Water has warmed up a bit from the bright heat of the day. Fish are charged. Ted and his luck-laden partner savor the opportunity and take their time to fight each fish slowly. When landed each is admired for its rainbow sheen highlighted in a metallic glow radiating in the light of the lowering star. As a fish is released, the two fishermen call out a metal closest to each individual's glow.
Some are copper, some allium, bronze, aurum. Others are alloys of a cast unique to Aldo's or Ted's or another more remote world.
Needless to say, both are once more late getting back to Pop and the crew at the cabin.
This time Pop is in a hell of a good mood. On their way back he had Sis swing the boat over to the crab trap which, set in a virgin, unsuspecting environment, was filled with giant clawed creatures with unusually long, meaty shell-crusted tails that snapped into a curl when you picked them up.
Sis already has the cook fire started. Lee is over resetting the trap. Pop sits out on the deck inspecting the creatures that lay in a large poly tub.
In an overwhelming gesture of friendliness, he asks the Fifthian to fetch a bottle of uni-malt from a travel case left in the corner of his bedroom.
Aldo couldn't miss the framed prints that cover the wall of Pop's room.
He has no trouble recognizing the array of Treaty ministers and other personalities from the arts and media that stood holding fish and other dead creatures. Most shots taken in and around the cabin, in various settings on several planets, inscriptions of gratitude written on some, Pop in his skin-banded hat holding a can of bruski in most.
A million bits of information surges up the fibers of Aldo's neck when he sees Pop's name on the travel case. Theodus Redshaft. The pictures confirmed - as almost all of the inscriptions - were written to this original father of Ted.
At once, Aldo understands questions of Ted the Younger's appointment to the system station, the bucks it took to travel freely across the galaxy with a cabin in tow, perhaps even the fact that none of this was ever flaunted by the family.
Theodus Redshaft, "Ted the Red" was the central figure of the final battle of the Last Worlds' War.
Everyone, everwhere knows the story of the last fight in the war that led to the creation of the Universal Treaty. Even on the inexcitable planet of Fifthian the story of this event and the vivid excerptation of Ted the Red overshadowed much of the historic aspect.
The battle, the word battle being a puny description in context, began with a quiet manuever. The enemy at this point in the war was the prime contingent of the Mayulu Warring Epic, "Them blue assholes," as the young Theodus would have called them while locked in the bowels of a Mayulu containment globe. Eighty thousand other allied soldiers like him, kidnapped from field posts spread out over a dozen solar systems by Mayulu super-techno dissemblers, were also locked into similar globes that were pulsed into the jungle of a humid plant where they were let go to await a fight. No shots fired, non-techno weapons and supplies not taken from them, the soldiers found themselves deposited outside a massive Peace Temple that conversely housed an army of fanatically devoted warrior-performers.
Arrowsmiths and other allies, including some unlikely Fifthians quietly reassembled and on the heed of their commanders spread out into the tropical forest surrounding the temple searching for defensible places to hide.
The Mayulu plan for this battle did not take place in across a table in a crowded war room. Preparation for this war began with the writing of a play.
The playwright, the renowned Mayulu named Shocko, submitted his work to a committee of review who instantly correlated artisic metaphors from a succession of violent acts. They could plainly see the genious in his work, genious that would surely inspire choreographers, costumers and musicians to create one of the greatest performances of all time.
The Mayulu war room was adjacent to the grand lobby of that world's most revered organization, a theatrical company called the Warring Epic. War was a theatric event to these fiercely artistic beings. It was also the most deadly, terrifying warfare ever known in the galaxy.
Had the Mayulu been more focused on territorial agression like their convergent warring partners, the war would have already been over. Mayulu super-techno weapons were vastly the most powerful, anywhere. Yet they were only used for one thing, setting the stage for battle. After that, fortunate to the future Universal alliance, they were not used. Historians argue, at this point, the Last Worlds' War had already been won by the alliance. Mayulu had only intended to use the war as an opportune backdrop for their grand theatric production. Winning or loosing was not a concern. What they wanted now was one last greatest of great fights.
