Chapter IX: Enemy Revealed

            Sol finished his entry into his work tablet and ran his eyes over what he had dictated.

            Day 60 since awakening.  The aliens are due to arrive in two months’ time.  We have been contacted by our counterparts on the sister planet, Syrion.  Humans on that planet have devolved and remain rudimentary in their language and culture, opting to live simple lives in grass huts or caves.  There will be no contacting the populace for fear of corrupting their evolutionary timeline.  Our counterparts assure us there are signs the populace is developing complex religions and cultures, especially those people living near oceans, rivers and in areas of rich earth amiable to agriculture.  Our counterparts estimate it will be at least 1500 years before they will evolve complex cities and cultures.  Our fear is that if the aliens contact them, the populace with inevitably worship them as gods.  We must stop them here before they discover Syrion.  Our sensors identified five arks heading this way via the asteroid belt.  How the massive ships survived the asteroid belt is a mystery, but their sheer sizes tripped our sensors.  Although the ships are huge, there is no way to gauge the numbers of their inhabitants.  Most of the ships may be made up of machinery.  We noted they use sails to capture the solar winds, much as humans did when they settled Odyssey’s Landing and Syrion. The name Odyssey’s Landing has been corrupted to Audesei.  In the ancient Isili name it simply means “bearer,” which in human terms means “mother.”

            The rest of the beacons around the solar system have not been broken.   The beacons have been placed betweem the large gas planets and their rocky moons.  There are six planets in total in this solar system:  four gas giants and two terrestrial planets.  Syrion had no native sentient beings but was flourishing with plant and animal life when the ark Syrion arrived.  The four gas giants have twenty moons between them.  Syrion has two moons:  one small moon and the larger moon, where our counterparts went into cryosleep.  Audesei has only one moon, which the inhabitants have dubbed Tanita.  She is larger than the average moons in the solar system and, if a bit larger, might have been its third terrestrial planet.  

            All the sentient beings and the mammalian species on the planet Audesei are dual-sexed.  We use mammalian because the animals are warm blooded and they carry their young in their bodies until they are mature enough for birth.  There are a lot of small reptiles.  Some fly.  The most common is called the vinah.  Vinah are a littoral animal, living near coastlines and subsisting on the rich bounty of the seas and oceans.  The fish, like the reptiles, are single sexed, male and female, although the fish we have had a chance to study change sex at will and so do the reptiles.  The reptiles seem to have the roles birds did on old Earth. Some of the reptiles have feather-like coverings.  Many of the reptiles are able to fly.  They are small with hollow bones, much like birds.  There are innumerable numbers of ophidian, some poisonous and some benign.  There are many kinds of insects, some benign and some destructive.  Many inhabitants keep reptiles as pets to manage destructive insects.  The vinah is also used as a carrier animal, carrying notes in small tubes attached to their hind legs.  

            We, as a unit, have decided to remain on Audesei once the aliens have been dealt with.  There is much information to collect and maintain.  Once we collect the information, we will categorize it and enter it into the mainframe on the moon.  Then we will return to cryosleep until we are needed once more.  I will put to the team to awaken once every 200 years to see how the inhabitants of Audesei are evolving and faring.  The idea of sleeping forever does not sit well with me.  There may be no more alien contact with this planet.  Are we to sleep until the cryo chambers malfunction and we die?  

            He swallowed thickly and shut the tablet off, slipping it into his shoulder bag.  He rose from the desk and made his way out of his bedroom and down the hall to where the others had come together in the south wing’s expansive library.  They greeted him softly when he joined them.  He shut the library door behind him and took a seat in an unoccupied armchair.

            “Topon was explaining the properties of the okre tree,” Mariel murmured.

            Sol nodded but said nothing, turning expectantly to his counterpart.

            “The poison, if survived, seems to influence the ability to manipulate fields,” Topon said.  “It saturates the brain cells and changes them.  I would like time to study the tree further, to see if its flowers have enhancing properties, like the leaves do.”

            Ariahl nodded.  “When the aliens are dealt with, Topon.  We will remain here for a decade to study the planet and the animals and plants.”  She turned to Kaster.  “Have you spoken to Malida about her visions?”

            Kaster shifted and inclined his head.  “Yes.  The aliens are called ‘Sha’jeen’ and are collectively known as the ‘Sha’j.’  In the beginning, they were searching for habitable planets, but they evolved tall, thin bodies amenable to the thinner atmosphere and lesser gravity of their ships.  Their culture eventually developed into a knowledge-seeking culture.  They came across planets with sentient beings and they categorized the different planets, the different species of sentient beings, taking samples of trees, grasses, and the carcasses of insects and animals.  Their arks were equipped with hothouses to grow their foods and they were basically a vegetarian culture, abhorring killing of any sort.”

            He sighed and shook his head.  “They imported a destructive organism into their arks.  The bacterium — that was Malida’s term — destroyed their crops and soil.  The Sha’jeen almost disappeared as a species.   Their religion evolved. They picked up a particularly bloody entity called Ya’ih on some planet.  Ya’ih is a god of death and sacrifice.  The Sha’jeen made Ya’ih their own, rewriting their religious tome and reinventing themselves as a warrior race, as conquerors, and as cannibals.  They consumed their own kind for a few centuries and then developed a book called Ya’ih Shemis Uta (the God Prevails), in which they introduced the idea of consuming sentient beings to incorporate their intelligence and strengths and longevity.”

