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The Aliom Temple was already set up for the weddings. Jindigar, at nearly seven thousand years of age, had been married at all four of his previous Renewals. But even so, a tense awe and shivering anticipation were settling over him, as if he'd never known a woman's urgent touch.
But he was remarrying his first wife, the most deeply satisfying. He should be serene and confident, leading the others, as was expected of a Priest of Aliom.
Restless, he paced the length of the Temple hall, keenly aware of the smell from the freshly polished wood paneling. The gleaming walls reflected the ceremonial fire in the circular hearth, at the end of the room near the entry.
The door was open on this early spring morning, mixing the alien scent of the reviving world with the strange perfumes of native wood smoke, but little light filtered around the interlocking, curved walls of the entry tunnel.
At the opposite end of the windowless hall, on what the humans called a staircase that went nowhere, four hooded marriage flames danced in their smoked glass containers amid the symbols of Aliom, displayed on the steps one above the other. At midnight Jindigar had kindled the wedding flame for Darllanyu just as the three other men had for their mates. And she, with the other women, had concealed the flame. That had been his moment of commitment to the remarriage. Why was he so agitated now?
He paused at the edge of the marriage circle, below the skylight. The rays of the morning sun were focused by the slanted panes above him to set the crushed white gravel of the marriage circle to glowing visually, even for Dushau eyes, so ill adjusted to this world's sun.
But to his other senses, from below the crushed white gravel, from deep in the center of the planet, a fountain of pure white energy, the energy of the planet itself, erupted upward, flowing, out through the skylight and dissipating in the air above the Temple. The marriage circle was laid over the worldcircle, at the point where the energy of sun and planet met, the condition necessary to create life.
At noon he would reveal the marriage flame and carry it into that circle, where Darllanyu would extinguish it. If the non-visible light from the worldcircle increased, it would show that they were close enough in harmony, in shaleiliu, to transform physical light to spiritual light, and they would be married. He knew it would happen. Just gazing into the circle made him eager to get it over with.
But before he dared think of success at his marriage trial, he had to Dissolve his Oliat, releasing the seven of them from the psychic bonds linking them into one mind which enabled them to interpret the complex ecology of this world.
To bring them safely through Dissolution, he must remain unmoved even though the gonads at the base of his neck throbbed insistently at any thought of Darllanyu. He told himself sternly that he wasn't near being fertile yet. His fingers were still nailless, and the nail beds didn't even itch.
But when I'm fertile and an Active Priest again, the Historians will stop trying to lure me away from Aliom. Jindigar discarded that thought instantly. His Priesthood was intact. He had no reason to fear temptation. They couldn't force him to become a Historian. He wouldn't court Renewal and sacrifice his Oliat to avoid confrontations.
He paced around the circle. Am I running from my personal problems by Dissolving my Oliat now? The colony still needed an Oliat's ecological advice, but things were stable now. They'd manage until he could train a new group. His Oliat, however, had been trembling on the brink of Renewal all winter. To continue would be irresponsible.
An astonishing sense of relief washed through him as he reaffirmed that decision. But it was quickly replaced by needles of anxiety, as he resolved to surrender to Renewal, and suddenly everything in him wanted to clutch at the Oliat. Maybe it's just that if I quit now, I'll have failed at Center? His Oliat had never achieved a precision balance.
If he was running from his personal problems, he didn't know which way to run. But such strident panic was a primary symptom of Renewal onset, which made him very dangerous as Oliat Center, an Office requiring precision judgment. The only way to bring it under control was to marry Darllanyu and raise children. And that settled it.
The sound of a door opening startled him. He turned to see five of his Oliat's Officers enter the Temple from the temporary living quarters the Oliat shared off to one side of the Temple. They came in, men circling one way and women the other. They wore the Aliom ceremonial vestments woven from native fibers, bleached and dyed to symbolize the brightness of lightning, the Oliat signature. Jindigar, as Center of the Oliat, wore white, symbol of origins and endings, for white light was composed of all wavelengths.
A warmth stole through him. These people had become his zunre — closer than blood relatives — for they had shared the Oliat bond. They saw with each other's eyes, heard with each others' ears, knew with each others' hearts. Dissolution would leave them separate but could not sever that bond.
His gaze was drawn to Darllanyu as she led the other two women to seat cushions around the fire. She glided as if carried on air. The floor reflected her costume, so she seemed to float at the tip of a flame. Jindigar feasted on the rich indigo of her skin coloring. She seemed like a creature out of legend, an apparition passing through the world but not of it. How could I merit such a wife?
But he needed her. He dared not dwell on how much he needed her. Then he saw that she wore the gold arm band he had once given her. His heart swelled with a flutter both familiar and strange until he had to look away.
When they had all settled around the hearth, Darllanyu strummed random chords on the whule she had made from native woods. He joined them. His own whule, left to him by his teacher, Lelwatha, was on his seat, next to Darllanyu. He cradled it in his lap, the feel of the satiny finish of the antique urwood sending thrills up his arms.
Struggling to subdue his hypersensitivity, Jindigar fought to ignore Darllanyu's faintly suggestive aroma and not to think about the activities that would be theirs later today. With the inward communication of the Oliat, Jindigar assured her, //Krinata will be here in a moment. Then we can begin the Dissolution.//
His Oliat wasn't fully convened — for the past year Jindigar had kept the seven of them divided into two duos and a trio for training. But the linkages were well enough activated that they all received the conversation. //You know I don't want her at our wedding. It's bad enough that none of our former mates are here to officiate — //
Something of Jindigar's hurt must have reached her. She broke off, curbed a soothing gesture, and explained, //What she does to you frightens me. She's an ephemeral. I don't want to get any closer to her. We're so vulnerable now!//
Feeling her fear for him through the link, Jindigar knew she couldn't bear to see him hurt any more than he could bear her pain. And she had good reason to fear.
At his last Renewal he had taken an ephemeral woman, Ontarrah, into his home, and on four occasions even into his bed, because he could not bear to part from her. His wife and their children had accepted Ontarrah — even loved her — and had grieved deeply at her death from aging, taking disabling mental scars. For that he had been exiled from Dushaun until this Renewal — and now he could not go home.
//Dar, because Krinata is Ontarrah reincarnated, we are both determined not to repeat that mistake.//
At that moment Krinata Zavaronne walked through the front entry. She was wearing the same lightning flash vestment the others wore but cut to fit the human female form, somehow making her diminutive frame seem statuesque. Overall, she projected the impression of the Lady Zavaronne attending Prince Jindigar's wedding. If any of them noticed, though, she'd be deeply offended. The Allegiancy Empire was dead, and with it Krinata had buried her title — but try as she might, she had not been able to bury her heritage.
She took her seat opposite Jindigar. Her black eyes danced in the firelight. Her short black hair hid the human ear paps, and she sat facing him so he couldn't see the jutting profile of her chest. If it weren't for her hair and pinkish-white skin, she could almost pass for Dushau.
//I plan,// she said, unable to hide her hurt in the silent medium, //to leave right after the Dissolution. I do have my own wedding to prepare for, and Cy will be anxious.//
Cyrus Benwilliam Lord Kulain had been courting Krinata circumspectly since they'd met. As a professional Oliat Outrider, he knew his job was to protect the Oliat, which meant to protect Krinata from any hint of sexual arousal. Unfortunately, with humans in love, that wasn't possible. Cyrus's feelings and Krinata's insuppressible responses had been a major factor in destabilizing Jindigar's Oliat.
//Custom,// argued Zannesu, Jindigar's Inreach, //is for marriage to be witnessed by one's zunre. You are zunre to us, Krinata.// He was to marry Eithlarin, Jindigar's Protector, and the most sensitive of his Oliat’s officers.
Yet Eithlarin was not a weak person. She challenged Darllanyu. //Perhaps Zannesu and I will marry first, so we may enjoy the company of all our zunre.//
//I understand Darllanyu's feelings,// Krinata put in quickly. //I'd welcome you all at my wedding, but it wouldn't be healthy for you. If I were Dushau, I wouldn't associate with ephemerals, either. So I'll leave as soon as I can.// Her words were brave, but her heart was torn.
//Ephemerals grieve too,// commented Jindigar, needing to tell her he knew how she felt. //It hurts them just as much as it does us, to lose a friend.// That similarity was one reason Dushau feared association with ephemerals — especially during the openness of Renewal onset when new friendships went so deep they could last a lifetime. But ephemerals rarely lived a hundredth of a lifetime. No Dushau could survive such a high frequency of loss and remain sane.
Jindigar felt her reaching for him through the link, as if trying to console him while facing her own bereavement. For the first time in nearly two years, she'd face the world stripped of the Oliat's global awareness. She'd feel naked, alone, cold — shattered to her core. But she didn't flinch. Krinata added, levelly, //Cy will be waiting with the medics, in case I need treatment for Dissolution shock. Trinarvil is outside with the other wedding guests. She'll escort me to the gate — afterward. So let's get on with it.//
Trinarvil, Dushaun's Ambassador to the Allegiancy, had turned out to be their most proficient medic. Jindigar knew he could trust her to treat Krinata if necessary. And he also knew that humans preferred swift partings.
He nodded human fashion and activated the duo linkage that unified himself and Krinata, preparing to convene the Oliat for Dissolution. But he stole a moment of privacy in their duo, to tell her, //I would have stayed with you the rest of your life — if I could have. But none of us can be trusted anymore. If we don't Dissolve now — //
//I know. You explained how we're already deep into the safety margin. You must go to Renewal seclusion now. I want you to go. Ephemerals have done you enough harm. But that doesn't make it any easier to say goodbye.//
In the intimacy of the duo, Jindigar saw himself through her eyes and her emotions. His indigo-napped skin shone in the suddenly bright light, for human eyes were so much more sensitive in the yellow band. His white garments sparkled, making him seem huge and otherworldly. She hardly noted the lack of external ears on his skull but dwelled instead on his seven-fingered hands, seeing a sensualness in the musician's strength.
