|Outrunning the Storm|
|Stormcastle: And Other Fun Games With Cards And Dice|
|Louisville's Silent Guardians|
THE SEA CAVE PEOPLE part one
Dim milky light streaked a rock here and there along the upper expanse of the cavern. Sky shine from first moonset peeked among cracks lost high among moss and roots. Stalactites slumped into natural buttresses drooping a hundred paces from the ceiling, ropes of stone sagging into string only to drop and pile below into lumps of translucent creams blended with billows of red.
Water ran unseen along a dark course near the middle of the cave. His way lit by the faint glow from florescent crystal veined among the cavern’s splendors, L’Qisse walked towards Sea-Corral. The surf-runners smelled him coming and jostled one another.
Their serpentine heads waved from side to side. The four flippered sea creatures slapped the water with their long tails. The result ran slowly down walls and coursed back into the corral.
Many of the mounts swam away from the gate but several of the younger ones stayed hooting softly. “Little ones, I am not fooled. L’Qisse seeks the spotted, long necked Ashen-Dive.”
“Addy,” called L’Qisse.
The youthful surf-runners muttered, “Roo ‘een, Roo ‘een.”
“Yes, little ones, Taroe will need a mount too but do not crowd your queen when she comes. Show some respect.”
The cave echoed with Ashen-Dive’s call hooting through her blow hole, “Boe-rank, Boe-rank.” She spoke, “Ah-Dee here, Qissey.”
She swam up and lowered her head to be petted. L’Qisse complied. “How is pretty Ashen-Dive?”
She purred and clicked. Her friendly call of “Boe-rank, Boe-rank” rattled the still air. Soon she allowed a whale leather saddle onto the hollow between her shoulders. “Tha-wim?”
“Yes Addy. Taroe goes too.”
“Yes, she will most likely ride Wave-Caller. Taroe trusts him. Despite his predator’s teeth and sharp male horns, she trusts him,” said L’Qisse.
Among the salty odors and silence of the darkened cave a pale light made its way towards Sea-Corral. A delicate fragrance and soft humming preceded the gentle footsteps of the noble Taroe. The mist-green light from her thin necklace and brow-crown showed the clean beauty of her face and breast. It greened the folds of her long hair and its weakness illuminated the folds of the gauze like wave suit she carried over her left forearm. Her sea-boots made a soft scratching from her steps.
Taroe fixed her gaze, “Gentle ore-glow, L’Qisse.”
“Gentle ore-glow, My Lady.” He squirmed, for her body pulled his eye.
“Ashen-Dive, bring Wave-Caller to me. He is our mount today. Graceful One, your Queen’s Guard requires more surf-runners for our cavalry. Display for Wave-Caller. He needs a mate. Your increase is our sea-strength.” Taroe stopped speaking and began stepping into the deep blue wave suit; her bare form a whisper in the ghost light of the cavern.
L’Qisse glanced at Ashen-Dive. She shook her head ‘no’ but said, “Yes, My Lay-dee,” and thrummed out her blow hole, “Boe-rong, noe-wrong.” The surf-runner splashed away.
“You know she won’t,” said L’Qisse.
“Like you?” Taroe paused before fastening her wave suit. With meticulous care she straightened the fabric along her legs and arms. Too slowly she aligned its seal strip and only then fastened it.
L’Qisse whispered, “She is adolescent and not ready.”
“Like you?” The young Queen’s gaze burnt as surely as her beauty. She touched L’Qisse on the cheek and gently kissed him on his lips.
“I have touched fire, My Lady.”
“Indeed you have, My L’Qisse. If we live, you shall be Royal Consort. And Ashen-Dive will mother swim-lings.
“If we don’t?”
“We will live only in the songs; but together. It is so frightening, My L’Qisse, to be desired? And the Cavern Council demands an heir. Why not a comely one with intelligence and courage like My L’Qisse?”
The darkness shuddered from quiet footsteps. The surf-runners turned and listened. “Can you feel the Sea Shaman, My L’Qisse?” said Taroe.
“Yes, he wears smelly sandals and a loin cloth. He carries the crimson staff of a legend seer. It smells too,” muttered L’Qisse.
