Arita swallowed. She sucked in arotea until her stomach ached. She needed the strength. When she surfaced, her fluids sank.
The arotea chamber was not full. A lifetime of eating should have filled it with the life source of the orhatea. She treaded the amber colored liquid to stay afloat. She was as comfortable in it as she was in space.
From this chamber, she could run to the space dock, steal a ship, and escape to Tojisoon. The first step to a successful escape was reconnaissance. She needed to know more of Karey’s plans, so she entered the mental landscape. No point in hiding. Karey knew where she was.
Anglee sent nonsense about using Ettercap to guard the docks.
Karey sent an urgent command. All ships in orbit are to stay in orbit until we have dealt with a traitor.
Anglee sent a command to the Tamo in her limited range. Capture Arita and bring her to the Amah’s chamber.
The bond between Tomo and Tamo is sacred. Arita sent in response. Tamo, obey your Tomo. The gray stone of the Comptroller has no authority over you.
Follow her! Karey flared at her Tomo guard. She went through the Arotea Ting so can you!
Screams of pain and warning flashed through the mental landscape.
These teeth will cut your shell!
These teeth are acid!
Use the mandible as a base, a Tomo named Tuki sent to the others.
I am running out of time, Arita sent to no one. I am trapped in an arotea chamber with no escape. She made her plea sound as mournful as possible.
Karey’s glee was palpable. Go! Quickly, before she finds a way out!
Behind the bright flashes from Karey and her guard, Tomo appeared on the mental landscape. Astral projections of their assumed nature. Arita’s mental projection was so solid and distinct against the space-black landscape, that it was impossible to determine between her physical form and mental projection. Karey’s mental projection was taller than her physical form, nearly as tall as the Amah. The blue fire of her eyes created dancing patterns as she spoke. Anglee’s projection was barely visible in the inky black.
Arita is Tira and Commander, how is she a threat? Papu sent to Karey. She was older than most and experienced at maintaining her projection while she completed tasks in the physical world. Her projection looked distracted.
She has defied my authority and tried to make herself Amah, Karey responded. The blue fire of her eyes became swords.
Arita? Amah? Do not be ridiculous. Fayda interjected. Fayda was Aktai and her mental projection was as polished and as inviting as her imagination could create.
Arita has attempted a coup. Capture her and return her to the Amah’s chamber. Do it! NOW!
The Amahtira’s pronouncement caused something unexpected. For the first time in a generation, all Tomo on Ora entered the mental landscape at once.
Unbonded Tamo are to detain any Tomo who question the Amah’s command. I promise a Tangpoi to all who obey me. Anglee sent.
Karey is Amahtira, Arita sent. Tautau are not to harm or detain any Tomo, even an Aktai. As Commander, I forbid this order.
Her use of Tautau, instead of unbonded, was a reminder to the free Tamo of their place in the orhatea social order.
You are not Commander, Karey’s sending was a flare. You betrayed me and I have removed you from the Council. And the Tira. Echoes reverberated across the mental landscape.
Did the Council vote her out? Papu’s mental projection was focused for a change.
No. But the Amah has declared it, Anglee’s faint projection glowed.
Conflict between Tira was unprecedented. Without an Amah, the Tira governed with consent. Astral figures on the mental landscape wavered between remaining and vanishing for the safety of dark places. Arita needed to use this moment to gain allies.
Amahtira, she sent. The Amahtira has no authority over another Tira without a vote.
You do not hold the stone! Karey sent. Your powers are forfeit!
Did the Tira vote the white from her? Papu sent.
We held no vote on this turn, Arita sent. Karey is Engaro cult, and she has taken the Tira by force. She ordered her Tomo guards to attack me. They captured Kora and Aemi. She sent the memory of a Tomo guard plunging a stun rod into Kora’s sex.
A wave of disgust flooded the mental landscape, but so did something else. A sense of victory grew like a fanned flame. Figures vanished from their original positions, then reappeared in rows that formed a half-moon shape around a cauldron of orange flame. Karey’s figure stepped into the cauldron. She shed her black orhatea shell and reappeared as a body of flesh and bone. As she transformed, the cauldron became a crown. The fire transfigured into a two-legged lizard with a long tail that wrapped around her raven hair.
