Page 31 of 31

"It men-tal time, papa?" Amara asked for the fifth time that morning.

"It is time for us to go to Riaanond" Trannak clarified for her, smiling just a little "to see your friends at the village and in the forest... and while we are there you will have more training in mentalism, it is true. But not right now".

"It eating time for you, papa" Amara agreed, nodding "You a big Scarran, which mean you eat lots".

"Scarrans eat more often than Kalish people, Amara" he told her, rumbling very briefly when she looked up at him eagerly, knowing she would be told something interesting "but Kalish people also eat a lot. The difference being that Kalish people often eat in one big meal that lasts them several weeken, while Scarrans and many other kinds of people eat smaller meals several times a day".

Amara nodded and smiled, then hugged her father tight before rumbling to him and telling him "Love you lots, papa".

"Your papa loves you lots too, Amara" Trannak assured her "See the light on our table? This is there because your friend the big funny man had a good idea for making meal serving safer and easier. When the light on a table is lit, it means it is those people's turn to go and get their first servings".

"Ooo..." Amara cooed - and watched the galley carefully, clapping each time she saw a table lamp light up and the people at the table go for their food. She identified by smell the foods she knew and could recognise every time someone came close enough for her to do so, smiling and rumbling very softly when she felt her parents' approval and praise in her head for correctly guessing what kinds of food people had with them.

"Hey, little friend!" Harrigan called to Amara, grinning, when he came to the skulkers' table after the meal had finished "Time for you to head off to special school for a bit, yes?"

"I going to learn more men-tal stuff, uncle big funny man, you right" Amara replied "More stuff 'bout trees and plants and stuff that grow which people eat. Lots good stuff. See friends in village and see friends in forest, uncle big funny man".

"I think I'll come too" he added, laughing when Amara shrieked excitedly and clapped "I'll bring my son with me too, it'll do Harek good to see a planet with some life on it - Tal IV's got people here, sure, but it's not really much more than a moon".

"Harek friend come, mama an' papa!" Amara shrieked happily, turning to face her parents before clapping "Harek come, an' his papa big funny man come too! That extraextra amazing!"

"It's safe enough to bring Harek, Commander" Trannak assured Harrigan while Caseya kept Amara under control and distracted her with stories "as long as he knows that despite his change, he shouldn't just pick up new things and try to eat them - or shout out and point. There's wild animals on Riaanond, and not all of them like people of any kind".

"We can live off the land there, yes?" Harrigan asked "We don't have to bring rations or other stuff with us?"

"We'll bring some anyway, just in case" Trannak decided "Just in case of emergencies... and to teach the children what they are and why we have them, since they will be with us. Juroch will come too, so the children can watch him prepare a kill for eating if we go hunting".

Harrigan took a few momens to explain his plan to Talannah - a few momens longer than he expected, but most of that was with her asking questions about how safe her son would be on a non-urban world.

"Very well..." she told Harrigan "If Captain Trannak is taking a small group and you aren't going on your own, then Harek can go. He can eat most adult food now in any case, despite him only being a cycle or so old... I expect that's his change letting him do that".

"It'll be good for him to get off the ship an' run around in the open, love" Harrigan reminded his wife, smiling "Tire him out in the fields. Make him walk everywhere so he knows he can't just rely on machines for transportation".

"That..." she replied, nodding "is definitely a good idea. No son of mine will be lazy and unfit! He should walk, he should run, he should learn things to help others - he should also know he is being allowed off-ship as a reward, my John, not because he is entitled to it as well!"

Harrigan wrapped his arms around his wife until she relaxed against him and rumbled softly.

"I've been talkin' to your momma, mister..." Harrigan told his son, smiling "an' she said it's OK if you come out on a little field trip with your Dad an' a few of our friends. Gonna be a new place, Harek, you've not been there before".

"Where we go, Dad?" Harek asked, already excited "What's this new place like? Are there lots of people like on Tal IV?"

"Not really" Harrigan told him "It's not like here. Lots of trees and growing things. It's where your friend Amara goes to learn mental stuff".

"We go too?" Harek asked excitedly, looking up at his father.

"You an' me, son" Harrigan confirmed for him "Your momma's going to stay in charge here with Cap'n L. Cap'n T,your auntie Caseya, Amara... an' maybe a handful of other people. Not lots".

Harek promptly jumped off his chair and ran over to Amara and told her what he had just been told - Amara laughed and clapped before telling Harek just a few things about Riaanond, all of which only served to make Harek even more excited.

"What ship do you need?" Harrigan asked, more seriously "If you want the Switchblade we'd have to send almost all of Tactical command to crew it. Can you make do with something smaller?"

"We'll call ahead to the Riaanond station before I decide" Trannak said "If they need supplies, we'll take a bulk lander - if not, one or two Strykers will do".

"We had wondered if you would be coming here soon..." Deaken said when Trannak put the call through "We are short on a number of supplies, plus some parts for the systems in this station as well...if you have any of these things to spare, we would be grateful if you could bring them with you".

"Looks like we'll be taking a bulk lander, then" Harrigan decided, interrupting "Nice big cargo capacity that doesn't need half our people to crew it. Don't you worry, we'll see you sorted out with what you need - I'll bring a couple of techs with us too, I think. Harrigan out".

"Shellek, Rhodaa, you're up" Harrigan called as he entered the training room Tactical command usually used "We need a couple of techy people with good combat skills to come with us - you two are it, unless Rulok can't spare you".

"What kind of threat are we dealing with?" Rhodaa asked, not sure of what was going on.

"Doubt we'll need to shoot anything we won't need to eat, to be honest" Harrigan told them "Kingdom waystation on Riaanond needs supplies, parts, an' a bit of a refit - Amara's teacher for mentalism's there too, so we get all this done at once. Where we're going's extremely agricultural, very little modern technology - so Juroch's coming with us..." before turning to Rhodaa and adding "We'll be testing your tracking and survival skills too. Besides that, my son's coming with us and he likes you".

"Time for us to go to Riaanond, Amara" Caseya told her as she packed their luggage "You will need your special outdoor clothes and your boots, Amara - not your nice clothes you wear on this ship and on Tal IV".

"They in here, mama" Amara replied, pointing to the clothes cupboard "Your 'Mara know it. I seen you put them there when they all clean. Boots there too".

Caseya got Amara to fetch her own clothing, and quite a few other things she knew Amara could handle safely - Amara sang as she helped her mother pack, which made Caseya smile.

"You all happy when your 'Mara sing, mama" she said once everything was packed "I see it in your head, mama".

"I am happy when you sing" Caseya confirmed "because that shows you are happy, Amara. I like to see you happy. I think you are particularly happy because your friend Harek is coming with your uncle the big funny man as well".

"You right, mama" Amara replied, nodding "I happy 'cause Harek and big funny man come too".

Juroch smiled when Trannak told him he had been selected for the Riaanond expedition.

What should I take with me this time he asked himself There are some large and dangerous animals on Riaanond, if not so many as on Sholphaur, so I think I will take the large slugrifle - despite it being a little more difficult to use. Secondary weapons will be the kind of pulse pistol I am more used to. No second handgun this time. My swords too, of course. With the basic things he always carried in his field kit, plus the hunting tools Trannak told him to bring, he found he could fulfil his part in the expedition with a smaller pack than the heavy combat pack he was used to - so he found one in an armoury near his quarters and packed everything he needed after collecting his weapons.

Trannak commed Juroch and told him who was coming - so by the time Trannak reached the hammond side flight deck, everyone was waiting.

"Uncle whisper Scarran's here!" Harek called happily "Look, Dad - uncle whisper Scarran's here. He's coming too?"

"I am, Harek" Juroch replied in English, bending down closer to Harek's level "See, I have useful things with me in my pack and I have my weapons. I will be helping to teach you and Amara special things if I can".

"You have bigbig long gun" Harek said, fumbling over words as he wondered which he should use "I seen them before, Dad has one and uncle Ghost has one. That one isn't one of those two, it's a new one".

"It is a large long gun" Juroch confirmed "The word for that is rifle, Harek. This is a special big rifle only the very best use. It is very big and very loud".

Once Juroch mde sure Harek knew the correct word to use, Trannak said "Amara... now Harek has had his test, it is time for yours. You have the job of finding where bulk landers are - when you have found them, there will be one that is being loaded with big boxes for our friends in the forest. That one is the one we are going to take".

"Harek, watch her" Juroch told the young boy "See how Amara looks around, see where she goes. See how she signals back to us about what she has found. Ask your father or Captain Trannak or myself about any signals she makes that you can see".

Amara looked from side to side along the flight deck, getting her bearings, before she nodded with satisfaction and said "This way" and walked off. Juroch made Harek wait a while, telling him how far back the next in line should be on a patrol and why, and getting him to take that position with Harrigan.

"From both your own experience with Amara, Captain" Juroch said when Trannak asked him about that "and the Commander's own directives, it seems that introducing children to essential protocol and basic skills should be done in ways they consider fun. Amara considers a lot of things to be interesting and fun, this is easy with her... but Harek is much younger, so I paired him with his father for this task".

Juroch talked with both Trannak and Caseya about that for a few momens, after which Harek's left hand went up and he called "Amara see something! She see!" before pointing and describing a signal he saw Amara give along with what he thought it might mean.

