking fingertips about the stunned Bennarlda's face. Her expression grew slack, her eyes unfocused.

"Now, just how did you manage to orchestrate Yllsa's and my Pairing?" Jing asked.

As the doctor droned her explanation on, and on, Yllsa saw that the child, now wide awake, was watching them with great interest.

Smiling, she reached over and stroked its curly hair.

*

Later, Lord Jing waited, comfortably enthroned, until the Lady Punic eventually answered his summons to his and Yllsa's suite. Fashionably late. As usual, he sent to Yllsa and smiled at her reply. Punic eyed him with poorly concealed disdain, before giving the customary half bow due one of his station.

He returned her scrutiny, all innocence.

"What did you want?" asked Punic.

He continued to watch Punic as her exasperation grew.

"Why have you summoned me, Lord Jing?" Punic demanded.

"I've always thought that you were beautiful, Lady Punic," he said, rising to stroll over to his and Yllsa's bed.

"Why...thank you...my Lord," she said, surprised, "Where, may I ask, is Yllsa?"

Jing shrugged away her question. "Off somewhere, doing something," he said, trying to ignore Yllsa's mind chuckle. "Tell me, are you certain that you still wish to Pair with me?"

"Of course, I am certain, my Lord."

"Even though some of Yllsa will, no doubt, remain with me after the dePairing?"

"Yes, my Lord."

"Do you love me, Lady Punic?"

"Of course, my Lord."

"Indeed? Then come to me. Now."

Bemused, Punic pulled into herself. She'd begun her break out, when Jing snared her in a force globe. She struggled to free herself from the rapidly shrinking globe, as Jing siphoned out the air. Eyes wide with realization, Punic strained to scream. Jing hardened the energy casing into a rigid second skin.

Don't take too long, Yllsa. Dogoni don't keep well, he told his mate. He plopped down on the bed and fluffed the pillows into a more comfortable backrest. Then, chuckling at Yllsa's 'harrumph,' he Ported Punic's deglobed corpse out to the suite's perimeter and turned on the force shield and hall monitors simultaneously. The energy field sizzled away the layers of Punic's flesh, leaving the corridor filled with a haze as from meat overcooked too quickly. What remained twitched, smoking, on the floor.

Such a terrible accident, he told Yllsa.

She should have known to keep her place, came her reply.

*

In Yrtrum's well-cushioned quarters, Yllsa received from Jing: I'm summoning the medics now. Is Yrtrum ready?

Yes, go ahead, she answered. I'm nearly done here.

"We have not only failed our mission," she continued, "but have betrayed out father's and our race's trust."

Yrtrum curled into an even tighter ball, whimpering: "It's not my fault! I didn't know about Punic's treachery! How could I have! There was nothing I could do!"

Yllsa choked back the urge to beat this once arrogant fool!

"There is a way that we can redeem ourselves," she assured him.

"How?" asked Yrtrum, diminished both physically and emotionally by his Pairing with Emas.

"We can take advantage of our new Dogoni attributes, slip into Bennarlda's Warehouse and destroy her 'Vats' before anyone can stop us."

"Drol's guards wouldn't let a Totec anywhere near the Warehouse!"

"You forget. I am Drolchild, now."

Yrtrum quieted, listening.

"I can Port you in and keep the guards busy while you destroy the Vats."

"'Port?' You? How...?"

Yllsa felt Jing's laughter.

"I've been practicing."



*

"Who will you choose for my mate, this time, Parent?" Jing asked both of Drol, as they watched Punic's remains being bagged and Ported away.

"Do you have any non-accident prone preferences?" "There aren't enough suitable Elite daughters left..." "...to be wasted."

Jing half turned away from his Parent: "I'd 'prefer' one who isn't so treacherous as to conspire with some malefactor who murders our only allies, while plotting to rape me!"

(Yllsa flung a force globe around Yrtrum and Ported them both to an older section of Bennarlda's Warehouse.)

Both of Drol regarded their son, then: "Perhaps you would like to have the final pick from our choices?"

(Before releasing the hysterically gleeful Yrtrum, Yllsa grasped his face...)

"That is agreeable."

(..."You will forget my involvement. When asked how you got past the guards, you will admit to having had Punic's help. Do you understand?" "Yes, Yllsa. I understand.")

"Which leaves us with having to explain Punic's 'accident' to the Families." "Have you any suggestions?"

NOW! he told Yllsa.

(Yllsa released Yrtrum, who began ripping out wires and tearing away tubing. Before Porting, she tripped the alarm system Bennarlda had, at Jing's command, earlier disabled.)

The Complex's bleating alarms startled them all. Jing hurried after both of Drol, who ran to the comm unit in his quarters.

"Bennarlda!" both yelled, trying to be heard over the alarms, "what is happening?"

"Yrtrum has escaped and is destroying my Vats!" screamed Bennarlda's voice over the unit. "You must stop him!"

"We will stop Yrtrum! they shouted, Thundering out!

Jing bowed to the place Drol had been, then Ported to join his own family.

*

Before rendezvousing with Jing, Emas and the children, Yllsa Ported outside Yovern's quarters, hesitating before pressing the buzzer.

When he opened the door, all the words she'd intended to say -- vanished.

Yovern's expressionless face was cold, hard, stone. Then, still silent, he quietly shut the door.

Come to me, Myself, soothed Jing, let's go home.

Refusing to let her tears fall, Yllsa answered: I come.



RIKTIV

After smiling approval at their babes perched ashiver - not from fear, but barely contained excitement - in unwilling silence on nooks and in crannies within the Inner Sanctuary, both of Riktiv returned their attention to the monitor's images of the intruders' probing.

In the Outer Cavern, Senob turned away to speak with both of Drol and Yovern, who all nodded in agreement. Drol then bundled the solemn faced Yovern within a force globe and the three faded away. Senob resumed supervising the remaining interlopers in collecting the relics of Riktiv's PrePaired selves, Jing and Yllsa.

When his team finally finished, he stood one moment longer, a somber shadow silhouetted in the entrance by the day's final rays.

Then, Senob, himself, sealed the cave.



HOW IT BEGINS

"I'll take one last look around before I call it quits," answered the Totec searcher, perplexed about the state of Yrtrum's recovered ship.

There was no damage so, apparently, Yrtrum had made a controlled landing.

Though he was curious about the ship's condition and contents, especially the clothes and Wardens of the eight Totec team members laying in clumps within the ship, the searcher was tired and wanted to go rest.

"Alright then," said the dispatcher's voice, "see you once you get back."

A small movement in the brush drew the searcher's attention.

"Yeah," he answered, distracted. "Good-bye."

And killed the connection.

Gingerly, he parted the dry limbs.

What found him didn't give him enough time to be surprised...

end

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 2:14 AM . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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