The wagon filled with bales of nutritious grasses and barrels filled with unknown contents lumbered over the paved road. On the wagon bed, next to the goods, Ariahl and the others sat crosslegged, conversing through the chips embedded in their brains. Xenolinguist Ishel deciphered the language known as the Common Tongue after immersing themselves in the culture for four weeks. The Common Tongue was a descendant of two branches of language: G’lish, a deterioration from the original language, English, and Ancient Isili, a language native to the planet. Ancient Isili branched further into two other languages: Isemi and Seyan, also known as Farrukian. Humans, over time, became hu’ans. They could not breed with any of the native races of beings, of which there were the three: Isili, Isemi and Farrukian. The races native to the planet could and did interbreed, specifically the Farrukians and the Isili. The Isemi were racial purists and pretty much kept to themselves.
The Sentinels also learned that civilization, language and art had evolved first in the Isili culture, the Isemi remaining cave dwellers and hunter gatherers long after the Isili began to build cities. Farrukians and Isili had considered themselves one race in the distant past and had fractured over religion, the Farrukians leaving en masse from the main habitats and sailing to the continent closest the world’s southern pole, where they settled and developed a robust and highly artistic culture.
Ishel was endlessly fascinated by the process of learning from words and languages. He enjoyed his collaborations with Topon, who was xenobiologist, and Sol, who was xenopsychologist. He had learned from Topon that all animals and sentient beings on the planet, except for the reptile-like vinah and its cousins, insects, and hu’ans, were dual-sexed. It meant any being that originated on this planet before Odyssey landed, could carry a child to term or impregnate others. Ishel knew that Topon itched to run experiments and look into cadavers, but all that would have to wait until the threat of the aliens was dealt with.
Humans have been treated fairly decently on this world. Sol’s thought bathed Ishel’s chips.
And that surprises you? Ishel replied.
Sol shrugged. Humans haven’t always been kind to each other, but the Isili are genuinely peaceful beings. They allowed humans among them and how did humans repay them? By enslaving them and stealing their language and culture.
Topon shifted. Earth did not realize this planet was already colonized by sentient species.
Sol grimaced. No excuse. We shouldn’t have colonized this world at all.
Ishel leaned forward, gazing into Sol’s brilliant blue eyes. Sensors revealed land masses without sentient beings.
Sol rolled his eyes. Knowing how fast humans reproduce and how invasive they are as a species should have given our people pause.
Ishel sat back. You are right, of course. If you recall, Sol, none of us voted to land on this planet. It came from the captain and her counselors.
They were afraid the pods were corrupted, and they would lose lives, Ariahl piped up. They had no choice. Hopefully, the sister planet had no inhabitants.
Let’s hope, Sol replied dryly. His fierce stare spoke to his agitated state. Of them all, Sol was the most compassionate and emotional. It was ironic that he represented practicality, created to represent that aspect of mortality. He was number 6, representing responsibility and service. Of them all, Sol fit his role the best.
Ishel himself represented the number 7, the number of creation. Ishel rounded off the Sentinels and represented unity. On a daily basis, he did not feel enough to hold the mystical meaning of his given number. He was supposed to complete the Sentinels, for he was the final one created in Series Four, but the human part of him never felt up to the task.
He looked at Topon, who represented the number four, the number of stability and order, of mankind. He had been trained as a xenobiologist, for no other role would have fit him. Topon was calm and centered and slow to act. He centered the Sentinels, balancing the numbers’ more expressive of members, like Sol, and those who were more cerebral, like Ariahl, or slow to act, like Mariel.
He glanced at their leaders, Ariahl and Mariel, the only two females of their Series. Ariahl, being number one, represented strength and individuality. It was the number of the human being. She was perfect as their captain. She represented intuition for the Sentinels and needed Mariel to balance her impulsivity. As number two, Mariel represented duality and plurality, and she walked an unsteady line between spirituality and the material world. She was emotional and compassionate and always thought carefully before acting, while Ariahl always seemed to act from her gut feelings, seemingly often acting without thought.
