A Note From The Human TranslatorAs with all Ic'nichi works, this book has certain terms which simply do not translate into human languages due to their odd nature. As has become a tradition in these things, an Addendum has been added in back to provide possible—rough—meanings. We hope the reader will understand and bear with us on this. ***** "Being Called To Account"
For all the tough-fem image R'nemReth tried to show the world, she was scared. She was often scared—on the street, in the Peace Warden lockups, and more recently in the Remand Court where the case against her was built step by step.
It wasn't fair! It really knotted her tail the way the Universe dumped on her since she was hatched. It wasn't her fault she was a misfit. It wasn't her fault the others in the crèche—even some of the instructors—treated her like a freak. The youth councilors hounded her about her poor grades and how she didn't fit in, as if it was her fault the other younglings turned on her, abused her, made her a pariah.
Life in the crèche was miserable as far back as she could remember. She never did have any friends, and the local bullies made each day a test of endurance. The few times she did fight back, however poorly, earned her some brutal beatings and stern lectures from the councilors about her 'attitude'. Never mind that she was the victim: she was expected to 'blend in', to 'earn their respect'—the respect of vicious un'brapta!—and above all to quit getting into fights. Even at her tender age, she could tell they were clueless n'bna'nmn who merely went through the motions.
She finally fled the crèche, to take up the hard life of the streets. She learned, fast, how to survive. And survive she did; one of the 'lost herd' of troubled younglings mentioned on the news programs from time to time. She learned how to take what she needed by guile and deception, proved to be very adept at it. But not adept enough.
They caught her with the goods eventually. It wasn't the first time the Peace Wardens cornered her, although she usually got away with a suspended sentence or a short term in a juvenile 'Readjustment Circle'. She had a reputation on the street as an uncommonly talented swindler, and unbeknown to her, the Law was watching. They followed her paper trail patiently, building their case step by step, waiting for her to make a fatal mistake. And make it she did.
They went to trial, and she knew enough of Laws And Customs to know they had her this time. The depth of their case unnerved her. The evidence against her was solid and her appointed Council was unable to shake the witnesses. She knew enough of Laws And Customs that the verdict was no surprise. She was looking at years in a penal nest. She knew it was a foregone conclusion before the Civil Council rested his case. She was going away to some Ancestorless hole for a long, long time.
No, it wasn't fair at all. She was just trying to survive in a hostile world. She used to have such beautiful dreams of adventure, travel, success. She used to while away the lonely days longing for something forever beyond the horizon. Those dreams sustained her over time as her bitter reality consumed her. And now she was going to a penal nest, convicted as an habitual felon. Even her dreams were being taken from her. She silently cursed her ill-luck and wondering why she was ever hatched in the first place.
They adjourned for the day after the verdict was read, and she was herded back to her cell to await sentencing the next day, which left her emotionally defeated. It shouldn't matter, really. Actually going to a penal nest would be a breeze after life on the mean streets of Xi'vrre'nmmemns Great Nest. At least she would be fed regularly, which would be a novel experience, and would face less risk of physical assault. Still, the idea scared her. Her cell in the local lockup felt like a tomb, smothering her until she felt she would go er'trxxda. The plain steel bars and Depressing Institutional Pale Green cement walls pressed on her like a physical force until she wanted to scream in terror.
She heard the door at the end of the hall open long before the block Warden appeared in front of her cell. "You have a visitor."
That was a surprise. The verdict was read and sentencing wasn't due until tomorrow. It was already late; visiting time was nearly over and the food cart would be around soon with late-meal. There was no one she knew who would bother to visit her here in the lockup.
"Who is it?"
"Don't know. Someone to see you." the block Warden couldn't care less about her or her troubles. "You want to see her or not?"
Her? It wasn't her council, then, which made the mystery all the more curious. There was nothing else to do, and nothing ahead of her but another night staring at the walls and feeling lost. She could use the break. "Might as well," she said, sullenly.
The block Warden took her to one of the interview cells: a bare room split by an unbreakable glass divider, with a functional seat cushion on either side of the barrier. She settled on the seat cushion and stared at the door on the far side, wondering who wanted to see her and longing to go through that door to freedom; if she even knew what freedom was any more.
