Loyal to the Destroyers

– Loyal to the Destroyers –

By John C. Wright

*** *** ***

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.


— Richard Lovelace (1618–1658)

Table of Contents so far

    *** *** ***

    1. Warden

    Djalerat Surat Sangn was loyal to the Djain master-race.

    He knew this was the case, as evidenced by the fact that the Djain continued to sustain the life given him with gruel and water, and air, and work.

    Their immortal wisdom could not be deceived; if he had not been loyal, he would have been ordered to report to the Medical House for recycling.

    Yet, at times, he had thoughts and feelings, uncommunicated to anyone, unconfessed even to the Morale Control Sergeants of his phyla and segment, which Djalerat would have been certain were disloyal. Djalerat concluded that he must be loyal, and simply not be aware of it himself.  His doubts were a danger of his assignments; the task of investigation required skepticism; skepticism required doubt.

    It was in the middle of his sleep-shift when the doubts came again.  His collar woke him with a painful electric jolt.  Weary, he rose from the narrow metal planks of his bed, and stood at attention, barefoot on the cold stones of the narrow space between the bunks of the dormitory.

    The other members of the Surat group of the Sangn segment still lay asleep; Djalerat was called for some special duty.

    The voice which came over the annunciator of his collar spoke in an archaic and formal version of the High Command Language; wording reserved for the use of the Penultimates, those human beings privileged to see and hear commands from the humans who served the Djain themselves. When he heard the command, his limbs trembled, and his eyes grew wet with fear and shame.

    His limbs had been in service to the Djain for quite some time, and were becoming thin and feeble.  Yet his limbs were still loyal to the Djain; after he heard the horrifying command, he knelt and did obeisance to the Masters, and rose, and walked steadily out of the dormitory, and up through the corridors tunnels leading up to upper and outer decks.

    He carried nothing.  The few tools and instruments of his duties, his uniform, the other things he had kept at the foot of his bunk, were not his.  The quartermasters would dispose of them and reassign them to what tasks the Djain required, after Djalerat’s death.  Djalerat had not been instructed to dress: he went naked to his fate.

    He came eventually to the vast gloomy hall before the under- gate.  Above his head stretched the huge black iron plates of the bulkhead separating the corridors, which held air and warmth, from the Outside.

    Not all the corridors held atmospheres or pressure suitable for human beings; not all the servants of the Djain were human.  Outside, he knew were the other ships and planets of the Djain World-Armada, which had been sweeping through the abyss for hundreds of years, and which, within a generation or so, would come within striking distance of a world inhabited only by men, Earth, Sol III.

    Men were too short-lived to make war across the vast distances between the stars.  The Djain were not.

    The huge cylindrical door of the under-gate had been thrust open by gigantic pistons. Beyond lay the airlock.

    On a balcony beside the Gate, three engineers in green armor stood, watching the glistening dials and tubes of the Gate’s control display, the plumes and fans of their helmets showing their rank and honors.

    The lambrequin of one showed he was the master-engineer, on duty. The other two stood by merely to augment his prestige. Their tool-harnesses were hung with ceremonial ornaments made of crystal, glass, gold, or folded paper.

    Across the floor of the vast hall, a dim and flickering light trembled from those few lamps which were not rusted, stained, or broken. The communication filaments strung like ribbons across the pillars of the hall were darkened, frayed, or severed. The engineers had not been ordered to repair these things, and so they stood behind the master-engineer, arms held out in formalized postures showing awe and reverence for his sagacity.

    Hope came when he saw their armored figures. From their heraldry, he saw they were below him in rank, albeit not in his command-chain, but still of his phylum, science officers.

    He was permitted to address them without asking permission to speak. “Lurat Varumen Sangn!” he saluted the under-engineer to the left, deducing the name from the displays and emblems of the uniform. “Djalerat Surat has been ordered to report Outside. Answer: Has any armor or pressure-gear been issued for him?”

    The Under-engineer put the back of his gauntlet to the mouthpiece of his helmet; a salute indicating that he had no answer to give. The other under-engineer made a gesture to indicate a request to speak.

    Djalerat had no fan to indicate permission granted, so he used to older signal of pointing and spreading his fingers.

    The under-engineer on the right spoke in the objective case, a mode of speech allowed only to scientific officers on duty, which enabled one to omit many formalities and circumlocutions.

    Djalerat was privileged to use such speech himself; it nevertheless made him uncomfortable to hear and to speak, for it seemed absurdly familiar, presumptuous and rude. (And yet, at times, he wondered why all speaking was not in this brief, rude and efficient form of communication. Fearfully, he thrust such thoughts aside).

    The under-engineered said, “Djalerat Surat need not fear to go Outside. He has heard of stars? Great spheres of burning hydrogen, like the reactor cores, but vaster than whole worlds?  When the Warrior passed through here feared he would be burned.” He spoke next in the informal tongue: “I was not permitted to speak to one of His rank; I could not tell him his fears were absurd.”

    Djalerat was surprised and astonished to hear that any members of the warrior phyla had been born. Warriors were not programmed to come into being till the World-Armada had approached to within several light-hours of the target World, Earth.

    Generations had lived and died preparing for the coming of this promised race, the Warriors. Had one been brought forth prematurely? If so, it was outrageous that the under-engineer should so lightly speak of him.

    Djalerat held out his palm, and spoke in the Command language. “Show deference! Does he dare to hold an opinion touching the wisdom of a superior?!”

    The under-engineer began to climb down to his hands and knees to display the obeisance commanded, but the master-engineer held up a red flag, showing an emergency alert status.

    It was an old and favored trick of the engineer phylum; during alerts, engineers were not required to speak to any save their immediate superiors, and did not have to salute or show signs of reverence during the duration of the emergency. Djalerat realized why the engineers would dare to show him so little respect.

    They did not think he would live to tell the lictors or monitors of their lightheartedness. Djalerat stood at attention, shivering and miserable, on the metal panels of the deck.

    He waited till the last moment the orders he had received allowed, hoping all the while that the order would be rescinded or modified.

