A crash course in Tikkit culture.
We spend a week learning about the Tikkit. [Insert training montage] Marcus continues to be far more nervous than I’ve seen him to date, but he won’t say why.
The Tikkit are born in groups of seven – one prime and six echos. The queen manipulates genetic probability to make the prime the strongest. Echos share a telepathic link with their prime, but not each other. The prime is linked to all six echos. Range unknown, at least planetary. Tikkit are born as adults with all the knowledge they need for their roles.
The Queen produces all the eggs. She is born with a limited supply of eggs and will run out in old age. [Queen’s natural life span is 50-70 years.] A queen’s first consort is one of her mother’s echos. Her second consort is presumably her own son and controls the Hive. The third consort controls satellite parts of the hive.
The Tikkit value harmony. They compete in groups in synchronized dance. They share psi energy with the controllers and queens in enhanced dreams. The Queen has a scent-garden for pleasure. Speaker is intrigued by our computers and by the notion of a childhood. The Tikkit find our disharmony distasteful – we don’t know our places. We agree to a “talking stick” plan for one verbal speaker at a time – kibbitzing to go to subvocal channels. Marcus puts us all on his tac-net program, and we agree to a couple of code-phrases for “crap has hit the fan” and “something is poking my mindshield”.p.
Marcus flew us to an otherwise ordinary lake. We’re bringing N’yet, a Mict ordinance expert with a well-developed sense of smell. Marcus also packed along a couple of Mict teams, a second pilot, and a medic. They won’t come underground to extract us, but they’ll cover us if we need to retreat.
The lake is lined with elongated lily pads that pull underwater when we fly over – living bio filters, Speaker says, not dangerous to anything our size. It would make a bad first impression to damage them, so we land mid-lake. Soon thereafter a living submarine surfaces, carrying Coral Bloom 6 (dubbed “Handmaiden”.) She speaks Ancle telepathically to Marak, Marcus, and Virgil, who relay to the rest of us. She is not entirely pleased with the idea of a diplomatic meeting – Desert Bloom isn’t going to like it. She has a belt with some unrecognizable devices, but otherwise no clothing. She asks to scan us.
I’ve never seen another healer at work. Do I get that still when I’m concentrating? She’s slower at it. We all pass, but for Virgil. His intestinal flora is out of harmony. I agree, but it is part of treatment for a chronic condition and is not contagious. She lets me scan her in return. I think I’m getting the hang of this, but I need some time to understand it all. [Dictated subfile of aura impressions appended.]
The inside of the sub-fish is fleshy, warm, with an odd but not unpleasant smell. Marcus continues to be edgy. He’s staying oddly close to Counselor Bahiti and he’s made it clear she’s priority if things hit the fan. He wasn’t like this when we went into the woods with Counselor Talbot, so it isn’t that she’s a Counselor. She’s at large, not a head of house, so that’s not it. He’s married and she’s engaged to Virgil, so that’s not it either. She’s not pregnant, I’d have noticed. <sigh> Whatever it is, I trust he’s got a good reason for not telling us. Maybe something he doesn’t want to risk the Tikkit reading. I’ve got a lifetime’s experience living a secret, let’s see if I can help his behavior look more normal.
Handmaiden wants to know what we want. I’ve got the stick. We want to co-exist with the Tikkit. We want to avoid another attack. It is a large world. We use different parts of it. We do not need to be friends to be neighbors. I explain the short version of how we came here, that our world was visited by others who live in the stars, the universe is full of life.
Handmaiden is concerned abut Desert Bloom’s reaction. She united the Tikkit about two centuries ago. She controls the secret to longevity and gives it to sub-queens who are loyal to her vision and who give her eggs and psi energy. It is normal for younger queens to test and be rebellious, but when they get old they either conform or die of old age. Desert Bloom’s echos are all dead, as are those of the queens she is extending. We ask Handmaiden about when they died, a theory that Desert Bloom can only sustain a certain number of lives at a time. This will take time to figure out.
Desert Bloom is afraid of us because we are a challenge – we and our devices can overcome their challenges. She’s not wrong. Marak takes the stick and points out our interactions with the Fisher Kings – we could overwhelm them and do not. We have helped them with little expectation of benefit in return. Marak asks if they could clone eggs – they could, but it is not right.
Coral Bloom wants another path. She finds some of Desert Blooms ideas not moral.
After a few hours, we get to the first Tikkit town. It is a manufacturing center. They build with bricks made of fungus and something akin to bioplas. They also make something leather-like from fungus. The manufacturing domes would not hurt us, but they will note our passage. They mine metals and crystals for use in the devices – those mimic or enchance psi-powers – using biominers. The black sand does not bother them. They have some technology – conveyor belts for example. Some of the buildings have living wire, it conducts the psi energy. There is also an arena for synchronized dancing. They use geothermal power and living batteries. They use turbines to move air and water.
There are prairie bugs everywhere, cleaning trash and debris. There are Tikkit from the builder and farmer castes. A couple of them show us around. [Dictated subfile of aura impressions appended.]
Handmaiden tells us that the fire ants were modified by Desert Bloom from the ants in the desert. They are telepathic at touch range and can understand Tikkit. Handmaiden says they may share an ancestry with the Tikket.
Another couple of hours in the living submarine brings us to the capitol. The Queen has her own walled compound with three domes. Ozone has a separated lab. His prime has been made into a living computer, sessile in his own fungal nest. Like the pod we found, but much larger. I thank him for our invitation. He’s been cut off from the tree-network so Desert Bloom will not learn what he knows about us. The science area is full of odd devices – none of them make sense. It has a dome that would stun us if we were not with one of Ozone’s echoes. They aren’t willing to show us where the devices are made.
