Children of the Light
Chapter 8: Wings and Ribbons
Copyright© 2010 by Sea-Life
I knew what to expect on my tenth birthday. One present, a brightly wrapped cube. I even knew what to do with it.
I'd only been teasing on Andy's tenth when I told him I already knew the answer to the test.
But having knowledge and knowing how to use it are two different things, Daddy always says.
The birthday party was fun, even with the distraction of the cube. Maia and Jeni sang me a special birthday song that they wrote me. We played our usual game of football on the lawn, but I think this may be the last birthday we play it. Andy and Jeni always seemed to wind up tackling each other, no matter what play was called.
Everyone was excited and happy. Dad and Uncle Con were particularly happy that day because of some passing comment one of the soldiers training to fight the Sh'kxu had made to his Sergeant. It got passed on from person to person until it got to Con, and it made him think so hard he actually took three or four seconds to thank the messenger who passed the note to him. Con had figured out how to give the Yaru Warriors hands!
I waited until the middle of the next day to officially 'solve' my cube. The facet I went to was full of waterfalls and flowering vines, and there were large, bright red birds with long tails that seemed to fly by in a series of long swooping glides. I didn't find any minds within my range that qualified as 'people', but that didn't mean they couldn't be here somewhere. I touched the mind of one of the graceful red birds, and saw a gentle, happy little mind, just content to fly around and eat the tiny little fruits of one of the vines that grew near the waterfalls.
I jumped back home, sent a thought off to Dad that I'd finished the test, and got one of his warm and fuzzy thoughts in return. I spent some time arranging the vine I'd pulled from the new world in one corner of the wall. I made a bowl of soil from the backyard, and fused it into a waterproof container with a little of the Light. More soil from the garden fill it, and a piece of Light attached that told it to stay floating in the same spot all the time, and I had a planter for the vine. I encouraged it to grow into the soil, and made sure a spur of it grew out at just the right spot to give Rose, my new pet bird from the facet of Waterfall, a perfect spot to perch on in her new home.
I used the Light to build a thick pad on my right shoulder that Rose could grip with her claws, and she rode happily there as I went downstairs to see if Mom was still home.
Mom was sitting at the kitchen table in the sun room with Grandpa Paul, Grandma Mary, Shelaana, and Andy, Trevor, Kieran, Ian and Grace.
"Hi Grandma! Hi Grandpa!" I said as I ran over and gave them both a hug.
"Serenity Elizabeth McKesson, just what is that on your shoulder?" Mom said, in her MOM voice.
"Mom, this is Rose. Rose, say hi to Mom!" Rose said hello with a low, melodic cooing sound that almost sounded like an old low-pitched steam whistle.
"I solved Dad's test." I said, answering the silent question that still remained out there.
"That was fast." Grandma Mary said. She had been there for the party yesterday, so she knew I'd only had the 'test' since then.
"well, it was no big deal. Andy was the one who had to work out the hard part when he did his. The rest of us already know what has to be done, its just a matter of figuring out the how, right Trev?"
"Yeah, its no big deal." Trevor said. "Ian and Grace will be the interesting ones. We're all wondering how Mr. McKesson is going to do it. One cube for the both of them, or a cube each?"
"One more month and we'll all know, won't we?" Kieran said. "Then we'll all have our armor, and maybe we can start going places together."
"There are enough of you to form your own Legion teams." Grandpa Parkin observed.
"Well, I doubt that Dave is going to let that happen for a while, and that is just this batch. The next is already arriving. Borthun and Yela's little Dave, Arden and Alicia are expecting again, as is Felicia and Cyrus." Mom said. "I even hear that Fred and Ariana are planning a Taluatan bonding ceremony next week and that Ariana is already expecting. So are Porter and Glova Burgess."
"I'm not sure if its public knowledge yet," Andy said, "but so are Riah and Zaiah.
"Darn!" Mom said, automatically substituting the word because we were there. "Here we go again, huh? Did someone slip something in the water?"
"Its the coming war on Precipice, honey." Grandpa Parkin said. "War always seems to trigger the human need to have children."
