Coming of Age on Tuvulot, Episode 7: The Battle is On

[Editor’s Note: Read the whole story from the beginning!]

Three days later, after following a supposedly untraceable route away from the predictable safety of the established space lanes, the Chitinists’ two refurbished ships spiraled in for a landing. A short time later, they were ready to disembark at Intrialadaar, a heavily guarded military base on the outskirts of the Kroleni Imperium. Lucky for the Chitinists, their movement, still in its infancy, hadn’t yet caught the attention of every sector of the Imperium. In the confusion of war, they were able to pass themselves off as cut-rate cruise ship personnel, who were shepherding a flock of passengers on a tour of settled space.

No sooner was Lozlian’s ship at rest than he was hustled out of his acceleration chair and nudged into the brisk night air of an alien world. Exhausted, he still managed to cast an anxious look over his shoulder at Elizabeth, who had passed out and collapsed almost as soon as she disembarked. He stretched out a hand to her and called to one of the insectoids

“She needs a physiobot,” he said.

“Keep moving, or you’ll need one, too,” said the guard. “Don’t worry, your girlfriend will be well treated, you little pervert.”

Lozlian grimaced and turned away. The way his hormones were raging, the guard had no idea how close his crude remarks were to the truth. It he didn’t find a mate soon … but it was better not to think about any of that.

“Why are we here?” he asked.

“The Chyloradrin invasion,” said the guard. “Don’t you know anything? Sounds like the reptilians didn’t like the trick her father played on them. Now we’re at war. Another reason it’s time for a new order. We would have known how to deal with those stupid reptilians.”

With only a split second to spare, Lozlian turned his head away and the insectoid never saw his involuntary eyeroll. As if this ratty band of insurrectionists could manage to unclog a drain if they didn’t have robots to do it for them. Then again, he realized, he was getting distracted. The shaman-circle that he’d connected to telepathically had promised him that things were about to change. Yet as he clomped along on an unfamiliar planet, he wasn’t sure which way his luck was turning.

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Soon he and the rest of the Chitinists’ captives, minus Elizabeth, were corralled into a large meeting facility. Its high parabolic arches gave the hall an eerie, spiritual quality, despite being decked out with all manner of garish military insignia and flags. Lozlian was relieved to see that Elizabeth had been placed on a gurney and whisked off to what he hoped was the military camp’s dispensary. He and the others were ushered into an auditorium that Lozlian guessed was used to brief soldiers before launching a tactical mission. A tall Kroleni female walked onto the auditorium’s polished wooden stage. Pinned to the chest of her garish, orange uniform was a shiny mass of colorful metallic hexagons, arrayed in a tight geometric pattern.

“Good evening,” she said. “I am Lieutenant Colonel Velsilurnaa. Know that you are all now official reservists in Kroleni armed forces. As such, you will be prepared for battle — in a support capacity, of course. You will soon be issued species-appropriate weapons and drilled on their proper use. Just remember, your primary responsibility is to follow the orders of your commanding officers. Heroism will get you killed, if not by the enemy than by me, personally. Do we understand each other?”

The captives let out a nervous murmur.

“Ha! I thought at least some of you would get the joke,” said the insectoid. “But I see I got your attention. Now, the mission at hand is as follows.”

Lozlian’s heart raced as he listened to Colonel Velsilurnaa rattle off the latest news of the Chyloradrin attack on the Tuvulot Science Center where Erwan Duval, Elizabeth’s father, had been demonstrating the prototype of his new star drive. In hindsight, the Kroleni might have called less attention to Duval’s visit by holding it on their own capital rather than telegraph its importance by attempting to cloak it in the secrecy of a backwater planet. 

But now, the fight was on and yet, in Lozlian’s terms it was nothing compared to the violent hormonal changes that tormented his body. The more the Colonel spoke, the harder it was for him to grasp what she was saying. After a lot of confusing talk, a junior officer rushed up on stage, carrying a shiny quantum tablet and speaking in an unusually reedy voice, even for an insectoid.

“I am Ensign Ushlarianoog,” he said. “You will now report to Sick Bay for a routine physical before basic training. This way. Let’s move!”

Barely able to grasp what was happening, Lozlian had just enough awareness left to follow the others, zombie-like into the shiny, modern Sick Bay and wait on line to be seen. Mere seconds after he arrived, a white, spherical physiobot rolled up to him and pulled him out of the line.

“Regional Trade Liaison Lozlian,” said the physiobot. “Sensors indicate dangerously high hormone levels. You are in no shape to fight. Come with me to the transmat bay. Your family has been informed. You are going home.”

Through the fog of his increasingly impaired condition, Lozlian smiled, though the trip to the Intrialadaar transmat center seemed like an epic journey. At last, he was led to a circular platform inside a large, steely cylindrical contraption, studded with status lights, displays and input consoles. As an extra precaution, given his erratic state of mind, he was strapped in a narrow metallic chair.  A female Kroleni technician took her place beside the transmat pod’s command console.

“Don’t speak,” she said. “And by the Rings of Valcrila-Golduan, don’t move!”

