oun Shi’ehl D’jir Ya’ihone-Aellus prayed for death even as he wondered why the inhabitants of the world had not killed him outright. He was chained to the wall of a damp earthen cell. Others were with him, Deuili mostly. There had been disconcerting days of stomach illnesses, vomiting, and dizziness. D’jir could barely lift his head as he lay on the damp earthen floor. The weight of the world’s gravity lay on him like steel. He managed to crawl around the floor, weakly fighting against the chains on his wrists and ankles.
The others in the cell sensed his estrus and fought endlessly against their chains to get to him. Had he not been so stressed by the situation, he would have found the reactions of the others amusing. D’jir was no longer in heat. His body had reabsorbed the eggs. Rage had followed disappointment and then despair had filled him with its alien feelings and reactions. Now he only wished for death. The fact that they were held hostage still, after so many days, did not bode well for the Sha’jeen. They had either lost the battle or, if they won, there was a new High Priest and D’jir was now expendable.
He raised his head and gazed at the others in the cell. If the battle had been won, wouldn’t the soldiers have been freed? It made no sense to keep them hostage alongside any fallen Shi’ehl. The only possible answer was that they had lost. Sha’jeen had never lost a battle — not against their own kind and not against other, inferior species. The thought that these beings were their superiors made D’jir hiss and begin another useless fight against the iron manacles. After a few minutes of struggling, he went limp, panting from his exertions. The aliens had brought him meat to eat, but the meat had been impure, cooked and masked by substances that added alien flavors and odors. As hungry as D’jir was, he could not consume the flesh. Eating cooked meat would surely kill him.
He sat crosslegged, leaning heavily against the stone wall, his tail slashing the air behind him. He no longer sought to remain impervious or calm. He was starving to death and doubts about Ya’ih and Ael were filling him with murderous thoughts.
He shifted as the cell door was unlocked and pushed open. He straightened his back, alert and curious.
Two aliens walked in. They were stocky and short with bright and curious eyes.
They glanced at D’jir and made for him.
D’jir stiffened and hissed, unable to defend himself because of the short chains and the general heaviness in his limbs.
“Do not fret,” the taller of the two aliens stated in a deep voice.
D’jir stopped, cocking his head. “You…how do you know Sha’jeen?”
The taller of the two aliens waved a hand. D’jir’s eyes followed the movement of the hand. “It matters not how we know your language. Be calm. We mean you no harm, even though you attacked our planet.”
They squatted safely out of the range of D’jir’s chains. “You are here to conquer.”
D’jir sniffed at their odor. It was a curious mixture of metallic and flesh. It was not unpleasant, though strange.
“Answer him,” the shorter of the two demanded. This one had a lighter voice and spoke more haltingly.
“Ye,” D’jir hissed. “We came to conquer.”
The taller of the aliens cocked its head. “Well, you have failed. Your people retreated and returned to their ships.”
D’jir stiffened. “What do you want of me?”
“We would ask you why you came at all,” the shorter one asked. “But we already know. We are offering you a place to settle and live on our world.”
That brought D’jir up short. “Why would you do such a thing?”
“We are a warrior species as well,” the taller one replied. “But we don’t kill indiscriminately. Once, we were like you. We brought ourselves to the brink of annihilation through wars and pollution, disease and overpopulation. We destroyed our original world and had to take to the stars to find another. We are dispersed throughout the universe in different worlds.”
D’jir did not know what to say.
“We know your species has developed a toxicity to space travel,” the shorter one said. “This toxicity has reduced your chances of conception and breeding. This was seen with our kind, too.”
D’jir gaped then closed his mouth with a click, cutting his lower lip with his fangs. He did not even feel the injury.
“We thought as much,” D’jir said.
“So, you sought to settle on our world,” the taller one said.
“Ye,” D’jir replied.
“You’ll need to do so in an uninhabited land,” the shorter one said musingly. “We carry disease which will kill your kind. You carried a bacterium which is proving deadly to our kind.”
“Why are you doing this?” a Deuil demanded from the other side of the room.
D’jir shifted abruptly and hissed and spat. “Who gave you permission to speak, aun Deuil?”
The Deuil barked a sound of humor. “They are our masters now, oun Shi’ehl. Not you or your kind.”
