Mapping Command 4: Insurrection

|1.0
There was a creaking, scuffing noise from overhead that woke her up.

“Hello gorgeous,” Cole said when Leah sat up. She could barely see in the dim, pre-dawn light. They had put their tent inside the main dome of the Meeting until the rooms were finished. Not much sun made it in this far.

She yawned and kissed him. “How did you sleep?”

“My back is sore, I’ll be glad when I get that bed done. How about you?”

Leah stretched, remembering the dreams of singing voices all night. It had been very vivid, almost intense, but she felt relaxed and rested. “I slept like a stone. I’d better get ready, Maya is coming to pick me up soon.”

By the time Leah had washed her face and brushed her teeth, they could see the bright orange quad coming up the path from the colony. Leah kissed Cole once more and got her tablet. She waved to Thorn who was dragging a large bowed timber along the massive limb of one of the supporting trees. Leah rode the basket down and was waiting when Maya pulled up and got out.

“I brought the rest of Cole’s gear along so you wouldn’t have to mess with it tonight.”

“That was nice of you, thanks!” Leah took the two heavy duffles and left them in the basket. Cole could deal with them from there.

Maya was looking up at the bottom of the Meeting platform. “It’s bigger than I thought it would be.”

“The building itself is pretty big too. The Anek say that’s how it’s done though.”

“Are any of them up there?”

“Yep. They’ll be here for a few hours until the sun hits the shelter for the eloisha and then they’ll head somewhere else. The kids come barreling out of there like rockets. There are a couple of males hanging around, they aren’t as much of a danger since their use of the scent only happens occasionally. They’ll spend the day off in nearby tree, close enough to chase any problems away.”

“Hello,” a voice said from above them. “I was curious what this was.”

“Maya, this is Thorn. He’s the official delegate from the male tribes. Thorn, you were teasing us about having short legs. This is how we go longer distances faster.”

“It looks like a lot of trouble,” the Anek said doubtfully. “Are you certain you can’t grow longer legs?”

“And that’s Anek humor,” Leah told Maya. “I’m ready when you are.”

Maya waved at Thorn and he waved back. Then he turned and headed back to the platform. Maya had a huge grin on her face when got back into the quad.

“What’s so funny?”

Maya started the quad and turned around. “Nothing’s funny. That’s just the first Other I’ve ever seen. In person I mean.”

“Why don’t you come up and meet them this evening?”

“I wanted to but Owen said it wouldn’t be appropriate for anyone that’s not on the FCT to interact with them yet.”

Leah made a rude noise. “Owen falls back on regulations as soon as he’s unsure of something. I’ll just make you part of the FCT.”

Maya laughed. “I wouldn’t be much help there. I can wait, it was just cool that we actually communicated with each other. Even if it was just a wave.”

“Other kinds of people don’t bother you?”

“No way,” Maya said. “I think it’s the coolest thing ever. I’m jealous of you guys getting to do this all the time.”

“Usually it’s not this interesting. But you should take the test for the FCT training if you’re interested. You’re a chemist, I’m sure they’d be interested in that.”

“I wouldn’t even know how, and it’s not like I can afford to go to Hub.”

“You don’t have to, any SI can administer the test. If you want to try it, I’ll set things up with Xerxes. She’ll transmit the results to CMC the next time there’s a courier around.”

Maya thought about it and nodded. “You know, I’d like to try that. When things calm down a little maybe.”

“Don’t tell Owen yet, he’ll scream that I’m stealing you.”

Later that afternoon Owen heard Leah and Maya laughing when they came back with lunch. Owen looked up as they came into his office. “Do I want to know?”

“Gavin came and sat down with me,” Maya said. “He asked how my job was going and I laughed and told him I knew about his pathetic attempt to get me in trouble.”

Owen leaned back in his chair. “If I hadn’t known what was going on, it might have worked. Did he have another temper tantrum?”

“No, I think he actually liked that I was being mean to him. He was even trying to flirt with me but I ignored him until Leah got there.”

They looked at each other and laughed again. Owen made an impatient “come on” gesture with his hand.

Leah handed Owen his box of lunch. “I walked in and gave her a very good kiss.”

Maya nodded happily. “She about melted my shoes. Then I looked at Gavin and said I found something better. Everyone started laughing.”

Owen rubbed his eyes sat back. “Jesus, I could almost feel sorry for him.”

“Nah,” Leah said, sitting down. “He asked for it.”

Maya went back to her desk. “Yay! The courier is overhead. Looks like it’s the Mercury this time. We have incoming transmissions. And the outgoing buffers are transmitting.”

Owen looked at his monitor, watching the messages come in. “There’s a lot from Hub coming in. I think something’s up.”

Leah checked her tablet, making sure that Xerxes had successfully sent the messages she’d been sitting on. She traded a few texts with the ship saying hello and checking in. It had gotten very quiet in the office and Leah looked up. Owen and Maya were both staring at their screens.

“Captain, check your messages, now,” Owen said. “You’d better get in touch with Cole too.”

The following announcement should be immediately distributed to all colonial citizens. Action from all colonial administrators is expected and required.

Colonial Mapping Command leadership has refused subpoenas from the Committee for Civilian Affairs and has willfully and knowingly restricted the spread of lawful human colonies. Therefore, as of the moment of this message’s arrival, all operations and activities of the Colonial Mapping Command are suspended and all CMC personnel are hereby placed under a Bill of Attainder.

Under Attainder all CMC duties and property are hereby claimed by the Committee effective immediately. All colonial administrations are directed to detain CMC officers as well as seizing CMC property, including spacecraft. Extreme care should be taken in securing craft equipped with artificial intelligence. If containment is impossible, the craft should be destroyed in place. Report compliance with this order by most expeditious means. Message ends.

Leah finished reading the message and immediately pulled an earpiece out of her pocket and put it on. “Xerxes, priority one alpha. Command functions.”

“Acknowledged Captain. Orders?” Xerxes replied immediately.

“Use op-plan Trumpeter Black, execute now.”

“Trumpeter Black underway. You stay safe captain, we’ll be back.”

There was a screeching roar overhead. All three felt like they’d just fallen a short distance and small objects around the office were lifted slightly and rattled back down. The sound and sensation was were repeated a few seconds later. Owen and Maya stared at Leah.

“What was that?” Owen said.

“I told Xerxes to run for it,” Leah said. “Her instructions say by the fastest means possible, she used her gravity drive to get into the air faster. Marie or Henry must have sent the Aggie up after her.”

Owen stood up. “Leah, you didn’t have to do that. I would never…”

“Owen, this is going to be trouble. You just applied to switch your colony status over to CMC control. I’m sorry, I wouldn’t have let you if I knew this was coming.”

He shook his head. “They’ll just kick it back.”

Leah walked across to his desk. “Do you think that’s going to stop Gavin? He’s reading this right now. How long will it take him to get over here to arrest you?”

“Oh shit,” Maya said and went to lock the outside door. “What does attainder mean exactly?”

“I just looked it up,” Owen said. “It’s an old European law that serves to deprive a group of people their civil rights, assuming that they’re all guilty without trial. It applies to any of their heirs as well.”

Maya was appalled. “That can’t be legal now.”

“If the Civil Committee says it’s legal again, I guess it is,” Owen said. “It wasn’t legal under the old US Constitution but the constitutional working groups still haven’t presented a new version.”

Leah’s tablet pinged and she answered the call. “Hi Cole, you’re on speaker,” she said, setting the tablet on Owen’s desk.

“Hello all. I couldn’t help but notice our ride leaving without us. Then I read my mail. Marie had Aggie set up to stay with Xerx.”

“Yep, they rattled our teeth on the way out,” Leah said. “Are you looking at the rest of the messages?”

“Scrolling through them now, short version is we’re in trouble. I’m glad we hid the laser link, comms between here and there are pretty secure.”

“Cole, I’m going to head to the hab and grab the rest of our gear and I’ll head up there. It won’t take long for Gavin and company to move on this.”

“Be careful. You’re heeled?”

Leah patted her back and Owen realized she’d been wearing a concealed pistol. “I’m good.”

“Okay. Marie is talking to Henry right now, he’s not too thrilled about coming out.”

“I’ll talk to him. I’m going to get moving, I’ll leave my earpiece in though.”

“I can head down and meet you,” Cole said.

“She’ll take a quad,” Owen said, loud enough for him to hear. “You might have a few more guests as well.”

“Whenever you need to, we’ve got plenty of room, boss,” Cole said.

“I’ll ping you when I’m on my way out. Love you.” Leah said. She picked up the tablet and put it in her bag.

“Leah, those assault rifles you guys offloaded. Where are they?” Owen asked.

“Cole was paranoid, all of the weapons except my pistol are out at the Meeting. Marie had Henry bring the guns from the Aggie up too.”

“How much do you need to get out of your hab?” Maya asked. “I can help you if you want.”

Leah smiled at her. “Thank you, you’re a doll. But the only stuff thing left are my clothes. If things go wrong and I get grabbed, Owen is going to need your help.”

Maya frowned. “Leah, it makes me nervous that you’re going alone.”

“I’ll be fine, promise. You guys think seriously about coming out there.”

Owen shook his head. “I might as well hand him the keys to the colony then. I’m staying. I think Maya should go with you. The way you guys were making Gavin look, I think he’ll be looking for revenge.”

“I’m not running from him,” Maya said. “Anyway, Leah’s right, you’re going to need my help.” Leah went and looked outside. Everything looked normal at least. She nodded at them and unlocked the door. Maya went and watched her walk down the path and locked the door behind her.

|2.0
Leah didn’t walk any faster than she usually did. There weren’t a lot of people out walking around, the end of the work day wasn’t for another forty-five minutes. She nodded and smiled at the few people she passed. Most of them were friendly enough, but most everyone was busy reading their tablets. News would get out soon enough.

When she got to the hab, Leah saw two men standing in the breezeway between her hab and the one that Marie and Henry shared. They were messing with the electronic lock but one of them carried a sledge hammer. She wasn’t surprised to see it was Brad and his friend Craig.

“Let’s just kick this shit in!” Brad sounded frustrated.

“Don’t have to, give me a second and I’ll override the lock.”

“I could just open it for you,” Leah said. “I’ll get my stuff and it’s all yours.”

Both of them whirled around and looked guilty for a second. Brad recovered first. “You’d better go read the mail, you don’t have property anymore. We’re confiscating your property and then we’re going to take you to detention. Regulations.” He sneered the last word at her.

Leah tapped her chin like she was thinking about it and then shook her head. “No, I don’t think that personal property was mentioned anywhere. Nothing in there is CMC property.”

Craig walked toward her, grinning. “We’ll decide that, after you’re locked up. Regulations, right?”

Leah smiled. “Oh, I’m just going to ignore that part of it. If you’re smart…”

Craig wasn’t smart, he grabbed her arm and tried to yank her off balance. Leah didn’t resist, instead she grabbed his arm back and stepped into him. His confusion turned into agony as she stepped to the side, dislocating his arm as she threw him to the ground.

Craig made a high pitched sound, writhing on the ground and pawing at his shoulder. Leah stepped quickly back as Brad came down the stairs, raising the sledgehammer. She rolled out of the way as he swung it and before he could recover, her gun was out and six inches from his face.

“We’re done here, one way or the other.” Leah’s voice was calm and quiet. “You can either put it down or Henry can worry about cleaning your brains off his wall. What do you think?”

Brad swallowed. “Please don’t kill me,” he said in a voice barely above a whisper.

“That’s what I thought. Put it down and take your friend to get help.”

He nodded and carefully set it on the ground. Leah lowered the pistol slightly and he edged around her. She turned and watched him in case he got brave suddenly but Brad just helped Craig to his feet.

“C’mon, let’s go to the clinic.”

Craig pointed at Leah. “I’m going to kill you for this, bitch.”

“It’s just the pain making him talk that way,” Brad said quickly. “Come on Craig, let’s go.”

Leah shook her head as she watched them hurry up the path. She unlocked the door and went inside. The first thing she did was to pull out a nylon shoulder holster out of her bag and put it on. Guns were uncommon enough around the colony that it ought to serve as a pretty blatant warning.

There were more people on the paths as she walked. A few of them glared at her but no one said anything as she walked back to the admin building. Leah walked around the back and backed one of the quads of its charging bay and got out of the colony without any problems but she didn’t completely relax until she’d made the half hour drive out to the Meeting.

She rode the basket to the top and Cole was waiting when she climbed out. She hugged him tightly.

“Looks like a fan-shit overlap,” he said, hugging her back.

“That clown Brad from operations was trying to break into the hab with another guy, Craig I think. He was the one trying to break into Aggie before.”

“Are you okay?”

Leah nodded. “They tried to take me to detention, whatever that means, but I dislocated Craig’s shoulder and put a gun in Brad’s face when he swung a sledgehammer at me. I let them go, it’ll probably create more problems.”

“Not as many as killing them would have,” Cole said. “Come on, it’s the cocktail hour.”

Leah looked at the large dome. It measured just under thirty meters across and was fifteen meters at its highest point. The last time she had seen it there had been ten low arches around the perimeter. Only four were left open, the others had been covered by semicircular rooms, almost like the dome was budding off tiny copies of itself. The egg shaped oval platform still had plenty of space along the edges despite the large footprint of the Meeting. The narrow end held the shelter for the eloisha for now. Thalia and Thorn were talking about constructing additional platforms nearby to hold more shelters.

“Wow, you must have had a big crew today.”

Cole nodded. “Sixteen of them, including two males. The stories about the eloisha are spreading among the Anek. More and more of them are showing up, wanting to do anything they can. They’re so fast and deft that watching them build is a little like watching a spider spinning a web. It’s interesting though, they are completely silent while they work.”

Leah took his hand as they walked to entrance. Even though the archway looked low compared to the building, it was well over their heads. “I’ve noticed they don’t do multi-tasking very well.”

“Henry took one look at them working yesterday and headed back for the colony. He said he wasn’t needed here but he looked terrified. Anyway, the exterior is finished and I’ve been told that the ones who come will make their own beds and furniture. We’ve got a bedroom now.”

She grinned at him as they walked across the large open area to where there were a few tables set up. “I guess we’ll have to break it in later.”

“I was hoping you’d say that.”

Leah laughed and waved at Marie who was already making her a drink.
“We’ve got rum and that’s it. Want juice?”

“Straight up is fine,” Leah said.

Marie handed it to her and Leah took a long sip. “Thank you. So Henry called it quits out here.”

“You can’t really blame him, he’s badly arachnophobic,” Marie said. “He can barely function around them.”

“Even the eloisha are starting to get to him,” Cole said. “He was fine until their limbs started developing.”

“I’m worried about him running into trouble, those idiots were already breaking into our hab.”

Marie smiled. “He moved out of the hab yesterday. He’s been working in the fabrication shop and hooked up with one of the women there. From what I’ve heard, several are deeply fascinated with him.”

“He mentioned the rift between Gavin’s followers and the rest of the colony is getting more and more pronounced,” Cole said. “I don’t think those two idiots would have pulled anything like that if the other colonists had seen them.”

Marie nodded. “The colonists won’t say anything directly to Gavin yet, but they’re resisting what his followers are trying to do in little ways.”

“They’d better start standing up for themselves,” Leah said. “Otherwise they’re going to wake up in a Puritan utopia one morning.”

“I can’t argue,” Cole said. “We’ve been catching up on messages from CMC teams, there’s a bunch of situation reports attached. It was all sent blind, addressed to any CMC team.”

“These are surprisingly comfortable,” Marie said, leading Leah over to a wide shelf that extended from the wall and ran most of the way around the inside of the dome. The framework supported a dense network of springy vines. It was higher than a human seat, Marie had to use an equipment crate as a step.

Leah climbed up beside her, it was a little like sitting on a trampoline. Cole handed up her drink and she took another long sip as he climbed up next to her.
“I’m feeling a little needy,” she said, leaning against Cole.

He put an arm around her. “Being a few hundred light years from help will do that.”

“So what have you found out?”

“Tensions between CMC and the Committee have been strained from the start,” Marie said. “The politicians never really got over the fact that they didn’t have complete power. They’ve been trying to get rid of anything outside of their control since the start and it’s been getting steadily worse. Looking at the message, it looks to me like the mess on Gage-29-B was the last straw.”

“What about it? Last I heard there was a survey team getting ready to make the first landings but that was before we left for Saint Johns.”

Marie nodded. “Right, Hyun Cho’s team did the initial landings. It sounds like a gorgeous world, lots of water, compatible chemical makeup. There wasn’t any sign of life much higher than a large invertebrate and a new colony was immediately chartered.”

Cole frowned. “Before it was completely mapped?”

“You two don’t spend a lot of time on Hub, there’s been increasing pressure to speed up colony establishment. The Committee liaison to CMC declared Gage open for a colony. The CMC higher ups about had a stroke, especially in the Big Office. But the Committee whipped up a lot of support and there wasn’t much the Big Office could do once the public was told there would be space on a new colony, a nice warm one.”

Leah sighed. “I knew that liaison office was a bad idea. So what happened on the planet?”

Marie laughed. “One of the survey teams was camped out on a beach. As the sun set, a native appeared in the water and stared at them. It looked sort of cetacean but with manipulating hands. And it was wearing manufactured artifacts, some kind of jewelry I guess. They’re a completely aquatic species. Right before we left I heard that the Xero’pah were sending an FCT. Everyone else was evacuated.”

“Which ends any plans for a colony,” Cole said. “People should know that, it’s one of the founding tenants of the Commonwealth and we agreed to abide by it.”

“Right, but this is where the crazy starts leaking in,” Marie said. “There’s people that are saying humans weren’t a Founder colony, that Earth was their homeworld in fact. There’s an author, Graham something, that’s cobbled together a shitshow of proof. It’s amusing to read, I think he’s one of von Daniken’s disciples.”

Leah laughed. “Has anyone shown them the records of the first settlements on Earth?”

“They say it’s all faked, that the Commonwealth is working hard to keep humans from their rightful place in the galaxy, that their rules don’t apply to us.”

“Since we’re completely dependent on their technology, I’d say following their rules is pretty important,” Cole said. “When did all this start?”

“Hold on, let’s come back to this,” Leah said. “What else is happening on Hub?”

“Lots of chaos it sounds like,” Marie said. “Someone in the Big Office probably saw this coming. As soon as the attainder order went out the doors closed on their side of the complex. And since they were assigned the colony ship as office space, that means armored airlocks.”

“The Committee came up with a plan to deal with them,” Cole said. “But it caused a mutiny on the HSS Peerless.”

“What, there were survey crews aboard?” Leah asked.

“No, the Committee announced that they’d be dropping a cargo container full of ore on the Big Office if they didn’t surrender. Then they dropped one on the CMC training facility as a demonstration.”

Leah was appalled. “Were there any people there?”

“One training group, yes. It was a class of Ta’avi botanists, twelve people in all. They had no warning, the announcement was made just a couple minutes before impact. The Peerless was the one that adjusted the container’s orbits and mounted thrusting engines on them. The officers told the crew it was a training mission but it didn’t take long before the video of the impact got messaged around the ship and the crew took over the ship five hours after the first strike. They rounded up the officers and chained them in the cargo hold and started broadcasting that they were lied to, that the Peerless wouldn’t be dropping anything on anyone and that they’d fire on any ship that tried.”