He drew back, suddenly realizing that she wanted to feel his napped skin stroking her face, and there was nothing innocent in it. That strange attraction had always been there between them, but it was only lately, since Dar had stirred him so deeply, that he was physically aware of it — and vaguely repelled. But Krinata was the most beautiful, courageous, and compassionate person he had ever known. He could not hurt her, so he didn't let her see that he'd noticed.
//You have Cy. He'll make a good life with you.// By the time he could once again tolerate ephemeral company without the danger of close emotional attachments, he would be dealing with their grandchildren — or perhaps another reincarnation of Krinata.
//I can't imagine life without Cy. But he's not you. You once told me Renewal can be a harsh judge of souls. I hope it will be kind to you. . . .//
In Renewal, the Dushau body was restored to youthful health while the soul assimilated recent lessons. //The emotional instability will subside in a few years. Raising children can be an immensely vitalizing experience. I recommend you try it. I know Cy wants to.//
//I expect we will try it.//
//Yes — just — remember me, just as I am now.//
//Count on it.// And he gentled her into the Office of Outreach for the entire Oliat, the only one of them who could speak aloud when they were convened. //Outreach,// he called her formally, then opened the full seven-way Oliat linkage, calling each of his officers to function.
He braced himself, expecting the usual discord as the half-trained officers struggled to work with the larger group. In spite of the woefully inadequate performance of his Oliat, he was about to achieve the rank of Retired Center, to become an Observing Priest with Active status.
And then he noticed that the linkages had settled into place with neat precision. Just when there's no time left, they finally get it! His eyes met Dar's, and on his signal, they fingered the subsuming chord, a musical analogue to the soundless vibration of the carrier wave of the universe, which should be a constant background to Oliat awareness. But he had always had to use the music to approximate a balance.
Now he used the whule sound to adjust the tensions of the linkages, as if he were tuning whule strings. For the first time he felt each of his officers actively reaching out toward one another, hungrily seeking the full precision awareness. The harmonics grew stronger than they had ever experienced. Frustrated, he knew that if they had another year, they might make a real Oliat out of the half-trained pentad that had grudgingly accepted Krinata and himself to form this shaky heptad calling itself an Oliat.
As the whule sound died off, the soundless subsuming chord remained and grew to permeate their awareness. It was the first time that had happened for his Oliat, and Jindigar marveled at the new sensations claiming him. His Oliat was in perfect harmony with the universal carrier wave, and in that first, very precious, moment he experienced the very definition of shaleiliu: not just congruent or harmonious, but a precision attunement to life itself.
His eyes met Krinata's, and they shared a memory: the day he had struggled for hours to define shaleiliu for her and had finally reminded her of the time she had questioned him about the purpose of life, the nature of death, the spiritual and material structure of reality, the origin and end of existence, and his identity within that structure and process, and he had responded by showing her a hologram of a lightning flash accompanied by the whule chord. "That sound is the shaleiliu hum and expresses the relationship among all those concepts. It is the sound lightning makes when it propagates through air. It is the carrier wave that indicates that the universe is constantly being created and sustained." He had told her, but she hadn't grasped it.
Now tears of joy stung her eyes as she discovered what he had meant. He had served in many Oliats, so the chord was familiar to him, but from Center it was far more intense, for only the Center was aware of all the forces they observed and how each was a perfect harmonic of the shaleiliu hum.
Fully possessing his Oliat at last, feeling very much closer to Completion, he let his awareness spread. Outside the Aliom Temple, many Dushau waited for the signal for the weddings. They occupied a grassed area within a circle of saplings that separated the Historians' Temple from their own. The crude log buildings had survived the winter admirably, but they planned to build more permanent stone structures as soon as possible.
Beyond the temple square, spread the Dushau compound. Close by was housing for those not in Renewal and an embryonic business and manufacturing district. Off to one side an interior wall protected the Renewal compound where housing was already being built for families with children, schools, and attendant services in mind. The entire Dushau area was now enclosed by a palisade of logs overhung by tall shade trees carefully preserved during construction.
On the other side of the Aliom Temple, at the far north corner of the Dushau compound, was the inner gate, and beyond it, the enclosed area where they traded with ephemerals. From the outer gate of the trade area, two graveled paths led to the houses where the other four species of the colony dwelled. Farther to the north were the fields, barns, and corrals. Today smoke rose from the kiln as pottery was fired, and the moisture laden air carried the scent of the tannery from across the river.
The Oliat's perspective showed them all this at once, while they were peripherally aware of the cliff rising over the colony's west side and the river winding by at the eastern border. The river came so near the Dushau back gate that they could hear its rain-swollen current as well as the raging waterfall that cascaded over the cliff nearby, turning their one electrical generator, then feeding the river.
Beyond the northwest edge of the colony, an area at the base of the cliff was packed with the skeletons of flying fortresses and spaceships, their only technological support being the mining of those wrecks.
Nearer the colony, high up on the cliff face, a cave had been enlarged by the Holot, the heavily pelted, six-limbed species who seemed mammalian but didn't suckle their young. They used the cave for making food for their infants.
Far to the southwest, the Oliat awareness picked up a storm brewing. On the plain above the cliff, shrubs bloomed, filling the air with a sticky, irritating pollen that clogged everything, coating all exposed surfaces with gum.
Jindigar drank in the experience of his Oliat's full global awareness, something he had lived millennia only imagining. Now, at the very moment when he'd grasped the fringes of its possibilities, he must relinquish it. He could, for the first time, fully appreciate the reason a Center's Oliat career ended with his Oliat. One could easily become addicted to this and become unable to survive as an individual.
He felt the others savoring the beauty of this final union, comparing it to how they'd striven and suffered before to garner just a fraction of the information now flowing through their multiconsciousness. Now that they'd tasted it, they yearned to refine their focus, to know every microbe in the Cassrians' hatching pond, every denizen of the river, every disease destroying the fish hatchery, every parasite attacking the sprouting fields — how all these fit into the single ecology they were building out of disparate imports and native life forms.
But he had to curb their eagerness to explore this new awareness. He tuned the linkages closer to the shaleiliu chord, letting them vibrate, soaking up the energy of the unheard sound. The Dissolution that he had been so afraid of would not be at all difficult, now that he had them balanced. He worked those linkages, one at a time, and then in pairs, tediously tuning and retuning, until he felt the wavering, desolidifying shimmer that signified impending Dissolution of the linkages.
A stray thought surfaced. Now Trinarvil would not serve in his Oliat — as she had predicted she would one day. This whole year, everyone had regarded Krinata as just holding Trinarvil's place until she was well enough to work Oliat. Trinarvil's prophetic gift had never failed before.
And then it happened.
A screeching, clattering wave of tiny bodies blackened the sky, coming into their sphere of awareness from the northeast. Swiftly, the animals poured into the side of the cliff north of the settlement, into the Holot's cave. Two Holot females emerged from the cave mouth with clicking flyers diving at their eyes and throats. One of the women went down, sprawling at the edge of the cave mouth near the ladder. Instantly, she was covered with a black blanket of crawling animals yammering in sudden triumph.
Jindigar abandoned the Dissolution and let the clarity of the linkages resume. //That's a hive-swarm. We've got to stop them — or there won't be a Holot infant left alive.// He tore out the door, Krinata just ahead of him, the others following, their personal concerns forgotten.
The searing sunlight blinded them through Krinata's human sensitivity, but they kept running, gradually forming around Jindigar in the Oliat pattern, Krinata as Outreach in the lead. Seeing this, the Dushau waiting outside for the weddings to begin parted to let them pass. Some Dushau qualified to act as Outriders fell in around them as they caught up to a crowd of Dushau heading for the north gate.
The sky was aswarm with the flowing mosaic of tiny bodies moving as if commanded by one brain. Above the rush of wings and the clicking, twittering, and clattering sound of the animals, they heard screams of anguish, shouts of former military commanders rallying a defense, and finally, the searing crack of weapons fire.
No! the Oliat protested as one mind, and Jindigar half heard Krinata's echoing of that. The blinding pain of burned animals plummeting out of the sky was added to the panic of the colonists on the defensive. The Oliat shuddered.
Jindigar held them firm, not daring to reduce their sensitivity. As one, they pounded around the curved ends of interlinked walls that formed the inner gate and emerged into the walled courtyard outside the gate.
Their ephemeral Outriders, led by the Lehiroh, Storm, and the human Cyrus Benwilliam Lord Kulain, half dressed in his wedding finery, fell into step around the Oliat, replacing the Dushau guards. Jindigar didn't even break stride but headed around the curved ends of the outer gate and onto the trail leading northwest, toward the cliff face.
As they ran, the weapons fire increased. A section of the invading swarm peeled off and attacked their attackers. A few animals penetrated the shield of fire and flew, claws extended, beaks slashing, at the heads of the colonists behind the weapons.
The colonists' valiant effort did not distract the swarm from its main target, though. Above them, in the mouth of the cave, another Holot woman went down under a living blanket of the small beasts, her fur torn away, her eyes pecked out. Below, the Holot men raged, aiming futile barrages of fire into the swarm that stretched in an arched cone all the way to the eastern horizon.
Jindigar detected an animal intelligence in that swarm — cohesive but not truly coherent — guiding this warrior vanguard to seize a haven for the new hive they needed to create. All of this planet's higher life forms were organized into hives, and spring was a time of swarming.
Jindigar increased his pace, closing with Krinata and Cy. After a year of harsh pioneering life, they were all in good condition, but the humans were tiring fast. He chose a spot and left the path, forging out toward the cliff and the cave, trying to get some distance between the Oliat and the frantically firing defenders. Then he brought the Oliat up short. Without pausing to let them catch their breath, he set the linkages wide open again — hoping their increased balance was still his to command.
