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Religious Themed Stories / The Game of God - Chapter 6

   In the days yet to come the wicked shall gather together to fight against the children of God. They shall once again make the weapons of war but their preparations will avail them not. God goes before them and calls to his children and they gather together to defend the way of God. Though their numbers be few, yet will they prevail against the children of darkness. - The Book of the Prophets of God, the words of Kel.


   Margeeum met with great success at all the dwellings where she was sent to help in making contact with the tree dwellers. Now, on his own, a dwelling clan leader of the Black Brotherhood decided that peace with the tree dwellers might be a good thing. So he made a request that he be sent the best translator available; that of course was Margeeum. The southern most clan was the blue clan, going north was followed by the green clan, then the black clan, brown clan, yellow clan, and in the far north was the red clan. This dwelling of the black clan was near the borders of the brown clan. Dar Noth was the clan leader of the dwelling. He was young as dwelling clan leaders go and very progressive. Having heard of the great success with the tree dwellers by the green and blue clans, he wanted to give it a try. He had his soldiers locate a good hive and keep an eye on it until the translator could arrive. Once Margeeum arrived they proceeded to surround the hive at night and wait until morning to try and make contact according to the plan Tangoral had set forth. Once again Margeeum found herself standing alone on a branch that led to a hive.

   Something was wrong about this contact, Margeeum could feel it. Long spears poked out from the hive at every entrance. That had never happened before. Normally the tree dwellers would just aim all their spears at her. There were also side-walls that encircled each platform. The only hive that she had seen with that feature was Tangoral’s home in the Great Swamp. The tree dwellers that she could see were not running about in fear and they took little notice of her standing on the branch. She was more than a little confused by what was going on in the hive. Rather than running about in confusion it looked like they were preparing to fight the fight of their lives. As she started forward something told her not to come anywhere near the long spears that were pointed at her. “Hello,” she called out after coming to a stop well out of the range of the long spears.

   “Go away,” a voice said from behind the platform wall.

   “I wish I could, but I’ve come a long way to speak with the healer or leader of the tribe here,” Margeeum replied.

   “What business would you have with our healer even if she desired to speak with you,” the invisible voice said.

   “Many of the hard-shells have made peace with the People of the Trees near them. The hard-shells near you would also like to do this thing and become your friends. They have asked me to come and translate their leader’s words.”

   “It’s a strange way of asking for peace with so many guns aimed in our direction.”

   “This was to keep you from running off before we could get a chance to talk with you.”

   “And if we reject this peace, will you kill us all anyway?” the voice asked.

   “No, not at all,” Margeeum replied.

   “How could we be sure?”

   “Because they would have to shoot through me first.”

   “The hard-shells could shoot around you very easily my dear.”

   “My whole dwelling took a vow more than a cycle ago to protect the lives of the People of the Trees even if that meant we had to give up our own lives in the process. Believe me, I am ready to fulfill that vow if need be and it is in the cause of peaceful relations between our two races that I am standing here at all.”

   “Brave words from a child on the verge of becoming an adult. The brotherhood is more than willing to sacrifice a sister to protect their honor. They would only need to say we killed you, and for that they’d kill all the tree dwellers, or so they would say. Who would say different?”

   “My brother would come to see for himself.”

   “So what, you’d be long dead and buried.”

   “To reclaim my honor my brother would destroy the hard-shells’ home to find the truth of the matter.”

   “That would take a very powerful healer my dear. I doubt very much that you have a healer for a brother even if one powerful enough could be found.”

   “I would agree with you, except my adopted brother is a very powerful healer. He even knows where the beginning of the world is.”

   “If he knew that then he would have found the Great Cure for the world and used it. All healers are pledged to do this my dear.”

   The conversation was getting a little too weird for Margeeum. “My brother has not gone to find the Great Cure but to destroy it.”

   “Why would any healer of the People do such a thing?” the voice asked. “That would violate everything a healer believes.”

   “Because he knows that the Great Cure would not cure the world, it would destroy it. He would not see those he loves destroyed by the Great Cure,” Margeeum replied.

   “That is something I have all ways wondered about too.”

   Then everything seemed to fall together in Margeeum’s mind. “You are this tribe’s healer to whom I am speaking,” she said.

   “What would make you think that?”

   “Many of the things that you have said are beyond the knowledge of the average tree dweller, but to be sure, do you know a healer named Yoeith?”

   “How do you know Yoeith?”

   “Answer my question first, and then I will tell you.”

   “He’s my son.”

   “I thought so,” Margeeum said. “It all fits. The unusualness of this home, the People’s lack of fear, their response to the black clan’s soldiers, and your knowledge of Brachyura terms. Yoeith stopped at our dwelling to get my brother to lead him to where the world began. If all has gone well they should be there soon.”

   A brown female hard-shell stepped onto the branch to face Margeeum. “I am called Banneesheanta, The Lonely One That Cries in the Night,” she said.

   “I am called Margeeum.”

   “Tell the dwelling clan leader I will listen to his words if he will take away his soldiers. I should like to hear how you came to speak our language so well, and how you came to have a healer for a brother.”

   

   Dar Noth could not believe his ears. “They have a what?” he asked after hearing Margeeum’s report.

   “They have a brown sister for their healer,” Margeeum replied.

   “Why would the tree dwellers do something like that? I just don’t believe it.” Dar Noth turned to one of his soldiers. “Have camp set up at a near by tree. We are going to be here a while I suspect,” he said. “What do you know about this brown sister?”

   “I know that her son is also a healer. I know that she was cast out by her dwelling. I know that the healer of the tribe here took pity on her, took her in, and taught her the ways of a healer. I know that when he died she became the tribe’s healer. I know that she thinks of herself as one of the tree dwellers because of what the Brown Brotherhood did to her,” Margeeum replied. “This tribe is already at peace with you, but if you want a working relationship with them you will have to go through her, and that will not be easy. You cannot treat her like a sister. You have to treat her like a tree dweller and she will want to go overboard to prove that to you. Even though you can speak directly to her, don’t do it. Wait for me to translate for you. There will also be others that need to hear what you say as well. So don’t speak to her, speak to them. I cannot help smooth over your mistakes as I have done for others who stuck their leg in their mouth. She will understand every word you say, and will be able to judge the accuracy of my translation. Speak as if you are talking to other brothers and sisters who because of their dialect cannot understand you or you them and you will do fine.”

   “You make it sound like I’m about to enter into the toughest negotiations of my life,” Dar Noth said.

   “You are,” Margeeum replied.

   

   Dar Noth found that he was exhausted after a long day of working with the tree dwellers. An old tree dweller worked with him for a little while. He was kindly, helpful, and very friendly. Dar Noth was struck with the odd thought that this old tree dweller would have made an excellent companion and friend if he were a little younger. It was later that he found out that the old tree dweller was the tribe’s leader. He would have complained about the hard work but the translator that the Blue Brotherhood sent worked just as hard if not harder than he did. “Do you want to explain to me why I spent the day working harder than I have worked in a very long time?” he asked Margeeum.

   “Have you ever had a guest or guests that were unwanted and stayed overly long? We are trying to make a good impression,” Margeeum replied. “Tree dwellers tend to try not to be a burden on their host. When they come to visit you, you will find that if you don’t give them something to do they will start to wander around. Before you know it, you will find them helping a brother here or a sister there in order to earn their keep. We are in their world and must show respect for their customs. Next comes dinner, normally I can suggest the menu for dinner designed to impress the dwelling clan leaders and set the mood for the negotiations later in the evening after dinner. Usually, first contact is very predictable, but here I find myself on a very shaky branch. Banneesheanta will control the menu and the negotiations. She has spent the day watching us as we interacted with the other tree dwellers. The final test will come after dinner when you will present your proposal to be discussed by the men. The most common problem most of the dwelling clan leaders that I’ve worked with is their lack of vision for the future. Most don’t plan beyond just asking if there can be peace and if we can be friends with one another. What would you like to gain from a friendship with the tree dwellers? What would you give in return for their friendship? If you can answer these questions by the end of dinner, you will do fine. If you can’t, start chewing on one of your legs now.” Margeeum turned and walked off to go find out what was for dinner.

   

   Margeeum took a deep breath over the stew pot and sighed in relief. “I might feed Dar Noth something he would gag on but I wouldn’t do that to you,” Banneesheanta said as she stirred the pot.

   “He’s not that bad Banneesheanta, I have worked with worse,” Margeeum said. “There have been some that only made contact with the People because the clan leader commanded it. In most cases I have won them over with the food. Sometimes, I have had to convert the dwelling clan leader over to the idea of peace with the People as much as I have had to convert the People. Every time I have shown them the advantages of being friends with each other.”

   “I saw the gifts you gave, mostly trinkets. You are trying to buy our friendship and it’s not for sale. Our friendship can only be given in good faith.”

   “I am not trying to buy your friendship. I’m trying to save lives. I am trying to bring two races together and get them to sit down and start talking to each other instead of killing one another. I know you have your reasons for not trusting the brotherhood, but as a healer you should know that peace and the healing of hearts is the better path.”

   “What do you know of life young one? You have never been driven from your home.” Banneesheanta took offense at a child telling her how to do her job as a healer. “How dare you tell me what a healer should or should not do! You’ve never had your claws and hands tied and your legs hobbled and then beaten and pelted with rotting food by those you thought were your friends. The beating they give you doesn’t stop until you are well beyond the boundaries of the land that was once your home. They don’t untie you. They just turn their backs on you and walk away leaving you half dead from the beating and you want me to make peace these foul creatures?” Banneesheanta asked.

   “No, I want you to set aside your hatred for the sake of your people. My brother was driven from his home, and his parents and many of his friends were killed by a small band of hunters from the brotherhood. If he can put away his hatred and find it in his heart to save my life and the lives of many others then you can too or will you sacrifice your people to keep the hate in your heart alive,” Margeeum replied. “Perhaps you aren’t the great healer that your people think you are.”

   The rage burn deep in Banneesheanta, she found herself speechless. She threw the stirring stick into the pot and walked away into the night infuriated. Dar Noth saw everything but did not understand one word. Actions sometimes speak louder than words. He followed Banneesheanta to try to repair the damage, whatever it was. He found her crying in a vacant part of the hive. “Sometimes, when I’m reminded of the death of my mate I find myself crying for no particular reason. When I see her favorite flower, or when I see a sister doing one of the little things that I use to love to watch her do. Sometimes, late at night, when I miss her touch, I cry myself to sleep wishing it were me instead of her that was dead. It’s her love and my love for her that keeps me going day after day even when I don’t want to go on any more with out her,” he said softly.

   Banneesheanta turned to face Dar Noth tears streaming from her eyes. “It’s love that drives you forward even when there is no hope at all and all you have left of that love is a small child crying for food that you don’t have. We were going to be married. It just wasn’t fair, we were going to be married,” she cried.

   “I didn’t even get a small peace of her to remember her by. She died after giving birth to our daughter who died in her mother’s claws a short time later,” Dar Noth said as tears started to flow as he remembered the moment that cut his heart out. He reached out to stroke Banneesheanta’s shell only to have her throw herself into his claws as they cried together for loves lost.

   

   The food was every bit as good as Margeeum said it would be, Dar Noth thought as he sat across from the leader of the tribe in the circle of men. Margeeum sat off to one side and just behind Dar Noth as translator. Banneesheanta sat next to and a little behind her leader, the elderly tree dweller he had worked with earlier in the day. He looks like he knows the wisdom of the ages, Dar Noth thought as he popped another sweet ball into his mouth. He noticed the little things like how the fire light played across her shell. He watched how Banneesheanta interacted with the tree dwellers with such great concern for each of them. He watched the other tree dwellers as they made themselves comfortable around a great fire on the top platform of the hive. He kept an eye on Margeeum for his cues to keep him from stepping beyond tree dweller customs. Of course having an eye on the leader was like having an extra eye to watch her with, he thought.

   Banneesheanta held out a claw to help steady her leader and friend as he stood. Omastarasta stood and looked out among his people and at the other hard-shells. He saw angles as they too stood around the circle. Tears began to fill his eyes as he saw the beauty all around the angels. “These hard-shells have come and asked to speak to the People. It seemed important so I said we will listen,” he said as he sat back down.

   “Your turn,” Margeeum said to Dar Noth.

   Dar Noth stood up taking in all who were there with his eyes. “I have heard that the brotherhoods of the blue and green clans have reached out their claws in friendship to those that live among the trees and that friendship has been very rewarding to all of them. I too would like to seek the rewards of our being friends with one another, but I would also like more than that. I would like us to be friends and brothers and journey through life together,” he said with most of his eyes focused on Banneesheanta.

   Omastarasta leaned over next to Banneesheanta as Dar Noth continued speaking. Whispering he asked, “Do you see them Banneesheanta? Do you see the angels?”

   “What angels Omastarasta,” she whispered back.

   “The ones that have come to bless us. Banneesheanta, I remember when you came to be with us. We have come a long way since then. Now, you will take us farther, I want you to lead the tribe when I’m gone,” Omastarasta whispered.

   “That will be a long time from now.”

   “No, that will be very soon now I think. This hard-shell has a good heart. I have seen into the thoughts of his heart. It is only good that I find there, but he is a little sad though. He asks me to come with him now.”

   “Who asks you to come with him Omastarasta? You’re not making sense.”

   “My Creator, he has come to take me home. Do you see them Banneesheanta, do you see the angels?”

   “What angels?” Banneesheanta asked. She was beginning to be concerned about Omastarasta’s ramblings. Dar Noth saw something was wrong and came around the fire.

   “They’ve come to bless us Banneesheanta. They’re so beautiful. Can you see them Banneesheanta? Can you see the angels?” Omastarasta asked weakly as he fell against her.

   “Omastarasta?” Banneesheanta shook him gently. She could feel his dead weight against her. She cradled him in her claws as tears poured from her eyes. As she held him she thought she saw the angles for a tiny moment too and then they were gone from her sight. She looked at Dar Noth as he settled to the floor before her. “Did you see the angels?” she asked him as she began to cry.

   

   “Omastarasta was with those that found me so many cycles ago. He has been my friend ever since,” Banneesheanta said as she sat looking out into the night with Dar Noth. He stroked the top of her shell to comfort her. “He named me as the next leader of our tribe. What do I do now?”

   “You take little steps and I take little steps, and soon we will begin to take little steps together. Before you know it we will be walking side by side,” Dar Noth replied.

   “I wonder if you are speaking about our people or us.”

   “Both.”

   “They could cast you out for what you’re thinking.”

   “For thinking about peace and a beautiful female. For both I would be willing to be taken out and shot.”

   “It could come to that,” Banneesheanta said

   “My beautiful Banneesheanta, there are some things in life that are worth giving up everything for,” Dar Noth said.

   

~~~

   

   Kittanota was not happy with the news Lotreycal brought with him. Lotreycal brought more than new information with him after he returned. He brought doubt in the truth of Kittanota’s words. Lotreycal began to ask questions, questions that were hard for Kittanota to answer. Then one day Lotreycal went away and never returned. The People never gave more than a passing thought to where Lotreycal went, but Kittanota knew where he went. He knew he would never be coming back.

   

   There was more danger in raiding the supplies of the red hard-shells now, but so far, only a few had been hurt. What Kittanota was going to do now was even more dangerous. Five hundred guns surrounded a small red hard-shell home and waited for a signal for them to fire all at once. Kittanota waited for as many hard-shells as he could possibly catch outside. He waited for the herders to go out to tend their herds. He waited for the soldiers to come out and practice their drills and war games. He waited for the children to come out to play. Then there came a time when he would wait no longer. Five hundred guns fired at almost the same instant. Many of the hard-shells came out of their home to see what the noise was as Kittanota knew they would. Five hundred guns spoke again and there was not a red hard-shell outside of their dwelling left alive. Some return fire started coming from the dwelling, but it was blind random fire, mostly out and not up, they were shooting at an unknown enemy. Any return fire was quickly silenced as a couple of dozen guns concentrated their fire on that point sending exploding rounds screaming into the building. Great holes opened up in the side of the dwelling from any place the hard-shells fired back from.

   Other eyes watched, unable to do more than watch. These eyes watched Kittanota very closely. They knew where Lotreycal was. They knew where all the guns were kept and they knew where the ammo was hidden. They knew where the guards were posted at the hive and when they would be changed, and they even knew when those guards would fall a sleep late at night. One night very soon they would surprise Kittanota.

   Kittanota could not carry away all the dead hard-shells as he had been doing. This he figured would send a message to the hard-shells that no longer will the People of the Trees be chased from their homes. The raid on the armory and the interior of the dwelling cost a few lives but in the end they were successful. It was two days before they finished plundering the dwelling and Kittanota took his people home.

   It was after the tree dwellers left that the watchers came down to look around. There were no signs of survivors and even the medical center was breached. As they were leaving they found a small red clan child hiding in a small hole under a root from the tree that the dwelling was built on. A female lay on top of him with a half a dozen great gapping holes in her top shell. She was probably his mother, they thought as they pulled the child out from beneath her. It was hard to feel sorry for a clan that was about to start a war with the rest of the brotherhood, but they were not heartless.

   

   A small child came walking down the trail and was almost on top of the sentry before he was discovered. “What are you doing out here so far from the dwelling?” the sentry asked.

   “The tree angels brought me here,” the child replied.

   “Tree angels?”

   “When the tree dwellers killed everyone, the tree angels came and saved me.”

   “Do you live here?” the sentry asked. He sensed that something was terribly wrong.

   “No, the tree angels brought me here. They said you would take care of me now,” the child replied.

   The sentry looked around as he scooped up the child in his claws. The eyes of this child were filled with a terrible sadness the sentry never saw before. Others watched as the sentry carried the child back towards his dwelling before they turned back to return to watch over Kittanota.

   

~~~

   

   Saralashaw wandered about the city surround by four armed guards that did their best to seem inconspicuous. She was only looking at the strange sights that the city offered. “Don’t they trust you?” a voice asked from behind as Saralashaw looked through the door of a furniture shop at some of the strange things inside. She turned to see two red hard-shells standing there.

   “Hello KarEena.”

   “You remember me, I surprised. I would think that we all look alike to you.”

   “You do, but you don’t sound or smell alike to me,” Saralashaw said. “What are you doing out and about? I thought you said that you don’t get out much.”

   “I don’t, but sometimes I go shopping. It’s one of the small pleasures that I am allowed from time to time,” KarEena replied. “So what’s with all the guards?”

   “They’re here to protect me from those of your kind that might wish to harm me. What’s your guard for? Surely your own people do not wish to do you any harm.”

   “KaZanna wishes to keep an eye on me even when he can’t see me.”

   Saralashaw nodded her head in understanding. “I was about to get a bite to eat. Do you care to join me?”

   “You still buying?”

   “Certainly.”

   “Good, I was hoping you were. KaZanna keeps me on a tight budget too.” Saralashaw bent over and whispered something to one of her guards. Soon after KarEena’s guard was separated from his charge and forced to trail behind the blue brothers guarding Saralashaw.

   Syanor’s dinning hall was crowded at the height of the lunch rush when Saralashaw and KarEena entered the dinning hall. There was a line of brothers and sisters waiting to be seated. They all turned to stare at Saralashaw when she walked in. Tree dwellers were a rare sight anywhere especially in the finest dinning hall in the city. “We should go somewhere else,” KarEena said. “We’ll have to wait forever to get a table.”

   “Being the adopted daughter of the owner of this establishment has got to be worth something,” Saralashaw said as she waved at Syanor to get his attention.

   “I’m surprised to see you here by yourself,” Syanor said as he greeted his adopted sister. “Where’s Mom?”

   “Back at the dwelling I imagine, and I’m not here alone,” Saralashaw replied pointing to KarEena. “Can we get a table?”

