Children of the Light
Chapter 6: Steel and Light
Copyright© 2010 by Sea-Life
Several days after the events on Dust, and the 'catch and release' of Gordon Halsey, I sat bolt upright in the middle of the night. That brief moment when Gordon Halsey had instinctively tried to coerce Titan, and the amazing reaction Titan had to the assault had obviously got my subconscious to working overtime.
"What is it?" Ginny asked from beside me in the darkness.
"Something that happened on Dust when we brought Gordon there. In all the excitement I missed something I should have followed up on. I need to go to Aruh in the morning."
"Okay. Now go back to sleep" Ginny said from the darkness.
I sent off a quick thought to Eru, and snuggled back down into bed. With a hand comfortably cupped around Ginny's warm, smooth breast, I let sleep take me.
On Aruh the next day, Titan and I were taken by Mudfoot to the Hurim-built stockade. I saw once we got close that the building was not the crude structure of wooden poles as I had thought, but merely designed to seem so. The building was made of some synthetic material, intended in this case to be able to hold a grown Yaru who did not want to be there.
"This is White Toe Splashing the Cold Water of the Night River." Mudfoot introduced me. You really had to love these descriptive Yaru names.
"And White Toe's crime?" I asked.
"Murder. Out of anger and jealousy, he took the life of another. His life is forfeit, and as the Elders have decreed, he is now yours to deal with. You may not return while he lives."
I thanked Mudfoot and moved to stand beside Titan, to stare at Black Toe through the barrier.
<Be ready!> I thought to titan, and jumped us to Dust.
The sudden change of location didn't phase White Toe at all. He must have been preparing for this instant, because he launched himself at Titan immediately, his coat flashing into armor mode in mid jump. We were not there when he landed. I jumped us to the spot White Toe had just left, reorienting us in mid jump so we remained facing White Toe. The Yaru murderer slid to a stop and spun around, snarling in rage as he launched himself at us again.
This time I reached out with my mind and caught him in mid-air, holding him there, five feet off the ground.
"You are here so that we can use you to test something. We do not require your cooperation for this. You will die soon, no matter how you struggle."
I jumped White Toe into the section of the dome where Lark's Bright Song was held, still separated by a barrier that kept him restricted to an area near the outer wall. I signaled Eru with a thought, and several hundred sensors equipped with high-speed motion capture filters went active. As soon as they were, Eru, the twins and Laik Hulin, joined me in a high level fusion.
<<Titan, you will not be able to monitor things safely. Please remain here and do not move.>>
With a flick of remote touch, I dropped the barrier between the Sh'kxu and the Yaru. Like a bolt of Lightning, Lark's Bright Song ran immediately for White Toe. The instant the Sh'kxu got within ten feet of him, White Toe's coat went into that stealth mode I'd seen Titan's do for that second when Gordon had attempted to coerce him.
We watched the visual replay later, in slow motion and from all angles. While it was happening our five person fusion, fueled by Light, was in the mind and body of White Toe, observing, measuring and recording a different kind of information.
The visual replay showed a very one-sided battle. The Sh'kxu lost his target, and stopped, screeching in frustration. In that moment White Toe simply stretched out his neck, grabbed the Sh'kxu in his jaws, and with a sickening crunch, ended the life of the captured alien.
With our main goal accomplished, our fusion turned to one last task. We took the thoughts and memories of White Toe.
"We have learned what we needed to know." I said to Titan, once we'd dropped out of our fusion.
<Your calls in the middle of the night always turn out to be interesting, Dave. We will work on making this data presentable while you finish the task here.> Eru said in parting.
"Now there only remains White Toe's final fate."
"Let me fight him!" Titan said.
"No Titan. I have no doubt you would prevail, but White Toe knows he will not live long, even if he were to defeat you, so his desperation will give him an edge in the battle. There is no need to expose yourself needlessly when all we are doing is carrying out the sentence of the condemned."
"What will you do to him then?"
"I will give him what he wanted, the right to run free without barriers. I will give him to Dust."
"Yes. Outside the dome, White Toe will be free. But Dust will not let him live free for long. Its atmosphere will not support life for more than a few hours, and even if it did, the very light from the sun here is deadly, and it too will kill him eventually."
So with Titan watching through my eyes, we gave the freedom of Dust to White Toe. Seeing the barrier of the dome gone, White Toe ran. He ran free for hours across the dunes and dusty plains of Dust, until finally Dust took the freedom back, and the sentence of the Yaru Elders was complete.
"You are an interesting man, Dave McKesson." Titan said at the end. "That was a far kinder death than White Toe would have ever received from the Yaru."
We met that evening in the large meeting room on Obsidian and reviewed the data from the confrontation in the dome. Both that captured by our sensors and that we gathered from our observations while in fusion.