It was. The shaleiliu hum was still with them. Within two heartbeats, Venlagar, as Receptor for the Oliat, had steadied into a better focus than he had ever achieved before. The roiling ferment of life forces flowing around them resolved, and Jindigar breathed a sigh of praise to Venlagar — his strongest officer. Without reasoning it through, Jindigar simply Received that this swarm of clicking quasi-rodents was here because, months ago, the colony had — on the advice of a subform of the Oliat — discouraged several other hives from settling near the colony. They had accidentally created an ecological vacuum — and the Holot had topped it off by sending out an irresistible reek of food on the winds. Thus the hive entity perceived the Holot’s cave as their rightful dwelling place.
Krinata whimpered deep in her throat and sagged against Cyrus, who threw Jindigar a piercing look. Jindigar ignored both touch and glance, and reset the linkages, muting the information flow to Krinata. She could not modulate for herself. During her first encounter with full Oliat awareness, she had nearly lost her sanity. She was the Oliat's weakest officer.
"//Cy,//" said the Oliat through Krinata’s voice, "//the Guard Commander must order cease fire. They're making it worse.//"
Subliminally, Jindigar realized he'd chosen to send Cyrus on the errand as much to separate him from Krinata as to convey the message. But he concentrated the Oliat awareness now on the living black wave undulating above them in stunningly beautiful patterns.
Jindigar turned the maintenance of the linkage level of the Oliat over to Zannesu, his Inreach, then pulled his Emulator forth. //Llistyien, we must become as the swarm above; full resonance.//
Llistyien had let herself become part of that perceived beauty, one with the life-dancing surging rhythmically above them. She Emulated that rhythm for them, making it part of the Oliat self-perception, and the subtle magic of the Oliat took over. An Oliat was an observer — perceiving only, never acting on the environment.
To the entire Oliat Jindigar announced, //Shoshunri's Second Observation!// Everyone but Krinata knew he intended to use the Law of Nature, which decreed that no observer left the observed unaffected. He brought the Oliat's attention, onto the swarm and carefully noticed how out of place they were. The Holot cave would not yield food, the locals were hostile and would no doubt raid for eggs which they would eat, and there just wasn't enough room in that tiny cave.
Long, long beats of time passed as the defenders continued to fire. The larger pattern the Oliat observed now included the argument between Cy and the Guard Commander, a Cassrian who didn't believe in the Oliat's powers and who had never trusted Jindigar. Finally, the Commander leveled his weapon at the unarmed Outrider and spat, "You're interfering with our operations. I told you to move!"
"Has the Oliat ever let you down?" Cy did not flinch but merely returned the Cassrian's gaze levelly.
"That's not the point — those things are killing people!" whistled the Commander in a reedy but trained voice.
"The point is to stop them. Firing at them is obviously not doing any good. May as well fire at a smoke cloud."
The Cassrian waved a claw-hand, then clicked it against his carapace in frustration. "What else is there to do?"
Cy drew himself up to his considerable height, somehow looking authoritative despite his formally decorated shirt flapping over his work trousers. "If you can't trust the Oliat, then trust me. I will take full responsibility, and if necessary, I will deal with Terab."
Cy had no true official standing in the elected hierarchy of the colony, but he had been head Outrider to the Oliat that had preceded Jindigar's. He was known and respected among the earliest settlers, but this Cassrian was one of the later comers. Nevertheless, Cyrus Benwilliam Lord Kulain had been raised to both military and civilian command.
The Cassrian was no stranger to dealing with humans. It took only moments for him to realize that he'd been outclassed. He raised his weapon and signaled the ceasefire.
Jindigar and the Oliat felt Krinata's glow of admiration, which quickly threatened to make Cyrus a hero. That sent a discomforting prickle through Jindigar, and he distracted them back to the job.
Enraged by their dead dropping all around them, the flyers suddenly discovered that their opponents had become defenseless. As one, they bent to furious destruction.
//How can we attract their attention?// Darllanyu, in the Office of Formulator, had the answer. He opened to her and let her create an image that was both there and not there. It was not illusion, for it had been there, and had been real, a year ago — and was still part of the colony's identity, an image lurking in the back of everyone's mind.
Over their perception of the colony, Darllanyu Formulated the dome of a giant hive, built of gray blocks. It was a clear image of the dwelling of the dominant intelligence of this planet they called Phanphihy. Eithlarin, Jindigar's Protector, added her strength to that projection — for the hive's dome was its means of protection. This image had been a gift of the Natives to protect the colony from attacks by other hives.
Gradually, the fury of the swarm's attack abated, and one section at a time, the flying wave broke off and swept around in a circle, their instincts confused. Their primitive vision showed nothing changed. Scent and sound showed nothing changed. Yet somehow the group mind controlling them finally sensed a wrongness. Their species did not move in on the territory of the dominating intelligent multispecies hives of this planet. Clearly this place belonged to such a hive.
The formation swept around and around, clicking loudly, their wings slapping the wind. They formed a vertical cone with its point right over Jindigar's head. He shifted now, to bring Venlagar's Reception into play.
Venlagar Received the bloodied corpses and the fierce rage of the offworlder warriors. A clickerhive did not belong here. Settling here would mean destruction for the clickerhive.
Jindigar reflected that only on Phanphihy, a planet that was virtually an Oliat itself, could his amateurish Oliat close the circuit between observer and observed without Inverting the Oliat function. Here even the lowest of beasts could read other species' perceptions.
Seeking another cave suitable to the clickerhive, Jindigar directed Venlagar's attention north along the cliff face. At the extreme edge of their range of perception, a good three days' walk to the north, they found a deep cave high up on the cliff. Jindigar observed that cave as if they were being tested for an Aliom Degree, stretching their newly enlarged range to the utmost.
He forgot their problems with impending Renewal, forgot the awkwardness of using a human Outreach, forgot the precarious condition of the colony, brushed aside the very concept of self-defense, paid no attention to how this mess was his responsibility, and observed that cave's perfection as a clickerhive home.
None of them noticed the intensifying of the noon sun beating down on them, none of them shivered when the cliff shadow engulfed them, and none of them felt the chill spring rain sluicing down at sunset. Around them, Storm and Cy kept everyone away as the colony resumed cautious movement, tending the wounded, collecting the dead from under the shadow of the circling cone of death, and retiring under their roofs to watch from their windows.
The last daylight was fading when the cone of hive warriors flattened, then lifted and began floating northward, filling the sky with their patterned dance, letting instinct draw them toward a suitable home.
Just beginning to feel the strain himself, Jindigar realized that Eithlarin and the others, less conditioned to this kind of work, were beginning to waver. Determined, he held the Oliat perception steady until the leaders of the swarm arrived at the designated cave. Only when Venlagar Received the little warriors possessing the cave did Jindigar reach for Zannesu's grip on the linkages.
The Inreach was shaking with fatigue, and Jindigar had to pry loose the youngster's grip — reminding himself that despite the polished performance they'd turned in today, this was still a collection of untrained beginners just wishing they were a real Oliat.
Finally in command of the levels again, Jindigar brought his Oliat down from the intense awareness and focus, letting the individualities emerge as much as possible, short of adjourning his Oliat.
Breathing easier, he allowed the sense of triumph to surface at last. They had finally worked a full function.
He coughed. He felt drained and weak, and suddenly a whirling blackness billowed up from nowhere, enveloping his Oliat. Disoriented, he just had time to realize that it was Krinata's mind surrendering to unconsciousness and to feel Storm catch him as he fell. That was a mistake. I should have adjourned us.
Hiding in a huge hollow log, rotted out to a thin shell. Outside, the giant anthropoid covered with tufts of stringy gray hair prowled hungrily, sniffing and nudging at the log. All of them — the surviving Outriders included — quivered with shameless fear. Vistral was a shattered planet, the ecology hopelessly upset. Everything was ragingly hungry, no longer selective about diet.
They had seen three Cassrians in their scouting party eaten alive, their exoskeletons cracked open at the thorax and their organs sucked out by the gray giants. A similar fate awaited them all, if anyone so much as moved while the predator lurked outside. Rescue had been too long in coming.
Someone sneezed —
A convulsive wave of terror engulfed them, throwing them up out of the nightmare, the sound of the sneeze still ringing through Oliat consciousness — but which Oliat?
Jindigar awoke, sitting doubled over, the aftermath of the sneeze smarting through his air passages. Coughing, he realized he was still Centering his Oliat, with one of his officers reliving an episode from a previous Oliat. He groped to control the linkages again.
//It was Eithlarin!// Zannesu recovered first and scrambled out of bed to Eithlarin’s side. //The Vistral nightmare.//
They were in their quarters adjacent to the Aliom Temple hall. They must have been carried here and put snugly to bed. The large room, built to accommodate the seven of them, was compartmentalized by thin veils of indoor shrubbery lit by the skylight and the windows high up the walls. While Jindigar couldn't see all his officers, he sensed their disorientation as their awarenesses swept the room.
In the great fireplace at the far end of the room, a new fire licked at a tree trunk sized log. A pot of hot cereal steamed on the warmer hearth next to the teapot, which filled the room with the aroma of a native herb. To one side of the fire there was a hole in the wall that would become a door to their new indoor plumbing facilities. It was draped with a rough woven tarpaulin. Fingers of chill spring wind swirled amid the overheated air from the fireplace.
Jindigar sneezed again, realizing his body was fighting a microbe invasion allowed to take hold during their long exposure as they had worked that swarming hive. In an hour or so he'd be fine.
As they all began to stir, sitting up, wrapping blankets around themselves, it occurred to him that it had been more than a day since they'd eaten anything. They had gone to the Dissolution on the usual fast. Small wonder Eithlarin's having one of her episodes.