D’jir narrowed his eyes, showing his impressive fangs, but the Deuil calmly stared back at him.
The taller of the aliens rose and turned to the Deuil who had spoken. “We don’t advocate the mass slaughter of intelligent beings, aun Deuil. We have learned from our past mistakes. If you keep attacking, we will fight you, but we would rather not decimate your numbers. Many of your kind died in the battle.”
The Deuil shifted. “How many?”
“We estimate fully over half of your kind died,” the shorter one told the soldier. “Most died from the injuries sustained in the crashes.”
The Deuil lifted his sharp chin. “We have many more warriors.”
D’jir hissed a laugh. “You fool! Do you know how many of their kind there are?”
The Deuil looked uncertain for a moment. “No. I’m not privy to such knowledge.”
D’jir sniffed. “They number into the millions, stupid Deuil. What have we?”
The Deuil looked embarrassed and dropped his gaze, sitting crosslegged on the floor.
D’jir hissed laughter and turned back to the aliens. “I repeat my original question, What do you want of me?”
The taller rose. “You are one of their rulers or leaders. You will return to the ship and offer a compromise. You may settle on the other side of the planet, on an uninhabited island. There is plenty of game there for your consumption. We know you only eat flesh, but you can learn to eat animals and perhaps begin to slowly change your digestive systems by incorporating other forms of food.”
D’jir was stunned. “You want me to become a diplomat and speak to my people about surrendering?”
The shorter one shook its head. “We aren’t speaking of surrendering, oun Shi’ehl. We speak of compromise.”
“The Sha’jeen do not compromise!” D’jir roared.
“Then are you willing to die as a species?” the taller asked mildly. “You’ve lost contact with your other arks, haven’t you? For all you know, you are the last of your kind. Is your pride greater than your sense of survival?”
“No,” another Deuil stated and rose shakily to his knees, his chains clinking as he moved. “We will compromise. I will take your message to our people.”
“Coward!” D’jir spat.
“Fool,” the Deuil replied calmly, bringing hisses of humor from the rest of the Deuili. He had not bothered to even look at D’jir. His eyes remained deferentially on the taller of the two beings. “I will go.”
The aliens nodded.
The shorter shifted. “You will go and give our proposal. If it is accepted, we will give you the coordinates to the island and all of you will be released.”
Another Deuil knelt. “Pardon me, ean Sk’oi–“
D’jir howled and began to fight against the chains at the blasphemy. “You will die, aun Deuil! You will die and I will kill you myself!”
“Be calm,” the taller alien stated, looking startled. “Why does the term upset you so?”
“You are not our masters!” D’jir hissed.
The taller of the aliens cocked his head. “We do not claim to be your masters, oun Shi’ehl. One battle would not make us so. Calm yourself.” It looked at the blasphemer. “You will not use that term, aun Deuil. I am called Ishel. This is Mariel. You will refer to us by our appellations.”
The Deuil bowed. “Ye, ea–Ishel.”
Ishel nodded. “Good. Why have you not eaten the food we have brought you?”
D’jir remained quiet, struggling to control himself.
“We cannot consume cooked meat,” a third Deuil piped up.
Mariel sighed. “We will bring you raw meat.”
“Thank you, Mariel,” another piped up.
The aliens left the cell, closing the door behind them.
“You are all cowards!” D’jir spat. “You surrender with the aplomb of a coward.”
“We wish to survive, oun Shi’ehl,” one of them replied. “Unlike you, we were given the will to survive and that will supersedes all.”
D’jir swallowed the bitter rage and despair that filled him. Where was Ya’ih? Where was Ael? What did this all mean?
A short time later, more aliens arrived with plates filled with raw meat. The fragrance, spicy and alien, was redolent with nutrients. D’jir watched distantly as an alien set his plate on the earthen floor and pushed it towards D’jir. The plate gently tapped D’jir’s right foot. He turned his head to watch as the Deuili fell upon their food with ravenous hunger. D’jir reached for his plate and picked up a bloody chunk. He bit into it and his mouth flooded with saliva. The taste was sweet and had the earthy aftertaste of plants. It was delicious and he fell upon the rest savagely, tearing and chewing and swallowing until he was replete, pushing away the remainder. They were brought water and D’jir picked up his bowl and drank his fill. The water was sweet and pure, unlike the water they had produced on the ship, which had been purified, filtered urine. This water tasted of the world.