"It means your friend Amara is asking an officer to come and see what she has found, yes" Juroch said, confirming Harek's guess "When her parents are here that signal is usuallly meant for them, but she also knows your papa is here and that he is in charge - so she would expect him to come and see, too".

Harek clapped when Harrigan took him forward to Amara's position, and shrieked happily when Harrigan told him the signal to use that would get everyone else coming as well.

"Close enough, Harek" Juroch told him "Not entirely the correct signal... but as your papa says, 'Practice makes perfect'. Either Amara's papa, your own, or others will teach you more signals as you get older. You will learn more and get better at what you know".

"There red people putting stuff in ship, Dad" Harek told his father "They in special metal stuff called ...pow-ad arr-mer. That it".

Harrigan lifted his son up for a hug, praising his efforts but also getting him to repeat the words he mangled until he knew how to pronounce them properly.

"Special speaking test for you, Harek friend" Amara told him, nodding "They are lots of fun. Learning new stuff is always lots of fun".

"It hard" Harek replied "Signal stuff hard and new words hard. It good to learn new stuff, 'Mara, 'cause Dad tell me that be-fore and I see it when I learn new stuff too".

"When I learn new stuff I help you" Amara promised "You learn new stuff from big people and you learn new stuff from your friend Amara".

Harek smiled and rumbled a little with relief.

It took almost forty momens for the bulk lander to be fully loaded, most of which the two children spent playing and Juroch spent doing Kalish art exercises. Amara pointed when she saw the Bloodstars getting out of their powered armour and powering it down, after which Harrigan strode over and talked with them briefly before calling everyone else.

"Right, let's get started" Harrigan said, once everyone was inside the bulk lander "Caseya, you'll be the main pilot for this run... I'll be copilot, Cap'n T can sit at the DSO's desk. Kids... you can stay on the bridge with us as long as you stay quiet and don't touch anything unless we tell you to! The rest of you... lay out your sleeping bags up here or find a spot down on main cargo deck".

"I sit on mama under harness" Amara told Harek "You do that with your papa. Papa put you in small person harness and then big person harness go over you and him like it does with me and mama".

"What do I do first, Amara?" Harrigan asked Amara.

"Put guns in special safe box" she replied immediately "Papa say he does that when I there. You do it now, uncle big funny man?"

"Yep" Harrigan replied, making Amara giggle at his odd language - she and Harek watched the adults put their larger guns away, after which Harek giggled when Juroch lowered him into his father's oversized child harness.

"I in mine too, Harek!" Amara called happily "It mean we go flying soon!"

"Bridge, Harrigan" Harrigan called over the comm "Needing takeoff clearance so we can get over to Riaanond. Anyone feel like opening the doors for us?"

"Containment field's on..." Captain Lazarus replied "... doors are opening... and you're cleared to proceed".

"Caseya, take us out" Harrigan ordered "Flying one of these is more like what you know from the Switchblade... so just take it nice an' slow and you'll be fine".

"Mama do goodgood flying..." Amara whispered as the bulk lander flew out into space "See? Mama do it an' now we out in space, Harek friend".

"What happens next, Amara?" Caseya prompted, smiling.

"Mama put course into autopilot" Amara replied "That mean mama show ship where to fly and then it fly us there. While ship flying we play or eat or sleep".

"We go with friends?" Harek asked "Rho-daa is here, Dad, and she like me".

"If they're not sleeping, mister" Harrigan decided "We'll go and see. Your aunt Caseya an' Cap'n T an' Amara can stay on the bridge of they like or they can come too".

"We will stay here and watch the instruments, Commander" Trannak said when Harrigan asked him about that "Amara is used to us doing that in my Raider. If she is not sleeping or we are not eating together, she can go to be with you".

Harek found most of the flight a little frustrating, mostly due to there not being nearly as much room in the bulk lander as there was in the Cry Havoc - though despite his grumbling about not being able to run around, he did like being shown how to read some of the instruments on the bridge.

When the final approach alarm sounded, Harek had barely woken up and all the adults were still sleeping - so Harek screeched as loud as he could, grinning and laughing when the adults woke up slowly.

"There had better be a good reason for that, son..." Harrigan warned Harek, looking him in the eye - Harek giggled again before pointing to the display where the warning was being displayed and a a lower-volume beeping was still sounding.

"Looks like we're there, son" Harrigan said blearily as he woke up "Amara... go get someone to get hot stimjuice going, all us big people are going to need it".

Harek laughed when he saw Amara run down to the cargo deck on the wall to wake up everyone else - and called "Uncle whisper Scarran make hot stuff for big people, Dad - I hear him tell 'Mara that", before sniffing briefly and adding "I smell it too, Dad".

"Well done" Harrigan told his son happily "Call when someone's bringin' mine up here, I gotta help your aunt do the flying".

"Riaanond is always more cautious about unusual arrangements like these" Caseya told Harrigan after fifteen momens of negotiating with traffic controllers "They accept that some people prefer things that way but they most certainly do not like it. They like their world cleanly separated between the native peoples and offworlders, with the only regular meeting place between the two being at the markets on the edge of the port. But they know me and know my voice and Trannak's... and we have the Kingdom approach code, at least the one they know means we are here to resupply our friends".

"We're too big to fit in their hangar, Caseya" Trannak reminded her "We'll land at the village, the same spot just outside the walls we usually do - we can make contact with Deress there and decide when and how we move to resupply the forest outpost later".

"Word has come in from even more villages than usual this cycle, Chief" Deress told a man more ornately dressed than most of the villagers around him "Some are coming for the races, some for trade, others simply to talk".

"I understand your youngest pupil and her family may be back soon" he replied "She is odd but interesting, that girl. I do not entirely know what I think of her parents, but they treat your guests well and they are polite to us".

The talking was interrupted when a local woman called ~The sky, the sky! An offworld sky-ship is coming! image showing a spacecraft of indeterminate shape making ready to land~ to the chief by mentalism.

~Show me exactly what you see~ the chief replied ~Deress is here as well image of Deress so you can tell him as well, since he knows the most about offworlders~

Both men received the mental picture the woman sent. Deress used his own mentalism to enhance the detail below the bridge window, and when he saw an Irregulars symbol there he nodded and told the chief ~I do not know the class or type of vessel approaching... but it belongs to the parents of my youngest pupil or those who have authority over them. We can safely permit it to land~

~I have not seen one like it before~ the chief replied ~How big is it? Even the impression the woman gave us leads me to believe it is far too large to fit inside our walls~

~My assistant, Shaddak, has communications gear~ Deress explained ~You have seen him before many times. I will call him and ask him to make contact with this ship and arrange a landing place for it~

~I'm looking at it right now, Deress~ Shaddak said when Deress told him about it ~It looks like a bulk lander, I've seen those before - and the chief is right, there's no way that'll fit inside the walls. Seeing a ship even that large close by will scare some of those coming for the meeting, but since

those aboard should be friendly we'll have to plan the events around it~

Deress thought for a couple of momens, then smiled and suggested ~I suggest we get it to land a little way out from the walls... and plot the brine racing track around the outside of it mild amusement. I will set up my usual oversight station beside it, in the centre of the track - I can be reached for medical assistance speedily enough, and with me sitting close to it then the villagers will consider it tolerably harmless. What we need now, Shaddak, is for you to use your communications equipment to guide them to a suitable landing spot~

"We have visitors" Shaddak told his wife, a local woman named Jerella - she knew he meant offworld visitors from the tone of his voice and asked "It is that girl...Amara? Her and her family? They are due to arrive again for tutoring in mentalism, I think".

"They brought a bulk lander, Jerella" Shaddak replied "not a Stryker as they have before. Far larger. The chief decided we can make this work for us and run the brine racing track around the outside of it once it's landed, while Deress will site his station alongside the hull to allay suspicion and fear from any villagers".

"Our own villagers will not be afraid" she reminded her husband "Many of them have seen these people land their Strykers here before. If anything, there will be many people curious about this new ship and possibly children wanting to get closer to it".

"Other villages don't have large offworld spacecraft dropping out of the sky as we do, Jerella" Shaddak reminded her in return "That's why Deress decided to place his race position close beside its hull, to assure others this new arrival is not dangerous".

"You should go now, then" she suggested "Your brine will not be easy to control around such a vehicle - he will growl and be hard to control until he sees those inside are friendly".

"I'll take Jash and Nirrin with me" Shaddak replied "Those two are still the most at ease around offworlders - and I'll need at least two to help guide in the lander by hand".

Jash and Nirrin came out of the dormitory building fast, once they heard the summons - and saw the Irregulars' bulk lander not so far above them in the sky.

"Amara's in that?!" Nirrin asked in surprise "What kind of ship is it, Shaddak? I haven't seen one like it before"

"I'm not surprised" Shaddak replied "That's a bulk lander, a military model as well... usually only used to land heavy equipment for military assaults. We only get to see this one because people we know are inside. You would never get to simply stand and watch were you to see one anywhere else".

Nirrin understood Shaddak's implication, that anyone seeing such a vessel in its usual operating manner would not survive long, very clearly.

"We will stand out in the open" Shaddak directed the two Interion "I will stand in the centre, and you two will stand either side of me, some metras away. If you see the bow of the ship facing you, you will wave it back towards me. If the bow points toward you and the shadow comes too close, wave it away".