He dragged himself to his feet and went to kneel beside Zannesu, who was comforting the Protector as best he could.
//I'm sorry,// Eithlarin apologized, still shaking from her nightmare.
//It isn't your fault,// assured Zannesu. //We'll work through this as soon as we're married. It won't take much once we're through Renewal onset. Next time you work Oliat, you won't be like this.//
She glanced at Jindigar apologizing, //It's unprofessional to inflict such things on the other officers.//
He'd known from the start that she had no business working Oliat with the scars from her previous Oliat experience unhealed, but he admired her courage in coming to Phanphihy to be a colonist after witnessing the destruction of a colony that had disrupted its planet's ecology.
She had known there was no therapy facility here. But then, it wouldn't have been much better for her on Dushaun.
She had been the only survivor from Vistral. Of the three Oliat officers who had been lifted off the planet, one had gone episodic, retreating into his farthest memories and totally losing touch with current time. The other had died in the aftermath of Dissolution shock brought on when the predator had touched an Oliat Officer and thus broken into the psychic linkages, flooding them with predator's ferocity.
Eithlarin alone had been tough enough to survive with nothing more than occasional nightmares. But they made her a threat to Jindigar's Oliat. No Dushau could resist the arousal of such atavistic terrors, for their species was evolved prey, scavengers who had learned to run rather than fight predators, and to glean the predator's leavings. Eithlarin's unhealed terrors made the whole Oliat unusually sensitive to break-in trauma.
No one blamed Eithlarin except, perhaps — Jindigar whipped around, searching Krinata's bed. Everyone else was sitting up, doing waking exercises. But Krinata lay swathed to the eyebrows in blankets, tossing feverishly. Very little came to him along the Outreach linkage.
Rising stiffly, he glanced at Dar, who seemed as well as the rest. He and Krinata were the only ones suffering fever. He sent his gladness along the linkage to Dar but went to Krinata.
Darllanyu stifled an irrational hurt, telling him, when she knew he'd felt her reaction, //It's Renewal. I can't control it. I don't want the Oliat — her — to claim you now.//
//Renewal has affected the linkages too,// Jindigar told them all. //We shouldn't be getting this much emotional texture across interfaces.// He knelt beside Krinata. Her pale skin was flushed pink — human blood was red, not purple and her skin was more pale than most humans’. Dilated blood vessels trying to cool her? Her skin did feel warmer than it should, though damp.
Krinata squirmed away from Jindigar's touch on her forehead, and instantly her dizziness swept through the Oliat. //She should have a medic's attention.//
Here was yet another reason it was insane to use a human as an Oliat Officer, even temporarily. The Dushau immune system had never met anything it couldn't handle quickly and permanently. Jindigar resolved to take much better care of Krinata in the future — but was afraid he wouldn't be able to. He hadn't deliberately abused her this time. Yet their lives were dependent on her beating this disease.
He tucked the blanket around her, reflecting that humans were evolved predators. She didn't seem so fearsome now, but he knew she could be deadly. How many times had her aggression saved his life? How many times had she risked her life and honor to save his? He supposed he would count them someday, but he would also have to count the times her best efforts had sent them to the brink of destruction. There was no other individual in the cosmos whom he admired more, and none whom he feared more.
Darllanyu's plea pierced him. They had all followed the gist of his feelings, though not his thoughts. But none of them had lived through what he and Krinata had. He glanced at the high windows where spring lightning danced across the rain-darkened sky. Moving Krinata through that would only make matters worse. //Don't worry,// he assured them. //I wouldn't think of bringing a human medic in here. It would destroy the worldcircle, and I don't think any of us can tolerate an invasive touch.// After that nightmare, even Trinarvil’s presence or touch would jeopardize them.
He coughed again. //Very likely whatever has attacked Krinata is a mutation of what I'm fighting.// They'd brought the microlife of their interstellar civilization with them, and it had long since developed the knack of mutating to live in new metabolisms. Throughout the galaxy, standard practice was to use Dushau blood to make antibodies effective for other species. //I think Krinata can be brought sufficiently close to consciousness so we can adjourn fully,// he decided. //We're straining her system even now. Dissolution would be better for her, but we'd need her active cooperation. So I'll go to the lab and have serum made for her.//
They argued, but there was really no choice. Darllanyu stayed out of it, disqualifying herself because of her feelings. As Eithlarin applied cold towels to Krinata's face and neck, and Jindigar gathered up the linkages to work the adjournment, Darllanyu finally commented, //The wedding flames have burned out. We'll have to start over now.//
//It will be a while until Krinata's well enough,// cautioned Jindigar, feeling her anguish as well as his own cold emptiness. Darllanyu was the deepest into Renewal onset, the most unstable. Everything in him yearned to surrender to her, to let her systems trigger his own. //We mustn't let this loose among us now. Come, it will help a little to be adjourned.//
His link to Krinata was dull and wispy, though her eyes were open a crack and he could feel her mind struggling to orient. He shut down all the linkages to match that one, then summoned the image of spaceship pressure hatches closing across each corridor that stretched between them.
It was Krinata's visualization of adjournment. They had adopted it for this Oliat because none of their symbols worked for her. As he finished dogging the virtual hatches, each of them returned to individual awareness with only subliminal assurance that the others existed. But any trauma one of them suffered would blow the hatches wide open. Even separated, they shared holistic awareness, a residual that made linear, vocal speech very difficult. They could speak with close associates and zunre who could be trusted to grasp their meaning, but speech with strangers would remain difficult.
Yanking on some clothes, Jindigar took a rain slicker with a deep hood and plunged out into the torrential downpour. He met no one. The graveled walks were awash in spots, and before he reached the north gate, he was soaked and chilled again. He came out into the walled courtyard and surveyed the place.
Around the enclosing palisade, warehouses and offices had been built where ephemerals traded with Dushau who were not in Renewal. Business was suspended today while the community cleaned up from the battle with the clickerhive.
To his left, against the west palisade, a long building was divided into single rooms, each with its own outside door and smoking chimney. It housed the seven Oliat Outriders when they were on duty.
Rain poured off the roof that slanted down over the rough wood porch. Bentwood chairs were scattered against the wall out of the worst of the wet, and in one of them sat Cyrus Benwilliam, feeding shreds of clickerbeast meat to a young pet piol.
The parent piols had come with them across the galaxy, adopting Jindigar and caring for him with great propriety. Here, they had settled beside the fish farming pond and proceeded to try to populate the planet with piols. It seemed the species' goal was to provide a personal pet piol for every sapient in the galaxy.
As Jindigar sloshed to the porch and paused to scrape mud off his boots on the rail provided, Cyrus looked up. His first reaction at the sight of Jindigar was fear — that Krinata was dead, the Oliat shattered. Jindigar's manner dispelled that, but the human sensed that something was wrong. As he searched Jindigar for a clue, the piol snatched the remaining meat and ran off to roll merrily in a puddle and pretend that his prize was a fish.
The human was too professional to speak to Jindigar until spoken to. Jindigar wanted to reassure him, but the words wouldn't come. He hadn't realized how much harder it would be adjourning from Center than from any other Office. Before they'd balanced, it hadn't been this hard.
Grasping the difficulty, Cy called over his shoulder, "Storm! Jindigar's here — I think they've adjourned."
The end door opened, sending a shaft of light out into the gloomy morning. Storm, one of Jindigar's closest ephemeral friends, his most trusted Outrider, squinted out at Jindigar, then turned and shouted, "It is Jindigar!" He stepped aside to admit the Center. His professionalism was unimpeachable, yet Jindigar had to set his will not to turn and retreat. How am I ever going to do this?
He shed his slicker into waiting hands, telling himself it would be easier once he broke that initial barrier. This was yet another reason no one dared serve at Center twice. It could become impossible to rejoin normal society.
The room was cozy, a fire going and food steaming. To the left, a door opened into the adjacent room, and beyond, Jindigar glimpsed other doors open down the row of rooms, the other Outriders gathering quickly. The four Lehiroh men were co-husbands whose wife had died when Jindigar's ship had crashed on this world. Cyrus and two other human men, trainees, completed the complement of Outriders.
Jindigar understood that Storm and his co-husbands had an agreement with a Lehiroh woman who had just borne them a son, conceived before it had been decided to train the full Oliat, and before Storm's crew had come back to work, tabling their personal life. The decision to Dissolve had freed them to resume relations with the woman and to dare the joy in the care of their child. All four of the men had well developed breasts from nursing, and Jindigar knew that the baby had to be here somewhere unless the woman had him today.
The human trainees were the last to come in and were quickly taken aside by the other Lehiroh as Storm maneuvered Jindigar to the fireplace, his back to the near strangers.
This is for Krinata, Jindigar told himself. She's done more than this for me. He rehearsed the words in his mind, then forced them out at Storm. "We adjourned." Comprehension and a bit of relief flushed his humanoid features. When not lactating, the Lehiroh males could easily be confused with humans. Jindigar rested both his hands on Storm's shoulders and said, "Krinata has fever."
"No! I was afraid of that. I should have put a coat on her even — "
"No. Could have destroyed our focus — destroyed this colony! Storm — I go to the lab."
"For a blood specimen?" He grinned but politely kept his predator's teeth behind his lips. "Cy, get your coat. We'll go along and explain to them for Jindigar."
Minutes later, they trudged down the path that skirted the cluster of ephemeral dwellings. Each species was building in its own pattern. Several hundred people still lived in huge common units, for winter had interrupted the building projects.
On both sides of the path, foundations had been laid for buildings that would house their rebuilt technology. The Dushau Historians had already resurrected dozens of basic crafts and manufacturing processes from the depths of memory. The ephemerals were versatile and talented enough to learn many such skills. By their most optimistic timetable, the Historians figured it might only take a thousand years to attain space travel again. But, with setbacks such as the clickerhive moving in on them, it could take twice that long.