            Silence befell the library.  The Sentinels themselves, having taken an oath not to harm life unless to protect humanity, were vegetarian.  The idea of cannibalism or harming sentient beings for the purpose of nourishment disgusted and disturbed them.  Sol shuddered and tamped down the horror that was yawning inside of him.  The Sha’jeen must have long ago ruthlessly done away with compassion, curiosity and kindness.  They would come as conquerors and overlords.  There would be no compromising, not that compromise with such beings was possible.

            Kaster continued in a hushed tone.  “They have three genders:  the Shi’ehl, who are the equivalent of females, able to reproduce.  They rule the  Sha’jeen as high priests.  Malida told me the Shi’ehl have the appearance of young men, though, not women.  They do not lactate and she does not know how they feed their young.  The second most powerful gender is that of the deuil.  They are the ones who produce sperm in their genitals, able to impregnate the Shi’ehl.  Their roles are that of soldiers and protectors.  The final gender is that of bouel.  They are, essentially, neuters.  They are the work horses of the species, filling the role of servants and food for the Shi’ehl and deuil.  They are the most common gender among the Sha’jeen.”

            He frowned.  “Malida also told me that with each generation, less an less Shi’ehl are able to bare young.  Perhaps solar radiation has poisoned them.  Sperm is fragile, after all.  There is no reason to believe Sha’jeen sperm is any less fragile than that of human males.  So, she said the Sha’jeen come for genetic material as well as food.  The Sha’jeen were, first and foremost, scientists and researchers.  It gives me hope that their numbers are less than we anticipate.”

            “It is sad,” Mariel whispered.  “They began so well.”

            Sol shifted.  “Their evolution as a species is understandable, if unacceptable.  The drive to survive is the strongest instinct and it is informed by all the emotions.  A sentient species which began as a peaceful, exploratory one, conserving sentience in the universe, will have felt strong emotions like guilt and empathy.  In order to become conquerors, they needed obdurate justifications, including making themselves feel superior and, thereby, worthy of survival over all other species of beings.  This god they picked up was the vehicle through which they could remake themselves.”  He shook his head.  “It is fascinating how sentience duplicates behavior across species and worlds.”

            Ariahl grimaced.  “Humans have resorted to cannibalism for lesser reasons, after all, haven’t they?  There have been cultures on old Earth that resorted to cannibalism even when there was a bounty of food around them.”  She shuddered.  “For this reason, we must try to preserve the Sha’jeen.”

            Derik scowled.  “Our mission is to preserve humanity.”

            Mariel leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees.  “Our mission is ultimately to preserve life, Derik.”

            “Agreed,” Topon piped up and glanced at Derik.  “We have to preserve all sentient life, Derik.  We know your prejudices and preferences for the human being, but all sentient life is worthy of preservation.”        

            Derik crossed his arms over his chest.  “I disagree and argue against that proposal.”

            “Shall we take a vote?” Ariahl asked.  “All those in agreement that we should try to preserve the Sha’jeen, raise your left arms.”

            All the Sentinels, except Derik, raised their arms.

            “You have been outvoted,” Mariel pronounced without inflection.  “Will you agree not to harm the Sha’jeen?”

            Derik said nothing.

            Sol snorted and shook his head.  “You are number three, Derik.  The number of harmony, wisdom and understanding.  You represent vision.”

            “I am a scientist,” Derik growled.  “First and foremost.  If there is a destructive species, it should be eradicated for the sake of the whole.”

            “Why don’t we agree to excise what is poisoned?” Ishel asked.

            Derik turned to him.  “What do you mean?”

            “Their leaders and their priests are what keep their belief system intact.  Maybe we should focus on those and see if some of their younger members can be reprogrammed to live alongside other sentient beings?”

            Derik considered.  “I won’t kill younglings. So, yes.  I am for saving the youngest of the Sha’jeen and teaching them to be other than bloodthirsty cannibals.”

            Ariahl nodded.  “Do we agree we will save the offspring?”

            She put her hand out and each Sentinel then covered her right hand with their own.

            “Agreed,” Derik stated and sighed with relief.

            Kaster sat back.  “I will try to see why they aren’t reproducing, but that will have to be once we defeat them in battle.”  He rubbed his face with his fleshy hand. “This is all quite complicated.  I’m not sure how we will be able to manage.”  He turned to Ariahl.  “Has Malida have visions about how we fight them?”

            “Just battle scenes but nothing concrete,” their captain replied.  “We have to talk about strategy.”

            “How well can we prepare ourselves, if we don’t have the faintest idea of their weapons?” Mariel asked.

            “We will have to improvise,” Ariahl told her.  She looked at each Sentinel.  “We will have to think on our feet.  Our brain chips are up to the task, it is only our emotions that get in the way.”

            “We should have been left with at least one android,” Topon agreed.  “But we weren’t.  We will have to be enough.”

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