    Finally, a warning pain throbbed in his neck.

    His time was up. He thought: if I am loyal to the Djain, why do I so wish they would leave me alone?  Immediately he felt shame that his last moments before his return to Unity would be stained by evil thinking. The collar gave him the jolt of Second and Final Warning. Djalerat stepped forward into the airlock.

    He wondered why the under-engineers stood smirking in postures of amusement. The giant doors valved shut behind him. He stood in darkness. Then, there came a whine of engines from before him. Mechanical arms thrust wide the outer door.

    There was no explosion of decompression. Instead, cool moonlight spilled in across the jade flagstones of the floor.

    He smelled a sweet and wild smell which he never before had experienced. All about the archway of the Door, hung clusters of flowering plants and vines, swaying in the languid spring breeze.

    Djalerat had never smelled springtime before; he was intoxicated.

    *** *** ***

    2. Prisoner

    A white and large-eyed bird flew into the vast interior of the airlock, fluttering among the jeweled columns and glistening arrays. Djalerat staggered forward out of the chamber of the lock. The opening was overgrown with vines and ferns.

    He pushed his way through the greenery to the other side, releasing a shower of petals which fell all around him, gentler than snow. Before his eyes was as sight vaster by far than the largest assembly hall he ever had beheld; below the dome of a high mountain fortress, stretched miles of garden leading to an ocean. Above…

    Overcome, he lay down on the moss-covered stairs, and stared up at the wide twilight infinity overhead, and wondered at the sight of stars. He spread his arms wide, and twined his fingers into the lush grasses, as if to hold himself from falling off away from the surface.

    “The outer hull is larger than he knew.” Djalerat whispered out loud to himself. “It has been made fit for him to live upon…”

    Then he whispered, “What else has he not been told..?”

    So he lay for many moments, deep in thought and awe.

    Then, he heard the music in the distance, an echo of drums and trumpets. Walking along the fragrant grasses, pushing his way through flowering bushes, he came into the source of the music in a glade. Next to pool, seated on a mossy boulder, sat the Warrior, his armored form gleaming black as jet. The banners from his shoulderboards were pure, and showed no emblems yet.

    In one gauntlet he upheld his culverin. The weapon was taller than was he himself, and fixed with gleaming bayonet and axe-blade.

    From his war-belt hung other weapons, gleaming with strange energies, deadly and terrible to behold. In his other hand he held a pale rose, which he inspected by the star-light, eyes shadowed by the antlers of his helm. The helmet rose as Djalerat came forward and knelt.

    The face was unlike any Djalerat had ever seen; it seemed harsh and muscular, and there was a growth of golden hair below the nostrils, lips and chin along the cheeks.

    The Warrior spoke in a voice deeper than other voices he had heard, and Djalerat quaked to hear the words: “We have been invaded…” The Warrior rose up, and dropped the white rose lightly from his hand. “Come. Great need calls.”

    ***   ***   ***

    Dr. Anne Shamlin woke slowly, her mind fogged with nightmares, her hands and feet floating and throbbing.

    She had suffered nightmares that her teeth had all fallen out. The sickening lightness in her limbs, she recognized as anaesthetics; she had been drugged. When she ran her tongue along her gums she found her front teeth, top and bottom, were missing.

    Only her molars were still in place. Her eyes popped open. At first, she could not focus on the bulkhead of her capsule. She had been in the capsule for over a year, a space no larger than a coffin, and the screens of the main board should have been a few inches from her nose.

    Instead, she saw a tall black ceiling, intertwined with angular gold and dark blue patterns. She recognized them from her studies as pictoglyphs of the Destroyer language. Then she remembered: she and Gibson had been captured by the Destroyers beyond the orbit of the cometary halo.

    She put up her hand to try to touch the ceiling. Her sense of depth was incorrect. Her body still remembered the constrictions of the capsule. Then, her gaze focused on her fingers.

    The fingernails were gone, as if surgically removed, replace by soft tabs of some plastic material. Anne Shamlin uttered a cry of terror. She rose weakly to her feet.

    There were surgical scars on her wrists, across her scalp. Beneath the slick, one-piece garment they had wrapped her in, she could feel the thick numbness of other scars on her legs and down her spine. They had shaved her bald.

    She wondered how she was able to stand; had the Destroyer medicines somehow corrected for the muscle atrophy of her eleven months in weightless confinement?  If so, why?  Why not just kill her?

    The white one-piece garment seemed to have no seams, no fastenings. It was plain, except for small ornamental hoops or rings dangling from the shoulders, neckpiece, elbows, wrists and ankles. There was an opening at her buttocks.

    She was trapped in it. Tugging at it wildly produced no effect; it would not rip, nor could she squeeze out.

    Anne Shamlin, panting, slapped herself several times in the face. The pain made her heart race, and let her mind emerged from the fog of the drugs. She was in a large, dark cathedral.

    To one side was a mirror; to the other, majestic carven archways lead out to a garden path leading to a starlit beach. The scent of flowers was carried to her on a spring night breeze. Between the mirror and the archways was a long low table, too low to sit at, with cushions to kneel upon.  At the feet of the onyx columns lining the walls were flat boxes ornamented with gold bosses; from these flat boxes, faint yellow light spilled out across the vast expanse of floor.

    The Destroyers, she knew, were a race of giant, armored, wormlike creatures, who crawled on their bellies, and might want their light source near the floor. But she had thought their eyes operated in the ultraviolet and microwave lengths of the spectrum, and had no need for light.

    Perhaps this place was built for one of their several slave-races. She moved over toward the mirror, wondering what they had done to her, horrified to find out, and resolved to face that horror.

    She allowed herself to be distracted by the delightful odors the table radiated. The table, she saw, was set with a bowl of fruit decorated by flower-blossoms, and a ceramic platter of what looked like shrimp, arranged on the plate in a decorative spiral, resting on a bed of lettuce and rice.