I dissolve the Tira. Karey pronounced. The Engaro cult rules the Colony now, and I am its Queen.
With a sense of horror growing on the mental landscape, the Tomo projections surrounding Karey vanished.
What in the great song is that? Papu sent. Her mental projection shimmered. They have created some creature, some horrible creature. Rangji is dead! Her form collapsed like a balloon with the air sucked out of it.
Something splashed into the arotea behind Arita, but she turned too late to see who it was.
A tug on her leg pulled her under. A stun rod struck the small of her back. The fully charged rod was enough to render an orhatea unconscious, but Arita was full of arotea, and she had charged her muscles with aro for her flight.
She grabbed the hand on her leg and dragged Tuki toward her. When their faces touched, she sent the supernova equivalent of a mental blast at Tuki’s mind. Tuki fell limp in her grasp.
Another Tomo splashed into the vat. Her name was Matua. She was a generation younger than Arita.
“You can join me,” Arita said. “I will not harm you. There is still hope for the Colony.”
Matua offered Arita her stun rod while speaking gibberish. Arita realized her mental blast had stunned several Tomo on the mental landscape. She rested a hand on the back of Matua’s skull, and with the aid of aro and a trick of concentration, she fanned away the jumble of thoughts in Matua’s mind until she found the younger Tomo.
Matua’s eyes held Arita’s as she worked. Through the joining, Arita learned the source of her fright was Karey. When she came back to herself, she spoke. “I blocked the others with the mandible,” she said. “I will cover your escape from here.”
“You are not Engaro?”
“No. You trained me since I was a hatchling and even though I was generation under you, you treated me as an equal. I have seen what the Engaro are trying to create, and the way Karey treats those around her. She makes me fear for the future. I will fight with you.”
Arita handed the stun rod back to her new ally.
Matua looked at the corpse sinking to the bottom of the pit. “Tuki was Engaro, but Patti and Harra are on our side,” she said. “They are fighting with Gwyneth and Mari in the Amah’s chamber.”
Matua could not raise her gaze from Tuki’s sinking body.
“I didn’t know I could do that,” Arita said. “I wanted to stun her. She had me by the leg.”
Matua nodded. “It was a fine blast, the brightest I have ever experienced. When we get out of here, you must show me how you did it.”
“Arita! We are here!” Hadi shouted from an alcove one level above them. “We have cleared this channel to the docks, but we must go.”
Four more Tomo crawled from the upper channel. Two of them noticed Hadi in the lower channel’s alcove, then raced along the wall of the chamber toward him. The other two sprang for Arita and Matua.
Arita dove beneath the liquid while powering Hadi’s sword. She expelled air through vents near her rectum. Combined with the thrust of her legs, she propelled herself out of the arotea. She swung the glowing sword in an arc as she cleared the liquid. The blade severed the legs from a Tomo as it fell.
Matua was not as fortunate. The second Tomo pushed her under with the force of its dive. The two of them sank beneath the amber liquid like an anchor.
Arita flipped in the air and dove. Her time in the oceans of Tojisoon paid dividends. She caught the second Tomo easily. With a cleave of Hadi’s blade, she split the Tomo in half from her groin to her chest. She and Matua resurfaced next to the legless Tomo.
Her name was Kylee. She thrashed in the amber liquid like a dying fish. “My legs. My legs,” she repeated.
“Arotea and Aro can…” Arita started, but two more black figures fell next to her. They were stunned. She looked up to see Hadi glowing with his protective shield.
“We must go,” he repeated.
“Go with Hadi,” Arita said to Matua, who obeyed without question and climbed the wall to the opening.
“Arotea and Aro can regrow your legs,” Arita said to Kylee. “Concentrate on your aro. Send it to cover the pain, then close the wounds. You are in a vat of arotea. If you stay here for several turns and your legs will regrow.
“Yes. Aro, and arotea.” Kylee said. Her eyes went dark as she concentrated. She rested against the chamber’s wall. “Why didn’t you kill me?”
“Because I missed,” Arita said.
“You should kill me now,” Kylee said.
