Chapter V: Raid

          The camp stretched south for sepeks.  The tents huddled together, sagging in the rain.  Large wooden tubs for washing clothes and bathing sat just outside the tents.  Someone had put up clotheslines and the wet clothes swayed in the frigid breeze.

          As Toyus walked down the main aisle between tents, he could hear wet coughing and retching.  His uncle, King Yvar’h, had sent empathic healers, but four were woefully inadequate to tend to 350 patients.  In the three weeks since Toyus had arrived on the shuttle, the sick had increased exponentially.

          Not everyone was sick, however.  Some were like him, having crossed the molting and become something other, between human and Sha’jeen.  Riots in Draemin city had resulted in dozens of Amalgamese being killed before guards could react.  The rest of the Amalgamese had been exiled to this camp, awaiting the return of the shuttle from the moon.

          The longer they lingered in North Torahn, the more uneasy Toyus grew.  Something was going to happen; he could feel it, taste it in the very air.  Besides, the cold and damp conditions of kamaran continued to kill every day.  Poverty and misery were daily realities.  The government of Draemin city sent food and water once a week, but it was not enough.

          Because he was Queen Malida’s oldest child, Toyus was viewed as a leader.  Although he had been schooled all his life to be a leader, a ruler, a king, still authority did not sit well on his shoulders.  It helped that his father stayed in the camp with him.  They went over every crucial decision and every act he took.  His father’s presence lent him courage and surety.

          Since coming to the camp, he had organized work groups to dig holes for the disposal of waste matter, for cleaning up detritus around the camp, he had helped set up a ruling party, and he had given each family a number for their exodus from the continent.  The shuttle could only carry a few families at a time, so the refugees would be shuttled out in parcels.

          Now, if only he could calm down.  Every day increased his feelings of impending doom until he had nightmares and had a hard time calming himself down.

          He stopped.

          Ahead, he saw oun Nilja with five children.  The Sha’jeen was chasing the children, who were giggling and screaming with joy.  Some of the children were Amalgamese, some were human.  oun Nilja ducked around a tent and one of the children barreled into Toyus’s legs.

          The child stiffened and gazed up at Toyus with awe and some fear.

          “Hey there,” Toyus said as kindly as he could.  “Are you being chased?”

          The boy nodded.  He had a light gold down, like Toyus.  Toyus ran the back of a finger along the down on the boy’s cheek.

          “Just watch where you run, picu,” Toyus murmured and stepped to one side.

          The children ran on.

          Toyus caught a glimpse of oun Nilja stalking them from behind the tents.

          He shook his head and continued to the main hospital pavilion.  The flaps of the hospital tent were pinned back to allow easy entrance.

          Toyus ducked and entered.  This tent housed forty patients and was manned by one empathic healer.   Kaster and Topon were in charge of the hospital.

          Kaster was bent over a sick man, shining a light into his right eye.

          “Hello, Toyus,” Topon murmured.  He stood at a small table where the sentinels kept a microscope, a Bunsen burner, a mortar and pestle, and flasks, beakers and droppers.

          Toyus strode to the dusky sentinel.  “Any other discovery?”

          Topon sighed.  “No.  The disease kills ¼ of those it infects, changes ½ and seemingly ignores the other ¼.  Nothing’s changed and I can’t seem to get a handle on Chimera.  It lives a long time outside the body and seems to enter the body by air and blood.”  He gazed around the room and lowered his voice.  “I think there are at least three strains.  The strain that attacked you was fast-acting.  There are others.  One which is slow to act once in the body and another that seems to be benign.”  He rubbed his cheek.  “I am at a crossroads here, Toyus.  This is all we can do for your people.  You taught us to allow Chimera to progress without interruption.  That has saved many, many lives.”

          Toyus nodded.  “My concern is getting out of here.  Those riots were not the end of it.  The citizens of Draemin know the camp is here.”

          Topon frowned.  “the shuttle is due back tonight.  We’ll start transporting people west.”

          “I’ll stay until the last group leaves,” Toyus told him.

          Topon smiled and nodded.  “you’re becoming quite the leader, Toyus.”

          Toyus’ down stood on end, signaling his discomfort.

          Topon laughed.  “and you’re humble.  These people are lucky.”

          “Topon, can you come over here for  a minute?” Kaster called.

          “Excuse me.”

          Toyus began to walk along the rows of sick.  When a patient was awake, Toyus would pull a stool over and sit down next to him or her.  Some looked like they had a foot in the afterlife already.  They were thin, skeletal really, their hair plastered to their skulls, their eyes too large in their faces.

          Toyus talked to every one of them unless they slept.

          There was a boy, around fifteen, although he looked younger.  He was pale and thin.  His hand looked large against the rest of him.  He had black hair and amber eyes.  His hand, in Toyus’s, was cold and trembled like a caught bird.

          “How are you doing, Suli?” Toyus asked.

          The boy grimaced.  “Tired.”  His eyes swam.  “Why did my father take a knife to me, Toyus?  He hates me.”

          Suli was in-between:  half-way through the molting.  He had a fine golden down that matched exactly his eye color.  Every day that passed provided more and more down.

          Toyus squeezed his hand.  “your father does not understand why you are changing.  He’s afraid of you, of all of us.  He isn’t your family any longer.  You have a new family now, Suli.”

          Suli nodded.  “I know.”  His face crumbled.  “But he’s my father!”

          Toyus placed his hand on Suli’s forehead.  “I know.  I’m lucky that I have the father that I have.  I don’t know what I’d do without his support.  All I can do is offer you my friendship and support, Suli.”

          Suli smoothed his face and wiped away his tears.  “Thank you, Toyus.”

          Toyus patted his hand and set it on Suli’s chest.  “My honor, Suli.  My honor.”

          Suli gave him a brave smile.

          “You rest now, Suli,” Toyus murmured and made to stand.

          Suli surged up and took hold of his hand.  “Am I going to die, Toyus?”

          Toyus sighed and made the lad lay down once more.  

          “You know I won’t lie to you, Suli,” he said.  “It’s with the Goddess.  Pray.”

          The lad lay down once more and swallowed thickly.  “I will, Toyus.”

           He left the medical tent and pulled the hood of his cloak over his head against the icy drizzle.

           “Toyus!”

           He turned and grinned at his sire as he strode down the aisle to where Toyus stood before.

           They embraced.

           “Eda,” Toyus murmured against his father’s shoulder.  

           His father sighed.  “How are you, my son?”

           “I am well, Eda.

            They began walking side by side towards their tent.  

            “I’ve set guards along the periphery of the camp, sir,” Toyus said.  “They will warn us if anything happens.”

            “Good, good,” Moyen replied.

            “What is it, Father?” Toyus asked.  “You seem distracted.”

            “I had a meeting with your Uncle Yvar’h,” Moyen replied.  “We will be getting more sick and molting soon.”

            Toyus looked at his father.  “Does he take it seriously now, Father?”

            Moyen sighed  “He appears to.  However, there are those at Court who are becoming more vocal.  That faction of people who want the Amalgamese dead.”

            Toyus shivered.  

            “We must get the most people out of here as we can,” Moyen told him.  “That is all we can do.”

            “When is the shuttle to return?” Toyus asked.

            “Kaster told me sometime in the middle of the night.”

            Toyus nodded.  “We’ll begin to shuttle people away then, but it will still take several days.”

            They entered their tent.  Toyus removed his damp cloak and draped it over the back of a chair.  He strode to the food crate and removed the lid, taking out dried meat, a chunk of cheese wrapped in cloth and a bag of dried, sweetened bala berries.  Carrying their bounty to the table, he set the items down before taking a seat.  

            Moyen set a bottle of wine and two mugs on the table and sat across from Toyus.

            They ate in companionable silence, both distracted by their own thoughts.

            Outside the tent flap, night fell as the rain continued to fall.  

            After dinner, Toyus took up a book and read at the table while his father lay down on his cot.  

            The rain eventually stopped near midnight.  A brittle wind whipped through the camp, shaking the tents.  

            Toyus thought the wind smelled of snow and wondered if the morning would produce their first snowfall.

            He rose, bending to turn down the oil lamp when screams tore the night asunder.  He grabbed for his sword in its scabbard hanging from the back of the chair, and ran outside, his father’s shouts at his back.

            Fire was stark against the black skies and acrid smoke clogged his throat and burned his nose.  Coughing, he narrowed his eyes.  The scene was total chaos with people running and fighting, but he spotted the some of the raiders almost right away.  They were tall, broad, shaggy men with fur cloaks and knee-high boots.  They wore scarves around the lower halves of their faces.  

            The man closest to him had a child by the ankle and was shaking it savagely.  

            With a rageful cry, Toyus ran, lifting his sword and swinging like a mallet, cleaving the man from shoulder to midriff.  The man screamed and dropped the child.  

            The child lay stunned on the ground.  Toyus bent and picked him up, running back the way he had come and handing him to his father.

            “Make sure he is well!” he shouted and ran into the melee once more.  

            He swung his broadsword.  Sometimes he hit steel but mostly he hit soft and solid things.  He screamed with rage and despair when he saw some of the dead were women and children.  He lost himself to the battle, not caring how many he dispatched.

            One raider met him with a torch.  He swung the torch in a half-circle, aiming to set Toyus on fire or to keep him back.  Toyus jumped back.  The man kept coming.

            “Behind you, Toyus!” he heard someone call.

            Toyus hopped to the side and turned.  A masked man threw a dagger.  The dagger sank into Toyus’s gut.

            He grunted.  His hands were shaking badly as he took hold of the dagger and pulled it out.  The pain sliced through him, hot and bright.  Turning on the man, he threw the dagger with deadly accuracy. It embedded itself in the man’s throat.  The breath swooshed out of the man and he fell.

            “You fucking freak!” the man holding the torch screamed.

            He ran at Toyus, waving the torch in a semi-circle before him.

            Toyus abided his time while the man drew nearer.  Then instinct took over.  Toyus bent and turned, swining his leg in an arc.  He knocked the torch from the raider’s hand.

            Toyus swung his sword to the right and down, slicing off the man’s hand.  The man screamed, cradling the wounded arm to his chest.

            Toyus hefted his sword.  “The only freak here is you.”

            He swung his sword, slicing the man’s head half off.  Blood spurted in an arc.  His eyes over the scarf glazed over.  His body stood a moment on its knees before toppling forward.

            Toyus’s wound was beginning to throb. He put a hand to his middle.  His tunic was soaked in blood.

            He looked around with graying eyesight, but it was hard to see past the smoke.

            “Toyus!” Moyen cried.

            “Father, make sure everyone is alright,” Toyus murmured.  He felt cold and was beginning to shiver.

            “The Sentinels are on it, son,” Moyen said.  “Come to the medical tent.”

            Toyus focused on putting one foot in front of the other and allowing his father to lead him.  He was not sure he was going to make it to the tent.  He was sick with nausea.  He looked ahead, concentrating on placing one foot before the other.  Then he was being led into a tent.

            “Toyus!  Is he alright?” Kaster demanded.

            “He was wounded,” Moyen replied.

            “Here.  He can lay here,” the Sentinent said.

            Toyus lay down on the pallet and groaned at the pain.

            Kaster cursed as he pulled up Toyus’s tunic.  

            “Topon!  Hot water and cloths!” the Sentinel called out.

            Toyus closed his eyes.  Everything was spinning and he was afraid he might be sick.  He went hot and cold.

            “Bring an empathic healer!” he heard Kaster call out.

            The pain sharpened until Toyus’s eyes rolled to the back of his head and he lost his battle with unconsciousness.

Chapter IV: Birth

            The creation of new civic laws took the Council of Xema Colony over a month.  Their days were long and filled with discussions at best, arguments at worst.  Near physical violence was only averted by aun Sjir’phal’s quick responses and alertness. The most contentious topic was, of course, what would become of the ieh boueli.  This discussion itself took several days.  The traditionalists were filled with disgust over the idea of treating the neuters with respect and kindness.  

            “What do they produce that is good for the people?” oun Enobia snarled during one such heated debate.

            “They contribute with their actions and dedication,” aun Pasia’h had replied patiently.  “They cannot help how they are born, oun Shi’ehl, just as you couldn’t help being born a breeder.”

            oun D’jir was becoming tired of the argument.  He had come to a place where he could accept the ieh boueli as members of society, but it did not sit well with him to show the neuters respect, as one would respect an oun Shi’ehl or an aun Deuil.

            “Must we decide this now?” he groused, tail slapping the edge of the pillow upon which he sat.

            aun Tefa gave him a withering gaze.  “If we can’t get past our most difficult issue, of what use are we as a Council?”      

            aun Sjir’phal huffed a laugh and shifted.  “Shall we vote?”

            “We already know how the vote will come out!” oun Serphon shouted with frustration.  “Of what use are we, the traditionalists?”

            “To maintain the best of the old laws,” aun Sjir’phal replied patiently. “Not to maintain our prejudices.  Your attitude towards the ieh boueli is only prejudice and superstition.  We are an intelligent species.  We must rise above our prejudices!”

            aun P’ata’lyh spread his hands before him.  His black claws caught the light.  “Look how we treated aun Toyus.  For something he could not control.  We behave appallingly at times.  We will vote.”

            “I am not going to change,” oun Serphon growled.

            aun Sjir’phal leaned forward.  “Then you will be exiled.  Change and adapt or leave the colony.”

            Stunned silence met his pronouncement.  His eyes challenged every one of the council members.  

            oun D’jir sighed.  “That is extreme, but if we cannot unify…You are being stubborn, oun Serphon.  I am a traditionalist, but I can see the progressive’s point of view.  The ieh boueli cannot help how they are born.  If you birth one, will you kill it outright?”

            oun Serphon puffed up.  “I’ve never birthed one!”

            “That is because you have only had three kits, all of which died,” oun Enobia sighed.  “I will try to change my attitude, but you must give me time.  I have been taught all my life to behave one way and now I am being asked to change that to the exact opposite.  Give us time.”

            aun Sjir’phal inclined his head.  “Understood.  As long as we agree that the ieh boueli will be treated with respect and kindness moving forward; that they will be taught to read and write and take up places as free Sha’jeen.”

            oun Enobia nodded.  “Agreed.”

            oun Serphon snarled.

            “Do you want to leave the Council, oun Shi’ehl?” aun Sjir’phal asked with deceptive mildness.  “Because we can nominate another.”

            oun Serphon hissed a laugh.  “Do you think that threatens me?”

            “Enough!” oun D’jir shouted and slapped the wooden floor with both hands.  “If you are going to abandon the Council, do so now oun Shi’ehl.  This argument is concluded.”

            oun Serphon crossed his arms over his chest and glanced away.

            “Alright then,” oun D’jir said.  “Now, how do we decide which ieh bouel will be an educator, which a cleric and which a servant?”

            aun Isolth rubbed his chin with the back of a finger.  “We will have to decide upon each birth, depending on the needs of the people.  More servants will be needed than any other kind of ieh boueli occupation.  These are not slaves, so they will have to be compensated for their service.  We will have to agree upon the minimum they will be paid, but it must be enough for them to cease working in their old age and be able to live in relative comfort.  We cannot expect an old ieh bouel or an infirm one to continue in its role as servant.”  He frowned.  “Educators will be the second most common, I should think.  There will be hopefully many kits to educate.”