Lozlian, nearly unconscious, found it easy to comply. Minutes later, his dematerialized cells had sped across two galaxies and most of a third and came to rest inside a similar pod at the center of the largest Yonopcry reservation on Tuvulot. A joyous cry reached his ears, and, through half-open eyes, he thought he saw his mother. Then, with the summer sun streaming behind her, the young female that he knew instinctively must be Aldruvet, his mate for life, came forward and put her gentle hands on his face.

“Mate of mine,” she whispered. “Awake. This time is ours.”

It was, in fact, the ritual phrase they’d both learned as children and the sound of it, accompanied by the soothing telepathic signals she transmitted, revived him. With renewed strength, he clawed out of the harness that the Kroleni technician had strapped him into and held her in his arms.

“This time is ours, mate of mine,” he said, “now and forever.”

Outside this quiet bubble of peace, familial warmth and love, the war between two competing powers raged on across three galaxies. The Kroleni, taken by surprise, suffered significant casualties in a fierce space battle dangerously close to the Lactriadnoor event horizon. That is, until an armada of Kroleni warships from the Jaldrokaar Sector barreled out of fold, not ten AU from the Chyloradrin position.

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From the edges of settled space to its inner core, each side sought tactical advantage, both in space and planet side, by damaging critical communications, refueling and manufacturing centers on worlds held by either party. In this sense, the Yonopcry homeworld was fortunate, in that it had not yet achieved the density of high-tech centers needed to make it a worthy target of the reptilian fleet.

And yet, for it to remain completely unscathed into the third day of this horrific war was something of a miracle. Or was it? Lozlian, wakening in the arms of Aldruvet, sensed a powerful telepathic presence hovering over his mind.

“The shamans are with us,” he whispered to his mate.

“I’ve been dreaming about them, Beloved,” said Aldruvet, “since before you arrived. And now it’s as if they were among us again.”

Was it possible, Lozlian wondered, for the shamans to protect their homeworld? Surely this soothing thought was simply an after effect of the Omah-Drunan. It hardly mattered. In his present state, it would be several days before he could rejoin the world outside his reservation. Yet he couldn’t help wondering, based on his experience at the Chitinists’ asteroid base, whether the combined mental energy of  Yonopcry villagers could bring the conflict to a swifter end.

There was no harm in trying. But how could he convince Aldruvet, let alone the others? Traditionally, only shamans had initiated a telepathic ring. He himself had no experience in joining with other minds. And yet, what if they started small?

With that in mind, Lozlian spoke to his immediate family. Once he had their support, he made a presentation to the Village Board and met with fierce resistance. Cries of “blasphemy” and “sacrilege” split the air. All the same, as the Board meeting adjourned, a handful of Yonopcry came up to him in private. In hushed whispers, they agreed to take part in his experiment and spread the word among their closest friends.

The next day, Lozlian led a group of forty eager minds in a series of improvised group exercises. Could they, for example, use the power of their minds to clear the long-neglected irrigation ditches in the reservation’s southern quadrant? The biggest obstacle was a lack of formal training and, in fact, Lozlian was now in the awkward position of advising his elders.

As it happened, they were eager and willing to learn, as an elderly male told him.

“We’ve been away from the old ways for too long,” he said. “We need this.”

And so it was that, within the first week, the irrigation ditches were cleared. After a few more ambitious projects across the surface of the planet, Lozlian felt confident enough to reach out into space. His plan was to interfere with the minds of enemy pilots. Though Lozlian’s clan agreed with him in principle, his mother added a note of caution.

“The Chyloradrin are aggressive and strong,” she said. “Their minds will push back — and could damage yours.”

That’s when Lozlian decided to divide his forces into two-member teams. That way, every Yonopcry who entered an enemy mind would have the support of an ally. However, Lozlian insisted on a limited assault

“Do only what’s necessary,” he told them, “to ground the Chyloradrin. Be satisfied with confusing them and leading them away from the center of the conflict. Let the Kroleni do the rest. We don’t know what effect actually destroying an enemy ship might have on us.”

The nods of agreement he received from every member of his elite fighting force buoyed his spirits. In the next phase of his project, he directed his team to identify enemy pilots and make them swerve off course. Yet as their confidence rose, a few of the Yonopcry hit on the idea of making one Chyloradrin pilot attack another —  and formed a strike force of their own.

Unable to disengage from the Chyloradrin pilots’ minds in time, however, the small Yonopcry strike force suffered the agonizing pain of a full weapons blast along with the enemy. One such folly was enough to dissuade anyone from trying it again, but by then, it no longer mattered, Lozlian’s mentallic “army”  had given the Kroleni time to regroup and formulate a counterstrategy. Gradually the insectoids wore the reptilians down.

Now, at the end of nearly a month of continuous conflict, the Chyloradrin turned tail and fled en masse. The Kroleni had won and Lozlian had succeeded in protecting his homeworld. So why, he wondered, did it feel like a hollow victory? Maybe it was because the only thing he cared about was his new life with Aldruvet.

To be continued….

A new episode appears every other Monday.


Mark Laporta is the author of Probability Shadow and Entropy Refraction, the first two novels in the science fiction series, Against the Glare of Darkness, which are available at a bookstore near you, on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. He is also the author of Orbitals: Journeys to Future Worlds, a collection of short science fiction, which is available as an ebook.