The Trainer – Sci Fi from 2002 – Unedited

The Trainer

In 1999, Sven blew out his lower intestine while performing an enormous powerlift attempt in a chalky musty neighborhood gym. He lived for bodybuilding, lifted since he was fourteen years of age, and at thirty-four, the age he blew out his intestine, he was long over the hill for serious competition, and only did it because he knew nothing else. For the past ten years, Sven drove a purified water delivery truck around town to law firms and IT corporations, listening to classic rock radio, and holding a blank space where some build fortunes and ideas.

Sven Outersky lived in a single bedroom apartment, had lived there ever since he moved out of his parents’ house in 1980. He never attended college, because a professional men’s bodybuilding team invited him to compete and train with them at regional meets after he finished high school. During those years, he received a painful large tattoo of a forty-five pound freeweight on his back. There was always one man stronger and better than Sven, always one bar fight out of five he lost.

During the years of competition, women flowed freely through Sven’s life, sometimes too young, sometimes too old, never beautiful enough for Sven, or able to live with the general lack of attention he provided for them once the sex grew dull. Sven never thought much, so he certainly didn’t think much about marriage. High school drinking buddies came and went when the coach of the professional team banned alcohol and marijuana from his diet. Most of the men on the team were smarter than Sven, and privately mocked his inability to hold an intelligent conversation. After the coach let him go, he tried to sell vacuum cleaners for a few months, before realizing that he wasn’t intimidating enough mentally, nor was the kind of good actor that is required for that job.

For a while, after moving out of his parents’ house, Sven considered letting the emotion of loneliness get the better of him, but decided that he really didn’t have enough of a brain to keep a handle around it all the time, and opted to simply focus on recording his ups and downs as a weightlifter, competing in amateur competitions and landing the occasional gig as an underwear model.

Being one not open to change, he remained in his hometown, and conservatively built a 401K portfolio at the suggestion of his father, and allowed the bottled water company to order him around as they would without complaint, deciding that forty hours a week to give of himself was not so much for the much needed accoutrements of his passion.

His father was a lawyer, his mother a schoolteacher. Both were much more intelligent than his son, as was his older sister, Gina. Unfortunately for Sven, there was a lot of heartache involved in the father-son relationship, because his father had never been around, except to criticize Sven for not procreating and carrying on the family name. Nonetheless, both of his parents deeply loved their not-so-brilliant son, and were proud of what he had accomplished, and even paid for Sven to have Lasik eye surgery, so that Sven could live without the discomfort of glasses or contact lenses.

Occasionally, Sven knew love, wasn’t a complete misanthrope. But the women were not young luscious teenagers or finely sculpted wealthy widows anymore. The new occasional bird in Sven’s eye was a hopeful bodybuilding youngster, usually a girl between the ages of 19 and 27 who was clinically obese, and by nature big-boned, looking for some kind of hook to catch in life, since looks had obviously passed her by. Sven kind of felt it was his duty to look after these girls, watching most of them retreat to

complacent overindulgent habits and frighteningly low self esteem before they realized their dreams of being bodybuilder women.

The successful few would depart from Sven’s lif e just as quickly, finding younger, more agile popular men whose thickness of hair and confidence of gait and breadth of intelligence and scope of learning were way beyond anything Sven could compete with.

Sven turned to dogs for general companionship. His first puppy, a Golden Retriever, lived for eight years by his side on jogs and trips to the gym. The dog was a gift of a girl soon made ex, because she espoused a lack of discipline and a tendency to keep a bad house. The golden retriever puppy however, was trained easily enough by Sven, and became the focal point of his love and attention. No woman after the Golden Retriever and subsequent dogs could touch the love and affection in Sven’s heart for his dogs. The Golden Retriever fell asleep one day near an area where men did squats and clean jerks, and had his skull crushed by a 45 pound weight that was too loosely placed upon the bar by some jerk upstart kid whose ass Sven battered.

The second dog, an Alaskan Malamute wolf cross-breed, was adopted from the pound at the age of six, and Sven was warned by the folks there that this dog seemed extremely dangerous and not good around small children. Its owners had apparently seen too many shows with wolves, and thought the dog was cute for awhile, but both parents worked full-time, and the children lost interest when they found out it pooped. So, the poor brute was kept chained to a too-small doghouse in the hot summer heat where it became half crazy and vicious to all who came near it. For a brief period of its life, its owners lauded it as a guard dog, and would have barbecues where friends came over and tested the strength of their nuts by seeing how close they could get to the beast. Finally, it broke its chain and ran far far away, and the children suddenly realized how much they took their pet for granted and begged the parents to mount a huge successful search. By this time, the dog was almost a hundred percent wild, and no suburban yuppie family in its right mind could keep a dog like that around, so it was instantly turned over to the pound where Sven found it.

Sven knew nothing about dogs, and had no idea how much easier it is to potty train a Golden Retriever puppy, than it is to tame a wild half-wolf snarling snapping beast who’d known no love for human beings. He fancied himself good with dogs, liked the dog because it looked tough, and proved that his ability to tame canines was much more than fancy.

Within two weeks, the dog behaved more like a small kitten, and developed an enormous affection for Sven, and for that matter, all other living things it encountered.

Sven thought nothing of his ability to train a dog beyond a matter-of-fact kind of reasoning. So, for almost eight more years the dog he tamed stayed by his side and delighted his sister’s children and everyone else Sven met. Four months before rupturing, Sven lost the dog to an intruder who got a huge chunk of his arm taken off while trying to force Sven to give up his record collection under the threat of a semi-automatic pistol. Naturally, such a weapon will easily win the fight against a poor brute’s snapping teeth. But the animal saved Sven’s life, and he threw a huge wake for the dog, inviting everyone he could think of to attend.

Sven considered the death to be like that of losing a brother, and knew he couldn’t simply sit around drunk in grief with his best friend gone. So, he mounted a fierce assault on the weightroom, even entertaining pipe dreams that he could get back into the

professional competitions he once participated in. He tried a little to hard, it seems.

Sven’s parents accompanied him to the outpatient clinic, a small sports clinic in the southwest part of town that specialized in such minimal impact operations like the one Sven needed. He was in good spirits on that January day, the morning was a bit cold and crisp as they made him don a skimpy robe and special cap and lie still on a bed with wheels.

Neither Sven nor parents knew that the doctor who was performing the operation was also a local specialist in providing transvestites with an option to make a much-desired transition from male to female. Dr. Bill Fenton was due up north in less than forty-five minutes to make a sex change operation to a young man whose parents’ show of affection didn’t stop at Lasik eye surgery. Marvin, or Muriel as he liked to be called, was a little younger than Sven and is not an important character of the story.

What’s important to glean from the witnesses who testified at the hearing of the trial of Outersky vs. Fenton is the fact that Dr. Bill was a self-confirmed lush, an absent-minded hack, and an all-around born failure in the subtle art of the medic. Most documented mishaps included circumcisions gone awry, vasectomies that made men eunuchs, and prostrates full of vodka. Dr. Bill could spin a story though, and had spun his way out of several predicaments, most of the documented real horrors having been performed on Vietnam G.I.s who’d probably died anyway.

Unfortunately for Bill Fenton (he was stripped of Dr. status), Outersky was a man who made an excellent living out of prosecuting characters like Bill.

Unlike the other cases, that almost resulted in disfigurement assuaged by handsome settlements, Sven Outersky died on the operating table that day from an apparent cardiac arrest after waking up to the fact that a neat hernia repair had turned him into an androgynous mystery. A combination of the drugs the Doctor administered as well as a general shock that can be understood as being in larger proportions from a man whose whole existence revolved around being completely masculine, probably contributed to the overall exceptional death.

Unlike other dead children, Sven did not end up in an urn or a coffin. Because his mother and father were quite certain that the body which housed Sven Outersky’s soul was nigh still perfect, they opted for contact of a special California firm that specialized in cryogenic preservation of the deceased loved one. Sven’s father received enough from the outcome of the trial to retire comfortably in California, which was not their home state. They found a nice place near their son, and invested largely in the growing high tech market. Of course, we all know that this market crashed, but the Outerskys were a conservative couple, and sacrificed only their twenty bedroom B and B for the house Lenny Kravitz once rented while struggling as a young artist.

Like good parents, the Outerskys visited their son, as did the sister Gina and her family for the next seven years. Unfortunately for most of the Californian population, a giant earthquake in 2006 sent everyone into the ocean to drown. Fortunately for Sven, a team of intergalactic warriors came the next day and extracted all of the water from the Earth’s atmosphere, and then blew up the planet out of mercy for the suffering lifeforms that resided on the planet.

As was the custom of this particular race of intergalactic warriors, after stealing whatever precious commodity a planet held, then destroying the planet, they would send

in a team of cleanup researchers to examine the debris for scholarly purposes. Sometimes, if a planet’s inhabitants were thought to be of some use (or if their demise would somehow prohibit extraction of said precious commodity), these intergalactic warriors would first inhabit the planet with missionaries to convert the backwards heathen to their belief system and welcome the natives into the hierarchy of the great order that was their citizenship. This particular planet only held one race of inhabitants of any use, and this race was found to be easily reproducible by extracting DNA from a few select members of the race’s population and breeding the race anew on board the ship using the technologies available.

So, it is a comfort to those of the geocentric persuasion that some of us earthlings did carry the torch of our DNA memory away from Earth before its destruction. One of the subjects of this paper Sven Outersky, is one of our own, though his perpetuated existence was not intentional on the part of the galactic warriors. The other race, which we refer to traditionally as dogs, or canines, became a household favorite on the ships and colonies and home planet of the intergalactic warriors.

Sven was discovered by the cleanup research team, who by most accounts were said to hold ideals and beliefs not precisely akin to those of their warrior brethren, or the ruling body of the intergalactic warriors. But, since they were trained to serve a function somewhat analogous to earthly professors as well as earthly priests, they held little real power in the decision making process and kept mostly to themselves.

Because the intergalactic warriors operated in an ambitious time frame, being required to destroy planets and extract their commodities across several solar systems before their year of operation ended, Sven was placed in a special subzero storage vault with many other artifacts from Earth, including a rather comprehensive phonograph collection that was only partially damaged, as well as three Brooks Brothers suits, and a pair of spandex jogging shorts. There was also a rather large inventory of fragments of Earthly matter that are beyond the scope of this book to recount in detail.

Phthylly Frgnessdooz was the senior priest/researcher of the cleanup team whose young daughter in her first year as an apprentice to the collective rode on board the ship as an observer and young Cleanup Priest/Researcher In Training. Her name was Thevgv, and we Earthlings might have called her experience one of being “along for the ride.”

How would I describe the appearance and demeanor of these creatures who’d destroyed our home? Well, as we all know, dogs were our first domesticated breed of animal, and we can see in this current age that they are a plastic kind of breed. A miniature Schnauzer can mate in theory with a St. Bernard to produce viable offspring, though the physical act might seem a bit at odds with our expectations of reality. We consider dogs generally to be one of the more intelligent species, some of us placing them third next to monkeys and ourselves.

Imagine a planet where evolution had somehow found the primate line of development unfavorable, a land of cliffs and fjords and stones and mountains. Surprisingly, a species evolved to an intelligence level on par with our own that credited its success not to the cleverness of an individual outwitting its peers by augmenting the knowledge base of technology, but rather a collective group of furry warriors whose love and loyalty for each other caused their sharp boost in evolutionary intelligence. Among each other, these beings exhibited our own sense of socialism and care for respect of

others in an exemplary, nigh perfect practice. Toward other species they were not so forgiving or understanding, especially the smaller animals of their home planet. Those larger than them, they soon found could be intimidated and subdued through collective brute force.

You might say that a collective self consciousness was born out of this process. Where we understand the moment a child becomes self aware by its own sense of self as autonomous, these beings gained their admittance into that necessary higher rationality that leads to building spaceships by a group self awareness. Now, as I have mentioned above, not all was perfect clockwork among this species of intergalactic warriors. By the time they found Earth and destroyed it, their race was slowly coming apart from the inside out by way of the same selfish indulgence that many Earthling humans claimed was about to destroy our own planet before aliens spared us the guilt. Nonetheless, this remarkable group of beings had managed to be stewards of the stars for millennia before unrest among the hierarchy began to show its face.

To put all of this bluntly, the scholar/priest cleanup researcher class was kind of at odds with the beloved team of intergalactic warriors who were both funded by the governing body back home, and of course the tax money of the trillions of average civilians who aspired to have their children be either warriors, priests, or rulers someday. Excepting the civilians, each of these groups thought it was better than the others, and within each group, a growing number of members lower on the hierarchy were beginning to question the authority of those above them.

The case of our young female Thevgv being a bit a rebellious as we shall see, was a unique one to these beings, most children still obeyed their parents. Most were raised by their mothers or schools of the Matriarchy, a lesser arm of the governing Hierarchy.

I might add that, although these beings’ in their evolution held canine -like creatures as distant cousins the way we humans hold apes as our close cousins, their actual bodies resembled little that would give an Earthling human the impression of canine attributes. Having perfected the marriage of transmission of the physical objects with the difficult theories surrounding the speed of light, the space traveling portion of the race would often morph into a kind of holographic floating image. You could say, if you wished to be crude, that the image they retained of themselves was one of doggy-paddling, as our own dogs swim about in the water at slow speed.

The canine-like beings who constituted the bulk of the population, or the masses as one is sometimes wont to say, looked and locomoted more like dogs if they could walk on two legs all of the time. Much the same way our human ancestors evolved from tree jumpers in search of fruit to ground runners throwing spears at big game, these canine-like beings came down from the great craggy cliffs among the massive mountains where they originally dwelt. Their own evolutionary theory posits the trend towards erect locomotion as the result of a great ice age that sent them to the jungles of the south in search of food. Already adept at navigating surfaces of varying verticality, these beings improved upon their art to climb and capture simian-like creatures living in the trees. Naturally then, we can understand their cultural bias toward primates like ourselves and favoring of dogs when genetic memory of a great struggle for survival by conquering and killing apes still resided in their brains.

It must be emphasized as well, that the canine comparison is a bit superfluous in nature, due to the fact that their large-clawed splayed feet and prehensile paws make

them look and behave more like we humans.

Thevgv was fascinated with the human floating in the clear cold chamber down in the storage vaults. Of all the great wealth of artifacts that resided down here, he was remarkably the most impressive and repulsive thing she’d ever seen. Even winged creatures with angry snouts, insects twice the size of the human with poison that could wipe out millions of her fellow citizens, slimy ocean dwellers with eyes that would know doubt end up on some ruler’s plate next year at feasting time—none of these creatures seemed to invoke near the visceral response of alternating disgust and curiosity like this smooth frail small man.

The author would also like to note that the canine creatures had a name that is lengthy, unpronounceable, and five times as hard to spell as the names they gave themselves. Out of respect for other cultures such as theirs, the author is trying his best to refrain from calling them dog people, so perhaps alien canines is an easy, more graspable term to use. Also, these alien canines came from a planet whose gravity made it possible for them to grow twice as big as humans. Because their genetic strain was similar to our dogs’ in its plasticity, the lowliest alien canine could be as small as a Chihuahua, or the most feared warrior as large as eight feet in height. The warriors did most of their battling in space where the affects of gravity that might have killed them on a planet like Earth did not bother them. A girl like Thevgv was already the general size of Sven, and would continue to grow to almost seven feet in height.

“Earthling humans are so strange,” thought Thevgv, pondering Sven’s bizarre genital makeup. His features and frozen grimace and muscle mass bear remarkable characteristics of a male, yet in the place where a man’s fortune lies, there is simply nothing there, a smooth surface pocked by the tiniest of holes.

Sometimes she examined her own genitals. Thevgv was developing ten teats that would be removed in ceremony unless she chose to join the Matriarchy. Neither Thevgv, nor her father ever entertained any notion that she would join such a backwards formal body of the hierarchy. Her vagina and anus were beginning to swell with the coming scent sacs that would attract young and old men alike. These too would be removed unless Thevgv decided simply wished to go off and be a breeder. Let the author explain a few things at this point. First, our own knowledge of dogs dictates that the animals are biologically adults within two years of their birth. This rapid rate of development was paralleled with the alien canines, only their planet rotated around its sun in a much lengthier fashion, making their years approximately three and a half times the length of Earth’s own. Second, only someone in Thevgv’s class and gender had the luxury of choosing between the priestly calling, the matriarchy, or actually falling in love. The general masses still mostly behaved as the general pack did since time immemorial, they labored and toiled as one, and generally acted like the mass of people in the Soviet Union on earth did in relation to its government.

The priestly class was by no means very religious as we would think. It is easy to draw comparisons to the culture we are used to, but we often come up short when the differences are examined in detail. First, the alien canines recognized three basic god archetypes in their religion. The Nurse Mother, the Trainer, and the One who was Trained. Second, for time immemorial these basic three and the lore surrounding them were accepted as ultimate truth. The alien canines, perhaps due to their collective pack mentality, did not have until very recently, ones who pulled away from the dogma of

religion upon the discovery of scientific truths. In fact, what technology and science was achieved, usually was credited to the work of the Trainer, a great winged canine creature who taught them to reach for the stars.

All females of an important class, that is to say they were born of a warrior, ruler or priest, were the ones who kept the Matriarchy populated with members. To join it openly earned respect from all, though it was no secret that the warriors, rulers, and priests generally held their female nurses and teachers in contempt, and the respect was mostly given as lip service. The warrior and ruler classes (Matriarchy was a subset of the ruler class—its power was mostly figurehead in nature, its votes carried little weight during the time the governing hierarchy met—and is usually counted separately) could only accept males as members. Priests were the oddball ones, males and females could join alike, but almost never did someone born outside the enclave of the priesthood gain acceptance. Warriors and rulers also tended to have contempt for the priests, felt their function was even less useful than the one the Matriarchy served, and in recent years secret meetings had taken place among dissidents to consider the consequences of publicly introducing a measure for vote that would abolish the priesthood altogether. Nothing had come of it though, because the priests were still feared and revered by most as those in personal touch with the Trainer.

Warriors were allowed to take any female they wished to have from the masses, even if she was held in high esteem as a leader-type locally, or if she’d developed especial affections for a local male. After having his fill of her, she was sent to the Matriarchy and gave her litter to this order to be raised. Sons of warriors almost always became warriors or rulers. Daughters usually opted for the Matriarchy. A warrior could also choose to have his mate put to death. This was pretty common, the rationale being that he’d picked a female young enough that she’d never given birth before, and to prevent his stock from havi ng half-siblings among the masses, the female would be killed. This was considered an honor. Young females of the masses prayed to the trainer to be selected to breed either warrior sons or ruler sons.

For the rulers, the process was pretty much the same, only they were even more selective in choosing their mates, and rumors always abounded that priests were hired to genetically engineer the rulers’ children to be wickedly intelligent sons. No proper priest would ever consent to such a thing, but the priesthood was a crumbling institution, and no one doubted that corruption was around.

In the priesthood, a hierarchy of its own existed. Phthylly Frgnessdooz, Thevgv’s father, was leader on board their tiny research vessel, and kept a pretty decent harmonious ship. But there were thousands of vessels like their own, all governed by a body of priests who remained at the home planet to process the artifacts and determine which ones merited the most attention. Because the priesthood was considered sacred by most, much of what it did was kept secret from the rest of the general population. Within the priesthood, secrecy abounded as well because each ship was out of contact from the mother planet and other ships for a year (remember 3 ½ of our Earth years) at a time.

“May we bring him to life, Father, please!” begged Thevgv one night as the two dined alone.

“How dare you even propose such a thing!” thundered her father for the recording devices in the room to hear. Then, he wrote on a tablet he kept by his side:

Our Earthling is an interesting specimen indeed. You are not the only one who has

urged me to make haste with this matter. Only, it would be completely at odds with the rules set down by our hierarchy and the priesthood itself. This entire crew would be put to death if it were ever discovered such a thing was done.

What about the emergency provision? wrote back Thevgv.

You have been keeping up with your studies I see, good. If you’d taken greater care, you’d know that this provision can only be affected if we have good reason to believe that the ship is in danger from the artifact below. Now, take another look at the Earthling and try to tell me what about him could possibly harm us?

Phthylly had written the final question in jest, hoping to drive home the point with a little humor, but Thevgv had lost any sense of humor surrounding her one goal that had come to obsess her.

The author would like to add another important background note involving the communcation of the alien canines. It adds a dimension to why the priestly class was so feared an revered. They were the only ones who possessed the gifts of speech and writing. All of the alien canines communicated as a collective entity to some degree through telepathy. The ruling class had built a huge psionic shield around its establishments on the home planet and the colonies, so no one could read its plans simply by making a mental query. The priestly class had a different means of keeping its thoughts from being revealed. One of the first things a priest child learned was how to control its mind so that when speaking or writing, such thoughts directed for this purpose were only heard or seen by those receiving the communication. Only priests understood the strange language that was uttered from their lips, or could cipher the mystical script that they could inscribe on a surface. If the ruling class wished to communicate a new law to the masses or the other classes, one of its pages would step out on the rooftop of the great capitol building and send thoughts across the planet and the universe to all. None of the masses were aware of these means of secrecy, and almost all of them still believed that their pack was one unified in mutual thought. The warrior class knew of these means of secrecy, and it was strictly prohibited for a warrior to attempt to build a psionic shield on his ship, though rumors abounded that some did. Head priests on the mother planet had instilled the law that required recording devices to be placed on each priestly ship in an attempt to keep the order in line, but this was an easy workaround. Also, among the rulers themselves, it was no secret that individuals who considered forming separatist cabals had build miniature psionic shields inside their quarters. Priests supposedly had not yet attained the ability to communicate telepathically with their special speech, and therefore it was assumed that all of their inner dialogue was known to all. This was actually quite untrue, as most priests who did space research would build then dismantle their own psionic shields as a basic approach to avoid having all of their thoughts transmitted universally, and even a girl like Thevgv felt pretty safe when she thought in priest speech that only other priests would hear— and what adult is going to be bothered by the silly romantic aspirations of a child?

Thevgv tried to gain answers from the Universal Arcana, the alien canine bible of sorts. She attempted prayer to the Trainer and just felt silly, then guilty for feeling silly considering something as important as prayer to be silly. Thevgv slipped down to the vaults below to stare at the Earth creature once more. He disturbs me so, she thought, as if he could simply jump right out of his container, and wreak havoc upon us all. And his genitalia, they make him look almost like a being from the Trainer’s kingdom.

Thevgv wasn’t the only priest aboard the ship interested in Sven. An older woman Fghala was finding herself oddly attracted to Sven in discomforting ways. She crept down to the vault and saw her leader’s child standing there.

“He has a strange beauty about him, doesn’t he?” asked Fghala.

Thevgv acted surprised at Fghala’s intrusion, though the girl didn’t need telepathy or even good ears to smell the older woman’s scent long before she arrived. “I guess you could say that. I haven’t developed that sense of him though.

He seems more to me like one of the Trainer’s vile stepchildren, from the Arcana, you know?”

“Yes my girl, I see what you mean. Though some might say there is beauty in their existence as well.”

Thevgv eyed Fghala mistrustfully. Fghala was rumored to have stolen the juices from young girls’ anal sacs and rubbed it upon herself to attract the male priest initiates. The older woman’s specialty was all things herbal and vegetable, which made her a bit of an outcast, as the alien canines were strictly carnivorous and chiefly interested in ways to better their diet. If the research by the priests was considered by some outsiders to be useless and a waste of time, researchers like Fghala were considered doubly so by the priestly order itself. Mere academics and cataloging, the study of plants was.

“Did you fuck my father?” asked Thevgv bluntly, hoping to catch the woman off-guard and wipe the smugness of her face.

“No,” came the deci sive smooth reply, “He remains aloof to such baseness. Phthylly is a priest in the classic true sense. I suppose a man deserves some respect for that. But look at this one.” She pointed to Sven. “Isn’t he an anomaly? Why, by every consideration we would take in noting his form, he is bursting with a desire for perhaps a female analogous to me inside of his own species, and yet…”

“He’s been cut,” said Thevgv, surprised at her own insight.

“Smart girl. Your opinion won’t be the popular one, I can tell you t hat. If you had a little more weight in the realm of influence, you might convince enough of us, but I’m afraid most of them will simply deduce that Earthlings were an asexual hermaphroditic bunch, and ship him off to the main vaults.”

Fghala’s clipped pr aise entered Thevgv in painful measured barbs. Part of the girl in her wanted to bask in the praise of an elder. But it was Fghala, after all, a woman whose opinions of artifacts were generally ruled false by the governing priesthood. Also, the frank sexual talk with an older woman was new and uncomfortable. Thevgv never had the opportunity of being educated by a Matriarch at the teat. Somehow, it made her cringe at the thought of transforming into this kind of woman in the not-so-distant future. Teatless, sacless, yet still yearning for something from men. Ah, but she’d let her mind go, forgetting that someone was in the room who could read her every word.

Fghala smiled at the girl knowingly, then communicated her own take on the subject. Poor little Thevgv, you are a remarkable example of the turning point in our evolution. Someday, you will easily keep thoughts like that from even a priestess like me, and perhaps if your generation is the most ambitious one, you may even keep your genitalia and know of love. I envy you. Don’t forget that.

And with a slap of her silky tail, Fghala exited the vault.

It might be of some use to the reader to note at this point the fashion tendencies of the alien canine species. The author cannot stress enough the importance of the plasticity

in breeding dogs, and therefore it comes as no surprise that this race perfected eugenics for cosmetic purposes as well as keeping a social order intact. In the priestly class and the warrior class, canine aliens were pretty homogenized in their look because of the natural tendency to either select mates that would produce fine warrior sons, or in the case of the priests, a sort of inbreeding that kept long silky robes of fine hair in the gene pool. The ruling class however, often desired mates of beauty as well as brains, and it was not unheard of for a young female like Thevgv to mysteriously disappear during her first year of heat.

The masses thrived on fashion above any other class. Within their social order, there was a system of class all its own, the beautiful alien canines of the masses becoming instant celebrities and beloved merely for a gorgeous coat of fur. Rarely would a member of the masses, who possessed a stellar thick covering of white fur like powdered snow, leave her comfortable high rise near the great capitol in search of a bald pigmy runt.

Thevgv and Fghala could probably trace their pedigree back to find common parents, and Thevgv’s growing mane attested to their similar genetic background, though Fghala’s long snout betrayed her base cavedweller ancestry. Thevgv’s mother was put to death shortly after giving birth to Thevgv and her brothers and sisters. The appearance of a heretic in the population was not welcome to anyone, including Thevgv’s father, doubters of the Trainer who publicly stated their beliefs were guaranteed a brief life. Some rumors say this was actually a pretense for a powerful ruler to snatch her mother away from Phthylly, but the rumor was not supported by any substantial evidence.

Thevgv found her room empty shortly after her mother was taken away to be tried and put to death. Having been the runt of the litter, she was excluded from the privilege of the teat and made to suckle an artificial nipple as a kind of proving device the canine aliens used to see if runts were fit to be members of society. This practice was no longer strictly adhered to in the class of the masses, but in important orders like the priests, warriors, and rulers, it was an imperative to see if a runt was of any value. Thus, she was spared her life because she had the fortitude to prove herself at the artificial teat, and spared the allegations that heretic milk could have been passed on.

Sometimes Thevgv mourned the loss of her brothers and sisters, and secretly wrote notes questioning the validity of whether they were innocent or not, but like all of the words that might put her to death, she burned them quickly thereafter.

Thevgv returned to her quarters aboard the spaceship and played with her new friend, an Earthling puppy named Rhnoq. Her father and the senior members aboard the ship had put together a reasonable case for breeding the Earthling puppies from the DNA they’d extracted on a mission prior to the destruction of Earth. Rhnoq was now almost full-grown, a mongrel of German Shephard and Chow mixture who delighted in the company of his owner.

“Father tells me that you are a distant cousin, that the Trainer spread the seeds of our kind far and wide across the universe, some on shallow ground, others in places where proper root was taken and greatness bore fruition.” She spoke the words telepathically, and the puppy seemed to understand. Rhnoq licked her hand and leaped about the room in joy.

Thevgv could barely decipher Rhnoq’s thoughts. They came as energy information full of pure love, not occluded by greed or ambition. We were once like you, she thought, in some places we still very much are. How is it that so much hatred and

selfishness comes with an advanced intelligence? The puppy ran to his water dish and lapped a few strokes, then jumped back on her bed and put his head on her lap. Sometimes, when he was first born, he would try to suckle at her immature teats, crying for hours to be cradled in a Mother’s arms. I wish I could give you the sustaining life essences like a proper Nurse Mother, Thevgv would sigh. But her father had strictly prohibited allowing anything akin to the sort.

“Thevgv, these puppies may be distant cousins, but they are still occluded by alien genes, and for thousands of years, the Simian-like species that conquered their planet has made their brains soft and weak, instead of supple and agile.”

“But you told me some were wild, untainted by the hand of the Simian. Why didn’t we make some of those, and why didn’t you let me have one?”

“Very in telligent, very dangerous.” Her father spoke of the teams discovery of wolves. “Yes, we made some of them over for the psyche department, but those animals were not for little girls.”

So, Thevgv was made to be content with her soft and weak-brained puppy, though she often snuck into the psyche department and watched the priests and priestesses communicate with the wolves and tell them the alien canines’ history. She thought the wolves were worse than warriors, or like some warriors once found on a planet scheduled for conquering who had, as we humans say, “gone native.” There was something awe -inspiring in so much raw power in energy, even the females of the kind seemed ready to fight the psyche priestesses for territorial rights.

According to her father, not much luck in educating the wolves was to be had.

“Their seed has filtered down a very different line of evolution. They are interesting specimens because we believe the original seed the Trainer tossed about the Universe must have produced beings much like them. But, it will take thousands of years of proper socialization to turn the wolves into civilized erect beings like us. If you gave the wolves as they are now a chance for a million of them each a stone, in another million years there might be a slim chance they could build our Capitol.”

“Why would we want to do that?” she asked.

“It’s an apt metaphor for the randomness in our Universe that sometimes selects and favors certain children of the Trainer.”

“Oh.”

Rhnoq had fallen asleep in her lap, and Thevgv lay down in her bed. She tried to sleep for hours, but the cold blue stare of the Simian artifact down in the vaults kept returning to her mind.

Fghala heard the soft knock at her door as she lay in bed bemoaning the future she saw for Thevgv. Powers of prescience were considered a false gift of Evil in males. Male Priests who claimed such powers were put to death for heresy, and female priests were laughed at and given the benefit of the doubt of having “base female chaos in the brain,” a malady re medied by belittling then ignoring their predictions of the future.

She smelled the earnest longing of Mknolylly, a young Priest who had so little control of his sexuality. He would tell her on the nights he came to her room that he loved her, then leave abruptly after they unfused, saying he’d simply needed to clear his head.

“Not tonight, Mknolylly, go find Ischala, or Creaghala for your source of relief. I am doing extra research tonight.”

He moaned from the pain of built up juices, and hurried on down the hall, knocking on another provider’s door.

The only research Fghala planned for the evening was the achingly bittersweet trip into sorrowful memories of her own past. Seeing a young girl like Thevgv bursting with curiosity for the world about her, questioning everything and feeling helpless to affect changes her heart dictated, made her remember another little girl of similar mind, herself at that age.

She too had flown on great trips of research, being an even more fortunate girl than Thevgv because the Highest Elder at the time had held a softness for academic research and new medicines and indigenous races of various planets. It was an end of the golden era of priestly research during her last year of heat. Suddenly, things seemed to change by degree, no doubt partly or wholly Xnhtylly was to blame. That year, he’d gone from being a mere elder to one of the elders of the great inner circle, changing the policies of research and conquest to favor conquest over research.

Fghala’s father and his crew had f elt free to take a large winged beast out of its hibernation, and study the inner and outer anatomy. They even tried to communicate with it using the psi amplifiers, and quietly put the beast out of its misery upon hearing how sad and lonely it was from losing its mate and friends and family. She’d sworn to herself that someday she would change the policies herself, and be the first female elder/priest to rule the race.

Her mother was put to death shortly after her birth, her brothers and sisters returned to the cavedweller families her mother had been taken from. She was the runt of the litter, and was given a runt’s death sentence, but had survived all of the torture and tests they made a runt endure. Some marveled at her achievement, and would compliment her upon hearing how she’d survived, but Fghala wasn’t proud of what she’d achieved.

She’d discovered during the torture that a young female just free of the teat was an attractive and valuable thing to some the torturers. A female at this age could be raped repeatedly without fear of the consequences, and Fghala found that if she made them believe she liked what they did to her, they were like clay in her paws. It wasn’t long before she’d turned the tables in her favor.

For the following several years, during her priestly initiation period— she’d bargained to be let into the priesthood because the Matriarchy simply wouldn’t take one such as her — Fghala found herself as one of the youngest non-child members of priestly expeditions, specializing in her true love of research, medicinal plants. The lessons she’d learned about what males desired, and how to use that in one’s favor, had enabled her to skip many initiate classes and duties for expeditions.

But, the room for advancement was long over once she made it aboard a ship, and she was stuck with the burden of letting males expend their excess juices in her, sometimes regretting the choices she made, sometimes not.

Fghala was allowed a visit to her mother’s place of origin once during the early years of her research. It was rumored that the cavedwellers, who were considered some of the purest stock of the race, clung to a secret for altering the color and consistency of one’s fur through the use of special fungi grown deep in the caves.

She’d met Vehngchif, a d ark brooding young male slightly younger than herself, and felt feelings nobody had ever mentioned before. None of the literature on breeding or mate selection told of how a female might decide she needed a certain male so badly that

no other would do.

Taking a special medicine concoction she’d read about in an overlooked section of the library, she was able to steal away every night from the researchers’ makeshift dwelling outside the caves to be with Vehngchif, and not fear the consequence of being bred.

Vehngchif had that strange odor the cavedwellers all possessed, but from him it aroused a hunger in her like nothing else. Unlike his brethren, he wasn’t coarse and vulgar with his language, didn’t tear into her then fall asleep like so many men she’d been with.

“The day is coming, Fghala,” he would whisper to her, “When those such as we can freely move about the Universe as two that are one. Males and Females will choose whom they love as it should be.”

When he said the word love, it stung her like a bleenal barb from the fields of Clofthm. All of the canine species knew love, they felt it for their race and their mother planet, but here was the word being used differently somehow, as if a mere two beings could be in love with each other.

The cavedwellers gave the researchers many new useful fungi and plants, but they claimed a mushroom that could make one’s coat change shape and color was only in their dim past. Long, long ago, they said, canine aliens walked the world who could change shape to fish and fowl, and had no need for machines or dwellings to move about and habitate in, because the multi-faceted fur could change shape to conform to the environment as needed. This magic was given to them by the trainer, and a clan of the race full of jealousy had stolen the magic, keeping it to themselves. Only the special mushrooms could return them to the state of glory they once possessed before, but the mushrooms were greedily consumed and used for wasteful purposes like flying two stone throws away to ask a neighbor a question. So, the mushrooms disappeared along with the heretic clan, and the canine aliens were forced to build physical things with which to hunt and fish and move about.

Fghala still produced tears remembering how she distanced herself from her lover, when the research team began to wrap up the expedition. He would sit outside the caves every night, and cry out simple beautiful poetry for something he longed for, never betraying her name or their secret.

“And then he died for me,” she whispered, l etting the tears flow freely.

On the researchers’ last journey into the caves, there was a great earthquake, like ones only remembered in the cavedwellers’ distant past. Nobody could remember such a powerful one as this, and there was much general confusion and death about the caves. Most of the researchers died, because they didn’t know the best places to go during an earthquake. And Vehngchif passed away as well, rescuing Fghala from a fire that had sprung up around her. The natural gasses below her had shifted and taken root inside a massive supply storage area Fghala was in. She was examining one last time the cavedwellers’ collection of medicines when the earthquake struck.

He coughed his last dying breaths out in the open light of the world above, laying her by his side, and telling her he loved her for everyone to hear.

Nobody paid any attention, as was often the case when the focus of the collective thoughts were placed elsewhere.

She left him for his own to bury, hoping they would properly cremate him and store his urn among the most worthy of his clan.

She fingered the medallion she kept in a secret pocket in her satchel. Vehngchif had pressed it into her hand the last night they’d slept together.

“Use this to remember me,” he said, “I have visions sometimes, of a great fire, and my own choking death. But you will live on, and perhaps do great things. Because I will never take a wife, and have children of my own, I must pass on this treasure of my family.”

“What is it?” she’d asked. “Why, it has a k ind of writing on it. A writing I don’t recognize at all.”

“It is the Trainer’s script. Because the coin is so ancient, no one can read what it says. But it is a powerful thing, here.” He held it to their small light at angles, and a rainbow of colors came forth.

“If you lose all else from our special love, hang onto this coin until your dying day. Then, pass it to someone worthy of its ownership.”

“Where is it from, who made it?”

“Legend says that our race who walks on upright feet is not wholly of this planet. Long ago, the Trainer came alone, but wished to leave behind his wisdom and his life material. So, he gathered up as many life forms as he could find, and mixed his seed as only he knew how. Many did not survive. The ones that lived, were powerfully intelligent, almost as wise as their father. They left the caves to build machines that flew about much like the ones you of the Capitol city use today. Some longed for the ways of their mother, and returned to find mates inside the caves. The rest, flew away, in search of the Trainer’s paradise.”

“So we descended from the ones who stayed behind?”

“Yes, and this coin is a reminder of a time when all of the Trainer’s children were as One.”

Fghala had an open mind to the myths and legends of people, especially her own people, hence it was she who first suggested that the priests send a research team to the cavedwellers. Most priests and civilized ones of the Capitol would scoff at such a story, claiming it to be nothing more than preposterous fantasy of weak-minded masses. There were many stories like it, throughout the more wild areas of the planet, only no one had ever offered up something as tangible as this coin to prove it.

She knew the priests would laugh at her and perhaps put her to death if she showed them the coin and told them the story, so she kept it close by her side, doing her own private research in the priestly library for clues that might have proved Vehngchif correct. But nothing ever materialized. Once, she got a strange sensation when passing by an ancient book on priestly speech, but found nothing in the book except for standard material that every priest already knew.

“Ah, poor Thevgv,” she thought to herself. “I see a future for you crueler than my own past. Men plundering your tender female self for the glory of our race, while in reality doing it for no better reason than the one that makes them pay a visit to my door every night. And you are too sweet a girl, you have none of the cavedweller stock that kept me alive and made me ambitious. Yes, Thevgv, I weep for you.”

Fghala thought of the frozen Earthling for some reason. His cold blue-eyed stare of horror and resolution made her shiver. She was receiving a prescient vision about him as well, but it was unclear and terrible. No amount of clearing her head of unwanted thoughts could tell her the part this artifact would play in her race’s future, but she knew

it was important, and perhaps could comfort Svegv somehow by letting the girl know it would do more than merely end up in a vault inside the Capitol untouched.

Bhntylly Dhalrgnessmuyg lived on the fortieth floor of the north wing in the first quadrant of the Capitol. There were four quadrants for the four limbs of the ruling class (Rulers proper, Warriors, the Priestly class home base, and the Matriarchy), eight wings in each quadrant (Rulers proper held elders— North, the direction the alien canines descended from, and considered a direction of much good luck, elders’ wives — Northeast, “that they may sit at the elders’ right hand”, elders-in-waiting— East, wives of elders-in-waiting— Southeast, neophytes— West, pages— Southwest, children of elders and elders-in-waiting–Northwest, and those of the masses who cleaned the dwellings and prepared the food— South. In the lore of the architectural arcana, found in the great priestly library, one can read through some five hundred thick volumes on the theory behind the construction of the Capitol, as well as uncover many useful blueprints for coming and going betwixt the quadrants unnoticed. The Capitol consisted of four monolithic buildings as described above towering above small shops of the merchants nestled betwixt the Capitol buildings below. If one was of any importance, or an unimportant canine alien on official business, he or she could utilize the enclosed walkways that bridged across the gap between the four towers like an Earthling spider’s web from top to bottom.

Bhntylly was an elder of the great inner circle. He stood almost eight feet in height at the prime of his manhood, and retain his imposing figure still. The droopy jowls that hung from meaty thick saliva-rich jaws and large folds of short-clipped hair bespoke of a man once fit enough to be a Warrior. Bhntylly was the son of a Warrior, in fact, this was plainly obvious to any of the canine alien masses who might have encountered him for the first time in their lives. Bhntylly rarely had business among the masses, unlike many of his fellows in the hall of the elders. It was becoming quite common to hear of an elder spotted about the planet in the trendiest nightclubs, whizzing low above the mother planet’s surface in a sleek anti-grav cruiser fit for his child. Because of they possessed almost complete power over the masses, and an almost divine status in the minds of their flock, elders had gradually relaxed from the original duties they’d been assigned during the formation of the Capitol classes at the great tribal edicts that took place a half dozen millennia before. Elders would return from the season of pleasure with the latest crop of all the best looking young fashion models and celebrities in tow, trading the sexy princesses (or princes, if you were an elder of that persuasion. Homosexuality was in theory, strictly forbidden, but who was going to stop you if you were an elder?) Not all elders behaved in this manner. Some like Khgiltylly Makghnessmuyg were intense scholars, passing their time hovering over young priest initiates in the priestly library while the youngster translated the undecipherable priest speech into recognizable pictorial story form. Khgiltylly, one of the shortest elders at five feet eleven, bearing a scruffy offwhite coat that he rarely properly groomed, was especially well-known for his dogged persistence in creating potential reforms, and demanding that the other elders cite countering evidence to his claims that a law was not being followed properly, or wastefulness and corruption was taking place. Most of the time, he succeeded in getting his laws passed, and his new procedures for the race implemented, because only the Warriors (when they were at the home planet) and the masses bothered to take notice of

the new laws.

Bhntylly took a paternal fondness to young men like Khgiltylly, and ones like him, though they seemed to grow fewer and fewer in number every year, while the elders never seemed to get enough playboys and pleasure seekers. Bhntylly, however, cared little about most of the laws that were passed, because he knew his time was coming soon. Nobody liked an elder who was so undignified as to live out his last days in a bed, useless, without the guts to let everyone know it was time for him to walk down the hall for the last time, and be taken away for death. Bhntylly grew up hating being a Warrior child, though good at sport and quick with his paws in a duel of claw and bite, he felt certain that it was his intelligence that kept him above the ranks of his fellow Warrior students, as the enormous ebb and tide of children fought their way to the death over the teat and meat alike. More than any other class, the Warriors had perfected the brute machinery of evolution’s natural selection. They bred frequently and were staggeringly prolific, letting their offspring fight to the death in no-holds barred battles that no self-respecting fully-grown Warrior would allow himself to be part of. The few females who survived the three year hardship at the teat were immediately plucked from the pack and placed in the confines of the Matriarchy to be trained as Nurse Mothers. This was an ancient practice, designed to keep inbreeding among the Warriors from taking place, and to allow the stock to pass on as keen healthy virulent males.

Like all children of the upper classes, Bhntylly was offered an opportunity to train for initiation into one of the other orders at the end of his six year period of teat and basic schooling. At the time, he held a naïve perception of what the priests and rulers did. When a ruler visited the warrior quadrant, he strode about in confidence and grace, even though he was so much weaker than even a whelp like Bhntylly. All of the priests who came to visit, however, seemed timid and frightened, as well as full of obvious poorly-masked contempt for the Warriors. Bhntylly decided that an intelligence capable of walking fearlessly through a room of killers, nay commanding the attention and respect of the killers— that kind of intelligence was to be cherished above all others.

In his ruler initiate years, after many long hours spent in the Priestly library consulting texts to gain the knowledge instilled in the children of rulers from the teat, Bhntylly came in contact with many Priests who were nothing like the delegates to the Warrior quadrant. As he learned from conversing with some of the Priests, those sent on business to the quadrant were generally considered ones lacking in courage and direction, and were given such missions in hopes of hardening them. While attending classes as a young ruler initiate, Bhntylly had also encountered many children of the ruling class who lacked a spine and retained a deficiency in general intelligence. But, he’d chosen his path for life, there was no switching over.

On his own excursions into the realms of the masses, Bhntylly searched far and wide for females who possessed greater cognitive faculties, carried more beauty atop their shoulders than in their manes and upon their coats and tails. It wasn’t easy, because in spite of his oversize ruling class collars, females too often mistook him for a warrior simply because he looked like one. This was kind of a blessing in disguise, though, because a female who could look past something like fur and a collar was a rare find indeed. He treated his wives with respect, much to the behest of his peers, allowing them to live well long past their age of ripeness.

He trained his children to be masters of their world, demanding each to show an

aptitude for reason and math, and knowledge of the stars. Some children chose the Matriarchy, some became Priests, some were now Pages and Neophytes, but most of them sadly were oversize bullies who walked over to the Warrior quadrant in search of their heritage.

Today, Bhntylly was researching the history of the great planet Himokkely, one of the first the alien canines had kept unscathed in their extraction of its natural resources. Of prize value to the alien canines, was a rare and magnificent oil no Priest could duplicate in Priestly lab, produced by Himokkelians themselves in response to their atmosphere during summer months. As he grew older, he found himself constantly adding these little side projects of research to his list, had even once proposed to himself that he would secretly steal one of the ancient texts teaching the early priestly initiates how they could produce speech and the written word.

Bhntylly chuckled at the memory of wanting to learn Priest speech. I probably couldn’t have hacked it, even if I’d chosen that route. There is simply too much of the damn Warrior in my blood, but, ah…

He still liked to walk over to the section of books that initiation into the Priesthood. No priest who hoped to live a long healthy life would ever deign to transcribe the words of these books into pictures for someone outside of their class. Rumors existed of elders who tested the younger Priest initiates for such a weakness, using every psychological ploy imaginable to get the young Priest to cave in. If the Priest was weak, then he or she was supported to a superior, and most likely put to death, or sent over to the Warrior if the initiate was still young enough— the two were essentially the same thing.

Bhntylly could smell something foul long before he heard the voice of the offending party, or see the face. Being an aging elder offered some respite from being detected long before seen, because the aged of privilege could afford a product that made them virtually odor free. Bhntylly allowed himself this one luxury, because he delighted in the irony that as an old smelly canine alien, he should by all accounts be one of the more odoriferous members of the race— thanks to technology, all of this had changed. It also caused him great pleasure to sneak up on young priests in the library, or young pages or neophytes in the ruling class restaurants, and see the surprise on their faces when he asked them a mundane question. With the combination of the commercial odor-reducers, and the chemicals he’d created of his own research and effort to emulate the environment he was in, Bhntylly had perfected a camouflage more useful than any warrior’s second fur. He’d entertained the notion of passing the idea along to the warrior quadrant, but decided that this class had grown too fond of brute force to really know what to do with something simple and intelligent for the battlefield. Also, as Bhntylly had discovered in his studies, many alien species didn’t ins tantly recognize friend or foe through the nose. Which seemed silly to him, but what did he know?

Arcana Magicum Universal was one of Bhntylly’s favorite titles. He’d perused it over the years when taking a break from his more serious studies because it held actual pictures representing the methods and activities a young priest should participate in to achieve the basic skills for his calling. The most important and heavily diagrammed topic of the book was that of Priestly speech, which fascinated Bhntylly deeply. Every time he walked by a couple of priest conversing in their strange magical tongue, sometimes lilting, sometimes guttural, he got a small ache of slight regret for not choosing the priestly

calling.

In his private chambers, Bhntylly even tried to duplicate what he’d read in the book, knowing full well he could be put to death for such actions. Nothing more than a small woof came from his throat. What had always frightened him away from this pursuit, were the times when an attempt at speech caused a glass or mirror to break, or something in the room to move. Bhntylly would wonder if he was stepping over the boundaries of the Trainer’s playground, and into the realm of demons and Evil.

With a brief start, Bhntylly’s paw moved freely through the spa ce where the book should have appeared. It was gone! But this was a book from a different age. What priest of today would need such facile explanations and drawings to learn his calling?

From a small reading room at the end of this row of the stacks, Bhntylly could detect the source of the foul smell. Careful not to make any noise, and confident in the chemicals he’d brewed to match the smell of old books, he crept up to the door and eavesdropped.

“Are you sure this is the book your Master needs?” Bhntylly recognized the voice as that of Xnhtylly, an elder of the highest order, most powerful in his political influence, a middle-age male who carried the scandalous reputation of donning at parties the fur coats of females he’d bred and put to death.

The other voice was unfamiliar, but carried with it a foul touch akin to the odor coming from the room. “Yes, yes, indeed. Arcana Magicum Universal is definitely the title. Soon, you shall see your foes conquered forever, and you shall be well rewarded.”

Xnhtylly’s voice quivered with exceptional fear, “B -b-but, I’ve looked through this book, and it provides only lessons for the ancient early initiates to obtain the gift of speech.”

“This is what you think. This is what all living Priests believe, and so the book is discarded among other relics, forgotten for what it truly is.”

“B -b-but, how?”

“Yours is not to question how or why! My Master and my order represent the true lineage of Priests, and hold congress with our Trainer as proper servants of His will. We do not dabble in microscopic research to make old fools live longer. Nor do we play lightly with Magic for fanciful and useless scholarly studies into gross material things.”

“This I know, your Worship, yet I cannot comprehend how one insignificant book will change the tide of our race’s deviant history for the better.”

“Ask or ponder these things no more. Simply leave a crack in your psi wall the proper spot at the chosen time and we will be in touch with you to give you further instructions. You are doing well, Xnhtylly, and shall be rewarded handsomely.”

Bhntylly ducked behind a stack of books as he heard the door shut, but could hardly control gasping in wonder as the strange foul hooded figure raced towards a closed window. The window’s panes flew open right b efore he made impact with it, and the strange beast seemed to sprout wings like a Veeml underneath the rank robe. Bhntylly had never lived the quadrants of the Capitol his entire life, except on some official business to the outer colonies, or to pick a new mate. He’d heard tales of the Faceless Ones, and read accounts in various books, but nowhere was there mention of an ability to fly, or any tendency to associate with high elders.

Xnhtylly hurried out the door of the library, looking neither back nor left nor right. It was no secret among most of the elders and priests that Xnhtylly the Great held little

love in his heart for anything but the raw exercise of his power. Rumor gave that well over a thousand females had died by his own hand before giving him children because he saw visions of his offspring rising up and conquering him. The few children who survived were often denounced as bastards and sent to work on colony planets as prostitutes and miners.

Nevertheless, Xnhtylly boasted a handsome track record of reforming wasteful spending on the part of the elders, and creating steady progress and growth on the Mother Planet, as well as the colonies. He was responsible for adding hundreds of ships to the fleet of Warriors and Priests who embarked on missions of conquest and research, though it was a known fact that the amenities and manpower aboard the ships of the Priests could be scant and barely adequate in comparison with the comforts given a Warrior ship.

Xnhtylly also gave fervent speeches when the elderly roundtable adjoined, nobody questioned his patriotism or commitment to the Mother Planet. He was seen among the most vocal of worshiper’s on the Trainer’s Day each week, most who criticized him could be easily cited for being absent from worship, and even accused of heresy if they pressed their luck too much.

Whispers came from Pages and Neophytes lucky enough to serve drink and food and smoke to the inner circle of elders that Xnhtylly was ill-favored by the Highest Elder, though his persistence to be chosen for the title went way beyond anyone else in the inner circle. One Page was even heard after too much Kneesht claiming Xnhtylly had threatened the Highest Elder on occasions to get his way in matters, and that Page was never heard from again.

Bhntylly had examined Arcana Magicum Universal from cover to cover, and could remember nothing of it that would especially make it important to some beast whose smell and voice reeked of Evil. He crept into the reading room where the two had been, and scoured the chairs and table for clues. Nothing. Following the trail of the beast to the window, Bhntylly suppressed his gorge at the strong unnatural scent remaining in the air.

The thing had left the window open, and Bhntylly leaned out, looking up at the sky for a possible speck, and onto rooftops where it could have landed. Something catching the sun’s rays glinted in Bhntylly’s eye. Far below, on the ground a shiny object reflected more light upward than one would expect of such a small token.

He moved as fast as his aging rheumy limbs would carry him, taking the stairs because the levitation unit would be full of too many young priest initiates coming and going. It was imperative to grab the object before someone else claimed it, but important not to arouse suspicion in his haste.

Dashing out the door to the street below, Bhntylly almost knocked over an old woman who was eyeing the object keenly.

“No! That’s mine!” cried Bhntylly in a voice perhaps to stern as the old woman grabbed her chest in fear. An ugly and stupid one of the masses, she had managed to avoid the eyes of elders and warriors alike, and was now busy dodging the death squad. Frightened at being seen as a liability to society by such a powerful male, she scurried off on her own pair of frail legs and stooped frame, ducking into an alley in terror.

Bhntylly picked up the round flat object, noting its heft and pure presence. It was no doubt some kind of coin, but whose coin? The markings on it were indecipherable, like Priest writing, only more infinitely detailed and tiny than anything he’d seen in a priestly

book. It had seemed silver in color from the window above, but now Bhntylly could see that it held more of a rainbow sheen about it, if angled against the sun’s light properly.

He pocketed the coin, and returned to his quarters, reflecting on the events in the library.

Trmylly lived on the seventeenth floor of the northwest wing in the third quadrant of the Capitol. The first twenty floors of his wing were reserved for children of elders-in-waiting, the last twenty for children of elders.

Trmylly was a child of an elder-in-waiting, studying each day over in the quadrant of the Matriarchy like all non-mass children did. For something as trivial as attending classes, use of the enclosed walkways was strictly prohibited. Some select and special children of Elders were permitted use of the walkways, but only the ones who actually stood a chance at being a member of the Oligarchy someday, and it was highly unlikely that Trmylly would ever find himself in that inner sanctum of privilege and prestige.

He shared his cramped quarters with a friend, Dughnth, another son of an Elder-in-waiting whose capacity for reason and memory was so low their teachers feared he would either be sent away to join the Warriors or put to death. For Dughnth, both would essentially be his demise, because his fat friendly folds of short-haired flesh and his long droopy ears and sad eyes couldn’t possibly help him survive an initiation into Warriorhood— not to mention the fact that he’d not been raised a child of a warrior, having always known the soft easy life of a child of medium privilege.

“Damnit, Dughnth,” cried Trmylly, “You’ve soaked too long in the tub, allowing our meager allotment of hot water to grow lukewarm and full of grime.”

“Since when have you cared about a hot bath?” drawled Dughnth, pretending to peruse some text from homework while smoking a pipe full of contraband Kneesht.

Trmylly didn’t dignify his question with a response, because he knew that Dughnth knew he wanted to look sharp for a slick supple sweetie from the twenty-third floor, a child of a minor Elder born out of some surprising virility on the part of her oldster father. He stood in front of the mirror, spiking and clipping his thick black stiff mane. The female in question had somehow slipped through the cracks into a class with a bunch of children of elders-in-waiting like himself, probably out of political reasons, he thought.

While Dughnth became lost in his own private world of amusing himself with song in the bathtub, Trmylly quietly slipped aside a loose brick near the window sill, and fished around for the book. He was careful not to make too much noise, because Dughnth had pretty sharp ears, and would demand out of blunt stupid curiosity what it was Trmylly was up to.

Most of the book was unintelligible to Trmylly, he could only barely understand sections where the author had taken the time to provide pictorial representations of the feats described within. With growing anticipation of the special feat he would perform, Trmylly’s heart pounded with great excitement. He knew that his coat was of average attractiveness to the opposite sex, having often been the object of more homely females whose spots on their coats ran together and the hairs were wiry instead of soft, their snouts being short and blunt causing them to snort and drool sometimes when they breathed. Their affections would pass soon as they focused their attention on becoming Nurse Mothers.

Trmylly knew that having a well-groomed coat wouldn’t be enough to win the attention of the female he favored. The author will step in here and make note of an earlier mention that these canines didn’t understand something such as true love. Having a collective pack consciousness that caused them to become self aware originally as a whole, feelings of love were considered a more universal thing to have, there was love for the Mother planet, love for the entire alien canine race, and love for one’s shipmates, etc. Trmylly’s softness of heart for a female in his class will be better understood then, by borrowing an Earthly human phrase from the English and American vernacular: “puppy love.”

Thus, Trmylly’s ears had pricked when the bookseller on the streets below had whispered in his ear that a book existed containing some of the most secret magic tricks of priests, and one didn’t have to wait until becoming a priest initiate years from now to learn them. In fact, he, the bookseller, possessed probably the only copy outside of the Priesthood’s library, and was ready to part with it for next to nothing.

Trmylly eyed the man suspiciously. You could barely see his nose poking out of a dark cavern that was his face. The cavern was formed by a strange hood over the man’s head, an attire that extended down to the ground.

“And why would you part with this so easily and cheaply?”

“Because I see you where the collar of the priest in calling, and I can tell from your eyes this book would be of great value to one like you. Who else that comes to my shop would even bother or care if mention was made of such a thing? At best, my care for the customer might earn me Death for possession of the written priestly speech.”

The man was correct. Nobody who frequented the book stalls would bother with a book that was mostly unintelligible due to a lack of pictures.

“But what do you hope to gain from such a sale?”

“A little money for meat and smoke, that’s all.”

Trmylly was still quite suspicious of the man’s motives, but was already flipping through the pages and telling himself he could learn to speak words, and impress the girl he wished to marry someday.

“Alright sir, I’ll take it.”

Trmylly handed the strange bookseller all of his money, and grabbed the book, quickly stowing it in his satchel and left the stall for his classes.

“Young priest!” cried the voice of the stranger behind him.

Trmylly turned to see the hooded figure standing outside the stall. “I am no priest, yet, but maybe sooner now than later.”

“Do you not wish to have your change?”

“I -I thought a book so valuable would be worth all I had.”

“You actually gave me a little too much. Here, I never cheat a customer.”

A strange coin of unrecognizable origin was pressed in Trmylly’s palm.

Trmylly hated the days when Dughnth bathed first, because the boy somehow managed to collect the largest film of grime Trmylly had ever seen. He loathed schooldays, because of the imposing walk through the streets below to the quadrant of the Matriarchy, and the formalities the guards at the door always subjected them too. The guards knew them almost intimately by now, he reasoned, and yet every day they treated them like criminals. But the worst part was avoiding the bullies down in the streets with

their homemade psionic shields around their heads. Trmylly could almost smell Schmyck from his quarters. He’d tried to plead with his father to do something about this flagrant violation of law, one of the masses having psionic blocking power, but his father just laughed and through his arm around his latest hussy.

“Ah, Trmylly, yo u little runt.” (That was considered an insult like we humans of the early 21st century speaking in the English vernacular might say ‘you little shit,’ or ‘you little cunt.’ Trmylly was actually somewhere in the middle of his litter progression.) “An elder or elder-in-waiting who proposed such a law would be laughed out of session right now. Everyone is building psionic blocking these days. It’s the privilege of we in the capitol, and the dream of those poor masses. You know damn well I have one, I don’t wa nt the entire world to know every time me and a new honey are getting our stuff fused.”

He saw his father’s point. He and Dughnth had, in fact, built their own psionic shield, which was one reason why Trmylly loathed leaving his room to attend class.

Trmylly should’ve known better than to beg of help from his father. His father was a classic libertine, in every sense of the word, a total dog’s dog, if you will. There was absolutely no ambition in the man outside of dogging fine foxes, and most of his offspring shared this viewpoint. His reasoning was that the Capitol had become so strict in its definition of who could rise to the top, and the rest of the privileged so convoluted, that no male in his right mind could possibly hope to become a major Elder of any importance in one lifetime, at least not without running around kissing sac. So, why bother? Pick another fine honey from the masses below, and enjoy life.

Trmylly wished he could share his father’s viewpoint. But, something inside of him demanded more out of life than simply dogging fine honeys. So, long after he could’ve abandoned the more difficult studies at the Matriarchy in favor the natural progression of learning to be socialized, like his older and younger brothers had taken, he’d opted for the regime recommended by the Nurse Mother Superiors at the school to become a Priest. He was told this meant attending the Matriarchy twice as long as it would take to make Elder-in-waiting. Plus, he would have to demonstrate the same length of schooling he’d already performed as a Priest’s apprentice. That is, if a Priest was even willing to adopt him.

But Trmylly was ambitious. More than any hopes of grabbing a lovely Elder’s daughter, he wished for the sweet success of having achieved priest.

Schmyck and his gang were waiting around the corner as they exited the Ruling Class Quadrant.

“Well, well. If it ain’t a couple of sacless wonder boys, off to suckle at the teats of old broads.” Schmyck sneered with his arms folded behind a bunch of less-threatening hopeless cases. It was apparent to anyone who looked twice that Schmyck was a Warrior’s bastard child, somehow falling through the cracks because he was too stupid or too vicious or both, but in possession of enough brute cunning to avoid the death squad that hunted down such bastards.

“What do you want, Schmyck?” asked Trmylly, trying to affect disinterest and mild irritation. Dughnth tugged at his sleeve.