A moment later the far door opened and her visitor came in. The sight caught her by surprise; she didn't recognize her, but she was obviously not someone off the street. This stranger was a r'fen'thi, middle aged, a bit plump but still most attractive, dressed in stylish but inexpensive clothing. She stopped in front of the glass partition and studied her for a long moment, and R'nemReth could feel her aura; this one was distressed, saddened, which made the mystery all the more opaque.
"Hello, R'nemReth," she said, softly.
Her finely tuned empathy, her one edge on the street, gave off conflicting emotions. "So who are you?"
The visitor's ears reclined in dismay at her tone. "We've never met before." She definitely seemed troubled. "I've watched you from afar since you hatched. I stayed away because I didn't want to interfere in your life."
"Wonderful. That tells me nothing."
"My name is C'traBenla."
"So? What's your story? Are you some kind of child psychologist or something?"
"No. Actually...I'm your mother."
"My...mother? What does that mean?" She couldn't figure this fem out, which worried her.
"The word is a human term. We don't have an equivalent in our language."
"What? A human word?" This really didn't add up, and this stranger's aura of love and despair was confusing. "You came in here to play some kind of p'quas'tka game with me?" she snapped. "Well I'm not interested. I got more important things to do!"
"You are my hatchling."
It didn't register at first, and R'nemReth blinked at her in confusion. "What? Your hatchling? What is this ui'DmukNa?" Her temper was starting to boil up, and she tamped it down forcefully. The block Wardens were more than capable of slapping her down if she got out of hand.
The visitor shook her head. "No, no game. I really am your mother, and you really are my hatchling."
This was unheard of. None of those n'bna'nmn in the crèche knew their...mother. The world simply didn't work that way. Her egg was surrendered to the crèche shortly after delivery, as was done since time immemorial, and she was hatched and raised there like everyone else. She couldn't imagine actually keeping an egg and trying to raise a hatchling on her own.
"You got to be joking," she said, uneasily.
The stranger's ears drooped in sorrow. "No. No joke. I couldn't let you go, even though I knew the crèche in the World Nest would give you a good upbringing. I managed to follow your progress over the years—never mind how—until you ran away." The stranger sighed. "I lost track of you for the longest time until your name started turning up in the Peace Warden reports."
That in itself was disturbing. The Peace Warden reports weren't for just any casual reader. Her having access told R'nemReth this C'traBenla, her supposed...mother...must have connections.
"Alright, so you found me. What of it?"
"I'm so sorry, R'nemReth!" C'traBenla cried. "I knew you were a troubled hatchling, but until you ran away, I had no idea how bad it was!" She pulled herself together with an effort. "What went wrong?"
"What went wrong? The whole p'quas'tka world went wrong! They all knotted my tail every chance they could, and the un'brapta instructors didn't do p'quas'tka about it!"
"Surely it wasn't that bad...?"
"What do you know? You've never had herds of vicious un'tdars after you! You've never been afraid to leave the dormitory, never been afraid to go to the cafeteria, never been afraid to be out of sight from one of the instructors. You never had to watch your tail constantly. You want to know what went wrong? Everything went wrong from the moment I was hatched!"
C'traBenla's aura sank into bleak despair. "I'm so sorry, R'nemReth! I know hatchlings can be vicious riv'Agna but I didn't realize it was so bad!" The set of her ears said someone in the crèche system was in for a tail-knotting. "I'll do whatever I can to help you."
That offered a glimmer of hope. "Then you can get me out of here! Get the conviction reversed!"
C'traBenla gave her a troubled look. "I...can't do that."
"p'quas'tka you can't! You have connections, I know you do! You couldn't access my court files otherwise!"
That made her visitor nervous for some reason. "I have some influence...enough to find out what became of you. But I don't have that sort of grunt."
As suddenly as hope came, it was cruelly ripped away again. "Then what good are you? I've been convicted as an habitual felon. They're going to send me to a penal nest for life! If you can't get me out of here, then what good are you?"
"I...don't know. We can file an appeal..."
...She was interrupted when a large figure suddenly appeared out of nowhere, taking up much of the small room. It was a human, tall, heavy-set, with a dark brown, almost black hide and dirty white fur. C'traBenla reacted like she'd been stung, rearing back in amazement. "J J?" she gasped.
"Hey there, Baby-Chile," the big human said. "It's been a long time."
C'traBenla got over her surprise, and broke out in a rush of pleasure. "J J! It's good to see you again!"