They settled for the eighty thousand Universal troops, kidnapped, cut off from resuce, armed with non-techno fighting tools. Desparate, fearful, these troops knew they were in a conflict beyond the bounds of reason. Survival was no longer the issue since even death might hasten the conclusion of the horible phantasm about to unfold.
History, in this case legend, forces a narrowing of perspective that brings us to the thoughts of the Arrowsmith sharpshooter named Theodus.
Before the war he was a student. Got into the top university on Arrowsmith with an archery scholarship, aced his sports credits, botched most everything else, and toward the end of his liberal student career had to pass a few required courses. The most awful requirement left was in the arts. Theodus elected to take the course in Mayulu theatric productions since there was a lot of blood and guts in it.
This is where he studied the most famous of Mayulu artists, Shocko.
Secrecy prohibited holigraphic reproduction of any Mayulu production. This made the course even more boring to Theodus except for a few good passages read out loud that made some of the less fortifed students sick.
What Theodus hated most about the course were the recordings of Mayulu production scores. The music and chanting , while it had at first sent shivers up his spine, droned on and on and on and it literally bored the living hell out him. Worst of all was the drumming, the loud, annoying syncopative beating which was the trademark of all the works of the idiot asshole, Shocko.
It made Theodus furious to sit in that class with a bunch of entranced whimps who dwelved deep into the art and meaning of utter bullshit.
As if something burried in the folds of his genetic self, repugned at the sound of Mayulu drumming, Theodus could not be absorbed like the others. In defiance he wore ear plugs and gritted his teeth to fight back the low frequency pounding on his chest.
Trying to discern genious in Mayulu works was way more difficult than realizing there was definately something that caused people to become glued, fixated to it, trapped. After passing the course. Theodus never thought much it about until that day he hid in the humid forest.
It pissed him off.
In total likelihood he and all the allies were going to die listening to that loud crap.
At least he and his Arrowsmith associates would have a chance to pluck the life out of as many Mayulu performers his stash of longbow arrows and crossbow bolts could reach before running out. Odd as it was - by disarming the techno weapons of the allies, the blue bastards left the Arrowsmiths totally in command of their weapons of choice.
Theodus - Ted, and roughly five thousand Arrowsmiths deployed amongst the rocky edge of the open plain surrounding the gigantic Peace Temple.
Good stuff, eh Aldoni?
It is the finest drink the Fifthian ever tasted. Pure, smokey uni-malt from the waywards of Arrowsmith, Aldo is indeed privileged to partake in this bottle with Pop, the hero. The hero, Ted the Red, Aldo's buzz makes him feel more deeply about his discovery of Pop.
Like this retentive Fifthian had anything to offer. Ted the Red. Shit.
Like who am I?
Aldo. ALDO. Aldo, the Fifthian, the TGMS observer, the keeper of the Grid, yeah, right. O.K. Talk to me oh mind of minds. Why do I feel like I do not have any worth here? Look. This guy next to me is a bazillion times more real than any Fifthian I ever knew. Help me out here, ok?
"OK!?" The Fithian's thought burst out loud.
"Say sumten, Aldoni?"
"Sorry. I was just thinking."
"Have another." Pop pours from the bottle into Aldo's cup. "Here's mud in your ears!"
This is usually about the point in his buzz where Aldo's mind resurrects his botched relationship with Mrs Ex. He'll revisit a few moments of guilt then he'll remember it was her that wanted him to take the station post in the first place, only she couldn't stand it there. So she took off with little Lee back to their home on Fifthian where she would cancel out their marriage policy. Thank God and Loadhaulers she's gone.
This thought about a woman is suddenly distracted by Sis who pops out the cabin door chasing Lee. It sparks a thought about a commonality between many humanoids throughout the known universe. The uglier the men are, their women are often that much more beautiful to make up for it. Sis is a perfect example.
Aldo is shocked it took him this long to notice.
While the eighty thousand allied soldiers were free to hide and prepare for the fight, they were caged within a wide, walkable perimeter of the Temple by a Mayulu global energy field. There were lots of hiding places like the rocks. A discerning look around would reveal the arrangement of such defensible positions as something created by the Mayulu themselves, stage props of a sort. If you looked closer, you would also detect clear lanes where troops could rush freely through. All around, secret tunnel doors were disguised and hidden from view.