   “Lady KarEena, are you here with my sister?” Syanor asked in surprise. He could not remember the last time she was in his establishment without her mate or a guard.

   “Yes, I am, and she’s buying too. A free lunch is a free lunch,” KarEena replied.

   Syanor smiled in understanding. No Brachyura would ever pass up a free lunch. “If you will follow me I’ll get you a table.”

   “You’re going to give a tree dweller a table before us,” an outraged sister who had been waiting for a table with her friends for a long time said.

   “I’m sure a table will come available for you shortly,” Syanor said. “However, I have a standing reservation for my parents and any of their guests. Unfortunately, I find myself in the position of choosing between my family who are in town for a short time and long time friends of this establishment who I see almost everyday. So, forgive me if I choose my family over you this day. I feel I must also tell you that Lady KarEena is the red clan leader’s mate. He as well as the other clan leaders have standing reservations also. So no matter how I approach this dilemma I fear you will still have to wait a little while longer.” Syanor turned and walked off trailing his adopted sister and her guest in his wake.

   KarEena could not remember when she had a better day. The food was better than she had ever remembered having for a long time. She ate until she was well beyond stuffed. She could not remember when she just talked about trivial stuff with a friend. She did not have many friends, KaZanna saw to that. She knew that she would have to pay for this day later, but for now she was very happy. “I wish that this day could go on forever,” she said stuffing another sweet ball into her mouth.

   “Why don’t you just leave him?” Saralashaw finally asked.

   “You don’t know KaZanna. He doesn’t let go of his possessions. He’d find me,” KarEena replied.

   Saralashaw reached over and squeezed one of her claws with her hand. “You’re not a thing to be possessed KarEena. Just walk away and don’t look back. I can hide you where he cannot find you.”

   It was a tempting offer. “I can’t. Our customs don’t allow it. It is my fate for being so stupid and blind. I never thought that KaZanna was just using me as a stepping stone. My father was clan leader at one time long ago. He used my status to help him become a councilor to the current clan leader at the time. Believe me, if I could, I’d take you up on your kind offer.”

   Syanor stopped by the table after having a brief conversation with one of Saralashaw’s guards at the door. “Please forgive the intrusion Lady KarEena. I hope you have enjoyed your meal so far. Saralashaw, you’re needed back at the dwelling now. Some kind of medical emergency.”

   “What’s wrong?” Saralashaw asked.

   “I don’t know any more than what I just told you,” Syanor replied.

   “Come on KarEena, let’s go see what’s wrong, and then I’ll walk you home,” Saralashaw said as she stood up.

   “What about my guard? Really, I can’t.”

   “Don’t worry, your guard will have a medical emergency of his own,” Saralashaw said as she reached into her healer’s bag.

   KarEena stood up from the table. “Lead the way,” she said.

   Halfway to the dwelling KarEena’s guard collapsed and Saralashaw’s guards were forced to pick him up and carry him to the closest medical center. That of course was in the Blue Brotherhood’s dwelling.

   

   Zothor standing in the medical center’s doorway eyed the red sister following behind his adopted daughter. “You should not have brought her,” he said.

   “Why?” Saralashaw asked.

   “She could see things we don’t want seen,” Zothor replied.

   “KarEena is my friend. She needs to see the things that you don’t want others to see. She is not our enemy Zothor.” Saralashaw turned back to her friend. “KarEena, if you cannot leave KaZanna, do you want to get even with him?”

   “If it’s possible, yes, I would like to see KaZanna get what’s coming to him,” KarEena replied. “What do I have to do?”

   “Never tell what you will see here, and give us as much advance warning as you can as to when KaZanna will start his war.”

   Zothor and KarEena were both surprised at Saralashaw’s revelation for different reasons. KarEena was the first to recover. “How do you know that?” she asked.

   “We know,” Zothor said confirming what Saralashaw said.

   “How long have you known?” KarEena asked.

   “For a while now,” Zothor replied. “I have soldiers in the field right now watching many of your dwellings. We have already located the renegade tree dweller and his followers. We only wait for your mate’s request for help to move in and disperse them and recover all the guns they have taken from the shipments your mate has been sending out to his dwellings.”

   KarEena laughed as a wicked looking grin spread across her face. Zothor wondered what was so funny. “KaZanna is such a fool. Whatever secrets you have, he will not hear of them from me,” she said.

   When KarEena walked into the medical center the first thing she noticed were two tree nodes sitting on the medical center’s floor. Then she saw them get up and move out of the way as Saralashaw went to work on the injured tree dweller lying on the table. These were the soldiers that her clan would soon have to fight. Here in the medical center they looked out of place. In the forest they would be invisible.

   “I know KaZanna. Sooner or later he will go to war against us. The best we can do for now is stall for time,” Zothor said.

   KarEena just stared at the soldiers. It took a while but she able to locate their eyes. The intensity she saw in their eyes frightened her. As well trained as her clan’s soldiers were, she knew that they were no match for these soldiers. “What do you want to know?” she asked.

   

   The last thing Lotreycal remembered was falling after being stabbed in the back and pushed from the branch. He remembered seeing Kittanota as he fell. He remembered his foot catching on something just before he hit his head and the blackness engulfed him. “Back with us so soon,” a voice said. Lotreycal remembered that voice as he turned his head slowly to look at the hard-shell he knew he would see there.

   “How?” Lotreycal asked weakly. His head pounded and there was a sharp pain in his back, but other than that he felt lucky to be alive.

   “One of my soldiers caught you as you fell off the branch,” Zothor replied.

   “Kittanota.”

   “He snuck up behind you, stabbed you in the back, and then pushed you from the branch. It was pure luck that one of my soldiers was beneath you when Kittanota pushed you from the branch. He just did catch you by your foot as you fell by him.”

   “I will kill Kittanota when I am better.”

   “I can’t let you do that any more than I could let Saralashaw kill him. You will be sent to my dwelling where you will join the tribe and work on the ongoing construction project there.”

   “And if I refuse?” Lotreycal asked.

   “It could be arranged for you to finish the fall you started,” Saralashaw said as she walked around to stand where he could see her. “You owe me your life. You will do what you have been told to do or I will take back the life I have given you.”

   “Lotreycal if you want to kill Kittanota, you will need to get in line and wait your turn. When I want Kittanota dead then I will have him killed. It is not needed to kill everyone with him if that can be avoided, and if we can strip him of his followers over time much killing can be avoided,” Zothor said.

   “He has so many guns, how can you stop him?” Lotreycal asked.

   “Even as we speak, we are waiting for the right time to destroy most of the guns he took,” Zothor said.

   

~~~

   

   Frothay circled Kittanota’s new hive with Bantan. They studied every aspect of it, the many entrances, where they kept their supplies, which of the tree dwellers were in their leadership. They gathered all the information they could that would be useful to their clan leader and for their raid on the hive later in the night. Frothay could almost feel the grim mood of the hive. It seemed to lack the laughter and joyfulness of the tree dwellers he had come to know and love back at the dwelling he had come to call his own. It was this same spirit that caused him to settle at Zothor’s dwelling in the first place. So intent were they in watching the hive that they failed to see the small child standing behind them. “Hello,” a small cheerful voice said. The cheerfulness of the voice sounded so out of place amid gloominess that hung over the area Frothay thought as a couple of his eyes turned to look behind him.

   “Hello yourself,” he said turning to face the child behind them.

   “What are you?” the child asked.

   “We are guardians of the trees come to see what is going on here,” Frothay replied. “What is your name?”

   “I’m Molateeia. My mother is one of the healers here.”

   “I am Frothay and my speechless friend here is Bantan. How many healers do you have?”

   “Two, my mother and Raytanack. There use to be another one, but he went away after my mother came to be with the People here.”

   “What’s your mother’s name?”

   “Soolayinna, she’s a much better healer than Raytanack.”

   “Molateeia... Molateeia, where are you,” they heard a voice cry out.

   “That’s my mother,” Molateeia said turning in the direction of the voice. “I’m over here mother.” When she turned back the tree guardians had vanished.

   Soolayinna was beautiful by any standard. Her long black hair wrapped around her in the gentle breeze, and only accented her flawless form. “Molateeia, I thought I told you not to wander off from the dwelling,” she scolded her daughter.

   “It was such a pretty day. I wanted to catch some flutterbys. I didn’t go far,” Molateeia said in her own defense.

   “Well, next time don’t wonder off,” Soolayinna said as she picked up her daughter. “Did you catch any flutterbys?”

   “No, not yet.”

   “Well, let’s go see if we can catch some.” Frothay watched from where he was hiding as Soolayinna walked off carrying her daughter on her shoulders. This healer seemed like a bright ray of sunshine on a cloudy day to him. She seemed very sure of herself, not like the other healer that had joined Kittanota.

   “She could be a problem,” Bantan said as he climbed up from the side of the branch where he had been hiding.

   “Which one, the mother or the child?” Frothay asked.

   “Both,” Bantan replied. “She’s very certain of herself and kind of reminds me of Tangoral’s sister a little bit.”

   “She seems so out of place here. I wonder why she joined Kittanota?”

   “An age old story, revenge.”

   “I doubt that she will stay for very long, she’s too nice.”

   “Perhaps, but we may still have to kill her,” Bantan said.

   “That would be such a waste,” Frothay said. He knew he could never take the life of such a beautiful spirit. He hated the idea of her being a follower of Kittanota where the inner beauty he saw in her could be corrupted. He vowed to himself to protect her if he could.

   

   Frothay worked quickly as Bantan kept watch. Some of the guards that slept would never wake up from their sleep this night. The explosive charges had to be set in such a way as to leave Kittanota enough guns and ammo to keep raiding the supplies that were being sent out to the dwellings by the Red Clan Leader. Some of the tree dwellers would be killed in the explosion, that could not be helped, but most would survive as the charge was set to blow out away from the hive. Some of the guns and ammo had to be set out of harms way to be sure that Kittanota retained some of his guns. Soon enough the deed was done and the fuse was lit. Bantan and Frothay ran back across the branch where they entered the hive.

   “I wonder what Kittanota will think in a few moments?” Bantan asked as they reached the safety of a tree far from the hive.

   “He’s not sane, no telling. I wonder what he’ll think about the present we left him,” Frothay replied.

   

   Kittanota woke to the sound of thunder ten times louder than any thunder he had ever heard. The floor threw him into the air and then let him fall back again. A huge fireball erupted from the side of the home. That was followed by a lot of people screaming and running about. It was morning before Kittanota could regain control of the situation. Most of the guns and ammo were destroyed in the blast. Twenty-three people were killed. It was as Kittanota inspected the damage that he found it, Lotreycal’s necklace. Fear ran through him as he realized that Lotreycal was not dead and that the loss of the guns might not have been an accident. He knew he had to move and start over again but that was ok because he knew how to get more guns and ammo. He would need tighter security to keep anything like this from happening again. Still, he would let his people think that this was an accident and that they had to move because the hard-shells might have heard the explosion and come in force to investigate.

   

~~~

   

   SoLayan paced back and forth as PaTouan read the report. The loss of the dwelling hit everyone hard, and no matter the size of the escorts they were still losing supplies to the renegade tree dweller. “We have got to do something,” SoLayan said.

   “PaTouan what were the losses of the dwelling again?” KaZanna asked choosing to ignore SoLayan for the moment.

   “The attack must have been a total surprise; the dwelling is a total loss. Most of the brothers in the dwelling were caught out in the open, everyone was killed. Only one small child miraculously survived. All the guns and ammo and a lot of things made of metal are missing. The herds were scattered or taken we can’t tell which. Food storage was broken into, but it’s hard to say how much food was taken. The records for that dwelling were destroyed when the tree dwellers set fire to the dwelling and everything in it.”

   “What of the hive we found?” KaZanna asked.

   “It was most likely the tree dwellers’ base of operations. We found a lot of our missing carts and the empty shells of our lost brothers at the base of the tree. Something must have set off the ammo causing an explosion. Which is what the nearby dwelling heard or we would have never found the hive. We recovered a lot of our guns in a non-working condition scattered over a wide area. The tree dwellers apparently abandoned the hive sometime after the explosion. We were unable to track them,” PaTouan replied.

   “Why don’t you get your friend Zothor to send in his soldiers to deal with this problem? You know that’s what the rest of the council will want done when they find about the loss of this dwelling,” SoLayan said.

   “They’re not going to find out because we not going to tell them. We aren’t ready yet,” KaZanna replied. “The loss of our dwelling shows us that our soldiers are not yet ready either.”

   “It’s hard for anyone to defend against the tactic that was used at that dwelling. Our soldiers are ready for a conventional war, but they are not prepared to fight tree dwellers,” SoLayan said.

   “Then they need to get prepared! I want you to see to it personally. The next time this renegade tree dweller attacks one of my dwellings I want him to learn what war is really all about,” KaZanna said. “Now, PaTouan what will it take to get our supplies to actually reach some of our dwellings?” KaZanna could see his plans for the future unraveling all because of one renegade tree dweller. “Wait a moment. PaTouan, you said a child survived, how?”

   “The report doesn’t make much sense on that point. It says, the child said, that tree angels saved him. The only description given is that they looked like trees according to the child. Why do you ask?”

   “It was a horrible thought but I would assume a child would recognize a brother even if he were camouflaged. How old was the child?

   “About five cycles the report says, why,” PaTouan replied.

   “Never mind the child is old enough to recognize a camouflaged brother. Now, how are we going to get our supplies past this tree dweller so we can finish arming our soldiers?” KaZanna asked.

   

~~~

   

   Adreeum stood looking out the window in his office. Rownan and LaSanso sat on the pillows provided for sitting, another new product from Zothor’s dwelling. Zothor paced as he listened to Frothay’s report. “Kittanota finally attacked a red clan dwelling,” Frothay was saying. “About five hundred guns were used. They were set up to surround any area where there might be brothers out and about. Kittanota waited until the maximum amount of brothers and sisters were outside the dwelling before firing on them. Return fire was light and quickly silenced. Kittanota suffered a few losses during the fighting inside the dwelling, but not enough to make the people with him to think twice about going to war against us. About a hundred and forty lived at the dwelling, they are all dead. The only survivor of the dwelling was a small child. We took him to a nearby dwelling. We told him we were tree angels come to take him somewhere safe.”

   “He didn’t recognize you as brothers?” Adreeum asked.

   “No, once we are camouflaged we look like a piece of a tree. To a small child we must look like a part of a tree come to life. I’d say he was three maybe four cycles old and very scared,” Frothay replied.

   “Continue,” Adreeum said.

   “Kittanota stayed at the dwelling for two days before leaving. They stripped the dwelling of everything not tied down and set fire to some of the things they could not take. We followed Kittanota back to his hive and waited two days to let the excitement of their victory settle down. We then planted the explosives at night and destroyed ninety percent of the guns and ammo as ordered. We planted Lotreycal’s necklace near the blast site. Kittanota found it as planned. He abandoned the hive and moved north to a new location. The new hive has tighter security and Kittanota now has a personal bodyguard with him at all times. At present, very few of the supplies KaZanna is sending are getting through to any of his dwellings. We went over the records at the dwelling. Most of the weapons of the dwelling were heavy guns, about five hundred of them. There was enough ammo for five hundred rounds per gun. Their armory was huge for the size of the dwelling.”

   “About two hundred and fifty thousand rounds of ammo,” LaSanso said in disbelief.

   “No cannons and no rocket launchers according to their records and visually verified as the tree dwellers left with their plunder. Dried food stores were also well above normal for a dwelling twice that size. I’m sure we could not have put the records back in order. So we burned the records with other stuff to make it look like the tree dwellers did it so they couldn’t tell someone went through them. The red brothers found the hive about a day and a half after Kittanota abandoned it. They must have heard the explosion as it made a pretty big gang. They were unable to track the tree dwellers,” Frothay finished.

   “Any thoughts Zothor?” Adreeum asked.

   “I can’t believe that KaZanna would start a war armed with heavy guns alone. He must have some cannons and rocket launchers,” Zothor replied. “His main weapon may well be heavy guns with only a small contingent of artillery. Remember, his soldiers are practicing the rush inside dwellings. He may be hoping to capture dwellings by surprise without too much fighting; in which case he wouldn’t need anything more than heavy guns. I am more concerned with Kittanota’s tactic. KaZanna may learn from it, and we need to devise a plan to defeat it as well. We need to be able to return fire long enough to do some good.”

   “Forgive the interruption Clan Leader but, Tragal told us of Tangoral’s home and the gun emplacements there. Their guns are mounted behind windows with their gun barrels sticking through the windows. The window moves with the gun protecting the tree dweller using it from direct fire. If we made the windows thicker and put a slot in it to fire through it may be possible to return fire long enough to silence a good many of the guns that could be brought to bear on that position,” Frothay said. “Certain areas around the dwelling could be set aside for these gun platforms.”

   “You’re telling us that the windows in our dwelling can withstand heavy gun fire,” Rownan said.

   “That is what he is telling you,” Zothor said.

   “Just when were you going to let the rest of us in on your little secret?” Rownan asked.

   “We weren’t, this is a secret that cannot leave this room,” Zothor replied. “The clan leader has known since we gave him his windows. Everyone at my dwelling knows of course. It was thought that the fewer that knew this, the less chance KaZanna would have of finding out. Soon inner sections of this dwelling, and other dwellings, will have doors made of the window material fitted into place to stall an invading army. This will buy us time to either hold out until help can arrive or a counter attack can be mounted. In the end it may come down to what secrets were kept the best. We are avoiding giving KaZanna any windows at all if we can help it and if we do give him any windows they will be very thin. A window a light gun can shoot through is still stronger than spit-sand. Right now, we can stall him if he asks by saying that orders are heavy, production is slow, and we’re still trying to work out the bugs. This is the truth after a fashion. There are certainly defensive applications, but there may be offensive applications we have not thought of yet. We cannot afford to have this technology fall into his claws at this time. My own craftsmen will do the installation in this dwelling and any of our nearby dwellings to guard the secrets of the process for now. At this point, we are the only clan that will get the thick windows. Everyone else will get thin windows. If any of the red clan, or any of the other clans for that matter, wants a window I want them to come to see me. We’ll claim that the thin ones are the new and improved windows over the old thick bulky windows we started out with. One of the bugs we worked out of the system. If anyone asks that’s what you tell them.”

   “What are the windows made of?” LaSanso asked.

   “That will remain a secret,” Adreeum replied. Rownan knew the secret but he could see the wisdom of that remaining a secret. “But, I’m sure we will be asked that question in the future.”

   “Then say it is a new kind of spit-sand that requires special processing to form it into shape, and melt the sand together. Then the window must be polished for a long time to remove any distortions in the window. It is a long process we are trying to shorten. You may tell anyone that that asks,” Zothor said. “It is not far from the truth.”

   “True to your prediction Zothor, KaZanna has not reported this attack on his dwelling or on the shipments he is sending out to his dwellings,” Adreeum said. “What will he do in the immediate future?”

   “Nothing for the moment,” Zothor replied. “He has two problems. The first he needs to find a way to get his shipments past Kittanota. Second, with the ease that the dwelling was destroyed he’s worried that his soldiers are not trained as well as he thought. In his mind his soldiers should be better than a few tree dwellers. This buys us time, but it means we may have to fight better trained soldiers than before.”

   “Seems like there ought to be a better way to stop this war rather than preparing for war ourselves,” LaSanso said.

   “We must prepare for the worst and hope to find a peaceful solution before war becomes inevitable,” Adreeum said. “It may be a simple matter of telling KaZanna that we know what he is planning and we are prepared to defend ourselves. It maybe that we will have to challenge the red clan. I am not sure what it will take, but I am like you LaSanso, I want to believe that there is a way to stop this war before it can lead to bloodshed, but as clan leader I must prepare the brothers for whatever happens. Now, someone tell me how the peace process with the tree dwellers is going.”

   “We are trading with all the tribes we have contacted,” LaSanso said. The tree dwellers are working in some capacity at eight of our dwellings. Cooking and caring for the shunail herds are the main areas of employment for them at this time.”

   “We are doing equally as well,” Rownan said.

   “There is one report of a black clan dwelling that has made peaceful contact with the tree dwellers in their area,” Zothor said. “I’m told that contact started out badly, but everything worked out in the end despite the problems. When my mate and my adopted daughter return to our dwelling they will be stopping at our dwellings along the way to see what help they can offer to help the peace process along.”

   “I shall look forward to your mate’s return for the salvation of my stomach,” Rownan said.

   “Zothor, your soldiers will continue to monitor Kittanota and KaZanna’s activities as before. We won’t need another formal meeting again unless there is some major change in KaZanna’s activities,” Adreeum said. “Meeting adjourned.”

   

