oun Nilja lingered near the hospital bed. For nearly a week, the shuttle had ferried the Amalgamese to their new home. He had watched from the sidelines, not sure when he would be allowed to leave as well. He glanced around the tent. The Amalgamese mostly accepted him, although he had seen a few resentful looks thrown his way in the past few days. Sentinel oun Mariel had explained that some of the Amalgamese blamed the Sha’jeen for their predicament.
The Sentinel had smiled at him. “It will pass, oun Shi’ehl.”
He had fought during the night of the raid. He had killed in the name of the Amalgamese and many had seen him do so. It was only the very stubborn that held on to their resentment. But he could not blame them. After all, the Sha’jeen had infected the populace of this world.
aun Toyus had not awaken from his injuries while the people were being ferried away. He lay quite still on the hospital pallet.
His parent, aun Moyen, always hovered near, sleepless and worried.
Today was no different. aun Moyen was sitting on a stool near the pallet.
“Is he better?” oun Nilja asked.
aun Moyen started and turned. “oun Shi’ehl! I thought you would have left by now.”
oun Nilja shook his head. “I await ean sk’oi Toyus to wake.”
aun Moyen’s eyebrows shut up. “ean sk’oi Toyus, is it?” He sighed. “Come, sit with me.” He pulled over another stool.
Wary, oun Nilja sat down near the older human.
“oun Shi’ehl, I have a question for you and I would like for you to answer me honestly,” the man said.
oun Nilja’s tail puffed out. He growled at it and turned back to aun Moyen.
“ean sk’oi,” oun Nilja began.
“None of that,” Moyen growled. “I am not your master, oun Shi’ehl.”
oun Nilja’s ears flicked. He disagreed but said nothing. He inclined his head instead.
“What is your interest in my child?” aun Moyen asked.
oun Nilja swallowed. How to explain this?
“aun Moyen,” he said. “Your son was the first bridge between our people. As such, he is holy. He is important for this world and our peoples going forward.”
“I see,” Moyen replied. “He isn’t holy to the rest of your people.”
oun Nilja ducked his head. “The rest of my people are afraid. I spoke to a few who saw your child and others like him as the replacements for the Sha’jeen. We still fear dying out as a race. I saw, right away, that your son is a bridge. Our genetic material will survive in some manner, even if it isn’t how we think or wish.”
“But the others don’t agree?” aun Moyen asked.
oun Nilja’s tail flicked against the stool legs. “I did not dare express my view, aun Moyen. I did not think I would be allowed to live, had I done so. At the very least, they would have made my life hard.”
“I see,” the man said and sighed. “You are wise, aun Nilja.”
“Ne,” he replied. “I know my people.”
aun Moyen shifted. “What is your purpose here, aun Nilja? Surely, you have doomed yourself to a hard existence. There are people here who don’t want you here, among the Amalgamese.”
oun Nilja inclined his head. “I know, but I have to remain near aun Toyus.”
“Well, I will give you space in my home, oun Nilja,” aun Moyen told him. “Best keep you safe.”
oun Nilja straightened his back and bowed. “I am honored, ean sk’oi.”
aun Moyen went to protest, but a weak chuckle from the bed drew his attention away.
“Toyus, my son!” aun Moyen cried.
aun Toyus lifted his hand into the air. aun Moyen grasped it in both of his.
“How are you, my boy?” aun Moyen asked.
“Still hurts,” aun Toyus murmured. “Thirsty.”
oun Nilja rose and knelt near the wooden tray on the ground next to the pallet. It held a decanter and a mug. He poured fresh water from the decanter into the mug. He then turned and put his hand under aun Toyus’ head and lifted his head to feed him the water.
aun Toyus drank almost the entire mug before he turned his face away.
oun Nilja lowered his head to the pillow once more.
aun Toyus looked at him. “Thank you, oun Shi’ehl.”
oun Nilja bowed. “An honor, aun Toyus.”
aun Moyen shifted. “Are you up for some broth, son?”
aun Moyen nodded and rose. “I’ll return shortly.”
aun Toyus turned to oun Nilja. “Have the raiders returned?”
“Ne,” oun Nilja replied. “They keep away, although there are those who sit on their beasts on the rise in the land and watch us.”
aun Toyus grunted. “How does the ferrying go?”
oun Nilja sat cross-legged on the ground next to the pallet. “It goes. Every day, a handful of families get taken away. Soon, it will be finished.”
aun Toyus sighed and turned his head to face the ceiling.
“I don’t understand why you came with us,” he said. “I heard what you told my father about my being a bridge. I still don’t understand.”
