Beyond the Sky: Chapter 34


  “Nikrit,” Glint said. “That is what we call ourselves.”  
Benson nodded, and continued. “It’s likely there were other species who went extinct. Maybe they specialized for a niche which ceased to exist, or an environment that changed or turned out to be shared with a competitor. Or they were predators, until their prey fought back. That in particular would explain several of your myths.”
“There’s a few controversies like that,” Princess Takji said. “Archaeologists claiming to find a Ninth or Tenth Species, then the High Temple says there’s only eight Aspects for a reason, then the scientists argue back.”
“But the Shadowstalkers, for whatever reason, didn’t try to carve out a habitat of their own. It’s no surprise much of their ways remain mysterious to you—it’s how they survived. Dwelling in darkness and corners, scavenging from time to time off the detritus of your other species, careful to avoid provoking outright extermination.”
“Until they could do it to us.” Velli said.
Toras spoke up. “Give me the length of a Strider’s dive with him, and I will find your bombs.”
Absolutely not.” Benson rose, hand on the stock of his black-and-yellow patterned stunner. He looked to Glint. “Is this true? You hate the—” what was the phrase he used? “— ‘Day People’, and wish to see them destroyed?”
“Yes.” Glint growled, and pointed to Princess Takji. “Her most of all. Mespreth destroyed my city.”
“You mean…” Velli gasped.
“An atom-bomb survivor?” asked Selva.
“Yerrik-Slan, by the Lake,” Glint replied. “When Mespreth ended the Long War. I was living with the Clan in Jepsei when the Burrowers gave us a chance for revenge.”
“They built the bombs?” Velli asked.
“Not built, found. From where, I do not know.”
Benson said, “Their city lacks the industries needed to produce nuclear weapons. Any ideas?”
Takji looked to Toras, who swayed a bit and said:
“There is one thing. Fifteen years ago, a bomber was carrying special weapons on patrol when it vanished over the Middle Sea. Searchers found nothing, we assumed weather or a mechanical failure. Three devices were on board.”
“Velli’s commander said the Burrowers were working with three,” said Benson.
Glint added, “One was broken. They wanted to salvage the metal inside.”
“Plutonium.” Benson nodded. “There’s only one race on Lemuria who could’ve pulled those things from the ocean.”
“The Deep Ones,” Takji said. “I never thought—why would they want to do this?”
“You fought them once, in the War Against the Sea.”
“That was more an inconvenience. Serious, yes, but it never threatened our core. We agreed to keep our ships in sight of land, like they said, and nothing more came of it.”
Carter spoke up. “Yet all this time, you continue to foul their habitat with refuse and pollution. From here I can spot garbage patches big as provinces. Moreover, I calculate the Stilt-Striders, who share origins with them, are experiencing a population decline triggered by the loss of their native wetlands. The Deep Ones may face similar events.”
“And what more horrors would nuclear war do?”
“They may consider it an acceptable hardship, to be rid of you for good.”
“Likely it’s a small-scale plot,” Benson said. “We dropped buoys in the ocean to record their speech, but our computer flagged nothing. We need more information.” He looked to Glint.
“Why?” He stood up. “Why should I want to stop it? Now Mespreth will know the loss of the Forsaken Lands!”
“My brother’s in Mespreth!” Velli shouted. “For all I know, he’ll be one of the first—”
“Captain,” Toras started, fingering his dagger.
Not another word!” Benson retorted, and turned back to Glint. “You lost people, when Delvar bombed your city?”
Glint stared down at the table.
“How many more will lose their family, friends, if those warheads go off? I know you don’t like the other Lemurians, and to be frank, they give you pretty good reasons. But they’re not all bad people. Velli told me about the Shadow Friends. And among the others there’s still those who help, who look out for the poor and vulnerable. Would you destroy them, too? Bring upon them the same misery Mespreth inflicted on you? Don’t they matter?”
The room grew silent, save for the life-support vents.
“I do this,” Glint took a breath, his camouflage fading ever so slightly. “Not for Mespreth or the Amalgamation or other Daytime oppressors.” He jabbed an upper-hand finger at Takji. “Not one iota of this is for the likes of you, but for the people, my brothers and sisters in Shadow and those who fare little better.
“Elacmagolintec gave the bombs to the Burrowers. I never heard about Deep Ones, but your sayings make sense. Then he double-crossed them. The bombs were never meant to end up with the JNF, that was a fiction. He will not strike Mespreth City.”
“Then where?” Velli asked.
“I never learned. The Burrowers had the Clan gathering parts and tools, they told us little beyond the needs of our work.”
“But Elacmagolintec, he does—did—” Benson glanced to Velli “—want a war?”
“I’m certain of it. He could rule Jepsei when the ashes settled. My people, we would get the Night as our own. And the Burrowers would be forever free from slavery.”
Velli said, “We saw how that worked out.”
“Based on these facts,” Carter said, “and assuming the plotters of this scheme wish to trigger a nuclear war between Mespreth and the Iruktak Amalgamation, they will act at the worst possible moment.
“They will not strike either nation directly—we are likely dealing with a small group, careful to remain below notice, and such a move poses too great a risk of capture. They will use their bombs elsewhere.
“And I believe I know where.”

Cover image: by Arek Socha


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