            The Councilors murmured a prayer for many kits to be born into the colony.

            “We will need to develop currency and give it denominations,” oun D’jir stated wearily.  “We have to seek through the island to see if there are minerals that can be exploited to create coins.  We have to develop things we can trade with the humans and other species on this planet.  We will need to weave, sew and form pottery.”  He shook his head.  “We have much to do before we can even trade with anyone.”

            aun Sjir’phal nodded.  “We need to develop weapons, too.  Although the Sentinels found that no race of beings lived nearby, we need to prepare ourselves for the future.”

            “Hau,” the Council murmured.

            aun Sjir’phal glanced at oun D’jir and gave him a smirk.  “We will have lots of work for the years ahead.”

            “How do we divide the land among the people?” oun Zerta piped up.  “It is a large island, but we must be equitable.”

            “I propose the greatest amount of land be owned by the people as a whole,”  aun Otol’h said.  “Those who wish to farm will be given parcels.  Big enough to grow substantial crops.  That means clearing the land.  I propose if an aun Deuil wants to farm, he will have to clear the parcel of land he is given.  That is how he will pay for the land, by clearing it.  He will provide a tithe to the Council and the High Priest of 10 percent of his crops.”

            The Councilors nodded.

            “Excellent, aun Otol’h,” aun Sjir’phal praised.  “Part of the land has to be for a schoolhouse.  Part of the land has to be for a temple.  The Sentinels informed us that the main island, upon which we live currently, is olta shanstk shanstk shanstk shanstk x-stok sepeks long and half that  wide.  There are many smaller islands that form an archipelago.  Some of the smaller islands are shanstk shanstk sepeks long and wide, although none as our continent.  We can take over the other islands as we grow as a people.  But Colony Xema will always be the capital, where the High Priest and King live.”

            oun Norus shifted.  “How will we divide the land?”

            “Right now we need most of our aun Deuili as soldiers,” aun Safahn stated.  “We only have 110 of these. We can release 50 to oversee the development of the land.  The ieh boueli can develop the land and grow crops and they can hunt and forage. They will be growing crops in the people’s land.  In the future we can parcel out land, but right now we have to feed the people and breed.”

            “We don’t need crops,” oun Enobia hissed.  “We are carnivores.”

            “We will learn to eat all manner of food, lest we deplete the continent and islands of prey,” oun D’jir told him.  “Towards that end, we must also tame some of the wild animals so that we have a ready source of meat.”

            “Ye,” aun Kaphil agreed.

            “I must return to our main duty,” aun Safahn stated firmly.  “We must couple and breed.  To that end, the High Priest must join oun Shi’ehli to aun Deuili–“

            “But if we have indiscriminate coupling, that will be best for the population,” oun Serphon said.

            aun Safahn shook his head. “We must take care of bloodlines.  We cannot interbreed.”

            oun Zerta huffed his agreement and slapped the floor.  “We must demand that each couple produce several litters.  At least 10 litters!  We need to ramp up the population, for we are still vulnerable to disease and warfare.  We cannot open our borders to trade until we are a strong colony.  We are not there yet.  These civic laws will be for the future.  Right now, we have to survive.  We must choose a High Priest that will sanctify couplings.”

            “Ye!” aun Tefa agreed.

            aun Sjir’phal shifted.  “Then I nominate oun D’jir to be our High Priest.  His kits still move in his womb and live.”

            oun Enobia hissed.  “We don’t want to tempt fate!  oun D’jir’s kits must survive!”

            “We are scientists first and foremost,” aun Sjir’phal said with measured patience.  “Ie’teina will protect.  Do we agree that oun D’jir will retake his place as High Priest?”

            With a dissenting oun Enobia and oun Serphon, the other Council members agreed to aun Sjir’phal’s suggestion.

            aun Sjir’phal turned to oun D’jir.  “You must now move into the prayer hut and choose several ieh boueli as your servants and your clerics.”

            oun D’jir shifted.  “I must have other priests with me.  The High Priest chooses five oun Shi’ehl who assist him.”

            aun Sjir’phal inclined his head.  “Just so, but they will not come from the Council.  This is not a theocracy.  The High Priest does not head the Council.”

            oun D’jir hissed his ire.

            aun Sjir’phal’s flattened his ears but otherwise showed no disconcertion.  

            Eventually, oun D’jir’s gaze dropped.  “Fine.  I will choose five aun Shi’ehli to assist me.”  He rose.  “If you will excuse–”   He huffed with surprise and fell to the floor.  

            Gasps and mewls of distress filled the Council Hall.

            oun D’jir gasped.  “Take me to the oun Shi’ehli long house!  My kits come!”

            aun Sjir’phal hissed with distress.  “It isn’t time!  Can this be another false labor like the one you had previously?”

            oun D’jir fought against the overwhelming desire to push.  “aun Sjir’phal!  The kits come!”

            aun Sjir’phal rose and picked oun D’jir up in his arms, hurriedly carrying him out of the Council Hall and under the soft patter of rain to the long house where the oun Shi’ehli slept.  

            “Bring pillows and a pallet!” aun Sjir’phal called over his shoulder.  “We need blankets, a basin of warm water and cloths!”

            oun D’jir closed his eyes and refrained from pushing.  “How do you know about births?”

            “I read the texts,” aun Sjir’phal replied.

            “Anathema!” oun D’jir hissed as a wave of pain overtook him.  He mewled his distress.

            “So it appears,” aun Sjir’phal replied with subdued humor.

            Within minutes, two ieh boueli brought in a pallet and others followed with pillows, blankets, a basin of warm water and cloths.  One had the foresight to bring a cup of detergent.

            aun Sjir’phal gently laid oun D’jir on the pallet stacked with pillows.  

            oun D’jir was panting from the pain.

            “You must leave right now,” oun Enobia hissed.  “The birthing hut is not where an aun Deuil belongs!”

            “I’ll be right outside,” aun Sjir’phal informed him and stalked from the hut.

            oun Enobia, oun Serphon and oun Benska remained behind.  They sat around the pallet while other oun Shi’ehli entered and lit incense and candles.  Soon all the oun Shi’ehli were sitting cross-legged on the swept floor.  

            The idea of so many eyes observing the birth did not feel correct to oun D’jir, but he also knew these kits belonged much more to the colony than to him.  In the arks, when High Priests bore young, they did so with their chosen priests.

            His next thought was wiped from his mind as the pain pushed against his sex.  He panted and mewled.

            Around him, the oun Shi’ehl mewled in distress and sympathy.

            oun D’jir pushed, gripping the pallet edge, and screeching as if he were engaged in battle.  His display was so impressive, the oun Shi’ehli fell silent.  Beyond the silence in the room, the soft patter of rain could be heard and nothing else.  oun D’jir gasped as the first kit approached the opening to his body through the birth canal.  He closed his eyes and pushed.  After a moment, he felt someone take his hand and he gazed up at an unfamiliar oun Shi’ehl.  The oun Shi’ehl gazed upon him with such sereness and kindness that oun D’jir gasped.

             He swallowed.  “What is your name?”

            “oun Shamisj, oun D’jir,” the oun Shi’ehl murmured and stroke the back of oun D’jir’s hand.

            oun D’jir pushed hard and howled as he expelled the first kit.  

            The congregation mewled in greeting and watched avidly as the small kit, no more than the length of a hand, began its inexorable journey over the woven landscape of the pallet towards the pouch where it would live, affixed to a teat, for a few weeks more.  The Sha’jeen could not assist the kit.  The drive to live would assist the kit.  As oun D’jir struggled to expel the second kit, he watched nervously as the first kit stopped to pant in exhaustion before continuing to crawl along the pallet, drawn by its parent’s scent and the scent of milk from the pouch.

            oun D’jir expelled the second kit as the first kit reached the fur of his pouch and pulled itself along until it tumbled into the warm pouch and disappeared from sight.  oun D’jir closed his eyes and concentrating on feeling the kit move about against his skin and affix itself to a teat.  He huffed with relief and opened his eyes to watch the second kit.  The second kit stopped to rest as oun D’jir was filled with the overwhelming desire to push.  He panted and pushed until the third kit tumbled out with its mucus and excretions.  The tiny kit gave a mewl and the oun Shi’ehl gasped.  The kit paused, tiny head lifted as it sniffed the air, before taking its first shaking steps.

            The births came fast, as was necessary to a warrior race.  The kits took an average of a quarter of an hour to make the long journey to their parent’s pouch.  The last one, though, once expelled, lay quiescent for a few minutes until oun D’jir was sure it had been born dead. He mewled a question and the tiny head popped up.  Soon, the little runt was unsteadily making its way over the woven fabric of the pallet towards where oun D’jir lay.  oun D’jir saw its tiny red tongue as the kit stopped to pant from its exertion.  It stopped, its tiny paws on oun D’jir’s fur before it hauled itself up the outside of the pouch to the lip and then through into the interior of the pouch.  oun D’jir closed his eyes and concentrated on willing his kit to find its teat.  When the runt found the teat and latched on with surprising fierceness, oun D’jir opened his eyes and howled in triumph.

            The oun Shi’ehli pounded the floor with their fists as oun Shamisj dipped a cloth into the warm water soapy with detergent and gently wiped oun D’jir’s sex clean, then the outside of his pouch, and finally the pallet clean of mucus and other excretions.  oun Shamisj covered oun D’jir with a blanket and sat serenely facing the rest of the congregation.

            oun D’jir sighed.  “Tell them.”

            oun Shamijs bowed and stood, striding to the door, and throwing it open.

            “oun D’jir’s kits number six!  They are alive!”

            The yowls from the rest of the people filled the afternoon, thrumming through the temple and drowning out the sounds of the rain.

            “Hau! Hau! Hau!  Long live the High Priest!” the crowd chanted.

            oun D’jir closed his eyes and felt as the kits kneaded the teats to release milk.  His exhaustion would be taken care of with some sleep.  There was so much to do, his head swirled with it all.  He distantly heard as the oun Shi’ehli left the temple to return to their chores.  

            oun D’jir struggled awake.  He noticed oun Shamisj had remained.

            oun D’jir grasped his hand.  “Find oun Belihe, oun Tamos, oun Kelzi, and oun Satishe.  They, as well as you, are my priests.  I want them here when I awaken.”

            “Ye, Eminence,” oun Shamisj murmured and rose.

                “oun Shamisj,” oun D’jir murmured.  “Stand watch over me and do not let any other oun Shi’ehli near me.  I fear for my kits.”

                oun Shamisj frowned.  “The God has warned you?”

                “Ye,” oun D’jir replied.  “Betrayal.  Murder.  I dreamed it.”

                oun Shamisj scowled.  “Who, Eminence?”

                “That was not reveal,” oun D’jir assured him.  “Hurry back.  I am vulnerable right now.”

                oun Shamisj bowed.  “I will hurry.”

             oun D’jir  watched as oun Shamisj left the hut.  He struggled to remain awake until the others returned.

Chapter III: Expulsion

            Something woke Toyus from a deep sleep.  He lay still for a few seconds in the hut he shared with his father and Sentinel Sol. He could hear the patter of rain outside the open windows and the breathing of his companions.

            Then movement in the stillness of the hut made him stiffen.

            He felt the heat of a body nearby and wondered at this.  Then he could smell wet pelt.  

            The fire must have gone out.  Or been put out, he thought grimly.

            He closed his eyes and listened to the movement.  It was lightfooted, but Toyus could hear the drag of cloth along the earthen floor.

            His heart clamored in his chest.  He forced himself to relax as the movement drew closer.

            He opened his eyes and realized he could see, albeit in monochrome.  Everything appeared a gritty gray.

            Someone stepped high over him and he twisted up and wrapped his legs around the intruder.  Twisting to the left, he brought the intruder down with a solid thud.

            He heard a hiss.

            The intruder fought savagely, cutting Toyus a couple of times before Toyus incapacitated him.

            “What’s that?” Moyen demanded, sitting up.

            “We have an intruder,” Toyus said.  “Please light the firepit.”

            Sol and Moyen threw wood and dried grasses into the pit and started a fire.

            Toyus shifted.

            The Sha’jeen trundeled up in Toyus’s bedclothes was young, with a silver-gray down and bright blue eyes.  The ears, tipped black, were flat on his head.  He was panting.

            Sol strode to where Toyus held their prisoner and knelt.

            Moyen remained standing by the firepit.

            “oun Nilja,” Sol murmured.  “Why do you come in sneaking through our hut?”

            “Relax,” Toyus told their prisoner.  

            Sol sighed.  “Let him up.”

            Toyus moved to one side, kneeling next to the prone Sha’jeen..

            oun Nilja scrambled to sit and pulled away from the bedclothes.  He stared at Toyus.

            “You–”  He licked his lips.  “You are Sha’jeen?”

            Toyus looked at Sol.  “Am I, Sentinel?”

            Sol shrugged then turned to oun Nilja. “He is changing because of a virus/bacterium that your people introduced to the environment.”        

            oun Nilja’s tail was frantically slapping the earthen floor.  oun Nilja hissed at it before he turned back to Toyus.

            “You…you look Sha’jeen….almost,” he said.  He held a hand out towards Toyus.  “Is this the will of the God?”

            Toyus reached out and took his hand.  “I don’t know.  It is what it is.”

            Toyus felt the Sha’jeen’s soft pelt before he let go the hand.

            “Why have you come to our hut?” Moyen asked.

            “I come to warn you,” oun Nilja said.  “The people are unsure of your presence here.  Some talk of expelling you; others of killing you all.  You must leave.”

            Toyus stood and began to pace.  “Where am I supposed to go?”

            “This is a continent, Toyus,” Sol said.  “You can live on the other side of the mountains.”            

            “I come with you,” oun Nilja stated firmly.

            “But why would you leave your people?” Moyen asked.

            oun Nilja’s gaze did not leave Toyus.  “I come with you.”

            Sol rose.  “It’s a good thing neither Derik or Kaster have left.  Let’s go, all of us.  I would feel better if we were in the shuttle.

            They left the hut with their pallets and bedclothes bundled under their arms.  The rain fell steadily.  Most of the huts were dark.  

            The ground beneath their feet was full of puddles and mud.  The air was cool and pleasant.

            They made it to the shuttle and Moyen, Sol and oun Nilja hurried up the ramp.

            Toyus was going to climb up the ramp into the shuttle when something struck him on the upper left of his back.  He turned.

            There were three aun Deuili standing in a semicircle a few feet from the shuttle.

            “Human,” one spat.  “You leave and don’t return.”

            Another took a step forward.  “You are wrong, human.  You smell like Sha’jeen, yet are not.  Anathema!”

            He growled and took  step forward.

            “That’s enough,” Sol shouted.  “We are leaving.  Let us go.”