“I will not kill a Tomo that cannot harm me,” Arita said. “Orhatea do not kill each other. Not even when the Engaro cult has perverted them.”
“We must go!” Hadi yelled.
Arita climbed the wall.
“My sword,” Hadi said as he pulled her next to him.
She handed him the blade. He powered it to light the channel behind him. “This channel is used to re-supply arotea to ships in dock. We can use it to escape.”
“We cannot leave. We must stay and fight to save the Colony.”
“We cannot win,” Hadi shook his head. “The Engaro have created some creature that kills with a bite.”
“They are Ettercap,” Matua said. “Their victims are not dead, but in a coma.”
“What is an Ettercap?” Arita said. She grabbed Matua by the arm.
“They are unhatched drones cloned again with glands from the giant spiders on Tojisoon.”
“How do you know this?” Arita said. She turned Matua to face her.
“I guarded the Amahtira,” Matua said.
“I need to know everything you know. Tell me now.”
“We do not have time,” Hadi said. “We must gain a ship and escape.”
A cell of five Tamo approached through the channel. “The opening to the docks is closed,” one of them said. “Those creatures sealed it with a web. Garo’s cell was trapped in it, but his sacrifice allowed my cell to escape.”
“You are Takemori,” Arita said.
“Yes, Commander,” the Tamo said. “This is my cell. Oro, Turk, Huey, and Anvil. You can count on us, Commander. Whatever it takes, we will see you to safety.”
“If this channel is closed at the other end, then we they have already trapped us,” Hadi said. “The only other channel out this arotea vat leads back to the Amah’s chamber.”
“I need a stone from that chamber.” Arita said. “It has the information we need to save the Colony.”
“Going to the Amah’s chamber is a death trap,” Takemori said. “We should go back to the docks. We couldn’t get through that web, but I am betting an Ori’s sword will cut it to shreds.”
“This webbing, what is it?” Arita said to Matua.
“The Ettercap make it. That is all I know.” Matua said. “What is that stone?”
Arita stepped away from Matua. “You were in the alcove above me when I spoke to Kora and Aemi.”
“I did not attack them,” Matua said.
“I know. Will you help me get it?”
“I agree with Takemori. I would rather fight my way out through the docks, then return to the Amah’s chamber,” Hadi said. “The Amahtira has few limits. I would avoid her.”
The admission stunned Arita. At first her eyes flared in anger at Hadi’s desire to avoid a Tomo he had been bred and trained to protect. Then circumstance fell on her like a stone. This was not the Colony any longer. Karey had renamed them Engaro, and she was its queen.
She should flee with Hadi, fight for a ship, and retreat to Tojisoon. She and Matua had eggs, and they had six Tamo to supply seed. In time, other Tomo would join them. In two orbits they could have a hundred thousand drones. But then what? How would they return to Ora? What ally would they have on Tojisoon to supply ships and weapons? And while she hatched drones and schemed for allies, Karey would make more monstrosities.
“I am your Commander,” Arita said to Hadi. “But you never told me Karey was Engaro.”
“I could not,” Hadi fell to one knee and bowed his head. “They swore the guard to silence and threatened us with torture or harvesting if we spoke to any outside the cult.”
Arita swooned. More revelations. She was an Infiltrator trained to know every secret of her enemy, yet she knew nothing of the Colony she served.
“We will share thoughts later,” she said to Hadi. “Right now, I need your sword.”
“You have it,” Hadi said. The fire in his eyes dimmed. Shame fell from him like water.
“How many,” Arita’s voice cracked. “How many Tamo are loyal to the Engaro? To Karey?”
“Any Tamo bonded to an Engaro Tomo will serve her,” Hadi said. “A few Tautau follow willingly. They are the ones who have declined bonding.”
“Tamo have declined bonding? Why?”
Matua touched Hadi on his shoulder. “Because the Engaro offer themselves freely,” she said. “As a prize for the fight.”
“The winner of a Tangpoi is to be bonded,” Arita said.
“These are not the marriage fight,” Matua said. “They are sport.”
“Sport?” Arita flared. She entered the mental landscape as a giant of herself. She roared Karey’s name at the void.