Harrigan watched with interest on the lander's HUD, asking what was going on - though he nodded when Trannak explained for him.

"They got a spot picked out for us, OK" Harrigan replied "We can do that - but if there's any way you can keep an eye on the ground and direct us as well, do it".

"There is, Commander" Trannak replied "This is a bulk lander, intended to deliver heavy armour under fire. Close-area landings like this are what it's designed for" before directing Harrigan on which buttons to press to bring up landing view on the HUD.

"More stuff to see!" called Amara happily, pointing to where new portion of the HUD had activated in front of and to the sides of Caseya's and Harrigan's seats "There the ground! There Shaddak friend and Nirrin friend and Jash friend too!"

" 'Mara all loud an' happy, Dad" Harek told his father " 'Mara say friends here. They be our friends too, Dad? They like us?"

"When they see you're happy and pleased to be here, son" Harrigan replied, smiling "I'm sure they will like you. None of them will have seen a boy like you before, especially such a big boy, so there'll probably be people asking about you".

"That good, Dad" Harek decided.

"Looks like this bulk lander has been well-maintained, you two!" Shaddak called to Jash and Nirrin "The way they're coming in to land suggests their close-approach sensors are working... we'll still guide them in as I told you to before, but this will make it a whole lot easier".

Caseya smiled when she saw the three of them spread out and direct her where to land.

"Having these special HUD sections online helps considerably" she told Harrigan "I could land this ship without them, yes... but not so precisely and I would make more mess".

"Yeah, every bit of help you can get with a big ship's good" Harrigan agreed "Thankfully, the Havoc's nowhere near capable of landing on a planet - or we'd have serious landing issues".

"Coming in on final approach!" Caseya called over the internal comm "Everybody should prepare themselves to leave. We will come down from the bridge to join you as soon as this ship is powered down".

The air stirred up by Caseya's landing blew Shaddak's hat off, but Nirrin brought it back with his own mentalism before Shaddak called "Do not approach, either of you... let them come to us. I can see airlock doors in the side of the hull at ground level - when one opens I will tell you who emerges if I know them".

Jash and Nirrin were surprised at how the lander's enormous bulk sank a short way into the ground when it landed.

"I will head outside first, Commander" Caseya told Harrigan "Shaddak is outside, and he will expect to see Amara, Trannak, or myself. He does not know and will not expect the rest of our gathering".

"Packs, weapons... I want everyone properly equipped" Trannak ordered everyone "The people here are friendly enough but wary of outsiders, which is why Caseya will be leaving the ship first with Amara. The three people outside waiting for us know them best of all".

While that was going on, Caseya opened the nearest hatch.

"New smells!" Harek called "Not smelled that 'fore! Smell new stuff! What is it, Dad? What is it, 'Mara?"

"We go out and we see, Harek" Amara told her friend "There are three people who are friends for mama and papa and me - mama will go and tell them about you and your papa and our other friends and then you can come outside and see, too".

"A hatch is opening!" Jash called, pointing "I can't see people yet!"

"I see it too" Nirrin replied, a little more calmly though with no less interest "It doesn't open outward like our doors, it looks to... slide backwards, then to one side along the wall?"

"That's what it does, Nirrin" Shaddak explained "That's an external bulkhead door, it's pressure-sealed and has its own containment field to keep the air inside the ship. Usually there's a secondary internal door as well in case the containment field fails, but I doubt they'll use that here".

Shaddak extended his hypersense, trying to see anyone coming out - he smiled and rumbled briefly with relief when he saw Caseya and laughed when he saw Amara jump out onto the grass.

~Shaddak friend! excitement~ Amara called, quite faintly ~It me, Amara! I here, mama here, papa here, and friends here! They come out and see you now? query~

"It is Amara and her parents" Shaddak told Jash and Nirrin "but they've brought a few others from where they live with them as well. Amara says they are friends... but we will go over to their ship and see them now, rather than waiting for them to emerge. Stay a few metras back and spread out - you should prepare to use your mentalism if necessary, but only to protect yourselves. Not to attack".

~I come~ Shaddak told Amara ~Two of your friends are here as well, but until I see your friends in that ship for myself I will not ask them to come close. Tell your father this~

Amara did exactly that.

"Someone has been sent to welcome us" Trannak explained "They are cautious, they don't know most of us - so Caseya and Amara will talk to him first and then, when all is well, he will likely come to the hatch to see us and find out what we're like".

"We are ready to proceed, Captain" Juroch replied "Everyone is ready".

"Amara's told me about this lot before" Harrigan added "I'll stay a little way back until someone tells the welcoming committee about my deadlock".

"SHADDAK FRIEND!" Amara shouted excitedly, running across the grass and leaping into his arms before rumbling loudly and happily "See? I back for more men-tal stuff! Mama and papa are here too! Only mama out here with her 'Mara right now, Shaddak friend, 'cause papa with other friends in big ship".

"Greetings once more" Shaddak called once Caseya caught up with Amara "It's been some time since I saw a bulk lander like that one, and I'm glad it's one of yours".

"Jash and Nirrin, yes?" Caseya called "I remember you from previous visits. Jash is a pyrokinetic and Nirrin is telekinetic, if I remember correctly".

"That's right" Jash replied, coming closer "You remember. Deress says Kalish people have very good memories, not everyone would remember".

"We do" Caseya replied, nodding "Amara does as well. Come, see our friends in our ship - you may come aboard if you wish, or they can come to the hatch and you can see them as they step out".

"Call to your papa" Shaddak told Amara "Tell him to come to the hatch first and tell me who else is here".

"I do that, Shaddak friend" Amara replied, nodding.

~We back now, papa~ Amara called to Trannak ~Big Scarran men-tal friend called Shaddak here, papa. Jash friend and Nirrin friend here too. Shaddak say you bring people to hatch place so he can see~.

"I am here, Shaddak" Trannak called - Shaddak was surprised to see Trannak in full military kit, but recognised his face and nodded.

"Good" Shaddak replied "Two of those from the sanctuary are here, I expect you remember who they are. I will not ask them to come closer until I have seen everyone in your party".

Juroch came to the hatch first, nodding briefly and explaining a little of his background.

"A man used to worlds like this one then, good" Shaddak said with some relief "Since you're staying a while - and if your own leader agrees - I'll get you helping teach the young ones a few basic skills. Who else is here? I can smell other Scarrans".

Shellek stepped forward next - Shaddak clearly could tell what Shellek's past was, since he rumbled a bit, but settled when Amara said "He Shellek friend, Shaddak. He fix stuff and help fly big ships".

"Surprised you're not wearing heavy plate" Shaddak replied "But then I expect your woodsman here told you it would be something of a liability in certain parts of this world".

"It'd make too much noise" Shellek replied "and it's easier to clean mud off clothing than the joints in heavy armour. I have the body armour you probably expect under my camouflage uniform, as do all but two of us".

"Amara says you fix things" Shaddak said "We don't have a lot of technology here, but we'll find something for you to do, I'm sure...".

Shaddak was surprised when Rhodaa came forward.

"I have not seen a female of my own species for quite some time" he said "Much less so a high-caste".

"I have not been on an agricultural world like this before" she replied "It is unusual for me not to see large buildings all around us".

"You will adapt" Shaddak replied, nodding "I did, you will, and those I have seen so far have either been here before or to worlds like this one".

"A word of caution about our last personnel" Trannak said "Our leader himself is here, and he brought his son with him - but both have advanced changes, even more so than my wife or Shellek or Amara. A deadlock zone is generated around him at all times, which will hinder or totally block mentalism".

Shaddak called Jash and Nirrin closer and explained this to them.

"I don't know how far that deadlock will extend" he told them "but from what I've seen and heard so far these people coming with Amara are safe. Come closer if you like, but remember your mentalism will be blocked - it will come back when you go outside the zone's area of effect".

"Hey, people" Harrigan called, grinning when he saw Amara sitting on Shaddak's shoulders.

"Having fun, Amara?" Harrigan called "It's good here? D'you think Harek will like it?"

"He like it lots, uncle big funny man" Amara replied, nodding and clapping "You bring him out and you see and he see!"

"One new Scarran, Dad" Harek called when Harrigan lifted him up "I smell him. Two others, Dad - don't know them".

"Interion, Harek" Juroch said, before telling Harek a little about them.

"He is a very large child" Shaddak said "He inherited those unusual things and his size from you?"

"He did" Harrigan replied "thought you're the only person off our ship to have guessed that. My son's not been off our ship before, and he's only a cycle or so old too".

"He speaks well for such a new child" Shaddak said, smiling just a little "It will be good for him to spend time on a natural world like this one. The students here will like to see him too, I think".

Shaddak walked a little further back until he could get clear mental reception again, after which he brought Deress and the village chief up to date on the situation.

~If they have brought their leader with them~ the village chief replied ~then I will come to meet them. He shows some trust in us by deciding to bring a young child too, with only Amara's word and that of her parents that it is safe~.

~There are a small number of soldiers with us here~ Shaddak cautioned the chief ~Amara says they are friends from where she lives. Only one is at ease on worlds like ours, though I expect all of them have been on them before. Their leader is most unusual, and among the things that make him unusual is that he generates a deadlock zone around him - so do not be afraid if you cannot speak to others mentally when you are close to him~.