"Ah'm happy t' see you too."
R'nemReth was shaken by the sudden appearance, and stared in wide-eyed amazement at this unexpected visitor. She's seen humans at a distance once or twice, but never had the chance to get up close. And up close like this she could feel something—strange—something unnatural about this intruder; a 'power' she couldn't comprehend. The sensation set her scales crawling.
"But...I thought you weren't going to contact us any more?" C'traBenla said to him.
The stranger mused over it. "Well, no, that ain't quite so. We had t' take back them empathic powers 'cause you folks couldn't handle 'em, and that makes it hard t' connect to you-all, but ah nevah said we wouldn't come callin' again."
"Well you're certainly welcome. So...what brings you here?"
"Actually, ah'm here t' see about her." The stranger nodded in R'nemReth's direction. "She might have the fixin's fo' somethin' important." R'nemReth was worried, not the least because his attention came with a spooky aura which made her r'vebbe. The way he looked at her sent a chill through her, and her finely tuned empathy, which served her so well on the street, was warning her this stranger was not at all what he seemed to be.
C'traBenla blinked at him in confusion, then looked back and forth between him and R'nemReth. "What? What do you mean? What do you want with my daughter?"
"She was still in th' egg when yo had them powers, and they's a residue of 'em still in her. That means maybe she can do what needs doin'." The big stranger radiated a sense of sincerity and concern which spooked R'nemReth almost as much as his original appearance. "It's all fo' the best, Baby-Chile. D'you trust ol' J J fo' this?"
It took C'traBenla a moment to collect her wits. "Well...yes, I trust you J J. But I don't understand. She has psychic powers?"
"She sho' does. She got the empath; it's one of the most basic of all powers, an' she got it good. Ah saw it in her when you came heah t' visit jus' now."
"What? Are you still linked to me?"
J J Ballas smiled awkwardly, and R'nemReth felt a wave of warm, slightly embarrassed emotion flow through her like a strong breeze. "Well, t' tell the truth, when we took them powers back, ah left just a tiny bit in each of you; you might call it a seed. That was so it'd be easier fo us t' reach out t' you again if we needed. Ah look in on you from time t' time, just to keep in touch."
"Really?" C'traBenla seemed surprised, if anything could be surprising by then. "Well, I suppose it's a good thing you happened to 'look in' when you did."
J J smiled again. "Actually, them seeds ah mentioned are supposed t' let me know if yo' psychic residue acts up...just in case you needed help, ya know. Yo' seed triggered when you came in heah wit' her."
C'traBenla stared at him in disbelief for a long moment. "Honestly I don't understand you, J J," she said, softly. "Your powers can be frightening at times."
"Ah know, Baby-Chile." The big stranger emitted an aura of regret. "Yo' minds jus' ain't equipped t' grasp us. We don't mean no harm by it."
R'nemReth shared C'traBenla's uneasiness, and then some. She always had an uncommon ability to understand what others thought and felt. She used her talent to survive, hustling ignorant t'pithm'igs who figured her for an innocent score. She never imagined in her wildest dreams that her empathy was implanted into her by a bizarre alien. And now it seemed this alien was here to collect, and from what she'd seen of his powers, whatever he wanted couldn't be good.
C'traBenla pulled herself together with an effort. "I trust you, J J. It's just..." She shook herself all over in a nervous fit. "So why did you come here now? What do you want with my hatchling?"
The stranger mused over R'nemReth for a bit. "Ah ain't exactly sure if she got what we need. Ah got a tingle when you came in heah, an' ah can feel her power." He mused some more. "But ah can't rightly say if she's got what'll be needed, though."
"Needed? Needed for what? What can she do?"
"That depends on what she can handle." The stranger turned to R'nemReth, and walked through the glass partition like it wasn't even there. She backed into the corner, cowering in fear as he studied her solemnly. His gaze met hers, and she felt the oddest sensation, like he was looking right into her mind, moving about inside her head, examining her psyche. Her head pounded, and she gasped for breath. It was a creepy sensation which left her shaken.
He nodded at last, as if he made up his mind about something important. "Yeah, she'll do." He turned away, lifting the bizarre sensation from her mind, and walked through the barrier again. "They's a task fo' her," he said to C'traBenla. "It's an urgent task. She perfect fo' it, an' from what ah see, she could use the chance. You need t' set things in motion fo' her."