“Wow. How do they think this is going to end?”

“I don’t think anyone thought about that,” Cole said. “But there’s supposed to be a Commonwealth ship inbound, they say they’ll surrender to them.”

Leah sighed. “That’ll surprise someone. I do wish the Others weren’t seeing this side of humans. Anything else?”

“Yeah,” Marie said quietly. “There was one message from the Big Office before they lost comms. It went system wide. “Persevere” was all it said.”

Leah finished her drink. “Then that’s what we’ll do. I can’t believe the Committee didn’t think about how people would take the plan of dropping things from space on humans. Did they forget we lost a whole planet to that?”

“They’re Old Earth politicians,” Marie said. “It’s not about people, it’s about them and whatever power they can scrape together. I doubt anyone even considered public opinion.”

“I bet they are now. So, you were saying something about people believing that we’re the actual disappeared Founders?”

“It was this little fringe thing,” Marie said. “Lately it’s been getting more attention but I got the feeling that someone is manipulating things. The basic idea is that Earth was where the Founders went, we’re their inheritors. No one really talked about what that actually meant though. Then three Committee members, Ross, Sinclair, and Watson, started talking about it, I’d guess to further their own ends. They were at the front of the angry mob when it was announced that Gage was closed to colonization. There’s a rumor is that they all had significant business interests in the place.”

“Sinclair? That’s Gavin’s last name,” Leah said. “I wonder if there’s a connection or they’re both just bastards.”

“This place makes more sense if you think about Gavin getting orders from some connection at the top,” Cole said.

Leah sat up. “Why doesn’t anyone learn? Seriously, we’re this close to extinction and people are still playing these bullshit games. We ought to have our own people on Hub, infiltrating the Committee and keeping an eye on people like that. If anyone presents a problem, they’re reassigned somewhere where they can’t do any more harm.”

Marie raised an eyebrow. “Like secret police?”

“You wouldn’t have to call it that, no. We’ve got teams quietly protecting our more important people, why don’t we have teams protecting everyone else from their own stupidity?”

“Who decides?” Cole asked her. “How do you keep it from turning into Stalin and Siberia?”

“I know, I know. It would turn into more of the bullshit we can’t stop doing. But I’ve given up a lot, we’ve all given up a lot, to help humans recover, to find new places to live. Good friends have died in the search for new planets and this is what they’re doing with all of our sacrifices!” Leah angrily brushed the tears off her face. “I’m not going through all of this to watch humans turn into monsters like the Dominion did.”

“You don’t think that would actually happen?” Marie sounded shocked.

“They’re already killing innocent people from orbit, aren’t they?” Cole rubbed her back and she leaned back against him. “I’m sorry, I’m just…frustrated.”

“I can’t imagine why,” Cole said. “You had a kind of a rough afternoon.”

“Kind of!”

“Well, there were only two of them.”

Leah gave him a mock glare of outrage and poked him in the ribs. “You’ll pay for your smartassery, sir.”

Marie looked at them both. “I will do what I can to help but I’m going to say this right up front; I’m a scientist underneath my explorer costume and this isn’t what I usually deal with. So I’m going to be asking a lot of stupid questions.”

Leah held up her arm. “Come over here.”

Marie scooted closer and Leah put her arm around Marie’s shoulders. “They won’t be stupid, and this really isn’t our thing either.”

Marie smiled. “Bullshit. You field types love running around and wearing guns, meeting whole new civilizations, getting into trouble. Admit, you’re all adrenaline junkies.”

“Yeah? Did you know you strut when you wear a pistol?”

“No, Leah. I do not.”

“Swagger even.”

Marie leaned forward to see around Leah. “Cole?”

He smiled. “Yeah, sorry. You totally do. We won’t tell any of your laboratory friends though.”

Marie leaned back. “Well, if I have to live through the first colonial civil war, I’m really glad it’s with you two. I feel safe with you guys.”

“Around Cole? The way he’s always leering?”

“I don’t leer.”

Marie laughed. “You were practically groping me with your eyes this afternoon.”

“What a disgusting image. Leah, I’m innocent.”

She laughed and wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. “Darling, one thing you are not, is innocent.”

“I think because you corrupted him,” Marie said.

“Of course I did. He never would have fucked you so good if I hadn’t taught him.”

“Oh, I think he would have done okay. But I do thank you for your hard work.” Marie leaned closer to Leah.

“My pleasure,” Leah said, leaning forward to kiss her.

Leah and Marie began to caress each other as they kissed. Leah started by leaning across Cole, then ended crawling onto his lap to get closer to Marie. The women slumped onto their sides and Leah ended up half on top of, half beside Marie. There were little moans and whimpers as the women touched and stroked each other. Cole lay behind Leah, propped up on his elbow as he watched the two of them make out.

Leah broke a long kiss to breathe hard as Marie unbuttoned her shorts and slid her hand into Leah’s panties. Marie chuckled as her fingers found Leah’s soaking sex.

“I think someone likes this,” she murmured in Leah’s ear.

“Let me show you how much,” Leah said, unzipping Marie’s shorts.

It was Marie’s turn to gasp when Leah’s fingers went between her legs and Leah smiled at her. The two women kissed again, their fingers starting to move faster. They pressed against each other tightly, their hips thrusting against each other’s fingers.

“Right there!” Marie moaned.

“Uh huh!” Leah replied as Marie’s fingers slipped inside of her.

Cole watched the two of them, rubbing Leah’s back as the women writhed and moaned. Leah was the first to cum but Marie joined her seconds later. Leah’s moans and Marie’s whimpers filled the room and they relaxed, catching their breath.

“I think someone else liked watching,” Leah finally said, wiggling her butt against Cole’s erection.

“Good,” Marie giggled. She pulled her hand out of Leah’s shorts and sucked her fingers. “Mmm, you taste nice. I got off so many times thinking about fucking you.”

“Really? When did that start?” Leah asked.

Marie smiled. “Since the first time we were in the showers in high school.”

“Wow, it took you this long?”

Marie giggled again. “We’ve all been a little busy.”

“If you’ve been thinking about it this long, it would only be fair if I helped out with any other pent up needs you might have.”

Marie gave her another long kiss. Leah’s fingers slipped inside of her and Marie gasped. Soon she was cumming again, grabbing Leah’s ass to pull her tight.

“You are too good at that,” Marie said when she caught her breath. “It makes me wonder what you could do with your tongue.”

“Ooh, let’s find out.”

“You mentioned pent up needs,” Marie said as she slid her shorts off. “If you don’t mind, there’s something…”

“What’s that?” Leah said. She lifted her hips as Cole pulled her shorts and panties down.

“Could I borrow your husband’s cock? I was so turned on watching Henry fuck your ass. He’s too rough for me to really enjoy him that way.”

“Of course you can,” Leah said. “The way I just felt him twitch, I think he likes the idea.”

“You sure you don’t mind, Cole?” Marie teased.

“I’m happy to help,” Cole said.

Leah reached back to stroke his cock. “He’s not lying.”

Leah sat up and turned Marie on her stomach, kneeling beside her. “Now, let’s get you ready.” Marie moaned as two of Leah’s fingers slid into her sex. She pushed her hips back, trying to get more as Leah twisted them back and forth. “You’re going to make me cum again!”

“That’s the idea,” Leah said, feeling Marie get wetter. Leah was merciless, fingering her through another orgasm. Then, as Marie lay panting, Leah began to stroke her ass, spreading the wetness over her pucker. Marie moaned as one, then two of Leah’s fingers slid into her ass and slowly thrust in and out. Cole got up and then returned with a small bottle of oil. He poured a little between Marie’s cheeks and she moaned louder, lifting her ass as Leah’s fingers were coated.

“Are you ready?” Leah asked.

“Uh huh!”

Marie spread her legs and Cole knelt behind her. Leah used the oil on Cole’s cock, stroking it with her oily hands. She nodded for him to come closer.

“I’ll just help out here a little,” she said, spreading Marie with one hand while she rubbed Cole’s cock over Marie’s asshole.

“Help out as much as you like,” Marie panted. “Just put him inside me!”

Leah smiled, guiding Cole’s cock into her as he pushed forward slowly.

“Oh my fucking GOD!” Marie groaned. “That’s incredible.”

Leah grinned. “Give her more, baby,” she said to Cole. Leah’s hand went between her own legs as she watched her husband’s cock slid up into Marie. She was getting incredibly excited. She didn’t regret the time they’d spent exclusive to each other but she was almost trembling this was so hot.

Cole’s cock was all the way into her when Marie orgasmed the first time. Her whole body clenched and she pushed her ass up against him. He stayed deep inside of her as her body twitched.

“Hmm, I have an idea,” Leah said to Cole. “Hold her tightly and roll onto your side.”

Marie moaned as Cole turned with her in his arms. “What do you have planned now, dirty girl?”

“Me? I’m just trying to help.” Leah pushed Marie’s legs wider, rubbing her lower lips.

“Holy shit,” Marie breathed. “Are you going to…”

“Uh huh.” Leah slipped two fingers into Marie and pushed them deep.

Marie’s stomach clenched again. “Cole, fuck me,” she begged. “Both of you, fuck me!”

Cole began to thrust in and out of her ass while Leah’s fingers twisted and thrust into her sex. Marie had several orgasms, finally begging Leah for mercy. The pair stopped, letting Marie catch her breath.

“Had enough of that cock in your ass?” Leah asked Marie.

“No, not yet. But there was something else I wanted.”

“I’m so glad you remember,” Leah said, kissing her.

Marie slid off of Cole’s cock and rolled back onto her stomach. Leah slid further up the bed, spreading her legs on either side of the other woman.

“Put it back in,” Marie said over her shoulder to Cole. She reached back and spread her ass wide for his cock, groaning as the length slid deeply into her again. Marie let go of her ass and put her hands on Leah’s legs, pulling her toward Marie.

Leah took a deep breath as Marie’s mouth contacted her lips. The breath turned into a whimper as Marie began to suck on her clit. Cole steadily slid in and out of Marie’s ass, pushing her mouth against Leah. Marie’s fingers spread Leah’s lips wide and she began to lick around Leah’s opening.

“You look so sexy,” Leah panted, running her fingers through Marie’s hair. Leah’s back arched and she tightened her hold on Marie’s hair. “Yes! Fuck my cunt with your tongue!”

She began to cum and Marie pressed her mouth tighter, thrusting into Leah with her tongue. Marie went back to licking and sucking Leah’s clit and pushed her fingers into Leah’s pussy. Marie’s other hand went between her own legs, rubbing at her clit.

“You know what else I thought about?” Leah said, looking down at Marie. “When you had Cole’s cock in your throat I wondered what you’d look like doing that with Lakshmi.”

“Mm-hmm!” Marie moaned into Leah’s cunt.

“Do you want to feel her inside of you?”

Marie shuddered and looked up at her, face wet and sticky with Leah’s cum. “Yes! I’ve gotten off almost every night thinking about that. Would you stay and watch while she pushed that big thing into me?”

Leah smiled down at her. “Of course. I’d even put her inside you, just like I put Cole into your ass.”

“Oh my god,” Marie groaned and put her mouth back between Leah’s legs.

“Your tongue feels so good,” Leah moaned. “Use another finger, please?”

Marie pushed three fingers into Leah who immediately got wetter and started pushing her cunt against Marie’s lips.

“You’re gonna make me cum so good,” Leah whimpered. “Fuck her ass hard Cole, make her scream!”

Leah’s back arched again and she held Marie’s head, thrusting her sex against Marie’s mouth faster and faster. As she was sliding into a huge orgasm, Marie added another finger, pushing four of them into her. Leah screamed, leaning back and pulling Marie’s hair.

“Oh god, please stop, so sensitive,” Leah panted. Marie pulled her fingers out she kissed Leah’s thigh. Leah’s fingers ran through her hair and Marie looked back at Cole. She could tell he was getting close

“Cum in me, please? I want you to shove it in all the way and cum in me. Please Cole?”

“Yes ma’am,” Cole gasped and Marie closed her eyes, loving the feeling of him thrusting into her.

“That’s it, fuck me nice and deep,” she moaned. Her fingers were rubbing and pinching her own clit as Cole pushed harder and faster. They both moaned as Cole shoved deep inside of her, grabbing her hips to pull her tightly against his cock. Marie felt his cock swell, knowing that he was cumming set her off as well.

Marie gasped a little when Cole slid out of her ass. Leah moved beside her and they shared a long, tender kiss. Cole flopped down beside Marie, breathing hard. Leah kissed him next and he stroked her face.

“I’m going to pass out pretty soon,” Leah said. “Do you want to sleep with us?”

Marie laughed. “No. Don’t take it personally, I’m still luxuriating in having a bed to myself. Can I lay here for a little bit first?”

“You can do whatever you want,” Leah assured her.

Marie and Leah both fell asleep for a few minutes before Marie sat up. “Goodnight my loves, I’ll see you in the morning.”

Leah and Cole kissed her goodnight and tumbled into the bed Cole had just finished.

“That was amazing,” Leah said.

“Wish we had done this sooner?”

Leah shook her head. “I thought about that earlier. I’m glad it’s always been you and me. How about you?”

“No, this is fun and I’m glad I can share these moments with you, but you’re the most important person to me. Nothing will ever change that.”

“I’m glad,” Leah said, wiggling against him to get comfortable. “You and me?”

“Until the stars die.”

Leah smiled and she felt him kiss the back of her neck as she fell asleep.

|3.0
Leah’s eyes opened in the darkness. Cole was snoring quietly and Leah sat up, wondering what had woken her up. Was something after the kids?

Then she smiled, catching a familiar smell on the breezes that were always moving through the Meeting.

Leah untangled herself from Cole and he opened his eyes. “You okay?”

“Uh-huh. Something woke me up.”

Cole looked around. Then he caught the same scent and smiled. “I know who that is.”

They got out of bed and walked into the main part of the Meeting. There was a shadow in one of the archways.

“I have come back,” Lakshmi said and Leah laughed and ran to her. They hugged tightly. Cole followed her and waited for his turn but Lakshmi picked him up with her set of heavy lifting arms and hugged them both to her.

(Beloved Ones)

He concentrated, carefully letting a pulse of love and happiness escape. There was an answering wave of emotion: tenderness, pride, love.

(You’re getting very good at that.)

“He’s a natural,” Leah said proudly. “How was your trip?”

(Much longer than I expected, several villages heard our story and wanted the news personally. Eldest and I traveled far out of our way. The Meeting is nearly finished? They’ve done a very good job. I heard the males have sent someone as well?)

“He chose the name Thorn,” Cole said. “You’ll probably remember him.”

There was a feeling of amusement. (Thalia told me, she was very pleased you accepted him)

“I haven’t met him yet,” Leah said. “We have a friend from our home we want you to meet tomorrow. Her name is Marie.”

(I wondered who was in the little blue place. I can feel your affection for her. I look forward to knowing her. It is quite late for me, I’m not as strong as a human to be awake at all hours. There is a space for me to sleep?)

“Yes there is,” Leah said, pulling her toward the door. “Come and look.”
Cole turned on a small lantern when they were inside. The bed he’d built with Leah was a mix between Anek and human styles. The bowl shape was wide enough for Lakshmi but low enough that he and Leah could get into it without a ladder and shallow enough that they didn’t have to worry about rolling to the center all night.

(This is for us to share?)

“Yeah!” Leah jumped onto the bed. “Come and try it.”

(You made this Cole?)

“Leah helped and I got some advice from Thalia as we worked. Is it okay?”

Lakshmi stepped closer and wrapped her human sized arms around him. (It is perfect. Both the bed and the feelings behind it)

Cole put his forehead against hers and they traded emotions for a few seconds.

(I am truly honored, Beloved ones. We will talk more in the day?)

“Come to bed,” Cole said.

Lakshmi climbed into the bed and stretched. (It’s perfect)

“Good,” Leah said, snuggling against her. “Cole, get in here.”

“I hear and obey.” Cole climbed onto the bed and spooned against Leah who wiggled back against him.

(Now there is perfection and contentment)

A few seconds later Lakshmi was asleep, the other two weren’t far behind her.

Leah had to be dreaming, there was no way she’d be in the very tops of the trees like this. It was night time and the nebula was overhead casting almost as much light as the smaller moon. She was alone up here, which was strange, there were voices all around her, like she was standing in a packed auditorium of people. She tried but couldn’t make out what they were saying.

“Hello?”

There was a brief silence and all of them started repeating a word she didn’t understand. She tried to answer but couldn’t make them hear her. She thought she’d memorize it but the syllables were too strange to stick in her mind.

By the time Leah opened her eyes, Lakshmi were already out of bed. Leah put her feet on the floor, yawning and rubbing her eyes. She got washed up, using the dreaded chemical wipes. This place would be perfect once they figured out how to get running water up here.

She pulled her hair back into a ponytail just and followed the smell of coffee out into the main building. There wasn’t anyone here either and Leah walked outside. The sun was high enough in the sky that it left golden slices of light across the smooth surface of the platform. Cole and Marie were sitting in camp chairs and both had coffee cups in their hands. There was an eloisha perched on Cole’s shoulder that was closely watching his every move.

“Is there any more of that?” Leah asked.

Marie pointed to a self-heating kettle. “In there. I wouldn’t try putting sugar in it though.”

Leah went to the kettle and there was a delighted sounding whistle from the Meeting roof. A second later someone thumped to a landing on either of her shoulders. Leah smiled at both eloisha and they chirped excitedly as she poured coffee. She sipped the black coffee and there were mournful hoots.

“I take it they’ve developed a taste for sugar?” she asked Cole as she bent down to kiss him. As she stood up, the eloisha on her shoulder made a noise that sounded almost like “sugar” and she smiled.

“More of an overriding obsession,” he said. “Not so different from human kids. Lakshmi left a few hours ago, she’ll be back tonight, after these guys are asleep.”

“The Anek don’t sound like they stay up at night,” Marie said.

Cole shook his head. “Getting workers here before sunup was evidently a big deal. They’re tied to the day-night cycle pretty firmly most of the time. The first council meeting we were at went later but after the sun went down there weren’t any decisions made, just the social bonding stuff. They’re amazed we can stay up all night if we need to.”

“Doing more than one thing at once amazes them too,” Leah said. “Lakshmi saw me eating while I was reading and listening to music and thought I was being funny. She was pretty surprised when she realized we could all do it.”

“Interesting,” Marie said. “I wonder if that’s because their brains spend more time dealing with a more complex body or it has something to do with their touch-talk. I’m really looking forward to meeting her either way.”

There were three pings from inside the Meeting as all three of their tablets registered incoming messages.

“I’ll get mine,” Cole said. The tablets chirped again and the eloisha glided after Cole, mimicking the sound over and over. Leah and Marie looked at each other and laughed.

Cole came out holding a tablet. “Henry is going to make an announcement in a few minutes, Maya is linking us in.”

“I like her,” Marie said. “I’m glad she wasn’t the leak.”

“She’s got an amazingly long tongue,” Leah said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

“Ah-ha. So the rumors weren’t just rumors.”

“They were supposed to be, but Maya had her own ideas,” Cole said.

Marie laughed. “I think I’m jealous.”