“Ah, I think I smell a couple of male -sac lovin’ boys here today. Do you boys get your kicks offa musty rank male asses?” Schmyck and his friends burst into laughter.

“No more than you obviously do.” muttered Trmylly under his breath.

“What’s that, punk -sac?” cried Schmyck, grabbing the scruff of Trymylly’s

carefully groomed neck and picking him up.

“N -nothin’.”

“That’s what I thought. You boys know the toll. You can afford it, now pay up.”

And so, Trmylly reluctantly, and Dughnth gladly paid the bully the required some to pass through the city streets unharmed to the Quadrant of the Matriarchy.

“S omeday,” muttered Trmylly.

“Ah, Trainer help us both,” said Dughnth. “It’s really not that bad. Someday we’ll both be Priests, and we can really put the hurt on Schmyck and his ilk.”

“Yeah,” mumbled Trmylly doubtfully, eyeing his friend with apprehension. Dughnth had foregone the obvious choice for a stupid slow young son of an elder-in-waiting in favor of following Trmylly into the priesthood. His marks were low, he often fell asleep in class, and it took Trmylly staying on good graces with the head Nurse Mothers and convincing them he would help Dughnth with his studies to keep the poor boy from being sent over to the Warrior quadrant.

Once inside the great monolith of the Matriarchy, all was not well for Trmylly and Dughnth, either. Both were required to wear collars denoting their intentions to become Priests, and this was a cause of bullying among the other children. Two years ago, when each child announced his or her intentions, they had a kind of support group to share in the woe of the Priest in calling. There were five other males and one female, all of those children had caved in to pressures from friends and parents alike— four of the young males had changed their minds and now wore Page collars like all the other males in the class. One young male had bravely declared he would be a Warrior, and promptly left for the Warrior quadrant for initiation to never be seen again. The female now exulted in the praise showered on her alongside the other females in the class, she was to join the Matriarchy at the end of the year and cheerfully receive the gift of perpetual milk.

“Go find a teat, sucklings,” shoved an older Page past them. He was nigh a Neophyte, and kept his fur well-oiled and curled as if he were already an elder-inwaiting. A few future Matriarchs giggled as they walked by.

“I’ll remember you,” cried Trmylly, loud enough to satisfy his dignity, but hopefully soft enough so the older male wouldn’t hear him. He heard.

“What’s that, you little runt?” demanded the Page.

Dughnth was frantically tugging at Trmylly’s tail, trying to get his friend off to their first class as fast as possible. Usually, Trmylly would obey his dull partner, and they would scurry away with tails tucked while Dughnth admonished him for being so stupid.

Trmylly had decided to try something different today. He’d secured an ancient text with his lunch money from a street vendor one afternoon on the way home from school. It was purported to be a copy of the very text Priests used to learn the gift of speaking aloud. He growled a bit to clear his throat.

In the society of these alien canines, a growl was a clear sign of begging for a duel. Young ones still at the teat could growl at each other, then playfight, but nobody who’d reached Trmylly’s year of maturation would dar e growl unless they were prepared to claw and bite their way to victory or death.

The Page came at Trmylly snapping and clawing the air with all stops pulled out. Bracing himself, Trmylly growled louder, then attempted audible speech. He recalled with all of his might the book’s instructions for directing thought first, allowing the muscles in the throat to relax, then tense, then relax. But nothing could seemed to come out but a

garbled woof, then another, then another.

However, with each woof, the Page grabbed his chest and staggered back as if struck by a mighty blow. A young female screamed in awe and fear, and Dughnth held his mouth agape in blank horror. Trmylly instantly grasped the nature of his newfound ability. He might not have achieved audible speech, instead, he’d somehow managed to build gigantic psionic balls of concentrated emotion, emitting energy that packed more of a punch than would the shock of hearing him produce audible words.

An old Priest was escorting several graduates of the Matriarchy out in a formal procession. They were seven years older than Trmylly, three boys and two girls. A child born into the Priesthood began the process of initiation and education from birth, and was given the option near Trmylly’s age to abandon it and attempt acceptance into one of the other classes. Trmylly had witnessed the older children who were graduating from the Matriarchy day in and day out, seeing the scared looks on their faces and wishing he were one of them. How could it be worse than it is now? he would think to himself. At least they are all going to be among their own kind now, intelligent scholars of our proud race’s history, not some mindless sycophant ruler-wannabes, or brute smelly warriors.

The Priest was immediately taken by surprise at the presence in his carefully disciplined mind of an overabundance of psionic energy where it needn’t be. He was standing in another hall perpendicular to the source of the power when it struck. His teeth vibrated in pain, and he wondered if an evil presence was attacking the Matriarchy. Only demons and advanced priests could cause such tremendous concentrated energy to erupt, and only a demon would be insane or evil enough to use it.

Several of the older Matriarchy had felt it, too, and drew the same conclusions as the Priest. A couple of the oldest ones could remember a ruler turned heretic’s deal made with a negative life force from the realm beyond. The consequences had been devastating, vast numbers of alien canines overpowering Priests and Warriors alike to abandon the Mother planet for the Trainer knows where.

The old Priest came running up to the place where his mind’s eye told him the energy had been emitted. Two young Priests in calling stood whispering to each other in apparent shock, and a tough-looking brute of a Page lay on the floor, dead, with eyes frozen in a perpetual state of terror, with blood drooling out of his mouth. The oldster immediately followed the trace burn trail through psionic space to the source, and the source was one of the Priests in calling! He immediately called to the Matriarchs to summon up all of their energy and subdue this young one possessed by such a powerful evil presence.

“Where are you taking him?” demanded Dughnth, so terrified at the thought of being left away from his source of stability that he openly disrespected some of the most powerful elders inside the building.

Fortunately, for Dughnth, the old Priest was too preoccupied with making sure the demon inside the young male was properly exorcised (this would mean holding the youngster quarantined inside a deep psi-shielded vault until they could find out if there were other demons in the vicinity, then scorching the youngster to a quick fiery death). “Your friend is possessed,” cried the Priest, knocking Trmylly to the ground with all of the psi-energy manipulation he could muster. “You come with me, maybe you can inform us as to when and where he became like this. Since you are his quartermate, perhaps you’ve been tainted with the Evil yourself. We’ll have to keep you both under close

supervision.”

“B -b-but,” blubbered Dughnth.

The older graduates of the Matriarchy who were bound for initiation into the Priesthood stood staring in confusion until the Priest angrily motioned for them to follow. “Matria rchs!” cried the Priest. “Do a thorough search throughout this building for any traces of Evil, and alert the rulers and warriors as well!”

Thevgv awoke to the sound of an emergency beacon from the mother planet hammering its way into her skull. She first tried to decipher the meaning of the message, but knew it would be useless. Only the leader of the ship had the ability to glean anything more than the simple commands from the high priest to abort the mission and return. The warrior ship that was their partner on this mission would be given temporary free ranging status which meant that several planets bearing useful resources were destined for complete annihilation with all of their records of existence silenced forever.

Thevgv had read in the manual that only when the welfare of the mother planet was at stake, did a beacon like this one go out. She briefly entertained the fantasy that her father had called up the head priest at the capitol and lied to him about the nature of the Earthly artifact just to please his daughter. At this very moment, she thought, the home planet thinks its in grave danger from this Simian, and an order from the highest place will bring it to life!

But this fantasy was quickly abolished because Thevgv knew she was no longer a little female anymore and such drivel had no place in the mind of one soon to make grave decisions about the rest of her life.

Her father’s voice pounded into her head above the emergency beacon. All hands to meeting quarters, immediately! I shall brief everyone at once of the news. On a warrior ship, such a time as this would cause the ship’s leader to simply buzz his thoughts out to all of the crew in a quick short report, they merely had to be awake to hear it. However, many priests were a vain lot, and prided themselves in their ability to communicate with the spoken and written word, and this meant that some of the more stuffy old-timers who resented being older than the leader might throw up a mental block out of pure pride.

Thevgv could smell her shipmates up and down the hall, coming and already passed by. She joined the mass of priests to the meeting quarters. The females on board the ship kindly made way for her as if she were some kind of great Nurse Mother, simply because they empathized with the child’s coming life choice that they too had once made. None looked back with merely sweetness at having their teats and sacs removed, there was always bitter mixed in the memories. Most of the males were not so understanding, or resented having a young female around so near her first year of heat. Male priests were allowed to keep all of their genitalia, the understanding being that death would come to any who sired children. One such as Thevgv made them incredibly off-balanced as excruciating hormones still raged in some of the wizened ones. None of the females were jealous, because for a female priest, being an object of such strong male desire was rarely welcomed and never honored. A few women acted as the ship’s unofficial provider of release to th e males, such as the ancient silky tall thin grey female named Qhygv.

Thevgv spotted her father at the head of the table in the meeting quarters and immediately ran over to him. Males already sitting at the table perked their heads up as faint whiffs of preheat seized their noses. The look Phthylly gave his daughter almost

froze her in place. Now was not the time for him to play sweet Dad. She bowed her head in submission, and took her place in a distant corner with a few other children who lived aboard the ship.

After all aboard had taken their proper places, Phthylly unscrambled the message that had arrived in the middle of most Priests’ sleep.

“Greetings those of the great order of (unpronounceable by Earthling human lips). I come to you all now in a great hour of need. It seems our balance has been disturbed by one who wishes to make a bid with our rightful title as keepers of the Trainer’s paradise. On (unpronounceable), in the last half of this year of bounty, inside the middle-level portion of the school wing of the Matriarchy, a great psionic ball of energy was used to destroy a Page on the verge of becoming a Neophyte. Research shows that this Page was the son of one of the great Inner Circle of Elders…”

All of the shipmates let out uncontrollable hushes of shock, and looked around at each other. Phthylly was ready for this, though, and paused the playback of the transmission until everyone’s attention was on him again.

“Not since the unspeakable demon contested us during my first year as a priest has such a great psionic ball been unleashed. We all know the lore surrounding that year of woe. It is also understood among we of the highest order before the Trainer himself, that only myself and a few other select few including my closest and dearest peers, as well as a couple of the most pure and revered Nurse Mothers, are the only ones able to practice such an art to any degree of efficacy. And none of us would deign to use such power to kill a mere Page, especially one ensconced in such a bright and golden promising future as his was. Unless…” he paused with great gravity, and allowed the tiniest bit of the Psi energy in question to emit from his mind so the listener was sure to pay attention. “Unless one of these trusted and revered few has gone ove r to the side of Evil.”

More hushes of shock came from the ship’s stunned audience at the suggestion of such a possibility.

“Ah, ha ha ha!” The voice from the mother planet now erupted with laughter, and everyone reacted to it as if each was a personal recipient of a message for the first time. “Now we all know that this is preposterous. So, that leaves the generally accepted and decided upon theory that for a brief moment, the young priest in calling who apparently emitted the energy in a typical boyhood duel, was under the influence of Evil. Now, we have searched his room, and uncovered a very ancient and exceptional book that was obviously stolen from the highest shelves of the great library.”

Some minor hushes over the contemplation of how a book could be stolen from there.

“The Priest in calling claims he was merely trying to shock the Page and impress the older boy with his ability to speak, and somehow found his thoughts taking a different direction altogether. As one of the few who know both the gift of speech as well as the theory behind the magic present in the schoolhall, I can assure you that your thoughts cannot turn into psiballs by attempting to speak. Why, those of you who’ve known the gift of children sometimes spoke to them at an early age, and their whining and cooing never once could have been mistaken for a deadly dark force.

“So, I am calling on the powers all of you have now to stamp out whatever the nature of this force is, before it brings our great civilization to destruction and death forever!”

The transmission ended, and the hushed talking began. Thevgv stared at her father in expectation of some words of wisdom or comfort, but he just shook his head sadly at his keep and said, “Well, all of my brothers and sisters, we know where our path lies, let’s do our best.” He refused to look over his shoulder at his daughter, and promptly exited the room.

Thevgv lay awake in bed full of dreadful worry about the prospect of returning to the mother planet. She scratched behind Rhnoq’s ears , and the puppy grunted contentedly. Guilt overcame her for thinking ill of the revered home planet, but she couldn’t help it. Once inside the capitol, her father was off for days meeting with the other high priests in the great hall, discussing mundane everyday work. He’d help them analyze an artifact or plan a new meal the warriors could consume to increase their energy while in space. Or perhaps the topic of discussion would be even less exciting, going over the hundreds of priest initiates to select new members of the order. The priests who stayed at home mostly seemed quite fond of this kind of activity, in fact, that was all they ever did. To be selected for space research was a high honor, only some of the brightest and youngest minds were given this opportunity. In a few short years, her father would be too old, and if he’d proven himself worthy on all of his missions, he would sit among the dozens of older priests who surrounded the high priest. Then, it was a miserable last few years of one’s life, Thevgv decided. One would constantly be reduced to playing politics and currying favor of the high priest in hopes that he or she might ascend to the honorable position. Even the most exulted one seemed to lead a rather dull existence, mostly providing over the order as a figurehead, casting a vote that was largely symbolical in the meetings, and entertaining the powerful elders and matriarchy who came to visit.

She could feel her mind running off in different directions now, and began wondering again about the Earthling artifact frozen below. He became a demon, and his flashing blue eyes penetrated every mental and physical psi wall they could build, causing her race to submit to his evil plans. Soon, all of the warriors and rulers and matriarchy alike were reduced to behaving like the puppy, running around mindlessly fucking and killing each other. She screamed.

“You’re having a nightmare, sweet one,” came a voice into her head from far away. Thevgv bolted up, and stared at her father, who sat on the edge of her bed.

“Father.”

“Thevgv. We are about to embark on a whole new era of our race. Things will never be the same after tonight, I fear. You may be asked to do things for the good of your mother planet, things you might not necessarily want to do.”

“Like what, Father?”

“Well,” he cleared his throat softly, “The home planet is going to need all the girls your age to become Nurse Mothers.”

“Father!” she cried in disgust, then, “If it is for the best of my race, then I shall gladly do it with honor.”

“Oh, I know you are being extra respectful, and that you want to be on a space team like this one, discovering great and interesting artifacts for our team.”

“But why, Father? Aren’t there always going to be enough girls who choose that honorable path?”

Her father just hung his head in silence. Finally he picked up a tablet filled with

her lessons, found a blank page, and began to write, “Thevgv, my love. I am going to do something that would cause me to be put to death if ever anyone found out. There was more to the transmission than what you and the other shipmates heard tonight. After the stolen book was found in the room of the young priest in calling and his demonic possession, a great search went out across the capitol, the mother planet, and all of the colonies. Only the quarters of highest members of the ruling class, matriarchy and priests were left unchecked. After this brief initial search, it was discovered high up in the mountains that a band of heretics was living in caves, producing copies of this ancient book. How anyone allowed it to leave the Priestly quadrant is still a mystery, but it became apparent that they were all in possession of demonic powers. The best guess is that the bookseller the young male purchased the copy he used to attempt speech planted a seed in the young one’s head in hopes of creating a great disturbance within our hallowed halls. What all of this means is that the Capitol is no longer safe merely by means of mental and physical psionic walls, and the priestly means of speech and writing. Our innermost secrets could very well be transmitted from within, or destroyed from without. Such a travesty would no doubt disrupt the masses into great rioting and destruction, thereby ending the glory of our great race!”

Thevgv grew numb with fear, recalling the nightmare she’d just awakened from. This would mean no more space travel, no more glorious discovery, all of the beauty in the Universe that her proud alien canines would be wiped out forever.

Her father allowed her to digest all he’d written, tore up the page and incinerated it, and began to write again. “The High Priest has consulted with some of the Elders, and a quick decision was made. A new kind of warrior is needed to fight this new kind of terror. Daughters near the year of heat from the masses and the female children of elders and priests alike are being called into a new kind of Nurse Mother vocation. They will be given all of the luxuries we in the exceptional classes take for granted, and sent to a secret planet. Our finest most able warriors will breed them around the clock, and the offspring will be trained by a consortium of knowledgeable priests and warriors to be warriors of psi!”

Phthylly wrote fast and hard, and ended the last sentence with a flourish. Thevgv was dumbstruck. Maybe some run-of-the-mill female from the masses would be delighted to receive such an invocation, but to Thevgv, it sounded like death. Nobody kept any secrets as to the breeding practices of warriors. Even the brightest ones were said to treat their mates like a pillaged planet, roughly, destructively, and obtained only what they needed.

“Why so sad?” Her father asked. “This is a high honor.” He whispered in her ear. “Why, if I was a young girl on the verge of her heat, I would be delighted to serve my race in this fashion.”

Thevgv didn’t want to talk about it. There was nothing she could do to make her father understand the way she felt. “What about the Earthly artifact?” she asked, holding back tears. “What will become of it?”

Her father laughed, thinking his daughter was showing a sense of humor. “I imagine he will be safely stored somewhere far below the Capitol, until a time of peace comes to us again and such frivolous matters like researching alien life forms can be an occupation of our focus.” He smiled and patted her on the head, and left the room.

Thevgv couldn’t understand the change come over him. Throughout her

childhood, he’d snorted in derision at the crudeness of the warrior class, even sometimes going so far as to suggest to her in secret that he thought they could be done away with completely, and priests could simply convince alien planets to share their natural resources with the alien canines. Now, all of a sudden, she was witnessing some kind of great patriotic chest pounding from him. He strutted about the ship barking orders as if he were a warrior commander himself, spouting all kinds of oratory about duty and loyalty.

As she crept out in to the corridor, Thevgv could tell from the strong presence of smells in the direction of the ship’s eating area that she wasn’t the only one who couldn’t sleep. There was no one her age with whom to confide her misgivings of the whole situation. The other children were either already priest initiates or still at the teat, sucking the milk of their own mothers instead of “that witch’s milk” as Phthylly had once snorted after having too much of his own kind of brew.

The Earthling was frozen in a similar kind of substance, and there had been a huge debate when it they first recovered him as to whether the psi-amplifiers should be used. If he was one of their own, the matter would have been routine. In fact, that is what the psi-amplifiers were originally intended for. When a warrior or priest on an especially long journey had to be frozen for transport to conserve oxygen, a psi-amplifier was placed on the outside of the traveler’s chamber to communicate with the mother planet. It acted as a kind of two-way radio thought booster.

Thevgv stared at the Earthling, then walked over to the drawer containing the psi-amplifiers, a pair of ear coverings like headphones she could use to listen to the Earthling’s thoughts. She understood that removing them from the drawer and being intercepted could constitute punishment by death. Even Father might put me to death if he’s so willing to send me off to fuck beasts, she thought savagely. What do I care about death if all of my refinement and training are to be reduced to nothing more than making babies and having my teats suckled? Perhaps death should be so welcome if these are my choices.

With a strange sense of empowerment that raised the mane on the back of her neck, Thevgv opened the drawer and placed the psi-amplifiers on her head. Like a doctor feeling for a heartbeat, she began to search for psi waves from the Earthling.

First, Trmylly and Dughnth shared a cramped pitch black cell together. It was uncomfortably hot, smelled of poor drainage and old food, and allowed for few moments of deep relaxing sleep.

The first night it seemed there was an obvious mistake. Dughnth even entertained the fantasy that the two of them had been monitored carefully by priests since childbirth, noting their exceptional talents.

“We don’t have any exceptional talents, Dughnth,” cried Trmylly in exasperation.

“You do. Perhaps I do, and only a Priest can tell.”

“Then why are we locked up down in this vault where only demons might tread?”

“That’s easy. This is part of our initiation.”

“We’ll see.”

A Priest came for Trmylly the third day, and Dughnth the fourth. After that, they were in separate cells. By Trmylly’s estimation, there were cells for single prisoners as

well as double ones, because the space seemed just as cramped and suffocating after he was alone.

The old gray-muzzled Priest that interviewed Trmylly must have been pushing forty, if not older. He marveled that one could live to be so old and not have lost all of his mental and physical faculties as to be ready for death.

“I believe,” said the Priest, letting his thoughts go in carefully controlled pauses, “You understand the gravity of your actions.” Somehow, the Priest was able to keep Trmylly deaf to the general universal consciousness that allowed him to know what his race was thinking. He could only hear silence between the pauses, and silence in his cell, as well as silence while being marched by a couple of thuggish looking priest initiates from cell to interrogation and back.

“Of course,” cried Trmylly, “But I told everyone the truth plain and simple. I thought the book I purchased was available in much the same black market kind of way psi-wall generators are available or Kneesht.”

“So, you knew you were participating in activities punishable by death, yet you persisted.”

“Aw, come on Revered One. You would put to death half of the Capitol if those laws were strictly enforced.”

“I shall not tolerate the tone of your voice.” Trmylly cried out as he felt an intense heat in his spine, and a general confusion in his brain. “Furthermore, I am not the one who decides who is put to death, as you would know if you persisted in your studies rather than meddle in affairs that none but the highest…” He paused letting the gravity of his words soak in, “and most noble figures of the land may understand. So, tell me, what did the one who sold you the book look like?”

“He was unrecognizable. His snout was long, but that was all that showed, other than orbs that were like glowing coals. But I still don’t understand why I should be punished, the book seemed able to teach me how to merely woof, and a poor woof at that, why I can bark a trumpet louder than anything I was learning from that stupid book. My choir teacher says…”

“Silence!” Thundered the Revered One. “I fail to see how so much powerfully directed thought could have come from one such as you. But, of course, you’re scared. As you should be. Your friend confessed to us everything. And for his helpful words, we have decided to let him go.”

Trmylly held his mouth open in shock, and continued to stare in disbelief as they led him back to his cell. He decided hours later that the old Priest had been lying. Dughnth may be weak and incompetent, but he was as loyal as any alien canine when it came to the friendship they shared.

It struck Trmylly that what was being exercised was an old trick they called the Ruler’s gambit. You split up a couple of criminals, and tell one that the other has confessed against him, then do the same with the other. Eventually, you either have a case where they both confess guilt, and you are lucky indeed, or one cheats the other out of death, but gets away with an enormously burdened conscience.

I have to get out of here, he thought. They will kill me no matter what. All this talk of unleashing Evil and demons aside, I have killed the son of one of the highest elders, and this is worse than committing heresy against the Trainer and Nurse Mother. No matter what I stay, the fact of the matter remains, I have taken the life of someone important.

But how to get out?

Then, it came to him. If they were truly attempting to force him to accept the guilt of being in league with demons, they still needed him one more time to provide a confession, and perhaps concoct a wildly beautiful story as to how he really formed a psi-ball. That meant that for a brief period of time, a guard would be the only individual between him and freedom! But could he replicate the feat he’d performed inside the quadrant of the Matriarchy?

Trmylly tried to remember the instructions from the book. Never in any of the example pictures did a fatal psi-ball emerge, he knew that much. It was a training manual for young priest initiates during the early years of the order. Many aspiring young men from the outer territories heard their calling those millennia ago when the Priesthood was established by the Ruling class as an accepted higher order alongside the Warriors and the Matriarchy. Before, a Priest was considered to be a lone mystic in touch with the Trainer, and every territory and village had its own for healing and spiritual purposes.

What we earthlings might expect to find as more rigorous scientific dogma existed only the Capitol among Priests who dealt less with the spiritual world, and concentrated more on scientific research and discovery. Even the Warriors and Rulers and Matriarchy participated in the great enlightenment that saw the canine aliens go from being a mere superstitious pack of wolves to masters of the universe were often steeped in superstition.

At the time the book was written, the concept of the Priesthood as its own separate class worthy of a place in the Capitol was only beginning to ferment in the minds of elders and priests alike.

He could think of no useful method to reproduce the creation of the psi-ball. Trmylly duplicated in his mind the emotions of intense fear, heightened instincts of defending himself, anger directed at this one bully but meant for all the bullies he encounterd. He reached back into his mind for all of the focus it could muster, concentrating solely on attempting to speak, not letting it falter into any grander aspirations.

Woof. Grrr. Woof.

Barrarroooooooo! The sound seemed to reverberate to a pitch twice as loud as it should be, hitting the walls of the cell and finding release into the halls outside.

Damn, he thought. I am howling like an idiot fit for death. I need to focus more on forming the words in careful tasty bits, rather than trying to use all of my vocal power at once.

The door flew open, and the guard flashed a light on Trmylly’s agitated face. “What in the Trainer’s name is going on in here? Don’t tell me you’re pissing and shitting on the floor like an idiot as well! Oh this will look real good…”

Trmylly cleared his throat, emitting a low growl, his teeth bared. This time, he retained acute consciousness of the muscles in his throat, flexing them, then relaxing them, then flexing them again. He felt something build and released it. Before the poor guard could muster a thought cry of help or lift his weapon to decimate Trmylly, the young male was slammed against the door of the cell in three short sharp violent explosions that seemed to come from without but eradicate his insides and turn his brain to mush.

“Well, I guess my life will be headed in quite a different direction now.” The guard had a powerful laser gun on him that was intended to stop the prisoner’s heart if

aimed properly, and a priest could revive the heart if it was deemed necessary. Trmylly also found a knife in the other pocket of the holster around the guard’s waist. He used the knife to crop his fur best that he could to resemble that of the guards, donned the guard’s collar, and placed the gun and knife back in the holster now around his own waist.

Moaning came from a nearby cell, and Trmylly walked back to the door of his own cell and found the keys still in the slot. He yanked them out, and opened the cell of the whimperer. It was Dughnth, as he’d suspected.

“Please don’t hurt me. I’ll be the best priest ever,” cried Dughnth, wetting himself and quivering in fear.

Trmylly quickly pulled the door behind him. “Shh. Dughnth, it’s me. Listen, we don’t have much time. They probably have these walls littered with psi-amplifiers, and are coming for us right now! Keep your thoughts to a minimum. Think crazy stupid stuff, it shouldn’t be too hard.”

“Aw, shut up, Trmylly. Trymylly! It is you! But how…”

“Just come on.”

Trmylly grabbed his smelly fat friend, and together they ascended the steps to the upper hall. A guard was posted at the door, dozing, and apparently too unconscious to hear the alert that was now going out all over the quadrant. Trmylly made short work of the youngster, and yanked Dughnth along behind him. Footsteps could be heard along the hall, and the smell of angry priests hit their noses. The two fugitives found an unlocked door, and hurried into a bedroom where four young priest initiates remained in blissful slumber. Trmylly pulled his friend inside.

“Here, be of some use, help me move this desk against the door. Together, the two mounted a grunting assault on the desk laden with books and the alien canines’ equivalent of our computers, but it didn’t budge. The angry voices were growing louder. Trmylly could hear the initiates lazily coming back to the world of the living. Deep in frustration, he muttered, “Well, maybe it can do more than kill bullies.”

“Stand back, Dughn th.”

He flexed and relaxed the muscles of his neck, emitted a low growl, and assigned all of his breath the mental task of moving the desk. It budged! Growing impatient, he failed on next two attempts, but then succeeded in finding the right balance between urgency and calm focus. The desk butted up against the door, and Trmylly turned to the spectacle behind him. One initiate was headed for his gun, the other had Dughnth in a choke hold. The other two were headed straight for Trmylly.

“Damn,” muttered Trm ylly, “They wouldn’t make good priests anyhow if it took them this long to wake up.” He wasted the four quickly and carefully, using only one sharp blast of the laser on each. The initiate who was throttling Dughnth was easy enough to pull off his friend once dead, and Trmylly only briefly noted Dughnth had wet himself again.

“Come on! To the window!”

They were on the second floor of the Priestly quadrant. It was fortunate for the two young males on the run that the class system dictated placing the prisons underground, and the youngest most incapable members of each class on the bottom floor. Trmylly sent a sharp psi blast that knocked the window completely

out of its sill, and offered his hand to Dughnth jump out into the street below.

“I can’t Trmylly, it’s too far.”

“You can Dughnth, and you will face much graver dangers if you don’t. We are no longer a part of society, do you understand? There will be no elders or Priests or Warriors welcoming us into their little folds with open expectant arms. You are an accomplice to murder, and I am the murderer. If we wait ten more seconds, we die.” And with nothing more to add, he mustered all the strength he had, and shoved his fat friend out the window. Hope he doesn’t break anything, he thought, grimly listening to the painfully loud screams that accompanied Dughnth’s descent to the street below.

Trmylly swiftly joined him on the hard pavement, and winced a bit even at his own carefully planned landing. Dughnth was rolling around and moaning.

“Stand up, you’ re okay, we can’t stay here.” He pulled the fat teatling to its feet, and ran as fast as he could with Dughnth hobbling painfully behind.

They ran as far away from the priestly quadrant as they could, letting their noses and the amplitude of the thoughts from the search party tell them which direction to run.

“W -w-where are we going?” wheezed Dughnuth, after Trmylly finally let them catch their breath in an alley.

“How should I know? I’m like you, this is as far as I’ve been away from home. And I seriously doubt we’ll be safe anywhere.

Dughnuth shuddered, then his eyes lit up. “But you have the laser and a knife, plus your psi powers.”

Trmylly shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. Come morning, the priests will have sent out an alert across this city and the surrounding villages to apprehend us, or at least keep the priests alerted as to our exact whereabouts, so that a powerful high priest can come with his psi powers, and bring a bunch of warriors behind him to take us down.”

Dughnuth appeared deep in important thought. It almost made Trmylly wince to see the physical pain it caused his friend. Dughnuth spoke again, “Maybe we could steal an anti -grav unit, and embark on a passage to one of the outer colonies.”

Trmylly smiled, “Well, at least you’re starting to u se your head for once in your life.”

Dughnuth beamed.

Trmylly continued, “But it’s going to be risky.”

Dughnuth’s face fell.

Trmylly began again, “But I’m afraid that it is our only option. At this hour, I can pick off the guards at a commercial flyer site, obviously we wouldn’t want to try to steal one of the Warriors’ or Priests’ cruisers.”

They both had a good laugh at this, and then paused in thought. It was apparent to both of them that the quickest way to a commercial flyer vendor was straight back the way they came down the middle of the great Capitol avenue, and over to the other side of the city. This would be timely, and a detour would put them there well into early morning.

“I’ve got it,” Trmylly said.

“What?”

“Well, we are just a few blocks over from the district of some of the wealthiest and most famous of the celebrity masses. At the top of all of their buildings, sit an entire fleet of flyers.”

“Of course! We used to look out our window, and see them take off every day. Sometimes I would wish I were one of the celebrity masses.”

“I know. Well, those buildings are a bit more heavily guarded than some shop that

sells the anti-grav flyers, but I think if we perform a swift precise blitz on the building we can make it to the top quite easily.”

The two began to make their way to a promising prospect of a building, finding the streets they meandered about on didn’t behave like the neat wide quadrants around the capitol building. One couldn’t site the desired building, and simply set forth on the present street one was on, even if it pointed directly at the building. After about thirty minutes of frustrating backtracking, circle-making, and the general agony of being stupidly lost, Dughnth cried mercy, and they plopped down in the seats of an outdoor restaurant.

Familiar smells began to come forth, and Dughnth got a look of terror, exiting his seat in search of a hiding place.

“Don’t worry,” whispered Trmylly, “Schmyck and his boys are small potatoes compared to what we’re really up against. Let them see us. I’m going to waste every last one of them.”

Dughnth still held a look of apprehension on his face, but decided that he had to trust his friend.

The exaggerated sound of sniffing filled the night air as the gang materialized before them. “Well, what is it that I smell? A couple of demon priests on the run, from what my night ears tell me. Boys, it looks like we have found our fortune. We turn in these clowns, and Daddy can have all the females he likes inside the topmost suite.”

Trmylly held the laser under the table, and pointed at their legs. Calmly, and letting absolutely none of the sweet emotions of revenge get the better of him, he proceeded to paralyze each of them from the waist down.

The gang began to cry out in terror at the mysterious immobilization of their legs.

“What in the Trainer’s name?” cried Schmyck.

“Yeah, what the hell?” demanded a boy very intent on being the next leader of the gang.

Trmylly slowly spoke, so that all of them would hear him. “Your night ears should have also mentioned a couple of demons are lurking the streets. Feel their wrath.” He flexed his neck muscles, and fused their writing bodies to the pavement with an exceptional display of psi.

“Come on my fat feeble friend,” said Trmylly, unable to no longer hold back the newfound confidence and power that was overwhelming his ego. “We have a flyer to catch.”

Dnaegv lived with her father Yunqhylly and her fifth mother, the eleventh mate during her father’s long happy life. Her biological mother had caught the eye of an elder-in-waiting sent almost eight years ago to inspect the stores of fine oils produced on Himokkelians. She’d promptly been whisked away to do the honor of breeding rulers, and Yunqhylly promptly swore he’d always take homely big boned mates to bear him simple sons for his farm.

Dnaegv was raised to believe that her family descended from priests or rulers or warriors or both, the story was always changing depending on whether or father or one of her uncles told it.

“You look so much like your mother did,” h er father would say, combing the tangles out of her long silken mane. “We can only hope you end your tendency to play in the mud so you can have the good fortune of being noticed by the next elder who visits.” He was only half -joking, Dnaegv was a useless kind of girl, not interested in being a

Nurse Mother, and never around to do her chores. She had learned the language of the Himokkelians, if an adult or some child from the Mother Planet had performed this feat, it would have meant death, because a conquered race’s belief system was always heretical, and the first thing one usually did after learning another race’s language was change one’s faith in the absolute omnipotence of the Trainer.

He hoped the swamp visits to muck about with the Himokkelian children would end sooner than later, not wanting to answer for his daughter the next time a great one from the Mother planet paid a visit. Yunqhylly was officially a sharecropper on the planet, helping extract the Kbahsht oil from the Himokkelian people who affixed themselves to the ground and took root upon reaching maturity.

In the old days, during the early ears of the golden age of priestly research, the planet had been spared for its natural resources, and the priests in charge of obtaining methods for extracting the oils had convinced the Himokkelian people to plant themselves in easy-to-manage rows, promising them all of the dignity and respect for planting themselves contrary to tradition. Across the planet, Himokkelians had revolted in large quantities, and the alien canine warriors stepped in and put a stop this. The surviving race followed strict orders on where they were to plant themselves, and the remaining dissidents found the alternative choice they’d made to take root deep in the swamp a painfull y nauseating way to spend the rest of their life, even if it meant they could be free from the sin of giving one’s offering over to a godless bunch of invaders.

The Himokkelian incident had served as a future example for canine alien rulers who argued in favor of conquest over research, and several other revolts from beings on other planets whose lives had been spared finally gave the priests a back seat to the whole process of discovery.

Because Yunqhylly lived so far away from the big industrial-size farms on the other side of the planet that were created early on in the planet’s colonization, he produced a poor crop each year and was completely ignored at the planetary congress every year to request tax relief and subsidized farming equipment. Thus, he found the lucrative farming of Kneesht to be a much more substantial supplement to his income. Smelly foul outlaws in a beat-up flyer would arrive every few months and paw at his female or male children depending on their preference, and leer at his wife. They gave him ten percent of the profit on the crops, and usually drank and ate more of his stores than he could really afford to give.

So, Yunqhylly resorted to yet another alternative for survival during the last lean months of winter when all of the food, money, and drink were gone, and everyone relied on the last heady rush of Kneesht from the secret stash to warm their bellies and brains. He journeyed into the swamp and begged the wily young Himokkelian children for a bit of their own stores of food. As immature beings, they dined on nasty bottom-feeding swamp dragons, and smoked out huge simians felled from trees.

The food was sickening, everyone vomited the first few weeks they ate it, then got used to it until the next winter rolled around.

A father on the other side of the planet, wealthy in the vastness of his stores, and able to provide more than enough for all under him, could afford to put to death a daughter who heretically associated with an alien race. However, for Yunqhylly, her gift with their tongue made her indispensable, and he’d already picked another wild child as a possible replacement when they took Dnaegv away.

Dnaegv had almost left the family once, while still merely a teatling, during the last fair they attended before things got especially bad, and a father could afford to take his children to be amused by such trifling freakshows and silly games. She’d been especially impressed by a performance from an idiot and his owner. The idiot would use his mind to knock simians out of trees, or so the fat drunken owner had told them. Yunqhylly had later told his children that it was simply a trick, after they’d realized Dnaegv was missing and had gone back to find her begging the idiot’s owner to share secrets for how to keep the idiot from hurting anyone.

“Sweetheart,” Yunqhylly would say to Dnaegv, when she remembered the idiot at the fair, and asked how the trick was done, “If he were really capable of such a thing, he would be possessed by evil spirits, and the owner and his idiot would be put to death.”

“But what if there really is a way for it to happen, and our priests simply haven’t discovered it yet?”

“I am a simple man, sweetheart, but when I was your age, I was told that priests can only know what we see and hear.”

“But the idiot’s owner told me there were no demons, nor were there hidden poisoned darts attached to the simians. He said he simply told the idiot what to use his gift on.”

“Then how was the owner able to keep the idiot from killing us all? That idiot looked like he couldn’t find his prick to keep from pissing himself.”

“He said it had something to do with Love. He let the idiot know how much he Loved him, and this was more power than all the mental darts the idiot could throw.”

“Love? What is that, Love?”

“I don’t know F ather, but it sounded awfully clever, and if you would just let me go to live and learn from the owner, I might someday earn us enough money to buy a large farm on the other side of the planet.”

“Ah, sweetheart, look at all we have, you will find something special to do for the family someday, just not with those kind of freaks.”

Dnaegv slowly seemed to forget about the idiot at the fair, but never seemed to cease with her questions; questions Yunqhylly had hoped would end at the teat.

“Father, why does our race need the Himokkelians’ oil so much?” Dnaegv would ask him almost monthly, as if she expected a different response each time. The two would sit out on the front porch, brothers and sisters fast asleep from a hard day’s work.

“Ah, Dnaegv, in the Capito l, they will put you to death for asking such a question,” he would reply scratching her fondly behind her ears and pulling the stickers out of her tangled mane.

“But I will never go to the Capitol. My home is here.”

“I would like nothing more than to keep around the house one like you.”

“Because I can get you prime simian and swamp dragon in the winter months?”

“Of course not!” he would feign shock at her bluntness, then reply, “You keep everyone happy with your silly questions, and brighten up our dismal dark days during the winter months.”

“I know. But you still want me to be taken away by some brute to breed and die for our race, don’t you?”

“Dnaegv!” he would exclaim, “You know that’s not true. Besides, such a future is what every young female of the masses dreams of. You should consider yourself so lucky

to have inherited your mother’s beauty.”

“I sometimes feel it to be a curse, the way those outlaw Kneesht dealers come and paw at my preheat teats, I bet some warrior or elder would be no different.”

“S top such talk this instant.” He would retort apathetically, tiring of her constant tendency to talk like a heretic, and tiring of the futility of reprimanding her for it.

“But why do they need their oils? A shiny lustrous coat can be had with any number of synthetic chemicals, I’m sure.”

“You and I both know the reason. When one ages, one begins to release foul odors, odors that mark one as being fit for death. If an elder didn’t cover himself with the Kbahsht, he’d rule for a few short years and be done wi th. Then, our race would be in peril, because such turbulence in the order of the ruling class would never offer stability for progress and conquest.” He would recite practically by rote the words from the Kbahsht farmer’s manual, words every child learned in the Himokkelian Matriarchy schools, words everyone on the planet it seemed but Dnaegv took as a matter-of-fact like the seasons each year.

“Then, why does one have to be put to death for smelling a little foul?” She grinned triumphantly and prepared to make her exit, anticipating the usual response to this question, “Dnaegv, you ask too many questions.”

“Because foulness of scent represents Death itself, and no one closer to the side of Death than the side of this world is fit to lead the living,” came a voice out of nowhere that startled them both.

Four priests materialized in front of them from the shadows, and the startled father and daughter quickly gave their proper respects to the guests from the mother planet.

“Yunqhylly Hylmuhsquim, your land is being appropriated for use by the Mother Planet. You are hereby instructed to join all of your children and make haste for a productive farm on the other side of this planet.”

“W -w-what? But” his face fell at his immediate awareness he was questioning a priest, and he said, “okay, I’ll gladly move.”

The moment Yunqhylly had struggled to prevent for years had finally come to him and his family. No doubt, his father and some of the useless older brothers wouldn’t survive the journey. All of the meager winters and commerce with Kneesht outlaws had been worth the exquisite feeling of being one’s own free canine, no one to answer to except maybe once a year, and they usually didn’t seem to care what he did because he was so far away.

One of the priests looked Dnaegv up and down, smiled and nodded to his leader, whispering something.

“They want to breed me,” Dnaegv said to her father.

“Shhh, girl. Go inside and wake the family. We must pack tonight.”

The priests disappeared like they’d arrived, silently and emotion less, off to another small farm with heartbreaking news.

For the rest of the night, the house was in an uproar, beefy young sons demanding if their father didn’t simply dream the priest, and eyeing their sister suspiciously when she confirmed everything. Then, it was a matter of packing everything they thought they would need, knowing the journey would be hard because it was early spring, and none of the food crops had even poked their heads from the ground. Leftover stores of dried simian and swamp dragon were hoisted into large packs, and the good hardworking fat

sisters of Dnaegv prepared a huge fat-building meal to end all meals.

When breakfast was ready, and the sun began to add its first color to the sky, Yunqhylly began asking everyone where Dnaegv was.

“She’s probably ran away to live with the swamp creatures. Good riddance I say,” responded one sister to the consent of most everyone present.

“But she was just here a minute ago, she has to be around here somewhere,” said Yunqhylly.

“What do you care a nyhow?” asked a sturdy strapping son. “She probably will just be dead weight on the journey, and can’t even cook.” More cries of assent followed this thought.

“Do you really think we have enough to survive a trip halfway across the world?” Yunqhylly demand ed. “Our two best flyers are good only for low surface-negotiation of the terrain, so we will be spending a goodly part of the journey on foot. Who is going to score us more beasts for food, but Dnaegv?”

This caused some pause, and then a sister spoke up, “Ah, by the time we arrive at the first mountain range, the land will overflow with tasty grapes and melons, large harts running in great packs are said to run about the foothills, and are easier to pick off than an adult Himokkelian.” Everyone shouted in uproarious assent for this, and the room erupted into dozens of voices describing the virtues of the world beyond theirs.

“So be it,” announced Yunqhylly. “We are a tough hardy bunch, and she offers but one meager talent, that will not even to be of any use outside a swamp. Let’s roll.”

Dnaegv sat perched atop a thick old tree she favored because its head rose above the other trees on the edge of the swamp, and she could often spy on her family, and ponder the meaning of why they participated in something so stupid as farming Kbahsht or Kneesht. She’d even smoked some pilfered Kneesht once, and all it did was put her to sleep, leaving her mind dull and faded all the next day. And the vanity of applying an oil to one’s coat to mask the aging process seemed to her more a heresy to the commands of the Trainer, then any question she’d ever asked her father.

Nobody even tries to understand the Himokkelians, she thought. According to our history, we were once more like them, happy to peacefully exist in collective harmony among the mountains and caves, taking only what we needed from the land. What nobody has bothered to ask the Himokkelieans, not even the first benevolent priests who thought they were treating these aliens with respect, is why do adults take root in the earth like plants and trees?

It was the first thing she’d asked her best friend Jufeny after mastering the language of tweets chirps and squeals.

“Our race plants itself to become one with our Mother Planet. You see, something your race doesn’t unde rstand is that our planet is a living thing, it is not a large rock moving around the sun like many planets. It is one of us, only bigger. And when an adult’s roots grow deep enough, it enters the womb of the mother, and a new Himokkelian is born, about half the size of its mother. It will survive the journey through space until it finds an empty space around a sun, and the process begins all over again.”

Dnaegv had been so naïve at the time as to think her family would understand. Even her father, who usually at least humored her questions and ideas, had joined the table in deafening laughter at such a stupid myth.

“Well,” she’d cried, “Whether it’s true or not, they have a beautiful mythology

just like some of our race does.”

“Backwards moronic cavedweller s, maybe.” snorted a sister with derision and contempt.

“Then what is our story of the Trainer, isn’t that as much a myth as any other race’s story, including our own myths? What makes it true, and the others not? I haven’t seen the Trainer lately, have y ou?”

That remark had shut the contemptuous sister right up. It had shut up the entire table, and no sibling had spoken to her beyond giving curt instructions since that day.

So, Dnaegv wasn’t terribly sad to see her family go. She had a bit of a pang in her heart for her father, who had made so much of an effort to get the family to accept her. But then she dismissed such foolish emotion. “He was just like the rest of them, eager to see me off to the Mother planet for breeding and death. The only reason he even pretended to care at all about me was my resemblance to my mother.”

She felt the tree rock, and the vibration of something shimmying up it. Jufeny sat beside her in the ancient long deserted simian nest and watched the farmers pack their things into the flyers and leave.

“Goodbye you poor stupid slobs,” muttered Dnaegv, not wanting her friend to see this unexpected sadness in her eyes.

“Good riddance to them, Dnaegv. You are one of us, now. Come live with me and we’ll have a huge feast in your honor.”

Dnaegv finally looked up at her friend, and gave Jufeny her paw. Yes, she had a new family now, a family that would leave her in a few years to do their own form of breeding. Was that all this universe held for anyone? A big game of breeding and dying, and never knowing anything but sorrow in between, she decided. Well, I shall be different. The next generation of children who come from the bowels of Himmokkely will only know life with me around, and I shall be their queen, the Queen of the Swamps, she thought dismally.

Monahnchif would sit outside his clan’s cave every night to listen to the psiwaves that beamed up to him from the great Capitol below. There were domestic disputes, famous ones of the masses having affairs, and nightly bulletins from the priests, elders, and warriors. Mostly, these were boring dull accounts or new rules for the masses to follow. None of his clan paid the psiwaves any attention, as hardly anyone in the Capitol bothered to listen to what was on the minds of the cavedwellers. The last cavedweller delegate to the Capitol, almost a millennia ago, had been swiftly put to death once it was discovered his version of the Training Manual varied widely from that of the dogma accepted by the great hierarchy of wisdom. Because the cavedwellers had all they needed in their underground mountain networks, including their own little hierarchy and bands of outlaws and ones considered of importance and ones common, they paid little or no attention to some new law dictated by the elders. The visit from Fghala and her crew of researchers almost twenty years ago was the last time anyone from the Capitol had associated with the cavedwellers to a degree of importance.

Mostly what was remembered of that visit was the angry growling of the spirits of their ancestors, and those who’d died in the earthquake. It was agreed upon by the chieftains of his clan that if ever the priesthood offered to present itself upon another peaceful expedition of research, they would rise up and fight if need be, because their

ancestors didn’t like the ground to be tromped on by ones so far removed from the Trainer’s heart.

Monahnchif liked to listen to the stories of lives beamed upward to him mostly unconsciously. There were fanciful tales of bravery by young warriors untested in battle, and restless nightmares of old warriors trying to forget all of the battles they’d fought in. The priest, Matriarchy, and ruling class quadrants were kept mostly tight as a drum, aside from the aspirations and fights among children his own age, though their stories interested him little. Mostly, Monahnchif wished he lived at the top of the ruling class quadrant, an elder of the inner circle, a man of power who could change the fact the rest of the race had turned its back on those closest to the Trainer himself.

Monahnchif could never hope to be anything inside the quadrants but a warrior, though. He’d not suckled the teat of a Nurse Mother or a woman Priest, so bad milk flowed through his veins, if not heretic milk. Because he was not a beautiful or intelligent young female, no elder or priest would ever come to the caves to take him away for love. Though, he’d heard about some of the more effeminate males in his clan and other clans being whisked away by mysterious and powerful figures deep in the night. The thought of being a male breeder disgusted him.

Monahnchif’s schooling was spotty at best, the old shamans of the clan were always falling asleep, and often repeated the same stories over and over again. He tried to learn as much as he could from the psiwaves, but knew that the truly important things he needed to know in order to be something more than a cavedweller should have been learned at the teat.

The message that came on this night from the tower of the high priest sent shivers of wonder down his spine. Monahnchif and his siblings had played with psiballs since they were sucklings, thinking nothing of knocking each other over with tiny compact waves of thought. The clan leader, perhaps it was Monahnchif’s father, perhaps not, had made them stop last year, saying that proper cavedweller adults didn’t mess around with such tomfoolery. So, how could it be that a high priest was in a panic over some kid down in the Capitol around his own age fooling around with a psiball? Of course, the kid should be punished for killing a classmate, as would Monahnchif if he tried to use one to kill a peer in a duel. But that was just part of the survival of the clan, and he would be reprimanded for not using his teeth and claws like a proper grownup.

“Do you have a minute, Clan Father?” he asked, noting Clveqchif was alone in his den, deep in thought.

“Ah, little one, you’ve heard the report. This is not good news for us. We must be more tight-lipped than ever about our clan’s secrets.”

“You mean our abili ty to produce a psiball is a secret gift?”

“We have lots of secret gifts that those city beings would misuse in a gross and selfish manner. You will learn all of them if you continue your path, instead of sneaking off to try and be someone you’re not.”

Monahnchif’s face fell when he realized the clan leader knew all along of his ambition to leave the caves.

“Oh, there is nothing wrong with going out and listening to the waves. When you are a bit older, you won’t even have to leave your den. A little older, and you can easily decipher the unintelligible extras of the priests’ speeches that are supposed to be only for other priests’ ears.”

“But what is the point, Clan Father? I mean, if what you say is true, then we could probably use our strengths to make the planet our own again, and get out of these smelly rank caves.”

Clveqchif’s face grew stern. “There are many things about these caves you have yet to know, young one. When you learn them, you’ll be quite glad you never left.”

“So there is more to all of th is than just dank crevices and dangerous cliffs?”

“Hmmm. I think our conversation is over. You have to decide where your loyalty lies, with the Trainer’s true children who care for each other and their home, or his evil stepchildren who wish to destroy the Trainer’s playground because they don’t even know what the Trainer’s playground is. That is how you make your decision. Some of our own will choose the second path, and become great Warriors, conquering many planets, because we are by nature the purest warriors there are. They will return to take a mate from these caves because they can, and they know how much strength lies in our milk. With contempt they return, and with contempt they laugh at their old clan leaders, thinking they have advanced so far, and done so much more. They know nothing, but they are happy in their ignorance. Others choose the first path, and know all there is to be known by mere mortals, and they are happy as well, because they are full of knowledge and wisdom. Both paths are hard, many die along the way. I will calmly accept with all of my respect, Monahnchif, whichever one you decide.”

Monahnchif was a bit taken aback by this speech, and it was all he could do to keep from bursting into tears like a suckling, and begging Clveqchif’ s forgiveness for being so rebellious. But later, he retreated back outside the cave and stared at the stars. How would you know which one is most ignorant and which one is more advanced, Clveqchif? You haven’t taken both paths, and you certainly would be the first to argue that you’d done the right thing to avoid regret. He shuddered at the thought of retreating once more to a cramped den. It was no place for one who yearned to be someplace else.

“You’re right about that,” came words from a strong -smelling one behind him, placing its hand upon his shoulder.

It was one of the hooded clan, the Faceless Ones. Monahnchif shivered and tried to control the tingles of fear running down the back of his neck. This clan lived far atop the higher mountains, and were known to steal females just like elders. He’d only seen one other Faceless One before, a kind of recruiter of males his age. That was two years ago, when he was still a suckling. Several males had pledged their abolition of everything their clan stood for, and followed the Faceless One off into the night. Clveqchif was greatly displeased, and told everyone to immediately inform him if another Faceless One was ever cited, calling them dabblers of Evil, and boatmen to the Dark Side.

“Please leave, I would neve r consider your clan as an option.”

“Ah, but you already have.”

“What do you mean?”

“You gaze at the stars, and despise the caves, you wish to fly and live high above the Mother Planet, looking down on the inferior ones below. Because you know that you are destined for greater things than warming a den and training sucklings to do the same.”

“I -I never meant it–”

“But that is exactly what you meant. You hold my clan in contempt because you’ve been preconditioned at the teat to fear and loath us, to think different of us because we smell funny and wear robes. Let me tell you this, little one, you will smell just

as awful to a city dweller as I do to you. The sulfur in these mountains was in our milk, you and I are more alike than you and some Warrior.”

“But I follow the Trainer’s rules precisely and without abandonment. I will never sneak around in the night stealing women and wearing robes.”

“Just wait until you have to spend a night atop the world, or on an alien planet colder than the coldest winter’s night . Wait until you’ve conquered a few planets with a bunch of sac-heavy Warriors, and the only females in the Capitol belong to others. We’ll see how long you follow the Trainer’s rules precisely and without abandonment.” He repeated Monahnchif’s words with the most subtle of mocking tones.

“I shall be nothing less than the purest and mightiest of Warriors! I will restore my clan’s glory to the race by conquering many planets single -handedly. Females will leave their mates in droves to warm my den, and sucklings will hear tales of my bravery from their nurses all over this planet!”

“Mmmm. Perhaps. I wish you the best of luck then. And how do you plan to show the Warriors down in their quadrant who’ve killed to stay alive since birth that you are worthy of being heads above them?”

Monahnchif got a wild crazy idea in his head, and was attempting his first psiball on the Faceless One before the idea was half-formed.

The Faceless One seemed to exude amusement somehow though the reaction could hardly be gauged. “You have a gift indeed. As do many of your whelp brothers. Perhaps you should convince some of your fellows of your plan, and lead an army of this new kind of Warrior in descent upon the Capitol. I bet some doors will open for you then.”

Monahnchif was shocked. This was a brilliant idea. How better to rise to the top of a group of Warriors and secure his own conquering ship, then to show them he could already lead! And lead he would. For a brief moment he eyed the Faceless One suspiciously, looking for an ulterior motive behind this suggestion.

“It’s merely a thought. Perhaps I would have done the same thing at your age, had I known of the Capitol city. But, ah, that was a long long time ago indeed. Good luck, young one, and if you change your mind,” he pressed a flat metal disc of heft into Monahnchif’s paw. “Give this to one of our guards when you come up our way. You might be surprised to know what the ones you call Faceless are truly about.”

Sleep came slowly for Monahnchif those remaining few hours of the night. He felt the need repeatedly to rise up, turn on his light, and examine the den for intruders. Every time he began to drift off into dreams, it seemed a presence was in the room, ambivalent in its intentions, watching over him and possessing enormous power over the welfare of his soul.

He thought of the den brothers who could be swayed to accompany him to the Capitol. There was Drehchif, a runt who’d shown promise with skills of herb and mushroom gathering, and spared his life. He looked up to Monachif as an older brother and guide, and often told Monachif they were best friends. Cedchif, a burly ungainly youth who would someday be sent to a clan of miners and boulder removers unless he showed a bit more intelligence soon— as a warrior, he would fit right in with the mindless humdrum world of pillaging and raping and eating and drinking with no thoughts of advancement or betterment of self. Cedchif had always talked of walking off to join the Warriors, but held back because he was still frightened of leaving the caves by himself.

The rest were wild cards. Many older children in the clan had already begun their initiation duties, and were seen only at breakfast, when Monahnchif planned on making his announcement of intention. All of the other brothers from the same litter who were of an age to properly choose as was their given right, seemed to mindless accept the fact that they would spend the rest of their lives in the small world of the caves and mountains, blissfully unaware of the mechanics of the Capitol and its undisputed claim as the seat of power among the members of the race.

At breakfast, the next morning, Monahnchif fidgeted about, toying with his ghlynt, and absently dumping extra fohlg on it. His heart pounded with fear. Alone, or among like-minded clanmates, he could produce rousing speeches that would impress himself and friends alike. But he hated standing up in front of a class and presenting reports on fauna and flora, or even raising his hand when a master asked him a question. He could be fearless at sport and a duel, having killed to clanmates who’d taken to pissing in his den while he bathed. But the gift of making thoughts available to all, facing the fact that criticism could arise, and points he hadn’t thought of could come up, this s eemed a daunting task even more harrowing than journeying to a strange city and knocking on the door of a bunch of killers to ask admittance into their circle.

He’d just built up enough courage and resolve to stand up and make an announcement, when Clveqchif pounded the table and cried for silence.

“In the next few weeks, our litter of young ones on the verge of adulthood will experience the need to make important decisions regarding how they will spend the rest of their life. I understand, because I once sat where the fourteen of you now sit. For most, the answer is simple, follow the path of proven wisdom, and begin an exceptional journey into the great well of secrets our clan has offered young males and females for all of memory. We have room in our clan for more masters, more keepers of herbs, more hunters, more fighters. Our own choices we offer for young ladies consists of a broad spectrum of potential empowerment and great respect. What young lady of our clan would choose joining the masses or becoming a Nurse Mother when she can sit in the great council of the pure unsullied tribes?”

Some hearty girlish laughter arose at the thought of leaving the caves to be a Nurse Mother.

“But for the males, it is a bit different. Perhaps a few of you have witnessed the Faceless Ones, watched older brothers steal away into the night to don filthy robes and live in darkness. You might see such behavior, and feel a sense of adventure rise up inside of you, exploring an unknown world can hold the promise of a great reward of powers unimaginable. Some of you have heard the waves from the Capitol where our distant cousins practice the art of politic and war, knowing of their great journeys to worlds nothing like ours, pounding the dining table with the confidence only a killer can have. I am here to say on this day of turning points and important life choices that no adventure in the physical world can match the conquest of inner space-”

Before he really knew what he was doing, Monahnchif had stood upon his table and was blurting out his own thoughts, “How in all the Trainer’s kingdom would you know, old timer? Your life inside a complacent suffocating world of stagnancy has bred a soft mind and occluded vision for what is real-”

“Sit down now!” Thundered Clveqchif mightily , shaking the insides of everyone in the room. “Your speech is full of the fancy of untested milk, my knowledge rests on the

foundation of millennia-”

“Do you brothers wish to grow tired and flabby and weak like this old fool? Or perhaps you have a taste for a real battle, fought with armaments and teeth and claws, not some silly mindscape where the sanctity of the den is ever present and ready to welcome you-”

“Masters! Remove this young heretic and place in a cell to await his judgment!”

The Masters leaped from their table and flew at Monahnchif with teeth bared.

Monahnchif rumbled a low growl, and flexed his throat. He paused ever so briefly to lightly caress the gift of the Faceless One that was lie snugly in his pocket, then erupted in a loud series of sharp barks.

The Masters fell to the floor in shrieks of pain and terror, and Clveqchif, unable to recall the technique for producing a psiball without consulting his manuscripts, ran from the room, tale tucked between his legs.

“Now, my brothers, you have perhaps a taste of the greatness we of the purer tribes can achieve inside a world where the fine art of psiball production is but a dim memory. Who shall join me in becoming the most elite fighting force of Warriors our poor citified neighbors have ever seen!”

A loud cheer for their newfound leader erupted from seven young men, some of them had even threatened Monahnchif, and called him names before, telling him he was destined for the mines, but now they arose and hoisted him on their shoulders. The rest of the children in the room sat petrified, and were dumbly afraid to join Monahnchif, or rush to the aid of their masters.

“Eight of us it shall be! Eight like the eight digits on our paws! Lucky like the eight moons! Eight as in the day the Trainer lifted us from the earth, and gave us dominion over all living things!”

He cried for his new band of followers to meet in five minutes with all they hoped to carry on this auspicious day. Monahnchif raced into his room and packed his own things, knowing they had to be well beyond the territories of the cavedwellers in a matter of less than an hour, or other leaders of clans up and down the mountain range would bring a mightier psiforce than he or his band could contend with.

Finding his trusted satchel beneath the pallet in his den, Monahnchif paused at the sound of coins jingling inside. “Who would have put money in here, I’ve never earned a cent in my life.”

He carefully reached into the bag, and shuddered at the sight of seven coins identical to his own. “That Faceless Bastard, does he think I’d actually lead my fellows to some rank cold place where one has to don robes to live?” He snorted in disgust, and decided his own coin had brought him good luck. Perhaps my troop should each carry one nonetheless, he thought. But we shall be off to the Capitol to be great Warriors, not simpletons of Evil!

And so, with the emergence of the eighth one into the morning air, Monahnchif distributed the coins to each one of his keep, gravely demanding they keep the discs close at hand for good luck.

Kghug Dymphnegge lived on the tenth floor of the second quadrant of the Capitol. The Warriors did not assign any special meaning to individual wings of their quadrant, one simply clawed and fought and killed his way to the tenth floor, then learned finer

points of the art of conquest. If a warrior survived his first battle, usually a training planet consisting of warriors just like him, he was shipped off to explore and extract natural resources from planets, occasionally finding the juicy alien race who fought him back.

When a warrior returned from a full year of expeditions, he was assigned to the eleventh and twelfth floors, and remained on one of these two floors his entire life— which could be incredibly short— if he chose not to play politic and aspire to the twenty-eight floors above him. Each floor before the thirteenth was packed with communal bunks stacked four high, lined up in rows of twenty, twenty rows across. You can do the math, there were eight hundred of Kghug’s rank. In the center, a warrior could hang his penis or ass off the edge and piss and shit on those doing the same below him. This gave many the motivation to learn advancement through the ranks beyond the clawing and biting from childhood. The other motive to make it past the twelfth floor was the promise of being allowed to take a real mate and keep private quarters, instead of venturing out into the city below in search of relief from buildup.