They passed the houses and skirted the livestock corrals and barns, which showed little activity except for the waspish Cassrians at necessary chores. They enjoyed the rain but hated the chill, and called complaints back and forth in their multipitched, whistling voices.
No one worked the fields. They were too marshy even for the light step of the Cassrians. Jindigar resisted the impulse to bring the Oliat to focus on the life in those fields. Phanphihy had a vigorous microlife, and he knew mutant forms were already finding the offworld crops very tasty. If they'd made an error in estimating that process as they had in banishing the minor vermin only to thus attract the killer clickerhive . . .
"Storm — the Dissolution. We can't do it now."
"Not until Krinata's well. We understand."
"No. The Holot infants."
"True, they are already very hungry. But nobody expects you to — everyone knows you can't go on."
"We must, only without experienced Outriders. . . ."
Cyrus had paced along behind Jindigar, knowing that his struggle to revive his speech faculty would be easier with someone he'd known longer. Now Cyrus put in, "I won't quit until Krinata can."
Jindigar was pleased with himself when he was able to turn and acknowledge that. To Storm he added, "Your child needs you. I will accept other Outriders you may train."
"No," said Storm. "One careless step by an Outrider and you might all die. There are others willing to nurse the baby. We'll see this through."
Jindigar knew the others who would take the baby were not of Storm's religion, and it would pain him to give the child up. But Storm generally spoke for his co-husbands, as Jindigar did for the Oliat. Jindigar added, "It should only be a day or two until we find a food for the Holot infants that won't attract another clickerhive."
They had come to the spaceship graveyard, and to the bottom of the ramp leading into the ship they had powered with salvaged parts. As they climbed that ramp, Jindigar turned to survey the colony. More than two thousand had survived the winter. Dushau had brought them to Phanphihy to fulfill the grand vision of Raichmat's Oliat — the first offworlders to explore this planet.
Jindigar had been Raichmat's Outreach, his first exploring Oliat Office. Finding the Native hive-dwellers building a civilization from their multispecies hives and knowing how the hives' psychic gift would be exploited by the fledgling Empire, Raichmat's had decided that, to protect them, they must establish a Dushau colony on Phanphihy.
From that idea had grown the vision of the Dushau-dominant multicolony. The multispecies colony form had been successful on many worlds if one species was present in larger numbers. But Dushaun had never colonized either alone or with other species. When they’d discovered this planet, however, it had become apparent that the multicolony was the only form that could work on this world and then only with Dushau dominant. And it was time for Dushaun to establish a colony.
But of the seven Raichmat's Officers who had pledged to come here, only Jindigar, the youngest of them, had made it.
No point dwelling on that. Ducking into the open hatch, Jindigar led the way to the medical lab. The room was divided by a counter, behind which, lab benches were strewn with equipment. He would have preferred to do the specimen processing himself, but there were several competent Cassrians and Lehiroh at work. Storm explained their mission to a white smocked Cassrian whose carapace decorations showed his military service rank.
The Cassrian's face, though immobile, revealed much to Jindigar's awareness. There was awe for the Oliat and a measure of fear of Cyrus, who had faced down the Cassrian Guard Commander. Nevertheless, the technician extracted a specimen of Jindigar's blood expertly, without the slightest squeamishness at handling an endoskeletal arm, then vanished into an adjacent lab to process the specimen for human use.
Jindigar was feeling fine now, so his antibodies for this disease were high enough that there would be no mistake, even though they had no Sentient computer to oversee the process. Waiting in the clean, mechanized environment, Jindigar felt a peculiar relaxation stealing over him, a rush of nostalgia strong enough to take his breath away.
Onset instability again! But he admitted that the rustic life had already begun to wear on him. He wanted to go home. Very soon now this lab would be gone, and for centuries to come, they would have nothing like it. This is what it meant to be a colonist — not just exile, but exile from the very roots of being. He shook himself and paced, ignoring the concerned glances of his Outriders as he worked to suppress the Renewal-based alienation. It was the main reason Dushau had no colonies until now. Deepest consciousness rejected any world but Dushaun itself during Renewal. But now the Empire blockade of Dushaun kept them all from being able to go home.
After a time, the Cassrian technician returned with an injector loaded with a vial of colorless fluid. "This should do it if she's fighting any relative of whatever you picked up."
"It's a good guess," assured Storm. "Krinata has spent most of her time with Jindigar."
The Cassrian supplied them with a human care kit, one of the few left. "If she doesn't rally, try this. But-"
"We know," said Cyrus. "There aren't many kits left."
After the offworld supplies were gone, they would have to rely on what they'd learned to gather and process from the countryside. They had quite a sophisticated pharmacopoeia already, but without an Oliat to keep developing new native medicines, the death rate would soar.
The trip back to the Dushau compound was made in an increasing downpour. As they passed through the outer gate, they found a Holot wrapped in a formless slicker pacing back and forth on the porch of the Outriders' quarters. The Holot was reared up on the hindmost pair of limbs, the upper pair clutching the drenched slicker tight about the head, the middle pair fastidiously hidden beneath the cape.
"Ah, there you are!" called the Holot, and Jindigar recognized her voice — the chief executive of the colony's ephemeral government.
"Terab!" called Storm, preceding them up the steps.
By the time Jindigar and Cyrus reached the porch, Storm had briefed her.
Terab pushed her slicker aside with her two middle limbs. The steamy odor of her wet fur around her barrel body assailed them all. The damp bothered the Holot, but the day would seem warm enough to her. "There's a meeting this afternoon in the big barn — and the committees want the Oliat to attend."
Terab was nominally head of the colony's government, but power was spread through committees elected by each species. In designing the government structure they had blended ideas from all five species while trying to avoid the dead Empire's mistakes. The result, Jindigar felt sure, would not last long. But it didn't bother ephemerals that things they built didn't last more than a few centuries.
"The Outreach is very sick," answered Cyrus for Jindigar. "The Oliat is adjourned, but I really-"
Jindigar stayed him with a hand. "We cannot attend."
Terab made the Holot grimace that bespoke satisfaction. Her snouted face was mobile and expressively beautiful for those who could read it. "I told them as much, but they insisted I come-"
"I'm glad." Jindigar summoned the effort — less now than it had been — to tell her, "I cannot speak to them, but afterward — we must talk."
"There's to be an investigation about why the clickerhive picked on us, why we were caught unprepared, what we can do to prevent it happening again, and most of all, what we can do now to feed our children. There will be more births soon. And Jindigar, half the colony is having nightmares again – of the attack by all the animals of the plains. They wanted me to ask the Oliat if Chinchee and that hivebinder of his are around here anywhere, putting ideas in our heads. People have been seeing that ugly gray dome over us."
"Chinchee is not near," answered Jindigar, wanting to claim full responsibility. They had re-evoked the hive-dome image. But even with Terab, an old and trusted friend, he could not summon the words.
Storm interrupted. "You'll have to wait for their report on the clickerhive until Krinata can deliver it. . . ."
As if it only now penetrated, Terab asked, "What's wrong with Krinata?" They had fought their way across a continent together, bandaging each other's hurts, calming each other's terrors. Terab was as much Krinata's friend as Jindigar's.
Storm launched into an explanation, speaking loudly over the sound of another downpour pounding on the porch roof. Cyrus handed Jindigar the medical kit, saying, "Go! We'll be here when you want us, unless a flood washes us away." He eyed the puddles and mud with a grimace.
In the Aliom Temple, the fire was still burning in the hearth by the door. Jindigar hung his slicker to dry and cut across toward the door of the Oliat quarters before he noticed Darllanyu, wearing rough worn field clothes, standing at the edge of the marriage circle, her indigo skin like a black shadow against the white gravel.
She tossed gravel back into the circle and dusted off her hands. Jindigar paused, suspended between the urgency of Krinata's illness and the aching hurt tearing at his mate.
Darllanyu turned, and her eyes drew him forward.
"Dar — no. Not now." Suddenly he hated the Priest's disciplines that gave him the strength to deny her.
"You must Dissolve the Oliat, or at least Dismiss me. Perhaps Trinarvil can take my place. I can't do it, Jindigar."
She was closer to the critical point than he. He had counted on that to pull him into active Renewal quickly, the swift rush of hormones forcing them both over the threshold into acceptance of this alien world. "Trinarvil is still too ill. If I Dismiss anyone, it's Dissolution for us all, which means right now the Holot children will starve."
"Zannesu convinced us of that, after you left. I thought — I thought I could, but — I can't. Wisdom is to know your limits. I'm a danger to all of us."
I can't, wasn't usually in Darllanyu's vocabulary. He recalled how she'd looked when they'd found her outside the hive up on the plateau. She and Cyrus had been the only survivors of Avelor's Oliat. After captivity in the Hive, she'd been emaciated, too weak to walk, but she had recovered her spirits before her strength. I can had been her motto.
Within a few weeks she had joined another Oliat, of Jindigar's fabrication, and lost two of her fellow officers to death-trauma during the battle against the Imperial troops who had chased him and Krinata to this world. Then the remaining pentad had accepted Jindigar and Krinata to become Jindigar's Oliat. Darllanyu had endured more than anyone could expect, and that had catapulted her into Renewal. If she said she couldn't, she couldn't.
Jindigar tore his eyes from the white circle and gestured his acceptance of her evaluation. He had to go on, with or without an Oliat. He could not reach Completion if he abandoned his responsibilities. So she would have to find another mate — this time. "I want you, Dar, more than I've ever wanted anyone. But I'll arrange a Dismissal. We’ll do it somehow. You’ve fulfilled your responsibilities to the Oliat and this colony."
