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Challenges of the Deeps: Chapter Fifteen

       Last updated: Friday, November 4, 2016 20:10 EDT



    “Leader, an urgent communication for you.”

    Dajzail looked up from his meal, seeing Kanjstall the Salutant waiting. “That urgent?”

    “It is from Fleet Master Alztanza, Leader.”

    Home and Hive, that is urgent. With only seven Fleet Masters in the entire One Civilization (that the undercreatures mistakenly called an “empire”), communications from them were rare and always important; and Alztanza himself had been one of Dajzail’s friends since they were young. “I will take it now, then.”

    Kanjstall dipped his respect, came forward, and gave him the message crystal. Without being told, Kanjstall dipped again and left. That is why he is my Salutant. I can rely on him utterly.

    Placing the crystal in the reader, he was immediately faced by the Fleet Master.

    “Dajzail, the Wise and Compassionate,” the Fleet Master began, and Dajzail rippled his manipulators in annoyance. I am not some Hive vaingroom, to be foolishly flattered, especially by a friend. But he reminded himself that the last Leader, Alethkand, had been far less tolerant, and the Fleet Master had learned his communications protocol in those days, well before Dajzail had ascended. Fleet Master Alztanza continued, “the Strong and Just, I greet you. We have vital news for you.”

    As he listened, Dajzail forgot entirely about his meal, and felt his manipulators and entire body vibrating for an entirely different reason: fierce joy. Once the message was concluded, he spoke. “Kanjstall,” he said, the green-light ball of Arena communication instantly appearing, “send a message to the Fleet Master, the complete text to be: Report here at once. Then join me in the conferral chamber with the Master of Forces, Master of Homes, and Master of Trade as swiftly as may be.”

    Dajzail finished his meal, leaving the bones to be cleaned up later, but he barely noticed the sensation of fullness or savored the taste — a shame, he noted distantly, as Tensari was difficult to come by without inciting difficulty with the undercreatures and should not be treated as mere fuel for a day. But his mind was far too occupied to pay attention to anything else.

    The other four Molothos were waiting for him in the conferral chamber as he entered. Kanjstall, small but quick on his claws, dark carapace showing the touch of that green peculiar to those from the original homeworld; Malvchait, Master of Forces, massive, almost completely red with highlights of space-black, a warrior and strategist without equal; Elshuti, Master of Homes, mediant sex currently, a steel gray, hir eye damaged across nearly a quarter of its circle but the rest shining clear and sharp; and Master of Trade Peryntik, fresh from her latest molt, her regenerated forelimb still white-soft.

    The four dipped low, their lower carapaces touching the floor; he gestured impatiently with one claw and they rose and locked legs for comfort. “What matter is so urgent, Leader?” asked Malvchait.

    “The War of Purity moves forward,” Dajzail said simply.

    The others froze momentarily, and then a great hungry screech of fierce joy rose from all four. “We have word, then?”

    “Fleet Master Alztanza finally broke the mystery, yes. His analysts sifted all of the data gathered from the high colonies, and finally discovered that the Twinscabbard-class vessel Blessing of Fire had failed to report back after more than four full revolutions. This was of course only one of several lost in that general period, but the timing was good; it would have been out more than one and a quarter revolutions and due to turn back, thus well out into the Deeps on exploration. Fortunately, there were records for the gene-codes for the Masters and Salutants on Blessing of Fire, and once Alztanza had received them, he was able to match them with the body the undercreature DuQuesne taunted us with.”

    “We do not know their home-star’s exact location, then?”

    Dajzail’s laugh rippled around the room, a sound he knew would sound far from pleasant to most undercreatures. “Oh, but we do, Elshuti. We know — to within a very small degree — the time at which the conflict must have taken place. Thus, Alztanza was able to determine, within an equally small margin of error, how far Blessing of Fire could have traveled in that time, and what the general planned heading of Blessing of Fire was.

    “This leaves only one candidate star, a green-central single-unit star not drastically different from our own, which fits with the human-undercreatures’ known illuminance preferences.”

    “Are there Forces available on the nearest high colony?” asked Peryntik.

    “A Seventh-Force is stationed there.”

    Malvchait bobbed up than down, obviously pleased. “Three hundred forty-three warships? That should be more than sufficient for this. I will take control personally, if you so order, Leader.”

    “I do wish you, and Alztanza — since it was his discovery — to direct this operation militarily. I will, myself, take command of the Master warship of the operation. However, I do not agree with your initial assessment.”

    The leader of the Molothos’ military forces scissored his claws in apologetic confusion. “Truly? I know they have gained some warships –”

    “I have watched these undercreatures very carefully,” Dajzail said, and rapped his own fighting claws hard on the table to reinforce his emphasis. “They are dangerous animals. Fortune has favored them multiple times. The warships they were given are from the Survivor, and he is not one to take lightly. The Arena’s announcement showed that two of them managed, in some manner, to defeat the entire complement of Blessing of Fire, perhaps even to destroy the ship itself. That may be — almost certainly was — an event that involved great fortune as well as, or even in place of, great skill, but we cannot know that.

    “All we do know is that the human undercreatures have won every single challenge they have faced thus far, defeating the True People, the Blessed to Serve, the Vengeance, and the Warpers of Reality, the Shadeweavers themselves.” He vibrated in violent negation. “No, we shall take no chances. Assemble a full Force at Zeshezan-Katrill, Master of Forces, all seven Sevenths. No, two full Forces. At the same time, assemble a complete Fleet for quick deployment to lowspace. We will not permit them the luxury of safety anywhere. We will assault and take their Upper Sphere. We will secure their Sky Gates for our own use. We shall bring an entire Fleet thence.”

    The others rose higher in anticipation.

    “And then we will — regardless of cost or time — send that Fleet through their own Sky Gates, come to their very home system, and crush their worlds, and make these undercreatures either the slaves of the True People… or one final, cautionary tale in the history of those who have insulted us!”

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