            Toyus set the bedclothes on the ramp and turned back to the three. He felt something hot and sweet rush through his stomach and up his chest. 

            “Toyus,” Sol warned.

            “This is my world,” Toyus spat.  “You are invaders and outsiders.”

            One of the aun Deuili hiss and spat and took thre steps forward. 

            Toyus attacked.

            With a yowl he lunged himself at the aun Deuil who had stepped forward and collided with him, knocking him into a large puddle on the ground.  They rolled around the mud and water, hissing and growling. 

            Toyus snapped at the aun Deuil’s throat, but the Sha’jeen managed to slip his forearm over Toyus’s throat and pushed him off.  The aun Deuil scrambled to his feet, followed closely by Toyus.

            Toyus felt the build up of frustration and grief of the past months and attacked again.  He managed to put his hands on the aun Deuil’s arms and tried to knock him to the ground.  The aun Deuil pushed back with equal strength until they were locked in place.

            In the next moment, Toyus heard and felt a loud shirr and a ball of light exploded against a nearby puddle, evaporating the muddy water.

            Toyus and the aun Deuil turned as one to Sol, who stilll stood on the ramp, his right fist, the fist that was artificial, pointing towards them. Lights flicked along the knuckles and smoke rose every time a drop of rain hit them.

            “That’s enough,” Sol shouted. “Come into the shuttle, Toyus.”

            Toyus eyed the aun Deuil and spat at his feet.

             He went up the ramp backwards, favoring his left leg.  

            The Sha’jeen did not threaten any more.

            Once inside, Sol retracted the ramp and then told Toyus to sit down.

            “We’re leaving now,” he said.  “Where is oun D’jir?”

            oun Nilja shifted in his seat.  “He has gone into labor.”

            Sol sighed.  “Well.  We will return and see how the colony fares later in the year.”

            “Everyone buckled up?” Derik called from the cockpit.

            “Yes!” Sol replied and sat down across from Toyus and oun Nilja.

            The shuttle shook itself, growling to the night.  The lights in the seating area dimmed.  Then the shuttle was gliding directly up.  Once several feet into the air, it banked east and took off.  Soon, the island was behind them.

            The sun was rising directly ahead.  The skies around the horizon were a soft pink and apricot.  

            The rain continued to fall, even though the skies ahead were fairly clear, except for a few ragged clouds.  Toyus could see whitecaps on the surface of the ocean caused by the winds fueling the storm.

            He sat back and closed his eyes.  

            “What happened, oun Nilja,” he heard Sol asked.  “Why did your people turn on Toyus.”

            “This thing,” the oun Shi’ehl replied.  “This thing he has undergone…it comes from our past.  It is how we evolved.  The people worry that the same may happen to them.  Thousands upon thousands died in our past as a result of the molting.  They fear infection.  Also, this will not only happen to aun Toyus.  It will happen to others, too.  The people don’t want to be polluted by outsiders.  Sha’jeen are very insular.”

            “Indeed,” Sol said wearily.

            “But we are fighting for our survival,” oun Nilja murmured.  “They will become more open once they are more numerous.”

            “I hope so,” Sol replied.  “Because they are going to share a continent with Toyus and all of those like him.”

            Toyus turned to oun Nilja.  “Why did you come with us, oun Shi’ehl?”

            The Sha’jeen seemed to shrink.  “I…I best come with you, aun Toyus.”  He squirmed in his seat.  “I was going to be paired with an aun Deuil not of my preference.  I was supposed to have many kits for the colony.  I am just attained adulthood.”

            The way he looked at Toyus confounded and disturbed him at once.  

            Toyus opened his mouth again.

            “Son,” Moyen said.  “Can I speak with you for a moment?”

            “I’ll be right back,” Toyus told oun Nilja.

            They walked to the back of the cabin and sat down side by side.

            “What is it, Eda?” Toyus asked.

            “The oun Shi’ehl has a bit of a fixation on you, Toyus,” Moyen murmured.  “Don’t look his way.  Listen to me.  These beings are unpredictable.  I don’t want you injured and I don’t want him injured.  Be kind to him, Toyus.  Don’t be needlessly cruel.”

            “Papa, this is not a young woman or man.  We aren’t even the same species!.”

            “That’s enough!” Moyen growled.  “They are intelligent beings and you are no different now from them.  You are becoming like them, Toyus.”

            “Yes, sir,” Toyus replied.  He felt his pelt rise on end with his shame.

            He pushed the sleeve of his shirt back to reveal his golden down and black claws.  His father had a point, but what was he going to do with a Sha’jeen who was possibly in heat?

            “oun Nilja has not brought up the issue of mating,” Moyen continued conversationally.  “He may opt to return to the colony or turn his attention to another of your gender.  You simply don’t know how this will go.”

            “Yes, sir,” Toyus replied.

            “I find the species beautiful,” Moyen said quietly.  “They have honor and integrity.  They are graceful and deadly.  I have a feeling when your changes are done with, you will resemble more their race than mine.”

            Toyus looked away from his father.  

            “It’s like being in a nightmare,” he murmured.

            “It’s how you perceive it,” Moyen replied.  “If you perceive it as an opportunity, then that is what it shall be  Otherwise…then it becomes a nightmare.”

            “An opportunity for what?” Toyus demanded, glaring at him.

            “To grow, to evolve,” Moyen said.  “Did you have lover back home?”

            Toyus blushed.  “No.”

            “Then you are free.”

            “What about you and my siblings and the rest of the family.  Am I not to see them again?”

            Moyen smiled sadly.  “You will create a new family, my son.  I will linger with you until you get sick of me.”

            Toyus placed his hand on his father’s on the seat arm.  “I could never get sick of having you near me, Eda.  I am honored that you have chosen to come with me.”

            Moyen grinned.  “That may change later, when you have a family of your own.”

            “My children should know their grandfather.”

            Moyen patted Toyus’s hand.  “They will know me.”

            Toyus turned away, rested his head against the headrest and closed his eyes.

            He thought of oun Nilja.  Could a mating between them even produce kits?  He felt his face heat.  And how did Sha’jeen mate, anyway?

            No, he thought. I can’t take that step.  It isn’t right.  We’re different species.  And, yet, he was molting into one of them, wasn’t he?  

            He would be a Sha’jeen or something else altogether.

            His heart gave a painful lurch, and he went hot and cold at once.  He found himself panting.

            “What is it, son?” Moyen asked.

            Toyus opened his eyes and looked at his father.  “What if I become something else–something not human, not Sha’jeen?”

            “We will tackle that problem when it presents itself,” his father replied.  

            “But the Sha’jeen must have smelled something in me to cause them to exile me from the colony.”

            Moyen frowned.  “You may have a point.”  He rose.  “I’ll have a few words with the oun Shi’ehl.”

            Toyus watched him stride down the cabin aisle.

Chapter II: Ariahl’s Report

            Ariahl stood next to her fellow Sentinels and bowed to the King of Draemin City, Yvar’h Stait.

            The King resembled his sister, Malida, atlhough he was younger, wider and burly with muscles, where she had been slender and small of stature.  He had her dark hair and amber eyes.  And just as she had been beautiful, he was handsome, although his looks were currently curtailed by a severe scowl.

            “Report,” he growled.

            She bowed again and cleared her throat.  “How much do you wish me to reveal in Court, your Majesty?”

            His scowl deepened.  “I keep no secrets from my people!”

            Warlord Rien Tholten, who stood on the top step of the throne and to the left of the chair, bent and whispered a few words to the King.

            King Yvar’h parted his lips but nodded.

            Warlord Tholten straightened.  “Clear the Court!”

            Guards began to direct people out through the double doors at the front of the room.  The process took close to a quarter of an hour. By then, the King was fit to be tied.            

            He rose from the throne and leapt to the floor, landing smoothly and gracefully.

            He faced Ariehl.  “Now, Sentinel.  Your report.”

            As she spoke, he paced.

            “We’ve discovered the cause of this disease, your Majesty.  We have dubbed it ‘Chimera.'”

            He stopped pacing and turned to face her.  “Chimera?  Goddess forbid, I don’t like the sound of that.”

            Ariahl clasped her hands before her.  “It is a bacterium with a virus at its core.  At first, we thought it was a bacterium, which we could treat with antibacterials, but we know have ascertained that we need to treat the population with a vaccine and antibacterial agents.”

            The King sighed and rubbed his face with his hands.  “This is all nonsensical to me.  What is a bacterium?  What is a virus?”

            Ariahl felt the beginnings of frustration.  They didn’t have time for this!

            Topon stepped forward.  “Your Majesty.  I promise to teach you these terms, but right now we need to give our report and return to the quarantine area.”

            King Yvar’h frowned but nodded.  “Very well, go on.”

            Ariahl nodded.  “Your Majesty, a certain percent of the population of this city is changing due to Chimera.  The organism infects the host’s cells and reproduces.  As it reproduces, it changes the host internally and then externally.  Some hosts die of the symptoms of the infection.  Others have mild symptoms and recover, passing the organism through urine or feces.  The problem, we are sure you can see, is that we don’t know how many people have developed mild symptoms and are infecting others.  Since we didn’t know about this organism from the very start, many of the soldiers who contracted the disease during the invasion unknowingly carried Chimera to their loved ones.  We now have about 100 infected individuals om quarantine.  We don’t know how many more are carriers who don’t show marked symptoms.  This disease travels more slowly than Leptka’s Disease, but it might have greater repercussions.  

            “This is bigger than seven Sentinels.  I feel woefully underprepared to face a pandemic.  We do not have a countermeasure to forestall the spread of the disease and we do not have an antibacterial that is efficacious in this instance.  The antibacterial teas and curatives used by the local denizens have had a measure of success fighting Chimera, but we are unsure if the bacterium can re-infect a person that has been treated with antibacterial teas and medicines.  Upon re-infection, does it grow resistance to the teas and curatives?  We don’t know.  Also, your Majesty, these teas and curatives do not always work. It depends on the person’s health and immune system.

            “The only time the antibacterial teas and curatives seem to have an effect is on hosts that do not succumb to the bacterium’s onslaught.  These individuals have something in their bodies’ immune systems which prevents the virus from attaching to cells and reproducing.    We are taking blood samples from those who are not susceptible to Chimera and examining the blood for clues.  It is woefully slow work.  Mariel has a medical background, so she is in charge of this project.  Ishel is conducting interviews with those who are not susceptible to see if they consume some sort of food substance or live a certain way that allows them to fight off infection.  We may be grasping at straws here. It just may be an inherent ability to fight off disease that allows those not susceptible to overcome Chimera.”

            The King paced in silence for a few minutes.  He sighed.  

            “Surely, this isn’t as grave as you think,” he said.  “100 have become infected, you say?”

            Topon frowned.  “That we know of, your Majesty.”

            The King waved a lazy hand.   “Yes, yes.  But you still have only 100 infected citizens.  I’m not going to frighten the citizenry with stringent quarantine orders if only 100 have become infected.”

            “Your Majesty–” Ariahl began.

            “Silence!  I won’t be gainsaid,” the King spat  “You will bring those 100 citizens to the city hospitals and you will assist and advise the city physicians and healers.  I won’t have the populace alarmed in any way.  Understood?”

            Ariahl took a step forward.  “Your Majesty–“

            “Un.der.stood?!”

            They bowed.  “Yes, your Majesty.”

            The King turned away.  “Dismissed.”

            They said nothing to one another until they returned to camp.  Once in their private tent, Ariahl exploded. That she spoke in Ancient English revealed the depth of her distress.

            “I cannot believe his Majesty!” she yelled, kicking a pallet, and overturning it.

            “Ariahl,” Topon said.

            She turned on him.  “What?!  You can’t possibly agree with him?”

            “I do no such thing,” he retorted.

            Mariel put her hands on Ariahl’s shoulders.  “We are here to support the people of this planet, Captain.  To advise them.  That is all.”

            Ariahl shrugged her hands off.  “Don’t you dare tell me what I already know!”

            “Then act like it,” Ishel stated coldly.  “We are above emotions, Captain.  We need to think clearly and logically in every situation.”

            Ariahl nodded mutely.  “Give me some space.”

            Mariel took a step closer to her.

            Ariahl shook her head.  “No.  Leave me and return to your posts.”

            She waited until they left before tying the tent flap closed.  She turned to face the contents of the tent.  She rubbed her hands together.  The metal hand felt cold.  It was smooth and close to a human hand in looks, save for the circuitry. 

            She went to the gilded mirror Malida had gifted her and unfastened her cloak, allowing it to fall to the floor.  Then she pulled off the man’s shirt and pants and stood before the mirror.  She ran her eyes over her small breasts, her graceful fleshy arm and her belly, neck, and hips.  The rest of her–her right arm and both legs–glinted blue in the low light of the tent.  She ran her hand over her chest and abdomen, over her neck and face and hips.  Then she touched the metal and plastic parts of her.  She ran her eyes over the blinking lights along the metal forearm and the thighs.

            “Am I malfunctioning?” she asked out loud.

            She bent her metal arm and touched two buttons.  At once, the telltale whirr signaled the beginning of a system’s check.

            Ariahl closed her eyes, followed the test down the long line of circuits that connected to the frontal lobe and the base of the neck.  Every circuit beeped with health.  When the test was done, the circuits ran another test on the flesh-and-blood parts of her body.

            Exhaustion. Dehydration.   Recommendation:  rest, nourishment, and fresh water.

            She sighed.

            Slowly, she pulled on her shirt and pants.  

            She sat down slowly on her pallet.  

            “Mother,” she said.  Long dead.  Tell me what to do, Mother!

            They teetered on the brink of disaster.  She could sense it.

            Something very terrible was going on and they were helpless to stop it or even slow it down.

            “I was chosen because I am of strong North African stock,” she told herself.  “Because I am usually unemotional.  So, I must face off with this stupid King unemotionally.  Before he destroys everything.”

            There was a scratch at the tent flap.

            She rose and strode to the flap, untying it.

            She stepped back to allow Mariel to enter.

            “Are you alright?” her second-in-command asked.

            Ariehl cupped Mariel’s cheek.

            Mariel started.

            “I’m sorry,” Ariehl murmured.

            Mariel’s hand covered hers.  “Think nothing of it.”

            They hugged.

            “We’ll reconnoiter when Kaster and Derik return,” she told Mariel.

            Mariel stepped back.  “We need a plan, Ariehl.  This willl end in disaster if we don’t.  But I have to caution, our role is minimal.  It’s supposed to be minimal.  We cannot overstep our bounds.”

            Ariahl sighed.  “Listen, Mariela:  the men and women who gave us a directive are long dead.  Earth might be a pile of rubble, for all we know.  For all we know, the people on this world may be the last representatives of the human race.  We have to discuss this as a unit.”

            She pushed the tent flap to one side to allow Mariel to leave the tent first. 

            She followed.

Part III: Colony Chapter I: Council

         oun D’jir’s arrival on the island created a stir among the people.  Even though he wore his voluminous robes, it was evident to anyone who wanted to know that he carried kits.  His midriff was round and distended, his pouch opening distinct.  His golden fur had grown darker and he carried more weight.  