In unnerving Mayulu fashion, the allies would be forced to wait a day or so. The wait would be made worse by the sounds of performers rehearsing inside the massive pyramid. Of course this compelled the allies to have their superiors meet and plan some type of battle strategy.
This is where Theodus first surfaced as a major player. Not so much because of his rank or markmanship, or his Arrowsmith warrior skills, Theodus had taken a course in Mayulu theatrical production. Only a few dozen allies had done so. And each evoked different interpretations. So there was very little agreement - different universities, professors, various information covered by secrecy, material the Mayulu would never allow to leak out. Headstrong, Ted spoke loud. Clearly, he urged, there would be a flaw, maybe more than one flaw in the production.
And that could lead to a more preferable outcome.
Theodus cautioned the allies. Mayulu were really into this shit. By now a hundred commitees had picked over every imaginable scenario, voting only for a plan that was bound by sheer devotion to be the most perfect work of art ever created - better than any play before it, because, every one of those classics had proved in post analysis to have been something less than perfect.
In one such epic called Cataclysm's Vision, Theodus cited an example where a corps of Shock Troopers cut out one of their eyes and ate it while chant dancing before the production's second intermission. The planners were so wrapped up by the metaphor of eating eyes to achieve perfect vision, they overlooked the content of the dye shock troopers used to color their eyes red. The eyes were toxic. So the opening of the final act was delayed while the understudies were called up. What a pity each of them had to gouge out an eye for costume effect backstage without the satisfaction of horrifying the enemy audience.
Getting in touch with his inner self is like digesting meat to Aldo.
His experiences on this planet are beginning to enlarge the Fifthian's way of looking at things. The feelings are unexpected, like the head rush he got eating fish. Then there is the language spoken around him, casual, words in touch with action more than description. The Arrowsmith way of seeing is indicated by simple phrases more in sync with the reality of the world around him. No Fifthian author ever read as rhetorically, as artistically, as completely restrained from overdoing it, "as dese guys." Aldo grins inside.
He is most happy about the effect of Pop on the boy.
Once more he glances at Sis.
At which Pop sees out of the corner of his eye.
" She's a tamer, Aldoni."
Aldo is well enough aware of Pop's use of antonymic sentences. A tamer is one who could not be tamed.
Aldo is unaware of Pop's synonymic duality, tamer to handler.
He isn't about to go any farther with talk about Sis. Pop has had enough fun with him already.
The wave net alarm goes off just before dawn.
Pop and Ted grumble over whether it was worth the ride back to check things out. They convince each other the sensitivity was tuned too high.
This makes Aldo feel like he is responsible since it was the setting that Pop let him make on Day One. Aldo also knows he can't find his way back alone but he still says he'll go.
"Not without Ted." Pop forces the issue on his son.
Ted says ,"Ok, after breakfast."
None of these guys realizes this opens the door for Sis who'd wanted to get back and make a few casts at another really big fish. She jumps up from her bunk and says, "Come on Aldoni, you 'n me. Lets' go."
There, suddenly, is one of those situations when you find yourself smacked into a rush of reality. Dead sleep into a speeding watercraft, retracing the sensation of that first ride in the calm and chill of first light, Aldo cannot turn away from the glow of Sis's hair dancing in the wind-wake of the boat.
She slows the boat turning out of the channel into the bay where the platform was set. Aldo has his techno control turned on to scan. Nothing seems to be disturbed. They pull alongside and tied the boat. Aldo accesses an ongoing inboard scanner in Ted's Starbird that confirms wave penetration. He clicks back to time-sync and opens a clip diagrammig the outline of the wave and its violater. Even this poor imagery shows the features of a pair of people-sized figures breaching the edge of the energy, slightly, repelling back as if they felt the touch of the wave.
Sis and Aldo look right away at each other and say, "Hmm.".
They replay the clip.
Data about the strange pair indicates weight, height and body temperature in the range of people. That by itself wouldn't exclude these two from the range of creatures they expect to find on the planet. But if it is local creatures, they'd still have to un-nag the question of how the pair was able to detect wave energy.