We had the entire 'War Council' there, including all three Legion teams and the Spirit Master teachers and students. I even managed to drag Con out of the Arena to attend. We watched the slow motion video playback of the encounter.
"It seems obvious from what we see here that the Yaru are essentially coercion-proof." Eru said. "This is in no way associated with the defensive reaction of their protective coat. That reaction seems to be an instinctual reaction designed to give the Yaru time to act in finding and attacking the coercion source while maximizing their safety from physical attack."
"The mechanism that provides this defense is biochemical, believe it or not." Laik added as the display changed to show a model of the Yaru brain. "This gland secretes a chemical which is carried by the brain's blood supply throughout the brain, where it coats the synaptic gaps. When anything matching the signature of coercive signals is detected this chemical does a state change."
"This state change of the areas of the synaptic gaps acts like a instant reset." Zaia continued. "Every mental state change from the previous moment is instantly negated, as everything snaps back to the original state."
"There is some concern that this means while assaulted by a coercive field, the Yaru cannot have a new or original thought. They can only act on instinct and existing memories." Riah added. "We are not sure how significant this might be to the Yaru's effectiveness in a battle where there are many Sh'kxu."
"You've heard me mention that the Yaru have a racial memory, and that they recognized Andy and I as Guardians, or 'Walkers', as they call us." I said. "They remember serving in the army of the Guardian's of old, and that information is unaffected by the chemical reset that protects them from coercion."
There was a long silence as everyone looked for a new angle, a missed detail, or some possible flaw in what we had seen. Titan himself broke the silence.
"Guardians, you have found your shock troops, we who call ourselves War Hounds. We can close on this enemy and kill him. When you begin looking for our partners in battle, perhaps you should look for those who can protect us from those things that can strike from a distance, and who can themselves strike from a distance."
The facet of Cascade, and the rolling hills, plains and forests of what would have been Western Europe was where we decided to house our army. Our growing core of Obsidian staff, along with a large number of volunteers from the Taluatan and American settlers of Meadow did the building, assisted by the tools from the Hall of Gifts.
As the building on Cascade progressed, I took Long Night Hunting, Titan and Constantine with me to visit the leaders of the nine other Hunts on Yaru. Titan insisted that Con come with us after meeting him at the meeting.
"It may be a matter of the Yaru senses and our racial memory, but he smells of the Ancient Walkers." Titan said. "No Yaru will question your authenticity with him present."
And so it was that the four of us journeyed to the other Hunts and met with the elders of each. The Great Hunt was declared, and the adult Yaru, and those seeking adulthood answered the call. We set up a gate near each Hunt's 'capital', and built ourselves a recruiting station around it. On Cascade, our camp was loosely divided into ten sections, matching the Hunts of Yaru. We had an Elder volunteer as Camp Leader, and each camp was named for them.
Mudfoot, Longeye, Sharptooth, Springrunner, Skyseeker, Hawknose, BrightRiver, Howler, DawnVoice and Moondancer.
Of course Mudfoot we knew, but it was interesting meeting the rest of these Elders. Free from their traditional duties and the company of their fellow Elders, their behavior began to convince me that Titan was not just building a defense for himself when he told me the practical joke was the highest form of art and entertainment among the Yaru.
One thing I made sure of was that each camp was equipped with an industrial strength sandblaster.
Our nine Elders spent the intervening weeks, before the recruits started coming in learning the basics of life with the Guardians. They visited Obsidian and received the same basic session in the Garden that everyone had. Everyone of them met TeJon, the Preci fugitive we had found at the focus on Precipice.
The decision to pick Cyrus' Uncle Chunk's restaurant near Arlington, Texas was mostly a matter of giving Cyrus an excuse to stop by and see his Uncle. The restaurant did a decent daytime business, but we reserved the entire restaurant for the entire day.
The proximity to the Dallas-Fort Worth airport was another plus. It gave all our recruits a location to fly into that was common enough that it drew no additional interest from those who might be tracking them. Of course for the most part, the people Cyrus and Chet recruited were used to avoiding attention. Ambrose's recruits were less concerned to begin with.
By the specified time, all the recruited individuals were there and in the private dining room that had been set up for them. It was interesting, watching the two groups of recruits mingle. There is no denying the ability of Texas barbecue to overcome cultural and social differences though, and with piles of ribs and cold beer beckoning, mingle they did. As the pile of ribs dwindled, and the beer finally started sending them to the restrooms, Cyrus caught his Uncle's eye.
"Okay Uncle Chunk. We're going to be leaving in a minute, but there will be bus loads of veterans showing up starting about an hour from now. Run a tab on whatever they order, and let them have what they want. We'll settle the tab tomorrow." Cyrus handed him a thick envelope, stuffed with cash. "Divvy this up amongst the staff as a tip. See you soon, okay?"