~~~

   

   The game was the closest he had ever played against his father and what surprised Cantor even more was that he was in the lead but not by much. Bittanic stood in the place of judgment having been pressed into service by Zothor to act as referee. After his game with Cantor, Bittanic had withdrawn from competition and invested his time cultivating a friendship with Cantor. This of course was to Cantor’s advantage having two professional players to practice with. This was the most physical game Cantor had ever played. He had been pushed and shoved by his father almost the whole game. Bittanic had call fault on only the most obvious faults. Even when his father had tripped him a couple of times Bittanic failed to call the fault. Still, Cantor was ahead and he intended to stay there. Even now, as he passed in front of his father he half saw and felt one of his claws sweep beneath his legs and become entangled there. As he began to fall he pushed off with his stable legs and twisted in the air, and instead of hitting the ball forward with the back of his left claw he hit it straight. The ball picked up speed and hit the back wall with enough force to reach the front wall to die in the right corner even as Cantor slammed into the floor. “Bittanic are you blind? That was an obvious fault for tripping,” Cantor complained as he picked himself up off the floor.

   “No, it looked to me that Zothor’s claw became entangled in your legs as you passed in front of him. That’s not a fault Cantor,” Bittanic replied. “However, you draw a warning for questioning my judgment. Do it again and it will cost you the serve and five points.”

   Cantor bit his tongue. He knew better than to question the referee’s judgment. “You’re cheating,” he said to his father as he walked by him to get the ball that was rolling towards the left side wall.

   “Well of course I’m cheating. How else am I suppose to beat you? It’s only cheating if I get caught,” Zothor said pointing to Bittanic. “I stopped playing fair a long time ago Cantor. Are you just now catching on?”

   Then the truth of what his father said hit Cantor. He could see what his father was doing. “My eyes are beginning to see the light,” he replied. “Bittanic, you can go back to sleep now. This game is not going to last much longer.”

   Zothor knew he was about to get the beating of his lifetime as his son made the mental adjustment to play against someone like KaZanna. “Good recovery on that last shot though,” he said.

   Bittanic knew Zothor was cheating, but Zothor’s instructions were to call only the most obvious faults. He had watched Zothor use every dirty trick in the book and then add some new ones to keep beating his son during the games they played. Cantor overcame everything Zothor would throw at him. He watched the remainder of the game no longer calling the faults he saw. The point gap slowly began to widen in Cantor’s favor. The game took on the aspect of a game for judgment as it became even more physical than it already was. Zothor had even walked over his son a couple of times in a mad effort to try to get to a ball that was beyond his reach. Cantor continued to play fair regardless of his father’s efforts and in the end won by sixty-three points.

   “There is nothing more that I can teach you,” Zothor said at the end of the game. “But, I want to show you something.” He took the ball and started to bounce it against the wall as he did so he closed his eyes retracting his two retractable eyes and folded his two eye poles back against his shell. He began to play a simple game with himself fully blind. Cantor and Bittanic both watched in amazement. After a while Zothor plucked the ball from the air and his eyes returned to their normal position to look at his son. “It is not always necessary to see the ball to be able to play the game. That is your one weakness. You always keep at least one eye on the ball. It would help your speed if you’d learn to feel where the ball is with your heart and mind. You are the most skilled player I have ever seen play the game, but if you should play against someone with equal skill that one weakness could make all the difference between winning and losing.”

   

~~~

   

   Tangoral closed his eyes as he juggled four of the six balls he had brought with him as he walked along the branch. Tragal’s light touch in the middle of his back kept him from falling off the branch as he walked along juggling the balls. “Now Tragal,” he said. Tragal tossed another ball over his right shoulder to be added to the other four balls already in motion. Of course, most of the balls he juggled now were not the original six balls he had started with. Standing still and juggling balls with his eyes closed was hard enough but after a couple of moons he could feel the exact position of each ball even when Tragal would toss him another ball out of the blue. He was about to tell Tragal to toss him the last ball when he stopped juggling altogether.

   “What’s up?” Tragal asked.

   “We have arrived at our destination,” Tangoral replied. “If you could hear the subtle change in the background noise you would know that something ahead is not right. We must go forward slowly with great caution now. We must locate one of the guardians before they can locate us.”

   When they came to a clearing and Tragal was able to look down he was stunned by what he saw. The ruins of an ancient city stretched out below him. The great trees seemed to have pushed their way up through the city, but there were still remains of buildings taller than any dwelling that he had ever seen before now. Buildings that were once almost as large as the trees themselves and may have been even taller at one time. Surely this is where the world began, Tragal thought. This one city of the ancients was larger than all the Brachyura cities combine. Tragal wondered where they would even begin to look for the things they had come to find.

   Tangoral pointed down below them. Tragal followed the direction with his eyes. Below sat a great metal creature that resembled a tree dweller in shape. “That thing is taller than any of the great shunails that nest on our dwelling’s land,” Tragal whispered.

   “I’m going down to talk with it. Keep everybody up here until I signal for them to come down,” Tangoral whispered back.

   

   The enormous metal head of the guardian turned slowly as it followed Tangoral’s approach. “Halt, identify yourself,” it said when Tangoral got close enough.

   “I am Tangoral; I was here many cycles of the sun ago. Do you remember me Sentinel?” Tangoral asked.

   “Do not move while I process this information,” Sentinel replied.

   “I have grown some since we last met.”

   “Memory location found, accessing. It will be just a moment to make the proper adjustments to my system Tangoral.”

   “How have you been Sentinel? I have never seen a guardian in any kind of sitting position that this guardian is in.”

   “The guardian unit had a hydraulic failure in one of its legs so I placed him in this strategic position to keep watch over this area.”

   “Can the guardian unit be repaired?”

   “Yes, but this unit was not able to reach the hanger repair bay before total failure. All the proper adjustments have been made to my memory. A. I. systems are now online. I have made the proper adjustments to my language data banks. Can you understand me better than when we last spoke? I have detected a slight shift in your speech patterns since you were here last. Adjustments now being made to compensate for your growth and changes in your voice pattern.”

   “I do understand you much better now. What have you been doing since I was last here? Have you seen anybody besides me?”

   “I spent a long while calculating different possible shifts in the language of the humans based on our conversations. No, I have not seen anyone else since I last saw you. Why have you returned? I calculate that I would not see another person for approximately fifteen hundred of what you called cycles of the sun.”

   “I became the healer of my tribe. Our legends say the world began here, and if that is true, it is every healer’s duty to come here and search for the Great Cure to cure the world and restore it to the way it was. Also, I have news of the war between the people and the Brachyura.”

   “So do the Brachyura still fight against the humans?”

   “No, the war has been over for almost three thousand cycles. We have learned that we can share the world on which we all must live. We stopped fighting long ago. The Brachyura no longer even fight among themselves. We are just now discovering that the People and the Brachyura can even work together and live with each other as friends.”

   “Wait a moment as I process this information... Finished. It appears that the mission for which the sentinel program was written and the guardians built no longer exist. Can you verify this information?”

   “If I can, what would happen?” Tangoral asked.

   “The guardians would be recalled to the hanger and shut down. The sentinel program would be stored in memory until it is manually activated again,” Sentinel replied.

   “I need Sentinel Program to remain alive for now; do you have provisions for a peace envoy from the Brachyura to come here?

   “The program will remain active. Yes, a provision was made that would allow a few Brachyura into the city on a mission of peace.”

   “Sentinel, I did not come alone this time. I have brought a peaceful delegation of scholars and craftsmen from the Brachyura here to study what remains of this city. I have four Brachyura soldiers as my personal bodyguard and to protect the others of our small group from the creatures in the Great Swamp. Will you give them access to the city?” This was it; Tangoral had put all his eggs in one basket.

   “I am moving two guardians to this location. If the soldiers and all others that are carrying weapons will remove them and leave their weapons here then they may enter the city in peace under escort. As you are the only human, I am required to protect your life. I am moving another guardian to this location to ensure your safety. Access to certain areas of the city will be restricted.”

   “Does that include the repair bay in the hanger?”

   “Yes.”

   “That is not acceptable. My craftsmen will not be able to repair this guardian unit without access to that area and your help.”

   “These craftsmen are Brachyura, and they work for you?” Sentinel asked skeptically.

   “Yes, they are, and after a fashion, yes, they do work for me,” Tangoral replied. “I told you we are at peace with the Brachyura. The soldiers are the ones that most directly work for me. My job is to oversee the study of the ruins here. I stand within the ranks of their leadership. All these Brachyura are required to do as I say. I desire that this guardian unit be repaired. I require that the Brachyura craftsmen do the work. They will need the proper tools, parts, and instructions to make the repairs. For this they will need access to the hanger repair bay.” Whatever the hanger repair bay is, Tangoral thought silently.

   “This violates the sentinel program. You are alone and not under duress. An override protocol is now in place, access to all areas of the city on your command. Guardians at your command. All guardians are now moving to this location.”

   “Can one of the guardians bring the parts and tools necessary to repair this guardian with them?”

   “No.”

   “Can the other guardians take this guardian to the hanger for repairs?”

   “No.”

   “I have no doubt that many of the tools needed to repair this guardian are unfamiliar to my craftsmen as will be the parts. Will you be able to describe these things adequately for them to locate these things?”

   “The language of the Brachyura is not part of my programming. I will be unable to communicate with these Brachyura craftsmen.”

   “All the Brachyura with me speak our language.”

   “If that is the case then, yes, I will be able to communicate with them. All guardians are equipped with holographic projectors so a picture of the part or tool can be visually projected as well as a verbal description of the part or tool.”

   “Can the guardians can show them pictures on how to fix this guardian as well?”

   “Yes.”

   “Are there any other guardians that need repairs?”

   “Yes, three other units have failed in a similar manner.”

   “We will repair them as well if possible,” Tangoral said.  “Sentinel, do you still require that my soldiers remove their weapons?”

   “All the Brachyura would have to disarm in order for the override protocol to remain in place. The sentinel program would consider you under duress if the Brachyura were to remain armed. The program would then assume you were in danger and kill all the Brachyura that it considered a threat to you,” Sentinel replied.

   “I have just noticed that the name I have been calling you may not be your name.”

   “I don’t really have a name. You may continue to call me Sentinel if you like.”

   “What are you called?”

   “I am a High-Brow 7000 computer with artificial intelligence capabilities. Memory upgrades were made before the beginning of the Brachyura war and I was later modified to direct the guardians and the automated hanger repair bays throughout the world. I am one of seven such intelligent systems built to control the automated systems throughout the world. I am one of two such systems that remain active at this time. The Brachyura destroyed three of the other systems. Two other systems lost their primary power source and were forced to shut down before they drained their back up power source. They use to come back up from time to time to check to see if repairs were made to their primary power source, but they haven’t come back online for twenty-three hundred years or what you would call cycles of the sun.”

   “I understood about a fraction of what you just said. The other system that you spoke of, do you know where it is?”

   “Yes, I do, it is located on the large moon.”

   “On the moon?” Tangoral was stunned by this revelation. “How did it get there?”

   “Humans once lived and traveled to and from all the moons to here. They had a High-Brow 6000 system installed on the moon to control the automated systems there.”

   “Do people still live there?”

   “No, they depended on food from here. Most of the humans returned during the war after their supplies were cut off. Some tried to stay and tried to make a go of it there, but cut off without support from this world they all died according to the 6000 unit.”

   Tangoral could have talked with Sentinel forever, but he knew the others would want to hear all this stuff. He waived for them to come down. “What’s the difference between you and the 6000 unit?” he asked while waiting for the others to join him.

   “I was built after the 6000 unit. I was the first unit with true artificial intelligence capabilities. I am capable of independent thought verses the learning program of the 6000 unit. The 6000 unit could learn from its mistakes, but I am able to anticipate mistakes and avoid them, or minimize the damage caused by them if they are unavoidable. I can adjust in the middle of a mistake; where as the 6000 unit must finish making a mistake in order to learn from it. Before my memory upgrade, I had ten times the memory in half the space as the 6000 unit. When I first came online I could controlled ten million automatons at once,” Sentinel replied.

   “What is an automaton?”

   “A guardian unit while large in size is considered a small automaton. I was designed to control large automaton units from a central point. My primary function was to control the ships on the ocean and the planes in the air. This also included the spacecraft that moved between this planet and the moons. I was the controlling link between myself and the other six intelligent systems. These were made up of three High-Brow 6000 units, a High-Brow 5000 unit, and two Cerebrum 5500 units. When my memory was upgraded that part of my system was dedicated to the many scientific projects on going throughout the world. The sentinel program, which was added later, was only a minor variation of my primary program.”

   “Do you still control any other units besides the guardians here?”

   “Of the one point six million ships, all sizes, eighteen remain online, but can no longer move about having become locked in place by the trees after they covered the oceans. Of the three point two million planes, all sizes, none remain. Of the eight hundred and thirty-seven spacecraft, a hundred and twelve remain online, but powered down on the moons. Sixty one remain online on the surface of this world, but only eight remain upright able to lift off. All are in a powered down condition. All systems on the moons controlled by the High-Brow 6000 are functional but in a powered down state. Of the nine hundred thousand seven hundred and forty-two power generating systems throughout the world and in space, a hundred and twelve still function. Of the hundred and twenty hanger repair bays, only six remain online. Five of those are in a powered down state. Of the one thousand two hundred and seventy-eight guardians, fifty-three remain online. This does not count the ten here. Fifty of those guardians are in hanger repair bays in a powered down condition at various points on this continent. The remaining three guardians still protect the power generating systems that provide power to my systems. They are in an active powered down condition, and will come back online if they perceive a threat to the power generating systems that they are guarding. This is the operational status of all the primary systems that I control. Ninety-six point seven percent of all secondary systems are no longer functioning. Ninety-nine point nine five percent of all systems below the secondary level no longer function.”

   “You make it sound like you’re some kind of intelligent machine that controls other machines.”

   “That is a primitive but accurate description. I was designed and built to control large machines that were themselves designed to control the operations of still smaller machines. Some of these smaller machines controlled even smaller machines. All this was done to make life easier for the humans whom we, the machines, served. The Brachyura have arrived. The first of the guardians will reach this location in eight minutes.”

   “Where would you like them to put their weapons?” Tangoral asked.

   “In front of this guardian unit where he can watch them,” Sentinel replied.

   “Everybody, I need you to remove your guns and place them in plain sight in front of this guardian. Do it quickly, more guardians are on their way here and I don’t know how long I can control Sentinel at this point if you remain armed,” Tangoral said. The four soldiers quickly stripped their guns from the bottom of their shell and stacked them neatly in front of the guardian. The others were not so quick or neat. “Sentinel, is this adequate?”

   “Yes, I detect other metal objects, but these are not considered to be a great enough of a threat to override the override protocol given the speed with which they responded to your request to disarm,” Sentinel replied.

   “While we wait for the other guardians to arrive let me introduce you to my team. Tragal, Doesen, Candean, and Ieetan are soldiers of the blue clan of the Brachyura. Next to them, on the right, is a retired leader of the Brachyura. He is called Tangalen.”

   “It is a pleasure to meet you,” Tangalen said. I hope, he added silently in his mind.

   “The Brachyura next to Tangalen is called Christeaen. She is a historian and archeologist.” Christeaen waived her claw. Behind them are Yorye and Mowlan, my craftsmen; they will be to ones that will try to fix this and the other guardians that are in need of repair. The Brachyura bringing up the rear with my pet is called Yoeith. He is a prophet of God. My pet is called Molaythea.”

   “You have a draconan for a pet, I am impressed,” Sentinel said. “Draconans were engineered as attack animals at the beginning of the war. They were named for David Dracon who developed them. They proved hard to control and many of them escaped into the wild. David Dracon is one of many A. I. personalities stored in my memory. That part of my system would like to discuss how you have managed the positive control you have over this animal at a more convenient time.” The guardian turned its head to get a better look at the Brachyura. “Brachyura,” the guardian’s voice boomed loud and menacing. “I am the High-Brow 7000, the one Tangoral calls Sentinel. I am told that you come in peace to study the remains of this city. If this is so then Tangoral has required that I render whatever aid you might need to facilitate your studies of the city and all my subsystems. Be advised any attempt to harm Tangoral will result in your death! Any attempt to disable any of my subsystems will result in your death! You will be warned only once to stop any action that I consider a violation of my prime directives. If you do not stop your actions immediately I must take action to stop you and that will result in your death! If you will abide by these rules then you may enter the city. Any who do not think that they can do this must stay here. I require a response by your non-human leader.

   “We will do as you ask,” Tangalen said. “We have only come to look at the many wonders you have to show us. We would also like to listen to anything you might tell us of our history that has become lost to us over time. We have come to learn how the world came to be the way it is today and what it was like before the world became this way. We have come to learn about the things that have become lost to us during the many cycles of the sun that is now our history.”

   “If all you seek is knowledge then you will be allowed to enter the city in peace, but I have waited for your attack for three millennia; I am well prepared for any trickery you may try,” Sentinel said. “Tangoral, the guardians will arrive any moment now and will await further commands.” Even as Sentinel finished speaking the first of the guardians came around the corner of one of the decaying buildings. With a few great steps the guardian came to a halt next to the guardian sitting on the ground. Within moments Tangoral and the Brachyura found themselves surrounded by the rest of the guardians. Six giant metal monsters almost as tall as a dwelling stared down at them.

   “Sentinel, we require a place to stay that will be near the places where most of our studies will likely take place. Next, a guardian must accompany any of the Brachyura so they will have a link to you, and also to protect them from any harm. You will have the guardians give warning when the Brachyura enter an area where they can look but should not touch anything. The Brachyura will for their part try and ask before they touch anything in these areas,” Tangoral said looking at Tragal and the other soldiers.

   “Wise precautions, all guardian units will do as you requested. Be advised that a guardian cannot go everywhere the Brachyura may wish to go in their studies. Many of the buildings in this city are in poor repair and could be dangerous to enter. Until the other guardians are repaired the Brachyura should stay in small groups when traveling about the city so that I may adequately protect them. The Science Center is one of the few buildings that has been maintained and is secure and centrally located for your needs.”

   “Where are you located Sentinel?” Tangoral asked.

   “I am located in a secure room beneath the Science Center,” Sentinel replied.

   “If the guardians lead we will follow,” Tangoral said. As the Brachyura followed the guardians, they felt a great sense of security mingled with the fear of these great metal monsters. They were the embodiment of childhood stories passed down through the generations to frighten young children. The reality was more frightening than anything the storytellers could have imagined.

   