"Task? What task?" C'traBenla seemed confused. "What are you talking about?"
J J smiled at her. "Well that-there is an inverse cognitive function, don'tja know? Gotta go, Baby-Chile, can't stay no longer." And with that, he vanished into thin air.
"J J..." C'traBenla sagged in dismay, seemingly stunned by this bizarre appearance. After a moment she shook off her distraction and pulled herself together. "p'quas'tka, J J," she muttered. "What did you mean by that?"
R'nemReth stared stupidly at the spot where the stranger vanished. Her head ached, her hearts raced, and she was trembling. She fought to get herself under control, not altogether successfully. "How...how did he do that?" she asked at last. "I didn't know humans could just disappear."
"Actually, he isn't a human." C'traBenla seemed as perplexed as she was. "He is a Dreamsinger."
"A...what? A Dreamsinger?" R'nemReth remembered hearing about them sometime back. "That was some other kind of alien?"
"Yes." C'traBenla was shaken and distracted. "We first made contact with them over twenty years ago, well before you were hatched."
It was beginning to dawn on R'nemReth that the Peace Wardens should have stormed the room by now. She glanced at the security camera: didn't they notice a hulking black human appearing out of thin air in the middle of their secure complex?
"These Dreamsingers must be some strange riv'Agna."
C'traBenla offered a bemused ear twitch. "You have no idea."
Her headache was reaching horrific proportions. "Ancestors," she gasped. "I feel terrible."
"That's J J." Through her pain R'nemReth could tell C'traBenla was suffering too. "We can't handle psychic contact with them for more than moments."
"I...think I'm going to be sick..." And she was, although thankfully her stomach was empty. She was racked by dry heaves for some time, her head pounding in agony, before the spasms passed. "Ancestors..." she gasped. "You have...some p'quas'tka strange friends."
"Are you alright?"
She gave C'traBenla as much of a venomous glare as she could manage. "No, I'm not alright. I'll never be alright again." She struggled to her feet and flopped on the seat cushion. "What is it with you anyway? You come in here with some wild story about me being your hatchling, and you drag him along for the ride."
"I really am your mother, R'nemReth. I came here to see what I can do to help, which I guess isn't much. As for J J, that wasn't my idea. They tend to turn up at the oddest times, and they've always been a riddle."
The whole scene left R'nemReth shaken. "What did he mean about me having a task? What does he want with me?"
C'traBenla gave her a troubled look. "I honestly don't know. The Dreamsingers aren't very adept at explaining things to us non-empaths."
"Well I don't see any reason to perform any task for them! Not with this headache. He's got a real high-tailed attitude coming in here and...and...prying like he did."
"R'nemReth, J J Ballas and the Dreamsingers are strange beings. It's hard to relate to them, they're so different from us, but they aren't evil. We've dealt with them before, and they mean well, even if they have a hard time understanding us."
"And you trust him? H-he can walk through walls! He...he was inside my head...how do they do that?"
"Psychic powers. They depend on psi like we do speech, using our hands, just about everything we do physically. Trust me: what you saw was only a hint of what they're capable of."
"That's...really scary...why does he look like a human, anyway?"
"They borrowed the image from the memories of a human. They use it to communicate with us. They come from a gas giant world, and they don't look anything like humans, or us."
"I don't want to know what they look like. I don't want anything to do with them."
"R'nemReth, he said you could use your empathy to do something important. This could be the answer you need to avoid going to a penal nest."
"Oh? How?" Not that R'nemReth cared just then, as miserable as she felt.
"I don't know. Maybe they'll reveal that later. The important thing is you may have a way out of this mess."
That gave her a faint sense of hope, the first she'd felt in a long time...but the price...what this J J Ballas wanted in return was not comforting to think about. "I wish I knew what this 'way out' will cost."
"No idea. The Dreamsingers can be a puzzle at times." C'traBenla shook her head, and her ears twitched her dismay. "l'cc'vn," she muttered. "I wish they'd simply tell us what they wanted rather than playing these guessing-games."
Just as suddenly as he vanished, J J Ballas was back. "All yo need t' do, Baby-Chile, is ask the right person." He gave her a knowing blink of one eye. "You'll know who." Then he vanished again.
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