            As he stepped down the shuttle ramp to the ground, the entire colony went down upon one knee and bowed their heads.  oun D’jir was taken aback, not having expected reverence.  He glanced over his shoulder to Sol, who stood just behind him.  The Sentinel smiled faintly and gave a nod.  oun D’jir turned back to the congregation.

            One of the aun Deuili stood up.  He was tall and burly with muscles.  His down was silver, and his blue eyes took oun D’jir in possessively.

            oun D’jir stiffened.

            The aun Deuil bowed deeply.  “Oun Shi’ehl, welcome to Colony Xema.  I am aun Deuil Sjir’phal.”

            oun D’jir sniffed delicately, parting his mouth to scent the stranger.  He smelled strong and intelligent.  There was no question that he was attractive to oun D’jir, but oun D’jir didn’t appreciate the entitled attitude of the soldier.

            “aun Deuil,” oun D’jir replied cautiously.  His tail flicked behind him, slapping softly against Sol’s thigh.  oun D’jir hissed at the offensive appendage.

            aun Sjir’phal took a step forward.  “May I show you your hut, oun Shi’ehl?”

            oun D’jir looked out into the kneeling people.  “Rise, please.   Where are the oun Shi’ehli?”

            “Here, oun Shi’ehl.”

            oun D’jir ran his eyes over the remainder of his gender.  He gasped.  “How many of you are there?”

            One of the oun Shi’ehli stepped forward.  “We are al-olta, oun Shi’ehl.”

            “Al-olta?” he asked, horrified.  “And the aun Deuili?”

            The oun Shi’ehl sighed.  “Xe-shanstk-shanstk.”

            “I see,” oun D’jir murmured.  “Ie’teina is wise.  We need labor to build our new home.”

            The colony murmured a brief prayer.

            oun D’jir’s ear flicked.  “And the boueli?  What are their numbers?”

            “Unchanged, except for the civil war that killed some olta-olta,” the oun Shi’ehl replied.

            oun D’jir turned back to Sol.  “There are 42 oun Shi’ehli, 110 aun Deuili and some 200 boueli.”  He turned back to the congregation.  “One of the Sentinels is an architect and engineer.  He has come to assist us.”

            “We have all the information we need from the ark records.  We need no assistance from Sk’oit-tu,” aun Sjir’phal spat.

            oun D’jir was slow to turn to him, ears flat against his head.  “You have no say, aun Deuil.  You forget yourself.”

            aun Sjir’phal drew himself to his full height and made himself appear larger.  “Things are different now, oun Shi’ehl.  The Council will be formed of aun Deuil and oun Shi’ehl.”

            oun D’jir felt his tail fluff in surprise and ire.  He narrowed his eyes.  “Then let me make myself clear, aun Sjir’phal.  The Sk’oit-tu are welcome and the engineer will assist us.”

            “Until your kits are born, you have no power,” aun Sjir’phal hissed.

            oun D’jir drew himself up.  “Would you like to battle?”

            The people rose as one to their feet.  Shouts filled the air.

            An aun Deuil stepped forward.  “There will be no actions taken; nothing that may cause harm to the kits.  The engineer may assist us, oun Shi’ehl.”

            The people calmed at the words.

            oun D’jir placed a hand on his pelvis.  “My kits are strong. I am always aware of their health and wellbeing.”

            “Praise Ie’teina!” an oun Shi’ehl called out.

            “Praise Ie’teina!” the colony intoned.

            oun D’jir shifted.  “Has the Council been gathered?”

            aun Sjir’phal sighed.  “We waited for your arrival.”

            “Then we will vote for a Council,” oun D’jir replied haughtily.  “Is there a meeting hall?”

            “Ye,” aun Sjir’phal replied.

            “Then let us adjourn and choose a government,” oun D’jir said as if he spoke to a youngling.

            aun Sjir’phal stiffened but sketched a shallow bow.  “This way, oun Shi’ehl.”

            oun D’jir turned to Sol.  “Remain on the shuttle until I return, aun Sol.”

            “Of course.”

            The colony moved as one, parting to allow aun Sjir’phal and oun D’jir to pass, then closing behind them.

            The meeting hall was a large wooden structure with a rounded roof made of soft wood and packed mud covered with thick fronds.  There were windows without shutters.  Inside the wide door was a swept wooden floor and pillows were stacked along the walls.  On the other side of the room were fourteen thick, brilliantly colored pillows.  The smell of mud and wood dust was thick in the room.

            oun D’jir turned to the congregation.  “Sit, please.  We will discuss who will rule.”

            The congregation sat down and oun D’jir sat crosslegged on the floor in front of the room, aun Sjir’phal next to him.

            “Suggestions?” oun D’jir asked.

            “Shanstk percent of each gender,” an aun Deuil shouted.

            oun D’jir huffed a laugh.  “That will put the oun Shi’ehli at a disadvantage.  I propose oi-stok from each gender.”

            aun Sjir’phal shifted and oun D’jir stiffened, expecting conflict.

            “Agreed,” was all aun Sjir’phal said, surprising oun D’jir.

            “How do we choose?” an oun Shi’ehl asked the silence.

            “Games!” two or three said at the same time.

            The congregation hissed with laughter.

            aun Sjir’phal looked around the room.  “The Council will be chosen based on wisdom, equanimity, and a sense of justice.  We do not need physical strength from our rulers.  Games would be most enjoyable, but not for this.”

            Nods of assent from the congregation.

            “I nominate aun Sjir’phal!” an aun Deuil shouted out.  “He led us safely here and has led us with equanimity and wisdom!”

            The congregation pounded the floor with their fists.

            “All in favor, say Ye!” the aun Deuil screamed.

            “Ye!”

            oun D’jir remained quiet.  He glanced at the congregated oun Shi’ehli and met their nervous gazes.  He inclined his head.  They were outnumbered two to one, so they had to fight this battle with cunning and not a show of strength.

            aun Sjir’phal preened and inclined his head.  “I accept the nomination with gratitude.”

            “I nominate oun D’jir!” one of the oun Shi’ehl called out.  “He represents our future.”

            The congregation pounded the floor with their fists.  “Ye!”

            aun Sjir’phal inclined his head.  “Agreed.  Now, I will nominate an aun Deuil and oun D’jir will nominate an oun Shi’ehl.  The colony will accept our choice or supply an alternative.”

            “Ye!” the colony cried as one.

            “Then I nominate aun P’ata’lyh,” aun Sjir’phal said.  “He led the revolt on his ark with minimal bloodshed.”

            oun D’jir stiffened but said nothing as the aun Deuili assented.  He felt helpless and distressed.  aun Sjir’phal would choose progressives and disenchanted aun Deuili who would change the laws and everything holy.  He thought hard.  If he chose only traditionalists nothing would get done.  They would be seven against seven and only stalemates would be created, but he wanted at least three stolid, traditionalist voices in the Council. Coming to a decision, he named a traditionalist.

            “I choose oun Enobia,” oun D’jir murmured.

            “A traditionalist?” aun Sjir’phal challenged.

            “Just so,” oun D’jir replied patiently.  “We need a connection to the past, even as we move forward into the future.”

            aun Sjir’phal raised an eyebrow but inclined his head.  “Just so.”

            Hours later, they had chosen the fourteen Council members.  Three were traditionalist, not including oun D’jir.  He felt comforted that there would be four traditionalist voices in the Council.

            aun Sjir’phal rose.  “Councilors!  As I call your name, rise and take a place at the fore of the room!”

            aun Sjir’phal walked to the fore of the room and knelt on a pillow at the edge of the semicircle of pillows.  “oun D’jir!”

            The congregation pounded the floor with their fists as oun D’jir rose and took his place beside aun Sjir’phal.

            “aun P’ata’lyh!”

            “oun Enobia!”

            “aun Pasia’h!”

            “oun Serphon!”

            “aun Tefa!”

            “oun Benska!”

            “aun Isolth!”

            “oun Zerta!”

            “aun Kaphil!”

            “oun Nilja!”

            “aun Otol’h!”

            “oun Safahn!”

            Once all the Council was seated at in a semicircle, aun Sjir’phal rose.  “We present the Council of Colony Xema:  the past and the future!”

            “Hau! hau! hau!” the colony changed, banging their fists on the wooden floor.

            aun Sjir’phal raised both arms to silence the crowd.

            He ran his eyes over the congregation.  “I have begun to form laws for the people.  The Council will adapt the ones everyone can agree upon.  Once the laws have been voted upon, we will present them to the people.  At that point, we will adopt a High Priest and King!”

            “Hau! hau! hau!”

            “Disperse then,” aun Sjir’phal told the people.  “Return to work now.”

            The people shuffled out of the room, closing the door of the hut when the last one exited.

            “You have begun the laws?” oun D’jir asked into the utter silence created by the vacating of the hut.

            “Ye,” aun Sjir’phal replied.  He parted his robes and pulled out a thin tome.  “I have written the laws here. I will read them to you, and you will vote.”

            oun D’jir listened with growing alarm as aun Sjir’phal announced the new roles for each gender.  When aun Sjir’phal read the new roles for the nieh boueli, he rose with a hiss.

            “You mean to educate the nieh boueli?” he demanded.

            aun Sjir’phal inclined his head.  “Ye.  They will have the roles of educators and clerics to the High Priest–“

            “So I heard you,” oun D’jir spat.  “Do you think that is wise?”

            “Oppression causes discontent and possible revolt,” aun Sjir’phal intoned.

            oun D’jir rolled his eyes at the tired saying.  “The boueli have never revolted!”

            “Not on the arks,” aun Sjir’phal stated.  “It might be different on a planet.”

            oun Benska shifted.  “How so?”

            “There has been precedence in the past,” oun D’jir replied with reluctance.  “In our deep past.”

            “I see,” oun Benska said.

            “The God Ie’teina is a just God,” aun Sjir’phal told them.  “It will not sit well with the God to behave unjustly.  To that end, we will refer to the boueli as ieh boueli.”

            “‘Ieh’ has no meaning in our language!” oun Serphon huffed dismissively.

            “It will take on meaning with use and time,” aun Sjir’phal replied patiently.

            “So the nie– the ieh boueli will be taught to read and write and given new roles,” oun D’jir said.  “What of the genders?”

            aun Sjir’phal read from his tome.  “The aun Deuili will have the roles of protectors, governors, merchants, farmers, traders, hunters, smiths, and animal husbands.”

            oun D’jir inclined his head.  “That is in keeping with their strengths and abilities.  And the oun Shi’ehli?”

            aun Sjir’phal locked glances with aun Pasia’h before returning his gaze to oun D’jir.  “The oun Shi’ehl’s roles will now include that of diplomat, courtier, ambassador, nurturer, home keeper, High Priest and King.”

            The traditionalist among them began shouting as one.

            oun D’jir held up a hand to silence them.  “One at a time:  why do you oppose these roles?”

            “We are not meant to work!” oun Enobia huffed.  “We are meant to rule!”

            “And we shall,” oun D’jir agreed.  “One of our numbers will be king.”  He took in a deep, bracing breath.  “We should contribute to the the colony.  It is shameful, how we’ve behaved in the past–“

            “You are a traditionalist!” oun Benska hissed.

            oun D’jir’s lips quirked.  “Apparently not as much as I thought.”  He hissed.  “I agree with these roles.  You are outnumbered, oun Benska, oun Serphon, oun Enobia.  It will add meaning to our lives to work for a change.”

            aun Sjir’phal looked with admiration at oun D’jir before dropping his gaze to the tome.  “All Sha’jeen homes will have an altar to Ie’teina.  There will be a prayer hall as well for a weekly congregation.  A candle will be lit each morning and incense will be burned.  All Sha’jeen will pray upon rising and upon lying down to bed at night.”

            “The rituals are to be formed by the High Priest!” oun Enobia hissed.

            oun D’jir was so shocked, he was unable to speak for a few minutes.  He wrapped his distressed tail tightly around his waist.  “We will leave off rituals until the High Priest is chosen.”

            aun Sjir’phal looked like he would protest, but then he inclined his head.  “Very well.”

            oun D’jir released a breath and rubbed his thighs soothingly to calm himself.  “We will create the civic laws.”  He stood and stretched.  “But we will adjourn, for it grows late.  Tomorrow we adjourn once more on the morrow to create the civic laws. Agreed?”

            The members of the Council acquiesced and oun D’jir turned to stalk from the hut.  He was parched and hungry.

            Rain fell gently onto the canopy of the nearby trees.  The pattering sound, combined with the smell of wet earth, filled oun D’jir with an odd mixture of comfort and strangeness.  He had been born in a sterile and artificial environment.  He stood in the middle of the colony and lifted his face to the sky.  Thunder rumbled in the distance.  The rain clung in droplets to his fur.

            “oun D’jir.”

            oun D’jir stiffened and sighed.  He turned with reluctance to face aun Sjir’phal.

            “I’m sorry if I offended,” the aun Deuil stated quietly.

            oun D’jir did not reply but inclined his head.

            aun Sjir’phal shifted uncertainly.  “I…I would like to court you.”

            oun D’jir reeled back as if struck.  “What?”

            “I would like to court you, aun Shi’ehl.”

            “And if I refuse your courtship?” oun D’jir spat.

            “I will court you, oun D’jir,” aun Sjir’phal stated blandly.  “In the end, you will succumb to me.”

            oun D’jir hissed with laughter.  He raked his gaze over the aun Deuil, hating that the soldier’s confidence and physical beauty pulled on his interest.

            “Then court away, aun Deuil,” oun D’jir huffed.  “We’ll see what happens.”

            He spun around, intent on putting as much distance as he could between himself and aun Sjir’phal as he could.

Chapter XI: Report

            Moyen sat at the edge of Toyus’ bed. The boy was thin, having had nothing but broths and sometimes unable to keep those down.  His head was as a skull, all sharp edges and lines.  His hair, oily from days upon days of no washing or brushing, lay plastered to his head.  Kaster and Topon had developed a serum of some sort that was seemingly helping the boy fight the infection, but still the areas where he had been burned emitted heat and were red and angry against the pallidity of his flesh.  It had been nearly a week since Malida’s funeral and, in another week, he would leave Draemin City behind.  It was only when he was at his eldest son’s bedside that he felt unsure about his decision to leave the city.

            “Eda.”

            Moyen started, wiping at his cheek with a cold, unsteady hand.

            Toyus was awake, watching him with steady, fever bright eyes.

            “Hallo, son,” Moyen said quietly.

            Toyus gave him a flickering grin.  “How are you, Eda?”

            Moyen took his son’s remaining hand in both of his.  “I am well enough, boy.  Well enough.  How do you feel?”

            Toyus coughed, a wet thick sound that worried Moyen deeply.  He struggled to sit up and Moyen helped him, patting his back to dislodge the phlegm in his lungs.  He held the boy tight, closing his eyes against the wave of sorrow that threatened to undo him. I must be strong, damn it, he thought and steeled himself.  Once Toyus coughing fit had passed, he helped is son lie down once more.  