~An unexpected occurrence~ the chief replied ~but I have been to the mines before, I am familiar enough with the effect generated by the cool-stone there. I will bring a cart and a little food to welcome these odd newcomers - so if you can stay where you are I will home in on your thoughts~.

"So the local big man's coming?" Harrigan asked with surprise "Didn't think we rated a welcome by the movers an' shakers around here, to be honest".

Shaddak rumbled briefly in amusement before saying "Amara's father told me you lead where you live - our chief here decided he should come to welcome you personally".

"The chief comes" Nirrin told Harrigan "Shaddak has to stay further away, he can't mindtalk when he's close to you" before he added "My head throbs a little... it does not actually hurt, but it... itches a little. On the inside".

"Amara doesn't mind it" Harrigan explained "She knows it's me coming when she feels the effect of the deadlock, so she either calls out to me or runs over and jumps up to hug me".

"Vehicle on the way in!" Shellek called, pointing "Not from where these three came from, but what looks to be a bigger village a little way off! Orders?"

"Shaddak said that's their village chief coming to see us!" Harrigan called back "Don't worry about it! He'll probably have a few guards of his own, so don't worry if you see a few people with him!"

"Seal the ship" Trannak told Caseya "We are fully powered down but the hatch is still open. Once the hatch is sealed the ship and cargo are as secure as we can make them".

Harrigan put his son down on the grass, and Harek squeaked in surprise when he felt the different terrain under his boots.

"That not deck, Harek friend" Amara explained "That ground an' grass an' mud".

"It not smell like deck, Amara" Harek replied "It good?"

"It all good, Harek friend" Amara assured him "You not eat it, it not good to eat. Mud bits all sticky an' stay on clothes too".

Juroch watched the incoming cart, calling "I see a cart. It is pulled by two beasts of burden of a kind I can't identify. There are six people on board, plus some cargo" when it came close enough for him to see.

"The chief will bring a few guards since I told him there are soldiers here" Shaddak said in response "One, possibly two, to drive the cart".

Trannak got everyone where he wanted them just as Harek pointed to the cart and said he could hear it.

"People are coming to see us, son" Harrigan told his son, smiling "The main in charge is coming. I'm sure he'll talk to you a bit, but just watch and listen until he does, ok?"

~I here, chief man friend! excitement~ Amara called happily ~It your small friend Amara here! My mama and papa and friends are here too!~

~amsusementhappiness~ the chief replied ~I can see a small gathering ahead of me... and a very large metal object which I think might be the sky-ship you came here in? query~

~You right~ Amara replied ~That our ship. It a big one with stuff in. I not know if there stuff for you in it~.

~I will talk with your father about that, I think~ the chief explained ~For now, I should make sure the driver of this cart goes the right way~.

When the chief's cart came closer, Shaddak strode ahead to greet it - and after a momen or so, he turned and walked beside the cart as it came up to the small gathering.

"The chief of our sanctuary and the village nearby is here" Shaddak announced, indicating the chief with his treblin hand "He has seen Amara and her parents, but does not know the rest of you... and since your brought your own leader with you, he came to see for himself".

"Welcome to our world" the chief said "I know you do not primarily speak mentally, as the people of this world do... but we can speak verbally and do so with offworlders at such times as we go to the port and do the business there we cannot do anywhere else. I know Amara... I know her mother and father... who might the rest of you be?"

Trannak introduced Juroch, Rhodaa, and Shellek first, then added "...and this last and largest of us is our leader, War Commander Harrigan - and he has his first child, Harek, with him".

"Well, well..." the chief said with interested surprise "I am glad your leader wanted to come and see where Amara was being taught and by who... I would not have guessed you would bring your child with you, even less your first one! He is very large... and he has that odd black plate on him as you do! Is that special armour you have?"

"Not like you mean, chief" Harrigan replied "It's built-in. To be honest, it makes my brain ache when my doc tells me how he managed to get that sorted out properly".

Shaddak whispered briefly, after which the chief nodded and said "Like the carapace on some insects, then... though if that is an addition you have your bones on the inside as we do" and climbed down from the cart.

"Your son is an interesting and unusual child" the chief said, bending down a little to see Harek more clearly - Harek was pleased the chief wanted to see him and rumbled softly at him before holding his arms up.

"He is also extremely heavy!" the chief laughed when he picked Harek up "I would not begin to guess how old he is, though his manner suggests he is still very young".

"Only a cycle or so, yep" Harrigan confirmed "He's a great narl, just very excitable".

"More people, Dad" Harek said "I smell them".

"Some people I brought with me to make sure I am safe, young boy" the chief replied "and one more to drive the cart. I don't know how often you eat... but there is enough food for a meal for all of us if you are hungry".

"Food?!" Harek asked excitedly "We eat here, Dad? We eat here now, Dad?"

"Ask the chief, mister" Harrigan told his son "Be nice and say please, remember? Like your momma an' I told you before".

Harek did so, clapping when the chief nodded and called for his guards to bring the food and a cloth to cover the ground. He watched every person climb down from the cart and carry things to where the chief told them to put them, sniffing and trying to remember the smell of each person so he could identify them if he saw them again. Juroch watched him do that and smiled, rumbling softly and nodding when Harek looked up at him.

"Uncle whisper Scarran happy, 'Mara" Harek said when Amara came alongside him "See? He look at me an' he smy-ling"

"He is, I see him" Amara confirmed "You look and you hear and you smell and now you know new people, just like he tell us before".

"That food on cloth?" Harek asked.

"It is" Amara confirmed "I smell meat and fruit and bread and vegetables".

"They not like ours" Harek replied, looking at the food sceptically "It all nice, 'Mara? You eat stuff here be-fore?"

"Food here is all good" Amara assured her younger friend "When your papa give you some, you eat and then you see".

Harek watched his father and friends eat for a few microts, then he nodded when Harrigan looked at him and said "I have some now, Dad? I have some please?"

The chief smiled after he heard Harek rumble happily.

"The young boy likes our food!" one of the guards decided, grinning "He has eaten meat and bread and vegetables - look, his father has to stop him from eating too fast and too much!"

"Eat some fruit too, mister" Harrigan urged his son "The guards need some of the meat an' veggies too, you know - and the chief does! It's not all for you...".

Harek laughed as soon as he finished his current mouthful, but didn't reach for more savoury food and instead asked about the fruit.

"There is enough, Harek..." Juroch explained "for everyone to have a little - but this is not a long meal, like in our galley on our home ship. Just a short meal, so we have energy before going to see Amara's friends. So they can see you, too".

"I have bit then, uncle whisper Scarran" Harek decided " 'Mara friend say food here all good, so I have fruit too. I wait till Dad give me some".

Harek rumbled more loudly and happily up at the chief once all the food had been eaten, after which he leaned against the chief and closed his eyes - and after a few momens he started to snore very softly.

"This large boy trusts easily" one of the guards said, looking at Harek "I'm surprised he does, to be honest. Why is this? He has not been here before, he doesn't know us".

"He knows his Dad's here" Harrigan replied, pointing to himself "and his friend Amara... and a few of his adult friends. He knows his adult friends are all armed".

"We have seen these odd offworld weapons before" one of the older guards said "We have some in our village, in fact. Shaddak does not use them himself but teaches us about them, he says we should know many ways to protect ourselves and not just use our mentalism".

Harrigan let his son rest for a while before lifting him up and suggesting "Now'd be a good time to get going, I think - not sure if the chief's going where we're going, but even if he's not he's probably got stuff to do anyway".

"I will come for a short while" the chief decided, before sending three of the guards back with the cart and keeping one with him.

"You and I, Shaddak..." that man said "will watch our chief and keep him safe. I have seen the child Amara before, even her mother and father... but I don't know these other ones. They have seen the sanctuary before?"

"No" Shaddak replied "but, with Amara being the kind of child she is, they will have heard about it and the people in it. I don't know if Amara has told them enough to recognise and name the young ones who live there, but they might do. We shall see".

Deress came out to meet them when they were still a short way outside the village walls. Rhodaa remarked on how she saw guards patrolling the walls and how those guards had pulse weapons, to which Shaddak nodded and said "You're right in thinking the wall patrol has modern weapons. It took me some time to train the villagers how to use and maintain them, most villages hunt with mentalism or with basic weapons - but they are clever and they learned".

Deress greeted Amara and her parents and gave a more contemporary version of his Delvian Pa'u traditional greeting to Harrigan - after which he saw Harek asleep in his father's arms.

"There my friend Harek, Deress" Amara explained softly "He all full up an' sleeping now, Deress. Chief friend bring food and we eat. Now Harek friend rest".

The talking woke Harek, who murmured and rumbled softly until he opened his eyes and saw Deress - which triggered an instinctive reaction of electrical sparks crackling over his arms and chest and head until his father calmed him down.

" 'Mara say you a friend, blue man" Harek said warily, growling a little "I not seen you 'fore. Not seen red hair new person or black hair new person 'fore. 'Mara say they friends" before Amara whispered to him, after which he added " 'Mara friend just tell me their names an' that they friends. You a friend of 'Mara too, blue man?"

"I am a Delvian, young man" Deress told Harek "That is why I am blue and why my skin is not like yours, among other things. I teach Amara useful things she cannot learn on your ship".