Sis takes a few casts while Aldo checks the area and resets the wave net. Then they take off.
Sis wants to take the channel upstream before heading back. She has a hunch, maybe fish maybe something else.
The broad valley lifts on both sides. Immense trees load the banks and open a deep green beneath. Bright, electric moss pillows over the forest floor where it seems no one, nothing had ever stepped before.
Sis slows the motor then kills the sound.
Aldo instantly hears the calling. Sunlight has broken through the treetops on the starboard side. From the warmth flushes shrills and caws and warbling. "The feathered flyers?" he whispers. "This is the first time I've heard this, here" She is enjoying this as much as the Fithian. They remain still. The boat floats silently into a shallow eddy at the wide side of a bend in the channel.
The loud bang bursts in a sharp buzz. Again. Against the silence the burst hits the ears hard and hurts. In an instant sceams and roars and heavy footsteps beat the ground like a drum. The commotion forces through the forest and has an unseen circumference of noise, motion and trunk snapping weight. When it comes closer to the bend, Sis pulls the motor to start but quits as soon as she understands that action is already way too late.
The first of the giants crashes on to the open bank then leaps over the boat combining a massive thrust of back legs and tail. Several others follow. All reach the shallows of the opposite bank and in a second more graceful leap completely vanish into the shadow of the woods.
Another burst follows another then another.
"These ear poppers ain't a part of the nature here. Lets' go see." Sis starts the motor and runs the boat up on the sandy shore before Aldo can speak about his desire to hesitate. Motor off, Sis jumps out and ties off the boat. Aldo follows. Another burst, louder, buzzes the air. They move up into the woods following the open path created by the fleeing giants. Wide, smelling of broken leaf and limb, the trail is slightly less dark than the containing forest.
They course uphill while the buzz-burst grows sharper with each new blast.
The origin of this sound lays just beyond the rise where they begin to sense the light of an open space. The pair takes caution stepping off the path into the trees. In the shadows they edge toward one blast then the next. They hide still in the tree shadow when they reach the open area. Everything in front of them is torn apart, slashed or turned over. Boulders lay on top of huge, snapped tree trunks. Roots coil out of the soil exposed in hunks. Across the openness, at the edge of another woods, gears can be heard in a mechanical churning where a vehicle drives then crawls slowly along on pointed limbs like a cold, monsterous insect. In front two massive mandibles grab a tree trunk while its track and limbs gouge into the ground. Then the burst! The tree parts and flings to the side. The vehicle crawls over the limbs towards the next tree. Another wormlike vehicle hovers in over the treetops and descends on the fallen tree. It seems to mate with the trunk, shuddering, making muted buzzing noises. When it lifts only pulp and splinters remains. Aldo and Sis watch the vehicles until they realize how fast the woods are vanishing. It compells them to step back deeper into the darkness of the nature that remains. Each senses how desparately they want to get out of there, never saying a word. Before he can turn around, Sis squeezes Aldo's wrist and in a harsh whisper tells him to freeze. Her hold enhances the volume of the command she dares not shout out loud.
A few steps further into the shadows a massive form holds motionless.
From the size of its head, its blaring nostrils, fist-sized scales and reckoning eyes, Aldo rememberes the toothy monster from the datatlas. From this shock comes another surprise as Sis releases her grip and moves her mouth to Aldo's ear.
She whispers, "We'll be alright, just don't move. Do not, I mean this, do not react to anything I do next. I am dead serious. Do not move."
Sis steps forward. She speaks soft, musically. The creature's eyes widen.
She moves closer.
She speaks again. Soft words that can not be heard but can be felt as soothing tones that oddly remove fear even from the quaking Fifthian.
She holds out her hands and kneels, still talking.
She reaches high to touch its head.
The creature does not move.
Sis bows her head and continues talking, both hands spread along its lower jaw.
A moment goes by, then another.
Aldo realizes he feels no fear. He takes a moment to study the sight, the gigantic being agilily frozen in the shadows and Sis so small yet so big at the same time. Gears groan in the background but fortunately no bursts.