After that, D’jir slept. He was awakened when the aliens returned with soldiers and freed two Deuili.
“You will come with us,” Ishel said. “We have a shuttle ready to transport you to your ship.”
The Deuili bowed and were carried out of the cell by soldiers. The cell door was closed behind them.
D’jir fell back asleep, curled up against the cold of the cell.
He dreamed. In the dream, there were thousands of Sha’jeen. Hundreds of kits romped or tussled on the grassy fields, hissing their joy and laughter. The Shi’ehli and the Deuili lived as equals and the boueli had become priests and educators.
He turned restlessly in his dream, panting.
They lived in wooden structures and grew crops and kept animals in pens. Other aliens came to them to trade goods and exchange knowledge. There was peace. Ael and Ya’ih were forgotten, stricken from religious texts and rituals.
He gasped and awoke, flicking his gaze around the dim cell. The others were asleep, twitching as they dreamed.
Sitting up, he wiped a shaking hand across his forehead. What does this mean, Ya’ih? Ael?
Laughter filled D’jir’s mind. I am not a god. I told you, oun Shi’ehl. I am Atana and I am Goddess of this world.
D’jir heard the being in his mind even while the cell remained almost silent, the only sound being the clink of chains as the Deuili shifted in their sleep.
Are Ael and Ya’ih dead? D’jir asked in his mind.
They no longer serve you, oun Shi’ehl. Their time is done.
Are we to worship you? What is a Goddess?
Laughter rippled through his mind. On this world, she replied, gender is divided into two: Male and female. The male impregnates the female and the female carries the kits in her womb. I am a Goddess, which means I am female.
You are like me, D’jir mused. I carry kits in my womb.
We are different species, oun Shi’ehl. I am not like you. Your sexes allow you to self-procreate. Our females cannot do this.
D’jir hissed his frustration. “Then why did my body reabsorb my eggs?”
Your species is poisoned by radiation. This will correct itself, in time. Your gender will once again rule your species, but you must rule differently. Change my image and recreate me as a Sha’jeen. One who is Shi’ehli. Call me Atana.
D’jir shifted, resting his back against the wall. That is not in our language. May we change your name to Ie’teina?
More laughter. As long as you respect me in all my guises. I rule reproduction, battle, aging and purity and family.
D’jir bowed. Tell me how to proceed, ean Sk’oi.
You will know when to introduce a new deity to your kind. Be patient, listen, and learn. Bide your time, oun Shi’ehl. You will rise to greatness once more.
He shook with gratitude and emotions he had never felt before. Inside him, his mind shifted and he gasped. The tender emotions threatened to overwhelm him. He glanced wildly at the others in the cell, but they slept on peacefully, unaware of his turmoil, horror, and despair. He panted with disconcertion and stress, his tail flicking wildly behind him. Closing his eyes, he prayed to Ie’teina, desperate and lost. And she answered him. Something filled him with warmth, like heated oil. As the warmth spread throughout his body, it flared in his womb, producing such heat, he was sure he would die. He writhed on the earthen floor, gasping at the burning sensation. Then, when he thought he would scream out loud, he felt conception inside his womb. It takes but one egg, he heard in his mind. The one not reabsorbed quickly enough. You have quickened. The others in this cell will spread the news of your self-procreation. You will not be High Priest or King, but your offspring will.
In awe, D’jir placed a hand over his womb. He blinked. He could feel his body beginning to change to accommodate life. He hissed his joy.
The others in the cell began to stir, becoming aware of the chemicals being released into the closed air of the cell by D’jir’s body.
Hisses filled the silence.
D’jir straightened his back as the soldiers rose from their resting positions to kneel before D’jir.
“The Goddess Ie’teina has allowed me to conceive the first kit of this world,” D’jir murmured into the silence.
The Deuili murmured.
One of them bowed. “This is a new god?”
“Ye,” D’jir replied. “The God of this world. Ael and Ya’ih have no power in her domain.”
The Deuili bowed their foreheads to the ground. “oun Shi’ehl. Honored High Priest. Praises for Ie’teina, God of the People!”
D’jir felt Atana’s amusement in his mind. He hissed with joy.