“I heard you possessed second sight,” said Taroe.
“The sea and the cavern talk to me, but I smell the seer.”
When the holy man appeared, it was as L’Qisse said. The Sea Shaman indeed reeked of fish.
“Gentle ore glow, my children,” said the Shaman.
“Gentle ore glow, Learned One,” said the Lady Taroe.
“Gentle ore glow, Sea Seer.” L’Qisse presented his right hand palm up.
“Gentle ore glow, Sea Warrior, live in victory. Gentle ore glow, My Lady. Conceive in health and strength.”
The darkness near Sea Corral scarcely hid Taroe’s blush. A small group of the cave people materialized from the darkness when the shaman lit the betrothal fire. Its flames reflected from the pillars that descended into dark water. It revealed many faces but not the ceiling of the chamber far above.
The shaman motioned, “Join left hands and repeat the vow.”
Betrothal by fire is mine to give
Refusal of thee I’ll never live
Island of Fire both molten and still
Our journey and life both will build
Children of strength to thee I’ll give
Forever together we both will live
Children of strength from thee I receive
Forever together I’ll ne’er deceive.
To bring back a child of fire
Forever is my desire
to live and die as one
to live and die as one.
“I, Carleton the Caller, Sea Shaman, pronounce the marriage ‘complete at consummation.’” Both palms touched before his chest. He scribed the air moving them out and back and then up and down. “Forever is a long time. Use it well.”
“And;” he paused. Looked at the assembly and said, “Now I speak as Legend Sayer. Holy Union and conception of Thirty-first Generation’s Monarch must occur at sea or on First Island which might be the middle of an archipelago. No one knows.
“Salt water ruined the original recorders. Thereby The Temple of Arrival and the Vessel of the Ancients, The Star Swimmer herself, may only be legend and not history at all. Much disease infested the First Generation; some went mad."
Carlton the Caller, Sea shaman, touched both L-Qisse and Taroe on a shoulder, “Children, you don’t even have to go to The Boilings; just to the surface.”
Underwater, the surf-runners clicked and pinged. Ashen-Dive’s high pitched shrilling bounced off the flooded tunnel’s sides. Taroe, L’Qisse and even Wave-Caller listened and the sounds’ image formed in their minds.
The churning of the surf-runners' flippers droned. The tunnel turned upwards and they all let out air as they rose, the humans from their mouths and noses and the surf-runners from their blow holes; a staccato burping.
First Moon’s dim glow penetrated the sea cavern’s exit tunnel and then the sea itself; brighter and brighter. They followed their own bubbles. Up and over they burst the surface to find silver moonlight playing the silken surf along the reef, called Star’s Song by the cavers and Moon Dance by the islanders.
Straight up the sky beckoned. Second Moon’s rise hidden in mist loomed; fuzzy light on the foggy horizon. Ring’s glow dominated the stars. Only Pole Mark and Spirit’s Eye enforced their cold stars' fire on the sky, The Creator’s Batons the force that stirred Creation; so said the Cavers’ Shamans.
The surf-runners’ flat appendages moved water in generous scoops making a small wake and little sound. The quiet night hid the Cavers and they glided through the sea. Night Fishers dived from the air and ate on the exposed reef. The dark plumed night birds devoured fish but were too small to threaten the humans or the surf-runners.
“I wonder where they land?” L’Qisse said.
“The Island,” said Taroe.
“I’ve been seaward more than a dozen times. I only know of The Island from the shaman, who doesn’t know where it is either.”
“He knows. He didn’t want to scare an adolescent,” Taroe laughed.
“The Island is not just tale-talk?”
“Yes, gentle L’Qisse and on our way as well. But the stars and the moons have always been in the sky. They don’t come from magma splashing the sea. Liquid rock is the origin and growth of The Island. You may see it, there,” she pointed at a pale gray lumps protruding up through the fog.
“I know that. I’ve just never seen The Island.”
When amber Second Moon climbed over the fog showing its sharp silver ring, it beamed a rich milky light in the sky and onto the sea. Past The Island, The Boiling loomed in the distance, volcanic water to be avoided.