There is no way to time the event. It happens in context to the beating of a heart of an immense life form. When it is over, Sis simply parts. In its world and time the creature withdraws, vanishing deep into the shadows without a ripple in its muscle or a sound from shuffling evergreen needles.
Sis returns to Aldo raising her bowed head as if returning from a far off place.
All she says is, "She has a nest, and there's more."
Theodus Redshaft knew there was little hope of convincing this ramshackle of allied troops that there may be a way to survive the battle with the Mayulu. What could eighty thousand frightened people do against a quarter million fanatically skilled warrior-performers? Yet such overwhelming circumstances historically open a pinhole of random chance and Ted's mind was barbed by the thought of it. To the young fighter it boiled down to two possibilities.
With one, he could command the Arrowsmiths to wait for such a pinhole to appear, then attack. In the other he would more or less plan to create the opening. The latter possibility was immensly more appealing to an Arrowsmith, since from childhood they trained in a form of hunter-archery steeped in the metaphor that the flight of an arrow began with the first step taken toward the prey.
Mayulu productions were set to a template that required strict orchestration and an adherence to style. Each would have a prelude - The Call to Battle - that would begin with the trumpeting of bladderhorns spread out at variouse points marking the perimeter of the opening assembly - The Charge to Field. Massive doors would swing open. Warrior-performers would madly rush out of the Peace Temple, a hundred thousand or more, bodies wildly painted and decorated by feathered bonnets and swaying cloaks, each swinging limbs and weapons in frantic motion, a massive disassembly of war cries exploding onto an open area. Suddenly a huge drum would beat ten times. The confusion would vanish at the foot of each player where by the tenth beat a miraculously precise picture or pattern created by warrior-performers relaced all previous commotion. Each froze in place while a narrator began to recite text written to rhyme in cadence to what might be a theme or a riddle or a vague metaphor that through some way out mannor of thinking could only be answered by bloodshed. Mayulu battles always began this way. If the players rushed down from the top of the pyramid, it meant the gods of the heavens were at play. If they charged from below, devils were at play. There would be no distinction betwen evil or purpose. Each was entirely deadly in its own way.
As the light of day began to brighten, Theodus and his troops prepared to attack. Demon or deity, pattern or picture, they would move at Ted's command in a formitable manuever called "Racing the Arrows."
"Sis is accessing the Grid," Ted explains. "She's got a remote system that's way juiced since she's a science guy an all back home. She doesn't like run it while she's up at da cabin but it buys her time from da office whenever she does a little research now 'n den."
Sis's system is set up on Pop's dining table. She is completely quiet, has been that way since she and Aldo left the wood cutting and Bigtooth. You have to be an idiot not to shy away from her quitet but frantic intensity. She looks like she might blow up. Pop is pissed off since it was his table. But old grizzley knows better than to say anything about it.
So, as usual, Ted narrates on her behalf.
"Pop paid big bucks ta get her a biolarm awhile back." Aldo had wondered about how Pop handled his leaving Sis all alone at the cabin halfway across the galaxy as she was. Biolarm implants were impressive new tech stuff, micro emitters, size of a skin cell but capable of sending a person's complete bio read to a monitor - halfway across the galaxy. Aldo likes the way Ted reveals stuff about his family during these narrations. Not that he can't figure out Pop's deep affection for her himself.
"She's gotta find somten out in a hurry since she's holdin' up supper 'n all," Ted continues. "Ya know thisis really gonna pis the old guy off big time."
"You mean dinner?" Aldo askes.
"Na," Ted shakes his head. "It's da freakin Hivers. Of all places dere settin' up ta make paper right here, 'n if dere here, dere probably all over da planet by now."
Within a moment of Ted's revelation comes the sound of Pop's boat roaring away from the dock. Aldo glances over to his boy recognizing a little confusion since for all his kid saw was Pop's going fishing without him. He calls Lee over then takes him aside.
"Want to take a few casts down at the dock?" Aldo has never done anything like fishing with his boy. So in effect it startles Lee a bit opening an opportunity for the two to speak about what was going on. "So Pop's not mad at me?" Lee realizes after hearing about the Hivers encroachment on Pop's new world.