Harek looked up at his father, clearly not quite sure if Deress was safe or not - Harrigan nodded and smiled, telling his son "He an' the big Scarran, Shaddak, teach your friend Amara all that new good stuff she knows - like talking in people's heads, or moving stuff without touching it".

"You teach friend 'Mara good stuff" Harek toldd Deress, nodding "You a friend if you teach friend 'Mara good stuff. 'Mara not do that stuff 'round Dad or 'round me. We got diff-rent good stuff so that not happen".

"Amara's father told us a bit about that" Shaddak said, Harek turning to face him as he spoke "He said it is to help keep you safe. Now we are going to see some of Amara's other friends here. The blue man, Deress, will go first and tell them about you and your adult friends - if they want to see you all, Deress will come out again and call us in".

Harek smiled when his father put him back down on the grass, and listened as carefully as he could when Deress talked to the other young people inside the dormitory building.

"Blue man say chief here" Harek told his father "an' he say big Scarran Shaddak here. Then he say big people not come if we not friends too. He tell them 'Mara here an' then they clap an' shout".

Deress smiled when Harrigan told him what his son had heard and passed on.

"You have very good hearing, young man" Deress told Harek in praise "Now, if your father agrees, we can go inside this building and see some of Amara's other friends".

"I Ha-rek" Harek replied, nodding "That my name. Bigbig man who with me my Dad. Mom not come this time. Friends come".

Harek poked the door experimentally, though Harrigan stopped him from swinging his foot back to kick it open.

"You might break the door, mister" Harrigan told his son in warning "That's not a thick metal door like on our home ship, it's a wooden door. Big people like you an' me, mister, might break doors like that if we kick them".

"We not do that" Harek decided, shaking his head "Nice people here. Nice people need door".

Harek immediately noticed the smells of new people once he was inside the dormitory, calling "New people, 'Mara! New people! I smell them, 'Mara! See special hot people stuff!"

It took a while to explain to Deress and Shaddak that Harek had thermal-imaging vision, and that 'special hot people stuff' meant he could sense their body heat patterns through the wall.

"Can you..." Shaddak asked, leaning down to look at Harek "tell what kind of people are there by this 'special hot people stuff', the heat from their bodies?"

"See..." Harek guessed, rumbling a bit and scratching his chin in thought "... Se-bay-shun people. Red hair friend an' black hair friend got hot person stuff like that too. Not know if people who not like that there".

"There are not" Deress told Harek "There is one new girl, but she is fearful of people she does not know".

"She not be scared!" Harek replied, clearly upset that anyone might fear him "I her new friend! She come out an' see me an' give me cudd-lees an' I do small per-son rum-blings an' sit on her!"

Harrigan managed to calm his son down after a half-momen or so, after which Amara said "I go in first, Harek friend. I tell my friends about you and about big friends too. I tell them your papa here".

" 'Mara take point, Dad" Harek said, looking up at his father "We wait, Dad".

"That's right, son" Harrigan said, smiling "Well done for remembering what that's called. Watch an' listen, mister, so when Amara calls back or signals to us you can tell me about it".

Deress smiled and Shaddak nodded when Harek's treblin hand came up and he called "Hear 'Mara, Dad. She tell people 'bout us. People talk lots, Dad" before looking up at Shaddak and asking "We go in now? We go in, please?"

"We will" Shaddak decided "Deress and I will go first... and I think, young boy, you and your father might come next, with all your big friends after that".

Harek smiled and rumbled when he heard that, before holding his arms up to his father - Harrigan tickled him a bit after picking him up, with Harek's resulting laughter getting the attention of all the young ones inside the dormitory.

"That my friend Harek!" Amara told them again happily "He a bigbig small per-son friend! He like me lots and he like you lots too! He here with his papa and his friend 'Mara and big friends too! They all come in and see you now?"

"We are here as well, young ones" Deress reminded them "Both Shaddak and I have talked to them and spent a little time with them, as has the chief of the village - they will not hurt you".

"Deress right" Amara assured them "They all nice and like you lots. Harek friend papa extraextra big and funny, too" before running out to the door and calling to Harek.

Harek grinned and ran forward to Amara as soon as Harrigan put him down.

"See?!" she told her friends happily "Harek a ree-ly bigbig small per-son! You come and see!"

"Who's the giant one behind him?" Franer asked.

"That Harek papa!" Amara replied, nodding "He a bigbig funny man!"

Harek promptly climbed up on the nearest lounge and sat on the lap of the first person he could reach - who happened to be the timid young lady!

"See?" Harek told her, looking her right in the eye "I all big like Dad, but we both big nice people!" before rumbling loudly and leaning on her.

Deress smiled, telling her "Do not worry, Sharn... Harek there is Amara's friend and his father is here - and his father encourages his son to meet new people and make friends. He seems to have decided you will be his first friend here".

"He is extremely large and very heavy" Sharn replied quietly "I still think he is very young, though".

"Barely past one cycle, yeah" Harrigan replied, startling Sharn a bit and making Harek look up "He's a good boy, is my Harek - an' like Deress says, I make sure he's nice to people an' gets out to make new friends. He can sit with you for a bit".

All of the young children came over to see her and to see Harek, which Harek clearly loved by the way he laughed and rumbled for them. They were somewhat more wary of the adults, especially since they were Scarran, but Harek smiled and stayed leaning against Sharn, telling her "They my big friends, noo per-son. They your friends too".

"I have not seen any Scarrans but Shaddak before" Sharn admitted "Now there are several here".

"My Scarrans are all good, miss" Harrigan assured her, leaning forward so she could see his Irregulars' insignia "If they got that on their uniform, or that other one beside it, they're OK an' you can talk to them".

"The boy does not seem to want to move" Sharn said "I do not mind him being there... but I do not know if you prefer him to be with you, since you are his father".

"He can stay where he is unless you gotta go somewhere" Harrigan decided, after which he introduced the rest of the gathering - everyone had young people come closer to look at them, especially Rhodaa, but Juroch met with the most interest when he told them he was from a natural world much like their own.

"While there isn't study to do..." Shaddak reminded them "... with the festival beginning tomorrow everyone's got to play their part in preparations...and yours is helping set up the race track! I'll give you a while to talk to Amara's friends, then we all get the marking poles and the rope and the other things to lay out the track boundary!"

"Festival?" Harrigan asked, surprised - Deress took a quarter-arn or so to explain about the festival, both about the racing and about other things that went on at one, after which Harrigan nodded and said "OK, so it' s both a chance to let your hair down a bit as well as meet people an' sort stuff out then".

Trannak interpreted Harrigan's odd language for Shaddak, Deress, and the chief, after which the chief nodded and said "Correct. While we don't have currency as you know it, people place bets with goods or services if they're inclined to do so and there's food and drink of even more kinds than usual as well".

"Time to get moving!" Shaddak called loudly, getting happy claps from Harek "Up, up, up! We'll have our guests with us, but they aren't here to work - you are! Nirrin, get the shed open, you know what we need and where it's all kept - make sure everyone gets what they need and we're ready to move when I come to find you!" before telling Sharn "You've not been here long at all... so you can be exempted this time unless you particularly want to join in".

"I will join in" Sharn decided "I will not get to know all the new people around here if I just stay back and watch. If I help them, they will come to know me as trustworthy and not lazy as well".

"C'mon Harek..." Harrigan encouraged his son "Gotta pick you up now, mister - your new friend's got her share of work to do. We'll go out an' watch".

"See new stuff?" Harek asked "Where new stuff, Dad?"

"We will be going back to where our ship is" Trannak told him instead "The Scarran, Shaddak, told us the racing track will go around the outside of it. Your big friends will make sure people stay safe around the ship while they work".

Harek looked up at his father for confirmation, and clapped when Harrigan nodded and told him "Yep, that's what we're gonna do, son - you an' Amara can run around a bit on the grass as long as you stay where we can see you, too".

Harek tired very quickly on the walk to the bulk lander, but Harrigan didn't pick him up.

"Catch your breath a bit, son - then get back to walking more" he told him "Amara did that when she was your age, which means you get to do it now. 'Cause you're a big boy, you can do a bit more than she did when she was your age, too".

"More walk-ings" Harek said, clearly tired "Walk-ings more ee-see on noo ground, Dad. Deck hard. Noo ground not hard".

"That's 'cause this new ground, son..." Harrigan added, smiling at him "isn't the same as decking back home. This is earth... well, a bit of mud as well. Amara told you a bit about that before, didn't she?"

" 'Mara did that" Harek confirmed " 'Mara say deck a special ground for ships, Dad, that people make. This ground not like deck, Dad".

Rhodaa called "Ship in sight, War Commander! No one around it right now, either!" a few momens later.

"Keep goin', then!" Harrigan called back "Go ahead and have a look around - when you signal back, we'll all come forward together!"

Shaddak was talking quietly to the young ones with him, explaining the Irregulars' tactics to them while they waited for a signal from Rhodaa - it took a few momens, but soon enough the signal was seen.

"The signal is a standard Scarran military signal, children" Shaddak explained "The one you saw means we are clear to proceed. I expect Amara's adult friends will put up the inner barrier around their ship and we will see to the outer barrier".