Derik was third born, third created. The number three signified harmony, wisdom and understanding to the ancients. As an engineer, he understood the workings of most machines. He also represented the ability of Vision among the Sentinels. And that left Kaster, who was created fifth. Personal wit, freedom and a sense of adventure were his hallmarks. He had been trained as a doctor and he was a good doctor because he did not balk at trying different and even untried methods of curatives. Within the Sentinels, he represented possibility and always had the most outlandish of ideas.
As they neared their destination, Ishel closed his eyes and made a mental sweep of his chips and cells, finding himself in optimal health. The duty was Kaster’s, but Ishel liked to keep himself at best performance. His metal legs and left hand, hidden beneath clothing and shoes, were of durable materials and were as fully functioning as when he went into cold sleep. His hands were hidden beneath gloves and he frowned. It felt like he was under water, since the sensors did not work optimally under the shield of cloth. So, he relied on his fleshy face and neck to mark the changes in temperatures.
The wagon rolled up to a vast single-story house shaped like a U, with three wings, north, south and east. There were soldiers crawling all over the yard. One of them, looking serious and surly, stepped to the back of the wagon.
“Name your purpose,” he said.
The Sentinels did not reply at once, their chips having to decipher his words, intent and compose a reply.
“We come seeking an audience with the Warlord,” Ariahl replied haltingly.
The man looked them over with open hostility. “Remain here. I’ll fetch the Warlord.”
They climbed off the wagon bed so the driver and two soldiers could unload it.
They remained in a cluster near the front door.
The structures of their homes are very like Earth, Sol offered silently.
Yes, Ariahl replied. How curious. This building is almost mediterranean, isn’t it? I wonder if those are genetic memories.
Ishel found himself shrugging.
The front door opened and the hostile soldier led another soldier, this one young and very handsome, to where they stood as a little group.
“You wish to see the Warlord?” the young soldier asked.
Ishel, as xenolinguist, stepped forward. “Yes. Are you the Warlord?”
The young man bowed. “At your service.”
Ishel returned the bow. “This is for your ears only.”
The Warlord nodded and waved the other soldier away. “Come inside the villa then please.”
They stepped into the past. There was a foyer, gleaming with pale marble veined with gold and silver. There were pale wooden walls and colorful throw rugs. There were exquisite tapestries and luscious paintings on the walls.
The Warlord led them to what amounted to a library and shut the sliding door to the hallway.
“Sit, please,” he told them.
They all sat in the plush pale gold armchairs and loveseats.
The Warlord remained standing. “Name your business.”
Ishel rose again and removed the glove from his metal arm. “We are the Sentinels.”
The Warlord took a step back, his eyes round as he took in Ishel’s blue metal and plastic arm. He fell onto his knees.
“Goddess preserve!” he cried.
“We are not to be worshipped!” Ariahl growled. “Rise, Warlord.”
The Warlord scrambled to his feet. “It is not I who you have come to see, then.”
Kaster’s eyes went flat as he scanned the young man’s genetic signature. “He’s correct.” His eyes returned to normal. “Bring us the Warlord and the Queen.”
The young soldier sighed. “The Queen is recuperating in her suites. She can’t walk yet.”
The Sentinels rose as one.
“Take us to her,” Ariahl demanded softly.
Ishel brought up the rear as they all strode down a long hallway filled with beautiful paintings of landscapes and a few portraits.
They stepped into an overly warm room with a hearth crackling with a healthy fire.
“She is through this door, in her bedroom,” the soldier told them and led them into a second room that was stuffy and smelled of medicaments and illness.
There were seven people beyond the door and Ishel knew at once he had met their counterparts.
The Sentinels stood with their backs to the door in a semi circle.
The woman on the bed shifted. “You have arrived!”
Ariahl smiled. “Descendants, there is much to be done.”
Those standing knelt.
Mariel frowned. “Rise, please. We are not gods.”
“We are the Sentinels,” Ariahl pronounced and removed her gloves, revealing her metal and plastic hand. Little sensors flashed in the hand and wrist and disappeared beneath the sleeves of her tunic.