The tablet announced an announcement from the Administrator’s Office and Cole held up his tablet so they could all see.

“Hello neighbors, I hope everyone is doing well. I won’t take much of your time but I think it’s important I make a couple of comments about the news we all got yesterday. Hub is a long way off and any opinions we have won’t change what’s going on. We’ve got our own problems here and I know you’re all doing your best at that. So, don’t worry. We’ll be okay, no matter what ends up happening back on Hub.

“If anyone missed it, there was also an order to detain any CMC personnel and impound their ships. Both of the shuttles left the planet before any action could be taken to impound them. This means that our CMC guests are stranded here and rather than lock them in a storeroom, I’ll be asking them to continue working while they keep this office informed of their…”

The image froze and disappeared. The tablet announced that the link to the network had been lost and Leah and Cole looked at each other.

“I guess Gavin didn’t want to listen to Owen,” Leah said. “I bet he’s making his move.”

“Are you still going into the colony?” Marie asked.

Leah nodded. “It won’t help Owen to disappear out here. You two were already sent out here to work, I’d stay. I want to see how the colony feels, what people’s reactions to me are like. And we need to know what Gavin is doing.”

The tablet announced there was a direct link from the colonial authority.

“Hey Owen, looks like tech trouble,” Leah said.

“Looks like. Before I send Maya up to get you, what’s your feeling about coming down today?”

“We were just talking about that, I’ll see you in a little while.”

“Okay. Gavin and a couple of other people were no-shows at their jobs this morning which didn’t make the other workers very happy. From what I’m hearing down here, most of the colony is pretty sympathetic to you guys. You shouldn’t have any problems.”

“And I’ve got pretty good back up out here,” Leah said, winking at Cole. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

Owen looked up when his tablet pinged. The computer announced that network connectivity was restored a minute later. He tried to check his messages but the mail server still wasn’t responding. A video window automatically opened, Gavin was standing in front of one of the farm buildings with several people behind him.

“People of the Arboreal Colony, you know me. I am speaking as the voice of the Culture of Resistance.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Owen said. He should have been expecting this.

“As part of our resistance against the current, illegal, government, we have been forced to restrict your network access. For that I apologize, but I have no choice until Administrator Lykos resigns and surrenders himself. You are all aware of his announcement last week; he was changing the status of this place, from colony to CMC scientific outpost. This means Lykos is subject to the same Order of Attainder as the rest of the CMC. We call for his immediate resignation and surrender to the lawful authority, The Culture of Resistance.”

“The status change hasn’t been acted on, dumbass,” Owen muttered at the screen.

“Lykos has also failed to detain the CMC criminals currently on Arboreal. This is a direct violation of the Committee’s charter for this colony, an offense that demands the immediate removal of the administrator in question.”

Owen wondered if Gavin realized he’s contradicted his first statement. Probably not, it looked like he was focused more on the drama of the moment rather than any sort of logic.

“Finally we are calling for the surrender of the CMC goons currently on Arboreal. You probably haven’t been told, but Captain Jones assaulted two citizens of this colony, using a firearm. Do we really want to return to the bad old days of Earth? Murder in the streets and lawlessness? I don’t think we do. Therefore I am also demanding the surrender, or capture, of the CMC officers. They will be tried by the same tribunal that will judge Owen Lykos.

“You might be wondering what the Culture of Resistance can do to make ourselves heard? We only have a few simple shotguns and slingshots, nothing like the assault rifles and automatic pistols being brandished by Ferrualt’s CMC attack dogs. I’ll tell you. Myself and my followers have taken over both of the farms in addition to the communications network. We are not cruel people, I personally abhor violence but something must be done to return a lawful government to power.

Therefore, no more food will be delivered until Owen Lykos and his goons have surrendered, no more communications with the courier ship will be allowed until these criminals are brought to justice. I regret the hardships this will cause on all of us, but the corrupt leadership here must be brought to its knees. Tell them how you feel, tell them you want your food back, your network with all its gifts of books and videos. If he won’t listen to me, maybe he’ll listen to all of you.”

The window closed and the computer announced that the link to the communication network had been lost again. Owen pinched the bridge of his nose and sat back in his chair. They had more than enough One-Day bars to keep them going for a long time, but they were universally despised. One way or another, this would be over long before the colony ran out of food.

|4.0

After Leah had gone down to meet Maya and the quad, Marie got to work cataloging some plant samples she’d gathered. Cole set up a transmitter so they could keep in touch with Xerxes and Agamemnon who were still orbiting overhead. Then he went to put the finishing touches on the eloisha shelter. As it got warmer, Marie pulled her work table into the Meeting. They both had an audience for a while until the eloisha went off to whatever they did all day. Cole noticed there were a lot fewer of the annoying flying insects around and figured they were getting eaten. He didn’t mind that at all.

The sun began to beat on Cole as well and he finally gave up and went in search of some shade. He hung the wet shirt outside and came in bare chested.

“It’s great in here,” Marie said from inside. Cole stepped in and was immediately cooler. The multiple arches captured some of the breezes moving up the trees and channeled it inside.

Cole drained a bottle of water and wiped his face. “I’ll be glad when it cools off a little. I’m running out of shirts.”

Marie looked up and smiled. “So go without one, I won’t faint.”

He was a lot more comfortable without it and sat in a camp chair and started catching up on his journal. Once the mess at Hub got cleared up, CMC would want to know what had been going on out here. Leah just made a video recording but Cole was more comfortable writing it out.

“Do you care if I listen to music?” Marie asked, coming back into the Meeting. He looked up and she smiled. She’d taken off her shirt and put her hair up. She’d also traded her usual shorts for a much shorter, gauzier pair.

“Music would be great. Feeling cooler?”

“Yes, thanks. You don’t mind more skin?”

“Are you kidding?”

They were absorbed in what they were doing for the rest of the day. The eloisha showed up and Cole counted them. They’d been lucky so far but he knew they were bound to lose a few and knew he shouldn’t do it but he couldn’t help it. So far they’d been lucky. Leah had had eleven and he had beat her by one. He frowned and counted again. They had taken to using the Meeting as an indoor playground, it wasn’t easy to count as they zipped around whistling in the dimness. Maybe they were moving too fast, but he kept getting twenty-four. Finally he noticed one that was smaller than the others. It was shyer as well, watching him but staying out of reach.

“What’s going on?” Marie asked.

“I think we’ve got a guest here.”

The other eloisha seemed to be calling to it. The newcomer stayed well out of reach but seemed happy otherwise.

Marie attached a small speaker to her tablet and started some music. Soon all of the eloisha were perched on the rafters above her, staring at the speaker.

“I think they like it,” she said. One of them glided to the table and landed beside the speaker and whistled at it.

“What are you listening to? It sounds familiar.”

“Music from the eighties, remember Oingo Boingo?”

“Vaguely, I was more of a metal and rap fan.”

Marie rolled her eyes. “Why am I not surprised? This one is called Dead Man’s Party, I think it was in a movie.”

More eloisha landed on the table. Soon they were perched on Marie and the speaker, staring at the holes where the sound emerged. The song ended and Marie stopped the player, curious what they’d do. Several nudged the speaker and there were chirps and whistles and scattered attempts to mimic the song. Cole got up and came over.

“You might have started a riot.”

Marie laughed. “A little tiny one. Let’s see what happens if I play it again.”

The eloisha were immediately quiet, staring at the speaker. Cole smiled and set up his tablet to record the scene. The eloisha started whistling excitedly when the music stopped. Marie was playing with one of them and didn’t restart the song right away.

One of the eloisha on top of the little speaker suddenly mimicked a horn stab from the song. The others began imitating different parts of the music.

“That’s amazing,” Cole said. “Try it again.”

The eloisha were delighted and sang back at the speaker, imitating it perfectly in higher pitched voices. There was a noise from above them and Cole looked up into the rafters. The visiting eloisha was trying to whistle along but was making mistakes.

Marie let the next song start but the eloisha had lost interest and jumped off the table, swooping up into the rafters. Cole kept his eye on the newcomer, two of the larger ones landed near it and whistled. It whistled back and there was a complicated series of chirps back and forth. Then the newcomer imitated the whistle perfectly and all three jumped into the air and glided outside.

“What was that all about?” Marie asked.

“I think they were teaching the new one how to make the right noise. Wow.”

There were a series of tiny horn stabs from the rafters.

“Oh shit,” Marie. “If they’re teaching each other there’s going to be tiny ska trumpets all over the place and it’ll be my fault.”

“We’re bound to influence them in unexpected ways. They seem to really like the horns though.”

“I really hope I’m interrupting something naughty,” Leah said when she came into the Meeting. The two of them were sitting, passing the video back and forth, laughing.

“Just staying cool,” Marie said, looking up with a smile. “But I can always be talked into naughty.”

“Staying cool? That was Cole’s idea wasn’t it?”

“Actually it was. Damn, does he do that a lot?”

Leah nodded. “He’s quite infamous in fact.”

“I didn’t tell you to take off your clothes,” Cole protested. “In fact, you told me to take off mine.”

Leah looked at Marie sympathetically. “And he used that reverse pressure move, didn’t he?”

“Exactly right.”

“All the kids asleep? I knew I was going to miss them.”

“They just disappeared but you should see this video,” Cole said, holding up his tablet. Leah raised her eyebrows and sat down. Soon all three of them were laughing again.

“I think we’d better show this to Lakshmi,” Leah said, wiping her eyes. “Hopefully we’re not screwing them up somehow.”

Lakshmi and Thorn had appeared as the sun dipped behind the trees. After the Anek greeted all of them deliberately, almost formally, the five of them sat out in the open, enjoying the sun and cooler breezes that were coming through the trees. Thalia and Lakshmi sat between humans, all of them touching. Cole explained what had happened and showed them the video. They could feel the amazement of both Anek.

(I’ve never seen anything like that. Are they all males?)

“I very much doubt it,” Thorn said. “Even if they were, mimicking sounds doesn’t begin until we hear the ancestor voices. They seem to be growing very quickly as well. Have any been lost?”

Cole shook his head. “I count every day. I’m pretty sure an eloisha from another brood followed them back here. A couple seemed to be trying to teach it what they knew.”

(They are acting like a tribe already? This is not how it has worked in the past)

“I agree,” Thorn said. “What little I know of eloisha is that they live alone. It’s not until the voice of ancestors begins to speak to them that they find a tribe and learn to live with others. Something has changed in this brood.”

Leah sat up. “Obviously it’s us. Cole and I dreamt of them every night, we thought they might be aware of us as well. From the loss of the tathinni until now, the eloisha have struggled on their own, cooperation probably just meant less food to go around. Now they’ve got a safe home to work from, they can begin teaching each other what works best.”

(Beloved, I think this is near to the truth) Lakshmi said.

“But the old stories, they never mentioned eloisha being so active or communicating,” Thorn said.

(But the tathinni weren’t as advanced as the humans. Are there stories about tathinni knowledge appearing in eloisha?)

“I know of nothing, but what could a tathinni know? This is quite remarkable and we need to spread this knowledge among our Elders.”

(Agreed. I will tell them when I go to tell them of the insanity that has affected the humans. I am unhappy that it has happened)

“We’re not happy either,” Cole assured her. “I will go with you to the Elders tomorrow, if you think it’s wise.”

(Very wise. They will not question your word. I might be thought to be mistaken, this is a very strange concept for us)

Cole rubbed her arm. “We’re just relaxing until we can take action, not ignoring the danger. I promise.”

There was a mental smile. (Then I’ll follow your example)

“We’ve met female tribes, can you tell us about what a male tribe is like?” Leah asked Thorn. Cole listened as Thorn talked to Leah, repeating everything he had told Cole earlier.

“You don’t have permanent homes then?” Leah asked.

“Not like the females, no. We move from place to place, a group might stay for a season or two. When we notice that the food is becoming harder to find, we move to a new home so that we do not damage the hoom.”

“Are you two the same age?” Marie asked.

“We do not understand time the same way humans see it,” Thorn said. “I am certain that I was born before Lakshmi. Thalia remembers Lakshmi appearing at the village after I became. I do not know how many seasons.”
“Did you know each other before you mated?” Leah asked.

“We did not. I left my village when I felt the breeding time start. I wandered and it was some time later that I smelled Lakshmi nearby. I found her and we began to hunt.”

“Did you talk about mating first?” Marie asked.

Lakshmi felt amused again.

“No,” Thorn said. “That is the purpose of hunting together, to see if we would produce good eloisha. Talking things over like a human wouldn’t work well for us. Both females and males during the breeding fever, we do not always think clearly.”

There was a bubbling sensation of amusement from Lakshmi. (I am sure they will never forget that fact)

“I have questions but I don’t want to cause offense by asking something bad,” Leah said.
Thorn held up a hand. “Part of my time here is to answer whatever questions you may have.”

“Thank you for that. So you only want to breed occasionally?”

“If things are left to nature, yes. Long ago someone found that dust from a certain plant could bring something like the fever, though we are not as aggressive and do not seek out a hunting companion among the females.”

Leah nodded. “So, just for fun.”

“For enjoyment, yes.”

(You gathered this plant, the purple rounded ones. I was amused to see them in the Meeting home until I realized you did not know what they were for)

Marie smiled. “I was testing them to see if humans can eat them.”

“I wonder if it would have the same effect on humans,” Thorn said.

(But they are different, the males do not have the fever cycle)

“Well, it’s not poisonous so we’ll see,” Marie said. She picked up her tablet and made some notes.

“Thorn, can I ask you something else?”

“I truly believe I cannot stop your questions, Leah.”

She laughed. “Just tell me to stop if I ask too much.”

“I am ready for the next question.”

“When you use that plant, I know that the females pleasure each other, is it the same with the males?”

“It is not uncommon for two or more to seek pleasure together. We also have our greln, the smallest arms and hands. They bring pleasure as well. There are other ways that are less common.”

“Is it something bad?” Leah asked.

“I think I know what you are asking. No, these are not forbidden things, just…uncommon.”

(Our speech together is a part of our own path, not that of my tribe. If you want to answer, I remain silent)

“Thank you. You’re aware that wild tathinni can still be found? Not near here, but closer to the waters. When they are trapped and taken away, before they are released, they are occasionally used for pleasure. I have not done this, only heard stories.”

(I have heard that story as well, I did not know whether to believe it)

“And closer to here there is a type of climbing plant. One may wrap it around their penis and then disturb the roots. The plant then contracts repeatedly. The leaves are soft, it is quite pleasurable.”

(Have you attempted to join with a female?)

Thorn shook his head in a very human gesture. “A member of my tribe has joined with my sister. I am told I am not built for it.”

“Thalia?” Leah wouldn’t have guessed that the council member would do something so daring.

“Yes. She is the only sister I know of.”

Leah put her hand on Thorn’s arm. “I’m sorry. I have embarrassed you, I can feel it.”

“You did not intend offense, I am not offended.”

There was a mental sigh. (She wants to ask you a question but cannot find the proper words)

Thorn looked at Leah, who stuck out her tongue at Lakshmi. There was a ripple of amusement back at her.

“Fine. Thorn, the night we first met, beside the river. What was it like?”

“I am not understanding the context of the question. What part of that night do you mean?”

“I want to know what it was like from your eyes. Did you enjoy it?”

Thorn looked at Lakshmi. The three humans were barely able to hear their high pitched chirps and whistles. After a few minutes Thorn’s voice dropped back down into the audible range.

“I understand what you are asking now. After I met Lakshmi, we hunted together and it was a good thing, we matched well. She has told you about our wandering, that we stopped and watched you for a time. You looked much like the tathinni are described and I knew from the tablet that you would probably serve as incubators. That’s all we thought of. During breeding all that is considered is finding the safest possible place for our eloisha. Nothing else can matter. So we watched until evening. Before the yellow moon showed, I came down the tree to your shelter. I listened to you speak there, I had learned your language from the device.”

“Did you already know that you would use us?” Leah asked.

Thorn looked at Cole. “I realized you must be male when you took off your clothing. This stirred an ancient part of me. Males avoid each other during the fever, we do not always behave rationally. I might have chased you away but instead I plotted to…paralyze? Yes. Paralyze you. I wrapped you in your bedding and put you out of the way. I had heard enough of your voice to imitate you and I waited for the female to come.”

“It wasn’t quite perfect,” Leah said. “But close enough that I took off my clothes. I was already really horny. You pushed me flat on my back, I knew it wasn’t Cole’s hand but it didn’t really matter because I was suddenly blindingly horny.”

“I had begun to touch your…I do not know the word. I began to make you feel.”

“Yes you did,” Leah said and laughed. “I don’t know what you put inside of me at first, it felt amazing.

“Ah. I started with the smallest arms, underneath me. You’ve seen the female version? We are the same there. Your body was soft and warm and wet and I knew you would be perfect.”

“I was curious about something,” Leah said. “At first you put your penis inside of my vagina but then entered my anus. Were you confused?”

There was a cascade of amusement from Lakshmi. (He was not confused)

Cole didn’t think an Anek could look embarrassed but Thorn was giving it a try.

“Ah. As I said, you were warm and wet. I wanted to know what you would feel like surrounding my penis.”

Leah smiled. “You liked it?”

“Very much so. Once I knew my sperm had gathered, I stopped. Putting it in you there would not have worked.”

“And you turned me over,” Leah said. “I saw poor Cole wrapped like a burrito on the floor but I still didn’t care. I just wanted you to use me.”

“Yes, that was the desire I gave you. I was surprised to learn that the feelings did not depart you after we left.”

“But they did,” Leah said. “I’m the adventurous type and we were already aroused. I liked that feeling. You turned me over and entered my ass. Was that as nice?”

“When I made you slippery, yes. You were a gorgeous tathinni.”

“And then Lakshmi came to me.” Leah stroked her arm. “Thank you for telling me, Thorn.”

(Now I am becoming aroused at these thoughts. Is that your plan, adorable Beloved?)

Leah didn’t answer, just smiled at her and turned back to Thorn. “Would you be interested in mating again for pleasure?”

Thorn looked at her without saying anything but they could smell the sharp citrus odor of surprise.

“What are you asking?” Thorn finally said.

Leah smiled. “I’m asking if you would like to…explore me, again.”

“I was surprised Cole accepted me as a representative for the males. I did not expect this.”

“Expect nothing but surprise from a human,” Lakshmi said.

“I would very much like to feel your body again,” Thorn said.
Leah who smiled and stood up. “I was thinking right here unless anyone objects?”

Marie felt a flutter in her stomach. “I’d love to see that,” she said, her voice a little husky. “Those pods are on my work table.”

“Don’t go anywhere,” Leah said to Thorn and went inside. She was back a minute later with several of the objects in her hand. “What do you do with these? Do I need to help?”

“There is a dust inside, it affects me on the back quills or the place I smell.”

“Hmm, I think this is better done without clothes,” Leah said. She pulled her shirt over her head and smiled at Cole before unhooking her bra and kicking her shorts off. They could see a wet spot on her panties before she pulled them off.

Thorn removed the belts that were wrapped around him as Leah broke open one of the purple pods.

“May I?”

Thorn lowered himself and pulled aside the cloth that covered the soft spines. “You can put it directly here.”

