Tomorrow's dream

Jendus Ing Skkh, a young female of the Skkh group, trudged through the wet moor outside her fortress home. She held a flaming torch aloft with one arm. She was careful to keep it away from her body, as it had been quite crudely made and dripped hot pitch from time to time. Her chitin was fireproof but did not take well to being cleaned. The soap required to remove the pitch reacted with her chemical camouflage and caused the wrong colours to appear for days afterwards. It’s very embarrassing to bloom bright blue spots when you are trying to turn grey.

                She had been making good time until now, skittering on her five free limbs, but the density of the scrub in this area of the moor meant she had to roll back on to her hind legs only. She had been unable to leap because of the poor quality of the torch, worrying it might disintegrate in the cold rushing air. It was dark, and had been quite muggy recently, softening the ground, so there was no way to guarantee a safe landing anyway.

                So, on she walked, her powerful back legs whipping up swiftly and placing themselves carefully back into the soft brush. Her hard exoskeleton sensed the sharp abrasion from the plants and brambles, as well as their temperature, but she incurred no damage from the contact.

                Jendus was a member of a race of people who, in the particular language used by Jendus and her group members, called themselves Taeon. Taeon were civilisationally in a primitive stage of development, roughly equivalent to Earth’s western European early bronze age. They had very little astronomical understanding,  but when their race and it’s successive cultures grew, they would learn that the heavenly body that formed their home world was not a planet circling a bright star, as would initially be believed, but the remnants of a dead green star that had itself formed a fractal semi solid crust on it’s surface.

                The body of the star itself was shaped like an oval plate, with each flat surface pronouncedly convex, joining at the edges with a much more dramatic curve. The shape of the planetoid was caused by slow and undercurrent implosive forces still residing within the body of the star after it’s death, trying to both push and pull itself apart. The full death process would take billions of years, easily enough time for a great many diverse forms of life to develop. The planetoid was a lot hotter than most life supporting planets, as it jetted out spumes of dense nuclear fire intermittently from it’s poles. The massive planet had a moon; formed by a gas-giant that had survived the star’s death and settled in to a close orbit around it. The planet hung in the sky, reflecting the light from the dying sun’s jetting green fire for a few days after it had ended. The moon was revered by early life as a kind of deity.

                To the Taeon and many other forms of life on the sun-planet, the gas-giant was the brightest thing they would ever see in their lives. Its orbit was approximately the length of 4 years on earth, so the lives on the surface of the sun-planet would go for a long time in darkness, then an equal length of time bathed in bright, green light.

                During the long moonless period, many tribes journeyed deep into caverns near the edge of the oval plate that led straight through to the other side. This nomadic lifestyle supported the psyches of the weaker minded Taeon, maintaining their routine and their sanity. The journeys through the caves were viewed as a form of hibernation, and some tribes believed their emergence on the other side of the oval planetoid was the entrance to a world of dreams.

                Jendus’ group did not live close enough to the edge of the sun-planet to make this journey, and stayed in one place, relying on their innate skills with fire and their ability to sense radiation for survival. To preserve their sanity in the darkness they maintained a strong psychic connection to each other and their hive mind. The fire was vital. It was the only method they had of warding off the threat of the mighty airborne beasts known as the Teng.

                Like the Taeon, the Teng had grown up in the low and inconstant light of the sporadically jetting sun-fire. This fire had been present during the growth of almost all of the planet’s life forms, and as such, all of the planet’s life had developed a universally incomparable resistance to radiation. The Taeon were unable to see high levels of light, as the their planet’s green sun-fire had never provided anything other than green or blue illumination. They could see dark blacks and greys, but the only white light they had ever been exposed to was the distant starlight that came filtered through the green hued screen of their sky.

                However, due to their exposure to radiation throughout their evolutionary journey, their genes had selected for them the ability to perceive radio waves. It enabled them to view their world entirely differently from most sight bearing peoples.