Nirrin showed off a little by moving barrier poles and rope with his mentalism, since he knew only Amara had any ability in that way among the newcomers - Jash laughed a bit at seeing her friend do that, while Shaddak just snorted and rumbled a little.

"Look, look!" Amara called to Harek excitedly "Nirrin frend move stuff with his head, Harek! That why it move an' he not move hands!"

Harek laughed and called out to encourage Nirrin again, though Shaddak added "Don't strain yourself, Nirrin - if you want to use your power here and now, use it to thread the rope through the eyeholes on the barrier poles. That will save time".

Harek even helped carry poles for his adult friends as the set up the inner barrier.

"I all good, Rhodaa" he said when she asked him if he was tired yet "I a strong small special person, so I do more. That what Dad tell me, an' he right" before Rhodaa nodded and and sent him to carry tools to one of the others.

It took some time to fully place the inner and outer barriers to Shaddak and Deress' satisfaction, but eventually Shaddak nodded and said "Deress will likely set up his booth here, just behind the inner barrier but where we used separate sections of rope to secure the track... leave the entry point for brines securely closed for now" bfore turning to Sharn and asking her "Test yourself, Sharn... reach out to your tutor, Deress, the blue Delvian, and tell him what haas been done".

~I hear you, Sharn approval~ Deress replied once Sharn had finished ~I willl not arrive by mentalism, I will come with one of the villagers and a cart, so I can set up my medical booth now. Tell Shaddak this~

"Good" Shaddak told her when she passed on the news "Look towards our homes, tell us when you can see the cart and Deress come".

Amara ran over to Sharn when she heard Shaddak speak, telling her "I help you, new friend Sharn! I your new friend!" before shifting to her and climbing up to sit on her shoulders.

~Heeheehee! laughterhappiness~ Amara told Sharn in her head, before placing a target marker in Sharn's vision to show where Deress and the cart was coming toward them.

~You right confirmationapproval~ Amara said when Sharn asked about the marker she saw ~That what it mean. It mean that where Deress friend is. You tell Shaddak now~

"Good, eveything is in place" Deress decided after he arrive and inspected the barriers "I see you have already decided where my medical booth should be... it is a good spot, I can start the races from there as well if required as well".

Harek laughed when Amara jumped down from Sharn's shoulders and ran over to Deress.

"I see you and your big loud friend have been helping, Amara" Deress told her "You both have mud on your clothing and are tired".

"We do that, Deress friend" Amara replied, nodding "Stuff done all good?"

"It is, Amara" Deress assured her "All good. Now we will make the special place where I will sit tomorrow and help people. You and your friend Harek are too small to help with this, the sections of wall and the planks are very large and heavy - the students, and possibly Shaddak, will do this. You and Harek should watch, though".

Amara woke early the following morning, before her parents or any of her friends, so she shifted up the wall of her parents' room and up onto the roof.

She listened to the surface thoughts of the few guards that she could find and almost squeaked in excited surprise when she heard other thoughts come from outside the village to Deress.

~They are people from other villages, Amara~ Deress explained to her ~People who come for the brine racing and to meet others who they know will come. Lots of things will be happening here, eating and drinking and entertainment - but also people come to meet others and talk about important things as well. You might see some of them if they decide they have time to speak to you and your friends~

~image of a sensor scan cone turning and settling on a group of peopleimage of range and bearing appearing in the Scarran language underneath the sensor scan~ Amara replied ~Coming here, Deress confirmation I find, I see~

~Well done praiseapproval~ Deress told her, smiling a little ~You found them just before I did, Amara. That group is from a village a very long way away - they came so they can talk to others and they brought things they make in their village to exchange with others for things they need~ before explaining to her again about the barter-based economy of the villages.

~They get goodgood place by track, then? curiosityinterest~ Amara asked ~They get goodgood place near food or other good place?~

~They usually make their camp in the same spot every time they come~ Deress told Amara ~Since the track is around your ship this time, I will come and show them good places close by where they might make camp~ before he realised Amara was on the roof of her parents' room and that she was a little cold.

~It fun~ Amara replied ~I not cold, I not all Scarran like papa - I bit Scarran and I bit Kalish, cause my mama a Kalish. I stay here and watch and see~

~Tell your mother or father where you are~ Deress insisted ~Get them to dress you in your warm outdoor clothes again. Once that is done, you can go back to where you are now and watch for new people again~

Amara didn't like being told to go back inside, but she did so anyway - Caseya saw her as she climbed back through the window and asked where she had been, and Amara gladly and happily explained it all in exact detail.

"Deress is correct" Caseya told her "I should dress you in your warm clothes if you are going to help your adult friends like this with your mentalism, Amara. Your papa cannot go onto the roof like you and I, so I will stay down here with him".

After she was dressed properly, Amara hugged Caseya and sent her happy feelings in her head before climbing back to her rooftop spot and calling Deress again.

~I sense you are warmly dressed and happier now~ Deress said ~Good. The group you saw earlier are closer now... and others are coming from other directions as well. Some are from villages quite close by, and some have travelled for a considerable time to get here~

"There lots new people here now, Harek!' Amara told her friend, some arns later "Some come longlong way and some not do that".

"We go see them?" Harek asked "They com see us?"

"We'll see the visiting villagers later" Franer explained "When the festival's been opened, people move around and talk as well as watch racing - so there will be new people for you to see coming to us".

News about the presence of offworlders nonetheless worked its way to every visiting village in fairly short order, and was met with varying degrees of both interest and trust.

"These ...people..." one village leader asked suspiciously "are safe to be around? It is safe to let the few young ones we brought with us close enough to talk to them and see them?"

"It is" Deress assured him and the others in hearing range "They have dealt with our village a number of times before. They are unusual to you, I know... but they are friendly - and may even have interesting things with them which they may be prepared to barter for what you have brought with you".

"Then perhaps some of my village will go and talk to them later" that man decided, smiling just a little at the prospect of trade with new people.

"I do not know that I will come too close to them" another said "But we will watch these new people you say are trustworthy, Deress, and make our own decision about them".

"They keep their word" Deress reminded them "and honour any deals made - but their species generally has a very dim view of those who try to be a bit too clever in gaining advantage in business or diplomacy. Be honest with them and they will be honest with you". At least this is true for the Irregulars Deress reminded himself, keeping his mental shield up and strong Shaddak has told me a little about Scarrans generally, and they are usually much less patient than Amara's adult friends.

~Chief friend come~ Amara told Deress, interrupting his thoughts ~He tell me he start stuff so special talking start and other stuff start~

Deress passed this news on to the village chiefs or other leaders standing close by, adding that they would get to see some of the offworlders who were present in the village at the festival opening ceremony.

Many and varied thoughts came back toward Deress, some of which were curious and some were suspicious and some were fearful - but there were a few who simply wondered what kind of things these strange new people might have to barter for their own goods as well.

All kinds of thoughts went back and forth between the visiting villagers when they saw the Irregular' bulk lander ahead of them - Deress explained in simple terms about spacecraft generally and bulk landers in particular, with the general mood becoming more relaxed when they heard that it was not a war vessel but simply a ship designed to carry large amounts of cargo.

Many thoughts went back and forth speclating what kinds of goods the lander could hold, especially if it could keep meat and vegetables in edible condition for transport to its home - Deress smiled briefly and told them ~My assistant Shaddak - whom some of you have seen before - tells me almost any kind of cargo can be transported in ships like these. Fresh produce must be put in special containers so it stays good - so if you wish to trade with these people and pay with such things from your villages it may take time for those containers to be brought from their home. Be assured that they will keep their word and be honest in their deals. They make their living by trading their services for both currency and useful things~.

Amara heard most of Deress' conversations and passed what she heard along to Harrigan.

"They're coming!" Harrigan shouted "People on watch around the ship... move to your positions! People watching the riders' track entry... no one gets in who's not working with Deress or riding a racing animal! Anyone attempting to breach security should be pushed back with care but speed - anyone who insists they want to get to the track or to Deress but can't say why, get the local chief or Deress or Shaddak to come and decide what to do with them!" before he told Harek "Stay right beside me, son... Amara an' her Dad will be right beside me as well, so you'll be safest here".

"Big friends and small friends, Dad" Harek replied, rumbling softly before pointing and adding "Deress Del-vian come, Dad".

"The festival will be opened by our chief shortly" he explained to Harrigan "I see you have deployed your soldiers around the inner track and the riders' entry gate for security purposes - good, it means more of our villagers will be free to be used in other places or simply free to enjoy the festival themselves. Leaders and their respresentatives come to witness the opening ceremony and make contact with others for trade and other negotiations - I doubt they will require any of you to mediate or assist in any other way, but be ready in case they do".

Amara and Harek watched with interest as the most senior village representatives were invited to share drinks with the chief where everyone could see.

"It shows peaceful intent" Shaddak explained "On behalf of the leaders, anyway. They will enforce this among their own villagers by their own means - we would only intervene if disputes arose between villages while they are here".

The visitors were indeed wary about even looking at the bulk lander, but Harrigan said "Look all you like, ask questions if you got any - just don't go across the track an' try to touch it or get in".

"We see..." one village leader from a villlage he identifed as being quite far away "...soldiers? People on guard, in any case. They have strange weapons I see too rarely to identify".