    There were several objects arranged carefully around the place setting she did not recognize; folded constructions of cloth or fiber, ornamented tetrahedra. Napkins? Condiments? Religious objects?  Beside the plate to one side was a beaker of liquid, and two long silvery tridents.

    To the other, was a set of dentures. Both the dentures and the eating forks were connected to the table by thin silver wires. She was famished, but when she stepped forward toward the food, and aching throb began in her limbs, near where the scars were.

    Anne Shamlin did not permit the pain to stop her. Another step forward brought the pain to a blinding intensity; it burned like fire. At the next step she fell, almost fainting, but the strange suit inflated around her and cushioned her fall.

    She did not hit her head on the floor, and suit deflated again a moment later. When she fell, the pain lessened, and seemed only to burn along her hands and feet.

    She twisted and writhed in instinctive jerks, trying to yank her limbs away from the pain, like the instinctive flinch of someone touching a hot burner. The pain seemed to move her limbs for her, as some flailing motions increased the pain, other lessoned it. When her head cleared she found she had assumed a kneeling posture, with her head bowed to the ground, her hands clasped behind her back.

    One of the metal tetrahedra on the table opened like flower into an intricate shape, and emitted a soft chime, as if signalizing that she could begin to eat.  When she found she could move limbs without pain again, she dashed the plates from the table, and splattered the food across the floor. Her stomach rumbled with hunger.

    She backed away and stood, expecting more pain. None came.

    Perhaps whatever control circuits they had implanted in her body reacted by automatic program.

    When she stepped toward the table again, the pain throbbed again, despite that there was no longer any food on it. She stepped away and approached the mirror. In the ornamentation surrounding the mirror, she recognized a speaker-grill, and what she took to be controls.

    She flinched back from her image in the mirror, but only for a moment. Then she steadfastly regarded herself. With her teeth missing, she looked hideous, old.

    The scars on her wrists and neck were smooth and hard; she had been unconscious for a long time. Something pink and oblong moved in the depths of the mirror. It was not a mirror at all, she realized, but a glass partition. She cupped her hands around her eyes and pressed them up next to the glass, to block out the light.

    Inside, floating in a bath of thick liquid, was a human brain and spine.

    The major organs, heart, lungs, and some shred of the digestive tract were still intact, connected by a ghastly tangle of wiring and throbbing tubes. One of the clamps holding the living corpse held up a naked eyeball, still surrounded by a ring of severed muscle, and still connected by a length of nerve-fiber to the forward convolutions of the brain.

    The eye was looking at her. It was blue. Gibson’s eyes had been blue. He had also volunteered for this mission. The lungs began pumping wildly, in and out, in and out.

    It was a Morse code. K-I-L-L-  M-E-

    At that moment, from the archways behind her, came a trampling of armored footsteps.

    A manlike shape came into view, carrying a pole-ax. At first, he seemed to have the head of some horrid crab-thing.

    When he marched into the light, the weird silhouette resolved itself into a goggled mask and wide-brimmed helmet, made of some black ceramic and covered with spiral arabesques. The shoulderboards came out in bizarre angular juts; there were strange hooks and horns protruding from the faceplate, harness and leg-armor.

    Angular, streamlined weapons or instruments dangled from the gold belt. A sheath of silvery film draped from the back, like wings. In the middle of the chestplate was the lens of a camera.

    “You’re human.” she gasped, in English. “That’s impossible…” The response was in a snarling, glottal language, interspersed with hisses, buzzes and growls.

    Earth linguists had decoded this speech from intercepted scientific radio-broadcasts coming from the Destroyer World-Armada. “Dzah Umanh! Ghau Djanumanau!”

    Anne Shamlin understood the words: “Not human! Behold a Djanuman!”

    *** *** ***

    3. Prisonyard

    The gauntlet touched the faceplate. The ugly goggles folded into the helmet and the mask slid down with a click to a position on the chest.

    Beneath was a bearded young blond man, as healthy, as handsome, as normal as any Anne Shamlin could see anywhere on Earth. When he opened his mouth, she saw strands of black fibre which had been surgically implanted along the roof of his mouth and tongue to allow him to make the harsh noises of the inhuman language.

    Hror-vzask! Kwr-d’a grwk Asfanc Djainu!”  Which meant: “Behold this warrior, loyal to the Djain over-race!”   Djain was what the Destroyers called themselves.

    He pointed to the mirror. “Understand that this traitor did not employ his limbs or body to the proper service to the Djain destiny. Understand that it is ordained that what ever does not willingly serve the Djain over-race serves unwillingly; therefore the limbs and body were removed. Circuits to the pain centers of the brain impose continuous discipline while the subject continues to fail to reply with due deference to inquiries.”

    He pointed at the table. The aroma of food still hovered in the air, wonderful. “Understand the contrast between obedience and treason. Assume a humble position. Kneel, and praise the Djain masters!  Revere them for the life they continue to bestow upon you!  Know that ingratitude is met by withdrawal of that privilege.”

    She could withstand the horrid, gargling tongue no longer. Shouting, feet braced, she struck for his face with her fist, dropping her weight slightly as she punched.

    He turned his face to one side: she bruised her hand on the cheek-piece of his armor. She spun into a roundhouse kick. Her foot clattered against the sharp projections of his helmet.

    He caught her foot with his hand, flung her off-balance. She fell, rolled and lightly came to her feet. In one hand she held one of the instruments he had been wearing on his belt.

    When she tried to raise the weapon to point it at him, her hand went numb, and dropped to her side. Burning pains began to grow within her.

    He snarled in the barking tongue: “Realize that your nerve trunks have been severed, and replaced at their junctions by interrupter circuits. The nerve-signals pass or stop according to their obedience to Djain purposes. Know that your flesh is now loyal to the Djain, not to your selfish will.” She took the weapon in her other hand.

    She had not seen him manipulate any control; she was sure the circuits were programmed to react to certain automatic responses.

    She spoke in the snarling, throaty tongue of the Djain; her unmodified mouth could make the noises only haltingly. “You have amputated and skinned my friend. You have wounded my mouth and hands. Why have we been treated this way?  We came as ambassadors of peace.”  There was no word for peace the Djain language; what she said was ‘not-war’.  “Do you have no custom respecting the immunity of emissaries?”