“You are holy,” oun Nilja stated firmly. “You and all those like you. You are the hope of my people’s survival. Our genetic material will remain within this world.”
aun Toyus looked at him. “You are needed in your colony to bare young for the Sha’jeen.”
oun Nilja squared his shoulders. “I am staying with you, ean sk’oi.”
aun Moyen returned carrying a large ceramic mug. He sat down on his stool and handed the mug to oun Nilja, who proceeded to feed aun Toyus the broth.
aun Toyus sipped in silence, his eyes wandering restlessly around the hospital tent.
Once the broth was gone, oun Nilja set the mug on the tray next to aun Toyus’s pallet.
Sentinel oun Ariahl stepped into the medical pavilion and made her way to where oun Nilja and the others were.
“Good afternoon, Ariahl,” aun Moyen murmured.
She bowed. “My lord. We are going to begin evacuating the sick.” She looked at aun Toyus. “Are you ready to leave, Toyus?”
Toyus nodded. “As ready as I will ever be, Sentinel.”
“We’ll leave you for last then,” she said. “Let us get the others out of here first.”
“Go ahead,” aun Toyus murmured.
She wandered away.
aun Moyen looked at oun Nilja. “Come with me, oun Shi’ehl. Let’s get our belongings.”
oun Nilja bowed and smoothly rose. He followed aun Moyen into the icy early afternoon. The ground was frozen beneath their sure footfalls. The grass fields glittered with rime and the sky overhead was gray. Snow had been threatening for days, but it was simply too cold.
oun Nilja had been gifted a furlined cloak by aun Moyen. Usually, the Sha’jeen didn’t feel cold but today was different. The past few days of subzero temperatures had made him grateful for aun Moyen’s generosity. The wind was algid, slithering down collars and up sleeves. It nipped at ears and noses and made eyes water. oun Nilja hated it, but he knew the Amalgamese suffered even more.
Once in aun Moyen’s ample tent, aun Moyen picked up a leather trunk.
“Bring that one, oun Nilja,” he directed. “That one belongs to Toyus.”
oun Nilja bent and took hold of the handles and lifted. The trunk was heavy but not unbearable. They headed back out into the icy afternoon and then towards the shuttle. They could hear the rumble of the engine as they walked across the grass field, away from the campsite.
The white shuttle was now stained with mud and dust. The ramp was down and oun Nilja followed aun Moyen into the warmer interior.
aun Ishel was organizing the interior of the shuttle for the group that would be transported next. The air swept through the interior of the shuttle, whisking away the smell of sickness, sweat and dirty flesh.
oun Nilja followed aun Moyen to a corner, where they set down their burdens.
“The next group should be coming soon,” aun Ishel told them. His gaze lingered on oun Nilja, his eyes curious, full of questions.
“We’re here to help,” aun Moyen said.
aun Ishel nodded. “Very good. Go to the hospital and start carrying the pallets here.”
aun Moyen bowed. “Consider it done, Ishel. Follow me oun Nilja.”
oun Nilja turned to follow.
Toyus left his bed a few days later. Leaning on a staff his sire had made for him, he made his way around the tent camp. In the distance to the north, the peole were buiding huts our of wattle and daub. He was amazed at how skillfully his father and Sentinel Derik had organized teams. He felt ashamed of his weakness and how little he had given to Colony Amal.
Toyus turned slowly. He felt his face heat up. “Sentinel Sol.”
“You look much better, Toyus,” Sol murmured.
“The wound still feels tight and hot and painful,” he replied. “But I can deal with that.”
Sol frowned but he nodded. “Do you mind company, Toyus?”
Toyus almost turned him down, considering his strange reactions to the Sentinel. But, in the end, he decided that would be rude.
Sol took his left arm, as Toyus held the staff with his right hand. They walked in silence as they approached the semi-circle of tents belonging to the Council Members. Once there, Toyus felt at a loss.
Sol looked at him. “Do you want me to fetch the Councilors?”
Toyus grimaced. “Yes, please.”
He leaned against his staff and watched as Sol entered the first tent. Soon, Sol exited with an Amalgamese woman with black fur. She wore a long, loose mustard skirt that reached to her ankles and a white tunic and yellow vest. She, like all the Amalgamese, went barefoot. She had a small crest tipped with silver.
She bowed to Toyus. “Your Highness, it is wonderful to see you mending so well.”
Toyus shifted. “I’m a prince no longer. Call me Toyus, please.”
She bowed once more. “Toyus, then. I’m Missus Setina Telvos, but you may call me Setina. It is good you come to us, for we have a proposal for you.”
By then the other Council members had stepped out their tents and stood in a semi-circle at her back.