The silence in the room was like that of a sepulchre.
The woman on the bed began to sob weakly.
A middle aged man sat on the edge of the bed and pulled her into a hug. “There, Malida. Becalm yourself, wife.”
“But it’s all true!” she cried and shivered. “They are coming for us, those monsters! How can fourteen of us protect an entire world?”
“Be calm,” Mariel whispered. “We will not let the aliens destroy humanity.”
The young soldier who had led them here cleared his throat. “I’ll bring more chairs.”
No one said anything as soldiers lugged in armchairs and set them about the room until it was crowded.
“I’ll be outside,” the young soldier told them.
The older man rose from the bed. “No, Rien. You stay here. Make sure no one is in the sitting room.”
“Do not concern yourself,” Derik told the older man. “I will seal the room using a field.”
The young soldier closed the door and leaned against it.
The Sentinels clasped hands and sealed the room with a field that distorted sound. They sat in a semicircle near the door leading to the sitting room.
“It is safe to speak,” Ariahl announced. “Please tell us your names.”
“I am Malida Ekes’j,” the woman on the bed said softly. “I was Queen of Draemin City until I was removed from office for insanity.” She indicated the older man. “This is my first husband, Moyen. He was, until very recently, Warlord. These are our children: Toyus, my heir; Emeida and Soena; Pren; and Itina. My family are seven to your seven.”
Ishel leaned forward. “Do you know what that means, Malida?”
The woman swallowed thickly. “No. I was told to take a tea made from okre leaves and I would survive the poison and know magic, but there is no magic.”
“Not magic,” Sol told her. “Well, to you it will seem so. But we manipulate fields, such as magnetic fields. The results will seem magical to you, but it is science. We will teach you.” He looked around the room. “You’ve all imbibed the poison?”
Heads bobbed yes.
Kaster frowned. “Then why are you still weak?”
Malida grimaced. “I took too much.”
“I need to rise,” Kaster told the others. “I need to examine her.”
He rose and went to the bed, where he perched on the edge of the mattress. “I will examine you, Malida. It may be unpleasant but it won’t hurt.”
Malida nodded. “Go on then.”
Kaster placed his metal hand on her chest and closed his eyes. A blue light emanated from the metal hand and engulfed the woman on the bed. Clicks and whirrs filled the stunned silence in the room. Finally, after about ten minutes, Kaster sighed and sat back, removing his metal hand from her chest.
“There is damage to the heart and internal organs.” He looked at the other Sentinels. “Permission to heal her.”
“It’s your call,” Ariahl replied.
He nodded and bent to his task.
“He uses the ability to distort fields to heal damage in the cells,” Ishel told Moyen and his children. “It is slow work but it works. She’ll recover once she rests and the body expels the poison.”
“What must I do?” Moyen asked.
“Give her only broths and water for three days,” Derik replied. “The fluids will dilute and flush out the poison.”
Toyus shook himself like a beast awakening. “I’ll go make the broth.”
Soena chuckled. “You burn water, brother. I’ll go.”
She left the room, closing the door behind her.
Some time later, she returned with a tray and two large mugs.
“Bone broth and water,” she told the Sentinels.
Ishel smiled at her, making her blush. “The body has its wisdom.”
She ducked her head and hurried to the bedside table, where she set the tray down.
Kaster rose. “You will feel very tired. Please drink your broth and water then rest.”
“We need to talk,” Malida insisted, a jaw-cracking yawn muffling her words.
“We will be here when you wake,” Mariel told her.
Soena sat on the edge of the mattress and handed her mother the large ceramic mug. “Drink it all, Aya.”
“We will speak when you wake,” Mariel repeated to the room. “There is still time to train all of you before the aliens arrive.”
“We need to regenerate,” Ariahl told Moyen. “Where can we rest?”
He nodded and walked to the door. “This way. You’ll each get a room. Come.”
Ishel looked one last time at Malida, who was sipping her broth and was more than half asleep already.