                In addition to ordinary low light vision, they could clearly see alpha beams shooting though the atmosphere, and areas of land, sea and air that were saturated with or had been exposed to gamma radiation.               Similar to the way in which human civilisations had grown close to water sources and food sources, Taeon civilisations had stuck close to these radiation soaked areas as it enabled them not to have to rely on the sporadic and unreliable jets of solar energy that formed their planet’s daytimes.

                Of all the Taeon, the Skkh were among the strongest. They were resilient, and believed that the travelling Taeon tribes near the edge of the world were weak for their fear of the darkness and their fear of the Teng.

                The Teng beasts were able to see the full spectrum of colour, as they spent a large amount of their time high in the air, where the atmosphere was thinner. Their only real weakness lay in the fact that their sensitive eyes were blinded by all but the dimmest of lights. They could not bear the heavy saturation of  visible light that reflected from the gas-giant moon, so migrated to the dark side of the planet in conjunction with the lunar cycle.

                The Teng could not bear the light of the moon, but they could tolerate the semi-day of the sun-fire jets, and, ever present on the night side of the planet, were relentless in their attacks on Taeon settlements and farms. There was little the Taeon could do to physically combat the Teng, but were able to defend themselves, using the Dssh.

                Jendus was making her dark, wet, journey across the moor to do just that. At the moment, the planet’s moonless night was about a quarter of the way through, a period of about six months on earth, and Jendus’ fortress home of Malruundest had fortunately not yet suffered any Teng assaults.

                The reason for this was that the Skkh group, like the other inhabitants of Malruundest, participated in the lighting of the Dssh, a collection of small camouflaged huts surrounding Malruundest at varying distances.

                There were 46 huts in all, placed about the landscape with a pattern based on intuition and intense ritual. It formed the Taeon’s main ring of defence against the Teng.

                The huts were of varying shapes and sizes, having been built at different times throughout history, and were all meticulously maintained. The knowledge of their construction was passed down through family lines, with each Dssh builder’s descendants responsible for the lighting and maintenance of their huts after their death.

                Jendus was heading toward a hut that had been constructed by her Grandfather and his siblings. It was one of two huts that Jendus, as the eldest sibling of her clutch, had charge over, and it’s light had extinguished the night before.

                Jendus’ other Dssh was out of sight, on the other side of Malruundest, but  she knew that it was still flaring strong into the sky. The full extent of the light given off by the Dssh was not visible to the Taeon eye, so the creation of them was an incredible work of art and an impressive feat of engineering. Only the most gifted of the Taeon were chosen to maintain a Dssh, with a new one constructed only once every 50 or so earth years. The average lifespan of an insect-like Taeon was about 150 earth years, so the competition to be the most skilled Dssh painter was fierce and lifelong, leaving many a broken spirit in it’s wake.

                Jendus knew she did not have the skill necessary to build a Dssh, but hoped that one of the yet to be born children of her clutch would have the gift. She may never live to see it occur, but she was confident that the skill was in her blood.

                The Taeon had an insectile appearance, but were actually closer in biological makeup to Earth’s reptilian population, though with a dramatically different system of reproduction. They were cold blooded, with the warmth of the planet providing ample heat to warm their hard bodies. They were fireproof to extremely high temperatures, and occasionally bathed in fire to clean themselves.

                Their mastery of fire was what set them apart from the other semi-intelligent races on the planet, and their developing culture had learnt to revere, fear and effectively control flames to a very high degree.

                There were a few differences between the Taeon tribes, but they were largely cosmetic; with different colourings, camouflage patterning, and systems of speech. Jendus was large among the Skkh group, with six long, quadruple segmented limbs and a very slim central torso. Her abdomen was shrunken, as she had recently coupled, and her head was long and thin, with four long dextrous mandibles at the mouth. Her eyes were large, smooth, and shone like metal, their colouring echoing the chemical camouflage of the rest of her chitinous skin, writhing with the mist and night.

                Blending with the darkness, she crested the hill where the Dssh was situated, and set about opening the concealed entrance. The last time she had lit the fire inside the hut, about 3 months before, she had hidden the entrance and re-fixed some of the camouflage on the roof, making the hut harder to spot from the air. It was rare, but Dssh had been destroyed by Teng  in the past, and it was very sad event, mainly because the paintings on the interior walls were the only properly recorded history of a group’s genealogy.

