Final checks before leaving quarantine are nearly done. No changes. A couple of weeks in close quarters did not helping anyone’s nerves. The only consensus we could come to was that we need to try to talk to Desert Bloom. If diplomacy fails, it could be bad.
We left Coral Bloom as soon as we could. Only a few minor injuries from the fight with the Fire Ants. None of the Tikkit were hurt. They’ll question the surviving Ants. Breeze, CB’s consort, seems nervous and ready to see us go. It took a while to get Coral Bloom and Siri back from their sanctuary; Breeze and his Echos had to recover their strength. Tikkit teleportation is powerful, but has its limits.
Coral Bloom 6 thinks the attack was Desert Bloom’s reaction to Coral Bloom no longer sending information to the fungal net about us and our settlements. The Desert Bloom does not have a representative in Coral Bloom’s nest, but the Tikkit are a telepathic race; keeping secrets is difficult. Desert Bloom has connections here, but she probably didn’t know specifically that we were here. There was no warning, but CB and her echoes knew that contacting us would be against DB’s desires. No warning was needed.
The Tikkit do not fight each other, normally. But when Desert Bloom first took power, she used teleportation to send Fire Ants to rebellious nests to take out rivals queens and controllers and replace them with her own. This attacks was directed at CB’s controller’s dome and at Ozone. Not sure if CB was an intended target, but would be an obvious third choice. In the more recent past, DB outwaited young queens who either comply or die of old age. CB is on a different continent, further from DB and the Fire Ants.
The tank was built to explore the surface world. It can be connected to a controller like Ozone to be directed, and has limited intelligence on its own. In effect, a non-volitional AI. It was breed in a lab, not by a Queen.
When Coral Bloom returned, and while Breeze was resting to send us directly to the surface, we asked her about how the Tikkit perceive us.
Coral Bloom’s nest became aware of us on Landing Day. We were very noisy and disturbed her Fisher King scouts. We had disturbed their project on the plains (Grassland), but it was not being monitored and did not have any controllers. Once the Tikkit became aware of us, the Community of Queens wanted more information. Coral Bloom was assigned to gather information. They collected DNA, blood samples, and trash. They found that we didn’t fit this world’s life forms. That caused a lot of consternation among the queens. They were also concerned about our alliance with the Fisher Kings, who they knew make good scouts.
DB created a virus to sicken our kind and to test our skills. They expected us to overcome it, but they wanted to see how we would do it. Ozone was chosen to lead the study of us. He broke protocol and contacted us (when we found the trash-bug nest). We were too intriguing to pass up. CB likes Ozone, but not DB. They had been working on cloning one of us to study, but Ozone urged CB to use the data to create Speaker. CB limited, and then stopped sharing data about us. DB attacked the last Fisher King nest in her area because of our presence. They didn’t talk to us because that’s not their way – they barely leave their hives.
With a bit of a wobble, Breeze sent us to the surface. The warp sensation is different from being teleported – more like an elevator ride, less gut twisting. Pegasus was there soon, and we were enroute home. No sign of anything amiss – no parasites, infections, or other surprises. But we’ll spend a while in quarantine anyway.
And so the discussion ensues. We can’t talk directly to the Desert Ants. They are probably short-range psis, like the Fire Ants, but we don’t have any full-telepaths other than Speaker. And we don’t know if they know Tikket, which AUD1 is working on. So that’s out.
We can try to send a message to Desert Bloom. We hash it out in Fisher King, audio only, to be sent with some low-tech message buoys, one to be dropped at the big lake near DB’s mountains, which is ringed with the Tikkit filter plants.
We are the Star People.
Desert Bloom attacked us with a sickness.
We want to avoid war.
We want to talk to Desert Bloom
Meet us here (physical map, 1st Landing Beach)
In two weeks (using their dating)
And if diplomacy fails? DB doesn’t show, or the diplomatic team is attacked, what then. We’ve got two recommendations to the Council, one for a precisely targeted strike around the newest data center – threaten it, but don’t damage it. The other is more drastic, and would require CB’s cooperation.
Mid-way through the arguments and without warning, refugees arrive – Ozone and two of his Echos appear in quarantine. (They can target using Speaker.) CB is moving to a hive that DB doesn’t know about, yet. Ozone was sent to us to keep him safe. CB found out from the Fire Ant Captain that their goal was to acquire Ozone (not knowing he’d become a fungal brain), take down the connection to the tree net (apparently a living modem created by a strong telepath merged into a fungal brain), and kill CB. Their plan was to evacuate using the Terror Tank if successful. DB had started her contingency plans once CB broke contact. CB is hoping to recruit her mother to her cause, her mother hasn’t had her life extended yet.
Dr. Willowbrook and I are starting an in-depth examination of Ozone. If he’s here, he’s our responsibility to keep healthy. This isn’t going to be easy – the Tikket have an open circulatory system – surgery would be tricky. The Echos care for Ozone; they even digest food for him. The Council doesn’t want to make his visit public yet – politics. I’ll see if we can introduce him to the other psis. It must be strange to be here, away from his hive. We can provide some company.
So we wait. In two weeks, we’ll be on a beach and we’ll see if we can reach at least neutrality with Desert Bloom. I miss the Gods. They never talked to me, but they talked to the Emperor and the priests. You could trust that things would turn out ok. You could ask for help after you’d done all you could. Sometimes, I hear, they helped. And that’s gone. For better or worse, we’ve been kicked out of the family house, have to make our own decisions, and live with the results.