    To her astonishment, he fell to one knee when she spoke. Then, he rose again, and touched his belt. Immediately, a burning pain seized her mouth and throat; the muscles went lax, as if numbed.

    “I answer: Because you carried no weapons, you were permitted to live. Your natural weapons were removed; none with fangs and claws may come to the palace-worlds of Djain. The other was a  member of the warrior class and has been demoted as a traitor. After he serves to answer questions, he shall be returned to Unity.

    “No emissaries are required: traitors are are forbidden to address the masters, and all others are required to tender absolute submission and surrender, and may only speak when called, or to request clarification of commands. This answer comes only because you spoke in the command-language; propriety compels all to respond to what is spoken in the command-language.”

    She realized that the language the Earth receivers picked up from the Destroyer Battle-worlds would (of course) have been the tongue of their high command. Apparently they had different dialects or forms for a subordinate speaking to an superior or for a superior issuing commands.

    He continued: “But under-slaves are not fit to speak that language. Know you wear the garment of a child; it will impose discipline that you may learn the primary obediences: to assume a grateful posture when the Djain masters bestow food, to aim no weapon at a superior, to speak not beyond your station. Show gratitude that the garment will bestow knowledge of propriety on you.”

    She had heard enough. She raised the weapon and fired into the mirror.

    Gibson’s brain disappeared in flame, which erupted into a fetid steam as the liquid flooded out through the shards of the blasted panel. She backed up from the pool of spreading filth; the Djanuman ignored the fluids, burnt flesh, and floating scraps of medical tubing sloshing over the metal of his boots and greaves, nor had he flinched when the panel next to him had exploded.

    His face was expressionless. The Djanuman touched his chest. He spoke now in a tongue she could not quite understand; the word-endings and grammar were different from what she had learned.

    But she could still grasp the basic meaning; “Humbly he begs for an adjudication. The weapon has become disloyal; he humbly petitions its negation.” This, then, was the submissive dialect.

    He was talking to a superior watching through the camera-lens on his chest.

    The weapon in her hand went dark and inert. Her left arm also became numb.

    “Masters, reveal, he begs, Your will,” the Djanuman was saying, “Is the under-slave to be removed from her flesh?  She has shown no loyalty with her life; is it Your will she be permitted to keep it?”

    Unable to speak, with both hands numb and dangling by her side, her eyes beginning to tear up, Anne Shamlin turned and ran. The Djanuman did not bother to no move to stop her as she fled out through the archway and into the gardens.

    Somehow, that terrified her even more.

    ***   ***   ***

    Outside, above the cypresses and grapevines of the garden, softly glowed a starlit sky, dark with shreds of wild clouds.

    Above, seven huge crescent moons floated in the night above their trails of colored light reflected in the sea, purple, or green, or gold. The crescent moons were swirled and striped with clouds, and displayed their seas and continents; between the horns of the moons, lights of alien cities shined.

    All about the moons, shining in dozens of lesser crescents, were the metallic globes of the World-Ships of the Destroyer Race. Each was hundred of miles in radius, each containing, potentially, more crewmen and soldiers than one for every man, woman, and child on or orbiting the Earth.

    Beyond and between the orbiting Moons and lesser orbs of the titanic World-Ships, glimmering like bright stars, were the thousands of dreadnoughts, battle-wagons, battle-cruisers, frigates and lesser craft of the Destroyer Armada. She had wandered, dazedly, through the trees, to find a small strip of sand at the shore of the midnight-colored sea.

    White curls of foam slid and hissed against the sands.In the distance, surrounded by whirlpools, rose a tall black island crag.

    Atop this angular mountain was a fortress of onyx and black gold, with launch ramps capped by ornamented domes as huge as domes of mosques, and embraced in rings of gun emplacements with muzzles higher than minarets.

    The battlements were draped with flowers and flying banners. In the sea beyond this island fortress rose another sheer black island rock, and beyond that, another, and another, each surrounded by its whirlpools and crowned with proud fortresses and towers. On the far horizon were the stark mountain ranges of another continent.

    The light of the sunrise gleaming along the chasms and peaks of that range showed the rank on rank and bastion on bastion of armored metal citadels and domes, space-aerodromes, watch- towers, barracks, ziggurats and obelisks of grim machinery, and the endless strength of skyward-pointing weaponry. The thing which rose was not a sun, but a gas giant planet, cloaked in clouds and rings majestically as Jupiter.

    Tremendous heat radiated from the colossal globe as it slowly rose, and Anne Shamlin saw prominences like arms of flame and colored nebulae reaching millions of miles out into space in each direction from the giant planet.

    From one blackened hemisphere of the central planet came a plume of white fire many billions of miles long, which cut across the sky like a rainbow of flame, and shined above its reflection in the black seas of the planet she was on. The horns of all the moons faced away from this tremendous, burning gas giant world.

    Like Jupiter, the giant was a failed star, emitting more radiation than it took in, hot with atomic reactions in its core. Unlike Jupiter, this world had been tamed by the genius of advanced inhuman science, and made to serve them. Anne Shamlin watched the light of the reaction prominence rise above the horizon.

    Not all the stars were washed out as the skies above her turned dark purple, but the flowers in the gardens behind her were opening.

    The reaction prominence, she knew, not only provided the energy to drive the Destroyer World-Armada through space, but the radio fluctuations of that vast wash of energy sent messages crawling at the speed of light between the stars, to the distant alien worlds and systems of the Destroyers. What she saw here before her was but he smallest part of the terrible strength of their unthinkably vast empire, maintained over aeons and light-years. Anne Shamlin’s grandfather and her father both had been members of the astronomical corporation watching the approach of the Destroyer system of Worlds.

    For hundreds of years, humanity had known it would make its slow, unstoppable approach toward Earth.

    In Anne’s father’s time, Earth radiotelescopes had detected and analysed the messages seething between the eight satellites of the dirigible giant.