L’Qisse patted Ashen-Dive’s long neck and scanned The Boiling. “Lady Taroe, I see no ice.”
“Press on. We will parallel the Ice Current until some shows itself. We should be able to ease across then. The cool pool is usually several thousand paces across. The Boiling itself is only three to six thousand paces.”
Their progress slowed to float-still. Taroe looked at L’Qisse and touched the top of her head. She climbed Wave Caller’s neck and spoke into his ear.
Ashen-Dive doubled her neck back, “Qissey, boe-rong ponk?” Her green eyes glistened from second moon’s light. She blinked.
“Yes, pop-click too and listen.” L’Qisse slipped from his saddle into the sea.
The surf-runners plunged their heads under the water. They clicked and pinged then thrummed and hummed below the surface. Taroe swam to L’Qisse. They held hands and touched their heads together underwater listening for sound rebound.
Finally they rose for air. The wave runners hooted from their blow holes above the surface. “BOE-rong. BOE-RONG.”
“The surface echo sounds like the water echo. There is Ice; there.” Taroe pointed. She kissed L’Qisse quickly and swam back to Wave Caller.
L’Qisse kicked his heels into Ashen-Dive’s flanks. “Let’s go, Addy.”
“I can see it. I smell ice-seal too. It’s huge.” Taroe continued to point. An enormous iceberg blue-white in Second Moon’s light lumbered in the current. The water warmed slowly at first and then so rapidly that the surf-runners were steady one second and then slowing the next.
They tried to increase their pace. But Ashen-dive screamed in pain from the heat and her stroke slowed even more. Taroe and Wave-Caller circled back but the heat streaked his face with pain. When he began to push Ashen-Dive, he called out in pain too and his pace slowed.
The hot water splashed on L’Qisse and burned him despite his wave suit. In an attempt to breathe cool air he threw his head back and sat erect only to see the ringed Third Moon and the Hammer Comet rise just above the clearing mist on the eastern horizon.
When his face began to burn, the water chilled. The iceberg smoked a ghostly ice fog, as thick as white blood.
“L’Qisse, how fares Ashen-dive?” said Taroe.
The surf-runner spoke, “Ah Dee cold.”
Taroe spoke again, “Her skin, L’Qisse.”
“She’s burned a bit. Her skin reddens but nothing I can see is raw.”
The surf-runner spoke, “Cold. Mak bet, Qissey.”
“Easy, Addy. I don’t know, My Lady. The surf-runner can only stand so much temperature change. They need their warmth and their cool. Hot cold like this is a strain for them.”
“Come away, ‘Caller. Give her some room; room to breathe and warm,” said Taroe.
Wave Caller ignored his mistress’s commands and swam so close to Ashen-Dive that L’Qisse’s foot touched Taroe’s in their stirrups.
He thrummed and clicked a courting ritual. “Stop that, fool. You can’t mount her. We’re over The Boilings. It could kill all four of us. Can’t you understand? She’s hurt. L’Qisse, make him stop.”
From her blow hole Ashen-Dive hooted a soft acceptance of Wave Caller’s advances, “Boe, nonk-nonk, Boe-Boe-Nonk.”
Wave Caller rocked from side to side and stretched his long neck stiff and straight. He hooted softly, “Boe-moe, Boemoe.”
“Don’t roll over. Nobody wants to see it.”
“Lady Taroe, the ritual will warm Addy.”
“Indeed it will. Only a fool would mate here and now. When the Hammer Comet passes the ring of Third Moon, the fire rocks will fall from the sky until dawn. We must keep going.”
Taroe, cupped her hands about her mouth, and yelled, “You stupid surf-runner, stop thinking with your phallus. Stop this foolishness.”
Both of the surf-runners un-commanded began to swim, “Ah Dee warm now. Way-ka Q,Q,”
Silhouetted in moon light the muscular Wave Caller churned ahead hauling Taroe who kicked and twisted in her saddle. Ashen-Dive followed and L’Qisse held on.