The loss heavy in him, he turned to the Oliat room where Krinata lay. Zannesu was wiping Krinata's face with a cold towel while Eithlarin massaged her feet to stimulate her natural disease defenses.
"She's worse. Did you get it?" asked Zannesu.
Jindigar produced the injector and the medical kit and let Eithlarin administer the injection. "Dar is resigning."
That created a stir. The barricades Jindigar had erected to partition the Oliat were holding — almost too well. Venlagar wilted onto his bed. Of them all, Venlagar was the farthest from active Renewal, which was why Jindigar had placed him as Receptor. "Then we can't go on," sighed Venlagar. “It’s Dissolution.”
"That’s right. We can’t go on. Not as an Oliat," replied Jindigar. “But there are still things that must be done.”
"You going to try to hold a hexad?" asked Llistyien, her incredulity leaking through the barriers to Jindigar.
"It does sound absurd," agreed Jindigar.
"How long can a Center work so unbalanced?" asked Venlagar.
"Ordinarily, quite a while," supplied Zannesu. "But not under these circumstances."
Jindigar watched him but didn't ask if that meant he'd not stay with a Center who was trying it.
Venlagar asked, "Can we find a Holot infant food that won't attract clickerswarms fast enough so you can rejoin Dar?"
"I doubt it. A hexad can’t work as fast as an Oliat."
From the doorway Darllanyu spoke, lips compressed. "Using pensone, I could make it — at least to find them some food."
Jindigar let the shock wash through him, hardly daring to let himself shudder. Pensone would suppress Renewal, and they did have some. But the side effects — Dar might be rendered permanently sterile. She'd surely have trouble conceiving or carrying to term this Renewal, for pensone would leave her less able to absorb nutrients and could cut centuries off her lifespan, if she survived the withdrawal of the drug. Psychotic or suicidal behavior was not unusual when going off pensone. And those were the mild effects.
"That stuff is poison!" Somebody whose life was Complete might dare it, but . . . Jindigar admitted to himself that he'd waited six thousand years for a child of hers — he could wait another thousand if he had to, but the idea of losing the chance altogether hurt too much.
Venlagar intervened in a level tone, knowing, as they all did, why Jindigar was not reacting as a Center. "Naturally Jindigar feels threatened by your suggestion, Dar." He turned to Jindigar. "But I think we all know that this mess is our responsibility. It isn't as difficult for me to say this as for the rest of you — so I'll say it first. So long as I can hold so much as a duad, I'll continue."
Zannesu looked into Eithlarin's eyes over Krinata's flushed, freckled face. But Eithlarin spoke for them. "What if we continue to make mistakes?"
"We probably will." Jindigar told them everything Terab had said, finishing with the nightmares resurfacing among the ephemerals. "With the fine balance you gave me yesterday, I should have known that would happen, and I should have found another way. This Oliat, at its best, is not trustworthy. Trying to rectify the error that brought the clickerhive may only make matters worse." He wondered what Terab would say when he reported that the Oliat was the source of their trouble. He doubted if any ephemeral had ever heard of an untrustworthy Oliat.
Krinata's eyes drifted open and focused. Disoriented by the adjournment, feverish, she accepted the cup Eithlarin held for her but asked vaguely, "What happened?"
Jindigar sighed as they all launched into different explanations. In the end, it would be up to Krinata. After a taste of what Oliat balance had done to her health, she might not be able to face it again. But if she withdraws — Dar won't have any reason to destroy herself with pensone.
A Simple Job
The Holot infant was fretting miserably with hunger, her six limbs thrashing against her mother's body despite the blanket muffling her downy form.
Jindigar had assembled his Oliat in the Holot cave for this operation. The vats for making the slurry of curdled herbivore milk to feed the Holot infants were clean now; all the putrefaction caused by clickerhive beast droppings had been steam cleaned away.
Under no circumstances would the committees of the other species allow the Holot to continue making their baby food. Jindigar had reported, through Krinata, just how and why the clickerhive had descended on them. They had accepted that the Holot food had lured the animals, but they discounted the Oliat's role in the original error. Ephemerals regarded such fallibility as a norm, refusing to take it as a sign that the Oliat had gone as far as it could.
"Jindigar," Terab had said, "people resent the Oliat for quitting just when you're needed most. They're beginning to distrust Dushau altogether."
Terab had recounted the acrimonious interspecies rivalry at the joint committee meeting, declaring that if the Oliat couldn't find a solution to the Holot problem, the colony would surely split. She was Holot, and emotionally involved, but even so, Jindigar believed her.
He had brought his Oliat into the field once more, knowing this would only convince some ephemerals that they were quitting by choice, but also knowing that, as Krinata had insisted, "If the colony falls apart, we may as well not bother to survive Dissolution — because we won't live long."
Terab came over to Krinata and addressed the now reconvened Oliat through her. "Everything is ready as Jindigar's requested."
Cyrus maintained his vigilance beside Krinata, having seen that she was wrapped in an extra cloak for work in the chilly cave. Jindigar felt the human male's protectiveness and barriered himself against the sexual overtones Cyrus couldn't suppress.
Surveying the cave one last time, Jindigar used Oliat perceptions, not vision, for the only lighting was a yellow flame. The committees' representatives were clustered around the sun-bright cave mouth — upper class Cassrians with carapaces engraved and inlaid with precious gems and a few Lehiroh, humans, and a few Holot who might once have been aristocrats or tradesmen.
Apart from them stood a group of Dushau who had volunteered to interact with the colony's government. Trinarvil, their head of medical services, was not among them. Her health was too fragile for her to become involved. But Threntisn, their chief Archivist, was there, recording the event into the great memory pattern passed from Historian to Historian down the ages from the dawn of Dushau history. Jindigar himself had carried that particular Archive, sealed and entrusted to Jindigar at death by Grisnilter. The seal had broken, but Jindigar had delivered the Archive intact to Threntisn, who was trained to handle it safely.
Threntisn and the other non-Oliat Dushau wore photomultiplier filters to see by firelight. Jindigar felt the Historian's recording gaze settle upon him as he responded to Terab's report through his Outreach. "//Thank you, Terab. Cy, you may close access now.//"
They had all seen the Oliat or its subforms working in the settlement. They knew that during this operation there could be no information exchange with the Oliat. The Outriders would see that the officers remained undisturbed.
Cyrus signaled, and the other Outriders came to attention. Before reconvening and balancing, Jindigar had explained to the Outriders that they were now more vulnerable to distractions. He had not told them of Eithlarin's episode or that Darllanyu had wanted to use pensone on herself while Krinata had flatly refused to be a party to it. The others had supported their human zunre, saying that if Darllanyu felt she couldn't do this undrugged, then they'd better Dissolve.
As the intensity of her powerful hormonal surge had abated, Darllanyu had agreed to work drugless as their Formulator. Jindigar had resolved to keep his attention away from Krinata as much as possible while timing this operation for the natural trough in Dar's hormonal cycle. Dar wanted him as much as he wanted her. The slightest hint of interest in Krinata could set her off again.
They had all agreed to do this, knowing the risks, for he had told them plainly, "When we reestablish contact with Dushaun, I'll be brought up on charges for allowing this."
So Jindigar was not surprised when the Oliat linkages trembled nervously in his grasp, balance among them and attunement with the world around them eluding him. He felt Krinata's heart leap with apprehension and shut down the open channel to her awareness lest it upset everyone else. Krinata turned to him, alarmed. //Jindigar — don't. I can do it.//
//Relax,// advised Jindigar. //Only the Outreach can do this first part of the operation. But let me set it up for you.// He focused on Zannesu, his Inreach, whose job it was to hold the balance among the linkages once Jindigar had set them. //Do you want to try to reinforce Center's pattern?//
Zannesu had never done this maneuver before, but he tackled it with a calm professionalism. Jindigar felt his strength supporting his own and gradually developing the pattern they had chosen, wide open to Krinata and the Receptor, Venlagar, but closed to the others, protecting their most vulnerable officers.
Jindigar was prepared to proceed without seeking the shaleiliu hum, but it came as he and Zannesu worked together. He wasted not a moment basking in it but, rather, turned directly to Krinata.
With the link to her wide open, Jindigar saw her oddly human conception of the linkages — transparent tubes that connected the officers to Jindigar and among themselves. She imagined the tubes carried colored fluid from one to the other, representing the information flow. Sometimes the fluids glowed brightly in wide tubes, and sometimes the tubes were constricted, the fluids diffuse or bubbling with turbulence.
At the moment, the links from Center to Inreach, and through Inreach to Outreach, as well as the Center-Receptor link, glowed bright rainbows, while the others were dulled.
In Krinata's mind, she was now on another plane of existence, as in a dream, holding on to her link while high pressure fluid spewed out, battering her mercilessly. She hung on with all her courage, unable to absorb even the relatively small amount of data she was getting from the Receptor.
Jindigar wanted to cut down the amplitude to her, but knew he could help only by making this brief. The Oliat operations, which lost touch with contiguous reality often turned to nightmare for her, for she did not yet grasp where the Oliat existed and worked.
With them barely stabilized, he told her, //All right, Krinata, go.//
She turned, Cyrus at her right, and went to the Holot mother, hands out to take the infant. Jindigar braced to soak up the shock for Eithlarin, reminding her, //Protector, this is not a break-in. We need to read the child.//
//I know!// she snapped, then apologized, adding, //The poor little thing is starving.//
//Don't think about it,// advised Jindigar, //focus on how well Holot protect themselves.// He turned to Llistyien for her Emulation of Holot characteristics. Grasping the essence of Holot motherhood, Jindigar did his best to bring those elements up in Krinata, despite her lack of Emulator's experience. Handling the Holot infant, whose sharp claws and teeth could rend human flesh and whose xenophobia was irritated by hunger, Krinata now welcomed every clue Jindigar could give her.