    The first ships of the outlaying fleet were not predicted to reach striking range of Earth for many years, not till Anne’s children’s time.

    It was only the most extraordinary effort, thought, labor, and hardship which had allowed Shamlin and Gibson to reach the Destroyer Armada. Now the embassy had failed.

    Anne would have no children. She could see the might of the Destroyers all along the heavens above her, worlds of war, battle-moons, strength beyond all imagining, and somehow, impossibly, human beings living here among the slave-races of the Djain.

    She and Gibson had volunteered. Gibson had escaped the might of the Destroyers only by his death. And she, she was Gibson’s murderer.

    Tears trailed down her numbed cheeks. She had no control of her hands and could not wipe them away.

    Looking up, she saw the infinite power of the Destroyers, and realized that there was only one way to escape them; Gibson’s way. Ignoring the pains which suddenly flamed in her legs, Anne Shamlin plunged forward toward the black waves.

    The control circuits numbed her legs too late; she fell into the water.

    *** *** ***

    4. Interrogation

    The gas giant was setting when she swam ashore. Feeling and motion had returned to her; the rapid rotation of the planet carried the gas giant up to zenith and back to the horizon in a few hours.

    Like a sword of fire, the reaction prominence of the gas giant sank away between the silhouettes of distant mountain-fortresses. Anne Shamlin crawled up to a strand of silvery sand. To either side rose craggy basalt cliffs.

    Before her, a garden of trees and fragrant hedges rose upslope, shadowed by the cliffs to either side. Beyond and behind the cliffs, the huge dome of a black citadel arose, inscribed with golden arabesques, hung with banners, surrounded by decorated artillery barrels taller than towers and minarets. Anne Shamlin rested on the sand.

    The suit had buoyed her up while she had floated among the waves; now, it began to deflate around her. She breathed deeply of the flowery breeze. After a year in her capsule, the sensation was exquisite.

    She stood up, drawing a deep breath. Up the slope, was a pale man in a white cloak standing among the hedges, beneath a group of cherry trees. He stood, head thrown back, arms wide, a look of exultation on his face. White blossoms floated down all about him.

    Through the delicate branches above, the stars were growing bright. Among the stars there glittered the colored glowing lights of the million ships of the Destroyer Armada. At this distance, even these warships were handsome to behold, a cloud of begemmed fireflies.

    When she stood, the man turned and looked at her. They were about seventy yards away from each other in the failing light.

    At first, he smiled.

    They both saw that each other had been breathing the evening air, delighting in the garden’s beauty.

    Anne Shamlin felt obscurely embarrassed, but she smiled as well. Then the man seemed to remember himself. Fear and guilt smothered his smile, like a man caught shirking some duty.

    He raised both his hands in an odd salute, and bowed. She could not tell if he were a man or woman at first; his skin was pale and smooth, soft in its outline like a child’s.

    But when he turned, she saw he wore no garment under his loose cape. He had masculine genitals, but no pubic hair. He looked to be about thirty or forty years old, but he had never gone through puberty.

    She wondered how they had robbed this man of his manhood; she feared that it was probably cheaper to castrate than to chemically arrest puberty. She strode up the slope toward where he knelt.

    Anne Shamlin saw he wore an iron collar locked around his neck. At the throat of the collar gleamed a camera lens, between two speaker grills. He rose to his feet as she approached. He spoke first, in the submissive dialect.

    Inside his mouth were the grotesque black fibres which enabled him to pronounce Djain words. “Isn’t she rather tall to be a child?” He looked up and down her costume. “Her chest and bottom is swollen; does she need to report to Medical House?  The injury is strange, but does not seem serious. Medical House officers will not recycle her unless the injuries render her unfit for duty.”

    Had he never seen a woman before?  Anne Shamlin could not decide whether to be revolted or amused.

    In a way, he was like a man, and it was revolting that he should look at her breasts with no sexual interest at all; in a way, he was like a naive child, and his innocence was amusing.

    Perhaps she could exploit that innocence. She spoke in the command language. “Help me to go away.” There was no word for ‘escape’ in this tongue.

    He bowed when she spoke, but said, “He humbly fails to understand the order. Where does her duty require her to go?  If she is a child, where are her monitors and instructors?” She stared at him blankly for a moment.

    Then she said, “Do not question orders, but obey. Take me to where there is surgical equipment, and electrical systems for removing controllers…”

    He covered the lens on his collar with his hand, and whispered, “Unwise to issue disloyal orders. Perhaps someone will require the order to be confirmed. If so, either the receiver will be demoted for insubordination, or the issuer will be demoted for exceeding her authority.”

    He was using yet another mode of speech she had not heard before, neither condescending nor submissive, and the word-endings were strange to her.

    And he was calling her bluff, warning her that she did not know what she was doing.

    Innocent?  No.

    But alien. She wondered if ‘demoted’ were a euphemism for ‘killed’. Then she remembered that the blond warrior had used the word ‘demoted’ to refer to what had been done to Gibson.

    He took his hand away from the lens. “This one is Djalerat Surat group Sangn phyla, loyal to the Djain. A request to confirm rank and status is lawful coming from any, asked of any. Please confirm her rank and status. Please tell him who she is.”

    This is the first time she heard the word ‘please’ spoken. “My name is Anna Serena Shamlin. I am an emissary from the Fidelity Defense Association, a coalition of security corporations and insurance groups from Earth. We wish to open unwarlike negotiations with your people. I am sent to discover why this planetary group is approaching Earth, to find a peaceful way of satisfying your demands. When none of you would respond to our radio signals, except by issuing a command for absolute surrender, our investors thought it would wise to send a living ambassador. It has taken us many years, many thousands of kilograms of gold, to put me here. Now I treated like a prisoner.”

    “Perhaps she is being treated, not like a prisoner, but like a child,” said the man Djalerat. “And, if an opinion may be proffered…? Perhaps since she does not yet know even how to speak without danger to herself, that she should be garbed as a child is not entirely inappropriate. She knows little of the Way of Loyalty and Obedience. She may wish to contemplate putting her monitors and instruction supervisors on report.”