“Creator’s chin, what are you doing now? If you dare mount her, I’ll have the Shaman curse you.” Taroe’s glare mocked the ringed moons in the night sky.
But the female tucked in close behind the male. Ashen-Dive grabbed his tail in her teeth. Wave Caller agitated the water with his rear flippers and did a tail stand. Taroe tumbled from her saddle and slid along the surf-runner’s slick hide into the sea.
With a surprised look on her face Taroe treaded water. Surprised himself, L’Qisse leaned foreword on Ashen-Dives’ neck and Taroe swam several strokes towards his out stretched arm.
Wave Caller ended his display and splashed down. The swell of displaced water forced Taroe up. L’Qisse grabbed her hand and with a generous tug on her arm he seated her on his whale leather saddle.
She wrapped her arms about him and laid her head next to his ear. Her breasts felt soft on his back. She muttered, “What are they doing now?
L’Qisse pulled Taroe’s hands around his waist. “Hold on. We’ll go faster than you’ve ever been before.” He gripped the whale leather saddle with both hands and leaned into the flow.
Taroe gripped L’Qisse and lay along his back, “I always thought that surf-runners’ mating run was just fire-fable. Thank you, My Creator.”
“I’m not your creator.”
“I wasn’t talking to you.”
Wave Caller stroked a roiling foaming surge that smoothed into a formidable wake. Addy stiffened her long thick flippers and her bulk rose from the water hydroplaning.
The surf runners made their courtship cruise; faster and faster until the panting Wave Caller slowed and the gentle Ashen Dive released his tail. She and the two humans settled gently; lowering back into the water.
The male whipped his tail about and licked the teeth marks near its tip. He moaned.
“That’s disgusting,” said Taroe.
They floated a bit further and the icy chill left the water. It warmed but soon it returned to the temperature of the open sea; cold but not frigid.
Ashen-Dive’s neck drooped and Wave Caller held her up with his head, watchful to keep his horns away from the tender throat of the female.
“It’s obvious he didn’t intend to mate.” L’Qisse pointed, “The hammer Comet is yet low. But we must keep going. Is there a place to rest, Lady Taroe?”
“Not that I, the Shaman, or the Tale Talker knows.” Taroe glared at her mount. “Well, Stud Squid, are you through with your sex play?”
“He induced her to swim when she could have slowed and cooked to death,” said L’Qisse.
“We were in cold water. She thus complained to you. If we can’t go on, a rock of sky-fire may pelt us. Some are huge.”
“Why are we discussing anything? We need to move in haste.”
“I don’t know.” L’Qisse looked at the hammer Comet and Third Moon. They were well above the horizon and a meteor shower shadowed their track. Taroe dived into the sea and swam to Wave Caller.
The air rattled and hissed; a projectile approached. It made a strange thunderous slapping sound on impact and a geyser. Sea water hasted to fill the impact’s void. Within its rippled surf, waves and foam reflected the lights of moon, and rings.
“How can a meteor be stone cold?” The thought escaped L’Qisse’s mouth even as shooting stars fell streaking the sky from the east.
Then more projectiles hissed invisibly cutting the air again. Two struck the water as before but exploded producing steam and streams of water from the sea. Shrapnel whistled past.
A third shot burst a thousand paces high above. A lump of intense light fell slowly and lit like an artificial sun.
“The sky-fire isn’t touching the sea. Their smoke billows above. The close exploding ones...” L’Qisse let his voice trail to silence.
Taroe’s voice shook, “It is a weapon.”
“Then, My Lady, we need to disappear.”
“Dive, Addy,” said L’Qisse.
Addy sounded out her blow hole, “Dronk-Dronk,” and dived. Under the surface she pinged. Wave Caller and Taroe followed diving too. He pinged a reply.
The sound of projectiles hitting the water receded behind them. They heard an unfamiliar reciprocation blended in a steady whir. It too remained behind and shrank diminishing in the distance.
The two surf runners broke the surface spewing from their blow holes. The humans exhaled with vigor and panted but continued to hold their saddles. L’Qisse urged Ashen-Dive to his right and they swam towards the Hammer Comet.