"That's right, soldiers" Harrigan confirmed "Unless you go to the port a lot, you won't see offworld weapons like ours a lot. Dunno if any villages in these parts even have 'em apart from this one".

"I do not see armour" a lower-ranked woman said "We wear external protection...your soldiers do not?"

"Under the camo" Harrigan told her "That's those special clothes in odd colours. Armour goes under that".

"Special clothing" she decided, looking at it for a momen or so before asking "Its colouring and pattern tells me it is to help you hide".

"That's right" Harrigan confirmed again "People who aren't soldiers wear it for hunting, too".

Once she had moved away, Harek came out from behind his father again - in time to see animals being ridden slowly toward the track. Harek asked Amara a lot of questions about this as they got closer, and the two of them watched the crowd parting so they could reach the track.

Villagers called out mentally and verbally to encourage riders they knew, while Amara told Harek about the animals being ridden. Harek loved the idea of animals that could be ridden for transport and asked if he might get to ride a brine almost a dozen times - Amara laughed and clapped while Harrigan told him "Might be one or two friendly ones at this village, son - but we'll wait till after the racing's all done".

Everyone close to Harek heard loud excitable shouting as he watched the racing.

"Like it lots!' Harek told one visitor happily "Nice bry-nees run all fastfast an' it lots fun!"

"It is" they replied, leaning over to look more closely at Harek "I like the racing. Sometimes I ride a brine to deliver messages or to bring small things to people who need them".

"You not move stuff with head?" Harek asked.

"I cannot do that, no" came the reply "I see you know about mentalism, young child, and some of the things it can let people do".

"Friend 'Mara goodgood at it" Harek replied, nodding "I seen her do stuff like move stuff when she not touch it 'fore".

A loud shriek got everyone close by turning around - it was Amara, of course, and she called "Look, Harek friend! Ni-rin friend come on his bry-nee! Hee do racing!"

"Some of the young ...guests... here ride, then" a man told someone from another village close by "Well, then... they do not consider it beneath them to ride brines like we do. So many offworlders associate with us only as far as trade requires and do not treat us politely simply due to us not using that strange technology they consider part of their everyday lives".

"I don't know if this brine likes running fast" the other man replied "or if its rider can ride it well at speed... but I find the idea interesting enough to wager a fifth-part of the drink I brew at my village on this offworlder and his brine finishing in the top three positions of their first race. How interesting might you find this, I wonder...".

Amara passed this conversation on to Trannak, who explained briefly about wagering to her.

"The more confidence a person has in the rider they wager on, Amara..." Trannak explained "the more goods or things of value they might be prepared to risk. It's good you told me about it... if a wager is disputed, one of your big friends may need to deal with it. Like we do on market street on Tal IV, Amara"

~It is as your father says~ Shaddak added when Amara asked him about it ~I'll get local villagers to resolve disputes most of the time... if one of our villagers is involved, then either I will resolve it or your father or one of your big friends will need to~

~They do that, Shaddak friend confirmationimage of Amara nodding~ Amara replied.

The conversation got cut short when Deress came out of his booth and held up a hand - when Amara followed his pointed hand, she saw a multi-brine pile-up and shrieked in fear.

~All brines good, nice Deress? fearhope~ Amara asked ~Your friend 'Mara help?~

~Almost all are healthy, Amara~ Deress assured her ~That is why I have these soothing creams and other things to use, so that brines and people will be well~

One brine howled in pain, with their rider partially trapped under her - Amara couldn't stand that any more and translocated over to the source of the noise, shouting for Nirrin to come.

"You lift nice brine up tiny bit, Ni-rin?" Amara asked sadly and hopefully "You take person out?" before calling mentally for Deress to come.

"I can help..." Deress told both Amara and the brine's rider "but I must use offworld medical things... which not all villages approve of... as well as my mentalism".

Amara tried to sooth the brine as she heard her pained and worried animal thoughts, using her hypersense to look at the injury and project video of it for Deress to see.

"I will need things from my house!" Deress told Jash, before giving her directions for what to bring - when the brine tried to get up again and cried out in pain, Amara cried out as well before growling softly and laying her small hands on the brine's treblin forward leg, after which everyone close by could tell she was applying her mentalism.

~The young child is a healer? curiosity~ came many surprised and curious thoughts, along with one slightly louder one that added ~The child looks to be an offworlder! I did not know offworlders could be like us! Why is she helping? Has her own chief required her to? Why would an offworlder help our people and our brines?~

Th air warmed up as Amara tried her very best to heal the brine's racing injuries in her ankle and he shoulder - the brine could tell she was healing, if not in any way she knew, and turned and made inquisitive noises in Amara's direction. Deress linked in and did his best to direct Amara's power - and gasped in surprise when she linked back to him very strongly, plus Shaddak and the chief as well, before drawing power from them all to help heal the brine as every villager watched.

The rider heard her brine mutter and rumble, and reached over to settle her mood.

"People are helping you..." she whispered "Calm... be calm. People will help me too..." while sending her brine soothing and calming thoughts.

"Don't go close, Harek" Harrigan told his son "Amara's doing special head stuff again, you know she can't do that around us".

"We watch, Dad" Harek replied, not taking hi eyes off Amara and what she was doing.

The brine made more relieved noises as her injuries healed, though she did look at Amara as she started sweating heavily and muttering in Scarran and Kalish. Eventually Jerella was called as well, who managed to direct Amara's well-intentioned but comparatively unguided help in a much clearer way.

Amara clapped wearily when the brine stood to her feet, rumbling softly and happily when the brine prodded her with her nose in thanks.

"Brine friend all good?" Amara asked in a whisper, soaked in sweat "I do good an' help her be well 'gain? Your friend 'Mara do right stuff? I do more stuff?"

"The brine is well, Amara" Deress assured her, before smiling and looking right at her before adding "I did not think you were able to heal people and animals like that, Amara... I had not thought of testing you that way. It is not a common thing to heal even a little bit - or to draw power from others like you did. I expect Sorfil taught you about that, though".

"Sorfil friend teach me..." Amara whispered, even more tired "I tired, Deress friend... I thirsty... I hungry bit...".

Deress lifted Amara up carefully in his arms and carried her slowly back to Trannak and Caseya. Many villagers came close to look at her, which she rewarded with happy thoughts and smiles and tired rumbles - once she felt Caseya lift her and hold her close, she smiled more easily. Villagers offered her water and fruit juice to drink and even milk - Amara loved all of this, thanking each person who gave her something.

"More racing will start shortly" the chief told everyone "For now there will be entertainment and there will be food and drink".

Amara fell asleep less than a monen after finishing her last drink, so Caseya let her sleep until the announcement that the racing was starting again.

"I help 'gain, mama?" Amara asked, though Trannak said "You are not needed to help with healing mentalism again, no - many people came to see you while you slept, Amara, from this village and from the brine rider's village and from other villages as well. They thanked us for letting you help and they thanked you for wanting to".

"Goodee..." Amara replied "That nice. New people like me an' like I help them...".

The brine and rider came back, along with two people who the rider identified as a healer and a brine breeder.

"We thank you for healing our brine and our friend" the brine breeder said in wobbly Sebacean "We do not know offworlders well... we do not know if you require payment of any kind in return for your help".

"Only if you really want to" Harrigan replied "The little girl who did the helping does stuff like that whether people give her things for it or not".

Amara rumbled softly before looking over and seeing the brine.

"Good..." Amara said "You all good 'gain... " before sending the brine more happy thoughts - the brine barked a little before nuzzling Amara's hand, which she loved, and settling on the ground not far from the track. Amara climbed down before Caseya could stop her and walked over to stand right beside the brine.

"You a nice brine an' it good you let me help you..." Amara said - she smiled after that and sat down on the grass before leaning against the brine, which surprised everyone who could see.

"Nice brine a new friend" she told the rider "You my friend too, 'cause you special brine rider person".

"I have not seen her accept a new person so easily before" he replied "She is friendly enough, but does not accept friendship and help from others readily".

"I come?" Harek asked "I not a special mental person like my friend 'Mara. I come? Brine like me?"

The brine was much more wary once she decided she could see Harek but not smell him, but snuffled and barked when Amara hugged Harek before urging him closer. Caseya guided him on how to stroke the brine properly, which made the brine bark a little when Harek did as he was told.

"Brine like me too, Dad" Harek told Harrigan "You see?"

"Yep, saw that" Harrigan replied, smiling at his son "Good. Come on, son, we should get away from the track for a bit an' let people who live 'round here get the better spots".

"We go find new stuff, 'Mara friend" Harek called watching Amara resting against the brine "You an' your mom an' dad come too, 'Mara?"

Amaara sent the brine more happy thoughts, along with thanks for letting her rest with her, before getting to her feet and walking back to Trannak and telling him what Harek asked.

"We should go with them" Trannak said, nodding "We might get to talk to a lot of new people if we do that, yes?"

"We go and see new people" Amara agreed, nodding "We see them and tell them 'bout new stuff I do" before she looked up and added "Your 'Mara think you hungry a bit, papa".

"We will see if we can find a place here that will take Scarran money, Amara" Trannak replied "and when we find one we will buy food for Harek and his father and for me as well. We will get something to drink for your mama, since it is not her eating time yet".