"The war has got us all going, and for a lot of different reasons." Mom said. "I guess Dr. Virginia McKesson and Mrs. David Alan McKesson have both been just as caught up in it as everyone else."
"Its going to get worse before it gets better, you can count on that." Shelaana said. "They're just now really ramping up the military side of things, and I'm sure there are lots of things we don't know about that are keeping Dave and the Legion busy."
I looked at Andy and saw him looking at me. <Go ahead.> He sent me.
"You know Mom, us kids could be helping out a lot, and freeing up you adults for other work."
"Ren, its just too dangerous." Mom said, her standard answer.
"What is dangerous about helping to process the people that are rescued from Precipice? We don't even have to be in the same room with them, and you cannot tell me that those poor people are a danger to anyone." I countered.
"We'll have to talk about it later sweetheart, it looks like your Dad and Uncle Con are here to take us on your first facet survey mission."
I took Rose back up to my room when I went to put on the new armor Dad handed me. I put her on her perch and told her to stay there until I returned, tickling the vine with a little Light until it had produced a couple pieces of fruit for her.
The mission to Waterfall, as I called the facet, was fun and it was interesting to finally get to do the things I'd heard about and seen in the thoughts and memories of the others.
Oddly enough, Waterfall was another facet that featured plateaus, just as Andy's birthday discovery had. Mine was not a single continental plateau, and it was going to be much more hospitable it appeared, than Mesa had been. Of course the canyon systems of Mesa were prime training grounds for the Warriors who were becoming the Preci Freedom Force.
I used that conversational link to once again lobby for inclusion in the war effort. Reminding them again how suited our talents were for the work of acclimatizing the newly rescued Preci. I wasn't expecting a victory, merely planting the seeds for the future.
We finished our survey and dropped off the data on Obsidian. While we were there Con took us over to his workshop in the Hall of Gifts and showed us his work on giving hands to the Yaru.
"Waldo is an Earth Science Fiction story by a writer named Robert H. Heinlein." Con said. Uh oh! I detected lecture mode engaged!
"In that story, the main character, whose first name was Waldo, suffered from a crippling genetic disorder that left him so weak that he had to live in a space station in orbit, so he could move around in zero G. Earth's gravity prevented him from doing almost any normal human activity, even something as simple as holding a spoon and lifting it to feed himself. A brilliant inventor, Waldo designs and has built remote manipulators that receive the feeble movements of his own hands and translates then into useful, even powerful action. This idea, from this short work of science fiction was such an evocative image that years later when scientists actually began to build remote manipulators for handling radioactive and hazardous materials in laboratories and harsh environments, they called them 'Waldoes'."
Titan came walking down the corridor next to the workshop, wearing a combat collar, similar to those the War Hounds in training on Cascade were being assigned. Titan's was wider, and had a tapered extension that ran down the neck and between the shoulder blades. What was really cool was that Titan was juggling three balls as he walked, using a pair of hands that floated in front of him. They looked like somewhat large human hands wearing thick gloves.
"This may look cool, but this is just a parlor trick.!" Titan said with glee. "The important thing is, now when I get an itch in that place I can't reach? I can reach!!"
We were all still too stunned and impressed to remember to laugh. Instead, titan got, in triplicate,
As soon as we got back home, I ran up and checked on Rose. She was doing fine, but I let her hop onto my shoulder and then sent out a thought to Andy. He was with the rest of the kids in our usual spot.
We had, Andy and the rest of us 'Legion Kids', appropriated a spot as our special place that we thought Mom and Dad would either find amusing or upsetting. Our secret spot was 'The Ledge'.
"How did it go?" Andy asked as soon as I got there.
"Great!" I answered. "Designation 'Waterfall', a world of plateaus, sort of like your was, only the plateau's aren't a mile high, and they aren't all part of one big continent like yours was."
"No, how did the convincing Mom and Dad go?" Andy asked, obviously exasperated. I giggle back.
"I think it went well actually, they listened, didn't argue, and did not say no at the end. They didn't say yes, but they didn't say no, so that's a first. Oh! And guess what!"