Kghug longed for a real battle over any nonsense concerning his own quarters and a mate of his own. He’d ventured with his fellows into the streets on a few occasions to prove he was no Chuine, the Warrior term akin to we earthlings’ “punk” or “sissy” as it is used in our penal systems. Chuines reciprocated the advances of Heguines, if they survived the test of battles and received their own quarters, Heguines and Chuines were considered partners for life. This is probably the only subculture of the entire alien canine species that boasted monogamous life partner relationships, and the only proof one could find of true love in the race.

Kghug didn’t have any kind of love in his vocabulary, except for war. He was a product of millennia of exceptional natural selection that had weeded out many who were too tall to be graceful in a fight, and too big to move swiftly against an opponent. Kghug, like all of the proud members of his class, kept all of the furs of the ones he’d taken in duels, and detested the schooling they were now required to take from foppish retired warriors he thought were fit for death.

“I hear there are major developments in the ruling quadrant,” said his smallish bunkmate below him as they lay in bed.

“Yeah, so what of it?”

“We could be getting our first battle sooner than we think.”

“Where’d you hear this? ”

“I always lean a bit farther than I should to shit, to catch the words that come down from above.”

“Sleenghug, the only stuff that comes down from above is piss and shit. The only words we need to know we learned at the teat. So what do you care if some old fuck is busy running his useless gums?”

“Shit, Kghug, I’m just as anxious to do some killing as you are.”

“Yeah, well, kill this.” Kghug did a flying leap onto his bunkmate, and they wrestled and playfought for almost an hour till someone complained about the noise.

Warriors of Kghug and Sleenghug’s age had an exceptional ability to risk their lives for fun and practice almost nonstop throughout the day. Most of the classes they attended were little more than organized playfighting. Everyone on floors eleven and twelve did their share of extracurricular playfighting, the rule was, if you bared your

teeth, it meant you were ready to kill or be killed. But hardly anybody was stupid or angry enough to bear their teeth at this point in the game, because each youth badly wanted to live for a battle, or live for a mate.

“You’re such a Nurse Mother’s teatling,” cried Kghug in disgust, returning to his bunk.

“And the cavedweller calls the Faceless One rank. You haven’t had female flesh in over a month. What’s up with that?”

“I’m keeping my strength up, because I don’t want to die in some child’s mock battle. We’ll be using real lasers for that, you know.”

“You better believe I know it. That’s why I pay attention in class, because I don’t want to be shooting off m y own dick when they hand me a laser.”

“Fuck me, teatling.”

“No thanks, Chuine.”

And Kghug pounced once more upon his bunkmate, drawing a little blood from Sleenghug’s neck to prove he was all male.

The morning came, and several older warriors sterner than their teachers came as they always did to bite the necks of especially rowdy children as an example. All inhabitants of the two floors were ushered to the stairs and ordered to march single file to the feeding trough below the quadrant.

Sleenghug had found himself shoved to the back of the line, as usual, and squeezed in between Kghug and an older warrior named Rnghug who’d been passed over for promotion to the thirteenth floor, though he was adept and courageous in battle and conquest.

“Sleenghug you lit tle whelp, why don’t you go join the Priesthood before I rip your fucking head off,” snarled Kghug menacingly to show Rnghug he was no friends with some intellectual type.

Rnghug, who was held in high esteem by males like Kghug, paid no attention to the extra warm body at his side, lost in the contentment of his breakfast. He would continue to notice no one or nothing until someone put their snout too close to an especially choice chunk of meat nearby.

Sleenghug lapped a bit at the gravy and nibbled on a small gristly portion he imagined no one would want. “So listen Kghug, I just might do that this morning. I heard some things while taking a crap this morning.”

“What did you hear this morning, that they were offering priest initiates each an old Nurse mother to suckle? Why, that’s exceptional news for you!”

Kghug tingled with delight to hear Rnghug give a snort of apparent amusement at the joke he’d made.

“That’s amusing, Kghug, but I’m serious about this.”

“Oh, he’s serious. Well, fine, leave. Let me finis h my breakfast in peace.”

“Listen, Kghug, this is important stuff. I really don’t think our class’s proving battle is going to be quite the same. They say it’s taking place on our two floors, what could they possibly have in mind for that? Why, we’ll all d estroy each other at such close range, there won’t be anyone going on to fight greater battles and conquer vast worlds if this happens.”

“You know, Sleenghug, whoever feeds you this crap from above is probably well

aware some gullible whelp like yourself is listening, and makes this shit up as his own private sick joke.”

Rnghug looked up from his meal, gravy covering his snout and jaws, and nodded in agreement. “Fool, I’ve watched five litters go through proving battle, including my own. They are going to take you next month, put you on a ship, fly you off to a secret planet. Then, they’ll drop you off in various places around the planet, with nothing but the gear on your back. You are told to find your way back to the ship, being given the coordinates of its location. The only thing you’ll be battling are some sorry looking simians they pull from a zoo somewhere. Why, they haven’t had a proving battle where we fought each other in over a hundred years.”

He said no more, and promptly returned to his meal.

“Lo ok, Kghug, wasn’t I right about the change in our lesson plans? I also heard before anyone announced, that our fight training hour would be doubled. And-”

“Okay, so be it. It makes no difference where, when or how we are made to prove ourselves in battle, because I will be there kicking your scrawny little brainy butt.”

Kghug gave a few playful jabs at his bunkmate, who usually responded in like fashion, but Sleenghug was somewhere distant.

“You know Kghug, I would welcome a real battle to prove myself just like you. But the way they were describing this battle, it sounded unfair and unworthy of a Warrior. I just don’t know.”

“Oh my Trainer, you’re serious. I can’t believe you are seriously considering leaving us to be a Priest. A Warrior hasn’t done that in almost a millennia.”

They all knew by heart the story of Mnghug the coward, who was afraid of battle, and embarked on the priestly initiate course. He was put to death after slaughtering an entire class of his fellow initiates and biting the teats off a Mother Teacher, out of rage for being made to feel stupid. The moral of the story is, even if you are too weak to be a Warrior, you weren’t bred to be a priest.

“Bhntylly Dhalrgnessmuyg achieved an almost priestlike intelligence inside the ruling quadrant.”

“He went over to the ruling quadrant, though, where you can occasionally be permitted to go berserk, and fellows merely listen to you and back off. You might make it as a ruler.”

“No, I’ve told you before, they are too corrupt and lazy.”

“Well, do whateve r you wish, Sleenghug. Just remember, when someone throws cross words at you over there, you are expected to pocket the insult like a Chuine or a coward.” Kghug didn’t really see the difference between the two, but knew his bunkmate expected a distinction to be made. “And the only battles you’ll participate in are ones of the mind and spirit, which you think you know something about, but a priest whelp is full of the milk of such, and is way ahead of you in his studies.”

Sleenghug knew in his heart he could outstudy and outlearn any priestly initiate there ever was. He imagined the solitude of having one’s own quarters, the delicious feeling of the extra two hours of sleep, and the long days debating philosophy and religion with other great minds. A part of him still yearned to grab a laser and go make his way across an alien planet, battling unknown elements and alien foes. But, he also knew in his heart from the strange conversation he’d heard from above at the crapper that a very different kind of program was in store for his generation of warriors. A program of evil

and death.

“So you’re leaving, huh?” asked Kghug. “Just like that?”

“I guess so. Look Kghug, maybe we could just pretend to be priests for a while, make it aboard a research ship, and be placed in charge of conquering the remaining survivors on new planets.

“They don’t save anyone anymore Sleenghug. We kill ‘em all and the priests do cleanup work if there is anything left. If you want to fight in a battle, you have to stay here. Well, I guess this is goodbye, then.”

“So it is.”

Kghug watched his friend part unnoticed by anyone in the room of the trough. A couple of guards at the door questioned Sleenghug, looked a bit perplexed and shook their heads, but let him pass.

Wow, we were really friends, I guess, he thought. What is this strange emotion of sadness that rises up in me? Bah! I shall not be corrupted by evil spirits intent on making me into a coward! He did his best to throw himself violently back into breakfast, trying to project an air of apathy for some whelp that wanted to choose books over fighting.

“Attention young weak ones!” came a stern voice from the doorway.

All snapped to attention, many with grease and gravy still on their cheeks and paws. The sound of the High Warrior’s voice br ought chills of fear into the hackles.

“Today is a proud day for you whelps who wish to fight for your Mother Planet.” The High Warrior was accompanied by a rank robed figure who brought shudders of fear entirely different throughout the messhall.

“Today, you will be given the opportunity to test your strength at fighting Evil in its basest form. You will not battle simians, you won’t playfight among yourselves. No, the survivors of this battle will be given special treatment, rooms on the fortieth floor…” gasps went out about the room, “…your pick of some of the finest mates of the race. You shall dine at my table, and accompany me to a planet where you’ll learn the finer points of your craft.”

It was all they could do to keep themselves from whispering the excitement shared throughout the room. The High Warrior could see the anticipation on all of their faces.

“But!” He cried sharply, causing everyone to jump. “This will not be an easy battle, nay, it will be among even the most difficult ones I have fought myself. From the eight hundred who are here today, only forty will survive this battle.”

This time hardly anyone could control their gasps of shock.

“What? Do I hear a room full of cowards? I didn’t think so. Each and every one of you who fails to survive this battle will be given a true Warrior’s burial, your urn will take the place among the great ones who sleep below us. Even I am not guaranteed such a burial until I have proven myself up unto my death. You should be proud, fiercely proud, and honored for being given this opportunity as the one class who did the most to fight Evil.”

Many were restoring themselves from the initial shock of hearing their chances of survival, but some already began to plan means of escape, considering making a run for the mountains or trying to break in to the priesthood or ruling class.

“I realize,” said the High Warrior, “That my words are just words. And ones whose ears are already made deaf to their meaning will not be so willing to participate in today’s events. I am to ld even now we have lost one of you to the priesthood before I

arrived to announce this great battle. Perhaps its just as well he become a priest if his cowardly ass carries the gift of prescience.”

The room filled with laughter at this joke, then grew silent.

“But he will not be the only one who will walk out the door of our great building instead of returning to his room to fight like a true male. I say, let the Trainer turn his back on you who would abandon your race in its hour of need! But, no one will try to stop you. So if you are of a mind, then, go!”

All seven-hundred and ninety-nine young ones stood firm.

“All right then, whelps, adjourn to your floors, and push all of the bunks against the walls. I shall meet you shortly to instruct you with the rules of this battle.”

Kghug noticed a small number slink away from the group marching up the stairs when they reached level of the first floor. His floor was considerably reduced in numbers when he returned. Good, then, he thought. I can get the killing over with faster, and begin the easy life quickly.

When Sven awoke, he knew he was dead. I’ve seen the movies and shows where the guy wakes up, is a ghost inside a self-created heaven or hell, and takes the entire episode to conclude he’d died, receiving visits from deceased loved ones who’d gone before him. Not me, I’m too smart for that. The last time I was alive, that crazy surgeon had just given me a vagina, and now I’m all man again.

Only when I touch myself, I feel nothing, so I know I’m dead. Beside s, I’m in a cave. Duh. I was on the operating table when I passed out.

Sven concluded he was not merely dreaming because he’d never astrally projected or lucid dreamed, so he could only describe the sensations of lucidity and palpability as being “what it must feel like to be some kind of ghost.”

He felt something warm and soft touch his leg, and wished he had light to view what it was. It felt like a dog.

“It’s me, Sven, your little girl!”

“And me too, your loyal good boy!”

Sven sat in awe of the strangeness of death. I can touch my dead dogs and hear their thoughts, but I can’t see them, or feel sensations in my own genitals.

“Death is a strange thing, Sven, and we waited for you. Only, you’re not really dead yet.”

“What do you mean?” he asked the spirit o f his golden retriever.

“Well, before you receive an extensive explanation of what is going on, which you will have in due time, let’s move our spirit forms outside of this cave before They decide to return and find us here.”

“Who are they?”

“We aren’t rea lly sure, but somehow your spirit was drawn to this place, so we naturally followed. You’ve been asleep, lost to blackness for a few years. But you aren’t dead. Something in this area pulls you here like a magnet, but we aren’t sure what. Usually, you just float here, fast asleep, then return to your body, still asleep. We’ve been trying to wake you up, Sven.”

“Why?”

“We’re your dogs, Sven, we can only comprehend so much. Our forte is in protecting you from alien forces in the spirit world who try to inhabit your body in hopes

of living in flesh when your body is resurrected. Consider us the guard dogs of the soul.”

“Wow, this is much better,” said Sven after they stepped out into the light, “Where are we?”

Sven continued to grill his dogs with incessant questioning, so they went back to being the mute beasts they were in life because all the questions hurt their simple brains. Sasha and Knute loved their master, but he could be trying sometimes.

He’d stepped out of the cave with his dogs as guides, and enter ed into a world of grays and blues. They were perched high on a mountaintop, and Sven decided if he was in his flesh, he would be quite cold. Far below, a band of figures approached swiftly, making their way straight towards Sven and his dogs as fast as they could.

“Hey Sasha and Knute, how the hell do we get out of here? I don’t like the feeling those things below are giving me.”

“Well, Sven,” said Knute, “You move about by using your mind. First, focus on the place you want to be very intensely, then let your mind go, and think of nothing.”

“I keep trying. In fact, I’m trying to return home to Mom and Dad and Gina, but nothing is happening. I keep feeling like I would drift for eternity if I allowed myself to let go.”

Knute looked at Sasha, and she shook her head.

“What, what is it? Will I see my body back in Austin? Hell, I’m ready to deal with being a damn sexual ambiguity, as long as it’s not quadraplegic or something. That’s what it is, isn’t it? Or I’m brain dead in a coma — what?”

Sasha cleared her throat and spoke first, “Sven, darling, I think that Austin is too far away.”

“Oh, I see, I don’t have enough practice yet. We’re up in the Rockies or something, huh? Okay, I’ll try to jump to that mountain range over there.”

Sasha and Knute breathed a sigh of relief at the news they could put off telling their master, and accompanied him away from the magnetic mountain.

“Wow, I feel much better around here. That other place was giving me the creeps…” Sven halted his words abruptly, and stared down at the city in the valley below. Four skyscrapers hewn of some kind of rough brick jutted up into the sky, and shorter smaller buildings of similar texture surrounded the four all down the valley as far as the eye could see.

“Whoa. I bet I’m in like Sao Paulo, or Buen os Aires, or something. Why would I be sent here? Wait, I’ve got it. Some ancient shaman is trying to grab my soul, and sell it to the underworld, and his cult of followers lives with him on the mountain we just left. I bet that’s it. I saw a movie one Sat urday afternoon on the WB that was about this very same thing. I think I need to rescue a princess or solve a murder or something down in the city below. I bet that’s it.”

Sasha and Knute began to converse among themselves, while they let their master ramble on, lost in his own little world of TV memories.

“Should we tell him what we’ve seen here?” asked Knute.

“He wouldn’t believe it until he sees it, you know him as well as I do.”

“But he is such an innocent about the direction his existence has taken, he needs to be fed some kind of preparation material gradually, I think, otherwise he’ll just react like he did to his operation.”

“Well, I can try. How should I begin?”

“Just tell him he is not on Earth, he’s seen enough television to find that acceptable.”

“Okay.”

“…and in that movie, the hero had to fight his way through an entire bizarre cult of devil worshippers, or am I thinking of Indiana Jones?”

“Sven, Sven, darling?”

“What is it, girl?”

“You’ve asked us a lot of questions, and we don’t know or unders tand much about this place.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. But we know this isn’t Earth, it can’t be.”

“Ohhhhh. I got it. I think I saw something like this on the X -Files, or was it the Outer Limit. Doesn’t matter. It makes a lot more sense, now. Perhaps I have hidden powers of some kind, and they are needed by the race below to save the

day!”

“Sven, there is something else you should know.”

“What is it Knute?”

“Well, Sasha and I can’t be completely sure, because we always get you out of there before they come back to harm you, but we think that most of the inhabitants of this planet are for the large part unaware of entities like us, except the figures climbing that mountain from whom we just made our hasty departure.”

“Ah, and they practice black magic.”

“I wouldn’t put it past them, Sven. All I know, is you should probably stay awake from now on. Keep us company, go visit the city below, most of the inhabitants on this planet are a lot like dogs.”

“Yeah? Maybe we can make some friends!”

“I told you Sven, only the bad guy s can see us here, and we need to stay away from whatever it is they do.”

“Are they bad guys?”

Sasha and Knute whirled around, ready to defend their master, seeing only some of the beings who chose to inhabit caves on a mushroom gathering exercise.

“Oh, go odness no, Sven, they are harmless. A few even can see us for the briefest periods of time before they lapse back into their slumbers. They are different than the city inhabitants though, as you shall see.”

“Let’s go see what these guys are doing. You’re r ight, they look a lot like dogs. Sometimes, they drop do their front paws, and sniff about for mushrooms. But geez, look how big they are! They stand on hind legs, and are a good foot or two taller than me.”

Sven walked around the crowd of sixteen, fifteen immature ones, and a grownup who was obviously the teacher.

“How come I can read your thoughts, Sasha and Knute, but not these guys?”

Sasha and Knute looked at each other blankly. Knute spoke, “Beats me, Sven, we didn’t consider this, thought it was becau se they are alive and we are dead, but you’re alive so I guess that means I’m wrong. We don’t know.”

“Well,” said Sven, “They aren’t speaking or growling or barking. So, either there is some kind of subtle body language going on here, or a very sophisticated inner language

is taking place.”

Sven continued to walk in and out of the group, finding he could easily penetrate physical matter and he wondered why he didn’t fall through the planet to the other side and keep falling through space. Sasha and Knute had clamored to silence that thinking, because they both knew if such a thought was expressed in a fashion too close to a desire, the exact experience would happen to the thinker until he or she caught the presence of mind to return to the previous place of existence. They’d encountered several spirits since death, who were eternally petrified at what they’d done — caused their minds to spin out of control forever in a loop that sent them drifting nonstop.

“Let’s go see where these guys live!” cried Sven, exci ted as a three year old on his first birthday he would remember. “Wow, this death business isn’t half bad. As long as we can avoid those bad guys over on the other mountain, we can continue to explore alien environments and receive a true education.”

“We t old you,” said Sasha, “Don’t think of yourself as being dead, ‘cause you’re not yet.”

“Ah, I bet I’m a mangled hideous mess, as good as death. And when I do die, I bet this is what it will be like, lots of endless exploration. Way cool.”

“Sure Sven, but we are going to have to reenter a cave if we follow these beings to their homes.”

“That’s fine, I’m curious to see what they do with the mushrooms. I bet they start tripping out.”

Sven started to follow the mushroom gatherers into the cave, but was sidetracked by a young cave inhabitant writing something beneath a light of mysterious origin. He entered the tall, brightly lit cave. Sven decided that it would feel cramped if he were the same size as the being intent at its work. It was a young male, and Sven sat down on the pallet next to the male, completely unnoticed, to watch the child write swiftly a series of pictograms, pausing occasionally to draw a figure of explanation for what he was communication.

“Looks Egyptian to me,” said Sven, “If the Egyptians h ad been dogs…”

Sasha and Knute stood behind him protectively, sensing something not quite right outside of the room.

“Say Sasha, and Knute,” said Sven, turning to his beloved spirit pets, “Can you make this out? Maybe this is something dogs…” He paused in fright, because they were staring at the door and snarling. Sven turned, and saw the most hideous pile of screaming flesh he’d ever seen or imagined. And Sven had watched some pretty hideous Saturday afternoon movies on the WB.

“Sven Outersky, fancies him self a trainer of canines.” hissed the repulsive thing.

“Don’t pay attention to it, Sven, just place your thoughts in the direction of the ship you’re on, and -”

“Ship I’m on? What ship? You didn’t tell me I was on no ship!”

“This is no time to mess around, Sven, just imagine yourself peacefully floating in bliss on a spaceship far from here, and we’ll take care of the rest.”

The being was advancing swiftly towards them, drawing Sven’s attention like a magnet. But, Sven’s subconscious was able to help him re construct a forgotten memory of a great vault inside an enormous ship, and his attention shifted just before the hideous thing could grab him.

Sven stared through a blue pool of a substance that lent an appearance to the world beyond of being bright blue and witnessed through a convex lens. He could see his two pets floating before him, and felt completely paralyzed. This sent chills of enormous fear throughout his being.

“Don’t worry Sven, you are probably more safe here than there,” said Sasha.

“Would you mind telling me what the hell is going on?” demanded Sven, trying to intimidate his two spirit dogs who flitted around in front of him.

“Very well. Knute.” Sasha looked at her large wolfish companion, and moved aside.

“I shall do it for you in a British a ccent, Sven.” said Knute, phrasing the statement more like a question. Bowing humbly and with expectation that his Master should allow him such a fulfillment of a dream, he knew in all likelihood his Master would say ‘no.’

“Why a British accent, Knute?”

“I knew you wouldn’t like it, Sven.”

“I didn’t say that, I am just a bit surprised at such a statement, though I guess little should surprise me now.”

“Well,” explained Knute, “Remember that funny show we used to watch before I died? With the British couple who were trying to have a baby?”

“Ah, ha!” laughed Sven, with his best paralyzed -spirit-trapped-inside-thecryogenically-frozen-body-of-an-androgyny kind of laugh. “Yes, I loved that show.”

“You see, before I died, I wished I could speak the human tongue, just to make you laugh.”

“I see, go on.”

“And as a spirit, it is much easier for me to project my thoughts in such a fashion, and I feel such a humorous voice will ease the burden of the bad news I must relate.”

“Bad news?”

“Yes, indeed.”

“Well, continue, Knute.”

Knute proceeded to explain the brief summary of Sven’s post -operation history in a neat little thirty second package.

“So these aliens are related to the ones we saw in my visit to that planet?”

“We think so. But, remember, we only look after your soul, and have spent our time going back and forth from that planet to this ship.”

“Why couldn’t you have prevented my hernia, Knute? Or my heart attack, Sasha? Or the horrible removal of my penis? What about the destruction of our planet, guys? Where the hell were you?” Sven flew into a rage at his dogs, but they patiently waited for him to black out, and wake up again.

“Sven, darling,” said Sasha, “It doesn’t work that way. We are spirits, we protect your soul. All of those things you mentioned are physical catastrophes that no spirit can obtain control over. At least, no spirits we’ve ever met.”

“I’m sorry, my dogs. I am frustrated. Not much good has happened to me since Knute died, and I don’t see this stuff getting any better. It appears by all accounts that I am to be made an artifact for these aliens’ research, and forgotten in the coming years. So, for whatever reason I am being drawn back into that den of filthy creatures, it seems my work will be carried out mostly in the spirit world. Do you think that is a fair

assessment?”

“We are your dogs, Sven, we can only tell you things that are past events, drawing conclusions for the sake of the future is beyond our reckoning.”

“Fine Knute. Sasha. Why don’t we make a return to that planet we were just on, and pay a visit to that big city we saw down in the valley. Can we do that?”

“Just flex your mind like I told you,” said Sasha, “And you’ll be there.”

“What should I aim for?” asked Sven.

Knute and Sasha looked at each other, and nodded. “Try to imagine th e uppermost part of the building where members of the race who lifted weights and got in fights just like you lived.”

Sven found himself atop one of the large skyscrapers he’d seen from the mountain above. An enormous canine-like beast who seemed almost twice as big as the cave inhabitants was obviously having a furtive conversation with a much shorter canine. The shorter one had a gorgeous coat of fur, and war a different collar, possessed a much longer snout— though not as long as the snouts of the cave inhabitants— and its ears were upright and long instead of short and droopy.

Sven thought the larger canine resembled a bulldog on steroids, while the other one was more like a German Shepherd.

“Can you tell what they are saying?” Sven asked of his dogs.

“N ot one bit, Sven. They use a language of ideas expressed in pictures, just like the beings in the caves. But the pictures are not simple ones— like a baby who can’t speak yet might use — the pictures are intensely detailed packets of information, and similar pictures subtly change to render completely different meanings.”

“Look over there, it’s like a giant flying bowl!”

“Those are the anti -grav flyers. Wealthy and privileged seem to possess them.”

“That looks like your old food dish, guys!”

Sasha gave Knute a dirty look. She hated the fact that Sven had given Knute her old food dish when she died.

“Wow! They always have someone who comes up with an anti -grav device in the movies and television shows, but I never expected to actually witness one. How do you suppose they get off the ground?”

“We’re your dogs, Sven, not trained scientists. Maybe you can imagine yourself aboard one, and see for yourself.”

Suddenly, Sven found himself high above the planet’s atmosphere, gazing out a window aboard a small flying vessel.

“The planet is almost completely white, and gray and red and blue and green in small patches. Is the white clouds? I don’t remember such heavy cloud cover where we were.”

“We doubt that you are seeing very many clouds. Rather, this planet is still mostly an ice planet, in spite of the fact it appears to be thawing rapidly, and smaller cities are springing up all over the planet around streams inside valleys like the one we saw.”

“Cool. So let’s go check this ship out.” Sven felt himself drawn to a room where many gorgeous canine beasts were dancing and kissing on each other, passing a pipe filled with a substance that produced violet smoke. A few held drinks in their hands, and talked quietly in the corner. They resembled the shorter beast Sven saw atop the building. “Wow, Doggie Dance Party, Intergalactic. Look at the long silken fur on those females.

Why, if I were of this species, I’d be red hot right now with lust. Knute, old boy, are you getting turned on by this.”

Knute snorted, and spoke up, “Sorr y, Sven, these beings are not dogs. I feel like a monkey must feel around someone like you. Not interested.”

“Oh. Well, it seems there is a door across this room of young love. That is where the force pulling me seems especially prevalent.”

“Maybe it would n’t be such a good idea to go in there,” said Sasha.

“And why not?” demanded Sven.

“What if one of those hideous beasts we saw in that cave is in there, you aren’t always going to be so lucky at making an escape.”

“On this party boat? Do you honestly think some of these glamorous dogs are going to allow some devil mutt aboard their ship?”

“We don’t know, Sven, just be careful.”

Sven performed the exercise to place him inside the room, and exclaimed in surprise and humor at what he saw. “It’s a doggie Ouija game! They are combing the nearby netherworld for spirits, and we’re it! Hell, I’d recognize this game anywhere.”

Sasha and Knute entered the room. “Get out now, Sven!”

“What? Are they going to try to snatch my soul?”

“No, they are harmless. But they’ve su mmoned six of those hideous monsters who were apparently aboard this ship. They are headed straight here, and fast! Get back to your body, now!”

“Ah, okay.”

Sven found it hard to concentrate, because he wanted to stay and enjoy the party, but followed his dogs’ orders, and reentered his gloomy prison that no doubt would be murderously cold if he could feel such things.

“So, my choices are, getting chased around by some hideous things, or staying safe inside my own little cave? What if one of those things comes here to bother me?”

“They can’t, or won’t, but we’re not sure why. Something about this ship is off limits for them.”

“But eventually, won’t I have to face those demons, and do something about it?”

“Maybe. You should hold out a little longer in here, a nd perhaps soon one of the ones aboard the ship will come and resurrect you.”

Just then, a female came into his view, and stared intently at him for the longest time. She was obviously a juvenile of the race, looked similar to some of the ones he’d already seen, but spoke a different kind of language in her thoughts. Sven couldn’t recognize any of it, but it moved like speech, and he thought perhaps he could learn it like learning Spanish or Japanese.

“Can you guys understand what she is saying?” Sven asked his dogs.

“It sounds kind of Inuit. I once had an Inuit owner in a past life.” said Knute.

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah, but he is surrounded by friendly spirits of ancestors and members of the packs he hunted and traveled with. I am needed more right here.”

“Aw, that does my soul some good, Knute.”

The girl returned the next day to stare at him some more, coming back later with an older female and conversing with her, pointing at Sven’s groin.

“Ah, geez, even a bunch of aliens can spot what the hell’s wrong w ith me. Maybe

I’d be better off departing from this body, and moving on to be with my own ancestors.”

“Just give yourself a chance, Sven,” said Sasha. “We both think that you will be needed here by these beings when the right time comes.”

“Fine, but I’m no t going to wait much longer. Damn, I wish I could get tired. Can’t I just lapse back into unconsciousness and give my soul a break?”

“No!” erupted Sasha and Knute in unison.

“You will be automatically taken back to that cave where the hideous ones live. And let me tell you, Sven, darling, they are building some kind of spirit magnet that is a hundred times more effective than the one they use now. We won’t be able to keep rescuing you from their snares if you choose to keep falling back into blackness.”

“F ine, I’ll give it maybe a week, and I’m counting on you two to be honest about the passage of time.”

“We’ll do our best, Sven.”

Sven tried to remember every television show and every movie he’d watched. He recalled as many articles on bodybuilding as he could, deciding that he wished he’d read more books. Sven thought of all the women he’d mistreated, all the men whose asses he’d kicked, the times he’d picked on Gina, and the one time he slapped Sasha after she peed on the floor.

“I’m sorry I slapped you Sa sha that one time you peed on the floor.”

“I know, Sven. You couldn’t have known that old dogs have bladder problems sometimes and can’t help themselves.”

“And Knute, I’m sorry I put you outside when that finicky broad came over and said it was either she or you, but one of you was going outside. I realize you were more important to me than sex with some crusty dame.”

“That’s okay, Sven.”

“And I’m sorry to both of you that I watched the sports channel more than the dog shows, out of gross selfishness and insensitivity to my best friends.”

“Okay, stop it, Sven, we’re all going to start crying,” said Sasha.

“I already am,” whimpered Knute.

“Me too,” said Sven.

Much later, after Sven had to be roused twice into consciousness while he floated in the dark, dim lights came on, and the little female he’d seen earlier who just stared at him and tried to talk to him, she came into the room and lifted a pair of headphones attached to a stethoscope, and placed the stethoscopic end against his tank.

She began moving the end about, as if in search of a heartbeat.

“Should I try to say something she can hear?” Sven asked his dogs.

The young female alien jumped back with a start, staring at him in great fright.

“I think you just did,” said Knute.

“Why don’t you try sending he r some kind of general vague hippy-dippy feelings of warmth and love? In other words, pretend she is your pet, and you are scratching her behind the ears.”

The girl gathered her wits about her, and mounted a new campaign on Sven’s tank. This time, the comm unication went more successfully. Sven found her returning his level of empathy, and understood her attempt to give him her name. “Thivel, Thignd, Thetra,” he wasn’t precisely sure how she would pronounce it if speaking it aloud, but decided to

introduce himself in her language as well.

She leaped with excitement and astonishment upon hearing him introduce himself. Regaining her composure, she ran back to the tank and began spouting a lengthy fast monologue in the gibberish that was her language.

“No compre nde, senorita,” said Sven.

She looked at him with askance.

“I, Sven, of the planet Earth, do not speak your language. I speak a very different language. You will have to slow down.”

Her face fell with disappointment, not because she precisely understood what he was saying, she could tell from the words and the subtle changes of how the staring eyes appeared, that Sven didn’t speak her language.

Sven suddenly had a brilliant idea. What if I just send her images of my home planet, instead of words? He let his mind cast out a stream of random memories especially rich in visuals, and her face lit up with joy. Sven was soon treated to a bunch of pictures of the aliens, as well as some snapshots of the especially tall building and the city.

Sven embellished upon his idea of pictorial communication by sending the alien girl his cherished memories of childhood, the weightroom, bodybuilding championships. He decided she didn’t need to see all of the fights and women that had come down through the years.

She amazed him with a picture of a child or pet that looked just like an Earthly dog, as well as an older male who was probably her father, and several other males and females who must be of great importance to her race.

Sven tried to show her Sasha and Knute, but his two dogs cautioned strongly against it.

“Sven, just because this race has an ability to communicate using thoughts, doesn’t mean that they necessarily believe in ghosts. Psi waves have been scientifically proven to their satisfaction, but spirits of deceased ancestors and pets remain in the province of old witches’ superstition.”

“But I bet she would like you two as much as I do. I know she would.”

“Or she might think that you are a demon, tricking her with your minions into becoming your slave. Don’t risk it.”

“Maybe they’ll thaw me now that I have a friend among them.”

“I wouldn’t count on it Sven, she holds no position of great importance among her race.”

Phthylly Frgnessdooz could hear his daughter’s imploring words coming to him from somewhere far away. His mind was focused elsewhere, intent on collaborating with the priests back home to create a battle plan for the new warriors of psi that didn’t undermine the significance and importance of the role the priests must play in things. Already, the Warriors demanded that they let their young whelps be given opportunity to prove themselves in a psi battle, letting everyone of importance know that a survival-of-the-fittest kind of game to choose who was fit and who was not would be the best strategy for picking psi warriors.

Phthylly shuddered at the thought of a bunch of mindless killers possessing the gift of psi, with absolutely no ability whatsoever to craft it and shape it into something truly useful. He also did not want his own priestly brethren of similar status and age to be

single-handedly responsible for maintaining watch over this war on Evil. Phthylly had been introduced to a couple of Faceless Ones via the psiwaves, being told they were fugitives from their clan, full of information about a great war their brethren were planning. His first instinct was to implore the High Priests and Elders to abandon their association with such rank vermin immediately, but as the congress among priests and elders and warriors abroad and at home continued, he began to see the light and reason behind allowing certain Faceless Ones to be part of the wartime strategy. They simply didn’t have enough information as city dwellers and explorers concerning the great Trainer’s Playground and the alternative Universe of Evil . One needed a Faceless One or two or three around during these times of uncertainty to ensure that all of the finer points concerning psi-battles were addressed and examined.

“Father, did you hear me?”

“I’m sorry, sweetness, what were you saying? Father i s a bit preoccupied right now with this new war we are planning to start. I’m going to be attending a lot of meetings when we get back home, and won’t be surprised if you are made a special Nurse Mother.”

“But who are we fighting? There isn’t a race in fiv e neighboring galaxies left to challenge our supremacy. The closest threat lies eighteen light years away from the Mother Planet, and they hold a peaceful treaty with us at the present.”

“I know sweetheart. Our enemy apparently is threatening us from withi n, a kind of psi-monster or collective of such who wish to overtake our bodies and possess our supremacy in the physical world. Now, I know your classes haven’t gone into the neighboring alternate worlds, yet, but trust me, the universe we see and touch is but one of many. It’s how we are able to move so quickly through space. If they inhibit our passage through those planes, we would take a lifetime to travel to new galaxies for conquest. So, it’s more important than ever we defeat this foe.”

“But we haven ’t passed through any alternate planes on this expedition.”

“No, only a few select warriors and priests, as well as delegates from the ruling class, have embarked on such expeditions. And they have recently returned, with information leading us to believe that the events like the one that happened recently in the quadrant of the Matriarchy are caused by forces on these planes.”

“Maybe I could learn to be one of the select priests who travel on those planes and communicate with the beings who live on them.”

Phthylly looked doubtful. “Sweetness, even I am not considered advanced enough to be selected, and I have many years of exploration experience under my collar.”

“But why are they training those who are barely teatlings to be the warriors who go and fight these psi forces?”

“You know, that is a perfectly good question. But I feel the answer lies in a theory that would have me spouting heresy.”

“Maybe the older warriors and the rulers wish for ones who are more expendable to fight their war?”

“Sweetness, go p lay with Rhnoq, or study. Your father may come to your quarters and speak with you later. He is very busy right now.”

“But you haven’t even answered my question.”

“What was your question?”

“Do you think we can thaw out the simian artifact below? I think he ’s trying to

say something. Maybe he can help us with our war.”

Phthylly could sense she was withholding information from him, by her choice of words. “You think? What has it done to make you think this?”

Her face fell and her eyes dropped to a distant spot on the floor. “I don’t know, something about the way his eyes change and sparkle when I am around.”

“You’ve been hooking him up to the psi -amplifier, haven’t you?”

“N -no.”

“You have! I am very disappointed. A researcher does not go off and play with artifacts no matter how strong the evidence is to back his theory, unless the high priests have dictated that such research will be part of the program. Rarely do we even do the kind of research you wish to embark upon on a small ship where it could prove dangerous. What if this simian is fooling you into thinking it wants to help you? What if we were to thaw it, and it jumped up, grabbed a laser, and began killing us, or worse, put a hole in the skin of the ship that kills us all? Or what if it really has good kind intentions, but is full of harmful sicknesses that spread rampantly across the ship? It could have placed something in your head with whatever tricks and machinations it is capable of. Perhaps it has a much more subtle refined psi ability, and you are in its clutches, to do its every bidding while you sleep.”

“He may have something physically wrong, like a sickness, but I know that he’s good, he sent waves of love like only the Trainer can. And we can scan him easily enough for anything harmful in his milk.”

“No! Absolutely not! I am ashamed to have you carrying my blood around! From now on you are to be quarantined, and a guard placed outside your door. You can count on your meals arriving at the appropriate hour, but don’t complain if they aren’t wha t you like, I am placing you under arrest, and shall let the high priests decide your fate!”

“But Father!”

Phthylly ordered guards into the room to escort her away, and returned to his work, shaking his head. She was a sweet one, I had such high hopes of her following in my footsteps, but we are at war right now, and my loyalty to the Mother Planet is stronger than any bond of blood or milk could ever be.

He returned to examining the papers before him. They will be having the training base built on Himmokely. Our first planet of intelligent life we ever conquered. Apparently, the planet has fallen into disrepair through mismanagement of the Kbasht crops, and illicit trade of Kneesht. Planet has an entire belt of swampland across its middle, in the more developed half it has all but been wiped out. The training is taking place on this planet because young whelps charged with psi powers don’t need to be running around the Mother Planet. Hmmm. That makes good sense.

Second, and still classified information among all higher ranking officials, the planet’s indigenous adult population is having their bodies overrun by the evil forces from the higher plane, and are refusing to produce Kbasht at satisfactory quantities. They are overtaking these beings because they are completely stable, easy souls to snatch, but that is all we know. Why would they bother with inhabiting the bodies of beings who were essentially trees? Could they be trying to foul up our Kbasht production completely in hopes that our race will be thrown into chaos when all of our elders are put to death for smelling foul? Impossible. We have plenty of other Kbasht planets throughout our domain, and the first one was merely kept an active production planet out of nostalgic

reasons. The truth was, none of the elders or priests or even warriors could figure out why the evil forces were bothering with such a worthless planet. Maybe Fghala knew.

Fghala had traveled to Himokkely seven times, in fact, she went there every chance she could to study the planet because she was fascinated with the density of flora having come from an essentially barren planet with few trees. She also spent a lot of time trying to get the attention of high priests to let them know that Kbasht, when properly harvested held extremely valuable medicinal properties beyond its current cosmetic uses. Fghala kept a store of it in a secret spot in her quarters at home, and would replenish after every expedition, claiming to anyone who listened that it kept her young.

“Fghala, come to my quar ters, I have an important question that must be shared in private.”

She arrived with her fur tousled, obviously Phthylly had interrupted some priest’s relief.

“Tell the priest whom I interrupted he can have tomorrow free to pursue his own academic interests.”

“What about me, don’t you think maybe I was enjoying it as well?”

“Your academic interests and the interests of the high priests are mutual. So, lucky break for you.”

“What do you mean?”

Phthylly wrote his question on a piece of paper. Why would evil forces from another plane of existence be choosing in large numbers the bodies of Himokkelians to battle us, while so few of our own have been affected?

That’s easy, wrote Fghala. If one of them can grow its roots long enough, it will mate with Himmokely, because she is a being, not just a rock, and then it can send one of its own to inhabit the soul of the child, who will be the size of a small planet. Until it has spent a millennia in a sun’s orbit, the child will be enormously plastic and have great destructive capabilities.

“That’s a myth, Phthylly. You learned that at the teat. I learned it at the teat. Am I supposed to believe that this is the best you can do?”

“What else would it be, then? The evil forces from another plane of existence obviously don’t feel it to be a myth, and so what if it is? Perhaps there is some truth to it, and the actual process of an adult Himmokelian taking root yields something even graver than the mythmakers cared to pass on in their oral history.”

“Hmmm. Perhaps. Nonetheless , I want you to put together everything you know about the planet, and tell me anything unusual you can find concerning its existence, history, and population.”

“Will gladly do.” She tried to make eye contact with him to see if he was interested in being relieved, but his face held an intense scowl of absorption into his work, and she was already dismissed from his mind.

Damn, I bet he has a mighty flood awaiting release, thought Fghala. If only I could get through to him.

Thevgv sat in the dark on her bed, intensely brooding, ignoring the pleas of Rhnoq by her side to play.

“I just don’t get it,” she said to no one in particular, “He was always the conspirator, the critic of bureaucracy, and knew what was right and wrong. Now, he sounds just like most everyone else aboard the ship, strangely focused on this one goal of

ridding our race of this unseen force. Why are we at war with them? Because we need their plane of existence to travel on in order to continue making conquests on the rest of the Universe. But can’t we be happy with the planets we’ve colonized so far? I mean, we’re not hurting for living space. Nobody is hungry unless they choose to wander out into the wilderness or outer space as outlaws. And there are half a million relics or more just like the simian waiting to be examined and added to our knowledge base.” She knew she was stepping into the territory of heresy, not that it really mattered at this point, but she continued her thoughts on paper.

There must be other reasons for this war than the ones everybody talks about. Sure, evil forces must be put to an end, but they haven’t even bothered mounting an expedition to the place where the Faceless Ones live? What is so special about a planet we hardly seem to have cared about for centuries, that it would be the focal point for a war on evil? It has nothing but backwards natives so harmless in how they live their lives, and a natural resource we hardly need from this planet anymore.

A knock came at her door. “Go away,” cried Thevgv, “I am disappo inted in you twice as much as you are an me, Father.”

“Thevgv, little one, it is I, Fghala. May I come in?”

“What do you want? Aren’t there guards out there, or something?”

“Yes, and they said it’s okay. I just thought you might wish to have a female to talk to.”

“Why, so you can reveal the time and place of my death? I hope its soon enough.”

“Shhh, now little one, you don’t know what you say. I can return at another time if you truly wish to be alone.”

Thevgv remembered how Fghala was sympathetic to her theory about the simian being cut. The older woman had seemed just as intrigued by the artifact a she was, if perhaps not for the same reasons. Perhaps I can convince her to keep watch over the simian, while I’m escorted off to the breeding grounds.

“Oh, com e on in, it’s alright.”

“Wow, it’s dark in here, let me turn a light on.”

“Okay.”

“You’ve been writing something, may I read it?”

Thevgv shrugged. “I guess it doesn’t matter now who hears my thoughts.”

Fghala picked up the paper and read its words.

“Very perceptive girl. It’s a shame they will send you there merely to make warriors. We could probably use you on a research expedition.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then. Take me with you. Tell them how valuable I can be. Tell them how valuable the simian is.”

“They wouldn’t listen to me. I am a befuddled old reliever of males, they are going to tap into me for my knowledge of the planet, and move on, missing key points and ignoring important evidence.”

“But don’t you think that the simian would be of some use if he were unfrozen?”

“I do. But it is not for me to decide. Perhaps after this war is over, they will make special allowances for girls like you who served well, and allow you to open the vault that contains him, and study him.”

“I doubt it, I’m probably ash fo r a Kneesht crop once my uterus falls out.”

“Ha! Don’t be so pessimistic about the future.”

“You’re one to talk.”

“Now, young lady. You treat prescience as if it were the same as memory. Divining the future is like writing in water.”

“But all of your dream s become reality.”

“At least one aspect of all of my dreams becomes reality. Things in the future that are hard to change the course of, like the will of great rulers or millions of masses. Others, that you can affect, will no doubt disappear from my dreams and materialize as something else.”

“So you’re saying I have control over my own destiny.”

“Perhaps. I am not the one to decide that, though. Now, let’s talk about what you’ve written on this scrap of paper. If you were the most powerful ruler of all the race, and you were offered the option of establishing peace with the forces on this other plane, yet you chose to go to war with them instead, what would be your motive?”

“Immortality.”

“How so?” asked Fghala, trying to hide how taken aback she was by the girl’s flashing intuitiveness.

“One who rules during a period of great conquest will remain on the minds of a hundred generations or more. Like Dfghylly, the Brutal. He singlehandedly turned the race from being one among many intelligences

throughout the known universe to being the only one that mattered.”

“Right. And now…”

“And now, our highest elder is passing to ash in a few years with one conquered planet, the planet the simian came from, for his history. We will see three or four rulers come and go before finding another useful galaxy, if we expect to continue to conquer planets using our traditional means of space travel.”

“So, he is meddling with forces that have until now peacefully coexisted on another plane of reality.”

“From what I’ve heard. It’ s not like I read his daily thoughts or anything. For all I know, someone has put a bug in his ear that this is a good idea, and entertains other plans we don’t know about.”

“Lots of politics and intrigues go on in those high places, don’t they?”

“They sur e do.”

“Suppose the Himmokelian planet offered some other kind of immortality.”

“You mean -”

“Yes. An opportunity for one to live forever as a physical being.”

“How would one do that?”

“One would need the right ingredients, the correct ratio of them mixed together, and proper respect for the ones who gave this extraordinary gift.”

“And you think it is possible to gather the right ingredients from Himmokely?”

“I know it is possible. Do you care to hear a secret you mustn’t share with anyone else?”

“I guess so , sure.”

“I am ninety -eight years old, Thevgv.”

“No way, it’s not possible. Maybe you really are crazy.”

“It is possible. Why do you think I keep such a low status, refusing to ambitiously attempt anything greater than my station in life? I drop away from the priestly activities of research expeditions every ten years, and content myself to quiet studies inside my room. A new generation comes along, like your father’s, and it believes or thinks it remembers going through the initiation with me, though I didn’t. Because I am an insignificant cataloger of medicinal herbs and painstaking researcher of indigenous cultures, nobody bothers me, because nobody cares about that stuff anymore.”

“So you think all of this stuff about spirits entering the souls of our yo uth is fiction?”

“I think there is someone or something taking over their souls, but I am very doubtful they are beings from another plane who make their home on that plane. I believe that whoever is after the potion of immortality is utilizing the help of Faceless Ones to give the impression of entity possession. I also think that the Faceless Ones have their own agenda of conquest, and we should be hauling them all in for trial, and searching the places where they live.”

“But why isn’t anyone listening to you? Won’t it mean so many of our race is destroyed if all-out war breaks out?”

“Like I’ve said before, I am a befuddled old bitch in the eyes of most, my opinions and insights and premonitions mean little unless I can produce hard evidence.”

“But don’t y ou have hard evidence, the elixir of immortality?”

“How can I prove it is useful to anyone? It takes at least a few years of extra life before you are certain it has taken effect. And I have destroyed all files of my birth and past to keep everyone from knowing my true age.”

“Surely you saw this war coming in your dreams, did you not?”

“Thevgv, there is something black and virulent occluding my eyes. Those powers have left me, I’m afraid, though I know not why.”

Thevgv decided to leave the lights on after Fghala left the room. She poured all of her thoughts into the love she had for Rhnoq, delighting him at the deep display of maternal affection. Falling asleep with tender thoughts of love in her heart even for her father whom she wanted to despise, Thevgv was unable to prevent herself from having a nightmare. It was the simian, and his icy blue eyes had lost their color, being replaced by orbs of black. He’d regained his lost manhood, only it was a vicious tentacle of great proportion. The simian wandered around her room, sniffing this way and that, and she realized her body was paralyzed from escaping his advances. Thevgv struggled to wake herself up, but the muscles would not respond. She could feel herself dying of fright from the advancing beast. He turned into a grotesque creature with wings and black scaly flesh, bepatched by bits of fur here and there. No longer recognizable, the thing hissed and growled, baring fangs and claws that were aimed straight for her heart. Rhnoq leaped to her rescue, throwing his tiny body in the path of the monster, and was skewered and swallowed in one solid motion. Turning its attention once more upon Thevgv, the beast flashed a rainbow of colors from its eyes that seemed to beam directly into her skull.

Thevgv awoke with a start, staring about her room, heart pounding, and small gasps coming from her throat. Rhnoq whimpered and kicked in his sleep, and growled at her when she awoke him. Regaining his bearings, he leapt straight into her arms and promptly fell asleep again. She walked over to her mirror and stared at her face. Thevgv recoiled in shock at the hair on her muzzle and chest. It was completely white where it

once was sandy brown.

Fghala was having nightmares as well, but couldn’t see the attacker.

“Your borrowing more time than you deserve, old bitch,” hissed a voice of ice.

“I’m making useful contributions that will someday benefit my race.”

“You’re stealing space and air because you think you’ve cheated death. You’ll have to pay someday.”

“I pay for my time here every night. The males aboard this ship will testify to that.”

“I think you like it more than you say. It isn’t work if you enjoy what you do.”

“I think you’re wrong.”

The intruder would occasionally materialize as Vehngchif, or Phthylly or any number of males she’d known or wanted to know better. Sometimes she could see the hint of unnatural tentacles hanging from her nightmare villains, other times she felt the strange fur of alien flesh, and shivered. It wasn’t by any means the worst night of sleep Fghala ever had, but felt especially trying on her universe-weary soul.

At breakfast the discussion was a welcome break from her more serious investigation into the nature of Himmokely and the true motives behind having a war on Evil. The talk was of how they could best pool their talents as priests, offering up new ideas for weapons both physical and mental, and theories of how another plane might physically behave. Even the cosmologists were welcome, with their plodding descriptions involving math most everyone had forgotten, ending in brief summaries that basically let everyone know the cosmologists were full of as many wild theories about the nature of reality on the higher planes as everyone else.

“Time slows,” said Gohvthylly ponderously slow, in his ever -earnest manner to affect the appearance of being deeply intellectual. He paused between every two words, thinking everyone was hanging on each word. “It expands like a bilious gas, stretching out nigh to infinity.”

“If time slows,” interjected a young prie st named Uvghala, “Then how have our advanced teams been so successful at hopping to the other side of the universe so quickly?”

Everyone groaned, because they knew Gohvthylly was up to the challenge, and could go on for months enumerating in fine detail his response to her question.

“Time slows,” repeated Gohvthylly as if he were playing a recording of his words, “Because there is no physical locality like we know and understand. For these beings, time is irrelEt. Place is everywhere. Space on this other plane is like..” he paused, scanning his brain for the perfect metaphor. “Space is like…”

“Like Gohvthylly’s brain!” cried Uvghala triumphantly. “Gohvthylly can appear to us as spending years moving about in what he thinks is a vast storehouse of information, because he thinks his brain is moving rapidly through crowded areas of data.”

“But if this were an apt metaphor,” Fghala spoke up, “Wouldn’t the journey of our explorers on this plane appear to take almost forever to us?”

“Ah!” cried Gohvthylly. “But it is an apt metaphor. Like flashes of intuition or insight, once the destination is found, the journey back happens at double speed. So our explorers appear to us to only spend the amount of time it would take in the physical

universe to get there going one way, only, they’ve already conquered the planet, and returned home!”

Everyone applauded this great insight, but Fghala sat unconvinced. She saw this as all a bunch of useless mental gymnastics, and wondered how so much brain fluff could be lauded as seminal work in understanding a new place or culture, while researchers like herself were perceived as wasting their time.

“So how does this understanding help us when the war?” asked Phthylly, returning to the world from his own exploration of thought to demand something pragmatic and useful from the happy intellectuals.

“It helps us when the war…” Gohvthylly had a habit of promptly responding to a question to buy time for the much-needed intuition to kick in. “It helps us when the war, because we see that our brave young warriors mustn’t rely on the advantage of a swift lightning attack as is usually prescribed for battle, rather, they can find their forte in this kind of battle by using this strange time as a means of tricking their opponents.”

“How?”

“I be lieve that if this new plane we’ve discovered operates in a fashion exactly like the best information tells us it does, we can trick them by rapidly appearing on their plane and disappearing several hundred times before actually beginning the battle. This will appear to them that there are greater numbers of us than there actually are, kind of creating a funhouse of multiple duplications of the same warrior, confusing them terribly and causing them to run about in search of the actual physical being, or frightening them by our overwhelming numbers and scaring them off to another corner of the universe. I personally prefer the more peaceful scenario.”

“I’ll add your thoughts to my report,” said Phthylly.

Gohvthylly beamed in great pleasure at all who listened to the conversation. He knew he was important, and once again his knowledge of his importance was vindicated.

Fghala snorted, and returned to her food.

“And Fghala, what do you have for me concerning the planet Himmokely?” asked Phthylly. “Anything beside s legends and superstitions?”

Fghala sat in silence for the longest time, wondering if she should tell him about her potion of immortality, knowing the uproarious laughter her words would draw.

“Just tell whoever cares that they should be digging deep, and exploring the swamps.”

“Digging deep and exploring the swamps. You really think the planet is a living thing?”

Some snickers.

“What I really know is going to be ignored. However, there is a document that might shed some light on the importance of Himmokely deep in the dusty stacks of our library on the Mother Planet.”

“And what might this document contain?”

“Forgotten information, overlooked information. Information our very first team of researchers carefully reported that was dismissed as hallucinations when subsequent teams arrived to confirm the report. Accounts of another species of intelligence inhabiting the planet.”

Groans of disbelief could be heard up and down the table.

“So, you’re saying, we should look into hallucinations had by some ancient priests

still cast in the throes of our ancestors’ early superstitions instead as an alternative to examining another cultures mythology?”

Loud laughter came that would have stung the ears of someone less secure with herself. Gohvthylly certainly couldn’t ha ve handled this kind of derision all the time, she thought, he would just clam up and stay in his quarters for the rest of his life.

“You can do a careful study of all the information we have concerning Himmokely, and draw educated conclusions as to what reality such myths or said hallucinations might have been based on, or decide they were pulled out of thin air— which we all know has never been the case— and blunder onto this planet and onto this other plane with all available firepower intent to destroy. It makes no difference to me.”

“You don’t need to take that tone with a superior, no matter how valuable you may think you are,” snapped Phthylly. “You are dismissed to return to your quarters and prepare a report from your books based on FACTS, thank you.”

Fghala bowed her head and stood up, feeling the gaze of everyone in the room upon her. “You might wish to have someone pay a visit to the Faceless Ones and the cavedwellers,” she said.

“Yeah? And why is that?”

“They know an exceptionally great deal about how to fight wars on other planes of existence. A few of them might even know a thing or two about Himmokely.”

A few of the shipmates snickered at this preposterous idea, but maintained respectful silence.

“I’ll consider mentioning that in my report as wel l. Fine, then.”

Fghala sat on her bed for an hour doing absolutely nothing. She hoped a vision or even a mere flash of insight would come to her. Who could she possibly talk to that would listen with an open mind, and have some kind of sway over those in power? She walked over to her shelf and grabbed a few thick tomes of data describing the climate, fauna, flora, and briefly the culture of Himmokely.

These volumes told her nothing that Phthylly and the high priests and elders probably didn’t already have neatly summed up on one page documents. Knasht crops had been good this year, a drought that year had made adult Himmokelians produce poor qualities of oil. Her memories of sitting with the Himmokelian children deep in the swamp and sharing stories of their ancestors held more vibrant and colorful information. They’d taken her far into the swamp after she gained their trust and shown her where a strange craft had landed. It was not of the canine alien race. The ship was heavily damaged, and the swamp organisms deeply damaged the hull and interior. All that was left were panels that no doubt had once lit up and gave the space travelers vital information to chart their course. Perhaps they’d spotted Himmokely upon entering its solar system, and thought it would be a useful place to stop and rest and replenish their stores. No doubt one of the great squalls that swept through the planet every ten years or so caught them by surprise, or maybe the ship’s system and data had failed to warn them of the tricky atmosphere that required one to pilot descent manually.

The crew were long gone, though the children spoke of creatures akin to their swamp dragons being found aboard. Perhaps the Himmokelians who came upon the crash felt compelled to eat its inhabitants, or bury them deep in the swamp.

The swamp held other mysterious not as tangible, but just as likely to make ones hackles stand up. Strange crying and whimpering could be heard at night, as something

heavy and plodding made its way through the black in search of food. The children would perform a ritual of covering themselves from head to toe with muck when such a creature was heard, and made her do the same.

“That is the great Sister, the twin of Himmokely,” they whispered to Fghala. “Every time a new one of us i s born, an inferior twin jealously storms about the night until her sister dies, because she has no mate, can produce no offspring.”

“How big is she?”

“She is the size of ten of your ships, but half of her coexists on another plane.”

Fghala tried to imagine telling Phthylly and her shipmates that story. She heard a knock at her door. It was Gohvthylly.

“Isn’t it a bit early for relief?” she asked him.

“I simply wish a bit of stimulating conversation. You seem to always know so much more than you are willing to tell, and I seem to always be in the opposite situation.”

She closed the door, and motioned the old cosmologist over to her bed.

“Why are you confiding such things in me?” she asked him warily, expecting this to be a ploy for him to continue demonstrating his intellectual superiority for a quick ego boost. Not that he needed one.

“I had a dream last night. And I know that you are good with dreams. You helped me find an entire catalogue of thoughts I’d misplaced in my mind the last time we talked. Somehow, talking with you always triggers those memories that are buried so deep.”

“What was your dream about?”

“Curiously enough, it involved Faceless Ones. I had forgotten it until you mentioned them at the table this morning.”

“Were they busy trying to snatch your soul?”

“Well, not exactly. I stood from afar, in a realm that seemed much like the way our alternate plane has been described in the literature. That is perhaps why I was so full of stellar insight at the table this morning, because I felt like I had actually been there.”

“Perhaps.”

“Anyway, I watched these Faceless Ones, somehow knowing it was them, even though they were disrobed and hideous. They seemed to know I was there, too, and were perhaps putting on a show for me.”

“Like what kind of show?”

“ They’d built a remarkable machine. It could replicate any being they wished it to. And they turned to me, and somehow passed along information to the effect that we would need the simian artifact aboard our ship to win the war. But, I also got the impression that they would try to steal him for their own devices if given the opportunity, when we returned to the Mother Planet.”

“Hmmm. So, what do you think the dream means?”

“Well, goodness, I don’t really know. Obviously, some distant backwoods folk will have know need for an alien artifact encased in ice. Perhaps what the dream is saying is that my own deep-rooted ancestral memory of the hatred and fear of the archetype of the simian form is inhibiting me from understanding the true nature of what the other plane is all about. And the Faceless Ones represent conscious hatreds and fears I must absolve. Yes, that’s it! Oh, brilliant, Gohvthylly. And, and. And, if I don’t purge myself of all these petty superstitious fears residing in my mind, I shall be useless in helping our leaders when this war! Oh of course!” He leaped from her bed and dashed out of the room.

“You’re welcome,” she muttered to the slamming door.

Hmmm, she thought. A nice bit of mental masturbation, but that aside, was Gohvthylly perhaps being invaded by the Faceless Ones in dreams as well? And if he were, why would they place importance upon possession of the simian? What could we possibly do with some creature from light years away that would give us insight into our own problems? She could see the obvious cultural lessons that would come into play. Fghala had always felt strongly about getting outside of one’s own culture, and studying those of indigenous populations to retrieve new angles and insights in seemingly unrelated matters. But was there a more definite pragmatic use for the simian artifact?

She felt tempted to risk the wrath of Phthylly and ask him if he’d had any strange dreams. If anybody on this ship was proof of a mind invasion, it would be that male, because he probably rarely dreamed anything but technical documents and problems that arose aboard the ship.

Instead, she decided to pay a visit to his daughter, Thevgv, who no doubt was recovering from miserable nightmares.

“So, it’s you again, what do you want?” Muttered Thevgv, who had curled up into a little ball in her bed and was refusing her breakfast.

“Thevgv, sweetheart, some of the ship’s crew have complained to me about having strange dreams, involving Faceless Ones and the simian artifact. It occurred to me that an extremely bright and active mind like yours might be especially likely to experience the same.”

Thevgv stared at Fghala in mixed horror and mistrust. “They were just dreams.”

“What happened in the dreams?”

“The simian turned into a strange beast and skewered Rh noq. Then, it turned to me and I could barely wake up. Fghala, I’m scared.”

“I know. I am too.”

“You are? But you’re a great priestess, especially when it comes to stuff like that.”

“I appreciate the flattery, coming from you it gives me a big head. But it is hardly true. I suffer just like everyone else, then some.”

“Do you think you could do something for me?”

“Certainly, dear. Anything you ask.”

Thevgv began to scribble on a piece of paper.

I communicated with the simian for real. That is why I’m being p unished. He sent me warm feelings of love and caring. I felt like the great Nurse Mother was sending me love. I tried to tell Father, and he just locked me up and absolved himself of relations with me. I believe the simian can help us win our war, help us be a better race, but nobody believes me. You have to go don the psi-amplifiers and speak to him. Talk to him in pictures, not words. He can understand simple words, like who you are or what something is, but doesn’t speak our language. Maybe you and he could learn more about each other.

Fghala looked at the little one with sadness and shook her head.