Leah licked her finger and thumb and put them in the gray powder. When they were covered, she gently stroked one of Thorn’s quills, leaving gray streaks on the dark blue. He shivered slightly.

“That’s okay?”

“It is very good.”

She opened another pod. “This is safe for us?” she asked Marie who nodded.

Leah tapped some pollen into her mouth before licking one of his quills and beginning to suck on it. She repeated the process twice more.

“Are two of those enough?” she asked Thorn.

“Two! A part of one is adequate.” He shivered. “I should have said.”

“I’m so sorry, will it harm you? I should have asked.”

Thorn shivered again. “Not harm, no. But my desire will be very strong.”

“Oh, I think we can deal with that,” Leah said, stroking his quills.

Thorn shuddered and said something they didn’t understand but the meaning was pretty clear as the seam on Thorn’s underside started to widen. The long penis slipped out, falling underneath him as the pocket opened fully. The penis was a dark blue-gray, about thirty centimeters long. It was thicker at the base and tapered to a slightly cupped end that wasn’t much larger than a human penis.

Marie noticed Lakshmi caressing Cole. After a second, he nodded and got out of his chair. Leah kept stroking the quills along Thorn’s back as Cole took off his shorts.

“Marie, why don’t you come sit closer? You can see better if you sit with Lakshmi,” Cole said.

Marie nodded and took the chair Leah had left. Lakshmi’s human sized hand touched her shoulder.

(I did not expect to see this)

Marie smiled at her. “I’m glad you’re here.”

Thorn shuddered again. “It is almost a breeding fever, such feelings I have for you…”

“Let me feel them,” Leah said, tracing a quill. She trembled as one of the larger arms caressed her back.

“Do you feel it?” Thorn asked.

Leah first shuddered and then moaned. “Holy shit! I can feel it alright, I want you to fuck me so bad. Cole, I want you to watch, like last time. Please? I’ll make you feel so good.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Cole said. He stepped closer, rubbing her shoulder and she turned and pulled him into a hard kiss.

(I tried kissing like that. We do not feel the same thing as you)

Marie was getting horny watching the couple make out as they leaned against the Anek. “We’ll have to find a substitute then.”

(Leah has said the same. I am looking forward to having the time to spend searching for the path)

Thorn caressed Leah’s body and she moaned, pressing herself against his torso.

Thorn looked at Cole and raised a hand. “No fear this time. Your choice.”

Cole looked at Leah writhing in Thorn’s other arm and smiled. “What the hell.” He put his hand in Thorn’s, almost like they were shaking hands and Marie saw Cole shudder.

“What are they feeling?” she asked Lakshmi.

(I’m not certain what it feels like from a male, but I will show you our way)

The quivery feeling in Marie’s stomach got stronger and she felt her nipples harden. She watched as Leah rubbed herself against Thorn, a little jealous. She wanted to fuck like that too, wanted to be naked and dirty in front of everyone. Marie pinched one of her nipples through the light shirt and shivered.

(Something like that) Lakshmi felt slightly amused and very aroused.

Marie leaned against her. “Is this okay? The contact?”

(It is lovely)

“I bet you’d be a huge hit at a party,” Marie said.

She was having a hard time not touching herself. The lust Lakshmi had made her feel wasn’t there but there was plenty of her own. Lakshmi felt confused about the idea of a party and Marie tried to give her the image of one of the last nights on the Ericsson; the captain had summoned her to the conference room on the ship. He’d been waiting for her naked, along with the Tactical Officer and a cute engineer…

There was a peppery citrus smell that interrupted her memory. (We must teach you not to shout.) Lakshmi felt amused, not upset. (You awaken feelings in us just as much as we do you. I look forward to one of your parties)

Marie realized she was playing with her nipples again. “Would you mind if I took this shirt off?”

(Please, be comfortable)

Thorn used the larger arms to pluck Leah off the ground and she moaned as he laid her on the mossy cushion Thorn had been resting on. Cole sat on the deck next to her and she kissed him as Thorn stepped closer, standing half over her. Leah saw his penis hanging down and swallowed. She spread her legs and reached up to stroke the bottom of his torso. Thorn lowered himself and stepped forward again. Leah rubbed her clit until the greln hands pushed her hand away and began to stroke her with feather light touches.

Leah looked at Cole, biting her bottom lip. “I want him in me so bad,” she whimpered.

Cole sat back slightly, watching as one miniature hand spread her lips while the other teased her wet hole. Leah was moaning, lifting her hips toward the tiny hands as one pushed inside of her. Leah’s back arched as she orgasmed. The other hand found her clit, driving her deeper into spasms of pleasure.

Thorn crouched lower, the head of his penis touching her leg and Leah pulled her legs wider.

“Fuck me,” she moaned. “Put that beautiful cock in me and make me scream!”

The tiny hands stretched her lips wide. Cole saw that the penis was slightly prehensile; it moved almost like an elephant’s trunk. Thorn folded his legs, his body almost touching hers. The penis found Leah’s hole and pushed inside of her. Thorn was still as the penis extended, more of it slithering between her lips. Leah was orgasming, crying out in soft little ‘oh’ noises. Thorn stopped pushing into her but Leah’s back arched again, she was grunting breathlessly and Cole was curious what it was doing inside of her.

Leah looked at Cole, panting. “Do you like watching? It’s making me so fucking horny!”

Cole knelt down and kissed her and she pushed her tongue into his mouth. She moaned against his lips. Thorn withdrew his penis and unfolded the walking legs slightly. He reached down for Leah and she giggled when he picked her up and turned her over. The greln were already back between her legs and Leah’s eyes widened as the small hands moved from her pussy to her ass. The penis was already extending again and there was a clear get dripping from the head.

“You’re going to fuck me in the ass?” Leah asked, looking at Thorn over her shoulder.

“You must be inseminated,” Thorn said. His voice sounded strained.

“Yes! Put it in my ass, inseminate me!” Leah reached back and spread herself. The hands were scooping the clear gel off the penis and rubbing it in her crack. Leah gasped as one pushed inside of her, pushing the gel into her. They guided the head against her asshole and it narrowed slightly as it pressed against her. The tip slid in easily and Leah let go of her ass, reaching for her nipples as more of it slid inside. She pinched her nipples hard, shoving back against it. Thorn said something to Cole but she wasn’t paying attention. Cole knelt down in front of her and Leah grinned up at him before taking his cock into her mouth.

(Ah, the mouth blowjob. Those are very pleasurable. Do all humans do this?)

Marie smiled up at her. “A lot of us do, using our mouths is a common way to bring pleasure to each other. Leah sucked your ovipositor?”

(Yes. And before that, the quills on my back. They are very sensitive)

“These right here?” Marie traced one of the long soft spikes and Lakshmi shivered.

(Your mouth is quite lovely. It would be a pleasure to watch my flesh in it)

Marie was surprised and aroused at Lakshmi’s matter of fact tone. What would that feel like? She wouldn’t mind trying that herself. Lakshmi’s skin was smooth and warm against her skin and Marie wondered if her ovipositor was covered with the soft fur as well.

Leah took Cole’s cock out of her mouth and gasped as Thorn withdrew slightly and then pushed forward again. Leah grunted, twisting her nipple and Thorn pushed more inside.

“He’s so fucking deep,” she groaned. “Do I feel good on your cock, Thorn?”

“Yes, you feel very good.”

“Tell me.”

“You are soft and warm and squeeze me. You are a little tathinni begging to be penetrated and filled. Smooth and adorable and I will fill you with my sperm.”

“Yeah? I think you’re the one begging to fuck that tight ass,” Leah gasped. “Come on, I know you can fuck faster than that.”

Thorn made a grating noise and his load arms pulled her closer. Leah moaned her approval.

“You like your little tathinni fuck toy talking back, don’t you?” she gasped. “It excites you.”

“Yes!” Thorn said.
He slid Leah forward and then back, burying more of his cock inside her.

Marie watched Leah writhe underneath Thorn and wondered what it felt like. Could Cole fuck her at the same time? She wouldn’t mind being fucked in the ass. Maybe she could take Lakshmi at the same time. Marie wondered if any of the Anek had ever done that or if there was a taboo against it. She wanted to lay on top of this strange beautiful creature, feeling their skin together. Even better would be to feel her pushing deeply into her. Marie bit her lip, imagining Thorn mounting her as well, his penis squirming against her ass…

Lakshmi stirred. Her front, human sized, arm stroked Marie’s shoulder. (Lovely thing, are you meaning to share these thoughts with me or had you forgotten?)

Marie’s face turned bright red. “I totally forgot you could hear me,” she whispered.

(Why are you ashamed? You have wonderfully exciting thoughts. As much uumphra as Leah spread over his quills, Thorn will likely be willing to mate until tomorrow morning. If you’d like to know what we feel like that is. As for taboo, it’s another strange concept you have. Things are of the path, or not of the path. What beings do of their own accord is their own path. Perhaps we’ll discuss that another time)

“It sounds very interesting. I was wondering, do you find me attractive? Like Leah I mean?”

There was a flutter in her mind and Marie felt Lakshmi’s arousal again. (Of course I do. We find humans exotic and adorable. You are excited by all of this?)

“Uh huh,” Marie said. There was a tickle along her calf and she looked down to see the greln hands stroking her legs. The seam on Lakshmi’s underside had begun to spread.
“Let’s get these shorts out of the way,” Marie said and giggled when Lakshmi picked her up and helped her get them off.

Leah was having a constant stream of orgasms and moaned her approval as Cole grabbed her head and thrust into her throat. She felt his cock spasm as he came down her throat. She licked her lips as Cole sat back.

“You taste so nice baby, thank you for this. You both feel so good.”

“Soon I will put my seed in you,” Thorn said.

Leah moaned and put her hands on Cole’s legs. “Yes Thorn, give it to me! Pump me full of your cum!”

Thorn shoved it deep. Leah screamed, twisting her nipples. Cole saw the base of his penis ripple, peristaltic waves pushing the sperm deep inside of Leah.

Lakshmi shifted herself and set Marie between Lakshmi’s larger running legs. The greln were touching her again and Marie shivered as they explored her sex.
(You asked if I found you desirable) Lakshmi’s voice sounded breathless. (My desire drives me to answer that you are the most gorgeous of tathinni, smooth and cuddly. I would mate you, feel your flesh wrapped tightly around me as I laid young deep inside you. I would feel you quiver and hear your cries as I sealed them inside)

Marie groaned at the idea. “Oh god, I want to feel you inside me, throbbing and pumping me full. I got so excited when Leah told me about you. Please fuck me.”

Marie felt something nudge her leg and looked down to see the ovipositor fully extended. “Wow,” she breathed. “Let me down for just a moment.” She knelt in front of Lakshmi and stroked the long heavy tube. “This is gorgeous. Let me show you what I can do.”

Marie licked and sucked the head, Lakshmi’s human sized arms petted and stroked her as Lakshmi crooned her approval. Marie pushed her mouth down, relaxing her throat and Lakshmi popped into her throat. Marie pushed further and then sat up, breathing hard as Lakshmi’s tube fell out of her mouth, slick with her saliva. There was a citrus smell and Marie smiled.

“You said something about humans and surprises?”

(Indeed)

Thorn and Cole sat on the cushion as Leah caught her breath. Thorn made a noise and Cole said “holy shit” quietly. Leah sat up in time to see Marie forcing her mouth down over Lakshmi, her throat bulging as the ovipositor slid deeper. Marie was barely able to take it and sat back again. Despite all of the orgasms, Leah felt her pulse quicken. The sight was as exciting as she thought it would be.

(Do not harm yourself)

“Oh no.” Marie smiled up at her. “I like doing it. But would you fuck me with that beautiful thing?”

Lakshmi didn’t say anything, just picked her up and held her closely as the greln stroked and guided the tube into Marie’s cunt.

“Wow,” Leah whispered. Watching another person was almost as hot as being fucked herself. Marie was moaning loudly, obviously loving the feel of it. She felt something move and saw Thorn’s penis extending again. He said something to Lakshmi they could barely hear and she answered back.

“I desire her as well,” Thorn said.

“Do you need more pollen?” Leah asked.

“No! No, the effect lasts for a day and night. As much as you used…”

Leah started giggling. “Sorry. What did you say to Lakshmi?”

Thorn looked at her. “I asked her permission to mate her tathinni as well. Understand that we don’t usually refer to you this way. Just the lust we feel makes us…”

Leah laughed. “Don’t worry. We like talking dirty too.”

“Is she going to share?” Cole asked.

“She told me what the little adorable desires. We will share her.”

“Oh my,” Leah said as Thorn stood and walked toward Lakshmi.

Marie pulled and pinched her nipples as she rode the ovipositor. It felt incredible and she could feel another orgasm coming.

(Stay still)
Lakshmi supported her body and Marie looked behind her to see Thorn. She gasped as she realized what they were going to do.

“I think I’m jealous,” Leah whispered as Thorn guided himself to Marie’s ass.

“Greedy greedy,” Cole said and Leah smiled at him.

“That’s true, I’m a greedy little slut. But something pressing into me says I’m not the only one who likes this.”

Marie groaned loudly as Thorn entered her.

“Do you like that?”

“Fuck yes! Slow, go slow. You’re the biggest thing I’ve ever had in my ass.” Marie’s eyes widened as the ovipositor and penis both began to writhe inside of her.

“I want you inside me,” Leah said, rolling onto her stomach. “I want you to punish me for being such a dirty slut. I fucked him right in front of you, show my greedy little cunt whose cock it belongs to.”

Cole knelt behind her and shoved inside of her. Leah whimpered but pushed back against him. He grabbed her hips and began pounding into her and Leah began to cum again.

(She is very tight, very warm)

The voice inside Marie’s head was unfamiliar but she realized it was Thorn.

(Even tighter now) Lakshmi said. (What an odd sensation, I have never heard your voice)

(Let’s speak of it another time. This little tathinni begged for both of us inside of her)

Marie felt Lakshmi’s agreement and she closed her eyes as several sets of arms grabbed her. Marie’s breath was driven out of her in gasps as the Anek began to fuck her, faster and faster. Marie lost herself in the sensations and orgasms, screaming as they both slid deeply inside of her. There was a roar in her head and Marie felt the warm pressure of their fluids filling her.

|5.0
“I think we woke them up last night,” Leah said. Cole nodded. The eloisha were definitely grumpy this morning.

“Hello lovelies.” Marie came out and sat in a chair. The babies grumbled and hissed before gliding up to the roof. “What’s with them?”

Leah laughed. “I think we were too loud.”

“Last night? I don’t know whether to be amused or horrified.”

“We were thinking the same thing. How are you feeling?”

Marie smiled weakly. “Like that’s not something I can do very often. It was amazing though. I’m glad I don’t have anywhere to be today.”

“Henry called and told me to stay put,” Leah said. “So I’m talking Cole into making me a shower and then I’m going to try and get a tan.”

“That’s so nice of you Cole, how are you going to get water up here?”

He sighed. “It was a theoretical problem…oh, don’t start pouting too. Fine, I’ll figure something out.”

In the end, Cole left with Lakshmi before inventing an instant shower and the women had to make do with buckets of water hauled up from below. The eloisha came back in time for Leah’s shower and forgot their earlier grouchiness as they chased the droplets of water. Leah made some soap bubbles that amazed them even more. They happily chased the bubbles until one of them got a mouthful of one and sputtered complaints to the others. After that, they stuck to chasing the water.

“Are you two going to lay there naked all day?” Cole asked as Lakshmi set him down. An eloisha saw her and chirped and she quickly left, pursued by the chirping, whistling horde.

Leah laughed and shook her head. “Why are they so obsessed with the adults?

Marie opened her eyes and looked at Cole. “You know, most normal people wouldn’t complain about two hotties sunbathing naked in front of them.”

“He’s a philistine,” Leah told her and they closed their eyes again.

There were several more announcements, proclamations really, from Gavin throughout the day. Henry checked in that afternoon as well, telling them about the reactions from the colonists he was working with.

“Mostly contempt and some amusement at all the bungling around the Cultural of Resistance is doing. Right after King Cheese announced they were closing the landing strip, there were people out there throwing garbage and shit everywhere. For some reason this hilarious to everyone in town.”

“Is anyone talking about getting rid of Owen?” Cole asked.

Henry shook his head. “They’re waiting for him to get off his ass and fix the situation.”

There was an annoyed voice in the background and Henry laughed. “Owen just said something incredibly inappropriate. Especially for an Administrator. How are things going out there?”

Leah, Cole, and Marie looked at each other and smiled.
Henry laughed. “Sheesh, could you be more obvious? How are the things you’re supposed to be doing coming along?”

“The construction is about finished,” Cole said. “The Anek are watching everything that’s going on in the colony fairly closely. I’ve been to their council to explain what’s going on.”

Henry leaned closer to the camera. “You guys have a Plan B set up?” he asked quietly.

“I don’t know how good it is,” Cole said. “If Gavin succeeds the Anek said they’ll take in anyone who wants to leave. So, worse comes to worse, we’ll retreat to the trees and wait for trouble to blow over.”

“What if it doesn’t?”

Cole shrugged. “It doesn’t sound like the remaining technical types went with Gavin. That means they won’t have any way to pursue us soon, other than on foot. I think pretty quickly he’ll realize that he can’t run a colony with as few people as he has. If he’s stubborn, we’ll wait for them to die out before coming back in a couple of years.”

Henry sat back. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. I’m going to get back to the shop and give Owen his desk back. I was thinking, if you front me a little bit of weed, I wonder if it wouldn’t blunt the phobia a little.”

“We can sure try that,” Cole said. “I’ll meet you tomorrow?”

“Sure, let’s give it a try. I hate that they scare me so much.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

The three of them didn’t do much actual work for the rest of the day. Cole played a kind of hide and go seek with the eloisha and played several new songs for them. The music was as big a draw as it had been yesterday but Leah put her foot down when Cole tried to introduce them to Sir Mix-a-Lot.

“No, husband. I am not listening to two dozen tiny voices going on about how they love big butts.”

Marie stuck her head into the main room. “I love big butts and I can not lie; the eloisha can’t deny that when a girl walks in with an itty-bitty waist…”

Leah pointed at her. “No.”

“With a round thing in your face?” Cole asked innocently.

“You get sprung!” Marie said before sticking out her tongue at Leah.

Cole tried very hard to keep a straight face as Leah glared at him.

“If I hear just one of my children spout any of that drivel, you both better find really good places to hide…”

There was a tiny but distinct “sprung” from the rafters and Cole and Marie both howled with laughter.

When Thorn and Lakshmi arrived, they had Thalia with them who had more questions from the Elders about the problems at the colony. The Elders were discussing the possibility of intervening and the humans spent a long time convincing her to wait before approaching the rebels.

|6.0
Cole opened his eyes, there was a really irritating noise coming from his tablet as well as Leah’s. She grumbled as he sat up. On the other side of her, Lakshmi stirred slightly.

“Is that the emergency call?” Leah groaned, pulling a pillow over her head. “What time is it?”

“Works out to three in the morning,” Cole said, picking up the tablet. He opened the window and Owen appeared, sitting at his desk.

“What’s going on?” Cole said, waking all the way up. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. You’d better get the other two up though. I’ll wait.”