"What?" I got back from everyone at once.
"I got to see the new hands that Con has invented for the Yaru! They're called 'Waldoes', its from some science fiction story from Earth. Titan was juggling three balls in the air using them."
This was exciting news for everyone, and it distracted them for a while with excited talk, but after allowing the distraction to carry on for a few moments, Andy got everyone focused back on our purpose.
"C'mon. We were waiting for Ren, and now she's here. We can't afford to wait any longer."
We quickly formed our familiar circle on the meditation rug Eru had given us for our 'clubhouse'. We merged our minds quickly, settling into a comfortable familiarity. With our fusion complete, we moved ours mind into the Light. We stretched our awareness and our perception, and we felt the world within the Light, and aware, we chose to be ... somewhere else.
When Dad and the Legion heard the story of the Seekers and the Choctowineh, and how they finally grew to be one people, and with their new skills and insights chose to seek adventure and understanding in some new place, moving in some new way, beyond reality, they did not understand and knew that they couldn't follow.
The Children of the Legion understood. We had not found the path they took, but we found the place where the path must start. Our future surely would lead us into those places, but for now there was one place which did not require finding. The Dream World.
We went to the Dream World because the Sh'kxu sleepers were there.
The ship-borne Sh'kxu had been dreaming so long together that they had built a dream mind powerful enough to reach back into the real world. If, in their dreaming, their dream mind's awareness found Dad, or any of the Spirit Masters and Soul Divers working to defeat them, it would have been the end of everything. The dream mind would have reached back into reality and killed them, probably all of us, with a thought.
So every two days, we joined our minds, slipped through the world of Light and into the Dream World. Even though we joined our minds to enter the Light, we entered the Dream World as individuals, and as individuals we spent a couple of hours building a new bit of dream, and letting the Sh'kxu dreamers chase it through the endless corridors of their own minds.
There are others there, in the Dream World. For the most part they are very happy to discover others able to journey there with them, but they are all afraid of the Sh'kxu dream mind. They see it as an aberration, and are afraid of its power. They have been watching them for a long time, long before they came to Precipice. A lot of them were helping us keep the dreamers distracted.
The Dream World is not hard to find. It is where everyone goes when they dream. It is malleable to the extreme, and each dreamer crafts it without effort. It is incredibly resistant to certain things though, Conscious dreaming is one, and finding and contacting other dreamers is another. But a strong mind is a strong mind, and within the Dream World there are those who seek out the company of others like them. That was how we met Spinner and the Wood Wise.
Spinner was a person, an individual, almost as old as reality he said, but we thought he said that as a joke, because we were kids. He was really old though, we could tell that. The Wood Wise were more like the Sh'kxu, a group mind that shared their dream. Unlike the Sh'kxu, they were one mind when they were awake too, except they were seldom awake.
"Let the bud-lings roam the world, and spend it waking. We have settled into our places and now we dream." They said in their single voice with many echoes.
In their thoughts I saw the bud-lings, and they were sort of like the 'Ents' in the Lord of the Rings. Walking trees, except they were all limb and vine and coiling root, with nothing like a tree trunk. And fast! They moved like lightning, swarming over their prey like tumbleweeds in a hurricane, battering them with limbs as hard as the hardest oak, cutting and slashing them with their wicked sharp thorns, choking them within the grip of their clinging, coiling vines. They were mindless and unaware - merely plants reacting on the most basic of chemical and cellular levels of response. They moved, they killed, they fed. It was only when they stopped and chose their spot along the growing edge of the Wood Wise, only when they 'went rooted' as Spinner described it, that eventually, over the centuries, intelligence and wisdom came.
The Wood Wise were ancient too, old enough to have outlived one world and begun again upon a second. It had been Spinner that had led them through the Dream World to a new place when theirs was dying, and so Spinner was their friend forever, if Spinner liked you, the Wood Wise liked you.