Finally we are off to meet Coral Bloom Prime. She will trade bodies with her first echo so she can interact with us. Before we can enter, her first and sixth echoes want to make sure we mean no ill.
Six asks us each a question, I go last, monitoring the others as they are asked for any sign of the chemical changes we think mean influence.
To Marek: “What are your intentions?” (Marak vouched for AUD1)
To Marcus: “Are you a threat?” “I am the best friend and the worst enemy you could have.”
To Virgil: Is your hive or your caste more important? (His hive.)
To me – this was hard – letting someone else into my mind is weird, letting someone deeper in my thoughts … – hard but necessary. “How much value do you place on life?” It was a puzzling question – as opposed to what? Is she asking about life vs. aging and dying? Is she asking whether I would kill or die for my hive? “Protecting sentient life is what I do.”
Not surprisingly, they don’t want us to come in armed. I release the battery/magazine and drop the pistol into a bag. Marak and Virgil do likewise. Marcus hedges a bit, then gives up his gear to N’yet. The Tikkit offer to let us bring our gear in, but Marcus would prefer to have N’yet cover us. (There are a couple of Tikkit standing by near another dome.)
Counselor Bahiti and Coral Bloom do most of the talking. Desert Bloom, we’re told, was once a great queen. She has lived past her time and is stuck in the ways of the past. She’s lost her vision and her ability to build the future. She asks more than Desert Bloom is willing to give. The Tikkit retreated to the caves to escape the harshness of the desert and found the fungus that let them bloom. She has become fearful. Coral Bloom wants more for my children than fear and the sterileness of what has become her world.
The counselor asks about danger to us in helping her. Yes, but there is danger if we do not. Perhaps an alliance between us and the other younger queens of this continent could deter her from bothering us. The biggest challenges are that she controls the secret of longevity and the tree data network. Without access to the trees, their living computers will die and are also not as efficient as the trees. That we may be able to help with, but we’d need to know much more about how the trees store and retrieve data.
Coral Bloom shows us a map of the western continent’s caves. They are mostly along and under the mountains. She has five major queens she is sustaining. There are 8 lesser queens who she influences. There are paths between the various chambers.
Seri is just beginning to ask about Desert Bloom’s military capacity when N’yet’s bioscannner flashes. Her pulse and blood pressure just spiked. She sends her data. A huge bug, nothing we’ve seen before has just appeared. And behind it what Coral Bloom’s consort says is a teleportation tunnel full of fire ants. Ah, heck.
Battle for the Hive
N’yet shoots the terror-tank with Marcus’ big gun. Lots of chitin blows off, but it seems unharmed. That’s not good at all. The consort can send the Queen and one other away. Marcus agrees to trust it to send Seri to safety. I’ll cover her — don’t need Marcus attention diverted. With what, I’m not sure. I’m down to harsh language and a couple of laser scalpels. I can look like enough of a threat to distract at least. I also have a bad, desperate idea – Marak has geeko gloves. There’s a psi-power cable leading out of this dome over the tank. I’m wiling to go and try to cut it so it falls on the critter, but it would take too long to trade gear with Marak. Off he climbs. That leaves me covering Seri and Virgil using Marak’s portable house to protect the eggs. Marcus is running for the pile of weapons by N’yet.
It does something. N’yet and two Tikkit fall. Marcus dives through the dome and grabs his rifle, sending three rounds into the beast. That does it. It falls. There are hundreds of dead formation bugs inside, killed before they could launch. Ozone is under attack two. A second tunnel and more ants there. AUD1 flies to the rescue, but he’s slow. I look at Virgil. If I’m going to suggest bad, desperate stuff to Marak, I ought to be willing to do it myself. The Consort can send us to Ozone. Virgil leaves first, I grab the bag of pistols and follow.
Having one’s atoms scattered and reassembled…hard on .. well, the whole body. I’ll check later to make sure everything is back where it started. Virgil’s already re-orieneted and grabbed a pistol. There’s a bunch of fire ants and a leader with a rod attacking the dome. The prairie bugs are defending, but not doing much to the bugs. Fortunately, they are vulnerable to electro-lasers. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of them. Nine, Virgil says enthusiastically.
The tactical display sits in the corner of my goggles. We shoot ants. They are stunned, but get up again. AUD1 stuns several and plows into one, but it damages him in return. He retreats to distract them as best he can. Virgil and I keep engaging, but they are getting up as fast as we can stun them, and they have numbers. Their claw attacks skitters off the bioplas along with a hot wind. Not good. I stun their leader and steal his wand – fortunately it’s light. OK, I can figure this out. Let’s see – a mental push – here – and…something. Force, heat, I’m not sure. From the wand, not me, and the ant in front of me falls, leaking ichor from multiple cracks in its chitin. It’s not dead, but not moving much. Powerful. But the pistol is more reliable. We keep shooting. Eventually the numbers catch up and an ant gets a solid bite on and through my armor. I fall back thru the wall. That’s bad, but fixable. But I’ve left Virgil alone. He gets bit too, not as badly, then falls back. I can fix it, but seconds in a fight feel like hours. Fortunately the wall is holding against the ants’ heat aura and the cavalry is arriving.
N’yet and Marcus keep them from damaging a second dome where there’s a data connection to the tree-network. Marcus at one point sends N’yet to us, engaging two ants alone. (I point out that he’d be furious if any of us took that kind of risk alone.) Marak runs along the data cables over the river, arriving in time to push an ant into the stun wall as I finish healing Virgil. N’yet makes short work of the surviving ants. We’ve got a couple of prisoners and it’s quiet.