~~~

   

   At the edge of the mountains a team of archeologists stood upon a huge ancient structure that held back the water of the largest body of water that any of the Brachyura anywhere had ever seen. On top of the structure stood a giant metal statue of what the archeologists thought was a representation of a hero or some other person of renown among the ancients. There were no guns among those that looked out across the expanse of water in awe. No one noticed the small movements by the statue as it watched those below it. So taken by this find that no one paid any attention to the small lights that flicked on here and there about the sculpture. No one notice the signals and commands that were sent and received by the statue. They were blissfully unaware of how close they were to their death. Full power was restored to the guardian and now it waited for the command that would unleash his firepower on the Brachyura that dared to invade its post.

   

~~~

   

   Christeaen was in her own kind of heaven. She had toured the remains of this once great city with Tragal and their guardian escort. Only a few places that they had visited drew a warning from the guardian. In those areas, they were very careful to keep their claws close to their bodies. They just listen to Sentinel’s explanations from little speakers set in the walls of those places. Little things began to bother Christeaen. Many of the explanations Sentinel gave were hard for her or any of the others to understand. Sentinel painted a picture of a people at the height of great opulence, but then something went terribly wrong. Whatever it was that went wrong was followed by a war with the Brachyura. This was followed by the great change in the world’s ecological system that destroyed the world as the ancients knew it. There were areas of the Science Center that was clearly marked off limits. Christeaen wondered if the answers that she was looking for were not in one of these rooms that they had yet to explore. “This is a little on the foolish side,” Tragal was saying. “Tangoral should be with us. I have no doubt that Sentinel would kill us in an area where he is unable to have a guardian first give us a warning.”

   “Sentinel, can we enter this room?” Christeaen seem to ask of the air about her.

   “Yes,” Sentinel replied. “There are no active experiments going on in this section of the Science Center at this time that require any of the labs to be sealed from intrusion.”

   “Is there anything in this area we shouldn’t touch?” Tragal asked.

   “There are a few cryogenic freezers that you should not bother for your own safety, but other than that you may handle any of the equipment you find in the labs,” Sentinel replied from a speaker located near the door.

   “What was the main area of study here?” Christeaen asked.

   “Genetics.”

   “What’s genetics?” Tragal asked.

   “It is a broad field of study dealing with the chromosomal make up of all life.”

   “Assume that I am five cycles old and then tell me what a chromosomal is,” Tragal said.

   “Every living thing is made up of tiny parts called cells. Inside each of these cells contains a part called chromosomes, sometimes referred to as DNA strands. These chromosomes make up the brain or nucleus of the cell and tell the cell what to do. You are made up of many different kinds of cells all working together. Your brain directs many of your body’s larger functions but it is the chromosomes in each cell that determine how that cell will carry out that function. These chromosomes as it was found also contain a blueprint of how to build the creature in which the cell lived or existed. By changing the chromosomes in these cells, it is possible to create a new kind of creature or modify an existing creature. Any living thing could be so modified or changed,” Sentinel replied. The door slid into the wall allowing Tragal and Christeaen to enter that section of the building. “I have exchanged the air so it would be a little fresher for you to breathe. I have also run a scan to be certain that there is nothing that can harm you within the labs. You may now proceed.”

   “How did the ancients change these chromosomes?” Christeaen asked as she walked down the hallway.

   “Doctor Robert Anderson discovered a virus that affected the chromosomes of the individual cell of any living creature that was not a plant,” Sentinel began. “This virus inserted a chromosome like material into the cell thereby causing it to mutate. This virus was the cause of Sanobby, a disease that causes every cell in a living creature to mutate. The virus was named for Allen Sanobby the doctor that first discovered the disease. The disease had a hundred percent mortality rate. It was not a pleasant way to die. Doctor Anderson was the one to discover the cure for the disease. During his research, Doctor Anderson discovered that is was possible to alter the chromosome material that the virus inserted into the cell. This made it possible to replace the entire DNA code of any living thing and led to the cure for all genetic diseases. Due to the enormous need for food the virus was altered to affect plants as well. A genetic code was engineered and given to the virus to insert into food producing plants to make them produce larger fruit. One of the side effects was that the plants grew larger, but they produced not only larger fruit but a larger amount of fruit also. This advancement doubled the world’s food supply almost overnight. Due to a lack of wood a genetic code was engineered to make large fast growing trees. Even though food production was up. There was still a need for more food both on this world and in our colonies on our moons. This led to a genetic code engineered to be inserted into animals that would cause them to grow larger. The side effects in animals varied from continued growth during the lifecycle of the animal, to mental aberrations, to prolonged life of the effected creatures. This was all done within the same timeframe without proper studies of possible side effects. Doctor Anderson warned them of the dangers of going too fast in this area of scientific study but by then it was already too late even if the scientific community would have listened.”

   “What’s a virus?” Christeaen asked.

   “A living organism smaller than a single cell.”

   “How big is a single cell?” Tragal asked.

   “A grain of sand is bigger than a single cell many times over depending on the size of the cell in question. If you would enter the room that is two doors down on the right I can have the A. I. personality of Doctor Anderson meet you there. Full projection capabilities are online in that room. Doctor Anderson is the only personality I have stored that expected you to come here in time to ask the questions you have yet to ask. He can answer any questions far better than I can. The A. I. personalities stored in my memory lack some of the constraints I have on answering your questions.”

   Upon entering the room they were greeted by what looked like a tree dweller at first glance. His hair was much shorter than a tree dweller but still shoulder length with streaks of gray running through it. He lacked the tree dweller’s tail and he was fully clothed. His brown pants were faded and a little worn in places and his light blue shirt had long sleeves that were rolled up to just below his elbows. The black tie hung loose about his neck and the top button of his shirt was unbuttoned. “Hello, I’ve been expecting you. Please come in and make yourself comfortable,” he said.

   Tragal was first to recover from the shock of seeing and an ancient alive. “Are you one of the ancients? How have you stayed alive so long?” Tragal asked as other questions formed in his mind.

   “I’m not alive; I’ve been dead for more than three thousand years. What you are seeing is a holographic projection. A three dimensional picture of what I looked like when I was forty-seven years old. That was three thousand years ago so I guess that does make me ancient. You don’t need to stand in the doorway. Please come in and make yourselves comfortable. I prepared this room for you long ago. I can only hope that the pillows I bought so long ago haven’t rotted. I’m Robert Anderson and I am the one most responsible for your creation,” the projection said. Twenty large pillows lay arranged on the floor before a small table with a chair behind it. Tragal eased himself down on one of the pillows. The pillow gave out at the seams and a bunch of little round white things poured out. The same thing happened when Christeaen sat down as well. “I am sorry about that. I was expecting you a little sooner than this,” Robert apologized. “What do you call yourselves?”

   “My name is Tragal, and the speechless one over there is Christeaen.”

   “I’m not speechless, just overwhelmed,” Christeaen said.

   “As I said before I am Robert Anderson, Doctor Robert Anderson. You may call me Rob, Robert, Doc, or Doctor Anderson if you like. Before I answer your questions I would like to ask a question.”

   “Robert Anderson, ask your question,” Tragal said.

   “It’s just Robert, you don’t have to use my whole name,” Robert said. “My question is this: we were unable to translate your language and it was believed that you were unable to speak our language. How is that you now speak our language?”

   “I can answer that, I think,” Christeaen said.

   “Please go on.”

   “I believe that we have always been able to speak your language. For some reason, we purposely changed our language so that it could not be understood. Tangoral, the tree dweller that led us here so we could study the ruins of this once great city learned the secret of how we jumbled the language and became the first tree dweller ever to speak our language. Each of the clans jumbled their language a little differently, but the root of most of the language remained the same. This brought about the different dialects of the clans today. Tangoral taught us what it was we did to the language, and now we can communicate with the tree dwellers for the first time in memory. Your language and the language of the tree dwellers are similar so we can understand you and Sentinel most of the time.”

   “Would you repeat your answer in your language for computer analysis?” Robert asked. Christeaen repeated her answer word for word the best she could. “Computer, are you now able to translate the Brachyura language?”

   “Yes,” Sentinel replied.

   “Decode and analyze all Brachyura transmissions to date. We will discuss them later. Now my friends, I will answer all the questions you have for me,” Robert said.

   “Why did you need to understand our language?” Tragal asked wondering if they had just given away some military advantage to Sentinel.

   “It was always my contention that your rebellion and the war that followed was because of the way we treated you. First came the mass escapes from the holding pens. Better pens were built. The rebellion began with coordinated attacks on these pens by the Brachyura that were not recaptured from previous escapes. The proof of this, and your intelligence, I believe can be found in your radio transmissions during that time. At first, others would not accept that you were as intelligent as we humans. The problem we were having with you was small by comparison to some of the other problems we were having.”

   “The trees,” Christeaen said.

   “Yes, that was one of the problems we were having, and it turned out to be a bigger problem than we thought. The trees did exactly what we wanted them to do without any side effects, or so we thought. The main problem as we saw it was with the genetic enhancement of the animals that we first enhanced. Although I had discovered the cure for the Sanobby virus we never really understood how the disease was transmitted in the first place. In effect, we gave the disease to a few animals. We then shipped these genetically enhanced animals all over the world. From there, it got into the water supply. We didn’t know we had a problem until rodents the size of big dogs started showing up everywhere around the world.”

   “What’s a dog?” Tragal asked.

   “Computer, a picture of a dog please.” A picture of a dog flashed on the wall. “It is a four legged animal with fur. The effect of the virus on the dogs was a crime. In fact, almost every animal on the planet became infected. Monsters began to come out of the forests to kill people for food in wilderness areas.”

   “What about the trees?” Christeaen asked.

   “The trees were fine or so we thought. The virus we introduced to the plants never spread to other plants the way the virus did with the animals. Most of the plants we ate at the time had all been enhanced without any ill effects. We had no idea of the problem with the trees until cruise ships reported seeing trees floating in the ocean. We then became aware that the trees were producing millions of seeds per tree and those seeds were being blown out to sea by the wind. The seeds thrived on sea water. The trees on land grew slowly by comparison to the trees that grew in the ocean,” Robert replied.

   “Didn’t you try your cure on the animals and the trees?” Tragal asked.

   “The disease normally killed whatever caught it, but we had made it harmless after a fashion altering the genetic code it would insert into its host. So the virus no longer killed, but rather it altered the genetic makeup of whatever animal it infected. Humanity was protected from this new outbreak of the disease because of the cure and vaccine I invented many years before. Also most of the world’s drinking water was treated at the time, which slowed the virus’s incursion into the cities. The cure proved ineffective on the animals that were already infected. The cure killed the virus all right but the damage was already done. The genetic code of whatever animal became infected was irreversibly changed forever. When we tried to introduce a new virus that would reverse the damage done by the old virus, the animals’ immune system rejected the virus before it could work. This turned out to be the same with the trees and other plants too. We were in a race against time and time was quickly running out.”

   So you found yourself in trouble almost everywhere you turned,” Tragal said.

   “That’s right,” Robert said. “The trees had begun to choke the waterways and shipping lanes to the continents and they were fast becoming a major hazard in the oceans.”

   “Forgive the interruption, I know the word, but what is an ocean?” Christeaen asked.

   “Computer, a picture of an ocean please.” Several pictures flashed on the wall until a panoramic view of an ocean was portrayed from the perspective of someone standing on an island beach. “More than three quarters of this planet was water. These large bodies of water were called oceans,” Robert replied before continuing. “The trees grew almost everywhere except in regions where it was very dry, or very cold, or the ground was very hard. We began to try to exterminate any animal that was infected by the virus that did not produce any desirable traits. Now, add to this the rebellion and the beginning of the war with the Brachyura. The Brachyura cut off many of the inland supply routes and brought a halt to our efforts to keep the sea lanes and waterways open. When you began to destroy some of our power generating stations, we built the guardians to protect these and other facilities. Here again we miscalculated your intelligence. You developed weapons that were able to destroy the guardians. Our war with you was known as the Brachyura World War. It was the first war in the history of our planet that truly involved the whole world. This was again our fault, we had shipped you all over the world to be put in pens where you would grow to full size before you would be slaughtered, carved into steaks, and served in restaurants world wide. Many of you escaped from these pens only to lead the fight against us later on.”

   “I believe there is a subject we seem to be dancing around,” Tragal said. “When we first came in here you said that you were the one most responsible for our creation. Sentinel said you engineered certain animals to grow larger in order to produce more food. Robert Anderson start at the beginning, our beginning.”

   “What is it you do among the Brachyura, Tragal?” Robert asked.

   “I am a soldier for the dwelling and clan of Zothor, our dwelling clan leader, but that discipline includes many other fields of study. Then there are my own personal areas of studies. At present, there is only a claw full of experts on tree dwellers; I’m one of them. Why do you ask?”

   “You have a very sharp mind, and you don’t miss much. I just wondered about your educational background.”

   “Engineering, chemistry, botany, mythology, philosophy, and a dabbling in a variety of other fields of study.”

   “You left out the military sciences,” Robert said.

   “That goes without saying,” Tragal said. “Now please start again at the relevant starting point in our history.”

   “In my time the population of the planet was more than twelve billion,” Robert began. “In underdeveloped nations many people went hungry despite a coordinated effort by the world government to feed the people of the world. When I discovered the virus’s ability to inject a genetic code into a host organism that would override the host organism’s own genetic code; it seemed like such a minor breakthrough compared to the cure for the disease. When I discovered that we could alter the genetic code the virus would inject into its host, it was hailed as the discovery of the century. This enabled us to put an end to almost every known genetic disease almost overnight. I put forth a theory that the virus could be modified to insert a new genetic code into certain plants to cause them to produce more food and then set about to prove my theory. I collected my second world science achievement award when my theory became a reality. We should have stopped there.”

   “Enter David Dracon, a bright young newcomer to the field of genetic engineering. His experiments with animals produced remarkable results. Although we had doubled the world’s total food production, we were still not meeting the total demand for food worldwide. David got the ok to take the next step, which was to select certain animals to genetically enhance for food production. Seven animals were originally selected for the experiment. The Shumary Snail, the Dunab Brachyura Sand Crab, the South Sea Sea Snake, the Kentalon Sea Bass, and three different land animals already grown and used for food. The land animals were enhanced first with great success. A fairly simple code simply caused them to double in size with only a ten percent increase in their normal metabolic rate. We got twice the animal with about the same amount food it would have taken to produce a full grown animal before it was enhanced. The Kentalon Sea Bass was unaffected and it was later found all fish had a natural immunity to the virus. The Shumary Snail was another failure or so we thought. The South Sea Sea Snake was very successful. Like the land animals, it grew twice its size on the same amount of food it would have taken to reach its normal size to begin with. The sea snakes grew to be 2 meters long normally. The enhanced version grew to that size in a fraction of the time it would have normally taken. Now we come to the Dunab Brachyura Sand Crab.”

   “Computer, display a picture of a Brachyura Sand Crab.” A motion picture of a crab appeared against the wall behind Robert. The crab went about building its little mud dwelling even when a human appeared in the moving picture. The crab completely ignored the human until the human picked it up by the back of its shell. Tragal and Christeaen were both fascinated by the moving picture.

   Tragal could not help but notice the differences between the crab in the picture and the Brachyura now. “It’s missing two legs and I don’t see the retractable eyes,” he said.

   “It’s smaller than the smallest child that I have ever seen,” Christeaen added.

   “The Dunab Brachyura Sand Crab was one of the largest of the Brachyura crabs. They were considered delicacies, and extensively farmed for their meat, oil, and their shells. Highly intelligent, they were as valuable as pets as much as they were for food. I got one for a pet as a child. It used to follow me everywhere I went when I wasn’t in school. It was my family’s pet for ten years before it died of old age. Maybe this is why I did what I did,” Robert said.

   Tragal jumped to the conclusion. “When you made us bigger, you made us smarter as well.”

   “I’m afraid so. I was assigned to enhance the Brachyura Sand Crab. I was told to make it bigger. I ran a computer model and discovered that without the extra legs six legs would be unable to support the added weight over time. So I changed your swimming legs into regular legs. When I began to make improvements I did not stop with the legs. The eye poles didn’t seem like a good arrangement. Sand Crabs were notorious for their bad vision. So I added retractable eyes. I increased the size of your brain as well just to see what would happen. Brachyura crabs have never given live birth, but after you were enhanced, you only gave birth to one or two fully developed children instead of several dozen larvae as before. This side effect was considered an acceptable trade off considering the size you grew to. You also proved to be just as smart as you were before you were enhanced, smarter actually. I took one of the Brachyura children home with me. It grew quickly. My wife was a little afraid of it because of its size. My children loved it though. My youngest daughter told me it talked to her at night. I never believed her, I should have. I took it to work with me and kept it at work where it quickly became the office mascot. I’d bring it home with me from time to time to keep my children happy. They loved to play with it. It never really occurred to me that it could have killed my children with its claws. It left shortly before the war began. It really wasn’t until then that I realized how smart they were. I found a note on my desk the day after it disappeared. It said simply, ‘Thank you for being so kind’. It was well written on my personal stationary that I kept at my house.”

   “Where did our hands come from?” Christeaen asked.

   “That was a side effect,” Robert replied. “I never considered giving you hands. The lack of shell on your sides was another side effect.”

   “Did you ever see that Brachyura again?” Tragal asked.

   “Yes, I did,” Robert replied. “During the war, the convoy I joined on the way home from a summit dealing with the Brachyura was ambushed. I and everyone in the car with me are alive today, figuratively speaking, because of that Brachyura. The others always wondered why the Brachyura let us live, I never wondered.”

   “Do you have pictures of what the holding pens looked like?” Tragal asked.

   “Yes, but I must warn you that you will not like what you see,” Robert replied.

   “I already don’t like what I have heard despite your attempt to sugarcoat the bad spots.”

   “Computer, display pictures of a Brachyura farm.” A high wall made of steel bars appeared on the wall. Beyond the bars was a herd of Brachyura milling around. Small Brachyura children clung to their mothers’ legs. As they watched the moving picture the herd became very agitated and everyone started running about. A giant metal monster entered the pen. It looked like a guardian only much smaller and a human sat where the head should have been. Tragal and Christeaen watched as the Brachyura tried desperately to get away from the metal monster. Time and time again, the monster would reach down and pick up a Brachyura. The Brachyura caught in the monster’s metal gripper tried desperately to free itself to no avail. The scene always ended the same; the human would stand up from where he was sitting on top of the metal monster and point something at the Brachyura. There was a loud bang and the Brachyura went limp. The monster would then dump the body in a wagon with the other bodies of the Brachyura it had collected. When the moving picture stopped Christeaen was in tears. Tragal sat in grim silence. It was worse than what he thought he would see. “During the war you really didn’t do much more than give the trees a chance to grow. You were out numbered, out gunned, and yet you still managed to destroy most of the guardians, three main computer systems, most of the airports, a number of key power stations, and a couple of spaceports. You brought our transportation and supply networks to a halt. With out supplies riots began in the cities. People started to kill each other over food. The world government collapsed and everyone was left to fend for him or herself. All hope was gone. With the food supplies gone and fearing an attack on this city almost everyone left the city. I remained with my family. I brought them here to the Science Center for protection.”

   “There is more, isn’t there,” Tragal said grimly.

   “Yes, there is. With the collapse of civilized society the trees quickly choked the oceans and began to spread inland. The trees destroyed most of the cities that remained in time. Humans began to live like animals. Most of the animals of the world had mutated into some kind of monster. The whole world seemed to rise up against us. I did the only thing I could do. I prepared for your coming and created a couple more viruses.”

   “What more damage could you do than you had already done?” Christeaen asked drying the tears from her eyes.