            Toyus sighed and closed his eyes.  “Why can’t I get better or just die?”

            Moyen’s heart broke.  “I don’t know what Atana is doing with you, boy.  I’m sorry.”

            Toyus squeezed his hand.  “It’s not your fault, Eda.”

            He let go of Moyen’s hand and wiped the corner of his mouth.  His fingers came away red with blood.

            Moyen swallowed past the boulder lodged in his throat.  

            The door to the bedroom opened.

            “How are you, Toyus?” Kaster asked.

            Toyus grimaced.  “I’m dancing jigs over here, Sentinel.”

            Kaster sat down on the stool near the bed.  “I’ve modified the serum, Toyus.  The new strain shows promise.”

            Toyus rolled his eyes.  “Excuse me if I have little hope, doctor.”

            Sol stepped through the door.  “You’re up, Toyus.”

            Toyus’ face suffused with blood and he dropped his gaze.  “I am.”

            Moyen wondered at his son’s reactions but said nothing as Kaster made him move so he could examine Toyus.  He stood next to Sol and watched as the doctor listened to Toyus’ heart and lungs and examined his burns.  With a sigh, the Sentinel rose and turned to them.  

            “I will administer the serum via injection,” he told them.  “I will return.”

            “No,” Toyus said firmly.

            Kaster turned.  “What?”

            “I said no,” Toyus said.  “If the infection kills me, then so be it.  Your serum is making me feel worse, Kaster.”

            “That may be the battle being fought at the cellular level–”    

            Toyus looked at his father.  “Eda, please–“

            Moyen took in his son’s pale, skeletal features and too-bright eyes.  He took in the pleading in the depths of those green eyes.

            He sighed.  “I’ll support my son in this request, Sentinel Kaster.”

            “I protest!  I’m his doctor–“

            “And you are in my employ,” Moyen retorted.  “You may monitor his wellbeing, but you won’t inject any more serums or any more medicinals.”

            Kaster helplessly looked at Sol.

            Sol sighed and shrugged.  “We have to respect their wishes, Kaster.”

            Kaster said something too soft to hear and stomped from the room.

            Sol gave Moyen an uncertain smile.  “I’m sorry.  He’s the most stubborn of us.”

            “It’s not your fault, Sentinel,” Moyen murmured.

            There was a knock upon the door and a guard stepped into the room.  “Warlord Rien is here to see you, Lord Ekesj.”

            Moyen nodded at the soldier.  “Very good.  I’ll be right out.”  He turned to Sol.  “Keep him company, will you?”

            Sol nodded.  “Of course, sir.”

            Moyen closed the bedroom door behind him and walked to where Rien stood leaning against the fireplace mantle.  

            They looked at one another.

            “I’ve news,” Rien said without preamble when the guard had exited the room and closed the hallway door behind him.

            “Ey?”

            “Sit,” Rien told him.

            Moyen sat down.  “What is the news?”

            “We’ve killed Lord Ethael and his younger son and confiscated their territories for the crown. The King will gift it to one or more of your children when they marry.”

            Moyen nodded.  “Did Lord Ethael know what Othol was planning?”

            “He swore up and down that he had not known Othol meant to kill the alien or your wife, my friend.  Except he was lying through his teeth.  We found letters Othol had sent to him while he was on the run.  He may not have helped Othol but he did nothing to warn you or the king.”

            Moyen swore softly.  “How did he die?”

            “Lord Ethael and his younger son were drawn and quartered, sir,” Rien told him without emotion.

            “Good,” Moyen said.  “And his wife and daughters?”

            “His wife threw herself from the battlements of Kuin-on-the-H’aj Castle, sir.”

            “I see,” Moyen murmured and closed his eyes against the nausea that rose in him.  “And the daughters?”        

            “They are married and live in other households, sir,” Rien replied.  

            “Leave them be then,” Moyen told his friend.

            “Yes, sir.”  Rien shifted and glanced at the closed bedroom door.  He heard voices from within.

            “What is it?” Moyen asked.

            Rien sat down next to him and lowered his voice.  “I found out what you tasked me to find.”

            Moyen glanced at the bedroom door and nodded.  “Go on.”

            Rien took in a deep breath and released it promptly.  “I…I don’t know know how to say this thing to you, friend.”

            The stomach dropped out of Moyen’s middle, leaving him feeling lightheaded and dislocated.

            “Is my son going to die?” he heard himself ask from a great distance.

            “Most likely not,” he heard Rien say.  “That’s not the issue.”

            Moyen felt relief and anxiety flood him as one.  He clasped his hands together and took a deep, cleansing breath.  “Then what is the issue?”

            Rien’s glance flicked away then returned anxiously.  “He’s changing.”

            “He?”

            “Toyus.”

            “Changing how?”

            The door to the bedroom opened and Sol stepped through.  “I can tell you, since your spy has already discerned it.”  

            Sol looked over his shoulder and closed the door behind him.  “He sleeps.”

            They watched him stride to the fireplace and lean against the mantle.

            “Well?” Moyen demanded.

            Sol nodded.  “He’s changing physiologically.  On a cellular level.”

            Moyen rose, frowning.  “What does that even mean?”

            “The bacteria attacking your son are something the likes of which we have never encountered.  In some ways, it acts like a virus.  It is fusing with his cells and changing your son into something else,” Sol said.  “We don’t know what because we don’t understand this bacterium.”

            The breath left Moyen’s lungs with a whoosh.  One minute he was standing, the next he was sitting with his head between his knees, gulping air.

            Rien gently patted Moyen’s back.  “Breathe, my lord.”

            Moyen breathed deeply, in and out slowly.  Eventually, the dizziness passed, and he was able to sit up.

            “I want to transport him to the colony,” Moyen said.  “I don’t want him here, isolated.  I want him with me.”

            “That is a good idea,” Sol replied.  He placed a hand on Moyen’s shoulder and squeezed.

            Moyen pushed his hand away. “Why would you not tell me anything of this?”

            Sol sighed.  “I was ordered not to, my lord.  Besides, what could you have done for him that we can’t?”

            Moyen grimaced.  “Nothing.”

            “Precisely, my lord.”  

            The Sentinel walked to the window and pressed his forehead to the thick glass.  Beyond the glass, snow swirled in the strong wind.  The wind moaned and rattled the windows.

            “Maybe the Sha’jeen can help him,” Moyen said into the silence.

            “They are not as advanced as the Sentinels in medicine,” Sol replied quietly.  “They were on their way to cultural degeneration.  They have lost most of their scientific and medicinal abilities.”

            “But you have not,” Moyen accused him.  “But still you can’t help him!”

            “We are doing everything in our power and knowledge, my lord,” the Sentinel said with conviction.  “But this bacterium…it is strange.  We can’t get a handle on it before it mutates, almost as if it knows we are observing it!”

            Moyen rose wearily to his feet.  “I am to bed. I can’t speak of this anymore. We will take Toyus to the island and I will ask the Sha’jeen to help him.  I lose nothing in trying.”

            He strode from the room.

***

            Six days later, Moyen pulled his kamarani cloak about his shoulders and bent to pick up his travel bag.

            “Eda?”

            Moyen picked up the bag and turned.  His remaining children stood just inside his bedroom door.

            “You came to see me off?” he asked with forced cheerfulness.

            Pren took a step closer.  “Why are you leaving, Eda?”

            “I already explained that I need space from the city until I can grieve your mother’s passing,” Moyen told the boy.  “I am leaving you in the King’s care.  Finish your schooling and then the Queen will find you spouses.”

            He walked past them, and they followed him to the sitting room.

            “Why must you take Toyus with you?” Emeida demanded, running to overtake him then standing in his way.

            “Move, girl,” Moyen growled.  “I already told you:  Toyus will die if we don’t get him help.  Only the Sha’jeen can help him now.”

            He pushed past her and strode into the sitting room.

            oun D’jir stood next to Rien and Sol and Kaster.  Both Sentinels were coming with them.

            “When will you return, Father?” Itina piped up.

            He sighed and turned to her.  “That I cannot tell you, girl.  Once I am emotionally strong enough, I will return.”

            Soena gathered a sobbing Itina into her arms.

            Moyen turned away, heart breaking.  “Shall we head out?”

            “Derik is already in the shuttle,” Sol told him.  “The Sha’jeen will need the assistance of a good engineer.”

            They strode down the long hallway to the northeastern stairwell.  Five guards led the procession and five more brought up the rear.  

            The shuttle had landed on the north side of the vast bailey, taking up most of the space.  They made their way in the softly falling snow, heading north from the Great Hall entrance.  When they reached the shuttle, they found a crowd of soldiers studying it with curiosity and some trepidation.

            “You have to leave the area once we start the engines,” Kaster told the crowd.  “Or the heat from the engines will fry you to a crisp.”

            The muttering soldiers moved several feet away.

            Moyen walked up the ramp into the main cabin of the shuttle.  The shuttle was as big as a house, with two stories, three stairwells, a cockpit, and a storage area in the back.  

            “Sit down and fasten your seat belts,” Sol told Moyen and Rien.  “If you sit next to a window, you’ll see the land fall below you.”

            Rien took a seat next to Moyen.  “I’m not ready to see the land fall below me.”

            Sol grinned and fastened their seat belts, showing them how to unfasten them.  He then stowed their travel bags in an overhead compartment and snapped it shut.

            “How long is the journey?” Rien asked the Sentinel.

            “Fourteen hours and some minutes,” the Sentinel replied.  “Once we are in the air, you may move around the main cabin.  I’ll be sitting next to Toyus’ cot.”

            When the Sentinel walked away, Rien turned to Moyen.

            “This will be interesting.  Fourteen hours, ey? Seems amazing.”

            “Yes,” Moyen agreed.  “It would take us most of the year, if not all, to find this island.”

            There was a hum and then the shuttle shook itself like some great beast awakening.  The inside of the beast vibrated.  The vibrations increased as Kaster closed the main shuttle door and found his way to the cockpit.  Both he and Derik were flying the shuttle.  After a few minutes, Derik’s voice came over the speakers in the main cabin.

            “Everyone, make sure you are strapped in,” he said, following with directions in Sha’jeen.  “The flight will take a little over fourteen hours at medium speed.  Sol will give you refreshments once we are in the air.  Have a good flight.”

            Moyen was about to say something to Rien when the shuttle gave a lurch and increased its vibrations until nothing could be heard above the sound of the engines.  Slowly, the shuttle rose into the air, leaving the bailey below.  Fascinated, Moyen pressed his forehead to the glass window and watched Draemin Castle grow small below them.  They rose high into the clouds and higher until they rose above the clouds and into a bright blue sky.  Moyen gasped.

            “Look!” he told Rien.  “The clouds are below us!”

            Rien looked green.  He swallowed convulsively.  He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

            Sol was there with a bag that looked like paper but was lined with something called “plastic.”  Rien vomited into the bag, heaving until there was nothing left in his stomach.

            “Well, thank God it’s early and all you had was tea,” Sol murmured, taking the bag away.

            Rien rested his head back and closed his eyes.

            Moyen wanted to tease him, but Rien’s distress was so palpable, he decided not to.  Instead, he lost himself in the sight of the clouds below them.

            After a few minutes, Rien began to snore softly.  

            Moyen unbuckled his seat belt and rose, climbing over Rien’s legs and headed back to where Toyus’ bunk had been positioned between the rows of seats.  Toyus was talking softly to oun D’jir.

            The Sha’jeen glanced up as Moyen approached.  He rose and bowed.

            “aun Moyen.”

            Moyen bowed.  “oun D’jir.  How is my son?”

            oun D’jir sat down again.  “He is better.  He smells as if he is on the mend.”  He cocked his head.  “May I speak with you in private, aun Moyen?”

            “Of course,” Moyen replied and glanced at his son, but Toyus was sleeping, dark smudges under his sooty eyelashes.

            Moyen chose a seat on the other side of where Rien slept.  He sat next to the window and oun D’jir slid into the seat next to him.

            “What do you wish to speak about?” Moyen asked.

            The Sha’jeen’s tail flicked, slapping the back of the seat in front of them.  “I…your son no longer smells human, aun Moyen.”

            “How does he smell?” Moyen asked.

            The Sha’jeen shook his head slowly and closed his eyes.  He lifted his face and sniffed the closed air of the shuttle.  “Something familiar, yet so distant in our past.  I cannot name it, aun Moyen.”  He opened his beautiful blue eyes and blinked slowly, the tip of his tongue showing through his lips.  “It smells like our past.  That is all I can say.  Perhaps someone else will recognize it once we reach the island.”

            “Perhaps,” Moyen conceded.  “Does he smell dangerous to you?”

            oun D’jir closed his eyes again and sniffed the air.  “Perhaps.  Something in me is wary, that is why I keep close to him.”

            “Perhaps it is not a good idea to bring him to your colony, oun Shi’ehl.”

            oun D’jir hissed his amusement.  “We can deal with your son, whatever it is he molts to become.”  He sobered.  “You know, once upon a time, that is how we behaved.  We had a time during our evolution when we were different, we became warriors or breeders, depending on the needs of the people.  It manifested itself like an infection of sorts and then we changed.  The molting did not serve the species and eventually it no longer presented itself.  Many died in the process of molting, aun human.  We evolved into being born one sex or the other, but in the beginning, we became according to the needs of the people.  If there were too few kits, too few people, we molted into Shi’ehl.  If there were too many kits, too many people, we molted into boueli or Deuil.”

            “Many died, you say?”        

            “Ye,” oun D’jir replied.  “The molting was too traumatic.  The body would go into shock and many died.  Too few survived.”

            “Could this be happening to my son?” he asked.

            “I don’t know,” the Sha’jeen replied a tad mournfully.

            Moyen sighed.  “I suppose we will find out soon enough.”

            “Ye,” oun D’jir said.

Chapter X: Remembering

            The dead Queen was paraded through the streets of Draemin City.  Most of those who came to watch her pass were poor.  She lay behind a thick glass coffin, looking serene, poised, and beautiful, her hands placed one on top of the other on her chest.  She wore the deep green satin gown she had been crowned in.  A circlet of gold and jewels encircled her head.  Her hair was arranged on top of her head.  Her feet were bare, as she had preferred while alive.  

            Moyen rode his bahil beside the coffin, his hand on the thick, cold glass.  The procession moved slowly through the crowded streets.  He listlessly lifted his eyes and saw many of the citizens openly weeping.  It filled his heart and soul with warmth.  The coffin was followed by two gorgeous carriages filled with Malida’s family, including her children.  All but Toyus, who still hung in the balance between life and death.  

            Moyen wanted to die.  His life stretched out before him, long and lonely.  He knew he would do nothing, though.  Not until the kingdom was safe.  He sighed and turned his head to face forward.  The boulevard stretched out for sepek upon sepek, ending at Draemin Castle, where they would slide Malida’s coffin into the waiting crypt.  

