Chapter II: The Signal

            Sol was the first to receive the signal from the moon.  All the Sentinels were regenerating, as they had to do every third day.  The signal slashed through the chips in his brain and his eyes popped open.  He was on his feet and fully dressed within seconds, making his way out into the hallway before he was even fully awake.  He startled Toyus, who was also striding down the hallway.

            “What is it?” the young man asked.

            “Give me a moment, my lord,” Sol said and strode to Ariahl’s room, knocking on the door.

            A second later, she stood before him.

            “I felt it,” she told him.  “Wake the others and the humans.”

            Sol saluted.  “Right away, Commander.”

            He turned to Toyus, who stood by expectantly.  “Wake your parents and siblings.  We have to meet right away.”

            Toyus stalked away without a reply.  Sol appreciated the young man’s seriousness and dedication.

            Fifteen minutes later, the Sentinels were gathered in the library of the South Wing.

            “They have anchored in one of the Lagrange points,” Sol told his colleagues.  “Five ships total.”

            Ishel was pacing.  “We must warn the city.”  He looked at Ariahl and Mariel.  “I’m going to send the gardener to the city to fetch Warlord Rien Tholten.”

            Ariahl nodded.  “Go.”

            Ishel hurried away.

            Kaster shifted in his seat.  “What is our plan of defense?”

            “We disrupt their magnetic fields or electrical fields,” Mariel replied.  “We want their transports down as soon as possible.  Once we capture one of their transports, we can gather intel.”

            Mariel turned to Topon.  “What has Malida told you about their vulnerabilities?”

            Topon leaned forward and rested his forearms on his thighs.  His almond-shaped eyes took his colleagues.  “They are mortal beings with fleshy bodies.  They are not android or cyborg.  They can be killed.”

            Derik stood.  “Don’t take them for granted.  From what Malida said, they are desperate because their race is dying.”

            “They were a warrior race once and have recalled their past,” Mariel told them.  “I spoke to Malida last night, after her most recent vision.  She says they are descended from some catlike animal.  Their claws can eviscerate a being, so don’t let them come near you.  It is best to stand apart and disrupt their vehicles.  They fight with both feet and hands and are vicious.”

            Kaster sat back.  “They won’t do well in this gravity, though.”

            Ariahl nodded.  “That is our only advantage, I think.  They will be no match for us, if they are incapable of functioning because of gravity.”

            Topon shook his head.  “We can’t stop them all without regenerating.  We should attack in waves.  We’ll go first. When it is time to rest, Malida’s family can take over.”

            “Agreed,” Ariahl said.  “Although they will tire more easily than we will.”

            Mariel took a deep breath and released it.  “They may be only good for one wave.”  She turned to the doctor.  “Have we a drug that assists in stimulating energy production in humans?”

            Derik nodded.  “Yes.  But if we apply such a drug, they will collapse and be useless for a number of days afterward.  Do we really want to go that route?”

            Mariel grimaced.  “I don’t know.”

            “I say we forego the drugs,” Ariahl told them.  “We will have to trust their stamina.”

            The human family shuffled into the library, looking bewildered.

            “What has happened?” Malida demanded.

            Ariahl rose from her seat. “They are here.”

            The rest of the Sentinels rose at Malida’s gasp.

            “So soon?” the woman asked in a small voice.

            Moyen slid his arm around her waist.  “This time next year, we will be safe.”

            She looked at him.  “Will we?”

            “I have to believe so,” he told her.

            Itina began to weep and Malida gathered the girl in her arms.

            “Be strong, child,” Malida murmured against the girl’s hair.  “We have to be warriors.”

            Ishel returned.  “I’ve sent the gardener to fetch the Warlord.”

            Moyen nodded. “Thank you, Ishel.”

            Ariahl looked around the room.  “Are you sure they will attack here first, Malida?”

            The woman released her daughter.  “Yes.  We are all linked.  They will come here.”

            Derik nodded.  “They are directly overhead in the nearest Lagrange point to this location. Malida is correct.”

            “Sit everyone, please,” Ariahl told them.

            Everyone took a seat and the Commander of the Sentinels closed the library door.

            She went to stand before the fireplace and faced them.  “Malida, we are going to attack them by disrupting their electrical and magnetic fields, downing their transports.  We need to capture at least one alive so that we may learn their physiology.  That way, the Sentinels can create a large disruption that will affect the race rather than their machines.”

            Malida nodded.  She looked at Moyen.

            Her husband sighed.  “We can charge Rien with capturing some of the beings alive.”

            “They must stun the aliens,” Derik told the man.  “They cannot get near them for danger of being eviscerated by their claws.  Don’t forget these beings are warriors first and foremost and are built for stamina and speed.”

            “I won’t,” Moyen assured him.

            Ariahl placed a hand on the fireplace mantle.  “We will head towards the grass fields northeast of the city.  There we can battle these beings without causing disruption to the populace.”

            Malida leaned forward.  “But we don’t know where they will attack.”

            “Once they realize we are disrupting their fields, they will head to where we are located.  Don’t worry about that,” Mariel replied.

            “Dress in leather armor,” Moyen told his family.  He rose.  “Let’s get ready before Rien gets here.”

            He looked at the Commander.  “We have bahil for you to ride.”

            Ariahl smiled at him.  “Thank you, my lord.”

            “These animals are battle-trained,” he told her.  “They will remain steady under you when you are in the heat of battle.”   He signalled to his family.  “Come.”

            “You have an hour,” Sol told the human family.  “Then we must head to the battlefield.”

            “Understood,” Moyen said and led his family away.

            Ariahl looked at Sol.  “You sense it, too?  They are waiting.  I wonder why.”

            Sol shook his head.  “I only feel they are gathering some intel and preparing their transports.  I feel their arrogance as a race.”