Cole lifted the pillow from Leah’s face and she opened her eyes and nodded. Cole went out to Marie’s tent and Marie was already crawling out. “I heard.”

They sat down and Cole set his tablet up on the table. “Okay Owen.”

“Henry Rogeau was found dead in the street an hour ago. At the same time, Maya reported a break in and assault. She says she’ll be okay but will not leave her hab. She has asked to be left alone. There were several more reports of violence against my citizens but no one else seems to have been badly injured, it looked more like intimidation tactics. The people who did see their attackers reports that they were wearing masks but several claim they recognized voices of some of Gavin’s followers.”

Marie’s face was pale and she was staring at the floor.

“What happened to Henry?” Leah asked.

“It looks like he was attacked by a number of people and…well, they beat him to death. I’m sorry.”

“Not as sorry as they’ll be,” Marie said quietly.

Leah nodded in agreement. “What do you need Owen?”

“I need for this to end. My current thinking is that it would be better for everyone’s safety if I stepped down, just temporarily.”

“No Owen,” Cole said. “If you step down, he wins. There is no temporarily in this situation.”

“Look, I’m not ex-military,” Owen snapped. “I’m not equipped for any of this. If people are going to start getting hurt, it’s not something I know how to deal with.”

Cole shook his head. “Owen, I need you to stop thinking that way right now. You are needed where you are, the people that are loyal are depending on you.”

“Until I get them all killed.”

“I know this hurts,” Leah said. “We feel it too. Now you fix things so this doesn’t happen again. Set a curfew for people, set up a constable to patrol, whatever. If they weren’t weak, they wouldn’t have come at night and they wouldn’t have worn masks.”

“Guys, I’m way over my head here. I’ve got no experience with insurrections. Thanks for the vote of confidence but…”

“Lykos, shut up and listen,” Marie snapped and the other two looked at her in surprise. “We’re not blowing sunshine up your ass here. Did you have experience with plagues when it started? No, but you held the line and got your people through it. Now you need to do it again.”

Owen rubbed his eyes. “I am burnt out. Can’t you people see that?”

Leah sat forward. “Of course we can, and if there was any justice in the universe you’d have a Colonial Ranger regiment on the way. The problem is that there isn’t any justice in the universe and it’s already your turn in the barrel again. I’m sorry as hell, Owen but that’s just the way it is for people with talent like yours. You’re going to get thrown into shitty situations and every time you win, there’s another one waiting. It’s never easy, and it’s never fair and we all get used up in the process.”

Leah sat back and her voice was quieter. “But who else is there, Owen? Anyone that couldn’t hack it, or wasn’t lucky enough is gone. This problem is yours because this colony is yours. I don’t think you’re the type to walk away from it. In fact, I think you’d rather die than abandon your people.”

Owen wiped the tears off his face angrily. “You have a hell of way of comforting people, Captain.”

Leah laughed bitterly. “That wasn’t comforting? Now that I’ve kicked you in the ass, remember that you’re not alone in this. I’ll be on my way as soon as it gets light. Start thinking about who you want as your constable and the best way to make a curfew work.”

Owen sighed. “Fine. Morgan, you stay put. We need to keep communication open with the Anek and I don’t want you down here playing hero.”

Leah smiled. “See? You’re already giving the right orders. If we didn’t think you could do this, you would’ve been relieved already. Hold the line, help is on the way.”

Owen finally nodded and turned off the camera.

“Those motherfuckers better run far and hide deep,” Marie said, her voice breaking. She buried her face in her hands and Leah wrapped her arms around her, holding Marie as she began to weep.

Leah had gotten Marie back to sleep a while before and she walked around quietly, putting gear in a bag. The three Anek had been told what was going on and Lakshmi and Thalia went to update the Elders and Thorn said that he’d return by the end of the day.

“You’ll be careful,” Cole said behind her.

Leah turned around and hugged him tightly. “Yes. I’m just going to bring Maya back along with Henry’s body. They won’t dare attack me in the daylight and I’ve got my gun to deal with it if they’re stupid enough to try. I’ll be back before dark, I promise.”

“I wish I was going along.”

She nodded. “Me too. But Owen was right, your place is here this time. You can go play hide and seek with bad guys next time.”

She kissed him once more and rode the basket to the ground and started walking.

Something bothered Leah as she walked down the trail to the colony and she realized that it was too quiet. The colony looked deserted in fact. She didn’t see another person as she walked to the Admin building. The doors were locked but Owen opened them as soon as she knocked. He closed the door as soon as she was inside and relocked it.

Leah didn’t say anything, just hugged him tightly. He was stiff at first but relaxed and hugged her back.

“It’s going to be okay,” Leah said when she let go of him. “What do you want to get done?”

“I’m setting up a watch with James Humphrey. I can trust him and he can lead. After that I’m getting all of the records in order, one way or another there’s going to be an audit after this. Henry’s body is over at the fabrication shop, do you know what he’d want done?”

“I asked Marie, he didn’t want to be buried in the ground. Cremation or an orbit into a star. Neither of those things are possible at the moment. The Anek offered to take him.”

“Did you ever find out what their customs are?”

“Other than being told that the soul is sung into the Path, no.”

“As scared as he was of them, I don’t know if that’s the best idea.”

“Henry was really annoyed about the phobia, he knew it was stupid and wanted to meet the Anek. We all thought that giving his body to them might be what he wanted.”

“I’ll call over to the shop and tell them you’re coming.”

“That’s fine. What about Maya?”

Owen sighed. “After the first call she stopped answering her phone. I got one text asking me to leave her alone. Terri and Stan, my last medical people went and knocked on the door and she told them to go away, she was fine. I’m not sure what to do next.”

“I’m taking her back with me,” Leah said. “She’s not safe here, Gavin will go after her again.”

Owen nodded after a second. “Okay, good. I loaded a portable charger in the back of the cargo quad this morning. I want you to keep that and the quad up there at the Meeting. The Anek were told?”

“They’re baffled by this and not very happy. We talked them out of intervening for now but they’re watching closely.”

Owen sat down at his desk. “I really hope this doesn’t screw things up with them.”

She took off her pack and began taking pieces out of it. “You’ve got enough to worry about, we’ll handle that.”

“What is that?” Owen asked as she laid the pieces on the desk.

“My rifle. I didn’t want to push things carrying it openly, since we’re under arrest and all that. But I can put it next to me in the quad without being too obvious.”

Owen watched as she quickly assembled the pieces and ran the bolt back and forth a couple of times. “Please don’t let that out of your sight. Just one of those in the wrong hands…”

She showed him a mark on her palm. “It’d be worthless. All our weapons are keyed to implanted identity chips.”

“And be careful Leah.”

“I’m the very soul of caution. I’m going to pick up Henry’s body first and then go get Maya.”

There were three people sitting on the work tables when Leah went into the fab shop. A blonde woman hopped off the table and met her. She had a bruised jaw and a black eye and Leah could see that she’d been crying.

“Captain, I’m Dori Ivanovich. I’m so sorry about this.”

“It’s just Leah, Dori. This wasn’t your fault, no one thinks it is.”

“We weren’t letting him go anywhere alone, he was staying with me. They kicked in the door while we were asleep. I fought, we both did, but there were just too many of them…”

Leah squeezed her arm gently. “There was nothing else you could have done, I’m glad you weren’t hurt worse. I know Henry would say the same thing.”

“Did you know him a long time?”

Leah nodded. “We were both part of the Vanguard Project, I met him in school when he was fifteen.”

The woman sighed and tears ran down her face. “I’m so sorry.”

Leah smiled and wiped her own eyes. “You have nothing to be sorry for. Thank you for defending my friend. We’ll take care of him at the Meeting.”

She nodded. “We wrapped him up. You have the cargo quad? I’ll open the main door and you can pull in.”

Henry had been wrapped tightly in several sheets. Even so, there were dark spots where blood was starting to leak through. Leah made sure the body was strapped securely and thanked the three in the shop once more before heading to the habitat that Maya had moved into.

Leah got out and walked over to the stairs. There still wasn’t anyone on the paths and no sounds beyond the wind. The door to the hab had been kicked in, several pieces of the lock were in scattered around the breezeway. Leah tapped on the door.

“Maya?”

“I’m fine, go away,” a voice said from the other side.

Leah frowned, it sounded like Maya was slurring her words. “You know that’s not going to work with me, doll. I want to talk to you.”

It was quiet and then Leah heard something being dragged away from the door which swung open with nothing to hold it closed. Leah went inside, the windows were all covered by blankets.

“They tore down the blinds,” Maya said. “The lights were broken as well.”

Leah looked around, it looked like there had been an explosion in the space. “I can already guess what happened. Someone broke into Dori’s hab last night and dragged Henry out. She got pretty banged up too.”

“Pretty banged up?” Maya came out of the hallway to the bedroom and bathroom.
Both of her eyes were black and her nose had been pushed to the side. Her face was shadowed with bruises and her lips were puffy and had been split open.

Leah caught her breath. “Oh Maya, I’m so sorry.”

“I was asleep and they just kicked in the door and started hitting me. I tried to fight back but they just hit me more. Please…just stop looking at me.”

Leah went over and stood in front of her. “Then can I hug you?”

Maya just nodded, tears running down her face. Leah embraced her gently but Maya stiffened.

“My ribs, they were kicking me…”

“Okay.” Leah let her go.

“Will you help me find the rest of my stuff? They said they’d be back, I’m going to move to the Admin garage, those doors are heavier.”

“No, you’re coming with me to the Meeting. You’ll be safe there.”

“I can’t, Owen needs me here.”

“Don’t start arguing with me,” Leah said. “I’ll be here to help him if he needs it. Let’s get you packed.”

They found some of her clothes but everything else was a loss. Leah had her sit on the bed to supervise as Leah packed her bags.

“How is Henry?” Maya asked as Leah zipped the duffle shut.

“Uhm.”

“Tell me,” Maya sighed.

“They dragged him out and beat him to death in the street.”

Maya started to sob, falling to her side on the bed. “Why? Why would they kill someone? What about Dori?”

Leah got on the bed and carefully wrapped her arms around Maya’s shaking body. “It’s okay, Dori is fine. She has a black eye, they won’t hurt her too badly. She’s the only real technical person left. They’re terrifying everyone so people won’t resist them taking over.”

“I’m so dizzy and I can’t remember anything!”

“You’ve probably got a concussion, it’ll get better.”

Finally she got Maya up and out to the quad. Leah went back in to get her bags and when she came out there were several people on their porches watching silently. Maya was standing by the quad with her hand on Henry’s head. Leah had been doing a good job keeping her rage under control but the silent staring pushed her too far. She put the bag in the back and helped Maya into the passenger seat.

Leah stopped in front of the quad and looked at them. “Listen up, citizens. Either of these people could have been one of you last night, and it might be you in the future. You’ll be the one hurt, terrified, and hiding in your own house. If you’re lucky. Imagine knowing that your friends and neighbors just let it happen to you, that they didn’t raise a finger to help. You want there to be a human race in the future? Start proving that there deserves to be one.”

They just stared at her and Leah got in the quad and backed it onto the path and drove away. No one said anything or even looked at each other. It would take time before they could even look each other in the eye.

Leah and Maya were both quiet on the drive to the Meeting. By the time they were pulling up Marie was waiting. They helped Maya down.

Leah got her bag out of the quad. “I think she’s got a concussion, I don’t know if I want her riding the basket up in this state.”

“Thorn sent friends to come and keep watch for us. Maybe one of them can help.”

“I hope that I can. What has happened?” a voice asked from above them. The Anek was perched on the lowest branches, looking down.

“She was attacked, I’m concerned she won’t be able to hold on to the basket like this.”

The Anek swung and jumped several meters to the massive trunk and slithered down until he was standing beside them. “I have taken the name Jeeua for you. I know your names. Who is this one?”

“I’m Maya,” she slurred and Leah steadied her.

“Would you permit me to carry you to the Meeting home, Maya?”

“I don’t want to be a bother. I can hold on to the basket.”

“I don’t think that would be wise,” Jeeua said. “You are injured, I will do this thing for you.”

“Her ribs are probably injured,” Leah said. She pointed to her own sides. “Through here.”

“Thank you, I’ll be most careful,” Jeeua said. His large rear arms carefully picked Maya up and he held her against his back. “Are you comfortable Maya?”

She wrapped her arms around his chest. “I’ll try not to squeeze too tightly.”

“Cling as tightly as you like,” he said, turning to pat her head. “What about this other one?”

“He was killed,” Marie said. “There’s no rush.”

The Anek shuddered. “I have fear that the insanity has gripped your people as it took the tathinni.”

“It’s a different sickness. We’ll talk about it later,” Leah said.

“Go up and get her settled, guys,” Marie said. “I’ll sit here with Henry.”

Jeeua carefully climbed up the trunk, Maya squeezing her eyes shut.

“You’ll be okay for a few minutes?” Leah asked Marie.

“I’m fine, take care of the living first. He’s not going anywhere.”

Leah rode the basket up to the platform. Jeeua was already there, holding Maya carefully.

“I should not stay long, the eloisha….”

Leah nodded. “I’ll take care of her.”

“Thank you for carrying me,” Maya mumbled.

“You were hardly a burden,” Jeeua said, letting go only when Leah put her arm around Maya’s shoulders. “I will return to see you are comfortable.”

He jumped to the trunk and ran out along one of the branches.

“He’s nice,” Maya said as Leah led her to the long ledge they’d taken to calling a couch. “I’m so tired.”

“Let’s take a look at you before I let you sleep,” Leah said. There was a thump on the platform as something landed outside. There were delighted whistles as the eloisha zoomed into the dome and circled the inside. Cole walked quickly inside.

“How is she?”

Maya waved weakly and said hi. Cole touched her hand, smiling at her.

“I don’t know if it’s concussion or her mouth that’s making her slur words. She didn’t sleep last night.”

Cole grabbed the medical kit and opened it. “Let’s take a look.”

Leah helped Maya to lie back and Cole shone a light in each of her eyes.

“That hurts a little.”

“I’m sorry, we don’t have to do that again,” Cole said. He took a couple of the cold packs and activated them, putting them on her head. “This should help with the headache. I’d like to take a look at the rest of you.”

“Not as good as it used to be,” she muttered.

“Hush, you’ll always be a doll,” Cole said. “Now, can you open your mouth for me?”

“Do you need me? I was going to go sit with Marie,” Leah asked.

Cole said he’d be fine and Leah kissed Maya’s forehead and rode back down to the ground. Marie was sitting on the edge of the cargo bed with her hand on Henry’s head and tears running down her face. Leah climbed up beside her and put her arm around Marie who leaned on her.

Cole tucked a blanket around Maya. The eloisha were perched in the rafters above them, watching intently. One of them glided down to the bed and climbed onto the pillow. It whistled softly and nuzzled her face.

Maya smiled. “Who are these guys?”

“Baby Anek. I’ll get them out of here.”

“No, they’re sweet,” Maya mumbled. “I can go to sleep now?”

“Sure,” Cole said. “One of us will be close. I’m going to put my tablet beside you. Just push the red button and it’ll call me.”

She didn’t say anything but her breathing deepened. Two more eloisha landed on the bed and sniffed Maya.

“Be nice,” Cole said.
They all looked at him like he was an idiot but he shook his head. They didn’t understand him, he made noise, they looked at him. Anything else had to be his imagination. Cole went out and raised the lift and rode to the ground. Marie and Leah had just finished laying Henry on the ground.

“How is she?” Marie asked.

“Definitely a concussion, but she can sleep that off. The slurred speech is mostly from the damage to the inside of her mouth. Someone punched her several times, it looks like they were trying to hurt her as much as possible without doing too much damage. The nose should be set, we can deal with that when she wakes up. Lots of deep bruising on the torso, arms and legs and some defensive wounds.”

“She said they told her they would be back for her again.” Leah said.

Both of their voices were quiet and calm but the rage was obvious to Marie.

“Probably Gavin trying to scare her back to his side. I ought to go sit in her hab and wait for them to show up,” Cole said.

“No, you should not. Anyway, lots of people saw me bringing her here.”

“Too bad. How are you doing Marie?”

She hugged him. “I’m really sad but I’m glad Henry and I parted on good terms. Do you want to see him?”

Cole knelt down and she carefully pulled back the sheet on Henry’s battered head and face. Cole rested his palm on Henry’s forehead and murmured a goodbye. He pulled back more of the sheet and looked at Henry’s hands and nodded at the cut up knuckles. “Looks like he got a few hits of his own at least.”

“The Anek offered to take him to where the others are,” Marie said. “Do you think that would be okay?”

Cole nodded. “I’m not sure what they do, but I’m sure it’s respectful. He’ll be with other surveyors at least.”

After the eloisha had retreated to their shelter for the evening, Lakshmi appeared along with Thorn and Thalia. There were several more Anek in the nearby branches.

(You wish him to be sung down the Path with the others?)

“If you’re willing,” Cole said.

(Of course we are. He was in terror of us but he still came every day to build a place for our young to be safe. We all honor him for his courage. I will carry you down to him)

The Anek that Cole didn’t recognize were already waiting when Lakshmi set him and Leah on the ground. A moment later Thalia set Marie beside them. None of the other Anek were introduced and they did not speak to the humans.

Marie pulled the cover away from Henry’s face once more.

Cole put his hand on Henry’s chest. “Au revoir, mon ami. May there be warm sun and free beer waiting for you.”

Leah kissed his forehead. “Goodbye Henry. We’ll meet some time again, you save us all a seat.”

Marie looked down at him. “We traveled far, you and I. You’re a good man, no matter how hard you tried not to be. Know peace, old friend.”

She kissed his lips and carefully tucked the sheet back around his head. “You can take him now,” she said to the waiting Anek.

Two of them carefully put Henry’s body on a third’s back. They swiftly climbed into the trees and were lost to sight. There was a sustained sound above them, then another. The single notes echoed through the forest, slowly growing quieter as they moved away.

Marie wiped her eyes. “Thank you, Lakshmi.”

(Sadness is best shared. I am glad we could help)

Leah knew she was dreaming again. She was floating with all the voices around her again, unable to understand any of them.

“What is the point of this?” she said out loud. “Honestly, this is kind of a boring dream.”

“Leah?”

She looked around her, recognizing the voice. “Henry?”

“What happened?”

“You died, I’m sorry.”

There wasn’t any answer and the other voices went silent. Leah looked around and everything had changed again. She was back in third grade again and had forgotten her homework. She looked down and she was in her underwear as well.

This is more like it she thought to herself and went to talk to the teacher, who was an octopus in a top hat for some reason.

|7.0
Cole found Maya sitting outside when he woke up the next day. The swelling was starting to disappear from her face and she looked better than she had yesterday.

“Good morning, how are you feeling?”

She smiled at him. “I’ll survive. Thank you for taking care of me.”

Cole smiled back. “You’re welcome. Can I get you anything?”

“I helped myself to coffee, I hope that’s okay.”

“Sure. Oh, be careful with sugar around the little ones. They got into it once and now it’s a focus of their lives.”

“Oh, I hope they don’t go into the cane fields! They might get swatted by someone.”

“I think they’ll be okay,” Cole said. “They tend to avoid open areas and the fields are way at the other end of the clearing. I doubt they’d venture all that far away. As soon as something interesting happens here they’re in the middle of it.”