She turned to her fellow Council members. “Please introduce yourselves.”
An older Amalgamese stepped forward. He, like Toyus, had gold fur, which seemed to be the most common fur color. His impressive crest was almost silver. “I am Omir K’tals. Please call me Omir.”
Toyus smiled. “Omir.”
A slightly younger man stepped forward. He had dark brown fur and gold tips on his mane. “Somar Ultos.”
“Somar,” Toyus murmured.
A woman with silver fur and bright blue eyes stepped forward. “Alita Molr, your Highess.”
“Call me Toyus please, Alita.”
She bowed and stepped back.
The final Council member was around Setina’s age, which Toyus calculated to be around 30. This Amalgamese had gold fur and no silver. “Ysten Esten, sir.”
“An honor to meet you, Ysten,” Toyus murmured. He turned back to Setina. “What is your proposal?”
Setina’s gaze slid to her co-members before she cleared her throat. She looked back at Toyus. “We’d like you to join the Council, Toyus. To lead us, in fact.”
Toyus was taken aback. “What?”
Mister Somar took a step forward. “You have been groomed to rule, Toyus. Also, you did a stint with the armed forces of at least six years. Am I correct?”
Toyus’s fur stood in surprise. “Yes.”
The older man smiled. “We are all civilians. Common folk who know nothing of leading.”
Missus Alita stepped forward. “Please, Toyus. We need you, as does Colony Amal.”
“I’ll think on it,” Toyus replied.
“Don’t take too long, young man,” Mister Omir replied. “This is a crucial time in our history.”
“No. I’ll give you answer tomorrow,” Toyus replied. “Who has been leading the people so far?”
Setina smiled at Sol. “The Sentinels and Lord Moyen. But Moyen may not remain and the Sentinels will leave when the huts are completed.”
Toyus turned to Sol. “Is this the case?”
“Yes,” Sol replied. “We cannot interfere any more with how you evolve as a species. But we will make sure you succeed in building the Colony.”
Toyus bid goodbye to the Council and headed west towards the beach. He heard someone following. His wound’s ache sharpened the more time he spent on his feet, but he knew exercise was good for healing.
He made it to the shore and looked up and down the beach, noting the gentle surf, the pale, soft sand under his bare feet. The sand was hot, but it felt good.
Sol came to stand quietly beside him. He glanced at the Sentinel.
“Is it a good idea that I join the Council?” he asked.
Sol pursed his lips, his gaze locked on the restless ocean. The smell of brine was sharp in the air.
“You would be a good leader, Toyus,” Sol replied. “But you have to listen to the other Councilors, who are older than you are.”
Toyus frowned. “Yes, of course. I revere elders, but if I think they are wrong, I will not bow to their will.”
“Ask your father for guidance, Toyus. He is leaving when we go.”
Toyus started, turning to face the Sentinel. “What?”
Sol nodded. “He has younger children to take care of, Toyus. He only wanted to make sure you would be alright.”
Toyus swallowed thickly. His eyes pricked from tears. “I…I did not realize it would be so soon.”
Sol grinned and turned to look at him. “We still have weeks before everyone has a place to live. We aren’t leaving as yet, and neither is Lord Moyen.”
Toyus nodded, numbed. He glanced away. Once his father departed, access to his other life would be severed. Toyus would never see his father or his siblings again.
Sol sighed. “It is hard, I know.”
Toyus looked at him. “You do?”
Sol nodded. “When I came with the ark that brought your ancestors from Earth, I bid farewell to my family, to a lover, to the world. They are all long dead by now.”
Toyus cocked his head. “You had a lover?”
Sol grinned. “Yes. Before the journey here, we were allowed to have lovers. I had a lover and he and I were together for almost ten years when I left.”
“Was he angry?”
Sol’s smile turned sad. “No. He understood. Earth was dying. He left on another ark headed to another part of the galaxy.”
“Was he a Sentinel, too?” Toyus asked.
“Clever boy,” Sol praised. “Yes. He was. Same series as I. I often wonder if his ark found a viable planet.”
Toyus was sweating and trembling. “I need to return to my cot. Will you keep me company? I’d like to learn more of your journey.”
Sol helped Toyus lead him back to the tent he shared with Moyen and oun Nilja. Once in the tent, Sol helped him to his pallet and then helped him lie down.
“Some water, please,” Toyus asked.
Sol poured some water from the decanter into the mug.
Toyus took the mug with a muttered thanks.
Sol sat crosslegged on the floor next to the pallet. He took the mug once Toyus was done with it.
Toyus sighed and turned his head to look at Sol.