                Using the back of her folded forearm like a razor, she sliced away the pieces of wood and foliage that she had woven in front of the door and carefully set them to the side. When she was finished, she would use the broken plant material to reinforce the hut’s roof camouflage, and find some fresh cover for the door. The door itself was a simple thick piece of aging timber that had been there for the whole of Jendus’ life. It was hinged directly into the stone on massive loops, and was heavily scorched with black burns on the interior side.

                The door opened into a small corridor-like antechamber about 2 metres in length, only slightly wider than the doorway, that had a conical ceiling with a chimney stack above it. The sides were formed from the two ends of the stone block walls, that curved around on themselves in a circle. There were some empty sconces, and she placed her flickering torch in one, making a mental note to complain to Talgisk about its poor quality when she returned.

                The small corridor’s other end was walled up with stone, with only a small opening at the top to crawl through. Jendus shed her heavy cloak and scrambled up and through the hole into the main chamber beyond. To her eyes, only a little of the green-blue element of the fire from the torch shone through to the main chamber, spraying across the ceiling above like a set of outstretched hands. This hut was in an area not heavily laced with radiation, so Jendus was unable to see.

                Truthfully, she didn’t really need to.

                Working  ritualistically, she unfolded her two forward arms to their full length, exposing the deadly sharp spines that had previously been tucked into the third segment of the limb. Using her middle arms, she stood with her back to the entrance, and reached down toward the floor. Not needing to feel around to locate them, she twisted her powerful hands around two solid stone handles set into the floor and pulled. Stone slid on stone, and a large heavy lid came up out of the floor into the darkness. With great strength, Jendus set it aside and deftly dipped the full length of her two forelimbs into the two deep chambers carved out of the stone floor.

                The chambers contained two powders, one a finely crushed stone, and one a finely crushed metallic pyrite. The work that went into preparing these powders was as laborious as the construction of the Dssh itself, with each stone container nearly a metre and a half in depth. The grinding was done by hand, using hardwood grinders that needed to be replaced very often. Jendus and her siblings had spent a large amount of their childhoods grinding metal into powder for their mother and father, who had taken care of the two Dssh before them.

                Jendus’ partner usually assisted her, but he was now linked to their clutch sac, guarding the minds of their yet to be born children. It would not be long before it hatched, at roughly the same time as the re-emergence of the moon, but until then all the family tasks were left to her.

                Retracting her limbs, she replaced the lid of the container and stepped up in the dark on to the fire platform.

                Jendus had made the journey to the Dssh a week before to place cut lengths of dark green wood here, and it was now dry enough to be set alight. The fire platform took up most of the inside of the circular chamber, leaving just a small lowered pathway between itself and the wall. The platform was a solid piece of a special kind of stone, that had to be set in to the ground before the Dssh was constructed, and have the walls built around it. It was a piece of carbon laden stone known simply as Kinsh, and was a stronger and more hard wearing type of  the coal that is used for fuel on earth.

                 The pile of long logs served simply as kindling to ignite the slab of Kinsh, which would burn by itself for about twelve weeks, before finally cooling too much in the lesser heat and extinguishing. The Dssh was designed like a large oven, to try a trap as much heat as possible to prolong the combustion time of the Kinsh, hence the strange entrance and offset chimney stack Jendus had had to pass on her way in to the chamber.

                The roof of the Dssh was where the skill and mastery came in to play. The roof was made of many multi faceted crystals linked together in a specific pattern, so, as Jendus rubbed her two powder encrusted forelimbs together to create a series of sparks in the dry air, the light they gave off was caught by the clear crystal many times over, refracted, reflected and amplified, to be projected into the sky above. Jendus was only able to actually see the blue, green and violet elements of the spectrum, but the spark gave out a full white light, as did the fire Jendus was lighting, and therein lay the key to the Dssh’ ability to defend against the Teng.