            Around the coffin, the Sentinels rode bahil, heads held high, faces marred by sorrow or shock.  oun D’jir rode a lirtah, for he was too large to ride the smaller bahil.  He wore flowing robes, the cowl of the robes over his head and head bent in mourning.  His tail was wrapped around his waist as if he were hugging himself.  Moyen was daily awed at the depths of affection the Sha’jeen showed towards them all.  He had expected heartless, cruel beings, but that is not how it was turning out.  Perhaps the fact that oun D’jir carried kits had done much to soften him to others.  Moyen was unsure.  Yes, they could communicate, but the nuances of each specie’s emotions still eluded them.  Sha’jeen and humans were much alike but also quite different.  

            Perhaps Moyen would ask permission to follow oun D’jir to the colony and live there for a while, learning of their culture and ways.  The entire city of Draemin was filled with memories of Malida and Moyen was not sure he could live here with her ghost.  He could make a pilgrimage to the city once a year and visit her sepulchre.  He sighed.  His children would protest, but he needed to heal from the loss of his wife, and he already knew he could not do so here.

            The procession took up most of the day.  By the time the wagon bearing the coffin rattled over the moat bridge, Moyen was parched and aching from being on a saddle for hours on end.  

            The wagon came to a stop before the entrance to the castle.  Moyen groaned as he dismounted, stretching his lower back to ease the tightness there.  

            Six burly guards took hold of Malida’s heavy coffin and bore her into the castle.  The double doorway leading to the crypt was situated to the left of the grand foyer.  Numbly, Moyen followed the coffin.  They passed through the double doors and down the wide stairwell into the dimness of the catacombs.  Malida’s resting place lay open, waiting for the coffin.  The gold arching hatch closing the resting place would be soldered shut, the body safe from grave robbers and looting.  

            His children clung together, while Moyen stood to one side with Malida’s brothers and their families.  The only one not present was Malida’s younger sister, Sjona, who now lived in a monastery in South Torahn.

            Itina hurried to where Moyen stood and wrapped her slender arms around his waist.  She clung to him, sobbing.  He gently rubbed her back and cooed to her nonsense words like he had done when she was still a babe in arms.

            “Becalm yourself, daughter,” he murmured.  “We will pray your mother has been reborn to a kinder life.”

            Itina pulled back and gazed into his eyes.  “I think she will be reborn as one of oun D’jir’s kits, Eda.”

            He smiled indulgently at her and wiped the tears from her pale cheeks.  “Perhaps, my child.  That is beyond our ken. It is with the Goddess.”

            Itina stiffened.  “The Goddess?  And why did the Goddess take aya?”

            He stroked the hair back from her forehead.  “Perhaps the Goddess needed your mother’s warrior spirit for another task, child.  We are not to question the ways of the gods.  We are given life as a gift and only for a finite time.  Don’t forget that.”

            She pulled away from him, her face a mask, and turned to return to her siblings.

            He watched her retreating back, worried.

            oun D’jir came to stand next to Moyen.

            “Her body will remain in the dark?” the Sha’jeen asked quietly.

            “Her spirit is gone,” Moyen replied.  “She won’t know.”

            oun D’jir inclined his head.  “Your ways are strange.”

            “What do the Sha’jeen do?” Moyen asked.

            “Burn the bodies in a furnace to release their spirits,” oun D’jir told him.  “But we may have developed that ritual because our arks had a limited amount of space.”  His left ear flicked his impatience.  “I have to go back further into our religious tomes to see what our original burial rituals were.”  He hissed softly.  “There is much to do.”

            Moyen noted that the Sha’jeen’s midriff was rounding as his kits grew in his womb.  Kaster had told him oun D’jir carried six kits, all latched to their teats.  There were ten teats in all and Moyen could not conceive of the amount of energy it would take to carry ten young.  

            His wife’s coffin was placed into its final resting place.  With a sigh, he watched as the golden latch was sealed and then soldered shut.  The entire process took close to two hours.  

            The guards led the procession back upstairs.  The Ekesj family moved as one to Moyen’s suites on the fifth floor.  They sat around the sitting room, sharing stories of Malida’s life, and drinking ekila or mi’disj.  oun D’jir sat next to Moyen, head cocked as Malida’s brothers and their wives shared stories.  Ishel translated everything for the Sha’jeen and sometimes the Sha’jeen would huff or hiss his humor.  

            Servants brought food and water and the family ate as they continued to share stories.

            oun D’jir, plate of raw meat on his lap, turned to Moyen.  

            “How did you and your mate meet?” the Sha’jeen asked.  “Did your scents attract?”

            Moyen’s lips quirked.  “I came to Court from a campaign down at the southern border, against the Isemi.  I had earned honors and came to Draemin City so my Queen could promote me.  My intent was to return to the skirmishes down south.  I am a man of action, oun D’jir.  I don’t like being idle.”

            The Sha’jeen’s ears flicked and he inclined his head.

            “Anyway,” Moyen continued.  “I wore my finest parade uniform and was presented to Queen Malida Ekesj with the others who were being promoted.”  He swallowed thickly upon recalling how beautiful and poised Malida had been that day.  She had worn a gold gown and an emerald-studded crown that made her honey-colored eyes pop.  She had taken his breath away.

            “She was exquisite.  I fell in love with her right then.”

            oun D’jir cocked his head.  “You find attraction visually, I am learning.  Quite fascinating.”

            Moyen smiled at the alien.  “You have mates, oun D’jir?”

            “I”ve had bed mates but no permanent mate,” he replied.  “We were concerned about conceiving and increasing our numbers, so we went with many different mates.”  His tail flicked against the leg of the low table, creating a tapping.  “I never conceived until now.”

            “But now you carry six,” Moyen reminded his friend.  

            “Ye,” oun D’jir huffed.  “Six.”

            Moyen lowered his voice and oun D’jir leaned closer.  “I would like to go with you to your colony, oun Shi’ehl.  I cannot heal from the pain of losing my mate while living here.”

            oun D’jir cocked his head.  “I will ask the Council for permission.  I am no one now, aun human.  You know this.”

            “I have a feeling you are,” Moyen disagreed.  “Yours are the first kits conceived on Audesei.”

            “Oh-deh-see?” oun D’jir pronounced, tail vibrating.

            “That is our name for the world,” Moyen told him.

            oun D’jir took a breath and released it.  “Ahndesu.  We will call the world Ahndesu.”

            “What does the word mean?”  Moyen asked.

            “It is a derivative of ‘oundeso,’ meaning ‘womb.'”

            “That is befitting,” Moyen told his friend.

            oun D’jir flicked his left ear.  “You come with me when I go.  I will ask the Council to allow you to remain until my kits are birthed.  By then, the Sha’jeen will have become used to you.”  He hissed his laughter.

            “Clever oun Shi’ehl,” Moyen praised.

            oun D’jir preened.

            Sol strode to where Moyen and oun D’jir sat side by side and went down upon one knee before them.

            “I am going with you also,” he told them.

            oun D’jir huffed.  “You heard us?”

            “I have enhanced hearing,” Sol stated, as if it were common knowledge.

            “As do we,” oun D’jir commented.  “Why do you wish to come, Sentinel Sol?”

            “I want to learn your ways and your culture and your psychology.”

            oun D’jir cocked his head.  “Sai-co-lo-jee?”

            Sol smiled faintly.  “The way the Sha’jeen think and behave.”

            “Curious,” oun D’jir murmured.  “You come, Sentinel Sol, but the Council has to decide if you can remain.”

            “Of course,” Sol murmured and sat crosslegged at oun D’jir’s feet.

            “Sentinel Kaster says your kits are healthy,” Sol told oun D’jir.

            The Sha’jeen puffed noticeably.  “Healthy, active, competitive already.  I would like at least one oun Shi’ehl.”

            Sol nodded.  “That will probably be the case, oun D’jir.  Your body knows by instinct what it must do.”

            “Ye,” oun D’jir agreed.

            Moyen watched them, a smile on his lips.  Then he recalled Malida was dead and his smile died.  Sorrow crashed upon him like an icy wave.  He sat back and rubbed his eyes, pushing the tears away.  She would have liked to live with the Sha’jeen, learning from them, teaching them, holding younglings.  He would have to tell his children he was leaving, even before Toyus recovered.  He needed to leave for a while.

            “How is Toyus?” he asked Sol.

            “There are signs he is recovering,” Sol told him.  

            The Sentinel was not telling him something and Moyen scowled.  “What is it you’re not telling me, Sentinel?”

            Sol opened and closed his mouth.  Finally, he said, “I am not supposed to say anything.  If you have further questions, you will have to take it up with Ariahl or Mariel.”

            Moyen opened his mouth to protest when he noted a disturbance at the hallway door.

            Warlord Rien Tholten strode through, looked about until his gaze found Moyen.

            Moyen stood up and embraced Rien.

            “I’m sorry for your loss, my friend,” RIen murmured against his ear.  “It is a great loss for our nation.”

            “Yes,” Moyen agreed.  He stepped back from his friend.  “Can we talk for a few minutes?”

            Moyen turned to oun D’jir.  “This is my closest friend, Rien Tholten, oun D’jir.  Rien, this is oun D’jir of the Sha’jeen.”

            oun D’jir rose and bowed.  “An honor, aun Rien Tholten.”

            Rien ran his widened eyes over the Sha’jeen and bowed.  “The honor is mine,” he replied when Moyen translated oun D’jir’s words.

            “Excuse us,” Moyen told oun D’jir and Sol and took Rien’s arm.

            He led Rien out into the hallway and closed the door, leading him down the hall to the curving stairwell.

            “I need you to find out what the Sentinels are keeping from me about Toyus, Rien,” Moyen said without preamble.  “Something is wrong, but they are not telling me what it is.”

            Rien brought his fist to his chest and bowed.  “I will do so, my lord.”

            “I would like you to leave your second-in-command in charge and I want you to lead our small entourage to the Sha’jeen colony.  We are traveling on a shuttle, so the journey will only take a number of hours.”

            Rien cocked his head.  “Sh-shuttle?”

            “The flying wagon,” Moyen replied with some humor.

            “Ah.  Very well,” Rien said, sounding excited.  “I would like to fly and see the aliens up close. They are exquisite beings, aren’t they?”

            Moyen smiled fondly at his friend.  “Your openness and acceptance always surprise me, Rien. You are a good person.”

            They clasped forearms.

            “I’d better start skulking about and finding an answer for you, my friend,” Rien said.  “I’ll report back to you in a couple of days.”

            Moyen nodded.  “We leave within a fortnight for the colony.  Find me the answers by then.”

            “Consider it done, my friend.”

Chapter IX: Desperation

            Othol Ethael pulled the hood of his fur-lined kamarani cloak over his face.  He had been on the run through North Torahn for months, hiding and moving before the assassins could find him.  Now he had come full circle, back to Draemin City with a desperate plan to kidnap the remaining alien and kill it to trigger a war between Malida’s people and the aliens.  This one was a female, so it shouldn’t pose a problem to dispose of her. It didn’t matter to him that she was carrying a child.  Even better, he thought with a snort.  

            He kept his head down as he moved through the throngs of people, walking quickly towards Queen’s Park.  He knew of several little used doors into the castle.  All he had to do was remain hidden within the crowd.  With so many entering and leaving the castle, he would not be stopped or questioned.  He felt sure of that.

            When he came to a particularly thick crowd, he lingered at the back, two or so feet from them.  They pulled small wagons filled with goods for the castle.  He half listened to their idle chatter about the aliens, the Sentinels and Goddess-damned Malida Ekesj, who would probably be canonized if he did not act quickly and destroyed her.  The crowd chattered on as they made their way under the canopy of Queen’s Park and then onto the moat bridge.  The guards waved them through after examining the contents of the wagons.  Othol smirked and walked into the bailey.  From there, he separated from the group and headed north towards a little-used servants’ entryway.  Once he found it, he looked around, but there was no one nearby.  He turned the iron handle.  The iron handle groaned before the door opened inward.  

            Othol stepped inside and grimaced.  The stairwell smelled of dust, must and mold.  He closed the door behind him and, hand on the rough stone walls, made his way carefully up the stairs to the fifth floor.  Once he reached the top floor, he opened the door and stepped out into a deserted hallway.  He knew where the King’s suites were, but he had no idea where the alien was being kept.  Pushing back the hood of his cloak, he hoped his full beard was enough to disguise him.  He hated it with a passion, but it had become necessary to grow it out.      

            Making his way to an adjoining hallway, he hailed a passing servant and asked her where the alien was, for he had a message from the Sentinels. Without a blink the girl blurted out the location of the suite.  He refrained from smirking and watched her hurry away.  He made his way to the servants’ hallway and entered the suites, following the sound of voices to the sitting room. He peered through the door which stood ajar.  He grimaced.  Only Malida and a tall, catlike being.  Well, he thought it looked catlike, but that was only because it had a tail and sharp little ears that swiveled at every sound.  Oh, and the eyes.  The alien turned to where he hid.

            Othol stepped into the room.

            Malida turned with a frown.  “Who are you?”

            “You don’t recognize me, Malida?” Othol purred, fighting the hatred that filled his veins.

            She gasped.  “Othol!”

            He gave her a mocking bow.  “Even so.”

            “What do you want?” she demanded.

            He gave her a shrug.  “That is not your concern.”  He kept his eyes on the alien.  It stood with head cocked, taller than he was and slender, with a golden down over its entire body and a flowing gown that hid most of its body.  Fangs peeked from the upper lip.  He was fascinated, but now that he looked at its height and the cruel curve of its black claws, he very well knew he would not be able to kill it, female or not.  

            He withdrew his dagger from its sheath.  “Well, Malida.  I think I can’t achieve what I came to do, but plans change sometimes, you know?”

            Aiming at Malida, he threw, embedding the dagger into her chest.

            She gasped and fell.

            The alien hissed and Othol turned.  Suddenly, before he could react, it was in front of him.  He made a sound that turned into a gurgle.  He reached up to his throat and felt the gaping slash.  His hands came away sticky with blood.  He gazed without comprehension at the alien before it turned in a lazy circle and slashed Othol’s midriff using a leg.  Othol watched in horror as his innards spilled to the stone floor.  He fell to the ground. As he lay on his side, the alien stalked to where Malida lay and lifted her gently against its chest.  It howled and mewled.

            A moment later guards rushed in, weapons out. They glanced at the alien, at Malida in its arms and then their eyes found him.

            “Go find a Sentinel,” one of the guards growled at the other.

            The guard rushed away.

            The guard walked around the alien and Malida and leaned over Othol’s form.  He gasped.

            “Lord Ethael?”

            Othol said nothing.  He was so cold, his teeth began to chatter.  Right behind the cold came the unbearable pain and then his eyes grew dim.  His vision began to narrow until it was a point in the distance.  Around him, he could hear frantic movement and gasps.  Othol let go and succumbed to his wounds.