Karey appeared as a tianshen with raven hair and a fiery lizard for a crown. “I have you trapped,” she said. “The Ettercap have sealed the docks, and I am well guarded on my throne. Return to me, and I will be merciful.”
At the edge of the landscape, Arita sensed Tomo watching, but disguising their location. Karey sensed them as well. She sent her fiery lizard to investigate. It coiled around the mental landscape, racing from one obscured projection to another. As it approached each one, they blinked away.
Karey’s Engaro projection watched her lizard incarnation with intense concentration. When a Tomo escaped her probing, she visibly flinched.
“I will return to the chamber,” Arita said. “You can have me as long as you stop the hunt for any refusing to be Engaro.”
“Why should I?” Karey said. “If they are not loyal to their queen, then they are harvest.”
Anglee’s faint figure appeared on the landscape. She whispered something to Karey.
“Very well,” Karey said. She dusted a hand across her fleshy, imaginary, breasts. “When you return to my chamber, I will stop the hunt. But you must come at once!” Her projection snapped away.
Arita returned to herself as well.
“I will go with you,” Matua said.
“What have you agreed to?” Hadi said.
“I will surrender, and she will stop hunting the others.”
“We will go together,” Hadi said.
“We are not a bonded pair. You should hide. Matua and I will go.”
“We do not hide from a fight,” Takemori said. “We stand against any that threaten the Colony and, as far as I am concerned, this cult is an invader.”
“Yours is a good cell, Takemori. You have been just with your discipline of the drones. I know you would die for the Colony, but on this turn you must hide.”
“With all due respect, Commander, there’s nowhere for us to hide. They sealed this channel at the other end. If we stay here, those spider-beasts will trap us in a web. I would rather fight with you in the Amah’s chamber.”
“Takemori is out of place, but he is right,” Hadi said. “Staying here will mean being bitten by these Ettercap. I would rather die with my sword alight.”
“I sense them,” Matua said.
“Who?” Arita said.
“The Ettercap. They are coming up the channel.”
Orhatea drones shared a common mental bond. A trait necessary for working in the vacuum of space, or the deep dark of Ora. The ability allowed one orhatea to sense the location of others nearby. Tomo controlled this latent sending out of habit. Arita reached out with this sense to find drones approaching through the channel. Except these drones lacked will, or even a sense of self. She tried to send them away. Her command fell into a pit. She could have screamed in space with a better result. Shaking, she blocked her sense of them.
Takemori’s cell pulled stun rods from their shells. Oro, Turk, and Huey jumped for the ceiling, then crawled down the length of the channel. Takemori and Anvil stood shoulder to shoulder, blocking the channel from any approach.
“No,” Arita said. “Don’t harm them. We will go to the Amah’s chamber together. If we are needed to fight on this turn, let us make it worth the effort.” Mimicking their bravado elicited an immediate response.
Hadi used hand gestures to order Takemori and his cell into the arotea chamber. The three on the ceiling exited the channel first. Oro crawled out and over the channel, Turk and Huey guarded the sides. Hadi went next.
He crawled to the opening of the channel that led up to the Amah’s chamber. He entered the channel for several beats before returning. A hand gesture indicated the way was clear.
Matua and Arita used the wall of the channel to exit along the wall of the chamber. Takemori and Anvil followed. The four crawled together for the opening of the upper channel, with Oro, Turk, and Huey following.
“She knows you betrayed her sister,” Kylee called from below them. “I sent her your sin.”
“You betrayed the Colony when you joined her,” Matua said.
“Then you are twice the betrayer I am,” Kylee said. “You enjoyed the benefits as much as any sister. I watched you claim your spoils.”
“Is this true?” Arita asked.
Matua nodded her head. “Yes,” she said. Her eyes were dark hollows. “But that does not mean…”
“We will join minds later,” Arita said.
Kylee laughed. “You will not have a mind when she is through with you,” she yelled from the arotea below them. “The sisters will eat your brains a turn at a time until you are nothing. We are Engaro!”
“I can kill her for you,” Hadi said. His glowing form a promise of justice.
“No,” Arita said. “She cannot hurt us, save your blade for the fight to come.”