“You said that they are baby Anek?”

“Yes, called eloisha. Or that’s as much of the word as we can say.”

“Where are their parents?”

Cole explained what they knew about Anek biology, trying to avoid mentioning anything about the role he and Leah had played.

“But why do they hang around here? Just the sugar?”

Leah came outside. “Good morning. No, the sugar is new. They’re drawn to Cole and I since we birthed them.”

Maya looked at her and then at Cole. “What?”

“I didn’t cover that part,” Cole said.

Leah put her hand over her mouth and then laughed. “Well, I guess we are now. We met the Anek because of these little guys…” Leah went through the entire story with Maya. Cole got up and went to find breakfast and by the time he came out with One-Day bars, Leah had just about finished and Maya’s mouth was hanging open.

“So you carried them too?” Maya asked Cole.

“Uh yeah. We aren’t really publicizing this part of it, I’m sure mechanical incubators will be fine. No one needs to worry about that happening to them.”

“I can understand that,” Maya said. “But I think it’s so amazingly cool that you both were willing to take that chance. And look what came of it!”

The sun began to peek over the tops of the trees. There was chirping from inside the eloisha house as they began to stir and Maya laughed.

“Did I just hear a ‘yahoo’ from in there?”

“We’re not sure of the exact reason why but they’ve been picking up a lot of human intonations,” Leah said. “Cole, show her the video of them singing.”

Before Cole could get up, the eloisha were swarming out. Cole had noticed they were starting to methodically investigate everyone when they first woke up. Leah thought they were all just saying good morning. They swooped and glided between the three of them, nuzzling their heads or shoulders. After that, most of the babies landed on the table. They would look at the sugar container, then hopefully at one of the humans, then back at the container.

There was a zipping noise as Marie emerged from her tent and a chorus of happy noises as the eloisha swarmed around her.

“Yes, yes. Hello to all of you too. No, get out of my pocket, there’s nothing in there…”

“One of them sounded just like a little trumpet!” Maya said.

Cole handed her his tablet and soon she was laughing.

“How are you?” Leah asked Marie, who kissed the top of her head.

“I need coffee. What are you doing today?”

“Going back down to help Owen out for part of the day. We’ve agreed that I’m headed back here in the afternoon instead of spending the whole day there. Mostly I’m just showing people that we’re not hiding.”

“Just be careful please.”

“Always.”

Cole came into their bedroom as Leah was getting ready to go.

“Have you noticed the way the eloisha are around Maya?”

Leah nodded. “It’s almost like they’re guarding her.”

“She’s out there sitting in the sun and there’s a couple trying to cuddle her. I was watching and they’re carefully examining her injuries. I’d swear they’re trying to make comforting noises.”

Leah smiled. “They were watching yesterday when you were examining her. I think they’re imitating you. Jeeua and Thalia seemed drawn to her last night as well. All three were up late talking.”

“Because they’re healers and she’s injured?”

Leah shrugged. “Ask them. Maybe she’s just likable.”

|8.0

Cole and Marie both updated the shuttles on the situation on the ground. After that, it was just another hot humid day. Even wearing just a pair of shorts, Cole was too hot. He gave up and went inside of the Meeting and laid on the cool wood floor. He had just fallen asleep when his tablet announced someone was broadcasting on the frequencies they used to talk to their ships.

Cole frowned and sat up. Both shuttles were on the other side of the planet at the moment, there wasn’t any way he could be picking them up. He took the tablet and opened the radio app.

“Repeating the call for Arboreal operations this is the Blackbird. Anyone awake down there?”

There was a long pause and the Blackbird tried to contact Operations again. Cole quickly set up a message to transmit to Xerxes as soon as she came over the horizon. He didn’t know who the Blackbird was or who owned it. All of the CMC ships stuck to a rigid naming convention but bird names weren’t one of them. But as long as it wasn’t civ-com ship dropping marines to help Gavin take over, they’d probably be willing to relay messages.

Finally someone answered the ship. “Dammit shuttle, we told you guys, the runway is closed to the CMC. We follow the Civil Committee’s orders here.”

Cole thought Brad sounded especially petulant today.

There wasn’t a reply and Cole walked out into the common area.

“Ever hear of a ship called the Blackbird?” he asked Marie.

She thought for a little bit. “No idea. I don’t think civ-com has one by that name. Why?”

“There’s a ship trying to contact the colony. Ops just told them the runway was closed.”

“Let’s take a look.”

Cole followed Marie to where her computer was set up. On the screen was the last radar image the shuttles had downlinked before sinking below the horizon.

“I can set up a message for Aggie to data-dump to whoever it is,” Marie said.

“I already did that with Xerx. Since they’re trailing each other in the same orbit, let’s keep one of the girls dark until we figure out who that is exactly.”

Marie looked a little wide eyed. “Okay. Do we have to worry about that?”

“I think we need to think about it at least.”

“Shit.”

They both jumped as the voice returned. “Arboreal Operations, you still awake down there?”

“We’re not activating the landing beacons, Blackbird. You land using grav drive and your ship will be impounded and your crew will go to prison. This colony is off limits to the CMC.”

“Well, there’s your answer, Operations. I’ll make it official; I am not a Mapping Command ship. The Blackbird is attached to a Commonwealth Elder House Regiment. Specifically the Third Lantern of Empire. Check that against your database.”

“Whoa,” Cole said quietly.

“Isn’t that one of the really old ones?” Marie asked.

“If I remember right, they’re the oldest, maybe the second oldest group.”

“I can’t imagine a forty thousand year old military unit,” Marie said. “But the way she’s talking, it almost sounds like a ship’s SI.”

“I think you’re right. And it sounds completely autonomous.”

The speaker clicked again. “Shuttle, be advised we see the Commonwealth and the CMC as the same entity. Permission to land is denied.”

Brad sounded less petulant, like he was reading from notes and Cole bet they’d called Gavin to see what to do.

The voice sighed. “Arboreal, are there any adults I can talk to down there?”

“Our defense grid is active Blackbird. Land at your own risk.”

“Your what?”

Whoever it was, they were trying very hard not to laugh but there was no answer.

“Cole, are you there?” Xerxes asked a few minutes later.

Cole looked at the radar picture, surprised to see that it was updating again. “You’re early Xerxes, everything okay?”

“The Agamemnon and I are both in formation with the Commonwealth ship Blackbird. With your permission I can link her into the conversation.”

“Go ahead.”

“Hey you groundhogs.” It was a different woman this time. “Is Captain Cole Morgan, Pirate Scourge of the Spaceways sober enough to talk?”

Cole started laughing and Marie gave him a strange look. He picked up the headset.

“Not going to be sober for long, make it quick.”

“Rachel Osbourne here, Captain. Do you remember me? I was a student in Squadron Twelve.”

“Now who’s drunk, Ozzie? All my special problems were Squadron Two.”

“Hey, it’s good to hear your voice, Cole. We jumped into Hub and there was a bit of a hullabaloo. Blackbird noticed your reports along with some disturbing messages in the same batch. She strongly recommended we come see if you could use a hand.”

“More of a brouhaha than a hullabaloo here. Thank the Blackbird for me, we could definitely use help. I’ll have Xerxes transmit our sitreps over to you.”

“You guys are safe at the moment?”

“Roger that, Rachel, we’re secure at the moment but we’ve had one fatality.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Cole. Have they really closed the runway?”

“Well, they dragged a bunch of junk onto it, about halfway down. I’ve got eyes on it.”

“Is there anything to that defense grid statement?”

Cole snorted. “I have seen zero indication of anti-ship weaponry. We’ve been working with the colony’s administrator and he has mentioned nothing about it.”

“Yeah, that’s what we figured. Okay, if you guys are secure we’ll talk to you soon, okay?”

“Copy that, Blackbird. Nice to hear a friendly voice.”

“Hold the line Cole, help is on the way.”

“I think Gavin just took a much bigger bite than he thought,” Cole said to Marie.

“The name Rachel Osbourne sounds really familiar.”

“She’s tight with Finnegan Brodeur, they might be married now. She was one of my pilots way back before the Defense.”

“Oh, I met Finn’s sister Callie a couple of times. How did they end up attached to an Elder House?”

“Not a clue,” Cole said. “If anyone would have gotten their attention, it would have been those two.”

“You think that’s the backup we’ve been waiting for?”

“I’m not sure, but she said they were coming in from Hub. I can’t imagine they’d be here for anything else.”

Leah looked up at the ceiling as a whining roar echoed overhead.

“Was that someone landing?” Owen asked.

“I sure hope so, otherwise we’ve got big problems. I don’t recognize those engines though.”

“What now?” Owen muttered, getting up. “I really hope that’s not a Committee shuttle.”

“No, they use the same engines as we do,” Leah said and got up to follow him out. “That’s not what those were.”

The sound of the ship had faded away by the time they got outside and Leah shaded her eyes, trying to get a glimpse of the ship. Two more ships went over her and people started coming out of the buildings, looking at the sky nervously.

“That was Xerxes and Agamemnon. They’re on approach.”

“What does that mean?” Owen asked

“I think it means that help has arrived.”

“That’s exactly what it means,” a woman said, walking up the path. She had black eyes and black hair pulled back in a braid that flopped over her shoulder. She was wearing combat field gear with an assault rifle clipped to her harness. Incongruously, she had a Yankees baseball cap perched on her head instead of an issue helmet. The colonists all began to back away, muttering and she held up her hands.

“Relax everyone, I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

That got a few laughs and people relaxed slightly.

“I’m looking for Owen Lykos.”

“Right here,” Owen said.

She walked over, looking at a screen clipped to her wrist. “What’s your mother’s maiden name, sir?”

“Capshaw.”

After several more questions she nodded and muttered something into a microphone. Three more commandos appeared nearby, fading into view as they deactivated their chameleon fatigues. The colonists looked uncomfortable again but the soldiers were trying very hard to appear friendly to everyone.

The woman tapped her forehead in a casual salute. “Sir, my name is Marisol Gutierrez, I’m the tac-team lead from a ship called the Blackbird.”

“Your ship already landed?” Owen asked.

“My team jumped in sixteen hours ago to gather intel. Thirty minutes ago we secured the Operations center and runway. The Blackbird is just landing, the two CMC shuttles are right behind her.”

“What about the people inside the building?”

Marisol shrugged. “I offered them the chance to surrender three times but was answered with gunfire and rocks each time. My next goal is to get in contact with the CMC officers here.”

Leah stepped up beside Owen. “I’m Captain Leah Jones. Captains Morgan and Martin are at another safe location. Henry Rogeau was killed a couple of nights ago.”

“Aw shit, Hank’s dead? I was looking forward to seeing him. What happened?”

“He was beaten to death in the middle of the night.”

Marisol shook her head sadly. “Fuckers. Our pilot was in contact with Captain Morgan a little while ago. Captain Martin is with him?”

Leah nodded. “The rebels still hold a couple of farms.”

Marisol smiled grimly. “And that’s my last little chore.”

Owen cleared his throat. “Please remember that there are innocent people up there. Spouses and children mostly.”

She nodded. “We’re getting pictures of the area now. We’re here to return this outpost to lawful control, Ambassador, not wipe anyone out.”

She grinned at the look on his face. “Ah, slip of the tongue, sir. Please act surprised when they tell you.”

Owen nodded. He looked a little overwhelmed. “What happens when you capture them?”

“The Survey Ship R.B.T. Singh Rawat will be entering orbit in approximately twelve hours to return the conspirators to Hub and will offer passage to anyone requests relocation. Let’s go inside, I’d like to brief you in on our plan…”

Leah sat down in the steps and watched the colonists slowly wander back to wherever they came from. She felt oddly empty, this had turned into a anticlimactic ending.

“Leah Jones!” a delighted voice cried. The colonists looked at another group of people walking up the path from the runway. A slender woman with a long braid jogged ahead.

Leah couldn’t believe it. “Allie?” she said quietly, standing up.

“Hey you!”

Allison ran into her, almost knocking her over. They embraced tightly.

“I knew you’d be in the middle of this,” Allison said.

“Me and trouble, we’re old friends.” Leah said, not trusting her voice.

“That hasn’t changed at least…” Allison saw the tears in her eyes and stopped. “What’s wrong?”

“They killed Henry a couple nights ago.”

Allison tried to smile but her mouth trembled. “Fewer and less of us every time I turn around,” she sniffed. “Marie and Cole?”

“Both fine, they’re out at the Meeting.”

“What meeting?”

“It’s what the Anek call their embassy, the Meeting.”

“Well, that’ll get confusing. Come on, I want to hear all about them.”

|9.0

“Why aren’t those idiots answering?” Gavin snarled, slamming the phone down. “And how did three ships manage to land?”

Hiram Yoder shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. We’ve got all the food here, the CMC is going to be under the Committee’s control. You’ll be recognized as the hero you are, Administrator Sinclair.”

Hiram’s soothing voice calmed Gavin down, like always.

“And we’ve got all the weapons here. First we take care of that idiot Lykos and then we’ll start rounding up these aliens.”

“They submit to servitude or the savages all die,” Hiram agreed. “You’ll be the first to show these aliens the true place of Man in the universe.”

There were some excited voices outside and then a boom of a shotgun going off. Gavin strode out into the equipment yard of the farm. There was a long ribbon draped over a harvester and one of the men was picking up a black box at the end of it.

“There was a drone, it dropped this. We tried to shoot it down but it was out of range I think.”

Gavin took the box and looked at it. There was a lid and the words “Open Me” printed on the top. He handed it to one of the men who had gathered around.

“Open this when I tell you.”

Gavin backed away and everyone else followed him hurriedly, leaving the hapless man in the center. Gavin nodded and he opened the case with shaking hands.

“It’s a radio,” he said in a relieved voice. It beeped and Gavin walked back and took it from him. There were some simple controls with a speaker. A light flashed and it beeped again.

Gavin pushed the answer button. “What?”

“Who am I speaking to?”

It was a woman’s voice. She sounded confident and Gavin smiled. He’d change that.

“You first.”

“Okay. My name is Chief Sergeant Gutierrez. I’d like you to surrender.”

Gavin laughed. “Are you delusional? You might have gotten on the ground but we’ve got the landing strip and we control all the food. The Civilian Committee is clearing your CMC stooges out of power as we speak. I’ll give you one chance to surrender.”

“Ah. Let me catch you up on a couple of things. We removed the people you had at the Operations center, so the runway is back under lawful control. As for the rebellion on Hub, it’s over. Whatever support you were counting on won’t be coming.”

“You think I’m just going to believe that?”

“I don’t much care either way. You lost and the only question is how many deaths it will take you to realize that.”

“I’ll kill as many of you as we need to.” Despite his words, Gavin felt doubt start to uncoil in his stomach. “My people stand resolute.”

“How nice for you. Since our policy isn’t wholesale slaughter however we’ll remove their leaders and see how they feel after that. That means you, Mr. Sinclair. Stand still please.”

“What?”

There was a quiet thud as a small crater appeared between his feet. Gavin looked down in horror as everyone backed away from him, muttering. He looked at them wildly and there was a whisper in front of his face followed by a loud clang. He looked over to see a shiny circle in the shed wall, a black dot in the center of it.

“Now about that surrender. Or I could just have them put the next one through your head.”

Gavin’s bladder let go and he fell to his knees. “Don’t shoot! I surrender, don’t kill me!”

“Standing resolute?” Hiram said from behind him.

Gavin yelped as he was kicked in the back. He fell forward, his face in the puddle of urine but he didn’t move.

“That’s enough of that,” the radio said. “Drop your weapons and put your hands over your heads.”

“No, we’ll end this miserable coward first.” Hiram drew back his foot for another kick.

“Do you want to die?” a voice asked from behind him. Hiram froze and looked around but didn’t see anyone except his people. But he’d heard about the CMC commandos, how they could turn invisible. There wasn’t any point in being a martyr, not yet anyway. He stepped away from Gavin and slowly put his hands on his head.

“Good choice. Get on your knees.”

Suddenly there were CMC uniforms appearing around them and Hiram snarled as his arms were pulled back. There was a zipping sound as plastic cuffs were tightened over his wrists.

When the message had come that the rebels had been arrested, Leah’s first order of business had been to go aboard the Xerxes and take a long hot shower. Now she was leaning against the nose of the ship, watching the dispirited rebels sit in a line in front of the Operations building. Several crew from the Blackbird and the Singh Rawat guarded them as they waited to shuttled up to the Rawat. Leah didn’t envy them the journey, the captain had sounded furious on the radio. From there, they’d be delivered to a prison camp on Hub. Leah knew several trials were scheduled, Henry’s murderers had already been identified and were defiantly proud of the fact. They’d probably be given some wildly dangerous job for however long they lasted.

“Hello beautiful,” Cole said from behind her.

“Are you talking to me or Leah?” the ship asked.

Leah smiled, leaning back against Cole as his arms went around her.

“I was talking to both of you.”

“Liar,” Leah and Xerxes said in unison.

“Uh huh, good to see things are back to normal,” Cole said. “Finn asked when we’d have some free time.”

Leah sighed. “To be interrogated?”

“Maybe interview is a better term.”

There was a double boom from above them. They were quiet, watching the shuttle land.

“Did we do the right thing?” Leah finally asked and she felt Cole shrug behind her.

“I can’t think of anything I would have done differently.”

“I know CMC would see it that way, but I’ve never dealt with a Commonwealth FCT before. When do they want to see us?”

“I told them tomorrow morning, that we both needed some sleep first.”

“That would be good. You know, I was thinking, if we went inside the shuttle, we’d have some privacy to roll around naked.”

Leah was already pulling him toward the hatch as it opened and their clothes were off by the time Xerxes got the hatch closed.

“Let’s fuck in the shower,” Leah said.

“I promise I won’t peek,” Xerxes said as they Cole followed her into the little cubicle.

“Liar,” Cole and Leah said at the same time and Xerxes laughed.

Leah turned the water on and got on her knees. “I’d better make sure you’re clean,” she said, taking Cole’s cock in her hand.

He began to breathe hard as she stroked him and moaned when she put him in her mouth. His hands tangled in her hair and she relaxed like Marie had shown her and pushed her head down until her nose was against his pubic bone.

“Whoa,” Cole gasped and Leah left him in her throat as long as she could.

“You like that?” she asked when she came up for a breath.

“Let me show you how much,” Cole growled.

He pulled her up and turned her around. Leah put her hands on the wall, bending over slightly as his tongue found her sex.

“Baby, that’s really nice,” Leah whimpered. “I want to cum on your cock though.”

He teased her a few minutes more before standing up behind her. Leah reached back and guided his cock inside of her. They both moaned as he slid inside. Cole put his hands on Leah’s hips, holding tightly as they began to fuck.

“I want to feel you cum in me,” Leah gasped. She bent over further, hanging onto the hatch handle as the sensations between her legs began to make her moan.

Later that night, Leah got undressed and slid under the blanket next to Cole who was already asleep. Thorn and Jeeua were asleep somewhere nearby and Thalia and Lakshmi had gone off to report that the humans had gotten their “insanity” under control. The more she thought about it, the more Leah thought that insanity might be the right thing to call it. A while back she’d heard someone mention that over ninety percent of the humans in the universe had been lost. Any logical species would be having as many babies as possible, preserving every life they could.