***

            “Mama!” Emeida screamed and knelt down next to aun D’jir.  She looked into the alien’s beautiful eyes, which were completely blue, sclera and all, except for the oval irises, which were black.  “What happened, oun Shi’ehl?”

            oun D’jir indicated the fallen form with a guard near it.  “The man threw the weapon and it embedded in her chest.  I killed the man.”

            Kaster stalked through the hallway door.  He hurried to where Malida lay in D’jir’s arms.  He gently took the queen in his arms and lifted her up.

            “Where are you taking oun Malida?” oun D’jir demanded.

            “Hospital room,” he told the Sha’jeen.  “You may come, oun D’jir.”

            By the time they reached the room designated as a recovery room down the hall, they had an entourage that consisted of Malida’s family and guards.  Soft weeping filled the silence.

            oun D’jir followed closely behind Kaster and watched avidly as the Sentinel lay Malida on a bed.  The dagger embedded in Malida’s chest moved with every breath she took.  D’jir did not like the looks of things.

            “Bring an empathic healer,” Kaster barked.

            Pren turned and ran down the hallway.

            Moyen hurried into the room.  “How is she?”

            Kaster grimaced.  “The dagger is embedded in her heart, my lord.  I can’t do anything, but perhaps the empathic healer can.”

            oun D’jir gave a mournful mewl and took Malida’s hand in his.  The hand was icy.

            The healer arrived, Pren at her heels.  A second later another healer hurried inside.

            “You must all leave,” the second healer pronounced.  “We can’t work with distractions.”

            Moyen gently took Malida’s hand from oun D’jir and led the Sha’jeen out of the room into the hallway.

            “You killed the intruder?” Moyen asked the oun Shi’ehl.

           oun  D’jir inclined his head.  “Ye, lord.  I’m sorry if you required him alive.”

            “No,” Moyen replied.  He sighed.  “We’ve been trying to have him assassinated, but he was slippery, that one.”

            They walked to Moyen’s suites and entered the room.  

            “Who was the man?” oun D’jir asked.

            “He was one of Malida’s mates,” Moyen replied.  “He was mad.”

            oun D’jir frowned and hissed.  “I did not sense his threat.  He hid it well.”

            “Othol was very clever,” Moyen agreed.

            oun D’jir sat at the edge of a loveseat and Moyen sat beside him.  

            The children shuffled into the room, followed by some of the Sentinels.

            “What happened?” Itina demanded tearfully.

            “Othol,” Moyen replied with a sigh.  “oun D’jir killed him.”

            “How is Malida?” Ariahl asked.

            Moyen rubbed his cheek.  The stubble made a rasping sound.  “Othol stabbed her in the heart. His aim was true.”

            Itina gasped and fainted.

            Ishel picked her up and lay her on a nearby couch.  

            Moyen stood and went to one of the serving tables and opened a drawer, pulling out a small vial.  He took the vial to where Itina lay unconscious and handed the vial to Ishel.

            “Smelling salts,” he told the Sentinel numbly.

            “Why did Othol Ethael come here?” Topon mused aloud.

            “He wanted to cause trouble,” Moyen replied listlessly.  Numbly, he sat down next to oun D’jir.

            The alien reached a hand and placed it on Moyen’s on his thigh.  “Have faith in Ie’teina.”

            Moyen gave a strangled laugh and nodded.  “Yes, oun Shi’ehl.  You are correct.”

            They sat in that room for hours.  Servants brought food no one touched then took the full platters away.

            Moyen made oun D’jir drink water and then had a plate of raw meat brought in, which oun D’jir listlessly sniffed before reluctantly consuming.  He had kits in his womb that needed the nourishment.  He knew this logically, although he had no appetite.  He finished the meat and set the plate on the low table, picking up the mug of water and draining it.  He pulled the robes around him.

            He watched idly as the humans spoke in hushed tones or leaked water from their eyes, wiping at the water on their cheeks.  oun D’jir knew one of their litter lay near death in some other room, fighting an infection caught during the invasion.  He regretted that fact, but there was nothing he could do.  None of these beings held it against him, for which he was grateful.  He had heard his people were settling on an island several thousands of miles away. He would join them soon.  There had been a civil war and many had died and now the aun Deuili were in control and forming a government.  oun D’jir should be there to add his voice to the proceedings, but part of him did not care.  He liked these aliens; he liked their Goddess.  They were kind and were changing him on a daily basis.  With a huff, he admitted to himself he had to rejoin his people and soon.  Before the kits were born.

            Day gave way to night.  oun D’jir lay down on a couch and slept while around him the family did the same.  No one wanted to leave the sitting room and cots were brought in by servants.  

            Sha’jeen usually did not need a lot of rest, unless they were breeding.  But oun D’jir was aware enough to know he slept, too, because he was distraught and mourning.  He had never known someone to survive when his heart was injured.  Long ago, the Sha’jeen had lost that healing ability.  But oun D’jir also knew the humans on this world bred empathic healers that healed what others could not.  He had seen them at work and was awed by their magic.

            The next morning, voices aroused oun D’jir.  He rose to see three strange men speaking to Moyen.

            One of the men noticed oun D’jir and started violently.

            oun D’jir refrained from hissing in amusement.  Yes, he was sure he was strange looking to these beings.

            Moyen turned to oun D’jir.  “These are Malida’s siblings, D’jir.  What you call litter mates, although they were born separately.”

            oun D’jir bowed to the three alien males.  “I greet you in the name of Ie’teina, God of the Sha’jeen.”

            The men looked at Moyen, who interpreted oun D’jir’s words.

            The men bowed and one of them said strange words.

            “They greet you, oun D’jir,” Moyen said.

            “How is your mate?” oun D’jir asked Moyen quietly.

            Moyen swallowed and bent his head.  “She hangs between life and death, oun Shi’ehl.”

            oun D’jir mewled and swallowed, promptly sitting down before his legs gave way. It was as he feared.  The woman would die.

            The Sentinel called Ariahl sat down next to oun D’jir.  

            “Malida is a fighter,” she told oun D’jir.

            oun D’jir absently inclined his head.  “Ye.”

            The one called Sol entered the sitting room, followed by Kaster.  Their somber expressions drew a howl from oun D’jir’s chest and throat.

            “I’m sorry, Moyen,” Kaster said into the stunned silence after oun D’jir’s howl faded.  “We could not save your wife.  She succumbed to blood loss.”

            Moyen’s knees gave way and Malida’s litter mates held him up, dragging him to an armchair and depositing them there.

            oun D’jir began to rock to and fro, mewling in despair.  His eyes did not leak water, so he showed the humans and Sentinels that he, too, mourned.

            After a few minutes, Moyen rose and walked to where oun D’jir sat and knelt before him.

            “Do not distress yourself, oun D’jir,” he said softly.  “Think of your kits.  As I will think of mine.  It will help with the sorrow and loss.”

            oun D’jir gently cupped Moyen’s face. “Your selflessness and kindness move my soul and humbles me, aun Human.  I cared for your mate and held her in high esteem.  I will remember her, as will my people, for all time.”

            Moyen bent his head.

            Around them, there was much leaking from eyes.  Crying it was called, oun D’jir recalled numbly.  He watched helplessly as the family consoled each other.

            Moyen sighed.  “We will hold a funeral and parade Malida’s body through the streets of Draemin city then we will entomb her in the crypt.  Excuse me, I need some time for myself.”

            oun D’jir watched him stride out into the hallway, heading towards the recovery room.

            Sol sat near oun D’jir.  “After the funeral and entombing, oun D’jir, we would like to take you to the colony.”

            oun D’jir mewled again.  After a few minutes he inclined his head.  “Ye, aun Sol.  That will be good.”

            Sol stood and strode out of the room.

Chapter VIII: Yai’hone

            oun Shi’ehl Ei’dhar leaned his back against the wall of his cabin and panted.  He pressed his hand hard to the wound at his side.  He had managed to kill the Deuil who had attacked him, but the wound was grave, and he was losing a lot of blood.  With a moan, he slid down the curved wall of the ship and sat down, managing to pull his tail up before his bottom connected with the floor.  He needed water and he needed to stitch his wound, but his energy was swiftly depleting.  He felt lightheaded and dizzy.

            He rested for a few minutes then got on all fours and began to crawl towards the door.  He moaned and stopped, closing his eyes against the wave of darkness that threatened to pull him under.  He was panting fast, his tail whipping around frantically.  He prayed as he began to crawl again, more slowly this time.

            The door to his cabin slid open and there was a gasp.  

            “You’re wounded!” his cabin mate, oun Benska, hissed.  “Lie still.  I’ll stitch your wound.”

            oun Ei’dhar lay on his back gazing distantly at the ceiling.

            oun Benska moved away, rummaging through his belongings before hurrying back with a curved needle and thread.  

            “Let’s see,” oun Benska said, pushing Ei’dhar’s hand away.  “Ayi!  But it looks like it only hit muscle.  Good, good.  Now, lie still and let me work.”

            oun Ei’dhar fought to maintain consciousness.  He hardly felt the pain as his cabin mate sewed the wound.  

            “Tell me what happened,” he gasped.  “Why were the priests of Ya’ih-Ael attacked?”

            oun Benska made a sound in his throat.  “The Deuil have rebelled.  Against the Gods and the order.”  He shook his head.  “And we worried about the nieh boueli.”

            oun Ei’dhar turned his head to look at his friend, even though his sight was darkening at the edges.  “They have won?”

            “Ye,” oun Benska muttered and again shook his head.  “Ye, they have won. I don’t know about the other arks, though, oun Shi’ehl.  Only this one.   It has been difficult to find out what is happening.  All is chaos on this ark.”  He bent down to cut the thread with his teeth.  

            The yank on his wound made Ei’dhar gasp.  He bit back a mewl and watched distantly as Benska went to the altar, where he laid the needle and filled a bowl with filtered water and carried it back to where Ei’dhar lay.  He knelt, lifting Ei’dhar’s head and feeding him the tepid, tasteless water.  

            “I will assist you to your sleeping mat, oun Ei’dhar,” Benska murmured.  

            “I must go and–”  He mewled in distress.  “We can’t give up!”

            “Ne,” oun Benska told him.  “It is done.  Here, up with you.”

            The world tipped precariously as oun Benska assisted him to rise, holding most of his weight and half dragging him to his mat.  oun Benksa covered him with the furs.  He then sat crosslegged on the floor next to the mat.

            “I think you should rest, oun Ei’dhar,” oun Benska told him.  “We will talk after you wake.  I will clean this room while you rest.”

            oun Ei’dhar closed his eyes.  The darkness behind his eyes swirled and spun and he panted his distress, afraid of vomiting the water he had just consumed.  Gripping the edges of the sleeping mat, he centered himself, taking great gulps of air.  After a while, exhaustion won out and he lost consciousness.

            Wake, Ya’ihone.

            oun Ei’dhar opened his eyes.  He walked upon a world of obsidian rock and red skies filled with violet clouds.  The mountains rose, black as space, looming to the west.  A strange, oily ocean roiled to the east.  The air had no odor and no temperature.  

            Where am I? he asked in his mind.

            You are on the planet where I was born, Ya’ihone.  I am your God.

            oun Ei’dhar looked around, but nothing lived in that desolate world.

            Why have I been brought here?

            My time is not finished.  We must now go into hiding, like it was once before.  The God of the world you have found is too strong; we must proceed with care lest I be wiped from history.

            oun Ei’dhar straightened his back.  I am your priest!  You will not be forgotten!

            Proceed with care, Ya’ihone.  There is no place for pride in survival.  Upon you I place the order to go and find five others who believe as you do.  Practice my faith in secret and silence.  Sacrifice animals only.  One day we will return to greatness, but the time is not now.  One day the ground will be sopping wet with the blood of higher beings, but that time is not now.  I choose you, oun Ei’dhar, as my prophet and High Priest. You will write my commandments in your blood and the blood of believers.  I will come to you in dreams, so be aware and remember what you see.

            Ye, ean sk’oi.

            Find one who is not you to enter among the unbelievers as a spy.  Infiltrate their ranks and bide your time.  I will reveal to you what you must do. For now, survive and become strong.  I will find a way, Yai’hone, to grow strong.  Allow me time to circumvent this god of this world.  I have done it before. I might be able to do it within your lifetime.

            Ye, ean sk’oi!

            He came to hours later, weak as a newborn kit, his throat and mouth parched.  

            oun Benska shifted and peered down at him.  “How do you feel, oun Ei’dhar?”

            “Water,” he croaked.

            oun Benska lifted his head and fed him water.  He drank his fill before rising on his elbow.  He already felt stronger.

            “The God visited me while I slept,” he told his friend.  “We will continue to worship in hiding, writing down His commandments in our blood.”  He looked at his friend.  “Help me rise.”

            Once on his feet, it only took him a few minutes to become steady.

            He thought for a moment, going through his memory for the most devout of the oun Shi’ehl he knew. “Bring me oun Tamos, oun Efreit, oun Sabos’h, and oun Itilehn,” he told his friend.  “We must prepare for the future.”

            oun Benska bowed.  “Ye, High Priest.”

            oun Ei’dhar watched as his friend hurried away.  He went to the refrigeration unit and withdrew a bowl of meat.  He consumed it with ravenous hunger, tearing the flesh until it was gone.  Then he drank more water.

            He sat on the prayer rug and waited for his friends.

            They arrived a few minutes later.  Wordlessly, they sat in a semicircle before him.

            “I have been asked by Ya’ih-Ael to gather to me my priests.  I have chosen you.  We will proceed with stealth and patience,” he told them.  “I will receive new commandments in my dreams.  We must write them in a new holy book in blood. Our blood.  That is covenant with the Lord.”

            oun Sabos’h, the youngest of them, shifted.  “The time of Ya’ih-Ael is past.”

oun Ei’dhar showed his teeth. The youngster flinched.

oun Ei’dhar chose his words carefully. “If you abandon the God, you will not live long.”

oun Sabos’h bowed his head. “Forgive me.”

oun Ei’dhar nodded, making a mental note to keep an eye on the young oun Shi’ehl.

“I have chosen you for your faith in the God and your purity,” oun Ei’dhar told them. “Do not fail the God. You do so at your peril.”

“Ye, Yai’hone,” they murmured.

“How will we sacrifice to the God?” oun Benska asked.

            “The God wants animal sacrifices for now,” oun Ei’dhar told him.  “We will grow the faithful in silence.  We will convert the many in darkness.”

            oun Itilehn leaned forward.  “We are to live in an island filled with jungles.  We will find a way to kill for Him.”

            “No higher beings at first,” oun Ei’dhar warned.  “We are too few.  If one goes missing, it will be apparent.  The God has given his order and we must abide.  Have kits.  Many kits. Teach them in darkness, so we may grow our numbers.  One day, the order will be given and we will be victorious.”

            oun Ei’dhar did not say that the God of the world was stronger than Ya’ih.  It would not do to reveal such knowledge.  As his worshipers grew in numbers, Ya’ih would grow in strength.  He had no doubt of that.

            He looked at oun Benska.  “There will be a new council on the planet that will rule.  You must become part of that council.”