Hadi nodded. With hand gestures, he signaled the orderly entry of the channel. The eight of them crawled for the Amah’s chamber together.
No Tomo threatened them when they exited the jaws of the Arotea Ting. Someone had killed the creature. Its tongue and mandibles no longer beat in the rhythm of eating.
Oro, Turk, and Huey jumped to the roof of the chamber. Hadi entered on his feet. Arita and Matua followed him. Anvil and Takemori guarded their escape.
Karey called from the Amah’s throne. “More traitors than I expected,” she said.
Arita scanned the chamber with her mental senses. Two Tomo hid in the shadows of the ceiling.
“Gwyneth and Mari are on the ceiling,” she said.
A white rope bound Harra, Patti, Kora, and Aemi to the chamber’s center table. It wrapped around their legs to become a delicate weave at their midsections that clung to the table like a spider’s web.
The web of the Ettercap, Matua sent to Arita.
On the far side of the chamber, Karey sat on the Amah’s throne. Anglee stood to her right in front of a steel table with a disfigured book on its surface. On Karey’s left was a tianshen. A tentacle ran from a black collar around his neck. It trailed upward into a brightly lit hole. Arita recognized him as the Dragon, the leader of the tianshen.
Orhatea and tianshen had a symbiotic relationship as old as their species. The orhatea Colony tended the generational ship Daisen for eight generations, saving the diminishing tianshen race from extinction.
On Tojisoon, when the raka were butchering trapped tianshen by the hundreds, orhatea Tamo and a half-million drones defeated the raka. Now Karey held their leader hostage. The last time orhatea started a fight with the tianshen, a Tamo cabal ruled the Colony, and the tianshen responded by creating bugbears to hunt orhatea.
This was all wrong. Tomo bound with physical restraints, sitting on the throne meant for the Colony’s mother, the Book of Engaro on full display, and the Dragon attached to an infernal device. None of that disturbed Arita more than what was in the alcoves on either side of the throne.
Purple, fleshy beasts crouched on bent legs. Their thin arms were twice the length of those stout legs. Arms and legs ended in black claws that curled like hooks. Two more hook like appendages jutted out like mandibles from above their mouths. The creature’s black eyes stared out with malignant disinterest.
“Those are the Ettercap,” Matua said.
Matua’s tone was as flat as Arita’s disgust. She reached out with the emphatic sense common to all orhatea. She found the familiar connection and the void she had experienced in the channel. The creatures in the alcove were sexless orhatea drones, but without a mind or a will, and deformed into a new malignancy.
“These are the first of our creations. Now that we are free of the old ways, we can create more like them,” Karey said. She sat taller on the throne. “Drone production will be down, of course. We must use orhatea eggs to start the process. But we can use ada to maintain Ora.”
Arita could not find her voice. She had no desire to send. She swallowed hard. “And the Dragon?”
“Ah, yes. The Dragon. None of this,” Karey spread her arms as if to indicate all of creation. “Would be possible without the aid of our dear friend.”
The Dragon struggled to raise his head. The motion was too much. He fell backward. The tentacle retracted, pulling the stumbling Dragon upright. His feet danced weakly beneath him, barely touching the floor. Spittle came from his mouth as the collar choked him upright.
“The Colony does not hang their friends,” Arita said.
“Well. The collar was necessary. He was not cooperative. All I asked for was a simple connection to his quantum network. He refused. The usual nonsense about the interface being incompatible to orhatea physiology. So, I made him the interface. Tianshen databases have expanded the Engaro cause. I mean, who knew we could do with my drones what we have done with other species.”
“Your drones?” Arita’s whispered. “What does that mean?”
“Take their souls.”
“There is no such thing.”
Karey brushed her breasts with a red cloth. “All creatures are just what their brain makes them. Most are mindless. We know that better than most species. Remember when we trained to make and control clones. How easy it was to make an avian fly in a certain direction, or an aquatic jump out of the water. They acted by themselves, sure, but you hardly had to be present to get them to do what you wanted. Then we learned to clone the ada. How different that was!” Karey squirmed in her excitement.