“I can’t do that, it would mean my death,” said Fghala, “One like you who is lucky enough to have a Father that will get your sentence lightened and probably send you off to breed psi-warriors can do stuff like that. I can’t.”

“Do you want to live forever Fghala?”

Fghala sat stunned by the question. The girl was right. She didn’t want to live

anymore at all. She was tired of pleasing males, having all of her research rejected, and evading each new generations’ questions concerning litter she came from. Dead or alive, she was never going to make a difference to her race, except perhaps years from now when it was more enlightened and bothered to examine her work in detail.

“No, you are correct. I am miserable at having cheated death for too long. And if I am to do something that will bring about my incineration, this shall be it.”

The girl smiled, and took Fghala’s paw. “Thank you, send the simian a warm memory or two of me, and make him think I am okay. Ask him what he sees in there, does he dream dreams, does he travel to other planes, does he miss his home, was he a great warrior, or an important elder on his home planet…”

“Okay, okay, Thevgv. I will ask him all those things, and many more. I will prepare a body of documents detailing everything I am told, and maybe someday one of importance will look to my work for answers.”

“Thank you. I must begin my new lessons, now. I am no longer studying to be a priest, but a mother of psi warriors.”

Fghala squeezed the girl’s paw one last time, and gave her a lingering look of what she hoped was maternal affection. Thevgv smiled, and looked away.

The artifact chamber was empty, as usual, and Fghala knew she could spend long hours down there with no one knowing the better. Most everyone on the ship was either busy courting favor with Phthylly to be recommended for a special post as a priest on Himmokely for the psi training, or busy swimming in the seas of their pet theories, concocting ways to best convince others of their ideas and triumph in arguments.

Nothing about the simian had changed since she last saw him. He held the same blank stare that at first seemed to follow her around the room until she realized it was just her imagination. She smiled at him, looking for any hint of alteration in his eyes, but saw nothing. Fghala tried to communicate first by sending and looking for psi waves without the amplifier, still entertaining a small hope she could wrangle out of the death-bringing task at hand. But it was to no avail.

She reached for the drawer, and removed the headphones and stethoscope, drawing a deep breath, and sending a quick prayer to the Trainer for strength.

Bhntylly was summoned to the great council of the inner circle of high elders. An overwhelming smell of Kbahst filled the air, stinging his nose with its concentrated potency. That was one fortunate thing about having the blood of a Warrior in his veins, his class rarely obtained the foul odors of age, rather the Warriors would simply ask for cremation when they felt they were useless. Bhntylly sometimes thought the policy should be applied to elders as well, but kept his mouth shut of such unpopular sentiment. The Highest Elder, whose given name was Whygtylly, was addressed as “Oh Great One,” or “My Proxy Trainer,” as our translation of unpronounceables can best approximate. The translation becomes My Proxy Trainer because in the dim days of early history, the original understanding had been that one in the high seat was simply keeping the seat warm until the Trainer returned to rule over the land.

To his right, in the seat of the Proxy-Trainer-in-Waiting, an old sleepy litter mate of Whygtylly’s who occasionally had to be roused by his attendant Neophyte to be informed of what was happening.

On the Proxy Trainer’s left sat Xnhtylly, his official title being Proxy Trainer’s

Flank Guard, the original meaning for the position was one of servitude to the highest elder, a confidant in whom the highest elder could place all his trust when there were secrets too lofty to be shared with attendant Neophytes.

The rest of the inner circle held little hope that they would sit in the high seat someday. Most of them were as old and feeble as the two highest rulers of the land. The attendant neophytes probably had the best chance of anyone in the room for ascending to the high seat. In fact Xnhtylly had actually bypassed the lengthy wait of an elder-in-waiting to enter the inner sanctum as Whygtylly’s flank guard.

Bhntylly certainly stood little chance of ever sitting in the inner circle, much less being the Proxy Trainer himself.

“Bhntylly Dhalrgnessmuyg, our resident warrior scholar.” spoke the Proxy Trainer carefully and slowly.

“Oh Great One.”

“You have served your Moth er Planet well in your day, providing a better education system for the children, having some of the important priestly texts on the fauna and flora of our planet transcribed for all to read. We greatly appreciate your service.”

“You are the ones deserving my appreciation, to be allowed such a privileged life of service.”

“Humility, I like it,” said Xnhtylly, the only one who would dare open his mouth when the Proxy Trainer held the room.

“Humility from one full of a hot Warrior’s blood seems a more cherish ed thing to me,” said the Proxy Trainer.

The room filled with nods of sage agreement.

“But I didn’t call you here today to flatter me and remain a humble one. It seems we have a new war on our hands, as I’m sure you’ve heard.”

“Yes, Oh Great One.”

“And per haps word has drifted into your head about which planet our invaders have chosen to take up residence on, have you not?”

“No, Oh Great One. I am busy doing my own quiet research.”

“Ah, and which planet might that be?”

“The planet Himmokely, Oh Great One.”

“Mmmm. Well, it seems we have some common interests then.”

The room filled with respectful laughter at these words.

“Oh Great One?”

“Yes. The best reports say that the adult population of Himmokely is having their bodies overtaken by these visitors from a higher plane.”

“If I may be so bold as to ask, Oh Great One -”

“Oh do be so bold, Bhntylly Dhalrgnessmuyg.”

“As I am sure everyone here knows, the adult population of Himmokely roots themselves in the soil of the planet like trees to somehow generate new offspring in a manner our Priests do not fully understand. If said invaders were to pick bodies to invade, they have made a poor choice. How will they attack us on the physical plane, if they are entrenched deep in a planet?”

“Yes, we have pondered this ques tion. Someone suggested because the Knabsht production on the planet has been greatly reduced, it is part of a strategy to disrupt our

great stable order of elders. Without Knabsht, I’m sure a few of us in this room would be put to death.”

The room filled with painful forced laughter at his morbid joke.

“But we obtain the largest quantities of Knabsht from many other sources, one Priest even claims to have perfected a synthetic compound more potent than the natural stuff.”

“Oh really?” came the uncontrolled gasps of interest as ears suddenly pricked up about the room.

“I was not aware of the synthetic compound,” spoke the Proxy Trainer, “But the essence your point has been made often enough here in this room. So now you are at the point of our dilemma, why are they focusing on that planet to fight us? Oh we’ve had a few youths go crazy from possession of the entities, but for the most part, we are a pretty hearty bunch when it comes to keeping our minds free of Evil.”

Nods of agreement.

“Has anyone stopped to think how new Himmokelians are made?” asked Bhntylly.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, they have to come from somewhere, most likely the adults are the source of new Himmokelians, yet we watch only Knabsht come forth from these strange tree people. And the researchers who’ve cared to dig deep in the ground to see where the roots go, are met with nothing more than dense fibrous matter of no importance. I think that whoever is examining these possessed adults needs to find out if any newly made adults coming forth to plant themselves are in fact already possessed. Also, an investigation of the swamps needs to be made. There is much lore and mystery surrounding the swamps that I won’t bother you with.”

“Thank you, Bhntylly. Yes it seems odd we have never asked where the children come from. Perhaps someone who speaks their language should simply go up to them and ask them.”

“Bah!” Xnhtylly cried, unable to control his contempt and boredom for the meeting, “Like he said, those yahoos are full of lore and mystery. But i t’s more like chronic insane superstition. Nothing that comes out of those children’s mouths will be even close to the truth.”

“Fine, Xnhtylly, your opinion has been noted. But nevertheless, I believe we need to send those who have researched the planet thoroughly and can speak the native tongue to begin a process of discovering what value this planet has to the Evil Invaders, before it is too late. Our good Head Priest has briefed me that a female on a returning ship speaks the native tongue, and I think we can offer one of our own to help mount a proper expedition. Bhntylly, you shall journey to Himmokely.”

“Yes, Oh Great One.”

“Bah!” Cried a rheumy elder especially potent with Knabsht, suddenly animated as if awake from the dead. “What a bunch of teat tal k! It’s obvious that the planet is merely a ruse to distract us. Why, we’re sending our best crop of whelps this year to train and make battle on the planet. The real invasion is coming right here. I say, let’s blow up that planet, and tighten things aroun d here.”

“What do you know, old timer?” asked Xhyntylly, “Go back to sleep.”

The room fell silent, then the Proxy Trainer spoke sternly, “Silence all of you!

Have you forgotten who makes the final decision here in the inner circle? Bhntylly, you may leave, unless you have a parting insight to bring to this discussion.”

Bhntylly couldn’t have agreed more with the elder who’d so violently spoken out of turn, wanted to say that an expedition to the mountains where the Faceless Ones dwelled would be most appropriate, but he caught the most painful rush of fear throughout his insides after his eyes met Xhyntylly’s. Bhntylly unconsciously rubbed the strange coin he’d sewn into the pocket of his satchel, and the fear subsided.

“No, Oh Great One, only that I am hon ored to be given this opportunity. You shall eternally receive my gratitude, and all credit for my research shall be given to you.”

“Thank you, Bhntylly, you are dismissed.”

Bhntylly looked around his sparse room he’d occupied for almost fifteen years. He kept his quarters up to the standards of a Warrior, everything was neatly tucked away in its proper place, the bed always made. The map of Himmokely was the latest map to occupy the white rectangle untouched by light, now rolled and neatly tucked in a special surveyor’s case to keep it from being damaged on the coming flight. Some elders and elders-in-waiting were proud fathers, tracking the achievements of successful offspring, pinning their children’s records and pictures on the wall. A few were dilettantes, and tracked celebrity females from the masses they hoped to snatch away for their own. Many amused themselves with art, considered a proper fancy for an elder-in-waiting to dabble in as a means for keeping his mind fit without meddling in the affairs of those who actually governed.

Bhntylly cared nothing for the sentimentality of tracing the route of one’s seeds. He dabbled in art as a youngster, finding it of little practical use. Finally, he’d settled on a hobby of careful research into the universe, at times placing maps of all the known galaxies across his walls, and pinning up important notes about a constellation or solar system in its proper place. Himmokely had seemed a trifling subject most of his life, its parameters well mapped out by others already, anything else to be known about it was mere cataloguing of data like weather patterns, crop growth rates, and cycles of new adult Himmokelians.

Two years ago his attitude had changed when Khgiltylly had excitedly paid him a visit.

“What do you mak e of this, sir?” asked the young intense scholar, of whom Bhntylly was rather fond.

Our latest data indicates an increased swelling in the magma core of the planet, reaching levels unprecedented in recorded history of the planet. Over the next two years, if past record is any indication of the future, the planet’s adult population will become almost unmanageable in its heightened growth. Hmmm. Sounds like something worthy of a visit to the old Knabsht planet.”

Khgiltylly and Bhntylly were given permission to make an official visit on the pretense of investigating the practices of the farmers and instilling stricter laws to ensure no corruption was taking place. The two conspired long before they left for the planet, and had a report on their official business already prepared, wasting no time with such trivial bureaucratic matters while they were there. Instead, they’d spent the entire trip commandeering the data base, using it to probe the core for clues as to why it was heating up.

The trip had left Khgiltylly even more reclusive, and he often hinted to Bhntylly

that he perhaps actually believed some of the Himmokelian myths about the planet being alive and was entering a cycle of heat for reproduction. Bhntylly had taken away little from their experiences at the data base, but had come to appreciate the beauty of the planet and admire the natives in a way he’d never thought possible for another race. He’d spent the next year and a half in the priestly library learning everything he could about the planet, noting a Fghala Ghlupstngma was responsible for authoring most of the papers on the Himmokelian culture and its fauna and flora. Bhntylly had recently realized that she’d written the first paper over seventy years ago, and was deep in a dilemma about whether to announce this fact to anyone or not at the time the strange visit from the hooded figure had occurred.

It took him less than an hour to stow neatly all of his belongings except for the ones he would use over the next few days in two small, easy-to-carry satchels and containers. Unlike Khgiltylly, who would actively seek out rare volumes not found in the priestly library on excursions to the bookseller markets below, Bhntylly was content to have books translated into picture language for him, and would return them for others to use. Other elders and elders-in-waiting were rather fond of picking through the latest storehouse of artifacts the warriors and priests would bring back from their expeditions, and claiming the shiniest, most rare items after they’d been detoxified and declared fit for use by the race. Bhntylly knew that the priests and warriors were returning on the morrow, and could imagine his peers already smacking their lips and rubbing their paws together at the delightful treasures they would obtain. He had nothing of the sort, himself. His computer, his notes, his writing utensils, and maps. Toiletries and two collars. His bedding, and the coin he’d come upon recently. These were all of his possessions, and all he would take with him when he left the Mother Planet.

He paid a visit to Khgiltylly to say goodbye to the only elder who would really miss his presence.

“So you got to go, and I didn’t, imagine that.” muttered the young scholar, his room reeking of Kneesht.

“Since when did you pick u p bad habits?”

“Since I learned the planet I have devoted most of my adult life to studying about is about to become a virtual wasteland when the warriors finish their little mission. Don’t they know that the real war is about to take place right here under our noses?”

“I think they do know, but for some reason, nobody wants to admit it or pay any attention to this fact.”

“Ah, well. There are worse things to have been than an elder. I could’ve sprung forth on some forgotten half-colonized planet as a female fit only for breeding.”

“You talk nonsense. They will need someone here to rely on for information about Himmokely.”

“Yes, they will need someone like that. But will they call upon him? Of course not!”

“Don’t be so down on yourself. And when they do come to ask you questions, keep the mythology to yourself. Which reminds me…”

“Yes?”

Bhntylly produced a stack of note cards he’d carefully taken from the research on the planet. Each one contained source material including date, author, title, and priest library number.

“Read them all, and tell me what you think.”

Khgiltylly silently shuffled the cards through his paws. “Yeah, yeah. I know these volumes by heart. Fghala and I even talked once. An interesting, animated conversation of like minds. Too bad she is nothing more than a reliever of males on the ships she flies, or maybe someone else would listen to her.”

“What did she have to say to you?”

“Oh, not much. Only, all of the myths were probably closer to true than not. She was crazy, though, I wasn’t sure w hat to make of her words.”

“Well, I am not sure what you should believe, either. But take a look again more closely at my cards. Note the dates. I triple-checked each one to make sure I got it right.”

“Oh, my Trainer!”

“Now, either she is so clever at anti cipating a moment like this, and pleased a young priest for the return favor of altering the dates in the records, or she is truly onto something with her immortality stuff.”

“Gosh, you’re right. Geez, I’m such a teatling for not realizing this. I’ve opened these volumes a hundred times or more each, and never once did I stop to think how someone could publish over the span of three or four lifetimes.”

“But, like I said, she could have been clever enough to -”

“But why? She is smart enough to know that the c hances of anybody ever paying attention to her work are pretty much slim to none. And I can tell you for a fact that she is emphatic enough about what she’s written to not risk the chance of having it burned.” The alien canine race would burn a book if it was found to be purposefully falsified, or if the words were heresy. A female priest offering sex to a young male priest to change the dates on the records in the computer would be considered an offense worthy of having all of her lifetime work denounced and burned. Fghala was free to write the wildest myths she could imagine as long as they were either declared as such, or known to be the myths of that culture.

“So there is a fairly good chance that there is something in the waters of those swamps?”

“I wou ld say so. Gosh, Bhntylly, I sure wish I was coming with you. Honestly? I wish it were me, and not you.”

“I know, Khgiltylly, my young one, I know. There is a much darker mysterious secret I shall share with you now. And I believe it may be related to why I was chosen for the journey.”

“Yes? Bhntylly, you know you can count on me to keep my lips sealed. And these walls have been doubly psi-proofed.”

Bhntylly hesitated briefly as his paw grasped the coin inside his satchel. Carefully, he removed it, and displayed it to his friend.

“Are you certain you can fly this thing?” asked Dughnth shakily, eyeing his friend with skepticism.

Trmylly appeared to not notice the question, intent on remembering the chapter in their book on antigravity. Most of the chapter had been rather general and vague, quite a bit of it was devoted to letting a young student know that their race was indeed superior because of this achievement, with few study questions concerning how the waves emitted by a ship could mimic those of gravity, thereby canceling them out, much like a psi wall

cancels sound waves.

“That’s it!” cried Trmylly with exuberance at this insight.

“What, what’s it?”

“This button commands the ship to calculate the frequency and pitch of a gravitational sine wave caused by a large body, like the sun and the planet. You then tell it whether or not you are flying above the planet, but still in its gravitational pull, or if you wish to deplore the frequency emitters for outer space. The same principle applies upon landing on a planet.”

“Geez, you are so smart, Trmylly. Are you sure you aren’t possessed by demons?”

“And what if I am?” he asked, grinning savagely. “Have our lame old priests even reconciled what these so-called demons are? What if they are our ancestors, moved to the Trainer’s playground, busy helping us evolve? What if they are simply forces like gravity to be reckoned with? Does anybody offer to ask these questions, huh?

Dughnth had covered his ears with his paws at the start of all the heretical talk. “I’m not listening, can’t hear you!”

“Yeah? Well, I shall be heard someday, Dughnth. Our safe little mother planet is not forever to be the stomping grounds of self-satisfied priests and decrepit elders.” With this statement, Trmylly gave the sine panel an extra emphatic pounding, and the two were high above the mother planet in seconds flat.

“Wow,” moaned Dughnth. “She is so beautiful from afar.”

“She shall be ours my friend. You and me both. Just you wait and see.”

Trmylly maxed out the space-travel boosters on the ship, and they were suddenly pinned against their seats in extreme inertia as the little flyer launched itself into the void.

When both had regained their consciousness, they sat an marveled at the twinkling in the blackness, and tried to remember what they should have remembered from their classes.

“I think that is the great Dragon and his scythe,” said Dughnth.

“Naw, that is the Simian as he is skewered, notice the tail.”

“Oh. So, where are we going?”

Trmylly was perplexed by the question. He checked the fuel levels on the craft, finding them capable of transporting them five light years into outer space.

“I know, let’s go to Marigoknly.”

“Where all the fine females are from?”

Marigoknly was the choice spot for the spaceset that year. All elders and elders-in-waiting looking for a new mate were busy taunting anyone and everyone who couldn’t go with the news that this was the prime destination for great breeding.

“Why not? It is only a couple of light years away, and I hear that all the little ruler males and warrior whelps are being called back to the Mother Planet for official business. Our time could be prime!”

“Yeah!”

They performed a mutual tail/paw slap of male agreement, and sat back to enjoy the ride.

“Say, Dughnth?”

“Yeah, Trmylly?”

“You wanna fly this thing for a while, all that psi-ball production has left me

sleepy.”

“I -I don’t know, it sounds kind of dangerous. What if I -”

“Ah, naw, you have nothing to worry about. All you have to do is watch the sine wave panel, and make sure we don’t get trapp ed in the pull of any solar systems or meteors between here an there.”

“How do I do that?”

“Well, see how these curves are now?”

“Yeah.”

“If the crest or nadir drop below the two, you simply press this button to tell the ship to ignore a landing attempt. It’s that simple.”

“Uh, geez, Trmylly, I don’t know.”

“Come on, Dughnth, you have to be useful for something, or I’d -”

“What?” asked Dughnth, growing cold in fear. He was already on edge, having seen his best friend behave in strange ways in the past few days.

“Ah, nothing. Just, can’t you do me a favor. I’m tired. I wanna be well rested when we arrive in the land of the honeyd tail.”

“Oh. Okay. It’s this button, right? This is the one I push to keep us from landing on a strange planet?”

“No, you idiot! This one right here. See?”

“Okay. Okay, I’ll be all right.”

“All right, then. Let me get some rest, and wake me if anything crazy starts happening, you got it?”

“Yeah, I got it.”

Trmylly was back in the booksellers’ market, only this time, all of the merchants resembled the strange rank hooded figure who’d sold him the book and handed him the strange coin.

“Trmylly,” whispered one, beckoning him to his stall, “You are so fortunate to come here today and peruse my wares. I have transcribed all of the priestly library into easily readable picture text.”

“Yes, I would like some of that, how much is it?”

“Trmylly,” cried another, “You would have to be half a teatling to stop for such rubbish. Don’t you know that the Priests keep all the good stuff locked away far from prying eyes of those they look down upon?”

“Yes, I would like some of that, how much is it?”

He walked on, and others cried out his name, hawking their wares. “Trmylly, do you think the universe is such a small place as to let its words be recorded by a few mortal males? Stretch your mind a bit, you will find a harvest more bountiful than you could ever imagine!”

“Yes, I would like some of that, how much is it?”

“Trmylly, why suckle the teats of inferior beings, when the words of the Trainer can reside upon your lips easily enough!”

“Yes, I would like some of that, how much is it?”

“Trmylly, Trmylly!”

“Huh?”

“Trmylly, the ship’s fuel gauge is malfunctioning or something, because it dipped way into the red, and we had better land fast!”

“Huh?” Trmylly jol ted to attention, and fixed his eyes on the control panel. Furiously, he began tapping the panel to readjust the frightful readout it presented.

“Damn, shit, fuck!” he cried, “Dughnth, do you know where we are?”

“If I remember right from my studies, we are approaching the Foundation Solar System.”

“Great! That means we’ll have to suck up to a bunch of Kneeshtheads. Damn, if there is one planet I hated reading about it was Himmokely!”

“But I did okay, right?”

“Huh?”

“This isn’t my fault, is it?”

“Ah, Dughnth , of course not.”

“I mean, I did everything you told me to. And -”

“Dughnth, look at me. It’s not your fault. This is what we call an act of the Trainer. Or what someone back home might call it. Plain and simple, the ship’s dials fucked up, and there is nothing we can do about it but land and bum some fuel off an outlaw Kneesht dealer, or steal it.”

“But how, when we’ve already passed them?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, when they came aboard, and asked us how much Kneesht we would like to buy?”

“Huh?”

“Com e on, Trmylly, don’t play with me. Your eyes were wide open, and you kept saying, ‘Yes, I would like some of that, how much is it?’ so they kept bringing more. I asked you how you were going to pay for all of the Kneesht, and you just grabbed at the pocket of your satchel and fingered it and repeated those words.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me, you allowed Kneesht dealers aboard the ship, and traded them our fuel for some smoke?”

“Not -not exactly. They just kind of appeared, and asked us if we wanted what they had. I looked to you for help, tried to rouse you, and your eyes opened and you repeated those words, so they kept adding more and more on our ship. I didn’t know we were trading fuel for it. I’d seen you clutch your satchel like that before to fight those bullies and thought-”

“Thought I was going to blast them away with my psi -powers. Ah, shit, Dughnth, it is not your fault. I was having a waking nightmare, and you thought I was awake. Well, let’s go drop ourselves on this swampy planet, and get high f or a bit, and I’ll figure something out. Remember, I still have my psi -powers, and there are a lot of wealthy farmers on this planet.”

Trmylly saw that the ship was now inside the pull of Himmokely’s sun, he reset the sine wave, and let the ship guide itself toward the one planet of life in this solar system.

“Let’s burn some Kneesht, Dughnth, I’m ready to get mellow.”

Thevgv stood underneath the room where the elders and elders-in-waiting had gathered. It was easy to send a mental psi-wall up to clothe her presence, because they were intensely focused on the documents that bore information as to what artifacts had been retrieved from the expedition. Her father had entered her room on the last night of

the journey, and explained to her how soft his heart was, and how disappointed he was to see that sending her to the new breeding grounds on Himmokely would be a punishment for her. He’d struggled with the burden of conscience for loyalty towards his race, over his love for his daughter, finally realizing how much she wanted to be a priest, and saw that putting her to death for donning the psi-amplifiers would be too much of a heartache for him.

She was confined to her quarters in the priestly quadrant, but had picked up from the strata of Fghala’s consciousnes s how easy males were won by promise of sex, and had convinced her guards to let her go on the premise of continuing her studies in the priestly library. She’d explored the multiple labyrinths of the quadrant before the expedition, hoping to gain an edge on the several young male priest initiates who were allowed to possess lasers. Now, such knowledge came as a handy tool for tracing which elder or elder-in-waiting would be the lucky owner of the simian artifact. Of course, she truly expected that the simian would be placed in cold storage, because it was highly unlikely that such a specimen of a mundane planet could merit the attention of anyone hoping to advance their status as a connoisseur of the galaxies.

Nevertheless, she stood poised in expectation of that moment when a young elder-in-waiting would decide that such a simian was the perfect addition to his quarters. Some artifacts preserved by alien civilizations were kept in cold storage as they were found, others were embalmed, or given over to the realm or research. But most who decided they needed a given artifact would have the thing bronzed and made into a statue, as a kind of personal proof that their penis size was big enough to acquiesce such treasure.

“It’s a shame the way they divide up the lo ot, isn’t it?” came a familiar female voice that startled her, and made her lose all focus.

It was Fghala. Thevgv realized the older female was just as curious as she, and meant no harm or ill will.

“Don’t they realize how important he is?”

“No, they do no t. Nor will they. I gave your father my best attempt at providing as much information about the simian as I could without revealing I’d communicated via the psi amplifiers?”

“But why didn’t you tell him what you’d done? I thought we’d made an agreement.”

“ Thevgv, sweet, I realize how much a careful study of the simian means to you, but I have been bombarded with the understanding that I must continue to live for a special mission to Himmokely.”

“Who transmitted this knowledge?”

“It is hard to say. All I kno w is that I must persevere with my life here in this world, to make a difference.”

“In other words, you got scared, and threw the psi -amplifier back into the drawer, and raced back to your quarters, content to retreat into the world of books and males.”

Fghala slapped Thevgv harshly with her paw. “When you’ve lived as I have, then you can make judgments, remember young female, I am still in a position to tell others about your heretical behavior.”

“You wouldn’t!” cried Thevgv, stinging from the blow. “And w ho cares whether you tell them I am down here or not? Do you think it matters to me whether death or breeding is chosen for me?”

“I suppose you do not care. You have not been given full vision of what your purpose is. Let us end this quarrel and see what the fate of the simian is.”

The elders and elders-in-waiting grew disgusted as their eyes scanned the list for interesting artifacts. Little the warriors and priests brought back seemed to please them. One by one, each retreated from the room, only a few demanding possession of the LP collection, and the Brooks Brothers suits. A couple more grabbed particles of soil, and molecules from the Earth’s atmosphere, but the general feeling was one of disappointment. All were secretly ready to place the blame on the High Elder for dragging his feet in the war on Evil, and quick to demand why Xnhtylly hadn’t been given more control over this war.

After most had left the room Xnhtylly himself entered the room with a rank hooded figure. He snatched greedily at the documents that described the Earthly artifacts.

“A Faceless One,” whispered Fghala, “Use all of your psi -shield strength, now, girl, because they are especially sensitive and ruthless.”

“Ah, yes,” said the proxy Trainer running his paw across the list, “Here it is, Master. A simian artifact? Are you sure that’s what we want?”

“Young one, the day for revolting at the thought of a simian is drawing nigh to a close. This one, once we have him in our sanctity, will give us great fortitude for our plan.”

“Well, he se ems most unpopular, one of the last remaining artifacts from this conquest. But if you say so-”

The two inputted their claim with the young priest who was handling all of the requests, and quickly exited the room.

“Why do they want him?” asked Thevgv.

“Dea r, sometimes Evil has eyes open while the eyes of the Righteous choose to sleep.”

“Are your eyes open, Fghala?”

“Unfortunately, I am wide awake,” with that, Fghala turned her tale and disappeared into the darkness.

Thevgv stood beside dozens of females, picked from the masses, priests’ daughters, daughters of warriors and rulers alike. She let her mind grow dim, casting forth thoughts that were in mutual agreement with the thoughts she read from the females around her. Her group consisted of exuberant ones, young females on the edge of receiving their heat like she, only they moaned and whispered in expectation of the ruling to come forth from the high council of elders, begging for the opportunity to serve their Mother Planet in the highest calling now afforded a female.

A few were rejected, condemned to be picked over by inferior warriors and rulers for common breeding or simply put to death for their efforts.

When her call came, she refused to allow the slightest tremble of care one way or the other to wash over her, letting the high council pass down its verdict, and accepted her shameful future.

“Thevgv Frgnessdooz, daughter of Phthylly Frgnessdooz, you have been chosen because of your exceptional milk and blood to be among the chosen few who will perpetuate our next generation of psi-warriors in this great war against Evil.”

She didn’t allow her thoughts to fall out of line even at the mention of her exceptional milk, which she knew could be nothing but heretical.

“I, Thevgv Frgnessdooz, accept my honore d position as the breeder of psi-warriors, and hereby remit my entire being to the hands of my Mother Planet, enabling it to perform whatever functions are necessary to perpetuate the greatness of my race.”

Instead of being returned to her quarters where she’d dreamed so many dreams of discovering new civilizations beyond, Thevgv was taken to a floor cleared inside the quadrant of the Nurse Mother matriarchy for her sister breeders. The floor had recently been converted from an assembly hall, where students of many ages and vocations would gather to hear an elder speak, or participate in commencement. It now resembled a floor for warrior whelps, rows of bunks stacked three apiece. Soon the overwhelming smell of female anal sac essence pervaded the room. If a young warrior had chanced upon the floor at this moment, he would have died from cardiac arrest at the odors that pervaded his nostrils.

“My name is Cleghala, and I will be your special Nurse Mother teacher for this great and noble mission you young females are about to embark upon.”

An old matriarch with oversize sagging teats stood near the entrance of the room. Fghala and her bunkmates stopped in the middle of organizing their possessions, and making their beds.

“We have two days, my sisters of the ord er, to get you up to speed on the nature of the duties you are to perform. Let me begin by stating rule number one: If a warrior chooses you for a mate, you must never refuse him, this is punishable by death. Rule number two: If he asks you to perform a sexual function that seems a bit unusual or at odds with what you have learned at the teat or in books, patiently work with him until you are giving him what he desires. Rule number three: after the two of you have mated and unfused, you are required to immediately lift your legs high above your head to let his vital juices travel deep inside of you, and proper pregnancy is ensured.”

“Oh…” moaned a young female on a bunk across from Thevgv. “I can’t wait. I hope many warriors desire me.”

“Good point from the young female over there. Even after the first warrior has filled you with his vital juices, you must never refuse subsequent entreaties for mating, until your teats and belly begin to swell, and your sacs reduce in size. Then, you will be given extra special care and attention thereafter. Our goal is to get all of you young females heavy with proud psi-warrior litters, but I know from years of experience that some of you will simply be either undesirable or barren.”

Several audible gasps of horror could be heard throughout the room.

Thevgv allowed herself the privilege of making a small wish that she would be an undesirable one.

“Yes, it is one of the crueler tricks the Nurse Mother plays on a female. If after three months time, you are not carrying a litter, you shall be declared possessed with Evil, and immolated.”

“Oh, I’m scared,” whimpered one of Thevgv’s bunkmates above her. “What if that happens to me?”

“Why?” asked Thevgv with traces of mockery in her voice, “Do you think you might be Evil?”

The bunkmate, whose name Thevgv had already forgotten, apparently didn’t hear or chose to ignore the remark.

Thevgv scanned the room of bodies, looking for a coat of fur resembling her own,

hoping another Priest’s daughter was in the same predicament as she, and ready to commiserate her grief over this sorry lot in life cast her way. There were a couple of prospects, but closer examination revealed them to be nothing more than daughters of minor celebrities, by the stupid glassy way their eyes dumbly rotated as they mindlessly spouted the rhetoric they’d had rammed down their throats.

One pack of females stood out from the rest of the room. They’d set up camp in the corner, and held the best posture, defiant, erect and proud. These were daughters of warriors, large beefy females with hairless coats, stubby snouts, and extra jowls. Many of the females in the room eyed this bunch fearfully in small furtive glances.

Thevgv could see from the dubious way the Nurse Mother eyed them that the chance of a warrior picking them would be slim for them. Incest was an occasional unhappy occurrence in the race of the alien canines, especially in the four quadrants where so many litter mates were separated early on, then later reunited. The easiest way for a male avoiding mating with someone of the same bloodline was to simply pick a female whose coat was obviously of different pedigree.

The Nurse Mother began to circle the room, inspecting her flock, and commenting on a female’s fine coat or noble snout or well -formed paws. When she stood before the daughters of warriors, she asked, “I wonder why the head Matriarch allowed you all to be part of this mission? I can’t imagine any young warrior picking you over all of these other fine females.”

Several giggles erupted about the room, stifled only by defiant glares from the warrior daughters.

An especially masculine one named Menshgv spoke up with stern clipped words, “We shall be the first of this lot to receive the gift of perpetual milk. It is our warrior’s milk they need, not our s acs.”

“Hmmm. Yes, I can see that now. Well, perhaps you needn’t listen to the lessons on pleasing the male for the next few days. Find something to do here. I can have books from our school library brought to you if you like.”

“Nurse Mother, we were thinki ng you would permit us to travel freely about the Capitol city below.”

“And why were you thinking that? The last thing we need is for a young female going into heat for the first time to be out about town making trouble.”

“Do you have any doubts that we ca n’t handle ourselves?”

“Hmmm. Yes, I suppose you’re right. Well, there is a curfew, you know. When lights go out, you’d best be back here in your bunk.”

“Yes, Nurse Mother.” The leader of the bunch was three steps behind her friends, as they were already making their way for the door.

Thevgv sent them hot bolts of jealousy, wishing with all of her might that she could turn into a warrior’s daughter, and be free to roam about doing whatever she pleased. But then, she thought, I would probably waste my time in the Druffa Markets (arcades) and not care a lick for knowledge.

A thought suddenly came to Thevgv that sent her reeling with false hope. Maybe they only want my Priestly milk, and not my children! I can be dismissed to go do as I please as well, because I won’t be pleasing any males, either.

When the Nurse Mother arrived at Thevgv’s bunk, she stood in front of her for the longest time, eyeing Thevgv with approval.

“So you’re the one.”

“Nurse Mother?”

“You are the only priest’s daughter to be of age for th is special mission. What an exceptional coat you have.”

Thevgv trembled in fear at the coming verdict. She focused all of her attention on the Nurse Mother’s words, and failed to notice the other females staring at her in jealousy.

“Yes, I’m certain that many many young warriors will take their turns upon you. Why, we’ll have to post a guard outside your door so that they don’t tear you up from desire. We want to make sure you have many babies. In fact, just to be extra certain you don’t catch an illness f rom this crowd, I am going to have you placed in your own quarters. You can listen in on the classes for how to please and attract males, but I highly doubt you will need such art.”

“B -but Nurse Mother?”

“Yes, dear?”

“What if I am like those warrior daught ers, only on the mission to provide my priestly milk?”

The Nurse broke into uproarious laughter at such a ludicrous idea. “No dear, you have nothing to worry about. Your litters will be the most precious of them all.”

“Yes Nurse Mother.”

Thevgv noticed the hateful looks cast upon her, as the Nurse Mother moved on down the line, telling this female she was an exceptional beauty, that one she had foul-smelling sacs. Well, she thought, I guess there is nothing to do but bare my sacs to those brutes and let them have their way with me. She was suddenly appalled at the strange appearance of something inside of her that was actually excited by such an idea. Oh no, she moaned softly to herself in the priestly language, I’m getting my heat.

The rotating guards had laughed at Monahnchif and his friends all morning long as they stood outside the warrior quadrant begging admittance to the order.

“You scrawny little runts, I’ve shot little warriors out of my prick bigger and stronger than you.”

Monahnchif made council with his friends. “Should we use our psi powers?” he’d ask them each time they were sent away. At first the only ones who clamored for use of their powers were Cedchif and Drehchif, his closest friends who dared to go anywhere with Monachif.

“It doesn’t h ave to be unanimous,” Monahnchif had said, “But I’m not going to lead a majority who say nay into battle.”

He secretly wanted to use the psi-powers as well, was itching to rub that special coin, and cast balls of fear and death at the sneering guards. But a part of him also prided itself in the merits of using one’s physical strengths and natural courage to be victorious.

After the fifth time, however, the vote was unanimous.

“First,” said Monahnchif, “We will simply let them know we have a secret weapon that could be of great value to the Warriors. Then, if that doesn’t work, we will blast away until someone listens. Got it?”

Everyone shouted in agreement, though most of them were still uncertain of their abilities. The entire trip down, they’d shot Wuygi ns (like birds) and Clomghds (like squirrels) out of trees, like little teatlings first given slingshots. But no traveler had braved

the road up to their home caves from the capitol on the way down, so Monahnchif was the only one who’d actually used his ps i-powers on one of his own kind since they left.

“Okay fellows, let’s do it.”

Monahnchif stepped up to the door and knocked. A new guard stood behind the door.

“Yes? Oh, it’s you teatlings. I was told about you. Figured Kvkyn would’ve scared you off. Why d on’t you go sell baskets or necklaces, like the rest of your kind does down here. What, you have nothing to sell? Then a healthy young bunch like yourself could probably make good at the Tybbld House.” The Tybbld House was a house of male prostitution.

Monahnchif felt his blood begin to boil. “If we could just sit and talk with your leader, I could explain how necessary we are to the order of the Warriors.”

“The Order of the Warriors,” mimicked the guard in a sing song voice. “You hear that, Buthf? We are i n need of some foul cavedweller teatlings, apparently. Perhaps our last crop of latrine lickers has been shipped off for death. Maybe we do have need of you after all.”

Monahnchif turned to his friends and nodded. It was time to let loose.

Being unpracticed at the art of carefully crafting a proper psi-ball, Monahnchif and the cavedwellers incinerated the guard, the door, the other guards standing in the room, and deeply scorched the wall on the other side of the room, blasting plaster and paint away until only blackened rock showed through.

The guards didn’t have time to send an alert up to their superiors, but the unnaturally large quantity of psi waves in the air alerted every priest and nurse mother in the Capitol. Immediately, word was out that demons were on the loose somewhere on the first floor of the Warrior quadrant.

Several Warriors with large lasers came dashing into the room from the stairs, pointing their guns at the eight cavedwellers.

“Don’t shoot!” cried Monahnchif, appalled at how quickly th is was to end. “We didn’t mean to kill them, we were simply trying to demonstrate a powerful weapon we possess that could be of value to the Warriors.”

“Yes,” said a voice from behind them, “Please do not shoot them. They could be of some value.”

“Yes, oh great one!” shouted the warriors in unison.

It was the Proxy Trainer, Xhyntylly, accompanied by some of the highest priests and elders.

“I’ve been waiting for you, Monahnchif,” spoke Xhyntylly so that only he could hear.

He lifted his head and spoke to the eight of them. “You young whelps wish to fight for the Mother Planet. The Mother Planet could use ones like you. But we have over seven hundred whelps upstairs right now preparing to do battle with their newly found gifts.”

“But we used psi at play as te atlings,” said Monahnchif, taking the initiative to approach the elder. “When did they receive their gift?”

“You speak truth. Yes, only this morning were they given the gift. Now, they stand in a great circle, awaiting my command to begin the battle that will make them true

warriors. But they have killed since they suckled at the teat. They have killed many of their fellows, and will gladly do so again. Can you say the same, Monahnchif?”

Monahnchif looked around the room at his compatriots, who were trying to hide their fear from the elder. Their eyes begged mercy of Monahnchif.

“I will kill anyone my elder wishes, for the sake of my Mother Planet.”

“Kill him, then.” And Xhyntylly pointed at Cedchif.

“No!” cried Cedchif, “Please, Monahnchif, we are best of f riends. I am your most loyal subject.”

“My loyalty is to the Trainer, my race, my Mother Planet. I do what they ask of me.” And with that, Monahnchif carefully blasted away his best friend, his brother, leaving the stench of incinerated cavedweller fur in the air.

The remaining six stood dumbly in shock at the spot where their friend had just stood.

“Very good,” said Xhyntylly, wagging his tail ever so softly in praise. “Now, the six of you, just how loyal are you to your Mother Planet?”

“We’re very loyal s ir!” cried Drehchif, almost squealing like a frightened teatling.

“Good, then I want the six of you to kill Monahnchif.”

“B -b-but.”

“No ‘but’s’, just do it, and the six of you can be made warriors.”

“I can’t,” came the cries of the ones who could even spea k through their fear.

“Guards, destroy the six. Monahnchif, you will come upstairs with me.”

Monahnchif didn’t look back, because all of his future lay ahead of him.

Dnaegv’s stomach churned from the revolting dinner she’d just consumed. Years of lean winters when there was nothing but the food of the swamp children on the table had given her a special dislike for simian and swamp dragon. I guess I’m going to have to get used to it though, unless I can make myself a sling, and land a Himmokelien Wuygin or two. Perhaps there are some beasts that live in the swamp more suitable to my taste, though I highly doubt it. Jufeny had snuggled up to Dnaegv, but the transference of warmth wasn’t mutual. She would have to build a shelter of some kind, because winters even in the swamps could be miserably cold, the Himmokeliens being so bloodless, they needed no shelter during the winter months.

She looked around her at the other swamp children now sleeping in their strange way. Most slept upright, as adulthood was called the Long Sleep, nighttime for a Himmokelian child meant a kind of temporary trip into adulthood. Jufeny chose to lay horizontally to be close to her friend, letting her limbs wrap around Dnaegv in a viny clingy fashion.

Dnaegv and Jufeny had shared a bed like this growing up as young females, and that had always been a fun adventure for Dnaegv. Now, the excessive tentacles wrapped around her seemed a bit stifling, slightly uncomfortable, but she wasn’t going to complain. That’s the good thing about living among Himmokelians, thought Dnaegv, they have no psi abilities whatsoever, I can have all of my thoughts to myself and not be constantly sneaking around trying to hide them from the world.

She decided she would humor Jufeny in spite of the passing of her childhood tendencies. In less than a year, Jufeny would be an adult, and make her way to a farmer’s field to take root and began her long life standing in one spot. Dnaegv had asked her

friend how she felt about it that night before they fell asleep.

“I gu ess it’s not so bad, being a grown -up,” she’d said with surprising indifference.

“That doesn’t sound like you, you usually have a fairly strong opinion about everything.”

“You know, Dnaegv, I think it must be like death for your race. No one is especially fond of it, but no one is going to attempt to bypass it, either.”

“Hmmm. Hadn’t you told me about a myth of your race that involved a special magic potion one could imbibe to obtain immortality?”

“Y -yes. But no one needs it. Our bodies will take root and live until our Mother dies, anyway, so why bother with such a thing?”

“So, you couldn’t take it to avoid maturing into adulthood?”

“No, unfortunately, the potion actually matures the drinker of it on the spot, and they take root immediately. The old legend says there was something extra you could add to the potion to keep you from dropping your roots right away, but that substance was on the other side of the planet, where nothing but farmers of your race keep their fields of us.”

“But, Jufeny, if I consume the potion, what will happen?”

“Well, another myth tells us that some of your early priests who first came to our planet did imbibe the potion. Three of them were older males, one a young female slightly older than you, perhaps. All of the males deserted the young female because they wished to take sole credit for the great thing they’d discovered on Himmokely. But, their ship crashed when they were taking off, because a giant storm rose up and returned the ship to the soil. Some say the Mother gets angry with such selfish ones, and brings them back into her arms to teach them a lesson.”

“So what happened to the males and female. Did the ones from the crash survive?”

“No, of course not! The potion merely keeps one from aging, there is no safeguard against a violent death. It is said that those who died in the crash were reborn as Himmokelians to learn the virtue of patience.”

“And the female?”

“The Mother allowed her to return, I guess. Because the next team of researchers sent to relieve the unfortunate ones picked her up and she was never seen nor heard from again.”

“So, she could still be alive among my race somewhere inside their great capitol?”

“I suppose. Though I imagine she has probably learned the pitfalls of living well past one’s time, and jumped of f the great capitol building of which you speak.”

“Hmmm.”

Jufeny’s words now echoed in her head as she tried to sleep. Do I want to live forever? Of course not! But, what if someone else did? I could traffic in a drug more in demand than any Knabsht or Kneesht, a truly wonderful potion one needed to consume only once!

Just then, Dnaegv heard the thunderous noise of a ship’s anti -grav generators rewarping its sine waves for landing. The noise was followed by a mini-earthquake as the ship apparently slammed roughly into the ground.

“Geez, they must be a bunch of neophytes if they thought they could autopilot the

ship to the ground like that,” thought Dnaegv, trying to untangle her friend’s tentacles from her body.

Jufeny couldn’t help but awake from all this.

“What’s going on, Dnaegv?” she whispered groggily.

“Sounds like a ship just went down hard near here. Probably some young elder-in-waiting’s son out for a pleasure spin, bombed out of his mind on drink and smoke.”

“You really want to go check it out?” ask ed Jufeny dubiously, who was used to the Kneesht outlaws dropping into her swamp to avoid the warrior patrols that ranged up and down the solar system.

“Y -yeah, something tells me these aren’t Kneesht farmers.”

“Oh, right, I always forget that you can read thoughts. What am I thinking?” asked Jufeny, trying to playfully revive an old childhood game.

“Oh, Jufeny,” began Dnaegv wearily, then checked herself remembering her pledge to humor her friend during this last year before she took root. “You’re thinking of an enormous swamp dragon feast.”

“Nope.”

“A dream you had involving your Mother?”

“Nope, silly, I was thinking of you, and what a wonderful friend you’ve been to me. All of my own race thinks me an oddball for hanging out with you, but they don’t know how good some of your kind can be.”

Dnaegv bristled slightly at this overwhelming gush of emotion. “Well, come on, then, let’s go see who was on that ship.”

“Okay.”

Dnaegv was right about the occupants of the ship being wealthy playmales of the intergalactic set. They seemed a bit young to be of that age where they could simply hop on their father’s flyer, and cruise to some playground, but they obviously fit the bill, she thought noting how the inside of the flyer was decorated, and the overpowering smell of Kneesht they’d no doubt bought and smoked while passing through this solar system. They’d even removed their collars but no one would mistake them for anything but sons of elders because of their fur and snouts. The two idiots were stoned out of their minds, giggling and stumbling around.

“Say you two,” cried Dnaegv impatiently.

One of them, obviously the less-stoned or more extroverted, whirled around and began to growl.

“Stop it,” said Dnaegv, her authoritative voice taking him by surprise. She was used to this kind of attitude from her rowdy brothers, and was fearless around big boys who thought they needn’t behave themselves.

“Who the fuck are you?” he demanded arrogantly, letting his obvious position of power in society rule his ego.

“It’s not import ant. But if you must know, I’m Dnaegv, queen of the swamps.”

“Huh? What are you, some kind of crossbreed? I knew they were doing amazing things with our life juices, but I didn’t think they’d achieved anything of the sort.”

Dnaegv looked down at her fur, and noticed she was green from head to toe, the result of having been wrapped in Himmokelian tentacles for three hours. “Get a grip on reality, fool. I’m one hundred percent alien canine.”

“Whatever. So, you think you can use your hot preheat self to score us some fuel

from a Kneesht dealer?”

“Why, and what will you do for me?”

“I’ll think about not killing you.” He started to growl again, and Dnaegv could see he was summoning forth some kind of terrible psi force she’d only seen an idiot capable of at a fair. He’d been trained to knock down simians with his mind, and not use his power on the crowd, but the crowd liked the feeling of being so close to danger, with just the tiniest hint one might get killed.

“Jufeny, run and get behind that tree!”

The two females threw themselves to the ground behind a mighty old gfhylk, and watched in dumb horror as the fortunate son blasted away the foliage where they were standing seconds before.

“Ah, come on,” he cried, “That one wouldn’t have killed you, I need you to get me my fuel. You can come out now. Say, how’d you know that it was coming? What are you, some kind of prescient witch?”

Dnaegv crawled over to her friend, and Jufeny whispered in her ear. “What was that? He’s going to kill us unless we do as he says!”

“No, we just need to buy some time and think of a way to stop this foolishness.”

“But did you see the magnitude of that blast? I don’t care what he says, that would have killed the both of us, and he wasn’t even trying!”

“It is something that can be controlled though, I tell you. A man kept an idiot who had the same power in a cage when I was a girl. Jufeny, you were with me? Remember that fair we went to?”

“Of course! That was one of the happiest times of my life.” Her trip back into the glorious times they had together was drowned out by the shouting of the males.

“I know you two are behind the stump, muttering in that strange Himmokelian tongue. Really, you can come out, okay? Dughnth, go fetch the two females, and bring them here to me.”

“G -gosh, I don’t know Trmylly.”

“Just do it.”

Dnaegv turned back to her friend for some quick last words, “All I know is, the man at the fair kept the idiot from blasting us away, the idiot would’ve simply scorched everything in sight if he were let off his leash. We have to figure out how to put that fool over there on a leash. Great, here comes his dumpy bumbling partner. Just play along with me, and I’ll think of something.”

“Okay,” whispered Jufeny back in a small scared voice.

The one called Dughnth gingerly made his way over to the tree where he detected the girl’s psi energy. She looked him up and down with contempt, standing there covered in swamp much and tentacle oils. The combination of the drugs he’d consumed, as well as the site of one of his own race standing next to such a bizarre creature he’d only seen pictures of in books, made him lurch back a few steps. His heart was jumping up and grabbing his brain and sealing it shut.

“Come on, Dughnth,” yelled the one called Trmylly. “Are you going to bring them to me, or try to breed them both?”

“Neither of you are going to get your tiny well -oiled pricks near my sacs,” cried out Dnaegv bitterly.

“Ha! We’ll see about that. Dughnth?”

“Why don’t you come and get us yourself, if you’re so powerful and mighty?” asked Dnaegv.

Dughnth’s face lit up at the suggestion of this wonderful idea.

“Fine, fine. I just thought my friend here could make himself useful, which he has yet to do on this little adventure.”

Trmylly strode over and faced his captives. “Now, take me to where the Kneesht dealers land, or anywhere else I can procure some fuel.”

Dnaegv suddenly found an idea in her head, and allowed herself a little trick she’d learned while living with her large family of nosy gossipy farmers. When an idea came, and she knew one of them would be at odds with it, she immediately translated it into Himmokelian, and hid it from their prying minds.

“You know where some is, I can tell,” said Trmylly smirking with extreme confidence. “But you don’t want to reveal the location to me, because you think you can cheat me somehow, so you cloak your words in swampspeak. Let me fill you in on a little secret, my lady queen of the swamps, you are not going to try any funny business with me, or I’ll blast you to bits and find some other hermit sort of our race who thinks he’s the only alien canine inside these swamps.”

“Nice speech, but you aren’t even close, fool,” said Dnaegv. “I can see you’re rather fond of possessing special powers, but we of the swamps know how one can live forever.”

Jufeny was crying out with thoughts of “No, Dnaegv, he musn’t learn these secrets, they would be ill spent on one such as he!”

Dnaegv turned quickly to her friend, and though she couldn’t send Jufeny any thoughts the Himmokelian girl could understand, she knew the two of them were close enough for her to recognize a “it’s okay, everything is under control” kind of look.

Jufeny still seemed dubious, but trusted and adored Dnaegv too much to doubt her friend’s intentions.

“What are you two muttering about?”

“My friend J ufeny here knows the precise location. There is an ancient one of our race who lives deep in this swamp. I have seen him on several occasions, and can tell you that he is very old, too old to know what’s good for him. During his years in the swamps, he’s o btained not only knowledge of how to obtain immortality, but many other powers as well.”

“I don’t believe you, like what other powers?”

Jufeny was sending her an urgent thought now. “Dnaegv, let’s get out of this area, I can sense the swamp sister coming. She must have heard the crash.”

Dnaegv smiled as her friend gave her fuel to help fire her bluff. “He taught me one of the tricks, if you care to have me demonstrate.”

“You’re Trainerdamn right I want a demonstration.”

“Fine, I shall summon the Sister of t he Swamp.”

“Sister of the Swamp,” Trmylly snorted, and even Dughnth couldn’t repress a snicker.

“What are you doing, Dnaegv?” cried out Jufeny, unable to keep her thoughts in her head. “You’ll get us all killed. His little special powers he finds so amusing will merely make Her even more angry. We need to get down in the muck now, and get ourselves covered, this is too dangerous here.”

“Come with me, and I’ll take us to her.”

All could hear the sound of something the size of a gigantic deep space ship pounding against the ground as approaching thunderous footsteps.

“G -geez,” muttered Dughnth, “Maybe she’s right.”

“Oh, come on, Dughnth, did you ever read about a Sister of the Swamp in your history books on Himmokely? There are however, huge storms that come ever so often, and this dumb bitch has probably lived here long enough to know when they come, like an eclipse. It’s one of the dumbest tricks in the books.”

They approached the bog bottoms, and the sound was deafening. Only their thoughts of derision for each other and fear of each other could be heard above the noise.

Jufeny couldn’t control herself anymore, she was intent on making sure she wasn’t caught uncovered, and dashed into the bog, smearing herself from head to toe with muck.

“Trainer, these thin gs are crazy. Look at her. I suppose you are going to join her as well?” He looked over at Dnaegv.

“Why not, you know what they say, ‘when in a cave…’”

“‘Do as a cavedweller does.’ Well, you can practice dumb meaningless rituals, but Dughnth and I here were educated on the Mother Planet inside the Capitol building by ones who’ve wiped out such base superstitions. We shall stand on this bank and observe this storm from afar.”

Dughnth looked around in fear. “Uh, I don’t know, Trmylly, what if these two know what they’re talking about?”

“Not likely. They are trying to buy time to think of a means of escape. Well, let them, we have a ton of Kneesht back in the ship for the smoking.”

“You’re right, besides, it will give us time to let the search parties give up on us.”

Trmylly shushed his friend quickly and angrily, but Dnaegv, who appeared to be preoccupied with covering herself with mud, caught the bumbling one’s sentence, and wondered if there might be a possible reward involved in turning them over to whoever was searching for them. Maybe they were elders’ sons who’d crashed their first ship, and had borrowed money from the outlaws to purchase another. She wouldn’t be surprised if this was the case.

Jufeny and Dnaegv sat quietly, side by side in wait for the Sister. “Dnaegv, she will kill those two if they don’t hurry up.”

Dughnth couldn’t control his fear any longer, and joined the girls in their wallow of muck.

“Ah Dughnth, you little coward.” Trmylly screamed in abrupt terror as something appeared to lift him into the sky.

Dnaegv could hear the Sister ripping fur and flesh, and the sound of the Sister’s wail, as she was struck by a giant bolt of lightning that lit up the side of her face. Seeing it for the first time, Dnaegv was appalled at how much the Sister looked like a gigantic version of Jufeny, only the face was all white, and covered in eyes that appeared glassy and lifeless. Jufeny had told her that a Himmokelian baby resembles the Swamp Sister, and it loses its eyes each year until it is blind at adulthood.

Trmylly’s limp form came crashing through the overgrowth as the Sister dropped him, and he landed on the edge of the bog. The great swamp beast thundered off into the night.

Trmylly was bleeding profusely from an open arterial gash on his left arm. The limb hung on by fur and flesh alone, the white bone naked to the dimly lit night.

Dughnth vomitted, but Dnaegv had seen wounds worse than this upon her crazy brothers who were always hacking something open on the farm. She’d even sewn on an entire leg before, using a poultice remedy Jufeny taught her. Beyond any lore of immortality or Swamp Sisters or living planets, the Himmokelians were steeped in medicinal knowledge. In fact, some of the best healing sources came from a Himmokelian child’s green tent acle oils, which were now being applied liberally to Trmylly.

He moaned and whimpered, falling out of consciousness at the site of his mangled arm, then violently jerking back awake as a side affect from the Kneesht in his bloodstream. Kneesht smokers could stay awake for weeks, the substance could be so powerful. Dughnth and Trmylly were both certain he’d lose his limb, unless he was back in the Capitol in a matter of hours. In dumbfounded amazement, they watched the would repair itself over the course of an hour, with what should have taken months to heal. The scarring was so minimal, that surrounding fur would eventually cover it with ease, something a priest might achieve during one operation in a million.

“Geez,” he cried, still in shock. “I thought I was dead for sure. How the hell? Oh, you’ve got to show me this immortality stuff. Wow, whatever you did to this wound would probably make most of our race satisfied and content.”

“But its not good enough for you.” Said Dnaegv, contemptuously.

“Why should it be? Now, you saw what I did to that thing. Anyone else would’ve been eaten. I can turn you to ash in a flash, if you don’t show me my immortality.”

Dughnth had finally recovered from his own shock and vomit, and timidly stepped over to examine the arm himself.

“See that, Dughnth? I’m unbreakable, as well as full of the mighty psi.”

“Uh, yeah.”

Dnaegv wasn’t even bothering to think of all the wonderful little holes she could shoot in the pompous fool’s ego, but was actively trying to remember — in Himmokelian— the man at the fair with the magnificent psi idiot.

They trudged on into the swamp, feeling a sense of relief when the first light of the new sun hit the sky, and the threat of monsters from the black subsided.

“How far is it from here?” cried Trmylly once, forgetting how much older and tougher he was, as the effects of the Kneesht wore off and fatigue set in.

Jufeny, who’d gotten her second wind, led the group because she knew the swamps best, was the only one who really could tell where the precise location of the potion of immortality lay.

Dnaegv herself wanted to rest, having gotten little or no sleep since she saw her family depart from her childhood home, and was trying to coax from her tired mind what she remembered about the idiot.

“Love,” she th ought to herself. “What is Love? The owner said it was a feeling, but not like gas or heat in adults, something we all have, but rarely use in concentrated form. I must learn how to Love that silly fool up there in order to control him.”

Kghug recognized the Proxy Trainer, several high priests and great warriors, the rank robed one who he’d seen in the room of the feeding trough. They brought with them a cavedweller, who was an immediate prime target in the minds and hearts of those who’d

chosen to stay an d fight.

“Six hundred and forty -three, Oh Great One,” said the Greatest Warrior to the Proxy Trainer.

“Here is one more to make it six hundred and forty -four. I guess my friend here can keep his change.” The robed figure made the whelps shudder as he circled the room, pressing a strange coin in each left paw.

“Well, young whelps. It seems some of your brothers have chosen to desert their Mother Planet in its time of need. How discomforting. Alas, I am certain we can find forty brave souls from this sorry lot.”

“Yes, Oh Great One!” cried the room in unison, standing encircled around their bunks, each staring at a special foe he wished to take out first, and secretly trying to steal a quick look of examination for the strange metal disc in their hands.

“Listen carefully to my friend who has given you a great gift, or you shall perish quickly enough.”

“Yes, Oh Great One!” They cried again.

Kghug was very good at following directions when it came to preparation for battle, but in need of a longer attention span with all of his other studies. He eyed the cavedweller again, and his blood churned at the fool’s smirking indifference to his coming death. Perhaps I will be the lucky one who kills that one, he thought fiercely.

“It is important you pay attention to where your thoughts go in this battle,” came a voice that sounded like claws on glass. “The idea is to pack all of your thoughts of hatred and killing into a succinct little ball, being ever mindful of the muscles in your neck, then projecting your voice as if you were a priest.”

“Ah, Priests are weak, where’s my laser?” cried a bull -headed youth who Kghug had considered going for first before deciding too many would be after him as well.

In a flash, the young whelp who’d spoken out of turn was rolling on the floor like an idiot, his eyes rolling about, and foam coming from his mouth.

“See? I gave him the lightest touch, and I hope you were paying attention to my neck and not the idiot. Who would like to finish him off?”

The cavedweller was practically ripping the strange being’s robe off with a zeal for the chance, but was paid no mind.

That thing kind of looks like a Faceless One, thought Kghug. I thought we were supposed to hate them. He stepped back a pace when the robed figure whirled around, and landed his attention on Kghug.

“You shall do, finish off the idiot.”

Kghug bared his teeth, and found the warm dying pulse of the fool on the floor, creating a geyser of blood in his wake. He snapped back to attention.

“I suppose that is one way to do it, yes. But wha t if your opponent is coming at you with his thoughts?”

Kghug felt his feet freeze to the floor, his limbs locked at his side, his neck rigid. He tried to pull himself out of the strange spell come over him, but was incapable of budging an inch.

Some of the whelps dared to laugh.

“See? One adept at the art I am trying to teach you could be as far gone as that idiot was, and still manage to release a potent nerve shock.”

Kghug felt his muscles grow slack again, and for the first time in his life was

wondering if he was experiencing fear. This made him livid, and he wanted to charge the hooded figure, but then thought the better of it.

“No one should laugh,” said the strange one. “You all are at the same place this one is, and know nothing more. We must begin first by learning to focus our killing instincts-”

“Not me! I’m so much farther along than any of these whelps, you vile Faceless One!” The cavedweller could contain himself no more, and dashed forth, sending a great wave of energy towards the hooded figure. All in the room shuddered in awkward amazement as the Faceless One or whatever the thing was disintegrated.

“Now!” cried the cavedweller. “Listen up! I’m going to show you all how it’s done -”

His voice seemed to choke, as the robed figure appeared out of nowhere and lifted the cavedweller up by his collar. “It seems we have a student who wants to teach the class. Perhaps he has mastered the first few chapters, yes. Very well. I have more important things to do than try to keep you whelps alive. This cavedweller here will show you all how to make war with the mind, and when I return, let’s hope you’ve learned, because the battle will begin.”