                As the light from the fire was stored and projected into the sky, it rattled through the carefully crafted structure of the crystals and exited separated into a series of pulses of virtually identical density and brightness. The effect on the sensitive eyes of the Teng, who were able to see the full spectrum, were devastating. If they were caught in a pulse they were instantly and permanently blinded.

                This did not happen often, but when it did the horrifying screams of the beasts could be heard for days. If such a severe event occurred, then not just the eyes, but the brain of the flying creature would be burnt. The Teng were sent insane to the point where they allowed themselves to dehydrate and starve to death. They were never assisted by any other Teng, and were allowed to unceremoniously screech their lives away in solitude.

                As there were never fewer than 30 Dssh lit at any one time, the Teng were able to see the lights from the distance and knew to avoid the approach. This method of deterrent was preferable for the Taeon because a battle with just one Teng beast could destroy an entire township in less than a day. It had happened before, and the stories still carried heavy meaning.

                The lighting of the Dssh had now become a ritual, and Malruundest was famed for it’s ability to deter the Teng. The planet’s long night was a gruelling time for those who chose to stay in the dark, but the bounty they were able to reap from the long day, once the gas-giant moon had re-emerged, more than made up for the toil.

                Jendus struck her forelimbs together again and again until there was virtually no trace of the powdered pyrite or stone left on her solid skin, then folded the deadly spines back into their protective covering in the third segment of the arm. The razor edged back of the fourth segment still protruded, and would take a day or two to again build up the resinous coating that nourished and blunted them. If she needed to call on them again, the resin would shed chemically, and the segments would be as sharp as the day she grew them.

                The sparks had fallen onto the wood and stayed lit due to the heat of the room. They chased the darkness away as they bored down into the wood’s flesh, and grew into small flames.

                Jendus would stay to ensure the fire lit the kinsh properly, watching motheringly as the green light that was revealed to her eye licked it’s way through the wood, climbing like a forest beast. She would stay to be sure that the crystal roof her grandfather had constructed was beaming the diffracted rays of light precisely, knowing that the green, blue and violet rays she could see would be following different paths to the invisible light she could not see.

                Such was the trust the Taeon placed in the Dssh and in their families, she never need question the unseen or the impossible to understand.

                From the first time a Dssh crystal was used to ward off a violent Teng, The effectiveness of it was never questioned, nor did anyone attempt to sabotage or undermine it’s usefulness. It was used so well, that each new Dssh constructed was an improvement on the last, making a larger, more effective spray of full light into the darkness using less fuel than any other.

                The skill to manipulate and sculpt the crystal came from a lifetime of diligent study and practice, and being a part of it’s use was an honour unrivalled in Taeon society. It was a mark of true dedication to your family’s safety, your tribe’s safety, your community’s safety and the very way of life of the Taeon.

                They had reduced their enemies to the status of animals in their quest for their own protection.

                Jendus reclined on her two limbs and considered this all, as she did every time she lit the Dssh, and gave thanks that her own children, being safely incubated back within the walls of Malruundest, could be allowed to live in peace as a result of her simple actions today.

                As she left the building, cloaked against the night air, suddenly cold by contrast, she looked up into the sky at the smooth interplay of blue green purple light, wondering at the state of the Teng as a result of their construction. Her superheated blood pumping through her brain allowed her to think and to comprehend her own existence, though she knew their was a lot about her self and her people that they were all yet to learn.

                The Teng had once been a people, but their lives had been drained for so long by the Taeon defence that Jendus did not know if they even thought as intelligent creatures anymore.

                What had the Taeon become, if they had to reduce their enemies to some lesser life, just to ensure peace? She hoped one day that the Teng could be saved, nurtured and taught. She could not see it happening soon, and did not know what it would take. She considered this too as she left the Dssh behind, trudging carefully again back through the wet soggy moor land, her eyes reflecting the light from the double edged weapon in the sky. The light that would keep the ones she loved safe was bringing darkness on the spirit of her entire people.

                The Dssh had been invented in a time of war in order to bring peace. There was now peace. Where should they go from here? And who should take them?

The End

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