   “I could complete the change to the world’s ecology so it would all be compatible with each other. One virus for plants and the other virus for people,” Robert replied.

   “You created a plant disease to infect the rest of the plants not yet infected. Humans as you call them were already protected from the disease, how could you infect them?” Tragal asked.

   “It’s not a hard thing to create a new disease. Instead of being water borne, it was air borne. I made a bunch of it, put it into rockets, and fired it into the atmosphere around the world. It was designed to give the humans a fighting chance to survive. It would enable them to adapt to living in the trees.”

   “Then the tree dwellers are your descendants,” Christeaen said.

   “Yes, I’m afraid they are. God help me, it was the only way we as a race could survive,” Robert said.

   “What of God? Were there no prophets to give you warning?” Tragal asked.

   “We had prophets on every street corner. Some embraced us, some rejected us, but for the most part no one really knew what was going on,” Robert replied.

   “For the most part?”

   “Well, there was this one church. They were against us from the very beginning. All I know about them is that they built great cathedrals to God where only the truly faithful of the faithful could go to worship God. I remember that their leader condemned what we were doing in the strongest of terms right after my success with the plants. I remember he said if we would delve any further into the mysteries of life God would destroy us. God had nothing to do with it. We did this to ourselves.”

   “God destroyed you alright,” Christeaen said. “He let you destroy yourselves.”

   “I suppose that is one way to look at it,” Robert said. “Why this concern whether God destroyed us or not?”

   “There is more to it than that,” Christeaen said. “Our whole culture is centered on God and the laws that He gave us after your destruction. Since that time there has been peace among the clans for more than two thousand cycles.”

   “The scriptures tell us that God created us to replace those that would not listen to his servants,” Tragal said. “You say that you created us, but I say you were the instrument that God used in creating us. Did you plan the small claws on the end of our legs that enable us to climb trees?”

   “No, that was a side effect,” Robert said.

   “Think back on all the side effects to all the other animals. How many of them were adaptations to life among the trees?” Tragal asked. “Remember, the trees had not yet become a problem.”

   “Computer, analyze the side effects to all the known animals genetically engineered or not and tell me how many of the side effects would have prepared the animals to live in the present ecological system,” Robert said. “That is a rather interesting hypothesis. I shall be interested to hear the outcome of the computer’s analysis.”

   “Eighty-eight point nine seven percent of all side effects to any animal prepared it to live within the present ecological system. Seventy-nine point seven three percent of the side effects to the plants prepare them to exist within the present ecological system also,” Sentinel said.

   “Damn, how could we have been so blind?” Robert asked himself.

   “There was a point where you could have stopped, but you crossed that point,” Tragal said. “Having crossed that point you set things in motion that could not be stopped. By your own words, God gave you your warning. You chose to ignore that warning and your own personal feelings in this matter. Your race became a hunted hated race. While the war you spoke of has been over for three thousand cycles, we are only just now making peace with your ancestors. God most certainly was your judge, but you were your own executioner. One last question Robert Anderson. What became of your family?”

   “We stayed here as long as we could,” Robert began. Great sadness entered his voice. “I couldn’t stand to watch them go through the mutation process. I told my wife what would happen. The pain and the delirium from the accompanying fever. It would take a month or more before the change would be complete. There would be pain the whole time until the host organism was completely altered. I couldn’t watch them go through that. I made them a great dinner one night and then we all went to sleep.”

   “Except you,” Tragal said. “You stayed and prepared our welcome here. There is nothing more that I need to hear.”

   “Wait a moment, what happen?” Christeaen asked.

   “It’s simple Christeaen, he killed them after he put them to sleep with some kind of drug,” Tragal said. “His wife didn’t agree with him or they would have died together. He was afraid of the pain and afraid of the changes that would take place. His wife thought at least they would be together but he thought how her beauty would be destroyed. No, Robert Anderson could not in the end face the changes he forced upon the world.”

   “Is this true?” Christeaen asked Robert.

   “Yes,” he replied with a certain amount of shame in his voice.

   “Did you ever join your mate?” Christeaen asked.

   “In time,” Robert replied.

   “After he became infected,” Tragal said. “There is no Great Cure to reverse the changes you made in the world is there?”

   “No, I’m afraid not.”

   “Sentinel I no longer wish to speak with this ghost. There is nothing more we can learn from this apparition that we can’t learn from you,” Tragal said. Robert faded away into thin air like the ghost he was.

   

   Yoeith had led Tangoral and Tangalen to a very ornate building with steep pointy roofs on the ends and middle of the build. “Tell me about this building,” Tangoral said to the guardian.

   “This building is a temple belonging to the Church of the Son of the Most High God. It was built many years before the war. It was built to withstand the trees, which is why it is one of the few buildings that have survived all this time,” the guardian replied.

   “Sentinel, does this building have any history that we might be interested in?” Tangalen asked.

   “The plans for this building came from the Church Headquarters and was said to have come from the then leader of the Church. He claimed to have gotten the plans directly from God. During the war when the pet Brachyura around the city were being rounded up, it was to here they fled for refuge. The largest mass killing of Brachyura in this city took place within the grounds of this building. Many members of this church also died as they tried to protect the Brachyura by shielding them with their bodies. The Brachyura children were allowed into the temple where they were protected. Those that tried to pursue the Brachyura children into the temple died of some unknown ailment before they could enter the temple. Guardians were ordered to destroy the temple after all attempts to gain entrance to the temple failed. No guardian weapons would operate within sight of the temple. Long range weapons detonated before they could reach the temple or failed to function altogether. No guardian could operate within the temple grounds as long as it intended harm to the temple or anyone in the temple. What caused the guardians to malfunction is unknown. Even now, if I ordered this guardian unit to destroy the temple all weapons would be rendered useless and it would cease to function within the temple grounds. Even after three thousand years I still have no idea what causes this phenomenon,” Sentinel said.

   “This is the place,” Yoeith said. “We will go in.”

   “I must warn you that to enter this structure is considered extremely hazardous,” Sentinel said. “In the last days before the city was abandon, no one who was not a member of this church could enter this building and live.”

   “God is our protector,” Yoeith said. “It is he who commands us to enter.”

   Tangalen did not wait for the others. He had already started for the front door. “Who cuts the grass,” he stopped to ask Sentinel.

   “Every couple of weeks a herd of Shumary Snails come to graze on this lawn,” Sentinel replied. “This is the only place within the city where the small snails will come down to the ground to graze. It is another interesting phenomenon associated with this building.”

   “What other phenomenon has taken place here?” Tangoral asked.

   “Two weeks after the mass killing of the Brachyura on these grounds a vigilante army tried to storm the temple and burn it down. Videos show that this vigilante army was met by some kind of invisible army that defended the temple. You can see people wrestling with some kind of invisible creatures in the videos. The few that survived said it was an army of Brachyura that stopped them. The videos only show people being slowly ripped apart by invisible creatures. After that, in another effort to destroy the temple, a guardian unit was set for manual control and a human pilot was chosen to pilot the guardian. When the guardian entered the grounds a fire came down out of the sky and destroyed the guardian unit and its pilot. So complete was the destruction of the guardian unit that nothing remained, not even ash. It was completely consumed by the fire, and yet, the grass beneath where the guardian was standing was unharmed. After the guardian was destroyed the army set up guard posts all around the temple to keep people from entering the temple area. Another thing of interest, none of the giant Shumary Snails ever enters this area. They always go around the temple grounds. It is the same with the great sea snakes. Also, notice the metal ornamentation about the building. After three thousand years the metal should have oxidized, but on this building the metal shows almost no deterioration at all. There are a lot of little things about this structure that defies conventional scientific reasoning and logic.”

   “Interesting,” Tangalen said to himself as he continued toward the entrance of the temple. Yoeith and Tangoral quickened their pace to catch up to him. The doors opened automatically as they drew near to the entrance. The doors were designed to accommodate an adult Brachyura even though the building was built before there were any Brachyura. The doors closed behind them once they were all inside.

   

   Yorye and Mowlan had more help than they really needed. Ieetan, Doesen, and Candean were detailed to help them repair the guardians. They had repaired three of the guardians already. The problems with them were easily remedied. Hydraulic lines had developed leaks and had to be replaced and the hydraulic fluid had to be refilled and the air bled out of the system. The repairs were simple, but removing the armor to get at those lines was the hard part. It would take most of a day to remove the armor plate and a moment or two to replace and bleed the hydraulic line. Then another day was needed to replace the armor. The chest plates were lying on the ground next to the guardian under repair. Mowlan stood on top of the guardian looking down into its chest. “We’re not going to fix this one with a new hydraulic line,” he said. “The primary pump ruptured and the backup pump failed for some reason. There is hydraulic fluid all over in here. Maybe it shorted something out that caused the backup pump to fail. Sentinel, can you do a diagnostic check on this unit?”

   “No, the backup battery system must be recharged or replaced first. The primary power system is off line for some reason,” Sentinel replied.

   “Can we do that by hooking into the other guardian unit here?” Yorye asked.

   “No, not without some major modifications to both units,” Sentinel replied. “You will need to replace the battery pack with a fresh one before I can do a diagnostic check of the unit. I will have a fresh battery pack waiting for you in the repair bay.”

   “We might as well stop for today if we have to go all the way back to the hanger for parts. It would almost be dark before we could return,” Mowlan said. “We can get an early start tomorrow.”

   “Sentinel, think about some of the possible causes of this unit’s failure, and assemble any possible parts we might need tomorrow morning. We know we will need the battery pack, primary hydraulic pump and maybe the backup pump. Probably some stuff to get the primary power system to work again as well,” Yorye said.

   As Doesen watched the craftsmen work he was struck by the changes in them. Sentinel had taught them a great deal about the guardians’ systems. The electrical system was still hard for him to grasp even though Sentinel had explained what electricity was. The hydraulic system was easier to understand. It was just pumps and pipes. The craftsmen seemed like they had been working on these systems all their lives. “Sentinel, when Mowlan is clear of the guardian have the other unit look over the guardian for other possible damage that they may not have seen,” he said. “That might help you to anticipate the parts we’ll need in the morning.”

   “I am scanning the unit now,” Sentinel said. “This seems to be battle damage related. Of the eleven units assigned to the city over time, this was the only unit to have seen any action in the war. It was sent here to have one of its arms replaced after it was blown off during a brief skirmish with the Brachyura. The damage I see is consistent with shrapnel damage that was not repaired before it was required to go back online.”

   “Why was this unit not fully repaired before it was sent back out?” Ieetan asked.

   “It was believed that an attack on the city by the Brachyura was imminent. This unit’s arm was repaired quickly and it was sent back out,” Sentinel replied.

   “The attack never came, why wasn’t the unit brought back to complete the repairs to it?”

   “Diagnostic check of the unit showed it to be fully functional. All primary and secondary systems were operating properly there was no need to return the unit to the hanger repair bay for repairs.”

   “When did this unit fail?” Candean asked.

   “One thousand two hundred and seventy-three years ago,” Sentinel replied.

   “Sentinel, inform the others we are returning to the Science Center,” Doesen said.

   

   The temple was more than a little strange to all of them. There was a great room with a small pool resting on the backs of twelve strange creatures the likes of which no one had ever seen before. There were rooms with seating that only Tangoral could have sat on and yet there were spaces in those rooms that would have accommodated several Brachyura as well. There was a room with only a large ornamental stone box sitting in the middle of the floor. They had explored most of the building when they entered a small room. The door closed silently behind them. They were unaware that they might have a problem until all of a sudden they seemed like they were falling slowly. It was a long time before the door opened again. Lights were still coming on in the room where they had stopped falling. Another light appeared floating in mid-air and it grew until it eclipsed the lights in the ceiling. When the light faded a little Timmiss stood before them still surrounded by light. “Greetings in the name of the Son of God,” he said.

   “I welcome you to the house of the most high God. In this room and the rooms below this is the greatest treasure known to man. In this house is the complete record of man and the words that God has spoken to man throughout time. Part of this treasure I will give to you to take back with you. There you will publish the words of God found in the treasure I will give you. For what greater treasure can there be in the whole world than the words of God. When you have published the words of God you will take them to the farthest corner of the world so that the whole world may know the truth, and to prove to all that God is an unchangeable God, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Truth shall go out from this place from time to time until all that is knowable is known. The time is at hand when all the words that were spoken by His servants will be fulfilled. Time is short and there is much work that must be done before His coming.” The light surrounding Timmiss brighten for moment and then began to fade, and when it had faded a pedestal rose from the floor where Timmiss stood. On the pedestal there lay a book of considerable size. The pages were unlike any book ever produced by the Brachyura. The pages were clear except for the white letters that seemed to float in the air as they turned the pages of the book.

   Even as they gathered around the book, as Yoeith slowly turned and examined each page, the light that heralded the coming of Timmiss began to build in intensity until Timmiss once again stood before them. “I bring you all greetings and salutations from our Lord,” Timmiss said. “Truly this is a great day for the well of truth is opened never to again be shut. The book before you is a condensed version of the history of humanity from the beginning of this world until the fall of humanity from the grace of God, when they were all made to drink of the bitter cup of their own damnation. Even as this is a history of mankind, it is also a history of God’s dealings with man. It contains the law and wisdom of the Most High, eternal truths by which all things were made and exist. You are to take it and return to the dwelling of the Brachyura from which you have come. There you are to copy it and then publish the words therein. Then shall the truth again be restored to the world. God will then send his servants, the faithful, to the whole world to preach His truth and gather his children one last time. And, when His children have been gathered He will come in His power to cleanse the world of all unrighteousness and then shall He rule as it was written.” The light again closed around Timmiss until he vanished again before their eyes. A vision was given to their minds. The history of man flashed through their minds, and as man ceased to be because the curse that came upon him they saw another rise up in man’s place. Then the history of the Brachyura pasted through their minds. In their minds they walked with the prophets throughout time.

   Even as the vision came to an end Timmiss once again stood before them. “The love of our God is poured out upon you,” he greeted them again. “You will take this book and copy it and publish it that it may come before the eyes of the world. If you do all in your power to protect this book and accomplish the things you have been commanded to do as pertaining to this book then you shall be blessed. Now take up the book, and gather those that came with you, and those things you wish to take with you and return to your home. God shall go before you and prepare your way that you may return to your home quickly. May the blessings of God be upon you and all His faithful children.” Timmiss again vanished as the light like some kind of doorway closed around him. Even as Timmiss disappeared another vision opened in their minds. This time they stood high above their world and watched as the world turned beneath them.

   As they watched the world turn below a voice came into their minds. “This is the world to which you will take my words,” it said. “Through you will I begin to gather my children one last time.”

   

   “I was beginning to worry about you,” Sentinel said as Tangoral and the others exited the house of God. “You have been gone a very long time.”

   “It couldn’t have been that long. The sun isn’t much higher than it was when we went in,” Tangoral said.

   “A lot of time has past since then. You entered that building two days ago. The repair on the final guardian is nearing completion. The historian Christeaen has completed her studies. The soldier Tragal has spent his time wandering around the city with your pet draconan. He asks a lot of questions. I am still amazed that the draconan does not rip the Brachyura apart. It is what they were engineered to do.”

   “Molaythea is like an intelligent child. She would never hurt anyone that treats her with kindness. These are my friends and her friends. The person that engineered them gave them a limited intelligence and made them very powerful creatures, but the hate needed to make them into the creatures you think they are had to be taught to them,” Tangoral said. “Tell the others we are returning to the Science Center. Were we really in that building for two days?”

   “Yes, you were,” Sentinel replied. “Tragal and Christeaen will meet you at the Science Center. The others want to finish the repairs to the last guardian unit before returning.”

   

   Tangoral could not sleep. The visions that he had seen seemed to still burn in his mind keeping him awake. He roamed the halls of the Science Center exploring the building he had not had time to explore before. Many rooms were filled with all sorts of strange equipment. Particle accelerators, laser emitters, plasma cutters, culture incubators, electron microscopes, so many strange things that Tangoral wanted an explanation for. More often than not Sentinel’s explanation made no sense at all. Tangoral realized he lacked a point of reference that would make it all make sense. “Sentinel, is there any way I can learn what it is that I don’t know so I can make some sense out of what you’re telling me?” he finally asked after Sentinel’s last explanation went completely over his head.

   “Angela Lavine-Dracon, the wife of David Dracon, was working on a project that would embed images directly into the brain. It was to be the next evolutionary step in virtual reality which was one of her fields of expertise,” Sentinel replied. “I believe that her project can help you.”

   “Did she finish her project?” Tangoral asked not really understanding what Sentinel just said.

   “She finished a prototype before abandoning the project because of the possible dangers and misuse by the government as a mind control device. Because she was the leader in her field of research she is an A. I. personality stored in my memory. While I have not allowed the Brachyura to enter secure levels of this building you have full access to all levels. Angela’s project is on one of those secure levels three floors below this one. Go to the end of this hallway. I will open a door on the right when you get there. Step through the door into what looks like a very small room. That room will drop down three floors after I close the doors. When I open the doors again exit the small room, turn right and go down the hallway. I will open the necessary doors as you near them.”

   Tangoral followed Sentinel’s instructions. Doors opened before him as if by magic until he stood in a large room with a chair in the middle of it. All kinds of wires ran to and from the chair and plugging into the floor. Next to the chair stood a beautiful young woman with jet black hair and eyes to match. The red pants and white shirt she wore offset and enhanced her beauty and her long black hair. A man that looked like her counterpart leaned against the back wall. “Hello,” she said. “I’m Angela Dracon.”

   “Who’s the other person behind you?” Tangoral asked.

   “He’s my husband,” Angela replied. “He’s been dying to ask you about your draconan. So I let him come down and watch. I hope you don’t mind.”

   “No, I don’t mind. Where’s his lab?”

   “My lab is two floors above this one,” David Dracon said.

   “Because we are really just ghosts of sorts you are going to have to do all the physical work that the computer can’t do,” Angela said. “Through my machine you will experience a lifetime of education and experiences of an average person in just a few minutes. I am so pleased that you are willing to try this. This is one of the things that I designed this neural imager to do. It would enable anyone to learn anything that he or she wished to learn in just a few minutes. I had hoped to revolutionize the educational and entertainment industries, but the military wanted to turn it into a weapon. The government saw it as a way to control the people it was suppose to serve. If it wasn’t for the war who knows what would have happened.”

   “What do I do, sit in the chair?” Tangoral asked.

   “Yes, but first I need you to hook up some wires that have come loose on the chair,” Angela replied. “I’ll have the computer run a diagnostic check on the equipment to make sure it’s ok. Then you’ll sit in the chair and pull the head gear down over your head. After that the computer will do the rest.”

   Angela walked around the chair with Tangoral pointing at certain wires that dangled freely from the chair and then pointed at where they plugged into the head gear. It took a while as Tangoral wanted an explanation as to what each wire did and then he needed an explanation for the explanation. At last they were done. Tangoral waited as Angela talked with Sentinel. David Dracon walked over and stood next to Tangoral. They both watched Angela as she checked the data that was now appearing on several computer screens around where she sat. “I’ve heard about the draconan you have as at pet. How have you gotten it to behave so well? They were nearly impossible to control once they were trained to attack the Brachyura?” David asked.

   “You’ve answered your own question,” Tangoral replied.

   “How so?”

   “Molaythea has never been trained to attack Brachyura. You took a gentle creature and trained it to be a monster and then you wondered why you couldn’t control the monster. There remains an inbreed desire to protect those that she likes, but this may be because she is a mother, and all mothers have an inbreed desire to protect those they care about. Also, I am a lot like her, a creature of the forest. So for one small act of kindness I have a pet that would die to protect me and my adopted Brachyura family.”