Spinner's thoughts were not so revealing of his past. Every time he shared them, he seemed to be someone or something new and different. Meeting us gave him joy and purpose he said. We sensed his love for us, but also felt his worry, that we were here too soon, and that we were too young. He would share thoughts and memories with us, but would not let us share his mind.
"It is too much." He said. "I have lived too long, and have too many memories. Your young minds shouldn't have to try to hold it."
The Wood Wise told us that Spinner was not always proud of things he had done in his long, long life, and that he perhaps did not want us to think less of him for some of them.
Spinner had been inhabiting the Dream World so long that he had created a permanent home, or so he said. We might be kids, but we understood the malleable and impermanent nature of Dream, so we were skeptics at first. His home was a stone and wood cottage that was built into the bottom of a hill with a huge wide limbed Oak atop it, and a babbling brook that sprang from the side of the hill. His fireplace was a crevice in the rocky face of the hill that was his cottage's back wall. We would visit, and sit together beside the brook and talk about dreaming and the Dream World, and about what Spinner called 'Magic', which was how he described our gifts. And always we would plan and scheme against the Sh'kxu, and plot out our strategy.
We came together at Spinner's house, to prepare our next session with the Sh'kxu dreamers. We sat today, the eight of us and the Wood Wise at a picnic table, covered with a red checkered table cloth and teacups and teapots and a tray of scones and cookies. Spinner sat at the head of the table, looking for all the world like the Mad hatter. The Wood Wise was having fun pretending to be the Cheshire Cat, and making parts of himself appear and disappear. Only Ian and Grace joined in their fun, making themselves appear as Tweedledee and Tweedledum.
As always, we did not speak of the Sh'kxu immediately. Both Spinner and the Wood Wise considered every meeting in the Dream World a social event, and to speak of the Sh'kxu without first having had a pleasant conversation was the height of rudeness. We argued, as always, about what the Dream Stuff really was.
We did not see the Dream Stuff in the same way as the Wood Wise, and they did not see the Light as we did, and with Spinner as our referee, we argued back and forth continually, and with good humor, about the nature of each other's reality, and the paths that you could follow, either within the Dream or within the Light. We were seriously handicapped in these arguments by our lack of perspective and experience. Only our youthful refusal to see limitations and barriers, Spinner told us, and our inherently imaginative natures allowed us even a chance of competing in the debate.
"You call yourselves Children of the Light, and children are indeed what you are, and so, so young yet." Spinner said, and it was true. Even we thought that. "But You and I and the Wood Wise, we are the only ones who can do this, and it needs doing."
We knew how our parents would react if we tried to share this experience with them. Dad would probably see the truth of it in our minds eventually, and still try to forbid us from doing what we did, but there was no way yet for them to follow us there, so the Dream World, and what needed to be done there was left to us. Of all the people of all the facets we knew, there were none to help us.
So we entered the World of Dreams, not as Lords or Warriors, but as children, and as children, we danced and played around the edges of the Sh'kxu dream mind, and led it, like laughter echoing down a foggy street, into distraction.
We had been working on the problem of the Sh'kxu and their original attack on Precipice, because everyone is so worried about not knowing what kinds of weapons the Sh'kxu will wield against them, what kind of defenses they will have. Spinner understood about Light signatures, and being able to trace their connections. He showed us how to tap our trace into the Dream Stuff. To get it to display the scenes that existed around the object during the time and at the place where we had followed the trace. We practiced on bits of this and that, things of our own, while trying to find something of the Preci that would lead us to the right time and place. It was Jeni who thought of it first.
"Doesn't TeJon have a necklace that comes from someone who was in the battle itself?" Jeni asked one day while we sat at the table with Spinner and the Wood Wise.
So began our latest secret plan. Cute little Grace Parkin, all curls and dimpled smile, asked TeJon one day if she could borrow his keepsake, to show to some friends. We only kept it a couple of hours, but it was enough.
"General Covington, this is Titan, and he is wearing the Yaru Battle Collar, Mark II." Con said, addressing the General, but really speaking to the entire assembly of officers in the room. "It offers a significant advantage over the Mark I model. Titan?"