“If you only follow the comet, it will pull us off course. Use three points east of the pole star’s track.” Taroe pointed. “If you draw a line between Pole Mark and Spirit’s Eye; one point left is the same course.”
“I know,” said L’Qisse.
“I know you know. Do it anyway,” said Taroe. “It’s a nice night but Who could live out here? And why were they shooting at us? And who is ‘They?’”
In the distance an artificial light beam searched the water. “I’ve never seen a ship. But surely that’s what carries those big torches. There are little red and green lights as well as the large clear search beams. I hear the sea screws that the shaman describes.” L’Qisse reached out and put his hand over Taroe’s and squeezed.
“Are you frightened?” she said.
“I released my life when we left our cavern. Now the world holds only four creatures; you, me, and the surf-runners.” L’Qisse turned to face Taroe and saw fire blistering from the shadow ships far behind. Explosions thundered where their projectiles hit. Their blaze illuminated fountains of water projected skyward, catching the moon’s light reflecting tiny ghost fire.
“I count four; four ships and they follow.” muttered Taroe. She gazed full into his eye, glancing at his lips. “Soon, if we live, our union will come to pass. We will be one flesh. I look to the future.”
Taroe kissed L’Qisse, lingering. He touched her wave suit searching for skin. They felt warmth. It seemed the breath of the sea.
The warm breath smelled of fish. Deep mellow tones said, “My Lords, the sky burns.” Wave Caller’s huge horned head loomed next to their embrace. They parted.
“My Creator, look.” Taroe pointed straight up. A literal phalanx of burning stars descended. It scattered. Soon star-fire’s rain would reach the sea.
“It’s burning in atmosphere but still too high,” said L’Qisse.
“What fool’s talk is that?”
“It’s a good ten thousand paces up,” said L’Qisse.
A meteor hit the sea. Deep tones of collision and tall plumes of water surrounded the four fleeing creatures; all frail, all softer than blazing space-rock that pounded out an unnatural surf.
“That one was a small as a cove gnat. We must escape. Go, go!” said Taroe.
Wave-Caller hooted from his blow hole as did Ashen-Dive. L’Qisse sensed echoes from the sky-fire. A picture of the impact pattern formed in his mind. Wave-Caller dodged swimming left-right and then a circle and then right again. Addy followed his lead, shadowing his moves, and they dodged the meteors. The surf-runners pinged and hooted, and swam and dodged.
“A big one will poison the air,” said L’Qisse.
“A big one could vaporize us,” said Taroe.
Taroe took a wheezing breath, “There are sea caves along Whale Killer’s Atoll. If we get there before first dawn we can hide until the sky-fire stops. But I can hear a ship following us.”
A large fire-stone hit. The sea boiled from its heat and roiled from its impact.
“Why did we come? What is this trip for?”
“Why? To seduce thee, Beloved, and to find The Sky Swimmer.” She smiled but tears filled her eyes.
Wave-Caller hooted through his blow hole. Ashen-Dive stopped her call midway.
“I hear the sea opening. Something rises from the depths,” L’Qisse turned in his saddle. A creaking metallic shadow blotted out the sky. A current pulled them backward.
Wave caller increased his pace but they succumbed to the current. They could only see ahead but the horizon contracted from its sides. It shrank to a thin vertical line then disappeared; and with it all light.
The surrounding darkness produced echoes of surf-runner horn scraping on metal. Wave-Caller hooted and pinged. They were totally enclosed.
Like beer bubbles trapped in a bottle they were enclosed round about. They floated in a pool of sea water only as deep as the length of a mature surf-runner; about as wide and a bit longer.
“L’Qisse, what do you hear?”
“My Lady, machines call to one another; gyroscopes, gears, and pumps,” he ignited a chemical hand-light and played its beam about. “This is a trap like the ones I use for crabs but huge.”
At the top of the chamber a railing ran completely down one side protecting a walkway. An orange rectangle fastened to a sealed portal showed an unrecognized script.
Miniscule lumps ran in parallel rows a pace apart along both walls. Circular hooded glass balls snuggled in all four upper corners of the chamber. There were rungs of steel on the chamber’s side that led up to the deck in front of the hatch.