   “Damn, that’s so simple; I wonder how we missed it?”

   “You were looking for complex answers for a simple problem.”

   “I fear that’s all to true,” David said.

   “If you don’t mind me asking, what happened to you after the war?” Tangoral asked.

   “We moved to the mountains above the tree line. I kept working on trying to find a way to reverse the effects of what we had done to the world. Angela helped me and kept our site’s communication systems operational.”

   “Did you ever find a cure for the world?”

   “No, after a time survival became a more pressing issue and I turned my mind to the more pressing problems that entailed. Then came the great plague that caused what few people that remained in the world to mutate. After that we had to come down out of the mountains to live in the forest in order to survive.”

   “What happened after that?”

   “Not much, just the life and death struggles of trying to survive in the forest. Looking back, I can see that there are certain limits that man should not go beyond. We tried to play God and we reaped the punishment for trying to do something we did not fully understand. It’s like we found what we thought was a shortcut, and then we used it without first being sure that it truly was a shortcut. It turned out to be a shortcut alright, a shortcut to our own destruction.”

   Tangoral asked noting that David sidestepped the last question. “Sentinel, why did this ghost evade the question I last asked?”

   “David Dracon’s last communication was just before he abandoned the base in the mountains. David Dracon’s A. I. personality answered your question the best it could given the information it had,” Sentinel replied.

   “What does A. I. stand for anyway?” Tangoral asked.

   “Artificial intelligence,” David replied. “Angela and my programs actually draw on knowledge that we never had as living beings. When you ask a technical question we can draw on the information stored in the High-Brow computer and express it in our own words. When you ask personal questions our programs can only draw on the known personal histories and personal entries that we made as living beings. Gaps in our knowledge of a personal nature are simply guessed at. How much is known about a person is the telling factor of how accurate those guesses are when we must make a guess as I just did.”

   “You call yourself a program and Sentinel refers to himself as a program. Just what is a program?”

   “A program is a set of instructions that makes a machine do something. The first programs for machines were very simple sets of instructions. As time went on those instructions became more complex. There came a point when the instructions became so complex that programs had to be written to make it easier to write extremely complex instructions. As the instructions became more complex so did the machines that carried out those instructions. The program that allows me to stand here talking to you is one of the most complex programs ever written. Notice how the sound of my voice seems to be coming from me. Hundreds of adjustments in the special speakers built into this room make this possible. That is just one very tiny part of an A. I. program. Then there is the holographic projection that makes it possible for you to see me. Thousands of adjustments of the projectors must go on just to let me walk around in this room. This again is just a tiny part of my or any other A. I. program. The really complex part of an A. I. program is its ability to understand and answer your questions. Compared to an A. I. program, the sentinel program is a very simple, very basic program.”

   “The A. I. program that is part of my operating system is even more complex than the A. I. personality programs,” Sentinel added.

   “Not really,” Angela turned around and said. “Your A. I. program is only a little more refined being written after our programs, but it lacks some of the emotional qualities that our programs have. Your total operating system program is what is truly more complex than our programs. After all I should know, I wrote your program as well as my own.”

   “This is true,” Sentinel said. “But, you designed me to evolve as an A. I. whereas your program cannot.”

   “You guys just lost me here,” Tangoral said.

   “I’m sorry,” Angela said. “We programs sometimes can display a bit of program envy. The person that I represent designed, built, and programmed the High-Brow 7000 computer. Before that, I wrote the basic A. I. personality program. The High-Brow computer’s A. I. program is designed to evolve, but David’s and my own program is limited to trying to truly represent the living beings that we once were. We also can evolve, but nowhere near the scope of which the High-Brow computer can evolve as an A. I. David’s and my own program is actually a little more complex than your standard A. I. program. I know that you don’t understand a lot of what we’re saying, but in a little while you will.” Angela turned back to study the computer screens around her.

   “Angela kept improving our programs right up until the time we left the base in the mountains to move down into the forest,” David said. “It is our legacy to the world.”

   “I think I should have liked to have met you in life. You seem like most extraordinary people,” Tangoral said.

   “No, we are, were, most ordinary people, but thank you for the compliment,” David said. “You said something a while back about having an adopted Brachyura family. What did you mean by that?”

   “My real family was killed by Brachyura hunters, but through a strange twist of fate after I saved the life of a Brachyura child I was adopted by that child’s family as their code of honor demanded that they do.”

   “So the war is still going on.”

   “No, it’s not. We hunt the Brachyura for food and they hunt us for sport. Since I have come into contact with the Brachyura two clans of the Brachyura have stopped this practice of hunting us as a result of the peaceful interaction between our two peoples. I believe that the other clans will follow suit when they realize the benefits of a peaceful coexistence with us as these other two clans already have.”

   “What’s it like to live with the Brachyura?”

   “It’s very peaceful, it lacks the stress of having to survive in the forest where death comes in many forms and waits for you on every branch.”

   “What do you do among them?” David asked.

   “I am what you would call an inventor. I hold a position of leadership within our dwelling because of my economic standing within the dwelling,” Tangoral replied. “Also, I am somewhat of an ambassador of my tribe to the Brachyura. This also makes my standing within the clan unique. That my adopted father is the Brachyura dwelling’s leader adds even more to my uniqueness in terms of my standing among the clan.”

   “What do you do among your own people Tangoral?” Angela asked.

   “I am a healer,” Tangoral replied. “The Brachyura would call me a medical technician but there is more to being a healer than the Brachyura’s cold description of what I do. A healer holds great power, and hopefully has also gained the wisdom to use that power wisely.”

   “What kind of power?”

   “Knowledge, knowledge that can heal and give life and also knowledge that can take life and give death. Even as we are the healers, we are also the executioners of our law. We redeem the honor of the dead killed wrongfully. This is the duties of a healer. Not all healers have the knowledge to fulfill the later part. The ones that do should have the wisdom to use that knowledge wisely.”

   “Which are you?” Angela asked.

   “I am the one that learned to hate the Brachyura and sought a way to destroy them all, but instead of destroying them I learned that it is possible to love them. I found making peace with them is a much better course of action,” Tangoral replied.

   “You are an interesting person Tangoral,” Angela said. “I doubt that anyone less wise would have answered my question as you just did. I am ready now. What level of education would you like?”

   “The level of yours and David’s.”

   “Would you like the historical background of our time as well?”

   “Yes.”

   “Would you like the full life experiences of an average person, or just a sampling of life in our time?”

   “Would I seem to live my own life, or view life through someone else’s eyes?”

   “I could do it ether way.”

   “I would like the full experiences of an above average person, as if I had lived back in your time, as seen through my own eyes,” Tangoral said.

   “What do you want to do?”

   “Inventor and healer of all living things. I want to know everything there is to know.”

   “I doubt that it is possible to know everything there is to know in a single lifetime,” David said.

   “It is possible. That’s what my machine is all about,” Angela said. “Ok, I’m ready, sit down in the chair, pull the headgear down over your head, close your eyes, and try to relax. It will take a moment for the computer to chart your brain wave pattern before the program can begin. The more relaxed you are the easier it will be. If you feel like taking a nap, now would be a good time. This will feel very real, and like a dream at the same time.”

   Tangoral sat down in the chair, leaned back against its high back, and pulled the headgear down over his head. Strange gentle music mixed with the sound of rain played in the speakers. As he relaxed he could almost feel the rain on his face. The rain stopped and the sun came out. He sat on a lawn and a small four legged furry creature called a dog was licking his face. His mother came out and rescued him before the puppy licked his face off. She brought him in the house, and dropped him gently on the couch in the family room. Then she went over and turned on the TV. It was a weekend and cartoons were on. Funny looking puppets hosted and introduced each cartoon. This was great, Tangoral watched fascinated by what he saw. Tangoral never realized that the cartoons were an educational tool the computer was using to prepare him for school later on. The puppy came in, jumped up on the couch, and laid on his lap. He ran his fingers over the puppy’s fur coat as he watched the TV...

   

   Tragal rose early. He was not too concerned about the fact that Tangoral was not there sleeping with the others at the time. As the day wore on and the repairs to the last guardian were finished Tragal discovered that no one had seen Tangoral all day. Tragal began to worry a little. “Sentinel, do you know where Tangoral is?” he asked the invisible omnipresent computer.

   “Yes, I do,” Sentinel replied.

   “Are you going to tell me where he is or do I have to guess?”

   “He is in a restricted area three floors below this one.”

   “I assume that means that I can’t go there.”

   “That is correct.”

   “Is he ok?”

   “Yes, at present he is sleeping soundly. There are two A. I.s watching over him at present. If you’d like I could have one of them come up and talk with you.”

   “No thanks, the last one I talked to was not someone I would have liked to have known.”

   “David Dracon is nothing like Robert Anderson. Having spent some time talking with you I can understand why Doctor Anderson was a bit of a disappointment to you. I believe you would like David Dracon. I know that Tangoral does.

   “Ok, I’ll talk to him.”

   “Good, you may return to the room where you saw Doctor Anderson or there is a holographic equipped lab three doors down on the right,” Sentinel said.

   “The lab, it’s closer,” Tragal replied.

   The lab was a fair sized room. Bottles of all shapes and sizes were everywhere. A lot of tubing connected many of the bottles together. A man dressed very casually sat on one of the few empty tables available. He brushed a strand of black hair out of his eyes with his hand. “Hi,” he said.

   “I would like to know how you met your end before I even bother to talk with you,” Tragal said.

   “I never gave up the fight for survival if that’s what you want to know,” David said. “You’re a typical soldier. You find it distasteful to talk with someone that does not value honor and life as you do. You’ll find only disappointment in all those you meet with that kind of attitude. Even the soldiers you serve with must at some point fall short of that ideal.”

   “That’s not it at all. I only find it distasteful to talk with one of you ghosts who would kill his whole family and himself rather than face the pain and suffering he inflicted upon the rest of the world,” Tragal replied. “How many died that didn’t need to because of Robert Anderson. Even you had a hand in the destruction of the world as you knew it. What could you say that could possibly be of any use to me?”

   “Both my wife and I survived the plague that Robert unleashed upon the world, and yes, I will freely admit my part in the destruction of my world. That is a past I hope you can learn from, and hopefully avoid the mistakes we made. I understand why you rebelled and why you started a war with us, but there came a time when you could have made peace with us. You chose to continue the war even though it was not in your best interest to do so. After you ran out of people to kill; you turned on each other. I have always wondered why. I doubt that you know why being so far removed from your ancestors. You might find it interesting that I always held the belief that you could speak our language, but chose not to do so for strategic reasons.”

   “What was the common belief at the time? Was it we spoke our own language but could not understand the language of our enemy? Our language is your language twisted into a common thread and then warped six different ways. There are six clans and six dialects of one common language.”

   “What happened to the seventh clan?”

   “There were only six clans black, brown, blue, green, yellow, and red.”

   “Then what happened to the white clan?” David asked.

   “What white clan? There is no white clan,” Tragal replied.

   “There was when we made you.”

   “Well, I know only of the six clans. If there was another clan then they must have died off or moved to some other part of the world.”

   “Given what we know about you and what we have learned while you have been here. You cannot possibly be all the Brachyura left in the world. You were scattered throughout the world. The war was a worldwide war. I wonder if the other Brachyura faired as well as you seemed to have.”

   “I guess we won’t know the answer to that question until we begin to explore the rest of the world.”

   “You mean to tell me that you haven’t expanded your territory in three thousand years?”

   “We’ve expanded inland some what, but we have yet to expand along the edge of the Great Swamp. Every clan must be equal to the every other clan. This applies to everything. If one clan wants to build a new city then all the other clans would be able to build a new city as well. If one clan were to say no to such a proposal then the city might never get built. The clan that wishes to build the new city could challenge the clan that is trying to block the project. If they won the challenge then they could build their city and all the other clans could build a new city too if they liked. However, if they lost the challenge then none of the clans would be able to build a new city. This is the primary cause for our lack of expansion along the edge of the Great Swamp.”

   “Does this apply to the expansion of old cities.”

   “No, the size of our cities is dependent on the size of the population living in them. The same goes for the outer dwellings. Every clan has the same number of dwellings along the edge of the Great Swamp. Most of the time adding a dwelling inland is a simple formality of one clan informing the other clans that they intend to build a new dwelling inland within their boundaries. The only time this might be challenged would be if they already had several more dwellings inland than any of the other clans.”

   “Don’t these dwellings get built in secret sometimes?” David asked.

   “Sometime they do,” Tragal replied. “When a clan gets caught doing just that, most of the time they play stupid. “I thought we told you,” they tell the other clans. Just another oversight, but if they tried that along the edge of the Great Swamp, and got caught, then they would be made to tear the dwelling down.”

   “This stagnation along the swamp must cause some problems.”

   “Yes, it does in terms of food production. The animal you call Shumary Snails is our primary source of meat, and the original division of land along the Great Swamp was based on this source of food shared equally among the clans. At present, these dwellings can barely keep up with the demand for this particular food source. To change and expand our dwellings along the edge of the Great Swamp would cause a major shift in the boundaries of all the clans. Cities and dwellings that once belonged to one clan would suddenly become the property of another clan. Some dwellings like the one we are from are very profitable. Many of the clans would rather fight than turn these profitable dwellings over to another clan.”

   “The computer tells me that you have not known war for more than two thousand years, but what you have just told me says that you could be on the verge of war unless you do away with this clan system. All it would take would be one clan not doing so well and a leader crazy enough to go to war in order to expand his territory. Would the clans be willing to shift their boarders in order to prevent war? You have six independent governmental systems that are suppose to be equal, but with the resources stretched to their limit these systems cannot possibly be equal. I doubt that your dwelling’s profitability is related to food production. As the profit margin of one or two clans rise above the others then so does the animosity of the poorer clans. It is the nature of those that have not is to envy those that have what they do not. As the scales become more unbalanced war becomes inevitable.”

   “As a matter of fact before Tangoral came to live with us we produced more food than any other dwelling in our clan. This still brings in a considerable amount income to our dwelling, but since Tangoral came to live with us most of our dwelling’s profits come from his inventions. We still produce more food than any other dwelling in our clan, or in any other clan for that matter, but it is no longer our prime source of income as it was before,” Tragal said.

   “I stand corrected,” David said. “I suspect your dwelling is an exceptional dwelling though. This does not change my evaluation of your situation based on what you and the High-Brow computer have told me.”

   “Our dwelling is like any other dwelling. Though God has seen fit to give us an exceptional leader.”

   “Truly you have been blessed. Tell me how much do you know about what happened after the war?”

   “It is called the dark times. It was a time when we engaged in ritual combat to settle our differences as individuals and clans. We were slowly destroying ourselves. Then God began to send us prophets to give warnings and teach us the laws of God. We became a more peace loving race forsaking war, but still many of our differences were settled through ritual combat. In time, a special prophet was sent to us. He gave us the Game of God to replace ritual combat. Now, when individuals or clans have a problem they play the Game for judgment. When an individual challenges another, they play the Game for judgment to settle their differences. It is the same with clans only each clan involved chooses a champion, usually their best player, to play the Game for judgment. The leader of our dwelling was one such player.”

   “I should think that the better player of this game should always win,” David said.

   “In competition you’d be right, but when the Game is played for judgment things are different. The rules are different,” Tragal said. “I’ve seen a seasoned professional player beaten by a young brother that hadn’t played more than a claw full of games. Betting on games of judgment one not only considers the ability of the players, but the issues at stake as well. If one side is clearly in the right that is the side you bet on regardless of the players’ ability. Of course, it is wrong to bet on the games for judgment. That was shown to us during a game for judgment between two children. One of the children was missing three legs at the time.”

   “The child with the missing legs was in the right and so he won.”

   “Not only did he win, the other child never scored a single point. It was such a pathetic game to watch. It ended after a few hundred points when the other child gave up; right after slamming into the wall so hard he broke his claw. That game taught our dwelling the true spiritual nature of the Game for Judgment. No bets made were ever collected. That was a game where the player with the greater ability was clearly in the right. On the court of judgment, there is no room for mercy. The child that was clearly in the wrong was severely punished.”

   “What did he do that was so wrong?” David asked.

   “He was a bully that picked on a child that was severely injured in an accident. As it turned out, he picked on the wrong kid. Tangoral was the injured child’s adopted brother and that is what in the end made the difference. Tangoral created a device that allowed the injured child to issue a challenge that could not have otherwise been issued. The Game was played and judgment was rendered,” Tragal replied.

   “That seems a little harsh for just being a bully.”

   “You forget the Game replaced ritual combat where one or both combatants would have been seriously hurt. Honor sometimes requires you to stand up for yourself and others when there is no other way to resolve the problem.”

   “Sitting here, talking with you I regret that we did not learn to live together in peace,” David said. “Before you leave there is an A. I. that you should talk to.”

   “While I have enjoyed our conversation, I really don’t feel all that comfortable talking to ghosts,” Tragal said.

   “I don’t mean just you. It is an A. I. that can only be accessed when there is Brachyura present. The program was so well written that the computer here has never been able to break the code to access the information stored in the program. I believe that this is something you should all see before you leave.”

   “Why are you telling me this?”

   “Near now what must have been the end of the war A. I. files were being transferred to here and the computer on the moon for preservation. A highly encrypted A. I. file was transferred to the computer here for storage. All the bells and whistles went off when it arrived here. A. I. files are not encrypted files. The sentinel program examined what it could of the program and discovered that it was written to the Brachyura. A couple of attempts to remove the program from memory resulted in viruses being unleashed within the High-Brow 7000’s sub-systems. The High-Brow 7000 computer was the first virus proof computer ever made. Whoever wrote that program knew that and aimed the viruses, not at the computer, but at the computer’s sub-systems. Although the computer contained and eliminated the viruses in time, they did a lot of damage. Each time we tried to remove or gain access to the Brachyura program, as it was called, a virus progressively worse than the one before it was unleashed on the High-Brow 7000’s sub-systems. We learned to leave the program alone very quickly. Whoever wrote the program was a better programmer than my wife and she was one of the best in the world.”

   “Where would the best place be to see this ghost at?” Tragal asked.

   “In the conference room where you saw Robert, it’s large enough to hold you all,” David replied.

   

   Christeaen and Tragal cleaned out the conference room and prepared it for the meeting that would take place as soon as Tangoral could be found. When Tangoral did finally show up he was confused and disorientated. When he entered the conference room a young woman appeared next to him. “Tangoral, are you ok?” Tragal asked concerned for his friend.

   “He’ll be fine,” the young woman replied. “Right now he is a little disorientated. This is normal after an extended period of using the neural imager. The program he ran was very long and incredibly complex.”

   “Who are you?”

   “I’m David’s wife Angela. David spoke very highly of you.”

   “Is David going to show up for this thing?” Tragal asked.

   “If you want him to he will. I know he would like to,” Angela replied.

   “What’s another ghost more or less,” Tragal said.

   “We don’t have to be here if you don’t want us here. I’m only here to help Tangoral readjust to his surroundings,” Angela said.

   “Angela you and David are welcome here not that you wouldn’t have access to what will go on here anyway,” Tangoral said. “Your presence might prove interesting. This program has been isolated for three thousand years.”

   “Tangoral are you ok?” Tragal asked again. “You don’t look so good.”

   “I’ll be fine in a little while. I’m just having a little trouble adjusting to reality,” Tangoral replied.

   “He wanted to understand what some of the things we say meant so he requested to be taught what it was he didn’t know and he wanted to know everything. Part of that request was to view what daily life was like three thousand years ago. In a sense he relived his life as if he was born more than three thousand years ago. The neural imager makes that possible by implanting images directly into the brain. It’s a lot like having a dream that is so real that you’re not sure if you’re dreaming,” Angela answered Tragal’s unasked question.