            “I, High Priest?”

            “Ye.  That is your task, to infiltrate and gather intel.  Influence those you can, but most of our new believers will come from our own wombs.”

            He looked at the others.  “The God will reveal your roles to me in time.  Be patient and know He acknowledges you.”

            He rose smoothly.  “Now, we will leave the ship with the rest of the populace.  We will find the weaknesses of the inhabitants of this world and our descendants will conquer them.  We will leave a blueprint for them to follow.  Rise.  We’ve work to do.”

            His priests left to gather their belongings and oun Ei’dhar washed at the altar, pulling on clean robes.   Summoning two nieh boueli, he had them carry his crate from the room.  He followed them until they found the rest of the inhabitants of the ship.  They were drawing lots to see when they would be leaving the ship on the shuttles.  

            The aun Deuil were prancing around, proud and victorious, and oun Ei’dhar had to pray to keep his head.  The orders were given and he returned to his cabin to pack whatever belongings he would be allowed to bring.  He packed the majority of his clothes and blank tomes, ink wells, ink and pens.  They would not need the old holy books.  They would write new ones.  

            Before he was allowed to take his belongings into the shuttle, two aun Deuili examined the contents of the trunk.  oun Ei’dhar bristled but said nothing as the filthy soldiers touched everything he had packed away.

            When they were finished, oun Ei’dhar commanded two nieh boueli to pick up the trunk and carry it to the shuttle bay.  He followed them, ruminating on what he had learned thus far.  The arks would be landed on the moon and hidden in vast caves there.  One day, the Sha’jeen might again take to the stars, but oun Ei’dhar thought they might forget what they knew.  One day they would forget they had ever traveled the cosmos.

            He watched the nieh boueli set his trunk against the wall of the storage area of the shuttle.  He turned and headed to the passenger area, finding a seat next to oun Benska. The oun Shi’ehli listened passively as an aun Deuil gave them instructions for when they reached their new home.  The aun Deuili were now in charge.  How long had they planned this betrayal?  How quickly and thoroughly they had swept through their ranks, killing indiscriminately.  How many Shi’ehli had perished?  Holy breeders!  He made his face impassive.  He would abide his time.  Revenge would not take place in his lifetime, he knew, but he also knew it would come. They would infiltrate the ranks of the aun Deuili and they would return to the natural order of things.  The future was unwritten.

            Around his neck and hidden within the folds of his robes lay the red beads of Ya’ih-Ael.  He pressed the palm of his hand to his chest, feeling the large round beads bite into his skin.  

            “A new government will be chosen on our new home,” the aun Deuil who seemed to be in command was saying.  “This colony is called Colony Xema, the first of many.  Once we land, we will chose council members for the collective.”

            “Who is he?” oun Ei’dhar hissed at oun Benska.

            “aun Sjir’phal,” oun Benska whispered back.  “He orchestrated the uprising and he is the de facto leader.”

            oun Ei’dhar stiffened.  “An aun Deuil cannot lead!”

            oun Benska looked askance at him.  “You will have to get used to this, oun Ei’dhar.  Do not forget the God’s plan.  Pride has no place in survival.”

            oun Ei’dhar gasped.  The God put the same words from his dream in oun Benska’s mouth!  He bent his head, humbled and so grateful the God was with him.

            “Ye,” he whispered.  “You are correct.  I forgot myself, oun Benska.”

            oun Benska inclined his head.  “Ye.  But the God knows and will prevail.  He must hide for now, but it will not always be so.”  He reached his hand and clasped oun Ei’dhar’s.  “I will make my way into the Council, my friend, as you directed me.  I will try to influence, but I will also steal knowledge that we may use.  We must use stealth and subterfuge.  We must be clever and patient.”

            “Ye,” oun Ei’dhar agreed and smiled at his friend.

            The shuttle shook itself awake like some great waking beast, its engines deafening for a few minutes before they dropped from the shuttle bay into space.  oun Ei’dhar wondered what it looked like, to fly into a planet.  He had not been born the last time they had attacked a planet.  It had been hundreds of years prior.  But the shuttle had no windows in the main cabin.  Once the shuttle left the ship, they felt weightless.  The only thing keeping them tied to their seats were strong straps.  oun Ei’dhar closed his eyes as sickness roiled in his insides.  He felt disoriented and dizzy.  It would take hours to reach the planet.  He settled into the long trip, his mind scheming on how to proceed from here to ensure Ya’ih survived.

           He had to find the faithful and they had to secure the future.  There had to be aun Deuili who believed as he did, who respected the natural order of things.  He would become impregnated by these.  Their kits’ line of descent had to be pure.  Only believers would come from their wombs; only believers would donate their seed to the future.  If the God found a way to succeed in his lifetime, so be it.  He smiled to himself.  Anything could happen.

Chapter VII: Resistance

            aun Deuil Sjir’phal prowled the bloody decks of his ark.  His.   There were still pockets of resistance.  Mostly stubborn oun Shi’ehli and the occasional deluded aun Deuil.  He did not take their fervor lightly.  They fought valiantly.  He wondered how things went on the other arks.  He couldn’t use the intercom to contact aun P’ata’lyh or aun Pasia’h.  He would give his position away to the enemy.  Their abysma failure on the planet should have convince the opposition of the folly of the old ways, but no one wanted to give up their power it seemed.  He huffed a silent laugh.

            He turned a corner and came face-to-face with an oun Shi’ehl.  This one was young and impossibly beautiful, with silver down and bright blue eyes.  It crouched immediately, making itself a small target.       

            “Stand down,” aun Deuil Sjir’phal said with as much authority as he could muster.

            Indecisiveness crowded the other emotions in the oun Shi’ehl’s eyes.

            “Listen to me, oun Shi’ehl,” aun Deuil Sjir’phal said.  “I am aun Deuil Sjir’phal–“

            “I know who you are,” the young oun Shi’ehl spat.  “Blasphemer!”

            “Your gods have forgotten you, oun Shi’ehl,” aun Deuil Sjir’phal stated blandly.  “We have lost the battle for the planet and we are a dying race–“

            The oun Shi’ehl snarled.  “How quickly you give up, coward!”

            Despair filled aun Deuil Sjir’phal when he realized he would have to kill the young Shi’ehl.

            He took a step forward and then they were circling each other like a moon around a planet.    The oun Shi’ehl suddenly lunged forward and swung his curved dagger.  aun Deuil Sjir’phal bent his back.  The dagger came so close, he felt the air of its passing along the down on his face.  The Shi’ehl was young but deadly, as were all of his gender. Even though the aun Deuili were the soldiers of their race, none fought like the oun Shi’ehli.  They were a warrior race, but the smaller oun Shi’ehli carried the young in their pouches and had to be able to fight weighted down. 

            aun Deuil Sjir’phan took his eyes off the oun Shi’ehl when he heard a noise in the hallway.  The oun Shi’ehl turned in a circle, lifting his leg and raking the deadly curved claws of his left foot along aun Deuil Sjir’phan’s chest.  aun Deuil Sjir’phan grunted and slammed against the wall at his back.  He didn’t bother to look at the wound.  He knew it was shallow.  The oun Shi’ehl was young and inexperienced.  He should have disembowled aun Deuil Sjir’phal.  Nevertheless, the wound hurt and wound interfere with his attention.

            The oun Shi’ehl smiled, eyes fierce.  “You are no match for me.”

            aun Deuil Sjir’phal straightened, pushing himself away from the wall.  “We’ll see.”

            “Surrender and face an honorable death.”

            “Your sect knows no honor,” aun Deuli Sjir’phal spat

            The young oun Shi’ehl bristled.  He hissed, his tail lashing out behind him.

            aun Deuil Sjir’phal refrained from smirking.  He was impetuous and passionate, the young Shi’ehl.  He would be easier to kill.

            They stepped to the center of the hallway and the oun Shi’ehl took a swing at him with his dagger.  aun Deuil Sjir’phal ducked and attacked when his opponent attempted to correct his overbalance.  aun Deuil Sjir’phal unsheathed his own, longer dagger.  He swung his dagger with the ham of his hand out, along the oun Shi’ehl’s midriff.   The oun Shi’ehl jumped out of reach and aun Sjir’phal straightened.

            The oun Shi’ehl smiled.  “It is only a mattter of time before my colleagues find me.”

            “It is equally assured my colleagues will find me,” aun Deuil Sjir’phal spat.  He was growing sick of this.

            They came closer together, circling each other again.  aun Deuili Sjir’phal bent his knees and swung his right leg in a wide arc.  He was gratified to see the young oun Shi’ehl’s eyes widen with surprise before aun Deuil Sjir’phal swept this feet from under him.  aun Deuil Sjir’phal knelt on the oun Shi’ehl’s chest. 

            “Drop your weapon,” aun Deuil Sjir’phal growled.

            oun Shi’ehl smiled serenely, lunged up with far greater strength than aun Deuil Sjir’phal thought their gender had, and plunged his dagger into aun Deuil Sjir’phal’s side, twisting it for good measure.

            aun Deuil Sjir’phal wondered distantly if the wound was deadly.

            He lifted his dagger and plunged it into the oun Shi’ehl’s throat, twisting it also and then cutting sideways until the head was half cut off from the body.

            aun Deuil Sjir’phal sat panting, his hand to the wound at his side, which was sticky and wet with blood.  He fet sick and lightheaded.

            “aun Deuil!”

            He heard it from a distance.

            He watched with detachment as aun Deuili P’ata’lyh knet next to him. 

            “You’re wounded!”

            “How goes the resistance?” he heard himself ask.

            “We fight in pockets still,” his comrade told him.  “Let me get you to the infirmary.”

            “First, secure the nursery,” he ordered faintly.  “Then finish the opposition quickly.  Don’t drag this out.”

            “Yes, aun Deuil,” his friend murmured.

            He rose to give the orders to the aun Deuili who had accompanied him.  Then he motioned to another aun Deuil and together they picked aun Deuil Sjir’phal up and carried him through the long, curving halls to the infirmary.

            The nieh bouel in charge of the infirmary gave a hiss of distress when nieh saw aun Deuil Sjir’phal.

            “Lay him on the cot,” nieh said in its clear, high voice.

            They laid him on the cot, jostling him enough he had to bite back the groan that rose up his throat.

            aun Deuil P’ata’lyh turned to the other soldier.  “Stand guard outside the door, aun Deuil.”

            The guard saluted and hurried to comply.

            The nieh bouel removed aun Deuil Sjir’phal’s helmet then cut the flexible vest they used as armor with a scalpel.  aun Deuil watched distantly, wondering if the nieh bouel felt disgust, for the armor was made with treated boueli skin.  aun Deuil Sjir’phal felt shame and turned his face away from the gentle gaze of the neuter.

            The nieh bouel cleaned the wound with reconstituted water and soap before patting it dry and applying disinfecting agents.  The astringent smell of the medicines mingled with the sharper smell of blood.

            “Will he survive?” aun Deuil P’ata’lyh demanded.

            The nieh bouel grunted.  “If he survives infection.  I must sew the wound.”

            aun Deuil Sjir’phal readied himself for the procedure.  He glanced at his friend.

            “Go see about the nursery,” he murmured.

            aun Deuil P’ata’lyh seemed about to disobey, but his features smoothed out and he bowed, fist to chest.  “Ye!  Right away.”

            When he had gone, aun Deuil Sjir’phal glanced at the nieh bouel.  “I led the revolt partly for your gender.”

            The nieh bouel raised an eyebrow. 

            “Your kind has been treated abysmally, nieh bouel.  Perhaps not you yourself–“

            The nieh bouel threaded a needle then held the needle over the open flame of a bunsen burner.  He then bent over aun Deuil Sjir’phal and began to sew the gaping wound.

            aun Deuil Sjir’phal hissed and grasped the edges of the cot.  He broke out in a sweat and grew dizzy.  He closed his eyes and cleared his mind.

            When he was done, the nieh bouel used the scalpel to cut the thread.  He set the needed in a small tray to be disinfected.

            aun Deuil Sjir’phal gazed up distantly at the nieh bouel.  “You’ve nothing to say?”

            His voice sounded reed-thin to his ears.

            The nieh bouel went to the long table against the wall and poured a substance from a vial into a cup, bringing the cup to the cot.

            “Drink this, aun Deuil,” he said.  “It will ease the pain.”

            aun Deuil  Sjir’phal drank the bitter medicine and grimace, swinging his legs over the side of the cot.

            “This is not advisable,” the nieh bouel murmured.

            aun Deuil Sjir’phal huffed a laugh.  “So many things are not.  Thank you for your care.”

            The nieh bouel looked startled and took a step backward.

            aun Deuil Sjir’phal rose slowly, hand to side.  He made his way to the hall, where the aun Deuil stood guard.

            The soldier saluted him.

            “We go to the nursery,” aun Deuil Sjir’phal told him.  “Then we find out how much opposition remains.”

            The soldier saluted again.  “Yes, aun Deuil!”

            The nursery had four guards out front.  They saluted when aun Deuil Sjir’phal walked up.

            “Are the kits safe?” aun Deuil Sjir’phal asked.

            “Ye, aun Deuil,” one of the guards replied.  “As are the caregivers.”

            aun Deuil stepped into the quiet nursery.  aun Deuil P’ata’lyh stood inside and the kits stood in a corner, arms around their caregivers.

            “No harm will come to you,” aun Deuil Sjir’phal told them firmly. 

            He counted 10 kits.  Not enough to replace all the ones who had perished in the uprising.

            Each little face turned to him with curiousity or fear, depening on his nature. 

            With great effort, he walked to the corner where they lingered and went down on one knee.

            “It is alright now, little ones,” he told them.  “We are almost done with this.”

            He looked at each face and wondered if he had doomed his parent to death.

            The nieh bouels who cared for them watched him with some defiance.

            He chuffed.  “Are you going to fight me to preserve the kits’ lives, nieh boueli?”

            None of the five nieh boueli dropped their gazes.  He felt respect for their gender for the first time in his life.

            “Our parents?” one little kit piped up.

            An aun Deuil, with a high crest and clear amber eyes.           

            “You will know soon,” he promised the kit.  “If your parent opposed us, they may have died.”

            A few mewled distressingly.

            “You have the entire ship filled with parents for you,” he told them.  “You have your caregivers.  Do not fear.  You are Sha’jeen!”

            One or two of the kits raised their chins.  He huffed a laugh when he saw their pride and courage.

            He heard a commotion out in the hall and then the door was sliding open.

            He rose with care and turned to face the strange aun Deuil.  “What is it?”

            “A strange shuttle approaches, aun Deuil!” the newcomer reported.

            aun Deuil Sjir’phal shared a look with aun Deuil P’ata’lyh.

            “I will come to the bridge,” he replied.  He looked at his friend again.  “End the opposition.  Use the laser weapons.”

            aun Deuil P’ata’lyh saluted.  “Right away, aun Deuil!”

            He looked at the aun Deuil who had just arrived.  “Lead the way to the bridge.”   

            “Ye, aun Deuil.”