            Derik rose.  “They have had little competition since leaving their planet.  They have grown complacent.”

            Mariel rubbed her fleshy arm.  “Don’t forget they are desperate.”

            “We won’t,” Derik told her.  “But they are relieved to have found this planet.  And they believe themselves to be superior.”

            Topon chuckled.  “A mortal, flesh and blood being should never feel superior.”

            Kaster frowned.  “They have encountered beings on underdeveloped planets.  They think this planet is the same.  They don’t realize we are here.”

            “Let’s keep it that way,” Ariahl said.  “Let’s align our mind chips.”

***

            Warlord Rien Tholten led his company through the grass fields northwest of the city.  He had informed his second-in-command, Seron Etol, of what they could expect.  His second had reacted with doubt at first, until the Sentinels had showed him their metal arms and legs.

            Commander Etol wore a grim expression as he rode next to Rien.

            “Why are we bringing so few warriors, Warlord, to a battle?” he growled.

            Rien looked over his shoulder at the company behind them.  They numbered 152, 150 warriors and two commanders.

            Rien turned to look ahead once more.  “We are here to capture the fallen enemy and that is all.  We cannot engage.”

            Etol frowned.  “But why not?”

            Rien sighed.  “You’ll see.  They come on machines from the air, Etol.  How are we to fight that?”

            Etol looked away.  “Goddess aid us!  Who is fighting this enemy?”

            “The Sentinels and Moyen’s family.”

            “We must train our warriors to fight the external threat,” Etol told him.

            “I agree,” Rien assured him.  “I’ve already spoken to Moyen and he agrees.  We just don’t have time until this initial threat is dealt with.”

            They reached where the Sentinels and the Ekesj family had gathered and Rien lifted an arm to bring the company to a halt.

            The silence, except for the whistling wind and the huffs and grunts from their mounts, was deafening.

            Moyen urged his mount forward.  “Men!”

            The company saluted the First Consort.

            Moyen rode his bahil back and forth before the company of soldiers.  “This is Commander Ariahl of the Sentinels.”

            The soldiers stared at Moyen. Some coughed; others laughed nervously. 

            Ariahl rode forward and lifted her metal arm into the sky.  She pointed her hand in the direction of a boulder, half buried in the ground.  A light emitted from her hand and the boulder moved.  She frowned with concentration.  The boulder moved again and soon was lifting into the air.

            There were cries and swearing from the company of soldiers.  They looked with awe upon the dusky Sentinel.

            “What is the meaning of this, Warlord?” someone demanded.

            Rien turned his mount to face the company.  “The Sentinels have awakened because a threat from outside the planet has amassed.”

            “Lies!” someone cried out.

            Rien turned to Ariahl.  “Show them again.”

            Ariahl nodded and muscled her mount closer to the company.  She held her metal hand out.  Her hand began to glow blue.  A high pitched whirr emitted from Ariahl’s arm and two soldiers were thrown off their mounts and landed several feet away on the ground.  They lay on their backs stunned and blinking blindly at the sky.

            Rien perceived the beginnings of panic.

            “Hold!” he roared.  “Attention!”

            The company turned to him and saluted.

            “You are in good hands,” he told them.  “I need you to believe and to be strong.  You will see many things today that will shock and frighten you.  I need you to be strong!  I need you to be warriors!  For North Torahn!”

            “Aye!  For North Torahn!” the company cried as one.

            “Do I have your loyalty and courage?” he demanded.

            “Aye aye, Warlord!”

            Rien turned to Moyen.  “That is the best I can do, sir.  I chose our steadiest men.”

            “You did good,” Moyen told him.  He turned to the Company and urged his mount forward.  “Do not get close to these beings.   If you corner one outside of his vessel, use your stone throwers to stun them and then bind their arms and legs and tails.  We will place them on the wagons and haul them to Draemin Castle.  Once we lose our element of surprise, anything can happen.  So, we must capture them as soon as they fall from their transports.  If their crashes kill them, gather the corpses.  We need at least ten specimen. Understood?”

            “Aye, Sir!” the company cried as one.

            Moyen turned to Rien.  “I do not lie.  It will not be easy to defeat them once the element of surprise is gone.”

            “We can’t allow the Sentinels or your family to be captured, sir,” Rien said.  “They cannot learn about our weapons.”

            Ariahl urged her mount to where Rien and Moyen were conversing.  “Sir.  Did you say you have stone throwers?”

            “Yes,” Rien told her.  “We have catapults and ballistas.”

            “Bring the catapults and ballistas.  We will use them to knock their transports from the sky,” she said.

            Rien nodded and dispatched two soldiers to fetch another company to bring three catapults to the field.

            Moyen turned to Ariahl. “If they aliens fly close, we can also dispatch them with slings.”

            “The catapults are our best chance,” she replied.

            “All the company have bows and arrows and slings,” Rien told her.

            “Then I suggest they fight alongside us,” Ariahl said.  “Separate one quarter of the company to gather the fallen aliens.”

            Rien grinned at her.  “They will be relieved to hear that, my lady.  I will organize them now into fighting units.  Excuse me.”

            Ariahl turned to Moyen.  “We must allow your soldiers to fight, my lord.  This is their battle as well.”  She shook her head.  “We’ll have a greater chance of success if this doesn’t not become our private battle.”

            “Agreed,” he said and gnawed his lower lip.  “We will lose a lot of men.”

            “That is true in all wars,” she said to  him.  She grasped his shoulder with her fleshy hand and gently squeezed.  “Trust in your people, my lord.  They may surprise you.”

            “Indeed.”

            They turned towards Rien’s voice as he directed the company to break up into smaller units.

            They settled in to wait.

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