Taroe said, “Extinguish your light. I hear something coming.” Even as L’Qisse turned off his hand light the chamber blazed with illumination as if four suns exploded from its four corners.
Human beings spilled onto the walkway high above and looked down at their catch. They spoke, their speech as unintelligible as their script. Jostling each other they abruptly went back through the hatchway where they came in. The light went out.
“Either they are most familiar with their catch and wish to hurry to port or they haven’t any idea what they’ve caught and are afraid or maybe just cautious,” Taroe sighed and hugged L’Qisse laying her head on his shoulder.
“Surely they recognized us as the same sort of creature as they,” said L’Qisse.
“Air breathing?” asked Taroe.
An amplified voice boomed rattling the catch pool. It seemed to be demanding something. A decision of compliance, defiance, or even indifference awaited understanding. This most logical insight seemed to dawn upon the owner of the voice for its tone changed into a more cordial note and then it quit speaking. L’Qisse ignited his chem.-light.
“Perhaps they must notify someone or perhaps...” began Taroe.
Wave Caller reared up. Erect on his mighty tail he struck over the railing at the hatchway with his horns and forehead. The first and second blows damaged and loosened the hatch and the third sent its remains thundering down an unseen passageway.
In a discordant threat Wave Caller bellowed through his mouth, nostrils, and blow hole. He found a pitch that resonated with his metal surroundings and the whole ship echoed and vibrated as from the horn of an ancient angry god. Steam roiled from his nose.
Taroe’s fear laced voice quivered in the semidarkness. “No, NO! Wave Caller, Stop that. NOW!”
Another fearful voice screeched from down the unseen passageway, “Frea, Frea toka, Frea nesci, Frea!”
Wave-Caller huffed up for a third bellow. Sparks dribbled out his mouth and down his chin.
L’Qisse huffed up himself, “Spit that slop in the pool, fool.” He kicked Wave Caller in the side and fell into the place he had just ordered the huge surf-runner to expectorate.
Wave Caller huff-sneezed a ball of fire. A brilliant flash in a corner of the chamber marked the impact. “If you keep that up there won’t be any air for Ashen-Dive to breathe,” yelled Taroe.
L’Qisse bobbed to the water’s surface. Wave-Caller plunged his head under. Taroe scrambled up the rings ladder to the platform and called down the open passage, “Parley, my new friends, parley.”
L’Qisse professed no desire to negotiate, “What? We’re caught like leavings from yesterday’s mid-meal in a sealed jar; and you want a conference?”
Taroe urged caution, “What choices do we have? Let Stud Flipper melt our way out? Run down the tunnel begging for a fight? Perhaps we can get somebody to listen to reason.”
An automaton resembling a tracked cave melon approached the chamber and attempted communication, “Parley, listen to reason. Yesterday’s sealed jar in a conference.” It hummed and clicked. It seemed in perfect order but made no sense, “Yesterday’s sealed jar is a stud flipper. Melt our way out.”
Taroe began to recite a child’s reading rhyme, “Aay is always first in line. “Bee” is always just behind. Sea you see is just like ‘C’...”
“Her intent boggles the mind,” muttered L’Qisse under his breath.
The melon shaped robot extruded a liquid metal stalk that grew a disc on the end. With its new configuration in place it seemed content to listen to Taroe.
With his head still under water Wave Caller coughed and produced a steamy cloud that boiled stink from the surface of the trap pool.
“What have you eaten, Stud Bubble?” L’Qisse gagged, Ashen Dive put her head into the water, and Taroe continued to recite her rhyme intermittently coughing.
“Why should I free you?” The tracked robot had no eyebrows to raise. The impression came from the tilt of its treads and the metallic mass that served it in lieu of a head. “We catch things to sell.”
“Those eyes see for someone not present.”
“Aren’t you a seer scholar for the ages, my Little Qisse?” Taroe laughed a jagged attempt without mirth.
The robot clicked and hummed, “Rich fee, booty for me. I, we, and they sell. Come softness bigger fee. Big fight no delight for me for you.”