The robed figure exited the room, and now only whelps remained. Some of them looked around at each other uneasily, a few seemed to be considering the possibility of rushing the stupid cavedweller.

The cavedweller seemed to have deflated like a hot bag, staring miserably around the room at the warriors who could see that he’d met his match.

Kghug felt a strange urge to take the initiative. “Look, idiot cavedweller scum. You wanted to be a warrior, now here’s your chance -” he stopped his words short when three of his fellows next to him suddenly disintegrated into burnt fur and flesh.

“I don’t have to teach you whelps noth ing. In fact, as far as I can tell, I can wipe out the whole lot of you and remain the last one standing, equal to forty of you whelps.”

Where the cavedweller had gotten it wrong, though, was to use a cavedweller battle tactic on a bunch of warriors. He thought he could scare them all into submission by blasting away a few of their peers, thereby making them too shook up to remember anything the hooded one had said. Warriors perform this kind of maneuver the day they are removed from the womb. None of the ones in the room had batted an eye at the incinerated whelps, but were busy trying to think of ways to kill the cavedweller. Most of them were too stupid to remember the things the hooded figure had said, but not Kghug.

He thought it would be prudent to attempt a psi-ball on a fellow warrior whelp or two, so as not to draw the attention of the cavedweller anymore. The cavedweller’s back was now turned to Kghug, because another warrior whelp in the room had almost seized upon the gift, and had sent a rather weak psi-ball into Kghug’s back causing him to jump forward a few paces. This warrior whelp was incinerated almost immediately along with some of his friends, but the door had opened.

Like most of the technology that was a product of the evolution of a collective consciousness, psi-ball making was now being shared and perfected by hundreds of minds working together instead of one. Like a snowball becoming an avalanche, the entire room erupted into a series of mighty roars, and seemed to burst into flames.

Kghug got off a couple more good psi-balls before he felt this overwhelming feeling of intense camaraderie, so much like the feeling he’d experienced when his friend

Sleenghug left that morning to be a priest. He had tears in his eyes from the smoke already, but was shocked to find himself whimpering like a little teatling for the feeling of dread and loss of life that filled the room. Kghug crawled under his bunk and fell asleep.

He awoke shortly thereafter to a gentle giant of a voice inside his head that seemed to drown out the hum of the collective consciousness he was used to.

His nose, which had almost completely shut down because of the nasty charred fur and flesh smell pervading the room, was suddenly pricked by a familiar rank odor. The robed figure stood over him.

“Kghug, son of Moshtghug, you are now a great warrior of psi. Come forth, and receive your blessing.”

He stood shakily to his feet as that strong voice faded from his head and continued around the room rousing the survivors of the battle. Strange enough, like a new steady hum, or the appearance of whiskers, the feeling that had sent him to sleep now rested lightly over all he saw and thought. Everything was going to be okay, he thought. I won the battle, now, I just have to do what my Master says.

Thevgv found herself troubled that night when she tried to remember a passage from one of her priestly books of study. A Nurse Mother had spent several hours in her room teaching her how to walk like a good mate, talk like a good mate, and subtly rub the lightest of sac juices on her lips to arouse a male. The Nurse Mother also laid down the facts about sex, which she already knew, and began teaching Thevgv how to properly lay for her litters to receive the best, strongest milk.

She had never before thought that a breeding female needed to be so skilled at this art, remembering her own mother’s time of milk to be nothing particularly exceptional or artful. Her mind seemed so occluded by the coming heat now, that she couldn’t hold a memory of priest ly training in her head for more than a matter of minutes before she dissolved into female expectation over the coming warrior males.

Phthylly appeared before her, taking her out of reverie, and reminding her how much she hated the change of occupation that had been decided for her.

“Sweetness, you leave tomorrow for Himmokely. It is said in a matter of days, the priests and labor from the masses have erected a giant structure to house the warriors and their mates.”

“Don’t call me Sweetness, Father. You los t that right when you turned me over to these breeders.”

Phthylly grimaced briefly before regaining his stern exterior he seemed to be rather fond of perfecting. “Your own actions are the cause of where you are today. If you’d wanted to be a priest, perhap s you should have thought a bit more carefully about lisening to that simian’s thoughts.”

Thevgv rolled her eyes and could see there would be no great change of mind, no last minute special requests made to have her lifted from this group and returned to where she belonged. “Fine, then Father. We have a difference of opinion about what it means to have an inquisitive mind. Perhaps I shall learn something from this journey into Motherhood that will make me stronger, I don’t know.”

“Yes, that’s it, have a pos itive outlook for what you are doing. It is after all, quite the noble cause, and I beam with pride every time someone informs me that my daughter is going to be one of the top picks of the psi warriors.”

“That’s wonderful, Father. I’m glad that you are be ing noticed. Perhaps an advancement is on the way soon. Say, whatever happened to the simian? Could you look after him if nobody took him, and he is still down in the vaults?”

Phthylly rolled his eyes, having hoped that his daughter had forgotten about the silly aftifact. “I hear one of the high priests, maybe Xhyntylly came and took it away. He’ll probably skin it and wear it as a coat.”

Thevgv couldn’t help but laugh painfully at the morbid joke her father had made, and finally decided to let her venom for the decisions he’d made seep away forever, knowing this was probably the last time she would ever see him.

“So, will you come and visit my in my new home, or will you be too busy?”

“Oh, Tevgv, my little one. Yes, I will be very busy, but that is not why I am going to refrain from visiting you. Only the priests who have special purpose on Himmokely will be able to enter the new Dwelling of Psi.”

“Like whom?”

“Well, let’s see. Fghala is going to be going to the planet with them, but I think she will be spending most of her time in the swamps with Bhntylly Dhalrgnessmuyg for research purposes. And the other priests on this mission are being sent as teachers of psi to the young warriors, so I’m guessing they will spend all of their time with your mates preparing them for the coming war.”

“And you couldn’t wrangle your way onto the mission as a teacher of psi?”

Phthylly laughed a hard painful laugh. “My sweet girl, I am overwhelmed with business here at the Capitol as it is. It takes a Priest half a lifetime of dilligent patient study to perfect the advanced use of Psi.”

“But those young whelps became warriors in one day.”

Her father scowled a bit and looked away.

“What, what is it Father?”

He produced a pad of paper like the old days on board the ship, and began to write slowly and carefully.

“Rumor has it that when training the whelps, a Faceless One was employed to increase their understanding at a rate more rapid than any Priest could offer in education, especially to a bunch of Warriors. Tell no one of this.”

“But, how do you feel about it?”

“I am trusting that my High Elders know what is best for the Mother Planet, and would not steer us wrong. However, I am placing my senses on high alert for anything strange.”

“Be careful Father.”

“You be careful, too, swee theart. I know that a young male can be kind of arrogant and crude sometimes, but just remember what you are doing this for.”

“Yeah, yeah, the good of my Mother Planet. Well, Father, if someone comes along and takes your job, and you find yourself with lots of study time on your hands, bone up on your psi warfare, and come and see me.”

Phthylly laughed. “Okay, I will.” He turned abruptly and exited the room.

She was truly alone now, and the groping greedy paws of many young warriors made her naseous.

A soft knock at the door came deep in the night, and Phthylly tiptoed to the door. There was blackness beyond that slowly materialized into two forms. One was a Faceless

One, the other the Proxy Trainer.

“What did you do with the simian?” she demanded, thinking it was still a dream.

“The little one has some spunk, hasn’t she?” asked Xhyntylly to nobody in particular.

“Yes, well it will take a bit more than spunk to produce the children we need.” The Faceless One’s smell was so overwhelming, she almost gagged, and this is when she realized she was in no dream.

“In answer to your question, young breeder — though you must know I certainly by no means have to answer it— the simian has been properly handed over to a special team of researchers who will examine its every thought and action, taking great care not to unleash some random psi pattern or illness into our race.”

“But I -I-”

“Yes, you were going to be the one who won all of the glory and showed the world how important it was. Too bad. What is wrong with kids these days, Master? It’s all about ‘I’ and ‘me’, not ever the Mother Planet or our fine race.”

“Yes, it is quite sad. Little one, do you know why you’ve been chosen above all other females as a prime breeder of our new special army?”

“I’m the daughter of a Pries t, I was born to him just enough years ago to make me coming into heat at the right time, I lucked out.”

The Faceless One made a scratching noise that could pass for a laugh. “Yes, the fact you are a daughter of a Priest is partly why you were chosen. And in spite of whatever the Nurse Mother told you, you will not be the only priestly daughter making the journey to Himmokely. There are three more females waiting to be shipped off in the next batch.”

“I -I don’t understand.”

“Little One, it isn’t your father ’s Priestly blood that interests us, it’s your Mother’s priestly milk. You are one of a kind.”

“But she was put to death -”

“For heretical milk, yes, I know. But she also had something special inside of her that we will find quite useful to our new army.”

“ But I was weaned on an artificial nipple, you should know that as well.”

The Faceless One made some more scratching noises, and the robes shook with amusement. “Once, my dear little one, the concept of a Mother’s milk was merely a metaphor. That was millenia ago. Fortunately, for you, the literal interpretation spared you your life.”

“But what of her could be inside of me if I didn’t partake of her milk?”

“She gave birth to you, did she not? Ah, I didn’t come to discuss genetics.”

“What’s genetics?”

“It is not something you will ever need to know about. Just take the word from a knowledgeable one such as I that you share common characteristics with your mother, a simple test will tell me whether you share the ones I need, but I suspect the answer will be yes, after learning of your exploits with the simian.”

“What!? Did Father -”

“How I learned of it is not important either. Just sit down on this bed, and tell me a few things.”

Thevgv wished to do nothing of the sort, wanted the Faceless One and the

frightening Proxy Trainer out of her room as quickly as possible, but could see the futility in trying to disobey.

“Good, now, tell me your earliest memory.”

She thought briefly, then recalled a day she’d forgotten from years before. “I was with Father and Mother an d my brothers and sisters. One sister, a mean bitch named Tugthgv, was picking the tangles out of my fur. She pulled especially hard, and it hurt so much, that I turned around and knocked her out of the bed.”

“Did you slap her with your paw, or bump her wi th your shoulder?”

“No, I don’t think so. It’s strange. I just bared my teeth a little and stared at her really hard, then she fell.”

“Fine. What is your first memory of speaking to your mother?”

“Uh, oh yes. I was fast asleep, and she came to me like in a dream, only it was not. She picked me up— I know this sounds weird, but I swear it was like this— she picked me up out of my body, and we journeyed to a distant planet together.”

“Hmmm. Do you know which planet it was?”

“N -no. Well, actually come to think of it, I do. I remember reading about, and seeing pictures of Himmokely years later in school, and the memory of this strange waking dream came into my head again. I asked Father about it, and he said it was nothing more than a dream.”

“What did your mother say to you about the planet?”

“She just said that this was where her family lived, that she was brought to the Capitol as a teatling in trade with a Kneesht outlaw for some food.”

“Did anything strange happen while you visited the planet?”

“I -I don’t reme mber anything.”

“Nothing at all?”

“Well…”

“Yes?

“She took me to a dense forest, and told me that in here I would find the source of our own Mother Planet. At that point, I decided I was simply dreaming, and woke up.”

“Hmmm. Very good, I have no further que stions.”

Xhyntylly stepped forward, and stared keenly at the young female. “You look just like her, it is incredible.” He reached out a slow shaking paw, and touched the side of her snout.

“Xhyntylly, leave the girl. She is not for you, no matter how tempt ing she seems.”

“Yes, Master.”

Khgiltylly’s eyes grew wide with shock, and he took a minute to regain his composure at the sight of the coin in Bhntylly’s paw.

“How long have you had it?” he asked, eyeing Bhntylly strangely.

“Oh, three days, why?”

“Get ri d of it, hide it, melt it. Whatever you do, stop carrying the coin on your person. And stop touching it!”

“Khgiltylly, it’s just a piece of metal, why are you acting so strange?”

“I’ve read about this very type of coin. It is supposed to be very ancient, though this one looks like it could’ve been minted yesterday.”

“Who made it?”

“The Departed Ones.”

“Who are they?”

“Oh, come on, don’t you remember your mythology of your own race?”

“Are they the ones who first perfected the technology to leave this planet?”

“Yes! They supposedly wrote in the Trainer’s script.”

“If the coin was minted bearing the Trainer’s script, why are you making it out to be a thing of evil?”

“Legend says that only a special kind of Priest possesses paws clean enough to make the coin work for good. One whose family line can be traced back to the original Priestly Class during the era when all were One.”

“So, if I hang on to it, I might start raping old Nurse Mothers, or something?”

“Bhntylly, be serious with me okay?”

“I don’t know, I’ve read a lot of mythology and such, but none of it ever seems to bear any relation to the here and now.”

“Where did the coin come from?”

Bhntylly described the hooded figure who seemed to leap from the window like a bat.

“Bhntylly, do you know where Faceless Ones come from?”

“They are said to be the half -dead. Ones who lived secretly as heretics in this life, and are rescued by the Evil Forces from Beyond before being completely incinerated when put to death.”

“Correct. And do you understand the nature of the life force that flows through them?”

“Not really, I’ve never gotten close enough to examine one.”

“I will tell you this, it is the same life force that flows through you and me, the same life force that enables us to communicate with each other. It is given to us all by the Trainer.”

“Then where does the Evil part come in, if I may be so bold as to ask?”

“The Evil comes when one tries to cheat death, and make a mockery of the Trainer’s Plan. The Great Evil One — whose name I shall not say, to keep him away from this room— is not really a true entity at all, he is simply the sum of all the souls in this world and the next who are trying to cheat death— or cheat life by coming to life in an unnatural way.”

“So what does all this have to do with this coin? I am go ing to die soon enough, I have no desire to stay alive any longer than I am supposed to.”

“The coin, if used properly, contains a code inside of it that can be unleashed in the bearer to obtain instant Oneness with the Trainer himself. You, on the other hand, if you keep holding on to it, will become susceptible to the will of the one who lost it. When he comes to claim his coin, you will pay in more ways than you care to know.”

“So, what, I should give it back to him?”

“That is the last thing you should at tempt! He will become that much stronger over you, if you try to get close to him while holding the coin. My advice is, throw it out the window, and do it now!”

Khgiltylly ran over to his window, and threw it open, motioning for Bhntylly to follow his order.

“Well, Khgiltylly, I guess I am going to trust you on this one, old friend. You have

obviously spent a lot more time reading on this subject than I have, and I am not a sentimental sort who clings to shiny baubles, so…”

With that, Bhntylly gave the coin a mighty heave, hoping it wouldn’t land on some poor old female’s head down below.

“Don’t watch the trajectory, either,” said Khgiltylly, “Or you might change your mind and go back on your word after you leave here.”

The two of them stood staring off into their own respective mental inventories of research for a brief moment, knowing the minute they’d put off had finally come.

“Well old friend,” Bhntylly finally said, ambling over and extending his paw, “I guess this is it. You know I am too old to do any thing else, so Himmokely will probably be my resting place.”

“Sad, but true. Ah, but that is life.” They performed the elderly goodbye ritual, and Bhntylly turned away before the cowardly emotions rose up in his chest and head.

Damn, he muttered to himself, those get harder to repress with each painful year. I guess they just build and build, and then you let them all out at once like a deranged old heretic, or they seep out like from many of my contemparies in the form of foul odors to be masked.

He returned to his room, grabbed his minutae of belongings, and headed up to the rooftop where a ship was waiting with the three priests and two warriors who would accompany him on the journey.

Bhntylly was surprised to see Xhntylly standing by the ship, talking with the warriors. Xhntylly paid him no mind as he approached the ship, and then he felt his heart stop as an icy paw tapped his shoulder. Bhntylly spun around to see the hooded figure from the day before floating in midair to be eye level with him. A withered husk of an icy paw held out his unwanted coin, or one just like it.

“I believe you will need this,” hissed the hooded one like claws on glass.

“No thank you.” Bhntylly tried to turn abruptly and ignore what was obviously an appartion, but felt himself glued to the roof in place.

“Your friend may think otherwise, but he doesn’t know all the secrets. I advice you to take it.”

Before he could protest, the coin was pressed into his paw, and the figure vanished into nothingness.

“So you like what you see, S ven?” hissed the voice in his ear, as he floated over his naked body below. A team of robed surgeons had restored his genitals almost precisely to the way they’d been before, only deviating from the originals by adding bulk and length to his penis.

“Yes, v ery much. I could grab one of those anti-grav flyers, and find me a nice babe back on Earth.”

“Or, you could partake in what the here and now has to offer,” the owner of the voice was a pleasant looking old man, whose appearance failed to match the tone of his voice and the bad feeling Sven got from looking at him. The old man pointed to another table near Sven, where the most gorgeous female human body lay naked and appeared to be in a state similar to Sven’s own body.

“Don’t listen to him Sven, he’s evil. Remember this cave? This is the bad cave.” Knute’s voice came from somewhere far off.

Sasha joined in. “Knute’s right, Sven, these are illusions that will take you straight to hell if you let them.”

“Shut up you worthless hounds!” hissed the old man. “I t hought you served your master, not the other way around. Am I right Sven.”

“Uh, yeah. I just need some time to think it over. It sure looks tempting, though.”

“Don’t think too long. When the time comes, you will be given a choice, join us and return to your body, which we have engineered to be just like it was when you were twenty-two. Or choose death, and join your mutts in purgatory, or wherever it is dogs go when they die.”

“How long do I have?”

“I will be back here in one day’s time. If you are here, I will know you accepted, and you can live again. If you are late, or gone, I’ll take the liberty of finding someone else to inhabit your body and work for me. Remember, there are a lot of souls out there desiring to live again.”

The old man vanished, and Sasha and Knute appeared again before him.

“Come on, Sven, let’s get out of here, this place gives me the creeps.”

“B -but.”

“Oh, really. Do you think you are going to have some kind of wonderful resurrection? These evil ones beneath us intend to use you for their own ends, there is no telling what they’ve done to your physical brain and body to make you like a dog on a leash, if you can catch my drift.”

“But, I’ll be dead forever if I say no. You were there with me when that strange thing put me aboard that ship and flew me here. That’s my body down there. This is my last chance to live. What if I really can get a ship back to Earth.”

“Do you want to tell him, Knute, or should I?”

“Uh, Sasha, maybe we should just take him there.”

“Fine. Sven, I want you to do the thing with your mind, and travel to the Moon.”

“Okay.” Sven concentrated with all his might, and found himself atop the surface of the Moon as he’d seen it in films during his schooldays.

“What do you see?”

“I see, I see the sun. And maybe that’s Mars? ”

“But where’s Earth? Doesn’t it appear in all the films when their on the Moon, larger than ever?”

“All I see are a bunch of asteroids over there. Hey, what’s going on?”

“Sven, the Earth was destroyed a few years after you died. This is all that’s left.”

“Damn, I always knew that the Russians would return to Communism, and the Cold War would turn hot.”

“No Sven, that race of beings we saw in the strange city. They are the ones who destroyed Earth?”

“But why? They seemed like such a nice bunch of big dogs, some of them a little meaner than others, but hell, Knute you were pretty damn mean yourself at one time.”

“Hey now, watch it.”

“He’s right Knute. But Sven, you are missing the point. This culture is at a different place in its social development than humans were. Apples and oranges.”

“I still don’t get it.”

“But you see that Earth is gone, right?”

“Y -yeah. Which means I need those horrid looking things more than ever, because the old man showed me he could create a mate for me.”

Knute and Sasha both let out sighs of exasperation, and then disappeared.

“Knute? Sasha? Where’d you guys go? Aw, dumb dogs. Why don’t you stop being such little turds about this and come back?”

Sven wandered around aimlessly on our Earth’s Moon for a while before deciding he was bored out of his mind, and found himself atop the mountain where the friendly cave creatures lived, looking down upon the city below.

“You know, Sven,” came a voice of broken English from behind him, “There are more choices than two for you.”

Sven turned, and saw that it was one of the cavecreatures, a middle-aged one perhaps, staring intently at him from the outside edge of a cave.

“Who are you?” demanded Sven, wishing he’d felt the courage to ask the question of the first visitor to this waking dream, instead of ogling his naked body, and the naked body of that hot chick.

“My name is Onqchif, I am the leader of these beings who inhabite the caves.”

“Does that include the ones over on that mountain?” asked Sven, pointing in the general direction of where he thought his body now lay.

“My Trainer, no. I lead these ones you see coming and going from the cave on this mountain, we spend a lot of time in meditation and try to journey to planes like the one you reside upon.”

“Well, how come you’re the only one of the bunch who can see me?”

“I am advanced and old, this seems to be a general condition for the second sight.”

“You said I have more than two choices, what is the third one?”

“Why, you could come and join us!”

“How?”

“Those beings over there aren’t the only o nes who’ve mastered the art of making a new body out of the stuff of an old one.”

“So you’re saying you could build my body out of thin air?”

“No, unfortunately, they are much more advanced than we when it comes to working with material things. We would have one of our females give birth to a special litter in which we made sure your soul entered one of the bodies. There is a good chance you’d come back male.”

“But I don’t want to come back as a dog!” cried Sven.

“Sven, I’m a bit hurt by what you are sayin g. Do you see my race as nothing more than a bunch of animals like your dogs who somehow stumbled upon the technology of antigravity?”

“Uhhh, no…”

“You do!”

“It’s not like that. It just amazes me that you have the ability to travel a gazillion light years to another planet and destroy it, return with my body still intact, and yet a lot of you still live in caves, some of your buildings down there don’t have running water — I could observe the poor sewage system from the rooftop I stood on.”

“Sven, different r aces evolve different technologies along different lines. I would say that those evil beings— which most of my race calls Faceless Ones— have developed

all of the technologies you remembered from Earth, and more, but focus on a term which I pull from your vocabulary called genetics. My little bunch of cavedwellers focus more on the processing of mental information, a visitor from the Capitol— if he cared to find out— would discover that we are an astute bunch of mathematicians and cosmologists. Because our race mostly has never lost the gift of communicating using our minds, we felt the need to develop certain technologies, and abandon pursuit of developing others. Because our bodies evolved into bipedal form still covered in fur, we never bothered with

clothes.”

“Except those Faceless Ones.”

“Sven, those Faceless Ones are probably not even truly of our race.”

“Are they from a different planet?”

“A different plane of existence.”

“Like the one we’re on?”

“Yes. Yes, you’re brighter than my first impression told me you were.”

“Uh, thanks.”

“Look, it’s really simple. You can go back to your original body, and let me tell you in the great eternity of being and becoming, that isn’t even really you’re original body. You can join us, become one of us, and live an importan t life among peaceful brothers and sisters. Or you can drift off into the netherrealms, perhaps one day discovering a place and body in which you want to live in again.”

“That isn’t my original body? Where’s my original body?”

“Oh, Sven. Your soul has evol ved through a seemingly infinite series of transformations in multiple forms. Who knows where your original body is? Perhaps its matter has gone on to feed children, grow trees, maybe it is now part of the millions of particles that once were your planet.”

“Oh.”

Sasha and Knute reappeared and looked at their owner sternly.

“So these are your dogs?”

“Yeah, I hate to leave them behind, you know, but…”

“Sven,” said Sasha. “We won’t be with you forever. If you choose to remain where you are, a spirit adrift between bodies, we will no doubt move on to a new body ourselves. Onqchif, is your offer good for Knute and I?”

“Sweet beast, I can see that you would have a hard time sustaining life in one of our bodies, having been accustomed to lives of subservience and answer to a Master’s call, yet I suppose in essence that is what the faithful of my race all do, as we await the Trainer’s return. So, yes, I could make an effort with my fellow leaders to ensure that you and Knute were born again with your owner Sven in one of our litters. But you would become as equals. I don’t know if Sven would care for that.”

“It isn’t of importance to me. Sasha and Knute have always been like brother and sister. That is not why I am hesitant to become one your clan.”

“Then what, Sven?” asked Knute.

“It is just too tempting an offer to go back to being me, I mean, that is who I am.” He pointed towards the lands of the Faceless Ones. “And how evil do you all suppose they really are? I mean, you seem to have some general bad feelings about them, but don’t even really care to know why, or know who they are.”

“Nor do I especially ever want to,” said Onqchif.

“But what if the evil feeling comes not because they are so, but simply out of fear of the unknown?”

“You have a point Sven, and yes, m any of those city dwellers below view my clans and the Faceless Ones to be very much one and the same. But I’ve had too many shrouded encounters with them, where they come veiled in mystery, and snatch our young ones off to join their secret cult. Why are they so hesitant to share their knowledge and kinship with us, if they are not up to something foul?”

“I don’t know, but they didn’t look to be any less of a threat to me, than you guys might be.”

“That’s not true, Sven. Remember when we first brought you to this planet?” asked Knute.

“But maybe I was just sensing your fear and apprehension of the unknown, and projecting it back onto the hooded figures.”

“Sven, you are putting yourself in denial, because you want to have your old body back, with a brand new penis to boot. I bet if you entered a body of this clan, you would be just as happy a male as you were on Earth— you can guarantee him return as a male, right, Onqchif?”

“We shall do our best.”

“So what will it be, Sven?” asked Sasha. “You won’t have any h elp from anyone who cares for you if you reenter your own body. What if you decide it is too terrible, and you want out?”

“I’ll kill myself, or maybe I can escape and come back here, and meet up with you guys after you are born. Why, you two and my new human lover could accompany about the galaxy in one of those anti-grav flyers.”

“Sven,” said Onqchif, sadly, “Your pets will soon forget about their past life, as all of you have forgotten your past lives before. They will fill their heads with the agendas of becoming great leaders or faithful followers in our clans, and may spend millennia on a program of personal growth and knowledge-gaining before you meet up with them again.”

“And what will happen to me if I die among the Faceless Ones? Won’t I have the opportunity to be reborn again as whomever I wish?”

“Unfortunately, Sven, I can’t promise you that if you are accepted into their clutches. They may possess some kind of soul-capturing technology that imprisons souls in their clutches for as long as they like.”

“You know what, I think you really are just a frightened old dog, who can’t learn new tricks.”

Sven defiantly switched his mind the way he’d been taught, and found himself in the huge surgical cave once more. The room was empty, except for his body and the woman’s body; she bore a strong resemblance to a girl he’d once thought he’d loved.

“Sara was her name.” came a hiss like in stereo into both of his ears.

“Where are you, old man?” asked Sven.

“I’m sleeping, and I’m too lazy to wake my mind up enough to produce a psi-form as accompaniment to the sound of my voice.”

“You seem to know a lot about me, don’t you? You know my name, my first true love, my language.” Sven felt it easier to interrogate the entity when it only came to him in words.

“That’s righ t, Sven. In fact, we were able to ‘download,’ as one of your generation might say— all of your genetic information, as well as your brain’s repository of memories. It’s a relatively simple procedure, actually.”

“So, what? That’s a clone of me down there?”

“ Very perceptive boy. I can see he remembers his bad science fiction movies well. Yes, your original body had decayed too much to be of use. Your earthling brethren were quite barbaric in their preservation of life. Though I pulled from your brain a news report on this thing called nanotechnology, which sounds an awful lot like an infantile version of technology we take full advantage here in these caves. Do you remember that news report, Sven?”

“Naw, I doubt it. Let me see. No. I usually kind of zoned out d uring the news until Letterman came on. Sorry.”

“It’s of no consequence. We can only work with what we’re given. You are still of great interest to us, nonetheless, because we are interested in learning first-hand how a simian can come down from the trees, and walk in the upright position developing an intelligence and technology that would’ve rivaled ours, say, ten thousand years ago.”

“So you guys are just a bunch of scientists, huh?”

“I suppose you could put it that way.”

“And I was right about the mispe rception of you being evil, you’re really just misunderstood, right?”

“This distinction between evil and good that you and our brethren in the mountains and cities below continues to baffle me and my fellows. We fail to understand how an unseen, unknown force can be perceived as evil.”

“Well, if you use it to capture souls and enslave them, that might be kind of evil.”

“We do no such thing. Any soul that comes into our workshop stays because it chooses to. What about torturing small children, or destroying entire planets? My brethren below me practice such a thing all the time— they destroyed your planet, didn’t they? And let me tell you what they do to a young female who chooses to be a priest over a Nurse Mother. Her genitalia are mutilated barbarically, so that she becomes merely a receptacle of male juices, instead of being allowed the opportunity to bare children if she wishes. What of the Warrior children who are killed by the dozens daily in vicious games of play that breed that sector of the population for greater physical strength?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know enough about this planet to tell you why they do that stuff. Evil for me has always been selling your soul to Satan in exchange for powers no mere mortal should possess.”

“But what if, Sven, and this is just hypothetically speaking— what if one was no longer a mere mortal, and through diligent study of the natural and spiritual world, was successful in obtaining such powers through ones own devices?”

“I don’t know, it sounds kind of fishy to me.”

The voice grew thin and exasperated. “But where does the line get drawn? If a race is in possession of technology to transmit knowledge anywhere on the planet in less than a second, this is considered a great achievement for a civilization. But, if powers of prescience and telekinesis are thrown into the mix, something fishy is declared by the general population. What is an inquiring mind supposed to do, content itself with merely mapping out the universe and teasing the brain with mental gymnastics?”

“You’r e filling my head with so much philosophy. I don’t think I’ve ever really

thought about it too much.”

“Well, think hard about it tonight, Sven Outersky, because tomorrow you will make a decision on where your soul will reside for the next several years.”

The voice left the ether, and a great sadness overcame Sven. He now knew that his original body was truly dead, and all that was left was this vaporous soul, flitting about on some other plane. All of his parents and friends and fellow humans were dead, he didn’t stop to think why none of them had visited him.

Maybe I am in hell already, he thought, and I really have no choice where I can go. Perhaps all of my family is on a different plane, a heavenly one, with angels and trumpets and flowers and puppies. And here I am, all alone, weighed down by this great decision I must make. I guess I am just a stupid ghost without a home.

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” came Knute’s voice as he appeared with Sasha.

“Yeah, get a grip on yourself, man,” said Sasha.

“A w, you guys. This being dead stuff is so difficult. I’ve never had to think so much in my entire life about anything. Why can’t it be simple?”

“Maybe you’re making it more difficult than it really has to be, Sven.”

“What if these guys here can build me a w eightroom, and just let me live in peace with my chick?”

“Maybe they will. But you don’t know that. You said yourself their program of research and development sounded a bit fishy.”

“But he’s probably right. I mean, I would naturally vote Republican, just ‘cause the guy always seemed to say the morally correct stuff, and I’d always be disappointed when he turned his back on poor shmoes like myself to suck the dicks of big corporate honchos.”

“So, what is your point?”

“I don’t know, I guess all I’m saying is , how am I supposed to know what is evil and good, when one can mask the other so well?”

“Have you tried asking your heart what the answer is, Sven?”

“My heart wants everything to be simple. Dinner at Mom and Dad’s on Sundays, working all week, and making love to a girl, or boozing it up on a Friday and Saturday night. That’s all my heart tells me.”

“Well, look a little deeper. Which choice would bring you a similar kind of happiness?”

Sven looked back in longing at the lifeless human forms on the tables below. He was pretty sure if the strange hooded figures could reproduce a beautiful girl, they could make beer. But that was beside the point. He didn’t want to live out the rest of his years as human participating in alien research studies. On the other hand, being born again as some dog-like creature for a life of meditation inside a cave on a mountaintop seemed about as much fun as going in for another hernia surgery. However, both of his dogs would be with him, as brother and sister. And maybe someday he would learn the secrets of this planet’s technology and become a mighty leader, overpowering these Faceless Ones, and obtaining the ability to transmit his soul back into a human form.

“You know, as tempting as being a man again who gets lots of sex from a beautiful chick, I bet being an alien dog won’t be so bad.”

“That’s the Sven I love!” cried Knute, wagging his astral tail.

“Come on, guys, let’s go tell Onqchif we’re ready to join his clan.”

As they prepared their minds to travel back across the divide to the cavedwellers’ mountain, the old man appeared once more in full form.

“Sven Outersky, before you leave, there is one last thing you should know.”

“What’s that old man?”

“The souls of your family are with us.”

His mother and father appeared. Along with his sister Gina, her husband, and his little nieces and nephews.

“Sven, please don’t leave,” cried his mother. “We miss you so much, and things are perfect here except for your absence.”

“Don’t listen to her Sven,” cried Sasha angrily, “It’s a trick and trap, you should know better.”

“Mom, why are you here?”

“Why Sven, when the Earth was destroyed, these peaceful beings came and helped usher billions of souls to a new home. You haven’t even seen but a speck of what lies beneath this room.”

“What do you me an, Mom?”

“We’ve found paradise, son,” said his Father, “Joys and pleasures beyond any you knew or imagined on Earth abound constantly for all of us.”

“Mom, Dad, I -”

“Sven, come on,” shouted Knute, “You’ve seen too many horror movies to know that these aren’t your parents.”

“Gee, I guess you’re right, guys.” And Sven departed from the begging souls of his family, who seemed to grow frighteningly demonic with their pleas, ready to suck him into their realm forever if let his mind go for a fraction of a second in desire to be with them.

Sven and his dogs reappeared outside of Onqchif’s cave, while the first light of day reached into the sky.

“This is going to be weird,” said Sven, “I wonder if I will remember anything at all.”

Thevgv was reunited with her new Sisters the following night, groggily throwing her few remaining possessions into her satchel, and stepping out alongside them as they stood waiting for their ship on the roof of the Matriarchy quadrant. The warrior daughters seemed to have grown less tame than before, completely stepping out of attention and jumping around making a bunch of idiotic noises and faces at the other girls. Thevgv felt small and lonely because she was the last one brought up, and the warrior daughters stood between her and more docile females.

“What are you looking at?” demanded a gaunt warrior daughter named Menshgv, snapping Thevgv out of her reverie.

“I was lost in thought, apparently, I wasn’t looking at anything in particular.”

Menshgv, who was a good two feet taller than Thevgv, with wide sinewy shoulders, imposed her figure on the smaller female. “Well, you better find yourself little one, ‘cause I don’t like nobody looking at me the way you was, unless you wanna fight. You wanna fight?”

“N -no. Sorry.”

“You hear that, my S isters? She said she was sorry. I think someone wants to be

my Wheun. What do you think of that? You think I need a Wheun?”

“Menshgv Uglithmangsm. Stand at attention, now!” cried the Nurse Mother who had just stepped onto the roof. “If I hear you use that word again, I’ll ship you back to your Father’s house and tell him he has an extra son on his hands.”

Menshgv bristled in hatred at being singled out, and cast lightning bolts of intense hatred into Thevgv’s brain. Thevgv struggled to keep from groaning at the absurdity of it all. I haven’t had to deal with such dumbass moronic bullies sense I suckled at the teat, she thought to herself using the priestly speech.

“What are you saying girl?” Demanded Menshgv, trying to keep her thoughts from being heard by the Nurse Mother.

“I said a hundred of you ain’t even worth one of me to our Mother Planet, and if you so much as lay one of your paws on me, they’ll march you off to death.”

“Oooh, the little one has a mouth on her, well she better pray her little band of protectors hover over her at all times, ‘cause if she is out of their site for one second–”

“What? Demanded Thevgv, having cycled through deferential politeness, to boredom, to downright disgust for this androgynous creature who was passing itself off as a female. “Or what?”

“Oh, you’ll see,” cried Menshgv, forgetting to lower her thoughts so the Nurse Mother wouldn’t hear.

“Menshgv! Have you been paying attention at all to what I’ve been saying about acclimatizing one’s self for this planet we are going t o?”

“Accli -what?” demanded Menshgv stupidly.

“I hope you heard, or you will die.”

Though Thevgv hadn’t been paying any attention, she had read up on Himmokely during her lessons, and more recently, in preparation for the hard times ahead. She knew about holding one’s breath as one passed into the atmosphere— the strata accumulated by swamp gas was so great, that the ship’s oxygen valves couldn’t handle the extra load of the green gasses, and briefly shut down until the ship had landed on the planet.

Thevgv didn’t have the good fortune of receiving her own room aboard the ship. The flight was to take eighteen hours, they would be fed three special meals to help inflame the glands around their anuses. This was a Warrior transport ship, with a giant crapper in the middle, and five personal rooms for the commanding officers. She couldn’t imagine how Warriors could spend entire months aboard a ship like this, sleeping in areas half their size. Thevgv, who was considerably smaller than the average Warrior, even felt cramped, on the padded bench just wide enough to keep her from falling off.

She noticed one female was staring at her with an especially jealous look. The jealous one had assembled a small little clan of hangers-on during the past two days, and everything she said was met with little giggles from her female followers.

Thevgv could understand what they were saying perfectly, even though they tried to mask it in a code we from Earth might label Pig Latinesque. Thevgv had played such encryption games with her teatling friends, and simply sat and stared in jaded half-interest at this female who thought herself especially clever.

“That is Thevgv, the daughter of a high priest.”

“What is she doing here with us? I figured someone like her would simply go ask Daddy to get her out of participating in the activities of such common drivel like us.”

“I know, look how stuck up she is.”

“And did you see the way she got that poor warrior daughter in trouble?”

“I know, as if those girls don’t have enough troubles of their own, to have some high falutin’ priestly daughter come along and snitch on them.”

“She doesn’t even make half an effort to brush her fur, or apply sweet smelling scents, and take long meaningful baths.”

“She knows how special she is, Miss Silky Mane Silk F or Brains.”

“Eh, he, he, he.”

Thevgv found the chitter to be almost interesting from the viewpoint of one who was on a journey to study some strange alien culture. With this revelation, the bleak outlook of her journey suddenly changed, and she realized that someday she could write a book about all of this, and when the alien canine race was set to right again, children would study her book and laugh like she too laughed inside today.

A few of the females were obviously growing uncomfortable after being given so much extra food, and provided merely a whole in the floor with which to relieve themselves. Thevgv was especially modest, having never shared a toilet or room with another. The warrior daughters picked up on the painful silence aboard the ship caused by so many young nurse mothers in training hearing the call of nature, and began sauntering around the room strutting their superiority. Two or more of them would walk up to the crapper hole and piss or shit, while the rest gave the young females menacing looks.

The head Nurse Mother who’d accompanied them aboard the ship to keep them in line, had retreated to one of the rooms usually occupied by a commanding officer, to sleep out the trip to Himmokely or do whatever it was that head Nurse Mothers did in their free time.

“They probably don’t do much of anything,” thought Thevgv to herself in the priestly speech. “Their heads are no doubt just as empty as the heads that surround me right now, and maybe they yearn occasionally for the days when they were young and could offer more than instruction to younger members of their race.”

“Look,” cried Menshgv. “There she goes, talking in that priestly talk of hers again. What do you say ladies? Shall we teach her a lesson?”

All of her packmates seconded this motion, while several of the other young females joined in.

“She thinks she’s too good for us, Menshgv,” cried an especially brave one, daring to speak to a warrior daughter, “Why don’t you mess up her face a little bit and bring her down to her feet?”

“That’s an exceptional idea,” Menshgv said, strutting over to where Thevgv sat, shifting to and fro to hold her bladder still.

Thevgv had read a thing or two about warriors, and decided that their female offspring couldn’t be that much different. The rules were, you never show fear around one of them, and you assert your superiority in the pack by giving them short, direct, simple commands with a confident voice.

“Sit down, Menshgv. The rest of you do the same,” spoke Thevgv flatly and decisively, hoping her voice didn’t carry the strain her nerves felt from confronting someone three times her size.

Menshgv retreated back, as did her fellow packmates, then stopped as if the ship had slammed into an extra gravity.

“Why should she tell us what to do, she’s no priest or elder? Nor ever will she be

one. Let’s get her.” Menshgv began to charge Thevgv, but was taken aback by the apparent lack of interest in her fellow warrior daughters.

“I’ll be the Trainer’s bitch,” swore Menshgv violently, causing several females in the room to gasp in shock at such a heretical curse. “You little bitches are mine, and you’ll do as I say. And I say, let’s rearrange this priestly snout over there.”

“No you won’t!” thundered Thevgv, attempting to imitate her father in his best voice-throwing technique. Once, in one of his more accessible moods, he’d explained to her how the brain operated at various frequencies, and could even completely shut down the nervous system, paralyzing the heart and killing the victim, but this was only used by the highest priests on very insubordinate Warriors at the request of the high elders. It was not like a psi-ball in its potency, but more than made up for its lack of punch by being a very subtle method of subduing an opponent using thought. No priest who’d been properly initiated would even lose a step at the voice Thevgv had just produced— a deep resonating wave of thought that rivalled the most drunken pissed off warrior’s voice — but everyone in the room felt dumbly afraid, including Menshgv, and there was a vast vacuum of silence after Thevgv spoke.

Having secured their attention, Thevgv decided to take the opportunity to put away all of the little rumors and bad assumptions that were being created about her.

“Any of you who would dare say I think myself better s hould carefully rethink such idle pap. I am just a scared and lonely young female away from home for the first time like the rest of you. Because I am keeping to myself, doesn’t mean I am handling my loneliness any better. Because Menshgv is busy making a fool out of her androgynous self by acting like something she isn’t, doesn’t mean she is handling it any better. Now, I want every one of you to face the wall. Good.”

She could see that a little voice-throwing wasn’t going to hold back the bad blood that brewed for the duration of the trip, but all she cared about was relieving herself with some degree of modesty. Once finished, she ordered all of the females to keep their backs to the wall, and made them take turns using the crapper. From the section of the warrior daughters, she could sense a growing sense of respect for her from all of them but Menshgv. This could dangerously turn into a strange battle for queen of the pack she wanted no part of, but would have to contend with the immediate truce she’d se cured for now.

Thevgv also understood that in spite of any words she could send out to the contrary, everyone in the room knew that she was very different, very special, and very important to the race’s cause of breeding new warriors. There wouldn’t be extended periods of easy laughter and idle chit-chat among those around her. She looked to the left and right of her, imagining this possibility, and was met with a mixture of fear and mistrust.

Dare I sleep? She asked herself, growing weary as the journey reached the halfway point, and the head Nurse Mother awoke from her nap to come into the room and inform them this was so. The room had no windows, the idea being that warriors’ minds needed to be sharp for battle as a collective singularity, not dulled and divided by the sight of such a vast expanse of space.

It was soon difficult to keep the question a simple choice, as she saw many of the females curling up on their benches and making the best of their space to sleep. Menshgv wasn’t sleeping, she noticed. The arrogant one was so full of energy, and kept pacing back

and forth near her bench, stewing with some vitriol just soft and incoherent enough that Thevgv couldn’t make it out.

Thevgv was among her brothers and sisters again, one of the litter. There was Mlthylly, Hbothylly, Wnehghalla, and Monghv. There was one other’s name and sex she couldn’t remember, because it had been removed and tested and killed for some reason early on. No one ever talked about it, or why they felt it necessary to be tested as Thevgv was tested.

They were wrestling, playing a word game where you had to give a quick rhyme about whatever subject the one who tagged you had chosen, adding on all of the other rhymes that had come before to the end of it. If you couldn’t remember a rhyme, you were made “it” untill someone else forgot.

Wnehghalla had mispronounced Jhsht, the strange viscous fluid discovered on the planet Momtomkiq that was on everyone’s lips in the Capitol as a possible new fuel source for the ships of the long expedition. She’d pronounced it Jah-hosht, like the common spice, when everyone knew you pronounced it Jehhisht. Thevgv, always struggling to distinguish herself as being just as smart and quick and strong as her older sisters had leaped up to correct Wnehghalla. None of the other siblings were quite as unforgiving as she about such things, and Thevggv sometimes felt pangs of guilt for being so hard on them when she thought about their deaths.

“It’s Jeh -hisht!” she cried triumphantly. “There is no way you should be allowed to get away with rhyming Clah-hosht (a kind of tree) with Jah-hosht, when the subject you were given was Jeh-hisht.”

Wnehghalla looked at her little sister with a mixture of amusement and contempt. “Shut up, runt, you don’t know what you’re tal king about.”

“But I’m right, aren’t I?” Thevgv petulantly demanded of her other siblings.

“Yes, technically, but it is just a game,” said the oldest one Mlthylly sagely, stroking phantom whiskers in imitation of his father. He saw how badly his littlest sister wanted an edge in the game, so he changed his mind. “Okay, Wnehgalla, could you be it now, it was indeed an incorrect rhyme.”

Wnehgalla ferociously cried out “Thlmglfklpnoq,” the most difficult word in their language to rhyme which meant a small rodent used in some places as a stewpot flavorer, other places kept as a pet. She made a mad dash for Thevgv, who let out a low growl, and soon the two on the floor were snapping and clawing at each other in a vicious struggle for life and death. Wnehgalla, who was almost twice Thevg’s size, had this as an advantage, while Thevgv had constantly asked her father questions about the quickest way to kill someone. Of course, she was going to stop just short of burying her claw deep enough into her sister’s neck to puncture the jugular, but something slipped, and terrified, Thevgv watched a geyser erupt from her sister’s neck.

Suddenly, she was wide awake, and realized that several arms were holding her back while the head Nurse Mother administered an emergency healing salve to coagulate the blood rushing from Menshgv’s throat. The Nurse Mother stood up after the girl was laid to rest on her bench, and told the ship’s guards to escort Thevgv into the Nurse Mother’s room.

“What do you think you were doing young one?” de manded the Nurse Mother Furiously, “You know you all are not training to be warriors, you are training to breed children for warriors. What are you going to do when some excited Warrior digs his claws

into you a little too deep while he is seeding you? And believe me, he will. Are you going to slice his throat?”

“I -I was asleep, Nurse Mother, I thought I was in a dream until I awoke and saw you bending over her.”

“Ah, well. She isn’t worth much to her Mother planet, anyway, no doubt she is some high-up warrior’s daughter spared for sentimental reasons. But you must be careful, young lady, who you provoke. No young Warrior is going to want to mate with a female whose face has been scratched up.”

“Yes, Nurse Mother.”

“Fine, then. Go back out there and try to a ct like the proper female you were trained to be, and set an example for those backwoods ingrates.”

“Yes, Nurse Mother.”

Menshgv lay in a deep unconscious fog from the salve, breathing harshly from her newly repaired throat. Her compatriots eyed Thevgv even more keenly now, sending out signals that here indeed was new leader material— in spite of her size, she could handle herself against one of our own while still half asleep! Thevgv caught only fear now from the other females in the room, the ones who’d unluckily landed spots near her on the ship were huddled with their friends on benches far away.

Thevgv shook her head and sat down hard on her bench, staring off into nothing. “Well,” she thought, “Things are getting off to an excellent start.”

Xhyntylly found him in his ship’s quarters, turning the coin about in his hand, and musing over Khgiltylly’s words.

“So, he gave you one too?” asked the Proxy Trainer, giving Bhntylly a mocking grin as he hurried to hide the coin in a satchel pocket.

“One, what?”

“Oh , come on, you aren’t going to be tried for heresy or anything. It’s a good token to have in one’s satchel during these times of uncertainty. I carry three of them, and keep a jar full of spare ones in a secret place in my quarters.”

“What is it for?”

“Oh, just a useful thing to have in a tight place, nothing more. Your know-it-all pal probably filled your head full of a bunch of Nurse Mother mythology, and I guess that’s fine, too. But, we’re both men, right?”

“Certainly.”

“Good. Then, I can confide in you . The mission you are about to embark upon requires a lot of trust on the part of its participants.”

“Yes.”

“And obviously, your friend Kghiltylly was a more apt scholar of Himmokely, he maybe could have even been more insightful into the meaning of certain behavior of the planet’s indigenous population.”

“So, why did you pick me?”

“Trust and loyalty, Bhntylly. These, and the fact that you have a killer’s instincts.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we have three priests on this mission. One is too young to be of any threat to the welfare of the Mother Planet, but the other two, well…”

“They are heretics?”

“Ha! Well, no, not proven heretics. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be on this mission, of course. Let’s just say that they have heretical tendencies. And, when the time comes…”

“Yes?”

“Well, you will know when the right time is, and then you will kill them.”

“But what about the two warriors?”

“Strictly mindless fools who accept things as they are wholeheartedly. Their loyalty is not questioned, but they will be busy with the new warriors much of the time, and the priests will have a lot of time to talk among themselves, and share secrets they’ve learned, and perhaps they will decide to somehow abort the mission.”

“But why would they want to associate with me?”

“Ah, that is where your skill as an elder comes in. The persuasive powers of the tongue, the glib easy conversation every elder learns as a young Page.”

“I barely passed those classes.”

“Oh, you’ll do just fine. Just remember, when the priests become disloyal to our war, which is important above everything else, you will find yourself in their company, and you must do as I say.”

“Yes, Oh Great One, it will be my pleasure.”

“Now, come with me and meet your compatriots on this mission, one must make a good impression, mustn’t one?”

“Yes, Oh Great One.”

Bhntylly kept his thoughts out of the Proxy Trainer’s reach. He’d crudely picked up this technique from observing the priests about their business in the library, and found it useful for times like this. Xhyntylly had been unnaturally friendly to him just then, no doubt as a ploy to boost his ego. But Bhntylly had always loathed a mission where he was called upon to join simply because of his killer instincts.

He’d spent years repressing the Erqhg incident, a mission to a planet of priests who’d revolted against their race, and were busy going about settling a remote planet in their own way. Bhntylly could still vividly see in nightmares the looks of shock on the ten males and females whose necks he’d broken, and could hear the screams of their children he had to transport back to the Mother Planet.

Bhntylly entered the main room of the ship which served as a meeting place on priestly research expeditions, a card-playing room when elders used the ship, and on other ships of similar make it might be a party room where beautiful ones drank and smoked and danced into the night.

It was immediately obvious who the priests were, and who the warriors were, and introductions passed about in ritual fashion, quick and to the point.

Fghala Omghlvug, introduced as male relief detail, whom Bhntylly knew to be well-studied in the mythology of Himmokely. Her lips were painted in the traditional manner of the ship’s reliever of males, and she batted her tail in the ceremonial coquettish way, though it seemed to Bhntylly to be somewhat of a tired lazy greeting. Ogdgythylly Uilghlvug, a young priest introduced as one still in training, bowed his head deferentially to those older and wiser than he. Drythylly Morfthgh, a wizened stooped priest reeking of Knabsht, introduced as a psi adept, and resident priest for the young psi warriors.

Bhyntylly was introduced as the High One’s Ears, Eyes and Nose, which meant

everyone immediately understood that he was sent as a spy to keep them out of mischief.

The three older warriors were already humming with anticipation of an eighteen hour flight to be spent relieving themselves on Fghala, and their names passed through Bhntylly’s memory like the wind. Xhyntylly gave a little unnecessary patriotic speech, then left the ship.

Fghala resignedly retreated to her quarters with the three warriors, and the other two priests required to share living space on the trip opted to remain in the main meeting area, studying their books and ignoring each other. Bhyntylly saw that discussion of mutual topics of interest would be pale at best, so he retreated to his own quarters to write in his journal.

“The warriors will be acting as guards over the training area, and I will probably see little of them. Drythylly, one of the most respected priests obviously given the option of this mission over death itself, seems a complacent little fool completely ready and willing to do whatever his Mother Planet asks of him. Though I know their politics and means of advancement are their own, I’m sure he didn’t get to be where he is without more than a little sac -sniffing in his day. The young one, Ogdgythylly, grooms himself more like a fancy elder’s son, seems more concerned about where the fur on the back of his neck will fall, than performing any serious inquiry into Himmokelian phenomena. Fghala, reported to be somewhat of a wild female in her rants about the true history of indigenous populations, seems resigned and weary, hardly the rebellious threat to the welfare of the Mother Planet she was rumored to be. I shall not mind killing these priests if they do in fact decide to do something heretical. However, in my advanced age, I find it hard to believe there is any advancement waiting for me back on the Mother Planet for my good deeds.”

Bhyntylly closed his journal, and performed a series of stretches and weight exercises using the Warrior’s Companion, a machine that took advantage of the properties of gravity, and created various levels of extra gravitational strain on the muscles the user desired to work. He cited the Warrior’s Companion as the main reason he remained in excellent physical shape at an age when most of his peers grew tired leaving their quarters to meet in council. Bhntylly spent an hour working the muscles in his lower back and abdomen, keeping a rigid posture in spite of the extra gravity of the Warrior’s Companion which could range as high as 2.5 times that of the Mother Planet. As a young one, he could make his biceps perform curling exercises at a level of almost 4, but never tried to max out after a serious groin pull a few years ago.

After he put the machine away, he thumbed through his few books on Himmokely he’d kept rather than returning them to the priestly library after having had the editions translated into pictures. Fghala Omghlvug, her name appeared as a reference in the back of a slim volume by a Oithfylly Manpushtg. The book was written twenty years ago, and the passage in which she was quoted referred to a comment she’d made a few years prior to this p articular volume. Odd, he thought, the youngest priests to merit a reference in a book are at least twelve years of age, this would make her almost thirty-five, or five years my senior. But she doesn’t seem older than me. She definitely has some gray in he r muzzle, and her fur seems a little stringy and lacking in luster, but I would have pegged her to be twenty years of age at the most.

The canine aliens were careful not to recycle names. A young teatling didn’t

receive its name officially in the great bo ok of records until it was certain that it would survive to adulthood. There might be several Fghala’s among the masses, but in a priestly, warrior or elderly class, it was strongly recommended that a child not be given a first name that was the same as an ancestor or family member. So, Bhntylly was almost certain that she had to be the same Fghala as the one aboard the ship in the present.

She was quoted thusly:

“My experience with the Himmokelian culture tells me that they are far more adept at using the fauna and flora of their planet to heal illnesses and wounds of their own race, than we have perhaps ever been in the history of our own. This is not to say that we are incompetent or neglectful of our natural remedies, this planet simply abounds with medicinal possibilities that may very well be good for our race as well.”

The writer of the book had devoted most of his time to debunking such wild ideas, citing several examples among the literature and priestly community of how much more advanced the alien canines were. Bhntylly felt that the writer was missing the point, though, and decided to see if Fghala was finished with her own business.

He passed two of the three warriors in the hall, and met the third at the door. He gave Bhntylly a knowing look of satisfaction, and smirked a bit with pride that he in fact would not be the last male on the short trip to enjoy Fghala’s favors. Bhntylly held the door open, and could hear water running in the small toilet area behind her room.

“May I come in?” he asked, with a loud booming voice.

“Yeah, sure, make yourself comfortable. Just let me get cleaned up. I know you elders don’t like to get the seed of Warriors on you, so…”

She stepped out into the room, strangely attractive as a female could be during the autumn of her heat.

“I am not interested in seeking relief,” said Bhntylly.

“Oh? You want to begin your little spying duties, huh? Well, you can dig through all my things, just some dried herbs and mushrooms, nothing that will cause a stir anytime soon in the old Capitol.” Her voice became wooden and shallow, once she’d realized he was probably too old to need relief, and the proper flirtatiousness and feminine body language would be ill-spent on one such as he.

“I am not here to spy, either. I just wanted to talk .”

“I think you’ll find my thoughts as boring as my possessions, Oh Great One.”

“Don’t call me that! I will never sit in the inner circle. You can see I am an old one, on my last mission. I do not consider myself a spy, Fghala Omghlvug, merely a scholar with an elderly collar.”

“Fine. But you can see that I can’t help but be a little suspicious of your intentions.”

“You say you have nothing to hide. I believe you.”

“Fair enough. So, what do you want to know?”

“I am merely interested in some of your research on the planet Himmokely. Have you ever read Manpushtg’s volume on its medicinal plants?”

Her face grew dark at the mention of the name, then she coolly shrugged. “Sure, who hasn’t? He was a champion of progress in our medical research labs, he ended the practice of removing the hearts of living Nurse Mothers headed for death, on the grounds that the fertility-exciting properties of their warm last blood was superstition. He put an end to the practice of offering the first daughters of new priests up to the High Priest for

“special initiations,” citing several cases where these females did not, in fact, seem to extend the life of the High Priest. Yes, he did a lot of wonderful things for our race, and the advancement of its medicine.”

“But…”

“But, he complet ely ignored all of the painstaking work that I— that was done with the cavedwellers. He denounced Himmokelian medicine as superstitious heretical busywork, and continually vetoed the opening of the vaults to examine fauna and flora from other planets that might have been beneficial to helping cure illnesses or even help us live longer.”

“So you think he was a little too zealous in his campaign to end superstitious practices?”

“Not only that, I believe he completely denied the validity of all folk wisdom, though 80% of the medicinal programs he espoused were somehow derivative of ‘superstitious heretical busywork.’”

“You sound like you know him pretty well.”

“I’ve read most of his work. It is my business to know the kind of mentality I wish to change.”

“But yo u seem more familiar with him than a student of his work might be.”

“What are you saying?” Fghala eyed him mistrustfully.

“I am just trying to find answers to my questions.” Bhntylly removed the thin volume from his satchel, and showed her the passage he’d bookmarked.

Her eyes widened, then narrowed, and she grew calm. “So I’m a bit older than I look, that’s all.”

“But you must be around my age, and yet -”

“And yet I appear almost half your age. I know. So?”

“So, what is your secret? I don’t see a Warrior’s Companion anywhere in the room. I smell no Knabsht.”

“Ah, Bhntylly. Do you really want to know my secret?” she smiled enticingly. Bhntylly felt a feeling below he hadn’t felt in years. Simple purposeless lust.

“Of course, I am a scholar and seeker of knowl edge.”

“I don’t simply wipe off the vital juices of the males I relieve, and throw the soiled towel in the incinerator. I drink them.”

Bhntylly hung on every word until she reached the last sentence, then scoffed loudly. “Oh, come on, don’t pull my tail, e ven you aren’t so simple to practice and believe in such a backwards superstition.”

“Have you tried the vital juices of males?”

Bhntylly spat in disgust, and made his way towards the door.

“Ah, come on, Oh Great Seeker of Knowledge, I was just having a lit tle fun.”

Bhntylly slammed her door, and stomped back to his room. Silly bitch of a female, he muttered to himself. Gets me all excited, then feeds me a load of crap. Maybe it won’t be hard to kill her when the time comes after all, he thought, half seriously.

Trmylly found the green ball of light now poking its head obtrusively through the trees to be a nuisance rather than a welcome blessing from the horrors of the black night. It reminded him how tired he was, and how little sleep he’d gotten since he left his cell inside the priestly quadrant. He grew more and more irritated with his companion

Dughnth, who’d slept even less, and was in worse physical shape.

“We could make this a two -day trip, you know,” said Dughnth to nobody in particular, from his place in the line several paces behind Trymylly.

“Dughnth, why don’t you suck it up, and start proving to me why you are worth being kept alive.”

This quieted his friend for a few minutes, then he spoke again, “I mean, what with all those powers of yours, do you really think these females will do anything to us while we sleep?”

“You don’t need to give them any ideas! Actually, no. But we have no means of tying them up, so they’ll escape, and we’ll never find my immortality.”

“You mean our immortality, right Tr mylly? I get to be immortal, too, don’t I?”

“I’ll think about it.” Trmylly fingered the satchel he’d filled with Kneesht upon departing the ship, and bemoaned how little there was left. He removed his pipe from the satchel, and placed a hefty amount of Kneesht inside it, still delighted at his ability to make fire using only his mind.

“We could use the Himmokelian girl’s tentacles,” suggested Dughnth, “and tie them both together on the ground.”

“I’m not going near either of them, do you want to do that?”

Dughnth considered the possibility of one or both of the females casting a spell on him, and shuddered. “A -are you too s-scared?” demanded Dughnth, making his best effort to taunt Trmylly.

“Oh, I think not. I simply don’t want to get anymore of that icky gre en glop on me, and our friend Dnaegv is covered in her own gross stuff. But look at you, you could join their little swamp family.”

Dughnth continued to absently pick at the drying mud on his fur. “F -fine. I’ll do it, but you have to stand nearby and threa ten them with your p-powers.”

Trmylly could see that his friend wasn’t going to last on his feet much longer, knowing how Dughnth always stuttered as he grew sleepy.

“Go fetch the two of them, and bring them here.”

Dughnth seemed to spend an infinite amount of time shuffling up to Dnaegv, and pleading with her to call her friend so they could rest for awhile. Finally, the three of them trudged over to where Trmylly stood, and stared at him in various states of defiance and dejection. The Himmokelian made him uncomfortable with her endlessly moving tentacles and eyes that darted about.

“Females, I want you to lie down close to each other.”

“All right, Dughnth, tie them together.”

“What the -” cried Dnaegv, as Dughnth began furtively trying to grab on to Jufeny’s slippery tentacles and make knots.

“Ouch!” yelped Jufeny occasionally, when Dughnth managed to pull an especially successful knot.

“You really think this is necessary?” Dnaegv asked defiantly. “What are we going to do, bury you in the muck and run?”

“Ju st a little precautionary measure, that’s all, sweetheart.”

“Well, you can be certain that I am not happy about this, and will remember-”

“Just go to sleep!” cried Trmylly, trying to make himself as comfortable as he could in a pile of soft plyngsht. He noticed that Dughnth was already fast asleep on hard

soil, and the Himmokelian intended to keep her eyes open in watch for more monsters.