She touched the infant in just the right places, soothed with the right strokes, reassured with the right sounds, ignoring the raw throat the gutturals gave her. Lacking a second pair of arms, she did her best to cradle the small body against her. Soon the infant quieted.
Now came the dangerous part, for through Krinata's nurturing touch, the awareness of infant, small striving potential of life, was throbbing through the Oliat. Definitely not the operation to hand an Oliat on the brink of Renewal. Swallowing the taste of his own fear, Jindigar prompted Krinata, //Now Venlagar must touch her too.//
Venlagar shivered — even Venlagar, the farthest from Renewal. But they couldn't afford to stop now. //You must open to her, Receptor.// Venlagar's deep indigo eyes searched Jindigar while his Receptor's sense examined the Oliat's balance, but a Receptor didn't judge the Oliat's internal condition. It was his business to keep the Oliat sensitive to the environment.
Venlagar cupped his arms around the squirming, fretting form in Krinata's embrace. The feel of four supporting arms calmed the infant even as the Receptor focused on the voracious hunger within.
Krinata kept her own grip firm, having no trouble now concentrating on the baby. Jindigar got the distinct impression that this was the first time she'd ever held such a young child, and for her, the enhancing Emulation of motherhood was a journey of self-discovery. For Darllanyu it was no first. Her arms ached to hold the young thing, and memories fought to claim her attention. //Steady, Dar. I'll make this quick.//
Jindigar let Venlagar's Reception of the infant's incessant hunger flood through them. Her needs, her burgeoning growth, her striving for life, became a part of them. Through the baby's senses her mother's love and growing fright for her child's life also became a part of them. The pressure of the life force, binding them all, surged through the open Receptor and possessed the Oliat.
Jindigar signaled Zannesu. //Now — to Llistyien.//
Together they reorganized the pattern of energy flows so Llistyien was as wide open a channel as Venlagar, and Krinata was again isolated from the full power of Oliat multiawareness. Jindigar stole a second to reassure Krinata, //Well done!// and Darllanyu: //I'm not trying for precision; It won't be much longer now.//
Then he caught up the linkages from Zannesu and turned the Oliat out, toward the world of Phanphihy, seeking the shaleiliu between the Holot hunger and the world's abundance.
It was the simplest of Oliat exercises. Out there, the life forces surged with determination equal to that of the Holot. The spring had brought renewal to this world, but the Holot were not of a piece with it.
The Oliat subforms, strive as they had throughout the winter, had not brought the offworld settlement into tune with this ecology. The colonists and Phanphihy had only one thing in common — the propagation of new life, the raw enthusiasm for survival, the upsurge of the cycle of renewal.
Reaching for the point of shaleiliu, Jindigar traced that commonality, absorbed now in a Center's task and momentarily oblivious to the dangers, gratefully accepting one last gratification before Renewal forced him to reorder his priorities. He surrendered to the infant's hunger and frantic need for the safety of home, casting about for the fulfillment of that need.
All at once Darllanyu echoed that need, her concentration disrupted by a burst of Renewal hormones. She lost attunement with Phanphihy, alien and unreal. Reflexively, she raked the Oliat linkages for the one secure anchor, the wellspring of life, the core energies of Dushaun itself, home. Jindigar, tied to her at depths beyond fathoming, was swept along, his perceptions shifting. The spring lifetide of Phanphihy akin to home, but yet alien, became a looming menace.
He could not separate his perception from Darllanyu's. Through him, her convulsive rejection of this world suffused the Oliat. In a whirl they all lost the attunement with Phanphihy, the shaleiliu hum deserted them, and the Oliat balance disintegrated.
Fighting panic, Jindigar forced his eyes open but saw only darkness fraught with sinister gleams of dark red against black — rocks, vats, beings — alien beings. The Oliat multiawareness brought him insane fragments of images through his officers' eyes and an overwhelming sense of revulsion. Old, basic drills taking hold, Jindigar sought his Outreach's linkage and opened to it, reinforcing his Oliat's baseline. Her human vision showed the cave walls, gray with glints of white and blue. The vats shone bronze. The fire spread a radiance by which he could see Venlagar holding the Holot baby. And he felt Krinata's arms cradling the infant's warm softness, her innermost being melting into a nearly orgasmic yearning for a child of her own, something she had never been interested in before.
Venlagar, under the confusing onslaught of the disintegrated balance, staggered backward. Krinata caught the baby up from Venlagar's grip and whirled to stare at Jindigar, eyes glittering, mouth open showing pale white teeth and blazing fury, as if he'd violated her most sacred being. //How dare you! Get out of my head!//
Around them, officers reeled, sagging to the ground, caught by their Outriders, whose touch would not be felt as too intrusive.
Darllanyu, gravitating toward the child, got her hands onto the infant, blasting the linkages with a Formulator's perception of the baby's need.
Krinata pulled back possessively.
Jindigar, all his being wanting only to touch the worldcircle energies of Dushaun, nevertheless drove himself toward the infant, wondering briefly if he was Center enough to save them from this.
Krinata wrenched the baby from Darllanyu's grasp, heedless of the infant's slashing claws, but she pulled too hard. She staggered back, stepped on Cyrus's foot, overcorrected, and lunged forward into Jindigar. Clutching the baby to her to protect its fragile body, she twisted aside as they all fell, toppling Storm with them.
Despite Cyrus's effort, Krinata's head hit the floor. The human vision dimmed, as if Krinata were losing consciousness. Then everything went wild.
Fighting panic, Jindigar found himself isolated outside the Oliat linkages, detached as if surveying his own Oliat from some astral vantage, connected to them only by a slim thread. And Krinata was at their Center now.
His officers, thrashing in panic themselves, clutched at the artificial Center as if she were their own.
She knew little of that. Her whole attention was on Jindigar floating bodilessly in some other dimension. There was an urge in her to snap that tenuous link to Jindigar and send him to Incompletion-death. As I once sent Takora.
Will paralyzed by that thought, he was unable to plead with her. In all of his dealings with Ontarrah/Krinata he always ended up at her mercy, helpless, seriously wondering if he had earned Incompletion-death by virtue of stupidity. All his fear of this entity burgeoned upward, and it seemed an insanely rational fear.
Then, with a mind-wrenching twist, without time to think that this was death, he fell into the familiar Office of Outreach. In that moment the shaleiliu hum surged through the Oliat — Krinata's Oliat — with a brash new power, zooming their awareness in on the single point of harmony between Phanphihy and the Holot's hunger, restoring a shaky attunement to the planet.
The locus was on the plain above the cliff — a hive of pollen-gatherers whose main staple was the sticky pollen now being produced by the abundant grasses. From this, a certain tree sap, and their own saliva, they made a syrupy suspension of nutrients for their own use — and as a gift to make allies. The Gifter hive, alive with spring's furious activities, was bound, as all Phanphihy hives, through a sensitive group consciousness. As the Oliat browsed over their identity, the hive paused as if on one held breath.
In that instant of precise clarity the Oliat found the syrup compatible with the Holot infant's needs, but without Jindigar at Center to judge the matter.
Krinata's will drove them, her bottomless compassion for the baby, her nurturing impulse that would not let anything or anyone go hungry, her emotions, wakened by Emulation, and fueled by her human metabolism's eternal state of quasi-Renewal. The Oliat's response reverberated. The young must be cared for. The purpose of life is within the young.
Dimly, Jindigar noticed the committee onlookers near the cave mouth murmuring among themselves, nerving themselves to intervene while the Dushau there hastened to restrain them.
Then the soundless tone that bound Krinata's Oliat dopplered away, the Oliat's balance wobbling in Krinata's grip before she could finish the evaluation. Worse, she lost the distinct identity of each of the Offices, the discreet links connecting them swelling and blurring, almost as if about to Dissolve, but instead leaving them aswim in a miasma of wild energies.
But it was Jindigar's Oliat. Summoning all his will, he opened a clear, firm link to Zannesu, assigning him to Inreach again and, by that act, taking Center. //Zannesu, can you tolerate the link to Krinata at Outreach?//
A surge of horror came back through the link, but Zannesu replied, //Since I must, I can.//
Jindigar turned his attention to his other officers, and one by one, called them. //Outreach. Inreach. Receptor. Emulator. Protector. Formulator.// Shaping and holding the balance, relying on the vague attunement to Phanphihy that Krinata had brought them, he told them, //We have a job to finish. We must tell the Holot about the Gifter hive and negotiate with the Gifters for the colony.//
Krinata's touch on the Outreach link came in strong, commanding, competent — the touch that had held them with a towering strength from Center.
As Jindigar set their goal before them, human perceptions faded back into the Oliat awareness, and all the surprising strength disintegrated. Suddenly helpless, she cried out, rolled away from Jindigar, and curled around the now struggling baby. Cyrus scrambled around in front of her.
Not daring to think how close they had come to annihilation, Jindigar shut down the linkages to the merest whisper. He was afraid to attempt an adjournment when they all needed the stability of the open links.
Turning into Cyrus's embrace, Krinata buried herself as if scrabbling for protection. Cyrus pried the frantic infant from Krinata's grip, ignoring the bloody gashes it inflicted on both of them, and rose to return her to her mother's arms.
The instant the baby was out of touch with the Oliat, everything shifted. Krinata, overloaded beyond tolerance, could only clutch at Cyrus and sob uncontrollably.
Torn between duty and compassion, Cyrus emitted a low groan and enfolded her in his arms, knowing he couldn't protect her from what assailed her, but unable to withhold that small comfort. He stroked her head with trembling fingers.
Jindigar, oddly bereft at Krinata's turning from him, could not blame the Outrider for being human. And somehow Cyrus' touch came to them through Krinata as balm for raw nerves, which soothed Jindigar's sense of loss.