“And we’re still killing each other over petty bullshit,” she muttered.

The Gyr and Xero’pah members of the Blackbird’s crew had been appalled at the idea that humans had murdered one of their own over such a petty reason as who got to give the orders. The humans had been unhappy about it but it was the same old story for them. She smiled, looking up at the ceiling rafters. Humans had intervened in a war between the Gyr over human music, obviously no one was totally rational.

What can we do so this never happens again? Leah thought. It was beyond her, but something had to change. Leah closed her eyes and her breathing slowed and deepened.

She opened her eyes to find herself in the treetops once more. She’d never had a repeating dream before and now it was happening every night. There were the two moons and the nebula overhead and she could hear the unintelligible voices all around her.

“I wish I knew what you guys were saying.”

“They feel the same way,” Henry’s voice said.

Leah was paralyzed by fear suddenly. “Henry, sweetie, you’re dead,” she whispered.

There was a chuckle, made even more horrible by its familiarity. “There’s dead, and then there’s dead. I’m still here on the path waiting for you…”

Leah gasped, bolting upright as her eyes snapped open. Cole stirred and turned over.

“You okay?” he mumbled.

“Go back to sleep, baby. Just a nightmare.”

“No, it’s okay, it’s the dreahnnai hoom.”

Leah smiled, Cole always said really strange things in his sleep. She laid back down and closed her eyes. Soon she was asleep again. When she woke up in the morning, she didn’t remember dreaming again.

|10.0
Maya looked up from her book when Cole and Leah came outside wearing khaki pants and shirts. “Wow, I didn’t know you guys had uniforms. You look impressive.”

“Thanks, I call them my getting in trouble clothes,” Leah said.

“What does that mean?” Maya said, pointing to the patch on Leah’s shoulder. On it was embroidered a pair of old fashioned map dividers with a telescope crossed over them. Behind that was a field of stars and around the edge were the words “Lumen ad semitam ante.”

“Light for the path ahead,” Leah said.

“That fits.” Maya straightened her collar. “If they give you trouble, you come get me.”

She kissed them both goodbye and Leah and Cole headed down to the quad and headed for the Admin building. Cole parked the quad back in its usual spot and walked around to the door of the Administration building. There was a man they didn’t recognize sitting at Maya’s desk and he looked up.

“You’d be Captains Jones and Morgan?”

Leah nodded. “I don’t think I’ve seen you around the colony before.”

He smiled. “That’s because I arrived with the Blackbird. I’ve been working in the Big Office and Kayleigh thought I might be able to help out here. My name is Odel Lyryel’bela.”

“Oh, you’re a Ta’avi? I didn’t realize.”

He smiled and nodded. “I’m Allison’s cousin as a matter of fact. I met you once at a Remembrance.”

“I’m sorry I don’t…”

He laughed. “I was six at the time, don’t worry about it.”

“You’re not stealing that one!” Owen yelled from his office.

Odel’s eyebrows went up and Leah and Cole laughed.

“We’ll have to have you up for dinner some night,” Cole said, loud enough for Henry to hear.

“Goddam you Morgan, no you will not. Now get in here, both of you.”

“He’s really a big softie,” Leah whispered before following Cole into Owen’s office.

Owen was just closing his tablet and getting up. “I’ll say it once more, keep your mitts off my assistants. And how is she doing?”

“Maya will come back someday, I think,” Cole told him. “For now, she said she just wants to be somewhere she feels safe and wanted.”

Owen sighed. “I don’t blame her, Maya was treated horribly almost from the beginning. I wish I’d known more about that, maybe I could have helped somehow.”

“Sometimes people are just bastards, Owen,” Leah said. “And she’s not dead, you can bring your lazy ass up to the Meeting and see her. Are you ready for the Blackbird?”

“How would I know? Let’s go or we’ll be late.”

Owen stopped by the desk on the way out. “I have no idea how long we’ll be.”

Odel smiled. “I’ve got it under control, Ambassador. You’ll be fine.”

Outside, the colony almost seemed back to normal. There were a lot fewer people but he was seeing a lot more smiles on their faces. Things felt a lot better too.

“Why are you grinning like that?” Owen said to Leah as they walked down the path to the hangars and runway.

“Can’t I smile?”

Owen raised an eyebrow but Leah just looked at him innocently. “What do you think about your new assistant?”

“He seems very efficient.”

Leah just nodded and smiled at Cole.

“You two are such pains in my ass. Wait, don’t I outrank you now? I order you to tell me.”

“Well you haven’t been confirmed yet.”

“What are you so amused about, Captain Jones?”

“He didn’t notice,” Cole said.

“Well, obviously his back was turned,” Leah said.

“Notice what?”

“Your very efficient assistant checking out your ass when we left,” Leah said and Cole nodded.

Owen snorted. “You’re both troublemakers, I knew it from the beginning. And that would be an inappropriate workplace relationship.”

“Right, sorry. Didn’t think about that,” Leah said.

Owen didn’t say anything else but as they went through the gate, Cole saw a small smile on his face.

There was a crewman waiting for them, wearing a uniform Owen hadn’t seen before. They followed him out to the Blackbird and Cole stopped as they came around the corner of the hangar and saw the ship.

“Whoa.”

“I’ve never seen one of those before,” Owen said. “Impressive.”

The ship was much larger than Xerxes and looked far more menacing. It was on the small side for a ship equipped with a jump drive, most of them were too large to bother with landing in an atmosphere. The surface of this ship was a flat black that seemed to swallow the light around it. The Blackbird had retractable wings that swept back and curved downward slightly. Forward of the wings the fuselage narrowed to a blunt nose. There were two dull orange stripes at the front and they could see some odd looking symbols in flat back along the stripes.

Leah looked at Cole and laughed. “I’m so telling Xerxes about this. I can see the look in your eyes and I’m totally telling her.”

“Xerxes knows I love her most. She won’t mind.”

“They have a completely inappropriate relationship,” Leah told the crewman who laughed.

“What do those stripes mean?” Cole asked.

“The forward one carries the battle honors of the regiment,” the man said. “The stripe aft carries the honors earned by Blackbird herself. This is her fourth hull, she’s several hundred years old. Just a baby by regimental standards.”

“I heard that, Japes” the voice that Cole recognized from the radio said.

The man smiled and patted the hull affectionately as they went through the hatch.

“Welcome aboard, Captains and Administrator Lykos,” Blackbird said. “They’re expecting you in the main bay.” A spot of light appeared on the floor in front of them. “I’ll take them from here.”

The crewman nodded at them and went in the other direction. The three followed the spot as it went down the corridor. Several hatches were on either side of the passageway and through one of them, Cole glimpsed the massive jump engines.

“My sister Xerxes speaks very highly of you both,” Blackbird said as they walked. “I haven’t been this close to her since we left the crèche.”

“We love her to death,” Leah said. “Although I’m always worried she’ll run off with my husband.”

“Xerxes wouldn’t do that,” the ship said. “But run off with both of you? Maybe.”

Cole laughed. “I can tell you’re related.”

“That’s just flattery, Captain. Through the next hatch on the left.”

They walked into what looked like a medium sized conference room. There were several people waiting for them and Owen was surprised to a taller figure of a Xero’pah along with the wider asymmetric shape of a Gyr as well.

“Welcome aboard,” a man said, walking forward with his hand out.

Owen shook hands. The man was wearing the same blue-green uniform as the rest of them. He had dark blue eyes and black hair. He had high cheekbones and a longish nose. Owen thought he was almost pretty.

“We never met back at Alpha, but I heard a lot about you, Captain Morgan. Administrator, my name is Finnegan Brodeur. I’m one of the Captains on the Blackbird. This is one of my co-captains, and sister, Callie Brodeur.”

A woman with the exact same color eyes and hair shook his hand and smiled. They looked like twins, even shook hands the same way.

“Our pilot, Rachel Osbourne.” She was almost as tall as Finn and if he was almost pretty, she was gorgeous. She had the same blue eyes and black hair as the other two but other than that, looked nothing like them. Owen was already a little weirded out and was grateful for that.

“My honor, sir,” she said as she shook.

“And you’ve met our Tactical Commander, Marisol Gutierrez.”

She smiled at Owen and shook hands. He was introduced to two more members of the crew, the Gyr engineering officer and the Xero’pah navigator.

“Thank you for your help,” Owen said.

“I’m sorry we didn’t get here sooner,” Rachel said. “There were a few things to deal with on Hub first.”

“Let’s start there,” Finn said. “We were on the inbound from some work out along the Rim and picked up a batch of messages from an emergency courier. We stopped long enough to collect a couple of human ships and headed for Hub.”

“The Halsey and Yamamoto,” Rachel said. “When we arrived, the Peerless had already mutinied and stopped the bombardment. The crew asked to surrender to a Commonwealth ship so we were able to do that.”

“What happened to the crew?” Leah asked.

“The officers that were involved are headed for trial. The rest of the crew was pardoned and released. They’ll be offered positions on other ships as they become available,” Rachel said.

“The human ships landed their marines at the same time. They quickly overcame Civ-Com’s forces and began arresting the parties responsible for the rebellion. They’ll be tried as well.”

“If they don’t have the judges in their pockets already,” Cole said.

Finn shook his head. “Not a human court. They’re being taken to the current Commonwealth capitol on Chylla Hoa. There’s been some changes announced that you should be aware of. Colonial Mapping Command will be absorbed directly into the Commonwealth in the immediate future. The Big Office, which came through this unscathed, is working with them to make the transition as simple as possible. The hope is that it will remove any temptations like this in the future.”

“Blackbird was sorting through the backlog of message traffic and strongly advised that this be our next stop,” Callie said. “Sweetie, you want to cover this part?”

“Sure Callie,” the ship’s voice said. “Administrator…”

“Please, just Owen.”

“Thank you, Owen. I found some message threads, starting with your report about the Anek. In the same batch were messages from Gavin Sinclair to his uncle. This was not an improvised plan, religious extremists had planned to take over your colony from the beginning.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I wish I was. It began with the plan to deliver a virus inside a blower bound for your administration complex. There were even warnings for the extremists to stay away from the complex on a certain date, when the strep micro-organisms were to be released.”

“But it started in a residential habitat.”

“Correct. The ventilation unit that was infected did not pass its operational checks. Rather than fix the problem, the unit was torn down and the parts were used in other blowers. Somehow the virus containment was breached and it spread from there. This decreased the severity of the contagion but spread it further. Once your leadership was gone, the extremists planned to take over what was left and establish their own colony with the support of the Civil Committee.”

“They killed all those people on purpose?” Owen said quietly.

“I’m sorry Owen, that is correct. Your message folder now has a document with the details along with a very long apology from the CMC Big Office.”

“Are there any conspirators left?”

“No, I have records of the names. Just in case any were missed, HSS Peerless will be in orbit overhead in a few days carrying a number of specialists for you, including a permanent security detachment.”

“Is that normal?”

“No sir, but First Contact situations are never normal and every effort is made to ensure the safety of the mission. You’ll be seeing a lot more support from now on. I want to say that I share the regret of what you’ve been through. Hopefully things are much smoother from here.”

Owen nodded. “Thank you. One of your people told me that smoother never happens.”

Callie smiled at him. “I’ve been reading your reports. I think you might be the type that gets bored when things calm down.”

“Obviously this is a huge event and we’ll all want to talk about it again. Feel free to ask any questions that occur to you,” Finn said. “For now, I’d like to get back to our real job as a First Contact Team. I’d to start with Cole and Leah and have them go over the event with us but I was wondering if we could get a short tour first.”

A few minutes later, most of the crew was wandering around as Owen showed the Blackbird’s command team around.

“This is amazing,” Callie said, as they stood in Maya’s spot, looking up at the trees. “Can we sit here for a while?”

What followed was one of the slickest interrogations Owen had ever seen. He’d heard about Vanguard people, how they took care of each other and he’d honestly expected their reports to just be accepted. But in the guise of a friendly conversation, Finn and Callie, and another woman named Allison started going through their story, bit by bit. Owen didn’t realize what was going on at first, he thought he was going to have to demand to sit in on these meetings, to run interference for the two survey officers if nothing else.

He wondered if Cole and Leah knew what the team was doing and as Cole talked about the outbound leg of their survey, he realized that both were perfectly aware what was going on. The voices were casual but they were giving clear and concise answers.

“The council, that was the first time you met?” Allison asked. Owen tensed a little and Leah glanced at him and smiled, leaning over to bump his shoulder with hers.

“That’s what the report says,” Cole said. “It’s not the whole story. We’d like to arrange a quiet conversation whenever possible.”

“Chickadee, how many people are near us?” Finn said.

“You’re the only ones for just over a half kilometer,” Blackbird said from one of the tablets. “I’ll pause recording.”

“You want me to stay?” Owen asked Leah.

“Of course.”

Much to Owen’s surprise, Allison hopped off the rock. “I’m sitting this one out. You said there was a welcome dinner tonight Owen?”

“Yes, the big hall at 7. I’ll have messages sent to everyone.”

“Can’t wait,” she said. “See you guys later.”

Leah smiled at the confusion on Owen’s face. “It’s Allies turn to act as the outside eyes. She can provide a better opinion of what things look like from the outside that way.”

“So what’s going on?” Callie said, taking Allison’s place on the rock.

“We delayed the initial notification to the administrator by two weeks,” Leah said. “We had a pretty good reason.”

“I doubt you did it for kicks,” Callie said, grinning. “It’s happened before, we delayed a report for a lot longer. The Parthus have a fairly drastic change in appearance through their seasons. We all thought it would be better to wait until they didn’t look so much like slimy demons.”

Leah leaned back on her hands “Ours weren’t slimy demons…”

Owen watched Callie and Finn, wondering how the two of them were going to react to this. This was going to be one of the wildest first contacts they’d ever heard. But he was a little disappointed by the end, they both just looked fascinated. Finn perked up when Leah talked about the Anek ability to speak into their minds.

“Yep, I can see why that didn’t make the first report,” Finn said when Leah and Cole had finished.

Callie started giggling. “Can you imagine that cultural affairs office on Hub getting this in their in-box? I mean, the meeting agenda!”

She laughed harder, holding her sides.

“She’s got a strange sense of humor,” Finn said. “Though it would be funny. No, you made the right choice here. I can hear the affection and respect in your voices. Have there been any other incidents?”

“None at all,” Owen said. “I have yet to meet them, but they seem to be people of their word. Very few of my people have even seen an Anek, though they’ve been watching for them ever since we announced the contact.”

“This is just getting good, but if you don’t mind, I’d like to stop for the day,” Finn said. “I want to think about this and do some research.”

“Founder’s Children?” Leah asked.

He smiled at her. “Allie said you were surprising. Exactly that.”

“Do you like rum?” Cole asked as they stood up.

“I love it,” Finn said. “I noticed the sugar cane.”

“I like to think we make a pretty acceptable spiced rum,” Owen said.

“There goes any productivity for a week,” Callie sighed.

“Pfft, like, two days, max,” Finn promised.

|11.0
Eldest looked around her and there was a sense of deep amusement. (It seems that despite all of our effort and toil, we are once again meeting on place that was hurriedly put into the sky)

Cole was a little embarrassed. “I apologize. It never even occurred to me that there would be problems putting the eloisha house at the Meeting.”

(Do not worry for even a moment. We are all delighted in seeing how you’ve kept them safe and happy. How many remain from the original brood?)

“We haven’t lost any of them,” Cole said and there was a ripple of surprise. “Actually, there’s more now. Several eloisha from other broods have begun to use the shelter as well.”

(Beloved ones, you have repaid our hopes many times over. I would have been delighted if a handful had survived. This is very good news)

“The humans expressed a strong attachment to keeping the eloisha near them,” Thorn said. “My brothers are planning a series of platforms nearby that humans and eloisha can inhabit.”

Eldest sent a pulse of approval and affection through the group. (I am delighted with our new friends. Tonight, they have brought their own Elders so that we may speak together. Before we begin speaking of this thing, Beloved Leah asked me once how many of us inhabit these lands. I found the question an interesting one and asked Elders from every gathering. We have added all of the answers together. Leah helped us with the expression of human numbers. Beloved, the answer to your question?)

Leah looked down at her notes. “Forty-eight thousand, three hundred and fifty-six male and female Anek inhabit this continent.”

(I feel your concern Beloved. There may be more of us whose gathering has been forgotten but much longer and we may not have been here to greet you. But you are here and now our voices will not fade from the song of the dreahnnai hoom. So, to business)

Finn stood up and then sat quickly back down as their viewpoint shifted to Eldest’s village, high over the waterfall filled canyon.

“Maybe we should have mentioned this part,” Cole whispered to Leah.

“Nah,” she whispered back. “These guys love surprises.”

|Epilogue +4 months

“Arboreal Operations, this is the Meade. How copy?”

“Operations copies five by, Meade. Good afternoon.”

“Hello yourself. We’re set up for atmospheric entry in two-five minutes. We’d like to request arrival info at this time.”

“You are cleared for landing on runway one. Be advised we’ve got one gyro transiting the area to the far west of the runway.”

“Copy Operations, Meade will be entering comms blackout in five minutes.”

Owen and Odel waited inside the Operations Center. Even through the soundproofed walls they could hear the growling whine of the Meade’s engines. The shuttle made a perfect landing and Owen nodded at the door as the shuttle rolled past on the strip. As they were leaving Owen heard the traffic controller giving the gyrocopters permission to start working again. He shook his head and smiled slightly. What a difference four months made. Well, that and two shiploads of trained personnel and another full of material to build the new facilities.

“Something funny, boss?” Odel said as they walked toward where the Meade had stopped.

“Lots of changes lately is all.”

Odel took his hand and squeezed it before letting go. “They’re nice people, don’t worry.”

Two women were walking around the ship, one of them talking on a headset and Owen had a strong sense of déjà vu. At least this time he wasn’t mostly drunk, riding a bicycle in the rain.

“Ambassador Lykos,” the one without the headset said when she saw them. Owen realized it was Kayleigh Evans herself. She didn’t look much like her official picture. There was the same copper colored hair but the woman looked a lot less official in person. Maybe she looked more careworn but he liked the difference.

“Director, welcome to Arboreal.”

“Thank you, and if you don’t call me Director I won’t call you Ambassador. Just Kay is fine. The other one there is my wife, Shailaja Parvathi. Excuse her, she’s a pilot first.”

Owen smiled. “The first time I met Cole he was doing the same thing. They wanted to be here to meet you but the first of the incubator eloisha began birthing this morning.”

“That’s far more important than meeting a couple of tired old women at the runway certainly.”

“Hello,” the other woman said, taking off her headset as she walked up. “I’m Shailaja Parvathi but please just call me Shai.”

“Owen Lykos, and I think you know my assistant.”

She shook his hand and Owen wondered how much time they really spent behind desks. Her hand didn’t feel much like someone who spent a lot of time in the office.

“Odie!” Shai said and they hugged. “Poker night hasn’t been the same without you.”

‘”Thanks chief,” he said. “I miss giving you guys all my money. New ship?”

“Yes indeed, with a jump drive and everything. Two state rooms, a small cargo hold, came all fancied up as a VIP transport.”