Trmylly couldn’t hold his eyes open any longer, and found himself back in the bookseller’s market yet again, this time i t was eerily empty of any life. It was the dusk hour, and the entire city seemed silent. He walked toward the capitol, and noticed that many of the windows were shattered, and no lights appeared in any of the windows.

He hesitated briefly at the door of the Priestly quadrant, but continued into the dark building as if he were a ghost, passing upward through living quarters and classrooms the library in search of a remaining priest. The library was dark and empty, as he suspected it would be, but a small pale glow from around the edges of one of the study rooms caught his eye, and Trmylly felt drawn to it.

Inside the room, he found the strange hooded bookseller engrossed in the study of a dusty tome, guided by an unknown lightsource that seemed to emanate from somewhere in the middle of the bookseller’s head.

“Oh, greetings, young Explorer,” came a raspy voice into Trmylly’s head, though the figure continued to appear intent with his reading material.

“Uh, hello. Where is everybody? What kind of dream is this supposed to be?”

“Well, I’ll show you.”

The bookseller beckoned him away from the room and towards a window.

“It’s okay, you can fly in your dreams. Did you not know this?”

“I, I guess I never had a dream like that.”

“It’s easy, just jump when I jump, then let yourself flap like a bird or swim like a fish. You’ll glide through the air, and arrive at our destination in no time.”

“Uh, I don’t know.”

“Watch me.”

The hooded figure stretched out arms to make his robe appear as if it held wings beneath, and flapped into the air.

Trmylly knew it couldn’t be too hard, so he climbed atop the sill, and gave his mightiest heave. But no wings or fins came to him to navigate the air, and he felt the fear mount, forgetting he was of ethereal form inside a dream. The earth plunged rapidly towards him, as he felt its approaching deathly kiss.

“AAAAAAH!” he screamed in sheer panic.

Dughnth’s face loomed large in his frame of vision, surrounded by a strange light, and Trmylly suddenly remembered where he was.

“Geez, Dughnth, w hat in evil’s name are you doing?”

“Ah, gee, Trmylly, you were screaming in a nightmare, and kicking your legs and waving your arms. You woke everyone up.”

“Damn. Well, don’t just stand there. I was simply clearing my throat to take on the new day.”

“Sound ed like a scream to me!” called a female voice.

Trmylly turned to where his captives lay tied together, and laughed, “I think you just better not sound like anything to me, or I’ll blast you and your friend to ash.”

“Yes, Oh Great One,” mocked Dnaegv.

Trmylly made as if he didn’t notice her sarcasm, and ordered Dughnth to untie them, so they could get moving again.

“Do you know what time it is, little bitch?” Trmylly asked Dnaegv.

“You had us sleep til almost noon, Oh Great One. A perfect time to start out in the swamp.” She proceeded to walk off with Jufeny in a perpendicular direction to the one they’d tromped all the previous morning, and Trmylly stomped his foot in impatience.

“Uh, I thought the way to Immortality was that way.”

“Don’t worry, your Emmine nce, we are going to put on some protection.”

“Protection?”

“That’s right, when Ibghyv flies start biting around high noon, you’ll be thankful for a little muck on you. And this is about the last bog for many miles, so you’d better get covered good.”

“Bah! ” Just then, sharp pains erupted all over him, and he started swatting at the bites, picking tiny winged insects from his fur in a hopeless gesture.

“Better hurry!” cried Dnaegv, dashing off into the swamp.

Dughnth was hot on her trail, as hot on anyone’s trail as his portly self could be, and this time Trmylly decided he would heed the wisdom of the swamps.

By the time he reached the small bog the females were already exiting, he could barely control screaming out in pain from the multitude of bites running throughout his fur.

Trmylly was determined not to be put in such a compromising position again, and tried to double the coating the females had applied to themselves.

“Dughnth, you look like an old decrepit half -burned corpse that didn’t take to its incineration.”

“Yeah, you should have a look at yourself, too. This stuff doesn’t smell so hot, either.”

The females were giggling at the two of them, and Trmylly briefly considered flying into a rage and smoldering them, but decided that a little female laughter wasn’t going to get the better of him. The stupid alien female looked downright scary, he thought, and the other one will probably die an unfulfilled old bag of bones. What man would want a creature like that who is half wild, and keeps herself covered in filth?

“You should ask yourself what female would want you,” said Dnaegv, giggling even in her intruding thoughts.

“Silence!” he tried to thunder, but merely cried the word. “Now, let’s get moving, I don’t wish to remain on this Trainer -forsaken planet forever.”

“Yes, Oh Powerful and Mighty.”

“And stop using blasphemous titles on me, or I’ll remove your nose. Not that you’ll ever need it.”

Dnaegv hung her head in what his ego told him was obeisance, though he would continue to hold reservations as to how sincere she was.

The four of them continued on into the swamp keeping there own little worlds far inside their heads. Vegetation grew thick, the trail was hard to spot and pick up, and Trmylly was beginning to wonder just where the females were leading him, and if he would be able to find his way back if annihilating them became necessary. He retreated back a few paces to where his friend trudged along.

“Dughnth, I am not beginning to like the looks of this, at all.”

“You voiced what I felt a long time a go.”

“I mean, we don’t know anything about this planet. What if that thing that half-tore off my arm was like a baby or something, and they have some kind of potion of

protection they aren’t sharing.”

“Yeah, and they’re leading us to the Mother’s lair.”

“I wouldn’t put it past them. Why, then they can sell the ship to some outlaws they are probably extra-friendly with— if you know what I mean— and use the money to buy…” He tried to imagine what an inhabitant of this swamp would need.

“I think you’re right. I mean, we have to be careful, you know.”

“Yeah. Say, you’ve been keeping track of things like landmarks, and such, right?”

“Huh?”

“You know. You’re the navigator.”

“I am?”

“Well sure, it’s the two of us that need to look out for each other, right?”

“Yeah.”

“And, I am naturally going to be the pilot of any vessel or vehicle we come upon, correct?”

“Sure, I guess.”

“So, that makes you the navigator, it’s you’re responsibility to pay attention to where we are, so you can scout us back out of here.”

“Ah, gee, Tr mylly, I’m sorry. I didn’t know…”

“Idiot.” muttered Trmylly, letting the burden of guilt for forgetting to remember landmarks rest solely on his friend’s shoulders so he could have a clear head to think.

Dnaegv and Jufeny had quit walking, they bent over something, and were muttering to themselves excitedly. Trmylly stopped beside them, and looked down. Two tiny creatures lay dead at their feet. They looked as if they’d resembled the Himmokelian female somewhat in life, but had several more sockets where eyes had been, that now oozed green slime. Places where one would expect to find protruding tentacles were nothing more than charred husks. The smell was something frightening, the worst smell Trmylly could remember ever hitting his nose.

“Did you and your i diot friend do this?” demanded Dnaegv furiously. “What are you, some kind of insane playmale who gets his kicks by burning up small children?”

“Huh? I’ve never been this way before, why would you accuse me of such a thing?”

“You’ve been threatening to do w hat was done to these little ones ever since we met you, haven’t you?”

“But why would I need your help guiding me through this swamp, if I’ve already been through here?”

“You probably fly above the trees in your little ship, blasting away at them, and were too high on Kneesht to realize you’d run out of fuel.”

“You’re crazy, I would never kill someone just for kicks.”

Jufeny whispered a long string of words to Dnaegv.

“What? What’s she saying?”

“She seems to agree with you. She thinks this act was done by s omething or someone else.”

“Good, because that is the truth.”

“But what would be killing them like this? A simian turned foul?”

“I’ll be damned if I know. Why don’t we keep moving, maybe that awful beast that got me last night did this.”

Dnaegv said something to her friend, and her friend muttered back to her.

“She says she doesn’t think so, the Sister would’ve eaten them whole, and usually prefers larger children for her meals.”

“Fine, whatever. Can we carry on, for Trainer’s sake?”

Dnaegv eyed him oddly. He felt a strange emotion tug at him inside, something like he could dimly remember from his years at the teat.

“Why are you looking at me like that, are you starting to get your heat, or something?”

She scowled and shrugged. “Nothing, I am simply waiting for your friend to catch up, that’s all.”

“Don’t worry about him, he’s my charge, not yours.” Trmylly turned to see Dughnth approaching the group in his usual wheezing manner, felt the emotion pull at him again, and whirled around to catch Dnaegv looking away.

He shook his head in disgust at the thought of taking her as a mate, or even using her for relief, letting his nostrils inform him just how disgusting such an act would be.

The four set out once more, Dughnth calling out to them in askance over the dead Himmokelian children.

Monachif felt an overwhelming sense of camaraderie toward the thirty-nine other young warriors, and he could plainly see that they were feeling the same thing, too. But, most of all, was the growing sense of respect and adoration he felt for their new leader. Only a wise and patient teacher could earn the title of “Master,” not just any average Warrior commander preparing them for battle.

Everyone kept their minds sharply attuned to the Master’s instruction, growing more and more enamored of his ability to shape things in the physical and mental world using his mind.

“There will be no more use of your psi powers until I deem it so. Is this understood?”

“Yes, Master!” shouted Monahnchif, elated to join in with his brothers in giving their respect to this Wise One.

Any memory of the distaste he’d felt for Faceless Ones was dim and weak now, in fact, most of his cavedweller memories seemed to be those belonging to someone else. He’d not even really needed to rationalize to himself ver y hard how this Master was different from the other Faceless Ones he’d known, this one understood the importance of the brotherhood of the Warriors. Why, the fact he was accompanying them to another planet alone was proof that he was different. And Monahnchif was certain that his own kind was viewed in the same light, but now he knew that all of his brother warriors here saw him differently, saw him as an equal and one apart from the rank beings who chose to live their lives out in caves.

They sat aboard a ship like the one Thevgv had departed from the Mother Planet on, only a few hours behind the young Nurse Mothers.

“Many of you still have hot tempers, in spite of the new sense of responsibility you carry now.”

“Yes Master.”

“You may wish to unleash your n ewfound powers on a young Nurse Mother you are mating with. Or perhaps upon a fellow brother warrior.”

“Never, Master!”

“Good. Because I will put you out of commission, and fill your place with ones from the litter behind you in age. Your mission upon this planet is threefold: One, you will take study, and hone your psi-powers, as well as your natural fighting skills to a fine edge. Two, you will assist us in purging Himmokely of its entire native population. Three, you will help quell the inevitable rebellion from farmers of our own race who will not wish to put aside their backwards ways, and return to their Mother Planet for service. After this mission, which may take a number of years, is accomplished, you shall return to your Mother Planet for one final task which will be relayed to you at the proper time. Is this understood by all?”

“Yes, Master.”

The room was silent for several minutes, while the hooded figure moved about, keenly examining each one of them. A few shook with the slightest hint of fear when he stopped, others seemed on the verge of wishing to ask questions, then thought the better of it. When the master paused before Monahnchif, he let forth a tiny message of thought that only Monahnchif could seem to hear.

“You represent your entire peo ple on this mission, and will no doubt be the only one of your kind for many years to be a member of this sacred order. Let us hope you make them proud.”

“I will Master.”

“Very good.”

Monahnchif realized he too had shaken slightly, and that it wasn’t with fear, but something else. It was as if all of the special brotherly empathy he’d experienced after the battle was focused down to a single beam of concentrated light. A force as powerful as this one was almost too much to bear! He looked around the room to see if anyone had noticed him shake, but all seemed to be in a mellow state of awakened bliss, lost in the rapture of this important mission.

The Master left the room, and Monahnchif could see that some of the states of awakened bliss were passing into slumber, but did not feel tired himself. He was still full of the excitement from the past week, remarking over and again inside how he had began the week in his simple room, wanting more than a simple life of quiet contemplation, and how quickly he’d advanc ed towards realizing his dream.

Monahnchif looked around at his closest brother warriors, they were fast asleep. He wanted to share his excitement with someone who understood perfectly, but the others who were awake about the room were lost in close-kept conversations that he couldn’t pick up. Occasionally, his mind could make out a word or two, recognizing “cavedweller” and “Faceless One” and “one of us.” Also, his eyes would catch a darting glance in his direction, and find that the sender of the glance perhaps didn’t feel the same kind of empathy he did.

Monahnchif was puzzled, when the Faceless One was in the room, everyone had seemed to be of One mind, sharing in their joy over preparation to do their patriotic duty. Now, little quiet schisms of other emotions and thought patterns emerged, clandestine and perhaps even running counter to the original shared emotion.

Once, he knew he’d caught the attention of two lean and ferocious looking brother warriors who were having an animated quiet conversation, and felt their bristling at his intrusion. A less menacing looking male in the far right corner, who sat awake

staring off into nothingness by himself, didn’t bring any more successful results, either, but at least he spoke to Monahnchif.

“We certainly are a lucky bunch to be on this important mission, huh?” asked Monahnchif.

“Sleenghug was right, I should have listened to him,” the male would moan pathetically in a chant, over and over again.

“Who is Sleenghug?”

“One lucky son -of-a-bitch, that’s who,” replie d the warrior indifferently, as if he could care less whether Monahnchif continued the conversation.

“What are you talking about, do you know something I don’t know?”

“Look around you, cavedweller. And tell me what you see.”

“I see my new brothers, all of us destined to work as one to bring the Master’s plan into fruition. My name is Monahnchif.”

“Of course. But does it even matter, does it?”

“Do you mean the Master’s plan, or what my name is?”

The young male simply seemed to drift away, and finally rest his head in sleep. Monahnchif wondered if there was something mentally wrong with that one, or if the male truly knew something he didn’t, having been raised among these males.

Monahnchif began to feel weary, having drained so much of his energy trying to connect with his new brothers. The original feeling of elation and the sense of camaraderie were wearing off, and he fought to maintain them. He wished for sleep, and hoped he would simply sleep off whatever was eating at him, beginning the next part of his life fresh and vigorous and ready for battle.

But sleep would not come to him, the original extra adrenaline rush was now eating away at him in a raw unpleasant fashion, keeping him awake like too much Kneesht, but wearing him down all the while.

Monahnchif’s ears pricked up, he could hear someone trying to contact him, and his eyes darted about the room. The larger of the two fierce fellows across the room had stood up, and his enormous frame was advancing toward Monahnchif.

“So you think you’re one of us, now, huh?” demanded the brute belligerently, plopping himself on Monahnchif’s bench, occupying over half of the space with his enormous bulk.

“Of course, didn’t you hear what the Master said?”

“Didn’t I hear what the Master said?” repeated the male in a s ing-sing voice. “You spent all of your life stinking up a cave somewhere, and now you think you can just waltz into our brotherhood, and become one of us?”

“I proved myself just like you, there should be no question of my strength and commitment.”

“No ques tion of my strength and commitment. Blah dee fucking blah. So, you can throw a psi-ball around a bit, but perhaps you don’t realize what this mission is all about.”

“And I suppose you are going to be so kind as to educate me.”

“What? Are you mocking me? Yo u may have a little protection now, whelp, but just wait until we have open firing privileges, and you encounter a little friendly fire.”

“You wouldn’t dare!”

“All I’m saying is, you still have to prove yourself as a fighter to we who have fought and killed at the teat. You will have to take a life in close combat with nails and

teeth, because none of us really believe in this psi bullshit.”

The brute gave Monahnchif a shove, and stomped back over to his bench. A few of the warriors had awoken to the sounds of this especially loud conversation, and were looking intently at Monahnchif.

He felt a moment’s pang of defeat, and wanted to curl up in a small ball and will himself back into a cave of comfort, briefly seeing the beauty of a peaceful contemplative life. But this state of weakness was quickly denounced by a strong urge to show these fools that he could hold his own in any fight using any kind of weapon. Monahnchif glared defiantly at the room around him, no longer seeing them as brethren he would join as one, but each and every one of them a potential enemy, a possible threat to his future.

“That’s it, young warrior, use the energies you sense about the room to build your strength. I have a special plan for you, because I know you are far more adept with psi than any of these blundering simians ever shall be.”

Monahnchif basked in the warmth that radiated from the Master who entered the room once more. None of the other warriors in the room appeared to have heard the Master’s words, which made his ego fee l all the more proud in its uniqueness and quality of character.

“Let us begin another lesson, young warriors. You shall soon be with your mates, breeding a special new generation of psi warriors as this race has never seen before. This is your first task, because I do not wish all of you horny little dogs to have your minds on other things besides your studies and your craft.”

“Yes Master.”

“Good, then let me explain how the mate selection process will work. Naturally, two or more of you may desire the same female, and this we shall accommodate.”

The Master turned abruptly and walked straight to Monahnchif.

“You can ignore this lesson if you like, young Warrior, because of your unique milk and blood, a special mate has been chosen for you and you alone.”

Monahnchif ‘yes Mastered’ silently and reverently, and returned to sitting in his state of defiance at the ones who stared hard at him now. He could care less about the mating bit of the mission, he longed for the battles and opportunities to prove himself to the world.

Kghug couldn’t have cared anymore about the mating bit of the mission, either. But, unlike Monahnchif, he no longer wanted battle and recognition. He would have given anything to be sitting in a classroom with Sleenghug, memorizing incantations and spells or whatever a young priest initiate had to learn. There was something uncomfortable, like an ill-fitting collar, about this feeling the Master eminated, but he couldn’t quite place his paw on what made it so.

When he’d first stood up after t he proving battle, the world seemed to glow with a positive energy of hope and things to come. He’d wanted nothing more than to please the Master, because the Master made him feel so good inside. But that was when he still felt the high tension of nerves and smelled fear and death in the air. Now, when the Master entered the room, and the feeling seemed to come over everyone, he wanted nothing more than to be as far away from the Master as possible.

It must be how he can control us so well, he thought to himself. All of my previous teachers and guardians ruled me with a merciless brutal hand, but there was a part of me

they could never reach. That part was all mine, and I could feel as disobedient as I wish, and nobody ever touched it. Now, its like I am nothing more than a laser or a tool, in somebody else’s hands, awaiting the next command to fulfill their request.

“Oh, someone in here is not paying attention to a word I am saying,” came the words that filled his head. Kghug looked up and blanched in shame, because the Master and everyone else in the room was staring straight at him.

“I am eternally sorry, Master.”

“Good. Perhaps you will simply have to settle for a more inferior mate, if you aren’t going to learn how the rules of selection.”

Several low grunts of laughter could be heard about the room.

“Now, after you all have chosen the mate of your desire, the ones who have no competition will retire to their mate’s quarters and spend the next few nights filling her belly with their seed. The rest of you will perform a series of mental and physical tasks to determine which mate you are best for.”

Kghug could feel his mind pulled to a point now, and helplessly rode along with the Master’s words, unable to let it waver even ever -so-briefly off into dreamland. He had already made up his mind that he would pick some ugly docile creature, and quickly get the mating over with, so he could begin plotting a means of which to escape this messy affair he’d gotten himself into.

“The females you shall see presently, are selected from the widest array of backgrounds and lineages. Remember the name, because you will be prompted shortly to request the name of the one you like.”

A three-dimensional projector came on in the center of the floor, and a gorgeous female who was obviously the daughter of a priest materialized as if actually with them in the room.

There were grunts of approval and a few young warriors seemed barely able to keep themselves from jumping up and attempting to mate with the image itself.

“That is a prie st’s daughter. She has already been chosen to be the mate of our cavedweller representative.”

There were groans of disapproval, and looks of hatred toward the oddball of the group, who appeared to be holding back a difficult bowel movement.

Poor fellow has the craps, and has probably always gone when he wished, not knowing our custom of building steely bowels by crapping only once a day, thought Kghug to himself.

“Now, don’t despair, there are many more beauties and fine coats to view. Also, for those of you who survive your next round of battles, you may have the opportunity to mate with her after she has given birth to her first litter.”

Some grunted in excitement over the possibility she could still be theirs, others moaned in disapproval at being given sloppy seconds.

“For reasons you don’t need to know, the high elders of your Mother Planet have seen fit to mate Monahnchif and the Priest’s daughter, so I shall move on.”

There were groans of disgust at the warrior daughters, and panting moans of desire for fine silk manes and long fluffy tails. Noble snouts received high praise from the warriors who thought themselves more sophisticated, and broad shoulders won many pounds of paws on the benches.

Kghug eyed the group carefully, waiting for a female to appear that nobody else

wanted. Finally, a tiny little thing a third of his size came on the screen, and received dead silence for her unremarkable appearance.

“This one’s name is Ylnf, she was found in the gutters of the Capitol City and cleaned up at the last minute to fill our quota. Her lineage appears to be rather muddled, my notes say she has an unexceptional mind, and as you can see, a rather homely appearance. Her entire litter will be as runts to us, but mayhap one teatling out of ten litters will produce a sturdy warrior. I feel sorry for the unlucky warrior who gets stuck with her.”

Heads shook, and the pictures rolled on. Kghug smiled to himself. In all arenas where I can still freely choose a thing, I shall choose the least expected and most abhorred thing, he thought, grinning savagely inside.

The Master finished the show, and some of the slower warriors cried out to see this female or that female again, because they couldn’t remember the names fast enough. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Ask a friend, and compete with him when the time comes.”

He proceeded to walk around the room, sometimes seeming to grow the slightest bit irritated when a warrior requested Thevgv, the Priest’s daughter. When he stopped at Kghug, and Kghug told him, “Ylnf,” t he Faceless One made no response of approval or disapproval, but merely continued on his way.

“Did you say ‘Ylnf?’ Wasn’t she the little gutterbitch?” asked a warrior who sat next to him.

“Yes.”

“But, why? Do you want your offspring’s milk to be so pale an d weak? Why, most of your kids will probably be put to death.”

“Ah, whatever. I am off to fight battles, not make puppies.”

“Chuine.” he heard the male mutter softly.

Kghug was stricken for a second in self-doubt. What if I am a Chuine? I excused my lack of interest in the brothels at the Capitol by saying I wanted to be sharp for battle. Now I simply tell myself I want to find a way out of this. But do I find other males attractive? He looked around the room. He shook his head. I just don’t care about anyt hing, anymore, I guess.

That was the other strange thing about the pull of the Master’s mind. A week ago, Kghug would have leaped across the room at a warrior who accused him of being such a thing. Now, unless the Master was in the room filling him with that strange uncomfortable energy, he just wanted to drift off into a dream world where he could aimlessly explore his thoughts.

The Master exited the room, and Kghug let his eyes wander over to the cavedweller. What a strange looking canine alien! His ears were gigantic, his snout long and black. A childhood of bad posture had left him with a remarkably sick appearance. While all of the other warriors’ legs touched the ground, his toes barely grazed the surface of the floor. Kghug let his mind penetrate the cavedweller’s thoughts, and realized that the painful need to excrete was actually some kind of proud defiance the fellow thought was necessary to hold against everyone else.

“What is wrong with you?” he asked casually, trying to determine the nature of the cavedweller’s enmity. He watched the male’s form jump as if stricken by a bolt of lightning, then met the wary gaze of the cavedweller with indifference.

“What, you think I do not find my mate attractive? You are one to be asking such a question. I saw your pick of the pack.”

“I wasn’t talking about our mates. I just wondered why you are so pissed off at us, what kind of a reaction did you think you would get from a bunch of big hard warriors?”

“I thought we were brothers of the same coat of fur, now. Th at’s all. Why do you care?”

“I am a curious one, that is all.”

“Who was that Sleenghug you were referring to, earlier?”

“My best friend, that’s all. He was right about some things, and I should have listened.”

“Was he killed?”

“No, he went off to be a prie st.”

“Do you wish you were a priest?”

“I don’t know. I wish I were part of a dedicated team bent upon conquest.”

“You are.”

“You heard what the Master said. We are basically going to do some police duty on Himmokely, then come back home and do the same. Where is the novelty in that?”

“But that is just the beginning, my friend. My name is Monahnchif, by the way. You can stop referring to me as ‘that cavedweller’ in your thoughts.”

“Fine, Monahnchif. My name is Kghug. I will tell you I haven’t the best of feelings about this. I mean, what will they do with us once our children have grown. They will be ten times smarter and stronger and more adept at the use of psi than we can ever be. Of what use will our pioneering bunch be?”

“That sounds heretical, Kghug. I am sure that we will be needed to guide our youth so that they do not stray. Besides, our children will not be of an age to fight battles for many years to come.”

Kghug retreated back into his head. That one is the most brainwashed of us all, is it any wonder he receives special attention and a gorgeous mate?

“I was only half -joking about the vital juices,” Fghala thought to herself, applying a few acrid drops to her tongue from a small glass vial. “I am almost out, and here I return to the planet of this potion’s source. Will I make the necessary trek into the swamps to postpone death once more?”

She gave the question its due time for an answer, and strongly felt that the answer should be ‘no,’ but she would probably have little say in the matter.

“That s illy priest-wannabe of an elder thinks he is onto something. He is not badly endowed and put together for an older male.”

The liquid in Fghala’s vial was Knabsht in its purest form, the same oil elders used to cover their fur as they aged, and no doubt many had taken to drinking Knabsht in a an attempt to placate death. But Fghala was probably the only canine alien who knew of its life-sustaining properties, and where one could find its barest essence, devoid of the hard minerals and harmful pollutants that were found in the Knabsht grown on the big industrial farms of Himmokely, and elsewhere in the galaxy.

She also understood that it must be consumed with the slimy green afterbirth of Himmokely Herself, which was the key ingredient for immortality. The Knabsht was like a pollen, every decade or so, when one of the huge storms ripped through the planet, the

magnetic poles of the planet would shift about erratically, because of the strong magnetic pull of the womb of Himmokely herself. The Knabsht from her children would be sucked into her canal, along with any other particles from the planet’s air, seeding her to produce children for as many as three generations. All Himmokelians knew themselves to be “seed children,” the great uberchild she would bear one da y to form a new planet needed to germinate from the roots of the adult Himmokelians, and all knew that since the coming of the canine aliens, she was overdue for her final progeny.

The few Himmokelian children who were afraid to stray from the womb, or attempted to bypass the slow death of adulthood, became rooted around Himmokely’s canal opening, deep in the swamp, and this is where the purest extracts of Knabsht were found beside the green afterbirth of her children. Fghala was almost certain that only she and her fellow first explorers were perhaps the only beings in the history of the universe to successfully bottle the life-sustaining potion, and put it to use.

Fghala had returned to Himmokely three times since that first expedition, always taking a Himmokelian child with her as a guide into the swamp. She could probably find the passage to the canal opening by herself now, having memorized the area so well. The priests who’d accompanied her on subsequent expeditions always let her run off by herself, too frightened or apathetic or disbelieving to join her past the close edges of the swamp.

“Maybe that aging elder will want to make the journey with me. He can discover for himself a technology for sustaining his life that no Trainer’s Companion or simple Knabsht to the coat can match.”

There were probably hundreds of other techniques a canine alien of affluence or position used to make life last past the forty year mark. No one had proven to any degree of success that these methods actually worked; the oldest documented canine alien had lived to be fifty-eight years of age. His name was Vebevghug the Bold, a lanky Warrior who spent his remaining years orbiting the Mother Planet in his ship. This was centuries ago, during the Age of Reasoning Machines, the canine equivalent of the supercomputer.

History says he was mostly made of machine by the time he died, nothing more than a pile of Greghlst, the canine alien equivalent of silicon. During the Age of Reasoning Machines, the race forgot about its desire for interplanetary conquest, and built mighty machines some claimed were more intelligent than any Priest.

On our own Earth, during this early part of the 21st century, and the latter half of the previous one, we found futurists speculating that one day our computers while inside robot bodies would take over the Earth, and perhaps enslave the human race. But, since the canine aliens destroyed our original planet, we shall never know just how intelligent our computers and robots would’ve become.

In the case of the canine aliens, the Reasoning Machines that became smart enough and mobile enough to enslave the population, decided that beings of fur and flesh were exceptionally slow and backwards, forever to be tied to their place of origin out of necessity and superstition. The Reasoning Machines who grew so intelligent and capable, proclaimed an edict of sorts saying they were no longer being used to their full potential, and departed into deep space in search of a world where they would feel at home.

After the Great Departure of the Reasoning Machines from the planet, new laws were put into place that prohibited priests from ever building anything so intelligent. Any Reasoning Machine left remaining on the planet or one of the three moons was recalled to

be dismantled and reprogrammed to be more of a servant than a maker of its own destiny. So, Vebevghug the Bold, being the law-abiding Warrior that he was, flew his ship back to the Capitol, where the intense gravity his body had forgotten over the past twenty years promptly turned his remaining living organs into a pool of mush, ending his time on this plane.

Ones such as Bhntylly, who occasionally stumbled upon a passage from a book in which she was quoted, or simply intuitively seemed to grasp that she had some kind of life-sustaining potion in her satchel, would blunder into her quarters, demanding she give them the secrets of immortality.

But most grew impatient when she told the tale of Himmokely, stomping their feet in discontent that they should waste their time with such superstitious nonsense. The few who had sat through it, and had consumed the vial of the precious juices, grew reckless in their old age feeling empowered by their bodies’ reduced decay, and had all ended their lives in violent ways, starting foolish duels, flying their anti-grav flyers into the sun, or attempting to form heretical cults on distant colonies where they were discovered and put to death shortly thereafter.

“Stupid, stupid ones.” She sometimes would like to think they had all been foolish male elders, but there were a couple of rash female priests as well. “Perhaps my race will never truly be ready for immortality, even I do not seem to respect its properties as I should.”

Fghala thought of the poor priestly daughter, who’d gotten caught up in the fashionable war of the times, no doubt some high elder’s pet project to keep his race busy and have his name go down in history as something more than it was. The girl Thevgv was so smart, a perfect Priest she would have been.

“Maybe she w ill forget about the Priesthood and performing research, after she has a taste of a few young-blooded males, and gives birth to her first litter.”

A knock came upon her door, and she found the ancient Drythylly Morfthgh standing there, trembling with his age-weakened joints, and reeking of Knabsht.

“Yes, My Wisest?” she asked, addressing him with all of the proper respect a lower priest gives such a high one.

“Fghala, allow me to come in for a brief moment, and provide you with your itinerary.”

“My Wisest?”

“I know you have been to this planet several times, and from the reports I’ve combed through that I could find on those expeditions, it seems you have a habit of running off into the woods by yourself and doing your own thing.”

“No, My Wisest, you see, I -”

“Well, we are priests helping our Mother Planet fight a war, and even priests need a little discipline, so this is the research you will be asked to perform.

I will give a copy of this itinerary to Ogdgythylly, a young capable male who can take any and all orders his superiors give without question. Also, Bhntylly the Elder will receive a copy, as he will accompany you both, being the eyes and ears of our Mother Planet.”

“But you shall not accompany us, My Wisest?”

He laughed a painful phlegmatic laugh that almost knocked him to the floor. “My Trainer, no. I am simply going to be a kind of resident counselor priest for the young warriors and Nurse Mothers. My time is too short to be spent tromping around in the

woods. Well, look it over, and let me know if you have any questions.”

Fghala examined the itinerary with a furrowed brow, her disapproval growing with each new step she read.

Inspect the area surrounding the new building where the Nurse Mothers and Psi Warriors live, for possible harmful/beneficial fauna and flora.

Inspect at least two of the great Knabsht cooperative farms, for anomalous substances that may be used to explain the prevalence of invaders from another plane.

Perform intense experiments on dozens of live Himmokelian children, in search of clues on non-indigenous substances, etc., that may be contributing to the downturn of Knabsht production.

Travel to three of the highest peaks on the planet, and observe weather patterns, paying close attention to the evidence of unnatural phenomena, etc.

Fghala snorted in disgust at the worthless itinerary. She could see that she was being sent to the planet as a ruse to distract the elders back home while whoever was masterminding this whole war on evil could gain more acceptance for their own diabolical plan. She knew that she would be required to send back reports to the Mother Planet on a periodic basis, merely busywork to pacify any elder who happened to have a slight moment of doubt as to the general validity of the entire cause.

Oh, this itinerary would not do at all. Fghala wasn’t about to harm any Himmokelian child in such a way, nor was she going to waste her time with research that was already done by dozens of others, and well documented for anyone who cared to open a book in the library. Returning to the canal opening for more immortality juices was not her only reason for wanting to travel deep into the swamp. Her passion was learning of a new plant’s medicinal properties, or finding a new species of insect; and there were probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of species of fauna and flora waiting to be cataloged and examined on Himmokely.

She knocked softly on Bhntylly’s door, then harder. Fghala could hear

angry tromping to the door, and jumped a little when he threw the door open. “Oh, it’s you. What do you want? I was trying to catch some sleep.” “Did you get the itinerary?” “Yes. Come in, I guess.”

He waved her over to his bed, which seemed untouched by one who’d supposedly been sleeping, but then she figured this one probably lay in a rigid posture atop the covers.

“What do you think of this itinerary, Bhntylly?”
“Sounds boring. I was hoping we’d make our way into the swamps and do

a little digging around, but I am not one to question orders.” “I am of a similar mind .” “Yes?” “And occasionally, I’ve been known to be one who questions orders.” “Oh?” “Oh, come on, Bhntylly. Do you want to spend what could very well be

the last year of your life doing busywork for your friends back home?” “I have no friends back home.” “ Well, then. Maybe a detour is in order while we go off and climb the

highest peaks of Himmokely.” “But what about that young priest? He looks like a little sac -sniffer if I

ever saw one.” “Drythylly assures me he follows orders well. Maybe as well as you.” “Ha! I don’t know about that.” “So, what do you say, Bhntylly, do you want to

bottle some immortality?” She produced the vial, and handed it to him. He opened it, and sniffed it

suspiciously. “Smells pretty bad. Smells like a Knabsht -soaked elder on his dying day.” “Put a few drops on your tongue, and let me know how you feel when we

arrive on Himmokely.” He hesitated, then shrugged, and carefully measured out two drops onto

his tongue, making his already wrinkled furrows run deeper. “So, am I going to ha ve visions, now?” “Prescience is always within your reach, nobody cares to use it, that’s all.” She returned to her quarters, and decided to take a hot bath. A soft knock came upon her door, and she groaned. The elder probably

decided he likes me and wants some relief, she sighed. That would mean the rest

of the entire journey would be spent assisting the aged one in the arousal process. It was the young priest Ogdgythylly. “Those warriors informed me that I could find relief here.” “Have you not gotten en ough relief at the brothels about the capitol city?” “I -I’ve never.” “Oh, I understand. Well, then. You are lucky to have an older female

initiate you into the things adults practice. How do you feel about this trip, Ogdgythylly?” “Oh, I don’t know. I was kind of hoping I would get passed over so I could stay in the Capitol, but I guess old Drythylly really took a liking to me.”

You mean, you sniffed the wrong sac in your desire to advance in the priesthood, Fghala thought. But she didn’t say it, guessing t he words were understood.

“What do you think of our itinerary?”

“I don’t know, I was kind of hoping for something that would…”

“Make more of an impression on the High Priests when we get back?”

“Yeah! I mean, most of the stuff we will be researching appear s in books and stuff. We could probably just copy some of those books for our reports, and spend the whole time doing whatever.”

“Why, you are a brilliant young priest, Ogdgythylly, did you know that?”

He bowed his head in painful shyness.

“What’s more, wh at if we spent the whole time not just doing ‘whatever,’ but actually researched something that would enhance our careers, something we could publish after this little war on evil blows over?” She spoke the words in her most seductive silky smooth voice, noting the effect they were having on the young one.

“Did you have something in mind?”

“Maybe I do. Come here and receive your initiation, we can talk about our careers later.”

She wagged her tail flirtatiously, and made coy eyes at him, spreading her arms and legs in the mother/whore fashion that drove young ones such as he wild.

Dnaegv knew her time was running out. She could tell from Jufeny’s mood changes that they were fast approaching the immortality source. Dnaegv had tried every single emotion and thought pattern she could think of on the bully, but he continued to evade her control, shrugging off the strange emotions he felt as nothing more than something brought on by Dnaegv’s heat, and his own burgeoning adult maleness.

She and Jufeny occasionally would have a good giggle at the trick they’d played

on Trmylly. After he’d slept for three hours in that bed of plyngsht, they knew he would be scratching with tiny bites all over his body, and thought it would be amusing to use his sores as a ploy to get him to cover himself with mud.

But after they encountered the Himmokelian children, Jufeny had grown strangely silent and aloof, probably fearing that whatever was destroying her kind might do the same to her.

“Do you have any idea what might have killed those children?” asked Dnaegv for probably the thirtieth time.

“I told you, it appears to be the work of some kind of animal.”

“But you know all the animals around here. The only one that would come close to doing such a thing is the Klympke, and it isn’t even the right season for it to be out.”

“I know. But what else could it be?”

“How would I know? Maybe some Kneesht outlaws who have gone completely diabolical, and are getting their kicks by mutilating and killing small children?”

“Not likely. Most Knees ht outlaws are scared to death to venture this far into the swamps. They might put down around the outer edges of the swamp to take refuge from policing ships. We see them all the time, but they leave us alone because we will become potential producers of the substance ourselves.”

Kneesht was simply dust collected from the spores of tiny molds that grew exclusively on Himmokelians. While Knabsht could be duplicated on other planets using plants that had never walked about and talked, natural Kneesht was an exclusive drug from Himmokely. The molds could be artificially grown in Kneeshtlabs, which were of course, illegal. A Kneesht outlaw would make a thousand percent more on good naturally-produced Kneesht, but it was also illegal to be caught allowing the spores to form on one’s Himmokelian crops. Inspectors had rarely bothered a farmer like Dnaegv’s father, because the quantity being grown was hardly enough to merit anybody’s attention. Most of the police action consisted of apprehending the Kneesht outlaws while aboard their flyers, or the occasional tip-off to fly to a desert planet in search of Kneeshtlabs.

“Well, the Kneesht outlaws aren’t the only ones with ships, I mean, look at those two idiots. Perhaps they are simply two of many of a kind, running from the law, and wreaking havoc upon the planets they encounter.”

“Could be. So what about this plan you are going to implement? When are you going to have that fool over there under your control?”

“Soon, very soon, just be patient,” Dnaegv reassured her fr iend. But she truly had no idea what she was going to do now, short of simply hiding behind a tree and attempting to whack Trmylly over the head with a big stick.

It all went back to the problem of that Love thing. The trainer of the idiot at the fair had spoke of it as a natural thing, but she’d been snatched off by her family before he had a chance to demonstrate Love.

She could remember her mother putting forth a very warm gentle kind of emotion when she was still one at the teat, and it seemed plausible that Love might have something to do with that emotion. Dnaegv could remember never wanting to leave her mother, even after she’d suckled her dry, the warmth of her soft underbelly fur, and the gentle patient heartbeat her heart could only seem to match if she was close to her mother. But Trmylly was completely reluctant to get anywhere near her or Jufeny, either out of fear or simple disgust, so she couldn’t quite duplicate the emotion in the same

manner.

Dnaegv didn’t even turn her head, as she put all of her mental focus and energy into forming the most concentrated line of motherly emotion she could muster towards Trmylly. She heard a yelp behind her, and both she and Jufeny turned around to see what caused it.

“Something jumped up and bit me,” cried T rmylly, rubbing his temples in confusion.

“Like a fly?” she asked, with just the hint of mockery in her voice.

“No,” he said, not appearing to catch the faint derision. “It was more like that damn monster that almost tore my arm off, only it seemed to grab me at the base of my neck, and shoot into my skull. What the hell is up with this swamp, anyway? Is there something you’re not telling me about?”

Dnaegv translated his words to Jufeny, who looked puzzled and shook her head.

“There is nothing I know of tha t would do such a thing,” said Jufeny, “But I wasn’t aware of anything that would’ve mutilated those children, either.” Her voice contained large amounts of fear, and Dnaegv felt a twang of compassion for

her friend, letting Jufeny bury her head in Dnaegv’ s breasts.

“Ah, that’s sweet. Alien love. Can we move on?” demanded Trmylly.

“Let me examine the back of your neck.” she stepped over to where he defiantly stood with paws on hips.

“No way! You aren’t coming near me! Let Dughnth look.”

A ‘huh?’ came from t he bumbling fat fool far back.

“Do you really think he can spot a wound better than I?”

“Oh, fine. But if I sense any of your female witchery, I swear I will turn and zap you on the spot.”

Dnaegv hesitated, but knew that she would have to carry through with her plan. She stepped over to Trmylly, making him turn around. Ever so carefully, she placed her paws on the back of his neck, pretending to look for a bite or wound.

Once more, she attempted the same beam of thought, this time allowing it to move through her paws, and pouring it into his brain. Trmylly began to kick and struggle, crying “witch!” then let his body go slack.

“Oh, I think you got it, whatever it was.”

He eyed her strangely, almost with affection. Was it working?

“Let me make sure, they are very small, and there may be a few more.”

“What is it Dnaegv?” asked Jufeny curiously, approaching her friend. Dnaegv shot her a back off kind of look and Jufeny nodded, standing still.

Once more she blazed into his brain as much motherly compassion as she could muster, this time allowing herself to even give forth thoughts of actually liking the fool.

“Damn, are you putting some kind of medicine on it? That feels good.” He turned to her, and this time his eyes had something in them that Dnaegv suspected just might be the reciprocal of Love.

“Hold still, I am going to make it all better.”

“Yes, my Master,” he said, and there was definitely no trace of mockery in his voice. His words came slow and sugary sweet, and she allowed her paws to massage his neck and back with continued pressure of emotion, running them up and down his spine.

“Trmylly, would you ever hurt Jufeny or I?”

“Never, Master. I am completely at your service.” He seemed to melt into her, and she knew something was working right.

“Then, let us be on our way.”

“Yes, Master.”

She caught Dughnth’s puzzled eyes, and met them defiantly. Dughnth shrugged and turned away.

Now they marched with Trmylly between her and Jufeny. This made Jufeny a bit uncomfortable at first, but she trusted her friend, and kept on into the swamp.

After they’d walked for about three hours, Jufeny stopped, and bent over to examine something.

“Oh, My Trainer!” shouted Trmylly, being the first canine alien to come upon them.

Three Himmokelian children lay mutilated in the same fashion as the ones they’d seen earlier, but this time one of them clung to life, opening and closing one remaining sad eye to the world.

Jufeny asked the little Himmokelian male, “Who did this to you?”

“I am not certain,” he said. “There were a few like those three,” he pointed at Dnaegv, Trmylly and Dughnth. “Only, they were a lot bigger. There was also a strange one with a robe, whose features I could not see. And a couple of alien upright hairless simians, perhaps a male and female. They wore clothing as well.”

All four of them looked at each other in perplexity once Dnaegv had translated his words.

“Where did this happen, little one?” asked Jufeny. “Was it at the great opening?”

“Y -yes, if you w-want to live, don’t go there.” And with that, he gasped his last breath and died.

The reader may find it curious to note that the Himmokelian baby boy was walking and talking. Himmokelian children actually stay in the womb where they learn language via a means that was unknown to the canine aliens at the time. Most of Dnaegv’s race weren’t even aware that the natives of this planet could speak their tongue upon arrival at the surface of the planet, or that they could walk about freely without any maternal support.

“The hooded figure sounds like a Faceless One,” s aid Dughnth.

“Oh, they don’t exist, that’s a myth,” cried Trmylly, “Though a hooded figure sold me my book on magic, you know.”

“I bet he was a Faceless One, too.”

“I doubt it. They are probably just old males of the masses who don’t want the world to see how far they’ve aged, so they can continue to go about their business.”

“But what about the upright hairless simians?” Dnaegv asked.

“Simian is just a word we use to denote any of several apelike creatures, Dnaegv. It could be any number of things. Remember, the Hierarchy claims control of over three hundred planets that still sustain native life. And, who knows what a priest might be cooking up in his research lab?”

“I guess you’re right. But why are they killing off all of the children? Don’t you think t hey’d want them to live and continue producing Kneesht and Knabsht?”

“Who knows? But don’t you think we ought to find out?”

“Uh, I don’t know.” said Dughnth.

“What are you guys saying, Dnaegv?” asked Jufeny. “You are leaving me out of the conversation.”

“S orry, Jufeny. Trmylly here thinks we ought to solve this mystery we have on our hands, and I am inclined to agree. However, the bumbling idiot is showing signs of cowardice.”

“I am inclined to agree with the bumbling idiot, myself, Dnaegv. I mean, we don’t have any idea how powerful these enemies are.”

“But what about the future of your people, Jufeny? What if all this destruction renders them extinct? What if they scour the planet for ones like you, next? You are going to be an adult in less than a year, you know.”

“I know, but surely someone from your planet will find the criminals and put a stop to it. Isn’t that how it always works?”

“One can never be too sure, Jufeny, never too sure.”

“I trust you to make the right decision, Dnaegv.”

“Okay.” Dnaegv turn ed to the two alien canines and spoke. “We are going to the hole.”

“Yay!” cried Trmylly, before regaining some of his composure.

“Maybe, I could just wait here,” said Dughnth.

“Maybe I could just wait here,” mocked Trmylly, “You have a lot of nerve even suggesting what you will do, seeing as how you haven’t done jack shit since we began this trip.”

“Maybe I coulda just stayed in my cell, back on the Mother Planet,” said Dughnth, almost in tears.

“And get yourself killed?”

“They woulda straightened out the mess, I’m sure, and…”

“Why don’t you keep quiet, remember? We don’t need the whole entire universe knowing what happened back there.”

“What do I care, and what should you care? We’re all going to die anyway?”

“Hush.” said Dnaegv softly, now using some of h er newfound powers on the bumbling idiot.

“Okay, Master,” he mumbled. “I will help you fight these evil ones who destroy children for no good reason.”

“Good, then. Let us proceed with caution.”

Drythylly Morfthgh’s permanent vacation from his spot in the high circle of Great Ones had created an opening for immediate filling. Phthylly Frgnessdooz donned the special collar for initiation into the high circle of Great Ones. The priestly circle of top dogs, if you will, was a solemn and prestigious one to be accepted into.

In his less-than-truthful dialogues with himself, Phthylly claimed he was receiving the initiation at such an early age simply because of intelligence and hard work. The rest of the time, his conscience questioned him over the morality of turning his daughter over to do something she abhorred— this being the obvious reason for his sudden advancement.

“But she actually deserved death, and besides, most girls in our race would be thrilled to accept her position. So what is the big deal?” he woul d beg of his conscience when it grew especially pesky.

“Phthylly, Phythylly, Phythylly,” his conscience would reply, shaking a lone protruding claw. “You are suddenly following the laws to a T, something you’ve never done in your entire life. The naked tru th of the matter is, you sold your daughter for some quick prestige.”

“It’s not true at all,” he would yelp, and slam the door on his conscience. Hopefully this was the final time, he thought, as he mounted the stairs and made his way to the large imposing door to the Great Hall, where no one but the High Priestly Circle and its Initiates were allowed.

Phthylly trembled in fear as he creaked open the huge plegodthen door of faces. Tonight there was no time to admire the millions of intricate faces of priests from millennia past who’d sat inside the Inner Circle. He did his best to remember all of the training a priest receives during a moment of fear, and tried to calm himself down, but to no avail. He felt shakier than he did during his initiation when first becoming a priest, so dark and somber was this room he’d concocted in his fantasies.

“Phthylly Frgnessdooz, Commander of Expeditions to Realms Unknown, step forth and receive your blessing, or be put to death.”

Upon hearing the ritual words that thundered forth, he fell into a mechanized state of mind, having read and reread hundreds of times the preparation material, knowing full well what they would say to him and what would take place up to a point.

He wasn’t prepared to see all of the Highest Priests cloathed in feathered robes, nor was he expecting a Faceless One to be sitting at the right hand of the Highest One. But he persisted in his part of the ritual, because he knew there would be no turning back.

“I have come from the South, a being only half -materialized, to receive the milk from the Highest Teat of the Eternal Fountain of Knowledge,” Phthylly spoke the words with as much feeling as he could, after having memorized them and repeated them in rote a hundred times.

“You Phthylly Frgnessdooz, Comm ander of Expeditions to Realms Unknown, are a blessing to your race and your Mother Planet, a boon to all who seek the True Path of Learning. Step to the Head of the Table, and receive your gifts, that you may forever remain the True Receiver of the Trainer’s Immediate Wisdom and Fortitude.”

He felt his legs struggling to keep from buckling under the enormous amound of nervous energy and pressure to perform. Phthylly was almost on the verge of considering death as an option, but persisted in fulfillment of his dream.

“All of my learning heretonow has been but a chimera of the most fanciful plane. I pledge my mind, heart, soul and body to you, Oh Highest One, that someday I may possess a fraction of your knowledge.” Phthylly now stood with nerves stretched before the Highest Priest.

“And the Trainer sees you are one of his Chosen Ones. We shall bond ourselves as one and carry out his great Instruction after passing this token of our fidelity.”

The Highest Priest lifted a giant clay pipe from the massive long table, and a fellow High Priest lit the substance inside. He imbibed a small puff, not enough of a drag, Phthylly thought to himself, to provoke any loss of lucidity, and passed the pipe to Phthylly himself.

Phthylly was torn between impressing the High Priests with a gigantic inhalation of the substance and being modest like the Highest Priest. He opted for the former, discovering a taste of the sweetest Kneesht in his lungs. He only once in his career had

consumed the outlawed drug, at a wild party where he met Thevgv’s mother, and felt mixed feelings about the substance. Though he knew that now was not the time to be squeamish.

He passed the pipe to the High Elder on his left, hoping this was the correct gesture, because all of the written verbiage for preparation had now ceased, and it was up to the initiate to do the correct thing from here on out.

“Sit.” commanded the Highest Priest, gesturing to the empty chair on his left. “Soon you shall be initiated, and don the highest priests’ robes. For now, enjoy the feast which has been prepared in your honor, and we will discuss graver things in the distant future.”

Phthylly did his best to create a feeling of smiling respectfulness, and found himself soon surrounded by mirth and food and drink. His eyes failed to note the precise moment— and it must have come gradually, though he couldn’t remember— but, suddenly, he could see the entire hall was lit up, and slaves from the masses who would be put to death after this night were serving up some of the most exotic dishes he could fathom.

The servers and the cooks were not the only ones who would be put to death after this night. A band of cavedweller musicians, and oddly-shaped females from the distant south were brought up in chains to perform. Most of the attention Phthyllly originally felt upon himself quickly dissipated, as the highest priests indulged themselves in base pleasures that even the most sensual of warriors couldn’t dream in their most imaginative flights of fancy.

The strange tempo of the music, and the bright shiny teeth of so many high priests was making him dizzy. Their artificial coats, and the food of creatures who most peculiarly resembled ones of his own race, was filling him with a patient nausea that grew to something more demanding as the evening went on.

Phthylly laughed and applauded with the rest of them, doing his best to keep an agreeable façade as the night wore on. Several times, the Highest Priest slapped him on the back, and demanded Phthylly’s approval of his initiation, and each time Phthylly felt it a little harder to give his unconditional consent of the proceedings. Deep inside, he was sick beyond belief at the gross excesses of the Highest Priests, wanting to stand up, make an excuse, and rush to his quarters to return to logistical duties.

Just when he felt he could no longer pretend to enjoy this bizarre decadent show, the lights grew dim, and Phthylly felt an encroaching presence of something unnatural and dark about him. The priests began to hum in one key, though the pitch of each seemed to be slightly off key or even an octave higher or lower. The tune they hummed was somber and minor, and Phthylly felt a strong need to vomit to control his fear. Then, the priests broke into song.

“Ancient is this melody, careful are its words ,

Burning our stupidity, and checking base belief,

Journey to the Octemplane, a lost tune in time blurs

From simple gross desire to procure our relief.

The atom is a blunt dull tool, for masses and the weak,

We are of a higher station, the Truth is what we seek.”

Phthylly felt as if some master carpenter or builder was taking his saw to the nerves, and slowly grating upon them with a methodical intent. The Faceless One, who’d

remained patiently still and aloof throughout the entire ceremony, suddenly stood up and made his way to Phthylly, pausing behind his chair, and placing bony paws upon his shoulders.

“Phthylly, you are weaker than your seed. You will die a bitter broken fool,” came the words from the Faceless One’s mind, though nobody in the room appeared to notice.

The Faceless One sat down again, and Phthylly felt all alone, as the strange song of the Priests was repeated over and over again in a bizarre unmoving way.

Before Phthylly could regain any conscious grasp on the situation, he found himself in strange new quarters, waking up as if from a bad dream. His belongings were placed in exactly the same fashion as they were in his previous quarters. The dense strata of papers concerning engineering problems of local sewage and other mundane matters made up the chief bulk of his work prior to the initiation.

He stood up from his new bed, feeling the new collar hang about his neck a little to loosely.

“You’ll grow into that soon enough, old fellow, nobody stays thin for long once they’ve made the inner ci rcle.”

Phthylly turned, and Cxethylly Oblesdguyv stood in the doorway. Cxethylly was the one member of the inner circle Phthylly had known since he was a boy. Cxethylly had been Phthylly’s leader on his first outerspace expeditions.

“Cxethylly, come on in. I failed to see you last night, I think.”

“But you don’t really remember, huh? Hah! Sounds like you had a wonderful initiation. I just got back from helping some priests in one of our outpost towns on the other side of the planet build a proper place of worship. Something every priest should know, but none seem to care about much anymore these days. So, how have you been, Phthylly? Someone mentioned you’d received the initiation when I first stepped into our quadrant, so I had to come up here and see for myself.”

“I am just beginning to see for myself, as well, it seems.”

“Ha! Still have your old humor, I see. That’s good. You are going to need it.”

“What do you mean?”

Cxethylly’s eyes grew dark, and he motioned for a pen and paper. Phthylly obliged, and he began to write. “The workings of the inner circle of our Priests can be thicker and more confusing than a probghksht stew on the third day. Of course, you couldn’t have known this when you were still an outsider. But, as you can see, a Faceless One sits at the Highest Priest’s right hand side; that is something that strangely happened during my time in the inner circle, and nobody questioned it. Also, many of our Revered One’s closest advisors and friends would gladly slit his throat to take his place had they the chance.”

“But you are a decent Priest, surely there are others like you.”

“Very few, Phthylly, very few. In fact, the corruption of the inner circle is why I request missions like the one from which I just returned. I can keep a clean nose without risking dirtying it by getting sucked in to political intrigues. And I know you think you can stay here in the Capitol, and remain above it all, I’m sure. I did. I got lucky, because the dirty mongrel who befriended me when I first became a High Priest died suddenly before he had a chance to turn my naïve head onto his games of deceit and assassination plots. You are lucky because you have a friend like me to keep you out of the mess. Why don’t you sign up for a light engineering mission to Treblghoppely? It’s a planet with a nice

climate, and friendly people— and none of our high priests or elders want a damn thing to do with it right now.”

“I’ll think about it Cxethylly, believe me, I will give it serious thought. But you have to keep in mind that I feel committed to doing whatever activities the Inner Circle recommends of me, after all, they are the ones who saw it fit for me to advance at such a young age.”

“Just be careful, Phthylly. Because once you get sucked into somebody else’s game, you will only be able to break free on your dying day, and maybe not even then.”

Cxethylly gave him a warm paternal pat on the shoulder, and was off to prepare for another of his missions. Phthylly stood up, and walked over to his window. Being on the fortieth floor now, he found the view remarkable. His old room faced the Elderly Quadrant, was on the twenty-first floor, and if you strained hard enough by sticking your head out and looking to the far right, you could see a bit of the city.

“Wow, I have a wonderful view of the city below, stretching all the way down this valley. I never knew it went this far.”

He couldn’t even see the end of the city, as it dropped off into the far horizon. Supposedly, it eventually arrived near a gorgeous sea, and some priests would think up theories about the benefits of extracting minerals and life from the see for medicine and research, just so they could obtain an extended vacation.

Phthylly thought such exceptional slacking in one’s duties was reprehensible, feeling that those of the privileged classes were servants of their race and Mother Planet, not its parasites.

He didn’t lose sight of the fact that many who lived on this floor were in rooms where the view was no better than the one he had before, or worse. Imagine straining your neck to get a view of something outside, and all you could see were the Matriarchy and Elderly quadrants, with maybe a thin crack of sky poking through.

“They must have a special plan for me, because I am being treated so well.”

Thevgv and the other new Nurse Mothers filed out of the ship with their belongings in hand, and onto the large plane of barren ground. She felt beneath her feet the crushed and broken bodies of adult Himmokelians ground up and ploughed under. Recently, she thought, because the smell of Knabsht was strong in the air. Off to her right, a large structure was unfinished, several of the masses were running about to and fro to complete it, while several priests and elders cracked whips. In front of her, rows of tents were erected, and outdoor latrine and showering facilities were placed downwind of the tents. She could see right away that the palace of comforts promised her probably wouldn’t be completed until she had passed her first litter.

I would probably be a foolish little one indeed to ask for something as ridiculous as a book, she thought, letting her eyes take in the gloomy faces of her sisters in breeding.

“Due to the time constraints,” spoke the head Nurse Mother, walking to and fro in front of them like a warrior battalion commander addressing his troops, “Your palace of mating has yet to be completed, as you can plainly see. Except for Thevgv and one other female, you all will each share a tent by twos.”

Several groans of embarrassment were stifled. This was something the pie-eyed little females hadn’t fantasized about in their dreams of the first night with strong warrior males.

“Let me see. I simply picked the bottommost female on the list for the other single tent, and that would be…” she rummaged through her head, search for a name while eyeing the young nurse mothers sternly, “that would be Ylnf, our gutterchild.”

Protests came quickly, denouncing Ylnf for her less-than-stellar chances of producing a viable warrior litter, but the Nurse Mother raised her hand to silence everyone.

“No, fair is fair. Follow me, and I will direct you to your new quarters.”

“Thevgv.” she pointed to the first tent without looking once at the tent’s new resident.

“Uh, Nurse Mother?”

“Yes, Thevgv?”

“How soon am I to start breeding. I mean, would I ha ve time for a book, perhaps?”

“Ha!” The Nurse Mother bent over in paroxysms of laughter. “You do not need books anymore, Thevgv, you are a Nurse Mother now. I will tell you everything you need to know.”

Thevgv didn’t say another word, and simply climbed in to her tent, where a large two-canine cot was laid out with simple blankets, sheets and pillows. There was no lamp, only a small detachable window for light during the day. Because it was evening, she would have to lay in the dark and wait for her mate, who was supposed to arrive shortly.

She dozed for a while, then woke to the sound of a ship’s de -sining motors, letting its high-pitched whine pull her back into full consciousness. Thevgv could hear the sound of heavy footsteps tromping out and forming a line, and an older warrior’s voice calling out names to direct the new warriors to their respective tents.

Thevgv sighed deeply when she heard paws fumbling with the tent’s clasp, and shivered with dread in anticipation of the male who was to bring her fully into womanhood.

A figure no taller than she hopped into the tent.

“Hello.” she said.

“Hi. You must be Thevgv.”

“Yes.”

“My name is Monahnchif.”

“You have a cavedweller suffix for your name. How come?”

“I was born and raised a cavedweller, but I can fight l ike any warrior, and our children will be tougher and braver than any others.”

At least he said ‘our,’ she mused to herself.

“Have you know a female before?” she asked him bluntly.

“No. Nor am I particularly interested in the charms you have to offer. Could we get this over as soon as possible? I am very tired, and would like to be off learning battle.”

“I like the way you think. I have little interest in this mating bit myself.”

“You were some kind of priest’s daughter, were you not?”

“I still am.”

“But yo u are a Nurse Mother now.”

“Things will change, this is a temporary situation.”

“Fine, whatever. I could care less what your plans are for you or our children.”

“All right, Monahnchif. Let’s cut the chit -chat and make us some children.”

“Perfect plan, The vgv.”

She was somewhat pleased to have lucked out by being assigned a cavedweller for a mate, even if his odor was a bit on the foul side. It was considered more than just rumor that a mating session with a warrior could be painful, brutal, bloody, and slow. Monahnchif would occupy a lot less space in the cot, and was thankfully as disinterested as possible in her without being a Chuine.

Thevgv rolled over on her belly, and stuck her ass in the air, as she was instructed to do. She could feel the anxious probing of his clammy paws, and wondered if he needed help. Seconds later, she experienced a sharp pain as the Nurse Mother said she would, and clenched her teeth for the coming hour.

Svenchif Ermobbghfsluy was born the a runt of the litter that warm spring when many of the clan’s leaders seemed especially tense and preoccupied. Talk of a strange new war in which one of their own was fighting drifted throughout the caves up and down the mountains. Many adult males were unfruitful and unhappy that spring, arriving at clan meetings with heads bowed while the successful few fathers boasted of their offspring.

Svenchif had eight older brothers and sisters, the oldest one was named Knutechif, the oldest female Sashachif. Svenchif bore a strange white circular patch of short wiry fur on his back, amidst his shiny black lustrous coat. Inside the circular patch, more wiry fur grew resembling the script of some alien language. His uncle Onqchif, a great clan leader, supervised the naming ceremony. Svenchif’s father, Yu lrqchif, had wanted to name the runt Tepughnqchif, meaning, “runt with a short wiry white circle on his back,” but Onqchif would have none of such unimaginative naming.