    “There are no monitors on Earth. We are a uncontrolled and ungoverned.” There was no for freedom in the language. Djalerat blinked.

    He said slowly, “This is the second expedition of the Djain to this area of the universe. It was the Djain master Az Azgn Rhahavrangoroth who seeded your planet with life-spores. Az Azgn Rhahavrangoroth waited patiently for the evolution of intelligent life. Shorter lived races such as ours, or the Kolanin, or the Qo’or, do not practice the art of creation, as they will live to see no return on their investment. Your Earth exists by the grace of the Djain masters and according to their design; they made all life to come to be on your sphere. You, no less than we, are property of the Djain master-race.”

    “No,” she said. “I refuse to be governed.”

    “Please understand: The human species would not exist had the Djain masters not engineered the creation of life. Please accept that what the masters create belongs to the masters.”

    “No,” she said, “I refuse. Better to die standing than to live kneeling. If my life is not mine, I will not have it.”

    Djalerat blinked in confusion. “The statement is contrary to the Way. It may be misinterpreted as disloyal. Please contemplate this instruction: The Djain masters created the conditions which created the human species. All humans therefore exist by the will of the masters. She is human; she has created the words she has spoken. Therefore those words exist by the will of the masters. But her words defy the masters. This is a manifest contradiction; the masters cannot will that those words defy them. Therefore the words must be false.”

    He smiled. “Does she understand?  If required, he will repeat the teaching more slowly.”

    Again, she did not know whether to be disgusted or amused. “Your masters can imprison me. To make a prisoner, all one needs is control of a body. Your masters cannot enslave me. To make me a slave, they need control of my mind, which they cannot have until I agree. I do not.”

    “But–but…” the man seemed shaken, he raised his hands, finger crooked in an odd gesture. “He cannot complete his duty if she is recalcitrant!”


    “He is sent to instruct her in the Way. Does she not hunger? She shall be fed only when she learns the proper form for thanking the Djain masters for food; otherwise they will not provide it. Before she is permitted to sleep, or perform her duties, she must learn the gratitude postures and saying appropriate to each, and the calls and responses. Happily, the formula for table-gratitude is one of the simplest to learn. He will demonstrate. Please observe…”

    When he got down in the dirt and began to grovel, she impatiently hauled him to his feet again.

    “Get up!  Don’t ever do that in front of me again! It’s disgusting!  Now; tell me where they keep the electrical supplies, medical equipment…”

    “No! No!” he shouted in horror. “She must not! Must not! Please learn to be obedient!  Otherwise the Warrior…”  Fear closed Djalerat’s mouth.

    “What?  The warrior will kill me?  Do you think that I’d have come here if the thought of dying worried me?  A single micrometeor puncture in the capsule, at the speed we were going, would have…”

    She looked into his trembling face. “No. You can’t be worried about me. You think I’m a freak, or a traitor. You’re worried about yourself. Let me guess. This is some sort of cushy assignment for you, teaching the Earthwoman to bow and scrape. If you lose this assignment, what happens to you?  Do they demote you?  Kill you?”

    “It is not of himself he thinks,” whispered Djalerat. “He is not selfish…”

    “Who, then?” He gently pulled his arms free from her grip. Djalerat turned and looked toward the beach.

    He began walking across the flowering grasses toward the sand. Anne Shamlin followed.

    *** *** ***

    5. Conspiracy

    He said, “The signal was lost when she immersed herself in the water. No thermal tracking grids could be found in repair. The engineers in charge of those grids was demoted, and sent to Medical House for corrective surgery. This one thought to reprogram a responder unit to the higher frequencies. He detected the signal, and came to find you. Pardon; and came to find ‘her’. No disrespect was meant.”

    “Do you mean your masters do not know where I am now?”

    He touched his collar. “The masters are omniscient.”  But the look on his face contradicted the words.

    Apparently, this was meant to be a private conversation. “Why did you come?  If you had access to the tracking equipment, you must be one of the jailers. You’re supposed to be watching to see I don’t get away. Unless you’re supposed to be the… I don’t know the words in this language. When someone is interrogated, they have one questioner who tries to frighten the victim, and one who tries to befriend them. We call it good warrior and bad warrior, but warrior is not the right word.  Do you have warriors who organize your own internal affairs?”

    “Lictors, overseers, deacons, monitors, tutelars, silent observers, inspectors, watch-wardens, phyla-wardens, consumption regulators, ration judges, morale control officers…”

    “That’s the word. You’re supposed to be the good officer, aren’t you?”

    “We have no such interrogation custom. Electric current is applied to the pain center of the brain till the answers satisfy the Questioning Supervisors. No. This one is not meant to question her. Medical House officers exhausted all questions from her while under narcosis. The superiors determined that you had nothing of interest to report to the Djain masters.”

    She stopped. “But I am an ambassador. We want to know why you are going to attack our world.”

    They had come to the seashore. Djalerat looked out across the dark waves. Two enormous gibbous moons and an even larger crescent moon had risen above the citadels and mountaintops in the distance, shining trails of light across the sea.

    The metallic crescents of the giant super-ships, the glint of armored asteroids and battle-satellites, and the glitter of the million lights of the lesser ships shined against the starry background. The iron towers which rose sheer from the depth of the sea swept the waves with search-lights.

    The sea-breeze played among the towers, stirred the ribbons dangling from the mussels of the tower’s cannons, fluttered the banners and flowers and decorations dangling from titanic weapon-emplacements.

    “Every child knows the reason,” said Djalerat. “We are taught it in our first lessons. To understand the reason, you must know the reasons behind the reasons, which is permitted only to those of the second rank of knowledge. Listen: The Djain race is perfect, and admits of no change. They have neither laws nor customs as apply to us, where one rule is the same for all. Instead, each individual member of the race knows the proper ceremonies and obligations running to each other member.

    “The Djain do not have male and female, as do the lower animals.” Djalerat continued, “Like us, they are without sex, but unlike us, produce parthenogenetically, at will. The parent produces a child when the obligations and duties of that child have been debated and approved by all other important members of the race.