“When I entered an ada for the first time, it was just like a bird. Nothing there, send for it to stand or sit, and it would. But in the second or third month, there was some resistance,” she squeezed the arms of the throne. “That is when I realized it was more than an avian or an aquatic, and that we were more than a Colony of drones. That first time a thing I created with my egg resisted my control; I knew it had a soul.”
Karey studied the Dragon, tapping the arm of the throne with one finger. “Of course, my mentor said it was nothing. She called it the mind and said that all creatures have one. We just didn’t see it in avian or aquatic species because their brains are so small.” She shrugged her shoulders.
“As my control over the link improved, I hardly noticed this resistance in the big-brained creatures I cloned. But the moment that little ada resisted me, I knew it was more than a brain or a mind. I knew it had a soul, and I was its god.”
She stood from the throne to grab the Dragon by his chin. “That was the moment I became Engaro,” she said. Her eyes glowed like two hot bulbs. “When I realized I had created and controlled another soul. I knew I was more than a Fundamental Being of the Universe. So much more.”
She dropped the Dragon’s chin. His head bounced against the thick collar.
“Take them,” she said. The Ettercap snapped to attention.
“You promised to let the others go,” Arita said. She hurried to the captives and pulled at the web holding Kora. The web covered her hand before she could pull it away. The harder she pulled, the more it resisted her.
“Our Queen promised not to hunt the others,” Anglee said.
Let them go! Arita flared in the mental landscape.
“I will not,” Karey said, then she turned and disappeared behind the throne.
The Ettercap lumbered from their alcoves. Free of the spaces they vomited a white liquid which the spinnerets above their mouths turned into a thin white rope. They tossed these with amazing dexterity to stick to the walls of the chamber. Once attached to these ropes, the Ettercap were quick. They covered the distance between the throne and the table in a beat.
The beast on Arita’s left disappeared into the darkness of the ceiling. A beat later, Huey fell, covered in webbing. A long strand of it arrested his drop at the last instant. His still body bounced to a stop.
Arita pulled at the web holding her hand, but it did no good. She was stuck.
Hadi was at her side before Huey stopped bouncing from his fall. He glowed with his shield, and when he touched the web, it fell away like melting wax.
Gwyneth and Mari dropped from the ceiling with the falling Huey. Takemori and Anvil were ready for them. They dropped the last of Karey’s guard with a single strike of their stun rods.
“I am out,” Anvil said.
Takemori tossed his stun rod to the side, then took one from the Tomo on the floor. Anvil copied him. The two moved to guard Arita’s flank.
Hadi worked to free the bound Tomo. The white light of his protective shield melting the webbing away. Harra and Patti could stand on their own. They took Aemi and Kora under their arms, leading them to an alcove for cover.
They were too slow. The Ettercap dropped from the ceiling like snakes. The beasts were bulbous, fleshy, and fat, but when attached to their web, they were as agile as any orhatea. They bit Harra and Patti on their shoulders. The Tomo fainted, but the Ettercap did not let them fall. They grabbed the stunned Tomo with their extra-long arms, held them upright, then spun a web around their heads. A beat later, they hauled their victims up to the ceiling.
Kora and Aemi fell to all fours. Kora pushed Aemi toward one of the Tamo alcoves. Aemi didn’t understand the push at first. She beat at Kora’s hand to keep it away. Kora must have sent something to her, because a beat later the two were crouching in an alcove as if it were a shadow.
On the ceiling, Oro and Turk powered their protective shields. They crawled across the ceiling, dissolving web as they went. The Ettercap were just as quick. They spit fluid into their spinnerets and threw new threads to escape back to the floor.
One caught Arita in a web as it dropped. She crouched to avoid it, but the strand sprung open like a net at the last moment and covered her. She stuck to the floor, unable to move.
The other threw strand after strand at Hadi. His protective glow melted the filaments away, but the Ettercap’s assault was relentless. Hadi’s glow flashed with the strain, his sword and shield went dark, then web covered him as well.
Oro and Turk cut the strands holding the Ettercap a loft. The two fleshy creatures caught themselves with their long arms, collapsed in a pile, then rolled and advanced for Arita.
