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Chapter 23

H 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
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.

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.”

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
“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

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
“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.”

“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
“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.