“Which we changed immediately,” Kay said. “Now there’s one stateroom and a much bigger cargo hold. We’re loaded with gear that we thought might be helpful. Maggie can tell your ground crew the best way to unload.”

“Maggie?” Odel asked.

“Margaret Meade,” Kay said. “We just missed getting the Branislaw Malinowski. Imagine figuring out a nickname for him.”

Owen stopped and talked to one of the ground crew and she nodded, waving over several more people. She put on her own headset and started talking with the ship.

“Sorry to be so mysterious about our mission,” Kay said as they walked up the path to the Administration building.

“I assumed it had to do with Cole and Leah’s request for reassignment,” Owen said.

“That’s part of it,” Kay said. “We’d also like to talk to you about another matter, but let’s do that somewhere a little more comfortable.”

“That’s really good rum,” Shai said. “What’s that flavor in it?”

“Banana and caramelized sugar.”

“It’s excellent,” Kay said. “Owen, I’ve got kind of a thorn in my side and I think you may be able to help. When the CMC was transferred to the Commonwealth we were strongly encouraged to look for a new home that wasn’t anywhere near Hub. There have been any number of places investigated and then I got a message from Finn Broduer on the Blackbird. He mentioned there was a large grassland on the smaller continent that wasn’t being used.”

“That’s true. The Anek members of the surveys said there were traces of Anek but the thinking is that they died out a few hundred years ago. They agreed that no one had any interest in moving to the area, the hoom there is evidently unresponsive as well. Either way the grasslands were cleared for us to use if there was any need.”

“This hoom, I didn’t really understand the concept.” Kay said.

“Me either, I thought it was some sort of religious belief but Leah Jones assures me it’s very real. The closest I’ve come to the idea is that they’re some kind of guardian spirit but Leah explains it better than I do. We can head over to the Meeting and ask Thorn if you’re interested but the answers get mystical quickly.”

“I saw that a second Meeting was established nearby?” Shai asked.

“Yes, there’s now the Anek Meeting which is the original. They really abhor open spaces but were insistent that some of them live near us so we designated our park as the Human Meeting. Two males named Thorn and Jeeua live there, spending some time in the colony and the rest strengthening the hoom in the grove of trees.”

“I’d like to see both places while we’re here,” Kay said. “How are your people dealing with the changes?”

“It was a little bumpy at first,” Own said. “The people you sent were excellent though and I don’t hear any ‘us and them’ talk anymore. There’s always some little problem but I think for the most part they’re happy.”
Kay smiled. “I’m glad to hear that. I spoke with Marie Martin and she says hello. She said I should also ask you about Denver Fulton.”

“I thought you’d want to talk about that and I think the easiest way to start would be to meet her and her mother. They live out near the Anek Meeting.”

Odel stuck his head in the door. “Captain Jones says she’s going to have her hands full for another hour or so but Captain Morgan is already up at the Anek Meeting.”

“Did she say how they were doing?” Owen asked.

Odel laughed. “The older eloisha are evidently very curious and decided to help. Maya was headed there to help.”

“Maya is our resident eloisha whisperer,” Owen said. “Let’s head out that way first. I think you should meet Denver before anything else.”

The three of them got in one of the quads and headed for the forest edge.

“I want to give you some background on Denver first,” Owen said as he drove. “Her parents were early evacuees and spent longer than normal in Earth orbit. They were newlyweds and Karen ended up pregnant. By the time they had reached Hub, they knew that the fetus had been affected by the radiation. They were advised to abort the pregnancy but Karen and Peter said that they’d deal with whatever came. Denver was born on Hub, her body was profoundly affected by the exposure. Her limbs didn’t develop properly and there were several other problems. All of them seem to be physical, her mind was largely unaffected. Karen and Peter applied for the colony here and I signed a waiver to get them in. They were both great, I was happy they were here and Denver was getting along fine. Then Peter died in the strep outbreak and Karen’s world started crumbling to pieces. First she had to face life as a widow with a daughter that needed a lot of care. Then the regressive elements started making her life hell and Karen effectively withdrew from public life.”

“What a nightmare,” Shai said and Kay nodded.

“After the rebellion, Karen started taking part in the colony a little more and she was in the first group of colonists to meet the Anek. Denver was with her and several of the Anek were very curious about Denver, what had happened to her. There were five of them clustered around Karen and Denver when it came time to head back and I was a little concerned but Maya and Cole told me several times that everything was fine. The Anek asked to spend more time with Denver, Cole and several other people live at the Meeting full time and said that they’d take care of getting them home. The next day Cole showed up at the office and told me that the Anek had requested Karen and Denver move closer to the forest. Evidently Denver had formed an attachment with several Anek, including two on their Elder Council.”

“So what are we getting into here?” Shai asked.

“The Anek revere children, everyone’s children. I think it’s because so few of their own were surviving, but the reason doesn’t matter. Denver and an Anek named Kettle grew especially close.”

“Kettle?”

Owen laughed. “There are words they like to say and aren’t too concerned with the meanings. We had to work hard to convince a young male that ‘Privy’ wasn’t a good choice for a name.”

Kay and Shai both laughed.

“What did he choose instead?”

“They’ve become huge fans of the Star Wars movies, so he is now known as Third Yoda. This is an interesting job at times.”

“I think you’re doing a great job, and my bosses say the same thing,” Kay said. “Is that the Anek Meeting I’m seeing up there?”

“The humans call that the Eloisha Meeting, which is a huge joke to the Anek I understand. That’s where the human caretakers live along with the shelters for the little ones. The Anek meeting is a bit further back into the trees.”

“Wow,” Shai said a few minutes later. “That’s way up there.”

“And it’s on the low side for them,” Owen said. He took them to the newly installed elevator cage and they all crowded in. Shai and Kay looked around as they went up and up.

“Leah’s report talked about how beautiful this place was,” Kay said. “I’m glad I get to see it.”

Both women were impressed with the Meeting, walking around it before going inside. There was an Anek curled up on the floor with a woman sitting nearby. Owen waved and Kay saw that the small bundle the Anek was carrying was in fact a child with a badly twisted body.

“Hello ladies,” Owen said “I’d like to introduce Kayleigh Evans and Shai Parvathi. They are the leaders of the Mapping Command and my Elders. This is Karen Newburgh, her daughter Denver, and Kettle Anek.”

“Wherever you find a human, there is always another Elder,” the Anek said. It sounded like a proverb to Kay. “But I am honored, Elders of my Elder.” She rose gracefully to her feet, the large arms keeping the child in place.

The Anek’s voice was monotone and harsher than Kay had expected.

“May we speak?” the Anek asked.

“She’s asking permission to touch-talk with you,” Owen said, seeing the confusion on their faces.

“Of course,” Kay said. “Forgive my ignorance please. What is the most appropriate way?”

“Sitting together is the best way,” Karen said and Owen sat down with Shai and Kay. Kettle settled back to the floor, her larger arms put Denver against her chest and she reached out with the larger arms to touch Shai and Kay. Karen and Owen held hands and Karen put her other hand on the Anek’s arm.

(Physical touch is the easiest way to begin) Kettle said.

Shai and Kay were both surprised at the difference between her mental voice and the physical one.

There was a pulse of laughter in return. (All of us are made for different things)

(Hello Shai and Kayleigh) a child’s voice said. (I very much like your names. I am Denver Anek. My body’s voice does not work)

“I like your name too,” Kay said. “I’m happy to meet all of you.”

(Did you come to take me away? The children before said I was mistake and I would be taken away)

Kay looked at the girl and shook her head. “I swear to you that will never happen. My friend said that we should come and meet you because you were so amazing.”

(Who is your friend?)

“Her name is Marie Martin. She’s a scientist.”

(Marie Stareyes! I miss her, please tell her hello for me)

“I’d be happy to,” Kay said. “But she’s asked to come back here to rest when she’d done with her job, so you can tell her yourself soon.”

There was a feeling of delight in return.

“I was wondering, why did Marie ask you to meet Denver?” Karen said.

“She didn’t give an exact reason,” Shai told her. “But I think she wanted us to see for ourselves what the Anek and humans are going to mean to each other.”

Cole was sitting with Shai and Kay at the Eloisha Meeting. The motor for the basket whirred and a few minutes later Leah appeared and stepped onto the platform. There were two eloisha clinging to her and when they saw new people they jumped away and swooped over to investigate.

“Hello there,” Kay said to the one that landed on her knee. It whistled a greeting and went off to investigate Shai.

“How did it go?” Owen asked Leah.

She stopped to kiss him. “It went mostly very well. Hello ladies, it’s good to see you.”

Shai and Kay both got up to hug and kiss her.

“It’s been too long,” Kay said. “You said mostly very well?”

Leah laughed. “The eloisha from our brood decided that they needed to help. As the new ones emerged, the older ones picked them up and took them up into the rafters of the building. We had a hell of a time getting them back.”

“How were they looking?” Cole asked.

“I think they were nearly as large as ours, almost as active for sure. Thalia was very pleased.”

“I’m very proud of you both,” Kay said. “We were just talking with Cole about Denver.”

Leah stole Cole’s drink and sat down. “She was unexpected but it seems to be working out. Before they left, Finn said that he was convinced they were Founder’s Children, same as us.”

“It makes me wonder what the Founders had in mind for this place,” Shai said.

“The Anek didn’t know anything about them. The hoom doesn’t seem to know either,” Leah said.

“Owen mentioned that you know that it’s very real,” Kay said.

Leah nodded. “It started showing up in my dreams. After Henry died, he began to show up as well. Scared the hell out of me at first but once it knew I got the message the dreams started coming less often.”

“What is it?”

“I don’t know. I can’t really understand what it says and I think Henry has become part of it, I don’t hear him much anymore. The Anek say they can’t hear it as clearly as I can but they’re convinced that’s what I’m hearing. I got broad feelings of approval or disapproval but anything beyond that it gets a lot harder. It likes us being here, I know that for sure.”

“It’ll be a topic for the xenobiologists to argue about for a long time,” Shai said. ” One of the reasons we came was to talk to you both about your resignations.”

“I figured that’s why you were here,” Leah said.

“One of the reasons,” Kay said. “Are you sure about leaving?”

Leah smiled and looked at the eloisha that had gathered around them. “This is our home now, and this is our family. I’m sure.”

Cole nodded. “The rest of the Anek are depending on us as well. But Leah’s right. This is our home and neither of us want to leave.”

“Leah, we’ve talked to Owen about moving most of the CMC operations to the savannah area of the smaller continent and he agrees that it’s a good idea. Would you two be willing to stay on a while longer? No more travelling across the Deeps.”

“Why do you want to keep us under CMC control?” Cole asked.

“Not our control. We want all of you to stay in contact with us, or our successors really. The last CMC operations are going to be shutting down soon and that will be the end of CMC. The elders in the Commonwealth have realized that the Civ-Com rebellion didn’t happen in a vacuum. At least it showed them how desperate humans are to find homes again. It didn’t hurt that the Garragh and Ta’avi ambassadors got involved on our side. Together we’re starting to make the elder races understand what losing your home planet is really like. They’ve agreed to share data from their maps. The Xero’pah have even promised a couple of worlds that they had reserved for colonies in the future. Now that the Dominion war has finally fizzled out, making the peace is going to be our next critical task. Keeping things like this rebellion from happening again will be a big part of that. You two would be some of the first to take on these new roles with the next incarnation of the service.”

“How do you mean?” Cole asked.

“This could have been a much larger disaster and it was only some lucky timing with the Blackbird that kept it from getting worse. As our colonies grow, and as we start sharing worlds with the Garragh and Ta’avi refugees, we want people we can trust keeping an eye on things. Not as our spies, just local experts that love their home and want to help.”

Leah and Cole looked at each other.

“What about Xerxes?” Cole asked.

Shai laughed. “She misses you too. You can’t have her back, keeping an SI shuttle on the ground needlessly is silly. But I think she could be based here with her new crew without any problem. I’m curious, did either of you know about Marie Martin’s request for colony settlement?”

“We didn’t hear anything about it,” Leah said. “Where does she want to settle?”

Kay smiled. “Here, of course. She said pretty much the same thing as you did about family. We’re approving it but I think she wanted to be a surprise. So act surprised when she comes strolling up that path in a few weeks. But we’re not accepting her complete resignation. All you people are part of our family and we don’t want to lose any of you.”

Leah and Cole looked at each other and he nodded slightly.

|Epilogue +4 months
There was a tap on the door of their bedroom arch. “You said you’d braid my hair?” Maya asked Leah.

“Come on the bed and sit in front of me.”

Maya sat in front of her and handed back a hair brush. Leah began to run it through Maya’s heavy black hair.

“Are you nervous?”

Maya nodded. “You’ll stay nearby?”

“Of course we will. Thorn will be here as well so Jeeua doesn’t start any trouble.”

Maya frowned. “He’s been so gentle and kind, I can’t believe he’d do anything bad.”

“When they call it breeding fever, it’s not an exaggeration,” Leah said, brushing her hair out. “They’re literally not in their right minds and the males get territorial. Thorn says that since it’s Jeeua’s first breeding fever, he could get a little feistier than normal.”

“I hope he remembers me at least.”

“I’m sure he will, how could anyone forget you?”

Leah separated her hair and began to braid it. “You look amazing, I’m so happy for you.”

Half an hour later, Leah and Maya walked into one of the smaller domes. It was a copy of the place Leah and Cole used as a bedroom except for an opening to the outside and this one was empty, except for bundles of moss that Cole and Thorn were arranging. Cole stopped and looked at Maya.

“Wow. You’re even more beautiful.”

“I’m jealous,” Thorn agreed.

Maya smiled and kissed them both. “Thank you, for everything.”

“We’ll be close if you need us,” Cole said.

Thorn rested his hand on her shoulder for a moment and they went back into the main Meeting. Leah untied the cords that held a heavy curtain back and it slid over to cover the doorway between the two rooms.

“Shouldn’t we keep an eye on them?” Cole said.

Leah laughed. “You are such a perv, you just want to watch don’t you?”

“We’ll be able to hear any problems,” Thorn said. “Remember that Jeeua loves her and the fever won’t change that. Thalia will be there as well, Maya will be quite safe.”

Leah poured drinks for Cole and herself and handed Thorn one of the dried flowers the Anek liked to chew. They said it was relaxing and had gotten used to consuming them in front of humans, mostly. Thorn still turned away to tuck them into the space that served as the Anek mouth. He sat beside Cole and Leah sat down with them.

“I had a sister, Miriam was her name,” Cole said as they waited.

Leah looked at him in surprise. She knew about his family but he never spoke about them.

Cole went on. “There was a tradition on Earth, young people would go to a formal gathering near the end of their education. There was music and dancing.”

“It sounds like a happy thing,” Thorn said.

“It was. My sister was younger and I remember waiting with her for her partner to come and get her. This feels like the same moment.”

“Hopefully your sister and you were not as close as you are with Maya.”

Leah smiled at the careful tone in Thorn’s voice. “I think he’s referring to the feeling of someone you love moving to the next stage in life. After prom, what we call the gathering, most humans are considered near to adulthood.”

“Oh, they do not mate at this gathering?”

“Usually afterwards,” Leah said.

Cole laughed. “Yes, but can we please not go there?”

There was the sound of two Anek dropping to the platform outside.

“I’m in here,” Maya called.

The three of them heard her speaking quietly and then there was a long moan.

“Sounds like things are going pretty well,” Leah said and the other two nodded.

Maya’s moans turned into happy sounding gasps.

Leah leaned over and put her mouth next to Cole’s ear. “I’m getting excited thinking about what’s going on in there,” she whispered. Her hand traced the outline of his erection under the shorts. “And I see I’m not the only one.”

They heard Maya orgasm and it was quiet for a few seconds. Then there was another long moan.

“Thalia’s turn,” Thorn said. “All is well.”

“I want to do this again,” Leah said to Cole. “Soon, now that things are calming down.”

He nodded. “I thought you would. I think once is enough for me.”

She scooted closer and put her arms around him. “As long as we’re together when it happens.”

|Epilogue +2 years
Cole and Leah sat with Lakshmi on the deck of Eloisha Meeting, watching a thunderstorm over the forest on the far side of the clearing.

“Is the filter more comfortable now?” Leah asked.

(Yes. It fits me much better than the first one)

After Maya’s brood, she’d wanted Thalia and Jeeua to meet their children so she had put together a filter that had masked the chemicals the Anek used to communicate. It had started off as a bulky suit but they’d all worked to refine to a long strip of filter that wrapped around an Anek body. The Anek didn’t like wearing them for extended periods but were delighted to interact with the eloisha for short periods.

“Leah-mother! Tara stole my music book and she won’t give it back!”

Leah sighed and Cole and Lakshmi shared a pulse of amusement.

“Both of you come here,” Leah said.

Dasher and Tara came over and stood in front of her. Their first brood were almost a third the size of Lakshmi now. They’d slowly lost their ability to fly as they grew but it hadn’t slowed them down at all. Lakshmi had given up trying to compare their growth to other broods, the eloisha living with the humans grew and learned faster than any they’d seen in the past.

“What did we say about sharing?”

“But he wasn’t using it!” Tara protested.

Dasher was indignant. “And you didn’t ask!”

“I would have asked but you were gone to the Anek Meeting!”

Dasher stopped whatever he was about to yell.

“Mom, I didn’t know that,” he said. “I changed my mind, she didn’t steal it.”

“Would you come and read it with me?” Tara asked.

Dasher nodded and they raced into one of the domes.

(I wonder if their touch-talk will be the same, since even the females voice-speak so well)

Leah laughed. “They’re good at both. I asked for some quiet the other day and then realized it was too quiet. I found all of them in a circle holding hands and singing in their heads. I’d worry about their politeness if they were human children.”

(Our songs are growing together as the hoom predicted)

Leah and Lakshmi started another long conversation about the hoom. Cole watched the lightning across the valley and only half paid attention. He’d never heard the hoom, in his dreams or otherwise. From some of what Leah had said, he was okay with that.

“Dad,” a voice whispered behind him. “Can I sit with you?”

He looked back. “Hey kiddo. Come on up.”

Cole held out his arm to help Mirjam climb into his lap. It seemed like she was getting bigger every day.

“Before long, I’ll be sitting in your lap,” Cole told her.

“I won’t let you fall then,” Mirjam said, putting her head on his chest.

She sent a feeling of contentment and he returned one of happiness. She was one of “his” and even claimed to remember talking to him in his dreams before she was born. Cole doubted that but had to admit that she had a much stronger bond with him than any of the others. There were chirps from the roof and a much younger eloisha landed on his shoulder and wiggled down to nestle between his chest and Mirjam. It snorted and purred happily.

“That’s Boggle,” Mirjam said after she had sniffed the eloisha.

Cole just nodded. He couldn’t really tell them apart but it didn’t matter because he loved them all. Leah had said it best way back at the beginning; maybe it wasn’t the family they’d expected but it was exactly the family they wanted. They’d made it home after all.
Thank you so much for reading. I’ve really enjoyed creating this world, I hope you’ve enjoyed the first look. The next story is called Arboreal and is already posted and waiting for you.

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Author: jetermissing

You probably don't want to know. Seriously. This writing thing, it's not as glamorous as you might think.

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