Aldo put it into simple terms. The Hivers are the last people known to rely on paper. They build their houses from it, make clothing from it, even concoct a type of fuel from paper to make energy. All other known peoples in the galaxy view paper making as a deficit waste of energy and resource. Even statistical data bore the reality that you could never make money over the long haul cutting, pulping and chemically condensing wood fiber into paper. It is the condensing part that hit Pop the hardest, Aldo explains. Soon the Hivers will set up reduction mills that will stink worse than the shit hole. What was all natural about the planet will never be the same. Pop's pissed because he sought a place like this his whole life. It's because of something deep inside him.
Aldo pauses as his words create a realization in himself. Pop loves the nature, the trees, the water, even the animals.
He connects this to Sis. He tells Lee about Bigtooth, about the way Sis linked to the giant creature. "No," Aldo corrects himself. "She communicated, somehow spoke to it." He reads Lee's young mind. He is telling the boy something new and he needs to be very clear in what he says.
"Have you ever though about why we are smart?" he asks the boy.
"Sometimes I think it's partly because we tell each other we are smart. We say this because we think we are smart. But maybe it's only the way we think. Maybe there are other ways to be smart. Maybe this means other types of beings are also smart even though they may not think like us."
Lee responds. "I know from school about annular communication and genetic code bonding. Creatures may not need to talk because they simply know what they need to know."
Aldo realizes that the boy he is explaining this to someone who's after all, a Fifthian.
"Dad, don't you think it's a little weird that Sis can talk to Bigtooth? Don't you want to know what they said to each other?"
Once more Aldo has to catch up with reality.
[I am/me. I am not you/not a tree/not any other thing that lives. I am connected because I live/living is to be entwined/life connected to life. I am the part that serves the greater whole/to serve is to live/to live is to eat/to eat I must sometime kill/the whole must sometime die/too many is too little to eat/to not eat is to die/to die is not to live/sometimes to die is to serve/by living and dying we become the greater whole. We are here to live in the shadows of bright light/to think is bright/you are bright. Look around us/life stems from all parts/here/now/all life is entwined. So this what we walk upon is also entwined/what we breathe in/what we drink/is entwined. Brightness makes this alive/brightness comes from beyond/bright is beyond us/you are from beyond/you must be bright. Then know what we know. There has been a ripple in the darkness beyond the bright. Something comes this way. We know it can only destroy what falls in its path. Unlike the unborn in my nest/it has been barred from its ability to entwine/it is a thing that will never be born. Our generations have connected us/each to a greater whole/which is a greater awareness/we are aware/as we are connected. We have always known/what is now us/will not be for long/the whole must sometime die. Yet the Hand that shapes us/has permitted us the will to survive/survive is to live/to live is to serve. The whole must sometime die/so there can become another whole.
This is why the generations/by serving the whole/have opened a small part of our entwinning to that which is bright/to think is bright/to create. To serve by creation/is to create to survive/to survive is to live/to live is to serve. A new whole will survive/smaller/faster/lighter/it will survive the darkness/the cold/by welcoming the bright/warming the flow inside/the senses that see into the night. Our single thought/created a new whole/through generations/our rough surface/becomes like grass and flowers/our hard inside/becomes hollow and light/our single thought has borne to flight.
To fly is to flee/to flee will soon be to survive. Why now/must we fail/to survive? How will those borne to flight fare? Without the trees? Are you/like me/like them? Are you bright enough? To create another thought?]
"My name is Dave Krikorian. I've written very little fiction since my days at the Uiversity of Illinois circa 1970's. I have written for marketing, advertising, sold articles to various magazines, a couple to Field & Stream. The story 'Pop's Cabin' is my first attempt a a more lengthy sci-fi piece. I'll be 44 in April. I live along the North Shore of Lake Superior just north of Duluth, Minnesota. I'm partners in a company specializing in Web commerce development. We have some cool aps and some virtual 3D on our Team Duluth Site - www.teamduluth.com and we have a rather huge superstore called ECMD Early Childhood Manufacturers' Direct - www.ecez.com. I mostly program HTML, some Java and Micromedia in creating the graphics and copy - the Web is the best place on earth to enable some crazy guy like me to combine a broad range of skills.
The best way to contact me is at my e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org"
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