Matua jumped to guard her, but before she could plant her feet, the Ettercap had her covered in their sticky webbing. She fell to the floor, unable to move.
Anvil activated his Tamo shield. His shell pulsed with power as he stepped to guard them.
Arita struggled against the web. She pushed with all her might to stand, but the sticky strands held her.
“Got you,” Takemori laughed as he activated his shield. The Ettercap were between him and anvil. He grabbed the Ettercap by the back of their heads. The creatures jolted upright, fluid and web spit from their mouths in a bellowing foam. One of them struck Takemori with its black claw before it fell. It pierced the Tamo’s shield, cutting a long valley through the shell of his chest. The Ettercap collapsed to the floor.
Takemori’s shield blinked off. He grabbed his chest, and a beat later, a net of webbing fell on him from above. Four more Ettercap hung from the ceiling. Spitting and spinning web as fast they could make it. Anvil’s shield burned against the assault; his shield blinked against the strain, then drones poured into the chamber.
Gray, sexless drones made up the great mass of the Colony. When the Colony was healthy, they outnumbered sexed orhatea one-hundred thousand to one. On this turn that number was closer to five thousand to one, but it was enough. Drones flooded the chamber through every channel available. Hundreds came through the openings used to feed the Arotea Ting. Hundreds more through the eight empty passages where Arotea Ting should have been. Thousands more through the many channels that led to the hatching chambers. In six beats, the chamber was full of drones.
Orhatea society did not allow the sexless weapons. They carried the tools of their trade. Cooks used knives, mechanics used wrenches, the dock workers had crow bars, even the hatching drones came armed with the picks they used to open an egg.
The four Ettercap made a valiant effort, but they could not produce enough web to stop the flood of drones. They attempted to escape to the ceiling where they found gray orhatea who stabbed and beat the purple beasts back to the floor. On the floor, the drones beat, stabbed, punched, kicked, and hammered the Ettercap until they were pulp.
“Enough of that,” Fayda said. The drones stopped their slaughter and opened a path for Fayda. She stepped carefully through the mush that had been the Ettercap.
“We have a ship, if you are interested,” she said with her head cocked to one side, and a hand on her hip. “Or would you like to chase the Engaro some more.” She snapped her fingers.
Cody, a Tamo and Ori that followed her everywhere, glowed with his protective force to free Arita from her sticky net. Other Tamo freed Hadi, Takemori, Oro, and Huey. Huey looked dead, but Matua assured Arita he was merely unconscious. Drones carried him and the still bodies of Harra, Patti, Aemi, and Kora on their shoulders.
“You freed the docks?” Hadi asked Cody.
“No. The docks are Engaro territory. We have ships on the surface.”
“The Colony has lost Ora,” Fayda said. “We have walls of drones protecting Tamo and Tomo leading this bunch, but that will not last. The Ettercap appear like flies.”
Arita remembered why she had come to the chamber. She scanned the table to find the stone Aemi stole from the archives. She took it, and the white stone of the Commander.
“Let’s go,” she said.
“You came back here for the stones?” Fayda laughed.
Arita did not answer. Fayda looked over the table. “That black one is awfully pretty,” she said.
“Take it,” Arita said. “Take all of them. I thought it was going to just be me and Matua raising a new Colony on Tojisoon. It will be nice to have allies.”
Fayda didn’t hesitate. She took the black stone first, then the blue, gray, and amber.
Their flight to the surface was uneventful. As if Karey was letting them leave. Along the way, Arita learned how Fayda rescued her. When Karey ordered ships to stay in orbit, the Tamo and Tomo on those ships had demanded answers. Fayda supplied them by transmitting her vision from the mental landscape to Tomo on those ships.
Those orhatea ignored Karey’s orders and landed on the surface of the moon with a few hundred drones that had been working to recreate the IBN. Resistance was light on the surface, and as they descended into Ora, more sexed orhatea joined them. Before long they had a half-million drones pouring through the channels of Ora with a single purpose: Rescue Arita.
The ship was a simple drone transport, boxy and unadorned, but when it lifted off Ora, Arita felt freed, and for the first time on this turn she had hope for the Colony. Then all of space turned white.