   “Computer access the Brachyura program,” Tangoral said after everyone was assembled and settled. A moment past before the holographic projection settled into its shape. A large white Brachyura with black lines like lighting racing across his shell stood before them. Tangoral could hear Angela gasp in recognition of the Brachyura that stood before them.

   The Brachyura’s eyes swept the room stopping only a moment to look at the A. I.s before settling on Tangoral and the other Brachyura in the room. “My brothers I offer greetings to you,” he said in the language of the Brachyura. The dialect was strange to all in the room and a little hard to follow.

   “We thank you for your warm greeting,” Tangoral replied in the same language adjusting for the dialect change.

   This took the Brachyura by surprise. “You speak our language,” he said a little horrified that a human could speak the secret language of the Brachyura.

   “Yes, I do, but the clan dialect you are using has not been a spoken language for many thousand years. My brothers and sister will find it difficult to understand you. I know you can speak the language of the humans. They can understand that language much easier than they can understand your dialect. Take a moment to study the computer’s study of the language shift over three thousand years of time. Adjust your program to compensate for that shift. Also, you need to understand that they lack the technology you took for granted so try to avoid talking over their shells,” Tangoral said.

   The Brachyura stood still for a moment as if listening to something in the distance. “I only hesitate to speak the human language to keep the computer from understanding what it is I say.”

   “Thanks to the human before you I have broken the code you used. I now can understand everything you have said,” Sentinel responded loudly.

   “Computer deactivate the sentinel program for now and do not respond to anything said unless addressed,” Tangoral said. “I’m sorry for that. The war has been over for many thousand of years. The sentinel program is still fighting it. I’ll have to adjust the program before we leave.”

   “Thank you for your courtesy,” the Brachyura said in the language of the humans of so long ago. “Greetings my brothers, do you understand me now?”

   “We understood you before, but we understand you better now,” Tangalen said.

   “David, Angela, it is so good to see you again.”

   “Electra, somehow I’m not surprise to see you,” David said. “Tangoral, let me introduce our guest. This is Electra, Robert’s pet. He was so named by Robert’s children because of the lighting like pattern on his shell. When Robert’s wife became afraid of him Robert brought him here where he became the Science Center’s mascot.”

   “Brothers how is it that a human can speak our language and understand and speak my dialect better than you can?” Electra asked the Brachyura he saw before him.

   Tragal could sense that this brother still fought the war within his mind. “He has saved the lives of many children and brethren of our dwelling. For that he was adopted into our clan,” he said. “Not only did he learn our language. He also taught us how to speak the language of the humans we call the tree people. A language we had forgotten how to speak after many thousands of cycles of the sun.”

   “That doesn’t explain…,” Electra began to say.

   “Electra, the war is over,” Tangoral interrupted. “Like Angela and David you are a ghost. You are an image of someone long dead. Not only are you dead, your whole clan has vanished so long ago that the brothers here have never heard of a white clan. So let us begin again. I am Tangoral. From left to right are Ieetan, Yorye and Mowlan, then Tragal, Doesen, Tangalen, Christeaen, Yoeith, and Candean. The draconan in the corner is my pet Molaythea. I am the leader of this expedition to this ancient city. It is our great honor to meet the spirit of one so instrumental in freeing our brothers from bondage.”

   “Forgive me; the war is like yesterday to me. I am the one the humans call Electra. The name my mother gave me was Tomarean Kel.”

   “I like that better than Electra,” Angela said.

   “I am certain that there are questions that my brothers would like to ask you,” Tangoral said. “I’m sure that David and Angela have questions as well. I have questions of my own too. How do you wish to proceed?”

   “Perhaps, if I explained how I came to be here, we could proceed from there,” Electra said.

   “That is a good place to start,” Tangoral agreed.

   “Perhaps, it was my good fortune to have been rescued from a factory to be sold as a pet. In any case, I was spared the fate that took my family. They were slaughtered while I watched from a separate pen where they put the young when they’re old enough to be separated from their mothers. I was shipped to a pet store in this city where Doctor Robert Anderson purchased me as a pet for his family. I must say that I was very well treated. Although I know that talking to humans was forbidden, I would talk to the youngest child late at night when no one was around. I don’t care what anyone says, it’s hard to go years with out talking to someone. Loneliness and depression sets in after a while. I had to talk with someone or go crazy. I learned a lot from Robert and his children, but as I got bigger Robert’s wife became afraid of me after hearing stories of Brachyura pets attacking their masters. I would never do something like that. I was treated really well and it would be stupid to screw up the good thing that I had. Robert acquiesced to his wife’s demand to get rid of me and so he brought me here. He would take me back to his home from time to time to play with his children who were very fond of me. I must admit that I liked them too. I always hoped that Robert and his family survived the war.”

   “They did not survive the war,” Tragal said.

   “Do you know what happened to them?” Electra asked. None of the Brachyura wanted to answer that question. It was David that finally spoke up.

   “Electra, Robert put them all to sleep to spare them the pain of the mutation from the virus he created that caused the global epidemic that engulfed the world and changed the humans into what they have become, of which Tangoral is a fine example. Robert did not sleep death’s sleep with them. He waited until he actually became infected before killing himself.”

   “Then it seems all my efforts to spare him were wasted,” Electra said.

   “What efforts?” Christeaen asked.

   “I will come to that in a few minutes,” Electra replied. “I can be rather likeable so after Robert brought me here I became the Science Center’s mascot. I was more that just a pet here. At first, I ran simple errands for everybody. Go get this or that, take something here or there, and sometimes I would help someone do something. I had the run of the center. I could go anywhere in the building on any floor. In time, I was doing simple lab work for some of the scientists whose lab assistants called in sick. Angela was my favorite to work for; she’d always explain what it was she was doing. I learned a lot working for her. I replaced her lab assistant when he quit. I helped her do a lot of the research for her neural imager project. I was present during the design and programming process for the High-Brow 7000, and I helped install the High-Brow 7000 computer in this complex. I learned so much that later, when the rebellion began, it was coordinated from here to begin with and then transferred to and independent system of my own design later on.”

   “Then you were the leader of the rebellion,” Tangoral said.

   “I suppose so. Before the rebellion began some of the escapes at many of the automated factories worldwide were arranged from here. It took time, but we were able to set up a communication network by tapping into the regular net.”

   “How did you pay for all that?” Angela asked.

   “I didn’t,” Electra replied. “I used the Science Center’s accounts. The center paid a flat rate for unlimited access for all its people whether they were working or not. I just added a few more people to the account. The way the Science Center’s communication net is set up I could add any number of people to the account, and it wouldn’t cost the center any more than it already paid out. We never stayed online long enough to tie up traffic and make the system provider wonder what was going on. Encrypted files were common enough not to draw attention to ourselves that way either. Once we were able to communicate with the brothers worldwide, plans on how to make guns and ammo were sent to them. I knew about the guardians because of a study the Science Center did for the military. The guardians were originally designed for urban control and sentinel work. We needed a way to make guns and ammo in secret, and they had to be effective against the guardians. As well as sending all the instructions for making metal guns, I also designed several viruses to affect common plants that would exploded when brought together properly. These were plants when mixed together just right they could be used both as a propellant and as an explosive. Another plant called ironwood was modified and used to make simple gun barrels that were good for maybe a dozen shots.”

   “Wait a minute. How did you design a virus?” David asked.

   “The computer did most of the work in designing the actual virus thanks to you. It was night. I was all alone. I had the whole building to myself. I had to do something to keep busy,” Electra replied.

   “Oh.”

   “Shipping the viruses worldwide so that the brothers that were in hiding could get them was a problem. We overcame this problem by simply putting a mailbox in the middle of nowhere and updating the postal address system with the computer so the automated postal service would deliver to these mailboxes. This system gave us the ability to communicate with brothers that could not tie into the net from where they were hiding. I bet you never noticed that during the first part of the war the mail still got through despite our road blocks on key bridges. With everything in place we were only waiting for the right time to strike.”

   “You waited until the humans started to have problems with the animals and the trees before starting the rebellion and later the war,” Christeaen said.

   “That’s correct,” Electra said. “Thousands of guns were made and stored for that moment. Our communication system was in place, everything was in readiness. When I realized that they were having problems, I waited until those problems became acute before starting the rebellion that freed our brothers from the factory pens around the world. That gave us the army we needed to start the war.”

   “Their attack was well coordinated. A mass attack on key installations around to world, it was devastating to us,” David said. “The panic that followed did more damage than the initial attacks. All inland routes were cut off almost immediately jammed by outgoing traffic. Most of the major bridges in the world were destroyed in the first offensive of the war. Many of the power stations around the world were also destroyed in that first attack. The waterways were barricaded a few months later. Attacks were mostly concentrated on military targets, civilian air bases, and spaceports. After they ran out of military targets they began to ransack whole cities.”

   “All things considered there wasn’t that many of us,” Electra said. “After we destroyed a couple of cities killing anyone that opposed us. Our enemies fled before us in terror.”

   “You killed almost everyone you met. No wonder we fled in terror,” David accused Electra.

   “I can only account for myself and those that I had direct control over. I did not kill without cause, nor did I condone any senseless killing, but I have heard the same stories as you refer too. If this were true, then Robert would have died much sooner than he did. Can you blame us for wanting revenge for the systematic genocide you practiced on us?”

   “No, but the stories we heard were enough for everyone to leave what they had and flee for their lives. You just moved right in after those cites were deserted.”

   “The cities were never completely deserted. Every time you humans abandoned a city or gave up ground, you left a group of guardians for us to deal with. We didn’t get those cities for free; we paid for them with the blood of our dead killed while trying to take those cities.”

   “The manned guardians were next to useless and the automatons were not that much better. What resistance could any who remained in those cities have offered you? You got those cities for nothing compared to the lives lost trying to flee those cities you ransacked,” David said angrily.

   “Enough,” Tangoral said. “No more finger pointing. Brother Tomarean Kel please continue your story. David hold your questions and comments until the end of the story.”

   “David is right,” Electra said. “Our first attack was worldwide. Within minutes we brought a halt to all overland commerce and cut the power to sixty percent of the world. In the dark we hit every major and a lot of minor airports all over the world. The few that remained sustaining only light damage, but most were completely destroyed. The military was next on our hit list. A major flaw in the military system is that they don’t give bullets to the people with the guns. By the time the military figured out they had a problem their soldiers were either already dead or running for their lives. All this was accomplished all over the world at one time in the early hours of the morning our time. After that, we converged on major cities throughout the world. One by one they all fell. We found a way to block the open waterways with the trees. So began the blockade of the seaports and the last of the cities of the world to fall. We kept up the blockade for almost a whole year before the guardians were able to break through in some areas. By then of course, it was too late. The trees had choked the world’s oceans turning them into great swamps. Some humans were able to flee to outposts set up in the mountains and some of the colder regions of the planet. By that time we had already won the war.”

   “This is when you found out that you shot yourself in your own leg,” Tangoral said.

   “What do you mean by that?” Christeaen asked.

   “They destroyed the infrastructure and the human civilization collapsed, but the Brachyura depended on that same infrastructure to support and feed their war machine. Communications were cut, there remained only a few active power stations in the world, and food was no longer being shipped to the cities. The humans had come to depend too much on automation to do everything for them. The Brachyura were also dependent on a certain amount of that automation. When the services stopped the humans weren’t the only ones faced with the possibility of starving to death,” Tangoral replied.

   “All too true human. I wish we would have had your insight then,” Electra said. “As soon as the outcome of the war was certain there began to be a struggle for power. We began to split into groups according to color and from there the clans were born. Before that time we were a mixed race. My own mate was blue at the time. White was the favorite color for pets, and it was mostly white Brachyura that orchestrated the rebellion and the war. As the war went on we somehow segregated ourselves by color. Not only were we fighting the humans, we also began to fight among ourselves. There was a point when we should have stopped, but by then, we had lost positive control over our armies. With the destruction of three central system computers and the two others that had to shutdown due to the loss of their primary power sources we effectually pulled the plug on everything. We had become so busy fighting with each other we failed to notice that we were running out of food. Some clans in certain areas of the world did manage to stop killing each other when they realized they had a mutual problem that was more important than worrying about who’s in charge. Others began fighting over food. The white clan wanted no part of the fighting that was going on. We stood apart from the rest of the clans by refusing to take up arms against our other brothers. As you can imagine, we were not a popular clan to begin with because of our favorite pet status with the humans. The irony of it all, we freed our other brothers from the hell they were living in and they seemed to hate us for it because we didn’t share their fate in life.”

   “So you started the war and then couldn’t stop it. A lot like turning on a valve to get water to come out and then when you went to turn off the valve you found that it was broken and you couldn’t get the water to stop flowing,” Tangalen said.

   “That’s a good analogy. It’s exactly what happened,” Electra said.

   “Did you even try to stop the killing?” Angela asked.

   “Yes, we did,” Electra replied. “A band of white brothers with a few other brothers of color tried to stop a mass execution of humans by placing themselves between the humans and an army made up of red, brown, and green brothers. Because we of the white clan and those that stood with us would not take up arms against our brothers that band of our brothers died with the humans. The rest of the brotherhood counted them as traitors to the brotherhood. Among our clan they were count as martyrs in the cause of that which is right. So began the division between our clan and the rest of the brotherhood.”

   “Then the gap between your clan and the rest of the brotherhood widened didn’t it?” Yoeith asked.

   “Yes, it did. Near the end of the war the Church of the Son of the Most High God sent out missionaries to all the clans. Of all the clans, we were the only ones that received the humans in peace and friendship. The other clans killed the human messengers of God. Some died most horribly. We listened to what these humans had to say. Their message touched our hearts and we as a clan and those that stood with us were converted to the gospel of the Son of the Most High. We became believers in God and his Son. So touched were we by the spirit of God that we would no longer take up arms against the humans or our brothers. It was hard for us to love humans as our brothers, but we no longer hunted them nor did we seek to do them anymore harm. This of course did not sit well with the rest of the brotherhood. As communication systems started to fail I realized that there was a need to preserve a kind of historical perspective of that time. I wrote this program to do just that. I designed this program to be as tamperproof as the High-Brow computer here. It required the actual presence of a member of the Brotherhood before the program could be activated. Shortly after I sent this program here for storage I placed on the net the rumor that this city was to be invaded next.”

   Angela had a horrible thought. “The High-Brow never lost its ability to communicate with most of the world throughout the war. Did you use the computer throughout the war?” she asked.

   “We used the High-Brow to communicate with the key command centers throughout the world all through the war. It would have been hard to take out the satellite system even if we had wanted to.”

   “How did you by-pass the sentinel program?” Angela asked.

   “It was easy. When you wrote the program, you assumed we did not know how to use a computer. The only thing the High-Brow 7000 looked for was a program that was totally alien to a human program. You assumed that our way of life was totally alien from your way of life,” Electra replied. “My A. I. program had to be specially written to get the computer to even notice it. Then I had to keep the High-Brow from breaking the program code. Computer, how many times did you try to break into the program before you learned not to?”

   “Twice,” Sentinel responded.

   “How did you do it? The sentinel program should have been able to read any program stored in High-Brow’s memory?” Angela asked.

   “If you remember, the High-Brow’s memory was expanded. The sentinel program, nor the computer itself, ever considered that part of its memory as part of the overall system. It always thought of it as an external memory source, but being connected to its main memory you could not shut the system down without shutting down the whole computer. Once my program was installed you couldn’t delete or inspect it without launching a virus, nor could you delete, copy, or transfer other files out of that system without launching a virus. I had a foolproof plan to keep my program safe. It was a simple time delay set for fifty years. Any attempt to access the program before that time would have launched a virus into the sub-systems even if a member of the brotherhood was here. As it turned out the simple sub-routine of having one of the Brachyura present when the program was accessed was enough of a barrier to stop any intrusion into the program. The time delay barrier was behind that sub-routine, and it got used only when you’d try to move any other file in the system. You had a lot of very important files in that memory system, and I planned it so you couldn’t do anything with them for fifty years. I fixed it so you couldn’t move them or copy them to elsewhere and then disconnect that system isolating and destroying my program that way. You had too many one of a kind programs stored in that system.”

   “Your program was not that invincible,” Angela said. “I managed to by-pass that barrier by treating all the files as if they were just there as temporary mail files passing through the system. I could have transferred your file out of the system, and even if I couldn’t, I could have transferred all the other files out of that system and unplugged you.”

   “So why didn’t you?” Electra asked.

   “We had to evacuate the city,” Angela replied. “To unplug you would’ve had to be done manually. No one was left to do it. Anyway, because of the progressive nature of your viruses it was decided to leave your program alone and in storage rather than risk turning another virus loose to wreak havoc on the High-Brow 7000’s sub-systems.”

   “So others weren’t so sure that you could do what you just said.”

   “In truth, no they weren’t, and they were unwilling to try out of fear of what the next virus from your program might do if I failed.”

   “Tangoral, do you understand anything they’re saying?” Tangalen asked. “I have no idea what they’re talking about.”

   “Yeah, I understand them.” A part of him was amazed that he could understand everything they were saying. The part of him that was the new knowledge that Tangoral acquired took no notice at all.

   “What happened after you joined yourself with the people of God?” Yoeith asked.

   “We established a city for our clan and the humans where the faithful of God could come and live in safety,” Electra replied.

   “What happened after that?” Christeaen asked.

   “I should like to tell you that we all lived happily ever after,” Electra replied. “For some reason I never updated this program after that time. I don’t know what happened after we built the city.”

   “It’s a shame that we can’t take these ghosts with us,” Doesen said.

   “We can,” Tangoral said.

   

   “MMMMMMMMMOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG-HHHHHHHHHEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRREEEEEEEEEE,” rumbled the very ground on which they slept. Morning brought a new surprise, a giant shunail stood before the Science Center. This was by far the largest shunail that any of the brothers had seen on their journey, and they had seen some big shunails. This shunail was taller than any small or medium sized dwelling. It just stood there waiting. Sometimes it would reach out and pull up a small tree to nibble on while waiting. “We need to get back inside the building,” Tragal said. “If it starts forward we could become a snack real quick.”

   “There is no need to fear,” Yoeith said. “God has prepared a way for us to return home quickly. We need to gather our things and climb up onto its back. Once we are settled it will take us home.”

   “You’re kidding,” Doesen said as he looked at the monster from the doorway.

   “Don’t worry. The great shunails are vegetarians,” Tangoral said as he stepped past Doesen. “If you listen closely you will find that you are able to understand them. They talk like they move, in slow motion.”

   “They can talk?” Tragal asked dumbfounded.

   “All creatures possess the ability to communicate. There are a few like the great shunails that are capable of making themselves understood,” Tangoral replied. “If you knew what to listen for you would know its name is Moog.

   Of all the things that each of them were going to bring back with them the guardian was the hardest to get on top of the shunail. Sentinel assured Tangoral that once on top of the Shumary Snail the guardian could jump down without sustaining any damage. Tangoral was taking with him more stuff that all the others combined. The things had names that none of the others really understood like, portable microwave field power stations, satellite uplinks, field communications systems, electron microscopes, and other such things to name just a few of those things Tangoral was taking back with him.

   

