Chapter 23

is visit to city Anaxerxes was brief but decisive. Poxiciti knew the risks of such an encounter, but to see her corpulent bulk shaking with fear was pleasure among pleasures. Certainly he had wounded her. Now as he returned to his own city he looked forward to any new revelations that might deliver the final killing blow. Under a dark, heavy sky, Poxiciti exited the shuttle and forged on through the blowing wind toward the main terminal. He made a wide track in the accumulating sand. Guards escorted him inside where he shook himself off and waited for the next transport to arrive. Outside the storm was worsening, the wind hurling the sand against the windows with unrelenting fury. During this onslaught a bolt of lightning crackled across the sky, and the room suddenly blackened. Inside there was a lot of confusion, everyone was shouting, but none louder than Poxiciti who spoke with authority while those around him scrambled to do his bidding. Despite their best efforts those who labored under his direction were unable to restore the power, and so he sat down in the darkness and brooded. It was a frustrating end to his day and he was greatly displeased with this time-consuming delay. Finally a passenger vehicle pulled up alongside the building and signaled. Poxiciti barely had time to open the door when Inelefar leaned over the driver’s seat and shouted into his auditory hole. “Came as soon as I could,” he gasped breathlessly. “So much has happened since this morning.” He seized Poxiciti’s arm. He could scarcely contain his excitement. “We have to get back to the city.” Poxiciti eagerly climbed aboard and awaited his stunning news. “Then you have found incriminating evidence against Pulima Cos and her band of cut-throats?” “Not exactly,” Inelefar hummed as he pressed on the accelerator and sped off toward the city. “Something even more important.” He stared at him incredulously. “More important than seeing our arch-enemy and her army of polluters and profiteers eradicated? More important than overthrowing her corrupt and evil empire? I doubt that. Explanation of facts. What exactly did you find?” “A discovery of incredible significance,” Inelefar hinted without the slightest betrayal of information. “Evidence of a kind that will not be believed.” Now Poxiciti was more than puzzled. What could he mean? Inelefar was a good assistant but proved himself a worthless communicator. To pry information from him required the strictest attention, the greatest of patience. Poxiciti sincerely doubted that he would learn anything until they reached the city.

H

2

THE BATTLE FOR TOMORROW

A small crowd was waiting for them inside the auditorium, an expansive room decorated with ornate marble columns and gold and onyx inlaid floors. Plush wet chairs lined the three main aisles, arranged in a semi-circle so that each occupant had a clear sight of the enormous view screen. As Poxiciti entered the room the onlookers immediately quieted down. “So what is this momentous news that I still know nothing about?” he said after seating himself in a front row chair. An echo of silence was his only answer. Then a voice that he recognized rose behind him. “A matter so vital to our future that I instructed Inelefar to tell no one, lest word of this reach the wrong people.” Borobos, a solid and strong female, rose from her chair and thudded to the front of the room. A bio-genetic engineer, now a staunch environmentalist, she wore her scars like an emblem of pain, attesting to her years of torture and imprisonment in one of Midlothian’s many jails. Indeed she was a creature of stature and political sway, having contacts that some said reached into Pulima Cos’s closest circle. “Tried to contact you in the city,” Borobos apologized. “The storm was intense. . .” “Understood.” Poxiciti quickly dismissed it; he was more impatient for answers. “The video we extracted today. Your conclusions proved correct,” Borobos continued. “They were operating an illegal processing and distribution center. Had it not been destroyed it might well have soon emptied the forest of segathars.” This was especially good news to her listeners. Naturally everyone was pleased to hear of its end, delighted that every block and beam had been pulled down, although unhappily, Borobos reminded them that just as quickly as that one had been destroyed, another one would soon replace it. Looking around the room Poxiciti saw all of the angry faces. Borobos elicited more hot emotion than rational thinking and that was not the way to see behind their problems. “Did you find any condemning evidence?” “Some,” she answered. “Solid and indisputable proof linking three of the dead to Oneteesel, a key trader from city Tykrerek.” “Small game, waste of time. What about Pulima Cos herself?” “As of yet, nothing substantive.” Now he was more angry than impatient. “Why all of this mystery? Why is it that we climb hills when the mountain is still before us?” “Because of this.” Borobos ordered the lights dimmed. Moments later the view screen illuminated and on it appeared an image of what had to be the destroyed facility’s interior. There was little of significance to see. Empty corridors, noisy equipment, people working. Very boring, Poxiciti thought. That was until Borobos touched him on the shoulder and whispered, “Now watch carefully. You saw the destruction. Now you will see the destroyers.”