As soon as the door closed behind the departing Uncle Chunk, Cyrus turned to the table.
"Gentlemen, if you will all stand at attention?"
As soon as they were all standing, I jumped them to where I was standing with the entire Legion arrayed behind me. The center ring of Obsidian.
"Good afternoon gentlemen. I am David Alan McKesson. Welcome to Obsidian."
It is said that the truest pragmatist you'll ever meet is the solider on the battlefield. These warriors, as different as some of them were from each other, proved their mettle in those first few moments.
"This is Obsidian, as in Obsidian Research?" Pinky Wallace asked.
"Yes it is. This is what all the Obsidian companies were named after. It both is and is not a different planet than Earth. We would describe it as a different facet, rather than a different planet. You will understand why I say that once you've heard more of our story.
"So we have been hired to fight a war on one of these alien facets?" Ducky Brenneman asked.
"Exactly, and it will be a battle unlike any you have ever imagined." I answered. "We are prepared to answer all these questions and more, but not here. This was just a relatively convincing location. Oh, and there's Titan. He can be convincing." I said.
"Who is Titan?" Pea Nichols asked.
I jumped Titan in to stand beside me.
"Hello. Welcome to the war." Titan said.
I saw several hands grasping for weapons that weren't there. Funny how Titan produced that reaction.
"Titan is an ally, and our best ground weapon against the enemy you have been recruited to help us defeat. You'll all get a chance to meet him and talk more in a moment, first, lets get to someplace we can get comfortable and get you all oriented."
I jumped us all to the meditation chamber, where the by now familiar how-we—got-here story was told, mostly by Ginny and Eru. Since it is essentially my life story, I always feel a little awkward when its being told.
When that story had been told, with the resulting emotional response regarding the Choctowineh sacrifice, we moved on to more recent events. We introduced TeJon, who told his story, and we showed them the recordings of Lark's Bright Song, including the Sh'kxu prisoner's final fate in the jaws of White Toe.
"Gentlemen, we are raising an army. We are raising it from the Yaru, who are happy to resume what they see as their traditional place at our side. The rest of our army will be made up of the untrained and untested Preci who we will soon begin rescuing in large numbers from their coercive masters on Precipice. That army will be responsible for defeating the Sh'kxu on the ground on Precipice. Those of you recruited by Cyrus and Tony will be the trainers and leaders of this unbuilt army. Please come forward and join us. Colonel Covington, would you join us as well?"
Tony and Cyrus walked to the center of the meditation area.
"You are the seed upon which our army will be built. Our next stop is a trip through something we call the Garden of Knowledge, for a little instant background knowledge." Cyrus, Tony and the twenty three men disappeared in the blink of an eye.
I looked at those remaining.
"Gentlemen, as you have probably already surmised, the ground is not the only place where this war will be fought. It is time to meet your counterparts from Taluat."
I jumped in Mor Grestain and eight senior officers. Four from the Western Alliance of Taluat, and four Eastern Commanders who had also volunteered their services as soon as they heard of the need.
Ambrose took the center spot in the meditation circle and addressed them.
"You will all get a chance to meet each other in the coming days, but rest assured that you are all of comparable levels of advancement and experience. While our Taluatans have the advantage of being here with the full knowledge and support of their governments, those of you from Earth have the advantage of some relatively recent combat experience."
"What none of you have is experience in the theater of operations in which you will be performing."
We played the video and ran the images we had of the Sh'kxu ships in orbit.
With those cards on the table, the group settled back into their cushions and began a little brainstorming session. I let them run, and gave a nod to Ambrose as I sent a quick thought.
<Let them run like this a while, then run them through the Garden. Introduce them to the Obsidian staff, and let them know that they are to consider our staff their staff as far as matters of logistics, supply and communications go. Later we will probably have to figure out how to give them their own staff. Show them to their quarters, issue them their gear and extend the invitation to dinner at my house tonight. I'll introduce them to Constantine and Arden then.>
I made a few quick stops here and there, checking on the arrangements I"d made for the dinner tonight. I peeked in on Arden and Con in the Arena. I checked on the reception I had planned on Cascade for General Covington and his crew. Finally I jumped back to Obsidian and met Tony and Cyrus in the garden as they waited for their charges to finish their training. They began coming out of the garden, one or two at a time until they were all gathered in front of us.
"When I call your name, come forward." Tony said.
Pea Nichols. Pinky Wallace. Joe Meier. Tree Simmons. Arty Landis, Chili Cruz. Sven Wallace. Bob Thompson. Lee Wharton. John Blackwell. Red Collins. Rob Jones. Chesty Price. Keith Dieter. Aaron Sweet. Hank Craft. Pete Green. Nettie Meyer. Tony Perez. Jack Nguyen. Tiny Armonk. Matthew McAllister. Haywood Covington.