"The Mark I battle collar offered the Yaru Warrior access to our communications and computer net, and with that, access to the security, navigation and tactical tools of the PFF. This was a great advantage for us, but it still meant that the only weapons we could bring to bear in combat were our own physical gifts."
Suddenly a pair of hands appeared to form on the new collar's extension, like bubbles foaming into existence on the surface of a puddle,, and once formed, they lifted up quickly, floating in the air, one two feet to the left and one two feet to the right of Titan's shoulders.
"This is the default 'Waldo' remote manipulator mode, and with practice, you can learn to use these hands with a startling degree of finesse and control. With a little Spirit Master assistance, I've been able to get to the point, after six weeks of practice, starting with the initial proof of concept models and working through to this version, that I can juggle, shuffle and deal playing cards, I can even play the piano!"
"Ahem!" Con cleared his throat and raised an eyebrow.
"Okay, some people might not exactly consider it good playing, but I do not believe the piano is going to be a part of the standard equipment issued to the Warriors of the PFF." Titan said, drawing a laugh from the audience. "This version, while the ideal, is going to be impossible to release to every Yaru with a battle collar. We simply don't have the manpower, Spirit Master personnel or time to train every Yaru sufficiently. We will give them to the units who are already in combat training, as well as the class after them."
Colonel Mudfoot and Colonel Longeye came to the front of the room then, to stand alongside Titan, also wearing a battle collar, but unlike Titan's theirs did not include hands.
"The remaining seven classes will receive these."
Colonel Mudfoot had a pair of Zombie guns, each floating off to the left and right of his shoulders.
Colonel Longeye had twin Zombie grenade launchers that also floated in the same position.
"The Zombie guns that Colonel Mudfoot is equipped with are identical to those carried by our human Warriors. The trigger and grip module have been replaced by a remote manipulator interface. Any standard Zombie gun can be field stripped and adapted to use this interface. The Zombie grenade launcher unit that Colonel Longeye is wielding are also the same as those carried by our human Warriors. The rear grip and trigger unit for the launcher has been field stripped and replaced with the remote manipulator interface."
"Where do they carry them when they are in camp, or some other non-combat location?" Major Sweet asked.
Titan didn't even have to answer. Mudfoot's Zombie guns and Longeye's Zombie grenade launchers zipped quietly behind them, coming to rest nestled against the collar's extension where it tapered down their backs. The tapered lines of the devices themselves lent itself well to the fit, as the interface reformed itself into smooth tapered clamps at the grip end, and a portion of the collar itself reformed around the fronts of each, until the units seemed to become a pair of smooth blisters within the collar extensions themselves.
"We will be pulling most of the Spirit Masters who are currently engaged in processing our daily catch of freshly liberated Preci off that task so that they can do a PNM integration dump of my hard earned skills with the new Waldo unit to the current Yaru War Hounds who will be getting them. A similar but less involved dump will be done for the new classes" Con said. "Remember that these dumps will still require reinforcing with practice in order for the skills to become permanent."
"You lost me there with one thing." Chili Cruz said. "What is a PNM dump?"
Oh, my apologies. I know how you military types like acronyms, so I threw in one of ours." Con said with a grin. "PNM stands for 'Physio-Neuro-Mnemonic'. PNM Dump is shorthand for the transfer, by a Spirit Master, of the Physical muscle memory, neural conditioning and mental memory and knowledge associated with a practiced use of something from one individual to another. Its something Andy and Eru came up with and originally called a Persona Recording."
"This is the same sort of process we're using now to give our freed Preci a foundation for existing outside of their old lives?" Major Green asked.
"Exactly, except that this is much more narrowly focused." Con answered.
Brigadier General Tyler found the abbreviated command structure adopted for his Preci Air Command forces amusing and terrifying. As the supreme commander of the PAC, he had exactly three ranks below him. Four Majors and sixteen colonels were the entirety of the command structure, and who in the hell had decided that the Preci had to reverse the ranks of Colonel and Major? Below those twenty officers were the one hundred and ninety two Captains of the Tactical Air Wing and the one hundred and twenty eight Captains and one hundred and twenty eight Master Sergeants of the Close Air Support Wing. Less than five hundred pilots to take on a world. Less than five hundred, and no idea what the enemy had in the way of air assault or defense capabilities. They practiced in the Arena every day, in various combinations, against pretend enemy with pretend capabilities, using pretend scenarios.