"We have heard about what your child did" one villager said when asked about food "I am from a village not far from here, one by the sea. We have many things we make with fish - and we have fish for trade as well as other things. We would accept at least some of your offworld currency in trade... we like to trade useful goods most of all. People from this village tell me you use the offworld currency they call 'crindars'. What is this currency and whose people use it?"

Trannak explained about crindars being Scarran money and called Juroch forward once Amara said she could smell him close by, after which he explained how to tell the difference between the two castes of Scarran.

"We will tell our children about this" one of the other villagers at the plot decided "It is interesting knowledge we have not heard before, and which will be useful to anyone who goes to the large landing port offworlders come to".

After a few momens, a deal was struck and a number of tools were brought from the bulk lander to pay for the enormous amount of fish and other food Harrigan ate along with Harek.

"You want more stuff like that..." Harrigan added after he stopped eating "Just call the village here an' say. They know how to find us, an' once they do we can bring stuff for you. It takes about two days to get here from where we live".

"These are good metal tools" several of the men and women decided "Good for helping us repair boats and make more! With these tools and more like them, we may even be able to build one of the largest boats to go out after the biggest fish and sea mammals!"

"The big man and his child love our fish!" one of the women laughed "They paid well for it - and they ate well also! We have good tools and a small store of their currency!

"You did well in making new friends among the villlages" the chief told Harrigan, once the festival was over "Not everyone came close to you... but those who deal more with offworlders found their risk in coming closer to you was worth the effort. They found welcome and a few found trade. We particularly thank the child Amara for extending her talents to heal that brine and its rider - a talent Deress tells us was new to her".

"It new... "Amara said happily "It all good, too. Like it when I make people and nice brine well 'gain. I ask nice doctor about that when we go home".

"We will be staying a while longer yet, chief" Trannak added "We need to see our other friends here... you know them a little, Sorfil is with them... and help them with a few things. Our ship has things in it for them... we will fly to where they are, unload it and help them, and come back to see you all again before we return home".

"Many of our children have asked to see your ship" the chief said with mild amusement "They know about your Strykers, their parents have told them about those - but neither them nor their parents have seen a ship like the one you came in this time".

"It is a cargo ship of a sort" Trannak explained "A special one, for soldiers and their support equipment... I would explain about that too, but I don't know if you would understand about any of it since you did not grow up on a world like my own".

The chief nodded and said "We like our world as it is. We know where on it to find interestiing and useful offworlders and their trade goods when we need them, and they know where to come if they need things we have as well. We in this village are more fortunate than most in that we know you and those with you... and can thus find more things at better prices in currency or goods and find them sooner when needed".

Village children, much to their delight, were allowed to look around inside the bulk lander escorted by a Scarran. Many played on the cargo deck, chasing each other around on the new terrain with those who were mildly telekinetic using their power to fly or float around above the deck until they were called back down again.

"They are telling their parents about this ship and aboout us" Amara said when they had left "I hear with special skills and I tell you stuff I hear" before letting them hear those most excitable talk to their families for a momen or two.

"Pack it up, seal the doors, get 'er out of standby!" Harrigan ordered "Everyone to your places!"

"We'll stay low an' slow so people can see us fly off a bit" Harrigan decided "Once we're well clear of the village, stay low and pick up speed a bit but not too much. Cap'n T, that's when you call ahead to the station an' tell 'em we'll be at their back door in a momen or two".

Amara listened and watched as her mother made the takeoff, rumbling softly while looking out through the window and the HUD and telling everyone where she saw people and villages.

"Incoming transmission, from the War Commander" Deaken told his small group of skulkers "Shaddak told us they stayed at the village for the festival, but have taken off to bring our supplies to us. They have a bulk lander - so they must land outside our hangar doors. Riannond being as it is, it's safe enough to do that since there's just once ship - even if it is large, at least it's not a capital warship".

"Greetings once again, War Commander" Deaken said in greeting after answering the comms "We will be ready when you land - it will be more difficult landing a bulk lander while coming through the trees, but as lomng as your pilot is good they will do it".

"My wife is flying" Trannak replied, rumbling softly and proudly "She is very good at flying, as you know - she will land correctly the first time".

"Mama goodgood at flying, you right" Amara told Trannak once the comms went off, rumbling softly "Mama fly goodgood when we there, an' goodgood when big funny man an' Harek friend come too".

"Bring us around..." Harrigan reminded Caseya " the rear end faces their hangar. Easier when we take off that way".

Caseya nodded but said nothing, concentrating solely on landing the bulk lander safely without destroying the environment and revealing the presence of the hidden installation in the process.

"Good, good..." Deaken called over the comm once the lander was down "Slow but cautious. We'll get any perishable supplies put away... then your techs and my skulkers will sort out maintenance".

The skulkers were pleased Harrigan had brought so many things for them, but it still took a long time to unload since there were comparatively few people.

"Right, repairs and refit" Deaken announced "We'll do that one system at a time, taking that offline and replacing what needs replacing. If I may ask, War Commander...could you post any of your soldiers who are not technically qualified to stand guard while we do this?"

"My three skulkers can do that, yeah" Harrigan replied "I'll help you lot move stuff around, but I can't do the tricky bits in case I short something out".

"Children..." Juroch called "You will stay with me, with Caseya, and with the Captain. You will help us stand guard and you will learn new things about the world outside as well".

Harek was particularly pleased he could help his adult friends, though Trannak had to remind him several times to be quiet - he loved looking out through the periscope and telling people what he saw, and Amara always told him if she could tell what an animal or other thing was from what he had said.

Three days later, Shellek checked everything over twice before calling "Full system restart! We need everyone outside on guard who's not helping me in here!"

Once notice of that had been passed along the relay network, Sorfil restarted every system in the facility. Thankfully this didn't take very long, but it was still ten momens before the systems registered fully active once more, after which Shellek, Rhodaa, and Sorfil checked everything twice just to make sure.

"A momen and a half shorter than our previous recorded restart time" Sorfil decided "The new data stores and peripheral systems have proved their worth already. Reconnect us to the network and send a test message, Mr Shellek".

Ten momens later, all stations in range sent back positive acknowledgements.

"Good" Deaken replied when he was told "We will need to hunt if you are eating with us... our normal food stores are sufficient for us but not for any visitors as well".

"We could all use some good fresh, anyway" one of the other skullkers added "Whose turn to go out?"

"I will be hunting" Juroch replied "I am skilled in this environment and I have a larger weapon in the event larger hostile creatures wander across our path. Sorfil will come with me, he can maintain communications back to this place through Amara".

Amara happily projected everything Sorfil sent back for the others to see over the next arn or so.

"That is a good size" one of the skulkers said "It'll feed us and you".

"Another one!" Sorfil called softly "Must be a small pack around here! We'll have to kill these and bring them back fast!"

Amara tracked the two hunters and their kills as they made their way back, calling "I hear stuff! Lots animal noises!"

Harrigan ran out to meet Sorfil and Juroch, took the larger of the two carcasses on oone hand and dragged it inside before coming out again and screeching very loudly to scare any animals away.

"Special Dad screech" Harek said happily "I do it when I older too. I not extraextra loud like Dad now".


"...and that, Julius..." Harek whispered to a very young boy on his lap " when I first met the people who trained your mother. All the good bits of the story, anyway. We are going there today so you can see them".

The boy, an unusual hybrid with Scarran and human and Kalish in his mixed bloodline, looked up at his father and smiled. He has his mother's skin tone and hair Harek could tell a mix of her facial shape and mine... but my size and change.

When he opened his eyes, they were a cool steel grey.

His grandfather's eyes, and scaling, without a doubt Harek knew None of us have seen him for a while now... only time will tell how much my Julius Magnus is like his grandfather and how much like Amara and I.

~Papa happinesslove~ Julius Magnus announced by mentalism ~I hear you, papa. You tell me goodgood story. You tell me how I am like you and mama and grandfather~

Harek huggged his son, grinning when his daughter climbed up beside him to see as well.

"Come on, we'd better go" Harek told his children "Your mother's waiting for us on the hammond flight deck. We'll be taking a mark 3 today, 'cause a very small number of our friends are coming with us".

"Some of grey grandfather Hellbolt's friends, papa?!" the girl asked excitedly "They are the first Nebari after Hellbolt to come and live with us and be our friends!"

"The bigger one will be coming, Caseya" he told his daughter "He's actually half-Interion, did you know that?"

"He tell us his name in Nebari words" young Caseya told her father "He told us it means 'big clever fast man' or something like that. He said Nebari words do not translate into Scarran words very well".

Young Caseya told the same story to the man when they saw him on the flight deck.

"Not quite, Caseya" he said, though he smiled "My name is the same as that of a river on my birth world. My mother named me that way because she saw the same traits in me as in the river - that I moved fast as the river flowed fast, and that I was large and strong as the river itself reacted strongly in harsh weather. For now, we should get in this large and odd spacecraft I think - we can talk more about me later".

"We are here, my love" Harek told Amara, rumbling happily before activating internal comm and calling "ALL STATIONS CHECK!" very loudly.

"All OK, papa..." Julius Magnus said quietly, once all stations had checked in "That everyone who here, papa. I use mental stuff. I look and I see...".

Once young Caseya called for takeoff clearance, the mark-3 Stryker left the hammond flight deck and turned to head to Riaanond one more time...

Page 31 of 31