    “The child is property under control of the parent, and, if the child shows any sign of disloyalty within the first 700 years of its existence, it is returned to Unity, and the parent produces another child to take that name, role, rank, and duties. Within the whole race, only a few parents are permitted to reproduce at a given time. Otherwise, the children might create innovation and alter the perfection of the Djain life-obligation structure.

    “Because the Djain are proud and jealous, they do not wish many of their kind to occupy the same terrain, for fear that their obligations may bring them to confusion or conflict. Since each child is a Djain, and each Djain is a king, a kingdom must be conquered before each birth.

    “They are a race of conquerors.”

    Anne Shamlin said, “But why attack us? There are plenty of unoccupied planets. We speculated that the Djain could not even exist in our atmosphere without mechanical aids.”

    “The Djain master Az Azgn Rhahavrangoroth created your biosphere to give rise to a form of life which then could be conquered. It is not to destroy your planet the masters come, but to rule it. It was thought that if your race was ungoverned for it initial period, your race would develop technical innovations useful to the Djain masters, yet avoid the necessity of altering Djain society.

    “The society or social changes of a slave-race, are, of course, of no concern.

    “Also, the child of Az Azgn Rhahavrangoroth must have some outlet for youthful exuberance and energy which might otherwise bring the young master into conflict with the Ancient Masters; the taming and ruling of a brave and advanced people, quelling their rebellions and breaking their spirit, is a problem which will fascinate the young master.”

    Shamlin had nothing to say.

    “Does she understand now why the Djain masters will heed no emissaries?  This whole Armada contains only the master Az Azgn Rhahavrangoroth and the members of his household and retinue. Az Azgn Rhahavrangoroth has received permission to reproduce, and now is obligated to do so.

    “In order to request a clarification or change of those instructions, the Armada would have to retrace its previous route through the void, visiting again all the far worlds and fleets where the ancient masters dwell, repudiating all the thousands of centuries of ceremony which enabled Az Azgn Rhahavrangoroth to breed, and receiving a judgement from many thousands of the masters.

    “Even then the outcome may not be certain.

    “The master would not contemplate altering his destiny; first, because he may be found delinquent in his duties; and, second, of all duties, the one the masters take most joy in, is the duty to reproduce.

    “Your world must be conquered, or else the Djain master cannot bear his promised child.”

    They watched the flight of a flock of nocturnal sea-birds across the moonlit clouds for a moment. There was a flickering in the waves, a set of energetic splashes.

    Anne Shamlin suspected the presence of dolphins, or some sea-mammal like them. The conquest of the Earth by the Djain seemed to Anne in that moment to have a certain nightmarish grandeur to it. The vast effort and vast time involved was beyond any human ability.

    But the moment passed. She thought: they don’t need to kill all our kids just to have one kid of theirs.

    “We can destroy this world,” said Anne Shamlin. “As long ago as five hundred years, we knew this Armada was coming. On average, our planet has produced two thousand atomic warheads per year for the last four hundred years. Within the last one hundred fifty years, we have produced seven hundred antimatter warheads per year; within the last thirty years, we began production of quasar-reaction warheads.

    “These weapons are distributed all along your entire orbit of approach. We estimate that over a third of them are still functioning.

    “Even if your superatmospheric defenses can eliminate 99% percent of the incoming warheads, the remainder will destroy the surfaces of all seven planets of this system, blow most of the atmosphere out into space, and sterilize the ground to a depth of a thousand feet.

    All your cities and farms will be annihilated, everyone on the surface of this planet will die. Your oceans will become radio-active. Not even microbes will remain.”

    “Yes,” he said. “Were it not the will of the masters, it would be regrettable…the sea is very beautiful…”  He got on his knees and thanked the Djain masters for the sea, bent over, and drank the water. Anne Shamlin reached down and cupped a palmful of water.

    She drank it. “It’s sweet. This is fresh water. I thought I had been hallucinating…”

    “Why should it not be sweet?  The masters made this ocean only very recently.”  He spoke without getting up.


    “It stores the heavy hydrogen used for fission.” Still kneeling, he pointed at the distant towers and island mountain fortresses.

    Below each tower, a whirlpool swirled. “The towers drink in the water for fuel. These are practice towers, meant to reflect honor upon the masters. The true weapons, and the true cities, are buried many hundreds of miles below bedrock and iron, at the core of the world, where your weapons cannot reach.

    “If you should develop a weapon powerful enough to strike the planet in two, then the planets will be driven down to hide in the depths of the central planet’s atmosphere.”  He pointed toward the last light of the setting gas giant. “The pressure and heat of that atmosphere will sufficiently confound your weapons.”

    She thought: dropping ten million atomic bombs into the atmosphere of a gas giant would be as futile as dropping warheads into the fires of a sun.

    If Djain engineering could somehow maneuver an entire planet down into such an atmosphere without it being broken by tidal forces, pressure, heat, then no destructive force generated by mankind could break them, or could reach the cities at the core of the planet…

    “How do you know the cities are down there?” she asked. “That could be another of the lies they teach you.”

    “It is not the cities, but the surface, which he doubted, till he came forth to see the beauty here. He was not told there was such great loveliness in all creation, such wonders in all the masters’ wide domains…”

    And Djalerat began to cry. “The beautiful things were brought forth only to be destroyed!  The Warrior! He said, he told…”

    Suddenly, Djalerat crawled forward and plunged into the sea.

    *** *** ***

    6. Prisonbreak

    Anne Shamlin dove in after him.

    The sea bottom dropped off very sharply here; a few steps forward, and they were both in over their heads. Her suit inflated around her and buoyed her up.

    Djalerat could not swim. He probably did not know what swimming was. Anne Shamlin caught him up in the proper hold, keeping his head above water.

    Djalerat dribbled and spat, coughing.

    “Sit still, you fool!  Stop thrashing!” she snapped. Such was his ingrained habit of obedience that, even when he thought he was drowning, an order given in the command speech was instantly obeyed.