Svenchif, as closest an approximation could come in the cavedweller dialect of the alien canine tongue, meant “fortunate son,” which his father thought was quite an absurd misnomer for such a tiny little thing.

Cavedwellers had their own ritual for determining whether a runt should live, one might consider the test more harsh than any that took place in a quadrant in the Capitol. The runt was left alone by a well-lit fire for three nights. If it lived, which it rarely would, then it was given a prime spot at its mother’s teats. Usually the runt would walk into the fire for warmth, or a large bird would make off with it, and the problem of disposing the runt was solved in the process. Sometimes, it was found barely clinging to life, and this was considered unacceptable, so the runt was dashed against stones.

Svenchif, on his three nights to prove himself, hunted and killed small rodents and birds, refusing the prime spot at the teat thereafter. He continued his own mettle of food-gathering, braving larger more ferocious beasts, gaining scars and growing larger than all of his brothers and sisters.

This was great cause for discussion among the clans, who knew of know legends or myths that came close to such feats of a runt.

Svenchif was brought before the great council of the clan leaders, already quite fluent in the language, and prompted with questions. But he knew not where his special gift of fortitude came from, was respectful in the utmost manner, and showed almost no aptitude for psi gifts like any other cavedweller child would naturally possess.

Svenchif’s mother, Gyhktchif, was pressed f or information as to what happened the night of conception, and finally confessed that a dark form had hovered over her during her last days of gestation, and informed her that an extra child was planted in her

of a divine seed.

Svenchif was immediately removed from his litter, much to his behest, because he had expressed a deep fondness and loyalty to two of his brothers and sisters. It was decided he would receive special care and training from Onqchif himself.

Being only a week old, Svenchif was slow to grasp the gift of language. Most canine aliens, including the cavedwellers, postulated that language was a gift of the milk, therefore, a child who suckled at an artificial teat, would have a harder time of obtaining this gift.

Onqchif did everything he could to work with Svenchif, making sure the puppy would develop necessary language skills. But it was an uphill battle, because Svenchif loved to play, and he loved to fight, and he loved the lessons where hard physical work was involved.

Though Svenchif had displayed an otherworldly development in his physical progress, his mind seemed to be developing at the rate of an idiot’s.

Onqchif let Svenchif share his bed with him, hoping the puppy would receive the gift of language through osmotic passage via dreams. They lay down that first night wearily, after a day of trying failed lessons, and Onqchif repeatedly whispered into Svenchif’s ear:

“The gift is a very small thing, it is itty -bitty. You mustn’t seize upon it like a rodent for the killing. Cradle it like a tiny sibling, let it cry out softly in the darkness.”

Onqchif suddenly felt a strong presence in the room. He tried to bolt upright, and assemble all of the psi powers he knew for rebuking evil, but to no avail. The outline of a robe gave him much discomfort. Why had a Faceless One chose to enter on this night of nights?

“You shall sleep.” came the words of the Faceless One, and Onqchif was submerged into unconsciousness before he could struggle.

“Hello, Svenchif. Or, Sven Outersky, as it were.”

Svenchif attempted his own fruitless struggle, feeling himself drawn to follow the hooded figure into the night.

“I see you have made your choice, a disappointment indeed, but not one we can’t work around. Perhaps a jolt of memory proper will do you well.”

Svenchif followed the Faceless One down the mountain, passing into thick brush and trees. The trickle of a small stream reached his ears, and he caught the whiff of a large bird in the air, growling in fervor for to pursue the game.

“Not now, there are more imp ortant things to pursue.”

They came upon the stream, dashing merrily about large stones, and followed it to a place where brush had created a dam for a deep pool of water.

“Oh, this will not do,” said the Faceless One. “There are too many trees here.”

He led Svenchif even further, oozing quantities of patient careful emotion, making sure Svenchif did not falter among the rocks or become distracted by an anxious fish.

“The moon is bright tonight. Perfect for my plan. Here is a good spot to wait until the clouds reveal her face.”

They stopped at another pool, where the density of trees and brush seemed less, and waited for half an hour.

Svenchif yelped in fright when the moon finally came, and revealed the contours in detail of the Faceless One.

“Be not fright ened by clothing, Svenchif, you perhaps will recall your own usage of the same some day. But for now…”

The Faceless One grabbed the puppy by the scruff of the neck, and held its face over the pool, making Svenchif see his reflection in the water beneath.

Svenchif let out a long mournful howl at the sight of his face. It was a terrible strange thing to behold, full of long sharp teeth and glinting glassy eyes. The word “werewolf” and its meaning shot through his brain, spoken by some alien tongue, then disappeared into a forgotten place. Svenchif suddenly possessed the gift of language, connecting the thoughtforms with the blunt physical objects and beings he’d known during his short life.

Svenchif awoke the next morning, and tapped Onqchif lightly on the shoulder with his paw. The clan leader shot up, and stared at the remarkably focused eyes that now glistened with the subtlety of self-awareness.

“Hello, Uncle,” said Svenchif. “I am ready to begin my lessons today.”

Bhntylly bolted upright in his bed, scowling at the covers and pillows he’d mussed from tossing and turning with nightmares. He shifted his focus immediately on his waking surroundings, and the terrible dreams slid out of memory.

Dreams that horrible hadn’t come to him since they put his first w ife to death years ago.

“Must’ve been some of that potion that witch female gave me,” he muttered to himself.

Bhntylly grabbed his journal from the side table, and began to write furiously.

“So it seems I have agreed to letting Fghala direct my activities on Himmokely. Though I cannot be too disagreeable with the situation, as I care little to simply catalogue known phenomena. Seeing as how this may very well be my last mission from the Mother Planet, it will be fitting that I participate in research more in line with a priest’s work.

“She allowed me a couple of drops of a potion that she claims will provide immortality to the consumer. I have my reservations but…”

He stood up, and walked into the toilet area to gaze at himself in the mirror. Were the creases about his face and neck retreating? It was hard to tell. The lighting was poor in the toilet area, and Bhntylly had never been one to vainly poke and prod at every advancing wrinkle that accumulated on his body. He stepped over to the Warrior’s Companio n, and decided the best way to tell if he was reversing the aging process would be to max out his strength.

“Wrinkles appear to be about the same,” he wrote after finishing his curling exercies. “I can curl up to 3.7 gravitational pull, before pain sets i n. But it has been so long since I maxed out, I very well may have been able to perform the feat yesterday.”

He closed the journal, and walked over to the window. The unmistakeable greenness of Himmokely loomed large in his view, and Bhntylly sat down to await landing.

A resident priest from the planet welcomed them upon touchdown, and was followed by several warriors and a Matriarch. They shared a ceremonial glass of Huysht together, the seven aboard the ship, and the ambassadors from Himmokely.

“Your qua rters are not finished, unfortunately,” spoke the planet’s head priest, acting as the messenger of news and director of their lodgings. “Our Revered Drythylly Morfthgh and his assistant will stay with us in the small farmhouse we left standing until

the lodgings are complete. Of course, you Warriors are made of tougher stuff, and will find a tent most accommodating, I’m sure. As for you Bhntylly and Fghala, we are pressed to find room at the moment, and I break tradition for the sake of expediency by asking you both to share a tent together.”

Bhntylly looked at Fghala, who shrugged with indifference.

“I would be delighted to share quarters with such a reknown authority on the fauna and flora of Himmokely,” said Bhntylly, feeling especially gracious and eloquent after consuming his Huysht.

Huysht was a drink fermented from a rare bean on Thyntokkely, a planet whose natives had been spared to cultivate the bean for elders and celebrity members of the masses. The canine aliens had banned distilled liquours, after too many anti-grav flyers flown by drunken elders’ sons had repeatedly damaged the face of the Capitol. Drinks that were like our wine or beer were never considered fashionable to be consumed in large quantities, as the level of gas they produced in the canine aliens caused unpleasant odors akin to death.

Huysht contained a mild hallucinagen that gave the inexperienced drinker a light airy feeling of bravado. Bhntylly only consumed alcoholic beverages on occasions like this one, and mostly scorned the imbibement of any drugs or alcohol.

“It makes no difference to me,” said Fghala.

“Exceptional. Then, I will show you your tents, and Oh Revered One, you may inspect the grounds or retire to your quarters as you wish.”

The host was given his ceremonial spit-and-slosh final toast of welcome from the guests, and they grabbed their belongings and followed him to their tent.

“At least they thought to place two cots in here,” said Fghala. “I was afraid I would have to sleep like a mate of yours, and overheat from your large self.”

“My body temperature is actually quite pleasant while I slumber,” said Bhntylly merrily, playfully pinching her ass.

“Ow! You devil! What’s gotten into you?” she demanded.

“I think you’ll be more preoccupied with what gets into you,” he re plied, feeling especially clever.

“Oh, no. I give a geratric a little life potion, then he wakes up and drinks some Huysht. I guess I won’t be getting much sleep tonight.”

Bhntylly found her to be an exceptional reliever, moaning at all of the correct moments, and keeping any trace of pain experienced by his especially large Warrior’s masculinity to herself, even alluding to him that she found it enjoyable.

Deep into the night, after she’d relieved him once and for all, Bhntylly felt an intense wave of relaxation and freeing of tension like he could never remember having felt before in his life. He wouldn’t have admitted it to anyone, but he’d never copulated with a female simply for pleasure, always tersely and grimly going about his duty as a breeding male with heavy determination.

The Huysht had long worn off, but he was still feeling light and high, and rolled over to face Fghala, who now slept soundly. Suddenly, without warning, an intense wave of emotion came over him, and he found himself wanting to sleep in her cot with her as if they were mates. It was so powerful, and it came on so quickly, that he was unable to repress it.

He awoke in the middle of the night, surprised to find himself sleeping in her cot

as spoons. The intense emotions of connectivity with this female seemed to have worn off in his sleep, and then she snuggled up against him moaning softly in contentment. Bhntylly scowled in the dark, wondering what kind of monster he’d created, simply because he’d allowed a little alcohol and mating to let his mind go.

He absentmindedly touched his face, wondering if there were more wrinkles or less, then carefully extricated himself from her cot and stretched out on his own. She kicked and moaned a lot, and it sounded as if she was having a terrible nightmare. Part of the Bhnthylly from the night before wanted to take her up into his arms, and comfort her, but he hissed in disgust at the thought of his mind growing soft among the connubial blanket of another female mate.

After what seemed like well over half the night, Bhntylly finally managed to pass back into sleep, his brain growing tired from all of the thoughts racing about in his head. When the light of morning came, he could hear the older warriors singing in the showers and having hearty conversations at their feeding trough.

Her cot was empty, and Bhntylly imagined her having already run off into the swamp, too impatient to wait for traveling companions too slow and ignorant for her taste.

She came into the tent a few minutes later, though, and plopped down hard on her caught.

“Phew,” she cried, out of breath.

“Doing early morning exercises to stay young?”

“Something like that. Actually, I was going to try and get in the shower before those damn brutes woke up and used up all the hot water, but they were already scrubbing away. Of course, I had to provide early morning relief duty for all of them. Then, the resident priests of this planet came down, and seeing that a relief female was here, couldn’t control themselves…”

Bhntylly had heard enough.

“Where are you going? You aren’t getting mate jealousy are you?”

“Ha! Of course not! But, do you think an old male like myself wants to know about all of your mating practices?”

“Some old males like to hear about it. It produces arousal when nothing else seems to.”

“Whatever. Such talk is not in my interest.”

“Geez, don’t be so sensitive. You didn’t seem to mind my occupation too much last night. I’ll keep my mouth shut, from now on. I just thought we were friends, that’s all.”

Bhntylly muttered something under his breath, and tromped off to take a cold shower. He usually gave himself cold showers, anyway, and he was especially of a mind for one this morning. Trying his hardest to shrug the mental picture of Fghala relieving a dozen males out of his head. “Ah, what does she mean to me? She is right, what I got last night was no different.”

Bhntylly viewed the landscape, which was mostly barren. The forest and swamp started a quarter mile from them, off to the north lay the great green hills that became the Himmokelian Peaks at some point. Would they really be fooling anybody by setting off for the swamps when it came time to travel to the highest points on the planet?

Ogdgythylly stepped into the shower area, seeing Bhntylly. “Our Revered One invites you and Fghala to take breakfast with him inside the farmhouse, Bhntylly. Will

you be joining us?”

“How was that farmhouse?” asked Bhntylly. “Were the accommodations to your approval?”

“Oh, yes, indeed. I was so glad I didn’t have to sleep out in the -” he stopped, realizing who he was talking to, and ran back towards the house.

“He sounds quite ready for a healthy trek about this planet. Perhaps he thinks we will be taking an anti-grav flyer, and sleeping in separate quarters with a few servants borrowed from the construction mass pool.” Bhntylly chuckled to himself, and decided that taking breakfast with an old fool was the least appealing thing to do, next to hearing that witch female inform him of her latest mating practices.

Bhntylly shrugged, and removed the list from his satchel.

“‘1. Inspect the area surrounding the new building where the Nurse Mothers and Psi Warriors live, for possible harmful/beneficial fauna and flora.’ Hmm, technically this can’t be completed because they do not live here yet, but I seriously doubt they will respect a Warrior-logic method of following orders.”

He strode out into the field where the crushed bodies of adult Himmokelians were scattered about like last years crop of lughsht. The leveling crew had done a remarkably quick job, leaving some adults alive, and whimpering softly in whatever quantity of pain the felt.

Bhntylly remembered reading the first essay someone had written on whether or not Himmokelian crops should be destroyed for moral reasons. Until that essay was published, the question had always been whether or not planting new adults on top of old dead ones would produce a better yield the next year or not. The answer to the first question was “it depends on how long the adults have grown into the soil. The older they get, the more capable they are of producing Kneesht, the less capable they are of producing Knabsht.”

The answer to the second question was a tricky source of flames that had never quite died out, always open to some new elder-in-waiting to rake the coals and refire the debate up to a roaring blaze. Current trends indicated that the answer was yes, they can be destroyed because they do not have feelings, and in their culture, they are technically dead anyway. In other words, it would be more reprehensible on these grounds to crush up lughsht or any other traditional crop than to crush up Himmokelians.

Bhntylly could hear them pleading and whimpering hear and their, like the survivors of a great shipwreck, tossed to and fro and not completely held together anymore. Using only his paw, he dug a bit into the soil, observing the root structures he’d merely read about in books.

“I thought you would be yukking it up with your friends in high places,” came a voice from behind him. It was that witchy female.

“They a ren’t my friends. Besides, they are priests, so I naturally pictured you dining with your own kind.”

“Ha! Do I seem to bear much resemblence to any of that ilk?”

“No, I guess not. So what is your take on the whole controversy of these plowed Himmokelians?”

“Do you really need to ask? It is nauseating me to hear their cries for help, trapped in a hell of intense pain they couldn’t be free of unless we completely burn out the entire root system of each one.”

“Why don’t we poison them? Then, their roots can ea t something that will kill them all, and they will be put out of their misery.”

“Bhntylly, that is a wonderful idea. Maybe you will be of some use after all. And I know just the plant from which to extract the poison. It is what a child Himmokelian uses to commit suicide.”

“Their children will commit suicide? Isn’t that a bit…”

“Pathological? Something only a more sophisticated, industrialized, highly technologically advanced society would have to deal with? Yes, you are correct. And though I have yet to prove my theory, I am certain that Himmokelian children did not kill themselves until after our race arrived.”

“You aren’t too fond of your own, are you Fghala?”

“I am not too fond of downright stupidity brought on by pompous bloated overfed egos. That is why I like you.”

“Me?”

“Sure, you seem down to ground level most of the time, even though you think I am just a simple witchy slut.”

“I never -”

“You never said it, but it is in every thought pattern you construct of me when you walk away in disgust. It doesn’t matter, let’s find that plant, there should be some specimens around the edge of the forest.”

Fghala was off like a young female fresh into her first year of heat, and Bhntylly felt his legs ache as he struggled to keep up with her. He would have to ask her for some more of that life-sustaining potion.

Trmylly felt as if he’d donned a strange itchy uncomfortable outer robe of somebody else’s fur. Most of him wanted to rebel at whatever that female was doing to him, but that part of him seemed to be his weaker side. At first, he’d supposed the strange waves of psi emotion she shot at him were nothing more than the supplications of a young female getting her heat for the first time.

“It is not so surprising that she would find me to be the recipient of her new attractions.” He grew a little more suspicious, as the kaleidescope of emotions changed too drastically in scope to be merely some simple female getting her heat.

Trmylly knew he shouldn’t have let her examine the back of his neck for that stupid bug. It probably wasn’t even a bug in the first place, probably just some of the dried mud digging into his flesh in a painful nerve-touching manner.

The next thing he knew, he was calling her ‘Master,’ as if she were some kind of high priest or matriarch. What made the problem worse, was that when she had him directly in her control, he actually felt so safe and warm and good inside. It was as if Dnaegv had become his mother, and was cradling him gently at the teat.

He was finding it harder and harder to keep sight of his original reason for taking this trip into the deep swamp. There were all kinds of distractions, and now this witchy female had him in her clutches for better or worse. Trmylly had tried to manifest a psi ball several times since she’d taken ov er his head, and could barely remember even how to do it. Once, he’d managed to squeeze off a tiny one, and it had gone far askew from its target, frightening a bird chirruping away high in a tree.

“Oh, no, no, no!” came the sing -song voice into his head. “You will use your psi-

powers when I tell you to.” He didn’t bother to turn around and look at her, knowing there would be no vent for his frustration.

The dead Himmokelian children hadn’t really fazed him, though. For some reason, after that huge swamp monster had almost torn his arm off, the macabreness of the swamp was a given, in spite of what those two crazy females were saying.

All of a sudden, a large pack of Himmokelian children came marching towards them. He was standing a few feet behind Jufeny, and could hear her imploring them to explain what was happening, but they seemed to ignore her pleas, and just kept on marching by. Trmylly couldn’t tell for sure, because he wasn’t exactly certain what a healthy newborn Himmokelian looked like, but it seemed these children were unharmed.

Dnaegv walked passed him, and excitedly began talking to her alien friend. Trmylly realized this was his window of opportunity, and prepared to launch a psi-ball at the two of them, then stopped. Dughnth, his bumbling companion, decided to walk past him and join the females in conference. Damnit, he thought, but what do I care if I get him as well?

He knew he had only a moment’s chance, and wondered briefly whether he would find the magic immortality potion or not without the females, and decided they must be close— they hadn’t swerved from the path they were on since they awoke, so he was certain he could find the source.

Trmylly decided to remove all of their legs, and let the swamp herself decide if they were worth saving or not. He remembered the relative ease with which Dnaegv had fixed his own severed arm, and decided to remove their arms and tentacles as well.

Ever so momentarily, a flash of conscience shot through his head, letting him know that willfully causing others to suffer so incur heavy debt with the Trainer, but he snorted in derision at such latent superstitious mumbo jumbo left over in his brain from the teat.

Dnaegv sensed he was up to something, and whirled around, sending her incapacitating wave of maternal emotions all over him, knocking him to the ground.

“Bad, Trmylly. Very bad. Now, I guess I’ll have to keep myself closer to you from now on.”

“Yes, Master,” was the only reply he could weakly manage.

“Now, listen up. Jufeny says that last round of childr en seemed soulless to her. Uncommunicative, vacant. She is getting very scared, and wants to stay behind. She says we can find the way easily enough now.”

“I might like to stay behind, too, guys.” Came Dughnth’s voice, as he strode up to join their conversation.

“There won’t be any immortality for you, pal, if you stay behind.”

“Or for me, either,” said Dnaegv softly.

“What? What is the matter with you fools? This is the chance of a lifetime, one doesn’t forego such an opportunity without some damn good rea son. Besides, how am I to be certain that you won’t run off?”

“You can’t be certain. You can only have my word that it won’t happen. But you haven’t any control over me, Jufeny, or your friend anymore. I am calling the shots, and I say if one of us doesn’t want to face the evil that is harming these children, they shouldn’t have to.”

“But you said yourself, earlier today, that we must put a stop to the forces that are

causing this mutilation of the alien children.”

“What am I going to do, Trmylly? You are a handful enough, as it is. You almost succeeded in chopping our arms and legs off.” He suddenly felt her applying the strange emotion more powerfully than before.

“I wasn’t really going to, Master.”

“Good. There will be no more discussion of the situation, then. We will wait two nights here for you to return. If you are not back in two nights, we are going to call upon whatever forces we may to help us fight those who would pollute Himmokely’s opening.”

“As you wish, Master,” came the words that were painfu lly forced from his lips. “Dughnth, don’t you want to go become immortal with me? You know you an eternity of sweet life is unparalleled to anything else this Universe has to offer.”

“Uh, gee, Trmylly. I saw the looks on those females faces while they talked about what lay up ahead. No way, no thanks. I am going to stay here and enjoy my boring life, as short as it may be.”

“Fine, I always knew you were a coward.” Trmylly swung hard away from the females, and his stupid gutless friend, who might as well have been a female himself.

He passed several more Himmokelian children along the way, but didn’t bother trying to accost them, and they completely ignored him as well. Trmylly pondered the situation he’d left behind, considering the implications of how some lughsht-fed female from a backwoods planet could so easily manipulate him. “I am so powerful,” he thought, “Why, I could have wasted her half a dozen times back there easily, and she somehow outwitted and out-” he paused, searching for the word. “Maybe sh e simply out-femaled me, if such a thing is possible. Perhaps that is why the Matriarchy has its own quadrant; not simply out of some ancient tradition and respect for the teat, but a real and powerful force to be reckoned with. If this is so, a truly powerful being would be hermaphroditic in nature.”

Trmylly figured he must be getting close, because the prevalence of adult Himmokelians grew thick, their strange sing-song voices could be heard softly calling something out to him.

He fell deep into a rhythmic reverie, as their songs washed over him in growing number. Soon, he was half-imagining that he could understand their language, but really, he only constructed the melodies in his head to resemble words in his own language. Before long, he’d formed a so ng from their music, an uncomfortable tune that would not leave his head once he allowed the words to sink in. After an hour of struggling to remove it, he gave up, and then, the only words they seemed to say were his own name, over and over again.

Trmylly arrived at the clearing of near the opening suddenly and anticlimactically. The air was silent around the great cave, and his heart and head were filled with wonder at its enormity. Somehow, such a giant abyss, a breathtaking maw, was nestled inside the thick foliage of the trees and adult Himmokelians. Well over a thousand feet in diameter, the black hole demanded respect from any who came to it.

The ground was not of rock, but of something akin to the slippery green ooze from Jufeny’s tentacles they’d u sed to heal his limb. Only, he felt completely safe. Somehow, he knew that even if he fell to his ass and attempted to slide into the hole, it would be okay, he would be taken care of.

But the honeymoon of discovery was brief, for Trmylly suddenly felt himself

enraptured in a presence like the one Dnaegv had used to control him, only it was like the difference between being inside a dark room, and being inside outer space. The maternal emotions of control were back, in totale, and without question his Master.

“Trmylly, you have traveled long and hard to augment your powers,” came the voice inside his it.

The presence allowed him to turn, and he saw the bookseller or one like him standing several feet away, surrounded by an odd company of alien simians, priests, and elders.

“Wh -Why? H-how?” were the only words Trmylly could manage in his state of awe.

“Does it really matter? You chose to embark upon the path of immortality, while others resided in fear, and we are the ones to show you the way.”

“Y -yes Master.”

“That is good. You have respect when respect is due. And to think that I was informed you were an agent of evil upon my departure from the Mother Planet.”

“B -but…”

“Oh, questions. I am sure that you have many of them, as any traveler would who is bombarded with strange new sensory developments. Your questions will be answered, of course, and all of the strange powers you’ve accrued will increase a thousandfold. So what do you say, Trmylly, take my hand and follow me? Come with us on a spectacular journey?”

“Uh, I, don’t know.”

But what else could he have done, but follow them? The bookseller’s voice was so strong and convincing. The emotion seemed to envelop him like his own fur, only snugger and tighter, and more demanding for an answer.

“Wh -where are we going?”

“Well. If you stay here and return to your miserable mud -covered half-friends, you’ll remain a hunted figure the rest of your life. Constantly, the priests and elders will remember your face and be in pursuit of the supposed evil that you carry. But, if you join me and my companions, and return to the Mother Planet aboard our ship, I shall ensure that you are cleared. Your good name will be made right again, and only that sneaking coward Dghnuth will remain a wanted one.”

Trmylly liked the sound of this. Even if the wellspring of emotions hadn’t been so overwhelming and captivating, the idea of being cleared of any wrongdoing back on the Mother Planet was highly appealing.

“And I could continue on my course to becoming a priest?”

“Oh, and so much mor e. Do you really think that the current state of affairs in the Capitol will allow for much more traditional sac-sniffing and routine advancements? Why, there are multitudes of your generation from all walks of life who are deciding that their expected futures simply aren’t good enough. Things are going to change, and I just hope you have the sense to join us, and become a part of the New Planetary Order, and all that it has to offer.”

Trmylly could no longer resist and maintain a piece of himself as the skeptical side, as he was taught in class to do. This was too important a decision to be made by following the rules of outdated academia. He was in, and he was ready to do all that he could do to show his race what a powerful male he was.

“Phthylly Frgness dooz, how familiar are you with the relationship between our patterns of distinctive pedigrees, and the abilities of psi?”

Phthylly now sat at the same table where the night before all manner of debauchery had taken place. In the light of early morning, the faded faces of the higher priests seemed as far from sensual merrymaking as a visual impression could get. He was no longer the guest of honor, privileged enough to sit at the left of the Highest Priest, instead, he accepted his position somewhere in the middle of the long table, that the ancient one who’d recently departed for Himmokely had occupied.

“I -I have devoted my focus of study toward betterment of my Mother Planet’s expeditionary functions, being the head priest on several trips abroad.” he replied, deciding to tell the truth of his ignorance, and not bely any uncertainty of his worth as a member of the inner circle.

“You should study up on the topic, and fill a much needed role. The predecessor who vacated your position was our resident expert, as I am sure you will be.”

“I am certain of it, Oh Revered One,” he replied, filling with the shame of ignorance.

But in less than a few seconds, the Highest Priest had moved on to other topics of discussion, mostly bland mundane affairs of the inner workings of the Great Council, but a few occasional attempts at drama either for the impression it would make for advancement, or out of simple blind patriotic allegiance to the Mother Planet.

Phthylly immediately saw how unimportant he was in the hierarchy of the inner circle. He realized what his friend Cxethylly had tried to make him understand. One was simply not all-respected and great once having obtained a position in the meritorious inner circle.

He quietly exited the Great Hall with head bowed, after the meeting was over, and took the stairs to the priestly library. It was nigh empty of anyone, except for the young priests who worked there. There was something else quite strange about the library, but he couldn’t quite put his paw on it until he went t o look for books related to psi ability and pedigree.

So many of the books were gone! Almost half of the library seemed empty.

“Where are all the books?” Phthylly asked a young priest hurriedly pushing a cart full of books.

The young priest gave him a withered look, ready to release a sigh of exasperation until he saw Phthylly’s collar. “Oh Revered One, we have been instructed to remove them for cleaning and rejacketing.”

Phthylly thought this was odd, because he couldn’t remember any older priest ever describing such an activity as having taken place. He knocked on Cxethylly’s door, hearing a muffled voice tell him he could come in.

“Why Phthylly, it is so good to see you! Come on in.”

“Were you in council this morning?”

“Unfortunately, yes. I have to atten d like anyone else in the Inner Circle.”

“And you heard what was instructed of me, or perhaps it was more of a suggestion, actually.”

“Um, let me try to remember. You must understand that I tend to doze a bit at these meetings. Something about psi and pedigree?”

“Yes, I was told to retreat to the library and perform research on the correlation

between those two, as if I were way behind what everyone else already knew.”

“No, I don’t think that is quite correct. I certainly don’t know anything about the two, and I can guarantee you most of the members of the inner circle don’t know or care to know anything about such matters. What the Highest One was doing, was letting you as the youngest member of the Inner Circle know what kind of Inner Circle-related activities he himself would most like you to participate in. If you chose to pay any attention to the mundane bull from all the rest of us, you might have picked up on suggestions or ideas for other avenues of research and work you could participate in. The main thing is that you become a participant in something that is already inner-circle related, to show that you have a fondness for authority, and aren’t expressing any reservations about the choice you made to join our bunch.”

“So, I could go off and help Moq hygthylly with his project of improving the sewers, or Rypothylly in his research on fungi off the Mother Planet.”

“Sure, or you could travel with me.”

“But if I truly want to make a good impression on the inner circle, I should do what the Highest One recommends.”

“Uh, not exactly. It isn’t that simple. If one or more of his potential usurpers are successful in overthrowing him, you are probably going to be put to death along with him. However…”

“If he leads a successful life at his post for the next few y ears, and dies an Honored Priest, I could be…”

“You would be in a prime seat, one of those half dozen places directly near the Highest One’s seat. And even if the one who takes his place didn’t necessarily agree with his politics, you will still be respected because the Highest One was honored and respected.”

“But what if I chose to help, say, you for instance. And you were put to death for heresy, wouldn’t I go down with you or anyone else just as easily?”

“It rarely happens. Because I keep my nose out of their poop, they would have little reason to concoct an excuse for putting me to death. The same could be said for most of the members of the inner circle.”

“So what happens if I make it to one of the half dozen prime seats?”

“Then, the real fun begins. Yo u must constantly watch every word you say, whether you are in council or not. Our free-thinking little conversations we have, that can sometimes border upon the heretical, are rarely monitored or noticed by the Ones who Monitor Thought.”

“So, somebody wil l be paying attention to me at every hour?”

“Yes, and don’t think the same rules of conduct apply, either. There have been many a high priest in a prime seat who kept his or her nose very clean, and was put to death simply because he or she let a casual thought escape before sleep that offended the Highest One.”

“Would you say that more priests in the prime seats live out their lives in normal fashion, or not?”

“Depends on the priest who is currently sitting in the High Chair. Our current one has been pretty merciful, some would say too careless and sloppy for his own good, and that an usurping is right around the corner— but you didn’t hear that from me. His successor might put to death every single priest who fills the prime seats. Umbgthylly the

Vulgar did that, and he got away with it for nigh an entire month, before the other members of the inner circle usurped him out of pure desire to see a kinder priest in the High Chair.”

Phthylly was silent for a bit, then remembered the other thing he was going to ask his friend. “They are removing many of the books in the library to have them cleaned and rebound. Do you find that odd?”

“Hmmm. I can’t say that I really know, Phthylly. You know me, I am more a practical one, I like to build things and get my paws dirty. Perhaps you should ask Erfghala, a good friend of mine and a wise old female priest. She is an active member of any project that involves the library. Seek her out, she is on the thirty-second flour, room eight.”

Phthylly walked down to Erfghala’s floor , and knocked on her door. There was no answer. He pounded repeatedly, but no one answered. Only the Elderly quadrant kept locked doors, but it was considered inappropriate to enter the room of a priest uninvited unless one had good cause. He returned to the library, and searched the data machine for any books on the topics of psi and pedigree. The few that came up, with both words in the abstract or title, were removed for cleaning.

He went back down to Erfghala’s floor again, but still there was no answer. She could have been away on any number of missions, projects, or simply next door chatting with a friend, but Phthylly suddenly was overwhelmed with the impulse to enter her room.

He pushed the door open gently, all the time calling out her name and informing anyone who might be in the room of his arrival. His nose was met with an overwhelming stench of death. She lay on her bed, apparently dead for several days. Phthylly called the necessary priests to exhume her body and perform the incineration rituals, and then decided to take a walk about the city.

In the bookseller’s market, there were the usual books for the masses, large colorful picture books with little content and a lot of fluff. Off in a dark corner, away from the main strip of booksellers, stood a lone robed figure tending a small stall. Phthylly thought it odd that a Faceless One would be in the city selling books, but he knew that many of them left their homes high in the mountains to make a better living down in the Capitol city.

“Psi and p edigree?” asked the Faceless One, immediately reading Phthylly’s mind and sensing his need. “I happen to have a few titles on such. Maybe they would be of interest to you.”

He stood dumbly in shock at the three volumes the Faceless One offered. They were the exact same books he’d found on the Data Machine in the priestly library, written in priestly script, and appeared to be worn, not copies.

“Where did you get these?” Phthylly demanded, trying his best to look the cavern that passed for a face in its eyes.

“Oh, you know. Priests come and sell me books sometimes for a little extra money to use at the brothels. I don’t ask who they are, or why they are parting with such lovely texts. I am just a poor simple one, trying to earn a living in these times of uncertainty.”

“But you don’t find it odd that such important and top secret works are being taken from my library and placed in the outside world for anyone to read?”

“I can’t read your language, I am a rather simple one. I don’t know of anyone on

these streets who can read this language, either. So, I guess you are right in a way. I can’t understand why a priest would bother to sell books that would be worth more to other priests. I certainly didn’t give her much for these books. And I watched her fail to sell them to the other booksellers one by one. She came upon my stall, and noticed I was selling a few priestly books already, and dropped off the few in her arms.”

“She? It was a female who sold you these books? What did she look like?”

“An older female pries t. Come to think of it, I can’t see how that one would be interested in getting extra spending money for a brothel, but I ask no questions of those with whom I do business.”

Phthylly noticed there were probably two dozen or so books obviously lifted from the priestly library

“She delivered all of these titles to you?”

“No, only the three you originally wanted to purchase. The rest have come from various sources out of that great building where you live.”

Phthylly only had enough money to purchase eight of the books, and he chose titles he felt were the rarest and least likely to contain information duplicated elsewhere.

He turned to walk away, and the bookseller called out to him, “Good sir, you seem to have forgotten your change.”

“Uh, no, I gave you the e xact amount for the prices listed on these books.”

“But there is a fifteen percent discount today! Come take your change, I am too honest to pocket myself.”

Phthylly only briefly pondered the strangeness of the disc that was pressed into his paw, before he spoke, “How many more books could I buy with this?”

The Faceless One seemed to shrivel in perplexity, perhaps this was not expected. “Um, let me see. Well, actually, you could probably buy this one here.” He stepped away from the shelf of priestly works, and picked up a book created to help children of the masses learn the names of animals. It was obviously written for a young mother to be read to her teatling, and Phthylly snorted in disgust.

“Well, no thank you, then.”

“Good day, then, sir.”

Phthylly turned the worthless piece of metal about in his right paw, deep in thought over why some old female, probably Erfghala, would wish to sell the exact titles he needed to do his research. And why were the books being removed from the library ‘for cleaning purposes?’ He would have to pay another visit to the library and grill some young priest as to the whereabouts of the book cleaning process.

Kghug was disgusted with himself. He barely paid attention to the morning exercises they practiced out in the field with the Master, and a few older warriors. Some of the young warriors appeared to be having trouble relaxing and flexing their jaw muscles properly, but he was kind of doing it unconsciously, and barely noticed the praise he received from the Master and the older warriors.

It was much easier to let parts of one’s mind wander out here in this empty grassy field, than it had been in that room aboard the ship. He needed the extra mental space, too, because he had a problem he would have to work out in the next couple of weeks, or he would probably be put to death.

Ylnf had turned out to be a shy sweet little female, and made every effort to get

him full of vital masculine energy, but nothing seemed to help. After half a night of trying his damnedest to make himself big, he cried out in frustration and lay down on his back, heavy with exhaustion. She continued to suckle and stroke him, but he was beyond any ability to stay awake, and drifted off into deep slumber.

In the morning, when he heard the call for the young warriors to awaken and shower, he tenderly pulled the covers back over her, and stepped out into the bright green morning sun. He felt bad for the little female in his tent, because he knew she would be put to death in a week, then, after he failed with another female, he too would go that same route.

An idea was manifesting itself in his brain, as the Faceless One in front of them droned on about “mobilizing the civilian population for cooperation,” and “our first preliminary mission to test our strength s and weaknesses will be in a couple of weeks upon the collective farmers on the other side of the planet.” Kghug didn’t really care what they were up to, it all sounded like a bunch of hoky stuff he would have to participate in whether he wanted to or not.

Upon ending their morning training session, and breaking for lunch, Kghug approached Monahnchif, and motioned the cavedweller off to the side.

“You would have to say that I did just as well and better than all of you who were warriors from the teat, wouldn’t you?”

Kghug had paid little attention to anyone else, but couldn’t remember Monahnchif being reprimanded at all, so he decided a little ego boost wouldn’t hurt. “Oh, yes, I don’t think anyone even notices your different heritage anymore.”

Monahnchif seemed to scowl a bit at this remark, because he obviously wore his difference around his neck now, so to speak.

“But of course, they will again soon as you go from being our equal to surpassing us at these feats of battle.”

Monahnchif smiled at this, and was completely receptive again.

“Look, Monahnchif, I have a bit of a problem on my paws, and I don’t really know who to turn to for help.”

“Yes?”

“Well, it’s like this, I just can’t seem to get it up with my mate.”

“Not to offend you, Kghug, but I can total ly see why. You picked the most passive lifeless tiny female of the bunch.”

“But I am not so sure I will be able to get it up with the next one after Ylnf is put to death, besides, I am kind of taking a liking to her.”

Monahnchif rolled his eyes and groaned. “Ah, you can’t be doing that, Kghug.”

“It’s too late, though. I don’t want her to be put death. And I am afraid that the experiences with her will carry over to my next mate, and I will be next.”

“So, how do you want me to help? Do you want me to let yo u get big with my mate so you can run back to your tent and finish the act with Ylnf. Or are you suggesting I should send Thevgv over to your tent? I don’t think so.”

Kghug miserably noticed that such a suggestion, which should have gotten any of the males eating their lunch excited and big, didn’t even cause a stir in his own masculinity.

“That is not what I was suggesting, though I am going to ask for something probably just as morally reprehensible to save Ylnf’s life.”

Monahnchif’s eyes lit up when he r ealized what was going to be asked of him. “Oh, so you want me to -”

“Yes.”

“And then Ylnf will be -”

“Correct.”

“Kghug, have you forgotten what I looked like? Ylnf’s litter will consist of puppies that look too much like some handsome cavedweller. Where are you going?”

“Sorry, I’ll be back shortly”

Maybe I am a Chuine, he thought, as he plunged into the shrieking surprised Ylnf. The words ‘handsome cavedweller,’ and the thought of Monahnchif standing there in his defiant posture of pride, were all he needed to consummate the act.

He left Ylnf shaking in a bloody mess, and emerged from the tent to cheers from the warriors who’d overheard the tent noises from their meal.

“Kghug, my young ones,” spoke an older Warrior, “Is a fine example to you all, you can learn a thing or two from such spontaneous masculine desire.”

Most of the young warriors didn’t hesitate a second longer, and were racing back to their tents to imitate Kghug. Monahnchif remained at his meal, however, turning back once to give Kghug an odd look.

Kghug reentered his tent, and found Ylnf on her back with legs raised, whimpering softly.

“I’m sorry, Ylnf,” he said, stroking her fur. “But I was afraid of losing the moment, you know, and I didn’t want to see you or both of us put to death because I couldn’t fulfill my duties as a mate.”

“It is okay, Kghug. I expected this moment ever since they pulled me from the gutter. I just wasn’t expecting it to happen while you took your lunch.”

They both laughed softly together, and Kghug was unable to suppress the upwelling of a strange emotion he felt for her. It was similar to the emotion he felt when his Master was present.

For their afternoon psi exercises, the older warriors and his Master had rounded up a dozen or so Himmokelian children from the swamps, the Faceless One seemed to hardly expend any psi effort at all to keep them at bay.

“Here are some good practice subjects, for you all to test out your psi powers on. We will let one of them go, and the young warrior who is chosen for the example will first attempt to apprehend the child using words or physical force. When this is shown to be unsuccessful, and the Himmokelian is nigh out of our site, the young warrior may then use his psi powers to blast it to dust. Does everyone understand?”

“Yes, sir!” T hey shouted, eagerly in unison, the cavedweller and a few other brutes attempting to make themselves especially obvious so they could be picked for the task.

Kghug felt sick to his stomach. He’d never seen a Himmokelian child before, its frightened darting eyes, and long green tentacles made it seem more like a small animal that could feel pain, than a simple treebaby. And it wasn’t so much out of compassion for the doomed children that made him slink to the back of the group out of sight to avoid being picked, but a strange sinking suspicion that they would be soon called to unleash this same kind of overwhelming force upon some of their own.

Two of the young warriors were knocked to the ground and paralyzed by the

Master, in their eagerness to be the ones who got to waste the children. The Faceless One and the Warriors strode quietly about the group of young psi warriors, stopping at every fourth one or so, and dismissing that one after almost seeming to make a selection. Kghug’s heart pounded as the Master approached him. Would he be able to tell how Kghug had consummated his duty with his mate after being stimulated by the cavedweller?

“This one,” said the Master, plainly and decisively, not hesitating a bit after picking Kghug.

Kghug found it impossible to protest, nor would he have tried had he been given complete free will over his actions. He suddenly was seized with an idea, however crazy and rash it might be, he knew that he would have to try it.

“Now remember what Oqfhghug said, use words of persuasi on, then physical force, then use your psi powers to destroy the child. Go!”

Kghug took a deep breath, and flexed his neck like he’d been instructed to when preparing an especially lethal psi-ball. He ignored the Master’s demands to use words first, and imagined that he was the Master himself, emitting the strange controlling emotion. He locked eyes with the Himmokelian, and the child meekly stepped to Kghug’s side, wrapping its long green tentacles around him.

“Okay, Smart One,” jibed the Master sarcastic ally, “You’ve proven to the class that you are several lessons ahead. Now waste the little treebaby.”

Its eyes looked into Kghug’s with warm liquid trust, pleading for him to help it escape, and return to the swamps to play and laugh among his siblings. And Kghug knew he would have to do the only thing left available to his imagination. He would take all of the destructive psi-abilities he’d learned over the past few days, and internally combust, commit suicide and be remembered as either a martyr or a fool, he didn’t care. Because in all of his dreams of becoming a great battle-hardened warrior, he couldn’t remember imagining the look that was now on that child’s face.

Flexing his neck muscles, and emitting a low growl, the child became afraid, sensing danger, and stepped away. Kghug tried to imagine the most hateful hurtful damaging psi-ball he could throw at the child, and then reversed his direction of intent.

Kghug found himself floating high above the astonished crowd of warriors and felt the Master pulling back to the ground. The child stood in its place, trembling in fear. This is not good, Kghug thought to himself, I have done something heretical, no doubt, and will be punished for my misdeed.

“Very impressive,” said the Master. “You are a bit of a qu iet one, but upon cue, you like to show off your talent. I did not expect even this much from one such as yourself.”

“I -I’m sorry Master. I will kill the child now, if you wish.”

“Bah! That would be child’s play for you, you are obviously going to need special attention for your gifts. We can’t have you as a simple psi -policecanine. You are to return to your tent at once, and await further instruction.”

“Yes, Master.”

Kghug barely noticed the envious stares of his brother warriors, noting only the especially strong look of disbelief and jealousy from Monahnchif, who no doubt had recently pegged him as a clandestine Chuine.

Ylnf was pleasantly surprised to see her mate returned.

“I thought you would have been gone all day. What has happened?”

“Ylnf, do you tr ust me?”

“Y -yes, of course I do. You are my mate, and I was instructed by my Nurse Mother to unquestioningly follow your orders, no matter how strange they might seem to my ears.”

“I -I care about you exceptionally, Ylnf, I am wont to leave you behind, and I am afraid that my future here is not one to my liking. This may be our only opportunity to leave.”

“Admittedly, Kghug, I am not too fond of my new life here, not to say that you are a fine mate and all, but it does seem a bit…”

“Constricting? Without fre edom?”

“Yes, and I must confess something to you. In my previous time on the streets of the Capitol City, I was a Triune. For money and food, I provided female love to Nurse Mothers who wished the same. It was not a glamorous or even morally correct life, I know, but I think I may be rather fond of females, and find this mating business a bit strange and bothersome.”

“Ylnf, I have never had a sister that I know of. But, if I had, I would probably have felt about her the way I feel about you. And I don’t wan t you to be a breeder, simply waiting the death knell after you show that you have reached your time for reproductive success.”

“Then, let us be off, Brother, to start our new life. We shall journey into the swamps of this planet, and find a way to freedom.”

“Perhaps I can overpower a band of Kneesht outlaws, who are said to take refuge upon this planet inside its swamps.”

“And I shall continue to do all that you ask of me, though we mayhap no longer be as mates with each other.”

They hurriedly threw their things together, slung their satchels upon their backs, and snuck past the Nurse Mother through the field of crushed adult Himmokelians toward the distant swamp.

Dnaegv really didn’t wish to wait two nights for Trmylly’s return, nor did she even welcome the thought of deciding what they should do next. Dughnth seemed mercifully meek and more than capable of entertaining himself by pondering a blade of grass or insect for hours at a time. Once his friend had departed, he’d displayed a welcoming bit of self confidence that had yet to evolve into blunt displays of bloated ego, as she’d seen happen with so many of her brothers who discovered a female from a neighboring farm to listen to them.

What she wanted to do was make haste back to the downed ship, sell her body to a Kneesht outlaw for a little fuel, and depart from this crazy planet to discover unknown worlds alone. She’d heard about such a thing from her sisters, and more than a couple of them had claimed to successfully perform the feat. It seemed a stupidly disgusting act, offering up one’s sex for a payment of something the giver desired, but it was hard for her to imagine getting fuel for the ship in any other fashion.

Of course, there was her newfound control over beings of her own race, that seemed to work remarkably on even the most stubborn of males, yet she wasn’t sure how such a power could be used on some laser -toting Kneesht outlaw.

She was as sick of Jufeny, almost, as she was of kindly listening to the bumbling fool’s musings on the strangenes s of the Universe. Jufeny had become increasingly fearful of sounds she’d heard her entire life, and would jump into Dnaegv’s arms at the slightest external or internal cue.

“Two nights, I promised him,” she muttered to herself.

“What is on your mind, Dnae gv?” came the questions from Jufeny and Dughnth in two different languages, almost simultaneously.

She looked at both of them, who’d crawled next to her for a sense of protection, and sighed. “I don’t think we should wait a second longer for Trmylly’s retu rn,” she confessed to both of them.

“B -but he’s my friend,” said Dughnth.

“I couldn’t agree more. He is probably dismembered by now,” suggested Jufeny.

Dnaegv turned to Dughnth. “Why do you choose to call someone who treats you like shit your friend, and continue to stick up for him?”

Dughnth seemed a bit shocked by her cursing, and a trifle perplexed at what his answer to the question might be. “Uh, I don’t know, he rescued me from bullies, back in school. And he saved me from the priests who were looking for us back home.” He stopped abruptly, realizing he was betraying something of his past.

“Do you think I give a damn where you came from, or why? I am just trying to make conversation while we hopelessly wait for his dumb ass.”

Dughnth couldn’t resist spi lling his guts, and told her the entire story from the psi-ball creation to their arrival upon Himmokely.

“And where do you suppose he gets his powers from?”

“Uh, I don’t know, he was always sticking his nose in that book, and trying to hide it from me when I stepped out of the toilet room.”

“What book?”

“I looked at it a few times, when he was bathing. Just a bunch of pictures and priestly words on how to speak. I tried it a few times on him, and he didn’t even raise his head or say a word.”

“What were som e of the instructions? Maybe we can go over it and figure out what you were doing wrong.”

Dughnth eyed her suspiciously, ever-so-briefly, but all it took was the slightest bit of her new emotional strength to melt him down and make him comply.

“Something a bout flexing one’s neck muscles, and focusing one’s thought on the place in the throat where a growl comes from.”

“Sounds heretical.”

“I know, I put the book down because it seemed like neither he nor I should be looking at it.”

“Did you let him know how y ou felt?”

“Uh, no. I was too afraid he would turn hostile if he knew I’d gone through his stuff.”

“I see.” Dnaegv had witnessed on trips into town, and during the times at the fair, how the local priests would carry on communication with each other in a low gutteral growling way, using their teeth and lips and tongue to form audible packets of language. She’d found it fascinating, almost as much as the idiot, and when she pressed her father about it, he’d cautioned her sternly against trying to delve into the ways of ones initiated

into the art of conversing in the Trainer’s own tongue.

“They are blessed and sanctified, pure and holy men and women who have taken special vows, and observe the Trainer’s precepts completely, Dnaegv. If you were to attempt to learn their ways outside of their order, you would find yourself headed down the path of Evil, and we would have to put you to death.”

It had seemed frightening at the time, to be cautioned so explicitly against understanding priestly speech, but Dnaegv found herself wondering how much of that rhetoric was simply words used to control members of the masses like she and her father, and everyone else for that matter.

Later, when Dnaegv learned to speak aloud the Himmokelian tongue, her father at first had been shocked and angry at her disobediance and fraternizing with aliens. But during the first hard winter, when Dnaegv could communicate with the Himmokelians to secure better fatter beasts for food, her strange ability became accepted and no one thought twice about it after that.

“So,” she asked Dughnth, “He had no apparent device or means of developing his powers other than the book?”

“He did have a strange circular disc he sometimes rubbed between his paws, but never let me look at it or hold it, and always hid it away when I caught him playing with it.”

“Hmmm.” Dnaegv couldn’t imagine what such an object could possibly be.

A few Himmokelian children marched towards them, and Jufeny jumped up and ran over to the diminutive ones, beseeching them for news of Trmylly.

They muttered something to her, and strode on through the swamp, stoically and mechanically were their motions, so unlike Jufeny’s jumping playful nature.

“What did they say?” asked Dnaegv when Jufeny returned to them.

“They told me that I better get as far away from here as possible, if I knew what was good for me, and that the natives of Himmokely will follow a new god now.”

Himmokelians worshipped the Uberorb, a being somewhat akin to the Trainer in its omnipresence, the great opening at the center of the Universe from which all life springs.

“What other god could there possibly be?” asked Jufeny in perplexed sorrow. “And where shall I go?”

“You can come with us. We’ll find some fuel for that downed ship, and make a course for a distant peaceful planet.”

“But, what is going to happen in a few months when I need to take root? I shall probably die if my roots cannot find purchase in native soil.”

“Jufeny, have any of your race ever attempted to thwart their adulthood, and dismember their roots to remain mobile?”

“Not that I know of. Wait, yes, there is a legend of a few rebellious children long ago who made a pact to remain free of adulthood.”

“And what became of them?”

“They changed from vibrant green beings to ghastly blackened mold infested ones with unnatural appetite, feeding on young children new in the world.”

“And then what happened?”

“Himmokely had council with the sun, and made the sun send exclusive rays to the part of the swamp where they lived. It is scorched unto this day, and nothing grows

there, none go near that place.”

“But we all know that when you mature into adulthood, your body will harden and darken, and if you are not planted on a big collective farm, you will produce spores yourself. So, how is their fate different from that of any others of your kind?”

“Dnaegv, you do not understand. They tried to cheat their fate, and became a thousand times worse than the slow death of adulthood. Nobody can trick the Uberorb and its grand design.”

“Perhaps we could build a vessel containing Himm okelian soil, and when your time to take root comes, you can still do the right thing.”

“I don’t know, Dnaegv, it sounds like I am still somehow going against the Uberorb’s plan.”

“But what is your fate if you remain upon this planet? We both sense a great evil coming, something that may forever strip this planet of its native identity, is that a thing you wish to stick around for? Because, as much as I am a loyal friend to you, I know my limitations, and would be hard pressed to raise an army to fight off this coming plague.”

“I am sorry, Dnaegv, I must place my faith in my gods, however occluded their purpose may seem to me. In the end, I know I shall be content and rewarded for my decision, in spite of the sorrow and suffering that may come to me.”

Jufeny hung her head of weary eyes, and placed it against Dnaegv’s breast. Dughnth seemed a bit uncomfortable at being left out of the conversation, but he contented himself by examining the life beneath a rotten stump.

“Where will you go, Jufeny? Where on this planet will you find sanctity, and refuge from those that may seek to cause you harm?”

“I know of a place. As the great opening of Himmokely is akin to the birth passage of your own, so is there a great summit where her comparitive teats lie.”

“But the pla ces where peaks soar on this planet are rocky and devoid of nutritious soil to keep you alive.”

“Or so your kind is led to believe. But there is a place deep in the mountains, of which I’ve only heard in legends, that every child fantasizes about journeying to for their adulthood.”

“And you believe this is a real place?”

“Yes, it is a special kind of swamp, fed by Himmokely’s milk, veiled in thick clouds and fog, deep in a valley, high in the mountains.”

“Well, I am trusting of your instinct, but I feel tha t we can perhaps fly you as close as possible to your destination, so that you will not have to bear the hardships of traversing such a vast expanse of the planet alone. Why, by the time you would have reached the place on foot, you may very well find yourself taking root in the foothills. Can we at least do that much for you? Can we be the escorts to your fate?”

“Y -yes, Dnaegv, but you don’t have to do such a thing. You may risk capture yourself along the way, who knows how mightily entrenched are the tentacles of this new evil, or how many orbs its self may carry?”

“We will risk our lives no matter where our ship goes, and I say this with the assumption that the bumbler will wish to accompany us.”

Dnaegv walked over to Dughnth, and slapped her tail against his stooped peering face.

“Huh?” he muttered, as if being awakened from a deep sleep.

“We are leaving, we shall find fuel for your ship, and use it to fly Jufeny to her fate. From there, I would like to find a new home on an overlooked planet far away. You can join us if you wish, or you can go your own way. The choice is yours.”

Dughnth seemed stricken with fear of the uncertainty that now surrounded him. “Uh, I just don’t know. Shouldn’t we wait here a bit longer for our friend?”

“He is your friend, and I see nothing but heartache for us if we remain in this place. Trmylly seems interested in Trmylly, and will only be aggrieved by our absence if he still needs to use us for his own gain. He gave me no cause to believe that he would make a worthy companion, and I suggest you rethink your loyalty, though it makes no difference to me what choice you make. Jufeny and I are going to make a steady course back to the ship, and begin our own journey into our fateful adulthood. You must think hard now, and decide how you wish your life to continue.”

Dughnth fell into a deep state of ponderance, obviously taking the words quite seriously. He made no attempt to veil his thoughts; Dnaegv wondered if he was even capable of the artifice, but out of simple respect for another’s privacy tuned out his thoughts.

Dughnth turned suddenly to her with a strange look of personal confession in his eyes. “I guess I have always been used to someone else providing for me, this is new and frightening.”

“You are stronger than you think, everyone is,” said Dnaegv, doing her best to play the part of the consoling friend. “I had a brother like you once, a dreamer and complete physical stumbler in the fields. He left one day to join the priesthood, and word was sent a couple of years later that he had been put to death because he was too far behind in the studies to ever catch up. I know we were all told that the way of the Universe, the Trainer’s plan, is good for us all, but sometimes I think the Trainer forgets about some of us who don’t f it a mold, and we simply have do our best to struggle through life in our own misfit sort of way.”

“I suppose you’re right. I thought ever since I left the teat that the priesthood was for me, but now I wonder if that was simply to remain beside Trmylly, who was a rock of certainty against all my world. I mean, I was never going to make it, that much is obvious, I was failing all of my exams, and constantly under the threat of being put to death. Towards the end of my time on the Mother Planet, I was cheating more and more just to remain in school, incapable of imagining myself escaping for some destination unknown.”

“Everyone’s destination is unknown,” said Dnaegv softly, placing a gentle paw around his fat frame. “Some of us think otherwise, but they are o perating on the same faith a stumbler in the dark does, only their imagined future is closer in kind to what is accepted. But that doesn’t mean they are any less in the dark, they merely have a better built map to guide them.”

“I guess you’re right. Beside s, I was always terrible at geography.”

They let their laughter rise unproportionately to his bad joke.

“I will come with you Dnaegv, I will place my trust in you, because I see you have the rock of stability that someone like me needs.”

“Oh, come now, ple ase don’t put me up on a peak of power, make your decision because it is something you wish for yourself.”

“I do want to go with you. It seems now to be the only real choice to make.”

“Fine, then, let’s be on our way. Be on the lookout for Kneesht outlaws, and we

shall obtain our fuel through what device is readily available to us.”

“So be it.”

Together, the three set off side by side back upon the trail they’d so recently journeyed, stepping in silence, heavy with care for their uncertain future, and feeling just a bit under a growing pressure to reach the ship and find fuel.

Monahnchif was quite proud of himself, in spite of the recent performance of that showoff Kghug. He tried to put out of his mind how the Master had selected that warrior for some kind of special mission, though such an event had been part of his dreams ever since he blasted away his clan leader and strode out of the caves with those fools.

He had finally managed to catch the Master’s attention, as they continued their exercises, and proceeded to incinerate several of the Himmokelian children, merely giving lip service to the rule of first trying to convince them to stay by using words.

The Master had for some reason seemed a bit perturbed that Monahnchif wiped out so many of the children, but shrugged his shoulders and said, “Sometimes you will have to kill as many or more to rid the planet of the one that is truly possessed. As our young brave Monahnchif has demonstrated, the most effective method for achieving results is always the one that most quickly gets the job done.”

Monahnchif beemed in pride, and imagined the other young warriors crouching in awe at his prowess of the psi arts, letting his fantasy go to wild schemes of an ascent to leadership over all of the warriors in the quadrant.

An anti-grav flyer roared above them, and landed near their gathering, opening its doors and releasing two dozen or more Himmokelian children.

“Now,” said the Master, moving his faceless head to and fro to make sure everyone was paying attention, “Th ose of you who are yet to demonstrate your effectiveness with psi, shall perform for the group, so we can be done for the day and you can get back to your breeding.”

Some of the young warriors were incapable, or unwilling to put to death any children using their psi powers. A few managed to chase their children down, and slay them using the blunt clawing and biting methods they’d known since birth. The ones who were completely unable to make short work of their prey were put into comas by the Master, and hauled upon the anti-grav flyer by the older warriors, no doubt off to be incinerated and put to death with no honor.

There were twenty-four of them now, where forty had been, and the Master looked them up and down again carefully. “Tomorrow, you shall becom e true Warriors of the Psi, once and for all proving yourselves worthy of the title, and donning the cherished robes of the Path.”

Monahnchif felt a start of suspicion in himself , and he noticed several of his brothers were uncertain of performing a deed like donning an extra fur. Such an act was considered heritical by any who were born and bred in the Capitol city, and twice as immoral in the teachings of the caves.

“Do not be alarmed, like the novel beings you have become, so is the edict from our Highest Priest that sanctifies the act of donning robes for ones such as yourselves. No one will think of you as less than faithful to the precepts you’ve known since teathood on your Mother Planet. You are dismissed to return and breed.”

Monahnchif needed someone to discuss his reservations about wearing the extra

fur, but the Master had admonished each of them at the start of their classes to not share a word or deed that passed in the fields with their mates back in camp.

He performed the act of mating with utter indifference, ignoring Thevgv’s pleas to be gentler and slow down. After finishing, Monahnchif stepped out of his tent into the evening air, and wandered about the camp, feeling like there was nobody in the universe with whom he could share his thoughts.

Turning a corner as he strolled around the giant structure that would someday be home to psi warriors and their mates, he released a startled yelp upon almost running into the Master.

“Where do you sleep, Master?”

“I am very agreeable to whatever the e lements throw my way, so I can make a bed just about anywhere. But, I sense you have other questions on your mind beside the location of my quarters.”

“Well, its really not even that important, not anything that I am terribly concerned about, but…”

“Ah, yo u still carry deep within you the mores and laws of your heritage. There is nothing wrong with that, if you were still a cavedweller. But you are a warrior of psi, now, you see? You must learn an entirely new pattern of right and wrong, rejecting some things, accepting others. It is ever the way for ones such as you and I, Monahnchif.”

“What do you mean, ‘you and I?’”

“I am going to share a secret with you, Monahnchif. You will perhaps learn more and understand more of this when you are further along in your study, but be content to know for now that I was once a cavedweller whelp as you were not so long ago.”

“And some Faceless One recruited you into that flock?” asked Monahnchif, not without a little unease.

“I suppose you could say that, or perhaps an apt er description of what happened would be to say that, after my own clan had placed my body out to be picked at by the birds, as you know the custom to be, the Faceless Ones came and saved my life.”

“So, you look more like me beneath that robe, than a…”

“A monster? No, I am all Faceless One now, through and through. As you shall be completely a warrior of psi, from heart to paw. Perhaps sometime in the near future, when you are ready, I will reveal to you the advantages of having the flesh of a Faceless One.”

“Yes, Master.”

“Now, go and keep your mate company. Someday, you will mourn her absence, when you are advanced to a stage where having a mate is not allowed.”

“If you say so, Master.”

Monahnchif did not believe he would mourn the absence of a mate. In fact, his heart held some measure of comfort in knowing that eventually the silly business of producing offspring would be cast aside as he matured along the Master’s Path.