Mindful of Eithlarin's irrational sensitivity to break-ins, and feeling Darllanyu's response as he reacted to Krinata, he explained, //I must recapture Krinata's attention, or we are all lost.// Even an Outrider's valid touch could be disruptive. And with his mate warm in his arms, how long could Cyrus remain only comforting?
//Go ahead,// Darllanyu told him tightly.
Jindigar widened the link to Krinata, demanding her attention, trying not to feel justified in it. //Krinata! Listen! You didn't do that. Takora did.//
//??// She turned to him, eyes widening.
Her sobs quieted, and he added the only reassurance he had. //You haven't the skill to grab Center like that — and then do . . .what you did. Takora did. She was a Center. If she'd balanced with another Oliat, she wouldn't be able to do anything else but grab for Center at the first chance.//
For a moment Jindigar thought he was getting through to her, for she muttered, "//Takora . . .//" Then, more strongly, //What do I have to do to prove to you I was Takora!// Her eyes went out of focus, her face went slack, and an unnatural stillness settled over her.
Jindigar sat back on his heels in shock. She still believes she had lived as Takora? But Dushau simply did not reincarnate. He and Krinata had put the Takora personality to rest a year ago. She had seemed to accept all her Dushau-like manifestations, from playing the whule to functioning in Oliat subforms, as part of the Takora memory-nexus she'd absorbed from his mind by accident. She hadn't manifested anything but the most rudimentary Outreach skills since then.
When they'd first landed on Phanphihy, Krinata had been carrying a memory-loop seared into her mind at the insanity-crazed death of Desdinda. To Krinata it had been like being possessed by a devil bent on killing Jindigar. Desdinda had been laid to rest permanently, but Krinata didn't have the strength to face anything like that again.
And now, in a moment of paralyzing panic, Takora had taken total control of Krinata — as if she were more than just a memory-nexus acquired from Jindigar and would have to be excised.
Jindigar squatted next to Krinata and touched her cheek. //It's not like Desdinda. You only have some of my memories of Takora from when I was her Protector.// Jindigar had broken Aliom law when he had Inverted Takora's Oliat, to Dissolve it. But he'd done that because Takora was already at the verge of death and was too weak to Dissolve her own Oliat. She would have taken them all with her to Incompletion-death had Jindigar not acted.
But that one act had branded him for life as an Invert, an abuser of Oliat power. Many Aliom practitioners had not forgiven him, even though as Center he had kept his pledge not to Invert this Oliat. //Krinata — it's all right now,// he pleaded, hoping it was so, trying not to think of the feeling he'd had as he'd floated above his Oliat, watching her at Center with the power to send him to oblivion. But she didn't.
As Krinata stared fixedly off into space the rest of his officers began to collect themselves. Zannesu hunkered down opposite Jindigar and passed a hand in front of Krinata's eyes. The entire Oliat should have felt her avoidance reflex, but there was nothing. Zannesu met Jindigar's eyes, seeing only by Oliat awareness. //She's . . . not there.//
But the link was still there. //She's alive.//
Zannesu came around and pulled Jindigar to his feet. //This is just another reason we shouldn't have taken her as Outreach, Jindigar. No human-//
Darllanyu interrupted. //We can't blame her. I should have taken pensone. I told you I couldn't do without it.//
//But we've all survived, and we learned a lot about ourselves and about humans we'd never have experienced otherwise,// noted Eithlarin. //Which makes us all that much closer to Completion.//
Venlagar rose with the help of his Outrider and did what Jindigar had not dared. With both hands on Krinata's shoulders, he coaxed her away from Cyrus and brought her back into the group. //Whatever we may do next, Krinata is part of us now. I admit she gave me the horrors, but we knew she'd be our weak point. Considering that, she's done remarkably well. We're all alive, aren't we? That's because she, was able to attune to this planet when we weren't.//
That should have been Jindigar's speech, but he was pulling himself away from another dread. Suppose I can't capture enough of her attention to Dissolve? If her mind had snapped, they could all die, sucked into her madness.
Just then, the stirring and muttering among the onlookers at the front of the cave gave way to a cry of alarm voiced by some human or Lehiroh man, and suddenly the cave was filled with the strident buzz of myriads of tiny wings.
Venlagar, Receiving, gave them the picture. High up on the plateau above them, the overmind of the hive Krinata had contacted had — in true Phanphihy fashion — adopted the pseudo-hive below the cliff and decided to feed the neighboring young. The hive workers were now transporting — bead by tiny bead — a quantity of their syrup to the stores of the pseudo-hive.
The hive consciousness was aware of huge lumbering creatures just within the cave mouth, thrashing about and flailing at the stream of laden transporters it had sent. It commanded the warriors and workers to avoid the slow creatures. Before long, the huge animals had lumbered out of the cave, fleeing as if afraid of attack. Strange.
Indeed, as had come to the hive's awareness, the food cells were empty. The young must be starving. This would be a true alliance, good for the hive, for these creatures could spread and nurture the seeds of the pollen plants.
This was an Emulation level dangerous even for a fully balanced and secure Oliat. Jindigar pulled them back from being immersed in the hive mentality of the insectoids. The committee representatives were shouting at each other as they fled.
The Oliat was isolated without an Outreach. But they had done their day's work. The Holot would be fed — if he could only find a way of telling them so.
He scooped Krinata's tiny body up in his arms and felt a moment of fear as Cyrus blocked his way, locking eyes with him, his unspoken fear for Krinata like a wall between them. But then Storm intervened, taking Cyrus by the shoulders and turning him away. "Listen to me! You can't help Krinata. She's one of them now. They don't dare let a human medic touch her. Jindigar will know what to do."
Jindigar was aware of the bunching of Cyrus's muscles against Storm's Lehiroh strength, but it was the fierce conflict of friends with a deep caring that was, in its way, so purely male, it bridged the species gap and united them.
At last Cyrus yielded and turned his face away while Jindigar carried Krinata out of the cave. The other Outriders closed around the moving Oliat, ignoring the flight of insects overhead because the Oliat did.
Outside, daylight was waning in a cloud speckled sky, but there was enough light to see the path down the cliff face. Ruff, Storm's co-husband, insisted on edging past Jindigar and taking the path first, clearing off every bit of gravel Jindigar might slip on.
The Outriders left them at the outer court of the Dushau compound, and Jindigar forged through the inner gate and on down the residential streets to the central plaza. The plaza was defined by the Aliom Temple, the Historians' Temple, the administration building and the medical services center.
All about, people paused among the saplings and new grass to stare after the Oliat with grave concern or total lack of surprise that it was the human who had collapsed.
Jindigar carried Krinata on through the hospital and right into Trinarvil's office where he laid his Outreach on a bench and turned to peer up at Trinarvil, who was standing in the middle of the floor between the bench and her desk.
Trinarvil had always seemed old to Jindigar, but in these past months, she had become worn and haggard as well. Catapulted into premature Renewal, her body was rejecting most of the nutrients of this world, regardless of what native foods she ate, a common result of loss of attunement. Her sleep was fraught with nightmares, her days haunted with a sickness only those who had known exile from Dushaun could guess at.
She was much too ill, yet the Oliat needed her, needed an Outreach they could trust, if only for a very short while. And Trinarvil was an experienced Oliat Officer. If she could accept this world, even superficially, they could use her for the brief while it would take to Dissolve.
Kneeling beside Krinata, who simply stared catatonically at the ceiling, Jindigar looked up at Trinarvil, knowing she would understand his plea.
And she did. But she only shook her head, the sadness in the etched lines in her face growing to a bleak hopelessness as she gazed upon Krinata. Then she went to the door, weaving her way through Jindigar's other officers, and called some orders to those outside.
Blankets and hot water were brought for Krinata. Trinarvil let them know implicitly by her movements rather than by attempting speech, that she wanted Llistyien to Emulate Krinata into the Oliat — to evoke within the Oliat the closed mental loop the human was trapped in.
Jindigar's first impulse was to reject that utterly, but then he saw what she was pulling out of a storage cabinet behind her desk. Trundling the heavy battery pack behind it, she deployed the only vibration therapy machine still fully operating. It was a long, silvery box with four tall poles that telescoped out of it in various directions. Two of them were color projectors and two were sound projectors.
Jindigar had no idea how a human might respond to such a standard health adjusting procedure. But could it really be harmful? Especially in link with six Dushau? Yet what else could they try? Before long, the committee people would have the army up at that cave, spraying it with fire or smoke to rid it of the insects trying to help them.
Trinarvil's people brought in cots for the other six Oliat Officers and strapped them down so they wouldn't hurt themselves.
Jindigar signaled Zannesu, and they opened the linkages just enough to let Llistyien attune to Krinata and Emulate. It took her three tries to overcome the fear of the darkness possessing Krinata's mind, Jindigar insisting that what was happening to Krinata didn't resemble the Dushau malady of being lost in the episodes of memory.
Then Jindigar, with all his Oliat, went down into Krinata's darkness, a depth of stillness where thought locked against thought and paralyzed the mind.
Jindigar never knew what happened. They told him later that it had taken nearly an hour for them to come out of it. But it seemed to him like the very next thing he knew, the room came swimming into focus. Residual scraps of thought evaporating from the edges of consciousness seemed cast in the piquant human symbolism whereby Oliat linkages became tubes, information came in colors, and almost anything could have phallic import or monetary value.
Strength was pouring into him like a tangible fluid, and he was glad to be strapped down, for everything whirled crazily. He applied himself to balancing the linkages, vanquishing every shred of Krinata's private memories that might have leaked into his memory, and synthesizing the multiawareness into coherent meaning. He'd never noticed how much mental effort it took to do that. But as he grew stronger he rolled his head over and found Krinata's eyes staring into his own.
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