    He lay still in her arms. Anne Shamlin began a slow, one-handed stroke back toward shore. “Please,” he whispered, “More slowly. The water hinders the signal. The monitors cannot hear us now.”

    Anne Shamlin stopped, treading water. She felt a sudden hope: “Say it.” she replied softly.

    “The warriors were once a numerous class, but they were contumacious, and fought, for that was their nature. The Djain masters determined that there should be no more warriors till needed. The efforts to propel your small capsule here were detected two decades before they came to fruition.

    “When the space-station array your people used to accelerate you was still in the initial phase of its construction, the Djain masters ordained that one member of the warrior race should be born, either to destroy the invaders, or, if they should submit, to guard them.”

    Anne Shamlin found the sand of the bottom with her feet. The shallow waves rippled around her neck and shoulders.

    She continued to support Djalerat. “That was the blond guard I met. There’s only one?”

    “He was given the special drug which changed his nature to the superhuman. This is why he had hair on his face, mighty and potent muscles, and other signs of the warrior race. When he spoke, his voice rang with greatness. There was a look in his eyes, a power in his glance…” She saw a strange expression on Djalerat’s face.

    Somehow, even though the poor eunuch had never seen a real man before, the sight had strongly affected him. She wondered if Gibson had been disembodied in that horrible fashion, not because he had resisted, but only because he was an uncastrated male; a member, they thought, of the warrior class.


    “At the next watch, the overseer will require your submission and your renunciation of the Three Forms of Pride. This one must instruct you in the proper ceremonies of surrender, non-recalcitrance, and humility.”

    “You know I will never surrender. I did not spend a year in a coffin, and ten years preparing before that, and cross half a light year of space, just to bow down to a group of grovelers who let some extraterrestrial monster bully and browbeat and house-break them. I’d bet your overseers could not even get a job as a day-clerk on Earth, if they can’t even keep their tracking systems in repair.”

    “But you must!” He did not apologize for speaking to her directly this time.

    “Earthmen don’t surrender. Know why?  They’d be afraid to face their women if they did. Women like me. We die sometimes, but we don’t give in. Forget it.”

    “But they will kill you!”

    “What’s that to you?”

    “The Warrior will no longer be needed if there is no prisoner. The Warrior will be demoted, recycled. They will kill him, and all his grace and strength will be as if it had never been!  He has a quality about him; his eyes are like your eyes. There is a look in them which even the overseers do not have. A light!  How dreadful if that light should perish. I think the world will be dark forever, if I saw no more eyes which held that look and that light. I cannot name it, but I know it is most wonderful and great.”

    “That look is called courage. It is natural to the people of Earth.”

    “How can this be?”

    “All the men of Earth are like your Warrior. You would have been like him had your masters not medically altered you when you were young. You would have been — but your masters took that from you.”

    “Like him? Me? Like him?”

    “They will destroy him too, as they have destroyed you. I saw how much you love the beauty of the trees and gardens, the skies and seas. That will be destroyed as well. My world has beauties as grand as these, warriors at least as handsome and as brave. They too will be destroyed. Do you know what we call the Djain in our language?  We call them ‘the Destroyers’.”

    Tears were in his eyes. “Please, for his sake, the Warrior…”

    “No. I will never submit. Instead, you will help me to remove the control circuits or disable them. You will help me make contact with those men among you who do not obey the Djain, and will help me hide from the overseers.”

    “Men among us..?”

    “Are there no men among you who steal rations, or equipment, of food, and give to other men who have taken other things?  Men who only give away things if they can get things in return?  A thing we call a black market.”

    “We are taught to say that there are not. What power of your world allows you to know our hidden sins?”

    “Then there are such men?”

    “In the warrens. The engineers employ them to do repairs they were not told how to do; the overseers buy delicacies from them. We call them the Deserters. How did you know?”

    “Two things. First, every society which has a controlled economy has a black market. That rule will be true for as long as men desire to live, and to own the things they have earned. And all through all time desire it. Second, your dialect. You people change speech-forms for every situation. When you started talking treason to me, you started saying ‘me’ and ‘you’. You would not have developed a special dialogue for selfish speech if the circumstances requiring it were not common.

    “So then,” she continued, “you can get me away from the overseers, I’ll bet. Your powerful, immortal masters probably don’t pay much attention to individual, short-lived humans like me. And your incompetent overseers will probably report me as drowned, or lost, or even say they still have me.”

    Djalerat found his feet in the sand, and stood upright. His sodden cape floated all about him, swaying, but he did not tilt or flinch when the waves crashed past him. “She thinks I will help her? Why?”

    “Two reasons. First, if I fall into the hands of your overseers again, I’ll tell them you are disloyal, and they’ll kill you. By trying to keep the warrior alive, aren’t you questioning orders?”

    Djalerat straightened proudly. “He is as little afraid of death as she. That reason does not stir him. Tell your second reason.”  This last comment was in the command language.

    Perhaps he had slipped into it unconsciously. “You will help me escape, and continue to help me elude any pursuit, because, as long as I am at large, the Warrior will be given the duty of hunting down the dangerous escaped prisoner.

    “As long as I am not caught, he lives.”

    ***   ***   ***

    Djalerat was silent for a long moment.

    The sea swirled and churned around him, and rippling waves broke against his shoulders. Softly, he laughed.

    A light was in his eyes. “There is a third reason why I will help you,” Djalerat Surat Sangn announced. “Know this reason: because it causes me a type of joy to do so. I feel as I felt when I stepped forward from the under-gate, not to death, but to splendour. I do not know what this feeling is called.”

    “The word in our language is this.” Anne Shamlin uttered in her native language: “Freedom!”

    Djalerat could not say the word at first. The surgery done to his mouth made pronunciation awkward. But he found, after a few tries, that he could say it nonetheless, and his mouth grew used to the word.

    They came up out of the water together.

    *** *** ***


    *** *** ***


    Watch this space next week for another tale of wonder, fancy, or phantasmagoria!