“We are not slaves nor are we for sale,” Taroe’s emotion reddened her face.
“Maybe they would hire us to fish, hunt, or dive?” mused Taroe.
“How much to wash the deck of your vessel, to unload your cargo, or maybe dive for salvage or for deep-fishing. We can work by the day, by tenths of the day or by the task. What can you trade for our labor?” asked L’Qisse.
The robot hummed, “Not for sale? By day?” The thing bolted for the passageway and click-buzzed away.
“I spent a claw’s age teaching that box to speak and you chased it away in ten heartbeats.” Taroe’s pulse moved her throat and the gauzy wave suit between her breasts; heart’s emotion visible: eyes, face, even her thin waist throbbed, “How can we escape if we can’t even...”
Crestfallen, L’Qisse let his eyes drop.
Following his robot into the chamber a shipman, a human looked them over. His eye lingered on Taroe. His deep bass voice spoke, “Greetings; Master L’Qisse is it not?”
Taroe writhed under his lecherous gaze and stepped behind L’Qisse who said, “Yes; that is I.”
“We looked to capture the air grazers. They make good pool shepherds for fish nurseries. They won’t eat undersized trout and they will eat eagles and hawks. Are you using them as mounts?” The sailor’s puzzled expression did not improve when he studied Wave-Caller and Ashen-Dive.
They hooted through their blow holes and hissed through their teeth. The male butted the hatchway sealing one end of the trap pool shaking the vessel and causing a metallic ringing. The sailor said, “Those aren’t air grazers; four flippered sure enough but the horns and the noise, and the teeth. They’re twice the size of a... You ride those things?”
“Caller, no.” Taroe blushed, “L’Qisse, offer our apology.”
While L’Qisse complied Wave Caller put his head near Taroe’s feet and whimpered an apology of his own.
“Of course, of course, it responds to your voice? A male and a female? We can make a fortune. We can raise them and train them to patrol sea ranches,” the sailor practically drooled alternating his gaze from the surf runners to Taroe and back. “When can you start? I mean we. They are of mating age aren’t they?”
The Captain, which is what Royad Surtell preferred to be called, interrupted his history lesson to tell L’Qisse and Taroe, “Them’s the Lessers yonder; Yahlar, Tobit’s Pleasure and the Fragments stretches to the horizon.”
The captain resumed his indoctrination. “The Sackinamen rule the Great Trans-Hemispheric Continent and of course the Lesser Isles which are the bread basket, or if you will, fish basket of the realm. The Eyerm consider The Boilings and the Grass Sea where we picked the four of you up as part of their domain. That’s what the artillery fire was all about. Sackinamenian gunboats clearing it up so that we could fish in peace or at least until the meteor shower chased us away.”
They all looked out on a double noon through the tinted glass of the fishing vessel’s bridge; twin suns blazed down from a cloudless sky.
The Lessers, at first a smudge on the horizon, came slowly into focus growing higher and almost merging and then changing from the grays and blacks of a great distance to more familiar greens as they closed with their destination. The twin suns of late afternoon colored the islands with reds, yellows and violets reflected from flowering vegetation.
The bow of the Life Fisher opened and the wave-runners waddled onto a volcanic beach of black sand. They immediately scurried into the surf.
“Get ‘em back,” howled The Captain.
Taroe whistled and Wave Caller and Ashen-Dive splashed next to the fishing boat. “They can’t stand the heat from the beach,” she said.
“Qisse, what youse think caused them to act like that?”
“It’s like Taroe said...”
“Don’t tell me what your woman said. I heard her. Among The Sackinamen woman-speak don’t count for much. What do you think?” bellowed The Captain.
L’Qisse murmured, “It burned their flippers and bellies I’d say.” He glanced at Taroe. Her face showed red and it wasn’t the coming suns’ set that caused it. He said, “Taroe is queen, the Mother of the Sky Swimmers.”
“Well la-dee; she ain’t got no hammer just an anvil. Sackinamen-talk don’t have no such word as kaveen.”
Taroe found her tongue, “Queen.”
“Nor ‘queen’ neither.”
END of PART ONE
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