“Tell about the Sentinels.”
Sol thought for a moment, pulling on his lower lip. “The Sentinels represent certain occupations and races from Earth. I, for example, am a xenopsychologist – I study intelligent behavior. I am of European ancestry, which made me a decided minority on Earth. Kaster, who is a doctor, is also European, although he is from Northern Europe. I am from Central Europe. Ishel, our xenolinguist, is a Pacific Islander. That is why he is dusky of skin color. Topon, who is the xenobiologist – he studies alien organisms – is South African. That is why he is so dark. Derik is Asian and our engineer. Mariel was born in Latin America and Ariahl in North Africa. Kaster and I are the only pale ones in the lot. We represent diversity, intelligence, ingenuity. Our metal and plastic parts allow us to last longer than most human beings.”
“How long did your arks travel?” Toyus yawned around the question.
“We traveled for thousands of years in cryo-sleep. Our arks traveled about half the speed of light. Earth is in one of the arms of the Milky Way, our galaxy. This planet–your planet– is closer to the periphery of the Milky Way. Other arks went towards the center of the galaxy, or towards other arms. We brought about 300 colonists on each ship and we had five ships. So 1,500 colonists settled on this planet.”
“The arks must have been huge,” Toyus stated, blinking owlishly.
“The colonists were stacked in cryo chambers twenty high in niches on the ship’s central walls. The ships were quite large, you are right. Mostly because of cargo. The colonists were cargo, too. The entire ship was loaded with things that the colonists from Earth might need. The Sentinels slept in cryo-sleep also, until something went wrong, and we were awakened by the ship’s mainframe.”
Toyus felt himself drifting off.
He felt Sol pat his hand. “You sleep well, my friend.”
At first Toyus did not dream. Then mist filled the darkness behind his eyes. It was as if he was flying over soft clouds. The sky at his back was a brilliant azure. Below, he could see the sea sail past through the ragged clouds. Whitecaps filled the dark ocean surface. Ahead, he could see the shadow of a dark land. He flew down towards the vast land that seemed to stretch to the very horizon. Alighting on the beach, he looked around him. Conifers filled the land. The air was still and cold. Toyus shivered, rubbing his arms. He started when he felt fur instead of skin and looked down at himself. He was covered in golden fur and his feet ended in sharp, gleaming, black claws. His hands ended in sharp, black claws as well. Like talons. He flexed his hands, making half-fists. He reached up to touch his head and felt a mane of long soft fur.
He began to walk down the beach. The ocean to the west, sounded gentle as it rushed up the shore and retreated. He liked the coolness of the air, the tang in the air. When he came to a bend in the land, he saw the dark silhouette of a stranger walking towards him. He paused, his heart clamoring in his chest. The silhouette looked vaguely familiar. He stopped walking and waited.
The wind rifled his mane and felt strange, yet comforting, on the surface of his fur.
The figure grew larger and more distinct and soon Toyus was running down the beach.
“Mother!” he cried. “Aya!”
Before he could plow into her, she put both hands out. “Don’t touch me, child. I am dead.”
He stopped abruptly, aching to hug her. “Aya. What are you doing here?”
He drank her with his gaze. She looked all of sixteen, young and beautiful and mysterious. She wore billowing robes of a shimmering color he had never seen. Her dark hair was lose to her lower back and she went barefoot, as she had often done while alive.
“I am here on the Goddess’ behalf, child. To give you guidance. Let us walk.”
They walked along the shore, the icy saltwater running over their bare feet.
He had many questions for his mother, but kept his mouth shut.
She glanced at him. “I see a question in your eyes. Ask, child.”
“Mother, why did the Goddess allow for this thing to happen? Allowed us to be invaded then to succumb to this molting process until we aren’t human anymore!”
“The Goddess has Her reasons, and you are not to question them. That way lies willfulness and sin.” She sighed. “Find a mate, Toyus, to help ease your sorrow and the weight of your responsibilities. I am asking as your Mother. Pray, child, for guidance and the survival of your people. Difficult times are ahead for you and yours. Know that I watch over you, now and always.”
They continued walking for a few minutes.
Then she said: “Tell your father to try to find joy and love. He has a long life ahead of him. And the same advice I give to you, Toyus.”
“What am I going to do without you or Father?” Toyus asked bleakly.
“Find love, companionship and friendship,” she said. “Promise me.”
“I promise you, Aya,” he said softly.
Then he was walking alone. He stopped and turned, but there was no sign of Malida Ekesj.
Sorrow rushed through him and he reached out to rub his chest absently.
When he awoke in the morning, his mind was made up. He rose to give the Council his answer.