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

3

He did as he was told, seeing a guard suddenly appear and angle into the main corridor. She went outside. Now the events quickly unfolded. Poxiciti was unprepared for what he saw next. He straightened up the moment he saw what came inside. It was astonishing, unbelievable! He sat riveted in his chair and stared in stunned silence. “What is that thing?” someone gasped out behind him. Everyone was speechless. The big pack killers they knew of, but the one leading them was something entirely different. A small, repulsive thing, barely half the size of the segathars, its waist bound with skins, its head covered with fur. Up until that moment Poxiciti had been rigid with concentration, but the magnitude of what he was seeing suddenly struck home and he leapt out of his chair and shouted, “Why their actions suggest a simple plan! Create a diversion, draw the guard outside. Then attack! Is it possible there is some intelligence within their bestial brains after all?” “I believe so,” Borobos replied. “These segathars appear to be thinking ahead. The strange one who leads them. See how it opens its hole and emits the same noises? It points and one goes that way. Points again and the other one goes that way. Could that be communication?” “Very possible,” he agreed. The next scenes were grizzly ones, and few in the audience could look on while the segathars closed in and finished off the workers in brutal but efficient fashion. Even more dramatic was the small creature’s method of attack. It made no use of teeth or claws, but instead rendered death by throwing what looked remarkably like a spear—in fact it was. Again Poxiciti rose to his feet, utterly astonished. “My eyes see it. My ears hear it. And yet my brain rejects it. Borobos, are these images real?” “What you are seeing is no illusion,” she calmly assured him. “It is very real.” “This is inconceivable,” he protested. “A feral animal cannot know the workings of a spear, much less determine its killing purpose.” “Evidently it is not feral, nor is it an animal of bestial nature. It has a thinking brain. And it has a spear, so train your mind to accept this as fact because you will be the better for it—especially if you should happen to cross its path.” “There is more to be seen here,” Borobos advised him. “Still more? Then I certainly hope there are no more heart stopping surprises. I do not think the shock of what I have seen so far has worn off yet.” He settled back into his wet chair as the projection continued. Again they watched the proceedings in rapt attention, saying little, thinking less. They had no idea at all what the creatures were communicating to each other. However it was soon obvious that the purpose of their planned attack was to liberate another segathar from one of the animal pens. Until this night no one had ever witnessed such a thing. And then they saw the image of the gun in

4

THE BATTLE FOR TOMORROW

the creature’s hand, blasting the door open. Most of the spectators, including Poxiciti, wanted to believe that what they were seeing was simply being misinterpreted. However, when two of the segathars returned with wood and piled it onto the floor all his doubts immediately crumbled away. “Is that...?” “Fire,” Inelefar said. “Crudely done, but yes, fire.” “Incredible. The rubbing together of two sticks to create friction, heat, then combustion. Our own ancestors might have done it that same way.” As Poxiciti watched the flames spread higher he then moved in sudden remembrance of events long past. “I know this creature. Remember Betelgesel? That was so long ago only the memory of it now comes to mind. Once I stood in its animal lair, saw its spoor, poked its fire. Only then it was a mystery. Now it has made itself known to us. A creature who plots death and kills with its brain. And uses our guns. This is a strange world and there must be yet even stranger things out there, as evidenced by what we have seen here today.” “Surely this threat you speak of is a limited one,” Tosostenos, once Midlothian’s military strategist, said. “Even if proven to be intelligent are we now to quake in fear of it just because it brandishes a gulun gun? I carry one too, and I’m certainly no threat to the empire.” “Stupidity abounds in this room. Think,” Poxiciti told them all. “If it can communicate with the segathars, and it knows how to make fire, then . . .” “Then the segathars must also know how to make fire.” “Precisely. So now if we follow this reasoning to its logical end then we can also assume that if it knows how to use a gulun gun . . .” Borobos lifted both hands to her face so shocking was this revelation. “Could such a thing be possible?” “To accept what we are theorizing we must first abandon all presumptions. These segathars have proved to be far more clever than even we could have imagined. Obviously their motives are guided by planning and mutual co-operation. Even more importantly they know we are their enemy since it was our installation which they destroyed. And because they were successful I can only assume there will be more of these kinds of raids in the near future.” “This will only bring death to them that much sooner,” Nalanusat said gravely. “If Pulima Cos learns of this creature’s existence—and she will—then I see a swift end not only to it, but to the segathars as well.” “You are right,” Borobos agreed. “She will stamp them out completely, burn down the forests, ruin the entire planet if only to conceal this one terrible truth. And that is we are stealing their world away from them. We are all hypocrites to our own beliefs. Our most fundamental law is to preserve life, and yet our very presence here brings sure death to the creatures we wish to save.”

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

5

“Even worse,” Inelefar said. “Everything we’ve worked for and believed in will ultimately be used to aide Pulima Cos in their extinction.” “So what are we to do?” Nalanusat asked despairingly. “Hide the truth and the creatures die for profit. Reveal it and they die for Epiphilinian colonialism.” “The survival of this species is our first and greatest concern.” Poxiciti closed his one eye for a moment, thinking of a way to frame this so unpalatable solution. “Some of you may not appreciate this because it means the end of all hope of staying here. We have been polluting for so long we forget our mistakes only to discover we are repeating them now. This is not our world to save, so we must return to Epiphiline if we are to find true salvation.” Those in the audience broke into an heated debate. Borobos lifted her hand and made a firm gesture for silence. “Poxiciti has spoken very clearly of what we all must do. We must find indictable evidence against Pulima Cos. Even she cannot escape her own laws. We are very close, but not close enough that she cannot wriggle free and close her fists on us. Remember that a wounded animal fights more viciously than a hungry one.” “That we must do,” Nalanusat said. “Pursue her, catch her, and convict her. We have no other choice.” Speaking like a true scientist, Poxiciti said, “What we have all witnessed here today is a discovery of immeasurable scientific importance. We must not forget that either. Somewhere in the uncharted wild forest is a thinking creature like us. And whoever finds it will be the first to make contact with an intelligent life-form other than ourselves.” Apparently for the moment their curiosity outweighed their conviction. And as they discussed the situation none realized that Pulima Cos had been all but forgotten. Poxiciti, deep in his own thoughts, stood in the corner by himself. He was already thinking of ways to capture it.