As each person walked up, Cyrus jumped a package into his arms and tossed it to them.
"These are your uniforms, your armor and your new best friend." Chet said as he handed the last package to Colonel Covington. "Suit up!"
Three of the group were women, but nobody even blinked as they shed their clothes and donned the green glowing armor.
"Blue glowing armor like mine means a member of the Legion of Light. Green glowing armor means a Warrior of the Guardians. There are some differences as you may have noticed.
<Some you may not, but they are there nonetheless> Cyrus thought to them.
"Legionnaires are not just 'special forces' for this army. We are a whole different animal, and there are things we will be doing during this war because we are the only ones who can." Tony said. He lifted himself ten feet in the air as he said it.
"Colonel Covington, you are now General Covington. You will have ten training groups at our facility. You will have two weeks to assign twenty of these people in teams of two, to each of the ten training groups. The two who remain will be your command staff, so choose wisely."
"Now that the Bean counters and the guys with the rubber stamps are happy, its time to go see where you will be living and working and meet your Sergeant Majors."
"Sergeant Majors?" General Covington asked.
"We understand that the system of ranks you will use have yet to be determined, but these people will be filling that position on at least a philosophical level for the duration of the training period, so I use the term loosely."
With that I jumped us all to Cascade. The building crews had been busy. We arrived in front of the Commandant's Office, which with the abbreviated structure we envisioned made it the army Headquarters as well for now. At first the buildings looked just like every army movie you'd ever seen on television or in the theater. Until you noticed the size of the doors. They were built to be Yaru accessible, as was everything in the camp.
"Let's go meet the unofficial 'First Sergeant' of this army, shall we?" I said. We walked over to the Mudfoot group.
By careful arrangement I knew to lead us to the observation window of the Mudfoot group's sandblaster, where Mudfoot had just begun his weekly cleaning. Everyone quickly crowded around the glass and watched the Yaru elder as he stretched and preened and rolled within the supersonic stream of 'sand' which was an engineered material which we had been jokingly referring to as 'Carbonite', after the stuff Han Solo got embedded into in the Star Wars movies. It was as effective as the best silicon carbide, but did not have any of the failings of that material, especially the tendency of silicon carbide to shatter into sharp-edged pieces.
"It looks like Mudfoot is getting his weekly coat cleaning." I said. "You can ask Titan, but the Yaru consider these sandblasters as an amazing luxury, and love the clean feeling it leaves behind."
"This was nicely arranged Mr. McKesson. We will have a much nicer appreciation of what the Yaru are capable of after this." Chili Cruz commented.
"Thank you, that was my purpose, but I'm not going to ask Mudfoot to cut his session short, so why don't we go ahead and head over to the parade grounds. Dinner is being served there."
The dinner with the 'Fleet Officers' as I was thinking of them went well. Arden and Constantine were besides themselves with the excitement of finally getting to share their research with military thinkers, and the newcomers, though they had heard him speak during the history part of our presentation, were amazed to get a chance to meet an artificial being. Andy and Serenity were also a big hit, and not just because of their precociousness and their uniqueness.
In addition to Stephen Brenneman, Randall Tyler, Geoffry Symington and Victor Emanoff from Ambrose's recruiting, the Officers from Mor's efforts included Alic Resta, Hav Sheye, Tri Deov, and Grig Steprev from the Western Alliance and Franz Frel, Gurid Sprec, Iala Ianda and Tymon Bru from the Eastern States.
Dinner was the same fare as the crew on Cascade were getting. Prime rib, baked potato and salad. Pretty standard stuff, as was the dinner chatter.
We did not linger long after dinner, and we were soon all ensconced in the Arena. I had made everyone run through the security access ID process as we arrived. I wanted them to have free access, and encouraged them to take advantage of it.
Con and Arden had reconfigured one of the control rooms to something resembling a war room. We had what I could only call a Holo-Sphere, a globular holographic display that rose high above our heads. On one side of the room a more traditional flat display hovered above a long tabletop littered with displays and readouts. The walls as well were covered with monitors of various kinds.
"Welcome to the War Room." Con said as we gathered around the table.
"The central display can obviously be used to project spacial data, and that is its normal use, but we're going to use it as something of a 3D modeler for now." Arden said.
"First, in order to give you some idea of the range of information left for us by the Seekers, here are some examples of a few ships we won't be building anytime soon." Con said. As he did the display flickered and shifted, revealing a globular ship. "We call this one the Death Star, for obvious reasons. A reference to an Earth American movie, for our Taluat officers."
The screen flickered again and a long rectangular ship was on display.
"We call this the Super Carrier, and it is comparable to the ships the Sh'kxu have in low orbit." Con added.