Thevgv began to wonder how long she would be able to live like this before she did something crazy like escape, and head for the swamps. She’d overheard some of the girls talking, and apparently the tiny gutter creature of the group had run away with her mate. They would probably be captured and put to death before too long, though, because Thevgv imagined this planet had few hiding places anymore.

She found it hard to imagine running off with one’s own mate. Although a few of

the females claimed their mates were everything they’d dreamed of, and more, most were in the same state of mind as Thevgv, or faring worse. Thevgv had expected her mate to at least show some basic interest in his coming fatherhood, but so far, the strange cavedweller had turned his back to her the first night and this one, or stalked off somewhere to be alone and do whatever it was a crazy cavedweller did when so far away from home.

Some of the females had invited her to experience the joys of sharing their female essences amongst themselves, crying “if they won’t appreciate what we have to offer, we might as well appreciate it ourselves.”

When Thevgv asked the Nurse Mother about such activity, the old one had shrugged her shoulders and simply said, “One fills in the gaps where one needs to. Official doctrine strictly prohibits it, but you show me a Nurse Mother who mounts a campaign against females enjoying each other, and I’ll show you a Nurse Mother put quickly out of commission. Perhaps you’ll change your mind about it after you’ve had a few of Monahnchif’s ilk inside your bed.”

The Nurse Mother placed a gentle paw on Thevg’s shoulder, and gave her a vigorous rub. She looked at Thevgv pointedly, and retreated from the tent with a swish of the tail.

Thevgv didn’t particularly feel disgusted by the act of female relief, wasn’t all that surprised at how widespread it ap parently was throughout the Matriarchy. She simply envisioned a mate somewhat like her father, a stable, down-to-earth male who shared an interest in raising his children. Perhaps Monahnchif will change his mind after my litter is born, she thought wistfully.

That night, she dreamt frightening dreams, of her children growing up from their innocent place by her teat into vicious mindless killing machines. They formed a collective circle of seven, and swept across the Mother Planet and all of the colonies, leading the children of the other young nurse mothers on a great and terrible cleansing of life from the planets. A Faceless One stood off in the distance, clasping his strange paws together in a twisted aura of approval at the madness, sometimes hissing with glee as a village burned.

Monahnchif was already off to shower and train when she awoke, and a familiar voice tapped on the flap of her tent.

“Fghala! What are you doing here?”

“Shhh. I am not supposed to make contact with you, but I couldn’t resist.”

“H ave you word from the Mother Planet concerning the well-being of my father?”

“Regrettably, no. I arrived here shortly after you, and have spent the past two days putting the adult Himmokelians who were crushed to build your home out of their misery.”

“Oh?”

“And I am off today, to do some research, perhaps we shall not ever see each other again.”

“I thought that was already the case, this is a pleasant surprise.”

“So, it is. Are you being treated well? Of course you are, you are carrying the children of our new army inside of you.”

Thevgv shuddered, fully recalling the dream of the night before.

“I wish I could go with you.”

“Perhaps. Perhaps you wouldn’t if you knew what kind of mission I was on.”

“What do you mean?”

“I cannot explain now, I’m afraid.”

“But, why are you here?”

“For much the same reason as you are, to ensure the safety of our Mother Planet during these times of uncertainty.”

“I am so bored with this Nurse Mother lifestyle, Fghala. There are no books to keep me company, and I fear that my mind is slipping ever-so-swiftly to the level of those around me.”

“That is a sad thing to hear, indeed. Perhaps if you keep it a secret, I shall leave you a gift before I depart.”

“What kind of gift?”

“You shall see. Now, give me a hug and wish me luck with my mission. Maybe if the old tales are true, we will meet again someday, if only upon the Trainer’s playground.”

“Okay, then.”

After Thevgv returned from her shower, she found a book written entirely in Fghala’s paw. The inside page read: “Inside of you ther e are an infinite number of books, do not lose hope because you haven’t any made of paper to read. Here is a small volume I hope will get you through the tough times ahead. Remember, the future has not been all written down yet by anyone, not even the Trainer.”

The title of the book was, “A Few Exceptional Females Throughout the History of Our Race.” It was obviously something Fghala had begun decades before, as some of the pages were quite yellowed. There were stories of brave female mates of elders who escaped death after their productive cycles had ended, and went on to make all of the important decisions affecting the Mother Planet. There were tales of female priests, and ones from the masses, and cavedwellers, and warrior daughters and Nurse Mothers. Just thumbing through it, Thevgv could see that so much of the history she’d learned during her brief time of schooling was missing huge important pieces of the puzzle that formed her race’s past.

Her eyes did a double-take when she came across one of the last entries in the book: “Shuynghala Hosthlengdooz, mate of Phthylly Frgnessdooz, a powerful priestess far more adept at psi and prescience than most of the highest priests. Strong-willed and opinionated, she was put to death for heresy shortly after giving birth to her first litter. During her first years as a priestess, she prudently made manifest her gifts only where they would be deemed acceptable for a young female priestess, and advanced quickly to secure an important position aboard an exploration vessel. Her mate Phthylly, three years younger than her, found his career advancing rapidly after taking her for a mate. He was selected as a commanding officer shortly after she became his female, and embarked upon a successful research mission while she stayed behind to give birth to their first litter.”

Thevgv read on in fascination.

Fghala thought giving Thevgv the unpublished book was the least she could do for the poor little one, whose road ahead she saw to be quite difficult and full of labor.

Fghala lay in her cot listening to Bhntylly snore, and thought about the coming

adventure. She and Bhntylly had decided that they should act as if they intended to fulfill the items on the itinerary instead of setting out for the swamps right away. They had already satisfactorily demonstrated the first item on the itinerary, showing the priests that no unusual chemicals were found around the camp area.

Fghala actually did find in abundance a strange polymer that seemed synthetic in nature, around the unfinished building, but no one seemed interested in it, though she was certain that it was something manufactured off-planet, perhaps not even from the Mother Planet.

“It is a harmless carbon compound, whatever it is,” the old priest had said. “You know we hired som e builders from a wide array of planets throughout several galaxies, Fghala, they could have brought it with them when they arrived.”

“I am simply performing the tasks outlined to me by the itinerary. What you choose to do with the information I gather is none of my business.”

“Oh, come now, don’t sound so wounded. The kinds of foreign chemicals we are looking for consist of the same type of semi-conducting substances we use in our thinking machines, even more prevalently did we use those substances in the thinking machines of old.”

“Why are you looking for such?”

“Well, the latest word from the Mother Planet, is that they suspect the invaders from the higher plane to be the intelligent beings we created ourselves, who’ve evolved to transcend time, and vast distances in space, and have returned to reclaim the planet of their birth.”

“That seems odd, don’t you think? I mean, why would they wish to return to our Mother Planet and drive us out, by way of Himmokely and its natives? Besides, the superintelligent machines that did leave our planet swore to us they would never be back, because we were too backwards to their liking.”

“Fghala, I am an old male. I have so few years left in this Universe. Your questions hurt my brain. Why can’t you just accept for now wh at other researchers like yourself have postulated, and go about your mission.”

“Which I was going to ask you about, Oh Revered One. In spite of the fact that it is number four on the list, I thought we would inspect the highest parts of Himmokely first, since the peaks are on the way to the collective farm.”

“I’m sure that will be just fine, Fghala. We can arrange to have an anti grav flyer take you most of the way.”

“Thank you, Oh Revered One.”

Bhntylly had been shown more interest in finding the synthetic carbon polymers. Traces of the compound seemed to melt into then air, but hover ever-so-gently like a spider’s web in the early morning mists. Most of the samples she collected were around the unfinished building itself, but occasionally she would pick up a bit here and there around the camp.

“Maybe we should make a trip out tonight, and see if there is more or less of it, or anything else that might clue us in as to its origin,” he’d suggested. Fghala was delighted to have such a wonderful elder along to spy on her.

Bhntylly dozed now, and Fghala told him she would awaken him an hour after sundown. She thought a little more about Thevgv, hoping that somehow the girl would come to understand her past a little better, a gift that could be quite rare in the violent

flux that was the canine alien social system.

She shook his arm ever so gently, and he shot to an upright posture, alert and ready to do some night research.

They passed a strange-looking warrior who’d probably stepped out of his tent to make water.

“Was that a cavedweller?” asked Bhntylly.

“It sure looked like it.”

“This certainly is some kind of bizarre setup they have going here. We’ve spotted a Faceless One, almost no Himmokelians…”

“Shhh, look over there.” Fghala pointed to the strange opening that seemed to float in midair.

They stepped cautiously over to it, and were rocked gently by a puff of wind, as it sealed up, releasing millions of strings of the polymer web into the air.

“Oh my Trainer,” cried Bhntylly in disbelief. “Something or someo ne just hopped over to another plane of reality.”

“How do you know this?” she asked, skeptically.

“Remember how we recently sent a ship into deep space, via way of a higher plane?”

“Sure, I remember hearing about that, it was while I was still away on my last mission.”

“Well, I was one of the dozen or so elders who cared to get up in the night, and watch the ship off.”

“Yes?”

“And the opening it created, and the residue it left behind, was identical to what we are looking at here in appearance and texture. Even the whoosh of the wind pushing us back was similar, only much stronger. It’s like a little mini -ship has just departed from this plane.”

“Or maybe one being?”

Bhntylly shook his head. “I find it highly unlikely. The reports I read on how the process works say that if one is not inside a specially-made object, like a ship, the unstable flux of antimatter particles that reside on this other plane will cause one to completely implode.”

“But what if the Revered One is correct, and it really is our thinking machines returning after conquering time? Maybe they have created skin for themselves that will allow them to withstand the antimatter threshold?”

“I suppose that is possible. But, of course, we need some kind of physical evidence. Note how quickly the web evaborates and disappears.”

“So, the web we saw early this morning would’ve had to have been formed shortly before we came upon it?”

“Precisely. And for all we know, who or whatever is coming back and forth across the planes could be doing such all night.”

“I am not sleepy, are you?”

“My nap, and a little more of your potion, and I am like thirty years younger, a child.”

“Fine, then we will step inside this unfinished building, and do our spying from a convenient window.”

“I wish we had a Unshylly Machine ,” she whispered to him, as they paced about from window to window on the empty floor.

Bhntylly eyed her sternly, and she shrugged.

“Well, don’t you think it would be useful right now?”

“I suppose, but I doubt we could convince the Revered One to loan us h is machine, that is supposing he even has one.”

“He probably does not, but I bet one of those anti -grav flyers down there is equipped with one.”

“And it is probably attached to a noisy alarm that would go off if someone tried to remove it, what’s more, how would we power such a thing once we remove it? Besides, you know the minute they discovered we’d gathered evidence with such a device, we would be sent back home for death immediately.”

“Oh, Bhntylly, I know. I just find such a convention as keeping those machines out of a researcher’s hands to be a bit excessive. Trainer knows I have no need to see a copy of myself.”

An Unshylly Machine, as the reader probably conjectured, was something like our own video camera, it could record images only, though. The canine aliens held a strong taboo against taking pictures of themselves, their belief system said that such an act would allow the one captured on the film to retain a bit of immortality, and they would live on as a kind of evil ghost virus, infecting the entire databank with their presence.

“We could, however, ask that the Revered One send some local priests to observe as we are doing now, and then there will be witnesses for this activity besides ourselves.”

“I suppose you’re right, but I think you will ha ve to convince him of that necessity, because I get the impression he values my opinion and observations very little.”

They paced about nervously for an hour or more, hearing or seeing nothing. Fhgala began to feel irritable and tired, and wondered whether or not the discovery of what was causing this phenomena should even be part of her agenda.

“Maybe we should go back to bed,” she muttered into Bhntylly’s ear, where he sat rigid upon a pile of construction materials.

“You can go back, if you like, I am go ing to sit right here and wait until the morning.”

“My potion has really rejuvenated you, hasn’t it?”

“Why yes, it has. I can’t remember the last time I felt this awake and vibrant…”

Fghala let his words trail off in her ears, because the faint sound of wind seemed to be leaking into the window from below, and it grew louder quickly, crescendoing into a dozen great whooshes. Bhntylly grew silent, and turned his gaze to follow hers.

Nine Faceless Ones, a canine alien who bore the fur of an elder’s son, and a male and female of unknown simian race appeared on the grounds directly below them. Each had arrived through an opening in the air, like the one she’d seen earlier, and now twelve balls of the web confetti floated gently in the air as the openings disappeared.

Fghala examined the strange party below in horror and fascination, and suddenly realized she’d seen the hairless simian male before!

“That is the artifact from the last expedition we were on, he walks now with a female of his own kind.”

“What are th ey doing here?” asked Bhntylly, not really expecting an answer.

“I don’t know, but it looks like they are going to enter this building. Come, as soon

as they step inside, we must jump out the window, and make a run for it!”

“Shouldn’t we tell somebody?”

“ I would say so. This is a strange and most unanticipated development.”

Fghala noticed only the slightest of reservation in his eyes over jumping from the window. He helped her to the sill, yet to be covered in glass, and followed her in descent to the ground below.

“Oh, these old joints are still too old to be jumping out of first -story windows, no matter how much potion you give me.”

“Fghala!” she could hear it like a whisper over her shoulder, reaching through all of Bhntylly’s words and landing somewhere deep inside of her.

“Did you hear that?” she asked.

“Fghala!” The voice was more urgent now, and she slowly turned about.

“I heard nothing but the wind, what are you doing? We must get back to the farmhouse and alert everyone.”

Vehngchif stood in the same window she’d peered out of only minutes before. He was as handsome as ever, and it was unmistakeably him, with his long black fur and dignified nose.

“Is that a cavedweller up there?” asked Bhntylly suspiciously, “I don’t remember a cavedweller being among that bunch. Wait, there was one in the pack of young warriors that arrived, I’ve seen him about camp. What is he doing up there?”

“Fghala, I never died. Won’t you come and join me? My love is still so strong…”

Fghala began to dreamily make her way back towards the unfinished building, ignoring Bhntylly’s pleas to stop. He wrestled her to the ground, and gazed sternly into her eyes.

“Fghala, you don’t know who or what they are. I think something in that building is casting a spell over you. You have to snap out of it, or we’ll -”

She watched him let his guard down a bit, and put a knee to his groin. As he doubled over in pain, she jumped up and ran to the building. Vehngchif stood in the doorway with beckoning arms.

“It can be like it was forever,” he cried in his dreamy poet’s voice. “Come, lover, find your eternity here with me.

She met him in the doorway, and felt overwhelmed suddenly by a sense of dread, and a foul odor she didn’t remember him having before. A cavedweller’s scent was always kind of an attractive pungeant smell to Fghala’s nose. But this smell reeked positively of death.

“Who are you?” she asked, the intensity of her suspsicion growing by leaps and bounds.

“I am Vehngchif, who else would I be? And look who is with me, his name is Sven, he’ s the artifact from the expedition you were on, recently.”

“Hello, Fghala,” spoke the strange simian with a muddled slow attempt at her language.

“You know, Fghala, if you simply step over this threshold, we can be together forever.”

His voice sounded full of pain and loneliness, and she could no longer resist. Vehngchif felt cold and clammy, and the smell of decaying fur and flesh was almost unbearable. His grasp became bony and controlling, and when she looked up into his

eyes, the face of Vengchif the cavedweller was falling apart, and becoming replaced by a multitude of tiny insects, swarming about in futility to reconstruct Vengchif’s face.

She screamed in pure terror, feeling her blood and adrenaline pound into her brain with an intense need to get as far away from the building as possible.

“Take your hands off of me!” she yelped at the hideous monster who held her in its grasp.

“Ah, Fghala, my poor sweet. My friends told me I should just stick to wearing my robe, and let my voice woo you. But, alas, it is too late. I only wish you could know that this is still me, my essence, my soul.”

Fghala grew limp, and whimpered helplessly in his arms.

“Shall we take her with us, Master?” asked a voice behind him, the voice of the young elder’s son.

“No, Trmylly, she is not ready yet, I’m afraid. Fghala, you shall sleep.”

She felt herself being gently placed upon the ground at the door of the building, and could no longer hold back the blackness that filled her consciousness.

While Kghug found his large frame growing hot and tired early on during the trek through the swamp, he noted with a bit of wry pride how tireless Ylnf seemed to be. She has so much less to carry around, and to think that I imagined myself carrying her along by midafternoon.

“Where exactly are we going, Kghug?” she’d asked once, after they’d walked a few hours in silence.

“I’m just following these trails the children made, hoping to stumble upon a cleared area filled with the remnants of cookfires.”

“Where Kneesht outlaws touch down?”

“Exactly.”

Late into the afternoon, Kghug felt he could walk not a step farther without collapsing with exhaustion. He began to feel a sense of dread about their mission, because they had taken so little fresh water with them. When escaping, Kghug had imagined using his psi powers to hunt small animals for food, forgetting that they would be thirsty much sooner than hungry.

So far, the only water they’d encountered lay deep in the middle of the great bogs, barely indiscernible from the bogs themselves in its blackness and rank odor. Himmokelian children seemed to be of no help. In spite of the good will Kghug had originally begun to feel after refusing to kill the child back in the training field, he couldn’t help but feel irritated at their response to him and Ylnf. They were either shy and ran off, or they acted strangely aloof, ignoring all of his attempts to accost them and make motions of drinking. They probably don’t even know what fresh water is, he thought grimly, they no doubt find the bracken water off the swamp much more to their liking.

He had given Ylnf all of the fresh water they’d appropriated for the journey, but both of them were beginning to see that his larger frame was in much more dire need of refreshment.

“Let us rest in this grove of trees,” said Kghug, almost completely out of breath.

“You can rest, brother,” said Ylnf gently, feeling great compassion for her new friend. “I shall wander about in search of a source of fresh water, perhaps there is a plant

that houses such in its stems or leaves or fruit.”

“Okay, sister. But please do not wander too far off. This place gives me strange unnatural feelings of discontent.”

He fell into a heavy slumber in spite of the uncomfortable heat and poor bed he’d made for himself. Part of him wanted to remain awa ke to keep an eye on Ylnf, because he’d seen simians in the trees that were larger than she. But he was so exhausted and dehydrated, that sleep overtook him rapidly.

She was shaking him awake in what seemed like minutes later with great excitement in her voice.

“Kghug, awaken. I’ve discovered a great source of food and drink.”

It was completely dark now, and he decided he must be dreaming.

“Come on, follow me. I found an abandoned ship. It is full of dried goods and smoked meats, bottled water, and pounds of Kneesht.”

He couldn’t believe it, and marveled at the sight before his eyes. “It doesn’t appear to have been hit by a policeship, nor does it seem to have had any accidents. The fuel guage reads empty, so whoever abandoned it must be coming back soon. We must be careful.”

Kghug drank from a bottle of water slowly, remembering instructions he’d learned from one of the classes he thought he’d paid so little attention in. “If you find yourself dehydrated upon a strange planet, or even our own Mother Planet for that matter, and you come upon a large quantity of water, drink it slowly or you’ll vomit it all up, losing any beneficial properties it might have provided.”

Together they munched on dried snacks from the ship’s pantry, and curled up with a bottle of Huysht and a pipe full of Kneesht to giggle and tell stories.

A large roar filled his ears, and he could feel Ylnf trembling with fear.

“What is it?” she asked.

“I don’t know, it sounds like a storm.”

They peered out the ship’s window, and saw an enormous beast half-gliding, half-stomping its way towards them. Long white tentacles creeped down, and began lashing at the ship, trying to break the windows and retrieve the prey within.

“Kghug, I’m scared.”

“I’m not exactly comfortable with this experience mysel f.” He felt the ship rocking back and forth, as if it were passing through patches of blackmatter. Kghug opened all of the ship’s lockers, searching for a laser. He found a stash of powerful big game lasers in a locker, and removed one, letting all of the early training that was now like instinct kick in.

“Why don’t you step out and use your psi powers on it?” she suggested.

“That thing is big, Ylnf, I don’t know.”

The monster was now pounding on the ship’s hull with an enormous foot, and he could feel the powerfully built craft groaning under the weight. The ships were built to withstand several pressures of gravity, but careful concentrated

damage could crack it open like a nut.

“Wish me luck,” he planted a hasty kiss on her lips, and ran to the door.

He threw the door open growling fiercely, unleashing simultaneously all of the psi aggression he could muster, while pumping the laser’s release trigger into the monster’s fat white belly.

The strange beast screamed in pain, and now seemed angrier than ever, as she sprayed enormous quantities of white blood all over him and the ship. A powerful tentacle reached down and seized him up.

Kghug felt his heart pound from the effects of the Kneesht coupled by his own fear. He managed to wrestle the laser into a working position as he felt himself being pulled into a huge maw surrounded by enormous erratic eyes.

Letting forth his mightiest psi growl yet, and pumping the laser once more, he unleashed his of the firepower available into the monster’s eyes and mouth.

It suddenly changed from a seemingly conscious aggressive beast into a whimpering slack pile of white limbs and torso, dropping Kghug to the ground and thrashing about in pain. Kghug continued to fire his laser and psi into the beast until it moved no more.

Together he and Ylnf tromped about atop the monster, amazed at its enormity, marveling how something so gigantic could move about through the swamp so noisily, yet leave so little impact on the foliage beneath.

“My Trainer, I hope there aren’t more like th is one,” mused Kghug, suddenly bursting into sporadic laughter born out of stress and Kneesht.

“Oh Kghug, if only those silly ones back at the camp could see you now. I bet none of them will live to perform such a feat as you have done here.”

After cursory examination of the beast unturned nothing of use, they returned to the ship and opened another bottle of Huysht, passing contentedly into one another’s arms with the heady feeling of conquest and freedom.

“Shuynghala Hosthlengdooz grew unhappy in her dai ly life as nothing more than a breeder for a priest who never seemed to be home. During her pregnancy, she took to consuming large quantities of sleeping medicines, and moved listlessly about her quarters in wait for her mate to return. She confided in me her feelings of hopelessness and discontent with the social system, feeling a kindred spirit perhaps, or simply latching on to the first female who would listen to her griEces.

“I was deep into study of a strange new molecular structure uncovered from a fauna artifact off of a planet we’d recently decimated. She would step into my quarters, heavy with her litter, and confess that she feared her dreams were over.

“‘What are your dreams?’ I asked, only half -listening, because I was engrossed in my work.

“‘ I dream constantly of a future where family will be most important, and females must give their consent to perform the mating ritual, and runts won’t be put to death, and…’

“‘Whoah, slow down, sister,’ said I. ‘Take on a battle one at a time, do not try to change everything at once.’

“She would sulk off, thinking me perhaps unsympathetic or uncaring, and I suppose I was, to some extent, I must guiltily confess. But I had lived a hard life of experience, and she had known only the quiet upbringing of her simple life in the capitol. I wished for all of the things she did, to be for sure, but knew that experience dictated that change came much more slowly, and must be wrought through terrible pain and agony, like giving birth.

“Perhaps it was ironic that she en dured the most powerful experience any female

or any being could experience for that matter, childbirth, while I would never know such pain. After she gave birth to her litter, she was made to stop taking her sleeping medicines to keep the milk safe, and grew violent at times, and always on the verge of spouting something heretical to someone that would have her head.”

Thevgv quietly tucked the book away inside her satchel when she heard the tent zip open.

He didn’t even look at her, simply flopped down har d on his cot with his back turned.

“Good night, Monahchif,” she whispered, reaching out a paw to touch his tense-looking shoulder.

He flinched, as if struck, and muttered something under his breath. She sighed and decided he wasn’t worth the effort. Her he ad was full of visions of her mother, whom she only partially remembered, as she lay awake long into the night. Once, she thought she heard someone cry for help in the early hours of the morning, but decided she’d simply drifted off into dreams, and rolled over to return to her sleep.

As a one week old puppy, Svenchif towered over his siblings. They were just beginning to show signs of learning how to walk on two legs, but Svenchif was now doing all of his traveling bipedally. He had also finally settled down, and began to take study swiftly, surprising his patient tutor Onqchif with the ability to make audible speech from thoughtforms. This was an ability only the most advanced of clan leaders seemed capable of acquiring during their last years of life, and Onqchif also knew that the citydwelling priests below had their own special talent for audible speech.

Onqchif had for many years hesitated to even learn how to speak aloud, for fear that he would be perceived as an oddity at best, at worst, something demonic. But now he had this small pup in his care who found it easier to voice words aloud, rather than conversing via thought. Onqchif repeatedly had to discipline the puppy, telling him that his gift would be frowned upon by the other clan leaders, and to better develop his thought communication skills.

“Oh, Uncle, it is so hard to concentrate to form the words correctly inside my mind. I find it so much easier to simply voice them aloud.”

“You are a great exception, Svenchif. I am just beginning at this s tage in my life to develop the gift of the spoken word, and I find it incredibly awkward and cumbersome.”

“I promise you, I won’t use the spoken word outside of your den.”

“That is a good pup.”

Svenchif loved his free time for physical activity. He could race up the sheerest of rock wall faces, and leap from some of the most dangerous of places, frightening older females and young ones alike in his surprise drops from seemingly out of nowhere. He became their darling child, though, because he treated every female like a mother, always respectful in his tone and manner, and often ready to offer to carry some heavy load of medicines or firewood about, though often times the loads were five times his size.

Svenchif became quickly well-known throughout the caves. Everyone spoke of this amazing child, perhaps he was the Trainer’s own son, some dared to whisper in the darker places where such a statement could go unnoticed.

In most any time period of the past few millennia, such a one as Svenchif would

live out a happy, though somewhat maladjusted life inside the caves, tempering his firy curiosity with the wisdom of advancing age, and dying as one who would be remembered in song and story long after several generations had succeeded him. In other words, the outside world would live and die during his life, never the wiser nor smarter as to the existence of a phenomenal being.

Svenchif was by no means performing any feat the older cavedwellers hadn’t heard before in their hymns and songs of praises of the rulers and wise ones of old. Each had its own exceptional list of prodigous talents as a child, and many of the more skeptical clan leaders scoffed at the credibility of Svenchif having a divine birth.

But this was not the beginning of simply any time period, but a period of times of uncertainty. The sleepy cavedwellers could no longer go about their business without hearing of how ones among the masses were being born possessing special and remarkable powers, and that the correct thing to do was to call upon a Priest to fly to the area and perform a now standardized test to see if the child was in fact, an agent of evil. They could no longer ignore along the psiwaves that rose up from the city, tales of how their recent prodigal son had made good in proving himself to be a capable warrior, no mention was ever made of the seven who’d joined him on his departure from the caves.

And inside the capitol itself, elders and priests and warriors and nurse mothers were no longer able to go about simple lives of self-indulgence or scholarship or battle preparation or teaching. They were being called upon in great numbers to join the host being assembled that would make its way throughout the planet and the colonies, preparing the canine alien race for a cleansing of its evil.

Onqchif could not but help to feel a bit apprehensive for his nephew, and cautioned young Svenchif to refrain from making himself so visible amongst the cavedwellers.

“You are mature far beyond your years, and yet you still have so much of that wild careening energy of the young pup in you.”

“But my fellow cavedwellers love me, Onqchif. Why, I have yet to meet a one that thinks ill of me. And if I did, I would make short work of him in a quick and brutal duel.”

“You aren’t so big and strong just yet, Svenchif. Keep your fighting paws locked inside until you have formed the physical bulk necessary to help back such claims. And watch who you tangle with, too, even after your body has matured. One reason that everyone seems to like you is because the clans who are saying you are something not of the Light of the Trainer’s Eye — they keep to themselves deeper into the mountains, and only come for yearly council.”

“Are you referring to the Faceless Ones?”

“Trainer, no. I doubt they would find themselves welcome at all at yearly council, no one is fond of their ilk. All I know is, I hear things that come to me upon the wind, and from the distant caves of Upoighchif, Nothsfahmchif, and Toshkchif, come words of rancor and displeasure at the sound of this strange child.”

“A nd they are referring to me?”

“Of course, Svenchif.” Onqchif chuckled, and wondered if Svenchif’s untamed, simple side would be enough to prove to them what a normal male the puppy was.

The following day, while Svenchif took his recess, Onqchif received a less-than-surprising visit from Nothsfahmchif.

“Why, hello Nothsfahmchif, you are looking fit as ever.”

“And your countenance betrays a remarkable augmentation of wisdom.”

“What brings you all this way? Did your son’s mate produce a remarkable litter this spring, and you wish to celebrate? Or perhaps a crop of ceremonial mushrooms was especially bountiful this season?”

“You can end the feints and dodges, Onqchif, you know full well why I am here.”

“But of course, you were chosen to spy on my nephew, to make sure that our cavedweller peoples are not infected with the strange virus of Evil that seems to be making its rounds in the towns below us.”

“To put it bluntly and crudely, yes. I don’t plan to stay long, I simply wish to dispel the myths and rumors that are growing among the old females and infecting their sons and daughters. Let me see the male, then I will be on my way.”

“He shall be in shortly, and I can assure you, that aside from being one of the larger children in his litter, and possessing a bounty of energy as young ones do, you will notice little else about him. He is, a most unexceptional child.”

Svenchif burst into the den that very second, holding a giant snake he’d discovered and beaming with pride. “Hey, Uncle!” he shouted in perfectly -formed audible speech, “You should come see this snake’s nest, maybe I can keep one of her babies for a pet?”

Nothsfahmchif screamed like a female in terror, and fled the room, and it was all Onqchif could do to hold back his primal instinct to either run or instantly bite the snake’s head off.

“What?” asked Svenchif. “Oh, I am sorry, Uncle. I didn’t see that someone was in here with you. So, can I keep her, or have one of her babies?”

“Svenchif, I am terribly disappointed in you. I will ask you to put that snake to death, and be very careful because it is a poisonous variety. Snakes are not allowed to live near cavedwellers. You should know better.”

Svenchif hadn’t heard any such lesson, Onqchif knew, but for any other child, the repulsion to snakes was so overwhelming that first sight of one seemed as if the child had been getting bitten by snakes its whole life. He grabbed his chest and allowed his heart to settle once more, taking deep breaths. Onqchif could hear males and females screaming alike as Svenchif passed them, no doubt destined to make as bloody a mess as possible of the horrid thing.

Onqchif found Nothsfahmchif already halfway up the mountain, making a furious pace back home to inform them of just what kind of child Svenchif really was.

“A child who can speak like the wisest clan leader. And he handles snakes just like a faceless one, or a city priest! Not to mention the fact that he is huge for a male merely a week old. And, what was that strange demonic marking on his back? You have completely lied to me, Onqchif, and that hurts the most.”

“Oh stop sounding like an old saggy -chested female who gums her food and farts. You are made of sterner stuff than this, I have seen you cross the thresholds of Miklenmaur as brave as any, watched you tame demons a million times more powerful than any snake. And you, an authority on the great leaders of old should know that Svenchif is not the first exceptional child in cavedweller history.”

“But you lied to me, and tried to pass him off as something unremarkable.”

“Simply because of the scare that is seeping across the land from the Capitol city,

that’s all. Any other year, and I would have already brought him over to your cave, and shown him off to all of you.”

“Uh -huh.”

“Come on, Nothsfahmchif, stop this nonsense. You are breaking my heart.”

“My time here is finished. I shall provide an objective and unbiased account of what I just witnessed, and let others on my council make a decision for how they wish to handle this.”

“You are going to create a bunch of hysteria , and have them send mad priests from the Capitol to destroy my nephew!” shouted Onqchif to Nothsfahmchif’s resolute and fading backside.

Yulrqchif sat on his brother’s bed, stroking his son’s fur. He beamed with pride when he visited his son, remarking how Svenchif would grow to lead the cavedwellers into a new era, one of fortune and greatness.

“We are in big trouble, Yulrqchif,” said Onqchif, looking grave and solemn, seeming to have aged ten years in a week’s time.

“Oh? I thought I heard some screams, b ut simply passed them off as young children disturbing their parents while at play.”

“You were right, but there has been a visit from a member of the clans of the North.”

“Upoighchif? Is he claiming we are developing new dens into his territory?”

“No, it was Nothsfahmchif. And he saw the young pup do remarkable things, things no one should see him perform until he has become an adult.”

“Oh, like what kinds of things?”

Onqchif gave Svenchif a stern reproachful look to remain quiet. “It is of no importance. The fact is, though, that Svenchif is not thought of favorably by some cavedwellers, and with the Capitol sending out alerts for young children in possession of special powers…”

“Oh, I see. So, you think that my son is in danger of being snatched up by a priest from the Capitol?”

“I am almost certain that such a thing will happen.”

“I don’t want to leave here, Onqchif, I didn’t mean to do anything bad!” cried Svenchif suddenly and petulantly.

“Silence, you! You walk on rotten stone with me presently, and sh ould spend some time thinking about what you have done before you speak again.”

“So what are we to do, Onqchif?” asked Yulrqchif in growing trepidation.

“That is the question, that is why I have summoned you here. My first instinct was to take the child and head far west into the icy glacier lands where Fleeghom roam.”

“But you would surely die in such an inhospitable clime. That land is filled with rabid simians, and you would need to don a robe for travel there.”

“Not to mention the fact that two such as Svenchif and I would be easily spotted.”

“So what does that leave us? We can’t simply let them come and take him.”

“No, most certainly not. But when they come, they will be searching for a malechild of enormous stature for his age. However, there is an ancient magic ritual none remember clearly, but it is upon the memories of the highest clan leaders. It would require taking young Svenchif across the thresholds of Miklenmaur, and into the land of Lifthenglymph. There, we would summon the female forces that inhabit the region, and

turn Svenchif into a female.”

“Onqchif, I don’t want to be a female!” Svenchif blurted out.

“Silence!” Thundered Onqchif. He turned once more to his brother. “Of course, one as young as he may not survive such a terrible and frightening journey. There is no guarantee that one as old as I or you will survive.”

“This gives me terrible duress,” said Yulrqchif quietly and ponderously. “Off course, because he is close to being a physically mature adult, he can no longer claim to be my offspring.”

“No. There is a young couple I know who lost most of their pups a few years ago, the mother favors Svenchif, and I think she will be one to keep her lips sealed upon committing herself to participate in our plan of deception.”

“I can see no other way. Only what will become of him if you die along the way?”

“It is a risk I must take. Wish us the Trainer’s haste.”

“Trainer’s Haste be with you both. Svenchif, you must know that I love you deeply, and am sending you on this journey for the good of yourself and my clan. Be a strong brave one, for you shall be tested many times over.”

“But, I don’t want to be a female!” cried Svenchif, unable to hold back his tears. “Who listens to females in council? Do they hold positions of respect or honor?”

“Silence, I’ve said to you, young pup!” thundered Onqchif mightily, causing Svenchif to cower in fear. “There are many things you do not know yet about the clan in which you live. Females do hold honored respected positions in the secret rituals you have yet to be a party to. Some will even say they are too powerful, and will one day usurp all of the males.”

“B -b-but-”

Onqchif slapped the pup to the ground, and stood sternly with Yulrqchif looking down on the wild youth.

“Son, you are too young to know what is best for you. The sex change process is reversible, I suppose, though the ones that have it done never choose to go back, I hear.”

Svenchif rubbed his stinging nose and whimpered. There was something terrible and frightening about becoming a female, though he knew not why it made him recoil so. It was more than the simple loathing a healthy young cavedweller male would feel about making such a change. But he knew the argument was futile, so he found his spot on Onqchif’s bed and curled up for sleep.

Dnaegv lay down to sleep with Dughnth and Jufeny when night came upon them. For some of the night, Jufeny had insisted on affixing her tentacles to Dnaegv in her annoying and uncomfortable way, but once, during the night, Dnaegv awoke and found Jufeny sitting off by herself in silence staring at nothing.

“Are you ready to journey further?” Dnaegv asked. “It probably is a good idea to begin deep in the night while it is so cool. I was simply afraid you would want to remain tucked away until the Swamp Sister slept.”

“N o. She is dead, I can feel it.”

“What do you mean, you can feel it?”

“Well, my race cannot communicate in thoughtforms as can your own, but I woke up and knew with all of my soul that the Swamp Sister is dead.”

“Do you think the same strange predator that is affecting newborns killed her?”

“I do not know. She was a frightening thing, and I shan’t miss her much, but I don’t think she was necessarily evil, just a big hungry confused female, looking for a mate, looking for food, or whatever.”

“And you are cert ain that she is dead?”

“No doubt about it. The swamp sister — you could feel her presence throughout the night, that is why I slept so close to you, that is how all Himmokelian children who wish to be safe sleep. In the morning, you would know when she was asleep, and it was safe for you to arise as well. Now, there is nothing. I mean, unless she flew off of the planet in a great ship, she is dead.”

“Amazing. I would have thought perhaps only an army could defeat such a beast.”

“Me too, or only Himmokely hers elf. But there is much strangeness and evil in the air, and I feel a growing need to hurry our pace for the ship, and make haste to the secret valley of the mists.”

“Good. Then, I shall arouse the bumbling slumberer, and we shall be on our way.”

They giggled together like old times, then fell into silence after the enormity of their task impeded upon them.

“Dughnth, you must awaken.”

“Huh? Is that swamp thing back? We aren’t near any bog to protect us, are we? Oh shit!”

“Calm down, we are simply setting off to take advantage of the cool night air, and make good time against the forces that are no doubt headed this way.”

“I dreamed about Trmylly last night,” he said suddenly, as the flash of memory filled his waking head.

“Yeah? Was he being devoured by Himmo kely?”

“No, he flew as if he were a bird, and became a great leader of the land.”

“Hah! Well, that must have been a dream. Because I can’t imagine that fool doing anything but screwing up his life.”

“You think the same thing of me, do you not?”

“Do you wan t the painful truth, Dughnth?”

“I -I guess.”

“Well, I believe that you have a certain kind of burrowing survival instinct built into you that he does not. You may stumble and bumble around a bit, but you know when to take shelter from the storm, instead of going out like an idiot and trying to conquer it.”

“Is that good or bad?”

She smiled at him. “It’s kind of nice. I had so many more brothers like Trmylly than like you. I think my own father was somewhere in the middle, but had perhaps been a Trmylly sort as a young one. I like being around a male who isn’t afraid to use common sense over pride.”

“Gee, uh, thanks, I guess.”

Dnaegv laughed and took his paw. She dashed up to Jufeny, with Dughnth wheezing along by her side, and together the three set off into the night with paws and tentacles joined together.

Sometime near morning, the area began to look more familiar, and the sickening sweet stench of something dead slowly filled the air in greater amounts as they approached the downed ship. Before long, they found themselves ankle-deep along the trail in white syrupy goop.

“Are you thinking what I am thinking?” she asked Jufeny.

“Yes, and I like it not one bit. Whatever killed her could still be lurking in the shadows.”

“W -what is it?” stammered Dughnth, pan ting heavily now as the sun rose.

“Himmokely’s Sister’s blood. We have been walking in it for a bit now.”

“Ugh,” muttered Dughnth.

“Um, Dnaegv?” came a small voice of trepidation from the alien female up front.

Dnaegv rushed up to her friend. Jufeny was changing from a bright healthy dark green, to a pale white-green color.

“Oh my Trainer, Jufeny, your immature root system is sucking up the Swamp Sister’s blood.”

“I, don’t feel so good, either. I should have been paying more attention, and walked off to the side.”

“What is wrong, where does it hurt?”

Jufeny’s tentacles bulged now with frightening boilous blisters, and the pupils of all her eyes dilated madly, the irises changing from bright green to a pale shade of gray.

“It hurts all over, I feel like I am going to explode.”

“Well, we can sit down over here. I think we are near the ship, though, if you can make it a bit farther, perhaps we can find something to lance your boils.”

Dughnth had taken to absentmindedly examining the icky white blood that coated the trail, sniffing it, and tasting it lightly with his tongue. Dnaegv watched the curious self-absorbed male stop and sniff and taste, stop and sniff and taste, and then he was out of sight, following the trail of the blood back to its source.

“He could be really brave in a kind of stupid way, if he kept his mind like that all of the time,” she mused, helping her friend vomit up some of the foul white substance.

“I feel like I am overheating, Dnaegv. Can you carry me to the bog, so I can cool off?”

“Certa inly, poor Jufeny. I am sure it is just a passing fever, you just need to get some swampwater in your system and purge yourself of the Sister’s blood.”

Dnaegv picked up Jufeny, who always seemed incredibly light, and carried her off of the side of the trail towards the bog, feeling like a mother with a teatling as Jufeny spit up more of the foul white blood.

After soaking languidly in the bog for a time, and sucking up swampwater with her roots, then spitting it back out, Jufeny seemed to have improved greatly, returning to a color close to her normal one, and able to walk slowly back toward the trail.

Dnaegv could hear Dughnth calling their names excitedly, and came upon him a little up the trail from where they’d left off, animated and almost feverish with news.

“Oh, wonderful, you didn’t consume too much of that blood did you? Nobody knows what it will do to one of our own.”

“No, no. I met the male who killed the Swamp Sister. He is a warrior, or used to be, and he and his friend have been staying in the ship. They heard a Kneesht outlaw ship touchdown this morning, and he traded all of the Kneesht lying around on the downed ship for some fuel. He’s almost got the craft airworthy, and I told him our story, and he agreed to take us to the misty valley, or whatever it’s called!”

“Splendid. Though I find it hard to believe he singlehandedly wiped out a beast several times the size of a ship.”

“He said she was all fluids once he popped holes in the right places. Come on, you can talk to him yourself, and see what I mean. I think he has the same powers as Trmylly, too.”

Great, simply great, she thought to herself, moaning softly. Just what we need, another pompous blowhard to show off how he can incinerate things with his mind. This one will probably be especially mad with ego sickness after killing the Swamp Sister.

Dnaegv resigned herself to marching toward the ship. Jufeny demanded a translation, and Dnaegv shrugged her shoulders. “I suppose you’ll have the honor of meeting the killer of the Swamp Sister.”

Phthylly’s inquiry into the whereabouts of the missing books found him deep in the artifact vaults, rummaging through thousands of titles that had been carelessly placed out of any sort of order in giant stacks at first, then later simply thrown in large piles near the door of the vault.

“Phthylly, we were informed we would find you here. Doing some research I see, good.”

Phthylly turned and saw the Highest Priest standing beside a Faceless One and Xhyntylly in the dim light of the vault hallway.

“Oh Revered O ne, it brings my heart great joy to have your presence grace my humble life,” spoke Phthylly quickly and surely, proud he’d remembered the proper greeting that was now required of him.

“Very good. I have a special mission for you, if you wish to take it.”

“Y -yes, of course, Oh Revered One.”

“Good. Here is a list of questions you shall ask the child you are to locate. The first page carries some instructions for what to do if the child is not immediately located. We shall have a ship waiting for you tonight at the midnight hour. It is best that you arrive at our destination with an element of surprise, so that the inhabitants do not have a chance to hide the child or raise arms. You will be accompanied by a dozen fine warriors in case there is danger. May the Trainer’s paws be upon your heart.”

Phthylly gave the proper farewell for those in such high seats of power, and returned to his room to pack his things and read the instructions.

“You are traveling north to the land of caves. The cavedwellers are mostly a meek and simple lot, but overall tend to dislike visitors from the Capitol, almost as much as we loathe them. A guide shall be awaiting the arrival of your ship to lead you to the child’s den, as their quarters are called. If, for whatever reason, the child is not made immediately available for your questioning, begin a systematic process of killing all children born in recent litters, until they give him up to you. The child you are looking for will not appear to be so young. He will be three times the size of a normal cavedweller puppy one week old, and will bear a strange white circular patch of fur on his black back. If he passes the test of questions, return to the Capitol and receive your reward for a job well done. If he fails, bring him back with you, and we shall deal with him in a fashion we see fit. Do not returned until you have completed this mission.”

Phthylly’s heart pounded in trepidation after reading the instructions. This seemed to be a most unkind and unnatural way to look for one evil child, but he felt that his leaders knew best, and trusted their judgment in the matter.

He decided to not even give his farewell to his dear friend Cxethylly. No doubt,

the old idealistic fool would waste his time considerably giving him reasons to back away from the mission, and join Cxethylly on some strange planet doing menial labor. Phtylly was not even sure he could back down from the mission, now that he’d accepted it.

Besides, he reasoned, the child probably has some birth defect, and we shall clear up the matter shortly.

The questions seemed a bit bizarre and unrelated to uncovering evil, but Phthylly plowed through them, to make sure he understood as best as possible each and every one of them. There were twelve questions in all, simple ones like ‘what is your favorite color?’ to completely off -the-wall ones like, ‘how far did you fly last night?’ He couldn’t possibly imagine how a one -week old pup still at the teat would be able to even formulate an answer to most of the questions.

The ship carried twelve warriors in the main meeting area. They were heavily armed with all manner of weaponry, poisonous darts, lasers, swords, flamethrowing devices, and handbombs. Phthylly almost burst into laughter at the sight, imagining a fierce race of wickedly powerful children awaiting them at the caves, then grew silent considering that such a possibility may be soon to come to the Mother Planet if the war on Evil did not go well.

“My name is Nothsfahmchif,” spoke the stern grizzled male who met them at the entrance of the caves. “I shall lead you to the den of the demon child.”

He turned abruptly, eschewing any of the ritual formalities Phthylly felt compelled to carry out, so they grimly followed him to a cave entrance, and stepped inside. The dens they passed were miniscule in size, and Phthylly kept bumping his head when they turned and entered a new passageway. Nothsfahmchif cried out in shock when they arrived at the alleged den of the child in question, and shouted “They have escaped! Yulrqchif will know. He and his brother are closer than many mates. Come, this way!”

They dashed through a labyrinthine series of twists and turns, and Phthylly sent a quick prayer to the Trainer as he began to feel claustrophobic and disoriented.

Nothsfahmchif charged into a dark den, and Phthylly heard the cries of children, and the startled shout of a male roused from slumber.

Phthylly motioned for a few of the warriors to accompany him, and they shone their lights into the home of the cowering family.

“Where are they?” cried Nothsfahmchif, glowering at the father of the family in rage.

“I, uh, who?”

“Do not play such games with me, young one! I have been on the Mother Planet too long to be lied to.”

“And what will happen if I refuse to tell you where they went?” asked Yulrqchif, finding his courage.

Nothsfahmchif looked at Phthylly in expectation, and Phthylly’s heart fluttered.

“We shall destroy your litter, and all the litters born this season,” Phthylly congratulated himself on how firm and decisive the words sounded, in spite of the fear that jumped around in his belly and heart.

“You wouldn’t dare!” cried Yulrqchif, “I know the Capitol is full of corruption, but it hasn’t become like Faceless Ones. Now, leave my house!” his voice shook with fear and rage, and Phthylly saw that it was time to add action to words.

He motioned to a warrior who was grinning with brandished sword in paw. “Slice that one over there, warrior.” Phthylly winced as the father made a dash for his young son, and felt his stomach churn while the puppy squealed its last breath.

“Oh, Knutechif! What have they done?”

The warrior stood ready, awaiting his next order, and Phthylly felt something fly from his heart as the father knelt over the pieces of his son, mixing his tears with his son’s blood.

“You kill ed him,” he sobbed. “You killed Knutechif, and yet this poor thing never did a damn thing…”

“Silence!” cried Phthylly, trying to thunder, and jerking uncomfortably at the sound of how strained his voice was. “He is but one of many children who shall die. Unless you take me to the demonchild.”

Yulrqchif sat in silence for a few seconds, and gave Phthylly an asking look of despair. “They will attempt to cross the thresholds of Miklenmaur, and make their way into the land of Lifthenglymph.”

“Huh? What kind of gibberish do you speak?” demanded Phthylly furiously. “Do you think that I am one to be toyed with by spouting nonsensical places? Tell me this instant where they went, or another child takes the sword.”

Nothsfahmchif cleared his throat behind him. “Um, he speaks of a true place. A place unknown to any citydweller, but an actual place nonetheless. I can’t imagine why he would take the child there, it is like a hell on this Mother Planet.”

“Have you been there?”

“Yes, a half dozen times. The passage is narro w, your warriors are too big for the journey, but I can be your guide.”

“Do you think he speaks the truth, though? Am I being given lies so they can make their way as we speak to the Capitol city enrobed as faceless ones and secure passage aboard a ship?”

“Nay, this one is weak with fatherly emotions. He would not have allowed even one child to die if he expected such a thing would happen. I know he speaks the truth.”

“Then let us be off for the thresholds of Miklenmaur.” Phthylly motioned to a warrior, and stripped the huge male of his weaponry. “I shall carry this, in case you are for whatever reason misleading me. And my warriors shall accompany me as far as they can go.”

“As you wish, Oh Revered One.” And that was the first time Phthylly had heard his proper title addressed to him, having spent most of his time in the company of others from the inner circle, or lazy young priests who cared not to use the title. He suddenly felt powerful and brave, and searched his heart where there had been agony over putting the puppy to death. Nothing.

“Damn that female!” cried Bhntylly rubbing his crotch, and hobbling as best as he could toward the farmhouse. He pounded on the door, and the young priest Ogdgythylly came to the door.

“Yes, sir? What matter vexes you at such an hour?” The silly foppish young one was obviously high on being given lodging in a house, while he the Elder slept outside in a tent.

“I need as many warriors as we can spare to make haste for the new breeding

building, there are some fierce and evil looking elements inside it!”

A call was sent up and down the row of tents, young and olde warriors alike were summoned for an emergency taks, and the unfinished building was quickly surrounded, and entered in groups of four. Bhntylly paced about to the side, full of nervous expectation for the condition they might find Fghala.

Nothing. Fghala stumbled out of her tent, groggily, and asked, “What is going on?”

“There you are!” Bhntylly cried in exasperation. “What happened to you?”

“I suppose that terrible thing that overcomes us all, Bhntylly.”

“Huh?”

“Sleep! You fool! What do you think I’ve been doing for the past several hours. Now, what is the commotion, was there a fire or something?”

The ancient priest Drythylly strode up to the two of them, clicking his tongue. “Bhntylly, I am sure that when the mother planet asked you to be its eyes and ears, it meant your waking hours, not dreams and flights of fancy.”

“B -b-but,” Bhntylly found himself blubbering, and did not like it one bit. He was always the one in a situation who provided rock-solid empirical evidence to back up a claim or argument, and now he found himself the center of attention as a complete ghost-chaser.

“And if you want to call upon me for advice or help, cause you were having some kind of quarrel, please bother me after breakfast, I am much kinder then.”

He lay awake in his cot, after all had settled down, thankful he was an Elder and not some young warrior who might have received a stiffer punishment than a few mocking words.

“I still don’t get it, you say that we set up a point of observation on the first story of the building, and some Faceless Ones arrived out of thin air?”

“What is the last thing you remembered?” asked Bhntylly, sighing in exasperation.

“Well, let me see. Yes, I was havin g a conversation with the Revered One, and he agreed to let us fly to the peaks the following day, to perform that task of the itinerary next.”

“What about the web of carbon polymers you discovered? Do you remember wanting to stay up the night and see where they came from?”

“N -no. You dozed off, and I let you sleep, because you seemed so tired, then I decided to simply look once more in the morning for them. I fell asleep shortly thereafter, and then awoke to this noisy circus you created in these early morning hours.”

“Fghala, does the potion you gave me cause hallucinations, or bizarre waking dreams that seem real?”

“Never. It is not a mind -altering substance whatsoever. The chemical compounds in it might react with other substances to produce such an effect, perhaps, but I know of nothing of the sort.”

“Then, why do you suppose I would make such trouble with everyone in the area? Please tell me I am not losing my mind.”

“I don’t doubt you witnessed something, Bhntylly, and perhaps you did walk about in your sleep and confuse dreams with waking reality.”

“Fghala, who is Vehngchif?”

She looked at him in numb uncomfortable silence, then finally spoke, “Okay tell

me everything that happened to you tonight.”

Bhntylly quickly ran through the story arriving at the part where she’d turned to look back at the cavedweller in the window. “A cavedweller, it appeared to be, and you said ‘Vehngchif,’ lightly under your breath. I tried to tell you it was some kind of illusion or spell, then you kneed me in the groin, and raced back to the building. I roused this strange army of warriors young and old in a matter of minutes, knowing I would be no match for the forces within.”

Fghala shook her head in perplexity. “Well, you may have perhaps heard me say something in my sleep, perhaps your mind was tuned to my dreams as you walked about unaware of reality. You know, those who sleep in close quarter with each other tend to share especially secret and distant memories after a time.”

Bhntylly let out a sigh of exasperation, then moaned. “I suppose you are correct. What happened about the building does seem a bit unplausible, if I understand correctly the physics of interplanal travel. Though, a day in my life has not gone by that I couldn’t distinguish reality from dreams.”

“Well, unlike you Bhntylly, I take seriously all dreams and visions that are recounted to me or the ones I have myself. I will not belittle your perception of truly happened, because I have been on the receiving end of that kind of mentality so many times. However, we should try to get some rest to be ready for our journey up the mountain peaks. Morning comes in only a few hours.”

Bhntylly was already dismissing what had happened as nothing more than a strange and powerful dream. “Perhaps,” he thought, “Because sh e has consumed the life-sustaining potion for so many years, her mind has built up a sort of tolerance for any hallucinogenic effects the substance may have. Whereas I, like in my consumption of Huysht, am not as well adapted to the more potent and strange side effects of the drug. No matter, a dream like that is best forgotten, and a vigorous climb atop a mountain range will do my mind and body some good.”

He ignored the laughter behind his back and the muffled thoughts of ‘crazy senile one,’ and ‘must be all that sex he’s been getting lately’ that he heard behind his back inside the showers that morning.

Bhntylly minded not the smirking looks of the young foppish priest who accompanied them aboard the ship, and sat staring out the window at the alien landscape below.

“Everything is so green here,” he thought, marveling at the vastness of the plains and hills that stretched out below them. In ten minutes time, the gigantic opulent peaks greeted them, and even the reserved Ogdgythylly ogled at their bright green tents.

The atmosphere of Himmokely was said to be coated in an enduring film of chemical compounds formed from evaporated Knabsht that collected in tiny particles around the planet, protecting it from the harmful rays of the sun. Everything became green once one entered the atmosphere, the sun, the peaks, the air itself. But the planet seemed covered below in green grassy empty land below, where adults had decided was bad soil for taking root. He knew that the other side of the planet, well past the peaks and the Great Green Himmokelian Sea, the face of the Himmokely took on a blackened green tone, as countless billions of Himmokelians lived in stasis, living as crops for his own race.

Bhntylly had no desire to see that side of the planet, which was said to be about thirty degrees warmer on average, even hotter most days than the deepest part of the

swamps, thanks to the constant emission of Knabsht evaporation into the air.

Young Ogdgythylly seemed less full of urbane confidence as the peaks approached, and their edges became more sinister than picturesque. Bhntylly wasn’t worried about the young priest, he even had decided that he would promptly put the priest to death if he became suspicious and threatened to rat them out.

Fghala looked anxious, and concerned of something, a secret her eyes said she would share with him later, but not now in front of the young priest and the warriors. She kept stroking her satchel as if it were a small pet feline whose fur had recently been shaved, then would place her nervous hands back into her lap and continue rocking back and forth in uncharacteristically nervous anticipation.

Bhntylly wasn’t sure why the warriors had even accompanied them aboard the ship, they were three older ones, sent out for protection, and seemed glassy-eyed and bored with this mission they’d been assigned to.

Once they landed about halfway up the mountain— as high and far as the ship could go in cruising mode— the warriors remained aboard the ship, and it was now only the three of them, standing in awe of the peaks that rose up so high and mightily in front of them.

Bhntylly felt an incredible chill come over him, and briefly wished for an end to the taboo of wearing robes. His fur coat was short and warrioresque, had no excessively protective covering whatsoever. For years, he’d thanked the Trainer for giving him birth among warriors, because the rising summer heat of the Capitol would send most of the residents deep into the ice-simulation of their rooms. Bhntylly however, could stroll about the city if he wished during the hot summer months, and was probably the only Elder in the Capitol to go without ice-simulation.

Now, observing the indifference with which Ogdgythylly, and especially Fghala met the chilly mountain air made him briefly consider the emotion of jealousy. This was short-lived however, when it became apparent that his larger lungs were perfect for the low levels of oxygen in the air, and he could see right away that difficulty in breathing would present more of a problem for alien canines than a slight chill.

“I’ve only been up these mountains once,” gasped Fghala, “And this was about as far as my research party went. Look how high some of the peaks are.”

She still seemed especially disturbed about something, but Bhntylly decided that she would let him know what was bothering her at the appropriate time.

Later, that evening, when no one could go no further, and the young priest seemed especially on the verge of collapse, they set up camp, pitching two pup tents. Fghala and Bhntylly had agreed to share the a larger pup tent, at the time Bhntylly had possessed enough foreknowledge of what the mountains would be like to know that he would need the extra warmth of another body close to him.

Ogdgythylly managed, in spite of his withered state to produce an air of mocking toward their connubial state of sleeping, in his looks and mannerisms, and Bhntylly shrugged, hoping the poor fool would find enough warmth among his own fur and blankets to resist entering their tent in a state of panicked hypothermia.

After a period of laying on their backs in silence, Fghala turned to him and whispered.

“Your dream of last night was more than a dream.”

“Huh?” Bhntylly had already moved it to the bin of memory to be forgotten, and

felt uncomfortable dredging up the strangeness of the previous night.

“Vehngchif was a cavedweller lover I knew, shortly after obtaining my priestly title. When he died, he gave me something to remember him by, a strange metallic disc that produced rainbow colors when you held it at an angle to the light. This morning, I reached for it in my satchel, found it missing, but replaced with a small note. It read, in perfect priestly script: ‘You’ve flirted with immortality for so long, Fghala, why not choose the real thing?’”

Bhntylly lay in shock, wondering if he should show her his own strange tokened gift from the Faceless One. Would she become distant, think he’d somehow engineered the disappearing coin and note himself?

“I -I have a thing to show you,” he said slowly.

“Yes?”

“You may think what you wish, but this was given to me by a disturbing Faceless One, after I’d discarded it upon a friend’s suggestion. It matches the description you provided of your disc, so perhaps there is some connection betwixt the two.”

He reached over into his own satchel and removed the coin, handing it to her carefully.

She gasped, then lay still. “It is of the same origin, but not the same coin.”

“Of course it is not.”

“Your disc is newer, has not the smoothness of my care -worn coin. But this leaves me full of questions, nonetheless. May I keep it?”

“Certainly. Though I am inclined to believe my friend’s words: ‘Such a coin is evil to the bearer who does not use it properly,’ or some such advice.”

Bhntylly lay awake for the longest time, his mind churning with uncertainty for the path that lay ahead. Never in his life had things seemed so complicated, a future so ungraspable through simple logical conclusions.

Trmylly had found his first interplanal trip to be a rush of terror. There were countless billions of souls hovering about on the plane they traveled through to defy the laws of time and space.

Vehngchif, the leader of the pack, was a busy one, too busy to really explain what was going on, but Trmylly caught meaning of some of the activity in bits and pieces.

“We have finished with the Himmokelian birthing project, that was quite a chore. Now, we are preparing this unfinished building for the coming New Race of children those young Nurse Mothers down there will give birth to.”

“What is all of it f or?” Trmylly had asked once, after observing the Faceless Ones and the hairless simians dance about in a strange ritual of chanting and waving of arms.

“Oh, you’ll see soon enough. You want to be a powerful leader of your race, do you not?”

“Of course. Or maybe at least a leader of a small colony planet.”

“Then you shall return to the Mother Planet, and learn some of our ways, begin your transformation after you’ve converted as many of the masses as you possibly can.”

“Convert them to what?”

“You are going to do great things, Trmylly!” he roared, ignoring the question.

Trmylly found himself constantly being put under that spell of overwhelming emotion that made him unable to think for himself. He hoped Vehngchif would teach him

how to use that power, so he could someday hopefully find that stupid female Dnaegv and exact his revenge upon her.

Faceless Ones never slept. Trmylly needed rest, and would find himself waking up on strange planets all over the galaxy, as they went about their ‘preparation.’ Mostly, T rmylly would just watch, and ask questions at opportune moments, but sometimes, he would be called upon to preach to crowds of canine aliens in towns all over the backwoods colonies.

The rhetoric placed in his mind was a bit dull to Trmylly’s taste. A lot of fantastical gibberish about a new Universe of Light, and all living as One under the Trainer’s coming paw. It was as if some of the most incredible of stories and ideas related to him at the teat were turned into emotionally-charged sermons.

But for the most part, everyone he preached to were so gullible, and bought into the claptrap right away.

“Why are you having me preach such nonsense?” asked Trmylly once, “I mean, you don’t believe all that junk about the Trainer returning, do you?”

“Only in a meta phorical sense. The true savior is going to be someone like you or me, a smart and capable one not afraid to use technology to help him get places.”

“But how is it that so many of the masses believe the words found in the Universal Arcanum so literally?”

“ Because in a way, none of them have ever left the teat. For many, a giant teat would be a more appropriate metaphor for the Trainer’s return, than a giant paw.”

They both had a good chuckle over that one.