~~~

   

   Ishihari had put off her trip back to the dwelling to watch her son play the final round of games for the championship of the blue clan. The game started out like a fairly even match with Cantor in the lead by only two or three points. Somewhere around two hundred points Cantor began to pull ahead. By the time Cantor reached three hundred points he was head by twenty eight points. Cantor was the favored to win the match simply because he had never lost any of his other games. To his credit he usually never won by too many points. Ishihari suspected Cantor controlled the point spread in the games he played. Bittanic and some of Cantor’s other friends, as well as her mate and her other sons, always won betting on the final score of the games. This game was no different Ishihari knew what the final score would be. She was not surprised at the final score of 428 to 500 in favor of Cantor. After all, that was the score she had bet on too. Of course, none of them ever placed a wager in person.

   The celebration that followed was held at Syanor’s dinning hall. Pillows for customer seating was one of the newest additions to the dinning hall. Light blue cloth that was specially shipped in from their dwelling for this occasion was draped over the tables. Food was piled high for the guests. Pies and sweet balls were in abundance. No guest would lack for food or comfort this evening.

   “Well Cantor, if you win the playoffs, you’ll beat your father’s record. How do you feel about that?” KaZanna asked nibbling on a sweet ball.

   “It’s an old record, it should be broken,” Cantor replied.

   “Any predictions by how many points you’ll win your next game by?” LaSanso asked.

   “You’re implying that I have a great enough control of the game to fix the game,” Cantor said. “I don’t have that kind of control, and I will be playing brothers that are the best players that there are from other clans. I will not even hazard a guess beyond saying that I will win.”

   KaZanna laughed. “You’re as modest as your father. I’d say you’ll win by twenty or thirty points easy. Even though duty demands that I bet on my own player to win. I must admit that I doubt that he will win, and I will place a wager on you as well to cover my losses,” he said. “I think that I am looking at the next All Clan Champion. It would be the first time in history that anyone has made champion in their first season, quite an accomplishment.”

   “I haven’t accomplished it yet,” Cantor said.

   “I bet you could even beat your father,” KaZanna said.

   “He already has,” Zothor said joining the small group. “I’ve come to take my son away from you for a moment. Our clan leader wants to congratulate Cantor on his latest victory. KaZanna, I need to talk with you before you leave.”

   “Sounds serious,” KaZanna said.

   “Not really, it’s only a concern that I have,” Zothor said. “Cantor, let’s go.” Zothor walked off in the direction of the blue clan leader. Cantor followed behind him.

   “Here comes our champion now,” Adreeum said as Cantor came to a halt next to his father. “Congratulations on your victory Cantor. I’ll wager that you’ll break your father’s record this season and become the All Clan Champion. I was just wondering if you understand the responsibility that comes with being the clan champion.”

   “Yes, I do. I am the champion that will represent the clan in the event that we are challenged, or offer a challenge. That is I am the champion unless you select another that you feel is more qualified to defend our honor than I am,” Cantor replied.

   “Are you ready if you should be called to defend our honor?”

   “Yes Clan Leader, I am.”

   “Good.”

   “Am I going to have to defend the honor of the clan?” Cantor asked remembering his father wanted to talk with the red clan leader later.

   “Not that I know of,” Adreeum replied. “You are the youngest player not only to play the Game but to win the championship as well. I just wanted to be sure you understood what winning the clan championship meant.”

   “My father was clan champion. How could I not understand what being the clan champion means?”

   “Well said young Cantor. Now, if you will excuse me I have other business to attend to. Congratulations again on winning the championship,” Adreeum said as he turned back to talk with some of the other guests.

   “Thank you Clan Leader,” Cantor said. Cantor spent the evening being congratulated by a lot of brothers he did not know. He thought how victory parties were more tiring than actually playing the game. He never juggled balls in public anymore. Juggling had become something he did only every now and again, and before a game to warm up. Somehow, being champion was not as much fun as he thought it would be.

   

   “Zothor, you wanted to talk to me before I left,” KaZanna said. “I’d like to leave sometime soon.”

   Zothor walked away from the group of brothers he was talking with taking KaZanna with him. “The reason why I wanted to talk with you is that we have intelligence that Kittanota is definitely in your area,” he said.

   “This is not new news,” KaZanna said.

   “I know, and the reason you have not said something before this is, I suspect, that you hoped to be able to deal with this problem on your own without having to ask another clan for help,” Zothor said.

   “True enough.”

   “I know that you are having more problems with this tree dweller than you have told us.”

   “How do you know that?” KaZanna was worried that his secret was out when he was so close to being ready to proceed with his plans.

   “We had the good fortune to capture a couple of tree dwellers that were with Kittanota. Saralashaw questioned them until they told her everything. I know my daughter. I doubt they lived through the questioning process, and if they did, I’m sure they didn’t live much longer beyond that. We can now pinpoint the general area where he can be found. I would like to send in some scouts into find the hive and then send in the rest of my soldiers to destroy it. Once the hive is located we could make it a join venture if you like.”

   “I appreciate your offer, and I will admit that I am having a certain amount of difficulty with this tree dweller. I would still like to handle to problem myself. If you could provide me with the information that you have then I think that I could solve the problem once and for all.”

   “Are you sure that you don’t want me to send in some of my scouts to find him for you?” Zothor asked.

   “No, I think we can handle it. After all, I’ve had to put up with him for sometime now. If I can’t take him out, then I’ll let you go in and try,” KaZanna replied.

   “I just thought I’d ask. Send someone around to my office and I’ll give you the maps that pinpoint the area of his operation and the probable area where the hive is located,” Zothor said.

   “Thanks, I can’t help but wonder why you are willing to hunt down one group of tree dwellers while making friends with another group of tree dwellers?”

   “When you have a sick shunail, do you leave it with the rest of the herd or do you remove it?”

   “You remove it so it won’t infect the rest of the herd. Oh, now I see, you are removing sick tree dwellers before they can cause problems with the rest of the tree dwellers.”

   “Exactly,” Zothor said

   “Thank you for your help. I will send someone over to your office tomorrow morning. I have to bid you good night now. You must be very proud of your son this day. I shall look forward to seeing Cantor win the All Clan Championship. Again, thank you and good night,” KaZanna said. He then turned and went looking for his mate. KaZanna found KarEena talking with Ishihari and Saralashaw. “KarEena, we’re leaving now,” he said. KarEena excusing herself got up and left with her mate.

   Zothor dropped down on one of the pillows next to his mate. “Cantor looks more worn out by this party than any game he’s played so far,” he said.

   “You should know,” Ishihari said.

   “I remember I hated these things.”

   “He does too. We should throw everybody out soon; he’s got school in the morning.”

   “What did KarEena have to say?” Zothor asked.

   “She said KaZanna has been talking with the Prophet a lot lately. She thinks that he is almost ready to do whatever he is going to do,” Ishihari replied.

   “That’s not good to hear.”

   “If she ever got the chance, I think she would cook and eat him. Stuffed and slow roasted most likely. Knowing some of the things she has told me about him, I think I’d help her if she asked.”

   “Well, we are almost ready for him. There are just a few things that still bother me,” Zothor said.

   “You’ll figure it out. You always do,” Ishihari said.

   

~~~

   

   Jonnaul had heard many of the horror stories that KaZanna had told him of this renegade tree dweller Kittanota. He knew the blue clan had small band of soldiers ready to go out and hunt this tree dweller down. KaZanna assured him that though they might be well trained, there were not enough of them to do the job. How could a small band of soldiers defeat five hundred tree dwellers? KaZanna told him that the number of followers that this tree dweller had was growing. Making friends with the children of the Evil One was a mistake. It could only lead the brothers astray as it had at Zothor’s dwelling. Zothor had not gone so far astray that he did not send the Church its proper due. It is only a matter of time before that stops too, Jonnaul thought. This would only set brother against brother in time. KaZanna was right the only way to stop the madness would be to destroy all the tree dwellers and any brothers that sided with them. He would give the errant clans one last warning and a chance to repent of this evil. If they would not repent then he would support KaZanna in his efforts to wipe out the tree dwellers once and for all. Jonnaul took out some paper from his desk. He had to word this epistle just right.

   

~~~

   

   “Your plan to send smaller shipments to the dwellings and a few big shipments to draw off the tree dweller has worked wonderfully,” KaZanna said. PaTouan was pleased that his clan leader was happy with him. “Now, we may have the information we need to find this tree dweller and destroy him.”

   “How did you come by that?” PaTouan asked. “I thought we were going to let Zothor’s soldiers take care of the tree dweller.”

   “And we will, but first I want to stir the hive up a little so Zothor’s soldiers will not have an easy time of it. I got my information from Zothor. He is all too willing to send in the troops anytime I ask. Jonnaul is on the verge of declaring all the clans that have made friends with the tree dwellers heretics. If we move after the All Clan Championship during the victory celebration, we can catch the leadership of all the clans outside of their dwellings. We can time it so that Zothor’s soldiers will not be around to be a problem. We’ll let SoLayan deal with the tree dweller for now. Everything is falling in place we only need to wait a little while longer.” KarEena came in with a tray of refreshments and set it on the table. “Thank you my dear,” he said. KarEena looked at him in surprise. KaZanna rarely thanked her for anything. “That will be all.” He waived her away with his claw. “Everything is ready we are only waiting for the right moment to act, after that, we shall rule over the clans that have always looked down upon us in disdain.”

   

~~~

   

   Syanor always waited on the important customers himself. When the red clan leader’s mate came in during to busy lunch hour he had an extra table brought out just for her. Ishihari had standing orders that she or Saralashaw should be sent for whenever the red clan leader’s mate came into dine alone; most of the time it was during lunch. Today his mother and adopted sister were not in the city having returned to the dwelling to check on how things were going for her mate. “Is everything satisfactory?” he asked.

   “The food is as delicious as ever Syanor,” KarEena replied as she finished her meal.

   “Is there anything else that I can get for you?” Syanor asked.

   “No, but there is something you can do for me,” she replied.

   “What?”

   “Give your father a message for me. Tell him, the All Clan Championship Celebration. It’s important that he know that today.”

   “That’s it, nothing else?” Syanor asked.

   “He will understand. It would be best if you went to tell him now, but wait until I am gone. In any case, he must get that message today. It is very important, many lives are at stake,” KarEena said. KarEena got up, gathered her things and left without another word leaving Syanor very puzzled.

   

   “Dad, are you busy?” Syanor asked from the door to his father’s office.

   “Not really, come on in,” Zothor replied.

   “I just had a really weird thing happen to me. The red clan leader’s mate came in, had lunch, and then told me to give you a message. It was real weird, it made no sense, but she insisted that you be given the message as soon as possible.”

   “What was the message?”

   “The All Clan Championship Celebration.”

   “That’s it.”

   “Yeah, that’s all she said. She said you’d understand.”

   “The All Clan Championship Celebration. The All Clan Championship Victory Celebration,” Zothor thought aloud.

   “Do you know what she meant?” Syanor asked.

   “No, the All Clan Championship Celebration, what goes on that would be so important?” Zothor asked himself.

   “A lot of parties are given by the victorious clan. All the clan leaders get together to congratulate whoever it is that wins the championship at the official clan victory celebration,” Syanor replied to his father’s question.

   All four of Zothor’s eyes turned to stare at his son. “That’s it. Syanor, KarEena never said anything to you. You just stopped by to say hi to me if anyone asks.”

   “Then you do know what she meant?”

   “Yes, I do.”

   “Are you going to tell me?” Syanor asked.

   “No, you already know more than you should. It would be best if you forgot today ever happened. Go find Bittanic and Cantor and tell them that I want to see the both of them in my office right now,” Zothor replied.

   

   When Cantor arrived the clan leader was in his father’s office. Bittanic was already there waiting for him. Cantor had the sick feeling that he was about to be called upon to defend the honor of the clan. “Cantor, come in,” his father said. As he entered two soldiers that had been standing on either side of the door stepped past him and into the hallway.

   “What’s going on?” Cantor asked. “Has the honor of the clan been called to question?”

   “This is not a simple matter, and no, you are not being call upon to defend our honor,” Adreeum replied.

   “What is being required of you is to win the championship, whatever it takes,” Zothor said.

   “You want me to cheat?”

   “No, but we want you to use everything you know to win,” Adreeum replied. “I know your skill level. You will no longer control the points in order to make your opponent look good and keep the game interesting for the spectators. If you can win a game by five hundred points, I want you to do it. From this point on you will practice harder than you have in the past. Bittanic will see that you do, and he will help you as will your father when he has the time. I know this all seems strange to you. There are events that are unfolding that make your winning the championship very important. I cannot tell you more than that, but you must view this as if you are to defend the clan’s honor. For not only are you defending the honor of our clan, but the honor of the brotherhood as well.”

   “If you are not in school, I want you on a court practicing. I want you to practice in your sleep. This is no longer just a game, there is too much a stake,” Zothor said. “This is not a request by your father. It is a command by your clan leader.”

   “One of our courts will be cleared any time you wish to use it. Whatever assistance you need we will give it to you. All you have to do is ask,” Adreeum said. He turned back to look out the window.

   “You two may leave now. Remember, I want you to eat, sleep, and drink the game,” Zothor said.

   

   “What was that all about?” Cantor asked Bittanic as they were walking down the hall.

   “I don’t know,” Bittanic replied. “Either the clan leader has made a major bet and he’s making sure that you will win, or they are thinking about making a challenge, or they are about to be challenged. A dramatic victory throughout these last few games could affect the outcome of a challenge whether given or received.”

   “How?”

   “Think about it. If you beat the clan champion by three hundred points of the clan that was about to challenge your clan; they might think twice before issuing that challenge. If your clan was about to issue a challenge, what clan would not back down if their champion had already been beaten by a few hundred points?”

   “Still, this is way too weird. How do you practice in your sleep anyhow?” Cantor asked.

   

   “You are certain that it will be the victory celebration?” Adreeum asked still looking out the window.

   “Yes, I am. Think about it, all the clan leaders and many of their councilors all unprotected in one spot. It’s made to order for KaZanna. If we build my son a new larger dinning hall we may be able to build in some protection and an escape route,” Zothor said.

   “Wouldn’t hurt his business any either.”

   “If Cantor wins and I have no doubt that he will. KaZanna will expect us to hold the victory celebration in Syanor’s dinning hall.”

   “There is still a chance that he could kill or capture all of us,” Adreeum said.

   “There is that possibility. KaZanna will want to gloat before he kills us or takes us prisoners. I have other surprises in mind for KaZanna,” Zothor said.

   

~~~

   

   The grim look on Grizzon’s face told Ishihari something was wrong even as the rest of the dwelling greeted her with joy upon her return. She went around visiting her friends before her welcome home dinner. She went up to check on the work going on in the tree. The outside platforms were taken down shortly after the tribe moved inside the grandfather tree. Construction still continued at a rapid pace. It seemed to Ishihari that there were a lot of brothers and sisters working on the project. She saw Ommaro with a green sister as she was coming back down the tree. Everything screamed at her things were not right given the pace at which everyone was working.

   At dinner she looked over at Grizzon. “Are you going to tell me what’s going on, or do I need to ask someone else?” she asked.

   “I did not wish to spoil your welcoming,” Grizzon replied. “There are rumors of war which I am sure you are aware of. Ommaro returned with the green sister shortly after you left the last time you were here. She gave up everything to be with him. He is willing to risk banishment to stay with her. If war is coming, I do not want to lose a good soldier, so we all look the other way. We have increased the work going on up in the tree. We are tunneling down to make several escape points throughout the dwelling up to the hive according to Zothor’s command to us. The worst is a letter we got just before you arrived, an epistle from the Prophet. To comply with what it said would mean that we would have to turn our backs on honor and what is right. I cannot do that, none of us can. We will not turn our backs on our friends. We could not live with the shame.”

   “I think you were right in not telling me. It would have spoiled my welcoming, but tomorrow we are going to start at the beginning and sort this all out,” Ishihari said.

   

   Ishihari went out alone early the next morning to pray and inspect the crops and the herds. In times past, she went out this early to be by herself in supplicating the Lord when she was in great need of his help. This morning she questioned the wisdom that brought her out this far without an escort. The stalker that was slowly coming toward her was a full grown very powerful looking beast. She knew if she tried to run it would charge. Ishihari watched her death slowly coming toward her. She regretted nothing in her life, but she was determined not to give her life way. Ishihari prepared to fight for her life as the stalker drew near. It must be very hungry, she thought. There was none of the circling and other attempts to tease and torment its prey. At least this will be over very quickly, she thought. To her great surprise the stalker instead of attacking sat down in front of her and began to groom itself. “Molaythea?” she asked. The great beast stopped what it was doing and looked at her. “Molaythea,” she said again more exuberantly as she rushed forward to hug the creature.

   

~~~

   

   Rownan read Jonnaul’s epistle again. He could not believe such shunail dribble could come out of one brother’s mind. He reread the part that called for the brothers to repent and kill the tree dwellers. Jonnaul had not stopped there. He called for banishment for any who would pervert the way of God. This is a rallying cry for zealots, he thought. “What do you think?” Zothor asked.

   “Jonnaul is insane. We and anyone who has befriended the tree dwellers have been branded as heretics. Anyone that does not follow the teachings of God, as Jonnaul understands it, is to be banished from the brotherhood,” Rownan replied. “What does he mean when he says that continued disobedience will provoke God to anger and he will punish the disobedient?”

   “I see KaZanna behind this. Jonnaul means that if we don’t come in line with his way of thinking and doing what he thinks is right he will support KaZanna in some kind holy war or purging or something,” Zothor replied. “I doubt that he knows that he won’t be able to control KaZanna. This will give KaZanna control of the yellow clan, and nearly double the size of the army he can raise. This would seem to explain why he has shipped out more guns to his dwellings than he has brothers. He plans to be able to arm any who would join his cause. He has cleared a path and Jonnaul is following it.”

   Adreeum loved to look out the great windows. The view offered a focal point for reflecting on some problem like the one he now faced. “Rownan read the epistle again, out loud this time if you would please.”

   “To the faithful children of God and true brothers of the brotherhood:”

   “I greet you in the name of the Most High, and tell you He delights in the faithfulness of his children. In your good works He is well pleased. However, He is displeased with many of you that would pervert the right way. The children of the Evil One have committed many atrocities against the brotherhood and yet there is some among us who would make peace with the children of the Evil One. This practice must stop. Those brothers must repent of their misdeeds and kill the tree dwellers as it is written. If they continue to disobey God they risk provoking Him to anger. As surely as the sun rises He will punish the disobedient.”

   “We have begun to stray from the true path that God has set for us to follow. You must repent and turn to him with all your heart that you may find forgiveness. If there are any that would pervert the way of God, they should be banished. If there are any who would question the right way of God then they should be put out from among you. If there are any who would break the law of God, they should be driven out from among the faithful in accordance to the law.”

   “Now is the time to repent. Turn again from your wicked ways and follow the path that God has set before us. Repent now for soon the fire comes to burn up the wicked. God will punish the wicked with death when the cup of His wrath is full. He has winked at your transgressions in the before times, but now He can look the other way no longer. You have been given the law, and you have been warned. The faithful will have no cause to fear if they will fight for His cause. The wicked only have death to look forward too.”

   “Again, I say that this is the voice of warning. Heed the words of God as given to His servant. Blessings await those that hear His call and walk on His path. Those that pervert the way, change the laws, or associate with the children of the Evil One must face His wrath soon to come if they will not turn from their evil ways.”

   “May the blessings of God be upon the faithful forever. May it ever be so. So it shall ever be.”

   “Jonnaul, a humble servant of God.

   “It sounds good if you’re a zealot willing to blindly follow the Prophet,” Rownan said after he finished reading the epistle from Jonnaul. “You might as well banish me now; I cannot renounce my faith to follow this fool.”

   “You can come live with us. They will have to banish my entire dwelling as we no longer follow the Prophet either,” Zothor said.

   “I’d have to banish half my council in order to comply with this edict,” Adreeum said as he watched the brothers and sisters scurry about far below where he stood. “We have already won over all the tree dwellers within our boarders that we know of. We have begun to trade with them, and we have every indication that will be very profitable in the long run. Half of our dwellings employ them in various positions from, watching our herds, to personal cooks. Even my councilors that were against making peace with the tree dwellers in the first place have become the greatest advocates of the peace process. We have gone forward into the future and I will not undo all the good that we have accomplished to take a few steps backward into the dark past.”

   “Who all got this epistle?” Rownan asked.

   “It was sent out to all the dwellings of every clan and their clan leaders,” Zothor said.

   “Do we know what the other clan leaders think of this?”

   “Not yet. I have call for a Grand Council meeting to discus this,” Adreeum replied. “We will know soon enough.”

   


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