Wing Leader Captain Liala Lanam was considered one of the best Falcon pilots in the PAC, and she loved her Falcon. All the pilots did. These craft were so far beyond what they had been used to in the Western Air Defense that there seemed to be no comparison. In terms of maneuverability, rate of climb and top speed, the Falcons were in a class of their own. When you added in the grav-cannons, the belly launched smart zombie bombs, and the high speed, rapid fire rail guns, they seemed an imposing force. With the Magno-Gravitic shielding that prevented most of even their own formidable weaponry from causing damage, they seemed unstoppable.
General Tyler and Captain Lanam were going to Meadow today, to the very home of Spirit Master Dave McKesson himself, because there had come word that some information on what weapons the Sh'kxu used during the original invasion might be retrieved.
Kru followed Major Sweet through the doorway, which was one of the Obsidian gates, and into a bustling room on Obsidian itself. Kru had been here twice before now, having been ordered to the Garden for educational opportunities. This time, rather than walking over to the Garden, they went to the Spirit Master's executive offices. A very pleasant older woman there asked them to wait a moment, and soon they were joined by a Legionnaire, who was obviously a soldier. Kru could recognize that this man was trained in war, just by watching him walk.
"Good morning Major Sweet, its good to see you again. Captain Kru, my name is Cyrus Poole. I'm here to take you to the meeting with Spirit Master McKesson."
They shook hands, in the manner of Earth, and in the blink of an eye they were standing on a raised porch, outside a large home overlooking a beautiful valley. A small group of children were playing on the lawn in front of the house. A voice spoke from behind them.
"Major Sweet, a pleasure seeing you again. Captain Kru, I'm Dave McKesson, welcome to my home!"
Kru found himself shaking hands again with a tall, slender man with a boyish smile, followed shortly thereafter by a second handshake, followed this time by a kiss on the cheek from his wife, Doctor Virginia McKesson, who insisted he call her 'Ginny', and who was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Until the introductions that followed. He saluted then shook hands with General Tyler, followed by a salute, handshake and kiss on the cheek from Captain Lanam. Kru's blush brought out a smile on Captain Lanam, which brought out the dimples on her cheeks, and suddenly Kru was looking for anything that might serve as a distraction from the mesmerizing focus that was Liala Lanam.
Fortunately the introductions were not over, as first the McKesson children, Andy and Serenity were introduced, followed by Elder Tejon. No free Preci could be introduced to this man without wide-eyed wonder. The only living Preci to never have suffered the weight of the Sh'kxu coercion was a legend!
Focus quickly shifted away from the adults when the other six children were called forward, and together, they led the adults into the house, to get settled in the large living room.
"General, Major, Captains, you are all aware that it is our awareness of the Light, an energy that underlies everything in our universe, that makes us Spirit Masters, or Guardians as we really prefer to be called." Ginny began. "Our children, those of the Legion, and our closest friends, are gifted with what we have begun to consider the next level of Light-awareness. They are also, every one of them, what can only be called inordinately precocious."
"Because of their precociousness, and their demonstrated sensitivity to the Light in ways the rest of us find difficult to follow, we tend to listen to our children when they come to us with ideas or concerns." Dave continued. "Last night they showed us something that you will want to see."
With a little edge to his voice, Dave continued.
"My children — all these 'Children of the Light', as they've been called, have violated the spirit of the rules we, their parents, laid down regarding the use of their gifts. But in doing so, they have given us something priceless. They have found a way to show us the first and only air battle at the beginning of the Sh'kxu invasion. All I ask is that you get as comfortable in your chairs as you can, because you will soon be asleep, 'for in that sleep of death, what dreams will come'."
~ The Battle of Estirem